Sad, Brown Eyes
The Anichanical stampeded down the snowy hillside, sliding effortlessly on the ice. Juliana gripped the harness, cringing as the bitter wind blasted her cheeks. The fur hood she wore provided warmth, but it hardly matter at the speed she was flying. Her skirt billowed around her knees and her fur coat whipped behind her furiously.
The Anichanical reached the bottom and bounded onward. Juliana urged the mechanical grizzly bear to move faster. The gears in the powerful legs shifted audibly as the bear pounded through the high snow. Juliana tried to see if they'd cleared the border, but the ice and wind stung her brown eyes, fogging her vision. “Keep going, Alec!” she shouted over the wind.
She felt snow compacting on her Anichanical's metal frame. If they didn't make it back across the border soon its legs would freeze up and they would be stranded overnight. The Anichanical took stride after stride. Juliana closed her eyes, bowing her head against the wind. It had to be close. It had to be.
She chanced a look up and cheered when she saw the tower and its flame, marking the border. They made it. The Anichanical slowed to a trot. Juliana hacked at the snow with the soles of her boots. Her dress was freezing to the leather saddle she straddled. She had to dismount soon. “We're here,” she said, patting the shoulder of the machine. It huffed as if it had breath, steam hissing out of the mouth and nose. Despite the fact that the Anichanical ran on steam, he had been designed not to conduct heat. Something else would have to help thaw his frame.
Juliana rode on her bear's back until they reached the edge of the border. As expected, she was met by a guard. He held up his gun, aiming it at her. She held up her ID badge. “Juliana Russo, Librarian.”
The guard lowered his gun, but only slightly. He beckoned her forward. She followed his instruction, keeping her ID up. The guard pulled out a device from his leather holster, holding his weapon with one hand. He switched the device on and a blue light scanned the ID. It verified who she was. He lowered the gun completely. “You went out in this blizzard?”
Juliana and her bear stepped over the border into the city. She didn't bother answering him. She needed to get her Anichanical indoors before major complications ensued. They walked through the city, trudging knee deep in the snow. On days with weather such as this she wished women were allowed to wear trousers. A dress and tight corset made her adventures more complicated.
It took more time than she would have liked before they reached her home. They walked around the back of the old building and Juliana raised the metal security gate leading to the workshop. Flurries instantly blew inside as soon as the gate lifted. A male voice shouted obscenities from somewhere inside the workshop. Juliana ushered her Anichanical inside and quickly pulled the gate shut. The voice complained and demanded to know the identity of the intruder. Juliana announced herself. “My bear is coated in compacted snow!” She pulled off her hood and removed her gloves. The man the voice belonged to came into view. “Juliana, what have you gotten into now?”
She shook snow from her ebony locks. “Will you help defrost him before it becomes an even worse problem?”
The man chuckled and gathered the proper tools. “It still amuses me that you call the thing a he.” He lowered his goggles over his eyes and turned on his blowtorch. The heat instantly began thawing the bear. Juliana sat on a stool and unlaced her tall boots, wincing with every tug. Her feet were as numb as her face. She walked in her stocking feet to the stove. Sitting in a rocking chair, she propped up her feet. The heat from the fire radiated to her. She sat back and rocked, enjoying the warmth.
The man spoke to her from where he worked. “I'm waiting.”
She lifted her head. “It was nothing. Just . . . investigating.”
He snorted. “You are going to kill yourself one of these days,” he predicted. “I'm telling you, you end this childhood fantasy before it ends you.”
She rubbed her feet with a sour expression. “Mr. Unsworth, you can't expect me to do that.” She shook her head. She couldn't stop now. Mr. Unsworth grumbled under his breath and turned off the torch. “Pass me that towel.”
Juliana reached back and grabbed hold of the peach towel hanging off a workbench, giving it a good toss. Mr. Unsworth snatched it out of the air and mopped up the melted ice that had accumulated around the Anichanical's paws. The bear gave a shake, like any real bear would. Grinding followed the action, copper and steel scrapping together against the joints.
“Your pet should be ready and raring,” Mr. Unsworth said with a facetious tone.
Juliana felt refreshed herself. She went to her bear, rubbing behind the small ears. “You feel better, Alec?”
The Anichanical nudged her with his nose. She kissed him sweetly. Her affection for the machine brought forth more of Mr. Unsworth's lecture. “Juliana, its not alive.”
She looked back at him over her shoulder. “I understand that.”
“My parents . . .” Juliana interrupted. “Yes, Mr. Unsworth. My parents would understand.”
The man ran his hand through his white hair. “I apologize.”
She rubbed Alec and said, “Power down.” The lights in the hollow eyes of the bear went out and the hissing and humming of the inter-mechanisms fell silent. Juliana collected her gloves and boots and told Mr. Unsworth goodnight. She exited the workshop up the side staircase to the apartment above.
The apartment was small, but she loved it. It had an old smell, like books and ink. Candles burned on a writing desk at the front window. She dropped her gloves and boots and blew the candle out. The room fell dark and cold. Juliana went to her bedroom and changed out of her clothes, which were now damp from the melting ice. She shook out her clothing and draped them over her clawfoot tub. She didn't bother washing. The days events had drained her and all she wanted was to sleep.
The next morning, Juliana bathed and dressed in her favorite olive green and maroon dress. She stylishly piled her hair atop her head before heading into the kitchen for breakfast. She stretched as she rounded the corner. Something greeted her, landing on her shoulder with a squawk. The sudden addition to her morning routine took her off guard. The Anichanical parrot flapped it's wings, knocking them against her cheek. Juliana heaved a sigh. “Nathaniel!”
A handsome, roguish man came out of the kitchen, holding a mug filled with coffee. “Morning, Ms. Russo.” He winked and sipped his coffee. With a whistle, the Anichanical flew from Juliana's shoulder to his. The parrot had wings, but they were for show. Propellers whorled under each wing as well as the tail to create its flight.
Juliana brushed by the visitor and grabbed a fresh loaf of bread. “What are you doing here?” she asked as she sliced it.
“My father requested my help.” He leaned against the counter. “Even so, if I just wanted to pop by I have every right, considering this is his home.”
Juliana ripped her teeth into her bread slice. She'd grown up with Nathaniel Unsworth. Most days she felt like she still lived in her childhood with him around. That could be viewed as good or bad, depending on the day.
His Anichanical parrot squawked and repeated Nathaniel's words. “This is his home. This is his home.”
Nathaniel laughed and finished his coffee in one large gulp. He set down the mug, wiping his lips with the back of his fingerless, gloved hand. “You went out there again, so I heard.”
Juliana chewed her bread, turning her back on him. He stepped in front of her, arms raised out to his sides. He gave his classic, goofy, crooked smile. “I'm only making conversation, Juli.”
“I'm not willing to talk about it,” Juliana stated.
Nathaniel dropped his hands. “Fair enough.”
Juliana finished her bread and grabbed her coat and hat. “I must dash. I'll see you around.” She opened the door and stepped out onto the icy steps leading from the apartment to the street. Most of the roads had been cleared so stagecoaches were moving about, pulled by Anichanical horses. Juliana stood along the street and hailed a cab. The black vehicle rolled to a stop and she climbed in back. “The New San Gimignano Library, please,” she told the driver.
She stared out her frosted window as the stagecoach moved. They rode passed a hill overlooking the countryside. She tried to picture the rolling hills covered in green grass instead of the stark snow. The snow shimmered like diamonds under the sun rays. It was a lovely sight, but not one that was suppose to happen in New Tuscany. At least not in July.
The stagecoach stopped and Juliana paid the driver. She hurried inside the New San Gimignano Library. People were already inside scouring through the many books. She went to the backroom and took off her coat. A girl came in behind her. “You are in so much trouble, Juliana.”
Juliana faced the girl. She gave her a puzzled look. “Why? Who's angry with me?”
The girl laughed. “You're joking, right? I know you well and know when you're making a joke.” She laughed harder. Juliana wanted to laugh along with her best friend but she honestly had no idea. “Louise, I'm not teasing.”
Louise rubbed her arm. “Mrs. Goodwin found your hidden stash.”
Juliana let loose a comprehending gasp. She ran by her friend and climbed the main stairs to the second floor. In the backroom there, she went to a supposedly locked trunk under a table in the corner. The lock wasn't broken but was indeed detached. She lifted the lid and felt her heart sink. Her books were gone.
“Miss Russo. Can I help you find something?”
Juliana turned in a flash to face her employer. The woman stared at Juliana with her snake-like eyes. The skin around her eyes stretched so tightly Juliana wondered when it would tear. Mrs. Goodwin clasped her hands in front of her. She continued to play dumb. “Nothing has gone missing, has it? Not like many of the libraries un-checked out books.”
Juliana couldn't cover this lie. She sighed in defeat. “I am so sorry, Mrs. Goodwin. I know it was wrong of me to take the books without permission, but—”
The head librarian held up her hand to silence her words. Juliana pressed her lips together and hushed. Mrs. Goodwin gave her a disappointed look. “Knowledge is an amazing thing, Miss Russo. History is recorded so we may never forget. However, one can get too much.”
Juliana nodded to show she understood, at least on the outside. Inside she was screaming. Ever since she was young she'd had a fascination with history. Not only history, but with a particular part of it.
Her mind was filled with stories her parents had shared with her. Stories her grandparents had shared. Animals were like the Anichanicals only made of flesh and blood. These living creatures had all gone extinct a hundred years ago. But the memory of them lived on through the Anichanicals. The fur of her own coat had once been part of a living bison. She'd seen Anichanical bison, but feeling that warm pelt under her hands made her mind race. Something so large, so majestic, had once roamed the world. Such an idea consumed her.
Mrs. Goodwin could see in Juliana's brown eyes that she'd lost her. “Pay attention, Miss Russo,” she snapped. Juliana came back to reality. She nodded again. “I'm sorry, Mrs. Goodwin. I understand. I won't take the books again.”
“I should hope not,” said Mrs. Goodwin. “You are a very bright young woman. I adore having you here. Please don't make me dismiss you for something as silly as hording private property. Should you want to read a book... check one out and return it when finished.”
Juliana got the message. Mrs. Goodwin raised a sharp eyebrow and slowly turned, taking her leave.
Juliana tried to pay attention to Louise as she gossiped about two other librarians and Mrs. Goodwin, but she couldn't shake what had happened the night before and that morning. Her putting herself as well as her Anichanical grizzly in danger followed by getting caught for theft weren't the best things for a responsible woman to do.
She loaded some books onto the correct shelves and sighed. Louise stopped her chatter. “You're not even listening to me, are you?”
“No, I am,” she lied. Louise took control of the now book-free cart and made her way down the aisle. Juliana followed. “No, I wasn't,” she admitted sheepishly. “I was thinking.”
“You're always thinking,” Louise pointed out. “You wouldn't be you if you weren't.”
At the end of the day, Juliana headed home, skipping out on drinks with Louise and the other librarians that she'd spent the entire day grumbling about. Juliana stepped into the apartment and found Mr. Unsworth and his son at the dining room table. The Anichanical parrot greeted her with more obnoxious, robotic squawks.
The men stood as she entered. “I thought you were going out after work,” stated Mr. Unsworth. Juliana shook her head. She took off her hat and set it on a side table. She made her way to the back stairs. “I didn't have the best day. I'm going to read in the workshop.”
Nathaniel snickered. “Book Worm Juli.”
Juliana ignored him and went down the steps. Upon seeing her Anichanical, the vexations of the day withered. “Power on,” she said. The bear hummed to life. He trudged to her side. She fiddled with his harness straps and kissed him. “I hope you had a calm day, Alec,” she said as she went to a glass cabinet. She opened the doors and grabbed a blue book. This one she legally owned. The book was titled, The Earth, Then and Now.
She sat in the rocking chair by the stove, spending a few minutes heating the coals before she got to reading where she'd left off. Alec lay at her feet. She propped her feet up on his back and rocked slowly. The chapter she'd left off on reflected on an event known as the Freeze. Some called it the Ice Age.
It first became clear that something was occurring when the summers were abnormally chilly. Over time, summers had sleet and eventually snow. Scientists warned the world that the earth would eventually freeze over and they needed to prepare for this inevitable outcome. However, not enough people took it seriously. They claimed that weather fluctuated often and this would pass. Due to their arrogance, when the Freeze came it exhausted them. The cold and ice overtook everything. Many died, humans and animals alike. It blizzard for two straight years. Cities were buried. Food became scarce. Humans tried everything they could to stay alive.
By the end of the blizzards, too many animals had fallen to the frigid death. Re population was impossible. In the end, the remaining animals that had survived perished and the world became human dominate. Though humans were able to re-adapt to the new climate, digging out as many cities as possible, and rebuilding, the world missed the convenience animals once brought them. Food, clothes, tools.
Juliana turned to a past chapter in the book. It was about a man named Gerard Black. He was a brilliant inventor. He traveled Europe eighty years post Freeze with a marvelous idea. He'd created the Anichanicals. Each city he stopped in, he proposed his gadgets and showed off his prototype. Anichanicals could be used as transportation, home security, to power factories, or to just have for companionship. Effortless, free labor, clean. The world was enthralled.
Gerard Black didn't stop there. After the Anichanicals' high success, he developed special greenhouses for farming, which had become highly difficult in the harsh winter conditions. The climate inside the greenhouses perfectly stabilized the growth of wheat, cotton, fruits, and vegetables. Food had never been easier to come by. His magnificent designs changed the new world. Everyone knew his name. If and when a problem arose the world called to him for help. He could fix nearly anything. Juliana was personally exceedingly grateful to him and his magnificent mind. He'd given her the closest thing to an animal friend that she would ever get.
She set down the book and stood. Alec huffed, steam hissing from his nose. Juliana patted him. “I'm not going anywhere.” She went to another shelf and picked up a different book. This book had no cover for it had never been published. She ran her fingers over the penciled in name on the top page. Pietro Russo. Her father.
Pietro was a well known, wealthy historian and had been the one responsible for Juliana's fascination with history and animals. He decided to write a textbook on all the many former species of animals. Juliana remembered sitting in his study as a child while he worked. Sometimes he would stop to read to her and tell stories of human and animal encounters. Juliana had most loved the idea of grizzly bears. That was how Alec had come to be her Anichanical companion. He was a gift from her father on her tenth birthday. In fact, it was her father who had given him his name. Not many people knew that. Not even Mr. Unsworth.
One morning not long after that tenth birthday, her father had announced he and Juliana's mother were going on a research trip. They arranged for their daughter to stay with Mr. Unsworth for the couple weeks they would be gone. No one had anticipated they'd never return.
After months of investigating, the search for her parents came to an end. The trail had gone cold. No one knew what became of the Russo's. No trace of them could be found. Their home and everything in it had been auctioned off, leaving Juliana an orphan and homeless. Her once luxurious life came crashing down around her. If it weren't for Mr. Unsworth taking her in permanently she would have gone to an orphanage, possibly to rot. She owed him so much.
Years later, Juliana had been going through the few belongings of her parents that she'd been able to keep and found his manuscript. Inside the tattered pages, she'd come across a hand-drawn map. It lead to an X out in the hills of New Tuscany. That was why Juliana went out with her Anichanical so often. She was trying to find where the X indicated. Her father had created the map. Somewhere out there in those hills laid a clue to her parents' disappearance. She would find it.
After dinner that evening, Juliana excused herself and went to saddle Alec. She bundled herself up and left the workshop. She climbed on his back and he moved towards the border of the city. The guards intercepted them when they came near. “Miss Russo, please remember that the border will close at midnight.”
“I understand,” she said. The guards were skeptical of her. She continuously left the city and no one ever knew why. After her parents had mysteriously vanished, each city in New Tuscany had set up a boarder control. People could come and go as they pleased, so long as they had an ID card indicating they were a citizen of said city. The only exceptions were supply shipments, mail, and police. Juliana's continuous adventures beyond the city perplexed the guards, but they had no reason to force her to stay. They allowed her to pass.
Alec began his run, going where Juliana led. She’d mapped out a new course. They would find where the X indicated. Tonight would be the night. They searched the hills for two hours, snaking up and down. When the sun began to set, Juliana opened the panel on the Anichanical’s shoulder hump. Inside were some switches and dials. She turned the one that activated the bear’s headlight eyes. The bright lights beamed over the snow and they pressed on.
After another hour Juliana was beginning to lose feeling in her fingers even with the fur gloves over them. Without the sun the cold became virtually unbearable. She rubbed her hands together but it had little effect. She grimaced as a sharp blast of wind slammed her face. The wind stung fiercely and made it hard to breathe.
Alec stopped running and stood stiffly on a downslope of a hill. For a moment Juliana feared he’d stopped working. She checked his gauges. They were all normal. “Why’d you stop, Alec?”
The Anichanical rose up on his massive hind legs. Juliana gasped and held tightly to his harness. “Alec!” she screamed. “What are you doing?” She lost her grip and slipped down his back, falling in the deep snow.
The bear fell back to all fours and gave a shake. His bright eyes turned to her. She flicked her wrists, getting rid of the powder from her gloves. She gave him a sour look. “Bad grizzly!” She shivered violently. Thanks to him and his antics she would have to turn home early or she would surely freeze.
She got to her feet. “I have no time for this, Alec.” She reached for the saddle, but he stepped
away from her. Now she was losing patients. “Stop this! What’s gotten into you?”
The bear ran the rest of the way down the hill, leaving a bewildered Juliana behind. She chased him. “Come back!” Would her old friend actually abandon her? He’d never done anything but protect her since she first laid eyes on him. The mere thought of him doing such a thing broke her heart.
The bear moved into some dense trees and she lost sight of him. “Alec, please!” Terror rose inside her chest. She would die out there if left all night. Her feet shuffled through the deep snow. Another blast of wind blew over her, knocking back her hood. She stopped and waited for the wind to die. When it did she scanned for the headlights of Alec’s eyes. “You stupid apparatus! Come back!”
At the end of her insult, the Anichanical came back into view. His gears shifted and he looked to his right. Juliana reached his side, less than amused, and curiously glanced where her bear looked. She felt her growing anger subside. Her eyes fell upon a log cabin nestled under some low-hanging branches. The windows all had green shutters. No smoke came from the chimney. If anyone lived inside she detected no evidence of it.
She patted Alec. “Good boy,” she whispered. This had to be the X on her father’s map. She moved to the front door and set her ear on it. No sound met her eardrum. “Hello?” she called, knocking four times. The wait lasted two minutes. She turned with a sigh. Abandoned. Maybe there was something inside. Maybe her father had used this place as a private area to study and write. She chewed her lip and went to a window. Tugging on the shutters did nothing. They were stuck tight.
A noise at the front door captured her attention. It was unlocking. Fear suddenly clenched her heart. She never should have come. The door opened and a man's head popped out. The man narrowed his eyes against the cold air and Juliana watched as his whiskered jaw dropped at the sight of Alec. “Upon my word,” he breathed.
Juliana held her breath, hoping he wouldn't look her way. The man stepped outside, wrapped in a thin, cotton blanket that looked ancient. The wind kicked up his thick hair. It was light gray with strews of black, like coal scattered across the snow. He studied the Anichanical grizzly with quizzical eyes. “Where have you come from, my friend?” He reached for Alec. The bear stepped back and looked to Juliana for guidance. The man followed the bear's bright gaze and spotted the obscure woman. His breath caught in his throat. His eyes full of wonder, he said, “My dear child.” Nothing more. They stared at each other openly. He finally added, “Does this Anichanical belong to you?”
Juliana nodded slowly. The man went back to his house but made sure to beckon her inside before he entered himself. Juliana knew there was no going back. She told Alec to wait for her and went in, shutting the door behind her. The inside was dark save for a few small candles on tables. An old couch and a couple chairs were haphazardly placed.
The man blew into his hands and asked, “What is your name?”
“I'm Juliana Russo. I've come from New San Gimignano.”
His eyebrows raised, as if he realized something important. He stepped closer. “Russo? Pietro's daughter?”
Juliana's heart skipped a few beats. He knew her father. “Yes. I am. You knew him?”
The man gave a nod, his eyes becoming doleful. “I did. He and I spoke on many occasions.” He retreated to a back room and returned holding a framed photo. He passed it to Juliana. She saw it was a picture of this man and her father. Tears sprung to her eyes. He looked just as she remembered him. Wise, confidant, full of life. What had happened to him?
“The name's Carlo Costa,” said the man. “How did you find your way to my cabin?”
Juliana lowered the picture and wiped her eyes on her sleeves. She quickly explained her father's makeshift map to Carlo and how she'd been trying to find the X. Carlo sat down on the couch, gesturing for her to do the same. She sat and Carlo said, “He should have left well enough alone.”
Carlo rubbed his scruffy face. “Your father asked me about something he had no business asking about. He'd heard about me from his research concerning Black Industries. He asked me countless questions and because of my disdain for Gerard Black I . . . slipped.”
Juliana gripped her gloves. She was tired of him beating around the bush. She leaned forward. “Tell me.”
Carlo scratched his cheek. “Project Reinisiate.”
Some answers and yet still so cryptic. She inhaled slowly. He chuckled. “I can already tell you are just like your father.”
“What is Project Reinisiate?”
He finally got to the point. “Project Reinisiate is an experiment a group of scientists and I were working on in a secret laboratory beneath the streets of New Paris. Something special that would change the world. However, I sensed that Gerard Black was catching wind of it. I knew we would soon be found out. I advised them to abandon the work, but my fellow scientists weren't having the same worries. So I left; I moved out here. One day, I heard a knock at my door. Pietro had found me. That's when I slipped and told him of Project Reinisiate. For my mistake, I knew Pietro wouldn't give up until I told him the location of the lab. After I disclosed the location, I advised him not to seek it out.... I suppose... he went regardless.”
Juliana's head was spinning. Finally she had some answers. She now knew where her parents had gone. Still, she couldn't help wondering why her mother had gone with her father. She had no business being with him. He'd gone for research, not holiday. Most-likely she wanted to go just for his company. She had done trips like that with him before, Juliana recalled.
Juliana asked, “What exactly is Project Reinisiate? Why would my father want to go find out more?”
Carlo made a face, not eager to share any more information. One look at Juliana's serious eyes he knew he couldn't stop now. He rubbed his eyes. “Before the Freeze got out of control, scientists gathered DNA from every living animal still alive and from the bones they'd gathered. They knew the animals would die first. The world wouldn't be the same without them. The scientists planned to one day bring them back to the world.”
“Clones,” Juliana deduced.
“Clones,” Carlo confirmed. He closed his eyes and lowered his head. He had more to share. Juliana wanted to know everything, so she waited, ignoring her itch to push him. He cleared his throat and looked back at her face. “Gerard Black and his people could never find the lab on their own. Someone had to have told them. Someone held hostage, most-likely.”
Juliana knew what he was implying. She knew where his ominous words led. Still, she didn't want to believe it. “No. My parents weren't...” She covered her mouth, wanting to vomit. Her mother was never suppose to be there. She would have been safe, home, free to raise Juliana. For a moment, Juliana resented her father. He never should have let her tag along. Then, one glance at the picture of her father made her bitterness evaporate. She started crying.
Carlo made no move to comfort her. She tried to stop, but her emotions were through the roof. She wiped her nose and took a deep breath. Carlo waited for her eyes to met his before he said, “I believe they are still alive.”
These words brought her tears to an end. She furrowed her eyebrows. “How could you know that?”
Carlo rubbed his tired eyes. “I received a transmission a week after I saw Pietro last. It came from one of my fellow scientists. They were under attack. They informed me they'd gone into lock down.” He placed his hand on Juliana's. “Juliana... the only way to disable the lock down is to enter a code from the outside. I am the only scientist who left the lab and therefore am the only one who can free those trapped.”
None of his words made her feel any better. “So?”
“They wouldn't kill your parents if they thought they could still be of use. Gerard Black's people knew your parents got the information on the laboratories location from someone, so they believe your parents may know the code. Although I never told your father the code, he does know where I am. They will hold your parents in hopes of learning my location.”
Juliana breathed deeply, calming down. He was right. They could still be alive. Perhaps tortured, but alive. She felt like she had the whole thing figured out. “If those people find you they will force you to open the lab and they will use the clones as profit like they do the Anichanicals.”
Carlo shook his head. “No. They have no need for real animals. Black Industries profits are main-ly the Anichanicals. They are their first product and what they're best known for. The idea of living animals threatens Gerard Black's livelihood. People could have living dogs as pets, with personalities and warmth. Wet noses and soft fur. Cows for milk. Chickens for eggs. If Gerard Black finds out the code he will get in and destroy the laboratory.”
“Why doesn't he just blow it up from the outside?”
“The lab is deep underground. The lab entrance where the code must be entered is above ground. No weapon could reach the lab. They'd destroy New Paris before making a dent in the structure. How would that help Gerard Black's reputation?”
Point. Gerard Black and his people had been holding her parents for the last seventeen years. They wouldn't risk being discovered now. Secretly hurting people wasn't the same as publicly doing it. She stood. “Okay then. Let's go enter the code.”
Carlo laughed. “I'm not going anywhere near New Paris. I'm safe here.”
“But my parents!” They had to save them. Why wouldn't he help her? All he had to do was enter a little code. Her parents would go free, animals would return to the world. He had to help her. And yet, he wouldn't budge. She wanted to grab him, force him to help her, but she couldn’t. She wasn't a violent person. Another tear fell from her eye. “Please, Mr. Costa,” she begged.
He stood, wiping his hands on his pants. “I'm so sorry, my dear. I can't. Your parents are safer this way. They will live.”
She turned her back on him and headed for the door. She pried it open and flurries blew inside. Alec stood right where she'd left him. With one last look, she said to the man, “The world needs animals... and my parents need a good life. Think about that.” She left with her Anichanical bear, leaving Carlo's door wide open.
Juliana and Louise finished stacking books. It had been a week since Juliana met Carlo. She'd taken a day to lay in bed, feeling pain for her parents and what they were going through. She prayed that what Carlo predicted was true. They were alive. Held captive, but alive.
The women went to the front desk. Mrs. Goodwin was talking to two men dressed in silk suits and top hats. She saw the librarians from the corner of her eyes. “Juliana,” she called. She faced the men. “This is she.”
Juliana scanned the two men. One had a handlebar mustache. He sniffed with a scowl. “Juliana Russo?”
“Y-yes,” she affirmed skeptically.
The clean shaven man walked around her; she heard clinking chains. The man pulled on her wrist. Handlebar Mustache said, “You are under arrest.”
A shiver went up Juliana's spine. Clean Shaven was locking her in iron handcuffs. She instinctively began to resist. Mrs. Goodwin protested. “Under what grounds?”
“Trespassing on private property,” Handlebar Mustache simply stated.
Louise laughed in disbelief. “This is outrageous! Juliana wouldn't harm a fly, as the old saying goes.”
Juliana looked over her shoulder at Clean Shaven. “There must be some mistake. I've never trespassed in my life.” Not entirely true, as she and Nathaniel had sneaked onto private property many times as children. Still, she hadn't done so in years. Certainly not recent enough to cause her arrest.
“We have complaints that you have, Ms. Russo,” Clean Shaven stated. He moved her forward. Panic rose in her chest. She yelled back to Louise. “Go get Nathaniel! Tell him what's happened! He'll meet me at the jail!” The two men led her outside and to a stagecoach. Clean Shaven sat in the back with her and Handlebar Mustache operated the horse Anichanical.
Juliana opened her mouth to plead her innocence, but Clean Shaven held up his hand. “Keep quiet, Ms. Russo. There's no point.”
The handcuffs were already starting to sting her wrists. She fidgeted and tried to stay composed. There was no way she could be punished for something she didn't do. Unless... she'd trespassed on Carlo's property. Would he have called the police on her? Why would he do that? Was he trying to keep her from going to New Paris? She'd thought of going on her own, but without the code it would have been pointless.
The stagecoach turned towards the cities zeppelin port. That was odd. She said, “The jail is the other direction.”
Clean Shaven said nothing. He kept his dark eyes forward. Juliana kitted her eyebrows. If this situation wasn't strange enough it just got stranger. She pressed her face against the window and tried to make out her surroundings. Where were they taking her?
The stagecoach clambered up the wooden bridge to the elevated port. Zeppelins were lined along dock after dock. Crates were being loaded and unloaded. Passengers were checking their tickets for a cruise. One zeppelin in particular caught her full attention. It was larger than even the cruise zeppelin. It was one of the few zeppelins made entirely of metals. Copper, iron, brass, and even gold reflected under the blips of sunlight escaping the shadow of clouds. At the top stood two cylinder smokestacks. Black smoke rose from them, an indication the zeppelin was ready for departure. On the sides of the round surface, Juliana made out the emblem of Black Industries. A black circle with a capital G in the center of it. The G was rough and ridged, as if clawed by massive talons.
The stagecoach stopped in front of the gangplank. Clean Shaven exited and turned back to help Juliana out. She stumbled on her way and he had to catch her. Handlebar Mustache snorted, wiggling his nose. “Clumsy girl.”
The two men led her up the gangplank. They weren't taking her to the jail. She dug her heels into the ice on the gangplank. The men each took hold of an arm and tugged harder. She was no match for their strength. They easily dragged her inside the metal craft.
The inside smelled like sweat and the bitter smell a coin leaves on skin. The men took her to the left up a flight of metal stairs. They climbed two stories before they towed her down a long hallway. They passed a few crew members, some coated in soot, but no one took note of Juliana. It was as if she weren't on board.
The men finally stopped in front of an iron door painted red. Handlebar Mustache unlocked the lock and opened the door. Clean Shaven moved her inside. She saw a row of cells. Clean Shaven unlocked her handcuffs and then shoved her roughly inside one. The clang of the door shutting brought a chill to her blood. Quickly, she whirled around on her heels and gripped the bars keeping her confined. “What do you want with me? I haven't done anything!”
The men ignored her and moved to depart from the horrid room. She gripped the bars until her knuckles turned white. “Please! With no right to hold me this is considered kidnapping!”
Only Handlebar Mustache spared her a passing glance. He had a sinister grin on his face that would forever live deep in Juliana's psyche. He then slammed the red door.
Three and a half hours surpassed. Juliana's throat felt raw from all of her shouting. The room only had one small porthole across from her cell so she had no idea which way they were flying. Even so, she could still see the sky and that gave her hope of escape.
Her mind reflected on the fact that this was clearly a Black Industries zeppelin. Why did Gerard Black's people want her? There was no way they'd learned about her little meeting with Carlo. No one except Alec knew about that night. Something else was happening here.
The cell had nothing to offer her as a weapon or tool. She would have to use her wits. She waited, staring out the round porthole. She could win. She could escape.
Another hour went by before a man came inside the room. She hadn't seen him before, but he obviously worked on the zeppelin judging by the Black Industries patch on his sleeve. He had a tin cup in his hand and passed it through the bars to Juliana. She took it with a grateful nod. “Thank you,” she said before downing the warm water. She smacked her lips at the taste. Her eyes peeked up to study the man in front of her. He looked younger than most of the crewed she'd seen. The way he carried himself suggested he was bored of his job. On his belt hung a ring of keys. Perhaps one would unlock her cell.
The man stuck his hand back through and she passed the cup back. He turned to leave. She quickly called out to him. This was her chance. “Wait! I have a question for you.”
The man faced her. “I am just the maintenance guy. I was told to bring you water and that's it.”
“Thank you again for the water,” she said, trying to sound kind despite her frustration. She rested her forehead on the bars. “You know where we're going, don't you?”
“And . . . you know why I'm here, I assume?”
He shook his head. “Don't care. Not my job to care.”
Just what she'd hoped to hear. She licked her lips seductively. The man's Adams apple rose and fell as he watch her. She wiped sweat from her forehead. “It's hot in here.”
He shrugged and she saw his pupils dilate. She removed her hat and tossed it in a corner. “I stole something from Black Industries. They want it back.” She made sure she still had his full attention, which she did. “I haven't told them where it is . . . but I'll tell you.”
The man gave an incredulous look. “Why?”
She giggled and stepped back from the door to the back wall. She pressed herself against it, her hands over her head. “Come in here and get it.”
He stumbled forward, unsure how to reply. She winked at him, her eyes inviting him in, hoping he'd take the bait. Come on, she thought. Open the cell.
He dropped the cup and went to the cell door. “Why?” he repeated.
She ran her fingers up and down her neck. “You don't have too. I can wait for my next visitor.”
His forehead creased and his fingers fumbled on his belt. Once he had the correct key, he inserted it in the lock and entered the cell. She waited, her heart pounding as he neared her. His dirty hands found her waist and he pulled her against him. They kissed. The entire time Juliana could only think about the open door.
She pivoted, turning them both around so her back was to the exit. She pried her lips from his and whispered in his ear. “You are a nice man. I won't forget you.” She gave him a hard shove. He fell backwards, hitting his head jarringly on the wall. The poor man shook his head in a daze. Juliana hooked her foot behind his leg and yanked his feet out from under him. He fell hard and bumped his head on the hard floor. Juliana darted out of the cell. Her hands were shaking so fast she found it difficult to shut the cell. Using her body, she forced it shut and fumbled with the key in the lock. It finally obeyed her and clicked into place.
She stared into the cell at the man on the floor, waiting for a sign of life. Even though she'd meant to put him out-of-action, the idea that she could have permanently injured him made her sick. After a few second the man stirred slightly but didn't get up. That was good enough for her.
Juliana took a breath and peeked outside the red door. No one was coming. She went in the direction of the stairs and headed up. From the deck she would be able to see which direction they were flying and once they landed she would call out for help.
Ten flights of stairs later, she pushed open a door and shielded her eyes. The sun was shinning brighter than she'd experienced in a long while. There were hardly any clouds. When her eyes adjusted, she saw that the deck was rather empty save a few men who didn't see her. She went the opposite way and peered over the edge of the railing. Below was almost completely similar to New Tuscany, only she knew they were nowhere near New Tuscany. No. Not only did the hours of flight give that away, but her knowledge of the world's countries gave away clear clues.
Juliana wished she could remove her restricting corset. It made it even more difficult to breathe. She fell to her knees, well aware as to where they were taking her. What had she done to deserve this?
“Hey!” a man shouted. Four sets of feet came charging at her from a few feet away. She stood up and tried to find a place to run and hide, but she'd lost time during her panic attack. The men surrounded her. One of them was Handlebar Mustache. He raised his gun on her. “Clever, clumsy girl,” he taunted. Or was it a complement?
She pointed over the side. “New Scotland? What is going on?”
Two men seized her. She didn't bother struggling; there was no point. Handlebar Mustache lowered his weapon. “Gerard Black needs to have a word with you.”
The men took her back to her cell.
Juliana waited in her cell, now constantly guarded by a man outside the red door. She heard the order twenty minutes ago. They would be landing soon. She paced in her stuffy quarters. Handlebar Mustache's words buzzed around in her head. Gerard Black, the man possibly behind the disappearance of her parents, wanted to talk with her? Sure. He could have sent a letter, but instead he sent two goons and an entire zeppelin crew to abduct her.
The weight of the aircraft shifted and Juliana had to move her feet to stay upright. A few bumps later and she knew the zeppelin was docked. They had arrived somewhere in New Scotland; she would soon be face-to-face with the famous Gerard Black.
Clean Shaven entered the room holding the iron handcuffs. “Time to disembark, Ms. Russo.”
She crossed her arms, not eager to have those heavy chains on her wrists. The man opened the cell and held out the handcuffs. “Will you put them on or shall I?”
She was done trying to act brave. The fear squeezed the life out of her heart. She shook her head. “Please,” she whispered, keeping her tears at bay. Clean Shaven put the handcuffs down. He held out a hand. “Then you walk beside me, no fuss. Any tricks and the irons go on.”
Every word out of his mouth made Juliana hate him even more, but at least this way her wrists would be free. She nodded and let him take her arm at the elbow. They went down to the gangplank where Handlebar Mustache waited. He took note of her free wrists but gave no retort.
She walked with her captors inside a large, gray building. Over the main doors hung a banner with the Black Industries emblem. She stared at it as she walked under and inside the building. Everything was sleek and shinny. Every employee wore silk suits and a few wore top hats. Sophistication. No one in New San Gimignano dressed this way unless a special occasion.
They went up some stairs to a large office. A desk with a silver tray holding crystal glasses of whiskey sat in the middle of the room. The large window taking up the entire back wall looked out over the city skyline. It gave the appearance of power. Whoever stood at that window owned the world. Narcissist. That word summed up the owner of the office.
A large sketch of the very first Anichanical prototype hung on the wall to Juliana's left. She kept her eyes on it for as long as she could. The seconds ticked by, feeling like hours, and then the office door opened and a male voice reached her ears. “Juliana Russo.”
She closed her eyes, hoping the man would leave, taking his deep voice with him. She counted to three before turning around. But there he stood. He wore round wire spectacles and three silver pocket watches hung over his dark vest. Mousey brown whiskers garnishing his distinguished lips.
He walked inside to his desk and poured himself a glass of whiskey. Turning to Juliana, he asked, “Would you care for some?”
She shook her head, feeling like his dark eyes burned her flesh the longer he stared. They resembled coals, sparking with heat at the edges. One touch would singe a perfect circle into someones skin. He shrugged one shoulder and slowly drank his. When he finished he licked his lips and smiled at Juliana. “It's good to finally meet you, Juliana Russo.”
“Gerard Black, I presume?”
He bowed at the waist. “Indeed.”
“Well, you got me here. What do you want?”
He chuckled. “My, aren't you brave.”
She wasn't really. In fact she was far from it. She stood in front of this powerful man a scared, book smart girl. Nothing more. He moved behind his desk and sat down. He gestured to the chair across from him. “Do be seated.”
Juliana clenched her hands together to control their trembling and sat down. Gerard Black leaned back in his chair. “I'm going to cut to the chase, Juliana Russo,” he said. “I want the code.”
The code? He thought she knew the code? She swallowed and tried to play dumb. “What code?”
Gerard Black removed his spectacles and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Juliana Russo... don't take me for a fool.” He moved his eyes to her's. Again she felt her flesh sizzle. He said, “I know who you are. I know what you know, I just don't know what you know. So... tell me what you know.”
Her head spun. “I... I don't...” She had no words.
Gerard Black reached in a drawer and took out a stack of papers. Afterward, he revealed his gun. The sight of it made Juliana whimper involuntarily. Her reaction caused a smile to touch Gerard Black's lips. “I won't use this on you, Juliana Russo.”
“I don't know any code. Please take me back home.”
He clicked his tongue. “I don't believe you.” He set one of the papers on his desk, turning it upright for Juliana, and slid it towards her. She leaned forward and saw it was a photograph. A gasp escaped her and she covered her mouth before she could scream. The photo showed her father tied to a chair, blood dripping down from his left temple.
Gerard Black poured himself some more whiskey. “That was taken yesterday evening,” he informed nonchalantly. “A tough man, Pietro Russo.” He downed his drink, exhaling with a grimace as it burned going down. “But... I knew one day I would break him.”
Juliana wanted to run from the room, but her legs were like jelly. Her eyes were fixed on her father. They were torturing him. For years —her entire adult life— they'd held him. “Why?” she heard herself ask.
Gerard Black rubbed his chin. “He knows the code. I know he does. But he won't give it to me. However...” He stood up, straightening the bottom of his vest. “He finally fumbled and mentioned a personal detail.” He touched the side of his nose and winked. “He has a daughter.”
Juliana stared straight ahead out the window as the man walked around the desk, around her chair to stand behind her. A shiver ran up her spin. His long fingers rubbed her ear. His hot, whiskey breath tickled her neck. “If you won't give me the code then maybe Pietro will; if it will protect his daughter.”
She stood lightning fast and whirled around. Her hip hit the corner of his desk hard and she yelped. Gerard Black removed his spectacles and rubbed one lens on his sleeve. “You are afraid.”
“Well spotted,” she said softly.
He put the spectacles back on his face. “There is no need. So long as I get what I want.”
“But I swear, I don't know the code.” She was begging now. All she wanted was to be free of this man. “Where is my father? Please, I haven't seen him in seventeen years.”
Gerard Black ignored her. “The code, Juliana Russo.”
“Is my mother with him as well?”
“I don't know it!”
The office fell silent as the grave. Gerard Black sighed deeply and knocked on the door. It opened and entered Handlebar Mustache and Clean Shaven. “Remove this woman and take her to level 12.”
The two men moved straight to Juliana and took hold of her arms. She fought back but to no avail. As they pulled her passed Gerard Black, she pleaded, “Please let us go! We don't know anything! Please!”
The men stopped and turned her to face Gerard Black. The man had a fresh glass of whiskey to his lips. He inhaled the smell of it. “Why must you Russo's lie to me? You must know something.” He sipped his drink and added, “I've researched you, Juliana Russo. I know you're smart. Be smart now. Tell me the code.”
“I'm just a librarian,” she said, feeling more defeated than ever. Her words didn't please him. With a flick of his wrist the two men resumed taking her away. She struggled. “I'm a librarian! I'm a librarian!” Still, no matter what she said or how loudly she screamed, Gerard Black no longer listened.
The men took her to a glass elevator and pressed the golden 12 button. The doors shut and the elevator climbed. Juliana stared at her faded reflection in the glass. She had never seen such fear —such exhaustion— in her eyes before.
The elevator reached the twelfth floor. They went down to the very end of the hallway and entered a room. It was dark and had only one window which had a black blanket over it to block the outside light. Juliana stumbled as she was moved inside. She threw her hands out in front of her to catch her fall. They slapped the hard floor. A sharp sting ran up her fingers to her wrists.
The two men left, locking the door. She heard one set of footsteps leave down the hallway. The other must have stayed to guard her. Fine. She wasn't going to be able to escape anytime soon anyway. She sat down and rubbed her hands together. Something sticky covered her palms. She sniffed them. It smelled odd. Metallic? Some type of grease? She couldn't put her finger on it. What had she touched?
Someone moaned and she went stiff. Her head whipped to the right. “Is someone in here?” she called with a shaky voice. A chair scooted across the floor adjacent to her right. She slowly stood, reaching out so not to bump into anything. She walked and felt a table and a chair. On the table she felt a tall metal object. Feeling up the long, skinny bit, she felt a switch. It was a lamp.
She flipped the switched and blinked her eyes a few times to adjust them to the light. The first thing she saw were bloody hand prints smeared on the lamp. Her hands began to shake with apprehension. She lifted her hands and saw the blood. That's what she'd smelled. The floor had splatters of blood —in some places puddles— and she'd landed right in some.
She cringed with a whimper and rubbed her hands along the edge of the table, trying her best to get as much off as possible. A sob escaped her. Why was this happening? They'd dumped her in a room of blood. All for a code. To destroy the possibility of living animals. Juliana squeezed her eyes shut until she saw white spots. Gerard Black had once filled her with hope. He'd given her Anichanicals. Now, she hated him. Anichanicals, greenhouses, none of it mattered. He was a greedy monster and Juliana detested such people.
The moan sounded and she inhaled sharply as she remembered. Her eyes searched each corner. At the back beside an empty bookshelf, she saw a pair of legs. The ankles were shackled. The rest of the body scooted into view. Juliana screamed and ran around the table. She fell on her knees. Removing the gag from the man's mouth, she threw her arms around his neck and cried. “Dad.”
She kissed his scruffy cheek. His face was bruised and he still had blood along the side of his face as she'd seen in the picture, only now it was a dry, dark brown. Her father examined his daughter with wide, unbelieving eyes. “Juliana?”
“Yes, Dad.” She noticed his wrists were handcuffed. They too had dry blood with a couple fresh patches. She wished she could unlock them for him. However, the shock of seeing her took his mind off the bonds. He raised his hands to her face. “You're a woman.”
She kissed his forehead. He was so weak he seemed like a child. “I'm grown,” she affirmed, not knowing what else to say. She took his hands in hers. “You've been here? This entire time?”
He nodded and lowered his eyes. “I'm so sorry, my daughter. I've tried to get home to you so many times.”
They sat together in stunned silence for a few minutes. Juliana leaned against his chest, allowing herself to become that ten-year-old child again. At long last, she was with her father. She cried and kissed his hands. He wiped away her tears.
She sat up with a sniff. “What about mom? She never came home either.”
Before he could answer her the door opened and in stepped Gerard Black and Handlebar Mustache. Juliana sat beside her father, holding his hand tighter. She felt him squeeze it back.
Handlebar Mustache pulled one of the chairs to one end of the room and then the other to the opposite side. He gestured to one. “Ms. Russo. Take your seat.”
“I'm not moving,” she declared.
Gerard Black checked the time on one of his pocket watches. That gesture brought a worried look to Handlebar Mustache's face. His mustache twitched and he moved quickly over to Juliana. He grabbed her by the collar and dragged her to the chair. She screamed and swatted at his hands. Her father shouted, ordering him to let her go. Handlebar Mustache slammed her down into the chair and then shouted, “Get in your seat, Mr. Russo!”
Pietro slowly got to his feet, standing on shaky legs. He waddled to the other chair and sat down. Handlebar Mustache cracked his neck. “That's better.” He gave a nod to his boss. “The floor is yours, sir.”
Gerard Black moved to stand between the two family members. He rubbed his chin. “I demonstrated my resolve, Pietro Russo,” he said. “You know what I will do to get what I want.”
Juliana heard a click next to her ear. Handlebar Mustache had his gun pointed a her temple. Her breath left her lungs. It felt like someone had knocked the wind out of her. Pietro held out his handcuffed hands. Uncharacteristic tears fell from his eyes. Juliana had never seen her father cry so openly before. “Not my daughter,” he blubbered. “Not Juliana.”
“Then you will finally disclose the code to me,” Gerard Black said, as if confirming it.
Pietro shook his head. “I have told you for years now... I. Don't. Know it!” He rattled his chairs and shook back and forth wildly. Juliana turned her face away. She hated seeing her once strong father in such a state.
Gerard Black gave Handlebar Mustache a look and the man pressed the business end of the gun to Juliana's head. She yelped at the feeling of the cold metal on her skin. The man wrapped his finger around the trigger. One more look from his boss and Juliana would certainly die.
“Last chance, Pietro Russo,” said Gerard Black. “I'm sure I can find others to use against you.”
“We don't know any code!” Juliana shouted. Gerard Black hadn't expected her outburst. He turned slowly and gave her one of his burning stares. Juliana wasn't the type of person to give away a person's secrets, but her life and her father's life lay in the balance. She had to do something. “Carlo Costa. He has your code. He's the man you want.”
Gerard Black smiled followed by joyous laughter. He was sincerely happy. This reaction cued Handlebar Mustache to stand down. He removed his weapon from her head. Gerard Black held his hand over his stomach. “Wow!” he said with a wide smile. He looked at Pietro. “Your daughter broke way easier than you did.” He rubbed his hands together. “Carlo Costa,” he repeated. “Thank you, Juliana Russo.” He bowed to her and she detested the clear mockery behind it.
Handlebar Mustache waited for his boss to make the first move. Gerard Black checked one of his watches. He took his sweet time before he finally left the room. His minion followed and locked the door. No doubt he stood outside like a good guard dog.
Juliana rushed to her father. He shook his head. She knew he was disappointed in her. All his time in captivity, keeping Carlo a secret, and she spilled it. She wiped her brown eyes. “I had too. I'm sorry, Dad.”
Pietro rubbed his wet nose. “No, my daughter. You did what was right.” He choked on his words and coughed into his hands. Juliana rubbed his back. He stiffened under her touch.
The sound of a zeppelin reached Juliana's ears. It sounded close. Too close. She tried to pinpoint the direction it came from. Only Black Industries were allowed to dock at the zeppelin port outside. The racket of the nearing craft perplexed her. Black Industries zeppelins had a distinct sound due to their massive size and expensive boilers and propellers. They flew almost completely mute. This sounded nothing like those.
And then... contact.
Juliana and her father were thrown backwards. She slammed into the door; stars danced in front of her eyes. Rubble fell all around them from the hole in the wall. Smoke filled in the empty spaces near the ceiling. Pietro called out to Juliana. She ducked under the smoke. What had caused the explosion?
She crawled to her father. Dust coated his face and clothes. She wiped some from his eyes, but it did little help because her hands were just as filthy. Someone unlocked the door and jiggled the doorknob. It was wedge shut. Handlebar Mustache's voice shouted for assistance.
A person from outside the hole landed with a thud inside the room. A light flashed on but it didn't do much good in the dense smoke and dust. It searched the area. “Juli?”
“Nathaniel?” She coughed and waved her arm. The smoke was too dense. He couldn't see her. She clapped her hands. The newcomer followed the sound and soon he was on his knees beside her. She had never been so happy to see her childhood friend in all her life. He put away his light and pulled out some pliers from his belt. “I'm here to help,” he said to Pietro. He squeezed the pliers and the chains snapped, clattering to the floor.
The people outside the door started to ram it. The men grunted with each collision. Time was running short. They needed to escape now. Nathaniel snapped the chains from Pietro's ankles as well and then took one of Pietro's arms. He helped him to his feet. “Let's go, Juli!” he shouted over the booms of the battering ram.
They went to the edge of the hole in the wall. Juliana froze in place, petrified by the height. Icy wind hit her face. A small zeppelin hovered a few feet from the building. A side of the deck wall was turned outward like a door. Juliana was surprised to see Carlo standing near it on the deck. “Jump!” the man ordered.
“What?” Juliana couldn't believe him. Jump? They would surely miss, fall to their deaths. But Nathaniel wasn't fazed by the word. He spoke into Pietro's ear and the weak man nodded. Nathaniel pulled him onto his back and took a few steps back.
Terror rose even higher in Juliana's chest. She moved over to him. “You will fall!” she yelled.
Nathaniel chuckled and ran toward the hole. With a strong push off his leg he lunged and leaped, effortlessly clearing the gap even with his passenger. Once on the deck Carlo took care of Pietro. Nathaniel looked back at Juliana. “You can make it!”
The door was knocked in. Juliana screamed as a few men, including Handlebar Mustache, came at her. They dropped their makeshift battering ram which was nothing but a skinny, iron table. Juliana moved as close to the edge as she dared. Nathaniel's voice shouted threats at the men. Juliana had nowhere left to run. Come get me, Nathaniel, she begged.
Something large careened through the smoke, entering the room from the hole. It stood tall and swiped at the men. They flew back hard and their blood spurted across Juliana's dress and face. Her eyes watered from the smoke, but she knew an Anichanical when she saw one. Especially this Anichanical.
The device fell on all fours and faced Juliana. She covered her mouth and climbed onto Alec's back. The Anichanical grizzly bear jumped with her to the deck of the zeppelin. Once on board, Juliana let her feelings go. She cried and gripped the leather harness near her face.
Nathaniel closed the opening. “On board!” he shouted. Someone heard his words and the zeppelin turned about. The entire time Juliana held onto Alec for dear life.
Once Juliana calmed down –as much as anyone in her predicament could— she dismounted her Anichanical and headed inside the bridge. Nathaniel had given her some space and waited for her there. She spotted him leaning against a wall picking at his cuticles. He heard her footsteps and looked up. “Hey,” he said softly.
She went to him, staring him in the face. And then she shoved him. He hit the wall and scoffed. “What? You're angry with me? You can't be serious!”
She started to pound on his chest. He grabbed her wrists. She screamed and tried to pull from him. As quickly as her fighting came she stopped and fell against his chest. He wrapped his arms around her. “You're safe, Juli,” he whispered against her frazzled hair. She slowed her breathing and moved backed from her friend. “Where's my dad?”
Nathaniel gave her a confused look. “Your dad?” His eyes lit up as he realized. “Wait. That man is—”
“He needs me. Where is he?”
“Carlo took him below. He's in one of the cabins.”
Juliana went to the door which lead straight to some stairs. She went down and found herself in a dank, wide hallway. There were many doors, one larger than the others; that one led to the galley. She stared blankly down the hallway. Where would she look first? This zeppelin was no where as big as the one she'd been brought in on, but there were still many doors.
Nathaniel came up behind her. “I'll show you.” He squeezed by her and she followed him down the hallway. They went about halfway before he stopped and knocked on a door to the left. “Enter,” Carlo invited. Nathaniel opened the door and moved aside. Juliana went in. Pietro sat on a small bed. Carlo had removed the remaining bits of the shackles and now tended his wounds. Juliana sat beside her father. She tried to avoid making eye contact with Carlo.
The man smiled as he bandaged one of Pietro's wrists. “When I heard the Black Industries zeppelin fly over my cabin I knew something had happened to you. They never send zeppelins to New San Gimignano. They're shipments always enter New Florence.” He moved his attention to Pietro's other wrist. “I went into town and went to the home where Pietro had left you. When I arrived your pretty friend was speaking with that young man.” He nodded his head at Nathaniel. “I knew you weren't arrested and asked him then for help to rescue you.” He turned his eyes to Juliana's with a smile. “It didn't take much convincing.”
Juliana blushed and Nathaniel barked a laugh. “Okay, relax.”
Carlo moved his eyes to Pietro. “I'm happy you're safe, though I'm certain I advised you not to go to New Paris.”
Pietro almost laughed, but his pain was too great. He covered his eyes with one hand. Carlo patted his shoulder. Juliana hated seeing him so broken. “Just take us home, please.”
Pietro shot his head up. “No. No, not home. We need to open the lab. The clones –Project Reinisiate— it must be released.”
This surprised them all. Juliana shook her head. They needed to get as far from Gerard Black as possible. But Pietro was insistent. “Gerard Black... he...” He exhaled and started again. “That man was sure I knew the code based, on my research; no matter what I said to convince him otherwise. He held us prisoner for years. For... years....”
One word stuck out to Juliana. “Us? Mom? Yes, where is she?” Her heart twisted. “Dear God. Did we leave her behind?” How could they be so careless?
Pietro shook his head as Carlo finished wrapping his other wrist. Pietro grasped his daughter's hand. “Gerard Black was sure I knew the code. He told me to tell him or he'd... and I didn't... so he...” He pulled his daughter close and cried. “I'm so sorry, my daughter. I couldn't stop them. I couldn't stop them.”
She stood fast as lightning, backing away from the bed. Her heavy breathing returned. Gerard Black had murdered her mother. Juliana sprinted from the cabin. She went back up the stairs to the deck. Alec stood where she'd left him. She skidded to a stop and crawled underneath his body. She used to do this all the time when she was sad or scared as a child. At this moment she was as sad and scared as ever.
She covered her mouth with both hands, trying to stifle the loud sobs she couldn't help. Her mother had gone with her father for the joy of travel. She wasn't meant to be there. She never should have died.
The sun began to set. Juliana lay curled in a ball, still under her Anichanical. Her chest ached from all her crying and her eyes were dried out. She wiggled out from under Alec and found her feet. The Anichanical nudged her with his nose. She rubbed him and caught her reflection on his shoulder. Her face looked puffy and red. She needed to get a hold of herself. Her time feeling woebegone had to end. Now she needed to focus on releasing the clones of Project Reinisiate.
She went down to the galley where she heard clinking plates. Inside sat Carlo and Nathaniel. She knocked on the door. Nathaniel smiled at her. “Well look who's back.”
She glowered at him, still not in the mood for teasing. Carlo stood. Without a word he approached her. She took a weary step back. He gestured to her hands and she looked down. Red and brown stains gawked back at her. Instantly she began to shake and she checked over the rest of herself. Not a single cut and yet blood sprinkled her dress.
A squeak escaped her throat. Carlo took her hand. “I'll assist you, my dear.” He lead her to a cabin and opened a trunk. Inside were copper-colored striped trousers and a white shirt. A red cravat was pinned to the collar. Carlo passed them over to Juliana. She stared at them with a cocked eyebrow. “I won't wear that,” she said matter-of-fact.
He inhaled slowly. “Would you rather walk around covered in strangers' blood?”
Point made. She took the clothing. “Thank you,” she forced out.
Carlo nodded. “There's a washstand in the corner.” He left so she could change.
When her hands and face were thoroughly washed and she was changed, she decided to wait a few minutes before heading out to the hallway. She looked at herself in a mirror on the wall. Wearing mens clothing made her feel foolish. Her in trousers. “Louise would gossip this to the entire library,” she said to no one. Not only Louise, but Nathaniel would soon see her this way. He would definitely mock her. She fiddled with the cravat in her hand. She didn't want to wear it, even if she knew how to tie it. Still, she felt bad just leaving it behind.
She tightened the laces on her boots –at least they were her own— and she opened the door. Carlo waited for her. She hadn't realized that. He moved off the wall and smiled at her sweetly. “Feel better?”
She made a face. “Not entirely. No.”
“I can understand that,” he allowed. “You must be hungry. Come. Have some soup.” He led the way back to the galley. Nathaniel had his feet up on the table. His Anichanical parrot stood perched on his toes. It squawked when they entered. Nathaniel wiggled his feet to shut the machine up. When his eyes fell on Juliana he snorted a laugh. “Hello there, good sir.”
She sat down across from him and shoved his feet. Carlo went to get her a bowl of soup. Nathaniel chuckled. “I'm teasing. Better than blood splatter. That Anichanical of yours packs quite a punch.”
Carlo set down her bowl before her. The soup smell amazing and she realized how famished she actually was. She grabbed a spoon, the cravat still wrapped around her hand like a bandage, and she ate. Carlo sat beside her. He brought his hands up to his lips. “I am truly sorry for your loss, Ms. Russo.”
She said nothing.
Carlo said, “Your father is resting. I assured him I'd look after you.”
Juliana couldn’t hold back her snicker. “I'm a grown woman. I don't need looking after.”
Nathaniel laughed hard and sniffed. “Oh Juli.”
She looked up at him from under her lashes. “Was that funny?”
He held up his thumb and index fingers, both only an inch apart. “Bit,” he said. Even that made Juliana grin despite herself. She finished her soup and faced Carlo. “Are we going to New Paris?”
He cocked an eyebrow. “Eager?” She simply stared into his brown eyes. He continued. “Not just yet. I need to collect something from a contact in New London.”
Nathaniel licked the rim of his bowl, smacking his lips. “What sort of thing?”
Carlo kept his eyes on Juliana. “A key card. Without it we won't be able to activate the keypad to punch in the code.”
Juliana sighed and rubbed her eyes. All she wanted was to get this entire nightmare over with. At the end she and her father could return home and begin their lives anew. Nathaniel picked at some potato between his teeth and stood from the table. His Anichanical flew to his shoulder. A yawn escaped Nathaniel's lips. “I'm going to rest. Wake me when we arrive.” He gave Juliana a consolatory smile and left the galley.
She looked at Carlo. All of this had started with him. She wanted desperately to blame it all on him. Her mother's murder, her father's imprisonment, her own plethora of emotions; she wanted to blame him for it all. But what would that achieve? She would get out the top layer of her frustration and yet still feel the dark abyss steadily growing in her heart.
Carlo turned to face her head on. “Ms. Russo,” he began. “I know you are cross with me. I truly wish that I had done something sooner. I never should have... well the past is past. What I hope to do now is rectify that.”
She had no words to respond with. She nodded once, slowly, and Carlo exhaled. The air became awkward. She finished her soup and he offered her more, which she declined. He cleared the table. Juliana rubbed her face. She hoped he'd read her body language and leave her be. Instead, he sat across from her in Nathaniel's old seat. She peeked at him over her hands. He said, “I knew your mother. Well, I met her once.”
Juliana shook her head. “I'm sorry, but I don't want to hear.”
He put his hands in his lap. They stared at each other. She looked right into his eyes. There was something behind them. Some dark past. Why had he left his research? Project Reinisiate sounded like a revolutionary undertaking. Repopulating the world with the lost animals; the mere idea sent goosebumps up her arms.
She twirled the cravat in her hands, weaving it between her fingers. Carlo nodded towards it. “That's mine. I wore it when I got married.”
Juliana's cheek became hot. “I'm sorry. It was with the clothing.” She held it out to him. He waved his hand dismissively. “No. You hold onto it.”
She set down her hand. “You're married?”
He swallowed, lifting his fingertips to his lips. “No. Not anymore.”
For the second time, the air became awkward. Juliana moved the cravat from sight. A few loose hairs fell in her eyes. She blew them aside and started tapping her toe. The stillness probed her. She desperately wanted a book to bring her comfort.
As she prepared to make her exit, Carlo lifted his elbows to the table, resting his chin on his fists. She held still, waiting for him to speak. He opened his mouth, closed it, and then opened it. “I am not a failure.”
His words took her by surprise. She'd never implied such a thing. Carlo cocked a small smile and made sure he had her eyes. “I've made choices. I've made mistakes. But I am not a failure.”
“Yes, sir.” That was all she could think to say.
“Juliana... you are a part of something that you shouldn't have been privy too. Gerard Black's rampage is my doing. I never should have left the laboratory.” He set down his hands on the table. “I will do everything in my power to get you and your father home. Do you trust me?”
All Juliana wanted was to return to her Anichanical and wait out this storm. Her life had never been simple, but this topped it all. A book. She wanted to read a book.
“I trust you,” she heard herself say.
Carlo stood. “Thank you, Juliana.” He left the galley and Juliana listened to his footsteps until they reached the top of the stairs.
An hour later, Nathaniel shook her awake. She'd fallen asleep beside her father's bed. She sat up a little too quickly. Her shoulder hit the bed frame. Pietro turned over and rubbed his eyes. Nathaniel raised his eyebrows. “Comfortable?” he asked her. Juliana stood up and sat on the foot of the bed. She gave her father a sweet smile. Pietro sat up. “Where are we?”
“We'll be landing soon. Carlo wants to go over the plan.”
“Plan?” Juliana said. “I don't want my dad leaving this craft.”
Nathaniel cracked his half smile. “Relax, Juliana. He'll stay on board with the crew. You on the other hand...” He paused for a moment and thought. “Carlo wants you along.” She could hear it in his voice that even Nathaniel wasn't sure why she had to go. Juliana stood, kissed her father's head, and went to the bridge with her friend.
Nathaniel gestured toward her left wrist. “What's that thing?”
She had tied Carlo's cravat around her wrist. She raised and lowered one shoulder. “Carlo told me to hang onto it. I couldn't think of another place to put it.”
Nathaniel didn't question it further. He nudged her with his elbow playfully as they climbed the stairs. Once on the bridge, Juliana saw Alec staring in the window from the deck. Nathaniel's parrot sat on his back. They stared in at the humans blankly. Their empty, robotic eyes made her laugh. They had such life, and yet, they had none.
The bridge had three other men, Carlo and two others. Carlo beckoned the newcomers over. They were all looking at a map of New London. Carlo tapped part of it. “He's there. Our best bet is to enter this way.”
One of the men shook his head. “That is too far out in the open. You know Gerard Black will have his spies there.”
The other man, who had a long, blonde ponytail, nodded in agreement. “Lennon's right, Carlo. Even with a small party you'll be spotted.”
Juliana and Nathaniel reached the group. “What are we talking about?” Nathaniel asked.
Lennon answered, “Carlo's contact lives in this building. We are trying to find a way in.” Nathaniel chuckled softly. Lennon gave him a look. “You have something to say?”
“Yeah,” Nathaniel said. “Why not just ring the door bell?”
Lennon and Ponytail exchanged glances. Carlo inhaled slowly. “It isn't so simple, Mr. Unsworth.”
“Gerard Black will do anything to get his hands on Carlo,” Ponytail said. “By now he's informed his own contacts of his identity. They'll be watching the place.”
Carlo touched the map again. “I still think this will be the best way in. Gerard Black and his people didn't get a good look at Nathaniel. He is our perfect distraction.”
Juliana didn't feel right. Using her oldest friend as a type of bait made her stomach twist. Nathaniel didn't seem as worried for his safety. He rubbed his hands together. “Set me up.”
Lennon grinned and Juliana noticed his teeth were crooked on top. He looked at Ponytail. “Benjamin, you keep eyes on him and I'll take Carlo and the girl.”
Benjamin rubbed under his nose. “Sounds good.”
Juliana knew she was the girl they spoke of. She shook her head. “I have no business going down there,” she declared.
Carlo met her worried eyes. “I need you. You're essential to our plan.”
She pressed her lips together. “I have no skills to lend you. I'm just a librarian.”
“Come on, Juli,” Nathaniel said. “You and I both know that's not true.”
A memory of them as children came to her mind. They'd gone out to a small cave outside the city, riding Alec, and Nathaniel had convinced her to drop down the dark hole. She'd discovered the bones of a bat fossilized in the rock. When she returned home and showed Pietro he had been upset with her for doing something so dangerous, but pride showed on his face even so.
Disregarding the memory, Juliana crossed her arms defensively. “I don't want too.”
Carlo went around the table to stand beside her. “Juliana, I need you. The man I need to see has something I need. Without it we won't be able to enter the code.”
She made a face. “But why me?”
Carlo touched her shoulder gingerly. “My dear, all you need to do is back me up. In case something goes wrong. You are the only one I trust.”
She shivered at his words and inhaled slowly. Carlo whispered in her ear. “Will you do this for me?”
Juliana pulled back from him. “Why me? Take Nathaniel. You can trust him. If you trust me then you can trust him. You have my word.”
Nathaniel stared at her. He looked amused and flattered. “Be confidant, Juliana,” he said.
She hugged her body. She felt anything but confidant. Lennon chuckled. “I agree with the girl,” he said. “If I were you, Carlo, I'd leave her here.”
Even though that was how she felt, hearing some stranger say so ignited a spark inside her. She put her hands on her hips. Carlo held his head high, a smile across his face. “I believe in her.” He went back around the table. “Let's finalize our plan. We have little time before we reach the New London's zeppelin port.”
The men went over each street, weighing the pros and cons. After thirty minutes, they decided on a plan. They'd send in Nathaniel to the sky-train station where he would cause a distraction big enough for Gerard Black's spies full attention. Below, Carlo and Juliana would sneak inside a side door of the contact's building and acquire the key card. They had no more than five minutes before Gerard Black's men were sure to grow bored of whatever Nathaniel whipped up.
Once the plan was finalized, Juliana went out onto the deck. The Anichanical's both followed her to the bow. She enjoyed their company. Even Nathaniel's annoying parrot. Most of the time she preferred Anichanical's to people. As she stood at the bow she noticed that they were coming into the port. She stared down at the many zeppelins lining the docks. Even from that height she could see that none of Gerard Black's zeppelins were docked. That took some of the stress off her, but she knew that didn't mean his spies weren't nearby.
Before they went out into the streets of New London, she wanted to speak with her father. Anything could happen once they got down there. She wondered through the zeppelin until she reached her father's cabin. He was standing by the porthole at the back. He turned slowly as she walked in. It killed her when she felt tears coming.
“Juliana, you're fine,” he said softly. She ran into his arms. Being with him again after so long made her dizzy. She couldn't think. He held her tightly. “You're fine,” he repeated.
“I'm not worried about me,” she confessed.
Pietro put his hand under her chin and she looked up at him. His sunken cheeks and battered face made her cringe. Years of unjust suffering all for a code. Project Reinisiate had better work, she thought bitterly. “I won't be gone long,” she promised. When had she become his protector? All of the lost years between them. She wanted Gerard Black to lose everything. His entire operation. What sort of man deserved such riches if that was how he went about ensuring he kept them? Such power hungry people always lost sight on why they did good to begin with.
Nathaniel's Anichanical squawked and entered the cabin. “Departure. Departure,” the machine echoed. Juliana hugged her father. Right then she made a vow to herself. She would return to him. “See you soon, Dad.” She turned and followed the Anichanical without looking back.
She made it to the deck where the crew, Nathaniel, and Carlo waited. Her Anichanical pawed the deck. She knew him well. He wanted to go with her. She shook her head at him. This was a stealth mission. A large, mechanical grizzly bear would draw an unwanted audience.
Carlo strapped a gun to his hip. “Are we ready?”
Lennon and Benjamin shook hands and went to their positions. They would monitor from the bridge. Nathaniel and Carlo each wore trackers on their collars in case something went wrong. Juliana wouldn't need one since she would be with Carlo the entire time. Nathaniel ruffled his hair. “Onward,” he replied.
Carlo looked at Juliana. He asked her, without words, if she was sure she wanted to do this. She tried to swallow but her throat was too tense with anticipation. Instead she gave a thumbs up. Carlo opened the side door which lead to a gangplank. “Let's begin.”
Juliana walked between the two men. They stayed together for most of the walk to their mapped out zone. Juliana had never been outside New Tuscany. Seeing New Scotland and now trekking through New London fascinated her. She saw buildings and sights that she'd only ever read about. The sky-trains, for one, were much sleeker than she'd pictured. The were like a regular steam train that road on a track, except the track was a single rail over the streets. The train could ride above or below it at incredible speeds. She watched one zip by almost in perfect silence. If it weren't for the puffs of steam it would have passed by unnoticed. Juliana smiled. She couldn't help herself. She made a mental note to study them more when she returned to work.
At long last they reached the zone. Nathaniel took off running down an alley to his preplanned position. He moved around civilians and left their sights. Juliana and Carlo waited for his distraction so that they could move on. Carlo checked the time on his watch. “Come on, Mr. Unsworth. Schedule.”
“He'll make it,” Juliana vouched.
Carlo smiled. “Yes, he will.”
Another train rushed by. The swiftness of it startled Juliana. Exhilaration. The power and grace of the sky-trains impressed and mystified her. She covered her mouth when she felt her laughter coming. Passersby didn't need to question why they were standing in a corner. She had to act natural.
Carlo watched her as she tried to keep it down. “You are... quirky.”
His choice of word ended her snickers. She lowered her hand. “Am I?”
He could see he'd offended her. He grimaced. “I meant that as a term of endearment.”
She shook it off. Of course he hadn't meant anything by it. She shrugged. “Well, I'm use to being teased. I've chosen Nathaniel as one of my dearest friends.”
There came a pause as her words floated around them. They shared a moment of eye contact and then the two of them laughed, each taking a breath and continuing simultaneously. A civilian exiting a stagecoach glanced their way before moving on. Carlo held his fingers to his grinning lips. “Shhh. We mustn’t laugh.”
Juliana closed her mouth, biting on her lip to silence her giddiness. She watched Carlo out of the corner of her eye. His brown eyes, for a fleeting moment, looked serene. Just as quickly they returned to their sadness. He checked his watch again and looked the way Nathaniel had gone.
A sky-train riding below the rail came to an abrupt halt. Carlo and Juliana watched it screech along the rail until it stopped right over their heads. That was strange. Sky-trains never stopped on the rails unless at a station. Moments later, a sky-train above the rail stopped a few feet behind the one on bottom. Civilians stopped and glanced up. Everyone had their full attention on the bizarre turn of events. The conductors stuck their heads out their windows. “Can you see anything?” the above conductor called?
“Nothing!” shouted the bottom conductor. “Are we sure there's a jumper?”
“That's what the radio reported!”
Carlo and Juliana exchanged the same knowing look. Nathaniel was somewhere along the rails, standing in their way. That would gather the masses, for sure. If Gerard Black had eyes on the building they were most-likely not paying attention any longer. Nathaniel's distraction was so good, Juliana had to snap herself out of it.
“Carlo, it's Nathaniel doing.”
They hurried around to the side door. Carlo picked the lock and they went in. “Room two-twenty-three,” he directed. The two of them took the stairs to the second floor. The door they sought entered their view as soon as they reached the top of the steps. Carlo rapped his knuckles on the wood. A breath later a man answered. “Carlo?”
“The card,” Carlo said, a bit out of breath. “I need it.”
The man's eyes widened. “Are you sure?”
“Now!” Carlo snapped.
The contact went inside his apartment and returned with a black box. He set his hand on a bottom screen and Carlo put his on a top screen. Their hands were scanned and a green light flashed. A click sounded and a white card popped from a slot in the side. Carlo took hold of it, slipping it in his pocket. The contact looked at Juliana. “You have a new assistant?”
“Juliana,” Carlo said.
The contact inhaled sharply but tried to cover it up with a cough. Carlo tugged on his sleeve. “We have it. Back to the zeppelin.”
“That's all?” she question.
Carlo thanked his contact and ran for the stairs. Juliana fell into step behind him, looking over her shoulder at the contact only once. They two of them exited the side door and Carlo pressed a button on his tracker. It sent a signal to Lennon as well as Nathaniel. Their cue. The deed was done.
Carlo and Juliana waited for Nathaniel at the rendezvous point. Juliana tried to catch her breath. “This happened very fast,” she pointed out.
Carlo patted his pocket that held the card. “Perfectly.”
Juliana searched the street for Nathaniel. It was taking him longer than planned. The worst imagines every abominable thing that could possibly happen to him flashed across her mind. What if police had apprehended him? What if a train hadn't stopped? What if he'd fallen by mistake?
Nathaniel bounded around a corner, as if jetting from her mind, and sprinted to his waiting comrades. Juliana let out a long exhale. When he reached her she wrapped her arms around his torso. “I thought you were dead,” she admitted. He pulled her off him, shaking his sweaty head. “Don't be stupid, Juli.”
Something volleyed passed her ear and struck the wall behind her. Brick dust exploded around the small hole. She yelped and side-stepped away from the damage. Civilians in the vicinity screamed and ran for cover. Carlo scanned the rooftops. He pointed. “There.”
All their eyes shot up to the roof of the building across from them. A marksmen stood aiming his weapon at them. Carlo told them to run. Neither argued. Another bullet was fired but missed as they moved in the nick of time. Nathaniel swore under his breath. “They must have followed me from the station.”
“Don't start blaming yourself, Mr. Unsworth!” Carlo ordered. “Keep running!”
Juliana's vision became tunneled. She could only see the back of Carlo's gray and black speckled head. Just follow Carlo. He'll protect you. Trust him.
They ran around a corner and she heard a bullet fire. Nathaniel yowled in pain. Juliana heard him fall. Carlo stopped and she ran into him. Her eyes blinked wildly, anxious to clear her sight. Carlo went to Nathaniel's fallen form. Juliana saw blood pooling under his leg at an alarming rate.
Carlo tore Nathaniel's pant leg to the knee and examined the wound. “It went clean through.” He touched the torn flesh. Nathaniel screamed and Juliana covered her ears. “Looks like it missed bone,” Carlo assessed. “Lucky for you.” He pulled Nathaniel's arm over his shoulders and got him to stand. Another burst of pain. Another scream. “We can't stay here,” Carlo told him. “Try. You must try.”
“God! I'm shot!” Nathaniel hissed through gritted teeth.
Juliana went to the two men and took hold of Nathaniel's other arm. She helped support his weight. His blood trailed behind them. People pointed it out but were too afraid to go near them. Where there was blood there was danger.
Nathaniel's head began to bob. He was loosing blood too fast. They moved behind a building for cover and they set him down. Juliana pressed the heels of her hands to her forehead. “He's going to pass out.” She stood in front of Carlo. “What do we do?”
Carlo didn't bother beating around the bush. “With him injured we will be captured. There's no way we will all make it back with him this way.”
Reflexively, she punched the man in the shoulder. It didn't hurt him in the slightest, but it got his attention. She pressed her lips together and inhaled slowly. “Don't. Don't even say it.”
“I haven't said anything.”
She punched him again. “We aren't leaving him. He's my best friend.” She looked at her friend's limp body. His eyes were still open but his jaw had fallen slack. He blinked and his eyelids slowly closed. She nudged him with her foot and his eyes shot open. “Stay awake, Nathaniel.”
Carlo peeped around the corner. “We don't have much time. They know he's been hit. It's evident on the snow.”
“Then why are we standing here?” she snapped.
Carlo took Juliana's shoulders in his blood-covered hands. He looked her dead in the eye. “Listen to me, Juliana. Are you listening?”
She grimaced. “Yes.”
He lowered his voice so only she could hear. “10, 21, 12, 9, 1, 14, 1.”
She didn't understand. What was that list of numbers? Did he just tell her the code? He reached in his pocket and took out the key card. Taking her hand, he pressed the card into her palm. He touched his nose and she paid close attention while he repeated the seven digit code. “Memorize it.” He said it once more, making her repeat every number after he spoke it. “Do you have it?”
“I... I think so.”
“You must know.”
“Okay. I know. Why are you telling?”
Carlo went to Nathaniel. He'd fallen unconscious during their memorization game. He lifted him and his eyes fluttered open. Carlo passed him to Juliana. “Take him to the zeppelin. If I don't return in five minutes leave without me.”
That was why he'd given her the code. He didn't think he'd return. She felt a twinge of sorrow for him. “You have to make it. We can't do this without you.”
He smiled. His sad eyes looked happy. “I'll try.” He swallowed. “I'll try, Juliana..... Russo.” He kissed her cheek. “Now go.” He ran out of cover. A stranger's voice shouted his name and Carlo ran at a full-out sprint. Three men soon gave chase.
Juliana stood alone with her semi-conscious friend. She had four blocks to cover before she reached the zeppelin port. “We'll be okay, Nathaniel,” she whispered. Step by step, she towed him with her. 10, 21, 12, 9, 1, 14, 1. She repeated the numbers over and over in her head. Those seven numbers kept her going. They boosted her strength. When Carlo boarded their zeppelin again she would whisper them back to him, returning the code back to its rightful owner.
When she saw the rows of zeppelins her face burst into a smile. “We made it,” she told Nathaniel, even though she was sure he'd passed out a block ago. People in the port recoiled away from the two of them. Blood still leaked from Nathaniel's shin. One woman screamed for help. Juliana tuned them all out.
When she arrived at their zeppelin, Benjamin met them at the bottom of the gangplank. He took over holding Nathaniel. As soon as his weight lifted Juliana realized just how heavy he was. It was as if gravity lifted the second Benjamin took him. Even in the frost-bitten weather she was sweating from the endeavor.
Benjamin took Nathaniel to the deck. Lennon passed them on the way to Juliana. He slid gracefully the last foot on a sheet of ice and parked beside Juliana. “Where's Carlo? His tracker went offline as soon as you separated.”
She stared down the trail of red on the white snow. The clock was ticking. “He said to wait five minutes and then leave without him.”
Lennon rubbed the back of his head. “Dear God. He won't make it.”
Juliana glowered at him. “He will. He must.” She chewed her nails as the time passed. One minute. Two. Three. Lennon shook his head. “I'm prepping for departure.” He ran up the gangplank. Juliana rubbed her hands together. Carlo needed help. She wouldn't leave without him. If Gerard Black got a hold of him all would be for not. Not only that, but he'd risked capture for her and Nathaniel. She couldn't live with herself if they left him behind.
She sucked in a deep, frozen breath, and took off back to the city. She followed Nathaniel's blood trail back to where she'd last seen Carlo. His footsteps were still visible in the snow. She tracked them for two blocks and over the Thames. They ended outside an open door of a shop. Inside, civilians were on their knees against a wall. The men who'd pursued Carlo were banging on a bolted door. A sign on it indicated the door led to a stairwell.
Juliana silently backed out to the street and counted the floors of the building. Four. Carlo could be hiding on any of them. She studied each frosted window for any sign of him. None came to her. Her dark eyes wandered up to the roof. A gasp caught in her throat. Carlo had his back to the street, his hand grasping his gun.
She held back her desire to shout his name. He was safe. If she distracted him now he wouldn't be able to find a safe way down. Not only that but his pursuers would hear and come after her. Their best bet was to stay quiet. She backed up to the building across the street to get a better vantage point. The men inside were finally able to break the door down. They fought their way in the tiny stairwell, directing each other where to search first.
Carlo's body language changed. He knew he had little time. They were coming. His name bubbled up in her mouth like foam. She wanted to warn him. She could help guide him. He turned and she got a good look at his face. His lips with turned down at the corners. Snow stuck to his whiskers making it shimmer like crystals. He clutched his gun for dear life; he would kill anyone who tried to seize him.
Gerard Black's men were on the third floor. Juliana could see lights turning on. Furniture was being overturned. The men were growing impatient.
Carlo measured the distance between his building and the closest to it. Juliana bit down on her bottom lip. Jumping was too risky. The buildings were farther apart than the zeppelin had been to the room where Nathaniel rescued her and Pietro. A sky-train rail ran across the street and he could easily reach it if he jumped. However, if he did he'd have no way of getting down before a train came. He'd be killed. She noticed a drainpipe along the side of his building. He could shimmy down if he moved fast. Only he didn't see it. She had to tell him. She had to help.
As she opened her mouth to shout to him one of Gerard Black's men appeared on the roof. Carlo didn't bother turning around to face his adversary. The man shouted, “Freeze, Carlo Costa! We aren't here to hurt you! Come quietly and your friends won't die!”
Carlo closed his eyes. “You don't have my friends,” he said just loud enough for Juliana to hear. Gerard Black's man stepped closer; Juliana could see the top of his head. He had his gun raised, pointed squarely at Carlo's back. “We shot your friend! We have eyes on your craft! Everyone will die unless you come with me now!”
Juliana predicted Carlo's next move. He would allow himself to be taken. When that happened she would follow them until the right time came to save him. She would. Somehow. Even if she had to beg Lennon to fly after him. They wouldn't abandon him.
“Mr. Black only wants the code!” the man shouted. “Don't be a hero! No one will ever know about Project Reinisiate! Accept that fact! Come now and everything will be all right!”
Carlo's eyebrows furrowed. He bared his teeth and turned to face the man. Juliana heard the other two men enter the roof. Carlo raised his gun. The men ordered him to drop his weapon. He didn't obey. “Gerard Black is a coward!” he bellowed. “My partners and I only want what is best for the world! We can bring the animals back!” He cocked the gun. “This isn't about money, you fools! It's about peace! Doing what is right! Returning LIFE!” His hands started to shake. He bowed his head. “I will not allow you to have the code!”
Juliana watched in horror as Carlo raised his gun to his own head. His name finally left her lips the rattling moment he pulled the trigger. She screamed but it came out silently, carried off by the wind. Carlo's body shot backwards and tumbled end over end once before slamming onto the street. The civilians inside the shop were at the window when he connected with the ground. They screamed and dashed from the shop and down the street, escaping from the horror.
Juliana ran to his body. His blood coated his head. She vomited at the sight of his destroyed skull. Brain matter decorated the muzzle of the gun which was still pinched between his blue fingers. At least the snow had cushioned his body from much further mutational.
Gerard Black's men were gawking from the roof. They saw her over Carlo's body. “It's the Russo girl!” Without further instruction, all of them started their way down to her. She couldn't stay to mourn her friend. He'd given her the code. She needed to protect it with her life.
She found her feet and ran as fast as she could. She covered nearly the entire width of the Thames before the men exited the shop. Her mind raced. He'd killed himself. Carlo was dead. Now what would they do? She had the key card, she knew the code, yet she still felt completely unprepared. How would they free the scientists without being captured and tortured by Gerard Black?
She knew the men were chasing her, but it was almost comforting to know they wouldn't shoot. They needed her alive. She kept that in mind as she ran into the zeppelin port. Lennon saw her coming and the zeppelin roared to life. Steam shot from the lower steam pipes and the propellers whorled. She ran up the gangplank, grabbing the deck wall to swing herself the rest of the way. She fell to her knees and sucked in as much air as she could. Lennon locked the deck door and shouted, “On board!”
Benjamin turned the wheel from the bridge and the zeppelin pulled away from the dock and steadily rose to the sky. Lennon crossed his strong arms as he stood over her. “Where did you go? We knew Carlo wouldn't make it back. Benjamin and I made a plan for this outcome. You could have foiled it.”
She was surprised by the amount of tears that leaked from her eyes. She pulled her knees into her chest and met Lennon's black eyes. “Carlo killed himself.”
Lennon's stern face grew soft. He lowered his arms to his sides. “What?”
She nodded and saw Alec coming to her from the back of the zeppelin. He lay beside her and she rested her head on his snow-flaked side. She hugged her body and wiped her eyes on her sleeve. A thought came to her. She glanced down at her left wrist. Carlo's red cravat stared at her like a haunting memory.
Benjamin came down from the bridge once they were at their top speed. He pointed at Juliana. “What's going on here?” Lennon told him the news. Benjamin's eyes widened. “No way.”
Juliana untied the cravat from her wrist and balled it in her hand. She should have done something sooner. Cornered on that roof, of course he hadn't seen a way out. Anger built up inside her. How could he? There must have been another way. There was always another way. Instead, he chose to leave her behind. Sure they'd had their spats, but their entire relationship started in the mists of danger, fear, loneliness.... In spite of it all, she'd really admired the man. And now he was gone.
“It's over,” Benjamin said. “Carlo was the one with the code. Without him we can't open the lab.”
Juliana lifted her eyes to him. “He told me.” The men stared at her and she repeated, “He told me. The code. I know the code.” She showed them the key card.
Lennon put his hands on his hips. “I'll be damned.”
Nathaniel slept through the night and most of the next day. Benjamin had stopped the bleeding and stitched his leg up, but he'd lost a lot of blood. He'd be out of action for the next few days. That left the remainder of the mission to the two-man-crew and the book smart girl.
Juliana sat in the galley with her father. She fiddled with Carlo's cravat and the key card. She wrapped the card in the fabric and then unfurled it. Pietro ate some soup slowly. He'd shaved and was feeling much better. Physically at least. He watched her clammy hands. She sniffed constantly, trying not to shed any more tears for Carlo.
10, 21, 12, 9, 1, 14, 1, she repeated for the hundredth time.
Pietro licked his spoon clean. “I'm proud of you.”
She straightened her spine. She'd taken her hair down and it now hung loosely over her shoulders. It resembled ink flowing through water. Her father's brown hair paled in comparison. He scraped his spoon along the inside of his empty bowl. The spoon dug patterns in the leftover scraps.
Juliana scratched her nose. “Why are you proud of me?”
“Because,” he said, “you went back for Carlo... when no one else would. You didn't wait until it was too late or until it was convenient.” He grinned at her. She'd missed his charming grin. He kissed her temple. “I'm very proud of you and he would be too.”
She mouthed a thank you and transferred her eyes back to the card and cravat laying on the table. The feelings boiling inside her needed to overflow on something. Or someone. Gerard Black had chosen to mess with the wrong girl. She would make sure that the code entered the keypad. Project Reinisiate would commence. No one else would die.
Benjamin appeared in the threshold. “New Paris is in sight.”
Juliana clambered to her feet, snatching up the card and cravat. She followed Benjamin to the bridge. She went to the bow and saw the most amazing sight. The skyline of New Paris. It was breathtaking. The sun hung in the western sky, casting an afternoon glare over the snowy city. Even from their distance, she could make out the Eiffel Tower, clear as day.
Her Anichanical grizzly came up beside her, resting his chin on the deck wall. “Isn't it beautiful, Alec?” she whispered, still trying to believe such a sight genuinely stood before her. If only Nathaniel could see, she thought.
Lennon entered her peripheral vision. He looked through a pair of brass binoculars. He twisted a dial on the side and the lences moved outward like a telescope. A dial on the other side made the lences grow or shrink depending on the way it was turned. Lennon concentrated and then hiss out, “Damn.”
That sounded bad. Juliana was sick of hearing bad news. “What happened?”
He set the binoculars on the deck wall and turned to the bridge. “Black Industries zeppelins! Plan B!”
Juliana took the binoculars to take a look. The city looked somewhat blurry when looking with the naked eye, but she became dizzy when she set the binoculars to her face. If she hadn't known better she'd have thought she was standing on the street. Civilians walked passed where she focused. She could make out their every detail right down to their collar buttons. She feared they'd see her they looked so close. Her fingers found the dials on the sides and she adjusted the lences. When she found the zeppelin port she saw four of the Black Industries zeppelins. They'd arrived ahead of them, waiting to intercept them.
Juliana felt the zeppelin slow to a stop. It hovered low to the ground to keep out of sight. They wouldn't enter the city without a new plan. Juliana turned sharply as Lennon went to the bridge. She walked in his wake. “What's plan B?”
“Not as easy as plan A,” he said simply.
On the bridge, Benjamin pulled out a map of New Paris. He flattened it out over the table. “They're here?” It was a rhetorical question. He knew that their adversary awaited them. Lennon scratched his eyebrows. “Without Carlo this will be twenty times harder.” He hooked his thumb over at Juliana. “I still have no clue why he gave her the code. We're the ones who have the experience with rescue missions. Isn't that why he hired us?”
His words cut her deep. She wanted nothing more than to be home, but she wasn't going anywhere. This mission had become a part of her. Carlo trusted her. Nothing she'd done during their brief friendship was worth such trust. That fact irked her. She wasn't special, yet he'd treated her with admiration.
Benjamin ignored Lennon's words and got to business. “The laboratory is here.” He pointed to the Eiffel Tower on the map. “The entrance is there.” His finger slid across the map to the Seine River. “There is a secret door with the keypad hidden just below the water. That is where Juliana will enter the code.”
“It won't be easy,” Lennon stated obviously. “New London was difficult enough even with Carlo and Nathaniel. Trying to access the very thing Gerard Black intends to destroy... this is laughable.”
“Do try to at least sound optimistic.”
Both men stared at Juliana through squint eyes. She hadn't meant to say that out loud. Lennon's bitterness and snide comments were absolutely galling. She wanted him to shut up and get the job done. If Carlo were with them his attitude would be light and raring. She crossed her arms over her chest. “I don't know why Carlo gave me the code. I wish I did. Regardless, I have it and I will open the lab. If you're so bent on resentment then stay behind.”
Benjamin snorted a laugh, trying to keep it back. Lennon raised his chin in pride, inhaling through his nose. He and she locked eyes and she wouldn't let herself look away first. With a scoff, the man relaxed his muscles. “I'm... sorry... Ms. Russo.”
She smiled, proud for standing up for herself. “Thank you.”
Benjamin clapped dramatically. “Oh how wonderful. Hugs all around. Now... back to the plan?”
“Yes,” Juliana agreed. Lennon pointed out an important fact. “You do know that once we dock Gerard Black's men will be on us in seconds.”
Docking at the zeppelin port wasn't an option. They needed to sneak into the city another way. Possibly, their zeppelin wouldn't even touch down. Juliana imagined hanging from a rope ladder twenty odd-some feet off the ground, a weapon strapped to her hip, the code pulsing in her skull. No matter how many stories she'd read, no matter how many textbooks, nothing could prepare her for real live peril.
Pietro cleared his throat at the door of the stairs. “Mind if I give my two cents?”
“By all means, if you think it'll help,” Lennon said with a beckoning hand. Pietro walked to the table. For a minute he stared at the map, perhaps recalling a distant memory. Lennon rubbed his nape. “Sometime today.”
“Watch you mouth,” Juliana spat.
Pietro held up his hand. “We're all friends here.” He touched her shoulder. “It's fine. Now, I've been here before. They wouldn't let me inside the lab, however. And... it was here that Gerard Black's men abducted my wife and I.”
The bitter wind outside rattled the windows and everyone flinched. Lennon reached for his gun which lay on a nearby chair. Juliana shivered. She'd never get used to the tense atmosphere. Every sound she heard made Gerard Black's face flash across her vision.
Everyone breathed deeply as the wind settled. Pietro forced a chuckle. “Anyway, the secret entrance you speak of is, in actuality, the decoy secret entrance.”
The look on everyone's faces indicated they were all befuddled. Benjamin raised his eyebrows. “Come again?”
“Carlo told me... he told me of the decoy. It was created for this type of situation. Meaning Gerard Black. The scientists took into account that someone may try to stop Project Reinisiate, for whatever reason. Hence the decoy entrance.”
Juliana pictured her father and Carlo having this said conversation in that secluded cabin. Even then Carlo had had a confusingly abundant amount of trust for the Russo's. A secret project was just that. Secret. Yet Carlo told her father about the decoy entrance and her the code. Surely there were others of higher authority whom he could have confided in. A politician or a doctor even. But he chose a historian and a librarian.
“So where is the real entrance?” Benjamin inquired.
Pietro touched a spot about a mile upriver from the Eiffel Tower. “A secret tunnel will lead you to the bottom of the river and there you will find the door with the keypad.”
Lennon voiced what Juliana had been thinking. “Why would Carlo tell you this? Who are you?”
Pietro suddenly found his hand fascinating. “It's hard to explain. Carlo and I... we had an agreement years ago. Only I, for lack of a better word, dented it.”
Juliana touched his arm. This news came as a shock to her. Had Carlo been an old family friend? Had she met him before as a child? She stared at her father, hoping her eyes burned his senses so he'd open up to her. “How long have you known him?”
He kept his eyes on his hand. “I knew him for many years. It isn't that important. Right now we must open the laboratory.”
“Agreed,” Benjamin said. “And I think I know where we can get Juliana down without landing the zeppelin.”
The plan was simple enough. Well, at least Benjamin and Lennon thought so. The entire thing made Juliana want to regurgitate her lunch. She currently stood in Nathaniel's cabin, trying not to think of the plan. It would only make her over-think it, which she had no time for. Her friend was out like a light. His Anichanical was perched on the headboard. His bright headlight eyes watched Juliana. She tied her hair in a braid and did some stretches. Anything to feel more preparedfor her mission.
As she stretched her legs Nathaniel stirred. He spotted her at the foot of his bed, doubled over, hands on her ankles. He scoffed with a crooked smile. “What are you doing, Juli?”
She almost jumped through the wall at the sound of his groggy voice. He tried to sit up and he grunted as he moved. He chomped down on his fist to keep from crying out. She stood over him. “Easy. You're still weak.”
“Noted,” he said. “If I find the no-good, rotten, piece of dog crap that shot me...” He left his half-threat hanging in the air. His head hit the pillow. “This sucks.”
Juliana's eyes fell on his leg. The bandages were crinkled, dried with whatever medication Benjamin had put on them. They needed changing. Nathaniel took a few deep breaths and pulled himself to a sitting position. He grimaced with the action. His Anichanical flew down to his lap. It's headlight eyes turned off and the room dimmed. Only a lantern on the nightstand lit the area.
Nathaniel shifted the topic. “So what's the plan? Fill me in. Please. I'm going mad sitting in here.”
She gathered a basket of medical supplies from the corner and sat beside him. She started to change his bandages. He tried to stop her and she said, “Let me, Nathaniel. It'll help distract me.”
He pushed his lips to one side and shrugged one shoulder. She got to work while explaining the plan. She and Lennon would climb down a rope ladder –as she'd imagined– in a park a mile from the Seine River. Once down, Benjamin would fly the zeppelin out of the city. Lennon and Juliana would go on foot to the Seine River and find the tunnel Pietro mentioned. They'd follow the tunnel, find the door, Juliana would punch in the code, and it would be done.
She finished changing his bandages. Nathaniel made a face. “Seems straight forward. Still, from what I've seen Gerard Black do,” He nodded to his leg. “and felt him do... it just seems like you'll be caught.”
The same worry had crossed her mind. Nevertheless, she had to believe Gerard Black and his spies knew nothing about the true entrance. That was their saving grace. It had to work. They were out of options.
Pietro entered the cabin. The Anichanical parrot squawked and flapped it's metal wings rapidly. They smacked against Nathaniel's chest. Nathaniel pushed the device off his lap. “You malfunctioning piece of equipment. I hate when it does that.”
Juliana smiled and imagined a living parrot always perched on her friend's shoulder. Bright feathers and big, golden eyes. Even the idea of bird droppings running down Nathaniel's shoulder made the dream of returning animals to the world that much more appealing. For a brief instant, Juliana felt excitement for the mission at hand.
Then her father said, “Lennon's ready for you.”
The excitement evaporated.
Nathaniel held out his hand and she took it. They squeezed tightly. He gave her a wink. “Go release havoc.”
Their hands fell away and she linked arms with her father. He escorted her to the deck. As they walked, Juliana inhaled slowly and exhaled slowly. She did this over and over, trying to stay calm. She had her father's arm in a constricting bind. He caressed her pale hands. Inhale. Exhale.
They reached the stairs and paused. Pietro looked down at her and waited for her okay. She stared up the steps. Night had fallen. The cover of darkness would help in their plan. Still, no matter how prepared everyone said she was, she didn't feel it.
10, 21, 12, 9, 1, 14, 1...
“How long did you know Carlo?”
Pietro cranked his head back and looked at the wooden ceiling. “Eh... I've known of him for many years. Personally spoken to him only four, maybe five times.” He moved his eyes to Juliana's. “That man changed my life, my daughter. I owe him so much.” He choked up on that last word. His eyes glistened.
Juliana wanted to understand the importance of Carlo. She laid her head on her father's shoulder. “When I return I want to know the whole story. That will be your gift to me. Promise?”
He swallowed. “Promise,” he whispered.
She nodded and started forward. He followed her lead and they went to the deck where Benjamin and Lennon waited. Alec stood in the background, offline. Juliana made a mental note that she'd see him again. That personal guarantee soothed her. Goals would help keep her alive. She needed reasons to make it back safely.
Lennon had smoke bombs, a gun, and a tracker hanging from a tightly woven, cotton utility belt. A headlamp sat on his head. He passed Juliana a headlamp as well. She tugged it on over her skull with shaky hands. Benjamin touched them. “Steady on, Ms. Russo. Do you have the keycard?”
She exhaled sharply and nodded once. She needed to calm down. Shaking hands would do her no favors. Lennon grabbed the end of the rope ladder. “Ready?”
She embraced her father. He rubbed her back. No words were shared. No words would help lift her concerns. She moved from him and gave a thumbs up. “Let's do it.”
Lennon tossed the ladder over the side. It knocked from side to side for close to a minute before it went still enough for passengers. Lennon threw his leg over the side and climbed down first. “When I touch down you go,” he instructed Juliana. She nodded once to show she understood. Lennon started down. Bit by bit his dark hair lowered from sight. Benjamin went to the bridge to monitor his progress. Pietro would be in charge of raising the ladder when Juliana joined Lennon.
They watched as Lennon grew smaller with each step. Juliana licked her chapped lips. She could do this. How difficult could it be? It would be like climbing down a tree, which she and Nathaniel had done countless times.
Her heart gave a jolt when Lennon let go of the last rung and fell ten feet to the sidewalk below. The time had come. Her turn had come to enter the streets of New Paris.
Before her active imagination could psych her out, she positioned her body over the deck wall and searched with her foot for the first rung. It connected and she lowered all her weight on it. The ladder swung and her leg started to shake wildly. She let out a gasp and squeezed her eyes shut. This was nothing like climbing a tree.
Pietro touched her hand. “Be brave, my daughter. You can do this.”
She pressed her lips together so hard they turned white. Her other foot found the ladder and then her hands. She'd passed the point of no return. Downward. She slowly made her decent. Each step made the ladder sway. She opened her eyes and focused on her father. Don't look down, she told herself. Her father. She looked at her father.
Her foot moved to the next rung only to find there were none left. She yelped in surprise and instinctively stepped up on the higher rung. Lennon's voice reached her ear. “The last few feet go by fast! Let go of the ladder!”
She shook her head. If she let go she'd fall and falling meant death. Her last memory of Carlo flashed across her mind. A splatter of blood, a toppling body, a crater in the snow.
“Let go! The drop is slightly more than your height!”
Her feet left the ladder, hanging in the air. She straightened her arms. Loosening her fingers, her body grew heavier, and then her fingertips slipped. The fall only lasted a second, but it felt as if time slowed. Flakes of snow danced a ballet around her. Her eyes watched the ladder move away. It bounced around, happy and free of her weight. Miles she fell.
Her feet hit the sidewalk. Snow shot up around her legs. Time resumed it's normal speed. Lennon clapped her on the back. “See? Simple.”
“E-e-e-yeah,” she stammered. She shook her shoulders of tension and started to laugh. Now that she was down the whole experience exhilarated her. She almost wanted to do it again. Almost. Lennon raised an eyebrow as her laughter died down. “Finished?”
She covered her smiling lips with her fingers. “I apologize.”
Passersby gawked at the zeppelin as it rose over the buildings and flew away. Then their eyes moved to the two that had climbed down the ladder. Lennon checked the street signs and pointed in the direction they sought. Juliana ignored the people watching them and followed Lennon. One man trotted along beside her. “The zeppelin port is back that way,” he stated. “You two are either lost or completely insane.”
“Both I expect,” Juliana retorted without missing a beat. The man slowed his steps and she pulled ahead. Lennon turned down a new street and Juliana saw the river. So far so good. They hugged the buildings as they headed downstream. Gerard Black's spies hopefully had their eyes on the decoy entrance. Lennon's smoke bombs could only throw them off the sent for so long. This had to work. They had one shot.
Lennon stopped them after a few minutes run. He examined the waters edge. “There,” he declared with a hint of excitement under his breath. He and Juliana went to the side of a bridge. She saw an ordinary manhole cover, only this one had two C's etched on it. “Carlo Costa,” Lennon speculated. He checked for witnesses. Due to the late hour not many New Paris civilians were out; at least not in that part of the city. Lennon searched the area for something to pry the cover off. Juliana spotted a large metal cane floating in the river. The end was bent, smashed flat, and she assumed that was why it had been discarded. She shook her head; she detested littering.
She stepped out on a sheet of ice on the bank and grabbed hold of the cane. The ice started to crack as her fingers wrapped around the object. She gasped and felt Lennon's hands on her waist. He yanked her to safety before the ice could break. He glowered at her. “I thought you were smart,” he bickered.
She inhaled slowly and tried not to let his snide words get to her. She dropped the cane at his feet. “Will that help?”
Lennon picked it up. “Maybe.” He jammed the flattened end under the cover and pushed down. After a few attempts the cover popped free. “Quick, grab it,” he grunted. Juliana grabbed the cover and pulled it back. It flopped to the ground with a clang. They winced and checked for any unwanted attention. The coast was still clear.
Juliana looked inside the dark tunnel. She couldn't see anything. Lennon carefully climbed inside and turned on his headlamp. It shinned into the darkness. “Clear,” he assured. Juliana climbed down with his help and turned her headlamp on. All she could see was more tunnel which lead to more darkness. The only sound was that of dripping water. An image of the tunnel bursting with freezing water gushing in at them made her shiver violently.
Lennon lead the way. They walked silently for twenty feet. The tunnel, Juliana realized, was slowly dipping. They were moving downhill. She slipped on a patch of ice and bumped into Lennon. He helped steady her. “Sorry,” she said with flushed cheeks. She rubbed her thumb on the cravat and took a deep breath.
And then she saw it. The door. Her feet picked up speed and soon she was face to face with it. She rested her hand on the frozen steel door. To the left of the door sat a black screen. Lennon caught up with her. “That must be the keypad.” He touched a thumb to it and the screen lit up, turning a rich blue. A scanner turned on and words appeared on the screen. Place keycard here. Juliana pulled the card out and held it up to the scanner. They waited and then a beep sounded. The word clear came and went and then the numbers came, listing 1 to 26.
Lennon grabbed Juliana's shoulders with excitement. He rocked her back and forth. “This is it!” he claimed excitedly. “Enter the code.”
She swallowed. For a second her mind went blank. She couldn't remember it. She rubbed her temples. Lennon tapped her back. “What are you waiting for?”
“Shut up. Just shut up.” She closed her eyes and breathed. “Got it,” she said to herself. She raised her finger to the number 10. In the space above the list of numbers, a letter shinned. Juliana furrowed her eyebrows.
She punched in the next number. 21.
“Each number is a letter,” Lennon deduced. Juliana had come up with the same conclusion. She added the next few numbers. 12, 9, 1... L, I, A...
It became clear. She knew the word without needing the final numbers. Lennon did as well. He looked down at her. “Did you know about this?”
She shook her head and added the last numbers of the code. 14, 1... N, A...
A lock clicked open and a light started flashing. A secret slot in the wall slid aside and a microphone and speaker appeared. A man's voice called out from the speaker. “Carlo? Carlo is that you?”
Juliana couldn't find her voice. Her eyes were glued to her name glowing on the screen. How could the code be her name? Her father had said he'd known Carlo in the past, but they must have been closer than he'd let on if Carlo's secret code was her name.
Lennon spoke to the man. “This is Lennon Learman and Juliana Russo. Carlo is dead. He gave the code to Ms. Russo. Did it work?”
The air fell silent. After a bit the man responded. “Yes... it worked....”
The door opened, mist seeping from the longed sealed edges. An old man stuck his head out. He looked exhausted and his arms were stick thin. He stared at the newcomers. “Welcome... and thank you.... Now Project Reinisiate can make its debut.”
Something whacked repeatedly against Juliana's leg. She looked down and inhaled a deep, startled breath. The culprit looked up at her, tail wagging and tongue hanging practically to the floor.
The puppy barked which sounded more like a squeak. The scientist shushed the small creature. The furry animal pranced to the man and pawed at his legs. The man picked the creature up. “Sorry. Still training this one. Do come in.”
Even Lennon had no words. He and Juliana stared openly at the animal under the scientist's arm. The man chuckled. “Well this is a good reaction. You're the first people outside the laboratory to see an animal.”
“That's a dog,” Lennon finally got out.
The scientist nodded. “Indeed.” He held his arm out to the inside of the door. “Come.”
Juliana and Lennon followed him inside. A glass chamber greeted them. The man held his hand on a pad that scanned his fingerprints. A green light flashed and a door whooshed aside. “Please step in one at a time for decontamination. We can't allow our specimens to get ill. You understand.”
Lennon stepped through first. A mist blew over him and a door at the back of the chamber opened to let him out. After Juliana's turn the scientist came out a side door. “Thank you for your cooperation. This way.” There was an elevator waiting and they piled in. The scientist pressed the only button and the door shut. A breath later they were descending. The man shifted the puppy to his other arm. “This little guy is getting heavy.” He scratched the puppy behind the ears. The puppy tried to nip his hand playfully.
Sudden tears sprung up in Juliana's eyes. She smiled as she watched the sweet creature. The scientist held the puppy out to her. “Would you like to hold him?”
Her arms shot out with excitement and he moved the puppy to her. She carefully held the squishy body and moved his face close to hers. The puppy breathed on her. It smelled sour and sweet at the same time. It was the most disgustingly sweet smell she'd ever experienced.
The scientist leaned against the steel wall and crossed his arms. “That one's only a month old. Cute, huh?”
A tear trickled down her cheek and the puppy licked it away. She giggled. “Cute,” she concurred with a soft voice. She held the puppy close to her chest and he rested his chin on her, staring at her with curious, black eyes. “What kind is he?” she asked.
“Beagle,” the scientist informed.
Lennon began asking questions concerning the lab. Juliana sat against the wall when she heard how far down the lab went. Five hundred feet. The distance made her feel ill. How long had these men been trapped? The whole of her father's imprisonment? No matter how long, she couldn't imagine staying below the surface without fresh air or sunlight for so long.
Lennon motioned to the puppy now playing around Juliana's ankles. “Do you have many of those?”
The scientist pushed out his lower lip. “Well, no. Not many beagles, anyway.”
“What's that suppose to mean?” Lennon asked skeptically.
The man raised and lowered one shoulder with a small smile. “Eh... we have a few other breeds, some birds, mice, a giraffe...” He halted his list when he saw the looks on their faces. Bugging eyes and gaping mouths. A puppy was one thing... but a giraffe? Juliana had read about those tall necked, spotted beasts, but to think there was one hidden underneath New Paris astonished her. “Can we see it?”
The elevator stopped and the doors moved aside. The scene before them came to a standstill. Men were standing around the lab, goggles over their eyes, syringes and beakers in hand. When they saw the newcomers they weren't sure how to react.
The scientist stepped into the lab and held his arms out to present them. “Gentlemen, didn't I tell you this day would come?”
One of the younger scientists set down his effects and walked closer. He pointed a shaky finger at them. “People. From the outside.”
“The door has been opened!” another man shouted. The laboratory was suddenly in an uproar. Panic mixed with their delight. In the back came the sound of broken glass. They pushed to get closer to Lennon and Juliana. The scientist who had greeted them held out his hands. “Calm down, gentlemen!”
The many men toned it down, taking deep breaths. Some had to take a knee. Lennon spoke. “I am Lennon Learmen and this is my companion, Juliana Russo.”
All eyes fell on Juliana. She could tell that they all knew her name. One mouthed it to himself in awe. She set down the puppy and he ran to a scientist. She stepped forward. “Why was the code to your fail safe my name?”
No one answered her. A man in the center of the crowd offered his own question. “Where is Carlo Costa? If the door is opened then he is the one who did it. Only those involved with Project Reinisiate know the code.”
Men nodded in agreement, eyes searching for a sign of their old comrade. Juliana wanted to forget about Carlo, but at every turn something reminded her of him. She stomped her foot. “He's dead!” she bellowed. Her direct, blunt report brought a hush over the lab. Lennon touched her shoulder but she shrugged it off. She tugged her headlamp from her head. “Why?” She needn’t elaborate.
The young scientist looked to the man who'd greeted them. “Ellis?”
The man –Ellis– rubbed his head. “Mademoiselle, Carlo Costa was a brilliant man and with his advanced knowledge and dreams to heal the planet came danger.” He paused for her response. She offered none. He cleared his throat and continued. “Carlo began Project Reinisiate thirty-seven years ago. Only those in high government positions knew of it. Gerard Black, being a well-known and powerful man in our new world, somehow learned of it and tried to learn of our lab's location. Luckily for us someone in the government destroyed all records of Project Reinisiate upon Gerard Black's discovery, including records of those involved with the project. Our families were relocated for protection and we were ordered never to leave unless an emergency occurred. That is why Carlo left the laboratory.”
Lennon held up a finger. “Carlo told us he wanted everyone to abandon the project.”
Some of the scientists chuckled. Ellis shook his head. “I have no doubt he told you that lie. No. He never wanted to give up this work. It was his life. His dream. He only left for his wife's sake.”
Juliana remembered Carlo telling her about his wife. He'd said he wasn't married anymore. Had Gerard Black abducted her to get to him? Killed her perhaps? Ellis said, “Madame Costa died while he was away. He arrived in New San Gimignano an hour after the fact. It devastated him when he found out. Still, she'd given him a precious gift. Upon his return to the laboratory, he created the fail safe and administered the pass-code to us.”
“But why is it 'Juliana?'” Lennon asked. He wanted to know just as badly as Juliana did. She stared into Ellis's eyes. He tried to break contact but her hold was too intense. “Madam Costa died during childbirth,” he stated. “Carlo gave the child up... for the child's own protection.”
Lennon's jaw dropped and he shot his eyes to Juliana. She took an unsteady step backward. “You mean to tell me that Carlo is my biological father?” She said this with such disbelief behind the words. Ellis nodded. He could see the shock building inside her. He smiled for her benefit. “Listen to me, Mademoiselle Russo. Carlo knew if Gerard Black ever found out about you he'd use you against him. He only ever wanted what was best for his child, even if that meant removing himself from her life.”
A door at the back of the room opened and two men entered. The door was to another elevator. The laboratory must have had separate floors. The men stopped dead when they saw the gathering. Whatever they'd come to say lingered on their lips. One whispered to a man at the back and when he answered the new man's eyes shot straight to Juliana. He knew her. They all knew her.
Juliana saw Lennon look her up and down. He looked at her with different eyes. A new person stood before him. In his eyes Juliana had changed with that one simple fact. She was Carlo's daughter.
She rubbed her eyes. How could have Pietro never told her? When he and Carlo were together on the zeppelin they'd shared this silent secret. She'd stood inches from them and they'd said nothing. A dizzy-spell overcame her. Lennon steadied her as she swayed.
Ellis moved his eyes to the men who'd come from the elevator. “Yes, Messieurs?”
They stood uneasily until one of them said, “The capuchin has three arms.”
Ellis pinched the bridge of his nose. “Follow me,” he told Lennon. “Help her.”
“I don't need help,” Juliana mumbled. She pushed on Lennon's chest and balanced herself. They walked behind Ellis, moving through the scientists to the back elevator. Five bodies standing in the elevator was a tight fit. Juliana had never experienced the feeling of claustrophobia before, but as the elevator moved deeper underground she found it difficult to breathe.
The trip didn't last long. The doors opened to reveal another level of the lab. More scientists were hard at work. There were half the amount than there were upstairs. However, the men weren't what stole Juliana's attention. It was the rows of cages lining the walls. The multitude of noises in the room clogged her ears. Hoots and howls. Growls and purrs. She feared her ears would bleed.
Something tickled her nose and she sneezed. Ellis fanned the air. “Our newest initiate is loosing most of his fur,” he explained. Two men were trying to calm a leashed capuchin monkey. The beast only had a few patches of fur on his petite frame. The three arms the men mentioned were clawing at the air, whipping wildly. His long fangs were bared, warning off the humans. The poor thing looked terrified.
Ellis went to assist his comrades. The capuchin's eyes were darting back and forth, frenzied. He tried to bite the men and did a back flip. The men held onto the leash to keep him on the table. Saliva dribbled from his mouth. It flung into the air with each strong jerk.
Ellis moved his hand over his throat and shook his head. The other scientist's face became disappointed. He pulled a syringe from a drawer and stuck it into the capuchin's hip. Instantly the creature relaxed. He sat down, then lay down, and finally his crazed eyes slid shut.
Juliana covered her mouth. Ellis looked at her. “He felt no pain, I assure you. Sometimes the procedure doesn't take and the result is a defective specimen.”
Something slimy pressed upward against Juliana's ear. She jerked away with a quick intake of breath and spun around. A long, purple tongue slipped like a noodle into a pair of large, golden lips. Juliana automatically reached out slowly to pet the soft nose of the baby giraffe. A smile spread across her face. “Fantastic,” she said.
Lennon tapped on Ellis's shoulder. “You need to bring one of these animals to the surface. When the people witness them there will be nothing Gerard Black can do. He'll be powerless to stop Project Reinitiate.”
Ellis scrunched his nose. “The problem is our animals have never been outside this lab,” he said. “There's no telling how they'll react.”
Juliana turned from the giraffe. “You can't stay down here forever. Don't be afraid.” She looked at one of the cages. It housed another breed of dog. A small thing covered in black curls. Juliana pressed her hand against the skinny bars and the dog sniffed her with a cold nose. With mutual trust, she unlocked the door and lifted it out.
Ellis grimaced. “She's kind, but I still don't know.”
Juliana smiled at him and kissed the puppy's fluffy head. “She'll do great. Let's go.”
* * *
The elevator moved upward. Juliana closed her eyes and waited to feel a fresh breeze or smell the icy river. Never again would she go below ground. It suffocated her. She preferred open spaces, to soar. The puppy began whimpering. Juliana stroked her back. “Shhh. It's all right, little one. You're about to make history.”
The elevator slowed and then stopped. Juliana's heart skipped a beat. The doors slid open and Lennon led the way up the tunnel. Juliana had left her headlamp in the laboratory, so she walked in step behind Lennon, mimicking his every move so as not to stumble.
They made it to the end of the tunnel. Lennon told them to wait and he stuck his head out into the night, making sure the coast was clear. When he lowered back down he said, “There are a few men out in the street. One has a gun and the other is suspiciously staring at the river. They may be working for Gerard Black.”
Juliana held the puppy close to her. “What do we do?”
Lennon leaned against the tunnel wall. He ran his hand over his head. Ellis took a step forward. “We should wait until morning,” he suggested. “That way there will be more witnesses.”
“Good idea,” Lennon praised. That's what they did. They went back down to the lab and tried to sleep. Juliana wasn't able too. She stayed up the remainder of the night with the puppy. Her every thought focused on Carlo.
At one point in the night, Ellis approached her with a cup of water. She hesitated to take it. He said, “We've rationed our supplies for the passed year and a half. Only now we don't need too.” He set the cup beside her. She relented and took it. After a few sips a question came to her. “How long have you been trapped down here?”
“Like I said, Mademoiselle. A year and a half.”
That didn't make sense. She'd thought they'd been trapped for as long as Gerard Black held her father and mother captive. Ellis sat in a chair across from her. “Carlo left the laboratory when he heard that your adoptive parents were hostages.” She cringed at the word adoptive. Ellis didn't notice her reaction. He continued. “He knew there was a much higher risk of him finding the laboratory, so he secluded himself in the woods of New Tuscany. That's when we locked it down.”
“But you had food and water prepared for such an outcome?”
“Yes. Carlo made sure we were well prepared for any occasion.”
Everything Carlo had told her when she'd found his cabin had been a fabricated back story. He had been more of a spy than a scientist. She held the sleeping puppy closer and tried to forgive his lies.
The time came for them to make their move. Lennon led the three of them back up to the tunnel. As before, Lennon checked the area. “Same men as last night,” he reported. “But there are many more civilians.”
“Then why are we just sitting down here?” Juliana said haughtily. She wanted to end this now. Lennon held up his eyebrows. “Easy, Ms. Russo. There is one thing I haven't said.”
He pointed upward. “Gerard Black is patrolling.” As if that image wasn't enough to strike fear in her heart, he added, “On an Anichanical rhinoceros.”
Ellis let out a laugh. “Nothing terrifying about that,” he said facetiously. Juliana pressed her face into the neck of the puppy's warm hair. They should have done this last night. Gerard Black knew they planned to enter the laboratory. Of course he'd come personally. He knew the lab's location. He didn't want anyone to get in, but at least he could keep anyone from leaving it.
Lennon risked another peek and quickly pulled his head back in. “There's no way we will get out of here unseen.”
Juliana inhaled slowly. “Good thing we want to be seen.” She ran forward and pulled herself out of the hole, puppy tucked under one arm. Her burst of strength surprised her. She rolled to her back and stood, holding the animal over her head. Gerard Black and his men spotted her immediately. A man and a woman walking nearest her stopped dead when she appeared like an apparition. Their eyes moved up her arms to the barking puppy. The woman covered her mouth in shock.
Juliana glared into Gerard Black's eyes. “The animals are returning!” she shouted. “Look! This creature is alive!”
People stopped and stared. An old woman walking with her great-grandson squinted to take in the sight. Her winkled jaw dropped and she pointed a shaky finger at it. She said something so quietly not even her great-grandson could hear. He moved his ear closer to her lips and she said something to make him give the puppy a double take.
Gerard Black directed his giant Anichanical Juliana's way. The machine crunched across the street straight for her. She lowered the puppy and ran down the street. Lennon and Ellis climbed from the hole. Lennon shouted to her, told her to stop, but she couldn't get her feet to do so. Gerard Black's men started to chase, some on the back's of Anichanical horses. Lennon threw some of his smoke bombs into their path. Smoke obstructed their vision. It gave Juliana more time to gain distance.
Gerard Black's Anichanical thundered after her. Juliana shouted at everyone she passed. “A puppy! Look here! Puppy! The animals are returning! It's a living animal!”
Civilians stopped to see what this crazy woman was going on about. Some saw the puppy as she ran. Others stared in confusion. Most dodged the raging Anichanical stampeding down the street. Juliana saw the Eiffel Tower crystallized in ice. People were all around. If she could make it to the tower then there would be far too many witnesses for Gerard Black to stop her.
She picked up the pace, protecting the small animal as best she could. Men with guns and some with swords came at her from the street ahead. No doubt they worked for Black Industries. She looked back once and saw the Anichanical rhinoceros right on her tail. Only twenty yards between them. She continued to run, ignoring the uncomfortable closeness.
Gerard Black's deep voice came at her. “Juliana Russo! You're making a terrible mistake!”
She blocked out his voice. Nothing he had to say would make her stop from reaching her objective. She slid on some ice as she changed direction, moving gracefully and swiftly. Her body now faced the Eiffel Tower. Not much further. It was right in front of her. Push, Juliana, she ordered of herself.
A gun shot fired. The bullet zipped by her head. A tremor went through her legs and she almost collapsed in anxiety. She pinched her arm. “Still alive, Juliana.” She blinked hot tears from her eyes and pushed on. Civilians were starting to verbally question the scene before them. Once that shot was fired all discretion went out the window. “What's going on?” a man shouted. “You people are insane!”
“That man tried to shoot her!” a woman declared.
“That woman has an animal!” said another woman. “I saw it with my own eyes!”
Gerard Black's men tried to convince them they were police, but not many bought it. That pleased Juliana. She only needed a few more witnesses. She reached the tower, held up the puppy, and then the Anichanical rhinoceros rammed her. The wind blew out of her lungs as she flew backwards. The puppy fell from her grasp as her back slammed into the frosty concrete. The terrified animal darted off through the scattering crowd of humans.
Juliana tried to suck in a breath. As she did something inside her burned. She tried to scream but nothing came out. She touched her side with her silent screeching. Broken ribs. That much she could deduce on her own. She touched her face as a warm sensation fell down to her lips and across her chin. Blood.
She got in a shallow intake of breath and a groan came free. A shadow fell around her. The Anichanical rhinoceros circled her. Gerard Black stared down at her broken body. “Ludicrous woman,” he jeered. He dismounted and crouched beside her. His pocket watches dangled over her face. If she had the strength she would have torn them from his vest.
He pressed his thumb between her eyebrows. “One tiny, hairy, foul-smelling mutt won't be enough to save Carlo's treasured laboratory,” he said. “I've been seeking a way to destroy that blasted place since I discovered its existence and no librarian from New San Gimignano of all places will get in my way.”
She clenched her teeth and spoke through her pain in a wispy voice. “Animals are more important to this planet than machines.” She took in three quick breaths, each feeling like fiery daggers twisting in her lungs. “You're vain... and self-indulgent.” She squeezed her eyes shut. “And Carlo... he wanted to help the world.”
Gerard Black removed his thumb from her head. He rolled his eyes. “I run a business, Juliana Russo. It is true that I have my greenhouses and other such inventions, but the Anichanicals bring in high revenue. They are what I'm affiliated with. If a scientist can bring animals back from the dead who's to say they won't find a way to end this God forsaken Freeze?” He pushed his spectacles high up on his nose. “I won't be put out of business just so people like you can have a furry plaything.”
The sound of a bullet clicking into its chamber came from Gerard Black's left. Lennon said, “Back away from the girl. Hands up!”
Gerard Black deliberately turned his head slowly. He grabbed his own gun but merely held it loosely. His casual demeanor was far more threatening than him aiming the weapon would have been. Snow started to fall gently. It made the whole scene dream-like and Juliana wished it were. That way when she awoke all this would go away.
Lennon held his gun still and spoke with authority. “I won't tell you again, Gerard Black! Drop your weapon and move away from the girl!”
A crowd started to form around the perimeter of the Eiffel Tower. Juliana tried to find the puppy within the mass of people but her throbbing head fogged her mind. Someone needed to find the puppy. They needed the puppy.
Gerard Black stood nonchalantly. He moved his gun from one hand to the other, over and over. “I am the future of the new world. Animals are dead. It was natures way. Bringing them back is the real crime. Scientist's believe they are Gods. Who gave them permission to meddle with the extinct?” He put a hand on his Anichanical rhinoceros. “This... this is the direction our world is going. I didn't set the path. I simply followed where it led.”
“And why would you want to leave it,” Lennon said with a mocking tone, “when it is covered with money?”
Gerard Black's face broke into a wide grin. “Exactly,” he concurred. His eyes turned down to Juliana. His gun finally found a target. He fixed it on her. Lennon chocked his gun's trigger. “Don't! Don't do it!”
Gerard Black paid no attention to Lennon's demand. He stared at Juliana, the smile gone from his cold face. His burning eyes hurt almost as much as her black-and-blue body. She gasped for air and tried to sit up. It was no use. She couldn't move anything but her fingers and head. Punctured lung, she speculated.
Gerard Black clicked his own bullet into his weapon. Lennon started forward but the Anichanical rhinoceros gave a warning charge. If Lennon came any closer the powerful device would do to him what it did to Juliana. Perhaps worse.
From behind her where she couldn't see, startled gasps and screams rang out as something thundered through the scene, charging under the tower. It stopped to her right and rose up on powerful back legs. Gerard Black gasped and cowered back from the Anichanical grizzly bear. Alec roared artificially and then Benjamin entered Juliana's vision, aiming his gun at their opponent.
A hand fell on Juliana's arm. “My daughter, oh my G-God,” Pietro stammered. Juliana's hurt feelings and anger toward him vanished at the sound of his voice. She reached out and took his hand. “Dad,” she squeaked. He did his best not to cry in front of her. He smoothed her hair back. “I'm here,” he promised.
The two Anichanicals squared off. They circled the group, gears grinding and noses steaming. Benjamin and Lennon spoke over each other, demanding that Gerard Black stand down. No one would yield.
“The animals are returning!” shouted Ellis's voice. The witnesses gasped and some even fainted. Juliana asked her father what was happening. He needed to take a moment to process it. Finally he described the sight in one word. “Giraffe.”
Ellis and some of the scientist's had brought out some of the animals. The beagle puppy, a parakeet, two mice, a small tank holding a coy fish, a pony, and the giraffe. Ellis held out his arms widely at his sides. “The animals are returning!”
Somewhere in the crowd the old woman from before stepped forward. She held up the puppy that Juliana had lost hold of. She walked her back to Ellis. He took the puppy and the woman beamed.
Gerard Black shook his head in disbelief. He eyed Juliana. “If you want your precious animals so badly, then what need do you have for an Anichanical?” With a wave of his hand the Anichanical rhinoceros charged at Alec. Metal crunched metal, steam screamed, and the Anichanical grizzly bear collapsed as a heap of scrap.
Juliana was hallucinating. That would explain the pile of metal she saw. That would explain the stench of hot water creeping over to her. She would awaken to find Alec at the foot of her bed ready for an evening ride. She refused to believe he was totaled.
Pietro pulled a sword from the scabbard at his side. Juliana hadn't noticed it before. He pointed the blade's tip at Gerard Black. “You will pay for that,” he swore.
Gerard Black pointed his gun at Pietro. “You swing, I fire. We'll see who dies first."
“You'd fire with all these witnesses?” Benjamin challenged. “Surrender now, Gerard Black.”
Their adversary erupted in laughter. He lowered his weapon and turned to face the crowd. “Who said the people want the animals to return?” He raised his voice for them all to hear. “Do you all want these foul beasts to freely roam our planet? To eat what few resources we possess? To muck up our cities with faeces and fur? I ask you!” He gestured to the animals. “What use are these things you see before you?”
The old woman stepped forward. Her great-grandson stood at her side. She spoke softly and the great-grandson repeated her words so everyone could hear. “My great-grandmother says she remembers the animals from before the Freeze!” The old woman spoke some more and he said, “The animals were a joy! They brought comfort to the ill! Companionship to the widowed! Eyes to the blind! She votes they stay!”
Juliana felt power in the old woman's words. She gritted her teeth and forced herself to a sitting position. Pietro tried to stop her but she shooed his hands away. From sitting she moved to standing. Each movement shot searing pain through her body. A fractured pelvis, she added to her list of injuries. She gripped her side and kept her eyes off of Alec's mangled parts. She creased her forehead and waited for Gerard Black to take notice of her. When he did she said, “The animals... will return. You cannot stop the inevitable. Destroy my Anichanical... destroy my body... but the animals are returning.”
Staggered witnesses started to cheer. Clapping and whooping rang out around the Eiffel Tower. Soon everyone was at it. Gerard Black's men had given up long ago and now lay their weapons down. Real police came onto the scene and arrested them. The last to be handcuffed was Gerard Black. As the police took him away he gave Juliana one last look. Momentary but clear. He knew she'd fought better than he. He knew he was beaten.
Juliana closed her eyes and let every sound fade. She let her mind wander. She saw her last memory of her mother. She saw the moment she found her father. She saw Nathaniel standing in the smoke. She saw Carlo... laughing with her under the sky-train rails.
She opened her eyes and tried to release the sob stuck in her chest. Nothing would come out. She couldn't breathe. Her knees gave out and she fell in the snow.
Juliana awoke in a hospital. She had tubes hooked up to her and a mask over her face. She tried to lift her head but it felt like it was filled with rocks. Her vision was somewhat fogged. Shapes spun and spiraled. “Hello?” she said, the words coming out like a leak in a hoes.
A hand rested on hers. “Juliana?” Pietro said.
She turned her head toward his voice. Her eyes cleared and his face came into view. He kissed her forehead. “We almost lost you,” he informed.
She coughed and a groan followed. “I feel like I've been struck by a stagecoach.”
“No, no,” he said. “Just an Anichanical rhinoceros.”
She held her breath to keep back her laugh. Laughing would only hurt. As she swallowed it down, she stared into his eyes. She never realized that his eyes were blue. She'd known her entire life, but it never mattered until then. “My eyes are brown,” she stated.
Pietro nodded. “Yes.”
“Mom's were green.”
A tear rolled down her cheek. “You never told me I was adopted.” Saying those words aloud hurt worse than her broken ribs. Pietro covered his eyes with his hand. He pressed his lips together. “He made us swear to never tell you.” He lowered his hand. “I'd interviewed Carlo before about an old experiment at the time. He remembered me and how I said my wife and I wanted children but were infertile. Then the day came when he came to us with his newborn and begged us to take her. 'Her life will be in danger with me', he'd said. So we took you in as our own.”
Juliana tugged the mask from her face. Besides her splitting headache she felt a hundred times better. How long had she been asleep? She touched her chest and looked down at it. It felt slightly bruised but nowhere near as painful as she last recalled.
She slowly inched up against the headboard. She hissed through her teeth as her body protested. Pietro helped her. She rested her head back and inhaled slowly. “I hate that my entire life is one big secret.”
Pietro put something on her lap. She glanced down at it. Letters. Pietro said, “Carlo wrote you a letter for each of your birthdays. He sent them to us for safe keeping, in case the day came that he could tell you who he was.”
Juliana picked up the first letter. The parchment was worn and smelled old. She read the neatly written script.
My darling Juliana,
I am so sorry I haven't been able to watch you grow this first year of
your life. Someday I hope to explain in person why I've been away. For now, I
can only dream of your big brown eyes (those are from me) and your ebony
hair (that's from your mom and I both).
Juliana stopped reading and moved ahead to a letter that had photographs paper clipped to it.
You're eight. When I turned eight my father gave me a book written by
Thomas Carlyle. I have always loved reading and studying. If you are
anything like me you may enjoy his works.
I wish I could see how beautiful you are. I have no doubt that you look
just like your mother. I sent pictures of her so you can know what she looked
like. Oh how lovely she was. Her name was Eleanora.
Juliana studied the woman in the photos. She had black hair like Juliana. She even had the same forehead and cheeks. Her eyes were further apart and she didn't look as tall as Juliana. Still, she had an adventurous air about the way she stood. Under her arm, much to Juliana's delight, was a book. This woman enjoyed reading.
Juliana looked through the other photographs before she skipped on to the final letter.
Happy tenth. I have thought of you often. Pietro came to see me despite
my order to stay away. He told me how smart you are. Things he's told me
confirm you are indeed my blood. You found a bat fossil? You clever,
curious girl. I wish I could tell you to be careful. Curiosity can lead you to
trouble. Trust me.
Juliana paused and laughed even though it hurt. How true his words were. Her curiosity lead her to Carlo's cabin. Without that curiosity she never would have found out about Project Reinisiate and would have just ignored that X on Pietro's makeshift map. Curiosity would always be a part of her. That fact brought a smile to her face.
She sniffed and wiped her wet eyes and continued reading.
Pietro is concerned. He knows about my work and how Gerard Black is
trying to find me. You need to keep him busy so he doesn't do something
stupid. He loves you, I can tell. He fears Gerard Black will eventually
discover my identity and there for discover you. I don't want him to take
matters into his own hands. If only I could tell you this to your face. For now I
can only hope.
At least one good thing came from Pietro's untoward visit. I hope you
enjoy the Anichanical. Pietro and I agreed a girl with a dream of animals
like both her fathers deserves a taste of them. Even if it is an Anichanical.
Someday I hope my work will bring you a real one. Have a happy birthday,
Juliana lowered the letter. “Alec was from both of you?”
Pietro nodded. “I told him how you were fascinated by my textbook. We knew you'd love him. Though I must take credit for the name Alec.” He winked. Juliana giggled and wiped her eyes some more. Her heart ached. “I lost Alec too.”
Pietro rubbed her shoulder. “I'm so sorry, my daughter.”
She looked out the window. She couldn't see much through the frost. The letter in her hand flitted down to her lap. “He only sent letters up to my tenth birthday,” she pointed out.
“That's probably due to the fact that your mother and I neglected his warnings and went to New Scotland to confront Gerard Black.”
Juliana shot her eyes to him. “You did what?” Nothing should have surprised her anymore, but she still found herself asking questions. “Carlo said you went to New Paris to find the lab.”
“He would have said that,” Pietro said. “He never would have told you the truth. That would have defeated the purpose of keeping himself away from you.”
Someone knocked on the door. It opened and Nathaniel's head and shoulder came into the view. His Anichanical parrot sat on his shoulder. Juliana forgot the letters for a second. “Nathaniel! You're on your feet!”
He scooted passed the door, leaning his weight on a crutch. “More or less. It has been a week.”
His words bounced around in her head. “A week?”
Nathaniel chuckled and sat down on a stool beside her bed. “You look better, Juli.”
She rubbed her temples. “Well,” she sighed, “I'm happy you're up and about.” She stacked the letters neatly, patting each side and corner so they matched up perfectly. The Anichanical parrot repeated her last words. “Up and about! Up and about!”
Nathaniel pinched its sleek beak closed. He winced as he shifted his wounded leg. “Ellis and the scientist's have prepared a safe environment to reveal all of their animals as well as a press conference for a Q and A.”
“When?” she asked.
With some convincing from Pietro, Juliana's doctors finally agreed to discharge her as long as she had a personal nurse. She consented. The nurse pushed her in a wheelchair out to a waiting stagecoach. Nathaniel had already gone ahead to assist Ellis, along with Lennon and Benjamin.
Juliana tugged her coat tighter around her shoulders and watched the New Paris scenery roll by. When the stagecoach came to its destination, Juliana couldn't believe the amount of people who'd come to see the animals. All of New Paris must have been in attendance. Not only New Paris but the surrounding countries.
A stage had been set up in front of the Eiffel Tower. Steel ramps were set on either side of it. Large pens that were covered by blue curtains were spaced evenly around the back of the stage. Every now a then an uncommon sound would come from them and people would stop and stare in curiosity. Some people kept their distance from the pens. The reasons ranged from nervousness, doubt, or the most obvious reason, the overpowering smell.
The nurse wheeled Juliana to the tent beside the stage. Her father held open the front flap. Ellis, Lennon, and Benjamin stood inside. Juliana looked around for Nathaniel. Not long after her eyes swept the tent, Nathaniel came limping in from the back flap. “He's here,” he said.
Someone new entered the tent. Juliana's heart swelled. She stood carefully and met Mr. Unsworth in the middle of the tent. She hugged him as tightly as she could without her chest bursting. He looked at her bruised face. His thumb gently rubbed over the one under her eye. “Juliana, I was so worried about you. When Louise came to the house all I could think about was the day your parents left you in my care.”
She smiled for his benefit. “I'm fine. Everything will be better now.” She stepped to the side and Mr. Unsworth laid eyes on Pietro for the first time in seventeen years. Immediately his eyes moistened. Pietro embraced him. “My old friend. How will I ever repay you for raising my daughter?”
Mr. Unsworth laughed to himself and said, “Don't go missing again.”
Pietro shook his friend's hand. “No promises.”
Ellis cleared his throat. “I'm sorry to interrupt, but the reveal is about to begin.”
Juliana stepped aside and Ellis exited the tent. The crowd went wild. Their booming cheers and applause resonated in her sore chest. It almost hurt. She winced at the odd sensation and sat down in her wheelchair. The nurse wheeled her out to the corner of the stage. Nathaniel and his father stood beside her.
Ellis stood on stage in front of a large microphone. The crowd ceased their cheering. Ellis introduced himself briefly before going through the details of Project Reinistate. Naturally people asked questions that he said he'd answer at the Q and A. When he finished his explanation he said, “Would you all like to meet some of our successful subjects?”
The crowd couldn't contain their excitement. Some of the scientists at the front of the stage had to order people to back up. Everyone wanted a close look at whatever animal they brought out. Ellis clapped his hands. “I must ask for you to keep your voices down so as to not frighten them. This is most of their first times above ground.” He pressed a button on a side table and a large, white screen rose up out of the stage. An image of the stage appeared for the massive audience to have a good look at each animal.
The scientists started with the smaller animals. The shocked and awed reactions from the crowd made Juliana smile; she knew that was only the beginning. She watched the back pen as a scientist led out the pony and giraffe. A child screamed and began crying. The pony neighed and dug his front hoof in the snow. Ellis said, “They won't harm you! Please keep your voices down!”
The mothers quieted their children and the pony relaxed. One by one, each animal walked over the stage. Beautiful creatures. As Juliana watched, she cried. All of the pictures she'd studied her entire life were leaping from the page right before her eyes. Some were larger than she'd imagined, even though most were still babies. The experience overwhelmed her; the impossible stood before her.
She could feel her heart beating in her fingertips. A scientist walked a buffalo up the ramp. That animal's fur was what her coat was made out of. She recognized it as a breeze tossed it. The colors, the texture. It belonged on the animal's back, not hers.
When the final animal crossed the stage, Ellis began the Q and A. Juliana couldn't stay anymore. She asked the nurse to take her back to the tent. Nathaniel went with her to get off his leg. She stared at the back wall and took something out of her bag. The letters from Carlo. Nathaniel pulled up a chair beside her and asked the nurse for some privacy. The nurse consented and left quickly. She wanted to watch the Q and A.
Nathaniel's Anichanical sat in the corner offline. Juliana had never liked the thing, but it stung seeing that it was still operating. She had never imagined her life without Alec. Anichanical's were built to last. He'd been her constant companion after her parents went missing. Even with Nathaniel, sometimes she'd only wanted silent companionship. With Alec gone her sense of security went with him.
She ran her fingers over the edges of the letters. Nathaniel tapped her shoulder. She blinked her thoughts from her mind. She'd forgotten he was there. He gave her his crooked grin. “Your animals are real,” he said. Being her childhood friend, he'd always known of her love of the extinct creatures. “Are you going to keep one?”
He chuckled and ran his hand through his hair. “Juli, I love you, but I have to tell you that you've been—”
“Been what?” she spat. Her tone made him shut his mouth. Juliana dropped the letters into her lap. “I lost my mother, my Anichanical, Carlo, and... I'm adopted. So please, do tell me what I've been.” She leaned over the arm of the wheelchair and glared into his eyes. Nathaniel grimaced and sighed. “I know that, Juli. I hate seeing you this way. Sad.”
Carlo's sad eyes came to her mind. Now she understood his sadness. All his many secrets and the guilt of what happened to her parents. She tried to conceive the feelings he must have felt because of his vision. Project Reinitiate was a scientific breakthrough. However, making Project Reinitiate a reality had changed his life. Hiding his wife was one thing, but then giving up his only child couldn't have been easy. Especially after his wife passed away bring her to the world. Anyone would have sadness in their eyes.
“I'll be fine,” she said, even though she wasn't sure she would be.
Juliana stared up at the ceiling of her bedroom. Mr. Unsworth had insisted Pietro move in until he and Juliana were fully rested. Juliana had to talk her father into it but soon he agreed. Two months passed since they returned to New San Gimignano.
After one month Juliana returned to the library. Before she could settle back into her routine, Louise asked her to spill every detail of her journey. Juliana said only what she had too without stirring up bad memories. That was easier said than done since the entire journey had practically been a bad memory. She told her how Nathaniel rescued her and her father and about the laboratory and Project Reinitiate. That was enough to appease Louise.
She sat up and got ready for the day. When she looked at her reflection she hardly recognized the woman staring back at her. She looked pasty and bleary. Her eyes were the same brown, hollow sadness as Carlo's. Her hair had lost it's sheen. The trauma, both mental and physical, had taken it's toll on her.
She bathed and dressed in a gray dress with green ribbons that ended with bows. She pulled her tresses atop her head. Before leaving her room, she wrapped Carlo's cravat around her wrist as she did everyday. The only time she took it off was for bed and to bathe. She couldn't bare to part from it.
She walked down to the workshop. Mr. Unsworth was busy repairing a stagecoach wheel. The old man didn't see her as she walked in, but Nathaniel did. He limped over to her. He hadn't had need for a crutch in weeks, but his injury would forever cause him some discomfort.
“Good morning, Juliana,” he said. She gave him a smile she didn't feel. Nathaniel sighed. “Oh, Juli, I know that's false. Give me a real smile.”
“Someday,” she promised.
The blowtorch Mr. Unsworth was using turned off and he stood from the busted wheel. He peeled back his round goggles, resting them on his forehead. “Juliana! There you are!” He set down his things and pulled off his gloves. “Did you hear that New San Gimignano will be one of the first cities to have real horses to pull the stagecoaches?”
“Not until they're yearlings,” Nathaniel corrected. Juliana tried to picture a living horse in front of a stagecoach. It was too crazy to be true. Every time she saw the horse in her mind it morphed with metal and steam; into an Anichanical. “It will be a sight,” she said.
“I'll say,” said Mr. Unsworth as he came over to them. “Ellis is coming today to make sure the city is well prepared for real Anichan –er— animals.”
This was news to Juliana. “I didn't know he was coming.”
Nathaniel checked his watch. “Ah, no, I'm late for work.”
“Do you want to ride together?” Juliana inquired. They worked only a couple blocks apart. He shook his head. “I don't want to rush you. I'll talk to you later.” He grabbed his coat and hurried out the workshop entrance. Mr. Unsworth lifted his eyebrows and tugged the goggles back over his eyes. “You should head to the library. I'll see you this evening.”
“Right.” Juliana went upstairs for her coat and headed out in the cold. She decided to walk since Nathaniel had declined a ride. As she walked people stopped her and told her how excited they were about the animals and to give condolences about her mother. No one knew of her relationship to Carlo and therefore never said a word about him. She doubted anyone knew he ever existed.
When she reached the library Louise zipped to her side. “You are in so much trouble, Juliana.” She linked her arm with hers. Juliana looked down at her friend. “Now who's angry with me?”
Louise lifted her finger to her lips and smiled knowingly. Juliana narrowed her brown eyes. “What are you up too?”
Louise giggled like a schoolgirl and tugged on Juliana's arm. “Come with me.”
Juliana followed curiously. She could never ignore a secret. It was her worst trait, she now realized. The two women went to the back of the library and went out to the courtyard. Nathaniel stood with a bouquet of lilacs. He wore a clean-cut suit and had on a top hat. The very site made Juliana laugh. He hated wearing clothing like that. “What on earth are you wearing, Nathaniel?”
He cracked his crooked smile. “What?” He held out his arms. “I can look sharp every now and then.”
Behind him, walking through the gardens of snowdrops around the courtyard, were Lennon and Benjamin. They were also dressed in the same fashion. Not long after Juliana saw Mrs. Goodwin, Pietro, and Ellis. Everyone was dressed immaculately in black and white. Louise moved from her side to stand with the others. Juliana didn't understand. “What's going on?”
Ellis spoke for everyone. “We've gathered here for you.” He stepped forward through the group and took her cold hands. “Project Reinisiate never would have been freed without you.”
She felt a pinch of guilt. “It wasn't me. Carlo—”
“Yes,” Ellis interrupted. “Carlo was the mastermind. He came up with the project —put it in motion— but you were all he ever talked about. You were his pride and joy. The rest of the team teased him, saying they should rename the project Project Juliana.”
That made her laugh before she could cry. Ellis escorted her through her friends to one of the garden beds. “Carlo would be so proud of you, as we all are. You risked your life for the animals and that is something they will never be able to repay.”
Pietro appeared at her side. He smiled down at her. “But perhaps we can.”
Movement caught her eye. She focused on a back corner of the library wall. One of the scientists came to view holding a lead. Juliana's heart skipped. Her chest squeezed and she feared it would puncture another lung. At the end of the lead was a grizzly bear cub. Juliana covered her mouth and unconsciously walked towards the beast.
The scientist gave her as much space as he could. The bear was still young so Juliana had to kneel. The bear stared at her with inquisitive black eyes. They stared at each other in silence for ten minutes. No one interrupted them. The little bear sniffed the air, taking in her sent. The wonder Juliana felt clearly equaled in this little cub's eyes. She'd made eye contact with Alec many times over the years, but the connection between her and this living thing was indescribable. This moment would forever be a part of her life. A secret anomaly between her and the bear. The instant link of trust, fondness, and friendship.
When Juliana finally spoke, she spoke to the bear. “Hello there. Are you a boy or a girl?”
Ellis answered on behalf of the cub. “Female. So far none of our male specimens have taken. She's the first successful grizzly bear initiate. Six months old.”
Juliana cautiously reached out her hand. The bear stood on her hind legs and lifted her nose to Juliana's palm. A tear rolled down Juliana's cheek and she quickly wiped it on her shoulder. The bear grunted and rolled onto Juliana's lap, pawing at the air. Juliana scratched her under her chin. Soft. Warm. Breath.
“She'll need looking after in the laboratory for a few more months,” Ellis stated. “But once we have a food source available to you she's all yours.” Juliana whipped her head around, inhaling sharply. Ellis smiled with a nod. “If you'll have her.”
“Yes,” she said. She got to her feet and threw her arms around him. “Thank you.” She went around and hugged everyone in attendance. This was the kindest thing anyone had ever done for her. For the remainder of the day she spent it in the courtyard with the tiny creature. They played, ate, went on a walk. The only time they went inside was to nap in the back room where Juliana once hid her trunk of books.
While the bear slept against Juliana's leg, Juliana stroked her soft fur and spoke to her in whispers. “You and I will be a great team. I'll show you all the places I discovered with Alec. There's a cave not to far from the city. Small, but cozy.”
The bear snorted and continued on dozing. Juliana giggled and rested her head on the floor. The future wouldn't be all sweets and flowers now that the animals were returning. On the contrary, things would possibly get harder before they got better. But Juliana didn't worry. When things finally got better it would happen in a flash.
She caught her reflection on the side of a cart of books. She stared into her own eyes. Carlo's eyes. Those brown, happy eyes.