Once the initial shock wore off, Lula and Carter were able to function enough to start asking questions. Ivan filled Lula and Carter in on everything that took place before things went horribly wrong inside of the bookstore. He gave them a walkthrough of how he found the bookstore, how they came face-to-face with Autumn and Elinor being held captive. Brackston butted in eventually to talk about Autumn’s demands and how they had no choice but to give her what she wanted, which was Elinor’s copy of ‘The Time Machine’ scribbled in by Wells. Eventually this led up to the moment that Autumn had locked them in the safe with the intention of the explosion or the fire killing them.
“Elinor was really badass,” Brackston stated excitedly, a grin forming on his face. “She tricked Autumn into locking us in the safe on purpose, because apparently she knew that it had a small hole in the wall with a trigger inside that could be pulled to reveal a hidden passageway. It led us to some door that ended up being an entry point to the underground railroad just five minutes from the bookstore. The whole time I thought we were in some sort of intense scene from National Treasure.”
Carter shook his head at Brackston’s closing of the story, a smirk forming on his face. He was grateful to hear one of Brackston’s infamous pop culture references. “You scared the hell out of us,” he admitted, glancing at Brackston and surprisingly, at Ivan. “Lula and I thought that you three were goners.”
Ivan glanced over at Elinor, who was sitting silently on the edge of Ivan’s cot. Her eyes were wandering over the room. He wasn’t surprised to see that there was some concern hidden in her expression. “You can thank Elinor,” Ivan spoke firmly, glancing back at Carter. “If it wasn’t for her quick thinking, we’d all be dead.”
Elinor wasn’t the slightest bit aware that Ivan’s remark was actually a retort geared towards Carter, because she nodded in response to Ivan’s words. Carter had been skittish about Elinor and this mission from the beginning, and gauging from Carter’s hard stare, he still hadn’t warmed up to her yet.
“You should be thankful for Wells. I discovered that the secret passage was in there when I was working on one of his ciphers,” Elinor admitted weakly, fiddling with the lid on her water bottle.
Lula was sitting in one of the old theater chairs directly across from where Elinor sat. For whatever reason, she felt she needed to be close to Elinor. Lula could only guess that ever since she saw the bookstore in flames, Lula felt suddenly more protective of Elinor and wanted to be there for her.
“How are you holding up?” Lula asked softly, catching the attention of Elinor’s wandering eyes.
This question caught the attention of the other three, Ivan’s head being the first to glance over towards their direction quickly. Elinor released a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding, feeling uncomfortable under all of their gazes. “I’ve been better,” she admitted, shaking her head as she tried to give Lula a smile. “I mean, while you two were gone Ivan sort of filled me in on… everything.”
This comment quickly made Carter perk up, his expression growing concerned as he tried to understand what she meant. “Everything?” he repeated, his voice firm.
Elinor nodded slowly, swallowing hard as she shivered under Carter’s hard gaze. Ivan noticed that Carter’s voice almost came across as interrogative, which appeared to make Elinor uneasy. Ivan clenched his jaw, wishing he could smack the soldier on the backside of his head but decided that now wasn’t the appropriate time.
“He told me about Whittaker. Who they really are, what they’re looking to do. It was more than even Wells’s book gave away,” she stopped short, squirming the moment she realized that everyone had their eyes trained on her. Glancing over at Ivan, she was met with the sight of him trying his best to give her a reassuring smile, encouraging her to continue. She returned the smile, parting her lips as she continued on. “He said that you all are working with a gentleman named Professor Altman to stop this dangerous organization. You stay in a secret lab and have started out on this crazy mission. He even told me about your roles on the team. Carter is the bodyguard, Brackston is the pilot and oftentimes, the scientific brain, Lula is the historian with the facts and knowledge to educate you on the time periods you travel to-”
“Hold up a second,” Carter stopped her, stunned over what she had just repeated to them. He was even more stunned by the fact that she seemed to be so calm with all of this, especially when she blurted out that last statement. “The time periods we travel to? Ivan told you about time travel?”
Elinor nodded slowly, seemingly unphased by Carter’s choice of words. “He mentioned that you four are now time travelers, and that your first mission required you to travel through time in a time machine.”
Carter’s eyebrows shot up, his head jerked back slightly at her statement. She said it so calmly, and without any surprise that he almost could have sworn that she was acknowledging something both as simple and as mundane as traveling on an airplane. “And you really believed all that?” Carter asked her, his tone a bit harsh.
Elinor shrugged slightly, biting on her lower lip as she returned to fiddling with the lid on her water bottle, the awkwardness of the situation making her anxiety flare up a bit. Ivan noticed this from the way her eyes grew distant as she glanced away from them. Ivan was just seconds away from kicking Carter’s ass out of the room.
“Listen,” Elinor spoke up finally, her voice wavering. “It was pretty damn obvious that you four were not at all who you said you were. I’ll admit that my book has attracted a lot of strange people with a lot of strange beliefs but there was something about you four…” she forced herself to glance at each one of them despite her discomfort, her unwavering eyes landing on Ivan. “I mean, Ivan here shows up and can conveniently crack ciphers? Let’s not forget to mention Wells’s insane cipher’s. He talked about time travel a lot, in such a very convincing manner that it almost felt like he knew what he was talking about from experience. In fact, it’s the only thing he brings up multiple times throughout his entries outside of some person he refers to as Teddy.”
Elinor noticed that Brackston had glanced over at Ivan suddenly, a look of recognition on his face when she finished her sentence. Ivan’s expression had gone from blank to a look of shock. Gauging from their reactions, she realized that they must have known something that she didn’t. “What is it?” she asked finally, unable to stand the thick silence that fell in the room.
Instead of answering her right away, Ivan reached into the pocket of his shirt and pulled out a piece of paper. He crossed the room silently, only opening his mouth to speak when he was sure that the paper was in her hands. “Remember that cipher we couldn’t crack?” Ivan asked. She nodded slowly, her eyebrows drawn together as she opened the folded paper. “Well, Brackston figured it out.”
Her eyes widened as she quickly glanced at what was written on the little scrap piece of paper. Her curious expression suddenly melted into a look of confusion, parting her lips to read the sentence allowed. “My darling,” she began, a lump forming in her throat as she read the words that followed, “Keep Teddy around and you’ll always have a key to your memories of me.”
The last words hit her hard, almost as if she were reading a sad parting letter from one loved one to another.
Ivan frowned at the sight of Elinor’s hard stare. She was staring intently at the words on the paper, her expression made him think that she had recognized something about the sentence. “Do you have any idea who this is for, or what it might mean?” he asked her softly. His shoulders slumped slightly when she shook her head, signifying that she didn’t have a clue.
“You guys said that Wells hid all kinds of meanings inside of his strange riddles,” Lula pointed out, glancing at Ivan. “Maybe this is another riddle meant to throw Whittaker off.”
Ivan nodded, thinking back to the first cipher he cracked. It was a riddle, and a warning as well. A warning that whatever truths were within these pages could unlock something potentially dangerous. Ivan would have pressed further on this, had it not been for the sound of Brackston clearing his throat.
“Uh, Elinor? Are you alright over there?” Brackston asked, causing both Ivan and Lula to jerk their heads towards where Elinor was sitting.
None of them were even aware that the young woman had grown eerily silent in the last couple of moments. Ivan’s expression grew concerned at the sight of Elinor’s hard, blank stare. He couldn’t figure out what she was transfixed on, or why it would leave her so tense and pale. It only took him a second to realize what was happening.
“She’s having a panic attack,” Ivan stated, ignoring everyone else in the room as he quickly made his way to the cot, where he sat himself beside Elinor. Her breathing had grown labored, just as he had suspected it would, but there was something off about this episode from the other ones. “El?” Ivan whispered quietly, his concern growing when she didn’t even appear to respond to his voice. “Elinor?” he tried again, his voice a bit louder than before.
Normally she would glance over at him, letting him know that she had registered his voice and was listening. She didn’t even so much as blink in response to him. Ivan glanced at Lula, a look of fear in his eyes. “I think something might be wrong,” he admitted, almost as soon as the words had left his lips he noticed movement from out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head back just in time to see Elinor tremble lightly, her eyes fluttering shut as she leaned over and slumped into Ivan, her once stiff posture now limp as he caught her in his arms.
“El?” Ivan’s voice came out panicked, his heart sinking. As Lula shot up from her seat as Brackston raced forward, the two noticed the horrified glance from Ivan, who had grown both rigid and pale at what just took place. Ivan lowered his head, making sure that he could still hear if Elinor appeared to be breathing. He sighed with relief when he was able to hear that she was, although it still came out as labored. Being this close to her face, he realized that her eyes were still fluttering, almost as if she was fighting with a bad nightmare.
Frowning, Ivan glanced at Brackston, Lula and Carter - who were all standing around him in different areas of the theater room. He glanced directly at Carter, his voice firm as he started barking out commands. “Carter, I need you to call Agent Simone. Tell her we need a doctor. I’m sure she has connections with someone in this area somewhere,” Ivan called out, grateful that Carter had quickly pulled out his phone to call Simone.
Ivan glanced at Brackston, who looked just as frightened as Ivan felt. He wished he could do something to make Brackston feel more confident, but all Ivan could think of was to give the man something to do while they waited for answers. “Brackston, I need you to go get a cloth of some sort and get it wet with some water from one of the bottles we have here. Use one of my shirts if you can’t find a cloth.”
Brackston nodded quickly, wasting no time as he bounded out of the room to get the items needed.
This just left Lula, who was staring at him expectantly as if she were waiting for him to give her something to do. He glanced at her quietly, trying to figure out how to form the right words. He wasn’t for sure if he was overreacting to the situation, but something about the way Elinor had passed out felt off to him. She was fine one moment, and then all of sudden he was holding her limp, trembling frame in his arms. He didn’t know how to tell Lula that he wanted her to stay here because he was afraid.
Thankfully, he realized he didn’t have to. She must have been able to read his expression for she sat back down in the chair she had jumped out of a few moments prior. She gave him a weak, reassuring smile that he attempted to return, but he couldn’t find the strength to give her. Instead, he put his focus back on cradling Elinor, resting his forehead against the top of hers as he waited in silence, hoping they would soon have answers for what just happened.