Ivan groaned softly, the feeling of someone carefully pushing their way out of his arms woke him up from his sleep. Stretching slightly, his eyes opened to catch the sight of Elinor slowly climbing out of their bed. Memories of what took place before they fell asleep flooded his thoughts, slowly waking up his half asleep mind as he sat up. His sudden movement must have startled Elinor, for she jumped slightly.
“El?” Ivan yawned, trying to focus on her through the darkness in their room. “Is something wrong?”
He could barely make out Elinor’s shadow as she shook her head, her voice cutting through the darkness as she spoke to him reassuringly. “I’m fine, I was just going to get a drink of water,” she whispered softly, her hand reaching out to squeeze his shoulder. “Go back to sleep.”
Ivan seemed convinced, especially since he didn’t hear her voice quivering or any signs of crying. Nodding his head slowly, he laid back down as she quietly made her way out of the room.
Something about this felt eerily familiar, like this was a moment he had experienced before. The thought floated around his mind a bit but he was too tired to try and place it right now. He could feel himself slowly drifting back into sleep, his eyes growing heavy as he relaxed into the bed. His eyes had just shut, sleep washing over him and pulling him under before the sound of glass shattering caused him to jump awake slightly. He barely had a chance to allow his mind to question the sound that rang out before a scream followed shortly after, echoing through the quiet lab.
Ivan bolted up from his bed, his mind racing as his thoughts filled with bitter memories of the night Elinor was taken hostage by Whittaker. Any feelings of exhaustion quickly shifted into a heavy feeling of concern or worry, his hand reaching for his gun from the drawer in his nightstand.
Ivan was out the door of their bedroom quickly, his mind racing with panicked thoughts as fear clawed its way up into his chest. He made it down the hallway, entering into the kitchen where he found Elinor standing with her back towards him, her body rigid and her hands clenched into fists. He could see shards of glass on the floor before her, where she appeared to drop a mug over whatever startled her.
Ivan didn’t even have the chance to ask her what was wrong before the sight of movement in the kitchen area quickly caught his attention. Raising his gun towards the movement, he was surprised to see that a man was sitting at one of their kitchen tables, his lips pressed together as he watched Elinor and Ivan intensely. Ivan was trying to wrap his mind around how the man had gotten into the lab without setting off any of the alarms but he figured it didn’t matter. Raising his gun as the sounds of footsteps echoing from the hallway met his ears, Ivan stepped towards the seemingly amused man. “Who are you and how the hell did you get in here?” Ivan snapped, glowering at the man.
Elinor snapped back into reality the moment Ivan’s voice caught her attention, taking in the sight of him pointing his gun at the other man. Elinor was too caught up in trying to figure out why this man looked familiar to her to even register that Ivan was threatening him.
The man wore a brown suit, one that felt unfitting for the modern day they were in. He had thick, black hair that was parted perfectly down the center, a style that was unusual but tidy, and a mustache that rested just over his tightly pressed lips. Her eyes wandered over the familiar, pale face before they settled onto his eyes, her eyes widening as the warm, recognizable softness of the man’s eyes locked with hers.
“Ivan, wait,” her voice managed to tumble out finally, an edge to her tone. She had placed a firm grip to Ivan’s arm, encouraging him to look at her.
Ivan almost questioned Elinor for stopping him but when he glanced back to do so, he was met with the sight of her in deep, contemplative thought. Her eyebrows were drawn together, her eyes narrowed on the strange man as she tried to form a response.
Ivan could see out of the corner of his eye that Brackston, Layla, Lula, and Carter were standing at a distance, staring with mixed looks of confusion and curiosity. Carter was ready with a gun in his hand, just as bothered by Elinor’s sudden interruption. Before Ivan had a chance to even acknowledge anything, Elinor’s lips parted slightly in surprise.
“I don’t know how to explain this but you’re all going to think I’m crazy,” she mumbled softly, her face pale as she pointed at the man watching them curiously. “But I think that man is the bookstore ghost that I told both you and Brackston about.”
Ivan glanced over towards the man, who was now smiling at them with amusement. Ivan raised his eyebrows questionably at Elinor’s out there statement. “You’re right, I think you might be crazy, El,”
Elinor glared darkly at Ivan, squaring her jaw. She opened her mouth to snap back but before she could comment, the funny man grew tired of their antics and finally spoke up.
“You know, she’s not entirely wrong,” the man stated softly, tilting his head as everyone looked at him with wide eyes. “Though I’m afraid she’s not entirely right, either.”
Ivan kept his gun trained on the man, ignoring Elinor’s cold stare. “You have a few seconds to tell us who the hell you are or the soldier in the back and I will give you a pretty damn good incentive to talk,” Ivan snarled, threatened by how the man talked so familiarly about Elinor.
“Ah,” the man replied, shaking his head over Ivan’s protective behavior. “It would appear that I’m not the only one hellbent on keeping Miss Elinor safe anymore. It’s nice to know that someone with a less interesting situation is watching out for her.” Standing up from the kitchen table, he held out a friendly hand towards Ivan. “It’s nice to finally make your acquaintance. We’ve crossed paths before, though we’ve never officially met. You know me best as Henry but I’m afraid that’s only because Miss Elinor here doesn’t realize who I am.”
Ivan stared at the man quizzically, floored by his unusually friendly behavior while he was staring down the gun Ivan had pointed directly at him. Ivan glanced over at Elinor, where she stared at the man with an expression that was equally as blank as Ivan’s. Neither one of them could figure out how to respond to the man’s words.
From where she stood at the back of the group that had formed, Lula was growing tired of the debating that was going on between Ivan, Elinor, and the strange man. The voice quickly piqued her curiosity, bringing Lula’s attention to the front of the group. It wasn’t so much that she recognized it as she was curious to see who it belonged to. Despite Carter’s hushed protests, Lula pushed her way through Layla and Brackston, stepping towards Elinor and Ivan to get a better look at the man.
Lula’s jaw went slack as soon as her eyes made contact with the man’s face, an overwhelming feeling of shock washing over her. She was a bit surprised that she was the only one of this group to put together who this man was.
The man’s eyes lit up at the sight of Lula peering over Ivan and Elinor’s shoulders, amused at the way she seemed to be gawking at him. “That woman behind you clearly knows who I am,” the man pointed out, drawing Elinor’s and Ivan’s gaze to the wide eyed Lula behind them.
“Lula?” Ivan asked, somewhat surprised by her reaction. It was the expression one wore when she was face-to-face with Albert Einstein, one that Ivan had seen countless times but never anticipated he would see in a strange situation such as this.
Elinor glanced back and forth between Ivan and Lula, trying to make sense of everything that was happening during this confusing moment.
Lula clamped her mouth shut, her lips pressing together as she gave both Ivan and Elinor a disappointed look. “You really don’t know who that is?”
“Obviously we’re not as familiar with faces as you are, Lula,” Ivan growled softly, hardly in the mood for her traditional game of “Guess Who”. He could see from the corner of his eye that Elinor was feeling the same way, for she was crossing her arms over her chest.
Lula rolled her eyes, extending her hand out to point at the amused man standing before them. “This man is one of history’s best engineers. He’s created countless designs, a lot of which if it wasn’t for him, we’d be out of luck on a lot of important things. He designed the plans for radio control, the AC motor, the World Wireless System…” Lula huffed irritably, shaking her head. Ivan’s and Elinor’s clueless expressions pretty much told her that they had no clue who she was talking about. It was worthless to keep dancing around the subject but before Lula could respond, another voice piped up.
“Lula,” Layla started, stepping forward slowly. “Are you suggesting that this man is Nikola Tesla?” Peering past them, Layla eyed the man suspiciously before her face paled slightly. “Holy shit, that is exactly what you’re saying...”
Brackston’s eyebrows shot up Layla’s statement, his eyes wide as he tilted his head. “How in the hell are you…” Brackston placed his head into his hands, groaning slightly. “I swear, I think I’m going to need some therapy after all of this shit.”
“Brackston is right,” Layla pointed out, slightly rolling her eyes at her boyfriend’s dramatic behavior. “How are you here? I mean, did you time travel into the future? And how the hell did you get through the lab’s alarm system?”
Tesla chuckled, smiling warmly at Layla. “I think I like you, you seem to be the type that knows how to ask all the right questions.”
Brackston grumbled softly, putting his arm protectively around Layla as he gave Tesla a dark glare, causing Layla to roll her eyes again.
Elinor turned away from the others, tuning out their voices as she narrowed her eyes on the man they were claiming to be Tesla. She could see that he was clearly amused by everything that was slowly happening over the last few minutes but he was quickly distracted by Elinor’s deep, pensive stare.
“I can see that something is weighing on your mind, my dear,” Tesla mused, watching as Elinor’s eyes grew slightly dark. “Do you have something that you would like to share?”
Elinor frowned deeply, bothered that his question brought everyone’s attention off of him and onto her. She was currently dealing with an old memory haunting her, the familiar warmth and presence that filled her mind was the same she felt as she stood so close to Tesla at this moment. “You were there that night,” she mumbled, her words quickly filling the heavy air. “You were there the night my father sent me forward in his time machine. You were his friend.”
Tesla smiled weakly, firmly staring at Elinor as he sighed heavily. “I’m afraid that wasn’t your father’s time machine, my dear. Your father was a brilliant man but I am afraid that his brilliance was limited to works of fantastical fiction. Your father relied heavily on the gifts of other men, such as Albert Einstein and myself.” He frowned, his hands nervously messing with the buttons on his suit jacket. “I’m afraid the time machine that you’re speaking of was mine.”
Elinor’s expression twisted at this statement, her mind racing with a hundred questions as she contemplated everything she had ever known. There was one question in particular that was still nagging at her, one that he had been avoiding to answer and one that weighed on her heavily as she tried to wrap her mind around the physical existence of this man before her. “How the hell are you even here? For that matter, why are you here?” she challenged him, her jaw clenched. “I’ve caught glimpses of you before... in my bookstore. You would mess with books, throw tantrums. Hell, you even scared the shit out of one of my poor customers. Yet, you never bothered to show yourself fully until this very moment,” she pointed out, her arms crossing over her chest as she waited for an answer. “I want to know how and I want to know why.”
Tesla smiled weakly, keeping his gaze locked on hers. “Your father had second thoughts about sending you forward. The weight of your mother’s death and your absence weighed on him tremendously to the point that he was contemplating bringing you back,” Tesla explained, sighing heavily. “But Wells needed to stay behind, he needed to ensure that if things ever went wrong, he’d have clues hidden for you in the future to help guide you. So, I offered to travel through the time machine to bring his little girl home.”
Carter grimaced slightly at Tesla’s last comment, shaking his head in disbelief. “Well, I hate to break it to you buddy but Wells’s little girl isn’t a kid anymore.” He nodded in the direction of Elinor, who had grown eerily silent. “Besides, she has a life here now… you really want to take that away from her?”
Elinor glanced over at Carter in awe, surprised that the soldier was looking out for her. She was especially surprised that he was doing so after she told him off for his behavior earlier. Pressing her lips together, she decided to not make a big deal about it.
“Time can be a funny thing,” Tesla acknowledged, glancing seriously at Carter. “Having the power to control time, however, can be even more strange. Some would argue that it is a great power to possess but others would argue that it is dangerous. In my case, I am afraid it was the latter.” Tesla’s forehead creased as he grimaced slightly, his expression hardened. “Something went wrong shortly after I entered the machine. A terrible accident took place during my travel from 1931 to 1996. My trip didn’t exactly go quite as planned and I have been forgotten, trapped between different times ever since.”
Elinor groaned softly, raising her hands to rub her temples. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that Ivan was staring at her with concern, questioning if this was the start of another vision. “I’m fine,” she whispered softly, removing her fingers from her temple. She couldn’t deny that seeing his concern for her made her feel slightly better, the thought bringing a slight flutter to her stomach.
Turning her focus back to Tesla, her eyes wandering over his tense posture as she gazed at him with a serious glare. “So why are you visiting me now, of all times? To protect me from Whittaker? To help me solve the mysterious whereabouts of this key formula to time travel that Whittaker wants?”
Tesla perked up suddenly, his eyes brightening at Elinor words. “Ah, yes! Wells’s blasted key. Funny, most everyone confuses it as some sort of scientific equation, when in reality it is an actual key,” Tesla explained, oblivious to the dumbfounded expressions on everyone’s faces. “Eerily similar to the one you use as the symbol for your bookstore, might I add. It’s designed specifically for my machine, granting time travelers the ability to access any point in time, including one where they might run into themselves.” Tesla coughed slightly, a weird sensation of pain washing over him caused him to groan as he tried to keep his focus on the team members. “In fact, I can trust you enough to tell you that the location of the key-” Unaware of everyone’s mixed looks of horror and surprise, Tesla faded before them, leaving his sentence unfinished.
Elinor’s face twisted into a look of surprise at the sudden vanishing of Tesla, her eyes growing wide as the space Tesla once stood now sat empty, the room falling quiet. “What the hell?” she thought to herself, her heart pounding.
Carter shook his head quickly, his eyes falling on the speechless members of the team around him. “Am I losing my mind or did Tesla just vanish like Obi-Wan did in A New Hope?” Carter questioned, ignoring the surprised look he was currently getting from Brackston over the fact he had just made a pop culture reference.
“That’s probably why I would only see him in passing,” Elinor pointed out, shaking her head in disbelief over the whole situation. “If he’s stuck between realities that means he could slip in or out at any given time.”
“Of all times to fade out,” Layla scoffed, slightly bothered. “It had to be at the most important part. Did he say that the equation that Whittaker has been searching for this whole time… is actually just a stupid key? One that can access any point in time?” Layla let out an irritable huff, her head hurting from everything that had gone down in the last few moments. “Why the hell would anyone be dumb enough to create that?”
“For power,” Lula mumbled, speaking up for the first time since she acknowledged Tesla. She shook her head unsurprised. “Ask yourself this... why did Altman create the time machines in the first place? Mankind has always had an undying thirst for control and power. Create one powerful thing, someone else will figure out how to make it even worse. In this case, power to Wells means creating a key to travel to a time he already existed.”
“What would even prompt him to make such a thing?” Brackston asked, his eyes slowly widening as he glanced over at Elinor.
Elinor frowned deeply at this statement, her hands nervously wringing together as she bit down on her lower lip. Everyone had their eyes locked on her, hints of realization crossing their faces. Tesla made it painfully clear that Wells had regretted sending her forward in time. She was beginning to wonder if the key was only created for Wells’s own desire to bring her home, so he could stop himself from sending her forward. Thinking back on Tesla’s words before he vanished, she was upset that he didn’t get to finish telling her about the whereabouts of this key he was talking about. If she could find it, then perhaps she could put an end to this mess once and for all with the destruction of it.
Brackston clicked his tongue, tired of the awkward silence that had fallen over the room. “Is it just me,” Brackston began thoughtfully, staring at Ivan to the point that Ivan felt uncomfortable under Brackston’s glare. “Or did Nikola Tesla kind of remind anyone else of Ivan?”
Whatever awkward feeling was in the air quickly disappeared as everyone either groaned or rolled their eyes in response, unsurprised but disappointed that Brackston felt the need to ask such a question at this point.
Ignoring Brackston’s words, the different members of the team returned to their rooms, the weight of Tesla’s words weighing on them as they tried to drift back into sleep.