-dramatic music as I approach with my worst cliffhanger yet-
-evil laughter in the background-
Let’s see how this heist ends up going. 😀
If you’re new and/or incredibly confused, probably want to catch up on the other story parts here:
Part 15: Society Life or Death
I propped my elbow on the back of the big leather chair in the front room while I waited. It was a little hard to look unsuspicious when talking through an earpiece, but I made my best try.
Just keep facing away from the secretary … let your hand just rest gently near your ear and …
I tapped the dot in my ear gently, waited a few seconds, then whispered as quietly as I could.
“Guys, I think I know where Jane is.”
Three voices immediately broke through the radio line. Jonah’s and Chase’s were the proper urgent, whispering tone I expected, but Demetrius just about blew my ear off.
“YOU FOUND HER? IS SHE ALRIGHT? WHERE…?”
“Demetrius!” Jonah’s hoarse voice cut him off.“Quiet down before you break the speakers!”
“Or our eardrums,” Chase muttered, sounding pained. “You’re supposed to whisper, man.”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I … just, where is she?” Demetrius’s voice still came through in a desperate, too-loud rush, even if it was better than before. “Did you see her?”
My ear was still ringing. I swallowed, moving like I was scratching at the side of my head as I went to go look at a framed painting hanging on the wall. “I don’t know what room exactly,” I whispered, barely moving my lips. “But I saw a layout map and there’s a room for ‘misplaced persons’ on the … the east side, I think. Second floor.”
“Professor Williamson?” a voice suddenly rang through the room made me jump. I whirled around.
A man with a very expensive looking suit, a friendly smile and skin the color of milky coffee walked towards me from the doorway. His smile grew as I met his gaze. “You’re here for a tour, correct?” A British accent, same as Demetrius’s. And a deep voice.
“Misplaced persons?” Chase asked, unaware of my new visitor. “That sounds more like refugees or kids who got separated from their parents. How do you know …”
I let out a quiet, nervous laugh, reaching up to my ear again and making it look like I was tucking my hair back. “Yep!” I clicked off the communicator, despite my shaking fingers. I didn’t need to be shattering eardrums with the volume of having a normal conversation.
“Well, in this society, what else do you honestly think they’d be using that room for?” came Jonah’s voice, not sounding bothered by my sudden interruption of Chase. “They’re all about history. And I’m pretty sure that room wasn’t there before when I broke in.”
I silently willed them to shut up and tried to tune out the rest of the conversation as I walked towards the man, closing the rest of the gap and holding out my hand for a handshake. “I suppose you’re Mr. Hudson?”
“That I am. Assistant Society Director.” He shook my hand and nodded. “It’s been a while since we had a historian from the Americas here to visit.”
“Well, I’ve been wanting to come for a very long time. I’m glad I could finally make it. I’m hoping to maybe become a member.” I beamed at him, trying to keep my knees from knocking together while I stood there. My words halted in weird places with the effort to not listen or repeat any of the conversation over the earpieces.
And Mr. Hudson looked a lot taller close up. That wasn’t helping with my nervousness.
“I hope we will not disappoint.” Mr. Hudson stepped aside and gestured towards the doorway he’d left open. “If you’re ready to start looking around …”
My smile got much less forced. “Oh yes, definitely.”
I focused on taking a few more good, deep breaths as I followed after him to the door. This shouldn’t be too hard. Just following him around the building and seeing cool history stuff. Then telling the others when I saw the room Jane was in.
Easy peasy. And besides, cool history stuff! This will be fun.
Besides, I was curious about a ton of stuff here. This was my chance to ask questions with a sane society member answering them.
I let out a breath and fiddled with the fabric of my skirt as we walked. “So I’ve heard you guys have some pretty strict rules around here. Who ends up deciding …”
We stepped through the doorway and into the next room. My voice was gone instantly.
I’d never seen so many books in my life. The enormous wooden shelves went from floor to ceiling in row after row, all jam packed full of colorful book spines. Light filtered in through tall windows. The smell of old pages filled the room. Well-dressed people—a few wearing shimmery silver scarves—moved in between the aisles, picking books off the shelves.
Hudson laughed quietly. “You like books?”
“I …” I kept staring. All the shelves were labeled on the end caps with what time periods the books on that aisle were from. And there were so many rows. I could see a section of volumes from the eighteen-hundreds, even. There had to be like … every book ever in here.
“This is awesome,” I breathed.
Mr. Hudson clasped his hands behind his back and peered up at the tops of the shelves. “We see it as our duty to preserve history to its fullest. And collecting the literature from different time periods is a key part of that. We have to gain the perspective of those who lived in that time from every angle possible if we want to keep the past alive.” He looked over at me. “And the paper volumes really seem like a more tangible way to do that, don’t you think?”
“Oh yeah.” I still couldn’t tear my gaze away from staring around the room. “Definitely.” After another few seconds, I turned my head back to Hudson. “So do you guys have a lot of rooms like these?”
“Made it to the second floor,” Chase’s voice came through as a whisper in my ear. Reminding me what we were here to do. “Starting to look through some of the rooms while I pretend to clean. Gotta be a little more careful here, though. There are more people.”
I tensed up a little, feeling like Hudson could hear as well. But he didn’t show any sign.
“Well, this is our official library. We have many other uses for the rest of our building, so we packed as many books into the smaller space as we could. But many of the other rooms do have bookshelves.” He adjusted his shirt cuffs, looking over to another winding staircase like the ones I’d seen in the front room. Nodding towards it, he glanced at me. “Would you like to spend more time down here or see the second floor first?”
As much as my heart was begging me to stay in the library, Jane was what we had come for. And Jane was on the second floor.
“Let’s see the rest of the place.” I grinned, starting towards the stairs. “I can’t wait to see what you have on the second floor.”
The clacking of my shoes on the slick, wood floor echoed through the library, striking an offbeat to Mr. Hudson’s longer strides.
“Oh, if you like the library, I assure you you’ll love what else we have,” Mr. Hudson assured me with a chuckle.
Man, I would have expected someone from the organization that ruined Demetrius’s life so thoroughly to be a bit less smiley. This guy actually seemed really nice.
I took in a few last deep breaths of the book-y smelling air as we climbed up the tightly-wound spiral staircase.
Suddenly, the speaker in my ear crackled to life again.
“Guys, we’ve got a problem.”
I stumbled, almost missing a step. The lingering smile fell from my face and my stomach twisted.
Jonah’s voice. And he did not sound happy. His usually drawling voice was sharp and full of panic.
Mr. Hudson looked worried, stopping for a second. “Is everything alright?”
“Uh oh.” Chase’s voice. “What happened?”
I cleared my throat a little and shook my head. “Nothing. I mean … I’m good. Just tripped a little.”
Mr. Hudson looked a little concerned still, but nodded. Thankfully, he was turned back around so he couldn’t see my face when Jonah replied.
“Demetrius ran off on me. I mean … he warped off on me. He kept saying we should go up to the second floor with you two to look for Jane, and I was telling him to wait. And then I turned my back for two seconds and he … he was gone. I think he’s probably on the second floor. Looking for Jane.”
I felt my face pale and I felt colder, all of a sudden. I swallowed hard. My feet felt heavier and I slowed my pace on the way up the stairs. We were almost there. Was I leading Hudson straight to Demetrius?
“Crap,” Chase muttered. “Okay, I’ll see if I can find him and herd him out before anyone sees. Zoey, can you check in?”
I winced as we hit the top step. Not really.
Despite my nerves, I forced myself to relax and keep looking around like I had been doing before.
A lot more people were around, moving from room to room. More silver scarves wound around people’s necks. A hum of conversation filled the wide halls. Rich, gold carpet covered the floor and old portraits and paintings hung on the walls, yellowed with age.
At least everyone seemed pretty absorbed in their own matters. No one was screaming about a madman in a ton of scarves and a dirty old coat breaking in.
The corner of my eye caught a tiny bit of movement and I glanced over at the grandfather clock ticking across the hall.
The hands on the clock were moving. Spinning fast around and coming to rest at … exactly one twenty-three. The ticking stopped.
I jumped, a shiver going down my spine.
Okay this is getting way too creepy.
Hudson stopped talking … I didn’t even realize he’d started … and gave me another concerned look.
This wasn’t going great. I’d really have to start upping my game on acting like the happy tourist I was supposed to be.
“I’m fine. I just …” I shook my head again and forced a laugh. “That clock is stopped.” I pointed to the grandfather clock. “I thought someplace that does time travel would place a high priority on taking care of their clocks, you know? It was surprising to see.” I shrugged.
I spotted a tall, dark skinned figure in my periphery down the hall and quickly glanced that way.
Chase, behind a cleaning cart, wearing a grey janitor coat and grey cap. He caught my gaze for half a second and gave me a panicked eyebrow raise before ducking in another door.
I quietly prayed that he’d find Demetrius and Jane both in that room and get them the heck out of here.
“Our clock?” Mr. Hudson frowned and looked to the grandfather clock. “Why it’s … we …” he trailed off and his eyes widened slightly. His brow furrowed. Putting a hand to his coat pocket almost unconsciously, he moved towards the clock.
Holding my breath a little, I drifted after him.
I couldn’t decide if that was a good or bad idea pointing that out. But we needed a distraction. And maybe he could… explain what was up with the clocks while he was fixing this one.
Hudson was silent for a minute, examining the clock. He pulled out his own coppery watch and flicked it open, checking.
The hands spun around and stopped moving, right in the same position.
He raised his eyebrows.
Another chill went up my spine. I swallowed. “D-do you know what’s doing that? Is there a… glitch?” A glitch in all the clocks? That sounded stupid. But it was really the only thing I could think of.
Mr. Hudson didn’t answer. He raised his head, scanning the people down the hall. He stopped looking back and forth and waved.
A woman with frizzy red hair cut off in her conversation with another woman and looked back our way. She waved back and started to come towards us.
Hudson held up a hand. “Wait! Take out your watch and check the time, please?”
Dr. O’Connor frowned, but did. “It’s ten-forty,” she called back, her voice curling around the R in “forty” with a thick Irish accent. “Why?”
“Keep an eye on your watch and come towards me.”
I frowned. What was he doing? It wasn’t like … clocks just within this little bubble of space were affected. All the clocks I’d seen had this problem.
But then again, why did that lady’s watch not change, while Hudson’s and the grandfather clock did?
I was getting a bad feeling about this, for some reason. I involuntarily backed up a step.
Dr. O’Connor walked slowly closer to us, looking down at her watch. A frown creased her brow. And then once she got within five feet of us, her eyebrows shot up. She stared at her watch for another few seconds, then looked up.
“It changed. It says one twenty-three now.”
Hudson nodded slowly. He sucked in his lips and glanced sideways at me.
Dr. O’Connor looked to me as well.
I swallowed. “W-what? What does that mean?”
“Better set off the paradox alert,” O’Connor muttered quietly. “Someone screwed up, Hudson.”
Paradox alert? For… me? But I wasn’t …
Hudson took a step back from me, pushing his shirtsleeve up off his wrist and revealing a small, black band. “Please stay where you are, Miss Williamson.”
He pressed a button on the side of the black band and brought it close to his mouth. But just as he was about to speak, he stopped, flinching.
Dr. O’Connor shot him a look. “What?”
“Just got another alert from security. Intruder warped into room twenty-three.”
My heart jumped. Demetrius. Room twenty-three. I could see the number on the door across the hall from here. A door over from where Chase was just leaving. He was going into room twenty-three next.
“It never rains, but it pours,” sighed O’Connor.
I didn’t wait for another chance.
I bolted between the two of them, shoving my way through the crowd and running for the same room Chase was.
Hudson was shouting something. Calling for security. The easy, gentle flow of the crowd changed and I had to ram my way through.
“Chase!” I yelled as I saw the door open. I was almost there.
The door had started to swing closed and quickly stopped. I dashed the last short distance and slipped inside. Heartbeat pounding in my head, I slammed the door shut behind me and fumbled to lock it.
Chase stared at me, eyes wide and hands up in bewilderment. “Zoey, what on earth…?”
I gasped for breath, my knees feeling wobbly. “I … the clocks kept changing and they’ve been changing the whole time and … and they wouldn’t change until they … I … Hudson said it was a paradox and …”
Chase put his hands on my shoulders. “Whoa, whoa, just…”
Another voice from across the room made us both stop.
“Please, please, please … please unlock … please, I need to …”
Demetrius was in here, alright—shaking and hunched up next to what looked like a bed with a blue glass dome over the top.
There was a woman on the bed—and she looked just like her pictures.
Her white, lacy nightgown ruffled around her and her curly, light hair fell around her shoulders. Her eyes were closed and her expression peaceful. And her stomach was …
I felt sick, suddenly.
She … Jane … was pregnant.
They’d taken Demetrius’s pregnant wife.
Chase and I didn’t move. I couldn’t.
Demetrius didn’t even notice us. He desperately pressed in different patterns on the keypad next to the bed, still muttering under his breath.
“I’m sorry, Jane … I’ll have you out soon, love … I promise. I’ll have you out soon. I’m so, so sorry I wasn’t here sooner …” his voice cracked.
Jane didn’t move. I couldn’t even see her breathing.
Demetrius took in a shuddering breath and swiped his sleeve over his eyes. Gritting his teeth, he slammed a fist against the keypad and cursed. He raked both hands over his freshly cut hair, making a choked noise.
“Just open! Please!”
There was a sudden slamming noise at the door and someone yelling for us to open up.
Chase and I jumped back.
Demetrius looked up, his hands still tangled in his hair and his eyes red and watery. He seemed to notice Chase and me for the first time and sucked in a breath. Running over to us, he grabbed Chase’s arm and pulled him back to the pod Jane was in.
“You’re here, finally! Here, help me break open the casing; we don’t have much time.” His words tumbled out in a rush. “I already tried to do it myself, but my strength isn’t what it used to be and I wasn’t even able to crack it. I never knew the society had these stasis chambers in their possession, and …”
There was another loud whack at the door and it felt like the room shook. They weren’t asking to be let in anymore. This was them trying to break the door down.
I swallowed hard. “Do you have anything in your cleaning cart that might help, Chase?”
Demetrius pointed to me, his tear-streaked face lighting up. “Yes! Excellent idea!” He ran over to Chase’s abandoned cart full of cleaning supplies.
Chase blinked a couple of times and shook his head. “Not unless you want me to just clean the fingerprints off the glass here, no.”
“It’s not glass,” Demetrius shot back, rifling through the cleaning supplies. “It’s something much stronger. Thicker.”
I moved over next to the pod and peered in at Jane’s face. I could see the smile lines on her face. I could see the woman Demetrius had given up all sanity to search for, not half a foot away from us.
But I still couldn’t see her breathing.
I swallowed hard. “These… stasis pods…” I started hesitantly.
“They keep the subject practically frozen in time while inside it. Suspended animation.” Demetrius responded. “Very advanced technology, even for our time. But don’t worry, she’s still alive. Don’t worry …” He straightened up with a bright pink bottle full of something. “Aha! If I dump this on the keypad, it may short-circuit and let her out!”
Another ground-shaking slam against the door. Something audibly cracked.
Demetrius didn’t even seem to notice. He ran back over to Jane and started unscrewing the bottle top with his shaking hands.
Chase anxiously looked between Demetrius and the door. “You’re gonna want to hurry that up …”
“Hearing a lot of ruckus up there and I thought I heard someone calling security,” Jonah’s voice came through in my earpiece. “Please tell me that’s not any of you.”
Another cracking slam against the door. I saw it buckle a little.
Chase touched his ear. He blew out a breath and his voice trembled with the effort to stay quiet, “Nope. It’s all three of us.”
Demetrius got the cap off the bottle and dumped it upside down over the keypad. It sizzled and sparks flew out. I heard a few pops, but the dome over Jane stayed in place. Jane didn’t move.
“Please …” Demetrius’s voice cracked again and he leaned down, pressing his hands hard against the slick surface. “Jane? Jane, can you hear me? It’s Demetrius. It’s … it’s your husband, please …”
Not a finger twitched.
Another slam on the door. Half of it splintered.
“Guys …” My turn to have my voice crack.
“Okay, Demetrius, we’re out of time,” Chase grabbed my arm and backed me further away from the door. “Warp us out of here. Take the pod with. You can do that, right?”
Demetrius pressed his lips together in a firm line. He reached into his pocket and yanked out his watch, unclipping the chain from his coat.
“I already set the coordinates to transport back to the Metrotel. But the stasis chamber is bolted down.” His voice was surprisingly calm.
“S-so we … come back later?” I squeaked.
Yelling came from outside. One more big “WHAM” and the rest of the door flew off its hinges.
Demetrius fingered his watch and let out a breath, looking up at me. “I’ll be right behind you.”
He flipped open his watch at the same time he tossed it over towards us.
I caught it on pure instinct.
Security poured into the room, charging for Demetrius, as Chase and I disappeared.
bum bUM BUUM
Come back next week to see what happens and continue to get terrifying answers to your questions!