Well, let’s hope I can get my last bit done by next week because -quiet screaming- this is all I have so far, you guys now know as much as I do. xD
Catch up below if you’re new.
And on to part 18!
Part 18: In the Belly of the Well-Intentioned Beast
“How? How can they do that?” Chase spluttered. “Is that even … legal?”
“Probably just as legal as what they did to Jane and Demetrius in the first place,” I muttered, angrily running my fingers through the ends of my hair. I’d tried the watch-warper thing. And for some reason, it wasn’t working. I had a very bad feeling we were experiencing those “warp-proof chambers” Jonah had mentioned Demetrius getting locked into in the first place.
Jonah whacked his closed fist against the glass door, muttering a curse. “It’s their warper. We’re travelling on their dime here, and they’ve got tabs on all of them back here, anyway. The society could warp us right into Alcatraz if they wanted.”
Which meant they probably still could.
We’d end up wherever the society wanted to send us, and that wasn’t very comforting, looking at how that had worked out before.
Since Hudson had showed up at the door and peered in to make sure we were all there, we hadn’t seen anyone. The hallway outside the glass door was empty, and the only breaks in texture in the walls of the white room were a few thin, reflective windows up near the ceiling.
Jane sat on one of the hard benches mounted into the wall, curling her thin body inwards over her pregnant belly. She’d stayed very quiet since we’d gotten here.
I’d been so wrapped up in freaking out and trying to find a way out of here before that I’d forgotten to really pay her any attention. Looking now, I could see how pale her face was and how her hands trembled.
Of all of us, she had asked for this the least. And yet here she was, thrown right into the middle of this mess—still wearing the same nightgown from when she’d gotten nabbed, too. Man, this whole thing probably hadn’t even seemed that long, to her.
I swallowed, biting my lip as I hesitantly moved over next to Jane. “Hey. You doing okay?”
Jane let out a sighing breath, closing her eyes for a second.
Jonah whacked against the door in the background, and Chase tried to mess with the lock. Both seemed appropriately frustrated.
We weren’t gonna get out of here on our own, this time. We’d have to talk our way out, if this were going to work at all.
I was starting to feel sick again and I wasn’t sure if that was just nerves or whether I was actually starting to disappear again. Or it could have been nerves about disappearing again—or a combination of the two.
I forced a deep breath in and out and looked back over to Jane, still waiting for her to say anything.
Her lips were together in a thin line and her gaze focused on the wall across from us. Another few seconds of silence passed before she spoke.
“If Demetrius had told me about how much trouble this would be for everyone in the first place… about how much trouble for everyone it would cause just to save me… I don’t think I would have let him.” Her voice was a whisper. “I-I barely saw him when I woke up, but he…” she looked over at me. “How long has he been looking for me now? How long was I in that chamber?”
I bit my tongue. “I’m not sure. I mean, there’s time travel and everything, so you probably haven’t been here long … for you. For Demetrius, I don’t know.” I gave a small shrug.
Years, at least. That was what he’d said.
Jane watched me. “And he didn’t have his scarf on when I saw him. He told me before that you needed one to stay sane, if you were time jumping as much as he does. Something about … time sickness. Madness.”
Her implied question about Demetrius’ sanity hung in the air. I bit down hard on my lower lip, focusing on my shoes. “He … has a little bit of that going on, yeah.”
Jane closed her eyes, her expression pained as she dropped her head back against the wall. “If I’d known …”
“Well, here comes someone, finally.” Jonah’s voice broke in before Jane could finish her sentence, though I could probably guess where she had been going.
I looked up and towards the door as footsteps came closer.
Chase stepped back towards Jane and me, frowning worriedly. “Is ‘someone coming’ a good thing or a bad thing?”
A dark-haired woman stopped in front of the door, looking to the side of the glass and tapping away at what I assumed was a keypad. A silver scarf was draped around her neck, and the thin, coppery chain of a watch dangled from the pocket of her coat.
Jonah, who’d looked ready to attack when we first heard the footsteps, backed up a little bit, his shoulders slumping. He blew out a breath. “Probably wouldn’t do much good to fight, anyway,” he remarked quietly, sounding like he was talking to Chase.
Chase just nodded.
The door hissed open and the woman raised her eyebrows as she looked around at all of us. She gave a short nod. “If you’ll come with me, please. We’ll have this all sorted out soon.” Stepping off to the side, she gestured for us to come out into the hall.
We all hesitated for a second, then moved together. Jonah helped Jane up, and I stayed close behind Chase as we stepped out into the hall.
The row of three sleek white holding cells along the hallway seemed even more out of place in the Historian Society building, once we were back out where we could see all the wooden floors, bookshelves and burnished light fixtures.
Even as scared and sick as I felt, I still couldn’t help admiring how cool this place looked.
Without another word, the woman started off down the hall.
We collectively hesitated for a second before following her. I scanned my gaze over the other cells as we passed, peering in through the glass doors. Because if these were the only warp-proof chambers they had in here …
The middle cell was empty, but the last one in the row held a man. A man with curly hair, head down and shoulders slumped as he sat in the corner, wearing a billowy white shirt and jeans with holes in the knees.
I stopped, my pulse jumping. “Demetrius!”
Chase stopped next to me, quickly turning his head to look. Jane gasped from behind me.
I ran over, whacking my hand against the glass to try to get his attention, then looking down and trying to fiddle with the opening mechanism. If we got him out … if the society saw him and Jane together, they’d just have to reconsider, right?
Demetrius barely lifted his head, his gaze empty as it met mine.
I forced a hopeful smile.
“Please step away from the cell, ma’am.” The woman’s sharp voice made me jump. Her shoes clacked against the wood of the floor as she strode back towards me.
Any hopefulness I’d had of getting Demetrius out slowly died. I had no idea how to open the door, and she’d probably just shove him back in and lock him up again anyway.
If we were going to make a play, Demetrius couldn’t be part of it.
I swallowed hard and stepped back before the woman got to me and she stopped, just giving me a stern look. She raised her eyebrows slightly at me and looked between all of us before repeating her first words.
“If you’ll come with me, please.” But this time she came around behind us, like she was a sheepdog herding disobedient sheep. She gave Jane another stern look as she started to step towards the cell door. Jane quickly redirected her gaze to the floor, her shoulders shuddering a little.
Jonah narrowed his eyes, glaring at the woman.
Chase put a hand on my shoulder as we started moving again. I bit my lip, sparing a short glance back towards Demetrius again before we got too far down the hall.
He was on his feet, his face pale and his gaze locked on Jane. His expression of mixed relief and helpless fear burned in my mind even after I turned away. Tears pricked at the corners of my eyes.
The woman guided us through the winding corridors of the building and up a flight of stairs before coming to the wide double doors labeled “Director Loughty,” with a gold plaque.
The woman pushed one of the doors open and nodded for us to enter.
We just stood there for a second, then Jonah huffed out a breath and looked between all of us.
“Well…” he began, leaving his mouth open like he was going to say something else, then he just closed it, rubbing a hand over his stubbly beard and glancing over at the woman. His hand shook a little. Jonah finally just gave a sharp nod and stepped through the door first.
“Not the best pep talk ever,” Chase muttered under his breath as he followed after Jane and me.
The door thumped shut behind us, and I jumped at the hollow, wooden sound.
The old man at the big desk in front of us looked up. Glasses perched on the end of his nose, his grey hair was combed back neatly from his face, and he held a leatherbound book in one wrinkled hand.
So this was the man. This was the director of the society that had so thoroughly ruined Demetrius and Jane’s life together. The one who’d ordered all the heartless carrying out of all these rules—who had locked Jane up, taken away Demetrius’ scarf and left him to drive himself insane looking for her, who had sent mercenaries to try and kill all of us.
An icy knot of fear and anger built up inside me and I clenched my fists.
Then Director Loughty did something completely unexpected.
He looked between all of us, and he smiled—and not like an evil villain sort of smile, either. No, this was a warm, friendly looking smile.
I blinked, trying to figure out where to go with all my potential plans of attack I’d been building up for the past few seconds. A wave of nausea passed over me, along with a prickle of numbness. I felt Chase stiffen next to me. My blood ran cold.
I’m flickering again. Jane and Demetrius don’t get back together. This is where it ends.
The director’s gaze rested on me for a second, looking vaguely curious and sympathetic. He sat up straighter, resting an arm against his desk as he nodded to us. He gestured to the two red upholstered chairs sitting across from him. “Please, have a seat. I apologize for not having more seating for all of you, but this was on rather short notice.”
I was almost shaking, I was so scared, but all I could think was: He sounds like David Attenborough.
“Judging by where this meeting is going, I’m surprised you bothered with any chairs,” Jonah remarked, his tone cold. Still, he helped Jane over to one of the chairs.
She looked tired, but still sat tensely on the edge of the seat, putting her thin arms protectively over her middle.
Director Loughty sighed and pursed his lips slightly, looking over all of us again. He looked almost … sad, for a second.
Chase nudged me and I wandered vaguely toward the chairs, still keeping my gaze fixed on the director—partly from suspicion, partly from just trying to puzzle him out. I’d think that anyone that obsessed with carrying out rules wouldn’t even bother trying to act nice, but he sure seemed to be making the effort.
After a few more steering nudges from Chase, we were all in a group again. Jonah and Chase didn’t sit down, since they were leaving the chair for me. And I didn’t want to sit down because the last time I had tried sitting somewhere when I was all flickery, I had ended up on the floor anyway. So we all just sort of hovered awkwardly in back of the chairs.
Silence reigned in the room for another minute, so thick it seemed to buzz in my ears, then Director Loughty sighed again. He fiddled a little with a pencil on his desk, not looking up. “This is my least favorite part of the job, you know,” he remarked.
Chase’s brow furrowed. He shot a sideways, confused look in my direction. I shrugged.
Jonah rolled his eyes.
Jane spoke up, her voice shaking a little. “Which part, sir?”
“The part where you can’t make everyone happy.” Loughty set down the pencil, lining it up perfectly with the edge of his closed book. “The part where rules get broken and messes need to be cleaned up. It’s never pretty and it’s never fun, but …” he spread his hands for a few seconds, his expression sad.
And there was the evil director side I was looking for. My fingernails dug into my palms as I curled my fists. “We’re the mess?”
The director looked over at me. He opened his mouth, then closed it again, clasping his hands on the desk in front of him. “In a way, yes.”
I clenched my fists tighter, the angry, scared feeling inside of me swelling.
“And … what do you usually do to ‘clean up’ messes?” Chase asked, trying to keep his tone even.
“That would be why I brought you in here,” Loughty shifted his position a little. “We have our procedures and they usually go quite quickly. But before that I simply wanted to… talk to all of you. To tell you why we’re doing this. We’re not the villains here, simply those willing to do the hard things that must be done for the greater good.”
I saw Jonah clench his jaw tighter. He crossed his arms over his chest, trying to look like he couldn’t care less about this whole speech, but the stiff tension didn’t leave his expression.
The director continued, “So to get the point, here’s what’s going to happen.” His gaze went to Chase first. “You, Chase, will go home. You’re a man out of time and I’m sorry this happened. All should be back to normal soon.”
Chase’s hand squeezed around mine. Before when he’d done that, it had been more to comfort me. This time it felt like it was more for himself.
Another chill went through my body and his hand slipped through mine. We both flinched.
The director looked to Jonah next, his expression taking on the first note of annoyance I’d seen. A very tired look. I wondered if Jonah had run into him before when he had broken in here, or something.
“Jonah,” he sighed. “You never do learn, do you?”
Jonah raised an eyebrow. “You were the one that hired me.”
“Yes, and it looks like you decided not to take your last chance at redeeming yourself. I’m afraid we have no choice but to lock you up this time. You’re a menace to the history, and you’ve proven time and again that you can’t be trusted with a time warper.”
“Because you folks are the only ones who get to decide how they get used, apparently,” Jonah muttered.
Loughty raised his eyebrows. “One of our founding members was the one who invented them, so yes, I’m afraid we have some say.”
There was an almost imperceptible twitch under Jonah’s eye. He didn’t respond.
Director Loughty moved his gaze to look between Jane and me. His expression grew sad. “You two, I’m afraid, are the wrinkles in the timeline that have to be smoothed out. If it hadn’t been for Professor Morrow’s unfortunate disregard for the rules, neither of you would even be here, having this conversation.” He leaned back in his chair, rubbing his fingertips against his forehead. “Things will go back to the way they were. Miss Williamson, you’ll simply cease to exist. A painless fixing of the timeline for you, at least. And Miss Doe, we tried to make this much easier for you, but … I’m sorry.” He gave a forced, sad smile. “I’ve heard that drowning is a relatively peaceful way to go, at lea-”
“Morrow,” Jane cut in, her voice sharper than I’d heard.
The director blinked. “I’m sorry?”
“Jane Morrow,” Jane repeated. “Demetrius is my husband. I’m carrying his child. And I have the right to go by my married name, no matter what you say should have happened to me that day on the ship.”
A humorless laugh sputtered from Director Loughty’s mouth. “My dear, Demetrius can no more marry you than he can marry Amelia Earhart. You’re a dead woman. He was quite aware of the rules, and he always knew it would come to this, from the moment he supposedly rescued you.”
Jane’s gaze didn’t leave his face and her lips stayed pressed in a thin line, but I saw her face lose a little of its color.
The already cool room felt freezing. Goosebumps prickled all over my skin and my hands trembled, even as I kept them balled into fists.
“Demetrius is a better historian than any of you.” My words came out as an involuntary, angry hiss. I was almost surprised I could hear them around my heartbeat in my ears.
The director turned in his chair, raising his eyebrows at me in surprise. “Professor Morrow was the one who broke the timeline by disobeying a well known rule not to save people who are supposed to die. I fail to see your reasoning here.”
I stalked forward a few steps, ignoring Chase’s cautioning hand on my shoulder. “Listen, I might not know history as well as you guys do, but I know enough. And apparently, Demetrius is the only one who’s learned anything from all his time travelling. What’s the point in studying all this history if you never take any lessons from it?”
My voice stayed surprisingly steady as I spoke. “I study this stuff too, okay? And it doesn’t take a professor to see what makes the good guys and the bad guys in history. It’s what they do in moments like this. In moments like Demetrius was in.” I moved closer, coming up to the edge of his desk. “The heroes in history aren’t made by hard-hearted rule following. It’s through compassion. What do the bad guys do, time and time again? Think of the Nazis, the Communists, the Vikings … the slave owners, for crying out loud! All of them! They decide that their personal idea of how things should go is more important than their fellow human beings. And that is exactly what you’re doing.”
I stopped for just a second to get a breath. And except for the sound of rain pattering against the windows, the room was deathly silent.
Director Loughty just stared at me. Well, everyone was sort of staring at me, but he looked the most shaken up, by far. He opened his mouth then closed it again a few times before he got any words out.
“But … the timeline. Adding in a whole new family bloodline into history could have effects we couldn’t even begin to list …”
I stood there and narrowed my eyes at him. He wanted to see effects? An idea flashed through my mind. Something he’d said before …
I always said I wanted to really get involved in history. It was a long shot, but it was all we had. at the moment.
Spinning back around to face Chase, I blurted out my question. “Do you want kids?”
Chase blinked. His mouth fell open for a bit and he blinked again, shaking his head as he stammered out a reply. “Z-Zoey, I … you said you weren’t ready to … to commit and to talk about stuff like …”
“Forget about that. Chase, do you want to have kids?”
Chase spread his hands, staring at me. “I’d love to! But you said you never wanted to get married!”
It was my turn to stop and stare at him. “I … when did I say that to you?”
“You didn’t!” he shot back. His expression twisted for a second and his voice got quieter. “It was those stupid … time travel memory transfers. You told your mom. Just this month.” He swallowed. “You said that I was a nice enough guy, but you just couldn’t imagine … committing to that level with …”
I closed the gap between us, went up onto my tiptoes and cut off the end of his sentence with a kiss.
A half cheer, half surprised laugh came from Jonah’s direction.
Chase stiffened in surprise, holding completely still.
I pulled back after a few seconds and took a deep breath. “Well, I can imagine it now.”
The look of shock slowly melted off of Chase’s face, being replaced by a wide grin. He laughed awkwardly.
“Alright, well …” Director Loughty’s voice broke in from behind us, sounding very confused. “While this is very … heartwarming …”
The doors to his office flew open before he could finish his sentence, and in ran a very pale and shaky looking Hudson.
He stumbled to a stop, breathing hard, and looked past all of us to the director. “Sir. You need to come with me.”
Loughty’s concerned expression deepened and he pushed up from his chair. “What happened?”
“Our warpers have been acting strangely ever since yesterday. And it … it looks like one of our founders’ timelines has started to flicker out.” Hudson swallowed hard. “Doctor Harlin. The one who invented the warpers. There’s something destabilizing the …”
Chase whirled to face Hudson, staring. “Doctor Harlin?”
A rush of elated shock started inside me. No way. It actually happened.
Hudson blinked. “Y-yes?”
“That’s …” Chase couldn’t seem to find his voice for a few seconds. “That’s my last name.”
“And it’s gonna be mine too,” I added, unable to stop myself from grinning.
Chase looked back to me, realization dawning across his face. “So you were asking if I wanted kids because of …”
“It was a longshot. But a historian and an inventor at the same time had a decent chance of being someone from us.” I smirked.
Director Loughty sputtered. Hudson gaped at us.
I spread my hands and shrugged broadly. “You were worried Demetrius was the one changing history. But it looks like you’re already living in a timeline he created.” I let my hands down and propped them on my hips.
Dead silence for a few seconds, then Jonah burst out laughing. He pointed at the director. “Who’s a menace to history now, smart guy?”
Hopefully that all made relative sense?
Thankfully second drafts are a thing. And time travel leaves room for creative interpretation. xD
Talk to me in the comments!