Friday, April 25, 2014

Sad, Brown Eyes: Part 7

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.”
I'm... trying.”
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.”

End of Part 7

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sad, Brown Eyes: Part 6

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.”
Indeed. Run.”
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. The 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.

End of Part 6

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Blue Bonnet Distraction

   While I wait for word on an agent as well as writing a new novel and short story, I had the opportunity to have a nice evening with one of my good friends. She's even inspired my new female character in my new short story. She had the idea to go out and take some pictures. Being Texas, they had to be blue bonnet pictures. So at sunset, she and I did just that.
   Stepping away from my work was just what I needed. I was having doubts about my new novel. I wondered if it sounded like every other book out in stores now. With every sentence I felt more and more lousy. I loved my story and the characters but I hated the idea that readers would find it redundant. However, after having time to talk with my friend, telling her about it, she lifted my spirit. For all I know she was just being a good friend, but sometimes a little nudge in the right direction is all you need to get back into it. The next morning I was BACK! I wrote a new scene and adored every bit of it.
   It is nearly impossible to write a story that's never been done before. Love triangles, dystopian cities, dragons, the school bully, a tragic past... it has all been done. It is up to the writer to make it their own. Take those classic ideas and run with them. Make the reader say, "Wow! That's new!" Bring new tears to old ideas. If you have your doubts, go "take blue bonnet pictures". You can do it.
   Thank you to my friend for helping me and inspiring me. I hope I (and Rachael) can make you proud.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sad, Brown Eyes: Part 5

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!”
I can't!”
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.

End of Part 5

Friday, April 4, 2014

Sad, Brown Eyes: Part 4

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?”
The code.”
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.

End of Part 4