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!”
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