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.”
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