Authors: Janet B. Taylor
“Listen to me,” he said. “Close your eyes and hold on to my shoulder. The passage opens up just below. Not much farther now. You can do it.”
“Yeah. Close my eyes. That'll help.” I'd meant to sound sarcastic, but without any breath behind them, the words emerged raspy and pathetic.
Cold sweat trickled down my back. Behind me, Doug said, “He's right, Hope. Nothing to fear. This passage has been here a good long time.”
Collum secured my clammy hand on his shoulder and turned, tugging me down another step. “That's right. Come on. You're safe. Just like that. Keep going.”
Collum had been nothing but a jerk to me since we met. But the warmth of his sturdy shoulder beneath my hand felt good, and after a few seconds I was able to force my feet down one step after another.
By the time we came to a final bend, my thighs trembled with effort, but I could breathe almost normally. Lucinda disappeared and I heard a click. Diffuse light glowed in the tunnel below us. The air here smelled different, like the wind after a lightning storm.
“All right,” Lucinda called. “Bring her in.”
Collum turned to face me in the arched entrance, blocking my view of whatever lay beyond. His freckled features hardened. I guessed he'd met his niceness quota for the day.
“Listen, Lu's having a rough go of it right now,” he said. “I don't want you causing her any more grief. So you just listen to what she has to say. Got it?”
At my sullen nod, he stepped back. “Now don't move off that step.”
With that, he moved aside, leaving me to gape at what lay hidden deep within the Highland mountain.
The oval-shaped room had started life as a cave, no doubt. But at some point in the mythic past, the place had been transformed. Overhead the stone ceiling soared up and disappeared into shadow, while carved symbols and ancient runes danced across the walls.
My brain quickly shuffled and sorted through pages and images of all the ancient languages I'd ever studied. In an instant, my vision was overlaid with glowing translucent lists.
No, I decided. This writing is older than Celtic. Much older. I don't know what that is.
More of the electric lights had been strung up along the walls, though I could see carved stone holders where torches had once hung. Embedded in the floor were tiny bits of colored stone. A mosaic, woven in a distinct pattern. At its middle, I recognized the elongated figure eight, the symbol for infinity, but not the meaning of the three wavy lines that bisected it.
The room's incredible beauty seemed alien there, in what had to be the heart of the mountain. But that's not why my jaw dropped with awe. Equidistant from the center of the figure eight stood two pyramidal machines. Each taller than me, they were topped with silver, mushroom-shaped caps.
I knew them at once. Or, at least, who must've created them.
“Tesla,” I whispered.
Doug nodded in approval. “You're right, Lu. She's smart.”
The bundle of colored wires were secured to the floor, their ends attached to the back of the buzzing, clicking machines. Tiny filaments threaded out of holes in the sides of each mechanism, snaking up the walls and terminating in hundreds of round silver discs a couple of feet above our heads.
Wanting a closer look, I stepped down, then yelped as a prickling electric sensation flowed up from the soles of my feet. I shot a look at Aunt Lucinda, who was watching, as if waiting for my reaction. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Collum smirk as I scrambled back onto the steps. The feeling vanished.
“What,” I gritted, chafing at goose bumps that had erupted all over my arms, “the mother-loving hell was that?”
“You can come down, Hope,” my aunt called. “I assure you it's perfectly safe.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Excuse me if I don't take your word for it.”
With a glance to Moira, Lucinda approached the closer of the two machines. “You were correct in your assumption. This is an original Tesla design. I understand you were once quite intrigued by the man?”
I huffed at that.
While most girls probably obsessed over singers or movie stars, I'd been infatuated with famous historical figures. And Tesla .Â .Â . well .Â .Â . he was amazing. A genius. More than a genius, really. When I was ten, I'd papered my room with pictures and articles of the troubled inventor. I'd always felt an odd kinship with him. Like me, Tesla had a photographic memory. Except unlike the vast array of historical facts and figures that lay dormant and useless in my own brain, Tesla had spun magic out of his incredible mind, creating some of the most impressive inventions ever known. Alternating current. The tesla coil. The man had invented lasers and robots in a day where people still traveled by horse and buggy, for God's sake.
Yeah. Intrigued. You could say that.
And if what they claimed was true, I was standing in a room with one of his original inventions.
“They look like mini versions of Wardenclyffe Tower, don't they, Hope?” Doug chimed in.
From the way he was beaming at me, and based on the large photo taped to his desk, I knew I'd found a fellow fan.
“Yeah, I've seen the pictures. It was supposed to transmit power wirelessly,” I said. “But it didn't work. What are these? Prototypes?”
Lucinda cleared her throat. “Not exactly. Earlier I explained how my ancestor Hubert Carlyle and his friends found this chamber, quite by accident. When they experienced the same sensations you just felt, Hubert contacted his son Jonathan, who was attending university at Oxford. On a recent trip to Paris, Jonathan happened to have become acquainted with a young inventor named Nikola Tesla. Jonathan wrote and entreated his new friend to come investigate.”
“Alternate power source,” Doug put in. “That's what Tesla thought at first. He was keen on finding a way to harness it.”
“But .Â .Â .” I glanced around the chamber, empty but for the machines and the people scattered about. “What kind of power? From where? I don't understand.”
“They didn't either,” Moira said. “Not then, anyway.”
Aunt Lucinda approached and held out a hand. I hesitated, gnawing at my cuticles until I nipped into tender flesh. Ignoring her outstretched hand, I stepped down onto the floor. I felt it immediately, like an invisible current. As we walked the perimeter of the room, stepping carefully between the wires, the power seemed to flow from every direction at once.
The lines beside Lucinda's mouth deepened. “Tesla's machine did not work as he'd hoped. Oh, it harnessed the power here, no doubt. But in a way they could never have dreamed.”
Collum snorted and leaned against the wall. “Aye. No one could've predicted that, could they?”
When Lucinda gestured to Doug, his wide face lit with glee. “Oh, I've been waiting forever to show this to someone new.”
He flicked the switch on a small metal box lying near the door. When it kicked on, white smoke blasted from holes in the top.
“Don't worry,” he called over the hiss. “This is just a fog machine. Helps you see it better.”
A fan blew the heavy mist toward the ceiling. Soon, I could smell it. Damp and cold and vaporous. He clicked it off. “Okay. That's enough. Get the lights, will you Coll?”
The lights went out. And so did all the air in my lungs. Above our heads, laser beams seared across the room in the exact pattern I'd seen on the computer screen upstairs. Lines of brilliant neon green, with a few flashing red in a continuously changing pattern. Hundreds of them, all intersecting at the very center of the chamber, like a psychedelic spiderweb.
“What is this place?” I whispered.
“The first time it happened,” Lucinda said quietly as she stared up, “was in 1888, during a soiree to celebrate the engagement of Jonathan Carlyle to Julia Alvarez, Dr. Alvarez's daughter. Tesla had given up and moved on, but the three menâHubert, MacPherson, and Alvarezâfilled with whiskey and swagger, decided to operate the machines for themselves. Jonathan and Julia followed their fathers down the stairs, worried that in their drunken state they might come to harm. The young couple arrived just in time to witness the three men, standing directly in the center of the symbol, being surrounded by a whirling cyclone of rippling power. Julia was struck dumb with horror, but Jonathan acted quickly to power down the machines.”
“When everything settled,” Moira spoke. “The three men were gone. Vanished into thin air.”
I flinched as the lights clicked on. The lasers dimmed, though I could still see a phantom glimmer through the remnants of the fog.
“They didn't die, you know.” Collum gave a cool shrug. “Only took a bit of a holiday.”
Collum waved a hand at Lucinda. “Lu, put the poor thing out of her misery, won't you? We've got work to do.”
As she approached, my aunt's tired features looked so like my mother's, it made my throat ache.
“I'm sure that in the course of your studies, you've likely read how there were some ancients who believed in lines of power that thread through the earth,” she said. “That they often erected monuments where those lines supposedly crossed. Standing stones, cave markings, and the like. This cave was one of those places. Though we believe the language is far older, the closest translation of the carvings you see here is ancient Gaelic.
Slighe a' Doillier,
” she said. “The Dim Road. We just call it the Dim.”
Soundlessly, my lips formed the words. A horrifying idea rippled just below the surface of my mind. My mother's face, trapped within the tapestry's weave.
Costumes. Computers. Tapestries. Machines.
“Aunt Lucinda.” My voice sounded very small against the rock. “What happened to my mom?”
Lucinda spoke in a voice so bland, she might've been reading the weather forecast. “In rare places around the world, these ley lines intersect in huge concentrations. Hereâamplified a thousandfold by Tesla's machinesâthey create a passage into the past.”
“It works something like a miniature wormhole, see,” Doug started, but Moira shook her head, quieting him.
I stared at the machines, stupified, as Lucinda finished. “Yes, Hope. My sister is alive. But she is also lost. In London, as far as we know. In the year of our Lord 1154.”
Logic battled with a crazy, hopeful notion that tried to rise inside me. My aunt's words, so matter of fact, banged around inside my head like manic pinballs.
“I don't .Â .Â .” I managed. “I don't want to hear any more.”
“Carlyle, MacPherson, and Alvarez had disappeared off the face of the earth,” she went on as if I hadn't spoken. “Julia was distraught, convinced that the machines had somehow vaporized them. Jonathan convinced her not to speak of what they'd witnessed, until he could get in touch with Tesla. The only person with whom they shared their secret was MacPherson's son, Archie. Who would've believed them, after all? They would've been thought mad.”
Pressure built inside me at each word. Soon I'd shatter and there'd be nothing left of me but a red smear on stone.
“The men reappeared,” Lucinda continued. “Suddenly and without warning, exactly seventy-two hours later. Just popped back into existence in the exact spot from which they'd vanished. Jonathan and Archie saw it with their own eyes. Jonathan writes of it in his journals. How bedraggled and ill they were. How MacPherson had bled from the eyes and ears. Yet all three men were still very much alive.”
Taking a breath, my aunt delivered the final blow.
“When the men returned, they told their wives and children an unbelievable tale. On oath, all three swore they'd been swept along by an unfathomable force and cast back through time itself. And,” she said, “they did not return empty-handed. They were in possession of a leather bag of freshly minted, four-hundred-year-old coins. A sword. And a fine jeweled dagger. Artifacts they claimed they âfound' and which they eventually sold for enormous profit.”
This was so far beyond imagination, it was laughable. My mother had raised me on a foundation of hard facts, historical evidence, analytical thinking. It was absurd to think she'd actually believed this fairy tale. This science fiction.
“Despite the danger,” Lucinda was saying over the noise in my head, “they tried it again. And again. Before long, they'd amassed a great fortune with the artifacts they âacquired' while on these journeys. Tesla knew, of course. For a percentage of the proceeds, he kept it to himself. He eventually modified the machines to calculate the general era in which they'd arrive. Even with that rudimentary method, they could prepare. Costumes. Money. Weapons. Of course we now use a much more sophisticated and exact system, thanks to Douglas here.”
Doug ducked his head at the praise, but when he looked over at me, his gaze was sweet and open. “See, Hope, you can't control the Dim, really. It opens when it pleases. All you can do is monitor the patterns of the different lines. That's what the computer program keeps track of. The device .Â .Â . amplifies the power of the lines. They are symbiotic. One won't work without the other.”
The airport board upstairs.
Not codes. Dates.
London Dec 4, 1154.
My back went cold.
Lucinda's faultless posture drooped. She stumbled back suddenly, as if too exhausted to go on. Moira made a sound of dismay. Collum was there in an instant to keep Lucinda upright. When Lucinda tried to wave them both off, Moira mumbled a few, quiet words in her ear. Finally, my aunt nodded, and the two boys helped her sit in a straight-back chair.
Moira moved to my side. “Eventually,” she said in a calm, steady tone, “as men tend to do, Carlyle and Alvarez argued. Alvarez split from the others after he secretly found a similar location high in the Andalusian mountains of Spain. He persuadedâor more likely threatenedâTesla into building two new machines, and then he began his own exploration.”