Actions

Work Header

this corner of a crumbling world

Chapter Text

“First off, gentlemen, I’d like to thank the board for coming to today’s presentation. I know you have very full schedules, what with drinking so much wine and debating which cultural artifacts would sell for the most to private collectors—“

”York." Carolina gave him a chastising look from where she was manning the projector. "We’re asking them for money. Behave.”

York sighed dramatically, but started over. “Gentlemen, I’d like to begin by thanking the members of the board for coming to hear today’s proposal. Now, I’m sure everyone in this room knows of the fabled Atlantis—a continent somewhere in the mid-Atlantic that was home to an advanced civilization, possessing technology far beyond our own. Now, according to numerous sources, including Plato—“ The projected slide changed to show a picture of an old manuscript page, written in Greek. “—this civilization was struck by some cataclysmic event, a natural disaster that cut it off from the rest of the world. Rather like the destruction of Pompeii by Vesuvius, only affecting a far more isolated community. 

“Some of you may ask—why Atlantis? It’s just a myth, isn’t it? Fantasy. Well, that is where you’d be wrong.” Slide change to show the Egyptian pyramids. “Before the Egyptians built the pyramids, Atlantis had electricity, advanced medicine—even the power of flight.” Carolina changed the slides as he spoke, showing pictures from various sources backing up his claims. 

York went on to describe the tales of a power source, and the evidence of an illuminated manuscript, the Shepard’s Journal. Even just speaking the name aloud gave him goosebumps. He and Carolina had both been working so long to find even a shred of evidence, and now it seemed what was practically a tourist’s guidebook could still be extant, just waiting for them to find it. 

He paused after Carolina shut off the projector so he could make use of the chalkboard. When he just stood behind the podium, hesitant, she flapped a hand at him. “Well? Go on, you’re doing fine!”

“Carolina—you’re the one who discovered the translation discrepancy, I don’t want to—“

She let out an explosive sigh. “We’ve been over this, York. As soon as I come into it as anything more than your wife, or even your assistant, we lose any shred of credibility and our last shot at a funded expedition. They’re already going to think you’re crazy.”

“This isn’t fair. You’ve worked longer and harder on this than I have—you’re the one who found the shield—“

“But you did most of the legwork on the runes. Besides, this is just how the world—“

The shrill ringing of a phone cut off their building argument, and York sighed. He was closer. “Would you gentlemen excuse me for a moment?” he asked the masks he had set up as a fake audience. That actually managed to startle a chuckle out of his wife, and he pointed at her victoriously before tilting down the chalkboard and leaning across it to pick up the phone. “Cartography and linguistics, York Richards speaking.” He had to immediately hold the speaker away from his ear as someone started squawking down it loudly. “Uh-huh? Uh-huh. The radiator in the offices again?”

He could hear Carolina groan, and then scraping noises as she pushed the masks and chairs out of the way to get to the boiler. “Excuse me, gentlemen. Pardon me, Mr. Higgenbottom. One side, please, you rich old bastards.”

God, he loved her. 

“Just a second,” York told Mrs. Marshall. He peered back over his shoulder at the sound of clanking and hissing gears in time to see Carolina whack the main oven of the furnace and give him a thumbs up. He could hear the pipes clanging to life overhead. 

“That better?” he asked the phone, and then had to hold it away again as she yelled at him some more. “You have a good day too.”

”And don’t let it happen again!”

York rolled his eyes as he hung up. “That was exciting. Now, where was—“ He tried to dust off his hands on his front, but they came away coated in chalk. “Whoops.”

“York, honestly.” Carolina came and stood in front of him, dusting off the front of his vest. Her eyes glowed right at him when she smiled. “How did you ever get taken seriously?”

“I didn’t, it was great.” He grinned right back at her.

She leaned forward to give him a hug and sighed into his shoulder. “This could be it. We could finally be getting out of the dungeon.”

“Hey, don’t knock this dungeon. I like this dungeon.” He squeezed her back. “I will have very fond memories of this dungeon.”

The clock chiming cut off any response she could have made. She pulled back, head tilted to count the cuckoos.

“Four o’clock.”

“Showtime.”

There was a rattling from the corner, and they both looked over to see a message tube come down from above.

“Were you expecting anything?”

“Not that I remember.” York was closer, so he grabbed it first and read it out loud for her benefit. “Dear Mr. Richards, this letter is to inform you that…your meeting…moved from four-thirty to three-thirty?

He was too shocked to get the next one as it came down, so that fell to Carolina. 

“Dear Mr. Richards—“ she cut off, and when she spoke again, her tone was furious. “Due to your absence, the board has voted to reject your proposal.”

He offered her his letter, and they swapped, and when he was done he looked up to see her storming towards the stairs. 

He grabbed his maps and their coats and ran after her to make sure she didn’t do too much damage to Mr. Hargrove. 


 

"Hargrove." Carolina's tone was icy and just barely on the correct side of polite. 

"Ah, Mrs. Richards. Is your husband here?"

"Is my husband--"

"Yes, yes I am," York said hastily, entering the room and surreptitiously dropping his burden on the floor. Carolina took a step back, breathing deeply through her nose and holding very tightly onto her temper while he spoke. "Mr. Hargrove, I just wanted to ask if it would be possible to resubmit my proposal. The meeting was rescheduled so abruptly, after all. I'm sorry if I seemed irresponsible."

"Ah." Mr. Hargrove carefully adjusted the blotter on his desk. "No, I'm afraid that won't be possible, Mr. Richards."

"Doctor," York muttered quietly. And then, louder, "Can I ask why?"  

"Because this museum deals in fact. Not fiction, not fantasy, and certainly not fairy tales." His voice dripped with derision. 

"Mr. Hargrove." Carolina had regained some control over her voice. "We--my husband has collected extensive evidence to support his proposal. It couldn't hurt to simply allow the board to hear us out. No great expeditions were ever undertaken without risk, after--"

"Mrs Richards." Hargrove's interruption was cool and flat. "I have made myself clear. This foolish crusade of your husband's to find a "lost city" straight out of a storybook will only lead to disaster, and I will not have my museum's reputation besmirched. I'm sorry that it's too late for you. I had high hopes for you, I truly did, but it seems that your father's good standing cannot overcome your mother's delusions--"

York didn't move to stop her when she punched Hargrove in the face. 

He just waited until she was standing next to him again, rubbing her knuckles and enjoying the stunned look on Hargrove’s face, to announce, "We quit."

 


 

They took the trolley back to their apartment together, arms around each other’s shoulders and hunched over the maps to protect them from the rain. 

“I’m sorry,” Carolina said quietly, as the carriage turned onto Morningside. “That was—stupid of me.”

York gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Well, I was the one who said we quit. We’d done all the research we could do already. And the jobs weren’t that great.”

“Maybe, but they were still jobs.” She huffed out a sigh. “And now—none of the other museums will be hiring, not after the dragging Hargrove’s about to give your reputation. We’ll have to move.”

Neither of them mentioned how difficult York’s eye would make it to find temporary work. 

“The rent’s paid through the end of the year. We’ll have time to look. For now, let's just...go home. Put away the maps, get some sleep, new plan in the morning."

Carolina sighed, drooping her head onto his shoulder. "I'm for it."

 


 

Carolina pushed the door open so York could hang onto the maps. 

"Delta, we're home!" he called out to the apartment. Usually, Delta was on them both as soon as they got home from work, winding around York's legs and demanding food. "Here, kitty kitty."

York set the maps on the table and turned to move the door's various latches into place while Carolina went for the lights. There was the clicking of the switch, but the apartment stayed as dim as the storm outside. "Mac an donais."

York sighed, slid home the last deadbolt, and turned around just in time to see a skinny silhouette against the window lit up by a flash of lightning. "York and Carolina Richards?"

Carolina reached into her purse and tugged out her pistol, cocking the hammer and aiming it at the skinny man in a flattering dress. 

"Whoa!" the stranger yelped. "Why does a historian have a gun?"

"I am a linguist. Who are you and why are you in our apartment?" Her voice was deadly cold, and York moved up behind her.

"And where did you get that dress, because I want one," York chimed in, trying to break the mood.

"York, not now."

"Yes, dear."

Carolina's grip and aim were both still steady. "I'll ask one more time and then I start shooting. Who are you, and how--"

"Alright, alright, I get it! Don't shoot! Geez. My name is Felix Gates, I came here on behalf of my employer.” Gates seemed to regain some of his confidence, leaning back against the window and casually crossing his arms. “He has a proposal that he thinks you would find…interesting."

“I’m already married, not sure I could handle another interesting proposal,” York murmured.

Carolina didn't so much as let a smile twitch, but she did uncock the hammer of her pistol. “And who, exactly, is your employer?”


 

The estate was imposing in the dead of night, the wrought-iron S worked into the tall gates only visible between flashes of lightning. Carolina stared out the window, keeping Gates in the corner of her eye. York was on her left, his hand clasped around her own on the seat. 

The inside of the mansion was opulent. Carolina’s suspicions about the rug were only confirmed by Gates warning them “not to drip on the Caravaggio.”

It reminded Carolina of her father’s house, of the New York social scene and the endless grinding parties of her younger summers. Of all the time she had spent longing to escape back to boarding school and Vassar. 

It made her twitchy and restless and she didn’t like it one bit. York reached his hand out again and she grabbed onto it with almost panicky relief. 

He squeezed reassuringly, and in the elevator, murmured a line from Beowulf in the original old English. “So stay resolute, my lord, defend your life now with the whole of your strength. I shall stand by you.”

“Your pronunciation is still awful,” Carolina murmured back in German, but she let her spine relax. 

Gates leaned against the wall, nattering at both of them. “Keep your sentences short and to the point, speak only when spoken to, address him as “Mr. Sarge” or “sir.” Clear?”

“As crystal,” York told him. Carolina squeezed her husband’s hand harder. 

“And relax,” Gates told them both as the elevator slid to a halt and the doors opened. “He doesn’t bite. Often.”

Carolina took a deep breath, and walked forward, York right behind her. 


 

Of all the things Carolina had been expecting, a short, stocky old man in a robe doing upside down calisthenics was not one of them.

Of course, he turned right side up as soon as he saw her and grinned. “Well, aren’t you the spitting image of your mother?"

Carolina blinked, trying to erase certain images from her mind. “I’m—pardon me, sir?”

“Oh, where are my manners?” He offered her his hand and she let go of York’s to shake it. “Preston Sarge. Pleased to meetcha, Carolina. Don’t bother with the ’sir’—any daughter of Allison’s welcome in my home. And you must be Doc Richards.” He shook York’s hand as well.

“You knew my mother?” Carolina asked. 

Mr. Sarge turned to a side table and picked up an old photograph, passing it to her. It showed her mother—younger than Carolina could ever remember seeing her, in a sturdy traveling dress with a notepad in one hand and a pistol in the other. A reporter’s hat was perched jauntily on her head. The grin on her face, wide and sharp and with just a hint of a smirk, was nothing like the calm smile in the formal portrait of her that loomed large in Carolina’s memories. Still, the twinkle in her eye was the same and this version of her felt much more…real. The same man that stood before them now was also in the picture, cackling madly in the background and holding his own gun, thankfully not pointed at either her mother or the photographer. 

York brushed up behind Carolina, peering over her shoulder. “She does look like you.” He tapped the glass. “You get the exact same smile about—when you’re really excited with your research.” He cast a careful look up at Mr. Sarge. 

“Met your mother in the war with the Spanish. I served in the 88th Battalion—she was a reporter. Supposed to stay nice and tucked away at base camp, but Allison never could resist the action at the front. Saved my life more than a few times. After the war, she dragged me along on a couple of her expeditions. Crazy as fruit bat, she was.” He spoke of her with such affection that Carolina couldn’t even be angry. “We didn’t talk much after she got married, but we never stopped writing.” Mr. Sarge pulled a pipe from his pocket and started tamping down tobacco. "She spoke of you often.”

“She never mentioned you.” Carolina carefully set the picture down.

“Well, I like my privacy. And didn’t like your father.” Mr. Sarge snorted as he lit his pipe. “He didn’t like me much either. Thought I encouraged your mother past what was “proper.”” The distaste in his voice was encouraging. “Sorry to drag you out on a night like tonight, but Allison left me something for you not long before she died. Asked me to give it to you when you were ready.” He regarded them both. “Thought your husband might be interested as well. On that table over there.”

Carolina crossed the room, York only a step behind her, and found a package wrapped in brown paper and string. She hadn’t realized she remembered her mother’s handwriting, but seeing her name written out in Allison's sharp and clear hand sent a stab of grief through her.

The wrapping came away easily with a few tugs, and Carolina’s heart almost stopped when she saw it. “It—no.” She was fluent in fifteen different languages and conversant in another twelve, but they all failed her now. “This—“ She spun around and held it out to York. “It’s—it’s the Shepard’s Journal.”

York looked from the journal to her back to the journal, and she shook it at him more insistently. He took it with trembling hands and carefully opened it up, leafing through the pages as Carolina looked at them upside down. Various symbols jumped out at her, but her mind was too full of turmoil to do any full translations.

“It’s—Mr. Sarge, this journal is the key, the ultimate key, to finding the lost continent of Atlantis.” Carolina turned to face him, shaking with things she couldn’t name. 

“Atlantis? Ha! I wasn’t born yesterday, missy.”

“No, no, no,” York blurted out, flipping through even faster. “These are—coordinates, clues, everything, it’s all right here.”

“Looks like gibberish.”

“Because it’s written—“ “It’s recorded in—“ They spoke over each other, and had to stop and trade glances. Carolina took over while York went back to reading. 

“It’s written in a dialect that no longer exists, but we—we’ve both spent our lives studying languages, dead languages. It’s not gibberish.”

“Well, ain’t that nice. Could be a fake.”

Carolina had to pause and take a very deep breath, inhaling the scent of vellum and leather and dust. She could hear York snap the book shut behind her, but held up a hand to stop him. 

“Mr. Sarge. My mother would have known if this were a fake. I would know. We would know. I am prepared to stake everything I own, everything I believe in, everything I have ever done, that this is the genuine Shepard’s Journal.” York stepped up next to her, and she set her hand on the cover. “And we will use this to find Atlantis even if we have to do it on our own in—in—in a leaky rowboat!” Her calm deserted her, and she almost shouted the last few words. York’s hand came up to her shoulder in unspoken, unwavering support.

Mr. Sarge had taken a seat at a long table, a sharp grin spreading across his face.

“Well. Aren’t you the firecracker. But forget the rowboat…” He pressed a button, and the tabletop slid back to raise up a series of models of fantastical ships. “We’ll travel in style.”

Carolina was, once again, struck speechless.

“It’s all been arranged, the whole can of beans.”

“Why?” Carolina and York spoke in unison, both with voices faint with surprise. 

“Well…” Sarge sighed, suddenly looking very old. “For years, your ma bent my ear with stories about that book. Finally, I got fed up, made a bet. “Allison,” I told her, “If you ever find that so-called journal, not only will I fund your entire expedition, I’ll give you my best gun!” He gestured at an empty shotgun mount on the wall. “Much to my regret when she did. Shoulda known better.” He shook his head. “I know she’s gone, god rest her soul, but I am a man who keeps my promises, and I’m going to the afterlife with a clear conscience, by thunder!”

He thumped his fist on the table, and then sighed and slumped forward, just a bit, looking older than he had since they’d arrived. “Your mother was a great woman. A great person. One of the best I’ve ever known. Your father—he loved her, but he dragged her down. The world got to her, too. She shoulda been the toast of every college with the sense to open its doors to her. Shoulda been able to fight her way to a spot on the museum board, a place in history. Shoulda been able to make some damn history herself, somewhere besides the damn society pages.” He shook his head again, more slowly. “Ah, pardon an old man’s bitterness. If I could just have one shred of proof—one last thing to build on the legacy she deserved—that’d be enough for me.”

Sarge stared off in reverie for a moment and then shook his head and leapt to his feet. "But what're we standing around for? You have to get going."

"A mission this big, you'll need--geologists, engineers." 

"Got 'em. Best of the best." He spread a sheaf of files out. "Franklin Donut, mechanical engineer. Don't let his age fool you, he's forgotten more about engines than you or I'll ever know. David Washington, demolitions expert. Don't trust him near anything you want to stay in one piece. Reginald Wyoming, geologist. Man has a nose for dirt." Sarge tapped the file. "He was part of the first team that brought the journal back."

"Where was it?" 

Sarge carefully set down another photo, Allison at the center of a group of strangers, the journal in her hands and the sea in the background. "Iceland."

Carolina grabbed York's hand and squeezed it. "You were right." 

"All we need now are a couple of experts in gibberish." He gave them a meaningful look. 

Carolina met York's eyes. "Our jobs--"

"We resigned this afternoon," he pointed out, barely restrained giddiness in his voice.

"Our books!"

"Already in storage," Sarge told them. "I don't like to leave loose ends."

"Our cat?" York tried.

There was a mrrow and Delta hopped up on the table, stretching out over the reports. "Hey, get off of there," York muttered, scooping him up. "Well. Alright then."

Carolina turned to look at Sarge. A grin was spreading across her face, wide and sharp and with just a hint of a smirk. "When do we start?"

 


 

“Kimball!” 

Kimball heard Tucker’s shout, but kept her focus on the pad in front of her. 

“Crystal” was an easy word to read. As were “hand,” and “left,” and “right.” The rest of it, though, was a mystery to her. 

She put the crystal in the slot, turning it from side to side and felt it click in a loud and resonant way. She could see the lines along the side and reached back for fuzzy memories, imagining them illuminated and glowing in the forefront of her mind before exhaling slowly. She drew in another deep breath as she placed her hand on the pad and removed the crystal, closing her eyes and willing the machine to start.

Nothing.

She let out a frustrated yell and kicked a nearby clump of dirt before pulling the crystal's cord back over her head and climbing back over the rocks.

Tucker had his sword at the ready, glowing crystal-bright. “There you are. I finally found Grif.”

“How many more places can he hide?” Kimball wondered, picking up her own spear where it rested on the ground. “You’d think we’d have found them all by now.”

“He was out at the edge of the city. The part that collapsed last year.”

They both went silent, sobered by the reminder of their home's endless, slow decline. 

“Either way, we’ve got him and Simmons for patrol. Caboose is looking for rocks to befriend the lava dogs with, so he should stay out of trouble for now.”

“And Doyle?” Kimball didn’t bother hiding her frustration. If Tucker hadn’t been around to hear the earlier fight, the gossip network should have informed him by now.

“I really don’t know.”

“Probably safeguarding more secrets he refuses to tell us,” she muttered, viciously. 

Tucker, probably wisely, started for the edge of the city instead of engaging. Kimball went after him, still internally fuming. 

By the time they reached the bridge, though, her mood had lifted. It was a beautiful day, the fish were sending up sparkling drops against the roiling clouds of steam rising from the lava, and there were more secrets to explore within the caves and tunnels than Doyle could ever hope to keep hidden from her forever. She would find her answers one of these days.

“Fucking finally,” Grif complained when they arrived. He and Simmons were leaning on their spears, masks already on so they looked more like spirits than men. “Now can we just go dick around in the caves and not find anything?” 

"Again?” Simmons added.

Kimball gave an especially sharp grin as she pulled on her own mask, the attached mane falling down around her shoulders. “You never know, Simmons. Something could come along any day now."