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Vile Vortices

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April 4th, 2019, St. Philomena Hospital, Bermondsey

"Doctor Ackerman?"

Leda, who was eleven hours into a thirteen-hour shift and had previously been mechanically shoving rich tea biscuits into her already dry mouth, looked up at a snowy haired man who was standing next to her table in the hospital cafeteria.

Leda eyed him warily and reached out for her neglected cup of water. He was wearing a beige, oversized blazer and white linen trousers that were crinkled by the knees. It wasn't exactly the height of fashion, that was for sure. The man's white hair created a halo around his lined face and only partly managed to shade the crazy out of his intense blue eyes.

Oh boy, Leda thought, downing the lukewarm water in her cup as he watched her expectantly, here we go.

"Who's asking?" she, (un)ironically, asked.

She looked around, noting some F1s clustered on a table a little way away. They hadn't noticed the man enter, it seemed. Or if they did, they didn't think it was weird that an old man approached a lone junior surgeon instead of talking to her on the Ward like a normal person.

Maybe he was a patient's dad. Or something. But that didn't explain why he was here. Now. At her table. Stopping her from eating stale biscuits and feeling sorry for herself.

Leda knew that she could probably be a little nicer. Especially to someone who looked old enough to be her grandfather. But somewhere between being thrown up on (twice!) by a guy who could aim his vomit accurately enough to get it under her top each time and finding out the cafeteria had run out of her favourite pasta when she finally went on her lunch break three hours late, she had forgotten how to be nice to anyone. All she wanted was a (third) shower, a David Attenborough documentary, and one of those crappy ready-meals she told her patients not to eat.

Instead of answering, the old man gestured to the plastic chair on the other side of the table.

"May I sit?" he asked, already dipping into the seat before Leda could protest. She sighed, leaning back on her creaky plastic chair to fold her arms across her chest. The action dislodged a coil of hair from the large bun atop her head and it settled across her forehead. The old man, however, was sitting with a lot more dignity. His tanned hands were clasped on the sky-blue table and he was smiling amiably at her like he hadn't just interrupted her pitiful dinner. For a moment, neither of them spoke and Leda began to grow uncomfortable underneath his un-blinking stare.

"Uh- are you a family member?" she asked at the same time he said: "You are Leda Ackerman, are you not?"

Leda's brown eyes narrowed, and she uncrossed her arms to lean forward over the table. There was something in the way he said her name. Like he was interested in Leda the person and not Leda the doctor. It raised her suspicion levels to amber.

"Again," she ground out, eyes darting between the old man and the cafeteria exit behind him. If she left now, she could be back on the ward in under a minute. She may even be able to nap before her break was over. "Who's asking?"

The old man smiled again, this time his mouth opened, and Leda watched each of his perfect white teeth come into view as his smile widened.

"I am." he said simply.

"And you are?" Leda asked rudely, leaning away again. Her mouth was beginning to get dry and she wished she hadn't drunk all her water at once. She also wished she had taken her packed lunch with her the evening before. Instead she had forgotten it on her kitchen counter where she was almost certain her flatmate had devoured it as soon as she left.

"My name is Dr Samuel Morgan." he stated, his white teeth disappearing behind his lips as his smile slipped into something more contemplative. His hand reached into his front pocket and produced a white business card that he slid across the table towards her. Leda ignored it, not taking her eyes off the man who she was beginning to think was less crazy and more just wildly confused.

When she didn't pick up the business card he sighed, the first sign of well- anything, other than his heavy stare and calm smile.

"Are you a family member of a patient? If not, I'm not sure I have anything to say to you."

The man shook his head, gesturing towards the business card Leda purposefully ignored.

"I am not a family member of a patient, no. I am a Professor of Geo-biology at The University of Edinburgh." he said, as if that would somehow jog Leda's memory. "I live and study in the city and-"

"-And you like long walks on the beach and sipping Pina Colada's while getting caught in the rain?" Leda cut in, rolling her eyes.

She leaned forward again and pinched the corners of the business card between her fingers, holding it at an angle to read it without having to move any more than she had.

DR. SAMUEL MORGAN
PROFESSOR OF GEO-BIOLOGY
tel: +44 784 7761 773
email: semorgan@live.ac.uk
fax: 0203 664 3995

Fax? Jesus, Leda thought. Now she knew he was crazy. He still used fax? Who still used fax?

"You forgot to add that I like horror movies, pineapple on pizza and a side of sarcasm every time I meet a new person." Dr. Samuel – or the man claiming to be him, anyway – said, laughter in his eyes.

Leda snorted and dropped the card back onto the table. She opened her mouth to respond but he cut her off.

"And," he said as he steepled his fingers under his chin and pierced her with another one of his weighted stares. "I knew your father."

Leda was very careful not to move any part of her face, despite the lurch her heart gave in her chest.

"Oh." she said, as airily as she could manage. "No- he- he died when I was small. I don't-"

"No, Leda." Dr Morgan leaned forward across the table. He wasn't smiling, but there was something smug about him. Something that screamed gotcha. And maybe something more urgent, as well. Desperation. "No, he didn't. You and I both know that your father-"

"I'm sorry, Dr Morgan. You've come all this way but I'm positive that you have the wrong person." Leda's words came out in a mangled rush, tripping and falling into one another with no space between them until it was all one long run-on sentence. "I'm sorry to have wasted your time. I hope you find the person you're looking for."

"I think I already have, Ms Gauling." Dr Morgan said.

He lay his hands flat against the table, spreading his fingers. A show of peace, perhaps, but the action didn't make Leda any less on edge. In fact, it made her want to run even more than she already did. She looked past him, to the cafeteria's open doors. If only she could just get there. Because- well- shit. How did he know?

"You are Leda Ackerman. Formally Leda Gauling, correct? Daughter of Richard Gauling, Professor of Physics at Oxford University who specialised in the subject of Condensed Matter? Richard Gauling, who advanced the theory of Vile Vortices to include-"

Leda's heart gave another lurch in her chest and she smiled. She forced it to look at least mildly polite and not like she was baring her teeth and stood up quickly. Perhaps the action was a bit too forceful, though, as her chair tipped backwards from her speed, clattering to the ground with a screech.

A few of the F1s looked up in concern and she shot them strained smiles, shrugging her shoulders in apology but she didn't stoop to pick up the chair. She didn't have time. She had to leave. Now.

"I'm sorry- but I'm not Leda Gauling and there isn't a doctor in this hospital with that name. If you excuse me, I have patients I need to attend to."

Leda didn't give him a chance to respond before she began speed-walking to the exit. There was a clatter behind her and the heart that had lurched I her chest seemed to leap up and into her throat. The walls of the cafeteria swam as she broke into a run. It felt like the world she had painstakingly built was beginning to wobble around the edges. If she could just make it out of the empty cafeteria and back to her ward, he wouldn't be able to follow her. She would be safe. Maybe.

"Leda- Wait- Wait!"

She could feel the Professor gaining on her and her breath came one-two-two one-two-three-two until she wasn't sure if she was breathing in or out or what the order was or where she was or who-

"Leda please-" Dr Morgan's fingers grazed her upper arm and Leda stumbled, tripping over her own feet until she righted herself. Up ahead were the doors to her ward and she broke into a sprint, thighs protesting the sudden pressure. Thank God the hallway was empty. How would she even explain this to her boss? A doctor running away from what other staff would assume to be a potential patient? She'd be ruined.

"It isn't what you think!" Dr Morgan called behind her. She daren't look back, though. She couldn't face him if she did. She feared what she would say or do and more than that, she was terrified of what he would say. How had he found her? How could he have possibly found her?

"I only wish to talk to you! Please!"

Leda skidded to a halt by the ward doors and slammed her key card onto the back reader. She yanked the door open a fraction and slipped through the gap. The Professor got to the door a second after it clicked shut and she flinched when he slammed a hand on the glass and rattled the handle.

"Leda please!" he called through the glass, but she was already off, shoving off from the door and speeding past the nurse's station with a tight smile by way of explanation.

She didn't look back, nor did she relax the hunch in her shoulders until she was huddled in the sleep room, head in her hands, body rolled into a tight ball on a lower bunk. One thought running through her mind as the memory of the Professor's desperate, pleading face.

Shit. Shit. Shitting shit.

Chapter Text

The rest of Leda’s shift passed in agonising slow-motion.  It was a rare, quiet night on the Queen Victoria Intensive Care Unit and due to the time, most of their patients were asleep. The only other sounds, other than the low talking and laughing from the nurses and the comforting repetitive beep the ward’s many heart monitors, was the occasional low moaning that came from Bay Three. He had been in varying levels of pain since the day before when Leda had assisted in his hip surgery. Complications had arisen and if it wasn’t for the morphine button that he could press whenever he wanted, Leda figured he’d be a lot louder than quiet moaning. Usually Leda would kill for a night like that one but the extended quiet just made her feel like Dr Morgan was going to come around the corner at any moment and out her to her colleagues.

“Dr Ackerman?” Susannah Birchwood, an F1 in the last quarter of her year in Emergency Medicine, appeared a Leda’s elbow. Leda jumped slightly at the sudden appearance but was grateful for the distraction of thinking about all the ways Dr Morgan could fuck her life up.

“I have the patient files you requested.” Requested? God, Susannah was so formal with her sometimes. Leda sighed and accepted the file with no comment. She flicked through it quickly, skimming over the annotations Susannah had made in her smooth, looping writing.

“Good work, newbie.” Leda said, smiling wanly as she handed the file back. “And how many times have I told you to call me Leda?”

Susannah shrugged and smiled again by way of apology. Leda took a new file from a small pile in front of her and handed it to Susannah while she rubbed her eyes.

“Bed Two has an acute case of Penicillin Hypersensitivity.” Leda said. “I gave her two hundred milligrams of Doxycycline at eleven last night so she should be due another dose in the next half hour. Can you check on her patch of cellulitis? Make sure to wake her up first, mind you. If she gets startled, she tends to swing first and asks questions later.”

Leda touched her cheek, feeling the tender skin underneath from where Mrs Hitchon had accidentally hit her the hour before. Susannah, undeterred by the threat of violence, nodded eagerly and snatched the file from Leda’s.

“Noted, Dr Ackerman. I will endeavour to assist to- I- I mean endeavour to complete the task- ah-” Susannah scrambled to reclaim the sentence she abandoned. A warm blush settled over her cheeks and, feeling bad for her, Leda offered another small smile although this time she tried to put a little more warmth into it.

“I’ll uh- get right on it, Dr. Acker- er- I mean- Leda.” Susannah finished lamely.

Instead of looking embarrassed, however, the perky F1 just took a deep breath, smiled widely and marched down the dim ward to her next task. Her blonde ponytail bobbed behind her, held in place by a loose pink bow she’d tied into her tresses.  Leda admired her eagerness and the way she shrugged off her embarrassment at using the word endeavour in the twenty first century and almost pulled it off. Leda couldn’t remember a time she had ever been able to shrug something off so easily. Her entire life had been shadowed by her father’s legacy. And now, the one time she thought she was rid of it forever it was back to plague her in the form of Dr Morgan. Leda worried her lip and wiped a hand over her mouth. She hadn’t listened to Dr Morgan for long enough to hear what he had to say, and she knew he’d be back. They always came back when it was to do with her dad.

“You ok, Leda?” Annette Fanning, the head of ICU, asked as she dropped into the empty desk chair and interrupted Leda’s worrying. She was carrying a pile of messy patient folders that she promptly unloaded onto the desk, knocking Leda’s pile of equally messy dune coloured folders askew.

“Yeah. Fine.” Leda murmured with a tight smile. Annette shot her a concerned look as she logged onto the dated computer, but all Leda could think was the same question she had been thinking for the past hour and a half and that was: how did he find her?

She had been so careful. She had changed her name for Christ’s sake! She shouldn’t have been found. And especially not by some weird Professor of Geobiology, whatever the hell that was.

“Are you sure? You don’t look too well.” Annette said.

She clicked her dull fingernails against the keyboard and the computer flashed to a pic of her and her husband George on their honeymoon in Zimbabwe.

“Yeah, I’m just…” Leda trailed off, sighing heavily and staring at the clock’s hands seemingly not move. What she wanted to say was that she was just wondering how long it would take her to quit her job, get out of her flat contract and flee to Gibraltar all while leaving no trace of her ever being there.

Annette tapped away at her keyboard while Leda suffered through a potential breakdown.

“Just- just not feeling too great.” Leda eventually settled on when the silence had stretched too long.

Annette stopped clicking at her keyboard and frowned, her eyes doing a quick sweep of Leda’s slumped shoulders and general look of pale dejection.

“The morning shift will be here soon.” Annette said and turned her swivel chair to face Leda, forgetting her computer for the moment. “And I can manage with the nurses. If you want to go a bit early that’s fine by me and if you don’t feel any better don’t-”

“-Don’t come in because of the risk of infection to the patients. I know. Thank you, Annette. You’re a lifesaver.” Leda said quickly. She stood and made her way to the other side of the station.

“You ok to do a handover for the earlies?” Leda asked but she was so eager to get out that she almost missed Annette’s soft yeah drifting after her retreating back.

When she finally left, it took Leda all of five seconds to decide that spending money she didn’t have, on a cab she didn’t really want, was ultimately better than her usual lonely half-hour walk home.

The sky was just beginning to the bleed into light blue as the cab pulled up beside her flat. Her eyes swept the empty street for any signs of Dr Morgan before she threw a quick Bye! to the cab driver and scrambled out of the car.

Scuttling up her stairs Leda couldn’t help but feel like she was being watched and it was with shaking hands that she unlocked her front door and slammed it shut behind her.

Leda closed her eyes and sucked in a long, heavy breath. Her feet were burning, and she knew she should take off her shoes or she’d have to surgically remove them herself due to all the swelling, but she couldn’t bring herself to move just yet. She also knew that she would have to do something about Dr Morgan but just for one second, Leda wanted to lean against her front door in peace and try to forget about the fact that her life was most likely already ruined.

“Tough shift?”

Leda screamed and jumped. Her eyes flew open in shock and she dropped her handbag at her overnight bag at her feet. She blinked rapidly, to focus her gaze on a shadowy figure standing in her hallway. For a second, she saw the Professor and then worse, her father. But then both images bled away to show her less scary, mousy-haired flatmate Molly.

Molly blinked owlishly back at her. She was carrying Leda’s blue bowl in her hand. Knowing Molly, it was probably just a bowl of full-fat milk.

“Jesus, Molly!” Leda breathed, hand coming to her chest to feel her racing heart beneath her ribs. “You scared the shit out of me!”

Molly blinked again. She nodded and then tilted her head to the side in contemplation.

“Yes. Yes…” She mused, trailing off. “I suppose I did scare you. I didn’t mean to. I thought you saw me when you walked in. I’ve been standing here for a while. Why are you home so early?”

Leda groaned, feeling exhaustion creep into the corner of her eyes as the shock of Molly’s appearance wore off. She shrugged, left her bag where it has dropped and shuffled past Molly into their small kitchen.

“I took a caa-A-aab.” Leda said around another yawn, her wide mouth distorting her words. As she passed the counter on the way to the fridge, she saw her empty lunchbox, a few crumps left over from the ham, chicken and chorizo sandwich she had made for lunch the day before. Molly was edging around the room like the strange girl she was and ignored Leda trying to catch her eye.

“I’m not mad, Molly. Just, the next time you eat my lunch, can you please put the box in the dishwasher?” Leda said, reaching into the fridge and pulling out a pasta based ready-meal.

At work she had to preach to her patients that a home cooked-low fat meal was healthier than anything else but at home? Leda was free to eat as badly as she wanted. And after the night she’d had? She deserved as many ready-meals as she could stomach.

“Yes, Leda.” Molly said. When Leda turned around, ready meal in hand, Molly had set aside her bowl of -Leda peaked in and saw that it was, in-fact, a bowl of plain milk- and was currently doing squats in the middle of their cramped kitchen, right in front of the microwave.

Leda waited for a moment before clearing her throat. “Uh- Molly?” she gestured towards the off-white microwave nestled into the corner of their worn kitchen counter.

Molly rose out of one of her squats, shooting up like a reed. She blinked three times and then smiled toothily at Leda.

“Sorry, Leda.” she said like she said everything else when Leda told her off. Like she was sorry she made Leda upset, but she wasn’t entirely sure why she was in trouble.

Leda sighed and stuck the ready meal into the dated microwave, turning the deal to three and a half minutes. When she turned back to Molly the girl had a handful of cornflakes that she was one by one while intermittently taking sips from her bowl of milk.

Oh boy Leda thought, finally kicking off her shoes. She ignored the thuds as they dropped; for once she didn’t care where they landed.

“Why are you up so early, Molly?” Leda asked absently while she thought about the new David Attenborough documentary she wanted to watch before bed. But first she had to figure out who the hell Dr Morgan was and what he wanted from her; or worse, what he wanted from her Dad.

“Mercury is in retrograde.” she said, slurping at her milk while maintaining eye contact.

“Oh.” Leda said, frowning like she hadn’t thought about it. “Right. Of course. My bad.”

Mercury was in what?

The microwave’s sudden beeping saved Leda from asking Molly about whatever Mercury was up to and what that had to do with her being awake before her usual two pm. She pulled the meal out by the edge of plastic that didn’t feel like it was on fire and loaded it and a bottle of water onto a tray.

“I’m off tomorrow.” Leda said as she balanced her tray and side-stepped around Molly who had stopped drinking from the bowl of plain milk and was now instead chewing on some long green thing that protruded from the corner of her mouth.

Leda stopped by the front door to pick up her bag and quickly made her way to the room. Molly followed quietly and watched Leda push open her bedroom door.

“Ok, Leda.” she said in her small voice. She was still carrying her bowl of milk and Leda saw a peak of orange cereal in her closed hand.

“I’m going to sleep until I feel like I can stand and then I’ll sleep some more.” Leda said, twisting to put her tray on her bed.

Molly’s eyes darted around her figure into her dark room and she nodded, lifting the bowl to slurp more milk.

“Then do you wanna watch a movie?” Leda didn’t know why she asked that. She was almost certain that she wouldn’t have time to watch anything with Molly, but she was just so small and weird, slurping at her milk and poking her tongue into her tight fist to get a piece of dry cereal.

Molly smiled toothily. “Yes, Leda!” she nodded.

“Ok then.” Leda nodded, smiling a little despite a sudden wave of exhaustion making her rub her eyes. “Night Molly. Have a good day, yeah?”

Molly nodded again and kept nodding until Leda awkwardly let her bedroom door close. Molly leaned her head to the side until it shut, unwillingly to let Leda out of her sight. Molly was weird, for sure. But she was also sweet and always paid rent on time and even though she ate Leda’s lunches she always made up for it by- well, Leda wasn’t really sure what she did to make up for it, but she could never be angry at Molly for very long. Molly hardly left the small flat but her bill money was always in Leda’s account days before it had to be. Leda wasn’t sure what the younger girl did for a living and Leda was always to scared of Molly prying back to enquire too deeply about what her weird flatmate did for cash. Leda just assumed she had rich parents, which was fine by her; rich parents always paid the bills on time.

Her blackout curtains were still shut from the day before and Leda sighed as she switched on her bedside lamp, the energy saving bulb slowly lighting her sparsely furnished room. At the bottom of the window was a homemade draft excluder; a pair of old tights stuffed with old holey socks. Beneath the window stood a plain white desk. The thin plastic bowed slightly in the middle from the weight of a second-hand desktop computer and a cracked mirror that had been her mother’s. To the right of the room was a white chest of draws from Ikea that had been on sale and a clothes rack she had found in a charity shop. The only thing slightly personal in the room was a picture on her nightstand. She had been six and gap-toothed and was smiling with all her face, sandwiched between her mother who was sporting a new hair-cut that Leda could remember her hating and her father, who had clearer eyes than he had the last time she had seen him. She could remember how hot the day had been and how sticky her hands were as she set the camera’s five second timer. But that was a lifetime ago now. Her Mum was long-gone and her Dad- well, he was pretty much all gone now, too.

It wasn’t much. Just a pokey room in a pokey flat in a shit borough of London. But it was all she had, and it was hers. And that meant that Leda treasured every inch of it. She rubbed at her dry eyes again and sunk into her desk-chair. She booted up her slow computer and put thoughts of her tragic backstory out of her mind.  No use in dwelling, the past is past and all that shit.

David Attenborough was calling to her, as was the ready meal growing rapidly cooler on her bed but as soon as she logged onto her PC, she pulled up a web browser instead of loading Netflix and typed in the name that she knew wouldn’t let her relax and hit enter.

DR SAMUEL MORGAN, began the first result, PROFESSOR OF GEOBILOGY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH, RELEASES FINDINGS ON EXCAVATED CAVE IN NORTHERN TIMBUKTU AT THE ALGERIAN MEGALITH SITE. HE AND HIS TEAM OF THIRTEEN ARCHAEOLOGISTS, WITH FUNDING FROM THE AETHER RESEARCH GROUP-

Leda shook her head and clicked the back button, she didn’t care about his geological expeditions. She wanted to know who he was. She went back to main search page, clicking on the fifth result after skimming a promising summary.

It was a university page and the first thing she saw when the page finally loaded was the smiling face of the man at the hospital. He was dressed normally in the photo, jeans and a horrible plaid shirt that probably cost more than Leda made in a day.  

DR SAMUEL MORGAN IS EUROPE’S LEADING SCIENTIST IN THE NEWLY FORMING FIELD OF GEOBIOLOGY. HE JOINED THE SCIENCE FACULTY IN 2016 AS COURSE DIRECTOR AND HAS HELPED ELEVATE OUR GEOBILOGY DEPARTMENT TO FIELD-LEADING STATUS. HE WAS PREVIOUSLY AN ARCHAEOLOGY PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD. DR SAMUEL MORGAN IS ORIGINALLY FROM PEMBROKE-SHIRE AND IS DESCENDED FROM A LINE OF WORLD-CHANGING RESEARCHERS. HIS GRANDFATHER, LORD LOWRING MORGAN-

Leda stopped reading, and leaned back in her chair until it squeaked at the extreme angle, she had forced it into. The picture of the smiling Dr Morgan stared back at her and she sighed again. The expelled air tickled her chest.

So. He was who he said he was. Which was both comforting and frustrating. Either he was telling the truth, or he was extremely wealthy and had somehow bought or hacked into the internet to plant this information to trick her or anyone else who may look him up. But if he was telling the truth, then he was most likely one of her dad’s followers and that just dug up a magnitude of other problems.

Leda’s phone buzzed in her pocket and she blinked lazily, pulling it out of her back pocket. A text turned the notifications light cyan and she frowned, inputting her pin to see who it was.

MOLLY ROWAN popped up on her screen and Leda’s frown deepened, wondering if the girl was in trouble. She clicked the message and let out a startled laugh.

Sweet dreams, Leda! <:)

Leda grinned at her phone, feeling delirious with stress and exhaustion from her shift. She wasn’t sure what the emoji Molly had sent was supposed to mean. Was it a smiley face with a party hat? A horn? It didn’t really matter but it made Leda chuckle softly.

Thanks Molls x

She texted back, slipping the phone back into her pocket and glancing at the still smiling face of Dr Morgan. On a whim, she dug her phone back out, scrolling down her pitifully short contacts list. It consisted of a few people from work, Molly, and the Domino’s a couple streets down. And then lastly, all by itself in its own section, a number she hadn’t even looked at in months, let alone called.

THE EYRIE

Even its name was foreboding. She shivered involuntarily but her thumb slid her thumb across the screen, and she pulled the phone to her ear before she could even register what she was doing. She spied the time on her computer 9:25. Surely, they would be open.

Her stomach churned. Maybe she shouldn’t bother. He probably didn’t want to speak to her anymore than she wanted to speak to him. It probably wasn’t even worth it. He wasn’t well, and he hadn’t been getting any better. She should hang up. She should definitely just hang u-

“-lo? Hello? Is someone there?” A pleasant voice was speaking softly into the phone and dragged her out of her internal panicking.

“Uh-hi- sorry. I- This is The Eyrie, isn’t it?” Leda stammered. All her exhaustion fled, and she felt more awake than she had since leaving the hospital. Her heart was beating rapidly in her chest and the hand in her lap began to twitch.

“Yes. This is the Eyrie.” The voice paused and added delicately: “Are you alright? Do you need assistance?”

“I-no-” Leda barely managed to keep a growl of frustration inside. “I mean- yes. I need help. I need to speak to a patient. I can’t make visiting hours so I was wondering if I could just…call.”

The person on the other line was silent for a moment before her cheery, sweet voice was back. “That’s fine. Visiting hours have just started and, granted the patient has phone privileges, I can transfer you.”

“Uh- great. Great.” Leda muttered, tilting her head to hold her phone between her ear and shoulder to free her left hand.

“What is the patient name?” the woman from the Eyrie asked.

“Richard.” Leda said and then added quickly. “Sorry- Richard Gauling.”

She hadn’t said his name out loud in over a year and hearing it in her small room made her already churning stomach cramp. She wrapped her hands around one another to comfort herself.

“And your name?” asked the voice.

“Leda. Leda A- Gauling. Leda Gauling. I’m his daughter.”

“Alright, Ms Gauling. I’m going to call the ward. If they’ll allow you to speak to your father, I’ll transfer you. Hold the line.”

“Oh- thanks. I appreci-”

Elevator music interrupted Leda’s thank you and she sighed again, feeling itchy in her chair so she stood, beginning to pace back and forth in her tiny room which wasn’t exactly easy given its size. She waited a good while and considered hanging up but then a voice stopped her pacing and shaking and threw her back in time to when things were worse but better. If that made any sense at all.

“Leda? Is that you?” Her father sounded old. Older of course, but also just…old. Tired.

Leda felt a wave of sadness wash over her and the hot tears prick her dry eyes. Her heart seemed to stop and then start again rapidly and skip a beat in between. Leda’s mouth felt dry so she ran her tongue around it but it hardly helped.

“Hey, dad.” She said, voice small. She hated how small she sounded. She wasn’t the one in the wrong, here. “How are you?”

Her Dad didn’t reply for so long that Leda opened her mouth to ask if he was still there but his words beat her to it.

“Did you know that Mercury is in retrograde?” he said.

Leda blinked and stared at her plain white walls in confusion. Here we go again, she thought, feeling the tiredness that had left earlier all come back at once.  

Chapter Text

 “Uh- yeah, Dad. I know.” Leda said, unsure of why she was talking about Mercury being in retrograde. Again. “Molly told me.”

“Yes, yes. Molly. Of course.” He muttered, as though he knew who Molly was, even though Leda knew he didn’t remember a single thing she had told him the last time she had seen him. She knew this because the last time they had seen one another had ended in disaster and tears. Her tears. Not his. Because he ‘wasn’t ill, you see’. No-no. Not ill. But he knew. He just knew that the Vile Vortices were real and if she would just listen.

Yeah. He knew everything about the goddamn Vile Vortices, but he didn’t know when his own daughter was sobbing in front of him or that he was supposed to tie his hospital gown at the back otherwise his arse hung out for everyone to see. Some genius he was.

“And did you know that Mercury in retrograde means that the Bermuda Triangle Vortice is open? Now, if you could only help me leave this place, I could charter a pla-”

“Yeah. No. About that, Dad.” Leda interrupted, too tired to listen to her dad rant about the Vile Vortices for the millionth time in her life. She dropped onto the edge of her bed, mattress dipping under her weight. Her forgotten ready meal wobbled beside her from the disruption. “Do you know a man called Dr Samuel Morgan?”

Her dad continued like he hadn’t heard her.

“-to the drop site. Perhaps we may even have to go by boat, but the portal is open, Leda. I know it is. I can feel it. And I know you can feel it too. It’s in your blood. It’s in your-”

“Dad!” Leda struggled to keep her voice level. Why was he always like this?

Blood- what- yes, Leda? Yes?” He asked.

Leda knew he was sick, but it was sometimes easy to forget when he sounded like that. Like her dad who just forgot to stop talking and not a man who went insane and tried to steal a plane to fly to Bermuda after being arrested on suspicion of murder.

She breathed deeply out of her mouth, mentally counting back from five before she spoke again.

“I said, do you know a Dr Samuel Morgan? He’s a professor of Geobiology at The University of Edinburgh.”

“Well.” Her dad said slowly. He hmm’d and she could imagine him tapping his chin the way he did whenever he was deep in thought. Her mum had always called it his dork face. That was before everything went to crap, though. Now Leda just felt irrationally annoyed the longer he went without talking.

“Well?” Leda prompted, trying to sound calm and not like she desperately wanted to be anywhere else.

“Yes. I know a man by that name, but he didn’t teach at Edinburgh. He was a professor at Oxford with me when you were small and your mother was- was-”

Leda glanced at her desktop screen that had dimmed slightly from inactivity, reading the words of the university page

… PREVIOUSLY AN ARCHAEOLOGY PROFESSOR AT THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD…

“Before your mother-” her dad kept trying to get the words out as she stared at the picture of Dr Samuel Morgan.

“It’s ok, dad.” She said quietly, turning her stare to her hands. “It’s ok.”

Leda heard her dad swallow on the other end of the line. She needed to change the subject fast. There was no way she wanted to get into a conversation with her dad about her mum. There weren’t enough stars in the sky or hours in the day for them to hash out everything they needed to talk about, and Dr Samuel Morgan’s reappearance was too important to let go. Leda only had enough brain capacity for one calamitous problem at a time.

“So, how did you know this Samuel Morgan from Oxford, then?” Leda asked after the silence had stretched.

“Well.” Her dad paused again and Leda’s hand twitched at his unconscious stalling. “I knew him for years when we taught at Oxford together. He was in an adjacent faculty, you see. Humanities. You know he was always quite a jolly fellow; went grey quite young. He was very interested in the work I was conducting about the Vile Vortices. He often helped with research when he could.”

Leda chewed on her bottom lip as she listened and glanced at her forgotten ready meal. She picked up her fork, sliding it under the plastic topper to swirl around the pasta and sauce beneath. A thin plume of smoke escaped through the gap. At least it was still sort of hot.

“He always had interests in the field of Geobiology but it was young then.” Her dad continued. “It was barely even a teachable subject back then, but he was very interested in it and its connections to the Vile Vortices.”

Leda hmm’d, still swirling her fork in her ready meal.

“Why did you want to know, Petal?” He asked.

Leda dropped the fork into the meal, grimacing as the silver was swallowed by the rich tomato sauce. Her dad hadn’t called her Petal in years. Maybe The Eyrie was doing it’s job.

“Is it about the Vile Vortices? And Mercury in retrograde?”

Or maybe The Eyrie hadn’t helped at all.

“No, dad.” Leda muttered. She lay back on her bed and stared at the white, ingrain wallpapered celling. “It isn’t about that. I just heard his name and wondered.”

“Oh.” Her dad sounded disappointed and Leda felt a twist of guilt in her gut. “Is that the only reason you rang?”

“Yeah.” Leda said. She could have lied, she knew. Made up something about wanting to hear his voice to make him feel better but all the talk about Vile Vortices and the fact that it felt like her body was about to shut down from exhaustion was just too much. Her patience and sympathy were almost depleted. “That’s the only reason.”

“Right. Of course. Well it was nice to hear your voice, Leda.” He sounded even more sad.

Dad.” Leda couldn’t help the whine of longing in her voice. He almost sounded normal. Almost. And then he spoke again, and the moment was lost.

“Now, about my release from this place.” He said and Leda groaned. “I’ve been using my allotted computer time to research flights from London to Bermuda. If you would just-”

“Dad, I have to go.”

“There is a flight that leaves tomorrow at seven am. Signing me out will only take an hour or two and-”

“Dad! I have to go.” She interrupted with a shout.

Her dad stopped talking and grew silent.

“Look.” Leda said, feeling as though her guilt and sadness was going to close her throat. “I-I’ll call you later this week. I promise. We can talk about- we can maybe talk about you coming out for a few days a week. But you have to stop with this retrograde nonsense and the Vile Vortices, or they won’t- they won’t let me take you. You have to let it go, Dad.”

Her dad didn’t respond.

So she added in a whisper: “You have to let her go. You have to let Mum go.”

The only sound in her room was the whir of her crappy computer and her uneven breathing. Leda cleared her throat when her dad kept quiet.

“Dad. Look. I love you. But I have to g-”

The dial tone sounded, and she sighed, letting the phone drop onto the bed beside her.

Well shit. Now what was she going to do?

A yawn clicked her jaw wide and she turned on her side, blinking blearily up at the Dr Morgan’s smiling face, still dimly illuminated on her PC screen. Sleep overtook her not long after. Mercifully, whatever cruel God had thus far made sure to ruin her life, took a rare pitying stance and granted her a deep, dreamless sleep.

 

*

 

“A letter came for you while you were out.”

Days had passed and Leda hadn’t heard a thing from Dr Morgan. She had taken cabs to and from work, not trusting the open road or public transport where he may find her. But he hadn’t shown up. For all she knew, he had already gone back to wherever it was he went when he wasn’t trying to undo all the work she had done to start a new life.

Her conversation with her dad had played on her mind since he hung up on her and she had often found herself staring at the Eyrie’s contact information on her phone only to sigh and close it again.

No point crying over spilled milk.

Or dads who were clinically insane.

It was Leda’s first day off since Dr Morgan found her at the hospital and she was sprawled on the couch after having gotten back from the corner shop. She was so tired she hadn’t even bothered to unpack any of the food she had got and the white plastic bags were piled haphazardly in front of her on the floor.

Molly was stood at the back of the couch, leaning a hand down to dangle a white envelop in Leda’s face.

“A letter?” Leda asked, confused. She plucked the envelope from Molly’s thin fingers with a mumbled thanks. Her first name was written in a looping script across the front. There was no stamp or address. Hand delivered, then. Leda’s hackles raised and she bent a corner of the letter as her grip tightened.

“Did you see who put it through the letter box?” Leda asked cautiously and sat up.

Molly’s feet rustled Leda’s abandoned grocery bags as she circled the couch to sit beside her in the empty spot. She was eating an ice-lolly, biting down with her front teeth in such a way that, had Leda not been distracted by the anonymous letter she was almost ninety percent sure was from a persistent Professor of Geobiology, she might have winced at.

Molly shook her head and took another bite of her lolly.

“Nope.” She said, popping the p.

Leda grimaced, turning the letter over in her hands.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” Molly asked, without looking. She reached between their bodies to pick up the television remote and turned the channel to the news. Her feet curled up beneath her, Leda thought she looked a little bit like a cat.

Leda shrugged. She didn’t want to. But she knew that eventually she would open it. She didn’t really have the luxury of ignoring it.  

Dr Samuel Morgan was real. He knew who she was, and he knew her father. I she ignored him and he blabbed, everything she had achieved would be ridiculed.

But… if she opened the letter and listened to whatever he wanted maybe they could come to an agreement and he wouldn’t be tempted to ruin her.

With a sigh, Leda ripped into the edge of the envelope and wiggled her finger inside, pulling up until the whole thing was torn. Inside was a single folded piece of white paper.

St. Mount Plaza Hotel,
Dome Restaurant
19:00

Please, Leda

He hadn’t left his name, but Leda didn’t need to see it to know who it was from. Molly didn’t look at her as she switched the news to some cartoon.

“Who’s it from?” she asked, licking at her lolly.

“I dunno.” Leda lied, scrunching up the paper and standing up. “They must have gotten the wrong Leda.”

Molly frowned, finally looking away from the TV to stare up at her.

Before she could question the flimsy fib, Leda spoke instead, smiling down at the small, pale girl.

“I’m going to go put my groceries away and then I’ll have a nap before my shift. Have you eaten?”

Molly blinked and her frown only slightly shifted as she held up her lolly. “Yes. I’ve had three.”

Leda nodded. “Right. That’s great, Molls. But I meant actual food.”

“I had a Mars bar earlier.”

Leda nodded again, always patient. “I’ll leave you some food on the counter, yeah?”

Molly smiled and turned back to the television, switching to the History channel and what appeared to be a show about aliens. Molly loved those conspiracy shows. At least something was normal.

 

*

 

Leda hated lying to Molly. But this, as with all the other times, was absolutely necessary. She was standing outside of the St. Mount Plaza Hotel. It wasn’t raining but the air was wet and heavy, and Leda felt uncomfortable in front of the fancy Mayfair hotel.

She pulled her cardigan around her shoulders more firmly and fingered the shoulder bag draped across her torso. Her phone was inside and when she walked it clanked against the illegal bottle of pepper spray she had bought months ago. Just in case, she had said. Well. ‘Just in case’ had come very quickly.

Leda glanced at her watch before walking up the steps of the hotel. 18:45.

A man opened the glass door for her. The lobby was all minimalism and grey undertones with gold accents along the skirting boards. It wasn’t what Leda would pick but Leda also didn’t know anyone with enough money to spend the night there, so her mild horror at the colour scheme was of little consequence.

Leda smiled at the guy and he couldn’t quite keep the subtle confusion from his face when he enquired:

“Can I… help you, Miss?”

Leda spied his name badge. Leonard. She giggled internally, despite the nervous energy that filled her. Of course his name was Leonard.

“Uh- I’m meeting someone here.” She said, wishing she hadn’t thrown the letter out and taken it with her to use as proof.

Leonard’s eyes narrowed. “…Meeting someone?” he asked, his suspicion growing as he and he took another look at her outfit.

Leda nodded, tugging at her ratty cardigan and wishing she had at least worn a smarter overcoat. And perhaps chosen a better combination of words. “Yes. Well. No- not the way you think I’m meeting someone. I-”

“Leda!”

Leonard’s head whipped so quickly to the right that Leda was worried he might have accidentally given himself whip-lash.

She followed Leonard’s eyeline and saw Dr Morgan standing to the right of the main desk by an open elevator door. He must have just come down.

“Leonard.” Dr Morgan said, smiling widely, looking between the two of them. “This is my guest.”

Leonard straightened, a touch of pink rising on his already ruddy cheeks. Dr Morgan’s white hair was fuzzy around his head and tinged yellow under the foyer’s lightbulbs where it thinned at the ends.

“Of course, Dr Morgan. My apologies. The Dome have already set up your seats.”

“Shall we?” asked Dr Morgan, nodding to Leonard in thanks. Leda sighed and began to walk away, taking some pride in making Dr Morgan jog after her as she entered the up-scale restaurant.

The first thing she saw was a shimmering crystal chandelier dangling over all the plush red seats and booths and crisp white table cloths. The crystals refracted the white, hanging lights and all around mini-rainbows danced over cutlery and plates. It was dazzling, and startling and Leda might have even said beautiful if she wasn’t so nervous. There were a few other guests in the restaurant, all spaced apart. The room was so big and high-ceilinged that she had to strain to hear any of their conversations even when she spied their mouths moving. The whole space had a air of quiet to it, despite the very loud décor.

There was a long bar that stretched the width of the room at the back of the restaurant and Leda’s throat clenched. She wanted a drink very badly. Something strong. Like whiskey. A double. Or maybe triple if they did it.

Dr Morgan passed her, being led by a woman in a sleek white dress to a booth by the bar. Leda sat heavily on the side closest to the door and eyed The Professor as he spoke to the waitress and ordered a bottle of white wine Leda already knew she couldn’t afford.

“Thank you for joining me.” Dr Morgan said as he slid into the booth across from her and unfolded a starched white napkin onto his lap. He was wearing another linen shirt, this time in a pale blue colour and the same beige, oversized jacket he was wearing the last time she had seen him.

“If you try anything, I’ll pepper spray you.” Leda said, leaving her own napkin untouched. She wasn’t staying for long. Just long enough to get him off her back and then she was gone.

The server returned, interrupting anything Dr Morgan was going to say as she poured wine into his glass. She turned to pour into Leda’s but she held up a slim, dark hand that shone under the chandelier’s light.

“No thank you.”

“Leave the bottle, Mona, if you will.” Dr Morgan said.

He hadn’t taken his eyes off Leda and she placed her bag on her lap, patting the pepper spray she knew to be inside. Mona smiled sweetly at the Professor and did as he asked. She shot Leda a pleasant, albeit mildly confused, smile as she walked back to her station at the entrance.

Dr Morgan took a sip of his wine before delicately putting the glass back down on the table.

“I spoke to my dad.” Leda said, unwilling to dally in small talk and ignore the reason why she was there in the first place. “He said he knew you from Oxford.”

Dr Morgan nodded. “I’m glad we are no longer ignoring our truths, Leda.”

Leda rolled her eyes. “Just tell me what you want, Morgan.”

Dr Morgan placed his hands on the table in front of him and said with the straightest face and the calmest voice: “I want you to come to the Bermuda Triangle with me.”

Leda was so startled that she burst into laughter. She ignored the stares of the other hotel and restaurant guests as her laughter grew raucous.  

Dr Morgan kept calm while she laughed. He only raised an eyebrow when her laughter turned to giggles that fizzled out slowly.

Leda swiped a finger under her eye, gathering some of the water that had gathered.

That’s what you lead with? ‘I want you to come to the Bermuda Triangle’?” Leda tittered again, leaning back against the plush back of the booth. “God. I’m gonna need a drink for this.”

“Well, you told me to tell you what I wanted.” Dr Morgan said, unfazed by her laughter at him.

Leda snorted. “Yeah. I thought you meant like you wanted to speak to my Dad or read some of his old research or whatever. Those things I could do if it meant you’d forget you ever met me. But the Bermuda Triangle? Jesus. I’m not going into that hell hole with you. No matter how far Mercury retrogrades itself.”

“So you have read his research!” Dr Morgan leaned forward, blue eyes growing bright. His nostrils were flared, and his mouth parted slightly to allow his tongue to dart out and wet his lip. He looked hungry. “Mercury must be in retrograde for the doorway to open.”

“Jesus…” Leda shook her head wearily. “You sound just like him.”

“That is because he was right, Leda!” This was the first time the Professor had raised his voice and Leda was instantly on edge. Her hand shot to her bag again, feeling the comforting weight of the small cannister. Dr Morgan lowered his voice, conscious of the other guests staring. He spoke quickly, words almost running together in his bid to get them out. “Your father was right. I have spent years- years carrying on his research. My team and I made a breakthrough in Timbuktu just as he said we might. The hieroglyphs in the cave showed the first planet doubled, one spinning forward, one spinning backward. It mimicked the illusion of Mercury in retrograde.”

Dr Morgan ran a hand over his mouth, his excitement building. “The island your father spoke about? It’s real. We modified our scanners and ran them during Mercury’s retrogradation. A blip showed up on the system. It’s blurry and disappears when Mercury is back to normal, but we’ve run the tests for three years. The island is real, Leda. It exists.”

Leda blinked quickly, suddenly feeling lightheaded. How was the island real? And how was she still talking about Mercury?

“How- what-” Leda’s mumbling was cut off swiftly.

“Richard was right. The island is real and is only visible during the retrograde. And if he was right about that then I suspect he is also right about knowing something about your family that ties you all to the Vortice.”

“My- My family?” Leda grew guarded and her smile slipped form her mouth. She shook off the stupor of hearing that the island she had always thought her dad had made up may possibly be real. “What do you know about my family?”

“That your father was right. Even when they laughed at him. Even when they accused him of kil-”

Stop.” Leda interrupted. She didn’t want to hear the next sentence. Not when she knew it by heart already.

Dr Morgan’s eyes dimmed, and he ran his tongue over his bottom lip.

“Your father had a… theory. One he told me before- well. Just before.” Dr Morgan avoided Leda’s narrowed eyes. He spoke very carefully, each word now weighted. “About your family having ties to the Vortices. It may be true. It may not be true. But there have been stories.”

“What stories?” Leda asked quickly. Despite herself she was suddenly curious.

“A woman- found just outside of the Triangle’s boundaries. A fishing ship picked her up in 1893. And of course, as it is now, Bermuda is still a British colony so…”

Dr Morgan trailed off, allowing Leda to piece together what he was saying.

“You’re saying that I- that we might be descended from a woman who was spat out by a supposed active Vortice?”

Dr Morgan shrugged. “The research is there.”

“That…is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.” Leda said, and, deciding that she had had enough stood up so abruptly that Dr Morgan’s wine glass wobbled as she straightened.

“What? What are you-” Dr Morgan looked at her, startled. His hand steadied his glass and he gaped up at her like a fish out of water.

“This is ridiculous! I came here to talk to you about-” Leda huffed and started again. “I came here to ask you to leave me alone and now you’re feeding me some bullshit about a family legend an invisible island and a mad man’s theory on space and time travel!”

Leda shook her head when Dr Morgan didn’t respond.

“Look. I get it.” Her voice was hard. “You believe him and that’s great. Go and fly to Bermuda and do what you need to do but I don’t want any part of it. Just- Just don’t contact me again, ok? Forget you ever found me.”

Dr Morgan watched her as she slipped her bag onto her shoulder and stepped away from the booth. Leda thought that would be the end of it and he’d let her go but his voice stopped her in her tracks.

“Haven’t you ever just once wondered if he was right, Leda?” He asked.

She turned back to look at him, her guard up. He hadn’t moved but his shoulders had slumped, and his fingers were fiddling with the stem of his wine glass. Despite her desire to leave, Leda walked back up to the mouth of the booth.

“Right?” Leda couldn’t help the bitter bark of laughter. She slapped her hand onto the table, wobbling Dr Morgan’s glass again. The nerve of him. How dare he? “Right? Of course, my father wasn’t right. He wasn’t right because he wasn’t well. Now they call it a psychotic break brought about by tremendous levels of stress and grief. Back then I’m sure he was just lucky not to be called ‘coo-coo’.”

Dr Morgan finally looked up at her, and without any right to be, he looked about as sad as Leda suddenly felt. It made anger mingle with her sadness. What right did he have to be sad? It wasn’t him who had to suffer. He didn’t lose him mum and his dad all within a year of one another. He didn’t have to change his name and move away from everything he had known and make it by himself with only a couple quid to his name.

He had no right. No right.

Dr Morgan’s eyes roamed her face and though he looked like he wanted to say something, he kept quiet.

“My dad-” Leda broke off, swallowing against the wobble in her voice and the saliva that had gathered in her mouth. Tears pricked her dry eyes and she resisted the urge to rub them away. She knew she should stop talking but it was like she couldn’t stop. It all came spilling out of her like word vomit and she wasn’t sure if she was trying to convince him or herself of her dad’s wrongness.

“My dad wasn’t right, Dr. Morgan. The Vile Vortices? They don’t exist and they certainly aren’t portals to other worlds. Because that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? You want to go to another world. Well, I’ll tell you what I told my dad when I was sixteen and he was in a jail cell. There aren’t multiple worlds. There’s just this one. You only get one. So don’t waste it by chasing some impossible dream built on science fiction!”

Dr Morgan sat back against his side of the booth, laying both his hands into his obscured lap. Leda expected him to be startled but what she didn’t expect was the look of pity on his face.

“But my dear,” He said quietly. Leda felt guilty and she grimaced at his tone. “Even if he isn’t right, haven’t you ever just wanted to believe in him?”

Now it was Leda’s turn to gap at him. She could feel the eyes of the other patrons flickering at her back and she slid back into the booth, feeling tired.

Her chest felt tight. It was a familiar ache. It blossomed just under her ribs and squeezed her heart with hot hands.

She wanted to tell the Professor that she couldn’t believe her dad. Because if she believed him now, then he had been telling the truth the whole time and she was the horrible daughter who had locked him away. She couldn’t believe him because then that would mean he was right about her mother. That she wasn’t just dead, she was gone and that was infinitely worse than just plain old dead. And if that was true then she had spent ten years mourning a woman who might need her help and locking up the one person who knew how to find him. But what she wanted to say and what actually came out were two very different things.

“I can’t-” Leda’s throat was thick, and she swallowed despite it restricting on itself. “I can’t, Dr Morgan. I can’t.”

“I know, Leda.” His voice was so soft, Leda strained to hear him. “I understand.”

But how could he possibly ever understand her?

A throat cleared beside them and Leda spied Mona standing by their table. She was holding a pad of paper and though she smiled at them, Leda could see the concern at the corners of her eyes.

“Is everything alright?” Mona might have been looking at her but Leda was pretty sure the woman was only asking Dr Morgan.

“Are you ready to order?” Mona asked, false pep in her voice. It jarred horribly with the gloom that had covered their conversation and Leda quickly rubbed at her eyes, sniffing loudly.

“I- I don’t want anything.” Leda said and coughed into her hand as Dr Morgan denied food as well.

“Just call me over if you need anything. Or if anything is…wrong.” Mona said with a large smile as she walked back to her station. Leda watched her go and then turned back to the Professor.

“So how’d you find me, anyway?” She asked much calmer than she had been before. Mona’s appearance had broken her anger. She felt it drain out of her quickly. All the talk of her dad and thinking about her mum had sapped her energy and her ability to sustain annoyance with Dr Morgan.

“I have friends in high places.” Dr Morgan said with a waggle of his eyebrows. His try for humour was corny and embarrassing but Leda appreciated him trying enough that she granted him a small laugh.

“We’ve met before, you know.” Leda frowned and Dr Morgan nodded, taking a sip from his wine glass. “Yes. You were young, I’m not sure how old. Your parents were having a party. It was summer and you had three missing teeth that you refused to let me touch in case the tooth fairy smelled me and thought you were trying to cheat her.”

Leda’s laugh was more genuine this time and Dr Morgan joined her. It was a jolly sound, and his shoulders shook. He laughed with his whole body just like her dad used to.

She didn’t remember him, but she had vague memories of being obsessed with the tooth fairy and whether or not she could deny you bounty by way of smell were familiar. It was enough to convince her on his truthfulness. They lapsed into a not pleasant silence, but an easier one, nonetheless.

“Why would you need me, anyway?” Leda asked suddenly, rousing Dr Morgan from where he had been staring at the empty table. “I’m not a scientist or a professor like you or my dad. I’m barely even a junior surgeon. If the Vortices even exist in the capacity you and my dad seem to think they do, I’m nothing to do with them. I couldn’t help you even if I wanted to.”

Dr Morgan nodded. “No, you’re not. But every expedition needs a doctor.”

Leda smiled glumly. “I meant what I said earlier. I can’t come with you, Dr Morgan. But… I hope you find what you’re looking for and I hope- I hope you prove him right. For his sake.”

She stood up, adjusting her bag on her shoulder. Looks like ‘just-in-case’ hadn’t come after all.

Dr Morgan stood quickly and wavered awkwardly on his side of the booth.

“If you change your mind, I’ve booked you a seat on a flight leaving in three days time from Gatwick Airport. We’ll be gone two weeks at most.” He said.

Leda didn’t bother to reply. She smiled again and, in a fit of sympathy and a little bit of guilt, she patted his hand gently.

“Goodbye, Dr Morgan. Please don’t contact me again.”

He nodded and she got all the way to the door before he called out to her again.

“The flight leaves at two o’clock! Gate 4!” Leda cringed and hurried past Mona shaking her head even as he shouted after her. “I’ll wait for you as long as I can, Leda!”

Leda rolled her eyes as she left, he would be waiting a damn long time if she had any say.

Of course she wasn’t going. What idiot flew halfway across the world on a hunch that her crazy dad was maybe right? She had already made up her mind. She wasn’t going. No way, Jose. But that didn’t stop her booting up her rickety computer when she got home and searching up the quickest way from her house to Gatwick and how many liquids you could take through security. But only because she was curious. Not that she was even considering taking the Professor up on his offer. Because that would be crazy. Wouldn’t it?

Chapter Text

The next morning, Leda was late for work. Instead of rushing through her morning routine like she normally would, she pulled out a cardboard box from under her bed and rifled through the stack of old papers. There was a picture she hadn’t been able to get out of her head all night and when she finally pulled it out into the light, her hand shook. 

She was young and gap-toothed, partially hiding under the large oak table that had been in her childhood kitchen. Leda squinted, noticing a small pouch clutched in her younger versions lap and Dr Morgan’s story about her obsession with the tooth fairy came to mind.  In the picture her parents were kneeling either side of her. Leda skimmed quickly over her mum, only allowing herself enough time to register her mum’s hair and the shape of her cheek before she hastily looked away. Behind them, a row of professors each held up a glass in cheers, their happy smiles frozen in time. Leda had never really paid attention to who was there that day, but when she saw him, she wanted to smack herself in the face. Because there he was, just where he said he’d be. Dr Morgan was stood to the left of the group, his white hair unmistakable. It was as wild then as it was now despite the twenty-year gap.

The truth of the situation sent her head spinning and she hadn’t realised she was calling someone until her boss’s voice came through her mobile’s speaker.

“I’m really sorry, Annette.” Leda found herself saying. She was on autopilot, her mouth speaking before she could even fully register what was happening. Dr Morgan’s past-self smiled up at her from the picture and something like fear bubbled in her gut. The lie came before Leda could even fully make it up.  

“I’ve got a family emergency.” She said, shakily putting the picture back into the box. “It-It’s my dad. I still have all my holiday left over. I just need three weeks. Four at the most. Please. He’s all I have left.”

Why did she just say that? She had already told herself that she wasn’t going on this mad adventure. So why was she lying to her boss about needing time off?

There was no immediate response. Annette obviously wasn’t happy. Late notice and three to four weeks of holiday after she already let her go home early the other day? And from Leda of all people, who hadn’t taken any holiday in two years and who had never mentioned a father or any family that was alive let alone any who may be dying? Yeah, Leda imagined Annette had a lot to swallow and only twenty seconds in which to do it. But Leda couldn’t bring herself to feel sorry for her. Her stuttering fear was rapidly turning into a giddy excitement. It helped to clear the fog from her brain and she felt more in control of herself than she had in all of the last week. She pushed the box off her lap and kicked it back under her bed with a fuzzy-sock’d foot.

“Well. Leda. This is-” Annette stopped herself and sighed heavily down the line. Leda could imagine her rubbing her forehead like she did whenever they had a particularly difficult patient. “It’s your father, Leda. Of course you can have the time off.”

Leda was about to argue when Annette’s words registered in her brain.

“I-Thank you. Thank you, Annette. I’m so grateful.” Leda breathed.

“Just keep me updated. If you need more time let me know and I’ll sort it. Leda, I hope he-”

“Yeah. Me too.” Leda interrupted, already eyeing the clothes hanging from her rickety rail. She doubted puffer jackets and cardigans would be appropriate for a tropical island that didn’t exist in the North Atlantic. She’d have to go to Primark. There was no way she was sweating her tits off on an honest to God adventure. It was going to be stressful enough without her having to worry about sweat patches too. Not that she was actually going, off course. This was all hypothetical.

“Take care, Leda.” Annette said and Leda felt a stab of guilt at how sad she sounded for her when her Dad wasn’t even dying.

“Uh- thanks, Annette, I…I really appreciate everything you’ve ever done for me. This is-” Leda didn’t know why it felt like she was saying goodbye, so she cleared her throat and swallowed awkwardly. “I just want to thank you. I’ll keep in touch.”

Annette said goodbye and hung up and Leda, her lie to Annette sitting heavy on her chest, grabbed her purse from her desk and jammed her feet into her cheap trainers. If she paused, even for one second, to think about how she had just lied to her boss and how she was going to buy new clothes for a trip she definitely wasn’t going on she would change her mind. Even though she wasn’t going, that is.

Leda chanced a look to the box that was peaking out from beneath her bed and the picture of Dr Morgan smiling with her parents.

She definitely wasn’t going.

“I’m going to the shops, Molly!” Leda called as she practically ran to the front door. She needed new clothes anyway. So what if her next few purchases were hiking boots and cami tops? You needed those in London too. It wasn’t at all because she was about to upend all the work she had put into starting a new life by travelling to an island that didn’t exist with a mad man. Of course not.

 

 

“Hi, Miss Gauling. It’s Milda again. I’m sorry. But he won’t come to the phone.”

Leda growled as she stuffed all her new clothes into a small suitcase that she had bought from Argos the night before. The phone was hot and nestled against her shoulder and eye and she had to resist the urge to scream as she accidentally jammed her toe on her shitty wardrobe.  

This was the fifth time in two days that she had rung and the fifth time her dad had refused to speak to her.

“I know- Ok. Fine. Look. Can you pass on a message for me?” She asked as she picked up a white envelope from her desk and shoved it into her old backpack. It had come the previous day, no name on the front and no return address, just like the one Dr Morgan had sent before. But this time there was a sticky note attached that said:

02:00
Gatwick North Terminal
Wednesday

She hadn’t opened it yet because (even though she still wasn’t going) if she read more about what she was maybe doing, she probably wouldn’t continue to do it.

Her phone buzzed and she dropped the suitcase she had been struggling to close to see an alert on the screen. Her cab was outside. She did a quick once over of the room before grabbing her coat and patting her back pocket three times to make sure her passport was there even though it had been there four minutes ago when she last checked it.

“Yes, Miss Gauling. What would you like the message to say?” Milda’s voice brought her back as she locked her bedroom door behind her.

Molly was no where to be found when as she dragged her comically small but overstuffed suitcase to the front door. Leda barely remembered to drop the note she had written for her on the hallway table before she was out the door, huffing as she dragged her suitcase down the steps before she handed it to the insistent cab driver. She hoped Molly would be ok without her. The note she had left her was basically just a list of local takeaways and the various weekly deals they had. It was the least she could do on such short notice. She was scared Molly would try and survive on full fat milk and handfuls of cornflakes alone.

“Tell him- tell him I’m going to the place.” Leda said quickly as she slid into the car and shut her the door behind her.

“Gatwick Airport North Terminal?” The cab driver asked when he got into the driver’s seat.

Leda nodded and mouthed sorry as she pointed to her phone. She clipped her seatbelt into place and the driver peeled away from the curb.

The high speed would usually bother her but she had been in constant motion for two full days and she wasn’t about to slow down now. Lest she actually think about what she (wasn’t) doing and ask the cabbie to turn back around.

“Tell him I’m going to the Vortice and that I’ll see him when I get back and to stay out of trouble. Tell him… We can both go home when I get back. Together.”

“Alright Miss Gauling. Anything else?”

“Nah. Sorry- no. You’re amazing, Milda. Thanks a lot.” Leda said before hanging up.

The cab driver caught her eye in the rear-view mirror as he sped down the dark street. It was 11.30pm on a Monday night and the streets were empty.

“Skiving off work for a cheeky holiday?” The cab driver asked, and Leda offered him a strained smile through the mirror.

“Yeah,” she muttered turning to stare out at the dark streets illuminated intermittently by orange streetlights. “Something like that.”

 

 

"Don’t say ‘I told you so’." Leda muttered as she marched past Dr Morgan and two new guys to self-check her bags in, boarding pass in hand. There were barely any other passengers around her and the airport was so quiet at that time that she could hear the small squeak of her new boots every step she took. Totally different from her vague memories of holidays as a child and the chaos of London airports at the beginning of the summer holidays. Clearly, early morning flights in the middle of April weren’t all that popular. Imagine that.

Now that she was here, it was a little hard to keep up the whole ‘I’m not going’ spiel that had kept her sane over the past three days. Instead she had a revolving mantra of ‘What are you doing?’ going through her head at lightspeed. Her actions up to that point had been so far out of character that she wasn’t even sure she was in the same book anymore.

"I wouldn't dream of it, Ms Gauling." Dr Morgan called to her with a smug smile. He was sandwiched between two men Leda had never seen before. They dwarfed him in height, and if it wasn’t for the fact that neither of them looked alike, it might have almost looked like two guys taking their granddad on holiday. And not, y’know, on a trip to a reality-flitting island in the middle of the Bermuda triangle.  

Leda snatched her ticket from the machine and made her way to the professor and his two companions. One was a smiling brunette and the other a bored looking red head. How you could be bored while off on a secret expedition to prove or disprove the theory of time and relative space travel was beyond Leda.

"This her?" The red head grunted and jerked his chin in her direction as though moving his hands was too much effort. His green eyes roamed over her and Leda felt her annoyance spike under his un-subtle evaluation of her. He scoffed when they caught eyes and angled his body away from her; clearly, he had found her lacking.

"Yes, yes!" Dr Morgan said excitedly and gestured towards her. "This is Dr Leda Gauling. Roberts daughter."

“Uh. I go by Ackerman, Doc. Leda Ackerman.” Leda said, shooting Dr Morgan an annoyed look that he promptly ignored.

The other man, a brunette, equally as tall as the red head smiled sweetly at her before he frowned, confusion marring his pretty smile.

"Ackerman?" He asked, looking to Dr Morgan as though the old man was speaking in tongues. Leda smiled tightly when he looked back to her.

"I changed my name a while ago." She explained in a rush. Better to get it out of the way now and not ten minutes into a nine-hour night flight.

"Why?" He asked. If Leda didn't know any better, she’d say he looked a little offended.

"You try getting a bunch of scientists to take you seriously when your last name is Gauling." She scoffed.

Dr Morgan, obviously worried with the way the introductions were quickly going south, cleared his throat and stepped sideways to let a family by. The toddler was snoozing on his mother’s shoulder and Leda’s eyes lingered on the way the mum held her son, rubbing soft circles onto his back. She could vaguely remember her own mother doing the same thing and her back twitched against the phantom touch the memory brought.

"Yes. Ahem. Well. Leda, this is Howard Cullen, my research assistant." He pointed to the brunette and then to the red head. "And this is Dr Julian Briggs. A Geologist from the University of Cambridge."

Howard held out his hand for her to shake and Leda took it gingerly. His hand swallowed hers and he shook it so enthusiastically that she had to tug it back a few times before he released her.

Julian only raised his eyebrow and nodded by way of greeting. He seemed delightful. Leda looked back towards the exit. Was it too late to go back?

"Great. Now we’re all friends should we get a move on?" Julian muttered, clearly done with introductions. He turned on his heel and stalked to the escalator.

"You heard him, Doc." Leda sighed, and walked past Dr Morgan and Howard to follow Julian.

Security was a breeze and Leda was starting to see the appeal of flying at night, despite probably not being able to sleep for the next week or so, the relaxed security and general experience was way better than the screaming waves of stress that came with flying at the beginning of July.

They had a while to wait before they could board the plane, so the disjointed group all crammed themselves onto the small benches by the gate. Leda plopped herself down next to Dr Morgan forcing Howard and Julian to sit opposite them. Julian slid down his seat until he was comfortable and popped his headphones in almost immediately. Clearly, he didn’t want to talk.

Leda hugged her backpack to her chest. Slumped in her chair, she allowed her eyes to close. This was the first time she had permitted herself to relax in three days and she tried to ignore the impulse to pick up her carry-on and run back to Bermondsey.

All was blissfully silent for a moment before Howard began to talk and ruined the peace for Leda.

"I've read all your fathers research you know." He said and Leda cracked her eyes open to watch him warily.

"Oh." Leda said, unenthusiastically. One of the things she hated more than being judged for her father’s mental ramblings was talking about his mental ramblings. "Did you?"

"Yes. His theories on specific geological places. Or- the Vile Vortices are truly radical." Howard rambled, leaning forward in his seat.

"Yeah," Leda couldn't help her snort of derision. She stretched her legs and kicked them out, narrowly missing Julian’s equally stretched pair of long legs. "Radical is a word for it."

Uncaring or unknowing of Leda's lack of enthusiasm in the subject Howard, continued oblivious. His dark brown eyes shined under the yellow airport lighting and he grinned.

"It’s just truly fascinating. Truly. As a theory it’s-”

"Bonkers?" Leda interrupted.

Dr Morgan shot her an annoyed look, taking time out from looking at the planes taking off to silently reprimand her. She shrugged at him, in a ‘what am I supposed to do about it’ way.

"Ah- well. Perhaps to someone who didn't understand it, but the science is correct. The calculations correct. If he’s right-”

"If." Lexa muttered under her breath, interrupting again. She shifted in her seat, feeling uncomfortable and Dr Morgan gave her another withering look that she ignored.

“If he’s right" Howard continued, ignoring her remark. "It would change the course of history. It would change everything we currently know about Physics. "

Julian, who had his head down opposite and his earplugs in shook his head.

“And with what happened to your-" Leda shot Howard a warning loom that he ignored and tried to carry on. Luckily, the flight attendants voice coming through the PA system saved her from Howard mentioning something she definitely didn’t want to speak about when on the verge of making the single worst decision of her life.

"Now boarding flight 09A45 to L.F. Wade International Airport, Bermuda. This is a boarding call for our First-Class passengers. If you are in possession of a first-class boarding pass, please make your way to the desk for last boarding pass check and boarding."

“Saved by the bell.” Julian muttered as he stood up. Leda had thought he wasn’t listening, what with his headphones being in, but clearly, he had been.

"They’re calling first class.” Leda said, frowning as Julian stood and shouldered his very cool-looking backpack. It put Leda’s twenty-year old frayed rucksack to shame. “What are you doing?"

Julian looked at her like she was an idiot and who knew, maybe she was. She was there wasn’t she? Only an idiot lied to their work and took a month off all while denying their actions to themselves to prove whether their cooky dad was right about space and time travel.

"The Professor splurged on our tickets. Didn't you read the pack?" Julian asked.

Leda, already feeling attacked, shook her head and stood up with a scowl. First class? Where had the Dr Morgan gotten that kind of money? Howard, seeing her confusion and taking pity, filled in the block in her knowledge.

"The Aether Group is funding us. They paid for the tickets.” He said.

Julian clicked his neck before he walked to the desk and threw over his shoulder: "Yeah, seems like big pharma doesn't want us travelling as peasants."

Dr Morgan fiddled with the strap of his satchel before he too made his way to the desk.

"I'll explain on the plane." He murmured as he passed her. Howard was hot on his Birkenstocks, offering a quick smile before practically tripping over his own feet to walk in step with The Professor.

Leda sighed and, instead of following, looked longingly to the exit back to the main airport.

She could still leave. There was still time to stop the madness of going to Bermuda. She could go home to Molly and watch her drink milk and eat dry cereal separately and do a shift at St. Philomena's. Everything could still go back to normal.

Her parents’ face filled her mind.

Her dad, all pulled and drawn and tired and sad. And her mother, lost to time itself. If she didn’t go, he would be stuck in The Eyrie until the day he died and her mother- Leda swallowed deeply. She owed it to her mother to go. If there was even a slim chance – and she wasn’t saying there was – that her father may actually be right, then she couldn’t just abandon her. And even if her dad wasn’t right, didn’t she owe it to herself to finally put what niggling doubt she had with her mother’s disappearance to rest?

"Ms Gauling?" Dr Morgan was waiting on the other side of the desk, already checked through. His voice roused her from her last-minute doubts, and she turned to look at him. He must have seen something in her face, however, because he made to walk towards her, his journey being cut off by the PA speakers.

"Last call for first class passengers for flight 09A45 to L.F. Wade International Airport, Bermuda."

Howard hovered behind The Professor, nervousness playing around the corners of his mouth. Julian was nowhere in sight. He was probably already comfortably seated in first class, unconcerned with Leda’s bout of internal confusion.

"Ms Gauling?" Dr Morgan called again. His hand wavered in mid-air, his body poised to march to her if she hesitated any longer. Leda recognised the same look of worry and desperation in his face that he had worn at the restaurant.

With another sigh she gave one last look at the exit, now filled with other passengers all looking around, wondering if they were in the right place. Well. Leda was in the right place. She could do this. She had to do it. For her dad. For her mum and also- well also for her.

"Coming." She said, turning away from the passengers and her last chance home. The way back was closed. There was only forward, now.

 

 

"So who is else joining us?" Leda asked, as she pulled out the blank envelope she had stuffed in her backpack before leaving. She held it up to Dr Morgan and shook it slightly before ripping it open. “This is your handiwork, I assume.”

They were twenty minutes into their flight and the lights were dim in the cabin. Leda had lucked out and gotten a booth by the window, as had Howard who was behind her. Dr Morgan and Julian weren’t so lucky and were in aisle booths. Though who could really be unlucky traveling first class was yet to be seen.

Julian’s pod was next to hers in the aisle and he had forgotten to close the door and she could see him out of the corner of her eye.  He was slumped in his seat, eyes closed and headphones in. He hadn’t said a word since the plane took off and Leda assumed, she would be free of any of his snarky remarks for the rest of the flight. Some miracles, and all that.

“I delivered the envelope, Ms Ackerman.” Howard piped up from behind her and she rolled her eyes.

“Ever heard of a return address?” she muttered as she tipped the envelope over her lap. A sleek black folder slipped out and she assumed this was the mysterious pack she should have read before she pressed pause on her entire life to go on a mad adventure. “And just Leda is fine, Howard. What’s with all this ‘Ms’ stuff? I’m not ninety yet.”

"Two others will be joining us.” Dr Morgan’s voice floated from behind her to answer her earlier question. She could just about hear him over the whirring hum of the planes jet engines. “A Stanford Botanist by the name of Sarah Carmichael and an Aether Group representative called Astrid Babineaux."

Leda hmm’d at the back of her throat and ran her slim brown fingers over folders cover. There was a weird symbol on the front, two overlapping triangles, one pointing north and one pointing south.  Written just below it were the words, THE AETHER GROUP in white, bold typeface.

"What is this Aether Group, anyway?" Leda asked, flicking through the pack quickly. She spied a Terms and Conditions and Personal Liability page, and skimmed over them both. "My dad never mentioned them."

"They're a secret society of hood wearing masons who want to take over the world by discovering and controlling portals to other worlds." Julian said as though talking about the weather.

Leda rolled her eyes and looked over at him. His eyes were still closed, and his headphones were still in but clearly he had been listening the whole time.

“Is pretending to sleep just your thing?" She asked, turning back to flip past another, probably important, page entitled Non Disclosure Agreement.

She saw Julian grin out of the corner of her eye. This was the first time she had seen him do anything other than look utterly bored and if he wasn’t so annoying, she’d say smiling suited him. His teeth were very right but he had a snaggle tooth that skimmed his bottom lip. Strangely enough it made him look a little more human to her.

"It’s not my fault you talk loudly enough to wake the dead." Julian shot back; eyes still closed.

Despite her mild annoyance with him, Leda snorted.

"They're not a secret society." Howard supplied quietly from behind her.

Leda set aside the folder and kneeled on her (admittedly) very comfortable seat and leaned over the back of her booth to look at him. He set down the book she hadn’t realised he had been reading and looked about the painfully empty first-class cabin as though worried someone would overhear. It was just them and three other people scattered about the ostentatiously lavish space. And she doubted the businessman in 1A or the glamorous woman in 2C gave two shits about The Aether Group and whether they were a secret society or not.  

At Leda’s raised eyebrow and unconvinced “Oh?” Howard continued.

“They’re a research group founded in Paris in 1612 by Sir Henrie Babineaux. Their motto is: Pour L'amélioration de L'humanité. It means-”

“For the Betterment of Mankind.” Leda said with a frown. How did she know that? Hearing the French phrase triggered something in her memory. The words and their translation were familiar, but she couldn’t place where she had heard them before. Maybe her dad had mentioned them. Years and years before everything had gone to crap.

Howard smiled at her, not seeming to mind her interruption. “That is the motto, yes. They’ve been under the radar for most of their existence. Hence the preconception that they are, in Mr Brigg’s words, ‘hood wearing masons’.”

Leda chuckled despite herself and shook off the peculiar feeling of Déjà vu at having heard the Research Group’s motto.

“How’d you know all this stuff?” She asked, cocking her head to the side. Sure, Howard looked like a total nerd, but she wasn’t sure how broad his knowledge was. Maybe he just really liked seventeenth century secret societies.

“Oh. It’s in the uh- it’s in the pack.” Howard said, with another one of his small smiles.

“Which you’d know if you actually read it.” Julian said behind her. Leda rolled her eyes at Howard and enjoyed the way his smile widened. His hero-worship of her dad aside, he seemed pretty nice. Maybe when they got back to the real world she’d ask him to go for coffee with her. Or maybe not. Leda hadn’t really been that good at keeping friends. Molly was practically the closest thing she had and all she really did was make sure the pale girl ate normal food once in a while. Turns out being paranoid that someone would find out who she really was and judge her for having a crazy dad and a dead mum who died in suspicious circumstances really discouraged her from making long-term relationships.

“I read it.” Leda said, feeling a little petulant.

“Skimming doesn’t count, newbie.” Julian said. She didn’t need to turn around to know he was grinning while he ragged on her. Maybe she should be happy. If he felt like he could make fun of her, maybe it meant he was trying to bond in his weird, all-boys-private school way. He had even given her a demeaning nick name to make her feel like part of the team. Lucky her.

“How would you know?” She barked back. “You had your eyes closed.”

“I don’t need eyes to know that you-” Julian began.

“Alright, children. Don’t make me put any of you on the naughty step.” Dr Morgan interrupted, and Leda turned to see him barely paying attention. He had a half-empty glass of amber liquid in his hand and his glasses were low on his nose as he poured over a messy pile of papers.

Instead of finding the sight amusing, her gut twisted in a horrible way. He reminded her so much of her dad. She wished that he had picked up her call. It would have been nice to hear his voice. She coughed awkwardly, feeling the heat of Howard’s eyes on the side of her face and tried to change the subject.

“So this Astrid lady that’ll be joining us,” she said quickly, avoiding Howard’s eye to keep up an air of nonchalance. “Is she related to Henrie Babineaux, the guy that founded The Aether Group?”

Dr Morgan looked up from his reading materials and pushed his glasses back up the bridge of his nose.

"Yes. Distantly.” He said. “Henrie was the first son of five. He had no children, so it fell to his brothers’ descendants. Astrid, I believe, comes from the youngest son, Thibault. Seventh son of the seventh son and all that."

Leda hmm’d again and twisted slightly to look back at the black folder still lying on her pod’s desk.

Why was an ancient research group funding an expedition into her dad’s work? And if they were so interested, why hadn't he ever mentioned them before?

"Why is it called The Aether Group then, and not The Babineaux Group?” Leda asked, turning back to flit her gaze between Howard and Dr Morgan. “Isn’t naming a company after yourself all the rage for one percenter’s?"

"Because in classical elements, Aether is the fifth." Howard supplied.

"She doesn't speak Marvel, Cullen." Julian butted in. Leda rolled her eyes again. A response she was coming to realise was a natural reaction to whenever she was unfortunately within earshot of anything he said.

"Aether is the fifth element.” Howard elaborated. He too rolled his eyes at Julian’s comment and shared a secret smile with Leda before continuing. “There is Earth, Fire, Water and Air. And then there’s Aether."

“Ok. Cool. But what is Aether, then?” Leda asked, still confused.

"It’s above Air. Ancient Greek’s used to think that it was the air that the God’s breathed. Particles of it exist in all of the universe. Linking everything together. You might have heard it being referred to as Quintessence. Hypothetically, using Aether and it’s permeance, you could theoretically access any point in history in any part of the universe should you, also in theory, be able to establish a link between each particle. It was used as a way of explaining the travel of light within the vacuum of space. And so scholars and I suppose Henrie Babineaux, began to think of its uses of travel in other ways. To other places. Or-”

"-to other worlds." Leda finished for him with a frown.

So an ancient research group that she had never heard of before just so happened to be named after some mystical fifth element that could enable travel through space and time and linked perfectly with her father’s research? An ancient research group, that is, that she had also never heard of before that also funded the entire trip? Something wasn’t adding up. And although the suspicion was beginning to make her feel uncomfortable enough to want to go home, Leda steeled herself against it. She wasn’t much of an explorer or problem solver, but she guessed the easiest way to get to the bottom of something was to be right in the middle of it. Or it was the easiest way to end up seven leagues under the sea next to her missing mum. Either or.

"Yes, Ms Gauling." Dr Morgan said and Leda swivelled her gaze towards him. He took a sip from the glass he had been nursing and Leda’s frown deepened. What did he know? He must have been watching for a reaction though, because he nodded imperceptivity and offered her one of his mysterious smiles. "Another world precisely."

 

 

Sometime later, the lights in the cabin were practically off. Howard was sprawled sideways on his seat, mouth hanging open as he slept. He had forgotten to close his pod door and the flight attendant had to keep hopping over his feet as she made her way to and from Business class. Julian was awake and engrossed in some film he was watching. His intermittent jumps, coupled with his less than sunny disposition, Leda guessed it was some action horror monstrosity that had captured his attention.

Leda’s own screen was stuck on the little animated plane that showed you how far you had gotten in your journey. She had stared at it for hours, unable to sleep. When she turned to Dr Morgan, she found him already watching her. He nodded when he caught her eye.

“You really thought I would say yes to all this?” Leda’s asked quietly, conscious of disturbing the other passengers who she assumed were in various states of rest.

“No, quite the opposite.” He laughed gently. “I thought you wouldn’t come but I booked it anyway.”

Leda frowned and leaned further out of her pod. “How does that make any sense? You didn’t think I would come but you booked it anyway?”

Dr Morgan’s smile turned fond, and she wondered what it must have been like back before she was born, him and her dad working in a cramped office in Oxford, trying to change reality itself.

“Call it a leap of faith.” He said, tipping the last of his glass of scotch into his mouth. “I saw Richard in you. All his stubbornness and intelligence. But do you know what I also saw? Your mother. I didn’t think you would come, but I also knew that you would.”

Leda didn’t fully understand his explanation, but she couldn’t quite stop the pride that zinged through her at being compared to her mother.

“Thanks.” She mumbled, feeling embarrassed at how much joy it had caused her for anyone to see her mother in her and not just her coo-coo dad.

“You’re very welcome, Ms Gauling.” He said, reaching up to flick the stewardess light on. He held up his glass as she came rushing over to refill it. When she finished, she scuttled off back to wherever stewardesses went when they weren’t helping passengers (most likely a stasis chamber where the air pressure and dryness didn’t dry their skin or make their hair untidy).

“Are you ever going to call me Ms Ackerman?” Leda asked with a raise of her eyebrow.

Dr Morgan chuckled to himself and again, Leda wondered what it must have been like. Two young men trying to change the world, not even imagining what might come to pass.

Dr Morgan nodded to her chair, ignoring her question. “You should try and rest. The journey ahead won’t be easy.”

Leda nodded back and waved awkwardly at him before closing her little compartment door and lowering her chair into the bed.

“Yeah,” she grumbled to herself with a snort. “As if getting some sleep is gonna be any easier.”

She twisted on her side to punch and fluff her regulation pillows into something that resembled a discombobulated marshmallow, just how she liked it. She had just gotten settled into something resembling a caterpillar before she shot up into a sitting position and clicked the button to slide the door of her pod open.  

“Wait a second!” She squeaked, trying to untangle her legs from the blanket cocoon. Julian and Dr Morgan turned to stare at her with varying levels of confusion. “Did that pack say something about loss of limbs?”

Chapter Text

As soon as Leda stepped out of the air-conditioned airport onto the tarmac runway, the only thing she could think was:

Fuck it’s hot.

She was British. The ability to complain about anything was hardwired into her DNA. And that meant that a large portion of the year was spent moaning about the weather. It was too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy. And so on until she was ninety and ready to die or so the legend goes.

The point was, Leda was used to complaining about the weather. What she wasn’t used to was humidity that made it feel like she was walking through soup, and a temperature so high her hair curled almost upon contact with it. The temperature and air density was so extreme that any complaints Leda might have had quickly dried up along with all the water in her body.

She was definitely wearing too many layers.

Shit.” She muttered, awkwardly jimmying her backpack off so that she could practically rip her shirt off. Luckily, she’d had enough sense to wear a tank top underneath, but the instant relief of her bothered skin not touching the itchy material of her cheap shirt was so instantaneous that she paused for a moment, just revelling in the fact that she was free.

“Coming, Newbs?”

Julian bumped her shoulder as he passed, grinning. Leda nodded sluggishly and wondered whether it was a good thing he had shortened her nickname. She stuffed her shirt in her bag and waddled after, each step adding a new sheen of sweat on her forehead.

Astrid Babineaux and Sarah Carmichael were waiting on the tarmac next to a small private plane. It loomed ominously behind the two women, white and sleek. Had the plane her dad had tried to steal looked like it?

Leda had never been on, nor seen a private jet in real life before. However, their very existence had, fourteen years before, changed the course of her entire life. Her dad was in a psych ward in part because he had been apprehended trying to steal one, and now, fourteen years later here she was completing the trip he had never made. The parallels between herself and her father weren’t lost to her.  

Dr Morgan strolled to a stop and Leda took a deep breath in and out. Now was not the time to get freaked out by a plane, of all things. The weight of the air sat heavily on her shoulders and she sagged under it, wilting in the heat. Couldn’t they do their introductions inside the thing that could keep them cool?

Dr Morgan turned and smiled at her, and she sighed. Clearly not.

“Ms Babineaux.” Dr Morgan greeted The Aether Group Representative with a welcoming smile and held out his hand for her to shake.  

The heir to the French secret society was easily the tallest out of all of them and when she shook Dr Morgan’s hand, she dwarfed his grip. A heavy mane of bushy dark hair framed a long, stern face and blue eyes peaked from under heavy brows. All in all, she was probably the closest Leda would ever get to ever meeting an actual Amazonian. Astrid’s unusual visage left Leda feeling a horrible combination of being terrified and a little infatuated. She seemed completely at ease with the heat and was even wearing a long tan jacket over cream slacks and a brown linen top with absolutely no creases. Leda frowned, who didn’t crease their linen? It was like four in the afternoon. Usually just looking at a piece of linen clothing was enough to make it crumple.

“You’ve met Julian and Howard before, in Timbuktu.” Dr Morgan said, gesturing towards Leda. Astrid’s heavy gaze slid towards her and Leda stupidly hoped the put together woman couldn’t see how much she was sweating. “But this is-”

“Leda Ackerman. Formally Leda Gauling.” Astrid interrupted in accented English. Leda smiled and held out her hand for Astrid to shake, a gesture that she pointedly ignored. Leda let her hand drop awkwardly back to her side and tried not to take offence. Maybe the French didn’t shake hands. There was probably some weird French proverb about frog legs and shaking hands she didn’t know about. Or something.

Astrid inclined her head by way of hello but did not smile.

“You are Robert’s daughter.” Robert? Leda thought in surprise. Since when was the French Amazonian on a first name basis with her dad? “The resemblance is remarkable. It is a pleasure.”

Leda hummed, hand itching at her side. “Yeah. Nice to meet you, too.”

There was something wrong with the way Astrid said her dad’s name. Like she knew him or something. But how could she? Her dad had been locked away for nearly fifteen years. Astrid only looked about five years older than her. It didn’t make any sense. Then again, neither did her dad’s theory to anyone with any sense of logic and yet here she was, about to get on a private jet to a mysterious island that probably didn’t exist. Plus, Astrid was part of an ancient secret society dedicated to tearing the rule book on possible physics apart that had access to hundreds of years of accumulated wealth. She probably had about fifteen private detectives at her disposal at any time. Forget knowing her dad’s first name, she probably knew what Leda last ate and what kind of toilet paper she bought.

The concept was a little unsettling, but she was only given a moment to dwell on it before Dr Morgan continued to plough on with the introductions.

“And this is Sarah Carmichael. The Botanist from Stanford I mentioned earlier. She was at the Timbuktu dig site as well.”

Huh. So everyone had been at Timbuktu. Years ago, she had read her dad’s ramblings during a particularly bad spell. Timbuktu was another Vortice; The Algerian Megalith, to be exact. She remembered her research into Dr Morgan and the news report of the Timbuktu expedition. Hadn’t it also mentioned something about The Aether Group? She could almost kick herself for not paying enough attention. As an Emergency Doctor the devil had always been in the details. She hadn’t been very good at keeping track of them, thus far. Looking up Dr Morgan had only been a few days before, a week, at most, but it felt like a lifetime had passed since before Dr Morgan had bustled into her life and royally jacked it up. Maybe having your life upended meant that you missed a couple things here and there. Unfortunately, now was not the time to be skimping on adding up the dots.

Sarah smiled and Leda returned the gesture a little weakly and shook her hand. The Botanist was Astrid’s opposite in every sense. Shorter than Leda and sporting a severe blonde bob, her lime eyes were kind, nestled into her soft, heart-shaped face.

“It’s such an honour to meet Robert Gauling’s daughter!” Sarah gushed. Leda’s smile twitched and she tried to take her hand back, but, oblivious, Sarah kept shaking it in her surprisingly strong grip. “After all this time and research with Dr Morgan. Aren’t you glad that we’re finally getting to the main Vortice?”

Leda coughed and tugged her hand back, flexing her crushed fingers.

“I- uh- Sure?” It sounded more like a question and she shot Dr Morgan a desperate look for help but the traitor merely looked on as if nothing was wrong.

Sarah looked a little perturbed but garnered back her pep quickly, smoothing over any confusion with another bright smile. “Don’t you-”

Leda was saved, yet again, by the metaphorical bell ringing. The private jet’s door slid open, and the steps descended onto the tarmac with a soft whoosh. A waft of cold air drifted over them from the cabin, and Leda sagged in on herself. Thank God. Thank God.

“Saved again, Newbs?” Julian piped up, adjusting his backpack and heading up the plane steps without waiting for anyone else. “What is this now, Oh for two?”

Leda rolled her eyes and jerked her chin towards the plane. “We getting on or what?”

Dr Morgan, who seemed to have a permanent smile on his face ambled along, Sarah and Howard close on his heels. It was just Astrid and herself left and Leda waited for the woman who was entirely over dressed to get on before her.

Astrid’s mouth twitched into a wan smile. "After you, mon amie." She gestured to the plane steps and as she did her coat flapped open. Leda spied a holster attached to her waist and what looked suspiciously like a handheld firearm.

What the hell was she doing with a gun? What was The Aether Group expecting to encounter when they got to the island which Leda only half believed actually existed? And why would you need fire power for what was essentially a non-violent archaeological expedition?

Leda schooled her features into a weak smile and shrugged before hurriedly making her way up the steps into the cool cabin. ‘Representative’ her ass. Since when do representatives pack heat?

There were only six seats on the plane and they all faced one another. Astrid strode past Leda as she paused by the doorway and took the seat closest to the cockpit on the left. Sarah sat opposite her on the right. Howard was buckling himself in beside Astrid with Dr Morgan across from him. Leda stuffed her backpack into the overhead locker and sat next to Dr Morgan in the seat closest to the door and Julian settled himself into the seat opposite her on Howard’s left.

The private jet was just as ‘private’ as it sounded. All plush creams accidented by deep mahoganies. Decanter crystal glasses stowed under everyone’s arm rests and- were those jewels along the rim of the ceiling?

“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.” The pilots voice sounded as Leda clipped herself into the expensive seat that probably cost more than the entire contents of her painfully shabby bedroom back home. “My name is Paul Lockford and I’ll be your Captain today. Sitting next to me is Louise Hanquin and she will be our co-pilot. Please note, the fasten your seatbelt sign is on. Once we hit cruising altitude, I’ll switch that off and you can feel free to move about the cabin. It should take just under an hour to reach our destination, please prepare for take-off.”

Leda looked around as the others secured themselves. Sarah was currently doing a strange repetitive motion with her hands and muttering something under her breath. Astrid was watching her calmly as she crossed her long legs at the ankle. She had kept her trench coat on, and Leda wondered how she hadn’t passed out from heatstroke yet. Although if the Amazonian did pass out Leda would be able to help her. Maybe if she showed she wasn’t some bumbling idiot everyone would stop looking at her like they weren’t quite sure why she was there. Not that she really knew why she was there either.

 

*

 

Take off was uncomfortable as it usually was and Leda had to chew three pieces of gum just to feel like she could hear anything. She didn’t have a book to read so she stared out of the window behind Julian’s head. His headphones were in again and his eyes were closed but Leda would put serious money down and bet that he was actually awake and just waiting for her to say something dumb that he could make fun of.

The quiet of the cabin was getting to her nerves, so Leda cleared her throat and asked for confirmation of something Dr Morgan had mentioned earlier.

“So you were all on the Timbuktu expedition together?”

Five pairs of eyes turned towards her, even Julian cranked his eyes open to stare at her with his usual bated breath for her to screw up.

Dr Morgan was nodding before anyone else had fully registered Leda’s question over the whir of the engines.

“Yes. It was us and another Aether Group representative. A Mister Dubois, if I remember correctly?”

Astrid grunted and cracked her neck on either side. “Oui.”

Leda nodded to no one in particular. Sarah caught her eye as the blonde paused her weird hand movements to swallow a pill with a swig from her silver water cannister.

Julian must have been watching her because he took it upon himself to explain.

“Valium. She’s a shitty flier.”

Sarah rolled her eyes and flipped him the bird. “Being afraid of crashing while trapped in a metal box that flies through the sky doesn’t make me a shitty flier, Julian.” Leda couldn’t help grinning. Other than the whole hero worship of her dad thing, if Sarah could bat it back to Julian, she would always have a vote from Leda’s court. “And anyway, I only took half of one. I don’t want a repeat of the Megalith thing.”

Julian barked out a laugh, crossing his arms over his broad chest as he sat back. The action popped out his headphones, but he made no effort to put them back in.

“The Timbuktu expedition was to confirm your father’s theory on Mercury’s retrogradation.” Dr Morgan continued, ignoring Julian and Sarah’s continued back and forth. The fasten the seatbelt sign flicked off and he wasted no time in unbuckling his seat. He pulled out the bottom of his arm rest and began pouring what looked like whiskey into one of the crystal glasses she had spied earlier.

“Which of course proved entirely correct.” He paused to take a sip. “It was a fruitful mission. Had I found you sooner, I would have asked you to come.”

Leda huffed a laugh. “I would have said no.”

Dr Morgan’s white, bushy eyebrows lifted high on his forehead.

“You said no to this trip too, remember?”

Leda’s smile dropped and she flopped back against her expensive seat.

“Don’t remind me.” She muttered, prompting Dr Morgan to chuckle.

Leda rolled her eyes and asked another question that had been bothering her. “What happened to that other guy? Mr Dubois? Why didn’t he come on this trip too?”

Leda thought she had said it quietly, but when Astrid answered before Dr Morgan, she realised she probably hadn’t spoken quietly enough.

“He was relieved of his position.” Astrid said as she fiddled with a brick phone in her lap. Leda frowned at it. Wasn’t she super rich? Why was she carrying a phone that looked like it predated a Nokia?

“Relieved of his position?” Leda echoed sceptically. “Because that doesn’t sound ominous at all.”

“There is nothing ominous about it, Ms Ackerman.” Astrid snipped, dark eyebrows lowering. Her frown cast a shadow over her eyes, and they darkened to denim. “Our interests did not line up with his and so he left The Group.”

‘Group’ or secret society, if you were the tin-foil hat wearing type.

Howard was carefully avoiding her eye and when she turned to Dr Morgan, he had gone still in his seat, glass paused on its ascent to his waiting mouth. Clearly there was something more to do with Mr Dubois, but Leda thought she’d drop it for now. She could ask it when they were on The Island or more realistically, when they were back on Bermuda after realising that The Island didn’t exist and her dad really was crazy.

Feeling a little attacked, Leda rolled her eyes and gestured to Astrid’s lap.

“And did you need firearms in Timbuktu as well?”  

Astrid quit fiddling with the brick phone and let it rest in her lap. She looked as unfazed as she had in the sweltering heat, even after just being called out for carrying a gun to what may essentially just be a big dig site filled with dinosaur bones.

“We are dealing with the unknown, Ms Ackerman. Precautions must be taken.”

“I thought this was just a research expedition.” Leda shot back.

A smile ghosted over Astrid’s face but did not touch her eyes as she shrugged her stiff shoulders. “Research can be dangerous.”

 

*

 

The sky outside had grown dark during their journey and rain had been pelting the small window behind Julian’s head for a while. Leda had been staring at it for a few minutes, lost in her thoughts. The voice of the pilot coming from above her head ripped her from her daydreams with a start.

“Hello folks, this is your Captain speaking. We’re about twenty minutes away from our destination and will be beginning decent shortly. Got a bit of wind and rain coming up to our left but our flight path takes us around most of it. Normal turbulence is expected so I’ll pop that fasten seatbelt sign on for you just in case things get a bit bumpy. As a precaution, if you haven’t already, please do have a read of the safety manual and remember, life jackets are under your seats.”

The PA system clicked off and almost instantly the plane rattled a little bit. Dr Morgan and Astrid re-clipped their seatbelts as the fasten seatbelts signed loomed red over their heads. Leda clicked her tongue. Nothing to worry about her ass.

She rifled through her chairs side pocket to pull out the safety leaflet as the Captain suggested. Two basic animations of an adult woman and child greeted her. In one picture the woman was putting on the child’s lifejacket and didn’t have one on herself. There was a big X above this picture. In the second she had already attached her lifejacket and was helping attach her child’s. This had a big green tick and she rolled her eyes. She knew there was a good reason for the silly pictures, but she couldn’t help but think of course the private airline’s thesis was to save yourself first.

“And you’re sure this thing is safe?” Leda muttered as the plane shook again. She threw an accusatory glare at Dr Morgan who, despite the retched conditions, seemed to be well within his perpetually ever-present good mood.

Dr Morgan returned her glare with a calm smile. He had set aside his glass and his hands now rested comfortably in his linen trousered lap. To Leda, he looked like a perfect picture of peace and therefore entirely out of place in the shaking plane.

“It’s only a little storm,” he remarked good naturedly, gesturing to Julian’s window as if to illustrate just how much she was overreacting. The sky outside had clouded to the point of near black and it was difficult to tell what was cloud and what was roiling sea below. An image of the plane falling into the sea zipped through her mind inconveniently. What was worse, dying by fire or drowning? Or both? Could planes still explode in water?

“A little bit of wind and rain won’t hurt you.” Dr Morgan remarked.

Leda gaped at him.

“’Little’?”

On one hand, Leda knew she was probably being a bit silly. She had flown before. She knew that turbulence and planes went hand in hand. But usually she was on a larger craft and she felt infinitely safer surrounded by two hundred other passengers than she did in the six-windowed, six-seater private jet she was currently trapped within.

The plane gave another lurch and she squeezed her fingers so hard around the arm rests that one of her distal phalanges popped painfully.

Sarah’s blonde head jerking caught her attention. She was fast asleep; the Valium having done its job a little too well. Leda envied her unbothered rest.

 “Though I would agree with you, Professor,” Howard piped up, lacing his fingers together under his chin. “It’s been a lot more than ‘a bit’ of rain. Hard to say, of course, without the use of a rain gauge but still easy to calculate.”  

Leda’s mouth hung open as he proceeded to confidently lay down some mental maths that had her head spinning.

“In this heavy rain it would take around three minutes to fill a one-hundred-and-fifty-millimetre gauge, with a funnel area of seventy-eight point five five. If you divided fifty by the funnel area and then multiplied that number by ten, you would get six point three six five millimetres of rain. Considering the fact that it’s been raining for about twenty minutes or so, that’s,” here he paused and looked at a point just beyond Leda’s head as he did the calculations. “Forty-four point five five five millimetres of rain. Which in conversion to inches is-”

“A lot of fucking rain, you big nerd.” Julian interrupted with a laugh. He had twisted his head to look at Howard as he spoke and was grinning, his snaggle tooth catching his full bottom lip. But he hadn’t said it cruelly, and Leda spied some admiration to his blue gaze as he high fived Howard.

“Well- yes.” Howard used his high-five hand to push his square glasses up his Roman nose. “That is essentially what I was going to say but-”

“Howard,” Leda interrupted. She was still trying to wrap her head around what he had said. “You’re fucking awesome. You sure you’re just a research assistant?”

Red bloomed across Howard’s face and he smiled at Leda in thanks. She saw Dr Morgan nodding and could even spy Astrid on the edges of her vision, head turned to Howard.

“It was nothing really. I-”

The plane lurched violently, cutting Howard off and slamming everyone to the side before it began to fall. Leda felt her legs rise and fall as the plane tipped down and then angled back up. She gasped, forcing her body backwards into her chair, stomach twisting. Thunder clapped loudly and Leda spied lightning in the distance in the window behind Howard’s head.

Her wide eyes looked frantically around the cabin, assessing and panicking at the same time. The Professor’s legs and arms were slack and a gash above his eye was slowly weeping blood. He must have hit his head. There wasn’t enough time to wonder on what. She just had to get him conscious.

“Dr Morgan?” She shook his arm roughly. “Dr Morgan!”

He remained motionless and her breath hitched in her chest. She heard shouts from the cockpit and the plane made a sudden spin, curtailing right before levelling out. Dr Morgan’s arm smacked against the wood of his armrest as it flopped about. The sound made Leda wince. He would feel that later. If there even was a later.

Sarah mumbled something, beginning to rouse from her Valium slumber. Julian’s head hung forward but was moving sluggishly from side to side. He was awake but only just. Leda looked to Howard, who looked pale beneath his tan but was awake an unharmed. He was gripping his armrests so tightly that she worried he might snap a phalanx.

She called to him sharply. “Howard!”

He blinked slowly but managed to nod at her. Leda tried to smile past her rising panic. This was good. He was alright. Just in shock, most likely.

She opened her mouth to ask him if he was alright, but Astrid hissed: “Quiet!” from her seat. And Leda clammed up.

To her confusion, Astrid seemed completely fine. Not a hair out of place or panic on her face. Her calmness was maddening at a time where Leda, who had been trained for all manner of emergency situations, was herself starting to feel the beginnings of fear tighten her stomach and quicken her breath.  

In the near crash, the cockpit door had opened slightly, and Astrid leaned her body forward, straining to hear the voices of the pilots over the hum of the engines and the storm outside. If Leda strained, she could hear the frantic clicking of buttons and the swearing of the two pilots.

“…Down-…Emergen-…Code seven five zero-ze…land-…land-”

Astrid huffed and pulled out the brick phone. She clicked a button and held it to her ear, beginning to bark rapid French into the mouthpiece.  

Sarah slurred herself awake and it distracted Leda from watching Astrid grow irritated as she spoke.

Sarah blinked, mouth working around half-formed words. “Wha-s- is- wha-”

Leda no longer envied her unconcerned state. She was barely dealing with the, frankly, almost certainty of immediate death while sober, she couldn’t imagine dealing with it stuck in between reality and sleep by the effects of Valium.

Dr Morgan groaned beside her and part of her panic subsided as he blinked awake.

“Dr Morgan can you hear me?” He looked at her groggily and managed a nod.

“Good. Good.” She offered him a strained smile and tried to slow her breathing. “Can you tell me what your middle name is?”

She watched as he rolled his tongue in his mouth before replying. When he spoke she could see red on his teeth. He’d probably cut his gum when his head slammed into the backrest.

“It-it is-” Dr Morgan paused and blinked owlishly at her. Oh boy. That wasn’t good. “It is Eli-”

The oxygen masks suddenly descending cut him off and in her shock, Leda screamed.

Even though it was for a totally legitimate reason, she felt ridiculous a moment later. The plane had settled, it wasn’t shaking anymore. Even the thunder that had boomed above them seemed to quiet. Calm settled over the cabin and Leda’s breath steadied with it. She even managed an embarrassed chuckle at Julian who took time out of his concussion to roll his eyes at her overreaction.

“I’m sorry,” Leda warbled, unnerved. “I-sorry- I didn’t mean- I’m sorry. Is everyone ok?”

Any responses were swallowed by two things happening at once.

First, a flash of lightening lit up the window behind Julian’s head, momentarily bathing everyone in its silvery shine. Then the lights in the plane flickered off plunging everyone into darkness before the emergency floor lights kicked in.

“Everything is alright.” Julian stated firmly. The orangey emergency lights shadowed his serious face with a odd glow. “It’s probably just heavy turbulence. We’ll-”

Be alright, is what she assumed he had been going for. But again, like before, her comfort was cut short by the pilot whose voice crackled out from the plane’s speakers.

This is your Captain speaking. All passengers are to exact the position. Brace for Impact.

A curse was heard though the ajar door as the plane seemed to jolt forward and down. The air began to feel thin. Leda’s body felt weightless and she scrambled to attach her oxygen mask onto her head. Her hands were shaking but she managed to get it secured. After, she turned to help Dr Morgan’s with his, but he had less control over his body and him trying to help her meant that their hands got tangled together with the mask’s strings. Sarah began to scream and the sound mingled with the engines whirr and the rush of air as their plane fell until it all blended into one horrible white noise.

She was going to die. That was for certain. But she was oddly calm. She wasn’t crying or screaming like Sarah or frantically shouting into a phone like Astrid. She didn’t even know what the best thing to think about was.

What was best for a last thought? Her parents? Her work? That guy in the coffee shop who she had been meaning to ask out? Everything was too important and not important enough to dwell on. Each problem required hours of thinking over, not seconds before she drowned. There just wasn’t enough time.

So as they fell Leda decided to think of nothing but the warm, calloused hand of the Professor, helping her attach his mask and the dazed blue of his eyes as he tried to say something to her, under his mask.

The Captain’s voice returned, and Leda’s mind settled peacefully, despite the chaos around her.

Brace! Brace! Brace!”