I published this over at Readwave first. It’s a follow-on from A Mentor’s Mantle.
Change the world, he said. Do for others, he said.
Ella Fritz tossed another tool out as she continued on her hunt for blueprints. The whole laboratory had been tossed, someone looking for her mentor’s opus. It was a vain hope that she would find it; likely, if it had been here, it was already gone.
Her eyes smarting with frustration, she kicked a large cog, which went sliding across the room, smearing the concreted floor. With a satisfying ding, it hit the wall. Ella raised her head at the ticking sound that emanated faintly from behind the panel. Pushing aside her skirts and rising to her feet, she explored the wall, fingertips gently probing at the joins. On the floor level, a tiny raised bump slid in with some encouragement. The panel popped out with a soft hiss.
Ella slid the door sideways to find a movie projector, the reel clicking as it rolled over and over. She stopped the projector and unspooled the film. There was definitely something recorded on it.
Setting it up again, being careful not to damage the precious recording, Ella flicked the switch and watched it play on the blank wall opposite. The film was silent, and it began with her mentor frantically pointing at his gold pocket watch. She watched him tuck it into an obscure pocket on his waistcoat.
The film blanked out for a moment before she could see him again, standing by the bench. He was pretending calm, but Ella, a lifetime study in the moods of Professor Alberé, could see the fear in the flutter of his hands against his coat. Even though she knew it was futile, she internally begged him to get out one of the pistols she had kept in the drawer by the door. He would never pick them up; a man of principle and peace had no use for weapons, he had said.
The men who entered were masked, dressed darkly to match their deeds. The hulking form carried a shotgun, sawn off and deadly, and he waved it at the Professor. Another, standing with stately form by the shoulder of the first was clearly quiet, waiting. Ella saw his lips move in slow and deliberate speech and watched the Professor’s face fade a shade or two. This went on for a few tedious minutes, Ella knowing what happened at the finale.
With hot, useless tears, she watched her noble benefactor crumple to the floor, the spreading stain of a life draining away staining his work suit. Gritting her teeth to watch to the end, she saw the men demolishing the lab in a futile search. The slight right-sided limp of the smaller man brushed a memory in Ella’s brain, but it didn’t come to the surface.
Eventually the men left, attempting to start a fire, which would be foiled by the Professor’s ingenious sprinklers. Ella’s eyes remained fixed on Alberé, knowing he was long dead, lying there in the pool of his lifeblood.They killed him to steal what he would have freely given to help the world.
She restarted the film, watched his initial movements. She took his watch from the pocked in her own waistcoat, rolling it over in her hands. She watched the sequence again. He was pointing at it, and pointing at her. Ticking over, her brain was weighing up the possibilities, and she’d never been very good at charades.
It clicked! He was pointing at the projector. Exploring every angle with her fingers and peering at the machinery, she couldn’t see a spot where her watch might fit. She flicked it open, looking at the moving parts, at the ornate filigree. The shapes were strange. She realised that this was not the original cover to the watch. Holding it into the light, she turned to look at the wall. There was a map, structures, some calculations…
From outside, there came the soft thud of a landing. Ella stiffened, her heart racing. With fumbling fingers, she closed the film into a case, tucking it under her arm. The watch she shoved deep into her brassiere and slipped out a small backdoor.
She piled into her basket, quickly unwinding the ties, willing her patchwork balloon into the sky.
As she drifted out into the canyon, she looked back at three figures on the clifftop beside their hired craft.
She would find out who they were.