Originally posted 2015-11-20 17:00:41.
Working under the orange light, I barely noticed my daughter’s presence beside me. Aislin was only six years old, but already she was a stellar laboratory assistant. I paused for a moment to watch her. Since she was able to write, she had been down here, taking measurements, completing tasks that required small hands, and learning just as I had under my father before me. Now she was reading output voltage on a new chemical cell I had spent the past month creating. She sat with her feet on the chair with her knees drawn up to her chin. Her dark brown hair fell in ringlets under a dirtied kerchief. Her nose just barely poked out from underneath the dark leather band of goggles that were much too big for her head. Time and time again I had told her that they were not necessary, but she insisted that if I was wearing goggles, then she would too. Her leather apron might as well have been a dress and now covered her knees like a blanket, which was much needed down here at this time of year. With brows furrowed over the oversized goggles, she intently watched the monitor. Every now and then she pulled back to write something on the tattered journal positioned between her knees and her chest. When she wasn’t watching the meters, she was watching the ancient pocket watch, the last gift her father had given to me, his wedding present.
My husband was a man I had met at the University. He started as a lab assistant to my father as had I. When my father learned of his ambitions to become an agent of the Consortium, his interest was piqued and he went into negotiations to have us wed. My family came from wealth and knowledge, Mr. Maitland’s came from political connections and the military. By aligning our families, my father effectively protected me and our research from scrutiny because he was nothing but loyal to the Consortium. For me, it was a loveless marriage. Paxton sent me a paycheck every other week, and had given me a beautiful daughter to bring me joy, but he was an agent of the Consortium, stationed in a distant place. I received obligatory letters from him that started with the weather, and ended by asking about our daughter. Notes that ended with “forever yours,” but without the hint of love, without a single ‘I miss you” were all I ever received from him. The arrangement suited me fine, for I had been buried in my work and sent equally impersonal letters back. My one true love was my daughter, and for her, I was thankful.
A small beeping noise from the machine brought my focus back to my own experiment. My latest casing was nearly complete. As I waited for it to cool, I looked around the lab again, distracted for a moment by the volumes of books and journals that surrounded us. My father worked for years on creating a power source that could be contained in a small pillbox. He boasted that his research would make the bulky machines and steam engines found in the Crucible obsolete. He had worked for years and was close to finding the formula when the call came. He left us soon after my wedding to help with Dunsmere, a fantastic scientific research laboratory. My father often mentioned it with awe in his voice as he went on about the facility and its experiments with electricity. Before he left, he gave me a key to his lab and asked that I look out for my mother. We have not seen him since. I continued his research. As his lab assistant, I knew his methods, but I lacked his creativity and therefore moved at a snail’s pace.
But I much preferred my lab at home to the one I worked in during the day. At the University, I worked with a group of scientists under a sanitary bluish light. I replaced my father there too, and was moving forward with greater speed. The Consortium requested that we submit our work to them and gave us new problems to solve. They led our research, and so it was easy for me to work with their parameters and my lab assistants, hopeful students as I had once been, were at least competent. But as always, my heart was here in my lab, with my Aislin beside me. She sneezed which brought a smile to my face as she bumped the machinery and looked up at me with her fly-eyes. “Sorry mama,” she said. I went over to her and wrapped my arms around her slight body.
“It looks fine, dearest,” I smiled, “how are you doing?”
“Nothing new,” she said, “but I think the calib…” her brows furrowed, trying to remember the word, “calibrey got messed up again.”
“Calibration,” I smiled. Looking at the machine, I noticed that she was right. Her knee had hit one of the dials. “Can you turn that dial to four and a half for me?” She smiled and tuned the machine. I kissed her on the cheek and went back to my table when the bell rang.
“Mrs. Maitland?” the voice of our butler floated down the speaker system that my father had created. Very useful for late nights in the lab, “Mr. Maitland has arrived home and is here to see you.” My heart instinctively fluttered then dropped. I had not seen my husband since the Parade-day the prior year. My daughter looked at me in surprise, “Daddy’s home?” she asked, jumping out of her chair and dumping her report, so meticulously written, on the ground. With all the excitement a six year old girl can muster, she jumped up and clung to me, “can I go see him? Please?” I smiled, for as cold as Mr. Maitland had been to me, he had nothing but love for Aislin. I respected him for that. His letters to her were filled of love, and she adored him. “Of course, my darling,” I told her. Before I could remove the goggles from her eyes, she pulled them down like a necklace around her chin, the imprint of the leather stretched across her face. Blowing a kiss to me, she stumbled over her apron as she scrambled up the stairs. I smiled at her excitement.
I turned to face my machines. Excitement was lost to me as I cleaned up the lab. I put our journals back where they belonged and turned off the equipment. I had the second thought to look in the dusty mirror. My own graying brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun behind my head. My lab coat and apron were spattered with chemicals and dirt. Removing them revealed my work clothes- tightly laced boots around a pair of men’s britches and a blouse that went up to my chin. I took off my shirt and put my more feminine dress on over my pants. I washed my hands and face, applied some powder, and ascended to the upper level of the house. What I saw was chaos. Not only was my husband home, but there was a group of agents I didn’t recognize standing in our kitchen. They glared at me as I locked the door to the lab and I clutched my keys as I passed them. I saw my mother in the hallway, she looked nervous.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Be careful,” she whispered, “I don’t think that this is a social call.” She had a fear of the Consortium ever since they had taken my father away. I reassured her, as I did when I went to the University and picked up researching. “If anything happens, take Aislin and go to my brother’s house. He’s said before that he will care for us.” My brother was a man of society, and when we lost our father and my husband, he didn’t understand why we would want to stay in this house alone. I had lost contact with him, but my mother and daughter have seen his family often while I was at school. She nodded, “don’t let them have the research,” she whispered, “that’s one thing your father always forbid.” I had not seen the haunted look in my mother’s eyes for a long time. Fear descended upon me like a cold front at her words.
More agents occupied our living room and I felt terrible for not hearing the tell tale signs of their boots and sending my daughter up first. Although, I thought, she has no reason to fear. I found Mr. Maitland in our study, with Aislin on his knee. Her goggles and apron had been abandoned at the door and she chattered away with her father about life. She clutched a new stuffed bear to her chest as she talked. I allowed myself a smile, this is what life should look like, I thought. But with the presence of the troops, I was still tense.
“Mr. Maitland,” I spoke from the doorway, “to what do we owe the pleasure of your presence?”
“Evelyn,” he looked at me, “you don’t look a day older then when I last saw you, how are you?”
He carefully placed Aislin on the floor and came over to me. He wrapped me in his arms and gave me a kiss. Aislin watched, grinning. “Mama and I need to talk, sweetheart,” his voice turned to sugar around her. She smiled and kissed him. She ran out of the room and into her grandmother’s arms. I shared a significant glance with my mother and turned to my husband, who had pulled away from me to shut the door. His stance turned cold with our daughter out of the room. His soft brown eyes had grown hard. He held himself as a soldier standing at attention as he tensely walked across the room and sat in a chair. Sipping a glass of brandy, he observed me. Finally, he brushed his hand through his thick brown hair and stood. His black uniform fit his muscled body perfectly. A body I had only known once. I dared think of how many women he had known since. At his side, the silver baton shone strikingly throughout the yellow glow of the room. He strode across the floor to me, the sound of his boots ringing out on the hard wood floor.
“Mrs. Maitland,” he started, “how loyal are you to the Consortium?”
“As loyal as my father before me and my daughter after me, I have been nothing but loyal to the Consortium. Paxton,” I dared use his given name. “Why are you here?”
“I come as a Harbinger…”
“I’m your wife, Mr. Maitland, you will address me as such,” my temper flared. “Do not address me as a criminal on the street.”
“Yes, my wife,” he snickered, “and from what intelligence has told me, you’ve been doing unauthorized experiments.”
“All of my experiments at the University are Consortium driven. I have not strayed from those.”
“Yes, but what of the ones here?” he asked. “What have you been up to?”
“Nothing that the consortium would be interested in,” I replied. “I’m teaching our daughter and studying some chemical reactions. There’s nothing that could possibly hurt the Consortium. Paxton, you know me, you know my father. We are not traitors.”
“That’s not for you to decide,” Mr. Maitland’s eyes turned cold and I wondered if my husband had been replaced. What had they done to the man who was just a moment ago laughing with his daughter on his knee? He stood a full head above me, and glared down at me, his piercing gaze just for a moment relaxing.
“Evelyn,” he made an attempt to relax his stance, “they want your lab journals and the lab journals of your father. From tonight forward, the lab under this house is the property of the Consortium.”
“My work and the life-work of my father? Paxton, you know what you ask I cannot give.” I knew that I was in trouble, but my experiments would not end up in the hands of those who would use them for evil.
“Yes, I know,” he sneered, hardened again, “but perhaps there may be more at stake than you realize.” I heard a child’s scream. I ran to the door trying to open it. “Mama!” I heard from the other side, “Papa, they’re hurting me! Help!” Mr. Maitland bound me in his arms. The rough fabric of his uniform burned my arms as I struggled to free myself.
“I am a Harbinger of the Silver Consortium. I have come to collect your documents. If you refuse, you are a traitor to the consortium and those under you will also be investigated.” Aislin’s fearful screams drove me into a panic.
“Aislin!” I yelled back, “Hold on sweetheart!” Tears formed in my eyes as I felt Paxton’s grip tighten around me. “She’s our daughter, Paxton, let her go. Do what you will to me, but you know she is innocent. Let her and my mother go. Please.”
“The documents?” he asked.
“You can take them,” I cried as I heard her scream from beyond the door, “take them and die for all I care. You would turn this against your own family? You were to protect us!”
“And I did, I protected you from your father’s traitorous thoughts by having him sent to the facility, and I protected you from having the same by giving you a daughter. Little did I know that you would be breeding the same treason in her. Her letters are full of the experiments you’re doing. I thought you turned away from that with the research at the University.”
“Paxton, what are they doing to her?” I cried. “How can you do this to your own daughter?”
“Nothing permanent,” he smiled evilly, “but you will produce those documents and give your lab over to us.”
He took my keys from my hand and threw me to the floor. He strode over to the door and opened it. Aislin was standing in the hallway. She was being bound by the men and they were pulling on her hair and one had a knife drawn. When my husband walked over to them, they released my girl, my innocent little girl, and followed him down to the lab. I was still on the ground when Aislin ran over to me. I took her in my arms and wrapped her as tightly as I could into my grasp. We were crying then; Mother for the loss of her husband, research, credibility; daughter for the loss of her father, innocence, protection. My mother watched us from the doorway. “My dears, I warned you to be careful,” she said. “The troops are downstairs, we have to go.”
“Take Aislin to safety,” I said, “I have to stay.”
“You would leave your daughter orphaned?”
“I would if the alternative was as the daughter of a traitor. Mr. Maitland will continue to support her.” I kissed Aislin and dried her cheeks. “You need to be strong now.” Her lower lip quivered and I knew my own face was streaked with tears. I held her tightly to me, noticing the bear and pocket watch still in her small hands.
“You’re going away with daddy?” she asked, “you’re leaving me?” Her eyes looked up at me, huge and fearful. I took her head and buried it into my chest as I held her. I felt her sobs as I kissed her hair. We clung to each other in desperation. Is this how my mother felt when she had to watch her husband go? I looked at her again in the doorway. Her face ashen, but not a tear fell down her cheeks.
“I don’t want to leave you; if I can I’ll follow you. But those men are downstairs, and they will be back to hurt us if we stay.” I pulled her back, and brushed back her hair. She wanted to collapse into me again, and I knew I wanted to hold onto her as long as possible, but I peeled her little arms from around my waist.
“They scare me, mama,” she quivered. Her hands now went to her face, trying to brush off tears.
“I know sweetheart,” I was shaking, as I stroked her hair back, “they scare me too.”
“Mama,” she cried, “why can’t I come with you?”
“Oh sweetie,” I cried, “it’s too dangerous. Gramama will protect you and Uncle Alistair will protect you for me. You know your cousins. You’ll be fine. I’ll write you if I can.”
A pair of boots clicked down the hallway and Paxton was in the room. I stood and Aislin ran around me. “Let her go.” I demanded, tears flowing down my cheeks, “Paxton, please, let our daughter live.”
He walked over to her and knelt down. She clung to me, fearful. “Go to Gram,” he told her, as gently as he could.
“No,” she said, “mama…”
“Go sweetie,” I gently peeled her off of me and sent her into my mother’s arms. I cried as they left the room. With my daughter gone, my heart broke. Under Paxton’s icy glare, I let out a desperate wail. I crumpled onto the floor shaking as my wretched sobs sent shock waves through my body. I rocked back and forth in the throes of my sorrow, of my hatred, and I mourned as Paxton turned his heels and went back to the lab, leaving me to my grief.
I heard smashing. They were destroying it. My life, my father’s legacy. I knew then what I had to do. Before my father left, he gave me one item to protect myself. It was an explosive mix of chemicals. Break the vials and it would create fire. If the men were destroying things, it could be construed as an accident. I pulled myself off of the floor and opened a locket around my neck where two tiny vials rested safe inside the casing. I then supported myself. None of the agents in the hallways stopped me, only watched with their calculating eyes, their slicked back hair. Some of them had contraptions on their arms and hands, others had menacing prosthetic limbs. I saw flashes of silver everywhere from their badges to their signature batons. I hated them all.
Like one possessed, I found my way to the lab door. Paxton was not here. He was not in the destruction. I saw my daughter’s tattered lab journal on the floor. They were ransacking the place. Hallowed books were torn apart, Journals and charts thrown into a big black bag on the floor. No one saw me, no one cared. I watched as a particularly fragile glass tube, of my father’s fashioning, broke and I threw my open locket down the stairs. The vials broke, and with all the paper strewn about the room, fire spread almost immediately. It consumed the journals, the books, and as it reached our chemical cabinets, turned bright green and purple. I joined the small mob of people moving out of the house, fleeing the noxious gasses and flames. Paxton was yelling at them for being careless and I knew blame had shifted. But he saw me before I could get out. Once again in his custody, this time, he did not leave me go.
“You will join your father; your presence is required at Dunsmere.”
“Will I be with you, my loving husband?” I asked.
“I am no more your husband than you are my loving wife. Next time we meet, I will be your guard, and you my prisoner.” He threw me into a carriage and sent me away.
I cried all the way to Dunsmere. I was greeted by a screaming wail of machinery and thick smog as we entered the Dunsmere Research and Containment Facility. The stories of a fantastic scientific laboratory so often spread through the University didn’t do justice to the huge mechanical beast in front of me. I was taken first to my quarters, a meager cell of a room surrounded by other female scientists, and then to my work room. When the doors opened to the research lab, my eyes were accosted by a bright blue light. The only other figure in the room was a balding old man. His hair had turned white. His face was filled with lines of age and worry. When he looked at me, his clear blue eyes shone with intelligence, but also of a deep sadness. Our eyes locked and I knew him. I brushed off the guard and ran to my father. He recognized me and his face turned to horror. As I hugged him, I whispered, “the lab burned. Whatever secrets you had down there are safe.”
“But at what cost?” He whispered back. His voice was horse and weak, as if he had not used it in years. He looked at me, and I could tell my eyes looked just as haunted as my mother’s that moment at our house. Without a word from me, he nodded in understanding. “At such great cost.”
“Tell me it was worth it, father.” I whispered frantically, knowing we were under supervision. “Tell me I did not destroy everything and leave her in vain.”
He turned away to go back to the lab bench, “that lab held secrets, many hidden from your eyes. There were experiments and data that could prove to be dangerous and powerful in the wrong hands.”
“But were they worth the sacrifice?” I asked, desperate to know what I had done was right. Looking for the reassurance my father always gave me, searching for the love we shared back home. All of my emotion was spent on my journey, and my hurt had faded into a dull pain in my stomach.
“That’s what I’ve been asking myself these long years away from you, my child.” His face fell back into the distant look he had as I walked into the room. “That is what we all ask.”
“Back to work!” an authoritative voice boomed from above. We fell to working in silence, convincing ourselves that we still had people to protect; it was the only way we could live as the machines whistled and screamed out for our sorrow.