October 24th, 1888, Hartdegan Residence, Whitechapel, London
Alice and Tesla were again convened in the back parlor one evening, though the room had grown somewhat less sparse. The center of the floor now contained a pile of materials that had been growing over the past few days.
The notes and schematics not affixed to the mirror sat largely ignored on the desk. Alice sat back in her chair as Tesla emphatically related to her a tale of his time in New York.
“And Edison said, ‘When you become a full-fledged American, you will appreciate an American joke.’”
Alice shook her head in disbelief. “So you did all that work for nothing.”
“Essentially, yes,” Tesla replied. “And it seems I still have yet to grasp this American humor.”
“You could always just stay in England,” Alice offered with a smile.
“Unfortunately, there is still work to done overseas,” he said, running a hand over his hair.
“Pity,” Alice remarked.
Tesla nodded absently. After a moment, he turned back to her. “What do you intend to do with the time machine, once we have built it?”
Alice shrugged. “I hadn’t really thought that far, honestly. I guess I could explore other times, see how people live in the past or the future.”
“You are likely one of the few people who would not use it to alter the course of history to suit their own ends,” Tesla said with a raised eyebrow.
“I’m not sure you could change history, even if you wanted to,” Alice replied. “Imagine that you travel back in time, to change some event. You would essentially create an alternate timeline in which you wouldn’t have to go back, and therefore you wouldn’t, so the event would never be changed. You could rip apart the very fabric of space and time.”
“And that would be decidedly bad, yes?” Tesla asked rhetorically.
Alice smiled. “Decidedly.”
Tesla glanced out the window at the dying light. “I had best return to my hotel, before the hour gets too late.”
Alice nodded. “I’ll walk you out.” She followed him to the front door and leaning against the doorframe as Tesla stepped out onto the front steps. The sky was already dark, and the streetlamps cast pale cones of light onto the sidewalks.
“Have a good night,” Tesla said, turning back to her.
“Good night, Nikola,” she replied, closing and locking the door as he headed down the front walk.
Tesla turned and headed down the street, heading west. Some night creature shifted in an alleyway. Tesla turned and squinted apprehensively into the darkness. He stood up straighter, daring any nocturnal beast to attack him.
Another noise rattled in the shadows behind him. Tesla shook his head, to dispel any worrisome thoughts. No sense making a mountain out of a molehill. He stopped at the sound of what was decidedly a footfall, followed by another. Be it mountain or molehill, it was moving, and at an alarming rate. Tesla turned to face his attacker, but saw only a blur of pale skin and flickering eyes, as something sharp cut into his shoulder, before his perception faded to darkness.
He awoke sometime later to a woman’s frantic shouting. He cautiously opened his eyes, to see Alice kneeling over him with a panicked expression.
“Nikola! Can you hear me?”
He blinked a few times. “Yes,” he responded drowsily, trying to take in his surroundings.
He was lying on the darkened sidewalk between the dim circles of lamplight. He lifted his head and tried to sit up, but stopped with a short cry of pain.
Alice gently placed her left hand on his chest. “You should lie still; you’re losing a lot of blood.”
“I… what?” he asked sluggishly, rolling his head to the left, following Alice’s right arm down to where her hand was occupied holding a cloth against his shoulder. Blood oozed through the shreds in his jacket and shirt, pooling on the ground beneath him, and already soaking through the cloth in Alice’s hand and seeping up between her fingers.
“Govno,” he groaned as his eyes drifted closed.
“No, no, stay with me,” Alice begged, but went unheard.
When Tesla next awoke, he was lying on a bed. He squinted at the bright interior lights and turned to examine his shoulder. He found it wrapped, from the base of his neck to halfway down his upper arm, in white gauze, though sporadic spots of blood marred the pristine cloth. Turning his head to the right, he saw Alice speaking in hushed tones with a weary-looking man in his early fifties.
After a moment, Alice glanced in Tesla’s direction. “You’re awake,” she said softly. She approached with the older man beside her.
“How are you feeling?” the man asked, leaning over Tesla. His right eye was a sparkling green, while the left was steel grey.
“I’ve been better,” Tesla replied slowly.
“You’re lucky to be alive,” the man continued. “It would appear you are the Ripper’s sole surviving victim.”
Tesla furrowed his brow. “I thought he only attacked prostitutes.”
The man nodded. “Unless, it seems, he perceived you as a threat.” He paused. “Where are my manners? I am Dr. Henry Jekyll. Alice had you brought to me after the attack.”
Tesla looked around the room. “Where am I?”
“Welcome to the London Royal Hospital,” Jekyll replied.
Tesla’s eyes continued to scan his surroundings. It was a large room, with the single bed in the center. A heavy wooden desk sat against the wall to his left, beside the door. The walls to his right and in front of his were lined will high work tables, which were littered with vials and equipment.
“This does not look like a hospital,” Tesla remarked.
“Ah, well, that’s because we’re down in the basement, in my personal… well, laboratory, I suppose. This is where I work on my experiments and more… special cases,” Jekyll explained.
“Which am I? An experiment or a special case?” Tesla inquired.
“A bit of both. You’ll see, when the bandages come off.”
Tesla’s eyes widened. “What will I see? What did you do to me?”
“Relax,” Jekyll said calmly. “All I did was save your life. And the use of your left arm.”
Tesla eyed the thick bandages on his shoulder suspiciously. “Like hell you did. You used me for some kind of experiment!”
Alice attempted to placate him. “Nikola, please…”
Jekyll sighed. “Your clavicle was broken, and your shoulder was dislocated. I merely repaired them in the best way I know how.”
“Which is what, exactly?” Tesla demanded.
“A little steel, a little brass, a few bolts and rivets,” Jekyll replied calmly. “Don’t worry, it’s all perfectly safe. You perform experiments all the time, Mr. Tesla.”
“But I never bolted anything to anyone!” He sat up as best he could, holding his left arm against his side with a grimace. His right hand attempted to unwrap the bandages with sluggish fingers.
Jekyll took hold of Tesla’s right forearm and pried his hand away from its task. “You need to calm down. All you’ll succeed in doing is injuring yourself further.”
Alice hurried around the bed so that she stood opposite Jekyll. “Nikola,” she began softly, “just lay back down. Everything is going to be fine.”
“Easy for you to say,” Tesla replied, wrenching his arm away from Jekyll, who made a move to seize it once more. Tesla threw his elbow back, striking Jekyll in the nose. As Jekyll stumbled back, blood running from his nose, Alice reached for a bottle on the side table.
“I’d rather not do this,” she said, holding out a cloth that emanated the sweet antiseptic smell of chloroform.
Tesla gently took hold of her wrist, preventing her from moving any closer. “Then don’t,” he said calmly, lying back down.
Jekyll turned back to the bed, holding his bleeding nose with one hand. “Oh, thank you,” he said, taking the cloth from Alice’s hand.
“No, wait that’s—“ Alice began as Jekyll held the cloth to his nose. “Chloroform,” she finished, as he hit the floor.
Tesla let out a laugh, which gave way to a pained groan. He squinted his eyes shut and pressed his head back into the pillow. When he looked back up at Alice, he was met with concerned steel blue eyes. He followed her gaze to his wounded shoulder.
Tiny blood spots like freckles appeared on the cloth dressing and began to grow, expanding and coalescing into one another. Tesla narrowed his eyes at the offending crimson for a moment. He turned back to Alice with a questioning look.
“What now?” he asked.
Alice tore her eyes from the blood and looked over the bed to where Jekyll remained on the floor. “Henry?” she asked, a nervous quaver in her voice. She walked around the bed and knelt beside him, shaking his shoulder. “Henry, I need your help.” Getting no response, she held the edge of the bed and pulled herself to her feet.
“Will the good doctor not be joining us?” Tesla asked, his eyes half closed.
“No, we’re on our own down here for the time being,” Alice replied. “I’m going to go upstairs for help.”
Tesla grasped her wrist as she turned to leave. “Wait, you should…” He drifted off as his eyes slid closed.
“Oh god,” Alice uttered under her breath. “Nikola?” she called, louder. “Can you…” She resigned midsentence and ran for the door.