Violetta Cantagalli

by Luca

Chapter 3

They were somewhere in the desert, the small group of white single storey buildings a kind of oasis that had power and computers housed within as if a massive data centre had been plucked from a city somewhere and crash landed in the middle of nowhere.

Baragsen led them all into what must have been the main control room, the centre of everything Zachary mused.

"I need to get you all linked up," Baragsen said, and at the same time mad scientists , in white robes resembling doctors, attended to each of them. In fact, Zachary thought, this computer centre was as clean and Spartan as a hospital. "You are quite privaledged." The sheikh continued addressing them as they were ushered to a circle of seats and wires were attached to them.

Although the large room was at a pleasant temperature, Zachary shivered. The small roundals being attached to his body had a tiny metal centre which was cold to the touch. He wasn't certain if the sensations he was feeling were through fear, exposure, or embarrassment. Being almost naked in the presence of Lowerstoff, Touma, Emile, and all the personnel in white cloaks was a wholly new experience. He was comforted only by knowing each of them was in exactly the same position.

Baragsen had described to them how their emotional connection would interplay as a sensory navigation through the multiverse. He didn't understand what that meant, but was all the same committed to playing his part in this attempt to reverse the expanding hole in their reality and seal the breach. It was, they had all agreed, the best shot at stopping the chaos that would otherwise inevitably ensue.

It would be no easy trip, they would be completely exposed. It was perhaps worse for Lowerstoff, because of the clone experiment. Exactly how that would impact they had yet to discover. For the immediate they needed to find their way to the moment on-board the ship in the artic. If they could do that, their mission might prove successful.

Once Zachary woke up, regained consciousness, he was in a passageway which resembled the catacombs of Paris. Except this particular tunnel was wider and paved with cobblestones. Why he had that recollection was odd, but it told him he was in Paris. He had no need to confirm he was alone, no one else had transferred with him. It was damp, dark, and echoed. The tunnel must lead somewhere, but where, and why he was here, were both a mystery. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Zachary remembered everything from before and they were meant to guide each other and find their way to the ship.

He pulled himself up from the hard damp floor of the tunnel, wiped his mouth and took a deep breath. Digging his hand into the pocket of his jacket, he felt something. A solid object, hard and cold, he moved his hand around it, finally pulling it out into the dark. But even in the half-light of the tunnel he held it up revealing a gun. If the weapon should have made him feel secure, it didn't! Quite the contrary, it posed questions, not the least of which was a terrible feeling of insecurity. If he had a weapon in his pocket it was there for a reason and whatever that might be, it was nothing reassuring, not at all.

Footsteps echoed through the tunnel. A click, clack, of someone approaching. Zachary leaned back against the tunnel wall and turned his head to face whoever was walking through the darkness. Maybe it was no one, he thought. The footsteps grew ever louder, the echo beat a contrabass to the rhythm of his heart. Zachary knew that silhouette, the click, clack of stilettos. Violetta Cantagalli strolled through the tunnel like she was prancing along the catwalk of a fashion show.

She was a puzzle, one for which he had difficulty fitting the pieces together. Nothing seemed to sit in place. Violetta was Emile's mother although she was as far removed from the motherly type as you could imagine. That apart, how was it she was also the best friend of his own mother? Her svelte form, those long smooth legs, were very attractive. Then there were the lips, her mouth, accentuated by the way she would smoke, the cigarette held in a long holder, the slight backward tilt of the head. She was a glamourous sex bomb. He could see that from the moment he first laid eyes on her.

Zachary leant heavily against the wall, his right leg bent, his foot resting back on the wall. He was about to speak, but she was quicker. "Zachary, you made it," she said.

He stood up, stepped towards her. "As you can see, I'm here."

"Accompany me." She stepped next to him. "There is someone I want you to meet."

They walked, side by side, through the tunnel, emerging onto an almost equally dark street. The rain had stopped. He realised it was that sound he had heard earlier, the rain hitting the ground. Turning right it was not far before they were under the cover of a porch beyond which glass doors swung open as they strolled together inside.

"This is the Carlton Club," she smiled as she guided him to an empty table in a lounge room off the wide thickly carpeted hall.

He sat down and Violetta sat on one side of the table, her back to the wall. She appeared to survey their surroundings and he did the same. The place was not very busy. A man alone was at another table directly in front of his line of sight and just before the bar. To his left two other tables were occupied, each with a single person. Another man, in a smart suite with shiny black shoes was talking to the server at the bar. There was an odd atmosphere to the place, something a little different, unusual, off, but Zachary couldn't work out what.

Violetta lit a cigarette and balanced it in the long holder that dropped at an angle pointing down. He watched her remove it from her lips and blow a thin trail of smoke into the room.

"Where are we?" he asked her and she turned to look at him.

"I already told you," she replied, "now be a darling and fetch me a martini would you."

Her attention shifted towards the room and he stood back up to walk to the bar. The conversation at the bar ceased and the server moved to greet him.

"Are you a member, sir?" the young man asked him.

"A member?" he repeated.

"Yes, sir. This is a private, members only club."

"Members only," he repeated.

"Yes, sir."

By now he'd had enough of this banter. He actually thought to himself, what the hell, if this is real or not, who cares, I'll just order a drink.

"A martini for Miss Cantagalli and a whisky for myself," he said.

The server frowned.

"Please," Zachary added and smiled.

"You do know this is a gay club?" the server asked him.

"Where exactly are we?" Zachary asked.

The barman gave him an odd stare. "Just off St Martin's Lane, sir."

Zachary frowned.

"St Martin's Lane, London WC2," he added a little sarcastically.

Zachary nodded and the young man turned to make the martini and pour the whisky. So that explains the weird atmosphere and the room occupied by single men sitting alone at the tables. But why, he wondered, had Violetta brought him here and how did he end up here in London?"

It was impossible for him to understand, by rights they should be in Paris. It always started back in Paris. This was new!

When the drinks were on the bar in front of him he told the server,"Put this on Miss Cantagalli's account, thanks."

He picked up the glasses and walked back to join Violetta.

"Why did you bring me here?" he asked her as he sat down. "And how come you are a member of this Carlton Club in the back streets of London?"

She laughed flinging her head back and obtaining one or two glances from the other men in the room.

Sipping her martini, her cigarette glowing in the little glass ashtray, she told him, "I'm not, a member, but that doesn't matter, Christopher is."


Zachary wondered if he only ever reacted to situations that arose, were sprung upon him, or simply happened... because they happened.

"Yes, I want you to meet him. Christopher."

They sat, sipping their drinks. The room returned to it's previous state. The conversation at the bar recommenced. Nothing happened for some time, until someone new entered the lounge and walked to the bar. This man, with combed back blond hair, dressed in a long winter coat and scarf, attracted the same shift in attention from the room as he and Violetta had. Zachary watched as he ordered a drink then turned to look across the lounge directly at them. He strolled over and stood, drink in hand, looking at them both.

"Christopher," Violetta greeted him. "Take a seat won't you." She turned to Zachary. "Christopher is going to take you to the particle accelerator, but I'll let him explain."

She took a long languid draw on her cigarette, blew the smoke out across the table, making not the slightest gesture to avoid anyone with her second hand tobacco cloud. Christopher smiled at Zachary and sat down, placing his drink in front of him on the table. At first he said nothing, it was as if he were taking measure of Zachary, who distinctly felt he was under scrutiny.

"It's not what you might imagine," Christopher began. "The particle accelerator," he added.

Zachary observed and listened.

"It's not like a capsule or anything people usually think of. That's not how it works."

"How what works?" Zachary asked.

"Moving you across dimensions."

Zachary turned to stare at Violetta. "So that's why I'm here."

She didn't answer, merely sipped her martini and blew smoke from her cigarette.

Christopher continued. "You might forget everything, but I have a note which hopefully will take care of that."

"What is this?" Zachary demanded. "Back to the future!"

Christopher smiled, "No, there's no car. There's not even anything to transport you. Like I said, no capsule."

He had finished his drink, so too had Violetta. She gave him a rather sickly smile as she moved to get up.

"Be a good boy," she said, "and Christopher will explain everything."

She rose and strolled out of the room and out of the club. He heard the heavy front door close behind her.

"Let's go," Christopher said. "I have a car parked around the corner."

Zachary followed him out of the club into the alley. They cut through the tunnel which at the opposite end announced the Institute of Chinese Medicine. London was a maze of little streets and alleys full of hidden surprises. How appropriate, he thought, to meet Violetta here.

In no time at all they were sitting side by side in Christopher's white Audi and navigating the traffic along St Martin's Lane. They drove across the city, heading east. It took a little time, but Zachary was unconcerned. He sat back and took in the scenery, just like a tourist. Eventually they reached their destination. The large wrought iron gates swung open and they drove down a slope into the parking lot.

Once inside the building they descended to the sub-basement, along a narrow dimly lit corridor and entered a small room. When the lights came on Zachary could see banks of instruments desks and screens.

"The accelerator!" Christopher announced. "Yes, I know. Not what you might have imagined."

In one corner, highlighted by a blue ultraviolet lamp was a square, one step up off the floor. They walked over together. There seemed to be nothing else than the simple illuminated dias.

"We don't have much time. You simply step up and continue walking," Christopher told him, whilst gently touching his arm. "You'll know what to do when you get there."

"I will?" Zachary had no idea what the guy was talking about. "I step up and walk into a parallel universe. You've got to be kidding!"

A broad grin spread across Christopher's face, his teeth took on the glow that happens when reflected in an ultraviolet light.

"You might forget. Memory loss is common. Either short lived or longer term. But I've covered that."

Christopher moved closer and brought a piece of paper out of his pocket, which he attached to Zachary's jumper with a safety pin.

"You'll see that and the note will remind you what you have to do."

He was illogically caught up in playing out the scene, he had no idea why, or what he was supposed to accomplish. Nevertheless, he stepped up onto the dias. In the silence of the basement, lights blinked on a console. A whir, not unlike a giant fan starting up, began and grew louder quickly.

"Just walk through"

He heard the voice before everything distorted and he found himself unsteady on his feet. Lights flickered on and off and he fell against a steel wall. As he regained his foothold and continued along the corridor he felt a rolling movement. For some unknown reason he couldn't remember anything from before. He staggered on like a drunkard, but as his head cleared he began to realise where he was. On board a ship and the sea was rough. What the hell was he doing here? And then he remembered he had been on this ship, or another very similar, many times before, but never alone. A panic suddenly hit him. Where was Lowerstoff? He started breathing deeply, long slow breaths, and gripped the metal hand rail to steady himself. Which was when he noticed the piece of paper pinned to his chest. He leant back against the riveted steel wall and unpinned the paper. Unfolding it he read the message: You MUST kill Hamilton.

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