==Chapter 1: Tesla==
"The egg of science is laid in the nest of solitude."
– Nikola Tesla
"So!" The Doctor shot his Companions a manic grin, merrily flipping switches as they lurched onwards through the Vortex. "We've been to the past, we've been to the future... Now what do you boys wanna see?"
Watson pursed his lips as he considered. "Well, in that case, what about somewhere more contemporary? Unless..." His brow furrowed as a sudden thought struck him: "How much risk is there in travelling within our own personal timelines, Doctor?"
"Well, quite a lot of risk if you're in the same area as your past or future self," the Doctor explained, still moving around the console. "You could rip a big enough hole in the fabric of Reality to let the Reapers in, and believe me, you don't ever want to see that lot. But..." He held up a finger. "But... if you go somewhere where you know you weren't at the time, or probably wouldn't be in the future... tha's pretty safe."
Watson decided that, on this occasion, he was better off not knowing who the Reapers were – he'd had enough of hostile aliens for one week, thank you – and nodded at Holmes. "What say you, old fellow? It must be your turn to choose this time, anyhow."
Holmes hummed thoughtfully. "I must confess, there is a certain one of our scientific colleagues whose work has intrigued me for some time. Watson, do you remember all the fuss two years back over the World Exposition in Chicago?"
"Not very well." Watson frowned as he cast his mind back. The tail end of '93... "I do recall reading something of it in the papers, but..." The doctor fell silent as he remembered why he hadn't paid much attention to foreign affairs – he and his wife had been rather preoccupied with more domestic matters... Mary had been how many months pregnant...? Watson looked awkwardly down at the floor, trying to resist the sudden, powerful impulse to ask for what he was certain the Doctor would not allow, then forced himself to look up again and meet the concerned gazes of his companions. "You'd like to go there?" he asked as lightly as he could manage.
To his relief, Holmes merely gave him a faint smile of sympathy before responding, "No, but the man I was referring to was largely responsible for the success of the event: Nikola Tesla. He's a physicist and inventor, considered quite the genius in his own fields of study – although he does have a somewhat... eccentric reputation."
Watson couldn't quite suppress a grin at what sounded like an extremely apt description of Holmes. He glanced curiously over at the Doctor, wondering if the Time Lord had ever met this Tesla fellow.
"Oh, I like eccentric geniuses – and I like Tesla, even if I haven't gotten around to meeting him yet," the Doctor smiled. "So, Holmes, you want to meet him. Prefer a specific time?"
Holmes closed his eyes a moment. "Well, last March Watson and I were both away up in Scotland, resolving a diplomatic issue for the Earl of Lansbury."
"Yes..." Watson shivered at the memory, "and a colder Spring I don't recall. That's what you get for wishing your friend would be given an interesting case for his birthday!" Although 'harrowing' might have been a better term...
Holmes smirked. "And Mycroft came through in fine style. The point I am trying to make, however, is that the affair never made the papers, so if we should meet anyone who knows who we are in America..."
The Doctor beamed. "March, 1895 – brilliant! Bundle up, then!" as he bent to the controls once more. "Can't imagine the States will be much warmer than Britain at that time of year..."
Holmes and Watson exchanged rueful grins, both reaching for their coats before taking hold of the railing.
The first thing that struck Holmes as they stepped outside was the cold – true to the Doctor's predictions, New York State was just as frigid as Scotland had been – but the temperature was forgotten next instant as the distant roar of thundering water filled his ears, a sound he hadn't heard in four long years...
...Moriarty's enraged snarl as he tightened his grip on the detective's neck... the scream of terror when the Professor's foot came down on empty air... Watson shouting Holmes' name over and over, voice filling with anguish as his frantic calls received no answer...
"Ah, Niagara!" Holmes was profoundly thankful when Doctor's delighted voice broke in on his thoughts. "Bustling place in the 25th century – got a city built across and... around..." then trailed off, obviously just realising why both of his Companions had remained silent. "Sorry. Didn't mean to babble."
Holmes shook himself, then turned to Watson and gently nudged the pallid, frozen doctor's arm with his elbow. He felt a sharp pang of remorse as Watson abruptly came back to the present, looking deeply shaken. Holmes laid a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder, letting his expression convey his heartfelt apology – after two years, he still hadn't managed to find the right words... A ghost of a smile was Watson's only response.
Holmes cleared his throat awkwardly and turned to the Doctor. "Shall we?" He nodded towards the power station a few hundred yards to the west along the northern lake shore.
"Ah, right, yes." The Doctor strode ahead, giving Watson an apologetic glance of his own as he passed. "This'll be brilliant. The first large-scale, AC electric generating plant in the world. Exciting stuff happening in science right now for you lot..."
Holmes nodded, trying not to grin too widely in his excitement, but his eyes gleaming with enthusiasm. Strange it was, yet also heartening, that having seen where all these early advances in technology would eventually lead hadn't jaded him in the least; in fact, that knowledge was only increasing his satisfaction at having the chance to watch a fellow human realise their vision of a brighter future.
The power station was impressive. Early technological advances had always fascinated the Doctor, no matter the race—it was just thrilling to watch it happen. They entered the building to find the generator still under construction, an enormous, squat metal drum on a pedestal with a scaffold like a bridge running over it. Yup, definitely impressive stuff.
And no less impressive was the fair-haired, powerfully built man overseeing the construction, none other than George Westinghouse. Inventor, pioneer in the electrical industry, and rival of Thomas Edison's.
Westinghouse turned as they entered, and approached them with a powerful, springy stride. "Good afternoon, gentlemen," he said pleasantly. "I don't believe we've met." He extended a hand to the Doctor, smiling. "George Westinghouse, at your service."
The Doctor smiled back, liking the man already, and shook his hand. "Hello, pleasure to meet you, Mr. Westinghouse. I'm Dr. John Smith, and these are my associates." He nodded at his Companions.
"The pleasure is mine, Dr. Smith." Westinghouse proceeded to shake hands with Holmes and Watson, thankfully not recognising them at all. "Are you here to see the new generator? It's still under construction, I'm afraid, but you're welcome to come back for the test on Thursday."
"We would be honoured, sir," said Holmes, eyes bright. "Your associate, Mr. Nikola Tesla, is also participating in this endeavour, is he not?"
Westinghouse nodded, his smile now a bit strained. "Indeed, sir." He studied them in open curiosity—Tesla might be the genius of this outfit, but Westinghouse was a damned good inventor in his own right and he possessed all the inquisitiveness that came with the territory. "Are you friends of his?"
The Doctor opened his mouth, but Watson spoke first. "We are not, but we've come a long way to meet him."
"We were hoping to see him in action," the Doctor added. "Is everything all right?" Knowing the tendency of all three of them to attract trouble... probably not.
Westinghouse frowned beneath his walrus moustache, clearly concerned. "I wish I knew... the poor fellow's been terribly depressed ever since his New York lab was destroyed in that fire last month—not that I blame him. That was almost his entire life's work gone up in smoke! If," he said grimly, "I ever find out that that was more than just an accident..."
Holmes's ears pricked up, but he held his peace.
"That's the main reason I invited him to come across state," Westinghouse continued. "I'd hoped that helping to oversee proceedings here might help to take his mind off his losses—which it seemed to, for a while... but now..." He shook his head. "I mean, I'm used to him working all hours of the day and night—once the man gets a bee in his bonnet, there's no holding him until he either finishes or collapses from forgetting to eat or sleep! But even when he's in the grip of a project, one can usually still approach him. He's been shut up in his new workshop for the last three days now—won't open the door to anyone, not even me!"
Both doctors frowned. "It certainly does not sound healthy," said Watson.
"Not healthy at all," said the Doctor. To Westinghouse: "Would you mind if I tried to see him? I've got something of a talent for getting around barriers."
Westinghouse hesitated—not only was he concerned about his star scientist, he was also protective. "Well, you can try," he said after a moment. "He won't thank you for breaking his door down, though, and I doubt you'll get in any other way." He shrugged in resignation, his expression lightening. "Oh well, if you must... let me know if he needs anything, won't you? We can finish the generator without him if it comes to that—I just don't want the stubborn idiot risking his health, whatever he's working on."
The Doctor nodded in sympathy—it was never easy to watch a friend work himself into the ground. (Of course, he was usually that friend, but that was beside the point.) "Don't worry, Mr. Westinghouse—I'm sure everything will be all right." He looked around, squinting, realising that he'd been about to walk off without knowing where to go. "Mind pointing us in the right direction?"
Westinghouse pointed north. "Just up on 12th Street there—you can't miss it."
Two minutes' brisk walk brought them to the front door of what must have once been some kind of storehouse. Holmes could hear various odd noises sounding faintly from within: rhythmic tapping, bangs and clatters, mostly of a metallic nature.
The Doctor rapped lightly on the door. "Mr. Tesla? Hallooo! Mr. Tesla, my friends and I have come a long way to meet you!" There was no response, the tinkering noises continuing unabated – although a few moments later there was a slightly louder clatter, followed by a mercifully indistinct epithet, delivered in an unmistakeably Austrian accent.
Holmes frowned. "Well, he's definitely in, and still upright, from the sound of things."
"And sounding like you in the midst of an experiment, Holmes, barring the accent," Watson murmured.
Holmes pointedly ignored the less-than-subtle dig, and turned to the Doctor, nodding invitingly. "The floor is yours, Doctor – or the door, I should say."
The Doctor smirked and nodded back, retrieving the sonic. The door's lock soon released with a click, and the three Companions entered the building, looking around with interest. "Niiice," the Doctor said quietly, a smile creeping over his face. "Mind you, I don't often enter Victorian science labs, so this is a treat."
Holmes was equally taken by their surroundings. The long space was divided in half, and this room's walls were crowded with shelves; these in turn were filled with a wide array of tools, components and odd bits of machinery. A handful of completed machines stood around the room, whose function the detective could only guess at. Nikola Tesla had arrived less than a month ago, and already it looked as if he'd been here a year – the man's drive and industry were most impressive.
Tesla himself was bent over a workbench in the centre of the room, apparently oblivious to their entrance. Holmes couldn't tell much about the man's appearance from here – only that he was thin as a rake, with an unusually high forehead beneath his uncombed black hair, and wearing clothes that obviously had not been changed for several days.
The Doctor returned the sonic to his pocket and withdrew the psychic paper instead, strolling slowly towards the scientist. "Hullo? Mr. Tesla?"
Nikola Tesla's head snapped up, staring at the new arrivals. "What in the world...?" He reached up and removed what appeared to be a jeweller's glass from his right eye, looking extremely annoyed at the intrusion. "Who the devil are you three? How did you get in?" The voice was strangely high pitched, Holmes noted curiously, almost a falsetto. Not waiting for a response, Tesla advanced imperiously on the trio, making shooing motions with his hands. "How dare you come barging in here! This is private property – take yourselves off this instant!"
The Doctor held his ground, grinning slightly; behind him, Watson took a step back, then stopped, looking faintly amused. Holmes didn't need to be a detective to understand why – and he was still feeling rather annoyed that Watson could think there was any discernible resemblance between him and Tesla... "Mr. Tesla, please!" the Doctor said soothingly. "We're... here on business!" He held up the psychic paper.
Holmes wondered briefly if the paper would show Tesla anything at all, since it had appeared blank to Shakespeare – but no, the physicist was actually reading it. "The Bryant Electric Company?" Tesla blew air through his nose, looking only slightly less put out. "If you're looking for Mr. Westinghouse, you'll probably find him at the power station." He nodded in the direction of the falls. "Now, if you'll forgive me, sirs, I must insist you depart. I have a most critical project underway, which requires my undivided attention." Tesla turned abruptly without another word, and strode back to his workbench.
The Doctor opened his mouth but Watson got there before him. "We already saw Mr. Westinghouse – he told us where to find you."
The Time Lord came forward, hands in his pockets. "This doesn't look like equipment for a power station generator, Mr. Tesla." He bent down to inspect a piece of machinery on a shelf, his eyes gleaming with their usual curiosity, but Holmes saw with a sinking feeling that there was a large amount of disquiet in there as well...
Tesla waved a hand dismissively. "I never said it was..." then the deep-set eyes narrowed. "And what business is that of yours, may I ask?" He shot the three a piercing glare. "What do you want? If your employer is hoping to secure my services, he'll have to wait; I simply haven't the time to take on any more new commissions at present." His eyes flickered for an instant towards the dividing door standing slightly ajar at the far end of the room.
Ah... Holmes caught the Doctor's eye, casting a swift glance of his own at the back room, then turned as if to leave. 'Unfortunately', his elbow collided with a jar full of washers on the shelf beside him, knocking it to the floor; the glass smashed on the wooden boards and tiny metal rings went rolling in every direction. Holmes dropped to his hands and knees to try to gather them, stammering out an apology, his expression one of profound embarassment; out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Doctor silently slipping through the door.
Tesla's face was equally red, moustache almost bristling as he picked up an odd-looking apparatus from the workbench, striding over impatiently. "One side," he said curtly, then flipped a switch on the device and began sweeping it over the floor. Within very few seconds, most of the washers were clinging to the metal case of what must be a compact electromagnet – such an ingeniously simple solution. "If you gentlemen have quite finished wasting my time," voice acidly polite, "perhaps you will be so good as to see yourselves out?"
Watson caught himself gazing at the magnet in fascination and turned his attention to placating their bristling host. "We are terribly sorry, sir." The doctor stepped back to give Tesla room to work, shooting Holmes a questioning look.
Holmes nodded over at the door through which the Doctor had disappeared, arching an eyebrow in the unspoken message: 'Stand by for fireworks...'
Sure enough, Tesla finished cleaning up a moment later and glanced around the room, most likely looking for a broom for the broken glass, then paled when he realised that the Doctor was missing. Still unconsciously holding the washer-covered magnet, the physicist rushed across the room, Holmes and Watson close behind, bursting through the door with a shout of anger: "Hi, you! What the devil do you think you're doing?!"
Author's note from Ria: Indeed, what is the Doctor up to... and why is Tesla so anxious to see the back of the Companions in the first place? Stay tuned!