“Clear the chamber!” Boris shouted, and again in Russian. “Now!”
Two more crashes came from the boiler and a gout of flame burst from the side opposite the door.
“All clear, Boria. But Larisa and the others – they’re still in the office!”
Boris swore harshly in Russian. “I’ll get them, Sasha.”
Sasha glanced at the boiler. “Boria, the boiler!”
“Then clear out!” Boria shouted. He turned on his heel and dashed up the stairs toward the office.
After an anguished moment of indecision, Sasha followed.
The door to the office was closed and didn’t budge when Boria tried the handle. Muffled screams came from inside and someone pounded on the other side.
“Where are the keys?” Boria demanded over this shoulder.
“Mr. Benks has them. No one knows where he went.”
“Back up,” Boria murmured to Sasha.
“Back up,” he grated, stepped forward almost against Sasha. Sasha stepped back quickly. Boria turned, set his shoulder, and exhaled.
Boria surged forward and hit the door. The frame squeaked, but the door didn’t budge. He set himself again and hit the door twice more. On the fourth try, he grunted and heaved. The door jam shattered with a splinter of wood. Boria grasped the door handle with one large hand and yanked.
“Boris Petrovich!” Larisa shouted.
“We must run, Larisa Mikhailovna,” Boria told her, taking her arm. “How many are here?”
“There are six of us. But Mrs. Daytona is ill.”
Boria looked grim and glanced back at the boiler, now glowing a livid crimson. “Sasha,” he started.
“I’ll get her,” Sasha offered. “You lead them out.”
“What happened?” Larisa quavered.
“Mr. Benks’ machine malfunctioned,” Boria told her, not quite meeting her eyes. “Larisa Mikhailovna, we must go now.”
Larisa nodded, and looked back at her office mates. They all followed Boria down the stairs. A dull gong sounded from the boiler and one of them squeaked.
Boria stopped and eyed the boiler. “Larisa Mikhailovna. Run.”
Larisa glanced at him, startled, and then nodded. She ran on fleet feet toward the exit, the others close behind her.
Sasha struggled through the door at the top of the stairs, Mrs. Daytona held in his arms. He paused on the landing and met Boria’s gaze.
Boria would always remember him like that.
Four screws exploded from the boiler with sharp, high-pitched whines. A panel high on the boiler burst away from the main housing and bright flames shot out, licking the ceiling. A pole from the top of the housing came loose with a twang and swept forward. It hit Sasha across the head. Mrs. Daytona screamed and fell down the stairs as Sasha’s body paused, horribly backlit by flames, and flew out in a long arc to land on the floor not ten feet from where Boria stood.
Boria sprang forward and blocked Mrs. Daytona’s fall with his own body. She came to rest against him, sobbing. “Oh, Mr. Petrovich!” she wailed. “Mr. Petrovich!”
“Come, Mrs. Daytona. We must –”
The secondary cooler for the boiler exploded, the sound deafening. Boria covered Mrs. Daytona’s head with his hand. He hefted the woman in his arms and ran for the door. The fire spread to the main boiler and it groaned like a pregnant cow.
“Boria!” Larisa screamed, standing in the doorway.
“Get out of the way!” Boria shouted. “Go, you fool! Run!”
He sprinted toward her as the boiler disintegrated in a cloud of burst metal and twisted steel. Boria staggered, something thudding into his back, then continued forward. Larisa shouted something but he couldn’t hear.
He cleared the door and kept going. Larisa grabbed his arm and ran with them, angling toward the building across the street. Red and yellow flame burst through the door behind them as the fire consumed the warehouse.
“Boris Petrovich!” a voice cried. “Where is Aleksander Semyonovich?”
Boria stumbled and knelt, laying Mrs. Daytona on the ground by the wall. He turned to see the Foreman, Mr. Simmons, staring at him in shock. “Sasha didn’t make it,” Boria told him heavily.
“Your back…” Mr. Simmons whispered.
Boria started to turn his head, to tell her everything was okay, but he felt himself collapse sideways, narrowly missing Mrs. Daytona’s shoulder. He came to rest on the ground, his cheek pressing into some gravel.
“Boria!” Larisa cried wildly. She knelt by his head and pulled her into his lap, tears on her face. “Please!”
“Larisa Mikhailovna, you should not,” Boria whispered, pain starting dully in his back. “It is not proper…”
“You were going to send the Baba, right?” Larisa snapped. “You plan to die before she brings you back my answer?”
“How did you know?” Boria gasped.
Larisa frowned. “My father wrote me; the letter arrived this morning.”
Boria coughed, dizziness starting somewhere near his solar plexus. “And?”
Larisa laughed through her tears. “Is now the time?”
Boria met her gaze, trying for sternness. “What would your father think?”
“My father gave me his blessing, Boris Petrovich, so I consent to be your wife. Now, will you let me see your injury?”
Boria tried to argue, but couldn’t get his voice to work. Mr. Simmons knelt next to him and turned him on his side to see the wound. He hissed.
“It’s clean,” he reported. “It’s deep. We’ll need the surgeon. But he’ll be fine, Miss Mikhailovna.”
Larisa cried harder, relieved.
“What of the machine?” Boria whispered.
Mr. Simmons grunted. “Mr. Benks will be arrested for defrauding the people of New York, and I have signed papers to take over the factory. His experiments in time travel will be suspended and we will start operations on a new factory as soon as possible.”
“To do what?” Larisa demanded.
“Electricity, Miss Mikhailovna. The future of New York!”
Larisa was no longer listening. Boria had captured her hand and the two stared deeply into each other’s eyes, clearly in love. Mr. Simmons went to fetch the surgeon while Mrs. Daytona looked on, beaming.