The sky was blue and the sun shone down on the cemetery, bringing warmth and life to all the things that grew there. To the grass, the trees and the flowers. To the birds, and the squirrels and the handful of people standing around the open grave. It did not bring warmth or life to the body in the coffin, or to the heart of Myka Bering.
“We commend unto thy hands of mercy, most merciful Father, the soul of this our sister departed,” the priest said.
Myka didn’t know him, nor care to. He was simply the first Anglican priest she’d been able to find who was willing to perform a burial on short notice.
“And we commit her body to the ground, earth to earth,” he continued.
With a detached motion, as if the hand was not really hers, Myka took a handful of earth from the little silver bucket and threw it into the grave. It landed on the coffin, spread out over the few flowers laying on it.
“Ashes to ashes,” the priest said.
Myka threw another handful.
“Dust to dust,” he said.
For a third time, she released earth into her beloved’s grave. Somehow, her eyes were dry. She stepped back giving room for the others to add to the soil on the coffin.
“And we beseech thine infinite goodness to give us grace to live in thy fear and love and to die in thy favor,” the priest said while Pete quickly threw down his handful, looking almost like he was afraid that Helena would jump out of the grave and attack him.
“That when the judgement shall come which thou hast committed to thy well-beloved Son,” the priest continued as Claudia approached.
She stood looking down for a few moments before slowly releasing a large handful onto the coffin. Myka could see tears in her eyes. Seeing that made no difference to her, but a rational and detached part inside her knew that it would mean something to her later.
“Both this our sister and we may be found acceptable in thy sight,” the priest said.
Leena crossed herself as she walked up to the edge of the grave, and she managed to make the act of tossing earth into it look compassionate and caring.
“Grant this, O merciful Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, our only Savior, Mediator, and Advocate,” the priest said.
Artie hesitated before approaching, and for a moment anger flared in Myka’s chest. Wouldn’t he even forgive Helena when she was dead? But then he shook his head, and like the others before him went up and threw some earth into the grave. She saw him mumble something as he did.
“Amen,” the priest finished.
They stood there for a time longer, in silence. According to custom there should have been psalms sung, but none of them knew them or sang all that well.
“I am sorry for your loss,” the priest finally said, breaking the silence.
He looked uncomfortable, as if he could sense that something was going on but didn’t understand what.
“Thank you, Father,” Leena said. “We’ll take it from here.”
He nodded, obviously relieved, and left walking a little more quickly than was entirely proper. Myka didn’t care. She’d managed to get Helena something that at least resembled the sort of funeral she’d have had back in her own country and her own time.
Leena touched Myka’s arm.
“We’ll wait back at the car,” she said. “Take all the time you need.”
“Ok,” Myka said. “I’ll be down in a while.”
Leena nodded, and started walking away. Pete and Artie left with her. Claudia did not.
“Do you mind?” she said. “I… don’t want to leave quite yet.”
Myka took her hand.
“You have as much right to be here as I do,” she said. “You loved her too, in a way, didn’t you?”
“She was like the most awesome big sister ever,” she said.
“Most people just thought she was evil and dangerous,” Myka said.
“She saved my life,” Claudia said. “And she wasn’t evil, just in pain.”
Myka squeezed Claudia’s hand harder. They stood there for a while, together in silence.
“Do you think they did it on purpose?” Claudia said eventually, her voice low and tentative.
Myka shook her head.
“No, I think it was an accident just as they claim,” she said. “As Mrs Frederic said, if the Regents really want to execute someone, they just do it. They don’t play games and try to make it look like a failed escape attempt.”
“I guess,” Claudia said.
She didn’t sound entirely convinced.
“Let’s join the others,” Myka said.
They started walking through the cemetery.
“Myka?” Claudia said after a little while.
“Um, your clothes…?”
Myka was wearing a long dress, with long sleeves and a pronounced waist. It was made from stiff, patterned fabric. On her head was an equally stiff hat, from which a black veil hung in front of her face.
“It’s Victorian funeral garb,” she said.
“I know,” Claudia said. “I looked it up. More specifically, it’s Victorian funeral dress for a widow.”
“Yes,” Myka said. “It is.”
Her tone of voice had more than a little of bitter challenge in it.
Claudia cast her a worried look.
“So,” she said. “That makes you the most awesome sister-in-law ever?”
For some reason, that made something inside Myka’s mind finally snap. Tears started pouring down her face. She cursed and did her best to wipe them away under the veil. Claudia tentatively put an arm around her waist.
“I miss her so much,” Myka said. “I only knew her for a few months, and it feels like half of myself has been torn away.”
“I’m sorry,” Claudia said. “I wish I could make things better.”
Myka turned and hugged her.
“You’re doing pretty good as it is, kid,” she said.
Claudia gently pulled herself free. She looked a bit flushed.
“Um, thanks,” she said.
She started walking again. Sunshine fell in spots through the canopy of leaves, occasionally highlighting her copper hair. Myka followed.
“If there’s anything I can do to help,” Claudia said, “you know you just have to ask, right?”
“I know,” Myka said, knowing that she never would ask.
The remaining three members of the Warehouse 13 team were waiting by the big black SUV, as they’d said they would. They looked up when Myka and Claudia approached. It didn’t look like they’d been talking.
“Hey,” Pete said. “You OK?”
Claudia gave Myka’s hand a last squeeze and let go.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” she said. “Can we leave? This place gives me the creeps.”
“I wasn’t…” Pete said.
Leena stopped him with a hand on his arm.
“Right,” he said after a moment. “Let’s go.”
Myka took the rear passenger-side seat. Claudia hurried in next to her, and Pete took the last rear seat. Artie drove, with Leena in the passenger seat. They drove in silence for some time.
“You know,” Artie said as they turned into the side road leading up to Leena’s, “if you want to take a couple of days off, that’d be all right.”
There was no doubt who he was talking to.
“Thanks,” Myka said. “But I’d rather not. It’d just give me time to think.”
“Ok,” he said. “But if you change your mind just let me know.”
“I will,” she said.
He parked the SUV in front of the house that was home to all of them. That had been home to one more until only a few days ago. Myka stepped out of the car, then stood and looked at the house. She’d been happy here, in her cosy little room.
The cosy little room where she and Helena had spent most of their nights together.
“Leena?” she said.
“Yes?” Leena said.
“Do you think I could change to another room?”
Leena looked confused for a moment, then her expression turned into pained understanding.
“Of course,” she said. “Will the rear room on the ground floor be OK?”
It had stood empty for as long as Myka had been with the Warehouse. She had looked in once or twice, but wasn’t sure if she’d ever actually been inside it.
“Perfect,” she said.
“I’ll get it ready,” Leena said, and hurried inside.
Myka closed her eyes and breathed deeply for a few moments.
“I’ll go sit in the garden,” she said. “I’ll be in later.”
Pete and Claudia nodded, and turned to go inside. Artie waited a fraction of a second more, as if he had something to say, but in the end kept silent.
“Um, guys?” Myka said.
The three of them turned to look at her.
“Thanks for being there today,” she said. “It really means something to me.”
“Hey,” Pete said. “De nada. You’d do it for us.”
“Still,” she said. “Thank you.”
Artie looked uncomfortable. Claudia looked like she was about to start crying.
“See you all in the morning, then,” Myka said.
“In the morning,” Pete said.
He turned and headed for the door.
“Another day,” he said as he entered. “Another artifact.”
Part 1: Meetings
“You wanted to see me?”
Olivia Dunham leaned in through the office door of her boss.
“Agent Dunham,” he said. “Please come in and take a seat.”
Warning bells went off in Olivia’s head. Broyles being polite and formal almost never meant anything good.
“Yes, sir,” she said and did as he asked.
She smiled at him.
“What’s up?” she said.
“Effective this morning, the Fringe team is dissolved,” he said.
Olivia smile vanished.
“Excuse me?” she said.
“The Fringe team is no more,” Broyles said. “Orders from above. Way above.”
“They’re shutting us down?” Olivia said, disbelieving. “Just like that? What about the threats we’re fighting?”
“You will keep fighting them, agent Dunham,” someone said from behind her.
Olivia nearly twisted her neck out of joint from the speed with which she turned around. Behind her, a stern black woman well into her fifties stood. She was wearing a neat business dress and was looking at Olivia over the top of a pair of glasses.
“Olivia,” Broyles said. “This is Mrs Frederic. You and agent Farnsworth have been reassigned to her team.”
“Reassigned?” Olivia said. “Just like that?”
“Just like that,” Broyles said. “I’m sorry, Olivia. There’s nothing I can do about this.”
Olivia stood up.
“What about Walter?” she said. “You can’t send him back to St Claire’s. Not after all he’s done for us.”
“He owns Massive Dynamic,” Broyles said. “Nina Sharp has promised to look out for him, and make sure Peter gets hired as his assistant. They’ll be fine.”
“Oh,” Olivia said. “Right. I guess he’s actually insanely rich, isn’t he?”
Broyles produced an expression somewhere in between a nod and a smile.
“So, me and Astrid?” she said. “Should I call and ask her to come here right now?”
Mrs Frederic picked up a worn old leather briefcase from the table next to her. She opened it and took out a large envelope.
“That will not be necessary, agent Dunham,” she said. “All the information you need is in here.”
She handed the envelope to Olivia.
“I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that what’s in there, as well as everything you do from now on, is very highly classified,” she said. “Specifically, neither agent Broyles nor either of the Bishops are cleared. Is that understood?”
Olivia took the envelope.
“Yes, ma’am,” she said.
“Excellent,” mrs Frederic said. “Good luck, agent Dunham.”
She closed her briefcase and left without further ceremony.
Olivia turned to Broyles.
“What the Hell?” she said.
“Quite,” he agreed.
“Are we just going to accept this?”
“Yes, we are. For now.”
Olivia looked at him.
“When you say this came from way above, exactly how far above are walking about?”
“High enough that I can’t tell you,” he said. “And also high enough that I’m not going to argue.”
“So this is it?” she said.
“I didn’t say that,” Broyles said. “But for the time being, you follow your orders, agent.”
“Yes, sir,” she said.
When she parked outside Walter’s lab she saw a moving truck in front of it. Not just any moving truck, either, but according to the print on its side one that specialized in moving laboratory and high-tech equipment. She couldn’t help wondering if they were prepared to handle milk cows. Given all the things Walter had done to the poor thing, Gene certainly qualified as high-tech equipment.
She walked in, occasionally dodging into doorways or random nooks as movers carrying or rolling lab stuff passed her by. Judging from the activity in the corridor, they seemed to be working fast. She ducked inside the lab doors just behind four guys manhandling Walter’s electron microscope.
Astrid’s voice sounded more than a little bit desperate.
“What is going on?” her assistant said once she reached Olivia. “Nina called and Walter and Peter left, and then these people show up and start moving all Walter’s things to Massive Dynamic!”
The room was almost empty. Olivia hadn’t really noticed how big it was, while it was all full of things.
“We’ve been shut down,” she said.
Astrid fell silent and stared at her.
“What?” she said after while.
“Yeah,” Olivia said. “Pretty much sums it up. Peter and Walter are going to Massive Dynamic. You and I have been reassigned.”
“Reassigned? Does Broyles know about this? Did he do this?”
A long, sad moo came from the far end of the laboratory.
“He knows,” Olivia said. “And he’s doing what he can. But for the time being we’ll just have to play along.”
Astrid sat down on a crate. Olivia sat down next to her.
“So what have we been assigned to?” Astrid asked. “Traffic patrol?”
“There was a woman in Broyles’ office,” Olivia said. “She said we’d still be working on Fringe cases. And that everything we need to know is in this.”
She showed Astrid the still closed envelope.
Astrid looked at the envelope, then at Olivia.
“This makes no sense whatsoever,” she said.
“Not much, no,” she said.
She tore open the top of the envelope and shook out the contents. There were two flight tickets, one for each of them, from Logan International Airport to Sioux Falls Regional Airport in South Dakota. There was a printed-out contract for long-term rental of a black Jeep Grand Cherokee. There was a paper with a set of GPS coordinates printed on it. And that was all.
“It appears we don’t need to know very much,” Astrid said.
“These tickets are for a flight in three hours!” Olivia said.
“And they are one way only,” Astrid noted. “Hang on a moment.”
She got up from the crate and fetched her laptop, waking it up and typing in a web address with one hand on her way back to Olivia.
“Read those coordinates to me, will you?” she said.
Olivia did. Astrid typed. They both looked at the monitor.
The map was of prairie. Only prairie. Nothing else. As far as they could see on the satellite image, not even a work road nearby.
“Either this place is unbelievably secret,” Olivia said, “or someone is trying to get rid of us.”
Astrid looked at Olivia.
“We’ll be bringing guns, right?” she said.
Kate Beckett couldn’t help feeling like she’d fallen into an old 1950s noir movie. Or, no, not just a noir movie. A noir movie crossed with a crappy Science Fiction movie from the same era.
She pressed her back harder against the brick wall, trying to get more of her body into the narrow bit where the rain didn’t reach. A streetlight cast stark shadows down the alley, and the swooshing sound of cars speeding through large puddles came from off in the distance. Cold water was soaking into her shoes. It had gotten in under her bulletproof vest too, and made her shirt chafe. She sighed. She hated the waiting.
Next to her, also leaning against the old wall, a dark-haired woman stood. She claimed her name was Helena Wells, but Kate was pretty sure that was a cover. There wasn’t a single trace of her in any database she had access to, not by name, face or fingerprint. She had contacted Kate specifically, claiming that she had information about the weird spider-like robot that had attacked Kate and ended up maiming Richard Castle’s leg. Information that she would only divulge on the condition that she got to take part in the investigation and apprehension of the robot-builder. Kate had agreed, mostly because that seemed to be the most efficient way to keep track of her. She clearly knew more than she was saying.
Kate’s cell phone vibrated in her pocket. She pushed the answer button on her headset.
“Yes?” she said, keeping her voice low.
“Turns out we can’t cut power to that warehouse,” Ryan’s voice said in her ear.
“Why not?” she said.
“Because it already has been,” he said. “Last year. New tenant didn’t renew the contract.”
Kate glanced up at the narrow windows just under the roof. They were lit up with a clear white light.
“So were’s the power in there coming from?” she said.
“How should I know?” Ryan said. “Maybe they’re tapping it illegally. Maybe they’ve got a nuclear reactor. Or a really big hamster wheel and a generator.”
“Right,” Kate said. “Maybe you’d better call the PETA.”
She pushed the mute button and turned to Wells.
“Could they have their own source of power in there?” she asked.
“Yes,” Wells said. “I’m afraid she definitely could.”
According to Wells, their villain was a frenchwoman by the name of Juliet Verne. Kate wasn’t willing to take her word for it. If she was right, they’d see that for themselves eventually. She un-muted the phone.
“Anything else?” she said.
“Wells’ information about Monica Wyatt checked out,” Esposito’s voice said. “We’ve gone through her financials more closely, and there’s a definite payoff pattern from this Nemo Holdings company. I’ll bet a round of beer that she’s being paid to pretend to be Cavalo and take the fall.”
Kate sighed. She’d kind of hoped that Wells’ information would be bad. The whole thing with the Kaiser Söze-like drug kingpin had been ridiculous enough, without making it worse with another shadowy figure behind the one they caught.
“Ok,” she said. “What about our backup?”
“Five minutes away,” Esposito said.
Above, the light through the windows started flickering blue. Wells swore.
“I think we just ran out of time,” Kate said. “We’re going in, tell the team to come right in after us when they get here.”
“Ok,” Esposito said. “Watch your back, Becket. You don’t want to tend up in the hospital bed next to Castle.”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I won’t. No way I can get anywhere that fancy on police insurance.”
She hung up before he could respond. She turned to Wells.
“You ready?” she said.
Wells nodded. She was holding something that looked like a toy gun made from glass and wood with brass details.
Kate readied the keys the company that rented out the warehouse had given her.
“All right, then,” she said. “Let’s go.”
The inside of the warehouse smelled of dust and ozone. The first Kate had expected, the second not so much. There were plenty of things she’d smelled during her career, from decomposing bodies to meth labs, but nothing she could think of smelled like ozone. There was also a slight vibration in the floor, and the air felt somehow greasy.
“Wells?” she said, keeping her voice low. “What’s going on here?”
“I don’t know,” Wells said. “But it feels like power building up to something. My guess is we don’t want it to finish.”
They stood at the start of a short corridor. It was lit with an old fluorescent tube that flickered and buzzed. The concrete floor was dusty, and had plenty of footprints going every which way. Doors opened to each side a few steps in, and a larger door closed off the far end. Around the edges of the last one, the blue flashing could be seen.
“Right,” Kate said, mostly to herself.
She proceeded carefully down the corridor, her gaze focused on the far door and her ears peeled for noises from anywhere. As she passed the two side doors, she threw quick glances at them. They were both wood, with windows of frosted glass in the upper half. Remains of scraped-off gold lettering still marred the glass.
A tick-tick-tick sound came from the left room just as Kate had walked by the door. She froze. The sound came again. It sounded like, for all the world, like a huge metallic spider walking. Like the one that had torn up Castle’s leg. She slowly and carefully put her free hand on her pistol, then turned around. Well stood totally still, strange gun in hand, looking at her. She had obviously heard the same sound.
“You open,” she mouthed soundlessly.
Kate looked at the door. She was on the hinge side, so if she worked the handle and pushed it open she’d have the slight cover of the door itself. It made sense that she do the opening. She nodded and put her left hand on the handle. She pushed it down with a quick motion, and swung the door open as hard as she could.
Something metallic with far too many legs and glittering edges came towards her far too fast. She started aiming her gun at it, but before she could shoot a bolt of lightning flashed through the room. It hit the mechanical spider, and it fell to the floor and lay still.
Silence returned. Kate looked from the spider-thing to Wells’ gun and back.
“What is that?!” she whispered.
“It’s a mechanical spider,” Wells whispered back. “We saw one before, remember?”
“No,” Kate whispered. “What is that?”
She nodded in the direction of Wells’ gun-thing.
“Oh,” Wells said. “It’s called a Tesla. Stuns people. More than stuns mechanicals, it seems.”
Kate stared at her.
“We’ll talk about this later,” she said, still whispering.
She turned back towards the door at the end of the corridor. The blue flashing around it had become regular, and slowly increasing its pace. Also, she realized when she thought about it, the greasy feeling in the air had increased sharply. She closed her eyes for a moment, trying to settle her nerves. Killer robots, strange lights, weird weapons and drug-smuggling conspiracies. If she just came through this alive, she would so take a long vacation.
She stalked quickly up to the far door, closely followed by Wells.
“What now?” she whispered when they’d reached it.
“You’re the policewoman,” Wells said. “You tell me.”
Kate closed her eyes and listened. The vibration in the floor had increased, and she could hear it as a dull bass tone. The blue flashes were accompanied by sharp crackles. A female voice said something, a quick single word. A curse, from the way it was spoken, but she couldn’t actually hear what was said.
No robots. Only one voice. As far as she could hear, at least.
“We go in,” she whispered. “Me first, you after. If there are any robots, you take them out. I take care of the people.”
“Robot?” she said. “What’s that?”
Kate stared at her.
“The spiders?” she said.
“Oh, right,” Wells said. “Leave them to me.”
Kate frowned. What kind of person didn’t know the word ‘robot’? But that was another question for a later time. She put her hand on the door handle and drew a deep breath.
“Ready?” she whispered.
“Ready,” Wells said.
Kate threw the door open, stepped through and shouted in her most authoritarian voice.
“NYPD! PUT DOWN YOUR WEAPONS AND RAISE YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!”
If it hadn’t been for many years of habit, she never would’ve managed to get the words out. The room they’d entered was huge, as only an cleared-out warehouse can be. In the middle of it was an enormous… machine, she supposed it was. Or possibly a left-over prop from an old Frankenstein movie. It was roughly pyramidal, built up from brass and wood and glass. It reached almost up to the warehouse ceiling, some thirty feet above. Large mirror spheres stuck out of it at regular intervals around the middle, and the blue flashing they’d seen turned out to be a five-foot cloud of incandescent blue light jumping from one to the next in a circle. The entire thing vibrated, and white mist poured out of its lowest level and onto the concrete floor. Right in front of the part of the machine closest to the door, in front of a fancy mahogany desk with brass levers sticking out of it, a woman stood. She was short, not much over five feet. Her dark hair was arranged in a bun at the back of her head, and she was dressed in an elegant gown. If it hadn’t been for that she was wearing elbow-high thick rubber gloves, it would’ve looked like she was on her way to a fancy dinner party. She turned to look at Kate and Wells, a faint smile on her face.
“Detective Beckett,” she said, her voice carrying well over the noise from the machine. “And H G Wells! Now, that is a surprise. I thought you a hundred years dead, my dear.”
She almost spat the last two words.
“I’m happy to disappoint, Juliet,” Wells said, her weird gun aimed straight at the woman. “Step away from the control panel. Whatever you were planning, it is over.”
“Really, Helena,” the woman said. “Did you think it would be that easy? You couldn’t best me a century ago, and you can’t do it now.”
With a snake-fast movement, she put her hand on a lever and pulled. A split second later, Kate’s pistol roared, lightning shot out of Wells’ weapon and a blue light more brilliant than the sun poured out of the machine and blasted Kate into oblivion.
She woke to an intense need to throw up. Acting much more on instinct than thought, she turned onto her side and was almost up on her hands and knees when her stomach violently ejected its contents. For some interminable seconds, spasms wracked her body and eventually left her gasping. She collapsed to the hard cold floor again, with just enough energy to make sure not to fall in her own vomit.
Every muscle in her body ached and her joints felt swollen. Nearby, she heard someone retch. Gingerly, Kate opened her eyes. Light stabbed her in the brain, and she hastily shut them again. Her next try, taking one eye at a time, went better.
Helena Wells was lying a few feet away. She too had ejected her dinner onto the floor.
“What was that?” Kate rasped.
Her throat felt like someone had made her swallow a file a couple of times.
“No idea,” Wells panted. “But I’m guessing not good.”
That seemed like a safe guess to Kate. So she’d better get up on her feet and find her gun before this Juliet did something even worse to them. She managed to get up on her knees before she had to stop and rest. Except she choose to call it evaluating the situation. Or, in other words, taking a look around, now that her eyes worked.
The room was empty. Totally and completely empty. There was nothing in it except for the two of them, and their respective dropped weapons.
“Where did she go?” Kate said.
How long had they been out? She looked at her watch, and then frowned. They couldn’t have been knocked out for more than a couple of minutes. Not nearly enough to move something as big as the machine they’d seen. Not to mention that there was no way to get it out of the warehouse short of demolishing a wall.
“What the hell?” she said.
“This is strange,” Wells said.
Her voice sounded no better than Kate’s.
“You don’t say,” Kate said.
She took out her phone. Her own watch might have been affected by whatever it was the machine had done, but Ryan and Esposito would be able to tell her how long it had been since her last call. Her fingers had already started punching up her phonebook entry for Ryan when her mind registered the ‘911 ONLY’ text on the display. She frowned. That was weird.
Next to her, Wells clambered to her feet, picking up her weapon on the way. She looked around, frowning.
“How long does your watch say we were out?” she asked.
“Less than five minutes,” Kate said. “Both my wristwatch and the phone agree.”
“So why is there sunlight coming in through the windows?” Wells said. “When we came here it was night. And why aren’t there any tracks in the dust from when we came in?”
Kate’s gaze snapped to the windows. Wells was right. There was full sunlight and a blue sky outside. A spark of fear came to life inside her. She didn’t like surprises. She liked being in control, knowing what was going on. This went far beyond just not knowing that, this was flat-out impossible.
“Ms Wells,” she said. “I’d really like an explanation for this. And don’t try to claim you don’t know, I’m perfectly aware that there are a lot of things you haven’t been telling me.”
“You’re right that there are a whole lot of things I haven’t told you,” she said. “But I genuinely don’t know what just happened. Us having been moved through time would fit the facts, but that is impossible, and anyway I was the one trying to build a time machine, not Verne. Although she’s had a full century and change since then.”
Kate stared at her. Ordinarily, she’d have dismissed the woman as a lunatic. But in the past couple of days, and in the past hours particularly, she’d seen things. She’d been trained to see what was in front of her, to listen to and follow the facts and only the facts. She was very good at it, good enough to make it to detective at her age and as a woman. And at the moment, the facts pointed at Helena Wells not being crazy at all. Which was a very scary thought.
“Time travel,” she said.
“It can’t be,” Wells said. “As I said, physical transportation through time is impossible. Also, the past is fixed. It can’t be changed.”
“Do you have another theory?”
“I’d like to go outside and have a look around before I speculate,” she said.
That made sense. Gather more data, as a basis for a theory.
“Ok,” Kate said. “Let’s go.”
Everything looked perfectly normal. As far as Kate could remember, all the stores that had been there when they arrived still were. Except that now they were in daylight, and open. Ordinary people walked the streets, and ordinary cars drove along them. There were no aliens, or anything like that. There was the one, normal sun in the sky. A few clouds, which was to be expected. The odd plane passing by overhead. No zeppelins.
“A newspaper,” Wells said. “We need to get a newspaper.”
“Ok,” Kate said. “Wait here.”
She crossed the street and walked into a 7-11 on the corner. It, too, looked perfectly normal. A couple of teenagers buying sodas. A bored middle-aged black woman at the cash register. Kate picked up a copy of the New York Times. Nothing on the cover struck her as obviously weird. She handed over the money for it, which the cashier accepted without as much as blinking. As she walked out and back to where Wells was waiting, she started leafing through it as well as she could without dropping it or getting run over.
Halfway across the street she found something.
“There,” she said when she reached Wells. She pointed at an article on page nine. Wells looked.
“What about it?” she said.
“President Obama?” Kate said.
“He’s not supposed to be president?” Wells asked.
“No, he’s not,” Kate said. “He ran against President Clinton for the Democrat nomination, and lost.”
“Well, I guess that settles it,” Wells said.
“Settles what?” Kate asked.
“What Juliet’s machine did,” Wells said. “It moved us, and presumably her, to another universe.”
The big warehouse loomed over them in the twilight. It was the only structure within miles, and the GPS coordinates put them right in front of it.
“This is it?” Astrid said. “This is where we’ve been reassigned? A warehouse in the middle of nowhere?”
It took a few seconds before Olivia responded.
“Yeah,” she said. “Really, seriously in the middle of nowhere, and that doesn’t show up on public satellite images. The closest town doesn’t even officially exist, and it doesn’t have a name.”
Olivia shook her head.
“It was on the sign. Unincorporated unnamed settlement.”
“Weird,” Astrid said.
“Yeah,” Olivia said. “So I can’t help but wonder what you store in a place like this. Or how big it really is. Look how the back end joins with the cliff. I’ll bet you it goes on for a fair bit underground.”
“Well, there’s a door,” Astrid said. “Maybe we should just knock.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Olivia got out of the car. The evening air was chilly, and smelled strongly of prairie. It was quite a difference from Boston. Maybe she ought to be careful so she didn’t become giddy from all the oxygen and lack of carbon monoxide. She heard the car door on the other side open and close, and a moment later Astrid was standing next to her.
“Do you think they expect us to live here?” she said.
“I hope not,” Olivia said. “This is rather too isolated even for me.”
“Coyotes might be a step up from students, though,” Astrid said.
“There is that.”
Olivia walked up to the door and was just about to knock when it opened and a man stepped out. He was not old, maybe in his early thirties, well-built and with short hair. He was wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans. He smiled.
“Hi there!” he said. “You must be the new agents!”
He held out a hand to Olivia.
“I’m Pete Lattimer, U.S. Secret Service,” he said.
Olivia shook his hand.
“Special Agent Olivia Dunham,” she said. “And this is my assistant, Special Agent Astrid Farnsworth.”
He looked at Astrid.
“Farnsworth?” he said. “Any relation to Philo Farnsworth?”
Astrid threw a confused look at Olivia, who shrugged. Maybe he’d just been here too long and forgot how to interact with people.
“Not as far as I know, no,” Astrid said. “Why?”
“Oh, no reason,” Lattimer said. “Anyway, welcome to Warehouse 13!”
“Thanks,” Olivia said. “Um, we’re not really sure why we’re here.”
He smiled again.
“None of us were when we first got here,” he said. “But I’ll let Artie explain.”
“All right,” Olivia said.
She gave him his best “I’m a really nice person and you should tell me all your secrets now” smile.
“Is Artie here?” she said when enough time had passed that it seemed like Lattimer wasn’t going to volunteer the information.
“Oh!” he said. “Sorry, wasn’t thinking. No, he’s back at the B&B. All the rest of the gang are. I just stayed behind to meet you guys.”
“The B&B,” she said. “Sounds like a place where we could get some food, and perhaps somewhere to stay?”
“Absolutely,” he said. “Leena makes a mean casserole. I was sort of assuming we’d take your car, if that’s all right?”
“Of course,” Olivia said, still wearing her interrogation smile. “Right now?”
“If you don’t mind,” he said. “You’ll see enough of this place in the future, I can promise you that.”
“Ok then,” Olivia said.
She got into the car again, as did Astrid. Lattimer jumped into the back seat and leaned forward between the seats. He reminded Olivia of a large dog a girl she’d dated a couple of times had.
“You came through Univille, right?” he said. “Just go back that way until we’re almost there, there’s a side road maybe a mile or so before.”
Sounded simple enough. Olivia started the car and drove off.
“Don’t mind Pete,” the woman who’d introduced herself as Leena said some time later. “He’s nice and friendly, but not always the most helpful.”
They’d just parked outside a beautiful old house, from which Leena had come out to meet them. Most of the windows were lit up, and the sounds of talk and laughter came from inside. As well as, just then, Pete shouting that the new guys had arrived.
“I think you’re about to meet the rest of the gang,” Leena said. “Before they get here, can I ask if you two mind sharing a room for a while? I have two empty rooms, but one of them belonged to an agent who recently died, and I like to leave it unused for at least a few weeks after.”
“Fine by me,” Olivia said.
She looked to Astrid. There was a peculiarly mixed expression on the younger agent’s face.
“Um, sure,” Astrid said. “Of course.”
“Good,” she said. “Your room is on the second floor, to the right. I’ll show you.”
She headed for the house, Olivia and Astrid following carrying their luggage.
“Olivia,” Astrid said in a low voice.
“These people keep talking as if we’re going to be here indefinitely,” Astrid said.
“I’ve noticed,” Olivia said. “They’re wrong.”
The inside of the house matched the outside well, and for a B&B it felt remarkably like a proper home.
“Shoo, the lot of you!” Leena shouted ahead. “Give them a chance to settle down! You can meet them over dinner!”
Grumbles and disappointed mutterings came from a large room to the side, but also receding steps. Leena headed up the stairs. Olivia and Astrid followed. Just a few steps down a hallway Leena indicated an open door.
“Here,” she said. “Your room, for now.”
Olivia looked inside. It was not the largest room ever, but it’d hold her and Astrid comfortably. There were two single beds, on opposite sides of the room. The window looked out over the garden, and a sturdy old desk stood right under it. The furniture looked to be of an age with the house itself, solid and well-made.
“Will dinner in half an hour be OK?” Leena asked. “It can be later, if you like.”
Olivia shook her head.
“Half an hour will be fine,” she said.
“Ok,“ Leena said. “See you then.”
She left. Olivia stood looking after her for a few moments, then entered the room. Astrid followed.
“Um,” Olivia said. “Which bed do you want?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Astrid said. “Which one do you want?”
“I think the sun will shine on that one in the morning,” Olivia said, pointing at the left one.
“I’ll take the other one,” Astrid said.
Suiting action to words, she put her suitcase on it. Olivia puts hers on the other one, and let her gun and shoulder holster follow it. This really didn’t feel like a situation they’d need to shoot their way out of. If anything, it felt disturbingly calm and cosy.
Although Leena had said that one room was empty because the agent in it had died. And she had a way how she used to treat the rooms of dead agents. As if it was a not uncommon occurrence.
Olivia picked up her pistol again and made sure it was loaded and working. Carrying it to dinner would be a bit much, but she could at least make sure to keep somewhere where she could find it in a hurry. Until she knew the place better, she put it in its holster and hung the entire shoulder rig over a bedpost.
“Do you snore?” Astrid asked.
“Not as far as I know,” Olivia said. “Do you?”
“I don’t know,” Astrid said.
“You don’t know? I guess that means nobody ever complained?”
“Nobody’s ever been in a position to complain,” Astrid said.
Olivia looked at her. She was sitting on her bed, looking lost.
“What, never?” she said. “No girl scout campouts? Sleepovers? Boyfriends?”
Astrid shook her head.
“I’ve never been much of a people person,” she said.
Olivia was about to protest that that wasn’t true, but before the words got out she realized she’d never really seen Astrid be social with anyone other than Walter, and that was at least partly work.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “It’ll be fine.”
Dinner was chicken casserole, and as Pete had said it was excellent. Olivia didn’t know if Leena had told the others to go easy on the new arrivals or if they just did anyway, but so far the dinner conversation had mostly been about some woman in Univille whom all but Pete insisted had an interest in Pete.
She looked around the table, trying to fix names and appearances in her mind. There was Pete, of course, and Leena, both of which she already remembered. Apart from them there was Artie, a comfortably round man in his fifties and apparently the boss of the team. There was Myka Bering, a slender woman around Olivia’s age, and also a Secret Service agent. Last, there was Claudia Donovan, a girl barely out of her teens and apparently a trainee. Why on Earth anyone would have a trainee in a place where people occasionally got killed on duty Olivia couldn’t understand, but she assumed there was a story behind it.
“So, Astrid,” Claudia said. “Are you related to Philo Farnsworth?”
Astrid threw Olivia a confused look before answering.
“No,” she said. “At least not as far as I know. Why?”
“Oh, no reason,” Claudia said. “Just curious.”
“Uh-huh,” Astrid said. “Say, what’s in this warehouse anyway? It seems weird to have Secret Service and FBI agents working in a warehouse.”
“It’s not just the Secret Service and FBI,” Pete said. “Artie used to be NSA.”
“Is that supposed to make it sound less weird?” Olivia said.
“No,” Myka said. “Pete is just being… Pete. The warehouse stores dangerous things that shouldn’t exist. We were told that you two actually have some experience with things like that?”
“We do,” she said. “But I thought we were the only ones working on that sort of thing. I had no idea there was an entire warehouse full of it.”
“Extremely few people do,” Artie said. “And we like to keep it that way.”
“When you say things that shouldn’t exist,” Olivia said, “you do mean things that seem to violate the laws of physics as we know them, right?”
“Yup,” Pete said. “In freaky and often violently dangerous ways.”
“How long have you been doing this?” Astrid said. “We thought it was a fairly recent phenomenon, but the warehouse we saw looked quite old.”
“This particular warehouse was built in 1914,” Artie said. “The warehouse as an institution is… older than that.”
After that, the conversation drifted back to Pete’s imaginary love life. Olivia felt relieved, she wanted a chance to think about things before anyone asked more about her involvement in impossible things.
Going to bed was weird. Usually, Olivia slept naked, but that wasn’t really an option when sharing a room with someone. Particularly Astrid, for some reason she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She hadn’t thought to bring any sleepwear, if she even owned any, so for lack of anything better she went for panties and a t-shirt. Astrid, on the other hand, had brought flannel pyjamas. Striped, in white and pale blue. It looked good on her, Olivia thought.
She didn’t feel that her own improvised sleepwear did herself any favors. Not that it mattered. There wasn’t anyone around she was interested in. Sure, Astrid was cute and nice, but even if she’d happen to be into women she felt far too much like a younger sister to even register on Olivia’s desire-radar.
She sighed. She couldn’t sleep. The room smelled wrong, and all the little sounds were wrong. Astrid didn’t snore, but the mere presence of someone else in the room was unusual and new. On top of all that, it was too warm. All of which added up to Olivia not being able to sleep. But she kept trying. She lay there, still and silent, trying to calm down her active mind. She tried to stop thinking about what had happened, how a single day had turned everything upside down. She tried to stop worrying about how Peter and Walter were doing, and she considered calling Peter, but no. He was undoubtedly busy.
At some point, the worries turned into dreams.
Helena G Wells lay on her back on a lumpy bed in a shoddy hotel room, staring at the ceiling. It had spots on it that she didn’t want to know what they were. From outside, sounds of a busy city came. Cars driving by. People talking and shouting. Wailing sirens in the distance. At one point there had been something that sounded like a gunshot.
They weren’t in the good part of town.
“We need to get help,” Beckett said.
She was standing looking out the window, her expression stoic. Also, she was right. They did need help. They were stranded in another universe. None of their credit cards worked, and they’d used up most of their cash in getting the sleazy hotel room. But who could they get help from? Helena had nobody. All the people she’d used to know died of old age while she was bronzed, and as for the ones she’d met after… A memory flashed unbidden through her mind. Yellowstone, herself holding the Minoan Trident in one hand and Myka’s revolver in the other. Myka’s hand around Helena’s, forcing the revolver’s muzzle to Myka’s forehead. A sudden earth tremor, an involuntary clenching of her fist as she tried to regain her balance, a sudden sharp bang. In her memory, an image burned with preternatural clarity. Myka’s face, a tidy hole with gunpowder-burned edges right in the middle of her forehead.
Helena fought to push back the surge of despair and pain, and after a few seconds she’d regained the capacity for speech.
“Help from who?” she said. “The only one in this universe who knows either of us is Juliet, and she’d rather use me for experiments than help us.”
“Ourselves?” Beckett said. “If this world diverged from ours in 2008, we should exist here.”
2008. She would still have been in bronze, then. If she’d been thawed since, the Warehouse people would almost certainly be hunting her. Maybe she had killed Myka here too. She closed her eyes and wished with all her heart that the local Helena Wells was still bronzed.
“The local me won’t be available, one way or another,” Helena said. “But you might be. How do you think you’d react if your twin from an alternate universe suddenly showed up?”
There was a pause, presumably while Beckett pondered the question.
“If someone told me, I wouldn’t believe them,” she said. “If I saw me, I’d think I’d finally snapped and gone mad.”
“So how do we approach you usefully?”
“You’ll have to do it,” Beckett said. “I’ll think of something to tell me that will get me interested enough to show up without freaking me out or bringing a SWAT team along.”
She turned and looked at Helena.
“Also, it’s really weird talking about yourself like that.”
Maybe Helena just had a higher weirdness threshold, but she didn’t find it all that strange.
“Well, it’s a fairly weird situation,” Helena said.
“No argument there,” Beckett said. “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
Helena glanced her way. At first it looked like she was looking out the window, but when Helena looked more carefully she saw that Beckett was watching Helena’s reflection in the glass. She was also keeping her hand very close to her gun. Helena sighed. She wouldn’t have trusted herself either, if their situations were reversed.
“Ask as much as you want,” she said. “Although I don’t promise you’ll believe my answers. I’d warn you that what I can tell you might change your life, but it’s a little late for that.”
Beckett turned around and looked right at her.
“What are you?” she asked.
Helena couldn’t help laughing a little.
“A plain old human, just like you,” she said.
“Who’s more than a century old,” Beckett said.
“Depends on how you count,” Helena said. “I was born in 1868, yes. But I spent the years from 1900 until last year in a form of suspended animation called ‘bronzing’. So I’ve actually only lived for 33 years.”
“What about Verne?” Beckett asked. “Did she get suspended too? And also, Wells and Verne? Like the writers? Seriously?”
“Juliet Verne was born in 1828,” Helena said. “And somehow she figured out how to stop aging when she was in her thirties. To the best of my knowledge, she has lived continuously since then. So in actual lived experience, she outclasses me by a century and a half.”
“And yes, we are the writers known as H G Wells and Jules Verne. I had my brother publish for me, and Juliet at least used to be seriously into cross-dressing. She lived as a man for many years, and even married another woman.”
Beckett stared at her, then started laughing. Not a little, but full-on uncontrollable laughter that brought tears to her eyes and forced her to sit down.
“What?” Helena said when Beckett had calmed down a little. “I’m perfectly serious!”
“I’m sure you are,” Beckett said. “That’s the problem.”
She wiped tears from her face.
It looked like she was searching for words.
“We get attacked by robots. There’s an evil mastermind behind the evil mastermind that controlled parts of the drug trade. There are alternate universes, and I’m in one of them. People can live for centuries. People can spend a century in suspended animation. And, on top of all that, Jules Verne was a cross-dressing lesbian.”
She visibly fought back laughter.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But it all just became so damn silly.”
Put like that, Helena could see her point.
“Also, I know what to tell me,” Beckett said.
“Oh?” Helena said. “What?”
“Tell me that you know what happened to the library book I lost in fifth grade,” she said. “That should be interesting and non-threatening enough.”
“All right,” Helena said.
She got off the bed and walked over to the desk where the telephone was.
“Do you have a telephone number to try?” she asked.
“The station,” Beckett said. “It’s had the same number for ages, and it’s quite likely I’ll be there.”
She read out the numbers, and Helena pushed the appropriate buttons on the phone. The dull tone of ringing at the other end came through the handset. Eventually someone answered.
“New York Police Department,” a perky female voice said.
“Good morning,” Helena said. “I would like to talk to detective Kate Beckett, please.”
There was a noticeable pause.
“May I ask who is calling?” the woman at the other end said.
“My name is Jones,” Helena lied. “I’m calling on behalf of a relative of the detective’s who hasn’t been in touch for a very long time.”
“Oh,” the woman said. “That explains why you don’t know, I guess.”
That sounded ominous.
“Why I don’t know what?”
There was a pause again.
“I don’t know how to say this,” the woman said. “Detective Beckett was killed in the line of duty about a year ago. A bomb in her apartment. It was all over the news at the time.”
“Oh,” Helena said. “I see. I will inform my client.”
She hung up.
“What?” Beckett asked.
Helena looked at her.
“You’re dead,” she said.
“This,” Myka said, “is Warehouse 13.”
The enormous shelf-filled space stretched out before them until it vanished into darkness. It was much, much bigger than Olivia had guessed.
“Wow,” Astrid said, sounding a bit breathless. “How long did you say you’ve been collecting stuff?”
Olivia, Astrid and Myka were standing on the balcony outside Artie’s office.
“I don’t think we did,” Myka said. “But according the histories, the original warehouse was built by Alexander the Great in 336 BC in order to keep track of an item called the Minoan Trident. It’s been moved several times since then, and while a lot of artifacts have been lost over the centuries, we still have some that are over two thousand years old.”
“Do you have that trident thing?” Astrid asked. “And what made it so remarkable that Alexander of Macedonia wanted to lock it up? Rather than use it to conquer the world, I mean.”
Myka’s face clouded over.
“We have it now,” she said. “It was missing for a long time, and we got it back last year.”
She wiped a tear from her eye with an irritated gesture.
“Anyway, it causes geological events. It got its name after it was used to cause the eruption of Thera.”
Astrid stared at her.
“Are you serious?” she said.
“Perfectly,” Myka said. “There’s a reason we lock these things up. They’re dangerous.”
Olivia wondered if she ought to call Walter and tell him, classified or not. If these things had been going on that long, it couldn’t be his trip into the alternate universe to get Peter that started the unraveling. Knowing that it wasn’t his fault after all would ease his guilt a lot. On the other hand, maybe the reality rifts and the Warehouse artifacts were caused by different things. She didn’t know, at least not yet. Better wait until she had more information to go on.
“So how does the Artifact gathering work?” she asked.
Myka and Astrid had been talking while she was pondering, and her question interrupted them. Before Myka could answer, Artie’s voice came from the office door.
“I get a report about something that might be an artifact,” he said. “I tell you guys to go investigate, and if it turns out to be an artifact, you neutralize it and bring it back.”
Olivia turned and looked at him.
“Sounds easy enough,” she said.
“There are usually complications,” Artie said.
He handed a manila folder to Myka.
“New York,” he said. “Several reports in the past 24 hours of people being mugged by large mechanical spiders. Sounds like a good introduction for agent Dunham.”
“Mechanical spiders?” she said. “Do we know of any artifacts like that?”
“Not really,” Artie said. “It could have been… well, if she hadn’t… you know.”
It didn’t exactly take a lot of Olivia’s FBI training to figure out that there was a touchy subject there.
“It could’ve been Helena,” Myka said.
She managed to squeeze an astonishing amount of bitterness into the four words. Enough that it actually made Artie cringe visibly.
“I mean… there’s no other…,” he mumbled. “Sorry.”
“It’s OK,” Myka said in a tone of voice so chilly it ought to have had icicles on it.
“Did you say the spiders mugged people?” Olivia said. “As in, they actually robbed them of money and valuables?”
“Er, yes,” Artie said, looking relieved for the change of subject. “It seems they did. Cash, credit cards and jewelry.”
“So someone is using them to commit crimes,” Olivia said.
“Or they’re intelligent and funding a liberation movement,” Myka said. “Weirder things have happened, and in this line of work jumping to conclusions can kill you.”
Which actually went for much of what Olivia had been doing since she met Walter Bishop, she’d just never thought about it that succinctly.
“Gotcha,” she said.
“Everything we, er, know is in the file,” Artie said. “Along with flight tickets and hotel reservations.”
Olivia made sure to get the window seat, just so she would be as far away from other people as possible. Which was not far at all, since agent Bering was sitting in the seat next to her, roughly one inch away. She looked out the window and tried to ignore the world. It didn’t work. The cabin was noisy and hot, and seeing the South Dakota landscape recede under the plane made her realize that she’d been in the state for less than 24 hours.
“Let me guess,” Myka said. “You’re thinking how you’re going to get yourself reassigned back to where you were.”
“No,” she said. “I wasn’t. That was earlier today.”
“Ah,” Myka said. “Sorry. Just remembering how it was when I first came to the warehouse.”
“They did this to you too?” Olivia asked, curious in spite of it all.
“Oh yes,” Myka said. “Two years ago, to Pete and me both. Sudden transfer to the middle of nowhere. I was so pissed I could’ve shot someone.”
“Did you try to get transferred out again?”
Myka smiled sadly.
“Yes,” she said. “Asked my old boss for help. It didn’t work out so well.”
“Oh? How so?”
“He ended up dead,” Myka said.
“What?!” Olivia said. “They killed him to keep you here?”
“What?” Myka said. “Oh no, no no no. He just got involved in Warehouse business, however peripherally, and an enemy killed him.”
Olivia stared at her for a few moments.
“We have enemies?” she said.
Myka looked at her.
“Of course we have enemies,” she said. “Some people would rather use the artifacts for personal gain than lock them up indefinitely.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Olivia said.
She looked out the window again. They’d gained enough altitude that all she saw below them was clouds.
“Can I ask you something?” she said after a little while. “Something that I think is a bit sensitive?”
“I guess,” Myka said.
“Back at the Warehouse, when you and Artie talked? What was that about? Something about a Helena?”
Myka’s expression hardened.
“Don’t answer if you don’t want to,” Olivia said, hastily. “It’s none of my business anyway.”
“No, it is,” she said. “It’s still affecting all of us at the Warehouse, so it’s better if you know.”
She took a deep breath.
“The full story is kind of long and involves things that require a lot of explanation,” she said. “But the short version is pretty simple. There was another agent, by the name of Helena Wells. We were…”
Her voice trailed off, and she drew a deep breath.
“We were lovers,” she said.
“That was a problem?” Olivia asked. She was well used to more or less overtly homophobic workplaces, but it always stung when she found that a new place was like that too.
“Not as such, no,” Myka said. “But Helena herself was. She came with a lot of baggage, both personally and in relation to the Warehouse. Eventually, she snapped and tried to destroy the world.”
Olivia stared at her.
“Seriously?” she said.
“Remember that trident? She tried to use it in Yellowstone, to set off the supervolcano. At best, it would’ve devastated most of North America. At worst, it would’ve triggered an ice age.”
“Anyway, I stopped her. She was being taken to a facility somewhere when she tried to escape and was killed in the attempt.”
Olivia was at a loss for something to say. She’d never been an good with strong emotions, neither her own nor those of other people. She could see tears in Myka’s eyes.
“I’m sorry,” she said, unable to think of anything better.
“It’s OK,” Myka said, wiping her eyes. “I just still get emotional about it.”
“You would have to be made out of stone not to have feelings about something like that,” Olivia said. “Even if she left you.”
“But she didn’t,” Myka said, her voice suddenly sounding very small. “She only failed because she couldn’t kill me.”
Awkwardly and because she couldn’t think of a single thing to say to that, Olivia gave the obviously still grieving agent a hug. It was uncomfortable in the small space the economy seats allowed them, but it was something. Her own workplace drama with Peter and the alternate-universe Olivia suddenly felt fairly pedestrian.
“Thanks,” Myka said after a while.
She sat up straight, got out a kleenex and blew her nose.
“It’s OK as long as I don’t think about it,” she said.
Olivia looked at her.
“Are you sure that’s a healthy attitude?” she said. “I’ve always been told I shouldn’t push away my feelings. Makes them fester and grow worse until they explode, or something.”
Olivia wished Astrid was there. She was always much better at handling people than Olivia was.
“Tell you what,” Olivia said. “When this mission is done, we go out to a bar or something, and you tell me absolutely everything about your Helena, drink yourself into oblivion and cry as hard as you can. Does that sound like a plan?”
Myka laughed a little.
“It’s a date,” she said.
“Except, you know, not a date date,” she clarified once she realized what she’d just said.
“I know,” she said.
“I want to go home,” Beckett said.
They were sitting in a cheap coffee house, and she was cradling her cup in her hands.
“We need to find and stop Juliet first,” Helena said.
She’d ordered tea, believing that its familiarity would make her feel less lost and adrift. Only it turned out not to be the slightest bit familiar. Instead of proper, strong, hot tea with a splash of milk, it was a watery substance that was nearly white and smelled like a vaguely metallic fruit. Not even any particular fruit, just some sort of averaged-out general fruitiness. It made her feel even more alone and alienated.
“Why?” Beckett said. “We went after here because she’s a drug lord and she attacked us. Right now, she’s not going to be smuggling any drugs back home, or attack anyone. We can let her go and still be safe.”
Helena gave the tea up as a bad idea and put the half-full cup aside. It wasn’t even a proper mug, just a paper container with a flimsy plastic lid.
“Several reasons,” she said. “First, she may be able to communicate with her subordinates back home. That’s just as bad as if she was there herself, from a smuggling and killing point of view. Second, she’s going to do the same to the people of this world as she’s done to ours. And last, she’s the only one who has any idea how to get back to our world. Or at least I hope she does, because otherwise we’re stuck.”
Beckett sipped from her cup.
“I thought you knew,” Beckett said. “You’re all involved in this crap.”
Helena shook her head.
“Even the idea of parallel universes appeared half a century after I was bronzed,” she said. “I read about it while I was desperately trying to catch up with a hundred years of history, but that’s all. But as far as the public texts knew, it was just an interpretation of a physics theory with absolutely no effect on the real world.”
She waved at everything around them in general.
“This,” she said, “is something else entirely. I have absolutely no idea how Verne pulled this off.”
“She may be an evil power-mad bitch,” Helena said, “but she certainly isn’t stupid.”
Beckett sighed too.
“So if we ever want to go home,” she said, “we have to find this woman.”
“I’m afraid so.”
“Any chance she has a local counterpart, who might be easier to find and who we could take by surprise?”
Helena thought about that. It stood to reason that if Beckett had a local version, Juliet Verne would too. She antedated the branching point by nearly two centuries, after all.
“Maybe,” she said. “But I think we’ll call that plan B. If she’s here and the same drug kingpin she was at home, she’ll be very well entrenched and protected. If she isn’t, she’s almost certainly in France. Also, it’s not at all certain that she has invented any reality-traveling machine. And if she has, she will have used it and is no longer in this universe.”
“But you don’t know any of that for sure,” Beckett said.
“I don’t,” Helena admitted. “But the basics are certain. The local version of Verne has the benefit of two centuries of built-up power structures. The version of Verne from our universe is just as disconnected from local society as we are. So she will be the easier target.”
Beckett drank more of her coffee.
“Ok, that makes sense,” she said after a little while. “So how do we find our version of Verne? And we need a better way to refer to which universe someone is from. This ‘our version of’ or ‘the local version of’ is just too unwieldy to say.”
“True,” Helena said. “What about greek letters? Juliet from our world is Juliet-alpha. Juliet from this world is Juliet-beta. If more of them show up, they’ll be Juliets gamma, delta, epsilon and so on. If we run out of letters, we have bigger problems than nomenclature.”
“More of them?” Beckett said. “You think there will be more of them?”
“Well, it’s possible,” Helena said. “I can’t see any reason why there would be exactly two universes, that separated in 2008. It seems much more likely that there are infinitely many that keep branching off from each other all the time.”
“Do we have to think about this now?” Beckett said.
Helena shook her head.
“I was just thinking,” she said.
“So how do we go about finding her? Do you have any fancy scientific ideas?”
Helena shook her head.
“In that case,” Beckett said, “I guess we’ll have to apply good old police work.”
She drained her coffee cup, put it down and stood up.
“Also known as walking around and looking,” she said. “Come on. Let’s get back to where we woke up and see if we can find any traces of Verne.”
The office was bright and spacious. It lay in the corner of the building, and the entire outside walls were made of glass. The view outside wasn’t all that impressive, being mostly other office buildings and the occasional rooftop, but at least it was a view. The furniture looked expensive, and the carpet was very thick. Juliet was sitting in an armchair made from soft red leather and chrome pipes. It was more comfortable than it looked. She had put her most pleasant smile on, and made an effort to be polite.
The lawyer who the office belonged to was standing behind an unnecessarily large desk. He had a perfectly good chair there, but stood anyway. Also, he was speaking on his mobile phone, so there was no reason for him to be behind the desk in the first place. She suspected that her request had rattled him.
“Here you are, Ms Verne,” his secretary said.
She’d approached without Juliet hearing her, carrying a tray with a cup, a small pot, milk, sugar and a few cookies on a plate. She looked to be a few years older than the lawyer, whose name she had already forgot, and was good-looking enough that she could certainly have been a model. That had no doubt been a large factor in her getting the secretary job, if Juliet knew male lawyers right.
“Thank you, miss,” she said.
“You’re welcome,” the secretary said. “Just let me know if there’s anything else you need.”
She left the room. Juliet tried the coffee. It was not bad. She let the cookies be.
“Well,” the lawyer said, flipping his phone closed. “It seems everything checks out.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Juliet said. “We can proceed, then?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” he said. “I’m, uh, afraid it’s going to take a little time, though.”
Juliet sighed, somewhat more loudly than necessary.
“That is rather annoying,” she said. “I need access to those resources as soon as possible, preferably right away.”
He looked a little bothered.
“I entirely understand, miss Verne,” he said. “But you must understand that this is an unusual situation for us. These papers have been sitting untouched since my grandfather accepted them back in 1947. They’ve never been put into the computer system, and frankly most of us never even learned how to work the old paper system.”
“That is not my problem, now is it?” she said.
She got out of the armchair.
“Monsieur,” she said. “My… grandmother put this money and these deeds into your care so that they could be used under certain circumstances, with the stated provision that if those circumstances ever came about access would be urgent. Now they have, and now it is. Your grandfather assured her that your firm would be able to honor this obligation, for which you have been quite handsomely paid over the years, I might add. Are you telling me that your firm cannot, after all, live up to his promise?”
“Times are different now than they were sixty-five years ago,” he said.
“Indeed they are,” she said. “We have jet airplanes, cellular telephones, computers and the Internet. Communication is amazingly much faster now than it was then. Except, it seems, in your firm.”
He frowned at her.
“Look,” he said. “‘Urgent’ is not a legally specified…”
“The contract specifies twelve hours,” she interrupted. “You have ten of them left.”
He looked at her, and it seemed like he was trying to stare her down. She almost laughed. She’d bested far more dangerous men than him while his great-great-grandparents were still in diapers.
“If you cannot do this,” she said, “I want you to personally call your grandfather and tell him you failed. That was him you just phoned, yes?”
He looked away.
“We’ll manage it somehow,” he said.
He looked up at the row of clocks on the wall.
“Before eight tonight,” he added. “Where can I reach you during the day?”
“I will return here at seven,” she said. “If you’re not done by then, I will wait.”
Oh, he’d had plans for the evening. She could tell from his expression.
“See you tonight, then,” he said.
She waited for him to open the door for her before she left. Her mind started making plans even as the door closed behind her and she walked through the waiting room outside. Things weren’t nearly as urgent as she’d made the lawyer believe, but until she got the money and building deeds her local-universe counterpart had planted, she had nowhere to go and nearly no money. So waiting would be dull and inconvenient.
Juliet stopped and turned to look at the speaker. It was the secretary with the long blonde hair and the large blue eyes.
“Yes?” Juliet said.
“Um,” she said. “I have your papers here.”
Juliet turned fully toward her.
“I was under the impression that it would take a lot of effort to find them,” she said.
“Not if you read the instructions,” the secretary said. “The old system is quite well documented.”
“Is it now,” she said.
“Anyway,” the secretary said, “I wanted to ask you if you actually need them all that urgently. Because if you do, I’ll give them to Mr Stockman right away so he can sign them.”
“And if not?”
The secretary’s expression hardened.
“If not,” she said, “I’ll sit on them until the last minute just to make the bastard sweat.”
Juliet’s smile widened.
“Have you looked at the papers?” she asked.
“I have,” the secretary said.
“It’s an impressive amount of money,” she continued. “Which pales in comparison with what the real estate is worth.”
Juliet walked closer to her.
“Do you know where the word ‘secretary’ comes from?” she asked.
“No,” the secretary said.
“It’s from the latin,” Juliet said. “Secretum, having been set apart. A secretarius was someone who managed the confidential business of a powerful person. What is you name, girl?”
“Um, Valerie Rowell,” she said, looking a bit taken aback.
“Valerie,” Juliet said. “Earlier you said to tell you if I needed something.”
“Yes, Madame,” Valerie said. “I believe did.”
“I find myself in need if a secretary,” Juliet said. “Or, rather, a secretarius.”
She could see the wheels spin in the woman’s head.
“I’m prepared to pay handsomely for someone who can do a good job,” she added.
The girl was American, after all. Money would be of great importance to her.
“I’d be more than happy to help you with that, Madame,” Valerie said.
Again, Juliet smiled.
“Excellent,” she said. “Get him to sign the papers as soon as possible, then bring them to me at once at the Ritz-Carlton.”
“Yes, Madame,” Valerie said.
The man on the other side of the table was dressed in an expensive suit, but that was about the only thing that hinted at money or success. He sat hunched over, his shirt was rumpled and his tie had food stains.
“Why were you carrying eight thousand dollars?” Olivia said. “That’s a lot of money.”
“I don’t trust credit cards,” he said. “Believe me, if you worked with them like I do, you’d carry cash too.”
They had borrowed an interrogation room from the New York Police Department, and was interviewing the mugging victims one by one.
“When the spider was standing close to you,” Myka said, “did you smell anything? Like, for example, fudge?”
Both the sad man and Olivia looked at her.
“Fudge?” he said. “No. If anything, it smelled like ozone and motor oil.”
Myka wrote something in her notebook.
“I believe that’s all for now,” Olivia said.
The guy nodded at them and slunk out of the room. Olivia turned to Myka.
“Fudge?” she said. “I’ve seen some odd interview techniques in my day, but that takes the prize.”
Myka at least had the good grace to look embarrassed.
“It’s not as strange as it sounds,” she said. “Or maybe it is. Artifacts relatively often produce a smell of fudge while they’re active.”
“Fudge?” Olivia repeated.
“Yes,” Myka said. “Fudge. Don’t ask me why, because I have absolutely no idea.”
Olivia let it drop. She’d seen and heard of much stranger things, after all.
“So,” she said. “We have nine victims that have come forward. Only two of them know each other, or have any obvious contact. All of them were in the same ten-block area, and all of them were robbed over a period of three hours.”
“Does that look disturbingly planned to you?” Olivia said. “Not the exact victims, but so many of them in such a limited area for such a short time, and in every case taking specifically cash, credit cards and jewelry?”
“Yes,” Myka said. “Whatever these spiders are, they’re coordinated.”
“Still an open question if there’s someone behind them or if they’re simply working together.”
Olivia made a face.
“Let’s go with someone behind them as a working hypothesis,” she said.
Myka looked at her.
“Any particular reason?” asked.
“Yes, that mechanical spiders robbing people is more than disturbing enough without making them intelligent mechanical spiders robbing people.”
“Point,” Myka said. “Ok, let’s go with that hypothesis. What does it tell us?”
Olivia sighed. Well, whoever Mrs Frederic was she certainly hadn’t been wrong when she said that Olivia would keep working with strange things.
“The limited area implies a limited control range,” Olivia said. “Whoever was controlling them was somewhere near the center.”
“And the limited time means they’re not there any longer,” Myka said.
“There may be traces. We should look.”
“For what, exactly?”
Olivia smiled at Myka.
“I’ll know it when I see it,” she said.
Myka made an exasperated gesture.
“Ok, then,” she said. “Let’s find out what was at the center.”
That was easier said than done, of course. Olivia was still FBI so she could access all those useful databases, or it would almost certainly have been impossible. As it was, they just had a rather larger error margin then Olivia liked. They’d plotted all the actual attacks on the map, as well as all other sightings of the spiders. There were quite a few, including one rather disturbing one showing a mechanical spider withdrawing cash from an ATM. Eventually they’d narrowed down their ill-defined area to an also ill-defined centre. At least it was generally an industrial district, so they wouldn’t have to bother people living there.
Myka sighed and put a stack of photographs down on a desk. Once they were done with the questioning, they’d moved away from the interrogation room to a borrowed office.
“Artie was right,” she said.
Olivia looked away from the computer monitor.
“Right about what?” she said.
“These spiderbots really do look like something Helena could have designed.”
Olivia typed in another address, pressed a key and copied the resulting information to another window.
“They look a bit like they’re from the 19th century,” she said.
“So was she,” Myka said.
Olivia stopped typing.
“You dated a centenarian?” she said.
“Chronologically, yes,” Myka said. “She spent the 20th century in suspended animation. Physically, she was about thirty.”
Olivia stared at her for a while.
“No,” she said eventually. “Still not the weirdest relationship problem I’ve encountered.”
Myka’s eyebrows rose.
“Ok,” she said. “What’s your story?”
Olivia entered the next address into the computer.
“My boyfriend cheated on me with a version of myself who’d come over from an alternate universe to infiltrate our team,” she said.
“Ok,” Myka said after a while. “That’s pretty strange. I haven’t mentioned, though, that my Helena was actually famous.”
“Famous?” Olivia said.
“Back in the 19th century she wrote books,” Myka said. “Under the name H G Wells.”
Olivia stopped typing.
“H G Wells was a man,” she said.
Myka shook her head.
“That was her brother Charles,” she said. “He published them for her, since as a woman she couldn’t get them published herself.”
Olivia looked at her for a long while.
“Your dead lesbian lover was the early science fiction writer H G Wells, killed in an escape attempt after she tried to destroy the world by using a two-millennia-old magical spear?” she finally asked.
“Trident,” she said. “Not spear.”
“Ok,” Olivia said. “You win the weirdness contest. Also, I think we have a candidate.”
“We do?” Myka said. “What is it?”
“A warehouse that’s been standing empty since 1993,” Olivia said.
“Who owns it?"
“A french company, “ Olivia said. “L'Île mystérieuse S. A.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Me neither,” Olivia said. “But what legit company would let a warehouse in New York stand unused for 18 years?”
Myka stood up.
“Let’s go take a look,” she said.
The warehouse didn’t look as immediately huge when you were down among the shelves, Astrid thought. On the other hand, it just didn’t end, and you got a much clearer impression of exactly how much stuff there was on the shelves. She did a quick mental calculation based on how many things were on the shelves around her, how many shelves she could see in the aisle and how many aisles she’d seen from up on the balcony. The result was a disturbingly large number. There must be millions of artifacts in there.
“What do all these things come from?” she said.
Next to her, Claudia shrugged.
“Beats me,” she said. “Never asked.”
Astrid looked at her.
“Aren’t you curious?” she said.
The young woman’s face took on a slightly distant look.
“I used to be,” she said. “Then I got some answers, and learned that I had really been better off not knowing.”
“Ah,” Astrid said.
She doubted she’d ever reach that point herself. If knowing that there were tears in the fabric of reality that were slowly ripping their entire universe to shreds hadn’t scared her off, nothing would.
“So,” she added, “we’re supposed to take inventory.”
“Yup,” Claudia said.
“Maybe this is a stupid question,” Astrid said, “but why hasn’t that already been done? Yes, there are a lot of things, but you said the warehouse has been here for almost a hundred years.”
Claudia started walking down one of the aisles.
“Oh, it’s been done all right,” she said. “We’re doing it constantly. Mostly, we’re checking that no artifacts have escaped.”
Astrid’s eyebrows rose.
“Escaped?” she said. “Don’t you mean stolen or something like that?”
Claudia grinned and shook her head.
“A lot of these things appear to have minds of their own,” she said. “And some of them are constantly trying to get out. Or just cause mischief.”
The shelves around them suddenly looked a lot more threatening.
“Right,” Astrid said. “So, do we check things at random, or do we have a list of particularly escape-prone artifacts or what?”
Claudia smiled at her.
“A bit of both,” she said. “But today I thought we’d have a look at the Warehouse 12 shelves. What with the Victorian-looking spiders that Myka and your boss are after. Maybe we can find something that relates.”
“Olivia,” Astrid said. “Her name is Olivia.”
Warehouse 12, Astrid learned, had been in Victorian England and collected things from all over the British Empire. The people who ran it had also been quite a lot better at the gathering part than at the cataloging and inventorying parts. Nearly a century after the Warehouse had moved to South Dakota, they still had shelf after shelf with stuff that nobody knew what it was. Going through it was constantly on the to-do list, but since everything that might pose an urgent problem had become one well before the second world war and the cataloging was pretty dangerous, the progress was glacial.
“Ok,” Claudia said as the two of them stood looking at the shelves overflowing with unlabeled things, “this is how it goes.”
She took two helmets from a rack at the end of a shelf, and handed one of them to Astrid. They looked like fairly ordinary green military helmets, but with four cylindrical canisters fastened to them and a rip cord hanging down from a mechanism on top.
“Put this on,” she said. “Don’t pull the cord.”
She put her own on, with obviously well-practiced movements. Next, she took down to vests. They were black, and Astrid recognized them as standard-issue bullet-resistant kevlar vests with ceramic inserts. They too, had canisters fastened to them and ripcords hanging down.
“We’ll be wearing bulletproof vests while doing inventory?” she said.
“If I could get Artie to spring for it, we’d be wearing bomb disposal suits,” Claudia said.
Astrid stared at her.
“You’re kidding, right?” she said.
Claudia shook her head.
“Not in this section I’m not,” she said. “Most of the warehouse, we have some idea what we’ll run into. But here? All we know here is that the stuff was dangerous enough that Warehouse 12 didn’t want it out among people. We may find anything in there.”
She held out a section of her vest to Astrid and pointed to where a hole had been sewn shut in it. A hole that looked easily big enough for Astrid to put both her fists through.
“Replacement inserts are over there,” Claudia said and pointed to an open carton of them on the floor under where the vests had hung. It was a 12-piece box, and it looked about half full.
“The canisters are filled with neutralizer goop,” Claudia said. “If an artifact sticks to you, pull all the rip cords you can reach and pray.”
Astrid put her vest on. Her instincts were telling her that this must be a joke, a hazing for the new staff. Only the things had very clearly been used. The helmets had scratches and small dents. The vests had worn spots and plenty of repairs. If they were fake, someone had gone to an awful lot of trouble to make them look convincing.
“Neutralizer goop?” she asked.
“Purple, weird-smelling slime that renders most artifacts temporarily inert,” Claudia said. “For less urgent use, there’s a dispenser station there.”
She pointed at a pole that stuck up out of the floor nearby. At a closer look, the pole was obviously a pipe, and a hose with a sprayer attachment was attached to the top of it.
“How does it work?” Astrid asked.
“I dunno,” Claudia said with a shrug. “Ask Artie or Mrs Frederic, maybe they know.”
Astrid looked at Claudia.
“Wouldn’t it be pretty useful to know how to neutralize dangerous artifacts?” she said. “I don’t know, maybe it could be done at a distance? Maybe the same principle could be used to detect them?”
“Yeah, it would,” she said. “We’ll have to talk to Artie about it. It’d definitely be worth spending some time on in between crises.”
She checked that her vest was properly fastened, that her helmet sat as it should and she pulled on a pair of heavy leather gloves.
“But right now,” she said, “let’s do inventory.”
The work quickly became routine. Take something off the shelf. Check if it was labeled. If so, transfer the information from the label to her clipboard. If not, describe it as well as possible. In either case, note the shelf coordinate and put it back. Under the circumstances, also try to guess if it could have anything to do with the spiderbots, and if so note the positions specially. On top of that, Astrid kept a third list with stuff she wanted to have a closer look at out of her own personal interest when she got the time. That list pretty soon got longer than the might-be-relevant list, which was stubbornly empty.
After a couple of hours, Claudia stepped back from her side of the aisle.
“Hey,” she said. “I think we’ve earned a break.”
Astrid wasn’t going to argue with that.
“I think my throat is entirely covered with dust,” she said.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Claudia said. “Cleaning basically doesn’t happen, what with the mortal danger and all.”
She took off her helmet.
“Come on,” she said. “I have a stash of Mountain Dew and Twinkies not far from here.”
The started walking.
“You keep snack stashes down here?” Astrid said.
“Sure,” Claudia said. “I’m the junior agent, so I tend to get most of the inventory work, which they imagine is less dangerous than field work. Anyway, it’s quite a walk back to the office, so I keep snacks around. Also, it might come in handy if we end up in a lockdown again.”
“Lockdown?” Astrid said. “And really, I don’t exclusively speak in questions. It’s just so many new things here.”
“Hey, no problem,” Claudia said. “Ask away, and I’ll answer what I can. Anyway, a lockdown is where the Warehouse itself decides that a major containment breach is about to happen, so it shuts down all access points to the outside world.”
Astrid pondered that.
“I don’t think I want to know more about that right now,” she said.
The arrived at a small table and a rickety chair standing in the intersection of four aisles. The table had a drawer, from which Claudia extracted the cans of Mountain Dew and a box of Twinkies. She gestured for Astrid to take the chair, and while Astrid did so she pulled a snow globe out of the bag hanging from her belt. She aimed the bottom of the globe at the soda cans. A stream of snowflakes appeared, and the cans instantly frosted over. Astrid picked one of them up.
“It’s cold!” she said.
Claudia smiled and waved with the snow globe.
“Handy little thing, she said.”
“It’s projecting cold?!” Astrid said. “That’s insane! It’s impossible!”
Claudia tilted her head and looked at Astrid.
“Is the soda can cold?” she asked.
“Well, yes, but…” Astrid said.
“So it’s clearly not impossible,” Claudia said, sitting down on the floor. “Did you find anything interesting back there?”
Astrid cracked open her soda, and somewhat hesitantly drank from it. It seemed no worse than Mountain Dew ever was.
“Nothing relating to the case,” she said.
She tore open the plastic around a Twinkie and bit into its artificial goodness.
“But there were a few things I’d like to take a look at later,” she said. “For example, did you know that they had several boxes full of files related to the writer H G Wells? There could be some really fascinating historical information in… there…”
Her voice trailed off as she noted Claudia’s expression. Claudia got to her feet, both soda and Twinkie apparently forgotten.
“Show me those boxes,” she said. “Now.”
Helena was tired and hungry. Walking around the area where they’d entered this world had gained them exactly nothing except tired legs and sore feet. If there were any traces of Juliet, they couldn’t find them. They’d skipped lunch, in order to save their meager resources. And now it looked like they’d have to skip having a room to sleep in for the night. The one they’d had the night before was about as cheap as rooms ever got, and renting that one for a night had nearly cleaned out their money. They were looking at a couple of sandwiches or something for dinner, and then a cold night outdoors. Beckett claimed she new safe places to stay, but that didn’t improve Helena’s mood much. She wanted a roof over her head, a lockable door and a dry bed.
She had suggested several ways of getting more money, but Beckett wouldn’t hear of any of them. Helena had argued that any man she managed to talk into going into an alley with her and taking his pants off richly deserved having his wallet stolen, but the arguments fell on deaf ears. Beckett wouldn’t do anything illegal, and that was that.
“What about tomorrow, then?” Helena said.
Beckett didn’t even look at her. They were still walking the streets around the empty warehouse, for lack of anything better to do.
“We get something to eat tonight,” Helena went on. “We sleep under a bridge or something. Tomorrow comes. No money for food at all. It’s not going to be long before neither of us is in a shape to chase after Juliet. We have to get money, one way or another. We could try to get jobs, but that would pretty much mean giving up on ever returning home.”
Which wasn’t all that much of a problem for Helena, really. It wasn’t like she had anything to come home to any more. Sure, she wanted to stop whatever evil plan Juliet had, but not badly enough to starve to death for it.
“I know,” Beckett said.
“There’s no chance Beckett-beta left emergency caches around, I assume?” Helena said.
Beckett looked at her.
“That she left what?” she said.
“Emergency caches. Hiding places with some stuff that would come in really handy if you for some reason couldn’t get at your normal resources. Some money, a passport, maybe a gun, some basic medical supplies, that sort of thing.”
“Do you have that sort of thing?” Beckett asked.
“Yes,” Helena said. “But they’re all in England.”
Also, the chance that they were still around wasn’t fantastic after a hundred and ten years.
“No,” Beckett said. “I don’t have anything like that.”
“There’s a bench,” she said, pointing. “Let’s rest a bit.”
They sat down.
“So no caches,” Helena said. “What about people? Beckett-beta has been dead for a year. Most of the people she knew should be the same ones you know, and they won’t have forgotten her in a year.”
“I’m a cop,” Beckett said. “I don’t have a life. All the people I know are policemen.”
“And you think they’d react badly to you showing up alive?”
“It’d attract a certain amount of attention, that’s for sure. They’ll want to know how come I’m alive. I don’t have a good explanation. The truth doesn’t help, because I don’t quite believe that one myself.”
Beckett suddenly sat up a bit straighter and frowned.
“No, wait,” she said.
“Wait for what?” Helena said.
“There is someone who’s not actually a cop,” Beckett said. “And who’d believe our story without problems, because he’d think it was the coolest thing ever.”
“Does he have money?” Helena asked. “And does he like you enough to help you?”
Beckett smiled, possibly for the first time since they ended up in this universe.
“Oh yeah, he has money,” she said. “And at least back home, I’m pretty sure he’s in love with me.”
Helena got up from the hard bench with an unladylike groan.
“Well then,” she said. “Let’s go see this person.”
“This is the coolest thing ever!”
The man was rather cute, in an American sort of way. He was also, after the first shock of seeing Beckett had settled and she’d told him the basics of their story, all but bouncing up and down with excitement. He reminded Helena of a puppy dog. All enthusiasm and friendliness.
“So you’re both actually from an alternate universe?” he asked, again. “What’s it like over there? Do you have zeppelins? Tell me there’s zeppelins!”
“There are no zeppelins,” Helena said. “They went out of favor after the Hindenburg disaster.”
Beckett looked a bit exasperated.
“Castle, I told you that as far as we can tell, our universe was identical to this one up until the Democratic primaries in 2008. Why it changed then I have no idea, but we got the first female president while you got the first black one.”
He kept pacing back and forth, as if he didn’t know what to do with all that enthusiastic energy. Like a puppy.
“Damn,” he said. “I so wanted there to be zeppelins. It’s not a proper alternate universe without zeppelins.”
He stopped and pointed at Beckett.
“But,” he said. “At least there’s a supervillain.”
Beckett glared at him.
“A supervillain?” she said.
He flung out his arms.
“Come on!” he said. “She escaped to an alternate universe when you got too close to her! That’s pure comic book! It’s so cool!”
“Not really, when you got dragged along and can’t get back home again,” Helena said.
She and Beckett were sitting in a low black couch, the table in front of them filled with enough cartons of Chinese takeout to feed a small army. The warm room, soft couch and plentiful food had worked small miracles on Helena’s mood, and seemed to at least improve Beckett’s a little bit.
“Yeah, I can see how that’d curb your enthusiasm,” Castle said. “So your only way of returning home is to find this Verne woman, and either convince, trick or force her to help you?”
“Pretty much,” Beckett said.
“Ok,” he said. “So we find her.”
He beamed a smile at Beckett.
“Just like old times, huh?” he said. “You and me, investigating?”
Beckett didn’t quite groan.
“Well,” she said. “It beats being dead.”
He sat down at the very edge of a stuffed chair.
“So where do we start?” he said. “That’s a funny coincidence about the names, by the way.”
“The names?” she said.
He gestured at Helena, then generally out at the world.
“Helena Wells and Juliet Verne?” he said. “Wells and Verne? Like the writers?”
“Oh,” Beckett said. “That.”
She turned to Helena.
“You may as well tell him,” she said.
“This is even cooler than the coolest thing ever!”
This time he was bouncing up and down in the chair. It did not reduce his similarity to a puppy dog.
“You are actually, for real, the writer H G Wells?” he said. “Seriously?”
“I am,” Helena said. “Not that I can prove it, but I am.”
“So, you wrote First Men On the Moon, and War of the Worlds, and The Sleeper Wakes, and The Time Machine and all those?”
“Yes,” she said. “And my brother got them published for me.”
He got up.
“I actually have,” he said, pointing at her with the index fingers of both hands, “a first edition of War of the Worlds.”
“Really,” Helena said. “How nice for you.”
“Would you sign it for me? Please?”
This time Beckett really did groan.
“It would just ruin the value of the book, Castle,” she said. “There is no way you can ever prove this to anyone. We can’t even prove it to you. I’m not even sure why you believe us in the first place. H G Wells and Jules Verne as arch-enemies, doing battle across centuries of time and two universes? It’s totally ridiculous!”
Castle sat down again.
“I believe her,” he said. “Because you’re here, Kate.”
He suddenly looked a lot more serious. Pained, even.
“I was one of the first people entering your apartment after the bomb went off,” he said. “I found your body, right next to the bathtub. You were…”
He drew breath.
“You were horribly burned. A beam of some sort had fallen down and crushed…”
He made a gesture across his abdomen.
“But for some reason, your head was intact. I could see it was you, and that you were dead. There was never the slightest doubt of that. And now you’re sitting here, in my couch, eating Chinese takeout. Right now, right here, I will believe pretty much anything you tell me. Because the fact that you can tell me anything is a goddamn miracle.”
Beckett looked disturbed.
“In our world,” she said. “I managed to get into the bathtub just as the blast came. It protected me enough that I wasn’t really hurt.”
She looked up at him.
“So I must’ve been naked when you found me,” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. “You were.”
“Did you see my breasts?”
“I did,” he said. “I had to keep to gay porn sites for months afterwards, anything with boobs just made me see your mangled body.”
“Poor you,” she said.
“Seriously, Kate,” he said, “it’s so good to see you again.”
“Thanks,” she said. “How are Alexis and Martha?”
“Alexis was devastated,” Castle said. “But she’s young, she bounced back. Mom is, well, old enough that she’s not unused to people she knows suddenly dying.”
“We should try to keep this away from them,” Beckett said. “No need reopening old wounds.”
“They’d really love to see you.”
“And then I’d go away again.”
“Hopefully yes,” he said. “But this time at least they’d get a chance to say goodbye.”
Beckett looked away from him and was silent for a while.
“We’ll see,” she finally said.
“Excuse me,” Helena said. “But do you think I could borrow a shower while the two of you catch up? There was one in the hotel room, but it looked like it’d just make me dirtier.”
“Oh, yes, of course,” Castle said. “Guest bathroom is just down to the right when you come out the door. Feel free to use anything you find in there, as long as it’s not my daughter.”
“Thank you,” Helena said and got up from the couch.
“But your mom would be fine?” Beckett said.
“She’s old enough to take care of herself,” Castle said.
“So, you should have a new Nikki Heat book out about now,” Helena heard Beckett say as she walked out the door.
“Yeah,” Castle said. “Just finished it.”
“Does she die in it?”
“Of course,” he said. “Publisher wants to call it Dead Heat. I feel that’s a bit obvious.”
“Well, yes, but that’s a requirement, not a problem.”
Nearly an hour later, Helena had exited the bathroom, wearing a thick fluffy bathrobe and a smile. A very long, hot and luxurious shower had done small wonders for her mood. She felt more relaxed than she had since she saw Juliet’s spiders on the TV a week ago.
Unfortunately, the relaxation and reduced worry had made her start thinking. And not about anything useful, like how they were going to find Juliet and return home, but on the Helena and the Myka of this universe. In 2008 Myka hadn’t been called to the Warehouse yet. She was just an ordinary Secret Service agent. Helena was safely stored in the Bronze Section of Warehouse 13. But after that point she couldn’t be sure what had happened. Yes, most things seemed to be the same here as at home. But not all. Beckett-beta being dead was the most obvious example. There was no way for Helena to know if Myka-beta had ever become a Warehouse agent, or if Helena-beta had been freed. There were too many variables, too many uncertainties.
Maybe she should just call the Secret Service and ask to talk to agent Bering. Except they wouldn’t tell her, being the secret service and all. They’d ask her leave a message and that’d be all she ever heard from them. Maybe. Unless Myka-beta was at the Warehouse, and Helena-beta had been released, in which case all Hell would break loose. It would be better just to give it up and help Beckett return home. Except…
She sighed. Her thoughts kept going around in circles, to no use for anyone. If nothing else, right now and right here the most useful thing she could do was to help Beckett. She didn’t have to really make up her mind what she wanted to do herself until she was faced with the option of going home. Home to her empty Myka-less world, where the only thing she cared about was her daughter’s grave.
Her eyes widened as realization struck. Christina’s grave! Part of the Minoan Trident had been disguised as one of the coffin’s handles since 1899, and nobody knew except Helena. If it was still there, things had gone differently at the Warehouse in this world and Helena-beta was most likely still in bronze. If not… things could still be different, but it was far less likely.
She walked into the room where Beckett and Castle were still sitting. Castle was leaned back in his chair, looking relaxed. Beckett was in the couch, just as when Helena left, except now she was smiling. Laughing, even.
“And then, after all that,” Castle said with a wide gesture, “Ryan turns to Esposito and says…”
He broke off his sentence and looked up when Helena entered. Beckett looked up too. Although no farther up than Helena’s cleavage, she suddenly noted.
“Ah, there she is,” Castle said. “I hope you enjoyed the shower? Found everything to your satisfaction?”
“It was glorious,” she said. “I am most grateful.”
She sat down in the unoccupied counterpart of the armchair Castle was in.
“Excellent,” he said. “A friend of Kate’s is a friend of mine, and I try to do what I can for my friends.”
“In that case, Mr Castle,” Helena said, “I would like to ask a somewhat strange favor of you.”
His looked at her.
“Will you sign the book for me?” he said.
“I will do that in any case, Mr Castle, although I agree with detective Beckett that nobody will believe the signature is genuine, and it will only lower the value of an antique volume.”
“I will know,” he said. “That’s enough. What is this favor?”
She gathered her courage.
“My daughter is buried in a mausoleum in Paris,” she said. “In our world, I found out recently that her coffin had been vandalized, one of its handles stolen. I would very much like to know if that has happened here too, and if necessary repair it.”
“That’s it?” Castle said. “No problem at all. I’ll ask my research assistant to pay someone to go over there with a camera, and then I’ll write it off as a business expense. I do that sort of thing all the time.”
“Thank you,” she said. “It may sound silly, but it means something to me.”
“I have a daughter,” Castle said. “I understand.”
“We were talking about how to find Verne,” Beckett said. “And were hoping you’d have some good ideas.”
“I’m afraid I don’t,” Helena said. “I can’t even think of a place to start. It’s clear she was planning to come here, and even if we provoked her into going over prematurely she won’t have been as disoriented as we were. And are, to be honest. It’s impossible for us to guess what she’s doing.”
“There must be something,” Castle said. “You know her from before, Kate said. You were enemies.”
“That was more than a hundred years ago,” Helena said. “People can change a lot in that time.”
“Not that I’ve known anyone that long,” Castle said, “but it makes sense. So tell us what she was like back then.”
“Annoying,” she said. “She truly believed that the French were superior to all other nationalities, and the she knew better than all of her countrymen. She is very intelligent, that is true, but the step from that to knowing better than everyone else about everything is pure arrogance. Have you read her books? Particularly Robur-le-Conquérant and Vingt mille lieues sous les mers?”
“A few,” Beckett said. “I don’t know the French names.”
“The one with the flying ship and the one with the submarine,” Helena said. “The main characters are the same. Strong, intelligent, arrogant men who use the power of science to try to conquer the world in order to improve it. That, in a nutshell, was her.”
“So she’s upgraded,” Castle said. “She’s no longer trying to conquer only one world.”
“That is possible,” Helena said. “Except she hasn’t conquered our world yet. Maybe she came here to solicit aid from the only person she can accept as an equal. Another version of herself.”
“That so is supervillain thinking!” Castle exclaimed. “I bet that’s it.”
“But does it help us?” Helena said.
“Yes,” Beckett said. “It means we can try to track Verne-beta, since Verne-alpha will try to reach her. And Verne-beta is local, she has ties to things. She can be found.”
Castle had been looking from Helena to Beckett and back again as they spoke, his grin getting steadily wider.
“What?!” Helena said.
“Alpha is your world, beta is this one?” he said.
“Yes,” Beckett said. “Giving them names makes it easier to talk about them.”
He got up from the armchair, put his hands on his hips and struck a pose that he probably intended to be heroic.
“Richard Castle,” he said in a gravely voice. “From the beta universe.”
Beckett hid her face in her hands.
“Could this be any cooler?” Castle said in his normal voice. “I feel like I should be wearing a leotard with a logo on the chest. And a cape! A large, billowing cape.”
“Castle!” Beckett said.
He stopped talking and posing, and looked at her.
“Do you still have that login to the NYPD computers that you shouldn’t have and you think I don’t know about?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. “Except I never really thought you didn’t know about it, I just figured that if you knew about it officially you’d have to do something about it.”
She got up from the couch.
“Well,” she said, “I’m dead, so I don’t have to do anything. Let’s go use it to look up French companies in New York, and see if any have names that are Jules Verne references. You come along too, Wells.”
The warehouse turned out not to be very interesting at all. It was completely empty, except for dust, debris and a few tracks. What did turn out to be interesting was the enclosure behind the warehouse. Or, rather, what was in it.
“What on Earth is that?” Myka said.
No matter what it had been, it was badly broken. It looked like someone had taken a large amount of machinery and spread it out in a straight line starting a few feet out from the warehouse wall. Or, perhaps, taken a very large single machine and rubbed it like a crayon along the yard. There was a lot of metal, much of it brass, and considerable amounts of wood and glass. There were wires and pipes still keeping various bits attached to each other.
Olivia slowly walked through the door out into the yard, looking around her all the time and holding her gun ready. Myka stayed behind, ready to defend the FBI agent with her Tesla should something happen.
“Clear,” Olivia said. “And how did this thing get here?”
Myka followed her out. The yard was not huge, probably primarily meant as a rest area for people working in the warehouses surrounding it. The only way in was through various ordinary people-size doors. Or across the roofs, she guessed. The wreckage clearly was of something that had been very much too big to come through any of the doors they could see. One of the parts Myka could see from where she was standing looked like an entire desk, and not a small one. That alone would’ve been hard to get out here, and the way it was bolted to heavy steel girders certainly wouldn’t have made it any easier.
“Good question,” she said.
She looked at how it had fallen and tried to judge the angle of impact. Which supported the rubbed like a crayon theory rather than a fell from the sky theory. Except that the start of the rub would’ve been inside of the warehouse and the wall was intact. Which it certainly wouldn’t have been if the machine had come through it. She walked over to the end of the rubble closest to the wall and knelt down to have a closer look. She frowned. The girders at the bottom looked like they’d been cut off by something insanely sharp. Which didn’t make a whole lot of sense for an eight-inch-wide piece of steel. Also, she noticed after staring at the mess for a while, none of the pipes or cables came this far down. She stood up en looked more closely, then walked around the entire thing.
The pipes and cables didn’t leave the wreckage at any point. They were all internal. She frowned. That didn’t make sense. It was a machine, that much was obvious, so it needed power. Where did it get it, if not from outside? Of course, there could be something she wasn’t seeing under all the wreckage. She chose a pipe and started following it, clambering over the broken stuff.
“I found something,” Olivia shouted.
“What?” Myka shouted back.
“Tracks,” came the answer. “It looks like someone fell down here, then got up and moved around for a bit before leaving though one of the other doors.”
“Great!” Myka shouted. “Then we have something to follow!”
The pipe ended in a tank, or at least the ruptured remains of a tank. There was a remnant of liquid in it. She stopped and smelled. No smell of gasoline, ethanol or other combustible liquids. The liquid looked clear, and it hadn’t obviously affected the surrounding materials when it gushed out. As far as she could tell without tasting it, it seemed to be plain old water.
She inched closer still, and looked more carefully at the remains. The tank had several pipes connected to it, and what looked like an intact smaller tank in the middle. Several of the pipes led to complicated machinery, at least one of which looked like a turbine.
Myka frowned. She’d seen something like this before, or at least a sketch of it in a book. Water tank, pipes, turbine… and that was a condenser vessel, over there a flow regulator she suddenly saw, and all of it gelled in her mind. She was looking at, of all possible things, a kind of steam engine. The turbine almost certainly generated electricity for the electronics she’d seen elsewhere, but it was clear that much of the machine had been running on mechanical power from the steam. The only problem was that she couldn’t see any obvious heat source.
“Myka?” Olivia shouted. “I think I’ve found tracks from mechanical spiders.”
“Great,” Myka shouted back without actually thinking about what she was responding to.
Heat source. It needed a heat source. That would be the ultimate source of the energy, the steam was just a way to convert it into useful work. It had to be somewhere close to the water tank, but the only thing there was the small tank inside the big one. Surely that couldn’t…?
Myka moved closer to the small tank and held out a hand towards it. She could feel heat radiating from the smaller tank, even though she was fifteen feet away. She frowned. What kind of energy source would keep producing that much heat this long after the machine had been comprehensively wrecked? It would need to be something that produced it passively and for a long time, like…
She started clambering away from the thing in sudden fear as realization struck. The only thing she knew that worked like that would be a large lump of rapidly decaying radioisotopes. The damn thing was radioactive!
“Olivia!” she shouted. “We need to get out of here now!”
“We need a Geiger counter,” she was saying a little while later. “It’s really not a good idea to go in there without knowing how bad the radioactivity is.”
They were back out on the street. Myka had her arms crossed over her chest, and the tension in her shoulders was rapidly escalating into an ache.
“Do we have an expense account?” Olivia said.
She was standing next to Myka, looking as cool as ever. As if suddenly finding that you might already be dead, only your body hadn’t realized it yet, was something that happened every day.
“Yes,” Myka said.
“So let’s go buy one,” Olivia said. “I know a place.”
Myka looked at her. On a second look, she too looked a bit tense.
“Lead the way,” she said.
“We’ll need to take a cab.”
“So get one.”
She closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath.
“Sorry for snapping at you,” she said. “I’m just a bit nervous. Radiation poisoning isn’t very nice.”
Olivia smiled at her.
“No problem,” she said. “I don’t think you have that much to worry about, though.”
“The desk,” Olivia said. “As far as I can tell, it would’ve been less than twenty feet away from the heat source when the machine was intact. I doubt a horrible death was part of the builder’s plan. At least not for themselves.”
That made sense, actually. Getting cancer probably wasn’t part of the plan either.
“I still want to get a Geiger counter and go back and check,” Myka said. “If nothing else we want to know how careful we need to be while investigating the thing.”
“I didn’t like the look of it much,” she said.
“Me neither,” Myka said. “What did you find, before I dragged you out of there?”
“Tracks,” Olivia said. “One person, as far as I could tell. Looked like someone wearing high-heeled shoes. She’d been lying down in one place, then moving around the machine. At several places at the edge of the wreckage other tracks start. Smaller and more of them in lines, so I’m guessing they were from the mechanical spiders. All of them left through the door opposite the one we came in through.”
Myka pondered that for a bit.
“Did you get any sense where the entire thing came from?” she asked.
Olivia looked out the car window for a moment before she answered.
“Not here,” she said.
“Ok,” she said. “We’ll talk about it when we get out of the cab.”
“No,” she said. “I mean I don’t think it came from here. As in this world. There is no way it ended up where and how it was in a natural way, not without wrecking the buildings around it.”
Which was exactly the same conclusion Myka had reached herself.
“So where did it come from?”
Olivia shook her head.
“I’d really like to get Walter Bishop in on this,” she said. “This is exactly his sort of thing.”
“I’ll ask Artie,” Myka said.
From the outside, it looked like any other sports bar. Bright flashy sign screaming the establishment’s name, lots of signs advertising cheap beer, several monitors showing bits and pieces of ongoing sports events. A handful of men were hanging around the entrance, smoking.
“This is it?” Juliet asked.
“It is,” Valerie said.
They were sitting in a black limousine. Juliet in the rear seat, Valerie in the one in front facing the other way. It was a very nice car, with quality liquor in its bar and real crystal glasses. It also had armor plating in the sides, puncture-resistant tires and bulletproof glass in the windows. According to the company she’d rented it from, it was similar to what the President of the United States used, except that it didn’t have protection against poison gas. The driver was ex-Secret Service, and well trained in handling the car as well as a variety of firearms.
“Have you been here before?” Juliet asked.
“Never, Ms Verne,” Valerie said. “It really isn’t my kind of place. But I’ve read and heard enough to know that this is a center for the lower rungs of organized crime.”
“If it is not, I’m sure it will at least be enough to get rumors started.”
Juliet grabbed her purse. The driver got out, walked around the car and opened the door for her. She was actually surprised to be able to find service this good among Americans. She got out, followed by Valerie carrying a larger briefcase. They walked across to the bar. The men in front of it looked up at their approach.
“Damn,” one of them said. “That’s some high-class whores. Must really be a recession, if they’re coming down here.”
Juliet stopped and smiled at him.
“Perhaps you should follow us inside,” she said. “I have a proposition that you may find interesting.”
She entered before he had the time to respond, closely followed by Valerie. The place was packed with exactly the same sort of men who’d been lounging outside. A few of them looked up. Most of those who did got the same kind of leering smiles she’d seen outside. One, though, frowned and walked over to a large table in the back corner. As Juliet walked out to the most visible spot of floor she could see in there, she saw out of the corner of her eye how a brief discussion took place at the corner table. In the end, a wiry black man in leather jeans and white armless shirt got up and headed for her. She reached into her purse and by feel pushed a button on a small device. All the television screens in the place suddenly flared up and then went dead.
“Gentlemen!” she shouted. “If I could have your attention, please!”
There were some shouts of protest, but they were soon silenced by their comrades.
“Well,” the wiry black guy said. “Aren’t you out of your depth.”
Juliet discreetly pushed a button on her bracelet. This one she really didn’t want to lose, so she didn’t keep it in the purse.
“What makes you think that, Mr…?” she said.
He shook his head.
“Damn, bitch,” he said. “I think we gotta teach you some manners.”
There was a brief loud crash from the door. Everyone, or at least as close as Juliet could tell, turned to look. Where the door had been, there was just an opening. Parts of the frame had been torn out together with it. As everyone looked, a couple of narrow mechanical and many-jointed legs moved in through it. It was quickly followed by another pair of legs, and then a mechanical body. It was about half as high as a man and wide enough that it scraped against the sides of the opening. It was made from a mixture of steel and brass, and its carapace had lines of rivets crossing it. On the front, eye-like lenses swiveled to cover the room. It made its way inside, showing a total of eight spindly legs. The top joints of the legs very nearly scraped the roof. Once it had cleared the door, another one came behind it, and a third after that. They walked up to stand on each side of and behind Juliet and Valerie.
“Would you care to reconsider those words?” Juliet said to the wiry guy. “I would prefer to avoid bloodshed, but if your people need a blood sacrifice in order to take me seriously, I’ll be happy to oblige.”
“What the fuck are those things?” he said.
He reached a hand behind himself, and it came back holding a semi-automatic handgun. He raised it in the general direction of Juliet. In the time it took him to move the gun from his side to stretched out in front of him, all three spiders reacted. On each side of where their mouths would be if they were living, gun ports irised open and barrels slid out. The one behind Juliet also raised its body higher between its legs so it got a clear field of fire over her. Their six guns fired, and all but tore the man’s torso to shreds. The legs, arms and head fell to the floor with wet thumps. The handgun clattered to the floor, leaving shocked silence.
“I wish to hire some assistance in a minor matter,” Juliet said. “Would any of you be interested?”
In the back of the room, someone was noisily sick.
“Um,” someone with a little more backbone than the others said. “What is it you want done?”
“I want to tie up as many police resources as possible for a time,” she said. “So, between noon and midnight tomorrow, I’ll pay anyone who manages to get themselves arrested one thousand dollars. Plus reimbursement for any fines, of course. Any questions?”
“Just get arrested?” someone said. “Like, for just anything?”
“Anything,” Juliet said. “Breaking and entering, vandalism, rape, jaywalking, indecent exposure, I don’t care. As long as it’s between noon and midnight and you tie up one or more policeman’s time, I’ll pay you. There will be no bonus for felonies that land you in prison, so you may want to stay with offenses that only give fines.”
She gestured at Valerie, who lifted her briefcase up to the horizontal and opened it.
“If you wish to participate,” Valerie said, “I have leaflets here that explain the payment procedure. We will require your names, so we can check your claims against police records. Any who intend to participate, please come and get a leaflet.”
She took a few steps forward, out of the immediate shadow of the spiders. After some hesitation, one guy came and got a leaflet. Then another, and soon everyone in the bar was getting one. Juliet waited patiently until the stream of takers petered out.
“Thank you for your attention,” she said. “Please feel free to invite your friends to participate as well. You have the information needed, do pass it on.”
She walked out, followed by Valerie and the spiders. Outside, the spiders followed them across the street to the car. Once the two women were inside, the spiders vanished upwards, climbing the side of a building with insane speed.
“Home, please,” Juliet told the driver.
He was staring up where the spiders had vanished to, and she had to repeat herself before they got under way. She’d have to complain to the rental company. She couldn’t have a driver who became useless when something a bit unusual happened.
“Do you really intend to pay?” Valerie said.
“Yes,” Juliet said. “I may need expendable manpower again in the future, so I can use a reputation of dealing fair.”
“I will require some time tomorrow morning to arrange a large amount of cash,” she said.
Juliet didn’t bother to comment.
The floor between two of the Warehouse 12 shelves was almost entirely covered with papers. Only a narrow path down the middle remained clear, to give Claudia and Astrid somewhere to walk. Which they did. The papers on the floor were the H G Wells reports, from the first time the Warehouse became aware of her at the start of the aisle through when she joined as an agent around the middle of it up until she was bronzed at the very end. The majority of the reports looked like standard Warehouse artifact retrievals, but others were more interesting. If not always relevant at the moment. There was, for example, a thick stack of handwritten papers from 1899 with a title page that stated “The Second War of the Worlds” that had Astrid itching to read it. Unfortunately, there were also quite a few smaller stacks of paper that looked like they were highly relevant. Like blueprints for mechanical spiders. Bigger and coarser than the ones Olivia and Myka were off investigating, as well as driven by coal-fired steam engines. As far as Astrid could tell from the blueprints, they were autonomously controlled by on-board descendants of Babbage’s differential engine. The things gave Astrid the creeps. It really looked like they were ground-bound variants of the unmanned drones the US Air Force was using in Afghanistan and Iraq, except they were wholly mechanical and from the 1870s. The person who designed and built them was a truly impressive genius.
Which led to the second part of the whole thing. Apparently, H G Wells had had an arch-enemy. Who, absurdly, was Jules Verne. Who, according to the reports, was a cross-dressing woman. A cross-dressing immortal woman. The earlier Wells reports had drawings of Verne from 1850, and the later ones had photographs of her looking exactly the same in 1898. From those reports, it sounded like a clandestine war between the two mad geniuses had ranged across Europe for the last two decades of the 19th century. Wells had focused on small things, stealthy things, things harnessing esoteric energies and weird principles. She’d made something that reversed gravity, and her crowning achievement had been the time machine. Which, according to Claudia, was actually right there in Warehouse 13. A time machine. One that could only transport consciousnesses back to take over the bodies of earlier humans, granted, but that was still more than plenty to put all of contemporary physics on its head. Astrid spent half a minute thinking about the consequences and possibilities of that machine and had to sit down, because what she could come up with in that time literally made her dizzy. Verne, on her side, had built more obvious things. A flying gunship, that had apparently crashed and burned in the Middle East and was the source of several reports of people finding the Ark of Noah. She’d built a submarine capable of holding several hundred people for months on end. Nobody had the slightest idea how its life support worked, or where it currently was. She’d built larger versions of the spiders, huge things fifty feet high and almost two hundred long with entire gun batteries on their backs. She’d used them in an unsuccessful attempt to carve out a nation for herself in the jungles of central Africa. Two of the gigantic robot spiders had been seen there as late as 1933, it turned out when Claudia ran a search, and if their mechanical brains hadn’t rusted shut since they might still be there.
“This is insane,” Astrid said. “Completely and utterly insane.”
Claudia smiled at her.
“Welcome to the Warehouse,” she said.
“Do you know what I’m missing here?” she said, gesturing at the paper-filled floor.
“A search engine?” Claudia suggested.
“Well, yes,” Astrid admitted. “But that’s not what I was thinking of.”
“I didn’t really think so,” Claudia said.
“Some mention of Juliet Verne during the time of Warehouse 13,” she said. “Any mention at all, however tangential.”
“There’s nothing in the system,” Claudia said.
“Exactly,” Astrid said. “Nothing. You have someone who’s a major thorn in the side of Warehouse 12 for decades, and who looks like she’s in her mid-twenties when she’s well into her seventies, and after the Warehouse moves she’s suddenly just gone.”
“The move was during the first world war,” Claudia said. “And Verne mostly lived in France. It’s possible she got killed.”
“Or she just used the Warehouse moving as an opportunity to go underground. To stop the overt conflict, and change to stealthier tactics.”
“That’d not be a bad strategy,” she said. “Although it really raises the question of why she’s re-surfacing now. Because it seems kind of obvious that these current spiders are hers. They’re like version seventeen of those 19th century ones she had.”
“We should contact Olivia and Myka and tell them,” Astrid said. “They need to know. And maybe they’ve seen something that brings more light on the ‘why’ part.”
Astrid looked at the weird little box with an expression of grave doubt. It was roughly the size of a paperback book, and when opened it had a little round screen.
“It’s called a Farnsworth,” Claudia said as she pushed a button on it.
Astrid stared at her.
“Because it was invented by Philo Farnsworth,” Claudia said. “You know, the guy who made the first workable TV camera? He also invented a bunch of stuff that ended up in here rather than out with the public.”
Before Astrid could respond, agent Bering’s face appeared on the little round screen.
“Claudia?” she said. “Is there a problem?”
Claudia shook her head.
“We just found some information,” she said. “About the spiders.”
Astrid could see Olivia behind and to the side of Bering, which was exactly the same position Astrid had relative to Claudia. Behind them, she could see shelves with signs and boxes. Bering frowned.
“Really?” she said. “Where?”
“In old files from Warehouse 12,” Claudia said. “Turns out that HG had an arch-enemy who built things just like them, only steam-powered, back in the 19th century.”
“These are probably steam-powered too,” Olivia said. “Only with a radio-isotope heat source instead of coal or something.”
“What do we know about this arch-enemy?” Bering said. “Helena never mentioned any.”
“It’s Jules Verne,” she said. “Or rather, it turns out, Juliet Verne.”
Bering stared at them through the screen for a few heartbeats.
“Of course,” she said. “Who else? Did she get bronzed too?”
Claudia shook her head.
“It seems she doesn’t age,” she said. “She looked like this in 1850 as well as 1898.”
Claudia held the Farnsworth so it could see the pictures they had of Verne.
“Did you find anything about her working on teleportation?” Bering said.
In the background, Olivia took her phone out of her pocket. She touched its screen and put it to her ear.
“Dunham,” Astrid heard her say before she moved out of the Farnsworth’s pickup range.
“No, nothing like that,” Claudia said. “But, Myka, she hasn’t been seen since 1914. That’s almost a hundred years ago. Someone like that could design and build a lot of stuff in that time. If she’s surfacing now, that has to be because she’s finally done preparing.”
“Or because something just went disastrously wrong,” Bering said. “We found…”
In the background, Olivia put the phone back in her pocket and came close again.
“We need to leave,” she said. “That was Broyles calling. He got a call from Nina Sharp a couple of minutes ago. The Massive Dynamic building is under attack from mechanical spiders.”
“Are the police on their way?” she said.
Olivia shook her head.
“He also said that there is a sudden and inexplicable wave of low-level crime tying up nearly every police unit in the area. They’ll get to Massive Dynamic, but not for maybe as much as an hour. He’s calling in reinforcements, but we can get there faster than anything else.”
Bering stood up, Farnsworth still in hand.
“Claudia,” she said, “get Artie to send you, agent Farnsworth and Pete up here as fast as humanly possible.”
She moved the Farnsworth so they saw a note with a handwritten address on it.
“Go to that address,” Bering’s voice said. “You’ll find the wreckage of a machine in the inner yard. Try to figure out what it is. Oh, and be careful. It’s most likely radioactive.”
The note moved out of picture, and the faces of Bering and Olivia returned.
“Get in touch when you’re there, ok?” Bering said.
“Will do,” Claudia said. “Be careful, Myka.”
The image faded. Claudia closed the little tin box. She looked at Astrid, who looked back.
“Massive Dynamic?” Claudia said. “As in the huge corporation that makes everything high-tech there is?”
“That’s them,” Astrid said.
“So that’s Nina Sharp as in Nina Sharp?”
Astrid nodded. Claudia stared at her for a moment before she spoke again.
“I think we should run,” she said.
“I don’t know why I keep letting you talk me into this,” Kate said.
She was sitting in the passenger seat of Castle’s Hummer. The real kind, built for military use and retrofitted with every conceivable luxury for overgrown boys with too much money. Not one of the later models, that were built for the overgrown boys from scratch. Ordinarily, it would’ve irritated Kate to be in it, but she had to admit that it was a far better choice than the Ferrari for getting three people through a riot zone.
“There it is,” Castle said, pointing ahead. “I’ll have to drive around.”
Straight ahead was the Massive Dynamic headquarter building. Normally, they’d just have driven straight ahead, but at the moment that street was blocked by people, police barricades and a couple of burning cars.
“It’s a rather large building,” Wells said from the back seat.
“Fifty-five stories high, covers the entire block,” Castle said.
“And all we know is that four extra large mechanical spiders entered it at ground level,” Wells said. “It’s going to take an awful long time to search it all.”
The car rocked as Castle took a shortcut across the sidewalk.
“I’m betting we won’t have to look,” Kate said. “I think Verne engineered this whole crime wave just so the police won’t be able to stop whatever she’s doing in there in time. So she’ll work fast, not discreet.”
“So what’s the plan?” Castle said.
“You stay in the car and keep it safe and running,” Kate said. “We’ll probably want to get away from here in a hurry.”
“We go in,” Wells said. “We try to figure out what the spiders are after, and if possible disable and capture one.”
“I’m sure the car will be safe,” Castle said. “I can come with you.”
Kate looked pointedly at the rioting people and burning cars fifty yards in front of them.
“Yeah, all right,” Castle grumbled. “This is as close as we’re getting.”
He drove the car halfway up a short, wide flight of stairs and stopped. Kate and Wells got out of the car, both of them with weapons drawn.
“Do you have a flashlight?” Kate said.
Castle opened a compartment next to the driver’s seat that Kate hadn’t even seen until then, took two flashlights out of it and passed them to Kate and Wells.
“Don’t get killed!” he said.
Kate took point up the rest of the stairs and across the stone-covered open space to what had until recently been the main entrance to the huge Massive Dynamic reception area. Now, it was a tangled mess of broken glass and torn steel.
“Are you sure you don’t want a real gun?” Kate said. “I’ve got a backup you can use.”
Wells shook her head.
“Won’t use anything lethal,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s useful,” Kate said.
“Sometimes it’s the worst mistake of your life,” Wells said. “I’ll stay with my Tesla.”
Kate paused before she entered the lobby, checking for movement or suspicious silhouettes. As far as she could tell, there weren’t any. Crouching, she hurried inside to take cover behind a concrete pillar. Wells followed her.
The room was fairly empty. Along one wall were a number of reception desks, unmanned and as far as Kate could see intact. The wall next to it, the one farthest from the outside, held a large number of elevators. All of which were intact, except for one that had had its door ripped out. In a line more or less straight from the broken-down entrance to the ripped-open elevator a number of overturned and smashed couches and tables lay.
“You were right about them not being discreet,” Wells said, her voice kept low.
Kate left the cover of the pillar and ran crouching up to the open elevator. She looked in. No elevator car, but several regular lines of holes punched into the shaft walls.
“The spiders climbed up,” she said a few seconds later when Wells arrived.
Wells leaned into the shaft and looked up.
“I’d rather not try to follow the same way,” she said.
“Me neither,” Kate said.
She looked around. The power was out, of course, and it would’ve been a horrible idea to use the elevators anyway. There should be emergency stairs somewhere.
“Kate?” Wells said.
“I can count at least ten sets of spider tracks,” she said. “So either they climbed up and down a lot, or the four we saw on the news broadcast weren’t the only ones entering.”
“Great,” Kate said.
She pointed at a very unobtrusive, almost hidden, door in the corner.
“There,” she said. “Emergency stairs. Let’s go.”
The mind-numbingly loud noise receded as the helicopters lifted off from the Massive Dynamic roof and sped off into the distance. Myka pulled her coat more firmly around herself. The wind was cold this far above the ground.
“Olivia!” a slightly rough female voice said. “How nice to see you again.”
The speaker was a bit shorter than either Myka or agent Dunham and immaculately dressed. Myka knew perfectly well who she was, although she’d only ever seen her on TV. Nina Sharp, Chief Operating Officer of the largest and most powerful corporation on the planet. Unofficially, the de facto head of the entire corporation and quite possibly the most powerful woman on the planet. And she was standing right there, on a rooftop above a riot, hugging Myka’s new partner.
“And this must be your new coworker,” Sharp said.
She held out a gloved hand to Myka.
“Welcome to Massive Dynamic, agent Bering,” she said. “I’m Nina Sharp.”
Myka took her hand. It was much too cold to be alive, but otherwise felt quite real.
“Thank you,” she said. “And I’m quite familiar with who you are, Ms Sharp. It’s an honor to be here.”
“Don’t say that until you’ve come away from here alive, agent,” she said.
She turned to Dunham.
“They’re in Walter’s lab down on the 30th floor,” she said. “Or at least they were when we lost control of the building. My security forces are trying to work their way down there, but the robots are making it slow going.”
“What about below the 30th?” Dunham said.
Sharp shook her head.
“Unknown,” she said. “The robots came in from the ground. With the riots it’s slow going down there too, so while I’ve called in reinforcements from other facilities they’re not likely to get here for at least another half hour.”
Myka looked from one to the other. They obviously had history together, although she wasn’t at all sure what kind of history. Something that made an FBI agent hug a mind-bogglingly wealthy businesswoman, in any case.
“Excuse me?” she said. “Do we know what the robots are after?”
“Strictly, no,” Sharp said. “But we’re assuming they’re coming for Walter. There is little else that makes this kind of operation reasonable.”
“Walter,” Myka said, ransacking her memory. “Walter Bishop? William Bell’s partner from way back?”
“And currently the sole owner of Massive Dynamic,” Sharp said. “As well as a genius scientist. Given the nature of the attack, my guess is someone wants him for the latter.”
Dunham pulled her handgun from its shoulder holster.
“Let’s go,” she said, and headed for the door to the stairwell.
On the 24th floor, there was a huge hole in the wall between the stairwell and the elevator shaft. On the wall opposite the hole there was a large human-shaped blood stain, and bloody drag marks from there to the edge of the hole. A sub-machine gun lay on the floor, and copious amounts of spent shell casings made their footing treacherous. Helena and Beckett looked at each other, then proceeded up the stairs in silence. Another couple of flights up they started hearing gunfire. Two distinct kinds, it sounded like to Helena.
“Can you tell what that is?” she asked. “I’m not very familiar with guns.”
At least nothing significantly more modern than a Lee-Enfield .303, she thought to herself. She was familiar with machine guns, but nothing that fired as fast and in as predicable bursts as she was hearing now. As far as she could tell, one of the kinds of bursts were always three shots exactly. The other kind seemed to vary from single shots to bursts several seconds long.
“One sounds like some variety of modern nine-millimeter sub-machine gun,” Beckett said. “Don’t know about the other, but it’s definitely something large-caliber.”
“So the sharper bursts are probably people, and the duller ones probably spiders?”
“I guess,” Beckett said.
They climbed a couple of flights more. The door to floor 30 was a whole lot sturdier than the ones on the lower floors, and had a keypad and card swipe lock. It had also been torn out of the wall and leaned across the stairwell. A fair bit of the wall itself had come with it, since its frame had been welded to the reinforcing rods in the concrete.
Helena stared at it.
“Do we really want to fight these things?” she said. “They’re considerably more powerful than the ones she had back in the 19th century.”
“Do we have a choice?” Beckett said. “I want to return home.”
Helena wasn’t so sure she wanted to beat Juliet quite that much. She clambered through the half-blocked opening anyway, Tesla at the ready. She dropped to one knee on the thick carpet and looked around. There were two elevator doors on each side of the staircase, and all four of them were riddled with bullet holes. The room in front of the elevators had until recently been a sort of lounge, with couches, tables, lots of plants and a large and fancy coffee machine. Now, all of that was wreckage. Two bodies in security guard uniforms lay on the floor. One had no head, and the other had a fist-sized hole in its back and was lying in a pool of blood.
“No spiders,” Helena said.
Beckett climbed out and knelt next to her.
“Shit,” she whispered. “It looks like a war zone!”
Three corridors went out from the lounge area, two to each side and one further into the building. Gunfire came from the last one. Lots of it. Burst after burst of the small-caliber shots, and over it several much longer bursts of the large-caliber fire.
“Is there any point to this?” Helena said. “We’re much less heavily armed than the people fighting.”
“Our goal is information,” Beckett said. “If we can get the wreckage of a spider they shoot, that’s a success.”
“Center corridor?” she asked.
“Sounds like the best bet for wreckage,” Beckett said.
They stalked down the corridor, Beckett on point this time.
You’d think walking down stairs would be easier than walking up them, Myka thought. And maybe it was. But after walking down twenty-five flights of them, her legs were pretty much dead. The stairwell they were using was some sort of semi-secret thing, used only for maintenance in the upper half of the building. It was narrow, dirty and occasionally they had to kick away larger pieces of debris to be able to continue. And to make things even better, as they approached the thirtieth floor they started hearing gunfire. Dunham stopped.
“Nine millimeter,” she said after one burst. “That’ll be the Massive Dynamic security staff.”
“Three-round bursts,” Myka said. “What are they using, Heckler and Koch MP5s?”
Dunham nodded. Another, longer and louder, burst was fired. Dunham frowned.
“That sounds like fifty-caliber heavy machine gun,” she said. “The spiders, I guess.”
“That’s a bit heavy for shooting people with,” Myka said. “I guess they weren’t purpose-built for this.”
Dunham looked at her.
“Is that good or bad?” she said.
“I don’t think so,” Myka said.
Dunham gave her a quirky smile.
“If I remember the layout right,” she said, “Walter’s lab is roughly forty yards down the corridor on the other side of this door, on the left side.”
“What do we do once we get there?” Myka said.
“Go in, get Walter and Peter, get out again.”
“Uncomplicated,” Myka said. “I like uncomplicated.”
Dunham put her hand on the doorknob.
“Ready?” she said.
“Ready,” Myka said, taking her gun out of its holster. This was no time for stun weapons, so the Tesla got to stay in her pocket.
Dunham opened the door, and ran down the corridor without looking first. Myka swore and ran after her. The corridor was wide and painted white. It had large windows of frosted glass that let light through without letting passers-by see what was going on in the various laboratories. If the normal lights had worked, it would probably look nice and cheery. When lit up by a mixture of bobbing flashlights, chemical glow-sticks and muzzle flashes, it looked more like a nightmare. They ran crouched down under the windows. The noise of gunfire pounded their ears. Myka saw Dunham turn her head briefly and shout something, but there was no way she could hear what. Bullets tore through the windows over her, showering her with shards of glass. She covered her head as well as she could with her arm, closed her eyes and mouth and ran faster. She stumbled, fell to her knees. She swore, caught her balance somewhat and looked up to check how far the laboratory door was.
And looked right at a mechanical spider. The wall behind it was smashed down, and it was standing right in front of Walter Bishop’s lab. It was also huge. The outermost part of its many-jointed legs slanted up from the floor to the ceiling. Its body, hanging from the inner part of the eight legs, was the size of a sports car. It was covered with lines of rivets, and various things were sticking out of openings all over it. Some looked like lenses. Some looked like gun barrels. Some Myka had no idea what they might be. In the hellish light, it looked like a nightmare come to life.
Dunham was standing between it and the lab door. As Myka watched, she raised her handgun and fired right at its front. Something crashed, and the whole thing jerked as if in pain. Then, with a movement so fast Myka barely had time to register what happened, it reached out a leg and grabbed Dunham. It folded her up to her body, wrapping the leg around her. While it did so, it used two other legs to smash down the lab door and a good part of the wall to each side of it. It vanished into the lab with fast, skittering moves.
Myka got up and ran the remaining few yards to the door. She brought up her gun and aimed inside. The spider was right there, maybe fifteen feet away. There was no way that she could miss something that big at that distance. Except that it was moving around rapidly, which made her far too likely to hit Dunham. She lowered her gun.
“Olivia!” a man shouted.
He was maybe in his thirties, average tall, average build, and he was running straight at the spider. Behind him, an old man rose up from behind an overturned table.
“Peter! No!” he shouted, grabbing after the younger man but missing by several feet.
Myka suddenly felt an incredible pain in her side, and the entire world went spinning. Things bumped into her and she couldn’t get air into her lungs. She smashed into something large, fell down, and the spinning stopped. After a couple of tries, she managed to inhale. She looked up.
There were two spiders in the room. One held Dunham and the young man, the other held the old man and a dark-haired woman she hadn’t seen before. She guessed the second spider had swatted her aside on its way to get the old man. Or she just got in the way of it walking. It was obvious that if it had actually wanted to hurt her, she’d be a red smear on the floor by now.
But that was no reason to give up. She raised her gun. Or, rather, she tried. She looked in confusion at her empty hand for a moment or two before she realized she must have dropped it. It wasn’t anywhere in sight. Grabbing hold of the desk that had stopped her, she tried to get to her feet. Pain exploded in her side, strong enough to make her vision black out, but she got up. She fumbled her Tesla out of her pocket, only to swear and throw it away when she saw the shattered fragments of crystal where a cylinder should be.
So she was unarmed, hurt and outnumbered. The smart thing to do would be to fall down and play dead, hoping for a better chance to run away. She’d do that as soon as she’d saved the people the spiders were holding. People who were screaming things. Curses, for example. And “Bering, for fuck’s sake run!”. She grabbed a steel rod from the desk she was leaning against. It still had things on it for holding lab glassware, but it’d do as an improvised club. It even had a weight at one end.
“Hey!” she shouted. “Spiders!”
Something moved outside the lab’s exterior windows. Myka turned to look, and decided she must have hit her head harder than she thought. There was a steam ship outside the window. Thirty stories above the streets of Manhattan. It moved past at a leisurely pace.
Unlike the spiders, who were anything but leisurely. When the impossible ship’s deck came into sight, they sprinted towards the windows. The moment before they crashed into them, they jumped. Myka saw them sail through the air and land, safe and sound, on the flying ship. The ship immediately started veering away from the building, and as it did so she saw the multitude of propellers sticking up from it. She stared at it, her mind completely blank.
Until she heard heavy metallic steps nearby. She spun around. Another spider had come in through the door. It scanned back and forth, until it spotted Myka. It turned its entire body her way. It had several camera lenses on the front, placed as the eyes on a real spider. Two holes irised open, and barrels stuck out where the spider’s mandibles should have been.
They did indeed look like .50-caliber heavy machine guns. There wouldn’t be much left of her, once it let those things rip. There wasn’t even any point to running, hurt and dizzy as she was.
Something in her mind let go. All her fear and worry melted away. She was going to die, and there was nothing she could do about it. It was out of her hands.
“Come on, you ugly machine,” she said. “Shoot already.”
It raised its body an inch or two, aiming the machine guns right at her. There was a metallic click as of a safety disengaging, and then blue lightning played all over its carapace. Its legs suddenly fell limp, and it collapsed to the ground with a floor-shaking crash.
Myka stared. That had looked like Tesla fire. She looked up, trying to see where the shot had come from. Someone was standing in the door. A woman, holding a Tesla in a two-fisted grip. She was rather curvy, and had long dark hair. As Myka looked, the expression on the woman’s face went from horror to surprise and elation. Distantly, Myka felt the blood drain from her own face. This could not be happening. Even in the world of the Warehouse, people did not come back from the dead.
“Helena,” she whispered.
She just had time to feel herself start to fall before everything went black.
Part 2: The Chase
The entire floor smelled of smoke. Not wood fire smoke, or cigarette smoke, or Cajun cooking smoke or anything nice like that, but acrid unclean smoke from burning plastic and chemicals. There was a slight tinge of charred flesh to it as well, but Astrid really preferred not to think about that. It was bad enough that she could instantly tell that it was burned human flesh. Working with the Fringe group had really left her with some dubious skills.
The entire floor was also a disaster area. There were bullet holes everywhere and entire sections of interior walls were missing. Everything was soaked, from when the fire brigade finally got the sprinklers going. There wasn’t an intact lab on the entire floor. Particularly not the one that had been used by Walter. Astrid looked around as she walked through the rubble, trying to see Olivia. They hadn’t heard anything from either her or agent Bering after they landed on the Massive Dynamic building’s roof, and she was getting worried.
Nina Sharp was standing in the middle of Walter’s lab, looking at the missing windows where the mechanical spiders had left. She turned around when Astrid spoke.
“Ms Sharp?” Astrid said.
“Astrid,” Nina said, then she frowned.
“Do you mind if I call you Astrid?” she said. “I must admit that is how I think of you. It feels strange to have Olivia, Walter, Peter and agent Farnsworth.”
“It’s fine, Ms Sharp,” she said.
“Nina, please,” Nina said. “Or I shall be forced to call you agent Farnsworth after all.”
“Nina,” Astrid said. “You asked for me?”
“Yes,” she said. “I wanted to ask for agent Broyles as well, but I haven’t been able to reach him.”
“Is there a problem?” Astrid said, frowning.
“Other than the obvious,” she added.
“The robots spiders went straight for this lab,” Nina said. “When they left, they took with them Walter, Peter, Olivia and an unidentified woman.”
“Took with them?” Astrid said. “They kidnapped them?”
“Yes,” Nina said. “I’d tell you the details, but you wouldn’t believe me. We got pretty good footage from a helicopter, you can watch it yourself later.”
“The unidentified woman,” Astrid said, “was she agent Bering? The Secret Service woman who came here with Olivia?”
Nina shook her head.
“Agent Bering is here,” she said, gesturing toward the side of the room.
“She took a blow to the head and a bad one to the side of the ribcage,” she said. “The doctor says she’s got a mild concussion and probably a cracked rib or two. She’s asleep, not unconscious, he says, so there shouldn’t be any danger.”
“Oh,” Astrid said. “Good.”
She frowned again.
“Someone else was here when the spiders arrived? With Walter and Peter? Someone who didn’t work here?”
Nina shook her head.
“There were two of them,” she said. “And apparently they came here when the robots had already arrived, trying to capture one.”
“One of them is still here,” Astrid said. “And talking.”
“So she is,” she said.
“Did she refuse to say who they are?” Astrid said.
“No,” Nina said. “But what she said is a little… sensitive. She claims the kidnapped woman is NYPD detective Kate Beckett. Which would be fine, if detective Beckett hadn’t died fourteen months ago. The woman herself claims to be one Helena G Wells, who is also deceased.”
“Sounds like they’re from the other universe,” Astrid said.
“Which is why, officially, they are both unidentified,” Nina said. “This new group you’re working for, can they deal with this?”
“Actually,” Astrid said, “we’re already involved. We have a lead on who may have sent the robots. If you don’t mind, I’ll take care of agent Bering and the unidentified informant right away.”
“Thank you, Astrid,” Nina said, granting her a smile.
Astrid nodded at her and turned to leave.
“Astrid?” Nina said.
Astrid looked back over her shoulder.
“Whoever did this, I want them found and taken care of,” Nina said. “They have hurt people I care about. Not just the Bishops and Olivia, but all the Massive Dynamic employees who died here as well. If there are any resources you need that you think I might be able to provide, just let me know.”
“I will,” she said. “Don’t worry, Ms Sha… Nina,” she said. “We’ll get them.”
The woman who called herself Helena Wells was dark-haired, curvy and managed to look elegant in spite of the fact that she was wearing a dirty and ripped white blouse, blue jeans and black boots, and had a square of medical gauze taped to her cheekbone. She was sitting on a low collapsible cot, silently looking at agent Bering in the cot next to her.
“Helena Wells?” Astrid said.
The woman looked up at her. She looked tired and worn, and at the same time happy.
“Yes,” she said. “Can I help you?”
She also looked exactly like the pictures Claudia had shown her of the Helena Wells who had worked at the Warehouse and then tried to destroy the world.
“I’m special agent Astrid Farnsworth,” Astrid said.
“Really?” Wells said. “A relative of Philo Farnsworth, perhaps?”
“No,” Astrid said. “But I have seen some of his less well-known work.”
Wells gave her a long, searching look.
“So the Warehouse is different here, then,” she said.
“I wouldn’t know,” Astrid said. “I’ve only been there a couple of days.”
Wells had turned back to look at agent Bering.
“I take it that you’re not exactly the Helena Wells who died here about a year ago,” Astrid said.
“That’s rather a matter of semantics, isn’t it?” she said. “Also, there are quite a few people around us who I’m not sure ought to hear this discussion.”
Astrid looked around. There were a number of people around, mostly securing clues and traces. They were going to be at it for quite a while.
“Ok,” she said. “Let’s go somewhere.”
Wells looked up at her again.
“It’s not that I don’t want to talk to you, agent,” she said. “I really do want to help, and I am certain that we have plenty of information to share.”
She drew a deep breath and nodded at agent Bering.
“But I’m not leaving her side no matter what, and the doctor said not to move her until she wakes up on her own. So you can wait, you can send everyone else out of here, or we can fight.”
Astrid blinked. The woman’s voice had suddenly turned a lot more emotional during her last sentence.
“Waiting’s fine,” she said. “Probably better if we postpone the talking until everyone else is here anyway.”
Wells visibly relaxed.
“Thank you,” she said.
“No problem,” Astrid said. “Hey, I saw a cart with coffee and sandwiches on my way here. I’m going to get some. Want me to bring you some too?”
Wells smiled at her.
“That would be lovely,” she said.
The noise from the insane vehicle’s horde of propellers was deafening. It was a hundred feet or so long, and maybe twenty wide. Along the sides of it and down the center line brass poles rose into the air, a propeller on top of each. Olivia had been handcuffed with her arms around one of the poles in the middle of the deck, along with the dark-haired woman the spiders had also carried aboard. The downdraft from the propellers was hideous, and Olivia did what she could to keep her face away from it.
The other woman shouted something.
“What?” Olivia shouted back.
The wind carried her words away. The other woman leaned close, getting her mouth almost to Olivia’s ear.
“Can you reach my jeans pocket?” she shouted.
Olivia looked, tried to judge how much movement she had.
“I think so,” she shouted back. “Why?”
“I have a handcuff key there,” dark-hair shouted.
“I have one too,” Olivia shouted back.
She pointedly looked at the four mechanical spiders standing on the deck, using their surprisingly supple legs to hold themselves in place against the wind.
“Now is not the time to use them,” she shouted. “Let’s wait for a better opportunity!”
Dark-hair nodded, and hunkered down. Olivia looked up. She couldn’t see all that much over the railings. Just after they’d been chained in place, they’d been flying between Manhattan skyscrapers, which was a surreal view. But once they got out from between those, she’d only seen clouds and the occasional patch of stars. She’d also seen Walter and Peter being taken below decks, so she had a pretty good idea who was considered the valuable prisoners.
An hour later, the air had grown colder and smelled like the sea. Her companion in captivity had lain down and seemed to try to sleep. Olivia tried to guess where they were, but she simply didn’t have enough information to tell. Without knowing how fast the insane thing moved she couldn’t know how far they’d travelled, and with the sky mostly covered by clouds she couldn’t tell which direction they were moving. They’d reached the coast, so they weren’t going west, but other than that they could be anywhere.
The mind-numbing noise from the propellers changed pitch. The ship started to descend. The dark-haired woman obviously felt it too, since she turned her head and looked questioningly at Olivia. Olivia bent down to her ear.
“Let’s get the keys so we have them ready if a good chance shows, ok?” she shouted.
The other woman nodded. She sat up, and Olivia tried to reach into her pocket. After some moving around, she managed to get her hand in there. On the other woman’s thigh, with only some thin cloth between their skins. There were a few other keys in there, and what felt like some coins. Olivia tried to figure out which key was the handcuff one, but it wasn’t easy on touch alone. On top of that, her fingers were frozen and stiff.
“I can hear waves!” the woman shouted. “I’ll let you feel me up as much as you want later, but hurry with the key right now, OK?”
“I’m hurrying as much as I can!” Olivia shouted back. “But thanks for the incentive!”
Finally, she got it. She pulled her hand out, squeezing it shut hard to keep from dropping the key.
“Mine’s in my left inside coat pocket!” she shouted. “Under my badge!”
Which put it pretty much right on top of her left breast, she suddenly realized.
“I’ll trade you the feeling up later,” she shouted.
She pushed her chest out, to make it easier for dark-hair to reach. Which she did, her face a mask of stone-cold focus.
“We need to know more about where we are before we even think of escaping,” Olivia shouted. “No point in blowing our best chance if we can’t get anywhere.”
The other woman nodded.
The flying ship hit the water with an almighty splash and a sudden deceleration that would’ve thrown Olivia clear across the deck if she hadn’t been chained to a solid pole. As it was, it took her by surprise, and the handcuffs bit cruelly into her wrists as they stopped her slide along the white-painted metal surface. She pulled herself up to sitting again, swearing under her breath. The other woman had also been surprised, but since she’d been on the other side of the pole she’d just hit it and stayed there.
The pounding of the propellers stopped. Silence fell. Or, well, not really silence. She could still hear waves, and now she could feel the ship move with them as well.
“Oh thank god for that,” the other woman said.
“Yeah,” Olivia said.
She stood up and looked over the side of the ship. Water. Nothing but water. She turned and look to the others sides, and all she could see was ocean there as well. There might be something straight ahead or behind, where the ship’s superstructures blocked her view. Or there might be something a little further off, since she couldn’t see all that far in the darkness. But she doubted it.
“You don’t happen to be a world-class distance swimmer, do you?” she said.
The other woman stood up as well, and looked around as Olivia had.
“No,” she finally said. “So I guess this isn’t when we use those keys. I’m detective Kate Beckett, by the way. NYPD.”
Olivia smiled at her.
“Pleased to meet you,” she said. “Special agent Olivia Dunham, FBI.”
“I guess we just keep waiting,” Beckett said.
Before Olivia could respond, there was a strangely drawn-out splash from off to the side. For a few seconds, it sounded almost like a waterfall had suddenly appeared next to the ship. The both turned to look.
“What is that?” Beckett said.
Where there’d been nothing but waves silhouetting blackly against a dark grey sky, there was now something that looked like a huge black wall. It rose quite a bit further out of the water than the flying ship was tall, and stretched ahead and aft for longer than Olivia could see. On top if, she could just make out some sort of streamlined protrusions. The protrusions was what suddenly made it click in Olivia’s head. Only one kind of sea structure needed to streamline things on the top side.
“It’s a submarine,” she breathed. “An enormous submarine!”
“At least it’s not yellow,” Beckett said. “If it was, I’d really know I was just hallucinating all this.”
Olivia glanced up at the flying ship’s propellers.
“I wouldn’t scratch that theory just yet,” she said. “There’s no way this ship can fly. Physics just doesn’t work that way.”
That theory didn’t work for Olivia herself, of course. She had personally seen and experienced quite a few things that simply couldn’t be. She knew far too well that weird things were out there, things right out of horror movies. But if she could at least sow a seed of doubt in the NYPD detective’s mind, it might help her deal with this once they got out of it. She was a cop, her job was investigating ordinary human crimes. Not this sort of thing.
Clanks and metallic scratching sounds come from the wall of darkness, and a brightly lit rectangle appeared in its side. Olivia could see human shapes moving, and as her eyes got a little more used to the light she saw that it was a loading bay. Maybe twice as high as the people were tall. A wide ramp was sliding out towards the smaller ship.
“Right,” Beckett said, her voice dry. “It’s all impossible.”
The moment the ramp touched the ship, the spiders started to move. Two of them vanished below deck, the other two approached Olivia and Beckett and stopped just a couple of feet away. They stood there, silent and menacing. Olivia couple see the spots where the machine guns were hiding, and the memory of what these things had done made her knees go a little weak. Escape suddenly seemed like a very stupid idea.
The wide deck doors slammed open, and the two spiders that had gone below came out again. One was carrying Walter wrapped in a many-jointed leg, held firm to the underside of its body. The next one held Peter in the same way.
“Walter!” Olivia shouted. “Peter!”
She saw them both turn to look in her direction. Peter shouted something she couldn’t hear. He looked furious.
“Olivia!” Walter shouted. “It flew! Did you see it? It flew!”
His face was lit up in an excited grin. She couldn’t help smiling at that, although her amusement faded as the two Bishop’s were taken into the submarine. As soon as they were out of sight, the spiders next to Olivia and Beckett began moving. In a flurry of movement they unchained the two women, grabbed them and took them inside.
Myka woke up to a murderous headache. It started out a painful throbbing, bludgeoning the inside of her head in time with her heartbeat. It was bad enough that it took a little while before she noticed that the rest of her body was also complaining. Her back ached dully. There were sharp stabs in her side when she drew breath. Her right hand smarted.
A groan escaped her.
“Myka?” someone said.
She knew that voice.
“Claudia?” she rasped.
Her throat hurt too.
“I’m here,” Claudia said. “Just take it easy. I’ll get you something to drink.”
Drink sounded good. She was thirsty, she suddenly realized. It had been a long time since she ate or drank something. Ever since…
Memories returned like an incoming tsunami. The helicopter ride to the Massive Dynamic building. Going in. The war zone on the 30th floor. The big robot spiders. They’d taken Dunham, and smashed herself up pretty good. And then she’d been saved by Helena.
Myka sat bolt upright and opened her eyes. Light stabbed into her eyes, momentarily making her teeter on the brink of unconsciousness from pain and nausea and forcing her to close her eyes again. She really wasn’t feeling very well at all. But she’d seen Helena. It couldn’t have been an illusion. It mustn’t have been.
“Whoa!” Pete’s voice said.
An arm held her back. His, she assumed.
“Take it easy there, Myka,” he said. “You’ve got a concussion and a couple of cracked ribs. The doctor says you’ll be fine, but you need to take it easy for a little while.”
That explained a couple of the bigger pains, at least.
“Helena,” she croaked. “I saw Helena. Is she really here?”
She steeled herself against disappointment. It would’ve been someone looking a little like her, in the bad light and confusion. A sharp blow to the head wasn’t exactly fantastic for accurate observation either. She knew that Helena was dead. She’d placed a kiss on her beloved’s cold lips. Doing that doesn’t leave much room for doubt.
There was a long pause from Pete. Myka tried to open her eyes again, more cautiously this time.
“Um,” Pete said. “Yeah. She is. Don’t ask me how she is here, but she is.”
She was so prepared to be disappointed that it took several seconds for his words to register. Once they did, she forced her eyes open. And she was there. Sitting on a cot just a few feet away. She looked tired and scared, but there was no doubt that it was her. Unable to talk, Myka simply held out her arms. Helena hesitated for a heartbeat or two, but then got up and knelt next to Myka’s cot, accepting the embrace. Myka held her, hard, as hard as she could. Her cracked ribs screamed at her, but she didn’t care. She had Helena in her arms. There was no longer any doubt in her mind that this was her lover. Her body knew the feel of her, her warmth and softness and smell.
And deep in her heart a spark of anger that had been lying in wait for a long time started to grow.
“I thought you were dead!” she whispered. “For over a year, I thought you were dead!”
“You weren’t wrong,” Helena said.
Myka felt her breath against her own ear. It sent shivers down her spine. She pulled back a little, both to ease the pain in her ribs and to be able to look Helena in the eyes.
“You came back to life?” she said.
Helena shook her head.
“Sorry it took so long, but I wanted to get a fresh bottle… of… water…”
Claudia’s voice tapered off.
“Oh,” she said.
Myka looked up and saw her stand a couple of steps away, water bottle in hand and a freaked out expression on her face. Once she wasn’t focusing single-mindedly on Helena, Myka also noticed that Pete was still kneeling next to her cot, and Astrid standing behind him.
“She refused to explain until you woke up,” Pete said. “So we’re wondering just as much as you are.”
Myka looked at him.
“Ok, maybe not as much as you are,” he said. “But still a lot. Because, you know, returning from the dead? Quite the trick.”
Helena sat down on the floor. She held on to Myka’s hand.
“I’m not the Helena G Wells you knew,” she said. “And you aren’t the Warehouse 13 people I knew. “
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Pete said.
Myka shushed at him.
“I’m not from this universe,” Helena said. “I was brought here from another universe accidentally, by a machine built by my old enemy Juliet Verne.”
“I’m not sure how close this world is to mine,” she said. “Did… did Yellowstone happen?”
“Yes,” Myka said, unable to keep her voice straight. “It did. I stopped you. The Regents were taking you away. You tried to escape. You were killed.”
Helena smiled narrowly.
“I doubt you agree with me, Myka, but I well deserved it,” she said. “I did try to destroy the world.”
“So what happened in your world?” Claudia said. “Since, well, apparently you didn’t die.”
Helena’s grip on Myka’s hand hardened.
“There was an earth tremor,” she said. “I stumbled, and when I tried to steady myself I clenched my hand. Which was holding a revolver, it’s muzzle pressed to my Myka’s forehead.”
“Oh,” Myka said, her voice small.
She had no problem seeing how that might have happened.
“On the silver lining side, although it’s a very small one on an exceedingly large cloud, shock therapy sometimes works. Seeing… that brought me back to my senses in a hurry. I simply dropped the trident and ran.”
She closed her eyes and shivered.
“I haven’t really stopped yet,” she said.
“And you ended up here,” Pete said. “What are the chances of that?”
“Pretty good, I’d say,” Helena said. “I was after Juliet, and given the sort of thing she does, who else but you people would come to investigate?”
“Excuse me?” Astrid said.
The four others all looked up at her.
“Assuming the spiders belonged to this Juliet,” she said, “can you help us figure out where they’ve gone? They took three people I care about with them.”
“I’ll do my best,” Helena said. “They took the police detective I was working with too. I’ve only known her for a couple of days, but she’s a good person.”
“Do you have any suggestions right now?” Astrid said.
Helena shook her head.
“Nothing you haven’t already thought of, probably,” she said. “I’m assuming you did your best to track the Albatross?”
“Assuming that’s the crazy flying ship, then yes,” Astrid said.
“There’s a warehouse,” Helena said. “There should be a wreckage of a machine somewhere near it.”
“Dunham and I found it,” Myka said. “Did you have time to check it out, Claudia?”
“Er, yeah,” Claudia said. “Although Astrid did the actual checking. She knows the radioactivity stuff.”
“It’s reasonably safe,” Astrid said. “As long as the isotope tank is still there, you don’t want to be in the yard for more than half an hour. Once we get the tank out, you can stay as long as you want.”
“Oh, and she definitely has help from someone local,” Helena said. “Or at least access to local resources. She didn’t bring the Albatross with her over. She got that right here.”
“Nautilus,” Myka said.
The rest looked at her.
“Yes,” Helena said, smiling. “Almost certainly.”
“What?” Pete said.
“We know Verne was Jules Verne, the writer,” Myka said. “The flying ship is from one of her books, Robur the Conqueror. It seems reasonable that she also has the most famous vehicle she ever wrote about, the submarine Nautilus.”
“Right!” Pete said. “Like in the old movie!”
Myka and Helena both turned and glared at him.
“What?” he said. “It was a good movie. It had Kirk Douglas and James Mason!”
“So how do we track a submarine?” Claudia said. “Being hard to track is kinda what they do.”
“I’ll go ask Nina,” Astrid said. “Massive Dynamic may have something. And if they don’t, I wouldn’t be surprised if she can lean on the Navy.”
Myka’s burst of energy from seeing Helena was fading fast. She refused to let go of Helena’s hand, but found herself increasingly using it to keep herself sitting up.
“Do we have anything else that has to be done immediately?” Helena asked.
“Not that I can think of,” Pete said.
“In that case, I suggest you and Claudia withdraw for the time being, so Myka can rest,” Helena said. “She’s still pretty beaten up.”
“Shouldn’t you leave too?” he said.
“No!” Helena and Myka said in unison.
“All right, all right,” he said, holding his hands up defensively. “Clauds, let’s be off.”
Helena gently pushed on Myka’s shoulder.
“Lie down, darling,” she said. “You do need to rest.”
Myka managed to wring just enough energy out of her body to lie down rather than fall down. She still didn’t let go of Helena’s hand. The other woman followed along as Myka lay down, ending up sitting on the floor by the cot, right next to Myka’s head.
Myka closed her eyes, to help her think. The light was still uncomfortably bright. Her head still pounded, which didn’t help the thinking. And her emotions were, well, not calm.
“I don’t know what to say,” she said.
For a few moments, there were only the sounds of cleanup work in the distance.
“Me neither,” Helena said. “I want to say I’m sorry, but I can’t think of any words that aren’t woefully inadequate.”
“Sorry for what?” Myka said.
Again, a pause, although shorter.
“I killed you,” Helena said. “How do you even begin to apologize for that?”
“Did I put the gun in your hand?” Myka said.
“Well, yes, but…”
“Did I force your hand to my head?”
“You did, but…”
“I knew the risk, Helena,” Myka said. “I chose to take it, to save the world. From what you said, it worked. My gamble wasn’t in vain.”
“Since that moment,” Helena said, “not a day has gone by where I haven’t wished that I could switch our places. That I would be dead, and you be alive. It’s not a proper way for a story to end, with the heroine dead and the villain escaped.”
“Life isn’t a story,” Myka said.
“I tried to be you,” Helena said. “I tried to do what you would’ve done, had you been alive. To put myself in harms way to get innocent people out of it. I couldn’t bring you back, but maybe I could do some of the good you would’ve done.”
“Is that how you ended up here?”
Myka opened her eyes. She had to see Helena, not just hear her voice. There was a haunted quality to her face that hadn’t used to be there.
“Yes,” Helena said. “I saw one of the mechanical spiders on TV, and knew it as Verne’s work. So I went there and tried to help. We found Verne, but only just as she was leaving for this world. We were dragged along with her.”
“I’m glad you did,” Myka said. “I’ve missed you so much.”
“Thank you,” Helena said, almost in a whisper.
“Helena?” Myka said.
“Everything that went before Yellowstone, was it the same for both of us?”
“I believe so. But it’s going to take some time to figure out for sure.”
“I’m looking forward to that,” Myka said.
She brought Helena’s hand up to her face and placed a kiss on it.
“I think I’ll sleep now,” she said.
“I’ll stay here and make sure no one bothers your sleep,” Helena said.
The last thing Myka saw before sleep took her was Helena adjusting her position next to the cot and taking her Tesla out of her pocket.
Unlike the flying ship, the submarine was nearly silent. There was a steady hum, presumably from the engines, and occasional thumps and clangs carrying through the metal structure of the vessel. If Olivia put her ear to the outer bulkhead, she could hear a soft swishing sound of water streaming by.
She knew it was the outer bulkhead because it had a window in it. Which was crazy, on a submarine. And it wasn’t even a small, round, thick one like you often saw on oceangoing ships, no, this was a big one. It was almost as tall as Olivia herself. At first, after the spiders had thrown them into the room and left, it had been fascinating to look out and see the seascape pass by as the submarine descended. She’d seen no bottom, just water and the things in it. Fish, seaweed, algae and unfortunately human-made trash. But it didn’t take long before they were deep enough that darkness obscured everything and the window turned into a large rectangle of solid black.
The room they’d been put in was actually pretty nice. It was the size of an ordinary hotel room, which Olivia guessed made it enormous by submarine standards. It was furnished like a fancy hotel room. It had a desk, a heavy thing made from carved dark wood, and a chair that went with it. It had a stuffed chair in the same style, and a little round table with a fruit basket on it. There was a tiny little bathroom attached, with a toilet seat, a sink and a shower. It was stocked with pretty fancy toiletries. There were little wall-mounted lamps in several places, all of which could be individually turned on, off or anywhere between.
And it had a bed. It was a rather wide one, and it was a sturdy four-poster thing also made out of carved dark wood. But it was still one bed. For the two of them. Maybe it wouldn’t be a very long trip, Olivia thought, but she couldn’t bring herself to really believe it.
There was one thing the room did not have. It didn’t have a handle on the inside of the door, nor a keyhole or visible hinges. It was clear that, while nice, this was a cell. It was meant to keep them in.
“Well,” Kate said after a time. “This is certainly the nicest place I’ve ever been held captive.”
“And we’re not even tied up,” Olivia said. “Or drugged.”
They both still had a handcuff dangling off one wrist, though. Olivia took her key, unlocked the cuff and tossed it in the fruit bowl. Suddenly springing free of handcuffs and escaping seemed a less useful plan by the minute.
“I haven’t tried drugged,” Kate said. “Yet.”
“It’s no fun,” Olivia said. “Try to avoid it if you can.”
“I was planning to do that anyway.”
“I wonder where we are,” Olivia mumbled, mostly to herself, looking around the room in more detail.
“A ridiculously large submarine,” Kate said. “Which I’m betting is called the Nautilus.”
Olivia looked at her.
“Maybe we should share stories,” she said.
Kate visibly hesitated.
“There’s a lot of my story that’s pretty strange,” she said.
“Don’t worry about that,” Olivia said. “My whole life is more than just pretty strange.”
They ended up sitting on the floor, on opposite sides of the room. Nobody wanted to take the stuffed chair or the bed, and the carpet was pretty comfortable. They talked for a long while, telling each other how they’d come to be in the Massive Dynamic building and what they knew about what was going on. Which, on the whole, was disturbingly little. Once that was done they drifted into more personal parts of their stories, which quickly veered into swapping stories from their law enforcement work. It was around there that something finally clicked in Olivia’s head.
“Wait a minute!” she said. “You’re the NYPD detective who was the model for Nikki Heat! This civilian you’ve been talking about is Richard Castle.”
Kate momentarily looked pained.
“Yes,” she said. “Castle based Nikki Heat on me. Don’t make too much of it. I’m really nothing like her.”
Olivia smiled and tilted her head a little.
“I don’t know about that,” she said. “Smart, really good detective, very attractive, it all seems to match pretty well.”
Kate looked at Olivia.
“Attractive?” she said.
Before Olivia could answer, the door opened. They both turned to look. A young man in a scarlet uniform stood in the door. He held a weapon in his right hand, or at least Olivia assumed it was from how he handled it. It looked roughly like a sub-machine gun, except made from wood and brass, and where the mechanism should be there was a large glass cylinder. He looked the room over, then stood aside. Behind him, a woman stood. She was dressed in a similar uniform, but with knee-high boots and brass insignia on her shoulders. Instead of the larger weapon the man had, she had a closed holster at her hip.
“Le capitaine désire vous voir,” she said.
“What’s she saying?” Kate said.
“I don’t speak french,” Olivia said, “but I think she said something about the captain and wants and us.”
“Yes,” the woman said, in highly accented english. “The captain wishes to see you now. Follow.”
Kate and Olivia looked at each other. Olivia shrugged. They got up and followed.
The dining room was staggering, even apart from the fact that a submarine had one in the first place. It was easily ten or twelve feet tall. It held one single huge table down the middle, with room for twenty people, ten on each side. At the head was a larger, almost throne-like seat. The floor was covered with the same thick carpet as their cell, and the furnishings still followed the carved dark wood and brass theme. It looked very much like the dining room on a 19th century luxury cruise ship.
Except for the windows. The entire far wall of the room was a series of floor-to-ceiling windows. It was looking in the direction the submarine was traveling, and there were floodlights above and below them. Floodlights that were currently lighting up the sea floor they were gliding past. Boulders, plants, fish and things Olivia couldn’t tell what they were passed by. It was a stunning and almost hypnotic sight.
Sitting in the throne-like chair with the seascape as a backdrop, was a small dark-haired woman. She was in a uniform like the guards had worn, but of better fit and with much fancier metalwork on the shoulders. Olivia and Kate had been placed next to each other on one side of the table, near the head. Across from them sat Peter and Walter.
Olivia darted a look at the woman at the head of the table. Verne, she assumed. She was busy talking to a serving woman. Olivia leaned forward, reaching as far across the table as she could.
“Peter!” she whispered. “Are you guys OK?”
“Yeah,” he whispered back, “we’re fine. Olivia, what the Hell is going on?”
“Long story,” she whispered. “For now, just sit tight.”
She leaned back in her chair. It was a relief knowing that the Bishops at least weren’t hurt or overly distressed. Walter even looked fascinated by the view of the seabed.
“Friends of yours?” Kate whispered to her.
Olivia nodded. Before she could explain, Verne turned to them and smiled.
“Welcome to the Nautilus,” she said. “I am madame Juliet Verne, captain and creator of this vessel.”
Peter’s eyebrows rose.
“Nautilus?” he said. “As in Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea?”
Verne smiled. She looked more like the friendly housewife next door than a mad genius. Or, she would have, if not for the uniform.
“Exactly like that,” she said.
“It’s a fascinating vessel,” Walter said. “And very big, from what we could see.”
“Four hundred meters long,” Verne said. “It’s by far the largest submarine ever built.”
“And when exactly did you build it?” Kate asked.
She’d told Olivia about how she was from an alternate universe, and how she and one Helena Wells had been dragged along when Verne travelled from their universe to Olivia’s. Olivia refrained from mentioning her previous experience with alternate universes. She really wanted to talk to Walter about it first, if at all possible.
Verne gave Kate a smile that wasn’t at all neighborly.
“If you wish to be pedantic,” she said. “This is the third vessel carrying the name. The first one I designed and built in 1896. The second and third were both designed over longer timespans, drawing on the experiences of living on the earlier ones. But I had them built in 1919 and 1947, respectively.”
Peter stared at her.
“So you’re, what, a hundred and fifty years old?” he asked.
“It’s not gentlemanly to ask a lady’s age,” she said. “But I suppose I should not expect better from an American. To satisfy your curiosity, my next birthday will be my one-hundred and eighty-fourth.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he said.
“We have seen stranger things,” Walter said.
“What do you want with us?” Olivia said.
Five servants entered, and discreetly put a bowl of soup in front of each of them. Their wine glasses were filled moments later. Verne lifted hers.
“Ladies, gentlemen,” she said. “Welcome to my home. I do hope your stay here will not be too onerous.”
She drank. Walter did too, without hesitation. Olivia followed, on the theory that it was probably a good idea to be polite to the madwoman who could easily have them all killed. She saw Kate drink at the same time she did, and Peter just putting his glass down untouched.
“To answer you question, agent Dunham,” Verne said, “I need doctor Bishop’s assistance. The rest of you are only here in order to make sure that he gives it.”
“I’ve never met the guy before,” Kate said. “What good am I going to be as a hostage?”
“True, true,” Verne said. “Your presence is just a matter of bad luck on your part, I’m afraid.”
The soup was, unsurprisingly, a clam soup. It was also excellent.
“My assistance?” Walter said. “What with?”
“We’ll go over that later,” Verne said. “When we get to my base. We will be there in about a week, depending on the currents. Now, enjoy the food.”
“A week,” Kate said later when they’d been taken back to their room. “We’re going to be in this little room for a week?”
She’d laid down on the bed, and was staring at the ceiling. Olivia lay on the floor, and was looking out the window. There was a little light out there, probably coming from the floodlights at the front.
“It could be worse,” she said. “It’s a decent room and we’ve got each other.”
“I guess,” Kate said.
“Trust me,” Olivia said. “Being alone for a long time is a lot worse.”
She remembered the bare cell Walternate had put her in all too well.
Kate suddenly laughed a little.
“What?” Olivia said.
“I just got to imagining what Castle would have Nikki Heat do if he ever heard about this,” she said. “Locked up in a room with a beautiful woman and nothing to do. It’d be a week-long shagfest in his book.”
The words slipped out of Olivia’s mouth before she fully realized they were even in her.
“I can think of many worse ways to spend a week,” she said.
Silence fell. Olivia silently cursed herself. Now the NYPD detective would spend the entire week worrying about Olivia watching her or something.
“Well,” Kate said after a while. “If I recall correctly, I said you could feel me up as much as you want at some point.”
“I believe the offer was mutual,” she said.
Kate turned over on her side and looked at Olivia. She really was beautiful, and it had been some time since Olivia last got some. What with Peter going for her alternate-universe twin and all.
“So was that just something you said during a crisis,” Kate said, “or was it genuine?”
Olivia sat up.
“First,” she said. “I’d never have said it at all if you hadn’t gone there first.”
“All right,” Kate said.
“Second,” Olivia said. “That doesn’t mean I didn’t meant it. You’re really pretty, and…”
She couldn’t help grinning.
“There is the whole Nikki Heat thing. Silly, yes, but…”
“As long as you can tell the difference between her and me,” Kate said.
“Third,” Olivia said. “I really, really, really suck at relationships. I never really figured out how to do them in the first place, and I have truly horrible luck.”
Kate looked doubtful.
“How horrible luck?” she said.
“The last but one I had to hunt down as a traitor and ended up killing,” Olivia said.
“And the last one?”
Olivia looked away.
“Is Peter,” she said. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“Is that all?” she said.
“Isn’t it enough?” Olivia said.
“Didn’t hear anything saying that we can’t pass the time having a bit of fun,” Kate said. “I don’t do relationships, pretty much. Not really compatible with police work. Never works for long.”
She started unbuttoning her blouse.
“Besides,” she said. “We don’t know if we get laundry service. If we lounge around naked, our clothes won’t get grungy nearly as fast.”
Olivia stared at her for a moment, then broke out laughing.
“That’s the worst pickup line ever,” she said.
Kate shrugged out of her blouse, leaving her on the bed in a white sports bra and blue jeans.
“So bad it didn’t work?” she said.
Olivia decided it hadn’t been quite that bad.
Nina Sharp’s office was as stern and trimmed-down as the woman herself. It wasn’t entirely free of personal things, and it had an amazing view, but it still was a far cry from cozy.
“We’ve done our best to track down this Verne person,” Sharp said. “We haven’t found much.”
The people present were the Warehouse team Helena knew, plus Astrid, Astrid’s old boss and Nina Sharp herself. Helena had gathered that Sharp was an exceptionally rich and powerful person. Myka was sitting in the only comfortable chair, and Helena was standing next to her with a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t care how many daggers Artie stared at her, she wasn’t about to leave Myka’s side any time soon. Unless Myka herself asked, of course.
“Did the material we found in the Warehouse help at all?” Astrid asked.
“It did,” Sharp said. “Thanks to the clues in it, we have a little rather than nothing.”
She rearranged some papers on her desk.
“The flying ship left to the south-east,” she said. “We had it on radar for some time, until it descended too low for us to follow and did not reappear again. Possibly it’s now traveling as a normal ship.”
“Satellite images?” the tall black man said. Broyles, Helena thought she’d heard someone call him.
“The area is overcast,” Nina said. “So no. In any case, based on the files Astrid provided, we…”
Claudia coughed. Sharp looked at her, then down at her papers again.
“Based on the files provided by agents Farnsworth and Donovan,” she said, “as well as suggestions from agent Wells, we believe the prisoners have been transferred to a submarine.”
She hesitated a little before she continued.
“A submarine that we have reason to believe is able to stay submerged indefinitely.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Pete said. “What about food and stuff?”
“Some of the stuff we found were designs for, well, a closed ecosystem,” Claudia said. “It wasn’t near perfect, and would probably have needed to take in stuff from outside every couple of months or so.”
“But that was from 1889,” Astrid said. “Doing things the rest of the world could barely manage a hundred years later. It doesn’t seem a stretch to assume that it’ll be fully self-contained by now.”
“Our French legal department have been digging into Verne’s legal and commercial history,” Sharp said. “Unsurprisingly, it’s a long and complex story where little is certain. We think she built three submarines of increasing size and sophistication. One in the mid-1890s, one shortly before the Great Depression and one just after the Second World War. The last and presumably still current one may be as much as a quarter of a mile long.”
“Can you track it?” Artie asked. “Something that big should leave some sort of track.”
“No,” Sharp said, flatly. “I’ve been in contact with the US Navy. They’re absolutely certain that if there was something out there bigger than a Typhoon-class nuclear submarine, they’d know about it. Verne’s submarine is three to four times as big. So she has some way of hiding.”
“So we’re screwed?” Pete said. “We don’t know where she is, we don’t know where she’s going, we don’t know what she’s doing and we don’t know what she wants.”
“Basically, yes,” Sharp said.
“Excuse me?” Helena said.
Everyone turned to look at her.
“I have a suggestion,” she said. “Or at least an idea.”
“Very well,” Sharp said. “Let’s hear it.”
“You said that she vanished from the Warehouse’s sight after Warehouse 12 was closed down, right?” she said.
“Yes,” Artie said. “As far as we can find, Warehouse 13 has never encountered her at all.”
“So she’s hiding,” Helena said. “And I know she likes to create things she wrote about, or write about things she actually built. We know about the Albatross and the Nautilus.”
She paused and drew breath. Myka squeezed her hand.
“So if I know her right, she’ll be hiding somewhere related to one of her stories, and there’s really only one thing that could possibly work for nearly a century. The Mysterious Island. In the book it even has a port for the Nautilus.”
“So she’s on an island,” Artie said. “That narrows it down.”
“Compared to the entire volume of the Earth’s oceans?” she said. “Actually, yeah, it narrows it down a lot.”
She looked at Helena.
“It’s still a pretty big haystack, though.”
“It would be, but, you see, it has to be that island. It needs to be temperate and it has to have a volcano. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure she’ll have found some way to actually hide it. Either simply by getting it lost from the maps, or by building a device that literally hides it. So we need to find an island in a temperate volcanic zone that was there in 1900 but isn’t now. That should narrow it down enough that we can actually start looking.”
Everyone looked at her in silence for a few seconds more.
“On it,” Claudia and Astrid said in unison.
“Agent Donovan, Astrid,” Sharp said, “I’m giving you both temporary access to the Massive Dynamic systems. You can get live satellite images from there. I’m not sure how much historical geographical information we have, but I’ll see to it that you have everything there is to get as soon as possible.”
“What about the rest of us?” Pete said.
“We start planning what to do once they find the island,” Myka said. “Miss Sharp, can Massive Dynamic help with transport, do you think?”
Nina looked at her with a level gaze.
“Agent Bering,” she said. “Three close friends of mine, including the owner of Massive Dynamic, have been kidnapped. If there is anything we can contribute to getting them back safe and sound, we most assuredly will.”
Their hopes for swift results were soon squashed, unfortunately. Massive Dynamic had very little geography data from the previous turn of the century, and what it had was of the world’s most urbanized areas, not small islands at the outskirts of civilization. They started buying up everything they could find, of course, and Artie went back to the Warehouse to see what he could find there. Claudia and Astrid got busy writing programs to import and compare map data.
Myka, Helena and Pete quickly figured out that there’s not a whole lot of planning you can do when you don’t know where your enemy are, what they’re doing or what they want. So they waited. Either in the Massive Dynamic building, where Pete flirted with all the pretty young women he could find, or in the fancy hotel where Nina had gotten them rooms. Or, rather, suites. Helena insisted that Myka stay in bed or on the couch, resting.
“I don’t want to,” Myka said. “It makes me feel useless. I want to do something!”
Helena poked her gently in the side with her finger. Myka yelped and grew a couple of shades paler.
“Rest,” Helena said. “Get better. You’ll be needed later, and the more healed you are then, the better for everyone.”
“You’re no fun,” Myka said.
A sentiment that Helena actually agreed with, even if she didn’t say so. When it came to Myka’s safety and well-being, she could feel all her usual jocularity vanish in a puff of fear.
“I’m sorry, love,” she said. “I lost you once, and I really don’t want to go through that again.”
Myka was sitting on the hotel suite’s couch, leaning on the armrest and legs stretched out across it. Helena was kneeling next to her, since she’d just had a look at the firm bandage keeping Myka’s cracked ribs in place.
“Here,” Helena said. “I asked Claudia for something to pass the time. She gave me a stack of DVDs. It’s a classic, apparently. Let’s watch them together, ok?”
Myka pouted, and then nodded. Helena put the first disc into the DVD player, grabbed the remote and sat down on the couch. Myka stretched out her legs across Helena’s thighs. Helena pressed the play button. The video system sprung to life, heroic music played.
"In a time of ancient Gods, Warlords, and Kings,” a preposterously dark voice growled as heroic music swelled, “a land in turmoil cried out for a hero.”
Myka’s eyebrows shot up.
“Xena?” she said. “Claudia got us Xena?”
Helena paused the DVD.
“Is that bad?” she said. “Do you want me to turn it off and get something else?”
“No, no,” Myka said, “it’s fine, I just got a bit surprised. Go on.”
Helena pressed play again.
Five days later, Astrid knocked on the door to their suite. When she didn’t get any response, she pressed her ear to the door. She could hear voices and music, and something that might have been Myka crying out. Making her mind up, she opened the door.
“Um, hello?” she said.
The room was full of empty pizza boxes and soda bottles. The blinds were drawn, leaving the room semi-dark.
The shout came from the bedroom door, and it was definitely Myka. It was followed by a giggle and something spoken that she couldn’t hear. She could also hear someone typing on a keyboard.
“UM, HELLO!” Astrid shouted again, louder.
Silence fell abruptly in the bedroom. After a moment or two, hurried rustling came instead, and moment after that the bedroom door opened and Helena peered out. She closed the door again.
“It’s Astrid,” Astrid heard Helena say.
“I’ll be out in a second,” she heard Myka say. “Go ask her what she wants.”
Helena came out. She was wearing a dressing gown, which she was still tying shut.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hi,” Astrid said. “Did I come at a bad time?”
“Maybe a bit,” Helena said. “Although any time would’ve been pretty much the same, really, so I guess no.”
“Uh-huh,” Astrid said. “Nobody had seen you for days, so we were getting worried.”
“Oh,” Helena said. “Sorry about that. We’ve been watching this TV series Claudia gave us. Xena, warrior princess.”
Ah, Astrid thought. That explained the wailing howls their neighbors had been complaining about.
“Then Myka showed me this thing on the Internet,” Helena said. “It’s called slashfic. So then we had to try to write some, and…”
Myka burst out the door, still wrapping a sheet around herself.
“…We were reality-checking,” she interrupted. “That’s what we were doing. Hi, Astrid.”
Astrid hadn’t seen anyone look that embarrassed since she accidentally caught Olivia browsing bondage gear sites.
“Well, I’m sorry to interrupt your… writing,” she said. “But we found it.”
“The island,” Astrid said. “We found it. We know where it is.”
“Are you sure?” Helena said.
“An island was recorded as being there in 1886,” she said. “But it’s not there now, neither on the maps nor on the satellite images.”
“Could be an error back in the 19th century,” Myka said.
“Except that right where the island should be, there is a spot that exactly copies the appearance of the ocean a few miles away. We happened to notice when a cloud passed by and we suddenly saw it twice.”
Helena broke out in a grin.
“Clever girl,” she said. “But not clever enough.”
“We’ll be right down,” Myka said. “As soon as we’ve put some clothes on.”
“And maybe had a shower?” Astrid said. “There’s definitely time enough for a shower.”
Kate Beckett was sitting between Olivia’s naked and spread legs, leaning her back against the blonde woman, when she saw the dolphin. Olivia’s hands were on Kate’s breasts, gently stroking them in an obvious attempt to get her interested in another round of sex. She was just as naked as Olivia, of course. It had turned out that they got laundry service, but after the first couple of days they no longer bothered getting dressed. They only ended up naked again half an hour later, and mutual undressing was only fun the first six or seven times.
“Hey, look,” Kate said. “A dolphin.”
She pointed at the large window, outside which a dolphin was keeping pace with the submarine. Olivia’s hands stopped moving, and Kate could feel her stiffen.
“What?” Kate said.
“Dolphins don’t dive below a hundred meters or so,” she said. “We’re going up.”
“Has it been six days already?” Kate said.
“Seven,” Olivia said. “Assuming that the times when the lights dim correspond to surface night.”
“I guess it’s time to shower and get dressed, then,” Kate said.
She felt reluctant, she realized. A solid week of doing absolutely nothing except eating, sleeping, having sex and talking had been wonderfully relaxing.
“I guess,” Olivia said.
She let go of Kate.
“It’s weird,” Olivia said, “but I think I’m going to miss this. A bit, at least.”
“Me too,” she said. “I guess that’s what they call Stockholm Syndrome.”
“No,” Olivia said. “I still want to kick that Verne woman in the teeth.”
“Maybe we should make it a thing, once all this is over,” Kate said. “Rent a small but nice hotel room and live off room service for a week.”
She got up from the bed.
“I thought you wanted to go back to your own universe,” Olivia said.
“I do,” she said. “But I don’t have much hope I’ll get to.”
Olivia got up as well.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “We’ll get you home. I’m sure Walter can manage it, if he just gets to grovel over the remains of the machine that took you here for a while.”
“Walter,” Kate said. “Who’s currently just as much a captive as we are.”
“We’ll get him out,” Olivia said. “If not by ourselves, so with help from Astrid and the others.”
Kate shook her head.
“I’ve been a cop for too long,” she said. “I just can’t believe that nothing will go wrong.”
Olivia smiled and put her arms around Kate.
“So say things don’t work out,” she said. “You’re forced to stay here. You’ll be doomed to go on dates with me.”
“Go shower,” Olivia said. “Alone. I don’t think we have enough time for anything else.”
“Welcome,” Verne said, “to my island.”
She threw out her arms, indicating the huge cavern they were standing in. They were walking down a concrete pier that led from the water-filled middle of the cavern to one of the sides, where an entire small harbor had been built. It was complete with loading cranes and storage buildings and smaller boats, all of which were busy servicing he enormous submarine. Kate hadn’t really understood how large it was while they were in it. It had felt like they walked a long way on the first day when they had dinner with Verne, but when she saw the windows in the side of the vessel it became obvious that they couldn’t have gone more than at most a fifth of the length of the thing.
“Is it supposed to smell like rotten eggs?” Peter said.
He seemed even grumpier now than he had a week ago. Which was no surprise, given that he’d either spent the week alone or with his father. Either alternative sounded much less nice than the week Kate had had.
“It’s the drawback of building inside a dormant volcano,” Verne said. “You never really get rid of the sulphur.”
All the people Kate could see, except for herself, Olivia, Peter, Walter and woman walking next to Verne, wore slight variations on the same scarlet uniform. Any escape attempt had better not hinge on them blending in with the staff. Unless they managed to steal some uniforms.
“We’re in a volcano?” Olivia said.
“Yes,” Verne said. “This cave was a bubble in the lava, originally. I’ve had it expanded a bit, but not as much as you might think.”
The woman walking next to Verne was wearing a white business dress, and looked like a cross between a fashion model and a lawyer. She was carrying a briefcase, which reinforced the lawyer image. She was also looking around in amazement just as much as the four prisoners were. Or, well, Walter was looking around in amazement. Her own and Olivia’s looking around were more evaluating, and Peter’s was disdainful.
A the end of the pier a car was waiting for them. It was black, open-topped and easily seated all six of them on two facing seats in the back. In the front was a uniformed driver.
“Main lab, please,” Verne said as she entered the car. As soon as all six of them were seated, the car started moving. It was dead silent. The only sound it made was that of tires on concrete.
“It’s like the villain’s lair in a James Bond movie,” Walter said. “It’s fantastic!”
“I suppose it is,” Verne said. “It’s been my home for almost a hundred years, so it doesn’t look so fantastic to me any more.”
“So what happens now?” Olivia said.
“Now I show you what I need doctor Bishop for,” Verne said. “Then the three of you who aren’t him will be taken to quarters where you will wait for him to finish.”
“Can we, um, share?” Kate said, pointing at Olivia.
Verne smiled at her.
“Certainly, detective Beckett,” she said. “I would not want my guests to be bored.”
Kate suddenly wondered why, for the entire week on the submarine, she had not for a moment wondered about possible hidden cameras and microphones.
“Thank you,” she said.
“I’ll take one of my own,” Peter said. “If it’s all the same to you.”
They were driving through corridors. They were quite obviously excavated out of the volcanic rock, and for the most part left bare. Here and there they passed decorations, but for the most part the builders had let the stone itself provide the aesthetics. Eventually, they reached another huge space, although this one was clearly not a natural formation. The ceiling was too high for Kate to accurately guess the height, and it was big enough that it’d be nice to use the car to the other side. There was plenty of people in there, all of them active at workbenches full of computers and instruments. All of them were also turned to the center of the room, and the thing standing there.
It was big, maybe twenty feet tall and more than that in diameter. It looked like a tapered metal cylinder standing end-up on eight metal legs. A ladder was attached to one of the legs, and lots of cables led from it to the various workbenches.
“It’s the machine!” Walter said.
He didn’t look so happy any longer.
“How did you get that?” Peter asked.
“When did you get that?” Olivia asked.
“It’s not the same one you have,” Verne said. “It’s another one like it.”
Walter turned to look at her with a horrified look.
“There’s more than one?” he said.
“There’s an infinite number of them,” Verne said. “And they’re not necessarily dangerous. If you know what you’re doing.”
Peter looked at her.
“You said you need Walter,” he said. “Not me.”
“Correct, mr Bishop,” she said. “You aren’t quite as special as you think. The mechanism will react to anyone who isn’t in the timestream where they originated. So it’d work just as well with detective Beckett here as with you.”
Kate turned to look at Peter. He wasn’t from this universe either? Nobody had bothered to mention that before. But it explained why Olivia hadn’t doubted Kate’s story.
“What do you want?” Walter asked.
He didn’t sound at all like an affable slightly confused old man any more.
“To learn how to control it,” Verne said. “I’ve reluctantly admitted that I’ve come to the end of what I can do by myself. I need help. You, doctor Bishop, is the only other person on the planet who has significant knowledge relating to the Machines.”
Walter was looking at the machine, his eyes slightly narrowed.
“How long have you been studying it?” he asked.
“Longer than you have been alive,” she said. “We can take the details later.”
Peter shook his head.
“I don’t buy this,” he said. “Why didn’t you just come to us and talk? Why the whole thing with the riots and the spiderbots and the flying ship?”
“Perhaps it amused me,” Verne said. “Allow an old woman her foibles.”
Old woman. Kate looked at her again. It was almost impossible to really accept that she was close to two centuries old. She looked thirty-something, with high cheekbones and deep brown eyes. Intellectually, Kate accepted that the woman standing there was born in the first third of the 19th century. On a gut-level, it was impossible.
“Right,” Peter said.
He smiled at Verne. The smile reminded Kate of used car salesmen.
“But time flies,” Verne said. “Doctor Bishop, stay with me or Valerie, please. Guards, take our guests to their assigned quarters.”
Scarlet-uniformed guards led them away.
“As temperate climates go,” Claudia said, “this is not one.”
She was leaning her elbows against the railing of the 200-foot luxury yacht Nina Sharp had rented for them. They’d just left Brisbane, going north-east at a pretty good clip. The sun was beating down mercilessly, and the wind coming at them was warm.
“You should put on more clothes,” Astrid said. “You’ll get sunburned right quick, down here. Particularly with the reflections off the water.”
She was standing next to Claudia, wearing a billowing skirt, loose long-sleeved blouse, a wide-brimmed hat and dark sunglasses. Claudia looked at her. She looked down at the forward deck, where Myka, Helena and Pete were preparing an inflatable boat. They, too, wore rather more clothes than the temperature made necessary.
“That bad?” Claudia said.
“Uh-huh,” Astrid said. “The Australian government puts out daily UV level warnings. Today’s expected high for Brisbane is five, which is medium high. This sort of thing is recommended.”
She waved an arm at her clothes.
“As well as SPF 30 or better sunblock,” she added.
“I’ll go change,” she said.
She left. Astrid smiled a little to herself. The girl was cute. Young, enthusiastic and brilliant. With a few more years of knowledge, experience and maturity, she’d be a force to be reckoned with. Although she’d certainly find it hard to find a partner who could remotely keep up with her.
Down on the deck, they’d inflated the boat and attached the engines. There were two big gas-powered ones and one small electrical one. The three Warehouse agents had proceeded to arranging a low roof over the boat.
Some time later, all five of them were sitting around the table in the yacht’s dining room. At one end, Myka had propped up her Farnsworth, through which Artie was listening in. At the other end, Claudia had put her laptop, through which Nina Sharp was listening in using some sort of video conference software.
“The idea right now is to go in, have a look around and get out again without anyone knowing about it,” Myka said. “Once we know more about what’s on the island, we can plan better.”
Nobody else said anything.
“We know where the island is,” Myka went on, “and we know that its highest point can’t be more than a thousand feet. That gives it a maximum radar-coverage range of just under forty-two nautical miles. So that’s how close we’re taking the yacht. From there, and after nightfall, we proceed in the inflatable boat.”
“Inflatable?” Artie said. “That doesn’t sound very reliable.”
“It’s good enough for the Navy SEALs,” Pete said.
“We’ll go at the inflatable’s top speed until we’re about two nautical miles from the island,” Myka said. “At that point, we’ll switch to the electrical engine. Under the cover of darkness, with little or no white wake behind us, we should be safe from visual detection. We’ll look for a safe spot to land, do so, have a look around and return the same way.”
She looked around.
“Any questions?” she said.
“Er, yeah,” Claudia said. “Who exactly is going? Because I’m no Navy SEAL, that’s for sure.”
“Helena, I, Pete and Astrid are going,” Myka said. “You stay behind and handle communications. The yacht crew may be loyal to Massive Dynamic, but I don’t think we want to trust them with that.”
“Astrid’s going?” Claudia said. “But she’s a…”
“A trained FBI special agent,” Astrid said. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”
“Be careful,” Artie said from the Farnsworth. “You are bringing some neutralizer, I hope? Who knows what artifacts Verne’s collected in the past century.”
“We are,” Pete said.
“She was never that much into artifacts, really,” Helena said. “She always preferred to build her own tools of destruction.”
“I’m in contact with a mercenary company,” Nina said. “But I really hope I won’t need to call on them. It would cause no end of stink.”
“Any further questions?” Myka asked.
Nobody said anything.
“Well, then,” she said. “It’ll be dark in two hours. Be ready then.”
The rooms they were given overlooked the chamber with the submarine port. They stuck out from the side of the cavern, with a drop that Kate estimated to roughly fifteen stories outside the window. Below was nothing but rough, black rock. Nobody was getting out that way alive.
The room itself was more like a small flat. It even had a little kitchenette, off to one side. There was a living room, a study and two bedrooms. The furnishings weren’t as fancy as on the submarine, but rather of good hotel standard.
Below, in the cavern, lay the submarine. From this height it became more obvious just how huge it really was. They had large doors opened at several places along its side, and were driving entire trucks in and out of it. She shook her head. The world’s biggest submarine by far, moored in a secret base inside a dormant volcano. They really were captured by a James Bond villain. Too bad they didn’t have any James Bond.
“The door can be locked from the inside,” Olivia said.
“Good,” Kate said. “Then we don’t have to worry as much about the guards walking in on us.”
“True,” Olivia said. “It also means that unlike the room on the sub, this place wasn’t built to be a jail cell.”
Kate turned and looked at her. Unlike Kate, Olivia was slowly and carefully looking around the suite. Kate smiled a little. Maybe they did have a James Bond. Except that made Kate the expendable love interest, and that was a role she refused to take.
“See anything?” she asked.
Olivia shook her head.
“Not yet,” she said. “What’s outside the window?”
“Fifteen stories of air and a basalt floor.”
“And the other way?”
Kate mentally kicked herself. She put her cheek to the window and looked up. She saw nothing of interest.
“The same, except a ceiling,” she said.
“So the entire suite is sticking out of the side of the cavern,” Olivia said.
“Has to be,” Kate said.
“And there isn’t any climate to protect against,” Olivia said. “I wonder…”
She climbed up on a table and pressed a hand to the ceiling. A large section of it easily lifted.
“Looks like a space and then the roof,” she said. “Get me something to stand on, will you?”
Kate lifted a chair onto the table. Olivia climbed up on it. She lifted the panel further and stuck her head up above the ceiling.
“Cables, pipes and dust,” she said.
She reached up further and pushed on a roof panel. She smiled down at Kate.
“Plywood,” she said. “Just nailed down enough to keep in place. We can get up there.”
Kate tried to think, to figure out how that helped them. What had it looked like when they arrived? There were four doors in one wall, spaced wide enough that they had to lead to one suite each. In the middle of the wall was a guard post. But the guards there would have their attention on the suites they knew they had prisoners in.
“Hang on a moment,” she said.
She went into the kitchenette and started looking through the cabinets while Olivia restored the ceiling panel and climbed down. Pretty soon Kate found what’s she’d been hoping for.
“Here,” she said. “Ketchup and black plastic garbage sacks. This, a lot of water and some pillows and we can fake something that’ll look enough like a smashed body from fifteen stories up.”
Olivia smiled at her.
“I think we have a plan,” she said.
They decided to wait until well past midnight before they tried anything. Dinner arrived on a serving cart, and was a nice change from the seafood-heavy diet on the Nautilus.
“What about Peter?” Kate said after they’d eaten. “He should be in one of the suites next to this one.”
Olivia shook her head.
“He’ll have to wait,” she said. “Partly because getting him would be extra complication and delay, and partly because we can’t get Walter, and I don’t want him to be left here alone. We’ll come back for them later, with help.”
Kate nodded. She got up from the couch and put the empty plates and bowls on the dinner cart, assuming that someone would be along soon to pick it up. When she turned to return to her seat, Olivia was standing right next to her.
“In case things don’t go according to plan,” Olivia said.
She put her hand on the back of Kate’s head, burying her fingers in her hair. She gently pulled Kate’s head down, and met her mouth with her own open lips. Kate’s eyes fluttered shut as bolts of lust shot out through her body. She melted against Olivia’s body as a strong arm went around her waist and pulled her close, and received the blonde woman’s tongue into her own mouth. She delighted in the touch, the presence of Olivia until her head was pulled away by the hand firmly lodged in her hair. She groaned in protest. Olivia let go of her entirely, and she staggered a couple of steps back. When she had gathered her wits enough to look straight, Olivia was smiling at her.
“If you want more of that,” she said, “better make sure we don’t get caught.”
“Ready?” Olivia whispered.
Kate made sure that the chair was securely wedged under the doorknob, then nodded.
“Go,” she said.
Olivia picked up a chair and smashed it against a window. The window shattered into a thousand pieces, most of which fell out into the twilight of the volcanic cavern. Still using the chair, she cleared the bottom edge of the window from bigger shards, then threw out the rope they’d made from ripped-up bedsheets and tied to a handy water pipe. She then pushed the roughly human-shaped dummy they’d made through the window, and made sure it dropped straight down, as if someone climbing had fallen.
“Done,” she said.
Kate was already most of the way out through the hole in the ceiling when the guards tried to open the door. Olivia followed her, kicking down the chair from the top of the table as soon as she was sure she didn’t need it to get all the way up. It landed turned on its side, but she hoped the guards wouldn’t be paranoid enough to wonder why it wasn’t standing upright. She got up on the suite’s roof, reached down and replaced the ceiling tile. Kate was crawling on her hands and knees towards the farthest suite from their own. Olivia put the plywood sheet down as well, and followed her. Kate had been this way once before, to check that the suite they intended to go through really was empty, and to open the way down into it. Olivia followed her, as fast as she could without making noise or risking breaking through a plywood sheet. She closed the way into the other suite behind her on the way down. By the time she reached the floor, Kate was at the front door listening.
“Anything?” Olivia whispered.
“Shouting and banging,” Kate whispered back. “They’re not through the door yet.”
They waited, both with their ears to the door. There was more shouting, in French. After a couple of minutes of steady banging, there were a number of crashes and the tone of the shouts changed. Olivia opened the door a crack and glanced out. As they’d hoped, all the guards had gone into the room. She nodded at Kate, opened the door a bit more and walked out.
The corridor outside looked like the others they’d seen in the base so far. Wide, semi-circular cross-section, smooth floor, cables and pipes running along the top. Where the suites were, a section of the outer wall had been flattened. Olivia had made sure to take a good look at the area just outside when they were brought in, and had noticed that the corridor sloped slightly upwards and curved pretty sharply just a few yards from the suite doors. So it was only a matter of seconds before she and Kate were out of sight from the guard position. As soon as they were safely out of sight, Olivia slowed to a walk. Running always attracted attention, which was the last thing they wanted.
“Isn’t this the oldest trick in the book?” Kate said after a while.
“No, that’s hiding behind the door with a blunt object,” Olivia said. “But I’m pretty sure this is in the top ten.”
“Do we have a plan?” Kate said.
“Keep moving up, avoid being seen,” Olivia said.
“Wow,” Kate said. “I sure am impressed by that Quantico training.”
“Be nice,” Olivia said. “Or I’ll spank you.”
Kate arched an eyebrow at her.
“Promise?” she said.
Olivia shook her head, smiling.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s find a way out of here.”
About half an hour later, after many twisting corridors without signs or maps, they happened on a laundry. There were plenty of clean uniforms, and they soon found some that fit.
“I hope nobody tries to talk to us,” Kate said, adjusting her hair under her new uniform cap. “Uniform or no, I still speak as much French as I speak Chinese.”
“Actually,” she said. “I probably speak more Chinese than French, since Castle forced me to watch that space cowboy show of his.”
“Kate?” Olivia said.
Kate turned to look at Olivia. Get a hold of yourself, Kate, she thought. That outburst had no place here. We’re in a serious situation. You should stay focused, to stay alive. Lucky for you at least Olivia is doing it.
“What?” she said.
“There are civilian clothes here.”
Olivia wouldn’t remark on it unless it was worth remarking on. Kate tried to think. Her mind felt tired. There had been too many shocks, too many adjustments. Everything since she and Castle had been jumped by that damn mechanical spider felt like a nightmare. And that had been a tiny one, without firearms, unlike the later ones she’d seen.
“Where do they use those?” she said.
“Exactly,” Olivia said. “If we can figure out where they came from, we should find something close to the outside world.”
Kate tried to concentrate. Where did the clothes come from? No, that was the wrong question. Knowing the answer didn’t put her any closer to finding the place. What she needed to know would be how they got here. Which, almost certainly, was in one of silent cars that sped through the corridors with no drivers in them. They’d seen plenty of those while they walked. So how did the cars know where to take them? More importantly, how did it know where to take them back to?
“Are the clean civilian clothes in some sort of containers?” she asked, without turning to look at Olivia.
“Yes,” Olivia said. “They’re folded and put in large boxes.”
There was a short pause.
“Boxes with barcode labels on them,” Olivia said. “Great thinking, there.”
Kate closed her eyes. She wasn’t totally lost yet, then.
“Get a label off of a box and let’s go find a car,” she said. “Wherever it ends up, there should be an exit nearby.”
“It looks like a luxury resort in Monaco!”
Kate stared in amazement at the place where the car had dropped them off in the mistaken belief that they were two boxes of clean clothes. They hadn’t even had to look for an exit, the car had taken them right through it and out into the early morning sun. Around them was something in between a village and, as Kate said, a resort. They were on the outside of the old volcano, and a fair bit of the slope had been terraced and sprinkled with houses. They were close enough to be convenient, but far enough apart to leave a sense of the jungle that had been there before, as well as give privacy. The road coming out of the underground base ended at a fairly large square, around which were shops and restaurants. There were a fair amount of people milling around, some in uniform and some not. They all looked relaxed and happy. In the middle of the square was a swimming pool, in which a bunch of children were playing. Below it all, a stunning view of the jungle-clad island and the deep blue ocean spread out.
“It sure seems working for a mad genius has some nice benefits,” Olivia said.
Or at least working for this mad genius has, she thought. The people working for Walternate didn’t seem nearly as happy. She looked more closely at the people in and around the square. They really did look relaxed, and were behaving normally. Some were having breakfast, some were reading, some had earphones on and were moving slightly to unheard music, some were holding hands. She put on a smile and put her arm around Kate’s waist. The policewoman had been giving an increasingly detached impression the past couple of hours, and Olivia suspected she was nearing the end of her mental endurance. She’d been through more than Olivia had in the recent past, and was less used to weirdness to begin with.
“Hey,” she said. “Let’s walk a bit more, ok? As soon as we’re well into the jungle we can relax.”
They strolled across the square. Olivia tried to make it look like they were just a couple out walking, which seemed to succeed, since nobody looked at them twice. They passed by a fruit stall, and she grabbed a few. They hadn’t eaten since dinner, and only slept for a couple of hours before they escaped. Which made neither of them feel any better. She passed a mango to Kate.
“Here,” she said. “Eat. Some blood sugar will make you feel better.”
Kate did as she was told.
They made it out of the village without incident, and Olivia even managed to liberate a few things from shops they walked past. Walking through the jungle was not as easy as walking on the footpaths, but it wasn’t as bad as Olivia had feared either, and she felt a whole lot safer away from Verne’s people. The search for them would long since have moved on from the port cavern to the rest of the facility. She couldn’t guess how long it’d be before the laundry box switch was discovered, but once it was the pursuers would know exactly where and how they’d left the underground base. When that happened, she wanted to be as far away as possible.
“I need to rest soon,” Kate said.
It was the first thing she’d said in over an hour. Olivia nodded.
“As soon as we find some sort of shelter,” she said.
Under the trees they were out of the sun, but it was still very hot and humid. Which was good in one sense, since it made it impossible to use infrared cameras to track them. It was less good in that it tired them out faster. But there was nothing to do but keep walking. It wasn’t just Kate who was feeling frazzled around the edges any more.
“Do we have a plan?” Kate said after a time.
“Not much of one,” Olivia said. “I’m thinking find shelter, wait there for the day, find a spot that’s not immediately visible from the volcano top but is visible from the water and build the biggest fire we can manage there.”
They walked in silence some more.
“Do we have some way to start a fire?” Kate said.
Olivia held up a lighter she’d taken from a shop.
“Just need to gather wood,” she said.
“We should start doing that before it gets dark,” Kate said. “This place is going to get really dark really fast when the sun sets.”
The roar of the gasoline engines died down, leaving only the sound of low waves hitting the side of the inflatable boat. A few seconds later, a soft whine came as the electric engine started pushing them forward. Astrid was lying at the fore of the boat, binoculars in hand. The night was clear and the moon near full, so there was more light than one might expect. Which was good in that it let them see what they were doing, and bad in that it let others see them.
“Anything?” Myka said some time later, her voice low.
“There are buildings up near the top of the mountain,” she said. “With lights and people moving around. Can’t see any roads going up there, or anything looking like a harbor.”
“Let’s circle the island,” Helena said. “It’s not as big as we feared. Or the mountain as tall.”
“Roger that,” Pete said.
The boat turned starboard, and they started following the shore at a safe distance. The island kept looking odd. The inhabited part around the top of the old volcano went on, presumably all the way around it, with no sign of human activity lower down. Astrid couldn’t even see any debris or tracks on the stretches of sandy beach they passed. What kind of people lived in a tropical paradise but didn’t go swimming in the ocean?
They’d gone around three quarters of the island when she spotted a light outside of the inhabited area. A pretty big one, too. She aimed the binoculars at it.
“I see a bonfire,” she said.
“Any people?” Myka asked.
“No,” Astrid said.
Someone walked into her field of vision, carrying an armful of branches.
“Wait,” she said. “There’s someone.”
Blonde, slender, wearing some sort of deep red jumpsuit. Clearly female. The woman threw the branches onto the fire and turned to leave. As she did so, her face turned toward Astrid at the same time as the fire lit it up.
“It’s Olivia!” she hissed. “The fire must be a signal!”
Relief flooded her. Olivia was alive and reasonably well. Intellectually, she’d known that Olivia was significantly tougher than most people, and that she’d almost certainly been ok, but it was different to actually see her. The boat started turning towards the shore.
“Is there a way up to the fire?” Helena asked.
Astrid scanned the forest.
“Not as far as I can see,” she said. “We’ll have to go through the jungle.”
“I hope it’s not as full of poisonous everything as Australia,” Myka mumbled.
“Better be quiet,” Pete said. “There may be guards at the shore that we just haven’t seen.”
The tropical night was nowhere close to silent. Millions upon millions of insects buzzed, scratched, hissed and made other noises Olivia couldn’t even describe. Larger animals bumped and cracked and cried out. Bats squeaked at an almost inaudible frequency. She put down an armful of almost dry branches close to the fire, where the heat from it could dry them out a bit. She sat down on the rock, with a mossy log as a backrest.
They’d found a patch of bare rock near a stream running down the side of the volcano, suitably turned away from the village. It was a bit closer than Olivia really liked, but other than that it was perfect, so they decided to build their bonfire there. Fruit, water and a few hours of rest had them both feeling considerably better, and they could spend the afternoon gathering wood without problems. Olivia had kept looking out at the ocean all through the day, hoping to see a ship passing in the distance. She was well aware that the likelihood of getting helped depended a lot on if they were within view of a shipping lane or not. As the day went on, it looked more and more like “not”. Which didn’t make it pointless to try to attract attention, just a lot less likely that it’d work.
“Do we have enough for the night?”
Kate appeared out of the jungle, also burdened with wood. She put it down next to where Olivia had put her armful, then sat down herself next to Olivia.
“I think we do,” Olivia said.
She put an arm around Kate and leaned her head against Kate’s shoulder.
“How are you feeling?” she said.
“I’ll be ok,” Kate said.
“Kate,” Olivia said, “how are you feeling?”
She put an emphasis on every word.
“If you’re going to fall over or freak out,” she added, “our chances of making it get much better if I know that in advance.”
Kate sighed deeply.
“I’m pretty worn out,” she said. “But I’ll make it. Rest helped a lot.”
Olivia pulled her a little closer.
“Will a kiss help a bit more?”
A wan smile flickered over Kate’s features.
“Agent Dunham, that almost sounds like you care about me,” she said. “And here I was thinking you were only using me for your own pleasure.”
“Well, you know,” Olivia said. “Friendships forged in adversity and all that.”
She moved so she sat straddling Kate’s outstretched legs, facing her. She put her hands on each side of the detective’s head and kissed her, slowly and deeply.
“So did it help?” she said.
Kate put her arms around Olivia’s waist.
“It was nice,” she said.
“I don’t doubt that you like it, Kate,” she said. “Not after the week on the submarine. That’s not what I’m asking. What I’m asking is if it helped. Did it make you feel safer, more stable?”
Kate looked away and briefly shook her head.
“Ok,” Olivia said, stroking her cheek once.
She climbed off Kate’s legs and sat down next to her again.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Kate said. “It’s just… It’s new, and a bit strange and a little bit scary.”
“And you’ve had too much new and strange and scary already,” Olivia said.
Olivia put her arm around the other woman again, holding her lightly.
“It’s ok,” she said. “I understand completely.”
This time it was Kate who leaned her head on Olivia. Olivia adjusted herself into a more comfortable position. A mossy log lying on exposed bedrock ranked pretty low on the comfy scale. She turned her head to the sea, hoping that there might be a ship’s lantern in the distance. There weren’t any. Instead, there was Astrid wearing jungle camouflage and a stunned expression.
A couple of minutes later, there were six of them around the fire, and Claudia listening in via Farnsworth. Olivia and Kate were eating emergency energy bars the others had been carrying. In between bites, Olivia was giving an abbreviated version of what had happened to them since they were carried away.
“What about you?” she said when she was done. “What happened on your end?”
“Not much,” Myka said. “We figured out about this place and got here.”
“And we figured out how to pwn the spiderbots,” Claudia said from the little round screen.
“We did?” Myka said. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“You and Helena were busy,” Astrid said. “Writing fanfic.”
“Oh,” she said.
“You figured out how to do what to the spiders?” Helena said.
“Oh, er,” Claudia said. “Control them. Take them over.”
“That certainly sounds useful,” Helena said.
“You see, they’re not remote controlled,” Claudia said. “They’re autonomous. A bit brighter than a chimpanzee, and much more focused. And their AI is mechanical. It’s pretty awesome, actually.”
Olivia and Kate looked at each other.
“We didn’t see any spiders in the base,” Kate said.
“I’m sure they’ll come out if we start making a ruckus,” Pete said.
“Let’s try to avoid that,” Myka said.
“So we still don’t know what she’s really after,” Helena said.
Olivia shook her head.
“She wants Walter to get control of the machine,” she said. “The machine can create connections between alternate universes. We don’t know why she wants to do that.”
“There’s something we’re missing,” she said. “One Juliet Verne came to this universe together with Kate and me, using a machine she built herself. So what does she need this machine for? And where is the Juliet Verne from this universe? It must have been she who actually built all this, along with the Nautilus and the Albatross.”
“Why don’t we just ask her after we capture her?” Kate said. “I’m tired. I want to go home. I say we go in there, arrest the bitch and leave.”
“A plan I’m all for, in principle,” Pete said. “The question is how. And if we do it now. This was just supposed to be a recon mission. The smart thing to do would be to get out of here, and come back later.”
“Walter and Peter are still in there,” Astrid said. “Whatever it she wants, the longer she has Walter to work on it, the greater the chance that she gets it. And she may not be nice to them once she has that.”
“Also, she may beef up security,” Olivia said. “It was very lax when we got out. If we go in right now, she won’t have had time to fix very much. Our chances may be worse later.”
“Ok,” Myka said. “We go in now. How do we do it?”
Kate and Olivia looked at each other, then at the others.
“First,” Kate said, “we steal some laundry.”
The automated laundry van made its leisurely way down the underground corridor. Unlike its companion vehicles it didn’t stop at various places to drop off and pick up things, but that wasn’t something that anybody watching noticed. From the outside, everything looked normal.
On the inside, four people were standing as close to the walls of the van as they possibly could, holding on to whatever they could find. Two people had removed a large section of the floor panel, and were busy working on the machinery hidden under it. In this, they were being assisted by a small box with a round TV screen on it.
“No, your other left,” Claudia said through the Farnsworth. “No, not you, Helena!”
“Um, are you sure you should be doing this while we’re driving?” Myka said.
Helena and Astrid were attaching little boxes an inch or so across to different places on the revealed machinery. Cables led from the boxes to a laptop next to Astrid. Occasionally, she’d type something on it.
“That’s the only time we can see it in operation,” Claudia said. “So far, we only really have guesses. A few more minutes and we can ask this thing to tell us everything it knows.”
The van lurched to the side, nearly pitching Myka and Pete into the open machinery. It reminded Myka of pictures she’d seen of Babbage’s analytical engine. Which probably was the last common ancestor to this thing and Astrid’s laptop.
“So where’s it going now?” Pete said. “I thought we were in control?”
“It’s going to the laundry,” Olivia said. “We used the bar code to trick it, not control it.”
“Well,” he said. “My clothes need cleaning anyway.”
“There!” Helena said. “Are you getting anything, Astrid?”
Astrid turned to the laptop. She typed a few things.
“Something,” she said. “Not sure what…”
She kept typing.
“Hold on,” she said after a while. Everyone held on for dear life. Astrid hit the ‘Enter’ key. The van coasted gently to a halt.
“Oh,” Astrid said. “Right. It’s somewhat intelligent.”
“You have control?” Claudia said. “For real?”
“For real,” Astrid said. “And I think I have map data. Olivia, Kate, the room we’re after, would it be large space at level one or large space at level nine?”
“Nine,” Olivia said after a few seconds.
Astrid typed. The van started moving again.
“How do you know that?” Myka asked.
“There are way more than nine levels,” Olivia said. “Level one must be the submarine port. So nine must be the giant room with the Machine in it.”
A long while later, the van coasted to a halt again.
“We’re here,” Astrid said.
They’d put the floor panel back, so they could sit somewhat normally. The cable to the little boxes was wedged between the panel and the floor.
“Do you see them?” Pete asked.
Astrid rose and cautiously looked out the van’s front window. While it had a fairly normal driver’s seat and controls, so far they hadn’t seen a single van where it was in use. So to be safe they’d stayed clear of it.
“Yes,” Astrid said. “A hundred feet away, at a handful of tables full of computers and stuff. Peter is sitting on a table looking bored. Walter seems to be arguing with Verne. He’s waving his arms like he does when he’s upset at how stupid someone is being.”
Kate looked up.
“Verne is there?”
“Yes,” Astrid said.
“So what are we waiting for?” Kate said. “You’ve got those taser things. We leave the van, nice and smooth, you stun the bitch, we take her and your people, get back in the van and leave.”
Myka and Helena looked at each other, then Myka looked to Pete.
“We’ve tried much worse plans than that,” he said. “I vote for.”
“I agree,” Helena said.
Myka looked at Olivia.
“Worth a shot,” she said.
“Better hurry,” Astrid said. “I think they’re almost done arguing.”
“All right, then,” Myka said. “Pete, Helena, flank me. Olivia, Kate, Astrid, cover our rear. Let’s try not to kill anyone.”
At first, it went smooth as a dream. Myka threw open the rear door of the van, started walking briskly towards the three people they were after and raised her Tesla to fire as she did. She aimed at the short dark-haired woman and fired. Tesla lightning flared from each side of her almost exactly at the same time as she fired herself, and all three of them hit Verne straight in the chest. She was thrown back and fell to the floor. The two men turned to look at them, Peter looking surprised and Walter shocked.
“Olivia!” Peter shouted.
“Aster!” Walter shouted.
Myka heard a low groan from behind. It didn’t seem important, so she ignored it.
“Walter, Peter, get in the van!” Olivia shouted.
“We have to stop her!” Walter shouted back. “I have to destroy her machine!”
Myka looked around as she ran up to the two men. Some of the other workers in the huge room had seen what happened, and was in various stages of running away or hiding. So far, no guards.
“We have no time,” Olivia said.
“She’s going to use the machine!” Walter said. “It’ll rip more holes in the universe, in entirely new places. It’ll bring everything down in days.”
Myka looked at where Verne had fallen. She hadn’t really intended that all three of them shoot her, and she was worried that they might have killed her. Teslas could do that, if you shot someone from too close range or too many times. But in this case, it seemed they hadn’t. Verne wasn’t even there. The spot where she’d fallen was clean, empty floor.
“Guys!” she said. “I think we have a problem.”
“Walter,” Astrid said. “Please let’s go now.”
“No!” he said. “What does it matter that we escape now, if the entire universe unravels around us before we even get back home?
“Ok,” Olivia said. “So what do we do? Blow it up? Smash some vital components?”
“Would it surprise you to hear that the evil mastermind’s secret lair hidden in the dormant volcano has a self-destruct?” Peter said.
“When you put it like that, I guess not,” Olivia said. “Can we set it off?”
“Verne is gone,” Myka said. “She’s not here.”
“What?” Pete said. “How can she be gone? I was afraid she’d be dead!”
Myka looked around more carefully, kneeling down to be able to look under the tables of the workplace island they were at. Some way away, running crouched, was a scarlet-clad figure.
“There!” she shouted.
She stood up, aimed and fired. She saw the bolt from her Tesla strike the fleeing woman in the back, and how she stumbled a little but didn’t fall. Or even slow down, after the initial stumble.
“The base runs on geothermal power from the volcano,” Walter said. “Right off the molten lava. Efficient, of course, it scales with the temperature delta, but it means there’s a drilled shaft all the way down to the magma chamber. It’s blocked by the energy extraction machinery, but there are scuttling charges. If they blow, there’ll be a volcanic eruption, and the escaping materials will take the easiest way out. Which is right here, where the rock has been excavated.”
“The Teslas don’t affect her!” Myka shouted.
“She must’ve built a defense,” Helena said. “I should’ve thought of that.”
“The scuttling charges are controlled from up there,” Pete said.
He pointed at a glass-walled structure sticking out from just under the ceiling at the far end of the room. A metal staircase led up to it from the floor.
Myka looked around again, while she put the Tesla in her pocket and drew her handgun. There were people entering the room from outside, people holding weapons. She fired twice in their direction, to force them to slow down and be more careful. It’d be difficult to get out that way now. So maybe setting off those charges would be a good idea, no matter if Walter was right about the threat or not. Suicide charges going off should cause plenty of chaos they could use to escape.
“Everyone in the van,” she said. “Astrid, get in the driver’s seat and get us over to those stairs.”
Myka didn’t close the rear door of the van. She wanted to see what the guards did while they were driving, and to be able to fire the occasional shot at them. Helena stood at the other side of the van from her, picking off guards with her Tesla. Whatever defense Verne had, she hadn’t given it to her minions. It was obvious that they knew what the Tesla was, though, because it had little effect on how they acted. Unlike the normal gunfire, which had them dodging and taking cover.
“Are you ok?” Myka said, keeping her voice low.
“Just fine,” Helena said. “You?”
“Feeling a bit surreal,” she said.
The van braked.
“We’re here!” Astrid shouted.
“Astrid, Helena, go up and figure out how to blow the charges,” Myka said. “Olivia, go with them in case of guards. We’ll cover the rear.”
“I’m going up too,” Walter said.
“Sure,” Myka said. “Just hurry.”
She took out her Tesla too and held it in her left hand. It had a lot more shots in it than her Glock, and even if it didn’t scare the guards as much it knocked some of them out. Detective Beckett came up and took the position Helena had just left. Someone had given her a gun.
“It feels like I got stuck in a stupid action movie,” she said.
“You get used to it,” Myka said. “And it could be worse. Sometimes we get stuck in not-so-bad horror movies.”
She looked for the next guard to fire the Tesla at. She couldn’t see any. She saw plenty of them hiding behind things, but none she had a clear shot at. She frowned.
“That can’t be good,” she said.
Immediately after the words were out, four of the big mechanical spiders walked into the room.
“You had to say that, didn’t you?” Beckett said. “Now what do we do? I’d rather not get close enough to those that I can hit a vulnerable spot.”
“Helena!” Myka shouted. “Right now would be a good time to hurry!”
The floor suddenly shook, almost throwing Myka off her balance. A deep rumbling crash came right after it. A moment later, sirens started to wail.
“Now’s even better!” Helena shouted. “Lava on its way!”
The four who’d gone up to the control came running down and clambered into the van. As soon as all of them were inside, the van started moving. Myka turned and looked forward. Pete was in the driver’s seat, looking grim.
“Where to?!” he shouted.
“Up!” Helena shouted. “We have to get out of here before the entire mountain blows up!”
The van accelerated towards the entrance to the room, right at the charging spiders.
“The entire mountain blows up?” Beckett said.
“There was a diagram,” she said. “Verne has arranged drill shafts and natural cracks so that a reservoir of lava will accumulate roughly here. Once there’s enough of it, the floor under will crack from heat and weight. All the lava will fall into the submarine port below us. Tens of thousands of tons of two-thousand-degree lava will fall into just as much water, all of it in an enclosed space. The steam pressure will build until it’s enough to blow away the entire mountain on top of it.”
Beckett stared at her.
“We’re going to die,” she said.
The guards in the room had abandoned their task and were running for their lives. Which was part of the plan. What wasn’t part of it was the spiders, who didn’t care about the impending doom at all. Pete drove right at one, veering at the last moment so he smashed into its thin legs instead of the solid metal body. There were bumps and crashes, and when Myka looked back she saw the spider flop about with only the legs on one side of it working. Its three friends were running after them.
In the corridor outside, red emergency lights had lit up. Large red glowing arrows on the sides of the walls pointed up the slope. Pete turned to follow them.
“It’s going to take some time for the lava to build up,” Helena said. “There should be enough time for us to get down to the boat. If we just get there, we should be ok. It’ll be a really bumpy ride, but most of the blast will go over us.”
Myka shot a spider with her Tesla. It stumbled and jerked, then caught itself and ran on, losing a bit of distance in the process. Which was certainly better than nothing. She fired again, at the closest one, then the next one.
“Save your energy,” Helena said. “Teslas don’t have much range.”
“I wish Belly was here,” Walter said. “He’d have found those guns fascinating.”
“I’ve been thinking,” Beckett said a while later.
She was still leaning against the wall closest to the rear of the van. The spiders were still after them, keeping just out of effective Tesla range.
“About what?” Olivia said.
“About what happens when we get to the exit,” she said. “And the road ends. Those spiders are going to move a lot faster in the jungle than either we or the van will.”
Olivia had been too caught up in the present to think of that. From the expression on Myka’s face, she had too.
“Teslas can disable them, if you fire at close enough range,” Helena said. “I got the one back in the Massive Dynamic building that way.”
“What’s close enough?” Myka asked.
“Two to three feet from its body,” Helena said.
“So it only works if you can ambush one,” Olivia said. “I think that’s going to be hard to arrange.”
Olivia turned to look at Astrid. She was kneeling on the van floor, next to the canvas bag she kept her laptop in. She was holding two black boxes the size of bricks. They each had a handle sticking out of it.
“I have a suggestion,” she said.
The van barreled out through the exit at full speed, crossing the village square outside in a matter of seconds. It nearly went up on two wheels as Pete turned into a side street, bumped badly as he drove it up on a lawn and headed for the nearest part of the jungle. It slowed down as it crossed the grass, and finally came to a stop between two palm trees. The rear doors were thrown open even before it was completely stationary, and the people inside ran for the jungle.
“Spiders?” Myka asked after a while, panting hard and holding a hand to her injured ribs.
“None yet,” Olivia said.
Myka looked around. The spot looked roughly like what they wanted. It sloped sharply down, and had plenty of trees and vegetation.
“I think this is it,” she said. “Get into position.”
She and Beckett helped Helena get up in a tree, while a few yards away Pete and Peter did the same for Olivia. A bit further down the slope, Astrid and Walter sat down leaning against a fallen tree.
“Ok,” Myka said once the two women were up and hidden in their respective trees. “Let’s hide and hope they take the bait.”
They didn’t have to wait long. Just a minute later, the three remaining spiders appeared at the top of the slope. Myka watched them through the dark green leaves of the bush she was hiding behind. The first one wiggled back and forth, scanning the jungle. Then it froze, its front lenses trained at Walter and Astrid. The other two took position behind it, in the triangle formation they’d kept all the way up through the corridors. It set off down the slope, far faster than any of the humans could have managed.
Myka waited. They had to time this right. She stared intently at them, trying to judge their speed against her own and her friends’ reaction times.
“Now!” she shouted at what she fervently hoped was the right moment.
She stood up, holding her Tesla in both hands, aiming it at the front spider. On the other side of it, Pete stepped out from behind a tree, also aiming at it. She ran closer, screaming wordlessly. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw two figures drop down out of the trees. She couldn’t tell if they found their targets or not.
The spider in front of Myka dithered between her and Pete for a moment, and that was enough. She fired, stunning it. Pete used the time to run all the way up to it, actually press the point of his Tesla to the spider’s carapace before he pressed the trigger. The spider twitched wildly, once, then collapsed to the ground and was still.
Silence fell. Myka looked up.
A little bit up the slope, the remaining two spiders were standing still. On to of them, Helena and Olivia perched. Both of them were holding on to the handle on a black box they’d attached to the spider. Magnets, Myka knew from Astrid’s explanation. The boxes were like the little things she’d used to take over the van, only specially built to be able to take over a spider robot.
“It worked!” Astrid shouted from behind, followed by a wild laughter.
Helena pushed the handle on her spider forward. The spider walked down the slope.
“Climb aboard,” she said. “We still have an exploding island to get away from.”
She guided the spider to just in front of Myka, and held down a hand to help her up.
They were well out to sea when the island finally blew up. For a few moments before, they could actually see the sides of the volcano bulge. Then there was a sudden rending, huge cracks appeared and vast clouds of steam and dust billowed out. Rock and trees flew through the air, lit up from below by the hellish glow from the volcano, tumbling to fall down into the ocean many miles away. A few seconds later a shockwave rocked they boat like an invisible hand, but with all eight of them in it it was stable enough to stay upright. Then came the noise, an indescribably loud rumble that Kate felt as much as she heard. She closed her eyes and held on harder to Olivia’s hand. The noise went on for a long time, longer than felt possible for something that loud. But eventually it died down, and she could hear the roar of the engines again.
Olivia bent forward and placed a quick kiss on her cheek. Kate leaned back more heavily, needing more of Olivia’s warm, solid presence.
“See,” Olivia whispered to her. “We made it.”
The boat sped on through the night.
“Two more are going to stay here?” Leena said. “Well, they better be ready to double up with people, because Olivia and Astrid got my last free room.”
“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” Artie said.
They were standing on the porch in front of Leena’s B&B. Two black SUVs were in the process of parking in the yard. When they were done, the doors popped open and people started getting out. Leena suddenly stiffened.
“HG?!” she said.
“Yep,” he said. “Just go with it. I’ll explain later. Er, she’ll be rooming with Myka. You’ll need a crowbar to get those two apart.”
She stared at Artie for a moment.
“That part I get, at least,” she said. “Who’s the tall dark one?”
“NYPD detective Kate Beckett,” Artie said. “Deceased.”
“She moves well for a zombie,” Leena said.
“She’ll be staying with Olivia,” he said.
“Olivia is already sharing with Astrid,” Leena said.
“Yeah,” Artie drawled.
“Hey, Claudia,” he shouted.
She looked up from unloading a car.
“We’re getting a bit crowded here,” he said. “Would you mind sharing you room with Astrid? If we put in another bed?”
Claudia looked from Artie to Astrid to Leena to Artie again. Two bright spots appeared at her cheekbones.
“Er, sure,” she said. “If it’s ok with Astrid, that is.”
“Um, yeah, that’s fine,” Astrid said.
“So,” Artie said. “Rooms all sorted.”
“She could’ve had HG’s old room,” Leena said. “No point in leaving it empty if she’s alive again.”
“I guess,” Artie said. “But I think this has more potential.”
“I have to go call and increase our grocery orders,” Leena said. “You get to go up to the attic and fetch the extension thingy for the dining room table.”
She walked inside.
“There’s a table in the Warehouse that adjusts itself to the number of people around it,” he mumbled to himself. “That’d save some work. Although I guess the getting sent on quests all the time would more than make up for it…”
Kate grabbed hold of the edge of the bed, pulled with all her might and grunted with effort. The bed moved a couple of inches. She stood up straight and looked at Olivia, who was lounging on her own bed.
“Do you think you could give me a hand here?” she said.
“I don’t know,” Olivia said. “I kind of like watching you work.”
“Do you want my bed next to yours or not?” Kate said. “Because at the moment I’m thinking I may just leave it where it is.”
“Well,” Olivia said. “If you put it that way.”
She got up, and with joined efforts the got the heavy old bed next to Olivia’s.
“I never saw a bed this heavy,” Kate panted.
“That’s because you’ve only seen modern mass-produced stuff that needs to be transported,” Olivia said. “This is real, old-fashioned, hand-cast iron.”
She put her hand on Kate’s neck and pulled her into a kiss.
“Perfect for tying you to,” she said afterwards.
“I lost my handcuffs somewhere in the chaos,” she said.
“Me too,” Olivia said. “On the other hand, I bought some rope.”
“Sounds more comfortable,” Kate said.
Olivia looked at her for a while, smiling.
“I’m both sorry and happy that we didn’t manage to get you home,” she said. “Sorry that you didn’t get what you want, happy that you’re here.”
“I feel pretty much the same,” Kate said. “Walter said he’d keep looking into it, but that I shouldn’t hope too much. Because of the whole bit where traveling between universes may bring the end of the world.”
“So I probably get to keep you,” Olivia said. “That’s a pretty significant silver lining, from my point of view.”
She pushed Kate down on the just-moved bed and kissed her again, more eagerly and firmly this time. After a while, Kate gently pushed her away.
“What?” Olivia said, frowning.
“I don’t want to miss dinner,” Kate said. “Or stop in the middle of something.”
Olivia smiled at her and got up from the bed.
“Spoilsport,” she said.
“Are you sure it’s OK?” Claudia said.
She was frantically cleaning up and stuffing things in a large chest.
“Yes, of course,” Astrid said. “I wouldn’t have said so if it wasn’t.”
“I, um,” Claudia said, ”I’m not very used to sharing a room with someone else. I’ve been alone most of my life. Actually, I’m just not any good with people. Like, in general.”
Astrid sat down on her new bed. She hadn’t had much to move in the first place. It all fit in a suitcase, which she had shoved under the bed.
“Also,” Claudia said, “you seem kind of distracted.”
She tossed the last handfuls of comic books into the chest, even though they were really Pete’s, and closed it. The room looked much nicer when it didn’t have stuff all over it, she decided. She’d make an effort to keep it like this.
“Oh,” Astrid said. “Sorry. It’s just, I can’t stop thinking.”
“Everything we just went through,” she said. “Alternate universes. Evil masterminds with underground lairs. Immortal evil masterminds with underground lairs, even. Escaping down the side of an erupting volcano riding a mechanical spider.”
She looked at Claudia and gave her a crooked smile.
“It’s all a bit much,” she said.
“Yeah,” Claudia said. “I totally sympathize.”
“And there’s those stupid details that stick in my mind,” Astrid said. “Like, when we were working at the control panel trying to set off the scuttling charges?”
“There was this meter that was showing how much energy was being tapped from the geothermal generators?” she said.
“I think I remember it,” Claudia said. “Although I didn’t really look.”
“It was showing an awfully large number,” Astrid said. “The equivalent of several major nuclear power plants.”
Claudia’s eyebrows rose.
“It didn’t look like the base used all that much power,” she said.
“Exactly,” Astrid said. “That’s what keeps bugging me. Where did all that energy go?”
Claudia got up from her bed.
“That’s too late to figure out now,” she said. “Unless you’re really, really good at three-dimensional jigsaw puzzles.”
She held out a hand to Astrid.
“Come on,” she said. “I’m hungry. Let’s go see what Leena is making us for dinner.”
Astrid took her hand and let herself be pulled up from the bed.
Helena looked at Myka’s room with a strange expression.
“What?” Myka said. “I know it’s a bit of a mess, but it’s not that bad, is it?”
“It’s spotless,” Helena said. “And that’s not what I was thinking.”
She shook her head a little.
“Does this count as coming back here?” she said. “I mean, I know this room. I’ve slept here a whole bunch of times. Only, it wasn’t this this room. It was another this room.”
“I don’t think contemporary English is up to handling alternate universes,” Myka said. “And I’m too tired to think about it.”
Helena looked around again.
“Are my things still here?” she said.
“I never had the heart to get rid of them,” she said.
“Well, I’m glad for that,” Helena said. “If you don’t mind, I’ll shower and change clothes before dinner.”
“I’ll wade through my email while you do,” she said.
Helena couldn’t stop thinking about it, of course. The meaning of difference and sameness in the context of alternate timelines. It wasn’t like there were two distinct sets of things, where some were the same and some were not. It was more like two sets that overlapped almost completely, only leaving a few things at the edges not in common. Which actually explained a few things about how her time machine worked. She doodled a few equations in the misty glass of the shower stall, then shook her head. There’d be time to think properly about that later. She rinsed her hair, turned off the water and dried herself off.
When she got out of the bathroom Myka was giggling at her computer screen, her face a bit flushed.
“Ok,” Helena said. “What?”
Myka looked up at her and smirked.
“We got feedback on that fic we posted,” she said.
“Oh?” Helena said. “Is it good?”
“We’re getting lots of compliments for our sense of realism,” she said.
“Well, I should hope so,” Helena said.
“Except for the bit with the coffee table, which was apparently just too over the top.”
“What!” Helena snorted. “They don’t believe us? Well then, next time we will post pictures.”
Myka looked scandalized.
“Oh no we don’t,” she said. “There’s no way on Earth we’re even taking pictures of that, much less posting any on the Internet.”
Helena started brushing her hair. She smiled mildly at Myka.
“No chance on this Earth, maybe,” she said.
Richard Castle quickly closed the lid on his laptop when his daughter shoved open the door.
“That lawyer called again,” she said.
He frowned at her.
“Which lawyer?” he said.
“The one your publisher is using to sue you for breach of contract,” Alex said.
“Again,” he said. “Which lawyer? There’s the one for the novel and the one for the movie script.”
Alex sighed in exasperation.
“Dad,” she said, “you have to shape up. What’s gotten into you anyway? You’re not doing the things you should be doing, and you’re not telling me what you’re doing instead.”
“Sorry, pumpkin,” he said.
She glared at him.
“Yeah, anyway,” she said. “Pizza’s here. Grandma and I are eating now. I’ll put the leftovers in the fridge if you haven’t showed up by the time we’re finished.”
“Thanks,” he said. “Close the door, will you?”
She closed the door and left. He could see her shake her head as the door swung past and blocked her from his view. He opened the laptop again. On the screen was a fuzzy and dark picture of a ship against a night sky. Treetops nudged the lower edge of the image.
“Oh yeah,” he mumbled, “that’s our flying boat all right.”
He copied the GPS coordinates that had been emailed with the image and added them to a map in another window. It extended one of two lines on the map, two lines that met in a V shape centered on the Massive Dynamic building on Manhattan.
“So that’s where you started,” he mumbled to himself. “Soon I’ll know where you came from, and what you are. And then I’ll know what Massive Dynamic is hiding.”
He switched to another document and started adding to a set of notes.
“Don’t you worry, Kate,” he said. “I’ll find you. I’ll find you and Wells, and get you out of whatever trouble you’re in.”
The Nautilus cruised along the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, going east. She was making good progress and would reach Peru long before the presence of nearly two thousand people aboard started putting a strain on the life support. Juliet nodded in approval at the bridge staff. She didn’t say anything. They had their orders already, and she knew better than to try to micro-manage. They were good, skilled people and she trusted them to do their jobs.
She walked down a narrow but tall corridor. Like all the corridors on the submarine, it was lushly decorated in her favorite 19th century style. It matched her clothes. Unlike on the island, she was dressed in a man’s three-piece suit. She took an old watch out of her vest pocket and looked at it. It had started out as an ordinary watch over a hundred years ago, but now its face was full of various dials and needles. She studied it carefully, then nodded in satisfaction and hurried on down the corridor.
The room at the very center of the submarine was tall, but not overly wide. It was dark, its walls and floor bare metal. In its center stood a metallic roughly cylindrical machine on legs, identical to the one that had been in the island. The only light in the room was a single spotlight, surrounding the machine with a circle of pure white light.
She walked to a spot on the floor marked with the numeral 3, and waited. After a few minutes, a spotlight came on, shining straight down at her. It’s light was strong, particularly compared to the darkness she’d been in until then. She closed her eyes, and opened them slowly, letting them get used to the brightness.
Around the room were four more spots of light that hadn’t been there before. In each one was a person. The machine in the middle was glowing softly and making a buzzing sound.
“Welcome, sister-selves,” one of them said.
She looked and sounded exactly the same as the Juliet who had entered the room. All five of them did.
“What do you have to report, sister-three?” she said. “Did it work?”
“It did,” she said. “We have a good deal of new information on the workings of the Machines from Walter Bishop, and the resonance coordinates from Peter Bishop.”
“I can proceed, then?” one of the others said.
“I think so, sister-four,” Juliet said. “I will give you all the new information I have, and I think it will be enough for you to build the nexus. I myself will contact sister-seven in Peter’s original timestream.”
“Excellent!” the one who had spoken first said. “Do we have anything else to discuss at this time?”
There were shakes of heads all around.
“Then I declare this meeting over, sister-selves,” she said.
She raised an arm, her fist clenched.
“One world is not enough!” she said, her voice echoing loud and hard in the steel-walled room.
The others mimicked the gesture.
“One world is not enough!” they shouted.