“Myka.” Pete’s face was uncharacteristically somber and worried. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Myka didn’t reply. They’d rehashed this enough times already that she already knew what Pete’s next words were going to be:
“Artie’s gonna freak if he catches us.” What wasn’t added was the silent accusation: It doesn’t matter if he fires you; you’re going to be dead in a month. But he’ll fire me. But he didn’t say it, because even Pete had tact sometimes.
It wasn’t fair of her, asking him for help with this. Up to this point in her life, Myka had always been strictly fair in all her dealings. She had always been fair with Pete, with Artie – and with H.G.
Even now, she was still trying to be fair to H.G.
Betraying Artie, she could rationalize to herself. It had been deeply unfair of Artie and Mrs. Frederic to tear her so brutally away from the life and career she’d made for herself. Not that she didn’t love the Warehouse and her work, but here at the end of it all she could grant herself some selfishness.
But asking this of Pete, taking advantage of the something-more-than-brotherly feelings on his part, letting him risk his career and the rest of his life – that was the height of unfairness, and Myka still couldn’t quite believe she was doing it.
“Artie won’t catch us,” she said. She’d made sure the energy draw to power H.G.’s time machine wouldn’t trip the alarms this time; she’d done that by smuggling it out of the Warehouse. “Claudia’s the real danger.” And Claudia would never suspect until it was too late.
It wasn’t fair to Pete, but nothing about this whole situation was fair. Ovarian cancer wasn’t fair. Dying without ever having had a long-term relationship wasn’t fair.
Seeing the woman she loved, happy and content with someone else – no, that definitely was not fair.
But what could Myka offer H.G.? Once, companionship in endless wonder – and that hadn’t been enough. Now, two months of watching her die. Myka wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone, and H.G. had had enough tragedy in her life.
No, she was almost glad Helena had found Nate and Adelaide. It would spare her the pain of watching a friend whither and die.
But cancer focused the mind like nothing else. With only a few short months of life left, Myka had realized a few things.
She’d realized that playing fair had been a strategy based more on fear than on any innate altruism on her part. Nobody ever got close to the girl who was strictly fair about everything; people tended to like people who asked favors of them. Myka, who hated feeling indebted to anyone, never asked favors.
Cancer had made her realize she’d been given a loving family here at the Warehouse, and that had made things comfortable enough that she’d never felt any need for a partner. She’d always been proud of being self-sufficient, so not having a partner wasn’t the problem.
The problem was that somewhere around the time they took out Sykes, she’d fallen in love with H.G. Wells. The problem was that H.G. hadn’t fallen in love with her. And now – and it wasn’t fair – H.G. was happy with a wonderful man, with a wonderful child, with a wonderful life.
Myka wasn’t so selfish as to go disturb that happiness, not even to brighten what little time remained. She was selfish enough to do this, though.
“Hand me the headpiece,” she said, sitting in the chair and lying back. She’d already set the date on the time machine: April 7, 1895. Shortly before Christina’s death, but after H.G. had joined Warehouse 12.
She had asked Pete to accompany her to London with the excuse that she was receiving an experimental treatment. Really she was in London because of the time machine.
Cancer had made Myka aware of what she would and would not do. She would not steal H.G.’s happiness.
What she would do, the thing that she still couldn’t quite believe she felt deeply enough to do, was this: she would steal a piece of somebody’s life.
Twenty-two hours and nineteen minutes of it, to be precise.
Myka had no way of knowing whose life it was she’d steal. She was relieved to find it was a woman. Wearing a male body would have been… disconcerting.
She was less pleased to find that the woman in question wore a corset.
Still, she was quite fortunate. She was in the body of a young, rather attractive woman of a social class acceptable to go calling on H.G. Wells. Miss Marianne Wilkes, the calling cards on the bureau read.
Whether H.G. Wells would accept her calling card – whether H.G. Wells would like her – these were things Myka was trying not to think about.
She should have done more research, though. It was a whole new world out there in the streets of 1895 London, and the bulk of Myka’s knowledge about it came from reading novels. She was decent at undercover work, but not like this! She’d never trained to go undercover in a different time.
She stood before the mirror and made herself breathe, long calming breaths that flattened the panic worming its way into her heart. What did she have to lose, after all? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, as the saying went.
Imminent death came with a lot of platitudes, she was finding.
H.G. was happy, back in the twenty-first century. She was in love. Myka didn’t know if H.G. was in love here, now. It was silly to think she could get Helena to fall in love with her in twenty-two hours – twenty-one and a bit, now – when two years hadn’t done it back home, but she had to try. She’d settle for a kiss, if nothing else. Oh, who was she kidding? She’d settle for that flash of mischief in H.G.’s eyes that said she was pleased or interested.
It was perhaps quite shocking for a young lady to walk a whole three blocks on her own in Victorian London, but Myka didn’t know how to hail a hansom cab, or even how to recognize a hansom cab. She was just glad she hadn’t run into anyone else in the house; that would have been awkward.
She knocked at the home of Charles and Helena Wells, smoothing her skirts nervously and wishing she could loosen the corset. At least it did show off Marianne’s breasts to advantage. It was a new experience to be so well-endowed. Nobody was looking, and yet she felt people must be staring.
The footman who answered the door did not stare, but Charles Wells did. Foolishly, Myka had asked for H.G. Wells – and the world knew that Charles was the famous writer and philosopher, whose book The Time Machine had been released earlier that year to great acclaim.
“I’m afraid there’s been a mistake,” she said, uncomfortably aware of the way his eyes kept creeping back to her cleavage and then leaping away. “I was looking for your sister.”
“Helena?” Charles looked surprised.
What if H.G. wasn’t here? What if she were abroad, or on assignment for Warehouse 12, or –
“It’s about a scientific matter,” Myka said.
“Oh! Oh, I see. Well, you’d best come in, then.” Then he frowned. “She’s in the laboratory. She doesn’t usually receive callers…”
“She’ll want to speak with me,” Myka said with all the breezy confidence she could muster. And she breathed a sigh of relief when Helena came in, looking rather annoyed at being interrupted.
God, she was beautiful. Younger than the Helena Myka knew, of course, but just as cool and elegant.
Myka realized she was waiting for the crinkle-eyed smile that H.G. normally greeted her with. She was more than a little discomfited by the cool challenge in the other woman’s eyes. She’d thought about, obsessed about how to greet Helena in their first meeting – and now she found that every single word had flown out of her brain.
Once upon a time, many years in the future, Myka had been tempted by her heart’s desire in Egypt. And what had dazzled her so – recognition for her work? When she could have been tempted by this gorgeous woman? Myka wanted to slap her past self upside the head for taking so long to see what was right there in front of her.
She hadn’t seen it until it was too late, and that was why she was here. “Miss Wells,” she said firmly, “I’m here about your time machine.”
“I haven’t got a time machine,” Helena said again, stone-faced. “It’s just a story. Ask Charles, he’s the one who wrote it.”
Myka had poured over H.G.’s notes and files. The time machine had gone through several iterations, and not until the summer of 1895 did Helena make the breakthrough that let it be truly utilized. Myka wouldn’t take the breakthrough from her – but she would put her on the right track.
“Everything I’ve heard tells me you’re the scientific genius in this family,” Myka said, ignoring Charles’s squawk of indignation. She met Helena’s gaze and held it. “You’ve got a prototype at the very least. If it’s anything like the one in your brother’s book, I’d like to help. I have a few ideas.”
A gleam of interest shone in Helena’s eyes. “Have you a scientific background?” she asked, looking intrigued in spite of herself.
Myka laughed. “You have no idea.”
If Myka had been asked how she first came to respect H.G. Wells, she would have said, “She dazzled me with science.” Now, she found herself with the unique opportunity to be able to do the same to H.G.
Myka had never been so happy to be an information sponge. Her knowledge of circuitry, basic though it was in 2013, was years ahead of Helena’s time. But they didn’t just speak of circuitry and engines; they spoke of chemistry, and politics, and gestalt theory, and the brand-new realm of paleontology. They chatted far into the night, and H.G. had their dinner sent down to the library.
Helena was working for the Warehouse, Myka knew she was, but she was very good at ducking any questions that strayed in that direction.
Myka wondered if there was a secret code that time-traveling Warehouse agents could give the Caretaker in the new time they were in. Artie hadn’t authorized her and Pete’s expedition into the 1960s, so she had no way of knowing.
“There’s a theory,” she said to H.G., wondering if perhaps she should have consulted Artie after all, “that a time machine can’t go any farther back then when it was invented.”
“Farther back then when it was invented, or when it becomes operational?” Helena asked, a little too speculatively for Myka’s tastes. So that Helena didn’t spend too much time thinking about Myka and time machines, Myka made sure to talk about Mr. Arthur Conan Doyle’s spiritualism in intrigued tones. Helena made haste to debunk such notions.
Helena brought the subject up again, though. “Conservation of matter, you mean? But that presupposes that the time machine moves with you.”
“For that matter, it presupposes that your body moves at all,” Myka said. “Why not just send a person’s consciousness? Seems less dangerous.”
The look on H.G.’s face was worth all the work getting here: a mix of the excited little girl with a brilliant idea, with the flat-out cautious skepticism of the trained scientist. And with that, Myka was given access to the prototype.
Myka couldn’t help it; she loved geeking out over scientific theories, and she loved geeking out with Helena, and she loved Helena. She was only supposed to ask leading questions, but she’d never realized how fascinating the nature of time could be! She was giving too much away, and she couldn’t really be surprised when she looked up to find H.G.’s Tesla pointed at her.
“This won’t kill you,” Helena said sweetly, “but it will hurt a lot. Now, who are you really, and what is it you want?”
Myka was hit with an overwhelming fondness. H.G. had aimed a weapon at her so many times over the years that it was almost foreplay.
Still, she was sensible enough to put up her hands. “I gave you my real name,” she said, which was not quite a lie.
Keeping the Tesla trained on her, H.G. reached for a drawer, and brought out –
George Washington’s axe? What was that doing on this side of the Atlantic? And why on earth wasn’t it at Warehouse 12 if it was here?
“Do you know what this is?” H.G. asked.
Myka did know. George Washington’s axe objected to any untruth. When held in the hand of the questioner, the axe would cut you down like a cherry tree at a lie. Well, bits of you, anyway. They’d barely gotten Pete to Florence Nightingale’s nightgown in time when it chopped off one of his fingers. And here she’d thought she was getting somewhere with H.G.
She grimaced. If Marianne were innocent, the axe would be harmless when she said no. Myka would compromise herself if she said yes. Instead she said, “It’s an axe.” The truth, but not strictly an answer to the question.
“It’s a very dangerous axe,” H.G. agreed. “It takes off pieces of people who try to lie to me.” Her eyes were pure ice. “I went to lot of trouble to track it down, and it was to go into… storage… tonight. Instead, you showed up – with an intimate knowledge of just how to charm your way into my laboratory. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.”
“It is,” Myka said, praying that that wouldn’t qualify as a lie. “It is a coincidence. Put down the – the gun and I’ll tell you why I’m here.”
H.G. hesitated, then put away the Tesla. “Hands where I can see them,” she barked when Myka started to lower them.
Truth, Myka had to tell the truth. But not the whole truth. The axe would accept a partial truth.
“I came here to see you,” she said. “I came here because I had to see – ” Helena was just looking puzzled, and Myka had already ruined her chances, so she might as well risk everything. “I came here because I wanted to do this.” And she stepped forward and pressed her lips to H.G.’s.
It would have been nice if that were the end of the story. Fade to black, and Myka could have gone home to the twentieth century with the memory of having kissed the woman she loved, and perhaps held onto that as she died.
Instead, Helena froze. Myka froze too, not willing to venture further where she wasn’t welcome. When Helena wrenched away and stumbled backward, eyes wide with shock, Myka wished she had listened to Pete. Thank God I don’t have to live very long with the memory of her rejecting me.
H.G.’s mouth worked, but at first she seemed too indignant for any words to come out. “You – you – ” she eventually managed to splutter. “…But you’re a woman!”
Myka’s forehead creased. “Yes?” she agreed cautiously. “I thought that wasn’t a problem for you.”
Even with dismay and anger written all over her face, H.G. still managed to look elegant. It wasn’t fair. “How could it not be a problem?” she demanded. “Whoever heard of two women kissing?”
…Oh. Myka felt a sinking in the pit of her stomach. Was it possible she’d gone back too far? Had Helena never had a female dalliance before?
Was it possible that Helena didn’t know she liked women yet?
Myka swallowed. “Whoever heard of a time machine that actually works?” she whispered. “‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ Now, will you put down the axe?”
She could see H.G. turning the hypothesis over in her scientific brain. Examine the question from all angles. An assumption to be tested: what proof did she have that all desire must be between a man and a woman? What facts supported the hypothesis – what facts did not? H.G. was no naïf; she would have heard at least of the scandalous Teleny, rumored to be written by the celebrated Oscar Wilde. Why couldn’t two women…?
Helena dropped the axe onto the table with a heavy clunk. She and Myka both heaved a sigh of relief. Helena had never much liked deadly weapons, Myka remembered. Except for those of the mass destruction variety.
Helana’s eyes had gone flat and hard. “If you think I’m flattered, you’d best rethink your strategy,” she said. “Many men have desired my body. I often find it more annoying than charming.”
Oh, dear. There were so many things that Myka wanted to say: that she had fallen in love with history’s most brilliant scientific mind just as much as she’d fallen in love with the beauty of its body; that the broken-hearted idealist who had thought it kinder to kill the entire world rather than leave it to play out its pain had first stirred the beginnings of that love; that it wasn’t until she saw Helena giving her heart to Nate and Adelaide that Myka had been able to recognize what she longed for.
“I had an axe pointed at me,” she said instead, because time machines weren’t fair and she couldn’t tell Helena any of those things without being marked as mad. “I would have been happy to talk electrical engineering and temporal causality, but you forced my hand.”
H.G. narrowed her eyes. “I still have little enough reason to trust you,” she said. “You’ve not given me anything about you. Tell me – ” and she picked up the axe again, “are you here for the Warehouse?”
Myka smiled. This she could answer truthfully. “No,” she said, and the axe didn’t move. Then she added, “What warehouse? Is it where you keep your time machine?”
This time, Helena packed the axe away. “No,” she said ruefully, a half-apologetic smile on her face. “The time machine is still mostly theoretical, I’m afraid.” She looked at Myka with frank curiosity. “You believed me when I said the axe could tell if you lied.”
Myka had already worked out an explanation for this. “One of your inventions?” she asked. “A lie detector – it’s brilliant. How does it measure lies? Does one’s voice change when one lies?”
“Something like that,” H.G. said, her usual calm descending like a mask over her face. “It appears I owe you an apology.”
“I take it that several people have tried to steal your inventions?”
Helena sighed. “They always send beautiful young men. A change in their methodology would have been quite welcome. It gets boring, really, having to dispose of them.”
Myka wasn’t sure whether she meant alive or dead – and wasn’t sure she wanted to know. “I will endeavor not to be a bore,” she said, daring.
Helena’s beautiful laughter caught them both by surprise. Myka couldn’t have stopped herself from grinning if she’d tried. To her surprise, Helena beamed back.
“Now we’ve got that unpleasantness out of the way,” Helena said, “would you like to see the real prototype?”
Even with all the clockwork surrounding them in H.G.’s secret underground laboratory, Myka still lost track of the time. When she saw that she had less than half an hour to restore Marianne to her rightful place, she couldn’t help her gasp of dismay.
“I have to go!” she said. “Pete – my family will be worried.”
Helena raised one graceful eyebrow. “It’s six in the morning. Are you telling me they’ve been worried all night?”
Not sure what else to do, Myka nodded. They’d talked and worked on the time machine until dawn.
H.G. sighed. “Soon it will get about that in addition to my unladylike pursuits, I’m corrupting the moral of respectable young women by keeping them out to all hours of the day and night.” Her eyes sparkled with humor, though, so Myka didn’t worry.
“You can tell them that this particular young lady was more interested in corrupting your morals,” she teased before she could think better of it.
Helena paused. They had been friendly all night, Myka unwilling to press a suit where it was unwelcome. But she was used to joking and flirting with Helena, and a few times she had forgotten.
“When can you come again?” Helena asked, and Myka’s stomach tightened painfully. Because this was it, and Helena would not see her again for over a hundred years.
She felt H.G.’s hand against her cheek and looked up into the beloved face. Helena looked concerned.
“Not for a while,” Myka said, hating that she had to lie to this woman. “My family – my health – it’s complicated.”
Helena took both of Myka’s hands in hers. “Could I convince you to come back sooner if I did this?” she asked, and leaned forward.
Myka’s first kiss, back when she was fourteen, had been a disappointment. The boy at science camp had as little idea as she did what to do, but had gathered from movies that people making out ought to shove their tongues in each other’s mouths. It had taken Myka several relationships to realize that she needed to set the tone of the kind of kissing she liked right from the very beginning if she was going to enjoy it. This turned first kisses into a bit of a battlefield, where she had to concentrate on establishing depth and length before she could let herself relax and enjoy it.
This kiss was completely different. It was hesitant at first, as if Helena were unsure of her welcome, but it didn’t try to hurry straight to jump into bed together kisses. Instead, it promised that it would take the time to get to know her.
Only it couldn’t, could it? Because Myka had to go, like Cinderella rushing away from the ball, and while Helena was kissing her hello, Myka should be kissing her goodbye.
It wasn’t fair.
When she couldn’t bear how wonderful it was anymore, Myka wrenched way. She looked into Helena’s gorgeous, wonderful eyes. “You are the most amazing woman I’ve ever met,” she whispered.
Helena smiled. “And you’re the most intriguing. Tell me, though – when will I see you again?”
“Soon,” Myka said, because she would never be able to deny Helena anything. She escaped before she could promise anything even more foolish.