"The past is the beginning of the beginning and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn."
The smile on Myka's face when I enter is all I need to know that working my way back into the Warehouse was the right decision. The light in her eyes is enough to know that my words about wanting to be an agent were true, even though they were partially spoken for other reasons at the time. Despite the whirlwind of emotions and plans in my head, or perhaps because of it, I am in need of a tether to my past as I ponder how to approach this confusing new world. For that the Warehouse is right, and so are these people. And dear heavens, Myka is as right as they come. I am dazzled by that smile, by the presence that is Myka. I was close to many women back in my time, but in most cases I was the charmer, the pursuer, the player and never the plaything. But this woman challenges me, makes me pause with intrigue. In this future that is my new present I have found someone much more of an equal, the kind of person I have dreamed of meeting but never thought I would. Someone right. And in this moment, when she smiles, I am so afraid of destroying the rightness, the good that she has unknowingly brought out from deep within me where it has been hidden for so long. And yet I take the steps forward, plunging in. Because she is so right that my fear does not matter. She has me, with her beautiful smile, with her knowing look, soft curls and intelligent eyes. Fascinated, I shake her hand, a surge of fear and anticipation electrifying my body as she calmly looks into my eyes, searching for something as I speak.
"Thank you. Without you I wouldn't be here. Well, I would, but I'd be in bronze."
She laughs at that, breaking the tension, but as I turn from her to greet Pete I am left wondering what she saw in my eyes. Unsure if I am what she wants me to be. But in this moment I know with absolute certainty that I will do what it takes to be right for her. Pete is less welcoming than Myka, but nothing like Artie who flat out refuses to accept my being there. His distrust makes me doubt myself, though I take care not to let that show. Later Myka reminds me of her belief in me and I try to shake the doubt, grasping after rightness, staying with her truth.
I settle in at the Bed and Breakfast, slowly starting to find my place in this group of people that are more like a family than a group of colleagues. They warm to me, all but Artie. I find in Claudia a mind eager to take in what I can teach her, but also a teacher for myself. She has the kind of technological knowledge in this time as I had in mine. Tinkering with objects, drawing schematics over new inventions, I find it immensely refreshing to share this with someone who instinctively understands the finer tunes of building things. And a woman at that. Pete keeps a distance at first, ego bruised from my deception in London. I have a feeling that charming him into liking me will not work again, so I do not try. But after a while we find ourselves laughing together and plotting how to best tease Myka, and I know it will be all right. Leena and I discuss the best way to make tea, silently agreeing to let my aura be, for now.
Myka is different. With her I do not have to think about how to be, I simply am. We talk about literature, my time, her time, this time. Things we like, things we do not. Discovering how similar we are and how different we are. Eventually our discussions turn more personal. She tells me about her love for Sam and her guilt after he was killed. About her father's fear of not being enough, his crushed dreams and longing for a son that never came. How that translated into harshness towards his daughters and disapproval of Myka's choices. I tell her safe things, things I can touch without losing myself. Stories about Warehouse 12 and how I could be closer to myself there, about my agreement with Charles and the endless row of humiliating dinners and tea parties where I had to pretend to be someone I was not. I touch upon the subject of my lovers, and she coaxes story after story out of me to the point where I, horrified, actually colour. This keeps her smiling smugly for several days until she takes pity on me and share a particularly juicy story about her and a fellow college student, blushing accordingly. I take particular interest in that the student was female.
A few weeks later we are running through a dark and damp forest, lit by a moon tainted by the threat of a storm. My heart beats quickly, strongly; I am so alive it almost hurts. Her presence at my side is comforting, makes me move forward with a certainty that I would not have if alone. I was never good with solitude, perhaps uncharacteristic of a writer, and even though I enjoy silence it is preferably with someone at my side. I have never admitted to myself that I am afraid of the dark. And yet later in the night when we have lost our quarry in the mist and set up camp for the night, I tell her about that fear and about many other things that have never left the thoughts and words of the characters I crafted all those years ago. She listens without speaking, steady, warm and safe. We reach for the other's hand in almost the same moment, because it feels right. We curl up in the tent as the wind howls outside, close together under the pretence of keeping warm. The stroking of my back I am sure has the same purpose. As well as the kisses I plant on her collarbone and my hand that curls around her waist. Possibly, the removing of clothes does not counteract the chill but we are beyond such things, and there are only softness and small delicious sounds and touches and fire. There is no hesitation, because it is right.
"Sometimes, you have to step outside of the person you've been and remember the person you were meant to be. The person you want to be. The person you are."
A few months in that blissful state, and she gets to know me like no one ever has. Our eyes speak to each other, small gestures tell stories without words. Claudia says we are both telepathic, making a strange gesture with her hand for emphasis and speaking of something called 'Vulcans' that is lost on me, but I smile nonetheless. I dare to be loved and it is a glorious feeling. With Myka love comes easily, giving and taking are never forced. Next to my bed there is now another pile of books, indicative of the many evenings and nights she spends there. To my delight I find that she, too, enjoys early morning walks and we take it upon us to start most days greeting the Golden Eagles and deer that seem to have a similar penchant for the morning mist. The few times she goes away on missions without me, I try to occupy myself with inventing or writing and pretend not to think about every possible danger she might encounter. Naturally, Leena always knows how on edge I am and makes the afternoon tea extra strong, adding some delicious treat for comfort. When Myka comes back I stay even closer to her than usual, my body somehow touching hers even during dinner. She never minds.
Touches, glances, words, and whispers. Everything about Myka enthrals me, as I enthral her. Every touch feels like the first time another's hand touched my skin, every path I kiss down her body like a new journey of discovery, every mark she scratches on my back a new and sweet pain. We work well together, me, Myka, and Pete. Sometimes when Myka and I communicate with to many glances and too few words, he shouts at us while being silently amused. One evening in between the simultaneous chewing of a ridiculous amount of potato crisps, he tells me matter-of-factly that I make Myka happy. And if she is happy, so is he. I then accept his offer of tasting the crisps, and with that we have come to an understanding of sorts.
""We were making the future," he said, "and hardly any of us troubled to think what future we were making. And here it is!""
But behind the love, behind my promises and full heart I keep from Myka the fear of destroying myself, destroying us. That is my greatest mistake. I fight alone for this new life, harder than ever before, because I also fight for her. Ever since I was de-bronzed I have dreaded the night-time for the hold it has on my mind. It draws out doubts, questions without answers. I sleep very little, and only when Myka is close. When she asks about it I say that I have never needed much sleep. This half-truth adds to another, and another, until there is a web of lies between us that only I can see but she feels the weight of. She understands that I am troubled, and does what she does best – staying at my side without asking too many questions and holding me close without demanding more or turning into less. Perhaps she understands my struggle more than I understand it myself. I want to put my thoughts into words to make them smaller, insignificant, but for the first time words fail me completely. Darker and darker the night becomes, tighter and tighter her embrace. A century of desperation and anger is embedded in my mind, and while I scratch at it fervently to make it go away, it is not enough. In every moment of weakness, the endgame I carefully planned during my imprisonment in bronze calls to me, begging to be uncovered, unleashed. It whispers of revenge. Revenge against a world so savage it kills innocent children, a world that in many respects has changed for the worse instead of becoming the wondrous utopia I imagined. Sometimes I cry when Myka holds me close. I tell her I cry because I feel so loved by her that my heart breaks and mends all at the same time, over and over again. It is true. But I also cry because I am ashamed of the raging war within me, from which thoughts of breaking the world and inevitably breaking her heart are slowly but steadily creeping out to strangle me, like ivy smothers an old tower.
"If we don't end war, war will end us."
And when those thoughts irrevocably break into daylight I put my plan into action despite the knowledge of its irrationality. That understanding is detached from me somehow, a passive thought acknowledged but intentionally left alone. One the one hand it is an ugly weakness I indulge in – the lure of perfecting something in the most literally insane fashion I can think of – on the other it is rising above my own desires and helping a world that is too far gone to help itself. It feels like I have lost myself yet found my essence for the first time. I struggle against doubt, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but never seeing the end as anything other than inevitable.
Sitting airborne beside Myka on our way to Egypt and Warehouse 2, I look down at our entwined hands with a strangely entangled feeling of love and detachment. The warmth of her body as she rests her head on my shoulder to take a short nap, the whispered 'I love you' as I present her with the book she thought was left at home, Pete's spontaneous laughter at a comic that rouses half of the cabin from their slumber – all those things I see as if from afar. Later, as we prepare to enter the lost Warehouse, Myka laughs at my attire, sparkling eyes telling me she approves, and her body against mine as she pushes me up against a wall and kisses me fiercely even more so. I indulge for a few moments then slip away with a 'really, darling, we have work to do', because I cannot be this close, not now. This love cannot be allowed to matter any longer.
Moving through skilfully crafted traps, torches lit, I am an automaton, pulling out a suitable reaction to every situation. I move forward as I must move forward but then the mind test paralyses me, and Myka is the one to bring me back. She always saves me. Memories too real to be contained are released as tears – tears for what has been lost, tears for what will be lost, and tears springing from that immeasurable pain in my chest. I am suffocating. Panicking. At last I manage to focus on Myka's hand on my cheek and her reassuring eyes, and breathe a little easier. And then I am moving again; following the whisper only I can hear. I feel mad, sane, lost, and found, all at the same time. When the time comes to take the final step I find myself irrationally asking Pete, Myka, anyone, for forgiveness. I take a small guilty comfort in that I can at least despise the act of turning on the people I have come to care for deeply. Before leaving I take one last look at the collapsed forms of Pete and Myka, seemingly peaceful in their unconscious state, and realise with a pang that there is no turning back.
I travel to Paris, doing what is necessary to get access to my daughter's coffin. It is merely a means to an end now but the sight of its small form slashes through me like a knife, and its cold wooden surface under my hands brings back memories as vivid as if they occurred yesterday. Brutal, barbaric men storming through a house with eyes only for treasure, trampling and destroying everything of no use in their path. The screams of a little girl. My treasure, covered in blood and quickly losing the light in her eyes. Quietening. Pushing those thoughts away, I proceed according to plan with a renewed confidence in its raw justness. The flight back to America is unaccompanied by entwinement in thought or deed. It is simple now. I am an empty void filled with one thought, one purpose.
"Man is the unnatural animal, the rebel child of Nature, and more and more does he turn himself against the harsh and fitful hand that reared him."
As I assemble the Minoan Trident I feel suddenly calm and collected, reassured by the thought that I now have the power to end a world that should never have been allowed to come to this brutality. There was hope once. But now everything seems to move too fast. Too fast for me, to fast for everyone. There are new freedoms but even more prisons and viciousness. Weapons capable of destroying a whole country in the blink of an eye. And yet in this moment I hold something even more powerful, begging me to use it against this befouling pest of blind, weak-minded men that can never be peaceful thinkers and explorers, men that can never voyage beyond themselves and their pitiful lives to find place, purpose, and wisdom in the universe. It is time to put a stopper on darkness.
I am confident in that the compact I sent to Kelly will delay the agents long enough for me to execute my plan. I rent a car and proceed towards the Yellowstone Caldera, the irony of using the modern GPS-system to find the place not lost on me. As I drive I call Pete to inform him about the recent development and find it easy to slip back into my general resentment for the male ego, rather enjoying playing a little game with him. He is about to learn the meaning of obsessed love, to experience a true crime of passion. I am sure he will find a way out eventually, at the utmost lacking a limb or two.
Despite this diversion, Myka and Artie find me in Yellowstone before I can act. They were quicker than I had anticipated but I am not surprised, they are, after all, excellent Warehouse agents. At first they are merely a mildly distracting presence, annoying me with their questions and inability to understand why the world needs to be reset. Artie has the nerve to shoot me in the shoulder, but I have taken precautions and he collapses, taking his own bullet. I proceed to drive the trident into the ground. It cracks open, trembling, teasing the volcano. But then Myka comes closer and closer, analysing my actions, rational in her agitation.
"What about the millions of mothers that are gonna lose their daughters just like you lost Christina?"
Her pushing ignites a struggle inside of me between the slowly dawning realisation that I want her to stop me from doing just that, and my goal of putting an end to all suffering, famine, violence, and fear. People must die for a brighter future. But if that future is created by an act of violence, will it be brighter? It must believe it will be. Pushing those thoughts aside, I reply with conviction.
"This is no world for a child."
"I don't think you believe that."
"I do. Watch me."
I drive the trident into the ground a second time, watching with satisfaction as dark clouds gather in the sky and scalding vapour erupts from the ground.
Myka claims that I am lying to myself and I scream inside for her to stop trying to reach me. To leave this alone. To stop speaking a million words with her eyes. To let me be. Whether I want her to stop me or not is irrelevant. That must be pushed aside for the greater good, as must our love. I grab her arm, silently trying to communicate this. To make her see that this is beyond us, beyond the small and insignificant. But then she shoves her gun into my hand, pointing it at her head, and my blood runs cold.
"Alright, if I am wrong then kill me. Do it! Kill me now! I mean we're all gonna die anyway, right, so what's the difference?"
I am suddenly outside the scene, a passive onlooker clearly seeing the consequences of what I am about to do. Myka would die. Artie would die. Pete, Claudia, and Leena would die. As if in slow motion I watch Myka urging me to take her life, and a petrifying fear takes hold of me then. But it is nothing like the fear of darkness or the fear of being alone. It is stronger, deeper, the cold steel of the trigger beneath my finger that whispers of destruction. A fear that instinctively makes me seek solace in her eyes. Eyes that captured me a long time ago, eyes that still tethers me to this time, to myself. Tears are forming in them but she keeps on urging me, challenging my reasons to make me understand.
"So shoot me. Shoot me now."
Even if I lived another century I would never be as strong as her. Seconds tick away. My reasons crumble under the weight of death's whispers.
"Kill me, but not that like that. Not like a coward. I want you to look me in the eyes and take my life. Come on. Do it. DO IT!"
Seeing clearly, loving her for everything she is, I wrench myself away with a scream and sink to the ground where I collapse on the solidness of the spinning earth.
"Losing your way on a journey is unfortunate. But, losing your reason for the journey is a fate more cruel."
I am vaguely aware of being lifted up and brought to a car to be taken away. I force myself to look up, only to meet Myka's eyes across the valley for the briefest of moments. To my surprise there is not a trace of anger in her eyes, only sadness as in mine. I expect this to be the last look we will ever share, and as the wild landscape is left behind I close my eyes, the car seat all too comfortable for this ride, and wish I had turned the gun on myself.
They lock me up in a small white cell. Its bright lights hurt my eyes, so I keep them closed most of the indefinable time that passes. Occasionally I find myself waking up to this brightness and conclude that my body at some point succumbed to sleep. Someone enters with food, but the smell of it turns my stomach and I leave the tray untouched. My thoughts swirl, memories hurting me with their sharpness. I see. Then, as if a fuse has burnt, there is blackness, and like a tortoise covering in its shell I am convinced that it is possible to deny oneself out of existence.
Hours or days later they come to get me. I do not recognise the heavily built man that I awkwardly have to lean on for support, my body weak. He leads me to what I presume is an interrogation room, as blindingly white as my cell and with one side covered by a large mirror from behind which I am probably being watched. Then a man I do recognise enters the room. Mr Kosan, the Regent who makes some of the decisions. Specifically, the man who decided I was once again fit for duty. I look into his eyes, for it is not in my nature to shy away from confrontations. I expect to see disapproval in there, resentment even, but he regards me with what can only be described as pensiveness. It is as if he is trying to understand how it came to this. How I came to this. After a long silence, he speaks.
"Miss Wells, the Regents have decided against bronzing you again. Despite recent events, we consider your knowledge to be of value to the Warehouse. But I am sure you understand the need for precautions."
I raise my eyebrows. "And whatever may those be?"
"Your mind may be of future use to us. But we prefer not to lock living people up for eternity."
I scoff at him. "That is funny. You should try bronzing sometime. Allows one time to think."
"Not enough apparently", he replies calmly. Too calmly for my liking. I pride myself in being able to unsettle most people with a glance. Not this one, apparently.
"We will give your body a new life without memories of this one. As for your mind…it will undergo some rehabilitating treatment and then be stored."
I glare at him. This is cold, even for the Regents. "You do realise I knew Dr Freud?" All right, so I did not know him exactly, but I met him once, argued with him for an hour about the underestimation of the female sex and decided he was a lost cause. If they think they can heal my mind with some kind of psychotherapy, they are sorely mistaken.
"Then I suspect the person I choose for that task will find it very interesting."
I cannot help being fascinated by the artefact they are going to use on me, but it is a dull fascination clouded by a haze of other indescribable emotions. The Janus Coin is capable of separating a person's mind from their body. I will become two, yet none, one part of me going on to live another life while the other is stored on the coin. Though intrigued by this new punishment, I wish I had the strength to ask to be bronzed again. For being alone with my madness once more seems a fitting sentence. As it is, I cannot help to long for the blissfulness that the Janus coin and death seem to have in common – the possibility of leaving myself behind. Unless…
"You have not mentioned whether or not I will be aware while being…stored."
He frowns subtly at this, and I realise he does not know. "As far as we know, you will not be aware in the traditional sense, no. But most artefacts have several functional layers that exploit different levels of the human psyche. And this one is no exception."
Rolling my eyes, I reply, "Well, that was enlightening." Then, pretending to have a choice, I make a point of agreeing to being split, chained, and lost in time. A humourless chuckle escapes me as I realise that in one way or another, I am all those things already. Mr Kosan puts the Janus Coin into my hand and asks me to remember, to revisit the past. I find it difficult to let my guard down in this place, in front of this man whom I have previously met only when in complete control of myself. I hide it of course, behind my trusted mask of sarcasm, while I struggle to drop the walls behind which everything is contained.
After the first thought is let through that wall, it is suddenly easy to think about the people I loved, the past that was taken from me, and the present that I refused myself. I remember my mother's indulging smile as my father spoke excitedly about useless inventions. The feeling of reverence when he allowed me into his study to watch him work, and the few times I was allowed to tinker with something he had abandoned. Then, images of hiding behind lush greenery with my first real friend, giggling at the young men engaged in cricket on the field close by. I recall watching my brother charm every woman he encountered and the rush of excitement as I realised that I could do the same. My first lover, the fumbling of clothes and awkward kisses. The power of being in control, the delight mingled with terror as I let it go.
I recall my first days in Warehouse 12 when the world seemed to be a marvellous place. The dawning realisation that anything was possible. The feeling of being useful, important, someone to count on. To be seen for the work I do, the person I am, instead of my relations and social achievements. To save the day, the town, the world. My friendship with Wolcott; his endearing naivety and our playful bantering. I indulge in the feeling of power that came with putting my thoughts into words. I recall the exhilaration in carefully formulating the last threads that bind a story together. And I remember the exploration of a future that I was confident could be invented into being.
Images of Christina, resting angel-like in her bed, half asleep but struggling to stay awake so I can kiss her good night. Christina, running around with little boys in one moment, playing with a ball, only to change her mind and sit down to play with dolls in the next. My proud smile at this and the disapproving look of fine ladies everywhere. Smiling now, I remember her insistent questioning of everything I said, her refusal to accept simple explanations. The softness of her hair, her contagious laughter, her sparkling eyes. My future.
Then all I can think of are those days and nights with Myka when I believed, just a little, in life again. The conversations that captured us in a bubble where it was only us. Her laughter, running through me, soothing or electrifying. The heat of her body and the sounds she made in passion. Her ability to make me come undone without feeling uneasy about relinquishing control. The time when she stood reading a file by the archive drawers in the Warehouse, brow furrowed in concentration, and I embraced her from behind. How I chuckled at my inability to surprise her with things like that, because she always knew. I remember notes scribbled on post-its, innocent, and less so. And the night when I accidentally knocked over a candle, setting fire to the sheets. Myka was very amused at this ('honey, you are so literal sometimes').
Then it is all pain. Devastating memories of death and loss, my scheme of destroying something I am afraid of, my lying and keeping secrets from the woman that seemed to love even the damaged parts of me. I am ashamed of the relief that flows through me as those memories slip away at last.
And then, I am gone.
"Over me, around me, closing in on me, embracing me ever nearer, was the Eternal; that which was before the beginning, and that which triumphs over the end; that enormous void in which all light and life and being is but the thin and vanishing splendour of a falling star, the cold, the stillness, the silence - the infinite and final Night of space."
In an instant, I am again. I panic because everything is wrong. I can see and hear but do not feel my body. I struggle to remember why I am like this and find no answer. Looking around, turning with my mind, I see Mrs Frederic watching me from beside a large wooden desk that covers half of the small room we are in. Her presence is instantly calming but it also brings my mind into focus and I remember the Janus coin, I remember that I ceased to be whole and the reasons for it. Apparently, they want me for one thing or another now as I am aware again, myself but quite not. But I do not feel like obliging. I feel wild, uncontrolled, and ready to scream at everyone – to curse Mrs Frederic for calming me so that I do not.
She considers me for some time, silent, unmoving. How is this woman always so calm? Has she managed to perfect the art of masking emotions or does she simply not…feel? I stay where I am, or where I would have been if I were really here. Am I? Is she expecting me to speak? I fear that if I open my mouth I cannot control what comes out, and I have no idea what I should say.
Finally, as if we have reached the point at which she intended to start speaking all along, she says, "I want you to talk to me, Helena. Tell me about your reasons."
I know what she is asking and I cannot discuss this, not now. I feel ready to fall apart, crumble into a heap. I have lost control. Instead of carefully choosing my words as I usually do, I splutter out my first thought. "It was not enough!"
"This. This…future. Nothing has changed, man has not become more." I am horrified at the words that come out of my mouth. I do not want to explain myself to her, not now, not ever.
She actually looks amused. "Did you really expect the world to conform to your utopian standards when there are billions of people with minds of their own? Dreams of their own?"
"I had expected men to rise above their impulses!" My non-existing chest is heaving. Why, how, would it do that? I imagine hearing my pulse pounding louder and louder. "What is this anyhow? How can I be here like this? They said my body would go somewhere else and yet here I am in this…thing that looks an awful lot like it. What do you want from me?"
"I just want you to talk as a start, Helena. To talk and to listen when I do the same. Then we shall see."
I am starting to see where this is heading. The Regents have assigned Mrs Frederic to rehabilitate me? That was unexpected. "And will you answer my questions?"
"Some of them. The ones I can and feel I should answer."
"Then…what are you using to…project me, is that what you are doing?" I am not used to speaking my thoughts while I think them. It annoys me. I grab hold of that annoyance. It is safe.
She holds up a black orb for me to see. "Yes. This orb projects your consciousness as a holographic image based on your mind's image of yourself."
Putting the orb down on her desk and seating herself, she continues, "Now, where were we. Yes. You don't like the world. Tell me more about that."
Feeling slightly more in control now, I affix her with a superior look and say, "You think you can make me less prone to destroying the world and more inclined to be your personal encyclopaedia?"
She raises an eyebrow at this. "Why, yes. I had thought that much was obvious."
I roll my eyes. She is awfully irritating. And undoubtedly perfectly aware of it. "And you have a degree in psychology, do you?"
"As a matter of fact, I do."
This was going to be a long day.
"At times I suffer from the strangest sense of detachment from myself and the world about me; I seem to watch it all from the outside, from somewhere inconceivably remote, out of time, out of space, out of the stress and tragedy of it all."
I was in an accident, a car accident to be precise, and lost my memory. That was all I knew at first. Well, I knew how the world works, the names of things and how to have a conversation but I did not know my purpose, my place, or what kind of person I was. They told me of course, but it was as if they talked about someone else, someone I did not know, someone I could not find inside of me. So I grasped onto the only knowledge that rang true. I had an accident. I lost my memory. I would move from there.
They are a man called Mr Kosan, the one who took me to an apartment – my apartment – from the facility where I was cared for after the accident, and two other people, one man and one woman that accompanied him on his visits but rarely spoke. Apparently, the facility was a private clinic specialised on patients with severe memory loss. They said I was there for three months.
Mr Kosan arranged for me to start a new job to avoid the difficulties in coming back as a stranger to my old one. He also made sure I got a thorough introduction to the job, seeing as I had technically lost my teacher's education in the accident. I felt calm before the prospect of teaching, but found myself having very few frames of reference regarding the educational system itself. So I memorised everything in scrupulous detail, eager to hold on this new knowledge.
Every day after work, I walked through the apartment and looked at things, touched things, trying to awaken memories of a past that eluded me. In the kitchen I made tea, watching my hands perform the task with ease. They knew the right amount of leaves to put in the teapot, how much milk to add, and that one tablespoon of sugar was just enough.
Then I used to sit on the couch, sipping the tea, sometimes absently flipping through the TV channels in the hopes of finding one that I liked. But none of them ever captured me, and I always felt relieved when I pressed the red button and the sound died down. I usually picked up a book instead, relishing in the solidness of the pages, getting lost in the story of a life that I wished were mine.
But now, as days have turned into weeks, and weeks into months, I have started to feel more and more at home in my life. I have found friends among my colleagues, even got to know a few of the neighbours, and as people started to recognise me, greet me, rely on me, the feeling of being someone surrounded me like a long lost friend. My old cat that kept his distance when I first came back has become a cherished companion, often curling up beside me on the couch in the evenings and protesting loudly the few times I come home too late for his evening meal.
Still, I do not feel complete. Even though I have a purpose, a place to be and things to do, there is something lacking. Something I cannot put my finger on, and I assume it has something to do with thoughts and actions that my body and brain were used to performing but that is now denied them. I find that the few things that can fill this emptiness are immersing myself in books or in the essays of my students. I have also started drawing, abstract forms that flow from my pencil without thought. Occasionally, I find myself drawing more concrete images – cogwheels, molecules, circuits. I know nothing about those things, and these drawings equally scare and fascinate me. I save them all in a box under the bed, sometimes taking them out, trying to grasp after the truth that I am convinced lies within them.
"You have learned something. That always feels at first as if you had lost something."
I have lost count of the number of conversations I have had with Mrs Frederic, for they resemble one long conversation more than anything else. The only thing marking the transition from one to the next is finding myself in a slightly different place in the room, the time in between conversations seemingly not longer than the blink of an eye. A few times, though, I am left with a sense of wonder as I am projected anew. I retain the tiniest shadow-like memory of something infinite; something as dark and inviting as the glittering vacuum of space. But it is as insubstantial as it is alluring and I suspect I will never understand is meaning.
Though I never say, I do appreciate these discussions. Not in the sense that they help me deal with the things I need to deal with, which I reluctantly admit to myself that they also do, but rather because I found out quickly that Mrs Frederic's argumentative skills rival mine. She is highly logical, and she understands the need for considering the greater scheme of things. I have mostly spoken about the world and its faults. She has mostly spoken about its wonders.
Today is no different; after I have stated calmly that man's greatest flaw appears to be his selfishness and that I doubt that there will ever be a time when he lets that go, she says,
"You say that man has not become more, but look around you. Here are things you dreamed about, wonderful things. We can speak to each other, face to face, across nations. We can travel across the world in a few hours. We can cure diseases that were fatal in your time. And on top of all that you have travelled through time, Helena! In more ways than I think you thought possible."
She pauses, studying my expression. It is blank, I hope.
"And if you allowed yourself to, you would see that there is so much love in this world. Unconditional, beautiful love. Isn't that the very manifestation of unselfishness? You could see that when you were back at the Warehouse, when you were part of that family, couldn't you? Yes, there are terrible things going on everyday still, but the Earth is not only that darkness. Can't you see all the light?"
I sigh and wish for the strange relief that comes with sitting down. But that I cannot have, for in this holographic state sitting and standing feels the same – nothing. Chasing that thought away, I consider her words. Of course there is light, or else we would not see the threatening darkness. But to me the light was never as strong, never as powerful. I could not feel its residual warmth during the night, and later not even during the day when it was right in front of me.
"I think we should agree to disagree on this subject", I say with somewhat less superiority than I intended. Honestly, that little speech was only a variant of her previous ones and should not make me feel, however slightly, defeated.
"You see, I don't think we really disagree. The difference is in how we choose to approach the world – in resentment of its faults or in awe of its beauty."
That is only a twisting of words. It is not that simple, is it? "Perhaps. And I choose to resent it."
"For what it did to you."
I ponder this. Yes, and no. I settle for saying, "I resent it for what it did to itself."
She does not respond. Silence stretches out between us as she resumes the seemingly fascinating activity of watching me, studying me, as if she believes she has the ability to read my mind simply by looking into my eyes. That prospect, however unlikely, makes me feel terribly vulnerable, and that is a feeling I cannot – will not – give in to. Two can play this game.
"Do you see anything you like, Irene?" I say with a smirk.
She does not even flinch. There is no apparent reaction whatsoever. I look away and roll my eyes, disappointed and slightly uncomfortable. When I look back at her she has that half-amused look on her face.
"That tactic worked on Myka, didn't it?"
Of all the things I had expected her to say, that was not among them. I flinch. Goddammit. My holographic chest suddenly expands as if I am taking a deep breath.
"I do not want to discuss Myka." My voice is strained but I keep my eyes firmly on hers, hoping that my glare is enough to discourage this line of questioning.
It is not, as she continues, "And why is that?"
I do not answer, well aware that the hint of vulnerability in my eyes betrays me even through that glare. How is she able to break my resolve with one simple question?
"That is how you made her trust you. You flirted with her, confided in her, made her feel special. But then something happened, didn't it? It wasn't just a game anymore."
I turn around, away from her, looking into a wall that I wish I could be a part of.
And then everything breaks.
"It was never just a game." My voice is small and I cannot even bother to resent the weakness it betrays.
"Are you sure about that?"
I close my eyes at the suddenly mocking wall as I say, "Perhaps…perhaps at the very first. I needed a way back into the Warehouse. Pete was too focused on right and wrong after he got over his initial fascination with me. In Myka I saw someone I could reach by being myself."
"And she fascinated you."
"You became friends."
"And at some point, she fell in love with you."
I open my eyes and look down at my hands. They are shaking. Not knowing how to respond to her statement, I ask instead, "How is it that this body behaves as if it were real?"
"It behaves the way your mind tells it to."
"There is, though I do not know how there is or why there is, a sense of infinite peace and protection in the glittering hosts of heaven."
Sometimes I catch myself looking for something with feverish intensity without knowing what it is I seek. It is beyond my grasp yet tantalisingly close, seductive at best and draining as a rule. And I keep forgetting these desires that come over me so that I am always surprised when they come again. Sometimes they come when I am alone in my apartment, reading a book and getting caught up in a particularly well-written passage. Sometimes I see an unknown person that triggers a longing, a desire that sets my body on fire without warning.
Such intensity fills this moment, as I stand at the edge of a forest gazing at the stars. I hear the laughter of my friends close by, I see the dancing shadows cast from the campfire. But I do not feel close to any of that. I feel close to the stars, to their mysterious twinkling in the black void they live in. I do not feel small under this vastness, I feel excited, filled with anticipation. I know not why or how, but I feel like I can reach them if I only try hard enough. There is something about them that seems barely out of reach. Something so close…
"Emily, we're eating all the s'mores!"
I reluctantly turn away from the stars and head back to the warmth of the fire. I would give anything to know who I really was before. To remember the parents I lost as a young girl. To know if that girl also had gazed at the stars, enthralled by their infinite beauty. But as the first tunes of a guitar fill the night, I let myself be swept up in the magic of this little circle of light and once again forget the longing that has nothing to do with this life.
It is a strange thing, love. We know it can capture us, ensnare our souls, and yet we long for it. In the face of it I am frightened, for it has the power to shape new reasons and change paths supposedly set in stone. To whisper about another kind of future. Love makes me weak and vulnerable. She made me vulnerable. And I could do nothing but let her. And now, love has stripped away my self-control, and I cannot help asking Mrs Frederic a question that I know speaks of that love.
"Did she…did she tell you that she fell in love with me?"
I hear Mrs Frederic smile behind my back, "She didn't have to. It was clear from her actions. And yours."
Instead of answering, she asks a question of her own, "Why is it that Myka could stop you at Yellowstone? There seems to have been a serious flaw in your plan if one person could stop you from seeing it through."
I sigh. "It appears as if you already have the answer to that."
"I would like to hear it from you."
I realise that in this moment of time I have nothing to lose and, perhaps, everything to gain in letting go of my defences. In letting the speaking-while-thinking go on, in leaving myself in the hands of this woman who appears to have no ulterior motive other than making me able to help her, the Warehouse, the world, in the future. Gathering my thoughts but without planning what to say, I turn to face her and let my words flow freely, unedited, truthful.
"She made me realise that I cared for many people in a way I thought I no longer could. And that, as you said, there is an abundance of love in the world still. That…that knowing there is such love could be a reason to continue fighting the darkness instead of doing what I was about to do." I hesitate briefly before continuing, "But I do not think anyone else could have convinced me of that. To me she was the symbol of that love, because she was the one that reminded me…that made me see I still had something to give." The next words come as naturally as breathing, "I loved her too. And falling in love was never part of my plan." Smiling sadly, I let the last words flow quietly from my lips, "So it would seem that this time light did conquer dark after all."
"My friends, unless we capture the madman, he will rule us with an iron fist."
I used to be aware of the world around me. To perceive the parts of a whole and be able to tell people's intentions from their actions and reactions as effortlessly as watching ripples spread on water. And above all, I used to be aware of myself. Yet in this new existence, as Mrs Frederic slowly reveals layers and layers of subconscious intent from my mind, I am forced to acknowledge that at some point, it all changed. I lost more and more of the carefully guarded objectivity as grief grew into a disproportionally large part of the world. I was aware of this loss at first, and it was not until I chose to ignore this knowledge that I truly gave in to my impulses. In my own, twisted way, I followed some animalistic instinct beyond wisdom and reason.
But it is one thing to admit this to myself, which is also difficult at first, and another to speak of it as fact with another. Mrs Frederic pulls at these trains of thought, gently, roughly, in ways so unexpected I find myself tripping over words and thinking out loud despite attempting not to do so. She is annoyingly skilful at this, and whether I want to or not I start looking upon her with slightly more respect, even a hint of gratitude.
I am faced with the guilt of having taken children from their mothers. It is a profound sense of shame that flows through my body – no, my mind - as we speak of this; regret pushes the wind out of my non-existent lungs, and raw pain spreads all the way out past the smallest hypothetical capillaries to finally settle deep in my figurative gut. I killed young men eager for treasure with the offhanded justification that they were no more than foul creatures of greed. When I, Myka, and Pete followed the trails I had planted, I even had the nerve to meet with one of the mothers. I spoke with a little girl who would later be told that her brother would never come back, projecting upon her my longing for Christina, all the while ignoring that I was the cause of her coming pain. Denial had become my new ally, and I was not even aware of it any longer.
But when Mrs Frederic asks why I used money from the Warehouse account instead of my own to fund the archaeological excavation in Egypt, I am taken aback. To leave obvious traces behind is a choice made by someone who wants to be stopped. I was not aware of it at the time, but some part of me must have hesitated before the act. The very same part that Myka was able to reach. The part that was always hers. Would I have carried out my plan had they not come for me? I am unsure. Perhaps denial did not consume me entirely; perhaps I had a small fragment of objectivity left. Today, though, I suppose it does not matter. It is done and cannot be changed. Again, I have to acknowledge that passed time is permanently written into history.
Towards the end of this particular discussion, Mrs Frederic lets slip something that pulls me, quite violently, back to here and now.
"Myka has left the Warehouse." She says it offhandedly, as if it is of no particular matter. Which we both know is not true.
"The world was almost destroyed because of her faith in you. She doesn't trust herself not to make a similar mistake again. Her words, not mine. I personally believe that things would have been much, much worse had she not believed so fiercely in you."
A fresh wave of guilt sweeps over me. "I...I suppose I can understand why she feels that way. I would not have had access to the Warehouse had she not helped me to get reinstated."
"You would have found a way. And it would probably have been much more violent."
But it would not have hurt Myka in the same way as my deceit did. She has left her happiest place. Because I made her doubt herself. It should not be worse than taking innocent lives, but this knowledge cuts through me just as achingly painful, if not more so. I know her. I know that she would never have left willingly unless she was afraid of harming the others somehow. I made her doubt herself, and that is unacceptable.
"Let me talk to her." The words slip out of my mouth before I can stop them, and I do not want to. I must fix this; it is all kinds of wrong for her not to be home.
"I was going to ask you to. Everyone else have tried and failed, even Pete, but I suspect you may be able to reach her. We need her, Helena. And she needs to hear that from you. You know that, don't you?" She raises her eyebrows in question, looking more serious than I have ever seen her up until this point.
"Yes..." I breathe it out, half in question, because I am suddenly very much aware that I have no idea what to say to Myka. "But I am not so sure that she will want to see me. I have pulled her from her family. I could not be what she wanted me to be. I have destroyed so much...she owes me nothing."
"I don't plan on making it a choice for her. I must make sure my team of agents is the best it can be, and right now it's not. Myka just assisted Pete and his new partner in a case. Without her, several people would most likely have died." There is a hint of steel in her voice. She expects me to make this right. What if I cannot?
"But you said she left."
"She did, but there were indications of a literature-related artefact and Pete wasted no time in consulting Myka. She works at her parents' book store now."
"I see." I must smile a little at the image of Myka, sorting through pile after pile of books, recommending the perfect one to a customer, dusting shelves, putting everything where it is supposed to be. In a way, it suits her. Except that it is not where she is meant to be.
"I trust you know how to best reach her."
Do I? I know how she reached me, but this is different. How do you help someone trust themselves again when you are the reason their trust was ripped away in the first place? Words seem inadequate, a sentiment that has been all too prominent as of late. No. I do not know how to reach her. But I do know I must try. Intellectually, I also know this is a part of my 'rehabilitation'; to face the consequences of my actions, possibly making amends. Not that such an insight reveals any magical solutions.
My musings are interrupted by Mrs Frederic's voice, the hint of steel gone, "And Helena... love is not about trying to be who someone wants you to be. Love is when someone adores you for who you are, and looks upon every flaw as they would upon perfection."
"Beauty is in the heart of the beholder."
I watch her, my image hidden behind sturdy bookshelves, while Mrs Frederic reveals herself. Myka has changed. Her eyes, once so peacefully knowing and full of life, have a haunted look. Her hair is straight, darker, more like mine and I wonder if it is a coincidence. But even when in pain she is so beautiful that it hurts to look at her. It hurts even more to know I am the cause of her change. I try to let go of those thoughts because this is not about me. I do not ever again deserve for it to be about me.
A hint of the sparkling eyes I used to lose myself in comes back with Mrs Frederic's praise. No matter how much she denies it, Myka thrives on approval. It is her incentive, the well-deserved praise spurring her to be the best she can be.
All too soon, I must come forward and destroy her brief moment of happiness.
"Hello, Myka." I get the words out but it is out of necessity, out of duty. I want to run in the other direction, hide behind impenetrable walls; anything to get away from this moment where I am supposed to be brave and confident but can do nothing but crumble under the gravity that is her shocked gaze.
Myka is visibly shaken. "Why would you bring her here?"
Mrs Frederic's answer makes me feel, if possible, even worse. "She can't hurt you, Myka. She can't hurt anyone. Trust me. I'll leave you two alone."
The look on her face mirrors mine; she wants to run away too, and for some reason that gives me strength to continue.
"Myka…you hate me for what I did. You hate the Warehouse for what it did to you."
She frowns at me, the beginning of tears in her eyes, and looks so hurt. "No. No, I don't."
As usual her response surprises me, yet again I have presumed to know how she feels and I am wrong. A ghost of a smile grazes my lips at the possible implications of that answer. Maybe, just maybe, it means that she does not hate me. Not that it should matter. We both know she would be better off hating me.
I go on, "We became friends because we're alike in many ways."
She does not meet my eyes until the very end as she says heatedly, "Except that I didn't want to destroy the world and kill everybody in it."
Yes, that. How on earth can I use our similarities to reach her when that particular fact sets us apart as sharply as night and day? I change my tactic, spontaneously, not stopping to think about what to say.
"I'm not proud of what happened. But that it drove you away from the Warehouse…?" She shakes her head subtly, half rolling her eyes, avoiding my eyes again.
"A hundred years ago I went into the bronzer filled with hate. It grew inside me like a cancer. All I thought about was what I'd lost, what the Warehouse had taken from me, turned me into."
She looks at me then with piercing eyes, the utter rawness of the pain in there cutting through me, slashing me into a million pieces again and again. But she listens now.
"Be careful Myka, hate so easily turns into fear." I can feel the truth of that statement with every fibre of my metaphorical, century-old body and it feels like the air has left me as I press on with one final piece of unwanted advice, "Don't walk away from your truth."
"That's why you're here."
I am not allowed to explain what they have done to me but I tell her I am not really here, and that is my undoing. She frowns and hesitantly runs her hand through my image, gasping as it is disturbed under her touch. I imagine feeling a slight buzzing sensation as the matrix realigns itself. But that is all, and I am painfully reminded of my broken state. There was never a time when Myka's touch, however innocent, did not ignite a thousand sensations in my body.
And I cannot help to smile sadly at the memories it brings back. Memories of a time when I was more whole than I had been for over a century, a time when I had so much more than I ever realised. All those days and nights when we were right. Suddenly I am filled with a longing so intense I think I would have lost my balance had that been possible. As it is, I try to push those thoughts away by lightening the mood.
"They can, it seems, transport my consciousness. Wish I'd thought of that."
The corners of her lips turn upwards briefly but it is not a smile.
As if we both know the attempt was futile, we quickly grow serious again and I allow myself to look into her eyes without hiding anything, completely surrendering to her gaze knowing I show every weakness, every vulnerability that I hid from her when it mattered. In this moment, as so many times before, I find myself desperately wishing I could turn back time and make everything right.
"Please think about what I've said."
I blink, and then my surroundings have changed. I am in another room, a bedroom.
I turn around at the sound. Myka is sitting in a windowsill, one leg tucked in under the other, one hand fiddling with the coat of the sheepskin under her. Judging from the light coming in through the window it is just after sunrise, and the soft rays highlight her features in a way that makes my mind project a hitch in my breathing.
"Myka. What happened?"
She looks at me for some time and her eyes are filled with less pain, less anger, but all the more longing, and most of all defeat.
"I…Mrs Frederic turned you off. And I…I asked to keep the orb so we could…talk."
I feel impossibly delighted at her wanting me there, and for some reason my eyes seek out the floor by the end of the small smile we share.
"I am glad."
"She gave me a week, then I had to return you. That's today. I couldn't earlier…I didn't know what to say.
I do not know what to say either. Everything I can think of feels like a form of goodbye, and I do not want it to be. But I have to say something, anything; I must stay as long as I can. I never should have left her. And now I have one more chance, however brief, to let her know that. I open my mouth to speak but she beats me to it.
"I loved you, Helena, I still love you. I thought you loved me."
"I do!" Even though I always spoke of this love in the past tense with Mrs Frederic, it was only to find the necessary distance to talk about it. I never fooled her, though, and I certainly did not fool myself.
She nods and sits up straighter, her voice strained by barely contained anger as she speaks "I know that. And you know what, it would have been much easier if you didn't. Because then I could have turned my back on this, eventually, and accepted that it was all an act. That I didn't mean anything to you. It would have been so much easier to hate you. And the worst part is I can't be angry with you for trying to destroy the world! I can't be angry because I understand your twisted reasoning and where it came from. I understand your pain. But I'm angry with you for keeping that pain from me. I'm angry because you left me. "
My vision is blurry and in the back of my mind I feel slightly annoyed that the orb insists on projecting my tears.
"I can never ask you to forgive me. But I am so, so sorry. I was too broken to fully realise that I needed to ask for help. And to proud to show my weaknesses. I wanted to be someone I was not, someone I was before. But it was as if this darkness that had grown in me for so long was meant to be there, I had corrupted myself and couldn't see that it didn't have to be that way."
I pause as a feeling of shame threatens to take over me completely. What explanation will ever be enough? But then I register the tear that runs slowly down Myka's cheek and the slight widening of her eyes, and I start to hope that somehow, my words can start to heal her. I move to sit across from her, on the bed, and then I continue.
"But Myka, you put a stopper on my plan; you made me believe in the future of humanity by loving me even when I couldn't love you in the way you deserve. And my greatest regret is making you doubt your judgement. You're such a good agent. And it wasn't your fault that you didn't see my deception coming. Half the time, I didn't either. I though I could supress those impulses, I wanted to stay with you, with the others. And then at other times my vision turned red, so to speak. I was unpredictable, even to myself."
"But Artie never trusted you, he saw something coming. And Pete, he had vibes though he pretended he didn't. Lena never spoke of your aura. There were signs. And all I did was to hold you, talk to you without pushing, thinking that you only needed time to adjust. I was so blind. I loved you and I was blind."
"No you were not, you had faith in me. That's a difference. I could well have been able to stop myself. I teetered on the brink, sometimes close to falling down, sometimes holding on so tightly I thought I'd never let go. Without your faith I'd probably have fallen down without a thought. But it was always on me – only I could have reached out and asked someone to stop me. I did not. This is no ones fault but mine. Please believe that."
She sighs and brushes away her tears. Then she studies me, as if she is mapping every feature of my being. I do the same with her. Her gaze is nothing like Mrs Frederic's calculating stare. I would happily let Myka look at me for an eternity. There is still love radiating between us and I bask in it wistfully, for this may well be the last time. Who knows if I will be needed for a mission before she and Pete are retired. Or lost. I shudder at the thought, breaking the spell.
She stands up and moves towards me and I do the same. When we are merely inches from each other, she reaches out and traces the image of my face with her hand before looking into my eyes once more and whispering, "I wish you would have found a way to change the past."
I let out a breath of humourless laughter but it turns into a real smile as she goes on to say, "We do think alike, darling."
I cannot help to raise my eyebrows suggestively as I reply, "Always have."
We are still smiling as she picks up the orb, preparing to send me back into oblivion. With this realisation my smile fades, and so does hers.
"I'm still angry, you know."
"Good. I wouldn't expect anything else. I do hope we will see each other again, though."
"So do I."
She twists the orb, and I am no more.
"There are truths you have to grow into."
Sitting at my desk, pen in hand and eyes vaguely focused on the opposite wall of the classroom, I try to figure out how to express severe disapproval without using any of the colourful words that currently come to mind. The students that could do well if they bothered to try are really testing my patience. Luckily, there are only a few of them in this particular class, and I have enjoyed several insightful essays on Romanticism during the afternoon.
I am interrupted by a knock on the doorframe.
"Miss Lake, do you have a minute?"
"My door is always open, Jessica, you know that." I smile at the girl, beckoning for her to come in.
She walks in and stops at one of the desks in the front row, leaning against it as she says, "I just wanted to say thanks for putting that poster up in here." She gestures towards the 'safe space' poster I pinned to the blackboard this morning. "It means a lot to me."
My smile widens. "I'm glad." As an afterthought, I continue, "I look forward to the day when such posters aren't needed though".
She beams at me. "Yeah, me too."
Her smile fades as she clearly prepares to say something more.
"Can I…can I ask you a personal question?"
I regard her for a moment. "You can. But I don't promise I'll answer it." My voice is filled with equal parts seriousness and teasing, letting her know it is okay to try.
She bites her lip, fiddling a little with her hands before taking a deep breath and letting out the question in a rush.
She looks a little horrified at herself and continues quickly, "Not that it matters either way, I'm just…it would be cool if you were…I mean…oh god…" She closes her eyes briefly. "I'm not having a creepy crush on you or anything…okay, maybe a little, but that's not the thing. The thing is I totally look up to you and you've made me feel a little better about myself, either way."
I am momentarily speechless by her confession.
She looks away. "I'm sorry. It's none of my business."
I realise she interpreted my silence as disapproval, and I quickly find my voice again. "No it's not, but it's all right. That may be one of the nicest things someone has ever said to me."
Her eyes light up.
"And since you've been so honest with me, I'll be honest too. The truth is I'm not sure. I haven't dated since I lost my memory and I obviously don't remember anything before that. So I might be gay, I might be straight, or something in between. Either way, it's cool."
She giggles at my use of her chosen word. "Miss, that word really sounds weird when you say it."
I snort at her. "And now she's insulting me too!" I say with feigned indignation. "Out of my classroom, young lady, before I change my mind about that excellent grade of yours!"
She laughs now, eyes sparkling with mirth and newfound confidence as she quickly backs away towards the door. "Yes, ma'am!"
I chuckle at her retreating form.
She hesitates just before leaving and turns to me, suddenly serious again.
"Thank you." I nod in acknowledgement and watch her leave before returning to grading.
Half an hour later, my thoughts wander while I pack up to go home for the day. During my time at the clinic, Mr Kosan told me that I was single before the accident, but he never mentioned anything about previous lovers and I was to busy keeping up with all the new information to think of asking. I believe what I said to Jessica, though, it does not matter either way. But I find myself curious to know who had made my heart beat faster before. If I had been in any longer relationships. If I had melted under a woman's or a man's touch. Or both.
As I walk to my car, I play with the thought of signing up on a dating site or seriously consider the offers I tend to get on the rare occasions I go out with friends. But then I quickly dismiss the notions with a shake of the head. No, I am not ready to let someone crawl under my skin. Not when I am just beginning to recognise it as mine. I have recently started feeling in control of myself, of my life, and disturbing that shaky foundation is not an option yet. As for knowing where my preferences lie, I guess time will tell.
"Life is two things. Life is morality – life is adventure. Squire and master. Adventure rules, and morality looks up the trains in the Bradshaw. Morality tells you what is right, and adventure moves you. If morality means anything it means keeping bounds, respecting implications, respecting implicit bounds. If individuality means anything it means breaking bounds – adventure."
My surroundings are so familiar that it takes quite some time before I realise that I am not dreaming. Before I remember that I cannot dream. I can only be stored in something dark and infinite or be projected, aware but deprived. With a jolt it hits me, I am indeed in London. In modern-day London, but still. And if I am here it means I am not alone. But who else? Has it been weeks? Months? Years?
"Welcome home, Helena."
Relief flows through me. I feel almost giddy, as if the knowledge of being in this town with this woman is intoxicating.
"Myka." I utter the name with reverence, before turning around to face her.
I drink in her appearance. She is completely clad in black, from the tightly fitted pants that are tucked into practical yet elegant boots, to the woollen coat, scarf, and leather gloves. Her hair is still straight but slightly ruffled from the wind. It appears to be rather cold outside, for her cheeks are rosy and there is the smallest hint of breath visible in the air. As always, her beauty hits me like a force of nature.
"This is unexpected. You are back?"
Myka nods but does not speak, just holds my gaze steadily. I cannot read her expression. It is somewhat like that of a person standing on the edge of a cliff, looking down, both captivated and frightened, mingled with tenderness, sadness and…hope? I wish to steady her, soothe her, promise I will keep doing those things indefinitely. But I cannot. I curse this self-inflicted inability to be myself. And I am filled with that ache again, my mind refusing to accept that it has no body to torture.
Myka pulls herself together, breaking our eye contact and taking a deep breath.
"We need your help", she finally says, almost apologetically.
A small smile is my spontaneous response. "I figured as much."
She does not return my smile, and I go on, "Is Pete with you?"
"No. He's on another case. Claudia is here. She doesn't know you are. Mrs Frederic showed up at the airport with the orb…with you. I'm to speak with you alone and not tell anyone." Her voice is strained as she speaks, making the short sentences sound cold and to the point.
She continues, "She thought it would save us, and I quote, unnecessary confrontations."
She seems at a loss for words, and deeply troubled.
"Well then, I look forward to working with you, Agent Bering." In another life my voice would have been filled with suggestion, the trusted smirk playing around my lips. Now there is only the smallest hint of a smile as I utter the words with honest warmth, a quality I reluctantly admit was reclaimed during the endless hours with Mrs Frederic.
Growing more serious, I go on, "But if you would find it easier not having me here, I could give you whatever information you require now and then you could..."
She cuts me off, "No. I need you here." It is not a slip, the way she emphasises the sentence speaks clearly of her own desire to have me with her, not only for the sake of the Warehouse. Heavy drops of sleet start to fall as our eyes converse silently, touching subjects far from the question I ask, "And what of Claudia?"
The strain in her voice is gone to be replaced with determination, "I wish I didn't have to lie about you. But I agree with Mrs Frederic that it's easier for now. I just hope that not telling her will be enough. I've never been good with outright lies, I hate it."
Her words cut through me as they are meant to. We both know that what she hates most of all is my lies, the betrayal, the secrets. But not the rest of me. I cling to that knowledge as if it is a rope preventing my falling into a deep abyss. And the pain shows on my face, I know it does. I wish it did not. I am endlessly tired of despising myself, my actions, my faults. Because in doing so I shed a light on them that they do not deserve. I want to be brave again, but not foolishly so. And I want her to love me despite it all. But words cannot heal us any more at this point in time, and I go for the obvious question because what else is there to say that will move us forward?
"Tell me about the artefact."
She looks a little taken aback at my question, clearly having expected our conversation to go down another route.
"Well, it's probably the Picture of Dorian Grey."
I raise my eyebrows. There had been rumours, but I had taken them for nothing more than that. Oscar Wilde had been known to exaggerate, after all. "You mean the actual painting has emerged?"
"We think so, yeah."
And it is easy then to slip back into our partnership – two colleagues combining their common strengths and compensating for each other's weaknesses –, delving into a mystery that allows a respite from our harsh reality where solving the puzzle is not the ultimate goal.
There is a look of excitement on Myka's face as I suggest a location where we might find answers, and it hits me that I have missed this. It should not surprise me, but it does, for in the midst of regret and pain I have forsaken the longing for normalcy. Forgotten the pleasure of sharing everyday life. And however non-normal the days of Warehouse agents may be, they are normal to me, to her. There is suddenly a genuine smile on my face that effectively stops Myka from uttering whatever it is she was about to. Surprise adorns her features for a heartbeat or so, before she smiles back, unreservedly, a gesture so out of place in the light of hurtful lies that for a moment everything seems possible.
And we almost forget that now is not before.
As usual, things do not go precisely according to plan. It is nevertheless with certain disbelief we discover that the retrieval, so confidently planned by Wells and Bering, turns out to be a wild-goose chase that in the end goes horribly wrong.
So wrong, in fact, that Myka is tied to a chair by the wrists and ankles. She is gagged and her head hangs limply to one side, courtesy of the rapidly swelling bruise on her forehead. Claudia is similarly incapacitated, though conscious, handcuffed to a pipe high on the wall so that her arms are stretched out uncomfortably above her head.
I try to quell my blazing anger at the woman that sits calmly at her desk as if she did not just overpower us with an unsettling amount of cunning. I am outraged at her hurting Myka and Claudia, and deep down also frightened by her calm logic and absolute conviction that what she is doing is right. She reminds me all too much of myself, before. I look around the room to find something, anything, that I can use to get us out of here. Correction, something a hologram can use to get the upper hand. I see Claudia do the same, and we share a look that says we are both at a loss.
When I made my presence known a few minutes earlier, Claudia's only reaction was an animated "I knew it!" Despite our predicament I had to ask how she knew, to which she glanced at Myka and mumbled something about female intuition. I left it at that, this not being the time nor place to ask more questions. But I made sure to discreetly nod at the black orb and inconspicuously run my hand through the curtain. She caught on quickly and muttered "wicked" under her breath. This was followed by a few confusing seconds when the villain tried to capture me. Needless to say, she was unsuccessful. However, she concluded that, though annoying, I was no threat and left me to my own devices while she returned to the desk where she is sitting now, seemingly unfazed by it all.
I study the woman. She appears remarkably focused, staring at the screen of a computer and taking notes now and then. She is beautiful with long blonde hair flowing down her back, high cheekbones, and piercing green eyes, but there is something about her beauty that does not fit, something out of place, almost disconcerting. It is as if she is too beautiful, to the degree where it cannot be real. And it is not. We were wrong, the artefact is not one painting but rather the paintbrush that Oscar Wilde used to paint his very own picture of a young man, his lover; the inspiration for the character of Dorian Grey. Somehow the brush had been imprinted with Wilde's desire for beauty and pleasure to be the higher goals of society, and as a result using it worked in much the same way as the painting of Dorian worked in his novel – the depicted person did not age, while the painting took on the effects of everything from the tiniest frown to the passing of years, virtually stopping the aging process.
Naturally, this was a gold mine to the modern-day beauty industry. And this woman knew to take advantage of it. The evidence is on the wall behind her; small gold-framed portraits of men and women hang there, some of them looking young still, others with white hair, drooping eyelids and deep wrinkles. In the bottom right corner, though, is something more disturbing – a grotesque face with a twisted leering expression and bloodshot eyes that seem to have a life of their own right there on the canvas. Eyes that stare at the room, unseeing, filled with darkness, pain, and anger. But as I look closer, those eyes appear to shift their focus to stare at me, into my soul, and I shudder as I tear my gaze away.
He is the reason, well one of the reasons, our mission has taken a turn for the worse. Unexpectedly, our investigation revealed that five murders committed in London during the last month are connected to the artefact. The murderer is a handsome young man whose method of killing is to charm adolescent girls into follow him home, where the gentle smile and seducing words turn into a game of death. He is brutal and seems to enjoy torture; the girls' bodies revealed slow and painful deaths. Undoubtedly, this man was psychotic before the paintbrush treatment but his dreadful ways have been enhanced by it, magnified to finally spiral out of control. Therein lies the downside of the artefact, which this time is not only a theoretical reason for us to snag, bag, and tag it, but frighteningly real. The painted people are not just relieved of their years, but also slowly robbed of emotion until they become empty shells, automatons, perfect on the outside but devoid of feeling.
I am uncomfortably aware of the fact that I would have welcomed such a state of being when I drove to Yellowstone with a weapon of mass destruction resting safely in the boot.
The murderer is still on the loose, but when we used this as an argument for the woman to give up the paintbrush, it was met by deaf ears and the subsequent capture of Myka and Claudia. So what is left to do at this point? I have only my voice, a voice that she most annoyingly ignores.
"H.G. …?" Myka's voice pulls me out of my thoughts, and I flinch at the pain that is so apparent on her face when she tries and fails to raise her head. She blinks several times, then winces as she manages to slowly lift her head to look around, disoriented. "Claudia…?"
I kneel beside her. "It's all right, Myka. We're here. Do you remember what happened?"
Her gaze finally focuses on the room, sweeping over the dangerous beauty at the desk, Claudia cuffed to the pipe, her own restrained body. Pulling weakly at the ropes, she looks at me. I can see the wheels turning in her head, and she whispers, "She knows you're…?". I nod, then respond in a low voice, "But not about the…so she couldn't do anything." Myka nods in turn.
"Get away from her." The blonde stares at me suspiciously, and I take a few steps back. Myka licks her lips and swallows. "Could you…" her voice cracks and she tries again, "Could you at least get me a glass of water?"
To my surprise, the woman gets up and fills a plastic cup with water from the dispenser in the corner, handing it to Myka without a word. Apparently, she has some kind of empathy left. Encouraged, I glance at Myka who nods subtly, clearly having meant to test this. After taking a sip, she goes on to say in a calm voice, "So what is your plan now? Are you going to keep us here forever so we can't tell on you?"
The blonde snorts at her. "You shall be taken care of soon enough."
Myka does not look bothered by the threat, but her tone has a slightly sharper edge to it as she says, "Please, people are being murdered, Elizabeth. You have a chance to stop that madman. And if that's not reason enough, then stop yourself from becoming like him while you still can! The paintbrush is dangerous, you are losing yourself!"
None of us misses the small flicker of uncertainty that ghosts over Elizabeth's features before she shrugs it off. "I'm in perfect control of myself. The murders may be unfortunate but I'm sure the police will capture him soon. I can't afford to go out of business, I'm just about to secure a deal with a major investor! This is my life's work!"
I watch her agitation rise with every word that comes out of her mouth, and suddenly I have had enough. We need to get Myka to a hospital. Moving to stand in front of Elizabeth, well, stomping really because that is how my frustration manifests, I say, "Listen to yourself! You are not in control! If you were, you would care, wouldn't you? Think back to before this brush was in your possession. Could you have justified murder then? That's what you're doing now; you're denying us a fair chance of stopping more girls from getting killed just so you can get richer! Are you going to kill us too, is that it? So we can't remind you of how broken you are?"
My holographic chest is rising and falling rapidly, and surely my eyes are ablaze. I feel more alive than I have since this odd existence started. I must make her understand. Opening my mouth to continue, I am stopped by Myka's voice that breathes out my name softly. Turning around to face her, I try, unsuccessfully, to hide a hint of annoyance at being interrupted. But it quickly disappears when I see the way she looks at me. She knows, though I do not realise until this moment, that I needed to say those words, for myself, for her. Her eyes tell me I am walking a fine line between pushing too hard and getting through to Elizabeth. And that I should take care not to lose myself in my own guilt.
As it is, further argument appears to be unnecessary. When I turn back to Elizabeth, she is staring at her hands, shoulders slumping slightly.
In a moment of wisdom beyond her years, but speaking from experience nonetheless, Claudia's voice carries from the corner, "It is never too late to start over. You can build something even better, something real."
Elizabeth sighs heavily and we hold our breaths – figuratively and literally – until she rises and slowly unties Myka. Her face is taut as she proceeds to unlock Claudia's restraints. She then removes a painting from the wall, this one of an inconspicuous landscape, which unsurprisingly reveals a safe that she opens with a code I memorise out of habit. Placing the paintbrush on her desk, she says, "There. Now take it before I change my mind."
I expect Myka to rise and bag it but she does not move, and I notice with worry that she is yet again unconscious. "Quickly, Claudia, bag it so we can take care of Myka."
With the paintbrush neutralised, the police easily captures the murderer who claims that the actions were out of his control. The laws of justice will see to him now.
Myka spends the afternoon at a hospital and the following day in her hotel room to recuperate. Neither she nor Claudia sends me back into the orb during this time, so I stay in the room, watching over Myka as she sleeps. After making sure Myka will be be all right, Claudia leaves us alone, claiming she wants to do some shopping. The short moments when Myka is awake during this day are mostly filled with silence and the occasional light conversation. Not because we do not have a thousand things to talk about, but because, I believe, none of us wishes to disturb the peaceful atmosphere with words that would once again tear at the fragile trust between us. As the winter sun filters in through light green curtains and the barren trees outside the large window cast entrancing shadows on the walls, we bask in a silence that is neither uncomfortable nor wistful. Once, Myka opens her eyes and looks at me without speaking, and we stay like that for a long time, she resting comfortably on the bed with her hair spread out like a dark halo about the pillow, and I, mind seated on a chair beside the bed, lost in each other's eyes.
"He blinked at the sun and dreamt that perhaps he might snare it and spare it as it went down to its resting place amidst the distant hills."
We are standing on the paved bank of the Thames, looking at the river that flows so peacefully past us.
"Jeez. That was one crazy artefact. And one crazy lady." Claudia lets out a deep breath while speaking, echoing the relief we all feel.
I reply, "Yes, she was a few teacups short of a service."
Myka and Claudia share a look and then burst into laughter. I have a feeling they are laughing at me and not at my wit, but I take great pleasure in the sound and smile back with raised eyebrows, not really expecting an explanation.
Claudia shakes her head and says, "H. G., you are the funniest."
After a few minutes' companionable silence, Myka's turns to me. "I have to put you back into the orb now."
I wince involuntarily. "I know."
She takes out the orb from her bag, and for a moment I hate the object with an intensity so fierce it frightens me. But like so many times before, she seems to know what I am thinking and smiles sadly, conveying with her eyes all those things we never said. I seek comfort in her eyes without thinking, and I find that tether that, though damaged, is still there to secure and ground me. I close my eyes briefly and when I open them again the hate has transformed in to acceptance, resignation. Sadness.
"Thank you for leaving it on so long. I know it was not strictly necessary."
"It was." Her voice as she says this sounds much the same as when she told me she needed me. Strong. Truthful. Claudia turns away discreetly as tears form first in mine then in Myka's eyes.
"You know I never wanted you to leave." She utters those words with such raw honesty that my tears start to fall, and while I find that detail ridiculous to the degree where I would like a word with the orb's inventor, I cannot stop it from happening.
Before I can even begin to think of something to say, she reigns in her emotions, shutting me out. I understand her need to do so. "Are you ready?"
I sigh in acceptance and, admittedly, the smallest hint of relief. We do not need words, we need time. Time to be together, time to rebuild trust, and time to let each other back in behind those barriers we are both so good at keeping around our hearts. And time together is precisely the thing we do not have.
My eyes undoubtedly tell a different story, but I say, "As ready as I can be, I suppose."
The last thing I see is Myka and Claudia, framed by the setting sun. I smile at the irony. That is a portrait of true beauty.
"If you fell down yesterday, stand up today."
As if no time has passed (and technically, for me it has not), I next appear in Mrs Frederic's office where the woman in question asks about my knowledge on a particular artefact. She asks without preamble, and does not acknowledge the recent mission. I suppose it may not be that recent, of course… Time, my friend and foe, is as elusive as ever. And Mrs Frederic is no help, frozen in time as she appears.
Myka apparently has the idea that I once worked on a similar case as the one they are now facing, and consequently, I am to assist.
Yes it is lovely, wonderfully so, but in the same wistful way as watching blushing autumn leaves descend. This strange half-me will be with them, with her, again. Fate is both kind and cruel, and hope is as always kept too close to my heart.
Mrs Frederic summarises the few leads they have so far, and I think I can help. I want to help because Myka thinks I can. In this regard I am far more predictable than I would like to think.
It is harder than I had anticipated. When I am activated again, they are all there; Myka swirling around on the spot, looking surprised at my sudden appearance, Claudia, who seems happy to see me, while Pete is not. He is very protective of Myka, that has always been obvious, but there is something else now, something different. He has a hint of darkness about him, as if something has left a mark. Myka leaving, perhaps? Or a lover…Kelly? I have no idea what happened to her. I am glad she did not manage to kill Pete, though. Well, strictly speaking, I am glad I did not manage to kill Pete. He has his moments.
Anyhow, it would not surprise me if the change in him can be traced back to me. Most bad things can. Before this moment I have only thought briefly about how my actions affected the other agents of the Warehouse. My other…friends. I did not care. But to be suddenly confronted with it hurts, for them as well as me, and I know before I try that my attempt at being civil will not bear any fruit. So I quickly slip back behind the mask of arrogance and sarcasm, my only defence.
Asking how Artie's shoulder is.
(I should have sounded like I care. I did. I do.)
Showing annoyance when Pete talks as if I am not there.
(Do I have the right to be annoyed?)
I tell the story about my previous encounter with the artefact, and to my surprise I get lost in the past as I speak, smiling at some of the lighter memories of friends and family. Charles and I had our differences and I resent most of what he stood for, but I still remember him with fondness.
While I speak, Myka positions herself as a figurative shield between Pete and me.
(I try not to care.)
They are going to take me with them on the mission to Ohio.
(I try not to feel excited.)
She holds the orb when I am next aware and of course it makes me smile. She smiles back, consuming my heart all over again. Clearly, I have turned into a sentimental romantic. And this time my smile holds no secret intent.
"This is where the man and the cow disappeared in 1962" she says, gesticulating towards the old barn close by. Let's see if we can find any suspiciously old-fashioned rocket parts, shall we?
I look at her with amusement and for a brief moment feel like the old me as I retort playfully, "for you to covet?"
She gives me an incredulous look while clearly struggling not to smile and says lightly, "There you are. I thought you had gone all soft on me."
I respond with raised eyebrows, because that is what I do and some things never change. Her comment makes me thoughtful, though, because it confirms the change in me that I have yet to fully accept.
We examine the site, which is a rather gloomy place. Weeds and other wild vegetation surround the barn, and a rusty car is parked in front of it like a testament of past glory. The pale grey sky adds to the mood by providing a light but insistent snowfall.
I try to be useful without taking up too much space. I am not an agent. But this humble attitude is difficult to maintain in the face of Pete's palpable dislike. His sarcasm rivals mine (though it lacks all kinds of subtlety, mind you), and I find it hard to breathe as he sheds light on my guilt, again and again. Finally he lashes out, shouting that whenever I show up, people die. I try to argue with him even though I know his anger is not only about people dying, because his accusations feel terribly unfair. I am no angel but I have never killed someone without good reason. In this moment I conveniently forget that I irrationally tried to destroy the world because it destroyed me.
Further argument is cut off, as I no longer am, or rather, I am suddenly somewhere else, again. I am annoyed and tired of this fleeting existence, and more than ready to let everyone know my thoughts on the matter. But I quickly understand that this is not a time for pointless arguments.
We are in another place now – inside a building – and in front of us a middle-aged man monitors large computer screens. He appears to have constructed a force field of some kind, effectively hindering Myka and Pete from reaching him. So this is the villain – the son of the man that was killed by the horn in the 1960s. It is clear that his acts do not spring from evil but from despair. The man wants revenge on the 'aliens' that 'abducted' his father, and I recognise the desperation and pain in his eyes as he points a gun at me with shaking hands. I feel no fear, and doubt I would have even if my mind were kept in a body of flesh and blood. He is afraid, confused, hurt, and angry, but even though a succinct explanation for the realisation eludes me, I know that he will not kill anyone.
As it is, there are no aliens around but myself, and in holographic form I do nicely. I am an alien in this time and if I had managed to retrieve the horn instead of shooting it into space all those years ago, a boy would not have lost his father because of it.
Myka defends me, again. "Wait, she didn't kill your father!"
But Pete corrects her, as a Warehouse agent with a plan or the protective friend with a grudge, I am not sure. "No. She did."
Either way, he is telling the truth. "Myka, Pete's right. His father's death is my fault."
I proceed to talk the pained man down with complete honesty, for I am responsible.
"We've all lost loved ones unfairly. I lost someone I loved too. For me it was my daughter. I was so angry. In such pain. I almost hurt a great many people. I didn't care... Just like you. But it won't make you feel any better. And it doesn't bring our loved ones back."
He sobs out the question, "Why did you send it? Why did he have to die?"
The question of life and death is one that can never be answered, and one that will never stop haunting me. Why did Christina have to die? His battle is mine, and I caused it. It is a dreadfully beautiful irony to help heal a child I have hurt.
After the crisis is averted, I reach out without thinking to comfort him with a simple touch to the cheek. When it hits me that I cannot – when I stop myself just before my real hand would have touched his skin – I suddenly have no doubt that Mrs Frederic somehow knew the therapeutic value of this encounter before sending me into it.
"I hope, or I could not live."
We are walking slowly towards the section where Joshua's Trumpet shall be stored. Myka carries the box with the trumpet under one arm and the black orb in the other hand. She has delayed my departure by taking me with her on this, the final part of any mission, but soon I shall be gone again.
It is only Myka and I, making our way through the Warehouse like we used to. Doing inventory or shelving the artefact from our latest case. Being late for dinner because we got lost in each other between the Farnsworth and Christmas Aisles, which is exactly where we happen to be right now.
"Do you remember…?" Myka trails off because she knows that I know what she is referring to. I glance at her and my eyes would sparkle if they were really there. A smile plays around her lips while she looks at me.
I find that pretending comes easily. Perhaps too easily. But if there is one feeling in this existence that I can allow myself to give in to, should it not be love? In this tiny fragment of time Myka appears carefree and upon seeing that, I shed everything else. Our world is a different reality for these few minutes and I bask in it, almost tasting the sweetness of a thousand kisses and promises whispered across velvety skin.
In this moment, I am free.
"Thank you, Helena."
"For sharing your story with Daniel. I know it will never be easy."
Reality has returned. But I find I do not mind. Myka keeps walking, as if she does not expect and answer. But I know that she knows there will be one, eventually.
I have many answers.
(He deserved so much more than that/ I hurt him like those men who murdered Christina hurt me/ I cannot tell you how much I love you for loving me when I do not deserve it)
But somehow they all get mixed up in what I actually say, "I can never…I had too help. I killed his father. It was not my intention, but I could have prevented it and I failed. And all those people were in danger because of me. You were in danger because of me."
She smiles and raises her eyebrows at me at the same time, an expression so much like my Myka that my imaginary heart, which appears to be back, flutters delightfully. "I'm always in danger", she says lightly.
Smile fading, she continues, "It was an accident. I blame myself for many things too, you know that. But it doesn't change the fact that they happened. Like you said to Daniel, hurting other people won't bring back the ones we've lost. Blaming ourselves won't bring them back either. Nothing will. That's the terrible truth we have to live with."
I look at her until my sadness is joined by a faint smile, because even though we both know she is right, neither of us will stop blaming ourselves any time soon.
"But I couldn't. I turned to the artefacts…" I do not realise I mumbled this loud enough for Myka to hear until she responds.
"Yes. You turned to this endless wonder…and the despair that came with it."
I am not sure if she means the downsides to the artefacts, my failure in finding a way to bring Christina back, or our shared pain of being separated. But it does not really matter. The three are closely connected. And I have a feeling she refers to all the despair that is and has been a grave reminder of the delicate balance between right and wrong. A balance that is more easily tipped than I ever imagined, but where the scales themselves are also more diffuse than my younger self would ever have deemed possible or accepted.
We have reached the designated shelf, and as Myka prepares the space I stand as close to her as I can without disturbing (which is rather stupid because I am not really there). I am desperate for our conversation to continue, to talk about something, anything, to pretend a little while longer.
"You should feel quite proud right now." I hear myself say.
"Why is that?"
"Three teams of agents over more than a century dedicated themselves to this case. But you and Pete were the ones who succeeded."
"With your help."
I smile softly, almost blushing. I am back to being vulnerable, without a mask to hide my thoughts. I shed it so easily when I am with her. And I could not change that even if I wanted to.
Suddenly I need her reassurance more than anything. Even though I know it is selfish, the question that is not really a question slips past my lips.
"We did make a good team, didn't we?"
She meets my eyes and says, "We did. And then you…" She trails off as if there is no point in defining my throwing that away. We both know the events all too intimately. She goes on, "I just wish you would have realised that sooner."
"So do I."
Oh, how I do.
She looks sad and strong at the same time, as if she has accepted the sadness. I think she believes that I am being honest. I try to communicate through our locked gaze that I will never stop being sorry. But all too soon I hear steps behind me, and Myka and I share one last searching look before Pete arrives and offers a reluctant compliment on my help with the case.
It warms my mind, not least because it pleases Myka.
Then she picks up the orb. I am thankful that she is the one to send me back into it again. Seeing her hands cradle the object, I imagine the feeling of her hands on my body – how they warmed my skin and imprinted themselves onto my senses.
I breathe in deeply while clutching the locket. I have stopped being surprised at the frustrating ingenuity of the orb. There is nothing but Myka in front of me; I tune out the Warehouse, Pete, and the world I never should have known. As Myka tells me goodbye, there is a moment where I believe in fate, angels, soul mates and ever-afters. A moment where I see those things slip away in the form of a woman who has touched my soul, and is my glorious, destined downfall.
I cannot say goodbye. Her goodbye sounds too final and we have said it too many times for me to accept it as such. I feel like a fool facing death thinking he will live, and yet I simply look at her, longing for another time, as she twists the black halves and sends me back into oblivion.
I’m pretty sure species have evolved and died out since I last updated this, and for this I apologise. Season four left me a little uninspired (except when it comes to smut, probably as a way of compensating for the lack of Bering and Wells on screen) but now I have the last chapters planned out (there will most likely be 10 in total, plus an epilogue) and I will take this through the season 3 finale and then do a fix it of sorts.
“ The forceps of our minds are clumsy forceps, and crush the truth a little in taking hold of it.”
I finish up class and as usual several students stop by to chat with me before leaving. Some of them have questions about the latest assignment, others have general questions about literature, and a few even stop by just to tell me they enjoyed class. I seem to be doing this right. Teaching has helped me restore, or rather rebuild, my life. And I love what it has become. I am important to these young people and to have such a clear purpose helps me find joy and pleasure in life. Finally, I am no longer a stranger to myself.
The voice interrupts my thoughts while I am in the middle of cleaning the blackboard. I turn to face the woman it belongs to and my stomach clenches at the sight. She is tall and dark-haired with large expressive eyes that look at me in a way a stranger would not. It looks like she knows me and is expecting me to acknowledge this. Odd. I feel immediately drawn to her, but in a way I cannot make sense of. I have not felt like this in a long time, not since shortly after I left the clinic and saw a woman that, come to think of it, had the hair and eyes in common with the woman now standing in front of me. I have no idea why she is calling me Helena; she must be mistaking me for someone else. Or is she asking where this Helena is?
The woman ignores my implied question and says, “Do the Regents know you’re here?”
She must really think I am someone else. Regents?
“I’m sorry, you must be lost. The main office is down the hall…”
Her face is a mix of frustration and confusion as she presses on, “Helena, we don’t have time for games. Some really dangerous people know you’re here.”
She may also be a little mad…
Then it gets even weirder. A man bursts into the room, pointing an odd-looking gun straight at me as if this is a matter of life and death.
My rather mortifying reflex is to quickly duck and hide under the desk. Great. They must think I am a real coward. But I am scared, and their subsequent confusion and bickering does nothing to calm me. Her voice does, though, when she explains that I may be involved in a case of identity theft. That makes no sense at all, but her voice is soothing and I focus on that, showing them my driver’s licence while the initial fear is slowly replaced by intrigue. What is going on here? Has it something to do with the person I was before the accident? Did they know me then? Who are they, anyway?
They seem to forget about me sitting under the desk as they proceed to have a conversation that is obviously about me, but whatever they are discussing is said in half-sentences and with a lot of body language that I have no chance of interpreting without knowing them better. I have started to consider crawling out from under the desk and attempt a more dignified position when the woman speaks up again.
“I’m sorry about this, it must be very confusing for you. My name is Myka Bering.” She holds up a badge, “Secret Service.”
I get out awkwardly from under the desk and stand up. Taking the offered hand I say, unnecessarily, “Emily Lake.”
The man introduces himself as Pete Lattimer. Also Secret Service.
“What’s going on here?” I ask, slightly shaken by the fact that I have been taken for a threat to the president.
“It’s a little hard to explain…” Myka starts, at the same time as Pete says, “Oh, drop the act, HG!”
“Pete!” Myka hisses. “She clearly doesn’t know who she is. Now stop it!” She punches his shoulder.
In the midst of the confusion, I feel somewhat amused by Pete’s disgruntled and boyish reaction to the punch. He is definitely not a stranger to that treatment, and Myka is obviously a woman one should not cross.
And I have a sudden and unexpectedly strong desire to find out how to get on her good side.
I am also extremely attracted to her, which for me is a strange thing to feel for a person I have just met. Nothing makes sense but that seems to matter less and less because her gaze is on me again, softening, and I can see something in her eyes…
Shaking myself out of the suddenly not entirely appropriate thoughts, I address them both, “So what do you want from me?”
Myka and Pete share a look again. Their silent communication is getting annoying.
“We need to see your apartment.” Pete’s tone does not leave room for discussion, but it is Myka’s apologetic eyes that make me nod and say, “Let’s go, then.”
I know it is stupid and reckless, but after letting them into my apartment and feeding Dickens, I open one of the kitchen drawers and take out the large knife I sharpened last night when it refused to cut peppers properly. Not sure what to do with it, only that I feel a need to protect myself, I stop for a moment to stare at the faint reflection of my face in the blade, suddenly hit by a strong sense of Déjà vu.
Knives. I used to…I used know something about handling knives.
This disturbs me greatly, and I tear myself away from the strangely spellbinding sharpness. But I keep the knife in my hand as I walk back to the living room where the two agents are discussing my pictures of family and friends. And it is as if their doubting the authenticity of the photographs makes something shift into place inside of me, a recognition of an emotion that has surrounded me ever since I first laid eyes on those pictures – that something is not quite right about them. Now I am truly frightened but also angry with these people who dare come into my home and trample upon the fragile sense of security and purpose I have built up after the accident.
Despite a lingering sense of curiosity, I will not let them destroy my sense of self.
And so I foolishly step towards them with the knife as a shield between myself and their dreadfully convincing theorising that puts my whole existence into question.
“Let me go. I…I’ve got a knife.”
Myka’s eyes fill with something best described as pity mingled with disappointment, while Pete looks vaguely amused. In the blink of an eye he grabs hold of me, spins me around and removes the knife from my shaking hands.
Well, this day is not getting any less awkward.
I also start feeling trapped, as if something inevitable has been set in motion and I have no choice but to sit quietly on the train as it leaves for an unknown destination. I had been so eager to learn more about my past. But in the face of it, I hesitate. It was not supposed to be like this – knives and vibes and strange emotions for a woman who knows me as someone else. A woman who seems to instinctively move closer to me as Pete spots something (someone?) through the window. The gesture feels protective in an almost intimate way, and if Pete wonders at our proximity when he turns to address us, he does not comment.
“You take her back to the Warehouse. I’ll keep Marcus occupied.”
Myka hesitates, nods and places a hand on my back.
“You’re going to have to come with me, Emily. You’re in danger here. I’ll take you somewhere safe.”
It is the fact that she calls me Emily, not Helena, that makes me follow her out the door.
Just as we reach the car, a voice speaks up behind my back and Myka’s eyes widen in recognition of whoever is standing there.
“Give me your tesla and step away from the car.”
Myka does not react at first, seemingly frozen in place. “Myka?” I prompt softly, and again there is an intimacy surrounding us that suggests I know her as well as she seems to know me. Where does that come from? My voice apparently does the trick, because she nods to me, places her gun on the roof of the car, and slowly backs away. I turn around and for the second time this day find myself at gunpoint. In the adrenaline-induced clarity that follows this realisation, I recognise that the young man holds the same kind of futuristic energy-weapon that Pete and Myka have. Who are these people!?
“Go stand with Myka.” The man says. I obey him and find myself coming to a halt much closer to her than I would to any other stranger. This is getting terribly confusing.
“Steve…” Myka sounds sad. “What are you doing?”
“What I have to do.” The man called Steve says, and it is clear from his curt tone that he will not offer any other explanation. Myka stares at him, obviously shocked. I want to ask a thousand questions but this is clearly not the time. Instead I move even closer to Myka, our elbows brushing against each other.
“She’s coming with me”, Steve says, nodding towards me.
Oh god, no.
Pete arrives, apparently also recognising Steve. Shortly after that, another man joins the group, dabbing blood from his bottom lip.
“Is that HG?” he asks Steve while looking at me. If I wasn’t so scared I would find it amusing that I seem to be several different people at once.
Steve nods and a few breaths later, first Pete and then Myka are hit by bolts of blue energy and promptly collapse on the concrete floor. I scream. The larger man grabs me roughly by the arm, drags me away to another car, locks me in the back seat, and speed out of the garage.
I have no idea what I have or have not done to deserve this, and I have never felt more alone.
Did I say that I found it amusing to be called by other names than my own? Well, in that moment I knew nothing of how hysterical it can be. Because right now I am sitting on a cold hard chair in a hangar, hands tied behind my back, being told I am H. G. Wells. As in the English author who lived and worked a century ago.
I hope this is a dream.
But no matter how hard I try, I do not wake up. The tall man in the suit is interrogating me relentlessly, asking for information about something called Warehouse 13. He is refusing to accept that I know nothing, refusing to acknowledge that if I had known or had something whatsoever to hide, I probably would not have been tethering on the brink of panic with tears streaming down my face.
He is refusing to accept that I am Emily Hannah Lake.
This is unacceptable.
I have fought so hard for Emily – I have searched the depths of my lost mind, forged new friendships, found some kind of peace in the fact that I will never know everything that was before. And now…the life I thought I knew is crumbling before my eyes as the man violently picks up a chair and throws it in frustration.
Face close to mine, he states with absolute conviction, “You are lying.”
He leaves me tied to the chair.
A long and lonely time later, the feeling I experienced just after the accident is starting to creep back.
I start doubting myself.
I start doubting Emily.
I close my eyes and recall Mr Kosan’s reassuring words –
I understand that you are scared, Emily. Our memories define us and to lose them is to lose ourselves. But I promise you that it is going to be all right. We will help you make new memories. You will find yourself again.
“So utterly at variance is Destiny with all the little plans of men.”
To say I am surprised to appear in front of Claudia, Pete, and Myka inside a cold storage room just after (in my oddly distorted perception) Myka said goodbye to me in the Warehouse, is an understatement. There is a somewhat exciting unpredictability to this existence, that is for sure.
This small flicker of wonder is quickly put out, however, when the details of my body’s new existence is revealed. I am quite sure I would have been better off not knowing.
“Living with a cat, in Wyoming?”
“Also, you have an American accent, and a really girly scream.” Pete supplies helpfully.
In an obvious attempt to smooth things over, Myka says, “and your students love you...”
Well, at least I am not making a complete fool out of myself. Or my body is not making a fool out of myself, or my mind or… Oh, bollocks. This is ridiculous enough without digging myself an identity crisis-shaped hole.
Latching onto a substantial and rather upsetting piece of information, I respond, “But a cat!?”
Wolcott had owned three impossibly large cats of undeterminable colour and temperament. I shudder at the memory of their unpredictable bursts of pure evil. Even in their happy purring moments, they had been secretly out to get me with their beady eyes and sharp claws. I will never understand why people defer to cats as if they are our masters. Then again, I owned two pet rats as a child. These unusual companions were the cause of much admiration and envy among my friends, not least because I had managed to talk my father into saving them from a gruesome fate in the betting pit.
Oh well, perhaps this is not the time to delve into my harboured resentment for felines.
“But what does this Mr Sykes want from me?”
“We…were kind of hoping you could tell us”, Claudia says.
“I’m afraid I have absolutely no idea.”
This is obviously not the answer they were looking for.
After conferring with Artie over the Farnsworth, orders are for the agents to bring me, that is, the Janus coin, back to the Warehouse before Sykes finds me.
What can possibly go wrong, I think half-sarcastically before disintegrating.
So when Claudia next activates the orb with the most serious expression I have ever seen on her youthful face, explaining that Pete wants to destroy the Janus coin, I am not surprised, though unexpectedly shaken by the thought of becoming irrevocably severed from my body. Erased. Gone.
To think that moments before I was complaining about my body’s new penchant for cats…
But never have I known Pete to present a more logical conclusion. Sykes wants the Janus coin. As long as he does, the Warehouse and its people are in danger. No coin, no danger. At least not from me. And have I not wished to prove to them once and for all that I regret my past actions as deeply as humanely possible? Do I not wish to prove myself to them by any means necessary? Do I not wish to prove myself to Myka?
It is always about Myka.
Our time seems to have come and gone – too short, but perhaps it is always so. Perhaps death would not be so unwelcome. Perhaps it would leave both Myka and I with a peace, more final and ultimately restful than we could ever attain in this life.
Perhaps my end has come at last.
I feel a painful sort of relief.
“I cannot, I will not, destroy H. G. Wells.”
Myka has her back to me, but I can see the tension in her shoulders, and picture the firm set of her jaw. Her voice is full of absolute determination and a fierce protectiveness that for a second (or forever) throws me off the thoughts of choosing death for the greater good. HG Wells, a martyr? I, who am as far from noble as they come.
I need to be strong for Myka. I need to let her know that this terribly wrong thing is right – that it will be right in the end. Nothing hurts me more than hurting this woman and yet I convince my projection to soften its features, discarding the furrowed brows and sorrowful eyes, and step closer.
“May I offer an opinion?”
Myka swirls around on the spot. Her eyes are large, dark, and terribly full of pain. I want to take it away.
“I figured she should be part of this discussion”, Claudia says by means of explanation.
“There is no discussion”, Myka responds firmly.
“Agreed.” I take a breath in a futile attempt to ready myself for the storm. “If you truly want to protect the Warehouse, you must destroy the coin.”
Her eyes widen, disbelief colouring her eyes an even darker shade of green.
I go on despite being pulled violently in the other direction by the whisper of tears in Myka’s eyes. “Destroy the coin and whatever Sykes wants from me will be lost with it.”
She looks questioningly at me, almost confused as if the matter is all too hard to comprehend. Her voice is small when she finally finds it, “But you’d be gone. You be…dead.”
I nod, trying to smile as if that would make things easier.
She turns away from me and I want to run after her. Speaking with her back turned, the love her words hold breaks and heals me a thousand times in the blink of an eye.
“The price is too high.”
I have never met anyone who loves and supports me the way Myka does. How can I ask her to let me go?
I look to Pete for help, and he says, “What about Emily Lake? If Sykes thinks he can put her back together…she’s in a lot of danger.”
Myka’s eyes are full of tears when she faces us again. I scream inside while speaking the next words, because as true as they are, they also mean the end. There can be no new chapters, no epilogue, no sequel taking place in our future.
“Destroy me and she’ll be of no value to him.”
I realise that I am standing too close to her, too close to ignore the play of unguarded emotions across her face. But turning back now would be choosing her – myself, us – above the safety of a great many people, perhaps even the whole world. There is no way to justify that, as I have so painfully learnt in the past.
“Myka, you say she’s a teacher, and her students love her.” She nods. “Then let me live on through her.”
“We can rescue Emily Lake. I can promise you that.” Pete says valiantly.
I feel like embracing him and showing him away all at once. And suddenly it is too much to fight back the tears, the photons, or whatever they are.
I swallow hard and force the words past my lips, “I have every confidence that you will.”
And then I turn to Myka, dropping the rest of my walls because that might be the only thing that will convince her.
“Myka, we have to think rationally, not emotionally. And quickly, before I remember that I’m not this noble.”
Her gaze pierces right through my soul, full of an overwhelming sadness but still tinted by her refusal to accept this turn of events.
“It’s the right thing to do, Myka. You know that, don’t you?” Pete presses on.
Myka does not respond.
That is the closest we come to an agreement, and after asking Pete to be the one ending my life (oh how macabre), he thanks me for everything, which I find rather gracious considering I caused a hoard of troubles for them all. I smile at him.
I turn to Claudia and remember our ‘tinker-y evenings’, as she called them, and I regret that it is over. I regret that I will not see her reach her destiny.
And then, all too soon, it is time to say goodbye to Myka. With eyes full of tears I turn to meet another pair in the same state. And I dive right in, not because I want to, but because I want it to be over so I do not have to keep watching her being torn apart. Perhaps that is a selfish thought, but to see someone you love being so full of anguish is perhaps the most brutal of punishments.
“How do you say goodbye to the one person who knows you better than everyone else?”
She responds as I knew she would, “I wish I knew.”
And I wish we had realised everything sooner.
As I spend the last seconds of my life looking up at the sky, I let well-guarded memories of a smiling Christina and a playful Myka come forward and with me to the coming darkness.
“In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”
They are pulling me into another room where they push me down on a couch. The man in the wheelchair rolls closer, smiling creepily at me. Am I finally going to get an explanation for why I am here? What are they going to do with me?
He carefully holds up a golden coin between purple-gloved fingers.
“Let’s see if this really works, huh?”
“What are you doing, what is that?”
“The end of Emily Lake.”
“No…” I breathe out. I cannot tell why, but I can feel that this really is the end. How an innocent-looking coin can kill me is incomprehensible, but the way the man says it tells me it is a fact.
I am going to die.
It feels like I have just started this life, this wonderful, magical life. I finally have a sense of self again after the accident, ready to live to the fullest in many years to come. What can I possibly have done to deserve this?
Before I can think of a way out, he grabs my hand and places the coin in my palm.
“Now just remember. Just relax and remember.”
The coin is burning my palm and I start crying from pain and fear. Suddenly there is a wild rush of emotions flowing through my body, distinctive from my own. And then a flood of memories are attacking my senses, so many memories that seem familiar and that I instinctively know can explain who I was before. But I feel myself slipping away, being consumed by those memories, forgetting my own…
Life has a tendency to twist and turn into something you would never expect, and instead of opening my arms to my daughter in the next life, I wake up sitting on a sofa with the Janus coin in my outstretched hand, and a man in a wheelchair in front of me. I am breathing, I am feeling the flow of life through my body in a way I have never felt before, and my chest is tight from the tears I can feel drying on my cheeks. I close my hand and enjoy the sensation of the coin cutting into my palm.
“H. G. Wells?” A young man asks from the doorway. I look up at him, then back to the man in front of me.
“It would appear you got to the coin before Pete could destroy it. You must be Mr Sykes.”
“Mhm. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.”
He hands me a glass of water. I hesitate, but then grab hold of it. The cold glass feels peculiar in my warm hand. I take a sip and relish the feeling of water running down my throat. It is a curious thing how such an ordinary sensation becomes extraordinary when taken away. I am myself again. I am whole. I live. And I had no idea how much I valued my life until this moment.
Without any weapons or means of contacting the Warehouse, there is little I can do in the short moments I am left alone when Mr Sykes leaves to “take care of some business”. And my plan to use some well-chosen kempo moves are thwarted when the man returns with a riding crop artefact that bends my body to his will.
How very irritating.
He forces me out of the room and into a hangar where an aeroplane awaits us. As I enter it, I notice that the man from the doorway and the dark-haired one is missing. The boy is there, however, and Mr Sykes himself. He releases the crop’s hold on me when I have settled down in a chair.
“Care to tell me where we’re going?” I say, not expecting an answer.
“Hong Kong. I think you’re going to like it.”
“I’m sure I will. And why are you taking me there?”
I snort. Oh, marvellous. What, fifteen or so hours on a plane with people that have an unknown but certainly evil agenda that I am somehow connected to, and I do not even have a book with me. I wonder if anyone is feeding Dickens.
Dickens? I am suddenly aware of him being a cat, my cat. But I do not have a cat, nor do I like them. Dickens is quite charming though.
Well this is odd.
We are perhaps halfway through the flight when I find myself planning an English grammar lesson while staring absently at the beautiful cloud formations outside the window.
Emily Lake was a teacher.
And then everything starts falling into place. I start remembering things that happened to my body, to Emily, slowly at first but then those memories hit me faster and faster until I have to close my eyes to keep from fainting from the dizzying sensation of it all.
When it eventually slows down again I am left with the highly disturbing feeling of having two recollections of the same moment, a violation against the very definition of linear time. This is going to take some time getting used too.
The final memory to return is the moment just before Emily got the Janus coin in her – my – hand. I remember her fear, the fact that her captors offered no rational explanation for why she was there, the strange feeling of half-truth when they insisted on her being H. G. Wells when she was just Emily, and I am suddenly thankful for having her memories. Emily spent her last moments in fear of the end as she knew it, and the least I can do is letting her live on through me.
I smile at the irony.
When the pilot announces that he will start the descent, I take a deep breath and try to ready myself for what is to come. Which is quite hard since I am kept in the dark about our destination, and frequently distracted by memories I have-but-not-quite lived.
I can think of a very long list of realities I would rather have woken up to. On the upside, though, I am not dead.