Claudia couldn’t stop fidgeting in her seat. It wasn’t really a seat as much as a bench in a circular-ish room with a judge’s podium at one end and a table with three chairs at the other. Filling in the gaps and shaping the room were two arced sets of tiered benches and tables, almost like you’d see in a lecture theatre. Claudia and the rest of the Warehouse agents sat on the benches to the right of the podium while a gathering of Regents sat murmuring to each other on the podium’s left. Part of the reason Claudia was fidgeting was that Leena was the only one willing to sit next to her, leaving Claudia at the end of the bench, closest to the table and thus Mrs. Frederic.
Though the Caretaker was her usual, unreadable self, Helena, sitting in the middle seat and thus directly opposite the podium, was just as fidgety as Claudia was. Myka had yet to appear, and the closer it got to ten am, the more Helena began to panic. Claudia, feeling much the same way Helena was, decided to send the agent a text (it was Judgment Day – no need to hide their communications now).
yo Myks, tick tock.
Claudia barely had to wait for a reply. Almost there. About five minutes.
The hacker raised her eyebrows. holy sst, batman, did you teleport or some shit? She wasn’t surprised when Myka didn’t answer, but at least she knew the woman was on her way. She also knew that she should probably let Helena know this somehow.
Glancing to the right to make sure that Leena was still mediating the argument Pete and Artie were currently having, she leaned towards the table and gave a soft hiss to get Helena’s attention. Both she and Mrs. Frederic turned, the inventor with a curious frown and the Caretaker with a hint of amusement. Claudia held up her phone and tapped the screen before giving Helena a thumbs-up. Helena’s frown deepened for a moment but was followed by a look of understanding and a slump of relief. ‘Thank you,’ the dark-haired woman mouthed to Claudia, and from the look on her face, the hacker knew she meant it for more than just that moment. Claudia, touched, smiled back at her and nodded, letting Helena know as best she could that even without Myka there, she had at least one person on her side. Helena smiled back before wiping at her eyes to hide what looked suspiciously like a tear. Mrs. Frederic, to Claudia’s surprise, nodded to the girl as well, who was almost too blown over by the gesture to nod back.
In any other situation, it would have been amusing how so much more was being said in simple gestures than in muttering between the Regents and shouting between two Warehouse agents. All of this ceased when the Regent Judge entered the door at the back of the room and walked to the podium. Everyone rose from their seats in respect and watched in tense, anticipatory silence as the regal-looking woman passed the table where Helena and Mrs. Frederic were seated, crossed the room, and stepped up to take her seat behind the stand, towering over all of them. She reminded Claudia of Dr. Calder (who was seated with the Regents), but nowhere near as friendly.
“You may be seated,” the Judge said, and everyone obeyed. But before she could say another word, the double doors at the back of the room burst open, and when Helena turned to see the cause, she forgot to breathe.
Myka came sprinting into the room, clutching a black messenger bag to her side and wearing a look of exhausted relief. In a move reminiscent of her prison conversation with Helena, she skidded to a stop by the seat to the woman’s right and dropped down without preamble, immediately reaching for Helena.
The moment their hands met, the world seemed to blur and noise seemed to fade and all that mattered to each woman was the feel of the other’s skin against their own. Though they couldn’t look at each other – not yet, not here – they gripped each other without any intention of letting go, the simple contact still radiating waves of love that crashed over both women with the promise of hope.
The mood of the room immediately changed. The Regents, Judge included, all wore the same look of wary surprise, but the reactions of the Warehouse agents spanned the spectrum. Artie looked like he was about to have an apoplectic fit; Pete’s jaw was hanging open in shock and dismay; Leena’s mouth was quirked in that knowing smile of hers, and Claudia was absolutely beaming. Even Mrs. Frederic had allowed her lips the barest upturn.
The silence, now much heavier than it had been, was broken by the Judge clearing her throat.
“Well then…let the trial begin.”
* * *
The first of the trial’s many surprises came in the middle of Helena’s account of Yellowstone. She was speaking of her standoff with Myka when Kosan interrupted, “That’s not how you describe it in your book.”
Helena’s and Myka’s faces both paled. “Wh-what?” Helena replied, cursing the timid trembling of her voice. To her horror, Kosan took a very familiar manuscript – though now it had been bound – from his briefcase and flipped to one of several tabbed pages.
“‘Her entire body screamed in terror, but it only crossed her face as growing uncertainty,’” Kosan read aloud. “‘Pain she had not felt since Christina’s death roared to life with a vengeance as Myka held the gun in the woman’s hand to her own head, demanding that she shoot her. The woman finally screamed and dropped the gun, the horror of her actions overwhelming her. The woman knew she should have abandoned her plans long ago, but had convinced herself that what she desired even more than Christina’s life returned to her was something she could never have. She realized then, as she dropped the gun, as she dropped to the ground, that she could destroy the world, she could destroy herself, but she could never, ever harm Myka.’”
Dead silence followed these words, everyone staring at Helena and Myka with expressions ranging from intrigued to horrified to, in Claudia and Leena’s case, fond. “That’s mine,” Helena finally protested with the same timid tremble.
To her surprise, Kosan smiled. “Indeed, Ms. Wells. Your book is probably the best testimony you can give.”
It was one of very few times in her life that the author found herself lost for words. “You’ve read it? All of it?”
The Judge nodded. “All the Regents have. It’s quite good, actually.”
“What does a book written by a madwoman have anything to do with this trial?!” Artie sputtered. Helena, Myka, and Claudia winced, and Myka squeezed Helena’s hand tighter, rubbing gentle circles on her skin with her thumb. The Judge gave Artie a scathing look that both put him in his place and gave the offended women some vengeful satisfaction.
“As Mr. Kosan said, this book is probably the best testimony she can give.” The Judge turned to Helena. “Enough with the actual events; tell us why you did what you did.”
“I…I…” Helena fought to conjure the words, but once again, she couldn’t find them – not even with Myka holding her hand. Convinced that she was doomed, she was startled when Mrs. Frederic pulled a bound manuscript from her own bag – another copy of Heart of Bronze.
“In your own words, Ms. Wells,” she encouraged.
Anchored by the Caretaker and Myka, knowing that there was nothing left for it now, Helena opened her book and began to read out her soul.
* * *
So far, the amount of silence that had occurred during the trial nearly trumped the amount of speaking, especially after Helena had finished reading about her arrest (though the Regents may have read the entire book and thus her further confessions of love, Helena found what she’d already revealed to be embarrassing enough and didn’t feel that the rest of the book was relevant to the situation).
It was Artie who broke the tension again, though he did not break it so much as he made it worse. “What does this have to do with –”
The Judge slammed the gavel for the first time during the trial, making everyone jump. “The point is not to determine guilt, Agent Nielson! The purpose of this trial is to determine the necessary response to these events! Now…” She swept her gaze across the room. “Is there any further evidence or testimony anyone would like to present?”
Pete and Artie began to leap to their feet, but Claudia beat them to it, file already in her hands. “I do.”
“Ms. Donovan,” the Judge nodded, giving her permission to start.
The hacker couldn’t help but glance at Artie and Pete, who were looking murderous. But Myka and Helena were looking to her with hope, and so Claudia straightened her back, took a deep breath, and opened the file. “During Helena’s incarceration, I had the opportunity to exchange a letter with her, and the contents of her reply made me think that she’s not the villain everyone makes her out to be. So I did a little research into her Warehouse records and found that they had been altered.”
“Altered how?” Kosan asked with a frown.
“Well, the original file had been entered into the system when the Warehouse first began computer logs, but it had been changed over a decade ago. When I went to look for the original paper file, it had been destroyed, so I figured something was up.” Flipping through the papers in her folder, Claudia removed two sets of printouts. Leaving her seat, she handed one set to Kosan and the other to the Judge. “It took some work, but I managed to retrieve the original log. It has to do with Helena’s Bronzing.”
This got everyone’s immediate attention, and all eyes were on Claudia as she returned to stand by her seat. “HG Wells was meant to be the first person to test a rehabilitation program involving Bronze. She was supposed to be released in 1999, a hundred years after her Bronzing, and then reintegrated into the present day. It was designed to be a new start for people who wanted and needed one. Only later did the Regents of that time learn that people who had been Bronzed remained awake, and so the project was abandoned, but Helena was still set to be released. The file change…” Claudia shifted from foot to foot, biting her lip. “The file was changed by MacPherson to say that Helena was never meant to be released. Not only that, but he…” The hacker let out a shaky breath and spread more of the printouts from her folder across the curved table. Each one was a timestamped screenshot from a surveillance camera, and each one showed MacPherson standing in front of a Bronzed HG Wells. “He spoke to her. There’s no audio on the footage, but from what I could get from lip-reading software he said the most horrific things to her.” She pulled two last sets of printouts from her file and once again took them to the Judge and Kosan. “Those are the transcripts I got from the lip-read. I think…I think he must’ve been trying to prepare her – to turn her into the sort of person that would help him end the world. He needed someone like HG to do it, and…” Claudia shrugged, slumping back in her seat.
Myka had known about the rehabilitation plan, having read the file Claudia sent her, but she’d had no idea the hacker had gone deeper than that. Hearing that MacPherson had verbally tortured Helena – her Helena – made her seethe with undiluted fury that grew with everything Claudia revealed. As the room erupted into shocked conversation, Myka finally turned to Helena with the intent to comfort her in any way she could, but the look on the inventor’s face stunned her anger away. A smile of joy lit her face, even as tears filled her eyes.
“It’s not my fault,” Helena gasped, letting go of Myka’s hand so she could grip her shoulders. “Myka, don’t you see? MacPherson made me into the monster I was and you saved me from it! He’s the one to blame! He’s the one who manipulated me! I’m not…I was never…I was meant to be restored, Myka! It wasn’t my fault!”
Myka could only stare in amazement at the woman she loved. “Oh, Helena,” she whispered, taking the author’s hands from her shoulders to grasp them in her own. “You were never a monster.”
Oh, but how they wanted to kiss each other, then, right there, in front of everyone, but they knew it still wasn’t time, as much as it hurt not to. The sound of the gavel turned their attention back to the Judge as the room quieted again, but they did not release each other’s hands.
“And what do you think, Ms. Donovan?” the Judge asked. “Do you believe that Ms. Wells deserves the rehabilitation she was meant to have?”
Claudia looked over at Myka and Helena. “Absolutely,” she replied with conviction, turning back to the Judge. “Helena was manipulated by MacPherson, who used her own grief against her. Myka helped her break free of that, and she’s helped her become who she’s meant to be.” She smiled at the two women in question, who were both blushing and shifting in their seats.
“Thank you, Ms. Donovan. Your testimony and evidence will be taken into consideration.” The Regents, who were reading over the lip-read transcript and cringing at MacPherson’s words, looked at the girl and nodded in fervent agreement. “Is there anyone else who wishes to speak?”
“Yes!” Artie spat, snapping to his feet. Claudia pursed her lips and glowered at him, knowing that the forthcoming tirade was going to be decidedly unpleasant. Leena, who was usually quite serene in the face of Artie’s anger, looked just as annoyed.
“Agent Nielson,” the Judge permitted, though she didn’t look too happy either.
“This woman is a murderer!” he shouted, pointing at Helena like the whole situation was a TV crime drama. “She killed MacPherson –”
“– who wasn’t supposed to be able to set foot in the Warehouse, anyway,” Leena remarked.
“– she killed those boys –”
“– who chose to open the temple doors in the hope of treasure,” Claudia interjected.
“– she killed Valda –”
“Actually, he sacrificed himself,” Myka threw in.
“– she tried to kill Pete and Myka –”
“I had no idea that Warehouse 2 had that failsafe!” Helena protested, putting her hands up.
“– and she tried to kill Pete’s girlfriend!”
No one had a comeback for that one, and Helena’s shoulders slumped in guilt. The author bit her lip as she fought tears of remorse, and only Myka’s squeeze of her hand kept them from spilling.
“She is insane! She was Bronzed for a reason! She killed men out of revenge –”
“ – who would have been killed anyway, had they been caught and convicted,” Claudia cut in again.
“SHUT UP, CLAUDIA!”
“NO!” She was on her feet again, staring down the shocked man who was the closest thing to her father. “I am not going to let you stand here and tear her down when –”
Helena’s voice was soft and soothing, and Claudia turned to the author with tears in her eyes. The dark-haired woman gave her a smile that was as sad as it was fond and reassuring. “He’s allowed to have his say.”
“I know, darling. I know.”
Claudia sniffed and sat down with reluctance, wiping furiously at her eyes.
“Look at how manipulative she is!” Artie sneered, gesturing at Claudia and Helena alike. “Look how easily she gained Claudia’s trust!” The girl in question tried to stand again, but Leena’s hand on her shoulder kept her in place. “She uses her words against all of you and you just accept it without question! She’s a writer, for God’s sake – it’s what she does best!”
“I think that was almost a compliment,” Helena murmured with bemusement, and Myka barely hid her snort of laughter.
“She doesn’t deserve any more chances! None! She needs to be thrown back in the Bronze Sector and left there!” Artie finished, evaporating the brief moment of levity between the two women. Myka could feel Helena tremble and squeezed her hand tighter, wishing she could just take the woman in her arms and keep her there until all this was over. A glance from Helena let Myka know she felt the same, but both also knew that neither could be seen to waver under the onslaught. All they could do was hold on.
“Is there anything else, Agent Nielson?” the Judge asked, definitely more annoyed than when Artie had begun his rant.
“I believe it’s all that needs to be said,” was his smug reply as he sat back down with satisfaction. It was obvious to everyone but him that the Judge was barely holding back an exasperated sigh.
“Is there anyone else who wishes to testify?”
“Has anyone thought about asking the aura reader?” was Claudia’s dry response. “Sorry,” she muttered to Leena as an afterthought, who smiled her understanding before leaning forward to examine Helena’s aura. Or, rather, she would have examined Helena’s aura, were it not tangled so thoroughly with Myka’s, the two women almost blindingly bright.
“There’s no evil that I can see. Darkness, yes, but it’s healing. Not evil.”
Artie scoffed, but a warning look from the Judge shut him up. “Thank you, Leena.” She turned to Pete. “Agent Lattimer? Have you anything to say?” Pete had his arms crossed on the table, and he was using them to rest his chin as he stared at nothing. “Agent Lattimer?”
“…I thought I did. Have something to say. But now I just… Everything I thought I knew has changed. So I don’t know what to say. But I’d listen to whatever Myka says,” he added, finally breaking his staring contest with the cosmos to nod at Myka. “All this time she’s been away…I should have just trusted her – her and Claud.” Both women stared at him in shock as he continued. “I know, I know, HG tried to kill my girlfriend and all, but…I dunno. I dunno anymore.” Staring into space once again, he missed the looks of admiration and forgiveness on the faces of the women he hurt most.
Clearing her throat to break the tension that so seemed to love filling the room, the Judge turned to the three women sitting at the table before her. “Agent Bering? Mrs. Frederic? What have you to say on behalf of Ms. Wells?”
Mrs. Frederic spoke first and simply. “She is neither a threat to the Warehouse nor a threat to anyone associated with it. The only person in this room she poses any threat to is herself, which is why I suggest a chance at rehabilitation under the guidance of Agent Bering.”
“Thank you,” Helena murmured to the Caretaker, voice thick with awed gratitude. Mrs. Frederic merely nodded.
“And you, Agent Bering?”
Myka was so shocked by Mrs. Frederic’s statement and exchange with Helena that it took her a moment to register the Judge’s words. “Actually, I have one better than a statement,” she began, rising from her seat and placing her messenger bag on the table. Mrs. Frederic gave a sharp inhale, and Claudia clapped her hands over her mouth as she stared at Myka with wide-eyed elation. “I think it would be better for an impartial voice to testify,” the agent continued as she unzipped the bag and pulled out the silver containment pouch.
Helena had no idea what was in the bag, but she could feel its power resonating outwards, almost as if exploring the room. Even as its presence made her tremble under its sheer force, something about that force also calmed and soothed her fear. “Myka?” she whispered, hoping for an answer.
The brunette smiled at her, eyes alight with victory that bordered on delirium. “I love my love with an artifact,” she murmured, which only deepened Helena’s confusion.
“You wish to use an artifact to manipulate her fate?!” Artie demanded. This time all the Regents gave him a look of irritation, and he slunk down on the bench, sufficiently cowed.
“What impartial voice is this?” the Judge prompted.
Myka’s smile became one of triumph as she opened the containment bag. There was collective gasp as she held the artifact aloft for the room to see.
“The Voice of God.”