A bell over the glass door clanged as Secret Service Agent Pete Lattimer pulled open the entrance to the Avenue Thrift Shop. He held the door while his partner, Agent Myka Bering, hustled inside, and then promptly followed after her.
"Remember, Pete," said Myka, as he came even to her shoulder, "the artifact could be anything in here." She emphasized with her eyes the rows and rows of second-hand clothing, the shelves lining the walls packed full of miscellaneous knick-knacks, assorted odds and ends, and various housewares. "So don't touch anything. Three people are already in the hospital."
"I know, Mykes." Pete feigned a hurt look, then a moment later wrinkled up his nose. "Smells like mothballs in here."
Myka cocked her head. "We need to clear this place out." She withdrew her badge and held it ready in one hand, drawing the Tesla in the other. Not standard Secret Service issue. But then, Pete and Myka weren't standard Secret Service Agents. The Tesla was a special weapon, designed and named for master inventor Nicola Tesla, which produced bursts of electricity that could stun a target. It was capable of doing lethal damage if used on the full power setting. The Tesla looked something like a futuristic ray gun even though it was a century old.
"Ma'am," said Myka, sliding up to a woman shopping nearby with two young boys climbing over her shopping cart. She flashed her badge. "Secret Service. I'm afraid I need you to evacuate this thrift store."
"Evacuate?" The woman looked at Myka, incredulous, a T-shirt in her hands held up for inspection.
"I'm afraid so."
"It's fifty percent off every color except green tags today. You must be out of your mind if you think I'm—"
"Ma'am." Myka's voice took on an edge. "National Security. I'm gonna have to insist. The, uh, president is in town and, uh, possibly stopping by this location to, you know, to shop," she finished lamely.
Grumbling, the woman cast Myka a dirty look, laid the T-shirt haphazardly over the rack of other shirts, and then yelled at the two boys to stop messing around and to behave. Together, the woman and her sons moved away to the exit. Myka watched them until the bell clanged and they pushed their way out into the California sun.
"Hey Mykes, check it out." She turned her head.
Pete was holding up an incredibly tacky, polyester leisure suit—matching lime green coat and pants, with a large-collared floral-patterned shirt. He struck a disco pose, his free hand raised and index finger extended towards the ceiling, Travolta-style.
"Pete, I said not to touch anything."
"Pretty sure this thing couldn't kill anyone, Mykes."
Myka arched an eyebrow.
"It's not . . ." Pete craned his neck peering down at the leisure suit in front of him. "It's not that bad." A glance up at Myka. "It's . . . okay, point taken. You think this could be the artifact?" He tossed it quickly away from himself onto the tile floor as though it were venomous, eager to be away from it.
"Pete!" Myka looked disapprovingly towards her partner, and he appeared momentarily cowed. "Don't touch anything else. Now, help me get the rest of these people out of here." A handful of other shoppers still dotted the narrow aisles. Along the back wall, mostly obscured by full racks of clothes, was a check-out counter with a single cash register where the only visible employee of the thrift store was stationed. A few customers waited in line. She cocked her head. "Come on."
Together, the pair strode forward toward the back of the store, badges held aloft.
"Secret Service, official business," called Pete. "Everyone has got to go. Sorry."
"We need everyone to step outside in an orderly fashion, please. Don't be alarmed."
Confused shoppers paused, glanced around, and slowly one by one filed out of the cramped thrift store, the bell jingling each time the door was pushed open, until Pete and Myka were left alone with the cashier, who stood glaring at them from behind the counter. The man was middle-aged, brown hair thinning and combed to one side, large nose. Light blue, button-up, uniform-style shirt. The name tag pinned on his chest read, Dale.
"What's the big idea, driving out all my customers?" He looked from Pete to Myka and back. "I'm the manager here. Dale Turner. What's going on?"
"Secret Service," said Myka, stepping forward.
"Something is making people really sick in here, buddy," said Pete, "now tell us what it is."
"Sick?" The man looked confused. "Is this about Heather Beauchamp? My employee?"
"The first of the victims to fall ill," Myka said over her shoulder to Pete.
"Is she okay?" asked the man.
"No," Myka replied. "She's not. She's worse. And two other people are sick now, too. We think they came into contact with something here in your store."
"Is there anything new in the store? Something maybe old or odd. An antique, perhaps?"
"There's new stuff like that in here every day," the man said, exasperated. "It's a thrift store."
Looking around, Pete said, "It does look like a few garage sales got together and decided to start a club in here, Myka."
"Anything extra unusual?" she continued. "Something that Heather might have touched and also maybe a couple of your customers?"
The thrift store manager shrugged helplessly.
"Myka, look!" Pete was pointing. She followed his finger.
"What is it?" His finger seemed to be pointing at—
"Whoa! That's awesome!"
A Lava lamp.
Pete rushed to the shelf where the vintage red Lava lamp sat silent and dark. Unplugged. "Does this work?" he asked, turning back to the man behind the counter, eyes and mouth wide like an excited kid. As he did, he noticed Myka's dark look. Pete's face dropped, and lowering his head, he forced his hands into his pockets. "You know what, never mind." Tried to act like he didn't care. "I'll just . . ." He cleared his throat. "You were saying, Myka."
"We need to go through your store," she told the man, "and find whatever is making people sick. Do you mind locking the front door?"
"Do I mind? Sure, what would I need customers for?"
"Lock the front door," Myka snapped, and the man jumped, and then muttering under his breath hurried out from behind the counter and past Myka's stern glare, towards the front of the store.
"Alright," said Myka quietly, coming to stand beside Pete. "What exactly do we know?"
Pete, back into serious agent mode, said, "Heather and the other two victims first complained about trouble breathing, and it's only gotten worse. A lot worse. And fast."
Myka nodded. "The doctor at the hospital said that tests showed each of them had lung damage equivalent to decades of cigarette smoking, like they'd been lifetime pack-a-day smokers."
"Only none of them smoke. Right, so we're looking for some sort of smoking-related artifact?" Pete glanced around the messy store. "Hugh Hefner's smoking jacket, maybe?" Myka pursed her lips and studied the shelves over Pete's shoulder. Pete continued, "Bill Hick's zippo lighter? Audrey Hepburn's cigarette holder?"
"Use the Farnsworth to call Artie," suggested Myka, who then stood back and waited for Pete to withdraw the odd device from his pocket. The Farnsworth, created by genius inventor, Philo Farnsworth, was a handheld communicator which allowed video communication between users. In many ways, it was more useful and reliable than a modern phone, despite being decades old. Like the Tesla, the Farnsworth was a special tool designed to aid Agents like Pete and Myka in their field work. Not ordinary Secret Service work, but their newer, top secret work as Agents of Warehouse 13. Working for the Warehouse, their primary job was to find objects that were endangering the world, and safely neutralize them. These dangerous artifacts, some world-threatening and others more localized (but often just as deadly), were then securely stored away in Warehouse 13, a massive structure tucked deep in the empty landscape of South Dakota.
Artie's face appeared on the screen of the Farnsworth.
"Artie," said Myka, standing at Pete's shoulder so that both would be visible on the screen of Artie's Farnsworth, "we've connected all the victims to this thrift store, but"—she glanced around at the messy, cramped shelves around her and Pete—"this place is a mess."
"You're going to have to take your time and check everything in there."
"We're thinking it must be some kind of smoking artifact," chimed in Pete, "like a lighter or—"
"An ashtray," said Myka.
"Yeah, or an ashtray."
"No, Pete. There." Myka was pointing. "Ashtrays." About a dozen varied glass and plastic ashtrays were arranged on a nearby shelf. "It could be one of those."
Myka approached the collection of ashtrays, slipping on the purple neutralization gloves that would keep her safe from the potential effects of any artifacts. Pete followed, still holding open the Farnsworth. From the other end of the communication device, in his office in the Warehouse, Artie watched.
"There are any number of ashtray artifacts," Artie told them. He began shuffling through notecards, digging for some examples. "Check them all."
Myka, gloves on, began lifting each of the ashtrays and examining them more closely. One in particular, an old-looking square ashtray with a brownish hue to the glass, caught her eye. She lifted it up and held it aloft.
"Here, Pete. I think this is it." She presented the bottom of the ashtray to Pete and to Artie via the Farnsworth. "The initials etched into the bottom. See? RJR."
"Of course," said Artie, growing excited. "Richard Joshua Reynolds. R. J. Reynolds tobacco company. He created Camel cigarettes in the early 1900's. No one else was making pre-packaged cigarettes at the time. Everybody was rolling their own back then. His Camels were a huge hit. He made a fortune, and RJR became one of the Big Tobacco giants."
"That's it, then," said Pete, "bag it." He watched with satisfaction as Myka whipped out one of the artifact-neutralizing bags and dropped the glass ashtray in. They both looked away as the ashtray entered the bag, and a shower of sparks and energy were discharged into the air as the bag did its job on the artifact, neutralizing its power.
"Alright!" exclaimed Pete. "We got it."
"I'll call the hospital and see if there's any change in our victims," said Myka.
"Good job, you two," said Artie, "I'll see you when you're back here." His face disappeared from the Farnsworth screen, which went dark. Pete closed the two metal halves of the Farnsworth together, and then stuffed the device back into his pocket.
"Wh-what did you do with my ashtray? What was that bright flash?"
Pete turned his head. The thrift store manager, Dale, was watching them with wide eyes. "Whoa, hey there. Good news, we took care of the, uh, problem. So no more, boom"—Pete made a motion, waving his hand over his chest—"whammy, instant lung disease to worry about."
"You know, lung"—Pete reiterated the same hand-waving movement—"spread by, umm, you know."
The confused and mildly frightened man said, "Was this some sort of biological terror attack?"
"Yes," said Pete, "exactly," while simultaneously, Myka, stepping in, said, "No."
The two agents glanced at one another.
"Not exactly," said Pete. "Well, sort of. Mykes?"
"Pete, I just got off the phone with the hospital. All three of our victims seem to be completely well again. They're going to run a few tests to be sure, but it looks like the damage to their lungs has been reversed."
"Alright then. Crisis averted. Score another one for Bering and Lattimer." Pete turned back to the thrift store manager. "See? Everything is fine."
Myka spoke to him as well. "Your employee, Heather, and the others probably just had a severe allergic reaction to, uh, an impurity in the glass of this ashtray. So we'll just take it with us, so that tests can be run to determine the exact cause. Thank you for your assistance, Mr. Turner. Dale."
"Seriously, who are you people?" Eyes wide, the man backed up a step, directly into the corner of a freestanding shelving rack. The metal unit, jarred by the impact, swayed and shook.
"Look out!" shouted Pete. A few objects teetered and fell. Including the vintage red Lava lamp that he had noticed earlier.
Startled, the thrift store man hopped out of the way as the shelves rattled and objects toppled. The Lava lamp fell onto its side and rolled to the edge of the shelf, seemed almost to hang there for an instant, and then plummeted towards the floor—
—and into Pete's waiting hands, as he slid across the tile floor and underneath the lamp's downward trajectory. "Gotcha! Haha!" He looked up at Myka. "Did you see that?! Who's got butter fingers now, Ralph Brunsky?"
SOMEWHERE IN SOUTH DAKOTA
Several hours later, Agents Bering and Lattimer were walking through the front door of Leena's Bed and Breakfast, and into the familiar wood-paneled confines of the downstairs common room. The isolated location of the Warehouse and the nature of the work there required its Agents to stay close by; this cozy bed and breakfast provided a comfortable place for the Agents to reside and to call home. And of course, Leena, the proprietor, was well aware of the secrets of Warehouse 13 — indeed, her job included duties within the Warehouse itself. In many ways, the B&B was an extension of Warehouse 13. Sort of an office away from the office. And Pete and Myka were both presently permanent guests there.
Artie was waiting as they entered.
With him was Claudia Donovan, the young woman who only recently had joined the team. She had managed to crack the Warehouse's cyber defenses in order to find Artie and force him to help her brother, Joshua. Together with Pete and Myka, they had rescued Claudia's brother, who had become stuck for many years within a pocket dimension of space-time thanks to a powerful artifact and a fateful science experiment gone awry, one in which Artie had played a role. Now back in the real world safe and sound, Joshua lived in Switzerland and worked at CERN, on the cutting edge of particle physics research. Claudia, meanwhile, had been accepted into the Warehouse fold and despite her young age, the teenager had proven herself valuable on several occasions. She was a natural whiz with computers and technology of any sort, and always quick with a playfully-barbed remark, especially at the expense of Artie's age. Seeing Claudia, with her dyed red hair and punky fashion sense standing beside Artie in his comfortable earth-tone clothes, his salt and pepper hair and bushy eyebrows, and his grumpy exterior, the generation gap seemed almost physically tangible. But the pair had more in common than either would care to admit aloud, and their initially strained relationship had grown into something strong.
"Welcome home, you two," said Claudia.
Myka held aloft the silver polyethylene artifact bag triumphantly. "One R. J. Reynolds' Glass Ashtray, snagged and bagged."
"And check it out, you guys," said Pete, withdrawing something from a brown paper sack. "Tada!" In his hands, he held the vintage red Lava lamp that he had saved from destruction. "Check out this bad boy. Pretty cool, huh?"
"What is that?" asked a horrified Artie.
"It's a Lava lamp, Artie. You must of seen one before. Man, these things are awesome!"
"I know what it is. I meant, why do you have it here?"
Lips pursed, Claudia asked, "Did you guys stumble into Artie's old college dorm room?"
"Ha ha, very funny, child. I'll have you know that I never owned anything as garish as one those lamps."
"That's right," she laughed. "Back when you were a teenager, torches were the hip new thing. All the cool kids had one."
Artie held up an index finger in warning. "Watch it."
"I thought it would look great in the warehouse," said Pete. "Make your office a little more chillax, you know?"
Artie turned on him. "That is not going anywhere near my office, do you under—" He looked at Pete. "Chillax? How many teenagers am I working with? We save the world every single week from that office. Dangerous artifacts are out there threatening to ruin everyone's day in all sorts of horrible and lethal ways, and we're the only ones preventing that, and you want the office to be more chillax?!"
Pete brought his hands up in mock surrender. "Whoa. You're right, Artie. You're already totally chill. My bad."
Artie opened his mouth to reply, then saw Claudia from the corner of his eye smirking, and belatedly caught Pete's further jab.
"It's cool, Artie," Pete said, before the other could retort, "we'll just keep it right here at the B&B." He walked towards an endtable beside the couch, eyeballing whether it was a good location for the Lava lamp. "Up the cool factor a bit."
At this Artie chuckled. "Oh no, Leena is not going to let you put that monstrosity in here."
"What? Leena will totally dig this lamp." Pete looked around. "This lamp has awesome vibes. Where is Leena, anyway?"
"Out," was Artie's curt reply. "Running an errand for me. Now take your new toy up to your room and out of my sight, and then get to the Warehouse."
"That's right," announced Pete. "I'll just go put this baby in my room." He hefted the Lava lamp proudly. "Which you all are not allowed to visit on account of being total squares, by the way."
"Whatever, dude," said Claudia, laughing. "The man-smell emanating from your room is enough to keep us all away."
"Hey," said Pete, mock hurt, "I can't help it if I naturally ooze machismo."
Claudia shuddered. "So gross."
"Enough!" said Artie, waving his hands. "Go, go. Meet us at the warehouse. Myka, stay with Pete. Don't let him dawdle. And bring that ashtray. Claudia, come along."
"Yes, Papa Bear."
Artie's hand whipped towards Claudia, finger raised. She met his glare, deflecting it with a sideways grin.
"I have a sudden urge to start collecting vinyl records again," said Pete, bounding up the stairs to his room.
"And hurry up," Artie called after him. "We have work to do."
In his room on the second floor of the Bed and Breakfast, Pete set the vintage Lava lamp onto the nightstand next to his bed. He stuck the old two-pronged plug into the wall outlet and stepped back. Nothing happened. "Ah-ha." Reaching out, he found the switch on the cord and clicked it on. The Lava lamp flared to life.
And sat there.
"Well, the bulb still works," he said to Myka. Pete peered at the glob of wax resting at the bottom of the glass vessel. "Come on," he urged, eyeing the blob. "Do your thing."
But nothing happened.
"Pete," said Myka, "I think it needs time to warm up first, before it starts, you know. Flowing." Distractedly, she glanced around the room. "When was the last time you cleaned up in here, anyway? It's a pigsty."
After a minute waiting for the lamp to begin moving like he expected, Pete sighed. "Guess it needs to heat up for a while.
"That's what I just said."
"Right," Pete said, staring at the lit lamp with his hands on his hips. "Do your thing," he told it. Without looking away, he said to Myka, "We'll leave it here to warm up, and in the meantime, let's go see what's got Artie so grumpy. Grumpier than usual."
Myka was looking at the lamp, too. "Yes," she said. "Let's."
"More inventory?" Pete looked over at Myka, who was managing to maintain a neutral expression. "Aww man, Artie. That sounds—"
"Super fun and exciting?"
Pete shook his head. "I was gonna say"—then seeing Artie's eyes narrow—"yes, exactly that. Both fun and exciting."
"Bah!" Artie waved Pete's concern away. "The Warehouse is full of dangerous objects of unimaginable power, Pete. This is our job. And keeping up with inventory is an important part of that job, and—"
An incessant beeping from the computers nearby interrupted Artie.
"And we have a ping!" announced Claudia, rushing into the rolling chair and sliding over in front of the monitor.
"Saved by the ping!" said Pete happily.
"To be continued," Artie said, holding up his finger. He hurried over to where Claudia was seated, and stood at her shoulder, peering at the monitor.
Pete and Myka followed, standing nearby.
"What is it?" asked Myka.
"Looks like you're going to"—Artie squinted—"Berkeley, California. Hmm."
"Berkeley?" said Pete. "Artie, we just came from there."
"Well, apparently you're going back."
"But we got the ashtray. The hospital said the people affected were completely healthy again."
"This is not the ashtray," Artie replied, reading information on the screen. "No, no. This is something different. Martin Chambers, thirty-three years old, server technician for a Silicon Valley tech company. Was chased by a group of concerned citizens, who were convinced that he was"—he paused, unable to believe the words on the screen—"who were convinced he was actually a robot created by extraterrestrials, sent here to infiltrate humanity, and that he was packed full of powerful explosives."
"Oh, man!" exclaimed Pete. "Is the guy alright? Did the crowd catch him? They didn't hurt him did they?"
"No, Pete," said Artie, oddly quiet. "The crowd didn't do a thing to him."
"That's good. Then, he's okay?"
It was Claudia who answered, wearing a stunned expression, and speaking to both Pete and Myka. "He is very not okay," she said slowly. "Dude exploded."
Pete exchanged a shocked look with Myka.
"Go. Now," said Artie. "Get to Berkeley and find out what happened before it happens again."
"But Artie," said Myka. "I mean, Berkeley again? What are the odds—"
"Berkeley or Boston or Budapest. It doesn't matter. No, this is clearly some other artifact, not the Ashtray. The fact that it's also in Berkeley is just a coincidence." He shooed them away with a wave of his hands. "Now go, get back to Berkeley."
"But you always say that there are no coincidences."
"And there aren't. Except when there are," he snapped, making Myka flinch. "Now go. Go, go! Find the artifact before anyone else explodes. And be careful." Pete and Myka turned to leave. Claudia began to rise from her seat, but Artie pushed her back down into the chair. "Oh no. You and I, young lady, are going to get working on the Warehouse inventory. In fact, I have a special task just for you." He chuckled at the irritated groan she made in reply.