Myka had only driven a few miles from the Warehouse when she had to stop the car because she couldn't see.
Tears running down her face, she turned as far onto the hard shoulder as she could, hit the hazard warning lights and turned the ignition off. There was a pain in her hands, and when she looked at them she saw that she was gripping the steering wheel so hard her knuckles had turned white. She gripped harder.
It wasn't fair.
Her face twisted up in a pained grimace and a loud sob escaped her. She fought it for a few moments, tried to stay calm. But then she gave up. Why should she, anyway? She'd always been the good girl, the decent girl, the quiet girl, the smart girl. See where it had led her.
She let her self-control go, and the first thing to escape was more of an agonized howl than crying. Every muscle in her body tensed up like piano wire. Huge, wracking sobs forced their way out of her. Myka cried like she never had before, half in misery, half in utter rage. She screamed incoherently, she beat her fists against the steering wheel, relishing the mild distraction brought by the impact pain. For the first time in her life, she'd met someone who was just right for her. Someone who made her head swim, who made her knees go weak with desire. Someone who showed her that sex could be so much more than a messy and uncomfortable mild pleasure. Someone who made her feel good about being Myka.
And now that someone had been taken away from her. That someone had tried to destroy the world in a century-long fit of grief. That someone was at least mildly insane. Perhaps that was why she'd been able to love Myka. Because she had, and she did. That much Myka was sure of. She'd seen it in Helena's eyes as she forced the revolver to her own forehead. When she'd seen Helena spare the entire world, give up on a hundred years of planning and all her own future -- just to spare Myka's life.
Myka screamed again, and punched the dashboard hard enough to break the skin of her knuckles. She did it again and again, sobs and curses alternating out of her mouth.
Eventually she calmed down. Or, perhaps more accurately, ran out of energy. She sat still in the driver's seat, the windows fogged up around her. Tears were still running down her face, and her nose was running. She must look a mess. She dug some Kleenex out of her purse and got started on cleaning herself up. The outburst had made her feel better, if only for the moment. Not that it had improved the situation. She had still lost her lover -- no, her beloved -- and had had to leave the closest thing to a family she'd had for years. And probably lost her job, but that felt like a very minor thing under the circumstances.
She closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the headrest. This was not acceptable. None of it was. Deep in her soul a hard white-hot fire was burning, a fire that had sprung alive as she watched Helena being led away from her. A fire of determination, of cold fury, of refusal to accept. She was going to fix this.
One way or another, she was going to get Helena back.
Claudia danced down the aisle of the Warehouse, eyes closed and music pounding through her headphones. One step, two step, three step, four and five and stop. She spun around, stretched her arm out pointing.
"Mirror that makes your eyes bleed," she said to the world in general.
She opened her eyes and looked at where she was pointing. It was a mirror all right, but the little monitor next to it read "Mirror #37: Makes the user's eyes swell shut".
Claudia swallowed a curse. Almost! The eye-bleeding one was number thirty-eight. But, well, mirrors were pretty small things, so missing by just one wasn't bad at all. She pulled a piece of paper and a pen from her pocket and put a "1" in a box. Warehouse navigation golf, she thought of it as. She'd invented it herself as a way to make doing inventory less boring. Also, knowing with extreme precision where things were could occasionally be very handy. Like, save-your-life handy.
Having noted her score, she also noted on her official inventory sheet that mirror #37 was indeed where it was supposed to be. Later, she'd enter it into the computer system. Why she couldn't do that from the little monitor right by the artifact she wasn't sure. She could guess, of course, but honestly she didn't really want to. The Warehouse was scary enough even without her making things up herself. Particularly in the small mirrors aisle. Mirrors were creepy.
She'd already turned to leave and walked several steps towards the end of the aisle when she saw something wrong in the corner of her eye. She froze in place and cautiously turned to look at the shelf. Nothing that was dangerous to look at was supposed to be easily visible from the aisle, but...
There was nothing dangerous visible on the shelf. In fact, what she had spotted was the very lack of anything visible at all. Niche number thirty-one was empty. Which it wasn't supposed to be. Claudia frowned and stepped closer to check what was supposed to be there.
"#31: Steals the user's reflection for 24 hours", the monitor said.
"Got to remember that one if I ever get invited to a Vampire LARP," Claudia mumbled to herself.
She prodded the buttons on the monitor as she spoke, moving through the menus to get it to show her who'd last taken the mirror off the shelf.
"Oh," she said when a picture finally appeared. "That can't be good."
Artie had taken off his glasses and was rubbing his forehead tiredly. He was sitting in front of his computer.
"What do you mean Myka just walked out of here with a bunch of artifacts?" Pete said.
He was standing behind Artie, and he both looked and sounded upset.
"She checked them out as usual," Artie said. "Then she quit."
"Don't we have procedures for that?" Claudia asked. "Having people return stuff when they quit?"
She was sitting backwards on her swivel chair, elbows on the backrest.
"Warehouse agents very rarely quit," Leena said. She was leaning on a bench near Claudia, arms crossed over her chest. "Most remain agents until they die. Or go mad. Or become unable to work for other reasons."
"Really not so comforting," Claudia said.
"Actually," Artie said, "I'm not sure if any agent has quit before. Ever. Or if the Regents would've let her if she hadn't just saved the world."
"But why would she do that?" Pete protested. "She knows it's wrong! And dangerous!"
"Well, that's the question, isn't it?" he said. "You might've just forgot you had them in the car, but never Myka. She's way too conscientious for that. She knew what she was doing."
He tapped his lower lip with a finger.
"So what is she doing?" he said, more to himself than the others.
"We should warn the Regents," Leena said.
Artie raised his eyebrows and turned to look at her.
"Warn them?" he said. "You think Myka has turned dangerous? That sounds unlikely. She was always very reliable."
"The Regents know where they took H. G. Wells," she said.
"Of course!" she said.
Artie and Pete both looked from one woman to the other.
"What?" they said in unison.
Leena looked compassionately at them.
"Myka is going to rescue H G," she said.
"Rescue?" Artie said, confused. "Why would she do that? It was she who brought her down!"
"That's why, man," Claudia said. "That's totally why."
Pete looked lost.
"Don't ask me," he said. "I got nothing."
Artie looked from Leena to Claudia and back.
"So first she stops Wells, and then she wants to rescue her?" he asked.
The two women nodded.
He threw up his hands.
"Fine," he said. "If you say so. I'll talk to Mrs Frederic. In the meantime, you three start an inventory sweep. I want to know if she took something she hadn't signed out."
Myka knew exactly when she'd fallen in love with Helena, even though she hadn't had an inkling at the time. It had been when they were investigating the combusting wrestlers, and Helena had saved both their lives by pulling them out of the way of an oncoming car with her grappling gun. As they were dangling there, high above the ground, Myka had become acutely aware of being pressed hard against Helena's athletic body. Of Helena's strong arm around her, holding her safely in place. She'd looked at the other woman, and she'd looked back with an expression on her face that radiated "Isn't this awesome?". That was the moment when Myka fell, just as far and as hard as if the line they were hanging from had snapped. She didn't realize it then, but after that moment there was never really any choice. After that, she had to be with Helena or there was something missing in her life.
The problem was that Myka had spent such a large part of her life being miserable that she didn't notice when the reason for it changed. Nor did she notice that the times when she wasn't miserable coincided a lot with the times when she got to be with Helena. Since she was dragooned into working for the Warehouse, she'd been happy more often than at any other time in her life. She'd grown to like Pete and the others, and when she was with them at least she wasn't alone. Pete was often entertaining, even, and over time he'd developed quite the knack for making her laugh. Leena made her feel cared for, and Claudia was like another kid sister. And Artie... well, he was Artie. Things wouldn't be the same without him. On top of that, her job was important and she was good at it. She could immediately see how doing what she did made the world better.
And then, for a few weeks, there was Helena.
It took some time before Myka admitted to herself that she was behaving uncharacteristically. She set her alarm early, just so she could get more time at the breakfast table with Helena. In the evenings, she sat and read in the B&B's library rather than in her own room, since the library was where Helena used to read. More than once, she stayed late at the Warehouse, just because Helena did.
"You must really like mornings," she said one day.
She and Helena were alone in the dining room, watching the sun slowly inch its way above the treetops.
"Not really, no," Helena said. "I'd rather lounge in bed until noon, to be perfectly honest."
Myka turned to look at her, smiling a little.
"So why are you here watching the sunrise?" she said.
"That is the question, is it not?" Helena said.
She too turned her head, and their eyes met.
"Perchance I simply like the company," she said.
Myka looked towards the rising sun again, a light, tingling feeling spreading across her skin. This time of the morning, there was never any company but herself.
"I'll try not to disappoint," she said.
Without looking, she just knew that Helena was smiling.
"Even as fiercely competent as you are," Helena said, "I very much doubt you could ever do that."
That might have been the nicest compliment anyone had given Myka for as long as she'd lived. She might have blushed, and she definitely changed the subject.
The buzzing of a Farnsworth blasted through the otherwise silent office. Claudia started, mistyped and swore. Artie flipped the little box open, and the noise stopped.
"Yes?" he said.
"I think we have another one," Leena's voice said from the little round screen.
"What is it?"
"The sign says it's a knife that turns what it cuts into fudge," Pete's voice said. "If it means the entire thing, that's pretty nasty."
"Well, you know," Artie said, "there's a reason we lock these things up."
"Or at least try to," he mumbled to himself.
"We'll keep looking," Leena said.
The image on the Farnsworth shrank to a point and vanished.
"Does it?" Claudia said.
Artie turned to look at her.
"Does it what?"
"Turn the entire thing into fudge."
He shook his head.
"No. Just the part closest to the cut. Unpleasant enough if it's cutting your skin."
Claudia grimaced and shivered a little. She kept typing.
"Artie?" she said after a little while.
"You know how in the database, for an artifact's location, it usually gives a shelf coordinate, or it says 'At large' or 'Destroyed'?"
"Yes?" he repeated.
"What does it mean when that field says 'Undisclosed'?"
There was a noticeable pause before Artie responded.
"Why do you ask?" he said.
"Because Myka printed out a list of all artifacts with that location before she left," Claudia said. "There aren't very many, maybe twenty or so."
"She did? Let me see!"
Artie got up and walked over to Claudia. He peered at her monitor.
"How did she even know about those?" he muttered.
"Um, because she's a very smart woman and she was here for two years?" Claudia suggested.
Artie looked at her for a moment.
"I have to talk to Mrs Frederic," he said. "You keep looking and try to figure out what else she did in there."
He left the office, mumbling something Claudia couldn't hear.
"Ok then," Claudia said to herself when she was alone in the room. "I guess we put another mark in the 'Not good' column."
"That is an amazing little machine," Helena said.
She and Myka were passing by the B&B's television room, where Pete and Claudia were playing some kind of racing game on a console. Myka hadn't bothered to find out what kind of either console or game it was, it wasn't her sort of thing at all.
"I'd rather like to take it apart to see how it works," Helena added.
"Taking it apart wouldn't help you much," Myka said. "All of the active parts are too small to be seen with a human eye. Or anything else that uses visible light."
Helena laughed a little.
"Fascinating," she said. "Quite unlike anything we had back in my day."
"I guess," Myka said. "So what did you do to entertain yourselves during long dull evenings back then?"
Helena turned her head toward Myka, and for a moment her gaze flickered down along Myka's body. A shiver went through Myka as she realized where Helena's mind had just gone, and she felt her cheeks flash hot.
"Sometimes we would read to one another," Helena said. "In front of the fire. It can be very... pleasant."
"I like books," Myka said.
"My room has a fireplace," Helena said. "Only one stuffed chair, but it's quite large. Possibly we could share."
That thought did absolutely nothing to make Myka's face feel any less hot.
"I'll go ask Leena for firewood," she said.
She sounded a bit breathless even to herself.
Darkness had fallen outside, and the flickering of the fire was the only light in the room. Helena was sitting sideways in the armchair, her back resting on one armrest and her legs hanging over the other. She held a book with one hand, angled so the fire's light made it possible for her to read. Myka sat on the thick rug in front of the fire, legs crossed and head resting on Helena's hip. Her eyes were closed, and her chest rose and sank slowly as she breathed.
"She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear," Helena read. "'Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours.'"
As she read, her free hand gently stroked Myka's hair.
"'In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die--die, sweetly die--into mine. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.'"
She fell silent. Slowly, bit by bit, the hand moving through Myka's hair travelled further down and also gently caressed her face. Myka opened her eyes and tilted her head further back, so she could meet Helena's eyes.
"I don't have a loving spirit," she said, softly. "I'm not sure if I've ever really loved anybody."
Helena lightly ran a finger along Myka's lower lip.
"Do you wish me to stop?" she said.
Myka shook her head.
"I may not have a loving spirit," she said, "but I trust you with what spirit I have."
Helena smiled down at her.
"You are amazing, do you know that?" she said. "Of all the new, fantastic things I have seen in this world, you are the most fantastic of all. Such a delightful and paradoxical mixture of gentleness and strength."
Myka had no idea what to say to that. Instead, she turned her head a little to the side and kissed Helena's hand. She heard Helena draw a sudden breath. Suddenly feeling bold, she opened her lips and took Helena's thumb into her mouth. From above came a sound that might have been a surprised moan. Whatever it was, it was shortly followed by the sound of a book falling to the floor. A warm hand landed on Myka's shoulder, followed her arm down as far as it could reach.
"Myka?" Helena said. Her voice was husky and had a slight tremble to it.
"Mm-hmh?" Myka answered, speech hampered by the finger she still had her mouth around.
"If you keep doing that, I will very shortly drag you over to the bed and do unladylike things to you."
Myka let the thumb slip out of her mouth.
"Well," Helena said, disappointment clear in her voice. "Maybe that's for the be..."
Which was as far as she got in the time it took Myka to wriggle herself around and up until she could silence her with a kiss. It took a moment for Helena to respond, but when she did, she did so with enthusiasm. Her arms went around Myka, one hand planted in the small of her back and the other on the back of her head. Her lips opened, and their tongues met and played. She was warm and soft and strong under Myka, and she smelled faintly of sandalwood.
The kiss broke, but they stayed very close. Myka brushed Helena's cheek with her lips, and she could feel the shiver that went through the other woman's body.
"I think I'd rather be unladylike right here in front of the fire," Myka whispered.
The four Warehouse agents stared at the transparent board where Artie had listed the artifacts Myka had taken with her. Pete, Claudia and Leena were sitting, Artie still stood in front of the board, pen in hand.
"I got nothing," Pete said. "I have no idea what she wants those things for."
"Well, I can see how the thimble and the mirror would be useful if you want to sneak in somewhere, and maybe the knife and pocket watch too," Claudia said. "But a two thousand year old wine bottle and a 19th century tent? No idea."
"Amphora," Artie said. "It's Alcaeus' Amphora, not a wine bottle."
"He was the first guy to coin the phrase that the romans put as 'In Vino Veritas', in wine the truth. If you drink wine that's been poured from the amphora, you can't help but blurt out truth. Very annoying."
"At least we know what she's after," Leena said. "The tricky bit is how she's planning to do it."
Pete looked at her.
"I still don't get why you think she's going to spring H G," he said. "It makes no sense."
"You're a guy," Claudia said.
Leena looked at Pete and smiled.
"A girl should be allowed to have her secrets," she said.
Pete looked incredulously at her.
"It's not really a secret if the two of you know, now is it?" he said.
"We're just guessing," Claudia said.
Artie was carefully ignoring them all.
"The tent," he said, shaking his head. "I don't get the tent. Why does she need a tent that stays warm no matter the outside temperature, but makes you suicidal if you stay in it too much?"
"She knows something we don't," he said.
"Or she's just gone mad," Pete said. "In any case, how do we find her?"
"You and Claudia go and watch Mr Kosan until she shows up," Artie said.
"Mr Kosan?" Pete said, looking increasingly confused. "Secret guy who makes decisions?"
"Yes. Secret guy who makes decisions."
"He's the one who knows where they put H G Wells. Now go! Time, as they say, is an issue."
"Maybe I'm just stupid," Pete said a couple of hours later. "But I really don't get it."
They were driving down an empty forest road, on their way to a small town where they were supposed to get further instructions on how to reach Mr Kosan.
"You mean you really, actually didn't notice?" Claudia said.
She was sitting in the passenger seat.
"Notice what?" Pete said.
"Oh boy," Claudia said. "Ok, here's a question. During the last few weeks that H G was living at Leena's, where did she sleep?"
Pete looked at her, frowning.
"In her bed?" he guessed.
Claudia made a loud buzzing noise.
"Wrong-o!" she said. "Guess again!"
"Where would she sleep if not in--"
His eyebrows rose as realization struck.
"She slept in Myka's bed?!" he said.
Claudia made pistol-shapes with her hands and pointed them at Pete.
"Got it in, well, lots," she said, grinning.
"H G slept with Myka?" he said.
"Strictly speaking," she said, "we're just assuming she did. But it's hard to imagine what else made Myka make those sounds, you know?"
Pete vigorously shook his head.
"No!" he said. "I don't know! I don't want to know!"
This time it was Claudia who frowned.
"Dude," she said. "Unclench. This is the twenty-first century. Women having relationships with other women is just another thing."
Pete turned to look at Claudia so abruptly he almost swerved the car off the road.
"No!" he said when they were safely back on the road. "That's not the problem! God, no! If that's how she swings, I'll be right there with the little rainbow flags. Although, admittedly, partly it'd be to embarrass her. But whoever she wants to be with, I'd really, and I mean really, prefer that it wasn't someone who tried to destroy the world!"
"Yeah," Claudia said. "That's a bummer. Although at the time, we didn't know that's what H G was planning."
"Myka knows now," he said.
"Yeah," she said. "She does."
The first time Helena woke up crying in her arms, it scared the living daylights out of Myka. Her first assumption was that she had done something wrong herself, and tried her best to apologize. And, of course, figure out what. Which turned out to be less than easy, since Helena was nowhere near coherent. Over time, Myka learned that deep inside the cocky, self-confident woman she'd fallen in love with was a badly wounded soul. One that had been hit hard by life over and over again, and never had time to heal. One that, after so many years in hiding, only peeked out when the conscious Helena was almost asleep. One that Myka could hold and whisper comforting nothings to when it woke in the darkness of night. In their short time together, she never managed to figure out if Helena remembered those times in the mornings. But it looked like she felt better after Myka comforted her, and that was enough for Myka to sacrifice her own sleep to do it.
But midnight comforts were at best a stopgap, a band-aid on a broken bone. To figure out how to really help Helena, Myka took to reading about post-traumatic stress disorder, survivor's guilt and similar problems. How they worked, what was known about them, how to treat them.
The last bit was depressingly small. Most of what she found boiled down to either years of therapy or take drugs and hope. She wanted more. She wanted something better. She wanted a miracle.
Fortunately for her, she worked in a place that stored miracles. All of them seriously dodgy, but still. She took to trawling through the Warehouse database for some artifact that could help her heal Helena. Hour after hour she and Helena would sit at separate terminals in Artie's office, working at their various projects. They never talked about what they were doing, since they both wanted to hide whatever it was from the other. Myka because she was certain that Helena would not react well to the suggestion that she wasn't entirely healthy, and Helena because she didn't want anybody to know that she was planning to eliminate humanity.
In hindsight, Myka wished she had tried asking Helena what she was doing.
But that was then. Now, Myka was sitting at a table in a highway rest stop. She had the Thimble firmly stuck on her finger, and she was impatiently waiting. Since she had just been sent away from the Warehouse, not fired from the Secret Service, she could still use her badge to get access to toll booth logs and credit card data. Yes, sure, she shouldn't be able to get them without a warrant, but all she'd really done was show her badge and ask nicely. So she knew that one Mr Adwin Kosan drove by the rest stop around half past five on weekdays, and more often than not stopped for a cup of coffee. It wasn't until she saw him that she'd be sure if it really was the Regent and not just some guy with the same name, but, well, it was the only Adwin Kosan she'd been able to find. All she could do now was hope. Hope that it was the right guy, and that he wouldn't instantly see through the Thimble illusion. He probably would do so eventually, if nothing else so because Myka had no clue what Regents talked about among themselves. But as long as he sat down at her table first, it would do. Looking like Benedict Valda would hopefully help too. Kosan knew Valda was dead, but also that he'd died mysteriously while inside Warehouse 2. Given that, him suddenly showing up again wasn't even very much of a stretch.
"Benedict!" someone said next to her.
Myka looked up. It was the Adwin Kosan she was after all right.
"In the slightly singed flesh," she said, trying her best to sound like Valda. "Sit down, we need to talk."
Kosan sat down. Myka pushed a glass of red liquid toward him.
"We thought you were dead!" Kosan said.
"I got better," Myka said. "Woke up yesterday in Cairo. No idea how I got there."
She picked up her own glass. The content looked the same as in Kosan's glass, but wasn't.
"A toast," she said. "To the existence of my health."
Kosan actually smiled.
"Yes," he said. "To your health. It is good to see you again, Benedict. We sacrifice so much to the Warehouse. It's a rare pleasure to get something back."
Myka tilted her glass briefly in his direction, then drank. Kosan followed suit.
Gotcha, she thought.
"So where is Wells?" she asked.
"Sleeping in the frozen castle," Kosan said. "We didn't want to risk her getting freed again."
"That'd be the castle beyond the wardrobe?" Myka asked.
Once she'd guessed that the artifacts listed as being at an undisclosed location were being used by the Regents, the options for what they'd done to Helena were pretty few. C S Lewis' wardrobe had seemed like the most probable.
"Yes, of course," Kosan said. "Which else could it be?"
"And where is the wardrobe?"
"In Burbank, California, with your replacement. She has access to a CIA stronghold. It should be safe enough."
"Why are you asking this?" he said. "And why am I answering you?"
He suddenly lunged forward and grabbed her left hand, which she had so far made sure to keep out of sight. He pried open her fingers. They both stared at the thimble on the little finger.
"Agent Bering, I suppose?" he said.
She didn't answer. She'd gotten what she needed already.
"And I guess the wine is from Alcaeus' amphora," he continued. "Quite clever, I must say. But this is as far as it goes. You will not free H G Wells, agent Bering. Stop this now, before you do something we cannot forgive. Return the artifacts to the Warehouse and we will forget this ever happened. We are not without sympathy for your feelings."
Myka put her hand in her pocket and brought out an old fob watch. She let it dangle between them, clock face toward Kosan.
"I'm sorry," she said. "But I will get her back."
Leena had been on her way up the stairs with an armful of clean linen when she almost stumbled over Myka. Myka was sitting on a step there, perfectly still and looking across the hallway into the dining room. In the dining room, Helena and Claudia were talking intently, bent down over some papers spread out over the dining table.
"Hey!" Leena said. "I almost didn't see you there."
"Sorry," Myka said, not averting her eyes from the dining room.
"Are you all right?" she asked.
Myka didn't answer for a few seconds.
"Have you ever been in love?" she said after a little while.
Leena sat down next to Myka, putting the folded linen down on a higher step.
"Sure," she said.
"I thought I had," Myka said.
Leena waited. No further words seemed to be forthcoming.
"But?" she asked.
"I've had a few boyfriends," she said. "Even a girlfriend once."
Her eyes never left Helena as she spoke.
"It never felt like this," she said.
Leena made a vaguely agreeing noise.
"I mean, I really liked them all," Myka said. "At the time, at least. We had some good times. But do you know what?"
"No," Leena said.
Myka turned to look at her.
"Thinking back at how I actually, honestly felt at the time," she said. "There are these things. How when they left my place to go home or to work or wherever, there'd be a little bit of relief that they were gone. How even when things were really good, having them around was a little bit of a burden. How I felt the need to watch myself, think about what I said and did so I wouldn't hit some sore spot."
"I know what you mean," Leena said.
"I don't think I ever really missed any of them once they were gone," Myka said. "It was more that I missed having someone. Not that I missed having that specific person around any more."
Leena made an agreeing noise again.
Myka looked back to the dining room. Claudia tried to high-five Helena, who looked confused.
"Nothing like this," Myka said, shaking her head slowly.
"Do you know what my first thought was, the first time I saw her while knowing who she was?" she said.
Leena shook her head.
"I came into the room, gun drawn, trying to be ready for whatever was happening, trying to warn Pete even before I got there," Myka said. "When I stepped through the door, Helena was standing there holding the Tesla to Pete's chin. And the first thing that went through my mind was 'Oh my God, she's gorgeous'. I can't remember ever in my entire life simply viscerally wanting someone like I wanted her right then."
"So has she lived up to your expectations?" Leena said.
Myka whipped her head around and stared at her with a shocked expression.
"I make your beds, remember?" Leena said. "Hers hasn't been used much, lately. And when it has, yours hasn't."
"I don't need to be a trained Secret Service agent to draw conclusions from that," she said. "Especially not with the way the two of you have been looking at each other. Or the way you've been protecting her against Artie."
Myka looked away from Leena.
"Do you ever do that sort of mental experiment," she said, "where you try to for a moment really convince yourself that something happened, and see how you react?"
Leena shook her head.
"Maybe it's just me, then," Myka said. "But sometimes I do. When I'm not sure what I really feel about something."
"You did this about H G?"
"I imagined that she was suddenly killed during a mission."
"So how did you react?"
"Blind panic," Myka said. "The light suddenly drained out of the world, and all that remained was this emotional wasteland that I never realized I was living in before I met her."
"Wow," Leena said. "That's... serious."
"I can't lose her, Leena," Myka said. "I just can't."
The round little screen lit up and Artie's face appeared only a split second after Pete pressed the call button.
"Yes?" Artie said. "Did you find Mr Kosan? Where are you now?"
Pete scratched his neck.
"Yeah," he said. "We found Mr Kosan."
"Ok, good," Artie said. "So where are you now?"
Pete looked around at the rest stop restaurant. Claudia and Kosan were sitting a couple of tables over, safely out of earshot.
"We're in the rest stop where we found him," he said.
"What? Why? Didn't he tell you where they put Wells? Surely he understands that that is where Myka is going."
"Er," Pete said. "I'm sure he would tell us, except he has no idea where they put her."
"Excuse me?" Artie said. "How can he not know? He put her there!"
"Yeah," Pete said. "He knows that. He knows that she was handed over to the care of the Regent who was taken in to replace Valda. But he has no idea who that Regent is, or where Wells is."
Artie glared at him.
"Myka," he said. "She did this."
"You think?" he said. "This just stinks of artifact. Look, one of the things she took was some old hypnotist's watch, wasn't it?"
Artie's shoulders sunk a little.
"Yes," he said. "James Braid's pocket watch. He pioneered hypnotherapy."
"If it's hypnosis," Pete said, "the memories are still there, in his head, aren't they? He just can't get at them."
"Should be," Artie said. "Let me look..."
He typed on his keyboard for a while, then peered at the monitor over his glasses.
"Yes," he said. "It even wears off by itself."
"Sweet," Pete said. "When?"
Artie took his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"A week," he said. "Maybe two."
"That's way too long," Pete said. "Whatever Myka's doing, she'll be finished and gone by then."
"I'll see if we have something that can counter the watch," he said. "And I'll contact Mrs Frederic and see if she can at least tell us how to contact the new Regent."
"I'm sorry, Artie," Mrs Frederic said. "But it seems that Mr Kosan hadn't yet informed anyone else who he'd chosen as Mr Valda's replacement. As for the location of H G Wells, all we know is that she and the internment apparatus were taken to somewhere in the Los Angeles area."
They were in Artie's office, where Mrs Frederic as usual had simply been there when he turned around.
"And by 'internment apparatus' I guess you mean the wardrobe?" he said.
"Yes," Mrs Frederic said. "I don't think you're supposed to know about that."
"Well," he said. "It seems I'm the third to guess it, after Myka and Claudia. So it's not really all that secret any more."
"Guessing at what it can be used for is one thing," Mrs Frederic said. "Actually knowing what it does is quite another."
He made a gesture that almost but not quite conveyed a concession that she was right.
"Finding a wardrobe in or near Los Angeles is going to take some time," he said.
"Yes," Mrs Frederic said. "Too much time. We will try using the Pearl of Wisdom on Mr Kosan, and hope that we can get at least contact information for the new Regent."
The CIA agent was young, blonde, athletic and looked like she could easily have been a runway model instead of a secret agent. And apparently her cover required her to dress in a tight tank top and a ridiculously short skirt. It also looked like she was constantly staring at Myka's breasts. Myka knew quite well that that was because the Thimble made her look like a woman fully half a foot shorter than herself, but even so she had a repeated urge to tell the blonde to look her in the eyes.
"It's down there, like you ordered, General," the blonde said. "The security from here is fully automated, and I don't have the authority to turn it off."
"That's quite all right, agent Walker," Myka said. "I'll take it from here."
She had no idea what the real General Beckman sounded like, so she was aiming for generically military and hoping it'd be close enough. If it turned out that she was close enough to the blonde to call her by first name, that'd be bad.
The blonde nodded. She started to walk away, but after only a step she seemed to change her mind.
"General," she said. "If I may ask a question?"
"You may ask," Myka said. "I don't promise you'll get an answer."
"Why are we storing an old wardrobe with this much security?" the blonde asked. "I mean, this is much more than we had for Orion's Intersect computer."
Myka hesitated before answering. The right thing would be to just say that it was secret. But she had a feeling that would just make the blonde look more.
"Agent Walker," she said. "In your time with the Agency, have you ever learned something that you really wish that you hadn't? Something where you would've slept better at night for the rest of your life if you hadn't known it?"
The blonde nodded.
"The wardrobe is one of those things, agent Walker. Pray that you need never know what it is or what it represents."
Apparently the blonde wasn't stupid, because she looked distinctly disturbed.
"I'll leave you to do what you have to, then, General," she said. "Good luck."
"Thank you, agent Walker."
As soon as the blonde was out of sight, Myka put down her bag and opened it. It was much larger than made sense for a general to carry around herself inside a secure installation, but under the circumstances that had probably just reinforced the strangeness around the wardrobe. She took a mirror, roughly eight inches square, and looked into it. There was a weird, chilling sensation of something getting ripped loose from her. She closed her eyes and swallowed. Deliberately using artifacts to penetrate Regent -- and CIA, come to that -- security. So very wrong, but she had no choice. She opened her eyes again, and put away the mirror. The rest of the corridor up to the heavy steel door was lousy with infrared tripwires, she knew. Tripwires that consisted of a little laser on one side and a mirror on the other, and if the light from the laser didn't reflect back, the alarm went off. A hard system to fool, unless you had something that made it so the mirrors didn't see you. They'd see the light from the laser and happily send it back, in spite of there being a Myka-shaped obstacle in the way.
She didn't even want to think about in how many ways that messed with physics as humanity understood it. Feeling terribly large and visible, she walked down the corridor. No alarms went off. No extra heavy steel sheets descended from the ceiling to block the corridor. No knockout gas sprayed from the air vents. She walked quite unmolested up to the door, where she put her finger on a touchpad. Another laser, this one visible and red, sent a line of light over her. It started where the general's head would be and ended at her feet. No mirrors involved this time, so it saw just what the Thimble showed it. There was a massive clank as the vault door unlocked and ponderously swung open. It revealed a largish square room, maybe twenty feet to a side, containing absolutely nothing except an old wooden wardrobe. It was nothing fancy, basically just a simple box stood on end with two doors on the front. It was big enough to hold two people, if they crouched. It had nothing in the way of decorations, and it was worn and dented. Myka stopped in front of it, suddenly nervous. She opened her bag again, this time to take out and put on thermal wear of the kind designed for use in the Antarctic. Then, finally, she screwed up her courage, opened the wardrobe's door, stepped inside and closed it behind her.
There were plenty of artifacts in the Warehouse and its records that were more dangerous than the wardrobe. Probably most of them were, actually. The wardrobe wouldn't kill anyone, or transform them, or mess with their minds, or any of the other things that artifacts so often did. All it would do was transport them somewhere else.
The wardrobe had come to the attention of Warehouse 13 while it was in the possession of the writer C S Lewis, who it inspired to write the Narnia books. Or, at least, led to the first images of the land of Narnia. In order to have much of a story, he needed to change rather a lot.
Myka stepped out of the wardrobe through where it's back had used to be, into a frozen forest. Intense cold burned her face and made breathing difficult. She suddenly felt lighter than she should, as if she had stepped into an elevator starting to descend. Her legs sank knee-deep into powdery snow, and in the sky above her faint multi-colored streaks of light writhed against an empty darkness.
Before the wardrobe ended up with Lewis, it had been in the possession of another writer: the american Howard Philip Lovecraft. He too had written about fantastic worlds, but with a very much bleaker tone than Lewis' fairly happy children's books. Unfortunately for the world, Lovecraft's vision was far closer to the truth of what lay beyond the wardrobe. The landscape that Myka walked through had much more of the cold waste of Leng over it than it had of the White Witch's wintry forest. There were no cute talking animals, and the trees were but the frozen remains of things that had died many hundreds of thousands of years ago. Or so they guessed. Back in the 1960s, Warehouse agents had gone through the wardrobe to do some scientific tests on the other side. Their aim was to try to figure out where that other side actually was. They had a theory, or perhaps more of a hope, that the other end would be somewhere relatively close to Earth and that it might be useful to the nascent space program. They quickly figured out that wherever the wardrobe led to, it was nowhere near their own planet. It was almost certainly not even in their own universe. The universal gravitational constant was different from what it was on Earth, and radioactive decay didn't work as it should. There were no stars in the sky, and the light from the gas-like streamers in the sky entirely lacked absorption lines. On top of that, time moved differently than at home. At times a week on the frozen world would be a few seconds on Earth, at other times they would be almost at parity. They could find no pattern in the variations.
On top of all that, there were buildings. Houses and palaces made out of stone and glass, in a style unlike anything seen anywhere in history. About a day's walk from the wardrobe there was a city. It was dead and frozen, with no sign of inhabitants. The only thing that was not utterly dead was a half-mile-high pillar in the exact middle of the city, on the top of which a searingly bright light illuminated the city and much of the surrounding countryside. They speculated that it was the source of the cosy little lamp-post in Lewis' books, but there was no way to know for sure. They'd tried looking at the footprints left behind by Lovecraft and Lewis, and from them estimate how long it would take for the snow to seamlessly cover every single track left by those who built the city. They got a number in the hundreds of millions of years. Thoroughly creeped out, they returned home to warmth and sunlight and haunting memories. The Regents declared the wardrobe useless.
Except as a perfectly escape-proof prison.
Myka had made very sure to block the wardrobe door from the inside. As far as anyone had been able to determine, only one end of it could be open at one time. If the doors were open in her world, the gateway to the other universe simply didn't exist. If the doors were opened, she had no way out. She tried not to worry about that. She'd done what she could to prevent it and it wasn't very likely that anybody would be coming after her yet anyway. She trudged on through the snow and bitter cold, following the tracks of several people and at last one wheeled thing. A collapsible cart, most likely, since it would've had to fit into the wardrobe.
She lost track of time as she walked. The total silence and stasis of the place robbed her of her sense of time. There was only the cold, the harsh blue-white light and the next step to take. When she got hungry, she ate one of the energy bars she'd brought. When she got thirsty, she drank sparingly from a water bottle. She walked on, breathing heavy and feeling the cold as an oppressive blanket all around her, for more hours than she cared to think about. Until, finally, she almost stumbled on a stone step.
A high building stood in front of her. It looked vaguely like a Disney-style fairytale castle that had been left in the oven too long, so some bits had melted and some burnt. Wide steps led up to a just as wide door. The steps were, disconcertingly, exactly the right height for human legs. They were very slightly worn in the middle, as if they'd been used frequently and for a long time.
The inside of the building was one huge room. Tall, narrow windows let in the light from the central spire and cast harsh angular shadows throughout the place. Not that there was much to cast shadows on. There were benches around the edges of the room, and a large stone block in the middle. A human figure lay on the block. Myka's heart raced. She walked closer, forcing herself not to run. Or to hope too much. There was a gray shade to the person's hair that didn't look like Helena's, so this might not be her. Maybe there were more people stored here. She swallowed, looked away and walked closer. When she thought she was close enough to see clearly, she looked back.
It was Helena. She was totally still, and her entire body was covered with a thin layer of frost. The white ice was what made her hair look gray. Sudden tears blurred the scene, and as Myka frantically blinked them away she felt them freeze to her eyelashes. She knew that Helena wasn't dead, that the Regents wouldn't have gone to the trouble of bringing her here just to store her body. She was sleeping, of sorts.
Or so Myka guessed. Her guess about the wardrobe had been confirmed by Kosan, but she hadn't asked him about the spindle. There hadn't been time. She still felt quite sure that that was what they'd used. She'd guessed, and now seen, that they wouldn't imprison Helena awake. Somehow, they'd put her in a long-term sleep. The only artifact with an unlisted location to do that was Sleeping Beauty's Spindle. So it seemed reasonable that that was what they'd use. It also had the advantage, for this purpose and from their point of view, of having very specific conditions for waking the victim up. Conditions that were satisfied by only one single person in the entire world. She wondered if the Regents had thought of that when they chose Helena's fate. If they even knew that Myka might be the one who could break the sleep. If they knew, and just assumed that she'd be a good little agent and let it be. If they had, then they didn't know the nature of the necessary feeling.
She ran her hand over Helena's cheek. The frost melted under her hand. The flesh beneath it felt like marble. Strangely, it was almost as warm as she'd expect from a living person. For a moment she wondered how there could be frost on her when she wasn't cold, but she struck the thought aside. She drew a deep breath. Her hands were trembling. This would be when she found out if she'd guessed right. If this didn't work, she might as well sit down next to Helena and wait to freeze to death. It didn't make sense to her that a specific emotion could make a difference, but she had more than enough experience with artifacts to know that they rarely made sense. A textile-working tool sending someone into indefinite sleep was silly enough. And who knew, maybe this was something to do with oxytocin receptors or other hormone things. Although that theory didn't really explain how someone in what was basically suspended animation would be able to metabolize a chemical, no matter how powerful.
Gathering all the courage she could find, she bent down to let true love's kiss wake the sleeping beauty.
The Warehouse looked just like it always did, old and uninteresting and sticking out of the rock. Pete almost felt let down that it didn't in any way match his sense of failure. There should be something. A big, smoking hole in the wall, or something like that. Not just everyday normal Warehouse.
"So not looking forward to this," he mumbled as he turned the ignition off and dropped the car keys in his pocket.
"It's not your fault," Claudia said. "They've got to see that."
"I'm sure they will," he said. "Somehow, that doesn't make me feel any better."
He got out of the car. Claudia did as well.
"Hey," Claudia said. "We were trying to catch up with and outsmart Myka, who not only knows us, but had planned in advance. Honestly, I don't think we had much of a chance to begin with."
"If we're going to get the better of her, we need to have the initiative. Planning is her strength," Claudia said.
"That's kind of what worries me," Pete said. "They're both really good at that."
Still, it was impossible to imagine Myka doing something bad. Sure, she wasn't the most social of people, but in the time he'd known her she'd been consistently rules-abiding and strictly ethical.
Artie, Leena and Mrs Frederic were waiting in the office.
"Guys," he said. "Mrs Frederic."
Probably some of his surprise showed. It was the first time he could remember that Mrs Frederic had been waiting for him instead of the other way around. At least the first time when he wasn't hallucinating.
"Agent Latimer," Mrs Frederic said. "Agent Donovan. I believe we already have a fair picture of what happened, but please tell us anyway."
Pete sat down in his usual chair.
"We lost them," he said. "Hypnotizing Mr Kosan delayed us long enough that we didn't get to Burbank until she'd already sprung Wells and left."
"I see," Mrs Frederic said. "What do we know about how she got Wells free?"
"Much like we guessed," he said.
"She basically used the Thimble to fool the people and the mirror to fool the electronics," Claudia said. "And I think a CCD counts as a mirror for the artifact mirror, because as soon a she looked into it she vanished from the surveillance footage."
"But we got to see the seriously thick steel door open for no reason, and a little later a pair of wardrobe doors open and close," Pete said.
He and Claudia looked at each other.
"Ok, I know we work with weird artifacts and stuff," he said, "but I still find the next bit a little freaky. Nothing happened for maybe five seconds, then the wardrobe doors opened again and Myka and H G came out. They both looked like they'd spent days in the wilderness, and had icicles hanging from their hair and stuff."
"Also," Claudia said, "the anti-mirror mirror? It's supposed to last for a day and a night. For Myka it lasted like three minutes."
"Of course," Artie said. "Time must pass differently in the wardrobe."
"And they went on an Arctic expedition," Pete said. "In California. In June. In five seconds."
"What did they do after they came out?" Mrs Frederic asked.
"Well, West Hollywood is pretty close to Burbank," Claudia said.
Mrs Frederic glared at her.
"They looked in the mirror, and that's all we saw," Pete said. "The seriously hot blonde CIA agent at the base said she saw them leave and drive off in a rented SUV. Which, unsurprisingly, was rented using Myka's Warehouse AmEx card."
"So that's where the trail ends?" Artie asked.
"Almost," Claudia said. "They got a speeding ticket."
"Really?" Artie said. "Where?"
"Heading south towards Mexico," Claudia said.
"So we know she isn't going to Mexico," Pete said.
"We do?" Mrs Frederic said.
"Yes, we do," Pete said. "The ticket names Myka, so she was driving. And she's like the most law-abiding driver ever. If she got caught speeding, it's because she meant to. Which means it's a ruse. They're not going to Mexico."
"Unless she knew you'd think like that, so she is going to Mexico, since she knows you won't be looking there," Leena said.
"Yeah, maybe," Pete said. "Anyway, the point is, we don't know where they went. We just know that they're out there, with artifacts."
"Um," Artie said. "Actually, no."
Pete and Claudia looked at him.
"No?" they said in unison.
"The artifacts were delivered here a couple of hours ago," he said. "By FedEx."
He looked to a large box in the corner of the room, then back to Pete.
"She may have kept a Tesla. We're not sure."
Pete broke out in a smile.
"So she's not evil!"
"It would appear so," Mrs Frederic said. "Nobody has been hurt, apart from Mr Kosan's dignity. Given this gesture of good will, I intend to recommend to the Regents that we let the two of them be. I believe that Myka will make sure Wells doesn't try to create any more disasters, and it seems likely that any attempt by us to capture them would only serve to provoke them."
She looked around the room.
"We expect you all to keep an eye out, and if you see any sign that either of those two are trying to get artifacts, you inform us immediately. Apart from that, I wish you a good day."
She walked out of the room. Silence fell.
"What do we do now?" Claudia said after a little while.
"Now," Artie said, "we take the rest of the day off. Go home. Play games. Relax. Tomorrow, we hunt artifacts as usual. See you all in the morning."
Nobody felt like arguing. Pete walked out first, followed by Leena and Claudia.
"Leena?" Claudia said once they were out in the fresh air.
"Yes?" she said.
"Do you think they're happy?"
She didn't need to specify who 'they' were.
Leena put her arm around the young woman's shoulders.
"I'm sure they are," she said. "I'm sure they are."
The water was an intense blue. The beach was white sand, almost too bright to look at in the morning sun. The sky above was a paler blue than the water, and inland of the beach the green of lush jungle began. Former Warehouse 13 agent Myka Bering sat at the very edge of the beach, a straw mat under her and her back resting against a coconut tree. The weather was perfect, and likely to continue like that. If she remembered correctly, this was one of those places where the local language didn't even have a word for 'weather', because it practically never changed.
A hundred yards or so to one side of where she was sitting, there was a house. It was big, white, made from wood. One side of it faced the jungle and was more or less at ground level. The other side faced the ocean, and was raised high above the ground on thick poles. It was part of a hotel complex, and since it was currently off-season Myka had managed to rent it really cheap. They'd arrived the previous evening. Both of them exhausted, and Helena still not mentally back from her unnatural sleep. Myka had led her like a sleepwalker across the frozen wasteland, through the CIA base and out of the country. She'd clearly recognized Myka, and hung onto her hand like it was a lifeline, but she hadn't spoken a single word. As the hours and miles passed them by, Myka's elation when Helena woke slowly eroded into resignation. Nobody had said true love had to be requited. When they finally found the hotel and Myka decided they could stop running, she was sufficiently unsure about how they stood with each other that she put Helena in a room of her own. Then she got into the bed in the other bedroom all by herself, and in spite of her increasing feeling of despair, fell asleep in seconds.
She'd had woken at sunrise, and rather than risk disturbing Helena she'd taken some fruits and a bottle of water and went to have have her breakfast on the beach. As she sat there and nibbled on a mango, the realization grew that she hadn't really left the house to avoid bothering Helena. No, the reason was both simpler and more complicated than that.
She was afraid.
She. Myka. Secret Service agent, trained and ready to get in the way of bullets to save the life of whoever she was protecting. Who had gone after horribly dangerous artifacts, things that couldn't just break her body but also warp her mind into a caricature of what it used to be, or do worse things that she couldn't even imagine. She, who had spent her entire adult life doing dangerous things others didn't dare do, was afraid. Afraid of what one single woman might say to her.
The book she'd bought at the airport lay unopened next to her. She couldn't concentrate enough to read. Since the realization had struck that she was terrified of what Helena might say to her, the feeling had just gotten worse. She'd forced herself to finish her mango, since she knew rationally that she'd feel even worse without sustenance. But she was too distracted to truly taste the fruit. And, apparently, too distracted to notice people walking up to her. A shadow fell over her, and she started so bad she almost spilled her water bottle.
She saw that Helena noticed her reaction, but she didn't say anything. She was dressed in a red one-piece swimsuit and a white bathrobe, both of which Myka recognized as provided by the hotel. Which made sense, once she thought about it. The only clothes Helena had were the ones she'd been wearing while asleep in the frozen world. Not that Myka had much more, but she'd at least been able to stuff some things into her bag when she left the Warehouse.
Helena sat down in the sand, a couple of steps away from Myka. She looked out over the ocean.
"You gave me a room of my own," she said.
Her voice sounded like she was making a heroic effort to keep it calm and level.
"It seemed best," Myka said.
She tried to keep her voice level too, but she was pretty sure it actually wavered like a reed.
Helena's gaze dropped to the sand right in front of her.
"So you got me out of that icy Hell out of guilt, then," she said. "Thank you for that, by the way. I might have lain there for millennia if not for you."
Her voice got flatter and more distant as she spoke. The words fell like drops of acid on Myka's heart.
"How could I not feel guilty for what I did to you?" Myka said. "You'd been working on that plan for over a century. It was literally your life's work. And right at the end, right when you were about to succeed, some stupid little girl came and somehow managed to stop you."
She had to stop for a moment to get her voice under control.
"I entirely understand if you hate me now," she finished.
The waves crashed several times against the sand before Helena spoke.
"I do not hate you," she said. "I do not blame you. How could I, after how I betrayed your trust? I completely understand you needing to stop me, and I am astonished and awed by what you have done for me. Twice now you have given me my life, and both times I was most heinously unworthy."
She stopped and angrily brushed tears from her eyes.
"You are not a stupid little girl, Myka Bering," she said. "You are a true paragon of virtue, a titan of old reborn in human form. If I can ever rise to be even a tenth the woman you are, I will consider my life successful beyond my wildest dreams."
Myka blinked. She heard the words, but they made no sense. She'd gotten Helena stuck in the worst prison imaginable, and she wasn't angry? She was praising her?
"What?" she said. "I don't understand. I stopped you. I got you imprisoned. And what do you mean I gave you your life twice?"
Helena turned her head and looked at Myka. She was still crying. She pulled her legs up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them.
"Before they took me through the wardrobe and pricked me with the spindle, I had some time to think," she said. "Think about what had happened. And I understood some things. I told you once that I was not in my right mind when I caused the death of another agent and asked to be bronzed. I know now that I was no more in my right mind when I tried to open that volcano. I..."
She paused in the middle of the sentence and drew a deep breath.
"I was doing the same thing again, only this time it would have been millions upon millions of people who died instead of a single fellow agent. I am not angry that you stopped me, Myka, I am relieved that you did, relieved beyond the telling of it. And not only that, but something in me wanted you to stop me. If I had truly wanted to succeed I would have rammed the trident in the earth at my feet the moment I set foot in the Yellowstone park. Instead, I waited for you. I walked up to you. I talked to you. And you, you righteous angel, you handed me your fiery sword and forced me to lift my eyes from my daughter's grave, to see that there was something in this world that I loved. That I love. And that in my grief and madness I was just about to destroy it utterly. I looked into your eyes and saw that if I truly wanted to kill you, you would let me."
Tears were running freely down her face.
"How could I possibly stand up to a love like that? My resolve shattered into a million pieces, and my illusions with it. I suddenly saw clearly the horror of what I was doing. To my eternal shame, though, the insight that filled my mind with true and utter terror was not that of uncounted murders, but the knowledge that in my blindness I had unwittingly found someone worth living for and that I had been a mere moment away from killing her."
Helena wiped her tears away again.
"I do not hate you, Myka Bering," she said. "I love you, and I am humbled by you. By your strength and your unwavering dedication to what is right and good. I make no demand or request of you, for I know that you will chose that which is right no matter what I may say. If you ask me to go, I will go, though it break my heart to do so."
Myka sat stunned. She couldn't really see herself in Helena's description. She was no angel, that was for sure. On the whole, though, it was clear enough what Helena was saying. It brought no small amount of tears to her own eyes.
"I think you seriously overestimate me," she said. "I'm no angel. Just ask Pete, if you don't believe me. I stopped you at Yellowstone because, well, I had to."
Helena smiled at that.
"That I got you out of the frozen world was partly because I felt guilty about my part in getting you sent there. But only partly, and not even the major part. I can't say it as pretty as you did, but meeting you has changed my life. I've never known anyone like you, I love you like crazy and I went and got you out simply because I wanted you back with me."
"And if it turned out that you didn't want to be with me any more, it'd still make me feel better knowing that you were alive and happy somewhere."
Her words felt inadequate next to Helena's, and for a moment she felt the gulf of time that separated her own time from that where Helena had grown up.
"I do want to be with you," Helena said.
Myka stood up. Helena did as well, and tentatively approached. She looked just as nervous as Myka felt. When she came close enough, Myka raised her hand and softly brushed a stray lock of hair away from Helena's face. Helena's eyes fluttered closed at the touch. Emboldened, Myka trailed her fingers along Helena's hair and down to her neck. She pulled ever so softly to get her closer.
Without hesitation, Helena came into her embrace and returned her gentle kiss. As her body pressed against Helena's, all the tension and fear she'd been living with melted away. Her knees almost buckled with the sensation. Their kiss broke, and for some time they simply stood there holding each other.
"Are we OK, then?" Myka whispered.
"I think we are," Helena whispered back.
She pulled back far enough to be able to look Myka in the face, while still keeping her arms around her.
"I'm not sure if I am, though," she said. "Once already I thought I was, and was wrong. So, will you be my right mind for me, in case my own fails me again?"
Giddiness born of intense relief struck Myka.
"Would that mean I get to order you around?" she said. "Because that sounds kind of fun."
"Don't mock me!" Helena said. "I'm serious."
Myka smiled and gave her a brief kiss.
"I know you are," she said. "And of course I will."
She arched an eyebrow at Helena.
"But you shot me, and I think I deserve some payback," she said.
For a moment, Helena looked uncomprehendingly at her, then obviously realization dawned.
"It was only a stunner!" she protested.
"You shot me!"
"All right," she said. "You deserve some payback."
Her hand lowered from Myka's waist to her behind.
"So what do you want it to be?" Helena asked. "The mocking or the ordering me around?"
Myka couldn't help laughing, partly in response to the words and partly out of sheer insane relief.
"It has to be only one?" she said.
Helena put her arms around Myka's neck.
"My stomach is informing me that it's been a very long time since I ate," she said. "I believe there is food in the fridge in the house. Also, and I mention this purely as information, I do believe there are beds."
Myka smiled again.
"Really?" she said. "That deserves some investigation, doesn't it?"
"I believe it does," Helena said.
Hand in hand, they walked across the beach to get some breakfast and investigate the possibility of beds.
The huge crate sat on the Warehouse's rear loading dock and did absolutely nothing, as crates are wont to do. From various spots at hopefully safe distances, Artie, Pete and Claudia looked suspiciously at it.
"Who is it from?" Claudia asked.
"The label doesn't say," Pete said. "I tried looking at the FedEx guy's papers, but the sender was just an illegible scrawl."
"It's from Them," Artie said, the capital T clearly audible. He did not sound happy.
Claudia looked at him.
"You think so?" she said. "We haven't heard from them for months."
"Can you think of anyone else who'd send an anonymous package to us? Anyone at all?"
She gave a lopsided nod, probably meant to indicate that she couldn't.
"So," Pete said, "do we open it?"
"I guess we have to."
He got a pair of crowbars from a table and handed one to Pete.
"You take the left side," he said, and headed for the right one himself.
The crate was taller than a man, and it was obvious from signs on it that it was meant to be opened by prying a side loose and folding it down to form a ramp. It didn't take them long to get the nails holding the side shut loose, and with a mighty bang it fell to the ground.
The first thing they saw inside was a seven-foot-tall bronze statue of a man, standing in the middle of the crate. On the sides of it, rough shelves had been built and filled with a large number of things. They were all surrounded by straw. On the chest of the statue a paper had been stuck with a piece of tape. Artie gingerly reached out and pulled it loose. When nothing bad happened, he unfolded it.
"Hello guys," he read out loud. "I hope this letter finds you all well. We are fine, which I hope at least some of you will be happy to hear."
A stifled "Yes!" came from Claudia's direction. Artie glared at her.
"I guess at this point you're wondering what it is that I've sent to you," he continued reading, "and possibly Artie is trying to figure out how it's a trap. Which it isn't, of course. The things are artifacts, so they aren't exactly safe, but I know that you guys will be able to handle them safely. Although be extra cautious with the bust of Cesare Borgia, it's bite is poisonous."
Pete, who had just been about to touch the marble bust with his finger, pulled it back just in time to avoid its snapping jaws. Artie ignored him while Claudia looked worried.
"These are all things that I squirreled away for possible future need back before I was bronzed," the letter continued. "Myka tells me it's wrong of me to keep them and that they should be in the Warehouse, so, well, here you are. Artie may be particularly interested in the large bronze statue, which was originally housed in the very first Warehouse in Macedonia. It is, supposedly, Talos, the bronze man who protected Crete around 400 B.C. I found it in Istanbul, where it must've been lost when Warehouse 9 moved away from there in 1566. There are claims that it was used to protect Warehouse 5 in the 8th century, but the knowledge of how to activate it is long lost. Supposedly, its vein should be filled with some sort of mercury compound."
Artie looked up at the statue.
"No way," he breathed, clearly impressed.
"Anyway," he read on, "enjoy the things, or if not, at least be careful so they don't hurt you. Myka sends her love, and says to tell Claudia not to cheat on her homework. Best wishes, Helena G Wells."
"I do not cheat on my homework!" Claudia said a bit too defensively.
"Still think she's evil?" Pete said to Artie.
Artie grunted something unintelligible.
"Well," Pete said. "Let's get started on these, then."
The three of them set to work.