Myka was approaching the bottom of the stack of papers she was grading when her phone rang. She glanced at it and saw that, unsurprisingly, it was Pete calling. She reached out and prodded the phone to answer the call.
“Hi, sweetie,” she said. “Let me guess, you’ll be home late and don’t wait with dinner.”
“You know me too well,” Pete’s voice said from the phone. “Meeting ran late, will grab something to eat on the way to the Boy Scout meeting. Can’t disappoint the kids. You understand, right?”
She understood. It was far from the first time this had happened.
“Sure,” she said. “It’s fine.”
“It might get late,” he said. “We’re having a leaders’ conference after the kids leave. Might get a few beers, if I know these people. Don’t bother waiting up, I’ll just crash on the couch when I get home.”
“Right,” she said. “See you tomorrow.”
She cut the call. She put down her marks on the last few papers, shoved the stack of them to the side and draw a breath of relief. Because she was done with he grading, but also because she wouldn’t have to deal with the continuous awkwardness that was living with her husband Pete Lattimer.
They hadn’t stayed long at the Warehouse after the whole thing with depositing their memories to the round table. They’d quit while they were both still alive and mostly sane. They moved to a small town in Oregon, far from the Warehouse. They got perfectly normal people jobs. Pete at a private security firm, where he soon moved into sales, of all things. Myka had tried opening a bookstore, but it couldn’t compete with Amazon, so now she was teaching chemistry at the local community college.
It was some time after Pete moved to the sales department that he started cheating on her. She figured it out almost immediately, of course. She was, after all, a trained Secret Service agent and an experienced Warehouse agent. Few things escaped her notice. A few late nights at the office, some furtive phone calls in the middle of dinner, a couple of receipts from hotels he’d never mentioned for nights he’d claimed to sleep on his office couch. A little digging, and she knew that he was seeing two other women. Karen, an athletic blonde and personal trainer, and Francesca, drop-dead gorgeous project manager originally from Venezuela. Myka didn’t mind that he was seeing them. She was glad that he did, even, because then she didn’t feel any pressure be intimate with him. Do her wifely duties, as the saying went. She’d had barely any interest in that sort of thing when they got married, and it quickly faded to none at all. She didn’t mind how her life had turned out. It was …all right. Nowhere near as exciting as back at the Warehouse, or even the Secret Service, but it was also less dangerous. There were no surprises. Disasters were limited to the toilet getting clogged or the lawnmower breaking down.
She got up from her desk, thinking about what she wanted for dinner. Not having her choice limited to what Pete liked broadened her available choices a lot. There was some fresh tagliatelle in the fridge, and a generous hunk of well-aged Parmesan cheese. That, some cream, garlic, parsley, splash of sherry…
The phone rang. Not her mobile phone, but the landline. Myka had plain forgetting they even had it. It was just another detail of interior decoration, an off-white little plastic thing stuck on the kitchen wall. She didn’t think they’d used it even once since they bought the house. And now it was ringing. Gingerly, Myka lifted the handset off its hook and brought it to her ear.
“Hello?” she said.
“Er, hi,” a female voice with a British accent said. “I’m trying to reach Myka Bering?”
It had been some time since she’d last heard that name.
“Well, it’s Myka Lattimer these days, but I’m her,” she said.
The woman’s voice sounded familiar, somehow, although she couldn’t place it at all.
“Myka Lattimer?” the voice said. “Are you married to Pete?”
“Excuse me,” Myka said, irritated. “Who is this, and what do you want?”
“It’s Helena, Myka,” the voice said. “Helena Wells? H. G.? Please say you remember me?”
A sense of dread filled Myka as the voice on the phone spoke. She didn’t recognize those names, but they felt familiar. Very familiar, and full of waiting pain.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know anyone with any of those names. I’m sorry I can’t help you. Goodbye.”
She really wanted the conversation to end. To hang up the phone and forget the call had ever happened.
“Wait!” the voice said. “Please, just a couple of questions more. It’d really help me a lot. Please?”
“What kind of questions?” she said.
“Where are you right now?” the voice asked.
“What do you mean where am I?” Myka said. “You called my landline! Where else but at home could I be?”
“Right,” the voice said. “Silly of me. Now, what were you doing when I called?”
“Getting ready to make dinner,” Myka said. “And if you don’t mind I’d like to get back to that.”
“Just a moment… There, I have a lock on you! See you in a little while, hopefully. Good luck with your dinner!”
With a soft click, the call ended. Myka stared at the phone. What the Hell was that all about?
Myka made her pasta as planned. She ate it at the kitchen table, with a good book and a couple of glasses of white wine to go with it. It wasn’t spectacular, but tasted good enough and filled her up. She put the dishes in the dishwasher, turned it on. Grabbing her glass and the bottle of wine and headed for the living room. She’d had a notification email that a new chapter in her favorite long-running Wormhole X-treme fanfic had been posted. She looked forward to it with some trepidation. Lately, the quality of the story had gone downhill, and not even the sex scenes were as good as they used to be. Still, she wanted to keep reading to the end.
She’d entered the room and put the bottle down on the sofa table before she noticed that someone was sitting in Pete’s recliner. She backed away quickly, almost stumbled and fell.
“Hi,” the uninvited guest said. “Told you I’d see you in a little while.”
Myka recognized the voice from the phone. The woman it came from was very beautiful. Slim and athletic, with long dark hair and alert eyes. She was wearing dark slacks, a matching jacket and a white blouse. Myka had never seen her before, yet there was something familiar about her.
“Who are you?” Myka said. “How did you get in here?”
The woman smiled at her.
“As I said on the phone, my name is Helena,” she said. “As for how I got in here, that’s a little complicated. Tell me, do you remember the Warehouse?”
“The Warehouse?” Myka said. “Are you one of the new agents? Is there an artifact near here?”
“Ah,” Helena said.
She crossed her legs and put her hands in her lap.
“I am not a new agent,” she said. “And as for if there is an artifact nearby… That’s a matter of definition.”
“How can it be a matter of definition?” she said. “Either an artifact is here, or it is not.”
“Well,” Helena said. “I guess I may as well be straightforward with you, since you do remember the Warehouse. You have been affected by an artifact. ‘Whammied’, as Pete and Claudia puts it. All this–“
She gestured at the room in general.
“–exists only in your mind. In reality, you’re lying in a bed at the B&B, being cared for by Leena while Pete, Claudia, Artie and I try to figure out a way to wake you up.”
Myka laughed a little.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but I haven’t been anywhere near any artifacts for years. I and Pete resigned as agents. We’re not with the Warehouse any more. I’m a teacher these days.”
“And married to Pete, apparently,” Helena said. “That is …very disappointing.”
Her smile faltered for a moment, then reasserted itself.
“Tell me,” she said. “You’re not exactly happy here, are you?”
Myka sat down on the couch. It wasn’t very comfortable. It had looked really pretty in the store.
“I’m all right,” she said.
“But not happy,” Helen said. “That’s what this artifact does. It traps you in a fantasy world that very slowly gets more and more depressing until you decide to end it. At which point you die in the real world.”
“That sounds bad,” Myka said. “But I don’t really have a reason to believe you. I left the Warehouse. Years ago. I married Pete. We both got jobs. We have a good life here.”
“Happily married, is it?” Helena said. “He’s not cheating on you or anything, is he?”
Myka tried to keep her smile in place.
“Of course not,” she lied.
“Right,” Helena said. “And it seems you don’t remember me at all. That is interesting.”
“It is? Why?”
“Because out in the real world, you and are important to each other. And it seems the artifact decided to cut me out entirely rather than try to corrupt our relationship. Which suggests that if I can make you remember me, it should lose its hold of you.”
There was something intensely familiar about the woman, even though Myka was certain she had never seen her before.
“Oh, also,” Helena said, “I suspect that as I get closer to making you believe me, the artifact will try harder and harder to pretend what is going on is normal. Just so you know, if weird things start happening.”
“Weird things like a strange woman suddenly showing up in my living room?” Myka said. “Although I guess you just snuck in while I was distracted in the kitchen. The fan above the stove can be quite noisy.”
Helena pointed at her.
“Excellent example,” she said. “If I pointed out that you always keep the front door locked, you’d claim that I picked it, or that this area is safe enough that you don’t lock the door any more.”
“It is safe,” Myka said. “That’s why we moved here.”
“Right,” Helena said. “Just like that. If you don’t mind, I’d like to try something.”
“You’ll see in a moment.”
Helena got up from the armchair. She was quite tall, Myka noted, almost as tall as Myka herself. She walked around the table and sat down on the couch right next to Myka. Really close to Myka, almost touching.
“You can slap me after, if you want to,” Helena said.
Then she reached around Myka, put a hand on the back of her head and gently but firmly pulled her into a kiss. Her lips were warm and soft, and Myka found herself responding eagerly to a gingerly probing tongue. Her arms went around Helena as if by themselves.
Myka had the strangest sensation of being split in two. One of her was thinking that this was wrong, this was outrageous, she wasn’t gay at all, she did not like kissing other women, particularly not ones she didn’t even know.
Another her was nearly sobbing with relief, because kissing HG felt so good and she had missed it so much and oh God it felt like coming home and…
She abruptly pulled away, gasping. She clambered away from Helena, almost falling over before she found her balance and stood up.
“Ok, what was that?” she managed to get out.
“That was a kiss, darling,” Helena said, smiling at her. “Did you like it?”
“Of course I liked it, HG,” Myka said. “When have I ever not liked kissing you? We…”
Her voice trailed off. She remembered. Meeting Helena for the first time in London. Swinging in her arms from a grappling hook.
Falling in love.
“You left me,” she said. “You chose a normal life over me. And a daughter.”
“Yes!” Helena said. “Or, well, no. I never left you, darling. If you remember that, that’s the artifact talking. But if you suddenly know who I am, we’re making progress.”
“And I have an idea for how to continue,” she said.
Myka stood quite still, stunned and confused by how she suddenly remembered HG working with her at the Warehouse. Alternating between friend and enemy. Once even trying to destroy the world. Apparently dying at least once. And, finally, leaving the Warehouse for the sort of life that Myka had now. Plain. Ordinary. Kind of dull, but safe.
“How are you feeling?” Helena said.
Myka shook her head and returned attention to the world around her. Helena was sitting apparently relaxed on the couch, arms spread along the backrest, smiling happily at Myka.
“How am I feeling?” Myka said.
“Yes,” Helena said. “I’m guessing confused.”
Myka looked at her.
“Yeah,” she said. “I’m a bit confused.”
“Excellent!” Helena said. “Then it’s time for step two.”
Myka took an involuntary step back.
“What’s step two?” she said.
“This,” Helena said.
She grabbed hold of the front of her blouse with both hands and ripped it open. Buttons flew everywhere. Helena sat back, blouse and jacket hanging wide open. She was not wearing anything under it. Her breasts were right there in the open. As was a lot more smooth, silky skin. Gentle curves shaping a lovely, lovely torso. Naked.
Helena wiggled her eyebrows.
“Like what you see?” she asked.
“I…” Myka said.
She did like what she saw. A lot. Her hands twitched in Helena’s direction, lusting to touch.
“Struck speechless, are we?” Helena said. “That’s how I reacted the first time I saw you naked too. You’re so beautiful, Myka. A wonder of a woman, and the physical is the least of it.”
Myka swallowed. She knew what it felt like to touch those breasts. To run her hand over that warm skin. To wrap her lips around those stiff nipples. Only there was no way she could know that. She knew that she’d never met the woman on the couch before.
And yet remembered her.
“All right, this is…” Myka said.
“Honey, I’m home!”
The shout interrupted whatever it was Myka was about to say. She didn’t even know herself what that was.
“Pete?” she said instead. “You’re home?”
He came walking into the living room as if nothing was out of the ordinary, jacket hooked on a finger over his shoulder and briefcase in the other hand.
“Yeah, of course,” he said. “We have that dinner with the Carpenters tonight, remember? I thought you’d be ready by now.”
Myka turned to him.
“You called from work and said you’d be busy all night with the Boy Scouts,” she said. “Which I know was a lie, because this is the day you sleep with Francesca. Mondays are Karen.”
He dumped jacket and briefcase in an armchair.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said. “Who are Francesca and Karen?”
He nodded to Helena.
“Hiya, HG,” he said. “Nice tits.”
Myka gaped at him for several seconds, stunned.
“I didn’t expect you to admit you’re having affairs with them,” she finally said. “But not even admitting you know who they are? You introduced me to them at the Christmas party!”
He started saying something, but she kept talking.
“Also?” she said. “A strange woman is sitting with her breasts on display in our living room and all you have to say is ‘nice tits’?”
“HG isn’t a strange woman,” Pete said. “A bit eccentric, sure, but in a good way. Except when she’s trying to destroy the world.”
“I have apologized for that,” Helena said. “And will do so again, if need be.”
Her voice was coming from much closer than Myka expected. She abruptly turned back to face the couch. Where Helena was standing, without a stitch on above the waist. Just a step away. She reached and took Myka’s hand, and placed it gently on her own bare breast.
Myka’s awareness abruptly narrowed down to the feeling of the warm, firm flesh she was touching. Memories boiled up inside her, memories of touching and kisses and moaning and whispers of love and fingers in wet needy places and…
“I want you to touch me,” Helena whispered in her ear, her breath tickling Myka’s skin. “I want you to come back to me. But you have to chose to do that.”
Helena pulled back a little bit so Myka could look her in the eyes.
“You have to choose between that…”
She nodded toward Pete.
Helena reached up and put her hand on Myka’s neck, pulling her into a deep, passionate kiss. While Myka’s hand was still on Helena’s naked breast, its stiff nipple pushing on her palm. A needy groan escaped Myka’s throat.
An suddenly she remembered.
Helena. Helena G Wells, science fiction pioneer. Time traveller, of sorts. Myka remembered meeting her, laughing with her, being impressed by her.
Falling in complete, helpless love with her. And, eventually, finding the love requited.
She abruptly pulled out of the kiss.
“Oh my God,” she said. “Helena.”
HG looked nervous, almost afraid.
“Myka dear?” she said. “Is that you?”
Myka began to nod, and everything went white.
She woke up to the sight of Claudia’s worried face looking down at her.
“Myka?” Claudia said. “Are you OK?”
Myka blinked several times, trying to get her thoughts in order. It was harder than it should be.
“I think so,” she said. “Where am I?”
After she’d said that, she recognized the dining room at the B&B behind Claudia.
“Foldable cot in the B&B dining room,” Claudia said. “We would’ve used your own bed, but we needed more room for equipment. Stay still while I remove the electrodes.”
She started fiddling with something in Myka’s hair.
“Where’s Helena?” Myka said.
“Right here,” Helena’s voice said from the side. “How are you?”
“A bit confused,” Myka said. “But at least I’m Myka Bering again.”
Claudia’s hands stopped whatever they were doing.
“What?” she said. “Did something go horribly wrong in there?”
“Her memories are still a bit fuzzy,” Helena said. “Or at least I hope that’s it.”
Myka frowned, which made things pull at her scalp. The electrodes Claudia had mentioned, presumably.
“What do you mean?” Myka said. “Isn’t my name Myka Bering?”
“Er, no,” Claudia said. “Check your left hand.”
Myka lifted her hand. There was a ring on her ring finger. A gold one, with many quite large diamonds on it.
“You’re Myka Bering-Wells,” Claudia said.
“Oh,” Myka said
Suddenly more memories came rushing in. Helena coming back to the Warehouse after the whole thing with the Astrolabe was over. Her and Myka working together more and more, and at some point not even they themselves could really pinpoint they went from very good friends to lovers. Myka remembered – clearly, now – the first time they made love, in an unmemorable hotel in Arizona, but it felt like that was not the start of something, just the acknowledgment of something already existing.
She remembered how one day while they were going through old artifacts from Warehouse 12, Helena had gone down one knee and proposed to her. And how Myka had at first thought that Helena had been whammied by some artifact. But once Helena managed to convince her that the proposal was entirely real and not artifact-induced, she had eagerly said yes. They got married on the B&B porch, with Mrs Frederic officiating. Myka’s family, as well as all their friends and quite a few regents, was there, and it was on the whole a very good day. They went on a round-the-world trip for their honeymoon, paid for by investments that Helena had made back in 1898 and that had been collecting interest and dividends ever since. Investments that also explained the wedding rings. Myka had nearly fainted when she had hers appraised for insurance purposes and found out that it was worth more than her pension fund.
“So, uh, do are your memories coming back at all?” Helena asked.
She sounded nervous. Afraid, almost.
“You’re my wife,” Myka said, voice full of awe.
She could clearly hear Helena’s sigh of relief.
“Very happily so,” Helena said.
“There!” Claudia said with a final couple of tugs on Myka’s hair. “You’re free from hastily bodged-together machinery for now. Try to not need something like that again for as long as possible, OK? Also you’ve been lying down for some time, so be careful standing up at first.”
Myka felt a warm, somewhat calloused hand take hers.
“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Helena said. “Make sure she’s safe.”
Myka turned her head so she could see Helena. She was sitting on another foldable cot, something like a hair net made from wires and electrodes discarded next to her. Her eyes met Myka’s, and the love she saw there made Myka feel all warm inside.
“You always do,” she said.