Accidental Tourist by Marcia Gaines
A/N: The idea for this episodic story came to me while I was writing the first story in this series (New Beginnings) and ruminating on how H.G. became an agent. Coupling this with a desire to write a truly steamy story for H.G. and Myka, I came up with the premise for "Accidental Tourist". The story should prove to be an exciting one. I hope you enjoy it. As always, I thank you for reading and hope to hear from you in the comments/reviews area – I can promise you every ounce of feedback matters.
Chapter One - The Whitechapel Charter
"Finished!" Claudia Donovan's voice emanated from under her desk. She emerged sucking the tip of her thumb having just stubbed it while trying to tighten a screw on the back of her computer. She connected a set of cables and wires and sat at her desk before typing on her keyboard. Moments later a set of designs and diagrams filled her monitor. Green dots lit her screen in succession along various points in the code she ran. Everything looked good so far. She smiled giddily and turned to Artie who was buried in a sea of folders and papers. His disheveled hair peeped out from atop the large mound of paperwork and she called out to him. "Artie! I think I'm done! Come check out the new interface." Artie slid his chair to the side and leaned back to address her.
"It's not done until you've tested it, and you're never going to test it – ergo, you're not done!" He leaned forward in his chair and disappeared again. She could hear him shuffling papers behind his tower of cold-case files. Claudia rolled her eyes and went back to studying her monitor. She had worked for weeks on the interface. After the last use of H.G. Wells' time machine the main power couplings failed and trying to restore them along with the other fried components proved to be too difficult. The parts they needed for replacement were nearly impossible to find, and to Claudia's technologically advanced mind it seemed far more efficient to upgrade rather than extend the effort to replicate the original design – remarkable as it was. She considered herself lucky to have the assistance of its inventor, though she had garnered it under false pretenses. Claudia, wanting to surprise her with the revisions, had told her she was only interested in cataloguing the design for posterity's sake. The woman's genius was clearly evident in her work, and without H.G.'s help Claudia might never have figured out a viable solution to modernize the equipment. All she needed now was a test run to ensure they had worked out all the kinks.
"Artie, quit being such a fuddy duddy." She paused in her typing and examined her monitor. A yellow dot flashed on the screen indicating a possible function call collision. She typed a few keystrokes and curled her lips into a silent grimace. She was going to have to check thousands of lines of code just to make sure nothing was wrong, but there were no critical failures or the light would have been red. At least there was that, she thought. She sighed and said, "Remember Joshua's Horn? H.G.'s machine was useful once before, you never know when we might need it again."
Artie stopped shuffling papers. "Or I might," he mumbled. Claudia looked up. Artie slowly rolled his chair back and looked at her. "You're sure you're done?"
"You're going to let me test it?" Excitement was more than evident in her eager voice.
"That depends," he said squinting his eyes as he examined her. "Are you done, or aren't you?" She looked at the screen and considered the yellow dot. It could be an indication of a problem, but then again it might not be. She weighed it out in her mind, but decided she really did not want to take the chance. If anything happened to Pete or Myka she would never forgive herself – and Artie would never let her forget.
"Uhm, almost. No critical failures, so far, but I have a yellow alert so I probably need to check through the code." She hated having to admit the possible code collision. She really wanted the test-run.
"How long will that take?" Artie stood up. He did not like the idea of using the time machine in this new way, but Claudia had proven herself to be quite an expert at interfacing with old technology. If anyone could get this new control system working, she could.
Claudia's eyebrows raised in surprise. She had not expected him to seriously consider using the new interface so soon. If he was going to allow her time to scan through her code that meant they could do a test-run fairly quickly. "Ah, let me see if I can narrow down the section. If I can, maybe an hour or two at most."
"Good. Do it," he said in his typical staccato. Claudia's hands shot up in the air triumphantly. Artie turned around to hide the smile on his face and opened his Farnsworth. Moments later the face of H.G. wells filled the view screen.
"Good morning, Artie," she said cheerfully. "How may I assist you?"
"Hi," he said. It was as much pleasantry as he ever offered. "I'm working on a possible case and need to ask you some questions." He pulled a stack of papers from his desk and rifled through them until he found what he needed. "Have you ever seen this?" He pointed the Farnsworth at the photographs in front of him and waited for her answer. One showed a long ornately carved rounded metal handle with an oddly shaped clasp. Next to it was a photograph of five scalpel blades each stamped with a visible monogram.
"Artie, what case is this?" She answered without addressing the photographs.
He turned the Farnsworth over and spoke into the mouthpiece. "It's an old case, from around your time period as an agent," he said. "And if I'm right about what I've uncovered, we need to reopen it."
Helena's face lost all expression. "Artie, I'll be there in a few minutes. Myka and I are on our way back from town. We'll call Pete and have him meet us there. If this is related to those photographs, I think it's best if we're all together to discuss this one." Helena closed the signal and Artie sat back in his chair. The last thing he wanted was to put Pete and Myka in harm's way, but the Whitechapel Charter tied his hands. They had a standing order to employ any and all means to retrieve all objects on the list.
"It was 1893. I wasn't an agent, not yet, and I had traveled to America for the upcoming World's Fair in Chicago." Helena absent-mindedly twirled the ring on her hand, pacing slowly, as she spoke. The grave tone in her voice matched the expression on her face as she gave her knowledge of the objects in the photographs. "While spending a day with some colleagues I was introduced to the cousin of one of my closest friends – a woman named Emmeline. She liked to be called Emma," she cast a side glance toward Myka and continued. "She worked as a stenographer at a medical institution in a village just north of Chicago. We became close in a short time, but about a month after we met she took a job in Chicago and moved away. She came for a couple of visits, but she seemed different. Distant somehow." Her face darkened and her eyes took on a faraway look as if she were relaying details she would rather not recall. "The last visit was in the end of June. No one ever saw her again."
Helena put her hands in her pockets and her eyebrows knit together. The memories clearly haunted her. "A few months later I went to Chicago myself after her fiancé, Robert, went missing. Mr. Phelps had gone to inquire after her, and when he disappeared in September I took it upon myself to help with the investigation. Emma's disappearance I thought I understood; when he vanished, however, I knew something was afoot." She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I could never have predicted where that investigation was going to lead. But, in the end, it turned out her employer – a Dr. Henry Holmes – murdered both Emma and Robert along with possibly two hundred others."
"Two hundred?" Artie whispered the question. The number of victims was staggering.
"Geeze…" It was the only word Pete could manage.
"Okay, wait. How did no one notice two hundred people just disappearing?" asked Claudia.
"Well that's the key isn't it, darling?" Helena said, giving Claudia a sad smile. "There were hundreds of thousands of people in the city that year."
"The perfect circumstances for a serial killer," said Myka. "With that many people, visitors and foreigners, the local police force would have been overwhelmed. Even if they knew people were missing, they wouldn't have been able to investigate properly." Helena gave her a slight nod.
"They tried," she continued, "but by the time they realized what was happening, Dr. Holmes fled to another state. Texas, I believe."
"Did they ever catch him?" Pete asked. "I hate to think a guy like that got away with it."
"Yes, they did. Eventually." Helena stopped pacing and crossed her arms. "He was tried, and found guilty, of murdering four people. He confessed to more, but those were never confirmed. Neither were the majority of his suspected crimes."
"Were you the one who caught him?" Claudia asked.
Helena shook her head. "No, I'm afraid not, but I did recover most of the pieces to his artifact – the one in the first photograph, the long-handled scalpel, was never found. However, I did manage to recover all of the blades from your second photograph." She smiled wanly. "That's when I was approached by the Regents to come work for the Warehouse." She looked almost apologetic as she explained. "I was young, my country needed me, and I missed Christina terribly. I gave all my information to the authorities, and offered insights through correspondence, but that was the extent of my involvement. Joining the Warehouse forced me to focus elsewhere."
"And you never recovered the scalpel." Artie's statement was aimed more as a question.
"No, but it remained a priority. For a brief period a few years later we picked up the trail again. Just after the first American Warehouse burned, while we were still transferring inventory, we came across a lead. I assisted the two American agents, but nothing came of it I'm afraid." She looked at Artie and said, "I didn't discover for years what the scalpel set was, but when I did it made sense. It had a rather gruesome history."
Artie made a noise in his throat and picked up a set of files to place them on the corner of his desk. "I've been doing some digging, and I found a confidential set of files on the case. You wouldn't have had clearance to see them. But, it looks like the two American agents you encountered in 1898 experienced missing time for a period of exactly twenty-two hours and nineteen minutes." Helena and he exchanged looks as he handed her the first file. "They were investigating the whereabouts of an unspecified artifact at the time. Based on what you just relayed I believe it was the missing scalpel. Their case notes are missing a lot of detail so I needed you to help me fill in the blanks." He turned and looked at Pete and Myka, handing her the second folder, as he continued. "Agent Davenport didn't have much insight to offer, but Agent Stevenson left a note that could only have come from you, Pete. And it came with this." He put on a pair of gloves and reached over to a device, moving it into view, and then laid a piece of paper on the desk. It had a faded yellow stain down the middle and read:
Do not open until May 13, 2012
"Ah!" exclaimed Helena her eyes widening with delight as she looked at the object. "It looks a bit worn, but if I'm not mistaken that's a telegraphone. How wonderful!" She looked genuinely pleased. The device was an old brass cylinder discolored by a rich patina. It was tightly wrapped by dull steel piano wire and sat on a square wooden base.
"Yes, a telegraphone." Artie said as he reached for a dial on its side. "Valdamar Poulson's first telegraphone, to be exact." He began winding the dial and attached a small bell-shaped cone to the other side. Moments later a grainy recording could be heard throughout the office:
"Artie, it's Pete. I know I don't sound like me, but it's me. I don't have much time so I'll get to the point. I'm not sure where Myka is right now, but we're in 1898 with H.G. Not our H.G. but the 1898 H.G.. Well, I guess they're the same. They're the same right? Anyway, it looks like we may have a lead on the scalpel. I know you don't want to do it, but you have to send us back in time. And, Pete! You'll never believe—Oh. Damn. Sorry about the mustard, Artie. Now I'm going to need a new shir—"
The recording cut off before he could finish his sentence. Pete was smiling ear to ear, always entertained by his own antics. Artie turned to the group and said, "So, it appears Pete and Myka will be using the time machine."
Pete and Claudia high-fived each other and he started singing the "Back to the Future" theme-song. Myka shook her head at them before glancing through the papers Artie handed her. Helena, however, looked oddly subdued. She opened her file and started reading. "I'm not sure I understand. It isn't possible for Myka and Pete to do this – the time machine is broken beyond any hope of repair."
Artie turned to Claudia with a confused look. She grimaced and confessed. "H.G. I am sooooo super sorry, but I just knew I could do it and I didn't want to ruin the surprise." Helena tilted her head and lifted one of her hands as if to indicate she did not understand. "I totally fixed it. Well, sort of, I mean… okay, yes, I fixed it… but I still have to work out a kink in the software. I had to scrap the control box, of course, but I finished the interface to the computer today. Look!" She turned around and swiftly struck a few keys bringing up the interface for the machine. Helena looked closely and then her eyes lit up.
"Aces!" she exclaimed and patted Claudia on the back. "These computer inventions really are amazing, aren't they?" She pulled up a chair and sat next to Claudia, and for the next thirty minutes they were lost in conversation as Claudia brought Helena up to speed on the new controls. Pete stood next to them trying to keep up with the techno-babble, but gave up after a few minutes and excused himself.
"Yeah, I think I'm going to go grab something to eat," Pete patted his stomach. "The last time we used that thing I forgot to eat first and, man, I was starving! Plus, I really have to pee." He hurriedly left the office awkwardly trying to prevent an untimely release of his bladder. Myka rolled her eyes and sighed.
Artie took the opportunity to pull her aside. She sat against the windowsill leaning her back against the edging for support. Artie stood close and his words fell rapidly as he spoke. "Myka, listen, when you go back in time you're going to be working with H.G. and it's important you remember you cannot change history."
"I know that," she said. "When Pete and I traveled to 1961 we learned we couldn't alter anything. Pete tried leaving a note, but not even that worked." She pondered why he was warning her about something she already knew.
"Yes, yes, but I'm talking about more than that. What I mean…," he glanced to where Helena and Claudia sat huddled together and lowered his voice. "What I mean is, you can't reveal who you are – even if we think nothing in the past can change, our last experience with time travel showed us there are exceptions to that rule. So be careful. Don't reveal who you are, and don't – under any circumstance – try to change anything. The past has to play out the way it was meant to. Understand?" He scrutinized her face looking for her response.
"Yes, I mean, no, you don't have to worry." She looked over at H.G. and considered his words. "Still, if something we say can help her frame of mind—" Artie cut off her thought.
"No!" He said emphatically. "That's exactly what you cannot do." He cut his eyes to H.G. and then back to her. "Myka, I know you're… fond… of that woman," Myka winced at his choice of words. He had not referred to her as 'that woman' since before the Warehouse-reset and it reminded her that despite all of Helena's good qualities, and how many times she risked herself for them, no one would ever forget the darkness of her past. Artie raised his index finger as he spoke. "Where she is now, it's only because of everything that's happened. You have to remember that. If you try to change anything… anything at all," he said emphatically and waved his finger. "You have no idea what might happen. She has unfettered access to artifacts in her day, and all it will take is the right combination for her to succeed in her plans."
Or worse, she might never end up here, Myka thought. She might never let go of her mistakes and be a part of making the world a better place. Myka's thoughts revealed her biggest fear when it came to the affairs of H.G. Wells. For her, it was a far worse thing to think Helena might be removed from the world than to think she might destroy it. The absurdity of her thinking did not escape her, but she always had difficulty weighing the importance of having Helena in her life against the greater good. Some day she would have to confront that for what it was - she knew—but the implications were not something with which she was prepared to contend; it was easier, for now, to push the thoughts to the back of her mind.
Myka considered Artie's words. It seemed impossible to her that the Helena she knew ever truly intended on harming anyone. But that is exactly what had happened. And as much as Myka hated to admit it, who Helena was today was not who she was a few years ago or even a hundred years ago. It was not hard to imagine that H.G. Wells, logic unrecognizably gnarled by the ravages of anguish, conspiring in all her genius to bring devastation to others.
She lifted her eyes to watch her fellow agents as they worked through the interface. They chattered noisily and pointed every so often at Claudia's monitor. Myka smiled wryly at how animated the inventor looked. This is where she belongs, she thought. As if on cue, Helena looked over her shoulder catching Myka's gaze. She smiled and Myka noted the twinkle in her eye. She's not just content. She looks happy. And with that observation Myka knew she could not conceive of any reality in which Helena did not exist here at the Warehouse, as her friend and fellow agent. She would do nothing to jeopardize what existed. She looked back to Artie and sighed.
"Okay. Fine. You're right. No warnings, no changing of the past." Myka's resigned tone let him know she would abide by his warning. He nodded before turning to the others.
"Chop chop!" he clapped his hands together once. "Let's get moving! Claudia, fix your code. When you're ready let us know." Helena patted Claudia on the back and stood. She left the young agent to her devices and headed toward the Warehouse floor. If they were going to use her time machine she wanted to double-check all the new changes and connections Claudia had made.
"Hey H.G.," Claudia called out as she began typing. "You guys said that scalpel set had a pretty bad history. What's its story?" She kept her eyes on her monitor as she scanned for errors in her code. She wanted to work quickly, but knew she could not afford any mistakes. This would take careful attention.
Claudia's head shot up and Myka stood slowly when Helena answered. She stopped at the exit and laid her hand on the doorpost before looking down briefly and speaking. When, at last she responded, her tone was somber and her expression grew clouded. "It belonged to Jack the Ripper."