Tuesday nights, Myka walked from the bookstore after closing to Zach's Pizza. She was pretty happy with the life she had built for herself here over the last few years. Quiz night especially had become a little ritual for her and Pete and Steve and their respective partners. Artifact Roadshow was a way to keep the friendship going as they set up new lives in Missoula, and when Claudia was in town she would join too. Of course, with Myka on the team and Pete's sports knowledge, they were undefeated, but it had become something of a joke in town. There was a friendly competition among everyone else to try to take them down. Myka didn't have a partner on the team; she preferred to date the competition.
Most recently, the team with the best shot was Dial Up Modem, led by a visiting professor in her thirties named Sara. When Sara saw Myka enter, she turned with a smile and a welcoming arm, saying to her table, "Here comes the reason we can't win a single trivia night ever." Sara's shag haircut verged on a mullet, and she had a quick smile and warm brown eyes, "Myka, I brought some visitors to trivia night. This is Casey, my old friend from my music days, and Casey brought a friend…"
Myka normally came over for a chat before the quiz but tonight she didn't move towards Sara's table as the crowd noise around her faded to an indistinct roar. Casey was smiling at her, but the woman next to Casey at the table with long, black hair and dark eyes had turned and met Myka's gaze for the first time.
"Hello, Myka." Helena looked up at Myka with a cautious smile. "You look well."
Myka felt everything slow around her that wasn't Helena's eyes, showing a mix of worry and excitement. It had been eight years, almost exactly, since she had seen Helena last and, as with every single time before, she was breathtaking. She looked now like she was maybe approaching fifty, not 160, with tiny hints of gray in her hair that gave her an otherworldly quality. Myka knew she had been staring too long and that most people would expect a response. She knew she should say something.
"It's been a long time."
"Yes. Too long."
Well, you've always known where to find me, haven't you? Instead of saying this out loud, Myka gave Helena a sharp look and Helena bowed, almost graciously, conceding the point.
"Wait, do you know each other? Small world!" Sara said, enthusiastically.
Casey looked at Helena, eyebrows raised. "No way, is this your… ?"
Now Myka cocked her head at Helena, eyebrows raised. What exactly had she told Casey? Who was Casey to Helena?
Helena got up then, nodding at Casey but in a way that suggested she didn't want the sentence continued. Myka felt Sara touch her shoulder gently, "Ohhhh wow, I had no idea," she said quietly. "I…"
"It's ok, Sara, don't worry about it." And she moved out of Sara's space and around the table to meet Helena, who was offering her an uncharacteristic greeting hug. As Myka felt Helena's arms go around her waist, and in turn put her arms around Helena's shoulders, she thought briefly about how few times this had happened in the past, and how many times she had wanted it to. But the whole table was watching them, and this was a good moment to get their stories straight. Helena whispered in her ear, "I told Casey I had an ex who lived here. I'm sorry, it was presumptuous."
Myka let out something approaching a laugh and held on a second longer. "That's probably for the best. Sara thinks you're my ex too."
As Helena pulled out of the hug, she searched for Myka's eyes, briefly. "Does she now?"
"I told her someone named Helena broke my heart years ago. Yeah. But I also told her the details were classified."
Now Myka smiled back, but the smile didn't quite reach her eyes.
"Ah. I have kept details vague too." They looked at each other for a moment. "And is she looking to mend it? Your heart?" Helena nodded at the younger woman behind Myka.
Myka looked behind her. "You need to at least buy me a drink before asking me something like that." She made her tone lighter and louder as she stepped back towards the table, speaking louder. "I didn't know you *did* pub quizzes, Helena!"
"Darling, they are a British national pastime. Of course I've 'done' pub quizzes."
Myka shot her one more wry glance. Were they a national pastime in the 1890s, though? Or was this a habit Helena had picked up on her brief return to London a few years before? She reached out a hand to the woman that had been sitting near Helena, "It's a real pleasure to meet you Casey. I look forward to your team coming second to us in the quiz, as ever. Despite the secret weapon you brought."
She gave Sara a friendly kiss on the cheek, as she sometimes did these days, and then called over to her table. "Pete, Steve, look who it is!"
Pete jumped up, all friendly bravado, "HG! What a surprise seeing you here! If we'd have known we'd have invited you to join Artifact Roadshow: Reunion addition! How long are you staying?" He gave Helena a big hug and brought her over to meet his wife. Steve rose to greet HG with less joviality and also, Myka thought, less surprise. They made a plan to call Claudia right after the quiz ended, and everyone returned to their tables as the host calling everyone together. No phones, 10 rounds, first round sports. Pete's fist pumped the air, but as he made his way back to his chair, he put his hand on Myka's shoulder. "Lady Danger returns. You ok, Mykes?"
"I'm fine, Pete." She shrugged.
"Ok, well, if you need anyone to talk to, or a stiff mocktail bought for you later, you know where I am."
"Thank you, Pete." She squeezed his hand. "She told them I'm her ex."
Pete whistled. "Well, she's not… wrong, is she?"
"I don't think I'll ever know how to answer that."
Pete gave her shoulder one more pat, then sat down next to his wife and whispered something in her ear. Julie immediately shot Myka a sympathetic smile and raised her glass. "Well, let's beat them, shall we?"
Myka smiled back. She really liked Julie, grounded and friendly and practical. When she learned the pizza place down the road had started a pub quiz night and that Pete missed game night at the Warehouse, she had lobbied the restaurant to create a fancy mocktail menu that could be separate from the alcoholic drinks list and recruited a critical mass of people to order off it so that Zach's Pizzeria had one of the drier pub quizzes around. Myka could definitely use a drink tonight, but she sipped her rosemary and lemon tonic water and pulled the answer card her way.
As they played the rounds, Myka could see Sara giving her worried looks occasionally while everyone at her table made polite conversation, and she did her best to flash a reassuring smile and look unconcerned. She didn't want Sara monitoring her reaction. But she knew she was having trouble keeping her eyes off the other table. Off of Helena.
What was she *doing* here? And really, no courtesy call? No "I'm swinging through your town that I definitely know you live in, how about that coffee?" No, "I got invited to your hometown by a hot younger woman so I'm just going to check in first?" Helena, at least, was acting composed, smiling and joking with the other table. Myka watched as Casey bumped Helena's shoulder playfully. But instead of reacting to Casey, or as though she could read Myka's thoughts, Helena turned to meet her gaze across the room. The composure slipped, just for a fraction of a second, and Helena seemed torn between expressions, quite serious but also pleased to have caught Myka's eye.
If Myka could read minds, she would have interpreted this as let's talk, ok? But maybe that was just what she was trying to communicate to Helena.
As Pete scrambled to write the answer to a question about the Green Bay Packers, Myka remembered Steve's look from earlier and turned to him. "Did you know she was coming?"
"Not tonight. Claudia told me she was likely to show up soon, but honestly I didn't expect no notice. She didn't give you a heads up?"
Steve let out a sigh of annoyance, whether at Claudia or HG, she couldn't tell. "Are you ok?"
If Myka said, "I'm fine," then Steve would know she was lying. Of course, Pete had also known she was lying when she said that, but talking to Steve was always a little bit different.
"I'm as ok as I can be when blindsided by Helena, I guess?"
"That makes sense."
They turned back to the game, and then Myka said, more quietly. “She told them I was her ex.”
Steve gave her a long look, “That’s about as true as anything else she could say, don’t you think?” Leave it to Steve and Pete to both be infuriatingly right tonight.
“I think it implies a little bit more fun than we ever got a chance to have together.”
Now Steve laughed genuinely. “That is a pity. I suppose there’s no chance you could change that pattern now?”
Steve didn’t say “you’re lying”, but he raised his eyebrows slightly and gave a meaningful look in Helena’s direction. “Will you have a chance to talk later?”
“I can stick around, if you want?”
Myka was touched, and actually thought that might be nice. At the very least, having a friend, and a friend who could tell when Helena wasn’t being honest? That would make for an interesting conversation.
Myka turned back to the quiz now, the round was Before and After, which she always liked. Then, a name that song round, which was the most likely to be Artifact Roadshow's downfall. Finally, and of course, there was a literary greats round. Myka caught Helena watching her every few minutes, and they exchanged a genuine smile, and even a wink when the answer was clearly Arthur Conan Doyle.
The final answer was about Virginia Woolf, which Myka was actively curious to see whether Helena would get. She knew Sara probably had the answer as well, but… Helena grabbed the paper first and wrote a word purposefully. Then she looked up at Myka as if expecting the questioning expression, and rolled her eyes. You don't think I've read twentieth century literature, Myka?
Steve turned to Myka, "She's a bit of an Orlando, don't you think?"
Now Myka laughed, shaking her head, "she's the Muscovite princess. I was the poor fool writing poetry while we were skating on thin ice."
Steve nodded musingly, "I see." Helena was watching them with open curiosity, as though she wished she was in their conversation. Myka simply smirked.
The ten rounds ended with a tie between Artifact Roadshow and Sara's team. Of course it did. And of course when Dial Up sent Helena to the tie breaker round Myka's entire group insisted that she go up there too.
"We meet again."
"But not at gunpoint, this time, so that's something."
Helena was leaning on the bar, and Myka moved to stand next to her. Myka angled her head slightly and answered, "You obviously don't understand how competitive I am about this."
Helena laughed. "I have met you before, Myka."
The question, as it turned out, was about the Chicago World's Fair. When the host announced this, Pete cried out, "Hey, that's not fair!" And Myka muttered, "Figures."
Sara taunted, "How is it not fair? Or was that a failed attempt at a pun?"
Helena just looked smug.
"The Ferris Wheel was first invented as an American answer to what famous landmark?"
"The Eiffel Tower." Both Myka and Helena said in unison.
"Well then! How many people attended the Columbian Exhibition that year? Closest answer gets it."
Helena closed her eyes and thought to herself, before nodding and saying something about bragging in the papers. Of course Helena had actually attended. She wrote a number down and handed it to the host. Myka had already written hers and turned it in and so she smiled. It was a trick question, had to be. She remembered looking up the Columbian Exhibition when Helena had mentioned meeting Nicola Tesla there. She knew the exhibition had double counted entries to make the number seem higher, but she would bet that the papers had not run corrections.
The host looked at both numbers. "In a truly shocking turn of events, Myka has the answer. Although the fair claimed publicly that 27 million people had attended, as our new player here…"
"Helena guessed, in fact many of these were repeat attendees, and contemporaries estimate the number was around 24 million. Congratulations, Artifacts, you win free pizzas on the house, as ever, and Modems get the runner up prize, which is a $20 bar tab at the Nowhere Bar next door! Come back next time, Helena, you gave photographic memory Myka a run for her money!"
"Eidetic," Helena corrected, and then looked mutinously at Myka. "How was I to know that historians have corrected the number? And when did you look that up?"
"When somebody I know mentioned having *been there.*"
Then their respective teams were around them, congratulating and joking. Pete and Julie left, first insisting that the five former Warehouse agents take a selfie for Claudia. Steve's boyfriend Mike had to go home for an early shift at the hospital, but Casey and Sara asked Myka if she wanted to join them for drinks. "We've got this tab to use up before Helena and Casey leave!" Helena was looking at Myka, but her expression gave nothing away.
Well, this was as good a moment as any to figure out what HG circus ride was beginning.
"Sure thing, mind if Steve tags along?"
They wandered next door, and Myka checked her phone. A message from Claudia:
-myka I'm so sorry I told her to text you first-
Claudia had kept in touch with Helena better than the rest of them. Or, rather, when Helena had taken a job with an incubator whose governing mission was to increase underrepresented voices in the tech industry, Claudia was one of her first recruits. Myka had been sad to see her go, jealous of the seeming ease of her friendship with Helena, and too proud of Claudia to do anything but cheer on the move. Claudia had thrived in California, and she was going to do great things. Myka was proudest that Claudia always came back to wherever she and Pete were for the holidays, saying casually, "it's my family home."
-not your fault claud. Why is she here?-
-gotta plead the fifth on that sry-
-whose side are you on?-
Claudia responded with the two ladies dancing emoji. No help there. Helena had fallen into step with Myka on the sidewalk, so Myka put away her phone.
"A heads up would have been nice. Why are you here, Helena?"
"I need to talk to you."
"Ok. Well, we are headed to a bar."
"What part of Hi Myka, I'll be in town next Tuesday, let's get coffee is impossible for you to say?"
"I'm supposed to stay through Sunday, do you have any time before then?"
In spite of herself, she was curious. She let out the breath she'd been holding, "I'll be at the bookstore the day after tomorrow, 11-6. You could come by before it opens or after close if you want."
"I will come by at 6. And in the interim, don't text my number, ok? No email either. If you need to reach me, use this?" Helena pressed a small box into her hand. Myka examined it closely. "Is this the new Farnsworth? Did you steal one?"
"This is a Donovan special. It can reach me at this frequency and Claudia there." She indicated two buttons.
"And you will explain all this Thursday?"
"Is there anything I need to know before that? Anything I should be worried about?"
"No." Helena did not say this with much conviction but she didn't elaborate.
"Can I tell anyone else?"
"You can tell Lattimer if you must. And if he gets a particular sense when you do tell him, I'd like to know about it."
"Best not, yet."
They were approaching the bar, "It's good to see you, Myka. I've missed you." Helena caught her arm for the briefest moment.
Myka just shook her head but she smiled at Helena before reaching for the door. At that point Steve caught up to them, "She's not lying."
Post-quiz, Myka and HG have a chat. Helena has had therapy, Steve plays wingman.
The night started tentatively. Steve was a calming presence, and he and Sara and Casey got along well. Sara kept closer than she would normally, a slight protectiveness to the way that she placed her arm on the back of Myka's chair, but she was clearly delighted to hang out with Casey. Myka wasn't sure where this evening was going, but she might as well enjoy herself.
And Casey was charming. Messy. Short, tattooed, dark curly hair kept close on the sides, she carried herself with confidence but effused in conversation like the nerdy kid she must have been when she and Sara lived together. She caused trouble, and somehow people liked her for it. Despite herself, Myka did too, but she didn't want to dwell on why Helena might prefer her company. Sara made more sense. They'd been in a band together in Portland, "Not a very good one," Sara laughed. "She's in a much better one now." Now she was living in Seattle and working in front end development, where presumably she'd run into Helena somehow.
"How'd you two meet?" This was Helena, asking about Sara. Myka smiled at Sara but moved slightly away from under her arm. "Sara's teaching at the university this year as a visiting professor. She came into the bookshop. I do all the orders for the faculty who want to support independent stores. We became friends."
"And what do you teach?"
"19th century English literature. Queer stuff, you know."
Helena choked slightly on her drink. "Fascinating time. And I know that Myka has a special fondness for certain artifacts from that period." Myka kicked her under the table. "Books, darling."
Sara narrowed her eyes slightly. "That's what they hired me to teach. My research is more on the modernist period, though. Do you like books, Helena? You got a lot of those lit questions in the quiz."
"I do like books."
"Helena's an author." Myka said. "Science fiction."
Helena looked playful, "I believe they call it speculative fiction now, Myka." Myka tilted her head slightly at Helena as if to say…
"She owns a bookstore. I think she knows the technical term." This was Sara, with her chin up and a challenge in her eye.
Myka turned and said softly, "Stand down, Sara."
Helena's smile was a hunter's smile, and Myka did not like either of their responses. These days Myka liked relationships best when they were contained, structured, and had a predictable end game. Her relationship with Sara, such as it was, had no strings explicitly attached. No claims, no expectations. They were friends, and sometimes they went home together. Myka was free to date, and so was Sara. She had not seen Sara acting like this, and it did not sit well with her. Sara was a good lover, interesting in conversation, and was planning to move back to the west coast or wherever she could get a more permanent job in about 5 months.
What right did Helena have to play with Sara or Myka? And Helena could be gone in an hour. So no one needed to be fighting over her.
She shook her head just the tiniest bit at the older woman. Helena only arched an eyebrow.
"How about you two? How did you meet?" Here was Steve, her real ally at the table tonight.
"Through work. Also just friends," said Casey, brightly, and possibly meaningfully, at Myka.
"Casey worked for a startup that went through the early stages of our incubator process, before she decided to jump ship and go freelance. She's very good at what she does. And also, it now transpires, a friend of Claudia's."
"And how'd you end up traveling together?"
"There's a conference in Jackson Hole that we both have to be at, starting Monday. Important investors, all very annoying and rich. I told Helena I was going to drive and visit my friend in Missoula first, and she asked if she could come, said she also had an old friend in town she had been meaning to see. To be honest, at first I thought it was a proposition, but she's been the perfect gentleman and refused all my advances this whole time. Now, I think I can see why." Casey shot a smirk at Helena who only smiled placidly, and then turned back to Myka.
"Turning down advances? Helena, that isn't like you at all!" Now it was Myka's turn to tease.
"Work and play darling. I learned my lesson on THAT about a century too late."
"Did you? Surely not a century!" Steve was all faux outrage. Myka wanted to hug him.
Helena regarded him narrowly, "A decade then." Myka blanched a bit at that comment, and an awkward silence fell over the table.
Steve came back, "Helena, maybe you and Myka want to get us all some drinks?" Helena got up abruptly and Myka followed suit, asking for everyone's order. As Helena passed, very softly, almost sing-song, Steve continued, "You're lying."
As Myka and Helena walked to the bar, Myka asked, "About which part? About Casey?" As if in response, Helena placed her hand on Myka’s lower back to guide her to the bar, and Myka realized they were very much in Sara’s line of sight, and Sara was watching them.
"Not about that part, no."
“Hey, Helena, will you lay off this territorial game you are playing with Sara? I’m telling her to cut it out too. She’s not my girlfriend, and I don’t want her to start acting like it, but neither are you, and you are not helping matters.”
Helena looked a bit surprised. “Is she not? Does she know that?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, Helena, but yes, she does. We have a friends with benefits arrangement, not a monogamous relationship.”
“Myka Bering, in an ‘arrangement’ with a younger woman just raring to be her knight in shining armor? Will wonders never cease. Actually, I think I always knew you had it in you. What does our Pete think of all this?”
“Sara is in her thirties, she’s not a child.”
“That’s for the best. But you admit she is acting a little childish.”
"Is she? And you aren't?" Now Myka whacked Helena lightly in the arm, but she was smiling against her better judgment too. “And Pete is very happily married and wants the best for me. He wants me to be happy too. He’s even cut most of his ‘lady book club’ jokes, thanks to Julie.”
“Ah, yes. I distinctly remember those. And are you? Happy?”
Myka returned her gaze steadily. “I try. I am, most of the time. I have a good life, here, Helena. I can do things the way I want. And I'm not crazy, evil, or dead. Are you?”
“Crazy, Evil or Dead?"
"Most of the time.” The thing was, she sounded like it. The hauntedness of past Helena had receded somewhat, and instead, Myka saw humor, a bit of worry perhaps, and a genuine curiosity, but nothing world ending. It was… nice to see, even if it hurt a little too. Helena took a sip of her beer, and Myka suddenly realized they’d been staring into each other’s eyes for a long time, and Helena must have noticed it too, because she felt the look deepen, grow more charged.
The bartender brought the last of their party's drinks, and Myka took a steadying breath. Was Helena here for work? For her? For a combination of the two? Could Helena ever disentangle the two? Was that something Myka might want?
“I’m sorry.” Helena said it very seriously just as Myka, attempting casualness, started to say, “What about you? Any arrangements of note?”
“You go first.”
“Oh I was just going to ask if you had any arrangements, other than Casey, of course, in your life?”
“Oh, yes. A few. Nothing serious. Past tense.”
“But not Casey.”
“She’s a little young for me.” Helena smirked at Myka, and then turned serious. “No, I actually don’t know that Casey is someone to be trusted.”
“Oh, that’s interesting.”
“More on that subject later?”
“Definitely. Oh, Giselle?”
“Long over. She's with some politician in Pennsylvania now. And Catherine too. Some others. I have not been great at partnerships in my time. Now, I am mostly a free agent.”
“Do you like it better that way?”
Helena didn’t answer that question. “I wanted to say I am sorry. Truly. For not calling first. I meant to in the morning, I did not seriously think we would be meeting at Zach’s Pizza tonight. And for not calling, more, in general.”
Myka deflated, lost all desire to tease Helena about her paramours. So this was when they would talk about it. “Thank you.” Helena nodded, and they stayed at the bar for a bit, just drinking, before Myka said,
“I guess, why didn’t you ever call? I mean, I understand how much the Warehouse took from you, how hard it must have been to talk to anyone there. But you never called at all."
"I was trying to spare you."
"Spare me what?"
"Me. My…" Helena swept her arms around her as if to say, "everything."
"You didn't spare me what it hurt to lose you, Helena, to try and reach out and lose you again and again." Helena was looking down at her drink, and Myka thought, why not, and continued. "And then after the warehouse? And you have stayed in touch with Claudia, which I am grateful for, by the way, but. I’ve always wondered why you couldn’t stay in touch with me.” Myka had started surely, but she ended plaintively. Was there any way to say, “why not me?” that didn’t sound plaintive?
Helena let out a sharp sound, like she’d been hit in the solar plexus. She had bowed her head pensively as Myka talked, and now her head stayed down, her hair flowing forward onto her shirt. “I couldn’t stay in touch with you, for some of the reasons you said, for the warehouse. But with you specifically, because I didn’t know how to be present with you. Not on a caper with you, not trying to ingratiate myself to you in order to work on a secret plan, not an agent at work. You were the only reason I wanted to be in the world most days, and I knew that if I leaned into that feeling I would destroy both of us. That was too much burden to place on you. I needed to find other reasons to live in the world so I wouldn’t cling to you in terror every night.” Helena finally looked up.
“I would have… So you left because you needed therapy? And what you found was… Nate?”
“Well, in so many words, yes, I needed therapy. Nate was a mistake, I knew that as soon as I saw you and Pete on my doorstep. But I couldn’t exactly have rushed into your arms the way I wanted to then. I was still a timebomb. As for therapy, it took me a while to seek it out. Therapy has come a long way in the last century, as you know, so it’s not like I knew what I was looking for at the time. I had to learn how to be a person here, in this time.”
“And in the interim, you wrote a couple *more* bestselling books, founded a tech incubator, got richer, and created a whole life for yourself, one that didn’t include me.”
“I… Myka, I didn’t presume you would want your life to include me, after everything. Especially after Claudia mentioned you and Pete were…”
“God, that? That was a bad idea that didn’t last very long. Surely Claudia must have told you that at the time, because she told us then often enough. Pete and I are fabulous business partners, great co-agents, best friends, and we are terrible significant others. But Helena, that’s an excuse. You didn’t ask. You didn’t give me a chance to say yes or no. Even though I would have dropped everything…” Myka was no longer plaintive, now she was angry.
“In order to ask I had to make sure I could withstand a no from you, Myka.” Helena’s voice had gotten quieter and quieter.
“So you told me no, passively, actively, for years. Because you knew I would withstand a no from you for years and still be waiting for you every time you came back?!”
“No. No, I didn’t expect you to wait. But I was hoping that now…”
Myka wheeled on Helena. “Now? No really. I thought you came here on some kind of as-yet-disclosed top secret job. Was the Donovan special just a ploy? Or is this mostly a job but you thought you’d swing by since I was conveniently on the way? Jesus, Helena. Get your stories straight.”
“No, Helena. Stop. Give me a minute. I heard what you said. I don’t want to hear any more now. Let’s get these drinks back to our table. We can have a real conversation at the bookstore later, but I need to clear my head.”
Helena nodded and silently followed Myka back to the table, where Steve and Casey and Sara were playing a game of Apples to Apples. They looked up mostly cheerfully, though it was clear they had also been pretending not to pay attention to the conversation at the bar.
Apples to Apples. Honestly game night with this crew is a lot of fun.
“You found our drinks!” This was Casey.
“At last, my apologies.”
“Want to play?” Steve gestured them to the table, "I thought, given the crowd, that this might be better than Cards Against Humanity."
Helena gave a skeptical look, “This game is about apples?”
Myka had been about to beg off and head home, but Steve and Sara looked welcoming, and she actually found the idea of Helena learning to play Apples to Apples pretty endearing. “I’ll stay if you will, Helena. One game?”
Helena looked as surprised as anyone else. “Sure,” she said, slowly. “How does one play?”
The problem with playing Apples to Apples with a current lover who is pushing boundaries, a former something-or-other who has come back out of nowhere, the possibly untrustworthy companion who is clearly into either her or the concept of trouble, and Steve, who can tell when you're lying, is that it's awkward. Nonetheless, Myka tried, and it was fun watching Helena learn and Sara and Casey revive an old dynamic.
Myka generally played to entertain herself and so rarely won. Helena was mystified by the game mechanics at first, but quickly gathered that she needed to play to peoples' desires, which is something she's always known how to do.
Tonight, Myka was a little tipsy. Tonight, she played to make a point and weirdly, it was mostly Casey who picked Myka's words, so they must have some things in common besides Helena. Myka knew which of her picks would charm Sara and she looked for a few that would get Helena's interest, but Myka also wasn't sure anymore what contemporary cultural references Helena would actually know.
A lot, it turned out. Steve and Helena became the breakaway players, their picks almost always correct or chosen, until finally Helena was utterly flummoxed by 1990s references that were not covered by romantic comedies. "So who is Garth Brooks?"
Everyone who was not a Warehouse agent looked at her stunned. "A country star? Were you not around in the 1990s?"
"I like country music fine. But, now that you mention it, I was not… here. I'd guess Mr. Brooks didn't make it across the pond. Well, I'll see what I can do with this card."
Steve must have been a little drunk because he muttered to Myka "technically lying…" but she shushed him.
Myka: "What year *were* you born, Helena?"
"Oh, um, 197…4…"
"Your ex-girlfriend can't remember what year you were born?"
Things were getting a little messy and Casey was leaning across the table and pointing at Myka. "We were trying to get Steve to tell us the story of what happened to you two but all he would tell us was that it's classified and it was before my time! So what's the scoop?"
Helena, who seemed less drunk than the rest of them, answered first. "Well, most of it is classified. But, Myka, do you want to tell?"
Myka could see that Helena was giving her an out, or making sure that Myka hadn't shared any details that would contradict what Helena would say, but Myka hadn't shared any details.
"Oh go on, you're the storyteller."
Helena arched an eyebrow and began.
"Well, shortly after I *moved from London* and started a job working for the undisclosed government agency that Myka and Steve used to work for…"
Steve, drunkenly: "She means the IRS." But no one heeded him.
"I was sort of a consultant and Myka and her partner brought me in on a few cases. And it was, in my case anyway, lust at first sight. So I went for her."
Casey, "And was it 'lust at first sight' for you, too, Myka?"
Myka grinned. "Well, my first sight of her was actually Helena making out with Pete so no. No, it was fascination at second sight, let's say. At the second sight I fell hard, though."
"You might say I swept Myka off her feet?"
"Pete? That's pretty weird." That was Sara, and Myka didn't blame her. It was weird.
"In my defense-"
"In your defense what, Helena?" Myka folded her arms, but she was smiling.
"I was undercover, trying to make contact and Pete was an easy target."
"I suppose. The easiest, at least then."
"And then what?"
"Well, and then our jobs got in the way. Or rather, I let a project I was working on come first, and I lost sight of what was important. I made some choices that used our connection to… further that project at Myka's expense. I was the villain, and made some decisions that left Myka feeling very betrayed and used. It felt like the end of the world. Does that about cover it?"
Myka had been watching her with both eyebrows raised, and arms still crossed. "Yeah, that's the redacted version, pretty much. I felt betrayed. And I tried to tell you that it didn't have to be the end of the world. But then you left… disappeared, more like, without a trace."
"I was a fool."
"So how long were you together?" Myka and Steve and Helena all looked at each other.
"Two years." said Helena, "though with our jobs and other things we were apart a lot of that time. So it didn't feel like two years."
Now Myka was playing with the label on her empty beer. No, it did not feel like two years. Or maybe it did, maybe it felt a lot longer.
"And is this, is this you showing up finally? To win her back?" Casey, narrating the romantic comedy, again.
"No, Casey, this is me showing up, and beginning to change the pattern. Make amends. That's all."
Casey didn't seem entirely satisfied by this answer and Myka tried to project 'impassivity' as she watched first Helena's sincere regard, Casey's playful observation and finally Steve, who had been looking intently at Helena. Now he gave her a small smile and mouthed, "Lying," before getting up. The only person Myka didn't turn to was Sara, whose expression she didn't really want to see at the moment.
"I think it's past my bedtime." Steve said, "I'm calling a Lyft, and there's only three in this town, anyone want to share?"
"We should probably go too. Casey, you crashing with me tonight? We can share."
"Yes, but Helena's too good for us. She's got herself a hotel room."
"Walking distance from here, I believe. Right downtown."
Myka surprised herself. "As am I. I'll walk you over." Casey and Steve exchanged a look, but Myka continued. "Goodnight everyone, better luck next time on your pub quiz. Sara, can you call me tomorrow? I want to talk to you about a few things."
She gave each of them quick hugs, preempting any suggestion of a goodnight kiss, and walked into the night with Helena.
The hotel really was just a few blocks from her bookstore with an apartment above. Myka knew that Helena could handle herself as well as she could on the street, but she wanted another few moments with her. The night was cool and clear, with low mist and visible stars.
"You'll want to watch out for bears around here."
"Yep! They'll steal your picnic and show up in the damnedest places."
"Huh." They walked along a few places.
"Thanks for listening tonight, Myka. And thanks for… playing along."
"I look forward to hearing what you have to say next." Myka walked a few more places and then they were at the door of Helena's hotel, mostly shut up for the evening, but with a sign on the door with directions after hours. "You know what's the worst thing about pretending to be your ex-girlfriend, Helena?"
Helena looked alarmed at what she might say next.
"Pretending that we had a lot more fun than we actually did. I feel like we earned some with all that angst and trauma, you know?" Then Myka stepped in close, gave Helena a chaste kiss on the cheek, and walked away. She could feel Helena blinking at her back.
Myka talks to everyone but Helena. Ambivalence here, but sexier times on the horizon, I promise.
The next morning, Sara came over for brunch. Myka wasn’t exactly looking forward to the conversation, but the Cowgirl Cafe did have the best breakfast and bad coffee in town and so she focused on that.
Sara was also serious on the phone, but seemed cheerful when she arrived. Sara ordered the green chili breakfast burrito and Myka ordered a light Greek omelette. They sipped coffee for a while before Myka started.
“You can’t do what you did last night. You don’t get to be territorial about me when someone from my past shows up.”
“Myka, I wasn’t being territorial. There are a lot of people from your past around you that don’t bother me at all. Pete, for example. Kara, at the food coop? I don’t care that you dated her.”
“Then what was going on with you?”
“It’s not that Helena is in your past. First of all, I’m not sure this is your past. And second of all, I care about you, as a friend. When you interact with Pete, it’s clear there is a lot of love there and you take care of each other. He’s a safe guy. Helena? All I know is that she broke your heart years ago and apparently just disappeared into the ether. And then last night, as soon as she showed up, your whole affect changed. You were on edge, you kept watching her, and she was playing with you. I didn’t like that.”
“It made me feel like you and Helena were fighting over me, and I do not like feeling like a prize in a pissing contest.
“Did you tell her to knock it off?”
“I am sorry, I just wanted to have your back. Honestly. And maybe I wanted her to know that I have your back, too.” she shook her head, ruefully.
“Look, Sara, I appreciate that. I appreciate that you want to be my friend here, but given the particular nature of our friendship,” Myka put her hand on Sara’s, and smiled at her, “I think we need to keep a bit of a boundary about you having my back around ex girlfriends.”
Sara breathed out heavily. “Ugh, I wish Casey hadn’t brought her here. This would be a lot less complicated if she and Casey weren’t doing whatever they are doing.”
Myka laughed. “Yes, it really would.” Then she turned serious. “What do you know about Casey’s life right now? Forgive me, but how close of friends are you?”
“We were so close, like, a decade ago. We went through a lot of hard things together, like, breakups and our band falling apart and stupid housemate drama. She's one of those friends I would hide from the cops, you know? But I moved for grad school and our lives have gone in very different places since then. I haven't spent more than a couple days' visit with her in probably five years?"
"What's she like, as a person?"
"Well, I was hoping you might get to find out, but maybe you don't want to do that at the moment? She's a lot of fun. She's this weird mix of kind of serious but very observant, and if I'm being honest, a low key instigator of sorts. Nothing bad, just, she likes to stir the pot, see what happens."
"Yeah I think I got that last night."
"About that. I'm not sure what's going on with her and Helena. Couldn't get a straight answer from her about their relationship."
Now Myka looked surprised, "About whether they are sleeping together?"
"Yeah, or about how close they are. I dunno. It's part of why I was defensive last night too. I don't want this Helena person playing with two of my friends' hearts at once, you know?"
Myka looked thoughtful. "Helena has never been very… interested in being discreet about her affairs. I don't see why she would downplay something with Casey here."
Now Sara gave Myka a slightly incredulous look, "Do you not?"
"What, for me?"
Sara just shrugged.
"That's never stopped… I mean, they are traveling together. If she wanted to make sure I got the impression she was unencumbered she could have come alone."
"Yeah, I don't get that part. Is she trying to make you jealous? Suss out your feelings that way?"
"I…" Myka thought about it. "No, Helena wouldn't do that with me."
"Are you sure?"
"Ok, Sara, look. Message received. You don't trust Helena. I get that. This is a weird situation for both of us, but I really don't think it is your place to comment further on Helena or our relationship. You are missing a lot of context, context that I can't give you, and given *our* relationship, context that I don't want to share. I really enjoy our time together, and I like the boundaries we already have. I am worried about this situation muddying those boundaries, so I think maybe we should, while Casey and Helena are in town, maybe give each other some space. It would help me out to do that."
Sara clearly taken aback, sighed and took a sip of her coffee before responding. "Wow. Ok. Um, sure. If that's what you think you need, we can keep clear of each other. You aren't, like, breaking things off permanently?"
Myka tried to be reassuring. "No, Sara, I'm not saying that. But this is something we agreed that one of us could do, for any reason, right?"
"I would like to ask you to do one more thing for me, though. Ok? And that is, maybe this Helena visit is bringing up things for you, like maybe feelings about the way we are together, our arrangement, that aren't actually working for you. Like, if you are wanting things from me that… that I'm not prepared to give you right now. I'm not saying it's the case. I'm asking you to consider it. And if you think that might be the case, we do need to talk about that. And maybe you might need more space from me than just this visit."
"I'm not asking you to reassure me right now. It's a worry I have, and maybe I'm completely wrong about it, but I want you to think about it, ok?"
"Ok. Shit." Sara was silent for a while. "I think I'm going to go, if that's ok? I'll see you after Casey leaves." Sara put some cash down on the table, gave Myka a small smile, and walked out.
Myka sighed, sat back, and texted Pete.
A couple hours later, Myka found herself sipping on a homemade popsicle in Pete's backyard. Janey and Aiden were playing in a sprinkler set up for the occasion, and Pete was heating up a grill for dinner.
"So Sara didn't take it well?"
“Not great, no."
“Huh. I’m sorry to hear that. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want to be in the middle of that, but I like Sara, she seems like she would make good girlfriend material. And I get why she wants to protect you from Helena. She doesn’t know the half of it, but I know the feeling.”
“The problem, I think, is that I am not looking for a girlfriend. Even if I was, it wouldn’t be Sara. Not least because she is guaranteed to leave at the end of the semester, and I don’t really want to do that again.”
“Yeah, I can tell. I meant she would be good girlfriend material for someone. I don’t think she’s right for you. But she may not feel that way, and it probably sucks for her. I think you were right to ask for a little time. It’s not her fault that Helena is here and is… Helena. She couldn’t possibly compete.” He gave her a knowing smile, “No one ever could.”
“Do you feel like you need to protect me from Helena?”
“I dunno, Mykes. I don’t want her to hurt you, and I know you well enough to know that you don’t protect yourself from her. But you said she apologized last night?”
“She did. Or started to.”
“Yeah, so I think that’s fundamentally a good thing. And let me tell you, Myka? The vibes I get from her? They are different this time. Less haunted. Still turmoil, somewhat, I get worry, I get drama, but fundamentally less haunted. Did she get therapy or something?”
Myka laughed. “Apparently, yes. She did.”
“Well then. I want to believe she’s doing the work, and maybe is in a better place, and maybe you two can say some things to each other that you never have before. I think that would be good for everyone. So no, I don’t want to keep her away from you. But I do want you to be careful, Mykes, because even a non-haunted Helena could still hurt you, and I think you’ve dealt with enough heartbreak already.”
“No problem. Sara doesn’t need to worry about your back. I’ve had your back since she was a kid.”
“You have. I’m lucky that way.”
Pete was silent for a while and then said, “Do you think it’s an artifact?”
“Whatever mystery Lady Danger has brought us.”
“Yeah, I wondered about that. She’s being extra secretive, even with Steve, which I don’t know what to do with, and even with Claudia, which worries me.”
“You think Claud’s in danger?”
“That’s my fear.”
“Huh. You know, speaking of vibes, you know who was pinging me all night with weird vibes?”
“Yeah. How’d you guess?”
“Helena doesn’t trust her. And she was acting a little… strange.”
“Lady Danger doesn’t trust her? I thought maybe they were… you know?” Pete waggled his eyes.
“I don’t think they are. Not according to either of them anyway, but Sara said that Casey was playing coy about it. It wouldn’t be out of character for HG Wells to seduce someone she didn’t trust, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think it’s something else. What kind of vibes does she give you?”
“Like, not evil, but off. Not trustworthy, or not what she seems. I wouldn’t accuse her of a crime, but then I wouldn’t leave her with my unlocked phone either, you know?”
“Hmm. That’s interesting. You know what Sara said about her? That she was a pot-stirrer, but was the kind of friend she would hide from the cops if need be.”
“That is a very particular scenario to imagine for a friend.”
“Yeah, it is. It kind of seems in keeping with Sara’s personality, or at least what she’s told me about some of her younger days, but it does also suggest that the need is not far from mind.”
Just then Julie came outside and pulled up a camping chair to join them. “Finally finished that report. And I am SO done with paperwork right now. Hi Myka, how are you holding up? How did your lesbian stereotype drinks go last night?”
"Lesbian what now?"
"Ok, I know you're not a lesbian, Myka, but isn't going out for drinks with your ex and not only your, but also her current situationship paramours kind of a gay gal joke waiting to be written?"
"Steve was there!"
"That doesn't change much?"
"No, I suppose not. I'm doing ok. I had to have a chat with Sara today to ask her to tone down defending my honor. And to take some space apart while certain visitors are in town."
"Myka's worried the poor kid is catching feelings at the worst possible moment."
"Thank you, Pete. I'm worried she isn't being honest with me about what she wants from our 'situationship' as you called it. I don't think last night was a very good sign…"
Julie laughed, "I caught some of that, yes. Sounds like drinks were pretty awkward?"
Myka nodded, and poured herself some iced tea. "Julie, you're a pretty good judge of character, what did you make of Casey?"
"Casey? Not Helena?"
"Casey first," Myka laughed. "She was stirring up all kinds of drama last night. Not helping Sara much, to be honest. And Helena says she doesn't trust her."
"Really? Strange to be traveling with her then… she seemed fun. I liked her, but we really only talked briefly. She was paying a lot of attention to you and Helena, I'll tell you what. She and Sara both."
Myka thought about this for a while. "Well, that's not so suspicious, I guess."
"No," Julie laughed, and then exchanged a look with Pete. "So, are you going to ask me what I think of Helena or what?"
"Ok, fine. Yes. What do you think of Helena?"
"Well, she's very charming, very engaging and smart. And I suspect she gave about 70% of the answers for that pub quiz by herself last night. I can see why Sara and Casey might have been intimidated, because Helena spent all night looking at you like the one that got away." Myka looked down at the ground and took another sip of tea and then choked on it when Julie continued, "And you… you were trying very hard not to drink her up entirely with your eyes all night long."
"She speaks the truth, Mykes."
"Who are you, Steve?"
"We were taking odds about whether you went home with her last night. I was betting against it, though. I think you're still kind of mad."
"I bet against it too Mykes! It's Claudia who owes us money. She does owe us money, right?"
"I'm going to kill her when she comes home."
"So you didn't?"
"No! Of course not. I still don't know what's going on with her. And you're right. I am still angry. And I still want her, of course I do. I've never been able to help that."
"Ok ok, enough teasing you for now." Julie squeezed Myka's arm reassuringly. "I think you should tell her that, Myka. The first part, about being angry. You should pay attention to what you feel there. And maybe–depending on how *that* conversation goes, you can tell her the rest."
Pete nodded, "In that order, Mykes. And call if you need a rescue."
Myka got up to leave soon after, as the kids were getting ready for bed. She hugged Julie, and then Pete pulled her aside. "Listen, Myka, tell me everything as soon as you hear. If Claudia is in danger, I'll do whatever I can to help. But also, Helena, she might be keeping things from you, you know? Keep your cool."
Myka hugged him tight, and went home to get very little sleep that night. What story was Helena going to bring her tomorrow? Did she want to have Helena back in her life? Also, regardless of her wayward feelings, should she? What would prevent Helena from asking for a favor, breaking down Myka's hesitations, and then disappearing again?
She thought about calling Claudia, but it seemed like Helena was implying that might be putting Claudia in some kind of danger. Then again, Claudia had texted her about the visit generally, so maybe that was safe ground? So she texted,
-It's weird having her back, Claud. I wish you were here too.-
The answer came almost immediately.
-i wish I was there too! Unless you're knocking boots already. THAT I don't need to be around for-
And then, -too soon?-
-yeah, too soon on that one. I'm not sure that's going to be in the cards-
-not because of Casey. She's not competition, Myka. HG's not into her like that-
-no, not Casey. I don't care if Helena's into her. It's just been so long. I know she didn't disappear on you but she disappeared completely on me-
-i get that…
…Look I don't know if I should say this but visiting you is all she's been able to talk about for months-
Myka didn't respond at first. Mostly disbelief prevented her from responding.
-then why didn't she tell me she was coming???-
-i don't know. maybe she was worried you would tell her not to come?-
-ugh I don't know clauds-
A very 2022 sort of villain revealed. Helena and Myka go on a hike. That is maybe a date?
The next day Myka tried her best to keep to a routine. Early morning run, breakfast, groceries and some paperwork before the store opened. She was distracted all day, and never had living in a small town felt so unhelpful. She ran into people wanting to talk at every errand, and folks stopping into the bookstore wanted to know who "her" visitor was. The circles she moved in, those who frequented her bookstore, those who came to Zach's, some people she knew when consulting at the university, Pete and Julie's friends, they all seemed to be sharing an even smaller bubble today. A colleague of Sara's came by for a rare book and asked if she would be hanging out with Sara's friends in town. Pete's babysitter, in for a graphic novel, had heard a British accent at the grocery store.
By the time she took her lunch, Myka was going stir crazy. With no one in the store, she took the Donovan Special out of her pocket and set it on the counter. It was a small box, about the size of a pager, with a text screen that looked like it could also create images. There were two buttons on the side, a speaker at the bottom and a single jack for charging. Was this just as simple as pressing a button and Helena would be there? Was there no security code, no dial process? One button had a plus sign and one a minus. Helena had said the minus sign would call her, and before she could second guess herself, she pressed it.
There was no sound, but the screen immediately came to life, with text reading audio/video/both. She had to press both buttons for both, and did. Then, a faint clicking, a flickering, and Helena's face, or half of it, filled the screen.
"Myka? What's wrong?"
"Oh hi. Um, nothing is wrong. I actually just thought it might be good to test this thing, before any danger occurs? I wanted to make sure I understood how it works. And I think I do!"
"That's a very good idea, actually. I'm glad you called. How's your day?"
"It's been good, I guess? Yours?"
"I've been exploring this delightful town of yours. It's very pretty here. Now I'm" she gestured off screen, "catching up on some work."
"I'm glad you like it. Listen, do you want to swing by the bookstore a little early, before closing? You could bring me some tea, and I can show you around before we… discuss things."
"Grand. Will you have me at 5?"
Myka didn't have much longer to wait then, so she busied herself with back orders and tidying the shop. There weren't too many customers in the afternoon, but of course one of her regulars was around when Helena arrived, at 5 precisely, with two cups of English Breakfast from the coffee shop down the road.
She walked in, clocked that Myka wasn't alone, and made a beeline for the counter, where she dropped off one of the teas with a small smile. As Myka tried to hurry along the ringing up process, Helena surveyed the shelves. After pretending to be a customer for a while, she wandered over to the community bulletin board and events calendar on the back wall. Fifteen minutes later, that's where Myka found her.
She sidled up next to her, "Hey, thanks for waiting around a bit."
"Of course, Myka. I was learning about all the book groups and open mic nights you host here at the shop."
"We have a queer science fiction reading group on Monday if you want to stick around?"
Helena laughed, "So I noticed. I'm sad to say this work conference isn't very optional, otherwise I would absolutely. Do you attend all of these?"
"No." Myka smiled back. "No, not most of them, actually. I try to create a hub for people who want books and community in their lives, but I learned a few years back that the space can do that without me attending every single thing, and losing my entire mind in the process."
Helena tipped her head, "That sounds wise. And admirable. I'm impressed with the life you've created here."
Myka had a lot of responses to this, some of which involved reflections on time passed, and many of which involved some insecurities about the pace of Helena's city life, but she settled on, "Thanks."
They were silent for a while, and then Helena turned with her most charming smile.
"Will you give me the grand tour?"
Myka couldn't help but grin. "I would love to."
She walked Helena through the shelves first, then the community room, and finally the inventory and offices at the back. Helena was inquisitive and appreciative and showed no sign whatsoever of wanting to talk about Claudia or a case or anything sinister. She seemed, in fact, to be intent on flattering Myka, and it was kind of nice, really, to be able to show these things off. Myka liked her life, and she had worked hard for something meaningful that wouldn't bore her or kill her. Seeing Helena in this context, relatively calm and unhurried, on the other hand, felt jarring. They'd never had normal, not together.
Eventually, though, Myka ran out of things to show Helena. Or, more precisely, the only thing left to show Helena was her apartment, which took up the top two floors of the building. "I can take you up there if you want, though I should probably lock up the front door first."
She left Helena at the front entryway while she turned the closed sign a couple of minutes early, "and then, do you want to get out of here?"
"Maybe let's get out of here first and you can show me your place later?"
As they left the building Myka grabbed Helena's shoulder and pulled her face close to her ear, for just a second. She whispered, "Helena what is this? Are you worried about my place being bugged?"
Helena simply nodded, and mouthed the question "a park?"
Myka rolled her eyes but led the way around the block to her car. "Where?"
"Just get in. I have a nice hiking spot I want to show you. Then you can take me to dinner."
They drove south for a time before Myka turned off towards the mountains. Helena must have been paranoid about bugs in her car too because she kept up a steady pace of trivialities and refused to elaborate. She also made a show of turning off her phone and taking out the battery, and gestured for Myka to hand hers over as well. Myka gave her an incredulous glance, but did as requested. Eventually, they pulled into an empty state park lot and Myka hopped out of the car.
"Best views around. Come on."
Helena followed her down the trail, looking around carefully. The trail led through the left side of a wide ravine, with cliffs rising up steeply off the trail and a river and views of mountains on the other side. The trail itself was well maintained but seemed quiet this evening. Myka pointed out some spots where there were whole chunks of bark stripped off trees about three feet off the ground, but "bears" was all she said.
When they had walked for ten minutes Helena finally slowed and said, "I'm worried Claudia is in danger."
"So I guessed. What's going on?"
"I think she's being targeted, or set up, really. She's gotten into some online activism recently. She's been tracking the activities of a white surpremacist organization that is growing in popularity among sectors of the tech world, following the money, identifying culprits and ties that some people would rather remain hidden. She doesn't know I know, but I've been worried about her. These guys, they are pretty scary."
"Ok. That does sound scary. How can I, and Pete, help?"
"I've started to see some evidence that this group has noticed her investigations. They've pulled her backstory, they have even found out about the Warehouse, as far as I can tell. They are moving in on her, and I don't know exactly how, but if the past is any indication they are going to try to frame her for something –likely put her in the way of law enforcement. I have my suspicions, given the nature of our prior work and its… precarious relationship to host governments that they might set her up for treason. Make it look like she stole an artifact, or sold secrets, or was otherwise undermining the government. 'lets Chelsea Manning the bitch' is an actual quote from 8chan, so."
"You can probably also see the problem. My own history of… I suppose… collecting artifacts without authorization, Artie's history of selling artifacts before he knew what he was doing, it's all eminently plausible to accuse Claudia of something similar."
"So you need me to…"
"Figure out the most likely weak spots in her record. When you retired from the service you kept a consultant agreement with the Warehouse, right? So you and Pete can flag any artifacts you come across in your consulting work, and use your own cases on a request basis?"
"That's right. We have access to any case files we wrote and can request others pending authorization and willingness of the current warehouse."
"Which means you might be able to pull any cases that Claudia worked on when you were in the Warehouse together–most of which had either your or Pete as cosigners–and even request the others without sending up red flags, right?"
"Right… well, probably."
"I would like you to look at the artifacts Claudia investigated as an agent, and try to find out which ones could be used against her. Or, worse, if there are some that have gone missing recently."
"Helena, this is lot… Claudia was a caretaker for a while. She did inventory before she could legally vote. She has a relationship with nearly every artifact in the Warehouse."
"Yes, but she only has a paper relationship to a subset. And an even smaller number, no doubt, that would look impressively scary to the State Department or the Proud Boys of the internet. It doesn't have as much to do with what actually happened as what story they can spin."
Myka thought about this. "Ok, yes. I see what you mean. Pete's in by the way. He wants to keep Claudia safe."
"Of course I am." Myka reached up and tugged her hair absentmindedly. "But I do have some questions for you."
"Casey is a cover story, by the way."
Myka looked up, startled, "That was a… screeching change of topic?"
Helena turned to face Myka and gave a slight shrug. "I want you to know I'm traveling with Casey for two reasons, and neither are sexual: one because I'm worried she's involved in this, and two because it's a reason to visit here that doesn't immediately point to you and your work. A cover story."
"Oh. Helena, I don’t care if… Ok. Good to know. Pete doesn't trust her either by the way, he says her vibes are weird but not evil. You think she's a white supremacist?"
Helena shook her head doubtfully. "I don’t know, I don't think so? I think she isn't entirely what she seems. I think she's been in a lot of the right places at the right times and I don't understand why yet. This Jackson Hole meeting, there are some sinister people there and I want to know who she's meeting with. While I conduct business as usual, of course."
Myka nodded. "That makes sense. Casey wasn't my primary question, however."
"What's your endgame here?"
Helena looked quizzical. "I want to keep Claudia safe."
Myka spoke slowly, tracing a line in the dirt with one foot. "I do too. And I am very happy to monitor and investigate and try to figure out where she might get attacked. But this is going to be ongoing, I take it, for some time?"
Nodding, Helena said, "Until Claudia or someone takes these guys down, or they decide she's no longer a threat, or until they succeed. It may be a holding pattern."
Myka looked up, "So is this a way that you can just drop into my life without notice or preamble and make yourself, in the name of Claudia, my top secret priority whenever it suits you? Or is this going to be more of a one time, I don't see you for another decade sort of thing?"
Helena's mouth fell open slightly. She struggled for words, not for the first time on this trip looking as if Myka's question had landed a physical blow. "I… I didn't make this up. Claudia is in danger."
"I don't doubt that. But if I'm going to work with you, and I AM going to work with you unless you would prefer to run all your inquiries through Pete after this conversation, then we need to talk about this. I need to know what I can expect from you. Are you going to keep half the story from me? Should I expect to see more of you after this visit?"
"I am not keeping anything from you.”
“Myka, you say that as though you don't get a choice in the matter."
"Historically speaking, I haven't."
"What do you want me to say?"
"I want you to… ever since you walked into my life I have made space for you. Welcomed your mysterious arrivals, helped you with your plans against my better professional judgment, advocated to get you reinstated as an agent, asked them to treat you with mercy when you betrayed me and my team, worked to get you out of the Janus Coin and free. Do you really not know what I want here?"
Now Helena was frustrated too. "You saved my life, and I have tried to repay you with saving yours, sparing you..."
"You said thank you and you left. You left me.”
“And I told you why I did that. I thought I had to…”
“And now you’re back. But goddamnit Helena I can't say no to you. You come in here with some secret plan and I will always want to reorganize my life to be part of that. Even though I know you'll leave again, and I'll have to pick up the pieces again. What I want is to feel like you might reorganize your life for me. You would do that for me, even if it was a risk."
Helena was silent for a long while. “You want me to move to Missoula, get down on one knee and ask you to marry me?”
Myka felt her stomach drop out of her body. She blinked at Helena for a second, and then the anger rushed back in. She laughed, and it wasn’t a kind laugh. “Fuck you.”
“No, seriously. That’s nonsense, Helena, and you know it. I have barely talked to you in ten years. I don’t know you anymore. I don’t want a grand abstract gesture that you feel compelled to do just because I’ve shouted at you, I don’t want promises that I can’t trust and commitments neither of us knows we can keep. I want to know if you’re coming back. After Jackson Hole, or next month. I want a second date, not a ring.”
Helena was looking away from Myka now, and Myka wondered if she was fighting back tears. The anger that had coursed through her up until now was starting to ebb away. Still not facing Myka, Helena said through gritted teeth, “Ok. I am grateful for your help in this matter, despite my continued monstrous treatment of you. Are you done shouting at me, or is there more I need to hear about?”
“No, that’s probably about it…" Myka leaned in to try to catch her eye, but wasn't successful. "Hey. I want to hear what you have to say to all that."
"What can I say?" Helena threw up her hands and still wouldn't face Myka. "What can I say? When I came back from being bronzed, I had nothing but revenge and loss in my life. And you, you were everything that I couldn't imagine being in my own time. Respected for your talents and your mind, valued as an equal, working on your own terms, and fundamentally good. Not unscarred I know, but uncompromised by your experiences and your own losses. I was in awe of you from the beginning. And you gave me so much hope. And that saved me, because I couldn't fathom destroying you. But I knew the closer I got to you the more likely I was to warp everything. You said it yourself, every time you let me near you I caused damage. So I tried to spare you the damage. But that hurt you too. I'm sorry for everything. You don't have any reason to trust that now is any different."
"Helena, look at me. You're not a monster. You never were. I don’t want your penance, but I appreciate your presence now. And your honesty. You said yesterday that you needed to take that time to sort yourself out, to give you something to live for. I believe you. I wish I could have been part of that, but since I couldn't, I’m glad you did it, I really am. More than anything else I want you to be happy here." Finally, Myka was able to catch her eye, which was regarding her warily. "And I know you were trying to protect me. But I'm not an heirloom. I'd rather be hurt from knowing than left wondering. That's how you can give me reasons to trust you. That and being around."
Helena drew in a shaky breath and walked a few paces to the edge of the path. "I am trying to do exactly that." She sounded exhausted.
"Well, so, thank you for listening. And saying what you did yesterday. "
Helena stayed at the edge of the path, breathing slowly, but she nodded. After a few minutes, her breathing came easier. Finally, she turned around and said, "You mentioned a second date. Does this count as our first? It is a beautiful spot for recriminations."
Now Myka laughed genuinely. "I was hoping you would take me to dinner, actually?"
"That I can do." She smiled back, at last, and her face transformed into something almost beatific. She even, tentatively, held out her hand. "Are you hungry? Should we head back?
Myka took it and squeezed. "Definitely."
"Anything else we need to talk about before the car?"
"Actually I have a few more questions. What exactly do you think is bugged?"
“I think we should operate as though our phones, our emails, and probably your apartment and our cars could be monitored. Anywhere Casey is, anywhere Claudia is. She doesn’t know the full extent of my suspicions, and I’d like to keep it that way, for now.”
“Full paranoia, ok.”
“Better safe than sorry.” Helena sighed.
“Absolutely. Ok, and Steve? Can I loop him in?”
“I wanted to ask you about that, actually. I don’t know him as well as the rest of you. Is he someone you would want to bring in? Can he keep this secret?”
“Yes. Yes, he can, and he cares immensely about Claudia. He would want to help. And he can flush out deception too.”
“Then he may be useful. He goes to visit Claudia sometimes, yes?”
“He is due for a visit, actually.”
“That could help us. Maybe Steve should visit Claudia soon, do some monitoring of her situation in a way that I can’t directly, especially while I am traveling?”
They walked back to the car quickly after that, and it felt good to be working together, troubleshooting and thinking of possibilities. Helena told her a little more about what she knew of the sinister organization, and eventually more about her own interests in the tech world. The conversation was tentative, but warm. Myka offered to invite Pete and Steve on a hike that weekend where they could all talk without fear of monitoring. They were on a case together. It felt right to Myka.
Dinner was easier than the walk had been. Myka directed them towards the new American bistro in town, and they ordered wine and tucked into a back corner. Aside from the servers, Myka only recognized one or two people at the tables and resolved to ignore them. Helena warmed up with wine and with Myka's attention, and told her about her life in Seattle and what, exactly, an incubator did for new companies. Myka had good questions and Helena had so many stories it seemed like she may have been storing them up just for the occasion.
Still, Myka wrestled with herself at dinner. The more wine she drank and the more relaxed Helena got, the more she felt like flirting, like reaching across the table unnecessarily to touch Helena's hand, or sidling over until their thighs were closer. Their conversations over the past few days had made these gestures seem possible. A lot of Myka wanted to lean into this desire that had apparently never left, but she also worried that she might move too fast. A very wise part of her brain, no doubt, was counseling caution.
Slow down, and let herself get to know Helena again. It didn't help that Helena's eyes turned dark and intent every time they touched, as though the lightness of their conversation rested on a cliff's edge for her. And it didn't help that Myka kept getting lost in that smile, the one that promised to be only for her.
After dinner, Helena walked Myka back to the bookstore, but didn't give her any time to agonize over whether she should invite her up for drinks.
"I'm going back to the hotel. Thank you for a marvelous evening."
Helena's tone was tight, and Myka couldn't help but feel disappointed. Maybe all the recriminations, as Helena had put it, were weighing too heavily on her. Or maybe she was cautious too. Still, she conjured up a genuine smile, and focused on the idea that Helena was trying to listen to what she'd asked for, to show up without grand gestures. So she decided to make an overture of her own. "Thank you for taking me out tonight, Helena. Can we do this again before you leave? Are you interested in coming to the open mic night with me tomorrow?"
Helena smiled back, shyly. "I am. But can I see you before then? I was hoping, perhaps, that I could come work at the bookstore tomorrow, if I wouldn't be in the way?"
Now Myka felt a flutter of giddiness. Spending her day with Helena, not just trying to distract herself from thinking of when Helena would arrive? She nodded. "Come in the morning. In the afternoon, Katie comes in part time, so if you want me all to yourself, come in the morning." At that, Helena said she would and walked away.
Myka and Helena work together at the bookstore. And get that second date.
Myka tossed and turned that night and woke with a sense of anticipation. She was a little later than usual on her morning run and so was only just out of the shower when Helena rang at the bookstore with an Americano in each hand.
"There's an extra shot in this one."
"You remembered. And yours? You drink espresso now?"
"I've lived in America for many years, Myka. A good espresso is a thing of wonder. But I actually picked this habit up back in London. A black Americano at a Costa or Pret every morning on my way to the museum."
"I think I remember getting an Americano from something called Costa in a train station just before we met for the first time." She smiled at Helena and pointed upstairs, "I'm still getting ready. Do you want to come up or should I get you settled downstairs?"
"I'll come up."
Helena followed Myka and looked around in open curiosity. The second floor landing opened up to a wide living space, airy and full of plants and books and windows for light. At the back was a kitchen, marked off by a long countertop and stools. Off to the left of the kitchen was a hallway and another staircase leading to the third floor. Myka gestured over to the couch as she moved towards the kitchen.
"There are three bedrooms upstairs, one's for Claudia when she comes home, and sometimes I put up other strays who wander through." She shot Helena and appraising glance, but then immediately wondered whether that was too much information. It's not like Helena would be moving into one of them.
"It's so light and airy here. Like something out of Grand Designs."
Myka turned back to her, pleased. "If it was on Grand Designs wouldn't it be the other way around? Bedrooms on the lower floor, public areas on top? Also, wouldn't I be £50,000 over budget, researching the latest solar roof technology and driving my poor wife to distraction while cutting costs with the furnishings?"
Helena laughed, "You would not. You would be the rare example who brings the house in under budget and with a design that manages to be both stunning and not a nuisance to the planning committee."
"That's very kind. You, on the other hand…"
"You know full well if I were on that show I would be driving my wife to distraction with a never ending building project."
"But the project would be so ambitious and your presentation of the idea so magnetic that everyone around you would want it to succeed anyway." Myka smiled, and they both blushed a bit, and then she continued, "Sit anywhere you like. I'm going to be here answering some emails before I go downstairs. Do you need a plug? Or some wifi?"
They worked for a while at the kitchen counter, and Myka brought out bowls of blueberries and raspberries and yogurt to eat as they sat next to each other.
"This would be a lovely room to do some writing in. Do you ever use the desk?" Helena pointed across the room to a mid century wooden desk, tucked behind a couch and next to a window that looked out over the mountains.
"I do, sometimes. I use it for journaling and morning pages, stuff like that."
Helena's eyebrows shot up, "Are you working on a writing project?"
"Maybe… yes. I am. Trying to write something. But it's very inchoate at the moment."
"I would love to see it, or hear more about it."
Myka shook her head, but she was smiling, "That would be… not yet. Maybe when I feel a little more comfortable with the project. What about you? It's been a while since your last book, are you working on anything new?"
"Don't think I didn't catch that dodge, Myka. Whenever you're ready to share, the offer stands. But, yes, I am working on something new. It's also in quite early stages, and kind of a departure from the science fiction–"
"I thought you called it speculative fiction these days, Helena."
"Touché. I do very much like 'speculative' as a descriptor for the genre. It opens up more worlds than only science, although in my original day, we assumed science opened up all the worlds. So this project is, well, it's about a time traveler, but it's about the mundane things that you have to get used to to live in another time and place. The near cognate words, the technological displacement, the slight cultural shifts that catch you up."
Myka was intrigued. She moved closer, resting her head on her hand and looking up at Helena. "So is it kind of autobiographical? It will look like speculative fiction to the reader, but it's actually a reflection on your life?"
Helena was toying with the digital pencil she had been using on her tablet. "Yes, which I guess is sort of what I used to do back before… but this will be tonally pretty different from anything I’ve tried in this century or that one. Contemplative, rather than plot forward. It's an experiment. And I am considering… I'm considering making it a graphic novel."
"Wow, Helena. That sounds amazing. Like, really extraordinary. And I think there would be a market for it. Are you thinking something like, Patrick Rothfuss's 'The Slow Regard of Silent Things'?"
Helena smiled down at the counter. "A bit, yes. Something like that, and I'm also playing with the idea of the life of a building over time and how the narrator might interact with that. Moving through a house a century later. Something like Richard McGuire's 'Here' or what Woolf does in 'To The Lighthouse,' with 'Time Passes' but not entirely depersonalized. Time as a character is fascinating to me." She shrugged, "I haven't figured out how to do it properly yet."
By the time Helena looked back up, tentatively. Myka was beaming. "It sounds like a masterpiece."
Helena didn't respond right away, but just looked at Myka and ran a hand through her hair. After a pause, she said, "Anyway. I don't have a lot of time for it yet. Don't you have to open up the shop at some point?"
"Don't think I didn't catch *that* dodge, Helena. But you're right. I do. You're welcome to keep working—or writing—up here. Or you can come see how to open up a bookshop!"
Helena appeared to give this some serious thought, before deciding to come with Myka. As they went down the stairs, Myka started laughing. "Maybe you are Orlando after all. Finding your genre in every era."
"It was something Steve said, the other night at the pub quiz. He called you my Orlando."
Helena's mouth quirked, "And what did you say to that?"
Myka gave her a canny look. "I told him you were the Muscovite Princess."
"But I might have been wrong. You are the traveler through time, after all."
"The end of that book, at least the Marmaduke Shelmerdine character never sat entirely right with me."
"The sea captain with all the qualities of a woman? I would have thought you'd find that kind of thing at least somewhat appealing."
Helena shook her head. "It seemed a bit of a cop out to me. We get to know so much about why Orlando fell for Sasha, but then in two minutes this mysterious man knows everything about her? Why does he have all the qualities of a woman anyway?"
Myka was laughing at Helena as she turned on the store lights and started booting up the register and computer. "I don't know. Perhaps you are supposed to feel ambivalent about the whole enterprise. Woolf thinks Orlando is a bit of a romantic fool anyway."
"You can ask Sara all about it, next time you see her. She wrote an article about compulsory heterosexuality and the Bloomsbury set."
Helena considered this. "Perhaps I shall, this afternoon. When you told me not to come by in the afternoon I made plans to spend some time with Casey and Sara. We are going rock climbing, apparently."
Myka looked appalled. "You, Helena Wells, are going rock climbing. With Casey and Sara?"
"You think that I've never been rock climbing before?"
"In this century?"
"Yes. And in the previous two as well, I'll have you know. I admit the technology has improved substantially. But the principle of the activity is the same."
"And which one of them are you going to have belay you?"
"Ah. Now that is the crux of the issue. Steve, I think."
At Helena's wry smile, Myka shook her head. "Good call."
After that, they both got to work. Helena insisted on helping with stocking but when it came time to do orders, she curled up on a chair by Myka's desk and got out her tablet. Myka could see her sketching, considering, redrawing, and she smiled over at Helena as she worked. After everything it was still not a little thrilling that HG Wells was writing a book in *her* bookstore, in her presence.
If Myka was being honest with herself, which she was mostly successful at these days, she would admit that she had once fantasized about *this* scenario only a little less often than she fantasized about Helena's hands on her body, lips on hers, or her own hands in Helena's hair. Myka tried to focus on work, but it was difficult not to watch Helena at her own. She marvelled; it had been so many years, and Helena was no longer a mysterious enemy, and yet Helena's ability to completely distract and intoxicate her hadn't really changed.
Eventually, though, Katie arrived to take over the shop and it was time for Helena to go meet Casey and Sara. They were going to climb for a couple hours, and then get dinner, at which point Helena would come back to the bookstore for the open mic night. Myka wasn't too jealous. She was somewhat relieved to have a few hours to herself. She decided that she would do some writing too, so she went upstairs and settled in at her desk.
The problem with trying to write your first science fiction novel while going on dates with the actual mother of Science Fiction as a genre was how to talk about it, she decided. It was impossible, even if Helena looked at her with kind eyes that implied she could do no wrong, to live up to that kind of pressure. So she would keep writing her novel about a small group of curators who are tasked with keeping the memory of Earth History alive through physical objects. She would keep working on the plot twists that would lead them to becoming found family for each other because they don't move in the world like anyone else, don't live in the same timeline, don’t really have anyone else. And she definitely wouldn't examine, much less talk about a particular character with dark hair and dark eyes that causes chaos for this little found curator family, but maybe also helps save it too. She would not tell Helena about this, but she also didn’t want to stop writing it.
After a few hours of, it must be said, uncharacteristically inspired work, Myka made herself dinner and texted Steve and Pete. She invited them to an Artifact Roadshow Saturday hiking excursion "for old times sake" which she hoped was code enough for "without Mike and Julie please." It seemed to have worked, because Pete suggested they meet up after he dropped the kids at Outdoor Science School, and Steve mentioned that Mike had a work shift over the weekend.
Plans settled, she spent more time than she had intended picking out something to wear for the evening. She wondered what the proper outfit was for impressing a former coworker that everyone called your ex girlfriend because it made more emotional sense than anything unclassified could possibly do. And how to adjust that outfit for an open mic where she would be surrounded by most of her current friends who knew very little about this classified past. She settled on a pair of tight jeans tucked into black leather boots and an oversized but flattering plaid button down over a t shirt. Had Helena ever seen her out of a professional blazer? Perhaps only when jogging.
By the time Myka came downstairs, Katie was arranging chairs in the shop. Katie worked half Fridays and weekends and had a hook up with a local brewery that made Endless Wonder Books Open Mic a draw for the whole western edge of the state. The event was more her baby than Myka's, but it was one of the social events Myka was more likely to frequent, because it brought together the neighborhood so well, and it made her proud of the bookstore nonetheless. Usually Katie hosted too, but tonight a friend of hers named Vivek would be doing the honors. Myka brought Vivek the sign up sheet and helped set up the sound system at the front of the store.
As people started to trickle in, Myka couldn't help but scan the room every now and then for Helena. Helena knew when the open mic started, but they hadn't settled an actual time, because rock climbing could be unpredictable. Myka briefly wondered if Helena might just not show up after all. She was doubly worried when Sara and Casey came in, distinctly without Helena, and sat in the far corner from the stage. Myka didn't go over to greet them, but she did wave.
When the first act started, Myka grabbed a can of beer and leaned against a bookcase near the door and tried not to worry. The second act, she couldn't help notice, was named Helen and that didn't stop her scanning the door constantly either. Before the third act, however, she saw a familiar figure gesturing to her outside the shop. Helena wore a black leather moto jacket over a light top and dark pants, and she looked stunning as ever. She held something in her hand and beckoned. Myka moved as quietly as she could across the store and out into the hall, where Helena pulled her a few steps up the stairwell to her apartment. She was a little breathless as though she'd been running.
"Hi, I'm sorry I'm late. And sorry to pull you out of there, I just wanted to give you these without an audience." Helena handed Myka a bouquet of wildflowers, smiling shyly. Myka took them from her. "Thank you–um, did you steal these from public land?"
"Do you want to know the answer to that?” Standing halfway up a stair, Helena was taller than Myka for once. She moved restlessly from one foot to another, inching closer, and continued. “…I wanted to express my appreciation for your hospitality today. I really enjoyed just spending time with you, seeing your life."
Myka glanced between Helena and the flowers and touched the back of her neck nervously. "These paintbrushes, they're one of my favorite flowers."
"I know. You pointed them out to me on a retrieval in Wyoming once."
"And the bitterroot and forget-me-nots. Are you trying to tell me something here?"
Helena stepped down towards Myka and reached up to brush a strand of hair off her face. "I am, but it may be less cryptic than you think. I am trying to say I was thinking of you."
Myka took a steadying breath. That way of touching her hair–that was exactly the thing that Helena had done the first time Myka realized she was interested in the beautiful time traveling stranger she had met more than a decade ago. She let Helena step into her and one hand moved to play with the zipper of her leather jacket. "You know, that's what you did the first time I ever realized I wanted to kiss you."
"I think I remember that moment." Myka was watching Helena's lips as she spoke and she could see that she was not the only one trying to keep steady now.
"I had never so badly wanted to kiss a woman before, especially one I had barely met. In that way, you changed my life, Helena." She took another step forward, leaned closer, and kissed her. Helena's eyes closed, and her hands on Myka’s hips pulled their bodies together, but both women kept the kiss soft, gentle, exploring.
She smiled into Myka's mouth. "Is that because you now routinely kiss women you barely know?"
"Sometimes. It can be fun." Myka's tone was breezy but she was reaching up to stroke Helena's cheek with her thumb. "I bet you didn't know you taught me that."
"You should have kissed me then."
"I'm kissing you now, surely that's enough?"
One of Helena's hands was tangled in Myka's hair and the other was resting under Myka’s flannel shirt just above the hip, and she gently pushed Myka backwards into the wall. "Not remotely." Myka caught her breath and ran her free hand, the one not holding illegally harvested wild flowers, under Helena’s shirt.
After a long moment in which time and space compressed into nothing but a meeting of lips and tongues and pressure building between them, Myka moved Helena back slightly. More than a little breathless, she said, "I should go put these in some water, I guess."
"Shall I come with you?"
"Absolutely not. I promised Katie we would be at the open mic and if you come upstairs now I won't be able to keep that…" she looked Helena up and down. "Stay here."
Helena flashed her a wicked smile and then pretended to pout. "Never have I wanted to do anything less."
Myka leaned in as if to kiss Helena on the cheek, but instead she murmured in her ear, "If you can be good right now, I'll make it worth your while later." She grinned as Helena let out a small, involuntary moan. As she climbed, she could feel the other woman watching her and it sent a flash of heat across her body. She willed herself not to look back, but she also was glad she had picked these particularly flattering jeans to wear.
Myka didn't linger upstairs but she did pause to splash some cold water on her face. When she returned, Helena's eyes were still dark and flashing with intent, but she held out her hand to Myka and said, "Shall we?"
Myka nodded, and they walked hand in hand into the bookstore. A woman was singing a cover song, something vaguely familiar to Myka, and they moved to chairs near the back, but on the other side of the store from Sara and Casey. As they sat down, Helena pulled Myka's hand firmly into her lap and whispered, "She's good, do you know her?" Myka shook her head, and went back to watching the room.
Casey was grinning at them openly, and Sara looked pointedly at Helena and Myka's hands and gave her a friendly, slightly resigned smile that Myka returned with a wave. Katie turned around and raised an eyebrow at Myka before giving her attention back to the stage.
"I meant to ask, how was rock climbing?" Myka asked quietly.
Helena leaned in and spoke into her ear, "Informative. Very scenic. I discovered some physical limitations I had not previously wanted to know about. Steve is a very good climbing partner. Steady on the belay and as zen as you might expect on the rocks. I, however, am out of practice."
Myka patted her leg consolingly, "You aren't constantly on a climbing wall back in Seattle?" Helena shot her an arch look, "Would I disappoint you if I said no?"
Myka only smiled, and said, "Informative?"
"Ah, yes. Casey and Sara make quite a pair. They were very curious to know details about your past, and mine, I must say. I tried to tell them only vague sketches. We traveled a lot for work, and ran into danger sometimes. Tends to throw you together in intense ways, you know."
Myka nodded gravely. "It does."
"They got into a bit of an argument with Steve when Sara called him a 'reformed cop,' and Casey said there was no such thing. Apparently the house they used to live in organized the local CopWatch branch."
"So I've heard. This is an old conversation between Sara and Steve. They like each other genuinely; I've seen them have some really thoughtful conversations about policing."
"Well he's less keen on Casey, but I'm beginning to think she's all bluster."
"Steve's not big on bluster."
"Sara thinks very highly of you. And I think Casey likes you too, though did she hypothesize that you were also probably a former cop. Said you had that look about you."
Myka laughed, "I suppose I should be offended. Well, in some ways she isn't far off. In other ways…"
"She can't imagine."
"I think very highly of Sara, but I worry that I've been careless with her. I had thought we were on the same page about our relationship, but since you showed up, I have been wondering if I was wrong about that." Myka looked over at the other woman, who was chatting with Casey.
Helena gave her an appraising look. "You know, I am not sure you were wrong about it. She was very kind to me this afternoon. Inquisitive, but kind. And she wants the best for you." Helena laughed. "She even pulled me aside while we were climbing and told me not to hurt you."
"She did what?!"
"She told me you're a good friend, she wants you to be happy, and that clearly you want me, so I better make you happy. And whatever I did before to not do that ever again."
Myka was quiet for a while. "I told her to stay out of… Gah. Ok, so she is a good friend. I should remember that."
"And then Steve came by and gave me a meaningful look and said 'Ditto', and mentioned something about being a not so reformed cop.' Should I expect a threatening speech from Pete later?"
"Probably. Pete was the most around for the aftermath last time." But Myka was smiling. She leaned forward mischievously and spoke softly into Helena’s ear. "So, what do you say? Are you going to make me happy later, Helena?"
Helena, failing to rise to an innuendo for perhaps the first time in her life, looked at her seriously. "I will try."
Myka didn't say anything but she squeezed Helena's hand.
Helena finally gets to see Myla's bedroom is basically all that happens here
After all the performances, Myka had some mingling to do. She introduced Helena to Katie, Vivek, and some of the regulars and made polite conversation as the crowd cleared. Eventually Casey and Sara wandered over.
"I don't suppose you two want to join us for drinks?"
Helena and Sara said, "No" at the same time and Myka ignored Casey. She pulled Sara aside, "Hey, I wanted to say I'm sorry. I think you were just looking out for me and I got defensive."
Sara looked at her. "I know there's a lot to the story I don't know, but I like her, Myka. I hope you work things out this time."
"You're a good one."
Sara gave her a hug. Casey leaned in, "Are you sure you don't want to take her out for drinks? Sara's never had a threesome!"
Myka looked at Casey then, "That you know of, anyway."
Casey blinked, Sara pulled her away, muttering "Ok, ok, let's go." and Myka turned to face Helena, whose eyebrows were arched at the top of her face.
She shrugged. "I thought I'd give her a taste of her own medicine. You coming upstairs?"
Helena did follow Myka up to her apartment. As she was sorting out keys in locks, Myka felt arms come around her waist and Helena press her body up against Myka's. She leaned back into Helena until she got the door open, and then slipped away into the apartment.
Hospitality and desire battled for a moment, and she started to say, "Can I get you a…"
"Show me your bedroom?"
Myka nodded, grabbed Helena's hand, and barely turned the lights on as she led the way upstairs. At the top of the landing there were three doors, and Myka pulled Helena through the door on the right. The last of the daylight and the first of the street lights were mingling in the windows and the hills on the edge of town.
Helena stood for a moment, looking around, suddenly shy. Myka, who had been planning on pushing Helena up against the door, stopped, let her hands rest on Helena's hips.
"Are you ok?"
Helena nodded. "Are you sure you want this?"
"I can't think of anything I want more." Myka knew that Helena was right to be cautious, and that the basic structure of their lives still meant that Helena would leave again, but this time she wouldn't leave without giving Myka at least this moment.
Helena's eyes fluttered closed, but she reached for Myka, a hand cupping the back of her head and bringing Myka's lips hard against hers. Their last kiss had been exploratory, sweet, and delicate, and this one was demanding, insistent. Myka gasped into the kiss, and began walking them backwards towards the bed, while also trying to pull off Helena's leather jacket. Helena let go of Myka long enough to toss the jacket aside, and then both hands were at Myka's shoulders, pushing her flannel shirt off. Myka obliged and suddenly Helena's hands were on her hips, sliding up her chest, and her calves were hitting the back of the bed.
Myka sat back and smiled at Helena, who was looking down at her with pure, incredulous desire.
She shook her head. "Shoes." Myka started to unlace her boots before Helena kneeled down and pushed her hands away. She moved between Myka's legs, pushing her knees slightly apart and flashing a devilish grin. Myka leaned back on her hands and watched as Helena ran her hands down her thighs, calves, and then set to work untying each boot.
"These legs. You're gorgeous," she said, unzipping and kicking out of her own boots, before rising off the floor and pressing Myka back into the bed. "You're so gorgeous."
Myka pulled Helena on top of her, tangling their limbs and laughing, "So are you…" and then moaned quietly into Helena's mouth. One of Helena's hands was pushing up Myka's shirt and pressing into her chest and the other was pulling Myka's hair gently, just enough to angle her mouth against Helena's as she slipped her tongue between Myka's lips.
Then Helena was kissing her neck, pulling her top off, and reaching around to unhook Myka's bra. "May I?" Myka nodded, and lifted slightly on her elbows. As she lay back, she reached for the buttons on Helena's shirt. There weren't so many of those, and beneath it Helena was wearing a dark bra that contrasted against her skin. Myka ran her hands across Helena's torso, shoulders, breasts, wondering. Helena Wells, here, in her bed, and so beautiful, and so very intent on her this evening. Helena leaned in and kissed her way down from Myka's collarbone and looked up at her inquiringly before taking a nipple into her mouth. Myka nodded, and then arched her back into the touch as Helena sucked in and moved her thigh to press between Myka's legs. Myka grabbed for Helena's ass then, pulling her harder into her own body.
“I have wanted to see you like this for so long.”
“Why didn’t you make a move sooner?”
Helena groaned slightly. “Myka, you know why.”
Myka stopped the kiss. “I was trying for playful and seductive. Humor me, and tell me how much you wanted me and for how long?"
"Well if you must know, at first I wasn't sure how you'd respond to my advances," Helena was punctuating her words with kisses and bites on Myka's neck and jawline while one hand traced slowly down to the hem of Myka's jeans. "And then, by the time I was reasonably certain you wanted me to… may I take your pants off, darling?"
Another nod from Myka, and she had the button undone and was pressing her fingers against Myka's underwear.
"By the time I was reasonably certain you wanted me to do this" here she slipped her hand underneath, resting two fingers against Myka's lips, "my god, Myka… I was also reasonably certain that doing so would undo me entirely. Which… does appear to be the case."
Myka was panting, but her eyes were bright and she shifted to press up against Helena's fingers. "Mmm… and how could you tell that I wanted you to…"
"You want me to do what, darling?"
"Helena… keep talking."
"But while I do, you want me to?" Helena moved her fingers slightly.
"Put your fingers inside me."
Helena leaned forward to brush Myka's hair away from her face and smile down at her, "I knew because I kept making excuses to touch you, and when I did," here she slipped two fingers just inside, and then kept pressing as she continued, "you would shiver at my touch."
Myka gasped and rocked her hips forward. "I wanted this so much. I used to fantasize about you above me like this, and how I might touch your skin," she was running her hands up Helena's back, digging her fingers in just slightly as Helena pushed into her again. "God, you're going to make this quick aren't you?"
Helena drew her fingers out slowly, prompting a small whimper from Myka, "And here I was worried you only liked me for my books. I don't want to make this quick; I have more I want to do to you just at the minute but can we stop talking about the past now? Help me get these off, and tell me what you want me to do to you after I do."
Myka shifted her hips up as Helena slid her pants and underwear down, and then grabbed for Helena's pants too. They stared at each other for a minute, before Myka said, "I want you to take your bra off."
"And my knickers?"
"And your 'knickers.' After that, what did *you* have in mind?"
Helena shook her head and lightly traced Myka's mouth with her fingers. Myka opened her mouth; she could taste herself there. "I know you're not as shy as all that. Tell me exactly," she raked her eyes down Myka's body and stayed staring where her fingers had just been. "what you want me to do."
"I want… I want to feel your fingers inside me, filling me up, and I want you to make me come with your mouth on my clit."
Helena smiled with wicked delight and she let out a small moan before falling into Myka. "See? You're going to completely undo me." She kissed her hungrily, fingers finding their way back between Myka's legs, making circles around her center of nerves while Myka tried to hold her closer and push against her at the same time.
Helena worked her way down Myka's body, kissing and sucking everything she touched, and by the time her face was hovering over her thighs, she had two fingers back inside Myka and a thumb on her clit. Myka was gasping, "That feeling, oh fuck, that feeling is mutual."
Helena seemed tempted to hover, to tease, so Myka decided to be direct again, "Now, Helena. Put your mouth on me."
Helena did, and Myka absolutely came apart then. She wasn't too clear on the passage of time from that moment on, but she knew Helena was taking her time, and that her hands were in Helena's hair, that Helena's hand was moving insistently inside her, and that eventually she gave up trying not to hold Helena's head hard against her. Myka came with a long panting breath and a low moan, and for some amount of time she couldn't do anything at all, because her ears were ringing and her vision had gone dark. When she came up, Helena was smiling down at her smugly and tenderly all at once, and the sight almost brought tears to Myka's eyes, though she fought that impulse.
"You are extraordinary, Myka."
Myka laughed. "I mean, I think that was all you."
Helena shook her head and moved up to snuggle into Myka's shoulder. Myka wrapped her arms around Helena, stroking her skin lightly wherever her fingers touched. "So I have some thoughts about how to return the favor…"
"You don't have to. Just getting to touch you is a luxury, Myka."
"What if I am not entirely satisfied yet?"
Helena twisted up to look at her, one eyebrow raised. "Are you not? I could have sworn…"
Myka traced a finger down Helena's chest. "But, see, I haven't had the chance to taste you yet." Helena's mouth, which had been lazily smiling, parted slightly at this and Myka pulled her up into a kiss. The reaction was immediate; Myka brought her knee up to rest between Helena's legs and Helena rocked into her, moaning low.
There was less talking this time, but Helena was loud, responding to every moment of touch and pressure. Myka held Helena's hips in place as she pressed up into her, relishing the feeling of moving the other woman's body with her own. She could feel that Helena was already so wet against her leg and didn't want to slow down, but she also wanted to draw out this–Helena wild and at her mercy like this–as long as possible.
Eventually she slowed her hips and tugged the other woman forward. "Do you want to sit up?"
Helena got up onto her knees and Myka slid down between them, pulling a pillow with her and urging Helena higher up the bed. "Good?" Helena, panting above her and watching Myka with a kind of awe, braced herself against the wall and ran her hands through her hair, "Indescribably."
Myka grinned up at her and ran her hands up Helena's thighs, moving them apart slightly so she had a clearer view. Holding Helena's ass, she gently lowered her onto her mouth, "Oh my God, Myka…" Myka tasted and explored with her lips and her tongue. She pulled away only to say, "You're beautiful. You always take my breath away."
Helena laughed helplessly, "I fear I won't be able to help it this time."
Myka ran her tongue firmly across Helena's clit and mumbled into her, "I won't be complaining." Helena cried out, and Myka pulled her back down, pressing her whole mouth against her. Helena's hips bucked, but she was trying to hold back, Myka could tell, so she dug her nails lightly across Helena's ass. Helena cried out again, and gasped each time Myka's tongue pressed into her. As Helena's movements grew more uncontrolled and her gasps came louder, Myka decided she probably would need to breathe more freely at some point, so she worked her thumb forward and slid it between Helena's folds just as she sucked her clit fully into her mouth and yes, THAT was the feeling of Helena contracting and releasing waves of tension around her, against her, above her. She held Helena up against her mouth until the pulsing stopped and Helena pushed off the wall to lie beside her again.
"I…" A sight to behold: Helena Wells couldn't quite form any words.
Myka grinned at her and touched her cheek gently. "Like that?"
"Um… yes. Yes."
Helena just looked at her for a while, and then started laughing. Half delirious, Myka joined her, pulling Helena against her chest.
Eventually, she got up and made tea. It was still pretty early yet so they stayed in bed, propped up on the pillow and wrapped up in each other, talking. But some talking, they couldn't do, not knowing who might be listening. And some talking, neither wanted to risk just yet.
Morning after. The crew concocts some plans.
Helena stayed the night. Myka woke, with some relief, to a sleeping woman in her bed, dawn lighting up her dark hair and more peace in her face than Myka had ever seen before. Had she watched Helena sleep in the past? She had, on stakeouts, on planes, one restless night in the BnB back in Univille. She had never seen this Helena, older and with more lines on her face but less sorrow. What years of acclimatizing to this time, of healing in fact, had Myka missed?
She debated getting up and making some coffee to clear her head. Even as she stirred, however, Helena woke and pulled Myka back with a sleepy possessiveness that proved irresistible. They did not get back out of bed for another hour, but when they did, breathless and laughing again, Helena helped her make breakfast.
As they moved towards the waking world, Helena was solicitous and tentative, asking for direction in the kitchen and helping set out places on the balcony table. Myka was happy but with an edge, wondering how long before Helena would withdraw, either physically or mentally. And yet, making love with Helena felt so good. Waking up with Helena felt so right. Making breakfast with Helena felt so easy. Sitting out on the balcony felt like home, but she just wished there were a few more things already said between them.
Like, for example, when Helena turned to her and asked, "I was wondering if I could come back. After Jackson Hole."
"Yes. I wondered if I might stay with you for the weekend."
Helena had been sipping coffee and looking out over the hills but now she looked shy, down into her cup. Myka watched her for a moment before answering.
Of course she wanted her to come back. But before she could allow herself to lean into that desire she needed the answers to so many questions. Questions to which she wasn't totally convinced she was ready to hear answers.
"Yes, you can stay with me."
Helena had sensed the shift in Myka's mood and the serious response clearly unsettled her.
"If I'm overstepping?..."
"No, you're not. I want you here. We can't… we have to go meet Pete and Steve now but, yes, please, Helena. I want you to come back."
Helena looked doubtful, but she collected her belongings and got ready to go. Myka waited in the car while Helena went up to the hotel room to change, and then drove them into the mountains. Myka had a Brandi Carlile CD playing and considered turning it off, but smiled instead when she caught Helena humming along.
Pete and Steve were already at the meeting place, a parking lot and trailhead in the foothills with tall grass and a weathered buck and rail fence surrounding it. The sun was starting to beat down and Steve carried a small backpack and large hat. Pete was sitting on the tailgate of a truck, shading his eyes as they drove up. He waved when he saw them. "Mykes! HG! It's a good day for it. Want to walk a bit before we talk?"
Myka and Pete led the way along the path, following a rocky outcropping below the ridge until suddenly they weren't in the fields anymore, but climbing through woods. They hiked over a small saddle that fell away to reveal a series of flat rocks overlooking a valley below. In the distance, they could see a highway and a pair of hikers moving towards them far down the trail, but the rest of the landscape was just trees, rocks, and a lone red tail hawk circling above them. Pete turned amicably to Helena. "Will this do?"
"Spectacularly. Turn off your phones?"
Everyone took their batteries out and Helena started her story, "I may seem overly cautious right now but…"
"But Claudia's in trouble. We want to help." This was Steve, nodding Helena towards the point.
So Helena told them, in even greater detail than she had with Myka, about Claudia's activities tracking a certain white supremacist organization that now seemed to be tracking her back. Of leaked connections to the Warehouse, of her vulnerability and Helena's suspicion that it would be an artifact, mislaid or mischaracterized, that led to her downfall. She told them about Casey's mysterious emergence on the scene around the time Helena started to worry about Claudia's safety, and her worries about this meeting in Jackson.
The easiest part was deciding that Steve should visit Claudia as soon as possible. As expected, Helena would go to Jackson and keep tabs on Casey. Myka and Pete would make contact with the Warehouse and see what they could find. But there were also questions.
Pete was first, "What if you're a target too, HG?"
"Why would I be a target?"
"Well, if someone can find out that Claudia's linked to the Warehouse, then wouldn't they look at all possible connections?"
"Making us all targets…"
Steve put his hand up, "But making the one of us whose real birth certificate says 1866 particularly vulnerable. Surely it's more of a risk that you have no paper trail before a decade ago?"
"I have a very *expensive* paper trail, love."
"Ok, but say Casey isn't a white supremacist, but FBI or an informant? She *sounds* like someone who's been trained in counterinsurgency."
Myka laughed, and nodded back at Steve. "Like she's read a manual on disrupting radical groups? Yeah, actually, she does."
Helena bristled a little but considered. "Pete?"
"She gives me weird, but not bad vibes. It's certainly possible. If so, she might have found out your documents are expensive fakes. So, then, should Myka be heading with you to Jackson Hole, to keep an eye out?"
Helena looked startled. "I don't think that would be a good idea."
Myka frowned at her. "Why not?"
"It's an invitation-only meeting of very rich investors, for one. What would be your cover story?"
Pete looked at Helena like he was disappointed she had missed a trick. "World famous lady-killer Helena Wells drops by an old girlfriend on the way and now they can't stop touching each other?" He nodded down at where Helena's hand had been tracing patterns on Myka's back. "Julie totally owes me money, by the way. Claudia too."
Myka ignored this. "Me being your girlfriend is actually a good cover story."
"It's not if it's not just a cover story and I want to keep you safe."
Myka gave her a long look.
Pete jumped in, "We are also trying to keep you safe, HG."
"And Casey? Are we all to drive together?"
"Would that be so bad?"
"What about the bookstore? Do you have someone to cover it while you are away?"
Myka conceded, "No. I don't."
Pete started to pace, unconvinced, "Myka, you've been telling me you want to hire someone for months now. This might be a good opportunity."
"Maybe it would, but I can't hire anyone by tomorrow. Ok, Helena, if you don't want me to come, I suppose it would probably be a lot safer to do research from here. Pete and I have safeguards…"
From the edge of the trail, Pete turned around, "What if, after the first day, you call Myka and tell her to come? That way, getaway car, no required road trip with Casey, all that."
Helena still looked skeptical. "I will consider that only if I feel unsafe."
Myka didn't like any of this. Didn't like Helena leaving, and didn't like the feeling of not wanting her to go. And definitely didn't like the idea of Helena walking into the lion's den with a sense of invincibility. But most of these things weren't conversations she should have with Steve and Pete. She tried to make eye contact but Helena's gaze was unreadable.
They spent another hour talking through the Jackson Hole meeting and its attendees and speculating on artifact rabbit holes to go down. At the end of it, Pete invited them all to dinner.
As the rest of the group left, Helena pulled Myka back briefly to stay on their rock overlook.
Fluffiest chapter yet. Myka and Helena on the rock.
"This is a beautiful spot. How did you find it?"
Myka looked out over the landscape. This was clearly not what Helena wanted to be talking about.
"Pete and I found it, actually. It was where we were when we decided to leave the Warehouse. It was also where we decided to have the conversation about splitting up after we moved here."
"That is not the answer I expected."
"Yeah, well." Myka laughed, "I think we both find it a kind of comfortable spot. And you can see any potential eavesdroppers coming." They were both silent for a while, watching the sun start to sink.
Finally, Helena turned, "I can see that you're frustrated, Myka. Want to tell me more of what's going on?"
Myka kept her gaze on the distance, but cocked her head to show she'd heard the question. After a moment, she asked, "What do you want this to be, Helena?"
Helena was silent for so long it was clear she had taken this question as a rebuke. Her tone when she answered was pained, almost bitter. "I don't know. What do you want this to be? I thought you wanted me to come back."
"I do… And I want you to know what happens after you do come back next."
Helena had found a loose piece of granite on the slab and was pulling it free of lichen. "I had thought…I have been trying to show you how much I want to be here. To be present, like you asked for."
"But you don't want me to come to Jackson."
"Myka, Jackson is work. I want to come back to you. To come home to you." Myka let out a long sigh. That was a fantasy, of course. It was her fantasy too. Helena continued, "And I'm a little bit afraid of how much I want to be with you."
Myka finally turned fully to face her. "Look, I know that it's too soon for this, I do. But I need a plan. I want to come home to you too, and since you live in Seattle and I live here I want to know how we are going to do that."
They had moved slightly apart during this conversation, and both were sitting with their hands wrapped around their knees. Helena dropped her small piece of granite and reached for Myka's hand, smiling like a little kid with a secret. "I have been concocting some plans."
Myka wanted to have this conversation seriously but she felt a smile creeping over her face too. Of course. She let Helena lace their fingers together. "And were you intending to share these plans with the relevant parties?"
"I… once I was reasonably certain the relevant parties would not think they were too much, too soon."
"Helena, I've been in love with you for a decade. Tell me your goddamn plans."
Helena made a small, helpless sound but her smile grew. "Well, a few months ago, I negotiated a new role at my job. It's more travel, but also since the pandemic, it's mostly remote. I don't have to be in Seattle more than once a month, sometimes less. I can work from anywhere."
Myka moved closer, "That seems promising. And I have an extra bedroom, in addition to Claudia's, and a good internet connection."
"And, I heard what Pete said about you hiring someone to take more shifts."
Myka sighed. "I can't afford that right now, but I do have weekends to myself."
"What if… Endless Wonder had an angel investor?" Helena spoke cautiously, slowly.
"Are you proposing that *you* pay for a new hire?"
Helena nodded. "I am. That's my plan. You could hire another full-time employee to cut your hours or someone part time to give you flexibility. My plan is to come here as much as you want me and to invite you to Seattle when you feel you can leave the store. And we can take the rest as it comes."
Myka scooted over so she could lean her head into Helena's shoulder. "I don't know what to say, Helena."
"You can say whether you like my plan."
Wrapping Helena fully in her arms, Myka said, "I like your plan. I think we will need to consider some of the financial details; I don't know if I'm comfortable taking money from you, but I like your plan."
They sat like that for quite some time before walking back to the car. On the way, Helena started singing quietly. At first Myka couldn't hear what it was, but eventually she recognized an old Lucinda Williams song, "Something About What Happens When We Talk." Myka had been a kid and Helena had been bronzed when that album came out, but Myka had rediscovered it in college and always loved that vision of love. She wanted to ask Helena a million questions now, but they were easy questions like, when did you become a Lucinda Williams fan. When did you start singing on trails without worrying who would hear you? And when did you start concocting your plan?
Myka decided that these questions were important but that she would now likely get the time she wanted to ask them, so instead she pushed Helena against a lodgepole pine and kissed her.
Ok so maybe this one bumps it up to explicit
Myka dropped Helena off at her hotel and went home to decompress for a while before she was due at Pete’s. When she did arrive, leaving Helena to make her own way with Casey, she was immediately greeted by a cacophony of voices demanding to tell aunt Myka all about science camp. Pete was cooking, and Julie was out buying last minute supplies. Science camp sounded like something Myka would have loved as a kid, and in fact she’d gone one year to a weeklong camp in Keystone, when Bering and Sons had been flush with cash right before the bookstore chains came to town. She’d learned how to read snow for avalanche danger, build a shelter in the ice, and identify conifers and coyote tracks. None of that had come in handy so far in her career, but she had loved it, and now that Helena was back in town with an artifact mystery, she wouldn’t rule it out. It seemed like Missoula’s science school, at least for elementary age kids, was heavy on the owl pellets, animal tracks, and stream ecology. She let Aiden show her his rock and bone collection while Pete finished chopping up the taco toppings.
“I hope you don’t mind we invited Casey. It was Julie’s idea, to try to get a better sense of what’s going on with her without Sara.”
Myka didn’t mind. Casey was a loose cannon, but it was true that having her around might provide some useful insight into whatever she was up to, or at least the dangers Helena might be facing in Jackson.
Casey and Helena showed up shortly after Mike and Steve, and Casey immediately started arguing with Steve again, but in a friendly way. Helena joined Myka at the rock and bone collection table with a brief kiss, and this time Janey took over to explain all of the treasures, where they were found, and what animals they had previously belonged to. Janey was only seven, but she was precocious and relished the spotlight. Myka saw without surprise that she was flattered by the way Helena asked her serious questions as though she was the recognized expert on owl pellets without seeming condescending. Aiden, having lost the spotlight, hovered around asking aunt Myka if she would play disc golf (Pete having set up a small course in his sizable backyard), but Myka wanted to stay and watch Helena around Pete’s daughter.
She was waiting, she realized, to see that haunted look return, as Janey would inevitably say something that reminded Helena of Christina, or even Adelaide. Eventually Casey caught Aiden’s eye and asked him to show her the disc golf set up and Aiden was delighted to have an audience of Steve, Mike, and Casey for this particular show and tell.
Helena’s eyes never got that haunted look. Sad, certainly, when Janey asked if she had ever gone to science school and Helena replied that her daughter would have loved such a place. Sad, and quieter than normal, but she never withdrew into herself as Myka had seen in the past. Myka put her hand on Helena’s shoulder and started to intervene when Janey asked where Christina was now, but Helena looked at her and shook her head as if to say, “it’s ok.” Helena simply said, “She died many years ago, but she was much older than you, Janey. She’d be an adult now. But she liked bones and rocks as much as you. Have you ever found a fossil before?”
At dinner, everyone seemed on their best behavior. Casey talked about the investor she was trying to connect with, Kevin Thiesson, an elusive multimillionaire with a history of astute bets on unknown start ups. Helena met Myka’s eye at that comment. Thiessen was on her list of dangerous attendees as well as potential actors who were hard to investigate. Mike talked about his time coordinating outreach and harm reduction programs in Washington state before he went to nursing school, which kept Casey talking about politics without seeming like fishing. Steve and Myka mostly listened, both keeping mental notes so they could research Casey, Thiesson, and everyone else once she left for Jackson.
After several beers, Casey finally said, “Ok. Spill. Who won the bet?”
Myka groaned. “So glad you know about that.”
Pete crowed. “I did. It was inevitable, sorry Mykes.”
Mike piped up, “Steve would like everyone to know that he never participated in this wager. But he did tell me all about it.”
Myka covered her eyes and Julie laughed. Helena, eyes dancing, affected primness. "And this bet was?"
"Obviously, we were placing bets on how long Myka would hold out before taking you home."
Myka was surprised to see Helena blush at first, before covering with a sip of wine. When she put her glass down, her she had a single eyebrow raised. "Pete won. So who lost? And who guessed what?"
Casey interjected, “Well Claudia lost immediately. She assumed it would be game over your first night.”
Julie raised her hand, “I swore to Pete that you would remain ambivalent until the last night before Helena left, and then make your move, Myka.”
Dropping her hand from her face, Myka turned and laughed. “That had been my plan, actually.”
Helena asked, “Why specifically the last night?”
Julie answered. “If it had been me, I wouldn’t have wanted to let myself get carried away too soon. But I also wouldn’t have wanted to let you get away again without at least a good lay. So, it would have to be the last night.”
Pete nodded sagely. “Of course that is what Mykes would *intend* to do. But I was around the first time. I know better. I knew Myka could distract herself for the work week. So I gave it til Friday night. What Julie had yet to witness was your ability, HG, to derail Myka's careful plans.” He raised his glass to Helena and Myka hit him.
Helena raised her own, “And she's always managed to foil mine, fortunately.”
Myka stared between them incredulously. “That this is even something you two can joke about…”
“Speaks to our great maturity and wisdom.” Pete finished.
Julie coughed something unintelligible into her hand.
“Maybe it’s time you two crazy kids let each other in on your plans.” Everyone turned to Casey, who simply smiled at Helena and Myka in turn. “What? You don’t think I ship this just like everyone else?” she gestured at the two of them.
Myka glanced over at Helena. “What an interesting idea.”
Casey went back to Sara’s for the night, promising to meet Helena bright and early for the drive to Jackson, and Myka drove Helena back to the hotel. After she parked, Helena looked over and asked her if she’d like to come up. Myka smiled at her, “I was going to ask you back to mine.”
“Well, I have paid for the night here either way. And I have a few things I’d like to show you, if you are interested.”
“Is that a line, Helena?”
Pick up line or not, Myka was intrigued. She could walk home in the morning, and this way Helena wouldn’t need to rush off as early. She followed Helena up the stairs to the second floor of the Inn. It was a cute restored nineteenth century building with wooden balconies facing the street and inside facing an interior that had been remade to look like an old mining town saloon. The room matched the exteriors, with dark patterned wallpaper and stained wooden furniture held together with cast iron rivets, but the bed looked relatively modern.
Helena only let Myka inspect the decorations for a few moments before she pulled her into a kiss that suggested she’d spent the last several hours trying very hard not to touch her. Which, if Myka’s experience was any guide, was absolutely the case. Helena’s hands were immediately unbuttoning Myka’s shirt, and all thoughts of whatever it was Helena had planned to show her disappeared. When Helena pushed her back onto the bed, Myka paused to unhook her bra and insist that Helena’s shirt come over her head as well. But Helena didn’t want to pause long enough to take any more clothes off. She caught Myka’s hands and pushed them back above Myka’s head with a questioning glance as she drove her thigh between Myka’s. Myka felt the pressure all the way up her body, gasping and arching her back at the sudden sensation. She worked her own thigh into position between Helena’s and pressed back with her arms, not enough to overturn Helena’s, but just enough to feel her strength. Helena was still watching for an answer, though, so Myka lifted her head, lightly grazing Helena’s collarbone with her teeth and pushing her knee up once more, “Yes. You can *try* to pin me down.”
Helena let out a low groan as she pushed Myka down once more and captured her mouth with a deep, demanding kiss. Myka smiled into the kiss, wrestling half-heartedly, shifting her weight around underneath Helena mostly to increase the friction between their legs and provoke more attempts to hold her down. Helena was strong but Myka had a height advantage, when she wanted to use it. In the meantime, the feeling of Helena's body holding her down, and thigh moving exactly where Myka wanted her, was exquisite. After a moment, Helena shifted so that one hand was holding both of Myka's, leaving the other free to press into her torso, breasts, shoulder.
Myka took this opportunity to free one hand, pulling Helena to her by the back of her neck and then rolling their bodies so that Helena lay below her again. Helena's eyes lit up at this. "Don't like to lose control for very long, Myka?"
"Just keeping you on your toes." But then Helena's hand was slipping between Myka's legs, pressing more friction and Myka knew Helena could feel her wetness even through the layers of close still on. Helena unzipped her pants and Myka helped strip them off, but of course Helena used this moment to press Myka back on the bed once more.
This time, Helena didn't try to pin Myka's arms but grabbed a fistful of hair and gently held her there as she met her eyes. Slowly, intently, Myka could feel Helena slide a hand down back between her legs touching and teasing.
"I have been imagining you, here, the way you might feel, for so many years, Myka.
Myka didn't say anything, but she grabbed at Helena and held her shoulders tight, pressing her body up towards Helena's fingers.
"God, I've wanted you." Helena kept talking, telling Myka exactly what she'd imagined, how many times, how much better she felt than all those fantasies as she fucked her, slowly with two and then three fingers, pausing to tease her clit and lips between slow strokes. Myka stopped thinking, stopped worrying about Jackson and everything else and just focused in on Helena's movements, her voice that could seduce a stone, the intensity behind her eyes.
Myka shifted slightly so that as Helena pressed into her she also rocked back against Myka's thighs, and she felt some of Helena's control slip and her voice grow ragged. When Myka came, relentlessly and overwhelmingly, Helena kept her pace and followed soon after, riding Myka's release to her own.
When Myka woke up, a few hours later, Helena was watching her again. "When we first met, I wouldn't have been able to fall asleep with you. I wouldn't have been able to stay and watch you wake up."
Myka reached for her, "I suspected as much. I'm so happy you're here."
It was only in the morning, after Helena and Casey had left, that Myka thought to wonder about whatever it was that Helena had wanted to show her
Helena attends the Jackson meeting, Pete and Steve and Myka look for clues.
When Helena and Casey left for Jackson, Myka and Pete got down to work. The thing that made Claudia most vulnerable, they decided, was her tendency to appropriate Warehouse artifacts and repurpose them. Usually for the benefit of the team, eventually, but sometimes not before she was caught pilfering. There was, in fact, a whole section in the Warehouse archives under the name Claudia Donovan. In order to request a batch of Claudia-related files, however, they needed a cover story.
“A background check for a new job?” Pete suggested.
“That might work. Would it raise suspicion if we were doing it?”
“A new filing system for the current Warehouse? We could imply that a regent had put us up to it, if we don’t get caught they might be inclined to give us more information.”
“Risky. What if we volunteered to do a maintenance check on all former agents doing adjacent consulting work? Making sure our systems are secure?”
“So we are using Claudia’s file as control data?”
“It could work.” She nodded, and made some notes for the request.
Working with Pete was a highlight of her days in Missoula, a refreshing break from hours of invoices and orders and quarterly budgets. Today, they worked out of Pete’s garage, a space he had insulated and Claudia had fitted with a secure wired connection, a desktop with a copy of the Warehouse archives, a regent-approved VPN, and finally an artifact that swept for bugs. Their list-making and request-writing was interrupted by a steady stream of messages from Steve and Helena about San Francisco and Jackson Hole.
Claudia, it seemed, was living the high life, eating good food and enjoying everything a good paycheck in San Francisco had to offer. Steve was tagging along, letting Claudia pay and letting her give a tour of friends and faces. So far, no concretely sketchy friends or obviously planted artifacts, but he was still looking. Helena, on the other hand, was mostly bored.
Myka wrote up a proposal for a security maintenance check and specified the requested files. While they waited for the response, Pete scoured the archives and they tried to brainstorm a list of Warehouse items that would attract the attention of white supremacist and terrorist groups specifically.
“Traditional heraldry, anything medieval, something with a Big Bang or attached to a war.”
“Anything mythical or manly?”
They searched these files and made notes of every file with Claudia’s name on it. The list was daunting, by the end of the night they felt not a great deal closer to an answer.
“I wonder, actually, whether they are going to get her for selling secrets generally. In which case, it might not matter which specific artifact we are looking for.”
Speaking of secrets, it was Steve that figured out Casey's secret first. Just before he left for San Francisco, he asked an old ATF contact to run her name and sure enough, she showed up on a domestic terrorism list. In the early 2010s, she had been an organizer with food not bombs, then at a pipeline tree sit in Appalachia, and most recently had been arrested as part of a loose collective of street medics. So, less likely to be a white supremacist then, though as Steve pointed out, not entirely out of the question that she was in deep cover.
Myka put the next pieces together, and found one of her former band mates in a political theater troupe that used a popular Twitter account to dox members of the same group Claudia was monitoring. When Myka relayed all this to Helena on the Donovan Special, Helena confirmed that this had been a suspicion.
"Do you think we should confront her, tell her we are working for the same side?"
"Is rattling off her FBI file going to make her less likely to assume you are all cops? No, we should keep quiet and keep watch. There may come a moment where she needs to know more."
"How's the meeting generally?"
"Atrociously dull. If only I could skip out to see you at the end of a long meeting. But then there are fundraising dinners, and those are worse."
"Have you seduced any billionaires into funding your incubator?"
"Of course I have. They never suspect me of pumping them for information as long as they know I'm after their money."
"Hmmm. I kind of want to see this information pumping in action, and maybe also kind of don't?"
"I don't think you actually do, love. How's the search on your end?"
"We have some leads. Waiting to hear back from the Warehouse about some Norse artifacts, the Fake Viking Tablet of Alexandria, that sort of thing. But I'm beginning to wonder if the specific artifact is less important than the general charge of selling secrets. And if that's the case, it might be a matter of *who* they are setting her up with, rather than what those secrets are about."
Helena thought about that for a while. "I'm working on some leads on this end as well. I'll let you know more as soon as I have anything concrete." Helena paused for a little while before seeming to change the subject. "The Maltese Falcon is on TV tonight. I was thinking of watching, if you want to join me virtually."
Myka had been thinking she would end the call soon to do some more research, but she paused in her living room and smiled, "Speaking of Alexandria, Minnesota. So, did I manage to turn you into a noir fan after all?"
"Well, I know you can't resist a tragic heroine with a dark past, Myka."
"I suppose I walked into that one. Is that how you see yourself? I rather thought you fancied being the private dick, the Bogart of the scenario?"
Helena raised an eyebrow and refused to touch the obvious joke. "Myka, you were always the good man trying to make the best of a dark situation and save the lady too."
Myka ignored her and placed the Donovan Special and a drink down on her coffee table, next to the remote. "What channel?"
They had been on a case, back before Yellowstone and the rest. The snag and bag had wrapped up early enough that they were still a bit wired, but not early enough to go exploring the many offerings of Alexandria, MN. Instead, Pete had called from his hotel room to say that TCM was doing a film noir marathon and Myka had asked Helena if she knew who Humphrey Bogart was. They were sitting parallel to each other on their own hotel beds, a situation that Myka didn't quite find comfortable yet, so she really needed some kind of distraction from the temptation to flirt.
"This is some 20th century culture you might enjoy, Helena."
"I'll prefer my book, thanks."
"You said you weren't enjoying your book at all."
"That's no reason to give up, is it?"
Myka shook her head. "Mind if I watch anyway?"
"Not at all." Normally she would never consider watching a movie in the same room as someone trying to read a book. It was disrespectful and distracting. But she had finished hers, and she knew full well Helena wasn't enjoying her David Foster Wallace, and she had this sneaking suspicion that Helena would enjoy The Big Sleep more.
A suspicion that was confirmed before the opening credits had even finished as Helena said, "William Faulkner wrote this?"
Myka smiled to herself. "He worked on the script. A lot of writers did that, when they needed cash. Even if they didn't like Hollywood very much. Raymond Chandler wrote the book, though."
"I don't think I know Chandler."
"You might like him. Seedy underbellies or the glamor in Los Angeles. Hard living, fast talking detectives with a weakness for dangerous women."
Helena had simply raised her eyebrows and turned back to her book.
"But you've read Faulkner?"
"It was you who lent me The Sound and the Fury."
"I gave you a huge stack of books when you asked for a course in 20th century American literature two weeks ago. Did you read them already!?"
"Not all of them. I started with the women. Toni Morrison, Annie Dillard, Octavia Butler, Louise Erdrich, but then I got to Harper Lee and got on a bit of a southern kick." Helena was showing off her prodigious ability to consume books and Myka knew she shouldn't find this as charming as she did.
"Lilith's Brood is something I wish I had written. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is enchanting and terrifying, though I haven't finished it yet. It's better for meditative reading than binging."
They lapsed into silence as the commercials ended and the movie kicked off. Helena cocked her head to the side when Carmen Stearnwood started pouting and snorted skeptically when the woman threw herself into Humphrey Bogart's arms. However, when Lauren Bacall came on screen she put her book down decisively.
Myka cast a knowing glance to the other bed, "I thought you might like her."
Helena made no reply, but she didn't pick up her book again for the duration of the movie.
A few minutes later, when the bookstore clerk closed her shop in order to drink rye with Marlowe, she said, "My, my, women just throw themselves at that detective, don't they?"
"Something else you two have in common?"
Helena had turned her head lazily to look at Myka, "A fondness for women who know all about books?"
Myka blushed and didn't say anything. But when Marlowe left the shop with a "Thanks, pal" and a friendly pat for the shop clerk, Helena sat up. "This makes no sense."
"That scene was so full of playful sexual tension, and it ends like that? I understand that he needed to leave to 'tail' the bad guys but I don't see why he left putting her so firmly in the "friend zone."
Myka gawked. "I'm sorry, who taught you the phrase 'friend zone'? Claudia?"
"Of course. Do I want to know the context?"
"You do not."
Myka nodded. That was probably true. "Ok, well you may not want to use it liberally. As for that scene," she mused, "the ending may have been a means of placating the Hays Code. No sex, no vices allowed. They removed both the pornography ring and the homosexuality from the plotline of the novel for the movie."
Helena looked at her incredulously. "No sex allowed? Explain to me how that scene was not about sex. Why did she need to draw the blinds?"
Myka turned towards her, laughing. "No, that scene was absolutely about sex. But playful dialogue was how they implied it with plausible deniability, and that was the limits of what they could do. Anyway, I think they had to end it so abruptly and weirdly to preserve the romance building between Bogart and Bacall. Marlowe can be a flirt but he can't be too promiscuous if he wants to get the girl."
"And thus repression takes its toll on men as well. How absurd."
The scene had changed and Marlowe was following his suspect with the help of a female cab driver. Myka gestured at the screen, "I've always wished this particular cabbie got a little more screen time, myself."
Helena turned fully towards her with an amused and curious glint in her eye, "Do you? What do you like about her?"
"She seems intelligent and scrappy, up for an adventure. She's pretty." And then Myka kept talking, nervously. "It's unusual to see a woman cabbie for most of the twentieth century, but this film was made during the war. Uh, sorry, The Second World War, and there were shortages of men to do a lot of jobs. It would have been normal in 1945. Less so a few years later."
Helena was watching her, and had not lost her amused expression. "A pity, then, that she doesn't return to the screen. Perhaps she and the bookstore clerk should spend some time together. If I were writing this story, they'd be the detectives, I think. Writing this kind of dialogue would be good fun. I can see why Faulkner would take the job."
"I would read that story."
And for the rest of the film they had lapsed into one of the heady, charged silences that came on regularly when Myka spent time with Helena in those days before Warehouse 2. When Myka's main worry was that she wanted to be near, but not further traumatize, this magnetic and hurt woman out of time. When she tried desperately to channel her serious crush (Myka wasn't lying to herself anymore) into a sincere friendship, to help Helena acclimatize to the 21st century, pop culture and all. In retrospect it had been their easiest time. Before Helena had changed things between them irrevocably.
At the end of the film she had said, "It's one of the few noirs where the guy gets the girl, and gets out alive. A rare happy ending."
"True to life, then." And Helena had turned away to face the wall, leaving Myka to turn out the light.
Over the Donovan special, Myka and Helena watched as Sam Spade tried to save Mary Astor from Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. "That Falcon is totally an artifact," Myka mused.
"Undoubtedly. What are its properties, would you say?"
"And theft. Perhaps it can't be held onto by one person for very long."
"Do you think Dashiell Hammett's pen turns everyone who holds it into a fast talking drunk with a small handgun and a fedora?"
At the end of the film, Myka smiled across a screen at Helena, "Well, he doesn't get the girl in this one, but Faulkner aside the plot is a whole hell of a lot less convoluted than The Big Sleep. Thanks for the company."
"You know, Myka, I did write that story. About the scrappy cabbie and the beautiful bookstore clerk who team up to solve the mystery?"
"And save 1940s San Francisco from an artifact induced tsunami caused by a rogue government operative? I know, Helena. I read it. I adored it. It’s been a featured display at the bookstore. And I was so pissed at you for making this perfect magical neo noir and never telling me about it.”
“I wrote it for you.”
Myka pretended she hadn’t said that. “Autostraddle called it a love letter to queer San Francisco.”
“It was a love letter to you.”
“Weird that the post office never delivered it until I placed a bunch of orders, then.”
Helena rubbed her face with her hands. “It was a cowardly way to handle it, I know. I’m sorry.”
Myka relented. “It *was* a beautiful gift. Even if written before you were able to give it to me in any real way. I’ll forgive you once I get my autographed copy.”
“I did send you one autographed. Did you see it?”
“Top of the box? Yes, I saw it. That one went on display, and eventually sold. You always send an autographed copy. But it’s never autographed to me.” Helena grimaced, and Myka softened a little more. “Of course, I also caught the inscription, ‘for the detective who first introduced me to the pleasures of the Acme Bookshop.’ I tell you, even Pete blushed pretty hard when he read that one.”
Helena disappears. We learn more about Casey, among other things.
The call came the next day. “Darling. I need you to come here. Tonight, if you can.”
“Helena? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing is wrong, I simply miss you. As anticipated, I can’t go a whole week without seeing you. I just want you in my bed. Can you come tonight?”
Myka waited a beat. There was something off. Helena did appear to be alone, and she was making a good show of flirting, but Myka had the distinct impression that she was also playing a part. Her room could easily be bugged, of course. But this was a contingency they had planned for, so Myka went into logistics mode.
“I miss you too. I can get there by the morning, if Katie or Vivek will cover the store.” She tried to keep the worry out of her voice and keep a light conversation, but Helena got off the call quickly.
It only took a few hours to pack, cover her shifts and loop Pete and Steve in to a possible crisis. Myka tried to remind herself that this was probably an escalation of danger, but nothing they weren’t prepared for. Helena sent no additional information.
Around Butte, Myka started getting calls from a number she didn’t recognize. At first she didn’t answer, but after the first two calls went to voicemail, the texts started to come.
-Myka it’s Casey pick up-
-She’s gone Myka. You’ve got to help.-
Myka pulled off the road and called back.
Casey was panicking, and hard to follow. “They’ve taken her. We were supposed to meet after the fundraising dinner tonight. She had information she wanted to share, and she made me take all these precautions, but she never showed up…”
“Ok, ok, breathe Casey, start from the beginning. When was the last time you saw her? Have you checked her room?”
“Of course I’ve checked her room. She isn’t there. We were in a meeting together right after lunch.”
So just before she asked Myka to come. That didn't bode well. “Are her things there?”
“Yeah, some things, but some are gone. It’s been ransacked, I think. There's shit all over the place. And there are some very important things missing from her case, but her stuff isn’t packed.”
“Important things… like what?”
“Like artifact related things. Like that device she’s been calling you on.”
Well, shit. Casey said the word like it was experimental for her, not comfortable, but also like she knew it was a keyword to unlock Myka's response. “What do you know about artifacts?”
“I know enough to know they can be dangerous. And they can do stuff… that you wouldn’t normally expect. And Thiessen wants to get his hands on them. And that I shouldn't tell you any more on the phone.”
“Ok. I'm coming to meet you. Do you think… Do you think she left under her own power?”
“I don’t know, Myka.” Casey’s voice was shaking.
“That's what I'm worried about. Are you somewhere safe? I’m about four and a half hours away. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
Casey didn’t want to stay at the hotel where Helena disappeared and Thiessen was likely prowling, but said she had a contact who was the campground host at Jenny Lake, about 20 miles north. Myka didn't know if that sounded safer than being in Jackson or not, but if Casey felt safer there that was probably as good a situation as any. Myka stayed on the phone with her as she packed up and left, only disconnecting when service was too spotty to continue. At a gas station, she texted Pete and Steve next and then called Claudia on the Donovan Special. Claudia answered in under 10 seconds.
“Where could she have gone, Claud?”
“Myka, I’m freaking out. I have no idea. I didn’t even know this meeting was dangerous.”
“I need your honesty here. What artifacts could she have had with her?”
"She could have had–well, several– actually. Let me get to my computer and get back to you."
"Ok, so don't be mad."
"Claudia, I am terrified for Helena's safety, Casey's, and now maybe yours? I don't have room for mad. Speak."
"I've been working on an unauthorized project."
Myka rolled her eyes, one hand on the wheel and one hand gesturing Claudia to keep talking. "You don't say."
"I'm tracking a group of far right nut jobs who are working systematically to infiltrate tech companies all over the west coast."
"And they are using artifacts to do so."
"How do you know they are using artifacts?"
"Specifically, artifacts connected to science fiction authors. The pattern is clear, they are collecting and specifically collecting things that ‘ping’ so I don't know how they figured out what an artifact is, but they did, and they are amassing quite a collection. I don't know what they plan to use them for either, but I've been trying to figure out where they are and which ones they have. I have a database."
"Could Helena have one of them? Or one of the attendees?"
"Possibly both, and I'm almost positive Casey has one too. They may have been… I did not think about this before, and I didn’t know HG was involved at all but in retrospect they may have been trying to entrap a buyer."
"How does Casey know about artifacts, Claud? How does she come to have one?"
"I didn't realize she knew about them?"
"Just now. She told me she did."
"Shit. Ok, so I knew she had an artifact, and I SWEAR I DID NOT TELL HER about it. It was after she moved north so I sent her to Helena to sort out, I thought it would keep her safe."
Myka ran one hand through her hair, exasperated. Everyone was trying to keep everyone else safe, and hiding crucial information to do it. It was a logistical nightmare. "Claudia…"
"Casey has a box of stuff that belonged to Ursula Le Guin's mother, Theodora? She found the box in an attic in a punk house in Portland years ago and has been carrying it around ever since. She showed me once, and something in that box is an artifact, I can sense it. And I don't know what, but I introduced her to Helena so we could figure out what it was. Science fiction author to aficionado, you know? She took a liking to Casey, she's been trying to protect her. She… she kind of does this, Myka, she mentors young women in tech who are in need of some… family."
That sounded...nice? But not immediately relevant, so Myka filed it away for later. "Ok. So this could have been a Le Guin related artifact, or something related to a different science fiction author. Something that could make Helena disappear? Something that could enable her to move to a different place, or god, time? Or she could be regular old kidnapped."
"Pretty much. I am getting a list of artifacts I know they have access to."
And Claudia did. By the time Myka had service again, near the Idaho line, she and Pete had been invited as guest contributors to a private database of author paraphernalia, from HP Lovecraft's astronomy notebook to Frank Herbert's birding binoculars to Madeleine L'Engel's bunsen burner. Myka didn't have time to log in, but Steve and Claudia had left her voice notes with summaries.
Each entry had a description, notes on where it had last been seen or changed hands, and any suspected or confirmed artifact properties. Kevin Thiessen had been the last known buyer of several, and Steve pointed out that his entries were likelier than average to have properties. Claudia also highlighted a subcategory of artifacts that had never changed hands at an auction or online, but were culled from police records of burgleries. These included a creepy doll playing the violin stolen from The House on the Rock (Myka shuddered; she and Pete had spent a surreal afternoon at that place on the way home from Boone years ago) included as a probable Neil Gaiman related artifact, and a water pipe stolen from a headshop in Toronto that purported to belong to William Gibson.
By the time Myka crossed the Wyoming line, she also had a voicemail from Pete noting that a cofounder of a data mining company called Yggdrasil had been questioned and released as a suspect in the Toronto burglary; Yggdrasil's other co-founder was Kevin Thiessen.
Myka had some leads and a lot of questions. Her first impulse, of course, was to head straight for Helena's hotel, and maybe shake down Kevin Thiessen. But Casey was scared, and Helena was gone, and it would do some good to finally get more of them on the same page. So she headed north toward the Tetons.
Casey had given her GPS coordinates, and as promised was waiting for her next to a large RV, pushing off the wall as soon as Myka’s car pulled up. By the illumination of headlights Myka could see her gray jeans, her Patagonia fleece, an old, beat up backpack on one shoulder and a handgun in her hand. Myka turned off the car and stepped forward.
“Easy, cowboy. Do you know how to use one of those things?”
“I’m a punk anti fascist kid raised in Roseburg, Oregon, of course I know how to use a handgun. Do you?”
Myka nodded, hands palm down in front of her, but spread wide enough to show off the holster at her own waist. “Helena didn't tell you? I was in the Secret Service. So, in addition to being a crack shot, I can see that this isn’t a defensible space. We need to find somewhere we can talk. Do you trust me enough to get in the car?”
Casey nodded. “Normally, no, but Helena vouched for you, and I have reasons to suspect she’s right. Do you trust me enough to drive me around? I’m not putting this thing down.”
“If you show me the safety is on.”
Casey hopped in and turned the gun’s handle to Myka with an exaggerated flourish. Myka pulled away, driving them back down towards Jackson. Casey said she would be willing to help case the hotel once more.
“You can tell me everything I need to know on the drive.”
“Ok, so I told you I grew up in Roseburg. Pretty spot, heart of meth country, more recently oxy, fentanyl. It’s a long story, but I didn’t really have parents, ok? Not to speak of. My sister raised me, but then she got pregnant, had a baby, and she lost the baby… and then I lost her too. Again, making a long story short, I washed up in Portland at 16, joined a band. Lived on couches and sheds and backyards until I started getting restaurant work. Once I could pay rent reliably, I moved into a house. Like, ten people and three cats in five bedrooms, throw rent parties to pay the bills, everything is falling apart and you steal the toilet paper from coffee shops kinda place. The landlady was ok, but once she caught the downstairs housemate–a total sleazeball, by the way–trying to grow pot under a desk lamp. Man, I could have killed that guy, because she got tired of dealing with us then. Her kids didn’t want it so she sold the house for a nice mark up, now it probably costs a million dollars. Anyway, it had belonged to her parents and they had been professors and friends of the Le Guins. I guess they must have been pretty good friends, because when the landlady paid me to clean out the attic, I found treasures like you wouldn’t believe. I kept… a lot of stuff. Old books, pens, art supplies, and some manuscripts.”
Myka tried to imagine living in a place like that. She had been to some hippie parties in Boulder where it seemed like there were more people living in a house than could plausibly be on the lease, but even in college she’d been pretty straight laced. “Let me guess, around that time things started getting weird for you?”
“Around that time, things started getting good. I can’t explain it really, but I just started *knowing* for once, when I was around people I could trust. It was like I started being able to see the bonds that held people together. And make sense of them. It was… life changing, Myka.”
“That sounds pretty healing.”
“Yeah. Like I said, life changing. The next thing I knew, I found Sara. I joined her band, moved into her place off Holgate. She was only a couple of years older than me but the responsible one, you know? Looked out for me. Kept us in line, made the utility bills work. That house had shitty back yard that she turned into lovely vegetable garden over a few years. She got me hooked on computers when she took me to a volunteer gig at Free Geek… like, this nonprofit where you build your computer and get to keep it for free? Anyway. I kept the box of Le Guin papers with me. A year after Sara left town to go to grad school, it brought me to Claudia. A good job, moving up in the world! It wasn’t until a long time later after I met Helena, of course, that I realized what I actually had. It was the first story Le Guin ever wrote, she sent it to Amazing Tales when she was still just a kid. They rejected her. And she kept it. Powerful magic, a writer’s first story.”
Myka couldn’t help but smile. “That sounds like an artifact, all right. Ok, so you know that artifacts tend to have downsides, right?”
Casey laughed, “I think the downside is pretty obvious.”
Myka half turned, but kept her eyes on the road. “I don’t know you well enough, Casey, to know what’s different about you now.”
“Ah, fair enough. It makes me obnoxious.”
“Like, if I see something happening, and no one is dealing with it, I’ve got to name it. I can’t let go.”
“You’re a pot stirrer.”
“Yeah, but a charming one! It means I’m better a freelance than as a corporate drone, and it means that I always seem to find the trouble in the friend group. I’ve also figured out that I probably shouldn’t live in group houses anymore.”
“And it helps you see…”
“Social dynamics, yeah.”
Myka hummed for a minute. So this didn’t sound so bad. “Did this story… have anything to do with time travel, by any chance?”
“Yes. And funny, that’s one of the first questions Helena asked me about it. And Claudia too. But, like, I don’t think it does anything related to time travel. Like, I’ve held onto it the longest and I have never had any temporal weirdness.”
Myka let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. “I did wonder why I liked you despite all the obnoxious comments you were making.”
Casey grinned at her. “Now you know why I didn’t!”
They were pulling into Jackson, and Casey directed them towards the hotel. “Ok, I think there are three things you need to tell me before we go in. One, do you have the story on you? Two, do you have any other artifacts? And three, what artifacts did Helena have?”
Mostly this is back story. Finally Myka gets on the same page as.
Myka had parked the car down the street from the hotel, an enormous faux log cabin monstrosity with floodlights illuminating the tall gate bedecked or constructed with interlocking antlers. Casey was staring at the gate like it had insulted her personally, but she pulled the story out of her backpack. "Are you gonna neutralize it?"
Myka retrieved her gloves out of the console between seats. "Not yet. I am not actually supposed to be carrying around neutralizer–did Helena tell you about the purple goo? –without authorization these days, so don't go around telling anyone I have it." She winked at Casey, who pretended to look shocked for a moment and then nodded. "And anyway, I suspect we will need to use the supply I may or may not have for more dangerous artifacts down the road."
“Right. So, I don’t think I have any other artifacts on me, other than this one. Nothing else in the box that Helena–or Claudia, I take it, also knows–seemed particularly interested in. So, like, do I need gloves too?”
Myka handed her a pair. “Can’t hurt. What about Helena?”
“We had a plan, kind of. Or, Helena had a plan that she eventually told me about. She’s been collecting artifacts linked to authors too. But not the same ones that Thiessen wants, mostly. He likes lone wolf types and antiheros, with a smattering of Campbell-esque chosen sons. But mostly dystopias that cater to the strengths of some dude with a gun and a chip on his shoulder who doesn’t play by the rules and doesn’t trust anyone.”
Myka laughed, “Helena… might appreciate those stories too.”
“I dunno. She says those stories bore her. But I think it’s something more like they piss her off. You would have liked to see her rant about V for Vendetta.”
Myka couldn’t quite school her face into something impassive, but she tried for lighthearted when she answered, “I do wish I had seen that.”
Casey gave her a long look. “Now that I think about it, tortured, antisocial martyrs really aren’t her type, the way they are yours?”
Myka shook her head. “Will you please just tell me about her plan, Casey, before our hero has a chance to martyr herself again?”
“She was collecting artifacts from speculative fiction authors with a more social bent. Those trying to weave themselves into the world, not out of it. The problem is a lot of these authors, the more recent ones, they haven’t created a lot of artifacts yet. Or the artifacts haven’t changed hands. Helena suspects that Nnedi Okorafor’s World Fantasy Award statue, you know it’s a statue of an old racist guy, and there was a whole thing about whether to change it, might be an artifact, but like, she’s not giving it away, so maybe it isn’t an artifact yet? And, I have a friend who is a big fan of Becky Chambers and accidentally stole her pen at a feminist science fiction con but it turned out it wasn’t an artifact, just a regular biro.”
“Biro, huh? Maybe Becky Chambers doesn’t write her stories with a pen these days?”
“Funny, that’s what Helena wondered too. That’s actually how I got involved in the artifact stuff, beyond just Le Guin’s papers, again, without really knowing. We set up an e-waste recycling center kind of like Free Geek, the thing that got me into computers back in the day. So, like, we recycle old computers and hard drives and other tech, and train people who need job skills, mostly women and people of color, to take apart and eventually put computers back together. We run it out of our local YWCA, and I coordinate finding and hiring teachers. Mostly we hire our volunteers, once they get skilled up. I do some teaching programming on the side. I got Claudia to help out too. Anyway, Helena, she manages what we call the “high end donations,” and that involves cash but also old computers from famous people.”
“She gets their old computers?”
“Yeah. It’s genius, right? They are wiped of course, it’s not like we get their data or their writings. But we get their keyboards, mouses, laptops. And, she just tests them for traces. There’s a pretty high success rate, she said. She’s got some weird pieces of plastic with properties, you know? It also gives her an excuse to talk to collectors like Thiessen, because sometimes she acquires more traditional collector’s items: Octavia Butler’s old Remington typewriter, for example, that she plans to sell to raise money for Lovelace Recycling.”
Myka smiled. “She has Octavia Butler’s old typewriter?”
“Yeah, sorry, got off track. That is the crux of the plan. She wants to sell some of these artifacts to Thiessen. See if they nudge him in a better direction. She has conducted some, ah, experiments, with Butler’s typewriter.”
Narrowing her eyes, Myka repeated, “Experiments.” When Casey nodded, she narrowed her eyes further. “On whom?”
“Well, the way she told me, the first time HG tried to use the typewriter, she cried for a week. Couldn’t go outside, couldn’t read the news. And then she in her terms, ‘got over herself’ and came back to work and made a bunch of changes at the incubator and at Lovelace. Gave a bunch of people raises, changed the feedback structure to make it less intimidating to new employees, and redesigned the hiring process entirely. Do you get what I’m saying?”
“I remember… back a long time ago I gave her a book, I think it was Dawn, you know, about an alien race that needs humans to reproduce themselves? She told me she wished she had written them. I asked her about it later, and she told me what she liked best was the exploration of power. The power to heal, the power to change, and whether that power is used ethically, and the complications that come when those who use that power have different needs to those they might use that power on… so I’m going to guess it makes you unable to look away from abuses of power.”
“Pretty damn near right. Unable to look away, but also able to see inequalities that may have been invisible to you before. You see things from your own perspective as well as the perspective of those who you have power over.”
“And the downside?”
“The downside is that seeing isn’t acting. Unless you are taking action to make things better, you become immobilized with the weight of the knowledge. And it takes a lot of strength to act, because any action could have so many consequences. You need to be kind of single-minded to weather it for short doses, or have immense fortitude to survive it for long. Hence her staying in her apartment for a week. For me, it felt like a regular old bout of depression. Like everything I was going to do was going to make things worse, so why bother.”
Head in her hands, Myka groaned, “She experimented on you.”
“Some coworkers too. Like I said, she needed to calibrate the effects.”
“Jesus, of all the monomaniacal…”
“Look, Myka, it was after she figured out about my short story artifact. I wanted to know how other artifacts worked, and she eventually offered to let me try some.”
“Some?!” Not better.
“Yes, and for this plan of hers to work she needed to know what would happen. I touched one key and she made me stay with her for a week to make sure that I didn’t spin out of control. I trust her, Myka. She took good care of me. Can we go search the room now?”
Myka was quiet for a minute. She was going to kill Helena, once they saved her from whatever this was. She knew Casey was right, they didn’t have time on their side in this search, but there were a lot of pieces of this story that were still out of her reach. She saw Casey absently playing with the flap of her belt holster, and she realized there were more things they needed to discuss before they jumped into the hotel half-cocked. Why, for example, had Helena warned her about trusting Casey?
“One more thing.”
Casey paused getting out of the car, sighing. “Yes?”
“I hear that you didn’t get along with Steve.”
Casey took a second, and then her eyes cleared. “Right Steve. He’s a cop.”
“He’s not a cop anymore. But he was one, and he did some background research on you.”
Now Casey slumped back into her seat, hands open in her lap. “Oh? Do I have a COINTELPRO file after all?”
“COINTELPRO is a little before your time, Casey.” Casey didn’t dignify that with a response, so Myka kept going. “You have a file, starting back from your Food Not Bombs days.”
“Back in 2007 when the government was very concerned about vegan terrorists?”
“Precisely. And from your River Defenders days.” Casey stilled. Myka tried to meet her eyes, but Casey looked away, “I don’t know anything about that.”
“Sure. Let’s say you don’t. I don’t really care for natural gas companies, myself, and the government seems to think River Defenders ceased to be active after Standing Rock, where you were arrested, and had your charges dropped.” As she spoke, Casey was running her hand anxiously through the hair at the back of her head.
“What does this have to do with anything?”
“My question, Casey, is what are you doing here in Jackson. Are you helping out Helena, are you trying to protect Claudia like the rest of us, or are you working with somebody else?”
Casey sat still for a moment, thinking. “Ok Myka. Before I answer that, I think I need to know who ‘us’ is.”
Now Casey raised her head so that Myka could search her eyes. “That’s fair,” Myka nodded, thinking as well. “Do you want to ask me questions, or do you trust me to tell you what you need to know?”
“The Le Guin manuscript is telling me that I can trust you. Helena trusts you implicitly, clearly. So I want to think I can work with you. But I also need to know that I’m not going to get picked up by some undercover DHS agents or something at the end of this. Which is not saying I have done anything illegal of course. But I’ve seen it happen.”
Myka had seen it happen before too, her general appreciation of rules and federal agencies notwithstanding. She pulled out her phone, and made a show of turning it off and removing the battery. “Of course.”
Casey’s eyebrows rose slightly, and then she took out her phone and removed the battery with a speed that suggested this was not her first attempt at doing so. “Then how about this. An answer for an answer, and we decide after a few rounds whether we trust each other to go inside.”
“Your first question is, who do I work for?”
“I used to work for a branch of the special service, as I told you. I am not going to tell you any more about that because I can’t, except to say that my job was probably not what you’d expect, I did not do a lot of presidential protection duty for the last decade of my career. Our job was to protect people from artifacts. I never worked for the FBI, or the NSA, or DHS. In fact, it was the threat of DHS oversight that encouraged me, and others, to leave our place of employment. So, no, I do not work for the government anymore. I run a book store, and I have a consulting business that occasionally helps identify and contain artifacts. The government sometimes requests my help, and as a consultant I can request information in turn, but I can also turn down requests for help.”
“Is that your second question?” When Casey didn’t answer, Myka relented. “Yes. You will have to decide whether to believe me on that. Now, you: who are you working with?”
Casey took a deep breath, “I am working with a loose collective of activists who are concerned with the rise of fascist, white supremacist, and violent conspiracy groups in Washington State. We are autonomous and non-hierarchical, so there isn’t a command structure. We exist mostly online, but also do some regular old work in the neighborhoods. We don’t belong to anyone else, but your government probably has us as one tentacle of an imaginary octopus organizational chart they call Antifa, who is no doubt controlled in their minds from Moscow, or maybe just Portland these days? Believe me, I know some folks in Portland and they argue wayyyy too much to get anything nefarious done.”
“Ok, Bernardine Dohrn. Calm down. Is this the Milkshake Brigade?”
“Not the question you asked, Hoover.” Casey tried to still her features, but she was clearly not entirely used to undercover work, so Myka didn’t push. She had enough of an answer, and gestured Casey to continue with her own question. “Who are you working with? Names of people I know, or should know, or other entities in this consultant group, and beyond.”
“No organization. I am working with Pete, and Steve, and Claudia. Claudia, it seems, has been working on something similar to your group—we thought rogue, but is she working with you?—and has been trying to root out white supremacists and the alt right from the tech industry. Helena came to us when she found out, and was worried that Claudia had become a target. Do you know anything about that?”
Casey nodded. “Not with us. I can tell you that we had noticed Claudia’s work, and I was trying to feel out whether she might want to have some help from us, or if we could work with her directly. But then we decided she was a security risk, because we saw what Helena did: that some of her targets were hunting her back. I also clocked that she had worked for the government. So we decided that we would try to protect her if we could, but we couldn’t work with her directly.” She looked up at Myka then, anxiously, “On my own, I had decided that Helena would be a better fit for our group. But she seemed skittish. I think she noticed I was up to something. That’s the recruitment I was actually trying on when we first met.”
Myka nodded. “She was wary. But it sounds like she let you in on her plan eventually?”
“When we left Missoula. She told me she was going to try to sell Thiessen the typewriter, see what happened. She said she had more artifacts, but she wouldn’t tell me what they were or what they did. Except for one: Dashiell Hammett’s pen.”
Myka laughed out loud. Casey gave her a strange look, but Myka gestured at her to keep going. “That and the thing you have, the Donovan Special? She showed me both and said if I ever found either without her to call you right away. That I could use them to figure out what was going on.”
“And where is the pen?”
“I couldn’t find it in her room.”
“Ok then, let’s go look for it.”
"Do you trust me enough to work with me?"
"I'll work with you, if you promise to leave the shooting to me. I have a weapon that won't kill people or leave you in jail."
"Fine. Let's go."
Myka searches Helena's room.
The hotel was mostly dark, but the front desk had a single lamp running, and the night clerk came out from a back office as they slipped through the door. Casey glanced over at him, stepping between Myka and the desk and resting her hand on the small of the agent’s back as she led them both towards the elevators. Myka glanced over inquiringly and felt Casey lean close to murmur in her ear, “I recognize him, he checked me in. Best if he thinks I’m taking you back to mine, no?”
Myka rolled her eyes and muttered, “Not all undercover operations require the lothario act, Casey,” but threw her arm gamely around the shorter woman’s shoulders. As she leaned in, she saw that this move would also hide Casey’s gun from the security cameras on the other side of the room, “Best if he doesn’t see what’s on your belt either, huh?”
The elevator took an absurdly long time. Casey punched the button for the seventh floor as the doors closed behind them and took a few steps out of Myka’s personal space. Myka, for her part, focused on taking steadying breaths and reviewing the kinds of artifacts they might find as the elevator rose, trying as best she could not to picture Helena. It had been a while since she’d been on any kind of mission involving danger, but Myka knew how to keep calm in a crisis. She made a mental note of the rewired and unauthorized Tesla, Claudia’s retirement gift, under her jacket. She also had the Donovan special, her goo bag, Casey’s manuscript, and a phone. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Casey bouncing anxiously on the balls of her feet. She could always take the gun if she needed it, she supposed Casey wouldn’t be particularly hard to disarm.
“The hotel is mostly conference guests. Thiessen has one of the executive suites on the ninth floor, if you want to go up there later.”
“Let’s see what we find in Helena’s room first. Gloves on.”
The corridor looked empty and dark, but Myka made Casey wait as she cleared the hallway for movement. Casey led her down to the right, past her own room, to 714. Casey pulled out a key card, but Myka held her back and pressed an ear to the door to make sure it was quiet before she let Casey use it.
“Getting a real good lesson in stealth ops here, thanks Hoover.”
Casey went in first, and Myka closed the door after them. She went into the bathroom to grab a towel and spread it out along the seam at the bottom of the door before turning on the light. The room, as Casey had said, was trashed. It was also incongruous, the mismatch between the spacious, luxury western feel of the room, with its stained log furniture and light patterned fabrics, and Helena’s belongings scattered across the unmade bed, the desk, the floor. Helena, when only recently returned from the warehouse, had gravitated towards a kind of neo-Edwardian style, pairing things that reminded her of the promise of the twentieth century she had barely lived to see with the most exciting technologies of the twenty-first. In subsequent years, she had clearly developed an appreciation for styles of a more recent vintage. Black leather boots, shimmery things hanging in the closet, bright pops of the color, skinny jeans lay at random around the room interspersed with the plastic detritus of old computers she and Casey must have recycled from their author artifact business. As she admired a leather mid century luggage set, now open and half hanging off the bed, Myka spent a second wondering what Helena’s apartment back in Seattle looked like.
A second suitcase, this one insulated to protect its contents and with a broken lock, lay tossed in a corner. Casey made her way over to it. “This was where she kept the typewriter. I think Thiessen may have taken it. There’s a second compartment with the important electronic artifacts back here.” She pulled the contents back and a tape recorder, several mini cassettes, a floppy disk, a wireless keyboard and several external hard drives spilled out.
“So the rest of this is…”
Myka made her way to the desk, where a glass of water and a laptop were all that remained, and then over to the bedside table, running her hand across a pair of reading glasses and a bottle of melatonin. She pulled open the drawer. Bible, nothing else, no locket. “Remind me what’s missing?”
“The typewriter. The pen, as far as I can tell. Her talkie device that you have. But her cell isn’t missing, which worries me.” Casey was holding it in a gloved hand.
“I don’t see a wallet. Keys. Her leather jacket?” Casey looked around. “Yeah, that’s not here. And some hiking boots she brought, those are missing.”
“Do you know her password, phone or laptop?”
Casey shook her head. “I could probably get into either, with a bit of time.”
“No doubt a lot of others here could as well. So she probably didn’t leave any messages on there for us.”
Myka looked under the desk and saw an old leather bound notebook resting on the seat of the chair.
As she reached for it, she caught Casey’s attention. “Have you seen this before?” Casey shook her head.
The notebook was light brown and warm in her hand. Myka could feel it move, a slight vibration and almost an audible hum, against her palm. She did not need Pete to tell her that this was clearly an artifact. She set it gingerly on the desk, and still gloved, opened to the first page.
“It’s blank?” Casey peered over her shoulder.
Myka was about to answer yes, but stopped short when the pages started to move of their own accord. The book settled on a page close to the end, and faint markings appeared and receded from sight as they watched.
“What the f…”
“Wait— can you catch any of what’s being written?” Myka watched as the page turned and more script appeared, faintly, and then receded. The notebook did this for four pages, and then lay quiet.
“Have you ever seen Dashiell Hammett’s pen in action?” Myka asked.
“No… she said it would outline the plot for me.”
“Well, I think we may have just seen the effects. Did Helena offer any instructions on how to read this?"
"Not as such…" Casey picked up the notebook and turned it over. Attached to the back was a post-it note. In pen, and unmistakably in Helena's handwriting, they could read the word 'frottage' and nothing else.
Casey and Myka both stared at the notebook for a moment. Myka could feel color rising in her cheeks and fought against it as she looked up to meet Casey's confused glance. "Um. Well? I don't think that's going to help us right now?"
Suddenly Myka shook herself and started searching the room. "Do you have a non artifact pencil I can use?”
“Do I look like I'm in elementary school?”
Myka rolled her eyes and kept looking. "No, 'frottage!' It's French! It means…"
"Yeah, I KNOW what it means."
"Yes, but it ALSO means a technique of using charcoal or graphite" she opened a drawer of the desk to find several number two pencils, "to create a relief image. Like a grave rubbing. The usage you're more familiar with only came into being in the 1930s, which might explain why Helena…" Myka trailed off. "Never mind. Or maybe she was just making a joke."
"She was in the middle of being maybe kidnapped and decided to try to make you blush on your way to rescuing her?"
Myka pressed the pencil lightly against the notebook's surface and began to shade. "Does that not sound like Helena Wells to you? Let's find out."
The graphite rubbing was quite legible, and also in Helena's hand. The first two pages read:
Hello my loves, if you're reading this I may be in some danger.
The good news is Thiessen is no longer a threat. He wasn't the mastermind we worried he was, but a collector and perhaps just an easy mark. He is now in possession of a new typewriter, immobile and feeling effects in his hotel room 901.
BE CAREFUL. YOU MAY BE IN DANGER TOO. Alex Spencer is the real mastermind, was grooming Thiessen, and KNOWS who Claudia and Casey are KNOWS ABOUT ARTIFACTS . He's also our link to the Rivers of Blood Brigade, unless I am very much mistaken. I don't know whether he has allies here. He has weapons and may have other curiosities. He has been skulking around, his room is across the hall, 713.
Myka, darling, he won’t know who you are but proceed with caution. I hope Casey is with you or safe. Tell Claudia who to look out for? I am sorry for this, but you always did save the day. All my love, Helena
The next page was more scribbled, less neat.
3pm Collector swap room 902. AJ Spencer wants a selection of items rumored to belong to Watchowskis, other film artifacts too. Will attend. Treasure trove? Trap?
The final page was harried and hard to piece together.
drugged, i think. and followed.
Casey: closet — Corky’s wrench — hide you
Myka: 902. quilt no one wanted. try the tesseract? x
Myka stood frozen in place, reading the last message over and over, but Casey ran to the closet and dropped to her knees, searching the floor. Helena was drugged, and had been for twelve hours at this point. Depending on what they had given her, she could be hurt, she could be dead, she could be awake now, but fundamentally, she could be anywhere. And what did she mean by tesseract? Had Helena found a Madeleine L’Engle time machine in room 902? Myka turned when Casey gave a triumphant shout from the closet, but froze again as the door to the hotel room swung slowly open.
I guess I've learned two things: I feel much more confident writing dialogue where characters talk about emotions than I do action/quip sequences, and I didn't really bother giving these bad guys much in the way of humanizing traits. Honestly fine with that. Hope you enjoy!
Now they just have to find Helena! If everything is that easy...
A slim blonde man in a charcoal suit and vest with a tight fade and wire rimmed glasses walked into the room. He was followed by a taller, bearded man in a Fred Perry polo carrying an AR-15. Behind them, and so far not noticed, Casey was still crouched in the closet. In her left hand she held an adjustable wrench, and her right was hovering at the gun on her hip.
Myka figured she had about half a second where she could have Tesla-ed these guys before anybody’s trigger finger got too itchy, but she’d spent that moment looking at Casey.
Casey mouthed “Spencer” and her eyes jerked to the smaller man, and Myka looked away quickly.
“Hands where I can see them.”
Damn it. Myka raised her hands and wished, for the first time in a while, she had a badge to flash. “You don’t need to point that thing at me.”
“You aren’t from this conference. Who are you, and what are you doing in this room?”
“I could ask you the same.”
Spencer spoke with a slightly pompous air that remained calculating as he looked around the room, so far, only the parts that Myka was in. “My employer organized this conference, I invited all the guests, and there was a disturbance here earlier. I heard a noise and wanted to make sure nothing was wrong. You, however, are trespassing. You need to leave. Or, perhaps you would like to explain to the police what you are doing in a hotel room that isn’t yours at a private event you weren’t part of.”
Myka squared her shoulders and put on her best Agent Bering voice. “Sure. Why don’t you call the police, I’ll explain to them what I’m doing here, and we can talk to them together about the whereabouts of Helena Wells.”
Spencer stiffened at this, and the taller man raised the point of his gun slightly. “What do you know about Wells?”
“All I want to know is where she is.”
Spencer quieted his features. “Then we are on the same page, I think. Why don’t you come with us, and we can talk about things in a more comfortable setting. Keep your hands up— Erik and I will follow you out.”
Before Myka could decide whether to move, there was a noise from the closet and Erik turned his gun to follow the sound. Myka didn’t stop to think, her Tesla was in her hand and discharging and Erik was down on the ground. Spencer gave a shout and then he was down too, and Casey was over him with the wrench in her hand.
“Nice shot. Is that, like, a taser?”
“Something like it. Helena invented it, actually, you can ask her about the details when… anyway, thanks for the distraction. I’m glad you didn’t shoot anybody.”
Casey snorted, “Come on, I’m not an idiot. I don’t exchange fire with militia types when there are other options around. And you told me we had other options.” She shrugged, “Also, we would have woken up this entire place.”
“Are you sure we haven’t?”
“No. Let's search these guys for key cards and get the fuck out of here. How long will they be out?”
Myka thought, “Maybe half an hour, ideally more? We need to find a way to keep them immobile until we figure out whatever is in room 902.”
Casey looked down and nudged Erik’s belt with her boot, “Well, creepy dude Erik over here came prepared to party. Got a lot of zip ties.”
Myka blanched. “Ok, I’m going to call Pete and Claudia. Can you search their pockets? Helena said Spencer’s room was across the hall, right? Maybe we can stash them there.”
Claudia picked up the Donovan Special on the first attempt, “Do you have HG?”
“Not yet. But we’ve got leads. Do you know an AJ Spencer?”
“Spencer, yeah. Internet troll with the fancy suits and the nazi hair? He works for Thiessen. Some kind of social media campaign manager, but high ranking. Probably a white supremacist on the DL?”
Casey called out, “Definitely a nazi.”
Shushing Casey, Myka continued, “He’s our mastermind. He was grooming Thiessen for the Rivers of Blood Brigade and he knows who you are. You and Steve need to find out who he is working with and who else dangerous could be here and tell Pete and me ASAP. He came with an armed bodyguard. Claudia, make sure these guys aren’t hanging around you right now.”
“Where is he now?”
Myka showed Claudia the body on the ground. “Currently incapacitated, thanks to Casey.”
Claudia whistled, “Well done, Case. She ok?”
Casey leaned into the screen with a thumbs up. “All good Claud! I think Myka’s even warming up to me.”
“Sweet. Ok, what else do you need?”
“Ok, first, Helena thinks she was drugged. We don’t know where she is, but we know she was going to a collector swap because Spencer wanted some artifacts owned by the Watchowski sisters. I want you to let me know anything you have on what those artifacts can be. Especially, I guess a wrench? Oh, and anything L’Engle related as well. Anything that could be a tesseract. Or, um, a quilt.”
“Wrenches, quilts, Watchowskis, tesseracts, nazis. Got it. Over and out.”
Casey stood up and showed Myka the contents of both men’s pockets. Three identical key cards each, car keys, cell phones, wallets. Spencer had a nearly empty pill bottle in his pocket with “blue” written in sharpie across the top. Erik had about $200 in cash and a tin of Altoids. He had a tactical vest with zip ties, a utility knife, and spare bullets in it.
Myka called Pete and watched as Casey used spare paper to create two envelopes for the key cards, marked with “S” and “E”, and then stripped Erik’s vest off him and put it on herself, adding back the utility knife, bullets, the wrench and remaining zip ties. She pulled the magazine out of Erik’s gun, set the safety on, and checked the action, finally removing the bolt entirely, taking out the firing pin and placing it in her vest as well. When she noticed Myka watching her she shrugged and said, “now he can’t use it. I’ll check the key cards on this floor.”
Pete was less than two hours away. They decided that since Thiessen and Spencer were not active threats and she needed to go after Helena, they would wait to call the Warehouse or police until it was absolutely necessary. Pete’s truck had artifact storage, and they would figure out what was dangerous once Helena was safe. Pete would take Claudia and Steve’s calls.
Myka hung up as Casey came back into the room with the key to 713.
“I don’t want to be around when the police get here.”
“Casey, believe me, neither do I. So as fast as possible, we need to find Helena and make sure this isn’t an actively dangerous situation in case there are more of those” she pointed down to Erik “guys around.”
With a lot of effort and some stifled curses they dragged both men across the hall, leaving them ziptied and sitting against the wall. They left the pinless rifle and headed upstairs.
The ninth floor was dark, but there were murmuring voices coming from the two penthouse suites. Casey put her ear to 902 and fumbled for the key cards. Myka pulled her Tesla and stood behind her. When the lock turned green, she pushed Casey behind the door, sweeping the room.
The suite was large, elegantly furnished with floor to ceiling windows. A sitting area, a bar, and a desk made the three sides of the room, but in the center were piles and piles of artifacts. Clothes, typewriters, weapons, glass items, books, knicknacks. The artifact swap, it seemed, had started but not finished, or maybe this was simply the cache of items no one wanted. On the far right side of the room Myka could see two doors, and as Casey moved to examine some of the piles, Myka motioned for silence and moved towards the doors. Casey followed. The first door was the bathroom, empty except for a few more pill bottles, and as Myka moved to open the bedroom door, it flew open, knocking her back.
Another man in tactical gear and AR-15 emerged from the room, but before he could react, Casey had moved around behind him and swung the wrench once more. This time, she had a worse angle and a worse hit, and the man didn’t go down. Myka raised her Tesla and prepared to fire, when the man began to… babble?
“Hey ladies! What are you doing here? Are you looking for your friend? Let me tell you, she was quite the firecracker. Thiessen wanted all her artifacts, and she gave him some great deals! It’s a shame that Alex took the best ones away.”
Myka didn’t lower her tesla, but she loosened her grip and glanced briefly at Casey, who was watching the gunman with her head cocked to the side, plainly confused. The man rubbed a growing bump on the back of his skull and walked over to the couch where he sat down. Setting down the gun, he turned to Myka. “Won’t be needing this, I guess. Want to get me a drink, doll? I’ll tell you all about it.” Myka just gaped.
Finally, she asked, “What happened to our friend?”
The man rubbed a hand through sandy blond hair and smiled accommodatingly, “Well, last I saw her, she was having a chat with Spencer and Erik, you know? Then they took off, and she looked kinda funny and ran into that bedroom back there. I tried to follow, but the door was locked. It took me a while to get in, and then she was gone! Like pow! Disappeared!”
“Ok. When was this? What happened to Thiessen?”
“A few hours. Thiessen? Oh he’s next door, holed up in the bed and babbling about high speed rail and the four day work week.”
“Do you work for Thiessen? What’s your name?”
“I do, dollface! I work for Thiessen, but Spencer got me the job. Name’s Kyle. We were friends from way back, joined the Rivers of Blood together, me and Erik and Alex. The plan was to get Thiessen to hire as many of us as possible, take over the organization from the inside, you know? First Thiessen’s businesses, then tech at large. I don’t even care about computers much, but Alex said it’s the way to get rich, so here I am!”
“Here you are indeed.” Myka wished all her interrogations for the Warehouse had gone this easily. Kyle was bursting with information, it seemed, so she kept asking questions.
“How many of you are there?”
“Us, like ROB guys? Uh, 5. Me, Alex, Erik, and then Tim and this Cuban dude, Bautista.”
“And where are Tim and Bautista?”
“Patrolling. I could call them over?”
Casey raised her eyebrows and Myka sat up straighter. If he was telling the truth… “That might be good, but uh, not yet. First, what’s going on with all these… um, items, piled up here?”
“OH those have magical powers. At least, Thiessen thought so, and Alex was trying to figure out which ones did what and all that. Wouldn’t let me touch anything. See that one there? The Guy Fawkes mask? From the set of V for Vendetta. Alex told me it’s not so powerful as it would be if Alan Moore had touched it, but I don’t know it looks fuckin rad to me! Maybe, do you think since Alex isn’t here, I could put it on quickly?”
“No!” Myka started, but Casey continued, “Wait up, bro… Kyle, is it? Nah, I think you shouldn’t touch it. What if Alex came back, right? He could any second.”
“You’re right, you’re right.” He looked disappointed as an eight year old driving past a Chuck E Cheese.
“In fact, Kyle, what would you think about putting your hands in front of you, letting me just put these on for safe keeping?”
Casey pulled another ziptie out of her vest.
But Kyle shrugged and held his hands out in front of him. “Sure thing, kitten! Anything you want.”
Casey smiled sweetly, but when the zipties closed around his wrists the smile slid right off, “Don’t fucking call me kitten, ok?”
“No kittens, sweetheart. Fine!”
“Casey, can I talk to you for a second?” Myka was starting to get a sneaking suspicion about what had happened here. Casey nodded, grabbed Kyle’s gun, and followed her into the bathroom. Myka closed the door, but Casey spoke first.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?”
“That the wrench you’re carrying is a Watchowski artifact that somehow renders its victims both incredibly helpful and unwilling to see the women wielding it as threats?”
“That was more detailed and specific than I was thinking, honestly but yes. Corky’s wrench, from Bound. Does that make you Jennifer Tilley?”
“Ha. You should be so lucky. Helena was trying to find you a weapon after all.”
“Do you think we could convince friendly Kyle over here to go downstairs and join Spencer and Erik in a heap on the floor?”
“Possibly, but better yet, why don’t we get him to invite the other two next door, we can tesla them all, take their guns, and leave them at the mercy of the typewriter?”
“And go after Helena in peace.”
“And leave Pete a much easier clean up.”
“I never took you as the kind to use an artifact as a weapon.”
“Well, you are still getting to know me. And I’ve always been a big fan of speculative fiction and its world saving potential.”
“You and Helena.”
And that’s what they did. The plan went relatively smoothly. Kyle called Tim and Bautista, and they all moved over to room 901, where they found Thiessen wrapped in bedsheets and muttering about rapid transit and the four hour work week. While they waited, they asked Kyle to type out a message on the typewriter, and soon he had crawled onto the bed to join Thiessen. Tim and Bautista showed up a few minutes later, and they barely registered Myka stepping from behind the door before they were on the ground, Tesla blast reverberating around the room.
“Well, that was easy.” Casey stepped up, tapped each man on the head experimentally with the wrench, and tied their hands. “Should we have them touch the typewriter too, to be safe?”
“Uh, let’s not overwhammy them, shall we?”
“Too many artifacts, we don’t know the side effects.”
“To be fair, we know more about the typewriter than the wrench.”
And so it was that Myka Bering, in contravention of most rule books she ever read, consented to overwhammy all of the gunmen, and even allowed Casey to briefly take the typewriter down to room 713 for Spencer and Erik as she called Pete and updated him on the risk factors. Now all that was left was to find Helena.