DISCLAIMER: The characters, their backstories, and most settings are the property of whoever owns the Sanctuary series; I've just temporarily taken them on a little daydream of my own. No copyright infringement intended and definitely no financial gain. Just wanted to 'hang out' here awhile
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SPOILERS: Season 4, Episode 4
After the Monsoon
If any of Charlotte Benoit's neighbors had glimpsed her approaching her apartment building, they would have wondered why she was walking so slowly. They were used to seeing the slender young woman striding purposely in or out, usually carrying a briefcase and sometimes a canvas bag of groceries as well. This evening the briefcase hung at the end of her left hand as though it were heavier than usual and her attention seemed to be more on the sidewalk than the springtime views to either side of her as she passed through the street gate and keyed her way into the building.
She wasn't ill--she ran frequent tests to be sure of that. One had to be obsessively careful in her line of work anyway, but she especially had to monitor the deadly, dormant virus she'd introduced into her body as a method to move the only sample to a safe and well-guarded trustee. All that seemed a long time ago, though it was only a matter of months. And now it was spring--usually an energetic season for her, an awakening, a spreading warmth of life after her city's usually dreary and damp winter. But this was the first spring since her trip to the African island nation of Comoros. She tried not to dwell on that but she had to face the fact: winter may be ebbing around her, but spring wasn't filling the vacuum where her heart needed it.
She'd been fine, at first. But as each week passed since her return from the main island, Grande Comore, she felt herself a little less buoyant, the light a little dimmer. She'd considered another island trip but knew it wasn't the sand and sea she missed.
She sighed deeply. She stood staring into her gaping, empty mailbox and had been doing so for several minutes without moving. Glancing around to be sure no one had seen her, she shut the mailbox, extracted her key, and proceeded up the stairs. At least she's moving a little faster now, an observer would have noted. She maintained the quicker pace up two flights of stairs, along the hallway, unlocking her door, swinging the door open, then shutting it behind her. She opened the hall closet door and reached for a hanger, then froze, her raincoat still sliding off one shoulder.
"Hello, Charlotte." Helen Magnus sat in Charlotte's favorite reading chair, long beautiful legs crossed and a halo of sunset colors lighting her head from the window behind her.
She was now hallucinating. How bad was this going to get?
Helen dipped her head and her eyes developed a worried expression. She rose and took several steps toward Charlotte, who proceeded to drop both her raincoat and the hanger she'd begun to place it on.
"Charlotte, are you all right?" Helen's voice was barely more than a whisper but her lovely British accent made the words wash over Charlotte like waves of light.
"Are you real?"
Magnus stopped several feet from Charlotte and spoke in a caring, still quiet tone, "Oh, darling, I never meant to frighten you. I couldn't risk reaching you by phone or online. I had to come in person. I hope you'll forgive me for letting myself in. It was presumptuous of me, I know, but quite necessary, I assure you." Then, apparently, she thought about Charlotte's question. "Am I real? Yes, and I'd love to prove it to you if you're not furious with me." Helen smiled, the same wistful expression on her face as just after Charlotte had kissed her the first time.
Charlotte walked into Helen's arms and accepted the kiss she'd been imagining for months. This was more than her imagination, she was sure now. These lips and tongue fully engaged with her own were even more than she remembered, the strong arms and skillful hands moving over her allowed her to not think, only feel. Imagination requires so much mental exertion, Charlotte knew, from long nights of trying to call this woman up out of a pillow wrapped in her arms.
She combed her fingers through Helen's long, full, dark hair--it really is as soft as she'd remembered, Charlotte marveled. She was aware of moving in a kind of dance, turning through the light, difficult to keep her eyes open, concentrate on breathing. She could feel Helen trembling, their cheeks were damp but Charlotte wasn't sure which of them was weeping.
"Oh, darling, I have missed you," Helen murmured in her ear, then traced kisses down Charlotte's neck. Charlotte realized her shirt was gone as Helen began pulling Charlotte's bra away from her front. When had she unclasped it? Charlotte gasped as Helen's bare breasts pressed into her own. The sensation was overwhelming.
They'd somehow made their way into the bedroom, onto the bed, and mutually shed most of their clothing in the process. Charlotte doubted she could operate so efficiently on automatic and, as she was only now beginning to think since the first touch of Helen's lips on hers, realized Helen must be the clothes magician.
"I knew about the Ph.D. in ass-kicking, but you never told me about your advanced degree in bodice-ripping," Charlotte couldn't help but smile even as she licked her way from one of Helen's lovely, full breasts to another and began to consider all the other parts of Helen she wanted to taste.
"Mmmm. Dear god, darling, you haven't let your talents rust, either," Helen squirmed just enough to leverage a long thigh between Charlotte's two. "But I promise to buy you a new blouse. I hope that wasn't a favorite."
"Wait," Charlotte stopped just long enough to look into Helen's eyes. "You destroyed my shirt?"
"Was it a favorite?"
Charlotte could feel a grin spread over her face. This woman had a way of dispensing with Charlotte's shirts. She'd used one to MacGyver an explosion on Grande Comore. "I don't remember. Anyway, this time was easily more fun than stuffing it under a door and blowing it up."
With a deep giggle, Magnus deftly flipped them both over and, displaying a lascivious expression before moving lower on Charlotte's body, began her own version of oral appreciation. The lower the progression, the greater pressure Charlotte felt between her ears. Sounds were escaping from her throat and Charlotte realized she was losing the ability to think again. She gave into it just as happily as before.
Helen left a wet trail of kisses and licks down the center of her torso and Charlotte was aware of the trail being colder than the rest of her now overheated skin. The contrast would have been more notable were it not for the distraction of Helen's mouth, teeth and tongue working on the inside of her upper thighs. She stared down at the top of Helen's head as Helen pressed Charlotte's legs farther apart. Charlotte was further distracted by a clear view of Magnus's very lovely ass as she knelt between Charlotte's legs. She was imagining other views she wished she could manage just as Magnus exhaled a long breath against the very wet fulcrum of Charlotte's widespread legs.
Magnus raised her head, revealing merry eyes peeking over Charlotte's mound. Charlotte felt Helen's breath continue to waft over the wettest, most sensitive part of Charlotte's body. As Helen let her lips lightly touch that spot, she cocked one eyebrow and hummed, "Hmmmmm?"
Charlotte spasmed and gasped, Magnus' smiling eyes still mischievously watching. Then she dragged her tongue purposely up the full length of Charlotte's drenched skin, from vaginal portal to clitoris. And repeated, with more pressure. By the third journey, Charlotte was bucking in a hip lock of Magnus' strong arms and growling nonsense syllables. Just as Charlotte was expecting to be pleasantly tortured with a fourth lick, Helen sucked Charlotte's clitoris into her mouth and rubbed her teeth across it.
"No, please, Helen!"
Helen froze. "Did I hurt you?"
"No," Charlotte gasped. "Not pain. Please. In me!"
"But, darling, I've only just gotten started..."
"No, Helen, please," she pleaded. "It's been too long. Please!"
Helen kissed the swollen bud tenderly, extracting a long moan from the woman whose hands were now clutching Helen's head. The moan morphed into a delighted growl as Charlotte felt Helen's long, strong fingers enter her.
An hour later they lay tangled together, Charlotte pleased to feel Helen holding her as tightly as she needed to clasp Helen. She nuzzled Helen's soft neck and kissed a trail down to her collar bone. "You didn't come here just to have your way with me."
Helen's hand stilled for just a tic, then resumed its movement along Charlotte's hip and thigh. "Well, this was certainly on the list. But, no, I do have another reason for breaking and entering."
"You might as well tell me while you have my undivided attention. I just hope it won't involve getting exploded halfway across a runway again."
"No, this should be more in your line rather than mine. We have a problem that requires your expertise in virology."
"As you may recall, I'm carrying the FDA's full daily recommended dosage of dormant viruses already."
"Happily, I don't need you to do anything as dramatic as infect yourself again. I'm hoping you can help us isolate an agent that seems to have infected one of my residents. I've been working on it, but the situation has grown desperate and I've been unsuccessful."
"One of your residents?"
Helen nodded, looked away for a moment, then back at Charlotte to ask apologetically, "Could I explain on the way? Would it be possible for you to leave your work for a week or two?" Charlotte knew she was staring into Helen's eyes with a shocked expression, which Helen obviously read immediately. "This is asking much too much, isn't it?"
"Wait, let me think for a moment." Charlotte took less than two minutes to consider what of her most pressing projects might delay her leaving and realized she could delegate, or direct remotely, all of them. The rest could wait. Still, she felt a tiny itch of irritation toward this woman who had commandeered her finely tuned life months ago and hadn't been in contact since. ["Now she shows up," Charlotte thinks, "and I fall into her arms, only to learn she's here to enlist me."]
Charlotte had turned away and sat up at that last, unwanted thought. She didn't want Helen to read her but she hadn't counted on Helen's own sense of guilt. "You're angry and you should be," Helen murmured to Charlotte's back. "I haven't been able to contact you in all these past months and now I show up needing your help."
Charlotte still didn't turn around but she had to ask: "So, why didn't you get in touch with me? You knew where I was. I had no way of reaching you."
"The same reason I had to come here in person now," Helen said. The sadness in her voice pulled Charlotte around to look into her eyes. "When we were together, I assumed I could contact you after I got back. But I found things had altered irrevocably when I reached home. I couldn't take the chance that my contacting you would put you in jeopardy."
"Can you elaborate on that? And why coming here in person is safer?"
"I can lay false trails either electronically or personally, but I'm more sure of success in the latter strategy. Those who would monitor my movements or conversations are very adept electronically but lack my old fashioned expertise of evading anyone trying to shadow me."
"So, you don't think they'd know you were here and that I'd left my work for weeks to go with you?"
"I'm certain I wasn't followed here. In fact, they should be following a false lead to a location some two thousand miles from here. So, there's no likelihood of their connecting you to me. They've no reason to monitor you. And I am, of course, assuming they won't blow up my plane like the last bunch," Helen smirked the half-smile Charlotte remembered so well. God, this woman intrigued her, beguiled and charmed her.
"Will I be able to contact my colleagues and teams while I'm with you? I can delegate, but I will probably need to still give direction while I'm gone. Plus, if I didn't, they would wonder why."
"Yes," Helen nodded. "It will be a little tricky to mask the GIS on your phone, but we can do that. Since it will be coming from your phone, it shouldn't ping any monitors once we've placed a false GIS reading on it." Helen thought for a moment. "Is there someplace you might have to be called to that your colleagues won't try to reach other than to email or text?"
"I could say it's a family emergency. I don't actually have family but I never discussed that with anyone at the University."
Helen looked deeply into Charlotte's eyes, a small smile and hopeful expression on her face. "Does this mean you'll come?"
Charlotte couldn't resist stroking Helen's face. "Did you doubt it?"
"I know I'm asking you to take a huge leap of faith."
"Well, life was getting a little boring and I've taken to watching PBS to get my fix of British accents..."
They'd been in the air for about an hour when the radio crackled and a male voice announced, "Doc, did you find the lunch I packed you?" Charlotte stared at Helen who suddenly appeared tenser than she had been before the voice filled the cabin.
Magnus gestured to Charlotte to get a small duffel bag behind her seat. As she handed it over, Helen responded, "I did. How thoughtful!" Unzipping the duffel and pulling out what looked like a fat cell phone, Helen continued, "I'm going to have it right now. Thanks!"
Magnus held her palm up toward Charlotte to warn her not to talk. "I'm going to set us on auto for a bit while we eat." She handed Charlotte the duffel, fiddled with the controls, then rose with the device in her hand and walked out of the cabin. Charlotte sat frozen in the copilot's seat and tried not to think about what to do if the automatic controls weren't foolproof. She couldn't hear Magnus' movements over the drone of the engines. What the hell was going on?
After what seemed a week, Helen stepped through the cabin doorway and began sweeping the device back and forth. Her hand stopped when she was pointing it at Charlotte, then ran down the side of Charlotte's coat where it hung from the back of her seat. Helen stared briefly at Charlotte, who tilted her head in consternation. Gently, Helen felt the coat's collar, shoulders, and inspected the lining and pockets. She stopped at the bottom hem and held up a portion to the light. Charlotte could see where it was a little thicker than the rest of the hem and the lining didn't seem to be finished properly.
Helen put her hand over Charlotte's mouth just as she was about to utter "Wha..." She lowered the coat's hem gently back to its hanging position and motioned Charlotte to follow her out of the cabin.
Helen moved quickly to the rear of the plane, still checking the device as she continued to sweep. "Okay," she whispered. "We can talk here, but keep your voice to a whisper. The engine noise should cover our voices if we whisper." Helen moved over to a locked bin, keyed in a code, and opened the top of the bin. She extracted what looked to Charlotte like a toy plane.
"Helen, is my coat bugged?"
"With a very talented bug. If it were just a listening device, Henry might not have detected it."
"Who's Henry? The guy on the radio? Is he here on the plane?"
"No. He's where we're headed. He was checking to be sure we weren't being tracked and must have detected the signals our little hitchhiker was sending out to reveal our location."
Charlotte stared at Helen. "Somebody put a tracking device in my coat? I've worn that coat almost every day this winter and spring. They were either in my apartment or my office at the university..." She felt very cold suddenly. What the hell was going on?
"This puts a whole new spin on things," Helen muttered, looking grimly past Charlotte. She shook her head and grimaced. "The virus must have been deliberately introduced. They couldn't get to me, so they monitored you. They expected me to bring you to the Sanctuary. This has all been about learning where the Sanctuary is."
The chill Charlotte was feeling deepened. Her mind began to move from one scenario to another, like a series of possible chess moves. She could tell Magnus was casting about mentally, as well. Her eyes were moving as though she were reading, left to right and back again. Then, Helen looked over to Charlotte with that determined expression the professor had seen several times on Cormoros.
"We have to take you back. You and I will have an argument. You'll demand I return you to your home."
"Helen, that won't work. They'll be waiting. They'll get to you."
"Not if we ditch their little bug by sending it on it's merry way elsewhere. We can do this, Charlotte. We can keep you safe. They only want me and the location of the Sanctuary."
"You think they'll leave me alone? After this?"
Fear ghosted across Helen's eyes before she shut them. "Charlotte, I''m so sorry. I never thought they'd made a connection between us."
"But there is a connection, Helen. If they know about you and me on Grande Comore, they know I'm important to you." Charlotte felt heat rise into her face as another thought occurred. "Actually, depending on how sensitive that bug is, they know a lot about how important we are to each other by now. Do you think it could pick up sounds we made in the apartment?"
Now Helen looked dumbstruck.
"If I go back, they'll use me as a hostage to get to you, won't they?"
Magnus squeezed her forehead as if to keep a pain from traveling. "Let's not worry about that right now. Let's just send our little friend off on an adventure of its own, shall we?" She held up the toy-sized plane and wobbled it through the air.
Back in the cabin, Magnus carefully cut the bug from the lining of Charlotte's coat and placed it in a compartment of the small drone. Charlotte followed as Helen carried the drone to the middle of the plane, placed it in an open bay, pressed a button, closed the bay, and returned to her seat where she pressed another button. She and Charlotte watched a small screen Helen had propped up between them. The drone veered off on it's own path.
Henry's voice crackled over the radio, "It's tracking fine, Doc. I'll keep it going on its merry way until it's time for it to take a swim. Looks like you're clear."
"Thanks, Henry. Excellent work!"
"You're welcome, Doc. That should give them something to do for awhile. Hope they don't catch a chill getting their feet wet this time of year."
Helen grinned over to Charlotte, but must have noticed her expression because the grin faded and she reached over to squeeze Charlotte's hand.
Charlotte moved around to crouch in front of Magnus. She looked up into her eyes and wondered how honest she should be. She gave in to the need to just blurt it out: "Helen? I don't want to go back."
Magnus looked up from their clasped hands. "Perhaps not right now, darling. But you probably will in the future. What will we do then?"
Charlotte was shocked to realize the expression on Helen's face was tinged with guilt and sadness. "I don't have any strong ties back there. I'm not giving up that much."
"You still need my help with this virus. Surely, I could be of help even after we've taken care of that problem, couldn't I? You did mention once that you could use a virologist on your staff..."
"My facility isn't a typical institution, Charlotte. It won't be like anything you're used to."
Charlotte had to grin despite her worry that Helen's reluctance was based on something Charlotte might not want to hear. "Of course it isn't. Why would a facility you run be like any other?"
When Magnus didn't reply but simply cupped Charlotte's cheek in her palm, Charlotte allowed herself to blurt outagain--what she suspected was the problem. "Too pushy? Presumptuous? No openings?"
That seemed to shake Helen out of her reticence. "Not at all. I just wonder if you realize how much you'll be giving up. We might be able to return you safely someday but it would be years from now and even then..."
Charlotte took Helen's hands and squeezed them for emphasis. "If you're worried that I'll expect us to remain lovers all the time I'm there, you don't have to worry about that."
Magnus stared out from under a bit of frown and Charlotte wondered if she hadn't worded that quite clearly. She tried again with, "I mean, you weren't planning on my being there very long, so you might be feeling like I'm going to wear out my welcome..." Crap, she thought, I'm really messing this up, as Helen tilted her head in apparent consternation.
"Wear out your welcome? Charlotte, I haven't been able to communicate with you since Grande Comore, so I'm going to chalk up that last bit to your understandable lack of expectations where I'm concerned. But please, darling, let me assure you, you are more than welcome. I'm just kicking myself that I didn't see the trap being laid." Helen's guilty face was now absolutely readable. "I was too happy to have an excuse to risk bringing you in for a consult, and they fully played me." She sighed and raised one of Charlotte's hands to her lips. "I've missed you so much. I'm so sorry for getting you into this mess."
"So, who says it isn't a nice mess?" Charlotte leaned in for a long kiss. [That guilty face has got to go, she thought.] When she opened her eyes again, she was quite pleased to see it was almost obliterated by a very sweet smile and that enchanting dimple.
"Well," Helen murmured, "I guess I should contact Henry and tell him we're going with Plan C. There's also some detective work I need him to get started on."
"This is Mag-1. We're 10 miles out and on approach. Can you visual? Over." Helen spoke into the mike, waited, and then they heard a crackle and a choppy voice responding."
"Uh, no visual yet. Over."
"We're going to begin descent. You should spot us soon."
Well after they'd descended through a low cloud cover, Charlotte was still trying to see where they would be landing. The island below didn't appear to have a runway. One lone ship was plowing through the sea nearby. Magnus seemed to be tracking it rather than banking toward the island. Soon, Charlotte realized Magnus was bringing the plane increasingly closer to the ship.
The radio barked out, "Got your visual, Mag-1!"
"Copy that," Helen responded.
"Your going to land on the ship, aren't you?"
Magnus flicked a mischievous grin, dimple well displayed, over her way and chuckled. "That's the plan, darling."
Charlotte took a deep breath, held it briefly, then let it out very slowly. Am I going to chicken out and close my eyes? She realized she cared more about Helen's approval than she feared watching the plane she was in bounce along the deck below and plummet into the water. So she watched as the ship moved inexorably closer, the plane dropping ever farther toward the high waves from the ship's wake, and she could now see the impossibly short deck on which her amazing lover intended to deposit the metal container she was guiding downward.
Charlotte trotted behind Magnus across the ship's deck, just managing to keep her wheeled luggage from making its own way as the deck shifted disconcertingly beneath her feet. "Sea legs," was the phrase that flitted through her mind as something she wished she had at the moment. Of course, Helen Magnus seemed well equipped, not slowing down or listing out of control in the least, Charlotte observed, as she finally caught up to her. Two peoplea man and a womanemerged from a door at the edge of the deck.
"Magnus, good to see you," the man grinned.
"And very good to see both of you! Charlotte," Helen turned with a happy expression, "this is Will and," she motioned toward the woman standing next to him, "this is Abby."
As they nodded and smiled to each other, Charlotte thought she detected a definite twinkle in the blond woman's eyes as she glanced from Charlotte to Helen and back.
"Magnus, you're all set to go," Will said as he handed a briefcase to Helen. "Henry's starting the testing on anything that might have gone into Sally's environment. By the time you get there, he should be done." Charlotte looked back at the plane they'd just left, wondering if they were supposed to re-board, but was amazed to see it now covered with camo nets. Will continued, "We'll cruise over to Greenland for the rendezvous with Declan and see you in about a week, okay?"
"Perfect. I'll get things ready for our new residents. Good luck and be careful, all of you!"
Abby grinned and added, "Tell Kate I took a picture of the chess board with my phone before I left. I'll know if she moves that queen."
"I'll tell her," Helen laughed and motioned for Charlotte to follow her as she turned toward the stern. Okay, not the plane, Charlotte thought. And this ship is going to Greenland?
As they stepped off the elevator three decks down, Charlotte stopped and stared at the scene before her. Halfway across the deck, Helen turned to say something and realized Charlotte wasn't right behind her. She stopped with her head tilted a little to the side, then walked back to where Charlotte stood. Okay, Charlotte thought, I'm probably looking a little shocky here. She swallowed and forced a grin as Helen walked up very close.
"Capt. Nemo, I presume?" Charlotte quipped, as brightly as she could.
"The vessel is quite seaworthy, Charlotte. We'll be fine."
"It's a submarine, Helen. Where in hell did you get a submarine?"
"Well, it's not a full-sized one, but it's got powerful engines and will get us there within two days, three at the most."
"Helen," Charlotte breathed deeply and looked into the eyes of this woman who apparently seldom did anything like regular people, "where is the there that it's getting us to?"
"The Sanctuary, Charlotte." With a smile that reached to her eyes, Helen raised her chin just a bita characteristic Charlotte had observed before. Not pride, really, but something akin to pride.
"Is it under the sea?" Charlotte whispered.
Helen blinked, cantered her chin downward, and glanced from Charlotte to the sub. "Under water? Oh, Charlotte, no! The sub will merely get us through the estuary and inland via the channel unobserved." As Charlotte felt herself un-tense a bit, Magnus must have read the reason for her trepidation. "No, Charlotte, the Sanctuary isn't below the sea, it's on land. Well," Helen continued after cocking her head to the side and back, "not actually on land, more like under...um...within..."
"As I've mentioned before," Charlotte whispered in awe, "you know how to show a girl a good time."
"Dr. Benoit, welcome to the Sanctuary." Helen Magnus' chin was slightly raised as she gazed out over the vista before them. She glanced over and Charlotte had to laugh at the obvious joy on Helen's face.
"You built this," Charlotte said, shaking her head. "This is incredible, Helen." The city stretching out beyond them gleamed under illumination that simulated sunlight. The air smelled clean, the temperature crisp but not too cold. Charlotte could hear the stream running under the footbridge on which they stood and visually followed it as it joined the larger flow of river farther down in the valley. After emerging from a labyrinth of underground tunnels, they'd stepped through a portal and struck out on a wide path which Charlotte could see meandered into that valley and onward to the city. High peaks framed the scene on either side and into the distance. The valley was lush with vegetation, blooming and verdant, the peaks jutting up from middle elevations densely forested.
"Many people built this," Helen assured her. "Many peoplehumans and non-humans alikeshared the vision for this new Sanctuary and made it happen."
"But it wouldn't have happened, in fact it wouldn't have been envisioned, were it not for Helen Magnus," a deep voice behind them intoned.
"Nikola!" Helen strode back past Charlotte to greet the slender man in a 3-piece suit who stood on the path at the portal. "Did you just arrive?"
"I did. I was told you were returning with a virologist who would help with our problem and I hurried here." Tesla leaned toward Magnus with an impish leer and stage-whispered, "I expected some frumpy old professor with a thick Scots accent and a smelly old pipe. You brought a beautiful, young woman, Magnus." Then he gasped and pointed at Charlotte with, "Aaahhh! Or is this a disguise for sneaking the frumpy professor in here?"
Laughing happily, Magnus introduced them. Charlotte felt her eyes growing largeagain"Nikola Tesla?"
"Yes, my dear, THE Nikola Tesla, and so very pleased to meet you." The leer was definitely his default facial expression, Charlotte decided. She looked over to Helen for confirmation that this couldn't possibly be "THE Nikola Tesla" and was somewhat thrown by Helen's sympathetic expression.
"I'll explain later?"
As they were conversing with Tesla, a golf cart-sized vehicle approached along the wide path. It was driven by a young woman with interesting features, Charlotte noted, as Charlotte placed her luggage into a bin at the back of the vehicle, not the least of which were her webbed fingers ending in talons.
Once they were underway, Magnus asked about the health of their patient: "Your message said Sally was still stable, Nikola. Have you heard anything in the time we were out of communication?"
"Yes. She's still stable but I'm glad you weren't further delayed getting back here. I don't like keeping her in stasis like this when we can't be sure the virus is in stasis, as well."
"By stasis, do you mean an induced coma?" Charlotte asked.
"No," Helen explained. "That definitely wouldn't halt the virus' progression." Charlotte nodded as Helen continued, "We developed a method of stasis specifically for cases like this. It's not an optimal situation when we aren't familiar with the virus but it can afford us extra time to study the virus and develop a counterattack." She turned to Nikola with, "Will and Abby brought us copies of our notes so we could go over them in the sub on our way here. Charlotte believes she's seen this type of bio-engineering before. We've been able to work up some tentative options but we'll need to pull in more data. Your and Henry's ability to crack into some electronic archives will help. We'll have to be very careful not to leave a footprint, well, not even a whiff, actually."
"Really? Moi? Since when have I ever been so sloppy?" Nikola looked aghast and Charlotte could tell from Helen's smirk that this was normal histrionics for Tesla.
"SCIU archives, Nikola," Helen said calmly.
A slow smile spread over Tesla's face. He crooned, "Oh. Please, can't I leave something behind then, Magnus?"
Helen slowly shook her head with a patient smile as she glanced toward Charlotte.
Charlotte's introduction to Sally was, to Charlotte's bemusement, rather anticlimactic. [Sure. A mermaid, Charlotte thought, as she gazed at the submerged and unconscious creature lying recumbent in the stasis chamber. Why not?] They'd wasted no time getting to the medical facility. Nikola had arranged for their bags to be taken on to wherever they would be staying.
As Tesla left to join Henry to begin their penetration of the SCIU network, Helen and Charlotte began running more tests to confirm some of Charlotte's theories about how the virus was engineered.
"We also need to discover how the virus entered Sally's environment. Whether in her food or, perhaps, on plant forms we added to her new habitat."
"What about the water?"
Helen shook her head, "Filtered and an ionic purification process applied, then sea salt introduced afterward. And, yes, we've tested the filters we used, all the ionic purification equipment, and the salt has tested negative. All of the water circulation equipment and materials have been tested, as well."
"If they can get to your food supply, Helen, you've got more problems than this one patient," Charlotte advised as gently as she could. She could see the worry deepening in Helen's eyes.
Helen nodded in agreement. "We need to determine the latency period for the virus, as well," she continued. "It will be helpful to know if the virus was introduced here or at the Old City Sanctuary."
They set to work detailing their process of elimination and designed testing protocols for each layer of research. Charlotte added protocols for testing the engineered bonds in the isolated virus which had been the sticking point for Helen's attempts at devising a method of response against the virus' onslaught. Helen had determined that it was the engineered bonds themselves that protected the virus particles from conventional methods of immune response support. Charlotte had an inkling as to what may have been the engineer's design and how she might discover a flaw in that design. That would be her share of the work, she decided.
They divided the other tasks, Helen contacting Tesla and Henry and directing them to work on the latency portion using a computer model Charlotte supplied. Charlotte was surprised that the two men, who obviously were deep into their work on the SCIU network, didn't hesitate to take on yet another highly technical project. From their observations as they looked over the model, she realized both Tesla and Henry already saw ways to improve the program. Her amazement must have shown on her face, because she looked up to see Helen's wide grin and small nod.
Magnus looked up just in time to catch Charlotte exhaustedly rubbing the back of her neck. "Okay, time for bed!"
Charlotte looked up from the microscope she'd been staring into and obviously was having trouble focusing across the lab table at her lover. "Hmmpf?" She blinked slowly, rubbed her face with both hands, and mumbled, "Maybe you're right. I'm not sure I was even thinking for the last five minutes or so. I'm sorry, Helen. I know this is important."
Helen stood, stretched her back (which caused her shirt to stretch tightly over those lovely breasts, as well, Charlotte attentively noted), and walked around the table to place a soft kiss at Charlotte's temple. She then wrapped a strong arm around the younger woman's shoulders and gently pulled her up off the lab stool.
Charlotte teetered and leaned into Magnus, "Good grief, I think my leg went to sleep!"
Helen wrapped both arms around her and squeezed. It felt so good, Charlotte wanted the rest of herself to fall asleep right there, her head on Helen's shoulder. She inhaled deeply, her face nestled against Helen's neck. "God, you smell wonderful," she murmured and realized she couldn't be all that tired. Her hands were moving quite happily on their own down Helen's back and enjoying the lovely curves they knew from experience were just beyond her waist...
Magnus laughed and pulled back a bit to kiss Charlotte quickly on her lips. "Dear god, you're dead on your feet and still interested?"
Charlotte pulled Magnus close again and kissed her more deeply. "You did say the magic word: bed."
"I meant for you to get some well-deserved sleep," Helen murmured in her right ear while Helen's right hand massaged the other side of Charlotte's head. It felt so good, Charlotte leaned into the motion, pressing her head into Helen's hand to increase the sensation. She moaned and pulled Helen closer, kissing her even more deeply. She could feel Helen responding as their bodies began to move together.
"You are coming with me, right? To bed?"
"Well, I do have to show you where our rooms are..."
That woke Charlotte up. "Rooms? As in 'separate rooms'?"
Magnus grinned and laughed. "Your 'rooms' are across the hall from my 'rooms' but my bed is quite large enough for both of us. I just thought you might want your own suite at times. But, no, not tonight. Not separate tonight," the last words she whispered in Charlotte's ear as she turned them both toward the door.
"Wait, I need to shut down the 'scope!"
"Good lord, so do I," Helen said, running her hand through her hair and looking nearly as exhausted as Charlotte felt. They both went back to their workstations and shut down their equipment, carefully packing away slidessome of which required refrigeration. They made a last visual check of the lab to be sure everything was secured, then Charlotte followed Helen out, managing to work the tingles out of her circulation-deprived leg.
"Helen!" Tesla's voice cracked like a parrot squawk against Charlotte's ears. "I'm glad you're still here. I've found the source of the virus!"
Helen looked sadly over to Charlotte, then turned to Tesla as he caught up with them. "Nikola, are we in imminent danger?"
He stopped, appeared a bit abashed, and mumbled, "No, that's what I wanted to tell you." Recovering his sense of pride, he rolled his eyes and said, "Of course, if you don't want to hear it, I can just drop off the data in your lab..."
"Sorry, Nikola, it's just that we're both very tired and were on our way to bed," Helen was sorry she'd mentioned their destination when she caught Tesla's eyes darting back and forth between the two women and his mouth began to creep into a slow leer. She snapped him out of what he was about to say with, "Tell me. Please."
"You're forgiven. You look terrible, by the way. You both do."
Helen merely gaped at him, trying to decide whether she could hit him as hard as she wanted without killing him. Charlotte, however, stepped forward with both fists clenched, causing Tesla to step back quickly.
"I've seen her after she was blown halfway across a runway and she still looked gorgeous," Charlotte growled at him. "Helen is incapable of looking anything but gorgeous."
With those words still ringing in the corridor, Helen's form softened visibly and she reached out, placing her palm on Charlotte's back. Feeling her touch, Charlotte turned to stare at her as though she'd forgotten Helen was there beside her. She blushed deeply enough that even the reduced lighting of the hallway caught the color rising in her cheeks.
"Well," Tesla drawled, "Indeed. Isn't young love lovely?"
"Nikola," Helen warned.
Tesla raised hand in peace offering. "No, I'm just envious, Helen. Not that you don't deserve the loyal admiration of this beautiful young woman. Still, her outburst quite took my breath away." He leaned toward Charlotte with a surprisingly sincere smile and murmured, "I know exactly what you meant. Helen Magnus is indeed incapable of looking anything but 'gorgeous' and, frankly, my dear young woman, so are you." He looked back and forth between the two with a big grin now, realizing he had smoothed over the gaffe. "When the description 'terrible' is applied to either of you, it merely means your collective beauty isn't as stunning as usual."
"Wow. That talent for stepping back out of the dog shit without keeping any on your shoe must be how you managed to live this long. Considering how often your mouth must get you into trouble," Charlotte observed.
Magnus grinned at Charlotte and squeezed her with the arm that now was about her waist. "Nikola, where did the virus come from?"
"Ah, yes," he murmured, still staring with approving eyes at the young woman Helen was leaning into. "Henry and I have both separately confirmed that SCIU introduced it when they were at the Old City Sanctuary." He nodded as Helen's shock began to register on her face. "Yes, our deviously evil friends apparently already knew of your blossoming friendship with Ms. Benoit when they came to harass you with their phony audit and to recruit Henry. They must have already guessed you might try to move to an undisclosed location."
"Oh, Helen, this is my fault," Charlotte whispered.
"If I hadn't..." she hesitated, trying to find another word besides 'seduced,' and Magnus slowly caught up with where Charlotte's thought processes were taking her.
"Charlotte, if anything, it's my fault. SCIU was obviously casting about for any way to assure themselves there would be a trail if and when I decided to move abnormals to a safer location. Either they guessed that's what I might do or somewhere during my preparations I left clues to my intentions. Thus, I got you into this, darling, not the other way 'round..."
"Helen has a way of doing that to people," Tesla smiled, ignoring Helen's glare at his interruption. "At any rate, they've been foiled in their diabolical scheme. Henry discovered the tracer bug which you sent off in the drone, squelching that part of their plan and now we're in the process of making sure any other schemes they might have hatched can be discovered and thwarted." Then Tesla straightened, his eyebrows raised in obvious delight, "Oh, and the piece d' resistance of glad tidings this very late hour: I've crashed their systems. They shall recover," he raised both palms as Magnus began to protest, "but without several crucial bits of data with which they might have caused us problems in the future."
"We don't want them aware that we can access their systems, Nikola," Helen said shaking her head.
"I absolutely agree, my dear friend. That's why we made it look as though a particularly distasteful band of hackers from Belarus caused the crash when they were trying to access SCIU's terrorist archives."
"What hackers from Belarus?' Helen asked, frowning. "And, why haven't I heard of them before this?" Charlotte was bemused to observe for the first time how stern Helen could appear when she thought someone had dropped the ball.
"Because, dear leader," Tesla grinned saucily, "they didn't exist until Henry created them two hours ago. All around, it should keep SCIU busy chasing shadows for months, not to mention trying to rebuild their systems without some key blocks of applications and data. Now there's just being sure the vaccine you're developing for Sally clears up her malady and we'll be back to normal. Now that our latest resident genius," he made a small bow with a twinkle in his eyes toward Charlotte, "has cracked the problem of separating the engineered portion of the virus, we should be a happy little family again in no time!"
Helen relaxed and appeared to become very tired as adrenaline wore off. Charlotte realized she was feeling it as well. "It sounds as though you and Henry have it well under control, Nikola."
"We do, Helen. Now off to bed, the two of you and..." Tesla's default leer returned, but Charlotte thought it seemed softer than usual. Perhaps she was just starting to get used to him. "do try to get some sleep, won't you?"
Magnus smiled and slowly shook her head from side to side. "You're incorrigible, Nikola. Get some sleep yourself and we'll have a late morning meeting in the lab."
The artificial sun of New Sanctuary lightened the bedroom slowly, finding its way around heavy curtains draped over the large windows. Two days had elapsed since Helen Magnus had gently eased Sally from stasis and allowed the solution she and Charlotte created to begin its work eradicating Sally's disease. The mermaid struggled against her illness so bravely, Charlotte observed. Over those two days, she came to understand just how important it was to all of themHelen, Henry, Will, Abby, Kate, and even the acerbic and hard-shelled Nikolato save Sally's life. She was not just an exotic example of abnormal; Sally was a friend and, perhaps, a colleague for all of them. It was late last night before they were all certain of success. Sally was finally breathing through her gills on her own and the virus titration samples Helen and Charlotte last ran showed satisfying progress. Soon, Sally would be able to return to her habitat.
Charlotte woke slowly, becoming aware of her arousal and Helen's proximity at the same time. She reached out to caress Helen's body and spread her legs just enough to allow an insistent, muscled thigh to wedge between them. "Oh, woman, you feel so good," she moaned into Helen's neck. Then Magnus was kissing her deeply, pulling Charlotte over to sprawl over Helen's long body. Charlotte felt Helen's breasts pressed voluptuously into her own, Helen's fingers working gently down between her legs, Helen's tongue moving over her own.
Helen pulled back to gasp for breathapparently Charlotte had been quite actively deepening those kissesand moaned, "Oh, darling, you're very wet!" To prove her point, Helen sank what felt like three long, probing fingers quite easily into Charlotte's grateful center.
Charlotte grinned into Helen's neck, chuckling, "Damn, how did that happen?" Her chuckles morphed to moans as the fingers scissored inside her and her hips began bucking automatically. Helen raised her thigh, increasing the pressure of her hand as her thumb rotated around Charlotte's clitoris. Briefly, Charlotte wondered at her lover's dexterity, before her mind blanked and someone began howling...
"I don't know if I can live through waking like that every morning," Charlotte whispered into Helen's ear. She felt Helen's cheek expand in a wide smile.
"Perhaps you can return the favor tomorrow and wake me?"
"I suspect I'd have to get up awfully early to wake before Helen Magnus..."
Helen slid her body provocatively up and down over Charlotte's and replied, "Not if you bid me goodnight the way you just thanked me for the wakeup call. Oh, Charlotte, you are quite impressively talented in so many ways, darling. You wore me out," Magnus' voice held a note of surprise.
"You did seem to enjoy yourself. I'm very pleased to have been of service." Charlotte rolled them both over and proceeded to kiss Magnus deeply. At some point, Helen's response slowed and Charlotte realized they weren't going to be spending the day in bed as they had on Grande Comore. "Up?"
"I'm afraid so, darling. Aren't you hungry?"
"In so many ways..." she continued to nuzzle and lick until Magnus let out a yell and leapt from bed.
"I need a shower, a large cup of tea, and enough distance between the two of us that I can think of something other than what your body feels like against mine!" Magnus stood in all her naked glory, arms stretched above her head, a great, joyous smile on her face.
"You," Charlotte intoned, "are exquisite."
Magnus stared down at her, obviously attempting to make a decision. Turning abruptly and expelling a loud "Harrumpf!" she trounced toward the ensuite. "Shower," she growled.
Charlotte grinned with the realization that there might still be some playtime available to them before they had to get back to work. She followed Helen into the ensuite and was encouraged when Helen gave her a dimpled smile and pulled Charlotte by the hand into the shower with her.
"Helen," Charlotte looked up from her emptied plate as a thought popped into her consciousness. "Why didn't you wonder if I was working with SCIU? I could have known about the tracking bug. For that matter, I might have already been working with them on Grande Comore!"
"You weren't." Helen smiled benignly over her tea cup.
"But you didn't know that," Charlotte insisted.
"Actually, she did," Will piped up from down the table. "Before Magnus went to get you to help with Sally, we ran a full background check on you. You were absolutely clean. We also checked with Richard Feliz, because he's very good at that sort of research, as well. He'd cleared you fully before he met with you on Grande Comore."
"And, I hope you'll forgive me, darling," Magnus added, "I checked you out thoroughly when I returned from Comoros."
Charlotte couldn't think of anything to say. She simply stared from one individual to the next, finally settling on Magnus' lovely, apologetic expression.
Henry softly cleared his throat, "In fact, we feel bad about all that from more than just the breach of privacy bit. It mighta been all that activitylooking into your backgroundthat caused you to pop up on SCIU's radar."
Now Magnus was looking more than apologetic. Her expression was downright guilty. "So you see, darling, your being marooned here truly is my fault."
Charlotte felt a giggle bubble up from deep inside. It erupted as gleeful laughter. Everyone but Tesla looked surprised at her reaction. "I'm sorry, Helen, butmarooned? It's the perfect word!" She held her spoon up before her mouth and deepened her voice: "Professor Benoit, who would you most like to be marooned on a desert island with?"
Helen stared at the young woman and a slow smile bloomed on her face, dimple and all. Tesla grinned and leaned toward Magnus. "Obviously, Helen, the lovely Ms. Benoit does not rue the day you careened into her life," He raised his wine glass toward Charlotte and averred, "and we near-immortals are just as obviously richer for her presence in ours."
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