DISCLAIMER: The characters of H.G. Wells, Myka Bering, Pete Lattimer, Artie Nielson and Mrs. Frederic are not mine. The ones you don't recognize probably are. I do not own, nor do I have any official association with Warehouse13, SyFy or pretty much any other profit making entity. No infringement is intended. I'm simply borrowing the characters for a bit. H.G. Wells' swagger is a trademarked product of Jaime "my flawlessness ruins lives" Murray. Myka's adorable-ness is a trademarked product of Joanne "my ridiculous combination of cute and hot is completely distracting" Kelly.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was supposed to be pointless, plotless smut. 50,000 words later, I am beginning to accept I cannot write pointless smut. (Though, in all fairness, I use the word "plot" in its loosest sense.)
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To Racethewind10[at]gmail.com
A Pirate's Life for Me
Damn those French bastards!
Hardly sentiments worthy of an officer of His Majesty's Navy, but appropriate to the situation nonetheless. The invective was the last coherent thought that passed through the mind of Agent Lieutenant-Commander Myka Bering, first mate of HMS Artifact Hunter under Captain Arthur Nielson. In the next instant, the French frigate's guns sounded, the world seemed to explode, and everything went dark.
The next thing Myka was aware of was being in a great deal of pain, and bitterly, terribly cold. Her thoughts felt slow, as if they too were frozen, and there was a persistent ringing in her ears that refused to dissipate. The distantly familiar sounds of splashing and shouting teased at the edge of her hearing, but before her normally quicksilver mind could decipher what those sounds signified, her body failed her, and the officer was dragged into unconsciousness once more.
Awareness returned several more times after that. Once it was accompanied by sharp pain and exclamations she thought she heard someone cry "hold her! I have to set the arm!" before she passed out. After that her brief periods of lucidity carried more pleasant, if equally transient sensations. She felt warmth over her body, a soft pillow beneath her head, gentle hands stroking her face and sometimes a soft voice coaxing her away from oblivion. None of it, however, made any sense, or stayed fixed in her mind long enough for her to grasp before she slipped back into the darkness once again.
And then, one moment, as if an invisible hand flipped a switch in her mind, Myka was simply awake. Her senses, long denied, crowded with information: It was dark and she was indoors somewhere, on a ship apparently, as the familiar rolling sensation was instantly recognizable. They were underway and, if the sound of water rushing by the hull outside was any indication, making good speed. Myka herself was resting in a real bed in what must have been the Captain's quarters. The blankets were thick and soft and not stained with salt a luxury indeed. Nearby a heavy wooden desk was scattered with charts and if she craned her neck she could just see a window, through which the full moon hung low and bright. Her situation deemed secure enough, Myka's next act was to try and move. An act which presented rather more difficulty than expected. Her right arm was bound in a rather ingenious sling and it appeared her ribs had been wrapped as well. Just how badly was I hurt? And hard on the heels of that thought came the memories of the attack and Artie, Pete, Claudia, the crew! She had to get up, she had to
"Oh, bollocks," she hissed softly as her entire body protested her attempt to leave her supine position. Her frustration however, was short lived. There was a gasp, a commotion on the other side of the room, and before her heart could leap through her chest, a worried "Myka? Myka are you awake?"
"Claudia? Is that you?"
A lantern flared and suddenly Myka was face to face with ship's girl and her own dear friend, Claudia Donovan. "Claudia! You're ok!" Relief flooded the Commander.
"Oh my god Myka! We were so worried," Claudia's eyes were suspiciously shiny as she attempted to hug the older woman awkwardly. Protocol be damned, the two had always been more sisters than mere shipmates and Myka wrapped her good arm around the apprentice and former midshipman of the Hunter.
Joyous reunions, however, must needs be short lived.
"Claudia where are we? What happened? How long have I been unconscious? Where are Pete and Artie and the crew?" she asked fervently, her good hand gripping Claudia's arm.
"Whoa there, slow down. The crew is fine. They were picked up by The Steadfast not long after the French frigate left and were, uh, are being taken back to port." When Myka expected Claudia to continue however, the younger woman pushed a wisp of bright red hair behind her ear and gnawed on her lip.
A sudden suspicion gripped the Commander. "Claud .we're not on the Steadfast are we?"
"Uh well no, we're not." The younger woman stalled for a moment and then turned eyes that had taken on a pleading look to her friend. "See, they couldn't find you in the wreckage and the Captain said you were lost but I knew you weren't because you're just too stubborn so I kind of um, went AWOL but it's ok! Because I got picked up by another ship and the Captain believed me when I said that you were still alive and she totally knows all about The Warehouse and we're on the trail of that French ship and we're going to find Pete and Artie, I mean Captain Arthur and...I should probably just stop talking now."
Despite her growing concern and confusion, Myka had to bite her lip to keep from smiling at the midshipman's typical ramblings.
"Slow down Claud. Start with where Pete and Artie are."
Now the younger woman's face fell. "We don't know. They weren't in the wreckage either but H the Captain thinks that they've been taken prisoner by the French. They would have been in uniform. And we think the only reason they didn't take you is that you had drifted so far away from the ship. We almost didn't find you."
The last was said in a small voice that made Myka reach out and pull Claudia to her again. "I'm here Claud, and I'm not going anywhere. Now tell me where here is," she said sternly, shifting back to look the younger woman in the eye.
"Uh, well we're on a British ship, and uh, you know maybe I should just show you," replied the redhead, suddenly evasive.
"Claudia Donovan "
"Just trust me ok? We're safe, and we're on Pete and Artie's trail, and here's your clothes all clean and pressed." Claudia beamed, producing a square bundle with a flourish.
Myka's eyes narrowed.
Claudia's expression turned pleading again.
The Commander sighed. "Fine. Help me get dressed."
"Squeal of delight!"
"Right. Sorry, yes ma'am."
Myka managed not to sigh this time.
Getting dressed required much more effort than Myka would have liked and her head was spinning when she finally managed to pull her boots on over her breeches. Still, even without her uniform jacket, simply being back in her own clothes Claudia helped her tame her thick hair back into a regulation queue she felt much more herself and ready to face whatever came. The younger woman also carefully buckled the officer's sword belt around her hips and Myka stood up, resolutely ignoring the sharp surge of pain through her ribs and shoulder.
"Very well midshipman, lead the way," she said with as much of her usual confidence as possible. In truth, Commander Bering was far from at her best, and had what she could only describe as a vibe. Something was off kilter, and that knowledge irritated her as much as it worried her. Vibes were supposed to be Commander Lattimer Pete's strength. Myka preferred observation to detail, planning, careful assessment of facts and Oh fresh air
Her inward analysis cut short, the naval officer leaning rather harder on Claudia than she would have liked - walked through the cabin's forward facing door and emerged onto the upper deck of a slim, dual-masted cutter as it sliced through an ocean like black glass, awash under the silver light of the full moon. Lanterns swayed gently here and there, throwing soft puddles of warm light on the spotless deck and neatly coiled rigging.
The main deck itself was empty, the crew presumably asleep except for, ah yes. Myka looked up and saw a figure outlined against the moonlight in the crow's nest, a gleam of metal suggesting a spy glass in their hand. And there, in front of her at the ship's wheel, with their back turned to Myka and Claudia stood a figure that could only have been the Captain. That feeling of something flared in Myka's chest and, as if called, the figure at the wheel turned around. Suddenly the naval officer felt the world spin in a way that had nothing to do with her injuries.
Silhouetted against the moonlight, her raven hair flowing over her shoulders and her skin creamy porcelain above a white poet's shirt tucked into breeches and thigh high leather boots, stood none other than
"That's Captain H.G. Wells if you please," said the other woman archly.
Myka wasn't sure what she would have said and there was plenty to say to one of the Warehouse's most notorious former agents but as she took an angry step forward, her body betrayed her and the world tilted, greyness dancing in her vision as her legs gave out. She had a split second to realize that this was going to hurt and then
The Commander never hit the deck. Instead she found herself caught in slender arms and the part of Myka Bering that wasn't incredibly incensed that her body had the ill grace to nearly faint on her was equally incensed that she was quite impressed with how fast Captain Wells had moved.
"Careful darling, my physician and I worked very hard to keep you among the living, I'd hate to have all our work undone."
The words were gentle and low and held the barest hint of mocking, but when Myka blinked to clear her vision and glare back at the woman holding her close, she found the dark eyes above her were soft, no trace of humor lurking at the corners of that sensuous mouth.
Sensuous, where the hell did that come from ?
"Mykes?" Claudia's worried voice sounded from above her and the Commander forced herself to focus on it.
"I'm fine Claudia," she forced out. Pleased that her voice sounded steady enough. "If Captain Wells would be so good as to help me stand." She wasn't even sure why she made the title an insult but Wells merely quirked the corner of her mouth and carefully helped her up.
"I assure you Commander, my intentions are most honorable," she said softly before stepping away.
"Oh right, because I should believe a former Warehouse agent turned Privateer," Myka spat, gritting her teeth and putting a hand on Claudia's shoulder to steady herself. The younger woman stood unflinching, but Myka caught the flash of surprise and hurt on her angular features before the midshipman schooled her expression. In truth the Commander was surprised at her own anger. By all accounts Captain Wells had rescued both her and Claudia and behaved admirably. But Myka felt untethered, as if the loss of the Artifact Hunter and Pete and Artie's capture combined with the sudden appearance of the notorious privateer whose motives were, if not dangerous than at least suspect and untrustworthy, had
But whatever else the Captain had or had not done became a moot point because at that moment Myka's body decided it had had enough thank you very much. The greyness that had been threatening her vision began to overwhelm her once more and she had just enough time to register the shock on H.G.'s face as the Captain leapt forward again before the ground rushed up to meet her.
Myka never knew if the Captain caught her or not.
(But Claudia did, and the younger woman had to hide a smirk at the alacrity with which H.G. Wells moved as Myka sank toward the deck. As the two women moved the unconscious Commander back into H.G.'s bed, Claudia started laying odds in her head.).
When Myka next awoke, it was apparently early evening. The Captain's cabin was bathed in the warm colors of the setting sun where it slanted through the aft windows. A quick inventory of her body told the Commander that her head at least, was feeling much better. Her vision was clear and though her ribs ached, there was a great deal less pain and none of the world-tilting nausea of the previous night. A softly muttered curse turned Myka's head and her gaze found Captain Wells standing at her desk, bent over a pile of charts and absently brushing her raven's wing hair behind a delicate ear. Even from across the room, the officer could tell the other woman was tired. Her slender shoulders slumped and she appeared to be in the same clothes as last night only the addition of a red sash at her waist and a pair of pistols in worn leather holsters at her legs was new. With her shirt sleeves rolled up to reveal slim forearms corded with tendon and muscle and her collar open to reveal rather more of her chest than was strictly necessary she looked, Myka had to admit, rakishly handsome.
Oh do get a grip Bering.
The naval officer's internal chastisement was interrupted as the Captain raised her head. Dark eyes fell on her and Myka cursed the way her heart fluttered at the depths she saw looking back at her. For a moment neither woman spoke and then Myka swallowed her pride.
"I thank you. For pulling Claudia and me from the water."
Instead of replying immediately, Wells merely nodded, her eyes holding Myka's gaze steadily. The moment stretched nearly to the point of discomfort and then the Captain shook her head. Running a hand through her hair, she walked from behind her desk and sank into the same chair Claudia had occupied last night. The Privateer's posture was as graceful as it was careless and Myka felt a twitch of envy. She never looked that boneless. Tipping her head against the chair back, H.G let her eyes fall closed.
"Do you know why I left the Warehouse?" she asked conversationally.
Whatever Myka had been expecting, it certainly wasn't that.
The question, however, was apparently rhetorical, because the Captain continued to speak without waiting for Myka's reply.
"I assume you are aware that there is something of a roaring black market in Artifact trading?"
Now the Privateer tilted her head and cracked an eye.
Myka cautiously nodded assent and H.G. returned to her previous position. Myka tried not to focus on the elegant column of her throat or the sharp line of her collar bone visible at the laces of her shirt.
"Did you know that most of the time, unless the Artifacts being traded are considered 'especially dangerous or valuable' that Agents are ordered to ignore them?" Now the Captain's normally rich voice took on a distinct edge.
"I, well no. But I mean it's obvious we can't track down every object. We simply don't have the resources!" the Naval Officer felt indignation rising.
"Ah yes. That is the favored reason isn't it? 'Insufficient resources.' Well at least the Regents are consistent." There was no mistaking the bitterness in the other woman's tone anymore. "Do you know the real reason we aren't sent after more of those Artifacts? Because most of them end up killing the people who buy and sell them. It's a neat little bit of social evolution really, and the best part is that it makes our job so much easier. Once the Artifact has gone off and the thieves and brigands and generally unnecessary people that had the audacity to handle it are gone, Warehouse Agents can just swoop in and snag it, bag it and tag it, as it were."
The Captain was no longer slouching. Instead she leaned forward, her frame taut with tension and her hands running through her hair in what was apparently a common gesture.
"Don't mistake me, Commander," (and now it was Wells' turn to use the naval officer's title like an epitaph) I have little sympathy for a great many of those men, but what about the innocents they harm in the process?" She looked up, pinning Myka with a glare that fairly burned. "I was like you once. I had faith that we made the right choices; that our grander mission was worth the cost of the inevitable collateral damage. That faith cost a child her life." Now Wells looked away, her expression becoming haunted and distant and her voice softening, becoming heavy with regret.
"I was on the trail of an Artifact that gave the bearer the power to shape and bend any metal. I became suspicious that it was unstable, and that it had the potential for great destruction. I was getting close, so close " She trailed off for a moment and Myka found herself holding her breath, at once terrified and desperate to hear what came next.
Wells let out a soft sigh, her body seeming to deflate as the tension gave way to sadness. "I was called away. Intelligence led us to believe that a group of Roman Artifacts from an earlier Warehouse had surfaced in Southern France and were on the way to the Vatican. The Regents couldn't let an institution like that get its hands on more Artifacts. I, along with my partner at the time, were sent to France. I argued, pleading to stay and take care of the Artifact I was on the trail of before departing. I was denied."
Now, finally, the Captain turned to look at Myka. "We found the objects and brought them back, but upon returning I found my suspicions had been correct. The Artifact had been unstable. Instead of harming thieves, or brigands or dangerous men, however, it killed a blacksmith. An ailing blacksmith who had paid dear for a tool he hoped would let him continue to feed his family. His six year old daughter was bringing him his lunch when the Artifact caused an explosion in the forge. There wasn't enough left of either one of them for a burial."
Myka couldn't stop the tiny gasp of horror that escaped her. If Wells heard her, though, she gave no indication. The other woman appeared lost in memory again.
"I began to research other cases after that. The number of innocents that have died because of Artifacts that we knew about, but did not attempt to find let us just say the number was far, far too high. I took my case to the Regents, begged them to hire more Agents, to change the rules, to let us hunt these black markets I was told no."
Once more the privateer's gaze fell on Myka's face, and the Naval Officer saw the bitter pain of failure and regret carved on those elegant features as clearly as if it was written in ink.
"I could not accept that answer. So I left. I left the Warehouse and began to do what I did best chase Artifacts. But I chase them my way. I hunt the dark underbelly of society and deal with criminals and thieves and whoever I need to, to stop another innocent family from being destroyed. Most of the Artifacts I destroy. Some I return to the Warehouse. One or two " now she flashed Myka a bitter smile and leaned back in the chair, at ease and in command once again.
"And do you know what the Regents do? Nothing," she smirked. "They do nothing because it suits them to have me out here the loose cannon they cannot control, but who gets results where they fail. I am bound by no nationality, no government can claim me, and therefore I can go where I want and deal with whom I want. Of course, if I'm caught, any foreign government is perfectly within their rights to kill me and my crew. And the Regents won't lift a finger to stop it." She said the last with a bitter, mocking humor that made Myka want to cringe, but the Commander found herself unable to look away from Wells. Those dark eyes had Myka trapped again, and she had no desire to summon the strength to break away.
"My crew know the risks, even if they are largely unaware of the true nature of the objects we search for. I am, however, rather good at finding things other than Artifacts. Their retirement funds are quite extensive and you will find them very loyal. Only my first mate is aware of the true nature of my work and he has sworn to continue the mission should I fall." She paused for a moment, her jaw tightening.
"Is that all this is then? Another Artifact hunt?" Myka blurted out.
In the process of standing, Wells paused. "Does it really matter?" she asked, her mouth quirking in that bitter, sarcastic way.
Whatever the Captain read in Myka's expression, the cynical twist of her features smoothed and she shrugged one shoulder. "In part. I believe that the French are somehow acquiring Artifacts. I think that ship that destroyed the Hunter was carrying one. I don't believe it was mere skill of their Captain that brought about Arthur's defeat, and I believe this is part of a bigger pattern of Artifacts going missing, their trails suddenly going cold. Someone else is out there: Someone with resources and motive. And I believe they are behind the abduction of Arthur and your partner, Pete is it?"
Myka merely nodded, still trying to comprehend all that the other woman had divulged without warning. Wells had a parting shot to deliver, however. Turning and striding toward the second door in the cabin which must, Myka assumed, lead below decks the Captain paused.
"I will not see Artifacts and Agents of the Warehouse in the hands of an enemy government. Think of me what you will Commander Bering, but do not doubt my resolve, and do not get in my way."
And with that, she was gone, leaving Myka feeling as weary as if she had just fought some kind of battle, but with no idea whether she had won or lost. In the end, the Commander decided that retreat was the better part of valor and lay down to sleep again.
The next morning brought with it a very empty stomach, and a slight woman with olive skin and elegant cheekbones Myka guessed to be of Japanese descent bending over her and checking her bandages.
"Ah, excellent Commander, I am glad to see you awake, if you can, please sit up."
Myka blinked, momentarily nonplussed to hear the precise tones characteristic of "Oxford or Cambridge?" she queried as she attempted to raise herself up.
Her examiner smiled gently, tossing her tight black braid back over her shoulder and deftly unfastening the bandages from around Myka's arm. The woman who Myka realized must be Captain Wells' physician was wearing what appeared to be common garb on The Time Machine; a loose fitting shirt, in this case of deep green, tied at the waist with a sash over breeches and worn leather boots. "Oxford of course. How are you feeling? Any residual pain here?" The physician's dark eyes became sharply focused on Myka's face as slender fingers pressed carefully at different places around the Officer's ribs and shoulder.
Myka was shocked to realize that, "No, nothing, but I thought " she trailed off in confusion.
"Yes, you were badly wounded. Several shattered ribs and your shoulder was dislocated. We had to reset your forearm as well." As she spoke, she pulled the last of the bandages away from Myka's ribs and helped the officer to stretch her arm. Other than some residual stiffness, Myka felt utterly normal. Her curiosity must have been plain because the doctor chuckled softly.
"The Bandages of Hippocrates. Captain Wells liberated them several years ago and they have been most useful during some of the crew's more adventurous undertakings." The physician flashed a rather devilish smile before composing her features into the mask of a professional once more. "You would do well to exercise that arm, but I strongly suggest caution. Begin with small tasks and do not push yourself. Pain is the body's warning system, and while I doubt you are used to listening to that system, or your doctor, I would appreciate not having to bring you out of a relapse."
Myka sniffed, stung. "I can follow orders."
The physician flashed that quicksilver grin and shook her head. "Forgive me Commander, but I highly doubt that. I do not think it is too great a conjecture to suggest you and my Captain have that in common. You follow orders only when it suits your purpose."
And before Myka could fully process that statement, the woman held out her hand. "Forgive me, my manners are oft forgotten when I am dealing with a patient. I am Dr. Katherine James, ship's physician here aboard the Time Machine."
Still slightly dazed, Myka shook the proffered hand. "Myka Bering."
Katherine nodded once then stood. "You will likely be very hungry, feel free to eat what you wish, but slowly. I think you will find our ship's cook is far superior to what you would find on a ship in His Majesty's Navy."
And with that, she left Myka alone to get dressed an activity that while making her tired, at least didn't leave her head spinning. Buckling her sword belt into place and shrugging on her navy, white and gold uniform jacket and securing her hair, Myka took a slow breath and took stock.
I am traveling in the company of perhaps the most notorious Privateer on the high seas; Captain Artie and Pete are likely held captive on the French ship that destroyed the Hunter; we are headed God knows where and I've just been healed by an Artifact. However, I appear to be in one piece, and Claudia is safe, and whether or not I can trust Captain Wells, she has promised we are on the trail of those French jackals.
"Very well. Just another day in the employ of the Warehouse." Myka lifted her chin and straightened her uniform one last time before striding out the door that Dr. James previously exited through.
Sure enough, the second exit did indeed lead below-decks. Claudia pounced on her nearly as soon as Myka had emerged from the Captain's quarters and insisted on giving her a tour after first escorting her to the galley and procuring food. The Commander had to own, Captain Wells ran an impressive ship. There was not a single board or bit of brass that didn't gleam, and though the ship was small, it was efficient. The food was as promised a significant cut above the average Royal Navy fare and there was even (Myka was not ashamed to admit she gaped) an ingenious contraption that allowed the crew to bathe on a regular basis. The "shower" (Claudia's term) was rather cramped, but water poured from a cistern above and could be controlled by means of a small sluice gate, draining away through cleverly designed slats in the floor. "Seriously, this is the best smelling crew you've ever met. It's brilliant," the midshipman gushed.
The crew in question was an eclectic lot: Men, women, most somewhere between Claudia's and Myka's age's of varying ethnicities. A tiny part of the Commander noticed that for what was essentially a pirate crew, they were very well dressed and most of them were damnably good looking. Most moved about their business with quick efficiency and most had at least a wave or a jest for Claudia. When Myka raised an eyebrow at her young friend, the midshipman blushed and shrugged. "It got lonely waiting for you to wake up."
Myka instantly softened. "I am sorry Claudia, I promise it's hardly my intention to get into these scrapes, and don't think I don't know I owe you a thank you for convincing Captain Wells to search for me. Whatever I may think of her intentions, she did save my life."
Claudia looked stunned for a moment and then launched herself into Myka's arms for a hug that was as tight as it was brief. "I'm sorry ma'am, I know, it's just "
"It's ok Claud. And I don't think there's any point in keeping rank at the moment. We are, after all, traveling with a pirate."
"Privateer, if you please," came the acerbic reply and Myka looked up to see H.G. striding toward them. They stood at the prow of the ship, looking out over the ocean and Myka was simply enjoying being out of bed and no longer in pain. The wind was soft, not enough to tear their words away, but enough to tousle the Captain's hair most fetchingly.
Oh do stop being ridiculous Bering.
Instead, the Commander got a firm grip on her tongue and forced her tone into civility. "My apologies Captain. Privateer."
H.G. leaned casually against the railing and chuckled, her voice rich and low. "Oh don't bother. I am all the things they call me Commander. Pirate, Scoundrel, Wicked Temptress, Thief. I'm quite sure there are more, though no one has been so bold as to say them to my face." Despite the mockery in her voice, her dark eyes were sparkling and Myka found that she was smiling in spite of herself. Biting her lip, the Officer turned to say something to Claudia, only to find the younger woman had vanished.
Oh damn her for a traitor.
Myka resolutely tried to ignore the pounding of her heart as she turned back to the Captain, who she was unable not to notice today wore a deep crimson silk vest that stretched to mid-thigh that was belted with a black leather bandolier. Over Wells' shoulder rose the unmistakable shape of a katana's grip and if her knee high leather boots weren't shinier than normal, Myka would have eaten her uniform.
"I actually came to make sure you were well," the other woman said after a moment's only slightly awkward silence.
Myka looked up sharply, but once again, could find no hint of mockery or humor in the Captain's eyes.
"Didn't your physician give you a full report?" she retorted, tilting her head.
Wells simply held her gaze. "Dr. James is a most able physician, and yes, she informed me that you have sufficiently healed from your injuries, but that is not what I was inquiring about. I was asking if you are well."
A quick flush of shame colored Myka's cheeks. Why did her tongue seem to run away with her around this woman? So, taking a slow breath of the brisk sea air, the Commander turned and looked at Wells and found herself caught by those damnable eyes once more. It had the unfortunate effect of sending her mind spinning so that instead of a polite reply, she found the truth forcing its way passed her lips.
"No. I am not well. My Captain and my partner have been abducted by an unknown enemy, one who is possibly in possession of an Artifact and I am presumably considered lost at sea by the Warehouse. I have no way to send intelligence to my superiors about my whereabouts or those of Captain Arthur or Pete and no matter how damnably charming you are, I do not entirely trust you Captain Wells."
Myka nearly bit her tongue at the admission, but it would seem any ability to control what she said had vanished the moment she was hoisted out of the sea and onto the Time Machine.
It would appear, however, that her outburst took the Captain as much by surprise as it had Myka herself. Wells blinked and opened her mouth, only to shut it again. "Well," she said finally, her tone cautious. "I find I am torn between feeling flattered and insulted Commander. I must admit, you leave me rather off balance myself."
Now it was Myka's turn to blink and for a moment, both women looked away. Wells ran a hand through her hair and Myka fiddled with the gold braid on her sleeve.
"Ah, however," the Captain cleared her throat and seemed to get a hold of herself. "I did also want to discuss the matter of our hunt with you. You were much closer to that frigate than we were, and while it is my hope we are still chasing the same ship, I would appreciate any details you might have regarding the encounter. I am hopeful you may have some clues as to what Artifact we are facing. And as for sending a report," now the privateer's eyes took on their familiar devilish sparkle. "I may be able to assist you with that as well."
"Assistance" it turned out, came in the form of a member of Wells' crew. Striding to midships, the Captain let out a shrill whistle and between one blink and the next, a slight figure came slipping over the edge of the crow's nest and down the rigging so fast Myka found herself gaping. The figure landed lightly on the deck and straightened in front of Wells', resolving itself into a tiny scrap of a girl with pale blonde hair and bright gold eyes.
"Aye Cap'n?" she said with a thick accent that spoke of common upbringing and suggested English was not her birth tongue.
"Sarah darling, I have need of your one of your friends. Commander Bering has a message to send to London."
Sarah, who couldn't have been any older than Claudia, shot a shrewd look at Myka and nodded. "Ah ken get one o' them large gulls. W'that work?"
"Most definitely. How long do you suspect it might take?"
Sarah grinned. "Oh not very, s' long as I got somat to feed it. Wi' a good wind, it kin be back to port right quick. Couple o' days tops."
Wells simply nodded as if this exchange made perfect sense. "Very well then. Carry on crewman."
The girl threw another salute, then jogged across the deck and hopped up to the ship's railing. She leaned forward into the wind and then .she simply sat there.
Myka's confusion must have shown because Wells chuckled. "Sarah is not, I have come to believe, entirely human. Or at least some of her abilities are beyond the general scope of human talents."
The Commander's curiosity must have been plain to see, for her companion smiled again before her expression turned dark. "I found her tied to a stake on the mainland with an angry crowd about to burn her for being a witch. If she ever had a family they were long dead. She asked me for sanctuary. I granted it. Just watch."
For a few long moments nothing happened and then a raucous call split the air. Craning her neck around, Myka watched with fascination as one of the massive ocean going gulls soared across the bow of the ship, circled back, spiraled down and landed at Sarah's side. The bird and the girl stared at each other for a moment, and then, as if this sort of thing happened every day, Sarah picked the wild bird up in her arms and walked carefully back across the deck to where the Captain and Myka stood.
"I'll just go get her some food aye?"
Wells smiled fondly. "We'll be ready when you return Sarah." And with that, she beckoned and strode back across the deck and into her cabin, a bemused Myka following in her wake. Once inside, Wells wasted little time.
"Here," she said, handing the Commander a slip of thick paper. "You'll have to make it brief I'm afraid."
Still not entirely sure what had just transpired, Myka found herself putting quill to paper almost against her will. She did as the Captain bid though, adding her status and Claudia's as alive and in pursuit of the French frigate and hopefully Captain Nielson and Commander Lattimer. Lest it be mistaken for a hoax, Myka included the code that each Agent was given as an identifier to use in case of emergencies. The whole of the message was no more than a few lines, and easily folded up. Wells took it without reading it and sealed the scrap inside a tiny metal tube attached to some leather straps.
Striding back to the deck, the Captain found Sarah with the gull still in her arms, eating something out of her hand. "Think about where you want the gull to go, Myka," H.G. said softly.
The words conjured up the memory of the Warehouse instantly in her mind, its familiar entry way in London as easy to picture as her own hand.
There was an odd flash in Sarah's gold eyes and then the girl was holding the gull carefully as Wells wrapped the small metal tube around its leg. "Can it make it?" she asked the girl, who merely sniffed in response.
"Course she can."
The message safely affixed, Sarah looked long and hard at the gull, and Myka could have sworn it nodded back at the girl. Then Sarah was walking to the edge of the railing and tossing the great white bird into the air where it promptly beat its wings twice, thrice, caught an updraft and wheeled away, dwindling to a speck and disappearing.
Sarah was talking to the Captain when Myka turned back to them and the Commander caught the tail end of their conversation. The tiny crewmember seemed to be considering something Wells had said.
"Mmm, probly goin'ta take a bit ta get 'im back 'ere, but once he does, I'll send him along toward th' coast."
"Excellent. And I know they aren't the most reliable watchers, but if you could, ask some more of those gulls to keep a look out. They at least have numbers and can travel quite far over water."
"Aye Cap'n. I'll keep ye' updated," the tiny girl saluted and then turned and swarmed back up the mast again.
Wells turned to meet Myka's questioning gaze and let out a soft sigh of frustration. "I'm afraid I've lost the French ship. It's part of the reason I'm so damned sure they have an Artifact. They keep evading me, and while I would hardly boast to be the best Captain on the high seas, I am not easy to outrun." The sheer consternation in the dark haired woman's voice was enough to make Myka bite her lip to stop from smiling. Wells seemed to sense her mood anyway because she made a wry face.
"Something on your mind, Commnader?"
"Not at all, Captain." Myka was rather proud she managed to keep her features impassive.
Wells narrowed her eyes and then shook her head, gesturing and turning on her heel. Strolling back along her deck, the Captain of the Time Machine nodded to her crew, stopping here and there with a word for many of them as she and Myka made their way back to her cabin. Wells held the door for the Officer and then gestured for Myka to take the chair by her bed before pulling a slender cord next to her desk and dropping into the chair behind it.
"I've asked Sarah to see if she can't coax more of her winged rascals into spying for us. She has a close bond with one of the great hawks that has come in handy on more than one occasion. Those damned gulls of hers can be useful little buggers, at least when they're not eating our entire store of fish." There was genuine fondness in her voice and Myka had to admit to herself that whatever else she was, H.G. Wells was a Captain who cared a great deal for her crew. And even her brief glimpses of life aboard the Time Machine made it quite obvious to the Commander that the men and women aboard the ship returned that regard fiercely.
Rather than delve into waters she had no charts for, however, Myka focused on the business at hand. Unfastening her uniform jacket, she settled into her chair and looked at the woman lounging behind the desk. "Where do you think they've gone?"
H.G. nodded at the charts scattered across her desk. "After they attacked the Artifact Hunter, they sailed west for open water, but if my guess is correct, they've since turned back for land. The only question remains, in what direction? It is my hope that they've headed north, to try for a port in Scotland or Ireland perhaps. I have a suspicion, however, that they've gone south and are trying to outrun us round the Continent."
"What makes you say that?"
"In truth? Merely a hunch darling. I wish I could offer solid proof, but I have none. I have only the pattern of behavior and the hints that there is a greater force at work here than simple black market trading. I am making an assumption that if such a force exists, it is not currently residing within our country's borders. Scotland and Ireland remain too isolated and small to be of strategic value. That leaves the continent."
Their conversation was interrupted as one of the crew knocked softly and entered bearing a tray with covered dishes. The young man placed it in front of Wells, sketched a salute and left. The Captain waved a hand toward the tray and removed two pewter tankards from a sideboard. "Join me, won't you?"
Scooting the heavy chair up to the desk, Myka helped the other woman push aside her charts and then gratefully took a plate of what smelled like and on examination was flaky, steaming hot cooked fish and rice with a pleasantly spicy taste. The Captain removed a bottle of wine from the same cupboard as the cups and poured Myka a generous drink. Outside the sun was slipping toward the horizon, turning the sky to gold. The effect was to bath the cabin in warm light, turning Wells' hair to mahogany and lending her a golden corona.
Oh for heaven's sake Bering.
"So what do we do now?" Myka fumbled for the earlier thread of their conversation.
Wells took a contemplative sip of her wine and her expression when she turned back to the Commander was solemn.
"Now Sarah sends her little scouts in as many directions as possible and we wait."
And wait they did. In ones and twos and threes, gulls and sometimes fisher-eagles came and went from the crow's nest, winging out in all directions to disappear on the horizons. And while they flew, the crew passed the time. 'Waiting' on the Time Machine was a bit different than any experience Commander Bering had had as a member of the Royal Navy. There were the usual activities such as cleaning everything. Twice. Fishing on long lines thrown over the side to tempt the great finned fish (an endeavor that when successful, lead to incredible dinners) was also common, with extra meat being dried, salted and stored. The crew also drilled battle drills, emergency drills, storm drills, even hand to hand fighting.
That was another surprise. Neatly hidden caches of weapons existed all over the ship and every member of the crew was an expert at some kind of weapon. Indeed, usually more than one. And Wells expected them to keep those weapons, and those skills, sharp. Bow strings were oiled, swords and knives were sharpened and polished, gun powder stores checked, cannons cleaned, the tasks went on. The details of a ship were myriad and Myka could not help but be impressed again and again with the efficiency and cohesiveness of Wells' crew. The Captain herself was not exempt from those drills, often trading duties with her First Mate a handsome young man who was called 'Jinx' that Claudia had formed a close friendship with to either observe or participate.
Unlike a ship in the Royal Navy however, there was no 'busy' work. Every action had a purpose, but once that purpose was completed, the crew of the Time Machine was free to sleep, eat, dice, gossip, or find some other source of entertainment. (Liaisons were permitted as long as they did not disturb others or disrupt the ability of any crewmember to do their job.)
As days turned into weeks, however, and no news of their quarry returned, the most popular source of entertainment for the crew of the Time Machine became not wagering, nor fishing, nor other physical pursuits. Rather it was watching their Captain and the Lieutenant-Commander. Or more aptly, the daily sparring matches Myka and H.G. engaged in. Not verbal (though there were plenty of significant looks about that when the Captain and Commander were not present). Rather, these were matches of a more literal variety.
H.G. Wells was widely acknowledged as an excellent swordswoman. Her battles in the service of the Warehouse were still the stuff of Agent legends and her blade was whispered to have bested every foe it crossed.
But in Myka Bering a woman raised from birth by a father who had no son and therefore passed all his skills and expectations on to her Wells found her equal.
Myka wasn't just good with a blade, she was a natural. And not just with the rapier or the cutlass, but the longsword, the knife, the sabre, even the katana: Anything with an edge to it, she handled as if it were merely an extension of her arm. What had begun as a friendly offer to help Myka regain reflexes dulled slightly by injury soon turned into a daily duel that would have made even the most hardened swordsman gape. The entire ship became their sparring circle, leaving the crew to make sure they stayed out of the way (while they placed wagers).
Nearly three weeks had passed since Sarah had sent the first gull winging toward London with Myka's report to the Warehouse. They had yet to receive any news regarding their quarry. Those gulls that had returned reported nothing. Since the ones returning had only been sent as far north as the southern coasts of Ireland and England however, Myka was not surprised. Though she wouldn't admit it, the Commander agreed with Captain Wells' hypothesis regarding their missing frigate. They would not find her on the emerald shores of her home: No, the French had gone south. They just had to find out where.
None of that, however, was currently on the Royal Officer's mind.
"Oh do be careful with my ship, darling. You know how I hate to replace things!" Wells laughed, spinning and aiming a kick at Myka's head which the Commander easily avoided and pressed her attack across the aftcastle. The sea was calm, only a slight breeze ruffling the sails overhead. The sky was an endless blue bowl with white cotton wisps of clouds scattered carelessly across it.
Myka saw none of it. Her entire world was focused on the woman in front of her. The Captain wore black breeches tucked into her black thigh-high boots and a white shirt, belted at the waist with a deep red sash. A matching red kerchief kept her thick black hair bound and she wore black leather swordsman's gloves. If it weren't for the fact that they were fighting no-holds-barred with edged weapons (rapiers today) Myka Bering might have allowed herself to notice just how unfairly dashing H.G. Wells looked.
Dodging a high thrust and countering with a slashing attack however, she was careful to keep her mind on her footwork.
The Commander was not aware of the crew scattered about sitting in the rigging, leaning against the railings instead her focus was consumed by her opponent's eyes and shoulders; if a move came, it started from the chest and it gave Myka that split second to evade or counter.
The sound of steel meeting steel rang in the open air as she and Wells came together. They were both breathing harshly, sweat beading at their temples, but neither backed down, refusing to give quarter.
"If you'd just stay still, I wouldn't have to worry about wrecking your precious ship," Myka gritted, grinning fiercely.
"Oh but where is the fun in that darling? Unless of course you're tired?"
Parry, attack, riposte, evade, jump a water barrel, parry again. Several crew members scattered as the two combatants fought their way up the stairs, only to meet again at the wheel, blades sliding along each other like lovers in a deadly caress.
Myka saw the move coming almost an instant too late. Almost. When Wells' knee came up to meet her stomach she pushed herself back into the cabin wall, using the door to reverse her momentum and with a lunge she attacked.
The moment seemed to slow, time stretching between the two fighters. Wells saw the attack but she was off balance. In that split second that can seem like eternity in moments such as this, Myka realized what would happen and pulled her attack, but it was too late to change completely the momentum of their bodies, and with a soft hiss, barely audible above the sound of the breeze, the point of Myka's rapier sliced through the Captain's shirt and opened a line of red across her upper arm.
The Commander froze. "Oh hell, H.G. I'm ." but whatever she was, was lost as the Privateer used Myka's momentary distraction to press her advantage and the Commander suddenly found herself pressed up against the cabin wall, Wells' body against her own and a length of cold steel at her throat.
"Tsk tsk Commander, you should know better than to drop your guard like that." For a long moment the two combatants stood frozen, only the sound of their breathing indicating that they were, indeed, alive and not merely carved statues. And then, with a wicked smile, the Captain backed up and sheathed her blade. Not, however, before Myka had plenty of opportunity to register the feeling of that slender form pressed against her own; a feeling that was far, far more unsettling than the sudden turn of fortune and her own loss of the bout.
Wells seemed to misinterpret the Royal Officer's assuredly dazed expression.
"Forgive me Commander, I hope I did not offend your sense of honor too highly. I am, after all, a pirate." It was said as a joke, but the merest thread of bitterness in the Captain's voice that Myka had become so adept at detecting managed to shake her out of her reverie.
Get. A. Hold of yourself Bering.
Shaking her head, the Officer forced a breezy smile and sheathed her blade. "Hardly Captain, I concede the match. You won fair and square."
Myka tried very hard to pretend that the sparkle which leapt into Wells' eyes at her statement did not make her heart flutter.
"A forfeit then. You can bandage my deadly wounds over dinner." The Captain grinned.
The Commander merely rolled her eyes and removed her own gloves, tucking them into her belt. "Oh don't be melodramatic. 'Tis barely a scratch."
"Well yes, but you did ruin my second favorite tunic. It shall have to be stitched and won't that look common."
"Well if you had dodged a little quicker, I wouldn't have ruined your tunic." Myka shot back archly.
"Well if oh bollocks. Very well, I shall concede defeat in this arena."
"As you should. One should always acknowledge their betters."
The indignant snort of the Captain's laughter followed them into Wells' cabin. Lost in their playful bickering, neither woman noticed the amount of money changing hands among Claudia and the Time Machine's crew.
For two more days, the crew of the Time Machine existed in that liminal state. Myka caught herself on numerous occasions scanning the sky for the shape of wings, but the horizon remained unblemished. She sparred with Captain Wells and continued to eat in the Captain's quarters.
The privateer also refused any attempt by Myka to give back her bed.
"Nonsense darling. Basic laws of hospitality demand nothing less. I assure you, tis no hardship."
And because it was a ridiculously nice bed for a warship, Myka let herself be persuaded. Claudia had her own hammock and locker with the other women of the crew and confessed that her lot was also vastly improved from the Artifact Hunter, as Wells' ship had a solid wall between men's and women's quarters. There was no snoring to keep the ladies awake at night.
And then, one night in the middle of a dreamless sleep, Myka was shaken awake by a breathless midshipman.
"Mykes, it's back, the bird is back. We know where the French went and H.G. was right they turned south to Spain and Sarah says the gull says a massive storm is heading toward us from deep ocean."
All of that was said seemingly without taking a breath and before the younger woman had finished, Myka was stomping into her boots and shrugging her coat on over her un-tucked shirt. She reached Wells at the ship's wheel just as she was buckling on her sword belt.
Looking up from the fastening, Commander Bering was greeted by the sight of H.G. Wells in full command of her ship.
The sky was pitch-black but Myka could sense the storm just out of reach an impending weight behind them. As if to underscore that knowledge, lightning split the sky to the aft of the ship, illuminating a massive bank of clouds that seemed to swallow the earth itself.
In front of her, Wells stood, legs braced and hands on hips as she shouted orders and her crew boiled over the ship, lashing rigging and making the Time Machine ready for a gale.
In a pool of warm lantern light, Myka caught a glimpse of the other woman's face.
There was a fierce energy that crackled in the Captain's lithe frame and a light in her eyes that had nothing to do with the lamps or the approaching lightning. This was a woman utterly in her element.
Myka found it suddenly difficult to breathe.
And then Wells was standing in front of her. "Forgive me Commander, I know it is not your nature to stand idle, but my crew will be going below soon and I would ask you to join them. We will set a relay watch and I will take the wheel. There is no reason for you to be out in this, Myka."
The Royal Officer opened her mouth to protest but something about the way Wells said her name gave Myka pause. Instead, against her instinct and training, she nodded. "Very well." And then her mouth quirked. "I suppose I should go make sure the wine collection is properly stowed. I would so hate for something to happen to it."
Wells let loose a rich laugh just as a breeze rose from the inky water and tugged at her hair. To the stern, lightning flashed again and this time, the sound of it carried easily across the water. Without another word, the Captain turned on her heel, barking last minute orders. Unable to stop herself, Myka glanced up at the rigging. Not even her trained eyes could find a single rope out of place, however, and the last crewmember Sarah, it would appear was already swarming down the mast with the lantern in hand. Indeed, they were now running mostly dark, only a single light in the prow signaling the spot where a watcher would stand tethered to a special place so they would not get washed overboard. The last sight Myka had of H.G. was the dark haired woman clipping herself to a thick line attached to the steering column and buttoning her oilskin coat around her.
And then the storm came.
As gales on the high seas go, Myka was relieved to find that this was hardly the worst she had endured. Still, the Time Machine was smaller than the Artifact Hunter and the sensation was still unfortunately akin to riding a cork tossed onto a raging river.
Which is essentially true, the Officer mused ruefully as the deck pitched wildly again. They were running before the storm, heading south and east, counting on the gale to blow itself out before they came too close to land.
Well, at least we'll make significant time on that damn frigate.
Every now and then (if she were being honest, every few moments) Myka looked up and tried to discern Captain Wells' figure at the wheel. In truth the Commander was less worried about the slim woman falling prey to some accident than she was afraid the stubborn pirate would catch her death of chill. Still, the Officer knew without a shred of doubt that any attempt to relieve Wells at the helm of her ship would be utterly futile.
So Myka waited.
Myka realized she could just discern the merest shade of grey bleeding into the endless, ragged black of the storm when the rain began to soften its harsh clattering against the windows. Shrugging her coat around her tightly, Myka stood up just as a soft knock signaled someone at the cabin door.
"Come in," she called, wondering who on earth would be knocking. Claudia treated any door as merely a suggestion that one pause before barging in and the rest of the crew, while civil, had never been particularly warm toward her.
The door opened to none other than Captain Wells' First Mate, the boyishly handsome man everyone called 'Jinx'. He paused just over the threshold, a swift glance taking in her clothes and her posture. Something in the set of his shoulders eased slightly.
"So, if I were to suggest that it might be time for the Captain to relinquish the wheel " he trailed off. His brilliant blue eyes were intent on Myka's face, and the Commander had a suspicion she was being tested somehow.
Ignoring the feeling, she merely smiled wryly. "I would say it's quite likely we'll have to pry her away physically, but I'm game if you are."
She was right, Jinx did relax, a light dancing in his eyes. Buttoning the last button on her uniform coat, Myka waited as the young man crossed the cabin and opened the door for her in an unexpectedly gallant gesture. "Just out of curiosity, what do you normally do in these situations?" she queried.
Jinx paused for a moment then shrugged ruefully. "Wait till she passes out, or send the doc with a drink that has a little something extra in it."
Myka blinked, nonplussed. "Let us see if we can appeal to her better reason this time shall we?"
She ignored Jinx's muttered "not bloody likely," as she stepped out into the heavy rain.
Myka had been right. Morning was approaching and the storm's fury was subsiding, even if the rain kept up a steady downpour. The crew was already emerging from below-decks and checking for damage. Myka paid them little heed.
In a few steps she was at the Captain's side where she was relieved to see the woman was still standing on her own.
Relief, however, soon gave way to exasperation. Wells might have been standing, but only just. Her hands, even in gloves, were clearly clenched around the wheel and her skin was so white she appeared more spectre then flesh and blood.
"Captain, let me take the wheel," Jinx offered.
Wells blinked and appeared to marshal herself. "I'm quite alright Mr. Jinx. See to the ship and crew and "
"Enough Captain." It was Myka who interrupted Wells, earning her a shocked glance from the First Mate and what should have been a withering glare from the woman still tied to the ship's wheel. The bluish tint to her lips and the fact that Myka could see her shivering however, severely undercut the normal power of that expression.
"I assure you, Commander, I know my own stamina."
Myka snorted inelegantly. "Clearly you do not. Your First Mate has your crew well in hand, your ship seems to have come through the storm just fine, and even if it hasn't, I have seen just how able your people are. They can handle this Wells. Now unclip yourself from that damn wheel or I'll do it for you." Myka's tone could have cut glass and her glare was withering.
For a moment, though, it appeared that the Privateer might still resist, and then Myka's expression softened and she placed her hand lightly on the Captain's arm. "Please," she said softly. Nothing more, but it seemed to crumble the last of whatever stubborn pride Wells was clinging too. With an effort that made Myka cringe inwardly, she unclenched her hands from the wheel and fumbled with the clip at her belt.
"Oh here, let me," Myka said with exasperation. Nimble, unfrozen fingers released the clip and then Myka wrapped her arms around H.G., supporting the woman's weight and moving back toward the cabin. She wasn't truly thinking when she spoke.
"Fix our bearings Mr. Jinx and hold position here. Have Sarah see if she can send out some of her birds. We need to make sure we're still on the trail of that frigate. And if you would, please send Dr. James to the Captain's cabin."
Concentrating on her charge, the Commander missed the stunned look on the First Mate's face before he shook himself, smiled knowingly, and whistled for a crewman before setting about making sure things were in order.
Dr. James must have anticipated her Captain's behavior, because when Myka shouldered the door open and half-carried Wells into her cabin, the elegant woman merely gestured to the chair by the bed and continued placing what looked like stones wrapped in cloth under the bed covers.
"There is a dry shift and socks there. Strip her quickly."
Myka, intimately familiar with the dangers of their environment, did as she was bid, struggling with the Captain's coat and batting at the woman's weak attempts to help. Fortunately, the oilskin coat had kept Wells largely dry, but as Myka helped her out of her sodden trousers and into thick wool socks, she could feel the other woman trembling violently. Wrestling a dry shift over the Captain's head, Myka wrapped her arms around the shivering woman's waist yet again and she and Dr. James helped her into bed.
The doctor turned to Myka and paused, giving her a cautious look, but the Commander had a strong hunch what the physician was about to say and began to take off her own sodden coat. "I know. She needs body heat as well. I'll stay with her."
A swift flash of surprise flickered across the doctor's face, followed by relief. "It would make my job a great deal easier. I will leave one of the midshipmen outside the door. If her condition changes, alert me instantly."
Clad only in a long tunic now, Myka merely nodded and slipped quickly into the Captain's bed. When she looked up, Dr. James was gone, the latch clicking softly behind her.
Outside the rain continued to fall, but it was gentle now, a soothing whisper against the glass. Under the covers, the stones Dr. James had placed at the foot of the bed gave off almost enough warmth to make Myka uncomfortable. At her side however, H.G.'s skin was still far too pale and chilled and the woman was shaking. With a sigh that held more fondness than exasperation, Myka slid closer to the Captain, gently pulling the other woman against her own body. She was shocked, in doing so, at how small Wells seemed. The Commander was so accustomed to seeing the Privateer striding about her ship or slouching carelessly behind her desk, pressing her attack during their sparring matches or simply moving. The woman was never still and she projected an effortless aura of being so much larger than life. To see her now, so utterly quiet and pale and delicate it caused a most unfamiliar feeling in the Commander's breast. Settling back against the pillows and placing her hand on Wells' chest, concentrating for a moment on the shallow if steady rise and fall, Myka struggled to discern what she was experiencing.
And then H.G. took a deeper, slightly labored breath, her shivering eased slightly, and Myka knew what she felt: Tenderness.
"Oh bloody hell," she whispered to no one in particular.
"Not quite yet darling." Came the strained whisper and Myka looked down to see the Captain fighting to open her eyes. "You needn't .stay you know."
Closing her own eyes, the Royal Officer considered doing just that and leaving. After all, if the gradual relaxation of her body was any indication, Wells was likely out of the woods.
But Myka was warm, and comfortable, and the woman in her arms was still chilled, and no matter how much the Commander wanted to deny it, it felt right to hold her. So instead of replying, Myka merely snuggled deeper into the blankets, tugging them up to H.G.'s chin. The crew would likely set watch and then take to their own beds after this. There was little danger of attack from the mainland as the storm had continued toward the continent and no matter that she knew well how dangerous her feelings might be, Myka was too tired to give a damn. She wanted to stay right where she was, H.G. Wells held close in her arms.
"Truly Myka I will be fine." Wells managed.
Myka, eyes still closed, merely smirked. "I don't take orders from pirates. Now be quiet, I'm trying to sleep."
Under the covers, Wells moved her hand till it was resting atop Myka's.
The gentle squeeze the Captain gave her fingers was the last thing Myka felt before letting sleep claim her.
It was still dark when Myka awoke to the sense of another presence in the room. She tensed, but the soft flare of a shielded lamp showed only Dr. James carefully entering the room. Seeing Myka awake the doctor smiled and tilted her chin at where Wells was still asleep in the Commander's arms. Looking down in the dim lantern light, Myka gazed at the sleeping woman's face. Even her detractors would admit the Privateer was a striking individual, but here, her features softened by sleep, vulnerable and quiet .she was so beautiful the sight took Myka's breath.
And she could not feel that way.
Her internal turmoil was interrupted, thankfully, as Dr. James bent down and laid her slender fingers across Wells' pulse. The physician felt her forehead and listened to the sleeping woman breathe and then nodded, apparently momentarily satisfied.
"Tis early morning. The crew and ship are well enough. Watch has been set and the horizon is clear."
"Thank you doctor."
Pausing in the act of rising, the physician seemed to consider for a moment. "I should thank you. The Captain is as careless with her own wellbeing as she is protective of ours. This would not have been the first time she pushed herself past the limits she refuses to admit she has. For that, know that we are grateful to you."
And before Myka could make any sense of that, the slender woman had spun silently on her heel and left the room.
For a long moment Myka merely stared after her. And then the Commander very deliberately relaxed back into the pillows, shifted her sleeping companion's head against her shoulder, closed her eyes, and sought oblivion.
The sky was just bleeding to soft greys and pinks outside the cabin when Myka finally blinked her eyes open. Struggling to focus, she was instantly aware of two things. The first was that Wells was no longer in her arms. The second was that the Captain was now sprawled next to her, cheek propped on her fist and hair a tousled black river over her shoulder, watching Myka with an unreadable expression in her dark eyes.
"Now that is just odd," the Commander murmured, stretching. She was trying very hard to pretend that her night time realizations simply had not happened.
"And why would it be curious for me to watch a beautiful woman sleep?" Wells replied archly.
Myka rolled her eyes. "Don't be ridiculous Wells. I'm merely glad you didn't catch your death of cold."
The Captain's mouth quirked, and then her expression softened. "Really darling, I do think we are well past the stage of formalities. Call me Helena."
"Helena it suits you," Myka smiled gently, feeling the syllables on her lips and finding herself unable (and unwilling) to look away from the other woman's eyes. Suddenly a thought occurred to her.
"If the H stands for Helena, what is the G for?"
Wells' expression turned aggrieved. "You shall have to get me very intoxicated before I will consent to answering that question."
The Commander grinned impishly. "Challenge accepted."
Wells Helena, Myka reminded herself laughed richly and then her expression softened once more.
"I owe you a debt of gratitude. As my good doctor has informed me in a most savage tone of voice, I am rather careless with my health sometimes. I am afraid my memories of last night are rather unclear, but I do remember you. Thank you Myka."
The Officer had no response. She could not, for the life of her, look away from Helena's face, her eyes her lips. Something hung between them, as taut and fragile as a silken thread. Not even their breath disturbed it. The distance between them seemed somehow minute and infinite.
And then Helena reached her hand forward and brushed it over Myka's fingers where they tangled in the blanket and like the shattering of a delicate glass bauble, the moment was destroyed.
Panic crashed like a wave through Myka's chest. "Oh well, it was nothing. Really. I mean I owe you for rescuing Claudia and me, and it would hardly be good manners to let the Captain of the ship take ill and I should probably let you get dressed and I need to check on Claudia." Myka was babbling and she knew it; hated herself for it, and was as powerless to stop it as she was to stem the hot flush that colored her cheeks.
With fumbled movements, she fled from the bed, gathered her now thankfully dry uniform and boots and all but ran out of the cabin.
Now alone in her bed, Helena blinked. There was a part of the Privateer that supposed she should be rather indignant about the other woman's hasty exit, but the look in Commander Bering's eyes before Helena had touched her hand
Wells stretched languidly and burrowed into the covers, an expression on her face that could only be called wicked. She would give the beautiful Commander a few more minutes to collect herself, and then H.G. Wells, former Warehouse Agent and scourge of the high seas was going to do what she did best: She was going hunting.
The Captain's suspicion proved correct. Dressed in a clean white shirt under her favorite red vest and tan breeches with her katana slung over her shoulder and her hair hanging free (she may or may not have checked her reflection in the small hand mirror) Wells stepped out onto her deck that morning to find her crew busy and her guest nowhere in sight.
Very well. I can be patient. The Privateer smiled and then turned her attention to her First Mate. He threw her a salute and gave his report and for a while, the Captain's mind was taken by her duties.
According to Sarah, her eagle friend relayed that the French frigate had made port just before the storm and was now back on open water, at full sail, heading along the coast of the mainland. In discussion with her smallest crewmember, Wells placed their quarry as just entering the waters off the coast of Portugal and looking to keep going around the continent.
"Can you send your friend out again Sarah? Or should we use the gulls?"
The slip of a girl considered for a moment, casting one gold eye to where a huge eagle had taken up residence on the rigging: Sitting as calmly as if the man-made 'tree' had been placed there just for him.
"I'd rather a use t'gulls. That close to the coast, they'll be everywhere. And he's right unusual."
Wells merely nodded, willingly deferring to the opinions of her crew where their expertise outstripped her own. And in Sarah's case .well H.G. certainly wasn't going to attempt to hold a conversation with a bird of prey whose talons were as long as her hand.
"The gulls it is. Make it so please."
Sarah nodded and trotted off to her usual perch and the Captain consulted one last time with Jinx. Then orders were shouted, sails came snapping down and the prow swung round to the south. Above her, the canvas filled and Helena's ship, like a fit horse too long tethered, hesitated, gained momentum, and then suddenly, almost between one heartbeat and the next, they were flying before the wind. The Time Machine would have to tack along the coast and there would be greater navigational challenges, but right now, at this moment, standing at the helm of her ship as they flew over the sparkling sea .Helena was free. This was her world and she was utterly in command of it.
And I can share this with Myka
As if summoned by the Captain's thoughts, the Commander appeared on the forecastle alongside Claudia. It did not escape Wells' notice that today the other woman had donned her full Royal Naval regalia. Her brass and boots were shined to a fare-thee-well and her sword hung at her hip. Helena bit her lip to keep from smiling. Myka was running. Very well, Helena was a very patient hunter.
Elegant fingers resting atop the great ship's wheel, the Privateer watched as her two guests moved to the prow of the ship. She was mildly surprised to realize that her crew though always civil now went out of their way to wave to, or speak with the Commander, and not just her young friend.
"She has been welcomed," came Katherine's soft statement from just behind Wells. As used to her physician's ability to walk silently as she was, it still gave the Captain a momentary start and she turned to level a glare at her friend.
The elegant woman merely smiled. James was attired in a deep blue silk shirt with a high collar and intricate embroidery in traditional Japanese designs, with her hair back in its customary braid. She looked at once beautiful and utterly serene. She also had that irritatingly knowing expression on her face that said the doctor was well aware of the direction of her Captain's thoughts.
"And why not?" Helena shot back. "She has none of the arrogance of most every other officer in His Majesty's Navy. She's given us good intelligence about the ship we're chasing "
"And she seems to be able to get through to you when none of us can," Katherine offered carefully.
Wells had no reply to that, instead turning to face forward again.
"Just be careful old friend." The doctor's voice was unusually soft and Wells shot her a sharp look.
"What? You think she will break my heart do you? Don't be ridiculous." The Captain scoffed.
Katherine's gaze was steady. "No. But I am afraid you'll break your own heart over her."
And with those troubling words, the doctor left Wells alone at the helm.
Inhaling the comforting scent of the sea, Helena attempted to shake off the unease that had lodged in her breast at her friend's caution. But her eyes kept returning to where the Commander now stood alone at the prow, the wind tugging at her queue and ruffling the edges of her navy and white coat.
Katherine has no idea what she's talking about.
The problem was, Wells knew better.
But it was ridiculous. I'm hardly falling in love with her. I am merely intrigued and I have come to enjoy her company. The Commander is a remarkable woman. She is intelligent and bold, beautiful and kind. I simply want to show her what she can have away from the Warehouse. She must know that she will never be allowed to captain her own ship. 'Tis remarkable enough the Warehouse allows women to serve. We've made such a good team on this hunt, I have every confidence in our ability to rescue Arthur and Pete and find out who is behind this
And then what? Wells was irritated that the voice in her head sounded like Katherine. Unfortunately, she could not deny that the question was valid.
Myka Bering was, by all accounts (the Privateer still maintained a few sources inside the Warehouse) the consummate Warehouse Agent. She was detailed, thorough and almost rigidly by the book. She was also remarkably successful and obsessively dedicated. And in understanding that, Helena had the answer to her own question. When this hunt was over, Myka Bering would return to the Warehouse. No matter that she might very well return Wells' feelings, the Commander was not the type of woman to ever allow herself those feelings, and forcing her to acknowledge them, or worse, playing on them and then asking Myka to choose between Helena and her duty
She would choose the Warehouse without a moment's hesitation. And even if she didn't If by some twist of fate she aligned her fortunes with my own she would come to hate me.
And Helena knew without a single shred of doubt that whatever she felt for Myka Bering, the Captain could not bear to have the other woman despise her. And hard on the heel of those thoughts came further self-castigation.
Be honest with yourself Wells, you are a pirate. Nothing more. Whatever the Warehouse may bar her from, 'tis not society itself. She is not a wanted criminal, considered little better than scum. I would be asking her be one of us an outcast with no true home but this ship.
The truth was far more bitter in her heart than Helena would have expected, but she did not flinch from it.
"Oh damn you for being correct Katherine. I'd dash my heart on her for nothing," Wells sighed.
Alone at the helm, she received no reply from the wind or the sea.
After that morning, things returned to if not 'normal' (for there really was no such thing on the Time Machine) then at least a semblance of routine. The Captain and Commander were perfectly civil to each other, but beyond the most perfunctory of exchanges, avoided each other completely. Indeed, it was a rather remarkable display of stubbornness from two people who could, when so motivated, exert a ridiculous level of control over their own desires.
Myka moved her things into the female quarters and bunked next to Claudia. Helena took up residence in her cabin once again. The daily sparring matches vanished as if they had never been and the crew looked at each other in confusion and frustration.
Only Claudia who knew Myka and Katherine who knew Helena looked saddened. Both physician and midshipman, however, knew that it was not their place to interfere. And so the Time Machine neared the coast of Portugal, and began to close on its quarry.
Two days after Myka ran from Helena's touch, a yell from the crow's nest roused the ship.
"Land ahoy!" Sarah yelled. And a moment later a huge white gull circled to land on the lip of the nest.
There was a moment of tense silence and then, "We're gaining! They're only a day ahead!"
A fierce cheer spread through the crew and at the helm, Helena felt herself grinning darkly.
The French may not have been the quarry she truly desired, but it no longer mattered. The hunt was on.
The Time Machine was a swift, agile ship for her size and Sarah reported that they were gaining on the frigate steadily. Somehow, the little crewman had managed to coax an owl from Lord only knows where, and though it only consented to one flight, Sarah was able to report that their quarry did not alter course during the night.
The next day was the same, and with the sun came, at last, sight of their quarry on the horizon. The mood on the Time Machine became hungry, the air charged. They were closing in steadily.
Something wasn't right, though for the life of her, Wells could not say why she felt this way. Standing at her desk, she stared at the chart of Portugal's coast.
Nothing stood out to her as unusual. They were far enough out to sea to avoid the majority of trade ships and fishing vessels for their quarry seemed to desire more open waters. The coast itself did not offer any places (that showed on the map at least) that might be used to hide, and they were nearly within eyesight anyway. It would have been child's play to track the frigate should she try and evade at this point.
And yet that sense was still there the one the Captain had learned well to listen to when she was still a Warehouse Agent.
"Damnit, what are you playing at?" she muttered.
The empty cabin had no answer for her.
Running a hand through her hair, Wells allowed herself a sigh, and suddenly realized part of what was bothering her.
She wanted to talk with Myka. The Commander had a keen mind and nearly as much experience in hunting Artifacts and the people who dealt in them as Wells herself. Her insight and knowledge had proven extremely helpful on more than one occasion already. If nothing else, she was a pleasant sounding board and good company.
"Enough, Helena. Enough." The Captain shook her head and forced away the subtle sting of loss. Those waters were too dangerous to try. It was done.
Outside, the sun sank toward the horizon and her crew changed watch.
In her cabin, Wells was no closer to assuaging that nagging sense of unease. All she could do was speak to Jinx and have the crew set an extra watch. Striding onto the deck, she found Jinx easily and let him know her thoughts.
"And douse the lamps. We're far enough from shore. I want to run dark."
Her First Mate looked at her with a shrewd gaze. "You've got a feeling don't you." It wasn't a question.
Wells merely nodded. "This is much too easy. If they continue as they have, we shall overtake them tomorrow. After all this time, why make it so simple? And yet I cannot fathom their game. We aren't being followed at least that we can see and we are too close for them to hide from us."
Jinx considered for a moment and then shrugged. "I feel it too, but I have no more useful thoughts." And then, so very casually. "Have you spoken to Commander Bering about it?"
Wells shot her second in command a look that said very clearly she understood his true intent.
"I have not, nor has she spoken to me. Nor is there any need. Our mission is quite clear and I'm sure as soon as we are successful, the Commander and Ms. Donovan will be quite glad to be rid of us." She was pleased she only sounded a little bitter.
"Leave it Stephen. Please," she said tiredly.
Jinx knew a dismissal when he heard one and saluted. "I will take first watch, and we'll double eyes on the horizon."
The Captain made a gesture of assent and returned to staring at her charts.
Jinx shot her one last troubled glance, then shook his head and left. Whatever ailed his Captain, it was beyond his ability to heal.
Assigning herself second watch, Helena retired to bed early, but was unable to truly rest. Her sleep was light and restless, and when the clanging of the ship's bell signaled an attack, she leapt from her bed and grabbed her katana with what was almost a sense of relief. The waiting, it would seem, was over.
A/N: Bear with me, we're going to go back a bit and get Myka caught up
Myka Bering did not like to think of herself as a coward. She was well aware she had faults, but never, in her life, had she run from a fight.
And yet, as she lay awake in her hammock, staring at the worn bulkhead of the Time Machine, listening to Claudia's gentle breathing next to her, the Commander was forced to admit there was no other name for her actions.
This is utterly ridiculous, she thought savagely. I have barely known the woman. Her advances merely made me uncomfortable. That is all. I am simply not used to such forward behavior. Really, the nerve of her.
Around and around Myka's thoughts swirled as she stubbornly ignored the tiny voice in her head (that oddly enough sounded like Pete) that was telling her for a liar. But if she acknowledged that voice, she would have to acknowledge just how strongly she had felt the pull between herself and Helena, nearly from the moment she had stepped out onto the upper deck of the Time Machine and seen the infamous Privateer standing at the helm, bathed in moonlight. No, that way led only to madness, for it lay in direct conflict with every duty and value Myka had been raised from birth to hold dear.
So instead, she told that voice to be silent, and embraced the rising (if manufactured) anger inside her.
By the time the Commander managed to drift into a restless and uncomfortable sleep, she had nearly convinced herself that H.G. Wells had been trying to seduce her without her knowledge or consent.
The next day, Myka once again donned her Royal Uniform and ate with Claudia. Once finished breaking her fast however, the Commander was at a loss. Claudia had several times seemed on the verge of asking her friend what had transpired between the Officer and the Captain, but whatever the young woman read on Myka's face caused her to shut her mouth and turn away each time. The Midshipman seemed to have truly found her place among Helena's crew and on several occasions, the Commander found her working on something with Jinx or one of the others, thick as thieves and clearly enjoying themselves thoroughly.
It made Myka lonely. Or rather, it made Myka realize she was lonely. On the Artifact Hunter her duty had always been her primary companion, and when that was not enough, she had Pete, her dear friend and longtime Warehouse partner, or Claudia, or Leena, the ship's doctor or any of the other Warehouse Agents on board.
Be honest Bering, you may have had other Agents around, but Pete and Claudia and Leena were your only true friends.
Here on the Time Machine she had no real duty and you've pushed Helena away.
Standing at the prow of the ship, staring sightlessly off over the grey water, Myka allowed that silent admission. Whatever else she most certainly did not feel for Captain Wells, the woman had been a pleasure to simply be around. When they weren't discussing possible plans (or backup plans) for chasing the French, or speculating on just what sort of enemy or organization they were truly facing, the two women had let their conversations range from Artifact hunts, to history, to personal interests, to politics, to pleasures, to their respective crews. For all her cynical front, Helena had a warm and generous personality buried under that insouciant expression and devilish charm.
You had a friend. And you miss that.
"But that is all she must ever be," Myka sighed to herself before straightening and tugging at her uniform.
Never before had the heavy fabric sat so ill on her shoulders.
Focused on not focusing on the Captain, Myka kept her own feeling of disquiet about the ease of their chase to herself. She cheered along with the rest of the crew when the frigate was sighted and tried very hard to ignore the thrill that raced along her nerves at the sight of Helena's wolfish grin. It was not mere pride or fear, however, which stilled her tongue. Had she thought Helena was truly oblivious to danger the Commander would have spoken up, but she often caught sight of the Privateer, standing at her desk, the tightness in the set of her shoulders telling Myka that the Captain felt something was 'off' as well. Since the Officer had nothing of use to give, she kept silent and tried not to think how much more pleasant waiting was when she had a sparring partner.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, they were not forced to wait long.
The ship's warning bell did not precisely wake Myka. Waking would have implied one was asleep in the first place and at best, the Commander had been drifting. Thus when the raucous clanging of the ship's bell split the night, followed by cries of alarm, the Officer was out of her hammock and into her boots within seconds.
Grabbing her sabre, she didn't bother with her uniform jacket, instead reaching for a pistol from one of the hidden caches that the other female crewmembers were already raiding. Shoving it into her belt, Myka came face to face with a wide-eyed Claudia.
"Keep your head down Midshipman," and then Myka hugged her fiercely. "And be careful!"
Claudia grinned wickedly and then ran out the door after some of the other crew. "Says the woman who gets hurt more than I do!"
Shaking her head, Myka turned her attention away from thoughts of her friend and, buckling on her sabre, ran to the deck. She was joined by some crew, while others raced below decks to run out the Time Machine's cannons. Above her, the Commander could hear the noise level rising and then
She emerged into utter chaos, the night suddenly ablaze with torch and lantern light, and most of it did not belong to Wells' ship. Indeed, the sight that greeted Myka was nearly a physical blow.
When she had closed her eyes that night, the Time Machine was alone on the waters, only their quarry far ahead of them and land to port.
That was no longer the case.
A Spanish galleon was drawing within grappling range and a line of uniformed regulars was Myka ducked as rifle fire shattered the air shooting at them.
Around her, the crew of the Time Machine scrambled to action and below decks, the Commander heard a yell just as the ship's guns sounded.
In that moment, Myka Bering realized several very important things. The first was that the galleon must have had an Artifact in order to surprise the night watch so thoroughly. The second was that the Time Machine was hopelessly outgunned. And the third was that for whatever reason, the galleon was not using its cannons.
Which means they mean to take the ship, or the crew, or both.
It also meant that Wells' crew had an advantage, one that the Captain seemed to have grasped quicker than Myka, as the ship's guns roared again, accompanied by the sound of splintering wood and screams from the galleon.
Unfortunately, the galleon was a significantly larger ship and despite the efforts of the Time Machine's crew, she was managing to pull alongside.
Turning instinctively, Myka found Helena on the forecastle, shirt un-tucked with a katana in one hand and a pistol in the other, yelling to someone below her Jinx, Myka presumed but she could not hear the Captain's voice. In another moment, however, it ceased to matter.
With a sickening crunch the ships came together, boarding planks were dropped, and the battle was joined.
After that, Myka had only fleeting impressions of what was going on around her. Her focus narrowed so that her opponent came into razor sharp clarity, but the background faded slightly. She stood with the rest of the Time Machine's crew and fired volleys into the first line of boarders, but the Spanish greatly outnumbered them, and used the time needed for reloading pistols and rifles to charge across to Wells' ship.
The air was so thick with sound screaming, guns firing, cannons roaring, the clashing of blades that there was no room for thought. Only action, and reaction.
Arrows suddenly began sprouting from men's throats and eyes and Myka looked up to see several crew in the rigging with crossbows firing into the Spanish below them. They were forced to stop and defend attackers at their own level, however, when enemy soldiers began to swing from the galleon's rigging to the Time Machine's.
At one point while she was engaging two burly swordsmen, Myka saw Claudia and Jinx rush past, carrying something that looked like a small wine keg with a fuse sticking out of it. Running one man through and going down on one knee in a move she had perfected thanks to Helena, Myka severed the other soldier's Achilles tendon and then turned in time to see Claudia and Jinx now in the rigging. They seemed to be waiting for something as Sarah, with wicked accuracy, stopped any of the Spanish from following them up.
Her suspicion was confirmed the next time one of the Spaniards swung across to try and gain the Time Machine's mast. He made it, only to be run through by Jinx while Claudia waved jauntily and then set about doing something with the rope. An instant later and the small keg went swinging back toward the galleon. Myka saw a tiny glow and a hint of smoke and
Oh she didn't .
But she did.
The rope reached the end of its arc and the keg reached the galleon just as the fuse ran out. The resulting fireball not only disintegrated the main mast of the galleon and set the rigging alight, but rained down what looked like liquid fire onto the crew below.
Myka's yell of triumph was echoed by the crew around her, and then she was facing a group of soldiers trying to swarm the mast where Claudia and Jinx were still positioned, and she had no time for thought.
The next time Myka had a moment to breathe, she found herself back to back with Dr. James, the physician wielding two sais like extensions of her hand and moving so fluidly she barely seemed to be fighting. Every time the silvery weapons flickered out from her hand however, bloody gashes sprouted like grotesque flowers on attacker's bodies. Turning, Myka caught sight of a rifleman aiming at the doctor who was fighting another opponent. The actual thought followed the action of taking a pistol from a dead enemy soldier, dropping to one knee, aiming and firing. The would-be attacker fell overboard into the sea and suddenly Myka saw Helena.
Unsurprisingly, the Captain was on the upper deck, back to back with Jinx now, her katana wielded in two hands. There was quite literally a ring of dead bodies around her. For one instant, Myka was mesmerized as she watched the savage efficiency of Helena's movements.
She was not given time to appreciate that deadly grace however, for at that moment, a fresh wave of men from the galleon swept over the few boarding planks the Time Machine's crew had not yet managed to destroy and the Commander joined those who ran forward to engage them.
Myka found herself momentarily alone, her back to the main mast fighting three Spaniards when it happened. One of them closed with her, his breath foul against her face and his expression leering when suddenly he blinked, an expression of shock came over his features, and he jumped back.
"Es ella! Es la mujer!" he cried.
Myka felt the icy hand of fear grab her spine and suddenly she was facing more than three men.
The Commander's world narrowed to the end of her sword blade and she fought like a caged animal.
In the end, however, there were too many. One of them got past her guard and another came high. The last thing Myka saw was the butt of a rifle filling her vision.
Helena watched another soldier slide off the end of her katana and add to the pile of bodies around her on the upper deck. Guard still up she looked around frantically. For this instant, however, she was alone. Behind her, Jinx finally managed to kick his opponent in the groin and then use the opening to nearly sever his neck.
Both panting, Captain and First Mate turned to each other. "We can't take much more of this," Jinx said.
Helena nodded grimly. "Neither can they. They must be running out of men at this point."
"Why are they pressing so hard?"
"I have no idea, but given that they clearly came for capture and not to simply destroy us ." She trailed off.
Jinx made the connection.
"This is about an Artifact."
"I believe this is about much, much more than one Artifact. But we have no time for that. The tide is turning, but we need more. Can Claudia make any more of those whatever they were?" Helena was getting her wind back, one eye on the battle and one on the galleon.
Jinx nodded. "She went below to do just that."
"Then go help her. We need to end this, and we need to win."
Jinx's response, however, was lost on his Captain. For at that moment, Helena heard a cry and looked up. High in the rigging Sarah was being throttled by a Spanish soldier.
Wells didn't hesitate. No guns were at hand so she simply yanked loose a tether line from the railing and used it to swing from the upper deck to the rigging. Katana at her back, she swarmed up the ropes, but she was not as tiny as Sarah and the Privateer's heart was in her throat with fear she might be too late.
The feel of the steel of her blade sliding through the attacker's body brought a level of satisfaction that was likely unseemly. As Helena gently helped a gasping Sarah into the crow's nest, the Captain didn't give a damn.
"Sarah, darling " she questioned, sliding her katana back into its sheath.
"M' a'right Captain," the girl coughed roughly and smiled weakly. "Just got me by surprise be all. Go, I'm fine.
"Are you sure?"
The tiny crewman straightened. "I said so, din't I?"
Wells smiled and nodded. "That you did. Carry on then." And turned away from where Sarah was reloading her bow.
Pausing in the rigging, Helena took in the fight. Atop the second mast, Claudia and Jinx were apparently just about to enact an encore to their earlier explosion and sure enough, the Captain's eyes followed the arc of the keg and watched with enormous satisfaction as the fireball erupted over the galleon, turning the air to flame and reflecting off the inky water, as if opening a portal to Hell itself. She made a mental note to ask the young midshipman what exactly she had concocted to make that kind of explosion at some future date.
Below her, Helena's crew fought brilliantly, in most cases, back to back with several of their comrades, but the Captain did not see .
Her eyes roving the tangled chaos of men and women and weapons, it was the cry of "it's her!" in Spanish that drew the Privateer's eyes directly below her, where Myka was fighting too many soldiers.
Helena was moving before the realization even made it through her mind.
The Captain was halfway down the mast when she glanced below her. She was just in time to see the butt of a rifle connect with Myka's temple and the Officer crumple like a rag doll to the deck.
After that, the next thing H.G. Wells knew, she was standing over the unconscious Commander surrounded by dead soldiers, several of whom no longer had their heads. The moments in between were utterly blank.
Claudia had just celebrated the success of the third mini-bomb (her term) with Jinx when a sound of inhuman rage tore through the general cacophony of the fight. Jerking around, Claudia and Jinx watched in mingled horror and fascination as the Captain quite literally leapt off the rigging, falling several man-heights and tackling several soldiers who were standing over a downed Myka.
Heart in her throat and mouth hanging open, the Midshipman could only stare as Helena's katana came singing out of its scabbard and the woman lit into the men surrounding the Commander. Between their shock and the Captain's rage, it was truly more of a slaughter than a fight and the young woman heard Jinx gasp as one, two, three, four, five, six enemy soldiers fell; two of them removed of their heads completely.
Blood dripping from the curve of her blade, the Captain stood motionless for a moment, her whole body rigid as if waiting for another opponent. Finally, something seemed to snap her out of her state and she shook herself, dropping to her knees to press her fingers to Myka's neck. Claudia could only stare hopelessly for what seemed like an eternity until Wells' whole body relaxed slightly and she looked up, her face showing its relief even to where the midshipman sat beside Jinx.
Slowly letting go of the breath she had been holding, Claudia looked at the First Mate. She was quite sure that they wore matching stunned expressions.
After Helena's attack, the remaining Spaniards began to surrender one by one, and then in greater numbers they threw down their weapons. Between the crew of the Time Machine's clearly unexpected ferocity, Claudia's little surprises and the Captain's homicidal rage, the Spanish dead littered both ships like cordwood. The crew of the Time Machine had suffered no losses yet, but many of Wells' people had been hauled below decks badly injured. Though the doctor worked ceaselessly, the outlook for several was grim.
Bit by bit, Wells' crew organized themselves and their prisoners. The Spanish dead they merely dumped over the side of the ship, silencing protests with fists. They were too angry to feel any charity to their attackers. Helena in particular had a fey look in her eyes that sent the captured officers to cowering.
Clean up and medical crews were detailed among the able bodied. The remaining Spaniards were locked away below decks on their own ship, and Helena ordered the galleon searched from top to bottom.
"I want to know how they managed to take us by surprise," she snarled at Jinx. The First Mate merely nodded and turned to yell orders, Claudia a red-haired shadow behind him. Before she could follow, however, Helena laid a hand on the young woman's shoulders.
Her heart in her throat, the Midshipman turned, only to see the Captain's expression gentle.
"I and my crew owe you a great deal Ms. Donovan. Those ingenious devices of yours likely saved the day."
Stunned, Claudia blinked and then her face split in a huge grin. "Well since you totally saved Myka's skin, we can call it even," and with a wink, she was off after Jinx, leaving the Captain to smile briefly and shake her head.
Dawn was fast approaching when the last of the enemy dead was cleared from the decks and the Time Machine was declared sea-worthy, if in need of repair to sails, rigging and some of her railings. The galleon was likewise sea-worthy, but thanks to Claudia, only just. She had only one mast that remained whole and great chunks burned from her upper deck.
"But she'll sail Captain," one of Wells' engineers reported.
The Captain nodded. "Good." She turned to Jinx. "Make her ready. We're headed for port. We need to regroup, resupply and figure out our next move. And we need to do something about that," she gestured to the galleon.
"What are you thinking Captain?"
"Not what Mr. Jinx whom." And a crafty expression stole over the Privateer's face. "We make for Olhäo."
"Oh yes, we're going to see my dear friend Señor Alfonso." Helena chuckled darkly.
Jinx merely gave an aggrieved sigh. "You know the last time we had dealings with him "
"Oh I'm sure he's forgotten that by now. Besides, he will have information," her expression turned dark. "And we must know what we are up against Stephen. There is a game being played here and I have no intention of being a pawn any longer. We searched that ship stem to stern and not only could no one find anything that might be an Artifact, but the Captain had vanished with the ship's log."
"You think he went overboard with it?"
"I do. All the rowboats were accounted for. In this water? This far from shore? No one could survive that swim. Which means someone was willing to die to keep a secret. I doubt we'll get anything useful from the crew either."
Looking at the anger sparking in his Captain's eyes, Jinx found himself in agreement with her conclusions. Since there was nothing he could do about it at the moment, however, he turned their conversation to immediate matters. "I will make sure the crew rotates through a rest and gets something to eat. I suggest you do the same."
Helena touched the young man on the shoulder and smiled wearily. "Thank you my friend, but I must see to the wounded first."
She turned to leave then, and thus didn't see the grin tug at her First Mate's face.
"Claudia is going to be thrilled," he said to himself.
Below decks it was quieter than one might have thought. Katherine had been working tirelessly and those with minor wounds had already had their injuries cleaned, stitched or bandaged by those crew skilled in minor medical treatments.
Helena stopped to speak with each of the wounded. Many suffered gashes, a few were shot and there were some broken limbs and a missing finger. They were tired, and in pain, but well cared for and all of them were quietly celebrating the defeat of the galleon. For now, Helena put aside her unease and the questions that the missing Spanish captain presented and gave them her unstinting regard. They had all earned it. More than earned it.
Not all were so lucky however. Four of her crew lay near death and finally, Wells walked softly to where they were sleeping. Unsurprisingly, she found Katherine in tired attendance.
The physician looked up at Helena's tread and smiled wearily. It told the Captain what she needed to know: The doctor was hopeful.
"I praise the day you stole those bandages," James said softly.
Helena merely quirked her lips and reached over to a sideboard, pouring a cup of fresh water and handing it to the other woman. Katherine took it gratefully. "Ben has lost an eye, but he'll still be too handsome for his own good with a patch. Sorento will likely have a limp all her days, but I think she'll keep the leg. Foster and Wolcott " James trailed off and sighed. "I believe they will recover, but they took deep wounds to the chest, and in Wolly's case, the shoulder joint. They may be through for this life."
Wells let her eyes close as the familiar wave of sadness and guilt swept through her. She hated to lose people.
A soft touch at her arm brought her focus back to her old friend. "Don't, Helena. We all know the risks. And 'tis hardly as if you're leaving them marooned somewhere. Any of us could quit this life and live comfortably tomorrow. We stay because we want to, and that is a gift none of us would have if it weren't for you the chance to choose. Don't belittle their sacrifice by making it your fault. "
The Captain shook her head and ran a hand through her tangled hair. "How is it you always know just what to say to me darling?"
Katherine merely looked serene and knowing and it tugged a tired chuckle from Wells.
Turning back to one of her patients, Katherine fiddled with a bandage and then spoke casually. "I placed Commander Bering in your quarters again. Her head wound did not seem severe, but she is likely to wake disoriented and confused. It would be helpful if someone would watch her so that she does not do unthinking injury to herself."
For a long moment, Helena just stared at her friend and then snorted. "If I didn't know better I would say this is a plot. What happened to 'be careful'?" Wells bit her lip, hating the harshness of her voice.
As usual, however, Katherine remained unruffled. "That was before I heard that you dove from the rigging and single-handedly slaughtered six men to protect her," the physician looked at Wells evenly. "It appears, Captain that you may already be past the point of caution."
"And if I am?"
Katherine smiled gently. "You yourself taught me that we have but a short time on this earth. Do we always choose the safe path and hide away from aught that might cause us pain? Or are we Icarus, to dare the fall and gain flight, even if it is only for a moment?"
Helena smiled wryly. "You would use my own words against me?"
James' grin widened. "They were apt then, why not now?" Upon seeing her friend's hesitance, Katherine reached out and took Helena's hand. "Do not try to make tomorrow come faster than it will. Right now, she needs a friendly face to be the first thing she sets eyes on. After that .the future is only set once it is behind us."
In the end, it came down to weariness. Helena was exhausted. She had no more strength to fight the very real desire to simply see Myka and assure herself the Commander was well. So with a gentle squeeze of Katherine's hand and the doctor's assurance that she would get some rest herself, the Captain made her way to her quarters.
James had a parting shot, however. "And make sure you eat something!"
There was a lantern hanging in its place on the wall when Helena opened her cabin door. Outside, the sky was beginning to fade to grey, so she turned the wick down and quietly pulled the chair close to the bed. Easing out of her bandolier and placing her katana against the chair, Helena finally sat and let herself look at the woman sleeping in her bed.
Myka was still wearing the clothes she had fought in, though her face had been cleaned. A bandage covered the wound on her temple, and though Katherine had assured her it was mostly bruising, that sickly white strip of cloth against Myka's skin filled Wells with rage so strong her knuckles turned white on the arms of the chair. The anger was short lived, though. She was simply too tired to sustain it.
Leaning forward, Helena gave in to the desire that had haunted her from the moment she witnessed Myka's attack. Ever so carefully, the Captain reached out and stroked the sleeping woman's uninjured temple, her fingers combing through soft brown hair before slipping down to rest against the pulse point in the Commander's neck. It was only then, with the sure, strong proof that Myka's heart still beat under her fingertips that Helena finally felt herself relax. Not totally that would not happen until the sleeping woman opened her eyes but she was able to shed the last of the anger and adrenaline of the fight. Her body was informing her that she would pay for her actions tomorrow, but as Katherine had so truly spoken that was tomorrow.
Tonight, or rather this morning, Helena felt the exhaustion nipping at her heels and gave into it. Her ship and crew were as safe as they could be, and while there was always the possibility of another Artifact attack, well if it came, it came. Until then, the Captain lay her head next to Myka's shoulder and slipped her hand into the sleeping woman's, quickly falling into oblivion herself.
Helena was startled out of a dreamless sleep by a tug on her hand. Struggling to throw off the last remnants of sleep, the Captain sat up abruptly. The sun was pouring through the windows, lending Myka's pale skin some much needed warmth, though the sight of the bandage still pained Wells.
The tiny movement came again and Helena squeezed the hand she was holding. "Myka, darling wake up," she coaxed softly. It quickly became clear that the injured woman was struggling to do just that, and Helena was grateful to Katherine's suggestion that she not be alone as the Commander began to toss and turn.
"Myka, come my dear, wake up Myka Myka!" Wells called in alarm as the woman gave a short cry and her eyes flew open.
For a moment there was no sense in the hazel irises and Helena had to restrain the Commander from trying to move.
"Myka stop, stop, it's alright darling you're safe, you're safe " Helena just kept repeating the words until suddenly the body under her hands went limp.
"Helena? What ? What happened?"
Giving a silent prayer of thanks that seemed to be over, the Captain eased her grip on the injured woman's shoulders. "You were hit over the head during the skirmish darling. I'm afraid you were out cold."
Wells could practically see the wheels in the Commander's head turning.
"The galleon, the crew, Claudia?"
"All presented and accounted for. Your Ms. Donovan very nearly saved us, and while we took some damage, both ship and crew are largely sea-worthy. The galleon is ours and we are headed to port to regroup."
As she spoke, Helena absently stroked her fingers through Myka's hair once again.
For a long moment, neither woman spoke. Then Helena realized what she was doing. With an inward sigh, she steeled herself and sat back, snapping the tension that seemed to spring up between them whenever they were close.
"I should go and check on matters. Rest darling. You're going to need your wits about you soon enough."
The Captain stood, slinging her sword over her shoulder and walking rather stiffly to the door. Sleeping in the chair had been a ridiculous idea and she ached everywhere. The shallow cuts she had pretended she did not have and the bruises she had been ignoring now decided to make themselves known. All at once. Still, she was at least standing.
The Captain's hand was reaching for the latch when Myka's voice stopped her.
"Helena, when you're done would you come back?" the tone was soft, hesitant even.
It made Helena's heart soar.
"Always darling," she smiled and slipped out the door.
When she returned several hours later after seeing to the status of both ships and finally getting her wounds treated, Myka was asleep again. A much more rested Dr. James had been to see her, however, and reported her condition as satisfactory.
"All she needs now is sleep. And I could say the same for you." She spoke tartly, glaring at Wells who was doing her best not to limp.
The Captain merely chuckled. "I plan on getting it. We're making berth in a cove I know just south from Olhão. I don't want Alfonso to know we're coming. Until then, Mr. Jinx and Ms. Donovan seem to be running my ship quite handily without me," she said with a shake of her head.
Katherine smiled in response and returned to her patients. Helena slipped back to her cabin. The sun was sinking toward the horizon and Helena's body was informing her that she was nearing the end of her rope. Removing her katana, she slipped off her boots and finally changed from her blood spattered clothes into a clean shift. She was about to take a spare blanket and settle into her chair when her name being spoken stopped her.
"Helena G. Wells, if you are thinking about doing something ridiculous and self-sacrificing like sleeping in that chair don't."
The Captain grinned ruefully. "I was merely being considerate."
"Don't be an ass Wells. Come here." And with that, Myka scooted over and indicated her side. "I got hit in the head and I'm sore and out of sorts but I am not dying and I won't break."
"Well, I certainly cannot argue with that logic."
"You never could," Myka grinned wickedly for a moment before wincing and settling back down.
Tossing the blanket over the bed, Helena did as she was bid and slipped in beside the Commander. For a long moment both women lay tensely, as if afraid now to move, and then Myka sighed. Rolling over, the Officer pressed her body against Helena's, lay her head on the Captain's shoulder and threw an arm across Helena's middle.
For one instant, Wells froze, and then she remembered Katherine's words. Ah well, if I am to be damned to Hell, I might as well enjoy the journey, she mused and moving gently, wrapped her arms around Myka and pulled the other woman closer, pressing a soft kiss to tousled brown hair.
"I am so very glad you're safe my darling," she whispered.
Her answer was Myka's arm tightening around her. "And I am glad that you were there, once again, to rescue me, Captain Wells."
For a moment Helena wondered who had told Myka that particular bit of information, then decided it didn't matter.
"As often as need be darling. As often as need be."
Outside the sky darkened and the Time Machine neared her berth, while in the Captain's cabin, two women found their own safe harbor, at least for a moment, in each other's arms.
The next morning proved to be a much less awkward affair than the last time Helena and Myka had woken in each other's arms. The Captain did not push, and the Commander did not flee. But there was a restraint in the way they moved around each other and their gazes were guarded. If they could no longer deny that there was something between them, both women seemed to have reached the conclusion that whatever it was needed to remain unexplored.
Since they had significantly more pressing matters to attend to, such avoidance came easily.
Washed, dressed in clean clothes, with her sword cared for and once again at her back, Helena felt much more herself. She noticed that Myka too, had availed herself of a bath and some clean clothes. The Commander was wearing one of Katherine's high collared silk shirts, this one in deep forest green. It brought out the emerald flecks in her eyes; eyes that flicked across the table to meet Helena's before hastily falling away.
Wells mentally kicked herself and refocused on what her First Mate was saying.
"We're farther down the coast than I would like if we plan to use the row boat to sneak into the harbor. Suggestions Captain?"
Helena, Myka, Jinx, Claudia, Katherine and a tall, lean Egyptian man who served as Wells' nominal Master of Arms and went only by 'Hawk' stood around the Captain's desk. All eyes turned to Wells as she considered.
"I would like the element of surprise. It is my hope that we can use the cover of darkness. Anchor here," she pointed to a spot just outside of Olhão's harbor. "And enter the harbor at night. I can go cloaked, and Mr. Jinx may lead the mission. I believe Alfonso will be reasonable .eventually," she said wryly in response to Jinx's cough.
"How many would you take?" Hawk spoke, his accent lending his words a soft elegance.
Wells shrugged one shoulder. "No more than necessary. Myself, Mr. Jinx."
"You're not leaving me behind," Myka interrupted dryly.
"Very well, the Commander shall accompany us also. But not you Ms. Donovan." Helena smiled gently to take the sting out of her words. She then had to duck her head to hide her smile as her First Mate bumped the young woman with his shoulder and gave her an encouraging smile. She heartily approved of that friendship.
"Any other questions? Good. Hawk I leave the choosing of the guard to you. Have them be ready at midnight. Alfonso barely gets out of bed before then anyway," she muttered.
So it was that under the weak light of a crescent moon, running dark with Sarah's keen eyes keeping watch in the prow, the Time Machine ghosted out of her temporary home and sailed north. She was followed silently by the Spanish galleon under a skeleton crew of Wells' people. Fortunately, the remaining crew of the galleon had given them no trouble.
And hopefully, we will be rid of them tonight.
It didn't take long for the lights of Olhão's harbor to come into view. It was a small but lively port, used mostly by fishing vessels or as a trade stop for ships coming from the north before heading toward the North African coast.
"Hold here," Helena said to Jinx, who passed the signal. Above the Captain, the sails began to move as if by invisible hands. It was so dark she could see the canvas, but not her crew lashing it up. The sea-anchor was lowered much more carefully than usual and by means of shielding and un-shielding one side of a special lantern, the crew was able to communicate with those on the galleon silently. A pattern of flickers returned, signaling those on the other ship had also raised sail and were holding steady. In the fey moonlight, Wells could just barely make out the other ship a larger hulking shadow barely outlined against the endless night.
Throwing a black cloak over her shoulders, the Captain handed the wheel off and strode to where crew members were lowering one of the long boats. Wells waited as four of her people she marked faces and silently approved of Hawk's choices slithered down into the boat and took up the oars. Jinx followed, then Myka and then Helena herself was aboard and they were casting off and turning away from the Time Machine. The oars dipped once, twice, the crew found a rhythm and then they were moving steadily toward the light and noise of Olhão.
Myka was not quite sure what to expect from the port. The Artifact Hunter had never been called to Portugal, so the Commander was only marginally familiar with its coast. The sea was calm that night and Helena's crew at the oars were efficient. It took little time to cross from the inky black of open waters and pass the sheltering breakwater into the harbor proper.
The first thing the Officer noted was how crowded the docks were. There were vessels of all shapes and sizes, configurations and states of repair. Most of them had crew about and a great many were even at this time of night loading or unloading cargo. It was also loud. After the quiet aboard the Time Machine, the sounds of a busy working dock were strange and foreign to Myka's ears. Still, it didn't take long to adjust and she began to discern individual voices, the sound of hooves on pavement, music and laughter from some of the wharf-side taverns, the creak of pulleys and the sound of the waves lapping at hulls and stone pillars.
Among the general hustle and bustle, it was easy to slip the rowboat up to an empty ledge for the crew to jump onto the wharf. Helena had her cloak up, but she took the lead, gesturing for two of the crew to stay with the boat. Those assigned moved to some stacked barrels and lounged deceptively, pretending to dice idly while keeping watch along the docks.
The rest of the group, hands never straying far from their weapons, strolled as casually as possible past the edge of the docks proper and headed inland toward the town. The streets were brightly lit and everywhere people were about; shopping, trading, walking (or lurching) in and out of taverns or brothels. Helena's crew walked a little ways apart, trying not to appear as if they were actually together while keeping one eye on their surroundings and one on their Captain, who was subtly leading them through the cobbled streets.
It seemed to take forever and yet no time at all for Wells to make a subtle gesture and then duck into an alley across the street from a large tavern.
A brightly painted sign above the door showed a knife and a purse and warm light spilled into the balmy summer night. Snatches of laughter and song and shouts could be heard coming from within the noise suddenly growing louder, then dimming as someone opened the door and entered.
Gathering them close, Helena nodded to the second story. "He'll be up there. I won't bet he doesn't have watchers placed, but I doubt he'll be paying too much attention to the rooftops. That's supposed to be his domain, and if there is one weakness that Alfonso has, it's the arrogance to think no one will challenge him at his own game."
"That's because he usually wins," Jinx muttered.
Helena merely shrugged and her grin in the dim light was devilish. "I never suggested there wasn't risk involved. I say we start there," she pointed to a house two buildings over from the tavern. "Just follow me." And without another word, the Privateer turned and walked further into the dark alley. A few twists and turns, a street crossing and they were behind the house Helena had marked, facing a tall garden wall.
"Right then, quietly now," the Captain hissed, and proceeded to haul herself up on the wall, and from there to a window ledge that she used to hoist herself up to the gently sloping roof.
The only thing Myka could say about what followed was that it didn't last long. The closeness of the buildings made it possible to use the rooftops, but certainly not enjoyable. It appeared that Wells was right and Alfonso had posted watchers, but a solid tap to the back of the head by Jinx's sword hilt laid the two young men out easily.
Myka was concentrating so closely on where she put her feet it was almost a surprise to see Jinx in front of her, leaning out of an upper story window and gesturing for her to take his hand. One last awkward reach and then she was standing in the hallway of what the Commander could only assume was the tavern.
Helena motioned them to silence and together, the group crept down the hallway. They came to a small landing and the Captain pressed herself against the wall, squatting down almost to floor level and then peering just around the corner. An instant later, she jerked back. Shaking her head, the Privateer motioned to Jinx and held up one finger. The First Mate nodded and crept back down the hall. A moment later, Myka heard the window open and then close loudly.
It had the effect Helena apparently wanted. The sound of boots moving down the hallway reached the Commander's ears and then the guard that must have been at the door on the landing came round the corner and met Helena's blade at his throat. His eyes just widened in surprise and he opened his mouth but it was too late. The hilt of Myka's rapier connected with his temple.
Eyes glittering beneath the hood, Helena smiled and Myka found herself returning the grin widely. Her blood thundered in her ears and every single nerve in her body felt alive. This is what she lived for, this hunt, this game.
They had no time to savor the momentary victory however. Helena was off, slipping down the hallway, the rest of them at her back. The Privateer didn't even pause, merely took a long step and slammed her boot into the door.
It came splintering off its hinges.
The group burst into what looked like nothing so much as an accountant's office. A wide oak desk well lit with lamps dominated the space. The walls were lined with bookshelves and several comfortable, worn leather chairs took up residence on what looked like an oriental rug.
Behind the desk, his shock fading quickly to anger, poised a handsome, lean man of Spanish blood. His thick black hair was curly and he wore a short trimmed mustache. His black doublet and hose were velvet and there were silver studs in his ears.
Striding to the front of the room, Helena stopped. "Hello darling," she said primly. The Captain's voice was supremely amused as she threw back her cloak hood and revealed a cocked pistol.
The man behind the desk twitched.
"Tsk, tsk Alfonso. Put down whatever nasty little surprise you have under that desk and let us be civil. We're here to make you a trade that will more than make up for past disagreements."
"Past disagreements? You shot me!" the Spaniard retorted, his body still frozen in a half crouch.
"Yes and if you will recall I gave you fair warning that that would indeed, be the outcome if you did not surrender the item in question. Now are we going to bicker about this like children, or would you like to hear how you can have your very own Spanish galleon, complete with what is left of her crew that you may ransom or do with what you please."
That certainly got his attention.
His shrewd eyes narrowing, Alfonso considered for a moment, and then eased back in his chair, raising his hands slowly to show they were empty. "Perhaps I have been hasty. This is, as you say, business."
"Well and so." Wells nodded, her eyes never leaving the man's face.
"Well then if this is business, please, sit."
No one sat.
Alfonso raised one eyebrow and laughed warmly. "Ah Wells, I have missed our exchanges. So, we neither one of us trust each other. That is as it should be perhaps. Very well, what do you want?"
Helena hesitated for a moment before apparently coming to a decision. Uncocking her pistol, she thrust it through her belt.
"I need information Alfonso. I am looking for two Officers from the King's Navy. They were abducted from the wreckage of their ship which was destroyed by a French frigate. I have been chasing that frigate for months. Now it vanishes, and we wake in the middle of the night to find a Spanish galleon off our port quarter with no warning. Someone knows something, and you know all the someones. Your thieves are everywhere and your people hear everything. Right now, I need to know what you know."
The Captain's dark eyes glittered dangerously as she and Alfonso stared at each other. They seemed to have forgotten that anyone else existed in the room.
Then the man behind the desk grinned and his eyes flicked to Myka. "So, you deal with the Royal Navy. This is new Wells."
Myka's shock must have shown on her face. Helena bristled. Alfonso merely waved them down.
"Relax. I have no intention of revealing your whereabouts Lieutenant-Commander." His accent was slight, but it gave his words a musical cadence that did nothing to offset the icy trickle of fear down Myka's spine.
"What the hell do you know Alfonso?" Helena gritted.
Now it was the thief's turn to blanch slightly. Apparently he had heard that tone before.
"I know that someone is looking for the missing Officer from the HMS Artifact Hunter. I also know they are offering a rather shocking amount of money."
Helena's hand twitched toward her pistol and Alfonso made a placating gesture.
"I also know I won't be collecting that particular reward. You see, unfortunately for them, my intelligence has led me to believe that this is the same source that is killing our people in Venice."
Myka blinked, suddenly not following the conversation. Throwing a glance at Helena and Jinx however, she appeared to be the only one. The Captain and her First Mate looked like hounds with a scent.
"Your people, you mean " Helena queried.
Alfonso nodded grimly. "Thieves, beggars, even the minstrels. All of the Rogue. It started slowly. At first we didn't even notice. While hardly as savage as the constabulary makes us out to be, we can occasionally be rather ruthless when it comes to turf wars. The Duchy in Venice was recently under contention. We thought it was more of the same."
Jinx must have noticed Myka's confusion because he gestured to Alfonso and whispered to the Commander. "Alfonso is what you might call a Duke of thieves. They have their own laws and treaties and society that are solely their own. Each country on the continent has a King of the guilds and men and women like Alfonso oversee all the Rogue in a certain territory. They have their own system of taxation and information gathering as well."
Impressed despite herself, Myka nodded her thanks and turned back to what Alfonso was saying.
" left in alleys, dumped in canals. Like vermin. It was as if someone was sending a message. Whatever it was, they have in effect, created a blackout in the city. Those Rogue that survived got wise and cleared out. As of now, our networks have no hold in Venice." The thief's expression grew savage. "We lost dozens, maybe hundreds. We can't even be sure. Do not take it lightly when I say I will do what I can to aid you Wells. Whatever is going on in that city, it is not natural and the Court cannot abide it."
Whatever Helena read in the thief's eyes, she seemed satisfied because her shoulders relaxed and she settled her hands on her hips.
"So, we have no intelligence after all and every indication that a superior force is waiting for us. I have no doubt that damned frigate has reached port, which means they know we are after them. The only possible advantage I see at this point is that it is highly likely they believe us destroyed by the galleon."
Alfonso nodded, his mind clearly working apace with the Captain's. "Do not worry about the crew. My people will make sure that it takes quite a while for them to be ransomed. And I'm quite sure we find a use for that galleon. It won't trace back to you." The thief's grin was wolfish and he all but rubbed his hands together in greedy glee.
Helena made a dismissive gesture. "As long as they can't pass on information, I care not. My concern now is getting to Venice."
Alfonso looked surprised. "You still mean to go? You know as soon as you take to open water it is likely you will be spotted."
Helena shrugged elegantly. "Of course we're still going. The matter is how. I'm afraid the Señor is correct. The Time Machine is well known." She was looking at Jinx and Myka now, frustration clear on her features, when a chuckle interrupted them.
"So make it un-known." Alfonso was smiling as if at a private joke.
"Excuse me?" Wells asked archly.
"My darling Captain, your ship is only distinctive because you have made it so. It is hardly of special design. The solution is simple. Make it look like another ship."
Myka watched as the thoughts chased themselves across Helena's face, her expression finally settling on distaste.
Alfonso let out a deep laugh. "Yes Wells, you're going to have to get your ship dirty. And change the name, and oh! One of those dreadful figureheads you hate so much. Patch the sails, run up a different flag and just like that," he snapped his fingers. "The Time Machine, infamous ship of the dreaded Privateer H.G. Wells is no more. It should be enough to fool anyone not intimately familiar with your vessel, and that should get you to Venice."
The thought clearly left an unpleasant taste in the Captain's mouth, but she turned to Myka, who shrugged subtly. The Commander had no better or crazier ideas.
"Very well. I don't suppose you want to lend a hand or two."
Alfonso nodded, his expression calculating once more. "It should be done at night. We can bring the galleon to port as well. The docks will quiet soon. Before dawn is our best window. Then presto, the new ship can simply sail away with the morning tide with no one the wiser. I will bind my people by their oath. Do we have a deal?"
He reached a long fingered hand forward and Helena clasped it. "We do. We'll be back tomorrow night. Don't make me regret this Alfonso." Her words were harsh, but the Captain's lips twitched.
The thief merely grinned wickedly, a distinctly bloodthirsty expression on his face. "You won't. Just see to it you destroy whoever is behind this Wells."
The Captain's expression nearly matched Alfonso's.
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