The following is a work of fanfiction. All characters and situations belonging to the animated feature film "Atlantis: the Lost Empire" are copyrighted to Disney Enterprises, Inc. This story includes dialogue and actions taken from the screenplay written by Tab Murphy. Information about Atlantean history and holidays are taken from the book "Subterranean Tours: Atlantis: a Traveler's Guide to the Lost City", written by Jeff Kurtti. Everything else, including original characters, is of my own creation.
This is a sequel to my story "Love's Illusions," as well as to the movie, and is the middle story in a trilogy. It is strongly recommended that you have read "Love's Illusions" before you start this one. This is a direct continuation.
This story contains violence, adult language, and adult content. It is not recommended for younger readers.
All comments and questions may be sent to me at: jhorwitz
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the story.
Rourke had never wanted to kill someone so much in his life. Considering that he usually killed only out of necessity, it was significant that he felt that this was one death he was going to enjoy causing. Thatch had pushed him too far, and now the annoying pain in the ass was going to pay the price.
Everything had been going so perfectly. He had gotten the crystal as planned. Helga had been firmly under his control once again and willing to do anything for him. His dreams of money and power were finally going to become a reality. Then Thatch had to come and ruin it all.
Thatch was currently trying to climb down to his beloved princess when another loud explosion caught Rourke's attention. He looked up to see that something had hit the main balloon and turned it into a raging ball of fire. The evac's descent sped up even more.
Time was running out.
Determined to cause Thatch a painful death if it was the last thing he ever did, he smashed the glass case that held the fire axe with his fist and grabbed the weapon. He started climbing down the chains after the little pest, who was now hanging onto the transport pod for dear life. What was left of it, that is.
Rourke swung his axe at Thatch, who nearly fell backwards avoiding the blade.
"Tired, Mr. Thatch?" he asked sadistically, enjoying the look of pure terror on the academic's face. He let his axe fly again, hitting and shattering the pod window. "Ha, it's a darn shame. 'Cause I'm just getting warmed up!"
He grabbed Thatch by his scrawny neck and lifted him up, letting his body dangle over empty air.
Then, unexpectedly, Thatch slashed his arm with a shard of glass. The son-of-a-bitch must have grabbed it from the shattered window before he caught him. Rourke dropped both the axe and Thatch in pain and surprise. Thatch started climbing back up the chains as he glared after him, clutching at his injured arm.
Just as he was about to once again go after Thatch, a new sensation started to spread over his arm. He removed his hand to see a crystal layer growing over his injury instead of the expected blood flow.
What the hell?
The sensation turned to intense pain as the crystal growth started to spread at an alarming rate. Rourke clawed at it to no avail. There was no stopping whatever Thatch had done to him. What had been on that glass?
The pain grew worse as the growth accelerated. It was hot and burning, as if fire was overtaking his body. He could feel the crystal penetrating everything, inside and out. For the first time in his life, he became frightened. Was he dying?
He turned to look at the man who had done this to him, wanting to kill him more than ever. If he was going to die, it wasn't going to be before he could throttle the life out of the little ass!
Then, as suddenly as it began, the pain stopped. Replacing it was a feeling of power and strength Rourke had never before experienced. He felt full of energy, more alive than ever before. It was the most incredible feeling. Whatever had happened to him, he liked it. A lot. He'd have to thank Thatch for the improvements before he killed him.
However, when he tried to move, he found he couldn't. His body was frozen in place, having become solid crystal. It was only his essence, his soul, whatever it was that was essentially him, that had grown more powerful. Unless he could break free or figure out how to move, he was trapped inside his now-useless body.
He watched as Thatch desperately tried to escape. The linguist scrambled back up the chains that held the transport pod to the propeller mechanism. It was obvious Thatch was going to try to make it back into the control ring, as if that would protect him once the evac crashed. The man was an idiot.
As if to prove his own ineptitude, Thatch grabbed onto the piece of broken railing lodged between the propeller blades and pulled it loose, almost falling off the evac. It was hard to believe that such a buffoon was the cause of all his problems. How he wanted to make him suffer! If only he could figure out how to move his body...
He concentrated on moving, imagined himself throttling the life out of Thatch. In his mind, he pictured his hands closing around Thatch's windpipe. A moment later, as if mimicking his mental image, he felt his frozen fingers begin to bend.
Yes! he congratulated himself, not really caring how he had done it. All that mattered was that he had. Nothing was going to stop him from killing Thatch.
He imagined himself climbing the chains after Thatch and, like magic, he found his crystallized form doing just that. He easily reached Thatch's position, ready to finish him once and for all.
Thatch was shocked to see him coming towards him, probably believing him dead, and slid backwards along the railing in an effort to escape. However, the stupid fool went so far back that he flipped himself off the edge! Thatch caught onto the railing with one hand at the last second, making himself an easy target.
Rourke found the clumsiness amusing for once since it made killing the pest that much easier.
In order to grab him, Rourke needed to change positions. He imagined himself maneuvering so that he could reach out and grab Thatch by the wrist. Unfortunately, he realized too late that the movement would take him straight into the spinning propeller.
Rourke watched in horror as the blade flew towards him and smashed his crystal body, freeing his formless essence in a blast of energy. Not prepared for this, he felt himself start to disperse.
No! he mentally shouted.
He again concentrated and felt his energy instantly pull back together.
That's more like it. He looked around, not exactly sure how he was seeing without eyes, but not really caring one way or another. As long as he was still able to inflict damage on his enemies, that was all that mattered to him.
The evac had finally returned to the ground and had been reduced to a flaming pile of rubble. He looked to see if Thatch had survived the impact, hoping he had. He was the only one who was going to have the privilege of killing the little bastard, not some freak accident. It was only fair.
Just as he finally located Thatch, who was very much alive and had even managed to save his precious princess, the ground began to shake. As Mole had predicted, the impact from the crash had awakened the dormant volcano. He watched with amusement as Thatch and the other traitors rushed back to Atlantis ahead of the eruption.
You can run, but you can't hide, he commented as he followed them, curious to see how Thatch planned to save the city. He hoped he was successful. That way, not only could he kill Thatch, but he could get revenge against the whole city responsible for this disaster.
Everything had gone wrong because the Atlanteans had not died out thousands of years ago like they were supposed to. Their survival was the main reason things had turned out like they did. Without them in the way, retrieving the crystal would have been simple and he would have been long gone by now, with Helga still at his side.
Killing Helga was a decision he regretted. Yes, it had been necessary at the time to ensure his own survival, but he would miss her and the skills she had placed at his disposal, although he probably wouldn't have ever needed them again except for his own private enjoyment. He had been very fond of her in his own way. He had molded her into the perfect companion for himself.
As he thought of her, he suddenly "sensed" her presence. He didn't know how he had done it or how he even knew it was her, but he had the undeniable feeling that she was alive. And that was enough for him. This new form obviously had numerous abilities he had yet to become aware of.
And, when he did, he'd be invincible.
Deciding that Helga probably wasn't going anywhere because of the erupting volcano, he continued after Thatch and the others. He would return and find her later.
Helga lay in the darkness, waiting for death to take her. It was the only way she was going to be able to get out of the cave. The entrance had collapsed almost immediately after she had made it inside. Even if it hadn't, the broken leg she had received when she tripped on her way in would have trapped her just the same.
The idea of dying didn't bother her. In fact, she embraced it. Her life had ended the moment Rourke had thrown her off the evac. Her relationship with him had been everything to her. Without it, she had nothing left to live for.
She had run out of tears hours ago, but the pain of Rourke's betrayal remained fresh. She had loved him so much while he had only pretended to love her. Her entire life had been based on a lie. Everything she had ever done for him had been done out of love. A love that was completely one-sided.
Why had he done it? That was the one thing she didn't understand. Why had he spent so much time and energy convincing her that he loved and cared about her? Why had he pursued her so relentlessly after she left him? What had made her so special to him?
What does it matter now? she decided. It's over. He's finally out of my life for good.
A life that had been completely wasted. She had given up everything for him. Every mistake she had ever made was because he had told her to do it. Now she was left with nothing but regret. She had even sacrificed her greatest dream on the slim chance that he would eventually help her fulfill it. Something she had almost done with Chris...
From the time she had been a very little girl, all she had ever wanted was a family just like the one she had growing up. She dreamed of being in a relationship identical to her parents'. They were so close and loved each other so much that it was evident in everything they did. She wanted to have children that she could nurture just as her parents had raised her and her brothers. She had felt so safe and secure growing up and knew that she was loved. This wonderful feeling was something that she had always wanted to pass on to children of her own.
Chris was the only person she had ever shared this dream with. Rourke had always been so dead-set against marriage that she felt it would have been pointless to tell him. Chris had loved the idea of having a family. She had first told him not long after they became romantically involved. Of course that had resulted in him threatening to bury her in a mountain of children which she had responded to by punching him repeatedly in the arm.
She smiled at the memory. How she missed him. Unlike Rourke, Chris had truly loved her. His pursuit of her had been genuine. He had wanted her, not what she could do for him. Their short time together was probably the happiest of her life. He had been the best thing that ever happened to her.
After they had married, they had not actively tried to start a family but the hope had always been there. Every month, Helga had been disappointed to get her period because it meant that she was not pregnant. Then, when they finally got around to seriously discussing it, he was cruelly taken from her.
Even during her two relationships with Rourke, she had hoped to get pregnant. She had seen a baby as the only way to get him to marry her. But, despite their constant sexual activities, she never became pregnant. Now, she would never get the chance to be the wife and mother she had always wanted to become...
Suddenly, breathing became a chore. The air in the cave was finally starting to run out. The end was near and she was unafraid.
She wondered how her family was. It had been months since she had last heard from her mother, who was probably still angry at her for missing Johann's wedding two years ago. She had apologized profusely, explaining that Mr. Whitmore could not give her the time off but not saying why. (If Mother knew that it had been because she was spending most of her time breaking and entering into a strange man's apartment to spy on him, she would die.) Although Mother had accepted the apology, things had been slightly strained between them ever since.
How would Mother and the rest react when told that she was dead? She knew they would be sad. There was no question that they loved her, but would they miss her? She had not really been part of their lives for so long now. Would her death really affect them all that much?
She closed her eyes. Breathing was so hard now. She didn't even know why she still bothered. It was only prolonging the inevitable. How she wanted to die and leave all this misery behind...
All of a sudden, she had the strangest feeling that she wasn't alone.
That's ridiculous, she told herself. The lack of oxygen must be affecting-
The thought was cut off by a very real caress on her cheek.
The name was not spoken aloud, but she could hear it in her mind as clear as if it had been.
Rourke?! was her last thought before the blackness claimed her.
Queen Kidagakash sat up in her bed with a gasp. She threw off her sweat-soaked sheets and blanket and practically jumped to her feet. She raced over to the nearest window and nearly collapsed with relief when she saw that Atlantis was still standing.
"Not again," she whispered.
She turned away from the window and walked back to her bed. She sat down on the edge. Why was this happening to her? Why?
For nearly two weeks now, she had been having the same dream every night. Sometimes more than once in a single night. In it, Atlantis was under some kind of attack. Death and destruction were everywhere. And, if that weren't bad enough, it was incredibly realistic. She never remembered that it was only a dream until after she had woken up and saw that nothing had happened.
The worst part of the nightmare was the dark man. She knew that he was responsible for what was happening to Atlantis. She had never seen his face, but he was always there. And he terrified her.
Near the end of the dream, he would always start coming towards her while remaining hidden in the shadows. Somehow she knew his intention was to kill her. The closer he got, the more afraid for her life she became. She would start calling for help, but there was no one left to save her. But, just before he reached her, she would wake up shaken.
The nightmare had started exactly eleven days ago. She remembered because it was the day Milo's friends had returned to the surface and she had spent nearly all day by his side. She had gone to bed that night blissfully happy and woken up terrified hours later. It had taken her some time to fall back to sleep out of fear that the dream would repeat. She was lucky she was getting any sleep at all lately.
What was causing it? Why the same dream night after night? At first she had blamed it on the incredible pressure she was under. She had not been ready to become queen. She was far too young in her opinion. Tahbtoap hadn't even begun to teach her the skills she was going to need. He had just allowed her to live her life the way she wanted. Now she was trying her best to be a good ruler even though she didn't have any idea what she was doing.
However, after the nightmare continued for over a week, she had begun to doubt her own explanation. And she was starting to get scared. Then there was her mother's voice...
She had not told anyone about the dreams or the voice, especially Milo. He was worried about her enough as it was. He knew she was not handling her new responsibilities as queen very well. She didn't want to add the possibility that she was losing her mind to his concerns. Besides, she didn't want to take him away from his work, which he loved dearly.
The task of gathering all the lost writings scattered throughout the city was bringing him so much pleasure. Every day he would come to her with his findings and ramble on excitedly for hours. She would listen intently, fascinated with the hidden history and culture of her people. How could she deprive him of that joy? It wouldn't be fair to him.
She loved him so much that words couldn't describe the depth of her feelings for him. From the moment she had first laid eyes on him, she had felt drawn to him. And after their initial brief encounter in the cavern, the attraction had only grown stronger. He was the first man she had ever fallen in love with and wouldn't have had it any other way. No one else understood her as he did. It was as if they were made for each other. She could not wait for their marriage ceremony, which was only a month and a half away.
She knew it was the same way for him. He had confessed to her one night that he had never truly been in love before either. (There had been one woman, but Milo had not wanted to talk about her.) His..."research" was the word he had used...had always come first to him, especially after the loss of his grandfather. Now she was the most important thing in his life. And it was for exactly that reason why she had not told him of her reoccurring nightmare. She hated the idea of upsetting him. She only wanted him to be happy.
She sighed heavily. If only Tahbtoap was still here, she though. I could have told him of the dream.
Her father would have been able to help her, she knew. How she missed him and his gentle guidance. He always knew the right thing to say to make her feel better when she was down. And maybe, just maybe, he would have known what was causing the disturbing dreams and the voice in her head. Then she and Milo wouldn't have anything to worry about other than their own happiness.
Helga slowly became aware of two things. The first was that she was still alive and that her body was a sheet of pain. The second being that she was lying on something relatively soft. She tentatively opened her eyes and saw that she was no longer trapped in the cave.
What's happened? she asked herself, extremely confused. Where am I?
Someone had rescued her. But who? And why?
As she tried to sit up, she was assaulted by flashes of memory...
A trail of kisses down her body. Hot breath blowing across her skin. The powerful need to be joined...
She fell back in shock, the remembered arousal nearly drowning her. She looked down and was relieved to see that she was still wearing her clothes. It had been so intense, so vivid...
"So real," she breathed.
She had dreamed of him, of Rourke, coming and making incredible love to her. If it hadn't been a dream, it would have been the most erotic experience of her life. He had done such things to her, such pleasurable things. Just thinking about them aroused her all over again...
She shook her head to clear it. No, I'm not going to think about him that way anymore. It was a dream, just a stupid dream.
Of all thing things to dream about, why him? Why this? Why did he still have such control over her heart and mind? Especially after what he had done to her. Why did she still love him?
Oh, how I wish I didn't.
As sick as it was, she still loved him. Even after his attempt on her life and the realization that he had never loved her, the love she felt for him persisted, as strong as ever.
What's wrong with me? she asked herself.
That was a question she had asked herself so many times since her final fall from the evac. She knew she should hate him for what he did. She wanted to hate him. Yet, somehow, she couldn't. Why?
She pushed all thoughts of Rourke away. She just didn't want to think about him anymore. It hurt too much. She decided to focus on her current predicament. Someone had rescued her from the cave. She wanted to know who and why.
Painfully, she forced herself up into a sitting position. Her body loudly protested at being moved.
Well, my so-called rescuer obviously doesn't know a thing about first aid, she commented to herself. An Atlantean maybe?
She looked around and was surprised to see that she was back at the campsite. There was very little remaining from the fire. Debris from the explosions were littered everywhere. Even the sleeping bag her rescuer had placed her in had fire damage.
Her mystery rescuer, however, was nowhere in sight.
"Hello?" she called out. "Is anybody there?"
Welcome back to the world of the living, came a familiar voice inside her head.
Then, Rourke suddenly appeared in front of her.
"Oh, my god," she barely managed.
"I take it you're surprised to see me," Rourke commented aloud.
Helga couldn't find her voice. She was too shocked. He had just...appeared. Was he...?
"No, I'm not dead," he answered her unspoken question. "I'm very much alive. Much better than alive, actually."
"What...are you?" she breathed.
"To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure myself," he told her. "But, I owe it all to our old friend Mr. Thatch. He's the one who did this to me." He came over and knelt down to her level. "But enough about me. How are you feeling?"
She tried to back away from him, but found she didn't have the strength.
"Oh, I see. You're mad about the whole throwing you overboard thing," Rourke said. "Look, I'm really sorry about that. You should know it was only because I didn't have any other choice. The last thing I ever wanted to do was hurt you." He reached out as if to caress her cheek, but she pulled away.
"Save it," she told him. "You had a choice. You just made it long before we ever met." She weakly turned her body away from him. "You should have let me die."
"No," he said. "That's not something I'm going to let happen."
"Why?" she asked him, still turned away. "It's not like you love me and can't live without me."
He chuckled at that, but didn't comment.
He didn't contradict me, she noted. Bastard.
"It's because I need your help."
"My help?" she asked him incredulously. "You really think I'm ever going to help you again? After all you've done to me?"
"You misunderstand. I'm not asking you. You don't have a choice," he informed her. "You're helping me. End of discussion."
She turned back to glare at him. "And why would I do a stupid thing like that?"
"Because I'm the only man who can give you the one thing you want more than anything: a child."
Once again she was shocked into silence. How could he know that? She'd never told anyone other than Chris. Unless...
Rourke smiled and pointed at his head. "Telepathy. A very useful ability."
"How dare you," she growled in a low voice. "You had no right."
"I have every right," he told her. "As you've often told me, I made you. You belong to me. I can do whatever I want to you."
"Bastard," she spat. "I loved you."
"Correction: you still love me," he said. "I know everything about you, Helga. You have no secrets from me."
"Then you must also know how much I want to hate you."
"Which you can't," he pointed out. "No matter what I've done to you, you never stopped loving me. Which is good if we're going to start a family together."
"What makes you so sure that I'd even consider letting you touch me ever again?"
"You can't have a child without me," he told her. "It's physically impossible. You're barren."
"Barren?" she whispered. No, she thought. I can't be!
"Why do you think you never got pregnant in all this time?" he pointed out. "You've had sex so many times that you should at least have one child by now. And with no less than three partners."
"How do I know you're not lying?" she asked, praying this was just a ploy to get her to go along with his plans willingly.
"I have no reason to. Healing is one of my new abilities." He reached out and took her arm, extending it out towards him. She was too surprised by his actions to pull away. With his other hand, he stretched a finger and touched it to a long cut that ran down the top of her arm. As he traced the cut, there was a reddish glow that seemed to come from his finger. He released her arm and she quickly pulled it back.
To her amazement, the cut was completely healed.
There was no longer any doubt that he was telling her the truth.
"Agree to help me destroy Atlantis and I'll make it so you can have as many children as you want.
"So that's what this is all about," she mused. "Finishing what you started."
"As I've told you before, those people are living on borrowed time. And, after what they did to me, I feel that their time is finally up," Rourke told her. "Unfortunately, I can't get anywhere near the city without that damn crystal detecting me. That's why I need your help."
It was all starting to make sense now. She clearly remembered the Heart of Atlantis turning red when he initially approached it. If it was alive as Milo had said it was, maybe it remembered him and what he tried to do to it. That was why he wanted her to do his dirty work, whatever it was.
Her curiosity got the better of her. "What would I have to do?" He didn't really expect her to destroy the city for him?
"What I trained you for," he told her. "To get information for me. I want to know what their weaknesses are. Once I know that, I'll be able to finish them off once and for all. You wouldn't have to do anything else."
She looked away again. Rourke was going to grant her greatest wish if she willingly went along with his plans to murder thousands of innocent people. She knew this was her only chance to ever have a child. But how could she take it when it meant the death of so many others? How could she even consider such a horrible trade-off?
"I don't have a choice?" she asked him quietly.
"I need your help too badly," he told her. "But agree to help and you become the mother you've always wanted to be."
"You'd have to marry me," she tried, hoping that would discourage him.
"I thought that was already settled," Rourke said. "I told you I'd marry you if you helped me get the crystal, which you did. Did you really think I'd allow you to raise our baby on your own?"
"But you don't love me," she pointed out, trying another tactic.
"No, I don't," he finally admitted. "I never have. But I'm very fond of you. I never lied about that, you know. I've enjoyed your companionship over the years. You've never had any trouble with our relationship before."
"That was because I believed you loved me," she told him. She sighed. Nothing was working. He was willing to do anything to get her to help him. He wanted revenge as desperately as she wanted a baby. She couldn't imagine what he'd do to her if she refused. He needed her badly and he wasn't going to take "no" for an answer. The only way to escape helping him was to die, which he wasn't going to allow.
She was trapped once again.
If she willingly helped him, she would become a mother, but she'd be as guilty as he was for the extinction of an entire people. If he forced her to help, she wouldn't get a baby and she'd still be just as guilty. Either way, the Atlanteans were doomed. Rourke would not leave until they were all dead.
If she was going to be forced to help bring about the destruction of Atlantis anyway, she decided she might as well grab what was probably her last chance at true happiness.
In a very quiet voice, she said, "I'll help you."
Helga stumbled along through the tunnels leading back to Atlantis. Even when she supported herself against the wall, the pain of walking on her broken leg was almost unbearable. The tears freely flowed down her cheeks as she slowly made her way down the tunnel. If she didn't sit down soon, she was sure she was going to pass out from the pain.
Her cover story was simple. She had escaped from the volcano by hiding in a cave, which was true. The fabrication was that she had tried to find her way to the surface and had wandered the caverns for two weeks. Her return to Atlantis was supposedly the result of a wrong turn somewhere.
The plan was for the Atlanteans to take her in and care for her until she was fully healed, which was the reason why he had not tended to any of her injuries. During her stay, she was to observe and study the people, learning as much about them as possible. Every night, Rourke would contact her telepathically to hear what she had learned. He didn't think the crystal could detect such a minor exertion of his powers. From that information, he would design his ultimate revenge.
Rourke had assured her they would not kill her despite her role in their near destruction two weeks ago. They were too pacifistic for that. Secretly she hoped he was wrong and they killed her on sight. That was the only way they could save themselves from Rourke's vengeance. Because once she was in Atlantis, there was nothing she could do to help them.
Although he had assured her it was too dangerous for him, she feared that he would monitor her thoughts at all times. One wrong thought from her and there was no telling how he would react. She was taking a risk right now by hoping that the Atlanteans would kill her once they recognized her.
She was halfway down the current tunnel when she finally heard the sound of talking echoing from somewhere ahead of her. It was, not surprisingly, in Atlantean.
She came to a stop as a group of Atlanteans wearing large face masks appeared at the other end of the tunnel. She assumed they were the same type of warrior group the expedition party had encountered. They continued walking and chatting, oblivious to her presence.
Mentally crossing her fingers that they would shoot first and ask questions later when they recognized her, she called out, "Hey! Over here!" When they stopped and looked, she tentatively took a step away from the wall.
And fell heavily to the ground, bumping her head against the wall she had just abandoned.
The world once again went black.
Kida sat on the palace steps, gazing out onto the calm pool of water. She had had an incredibly hectic morning and had come here to try and find some semblance of peace. Unfortunately, all she had managed to do so far was to make things worse by thinking about the dreams. The only good thing that had happened all day was that she hadn't heard her mother's voice.
She had first heard Mahtihm's voice right before the Heart of Atlantis took her. It was her last memory before waking up in Milo's arms. Mahtihm's voice had greeted her and told her that everything was going to be all right and then she had lost consciousness. Starting the next morning, she had begun to hear the same voice almost every day, several times a day. However, the voice was so low that she could never quite make out the words. Like the dream, she had at first believed it was just her mind playing tricks on her. But, then, it hadn't stopped either...
She turned around to see Milo running excitedly towards her. She got to her feet and forced a smile onto her face. He did not need to know that she was feeling down again.
"Th-the most wonderful thing just happened!" Milo greeted her, nearly jumping up and down. "I was talking with Siunj, you know, the guy we met at-at the library, about the possibility of...starting a reading class when Nilat, that's his sister, walked by and said 'why not just start an entire school program?'. And, I thought 'what a great idea'. I mean, why just teach the people how to read? Shouldn't we teach them everything?"
She nodded solemnly, keeping the smile on her face. It was indeed a wonderful idea. A general education program was something she had always hoped to implement one day. She and Tahbtoap had always disagreed about the education of the people. Until now, she had never understood his reluctance to allow the people to learn to read and write. She knew he had known how and had often begged him to teach her, especially as a little girl. He, of course, believing he was protecting her, had refused.
"Here's what I was thinking," Milo continued, luckily oblivious to Kida's private unease. "We start small. Teach a couple of adults how to read and write. Then they can go and teach some more people until we have at least a hundred people knowing how to read and write. Once we have that, then we can start setting up schools. You know, some for the kids and some for adults who want to learn."
"Yes," Kida agreed, "I think that is the best way to go about it."
"It's going to be so great," Milo went on happily. "Can you imagine the-the things your people will be able to accomplish once they rediscover all the knowledge of their past?"
"That has always been a dream of mine," Kida told him, turning back towards the pool. "My father was wrong in keeping our past from us. I know his intentions were good, but they were misguided."
"Kida." Milo gently put his hand on her shoulder. "Is everything all right?"
She turned around and genuinely smiled at him. "I have a lot on my mind right now. That is all."
"You want to talk about it?" he asked. "When I was little and something was bothering me, Grandpa would ask me if I wanted to talk about it. I always felt better afterwards."
"I do not want to burden you with my problems," she told him. "You were so happy when you came to tell me about your plans. I want you to remain that way."
"Kida," he repeated, taking her hands. "I'm just happy being with you. I love you."
"As I love you," she told him.
"Please, tell me what's bothering you. Maybe I can help you."
Kida and Milo turned to see one of the royal guards rushing towards them from the palace.
"My queen, you must come with me immediately," the guard said.
"What is it, Pertish? What has happened?" Kida asked.
"One of the hunting parties found someone in the tunnels," Pertish told her.
"A survivor from the great battle with the surface dwellers."
Kida hurried through the palace after Pertish with Milo by her side. As horrible as it sounded, she was grateful for this turn of events because it gave her something to focus all her attention on. The dreams and the voice could be pushed aside until she was able to deal with this outsider.
At least this one will have a solution, she thought.
She was amazed to learn that anyone had survived the battle at all, especially after what Milo and the others had told her. There had been no sign of any of Rourke's men after the fight and then the lava had completely sealed off the shaft. Whoever this person was, he had somehow managed to get away either before the battle started or before the eruption occurred.
"I wonder who it is," Milo said as they turned down another hall. "Truthfully, I didn't really know that many of the people on the expedition, just the main group. And, only a couple of those bothered getting to know me. Of course, those were the ones who ended up siding with Atlantis and going home. It can only be one of Rourke's mercenaries."
"Do you think he is a coward who ran away after the battle started in hope of saving his own neck?" Kida asked. Someone like that would be very easy to deal with. All she'd have to do was banish him from Atlantis and return him to the surface. Tahbtoap would probably have selected a harsher punishment, but she was not her father. She did not like causing harm unless she had no other choice.
"Not likely," Milo told her. "From what Mr. Whitmore told me, Rourke handpicked his own team. He wouldn't have tolerated someone like that."
"Then perhaps he had a change of heart," Kida suggested hopefully. That would make the situation so much simpler. "He realized like you and your friends that taking the Heart of Atlantis was wrong and refused to help Rourke any longer."
"Maybe," Milo said, "but, if that's true, why didn't he say so back in Atlantis and side with us?"
"He may have come to this realization too late," Kida said, "but did not believe he had any way of returning to us."
"Hmm," Milo nodded, "you may have a point there."
Pertish led them to the long-deserted guest wing of the palace and urged them inside. A group of guards was gathered in front of a door. The man must be in there, Kida decided. Boptik, a hunter Kida knew very well, was with them.
"Your Majesty," he bowed when he saw her coming.
Kida, still not used to this kind of treatment, especially from friends, just nodded. "Tell me of the man you found."
"Actually, Your Highness, it is a woman," Boptik corrected.
"A woman?" Kida was stunned and turned to look at Milo. There had only been one woman among Rourke's followers.
And she would never have had a change of heart.
"No," Milo shook his head. "It can't be. She fell too far."
Milo had told Kida what had happened to Helga Sinclair, Rourke's most loyal helper. Rourke had apparently turned on her at the last minute for some unknown reason and threw her off of the strange flying vehicle in which they were escaping. Everyone who had returned from the battle had witnessed her fall. Milo had actually seen Rourke push her.
Kida returned her attention to Boptik. "Are you certain?"
"I saw her with my own eyes," Lyun, a female guard spoke up. "There is no doubt that it is a woman."
Kida turned to Milo again. "Maybe there was another woman we did not know about. So many of Rourke's followers wore those strange masks." Helga was one of the last people she ever wanted to see again.
"Let's hope so," Milo told her. "Where did you find her?" he asked Boptik.
"In the tunnel leading up to where the bridge once stood," Boptik answered. "She called out to us and then fell unconscious. When we got to her, we saw that she was badly injured and immediately brought her here. We did not know what else to do."
"You did the right thing," Kida told him. "I would have done the same if I had been in your place. Now, if you will excuse me, I would like to see her for myself."
She wanted to see for herself if it really was Helga. Like Milo, she couldn't believe that she could still be alive after such a great fall. But, if it was, this created an entire situation she was unprepared for. Helga was not nearly as bad as Rourke had been (she had not physically harmed anyone as he had), but she had assisted him in stealing the Heart of Atlantis. And she was just as dangerous.
"As you wish," Rewos, another guard answered. He moved and opened the door leading into the guest chamber.
Kida stopped to see Milo coming after her.
"I want to come too."
She nodded. Together, she and Milo entered into the room.
There, lying on the bed, still unconscious, was Helga Sinclair. She looked very different from the woman Kida remembered. Her once neatly styled hair was loose and wild. Her clothes were torn and dirty. She had cuts and bruises all over her body and it was immediately obvious that her left leg was broken. Kida could not imagine what she had been through in the last two weeks.
"I'm seeing it but I'm still not believing it," Milo quietly commented. "H-how can she still be alive? That fall should have killed her."
"I do not know, but here she is," Kida said just as softly. "We will have to ask her when she recovers."
"I wonder where she's been for all this time," Milo continued.
"She must have been wandering the caverns," Kida told him. "She was probably looking for a way back to the surface. She could not have gotten very far in her condition."
"Why did she come back here?"
Kida shrugged. "Another thing we will ask her. It is most likely because she had nowhere else to go."
"You know, seeing her like that almost makes me feel, well, sorry for her," Milo said.
Kida turned to look at him. "Why would you not? She is our enemy, yes, but she did not ask to be so badly injured. Would we not be just as heartless as she is if we did not feel any compassion for her?"
After a moment, Milo smiled at her. "And you worry that you weren't ready to be queen."
Kida could only smile back. Sweet, loving Milo. If he only knew what she had been going through lately...
"So what should we do with her?" Milo asked.
"I do not know," Kida admitted. "I know what my father would have done. He would have had her thrown out immediately without even healing her. But I cannot allow myself to be so cruel, even to someone who almost sentenced us to death."
"You're such a gentle person, Kida," Milo told her. "To not help her would go against everything you believe in. I think your father would understand that if he were still here."
"But he would not have agreed with me," Kida said softly.
Milo put his arm around her waist and pulled her close. "You're the queen now. How you deal with this is up to you."
"I know," she replied.
It was so strange to see Helga just lying there, so helpless. This was the woman who had held her back while Rourke mortally injured Tahbtoap. Kida knew she should hate her, but she could not. She just did not understand her.
Helga had seemed like such a strong woman yet she had followed Rourke's orders without question. Kida had been taught that such blind obedience was a sign of weakness. Helga had not appeared to be weak in any way. So, why did she obey as if she were?
"I will have a physician brought in to tend to her wounds," Kida finally said after a few moments of silence. "I will decide how to deal with her after she has recovered."
"Good idea," Milo agreed. He started guiding her towards the door.
She gently broke away from him and stepped out of the room first. "Pertish," she called.
The guard bowed.
"Go and fetch Eyris. Bring her here as quickly as possible," Kida told him. Eyris was the best physician in all of Atlantis. Her gentle manner and her exquisite skills set her apart from the rest. Milo had once likened her to his Doctor Sweet. She wondered what the two healers would have thought of each other if they had met.
"As Her Highness commands." Pertish rushed out of the guest wing.
Kida turned to look at the remaining group standing in front of the door. "You all may go now. Milo and I will remain until Pertish returns with Eyris."
"Do you know which of the surface dwellers she is?" Lyun asked.
"Yes," Kida told her. "Very well."
"Is it wise for us to leave you unguarded then?" she wanted to know. "If she regains consciousness while we are-"
"I do not think she poses much of a threat in her current condition," Kida cut her off. "She is too badly wounded to harm anyone. You are all dismissed."
There was a general murmur of "yes, Your Highness" as they all began to leave.
Milo came up beside her. "They might have a point there. What if she tries to hurt you after she's healed? You know from experience that she's stronger than you. I don't want anything bad to happen to you because you tried to help her."
"I do not think she will try to harm me or anyone else," Kida said. "She has no reason to. We have never done anything to her and she is all alone here.
"We are her only hope of survival."
Kida felt herself being gently shaken. She slowly opened her eyes and realized that she had fallen asleep on Milo's shoulder. It had thankfully been a dreamless sleep and she felt more rested than she had in almost two weeks.
"How long was I sleeping?" she drowsily asked him, pushing herself into a sitting position.
"A couple of hours," he told her. "You looked like you needed it. Anyway, Eyris just came out of the room."
Kida immediately sat up straight as Eyris approached them.
"Your Highness," Eyris bowed. "I have done all that is possible for the woman at this time. I have healed all her injuries and mended her broken leg. However, she is badly malnourished and weak. She needs a great deal of rest in order to fully recover.
"Other than that, she and her baby are perfectly fine."
"Baby?" Kida could hardly believe what she was hearing.
"Baby?" Milo echoed, rising from his chair. "D-did you just say 'baby'?"
"Yes," Eyris told him. "In the course of my examination, I discovered that she is pregnant. She is not very far along though. Most likely within the first two months of pregnancy since she is not showing yet. It is so early that she herself may not even be aware of her condition."
Kida stood up next to Milo. Helga was pregnant? It was a strange thought. Helga had seemed to be such a cold and uncaring person. Yet, the fact that she was with child meant that she had been, and possibly still was, in love with someone who loved her back. If she had been puzzled by this woman before, Kida was completely confused now. Who was Helga Sinclair?
"Thank you, Eyris," Kida said in her most regal manner in an effort to cover up her mixed emotions. "Your efforts are most appreciated, especially on such short notice."
"You are very welcome," the healer smiled. "I would never refuse a request from my queen. Let me know if there is anything else I can do."
"Is it all right if I went in to see her?" Kida asked.
"I do not see any harm in it," Eyris told her. "She had regained consciousness briefly, but passed out again. She was still resting quietly when I left her."
"I will not bother her," Kida promised. "I just want to see her. If she does wake up, I would like to let her know what has happened and where she is. I will wait until she is feeling better before I ask her any questions. You are free to go now if you would like."
"Thank you, my queen," the healer said. "I will return periodically to check on my patient, especially given her condition."
"Farewell, Eyris. And thank you."
Eyris bowed again and left.
"Wow," Milo commented. "Pregnant. Who would have thought? I mean, she isn't the most loving and caring of people. I wonder who the father is."
"Do you think she knows that she is with child?" Kida asked.
Milo shrugged. "Based on her behavior, I wouldn't think so, but with her, you can't be too sure. But I'm pretty sure Mr. Whitmore or Rourke didn't. They wouldn't have let her go on the expedition if they did. Rourke especially."
"I am going to go in and see her now," she told him.
"You want me to come with you?"
"No," she shook her head. "It would be better for us to see her one at a time right now. Seeing both of us at the same time might upset her."
"I'll be waiting right here if you need me," Milo promised.
"I know," she smiled. "I do not think I will be very long." She went over to the chamber door and quietly went inside.
Helga was sitting up in bed. Eyris had done a thorough job of caring for her, cleaning her up and giving her fresh clothing as well as healing her wounds. She appeared much better than she had a mere five hours ago. She looked directly at Kida when she walked in, but did not say anything.
Kida took a deep breath to calm herself. She was very nervous about being alone with this woman and was unsure of what to do.
How I wish Tahbtoap were here to guide me, she thought. Out loud, she finally said, "How are you feeling?"
Helga seemed surprised by the question. "I... I'm feeling better. Uh, thank you."
"You are welcome," Kida said. "I had our best healer tend to your injuries while you slept. She said that you will be fine."
"Are all your prisoners treated this well?" Helga asked, gesturing at her surroundings. "This looks more like a guest suite than a jail cell."
"You are correct," Kida told her. "This room is in the guest wing of the palace. A hunting party found you injured outside of the city and brought you here. You are not a prisoner."
Helga arched an eyebrow. "I'm not a prisoner? I tried to steal the life force of your entire civilization. How can I not be a prisoner?"
Helga's confusion at not being jailed puzzled Kida. Wouldn't such a bad person be thrilled by the fact that she was being treated as a guest? "You were not captured. You were brought here to be helped," she explained. "Crime is so rare here that we do not take prisoners. Lawbreakers are punished immediately."
"That's a very good policy," Helga said. "I'd suggest you follow it and tell me my punishment."
"Why are you so eager to be punished?" Kida questioned.
"Because I deserve it. I'm sure your father would agree with me." Helga chuckled. "You're a very naïve girl, Princess."
Kida looked down. "I am queen now. My father is..."
There was a pause. In an uncharacteristically soft voice, Helga said, "I'm so sorry. I didn't know."
"How could you?" Kida turned her face back to Helga and was surprised to see how remorseful the woman looked. "I was told it was because of the way Rourke... He was already so weak and... I was not there...when..." She found herself unable to finish.
Helga nodded. "I know. You don't have to explain anything to me. After all, I'm partially to blame." She looked away. "I'm sure you hate me."
"How can I hate someone I do not know?" Kida responded truthfully. "Rourke is the one I hate. He is the one who killed my father. I just do not understand how you could stand by and allow him to do so. You also helped him steal the Heart of Atlantis, which almost resulted in the death of my people. You never once questioned his actions. That is what I hate. Not you."
"I'm so sorry," Helga repeated. "I could have done something... I should have done something. But, I didn't. I could have prevented everything. It's all my fault."
"What do you mean?" Kida asked, curious. She had thought Rourke was the leader and that Helga was his assistant.
"Rourke couldn't have gotten as far as he did without my help," Helga explained. "He...needed me in order to do it and I...didn't refuse him. I wanted to...but I didn't. He promised..." Her voice trailed off.
Kida could hear incredible sadness in her voice. This was something that she had not expected. She was feeling more confused than ever. What had Rourke promised her if she helped? Was Helga really as bad as she had first believed? Or was there something that had yet to be revealed?
"What's going to happen to me?" Helga finally asked.
"I do not know yet," Kida told her. "I am going to put off making any decisions until you are completely healed. To do otherwise would not be right."
Helga looked directly at her. "Stop being so nice to me. You'd be smart to get rid of me now. There's no question of my guilt. I deserve to be punished."
"Maybe," Kida agreed, "but your baby does not."
"What did you say?" Helga demanded, eyes wide.
She does not know, Kida realized. "You are pregnant."
Helga's hands flew to her mouth as she shook her head. "No... I-I can't be. You must be mistaken."
"There is no mistake," Kida told her, wondering why she was so upset. This was news most women would have been thrilled to hear. "You are with child."
"Oh, my god," Helga whispered, turning away again. "Oh, god."
Kida came over to the bed and sat down on the edge. She reached out and placed a hand on Helga's arm. To her astonishment, she was shaking. "What is wrong? Are you not happy that you are going to be a mother?"
When Helga turned back to Kida, she saw that she was crying. Helga gave a little smile through the tears. "This is something that I have wanted for the longest time."
"Then why are you so sad?" Kida asked.
"Because the man who is the father...a man I loved more than life itself...never loved me at all," she told her.
"How do you know this?" Kida questioned her softly. She felt so sorry for this woman who was supposed to be her enemy. "Did he tell you?"
"He didn't have to," Helga said. "He made his feelings quite clear when he tried to kill me."
"Kill you?" Kida gasped. "You mean...?"
Helga nodded. "Rourke."
Kida just stared at Helga. She had been in love with Rourke and created a child with him? She couldn't believe it. She didn't want to believe it.
Yet, she knew it was true. Everything she knew about Helga made sense now. Her loyalty. Her blind obedience. This was not an evil woman. This was a woman who had been in love.
A love that had ultimately led her to heartbreak.
"I loved him so much," Helga continued as if reading Kida's thoughts. "He was my entire life. He told me he loved me and he promised... He promised..." She broke down and started sobbing.
Kida did the only thing she could. She reached out and pulled Helga into her arms as she would a child. Helga clung to her tightly and continued to cry. Kida gently stroked her hair and back to try and calm her. Her sobs were heart wrenching and made Kida want to cry along with her. Helga was hurting so deeply. What Rourke had done to this woman...
In a way, his treatment of Helga was far worse than what he'd tried to do to Atlantis. Without the Heart of Atlantis, the Atlantean people's suffering would have been short. Helga's would probably last for years. Rourke had deliberately misled her and allowed her to love him for who knew how long.
Helga finally let go of Kida and pulled away even though it was obvious she was still crying. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Do not be sorry," Kida gently admonished her. "You have every right to cry."
"Thank you," Helga told her, wiping at her tears.
"You mentioned a promise before," Kida ventured. "What did Rourke promise you?"
Helga looked down at her lap. "He promised that he'd marry me if I helped him steal the crystal."
"And that is why you did not try to stop him," Kida said, finally understanding. She reached out and took one of her hands. "You cannot blame yourself for what happened. You were only doing what you did out of love."
"Yeah and look where it got me," Helga bitterly said. "I should never have taken him back."
"Back?" Kida asked.
Helga turned her tearful gaze back up. "Maybe it would be best if I started at the beginning..."
Rourke's invasion of her mind roused her from her fitful sleep. She hadn't slept long, having spent most of the night crying. "You bastard," she whispered. "You lying bastard."
Let me guess. She could just picture the self-satisfied smirk on his face. The Atlanteans stumbled onto my little insurance policy.
When Kida had revealed to Helga that she was pregnant, she had refused to believe her at first. After all, hadn't Rourke told her only the day before that she was barren? Wasn't the only reason she had agreed to help him that he had promised to give her a baby afterwards? If she was already pregnant...
There was only one way she could possibly be pregnant: the dream had been real. Rourke had come to her. They had made love. And he had healed her in the process.
"You son-of-a-bitch," she said. "You raped me."
Raped you? he repeated in that mocking tone of his. I don't recall having to force you. If anything, you seemed to be enjoying yourself.
"You bastard," she growled. "I thought I was dreaming!" The sadness she had been feeling was very quickly being replaced by anger. "What the hell was the point of making that deal with me if you had already given me a child? You could have just forced me to help like you said you would."
As I said, it's insurance, he told her. I had no doubt what your choice would be. However, we both know very well how your conscience bothers you from time to time. This baby is my way of making sure you don't allow it to get in the way of my plans.
He didn't have to say another word. Helga already knew what he meant by that veiled threat. One mistake on her part would result in a miscarriage. Her child's survival, and probably her future ability to have children, depended on her behavior.
If she even tried to warn the Atlanteans, her sole chance at motherhood would be lost to her forever.
"You think I'd betray you after what you promised me?" she asked him angrily. "You know how much having a child means to me."
Which is exactly why a child is the perfect way to keep you in line, Rourke informed her. I knew saying "I love you" wasn't going to work anymore.
"You bastard," she spat.
There's that fire I'm so fond of, he commented. This isn't the first time I've had to resort to non-verbal means to keep you in line, you know. Words haven't always been enough to convince you to see things my way.
"What are you talking about?"
Didn't you ever think that your husband disappearing the day after I came to see you was more than a coincidence? Rourke asked.
Her whole body suddenly turned cold. Chris...
I tried everything to get you to take me back that day. At first you resisted me, proclaiming your love for your husband, he continued. But, I was eventually able to wear you down. Do you remember?
"How could I forget?" she said bitterly. "I had been stupid enough to still be in love with you."
He laughed at that. Meaning that you're still just as stupid.
"Get on with your story," she told him, a shiver passing over her. Damn him and his telepathic abilities! She had a terrible feeling she knew where this was headed.
I had almost succeeded in winning you back when your husband came home early from work and ruined everything, he told her. Your love for him was stronger than your feelings for me at the time. That made him an obstacle that had to be removed.
So I removed him.
Helga gasped, her hands covering her mouth as she shook her head. Her anger immediately turned into anguish. Oh, god. Oh, god. Chris!
After he was gone, it wasn't long before you were mine again.
No! Oh, no! The tears started falling. "Chris..." she whispered.
I'll trust you'll keep that in mind the next time you start feeling guilty about helping me, Rourke said. It only takes one thought from me and you'll be childless once again.
Helga found she couldn't speak. Her shock and anguish was too great. Chris... Oh, god.
I'll be back tomorrow night for a progress report, Rourke said. I hope you'll have something of interest for me. Then, as suddenly as he had entered her mind, he was gone.
And, then, for the first time in the thirteen years she had known him, Helga began to hate Rourke.
Audrey Ramirez awakened by a sudden pressure on her chest and a very insistent meowing. She opened her eyes to see Fluffy sitting on top of her and staring.
"Por seguro," she groaned. "I'm up. I'm up."
The little Persian nuzzled her and purred loudly. Audrey stroked her, not minding this part of the daily wake-up call at all.
"I'm sure you have me as well-trained as Milo, mi amiga," Audrey grinned.
Fluffy jumped off her human companion's chest and went to sit on the corner of the bed until Audrey was ready to feed her.
Careful not to disturb the cat, Audrey pushed aside her covers and sat up in bed. She sighed as flashes from her reoccurring dream swam through her head.
Since the day she had left Atlantis, she had been dreaming of it. Vivid images of the hidden paradise visited her every night, seemingly calling to her, beckoning her to return. These dreams were so real that sometimes she was surprised to find herself in her own bed when she woke up. She wondered why she was having them. As much as she had enjoyed the adventure of finding Atlantis, she was ready to move on with her life and put the expedition far behind her.
Her current focus was building the new garage. She and Papi had already started making plans for it. With the money she had made from selling her share of the Atlantean treasure, the garage was going to be bigger and better than either had ever dared to dream. Nothing else was important to her. Especially some annoying dream she just happened to have every night.
She climbed out of bed and made her way over to her half-opened door. She hardly closed it anymore because it was too annoying to open every time Fluffy either wanted in or out. (Having never had a pet before, adopting Fluffy had become quite a learning experience!) But, there were some things that she'd never leave it open for, and getting dressed was one of them. Fluffy wasn't going anywhere without her, anyway.
As she reached out to shut the door, Nena stuck her head in. "I'm headed over to the gym now. Tell Mami I promise to be home for dinner."
"Why can't you tell her yourself?" Audrey wanted to know.
"That's what you get for sleeping late. You never know what's going on. She's gone out somewhere with Papi this morning," Nena informed her. "They should be back soon."
"I'll tell her," Audrey promised. "Just make sure you get home when you're supposed to. Remember what happened the last time."
"¡Aye! How could I forget?" Nena groaned. "I still can't believe they grounded me like a niña. I'm in my twenties!"
Audrey laughed. "But to them, you're still a child," she pointed out.
"And I probably always will be," Nena nodded. "Even when I'm middleweight champion!" She stepped out of the doorway. "Catch you later, Aud."
"Aidíos," Audrey told her as she shut the door. She turned to Fluffy, who was watching her like a hawk. "Don't worry, hairball. I'm still taking care of you first."
Fluffy started licking herself.
Audrey shook her head and went over to her dresser to pick out her clothes for the day.
"It's still amazing, isn't it?"
Helga turned away from the window and was surprised to find Milo standing in the doorway. Although Kida had mentioned that he had stayed behind, she had never expected him to come and see her. After all, she had been Rourke's second-in-command and had done more to help him steal the crystal than anyone else. If anyone would hate her in Atlantis, it would be Milo.
She nodded at him. "A whole world exists down here." She turned back to look out the window. "And I almost helped destroy it." Which I'm doing all over again.
"Kida told me about...you and-and Rourke," Milo said quietly. "I know you didn't exactly have a choice."
Helga gave a soft laugh. So much for his hating me. "I had a choice all right. I just made the wrong one."
"I'm sure you made the only one you could," Milo reasoned.
Helga refrained from shaking her head in disbelief. Milo was just as naïve and trusting as Kida was. They were definitely a perfect match for each other.
Even though Kida had not said anything directly, it had been obvious to Helga that she had incredibly strong feelings for Milo. Whenever she had spoken of him or even just said his name, a dreamy expression would cross her face for a moment. And based on Milo's behavior in the crystal chamber, he felt the same way about her. She wondered if they'd told each other yet.
A wave of guilt and disgust came over her. Milo and Kida had a chance at the happiness she had always been denied and she was helping Rourke destroy them before they could even start a life together. And she was only going along with him because of her desperate and selfish need to have a child. What kind of monster was she becoming?
Still gazing out the window, she asked, "Where is the queen this morning?"
"She's doing, um, royal stuff," Milo told her. "I'm not exactly sure what the stuff is, but it keeps her busy until the afternoon. I never see her before then. I'm sure she'll be by to see you as soon as she's done."
"So, Mr. Thatch, what brings you to see me?" she asked.
"First of all, you can just call me Milo if you want," he said. "Everyone else does. And, secondly, the reason I came by was to, well, you know, talk."
She turned around to face him. "You want to talk to me? About what?" Oh, god, why can't he just hate me like he's supposed to? He's walking right into Rourke's trap.
He shrugged. "Anything you want, I guess. I figured that since you're going to be here awhile while you, you know, recover, that it would be nice to have someone to talk to." He made a few "you-know-what-I'm-trying-to-say" gestures while he spoke.
"I'm not much of a conversationalist. Besides, I'm sure you have better things to do," she waved him off. She sighed inwardly. Milo and Kida had a lot to learn if they were going to keep Atlantis safe. By trying to be her friend, they were only making things easier for Rourke. Damn him for being right about their peaceful ways.
"Well, I do have stuff to do, but nothing that can't be put off for a while," he informed her. "It's not like I'm doing everything alone."
Realizing that there was no way he was going to leave, she decided that she might as well get her "interrogation" of him over with. Rourke would be furious if she didn't because there was no way she could hide her encounter with Milo from him. He would be unhappy enough when he learned she had tried to discourage Milo from talking to her.
She walked away from the window and went to sit on the edge of her bed. "Tell me, what are you doing exactly?" Please don't let it be anything he can use.
Milo smiled, obviously pleased that someone was showing an interest in his work. "Well, you know how we thought all the Atlanteans couldn't read or write their own language? It turns out that a small group of them can! Right after the cataclysm, the king banned all reading and writing and wanted all the books, especially history ones, destroyed. This group of-of booklovers rescued all the books they could get their hands on and hid them in this ruined library. They've spent the last thousands of years studying these books and preserving the knowledge of the past. I'm really only just helping them share that knowledge with the rest of Atlantis."
"You're doing a wonderful thing, Milo," she truthfully told him, relaxing a bit. Rourke couldn't use this to destroy Atlantis.
"It's just something that had to be done," he said. "I can understand what the king was trying to do, but he was wrong. No people should be denied the ability to read and write."
"Does Kida agree with you?" she asked.
Milo got a look on his face that put any doubts about his feelings for Kida to rest. "Oh, yeah," he beamed. "She probably wants to read and write more badly than anyone."
"Have you started teaching her then?"
"A little," Milo told her, "but most of our time together right now is spent planning our wedding."
No, no! He did not just say that. "Your wedding?" she repeated in disbelief.
Milo's smile got even bigger. "In a month and a half," he informed her. "Kida and I can't wait."
"But...but...it's so soon," Helga managed. "You've only know each other a couple of weeks." God, this was exactly the kind of thing she had hoped not to be exposed to. Rourke would have a field day with this information when he got it out of her tonight.
"Maybe, but we're very much in love," he said. "Anyway, the reason why we're getting married then is because that day is the most important of all the Atlantean holidays: All Kings' Day. We felt that a wedding would be a great way to celebrate. The entire city will be able to attend."
The perfect opportunity for that bastard to make his move, she thought unhappily. Out loud, she said, "Then I wish you two all the happiness in the world."
"Thanks," Milo smiled. "Well, I'd better get back to the library. Siunj and the others are probably wondering where I am by now."
Forcing a smile onto her face, she said, "Thanks for stopping by. It was very...kind of you."
"No problem," he waved her off. "I'll be back either later with Kida or tomorrow morning on my own. I enjoyed talking to you."
"You're a very nice man, Milo," she told him. "You and Kida are much more forgiving than you should be."
He just smiled at her. "I'll see you. Bye!" He waved and walked out the door, unaware that he had probably just single-handedly brought about the destruction of the city he had fought so hard to save.
"Goodbye," Helga said softly after him.
Rourke had almost finished materializing a large boulder when his internal clock alerted him that it was once again time to contact Helga. The still-transparent rock disappeared as his concentration was broken.
The ability to create matter out of seemingly thin air was only one of his many new powers. He had discovered it after he had realized he could take solid form. He had figured that if he could recreate his destroyed body, he could make anything. And he had been right. After two weeks of constant practice, he could materialize inanimate objects of varying sizes, including rare and precious gems that he could sell for vast amounts of money.
This discovery answered any questions he had had about what he was going to do after he got his revenge. With the power to make unlimited amounts of gems like diamonds and emeralds, who needed a single giant crystal that was more trouble than it was worth? Without having so much as to lift a finger, he could easily become the richest man in the world. He would finally have the kind of life he had been wanting for so many years now.
He reached out with his mind towards Atlantis and located Helga. She was still somewhere inside the palace and was once again sleeping. Before waking her, he decided that he would do a mind sweep as he had done last night. It was a way of making sure she didn't try to hide anything from him, though he didn't think she would, given the consequences. Helga was not willing to lose her baby.
Last night's sweep had revealed that she had practically begged the queen to punish her after she had regained consciousness. She had been desperately looking for a way out of helping him destroy Atlantis, which he found amusing. Of course, this was before she learned of her "condition". Fortunately for her, the queen was too kind-hearted to do anything of the sort and had said as much to Helga.
He hadn't seen the need to bring up her near-insubordination when he had spoken with her. He had felt that telling her what would happen to her baby if she disobeyed him from that point forward had been enough. He didn't think there would be any further problems. He touched her mind and immediately became aware of an intense hatred. Not unexpectedly, it was aimed towards him. He knew it was a result of the "revelations" of last night. Any love she had still felt for him had been obliterated upon learning that he was the killer of Christopher Jenkins.
He had known from the moment he discovered that she had survived the fall that their "relationship" was going to be drastically different. Controlling her was no longer a simple matter of saying "I love you." She finally knew that he didn't love her and never had. It was for that very reason that he had had to resort to a new method of control.
He thought using a baby to keep her in line was particularly brilliant on his part. Her desire to be a mother was so strong that she wouldn't dare risk losing this child. The need to carry the baby to full term outweighed any moral objections to helping him destroy Atlantis. He knew he had nothing to worry about.
It was pure luck that she had been born barren. Until he had learned this fact, he had never really thought about the possibility of conceiving a child with her. To him, sex was sex. He had had so many different partners over the years, mostly one night stands, that he probably had many children already. He had just considered himself lucky that Helga had never gotten pregnant. Convincing her to get an abortion would have been a hassle.
Truthfully, the fact that she wanted to be a mother so badly surprised him. The only thing she had discussed with him was marriage. Children were usually just a natural extension of that. But, Helga wanted a child more than she wanted to get married. She had felt this way long before she had even met him.
He reached out and touched the growing child. At nearly two weeks, it was still barely more than a cluster of cells. But in nine months, if Helga behaved herself, she would have a healthy baby. The first of many if she came with him willingly after he finished here.
He turned his attention back to her mind, looking for anything of interest. She had been kept in the room again, isolated from Atlantis itself, her only contact in the form of a physician, servants, the queen, and...
Thatch. Thatch had been to see her today. And he had told her a very interesting piece of information: he and the queen were getting married. And their wedding date was set for the, according to Thatch himself, the most important of all Atlantean holidays.
Perfect, he commented silently.
Helga had known that this was exactly the type of information he was looking for and dreaded telling him about it. She knew telling him would mean the end of Atlantis. But he knew she'd tell him. She wanted that baby too badly.
Helga, he called into her mind.
She was jarred out of her sleep. "Is it time already?" He felt her distress. She had been dreading this moment every since Thatch had revealed his wedding plans.
Did you learn anything today? he asked.
There was a pause as she thought about what to do. She felt incredibly guilty about telling him what she knew. Thatch, the queen, and all the Atlanteans she had encountered were treating her with kindness. Rourke could tell she was starting to get attached and was desperately fighting against it. She didn't want to befriend them. She wanted her baby.
"Milo and Kida are getting married," she finally said. "In a month and a half."
Excellent work, he told her, smiling to himself. A royal wedding is a perfect target. No one would be expecting an attack that day. Anything else?
"Yes," she said quietly. "The wedding is being held on something called 'All Kings' Day'. It's the most important of their holidays. Milo mentioned that the whole city would be attending the ceremony."
I think you've just given me everything I need to know, he told her. He sensed her unhappiness at his words. She had just signed Atlantis' death warrant and the guilt was consuming her.
"I'm sure I have," she whispered sadly. Thoughts of her little Atlantean companions crossed her mind. "What do you want me to do now?"
Continue learning as much as you can about the wedding and the holiday it falls on, he instructed her. I don't want to leave anything to chance.
He heard her make nasty remarks about him in her mind. As always, they amused him. She could call him as many names as she liked but it changed nothing. She would not defy him as long as her baby's life was at stake. She was, as always, under his control. He decided it was time to remind her of it.
I know you're becoming fond of Thatch and his queen, he said. I hope you don't let those feelings get in the way of what's really important to you.
She once again silently called him a "bastard" before speaking out loud. "You have nothing to worry about, Rourke."
Good, he told her. Let's make sure it stays that way. Until tomorrow.
She said nothing, her hatred flaring.
He pulled back from her mind. It had been a satisfying conversation. He would have his revenge sooner than he hoped.
And then he could leave this hell hole forever and begin the kind of life he so richly deserved.
Kida stood at the edge of the market place and turned to look behind her. Helga, an uneasy expression on her face, was hanging back.
"Come on," Kida smiled. "You will enjoy yourself."
"I don't know about this," Helga said. "I'm not really comfortable about being out in public. I'm not exactly someone your people want to see again."
"Do not worry about that," Kida told her. "As long as you remain in Atlantis, you are under my protection. If anyone questions my decision, I will tell them the truth. You are not responsible for what happened."
"But I'm just as guilty as if I had been." Helga sighed. "I could have stopped him," she said softly. "But I didn't."
Kida went over and placed a hand on her arm. These were words Helga had spoken too often this past week. She was full of guilt and remorse for her part in Rourke's attempt to steal the Heart of Atlantis. She felt that everything that had happened was her fault, which, of course, it wasn't. She had only acted out of love for Rourke.
In a way, Helga reminded her of her father. Tahbtoap had also blamed himself for something that wasn't entirely his fault. He had believed that he was solely responsible for the Great Flood and he had pushed everyone away because of it. Because he loved her so much and wanted to protect her, he had kept the truth hidden from her all of her life. She had always known that he was sad, but never why.
Helga also tried to push everyone away. Kida found it very difficult to get her to open up the way she had that first night when she had been shocked after learning of her pregnancy. She had been hurt so badly by Rourke that she was afraid to trust anyone. She also felt that she did not deserve any compassion from anyone, especially Kida.
Kida was determined to become Helga's friend. She wanted to show her that not everyone was going to hurt her as Rourke had and that she was not to blame for her actions. She was not a bad person. No one as capable of that much love could be. Kida wanted her to understand that.
"You loved him," Kida told her gently. "You only wanted to make him happy. There is nothing wrong with that." She smiled and took her by the arm. "Now, come. I have many places I want to show you."
Helga gave a small smile as Kida pulled her. "Lead the way."
Kida dragged Helga into the bustling market place before letting go of her arm. A few of the passer-bys smiled and waved at Kida as she looked around. She returned the greetings and sent some of her own.
One thing that had not changed since taking her father's throne was the way her people treated her. It was something for which she was immensely grateful. Kida did not think she could have handled it if they had started acting differently around her. It was difficult enough being addressed as "my queen". She liked being thought of and treated as a part of regular society. It was how she had grown up.
"That's amazing," Helga suddenly commented as they walked.
"What is?" Kida asked as she smiled at a little girl who was hiding behind her mother.
"That," Helga gestured. "The way your people all know and love you. It shows what a wonderful queen you are."
If only that were so, Kida thought. She knew Helga was only trying to be nice and give her a compliment. Helga had no way of knowing that she had grown up walking among her people and that they already knew and liked her. It had nothing to do with the kind of ruler she was.
Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a bench between two vendor stalls. An idea occurred to her. If she wanted Helga to learn to trust her, Kida needed to confide in Helga. Telling her her misgivings about her new role as queen was an excellent way to do so.
"Come. Let us sit for a moment," Kida said, motioning for Helga to follow her.
Helga just nodded and followed.
Once they were sitting, Kida began by saying, "I am going to tell you something that you must repeat to no one."
Helga looked shocked at the idea. "Me? Why me?"
"Because you are an outsider and you know nothing of our ways," Kida explained.
"I'd think that would make me the worst person to tell," Helga said. "I'm sure Milo would be better. He may know your ways, but he's still an outsider."
"No," Kida shook her head. "Milo is the one person I cannot bear to tell. He is already worried enough about me as it is. He suspects, but I have not shared my concerns with him."
"Yeah, now that I think about it, he did mention the other day that he thought something was bothering you," Helga nodded. "He was upset that you hadn't confided in him."
"I am afraid that if I told him that he would be distracted from his work, which I know he loves so much. I do not want to take him away from that, not even for my sake," Kida told her.
"That does seem to be all he wants to talk about," Helga commented. "But I'm sure he's more concerned about you, Kida. He loves you very much. You should tell him, whatever it is."
"And that is why I cannot," Kida stressed. "I do not want his love for me to keep him away from what makes him happy."
Helga sighed. "All right. What is this big secret you want kept from Milo and everyone else?"
"I do not think I am a good queen," Kida confessed.
"What?" Helga asked, sounding completely surprised. "That's it? That's your big secret? You don't think you're a good queen?"
"Yes," Kida told her. She knew Helga thought she was a good queen, as most people apparently did. Her disbelief of Kida's feelings of incompetence were not unexpected.
But, then, something unexpected did happen. Helga started laughing. And not just any laugh. It was a deep and hearty laughter that, under any other circumstance, Kida would have been incredibly happy to hear from Helga. But now? When she had just revealed a troubling secret?
"Why are you laughing?" Kida demanded, feeling hurt. This was something that had been bothering her terribly. How could Helga find it funny? "Tell me!"
After a few moments, Helga stopped laughing. Then she gave Kida such a warm smile that she knew Helga was not making fun of her feelings. "Oh, Kida," she shook her head. "Do you know how ridiculous you're being when you say something like that?"
"I mean what I say," Kida told her. "I am not a good queen. No one seems to see this but me. Milo and my people, even you, believe I am fine as a ruler. But I am not." She looked down. "I know I am not."
"Hey," Helga said. "Look at me."
"What makes you so sure that you aren't a good queen?" she asked. "From what I've seen, I can't think of anyone who could do a better job. You're kind and compassionate. You care about your people and want what's best for them. They know that and they love you for it. I've only known you a week and even I can see it. Atlantis is lucky to have you.
"And so is Milo."
Kida smiled at the mention of Milo's name. She was so moved by Helga's words that she herself could not speak. This surprised her more than the laughter had. She had had no idea that Helga thought so highly of her.
"He's so worried about you," Helga continued. "He'll be relieved to know that this is all that's been bothering you."
If only it were, Kida silently sighed.
"And he'll tell you exactly what I just did," Helga finished. "I think any of your people would. As I mentioned before, they love you. If you weren't a competent ruler, I think they'd let you know it."
"Thank you," she finally managed, "but you do not understand. There is no one else to take the throne. I am all that is left of the royal family. And the reason that my people are fond of me is because I have spent my life walking among them. They know I consider myself one of them."
"I don't think that would make any difference if you weren't a good leader," Helga told her. "Where I come from, it doesn't matter if you are the last or first member of a royal family. If the people don't approve of you, you're gone. Wars have been fought to get terrible rulers off the throne."
"Atlantis is different," Kida pointed out. "The royal bloodline cannot change. The Heart of Atlantis is tied to my family. Any future ruler must be born of my body."
"I don't buy it," Helga told her, "but I'm not going to argue with your traditions. I still say your people would tell you if they weren't happy with your rule. Anyway, you never answered my question. Why don't you think you're a good queen?"
"Where to begin," Kida said. "There are so many reasons."
"Just give me one," Helga ordered her.
"All right," Kida said, "I was not given proper instruction on how to be queen."
"Not good enough," Helga let her know, folding her arms. "You can't learn how to be a good ruler. Try again."
"I am too young," Kida said.
Helga raised an eyebrow. "Where I come from, there have been many kings much, much younger than you. Relatively speaking, of course. So far you haven't proved anything other than that you're experiencing perfectly normal jitters."
"Jitters?" Kida asked. "I am unfamiliar with this word."
"It means you're nervous," Helga told her. "You told me you weren't ready to be queen and that you're still pretty young. I don't know how aging works here in Atlantis, but am I right in assuming that your father wasn't as old as he looked?"
"Tahbtoap had not been well since the Great Cataclysm," Kida nodded. "He could have lived many more centuries had he not been sick."
"There you go right there," Helga said. "Neither of you had any idea that you would be forced to assume the throne so soon. Both of you thought you'd have more time. He was probably waiting until you were...an adult?"
"I have been a woman for many centuries now," Kida corrected. "My first bleeding time occurred shortly after my twelfth birthday. I was declared an adult on that day.
"I do not know when Tahbtoap planned on teaching me about being queen. He would often tell me that I would understand things when I was queen, but that would be all."
"I think you're doing very well for someone who thinks she doesn't know what she's doing," Helga told her. "You have no reason to doubt yourself, Kida. I mean, look how you handled the situation with me. A bad queen would have panicked and not known what to do with me. You didn't. I still don't agree with what you did, but you did something. That right there is the sign of a strong ruler."
Kida was so touched and happy at the same time. She was touched by Helga's words of encouragement and support. And she was happy that Helga was finally showing emotions other than guilt or sorrow. She was finally starting to get through to her.
For a moment she considered telling Helga about the dreams and the voice but immediately decided against it. It was too much for one day. Although Helga was showing signs of considering her a friend, she had yet to open up and prove she trusted her. Telling her that she was having a reoccurring nightmare and hearing a voice would probably cause her to pull away again. She couldn't risk the small progress she had made today.
"Maybe you are right," Kida finally said. "It is possible that I am only nervous about my new role as queen. I had not considered that."
"Instead you just beat up on yourself," Helga told her. "Talk to Milo about it. He can probably help you through it better than I can. I was never one for giving advice." She gave a small bitter laugh. "I was always better at taking it."
Kida realized that Helga was thinking about Rourke again and that she was getting upset. She decided it was time to return to their tour of the market place. They had done enough talking for one day. "Let us get back to the market place. Eyris will be angry if I keep you out too long."
Helga seemed to understand what she was doing and smiled again. "We can't have that. Where to first?"
Kida stood up and pointed towards a stand filled with beautiful woven fabrics. "There."
Preston Whitmore sat in his dim study, his face illuminated by the bright blue glow of the crystal pendant he held in his hand. In the three weeks he had had this piece of jewelry in his possession, strange things had begun to happen. Could this seemingly innocent object be the cause as he had started to suspect? This was exactly what he hoped to find out as soon as his guests arrived.
As if on cue, he heard the motor of his private elevator engage. He glanced at the nearest clock. They were right on time. Replacing the pendant around his neck, Whitmore got to his feet and moved to greet his guests.
The elevator arrived and the gate was pushed open. Out of the cramped car stepped the six returning members of the Atlantis expedition crew: Dr. Joshua Sweet, Audrey Ramirez, Gaetan Molière, Jebidiah Farnsworth, Vincenzo Santorini, and Wilhelmina Packard.
"Thank you all for coming," Whitmore greeted them. "I'm sorry it was such short notice, but this was a matter that couldn't wait."
"No problem, Mr. Whitmore," Sweet told him. "Though I have to say your note was kinda vague."
"It was the only way I was sure I could get you all here so quickly," Whitmore explained. He gestured towards the row of chairs he had had set up. "Please. Have a seat and I'll explain everything."
There was a general murmur among the group as they moved to sit down.
Wilhelmina removed her cigarette from her mouth. "All right, old man. Why are we here?"
Whitmore smiled. "Willy, old girl, your directness never ceases to amaze me." What had started as a joking flirtation between them many years ago had blossomed into a strong friendship. They had given each other those nicknames upon their first meeting and they had stuck.
She gave a dry chuckle. "I'd think you'd be used to it by now." She resumed smoking her ever-present cigarette.
Smoking was a habit Whitmore disapproved of, but he had learned the hard way that there was no way he could ever get her to quit. He and Curtis, her most recent husband, had once joked about the drastic measures they would take to break her of it. This was after they had both tried numerous conventional ways that had all failed miserably. They had even begun to refer to her as the "Living Chimney" behind her back right before Curtis died.
"All right," he said. "Let's get down to business. I'm going to ask you something and no matter how strange the question seems, I want you to answer me honestly. Since you received your crystals, have there been any, how should I put this, odd occurrences in your lives?"
"That depends," Santorini said. "What do you mean by 'odd', exactly?"
"Well," Whitmore started, "have any of you been having dreams about Atlantis?"
The look of surprise on everyone's face confirmed it for Whitmore. He was relieved to know that he was not the only one.
"Yeah," Audrey spoke up, "every night. They started the night I got my crystal. I've never had anything like them before. They're so real."
"Me too," Farnsworth said. "Ain't had a decent dream in weeks. It's getting to be dang right annoying!"
"Same with me," Santorini added. "Yeah, I'd have to say that pretty much falls under 'odd'. 'Specially since I used to dream about, you know, explosions, dynamite...selling flowers."
"How about the rest of you?" Whitmore asked.
"Oui," Molière agreed. "I miss my old dreams."
Wilhelmina and Sweet just nodded.
"Anything else? Have you noticed any differences in your health?" Whitmore continued.
"I think I know where you're going with this," Sweet said. "Have you had any tests done?"
"Several, in fact," Whitmore told him. "My doctors are baffled."
"Yeah, so am I," Sweet agreed. "I ran some on myself, but I ended up getting a colleague to redo them because of the results. As impossible as it seems, he got the same results."
"You mind repeating that for us ignorant laymen?" Wilhelmina asked.
"Our bodies appear to be...getting younger," Sweet told her. "The normal wear and tear of aging seems to be disappearing."
"That is absurd," Molière declared. "How is that even possible?"
"Well, I have noticed that my bones don't ache so much as they used to," Farnsworth put in. "An' I have more spirit than I've had in years."
"I think it has something to do with the natural healing properties of the crystals," Sweet continued. "It may be the reason why the Atlanteans live such long lives. The combined energies of the main crystal and the personal shards must continuously heal their bodies."
"Shouldn't they live forever then?" Audrey asked.
"Theoretically," Sweet answered, "but there are some things even constant healing can't repair entirely."
"So what's exactly happening to us, eh?" Santorini wanted to know. "Are we turning into Atlanteans?"
"I wouldn't say we were turning into Atlanteans," Sweet corrected, "but the crystals are healing us as they would any other wearer."
"What about the dreams?" Whitmore asked him. "Could they be an effect of the healing?"
"I wouldn't think so, but, then again, I don't know anything about the crystals themselves," Sweet said. "Everything I just told you is guesses based on the evidence."
"Do you think the Atlanteans would know?" Whitmore continued.
"I honestly have no idea," Sweet admitted. "Their knowledge of their past and culture is very limited. But if they can tell us anything, it would be worth the trip."
"Then that's what we need to do," Whitmore decided. "Are you all willing to go back to Atlantis?"
"Look, the reverse aging I can live with, but the dreams have got to go," Wilhelmina told him. "I'm in."
Santorini looked around at the others before returning his gaze to Whitmore. "I think it would be safe to say that we're all in."
"Excellent," Whitmore announced. "I suggest we all get a good night's sleep. You'll find your old rooms prepared for you. We have a lot of work to do before we can even think of leaving."
"Wait a second, old man," Wilhelmina spoke up. "What do you mean 'we'?" She took yet another drag of her cigarette. "Are you telling us you're going too?"
"Of course," he told her. "I can't take the chance that the cure for these reoccurring dreams can only be found in Atlantis. I need to be there."
"Are you sure you're up to the trip?" Sweet asked. "You haven't gone on an expedition in years."
Whitmore waved him off. "This isn't much of an expedition and you know it. We know exactly where we're going and how to get there.
"The hard part will begin after we reach Atlantis."
Helga was about to walk up to the doors of the huge Atlantean library when it occurred to her that she hadn't considered how Rourke would react when he found out about this.
Oh, god, what am I doing? she asked herself.
She turned around and searched for a place to sit and think. She spotted a bench across the square and quickly made her way towards it. As she walked, several Atlanteans smiled and nodded as she passed by. She absently returned the gestures, her mind preoccupied with more important things. The kindness of the Atlanteans was something she had begun to take for granted after living among them for three weeks. She reached the bench and sat down.
She gazed up at the library. As much as she wanted to go in there and make her offer to Milo, she was terrified of what Rourke would say and do if she did. Although she was not revealing his plans or her role in them, it would still be an act of disobedience. To go through with this one act would mean that she had broken a cardinal rule of espionage.
From the very beginning, Rourke had constantly drilled into her that it was forbidden to allow herself to become attached to her targets. She was to keep all relationships strictly business, especially ones in which she might have had to terminate the person if he or she learned the truth of her mission. If you care about your target, he had repeatedly told her, it may become too difficult to do what you have to do. And, until now, that had never been a problem for her. Her desire to protect herself from being hurt again had always made it easy to keep people at a distance. Her cold persona had turned most people off.
The Atlanteans, however, were not most people. They had seen right through her and had embraced her for who she really was. Their total acceptance of her, despite what she had almost done to them, had taken her completely by surprise. And it had ultimately made keeping them at arm's length impossible.
She had tried so hard to remain unattached. She had attempted to use sarcasm and aloofness when dealing with Kida, Milo, and the other Atlanteans who had visited her on a regular basis that first week. But, it hadn't made a difference. They had been determined to befriend her. No one more than Kida. And, in the end, that determination had won out and Helga had stopped fighting the inevitable.
There were only two other people who had been able to wear her down as the Atlanteans had. And one of them was now dead, killed by the other.
It hurt so much to think of him, especially now that she knew the truth behind his disappearance. She had loved him so much. Chris had probably been the best thing that ever happened to her. She treasured the memory of their time together, including their final kiss goodbye as he left for work that fateful morning. And now he was gone, cruelly taken from her by the one man she thought she would love forever...
Chris' death was all her fault. Rourke had only killed him because she hadn't willingly come back to him and knew she wouldn't as long as Chris was alive. So, he had murdered him and then waited just the right amount of time before making his move. And, true to form, she came running back to him at the first offer of comfort and caring.
Rourke had brilliantly played the part of the concerned friend. She had fallen for his act hook, line, and sinker. He knew her as well as, possibly better than, she knew herself and knew exactly how to manipulate her. He had used that knowledge to control her, both directly and indirectly, for the entire thirteen years of their relationship. Just like he was still controlling her now...
A hand went to her still-flat abdomen.
It only takes one thought from me...
She was sure he already knew how she felt about the Atlanteans. For the past two weeks, he had been dropping hints that he did, constantly reminding her of what would happen if she did anything to disobey him. That was why she was so afraid to do this one simple thing. She didn't want to lose her baby.
As she had repeatedly told herself, this was her only chance to have a child. Rourke had given her two choices and she had taken the one that would allow her to salvage some scrap of happiness from this horrible tragedy. He had made it very clear she was going to help him no matter what. But as much as she hated herself for going along willingly with his plan, she wanted this baby so badly.
Yet, at the same time, she wanted to help the Atlanteans in any way she could. She could not begin to describe the guilt she was feeling over her role in their imminent destruction. They had been so kind to her and she felt like she owed them so much. She wanted to do something, anything, to show her appreciation.
During his daily visits with her, Milo had begun to lay out his education plan for Atlantis. He had explained how he wanted to start by teaching small groups of adults. Helga knew Milo had supplemented his income by doing some tutoring on the side, but, if his lecture on the Ulysses was any indication, she doubted he was a good enough teacher to pull this off by himself. And since she was positive that there wasn't one teacher to be found in Atlantis, Milo was not going to get anywhere without the help of an experienced teacher. Namely her.
She was a good teacher and a fast learner. Milo could quickly teach her the basics of the Atlantean language, both written and spoken, and she could help him begin to pass the knowledge on. It wasn't much, but it was probably the most she could ever hope to do for the Atlantean people. She knew they'd be grateful for the help, especially Milo. Teaching her would save him a lot of time in the long run. Time, unfortunately, that he didn't have anyway.
The rapidly approaching date of Rourke's attack made helping the Atlanteans try to recover their lost knowledge seem futile. They weren't going to have the opportunity to use it. He was going to utterly destroy them and the city. After he was finished, if she went through with this plan of hers, she would be the only person left with the knowledge of how to read, write, and speak Atlantean...
Why should he care then anyway? she decided. I wouldn't be doing anything to endanger his plan. He knows I won't risk my baby.
Her mind once again made up, she rose to her feet and headed back towards the library. When she reached the doors, she didn't hesitate and went in.
The interior of the library's main entrance was dim. Helga found herself standing in what appeared to be a large hallway. Several sets of doors could be seen all along the walls. Directly ahead and high up on the wall, a walkway could be seen. The walkway's back wall was covered with bookcases full of books and scrolls. There was not a single Atlantean in sight.
Knowing she'd never find Milo on her own in this place, she called out, "Hello? Is anyone here?"
There was a flash of movement above her head as someone peeked out from one of the walkway's doors and disappeared back inside.
At least they know I'm here, she thought.
A few moments later, one of the many sets of doors opened and an Atlantean woman came out.
"Greetings," she spoke as she approached. "I am Nilat. How can I help you?"
"I'm looking for Milo," Helga told her. "I've been told I can find him here."
"When is he not here?" Nilat commented. "That is one of the things you will learn very quickly if you choose to stay in Atlantis. He is our future king and he loves books more than we librarians do." She started walking and gestured for Helga to follow while still talking. "The only time he leaves is when he knows the queen is not busy..."
Helga silently noted the "if you choose to stay in Atlantis". She had been hearing those words a lot these past two weeks. Mostly, of course, from Milo and Kida, but from various other Atlanteans she had become acquainted with as well.
Nilat continued chatting as she led Helga through a hallway and up two flights of stairs. Helga had never met anyone who talked so much in her life. Until now, she had thought Milo was the worst. Nilat's simple conversation put Milo's ramblings to shame.
Despite her endless one-sided conversational skills, Helga found Nilat to be very likable, just like every other Atlantean she had met. It became obvious quickly that she was extremely opinionated as well, however, as she had a take on anything and everything. Helga was sure no one could win an argument with her. That is, if she stopped talking long enough for anyone to get a word in edgewise!
"...anyway, here is where the future king himself spends most of his days," Nilat said as she led Helga into yet another book-filled room. "Hey, Future King! You have a visitor!" she called out.
After hearing Nilat repeatedly refer to Milo only as "future king", Helga took it to mean that was her nickname for him.
There was the sound of falling books from somewhere deeper in the room.
Nilat snickered. "Never fails. He is always startled when someone either calls out for him or comes up behind him. Very predictable, our future king is."
"I'm okay!" Milo's cheery voice called. "Let me just..." There was the sound of grunts as he picked up what he had dropped and/or knocked over. "...take care of this. I'll be right there. Don't go away!"
"I'm not going anywhere," Helga said, letting him know who his visitor was.
"Helga?" There was another bump. "W-what brings you to the library?"
"I have another intriguing proposition for you," she said, smiling to herself at the private joke.
"One I'm sure you'll be very, very interested in."
Good night, Rourke told Helga as he ended his nightly visit.
He could still sense her utter surprise that he had not mentioned her small "transgression". She had spent the entire day worried that he'd be angry with her because of it. Instead, he had chosen not to say anything at all.
"Good night," she answered back. He could feel her relax tremendously now that the conversation was over and she prepared to go back to sleep.
His reasoning for remaining silent about her arrangement with Thatch was simple: he did not care what she did with her time as long as she did not reveal his plans. If helping the Atlanteans learn to read and write eased her guilty conscience some, then she could help them to her heart's content. The less conflicted she felt, the better.
Helga had put herself in a very difficult position by allowing herself to develop feelings for the Atlanteans. While she had always wanted to save the Atlanteans just because it was "the right thing" to do, she now considered them her friends. She cared about them deeply and was so incredibly guilty about her role in their upcoming destruction. But, she knew that if she did anything to prevent the attack, she would lose her baby, which she wanted more than anything. She was completely torn, but he wasn't at all worried.
There was no doubt which one she'd chose in the end.
Whitmore stared in wonder as Atlantis came into view through the truck window. He still couldn't believe that he was actually here. The mythical city that Thaddeus had spoken endlessly of really existed. How unfortunate Thaddeus himself couldn't be here to see it. He would have given anything to have his friend beside him at this very moment.
"So what do you think, Mr. Whitmore?" Audrey asked as she slowly drove behind the Atlantean procession as they crossed the rebuilt bridge.
"I couldn't even begin to tell you," he admitted.
"Yep, that's exactly how we felt when we first saw it too," Sweet commented from the back seat. "It's not every day that you find out a legend is true! Kind of a shock, if you know what I mean."
"It's such a pity Thaddeus didn't live to see this," Whitmore said. "I can just imagine how excited he would have been."
"He couldn't have been any worse than the kid," Wilhelmina offered from her spot between Whitmore and Audrey. "He was bad enough when he found that book."
"I remember Rourke lookin' like he wanted to smack him upside the head," Farnsworth put in. "Old Thaddeus was jumpin' around like some critter with its tail on fire. Darn near drove Rourke off the deep end!"
Whitmore shook his head at the mention of Rourke. How he had misjudged that man. Who could have known that he was such a master manipulator? Thaddeus had trusted him with his life and had insisted he was the only one who could help him find the Journal. What a mistake that had turned out to be.
He had been shocked to learn of Rourke's scheme to sell the crystal pictured in the Journal. Sweet and the others had told him upon their return from the first expedition and admitted that they had been part of it all along. He had been disappointed, believing them to be of much higher moral character, which they had ultimately proved to be when push came to shove. But the fact that they had even considered it saddened him. It would have destroyed Thaddeus.
Thaddeus' dream had been to reveal Atlantis' existence to the world, not exploit its riches. He had believed that artifacts belonged in museums where they could be shared with the public. He had always criticized Whitmore for his private collection, but he had known that he wasn't trying to keep it from the world. He had known that Whitmore was actually fascinated by them and never let the issue get in the way of their friendship.
As their small convoy crossed the bridge, Whitmore was finally able to see the city up close. It was exactly as it had appeared in his dreams.
"It'll be nice to see Milo again," Audrey said.
"And Kida too," Molière spoke up.
"Don't tell me you still got a thing for her?" Sweet asked. "After the way she slugged you?"
"It was a love tap," Molière insisted.
"I hate to burst your bubble, but you do know that she's in love with Milo, right?" Santorini wanted to know.
Molière made a sound. "She will come around."
Whitmore chuckled. Molière's infatuation with the queen had become a running joke among the crew.
He was very much looking forward to meeting the woman who had won Milo's heart. Thaddeus had often despaired that Milo would never find anyone to share his life with. Thaddeus' wife, Mildred, had died two years before Milo had been born and then the boy's parents, Thaddeus' son, Augustus, and his lovely wife Lucille, had been killed in that awful accident. Thaddeus had feared that Milo would have no one after he was gone. Especially after Milo's disastrous relationship with that older woman.
Milo had become infatuated with an artist by the name of Lisa McGrath. She had been commissioned by the Smithsonian board of directors to do paintings of some of the major exhibits. She had also happened to be absolutely gorgeous and was one of those women who made sure all the men around her knew it. Thaddeus had disliked her right away, but Milo had found himself under her spell.
Miss McGrath, who had been more than ten years older than the then twenty-two-year-old Milo, had noticed his attraction and started pursuing him. Thaddeus had come to Whitmore every night bemoaning the situation. He had known what Miss McGrath had wanted from his grandson and it wasn't platonic. Whitmore had told him that Milo was a smart boy and wouldn't do anything he would later regret. And, to his own and Thaddeus' relief, he had been right.
When Miss McGrath had made her true intentions known, Milo had turned her down flat. Thaddeus had instilled strong morals in the boy. Of course, he had been completely heartbroken, believing Lisa had loved him. She had been his first "love". And, until now, he had never been with another woman.
He knew Kida had to be an extraordinary woman.
The Atlantean hunting party that had found them in the caves and had led them into the city came to a halt in front of their truck. Audrey stopped their vehicle.
"We're back," she announced. "Let's hope we didn't come all this way for nothing."
One of the hunters, who had introduced himself as Dajink, came around to the side of the truck.
"The queen knows that you are here. She and Milo are on their way now."
"Thank you," Whitmore told him. He opened the passenger door and got out of the truck. He turned around and helped Wilhelmina exit the vehicle. "Amazing," he said as he looked around.
"Wait until you see the market," Audrey said. "That's really the heart of this city."
"I want to see it all," Whitmore assured her, "but one thing at a time. We've come all this way for a specific reason."
"Yeah, to get rid of those damn dreams," Wilhelmina said as she lit up her first cigarette in hours.
"Hey, heads up," Sweet said. "Here comes Milo!"
"Guys!" came Milo's excited voice as he raced over. "Guys!"
Whitmore couldn't help but smile as he saw Milo happily run towards them. The boy looked so much like Thaddeus in this moment. His old friend would have been so proud.
"Guys, it's-" Milo came to a stop in front of them. His eyes widened. "Mr. Whitmore?"
"It's good to see you too, my boy," Whitmore greeted him with a hug.
"Oh, wow!" Milo grinned as he pulled out of the hug. "I never thought I'd see you again, Mr. Whitmore. I can't wait for you to meet Kida!"
"Where is our favorite Atlantean queen?" Sweet asked as he came over and grabbed Milo into another hug.
"S-she's coming," Milo promised as he gasped for breath. After Sweet set him down, he said, "she's still in the palace this time of day."
"And why aren't you with her?" Sweet mock-accused.
"Well, you know," Milo started to say.
"It is because we each have our own duties to attend to," an accented voice spoke up from behind them.
Whitmore turned to see Queen Kida standing there with a wide smile on her lips. "Milo has started an education program that will enable all Atlantis to read once again."
He could immediately see why Milo had fallen in love with her. Besides her exotic beauty, she gave off an aura of sweetness and goodness, very much like Milo. He knew just by looking at her that she was destined to be with Milo.
"Hello, Your Highness," Whitmore bowed. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you. I have heard many wonderful things about you."
"Kida, this is Mr. Whitmore, Grandpa's friend," Milo introduced him. "He's the one who gave me the Journal. Without his help, I would never have found Atlantis."
"Then I am forever in your debt," Kida said, bowing to Whitmore, "for you are the one who sent Milo to me."
"You guys picked the perfect time to visit," Milo spoke up. "Kida and I are getting married!"
"Congratulations, my boy!" Whitmore smiled. If only Thaddeus could have lived to see this day.
"Didn't want to waste any more time, eh?" Santorini questioned.
Audrey elbowed him in the ribs. "That's so wonderful! When's the wedding?"
"In one week," Kida said. "You must stay."
"You bet we will," Sweet promised. "I have a feeling this is going to be a once in a lifetime experience."
"What made you guys decide to visit anyway?" Milo wanted to know.
Whitmore felt bad for having to ruin the joyous mood, but it had to be done. Milo and Kida needed to know the true purpose behind their visit. It was unfair to allow them to believe that this was only a social call.
"We've come for your help."
Helga stood in front of her class, a chart of the Atlantean alphabet tacked up on a tree. Her ten students sat on the ground, watching her attentively.
In all her years of teaching, she had never had a group of students as eager to learn as the Atlanteans. They came to class every day, ready for whatever she was going to throw at them. It didn't matter what she did, nothing discouraged them. If they couldn't grasp a concept at first, they kept trying until they did get it. They were an absolute joy to teach.
"All right," she said, removing the chart to reveal another one beneath it, "I think it's time to try to put together some of the things we've been learning." The new chart had five very simple sentences in Atlantean on it. "Take a few minutes to study these sentences. I'll be calling on volunteers to read them out loud."
She observed as the students gathered together and started attempting to voice the written words. They were progressing much more rapidly than she and Milo had thought. If she wasn't careful, they'd catch up to where she was in her own studies and then she wouldn't know what to do.
Milo had given her lessons for one week before allowing her to start teaching a group of Atlanteans. Although the language was new to her, she had the advantage of having studied foreign languages for most of her early life. Her father's many transfers had taken the family to several different countries and the base schools had made the local languages required learning. She was able to pick up a new language very quickly, a skill that had impressed Milo.
Another advantage was that she knew how to read and write, neither ability possessed by the Atlanteans.
After a week, her students had a rudimentary knowledge of the alphabet and could put the letters together with their sounds. They could also recognize very simple words. At the rate they were learning, they would be reading and writing in no time.
Unfortunately, time was the one thing they didn't have. The wedding was exactly in seven days.
Rourke still hadn't said a word about her arrangement with Milo and she was starting to get worried. This was not at all like him. In the past, he had made it very clear when he was unhappy with her. She knew this was her worst instance of insubordination yet. So, why the silence?
The only indication of his disapproval were the constant "reminders" of what would happen if she betrayed him. The rest of their nightly conversations were devoted to his revenge plans. He grilled her for details of the city layout and of the ceremony, what little of it she knew.
His plan was very simple: he was going to destroy the Heart of Atlantis itself. And then he was going to kill Milo and Kida in front of the entire city...
She turned to see Milo approaching her. "Keep practicing the sentences with each other. I'll be right back," she told her students.
She stepped away from the class area and met Milo as he came up to her. "Coming to check up on me?" she greeted him.
"Um, no, actually," he said. "I've come to get you. Kida wants to see you right now."
"Now?" Helga questioned, a pit forming in the center of her stomach. She knew how important this education program was to Kida. If she was interrupting a class...
"Is everything all right?" she asked as casually as possible. Oh, god, please don't let him be the reason.
"Oh, yeah," Milo waved her off. "She knows that you're in the middle of class and she sends her apologies, but she said this couldn't wait."
She relaxed. When Kida said something "couldn't wait", it just meant she was excited about it. She had probably stumbled across an item or a place that she was eager to share. (This was not the first time Kida had dragged her off to see something that "couldn't wait".)
"As the queen commands," she joked. "Let me go tell my students that they're done for the day, which I know they aren't going to be very happy about."
"Aren't they amazing?" he smiled. "If only some of the kids I tutored had been as devoted to their studies."
She laughed. "I'll be right back. Then we can see what Kida's all worked up about this time."
Helga followed Milo down another hallway in the palace. "Are you really sure you can't tell me what she wants to talk to me about?"
"I'm sworn to secrecy," he told her. "Besides, Kida would kill me if I said anything."
Helga smiled as an image of the petite queen knocking Milo senseless flashed before her eyes. "Okay, I'll stop asking only because I don't want Kida getting mad at you."
"Thank you," Milo grinned.
Milo and Kida had such a wonderful relationship. The only threats they ever made against each other were humorous ones. They deserved to have a full and happy life together. Instead, they were going to die before it even had a chance to begin. And she was the one responsible.
She hated herself for her role in Rourke's revenge plans. Every time she thought of what was going to happen to Milo, Kida, and the rest of Atlantis, she felt incredible pain and sorrow. In the past month, they had become her family. She cared about them as much as she did her parents and brothers. As much as she had for Chris. If only her child's life didn't hang in the balance...
"We're here," Milo announced as he led her to a door.
"Finally," she mock-grumbled as Milo knocked. "This better be good."
"Oh, trust me," Milo said mysteriously. "It is."
The door opened to reveal Kida, who smiled at them. "Good. You have arrived. Now we can get started." She backed away. "Please, come on in."
"All right," Helga started as she followed Milo inside, "what's this all..." The sentence died unspoken as she saw whom Kida had been with while Milo went to get her.
There was a collective gasp as Preston Whitmore, Joshua Sweet, and the rest of the surviving members of the expedition crew stared at her in shock and disbelief. There were a few murmurs of "she's alive?" and "what's she doing here?" The only one who remained silent was Whitmore.
Helga could not find the voice to speak. This is what she had been taken away from her class to see? Why? What were Milo and Kida thinking? Didn't they know the crew hated her?
It had been Rourke's idea, of course. He told her that if she treated them poorly, it would force them to obey and respect her. So, as always, she had done as he asked and treated the crew like shit. (Rourke, on the other hand, had always treated them with a gruff friendliness. "For contrast," he had informed her.) And, in a way, it had worked. She didn't know about respecting her, but they had all obeyed her without question. Their hatred was just a byproduct of her cruel treatment of them.
The amusement she had been feeling when she believed Milo was bringing her to see one of Kida's discoveries melted away as the reality of the situation hit her. Although they didn't know it, they had walked right into a trap. Of all the times to come back, why did they have to pick now? And, why had they brought Whitmore with them?
She dreaded to think how Rourke would react to the news of their return. She knew he had nothing against Whitmore, but the others were, in his mind, traitors. They had turned against him at the last minute, siding with Milo and Atlantis. And betrayal was something he did not take lightly.
Vinny was the first to break the silence. "This is your so-called 'expert'? This is a joke, right?"
Expert? What is he talking about?
"It's no joke," Milo told him. "Helga is one of the best we have when it comes to reading Atlantean. She's actually better than some of the Atlanteans, believe it or not."
That was why they had tricked her into coming here? Because she was good at reading Atlantean? What did that have to do with anything?
"You really think we're going to accept help from her?" Audrey asked rhetorically. "Think again. She tried to kill us!"
"And all the Atlanteans too!" Mole added.
Helga looked down. Although she was used to being at the receiving end of hateful remarks, these hit too close to home. These weren't just the result of trying to keep everyone away or following Rourke's orders to act horribly. These were because of a terrible crime she had committed... That she was still committing...
If they only knew...
Helga felt someone place a hand on her arm. She looked up to see Kida standing next to her, a concerned look on her face.
She probably feels bad for bringing me here now, Helga realized. She didn't know what was going on yet, but she knew Milo and Kida well enough to know that whatever it was, they had wanted her here for a reason. She gave Kida a small smile to show that she was all right.
"N-now, just give us a chance to explain," Milo said, holding up his hands. "Helga's not the person you think she is."
Don't you dare say anything, Milo. Don't you dare!
"So start explaining," Audrey demanded, folding her arms.
"This should be good," Packard commented dryly.
Before Milo could say anything, Vinny raised a finger. "Eh, isn't there something that you are all, eh, forgetting? Like, oh, I don't know, isn't she supposed to be dead?"
Helga nearly sighed with relief at the subject change.
"She hid in a cave from the lava," Kida spoke up, her hand still on Helga's arm. "After it cooled, she wandered the caverns for weeks before finding her way back to Atlantis. She has been here ever since."
"And you didn't lock her up?" Sweet wanted to know.
"She was badly hurt," Milo told him. "She probably would have died if we didn't help her."
"I would have let her," Audrey proclaimed loudly.
"I am not you," Kida informed her.
Helga looked at her in surprise. There was an edge to her voice that Helga had not heard before. Even Milo looked a little shocked.
She's getting angry, Helga realized. Because they aren't accepting me like she and Milo have.
"Kida..." Helga finally managed. She didn't want to be the cause of any dissent between the queen and her guests. Neither Milo nor Kida knew the full extent of her history with the crew. It would be better for everyone if she just left. She doubted her presence was really all that necessary. Milo or Kida could always fill her in later.
"Yeah, but after that," Sweet continued. "You don't just heal criminals and let them go."
"She is not a criminal," Kida insisted.
"Kida's telling you the truth," Milo chimed in. "Helga's not our enemy. She never was." How wrong you are, Helga sadly thought. She was now their enemy more than ever.
"Really?" Vinny questioned, a doubtful expression on his face. "You mind telling us how that's possible, because the way I remember it, she wasn't exactly protesting against stealing your crystal."
"Maybe not, but she had her reasons," Kida told him.
"We'd sure like to hear 'em," Cookie said.
"Kida, please. Don't," Helga begged in a very quiet voice. Kida was determined to convince them of Helga's innocence and there was only one way to do that.
Kida turned to look at her. "There is no need to worry. I will not tell them anything you do not want them to know. Neither will Milo."
"Look," she tried again, "I've known them much longer than you have. Trust me when I say they'll never accept me."
"You cannot know that for certain," Kida said.
"Hey," Milo said with a small smile as he came over to join them, "if they accepted me, they'll accept anyone."
Helga nearly rolled her eyes at that one. "This is completely different. You have no idea of what things were like between us before Mr. Whitmore had me bring you in."
"We changed our minds about you," Kida pointed out.
Because you are the two most naïve and trusting people who ever lived, was Helga's silent reply. Aloud, she said, "neither of you are like most people. You're too nice." She sighed. "Look, do I really need to be here?"
"Yes," Milo told her.
"Um, excuse me?" Mrs. Packard's scratchy voice interjected before Helga could say anything. "But you three aren't the only people in the room. It might be nice to include us."
They turned to look at the group.
"Sorry," Milo grinned sheepishly.
"May I say something?"
Everyone turned to see Mr. Whitmore standing from his seat.
"I think that Milo and Kida must have a very good reason for bringing Helga here," he said. "We came asking for their help and they agreed to give it. If they say that she will be of invaluable assistance to us, then we should believe them. They only have our best interests in mind."
"Thank you," Milo said.
Assistance? Help? What was going on? Helga hoped that somebody would explain something soon.
"Good. Now that that's settled, shall we get down to business?" Whitmore proposed.
"Yes," Kida said as she took Helga by the arm and pulled her towards an empty couch. "Tell us what has brought you back to Atlantis."
Milo sat down and Kida placed herself next to him, pulling Helga down onto the couch on her other side.
"Where to begin?" Whitmore thought out loud.
"I'll tell them," Mrs. Packard said. "We've all been having dreams."
"Dreams?" Kida said, a strange tone in her voice.
Helga looked at her and noticed that she had turned a little pale. What's wrong? she wondered, feeling concerned, her own worries momentarily forgotten.
Kida paused for a second, taking a deep breath. "What kind of dreams?"
"Dreams of Atlantis," Audrey told her. "Very realistic ones too. We see different parts of the city and feel, well, drawn back here. We have them every single night, sometimes more than once a night."
"They're driving us crazy," Vinny added for good measure, "which is why we came to you."
Rourke is going to love this, Helga thought miserably.
"We're positive the crystals you gave us are responsible," Sweet said. "They started the day we received the pendants from you."
"While I didn't start having the dreams until after I found your package," Whitmore told Milo.
"I don't know if this is related to the dreams or not, but we're also going through physical changes," Sweet went on. "We're not aging like we normally would. From what I can tell, our bodies have literally slowed down."
"Wow. That's...that's incredible," Milo said. "In a way, it would make sense. Your bodies slowing down, I mean. I'm positive the crystals are behind that. They do have incredible healing properties. The dreams, well, the dreams I have absolutely no idea about. As you know, everybody here has a crystal. As far as I know, no one's had any unusual dreams lately. I know I haven't."
Everyone looked at Kida.
"I have been having...unusual dreams," she told them, sounding very uncomfortable. "They are not like the ones you have been having, but they come to me every night as well."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Milo asked, hurt evident in his voice.
She turned to face him. "I did not want you to worry about me any more than you already did. I was afraid I would distract you from your work."
"Kida," Milo said, "you know you're more important to me than anything else. My work can wait. You can't."
Kida smiled gratefully at him.
Helga refrained from telling Kida "I told you so". She hoped this finally put to rest Kida's self-doubt about her importance to Milo.
"Kida, when did your dreams start?" Whitmore asked.
"The same day the others' did. When they returned to the surface," she answered, looking at him.
"Then maybe the theory about the crystals being behind it is wrong," Sweet said. "Kida's had her crystal her entire life, correct?"
"Yes," she nodded. "Every Atlantean is presented with a crystal during their infancy."
"And you've never had a dream like this before?"
"No," she told him. "Nor has anyone I know."
"It just doesn't make any sense," Whitmore said.
"Then the only thing left to do is search the library," Milo decided, turning to Helga. "If this has happened before, it should be written down somewhere."
Helga nodded in agreement, finally understanding why Milo had wanted her here. "The only question is where. All the sections are mixed together. If there's a text on this, it might take a while to find it."
"Yeah," Milo agreed, "there aren't enough of us who can read yet."
"You said your dream was different," Audrey spoke up, looking at Kida. "What's it about?"
Kida looked uncomfortable again. "It is not something I wish to talk about."
"Why not?" Helga asked.
Kida looked at her. "Because it is a nightmare."
"A nightmare?" Milo sounded shocked.
"This whole situation just keeps getting stranger and stranger," Vinny decided.
"Kida, I think it would be a good idea for you to tell us," Whitmore said gently. "There has to be a connection between the dreams. Maybe hearing yours will help uncover it."
"I doubt that, but I will tell you anyway," Kida said, sighing. "In my dream, Atlantis is under attack."
"From whom?" Milo asked.
Kida looked at him. "A dark man."
"Can you be a little more specific?" Packard asked. "So many men are dark."
"Unfortunately, I cannot," Kida told her. "His face remains hidden from me, even as he comes towards me. All I know is that he wants to destroy Atlantis.
"And that he wants to kill me as well."
Oh, my god, Helga thought, a chill passing through her body. It can't be. Can it?
"It almost sounds like a warning of some kind," Audrey mused.
"But from what?" Kida asked. "Atlantis does not have any enemies."
Oh, my god, Helga repeated. How is it even possible?
All it says here is that the crystal is...alive somehow.
Unfortunately, I can't get anywhere near the city without that damn crystal detecting me.
Oh, god, it is! she suddenly realized. The Heart of Atlantis had to be what was behind the dreams. It knew that Rourke was here! And it was trying to warn Kida!
Everything made sense now. The dreams, the need to return to Atlantis, everything. The Heart of Atlantis knew it was in danger. It was calling for help.
"Something very strange is going on," Milo said. "Kida, I wish you would have told me."
"I am sorry," Kida apologized. "I was just so afraid that you would think I was crazy."
"I'd never do that!" Milo proclaimed.
"There is more," Kida admitted. "The dreams are not all I have been experiencing. There is...something else."
Suddenly Helga felt like she couldn't breath. She needed to get out of there. She didn't want to hear any more. She couldn't hear any more.
She stood up from the couch. "I-I'm sorry," she stammered apologetically. "I-I need to go outside for a moment."
"Are you all right?" Kida asked, concern in her voice.
Helga nodded. "I'll be fine. I just need some air."
"Do you want me to go with you?" Kida pressed.
"No, your friends need you here," she told her. "I'll be fine. Really." She forced a smile before heading for the door.
Once outside the room, she collapsed against the wall.
This was probably the most horrible thing that could have happened. The Heart of Atlantis knew and it was trying to save Atlantis and itself. And she was the only one who realized it. If she helped Milo and the others research the phenomenon in the library and the truth was revealed...
"What am I going to do?" she whispered.
She turned to see Preston Whitmore standing in the doorway. He wore a concerned expression on his face.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
"I'm fine," she lied. "What are you doing out here? You should be in there with the others."
"Nonsense," he told her. "They don't need an old coot like me. I just came along for the ride." His eyes appeared to study her. "You don't look fine. What's wrong?"
I need to think fast. "Nothing, really. I promise. The room just got a little stuffy, that's all."
Whitmore cocked an eyebrow. "If you think I'm going to buy that, then I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn." He folded his arms. "Now, Miss Sinclair, I'm going to ask you again. What's bothering you?"
Helga knew there was no avoiding this conversation. Whitmore was persistent and not easily fooled, if ever. There was no way she could lie to him. He knew her too well from her years of working for him. So, it would be best to tell him a truth, if not the truth.
"Oh, it's nothing really," she told him. "Just my hormones."
"Your hormones?" He gave her a strange look.
"Yes, hormones. They tend to act up when you're pregnant," she told him, hoping that would satisfy him.
At first Whitmore looked shocked by the news. Then, he composed himself. "I-I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything," she told him. "It was very unexpected." Damn you, Rourke.
Whitmore nodded. "I'm sure. Did Rourke know?"
The question caught her off-guard. Whitmore knew about her relationship with Rourke? "You knew? How?"
Whitmore chuckled softly. "I may be eccentric, but I'm not blind." He gestured towards her abdomen. "When did it happen?"
"I'm not quite sure," she told him truthfully. "I think it may have been our one night together here." She shook her head and looked at him. "When did you figure it out? We tried so hard to keep it hidden."
"Believe me, my dear. You did," he told her. "I don't think anyone else knew. You had to look for the signs to find them."
"You looked. Why?" she asked, curious.
"As you know, I make it a point to thoroughly check out anyone I consider hiring," Whitmore explained. "Lyle Rourke had an incredible reputation for being able to, how shall I put this, seduce any woman into bed with him."
Oh, god, Helga thought, shocked. This was something she had never known. Yet, in a way, it made perfect sense. Could that be why she had never been able to resist his advances?
"So, I'm sure you can understand my curiosity when he insisted that you and only you would be his second-in-command for the Iceland expedition," Whitmore continued. "It seemed unusual to me that a man of Rourke's reputation would want a woman in such an important position."
Helga nodded, understanding completely. It would seem strange for a man who apparently only saw women as sex objects to want one as his lieutenant. How could Whitmore have known about Rourke's obsession with her? She knew about it and still didn't understand it herself.
"I researched your background and learned that you had known Rourke for quite a number of years. I could only assume that you meant something more to him. Why else would he be so insistent on having you at his side?" Whitmore concluded. "The first time I saw you two in the same room I realized that you were in love with him. Nothing obvious, mind you. Just small hints. I could only believe he felt the same way for you."
"He didn't," she told him. "He never did."
Whitmore gave her a sympathetic look. "He had us all fooled. I'm so sorry about what he did to you. You didn't deserve to find out the truth that way. No one would."
"I loved him so much," she admitted.
"And then to find out that you're carrying his child," Whitmore said, shaking his head. "I can't imagine what you're going through."
Be glad of that, she silently told him. I wouldn't wish this on anyone.
"What are you going to do now?" he asked.
"I don't know," she honestly told him. "My family thinks I'm dead, don't they?"
"I'm afraid so," he told her. "I made the phone call myself."
"H-how did they take it?" She was afraid to know, but she knew she had to.
"Not well," Whitmore said. "They loved you."
"I hadn't been home in years," she said sadly. "I've never even met my sister-in-law or my niece. I only knew about them from my mother's letters."
"You can always return with us," Whitmore offered. "You'll always have a place in my home."
Helga looked at him, astonished. There was such sincerity in his voice. She never knew that Whitmore cared about her so much. Then again, she shouldn't have been too surprised. Whitmore had always treated his entire staff like family.
"Th-thank you, sir," she managed quietly, "but I think it would be better if I just remained where I am. I...I feel like my place is here." Too bad I'll actually be the only who will get out of here alive, she thought sadly.
"Then there must be something else I can do for you," he insisted. "Perhaps I can have Sweet give you a thorough-"
"No!" she cut him off sharply. At Whitmore's expression, she repeated more calmly, "No. Please. I don't want anyone to know. Not about the baby. Not about my relationship with Rourke."
"Look, I can understand about you not wanting the rest to know, but Sweet's the best doctor for miles," Whitmore said. "I won't leave until I know that you and your baby are going to be all right."
"I already have a fine physician," she told him. "She's Atlantean, but she seems to know what she's doing. She's the one who discovered my pregnancy."
"Why won't you let me have Sweet examine you?"
"I have my reasons," she said as she remembered all the cold, cruel things she had said to the doctor because of Rourke.
"Is everything all right out here?" Kida's voice broke in.
Helga and Whitmore turned to see the queen standing in the doorway.
"Yes, everything's fine," Helga told her. "Is the meeting over?"
Kida nodded. "We decided that the mystery of the dreams can wait until after the wedding. We have lived with them this long. What harm will another week do?"
You have no idea.
Rourke made contact with Helga's mind and began to smile the instant he absorbed the information there.
They've returned. Wonderful.
He could not believe his luck. He had given some thought to hunting down the traitors after he had finished with Atlantis, but now it looked like he didn't have to. They had come to him.
He could destroy them all in one swift stroke.
It was unfortunate, however, that Preston Whitmore had accompanied them. The man was the only true innocent involved. Rourke had nothing against him. In fact, he owed everything to him. If it hadn't been for Whitmore, he would never have come to Atlantis and become the powerful entity he now was. But, with the exception of himself and Helga, no one was going to leave Atlantis alive.
Their reason for coming back was quite interesting as well. From what he could gather from Helga's thoughts, they had all been having dreams. Even Whitmore. These dreams were of Atlantis and apparently had been telling them to return. (He found it particularly strange that Whitmore was having this dream too, considering that he had remained behind the first time.) At a loss for what else to do, they had obeyed and now they were here.
But the most interesting tidbit by far was the fact that Queen Kida was having a reoccurring dream of her own. One that had alarmed Helga. In the queen's dream, Atlantis was being destroyed by a "dark man". A man that was also intent on killing Kida.
Rourke had quickly arrived at the same conclusion Helga had: he was the dark man.
Helga's theory that the Heart of Atlantis was responsible for the dreams made perfect sense. He knew it had sensed him when he had first approached the city in his new form. The fact that it was trying to warn the queen was something he had not expected. Obviously, Milo had been right and it was a life form. And apparently it was an intelligent one.
Destroying it should be more of a challenge than I thought, he decided. He had initially thought that it had joined with Kida as an instinctive act of defense. Now he wasn't so sure. If it could call for help, which was what both he and Helga had realized it was doing, it would probably put up a fight. He wasn't sure how, but he knew joining with the queen was the key.
He just wouldn't let that happen.
Helga, he called out. It's time.
Helga's consciousness felt groggy as she awakened from her sleep. Shit, was her first thought.
Rourke smiled. What do you have for me tonight?
"Lots of things."
Tell me, he instructed her.
"The others have returned..."
Helga sat up in her bed for what had to be the hundredth time this hour alone. It was no use. She was just too upset about the wedding tomorrow.
The past week had been a living nightmare. As the day of the ceremony had grown closer, she had fallen into a deeper depression. The knowledge of what was going to happen was killing her. Her friends were going to die. And there was nothing she could do about it. Not if she wanted to have her baby...
She had tried so hard to avoid Milo and Kida all week, but they had always managed to track her down and corner her, making escape impossible. All they wanted to do was share their excitement with her. How could they know that hearing it was making her sick to her stomach?
They had told her all the things she didn't want to know. All the things Rourke needed for his final preparations...
Her nightly conversations with Rourke had been the worst part of it all. His own anticipation of the wedding dwarfed Milo and Kida's. She didn't think she had ever seen him like this before. Revenge had become his entire existence. She knew that he would not be able to move on until Atlantis and all its inhabitants had been destroyed.
His questioning of her had become more intense as the wedding drew near. He wanted to know every detail, no matter how small or insignificant it seemed. He didn't want to leave anything to chance. He had nearly lost it with her several times when she had not been able to provide everything he asked. In those moments, she had feared for her life.
However, after he had finished interrogating her, his entire manner would change. He would become gentle and loving as he started telling her his plans for the both of them after this was all over. They would first get married in a private ceremony. That was apparently his first priority. Then he would buy the most expensive house he could find. And that was only the beginning.
She would silently listen to the future he had planned for them. As much as she hated to admit it, it sounded absolutely wonderful, like a fairytale. She knew their child would never have to want for anything. At one time, this would have been a dream come true for her. But now, after everything that had happened...
She sighed and pushed the covers back. As wonderful as the life Rourke laid out sounded, she knew she would be miserable in it. How could she enjoy it knowing that it had come at the cost of so many innocent lives? How could she be happy married to a man she despised? A man who had killed the one true love of her life?
At least I'll have my child, she thought as she got out of the bed. He or she will be my sole joy.
But even as she thought that, she was overcome with guilt. This baby was the tool that Rourke has used to force her hand in this whole affair. He knew how badly she wanted it. Her desperation to become a mother had allowed him to manipulate her into being the perfect covert operative. The Atlanteans had no clue that everything they said or did around her became public knowledge to Rourke. As he had made a point of telling her, he couldn't have done this without her.
She started pacing the room. She couldn't fall asleep and she needed to do something to take her mind off of things. She couldn't afford to become any more depressed than she already was.
A walk, she decided. I'll take a walk.
In the past, a nice long walk had always served to clear her head. That was what she needed to do now. Unless she could stop thinking about the horrors ahead, she would never be able to get any sleep.
A few times around this floor should do it, she determined as she walked towards the door.
As she opened the door, a beam of light from the hallway entered and illuminated the room. A glimmer of something caught her eye and she turned to look. What she saw lying on a chair sent a fresh stab of pain through her body.
It was the dress Kida had given her to wear to the ceremony.
The queen had taken her aside two days ago and presented her with a package. Inside had been one of the most exquisite dresses Helga had ever seen. The sea green material had seemed to glow in the Atlantean daylight. The dress was long-sleeved and rested off the shoulders. The skirt was long and flowing and reached the ground. Around the waist was a sash that had been intricately braided from strands of the same sea green material.
"I had this made especially for you," Kida had told her. "I want you to wear this to the wedding. I hope you find it acceptable."
Helga had found herself once again too moved to speak. This had not been something she was expecting, especially when Kida was so busy with her own preparations. A gift like this was not something that could be thrown together at the last minute. Kida had ordered this made weeks ago. Helga had been so touched that she nearly cried. (Rourke had made a snide remark about the incident that night.)
It was in this dress that she would be forced to watch Kida and everyone else die at Rourke's hands...
Stop it! she ordered herself. I can't think about this anymore.
With that thought, she fled from her guest quarters.
Helga's wanderings had taken her deeper inside the palace than she had planned. As she emerged from another staircase, she realized that she had ended up in the royal living area. This was where Milo and Kida lived, though currently in their own apartments. She had been brought here during her first week in Atlantis as part of Kida's tour.
She decided that it would be best to turn around and head back to the palace wing where her quarters were. She didn't want to take a chance that she would awaken either Kida or Milo. But, as she started to go, the sound of soft crying reached her ears.
And since only two people occupied this section and the crying sounded female, Helga knew exactly who it was.
She continued down the hallway until she found whom she was looking for.
Kida was out on a balcony. The queen was tightly curled up in a ball on a couch. The crying had grown louder as Helga approached, but it was still relatively quiet. Obviously, Kida did not want anyone to hear her.
For once Rourke taught me something useful, Helga commented as she walked onto the balcony. If it hadn't been for her sharpened listening skills, she would have missed Kida's soft sobbing. She didn't know what was bothering her, but she intended to find out.
She didn't think it was the dream. As much as that upset Kida, she was used to it by now. This was something else. Had Rourke...?
No, Helga admonished herself. He wouldn't risk ruining his surprise attack. He was looking forward to seeing the shock on everyone's faces when they realized he was still alive.
Helga sat down next to Kida and placed a hand on her back. "Kida," she softly spoke. "Kida."
Kida's surprised and tear-streaked face looked up.
"Hey, what's the matter?"
"H-Helga?" Kida stammered. "What are you doing here?"
"I couldn't sleep, so I was taking a walk," she told her. "It's a good thing I did too. What are you doing up? You should be in bed. You have a big day tomorrow." Bigger than you know.
"I know," Kida told her as she sat up, "but I could not sleep either. There are too many thoughts in my head."
Helga gave her a small smile. "I know that feeling, but that's no reason for you to be crying. What's bothering you?"
Kida looked down. "I have been thinking about what will happen after Milo and I marry. Before all I had to worry about was being queen to my people."
"Which we decided that you were very good at," Helga interrupted.
Kida shook her head, but did not look up. "Milo tells me the same thing. Yet, I wonder. What if it is only because I have not encountered a situation with which I am not familiar? What will happen then? My people will realize the truth. They will know that I was not ready.
"Milo will know that I was not ready."
"Both Milo and your people have faith in you," Helga told her gently. "You should too."
"But what if I do something so terrible that I end up causing more harm than good?" Kida pressed. "I fear Milo will believe he made a mistake in marrying me because of it. What if he believes that since I am not a good queen that I am a bad wife as well? And then... And then..."
"You're afraid Milo will leave you," Helga finished.
Kida only nodded.
Now Helga understood exactly what was going on. Kida was going through the typical prewedding jitters. She had been the same way right before her marriage to Chris. Her mother had had to give her a pep talk. Mother had assured her that all brides-to-be feared not being good enough for the man they loved and it was perfectly normal to feel the way she did. In Kida's case, it was especially unfounded. Milo had left behind the life he knew to be with her. And, if Rourke was not going to destroy everything tomorrow, Kida and Milo would have had a long and wonderful marriage.
Helga wished she could truthfully reassure Kida about the future, but anything she said would be a lie. They didn't have a future. Rourke was going to make sure of that. But, a little white lie never hurt anyone and if it would make her friend feel better, she would tell her what she needed to hear.
"What you're feeling is perfectly normal," Helga informed her. "Remember what I told you about jitters?"
Kida looked up at her curiously. "Yes..."
"This is the same thing. All women go through it," Helga said. "Trust me. You have absolutely nothing to worry about." How I wish it were true.
"Really?" Kida asked hopefully.
"Really," she reassured her. "Milo loves you. You should hear the way he talks about you. When he starts in, it's like nothing else exists to him. You're his entire world.
"You don't know how lucky you are to have someone like him. I did...once."
Helga nodded. "Yes."
"You must have loved him very much," Kida said.
"I did. Chris was a very special man."
"Milo is as special to me as Chris was to you," Kida told her. "I am so afraid of losing him. I have never before felt the way I feel for him."
"He's your first love," Helga said. "And he loves you so much. You have nothing to worry about."
"I hope you are right," Kida sighed.
I wish I were. "So, when did this all start?" she asked. "You seemed fine when I saw you earlier today."
Kida appeared thoughtful. "I was lying in my bed, but I was too excited to sleep. So I started thinking about tomorrow. I tried to imagine what it would finally feel like to be married and wondered if Milo would feel the same way. Then I started wondering if he felt the same way about me that I feel about him."
"It just sounds like you were thinking too much," Helga commented. "Are you feeling better now?"
Kida nodded. And then she leaned forward and pulled Helga into a hug. "Thank you."
Helga hugged her back. She felt terrible for having to lie to her, but what choice did she have? She couldn't have just left Kida the way she was. What kind of friend would that have made her?
Helga felt a pang of guilt. Kida was her friend. So was Milo. They trusted her completely. And she was bringing their death upon them. What kind of friend was she indeed?
She pulled out of the tight hug. "It was nothing," she lied. "You should go to bed now. You have a busy day tomorrow."
"Maybe you are right," Kida said. "Will you be all right?"
Helga waved her off. "I'll be fine." She faked a yawn. "See? I'm getting tired too."
Kida quickly hugged her again. "I just want you to know how happy I am just knowing you are going to be there for me tomorrow." She stood up. "Good night."
Helga looked up at her, feeling worse than ever. "Good night," she managed. She dreaded seeing Kida's face when she learned the truth about her reappearance in Atlantis. She would be devastated.
Kida started to walk away, but stopped and turned around. "Will you do me a favor?"
"I would like you to stand with Preston tomorrow at the ceremony," Kida said. "He has expressed concern that you have been avoiding him."
I'm not surprised he noticed. "I've just been busy," she lied. "But if it will make you happy, I'll stand with him."
"It will," Kida told her. "He is worried about you."
"It's just because I told him about the baby," Helga explained. "He wants me to allow Dr. Sweet to give me an examination."
"You should let him. Milo says Dr. Sweet is a good doctor," Kida said. "Eyris would not mind."
"It's not that," Helga told her. "I don't want Sweet or anyone else knowing about my condition. I made Whitmore swear to secrecy."
"Why?" Kida asked, walking back towards her. "Because Rourke is the father?"
"Something like that," Helga replied, standing up. "It's nothing you have to worry about. Believe me. Anyway, you have more important things to concentrate on. Like getting married." How I wish that was all.
"Not, go back to bed already." Helga made a shooing gesture. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Good night," Kida said, still smiling. She turned to go again.
Helga watched the queen begin to walk away, so blissfully unaware of the horrors the next day was going to bring. She wished things did not have to be this way. If anyone deserved to have a long and happy life, it was Kida. She was the kindest and gentlest soul Helga had ever met. If only she could do something...
On an impulse, she called out, "Kida, wait."
Kida turned around.
Knowing what she was about to say was dangerously close to betrayal, Helga said, "Promise me you'll be careful."
Kida looked at her quizzically. "Of...course," she answered hesitantly, her voice giving away her confusion.
Helga could understand Kida's bewilderment. From Kida's perspective, there was nothing to be careful of. After all, what could possibly be dangerous at a wedding?
"Thank you," Helga told her. "You don't know how much hearing you say that means to me."
Kida still looked a bit puzzled, but only smiled. "You are welcome."
"Good night," Helga said again.
"Good night." Kida smiled once again and then disappeared from the balcony.
Helga waited a moment and then headed back to her own quarters.
Rourke's internal clock alerted him that it was morning in Atlantis.
In just a few hours, he'd be able to leave this place and never look back.
He'd only been waiting two months for this day, but at times it had seemed like two years. Now, it was here and he could finally get his revenge. Thatch, his queen, the traitors, and all of Atlantis were going to die as soon as the wedding ceremony was over.
He had decided to hold off his attack until after the marriage was completed because he felt it would be much more enjoyable to force Thatch to watch his wife die rather than just his fiancée. He would do anything he could to make that pain-in-the-ass suffer as much as possible.
He reached out for Helga's mind. Today he would be constantly monitoring her thoughts. He needed to be aware of what was going on it Atlantis up until the very moment of his arrival. He didn't want any surprises.
Yet, as soon as he touched Helga's mind, he got one: she was already awake.
Helga had never been a late sleeper, but she had taken to sleeping longer ever since she became pregnant. Even so, this was much earlier than he had ever seen her up. He did a quick scan and discovered that she had hardly slept at all. Her guilty conscience had been plaguing her again and kept her up most of the night.
He perused her memory to find out what she had done while she couldn't sleep and found something interesting. She had had an encounter with the queen, who had not been able to sleep either. Kida had been experiencing the typical fears and doubts of a bride-to-be and Helga had given her a much-needed boost in confidence. Helga, of course, had felt disgusted with herself for having to lie to her friend. Kida, completely unaware of what was going to happen, believed everything Helga told her and completely recovered her confidence.
This short conversation reinforced how close Helga and Kida had become. They each saw each other as the sister neither had had. Kida particularly thought of Helga as someone she could turn to with her problems, trusting and believing everything she said. As Helga herself had realized, Kida would be utterly destroyed when she learned the true reason why Helga had returned to Atlantis...
He suddenly got an idea.
One he was sure Helga was just going to love.
Helga sat on a bench near the library, which happened to be the only deserted place she could find in the entire city. Everywhere else, Atlanteans were preparing for the festivities that were supposed to follow the wedding in celebration of All Kings' Day. She had come here to get away. She couldn't bear to be around any of it when she knew what was coming in a few short hours.
It had been bad enough when she had gone to see Kida earlier in the morning as she had promised. Even thinking about the visit now made her heart ache. The queen had been practically bouncing off the walls with excitement, bubbling on and on about how wonderful Milo was and how much she loved him and how happy they were going to be. There was not a single trace of the doubt or fear she had experienced last night.
Kida's joy had been too much too take and she had not stayed long. Every time Kida mentioned a hope or dream she had for her future with Milo, Helga knew it was just one more thing that would never happen. It had been an effort to keep a smile on her face when all she wanted to do was cry. She knew she would have if she hadn't gotten away when she did.
It physically hurt to be around Kida. Kida had become the sister she had never had and the idea of her dying on what should have been the happiest day of her life was killing her.
She ran her hands over the skirt of her dress. Kida had had this made for her out of friendship. It was a gift she was unworthy of and just wearing it was an ordeal. She didn't deserve either the dress or the friendship. If Kida only knew what kind of person she was...
I didn't have a choice, she reminded herself. As if that makes any difference.
By going along with Rourke, she was as bad as he was. It was as simple as that. She had agreed to help him because he had promised her the one thing she wanted most in the world. The fact that he had already impregnated her and was going to force her to help him no matter what she said didn't change a thing. He would have gotten her assistance one way or the other.
She knew Atlantis would have been doomed even if she had died back in the cave. As badly as he said he needed her help, he would have found some other way to get his revenge. Rourke always found a way to do what he wanted to do. She knew from experience how persistent he could be...
She sighed. Nothing could have saved Atlantis.
Off in the distance, she heard the sounds of people and music as the preliminary celebrating began.
Realizing Whitmore would probably be looking for her by now, she knew she couldn't stay away from everyone any longer.
It was time to take her place among the festivities.
Taking a deep breath, Helga stood up and went to find Whitmore.
"Are you sure you're feeling all right?" Whitmore asked, a look of concern on his face.
Helga turned to him and wordlessly nodded. He'd been periodically asking her this question ever since she had met up with him a few hours ago. She knew she was not hiding her nervousness well despite her calm exterior. She practically jumped at every unfamiliar sound she heard or shadow she saw, fearing Rourke had decided he couldn't wait any longer to take his revenge. The fact that she had hardly slept last night didn't help matters much either. She had seen how terrible she looked when she passed a mirror before going to see Kida. (Kida had luckily been too wrapped up in her own happiness to notice Helga's condition.)
She had repeatedly reassured Whitmore, telling him that she had not been feeling well since the night before and hadn't slept very long. It was, technically, the truth. She hadn't slept well, but not because she had an illness. She was sick to her stomach because of what was going to happen.
"You know, you really don't look so good," Sweet said, peering around Whitmore to gaze at her. "You're mighty pale now that I look at you. Is anything bothering you? Head? Stomach?"
"I'm fine," she waved him off, inwardly groaning that he had overheard Whitmore's questioning of her.
"You don't look so fine to me," Audrey commented from her place by the doctor. "Are you sure you don't need to sit down or something?"
Of all the times for them to decide to forgive me, she thought bitterly. "Don't worry about me," she told her. "I didn't sleep well last night, that's all."
"Then maybe you should go and get some rest now," Sweet decided. "Milo and Kida will understand."
"No," she said, "it wouldn't be right." I can't run from what's coming.
"It isn't right for you to be feeling miserable on a day when everyone's supposed to be happy either," Whitmore told her. He leaned in closer. "This can't be good for the baby," he whispered. "You need all the rest you can get."
She opened her mouth to answer, but before she could say anything, the music that had been just background entertainment suddenly grew louder. A hush fell over the crowd as everyone turned to look at the two figures who had just arrived.
Standing at the far end of the central plaza, their hands intertwined, were Milo and Kida. They were resplendent in outfits of white and blue, the color of Atlantean royalty. The happy couple was smiling brightly as they began to walk towards the very heart of Atlantis, where they would exchange their vows.
Helga's heart dropped into her stomach.
The time had come. Rourke would be here in a matter of minutes.
And then it would be all over.
Rourke observed the wedding through Helga's eyes and ears. This was yet another ability he had discovered by accident. During one of his recent conversations with her, he had sensed that she had started moving around her quarters and he had been curious as to what she had been doing. Instantaneously, he had been able to see what she was seeing, which was the city through her window.
Thatch and the queen were staring at each other adoringly as they took turns speaking in Atlantean. Even without Helga's rudimentary translation, he would have known what they were saying. It was the usual drivel that a man and woman said to each other when they were getting married. There were only so many ways one could promise to "love, honor, and cherish" for all eternity. He himself had once made the same promise to a woman. As he would again after this was all over.
Although Helga no longer loved him, he was still going to marry her. It was the only way to ensure that she remained with him. He was not willing to lose her again. He enjoyed her companionship too much. But, most importantly, it was best for their child. He had grown up without a father (he did not count his weakling stepfather) and would not have his child do the same.
The more he had thought about it, the more he liked the idea of having a child of his own. This would afford him an opportunity he had never had before. He would be able to take this child and mold him or her from the very beginning. There would be no prior experiences to take into account, as there had been with Helga. He would control every aspect of its life. It would only be what he made it to be.
And that was not the only reason this child would be special. This child was the result of a union between himself and Helga, the most incredible woman he had ever met. The child would inherit a strong mind from both of them as well as the potential to be the most dangerous living weapon alive. (He would have to work very hard to keep any of Helga's weak morals from being instilled in their child.) And, if it took after her physically, even better. Helga was the embodiment of beauty. A child with her looks and the combined mental and physical prowess of both of them would be unstoppable. It would indeed be a perfect living weapon.
After what seemed like countless hours, Thatch and the queen stopped talking. For a moment, they just continued to stare at each other. And then, they leaned forward into a kiss.
Rourke felt Helga's anguish come to a head as she witnessed this. She knew what he had already figured out.
The wedding was over.
Kida and Milo were now married.
The time for revenge had finally arrived.
As Milo and Kida's lips met in the kiss that sealed their marriage vows, Helga's eyes began to frantically search everywhere. She barely registered Mole's complaint about there not being a section in the ceremony for objections or Whitmore's concerned voice asking her what was wrong. Rourke was going to be here any minute.
Where is he?
And then, everything began to happen at once.
Kida cried out and grabbed her head as the Heart of Atlantis flashed the familiar fiery shade of red. Beams immediately shot out from the crystal, seeking the queen. The crowd started panicking.
"What's happening?" Audrey cried.
Oh, god, Helga silently realized. He's here!
Suddenly, Helga felt something pulling her. Before she knew what was happening, she found herself being dragged across the plaza towards Milo and Kida. She looked and saw that the same thing was happening to Vinny, Sweet, and the other members of the original expedition crew. Only Whitmore remained where he was standing.
"Hey! Le' go!" Cookie demanded of the unseen hands that pulled at him and the others.
Helga felt herself released while she saw the others just flung to the ground.
Then, Rourke finally appeared.
"Rourke!" everyone, with the exception of Helga and Kida, simultaneously cried. They stood up and gathered together, as if they thought that would save them. Only Helga stood alone.
"Yo-you're alive!" Milo stammered as he pulled Kida closer to him.
Kida appeared slightly dazed from whatever the crystal had done to her.
"This is impossible!" Mole declared.
"Yeah, 'specially after what Milo told us happened to 'im," Cookie added.
"I know you must all be so disappointed," Rourke smirked. "But you did me a big favor, Mr. Thatch. Thanks to you, I don't need that crystal of yours anymore."
"What do you mean by that?" Milo wanted to know.
Rourke held an open palm out towards Milo. A beam of pure red energy shot out and hit Milo directly in the stomach. Milo flew backwards, crying out in pain.
"Milo!" Kida screamed, having been shocked back to reality.
Helga wanted to cry out as well, but was afraid to say anything, fearing Rourke would see it as an act of insubordination and kill her baby.
Kida rushed to Milo's side, dropping to the ground on her knees.
The others raced over as well to see if he was all right.
Helga wanted to go to Milo so badly and tell her how sorry she was that this was happening, but she was too afraid of what the consequences would be. She glared at Rourke, who was looking pleased with himself.
Rourke glanced back at her as if he had been aware of her stare. I'd stay where you are if I were you, she heard him say in her mind. Think of your baby.
You didn't have to do that, she thought back at him.
He didn't answer and turned his attention back to Milo and the others.
Audrey turned around and glared at Rourke. "¡Bastardo!"
"I hope that little demonstration answered your question," he said.
"What do you want?" Vinny demanded as Sweet and Kida helped Milo to his feet.
"Oh, now that's original," Packard commented.
"These people have done nothing to you," Milo weakly told him. "Why can't you leave them alone?"
Rourke just laughed at that. "On the contrary, Mr. Thatch. These people have done everything they could to ruin years of planning. If they hadn't been alive when we first came here, we wouldn't be standing here having this discussion right now."
Out of the corner of her eye, Helga saw one of the Heart of Atlantis' search beams head in their direction. If it was able to reach Kida...
But, much to Helga's dismay, the beam stopped as soon as it passed over the crowd as if it hit something.
Rourke must have created a barrier of some kind, she realized. He wanted to keep it from joining with Kida.
"How did we ruin your plans?" Kida inquired. "As Milo has said, we have done nothing to you. You are the one who tried to destroy us."
"Only because you were in my way," Rourke told her. "I came here to find that crystal and bring it back to the surface. If you Atlanteans had died like you were supposed to, I would have done just that."
"The Heart of Atlantis is what gives us life," Kida said. "As long as it exists, we will continue to live. Even the Great Cataclysm could not destroy us."
"Then I'll just have to fix that, won't I?" Rourke rhetorically questioned her.
Helga saw Kida squeeze her eyes shut as the crystal tried to communicate with her again. If only Kida understood what was happening.
"Fix what?" Sweet asked. "You said you don't need the crystal anymore."
"No," Rourke agreed. "And after I'm through, the Atlanteans won't either."
"What exactly are you planning on doing?" Milo wanted to know as he held Kida in his arms.
"I'm going to correct a mistake nature made a long time ago," Rourke informed him. "I'm going to kill the Atlanteans.
"And all the traitors that helped them."
"My god," Sweet breathed. "What you're talking about is mass murder. You're going to kill thousands of innocent people!"
Rourke grinned. "You catch on fast, Doc."
"You're just one man," Milo said. "You can't possibly think you can kill us all."
"I don't think. I know," Rourke told him. "It's actually quite simple." He nodded his head towards the still-searching Heart of Atlantis. "I can wipe out every single one of you in a single blow. All I have to do is destroy the crystal."
"You can't be serious," Vinny said. "That thing can't just be, bam, destroyed. It's thousands of feet above your head, for one thing. So, unless you can, I don't know, fly, I doubt you can do much damage."
"Oh, I can fly all right," Rourke told him, "but it won't be necessary. I have a much better way of getting the crystal to where I can destroy it."
"Yeah, right," Audrey snorted. "This I gotta hear."
"I'm going to have the queen call it down to the ground."
Kida stared at him. "What?! I cannot do such a thing."
"Sure you can," he told her. "You just haven't tried yet. I'm sure all you have to do is talk to it."
"I do not know how," Kida informed him.
"It can't be too hard," Rourke said. "After all, it talks to you all the time, doesn't it?"
"What are you talking about?" Kida wanted to know. "I have never spoken with the Heart of Atlantis."
Rourke chuckled, amused by what Helga knew he took to be ignorance. "Where do you think that voice in your head is coming from? Or your reoccurring dream?"
Kida stared at him, wide-eyed.
He turned to look at the others. "I know you're all having dreams too. It's why you came back here. You wanted to know what's causing them. Well, now you know."
Everyone looked shocked by his knowledge.
"H-how do you know these things?" Kida gasped.
Shit, Helga thought. Here it comes.
Rourke just smiled and walked over to Helga. She saw him move behind her and felt him place his hands on her shoulders.
"I believe you all remember Helga being in the room when you shared your dreams?"
Kida's mouth fell open and Milo pulled her back into his arms.
"I thought you were our friend," he said, sounding shocked.
Helga looked away. She couldn't bear to see their expressions of betrayal, especially Kida's. I don't deserve to be your friend, she thought sadly.
"I knew we couldn't trust you!" Audrey announced. "You were spying for him all along!"
She's right. There was no denying the truth. That was exactly what she had been doing. All for the chance to be a mother. What a disgusting monster she had turned into.
"I'm afraid you're giving her too much credit," Rourke said, squeezing her shoulders. "Helga was only helping me because I didn't give her a choice. If she had her way, you'd all live very long and happy lives."
Helga suddenly felt his breath against her ear. "I hope you appreciate this," he whispered. "I didn't want them to die without knowing how much you cared about them."
"You bastard," she breathed.
"You're welcome," he told her.
She felt him kiss the side of her neck before he moved away from her.
"She's always been too soft-hearted," he continued, still looking at her. "Fortunately, she's probably one of the most capable actresses I've ever met."
She glared at him, but he only smiled.
"Is that supposed to change anything?" Audrey wanted to know.
He turned away from Helga. "No. I just wanted to make sure everyone knew where she stood. She's been so torn up over this whole ordeal.
"Now, back to more important things," he went on. He walked over to where Milo and Kida were huddled together. "As I was saying, Your Highness, I want you to call the crystal down here. Now."
"I have told you. I do not know how."
"I'm sure it's not that hard," Rourke told her. "If I can make contact with it, anyone can." At Kida's shocked expression, he said, "did I forget to mention that telepathy is one of my new abilities? One of many. And a very useful one at that." He turned to Helga and smiled at her again. "It was the only way I could get information out of Helga." He returned his attention to Kida, still smiling. "Unless you thought she was sneaking out of the city every night."
You son-of-a-bitch, Helga thought. He was just rubbing in her role, wasn't he?
"Why do you not just talk to it yourself then?" Kida defiantly asked. "I cannot do it for you."
Rourke chuckled. "You're going to have to, Your Highness. The crystal doesn't think in human terms. I wasn't able to understand one thought I read, if they can even be considered thoughts. But I'm betting you're going to have better luck because you joined with it."
"I doubt that will make any difference," Kida told him. "I have no memory of that time. The Heart of Atlantis only used my body, nothing more."
"Oh, really? So, how do you explain that dream of yours? What about the voice? Why are you the only person in Atlantis experiencing either?" Rourke pointed out.
Kida's expression revealed that none of these things had occurred to her. "I...I..."
"It knows you," Rourke continued. "Just as it knows me. The only difference is that you are connected to it somehow. You're the only one who can make it understand you."
"But I cannot understand it," Kida emphasized.
"As long as it understands you, that's all that matters," Rourke told her. "Now, give it a try. Call it down."
"I do not know how," Kida repeated.
"You're going to try, Your Highness," Rourke informed her. "Maybe I'm asking too much for your first attempt. How about you try something simpler? Calm it down. Those beams it's shooting off are starting to annoy me."
"What are those anyway?" Audrey asked.
"The crystal's looking for the queen," Rourke told her. "It thinks if it joins with her it can just get rid of me. I sincerely doubt it could, but there's no need to take unnecessary risks. That's why we're all inside a shield I erected around us." He motioned for them to look around. "As long as we're in here, the crystal can't find us."
"Why should I even try to communicate with it?" Kida asked. "Doing so will only aid you in destroying my people."
"Let me put it this way, Your Highness," Rourke said. "Unless you start trying, I'm going to kill one person at random. I will continue to do so every five minutes until you agree to do what I've asked you."
"Rourke!" Helga cried out, unable to remain silent any longer. "Stop it!"
He turned to her.
"Don't play with them like this. If you can destroy the crystal yourself, then do it. Leave them alone."
Rourke walked towards her. "What do you think you're doing, Helga?" His voice was low, a sign that he was becoming angry.
"I don't want them to suffer any more than they have to," she told him. "They don't deserve this."
He stopped in front of her. "They do and you know it. Look what they made me to do you. To us."
"There never was an 'us'," she said. "You never loved me."
"This is not the time or place to discuss this," he told her. He reached out and placed a hand on her stomach. "Need I remind you what will happen if you prevent me from getting my revenge?"
She looked down to where his hand rested. "No."
"Very good." He dropped his hand. "Stay out of my way and you'll get everything you've ever wanted."
Helga just swallowed. She wanted her baby so badly. She knew if she said one more thing, he would kill it. She had already gone too far and he was angry with her.
Rourke said nothing else, and as he walked away, she looked up again. Kida looked directly at her.
"Are you all right?" Kida mouthed, taking Helga by surprise.
Didn't Kida hate her now? Helga just nodded.
Kida turned her attention back to Rourke. "I will try."
"That's more like it," Rourke said, a huge smile on his face.
Kida took a deep breath and closed her eyes. An expression of severe concentration settled over her face.
All eyes turned up to the Mother Crystal, which was still red and frantically searching for Kida.
Suddenly, the beams were retracted and the crystal changed color.
"Sacre bleu!" Mole cried out in surprise.
"Well, I'll be!" was Cookie's contribution.
"Well, there goes my vacation plans," Packard decided.
"Very good, Your Highness," Rourke said. "See what you can do when you put your mind to it?"
Kida opened her eyes and glared at Rourke before turning to Milo. "I-I cannot believe I have done this."
"He must have been right about your joining with the crystal," Milo said. He looked at Rourke. "You're completely bonded with it now."
Rourke looked up at the calm Heart of Atlantis. "I think it's safe now to lower the shield." His gaze went back to Kida. "Now that we've established a line of communication between you and that thing, I want you to bring it down here."
"Where you will destroy it," Kida said disgustedly.
"That's the general idea," Rourke agreed. "I don't want any funny business. You try anything and your husband is the first to die. Are we clear?"
Oh, god, Helga thought. It's really happening. They're all going to die. All because of me.
She reached down and touched her abdomen again. Inside her was the child she had always wanted, bought at the price of thousands of innocent lives.
I'm such a monster. I'm a horrible selfish monster.
She looked back at Kida and Milo. As the crystal was descending to the ground, they were sharing what was probably their last kiss.
She looked to Rourke, who was gloating. He knew he had won. As soon as the Heart of Atlantis reached his level, the fate of all these people would be sealed. They would all die.
This was so wrong. Milo and Kida were supposed to have a long full life ahead of them. They should have. They were such good people. They had done nothing to anyone. They were innocent of the wrong doings of which Rourke had accused them and was about to punish them for. Just as everyone gathered here was...
I can't do this, she suddenly decided. I can't stand here and watch them all die. I have to do something. They're my friends.
She realized what a fool she had been. How could she even compare one life to thousands? Someone like her didn't deserve to be a mother. This baby would be better off dying before it could be born.
She saw how close the Heart of Atlantis was to the ground now. Any moment Rourke would be able to reach out and touch it...
She was wrong about not having a choice. She had made one. And now, she was going to make another one...
Without thinking, Helga ran towards Rourke, intent on knocking him to the ground. But before she could make the tackle, Rourke turned, apparently having heard her coming, and lashed out his arm, catching her across her chest.
She fell backwards, slamming hard into the ground. As she went down, she heard Kida shout out her name in alarm.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Rourke growled at her.
"Stopping you," she told him. She looked past him to see Kida and the others staring at her in shock. "Kida! Now!"
It took Kida only one second to understand. As Rourke turned around, he saw the Heart of Atlantis send down a beam of light directly to Kida.
Helga prayed the joining would be enough to stop him once and for all.
Furious, Rourke whirled back to her and grabbed her by the front of her dress. "You bitch!"
"Go to hell," she told him.
With that, Rourke backhanded her across the face and everything went dark.
That damn bitch! Rourke thought as he dropped Helga's unconscious body back to the ground. How dare she do this to him after all he'd done for her! She was going to pay. Aborting her child would only be the beginning. (Later, of course, he would make sure she became pregnant again. He was not going to lose the opportunity that a child by Helga would present him with.)
He had no idea how she had broken free of his control, and frankly, he didn't care, but she had managed to make a mess of things. Nothing that he couldn't handle, of course. Destroying Atlantis would now just require a little more effort on his part.
He straightened up to observe the progress of the crystal/Kida merge. It seemed to be going faster than it had down in the cavern. Probably because it's familiar with her this time.
Finally, the Kida/crystal entity emerged from the glowing mass. Since it had been nearly at ground level when it had taken the queen, the new creature (it was neither human nor crystal) only descended a few feet. The gigantic stones that normally orbited the crystal, which Kida had called "the kings of the past", dropped to the ground with a loud crash.
The entity purposely stepped forward, its blank eyes seeming to bore straight into him. In its strange echoing voice, it said in perfect English, "You will leave my children alone."
It considers the Atlanteans its children. How touching. "I'll do what I want," he told it defiantly. Was that supposed to scare him? Please!
"I will not allow you to harm any of my children," the entity told him. "They are under my protection."
Rourke snorted. "They won't be after I finish with you."
The creature regarded him emotionlessly. "You cannot harm me."
"How can you be so sure?" Rourke challenged.
The entity said nothing.
And then Rourke was suddenly no longer in Atlantis.
He looked around him, trying to figure out what had happened. He found that he was standing in what appeared to be a grassy field.
What the hell?
He could only assume the entity had transported him somewhere else in order to protect its "children" from him.
A pointless gesture, he smiled to himself. He had no doubt he could defeat this thing. It may be more powerful than he was, but he had something that either half of the creature did not: experience. Kida was a naïve girl who didn't know the first thing about combat. The crystal didn't even think in terms compatible with normal humans.
"You are the one called Rourke," said an unfamiliar voice.
He turned to see a tall, beautiful Atlantean woman, which surprised him since the voice held no trace of an accent. He did not recognize her, but obviously she knew who he was. How?
"And you are?" he questioned.
"I do not have a name," she told him matter-of-factly. "I just am."
A strange answer. "Where am I?"
"That does not matter."
He folded his arms. "Really? And why not?"
"Because you are not leaving this place."
He snorted. "You can't stop me."
"I already have," she informed him in the same knowing manner that was starting to piss him off.
"Look, lady, I don't have the patience for this little game of yours," he told her. "Either you tell me what you want or I'm walking right out of here."
"You cannot do that."
"Watch me." But as he tried to take a step, he ran into something. "What the-?!"
"I have told you. You cannot leave," the woman said again. "You are trapped."
Rourke turned and tried to walk in another direction but found that he ran into yet another invisible barrier. Then he tried again and was blocked once again. Another few attempts ended the same way.
"Shit!" he cursed and banged against the unseen wall with his fists. He turned back to the woman who was still looking at him without a hint of emotion. "Let me out of here, you bitch!"
"Let me out of here now!"
"I will not."
"Goddamn it! I want out!" Rourke shouted, infuriated beyond description. Who was this bitch? How the hell had she done this to him?
"You cannot leave here," she reminded him.
"I will not allow you to come anywhere near my children again."
Children? And then he knew.
This woman was the crystal!
And it had trapped him without his even being aware of it.
"Shit! You bitch! Let me out of here!"
"The woman" just continued to look at him in the same blank manner.
He banged on the walls. "Let me out!"
"You will never harm my children, or anyone, again," the crystal/woman told him. She took a step back and once again everything changed.
First, the woman transformed back into the familiar glowing blue Kida/crystal entity.
Then the grassy field faded and was replaced by the plaza where this all started. Thatch and the other traitors were all staring at him, confused expressions on their faces.
He was back in Atlantis.
He angrily banged at the walls of his "cage". "Let me out of here! Now!"
"You will stay imprisoned for all eternity," the creature told him. "My children must remain safe."
Again with the damn children! "Let me out!" he repeated, still banging.
The creature gestured with a hand and Rourke found that he could no longer hold his human form. He reverted to his pure energy state.
And then his prison shrunk.
He could not move. He could not speak. He was more effectively trapped than he could ever imagine.
If he could, he would have screamed with rage.
But he could still see. And the creature was still standing there.
It gestured again and Rourke knew no more.
Helga came to and sat straight up with a gasp.
Where was she? What had happened?
Where was Rourke?
"Easy, easy," she heard a familiar voice say and felt a hand on her shoulder. "Just relax. You're safe now."
Helga looked and she saw Whitmore beside her.
"Mr. Whitmore?" she managed before a wave of pain and dizziness assaulted her. She grabbed her head in her hands.
"Come on, lie back down," Whitmore said as he guided her back down to her pillows. "You shouldn't be sitting up. You took a nasty bump to the head. Eyris took care of your concussion, but she and Sweet both insist that you rest. Here." He removed the crystal pendant that hung around his neck and pressed the shard to her forehead.
Almost immediately, Helga felt the pain and dizziness vanish.
"Better?" Whitmore asked.
"Yes," she said. "Thank you."
He reached out and for the first time Helga noticed there was something on her chest.
It was an Atlantean crystal, just like Whitmore's. Just like the ones worn by everyone in Atlantis.
He picked up the pendant in his hand. "If no one else is around when you get another attack, just press this to your forehead."
Helga nodded slightly. Then she took a deep breath and asked the question that she dreaded hearing the answer to.
"Where is he?"
"Perdido," another voice said.
Audrey appeared in the doorway. "He's gone."
Gone? Helga couldn't believe what she was hearing. "How?"
Audrey shrugged as she came into the room. "We're really not sure. After Kida joined with the crystal, things got muy extraño. One moment they were talking and the next they went into some sort of trance. They were like that for maybe ten minutes."
"We could only assume the crystal was communicating with him on a psychic level," Whitmore added.
"Anyway, they suddenly snapped out of it and Rourke started acting really loco. He kept cursing and yelling to be let out of something. I guess the crystal made him think he was trapped," Audrey continued. "Then he just disappeared."
"Disappeared?" Helga just stared at her in disbelief. Rourke had disappeared?
"Sí," Audrey confirmed. "One second he was there. The next...poof. I don't know what the crystal did to him, but I hope it was painful."
Helga closed her eyes, a numbness settling over her. She didn't know what to feel. Rourke was gone. He was truly gone and could never threaten or harm her again. It didn't seem like it was possible, but she knew it was. He had been a part of her life for so long. For him to be finally out of it...
"Gone," she murmured, the shock of it all just starting to wear off. "I can't believe it."
"I know this is hard for you," Whitmore said gently. "You loved him. Even after what he did to you."
Helga didn't know how to respond to that. Until very recently, she had loved him. God, had she loved him. As Whitmore said, she had continued loving him after he tried to kill her. It was only after she learned what he had done to get her back...
Sadly, her thoughts turned to her now-lost child. There was no doubt in her mind that Rourke had remained true to his word and killed her baby as soon as she betrayed him. He had been so furious with her. She had never seen him so angry before. And then he had struck her, another thing he had never done to her in the thirteen years she had known him-except in combat situations.
As painful as the realization was that she would never have a baby, she knew she had made the right decision in the end. Thousands of innocent lives had been at stake. In comparison, her unborn child had been a small sacrifice to make. She had saved the Atlanteans and that was all that mattered.
"How is Kida?" she asked to take her mind off of her loss.
"She's still out of it," Audrey informed her. "I was just over there with her. The merge left her pretty drained. Neither Eyris or Sweet can predict when she'll wake up. Milo refuses to leave her side until she does."
"I haven't seen the boy this upset since his grandfather died," Whitmore said.
"She's his entire world," Helga told him. "Like his grandfather was." And I almost took that away from him. "I want to see her."
"No can do," Audrey said. "Eyris and Sweet were very specific. They didn't want you budging."
Helga pushed herself into a sitting position, her head exploding in the process. She sat for a moment, waiting for the episode to pass. "I have to talk to Milo," she finally managed. "I have to apologize."
"He told us everything," Whitmore told her. "No one blames you for what you did."
She looked down. "He's so wrong." She met Whitmore's eyes. "Please. I have to talk to him."
"Both Sweet and Eyris ordered rest," Whitmore responded. "I wouldn't question them."
"I'm fine," Helga said. "But I promise to go back to bed and stay there until they say so after I talk to Milo."
"Look, if you're not going to rest for you, then rest for your baby," Audrey told her.
"My baby?" Helga looked at her in surprise. "You mean... I'm still..."
"Of course," Whitmore said, looking at her puzzled. "You didn't fall very far when Rourke knocked you down. The baby's so small it would take a lot more than that to miscarry."
"Oh, god," Helga whispered. "He didn't do it. My god, he didn't do it."
"What are you talking about?" Whitmore asked, sounding concerned.
Helga looked at him. "Rourke told me that if I did anything to stop him he'd kill my baby. So, I thought... And that's why I didn't..." She couldn't bring herself to finish.
"He didn't have a chance to," Whitmore assured her. "Kida confronted him almost immediately after you were knocked unconscious."
Helga nearly cried tears of relief. After everything that had happened, she still had her baby. It was a miracle.
Her newfound happiness fueling her, she became more determined than ever to apologize to Milo. Gathering her composure and the acting skills that Rourke had so highly praised, she sat up as straight as she could, trying not to wince at the pains shooting through her head. "You're going to take me to see Milo and Kida.
"They're in here," Whitmore told Helga as she slowly trudged down the corridor with Audrey supporting her. "If Eyris or Sweet are in there, don't expect a warm welcome."
"I don't want one even if they're not," she said.
She knew Milo wasn't mad at her. In fact, it sounded like he had tried to convince the others that she hadn't had a choice. He was such an innocent fool. Just as his wife was. He was too naïve to feel betrayed.
Which was why she needed to explain herself and apologize. She hoped once he knew the entire story he would understand that she had betrayed him. She hadn't been acting just out of love for Rourke. She had almost allowed Atlantis' destruction out of the selfish need to be a mother. She wanted him to know how sorry she was she had done this to him.
"If Milo's in there, you're gonna get one whether you like it or not," Audrey informed her. "He's declared you a hero."
"What?! Are you serious?" Helga was shocked by this news. A hero? Was Milo really that stupid?
"Oh, yeah," Audrey said. "According to him, you saved us all. And, I happen to agree with him."
Helga had been wondering why Audrey had been so nice to her. Audrey had been the most vocal this past week about not trusting her. She hadn't been surprised to see Whitmore, but Audrey's presence had shocked her.
"You're both wrong. I only did what I should have done in the first place. Kida's the one who saved the day."
"Buena suerta telling that to Milo," Audrey remarked.
They arrived at the open door.
"I'll go in first," Whitmore said.
"No," Helga told him. "Let me." She turned to Audrey. "Alone."
"Are you sure?" Whitmore asked her.
"I'll be fine," she waved him off. "I need to do this on my own."
"All right," Whitmore acquiesced. "Just know that we're out here if you need us."
Helga pushed herself off of Audrey and started to slowly make her way inside the room.
Milo and Kida were the only ones there. She briefly wondered if Eyris and Sweet had gone to check on her.
Milo was sitting on a chair next to Kida's bed, clutching her hand tightly. The queen appeared to be in a deep sleep rather than a coma. Both still wore their wedding clothes and Helga wondered how long it had been. She herself was still wearing the dress Kida had given her.
"Milo," she spoke in a quiet voice.
Milo looked up. As soon as he saw who it was, his face grew concerned. "Helga! What are you doing here? You should be resting."
She shook her head. "I've rested enough. I need to talk to you."
"Uh, okay," Milo said. "What about?"
She nearly rolled her eyes at that. Milo's cluelessness about some things never ceased to amaze her. How someone could be that smart and so idiotic at the same time she could never understand. "I want to talk about what happened."
"What's there to talk about? Rourke forced you to help him. Everyone understands that," Milo told her. "I admit I was hurt when I found out that you had betrayed us, but as soon as he said that he hadn't given you a choice I knew you hadn't wanted to. I'm sure Kida will say the same thing when she wakes up.
"But, boy, what you did at the last minute. That was amazing. You saved us all."
"That's where you're wrong," Helga pointed out. "Kida's the one who saved everyone. I did nothing."
"Kida's right. You never give yourself credit for anything," Milo commented. "It was because of you that Kida was even able to join with the Heart of Atlantis. You distracted Rourke long enough for her to call to it. Without your help, we'd all be dead now."
And I'd be married to the man who killed all of you. "All I did was what I should have done in the first place. You don't know the entire story. Rourke was wrong when he said I didn't have a choice. I did."
"I'm sure you didn't," Milo said. "From what you told us, he never gave you one. He always used your love for him to get his way."
"No," she shook her head. "This time it was different. I knew he didn't love me. He didn't have that power over me anymore. So, he promised me something different.
"Something he knew I couldn't refuse."
"What was it?"
"This." She placed her hand to her abdomen.
"Your baby?" Milo sounded shocked.
She nodded. "You have to understand something. All my life, the one thing I've wanted more than anything was a family of my own. Rourke knew this and, until now, he had always refused to marry me and give me one. He finally said he'd marry me if I helped him steal the Heart of Atlantis.
"So I did."
"And then he turned on you," Milo said.
"To save himself. As I said, he never loved me. He just loved what I could do for him. But even that wasn't enough when push came to shove." She gave a bitter laugh. "I was just in the way. I loved him so much..." She shook herself. It still hurt to think about his betrayal.
"You can't be faulted for that," Milo told her. "He played with your feelings."
"He did so much more than that," she said, thoughts of Chris coming to mind. "So much more." She took a deep breath. "Anyway, this time he promised me a baby."
"Which he gave you," Milo said understandingly. "So you went along with him again."
"No," she said. "It didn't happen like that. I knew he didn't love me. The idea of him touching me again disgusted me. I was going to refuse.
"That was when he told me I couldn't have children."
"But you're pregnant," Milo said. "If you can't-"
"You didn't let me finish," she cut him off. "Whatever Rourke had become had given him incredible abilities. Healing was one of them."
A look of understanding crossed Milo's face.
"Rourke told me that if I willingly helped him, he'd give me a baby. He'd also marry me. But, if I didn't, he'd still force me to help him and I'd remain childless and barren," she said. "He had no reason to lie. Why would he want to saddle himself with a wife and child if he could help it? I knew this was my only chance. I wanted a baby so desperately and it was being given to me at a price. At the time, I thought the price was worth it." She looked down. "Little did I know that he had already healed and impregnated me.
"I was so torn. I hated the idea of being responsible for thousands of deaths. I had sold my soul for the chance of becoming a mother. But I wanted a baby. God, I wanted one. And I was willing to do anything to get one.
"Yet, at the same time, I was praying I'd be stopped. I didn't want anyone to die. Then Kida told me I was pregnant.
"When Rourke contacted me that night he told me that if I did anything to betray him, anything at all, he'd kill my baby."
"Oh, god," Milo murmured.
"So I did nothing," she told him. "And that's why I don't deserve any praise."
"No," Milo said, releasing Kida's hand and standing up. "No. That's why you deserve it more than ever." He walked over to her. "You were willing to give up the one thing you wanted more than anything to save us. I don't know if anyone else could have done what you did."
"Do what? Go against everything they believe in out a selfish need? Betray their friends for the same reason?"
"That's not what I meant and you know it," Milo said, folding his arms.
Helga sighed. "I can't get you to change your mind, can I?"
"Will you at least accept my apology?" she tried.
"You have nothing to apologize for," Milo informed her.
God, he's an idiot. "You won't let me do anything, will you?"
"No," a weak voice said. "He will not."
They both turned to see Kida trying to sit up.
"And neither will I."
"Kida!" Milo cried happily. He raced over to the bed and pulled her into his arms, kissing her. "Oh, Kida!"
"Milo, my love," Kida said, kissing him back. "My husband."
Helga just silently stood and watched the reunion. This is what she had fought so hard to save at the end. The simple love between two people.
It was something she had had once. With Chris.
Treasure it, she wordlessly told them. You never know when it'll be taken from you.
Milo and Kida shared several kisses before they seemed to remember that they were not alone.
"Helga," Kida said, "Milo is right. You saved us all."
"That's what they keep telling me," Helga said. "How long have you been listening?"
"Long enough," the queen told her. "And I remember what happened before the Heart of Atlantis took me."
"I'll tell you what I told Milo and everyone else. I only did what I should have done in the first place," Helga informed her.
"All that matters is that you did it," Milo said. He pulled Kida closer to him. "You've given us a future."
"You two deserve it more than anyone," she told them truthfully.
"So do you," Kida said. "And you have one. You carry it inside of you."
Helga placed a hand on her abdomen again. "I hope I can give this baby the life it deserves."
"You will," Kida promised. "You are a good person capable of so much love. Your child could not ask for a better mother."
"Thank you," Helga said.
"Now, it is time for us to discuss where you are going to raise this child of yours," Kida began. "Milo and I have begun discussing possible arrangements..."
Helga gripped the arms of the chair as the needle bit into her cheek. Her eyes were tightly closed and she could feel the tears starting to well up. She was trying very hard not to wince as the tattoo artist inserted the dye under her skin.
After Milo and Kida had convinced her to remain in Atlantis, the queen had announced that she would be honored as a hero. Helga had bitterly protested, but Kida would have none of it. She was to be honored and that was final.
It was now four days later and the ceremony was, mercifully, nearly over. The first part had not been so bad. Kida had made a speech that, in Helga's opinion, had overexaggerated her role in defeating Rourke. Then Milo had made a very similar speech. Then came the application of the tattoo.
Kida and Milo had warned her that the tattooing process would be painful, but nothing could have prepared her for the actual event. It took every ounce of control she possessed to keep herself from crying out. She knew Rourke would have laughed at her struggle if he had been there. But afterwards, he would have kissed it to show that he hadn't meant anything by it. And then he would have kissed the rest of her...
Stop it, she admonished herself. Rourke was gone. He was out of her life forever. The bastard could never hurt her again.
She changed her train of thought back to the tattoo. The final design would consist of two symbols. The first stood for courage, which she had displayed when she had attacked Rourke. The second meant heartbreak.
The heartbreak symbol had been her idea. Kida had been surprised, but she could not change her mind. She wanted it as a permanent reminder of what Rourke had done to her. Not that she'd ever forget.
She wouldn't allow herself to forget.
"I never thought I'd be saying this to you, but I'm gonna miss you," Audrey told Helga as she hugged her as tightly as her now-rounded abdomen would allow.
"And I never thought I'd hear it from you either," Helga told her. "Please remember to tell your father what I said."
"Don't worry. I will," Audrey promised.
"Thank you," Helga told her. "I'm just so sorry I can't tell him myself."
"I know," Audrey said. Then she stepped away.
Helga smiled and she turned to see Sweet waiting to say goodbye.
"Now I made Eyris promise to take good care of you and your little one," he told her. "I plan on coming back one of these days to make sure she kept her word."
"I look forward to it," she said. "I'm just sorry you can't be here for the birth. I'd feel better having both my doctors there."
"So am I," Sweet admitted. "I just love bringing little ones into the world. You just keep practicing those breathing techniques I told you. Eyris can help you if you have any trouble."
"Thank you," she smiled. "I'd hug you but..." She motioned towards her stomach.
"Don't trust me, huh?" he laughed. "Can't say I blame you!"
"I've heard stories," she grinned.
"I see Milo's been talkin' again. Must be getting even for that last bill."
She laughed again.
"I think I'll have a word with the kid right now," Sweet decided, nodding at Milo who was standing with Kida and saying his goodbyes to Vinny.
"Don't forget, he's the king now," Helga told him. "Don't make him mad."
Sweet laughed again. "Me? Make Milo mad? Nah!" He gave her a kiss on her tattooed left cheek before walking off.
"I guess it's my turn now," Whitmore said as he came up to her.
"I was waiting for it," she smiled as she hugged him. "I just want to say thank you."
"For what?" he asked her.
"For everything," she told him. "For keeping my secrets and for staying with me while I was unconscious."
"It was my pleasure," he said. "You're a special lady, Helga. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise."
She smiled at him. "I'll try not to."
"Remember, if you ever change your mind and want to come back to the surface, there's always a place for you at Whitmore Industries," he told her. "And you and your child will always have a home in mine."
"Thank you," she replied, hugging him again. "But I don't think I'll be taking you up on it anytime soon. I have a chance at a fresh start here. My child will have the best life I can possibly give it. I even have a job as a teacher."
"I remember how much you love teaching," Whitmore said. "I almost didn't get you to join the expedition to find the Journal because of it."
"If it hadn't been for Rourke, I wouldn't have," she admitted quietly.
"I remember that too," Whitmore nodded.
"I swear to god that my child will never know about him," she suddenly said. "As far as he or she will be concerned, Chris is the father."
"If you think that's for the best," Whitmore said.
"I do," Helga told him. "In my heart, this is the baby I should have had with Chris."
"Mr. Whitmore, are you ready to go?" Milo asked as he and Kida came over.
"I think I am, my boy," he told Milo. "I was just saying my final goodbye to Helga here."
"It was really good to see you again," Milo said.
"It was good to see you too," Whitmore smiled. "Thaddeus would have been so proud of you."
"I think he would have been too," Milo agreed. "Then again, he was proud of me no matter what I did." He grew somber. "I miss him."
"We all do," Whitmore said. "He was my best friend."
"I wish I could have met him," Kida said.
"He would have loved you," Helga decided.
"I agree," Milo smiled.
"Hey, Mr. Whitmore," Audrey called. "It's time to hit the road!"
"I guess this is it," Milo said. "For this visit, at least. You do plan on coming back, right?"
"I have every intention of it," Whitmore promised. He turned to Helga. "I especially want to meet your little one."
Helga leaned down and kissed him on his cheek. "I'd like that."
Then he turned to Kida. "I hope you and Milo start a family of your own one day too."
"We would like to," Kida told him.
"Yeah, um, we've been, uh, talking about it," Milo said, looking a little embarrassed.
"I think you'd better change the subject," Helga interjected.
"Thank you," Milo breathed as Kida elbowed him.
"He is a little uncomfortable with the idea of becoming a father," Kida confided to Whitmore.
"He'll make a great one," Whitmore told her.
The horn of the expedition's vehicle started honking.
"You better get going," Milo said. "Audrey's getting impatient."
"I'm sure I'm in for an earful from her as it is," Whitmore told him. He gave Milo one last hug. "You take care of yourself and that beautiful wife of yours."
"I will, Mr. Whitmore."
Whitmore smiled, waved, and walked off towards the waiting vehicle.
A loud scream ripped from Helga's already raw throat.
"You are doing fine," Eyris said. "You are very close. I can see the beginning of the head now."
"Oh, god. Oh, god. Oh, god," Helga panted. "It hurts. It hurts!"
"I know, sweetie, I know," Eyris told her. "Not much longer. I'm going to need you to push again."
"I can't," Helga told her. "I just can't."
"You are going to have to," Eyris told her gently. "You want this baby out of you, do you not?"
"Yes!" Helga cried as another contraction began.
"How close is it?" a very pregnant Kida asked from her position behind Helga.
"It should only be another couple of minutes, Your Highness," Eyris informed her. She turned her attention back to Helga. "Push."
"I can't!" Helga told her through gritted teeth.
"Yes you can," Eyris insisted. "Now, push!"
Helga clamped down on Kida's hand as she pushed with her remaining strength, screaming in pain.
"Here it comes!" Eyris announced. "Keep pushing!"
"You can do it!" Kida encouraged. "I can see more of the head!"
"Is it over yet?" Milo asked from the back of the room.
"Almost," Kida told him. "You should come and watch so you can know what to expect when our baby comes."
"No thank you," Milo told her. "I think I'll just wait another three months."
Helga screamed again. "I want this out of me! Oh, god!"
"Just one more," Eyris told her. "One more push."
Helga shook her head. "I can't! I can't!"
"On three," Eyris said. "One..."
"No! I can't!"
"Please! I don't have the strength."
Helga felt the baby slide out of her as Eyris pulled it from her body.
"You did it!" Kida cried happily.
"Congratulations," Eyris beamed. "You have a daughter!"
"A daughter?" Helga started to cry. "I have a daughter?"
She heard the sound of flesh hitting flesh and then heard her baby let out her first cries.
"Here you go," Eyris said as she handed the wailing baby to her sobbing mother.
Helga reached out and pulled her daughter to her. "She's so beautiful," she managed.
"Yes, she is," Kida agreed.
"Wow," Milo said as he came over. "She's really something."
The little baby continued to cry.
"What do I do?" Helga asked, panicking. Was anything wrong with her baby?
"She's just hungry," Eyris assured her.
"Oh," Helga said, still completely in awe of what she had just been through.
"Let me help you," Eyris said. She reached down and opened up Helga's robe just enough to expose one breast. "Just bring her to you. She'll know what to do."
Helga brought her daughter to her breast and the little girl latched on almost immediately. She cradled her baby in her arms as she fed. She looked up at Eyris, Kida, and Milo. "I-I don't know how to describe what I'm feeling. This...this... It's better than I ever imagined."
"Do you have a name for her?" Eyris asked.
"Yes. Christine," Helga told her.
"That is a beautiful name," Kida said.
"She's named after someone with a beautiful soul," Helga said, gazing down at baby Christine. "My husband Christopher."
"Your daughter will have one too, I am sure of it," Kida told her.
"Thank you," Helga smiled up at her before turning her attention back to her baby. "I'll make sure she has the best of everything."
"As long as she has your love, she will," Kida said.
Helga felt that her breast was empty of milk, but Christine was still sucking. "Should I give her the other one?" she asked Eyris.
"No, let me cut the cord first," Eyris told her. She held out her arms.
Helga gently pulled Christine away from her breast to hand her to Eyris. Christine immediately started fussing.
"There, there, little one," Eyris said. "I will give you back to your mahtihm in a moment."
Eyris laid Christine down on the foot of the bed while she went to retrieve a cloth and a knife. Christine started crying.
"It's all right, Baby," Helga called. "Mahtihm's here. I'm here. Don't you cry." She had decided to use the Atlantean word "mahtihm" for herself instead of "mother" or "mama". It was her way of showing Milo and Kida how much she appreciated them letting her stay.
Eyris returned with the items. She used the cloth to tightly clamp the umbilical cord and then severed it with the knife. "You will feel another contraction very soon now. The afterbirth has to be delivered."
"There's more?!" Milo said. He turned to Kida. "I don't know if I can go through this again!"
Kida punched his arm. "You will be right by my side. We will welcome our baby into the world together."
"Give it up, Mr. Thatch," Helga said. "You know you have no choice." As she spoke, she felt the new contraction starting. "Eyris!"
"Kida, please take Christine," Eyris told the queen as she moved into position.
Kida came and took Christine who was still crying. "She wants her mahtihm," Kida decided.
"I'm still here, Baby," Helga called. "You'll be with me in a-" The sentence was cut off by a growl of pain.
"I need you to push again," Eyris said. "This is the last time, I promise."
Helga nodded as she started to bear down again.
"Now, push!" Eyris commanded.
With another cry, Helga passed the afterbirth, officially ending both the pregnancy and the labor.
As Eyris collected the bloody sack for disposal, she said, "Your Highness, you can give Helga her baby back."
"Here you go," Kida smiled. "Go back to Mahtihm."
As soon as Christine found herself back in her mother's arms, she calmed down.
"She knows me," Helga smiled, fresh tears streaming down her face. "My baby knows me."
"Would you like some time alone with your daughter now?" Eyris asked.
Helga, who had just given Christine her second breast, looked up. "Yes." She turned to Milo and Kida. "That is, if you don't mind."
"Of course not," Kida told her. "Come on, Milo." She grabbed him by the arm. "We will come and visit you later."
"Thank you," Helga said gratefully. "For everything."
"I will check on you both soon," Eyris promised.
Helga watched the three of them leave and then turned all her attention back to her feeding daughter.
"My beautiful Christine," she said in a very quiet voice. "I love you so much." She pulled her closer to her. "I promise you the most wonderful life possible. You'll never want for anything. I will be the best mahtihm you could ever wish for." She leaned down and kissed her. "And you'll never know about your real father. I swear to god you won't. He doesn't deserve to have you know about him.
"As far as you're concerned, my sweet daughter, your father is Christopher Jenkins, the most wonderful man who ever lived. I'm so sorry you weren't able to meet him.
"He would have loved you as if you were his own."
She felt Christine finish and gently pulled her away from her breast. Christine just looked at her and yawned, apparently exhausted from her exciting new life.
Helga cradled her against her chest and leaned back on the bed.
"Go to sleep now, my little one."
Christine yawned again and closed her eyes.
And Helga did the same.