Chapter 1: Burning Up
Connor couldn't believe it had taken him so long to think of it.
Five weeks back from the Cretaceous, and they'd been busy. Lester had gotten them around the 'military only' rule, but Matt wanted Connor and Abby to have a certain amount of training, enough to keep them alive if necessary. Both had been working, bare-handed and with weapons, to meet his admittedly lax standards. Jess had walked Connor through the changes to his system and he'd promptly suggested three more upgrades and countless other ideas. Lester had gotten their paperwork back in order – even without being declared dead, vanishing for a year had made a mess of their private lives. Abby had reunited with Jack, so happy to see him that it took a good twenty minutes before he started irritating her.
But it still felt wrong. It still wasn't home.
Connor was working late one evening, implementing one of the upgrades he'd discussed with Jess. He was all but alone; one soldier on guard at the door, one passing through on rounds every few minutes. Lester was gone. Abby and Jess had gone. Matt – actually, Connor had no idea where Matt was. They hadn't talked, apart from the necessary, though he seemed pleasant enough.
Connor's grip slipped and he brushed a wire. Gasping at the mild shock, he threw himself backwards without thinking.
"Alright, Connor?" the guard called, starting towards him.
"Yep! Fine. No problem." He scrambled to his feet, shaking out his hand. "I need coffee. Don't let anyone touch that, alright?"
There was a wall just inside the door of the rec room. Everyone passed it every day. And somehow, it had become a shrine to the people who weren't there anymore. No one knew who'd started it - or, they weren't talking, whichever - but Lester had made no comment, and Burton never came in here, so it had stayed.
Connor, as he always did, brushed his fingers over certain pictures as he passed. Stephen, in Cutter's office, laughing at something off-screen. Cutter, fiddling with the Anomaly Matrix. Ryan; they'd used his official ID photo, since they didn't have another. Danny, talking to Becker. Sarah, smiling and chatting with –
Connor's breath caught in his throat and he whipped around, pulling the photo from the wall. Sarah was leaning on her worktable, talking with Jenny.
Connor took just long enough to tidy away his tools and make sure that the ADD was still working. "Turning in?" the guard asked as he left.
"Yeah, I'm tired. Can't see straight. I'll sort it in the morning. Night."
Abby was asleep. Connor touched her arm lightly; it would wake her, he knew. Neither of them were sleeping very well since the Cretaceous.
"Mphm...Connor?" She pushed up onto her elbows, staring at him. "What is it?"
Connor held out the photo, settling beside her. Abby took it, fingers brushing gently over Sarah's face.
"What about it?" she asked after a minute. "I've seen it."
"Jenny," Abby repeated. "Connor? I need you to explain exactly what you're thinking, ok? And use small words, it's twenty past two in the morning."
Connor took the photo back, staring at it. "Cutter said that Jenny was Claudia. That the world changed, just a little, when he went to the Permian. They changed something and it made Claudia turn into Jenny."
"I remember," Abby agreed, still not following.
He looked up, meeting her gaze. "We were in the Cretaceous for a year, Abby. Eating fish, and little dinos, building our home, moving things. What's the knock-on effect of that?"
She blinked. "You think something changed?"
"Lester – our Lester, the Lester we left behind – he would never have made the ARC military-only. He didn't even like Ryan, to start with. It was always civilians, always. Becker wouldn't have gone along with it. Matt – maybe he'd have come to us, or maybe he’d have gone climb more mountains, I don’t know. But Abby, this place, it isn't right. It isn't our home."
Abby sat upright, pulling her legs in to sit cross-legged. "Connor..."
"We can do something about it. We need to get back, and then...I dunno, we'll figure something out, but...we can't stay here, Abby. This isn't home. It's not."
"It's not home," she agreed softly. "But it's what we have. Connor, we can't just go messing around with the Anomalies. That's what Helen Cutter did, and she went insane and tried to wipe out humanity. Remember?"
"I'm not gonna wipe anyone out," Connor protested.
"You don't know that. If Cutter had gone back, and changed things back, Jenny would have been gone. Our friend, Jenny, gone."
"It isn't...it's not the same, Abs."
Abby glanced at the clock again. "I can't talk about this now, Connor, I can't even keep my eyes open. Come and lie down with me and we'll worry about it tomorrow, yeah?"
"You don't believe me."
"I agree it's possible. That's all you're getting tonight. Come and lie down. Please?"
He gave in, lying down and wrapping his arms around her, listening as her breathing evened out into sleep.
She didn't believe him. Didn’t think it possible. Abby was happy here, settling back in as though nothing had happened. As though Danny wasn't still MIA, as though Sarah hadn't died trying to save them.
Abby had forgotten them.
Connor would never forget.
He didn't let on, of course. Connor was smarter than that. The next morning, while Jess was getting ready, he quietly went through the plan again with Abby and allowed her to talk him out of it. It wasn't hard; she kept harking on how he didn't know anything, he couldn't know how to change things to get the results he wanted.
He didn't know. That much was true. But Connor had never met a subject he couldn't learn about, and he wasn't going to start now.
It took a long time. Weeks. Connor let Abby think he'd forgotten it – tiredness-induced rambling – and pretended not to notice how she murmured with the rest of the team, and the curious looks he was getting. Someone was always around, now, when he stayed to work late, and for some reason they never had anything better to do than sit somewhere near him – but not too close, because he spread his tools widely around him – and chat about absolutely useless stuff.
He kept the act up. He talked movies and music with Jess, discussed plants with Matt, pretended Becker's attempts at small talk weren't so laughable. He was nice enough, Becker, but they didn't really have anything in common, so they usually ended up reminiscing or giving out about Matt. Lester never tried to chat, of course, just watched from his office before ordering him home. Those nights were the best, because Lester never came close enough to see what he was actually doing.
Connor wasn't stupid, of course. He kept his research to do during the day, usually just after an alert. The others were busy with their own reports, then, and they rarely bothered him. Plenty of time for his own work.
It wasn't until he started going through Sarah's old reports that he made his break-through. She'd never finished translating Helen Cutter's notebook, but she had scanned it onto her hard drive as a back up. No one had touched her files since, and that had been only a few weeks before her death; as far as Connor could tell, no one knew the digital copy was there.
He transferred it to his own computer, locked it under twelve different levels of security, and erased it from Sarah's. Now no one would ever know about it.
It still wasn't easy, of course. Helen was a lot of things, including both intelligent and paranoid. The notebook was written in a dozen different ciphers, switching randomly from one to the next, and there were notes scribbled all over the main entries. Still, Connor had time, and he worked patiently at it.
It was getting harder to keep up appearances with the team. He heard them talking, sometimes, about Burton and the sudden influence he seemed to have. It was news to Connor, who hadn't even realised Burton was wooing him, but it was useful. Burton would never admit that Connor wasn't working for him, so 'staying to work on a project Philip asked me to do' became his new excuse. No one expected anything he did for Burton to be comprehensible, so once he'd copied Helen's work into his own handwriting he could work on it right out in the open without fear of being caught.
When he finally cracked it he left it for a week before coming back to check his work. He didn't want to risk making a mistake at this point. He was only going to get one shot at this.
He'd been requesting bits of tech from Jess on and off for a while. More requests had gone to Burton, and he'd sourced the rest of what he needed himself. No one here would be able to figure out what he was doing.
When he was ready, he waited patiently for an alert. It was an easy one, luckily, no incursion and the Anomaly closed up within an hour. He helped the others pack up and then asked Abby if she’d mind driving back with Matt. “I want to run some scans,” he explained. “I want to add another field to the database, but I need to check it out first.”
“I’ll wait with you,” Becker offered.
“You’ll be bored,” Connor warned him. “It’s not going to take long, and I’ll keep me box on. I won’t be far behind you.” He grinned at Abby. “Pick a movie. I’ll be home to watch it.”
“You’re sure?” Becker asked, already edging towards the truck.
“Go on. I’ll be an hour, tops.”
“Alright,” Matt agreed. “Check in when you’re done, yeah?”
“Promise. Go on.” He bent over his laptop, typing until they drove away.
Then he dropped his black box, ripped the GPS out of the car, and headed for the stadium.
The Anomaly here continued to open sporadically. The ARC had a team on site with a locking mechanism at all times, and nothing had come through since the dodo that had killed Tom. That was fine with Connor; he didn’t want anything to come through.
He greeted the team, grinning easily. “Just came to check your locking mechanism,” he told them. “We’re doing some upgrades, I wanna make sure it’s ready.”
“Go ahead,” he was told, and easy as that, he was ignored again. He’d been counting on that, of course; the soldiers never paid much attention to the techies.
He kept one eye on his watch, installed a one-use-only timer and then he poked uselessly at the mechanism. He was coming up on the hour he’d asked for, and he knew his new team leader well enough to know he’d call at exactly sixty five minutes.
Then the Anomaly opened, and Connor dropped his tools, hit the delay he’d just installed and lunged for it. The locking mechanism locked it behind him, and he crowed in triumph. No one was coming through there until the next time it opened, which wouldn’t be for almost a week. He’d be long gone by then.
He was very careful about his route. Helen had mapped hundreds of Anomalies, but he knew exactly where and when he needed to be and he stuck to it. He was almost surprised when he stepped through the last one and found himself on a cliff, watching Hesperonis squawk.
Nick was walking back into the sea; Helen was standing on the beach, watching him go. Connor gave himself exactly three seconds to stare at Nick before scrambling down towards her.
Helen whirled at the sound, drawing a knife from somewhere. Connor raised his hands, pulling off his backpack and slinging it to one side, out of his reach.
Helen relaxed fractionally, watching him. “You’re Nick’s boy. What are you doing here?”
“I’m not Nick’s anything. Nick’s dead.”
“Is he?” She didn’t seem too surprised. “Where did you come from, then?”
“Four years ahead of him.” He jerked his head towards the beach.
“I need – something changed. Something went wrong. I need you to tell me how to fix it.”
“What makes you think I’ll do that?”
Connor glanced at his watch. “In a few minutes, soldiers are gonna come, sent by Lester to capture you. Nick didn’t know, but – “ He shrugged. “Isn’t the last time. I can help you.”
“You’ll mess up the timeline.”
“The timeline is wrong. I can’t fix it on my own. I need you.” He glanced out at the sea; bubbles were starting to rise. Turning, he scooped up his backpack and started back up the cliff. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
“I could turn you in,” she called from behind him.
“No, I don’t think you could.”
He was out of sight before the soldiers surfaced, but he could hear them. Helen fought like a madwoman, but she didn’t give him up, and no one thought to look around. Who else would be here, after all?
He was dozing in the sun the next afternoon when someone stepped into his light. Without opening his eyes, he asked, “Convinced?”
“Did I kill Nick?”
She didn’t speak for a moment; when he opened his eyes she was nodding, gaze far away. “I thought so. He destroys the world, you know.”
“He doesn’t. I’ve been to the future, after he died. If it had been him it would have changed.”
She sat down, watching him. “You’re still his boy. You can’t do what’s necessary.”
“I spent a year in the Cretaceous killing for my life,” he said evenly. “I betrayed the ARC to find you. I’ll do anything to get my home back.”
“I see.” She nodded sharply. “Well then. Let’s get started.”
Chapter 2: Don't know just how far that I can go
"The problem is," Helen said one afternoon, "we don't know exactly where the ripple started."
They were in the Cretaceous, watching his younger self attempt to hunt. It was early in That Year, judging by the slight stiffness in his movements and the state of his beard, but Connor didn't know exactly when. He wasn't even sure how long he'd been with Helen; they'd jumped timezones and seasons and day/night divides so often his body had simply stopped trying to compensate.
"I don't understand why we can't just send them home. You've got the remote, we could do it easy."
Below them, the boy was so absorbed in studying a plant he completely missed the two Bagaceratops running past behind him, and Connor winced. How did he even survive to make it home?
"We could do that," Helen agreed. "But you've already been here a while. We need to prevent you coming here at all."
"Well, then don't get captured by Christine's man."
She considered him for a moment. "Alright. Let's try that."
They waited long enough for the changes to take effect. Connor still didn't understand that; he thought once they changed something the effects should be instantaneous, but Helen said no. Some changes were reabsorbed by the timestream - if they killed Hitler, Nazi Germany would rise under someone else - and sometimes it took a little while for the effects to ripple through.
When she thought it was ready Helen took him to the Permian Anomaly. "Don't be too long," she warned him. "I won't wait for you."
"No, I don't suppose you will," he agreed, stepping through.
The two soldiers on duty snap to when he steps out. Connor raises his hands, waiting for them to recognise him, but they don't calm. If anything, they're getting louder and more demanding.
"Alright, guys, it's just me," he protests. They have to know who he is; he and Helen haven't done anything that could affect his inclusion in the Project.
One of the soldiers grabs his shoulder, shoving him to the ground. Connor goes, too startled to resist, and then he's being straddled and his wrists are being cuffed far too tightly. He struggles, more out of shock than any belief he can escape, and gets a cuff to the head that leaves him seeing stars.
The soldiers hold a quick, urgent conversation over his head, finally hauling him to his feet. Connor sags heavily, waiting for one of their grips to loosen.
They drag him to a nearby Jeep. One of them, the one on Connor's left, lets go of him to open the doors; Connor plants his feet, shoving against the other with all his strength. He succeeds in tearing loose, but the man is between him and the Anomaly and he has to backpedal.
It's a step too far; the other soldier is on him, driving the barrel of his gun into Connor's stomach. His head meets the second guard's knee on the way down and blackness rushes in.
He wakes up as they yank him out of the Jeep in the ARC's yard. His ribs protest as he draws a breath, his wrists and shoulders ache and his head is pounding. He isn't bleeding, though, and he can tell from the feel his ribs aren't broken or even cracked. That's an improvement over a lot of missions.
The soldiers hurry him inside, almost yanking him off his feet in their hurry. Connor keeps up, just about. The corridors are all but empty, and the couple of people he sees are inevitably soldiers. They all give him wide berths, as though he has something contagious.
They drag him into the operations room. One of them kicks the back of his leg and he crashes to his knees, biting back a yell of pain.
Oh...blast. He sits back on his heels, keeping his face as still as possible.
Christine Johnson, dressed as always to kill, sashays towards him. Connor only glances at her before turning to look around the room. He recognises only one of the thoroughly cowed-looking tech staff, and none of the soldiers.
"Welcome home," Christine says, coming to a halt a couple of feet in front of him.
Connor ignores her, craning back as far as he can. He isn't sure – this is the first ARC, and the office is above him and at a terrible angle – but he thinks he can see Sarah, watching with one hand pressed against her mouth.
No sign of Becker. No sign of Danny. No sign of Lester.
No sign of Abby.
The guard on his left hits him and he turns his attention back to Christine.
"How nice of you to join us," she says mildly. "Where is the Artefact?"
"The what?" he says, genuinely surprised. He hasn't thought about the Artefact, except to bemoan its loss, since Helen smashed it. "Oh, that."
"The Artefact, Mr Temple. You do realise I can have you tried for treason?"
"That won't get you anything, will it?"
She sighs, overly patient. "And your little girlfriend?"
Panic seizes him for a moment, and he almost doesn't hear her continue, "Where is she? Off cavorting somewhere with Quinn, I suppose."
Connor shrugs, forcibly calming himself down, but he knows she's seen his reaction. Her eyes narrow, studying him intently.
"You don't know where she is, do you."
He shakes his head. It's true enough; he has no idea where this world's Abby might be.
"And the Artefact?"
"You're lying," she breathes. "Dear Professor Cutter's last bequest? You'd never destroy it."
"I didn't. But it is destroyed. You don't get to speak Cutter's name."
"Oh, am I disrespecting your dead mentor? How careless of me. Why, it's almost like spitting on his legacy..."
She steps closer, catching his hair to yank his head back. Connor goes with the move, sweeping one leg around to knock her off her feet.
He can't do any real damage, tied as he is, but her screams are pretty satisfying.
Connor looks up as he's dragged away. Sarah has both hands pressed against the glass, watching him. He smiles, deliberately, and she returns the smile a little shakily.
The cell is dark, cold, and boring. There was a lot more kicking and punching before he'd been thrown in here, but they haven't broken anything except maybe a finger. Connor thinks maybe that's a bad sign, if they're being careful to keep him healthy.
But he remembers running on a broken ankle to escape a Raptor. Christine's going to be surprised if she tries to break him.
He occupies himself by mentally reciting the code for his database. It's familiar enough to be comforting, and it's been just long enough since he played with it that he needs to concentrate on it, which of course is the point.
The lights flare up and he lifts a hand to his eyes. The door to the cell opens, someone steps in, and the door closes. Connor doesn't move, waiting for the lights to dim again or his eyes to adjust.
Sarah is watching him when he finally looks up. She's standing with her back to the door, pressed against it.
"Morning," he says softly.
"Connor." She drops to her knees beside him, touching his face lightly. "What's...what are you doing here?"
"Hanging around. What's happened, Sarah?"
"Why aren't you with the others? What happened to the plan?"
"I don't know."
She tilts his head gently, studying the bruise rising over his ear. "That looks nasty."
"It's fine, it doesn't matter. Sarah..." He catches her hands, tugging her around in front of him. "What's going on?"
"What do you mean?"
He grimaces, letting go of her hands and letting his head rest against the wall. "Do you remember...we told you about Nick, about Claudia and Jenny, right?"
"Yes," she says warily. "I don't really understand it, but you told me about it."
"None of us understood it, that isn't important." He waves it away. "I'm not who you think I am."
"You're a different Connor,” she realises. “Not our...where did you come from?"
"Through the Forest of Dean – we were testing something out, and I left from my reality and came back to this one. What's happening? Johnson's dead in my world."
Sarah winced, glancing at the door. "She won't like that," she murmurs. "When did that happen?"
"Um..." He tries to remember the date. "About a month after Jenny left," he says finally. "Where is she?"
"Jenny's fine, Johnson can't touch her. Too high up in Whitehall. She can't do anything for us, but she's fine."
"Good," he murmurs. "Look, I think the split point is that mission we took into the future, to rescue Jack. Did that happen here?"
"Yes. A week or so after that Lester was dismissed and reassigned to some paper-pushing job, and Christine was appointed in his place. You three ran with the Artefact – Becker got a warning to you – but he couldn't get to me."
She shakes her head. "I don't know. I haven't seen him since then – Captain Wilder took him away somewhere. Christine doesn't let me leave. She thinks you – Connor and the others – will come back for me, and she'll be able to get the Artefact."
“She hasn’t hurt you?”
“No. She...no. Connor, I don’t think she’s sane.”
Connor laughs softly. “Yeah, we’ve known that for a while.”
“What happened to her in your time?”
“Helen Cutter fed her to a Future Predator.”
Sarah winces. “Sounds like Helen. Where is my Connor?”
“I dunno. I think he’s gone. We wondered about that with Nick, but we never really figured it out.”
“He’s just...gone? What will the others think?”
Connor shrugs helplessly. “Sarah, I really don’t know. We never came up with any answers.” He glances at the door. “Whatever she asks me, I can’t tell her – I don’t know anything about this timeline. I can’t answer anything.”
“There’s no one to come after you?”
“No. They’re gone, now.”
It hits him for the first time, then. Even if he changes his mind now, there’s no way for him to go home. He’s trapped in this world.
Sarah pretends not to see him wipe at his face, studying the wall over his shoulder until he gets back in control. “Did they hurt you?” she asks finally, touching his cheek again.
“Nah. I’ve had worse.”
She nods. “So. Tell me about your future.”
They talk for a while. Sarah shifts to sit next to him, pressed against him from shoulder to hip. Mostly Connor makes stuff up; he doesn’t want to tell Sarah about her own fate, Matt and Jess’s existence, or the PPP. He knows the cells are wired, after all, and there’s no way Christine is stupid enough to put them together and then not listen in. But he knows enough about prehistory to spin convincing stories – or, at least, Sarah doesn’t call him on it, just listens and nods and laughs in the right places.
The lights flare up again. Sarah presses her head into his shoulder, so she doesn’t see the door opening or the woman standing there. She feels Connor tense up, though.
"Time to go," the newcomer orders briskly.
"It didn't work," Connor says, rising to his feet. Sarah scrambles up with him, completely bewildered.
"I know it didn't work, that's why I'm here. We really can't hang around, Connor."
"Connor, that's Helen Cutter," Sarah protests. "What’s going on?"
"I can't explain right now, Sarah, just come with us."
"Uh uh," Helen says. "She isn't coming.”
"There's nowhere for her to go. You know that."
"Here. Not where we're going. Leave her and let's go."
Connor stares at Sarah, paralysed. "I can't..."
"Yes, you can, just move!" Helen snatches at his collar, hauling him out into the corridor. Sarah stumbles after them, but Helen locks the door before she can get through. "Not you, sweetheart."
"Helen," Connor protests. "Christine'll kill her if we leave her here."
"Soon as we get back, there won't be a here here. You know that. Now come on, or our ride’s going to leave without us."
"Connor?" Sarah calls, high and frightened. "Connor, what are you doing?"
"I'm fixing it," he breathes. "I'm making it right. I'll make it right for you, Sarah, I promise." He backs away, watching until he can't see her anymore, and then turns and follows Helen out of there.
Helen brought them to just after she'd disappeared the first time. Wisely, she took him to an isolated cabin, left money on the table and vanished, promising to be back 'later'.
Connor spent the time writing down everything he could remember, both from his own timeline and from the one they'd just left, and recreating what he could remember of Cutter's probability Matrix and the Artefact's display. When Helen finally came back, almost a week later, he was staring at the Matrix he’d formed.
“Looks good,” she said, dropping her backpack by the door and coming to eye it. “Are you sure you only saw the Artefact working once?”
“Nick was building a model.” He didn’t look at her.
“He always was intuitive.” She tweaked one of the strands. “Ready to try again?”
“We left Sarah to die.”
“You’re trying to save Sarah. Save all of them. You know that.” She considered him. “I knew you couldn’t handle it. Where do you want me to drop you off?”
“You could stay here, I suppose, but you’d have to be very careful not to meet anyone you know. Or you can go back to your own time. I can get you there before you ran off, no one needs to know anything...”
“I can do it.” He pushed to his feet, taking a step away from the table. “I can do it, Helen. What’s next?”
“Next?” She smiled. “Next we kill my husband.”
Chapter 3: Soon be Home
Connor talked her out of it, in the end.
After all, from their point of view it didn't much matter when she went to kill Nick. Connor had already told her everything he remembered from that day – everything except the Artefact's movements – and she agreed, eventually, that she could take the time to grow a few more Cleaner clones.
"Why kill him at all?" Connor asked one afternoon. "You know it doesn't stop the Future Predators getting released. Maybe Cutter could stop it, if he was still in the ARC."
"How do we know it doesn't stop them?"
"We went there chasing Jack, months after Cutter died. The Predators hadn't evolved, it wasn't long enough – but they were there. It was more than long enough for the ripples to have reached them, if it really was Cutter set them loose." He tugged restlessly at one of the strings on his Matrix. "Just – don't kill him. Try it, at least."
"It won't help."
"Then what's the harm in trying?"
"When this doesn't work, will you stop trying to make suggestions? I've spent more time putting your mistakes right than anything else."
"Yeah, cos 'kill husband' and 'destroy humanity' are such intricate plans," Connor snorted. "Yeah, I'll keep mum."
"Good. Then let's see what a difference that makes."
Helen opens an Anomaly for him this time, rather than putting him straight into the ARC's hands. He steps into the street near the flat he shared with Abby, and the Anomaly closes behind him. He heads away quickly; depending on the version of the ADD the ARC is using, they might not even have detected the Anomaly. Still, no sense in tempting fate.
He's almost at the flat when his mobile rings, shockingly loud in the quiet street. Startled – he hadn't been carrying a mobile when he stepped into the Anomaly – he finally fishes it out of a pocket. 'Work (Top Secret)' flashes across the screen.
"Hello, Connor Temple here."
"Connor?" Nick, Nick, it's Nick calling him, he's really here, he hasn't died! Connor pulls the phone away to check the date on the screen.
Almost three months after his Nick had died. Helen's kept her word.
He clamps the phone back against his ear, scrubbing his eyes with the other hand. "Yeah. Sorry, you – you're breaking up. Tell me again?"
"I asked if you saw anything."
"The ADD says an Anomaly opened for a few seconds just near your flat."
He's impressed at his other self. The ADD must be seriously tweaked to register an Anomaly that was open such a short time.
"Oh. Did it?" He tries to sound appropriately surprised. "I didn't see anything, but I'll take a look."
"Would you? Quinn's on his way with some of the lads, but it'd be nice to get a first opinion."
Danny! Connor shoves a knuckle between his teeth, biting down hard enough to hurt, before he risks replying.
"Yeah. 'Course. Where is it?"
Nick rattles off a string of numbers, following them up with more mundane directions. "And Connor," he adds, "don't go inviting Quinn in. You've got work to do here, and I know you. You can show him your – X Boy – another time."
"Yes, Professor," Connor says obediently, hanging up and heading back for the Anomaly site.
He's still standing there, eyeing nothing, when Danny pulls up in an ARC 4x4. Becker gets out of the other side and a couple of soldiers come from another vehicle.
"Temple," Danny says evenly. Becker drifts to one side, circling the Anomaly site to come up on Connor's other side. "Anything?"
"Didn't see anything, but I don't think anything's come through." He gestures at the thoroughly undestroyed buildings surrounding them. "No screams, no damage. How long was it open, anyway?"
"Six seconds," Becker offers.
"Hardly enough time for anything to come through, then. I think we're safe."
"You think we're safe," Danny repeats.
Becker shifts. "Connor, get your stuff and I'll drive you in." Glancing at Danny, he adds, "If you don't mind taking the men back, of course."
"No, of course not," Danny agrees, too sweetly. Connor blinks, watching them. Something is very wrong here. "Don't be long. I think the good professor was looking for you."
Becker nudges Connor, who splutters out "No! Of course! I'm practically there already!" Danny rolls his eyes, gesturing the men into his vehicle and driving off.
Becker relaxes slightly, tossing his gun into the back seat and turning to eye Connor. "Go get your stuff, Connor," he says, oddly intent. "We can't be late now, he knows we're coming."
"Why? What's wrong?"
"Just hurry up," Becker insists, pushing him lightly towards his flat. Connor gives up and goes, glancing back over his shoulder.
His bag is sitting on the end of the couch; he gives it a cursory glance, noting the ID sitting in the front pocket. Curious, he pulls it out to study; the biometric chip shines, and he frowns. When did the ARC switch to biometrics?
Rex chirps from inside a tank. Connor, conscious of Becker waiting, checks his food and water by eye before running for the stairs.
Becker has pulled the Jeep up to the door; Connor scrambles in, shoving his bag down to his feet. "There, was I too slow?"
"Always," Becker mutters.
"Sorry." Connor looks away. "Had to check on Rex, didn't I."
"Connor, you...I didn't hear that."
"Because I can't lie to Quinn," he says through gritted teeth. "Now just – remember where you are, alright?"
"In a Jeep?" Connor says, baffled.
"An ARC Jeep. Mind your mouth."
Connor gives up, sitting in obedient silence until they reach the ARC. The soldiers at the gate check the ID carefully before letting him through, and that's new, too; the guards know their job, but they usually wave Connor through on sight without checking his ID. This way might be safer, but it makes him jumpy.
"Behave," Becker murmurs as he parks. He doesn't look at Connor, just slides out of the Jeep, takes his gun and heads inside. Baffled, Connor follows him.
At least his workspace is in the same place. Sarah nods as he passes but doesn't speak. Abby is nowhere in sight, but Nick is talking to Lester on the ramp outside his office. Connor settles at his desk, running an eye over the bits and pieces scattered there, trying to get a handle on what he'd been working on. It looks like something to do with the handheld detectors; he shifts a couple of pieces aside, looking for the scraps of notes he typically writes to himself. 'Check red wire' – that's less than helpful. 'Radio buzz' – what was that about? Ah, here – ‘screen needs better resolution'. He can work with that.
Nick is standing on the other side of his desk when he looks up. Lester's in his office, but Danny's standing on the ramp, watching the movement below.
"Nothing to report from this morning?" Nick asks, fiddling with a bit of wire.
"Nah, didn't see anything. I don't think there was anything to see, to be honest. Becker says six seconds?"
"Aye, six." He glances up at Danny, frowning. "How's the work going?"
"Ah, it's going. The size is the problem, making the screen res higher is pretty difficult without making the whole thing bigger."
"Our lord and master won't like that," Nick muttered.
"What, Lester? Nah, I'll talk specs at him until he signs off on what I want."
Nick's giving him a very odd look, but he doesn't have time to question it before the ADD goes off. Danny bounds down the ramp, hanging over the back of Connor's chair as he pulls up the coordinates.
He barely has time to read them out before Danny's ordering everyone around, demanding an update on the handhelds and scowling when Connor tells him they're not ready yet. Connor isn't quite sure why Danny is giving orders instead of Nick, but everything's moving too quickly for him to ask; he ends up in Becker's Jeep again before he really knows what's going on.
Becker doesn't talk as they drive; Connor, conscious of the two soldiers in the back, sits in absolute silence except for the occasional direction. Danny's already at the Anomaly when they reach it, eyeing it carefully; Sarah is standing a little way behind him. She turns when Becker pulls up, moving to join them quickly.
Nick arrives a few minutes after that; Connor already has the Anomaly locked, and Becker and his men are searching for traces of an incursion. Connor pulls Sarah to one side, out of earshot.
"I have what might be a stupid question," he says softly.
"Makes a change." Sarah smiles, so he's not sure if that's meant as an insult or a tease.
She flinches, glancing at Danny. "Still in the Med Bay, isn't she? I hadn't...was she supposed to be released today?"
"Oh. Must've got my days mixed up." He frowns. "I was sure it was today. No – complications, or anything?"
"Not that I've heard, but surely you'd know."
"Yeah, yeah. Guess I'm just anxious."
"I can understand that." She smiles, patting his arm. "Don't worry, Connor. She doesn't blame you. Just be more careful what you say, yeah?"
"Yeah, I...wait, what? Blame me?"
Danny comes up, demanding to know how long the Anomaly's going to last. Connor scrabbles for his compass, but the best answer he can give is 'A while.' The Anomaly is holding steady, no sign of decreasing magnetism.
"A while," Danny repeats. "Well, it's a good thing we brought you along, isn't it. A while."
"What d'you want me to say?" Connor retorts, stung. "The magnetic field is steady, no sign of deterior..."
"If I wanted to be babbled at," Danny starts, and then reconsiders. "No, that is your job, isn't it. Talk specs until he signs off on what I want." His Yorkshire is terrible, but Connor gets the message.
"Just fooling around, wasn't I?" he mutters, dropping his gaze. That seems to satisfy Danny, because after another couple of pointed comments he wanders off to yell at Becker.
"Alright?" Sarah asks softly.
Connor nods, absently asking, "When did Danny turn into the bad guy?"
Seeing her flinch, he adds hastily, "Don't listen to me, I'm...didn't sleep well. Not thinking straight. I'm going to check the locking mechanism."
He hurries to fiddle with it, pretending not to see Sarah cross to Nick, or his sudden look. Apart from Danny's strange temper – and Abby, he thinks guilty, who he seems to have hurt somehow – this is still almost home. Nick is here. He can't give it up so fast.
Nick manoeuvres himself into Becker's Jeep when the Anomaly finally closes – Connor was able to predict it almost an hour in advance, which still wasn't fast enough for Danny. They drive in silence for a while before Becker slows, pulling in to the side of the road.
Nick turns in his seat, eyeing Connor. "What's going on with you today?"
"What?" Connor says, blinking innocently. Becker's gotten out of his seat, and Connor can't see him without looking away from Nick, which he doesn't dare to do.
"The way you talked about Lester, you forgot about Abby, you were surprised at Danny's temper. What's going on?"
"Hit my head?" he says hopefully. Nick scowls, and he sighs. "Yeah, didn't think so."
"Anyone hungry?" Becker says suddenly from behind him. Connor jumps, almost smashing his head into the roof of the Jeep. That's a bit of irony he can do without.
"I could eat," Nick says immediately. Connor goes to answer, and Nick waves him to silence. "How are we for time?"
"We've got some. There's a cafe not far from here. We won't be long." He gets back in, openly handing a weapon to Nick, who holds it long enough to be sure Connor's seen it before tucking it into his belt.
"That's really dangerous," Connor muttered.
"No, it's a nice place," Becker says warningly. Connor nods, getting the message. Whatever had allowed them to talk openly, it's passed. He starts describing the flickers in the magnetic field; Nick nods approvingly, joining in where appropriate, but his eyes are still hard and cold.
They pull up to the cafe, all talking loudly about how hungry they are and whether it's worth bringing coffee back to the others or not. Connor gets out when the others do, watching Nick shift the gun into a hidden sheath. "You won't need that," he murmurs. "I swear, Professor."
"Maybe," Nick agrees, not quite so hard now. "You'll forgive my caution, though."
Becker walks them around the side of the building; there's a staff entrance, with a bus boy lounging outside, but he disappears when Becker glares at him. Becker checks the door to make sure it's locked before turning the glare on Connor. "Talk."
"Claudia Brown," he blurts.
Nick is instantly wary. Becker just looks confused; they mustn't have told him, in this world. Connor doesn't remember when they told Becker in his world, though he's sure they did.
"Who's Claudia Brown?" Becker asks.
Nick shakes his head, watching Connor. "When?"
"But you haven't..." He grimaces. "The Anomaly."
"Yeah. I'm sorry, Professor."
"Cutter," Becker hisses.
"It's alright, Captain," Becker says.
"I am, I think," Connor says quietly. "Professor, the split's about four months ago, before Danny joined. I don't know what..."
"Quinn didn't join," Becker spits. Connor's surprised at the venom in his voice; Becker and Danny had respected each other well enough.
"He was foisted on us," Nick explains. "A woman called Christine Johnson..."
"Again?" Connor blurts, and then shakes his head. "No, never mind, she's been making trouble for us too. But we hired Danny to spoke her."
"He wasn't working for her?"
"For Johnson?" Connor repeats in disbelief.
"Professor," Becker says sharply.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, Becker," Nick tells him. "Connor, why do you think the split was there?"
"Why did Danny go to Johnson?"
"Because we wouldn't let him in."
"We did. Eventually. Did you find the house? His brother?"
Nick considers him. "The house, yes. The little camouflaged gremlins? But we didn't find his brother."
"No, nor us, that's not what I meant, sorry." Connor presses the heels of his hands against his eyes. "We met him there, he found out about the Anomalies, and he quit his job and stalked us. Helped out a few times – the G Rex?"
Becker nods, giving up on understanding. "He was there, but we arrested him and had him off the grounds before anything happened."
"He saved my life that day. And there were others, too. Johnson wanted us to hire her Captain, Wilder, and Lester took Danny on to block him."
"Why did she want you to hire anyone?" Becker demands. Connor winces, looking away, and Becker grimaces as he realises. "Oh."
"Oh what?" Nick protests.
"You were dead," Becker says bluntly. "Or I was. Quinn can't fill in for anyone else."
Connor refuses to meet their eyes. "So you guys rejected Danny, and Johnson snatched him up. But he isn't – Danny's not a bad guy. I can't believe he changed that much in three months."
"Three months," Nick says quietly. "Connor, what changed?"
"I can't, how can I...I can't put it back, Professor. I can’t go back to that."
"Yes, you can," Becker says firmly. "Quinn is stifling the ARC, Connor. He's destroying our ability to control the Anomalies and the Creatures. He's setting us up to fail so that Johnson can take over. If you can change that, if you can – he was really a good man?"
Connor almost laughs at the plaintive tone. "Yeah. You – you weren't friends, really, but you respected each other."
Then he realises what he's just said, and looks guiltily at Nick.
"Can you fix it?" Nick asks softly.
Connor nods reluctantly. "Get me to an Anomaly, I can put it back the way it was. Professor..."
"People are dying. He hurt Abby because you – Connor – mouthed off."
"Pushed her out of the way of an Incursion none of the rest of us saw, not even her." Becker's voice drips disdain. "Broke her arm in three places."
Connor swallows, hard, and then nods. "I can fix this. I can."
"Good man," Nick says warmly.
"You need to get the ADD offline so we can get you through an Anomaly," Becker says quickly. "Undetectably offline. Can you do that?"
"Oh, yeah. Not a problem," Connor assures him.
"Good. Come on; we've been too long already. Just keep your head down, alright? Don't do anything to piss him off."
"I'll be careful."
Nick sits in the back of the Jeep with him on the way back. They don't talk, but it's comforting to have him there.
Danny is nowhere in sight when they get back to the ARC. Connor heads straight for the ADD, already planning his undetectable sabotage.
It doesn't take long. He knows the system well enough to have it planned out before he even picks up a tool. He's careful to hide what he's done; if any of the other techs happen to be back here for any reason, they won't see it. Luckily he seems to have been as paranoid here as he was in his own world.
He's back in his own lab before Danny turns up, busy on the handhelds. He keeps his head down and doesn't respond to any of the jibes Danny throws at him, and eventually the older man gives up and goes away.
Any time Connor looks up that day, Becker or Nick are in his eyeline. They're never looking at him, but they're always there.
The handheld goes off, finally. Connor silences it and works for another couple of minutes before setting off a minor electrical fault. It sparks beautifully and he throws himself backwards off the stool, crashing to the ground amidst curses and yells.
Becker is there, pulling him back to his feet. Connor shakes out his hand, grimacing, and Nick comes to check it. "Got some mild burns there," he says, sounding concerned. "What happened?"
"Overloaded it." Connor snatches his hand back as Danny and Lester approach, tucking it hastily into his armpit. "I miscalculated the power draw."
"Of course you did," Danny agrees, eyeing the still sparking remains. "Don't suppose you'll get this finished tonight."
"He's going home," Nick says before Connor can answer.
"We need the handhelds."
"He needs his hands."
"Take him home," Lester interrupts before it can degrade into hair-pulling and name-calling. "Bright and early tomorrow, Temple." More gently, “Take care of that.”
“Yes, sir,” Connor mumbles, turning when Becker tugs at his arm. Nick follows behind him.
“Tell me you have the handheld,” Becker breathes. Connor tips his head down and Becker grins, hand tightening briefly on Connor’s arm.
The Anomaly isn’t far, in an empty alley. Becker parks across the entrance and they all sit, watching it in silence.
“Does it matter where it goes?” Nick asks finally.
“No,” Connor says reluctantly. “I can – it’ll work. Wherever it goes.”
“Then you should go,” he says gently. “Before Quinn gets here.”
Becker catches Connor’s look and gestures to his GPS. “Better hurry.”
“See you on the other side, mate.” Connor pats his arm in lieu of anything else, scrambling out of the Jeep.
Nick meets him, walking towards the Anomaly. They stop a few feet from it, eyeing it.
“Was it a good death?” Nick asks suddenly.
“Let a man be curious, Connor.” He smiles, but there’s no humour in it. “Was it?”
“Saved lives,” Connor lies.
“Good. That’s good.”
“I sat with you. While you died.”
“Good,” Nick says again, softer.
Connor turns abruptly, burying his face in Nick’s shoulder. Nick goes with it, wrapping his arms around Connor and holding on.
“You have to go,” he murmurs, when Connor shows no signs of letting go. “Quinn and Johnson are destroying the world.”
“Yeah,” Connor agrees, muffled.
Nick nudges him and he lets go, turning back towards the Anomaly. “See you around, Professor.”
“Yeah. I’ll see you around, Connor.”
Helen caught back up to him in the Cretaceous. Connor was sitting in the tree he’d fallen out of on his first day here, writing down everything he’d seen and heard and guessed. His younger self and the Abby of this time were out on a hunt; he’d watched them go. He guessed this was somewhere around the halfway mark of their stay.
Helen climbed easily to a branch behind and slightly above him, reading over his shoulder. Connor didn’t bother trying to hide it from her. “It didn’t work, then,” she noted.
“It saved Nick.”
“Hmm. I suppose that’s true.”
“We should go further back,” Connor said, tapping his pen against the branch. “Leek, we should get rid of him – then Stephen wouldn’t die, either.”
“If Stephen stays around, there’ll be no Becker,” Helen pointed out.
“Maybe. Danny still ended up at the ARC. I can’t believe he turned on us so fast, though.”
Helen shrugged, reaching over his shoulder to take the notebook. “You said Johnson had an Anomaly that went to the future? All kinds of pretty tech there. She probably got her hands on some brainwashing machine.”
“Brainwashing machine,” Connor repeated.
“Connor, according to you, I had a necklace that made me look like someone else.”
“Yeah, fair point,” he agreed, rubbing at one eye. “Can we go? I’m tired.”
“Yes.” She tossed his notebook back, swinging down out of the tree. “Come on.”
“What’s the plan now?” Connor glanced over his shoulder as she opened the Anomaly; his detector would certainly draw the two back from their hunt.
Helen tsked as though disappointed, stepping through. Connor followed her quickly, watching the Anomaly close behind them. “Connor, I thought we had a deal. No more suggestions from you.”
“That wasn’t a suggestion, it was a question.”
“Then no questions, either. You’ve tried twice, and it hasn’t worked.” She opened a new Anomaly, grinning over her shoulder at him. “My turn now.”
Chapter 4: Only just a few miles down the road
Helen started working in earnest, though she wouldn't explain anything she was doing to Connor. She kept bringing him places and telling him to do absolutely nothing, or had him do highly specific but seemingly useless jobs while she was away doing other things. A couple of times she left him back at the cabin with his models and notes and went off to work on her own.
Connor stopped trying to figure her out. He still wasn't sure why she was even helping him at all; if they kept altering things, his knowledge of her movements in and out of the ARC would quickly be useless. He didn't question it, though, letting her leave him or give him jobs and doing the maths she asked him to.
He was just finishing up one day when she wandered into the cabin, dropping into a seat. A Cleaner followed her in, taking up a guard position at the door. Connor ignored him after a brief glance; the Cleaners seemed to be under orders to completely ignore him, and he returned the favour.
Helen hadn't tried to introduce him to her Nick clone. He thought if she tried that, he might really walk away. Maybe she thought so, too.
"Are you ready to try again?" she asked, reading through the calculations he'd just finished.
"Do you have a plan?"
"It's ready for you. This is good work."
"S'why you keep me around, isn't it?"
Helen smiled faintly. "Oh, Connor. You have so many uses."
"Yeah, thanks. Where are we going?"
"Has to be that one, this time. Come on. We should go."
Connor nodded, gathering his papers and leaving the calculations with her. He was getting better at predicting the Anomalies, starting to grasp the underlying movements. Nick hadn't been too far off with his temporal fault lines. When Connor got back to his ARC, he'd be able to work out how to predict them. Nothing would come through without their consent ever again.
Helen took him to the Permian. The camp was there, this time, which was unusual; they usually came earlier than that. Connor didn't look. He'd liked Ryan.
"I have a good feeling about this one," Helen said, grinning.
"Uh-huh." Connor stepped through.
Matt's waiting for him on the other side. Connor feels a surge of disappointment, but he quickly tamps it down. Matt's presence doesn't necessarily mean he's failed.
"Connor," Matt says evenly. "What are you doing here?
"You know me. Like to get up close and personal with the Anomalies."
Matt smiles, but there's no humour in it. "How did you get out of the ARC?"
" 'Get out of the ARC?' You make it sound like I'm a prisoner."
Matt considers him for a moment before gesturing to one of his men, who heads off without a backwards glance. Connor doesn't move, standing in the mouth of the Anomaly.
"Are you coming?" Matt asks.
"I'm not sure yet," Connor says warily. "Where would I be coming to?"
"Back to the ARC, of course. Where do you think?"
"Honestly? You're creeping me out a bit, Matt."
"Really? I'm sorry. Does it bother you, seeing someone whose world you destroyed?"
"Forgotten again, Connor? You can only claim trauma-induced amnesia so many times before it stops being funny."
The soldier returns, holding onto Abby's arm. Connor's eyes widen; it's the first time he's seen her since he sent her away from the Anomaly back in the original timeline.
She's looked better.
It reminds him of the tail end of their year in the Cretaceous, when they were both worn to an edge. She's been ground down, too tired to fight anymore, dirty and sore, hair tangled and clothes ripped. There are bruises on her arms and traces of dried blood on her cheek and in her hairline.
She’s never looked more beautiful.
Connor takes a step towards her, but stops before he leaves the Anomaly's field. "Abby."
"Connor," she answers. It's so completely apathetic that he blinks, rocking back on his heels. "What are you doing here?"
"Getting increasingly freaked out, to be honest. What's going on?"
"Come back to the ARC, Connor. You know there's important work to do there. Figuring out how to stop the Anomalies."
"Stop them," he repeats.
"To save my world," Matt puts in. "This isn't gaining you anything, Connor. You know what you've done, and you know what you need to do to fix it. Then it'll all go away. Me and my men. We won't have existed."
"Doesn't work like that," Connor mutters. "It didn't for Helen, it won't for you...Abby, do you trust me?"
"Come on!" Matt orders harshly, striding forward. Connor ducks backwards, almost completely inside the Anomaly now.
"Yes," she whispers. Connor can't tell if it's acknowledgement or genuine belief, but it's enough. He steps backwards again.
Helen was sitting patiently on a nearby rock, waiting for him. She tossed him an apple as the Anomaly vanished; Connor caught it, staring blankly at it for a moment before looking back up at her.
"Back so soon?" she asked sweetly.
He scowled, holding out a hand for her knife. "What did you change?"
"Oh, little things," she said vaguely. "What's wrong? Didn't you like it?"
"Why do my friends keep going insane?" he asked plaintively, dropping to sit next to her and cutting out a slice of the apple.
"Who was insane this time?"
"Matt – you never met him, he was hired to replace Danny when we were in the Cretaceous. I think he took over the ARC, this time." He chewed on the apple, thinking. "Abby looked pretty beaten down. Can you get me back there?"
She gestured to the space where the Anomaly usually appeared. "It'll reoccur soon enough."
"Not that one. Can you sneak me in?"
"Sneaking, that's harder." She considered for a moment. "Let me work on that. Come on; if he's as insane as you think, he might send people through. Let's not be here."
She brought him back to the Cretaceous and left him there for a while. His younger self didn't seem to be around; Connor wondered idly when they were. It had stopped being important a while ago.
He was finished with the equations she'd left him and was doodling idly in the mud at the edge of a stream when she came back, carrying a backpack and wearing another.
"Here." She slung one at him. "We've got an Anomaly, but it's stable, we can't force it back open. If you go through, it'll be three days before you can get back. Do you understand?"
"I need to know what went wrong so I can fix it," he explained. "I can't tell where to make the changes otherwise."
"Well, it's your life. Just remember, three days."
The Anomaly opens up near the zoo. Connor hightails it out of there, and by the time the ARC Jeeps appear he's safely away, sitting in an internet cafe. A couple of minutes gets him past the firewalls, and a few minutes after that he's in the ARC's systems. Whoever's running it now, the databases are still his own creations and it's easy to get in and move around without leaving any trace.
As far as he can tell, Matt was hired as a botanist rather than as team leader about eight months earlier in this timeline. From the look of the mission reports, everything went on as normal for a couple of months after that. Then, as near as he can tell, Matt found a way to override security and brought in sixty or so of his own men.
Information after that is sketchy; the Connor here had been keeping sporadic notes, but obviously only when he wasn't in danger of being seen. From what Connor can gather, the illusion of normal operations is being maintained; he has no idea how Matt is controlling Lester, or indeed anyone else. Even if he's keeping the civilians on hand, ARC military is supposed to be rotated out every few months. The couple of mentions of Becker seem to indicate that he's alive but trapped on the base. There's no mention at all of Sarah, and as far as he can tell Danny's had some kind of 'training accident'.
"Your time's up, mate. You want another hour?"
Connor jumps, erasing his tracks with one keystroke. "No, thank you. I'm finished. Just messing around. You know a good hotel near here?"
Ensconced in a hotel room an hour later, Connor goes through his rucksack carefully. Helen's paranoia is standing him in good stead; he has food, a little money, first aid kit, camping gear, and miscellaneous odds and ends. Enough to keep him safe for a while, if he's careful.
On a hunch he calls down to the front desk. "Yes, sir, we do keep a couple of guest laptops. Shall I send one up to you?"
A few minutes later he's back online, digging through the ARC's mainframe again. The split point this time seems to be the mission with the Future Fungus; for some reason, the ARC had decided after that that they needed a botanist, which had brought Matt on board. Connor couldn't think of anything they could have changed to bring that difference about, but it had obviously happened. Matt’s CV is still on the system; Connor reads it quickly, raising an eyebrow. There’s no mention of army service, no mention of Everest. A lot more mentions of botany and botany-related studies.
So; no Nick, no Stephen. Jenny had left. A quick websearch showed she was safe; her Whitehall position was remarkably consistent and seemed to be safer than the ARC had ever been. Lester's reports are still reaching Whitehall on time; Connor skims a few, trained eye picking out the inconsistencies. Whatever Matt's doing, it's not following ARC protocol. Reading between the lines, Connor figures they're lucky the ARC hasn't been outed yet.
He logs back out and sits for a while, running over his options. He doesn't have his ID, but he can try Whitehall and see what Jenny knows. He can try to break into the ARC; he knows it as well as anyone, better than most. Of course, if Matt got sixty men in without alerting anyone, he has to know it pretty well too.
He can do nothing. He can leave, in two days, and Helen will try again. This world will never happen.
That's probably the smart option. He can learn a lot by trawling the ARC's databases. The safe option is just to stay put and leave in two days.
He's at Whitehall early the next morning, arguing with a succession of guards. Some of them wander off to talk to other people. No one seems to believe he knows Jenny, and ARC doesn't seem to mean anything to anyone. Maybe the Project had a code name, here in Whitehall, so no one could figure it out.
Eventually a man who identifies himself as 'Miss Lewis' assistant' appears. He's polite but cold and firm, telling Connor that Miss Lewis is not available, that he can take a message but can't guarantee when she'll see it as she is not in the building. Connor refuses politely, turning to leave and then pausing.
"Is it her wedding?"
"I couldn't possibly say, sir."
That's alright. Connor's pretty sure he knows where to find Jenny. He'll need to hurry, though, in case the hyenadon are already there.
He steals a car. Not his finest moment, but it's empty and has been sitting there for a while, to judge by the leaves under the wipers, and he needs it. He has enough money for petrol, but not enough to take public transport. Not to where he needs to be.
The hotel is every bit as beautiful as he remembers. It's bustling, workers hurrying around in every direction. Connor finds a corner of the lobby and lurks, waiting.
It takes a while, but finally Jenny walks past, talking to the wedding planner. Connor waits for them to split up before stepping out of his shadowed corner, whistling softly. Jenny turns, eyes lighting up and then shadowing swiftly. She waves to a half-hidden door and turns away, talking loudly and angrily to a worker who happens to be walking past.
Connor slips in through the door, waiting in silence. It's several minutes before Jenny follows, closing the door and pulling the blind over the window.
Then she throws herself at him and hugs him. Connor grunts at the impact, wrapping his arms around her. He hadn't realised how much he missed her until now.
"Connor," she says softly, letting go and drawing back, "what are you doing here?"
"I don't know what's been happening," he says quickly. "I woke up the other day and Matt's all – I think he was going to kill me, Jenny! And Abby's so broken, and I didn't see the others but something's wrong with Danny? And I don't..." He presses a hand against his forehead, a move perfectly calculated on his part.
"Did you hit your head, Connor?" Jenny asks, frowning.
"I...yeah, maybe? Hurts enough, anyway." He lets her tug him to a seat and examine his head. She'll find a bump there; the Cretaceous isn't kind to Connor, no matter how long he spends there. "I don't understand," he says softly.
Jenny sighs, sitting beside him. "Matt's...he isn't who we thought he was," she starts.
"He's a botanist."
"He's trained as a botanist, yes, but that isn't..." She shrugs helplessly. "He says he came from the future. A future we destroyed, the ARC destroyed. All life on the planet, according to him. Humans living underground, surviving on mushrooms and rats."
"And he trained as a botanist in that?" Connor says flippantly, and winces at her look. "Sorry."
"He came back to stop it. He says the plan was just to nudge us away from it, change a few little things, but when he saw us...he brought those men from the future and he's just taken over. He's keeping everyone there, Lester and everyone, he isn't..."
Connor nods. "I know that much. I did some hacking earlier."
"Of course you did," Jenny says, a hint of a smile on her face.
"Jenny – I read the mission reports. They're not – someone's going to get hurt, or die, and there's no you to cover it up. It's going to come out."
"Yes," Jenny agrees. "Matt wants it out. He thinks if everyone knows, the ARC will be under more scrutiny, they'll have to be more careful, and his future won't happen. He's trying to leak it without getting caught."
"What happened to Danny?"
She shakes her head. "I don't know. I haven't been able to find out. I have no connections, Connor, no power left."
Connor nods slowly, absorbing that. "Do you think Matt's right? We killed his future?"
"Something killed his future, but I don't think it was us. The ARC – we were careful, Connor, you know we were. We tried our best."
"Road to Hell," he mutters, sitting down a little harder than he meant to. He's suddenly very tired.
"What's the last thing you remember, Connor?" she asks, concerned.
He thinks carefully. Where was the split? "After you left," he says slowly, "a while after that, Abby's brother fell through an Anomaly. We had to go to the future after him, and there were Future Predators there."
"I heard whispers about that," Jenny muses. "That was some time ago, though, maybe a month. Are you sure you're alright?"
"Tired, I think." He glances around the dim room. "Don't suppose I can kip here for a bit?"
She considers it, biting her lip. "Yes," she decides eventually, "but you'll have to stay put. I'll get you up into a room; one of the visitors had to cancel, so I know there's one empty. Don't go wandering around, Connor; Matt will have someone here, watching."
"I won't," he promises.
"Good. Stay here until I figure something out, alright?"
Connor nods and then sits upright, suddenly remembering. "Jenny? Find a compass – there was a hit on the ADD a day or so ago in this area. It was really brief, so there's probably nothing to worry about, but just to be sure..."
"That's all I need," she mutters. "Where was it?"
Connor reels off the co ordinates from memory, shaking his head at her look. "I don't know where that is. This area. Just – someone's got to have a compass."
"You didn't bring a handheld?"
"Wasn't thinking straight. I'm sure it's nothing."
He waits for her to leave, giving it an extra five thousand seconds before slipping out of the room and sneaking downstairs. The wine cellar is empty, no trace of the hyenadon, and he's back in the little storeroom when Jenny reappears, carrying a garment bag.
"Put this on, quickly," she tells him. Handing him a key card, she adds, "Room three fourteen. Just go straight there; no one's going to notice someone else in a suit wandering around. Stay put and I'll be back later, alright?"
"Got it. Thank you. Hey," he adds as she turns away.
He stands, crossing to lay a gentle kiss on her cheek. "Be happy," he tells her firmly. "You deserve it. I'll take care of things."
"Thank you," she says, smiling, and leaves the room.
Connor sleeps for hours. He hadn't meant to, not with the threat of one of Matt's men running around, but the bed is comfortable and he believes Jenny when she tells him he's safe.
When he wakes there's a tray on the small table and a note from Jenny. The ceremony went off without a hitch, apparently, and the compass she found hasn’t budged. The tea she left is long cold; Connor eats the toast, considering his next move. He'll have to head back to London in the morning to catch his Anomaly, but that still leaves him a good eight hours.
He goes back to sleep.
Jenny catches him in the morning, just before he leaves. She pulls him to one side of the lobby, out of casual view. "Where are you going?"
"Not sure yet," he says honestly. "I've got to figure out what Matt thinks went wrong so's I can fix it. I can't leave him in charge of the ARC," he adds off Jenny's look. "He's going to get someone killed. Abby, maybe."
"Be careful," Jenny orders. "And stay in touch."
"I'll do my best. Got to keep my head down." He hugs her, closing his eyes for one breath. "You forget us," he says, letting her go. "You've got a new adventure now, yeah? Married life? You stick with that and leave the rest to me."
"Connor," she says, sounding worried, but he turns away and jogs out of the building without looking back.
He steals another car without a flicker of guilt. Jenny will work something out with whoever owns it, and she'll know why he did it. He has to get back to London; he doesn't know where the next nearest Anomaly is, if the one here isn't opening.
He gets back to the alley with almost an hour to spare and starts writing up his notes. It doesn't take too long, this time, since he really doesn't know much.
Matt appears as he's finishing up. Connor glances up warily, but his former leader is alone and unarmed as far as he can see. "Connor."
"Matt," Connor says easily. "Don't worry. I'll be out of your hair in five minutes."
"Yeah." He stuffs his notebook into a pocket, leaning back against the wall. "So. From the future, huh?"
"Yeah." Matt is eyeing him oddly. "You know that. You swore you'd figure out what went wrong."
"Well, if you weren't holding us all prisoner and trying to get people killed through inaction, maybe I'd even be doing that. Where's Danny?"
Matt thinks for a moment. "I think you said something about Site Triple Zero."
"Triple Zero is overrun with Future Predators and giant preying mantis."
"Then I guess he's not there anymore."
"You know, I liked you. I thought you were a good man."
"I'm saving the world."
"Ends and means, huh? The Matt I know would never believe that."
The Anomaly flares open and Connor stands. "That's my ride. I'll see you around, Matt."
"I'll be here." Matt doesn't bother hiding the threat in his voice. "Let's hope no one else has ended up in Triple Zero while you're gone. Like, say, Abby?"
Connor stops, almost stepping back towards him. It's enough to catch him, her name, and he almost goes back to confront Matt, to demand her safety.
He turns his back, stepping through the Anomaly.
He found Helen at the Permian camp, raiding the supplies Nick had left behind. Connor pitched in, careful not to look at Ryan's body.
"Didn't work?" she asked absently.
"Not so much, no. Matt's kind of insane, I think. He left Danny at Site Triple Zero."
Helen shrugged. "It's a good way to get rid of someone."
"Maybe. No body, no proof, remember? Anyway, you can fix that." She passed him a first aid kit and a couple of water bottles.
Connor shoved them into his bag, glaring at her. "Oh? You have a plan?"
"I always have a plan, Connor. I need you to do some things for me, though."
"No." She produced a small device, holding it out. "I need this to channel more power. Can you do it?"
He took the device, turning it over in his hands. "What does it do?"
"Doesn't matter. Can you do it?"
"Yeah. Probably. What does it do?"
Helen smiled, pushing to her feet. "Come on. Things to do, people to save."
Connor followed her, already absorbed in the little device. It had something to do with the Anomalies, but it wasn't the remote she'd had before and he couldn't quite figure out what it was.
It took him almost a week, as far as he could tell, camped out in her cabin, to get it working to Helen's specs. Finally he had it drawing enough power for her, and she headed out on her mysterious errands and left him alone.
Alone except for a Cleaner, who still didn't talk to him but wouldn't let him leave. Connor didn't bother fighting him; he barely noticed, spending most of his time sleeping.
When Helen came back a couple of days later she was oddly happy, sending the Cleaner away with a look and grinning at Connor.
"It worked?" he asked distantly.
"It worked," she confirmed. "I think I'll keep you, Connor."
"Oh, great. We had a deal, Helen."
"Are you sure? We could do great things."
"Just help me save my friends."
"Alright. I'm almost ready for your next trip, it's going to take a day or so. Do you need anything?"
"Sleep." No matter how much he slept, Connor was always tired nowadays.
"Well, go get some." She dug into a pocket, producing a sheaf of papers. "And when you have time, have a look at these."
Connor took the papers, scanning through them briefly. "More Anomaly predictions. What did you do before me?"
"Used Site Triple Zero. I don't need to do that anymore."
"Glad I'm useful to you." He dropped the sheets on the table, wandering back towards the bedroom.
He couldn't sleep this time, though; he spent half an hour staring at the ceiling before giving up and going back out to work on the maths. It was oddly soothing, at this point; he knew how to work the maths, and he could do it without thinking too much.
It did occur to him to wonder why she kept giving him these sums to do, since he was learning more about controlling the Anomalies with every equation. Once he could do that he wouldn’t need Helen any more. That meant she either didn’t think he could crack it, or she was counting on something else to hold him to her.
Neither mattered right now. Connor concentrated on the equations, letting the numbers dance.
Chapter 5: I can Make it
It was a long time before Helen let him try again. The next change was difficult to set up, she claimed. Connor mostly ignored her, completing the equations she left him in silence.
It didn't escape his notice that they were growing more difficult, with more variables in each. He could almost follow what they were for, now, almost trace the paths Helen was taking through the web of Anomalies. If he worked at it a bit more, he thought he'd be able to do it.
He didn't bother. Helen's actions or lack of actions didn't worry him, not until they impacted him.
When she finally came back he was gazing vacantly at the ancient television. Daytime TV, it turned out, was as bad in the seventies as it was in the two thousands. Helen dropped into the seat across from him, grimacing. "Really, Connor?"
"I don't have much else to do." He looked her incuriously up and down. "You get injured?"
Connor studied the bandage. "Is that Stephen's handiwork?"
Helen smirked without answering. "Are you ready?"
"It going to work this time?"
"Well, that's really up to you, isn't it. Come on."
It's the Permian again, but when Connor steps through there's no guard on the Forest of Dean side. That's unusual, but not necessarily a bad sign. Presumably the guards here do wander away every so often. Or maybe they've even gone so far back that the guard hasn't been placed yet. Helen wouldn't tell him when he'd be coming out.
He hikes out of the Forest and back to the nearest town. It's summer, apparently, and he passes plenty of tourists on the way. It's so strange to see people around he keeps staring at them, and he's pretty sure he's been misinterpreted at least four times by the time he reaches the town and finds a newsagent.
2006. Well before they'd found the first Anomaly.
He considers for a few minutes. At least this time he won't have to explain himself by referencing Claudia Brown. On the other hand, there's no one to explain to. There'll be no hint of the Project here.
He heads for the University anyway, since out of his meagre options this one seems the best. Cutter is a patient man; with any luck he'll hear Connor out.
Before throwing him out on his arse, probably.
Luck is with Connor, for once. He finds Nick alone and relatively unoccupied in his office. As before, Nick has no idea who he is, but it doesn't bother Connor this time. At least his reputation won't be preceding him.
"Professor Cutter? I need your help."
"If you're having problems with an assignment, you should talk to Stephen, my lab assistant."
Connor shudders at the thought of seeing Stephen again. "No. I – it's not about coursework, Professor. I just – I need you to listen for ten minutes without telling me how impossible it is, yeah?"
Nick eyes him for what feels like forever before nodding. "Alright, you've got my attention. Let's hear it."
Connor tells him as much as he dares; the Anomalies, the Project, Lester and Becker and Abby and all the rest of it. He doesn't mention Helen, or what he's been doing for the past however long it's been. He doesn't mention the deaths the Project has seen.
He winds down just as his ten minutes are up. Nick doesn't speak for a long time, studying him, and finally Connor drops his head between his knees and takes several breaths.
"Y'need some help?" Nick asks, sounding vaguely amused.
"No," Connor tells his feet. "How insane do you think I am?"
Nick puts a bottle of water on the desk in front of him. "Well, on a scale of, say, me, you're not doing so bad. Have you thought about trying to get it published?"
Connor sits up. "Professor, I promise, it's all true. There's going to be a Gorgonopsid in the Forest of Dean – it doesn't have anything to do with your wife, though, so don't worry about that – and we'll start up the ARC. James Lester will be the civil servant in charge, and he'll hire all of us, and Abby, and..."
"What about my wife?" Nick demands, and his voice is suddenly hard.
Connor curses. "I'm sorry, Professor, I didn't mean to – that's why you went to investigate the first time. Because it was in the Forest of Dean and that's where your wife went missing. This one doesn't have anything to do with her, though."
"This one," he repeats, a little softer now.
Connor studies him for a moment before taking a leap. This will either convince Nick he’s telling the truth, or convince him to throw him out. "You think it's your fault. You were meant to go with her, but you had a fight about her theories. So she went alone and vanished. You think it's your fault, you have for years, but it isn't.”
“No one knows that,” Nick says softly, staring at him. He’s gone pale and Connor regrets saying anything. “I never even told Stephen. How do...”
“You told us. In the future. The...my future. My past. I don’t know, whenever it was. You told us, because Helen, she’s not the good guy, Professor. She’s – she did some pretty bad things.”
“She’s done this? This time travel, or whatever it is?”
“Helen found the first Anomaly we know of and she went through. She's been travelling them since. Eight – well, seven years now, I guess.”
Nick turns to his computer, typing laboriously. Connor watches until he grunts at something, swivelling the screen so Connor can see. “Looks like your James Lester died a few years ago. Car accident.”
Connor grimaces, scrubbing a hand through his hair. "Is – what about Christine Johnson?"
More glacial typing ensues. Connor is on the verge of snatching the keyboard and doing it himself when Nick nods. "Christine Johnson, something unspecified in Whitehall. Possibly MoD related. Who is she?"
"She's – well, she was Lester's rival. She figured out how to open her own Anomaly, but it got out of control and nearly killed everyone. If Lester isn't around, she'll be given control of the Project, and that's no good for anyone."
"You really believe this," Nick notes, watching him.
"It's all true. I know it's a lot to take in, but...look, sit on it until February and I'll prove it to you. Please?"
"What will you do until then?"
Connor shrugs. "Build. We'll need an ADD and a locker, at the very least."
Nick obviously doesn't understand, but he nods. "Alright. You keep me in the loop, and I'll hold off on telling anyone. Deal?"
"Deal," Connor says in relief. It's a lot better than he was expecting.
It's weird going back to the flat he shared with Tom and Duncan. Weirder still finding Tom sprawled across the couch, cheerfully obliterating Connor's high score on whatever shooting game they've been playing. Connor stares at him until Tom, uncomfortable, pauses the game and stands to head for the kitchen.
Connor lunges, yanking him into a hug. Tom sputters but goes with it, gingerly patting Connor's arm until he lets go.
"What was that for?" he asks, edging around Connor to reach the kitchen.
"No reason," Connor says with a shrug. "Hey – you still got that old hard drive kicking around?"
"It all comes out," Tom says mournfully from the depths of the fridge. "You only love me for my hardware."
Duncan comes in, interrupting Connor's response to that. He's grateful, because he isn't sure what to say.
Tom comes back, passing Connor a beer. "You need that," he says, heading for his room. "Watch out, Duncan," he adds, "Connor’s in a hugging mood."
Duncan eyes him, edging away.
Tom presses the hard drive into Connor's hands. "There you go. Anything else?"
"Depends. What've you got?"
Tom is surprisingly good at sourcing equipment, it turns out, and after Connor's first two or three vague answers he stops asking, just tracks down whatever Connor asks for. Duncan helps him build; he has no idea what any of the equipment is for, but he can solder and program and build as long as Connor's there to guide him. Nick checks in every so often, watching the equipment coming together with something like surprise. Connor wonders if he was expecting him to give up on this.
One day in December Connor presents him with a list. Nick scans through the list of dates, place names, eras and timeframes with a frown. "What is this, Connor?"
"Every Anomaly I remember, where it appeared, when it led to and how long it lasted. There's what came through, as well, and how dangerous they were." He touches the Dodos and MerFuture Predators. "We lost people there."
"Have you told your flatmates..."
"No. They don't know why I'm doing this. I think they're starting to worry about me, to be honest."
"They're not the only ones," Nick mutters. Louder, he adds, "So this one...?"
"Permian," Connor agrees. "We found it on the sixth, but it must have been open for a few days before that. Long enough for the Gorgonopsid to make the papers."
"So we'll head up on – the third?"
"That should do it. I'll have the ADD up by then, anyway. If it opens before that I'll know."
It's a poor shadow of his own ADD, but he'll take this version over a real one in Christine Johnson's control any time. Anyway, the look of it doesn’t matter so much, although Tom occasionally complains; Connor's sprawling version has all but taken over the living room.
"Right. And the – locker?"
"Will be ready by then, too. It only needs some tweaking. Mind, it's a bit – well, it's like the ADD, I had to put it together from what I had to hand."
"Is it gonna take up the car all on its' own?"
"Maybe." Connor admits. "But Tom's said he'll drive me with it, and it'll definitely fit in his."
"You want to bring your friends in on this?"
Connor shrugs helplessly. "We can't bring Home Office in, and that means no Special Forces. Although..." He thinks quickly. "I might have a solution. Can't do anything about it until after the Forest of Dean, though."
"Because we'll need the proof."
In January Connor takes Nick to the zoo. Abby is working in the lizard house and smiles briefly at them when they come in.
“Abby Maitland?” Nick asks politely. She frowns, stepping out of the habitat to join them.
“Yeah, that’s me. Can I help you?”
“I hope so.” He produces a picture of Rex, copied from one on Connor’s mobile – it had survived the trip this time – and carefully cropped to remove any trace of Abby’s flat, because of course that’s where the picture had been taken. “We’re having some trouble identifying this, and I was told you’re the girl to ask.”
Abby studies the photo, frowning. “It’s hard to tell from this.”
“We thought Draco Volens.”
“No, the wings are wrong for that. Is this the only picture you have?”
“We’re working on getting more,” Connor answers. “Can we bring them to you?”
“Yeah, ‘course. Where’d you get this one?”
“A boy near the Forest of Dean. That’s the only one he’s taken yet, but he’ll send us more.”
“Definitely bring them to me. I’d love to see this lizard.”
“We will. Thank you.” Connor grins, steering Nick out.
“Is that it?” Nick asks softly.
“Yep. We’ll come back for her when we’re heading up to the Forest.”
“Connor.” Nick catches his arm, holding him still. “This isn’t exactly my field, but from what you’ve said – as soon as you spoke to me, you erased any chance you had of going home.”
“There was no home there for me,” Connor says. It gets easier every time; there’s barely a tinge when he thinks of his native timeline now. “Everything – it all went wrong, and they all – nothing left there.” He shrugs Nick’s grip off, heading back for the car.
Nick follows him more slowly. Connor hunches his shoulders, knowing he’ll look withdrawn and upset and counting on Nick’s natural reluctance to deal with emotion. He’s right: Nick just unlocks the car and they drive back to Connor’s in silence.
A few days later Connor answers a knock on the door to find Stephen on the other side.
It's the first time he's seen Stephen since this started. His death is apparently harder to undo than any of the others. But now he's here, alive, hale and hearty, and Connor can't stop himself forom hugging him.
Stephen shifts, slightly uncomfortable, but he doesn't refuse the hug. Connor lets go, backing away, scrubbing at his face.
"Sorry, mate. Come in."
Stephen follows him in, peering curiously at the ADD. "Guess you really do know me, then."
"Did know you," Connor agreed. "We were friends. Cutter's filled you in?"
"More or less. He said I should come talk to you about what you're expecting."
Connor nods, turning to the nearest computer and calling up his database. He's been updating it whenever he has a minute with everything he remembers from the last four years, but between everything else he's been doing it's been slow going. Luckily, he didn't need to update the Gorgonopsid entry.
Stephen studies it for a moment, nodding. "This is the only thing that came through?"
"No. There's a herbivore, a scutosaurus, as well, but it just ran back through without any trouble. And Rex, of course, but he's harmless."
"The Draco Volens?"
"Coelurosauravus," Connor corrects him. "Abby adopted him."
"Right, Abby," Stephen agrees.
"The Gorgonopsid is the problem. If we're lucky, we'll get there in time to stop it even getting through, but I don't know exactly when it gets here. The Forest of Dean Anomaly's recurring, it keeps coming back."
Stephen blinks. "Are you planning to sit up there and lock it every time it opens?"
"Nah, I'm working on a locker that'll automatically lock it. It's not that hard," he adds, misinterpreting Stephen's look. "We can already detect and lock Anomalies, I just need to make a machine that'll send a lock pulse when the Anomaly forms."
"Right," Stephen murmurs. "What do you need me to bring?"
"A...really big gun?"
"That's helpful, thanks."
"Hey, you wouldn't even let me hold a gun most of the time. You mighty hunter, me backup and logistics."
"Right. I'll see what I have."
"Stephen," Connor adds as he turns away. "It's really good to see you, mate."
Stephen smiles, letting himself back out.
Connor smiles, turning back to his work, and it's several minutes before he realises Tom is standing in his bedroom door. "Oh, hey. Didn't hear you come in."
Tom nods, eyes on the computer that's still showing the Gorgonopsid. "I picked up those parts you wanted. You need anything else?"
"Nah." Connor reaches over as casually as he can and switches off the screen. "I think I'm almost done."
"So we might get our room back?"
"Maybe. You're not enjoying this?"
Tom smiles faintly. "When did you say we were taking it out for those tests?"
"Third. Just another week or so." He straightens. "I'm sorry, Tom. I know this hasn't been much fun."
Tom shrugs. "I'm looking forward to seeing how you'll write it up for your dissertation."
Connor laughs, turning back to the computers. Tom lingers a little while longer before disappearing.
On the second Connor calls the zoo and arranges with Abby to travel to the Forest of Dean the next day. He's so busy thinking over everything that has to be done he barely even registers he's talking to her until the conversation's already over.
Duncan helps him pack up what he needs, and Tom arranges it carefully in his car. Neither of them have asked him anything, and he's so grateful he could cry. Once they've dealt with this, he promises himself, he'll sit down and explain everything to them. They'll probably grasp it better than Nick did, to be honest.
They head up to the Forest in convoy the next morning, him, Tom and Duncan, Nick and Stephen, and Abby in her Mini. His handheld starts complaining as soon as he gets out of the car, and he packs up the locking mechanism and leads them into the Forest.
"I thought we were going to someone's house," Abby says, catching up to him. "And what's all that for?"
"We'll pick up Rex on the way back," Connor promises. "We've got to do something else first."
"Rex," she repeats softly.
"That's what Ben called him. I promise, this won't take long."
He knows the way to the Anomaly site without thinking about it. This Anomaly has recurred more often than any other they found, and he visited it often over his four years on the Project. “Stephen?” he calls when they’re close enough that he can almost see the light through the branches. “We’re nearly there. I need you to start watching for any tracks, yeah?”
Stephen glances at Cutter for confirmation before beginning to examine the ground. It doesn’t bother Connor; he hadn’t expected them to believe him even this much. But in another couple of minutes they’ll see. His detector is holding steady.
They step around a screen of bushes. The Anomaly is pulsing gently, hovering between the trees.
Connor takes a couple of readings on his detector, more for the sake of it than because he needs any information, and then sets up the locking mechanism. Cutter has all but stepped through, standing just barely on this side of the Anomaly. He can probably see the other side from there.
"Professor," Connor says. Cutter startles, turning to look at him; something metal, a button or buckle maybe, rips loose from his clothes and hurtles through the Anomaly. Cutter turns back to look at it in amazement.
"I'm going to lock it," Connor says. "Can you back up a couple of steps please?"
Cutter does, backing towards them. Connor waits until he's cleared the Anomaly completely before sending the lock command. The Anomaly contracts, sealing up.
Tom and Duncan are whispering urgently in the background; Connor grins at them, but they don’t try to speak to him. They also don’t try to go through, which is more than he expected. Neither Stephen nor Abby have moved since they first saw it. When it locks, Stephen shakes his head, starting to examine the ground for signs that anything came through.
Connor glances at Abby. "Want to go look for Rex? I'll explain everything, promise."
"What the hell is going on?" Abby demands.
"That would be part of the everything I'll explain. Come on. Stephen, call me if you find anything?"
Stephen nods absently. "I don't see anything, but I'll look around a bit more."
Connor walks Abby back towards Ben's house, explaining everything to her as they go. It takes a while; Abby hasn't the background to really follow him, not the way Cutter did, so he keeps having to repeat himself and simplify things for her. By the time they've reached Ben's road, she's grasped at least the basics.
Ben hands over Rex reluctantly; Abby promises to keep him in the loop, and they head back for the Anomaly. Cutter's leaning against his car, waiting for them.
"Stephen says nothing walked through," he announces, leaning forward to look at Rex. Abby obliges him, turning the wrapped up lizard so he can get a better look. "You're sure nothing else flew in?"
"Sure," Connor confirms. "We only had two Anomalies with flying incursions, and this was one."
"So what's next?" Abby asks curiously.
Connor shrugs. "I know where most of the Anomalies for the next four years are gonna appear. I can lock 'em on my own, mostly, but I was hoping you'd help out."
"Good reports," he says vaguely. "Professor, did you get the video of the Anomaly?"
Cutter nods, holding up a disk. "All on here. What's it for?"
Connor doesn't remember the precinct number, but the police firewall isn't up to much as far as he's concerned and he has the information within ten minutes. Lucky, too, as his secondary plan was to go hang around the house Patrick disappeared in until Danny arrested him. He's quite glad not to have to go with that one.
He has to sit around in the precinct for a while; the desk sergeant offers to have someone else talk to him, but doesn't seem surprised at Connor's insistence that it be Danny. Danny himself isn't too surprised when he slopes in, dressed as ever in jeans and leather jacket.
"Vinnie says you asked for me," he says, standing over Connor. "Do I know you?"
"Not yet." Connor doesn't bother standing; Danny's height doesn't intimidate him. "Somewhere we can talk?" He holds up the disk. "Somewhere you can watch this."
"What is it?" Danny eyes it but doesn’t attempt to take it from him.
"Your brother's disappearance."
To give him credit, Danny doesn't accuse him of anything. Instead he takes Connor to an interview room, makes sure the observation room is empty, and puts the disk into a computer. He watches the short film in silence; Cutter had caught the Anomaly both locked and unlocked, and included a short narration on the basics of the Anomalies – or, at least, what Connor had told him so far.
Danny ejects the disk and passes it back to Connor. "Good effects," he notes, "but it doesn't answer anything."
"Your brother was playing in a derelict house the day he vanished," Connor says carefully. "An Anomaly opened and he went through trying to escape from the Creatures that came with it. He's out there somewhere."
"What's your angle?" Danny still doesn't sound angry. He doesn’t sound anything, really.
"Few of us are dealing with these. I know where the Anomalies are going to appear for the next few years – long story," he adds off Danny's look. “Hopefully, by the time my knowledge runs out, we’ll know how to map them, predict ‘em.”
“And you’re coming to me because?”
Connor sighs, sitting back in his chair. “There’s a woman in Whitehall who’d be given control of this if they knew. And she’s bad news, Danny.”
Connor gives him an odd look, and continues. “We can’t let this fall into her hands. But, unfortunately, that means no MoD backup. I was hoping you’d run some interference for us, if we need it.”
“You want me to join up?”
“I want you to stay right here.” He gestures around. “But if we need something smoothed over – it’s not a bribe,” he adds, suddenly realising what Danny’s thinking. “If we find Patrick, we’ll tell you no matter what. But I know I can trust you. And I don’t have the resources I need, so I’ve got to use what I can.”
“When did you come from?” Danny’s eyes are steady on his.
Connor isn’t surprised he figured it out. Danny always was smarter than he looked. “About four and a half years ahead of you.”
“And you’re ...”
“We lost people. Good people. Because we didn’t know what we were dealing with. I know better now. I’m not going to let anyone die, not if I can help it.”
Danny nods slowly, considering. "I'd like to see one."
"Got paper and a pen?" Connor scribbles down the times and places of the next three Anomalies, as closely as he remembers them. "I'll have to double check, but I think that's right."
Danny takes the list, glancing briefly at it before slipping it into a pocket. "Right."
Connor rises to his feet. "See what you think when you've seen one."
Danny catches his arm as he goes to step past him. "Where's Patrick?"
"I don't know."
"But he's alive?"
Connor nods. "He's alive."
Danny doesn't leave the police. Without Home Office backing, none of them can afford to leave their jobs, which means Anomaly trips have to fit around them. Nick hires Connor as a TA, which helps a little, and Duncan and Tom are almost always up for a trip.
Connor sees Matt on campus one day. The Irishman doesn't approach, and Connor doesn't acknowledge him. He shows Stephen and Danny a picture and asks them to keep an eye out for him, but not to make contact if they can help it. He's pretty sure Matt will come to him.
It's kind of heady, the way they just agree. Like he can do no wrong.
And so far, they haven't even been injured. He's pretty amazed, to be honest.
He's discussing the next Anomaly with Nick one day. This is the pterosaur, so it's important they get there in time. He doesn't want to be chasing down the little buggers.
Stephen and Abby are debating tranquilisers based on his descriptions. Abby laughs at something Stephen says, touching his arm. Connor isn't bothered, but he can feel Nick watching him.
"What?" he asks without looking up from the plan of the stately home.
"It doesn't bother you?" Connor looks up, raising an eyebrow, and Nick tilts his head towards the others.
"No. Why would it?"
"So you're not..."
Connor shrugs, looking back at the plan. "It all works out."
"Oh." Nick seems taken aback. "Well – good. I'm glad."
They close the Anomaly before anything gets through. They close the next few, as well. Connor begs off a few of them, working with Cutter on the Matrix.
He's alone in Nick's office one day when Matt steps in, locking the door behind him.
"Afternoon, Matt." He tweaks a thread without looking up.
"Connor," Matt says evenly.
"Been wondering when you'd come in."
"Been busy." He circles the Matrix, studying it. "What is this?"
"It's going to be a map of the Anomalies." He finishes with that one thread and turns to face Matt. "You must have had them in the future."
Matt shakes his head. "We lost a lot of information when you ended the world."
Connor smiles faintly. "Still on that? I didn't end the world, and I'm not going to. We're saving it. We haven't lost anyone since I started, haven't even had any injuries."
"You've been lucky," Matt agrees. "But that won't last. What happens when you catch up with yourself?"
"By then the Matrix will be complete. We'll be able to predict the Anomalies. We won't have to wait for them. You could help us."
Matt raises an eyebrow, and Connor continues quickly, "If you think I'm going to destroy the world, then come keep an eye on me. The others don't know enough about anomalies to be my check and balance. You can make sure we don't do anything that'll destroy the world."
Matt considers it for a moment, studying the Matrix again. "What happens when we fix it?"
Connor shrugs. "I've been changing things and I'm still here. I don't know if you can go back, but you could stay here. You weren't really expecting to go home anyway, were you?"
"No," he agrees absently. "Alright."
"Thank you," Connor murmurs.
Between them all, Connor thinks his team might have a chance. Tom is still his go-to tech guy, and Duncan is getting very skilled at repairing the equipment on the fly. Nick is starting to grasp the theory behind the Anomalies; he'd always had an instinctive grasp of it, much better than Connor had. Stephen and Abby have dealt with the two Incursions quickly and easily. Danny's kept them from being arrested for trespassing, and Matt can easily protect them in the field, especially once he gets a couple of EMDS put together. Stephen hates them as much as Becker did, but he uses them anyway.
But then they come to the Future Anomaly, the one Connor's been dreading the most. The Predators are fast, vicious, and all but unstoppable, and his team just don't have the resources they used to.
Connor is relatively sure that his automatic locker will take care of it, but if there's one Anomaly they simply can't afford to mess up, this is it. He bullies everyone into coming and drills them mercilessly, driving home the need to simply kill these beings without hesitation. He asks Danny to watch Tom and Duncan, puts Matt with Abby, makes sure Stephen will protect Nick. He even toys with tracking down Becker, who has to be somewhere on British soil, but he gives up on that in the end. There's no lever he can use with Becker, nothing to convince him.
They travel mostly in silence; Connor's mood has rubbed off on them, and they're all serious and quiet. Stephen, Danny and Matt are all equipped with EMDs; Abby has two tranquiliser guns, a rifle and a hand version. Tom is carrying another tranquiliser gun. Between them, Duncan and Connor have enough spare parts to repair any damage the locker might have incurred, up to and including being struck by lightning. Connor is leaving nothing to chance.
Abby falls into step with him as they tramp through the woods. "Are these things really that bad?"
"Worse," he mutters, holding a branch out of her way. "They've nearly killed us a dozen times."
"That's really creepy," she warns him.
"You talking about us dying."
"Sorry. It's...this is kind of bizarre for me." He thinks for a moment. "Jack fell through an Anomaly into the future, once. Their future, the one they came from. We went through after him – never been so scared in my life, Abby. These things are bad enough one on one, but in groups?"
"Jack went through," Abby repeated.
"Nicked your ADD, went poking around a site after we'd left it. Nice guy, your brother."
"Oi!" she protests helplessly.
"Connor," Stephen calls from ahead. Connor grins at Abby, jogging ahead to join Stephen. With any luck, she'll be too angry to be scared now.
Stephen gestures through the trees. Connor follows the gesture, hissing at the light flickering from up ahead. "Damn."
"You said two came through?" Stephen murmurs, double-checking his gun.
"Yeah, and the female gave birth pretty soon after. They're partially arboreal, Stephen, you might not get a trail on the ground."
He nods. "You know where they went to ground?"
"Yeah, but that's only any help if we want to kill them all."
"If it's that or be overrun, I know what I'd pick," Danny offers from his other side.
"Yeah," Connor agrees with a sigh. Turning, he calls, "Duncan! We're up."
Matt and Danny both follow them into the clearing. Stephen and Abby are searching for a trail; Tom hovers behind Duncan, passing him bits and pieces as he needs them. Nick is standing on one side of the clearing, watching them.
And then he isn't, as something drops from above, snatches him and retreats before any of them can react.
Danny, Connor is glad to see, stays where he is, watching Tom and Duncan. Stephen, Abby and Matt rush forward, quartering the tree tops and yelling Nick's name. Connor keeps working, replacing the burnt out wiring that's stopped the locker from functioning.
"Connor!" Stephen yells.
"I need a minute."
"Nick's dead," he says flatly. "Let me finish this or we're all dead."
Abby gasps, but she doesn't drop her gun or look away from the trees. Duncan is crying softly, but his hands are steady as he works.
The locker bursts into life and Connor rises to his feet, scrubbing his hands absently against his trousers. "Matt, do you see it?"
"No." Matt's voice is steady and he looks completely unaffected. "Can we leave?"
"We need to be careful. If we're lucky, just that one has come through."
Stephen drops his gun, storming across the clearing and grabbing Connor's labels. Connor doesn't resist, letting Stephen shove him against the nearest tree.
"Lucky? Nick's gone, how can that be lucky!?"
"Because he's the only one gone. I told you. Two of these things could wipe out humanity. If two have gotten through and they've already reproduced, then we're in really deep trouble. Focus, Stephen."
Stephen drags him forward and slams him back against the tree. "You knew this would happen!"
"No," Connor protests. Danny is trying to pry him loose, but Stephen won't let go. "This is not what happened the last time – but those things did kill people. Stephen, let me go."
"Traitor," he says contemptuously.
"Yeah?" Connor drops his voice so that only Stephen – and Danny, still hanging onto Stephen’s arm – will be able to hear. "Wasn’t me slept with Helen, though."
Stephen lets go, staggering back a few steps. Danny glances from Connor to Stephen and back before saying quickly, "Look, we can fight that out later. Let's get out of here now, yeah? Connor, where's the nest?"
Connor ends up driving to the nest alone. Matt or Danny would have driven with him, he thinks, but they're both still on guard duty and he won't risk splitting their focus. Abby goes with Stephen without a second thought.
Duncan is still shaking. Tom stops to asks Connor if he's alright, but he's uncomfortable and doesn’t meet his eyes. Connor doesn't try to hold on to him. Duncan needs him more right now.
He pulls up to the greenhouses as Matt is trying to restrain Stephen. Abby is yelling, trying to get him to calm down. Danny is just pulling up and Connor can see Tom staring at them through the windshield.
"Let him go," he tells Matt, walking past them to the gun cases.
"Connor!" Abby protests. "If those things are in there..."
"He's been warned." Connor closes the case gently, afraid to let himself slam it. "He isn't going to hear it any better this time. He'll be dangerous to us."
"So you'll let him go and get himself killed?"
"I can't fix this!" Connor turns on her, dimly aware that Danny has stepped protectively in front of Tom and Duncan. That should be amusing, he thinks, but everything is very far away and hard to make out right now. "I did everything I could think of, everything possible, and I still couldn't save him. But I'll stop the Predators, no matter what it – don't touch me."
Abby stops, eyes wide, and Connor steps carefully wide around her to face Stephen. "Are you back?" he asks, studying him closely. He'd known how to read Stephen, once, but he's forgotten.
Stephen nods – one sharp jerk of his head – and Connor glances at Matt, who relaxes his grip. "I'm sorry about Cutter," he says, quietly now. "I didn't want – and I don't want you to die, either."
"No one else is dying today," Stephen says distantly. "I'm done after this."
"Yeah. That's alright. I won’t need you after this one."
Killing the Predators is almost anti-climactic, in the end. The female is clearly in some form of labour and unable to move much; Stephen downs it with his own gun, ignoring the EMD holstered at his hip. They drag the body into the greenhouse and when the mate, furious, attacks, they replicate Cutter's anti-sonar chaff and take it out while it's confused. The glass scratches them up a little, but there are no major injuries.
Connor turns and walks away, ignoring Matt and Danny's yells, ignoring Stephen's glares and Abby's confusion, ignoring poor Duncan, still huddled in the back of Danny's car. None of that matters any more.
He switches off the locker, waiting for the Anomaly to reopen. He's about to step through when he hears his name and, against his better judgement, looks back.
Duncan plows through the undergrowth, shadowed by Tom. Connor catches a glimpse of Danny's car, further back through the trees, but there's no sign of anyone else from his team.
"You can't just run away from this," Duncan blurts as soon as he's close enough.
"It's for the best," Connor says tiredly.
"You can't just keep erasing it, it doesn't work like that!"
Surprised, Connor looks at Tom, who shakes his head. "Duncan came up with it – I told him he was crazy."
"He said it was too much sci-fi," Duncan adds.
Connor smiles, genuinely amused. "Heresy."
"That's what I said." Duncan looks past him at the Anomaly. "How does that one help? That's stable on the other end, right?"
"It doesn't matter where they go. I can get to where I have to be." He turns, taking a step towards it. "It really is better this way."
"What if it doesn't get any better?" Tom says quickly. "What if this is the best there is?"
"I thought it was," Connor says wistfully. Looking back at Tom, he adds, "I saved you, this time. But I can't – this isn't right, and I can't stop until I find the right one."
Danny comes through the trees behind them. Connor studies him for a minute before saying quietly, "Patrick will come through the Anomaly in the theatre in 2009. There'll be others with him; one needs antibiotics, strong ones, but you'll need to be careful, she's never had modern medicine. Got it?"
Danny blinks and starts to say, "You've known this whole time?" but Connor interrupts him before he can get any steam going.
"Got it? You need to be there, he – he's not the brother you remember. Danny, got it?"
"Got it," he agrees finally.
"Good. Get my friends home, please."
"Why are you bothering?" Duncan asks. "You're just going to make all this not-happen."
"I'm hoping I'm going parallel instead of up and down," Connor murmurs. "Dunc, can you lock this when I'm gone? Please."
Duncan nods, kneeling by the locker, and Connor looks up at Tom. "I'm sorry."
"Hope you find it," Tom says softly. Connor nods, turning and stepping through.
Helen, probably wisely, didn't come near him for ten days. By then Connor had written up his notes, destroyed everything he could get his hands on bar the Matrix, slept for almost two days, and was currently sitting by the window, playing absently with the Matrix.
Helen glanced around at the chaos, shrugging off her backpack. She was unaccompanied for once, no clones following her around. "Redecorating, Connor?"
"It's not working," he said quietly.
"Not yet," she agreed.
"Did you lead the Predator through this time? I know you did the first time."
"Not me this time. You were doing very well, I thought."
"I never meet myself."
"You are yourself."
"I don't want to do it anymore."
Helen sat down opposite him, studying him carefully. "Going to give up already? We've barely gotten started."
"Tom's right. It's never going to be perfect. At least back there I had Abby, whatever the rest of it was like."
"Oh, Connor. I'm sorry."
He looked sharply at her; she was doing her best to look sympathetic, though it was just out of place on her. "Why?"
"We've changed too much. We can't get back to that timeline now. There is no going back. You can live in the one you've just left, or we can keep trying."
Connor shuddered at the thought of going back there, facing Stephen again. "I can't go back. I killed Nick."
"Then we'd better keep trying, hadn't we?"
She rose to her feet, unloading tinned food from her backpack. "I need to check on some things. I might be a while. Will you stay here, or do I need to get someone here to watch you?"
"I'll stay," Connor muttered. "No equations, though."
"No equations," she agreed. "Don't need them this time. I'll see you soon."
Left alone, Connor went back to staring out the window. He wasn't stupid; he could see her trying to make him dependant on her. Problem was, he really was dependant on her. He could certainly get away from her without any difficulty, but then what? He could run the equations without any problem by now, but he didn't have the instinctive understanding of the Anomalies that Helen shared with her husband. It took him too long to figure out where and when any particular one went. If he was going to run, he needed to plan it out well in advance.
Right now he didn't care. He went back to his room to mourn in peace.
Chapter 6: I know I can
Connor saw very little of Helen for the next couple of weeks. She dropped in every few days with supplies, quizzed him on his last few trips, studied the Matrix and then headed off again.
It didn't bother him. He was working carefully on his own plans, making sure he had a back up plan. He didn't trust Helen, and at some point he was going to have to leave her. He wanted to be ready when that time came.
She came back eventually, mussed and dirty from what must have been a pretty close call. Connor bandaged the long slash across her back without complaint.
"Surprised you didn't go to Stephen," he said, taping the bandage down and stepping away.
"I wasn't in the neighbourhood." She shrugged, settling the bandage into place. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it. No, really," he added off her look. "Don't mention it."
She smiled faintly. "I'm going to shower and sleep, and then we'll go. Be ready."
"Not like I have much else to do. Where are we going?"
"Oh, wouldn't you like to be surprised?"
"Whatever," he muttered, heading back into his room.
The Anomaly – opening from the Cretaceous, and Connor could do with never being there ever again – leaves him on the outskirts of London. When the Hilux pulls up Connor is busy scribbling notes.
"Connor!" Nick calls. Connor waves absently, still writing. "How'd you get here?"
"Hmm?" Connor looks up, wide eyed. "Nothing came through."
"Are you sure?" Stephen, gun in hand, starts quartering the area anyway.
Connor rolls his eyes. "Yes, I'm sure. Late Cretaceous, nothing came through. It wasn't even open all that long."
"Connor, how'd you get here?" Nick repeats.
"Duncan dropped me off. He had something to do out here anyway."
"You weren't answering your phone," Stephen says.
Connor digs in his pockets and pulls out his phone, studying it. "Battery's dead. I'm sorry, I didn't realise."
"Make sure Lester doesn't hear that," Nick warns him. "Stephen?"
"No sign of anything."
"Told you!" Connor says, high pitched. Stephen makes a face at him, slinging the gun over his shoulder.
Abby pulls up, scrambling out of the car and coming to join them. "Any Incursion?" she asks.
"No, it looks good," Stephen assures her.
"Good," she repeats, leaning up to – kiss him?
Connor can feel himself gaping; he quickly turns his back on them, pretending to poke at his phone. Nick is watching him, but he doesn't say anything and Connor is grateful.
"Well, if there's nothing – Stephen, will you listen? If there's nothing here we should be getting back. Will you ride with Abby? I want to talk to Connor about the ADD."
"Sure," Stephen agrees, grinning at Abby. They go back to her car hand-in-hand; Connor keeps his head down, still poking uselessly at his phone.
"Ready?" Nick asks softly.
"Yeah, 'course," Connor agrees brightly. "Let's go."
Nick lets him sit in silence for a while, listening to the radio until it fuzzes out as they drive. He flicks the radio off instead of retuning. "You alright?"
"Course I am. Why wouldn't I be?"
"I thought you were ok with them." He jerks a thumb over his shoulder towards Abby's car.
"I am. It just – I wasn't expecting it, is all. It's fine, I'm fine."
"You're sure? Want me to drop you somewhere? You don't have to come back."
"No. It's fine, honestly. I'll have a look at the ADD. It probably needs tweaking. Usually does, right?"
"Right," Nick agrees, as Connor knew he would. Nick had never grasped more than the basics of the ADD.
Back at the ARC, he fiddles with the wires and keyboard for a while, long enough to make it look like he was actually doing something. Leek is hanging around Lester's office, and Connor needs to decide how to handle it.
He finds him in the armoury, cleaning one of the guns. Abby is nowhere to be seen, luckily.
"Hey, Connor," Stephen says, a little uneasily. Connor wonders irritably what Nick said. "Listen, I wanted..."
"Me first," Connor interrupts him. "I know you've been seeing Helen."
Stephen freezes for a moment before very carefully putting the gun down on the table. "Excuse me?"
"Helen. Cutter. Nick's wife. The one you slept with? I know she's been coming to you, and you need to stop, ok? She's bad news, Stephen, she really is, and she's going to kill..."
"What do you know about Helen?" he interrupts.
"I know she's been coming to you. Sneaking into your life. She's trying to turn you against Cutter, Stephen."
"You don't know anything about it."
"You bandaged her up, didn't you?" Connor gestures to his leg. "She hurt herself to get your help. Stephen, please, listen to me. She's got a plan, she's trying to take over the ARC, she..."
"I thought you'd be more upfront about it," Stephen interrupts.
"It isn't going to work. You can't get between me and Abby."
"You and ...this isn't about you and Abby!"
"I'm sure," Stephen agrees, brushing past him. "Just go back to your computers, Connor."
Connor takes two seconds to breathe before going to Lester's office. In retrospect, he probably should have waited; he's too angry to make much sense this time.
"I need to talk to you," he says, brushing past Leek and closing the door in his face.
"How nice for you." Lester doesn't look up from his paperwork.
"Do you need another ridiculous amount of money? Surely one ADD is enough?"
"What? No, it's not about money."
Lester sighs and puts down his paperwork, steepling his fingers. "Really. What is it, then?"
"Leek's working with Helen Cutter."
Lester is silent for almost a full minute. "And...?" he says finally.
"What d'you mean, 'and'? They're trying to bring down the ARC!"
"Where's your proof?"
"My..." Connor shakes his head. "I don't have any proof. Only, please listen to me. Leek's building up an army of Creatures, he thinks he's got them under control, but it's not...they're going to kill people."
"Have you added psychic to your meagre skill set, Temple?"
"You're not listening..."
"On the contrary, I have listened to everything you've said, and if you're quite finished, I'd like to get back to work. Send Cutter in, if you can find him."
Connor stares at him for a moment longer before storming out. He passes Jenny without really seeing her and heads for the locker room with some vague thought of going home.
Stephen and Abby are in the locker room, and they're occupied.
Connor finds the nearest empty lab and locks himself in. He leaves the lights off and sits on the floor, in a corner where he won't be visible if anyone looks in. He buries his face in his knees and wonders why the universe is conspiring against him.
The door and lack of lights don't stop Jenny, who lets herself in quietly, relocks the door behind her and perches on the edge of the nearest seat. She doesn't speak for a long time, and when Connor looks up she's leafing through a file as if he isn't even there.
"I didn't lock meself in your office, did I?" he asks finally. "That'd just be sad."
"No. I don't think anyone uses this one." She doesn't look up from the file.
"Then what're you doing?"
Now she does look up, smiling gently at him. "I thought you might want to talk. Or – vent, I suppose. I'm good at that."
"What would I want to vent about?"
"Connor." He always feels like he's disappointed her when she says his name like that. "I was right behind you. I saw them."
"Oh." He flushes, resting his chin back on his knees. "Should've expected it, right?" His tone is bitter, and he knows it, and he doesn't care. He thinks he’s entitled to a little bitterness right now, after everything he’s been through.
Jenny considers him; he can see her trying to pick her response. "No," she says finally. "You shouldn't have expected it; they've been warned not to do that in the ARC. Unprofessional. They'll be warned again."
"No, don't. S'my fault, anyway; I rattled Stephen. Didn't mean to, but..." he lifts one shoulder in a shrug. "Obviously I sent him running to Abby for reassurance."
"You rattled him? How?"
"I told him – well, some stuff he didn't think I knew."
"Connor, if it's important..."
"I already tried telling Lester," he warns her. "He didn't believe me. And I can't go to Cutter."
"Helen?" Jenny guesses. Connor blinks, and she smiles. "Give me some credit, Connor. There aren't many topics you'd want to keep from Nick. Try me." He shakes his head, and she insists, "Try me. We'll call it a test run. If you want, afterwards, you can decide it was a joke and we'll never talk about it again. Might help you get your words straight, at least."
"Yeah," he decides. So far, Jenny’s been helpful every time he’s met her. "Only, not here. Can we go somewhere? S'lunch time, right?"
"Yes, it's lunch time," she agrees with a smile. "At least, it is the way you eat. I'll go tell Sir James where we're going."
"Oh, he's kind of angry at me right now."
"You do have a knack for it, don't you? I'll meet you at my car, alright?"
"All me stuff's in me locker. My wallet, everything."
"That's alright." She pats him on the shoulder. "You can charge just about anything to the government if you know how."
"Sneaky." He grins, following her out. "I approve."
"Go straight out to the car, alright? I'll meet you there."
"Jenny." She pauses, looking back, and he says quickly, "Don't go after Stephen and Abby. I don't care."
"Alright," she agrees, smiling again.
She's only five minutes behind him – he's impressed; he'd thought it would take much longer to talk Lester into letting him out of the ARC – and she takes him to a restaurant that, while nice, doesn't have him worried about which fork to use. It's probably not one he'd have tried on his own, but it's nice. Jenny is good company, keeping him amused with anecdotes from her years in PR.
She lets him finish the meal before leaning forward as he plays with his ice cream. "Now. Tell me what you told James. He's really quite angry."
"Told him Leek is working with Helen." Connor's almost apathetic by now.
"I see." She sits back, studying him for a moment. "Why do you say that?"
"'Cos it's true. Leek's been diverting the dangerous Creatures, like the Smiledon, to his own compound. He thinks he's got them under control, but he doesn't."
"And where does Helen come in?"
"She's got a cloned soldier. The Cleaner, Cutter's been calling him. We saw him at the mall with the Raptors, just before you joined up, first, and we've seen him all over the place since. She's giving them to Leek for manpower."
"Why? What's in it for her?"
"She wants the ARC brought down. She thinks we're going to trigger some catastrophe in the future, bring about the end of mankind." He shrugs at Jenny's look. "Helen's not very stable. Sometimes it's about stopping the end of the world, sometimes it's about wiping out humanity before we get going. She likes to keep things fresh."
"Where is Leek keeping the animals?"
Connor writes the address on a napkin, passing it across to her. "What will you do?"
"Persuade James to give me a couple of men off the books so I can check it out."
"You can't let Leek know," Connor said urgently. "He's a killer, Jenny, he'll kill you. Promise me."
"I promise," she says gently. "Honest, Connor. I'll wait until James leaves the ARC tonight if you like. No chance Leek will hear us."
"Good." He relaxes, scooping up the last of the ice cream.
"Now, about Stephen and Abby."
"It's fine," he says with a sigh. "I don't care about Abby and Stephen. Let them – whatever. I'm glad they're happy."
Jenny nods, pretending to believe him. "Alright, then. I'll leave it alone."
"Thank you." He smiles, standing and holding her chair for her. "Time to head back, I guess."
"You can go home, if you want," she offers. "I don't think there's much happening today, and it might be..."
"Less uncomfortable? Nah. I'll just bury meself in the ADD. It'll be fine."
It is fine, even. Connor buries himself in the wires and circuits and doesn't resurface for almost three hours. Nick is in his lab, working on the Matrix; Connor itches to fix a couple of threads he can see in the wrong places, but this isn't the time for that. That'll do after, when they've realised what Leek really is.
Neither Stephen nor Abby is around, and when Connor ventures back to the flat it's empty. He does still live there, apparently, but there's no sign of Abby. He wonders if that's typical or if Stephen's trying to keep them apart.
He plays with Rex for a while before throwing on a DVD he'd seen a hundred times before. It's enough to lull him to sleep, real sleep for almost the first time since he started this.
His phone rings at half five in the morning, jolting him awake. Abby's on the other end, and she's crying too hard to talk.
"Abby?" Alarmed, he sits up. "What is it? Abs?"
She drops the phone and Stephen picks it up. "Connor."
"Stephen, what's happened?" He’s forgotten they were fighting a few hours before.
Stephen hasn't, if his tone is anything to go by. "Jenny's dead."
Connor finds himself back at the ARC without any memory of travelling there. Stephen and Cutter are talking with Lester in the central room. Connor avoids them and goes on a hunt; Abby, red-eyed, is listlessly watching the animals in the menagerie when he finally finds her.
"Abby?" he says uncertainly. Abby turns, studying him for a moment before crossing to hug him.
It's perfunctory and over almost before it's begun. She backs away again, standing by the window. "You alright?"
"I don't even know what's happened."
She shrugs. "Jenny was somewhere checking something for Lester, and she was attacked."
"Attacked?" Connor says sharply.
"Yeah. Lester's trying to say it was just a regular mugging, but she had two soldiers with her, and who mugs Special Forces? Where are you going?" Her voice sharpens.
"Talk to Lester," he mutters, hurrying through the corridors.
He meets Stephen first, though, and gets slammed into the wall. Connor holds in a groan. He’s getting tired of Stephen manhandling him.
"What did you do?" Stephen hisses, shaking him.
"I didn't do anything! Let me go!"
"Jenny was talking to you and then she went to check something out! What did you say to her?"
Connor slumps. "I didn't mean..."
"Stephen!" Cutter's there, suddenly, prying Stephen loose. "Let him go!"
"I didn't do anything," Connor says immediately. Cutter doesn't even look at him, focused on getting Stephen to let go.
Abby appears, leading Stephen away. Stephen's still glaring at him, but he's stopped yelling, at least.
"Connor," Cutter says quietly, tugging him towards the central room. "What did you say to Jenny?"
"Same thing I said to Lester, and Stephen. I've been telling people all day, she was the only one who listened."
"You sent her to check an address."
"Didn't send her to do anything." Connor glances up as they enter the main room. Lester's waiting for them, arms crossed. "I told you. I warned you."
"Yes. Did it occur to you, Temple, that maybe I was trying to keep from letting Leek know we were on to him?" Lester's furious, and Connor winces. He's never seen his boss this angry, not ever. "Did it occur to you that I believed you, but since Leek was at the time sitting six feet from us I couldn't say anything? Did it...no, it obviously didn't. Do you think me that stupid, that I would ignore any threat to the ARC?"
"No," Connor whispers. "You weren't listening to me."
"I heard everything you said." Lester shakes his head, turning away. "Get him out of here, Cutter. I don't want to see him again."
Cutter bodily turns Connor around, steering him out of the room. Connor starts to protest but thinks better of it, letting Cutter walk him out of the building.
Cutter lets go when they reach the yard, turning to the nearest soldier. "Get him back to his flat. Lester doesn't want him back here for the foreseeable."
"Cutter," Connor protests.
Cutter catches his jacket, dragging him closer. "You took it on yourself to send Jenny there, and she was killed. Needlessly. Lester was already dealing with it. If you'd just waited..." He shakes his head disgustedly. "You got her killed. Just get out of here, Connor. I can't look at you right now."
He turns, striding back into the building. Connor thinks about chasing him, trying to explain, but his guard straightens warningly and he gives up, slumping into the jeep and letting himself be driven home.
There's no sign of Abby when he gets there, and he's grateful. He has no idea what Stephen's telling her, but he doesn't think it can be good.
Cutter's right, in a way. He wasn't thinking when he gave Jenny the address. He'd been thrown off by Abby and Stephen, letting himself get distracted. He should have known better than to let Jenny go off with only two soldiers. They didn't know what they were facing, and it had gotten her killed.
He had gotten her killed. He’d like to blame it on Stephen and Abby, throwing him off and making him doubt, but he can’t. This was all him and he knows it.
Connor gets up, grabs his backpack and heads for the stadium. It's the closest stable Anomaly he knows of.
Helen was waiting for him in the Cretaceous. Connor glanced around, idly wondering where he and Abby were.
"They haven't come through yet," Helen said, following his glance. "Didn't work out?"
"Why don't we just wait here and send them back as soon as they get here?"
"We've talked about that. As soon as you stepped through to this time, everything changed. We need to find a way to stop you coming here at all."
“Yeah. You give up that ‘kill everyone in the Pliocene’ plan. It gets you killed, and it doesn’t work.”
“Why, Connor! Are you concerned about me?”
“Bog off, Helen.”
She laughed softly. “That’s the Connor I know. Come on. Let’s get started.”
Chapter 7: You've Broke the Boy in me
Connor was amusing himself by tracking a path through the Anomalies purely through maths when Helen came in late one afternoon. She looked pleased with herself, unloading a new backpack onto the table.
"Old one finally fall apart?" Connor asked mildly, rescuing his pages before she buried them.
"I found this one in 2350, give or take." She kept pulling out things, far more than should have been able to fit inside. "They know how to use space up there."
"Not at the moment, no."
"No backpack for me?"
She tilted her head, smiling. "Aw, Connor. I guess I forgot about you."
"Thanks," he muttered, picking up a cube of fabric and studying it curiously.
"Sleeping bag," she said, seeing it.
She took it from him, shaking it out, and it billowed into a full length sleeping bag. Connor picked it up again; it was surprisingly thick, and he thought it'd be pretty comfortable. "I told you. They know how to use space."
"So I see." He let her worry about folding it back up, sitting back in his seat. "I need a few things. Drop me off in 2009?"
"Not worried about your ARC?"
"I'm taking some time off. I can do it on my own if you're busy."
"Oh? Think you're ready for that?"
"It's all in the numbers, Helen."
She smiled faintly, beginning to repack her bag. "Off you go, then. I'll see you later."
Connor eyed her for a moment before rising to his feet and heading out.
Connor glances around as he comes through the Anomaly. There's no one in sight; he steps away and the Anomaly collapses behind him.
The street is deserted. He looks around carefully, oddly on edge. There's an atmosphere, a strange feeling in the air. It makes him feel uncomfortable. He heads down the street, automatically heading for his flat.
He still hasn't seen anyone by the time he gets there. He's really uneasy now. There are bits of rubbish in the street, papers blowing about, and though it's still early in the morning there are no lights on anywhere. It's a scene straight out of every post-apocalyptic movie he's ever seen.
He makes it into the flat, locking the door firmly behind him. The place is empty – really empty; Rex and Abby's lizards are all gone, and the fridge and cupboards are bare. There's something that might be mould growing up one wall. Connor ignores it, heading for his bedroom. He digs out a couple of changes of clothes and shoves them into his backpack before heading back downstairs for a better look around.
They were never really newspaper people, him and Abby, but there's one scattered near a chair. He turns it over, reading the headline – “Town wiped out by mystery predator" – in surprise. It isn't a tabloid, even. One of them has circled the word 'predator' and he shivers, deliberately trying not to think about it. He checks the date on the paper, then his phone. The phone hasn't picked up a network, though, so it's not displaying anything. He has no idea how old the paper is.
Outside the street is still deserted. Connor glances warily in both directions before crossing to the nearest car. It's unlocked, but there are no keys. He considers hotwiring it, but decides against it. He thinks quiet might be a better defence than speed, right now. The ARC isn't that far, anyway.
Before he's crossed half the distance he's completely paranoid. Things are moving on the edge of his vision, just where he can't see them, and every time he turns they vanish. Something's following him; he can feel eyes on his back, sizing him up. He has to keep himself from turning around to search them out.
He almost dives for the nearest car a dozen times, but he restrains himself. He does slide his gun free, though, holding it loosely in one hand as he walks.
He makes it to the ARC without needing to use the weapon. The gates are open, one hanging off its' hinge, and he slips through and hurries across the yard. The doors are open too, and he hesitates, listening carefully for several long minutes before stepping inside.
It's dark inside. Connor digs a lightstick out of his bag, snapping and shaking it quickly. The sickly green glow shows up the complete devastation; walls are crumbling, lights are hanging from the ceiling, papers strewn everywhere. There's something that might be blood caked on the walls. Connor doesn't examine it too closely.
Further in he starts finding bodies. Or, well, remains is probably more accurate. There's a couple of skulls in one corridor; he steps over them without stopping. A little further on there's half a rib cage. Some distance beyond that there's most of a figure in Special Forces Black; Connor is tempted, for just a moment, to roll it over and check the name badge, but he restrains himself.
Whatever happened here was long enough ago for the bodies to mummify, but not long enough for there to be only bones. Connor's grasp on that isn't too good – in his field, bodies have generally been dead long enough to turn to stone – but he thinks that means it's probably been years, rather than decades.
The central room has another couple of parts of bodies. One is draped over the ADD; Connor thinks that might be Jess, based on what's left of the clothes. He swallows, hard, turning away and heading for Lester's office.
There's no one in here, he's glad to see. Lester's desk is still neat and tidy, chair pushed in just so, files stacked neatly in his in and out boxes. Even the end of the world, apparently, can't upset his routine.
There's two or three sheets stacked neatly in the centre of the desk. Connor sits down, reading through them carefully.
Ten minutes later he finishes, carefully stacks the papers together and replaces them. Moving very deliberately, he rises to his feet, steps out of the office, and throws up.
When there's nothing left to come up he turns, stumbling back towards the labs. The menagerie is completely empty, and he hopes with everything in him that Abby had emptied it, releasing the creatures. Matt's plants have mostly died; one, some kind of moss, is still gamely clinging to life, busy colonising the nearby surfaces. Connor wonders vaguely what it's living on, considering there's no light down here, but plant behaviour was never his speciality. And Matt came from a time when the human race lived underground, after all. Maybe the plant came with him.
Maybe it's not Matt's lab. He's been pretty consistently in most of the timelines, but maybe he's not part of this ARC. Maybe this was someone else's workspace.
He tries to pretend that thought doesn't bother him, but he doesn't linger.
There's no more information in any of the rest of the labs. Connor doesn't disturb anything, even though there are things here that could be useful. It feels wrong, like grave robbing. The bodies he sees here and there are his friends, and he can't bring himself to disturb them. Luckily, whatever was following him outside doesn't seem to have come inside.
When he leaves he does his best to seal the doors. They don't lock anymore, but he wedges them as tightly as he can and hopes for the best. It takes longer and makes more noise than he likes, but it feels important somehow.
The empty streets feel much more threatening this time. Connor picks his way carefully, trying to watch everything around him as he goes. Every building is a possible hiding place, every abandoned car could be hosting something dangerous. He comes to a halt halfway along a road, eyeing a crash that covers the entire road. There's room for him to get past, but only barely, and he can't bring himself to move forward.
He stands there, rocking slightly on his heels, for almost ten minutes, before finally forcing himself forward. He checks each car as he goes, but they're all empty, and he starts to speed up as he gains confidence.
A Predator unfolds from the roof above him, sailing almost lazily down and landing on the pile of cars with a crash. Connor jumps back, plastering himself against the wall and trying not to breathe. His heart's beating so fast it's threatening to beat right out of his chest, and he tries to remember if they can hear that. The first one they met couldn't, but when they chased Jack into the future, the Predators there had tracked them by the beat of their hearts. He isn't sure which kind these are, whether they can hear him or not.
Apparently they can. The Predator swings its' head around to focus on him, eyeing him closely. Connor moves as slowly as he dares, carefully pulling his bag from his back and swinging it with all his might for the nearest window.
The glass shatters, falling everywhere. The Predator rears back and Connor runs for it, shattering more glass as he goes. The shards pepper him, catching in his hair and jacket and digging in as he runs. It seems to throw the Predator off well enough, though; at least, it doesn't follow him.
Connor stops a couple of streets away, shaking the glass loose as best he can. He's bleeding in half a dozen places, but hopefully it isn't enough to draw any unwanted attention. He cleans it up fairly haphazardly, unable to see most of the damage. It's a long way to the arena, and he doesn't need anything bringing the Predators down on him.
Briefly he wonders if he should just hunker down in the flat and wait for the nearby Anomaly to recur in three days. He has the supplies to wait, and he can probably fortify the flat well enough to hang on that long.
But it's dangerous. At least one Predator knows he's around. The safest thing is to get out of the area.
He heads off again when he's as clean as he can get. He's sacrificed one of his bottles of water and poured it over his head, hoping to clear away as much blood as possible. It stings, but he isn't losing enough blood to be worried about it. Weird as it is to think, he'll be safe once he gets back to Helen; she'll clean him up properly.
He's getting familiar with the trek to the stadium, but this time is a little different. This part of the city is much more trashed than the area around the ARC; he guesses the Special Forces were dispatched to try and keep order around the base. There'd have been no such protection around here. He has to pick his way around crashes, overturned cars, around the debris where buildings were broken into. Several times he passes burnt out buildings. Once a whole row has burnt down; one end is still smouldering. The ash is still hot enough to burn, though luckily not severely.
A couple of times he passes the corpses of Predators. Someone fought back at least a little. Unlike the human bodies, the Predators haven't been eaten. Apparently they don't practise cannibalism, even when their natural food source has vanished. He wonders what they're living on. Even the zoo animals must be gone by now.
The stadium finally comes into view and Connor picks up speed. He's more than ready to be done with this timeline.
Like the ARC, the stadium doors are open. One's been ripped from its' hinges so violently he can't even see it around anywhere. The other is hanging drunkenly across the entrance. He edges carefully around it, digging another lightstick out of his pack. This one's blue, for some reason, and it makes the shadows sharper and deeper.
The feeling of paranoia is increasing. Something's following him; Connor knows the feeling well enough, and he's pretty sure there's only one thing it could be. Still, he's almost at the freezer that holds the Anomaly, all he has to do is...
...pick his way through a kitchen full of predators without waking any of them.
Connor stands on the very edge of the room for a long time. The Predators are asleep, as closely as he can tell, but they're packed pretty closely together. He has almost no room for error. Maybe the best thing would be to leave, find a car in working condition and head for the Forest of Dean. Or even just go back to the flat and wait out the next three days.
The Predator that's been following him lopes into the corridor and stands, gazing around. Connor almost curses, catches himself in time, and eases into the kitchen, so at least he's out of its' line of sight.
He moves very, very slowly across the room, planning each step before he takes it. Once he has to backtrack when there isn't enough room for him; once he kicks against a Predator's leg and freezes in terror. Luckily it just grunts and shifts, apparently under the impression another Predator has kicked it. He can't understand it; there's no way he smells like them. But he doesn't worry about it, instead continuing as soon as he dares.
Finally, what feels like hours after he started, he reaches the freezer. There's a Predator sprawled against the door, and he considers it for a long time without moving. He definitely isn't strong enough to move it on his own, and if he wakes it they'll all wake. He'll be torn apart before he can get out.
Moving so slowly he starts to cramp, Connor frees his backpack from his shoulders. He digs a pack of jerky out of a pocket and throws a stick towards the other side of the room. It hits a Predator in the side, bouncing off and getting lost in the pile.
The Predator rouses, sniffing uncertainly. Connor throws another; it glances up, catching the movement, but focuses on the jerky rather than him. When it finds the piece it eats it quickly, waking several others.
Connor throws more pieces, timing it as best he can for when the Predators aren't actually looking at him. The whole room is waking, now, searching for the pieces he's throwing. Finally the Predator at his feet stirs, waking and loping lazily towards the others to join in the search.
Connor throws the last two pieces, grabs the door handle and yanks. The door sticks for a moment before reluctantly opening in fits and starts. The nearest Predator turns back, snapping at him; Connor dives for the opening. He takes a blow to the leg, but he makes it inside and pulls the door closed again.
There's no Anomaly.
He's lost his lightstick, and there's only the barest light coming through a vent high on the wall. The freezer's grimy and smells rotten; obviously, no one cleaned it out when the world ended. Connor grimaces, slumping against the wall and easing down it to sit on the floor.
His leg's bleeding. He examines it as best he can in the dim light; the Predator's raked five parallel cuts down the length of it, pretty deeply by the feel of it. He doesn't think they've hit anything important – surely he'd have bled out already? – but the Predators outside can smell the blood and are attempting to get through.
And it's already getting hot and stuffy. The vent lets in a little air, but it's not actually running, so there's very little getting through. Connor lets his head fall back, wincing at the thump. This is not good.
The Predators give up on the door after a while, but they don't go away; he can hear them moving around outside. He's getting tired, and he knows enough about oxygen deprivation to know that's a bad sign. Although it may be the blood loss.
When the Anomaly opens, he almost doesn't recognise it. If it had been any other Anomaly, he wouldn't have dared go through. But this one only leads to Spaghetti Junction. Nothing lives there but grass. And he can't stay here.
He makes it through. His backpack is gone, left behind somewhere. That's kind of a shame. There were useful things in there. Still, he can pick up another in just about any time line.
The sudden burst of oxygen makes him hyperventilate, trying to get enough into his lungs to even out his system. He almost chokes on it before his breathing starts to level out. Eventually his body overrides his mind and starts breathing more evenly on its' own.
The Anomaly winks out behind him, and he turns to face the Junction. The Anomalies swim in front of his eyes, though, and he can't focus enough to figure out which one he needs. He's so tired. Maybe after a rest he'll be able to figure it out.
Connor lay for a long time gazing at the ceiling before he realized where he was. Helen's cabin. He shifted slightly, feeling the bulk of bandages around his leg.
He was oddly lethargic, unable to really focus on anything. He wasn't sure how long it was before Helen came in, frowning when she saw he was awake. "Connor."
"Helen," he said vaguely.
Her expression cleared and she moved to check his leg, not bothering to be gentle. "That was stupid."
"I ended up in Predator infested London. What was I supposed to do?"
"Well, given a choice between choking to death, bleeding to death, or not wasting all my hard work...I told you you weren't ready. There are variables you still don't understand."
"Yeah. I get that." He shifted, gasping as pain jumped along his leg.
"Stay still," she warned him. "I'm afraid it's going to scar."
"Scars are sexy."
She laughed, letting his leg rest on the bed again. "Men tell themselves that, but I've never known a woman to be attracted by a scar. Not actively repulsed, maybe. But I've never met anyone who is attracted by them."
"I'll take it." He looked down at the bandages. "Thanks."
"Like I said. Wasting all my hard work. What happened?"
"Dunno. Lester was sure it wasn't an Anomaly the ARC had dealt with. Christine Johnson bit off more than she could chew, maybe. I don't even know how long ago they attacked. But there's no one there."
"So you're ready to follow my lead now?"
Connor didn't answer and she grinned victoriously. She held up a needle, checking the fluid inside. "Goodnight, Connor."
He didn't bother answering, closing his eyes against the pinch and drifting off before she'd even left the room.
Chapter 8: but you won't break the man
"I need some time on my own."
Helen studied him carefully. Connor held himself very still, refusing to fidget under her scrutiny.
"Why?" she asked finally.
"I need to work on my stuff without your clones breathing down my neck. They're pretty distracting." He glared at the nearest clone, who leered at him.
"Well, that's a shame, Connor, because I have your next attempt ready. But it can wait, I suppose, while you go and – meditate, or whatever."
He was vaguely impressed with the amount of venom she managed to get into 'meditate'. "No, if it's ready, I'll go. That'll do fine."
"Are you sure? I'd hate to think we were crowding you."
"No. It's fine. Where are we going?"
Connor steps through the Anomaly into a full-blown ARC operation. He freezes momentarily; this is the first time he's actually been caught, at least by the whole team.
That probably doesn't say much for their response time, when he thinks about it.
"Connor, what are you doing?"
Becker's there before Connor has a chance to take anything in, hauling him away from the Anomaly and depositing him by the cars. Connor pulls away from him, adjusting his jacket.
"You know the rules," Becker says sternly. "No one goes through an Anomaly on their own. What were you thinking?"
He doesn't wait for an answer, just turns on his heel and heads off, throwing a 'Stay there!' over his shoulder. Connor bristles at being treated like a child, but he doesn't protest. He doesn't know enough about what's going on yet.
He can't even really see the Anomaly from here, and the soldier who's presumably guarding him keeps getting in his way. All he can see is shapes, figures moving back and forth. After a while the Anomaly shrinks, locking. That gives him a sense of time; they're somewhere after Cutter's death, unless he developed the locker earlier in this timeline.
The team comes back a little later, Becker and Danny carrying the locker between them. Connor waits for them to put it down before pushing in to check it over, making sure they haven't damaged it.
"We know how to use it, you know."
He straightens, eyeing the stranger. " 'Scuse me?"
"You did show us. Endlessly. And you talked about it for three months. And there was a presentation where you compared it to sci fi devices. Remember? We're all capable of operating it for one Anomaly."
"Just like to be sure," he mutters, glancing around. Danny and Becker, Sarah by the Jeep, Jenny on her phone...and a blond guy he's never seen before, though there's something familiar about him.
And no Abby.
Becker passes him, heading for the gun cases, and Connor pushes to his feet to follow him. "Becker, where's Abby?"
"Who?" Becker isn't looking at him, probably still angry about whatever rule he'd broken.
Danny arrives, unloading his gun into the case. "What's going on?"
"You know an Abby?" Becker asks, completely unconcerned.
"No. She your girl, Connor?"
"Yea – no. Sort of. She works for the ARC."
Danny considers. "Is she one of the lab assistants?"
"She's Abby. She's on our team, she's our vet. Abby Maitland?"
That gets a reaction, but not the one he wanted. Sarah's joined them, and she looks worried.
"Connor," she says gently, "Jack's our vet. Jack!" she adds, more loudly.
The blond guy looks up from where he's checking over a tranquiliser rifle. "Yeah?"
She gestures and he jogs over, passing his rifle to Becker. "What's going on?"
"Jack, do you know an Abby?"
"Abby," he repeats thoughtfully. "No, I don't think so."
"Abby Maitland," Connor says again.
"Not a cousin, or anything?" Sarah insists.
"No. I don't have cousins. Why?"
"Connor, Jack's been our vet since this whole thing started," Danny says. "You know that, you and he started together. Jack Maitland."
Connor goes very still. "Jack Maitland's younger," he says after a moment. "Just out of college."
"That's Ritchie, my brother," Jack says warily. "Connor, are you still mad about moving out? I said I was sorry, but he's my brother and he needed somewhere to stay."
"No, I don't care about that," Connor says angrily. "This isn't...it's not right, none of it is...Jenny!"
"Wait," Danny says, but Jenny's coming over, still talking on the phone. She takes in their faces, says, "I'll call you back," and hangs up on whoever she's talking to. Distantly, Connor wonders if it was Lester.
Probably not. She doesn't like him well enough to hang up on Lester for him.
"What's going on?"
"Connor seems to be having a breakdown of some kind," Becker says. Connor blinks; that's not like any of the Beckers he's met.
"He thinks Jack should be someone else, a girl called Abby," Sarah adds.
"Jenny," Connor says quickly, "you remember Nick talking about Claudia Brown, right?"
"Who? No. Who's Claudia Brown?"
"After the Permian, with the Predators, when Captain Ryan died," Connor insists. "He must have talked about it."
"No," she says more slowly. "Captain Ryan didn't die on that mission, Connor. He was badly injured, yes, he retired. But he didn't die. What's going on?"
She addresses the last question to Danny, who shrugs helplessly.
"He went through the Anomaly," Becker says suddenly. "Maybe something...?"
He trails off. Probably, Connor thinks sourly, because he can't think what could possibly have happened.
"Look, I just..." He grimaces, covering his face with his hands. "Let me go get some rest." Wherever I live now, he thinks, but he doesn't say it out loud.
"Yes, that's probably a good idea," Jenny agrees smoothly. "Let's go." She ushers him to a car.
Becker comes to join them, leaning past Connor to open the door. He spins, suddenly, and Connor has no time to react before the needle is in his arm.
He stares at it, feeling utterly betrayed, and lifts his gaze to Becker, who's staring back at him.
"Sorry, mate," he says perfunctorily. It's very far away.
Everything goes black.
Connor wakes, going from asleep to fully conscious in a heartbeat. He doesn't move, trying to figure out where he is. Unfortunately, lying still with his eyes closed only tells him that he's in a small room, probably alone, and eventually he gives up and looks around.
He's in one of the medical isolation rooms at the ARC. He isn't tied down, which is surprising when he remembers Becker sedating him, but the door is locked and he can see the shadow of a guard outside. He doesn't bother knocking, just settles himself on the bed and waits.
It's Danny who finally comes in, carrying a plate and cup. He doesn't look surprised to see Connor awake, just sets them down on a table. "Feeling better?"
"Yes." He glances at the bruise on his arm where Becker gripped it. "Bit stiff."
"That'll happen." Danny takes a seat, watching him drink. "What happened, Connor?"
He laughs softly. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you, mate. Can I go?"
"No. They're running blood tests, want to make sure you're alright."
"Nothing bit me."
"Just making sure. You understand."
"Yeah. Sure." He glances at the plate but doesn't go near it.
Danny studies him carefully. "Connor, tell me what happened. Let me help you."
Connor closes his eyes and stays that way until Danny leaves.
They try Jenny next – and oh, it's hard to ignore her, Jenny who's always been his ally – and then Sarah, and Becker. Becker, of course, just demands to know what's going on and what Connor thought he was doing. It's easier to ignore him than anyone else. Even Lester comes in, but Connor closes his eyes and hums loudly, completely ignoring him.
At this point they've put Connor on IV nutrition, since he won't eat anything. He won't leave the IVs in place, either, so they've strapped him down. One hand is bandaged where he pulled the IV out a couple of times. When they first strapped him down he fought and yelled; now he just lays there, staring into space.
They leave him alone for a couple of days; only a nurse comes in to change his IV when necessary. Connor knows he should be going stir crazy, but he thinks there may be something in the IV. Nothing really seems to impact him anymore.
Then Jack comes in.
He doesn't say anything for a long time, just sits and watches Connor. Connor's between IV doses, starting to come out of his fog, and he watches Jack in return. Now that he's looking, he can see the similarity to Abby, far more than in 'his' Jack.
"My mother told me once," Jack says abruptly, "that if I'd been a girl, she was going to call me Abigail."
"She hates Abigail," Connor tells him dreamily. "No one calls her that. The last one who tried, she beat him up – kickboxing."
Jack nods as though he's confirmed something. "I'm not surprised. I'd hate it."
"I never knew if Jack was short for something."
"Heh. Like Jack O'Neill."
"Yeah, that's what you said the first time you found out, too."
Connor shrugs as best he can. "Well, at least I'm consistent."
Jack gets up suddenly, loosening the restraints. "Don't touch your IV," he says warningly.
Connor sits up, rubbing absently at one wrist. "Are you good cop?"
"You don't seem to remember, Connor, but we're mates. Flatmates, for a while, but mates before and after that. You saved me, from the Mer." He smiles faintly. "Shot me once, too."
"The Raptors," Connor agreed. "I remember that. But it was her, not you." He considers. "I saved you from the Mer?"
"Yeah. We nearly both went over, but you said I couldn't die till I'd seen all three Star Wars movies, and you hung on until Cutter got there. I don't know how you did it."
Connor gets up after a few minutes, exploring the room – not that it's that interesting, but it beats staring at the friend he has no memory of. His IV rattles along behind him, tugging slightly when he moves too fast. Jack doesn't try to stop him, just watches lazily. He does tense slightly when Connor looks at the tray of scalpels; Connor considers picking one up, maybe putting it in his pocket. Just to see what would happen.
But Jack is maybe an ally, the only one he has here, and Connor doesn't want to risk alienating him for the sake of what's essentially a trick.
He moves on, and pretends not to notice Jack relax.
"Who's Claudia Brown?"
The question comes out of nowhere and he frowns, trying to think of a way to explain it to a vet. Abby had never understood it, not really. Then he remembers who's asking and frowns again. Is Jack trying to trick information out of him?
Clearly reading at least some of that from his face, Jack shakes his head, lifting both hands in apology. "Don't worry about it. Pretend I didn't say that, I'm sorry. I just..." He leans forward, eyes intent. "You said her name like it was important. Like she meant something to you. I thought I could find her for you, maybe help you."
"You can't find her. Not if Jenny's here. She – Claudia was someone we knew when this started, Cutter and Stephen and me."
"Yeah." Connor looks away. "Abby knew her. They –" He shrugs, because what can he say? He never knew Claudia. "They weren't friends, not really, but they liked each other." At least according to Nick, he doesn't say.
Jack starts to speak, but Connor cuts him off. "How long have I been here, Jack?"
"Nearly two weeks. Why?"
"Nearly...no sign of Helen?"
"Helen?" Jack repeats blankly. "Not since Nick – what are you doing? Don't do that!" He reaches for Connor but doesn't actually touch him.
Connor looks up, pressing tissues against the back of his hand. The IV tube drops to his bed. "She'll be coming. Looking for me. And she always gets in; you know that. I have to go."
The door opens. Jack turns, trying to get in front of Connor, but Becker brushes past him without looking. Danny's behind him, lurking closer to the door.
"Jack, get out," Becker orders, halting a few feet from Connor. "Are you going to let us put that back in, or do I need to tie you down again?"
"I have to go," Connor protests, trying to get around him. Danny's in the way, though. "She's coming."
"So I hear," Becker agrees. Connor glances at Jack, but he's glaring at Becker.
Huh. Maybe he hadn't known they were listening.
"What makes you say she's coming?" Becker continues, and the patronising tone makes Connor want to knock his teeth out.
Or at least try. He has no illusions about how far he'd get.
"She always comes." He tries to go the other way around Becker, just to see. "She wants me back."
"Back," Becker repeats, raising an eyebrow. "Connor, the woman's only seen you – actually, I don't think she's ever seen you. How can she want you back?" The other eyebrow goes up. "Trading down from Hart?"
It's hard to ignore that one. Connor focuses on Danny, holding onto his temper with both hands. The casual slur against not only him, but Stephen as well, has convinced him that Becker will not be helping him.
"She's coming," he says, holding Danny's gaze. "She wants me. And she'll get in, she got in to kill Cutter on his watch." He jerks his head towards Becker, who protests loudly, and there's some shoving. Connor ignores it, still watching Danny. "She'll come. And if you hold me here, she'll come through you."
That's the last thing he says. Becker bullies him back to bed – the bullying is probably overkill, since Connor isn't actually resisting, but Becker's always been thorough – and ties him down far too tightly. For one terrifying moment he considers the IV himself, but eventually he turns away to call a nurse. Danny takes the opportunity to loosen Connor's ties slightly. Connor doesn't react, already sliding back into malaise before the IV even touches his skin.
Time passes, much the way it has been. Connor surfaces briefly between IV doses; sometimes Jack is there, and they exchange a word or two. Sometimes Becker yells at him, or Jenny or Danny plead. They don't let Sarah in anymore, not since Connor almost convinced her to let him go. Lester comes, sometimes, but he never ventures further than the door and they don't speak.
Connor's drifting into wakefulness one day when he hears the alarms going off. It surprises him; he doesn't remember hearing them at all yet. He lies listening to it for a while, gradually getting closer to consciousness. His IV is empty and no one comes to switch it over, and he gradually gets closer to real thought.
"He's in here," someone says outside, and the doorknob shakes as it's unlocked. Connor watches incuriously. Jack slips inside, glancing nervously over his shoulder.
Helen has Jenny by one arm, glancing around them rapidly. "Untie him," she orders Jack. "Connor, can you move?"
"Not sure," he says honestly. To Jack, as he fumbles with the straps, he adds, "Told you she'd come. Where's Becker?"
"Bleeding out in the hub," Jenny says tightly.
"Did you kill him?" Connor asks Helen.
"I wasn't shooting to kill," she tells him. Connor doesn't point out that that doesn't answer his question. "Why do you care?" She lets go of Jenny, pushing her into a corner and glaring warningly, and catches Connor's chin, angling his face into the light. Connor brushes her hand away, wincing as his fingers touch puffy flesh under his eye.
"Did Becker do that?" she asks.
"Maybe." Connor shrugs, almost overbalancing until Jack hurriedly props him up. "Don't remember."
"He doesn't remember," Jack agrees when Helen scoffs. "The stuff they've had him on, he wouldn't remember if Lester conga'd through here in his underwear."
Connor considers that image for a moment before scowling. "Jack? Don't ever mention anything like that again."
Helen examines her gun. "Time we were going, Connor." She flicks the safety off and aims at Jenny, who tries to scramble backwards.
"Don't shoot her," Connor says firmly. It's somewhat mitigated by the fact that he can't stand up straight.
" 'Cos she's the only one who's never done anything but help me."
Helen glances at Jenny. "If I leave you here, are you going to try and shoot us in the back?" Jenny shakes her head, and Helen nods. "I'm going to lock the door anyway. Be a good girl and sit tight."
"Bye, Jenny," Connor says sadly. He tries to take a step, but shakes so hard he almost collapses. Jack tightens his grip.
"He can't walk on his own," he says, aiming the words at Helen.
She nods briskly. "We're not going far. You help him."
"Helen!" Connor protests.
"It doesn't matter, Connor, this isn't staying. Now come on, we're on a timetable."
Connor does his best, and he's carrying some of his own weight, but without Jack he wouldn't have made it very far. They head out of the ARC – there's no resistance, and he sees a few of the Cleaner Clones as they go. He carefully doesn't think about what's happening.
Outside Jack helps him into the back of Cutter's Ford. Connor wonders vaguely why it's here; he doesn't remember what happened to it after Cutter's death. "Jack," he says quietly.
"Yeah." Jack glances at Helen for instructions before climbing in after him. A Cleaner climbs into the front, pulling away from the ARC.
"Was Becker always like that?"
Connor thinks for a moment. "Mean."
"Yeah. Pretty much. Why?"
"He wasn't where I came from."
Jack glances from him to Helen and back. "No?"
"No. Who...was it Wilder? His trainer, at Sandhurst, was it Wilder?"
"Maybe. Sounds familiar. He doesn't talk about himself much. Why?"
"That's a jump, Connor. How do you get from 'Becker is mean' to Wilder?" Helen asks.
"I'm getting good at this," Connor mutters.
"Good at what?" Jack asks.
"Wilder was Johnson's man, wasn't he?" Helen puts in from the front.
"Christine Johnson?" Jack says in surprise.
"In our world he was Becker's trainer for a month or so, but he was rotated out then. If he had Becker for three years in this world..." Connor shrugs.
The last of the drugs are burning away now. He sits up, looking around. "Where are we going, Helen?"
She reels off a list of co ordinates. Connor puzzles his way through them, blinking. "Jenny's wedding house?"
"Jenny's what?" Jack asks.
"When she gets married, after she leaves the ARC," Connor said absently. "Why that one, Helen?"
"Because the closer ones are under guard, and you've gone moral again."
Connor shrugs, glancing at Jack. "You don't have any clones left, anyway."
"Oh, I always have more clones, Connor." She meets his eyes, smiling.
Jack bites his lip, glancing from Connor to Helen. Lowering his voice, he murmurs, "Is she going to kill me?"
"No." Connor glances forward. "Probably not. I should be able to talk her down."
"Connor, I don't know what's happening, but I know you, and I know her. Whatever she's got on you, you need to get away from her."
"Get away from her?" Connor repeats.
"Yeah. You know what she is, Connor, you must. She killed Cutter, she killed Stephen. She'll kill you, once you're not useful anymore."
"It's in hand."
"For a smart guy, you're really dumb, you know that?"
"It's been said. Abby tells me all the time."
"Good for her."
They lapse into silence as they drive. Helen stops for petrol and Connor sends Jack to pay and use the facilities.
"You can't keep him." Helen leans against the car, watching Jack try to pretend he isn't frantically calling all the ARC's emergency numbers, one after another.
"Why not? We stay the same."
"He'll overwrite Abby. If you bring him into any timeline with an Abby she'll vanish, just like your alternates have been. I thought the point of this was to bring her back."
"I never lost Abby, not until I started this."
Helen shrugs, watching Jack try to leave a note with the attendant. "You can stay here."
"Did you kill anyone?"
He eyes her. "Did the clones?"
She spreads her hands innocently. "They do sometimes get carried away." She goes into the shop, corralling Jack and collecting the four different notes he'd tried to leave.
Jack slumps into the seat, scowling at Connor's look. "You did that on purpose."
"To see what I'd do."
"I knew what you'd do. Abby would have done it too. Well, she probably would have attacked Helen with something, but apart from that..."
Jack looks at him oddly. "She was threatening you. Said her clone would kill you if I didn't come."
"She wouldn't have killed me." Connor wonders where Helen became the most stable thing in his life, and can't remember a time when she wasn't.
"I'm sure you believe that."
"She wouldn't. She needs me."
"Needs you for what?"
Connor glances up as the Cleaner shifts. "To understand the Anomalies. Mathematically, I mean. To know where they go and when they'll open and how long they'll stay. There's an order there, a logic, and it's beautiful, Jack, it really is, and I'm so close. I really am."
"She knows all that already," Jack points out.
"By instinct. She gets it wrong. Like the Predators..." He hesitates. "Did she lead the Predators here?"
"The Predators came here," Jack says warily.
"That was an accident," Helen says over her shoulder.
"Comforting," Connor notes. "Did you kill Stephen?"
Connor glances at Jack, who nods. "Stephen was trying to distract him for Nick. He got shot."
"Better death than he got on our side," Connor murmurs. "Did he save Nick?"
"I did." Helen smiles at him.
"And shot him a few months later."
She doesn't answer and he smiles faintly. "You can take the girl out of the Anomalies..."
"What did your medics have him on?" Helen asks Jack, but her tone is amused.
Jack doesn't answer, just slumps into his seat and stares out the window.
He's asleep by the time they reach the manor house. Another Cleaner meets them to report that everything has been taken care of. Connor carefully doesn't ask.
He does demand that Jack be left alone, but the noise of the argument wakes him and he scrambles out of the car, scrubbing sleep away. "Stay here," Connor tells him.
"What? With them around?" He gestures at the three Cleaners in view.
"They'll be leaving with me. Just take the car, mate, head back to the ARC. They won't stop you."
Jack eyes them suspiciously and shakes his head. "I'll see you off first."
Connor glances at Helen, who rolls her eyes. "Have it your way, then," he tells him. "This way."
The house is empty and smells closed up. Jack stays close to Connor, glancing around curiously. "Where are we, Conn?"
"Have you had a sort of fungus?"
"Eats people. We had to freeze it. Nearly lost you, and Jenny."
"Yeah. In my timeline, it almost killed Jenny. I mean, it did kill her, but we were able to save her. But that, and Cutter's death, and all – she quit, left the ARC and walked away. And two years later, we tracked an Anomaly Alert here and found her getting married."
"You and Abby."
"Matt and Emily too." He shakes his head at Jack's look. "Doesn't matter. The important bit is, it's a fairly stable Anomaly. It's almost always here, and it lasts."
"Where does it go?"
"Miocene. Or maybe Eocene. We never really decided."
"Sixty million?" Jack guesses.
"Give or take, yeah. You know your eras."
"Hard not to, the way you're always going on about them." He catches Connor's look. "Doesn't she know them?"
The Anomaly's open. Connor checks the wine cellar, but there's no sign of the Hyneadon. Jack watches the four Cleaners amble through the Anomaly on Helen's order.
"Now, Connor, don't be long," Helen says. "You know how I worry."
"Not at all?"
She smirks, stepping through the Anomaly.
"Come back with me," Jack says without much hope.
"Back to Becker? I like being able to think, thank you." He glances over his shoulder. "You should go."
"Don't stay with her. She isn't trying to help you."
Connor nods quietly. "See you around, mate."
Helen was waiting on the other side. "Can you amuse yourself for a while? I have some things I need to do."
"Yeah." Connor glanced at the Cleaners. "None of them, though."
"Connor, you know the deal..."
"None of them," he repeated evenly. "I need a little time on my own."
"Oh, Connor. We can't leave you on your own. What if something were to happen to you? No, no. Go back to the cabin with them, now."
Connor studied her. "If I don't?"
"You'll end up there one way or the other," she said unconcernedly. "You may as well go unbruised."
"You think I'll do any more work for you after this?"
"I think you'll do what you need to. You want Abby back, and I can get her. And I will, when I have what I want. If you behave, I'll even call off your guards."
"Fine," he muttered.
"But not today," she added. "We'll leave them with you for a few days, just to be sure. Be a good boy, now."
She grinned, vanishing into the Anomaly and leaving Connor with his guards.
Chapter 9: Take me where my future's lyin'
Connor was sitting high in what he'd come to think of as his tree, legs kicking idly as he worked through the equations. He was almost finished with his escape plan, almost ready to leave Helen for good.
He jumped, dropping his notebook and cursing fluently. Someone was climbing the tree.
This wasn't good. Helen was in the Silurian, so it wasn't her, and there was no way he could pass for the native Connor. He cursed again, glancing around for another way down.
Then Connor swung onto his branch, staring at him. "Wow. Like looking in a really freaky mirror."
Connor blinked in surprise. "You're not supposed to be here."
"Yeah, that's what the other guy said."
"Other...guy? How long have you been here?"
"Six months, give or take. How long did you stay?"
Connor shook his head sharply. "What guy?"
His younger self smiled faintly. "He said his name was Matt. He's been chasing you for a while from the sounds."
"What? Why is Matt chasing us?"
"Not us," he corrected him. "Just you. I give you a message, he takes Abby and me home." He frowned for a moment. "Can he get us home?"
"Probably," Connor muttered. "What's the message?"
"He wants you to stop."
"He wouldn't tell me what you're doing. Something about polluting the time lines. But he says you have to stop. You're tearing the world apart."
"No, I'm not."
"Yeah, he's pretty sure. Kind of intense, isn't he?"
"That's Matt," Connor agreed. "Where is he?"
"Where is he, Conn...me?"
His younger self grinned. "I know, it's weird, innit? Look, I'll tell him you want him, if you want."
"No. Where is he?"
His younger self tried to refuse, but Connor just overrode him, following him back to where Matt was apparently waiting with Abby. He ignored most of the questions, too, staying silent for the most part. His younger self gave up after a while, walking in silence.
Abby glanced up when they entered the small clearing, eyes flickering from one Connor to the other. "You really were telling the truth," she said in surprise.
"You weren't supposed to bring him back here," Matt said mildly.
"Turns out I'm pretty hard to dissuade, since I know all me tricks," the younger Connor said happily. "I gave the message, so we can go home now, yeah?"
"Yeah," Matt agreed. "An Anomaly will open up here in about twenty minutes. It'll take you through the Rift Valley to get Danny, about a week after he got there. It'll close and reopen, and the new one will get you back to your time."
The younger Connor glanced at Connor, who nodded. "Matt hides things, but he doesn't lie. If he says it'll get you home, it'll get you home."
"Thank you," Abby said quietly. Matt nodded, smiling briefly at her before glancing at Connor.
They wandered into the forest a bit. Connor stopped just within sight of the clearing, watching until the Anomaly flared open. Matt waited patiently, leaning against a tree.
"Right," Connor said finally when the Anomaly faded away. "What's going on?"
"You're ripping the world apart."
"That's what – me said. What are you talking about?"
"You've been jumping around in time, Connor. Trying to change things, we think, but we can't tell why...every jump you make, you're weakening the whole universe. It's starting to fray already. Why did you think you were able to talk with yourself?"
"We've both been here all along," Connor pointed out.
"Because this is the focal point. You've passed through here almost every time. It's weakest here. Otherwise you'd have become him every time. How long have we been standing here talking, Connor, and there's no sight nor sound of any dinosaurs? All the times you've passed through here, have you seen anything?"
"No," Connor said with a frown. "I haven't been looking for them, but...no."
"No. Because it's all unravelling, starting here. Starting now. With you." Connor shook his head, unconvinced, and Matt continued quickly, "You've used an Anomaly near your flat a few times now, since you've been doing this, one that recurs. Did you ever see it before you started this?"
"No," Connor admitted.
"No, because it's forcing through a weak spot you've made. That's what you've been doing, Connor. Not saving people, and I know that was what you wanted. You've been creating new Anomalies." He considered Connor for a moment before adding softly, "How do you think those Predators got loose?"
Connor shook his head, backing away. "No. That's not possible, it's not...you're lying."
"No. We've been able to track it, and it all comes back to you. To what you've been doing."
"I haven't even been doing it, it's Helen..."
"And your equations. We know your work, Connor, we know she's been using your calculations."
"We," Connor said carefully.
Matt gestured vaguely over his shoulder. "Where I come from."
"Underground in the future."
"Under...no. We've seen that future, but no. That's not true anymore."
Matt pushed off the tree, taking a couple of steps towards him. "Because of you, Connor. Because you stopped Helen, and you went home, and you used your brains to help everyone instead of just you."
Connor shook his head. "It wasn't right, Matt."
"Maybe not. But it was what you had. Cutter made a place for himself in your world. You should have done it, too. You could have made that world better."
"I don't know how to get back there," Connor whispered. "I can't find the path back."
"I can tell you." Matt studied him. "Won't be easy. But I think you can do it. Are you up for it?"
"Yeah." Connor sighed, rubbing a hand across his face. "Yeah. What's the plan?"
When Helen came by Connor was sitting empty-handed at the base of his tree, waiting. She glanced around as she came to join him. "Where are you?"
"We took a couple of days to travel a few miles thataway around now." Connor gestured vaguely towards the west. "We were looking for more fruit than this area. I guess we must be gone already."
"I must have missed that." She pulled her backpack off, sinking down to sit beside him. "No equations?"
"Taking a break today. What's the plan?"
"I have your next visit worked out. It needs a little time, though. A couple of days. Do you want to stay here or come back home?"
"Home," he muttered. "I'm almost finished the remote opener, anyway. It just needs a little work."
"Good. I thought you'd given up on that."
"Give up on a tech challenge? I thought you knew me better than that, Helen."
"Hmm." She smiled faintly. "Let's go, then." Connor nodded, shoving to his feet and following her docilely back towards the Anomaly.
The Cleaner was waiting on the other side. Connor ignored him, heading back towards the cabin, but he did hear Helen murmuring behind him. "Keep an eye on him. Something's not right."
He didn't react, continuing into the cabin and locking himself into his room.
It didn't help, of course; the Cleaner broke the lock a little later, glaring at him before deliberately leaving the door wide open. Connor didn't bother protesting it; Helen was already gone, and the Cleaner wouldn't recognise what he was doing. Better to look cowed than raise suspicions any further.
For the next two days the Cleaner – or a Cleaner, anyway – was always visible. Connor ate a little, slept a few hours, and spent the rest of the time working on the Anomaly opener. It was interesting taking apart the one Helen used; it was unmistakeably his own work, but he must have made it sometime in the future; it was based on principles he barely understood at the moment, though he was starting to grasp them better. It didn't matter. He understood enough to do what Matt wanted, anyway. It would be difficult, but doable.
Once he was ready he ran some 'tests.' The Cleaners wouldn't let him through the Anomaly on his own, of course, but they checked them out and he was consistently able to open them to a specific place. That was good enough, apparently; Helen returned the next day.
"Got it working then?" she asked, dropping her backpack onto the floor.
Connor was lying on the couch, staring upwards. "I guess," he said vaguely. "They wouldn't let me check it out."
"Well, it might have been dangerous," she said reasonably. "You should be glad they were here to protect you."
"So happy," he agreed flatly. "Are you ready for me?"
"Almost. We should double test the opener, don't you think?"
"It works!" he protested, sitting up. "Your clones saw it. I got them exactly where I was supposed to every time."
"Doesn't hurt to be sure. Up for another test?"
Connor shrugged, giving up. "Whatever. Where do you want to go?"
"How about the Silurian?"
"Try not to get eaten by the Scorpions," Connor muttered, grabbing the opener and starting to programme it. Helen leaned over to watch as he typed.
"We need to go outside," he said after a moment. "In fact, we need to go about forty miles that way." He gestured.
"It doesn't open them anywhere?"
"Depends when you want to go. This one, no. If you want the Silurian, we need to go forty miles that way."
Helen considered for a moment before nodding. "Alright. Let's go, then."
Helen summoned three Cleaners to go with them. Connor sat in the back, sandwiched in by two of the soldiers, holding onto his machine. He was silent except to give directions when asked.
He brought them to a hill top, miles from anywhere. The Anomaly opened when he touched the control, spinning into life at the crest of the hill.
Helen gestured to the Cleaners. "No offense, Connor," she said politely. Connor shrugged, eyes on the machine in his hand.
The Cleaners trooped obligingly through. After a minute, one stepped partway back. "It's Silurian," he reported. "Kid's right."
Connor, expressionless, touched a control on the opener and the Anomaly died. The Cleaner was cut neatly in half, his head and torso falling at Helen's feet.
"Connor," she said reprovingly, "what are you doing?"
"Making it right."
She took a step towards him; Connor touched the opener again and a new Anomaly sprang up, so close to her she was almost through before she'd even registered it. "Careful, Helen," he said warningly. "It's possible I may have lied to you. I might be able to open Anomalies anywhere I want. Going to any time I want."
Thick, heavy clouds of ammonia poured out of the Anomaly. Helen was forced to back away, coughing.
"What are you doing, Connor?"
"You got it wrong." The blank tone was starting to worry her. "You were like everyone else. You thought Nick let me hang around 'cos he was sorry for me. 'Poor Connor with the daddy issues. Do anything for some parental encouragement, that one.' You were wrong. Nick let me hang around cos I'm brilliant."
He closed the Anomaly, letting her see him more clearly. "I looked over 'em again. All those equations you had me do, all the journeys I took. You were aiming for this all along, weren't you? We're ripping time apart and you knew, all along. You wanted it to happen. Not just humans, the whole universe. Everything gone, because you don't like it."
"You came to me," she reminded him.
"Yeah. I was stupid. But I've learned from my mistakes. I know how to fix this. And step one? Step one is getting rid of you. Take your backpack off. You can keep your knife and your canteen."
"Because you might need them. Do it, Helen, or I might just change my mind about where to send you."
She gauged it for a moment before unhooking her canteen from her backpack and slinging it away. "It won't help."
"It will, though." Another Anomaly sprang to life. "That'll take you to an island about five hundred years ago. It's the only Anomaly will ever open there. You'll be able to live well enough; there's all kinds of trees, fish, wild boar. Just try not to break a leg. Your nearest neighbour's more than seven hundred miles away and a canoe'll never make it."
Helen considered the Anomaly. "If I don't?"
"If you don't it closes, and I open another one. In your stomach." He caught her look and grinned fiercely. "Try me, Helen. You have no right to anything approaching mercy from me." He glanced down at the opener. "Six, five, four, three..."
She was gone on two, vanishing into the Anomaly. Connor locked it behind her, carefully set the opener down, and smashed it to pieces. Then he threw up.
He was crouched over the pieces of the opener, trying to stop crying, when someone touched his shoulder. Matt was crouched beside him when he turned, watching him sympathetically.
"You did well, mate. Exactly right."
"I killed four people."
"You saved billions. Doesn't help, I know, but someday it will. Come on. We've got to go."
Connor accepted Matt's hand up. "Did she ever get off the island?"
"Helen? No." Matt offered him a bottle of water. "Rinse, mate. No, she lived to a grand old age and died there. Archaeologists thought she must have been banished from her tribe for some offense."
"Well, they were half right." Connor rinsed his mouth before drinking deeply. "What now?"
"You have a decision to make. But first, I'd like to show you something, if you like."
"Sure," Connor agreed.
Matt touched a control on his wrist and an Anomaly sprang up nearby. It was strange, though, tinted blue instead of gold. "Man made," Matt explained, seeing Connor's look. "Just for this one purpose. Have a look through, Connor, but don't step in."
Connor approached it warily, catching Matt's arm to anchor himself before leaning carefully through. It took him a minute to focus, unsure of what he was seeing.
After a long moment he pulled back, staring at Matt. "That's the future you're going to build," Matt said quietly. "That's Nick Cutter's legacy. The ARC saves the world, if you're there."
"What's the decision?" Connor's voice was rough, and he scrubbed at one eye.
"There's already a Connor working on this. The one I sent home. I can take you there and you'll overwrite him."
"Or I can take you there and he'll overwrite you. Either of you can build this future, my future. One of you has deaths on his conscience, guilt he doesn't need to carry."
"The other one of me will just do this all over again."
"He won't," Matt said softly. "We can make sure of that. I'll be there to watch him. You gave us that technology. He won't want to change things, I guarantee it."
"You need to choose."
Connor smiled faintly. "Well, you haven't changed much, Mr Mystery-from-the-future. Let him have it. He deserves it."
"Yeah. I'm tired. And he'll still be me."
"He will," Matt agreed. "You're a good man, Connor."
"Make sure I build that future for you, yeah?"
The Anomaly closed and another opened, a normal, gold-tinted one. Matt gestured. "Step on through."
"Thanks, mate." Connor studied it for a moment. "Matt? A woman named Emily Merchant went missing from Victorian London. Fell through an Anomaly and got lost. You should see if you can find her."
He smiled. "Think of it as a last request."
Matt nodded. "I'll do my best."
"Good man. Thank you." Connor smiled again, stepping into the Anomaly.
"Connor! We're going to be late! Get up."
Connor startled awake, glancing blearily down the length of the bed. Abby was standing at the foot of it, arms full of the duvet she'd just tugged off him.
"Cold," he complained.
"Well, you could get up and get dressed," she suggested.
He propped himself up on an elbow, grinning. "You could come here and warm me."
Abby laughed. "No. We're late. Come on." She threw the duvet at him, relenting when he pouted. "Later, alright? Lester wants us in early."
Connor pulled the duvet out of the way, eying his clock. "It's not early."
"No. So get up!"
He joined her in the kitchen a few minutes later, waving to Jess as she dashed out the door. "What's the rush?"
"Some new project he wants everyone's opinions on. Come on." She pressed a plate of toast into his hands. "Eat up. Rex! Come get your breakfast!"
Becker met them at the gate. "I was sent to look for you two. What took you so long?"
"Nothing," Connor said immediately.
"Someone didn't want to get up," Abby said with a sigh. Connor leaned behind her to gesture 'her' at Becker, who very carefully didn't grin. "Connor, stop that."
"Not doing anything," he protested.
"Come on. Lester'll put you off the project before it's even started," Becker said, hurrying them towards the lift.
"You know what it is?" Connor asked.
"No one's saying anything. They're looking pretty excited, though."
Jess met them at the Hub, passing out briefing folders. "Everyone's in the conference room," she told Becker. "Too many people for James' office."
"Thank you." He flicked through the folder briefly. "Oh, great."
"What?" Connor tried to open his, but Abby snatched it from him.
"You can read it when we're told to at the meeting," she told him. "Now come on. Jess, are you coming?"
"Right behind you."
Lester glanced up as they finally reached the conference room. "Ah, our wayward ducks," he said dryly. "Do take your time, no hurry at all."
"Cheers, mate," Connor said brightly, sitting down next to Matt and grinning at Emily on his other side. "Mornin'."
"Good morning," Emily replied, smiling at him.
Abby dropped on Connor's other side. Jess and Becker took seats on the other side of the table.
"Well, if we're all quite ready?" Lester glanced around the table. "Good. Now, why don't you talk us through your proposal, Professor."
Nick rose to his feet, fiddling with the folder. "A new training and research centre, off the grounds." He immediately sat back down again.
"Yes, thank you for that illuminating suggestion. Mr Hart, can you elaborate?"
Stephen didn't bother to stand, staying sprawled in his seat. "We're duplicating specialities here. Danny and Matt and Becker and me, any of us can guard the techs. Or Emily can guard them," he added at her glare. "Nick, Connor and Abby don't need all of us around. Jenny's been training Emily and she's done very nicely..."
"Victorian manners are good for something," Connor said brightly. Emily glared; Matt thumped him on her behalf, since she couldn't reach very well.
Stephen grinned at his injured look, continuing, "Sarah can work the locking mechanism if there's no emergency, so we don't need her and Connor. Don't look at me like that, Connor. Jess can run the ADD, so...don't look at me like that, Connor."
"Sorry, just seems like you're saying I'm not needed."
"In the field. At least, not all the time. Not for routine stuff. If we set up a new centre, or reopened the old ARC, Becker could train up his recruits and you, Nick and Sarah could work on the Artefact and the Matrix. We could put in better habitats for the stranded creatures, too."
"Since the Artefact's working, more or less, we usually know if an Anomaly's going to be trouble," Matt added. "We could easy get extra teams out then. But it'd be easier to train the recruits if we knew we weren't going to be called out at a moment's notice."
"Well, you all seem to have this worked out," Lester noted. "Miss Maitland?"
"Better habitats would be nice," she agreed. Grinning, she added, "And if we were based in the old ARC, we wouldn't be here, Lester."
"Anything to keep some peace and quiet around here. You have this worked out, Professor, I assume?"
"Aye. It'll take – maybe half a year to get it ready. But as far as we can tell from the Matrix, we're coming into a quiet period anyway. No major Incursions."
"As far as you can tell?" Lester repeated.
"The Artefact's working, but it didn't come with a user's manual," Connor explained. "We have to figure out what the display means. But we're almost there."
"Good." Lester glanced around the table. "Mr Quinn? You've been very quiet."
Danny shrugged. "Becker's right, we're falling over each other in the field. In a proper training facility he can train 'em to be good little soldiers, and I can train 'em – I can train 'em to be coppers."
"Street fighters," Becker said, not quite under his breath.
"Whatever works," Danny agreed blithely. "We can do it on rotation, send Stephen and his boys when there's tracking needed, send Matt and Emily if there're human Incursions, send Becker and me when there's fighting needed. We'll work it out."
"Very well. I'll need a proposal with a little more detail than..." Lester opened his folder and read very deliberately, " 'Set up a new training facility so the boys stop fighting each other.' "
Putting it down, he eyed Nick, who shrugged unconcernedly. "Early draft."
"I do hope so. Jess and Jenny, help them put something together, will you?"
Jess nodded. "Right now good for everyone?" she asked, glancing around.
"I have a training session," Becker said apologetically.
"I can fill in your bits, soldier boy," Danny assured him.
"You'd think so, anyway," Jenny said lightly, smiling at Becker's victorious look.
"Someone had better watch the ADD," Lester added. "Connor, you had some kind of upgrade to do, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I'll go look at that." He rose to his feet. "Oh, hang on, Emily, I've got that CD I was telling you about. I think you'll like it." He dug into his bag, knocking several things out. Matt rescued them while he extracted a CD and passed it to Emily, who studied it curiously.
"I'll show you later," Matt told her. "Here, Connor." He piled Connor's belongings into his hands.
"Cheers, mate. Have fun."
Lester held the door for him, since his hands were full. "Do try and pay some attention to the ADD, if you can manage it."
"Don't worry, Lester, no Anomalies scheduled for today."
"Death and taxes, Mr Temple, the only things we can be sure of."
He headed off before Connor could answer, leaving him to juggle the handful of stuff. Giving up, he shoved it loosely back into his bag.
A notebook caught on the edge and he pulled it free again, idly flicking through it as he settled in front of the ADD. It was in his writing, but he didn't remember working on these equations. He knew what they were – they described the Anomalies mathematically – but it wasn't work he ever remembered doing. He wondered if Nick would recognise these.
It probably wasn't important. He could look at it later. Maybe see if he could use the equations to help with decoding the Artefact.
He shoved it into his bag and set to work.