Abby rolled her shoulders as she climbed out of the big SUV and tried not to chew on her lip. Jess had spotted her doing it recently and said it showed she was nervous. Which she was. In fact she was bloody terrified. This was her first shout as team leader. She badly needed it to go right.
Connor bounced up beside her, a pair of binoculars swinging dangerously around his neck.
"Can you see it? It should be in or near the reservoir," Jess said over the comms.
"Yeah, I can see it. Half in, half out of the water," Abby replied.
"What?" Connor already had the binoculars to his eyes and he swung them over to cover the expanse of water below them. The anomaly was plain to see even without the binoculars, shards of light rising out above the reservoir's surface and sparkling in the sun.
Dovestone reservoir was near Manchester, right on the edge of the Penines. Abby couldn't help a glance over to the west but the large city was completely hidden from view. They could have been in the middle of Wales or Scotland for all the signs of life there were. The reservoir was long and thin, nestling in the dramatic hills. There was a sailing club and a car park at one end and a concrete barrier and overflow at the other. The anomaly itself wasn't too far from the car park about a third of the way down the reservoir.
"Good job it's early morning," muttered Becker obviously thinking, as she was, that they were lucky the place wasn't swarming with curious locals.
"Let's get over to the water's edge, see if we can see anything," decided Abby. "Are you going to be OK with the locking device Conn?"
Connor nodded and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.
"Aye! Aye! Captain!" he said and grinned reassuringly. Then he vanished round the back of the truck.
Abby looked at Becker. "Shall we?"
The anomaly was about ten metres from the shore. Its top sparkled in the early morning sunlight.
"Do you think we can pass it off as an optical effect?" mused Becker.
"Maybe?" Abby agreed.
"I can start setting up a cover story on those lines," said Jess's voice in their ears.
"Do that," Abby ordered.
She scanned the water for signs of life. At least the reservoir was largely self-contained which limited their problem.
At that moment there was a disturbance and a shape broke the surface of the water. There was a loud snuffling sound and a plume of spray burst upwards, before the shape disappeared once more.
"Was that a whale?" asked Becker.
"Or the ancestor of one." Abby thumbed at her radio headset. "Connor? What do you know about the evolution of whales?"
"Give me a minute, I'm almost with you." Abby looked back to see Connor trotting down the banked shore towards them with the locking device in his arms.
"A whale eh?" he said enthusiatically as he drew near to them. He put the locking device down and started rumaging through his pack for the iPad that now contained his database. "Did you know they evolved from land creatures. Went back to the sea. Dead wierd."
Moments later he'd fished the tablet out of his pack and was paging through the database. Abby and Becker clustered to peer over his shoulder.
"It can't be any of these bigger ones. We'd have seen a lot more of it," Abby commented looking at the description of a Basilosaurus.
"Yeah but a load of these transitional forms are more reasonable in size. Ten feet or so." Connor's fingers flicked across the screen, paging from Ambulocetus to Rodhocetus to Protocetus.
"I hope it's none of those amphibious ones. I'd rather we knew it was contained in the reservoir," commented Becker.
Abby glanced out over the water and started formulating a plan. "Let's get out the boat. Send one of the men down to Greenfield see if you can get fish from a fishmonger. We'll need them to lure it back through the anomaly."
Abby shoved her hands into her pockets. So far this leadership business wasn't proving too difficult.
Becker nodded and Abby watched him heading back to the vehicles issuing orders.
"What about us?" asked Connor.
Abby tucked a hand through his arm. "We are going to take a walk around the reservoir and see if we can spot any tracks. If it's one of the amphibious ones, we may spot something."
"I also need to find a good spot for the locking device."
"What's its range?" Abby asked staring at the anomaly.
"Well it will probably reach the anomaly from the shore at the closest point, but it would be nice to get a bit closer than that. Once it's in contact you can place the device quite a distance away, but you need to be close to actually lock on to the anomaly. It's to do with the magnetic fields you see." Connor started to wave his free hand.
Abby interrupted hastily. "What about if we were in a boat? Could you keep it locked with a boat moving back to shore?"
Connor frowned. "Might be a bit tricky, but in principle yes. Once the beam has actually locked onto the anomaly then a bit of movement shouldn't cause too much trouble."
"Right so we need to get you and the device in boat close to the anomaly?"
"Cool! It'll be all James Bond. Lock on! Fire!" Connor made a gesture that made Abby imagine a machine gun tracking something.
"Come on James Bond!" Abby laughed and pulled on his arm, dragging him along the lakeside path.
It was a beautiful morning and Abby enjoyed the chance to walk. The track around the reservoir was wide and smooth making the going easy. Becker and Jess kept them in touch with the progress setting up the boat and finding a fishmonger. Abby kept a good eye on shore line, but they saw no sign that anything had come out of the water. The creature surfaced several more times in the middle of the artificial lake. It didn't appear to have a blow hole, as such, and was breathing through its nose. When Abby mentioned this she got a long and enthusiastic lecture from Connor about how the blow hole was evolved from the nose.
The next time it surfaced and did a roll displaying limbs rather than flippers.
"That must surely be amphibious," said Connor.
"It's possible it just comes on land to lay eggs, or to mate," she hypothesized. "Lots of amphibians are predominantly aquatic."
Connor just shrugged. "You're the animal expert but our job will certainly be simpler if you are right."
"Hope I am." Abby felt the anxiety creeping back as she envisioned some kind of ravenous killer half-whale rampaging down the streets of Greater Manchester. Lester would kill, or more likely demote, her.
"Hey! You're doing fine." Connor broke into her thoughts.
She looked at him in surprise and then felt herself blush with embarrassment. After all these years, she really ought to stop forgetting how thoughtful and insightful Connor could be when he tried. She leaned in to the warmth and comfort of his shoulder and felt him slip an arm around her.
"It's all been straightforward so far," she said.
"And when it gets difficult you'll be brilliant!" She glanced up to see his facing grinning with enthusiasm. "Just brilliant!" he repeated, then his face fell suddenly. "That was a bit Doctor Who, wasn't it?"
Abby stood up and kissed him gently. "You're a wonderful Doctor Who. But I'll take you over the Doctor any day."
"I don't know. He's got a time machine." Connor gave the impression of giving the matter serious thought.
"You've got a much sexier body and you know how to make rips in time without super advanced Time Lord technology."
"There is that. And I've got the most wonderful wife in the world who's going to be completely fantastic at bossing all these tough-looking soldier types around. After all she's had years of practice on me."
Abby thumped him in the chest. "Tease!"
"Feeling better?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'll survive. I'll be happier once we've got the whatever-it-is back where it came from though."
By the time they'd circled the reservoir Becker's men had inflated a zodiac and set it up on the shore. Several of them were lurking around the boat, their EMDs pointed doubtfully at the water.
"Where's the fish?" asked Abby as they walked up. She'd already heard that the trip into Greenfield had been a success.
"We left the fish in the car, though its going to stink to high heaven going home. But I didn't want us attracting the thing to the water's edge," Becker reported.
"Good thinking," Abby agreed.
"Roberts can suit up, if you want her to."
Abby glanced at Lieutenant Roberts. She was the best diver in the team but Abby wasn't sure having someone actually in the water with the creature was a great idea. At least not until they knew how potentially aggressive it was. The boat could always be capsized, especially by something the size of their early whale. But all things considered the boat was big and would look more intimidating, Abby thought they would be safer in it than with someone alone in the water.
She shook her head. "Let's try this with just the dinghy to start with. Becker, I want you and Roberts in the boat with me and Connor. I'll try to lure the creature through the anomaly with the fish. Connor will lock the anomaly once the thing is through."
"I have the gun and Roberts takes the tiller?" asked Becker, hopefully.
Abby grinned mischeviously. "We may need to make do without the motor. Don't want to scare it. You'll both be on oars."
"That thing is a good ten feet long," objected Becker.
"Whales very rarely capsize boats. Chances are our problem will be getting it to follow us at all, not that it comes too close. I'd also rather not stun a sea creature, especially one that needs to come to the surface for air."
"But..." began Becker with a frown.
"You can bring an EMD with you just in case, but be careful with it."
"Will it be safe to use in water?" asked Jess anxiously, obviously listening in on their conversation.
Becker frowned. "Should be. We did some tests. The electric current weakens pretty quickly as it spreads out in the water. We'll certainly be safe in the boat. Might stun a lot of fish."
"Well be careful," Jess admonished.
They donned life jackets and scrambled into the zodiac, together with a bucket of fish and the locking device and then and headed out onto the reservoir. The wind almost instantly picked up as they moved away from the slight shelter of the banks and zipped over the small waves. Just ahead of them the early whale lurched out of the water once more. Abby caught a clear glimpse of feet.
"I'm guessing a Rodhocetus," Connor shouted over the sound of the engine.
"Me too!" she agreed.
"I'm so glad it has name now," Becker's face was deadpan serious.
Abby kicked him gently across the boat. "OK! kill the engine. Let's take it carefully from here."
Roberts stopped the engine and hauled it up into the boat. Then she and Becker picked up the oars and began to paddle towards the anomaly. Abby tossed a fish in the general direction of the Rodhocetus.
"How will we know if it's following us?" asked Becker quietly.
"It's a ten foot long proto-whale. It'll be hard to miss." Abby felt pretty confident. As long as they didn't spook the creature they were probably too large to look like prey, but not alarming enough to frighten it away. It ought to just follow them through the anomaly. She tossed another fish out behind them and was pleased to see the ripples on the surface as the creature fed on their offering.
"What happened to the no going through anomalies rule?" asked Becker as they approached the glimmering light.
"I changed the rule." Abby grinned as she tossed out another fish. She had a good feeling about this.
The sensation as they moved through the anomaly was of a strange and gentle pull. Then they were out in a vast ocean. The zodiac rocked in the swell.
"What now?" asked Becker.
"We move away a bit. Let the rodhocetus follow us. Then we dump the remaining fish. Turn on the engine and head back."
"Smell that air!" said Roberts taking a deep breath.
Abby felt Connor's leg press against her thigh. He was no doubt thinking, as she was, about the way the smell of oil and asphalt and chemicals had assailed them when they came back from the Cretaceous.
"Don't get too used to it mate!" said Connor.
Roberts grinned at them. "Yeah, civilisation has its compensations."
"It's through!" Abby saw the rodhocetus break the surface.
Roberts nodded and lowered the engine back into the water. "Ready when you are Ma'am."
Abby glanced at Connor. "How quickly can you lock the anomaly once we're back through?"
"Should be pretty quick unless we're bobbing about too much."
"Take us a little bit further away from the anomaly. Then I'll dump the fish and we'll motor back. Soon as we're through we cut the engine and then Connor will attempt a lock."
Abby glanced at Becker who nodded his understanding of the plan. He and Roberts dug in with the oars and pulled them a few metres further from the anomaly.
"Here will do." Abby picked up the bucket.
She watched as Roberts quickly checked the engine. Then she nodded and Abby tossed the fish into the water. Roberts pulled hard on the starter and it coughed into life. Then they swung around in a graceful arc and headed back towards the anomaly. Looking back Abby saw the rodhocetus break the surface once more and then they were through the blaze of light and back in the tame surroundings of Dovestone reservoir.
Roberts cut the engine. They rocked a little and then stilled on the flatness of the man-made lake. Connor pointed the locking device at the anomaly and pressed the control. The beam of light sprung out and sealed the anomaly into a ball.
"I suppose we need to row gently back to shore now," said Becker glumly.
"If you don't mind," said Connor.
Abby grinned. They paddled quietly to the bank. Connor concentrating the whole time on keeping the beam steady between himself and the anomaly. He looked relieved when they beached and they were able to lift it down carefully and place it on the pebbles.
"All done and dusted," Abby reported to Jess.
"Might there be anything else in the lake?" came the reply.
"There may be some small fish, but there's unlikely to be anything else big. If there was another whale we'd have seen it breathing and a large predator would probably have scared the rodhocetus away."
"So what now?" asked Jess.
"Roberts and I will suit up and go and have a look for anomalous marine wildlife. Hopefully there won't be too much of it 'cos we're never going to get every little thing back through the anomaly."
"A few modern predators, trout and such like will deal with a lot of it," pointed out Connor.
"I'll see to making sure the reservoir is well stocked," said Jess.
Abby grinned, hearing Jess's enthusiasm and pictured lorry-loads of trout being delivered to the reservoir. "Yeah! The reservoir is also fresh water rather than salt. I don't think we've got to worry too much about the sudden appearance of a thriving eocene ecology in the middle of the peak district."
"What about the integrity of time?" asked Becker.
Abby shrugged. "We do the best we can. If there's a shoal or something we can try to catch it in a large fishing net and pull it back through, but ultimately we only get as much as we can back. It seems to have been enough so far."
"Well..." began Connor but Abby trod quietly on his foot. They didn't need his theories just now.
God help her, Becker actually grinned. "This has to be one of the most straightforward shouts we've ever had."
Abby laughed. "I just got lucky, that's all."
"The best COs are the lucky ones," he said.
Abby felt Connor take and squeeze her hand. She could do this.