Becker was tired. It had been a lousy day, full of pouring rain and a bitter north wind that froze you to the bone. The weather had made rounding up the pack of dire wolves wet and miserable work, as well as potentially dangerous. The last thing he needed was a member of the public making their life difficult.
A blond man in a bulky coat was standing in front of the anomaly, his arms stretched wide. Lieutenant Katie Roberts joked that he was communing with the light but Becker felt, with a shiver, that that was possibly the best description. The man had a beatific look on his face and simply stood there with a wide smile and his eyes closed as the Special Forces team shouted at him to get clear. When it became obvious he wasn't going to move Becker had no choice but to charge in front of the fleeing pack and grab the man.
The blond was stick thin under the bulky coat he was wearing and Becker managed to pick him up into a fireman's lift with surprising ease. Becker was painfully aware of the pack flowing back down the hills, driven by the second team. He staggered around the anomaly and then collapsed on the ground watching the wolves as they streamed through the light and back to their home time. Then the man started laughing. His dirty blond hair was stuck to his face by the lashing rain and his eyes were wild. Unwilling to waste time in this weather, in the middle of nowhere, Becker hauled him to his feet and frog-marched him to the SUV.
"What are we going to do with him?" Roberts asked.
"Take him back to the ARC. Someone there can deal."
The man sank back and huddled in the seats once he was in the car. Becker searched his pockets quickly and turned up a wallet full of credit cards and the photo part of a driving licence. The photo showed a well-groomed man with none of the wild eyes or spiky hair, but the likeness was close enough.
"Benjamin MacGuire Ashworth. Is that your name?" Becker asked the man.
The blond didn't respond. He just huddled further into his coat.
"Jess, can you check this guy out?" Becker asked as he struggled into the drivers' seat.
Benjamin Ashworth still hadn't spoken to them. Jess's magic on the computers had revealed a missing person's report lodged by his family three months previously.
"He must have got trapped on the other side of that anomaly," she said.
"Did we detect it opening three months ago?" Becker asked.
Becker shrugged. He was too tired to puzzle out what was happening. He just wanted to go home, drink a beer and unwind.
"You'd better interrogate Ashworth tonight before he gets too comfortable." Lester looked grim.
"The man has just spent three months on the wrong side of an anomaly!" complained Becker, his heart sinking at the thought of an hour spent talking to a madman and then trying to write a report on it.
"We assume. You've just pointed out yourself that we detected nothing in the relevant time frame. I want someone to make sure he isn't faking."
"Does it have to be me?"
"Connor and Abby are on honeymoon; Matt's in the infirmary with possible concussion and Emily lacks the reference points for the 21st century. Do you want Jess to have a go?" Lester raised an eyebrow.
Becker sighed inwardly, straightened up to attention and headed for the interview room where they'd left Ashworth.
"Look, we know you've had a really difficult experience," Becker opened. He could do sympathy if he tried. At least he thought he could.
Ashworth just giggled, low and deep but said nothing. Frankly, the man was giving Becker the creeps, but he tried to make allowances.
Becker tried a new tack. "Did you go through one of those lights?"
Ashworth slammed both his hands down on the table and rose to his feet, causing Becker to lean backwards instinctively.
"Moon is rising," said the man and he grinned even wider.
Becker rose. "Yeah, mate." He backed towards the door. Whatever was wrong with the man, and it would probably get diagnosed as a form of PTSD, it was way outside Becker's experience. His instincts were shouting at him to run and he was rationalising it by telling himself that they needed to get a military psychiatrist here and fast.
Ashworth jumped up on the table with a lithe grace, his body bending incredibly as he did so.
Becker back-pedalled further, thoughts of maintaining a tough guy image hastily abandoned. The man needed a padded cell not an interview room.
"Run, run, as fast as you can..." murmured Ashworth.
Becker stepped smartly out of the room, needing no further prompting. He shut the door quickly and slipped the lock, thankful that even the ARC's interview rooms had been made lockable.
"Jess!" he called.
"Oh my God!" Jess's voice echoed over the internal PA system.
"What is it?"
"Becker, get out of there! Get out now."
There was a shuddering impact against the door of the interview room. Becker took a step back and then the whole door fell outwards. Becker ducked instinctively as a huge brindled shape leaped out of the room. Becker converted the duck to a roll and the large jaws snapped shut in the air behind him. He had the combat knife out of his ankle sheath even as he rose to his feet and turned back to face the animal. It was a wolf, as big as the dire wolves they had driven back through the anomaly but it didn't look quite the same.
The wolf stopped short, eyeing the knife in Becker's hand. Becker waved it carefully in front of him and watched as the creature tracked the movement with a surprising look of intelligence in its eyes. Then it turned abruptly and bounded away up the corridor towards, Becker realised with a sickening feeling, the main control area.
"Jess! It's coming your way! Get out of there!" Becker shouted.
Jess didn't respond. Becker cursed. The armoury was on the far side of the control station as well. He sighed took a deep breath, took a second rueful look as his knife and then jogged up the corridor after the creature.
Jess was running for the armoury. She'd seen Becker frighten the thing off and hadn't waited to see more once she realised which way it was heading. Most of the soldiers had gone home, leaving only a skeleton crew in the barracks for the evening. She knew from experience that the ARC was virtually empty on late shift.
Her platforms skidded on the smooth surface of the ARC's floors and she had to wave her arms to keep upright as she slipped to a halt outside the armoury and frantically typed in the security code that would give her access. As she was doing so she glanced anxiously up the corridor. She immediately wished she hadn't. The large beast was powering towards her, silhouetted against the light from the control room.
She darted into the armoury, her hands sweaty with panic as she grabbed one of the EMD pistols from a rack.
Outside in the hallway there was a long drawn-out howl that almost froze her with panic.
"Power pack! Safety off!" Jess muttered her way through the basic weapons' drilll as her clumsy fingers thrust a power pack into the bulky gun. She backed up against the wall facing the door.
The wolf slunk around the opening. It paused when it saw her and growled long and low.
"Ease the trigger gently," Jess murmured to herself.
The first shot went wide, sparking off the doorway. The wolf shied sideways slightly and then jumped for her. Forgetting her training Jess pulled hard on the trigger a second time. There was a loud crackle of electricity and the creature slammed into her and then fell slowly to the floor unconscious.
It was at that moment Becker appeared in the door, knife in hand.
Jess flung herself into his arms. She felt him gently prising the EMD out of her fingers as she clung onto him.
"What was that thing?" she managed to gasp, pulling back slightly.
He shrugged, his eyebrows quirking slightly. "A random werewolf?"