It was close to dusk and Connor was some distance from camp. He'd been foraging and then taken a detour when he spotted what he was fairly certain were T-Rex tracks.
He was down in a river valley when he happened to glance up at the ridge and saw the unmistakable silhouette of a man against the setting sun. Throwing caution to the winds, he called out but the man didn't hear. The undergrowth was too dense to climb up and investigate.
Connor was never sure whether it was a good or bad thing that the man never found them.
"What that?" Sarah asked, peering at the paper Jenny had downloaded from arXiv.
"Curiosity," Jenny said, frowning over an equation. If she stared at it long enough it had to make sense eventually.
"A branching time model of Schwarzschild wormhole traversal. That's a fairly esoteric piece of curiosity."
Jenny re-read the sentence before the equation in the hope enlightenment.
Sarah took hold of her hand. "Jenny, I don't much care whether we just popped into existence six months ago or Cutter dreamed up Claudia one night after too much whiskey. We're real. You're real, and you mean everything to me."
Chapter 3: The Time Tribe
When Emily joined the Time Tribe they had a historian. Professor Egerton was determined to record the tribe's history.
Through him Emily learned the tribe started when a group of 22nd century female technologists on a hiking expedition stumbled through an anomaly. Their equipment, knowledge and group coherence helped them survive and drew others to them.
At least, this was what Emily deduced. Professor Egerton, being a revisionist, seemed convinced they were barely capable of feeding themselves and the tribe had formed around them out of some kind of horrified pity. Egerton described it as a "triumph of human compassion".
Chapter 4: Love at First Sight
"Daddy says it was love at first sight when you met," Kiera said.
Abby bit back several retorts. It had been a long day and she didn't want to end it snapping about Connor. She sat down on the bed and smiled at her daughter.
"Daddy certainly thought I was very pretty when he first saw me, but I'm not sure I would call it love."
Kiera's face scrunched up a bit in disappointment. Abby leaned down to drop a kiss on her forehead.
"Love is something that starts small and grows and grows and grows. It's best that way."
Chapter 5: Hold the Front Page
It was bad enough, mused the editor of the Little Hitching Herald, that his staff was reduced to a teenager on work experience and a recent graduate who wrote one-size-fits-all articles placed in every paper owned by the group, but now they were arguing about whether the front page should feature the inconsiderate placement of a mysterious parking cone on Lilac Avenue (residents outraged) or the miraculous recovery of the vicar's dog from an unspecified illness
He glanced out the window.
"Hold the front page!"
The minions fell silent. Outside a large Triceratops was grazing on Miss Wainwright's prize Rhododendron.
Chapter 6: A Fresh Start
Jenny was armed with a brand new moleskine notebook, an expensive Parker pen and as many multi-coloured post-it notes and sharpies as she could fit into her bag.
Her first day as PR executive for Smith-Halloway Holdings (owners of three popular cosmetics brands) was going entirely as expected. Nothing more untoward than a mild Internet spat about the new colour of one of the toothpaste packets had occurred.
She glanced out of the window to see an anomaly in the plaza. Her first thought was "this was supposed to be a fresh start!", but her second thought was "thank God!"
Chapter 7: Missed Connections
Sarah was fascinated to discover, in the depths of a small library in Cumbria, the diary of a local JP and amateur fossil hunter from the 19th century. He recorded sightings of "unusual" wildlife and there was even a description of a strange stationary light that appeared upon a hill and yet, as far as Sarah could tell, he never connected the mysterious creatures with his fossil collection and growing library, nor linked the lights to the appearance of the creatures. He considered most of the events to be local folklore above which he, as a rational man, had risen.
Chapter 8: Winter Flu Season
"Where's Jenny?" Lester asked Lorraine.
"She's in bed with 'flu. Thought it better not to come in and spread it further."
"Sensible woman, if only the scientific team had thought similarly," Lester said drily.
Half the ARC seemed to be ill, and Lester was pretty certain Nick Cutter was patient zero. The man had been wandering around the building for a week now, drinking Lemsip and breathing over the remaining staff.
"Jenny knows we can manage without her for a day or two," Lorraine agreed.
Lester reflected ruefully that they actually had considerably fewer competent PR staff than mad scientists.
Chapter 9: Return to Sender
Lester picked up the photograph and glared at it, presumably in the hopes that he could alter reality out of sheer annoyance. Then he dropped it back on the table. Lyle was rather proud of the way he'd caught the giant sauropod majestically silhouetted against the sunset.
"The anomaly closed you say, before Becker's team could repatriate it."
Lyle nodded and risked a grin. "Return to sender impossible."
Lester gave an exaggerated sigh and pinched his nose. "I'll phone the minister and tell him we need a private island. Oh, and tell Becker it's coming out of the tank budget."
Chapter 10: Underwater
Connor and Jess wrestled with the signals on the anomaly detector.
"I agree with Jess," Connor said. "It might be an anomaly. It might be nothing. If it is an anomaly it's deep. The only signal we've got is from that nearby oil rig."
"What's the chance that it is an anomaly?" Lester asked.
Connor and Jess exchanged helpless looks. "Calculating probabilities for events we've rarely encountered..." Jess began.
"Your best guess please."
"Maybe 25%," Jess said doubtfully.
Lester sighed. "We'll tell the rig to keep an eye out, but won't close them down."
Deep under the waves, something moved.
Chapter 11: Eclipse
The air was warm and smelled of salt and fish. They were standing on a stone harbour wall. Sailing boats bobbed up and down in the water.
"I think we are somewhere in antiquity. I wish we could learn about it." Emily said.
"No risk of creature incursion. We should leave and seal the anomaly." Matt knew Emily would understand. She shared his caution.
At that moment everything suddenly began to grow dark. There were cries of alarm from the fishermen on the beach. People began pointing towards them and the anomaly.
"We should definitely get out now!" Matt said.
Chapter 12: Donna
Prompt 562 (Amnesia)
It had been an unusual day at the ARC, an animal rights' activist infiltrated the building and opened all the cages.
Then Lester's new PA swiped an EMD from a terrified security guard ("Save me from baby soldiers!") and stunned half a dozen compsognathi, a stegosaurus and the activist. After feeding Monty an apple ("More help than anyone else around here!"), she complained of a headache and gave herself the rest of the day off.
"Where did she come from?" Becker asked a shell-shocked Lester.
"Favour for a friend. Said she'd be noisy but competent and not to mention aliens."
Chapter 13: Deadline
"I'm told you are the best courier in Toyko," the man at the foot of Hiro's bed said. "This needs to be delivered to Melbourne."
This was a locked case; red lights blinked.
"You have an hour and twenty minutes. Your standard emergency fee has already been transferred. Normal terms and conditions."
Even with Hiro's unique tech the deadline was tight. He grabbed the case, shoved on his shoes and smart glasses, checked the money had been transferred, and ran down the steps of his apartment. Once in the alley he keyed up an anomaly and jumped through.
Chapter 14: Winter Sun
The winter sun shone bright and cold onto the grass of the football pitch. Each blade was rimmed with frost. Claudia stamped her feet and rubbed her hands as Stephen and Abby bent over the tracks in front of the anomaly.
"Well?" Cutter asked.
Stephen glanced at Abby and nodded encouragingly.
"Something big came out of the anomaly. It took a look around and then went straight back in," she reported.
"It probably didn't like the cold," Stephen added.
Claudia sighed with relief. "So should we all repair to the cafe and keep an eye on the anomaly from there?"
Chapter 15: Civilisation
Anomalies are not sentient and take no view short or long. If they could, this particular anomaly would tell a tale in snapshots from primeval jungle, through the arrival of settlers, the rise of a great city, its inevitable fall only to rise again. Today the anomaly opens on polluted air. A storm is raging. The newspaper blown into the sparkling light contain phrases like "since records began" (these days newspapers regularly contain such phrases). The anomaly is not sentient and can anticipate nothing but if it could, it would probably anticipate the city being gone when it next opens.
Chapter 16: I'll beg if I have to
"What are you doing?" Lester asked with mild exasperation.
Connor was standing over the diictodons holding treats out above their heads. "I'm teaching them to beg!"
One of them (Nancy, Lester thought) twitched slightly. Connor promptly gave her a treat.
Lester sighed. "I can see this is going to take some time."
Three weeks after Connor vanished into the Cretaceous, Lester lined up the two diictodons.
"We are going to work on a project for when Connor gets back," he told them firmly.
"Oh my God! Nancy just begged properly! Lester, come and see!"
Lester allowed himself a contented smile.
Chapter 17: Just one Damned Thing after Another
Jenny slammed the phone down and took five deep breaths, reminding herself that it was not the BBC's fault that Nick Cutter had once again haranged the Queen, this time in front of a startled Clare Balding, while a Protoceratops disrupted a Royal Ascot race in the background.
It did not help that this was a day of escaping Diitodons, an ill-judged practical joke involving Becker's shotgun and a phone call from the Minister.
An anxious looking Connor stuck his head around the door.
"Whatever it is, no!" Jenny said. "I need coffee break!"
"Umm... the coffee machine has broken?".
Chapter 18: Lights Out
"Would you do the honour?"
Twenty years ago, Lester would have responded with some quip, but he was tired and wanted this over, so he contented himself with a raised eyebrow as he pressed the switch.
The lights in the ARC went out. There was a smattering of applause. Lester smiled at the Press.
Someone, somewhere, was pontificating to camera... "And now, twenty years after the last recorded anomaly..."
"I hear they are planning to remodel the building as a gym," his minder said.
"Really? how enterprising." Lester headed towards the welcome respite of the reception and its free bar.
Chapter 19: Spring is in the Air
Matt stood at the entrance of the habitat and tried to assess his surroundings as his father had taught him. The air was thick with dust, as was usual, but nevertheless it didn't feel as oppressive as it had of late. He glanced upwards. Occasionally the thick yellow clouds parted and a patch of brilliant blue was visible. The wind was not quite as biting as it had been previously.
He glanced over at his father, doubtful about the subtle change he felt.
"Spring is in the air," his father said drily. "The predators will be coming out of hibernation."
Chapter 20: Working Late
Jess rolled her shoulders and paused for a moment. Ten more reports to check, index and file and then they would finally have caught up for the first time since convergence.
The anomaly alarm sounded. Jess sighed. That was going to generate yet more reports. She glanced across at Khan who was handling the ADD. Then she did a double take.
"Is that my road?" she asked.
"Whiteside Terrace," Khan said, "number 34 has been demolished by an Apatosaurus. I hope no one was home."
Jess felt her hands start to tremble. "No one was home. They were working late."
Chapter 21: Ice Age
Lyapanov watched as the scientists excitedly examined the remains in the melting ice. It was a woolly mammoth, they told him. Lyapanov had met the living version, but he knew it wouldn't do to say so.
"What's this?" Konev pulled something small and rectangular out from the melting ice. It looked to be plastic.
Minenkov squinted at it. "Connor Temple. Anomaly Research Centre? Do you think they got here before us? It looks old but..."
Lyapanov pulled his phone out of a pocket and dialled a number. He had a feeling the Vremya Anomaly Institute would enjoy hearing about this.
Chapter 22: Bitten
"So how to you find the Diictodons?" Danny asked.
Lester signed inwardly. Clearly Connor's residence in his flat was now common knowledge. He sipped at the cheap wine and made a mental note to dictate a stern note to the ARC catering service while considering his response.
"Vicious little beasts," he replied.
"They are not!"
Lester winced. Clearly Abby had been within earshot.
"They are very gentle. They won't bite unless you provoke them," she said with spirit.
"I'll make sure to have a stern word with my shoes, best suit, bath towels and curtains to stop being so provoking."
It had been a long and frustrating shout: six muddy hours repetitavely repatriating small excited sauropods.
Claudia, sitting up front with Ryan, listened to the rest of the team in the back of the car. Stephen had been sulking for five minutes about the tranquilisation protocol. Abby was shouting at Connor for kicking the back of the seat. Cutter was mid-monologue complaining about Lester or the Dean, Claudia had lost track.
She saw a welcome sight up ahead.
"Ryan, pull in to that Happy Eater?"
She turned in her seat.
"The rest of you SHUT UP until you've been fed."
Chapter 24: Too Many Cooks
"How did it go?" Lorraine asked as Lester stepped into the car.
"About as well as can be expected."
Lorraine winced. "That bad?"
"Israel says it is too dangerous send Israeli teams into the West Bank, but refuses to let an international force in either. Russia says there are no anomalies in Russia and that T. Rex that crossed into Estonia was an American decoy. Jacob Rees-Mogg says we should refuse to cooperate with Europe unless they give us better terms for Brexit. Oh, and Scotland wants its own ARC and think Cutter should be put in charge of it."
Chapter 25: Too Hot to Handle
James Lester sat in the House of Commons bar and sipped his gin and tonic. It had been a hectic week and he deserved a moment of respite before before being handed the next political hot potato.
As if the thought summoned a crisis into being, he saw a young civil servant heading his way.
"Well, what is it?" Lester asked once the man stood anxiously before him.
It wouldn't do to be rendered speechless so Lester opted for a bland question while he gathered his wits.
"Forest of Dean."
"Well, that won't do at all."
Chapter 26: Heads and Tails
"Heard you were angling for the Torchwood job," Yvonne Hartmann said.
Lester shrugged. "Heard you were too."
Yvonne nodded. "You hear about the dinosaur thing?"
"Not much yet. Care to enlighten me?"
"There's a situation in the Forest of Dean that needs clearing up. After that who knows. Might be nothing, might be a chance to establish your own agency."
"I see the difficulty. Could be a big opportunity. Could be nothing."
"Christine Johnson is angling for both."
Lester felt himself make a face.
"I agree," said Yvonne. "So I suggest instead of competing, we toss for who gets which."
Chapter 27: Kings and Queens
Jess pressed the emergency button that had been specially installed on the ADD. It had a little crest on it: a lion and a unicorn either side of a shield.
Lester was out of his office and by Jess's side with a speed that surprised her.
"Please not Balmoral again," he said. "There are only so many times we can afford to repair the place."
"Clarence House," Jess replied.
Personally she thought Balmoral would have been better. More remote.
Lester sighed theatrically. "I suppose, having thoroughly annoyed the current monarch, Cutter must naturally move on to the next in line."
Chapter 28: Stolen Goods
Extract from ARC Report 532 by Captain Becker
At this point one of the velociraptors seized the anomaly detection device that Mr. Temple had place on a picnic table and carried it through the anomaly. I took the decision that the risk of contamination of the time line was low and opted not to pursue.
I was not aware, at that point, that the velociraptor had also stolen half a dozen coke cans, a toy car and a comemorative silver jubilee plate -all left behind by members the public. I believe Miss Lewis is dealing with the claims for compensation.
Chapter 29: The Jurassic
Danny wasn't entirely sure when he was. Geological epochs hadn't really been his thin. It was definitely dull, however, entirely harmless but dull as ditchwater. Besides he was getting tired of eating plants, so when an anomaly opened he ran through it with more than usual enthusiasm.
He paused in the new environment to take stock. He was standing on a hill side. He could see conifers and ferns, but no grass. Large creatures moved about in the plain below him. Danny squinted. They looked like stegosaurus.
He had a suspicion he might be yearning for dull again before long.
Chapter 30: No Regrets
"Is that music?" Danny asked, inclining his head towards the anomaly.
Everyone fell silent. They were standing in the middle of a field. There was nobody for miles and nothing to see except the ball of broken light. A woman's voice sang out faint but clear, a melody on the breeze. Sarah took a step forward.
"Sarah!" Becker said warningly.
"Non, je ne regrette rien."
"But," Sarah said.
Becker shook his head. "No exceptions."
Sarah sighed. "I bet it's backstage at the Paris Olympia through there."
"It's French isn't it," Connor said. "What does she regret?"
Sarah smiled. "Absolutely nothing."
Chapter 31: To-do List
There had been a horrific rush of activity: fighting a rearguard to the anomaly; bringing the bodies through; ambulances; shouting and ordering; getting back to the ARC.
Becker paused for a moment, his hands gripping the humvee's steering wheel, willing himself to get out of the car, make through the debrief and carry-on.
A scrap of paper fluttered on the passenger seat. He picked it up without thinking.
Sarah's scrawling script hit him like a blow:
Fetch Jenny's suit from dry cleaner
Buy anniversay present
Get hair done
Becker crumpled the note up and flung it out of the window.
Chapter 32: At the Beach
The crowds had left the beach long before Stephen had arrived, fleeing in panic from the scorpion. The creature was dead now and whatever clean-up crew the ARC was sending was yet to arrive. Stephen stood entirely alone.
He stared at the waves crashing on the shore. They were relentless and overwhelming.
Did his former colleagues, his former friends, know what he felt like? Did they think he'd just wandered off to his future, waving angrily at them as he left? Did they understand he felt like he was barely keeping his head above the water?
Not waving, but drowning.
Chapter 33: Keeping Cool
Elena had been working tours since she joined the safari park at sixteen. She had been horribly nervous at first. Even now her lucky stegosaurs came with her, tucked safely in a pocket, a memory of a childhood obsessed with animals (albeit extinct ones).
"I'm not sure what that light effect is. It must be some mirage due to the heat.
"On the right, we are just passing the monkey forest. If we're lucky we should already be able to see a few macaques.
"On the left..." Elena blinked "...on the left you can see a small herd of Eohippus."
Chapter 34: Social Media
"Grun the Barbarian, you say," said Lester.
"Crusher of Skulls and Conqueror of Nations," Danny confirmed.
"... and Connor showed him Twitter? Can he even write?"
"Suprisingly well. He did mutter something about burning the accursed Monastery to the ground as he threw off its lily-livered chains of hypocritical piety and pointless academe."
"I see. Well I don't suppose anyone on Twitter will take him seriously."
Lester surveyed the anxious faces of his staff.
"OK, what aren't you telling me?"
"It is possible he called President Trump an orange-faced charlatan and challenged him to a wrestling match. Winner gets America."
Chapter 35: Mass Extinction
"Three breeding pairs of future predators!" Connor said indignantly, "Why did they have three breeding pairs. How could they let them escape through an anomaly?"
This was not the first time he'd said this and Becker had a sinking feeling it would not be the last. Becker's knee ached. He was getting too old for this.
The anomaly had opened onto a paved road. Connor's gizmo said they were in Nigeria around 1250. Sarah had already lectured them about the Kingdom of Benin. Becker wasn't sure the information would help.
"Well," he said, "let's go and stop a mass extinction."