If Pythagoras had known it was going to turn into a danger and fighting and lots and lots of running type of day, he probably would have stayed in bed for an extra hour, and not left the house at all. Instead, he had got up early to go to the woods to gather herbs, and Jason had offered to come with him ‘to get some fresh air’ or something, so mid morning had found the two of them in the forested hills above Atlantis (Hercules was still snoring when they had left, so that was one less thing to worry about, at least).
He was trying to concentrate on gathering herbs, and not on the fact that Jason was lounging in the sun, shirtless, and looking quite unreasonably attractive, when the day took an unwelcome, yet depressingly familiar, headfirst dive into insanity.
A flicker of light caught Pythagoras’ attention, and he looked up in time to see a strange ball of light appear a little way off in the trees.
It’s a god! That was the first thought that slammed into his mind. Or magic, but if it was magic then it was the most bloody powerful magic he had ever seen to conjure something that large. The ball of light seemed to throb and swell.
“Jason,” he called out, on the off chance that Jason was having one of his oblivious moments.
That was when the ball of light made a sound like a thousand Minotaurs roaring, and a monster charged out of the light and straight towards them.
Pythagoras was not proud of the high pitched and slightly girly noise that came out of his mouth in that second. In fact, he decided later, it was never going to be mentioned again, and if anyone did mention it, he was going to deny it. The monster was huge, taller than the height of two men standing on top of each other, but of rather more concern was the massive gaping mouth of bloody teeth.
Pythagoras had a moment to register that the voice was neither himself nor Jason, before there was a deafening explosion. The monster stumbled and whirled round to look back the way it had come, and Pythagoras saw a man running towards the monster from the direction of the shining ball of light. The man was dressed in odd black clothes that looked entirely too hot for the climate, but more importantly, he was pointing some kind of long tube at the monster. The tube exploded again, and the monster roared at the man in black.
Behind him, Jason shouted something, but all Pythagoras could focus on was the monster and the man who was fighting it. The monster lunged at him, snapping its huge jaws. The man ducked and rolled away and came up again pointing the black tube at the monster and making it explode again. Then the man’s foot slipped, and he went down awkwardly. The tube fell from his grasp and bounced out of reach, and for a second Pythagoras saw the flash of fear on the man’s face as their eyes met.
“Hey! Over here!”
Pythagoras spun round to see Jason jumping and waving his arms in much the same way as they had done to distract the bull in the arena, many, many months ago. The monster seemed to hesitate and looked up at Jason.
“Hey!” Pythagoras yelled. He moved to the side away from Jason and waved his arms around as well. He just hoped the monster was as easily confused as Minos’ bulls.
The monster’s gaze snapped from Jason to him, and Pythagoras wondered if this might have been the stupidest idea in a long line of stupid ideas since he had started hanging around with Jason.
Behind the monster, he saw the man in black use the distraction to get to his feet and grab the tube weapon.
Okay, that had worked. Now they just needed to not get eaten.
The man in black suddenly started running towards the monster, pointed the tube at its underbelly, and made that loud explodey noise again. The monster roared and shook itself. It spun around and before the man in black could get out of the way its tail clipped him and he was thrown through the air. When he hit the ground he didn’t get back up again. The monster shook itself again, and for a second it seemed to look right at Pythagoras. Then it turned and lumbered off into the forest, leaving a trail of broken foliage in its wake.
Pythagoras waited until the monster’s tail disappeared into the trees before he grabbed his bag and ran to the man in black and dropped to his knees at the man’s side. There was blood trickling down the side of his face from a nasty head wound.
“Is he okay?” Jason asked, hovering right behind him as Pythagoras examined the wound.
The man in black groaned and his eyes flickered open.
“Are you alright?” Pythagoras asked, more in an attempt to gauge the man’s level of consciousness than as a serious question. It was quite clear he was not alright in the slightest.
The man looked up at him and Jason, and then his gaze seemed to travel down their bodies, stopping at around waist level. It took Pythagoras a moment to work out the man’s attention was now transfixed on his sword, rather than anything else that happened to be at that level, and he was going to decide later whether to be relieved or offended about that.
“Oh, shit,” the man in black muttered.
Then he passed out.
As far as Pythagoras could tell, the head wound was the only obvious injury, and he set about cleaning and dressing and bandaging it while Jason put his tunic and breastplate back on and kept watch for any sign of the monster coming back.
As he was working, it didn’t escape his notice that the man in the strange black clothing was quite attractive, but on a scale of things that were important right at that moment, that was somewhere at the bottom of the list. His clothes were... odd. He seemed to be wearing some sort of padded breastplate, but it was not leather, and it had entirely more pouches sewn into it than Pythagoras felt a breastplate warranted. The tunic beneath the armour was form-fitting (although it did show off his rather nice muscles, Pythagoras noted) and was made of a material that was neither wool nor linen, not even silk or leather. Pythagoras ran his fingers over the material, smooth yet undoubtedly tough. He dared to let his touch stray onto the man’s arm, and it absently occurred to him that this man might be even more toned and well defined than Jason.
He glanced up at the ball of light, which was still swirling serenely in the trees not far away, and narrowed his eyes in thought. The man had been chasing the monster, and the monster had come out of the light. Logic would suggest, therefore, that the man had come out of the light as well.
Pythagoras looked back at the man, and his gaze fell on the weapon that was lying on the ground at his side. He had a quiet internal battle for all of five seconds before his curiosity overwhelmed some rather flimsy arguments about not touching other people’s property, and he carefully picked the weapon up and examined it. His assessment of a long metal tube was more or less accurate, but now he was close up he could see there was some sort of handle and mechanism at one end. The other end was clearly where... something... happened, and he peered down the long dark tube, trying to angle it so the sunlight would allow him to see anything other than blackness.
“Pythagoras! No! Put it down!”
He was so startled by Jason’s shout he dropped the tube weapon. Jason lunged across the unconscious man’s body and grabbed it and held it out of Pythagoras’ reach. Pythagoras was all set to be righteously pissed off when he realised that Jason looked bloody terrified.
“What?” Pythagoras protested. “What’s wrong?”
An expression flashed across Jason’s face that looked a lot like guilt. Then he just shook his head.
“It could be dangerous. You shouldn’t be messing about with it.”
“I was being careful. I’m not an idiot,” Pythagoras felt the need to point out. “It’s obviously some sort of powerful projectile weapon, although I’m at a loss to understand the firing mechanism, or exactly what it is that is being fired from it.”
“Well, maybe you should just leave it alone if you don’t know how it works. You don’t want it accidentally going off or something.”
Well, that was rich coming from a man who apparently knew pretty much nothing about anything, and yet his approach to every situation was to dive in first and ask questions later. Pythagoras was about the make an argument to that effect when the man in black clothes moaned. All Pythagoras’ attention switched to his patient, and he saw the man’s eyes flicker and eventually open.
“Hello,” Pythagoras said, offering the man what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “You passed out. How do you feel now?”
“Like I got smacked round the head by a bloody dinosaur,” the man muttered.
“A what?” Pythagoras asked.
“Where did it go? Did anyone else get hurt?”
“It went off into the forest,” Jason said. “We’re fine. Probably thanks to you.”
“What manner of monster is a di-no-sore?” Pythagoras asked, carefully pronouncing the unfamiliar word. “And why were you chasing it?”
The man ignored the question and sat up. Pythagoras put a hand on his shoulder to steady him, vaguely aware of Jason doing the same on his other side. The man reached up and tentatively felt the bandage.
“The bleeding has mostly stopped, but I thought I should bandage it to be safe.”
“Thanks,” the man said.
He actually looked properly at Pythagoras and his gaze travelled up and down again. Pythagoras tried not to feel self-conscious at being the subject of such obvious scrutiny.
“I’m pretty certain I’m going to regret asking this, but where am I?”
“The city of Atlantis lies a couple of hours walk in that direction,” Pythagoras said, pointing vaguely back the way they had come.
“Atlantis?” The man stared at him with an incredulous expression.
“Ancient Greece. Don’t worry about it.” That was Jason.
Pythagoras looked across at Jason, frowning slightly. Greece proper was across the sea, and why would he say it was ancient?
The man sighed and tried to stand up. He almost overbalanced and Pythagoras grabbed his arm to steady him
“Careful. You were unconscious for several minutes.”
“I’m fine,” the man insisted, despite all evidence to the contrary. “And I really need to get after that creature before I cause any more damage to the timeline. Thanks for your help, but you two should get out of here now.”
“You can’t fight that thing by yourself,” Jason said in that tone of voice he always used right before he dragged himself and anyone with him into another insane adventure.
In the part of his brain that wasn’t trying to work out what the man had meant about damaging the timeline, Pythagoras mentally resigned himself to spending the rest of the day chasing the di-no... monster thing.
“I’ll be fine. I can handle it. You two don’t know what you’re dealing with. Really, no offense but it will be much safer for everyone if you go home and leave it to me.”
“Right. Because getting yourself knocked unconscious was a tactical move to lull it into a false sense of security.”
“Much as I hate to say it, I think he’s right,” Pythagoras interrupted before the attractive man in black could respond to Jason’s sarcasm. “I’m Pythagoras, by the way, and this is Jason.”
The man stopped dead and his gaze snapped from Jason to Pythagoras. Pythagoras almost took a step back from the force if his stare.
“Yes, and yes he is,” Jason interrupted. “Try not to think about it,” he added.
The man shot Jason a suspicious look at that, and then massaged his forehead with his fingers.
“Oh, shit. Lester is going to go bloody berserk about this.” Before either of them could reply he looked up again and breathed deeply. “That just makes me even more certain that you two can’t be part of this.”
“Why?” Pythagoras blurted.
Memories had been stirring in Pythagoras’ mind ever since the man had regained consciousness. The more he thought about it, the more this entire conversation was becoming strangely reminiscent of his first meeting with Jason. Pythagoras was certain he was missing something important, something that the other two men knew that he didn’t, and quite frankly Jason’s constant interruptions and deflection were starting to piss him off.
“No, it’s okay,” Jason interrupted again, and Pythagoras quelled the urge to shout at him. “He’s tougher than he looks, and we can both fight. And honestly, I think you need all the help you can get with that thing. And we know these woods.”
Pythagoras suspected it was the last point that probably swung the argument.
“Fine,” the man sighed. “But when we find it, let me deal with it. Is that clear?”
“We’re not just going to stand back and watch it attack you again,” Jason said.
Pythagoras mentally rolled his eyes at Jason’s unhelpful honesty. “We will try not to get in the way, and let you complete your quest if that is what you need.”
The man gave him a strange look again, and then nodded. He picked up the tube weapon and checked it over.
“In that case, which way did it go?”
“You never actually told us who you are,” Jason pointed out, beating Pythagoras to the question by about two seconds.
Pythagoras frowned at the odd name, and trailed after Jason and Becker into the forest in pursuit of the monster.
I wonder if he’s a demi-god?
The thought popped into Pythagoras’ mind after they had been walking for several minutes. He had heard of such beings, people who appeared to be normal mortals, but who invariably had special abilities or were exceptionally favoured by the gods. It might make sense of Becker’s strange armour and weapon, if they were gifts from a god. It might also explain his exceptional physique and handsome looks, because those people touched by the gods tended to be physically perfect in a way that regular mortals never could be.
That could also explain why Becker was chasing the monster alone, and why he appeared to genuinely believe that he could defeat it by himself.
Of course, it didn’t escape Pythagoras’ notice that there was already a certain other exceptionally handsome and unnaturally athletic man in his life. A man who had been behaving in a decidedly odd fashion ever since Becker had appeared.
It wasn’t the first time Pythagoras had idly, or not so idly, pondered Jason’s strange abilities, and wondered if there was something special about him. That he was favoured by the gods was beyond doubt, but could it be more than that? A lot of things would make a lot more sense if that were the case, but Pythagoras wasn’t entirely sure he was comfortable with the thought.
He watched the two men as they walked, both so confident and fearless. Two heroes touched by the gods on a quest to defeat a great and powerful monster. But if that were the case, what did that make him? Just the scrawny bloke who was following them and was probably just going to end up getting in the way? He had a suspicious feeling that was what Becker thought of him, even if Jason has stood up for him. That was the problem with these heroic types. No appreciation for knowledge or brains, it was all about the fighting. Although none of them ever seem to complain about his presence when they needed a healer.
“So, what sort of dinosaur is it?” Jason asked, dragging Pythagoras out of his thoughts.
Becker seemed to be watching Jason carefully when he answered.
Pythagoras’ gaze flicked from Becker to Jason and back again. Jason didn’t look even remotely confused by the unfamiliar word, which was odd given how frequently Jason was quite easily confused by obvious and commonplace things and concepts. Pythagoras filed that away for later consideration and turned his attention back to Becker, who was still watching Jason like there was something not quite right about him. And okay, Pythagoras had to admit there were several things that were not quite right about Jason, but that was beside the point.
“Well, I suppose it could have been worse,” Jason commented. “But if that was a juvenile, I’d hate to meet up with its daddy.”
“And at least it wasn’t a T-Rex, eh?” Becker said, still watching Jason.
Jason gave a noncommittal hum.
“Is it a titan?” Pythagoras asked, unable to stay silent any longer.
Both Jason and Becker turned to him, looking surprised.
“I have never heard of a monster like that, certainly not that big. So I wondered if it was a titan that had escaped from its banishment.”
As far as theories went, Pythagoras was aware it had several gaping holes in it, but quite honestly it was the best he could come up with on the available evidence.
“Sort of,” Becker said, in a tone of voice that suggested it wasn’t anything like that in the slightest.
“So if it is not that then what is it? Where did it come from? Does it have any magical powers, or is it just very big and very fierce?” Pythagoras had not intended to sound so impatient or annoyed, but it was there and they could all hear it.
Becker sighed and relented.
“It’s just an animal. Just a very big animal that doesn’t belong here and doesn’t know where it is, so it’s going to attack anything it sees because it doesn’t know any better.”
“And you are on a quest to kill it?”
“If at all possible I intend to get it back through the anom- the bright light that it came through. But if I can’t get it to go back, then yes, I will have to kill it rather than risk letting it loose in this time.”
This time? Pythagoras added that to growing list of things he would think about later.
“So we need a way of luring it back to the light?” Pythagoras persisted. “Well, presumably that means we need some sort of bait.”
Pythagoras was fairly certain he did not like the way Becker and Jason paused and looked at him for a moment.
“I wasn’t volunteering, just to make that clear.”
“And I wouldn’t ask you to. Seriously, though, that’s not a bad plan. I could do it.”
Becker immediately started to protest.
“No, I could,” Jason insisted. “I’m really fast. And agile. If any of us can keep ahead of it and out of its reach it will be me.”
“No, I told you two to leave it to me.” Becker said. “I’m not going to endanger your lives, and if this thing catches you it will kill you. And almost certainly eat you.”
“It won’t catch me,” Jason said with the kind of confidence and bravado that usually made Pythagoras want to bang his head against the wall in exasperation.
“Are you willing to risk your life on that?”
“Much as I hate to encourage this plan, I have to point out that you have a head injury,” Pythagoras said to Becker. “And Jason is very fast.”
Jason practically preened. Becker just glared at him.
“Or,” Pythagoras continued, “Perhaps more sensibly, we could take it in turns to lead the di-no-sore toward the light, and if it gets too close or we begin to tire another takes over and distracts it to follow them for a while. As long as we do not bunch together it cannot chase all of us at once, and it did seem to be quite easily distracted when we first encountered it.”
“That’s... not actually a bad idea,” Becker said, which quite honestly surprised Pythagoras. He gave Pythagoras an appraising look. “How fast can you run?”
Pythagoras shrugged. “Depending on what is chasing me, quite fast.”
“I hope so,” Becker said. “Otherwise I’m going to get back to a world with a fairly big hole in the maths syllabus.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Pythagoras saw Jason’s expression appeared to be trying to do five things at once. It eventually settled on glaring at the back of Becker’s head as he walked off.
Pythagoras gave that entire exchange a good thirty seconds worth of thought before he came to the conclusion that at least one person in this situation was slightly insane. He just wasn’t entirely sure which one of them it was.
They eventually found the monster out in the open where the woodland gave way to steep hilly scrub. It was eating a goat.
They all ducked down at the edge of the woodland, and Pythagoras winced at the crunching noise as it ate.
“Are you absolutely certain you still want to do this?” Becker asked in a whisper. “We’re at least half an hour’s walk from the anomaly. That’s a long way to run with that thing chasing you.”
The monster raised its head. Its jaws were red and dripping.
“Then we had better all hope that the distraction plan works,” Pythagoras said quietly.
The other two looked at him, and then Becker simply nodded.
“Okay, spread out. I’ll attract its attention first, then we play it by ear from there. And no heroics. If you feel yourself slowing down, or you can’t do it, duck out and let someone else take over.”
They crept off, keeping low and hidden until there was a sensible distance between them, but still within sight of each other. Becker waited until everyone was ready, and then he simply stood up and shouted at the monster.
“Oi! What did that goat ever do to you?”
The monster swung round instantly, and its gaze fixed on Becker. It took a step towards him. And then another. Becker still hadn’t moved.
“Go, go, go,” Pythagoras breathed. “What the hell are you waiting for?”
The monster took another step towards him, and then began to pick up the pace.
Becker turned and ran.
Pythagoras cringed even further into the undergrowth as the monster lumbered past him in pursuit. He waited until it had gone past and had its back to him before he dared to come out of hiding and tried to keep pace somewhere off to the left of Becker. He could no longer see him, but he knew Jason was doing the same over to Becker’s right.
Despite the fact that Pythagoras had been the one who proposed this insane plan, he had to admit he was ever so slightly surprised at how well it appeared to be working. The monster was big and powerful and fast, but Becker was quite obviously taking advantage of the woodland, ducking around trees and zigzagging, and the monster’s size meant that it slowed whenever it tried to change direction.
Even so, after several minutes it became clear Becker was starting to slow.
Jason had obviously realised it as well, because Pythagoras suddenly heard his friend’s voice yelling. Jason appeared around a tree right in the monster’s path, waved his arms until it swung round and changed direction, and then Jason took off with a speed that made Pythagoras breathless just watching him.
Jason and the monster were already heading off in the new direction when Pythagoras caught up with Becker. The man was leaning heavily against a tree and gasping for breath.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes,” Becker managed. “Don’t stop, get after him. I’ll follow you in a moment.”
“This isn’t going to work,” Pythagoras muttered.”Listen, I know we need to lead it to the light thing, but if we go in a straight line we’re just going to leave people behind. When it’s my turn I will try to lead it off at an angle and then back round so that you and Jason can get ahead of it.”
Becker nodded. “Be careful.”
Pythagoras didn’t bother to waste breath replying, and set off after the monster that was currently hell bent on catching his friend.
Jason was getting too far ahead.
Pythagoras weighed his options, then dragged in as deep a breath as he could while still keeping going.
“Jason! You’re losing us. Double back a bit.”
The monster swung its head around and Pythagoras found himself looking into its eyes for the second time that day. It took him a couple of seconds to realise that it was slowing and turning around, and more to the point, he was still running directly towards it. He was vaguely aware of Jason yelling, but the monster now had its sights set on new prey. Prey that was not encased in crunchy, hard-to-chew armour.
Pythagoras swore, did an abrupt ninety degree turn, and started running for his life.
One of the advantages, if you could call it that, of all the crazy adventures with Jason over the last year was that Pythagoras was a great deal fitter now than he had been for most of his life. This time last year there was no way he could have kept this pace up for this long. And yes, he had a suspicious feeling he was going to pay for this tomorrow when he woke up aching all over and unable to move, but right now... well, right now he was being chased by a monster considerably larger than he was, with jaws that were already bloody from one kill, a monster that Pythagoras was still unable to identify, and he was doing surprisingly well.
Of course, that was the moment that he tripped on a tree root and went flying, his arms flailing madly for balance. His ankle turned under him and Pythagoras hit the ground with a yell.
He didn’t have time to check the damage. He scrambled to his feet and started running again. He got two steps before it became apparent that his right ankle was not going to take this pace. Or, quite honestly, any pace at all.
He could hear both Jason and Becker yelling somewhere behind him, and then the loud explosion of sound that Becker’s tube weapon thing made. The monster didn’t even slow down.
Typical, of all the times for it to finally start working on its attention span issues.
There were two viable options here, Pythagoras decided. Think of something in the next five seconds, or get eaten.
Four seconds later he launched himself at the lowest branch of a tree, and hauled himself upwards. As soon as the next branch was in reach he went for it and kept going. Up, up, not trusting his right ankle with any weight at all and mostly relying on upper body strength that he didn’t even know he possessed until that moment. The monster was suddenly right there and he felt its hot breath on the back of his legs as he reached up and grabbed the next branch and scrambled the extra few feet.
The monster lunged up. Pythagoras screamed (he was going to deny that one later as well, assuming there was a later) and tucked his legs up onto the branch where his climb had finally stopped. He was blasted by another breath and then the monster fell short.
It roared at him, and he turned his face away from the reek of blood and flesh.
Becker and Jason converged on his position, both yelling and making themselves as conspicuous as possible. Jason threw a stone at the monster’s head, and Becker used his tube weapon again. Pythagoras was still a little hazy on exactly what the weapon was firing, but from this close range it very definitely got the monster’s attention and it finally stopped snapping at Pythagoras’ feet and turned to face its new attackers. Becker fired his weapon at it again, and suddenly it was as if the monster had decided it had had enough. Without even bothering to attack either of them, it roared once more, and then turned and set off in the direction of the strange light.
Becker and Jason glanced at each other, and Becker set off after it, keeping a distance.
Jason looked up the tree to where Pythagoras was still clinging on with both hands and stubborn determination and not much else.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” Pythagoras called back. “Go after it. Make sure it goes back through the light thing. I’ll catch you up.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes! Just go, Jason.”
Jason threw him one more worried look before heading off after Becker at a jog.
Pythagoras watched him disappear off into the trees, and then rested his head against the tree trunk and closed his eyes and allowed himself a deep breath.
He knew his role in this insane plan was over, there was no way he could even attempt to outrun the monster any more. He felt a momentary stab of guilt, but there was nothing he could do, and trying to involve himself any more was just going to cause more problems than it solved. No, the best thing he could do right now would be to let them get a decent head start, make sure the monster really had gone, and then follow them at his own pace. Hopefully, by the time he found them again, it would all be over.
He offered a quiet prayer to the gods to keep them both safe, and then opened his eyes and looked around.
Now all he had to do was work out how to get down from here.
By the time he caught sight of the flickering light through the trees, Pythagoras was limping badly. He had managed to gain several new scrapes to his hand and arms and, somehow, his face when he was climbing down out of the tree, and was beginning to suspect that he was going to end up using whatever herbs he had gathered today on himself.
However, it was clear that there was no sign of the monster any more, and as he approached the light, he caught sight of Jason and Becker standing there not far from it, talking.
He was about to call out when he heard a snatch of conversation and the words died on his lips.
“So who are you, Jason? Because you’re not from this time, are you?”
“I don’t know what-”
“Yes you do,” Becker interrupted. “Your friend had no clue what I was talking about most of the time, and yet I start throwing around words like dinosaur and allosaurus and T-Rex, and you don’t bat an eyelid.”
Jason hesitated, and then met Becker’s gaze.
“I’m from the future. Just like you are.”
Pythagoras’ breath caught in his throat. He knew he should say something, let them know he was there, but he was rooted to the spot and he wasn’t sure he could have called out if his life depended on it at that moment.
Jason was from the future? How? Why? How?
“Did you come through an anomaly?” Becker asked, waving his arm in the direction of the ball of light.
“I honestly don’t know. I was in a submersible vessel, there was suddenly a light underwater, and the sub broke up around me, the next thing I knew I woke up naked on the beach here.” Jason frowned. “How come you got to keep your clothes when you came through?”
Becker chuckled. “I’ve never heard of anyone losing their clothes when they go though one before.” Then he became serious again. “How long have you been here?”
“A little over a year, I think.”
“And your friend, is he really the actual Pythagoras? The triangle bloke?”
“Yes. I think so, yes. He’s certainly got the obsession with maths and triangles; I’d be surprised if it wasn’t actually him.”
A shiver ran down Pythagoras’ spine. They were from the future and they both knew of his name, a name that was apparently associated with triangles and mathematics. What the bloody hell was he going to do that would be so well known?
“You do realise you could be screwing up the timeline just by being here? Just by interacting with him?”
Jason shrugged. “Or maybe I was always meant to be here. I haven’t told him anything about his theories. I’m letting him work them out for himself.”
“Unless of course it’s a time loop paradox, and he gets the idea from you in the first place.” Becker rubbed the bridge of his nose. “And I can’t believe I just said that.”
This time Jason chuckled.
“So what about you?” Jason asked. “Why are you chasing dinosaurs through holes in time?”
“It’s what we do. Anomalies open and close throughout time, sometimes creatures from the past, and occasionally from the future, come though. It’s our job to put them back where they came from. That allosaurus was a complicated one. It came to our time through one anomaly, and while we were trying to deal with that another anomaly opened and it picked the wrong one to escape through. It’s actually just gone back to the 21st century, but my team were waiting for it with a lot of tranquilisers, so hopefully it should be on its way home by now.”
Time paradoxes? Animals from the past and the future? Pythagoras’ head was spinning, trying to accommodate these, quite frankly, impossible concepts. Impossible, and yet the more he thought about it, the more it suddenly made sense of a lot of Jason’s behaviour.
It’s our job to put them back where they came from.
From amongst the things Becker had said, that one statement suddenly grabbed Pythagoras’ attention. Did that go for people as well as animals?
“What year are you from?” Becker asked.
“Twenty thirteen. You?”
“Twenty ten.” Becker paused. “You could come back with me if you want. It’s not that much time difference. You’d have to stay somewhere hidden until the date that you officially disappeared, to avoid accidentally meeting yourself or anyone you know, but we could keep you somewhere until the appropriate time and then you could just pick up your life where you left off.”
“What? Just like that?”
“We’re a secret government organisation, it really wouldn’t be that hard to arrange. And surely it’s got to be better than being stuck in ancient Greece?”
Pythagoras hardly dared to breathe. He was suddenly quite certain he had preferred it when he thought they were both demi-gods.
He shifted his weight and hissed in pain when he forgot and tried to stand on his right foot. Jason and Becker both looked up, and Jason was at his side in moments.
“Pythagoras, are you alright?”
“My ankle has seen better days but yes, I will be fine.” He could barely make himself meet Jason’s eyes when he spoke. Jason put an arm around him and helped him walk the last of the distance. “Did you get the monster to go back?”
“Yes. Yes, it more or less went of its own accord. We just followed it to make sure it went the right way.”
He forced himself to look at Jason.
“Right. Back to your time. The future.”
Jason gaped at him for several seconds.
“You heard that?”
“I believe I heard enough.” Pythagoras looked down and swallowed, and then looked Jason in the eye again. “If you wish to go home, I will not try to stop you.”
It was one of the hardest sentences he had ever spoken out loud.
“It’s alright, Jason. I understand.”
Jason’s arm around his waist suddenly gripped tighter, and Jason closed his eyes. When he opened them again he looked right at Pythagoras and shook his head.
“No, you don’t understand. I already am home. Here, in Atlantis.”
Pythagoras had hardly dared to hope. This whole thing had happened so ridiculously quickly, right at that moment he had no idea whether he wanted to hug Jason or to yell at him for not telling them any of this earlier.
“Are you sure?” Becker asked. “I have to warn you, these anomalies are unpredictable. Once it’s closed, it might never open again in your lifetime. If you change your mind later-”
“I won’t change my mind,” Jason said. He finally broke eye contact with Pythagoras and looked across at Becker. “Thank you, but I intend to stay here. This is my life now. If you want me to go back, you’re going to have to do it by force.”
Becker shook his head. “I’m not that desperate to give myself a pile of extra paperwork.”
Jason grinned, and then reached out a hand to Becker. Becker grasped it and they stood like that for a moment.
“Can you do one thing for me, please? Can you get a message to someone for me?” Jason asked. “Are you allowed to do that?”
“Considering how many rules I’m already breaking, I doubt one more is going to make a difference,” Becker said with a shrug and smile.
“There’s a man. Mac, Steven Mackenzie. He will almost certainly be the one who reports my death. Can you tell him I’m okay? Can you tell him...” Jason glanced at Pythagoras, and smiled. “Tell him I found what I was looking for.”
Pythagoras wasn’t entirely sure what Jason meant by that, but it didn’t stop the warm, safe, content feeling from settling in his chest.
Becker’s gaze flicked between the two of them.
“Thanks for your help. Both of you. And just do me a favour and try not to screw up the timeline.”
Before either of them could reply, Becker walked into the ball of light and was gone.
Jason suddenly looked oddly self-conscious.
“So, um... what happens now?”
There were probably a thousand questions buzzing around in Pythagoras’ mind right then, but he forced himself to keep them under control. Jason may have decided to stay, but that didn’t necessarily mean he was going to be happy to talk about any of this.
“Well, much as I would like to know, I will not ask you to tell me anything of my own future, despite the fact that it is blatantly obvious that there is something important that you and Becker know, but were keeping from me.”
“Thank you,” Jason said, and Pythagoras could tell he really meant it.
“I will not lie. I would love to know everything about where you came from. When you came from. But I also realise that there may be a good reason why you have not already told me any of this. If you truly do not wish to speak about it, I will not force you.”
“But you really want to know.”
“Of course I do!”
Jason smiled, and suddenly seemed relaxed for the first time since Becker had appeared in their lives. Was that really only an hour or so ago? So much had happened it felt like forever.
“It’s a long story.”
“Then it’s a good thing we have a long walk back to Atlantis. A walk that will take us even longer than usual with my ankle like this.”
They set off, Pythagoras leaning heavily on Jason’s shoulder.
“I don’t know where to start.”
Pythagoras glanced at him, and felt a smile forming.
“How about you start with the part where you arrived on the beach naked?”
A second later Pythagoras decided it had all been worth it just to see Jason blush like that.