Series: Three Years, part 8
Title: Margin of Error
Characters/pairing: Ryan/Connor, Abby, Lester, OMCs
Warnings: AU, character death, language, violence.
Spoilers: Anything through to episode 1.6
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 4300
Summary: Out of the Jurassic frying pan, into the fire…
Links to earlier chapters in the Five Days/Three Years series can be found here.
“Come on.” Ryan grabbed Connor’s jacket and dragged him to his feet and started heading down the hill again, not letting go.
“Ryan, wait a minute,” Connor protested. “Did you hear what I just said?”
“Yes. That’s why we’re getting the hell out of here, now.”
“They don’t know. We need to warn them.”
“You have got to be fucking kidding, Connor.” Ryan realised he still had hold of Connor’s jacket, but he had a horrible feeling that if he let go, Connor might stop following him.
“Ryan, stop a minute and listen to me.” Connor seemed to be trying to twist out of his grip. Ryan abruptly turned, grabbed him and shoved him back against a tree.
“No. You listen to me, Connor,” he said in a dangerously quiet voice. “Didn’t you see what they did to Helen? If we go back and get seen, that’s what’ll happen to us. They will shoot on sight. And trust me, getting shot bloody hurts.”
The shock in Connor’s eyes at the sudden aggression was quickly replaced by growing anger.
“We can’t just walk away, Ryan. They might not know about the predator. Helen was going to warn them, but then she got shot, and if they don’t kno-”
“You know what? I don’t actually care,” Ryan interrupted. “My only concern right now is the both of us surviving. Dealing with this shit is their responsibility, not ours. Stephen’s a tracker. If there is a predator, he’ll find it.”
“They were pointing guns at Stephen. What makes you think they’re going to listen to him if he does find tracks? That’s even if he’s not been arrested or whatever they were trying to do to him.”
“No. It’s too bloody dangerous.”
Connor suddenly planted both hands on Ryan’s chest and shoved him back. There was real burning anger in the younger man’s eyes.
“But it’s different when you want to save your friend, right? It’s okay for you to get seen saving your friends, but it’s different when I want to help mine?”
It took Ryan a second to realise that he didn’t have a reasonable counter to that. To be honest he hadn’t even thought about it. Shooting the creature to save Robinson had been a split-second instinct reaction, nothing more. That didn’t make it right, and it didn’t help him to make Connor understand that right then he just wanted to get as far away as possible.
He grabbed hold of Connor’s arm again and started heading down the slope with him.
“No. We’re not having this argument. Not here. Not now.”
Ryan thought he heard Connor mutter under his breath, “Hypocrite.” He chose to ignore it.
They came out of the woods at the bottom of the hill on the opposite side from the car park. Ryan scanned the area. There was a walled field full of cows beyond the boundary of the woods, and beyond that a house by the side of the road. Across the road there were just more fields.
“Okay,” he turned to Connor. “I’m going to see if I can steal a car from that house. I need you to go to the edge of the road but stay hidden on this side of the wall until I get there. Do not get seen from the house or the road, do you understand?”
Connor wrenched his arm out of Ryan’s grasp “Stop treating me like I’m a bloody idiot, Ryan.”
“Just do it.” Ryan hesitated, and then added, “Please.”
Connor waited a moment longer than normal before he nodded. He still looked extremely pissed off, but Ryan was more concerned with the practicalities of survival than Connor’s mood right then. Once they were safe maybe he could work on some form of apology.
He climbed over the fence into the cow field, and, staying low behind the wall, he jogged to the boundary that separated it from the house. He cautiously looked over the wall. There was a car in the short driveway, and no obvious signs of anybody moving around in the back garden, or in the house. This was a solitary house in the countryside, chances were they would have a dog. Ryan waited another couple of minutes, and still there was no sound of people, dogs, or activity around the building.
He climbed over the wall, dropped down behind the car, and moved round to the driver’s side, keeping low. If someone looked out of the front window of the house they would see him, but there was nothing Ryan could do about that other than work quickly.
Breaking into and hotwiring vehicles wasn’t exactly advertised on the Special Forces training curriculum, but some skills were just too useful to not pick up. Having said that, it had been several years since Ryan had last used those skills. He just hoped he wasn’t too rusty.
A few moments prying with his multi-tool got the door open. Ryan thanked god that it was an old model and didn’t have a car alarm. He shoved his rucksack onto the passenger side, and slid into the driver’s seat, trying to stay low in case anyone happened to pass by on the road. Within a minute Ryan decided that hotwiring a car was kind of like riding a bike; once you knew how you never forgot. The engine came to life, and he quickly pulled out of the driveway and along the road to where the woods came down to the stone wall. He had expected Connor to come and meet him, and was surprised when nothing happened. Maybe Connor was just staying out of sight and hadn’t realised it was him. Ryan got out and leaned over the wall.
“Oh, you are fucking kidding,” Ryan said out loud.
Connor had gone.
Ryan’s going to kill me, Connor thought to himself. Ryan is so going to kill me.
He was desperately out of breath already, but didn’t dare stop. Running uphill wasn’t anywhere near as easy as Ryan made it look. Although Connor was vaguely aware that all the hiking and physical activity of the last couple of weeks must have been having at least some positive effect on his fitness levels. Not too long ago he would never have been able to do this at all.
Such thoughts were only of peripheral concern, however, when faced with the fact of how much Ryan was going to kill him later. Well, okay, maybe not actually kill. But Connor seriously suspected there might be some physical violence. He briefly wondered exactly how much it would hurt if Ryan hit him. Then he decided not to think about that any more.
Besides, how hard could it be? All he had to do was get up to the anomaly site without being seen, find Cutter or Abby, tell them about the insanely dangerous predator that might be somewhere in these woods, and get back to Ryan again without being seen, while also constructing some form of reasoned argument, excuse, or just outright pleading in order to avoid his impending death-by-Ryan.
How hard could it be?
Oh, crap, I’m going to die, Connor thought.
In some part of his brain, Connor knew that he was taking a horrendously stupid risk, and that Ryan had been right about the danger. After what had happened to him in
Staying hidden while moving was a whole different ballgame to just plain hiding. The fog had almost completely cleared now, but as he headed up the slope Connor felt the first drops of rain start to fall. Rain, great, just what he needed.
As he got closer to the anomaly site he slowed right down, keeping a careful eye out for soldiers. He saw one guy on guard in the trees, and managed to go a different way round, staying in as much cover as he could find. It might have been easier in the middle of summer, rather than now when most of the trees and bushes had shed their leaves. Still, he was almost surprised at his own abilities when he made it past the soldier. On the other hand, the guy did look quite pissed off and bored, so may not have been paying quite as much attention as he should have been.
Even so, there came a point where Connor didn’t feel brave enough, or confident enough in his sneaking skills, to get any closer. He knew he was fairly near the anomaly, and risked peeping round a tree to see who was about.
There were surprisingly few people around the anomaly. A couple of soldiers were talking, and Abby was stood apart from them, hunched into her jacket against the worsening rain. There was no sign of the styracosaurus anywhere, although he’d last seen it being shot at on the path on the opposite side of the anomaly clearing. Connor rather hoped it hadn’t been killed, but wasn’t willing to put any money on the dinosaur still being alive.
He waited for almost a minute to see if the soldiers left, or if any more turned up, but apart from the vague sound of voices from the trees across the other side of the clearing, very little seemed to be happening. Rain dripped down the back of his neck and he shivered, feeling the cold again now that he had stopped moving. Connor picked up a stone, hefted it for a moment, and then threw it at Abby.
Abby rubbed her arm and looked around for what had hit her. One of the soldiers glanced her way, but then went back to talking to the other one. Connor waited until Abby was looking even vaguely in his direction, then waved as quickly as he could, and darted back behind the tree.
He heard footsteps coming his way, squelching in the now quite wet mulch of leaves and mud.
“Connor! What are you doing here?” Abby hissed under her breath as soon as she was close enough.
“Is everything alright, Miss?” one of the soldiers called across.
Connor froze, hoping the tree really was wide enough to conceal him. Abby hesitated a moment, then called back, “Yeah, fine. I’m just having a look round in case the creature left any prints or droppings that we’d need to clear up.”
“Thanks,” Connor said in a hushed voice.
“What are you doing here?” Abby asked again, making a show of kicking around in the undergrowth as if searching for something. “It’s not safe for you to be here. In case you hadn’t noticed there are soldiers everywhere. They got Helen Cutter earlier.”
“I know, I saw them. Listen, Abby, I came to warn you, I think there’s a predator that’s come through the anomaly. You’ve not seen it, have you?”
“What sort of predator? We only found a herbivore when we got here.”
“I don’t know exactly what. Like a tyrannosaurus, but smaller.”
“Keep your voice down,” Connor panicked.
“Sorry. For some reason the word tyrannosaurus tends to have that effect.” She glanced back at the soldiers for a moment, and then, apparently satisfied that they weren’t paying undue attention after her outburst, she continued, “If you’re joking about this I’m going to kill you.”
“Join the queue,” Connor commented. “Look, I wanted to warn you, just in case. I mean, it might have gone back through the anomaly already. I haven’t seen any sign of it, just a footprint.”
“Right.” Abby looked thoughtful. “I don’t know how I’m going to explain this sudden idea that we all start looking for a predator. The one creature that we have seen is dead, and the anomaly’s fading. Everyone seems to think that this one’s all over except for the cleanup. They’re just trying to work out how to move a twenty foot long dinosaur corpse out of the woods without anyone seeing it.”
“I can show you the tracks. You’ve already told them you’re looking for signs of creature activity, just say you found it.”
“Maybe.” Abby looked around again, slightly more nervously. “Look, you should go. Let me deal with this.”
Connor pushed his dripping hair out of his face, noticing that Abby didn’t seem to be bothered by the rain. She suddenly looked older in a way that had not been apparent when he saw her the day before.
“Where’s Cutter?” Connor asked. Despite the situation, he didn’t want to leave his friend just yet. He was beginning to get the feeling that this really would be the last time he saw her. “And what happened with Helen, and Stephen? I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it looked like they were trying to arrest him.”
“No, not arrest. But they’ve taken him for questioning.” Abby had a brief expression of disgust when she said the word ‘questioning’. Connor wondered exactly how much of a euphemism the word was on this occasion. “Cutter’s gone after them, but I don’t know what he thinks he’s going to achieve.”
“And they left you here on your own?” Connor was actually quite shocked at the thought.
“Lester’s meant to be on his way. And there’s the Special Forces guys if anything does happen. Besides, I’ve been doing this for the past three years without you, I can look after myself, you know.” She smiled at him. “It’s sweet that you’re worried though.”
Connor grinned back at her.
Gunfire, a scream, and an ear splitting roar shattered the moment.
For a few seconds Ryan seriously contemplated just leaving without Connor. If the kid was so intent on getting himself into trouble there was only so much that Ryan could do to get him back out of trouble again. And this was getting into final straw territory.
He got back into the car and drove it further down the road around the corner so it wasn’t in line of sight from the house he had stolen it from. Then he pulled up onto the grass verge, grabbed his stuff and for the second time that day he went into the woods looking for Connor.
What the hell was it going to take to get through to him? Like so many academically brilliant people, Connor had surprisingly little common sense sometimes, and while at times that trait could make him endearing, right now it was just pissing Ryan off. He understood the loyalty and the overdeveloped sense of heroics that made Connor do this kind of shit, but there was a point where it stopped being heroic and was just plain stupid. As far as Ryan was concerned, Connor had crossed that line some time ago.
It started to rain. Ryan ignored it.
If he was being completely honest, the thing that had really got to Ryan was not so much what Connor had done, as the fact that he had deliberately and knowingly disobeyed a direct order. Ryan kept reminding himself that Connor wasn’t one of his soldiers, and wasn’t going to respond well to being treated as such. Even so, he sure as hell hadn’t expected his instructions to be ignored in what was, to all intents and purposes, a life or death situation.
If they both managed to get out of here okay, there was going to have to be a serious talk. But probably not until after the shouting had finished.
Ryan had been trying to head in a direction that would intercept the route that he thought Connor would be taking back up the hill. He’d been so distracted by his anger that he didn’t notice he had overshot what he was aiming for until he saw the path leading up from the car park. Damn. Ryan stopped and tried to reorient himself. The rain was pouring down now, blurring things at a distance and making everything look that little bit different to how he remembered it.
He heard someone talking on the path, and ducked behind a tree.
“It’s dead? Yes, well, I’m halfway there already, I may as well come and have a look at the mess for myself.”
There was a soft beep and a click as the mobile phone closed.
That voice was unmistakable. Ryan waited until the man was level with him, and then darted out, grabbed Lester by the lapels of his extremely expensive, and currently extremely wet, suit, and pulled him into the trees.
A slight upward movement of Lester’s eyebrows was the only noticeable reaction.
“Well, aren’t we just overflowing with wanted fugitives today?”
“Yeah, thanks a lot for just dumping us in the shit and walking away.” Ryan realised straight away that the anger he was feeling towards Connor was about to find an outlet against the civil servant, but for once he was too pissed off to care.
“I assumed you could deal with the situation. That is, after all, what we used to pay you for.”
“Some attempt at new identities might have been useful,” Ryan snapped.
“If you must know, in the time it would have taken to create new identities for the two of you,
“What about Barclay, and Claudia Brown?”
There was a flicker of something that Ryan suspected might actually be emotion in Lester’s face.
“That was,” he paused, “Regrettable.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ryan looked around to make sure there was no one else approaching. The rain was getting harder, hard enough to drown the sounds of a threat if he wasn’t careful.
“I believe Corporal Barclay is currently being held in a maximum security military prison. The charges of possession and dealing in class A drugs will be entirely backed up by the evidence that was no doubt planted before you had even got out of
“Can’t you stop it? Help him?”
“I’m sorry.” For a moment Ryan almost believed that he meant it. Lester’s voice became quiet, and all trace of his usual smug superiority was gone. “If I could help him, I’d try, but I really can’t. If you must know, I barely got out of the situation with my career intact. If I don’t distance myself from everyone involved, I might not even have that.”
“Your career? What about Barclay’s life? You ordered him to help me.” Ryan’s need to hit something, or somebody, was becoming overwhelming.
“Are you a complete idiot, Ryan? This is bigger than one soldier. If I get taken off the project there will be no one with the power to put any kind of curb on the people who want to control it for themselves.” Lester smiled ever so slightly. “Ironic, isn’t it? After all this time, I’m the one who is fighting to keep Cutter and his renegades on the team.”
“Who wants to take over the project?” Ryan thought for a second. “Section 42?”
Lester never got the chance to reply. A bust of automatic gunfire from further up the path was answered with an almighty roar of something big.
“Connor, go.” Abby pushed him away as she turned towards the commotion. He saw the two soldiers already running away from them in the direction of what were unmistakably the sounds of combat.
“Abby,” Connor tried to grab her arm but she was already running after the soldiers. “Abby!”
He glanced back down the slope. That way lay relative safety, and probably a monumentally pissed off Ryan, but still, safety. Another roar reverberated through the trees, and suddenly Connor was following Abby across the anomaly clearing and towards the fight. For a moment, a single adrenaline fuelled moment, he could pretend that this was still his life, and that Abby still needed him. Abby stopped in the trees, and Connor tried to stop, skidded in the mud, and smacked into a tree. The creature’s bellowing roar masked even the sound of the automatic gunfire. The predator, god, he couldn’t even identify its species, there were just too many similar tyrannosaur types to choose from, was standing over the carcass of the styracosaurus, defending its prize even as the bullets ripped into its side, its legs, its head.
“Oh my god,” Connor breathed. It was the kind of animal that he had dreamed of since he was a child, the kind of animal he had nightmares about now. Even here, hiding in the trees away from the fight itself, he realised his hands were shaking, fear and awe driving his heart rate beyond what was comfortable. He glanced at Abby, and for a second he couldn’t tell if the water tracking down her face was rain, or if it was tears for the creatures, both dying for no other reason than because they didn’t belong here. Because the predator was dying, it couldn’t survive that much gunfire no matter how large it was. It turned and tried to get away, but it had already left it too late, and Connor couldn’t bring himself to watch the moment when its legs gave way and it crashed down.
There were at least three soldiers down on the ground. People started to look around, checking to see if it really was over. One of the soldiers looked at Abby, and Connor knew instantly that he hadn’t reacted fast enough when the soldier’s gaze tracked onto his sudden movement.
Connor started to run. He heard a yell from somewhere behind him as he broke out of the trees and charged straight across the anomaly clearing. He realised immediately that was a mistake but his only thought was to get away as fast as possible and this was the quickest route away. He heard someone splashing through the mud behind him and glanced round.
“Connor, go,” Abby urged, only a few steps behind him.
What the hell was she doing? Why was she following him? He wanted to tell her to go back, to pretend she hadn’t seen him, but it was already far too late for that and all he could do was keep running across the clearing and into the trees. He glanced back again. One of the officers who had arrested Helen was aiming a pistol across the clearing at him. Connor veered into a thick patch of tall brambles and undergrowth, desperately hoping that the cover might buy him an advantage even as he heard the gunshots.
“Connor, run. I’ll try to distract –”
Abby stumbled and fell against his back, knocking him over. Branches clawed at his face and hands as Connor scrambled to his knees. He automatically grabbed Abby and tried to pull her up after him, but she didn’t respond.
“Abby come on.”
She didn’t move, and that was when he saw the small, ragged hole in the back of her jacket.
Connor grabbed hold of his friend and rolled her over onto her back. The spreading red stain in the middle of her chest immediately began to blur as the rain poured down onto them both.
The words slammed into Connor’s brain and everything stopped.
“Nonononono Abby please no.” He pressed his hands down onto the wound, feeling the warm liquid welling up under his fingers. Control the bleeding. Just control the bleeding. Just keep her stable until the medic… oh god, the medic had gone to
There was too much blood, far too much. He realised where his hands were on her chest and Connor really, really wanted Abby to open her eyes and slap him and tell him to take his hands off her chest, because then she’d be alive and awake and he’d be able to feel her heart beating. Only right then he couldn’t feel it and he didn’t know if that was because he wasn’t doing it right or because his hands were shaking or because her heart really wasn’t beating any more, and please god not Abby please not her not like this no-
Somebody grabbed Connor from behind. An arm wrapped around his chest and dragged him away from his friend.
“You can’t help her, Connor, she’s already gone,” Ryan hissed in his ear. “Come with me, now.”
Ryan pulled him up and Connor tried to make his feet work but he kept stumbling. It took him a second to realise that Ryan was taking him away from Abby and that wasn’t right, he had to help her, he had to try to save her. He tried to protest, but his voice, like his legs, suddenly wasn’t working any more.
She’s already gone.
The world blurred in a way that had nothing to do with the rain and Connor tried to lurch out of Ryan’s grasp as his stomach heaved. Ryan only tightened his grip and kept going, his hold pinning Connor’s arms and stopping him from escaping.
They reached the opposite edge of the thick patch of undergrowth. They paused for a second, then abruptly Ryan dragged Connor back and shoved him to the ground. Connor dropped to his knees and was in the motion of putting his hands to his mouth against his rising nausea when he saw that his hands were covered in Abby’s blood. Then he really did throw up.
He heard Ryan swear, and realised the soldier was crouching next to him.
“They’ve already cut us off this way,” Ryan breathed. “We’re trapped.”