Series: Three Years, part 10
Title: Break Point
Characters/pairing: Ryan/Connor, Cutter, Stephen, Helen, OMCs
Warnings: AU, violence, language.
Spoilers: Anything through to episode 1.6
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 8800
Summary: Out of the Jurassic frying pan, into the fire…
AN: Contains extended scenes of violence, occasionally quite extreme. I know the warning already says ‘violence’ but I thought it was worth highlighting for this chapter.
Links to previous chapters in the Five Days/Three Years series can be found here.
“I told you. Helen isn’t at the Home Office,” Stephen insisted. His aggressive hostility wasn’t helping, but no one seemed inclined to tell him to shut up and calm down. After the first five minutes, Connor had stopped looking to Cutter to put a reign on Stephen’s temper. Cutter just looked exhausted.
Connor had been slightly surprised to see Stephen after Abby’s comments about him being taken for ‘questioning’. It turned out that in this case ‘questioning’ was actually exactly what it said on the tin – several hours in the Home Office being grilled about his contact with Helen Cutter. That was all. Connor suspected he should have felt more relieved and less resentful about that than he did.
Ryan glanced at Connor before he turned back to Stephen and Cutter.
“We think we know where she is being held,” Ryan said in a low voice. “Have either of you heard the phrase Section 42?”
Cutter and Stephen looked blank.
“I won’t go into details, but it’s a covert organisation that is trying to find out information about the anomalies. If Lester hasn’t got Helen at the Home Office, then chances are Section 42 have got her.”
“What are you talking about? How do you know all this?” Stephen was stuck somewhere between angry and incredulous.
“We’ve had a run in with them ourselves. Well, Connor did.”
Stephen glanced dismissively at Connor, and then turned his attention back to Ryan. It took Connor a second to realise that Cutter was staring at him.
“Covert organisations? Conspiracies? This all sounds like the product of Connor’s over-active imagination,” Stephen said.
“It’s not,” Connor said quietly.
“Why are you even interested in where Helen is? Shouldn’t you be a million miles away by now?”
“We were more thinking about million years away,” Ryan said. “That’s why we need Helen. We intend to hide out in the past for a while.”
They had discussed this part of the story before they met up with Cutter and Stephen. Connor and Ryan both agreed if the scientists knew that they actually intended to wipe out three years of their lives, it probably wouldn’t induce them to help.
“If that’s all you want, take your pick of anomalies,” Stephen said.
“It’s not that easy,” Cutter said, the first time he had spoken for a while. “You’d need to find somewhere you can survive.”
“Which is why we need Helen,” Ryan repeated.
“It’s not just about her helping us. No one deserves to be left to Section 42,” Connor added. “Not even Helen.”
“God, listen to yourselves,” Stephen said. “This is the British Government, not the KGB.”
“Stop being so fucking naïve Stephen,” Ryan snapped.
“Listen,” Connor interrupted before Stephen could say anything else. “Helen is officially dead, like us. No one outside the anomaly project knows she even exists. These people don’t care about human rights, or Amnesty International, or any of that stuff. They want the information that Helen has, and they will do whatever it takes to get that information. Whatever it takes. Do you get that? Do I need to spell it out?”
“No,” Cutter said, his expression disbelieving. “They wouldn’t do that, surely?”
Connor held Cutter’s look without flinching. “Yes. They would.”
Cutter’s eyes widened when he suddenly understood. He started to say something but Ryan cut him off.
Connor wanted to hug Ryan for killing that particular conversation. He would have to remember to thank him properly later.
“What are you intending to do? Just walk in and take her?” Stephen still sounded incredulous.
“Pretty much, yes,” Ryan replied. “If they’re holding her at the same place they took Connor, then it’s not very well guarded. They rely on secrecy rather than security.”
“They’ve been holding her for three days now. She could be anywhere,” Stephen pressed.
“Then maybe there’s information there that will tell us where she is being held.”
“This just sounds crazy,” Stephen said.
“Are you going to help us or not?” Ryan had clearly got bored with explanations and just wanted to cut to the chase.
“I’ll help,” Cutter said, surprising all of them. “Too many people I care about have been lost recently. If you really think you can do it, then yeah, I’ll help.”
Connor wondered if he was referring to Abby, or the still missing Claudia when he said that.
Stephen quickly realised that everyone was looking at him.
“I still think it’s crazy, but yes, I’m in.”
“Thanks guys,” Connor said. He felt awkward. He didn’t like lying to them about their true intentions and why they really needed Helen. There was so much he wanted to discuss with them; he hadn’t spoken to either of them since the night that he and Ryan came through the anomaly from the Jurassic. But Abby’s death had created more distance between them than any anomaly could. Connor felt sure that both Cutter and Stephen blamed them. No, blamed him.
The guilt and self-recrimination that Connor had felt in the immediate aftermath hadn’t faded with time. But it had mutated into something else; a determination to make things right. He was sick of reacting, and the more he thought about their situation, the more he was consumed with the need to take positive action. No matter how much Ryan questioned him, Connor was certain that what he was doing was right. This was the one thing that he could do to repay all the people who had tried to help him and Ryan over the last week, and who had paid the price for doing so.
He glanced sideways at Ryan. Connor knew that Ryan still didn’t entirely believe in his plan to change the timeline. He had spent the last three days constantly prodding the idea for holes, doubting their ability to find the right anomaly, and quietly questioning whether they really were doing the right thing. And yet when it came to it, Ryan was still backing him all the way, and Connor couldn’t even begin to express his gratitude for that.
“When do you want to do it?” Cutter asked.
“Tonight,” Ryan said. “For now we split up. I’m sure I don’t have to say this, but make bloody sure you’re not being followed.”
They arranged a meeting point for that night, and while Ryan and Stephen appeared to be having a very quiet argument about how much firepower they might need, Connor caught Cutter’s eye and pulled him away from the others.
“Professor, I know we’re already asking a lot, but I need to ask for one more favour, please.”
“What?” Cutter didn’t seem as angry or distant as Connor had been expecting. He just looked tired, lacking any of the fire that Connor remembered.
“I need copies of all your work on the anomalies. I know you’ve managed to predict them, I saw you talking in the woods before… well, before what happened with Helen. I’m really hoping that Helen will at least get us to some time where it’s relatively safe, but I know what she’s like, there are no guarantees how far she’ll help us. I need to be able to find a way of navigating the anomalies for myself. Having access to your research might mean the difference between me and Ryan surviving in the past or not.”
“I can’t predict them with any accuracy. There’s still a hell of a lot of guesswork involved. And my research is only relevant for anomalies that lead to the present, not anomalies within the past.”
“I know. But it’s three years worth of knowledge that I don’t have. It’ll give me a starting point at least. Please, Professor.”
Cutter almost smiled. “I’ll give you what I can. If you can make any more sense of it than I can, well…” he trailed off. “I wish you’d been here, Connor. If anyone could have helped me figure the anomalies out, you’d have probably been the best candidate.”
Connor was surprised. He suspected that was as close as Cutter would ever get to saying he’d missed him.
“Thanks. It’ll really help.”
He turned back to Ryan, but Cutter caught his shoulder and stopped him.
“Connor, are you okay?” There was concern in Cutter’s expression that was as surprising as his admission of just a moment ago.
“No, not really.” He shrugged. “What about you?”
Cutter ran a hand through his hair, and glanced over at Stephen.
“I’ve had better weeks,” he admitted. Before Connor could say anything else, Cutter said, “We should probably go. I’ll try to put some information together for you.”
That was more like the Cutter he knew. Evasive about anything remotely personal. Connor felt a jolt of homesickness as yet again his memories of 2007 and his experience of 2010 collided. It made him more determined than ever to go back and change things.
Ryan had seen at least four security cameras in the trees on the inside of the high brick wall, and another two watching the main gates and the driveway. It hadn’t taken him long to identify the best place to gain entry to the grounds. A tree branch had broken and was partially obscuring one of the cameras on the east wall. There was a strong wind blowing, and with the movement of the branches and the cover of darkness, he was almost certain they could climb over the wall without being detected. Or, at least, he and Robinson and a hand-picked team of the lads would have been able to do it. He and three civilians was another matter entirely.
He glanced at Connor sitting beside him in the car. It had taken nearly two hours of driving around before Connor finally managed to identify the place where he had been taken for interrogation. Since then he had become quiet, and had wanted to stay in the car and continue looking though the pile of papers that Cutter had given him rather than join Ryan on a scout round the perimeter. On a purely psychological level Ryan didn’t want Connor to have to go anywhere near this place again. His concerns for Connor’s state of mind had only increased over the last few days, and he had no idea what taking him into a building with such appalling memories and associations might do to him. But now that they were resolved to go back in time and get home Ryan was convinced that Helen was the best way of achieving that objective. Getting her to co-operate would no doubt be problematic, but Ryan had at least one idea, even if Connor appeared to have overlooked that part of the plan.
Ryan still had misgivings about whether what they were doing was right. He wanted to go home, yes, but what had finally swung it for him was the realisation that Connor was almost certainly going to self-destruct if he stayed here in this time. He had become obsessed with the idea of changing time and making things ‘right’, to the exclusion of any other possibility. And Ryan couldn’t knowingly stand back and let Connor slide into a complete breakdown. If the only way of stopping that was letting him take the initiative and helping him to carry out this crazy plan, then that was what he would do. Even if it meant the end of their relationship. What was left of their relationship.
It had taken Ryan a couple of days to realise it, but since their argument in the barn things had changed between them. The banter had gone. The easy conversation had vanished. At night they still slept together, but now it felt like they were only going through the motions of intimacy. All of which left Ryan with the inescapable conclusion that if they did manage to get back home, and Connor resumed his old life with his friends, and with Abby, then whatever had happened between the two of them would be over. Connor simply wouldn’t need him any more.
Ryan thought that if he lied to himself for long enough, he might be convinced that didn’t matter to him.
“So what’s the plan?” Cutter asked.
“We go in, we move quickly, we don’t give them time to raise the alarm or call for backup. We find Helen, we get the hell out again. We put down any opposition quickly and quietly, by non-lethal methods if possible. There’s no point turning this into a bloodbath if it doesn’t have to be.”
“That’s the vaguest plan ever,” Connor said, sounding slightly surprised.
“The more detail you add to a plan, the more chance there is of it falling apart on contact with the enemy.”
Besides, Ryan thought, they had sod all intel on what to expect when they got inside the grounds anyway, so most of this was going to be improvised on the fly. He had done this kind of thing a few times before in Iraq, but that had involved a hell of a lot more intel and a squad of trained soldiers.
He pulled four black balaclavas out of his bag.
“Everyone put these on.”
“Yeah, because the terrorist look is in this season,” Stephen commented.
Ryan threw him a hard look. “When this is done me and Connor are going to be getting the hell out. You two still have to live and work here. If you’re recognised or caught on camera doing this you’re finished. And once we’re in, don’t use names, and try not to speak too loudly.” He glanced at Cutter. “Especially if you have an easily recognisable accent.”
None of the others looked particularly impressed, but one by one they all obeyed. At least Stephen and Cutter had followed his instructions about wearing non-descript dark clothing as well. This might just work.
“Okay,” Ryan looked round at the three men. “Say now if you don’t think you can do this.”
“Right. Let’s go.”
As Stephen and Cutter got out of the car, Ryan grabbed Connor’s arm and held him back a moment longer.
“No heroics, Connor. You’re not here to fight, you’re here to guide us once we get in.”
Connor nodded. Ryan just hoped that was an order that Connor would follow this time.
They ran over to the wall, keeping low and staying in the shadows as much as possible. Stephen boosted Ryan up the wall, and he scrambled up to lay on top of it, grateful that there was no barbed wire. Once there he reached down and pulled first Cutter, and then Connor up and over the wall, with Stephen boosting from below. Finally he helped Stephen climb up, and they all dropped down into the grounds.
He had expected lights in the grounds, but it was in darkness. There were no obvious lights in the windows on this side of the building, but a dull glow from one window halfway down the side suggested a dim lamp, or a light coming from an adjacent room or corridor. Which at least suggested that someone was home.
They stayed in the cover of the trees until they got closer, and stopped at the edge of the driveway. As Connor had said, it did look remarkably like an old school. Ryan noticed immediately that the windows were all covered in iron grilles, and the big double doors at the front entrance looked heavy. Breaking in was going to be a little tricky.
“Stay here,” Ryan ordered.
He started to work his way around the building, keeping to the shadow of the trees until he was round the opposite side. Ryan really, really wanted a set of night vision goggles right then. An assault rifle and a handful of stun grenades would have made him feel a lot happier as well.
He spotted a side door halfway down the building and headed over, keeping low as he ran across the open ground between the trees and the door. He tried the door. Locked. Of course it was locked. But this door wasn’t big or heavy like the front entrance, it looked like the sort of entrance that would be used by deliveries or maintenance staff. Ryan figured his chances of either picking the lock or just kicking it in were pretty high.
He ran down the side of the building to the corner where he could see the others. He waved them across, and waited until he was sure they were coming, noting that they at least had the sense to follow his example and stay in the trees as far as possible.
They were halfway to him when Ryan heard a noise behind him. He flattened himself against the wall, and looked round.
The door had opened, and a pool of light spilled out onto the gravel, highlighting a man with a pistol at his belt, who was standing there lighting a cigarette.
Ryan knew if he moved now the man was likely to see him, or at the very least hear him on the gravel. But the others were going to be here any moment, and he would sure as hell hear the three of them arriving round the corner.
Ryan threw caution to the wind and sprinted towards the smoker. He turned at the noise, and Ryan caught sight of a startled expression before he barrelled into the man and rugby tackled him to the ground. The noise of the impact and skidding gravel sounded horribly loud. The smoker scrambled for his pistol, trying to shove Ryan off him. Ryan replied with a head butt and a punch to the throat that left him gasping and, more importantly, unable to sound the alarm. The man’s head bounced off the gravel, and he looked dazed, still choking. Ryan finished the brief fight with a punch that knocked him out completely.
He heard footsteps behind and spun round, drawing his pistol, still crouched over the prone smoker. Stephen skidded to a halt, his hands held up. Someone behind him smacked into his back.
“You okay?” Stephen asked.
Ryan nodded and paused to take the man’s gun before he stood up. “Found the way in.” He indicated the body on the floor. “Somebody check him for keys, swipe cards, anything like that.”
Connor started to search the body and Ryan took the lead into a narrow corridor that led to a short set of steps going up. He crept ahead, staying close to the wall, and listening for the sound of anyone else moving around. The corridor ended at a T-junction with another corridor, this one larger and much wider. There was no one else in sight. Ryan paused, looking for surveillance cameras, and saw none. He glanced back and saw that Connor had joined them.
“Find anything?” he mouthed silently.
Connor shook his head.
Ryan surveyed the larger corridor. Some way down to the right there was a set of internal double doors, and he could see the corridor continue on beyond them through the glass panes in the doors. To the left the corridor went on quite a long way. It was only lit to halfway down, and the far end was in darkness.
“Where does this go?” Ryan whispered to Connor, indicating the larger corridor.
Connor quickly stuck his head round the corner and looked up and down.
“I’m not sure. I think that way leads to the front entrance,” he pointed to the right.
The sound of laughter suddenly came from somewhere to the right. Ryan saw a door with an electronic number pad lock to the side of it and crept closer, motioning the others to stay back. He counted at least two voices talking in the room beyond, both male. What was so important that it had been fitted with an electronic lock? More importantly, how long would it be before the smoker was missed?
Ryan studied the door for a moment. Excellent. It looked like the laws of physics were on his side today. The most sophisticated lock in the world was only as good as the door it was attached to. And this door wasn’t that good.
Ryan caught Stephen’s eye, and held up two fingers and indicated the door. Stephen caught on and nodded, coming closer and taking a position to the side of the door, a pistol in his hand. Cutter moved closer as well, but Connor stayed where he was in the narrow corridor.
Good. Ryan had enough things to worry about right then.
He backed off far enough to get a run at the door, and slammed into it, kicking it hard, his boot impacting right below where the lock should be. It splintered and cracked, but didn’t quite open.
Ryan didn’t hesitate. He shoulder barged the door, ploughing through into the room when it gave way and flew open. A gunshot went off but he had automatically ducked low and it went over his head. He saw two men, spread apart, both holding pistols. He was still slightly off balance from his impact with the door but he had momentum on his side and he continued his charge straight into one of the men. There was another gunshot behind him, and the sounds of a fight.
Ryan rammed into his target and they both tumbled back into a desk lined with computers and TV screens. This man was less surprised than the smoker, and instead of trying to use his gun in close quarters he punched Ryan in the face, and almost managed to get a knee into his balls. Ryan moved at the last second, the blow caught his leg, and there was an angry but silent tussle for a moment. He slammed the butt of his pistol into the man’s eye, and he yelled out in pain before Ryan could stop him making a noise. Ryan took another punch in the face as the man flailed blindly, before he managed to deliver a knockout blow. The man was still crumpling when Ryan looked across to see the other man put Stephen on the floor with a particularly nasty kick to the stomach. With his attention focused on Stephen, he hadn’t seen Cutter who was sneaking into the room behind him. Cutter grabbed a keyboard from the desk and smacked it across the back of the man’s head. Ryan finished the job while he was still reeling from Cutter’s blow.
“You okay?” Cutter asked Stephen quietly, holding a hand out to help him up.
“Fine,” Stephen muttered.
“Look.” Ryan indicated the row of TV screens. Many were blank, but some of them were clearly showing feeds from surveillance cameras; empty rooms, the occasional corridor. One of them was equipped with a low light setting, and showed a small, dark room, where a lone woman was sitting on the floor.
“She is here,” Stephen breathed.
“Okay, we need to find her now. We’ve just made enough noise to alert the whole damn building, so we need to find her and get out.”
The three men piled out of the room, and Stephen and Cutter went left, heading into the darkened corridor. Ryan looked round, and saw Connor to the right beyond the internal double doors.
What the hell was he doing?
Ryan went after him.
Connor was standing in the corridor staring through an open door into a large room. Ryan followed his gaze, but the room was empty except for a table and a few chairs.
“That’s the room where they tortured me.” Connor’s voice was hollow, on the verge of cracking.
Fuck. Ryan fought down a momentary urge to slap Connor and tell him to get over it.
He grabbed Connor’s arm and pulled him away from the open door.
“We don’t have time for this. Helen’s here. Come on.”
He dragged Connor behind him as he started trying doors up and down the corridor. If there was anybody else here then they had lost all possible surprise after the noise of the last fight. Ryan knew their only advantage now was speed.
There was a sudden banging sound from the other end of the corridor where Stephen and Cutter had gone.
“Stay behind me,” he told Connor before he started running towards the noise. He rounded a corner at the end of the corridor and saw Stephen trying to batter a door open. This one also had an electronic lock, but it was sturdier than the one to the surveillance room, and so far it was resisting his attempts to break it down.
“She’s here,” Cutter said.
Ryan added his weight to the door and after another couple of tries it burst open.
Even in the darkness of the room there was no mistaking the smug tone of Helen Cutter.
“Well, if they’d told me to expect visitors I would have tidied the place up a bit.”
She might have had a smart reply for all occasions, but as soon as Connor saw her he knew she was in a bad way. Her left arm seemed to be hanging awkwardly, and he suspected her casual lean against the wall was less about looking casual and more about needing the support to stay upright.
Unsurprisingly, Stephen was the first one into the room.
“Are you okay?”
Connor glanced at Cutter. The professor was still standing in the corridor, looking in at his ex-wife and his friend, and Connor wondered what expression was hiding behind the balaclava.
“Have the happy reunion later. We’re leaving.” Connor knew Ryan well enough to recognise the urgency and edge of worry in his voice.
Stephen started to pull Helen’s arm around his shoulders to support her.
“No,” Ryan said. “I need you free to fight. Let the others help her.”
Whatever look Stephen was throwing at Ryan for that order was also hidden, but Helen simply looked amused. Cutter waited until Stephen was out of the tiny room before he went in and let Helen wrap an arm around him shoulders. Connor followed and slipped under her other arm, trying to be careful of her injured shoulder.
“Aren’t you a little short for a stormtrooper?” Helen said to him.
Connor was only momentarily surprised.
“Yeah well, we’re here to rescue you. Although, for the record, last time I checked you were less Princess Leia, and more Xena, Warrior Princess.”
As soon as he said it, Connor decided that was a mental image he really didn’t want.
They headed back the way they had come in.
“Where are my things? My bag?” Helen asked.
“I’ll find them,” Stephen said immediately.
“No. We don’t have time,” Ryan said
“It’ll only take a few minutes to look.” Stephen was already running off back to the surveillance room.
Connor heard Ryan swear. “You three keep going. I’ll make sure the fuckwit gets out.”
Ryan took off after Stephen.
“Come on.” Connor attempted to forestall any argument from Cutter by dragging them towards the narrow corridor to the side door. Helen was leaning heavily on him, making it difficult for the three of them to get down the stairs, and Connor wondered how much of that was genuine or how much she was being deliberately slow to buy more time for Stephen. Though perhaps that was a little uncharitable. Connor remembered all too well the state he had been in by the time Claudia had got him out of here. That was after only a few hours. He didn’t want to think about what might have been done to Helen over the past three days.
Connor had thought he might be afraid to come here again, but he realised now that it wasn’t fear he was feeling. It was anger. Those men sitting in the surveillance room, watching Helen, no doubt recording everything. Had they been watching when it was him being interrogated? Had they been recording that? How many times afterwards had the man with the newsreader voice watched that recording, watched him break? Was one of these men that Ryan had fought tonight the man with the newsreader voice? Connor didn’t know, but part of him wished it was one of them. He wanted the bastard to hurt.
The smoker outside the door was still out cold, and they half dragged Helen across the gravel and into the trees, back to the place where they had climbed over the wall. They got there as Ryan and Stephen ran over to join them.
“Sorry. Couldn’t find it,” Stephen said as he scrambled up the wall and hauled Helen up.
Connor missed whatever else was said between them as Ryan helped him over the wall. They ran back to the car and Connor found himself jammed into the backseat with Helen and Cutter. This was going to be fun.
“Where are we going?” Cutter asked as Stephen started the car up.
“I’m open to suggestions.”
“Where are we?” Helen asked.
She thought for a moment. Then smiled her predator smile. “Head for the industrial part of Kingsbury district.”
Connor glanced back as they pulled out onto the main road. He saw a car slowing down at the gates of the building, and then speed up again.
“Guys? I think we’re being followed.”
Stephen floored the accelerator and they sped into the thin late-night traffic.
“Bloody hell Stephen. Last thing we need right now is to get stopped by the police.” Cutter was dragging off the balaclava and fighting with the seat belt as he spoke.
Connor suspected that the police might actually be preferable to the alternative if that was reinforcements from Section 42. Ryan apparently agreed because he started snapping instructions to Stephen. At the last moment they swerved right. Several cars blasted their horns and screeched to a halt in the middle of the junction. Connor was watching through the back windscreen and saw the car behind them skid to a stop, unable to follow their manoeuvre around the other cars. He kept watching as Stephen took a circuitous route round, constantly changing direction and occasionally doubling back before they got out of the area.
“I think we lost them,” he said, more than a little impressed.
Ryan still looked wary when he glanced back, but everyone became quiet until they got closer to their destination and Helen started to give Stephen directions.
They stopped at a derelict warehouse. The old padlock on the door had been broken some time ago, and Helen shoved the door open and led them in. Crates and pallets were stacked neatly on one side, wooden boxes piled more haphazardly in other places.
An anomaly shimmered near the wall partway down the length of the warehouse.
“So where does that one go?” Cutter asked.
“Does it matter? It’s not here.”
Connor glanced back out of the door and saw Ryan was grabbing their rucksacks from the car boot. He suddenly realised this was all happening too quickly. He hadn’t expected an anomaly so soon, he hadn’t had time to talk to Helen yet.
“Are you going to be okay?” Even after everything that had happened, there was still concern in Cutter’s voice when he spoke to Helen.
“I’ve survived worse.”
“You’d better go,” Stephen said, keeping an eye on the anomaly.
Connor sprinted over. “We’re coming with you,” he blurted.
Okay, not the best opening argument ever.
Ryan walked in and Helen’s gaze flicked to him, and then back to Connor again “Afraid not, Connor. I don’t take passengers.”
This wasn’t what he had planned. Actually, it suddenly occurred to Connor that he hadn’t planned this part at all. They had been so focused on getting Helen out and finding the right anomaly, they had never even discussed the part where they had to talk Helen into helping them. It was like a big blank spot in the middle of his plan. He had just assumed. Connor started to panic.
Ryan stopped next to Connor still carrying the two bags. He didn’t say anything
“But we just rescued you. You owe us,” Connor pressed.
“Actually, since I got you out of the Jurassic, I’d say that makes us even.”
“No. We have to go back.”
Helen’s look turned to one of curiosity, and Connor got the impression he was being studied.
“Sorry boys. The answer’s no.”
“I can guarantee you amnesty.” Ryan suddenly spoke for the first time. “If you take us back I can make sure you get to walk away. Lester won’t come after you, ever. No more getting arrested every time you show your face.”
Connor held his breath. He had no idea how Ryan was planning to make Lester agree to that. If it got Helen to help them, he didn’t really care.
“Go back?” Cutter looked momentarily confused. “What do you mean ‘go back’?” The penny suddenly dropped. “You’re talking about going back to when you disappeared. Why didn’t you say that before? Why all this about hiding in the past?”
“Because Connor knows what will happen if they go back to the time they disappeared from, don’t you, Connor?” Helen looked almost impressed. “You’re planning to alter the timeline. That’s why you need me.”
“That’s insane,” Stephen said.
“That’s desperation,” Helen commented.
“Complete amnesty,” Ryan repeated.
Helen eyed him carefully for a moment. “In eleven years I’ve only ever been caught three times. And every time I’ve got away. I don’t need your amnesty. If you want my help, you’re going to have to make me a better offer than that.”
“Hang on. You can’t just alter the timeline to suit yourselves,” Cutter protested. Everyone ignored him.
Connor looked to Ryan. Surely he had something else that would persuade her. Ryan’s grim expression suggested he didn’t.
Helen glanced round at Cutter and Stephen. “I’ll see you round sometime.”
“No. Wait, please. They’re after us as much as they’re after you. We need to go with you.” Connor knew that he couldn’t stop her with words. But he couldn’t let her just disappear. Helen was their only chance. Everything was slipping away, out of control. He had to stop it.
Connor snatched Ryan’s pistol out of his trousers and immediately backed away from them all, pointing the gun at Helen.
Suddenly everyone was yelling. Connor swung the pistol in an arc that took in everybody in the room, as he continued to back away out of anyone’s reach, back towards the anomaly to stop anyone getting through it.
“You have to take us with you,” he said again.
He saw movement out of the corner of his eye. Stephen pulled his own pistol out and aimed it at him.
“Put the gun dow-”
Ryan’s elbow slammed into Stephen’s face and he grabbed the gun out of his hand.
“I think Connor was saying something,” Ryan said calmly.
Connor had a moment of surprise at Ryan’s reaction, and then steadied himself, aiming the gun very firmly at Helen.
“I don’t want to hurt anyone. But we need to go back. You’re right, we want to change it, but only so we fix it. All this is wrong. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. We’re going to make it right.” Stay calm. He had to stay calm, to explain it. Surely they would understand if he just explained everything?
“You can’t just change the timeline.” Cutter sounded outraged, although Connor wasn’t sure whether that was to do with the changing time thing or the fact that he was pointing a gun at them.
“You’re making empty threats, Connor,” Helen drawled. “If you need me so badly, then you can’t shoot me. So this is meaningless.”
“You’re right,” Connor said. In the few moments since he had grabbed the gun he had thought of this. He had a contingency. “You’re absolutely right. So what about if I threaten to shoot him instead.” He swung the gun round and pointed it at Cutter. “Or him.” He found Stephen in his sights.
He saw Helen flinch. It was the tiniest of reactions, but Connor knew he had found the right leverage.
“He probably doesn’t even know how to use a gun,” Stephen said. He seemed remarkably calm considering he had a badly bleeding nose and a pistol pointed very squarely at his chest.
“Yes he does,” Ryan said in an entirely steady voice.
Why wasn’t Ryan stopping him? He wasn’t exactly helping, except the part where he’d hit Stephen, but it suddenly occurred to Connor that he would have expected Ryan to try to stop him. He stared at Stephen along the barrel of the gun, trying to forget that this was his friend, trying to see him as nothing more than a means to an end.
His hands on the gun started to shake.
“Connor, listen to me,” Cutter said. “You can’t just start messing around with the timeline. You have no idea what that would do. You might make everything even worse than it is.”
“Worse?” Connor heard the edge of hysteria in his voice. “Worse? Abby is dead. Claudia’s probably dead as well. I’ve been tortured. We’ve been betrayed and hunted by our own government. How the fuck could it get any bloody worse?”
There was sound behind the others, a movement by the warehouse door.
“Everybody drop your weapons before you give me an excuse to shoot everyone in the room,” said the man with the newsreader voice.
For a split second Ryan considered just rugby tackling Connor and throwing the two of them through the anomaly. Instead he spun round, aware that while he was holding Stephen’s pistol in his hand, Barclay’s pistol was still tucked under his t-shirt.
Captain Thomson moved further into the room and Lieutenant Harper came in after him. Thomson had a pistol, but Harper was aiming an assault rifle at the group.
“Drop your weapons,” Thomson ordered again. He looked far too smug. Far too happy with the situation. No wonder; finding them all together like this must have been like all the guy’s Christmases had come at once.
Options flitted through Ryan’s mind for a second. Then he dropped the gun in his hand, tossing it a little distance away. Pistol versus assault rifle was a no-brainer really. He hoped the one under his clothes wasn’t obviously visible.
“You too,” Thomson said, looking past Ryan.
Drop the gun, Connor, just drop it, Ryan thought desperately. He didn’t dare turn around to communicate with the young man, but surely Connor wasn’t so far gone that he couldn’t see he had no choice right now?
Thomson fired a single shot, and Ryan heard the sound of his lover hitting the ground.
The room suddenly burst into motion. Ryan slammed sideways into Helen, shoving her behind a stack of boxes and diving after her as more gunfire ripped through the room. He glanced across and saw Cutter and Stephen throwing themselves behind the cover of the crates. Ryan stayed crouched low and continued moving around the boxes, trying to get into a position where he could see the two soldiers. Where he didn’t have to look round and see what had happened to Connor.
One of them, presumably Harper, was firing several short bursts, but Ryan had no idea if he was aiming at someone or just filling the room with firepower to keep everyone pinned down. Ryan continued moving around the boxes until he was closer to where Thomson had been standing. He risked a glance round the side of the boxes. Thomson had moved into cover as well. The guy clearly wasn’t stupid, even if he was arrogant. Harper was another matter entirely. He was the one spraying the room indiscriminately with bullets, and he was standing out in the open to do it.
Ryan hesitated for a second. Harper was further away from him than Thomson. If he broke cover to shoot Harper, chances were good that it would give Thomson a clear shot at him. He might be fast enough to get away with it. But that would still leave Thomson to deal with, and a room full of civilians, who, if they had any sense, might be able to make use of a distraction to get out. Even if the only way out now was through the anomaly. It was a fucking awful plan, and Ryan knew it. But if he waited and reinforcements arrived he knew they were all either dead or arrested. He was no longer sure which was the better option.
Ryan took a second to clear his mind. No distractions. No thoughts except about what he had to do.
He edged around the boxes far enough to get a clear shot, and fired at Harper, a double-tap that should have hit his arm and collar bone in quick succession. Ryan didn’t wait to see if he hit his mark. He was already rolling across the floor into the cover of more boxes as a shot ripped through the air where he had just been. He heard more movement, more gunfire.
Cutter shouted, “Stephen!”
Ryan looked back and saw that Helen was following him, keeping low behind the boxes. Ryan didn’t think he had ever seen the woman look so pissed off, or determined.
“Surrender now and there might be time for the ambulance to get to him,” Thomson said loudly.
“Alright,” Cutter yelled back. “Alright. Just let me help him.”
Ryan heard a choked voice say, “No.”
So Stephen wasn’t dead. Yet. He had no idea how badly injured the man might be though.
Helen flattened herself against the boxes next to Ryan. Thomson was in cover somewhere on the other side of these boxes. Ryan suddenly had an idea. He silently motioned to Helen what he intended to do. She nodded, and braced herself to help him.
“Ryan. Helen. You as well. Or Hart bleeds to death while we stand here.”
Ryan and Helen put their shoulders to the stack of wooden boxes and shoved as hard as possible. The stack wobbled for a moment and then crashed over. Boxes splintered and cracked apart as they hit the concrete floor, but there was also the sound of them hitting flesh. Ryan scrambled over the tumbled boxes and kicked the pistol away from Thomson’s prone body. The other Special Forces captain was half buried, and appeared dazed. Ryan glanced across at where Harper had gone down. The man was still moving, and Ryan knew he had to deal with both threats.
Helen had followed him, and Ryan grabbed her arm.
“Check on Connor for me. Please.”
Helen nodded, but her eyes were fixed on something much closer than the anomaly. Ryan looked round and saw Cutter kneeling over Stephen, desperately trying to stem the flow of blood from the younger man’s side. He had gone down near to where Ryan had dropped his pistol. The fucking idiot had been trying to be a hero again.
Ryan couldn’t help it. His eyes drifted towards the anomaly. Connor was lying still on the floor in front of the shimmering light. Ryan tore his gaze away and quickly moved over to deal with Harper, trying to force thoughts of Connor out of his mind until this was over.
Harper was trying to pick up his assault rifle when Ryan got to him. He kicked the weapon away and drove another kick into the lieutenant’s bleeding shoulder. Harper yelled out, cursing him. Ryan slammed a fist into Harper’s face, silencing the man. He glanced up and saw Helen crouched over Stephen next to Cutter, who was fumbling with a mobile phone while keeping one hand on the bleeding. As he watched, she got up and headed over to Connor. Again she crouched, leaned right down, and seemed to be saying something. She looked back at Ryan, her expression unreadable, and then got up and walked through the anomaly.
Ryan didn’t have the energy to try and stop her any more. If Connor was dead then his plan had died with him. And regardless, there were still people here who needed his help. Ryan couldn’t let himself stop to think too hard about anything right then, not while he still had a job to do.
Harper was trying to move again, so Ryan hit him again. He remembered something from the time when he had escaped from the Home Office, and went through the man’s pockets. It didn’t take long to find what he was looking for, and he pulled out the cuffs that Harper had threatened to use on him a week earlier. He dragged Harper’s hands behind his back and cuffed him, not being too gentle with the man’s injured shoulder either. Then he looked across at Thomson. The man was starting to move, to pull himself out from beneath the boxes. Ryan saw something else out of the corner of his eye and looked round.
Connor was slowly advancing towards Thomson, aiming a pistol at the prone captain. His right arm was soaked in blood, and his face was pale. He stopped a few feet away from Thomson, and Ryan saw Connor steady himself, use his left hand to support and control the gun in exactly the way he had taught him all that time ago in the Jurassic. For a second the thought slipped through Ryan’s mind that Connor had forgotten the very first rule he had ever taught him about using a gun. A more terrifying thought followed it. Maybe he hadn’t forgotten.
“Connor.” Ryan stood up and slowly stepped closer. “It’s okay, I’ve got it under control.”
“It’s him.” Connor’s voice was shaking as hard as his right hand. “He’s the one who tortured me. He’s the one who shot Abby.”
Thomson? Thomson was with Section 42? Thomson was the one who had been the cause of all of this? Ryan kept only the most tenuous control over his rising anger. Much as he wanted to, he couldn’t lose it now. Especially not now.
“Connor, give me the gun. Please.”
Connor continued to stare at Thomson, didn’t even flinch away when Thomson sneered at him.
“Connor.” Ryan made his voice harder. “Give me the gun.” He hadn’t tried to stop Connor before when he had been threatening Stephen, because Ryan hadn’t believed for a second that the young man was capable of shooting his friend. He had no such certainty now, and that was scaring him even more than the blood all over Connor’s jacket sleeve.
“Why?” Connor said, his voice equally hard. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill him? He killed Abby. Give it another few minutes he’ll probably have killed Stephen as well. He tried to kill me. So give me one fucking good reason why I shouldn’t just shoot him, Ryan.”
Ryan slowly approached Connor. Step by step he edged closer. He didn’t want to have to do this by force. Because if he did he knew that really would finish them.
“Because this isn’t you, Connor. You’re not a killer. I know you’re not.” He hesitated. “Please Connor, don’t do this. If you kill someone it changes you, you can’t ever go back to the person you were before. It changes everything.” Ryan held his hand out. “Come on mate, give me the gun.”
Connor’s right arm was starting to shake badly, but he continued to aim at Thomson, still trying to keep it steady with his left hand. His finger twitched on the trigger, then loosened again. His eyes closed and he wavered, and for a moment Ryan thought he was going to faint. Then Connor’s finger slid off the trigger and he held the gun out to him. Ryan took it, trying not to let the relief show on his face.
Ryan hesitated for a moment, and then reached out and pulled Connor close. Connor didn’t resist, and Ryan held him, stroking the younger man’s hair. “It’s okay,” he said quietly. “It’s okay Connor.”
He didn’t care who was watching them any more. For a few minutes he had believed that Connor was dead, and then even when he knew he wasn’t dead, he had feared he might lose his friend in an even worse way. Now he needed to reassure himself that this was real, that Connor was still alive and still in one piece.
Ryan heard the movement even as he realised his mistake. He put himself in front of Connor and twisted round to see Thomson going for his pistol. Ryan lunged at it, kicking the weapon away for a second time, but this time Thomson snatched a hand out and grabbed Ryan’s leg and yanked it out from under him. Ryan went down and his pistol skittered out of his hand. Thomson was suddenly on top of him, pinning him down, and Ryan was aware of how much bigger and heavier the other captain was. Thomson’s fist smashed into Ryan’s face as he struggled to throw the man off. Blow after blow rained down on him until Ryan managed to jab his fingers into the other man’s throat. It only bought him a second, but in that second he twisted far enough to shove Thomson off him and they both staggered to their feet. Thomson recovered first, and they traded punches. Ryan’s lip and nose were both bleeding heavily, and he was blinking blood out of one eye. Despite being nearly knocked out only a short time ago, Thomson looked like he had barely broken a sweat. Ryan knew he needed to finish this fucking fast if he was going to have any chance of winning.
He hurled himself at Thomson and they crashed into the scatter of fallen boxes and hit the floor again, this time with Ryan on top. He grabbed Thomson’s head, one hand on either side, and slammed it back onto the concrete. There was a solid smack as the back of Thomson’s skull hit the floor. He was still trying to fight, so Ryan did it again. And again. And again. Abruptly the solid whack was replaced by a wet cracking sound, and Thomson became limp under him. Ryan didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop. This man had been the cause of so much pain for so many people, but it wasn’t Abby or Claudia or Barclay that Ryan was thinking of. It was Connor, smashing his fist into the tiles on a shower, it was Connor trying to save a friend who was already dead, it was Connor pointing a gun at another person and actually intending to use it.
He felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked round. Connor recoiled away, a look of horror on his face. Ryan looked back. For the first time he saw the blood spattered across the floor beneath Thomson’s head, the blood all over his own hands.
Jesus fucking Christ.
Ryan stood up and backed away. For a moment he was as shocked by his own actions as Connor apparently was. He realised Thomson was still alive. For now, at least.
He looked round and saw that Cutter was staring at him as well, his hands still pressed over the gunshot wound just below Stephen’s ribs.
“Cutter.” Ryan had no idea what he wanted to say to the man. An apology? An explanation? An offer to help with Stephen?
“There’s an ambulance on the way,” Cutter snapped.
“Go,” Cutter said. “Both of you, just go. You’ve done enough bloody damage.”
Ryan paused long enough to grab Harper’s assault rifle. Connor was trying to drag both their rucksacks with his left hand. Ryan reached out to take the bags from him, and he saw Connor flinch away when their fingers brushed. He pushed Connor to go ahead as they stepped through the anomaly. He wanted to believe it was so he could watch their backs, but he knew he was kidding himself.
Ryan really wanted Connor to go first because he was no longer certain that the younger man would follow him.