Title: Lines of Communication, part 1
Pairing/characters: Connor, Cutter, Abby, Stephen, Jenny (Connor/Abby UST).
Warnings: Occasional mild language
Spoilers: general series 2. Set between episodes 2.4 and 2.5.
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 3000
Summary: It seemed like a routine creature investigation. Then it all started to go wrong.
AN: Written for the ficathon for Purpleyin / missyvortexdv.
Based on prompt 1; that they find an anomaly to the not so distant past and meet humans (of a sort), and prompt 3; to cover some miscellaneous things that changed in the new S2 timeline such as their old jobs and Connor’s degree.
AN2: Thank you to Fredbassett who provided lots of advice and information about the cave stuff.
Location: unknown. Time: unknown.
It was dark, and his head was pounding. Connor lay still for a few moments, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness, and trying to figure out where the hell he was and what had happened.
Wherever he was it was cold and the floor was damp. No, not floor; rocky ground. He started to make out irregular edges rising up around and above him, glistening with moisture and reflecting a faint light that was coming from somewhere behind him. He tried to sit up, and was hit by a wave of nausea that forced him back down with a whimper that he was going to deny later if anyone had heard it. When the world stopped spinning he tried again, a little more slowly and carefully, and managed to sit up and get a proper look round.
An anomaly glittered across the other side of the cave. Cave. For a moment he had a brief flash of memory, but then it was gone again. In fact, he realised, the last thing he could remember with any clarity was talking to Cutter at the ARC. But now, somehow, he was alone in a cave. It was possibly even large enough to be a cavern, but speleology wasn’t a subject he had a lot of knowledge about and he had no idea what the difference was, whether it was just a size thing or some fancy geological technical definition and why the hell was he worrying about the distinction between a cave and a cavern when he was stuck here on his own in the bloody dark with no idea how he got here or how long he had been here or what the hell was goin-
There was a splashing sound in the darkness.
Connor twisted round as he attempted to stand up. In the second before he was hit with another blinding flash of pain he realised one thing.
He wasn’t alone in here.
The ARC, 10.23 AM.
Connor jumped and nearly whacked his head on a circuit board. He slid out from underneath the ADD and pulled his i-pod earphones out. Cutter was looming over him, and Connor realised straight away that he wasn’t happy.
“Is the detector working right now?” Cutter asked.
“Are you sure? If it’s working, what were you doing under there?”
“I was just tinkering,” Connor said feeling a little defensive at Cutter’s abrupt tone. “Why?”
“There’s no chance it might have gone offline while you were... tinkering?”
Connor stood up and double checked the system for himself before he answered.
“It’s working. It’s been working all day. Now will you tell me what’s going on?”
“We’ve got a possible creature sighting.”
Damn. This was starting to sound like the sabre tooth scenario all over again. Connor resisted the urge to get angry and defensive, and sat down to triple check the ADD while Cutter lurked at his shoulder.
“What sort of creature?” Connor asked as he worked.
“No details yet. Just an intercepted report about something that looked too big to be a stray dog in a forest in Wales.”
“Bit vague. It might not be a creature.”
Connor finished his systems check and looked up at Cutter. “It’s been constantly online for the last ten days. No glitches, no errors, nothing. It’s detected three anomalies, all of which we investigated.”
“Sorry.” Cutter looked like he meant it. “I had to check.”
Stephen strode in through the double doors and came over.
Cutter shook his head. “No.”
“Then we’d better get a move on. If we don’t know an exact location we’re going to have to do this the old fashioned way.”
Connor grabbed a couple of hand-held detectors on the way out, as much through force of habit than anything. It wasn’t that he doubted his ADD at all. He just wanted to be absolutely sure.
Gwithian Vale, 15.32 PM
Cutter thought Gwithian Vale looked like a hell of a place to go creature hunting. At the eastern end of the Brecon Beacons, it was neither as large nor as impressive as some of the popular tourist valleys and visitor spots, and while the tops of the hills on either side of the valley were bare, most of the valley itself was heavily wooded. There were a couple of public footpaths running along the valley bottom, and at least one along the tops, but with so many well known and more tourist-friendly locations in the area it seemed to be relatively free of the general public. On the one hand it was an advantage that they wouldn’t have to spend half the time trying to keep tourists and walkers away, but on the downside it didn’t exactly look the most inviting place to go searching for creatures. Possible creatures, as Connor kept insisting.
“So, what have we got?” Cutter asked, turning his back to the valley and looking round at his team.
“I’ve sent a Special Forces team to the northern end of the valley, and stationed another team here at the southern end to discourage walkers,” Jenny said. In deference to the terrain she was wearing rather flatter shoes than normal, and a pair of trousers, but Cutter got the feeling she had no intention of traipsing around the valley with them all day. “I’ve spoken with the eye witness. He says he was walking his dog and saw a large, pale coloured animal that he didn’t recognise. His dog went berserk and the creature disappeared into the forest.”
“Is that all? He didn’t have any other details?” Abby pressed.
“He said it moved very quickly.”
“Right,” Abby huffed. “That narrows it down.”
“Where did he see it?” Stephen asked.
They spread a map of the valley out on the bonnet of the jeep, and Jenny pointed out a spot in the southern half, down near the stream that ran through the valley.
“It’s as good a place as any to start looking for tracks,” Stephen said.
Stephen and Abby started unloading guns from the back of the jeep, and Cutter looked up at the peak ridges that enclosed the valley. Jenny moved to stand next to him, and followed his gaze.
“Lucky for us, the terrain will probably keep whatever it is within the valley,” Jenny commented.
“Maybe.” Cutter felt sceptical. They still had no idea what it was, so he didn’t want to make any assumptions about what might contain it.
Jenny smiled a little. “But I’ve sent a four man squad of soldiers to explore along both ridges anyway. Just to be on the safe side.”
Cutter glanced sideways at her. Jenny still distanced herself from the hands-on operations as much as possible, far more than Claudia used to, but sometimes, just sometimes he wondered if the two women were really that different. Or maybe that was just him seeing what he wanted to see. Either way, Jenny had certainly got the hang of dealing with creature situations far faster than Cutter had been willing to give her credit for after her less than stellar introduction with the worms in the office block.
“So, would you care to join us?” he asked with a wry smile.
She raised her eyebrows at him. “I think somebody has to stay here and co-ordinate things, don’t you?”
“What, and miss out on all that running and shouting and peril and mud?”
“Well, when you put it that way, how can I resist?” she laughed. “But, unfortunately, I’m afraid I will have to decline your offer.”
Connor ambled into Cutter’s field of vision. He finally seemed to have given up on trying to persuade Abby and Stephen to let him have a gun, and was fiddling with one of the hand-held detectors.
“Anything?” Cutter asked. He knew the answer himself already, the hand-held detector wasn’t making the rhythmic noise that accompanied the presence of an anomaly. But Cutter felt a little guilty for having so openly questioned the detector back at the ARC, and he partly wanted to reassure Connor that he still had faith in his creation.
“Not a sign. There’s no anomaly here.”
“And yet we have a creature on the loose,” Jenny commented.
Connor looked like he was going to protest again but at that moment Abby and Stephen joined them, both carrying their tranquiliser weapons of choice – a rifle for Stephen and a pistol for Abby – and as much spare ammunition as they could fit in their pockets. Stephen consulted another map of the valley, and then folded it up and shoved it in his jacket pocket.
“Good to go?” Cutter asked.
“Let’s do it,” Stephen replied.
As one, the four of them set off into Gwithian Vale forest.
Gwithian Vale, 16.13 PM
Abby didn’t think she would ever get tired of doing this. As soon as the forest had closed in behind them it felt like they were a million miles from anywhere, and the sense of nervous energy and anticipation, tinged, as ever, with a hint of trepidation was palpable. She wasn’t a risk taker, and possibly more than anyone she understood just how dangerous animals could be if they found themselves in a new environment, confused and disoriented. But the sense of discovery and the thrill of the unknown was like nothing else Abby had ever experienced, and no matter how dangerous it might be, she knew she couldn’t give this up.
Stephen moved ahead of the group, and months of experience had taught the rest of them not to attempt to catch up and get in the way when he was looking for tracks. Nevertheless, Abby tried to make sure he never got so far away that she couldn’t see him. After her own recent experiences with creatures Abby didn’t like the thought of any of the team being alone.
When she wasn’t keeping an eye on Stephen, she watched Connor as they walked. Things between them had been a little awkward since their brief jaunt into the future. Abby knew exactly what it was that Connor had said when he had been trying to save her, but now the moment had passed and neither of them seemed able to work up the courage to broach the subject again. Besides, Caroline never seemed to leave him alone long enough for Abby to have a decent conversation with him anyway. So they skirted around the issue, and around each other, trying to ignore the fact that something about their relationship had been irrevocably altered by those three words being spoken aloud. But still, the memory of those terrifying, exhilarating moments on the cliffs haunted Abby’s dreams and sometimes she just wished they could talk about it, like the old days, BC – Before Caroline – when she and Connor used to unwind from a day dealing with creatures by crashing out and eating pizza and watching some trashy film or other, and just being together.
Connor glanced across at her, and they both turned away as soon as they realised they’d been caught looking.
Okay, Abby thought. Now this was officially getting stupid. Stuff it. Caroline wasn’t here now, was she? This was the perfect opportunity to talk to him, even if all they talked about was the current job.
Abby was heading in Connor’s direction when a shout from Stephen called them all to attention.
“Guys. Got something.”
They all ran over and found Stephen crouched, examining a patch of ground a little way off the footpath. Abby thought she could make out some signs of crushed foliage, but she knew she wouldn’t have seen it if Stephen hadn’t pointed it out.
“Any idea what it is?” Cutter asked.
“Not sure yet,” Stephen admitted. “There’re no clear prints here. But whatever it is, it’s pretty big.”
“How recent are these tracks?”
“Within the day I’d guess.”
Abby glanced up and looked around, as if expecting to see the creature right there. She noticed both Connor and Cutter do the same, and smiled a little.
“Can you follow it?” Cutter pressed.
Stephen stood up and headed off into the trees without answering. After giving him a head start, the rest of them followed.
A cave, time unknown
The sharp pain in his ankle was almost as bad as the pounding headache, and Connor bit back a yell. If there was something else in the darkness he didn’t want to advertise his presence until he knew whether or not it was friendly.
There was another splashing sound in the darkness, somewhere near the anomaly, he thought, but there just wasn’t enough light to see clearly and the contrasting glare of the anomaly only threw everything else into even deeper shadows. Connor stared into the darkness, trying to make out any movement or sound, but right then all he was aware of was his own breathing, suddenly fast and shallow.
The seconds stretched out into a minute, maybe two. The anomaly continued to glitter and swirl sedately, but there was nothing else, no sign of life, and slowly Connor started to wonder if he had imagined it.
His ankle had given way as soon as he tried to put any weight on it, and Connor poked carefully at it, trying to silence another whimper when he realised how swollen it had become. And that was quite scary for more than one reason, because it held a worrying implication of how long he might have been unconscious.
What the hell had happened to him?
The fact that he couldn’t remember even after a few minutes of being awake and lucid was starting to concern him. He forced himself to calm down and think clearly. If he had got in here, then there must be a way to get out again.
He looked around carefully, trying to not to turn his head too sharply. It looked like there was a tunnel or something sloping upwards in the rock face not far above him. He tentatively stood up, leaning as much weight as possible against the rock face. His head spun for a moment, and he closed his eyes and stood still until everything returned to normal. When he could finally look up, he had to step away from the wall to see far enough up, and he realised the tunnel was several feet above his head. He had no idea how far it went; it was swallowed up in the absolute darkness as soon as it reached beyond the light of the anomaly.
Connor could see straight away that there was no way to get up to it. The tunnel was too high to reach, and the rock face too steep to climb.
He swore quietly.
It occurred to Connor that he should probably call out. Yell for help. If the others were looking for him, please God let someone be looking for him, then the least he could do was try to help them out a little. But he hesitated to call out. He still wasn’t entirely convinced that the sounds he had heard were just his imagination, and if there was something else here...
Connor turned away from the rock face and limped over to the anomaly, each step punctuated by a quiet, “Ow.” He shivered as he got closer. The cave was cold, he was already more than aware of that, but it seemed to get even colder the nearer he got to the anomaly. He stopped in front of it, and searched the shattered light, as if hoping that he might somehow see through it to the world beyond. The last time, actually, the first and only time he had ever been through one had been to the future. Connor almost regretted not having been able to see more of it, but his only thoughts at the time had been to find Abby. He wondered where this one went to. The past? The future? So very few seemed to lead to a time further forward from their own present, and Connor sometimes wondered if that might be important to their understanding of these phenomena. He reached out and touched the anomaly, letting the broken fragments of light slide across his fingers. A gust of cold air blew into his face and a flurry of snowflakes swirled around him, some settling on his hand before melting away.
“Cool,” Connor grinned.
A loud grunting sound suddenly came from the darkness beyond the anomaly. Connor jumped, looking around, trying to see everywhere at once. He realised there was another tunnel behind the anomaly, and that something was charging out of that tunnel. He scrambled back away from it and his ankle turned again beneath him and Connor cried out as he went down. Staring into the light of the anomaly had stolen what little night vision he had, and he couldn’t see what it was. He could only tell that it was big, it was moving, it was real.
And it was lunging straight towards him.