Title: Lines of Communication, part 2
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 3700
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.
Gwithian Vale, 16.36 PM
Stephen stopped and looked around at the forest. Once he had got away from the noise of Cutter and Connor talking he could hear the gentle babble of the stream not far below to his right. The footpath had been dropping down towards the stream for a while now, and Stephen quickly consulted the map to confirm what he already suspected. This was the area where the eye witness claimed to have seen the creature.
He had commented before they set off that it was a good place to start looking, but in truth he had already found several indications that there was a large creature in these woods. Crushed undergrowth here, broken twigs and branches there, the telltale signs that he could read and understand where others saw nothing. There had been no clear tracks, though, no footprints, nothing that identified what sort of animal they might be dealing with. Stephen hoped the softer, wetter ground near the stream might be the thing that changed that.
He heard the others starting to catch up, and set off again before they arrived and accidentally trampled the tracks he was searching for.
The stream was wide but shallow, and rippled over uneven stones and pebbles as it meandered its way through the valley. Stephen headed upstream, his eyes searching out every detail that the terrain might give him. All animals needed to drink, and if it had been seen in this area then the chances were good that it might have been to the water somewhere near.
Ten minutes later he hit jackpot. He was still examining the prints when the others found him.
“Hoof prints,” Stephen pointed to his discovery. “Pretty big as well.”
“Is there anything that might make prints like that living here naturally?” Cutter asked.
“Could be red deer, but I don’t remember seeing anything about there being a deer park in the area,” Abby said.
“Too big for red deer,” Stephen said. But now he had the idea in his mind it occurred to him that the prints could certainly belong to some species of deer or elk or something similar.
“That doesn’t narrow it down a whole lot,” Connor pointed out. “And there’s still no sign of an anomaly.”
Stephen caught the annoyed glance that Abby threw in Connor’s direction. Stephen knew how she felt. Connor was starting to sound like a broken record about the lack of an anomaly.
Cutter, however, showed no sign of being irritated by Connor’s insistence, and Stephen felt an irrational flash of anger at both the other men.
“At least this means the odds are good that we’re dealing with a herbivore.” Cutter looked pensive despite his conclusions.
Stephen opened his mouth to argue, and then thought better of it. Things were strained enough between himself and Cutter without starting another argument. But he also knew that while Cutter was largely accurate in his statement, there were at least a few options for hoofed creatures that might be dangerous, and Stephen didn’t want to assume that they would get lucky until he had seen the creature for himself. His last wrong call had almost cost them Abby’s life, and that wasn’t something he was willing to gamble with again. If Cutter and Connor wanted to believe that it was just some stray ruminant then so be it. But Stephen had no intention of letting this one go until he knew for sure.
He headed upstream again, trying to keep his mind on the job, and not think too hard about the past.
A cave, time unknown
Connor stared at the spear point that was suddenly pressed against his chest, pinning him to the floor. His eyes tracked up the length of wood to the figure holding it. The anomaly was right behind the hulking form, and all he could see was a black silhouette. But one thing was certain – it was human. Of some kind.
“Sorry, sorry, it’s okay, just calm down please don’t hurt me.”
When the figure spoke it was a babble of consonant sounds and harsh syllables.
“Sorry.” Connor tried to keep still, to appear non-threatening. If the figure had wanted to ram the spear through his chest it could have done so already, and Connor could only hope that if it was human, then there was a chance it could be reasoned with.
“Just relax, I’m not going to hurt you.” Connor very slowly held his hands out to show he was unarmed. He had no idea if the figure understood, but maybe things like expressions and body language went way back. If this individual did come from the past.
The spear prodded a little harder, forcing him to stay lying on the floor. Connor stopped moving, still holding his hands out.
There was another stream of guttural noises from the figure, and abruptly an arm flung out in a gesture towards the anomaly. As it did that, the figure turned slightly and for the first time Connor could see him as the light fell across his face.
Oh my god, it’s a Neanderthal.
Anthropology was by no means his speciality, but Connor knew enough to recognise the heavy set facial features, the jutting brow ridges, and the wide nose. With the light at a different angle he could now see that most of the bulk was actually a heavy covering of furs that the Neanderthal was wearing. If he wasn’t so scared for his life he would have been fascinated.
The Neanderthal sounded angry when he spoke again, still gesturing.
“I don’t know what it is either. Well, I do, I know what we call it, I know what it does, where it goes. But I don’t understand how or why any more than you do.” He paused, vaguely aware that the Neanderthal’s breathing was slowly returning to a normal pace. Or, at least, he guessed it was normal. His eyes were hidden in the dark shadows cast by his bulky face, but it suddenly occurred to Connor that the Neanderthal was quite possibly as scared as he was.
“Look, I know you don’t understand a word I’m saying, but I’m just going to keep talking until you decide I’m not a threat. Okay? I know you must be pretty confused right now. You’ve stepped through into a world that isn’t yours, you don’t recognise anything. Trust me, I know what that’s like. But everything’s going to be fine. All you have to do is go back through the anomaly and you’ll be home and safe again. Well, as safe as ice age Europe ever gets, I suppose.”
Slowly the spear point moved away. Connor kept very still until it was completely gone, and stayed down as the Neanderthal stepped back, still watching Connor and gripping the spear.
“Thank you.” He breathed a little easier. He propped himself up on his elbows as the Neanderthal backed away, and they both seemed to take a moment to properly study each other in the light cast by the anomaly.
Connor’s first impressions had been of threat and shadows and a hulking, powerful body. Now that he wasn’t quite so high on adrenaline and he could see him properly he was almost surprised. Despite the exaggerated features, the Neanderthal’s face looked almost human. He wondered if Homo Sapiens and Neanderthals were closely related enough to share similar emotions and expressions. If so, he was pretty sure he could see the first stirrings of curiosity in the Neanderthal’s face. That, tempered with frustration, confusion, and a need to understand. Connor wondered if the Neanderthal could recognise the same feelings in his own expression.
“You don’t look so scary,” Connor said with a nervous smile. “The captain of my old sixth form rugby team could give you a run for your money.”
The Neanderthal tilted his head a little to the side and bared his teeth in something that might have been a smile, or might have been something else. Then he gestured at the anomaly again and let rip with another long babble of unintelligible sounds. Connor listened, trying to infer some sort of meaning or intent from the words, but he had never been good with modern languages, let alone prehistoric languages of a different species of hominid. When the Neanderthal finished he gestured at Connor, and then at the anomaly.
“What? I don’t understand. Do you want me to explain what it is? Do you want me to go with you through it?” Connor gave a frustrated shrug, and sat up properly. He was quite relieved when the Neanderthal didn’t seem to have a problem with that. “I’m guessing you came through it, right?” He paused, and then pointed at the Neanderthal, “You.” He pointed at the anomaly, “Came through that.” He mimed walking with his fingers.
The Neanderthal’s expression suggested he thought Connor was a particularly confusing insane person.
Connor laughed a little self-consciously. “Yeah, I get the same look from Abby a lot as well.”
He briefly wished he had some food to offer the Neanderthal. All the alien and time travelling films he’d ever seen suggested that was the best way of making friends with other sentient species.
Connor sighed. “Look. You need to go back to your time, and I need to find a way out of this cave. Much as I’d like to stay and chat, we’ve already got one fugitive from another time at our place, and you’re a lot harder to hide than Rex is.”
He tentatively stood up, wincing when he put weight on his injured ankle again. The Neanderthal seemed to be watching him with a wary expression. When he thought about that Connor realised it seemed a little strange, given it was pretty obvious that he offered absolutely no physical threat in comparison with the other hominid. He was vaguely aware of theories that suggested Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens may have competed for resources, or even come into conflict with each other, and he wondered if that might be true, and whether it was colouring the Neanderthal’s reactions to him.
“Come on, do me a favour will you? Please go back to your own time.”
The Neanderthal just stared at him.
“Cutter’s going to go mad if he sees you here. He’ll go off on one about changing the course of evolution again or something, and it’ll get messy, and really, you don’t want to stay here, trust me. You think you’ve got climate problems in an ice age? That’s nothing compared to the way ours is headed.”
The Neanderthal replied with an equally long monologue that Connor understood about as well as the Neanderthal had understood him. He sensed frustration, and a serious attempt to communicate something, but he just had no idea what that something was, and absolutely no common basis to start trying to work from.
When the Neanderthal finished speaking Connor just shrugged and started limping towards him and the anomaly.
“We’re going to have to do this the hard way, aren’t we?” he sighed.
Gwithian Vale, 16.58 PM
Despite his assertion that they were probably dealing with a herbivore, Cutter still felt apprehensive. The simple fact was he didn’t believe they would be that lucky. Statistical probability based on all known anomalies to date suggested that a predator was far more likely to come through than a herbivore. Cutter wondered if he should talk to Abby about that. Maybe there was something about predator behaviour that made them more inclined to explore unusual phenomena and places, while herbivores tended to stick with what was familiar.
Despite Connor’s arguments, Cutter did believe they were dealing with an anomaly. He trusted Connor’s faith in the ADD, but there was still so much that they didn’t understand about the anomalies, and perhaps there was a logical scientific explanation for why the detector hadn’t picked up this one. Maybe they didn’t all give off radio waves at the same frequency. Cutter decided he should probably wait until they got back to the ARC and Connor wasn’t acting so defensive before he broached his ideas with the young man. There was no point getting everyone’s backs up while they were out on a job.
Without warning Stephen took off into the trees ahead. Abby reacted first and raced after him. Cutter glanced at Connor, who looked just as confused as he did, and then the two of them set off as well.
There was a loud crashing sound from somewhere in front of them, and Cutter saw Stephen stop, take aim, and fire a dart from his rifle. His expression, and the sharp curse a second later suggested he had missed, and he set off running again.
“It’s heading for the stream,” Abby yelled. She veered off in that direction, and Cutter followed her and plunged out of the trees into the more open area at the side if the stream a moment later.
He stopped dead and his mouth dropped open.
“Oh, you are beautiful,” he murmured.
It was a deer, but not like any common red deer of this century. It was as tall as a man, and covered in thick, pale coloured hair. But it was the antlers that caught his attention above all else. They were huge, by far the biggest antlers Cutter had ever seen, their span across looked like it was almost as far as the creature was long from head to tail.
The deer splashed across the stream, galloping to get away as Stephen went down on one knee and took aim again. Abby stopped and did likewise from a flanking position. The deer reached the opposite bank but then abruptly stopped and wheeled around to face them. Cutter realised a moment later what was wrong – the trees were closer together and it simply couldn’t fit between them without the antlers getting in the way. Obviously panicking, it ducked its head and charged back across the stream.
Straight towards Stephen.
Stephen fired his rifle. Abby fired her pistol. Cutter saw both darts impact, but the creature was still charging and the tranquiliser wasn’t going to take effect fast enough to counteract the animal’s momentum.
Cutter didn’t stop to think. He launched himself at Stephen and slammed into him, knocking him sideways and sending them both sprawling. The deer, its head still held low in an aggressive posture, leapt over their prone bodies and swiped at them with the antlers as it flew past.
He heard Connor yelling, “Shoot it Abby!”
Stephen was struggling under him and Cutter rolled off to the side. Stephen immediately tried to get up, already fumbling for another dart. The deer wheeled around a second time, again penned in by the trees on this side of the stream now. But then it stopped, shook its head, and staggered a little. Cutter saw a third dart in its side, and glanced across at where Abby was still aiming her pistol, but not firing any more. The deer shook its head again, gave a feeble bellow, and then its legs wobbled and gave way beneath it. Cutter could only watch as the magnificent animal slowly fell over.
There was a moment of collective silence as they all stared at the deer. Then, apparently satisfied that it wasn’t going to start moving again, Abby reloaded her pistol and put it away.
Cutter glanced at Stephen.
“Yeah.” Stephen managed to tear his eyes away from the deer long enough to flash Cutter a smile. “Thanks.”
Cutter dropped a hand on Stephen’s shoulder for a moment. “Next time, try moving out of the way a bit faster.”
He stood up and walked over to the deer. The others gathered round as well.
“Cool,” Connor said. “Megaloceros.”
“What?” Abby asked.
“Giant deer. Late Pleistocene, ice age probably.”
They all paused for a moment before Stephen said, “You know what that means?” They all glanced at him. “There is an anomaly here.”
Cutter could have sworn he heard Connor mutter, “Bugger,” under his breath.
He decided it was time to take charge of the situation before it descended into arguments or accusations.
“Whether we find an anomaly or not, we still need to move this creature to somewhere.”
“We’ll never lift it while it’s unconscious,” Abby pointed out. “Poor thing,” she added in a softer voice. “With those antlers it can’t have been easy trying to move around in the trees. It probably found the stream and just got trapped out in the open here.”
“You’re right,” Cutter admitted. “I’ll see if Jenny can organise a vehicle and some lifting gear or something.”
He called Jenny, but the number cut out twice before he managed to get through.
“Cutter, ni.... wha... ound?”
“Jenny? You’re breaking up, I can’t hear you properly.”
“Cu.... n’t hea...”
Cutter pulled the phone away from his ear in time to see the signal cut out.
“There’s practically no phone reception. Damn.”
“The hills are probably blocking it,” Stephen suggested, indicating the ridges that were visible rising above the trees on either side of the valley.
“Um, Cutter? I’m pretty sure there was a good signal about ten or fifteen minutes back that way,” Connor said. “I got a couple of texts.”
“What? From Caroline?” Abby’s tone was suddenly... Cutter realised the word he was looking for was ‘bitchy’, and that wasn’t normally a word he associated with Abby in the slightest. He wondered if things really were as okay between his youngest team members as he’d thought after the business with the marine predators.
“Yeah,” Connor’s tone was defensive again, but he was no longer meeting Abby’s look. “She wanted to know if we were still going out tonight.”
Abby turned away and started paying attention to the megaloceros, while Connor seemed suddenly focused on his phone.
“Okay,” Cutter said, deciding to ignore their behaviour. They could sort it out on their own time as far as he was concerned. “Connor, why don’t you go back until you get a decent signal and call Jenny. Tell her what we need, and where we are.”
“Okay.” Connor turned to go, and then stopped and turned back again. “Where are we?”
Stephen spread the map out on the ground. “I think we’re about here,” he pointed to a spot on the map. “Tell her it’s just east of the caves.”
Connor sent one last glance in Abby’s direction, but she had her back turned and seemed engrossed in checking over the megaloceros. He hesitated a moment longer, and then headed off into the woods.
Cutter shook his head and sighed. Whatever the hell their problem was, with each other or with Connor’s girlfriend, he just hoped it wasn’t going to affect their working relationship. He glanced guiltily at Stephen for a moment. He knew at first hand just how dangerous that sort of situation could be.
Southern end of Gwithian Vale, 17.23 PM
When her phone finally rang, it was not the person who Jenny expected it to be.
“Connor? What the hell is going on out there? I’ve been trying to get hold of Cutter for ages.”
“Sorry.” Connor sounded breathless, like he’d been running. Jenny started to get a bad feeling that this was turning into another of their more insane situations.
“What’s going on?” she repeated. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, fine. This entire valley is like a signal black spot or something, though. It’s taken me ages to find a place with a reliable signal that stays constant for more than twenty seconds.”
Jenny made a mental note to make personal radios standard issue on all future occasions.
“We’ve found the creature,” he continued, sounding far too excitable about that fact. “It’s a megaloceros, prehistoric giant deer from the last ice age, kind of like a really big elk. It’s really cool and it’s got the hugest antlers you’ve ever seen an-”
“Connor!” Jenny interrupted. “Too much information.”
“Sorry.” He hesitated before speaking again. “We’ve got it tranquilised, but it’s too big for us to move it. We need a vehicle and lifting gear. And probably some Special Forces guys to help. It’s down by the stream just east of some caves.”
Jenny tried to spread the map open with one hand while she continued to hold the phone in the other.
“I think I see where you mean. I’ll send a team out to you and see what equipment I can rustle up.” Something suddenly clicked in Jenny’s mind. “Connor, did you say it was a deer?”
“Deer aren’t carnivores.”
There was a long silence from the other end of the phone. Eventually he said, “No, they’re not. Admittedly I may not want to know the answer to this, but why do you ask?”
“I’ve had a report from one the Special Forces teams I sent to investigate the hills to either side of the valley. The team on the west ridge reported finding a couple of dead sheep. They looked like they had been attacked by an animal.” Jenny realised as she spoke that she was unconsciously looking up towards the western ridge, as if expecting to see some huge predator from the past up there.
“How long had they been dead?”
“I don’t know,” Jenny snapped. The report from the corporal hadn’t been that specific. “He said ‘recently dead’,” she amended after a moment’s thought.
“Might not be connected,” Connor said, although his voice suggested he didn’t believe that in the slightest.
“They said the dead sheep were about three miles along the western ridge,” she consulted the map. “That would put them somewhere above Gwydre’s Cavern.” Jenny paused. “You said the deer was near the caves.”
Connor didn’t immediately reply.
“Connor? I need to know what we’re dealing with out there.”
“The megaloceros isn’t a predator. That means there might be something else out here. And if all the signs are around the caves...” he trailed off, and then suddenly said, “Jenny, I’ve got an idea. I need to check something out. Send a team to where we’ve got the megaloceros and I’ll warn Cutter and the others that we might have a predator out here as well.”
“Connor, wai-” Jenny realised he had hung up before she could get the words out. And in the time it took her to speed dial his number it had become unavailable once more.