Title: Lines of Communication, part 4
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 3550
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, 18.40 PM
Stephen watched Abby move restlessly around the unconscious megaloceros. She hadn’t managed to stay still for more than ten seconds since Cutter has left them.
“Cutter will find him,” Stephen said. He wasn’t quite prepared to say, ‘he’ll be fine’ though, and he suspected Abby had read that into his choice of words.
“Yeah. And then I’ll kill him.”
Stephen chuckled. “It could be a perfectly innocent delay.”
Abby just answered with a derisive snort.
“You sound like you don’t trust him.”
“Of course I trust him,” Abby said immediately. She smiled a little, and said more softly, “Mostly I trust him to find the most insanely dangerous situation imaginable, and then to throw himself headfirst into it in a way that’s part heroic and part mind-blowingly stupid.”
Stephen smiled. Yep, that sounded like Connor.
He watched her pace along the edge of the stream for another minute before he said, “So, you and Connor...?”
“What about me and Connor?” Abby snapped immediately.
“Just, you seem to be arguing a lot recently.”
Stephen recognised the signs to back off, and didn’t pursue that conversation any further. But he did wonder if either Connor or Abby realised quite how extreme their reactions were when they thought the other was in danger. He smiled a little again. If it wasn’t for the general spectre of imminent danger hanging over them, it would be quite sweet, really.
He thought he heard someone calling out from the woods, and ventured further into the trees until he saw a group of Special Forces guys, and waved them over.
“Miss Lewis said you needed backup,” one of them said. Stephen didn’t know these particular men, but he thought the man who had spoken was called Briggs.
“Yes. We’ve got a tranquilised creature and we’re going to need help moving it. Weren’t you supposed to be bringing lifting gear and a trailer or something?”
“Miss Lewis was still arranging that when we set off, sir.”
“Okay, fine. Did you see Cutter or Connor on your way here?”
“No, we thought they were with you.”
“Stephen,” Abby suddenly called over. She didn’t sound panicked, but there was a tone to her voice that made Stephen move quickly, and the soldiers followed him.
She was crouched by the megaloceros with an expression of intense concentration.
“Stephen, help me lift it and turn it onto its other side.”
“What? Why?” Stephen didn’t want to think how heavy the creature was going be.
“There’s something here I need to look at. I think it’s been injured. Not by us, by something else before we found it.”
Stephen and the four soldiers allowed Abby to co-ordinate the safest way of lifting the megaloceros, and between the five of them they managed to very gently lift the great beast and turn it over.
“I was right. Look.”
Stephen moved round to crouch beside Abby. The megaloceros had lines of claw marks scored into its flanks on this side. Stephen could tell immediately that the wounds were a day old, at least, and while they didn’t appear to have bled too much, they were by no means minor injuries.
“What do you think did that? This mystery predator?” Abby asked.
“Maybe.” Stephen looked closer. “It’s a pretty big guess, but I’d say those claw marks look like a big cat of some kind.”
“Were there any big cats in the ice age?”
Stephen searched his brain for anything he knew about the late Pleistocene. This was more Connor’s department, and they both knew it.
“Maybe a lion?”
Abby suddenly grabbed his arm. “Cats sometimes make their lairs in caves.”
They both stared at each other for a moment before they spoke at the same time.
“Cutter,” Stephen said.
“Connor,” Abby said.
Without waiting to explain to the soldiers, they both leapt up and started to run.
Gwydre’s Cavern, 18.42 PM
“Run!” Cutter yelled, shoving Connor back into the tunnel that the young man had come out of. He had no idea what lay beyond, but there was no other way to go to get away from the creature.
They both barrelled into the tunnel, the tiny beam from the maglite bouncing almost uselessly ahead of them. He realised straight away that Connor was limp-skipping, every step accompanied by a gasp of pain. Cutter grabbed his arm and tried to help, but he knew without even looking behind that the creature would catch them like this.
Abruptly they rounded a corner and Cutter was dazzled by the light of an anomaly.
“This way,” Connor gasped, dragging him around the anomaly and off to the side.
Cutter heard a growl as the creature bounded into the cave behind them. Connor dived into a narrow crack in the rock and wriggled through, and Cutter followed him. He felt hot breath on his hand as he squeezed into the narrowest part, and snatched his hand away as teeth snapped shut millimetres away. Cutter popped out into the darkness on the other side, and shone the maglite back round at where they had just come from. A paw swiped at the gap, and a growling muzzle forced itself into the fissure. After a few seconds Cutter realised that the creature – a big cat of some kind - was too big, it couldn’t get through the gap, and it couldn’t reach them.
Cutter rested his hands on his knees and just breathed for a moment.
“Connor? You okay?” He looked round with the light to see Connor sat on the floor, nursing his ankle.
“Is there any other way it can get in here?”
Cutter shone the light around and realised they were in a very small chamber that seemed to taper down to nothing towards the back of the cave. He couldn’t see any other ways in. Although, he thought to himself, that also meant they had no other way out.
The creature growled and pawed at the fissure again.
He briefly contemplated the tranquiliser pistol, but decided his chances of getting a clean shot through a gap that narrow
were pretty much non-existent.
So instead Cutter chose to ignore it, and crouched in front of Connor. The young man looked far too pale, and he suspected Connor was trying to put a brave face on how bad his ankle really was. Especially after they had been forced to run like that.
“Come on,” Cutter said, helping Connor to move and prop himself against a wall. Cutter sat down next to him, and deliberately pointed the light away from the fissure where the creature was still snarling and growling.
“Good thing you knew about this cave,” Cutter commented.
“Yeah. Except for the part where we’re trapped.”
“Better trapped in here and alive than out there and dead.”
Neither of them spoke for a while. Eventually Connor said, “What do we do now?”
Gwithian Vale, 18.40 PM
Southern end of Gwithian Vale, 18.59 PM
Jenny paced restlessly. She had ordered both of the Special Forces teams who had been exploring the ridge tops to go down into the valley and help with the search for the creatures.
And possibly a search for Cutter’s team.
Briggs had reported back via radio that he had found Stephen and Abby, but now there seemed to be some doubt about the whereabouts of both Cutter and Connor, and Jenny hadn’t missed the urgency in Briggs’ voice, or the fact that he was clearly running even while he talked.
Jenny wasn’t an action woman, she knew that. She had no desire to get dragged into all these madcap adventures that Cutter and his people seemed to thrive on. But there were times when she felt that she really ought to do more than just stand on the sidelines. Especially at times like this.
She glared at her phone, willing it to ring, to hear that infuriating Scottish accent saying everything was fine. It didn’t ring, and Jenny started pacing again.
Gwydre’s Cavern, 19.05 PM
“I spy with my little eye something beginning with C.”
“Cave,” Cutter said.
“Okay. Your turn,” Connor replied.
“Do you have any idea how ridiculous this is?”
“Can I claim exemption from ridiculousness on grounds of concussion?”
Cutter glanced sideways at the younger man. He was curled up, hugging one knee, the other leg with the injured ankle stretched out in front of him. Connor was doing a good job of trying to pretend that he wasn’t freezing cold and shivering, but not good enough for Cutter not to have noticed. To be completely honest, Cutter felt damn cold as well, but he knew Connor had been down here a lot longer. He kept trying to distract him with conversation, but with nothing more than a maglite between them in the cold darkness it was too easy to slip into silences that were only punctuated by the sound of the big cat in the outer cave.
They could see the shape of the cat occasionally prowling around the outer cave in the light of the anomaly. It seemed to have given up trying to reach them, but its occasional snuffling at the fissure told them it wasn’t intending to give up entirely.
“We’re going to be okay, Connor,” Cutter repeated for about the tenth time, in what he hoped was a reassuring voice.
“Yeah.” It sounded far too much like an automatic answer.
“Connor, can I ask you something?”
Connor tore his eyes away from the narrow opening for the first time in a long while, and actually met Cutter’s gaze.
Cutter hesitated. Connor believed him, he was certain about that, but they hadn’t talked about it for a long time now, and he had got too used to pretending that everything was normal. There were always too many other people around, people who didn’t know, or didn’t believe, for him to be able to ask Connor when something wasn’t right. He felt awkward bringing the subject up, but maybe here and now was going to be the best chance he would get.
“Can you tell me how everything started? How we found out about the anomalies. Why we moved from the Home Office to the ARC.”
Connor’s eyebrows hiked up, and he seemed thoughtful for a moment.
“You want to see how it meshes with your memory of events?”
“Pretty much, yes. Before I came back from the Permian there was no ARC, I still worked at the university, and you were still my student. How did we get from that to all this?”
“Wow,” Connor said quietly. “Lester managed to get the whole operation moved to the ARC not long after the incident with the spiders in the underground. I think it spooked him a bit when the anomaly didn’t disappear like the first one did. And after the time with the hynerpeton-”
“Wait. The what?” Cutter interrupted.
“The hynerpeton. You know, the one that appeared in someone’s back garden and died in their pond.”
Cutter’s head was almost spinning. “That never happened.”
Connor stared at him for a long time. “Okaaay,” he said slowly. “You mean that never happened in your timeline. I assure you, it did in ours. That was the point where we all gave up our jobs and started doing this full time. You and Stephen left the university, and I pretty much dropped out on my degree. I mean, why would I want to study fossils in a university when I can see the real things in the flesh?” He grinned, and for a moment Cutter could almost forget where they were, and the danger they were in. Connor’s enthusiasm was just too infectious.
“Why wasn’t there a hynerpeton in my timeline if there was in yours?”
Connor shrugged. “It probably did happen in your time, but you just didn’t know about it. If you didn’t have the monitoring facilities at the ARC you might not have picked up on the report when the homeowner called the Environment Agency.”
Cutter wondered how many other anomalies they had missed in his timeline, how many other things had slipped under the radar because they had been treating it as a part-time ad-hoc arrangement with no real backing.
“So, what else is different to how you remember it?” Connor asked.
So many things, Cutter thought. The problem was where to start.
“You and Abby lived somewhere different. You moved into her place around the time with the dodos, but it was different.”
“Yeah, that happened. We were living somewhere else at first. But once it turned into a full time job with, you know, actually getting paid, we could afford to move to the new place. Plus it’s closer to the ARC in case of emergency.”
They both became quiet again for a minute or two and Cutter tried to think of something else to ask. He was still reeling from what he had heard already, though, and wondered how many more times his world view could be turned upside down.
“Cutter?” Connor sounded tentative.
“Did you really want to find a way to change it when you went through that anomaly in the shopping centre? I mean, is this time so much worse than the one you remember?”
“It’s not worse, not in the way you mean it.” It just doesn’t have Claudia in it, Cutter thought to himself.
Connor hesitated, and when he spoke again he was staring intently at his hands and not looking at him.
“You scared the hell out of me. When you first came back from the Permian, all that Claudia Brown stuff, the way you kept being weird with Leek and Jenny.”
Cutter was still trying to think of an answer when he heard something in the other cave. Connor must have heard it was well because he looked up towards the narrow crack. It wasn’t the cat, he was sure of it. In fact, he couldn’t hear the cat growling any more at all.
There was a sudden harsh, guttural sound.
“Oh, god. No!” Connor tried to get to his feet.
Then every other sound was drowned out by the roar of the cat.
Gwydre’s Cavern (outside), 19.13 PM
This was the third cave they had found, and it had by far the largest entrance.
“Connor!” Abby yelled, standing in the mouth of the cave.
She waited for a response. He had to be in one of these caves somewhere. He had to be. Abby went further into the cave, aware that Stephen wasn’t far behind. This cave went back a fair distance, but it looked like it was just another big dead end, like the previous ones they had found.
A shout came from outside. They looked round as one of the soldiers raced up to the cave mouth.
“I found this not far away.” The soldier held out a hand-held detector.
Abby turned back to the cave they were in and bellowed at the top of her lungs, “Connor!”
The answer from somewhere deep within the cave system was the roar of a creature.
Gwydre’s cavern, 19.14 PM
Connor dived for the narrow fissure and was squeezing through it before Cutter could stop him.
“Connor, get back here.” Cutter grabbed his arm, but Connor was already halfway out and could see what was happening.
Three Neanderthals were waving flaming torches at the hugest big cat Connor had ever seen. It was even bigger than the sabre tooth, and as he took in the size, the pale grey fur, the lack of a mane, his brain helpfully supplied the probable identification of cave lion. But its exact definition was irrelevant, because it had the Neanderthals backed against the wall away from the anomaly.
“Cutter, shoot it,” he yelled, trying to wriggle free from Cutter’s grasp and get out of the way so he could have a clear shot.
“Connor don’t be an idiot.”
“We have to help them.”
He abruptly popped out of the narrow squeeze and into the main cavern. The lion was snapping at one of the Neanderthals despite their frantic attempts to make it back off with the fire torches. Connor realised a moment later that the man it was attacking was the one that he recognised.
“Hey! Leave him alone,” Connor yelled.
He realised a second later that it was the stupidest thing he could have possibly have done. The lion turned and snarled at him, and Connor was suddenly aware that he had absolutely no way to defend himself.
The lion crouched, ready to spring.
He heard Abby’s voice calling his name, saw people running in from the tunnel that led to the way out, saw Stephen taking aim with his rifle. But they weren’t going to be fast enough.
A spear flew and embedded itself in the lion’s haunch. The lion’s back leg buckled, and the delay was enough for Stephen’s dart to find its mark. Cutter finally managed to follow him out, but by the time he was aiming the pistol Stephen had already primed another dart and fired again. The lion staggered, snarled again, and then went down.
The abrupt collective silence was broken by the sound of several assault rifles having their safeties taken off, and Connor saw four Special Forces men pointing their weapons at the Neanderthals.
“No. Don’t shoot them,” he yelled. He shrugged Cutter’s hand off his arm and limped across to the Neanderthals. One of the ones he didn’t know jabbed a burning stick at him, but the one he recognised stuck an arm out to restrain this companion.
“Thanks,” Connor said, meeting the Neanderthal’s gaze. “But I thought I told you to go home? I never said anything about coming back with your mates.”
The Neanderthal replied in his own, unintelligible tongue. Connor just shook his head.
The Neanderthal slowly raised his hand, and pointed at the anomaly, and then mimed walking with two fingers.
Connor felt a huge grin spread across his face.
“Connor, what’s going on?” Cutter asked from a few steps behind him. Abby started to approach from the other side of the cave as well.
“Guys,” Connor said. “I’d like to introduce you to the first time travelling Neanderthal explorers.”
Gwydre’s Cavern, 19.40 PM.
“Quite a day,” Abby commented, sitting down next to Connor in the mouth of the cave.
He was watching a group of soldiers trying to drag the megaloceros towards the cave on some sort of trolley. It kept bouncing on tree roots, and Stephen was shouting things about being careful. Connor would have expected Abby to be there overseeing that, but instead she was here with him, and he smiled a little.
“So,” Abby said. “What’s the story with you and Stig of the Dump back there?”
“Long story.” He glanced at her. “Do you mind if we leave it until later?” Right then he just felt too exhausted to want to go over everything again.
Abby smiled at him. “No problem.”
It hadn’t taken them long to persuade the Neanderthals to return to their own time. Connor suspected the fact that they were clearly outnumbered by people with strange weapons probably had a lot to do with their retreat. Even so, the one that he recognised had lingered for a moment after his companions had left. He had tried to speak to Connor one more time, and Connor wished he could have some clue about what the man was trying to say. It was both fascinating and immensely frustrating at the same time.
Like the problem with the ADD, he reflected. It was clear now that if an anomaly appeared sufficiently far underground then the radio waves couldn’t penetrate the rock, and the ADD wouldn’t be able to pick up the signal. Connor was already trying to think of ways around that problem, but in the meantime he had explained his ideas to Cutter and they had talked about keeping a closer watch on areas known for having caves and the like in order to pick up potential creature sightings. It was a stop gap measure, and they both knew it, but it was also another step towards understanding the anomalies and how they worked.
“I can’t wait to get home,” Connor said.
“Don’t you think you should call Caroline and tell her you’re not going to be back in time for your date?”
Connor remembered his phone was lost somewhere in the alternate entrance tunnel. He had been quite annoyed when he found out there was this, larger, easier entrance to the same cave system just a few yards further around the escarpment from the way he went in. He wondered if he could persuade one of the soldiers to find his phone for him before they all left.
“I was thinking of cancelling anyway,” he said. “You know, with the concussion and everything.”
“Really?” Abby looked surprised.
“Yeah.” He hesitated, and then said, “I was wondering if you wanted to stay in, just the two of us? Order a takeaway, watch a film, something like that.”
Abby grinned at him.
“That’s the best plan I’ve heard all day.”
Connor smiled back at her. “Cool.”
For once he didn’t feel the need to add anything else. If there was one thing he’d learned from today, it was that sometimes words were not necessarily the best form of communication.