Series: Five Days, part 1
Title: Day One: Trapped
Pairing/characters: Connor, Ryan
Spoilers: Anything through to episode 5
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 5000
Summary: Action, adventure, and prehistoric peril.
It was like being thrown face first into a sauna. Connor slid to a halt in the dirt, and didn’t move for a moment, trying to catch his breath in the sudden humidity. His ribs down one side were throbbing, a painful reminder not to get in the way of the tail of an angry stegosaur on the rampage. Although, on the plus side, at least he had managed to avoid being impaled by the tail spikes.
It began to occur to him that something was wrong. He looked up, and saw trees. Immensely tall conifers. He was in what appeared to be a tropical forest. Only moments earlier he had been on a football pitch in a cool spring morning.
Connor scrambled to his feet and whirled round. The anomaly glittered innocently behind him, and he suddenly understood what had happened when the stegosaur hit him.
“Wow,” Connor breathed, trying to take in everything, the sights, the sounds, the slightly damp smell of pine. Thick patches of ferns carpeted the ground wherever the trees let enough light down to the forest floor. In the canopy high above, strange noises and the occasional sound of moving branches told of the presence of life, but it stayed frustratingly hidden from sight. Insects, some as big as his hand, flitted from tree to tree, and even down here under the shade Connor was rapidly becoming too hot for comfort.
This was the Jurassic. He was in the Jurassic.
“Oh, wow,” he said again, louder, mesmerised.
Something burst through the anomaly and crashed into Connor, sending him flying for the second time in less than a minute. He flailed wildly at it until whatever it was abruptly grabbed his wrists and pinned him down.
“Stop hitting me,” Captain Ryan ordered.
The soldier stood up as soon as Connor stopped struggling, and dragged him to his feet.
“What are you standing around for? Come on.” Ryan was still gripping one of Connor’s wrists as he started to move.
There was the sound of air sucking into a sudden vacuum, a sound that they both recognised, a sound that made them both turn to look at the empty space where the anomaly no longer was.
They stared for a long time, not moving, not daring to acknowledge what had just happened. The branches high above them crashed into life, and Ryan swung round, trying to aim his gun everywhere at once.
“Oh, god,” Connor found his voice first. The excited awe of only moments earlier had vanished with the anomaly. “Oh god. We’re trapped in the Jurassic.”
“Calm down, we’ll be okay,” Ryan said, still trying to identify the source of the disturbance above.
A flash of noise and movement erupted from the undergrowth. Ryan slammed into Connor and dragged him into the nearest cover as a creature roughly human sized bolted through where they had just been standing.
Ryan’s hand closed over Connor’s mouth, and Connor bit back any thought of protest when he realised there was something else coming towards them. Something big.
A huge shape sprinted out of the trees and intercepted the smaller creature with one swift lunge that ended with the smaller creature’s neck crushed in the predator’s massive jaws. There was a crunching sound, and Connor knew with sickening certainty that it was the noise of bones being broken. Horrifically, the smaller creature still seemed to be twitching. The predator paused, looked around, sniffed the air. Connor froze utterly, not daring to breathe. Beside him, he could see the slightest movement as Ryan slowly lifted his gun up.
The predator dropped its kill, and started to eat, its powerful jaws ripping open the soft underbelly of its prey. The smell of blood was almost overpowering, the noises it was making were worse. Connor wanted to close his eyes and block it out but he didn’t dare. Ryan seemed to have the creature in his gun sights now, but his other hand was still clamped tightly across Connor’s mouth, and with only one hand to steady the gun it was beginning to waver. The predator’s head snapped round towards them at the movement. Connor’s instincts were screaming at him to run, but Ryan’s arm was still wrapped around him and he couldn’t move. The creature stared for a long moment, tilting its head to see into the thick undergrowth. It was clearly spooked, but it didn’t approach, and suddenly Connor understood – it wanted to protect its kill. It roared, a deafening, terrifying sound so close, and this time Connor did close his eyes for a second. Ryan didn’t even seem to flinch, and tried to steady the gun again. Abruptly, the predator picked up the carcass stalked off into the forest.
Neither of them moved for at least thirty seconds, when Ryan finally took his hand away from Connor’s mouth.
“What was that?” Ryan whispered.
Connor was still mostly running on adrenaline and fear, but already the academic part of his brain was working through the options for that question.
“Um, Jurassic, large predator, could be megalosaurus, but didn’t look big enough. With the ridges on the head, I think maybe allosaurus. But it didn’t look big enough for that either. Must have been a juvenile.”
“That was a juvenile?” Ryan sounded incredulous. When Connor nodded, the soldier just swore.
Connor realised he was shaking. If Ryan hadn’t reacted that small creature could so easily have been him. Sounds seemed to be creeping back in the wake of the allosaurus, and something in the canopy high above was calling in a deep grating whoop. Connor had spent most of his life reading everything he could about the prehistoric past, watching every film and documentary there was. But the research had never, ever managed to convey just how utterly alien the past really was.
Apparently sure that the danger had passed, Ryan stood and offered Connor a hand up.
“Are you okay?” Ryan asked.
“Okay?” Connor could hear the panic in his voice. Actually, it was possible that half the forest could hear the panic in his voice. “Are you stupid or something? Which part of ‘trapped in the Jurassic’ didn’t you get? Do you have any idea how many dangerous creatures there are here?”
Ryan glanced down at his gun with an unreadable expression.
“Creatures aren’t the only things here that are dangerous,” he said.
Connor wasn’t entirely certain for a second whether or not that was a joke. He was in no way comforted when he realised it wasn’t.
His heart was still racing as his mind caught up with the enormity of the situation. Okay, maybe the Jurassic wasn’t as potentially dangerous as, say, the Cretaceous, but there were still more large predators than he wanted to think about. This was their world, and he and Ryan were lost in it.
“We’re going to die.” Connor didn’t even know he had spoken aloud, but suddenly Ryan rounded on him and grabbed Connor’s shoulders, pinning him to the spot.
“Connor, look at me.”
How could he not look at him? Ryan’s face was no more than six inches from his own, and Connor found himself looking into hard grey eyes.
“We’re not going to die. I know this is serious, but it doesn’t have to be a crisis.” Ryan waved a hand at the place where the anomaly had been. “This anomaly has already appeared twice from the same place. You heard Cutter. He thinks it’s another one of his…” he hesitated, searching for the words, “fault-line anomalies. There’s every chance it will reappear. All we have to do is survive long enough to be ready when it does.”
“Is that all?” Connor replied with more than a hint of sarcasm.
“If Cutter’s wife survived, we can as well. I can protect you, that’s what I’m here for. That’s why I followed you through the anomaly.”
Followed…? Connor was suddenly gripped with an awful certainty that this might all be his fault. Ryan was only here because of him. If he’d moved faster, got out of the way of the stegosaur…
“Connor.” Ryan’s voice was sharp, and Connor realised he had missed the rest of what he was saying.
Ryan paused, seemed to be thinking carefully before he spoke again.
“I can protect us, but I need your help. You’re the one who knows about the creatures. You know what the potential threats are; the predators, the environment. If we work together we can survive. Can you do that, Connor?”
Connor nodded. What else could he do when Ryan had his shoulders in a death grip and was pinning him with such a focused stare?
“Good. Now come on.”
Ryan headed off into the forest. Connor stumbled to catch up. Ferns flowed around his legs as he waded through the undergrowth.
“Hey! Where are you going? Shouldn’t we stay here in case the anomaly comes back?”
“No. We need to find water, shelter and food, in that order.”
That explanation was more like the Ryan he was used to. Short and to the point. Connor wondered if the soldier had used up his quota of conversation for the day already.
“Can you find that stuff?” As far as he was aware, Stephen was supposed to be the survival expert. His trousers snagged on a tangle of spiky plants hidden in the ferns, and he almost tripped. Ryan’s hand snatched out of nowhere to steady him, and Connor found himself looking into those grey eyes again.
“Just trust me.” Ryan’s voice was softer, his words a request, not an order.
Connor nodded, but didn’t say anything. Inside, all he could think was: What choice do I have?
“You want me to do what?” Connor stared incredulously up at the conifer towering over them.
“Climb it.” Ryan was slinging the gun so it hung across his back rather than at the front.
“I’m not good with climbing. I get vertigo.”
“From up there we can get a look over the terrain. It’s quicker than walking around the forest for hours.”
“It’s a long way up.”
Ryan gave him an appraising look for a moment.
“Stay here then.”
He started to climb up the vast tree trunk, and Connor was faintly awed at how he managed to find handholds.
They had been exploring the forest for almost three hours already, mostly thigh deep in undergrowth. The humidity was stifling and Connor was uncomfortably aware of sweat running down almost every inch of his body. He had stripped off at least two layers of clothing already, and how or why Ryan was still wearing his black jacket and equipment vest was anyone’s guess.
On the plus side, nothing else had tried to attack or eat them in the last three hours, and his initial panic was slowly being replaced by fascination with the Jurassic landscape. He had been telling Ryan pretty much everything he knew about this time period as they walked, and maybe it was the mental discipline of trying to remember useful facts, or simply the comforting feeling of being on familiar academic ground, but Connor felt a lot better now.
Ryan seemed to have reverted to his usual monosyllabic state, and Connor really had no idea how Ryan was reacting to the situation. If he was worried he certainly wasn’t giving anything away.
In the monster tree, Ryan paused for breath and glanced back down at him, before hauling himself further up towards the canopy.
Connor sat down to wait. He knew he wasn’t making a very good impression for himself. Ever since they had found the first anomaly in the Forest of Dean he had dreamed of what it might be like to travel to the past and really see the prehistoric creatures in their natural environment. The reality of being here was far more… intense. Yes, that was the word. There was something far more terrifying about the thought of facing predators when they outnumbered humans by thousands to one, instead of the other way round in the twenty-first century.
Connor scrambled to his feet and looked up. Ryan was leaning down from a particularly large branch and beckoning him.
“Come up here.”
“Connor.” Ryan’s voice was impatient. “Trust me, you’ll want to see this. Get up here.”
Connor eyed the tree truck with a sceptical expression, and tentatively started to climb. Just because he didn’t like climbing, didn’t mean he couldn’t do it. He just had to concentrate on not looking down. Or thinking at all about how high up he was or what he was doing. Ryan leaned down and gave him a supporting hand as soon as he was within reach.
“Stop here,” Ryan finally directed, when they were both high up in the branches. Connor hugged the tree trunk and closed his eyes.
“So why exactly did you drag me up here?”
He risked a glance at Ryan and realised the soldier was looking at him with, well, Connor wasn’t sure whether it was a smile or a smirk. Neither was an expression he was used to seeing on the man’s face.
“Take a look.” Ryan pointed behind Connor.
“Did I mention the vertigo?”
With an exasperated sigh, Ryan planted a hand on the top of Connor’s head and physically turned it around for him.
There were dinosaurs everywhere.
The forest petered out not far away, and a vast open grassless plain stretched out beyond with a wide river bisecting the landscape. In the distance across the plain he could see a range of hills, maybe even rising to mountains beyond that.
On the plain, a herd of diplodocus were browsing on a spread of massive ferns, their whip tails moving sedately as they fed. Two brachiosaurs were systematically stripping a stand of trees, and Connor could see smaller creatures darting between the giant sauropods’ legs to scavenge the fallen foliage. At the river’s edge a group of some sort of bipeds – hadrosaurs or oviraptors, he couldn’t tell at this distance – were drinking, and their low honking calls carried on the breeze to where Connor stared, open mouthed and suddenly speechless.
He had no idea how long it was before he found his voice, and even then it took a while before he realised he was babbling.
“See how the diplodocus are keeping the younger ones in the middle of the herd? And they don’t lift their heads up higher than their shoulders. Well, that puts that controversy to rest. Brilliant!”
There was a chuckle from behind him.
“Thought you’d like that,” Ryan said.
Connor glanced round, and was hit with the sudden realisation: that’s what Ryan looks like when he smiles.
Connor grinned back, and settled down to watch the show.
“How tall’s the largest predator here?”
Connor had been gazing at the brachiosaurs for a long time, and was slightly startled by Ryan’s question.
“I don’t know. The allosaurus might be up to ten, twelve feet tall I think.”
“And what about those great big things?” Ryan indicated the brachiosaurs. “They’re not going to eat us, are they?”
“Only if they mistake us for very short trees.”
Ryan looked satisfied at the verdict. Connor started to worry as his mind followed where the line of questioning was leading.
“Any reason for the sudden interest in tall dinosaurs?”
“Just making sure. I think I’ve spotted a safe place for us to set up camp.” He pointed out of the tree at a rocky outcropping that ran out of the forest and along the edge of the plain as a bluff maybe thirty or forty feet high. Not far from the forest, there seemed to be a, not quite a cave exactly, but a hollow in the rock.
It was at least twenty-five feet off the ground.
“No,” Connor protested. “Please, tell me you’re not looking at the cave.”
“It gets us out of convenient biting range.”
Connor gave Ryan a look that he was almost certain could be described as pleading. “Have I really pissed you off recently or something?”
Ryan at least had the grace to look apologetic. “I know you don’t like heights, and I’m sorry, but it makes the best tactical sense. Apart from getting us out of reach of predators, it gives us a view over the area, we’ll see any potential threat coming from a long way off. It’s a reasonable distance from the river in terms of water sources. And it’ll be getting dark soon, so we need somewhere to hole up for the night.”
Connor tried one last ditch attempt to dissuade him.
“That’s taking us even further away from the anomaly site. We’ll never know if it re-opens.” That issue had been worrying Connor ever since they had walked off into the forest. Ryan seemed to be considering the problem when Connor suddenly realised he had the answer himself. He searched through his pockets until he found it, and brought out the compass.
Ryan nodded, looking quite pleased with Connor’s discovery.
“Good. That’s your job, Connor. You hang on to that, keep an eye on it. It so much as flickers, I want to know.” After a moment’s pause, Ryan indicated Connor’s bag. “Anything else useful in there?”
They did a quick inventory, and between them pooled two water bottles, two cereal bars, three chocolate bars, a military issue first aid kit, a Swiss Army knife, a multi-tool, a couple of rather disturbing looking combat knives, an assortment of notebooks and pens, a torch, and two practically useless mobile phones. Connor suspected there was more stuff in Ryan’s multitude of pockets, but either it wasn’t worth sharing, or it was some secret special forces stuff that he wasn’t supposed to know about. Or simply a lot more ammo.
Climbing out of the tree actually proved to be harder than getting up it in the first place. Connor froze the first time he had to look down to find a foothold, and saw how high up he was. Ryan’s calm cajoling, and progressively more insistent orders were not helpful, and in the end Connor fought off the impending panic attack by slithering down the trunk with his eyes shut, scraping his hands and knees as he went and ending up on his backside at the base of the tree. It wasn’t exactly dignified, and Ryan’s apparently effortless descent and obvious concern didn’t help his embarrassment at all. Connor couldn’t meet the other man’s eye as they set off walking towards the edge of the forest.
They hadn’t got far when Ryan suddenly halted and put a hand out to stop Connor. He obeyed the silent order, looking around everywhere. He couldn’t see anything, but something had spooked Ryan, that was for certain. Then Connor heard it, a rustling in the undergrowth behind them. And to the side. And the other side. And…
“Go! Go!” Ryan shoved Connor forwards and suddenly they were running. He ploughed headlong into the foliage, not looking back. Ryan was behind him, and he knew that had to be deliberate on Ryan’s part, because there was no way that he could run faster than the super fit soldier if they were both going full speed.
There was a burst of gunfire from Ryan. Connor knew this wasn’t the allosaur; it couldn’t be because they’d be able to see it. Whatever these things were, they were small enough to hide in the undergrowth, small enough to be pack hunters. He still hadn’t actually seen one, and the part of his brain that wasn’t intent on survival was trying to sort through the options and causing a suicidal urge to look round and try to identify them.
There was light ahead, and Connor ran for it. He could see the open plain beyond the trees and raced out of the forest. Something he had taken to be a tree moved right in front of him and he back-pedalled frantically and ran straight into Ryan. The brachiosaur’s huge foot came down right where Connor had been a moment earlier.
“Get out of the way,” Ryan ordered, already aiming his gun upwards at the creature. Behind them the noises were getting closer.
“No.” Connor grabbed Ryan’s arm. “Don’t shoot it.”
The leg in front of them started to move again, and Connor saw their escape route.
“Follow me,” he yelled, and charged straight ahead through the gap between the sauropod’s front legs.
“Connor.” He could hear the surprised anger in Ryan’s voice, but at least the soldier stayed with him as he sprinted underneath the body of the great creature and then veered to the right and out onto the plain. A group of small beaked dinosaurs scattered, squawking madly as Connor raced through them away from the brachiosaur and away from the forest into the open. He finally slowed and stopped to catch his breath in a clear area. He turned to look back at the brachiosaur, which was utterly oblivious to the human drama it had just caused. The forest beyond the creature seemed calm, nothing was following them.
“What the hell was that about?” Ryan yelled at him.
“You didn’t need to shoot it. It was harmless.”
“God, you sound like bloody Cutter. It nearly trampled you.”
Connor caught his breath and looked the soldier right in the eye.
“You asked me to tell you what’s a threat here, what to expect. That brachiosaur isn’t a threat.” He paused long enough to collect his thoughts. “This isn’t like back home when a creature comes through. We’re in their world. We’re the intruders. We can’t keep shooting everything that comes near us or else we’ll run out of ammo really quickly. Creatures like that, the best thing we can do is just try to stay out of their way.”
Ryan still looked more than a little pissed off. Connor couldn’t believe he was actually standing here arguing with probably the most dangerous man that he knew, but he was also convinced that he was right about this.
“Captain Ryan, you said we need to work together, you asked me to trust you. I’m asking you to do the same for me. We really don’t want to get trigger happy here. It won’t help. Predators, yes. Things that are actually posing a real threat, yes. But not the sauropods. They’re not dangerous. They’re just really, really…” he struggled to find an adequate word. “Big.”
And beautiful, he wanted to add, but somehow he didn’t think this would be a winning argument.
Ryan held his look for a few moments longer, and Connor tried not to flinch or look away.
“All right,” Ryan finally shrugged. He looked back at the brachiosaur, and glanced down at the gun, still in his hand. “Tell you the truth, I’m not even certain I’d make a dent in something that big.”
Connor breathed a silent sigh of relief. “Then let’s not start a fight that we can’t finish.”
They headed over towards the bluff, with more than one backward glance to really make sure they weren’t being followed by anything from the forest. Eventually they arrived at the base of the rock, and Connor glanced at the compass again, hoping desperately that a miraculous anomaly might appear to save him from having to do this. It didn’t.
“I’m starting to wonder if it might actually be easier to climb down from the top of the bluff, than climb up from the bottom,” Ryan wondered aloud.
Connor was still trying to forget about the debacle at the tree, and shook his head. “No. No it wouldn’t.”
Ryan paused and looked at Connor. No, not just looked at, stared at, his eyes boring deep into Connor as if the soldier was trying to read his mind.
“If you really don’t think you can do this, tell me now. We can find somewhere else.”
Connor wanted to say yes, let’s find somewhere else. He wanted to say this was the worst idea ever. He wasn’t too proud to admit that the thought of climbing up there and spending the night on a rock ledge over twenty feet up was terrifying the life out of him.
But there was something stopping him from saying any of that. Despite his fear, despite their differences, he realised he did trust Ryan. And if Ryan thought this was the safest place for them to survive the night then Connor’s sense of self preservation was systematically shouting down every other instinct and telling him to listen to the man with the gun.
“No. It’s okay. I can do it,” Connor heard himself say.
Ryan hesitated a moment longer, apparently considering the answer, and then nodded.
“Okay, stay here. I’ll go first, find the easiest way up.”
For the second time that day Connor watched with a growing admiration as Ryan scaled the rock face. Now that he was close, Connor could see it wasn’t really as sheer as it had looked, and in places it was more scrambling than climbing. But even so, it was steeper and higher than he would have liked, and there were too many stretches where Ryan seemed to be creating handholds out of nothing until he was finally on the ledge. Ryan then ditched most of his kit, except for the gun, and climbed back down.
“You saw which way I went up?”
Connor nodded, still studying the rock face dubiously.
“Okay, now you go. I’ll be right behind you. Take your time, don’t panic.”
Connor didn’t look down once. He didn’t dare. True to his word, Ryan was right behind, offering advice and encouragement whenever Connor hesitated. It was only twenty-five feet, but it felt like a mile, and when Connor finally reached the ledge he scrambled as far back into the hollow away from the edge as he could. Ryan followed him, and Connor was vaguely aware of Ryan squeezing his shoulder and telling him he’d done a great job.
The hollow was larger than it had looked from a distance, and there was a good seven or eight feet clearance between the edge and the back of the cave. Connor stayed with his back pressed against the wall as Ryan busied himself organising his equipment. Eventually he sat down next to him and they shared one of the water bottles.
“How are you doing?” Ryan asked.
Connor just shook his head. “This is crazy. This entire situation.” He paused, looking for the right words to express the maelstrom of emotions he was feeling. “But at the same time, it’s… it’s fantastic. It’s real.”
The sun was starting to go down behind the forest at their back, and the shadows of the forest and the bluff were slowly creeping out across the plain. The heat of the day had passed, and the temperature was comfortable for the first time since they had arrived. In the distance the diplodocus herd were calling to each other as they settled for the night.
The prehistoric past was nothing like Connor had imagined it would be. It was far, far better.
He turned to Ryan. “What about you?”
Connor hadn’t really expected any other answer from the man.
“You should get some sleep,” Ryan said.
Connor glanced at his watch. Back home, it was only just late afternoon, but here it was practically night already. Time travel jet lag. That was new and interesting.
“I’m not tired. I just want to watch the sauropods.”
“Believe me, you’ve been running around in a hot climate all afternoon, you’ll be ready to crash out soon. And we need to be fit for tomorrow.”
Connor didn’t see how he could possibly sleep in this place, but Ryan was right, and after a while the adrenaline that had been keeping him going for the past few hours started to wear off, and Connor found his eyes closing. He laid out his coat and waistcoat as a groundsheet and pillow, and tried to get comfortable on the rock surface. He soon realised there was no comfortable, merely greater or lesser degrees of uncomfortable. Ryan was still sitting watching the plain, his gun at his side.
“What about you? Don’t you need to sleep?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Means I want to see what sort of nocturnal activity there is out there before I risk both of us being asleep.”
Connor had a sudden urge to stay awake as well, it wasn’t fair on Ryan, but the exhaustion was finally starting to catch up with him. There was one other thing he needed to say, though, while he was still conscious enough to form a coherent sentence.
“I’m sorry about before. I know I kind of fell apart, I didn’t mean to, it just… I panicked a bit.”
“It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“No, seriously, I mean it.”
“Connor.” Ryan’s voice was surprisingly soft. “Really, it’s fine. You did okay. Hell, you did better than okay. You have to remember, I’m trained for this sort of thing. You’re a civilian in a highly dangerous situation. Believe me, you’re doing far better than some would have in your place.”
“Really. Today was the first time I’ve ever seen you lose it in the entire time we’ve been working on this project. Considering what we’re up against, that’s not bad.”
Connor smiled to himself as he looked back out into the encroaching darkness and tried to make out the sauropods. For the first time since the stegosaur had catapulted him into this mess, he felt… happy. Content. Safe.
“What?” There was the merest hint of impatience in his voice now.
“Thank you. I’m glad you’re here.”
Ryan grunted something unintelligible.
Connor thought about what he had just said.
“I didn’t mean that like I wanted you to be in danger or anything. Because I don’t. I just meant, I wouldn’t want to be here on my own, that’s all. And if anyone else had to be here, I’m glad it’s you.”
Ryan didn’t respond, but even in the twilight shadows Connor thought he could see a surprised smile touching the edge of Ryan’s mouth.
With that rather unexpected mental image, Connor curled up and let exhaustion take him.