Series: Five Days, part 5
Title: Day Five: Anomaly
Pairing/characters: Connor/Ryan, Helen Cutter
Warnings: Slash, occasional mild language.
Spoilers: Anything through to episode 5.
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 6500
Summary: Action, adventure and prehistoric peril.
Nobody said anything for a long time. Connor realised he was still breathing far too heavily, and tried to calm down. Not easy after the shock of Helen Cutter suddenly popping out of nowhere, or more relevantly, after what he had just been doing with Ryan. No, thinking about that wasn’t helping him to calm down in the slightest, so he focused on the woman standing on the opposite side of the clearing, leaning casually against a tree as if running into your ex-husband’s colleagues 140 million years in the past was completely normal.
“You’re a long way from home, boys,” she said with a surprisingly straight face.
“So are you,” Ryan replied, still sighting her down the barrel of his assault rifle.
“Put the gun down, Captain,” she said in a dismissive tone of voice. “We all know you won’t shoot me. I’m your only way out of here.”
The look on Ryan’s face suggested that might not be enough to make him want to stop pointing the weapon at her, but after a moment he lowered it.
“That was your campfire,” Ryan said. “What are you doing here?”
She strolled into the campsite, took her pack off and sat down. “I came to see if you were still alive.”
“How did you know we were here?” Ryan’s voice still held more than a hint of accusation. Connor was starting to think maybe it wasn’t wise to be so openly antagonistic, but his tired mind was still trying to catch up with the several psychological seismic shifts he had experienced in the last few minutes.
“I ran into Stephen. He told me you had gone missing.” She took an apple out of her pack and started to eat it. Connor tried not to stare at the fruit, and ignore his rumbling stomach. She was doing it on purpose, he was sure of it.
“But how did you know exactly where, or when, we were?” Connor asked. “The Jurassic’s a long time period. We could have been anywhere in it.”
“You got lucky,” Helen said simply. “This area, this specific time, happens to be an anomaly hotspot. As soon as Stephen mentioned it was the Jurassic, I thought the chances were good you’d have ended up around here somewhere. So I turned up, lit the fire, and waited to see if you’d come running.” She crunched loudly on the apple, and then gave them a deliberately innocent expression. “Hungry?”
Connor couldn’t help it, he nodded before he could stop himself. Helen dug another apple out of her pack and threw it to him. Connor fumbled, caught it, and started to devour it. When he looked up, the expression on Ryan’s face seemed to betray a war between his dislike for the woman, and the simple practicality of the fact he hadn’t eaten properly for four days. Practicality won, and he accepted the apple Helen tossed his way.
“I have to say, I’m almost impressed,” Helen said. “I didn’t think you would both have survived this long.”
“Is there an anomaly that will take us home?” Ryan cut to the chase.
“Where is it?”
Helen’s mouth quirked into a smile. “Oh no. It doesn’t work like that. We do this on my terms. I’ll take you to it. And if I so much as think you’re intending to try to arrest me at the end of this little trip, I’ll make sure you both die here. Is that clear, Captain?” She said the word ‘captain’ like it was an adjective describing something particularly unpleasant on the bottom of her boot.
Ryan hesitated for a fraction of a second, before he said, “Perfectly clear.”
“Then I suggest you both get some sleep. We have a long walk tomorrow.”
Ryan and Helen still eyed each other warily, but Connor suddenly couldn’t care less about whatever pissing contest was going on between them. The exhaustion of the day had more than caught up with him, and he found a relatively flat bit of ground, curled up, and was asleep in minutes.
“Connor. Wake up, mate.”
Maybe it was a hyper-active danger instinct that had been developing over the last few days, but Connor reacted instantly to Ryan’s voice, scrambling upright even before he had fully woken up.
“What? What’s happening?”
“We’re going to get moving soon.”
Ryan took both their water bottles and refilled them from the stream while Connor rubbed his face and tried to wake up properly. It wasn’t even fully light yet, and he was still tired and aching from the day before, hell, from the accumulated exertions of the last four days, and he could quite happily have slept for another few hours. He glanced round and saw Helen organising her pack. She was really here, it hadn’t been some crazy dream. They were really going home today.
“Come on,” Helen ordered before Ryan had even finished filling the bottles.
“Just a minute,” Connor mumbled, still trying to wake himself up.
“We don’t have a minute,” Helen said in an even more clipped tone than usual. “The anomaly you want is going to close at around sunset today, and it’s almost a day’s walk from here.”
“Why the hell didn’t you tell us this yesterday?” Ryan protested. “We could have set off last night, instead of cutting it so fine.”
“You wouldn’t have lasted five minutes walking around this area at night.”
“Why? What’s here?” Connor scrambled to his feet and followed as Helen started walking off.
“Last time I came here, these hills were part of the territory of an adult male allosaur. It’s a big territory, so if we’re lucky we won’t run into him. It’s the coelurus you have to be careful of.”
“Wait, coelurus aren’t large predators. They’re meant to eat small lizards and mammals. They shouldn’t bother us.” He checked behind to make sure Ryan was catching up as they walked.
“Try telling them that when there’s a pack tearing you to pieces.”
She forged ahead through the undergrowth, thinner here than it had been in the forest near the river. Connor dropped back to let Ryan catch up with him.
“What the hell’s a coelurus?” Ryan asked in a quiet voice as he handed Connor his water bottle back.
“Relatively small for a dinosaur, lightly built fast predator. All the books say it would have fed on small prey or scavenged. Maybe the books were wrong.”
“Great,” Ryan muttered. He hesitated, then in an even quieter voice said, “Listen, Connor. Don’t trust Helen Cutter. Don’t take your eyes off her.”
“What is your problem with her?” Connor couldn’t help asking. Helen had turned up out of nowhere to rescue them. Whatever their personal feelings about the woman, that had to be worth something.
Ryan didn’t reply for a while.
“She got away from me,” he finally admitted. “That time with the dodos. She fed us a line and she got away and I wasn’t fast enough to stop her.”
“So, what? This is like some macho vendetta?”
“No,” Ryan said. “Professional pride.”
He walked off ahead before Connor could say anything else.
Connor had thought the previous day’s hike had been hell. By mid afternoon he knew exactly how naive he had been. Now, everything hurt. Everything. Every muscle and joint in his legs and hips. Every breath hurt his chest. He was emptying the water bottle far faster than they were finding water sources to refill it, and he suspected that dehydration was going to become a real issue later. The undergrowth here was a lot sparser than it had been in the forest on the other side of the plain and so the walking was easier, but the terrain was gradually sloping uphill, becoming steeper as the day wore on. He didn’t dare ask for too many rests, though. The thought that they might miss their window of opportunity to get home, just because of him, was too much to contemplate.
Up ahead, Helen barely seemed to be breaking a sweat. Ryan, on the other hand, wasn’t doing as well. Connor was starting to get seriously worried about Ryan. As the day wore on it was becoming more and more obvious that his right leg was causing him problems, and at one point Connor could have sworn he had seen spots of red starting to show on the white bandage. He was going to say something about it the next time they stopped. He wanted to say something about it now, but he either had enough breath to walk, or to talk. Not both at the same time.
The fact that no-one was talking was causing him one other problem, as well, because it meant that Connor had far too much time to think. And thinking inevitably led to what had happened between himself and Ryan the previous night.
What the hell had he been thinking? More to the point, Ryan had been the one who started it, so what had he been thinking? Ryan certainly hadn’t said anything about it, or acknowledged it in any way since it had happened. In fact, Ryan hadn’t said anything to him at all since they had left the campsite, and somewhat more worryingly, the easy, casual understanding that had developed between them over the last four days seemed to have vanished. When Connor had almost tripped, Ryan hadn’t even held out a hand to help him up. They had barely made eye contact since their conversation about Helen. All of which led Connor to the inescapable conclusion that as far as Ryan was concerned it had been a mistake, a moment of madness brought on by desperation. And that it would never happen again.
Maybe he was right. Maybe it had been a mistake. At the time, they had both pretty much admitted they didn’t think they were ever going to get home. They had both needed comfort, and had sought it from the only person available. But now they were going home, and really, in the real world, why the hell would Ryan even look twice at him? In fact, he probably had someone back home already, a girlfriend, or even, apparently, boyfriend. Connor had just been the one who was there at the time, convenient. It hadn’t meant anything.
Which brought Connor back to the one uncomfortable question that he was carefully avoiding, the question of what it had meant to him. But it was far, far easier to keep speculating about what Ryan wanted than it was to think about what he wanted. Because if he went there, if he admitted that he wanted… No, easier not to. Because then he wouldn’t have to add someone else to the long list of people who had rejected him.
After a while Connor realised that if he kept running this round in his head for much longer then he was going to have to add thinking to the list of things that hurt. So he started to just concentrate on walking, putting one foot in front of the other as the ground sloped upwards through the forest and towards the steeper hills beyond.
Abruptly Ryan stopped right in front of him, and Connor bounced off him before he had a chance to react.
“Shhh.” Ryan was standing still, his body language screaming danger.
Connor tried to clear his head enough to concentrate. Up ahead, Helen had stopped as well, but she seemed more interested than worried.
A high chirping noise sounded somewhere behind them, answered by another over to the left. He suddenly became aware of noises and movement in the undergrowth around them. Several noises. Whatever they were, they were staying well back. Perhaps they knew the ferns weren’t thick enough to hide them properly.
“I can’t see what they are, but there’s a lot of them,” Ryan whispered.
“Coelurus,” Connor guessed.
“Sounds like it,” Helen said out loud. “My guess is they’ve picked up on the fact that something around here isn’t going to be able to keep going for much longer. The only question is, which one of you two is it?”
Ryan started moving slowly forwards, his assault rifle ready for the second something poked its nose out of the foliage.
“How do we fight them?” he asked.
Connor stuck close behind him, trying to keep an eye on any direction that Ryan wasn’t looking.
“They’re fast, they’re agile, and they’ll outnumber you by at least three to one.” Helen seemed to be deliberately moving into a slightly clearer area away from the high ferns.
“What do you mean, ‘you’?” Connor tried to keep his voice steady. “They’re after all of us, right?”
Helen’s mouth quirked slightly. “I’m not the one giving off all the signs of an exhausted and wounded animal.”
Ryan breathed something that sounded very like, “Bitch.”
Connor was starting to agree with him.
They moved slowly, following where Helen was going, trying to watch everywhere at once. There was movement all over now, first in one place, then another.
“Classic pack hunter tactics,” Helen said from ahead. She looked ready to run at any moment. If she did, Connor knew they would lose her completely. “They’re trying to distract you, confuse you, so you won’t recognise the real attack when it comes.”
“Connor,” Ryan was getting more and more skittish and his voice betrayed the tiniest edge of fear. “If we have to run, just go. Don’t wait for me.”
“Stuff that,” Connor snapped. “That was a bloody stupid plan with the allosaur. What makes you think it’s any better now? If we have to run, I’m watching your back.”
Ryan didn’t have chance to argue. Something launched itself out of the undergrowth at them. It was fast. So fast Connor barely had time to yell, “Ryan!”
Ryan swung round, and took the creature down with a burst of automatic fire. Connor had time to get an impression of a mottled green body, long tail, slender legs of an agile biped, clawed hands. A blur of movement launched at him from the other side. Ryan grabbed Connor, shoved him to the ground and fired over his head. A second coelurus went down. For a moment everything was quiet. The movements all around them went on, but nothing else tried to attack.
“Come on.” Ryan hauled Connor to his feet and they ran to where Helen had gone away from the thick ferns.
The clearing was empty.
Ryan swore loudly. “Where is she?”
“There.” Connor pointed at a flash of movement down the hill, too big to be a coelurus.
They pelted after her, ploughing through the undergrowth and brushing foliage aside without thinking what there might be hiding in it. Connor hadn’t believed he had the energy to run any more, but yet again he was amazed by how far a burst of adrenaline could get him. A yell and a thud told Connor that Ryan had gone down. He looked round, slowed.
“Keep going. Find her,” Ryan yelled.
There was no mistaking the order in his voice, and Connor kept running downhill. He looked back long enough to see Ryan pulling himself up a tree. Then Connor skidded, fell, and slid down the hill, crashing into trees and shrubs. He instinctively tried to curl up and roll with it until he hit something solid. He grabbed hold of it, pulled himself upright, trying to ignore the fact that he was now bruised and scratched to go with everything else. Then he stopped dead when he noticed there was a very big knife at his throat.
“Let go of me now, and I might not have to use this,” Helen said in a low, warning voice.
Connor realised the thing he had grabbed hold of was Helen’s jacket, and he let go.
She shoved him off, stood up and brushed the dirt off her arm. Then she turned and started to walk off.
“Helen. Doctor Cutter. Wait, please.” Connor scrambled to his feet, trying to look as non-threatening as possible. He was all too aware of the Browning at his hip, but he didn’t want to have to use it. Or even threaten to use it.
“I’m done waiting for you two. You’re too slow. We’ll never make the anomaly before it closes, and I’m not wasting any more time on a lost cause.”
“Please. I can help Ryan, we can take it in turns to help him, we can move faster. Please.”
She stopped and looked back. “Why would I want to help Lester’s trained pit-bull?”
Connor was slightly taken aback by the venom in her voice. Apparently Ryan’s feelings about the woman were mutual.
“Well, if that’s how you feel, why did you come here at all? To gloat? To point and laugh at our dead bodies?”
She smirked slightly. “I came for you, Connor.”
“Because you’re not one of Lester’s people. You’re one of Nick’s.” She stepped closer, the knife was still in her hand and Connor tried very hard not to back away. “In fact, I’m starting to see why Nick likes you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Connor had no idea what this conversation was about any more. All he could think was to keep her talking long enough to think of a way to persuade her to stay and help them.
“You know your stuff, that much is obvious. Granted, you don’t have a fraction of Stephen’s survival skills, but you managed to survive here, that’s something. And the fact that you’re here now, still talking to me, even though you know I could kill you in a heartbeat. You’ve got more balls than I thought.”
Connor still had no idea what to say, so he kept quiet and tried to keep his eyes on her face and not on the knife.
Abruptly she sheathed the knife, and then stepped right up to him. Connor vaguely registered the fact that Helen was taller than him.
“You’ve missed your anomaly. You won’t get there in time. But I wasn’t going through that one anyway. I have somewhere better to be.” She looked him up and down, appraising. “Come with me, Connor. I can take you home by the scenic route. I can show you things you’ve barely dreamed of. I can show you herds of migrating triceratops. A pack of raptors taking down a creature five times their size. I can show you creatures that modern science doesn’t even have names for. All you have to do is come with me.” Her voice had dropped to a low growl, her eyes held a forbidden promise, and Connor involuntarily found himself taking a step back away from her.
“I…” he stumbled over the words. In a tiny corner in the back of his mind he was tempted. The rest of his mind was counting all the different ways that Cutter would kill him if he ever found out about this conversation. “I just want to go home. And I won’t leave here without Ryan.”
Helen abruptly appeared to lose interest. “Your loss,” she shrugged. She started to leave again.
“Dr Cutter. Wait,” he said. He was frantically trying to clear his head, to figure a way out of this. “Look, fine, if you won’t help Ryan, okay. Just, at least, tell me where the anomaly is. I can do the rest myself then. Please. Just tell me where it is. Give us the chance to try.”
Helen stopped again, and once more turned to face him. She seemed to be considering his request.
“It’s on the top of that ridge,” she pointed back at where the hills rose up above the trees in the eastwards direction they had been heading all day.
Connor almost closed his eyes with the relief. But he knew better than that, at least. Helen Cutter was quite possibly more dangerous than all the prehistoric predators in this, or any other, time.
“Thank you,” he breathed.
“Don’t thank me,” she said sharply. “You won’t make it. Not with the tin soldier slowing you down. If you go back to him, you’re both going to die here.”
“I’m not leaving him,” Connor repeated.
“Were you always like this or have you been spending too much time with Stephen?” Her expression fell somewhere between a smirk, and sheer contempt. “Think with your head, Connor, not with your hormones. Do you really think he’d do the same for you? He wouldn’t. He’s a soldier, he’ll do whatever it takes to survive, and that means he’d abandon you in a second if he thought that was his best chance of making it home.”
Connor stared at Helen, suddenly seeing her in a completely new light. For a moment he didn’t know whether to hate her or pity her.
“You’ve been alone too long,” he said. “You’ve forgotten what it is to trust anyone but yourself.”
There was brief flicker of something in her face; Anger? Hurt? He couldn’t tell. Helen turned and started to walk away.
“Is there any last message you want me to pass on to your friends for you?” she asked in a mocking tone.
“No thanks.” Connor couldn’t resist adding one final comeback. “Is there anything you want me to tell Nick for you when we get home?”
Helen didn’t answer, and when she had disappeared into the trees, Connor was almost relieved that she was gone.
Connor was most of the way back up the slope before he remembered about the pack of coelurus. As he got closer to the place where he had left Ryan, he could hear a series of high chirps, and answering calls. He drew the Browning, clicked the safety off, and started to circle round towards the noise. If he could find Ryan before the coelurus detected that he was back then maybe he and Ryan could get out of the area. Maybe. For the first time, Connor was horribly aware of just how little use the fossil record was in predicting behaviour. He had almost no idea how long the coelurus would continue to pursue them, or whether there was any chance they could scare the creatures off. The coelurus really weren’t very big, most of the length came from their long, thin tails, and they were barely more than three or four feet tall, if that. But the way they hid in the undergrowth, the speed, and pack hunting tactics; Helen had been right about them, it was impossible to tell where the attack would come from.
There was a sudden movement in the ferns in front of him. He pointed the gun at it, his heart starting to race. Something moved to his right. Now left. Shit. He opened his mouth to yell for Ryan, and something raced out of the undergrowth and ploughed into him. He fired the gun as a blur of swiping claws and nipping teeth drove him to the ground. It went for his face and Connor instinctively curled up and covered his head with his arms. But that left him defenceless and he was suddenly aware of sharp pain in his leg, his ribs, his arm. They were all over him. Connor started to scream.
Through the panic he thought he heard a burst of gunfire. The weight pressing on his leg vanished and Connor started to really struggle against the ones that were still there.
“Keep still,” he heard Ryan yell, and Connor obeyed without question. Another burst of gunfire and then there was the sound of small creatures running, their chirping calls escaping into the forest. Something sliced into his arm, and Connor yelled. There was still one on him, and he saw that somehow its teeth had caught in the material of his shirt. Hands came out of nowhere and grabbed the coelurus around the body, and yanked it off tearing a chunk of his shirt, and skin, with it. Connor looked up in time to see Ryan hurl the creature bodily against the nearest tree where it lay stunned for a moment. A single shot from the assault rifle, directly into its brain, made sure it didn’t have chance to get back up.
The chirping sounds faded into the distance. Ryan fired a couple more bursts into the undergrowth, just to be sure.
“Are you okay?” he finally asked. The look on Ryan’s face suggested that the attack had looked almost as bad from the outside looking in as it had from Connor’s point of view.
“I don’t know,” Connor replied truthfully. He sat up and tried to work out if anything was bleeding badly. It didn’t seem to be, but he had a whole lot of tiny individual bite marks all over him. It occurred to him that Ryan had just saved his life. He wanted to say something, but somehow ‘thanks’ didn’t seem to quite cover it.
Ryan crouched next to him. “You look okay,” he decided. “Shit, Connor, you scared the hell out of me.”
“You were scared?” Connor wiped at his cheek. His sleeve came away bloody.
“You didn’t find Helen?”
“I did. But…” Connor stopped before he went any further. He had no intention of revealing what Helen had said, what she had offered him in exchange for abandoning Ryan. “I got her to tell me where the anomaly is, but she got away. I… I took my eyes off her for a moment and she was gone. Sorry.”
“You know where the anomaly is?”
“That ridge.” Connor pointed it out through the trees.
Ryan considered it for a second. “We’d better get moving then.”
They stood up, and Connor remembered what had been slowing them down before.
“Let me help you.”
In a sudden fit of frustration Connor whacked Ryan on the shoulder.
“Don’t you bloody dare tell me you’re fine,” Connor snapped. “You’re not fine, so stop lying to me, stop being a stubborn bastard, and let me help you.”
Ryan was momentarily surprised, but after a second he wrapped his arm around Connor’s shoulders and let Connor help him as they moved off into the forest towards the ridge.
“Just a little thing. I might have mentioned it once or twice before, but I’d just like to point out for the record, I really hate climbing.”
Ryan grinned down at him and offered a hand to get Connor up onto a convenient stopping point.
They had finally emerged from the forest to discover that the ridge was actually a lot steeper than it had looked from a distance. And higher. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, it had been getting darker for the last half hour of the climb.
Connor stopped to catch his breath and looked back. They were so high they could see over the tops of the trees now, back out across the plain to where they had first arrived here five days earlier. It seemed strange, seeing it from this opposite angle with the river on the right instead of on the left of the view.
“The sun’s set.”
He glanced at Ryan. They both knew what that meant, but there was still a way to climb before they got to the top of the ridge. Apparently neither of them wanted to talk about the possibility that they might still miss it, and after another moment of rest Ryan started to climb again, and Connor followed. He didn’t have time for fear, or vertigo, or getting stuck on this one, so Connor was resolutely only looking at the rock in front of him, or directly above. On no account was he going to look down. Ever.
They had pulled out all the stops to get here in time for sunset, and Connor was starting to understand what people meant when they said they had come out the other side of pain and just went numb. Numb was in some ways easier to deal with, but Connor knew it was also a lot more dangerous, and he was spending a lot of time just focusing on the next step, the next handhold, getting through the next second until each one merged into a blur of a journey that would, please God, end with an anomaly.
Ryan disappeared, and Connor looked up to see the rock face stopped just above him. He gratefully clambered up the last stretch and hauled himself over the edge and away from it far enough that he felt safe to collapse and lie still for a moment, looking up at the first stars appearing in the sky.
He didn’t like the worried tone to Ryan’s voice. He had a horrible feeling he knew what it meant, and he didn’t want to look.
“Connor, we’ve got a problem.”
“We’ve missed it. We’re too late,” Connor said, still not looking.
Connor frowned and finally sat up and looked round.
There were three anomalies on the top of the ridge.
“What?” Connor protested. “She never said anything about there being more than one.”
“Which one do we go through?” Ryan asked. “How do we tell?”
“Um, stick your head through all of them and see what it looks like on the other side,” was the best suggestion Connor could think of.
Ryan shrugged, and did just that.
“Not that one,” was the verdict after the first.
“Not unless three foot long dragonflies and swamps are suddenly native to twenty-first century Britain.”
“Maybe not,” Connor agreed.
“Forest,” was the report on the second. Unfortunately, “Forest,” was also the report on the third.
“What type? Any distinguishing features?”
“Non-descript temperate. I don’t know. You’re the expert. You look.”
Connor did, sticking his head briefly through each of the possible anomalies. ‘Non-descript temperate forest’ pretty much covered it for both of them.
Connor came back to the Jurassic and swore.
“If either one of these is the one we want, it’s due to close any minute. We need to make a decision,” Ryan pointed out.
Something clicked in Connor’s tired brain. He grinned.
“Yes. One of them is going to close. That’s it.”
He started to scrabble in his bag while Ryan looked at him with a baffled expression.
“The magnetic field,” Connor explained. “It gets weaker just before they close. We can test the magnetic fields, and whichever one’s weaker, that must be it. Find something metal.” He just hoped the anomalies were spread far enough apart that the individual magnetic fields wouldn’t interfere with each other too much.
Connor waved his pen at one of the anomalies while Ryan dug out his multi-tool in front of the other. It was snatched out of his hand as soon as Ryan let go. Connor’s pen wavered for a moment, and then it flew out of his hand, past the front of his anomaly and followed the multi-tool into Ryan’s anomaly.
“This one. It’s got practically no magnetic field at all. It has to be this one.”
Connor started towards it, but Ryan grabbed his shoulder.
“What if it’s not? Helen Cutter said the one we wanted would be gone by sunset, and we missed sunset.”
Connor thought about it for a moment. Ryan might be right, and he knew it. He also knew they had no way of testing it, and no time to debate if it was about to close.
“There’s only one way to find out,” Connor said.
Ryan nodded, and they dived through the anomaly together.
The air was cold after the heat of the Jurassic. It was dark as well, when they stepped away from the glow of the anomaly.
A bat flitted overhead. A completely normal sized bat. That was a good sign, right?
The anomaly abruptly zipped out of existence behind them, plunging them into complete darkness until Ryan dug his torch out. Connor went for his only light source, and switched on his mobile phone. The screen flashed up, and for the first time in five days it registered the network connection. Connor stared at it for a full ten seconds before it filtered into his brain exactly what that meant.
“We did it!” he yelled. “Look. Look. Network signal. There are phone satellites up there. We’re home. We’re really home.”
Ryan leaned back against a tree, the relief on his face saying as much as Connor’s excited bouncing around.
“We should call Cutter.”
Ryan found his mobile while Connor searched his address book for the right name.
“You’ll have to do it, mine’s knackered,” Ryan said, bashing his phone against his palm a couple of times.
He got a dial tone, and it suddenly occurred to Connor he had no idea what time of night it was here.
“Cutter,” said an angry Scottish voice after a few rings.
“Professor, it’s me, it’s Connor. We’re back. We got back.”
"What?" Cutter was silent for a moment. “Connor? How? Is it really?”
Connor heard another voice in the background. He thought vaguely it might be Stephen. There was a hurried, hushed conversation on the other end, and then Cutter was back.
“Where are you? Is Ryan there as well?”
“Yeah, yeah we‘re both here. I don’t know where we are, we literally just got through the anomaly a minute ago. A forest somewhere.”
“Where? I need to know where.” Cutter’s voice was urgent, and Connor heard the other voice in the background again.
“Connor,” Ryan called across. “Harrington Woods. On the yellow nature trial.” He was shining his torch on a tourist information sign at the edge of a path Connor hadn’t noticed in the dark. Connor relayed this information to Cutter, and it sounded like the other person was consulting a map.
“Yes, we’ve got it,” Cutter said. “Stay there Connor, don’t move. We will come to you.”
Cutter hung up before Connor had time to ask him anything.
“They’re coming. He said to wait here.”
Ryan had found a bench near the tourist information board, and they both sat down. Connor leaned back and closed his eyes.
“We did it,” Ryan said, with a touch of surprise in his voice. “We actually survived.”
“Yeah,” Connor breathed. “Thank you.”
Neither of them spoke for a while, but Connor realised it didn’t feel as uncomfortable as he had expected. For the first time in a very long time he felt completely relaxed.
“So what did happen to you that night you went missing?” Connor said.
Ryan didn’t respond immediately, and Connor wondered if he shouldn’t have asked.
“Big bastard creature got me by surprise. It’s quicker than it looks. And quieter.”
“Allosaurus is an ambush predator. I thought I’d mentioned that on the first day?”
Ryan paused, glanced sideways at him with eyebrows raised, and then said in a casual voice, “Just so we’re both completely clear, if at any point right now I hear the words ‘I told you so’, I’m going to have to hurt you, Connor.”
Connor was almost entirely sure that he was joking. But either way, decided not to push his luck.
After another pause Ryan continued. “It chased me upriver. I think the undergrowth was slowing it down otherwise I’d never have outrun it for so long. I thought I could get away from it across the river. Big mistake. By the time I realised how bad the current had got it was too late to go back. I spent the night hanging onto a rock in the middle of the river.”
Bloody hell, Connor thought. No wonder he’d spent most of the day asleep after that.
“In the morning I tried to get back, but it was too strong, I was too tired. Whatever, I got swept downstream and over the waterfall. Hit my head on the way down. Damn near drowned.”
Connor felt like he should say something, but he couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t come out sounding stupid or trite.
They both fell quiet again, and Connor felt himself starting to nod off. He didn’t want to sleep, he wanted to be awake and alert when Cutter got here, and he wanted to tell them all about the Jurassic. He vaguely wondered what they had done with the stegosaur that had got him into this situation in the first place. It had been left trapped on this side when he and Ryan had been trapped on the other side. He wondered if Cutter and Abby had managed to fight to keep it alive in case the anomaly came back, or if Lester had decided to have it destroyed. He’d have to ask when he saw them.
“Connor, wake up.” Ryan was shaking him, and Connor was confused for a moment before he realised he had fallen asleep on the bench, and, apparently, against Ryan’s shoulder. “They’re here.”
The two of them stood up, Ryan still leaning on Connor, as they watched three figures running towards them down the path, torches bobbing. Cutter, Stephen and Abby stopped a few yards away, and stared. There was no other word for it.
“Bloody hell,” Stephen breathed. “It really is you.”
“Yeah, who were you expecting?” Connor grinned. No one smiled back, and Connor felt a moment of disappointment. Why weren’t they glad to see them? This wasn’t the homecoming he had been dreaming of. He had sort of expected more hugs. His friends didn’t seem pleased to see them at all. More like stunned.
“How?” Cutter asked, incredulity written all over his face. “How did you survive? How did you get back?”
“Oh, come on guys, it was only five days. And okay, yeah, there were a couple of near misses, and there was this allosaur, and Cutter, we need to re-write the books about coelurus, they’re pack hunters an-”
“What did you say?” Cutter interrupted.
“Coelurus, they’re pack hunters, vicious little-”
“No,” Cutter interrupted again. “Not that. How long did you say?”
Connor paused. Something wasn’t right here. Ryan sensed it too, because his hand on Connor’s shoulder suddenly gripped tighter.
“Five days,” Connor said slowly.
Cutter, Stephen and Abby glanced at each other, and nobody spoke.
“What’s wrong?” Ryan was the one who finally asked the question.
“Um, guys,” Abby said tentatively. She glanced at Cutter for reassurance before she continued. “You’ve been missing, presumed dead, for three years.”