Title: Hero (part 5 of 11)
Pairing/characters: Cutter, Connor, Jenny, Stephen, Abby.
Warnings: Occasional mild language
Spoilers: Anything up to ep 2.4
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: 4128 (total 44,591)
Summary: All Connor wanted was a positive paternal role model. Was that too much to ask?
AN: Big thanks to fififolle for the beta. Written for the Big Bang fic challenge. Also sort of incorporates Era of the Month: Triassic.
AN2:This fic is set in the latter half of series 2, a while after 2.4, and ignores canon after that point. Also appears to ignore the existence of Leek.
“Oh my god,” Mark said.
Connor immediately looked up across the field to the anomaly. Stephen had stopped moving towards it and was standing with his tranquilliser rifle raised and pointed at the glittering doorway in time. Something was poking through the anomaly, a small head turning this way and that as if taking a look around to decide whether it wanted to investigate further. Without consciously realising he was doing it, Connor took a step forwards and slightly to the side so that he was partially standing in front of his father.
“What is it?” he murmured , sensing Cutter and Abby moving to the edge of the field to either side of him, but not approaching any closer.
He got his answer a moment later when the creature made a decision and came fully through the anomaly and into this century. It was about the size of a very large pig, but it was in no way mammalian. A large frill rising from the back of its skull and covering its neck identified it immediately as a late Cretaceous ceratopsian dinosaur, but unlike its larger relatives, like triceratops, this creature had no horns or spikes, only a short face with a sharp beak.
“Protoceratops,” Connor breathed, feeling himself grinning. “That’s what it is, isn’t it, Professor?”
“Yeah, looks like it,” Cutter said.
When Connor tore his eyes away from the dinosaur long enough to glance sideways, he saw a matching grin on Cutter’s face.
The protoceratops raised its head and gave two short, low barks. A few seconds later the anomaly rippled as, one after another, what appeared to be a small herd of the little dinosaurs trundled through on their short, stubby legs and began to mill around.
Stephen started to back slowly away from the dinosaurs, lowering his rifle. A few of the protoceratops eyed him warily as he moved, especially one which had a smaller, obviously very young, juvenile sticking close to its side. A few of the creatures were already snuffling at the ground and starting to crop the short grass, and as they watched, one began scraping at the ground with its front feet and spraying any other dinosaurs nearby with earth as it dug a hole.
“Okay, they’re officially cute,” Abby said, her tranquilliser pistol in her hand but held loosely at her side as she watched the creatures.
“What do we do with them now?” Mark asked from a few steps behind them.
“Well, I’m going to start by getting this entire street evacuated,” Jenny said, pulling out her phone.
“You can do that?”
“Keeping the public safe is up to you lot. Keeping them in the dark about the anomalies and creatures is my job. I don’t care how cute and harmless they look, I’d rather not have a media frenzy if they get out onto the street. I think a report of a gas leak at the school should do it.” She moved away from them and Connor could hear her talking on the phone, no doubt pulling strings and using her government influence to make things happen and create a cover story.
One of the soldiers had walked over to Cutter.
“What do you want us to do with them, sir?”
“Well you can start by not shooting them,” Cutter replied.
Connor couldn’t help smirking a little at Cutter’s slightly belligerent tone, and the soldier’s eye-roll as soon as Cutter turned away from him.
“Yes, but what do we do with them?” Mark insisted, echoing the soldier’s question.
“Try to make them go back home before the anomaly closes,” Cutter said. “Although damned if I can think how the hell we’re going to do that right now,” he added in a slightly quieter voice.
“There’s only eight of them,” Abby said. “And they seem to be sticking close to the anomaly. They might just get bored and go back of their own accord. And if they don’t we’ve got the tranq guns. ”
“Let’s save that as a last resort, eh?”
Connor glanced at Cutter again and recognised the look on Cutter’s face. It was like the look he’d got when the dodos came through the anomaly that time. He was itching to get close, to really see the dinosaurs, to touch them. Connor knew exactly how he felt.
Stephen had backed off far enough that the protoceratops were no longer paying him much attention, and he stopped and crouched, watching them closely and keeping his rifle ready.
“You’re right, Abby,” Cutter said. “They aren’t moving far away from the anomaly. Maybe if we spread out and form a cordon around them, stop any that try to wander off, then they’ll be more likely to head back the way they came.”
“So, the arm waving and shooing approach, then?” Connor said with a grin.
Cutter chuckled. “Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.”
It wasn’t often that they got to adopt the ‘arm waving and shooing’ strategy. That was largely reserved for smallish, relatively harmless creatures. All too often recently they had found themselves dealing with big, dangerous predators. It was a nice change of pace to be able to enjoy the situation without the accompanying adrenaline-fuelled chasing around and peril.
Abby nipped across to outline the plan to Stephen, and then they started to slowly spread out in a loose circle, the four soldiers interspersed between the five civilians.
“Aren’t they cool?” Connor grinned at Mark, who was staying close to him, despite the need to cover a large area with their ‘cordon’. “This is only the second time we’ve had real dinosaurs. There were a couple of raptors a few months ago, they were awesome. Well, apart from the bit where I got chased down half the length of a shopping concourse by one, but I did get to shoot a couple myself so it was a pretty cool day overall.”
“I wish you’d stop telling me about all these times you’ve nearly been killed,” Mark said. His expression that suggested ‘cool’ and ‘awesome’ were not words he would have used to describe such situations.
Connor opened his mouth and then closed it again, not entirely sure how to answer that one. Wherever he had got his occasional adrenaline junkie tendencies from, it apparently wasn’t his father. Connor added it to his list of things that he should remember not to talk about in future.
The protoceratops herd seemed to have settled down, and while a few of them kept looking up and staring at the humans, mostly they seemed content eating grass and, somewhat bizarrely, digging holes. They would scrape at the earth with their front foot, dragging the grass away and kicking the dirt behind them until they had created a shallow hollow which they would snuffle at for a few moments, before moving to another spot and starting to dig again.
“What are they doing with the holes?” Connor pondered out loud.
“I could be wrong, but I think they’re digging for roots,” Mark replied. He finally seemed to be relaxing a little.
“It’s similar to what I saw placerias doing in the Triassic, except they used their tusks to dig, not their feet. But they would dig down to just below the surface to get to the roots and tuber-type plants that grew there.”
Connor felt a flash of satisfaction. He had told Cutter that his father could be useful to their team, but this was the first real evidence to support that claim. And maybe if Mark could experience these amazing creatures in the rather safer environment of the team instead of alone and trapped in the past, maybe he would properly start to settle into the job.
“You’re right. They are impressive in the flesh,” Mark admitted.
Connor grinned, and refrained from saying, ‘I told you so’.
“Way better than fossils, eh Dad?”
Mark didn’t immediately reply, but then he moved a little closer and lowered his voice.
“Connor, can you stop calling me Dad like that?”
Connor stared at him, lost for words. “Why?” he eventually managed to say. “What else am I supposed to call you?”
“Just call me Mark.” Mark looked about as comfortable with the conversation as Connor was, and he wasn’t meeting Connor’s eye any more.
“Why?” Connor said again. Suddenly he didn’t understand what was going on in the slightest, and something started to twist and turn in his stomach.
“When we’re out in public like this. Connor, I’m only about ten years older than you, you can’t keep calling me Dad, people will think it’s weird. It’ll draw attention.”
“But we’re not in public,” Connor said, realising as he spoke that it wasn’t going to matter that there was no one around who didn’t already know the explanation for their age difference. He recognised the impatient look on his father’s face from when he was a child. The expression that should have been a warning that he was asking too many persistent questions, but which he almost never heeded until after his father had to raise his voice.
“I know,” Mark said, keeping his voice even this time. “But best to get out of the habit before it accidentally slips out. Lester was very clear about keeping all this secret. I don’t want to risk a mistake.”
Mark turned away to look at the protoceratops again, leaving Connor staring at him, open-mouthed and still speechless. He didn’t want to call him Mark. He was his dad; it didn’t feel right at all. Before he could even begin to form a protest, though, a much deeper instinct kicked in. One that told him to stay quiet and not argue. He wasn’t going to impress anybody by making a fuss. And he did so desperately want to impress his father, no matter that he was a grown man, not a nine year old boy any more.
“Okay... Mark,” Connor said.
Before he had time to dwell on it for too long, someone shouted from the opposite side of their circle. He looked across to see Cutter had taken his jacket off and was holding it out in front of himself like a bull-fighter. A protoceratops had ventured a little too near to him, and he was trying to herd it backwards, with two soldiers rapidly converging on him, their guns ready.
“All this money and backing, and this is the best thing you can do? Wave a coat at them?” Mark asked, his tone a little incredulous.
Connor opened his mouth to protest, and then snapped it shut again. It was a little ridiculous when he thought about it. But he never did really think about it very much. It was just Cutter’s way, and it had never occurred to him to question it.
“No point traumatising them if we don’t have to,” he offered.
The protoceratops barked at Cutter, and stamped its front foot repeatedly, managing to enhance the bull-fighter image even further.
“Back off a bit, you’re antagonising it,” Abby called, also making her way over towards Cutter.
As the other two soldiers also started drifting in that direction, Connor suddenly realised that there was an enormous gap in their cordon, with just himself, Mark and Stephen still on this side. He started to edge further towards Stephen in an attempt to keep as much ground as possible covered, while keeping his eyes on the scene unfolding around Cutter. Another protoceratops had joined the first, and both were barking and stamping ever more insistently at Cutter and the growing crowd of people. The other dinosaurs around the anomaly were also starting to look nervous, shifting around in a knot and now paying far more attention to the humans than to eating.
A protoceratops suddenly lunged at Cutter. There was a short burst of automatic fire from one of the soldiers, and grass and earth sprayed up from the ground right in front of the dinosaur. Then all hell broke loose.
The protoceratops kept on running at Cutter, either unafraid or more likely unable to stop its own momentum. The other one turned and bolted straight back into the middle of the group around the anomaly, and the herd promptly scattered. Most of them went straight through the anomaly, but the others started to run in random directions.
“Connor! Look out!”
Connor whirled around and realised the juvenile protoceratops was charging straight towards him, yapping loudly. Connor dithered for a moment, caught between wanting to grab it and the urge to get out of its way. At the last second he threw himself to one side and the juvenile barrelled past him surprisingly fast for a creature so small and stocky.
He hated hearing his name shouted like that, it usually meant he was in mortal peril. Again. He looked up into the oncoming face of a very, very angry mother protoceratops. Connor scrambled to his feet and ran.
“Shoot it! Somebody shoot it!” Mark yelled from somewhere behind him.
Connor didn’t have any spare breath to object, but he did know that Stephen was the only one nearby with a gun, and that was only a tranquilliser rifle. Connor suspected he was going to have to get himself out of this one.
He could hear the protoceratops charging ever closer behind him as he pelted headlong across the school playing field. It occurred to him that he might have done better in sports at school if he’d had the incentive of an angry dinosaur chasing him to make him run faster. He could still see the juvenile out of the corner of his eye, and realised it had slowed down and was heading towards the school buildings, and the road that led to the main street. And Jenny.
Connor abruptly changed direction, skidding to a halt and racing after the juvenile. He risked a glance behind and realised his plan had kind of worked – the adult protoceratops was too bulky to follow his manoeuvre and was still scrabbling wildly to stop and change direction, its legs flailing as its momentum carried it onwards. Stephen was chasing after it, and Connor saw him slow down briefly and aim the rifle. Good, that would buy him time. He just hoped it would be enough time.
“Jenny! Stop it!”
The juvenile continued its headlong charge. Even from a distance Connor saw the sudden look of surprise on Jenny’s face. She looked around, and then quickly got into one of the cars. A second later the car horn blasted, and the terrified juvenile screeched to a halt and about-turned yet again, desperately running away from the noise and back towards Connor.
“Woohoo!” Connor yelled. “Nice one Jenny!”
This time there was no dithering, and the moment the juvenile came within reach Connor dived on it, almost surprising himself when he managed to wrap his arms around the dinosaur’s middle. He scrambled to his knees, vaguely aware of voices yelling, and the hysterical yapping of the juvenile protoceratops and the ever louder answering barks of its mother.
“Hold on tight,” he muttered. Making sure he had his arms wrapped tightly around it, Connor picked the juvenile up and started to run back towards the anomaly, significantly slower now he was carrying something the size and weight of a small pig. Something that was struggling and flailing its feet and trying very hard not to be carried.
The mother protoceratops yet again scrambled to change direction and chase after him, and Stephen, also on an intercept course, took another chance to fire a tranquilliser dart at the adult. Directly ahead of Connor, Cutter and two of the soldiers were manhandling a protoceratops back into the anomaly. Cutter looked round and his eyes widened comically when he saw Connor charging towards him with the dinosaur in his arms.
“Move out of the way!” Connor yelled.
“For god’s sake somebody shoot it!” Mark shouted again.
“No, wait,” Cutter yelled in answer, grabbing a soldier and dragging him away from the anomaly. The other soldier leapt out of the way as Connor slid to a halt, dropped the juvenile in front of the anomaly and smacked its scaly, toughened rump as an incentive to move. The juvenile, still yapping, did just that, and disappeared back to the Cretaceous. Connor suddenly felt a hand on his arm, and he was yanked sideways as the mother ploughed headlong through the spot where he had just been standing and vanished into the anomaly.
Connor gave a relieved laugh and looked up to see Stephen at his side also catching his breath. His hand was still on Connor’s arm, and he didn’t seem to be letting go. Possibly Stephen thought he might need to prevent him doing anything else completely mad.
“Thanks. Good save there,” Connor gasped, grinning broadly.
“Guys, we’ve still got one,” Abby shouted.
Connor twisted round to see Abby and the other two soldiers dragging a struggling protoceratops towards them. Connor was about to move to help, but Stephen pulled him back again.
“Best thing we can do is get out of the way,” Stephen said.
He was right. As soon as they had cleared out of the way Abby pointed the dinosaur in the right direction and let it go, and it ran straight for the anomaly and disappeared after the rest of its herd.
“Is that all of them? Did we get them all?” Abby asked.
“I think so,” Cutter said, as they all looked around to make sure. “Nice move, Connor,” Cutter added, smiling at him.
Connor was still grinning when Mark’s voice cut through the moment.
“What the hell did you think you were doing?”
Connor looked round to see Mark striding across the field towards them. He looked furious. Connor quickly moved to meet him halfway, suddenly sure that this was not a conversation that he wanted to have in front of the rest of the team.
“It’s fine, I’m okay. Don’t worry, Da- Mark.”
“Fine?” Mark shot back. “Are you stupid or something? Are you a complete idiot? You damn near got trampled by a bloody dinosaur.”
“It was only a little dinosaur,” Connor replied in a quiet voice.
Connor realised Cutter had moved to stand beside him, and the others weren’t far behind him. Jenny was heading towards them across the field as well. Connor felt his heart sinking.
“He’s right,” Cutter said, aiming his comment at Mark. “I know it looked a bit crazy for a minute there, but we got the job done, and nobody got hurt.”
Now that he was coming down off the adrenaline, Connor realised that carrying a dinosaur with his freshly mended arm possibly hadn’t been his best idea of the day, but after that comment he didn’t dare rub his wrist.
“Is this how you do things?” Mark snapped, rounding on Cutter instantly. “You let your team be bait and put themselves in danger, just because you’ve got these namby-pamby ideas about not shooting the dinosaurs? You’ve got no idea what that thing was going to do to Connor if it had caught up with him, but you stopped anyone from properly shooting it, regardless of the danger. What if he had been hurt? He’s only just recovered from a broken arm after some prehistoric animal chased him and threw him off a wall.”
Connor wished he could become invisible. He didn’t want to be here, he didn’t want to hear this. He didn’t want to be the cause of this.
“Connor makes his own decisions. I didn’t ask him to be bait.” The friendly tone had gone from Cutter’s voice now, but he wasn’t shouting, unlike Mark.
“You might not ask him, but by the sound of things you never bother to stop him throwing himself into danger.”
“This is our job, this is what we do,” Stephen said in a calm but determined voice. “Connor wasn’t doing anything that the rest of us wouldn’t do. Better us than let innocent people be in danger.”
“Look, maybe you should go back to the ARC,” Cutter said, sounding like he was making a monumental effort to keep a lid on his temper. “Maybe it was still too soon for you to be out in the field with us.” He glanced at Jenny, who gently touched Mark’s arm.
“Come on, I’ll take you back to the ARC.”
Mark seemed to realise he was outnumbered, and moved to go with Jenny.
“Come on, Connor,” Mark said.
Connor looked up, his gaze skittering between Mark and Cutter. He knew he was doing a good rabbit in headlights impression, but for a moment his mind was frozen in indecision, whether to follow his father or not.
“Go on, if you want to go,” Cutter said quietly. He looked like he meant the exact opposite.
Connor took another moment to come to a decision. There was only one way that he could possibly come out of this situation with a shred of dignity, and that was to be completely professional.
“Actually, I’m going to stay,” he said, hoping his voice sounded steady. “I need to take readings from the anomaly and no one else knows what to look for.”
Without waiting to see the expression on either man’s face, Connor tugged the hand-held detector out of his pocket and walked back to the anomaly. His voice might have been steady, but his hands were shaking, and he closed his eyes for a moment. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt this humiliated. Actually, he had a feeling the last time might have been the day when the school bully threw his underwear onto the gym roof after games lesson, but in all honesty he hadn’t actually cared what most of his classmates thought of him. He did care what these people thought, and that was what made it a hundred times worse.
He sensed someone approaching and opened his eyes again, and pretended to be studying the hand-held detector.
Cutter stopped at his side but didn’t say anything at first. Connor kept his attention firmly focussed on the detector. There was a sick, miserable feeling in his stomach, and he realised he was mentally bracing himself for the inevitable shouting and blame.
“You did good with the baby. Quick thinking.”
That wasn’t what Connor had expected at all, and he risked a glance up. Cutter wasn’t looking at him, though. He seemed to be staring at the anomaly in front of them instead, his expression set into a hard, carefully controlled mask.
“Thanks.” At least someone thought he had done the right thing.
Cutter didn’t reply, and Connor couldn’t stop himself from trying to justify what had happened, to perhaps minimise the damage in some way.
“Sorry. About Dad. I didn’t know he was going to react like that, I promise.”
“It’s not your fault.”
Connor was struggling to see who else’s fault it could possibly be, but he nodded and didn’t argue with Cutter.
Cutter turned and actually looked at him for the first time in the conversation.
“Are you okay?” The anger in Cutter’s eyes was at odds with his words, and it took a moment for Connor to realise that the anger was not, for once, directed at him.
“Yeah. Good thing Stephen’s got such fast reflexes, though, otherwise that mother protoceratops might have knocked me flying all the way into the Cretaceous.”
“That wasn’t what I meant,” Cutter said softly.
Connor’s gaze flickered away to stare at the hand-held detector again. He was sick of having this conversation with people the last few days, and he didn’t want to have it again now. Especially not with Cutter.
“I’m fine,” he said quietly.
He felt Cutter’s eyes on him for a while longer until Connor eventually managed to fix a steadier, more confident expression onto his face and actually meet Cutter’s look again.
Cutter nodded and then offered a rather more relaxed smile.
“Good. But in the interests of you not getting flattened if anything else decides to come through, don’t you think you’d better take your readings from a bit further back?”
Cutter indicated the anomaly, and Connor realised for the first time just how close to it he was standing in his attempt to get away from the situation.
“Oh, yeah,” he said, backing up a bit.
“That’s better,” Cutter said. “I’d hate to have to explain it back at the ARC if you actually did get trampled.”
Connor returned his smile, although he knew it was a half-hearted attempt at levity. Considering the way his luck was going, Connor had a suspicion that being trampled by dinosaurs might not actually be the worst thing to happen to him today.