Title: Hero (part 8 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: 5177 (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.
“Ah, there you are.” Jenny smiled as she entered one of the labs, where Mark was sat working at a computer.
“Hi,” Mark smiled back.
“Just wanted to let you know your new identity is finally organised. We’ll have all the paperwork and documents tomorrow, and a bank account has been set up with that loan we talked about. That should be enough until you get yourself sorted out.”
“Thanks. No offence, but I’ll be glad to get out of this place.”
“I’m sure you will. Do you know where you’re going to be living yet?”
“No. But Connor has promised he’ll help me go flat hunting.”
Jenny didn’t blame him for wanting to get out of the ARC as soon as possible. He had been effectively trapped here for over a week now, the only times he had been out were to the anomaly incident four days earlier, and to the pub with Connor the last few evenings. Jenny had been aware of the tensions between practically everybody a few days ago, but things seemed to have settled back to normal now. In as far as things were ever ‘normal’ for a group of people who chased rips in time and dinosaurs for a living.
Jenny indicated the computer. “You’re working late. It’s nearly eight o’clock. Most of the others have gone home.”
“I’m putting more details into Connor’s database.” He twisted the monitor round so she could see the screen.
“I thought you were working with Connor on that?”
“I was. But now he seems to be constantly busy with whatever it is that he’s working with Cutter on.” Jenny couldn’t help noticing the hint of something that sounded a lot like jealousy in Mark’s voice. Her mind flicked back to the scene in the atrium where she had been only a few minutes earlier, where Connor and Cutter were sat in front of the ADD, their heads together and sharing what looked like a particularly geeky in-joke.
Jenny resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Never one to back away from an awkward situation, she wondered if her usual tactic of taking the bull by the horns would work here. After all, it had already worked with one particularly stubborn man, it might work again with this one.
She perched herself on the edge of the table and gave Mark her full attention.
“How’s it going now you’ve had time to adjust?”
Mark shrugged. “What do you want me to say? I can’t have my old life back, and I don’t seem to be doing very well at fitting in to a new life here.”
“You do have a choice about whether you want to be here at all,” Jenny said gently.
Mark took his glasses off and rubbed the lenses on his sweater.
“Right now Connor is all I’ve got. And he’ll never leave here.”
She could see his point, but if that was the only reason he was staying it didn’t say a lot for his enthusiasm as regards the Anomaly Project. It also didn’t sound at all healthy for the state of his relationship with Connor. And on that subject...
“Why does Connor use your given name? Why doesn’t he call you ‘Dad’ any more?”
Mark looked down at his glasses and continued to polish them long beyond the point of being clean.
“Because I asked him to.”
“Can I ask why?”
Mark gave another shrug, but this time it was more of frustration.
“Honestly? Because it still doesn’t feel like he’s my son.”
Years of PR training meant that Jenny didn’t let any of her shock at that statement show in her expression at all. It had been over a week now, and Mark still hadn’t accepted that his little boy had grown up?
“Does Connor know how you feel?”
“Of course not.”
She didn’t bother to ask if he had considered talking to Connor about it, she knew what the answer would be.
“If...” Mark paused, apparently searching for the right words. “If he doesn’t call me ‘Dad’, I can almost pretend he’s like a brother, or friend or something. With the age difference now I think it’s better like that.”
Jenny watched for any sign in his otherwise self-pitying demeanour that he was even aware of just how much it was hurting Connor every time he forced himself to say ‘Mark’. She was faintly disappointed when she didn’t see any such sign. Connor could sometimes be entirely oblivious of the feelings of others, but he was never so self-obsessed that he couldn’t see when people he cared about were hurt. Like several other people on the team, Jenny had become convinced over the last week that while Connor might look a lot like Mark, that was about the limit of their similarities.
“You’re still stuck on the fact that he’s not nine years old any more? That he’s not what you expected?” Jenny snapped.
Mark stared at her, apparently lost for words at her sudden change in tone.
“Have you ever stopped to think that you might not be what Connor expected, either? That he doesn’t care how old you are, he just wants his father back? That all you seem to have done ever since you got back is reject him, and make it abundantly clear that you’d rather have the boy he used to be, instead of the man he is now? I don’t suppose it’s even occurred to you that the reason why Connor prefers to work with Cutter might be because Cutter shows him some respect?”
Mark continued to gape at her, his glasses hanging loose in his hand.
She hadn’t meant to be this brutal, but what the hell. In for a penny, and all that. Plus, once she had started she had found it hard to stop herself from saying what she knew a lot of other people wanted to say as well, not least Lester and Abby, judging by the conversations she had had with them over the last few days.
The initial shock seemed to wear off remarkably quickly, and Mark glared at her.
“I should have known you’d be in Cutter’s pocket as well.”
Jenny couldn’t help laughing. “Hardly. Although you might want to consider the fact that if you make this about taking sides, the one who is actually going to suffer for it is Connor, no one else. Is that what you want?”
“Is that what you all think? Of course I don’t want to hurt him.”
That was good, at least, Jenny thought. Despite the fact that they might all take the piss out of Connor more often than not, Jenny couldn’t think of a single person in the entire ARC building who would take any pleasure from seeing him get hurt. With his puppy dog enthusiasm and friendly, happy demeanour, it was hard for anyone to dislike him for too long, no matter how irritating he might be occasionally.
“I’m sure you don’t want to deliberately hurt him.”
Mark abruptly stood up, the chair scraping back as he shoved his glasses back on.
“Listen, Jenny. I appreciate you sorting out my paperwork, but I do not need to sit here and listen to this crap. Not from you, not from the wonderful Cutter either.” The sarcasm in his voice on the word ‘wonderful’ was all too obvious.
Jenny didn’t even flinch. She merely continued to meet his angry glare until he was the one to break eye contact and walk out of the room.
“Mark,” Jenny said loudly as he stood in the doorway. He paused, and looked back.
Jenny also paused for a second to find the right words to explain what she wanted to say. “No one here hates you. People want to see you and Connor working happily together. And I think you’d be surprised at how open-minded and accepting the team can be. But the reason why they’re such a close team is because they have all earned each other’s respect, and they know that when it comes to it, they can all trust each other with their lives. It doesn’t matter who you are, or who you’re related to. You have to earn it.”
Mark hesitated in the doorway for another second, and then left, the door not quite slamming behind him.
“I think we can rule out comets and meteors,” Cutter said. He saw the disappointed pout on Connor’s face and chuckled. “Just because they’re ‘cool’ does not make them a valid research topic when there’s absolutely no evidence to support a link between comets and anomalies.”
“I know,” Connor said. “But they are cool. Black holes would be even cooler,” he added with a grin.
Cutter gave him a mock glare until the young man shrugged, still smiling.
“I know, there’s no evidence. But they’re still cool.”
“I think we need to narrow the focus down to sunspots and the earth’s magnetic field,” Cutter mused. There, at least, there was some evidence, however hazy, of a possible correlation between sunspot activity and increased anomalies. Cutter wasn’t even sure that the correlation would stand up to more rigorous investigation, but until they came up with any better theories, it was as good as anything else to research.
“I’ll see if I can get hold of more detailed data on sunspot activity, and over a longer timescale,” Connor said, already tapping away at the keyboard. “But I have to admit I’m no expert on this sort of thing. If this does turn out to be important, you might have to talk Lester into employing an astronomer.”
Cutter had been thinking much the same thing himself the last few days since they had started this line of investigation. He was fairly sure Lester would give him extra people with the necessary skills if he needed them, but he also suspected he was going to have to sit through several lectures about budgets and getting tangible results before Lester acquiesced to his demands.
He glanced at his watch and was surprised when he realised it had gone eight o’clock.
“Sorry, Connor, I shouldn’t have kept you here so late. Abby will be wondering where you are.”
“It’s fine, I think she likes it when she has the flat to herself anyway,” Connor said, without showing any sign of stopping what he was doing. “Besides, she knows me and Mark have been going to the pub round the corner for food after work, so she won’t be expecting me back for ages yet.”
As if on cue, the atrium doors opened and Cutter glanced round to see Mark heading towards them. It took Cutter a moment to realise that Mark’s attention was focussed on him, not Connor, and when he stopped it was Cutter that he addressed.
“I want to be back on the field team.”
Connor jumped and looked round like a startled rabbit, his eyes wide and slightly confused by the sudden announcement.
Cutter regarded Mark carefully for a moment. The man looked utterly serious about it, although Cutter couldn’t begin to fathom what might have caused such an about-turn.
“Why?” he asked eventually.
Mark’s gaze flicked to Connor for a moment, and then back to Cutter.
“I made one mistake. One. From what I hear, there are other people who have made far more mistakes than that and they’re still on the team. I want a second chance.”
Cutter was almost certain he felt Connor flinch at that statement, and he wondered if Mark had been talking to Stephen again. Either way, the man had a point, and he did seem to be serious about his request. Cutter continued to study him for another few seconds, trying to decide on a response. The more he had thought about it the last few days, the more he had come to realise that perhaps his own relationship with Connor had made him overreact.
He glanced at Connor, half expecting to see the hopeful puppy eyes again, but was momentarily surprised that instead, his expression was one of nervous tension.
Before he had time to think about that, however, the ADD went off with its usual impeccable timing. Connor swung round and brought up the map overlay screen.
“Looks like it’s about an hour away. Factory buildings.” He pulled up a satellite image, and then did another quick search that brought up what looked like a website on another screen. “Um...”
“Good ‘um’ or bad ‘um’?” Cutter prodded.
“Maybe both. Looks like it’s actually a building site. Some old mills and factories are being renovated into flats or demolished.”
Cutter stood up and turned his attention back to Mark. He still looked determined, if a little nervous.
“Come on then. No time like the present. You two get the hand-held detectors and meet me at the cars. I’ll call Stephen and Abby.”
He only hoped he wasn’t going to regret giving Mark Temple a second chance.
It was dark by the time they got to the anomaly site. The old factories loomed out of the night like shadowy monuments to past industry; long rectangular brick walls stretching away into the darkness and tall straight chimneys silhouetted against the sky. The building site itself appeared to be surrounded by a chain-link fence, and the entrance gate was locked up tight against intruders.
A railway line ran along one edge of the site, and an industrial estate sprawled away on the adjacent side, but the rest of the land surrounding the site seemed to be waste ground, probably land reclaimed when other, older buildings had been demolished. It wasn’t ideal territory to be hunting for creatures, and even Stephen’s tracking skills were going to be tested on this ground. At least there were no local residents to worry about, which was a definite bonus as far as Cutter was concerned.
“I thought you’d thrown Mark off the team,” Stephen commented in a quiet voice as he stepped up behind Cutter. He nodded in the direction of the cars, where Connor was fiddling with a hand-held detector, Mark hovering at his shoulder like a taller, thinner shadow.
“He demanded a second chance.”
Stephen’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.
Cutter frowned. “You didn’t know anything about his change of heart, then?”
“No. I thought he was happier with the lab work.”
“I’ve no idea, then. I thought maybe you’d talked him into it.”
Before they could pursue the conversation further, one of the soldiers ran round the corner of the fence and waved at Cutter. “Professor, I think you should come round here.”
Cutter and Stephen immediately started jogging towards the man. They rounded the corner and stopped.
There was a gaping hole in the chain-link fence and a good portion of the missing section seemed to be trampled into the gravel of the waste ground. It had obviously been broken down from the inside, by something intent on getting out.
“It’s too dark, we need some bloody torches,” Cutter muttered.
“You shouldn’t have gone haring off without any equipment, then,” Abby said with a grin, appearing at his shoulder and handing him a torch.
He smiled at her. He could always rely on Abby to be the sensible, practical one in any situation. Jenny also seemed to be distributing torches, although not in time to prevent Connor from completely failing to co-ordinate walking and looking at the hand held detector at the same time. He tripped on something and went flying, the detector bouncing out of his hands as he hit the ground with a loud, “Ow!”
Something in the darkness answered him with a low, mournful lowing sound. Everybody swung round towards the noise, their torch beams searching the night. A pair of eyes peered back at Cutter, more or less at eye level. As his night vision finally began to adjust, Cutter started to move slowly towards the creature, aware of Stephen and Abby to either side of him keeping pace.
The creature was about the size of a rhinoceros, and not far off that analogy in shape, either. Thick, leathery skin covered a bulky body with a short, stubby tail. Its mouth was a beak and it had two short tusks protruding from its cheeks and pointing forwards to either side of its mouth. It made that low, mournful noise again, and started to back away slowly. Cutter knew instinctively this was not a predator. More to the point, it was familiar from somewhere, he felt he had seen this creature recently, but for a moment couldn’t put his finger on where.
“Look, there are more of them,” Abby whispered. She pointed beyond the nearest creature.
“Bloody hell, it’s an entire herd.”
There had to be at least twelve or fifteen of the creatures gathered together in a loose group, watching the humans warily. The ones nearest the front kept tossing their heads, the pointed tusks all too obvious.
“Cutter!” Connor’s excited voice sounded too loud, and the creatures answered with deep braying calls.
“Keep your voice down,” Abby whispered at him as Connor arrived at their sides, dragging Mark along by the arm.
“Cutter, have you seen what they are?”
“I’m not sure,” Cutter admitted. He thought it was some kind of therapsid, an early type of mammal-like reptile, but the exact species still eluded him.
“Placerias,” Mark supplied, surprising all of them except Connor.
Cutter knew where he recognised it from as soon as he heard that. He had looked up the creature after reading Mark’s report of his time in the Triassic. Placerias were like the cows of the Triassic, huge herds of herbivores that dominated the landscape right up until the arrival of the first dinosaurs drove them to extinction.
He turned to Mark.
“Looks like you’re our resident expert. What do we do with them?”
Mark hesitated, suddenly nervous at all the attention focussed his way.
“Um, they’re mostly fairly placid if left to their own devices. They’re not the fastest animals, but they can charge for short distances if they’re startled or they feel threatened. But they’re more likely to close ranks and form a defensive line.”
“How do we get them to move where we want them?” Abby pressed.
“I’m really not sure. Large predators were the only thing I ever saw manage to make them move away from where they wanted to be. Also, these are slightly bigger and darker coloured than the ones I’m familiar with. They might be from later or earlier in the Triassic, or maybe a different geographical area. So, they might not behave quite the same.”
“Even so, you must have some idea what we can do,” Cutter said, trying not to let the impatience show in his voice.
“What do they eat?” Abby asked.
“Roots. Big thick pulpy tuber-type root things.” Mark waved his hands around, demonstrating the size and shape of said ‘root things’, and Cutter couldn’t help but see the resemblance between father and son again. Mark seemed to quickly catch into what Abby intended. “They smelled similar to parsnips. They didn’t taste anything like parsnips, but they smelled like them.”
“We passed a twenty-four hour Tesco on the road a little way back,” Stephen said.
“I’m already on it,” Jenny said, heading back to one of the cars.
“Jenny,” Abby called quietly. “Get a variety of different veg, we can see what works.”
Jenny waved to show she had understood, and they heard the car driving away moments later.
“If we use the other cars to try to hem them in a bit, we can maybe stop them getting any further away until Jenny gets back,” Stephen said. “And I’m going to need a bigger dose of tranquilliser for if things get out of hand.” He slung his ever-present rifle over his shoulder.
“As long as we don’t make any sudden quick movements, or loud noises, that should work,” Mark said.
“Okay, but don’t get too close,” Abby said, watching the creatures with interest. “We don’t want to spook them, not after what happened with the protoceratops.”
Cutter watched Mark, Stephen and Abby and a couple of the soldiers having a quiet discussion, with some occasional pointing and gesturing, presumably at the best place to put the cars for maximum effect.
He caught hold of Connor’s arm and tugged him to one side.
“While they’re doing that, we still need to find the anomaly, otherwise we won’t know where to lead them once we get them moving.”
Connor nodded, and turned his attention back to the hand-held detector. It still seemed to be working, despite being dropped on the gravel.
“It’s in there somewhere,” Connor indicated the building site beyond the chain-link fence.
Cutter made an annoyed sound in his throat. “I think I’d guessed that from the trampled fence. I was hoping for something a bit more specific.”
“Oh, yeah. Sorry.”
Connor set off through the gap in the fence, occasionally remembering to look up from the detector and watch where he was walking this time.
Cutter rolled his eyes, and went after him. Someone had to keep the boy out of trouble, after all.
It somewhat belatedly occurred to Connor that his only light source was the display screen of the hand-held detector, so he was quite relieved when Cutter fell into step beside him with a torch.
He was a little ashamed to admit to himself that he had been worried by the thought of Mark coming out with them to another anomaly. He still cringed every time he remembered what happened the last time with the protoceratops. The fact that they were dealing with Triassic creatures was pure fluke, but at the same time he thought it might be exactly the thing that his father needed to be able to usefully contribute something to the team. Connor himself had been surprised and pleased to see Mark’s confidence apparently growing with every moment as people had turned to him for information. Maybe, just maybe, this wasn’t going to turn into another disaster.
“Any idea what made your dad change his mind about wanting to be in the field team?” Cutter asked. Connor couldn’t help wondering if Cutter could suddenly read minds, a thought that he found quite scary considering the usual stuff that was going on in his head.
“No idea,” Connor said. “What made you change your mind about letting him?” he added tentatively.
“Maybe he was right about deserving a second chance.”
Connor nodded noncommittally. He had no idea how to voice his concerns, or even if he should voice them. But the more time he had spent with Mark, mostly in the pub, the more he was convinced that Mark was not a field team type person. He didn’t like danger or adventure. He was far happier in a library surrounded by books, or a museum full of fossils than he was with real animals. Which was absolutely fine, Connor acknowledged there was nothing wrong at all with being a research guy. Hell, a year ago Connor would have put himself firmly into the research guy category as well. But still, it was not a skill set that put Mark at the top of his list for field ops. A tiny part of Connor hated himself for thinking things like that about his father, but another tiny part of him knew that if it came to a choice of who he wanted watching his back tonight, he was glad it was Cutter who had followed him to find the anomaly.
What Connor eventually opted to say was, “Pretty weird, eh? We haven’t seen an anomaly to the Triassic in the entire time we’ve been doing this, and then two come along practically in the same week.”
Cutter chuckled. “They may be more frequent than we think. I wonder how many we were missing before you built the detector?”
They had been walking alongside one of the long factories on their left, another large brick building running parallel somewhere off to their right. Connor glanced up from the detector long enough to notice that they were approaching the end of the building, and beyond it there seemed to be an area that had been cordoned off with warning tape.
“I think the anomaly is just over there,” he pointed.
As soon as they reached the end of the building they saw the anomaly, turning slowly and shining brightly in the dark night. It was off to their left, partially hidden amongst several huge piles of rubble and bricks. As Cutter headed in the direction of the anomaly, Connor wandered over to the edge of the taped-off area. With the new, and slightly eerie, illumination from the anomaly he could see that the cordoned-off area was the site of a recently demolished building, this one rather smaller than the factories they had walked past to get here. There were still lines of bricks in the ground where the foundations had been, and there was a scatter of rubble and broken bricks that had not been scraped up with the bulk of it. On the far side away from him, Connor could see a large patch of black on the ground, but couldn’t make out what it was.
He was about to duck under the tape to go and investigate when he saw a sudden movement out of the corner of his eye. Connor spun round, staring into the darkness away from the anomaly. Whatever it was had gone, or else it was keeping very, very still. Connor squinted, but there were more large buildings that way and any number of places a creature could hide. One thing he knew, though, was that it was too quick to have been a placerias.
“Cutter,” he called out, trying to keep his voice as quiet as possible.
“Shhhhhhh,” was the response from Cutter.
Connor turned round, momentarily blinded by the glare of the anomaly. Then he saw what Cutter was looking at. Connor edged closer until he was standing beside Cutter.
“It’s injured,” Cutter whispered, as they stared at the lone placerias. It was half lying on the ground, and as they watched it got itself up onto its front legs, but its back legs didn’t seem to be co-operating and almost as soon as it got upright it wobbled dangerously.
“I don’t want to get too close, but I think something has attacked it. Its back leg is bleeding heavily,” Cutter continued, his voice still a whisper.
“We should tell Abby, she’ll know what to do with it.” Connor glanced round again behind them, convinced he could see shadows moving. “Cutter, I think whatever attacked it might be around here somewhere. I saw something move, I’m sure of it.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t know. It was fast, though.”
Something flitted across the front of the anomaly, silhouetted against the light for a second. Connor got an impression of a slim bipedal creature, long and thin, and a long, straight tail.
“Cutter,” he hissed urgently.
“I saw it. Looked like a theropod dinosaur.”
Connor heard another sound somewhere behind them and spun round, holding out the detector as if to ward it off.
“Connor,” he heard his father’s voice call out.
Torchlight flashed in Connor’s eyes, and he put his arm up to shield against the glare. Then he quickly sprinted the distance to Mark, intent on stopping him from approaching any further.
“Dad, there’s something here, some kind of predator. Where’s Stephen? Or Abby?”
Mark abruptly went pale in the torchlight.
“Where’s Stephen?” Connor demanded again, trying to put as much urgency in his voice as possible while still being quiet.
“Back there with the placerias herd.”
Connor allowed himself a moment of panic. He wanted to send Mark to go and get the others and some soldiers, but at the same time he knew he didn’t want his father going anywhere alone. But neither could he leave Cutter alone in order to get help.
“Let’s get Cutter and get the hell out of here.”
He turned back and stopped.
Cutter appeared from behind the corner of the factory building, backing away slowly, his eyes fixed on something that was still hidden. There was a sudden bellow from the injured placerias, a sound that almost masked another noise of high, sharp barks.
Something else moved in the darkness and Connor twisted to the right to see the theropod stalking silently towards Cutter. It was no taller than a man, and had a long slender neck and narrow head, short arms ending in clawed hands, and long, thin, but powerful-looking legs, balanced by a thin, tapering tail. Cutter was backing straight towards it.
“Cutter! Behind you!” Connor yelled.
The theropod startled, its head snapping round to stare right at Connor and Mark. Cutter jumped and looked round, his eyes widening in shock when he saw the dinosaur only a few metres away. There was another high pitched bark, and it took Connor a second to realise that the sound came from behind the corner of the building to their left.
Oh, god. There were at least two of the theropods.
The placerias bellowed again, and suddenly everything exploded into movement.
The theropod that had been stalking Cutter launched itself at him, lightning fast. Cutter threw himself to the side and started to run in the only direction he could – away from Connor and onto the ground beyond the cordon tape. He ducked under the tape without pausing and continued to run. The theropod spared him barely a glance and darted towards where Connor knew the placerias was.
“Cutter! This way!”
Cutter spun round, realised he wasn’t being followed any more, and then the ground collapsed beneath him. His leg plunged down through the floor and Cutter yelled as he dropped to one knee, flailing to keep his balance and grab onto something.
Connor immediately moved to help him, but felt a hand grab his arm.
“Connor, come with me. We’ll get help.”
“I’m not leaving him.”
Connor locked eyes with his father.
Don’t make me choose, was the one thought in his head for all of a second.
The placerias bellowed again, and abruptly charged out from behind the building, surprisingly fast considering its injured leg. But more importantly, it was heading straight for Cutter.
“Go and get help,” Connor ordered. Then he shook his father’s hand off, turned and ran. He skidded under the tape and raced to where Cutter was still trapped knee deep in the ground.
“Move!” Connor demanded. He wrapped his arms around Cutter’s chest and tried to haul him up out of what he could now see was the broken support beams of a floor that lay above a deep cellar.
The placerias ripped through the tape and galloped towards them. The floor beneath them literally bounced with the weight of the creature. There was a loud cracking sound, and everything shifted.
The floor collapsed completely, and Connor and Cutter plunged into the darkness below.