Series: Three Years, part 1 (follows on from the Five Days series)
Characters/pairing: Ryan/Connor, Lester, Claudia
Warnings: A.U., occasional language.
Spoilers: Anything through to episode 5.
Disclaimer: Not mine. ITV and Impossible Pictures own them.
Word count: approx 6500
Summary: Out of the Jurassic frying pan, into the fire…
AN. It's worth pointing out that as a whole the 3Y series is going to be of a generally higher rating than 5D was, due to language, violence, darker themes, smut, character death, and assorted other things. Each chapter will, of course, have its own appropriate rating and warnings, but I thought it was worth mentioning this at the start of the series so that people know what to expect. I hope you all still enjoy it, despite the differences to 5D.
This isn’t a debriefing, it’s a fucking interrogation, Ryan thought.
“Let’s go through this again, shall we, Captain?” Across the other side of the table, Lester looked almost as tired as Ryan felt.
“With all due respect, Sir, I’ve already told you twice over exactly what happened.”
“Nevertheless, there are inconsistencies.”
Ryan closed his eyes and tried to maintain an expression that would in no way indicate his current desire to throttle everyone in the room.
All he had wanted when he and Connor got back from the Jurassic was a shower, a meal, and a bed, preferably, but not necessarily, in that order. So far, he had yet to achieve any of those objectives. What he had got was a hurried armed escort back to London, followed by a surprisingly thorough medical examination by a government doctor, involving a wide array of tests and, eventually, several stitches in his injured leg. This was followed by another armed escort, this time to a small, windowless room somewhere deep beneath the Home Office building, and a ‘debriefing’ that he reckoned was now well into its fourth hour. He couldn’t be certain because the bastards had taken his watch as well when they stripped him of his weapons and equipment.
“Tell me again about the anomaly that you used to get here.”
“What about it, Sir? It was an anomaly. Same as all the other anomalies we’ve seen.”
They were going round in circles now. Lester clearly thought he wasn’t telling them everything, although Ryan had no idea why they would think he might be lying. There was something more going on here, but Ryan was too exhausted, mentally and physically, to work out what, and it was taking all his concentration just to stay calm and answer Lester’s questions.
“You said there were three of them?” Lester persisted.
“So how did you know which one to pick?”
“We didn’t. We guessed.” We guessed bloody wrong, he thought.
“You said you looked through the others and saw what was on the other side. Where, or rather, when did they lead to?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Connor? He’s the expert, not me.” So much for keeping a professional attitude. Clearly he was more tired than he’d thought. If Lester noticed his lapse, he chose not to comment on it.
“I’m sure Miss Brown is doing just that even as we speak. I, however, am asking you.”
So Connor was getting the ‘good cop’ routine, Ryan thought. At least that answered where the other man was, a piece of information they had been withholding since the two of them had been split up on arrival at the Home Office. Ryan wondered how Connor’s ‘debriefing’ was going.
“You had no idea where they went, and yet you picked one at random?” Lester said.
“We picked the one that was about to close. That was the one that was supposed to take us back to our time.”
“Your time? And that would be 2007?”
Lester’s thin smile almost betrayed the fact that there was a human being behind the professional façade.
“If you were aiming to be fashionably late, Captain, I think you rather overshot the mark.”
Ryan didn’t return the smile. His Special Forces training had taught him how to resist interrogation, and even torture. All of which might have been useful right now if he was actually attempting to hide anything, but he wasn’t. Well, except for one thing, one brief moment, one lapse of professionalism when he had let his emotions get the better of him.
Stop it, he told himself. Stop thinking about Connor Temple. Just concentrate on getting yourself out of this shit.
“Captain Ryan?” Lester prompted.
“What?” Ryan’s temper finally snapped. He regretted it as soon it happened, and willed himself to calm down and keep control.
Lester barely even flinched.
“All right,” the civil servant allowed. “Let’s talk about something else. Helen Cutter. She was there with you, yes?”
“Yes.” Stay focused, Ryan thought. Stay in control. Don’t let him get to you.
“And she told you where to find the anomaly?”
“You believed her? She’s not exactly the world’s most reliable source of information.”
Ryan was still trying to come up with a non-sarcastic reply to that when a ring tone cut the silence in the room. Lester allowed a flicker of impatience to show on his face.
“Excuse me a moment.” He stood up and answered his phone, turning and walking away from the table so that Ryan couldn’t see his face.
Ryan was torn between wanting to take the moment to clear his head, and wanting to try to listen in and pick up any information that might shed light on the situation he had been thrust into. Lester’s voice was low, and he couldn’t make out the words, but the tone of Lester’s voice was unmistakeable – impatience, resignation, and above all exhaustion.
What the hell has been going on here? Ryan thought.
Lester slid the phone back into his pocket and turned back towards Ryan.
“I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there, Captain Ryan. I have another anomaly to deal with. I’m sure we can pick this up again tomorrow. In the meantime, I suggest you get cleaned up.” He paused, and if Ryan didn’t know better he might have thought that the look Lester gave him was one of pity. “Accommodation has been arranged for you. I have to ask that you don’t attempt to contact anybody. You are, after all, officially dead.”
Lester left the room, and when the four armed soldiers who had been present throughout the debriefing stepped towards him, Ryan took that as his cue to leave as well.
The soldiers didn’t speak to him as they headed down the corridor, two of them in front, and two behind him. Ryan didn’t recognise any of the men, and wondered how many of his own squad were still here, still part of the anomaly project, or how many of them had been lost in the last three years. A door further down the corridor ahead of them opened, and he saw Claudia Brown and Connor come out, with two more armed soldiers. Ryan wondered for a moment what his chances were of attracting their attention, but out of nowhere another man stepped out in front of them and Ryan’s four man escort halted immediately.
“You must be Ryan.” The man looked him up and down, and didn’t appear to be particularly impressed with what he saw.
You spend five fucking days stuck in the past getting chased by dinosaurs and see how good you look, Ryan thought as he eyed the newcomer. He was a big man, taller and slightly broader than Ryan himself, with dark hair, and a smart suit that made him look like a cross between a civil servant and a night club bouncer.
“Yes. And you are…?” Ryan suspected this guy was an officer, but he’d seen no indication of rank other than the reactions of the soldiers. The man’s accent, and attitude, spoke of an upper class background and an expensive education.
Suddenly Ryan understood. This was the guy who had replaced him.
Down the end of the corridor, Connor and Claudia disappeared round the corner with their escort and were gone.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” Captain Thomson continued, ignoring Ryan’s silence. “Last seen throwing yourself through an anomaly. Not the smartest move ever.”
Ryan barely bit back his immediate response. He was too tired to get into a pissing contest with this guy, even if he’d wanted to.
“I was trying to keep Connor Temple alive.” You already know that, you must have read the reports, he thought to himself.
“That might have been easier if you hadn’t let him go through it in the first place.”
Ryan didn’t reply. He knew the man was baiting him, even though he had absolutely no idea why. Was Thomson worried that he, Ryan, would take his job now he was back?
When Ryan didn’t rise to the bait, Thomson just eyed him for another moment.
“Well, I’m sure I’ll see you again, Ryan.” He walked past them, not even bothering to acknowledge the other soldiers. Ryan caught the briefest glance between the two soldiers in front of him and suddenly he suspected exactly what kind of officer Thomson was.
His men don’t like him, Ryan thought. That was not a good sign. Not in their line of work.
Once Thomson was out of earshot one of the soldiers said, “This way, Sir,” and they carried on down the corridor.
By the time they got to an anonymous black car, Connor and his escort was nowhere in sight. Ryan didn’t even bother to show any interest in where they were going as the car set off, and he just closed his eyes in the back seat, trying to ignore the fact that all four guards were still with him. He remembered that Connor had only had two soldiers with him. Interesting. Ryan wasn’t entirely certain whether he should feel smug or insulted that they apparently thought he warranted a four man armed guard. Although it did beg the question, what exactly did they think he was going to do?
The car hadn’t been travelling for more than five or ten minutes before it stopped.
“Sir,” one of the soldiers prompted, and Ryan opened his eyes and looked out. He knew this place. It was a hotel used by the Home Office to house important or politically sensitive guests. It was used pretty much exclusively by them, in fact, and there was a definite ‘no questions asked’ policy amongst the staff about anyone who stayed there. Again, interesting.
After receiving brief instructions from reception, the four soldiers took him up three floors in the lift. When the lift doors opened they led him onto a corridor with an expensive looking carpet and potted plants at intervals between the doors. And, more importantly, Claudia Brown coming towards them.
“Captain Ryan,” she greeted him with a smile, and it occurred to Ryan that she was probably the first person to have done that since they had got back. “It’s good to see you again.”
“You too, Ma’am.” He meant it. So far, she was the only person who was treating him like anything other than a potentially dangerous suspect.
“I expect you’re hungry? I’m going to ask them to send something up for Connor, I can ask them to send you something as well if you’d like? And there’s a change of clothes in the room for you.”
“Thank you. And yes, please, food would be good.”
“Lester probably told you not to call anyone? I’m sorry about that, I know there must be friends or family that you want to speak to, but you must understand how… complicated it would be right now.”
“I know. We’re supposed to be dead.”
“I’m sorry,” she said again. “I’ll see what we can do about that. For now, just get some rest.”
Ryan nodded. He hadn’t meant to ask, but at the last moment as she was about to leave, he suddenly decide to push his luck.
“Miss Brown? I know I’m not supposed to talk to anyone else, but am I allowed to see Connor?”
The look she returned seemed almost curious, and for a moment Ryan wondered what Connor had said to her.
“I don’t see any reason why not. That should be fine. He’s in room 314, two doors down the corridor from you.” She glanced at the two soldiers in front to make sure they had got that. “Ryan,” she interrupted as the soldiers started to lead him away. “Thank you for bringing Connor back safely.” She hesitated again for a moment, seeming to consider her next words. Eventually she added, “You were both missed.”
Claudia Brown walked off towards the lift he had come up in, and Ryan glanced back at her as the soldiers led him round the corner onto another corridor, exactly the same as the last one except for the presence of the two soldiers who had arrived with Connor. This time Ryan did recognise one of them, and he and Corporal Barclay exchanged greeting nods as he walked past and was led to his room.
It was a fairly standard room, large enough to be comfortable without being plush or ostentatious. This clearly wasn’t one of the rooms used by the most important dignitaries. It did, however, have a double bed, and an en-suite bathroom with a decent sized shower, and right then that was all Ryan wanted.
Still, he took a minute to completely familiarise himself with the room. There was a well stocked mini-bar. Normally Ryan might have quite happily enjoyed a drink or two, but there was something about this whole situation that he didn’t like, something about the almost ridiculous level of… paranoia… that he didn’t dare risk having anything other than a clear head. Besides the mini-bar there was also a kettle and tea and coffee supplies. Next to the kettle was a calendar. Just a small, flip-over thing, but Ryan stared at it for several minutes.
It’s real. It’s fucking real, he thought, and for a moment he tried to get his tired mind around the enormity of that simple fact. For a while during the debriefing he had been starting to contemplate the idea that it was all a very elaborate psychological test. Such things weren’t unknown in his line of work, and given the nature of the anomalies and what they represented it wouldn’t even have been very surprising. The more time that had passed, however, the more Ryan had seen the flaws in the idea. Firstly, they wouldn’t have done this to Connor. He was a civilian, he wasn’t even old enough to be out of university yet. They wouldn’t have put him through something like that. Secondly, Ryan couldn’t imagine the likes of Cutter or Abby playing along with such a deception either. And then there had been the changes. Subtle, lots of things that he hadn’t noticed at first when Cutter and the others had found them. It had been dark, he had been tired, it was easy to overlook the details. But the more he’d seen the more he noticed the differences. Different haircuts. Scars on Stephen and Cutter that hadn’t been there before but which were clearly old and healed. Defensive body language and almost jaded expressions that held none of the excitement and wonder he had grown used to from these people.
But it wasn’t until he saw the calendar that he really accepted the fact that this was the future.
Ryan didn’t bother to lock the door when he finally headed for the shower. A lock wasn’t going to stop any of the soldiers if they wanted to get in, and the soldiers would no doubt stop anyone else.
He lingered in the shower for a long time, finally letting himself relax completely. By the time he’d had a shave as well, he felt almost back to normal. It looked like he had gained a couple of new scars to add to his collection, though, he noted. He wondered how Connor had fared in that department. Other than a few bruises, he seemed to have been okay up until that coelurus attack on the last day. Ryan closed his eyes, and tried to dispel the memory of that attack, the sudden gut-wrenching moment when he had seen Connor being mobbed by five or six of those creatures, the sound of him screaming.
Stop it, he told himself again. Stop worrying about Connor. He’s not your responsibility any more. But Ryan had expended a lot of time and energy in keeping Connor Temple alive lately, and some instincts were refusing to die quietly.
He heard the sound of raised voices outside the room.
What the hell?
Ryan stopped the shower and wrapped a towel round his waist as he headed for the door.
“I just want to talk to him,” a very familiar voice was saying loudly in the corridor.
Ryan opened the door, and several people turned to look at him. One of the soldiers who he didn’t know was physically blocking Connor from getting near, and Connor looked more than a little pissed off about that.
“Sir?” Corporal Barclay prompted, looking directly at Ryan.
“It’s fine, let him past.” When the soldier didn’t move for a moment, Ryan added in a slightly sharper voice, “You heard what Miss Brown said. It’s fine. Let him past.”
The soldier stepped aside, and Connor slid round him and past Ryan into the room. Ryan eyed the soldier for a moment longer, and then he closed the door on them.
Before Connor had chance to speak, Ryan moved close and whispered in his ear, “Be careful what you say. The room’s probably bugged.” He had no proof of that fact, but he knew enough about what this hotel was used for that he had a very strong suspicion there would be audio devices somewhere in the room. He headed over to the bed, and the promised change of clothes, glancing back at Connor as he went to be sure he’d got the message. Connor’s face showed shock at the thought, but he nodded that he’d understood.
The plain plastic bag on the bed contained a couple of t-shirts, a pair of jeans, a pair of jogging bottoms, and at least one set of underwear. They all appeared to be the right size as well. Ryan was in no doubt about who had arranged this, and made a mental note to thank Claudia again when he next saw her. He briefly contemplated the stitches in his leg, and then dumped the towel on the bed and pulled on the loose jogging bottoms.
When he looked up he realised Connor had gone very red and seemed to be quite intently not looking at him. The effect was not helped by the fact that whoever had put together Connor’s new clothes had managed to get everything about a size too big. Plus, it was kind of strange seeing him wearing anything as mundane as jeans and t-shirt compared with his usual dress sense. There was a nasty cut on Connor’s cheek, and an even nastier one on his arm, almost certainly from the coelurus, but at least it looked like he hadn’t needed any stitches.
“So…?” Ryan prompted, as he picked up the towel again and started to dry himself.
“I just, you know, wanted to know if you’re okay.” Connor was still not looking at him. Ryan wondered exactly when the younger man had suddenly become this coy.
“I’m okay. Could do with about eight hours of decent sleep, but other than that,” he shrugged. “You?”
“Yeah. Sort of. I don’t know.”
Ryan tried not to look too confused. Or concerned. Although he was feeling a mixture of both. “Well, I think you safely covered all possible bases with that answer,” he commented. “Want a coffee?”
“Oh, good god, yes.”
Ryan grinned and headed for the kettle he’d seen earlier.
“So. This is the future. 2010.” Connor wandered around the room, investigating things as if he’d never been in a hotel room before. Eventually he sat down on the bed. “Wow. Weird, but wow.”
“I know what you mean. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet,” Ryan admitted. There were a lot of things about this entire situation that hadn’t entirely sunk in yet, but he was rather hoping that after a decent sleep it might become clearer. He wasn’t certain what time of day it was, although it had become light outside at some point while he’d been in the debriefing, so he guessed late morning. That fact wasn’t going to stop him from sleeping as soon as he could. He was vaguely surprised that Connor was still on his feet and awake, rather than dead to the world in his own room.
Ryan searched the cupboard under the mini-bar until he found two mugs, and then had to hunt for a teaspoon. He wondered idly how much warning they’d had to get the rooms ready for him and Connor. Maybe they had been too busy removing the TV and disconnecting the telephone to have time for setting out the usual hotel hospitality stuff. He had noticed the empty TV stand and tested the phone before he went for the shower. Just be thorough.
“How do you take your coffee?” he asked as he stirred the drinks. Connor didn’t answer, and when Ryan looked round he just shook his head with a tiny smile.
Connor had fallen asleep on the bed.
Ryan abandoned the coffee and crossed the room to stand over the other man.
“Connor?” he said softly. The lack of any kind of response told him that Connor had finally succumbed to the exhaustion that he knew they were both feeling. Ryan briefly wondered whether he should wake him and turf him out to his own room. For an even briefer moment he wondered what the soldiers in the corridor outside would think if he didn’t. Then Ryan decided that he didn’t care, and limped round to the other side of the bed, glad that it was a double at least. He crashed out and closed his eyes, wishing that he had closed the curtains to block out the light, but not caring enough to get up again to do it.
He opened his eyes long enough to glance sideways at his companion. Connor’s face held a refreshing innocence when he slept, and it was something that Ryan had become used to seeing over the last few days. It was an almost comforting moment of continuity against the backdrop of this changed, paranoid future world they were now in.
A nagging doubt still insisted that he really should wake Connor and send him back to his own room, but Ryan knew he had no intention of doing that. It was easy enough to tell himself that it was just that protective instinct that made him want to keep Connor close right now. Although, even as his tired mind finally gave in to exhaustion, Ryan knew that wasn’t the whole truth. Where Connor was concerned, protectiveness was no longer the only instinct influencing his decisions.
When Ryan woke up again it was dark inside the room. He fumbled for a bedside lamp, and eventually found one and switched it on as his eyes adjusted to what little light there was.
A mumbled protest from the other side of the bed told him that Connor was still trying to sleep. Ryan quickly angled the lamp away, and watched as Connor curled up and settled again, his arm thrown across his face against the light.
Ryan slid quietly off the bed and went over to the window. There was no orange glow of streetlights outside, and he suspected the room looked out over the gardens at the back of the hotel. He still had no idea what time it was, and if the calendar could be believed and it really was October, it would be dark any time from around seven onwards.
God, their body clocks were going to be screwed for a while. Still, he already felt a hell of a lot better for having had a decent sleep in a proper bed. The pain in his leg had reduced to a low throb, and the myriad of other aches and minor injuries he had sustained over the last few days were fading. Now that he had achieved two out of three of his objectives, the third was making itself known rather more forcefully. Claudia had said she was going to get some food sent up, but they had both fallen asleep before it arrived. Ryan wondered what the protocol here was going to be. He didn’t fancy asking the soldiers on guard duty to get him something, but with the phone disconnected he didn’t see any alternative. He grabbed one of the t-shirts out of the bag and put it on as he headed over to the door.
At some point they had rotated the guard duty, and it was completely different set of six guys standing or sitting around in the corridor looking thoroughly bored. This time he recognised two of them, Robinson and Lewis.
“Bloody hell, mate. It really is you,” Robinson said with a huge grin when he spotted Ryan. “Thought you’d got yourself eaten by a T-rex or something.”
Ryan grinned back and came out into the corridor to find himself pulled into a brief hug by the other guy. He had known Dan Robinson for a long time, they had served together in Iraq, and then again on the anomaly project. He also knew from experience that Robinson could drink him under the table any night of the week, and he been the only man in the squad who could actually finish the extra hot special curry at Ajay’s Tandoori Takeaway. He wondered if that record still held three years on.
“You’re not far wrong,” Ryan admitted, remembering the allosaur.
“Good to have you back, Sir,” Lewis added, taking his cue from Robinson that it was okay to engage in conversation. At least one of the other soldiers didn’t look happy with the familiarity they were showing, but Robinson clearly didn’t give a shit what the other guy thought.
“I didn’t believe it when they said you were back,” Robinson said, still grinning. “And you brought the geek back as well? So what was it like?”
Ryan shrugged. “Same as always. Big teeth. Big claws. Too many creatures that don’t know when they’re supposed to be extinct.” He brushed it off because that was the expected response. Robinson knew him, knew their game, well enough to read between the lines, but now wasn’t the time to talk about what it was really like to be stuck in the past, not knowing if you’d ever make it home again.
“Listen,” Ryan continued, forestalling any further conversation before the other soldiers got any twitchier. “Any chance we can get some food sent up here? I wouldn’t ask, but the phone’s out, and I’m guessing that taking a walk down to the restaurant is out of the question right now.”
“Yeah, we can send a message down to the kitchen. They sent something up this morning, but by the time it arrived you were out of it, so the lads ate it for you.” Robinson grinned again. “The geek’ll want something as well, right?”
“Yeah. Thanks mate.” Ryan headed back into the room and closed the door, wishing that the other soldiers would stop glaring at him like he was a fucking terrorist, and that Robinson would stop referring to Connor as ‘the geek’. Although, he couldn’t help remembering with a faint twinge of guilt that he, along with his men, had all called Connor that at one time or another. It had been good to see Robinson and Lewis, to feel that camaraderie again, but he was getting more and more wound up by the reactions of the other soldiers. And with Connor thrown into the mix now as well, he was feeling a whole range of slightly confusing divided loyalties.
Ryan put the kettle on and ditched the morning’s abandoned drinks down the sink. He still didn’t know how Connor liked his coffee, so he opted for black, and took it over to the bed.
“Connor?” He very gently shook the younger man’s shoulder.
Connor mumbled again, and then very suddenly scrambled upright, almost causing Ryan to spill the coffee.
“What? What’s wrong?” Connor stared about for a second, apparently confused about where he was.
Talk about conditioned reflexes.
“Relax, sorry. I thought I’d better wake you up. Food’s on the way.” He waited until he was sure that Connor was properly awake, and not about to bolt, before he handed over the drink. Connor stared at the coffee with the expression of a man who had died and gone to heaven, and grinned at him.
“Thanks. Sorry about that. Force of habit, I suppose.”
It’s a good habit to get into, Ryan thought. It might save your life someday.
Connor scooted up against the pillows, and made himself comfortable cross-legged, and Ryan sat down on the bed next to him.
“So, what went wrong?” Ryan finally asked the question that had been on his mind since the previous night.
“You mean, how did we end up in the future?” Connor looked thoughtful for a moment, and then shrugged. “Wrong anomaly, I suppose.”
“Thanks Einstein, I’d worked that out for myself.”
Connor looked slightly sheepish.
“Well, we knew we were late, it was gone sunset by the time we got there. The right anomaly must have disappeared.”
Ryan turned over the few ideas he had been thinking of in the intervening time, considered the possible presence of audio bugs in the room, and then decided to voice his thoughts anyway.
“What if there never was a ‘right’ anomaly?”
Connor took a moment to catch up with what he meant. “You mean Helen lied about it being there?”
“She’s not exactly known for being trustworthy. And she did abandon us before we got anywhere near it.” Lester had been right about that at least; Helen Cutter was not the most reliable source of information.
“It’s possible,” Connor allowed. His voice suggested it wasn’t something he had actually considered. He was far too trusting, Ryan reflected. It was one of Connor’s more endearing qualities, but sooner or later it was likely to get him into trouble, if it hadn’t already. “Why would she want to trick us like that?” Connor said.
“Why not? She likes to play games, show off how much more she knows about the anomalies than we do. Maybe it was all some big joke.”
“No,” Connor shook his head. “I don’t think so. I mean, yeah, she’s not exactly a team player, but surely she wouldn’t do something that vindictive for no reason.”
“Why are you sticking up for her?”
“I’m not. Okay, I am. I don’t know. I just don’t think even Helen Cutter would deliberately do that to us. Not in a life or death situation.” Connor was refusing to meet Ryan’s eyes, had been for most of the conversation, in fact, and Ryan was starting to wonder if he was hiding something.
Before Ryan could say anything else, Connor continued. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe there never was an anomaly that would get us back to exactly the time we left. Maybe Helen knew that, and so she sent us to the only one that would get us anywhere close. Maybe we were meant to pick the one that brought us here.” He shrugged again, but he was clearly deep in thought about the possibilities.
“So I suppose there’s sod all chance of finding another one that takes us back to our time?”
Connor looked up at him so sharply he almost spilled the coffee.
“No. We can’t do that. No way.”
“Why not?” Ryan knew that look on Connor’s face. It was the one that meant he was deadly serious about something.
“If we try to go back in time now from here, we’ll end up causing a time travel paradox. And trust me, we really, really don’t want to do that.”
Ryan tried to work out exactly what it was that Connor had just said. It sounded altogether too much like something out of Star Trek for his liking. Eventually he admitted defeat.
“Sorry? What the hell does that mean?”
“We can’t go back, because we never got back.”
Ryan wasn’t certain if he was the one being dumb or if Connor really was talking nonsense. His expression must have said as much, because Connor continued.
“Okay, we never got back three years ago, right? History in this timeline says we disappeared and were never seen again. Until now.”
“But we’re here now. By coming back at this point in time, we’ve become an established part of the timeline, and if we go back, we’ll change it, because in this timeline we never did get back three years ago.”
“This timeline? You make it sound like there’s more than one.”
“Well, that’s one theory.”
Ryan had a suspicious feeling he was actually having a serious conversation about theoretical physics with a guy whose idea of a good night involved back to back showings of all three Star Wars films. At any other time, this would have been the point where he cracked open a beer and stopped paying attention. Instead, he prompted Connor to explain further.
“Okay, most people think of time as being linear, right? One long continuous sequence of events. Now that time travel is possible, that’s out of the window completely.”
Ryan shrugged. Until he’d been assigned to the anomaly project he had never really thought about what time looked like at all. Connor seemed to be getting into full swing, though.
“Once you’ve got the ability to go back in time and interact with the past, you risk changing it. It’s like the old sci-fi story where they go back in time and step on an insect, and when they come back to their time the world’s ruled by giant ants or something.”
Actually, a beer was starting to sound like a good idea.
“So, there’s any number of theories about what would happen if you go back in time and affect the past. Some people say it’s impossible, that you can’t change it once it’s happened, so if someone went back in time then they always had gone back in time, so you’re not changing it so much as making it happen in the first place. So we were always meant to go back to the Jurassic, and we were meant to arrive back here, because all of time up to this point has already happened and is unchangeable and we’re just playing out the events. That’s kind of where the predestination paradox theory comes in, but that idea’s just weird.”
Ryan wanted a beer. He really did.
“Another alternative is the one like the ant story. If you go back in time and interact with the past you change things from how they happened, and so you change the future, which is bad if you then try to go back to the same future that you came from, because it’s not the same any more. Plus you risk the possibility of wiping yourself out of existence by killing your ancestors. Or not even killing them, just changing things so it didn’t happen the way it was supposed to. Like in Back to the Future where he goes back and accidentally stops his parents from meeting each other and then he starts to vanish because he parents weren’t getting together so he could never exist.”
Connor was getting more and more enthusiastic as he talked. Ryan was still trying to get past the giant ants, and suspected even beer might not be enough for this conversation make sense.
“And I suppose if we just wanted to go back to three years ago, back to our time, that wouldn’t be a problem for us, but it would really screw up this time for everyone else. I mean, think of it from, say, Professor Cutter’s perspective. He’s lived the last three years without us in it, and if we went back then we’d have been there, so Cutter’s past wouldn’t have happened the way it did.”
Ryan thought that one through, and nodded. He thought he had followed what Connor had meant, but before he could ask any questions, the younger man started off again.
“The other main idea is the one about multiple universes, and infinite timelines. For every decision you make, a parallel timeline is created for the choice you didn’t take. So in that way, if you travel to the past and change something, it just creates an alternate timeline that branches off and does something different to the way it happened originally. Although at that point there’s no way of knowing whether you’d go back to your original timeline in the future, or to the one that you’d created by altering things. Or, alternatively, there’s the theory that you can’t change time, and that if you try the universe will just implode. But that one’s a really unlikely worst case scenario.”
“So, if we go back in time to 2007, the universe will implode?” Ryan hoped he didn’t sound as incredulous as he felt.
“Probably not,” Connor grinned. “I mean, think about it. Helen’s been traipsing around the past for eight years. It’s practically impossible for her to have done that without changing the past, even just slightly, accidentally. She must have changed things. And the universe is still here.”
“So we can’t go back because…?”
“Because if we do, we will change this timeline. Maybe even destroy it. We’ll destroy this timeline and create a new one, one where we did come back in 2007. Which, again, not so much a problem for the two of us, but it’s a bit harsh for everyone else who’s existed in this timeline for the last three years, that it just gets wiped out of existence because of us. Or, we’ll create another alternate branch timeline, and then it’s anyone’s guess which one we’ll end up in. But the fact is, in this timeline we never got back, ergo, we can’t, or possibly don’t, go back.”
Ryan turned that over in his mind. He understood what Connor had said enough to suspect that he was talking at least some kind of sense. It also occurred to him that it was a sign of how much he trusted the younger man’s intelligence that he believed him without necessarily understanding everything that he had said.
“So this is it?” Ryan said. “We just pick up our lives with a three year gap in the middle and move on?” If the government ever gets round to giving us our lives back, that is.
Connor finished his coffee and stared intently at the empty mug.
“What else can we do? It’s better than the Jurassic, at least.”
Ryan couldn’t get rid of the feeling that Connor was still hiding something. When he had been discussing the time travel stuff he had been his usual self; enthusiastic, fascinated, animated. But he hadn’t made eye contact once. Not properly. Not for more than a brief second.
He didn’t have time to think too hard about what that might mean, though, because right then there was a brief knock on the door before it swung open and Robinson called out, “Hope nobody objects to spaghetti bolognese, because that’s all they could do at short notice.”
At that, Connor did meet his look, and Ryan knew that Connor’s grin mirrored his own. Objections? Not likely. The only question was which one of them was going to get to the door first.