TERRA NOVA - CRETACEOUS
The oxygen rich air formed a heavy soup around him, saturated with fresh pollen and an accompanying swarm of ancient wasps. He remained perfectly still, even as a thirty millimetre specimen landed delicately on the barrel of his rifle. Commander Nathaniel Taylor watched as its iridescent wings unfurled, flapping slowly. Its stinger dragged along the metal leaving a trail of poison.
Everything in this godforsaken place wanted to kill him. The air. The plants. The ancient kin of birds and the bugs. The fucking bugs. Those never even managed a footnote in his mission briefings about humanity's fresh start. Oh, there were novels detailing ore resources and a three-part-mini-series regarding sustainable farming but nothing on the winged assassins marauding through the air.
The survival manual was the first sacrifice to the fire. In exchange he received another first – unidentified roast dinosaur leg. That was thirty-two days in. An eternity ago.
Every afternoon saw Taylor return to the caves around the lake, slip beneath a fierce waterfall and vanish into the gaping mouth of quartz. There, in the safety of the violent swirls of mist, he'd made a home. On one wall, Taylor scratched the passage of time and on the other, a map of the surrounding area. He ventured further each day, searching for a place to make camp when the rest of the expedition arrived.
He knew that something had gone wrong with the process but of course he'd expected there to be challenges. They were playing with a rift of time that the egg-heads couldn't explain. He doubted its stability from the start. His equipment, sent a day in advance, was found washed to the edge of a cliff and torn about by scavengers. Rust clung to the fastenings and it was then that Taylor realised time stepped differently on this side of the portal. The next wave of crew could arrive today – or in ten years. Until then, Taylor was alone.
Bones from previous meals were sharpened into an array of knives and arrow heads. His arsenal grew daily, laid along the wall like a row of teeth. Through the overbearing thrash of the waterfall, he could hear a carnivore cry out signalling nightfall. They liked to hunt in the twilight, when the shadows draped over the land and confused the calmer giants rounding up their hatchlings. Near as he could tell, this was Spring.
"Looks like it's just you and me," Taylor sank down on the floor beside a huge dinosaur skull he'd found in the cave. It was near as long as he was tall and missing a tooth. Still, it had a hint of mischief in its eyeless grin.
One hundred days later, the rains subsided long enough for fungi to thrust from the forest floor. It conquered like Alexander, towering to Taylor's shoulders with violent red hats and clouds of spores which erupted at the lightest touch. He swung his rifle over a low branch and dragged himself out of the mayhem into a tree.
He didn't see the shiver run through the surrounding rainforest. Enormous boa constrictors, tangled together in the canopy, startled. Tiny, tree-dwelling dinosaurs vanished down holes dug into the trunks with their next batch of eggs.
The forest held its breath...
Time and space ripped. A great crack bit through the air, igniting the oxygen which flashed viscously for a moment. Smoke was left, spiralling through the forest and at its centre was a strange, shimmering pool. Like mercury it quivered, unable to settle as though its reality was neither here nor there... A quantum truth and universal violation.
Twelve people stepped through.
Military units, they spent a moment in startled awe before dutifully moving to spread out and secure the area. They got as far as forming a perimeter before sickness overwhelmed them. The air was too rich for their strangled lungs. Oxygen rushed to their head. Their hearts struggled to force the blood through. The result was a blinding headache – nausea and in a few unlucky cases, fainting.
"How many did we lose?" Lieutenant Alicia Washington screeched at her radio, nursing her own scorcher.
"Four down – another three don't look so pretty." One of her team replied.
They ended up with their asses on the ground, heaving except for Wash. She slid on a pair of sunglasses and tilted her head up to look at the light filtering in through the canopy. There were places on earth with trees – forests even and she'd been lucky enough to see them before being sent to the capital where plants were kept in glass cages. Nothing like this. It was as though they were sentient, greeting them as sentries with their trunks thicker than a transit. Speaking of...
"Anyone clocked a rover?" She spun around, turning back to the portal just in time to watch it disintegrate prematurely. 2149 was gone and along with it all their stuff. Without the safety of the portal, she realised the fragility of their position. "Everyone, on their feet! Sharp!"
Most struggled but soon if they were going to hurl, they were doing it with a weapon in their hands and eyes on the forest.
"Sir – we're nowhere near the cap site. The re-con beacon isn't registering on the comms. I've got nothing."
"As always, you've given me details and missed the headline act," Wash replied, handing her officer back his useless toy. "The Commander's not here to greet us."
Wash tripped and slammed into the mud. Leaves and vines flew from beneath, sending her straight back to the ground when she tried to stand. It was only their petty vengeance that saved her life. A moment later, a huge foot pressed into the ground where her body should have been. It had the span of her entire flat, crushing everything beneath it.
Unable to move, Wash closed her eyes, dipping her head back down into the filth so that from above she looked like another piece of debris. She felt drops of water rain down around her, running off the body of the creature above. A second foot hit the ground nearby then a tail swooped over, smashing small trees and stripping bark from the larger ones.
It chased her men, proceeding through the dense jungle in search of the strange, small animals it had pursued from the grassy flats on the far side of the river. Wash watched two of them vanish into its jaws, swallowed without a second bite. Another was broken beneath its feet and four more were trapped in the rapids, ripped into the current that sent them flying into the wildness in a world without end. That left five, scattered nearby with nowhere to run.
The beast above her emitted a strange call. Like an eagle, it cried out, inviting others to join in the hunt. Wash knew she couldn't stay here under its feet. Sooner or later, it was going to glance down and notice the unarmed snack.
Carefully, she began to shuffle backwards toward the nearest pine. Scattered around its base was a mess of branches where a partner tree had fallen and long ago become a hollowed skeleton. If she could reach the entrance perhaps she could hide within the peat. Wash spared a thought for the others. They had to follow their training and go to ground – wait.
Wash was careful, moving only when the towering creature was distracted. The jungle hushed in common fear. Her boot grazed the surface of the log. She risked a look over her shoulder. Now that she was here the task of peeling herself from the mud and manoeuvring into the log seemed insurmountable.
Shit... She thought, before returning her gaze to the dinosaur. Wash found a huge set of golden eyes fixed on her, blinking with a mixture of curiosity and hunger. Double shit.
Wash rolled left. A snout full of teeth crashed straight through the flimsy log, shattering it in a storm of splinters. On her feet, Wash made a brief play for her weapon but was cut off by a foot ploughing into the ground in front. The problem for the carnivore was that Wash was too small rather than too fast. Every time it went for her, it overstepped the mark – literally. Wash used that to her advantage, ducking off to the side where she found herself stumbling though a knee-deep stream full of rocks and egg shells. Flecks of gold stuck to her uniform, washed from a hillside nearby where a scar in the cliff glistened.
The tug of the rapids threatened to steal her away but she latched onto the larger boulders and dragged herself onto the other side. She found one of her soldiers a dozen feet in the air, caught in the branches with his innards dangling free, dripping onto the ground. Wash averted her eyes.
That left four until a scream narrowed that to three.
"Position!" She hissed at the radio. "Report!"
Only one of them managed to flick their radio on. Their babbling was incoherent. Wash heard whispered pleas right up until a crunch of teeth from above. What happened to the last member of her team, she'd never know. Their bones would grow white in the jungle.
With nothing else to hunt, the carnivore was back on her trail. Having no weapon, she high-tailed it, gasping almost immediately with the thick air. It crossed the river behind her then entered the tree line. This was all going to be over very soon if-
A hot hand wrapped around her mouth and pulled her into a thicket. Thorns. Petals. Sap. It all ran over her skin as Wash was dragged, flailing, into the Cretaceous jungle. She ended up deep, imprisoned by the root system of a felled giant tree and yet even here she knew this was window dressing not safety.
"Easy..." A familiar voice purred in her ear.
Wash felt the prickle of her CO's beard across her cheek and then his free arm drift around her waist, tugging her flesh against his body. They were pressed to one of the trees, hiding in the shadows with an incredible field of mushrooms. It was the spores, misting around them, that confused the pursuing creature. It stopped at the edge, shying away from the filthy air.
As if sensing she was about to talk, Taylor tightened his grip on her mouth. A sound now would be enough to tempt the monster forward.
There they remained, living breath-to-breath. Taylor's lips were beside her ear and her free hands gripped the arm around her waist – first in alarm – now in comfort. Ridiculous as it was, for a moment she felt safe.
"Bad luck on your first day," Taylor finally said, letting his grip slip away once he was sure the carnivore had lost interest and wandered off. "Didn't meet one of those for a whole month," he continued, silently checking Wash over as he'd done a hundred times on their missions together. For him, it was as if nothing had changed. "They hunt with the rains – following bad weather from one side of the continent to the next. Lieutenant?"
Wash was staring through Taylor, unable to comprehend the scene in front of her. His grey hair was longer, covering his eyes where it wasn't weighed down with grease and mud. Deep scars were in various stages of healing, three of which were on his neck put there by vengeful claws. His uniform was in pieces, supplemented by patches of hide and a few feathers. If it wasn't for the standard issue rifle slung over his shoulder he could have been perfectly wild.
Despite the fear, there was something smiling in those eyes of his.
"You with me?" Taylor snapped his fingers in front of her face.
"S-sorry, sir," she stammered, unaware that she was crying. The tears cleaned tracks of cream skin. "Sir..." she followed, taking a careful step back to restore space between them. "What happened to you?"
"I'll explain everything later," he assured her, "but first – what happened to the others? Your team..." He added, when she seemed to drift away from him again. It was the oxygen. It saturated the blood and messed with the brain for several days.
Wash shook her head. "No. They didn't make it."
He knew better than to press her. "We'll have to wait before we return for a salvage. You ran into a female marking her territory. She'll hunt this area for at least another couple of days."
"What was that?" Wash asked, beginning to emerge from the fog in her mind.
"Not sure that one has a name – thought I might Christen it, 'Pain in the Arse' seeing as I'm the only one around to name things."
"About that," Wash added, "how long have you been out here on your own?"
Cracks appeared in his false humour. "One-hundred and eighteen days," he replied. Every one of them was scratched into his skin.
"Then we're in big trouble. It's been twenty-four hours since you were deployed. We were right on schedule."
"Maybe we should have a word to those scientists..." Taylor trailed off. "I reckon they've carried a few too many ones and missed a bracket."
It was worse than a simple time calculation. The rip wasn't a single split but a fracture with hairline faults running for miles. Taylor had seen it from his perch above the canopy when it opened the last time. It sprawled like the arms of a fern and he was pretty damn sure it could tear at any point.
"You and I were lucky," he said, as he led her back through the forest toward the base of the river. They could already hear the waterfall in the distance which Taylor had come to think of as a sign of home. "We landed in the forest but some of the cracks run over the water and others – well let's just hope they packed parachutes... It's up here," he added, pointing through the cycads. "I'm afraid it's not much but it's better than a night out in the open."
The reality hadn't sunk in for Wash. Taylor could tell... The next expedition was meant to set up the two-way radio links but the equipment was scattered through the jungle covered in blood. Even if and that was a big if, they managed to hunt it all down, the next call was another few hours away – or several months of Terra Nova time.
"Who was in your team?" Taylor asked carefully.
"New recruits," she replied, trailing her CO. The mud had caked over her skin and fell away as dust. "We met for the first time in the briefing yesterday. Our job was to find you and help set up an area for the first team of scientists on their way." Wash shook her head. "They were kids, sir."
"Don't go there, Wash."
Her reply was a nod.
"Tell me more about the next team."
"You saw the list," she replied, then realised that was a long time ago for him. "A cluster of medics, palaeontologists, engineers, botanists and chemists – enough to gather information about the environment and begin a small enclosure for the next wave."
"Microscopes and bone-hunters," Taylor sighed, "they should have shipped in our unit. They'd have a comfortable camp laid out in no time."
"I still don't understand, how have you survived out here on your own for so long?"
Taylor brought them to a stop at the edge of a blue lake. It was frighteningly deep, vanishing into the earth while its water was perfectly clear. If you looked down from the top of the falls you could make out the bones of unfortunate dinosaurs that had become lost in its waters. On the opposite side, the falls streamed down like a curtain made of clouds, ending in a magnificent foot of white foam.
"Luck, Wash. Never underestimate the power of pure chance."
"Never made particular friends with her, sir."
Taylor laughed for the first time since he'd arrived. No. Longer than that. The first time since he'd left her on the shuttle deck. "Even with all the luck in the world, you're going to need something stronger if you want to make it out here." She was staring at him blankly through a layer of filth. Curious bugs had landed on her hair and explored, flashing their vibrantly coloured bodies. "A sense of humour. You got a-" He finished with a finger pointing to her shoulder. The same insect that had earlier rested on his gun now settled on Wash. Her startled yelp stirred memories he thought the years had erased.
"Impressive," Wash whistled, taking in the cave and all his things. "I mean, it could use a picture or two but otherwise-"
"Don't touch those," he swatted her away from his collection of bone weapons. "They're not finished."
She'd never seen him protective of anything – except perhaps his team. Not since Somalia. Wash lifted her hands in defeat. "Just admiring your handy work," she assured him. "What are you up to?"
He was scurrying around, making preparations as if he was thinking of moving out. "Alone, out here – the only thing you can do is survive," he explained. "There isn't time for anything else. You stop – you starve, or worse. I've been on the wrong side of the dinner plate a few times in the last hundred days."
"We weren't expecting a welcome party," she tried to assure him but that wasn't what he was getting at.
"The next team of people to arrive will be the test to see if this world can work. If they die nobody will forgive the expense of another failed expedition. We need to make sure that when they arrive, they live."
"What are you proposing, sir?"
"First thing, we scout out locations for the main camp. I've got a couple of ideas in line but I'd like to know your thoughts. Then we build protective areas for the arrivals. We'll have to be fast about finding them too. They could pop out anywhere in this valley."
"Right now sir, if you don't mind. Think I might take five." Wash looked like she needed it. There was a terrible laceration running across the back of her arm onto her shoulder blades which neither of them had seen earlier caked beneath the mud. Another wound its way up her leg where it had left a hole in her pants. As soon as he gave a short nod, she retreated.
A few hours later her found her sitting behind the waterfall, well within the cloud of mist. She was soaked through, enveloped in the freezing water like some kind of water nymph. The blood had washed away long ago along with the mud. It washed the tears off her cheeks as well. Taylor suspected that was why she'd chosen this particular location to brood. Her whole team lay over the jungle floor. He suspected it had less to do with them being dead and more about her inability to save them.
"You can't always fight them," Taylor said quietly, taking a seat beside her in the rain of the waterfall. The world beyond the veil of water was nothing but blurred hues of green and blue. The sun lasted longer than he was used to, tracking slowly across the sky. He figured they were close to the equator. "Terra Nova – it's not a war zone. There are no enemies for us to fight or battles to plan. There's only survival. It takes a while to accept that we're no longer the top of the food chain. Around here I'd say we're about on par with those bugs you like so much."
"I dropped my gun."
"We'll get your gun back. I promise, nothing out there is interested in it." Taylor thought for a long time before deciding to place his hand on her shoulder. She was cold as ice – shivering under his touch. "Come on – there's a fire and a bit of left over Slasher."
Wash turned on him, a puzzled expression knitting her eyebrows together. "Slasher?"
"You're going to like those even less than bugs," he promised.
Taylor waited for her to pass out against the rudimentary bedding he'd set along the wall. It was a mixture of leaves carefully stripped of insects then stuffed into casings he'd woven from palm leaves. The first few times he'd tried had ended in disaster. Leaves that gave off a hallucinogenic gas as they broke down brought him to the brink of madness. It had taken nearly a week of hilarious visions for him to realise seventeenth century pirate ships floating down the river were not part of the Cretaceous. After that, he'd inadvertently brought an ants' nest in. Let's just say he was getting better at this sort of thing.
He was pretty good at patching up nasty scrapes too. Taking a piece of fibre from the inside of a water plant, he twisted it into a piece of string then threaded a field needle. Wash barely twitched as he started on the first wound.
"You're easier to fix when you're laid out, Wash." Taylor whispered. "Last time you went and bled all over my best uniform. I know we blamed it on that Yellow-Dome terrorist but I still think it was spite."
Truthfully, this wasn't the first time he'd spoken to her when she wasn't around to listen. Living here, alone, with a waterfall for company... It did things to the mind. There were some days when he caught himself reporting back on missions to her simply to have someone to talk to.
"All done," said Taylor, sitting back when he was finished. Wash was quiet, deep in a well earned sleep. Taylor brushed a few wayward strands of hair from her face and paused. Why was it always her? She had a habit of showing up when he least expected it and needed it most.
Get a grip, Taylor, he chastised himself, your specifically requested her on your team. Her presence was the result of good organisation not divine intervention.
TERRA NOVA - 2150
All they'd left Taylor with was a stain on the concrete. He knelt down, reaching out to the mark as if through that trace of dried blood he could find her. That was a lie. Lieutenant Wash was beyond anyone's reach.
"Sir..." A shadow lingered behind. Search lights cut through the night, clouded by the same haze of bugs from Wash's first day. Corporal Reynolds continued to wait while the Commander lingered at scene. "We're still looking for her."
"Her body, you mean," the Commander corrected him. "You can say it."
A careful nod. "Yes sir."
"Why don't you try telling me what you know?"
"I..." Mark Reynolds didn't know how to find those words. "Would rather not." A terrifying set of eyes met his as Taylor straightened to his full height. Reynolds was still taller but he might as well have been a raindrop facing the ocean. "There's a makeshift grave running along the Eastern side where the other residents were... Well, we think the soldiers might have..."
Taylor raised his hand. He'd heard enough now. His stomach dropped until he felt like he was going to be sick. Scrap that, he was going to be sick.
"How long has he been in there?" Skye asked, standing beside Reynolds.
"Half the night," he replied. "He's been briefing patrols to re-establish the fences as a first priority. A pack of Slashers has been spotted sniffing around, drawn by all the noise."
"And our dearly departed friends?"
"Sixers have retreated into the jungle, probably back to their old camps to regroup. I doubt we'll see them back here for a while. The soldiers headed out towards the Bad Lands. Commander thinks they're looking for something but right now their shady motives are not our priority."
"No. Finding Wash is his priority," Skye replied quietly.
Reynolds folded his arms across his chest, ignoring the tears in his skin from the previous battle. "Normally I wouldn't ask but-"
"Don't ask," Skye rested her hand gently on his arm. "Wash is a story he doesn't tell. He'll never tell it. Just – do whatever he asks. That's what he needs from us right now."
"If he asks me to do the dishes I would," he assured her. "As it stands, I think I'll help find the Lieutenant."
Reynolds was there when they found her, tangled in with the other bodies of Terra Nova's residents, tossed aside like trash. The Commander wasn't even informed of the discovery until the medical team had cleaned the mud from her body and laid her out in the medical centre. Taylor found a trace of mud stuck to her hair. Even in death it found her.
The team who'd brought him in sank away into the hospital leaving Taylor alone with Wash. He sat in the chair beside her bed as though he were visiting her in med bay after another of her numerous mishaps. With all the windows laying as shattered glass on the floor, wind kicked at the sheets of cloth strung up to give them privacy.
"Oh Wash..." He finally whispered. "I didn't think it would end like this. Was always supposed to be me first, you know, like we promised." There was no hiding the circular hole in her forehead. Wash was dead because his son wanted revenge. She was the perfect punishment for the perceived crimes. "My fault again."
Every time Taylor closed his eyes he was back on the other side of the fence, watching her crumble to the ground. She'd said something first. He watched her lips move and a tear fall before the end. That would become another one of her secrets.
The Commander remained with Wash for hours, talking as though she were still alive. Eventually he steeled himself enough to leave and the next morning they buried her beneath the twin pines. He kept her dog tags, draping them over his head. It was probably a serious breach of protocol but no one uttered a word.
Reynolds was the last one to stand beside the soft dirt. "I'll look after him," he promised Wash, "exactly like we promised."
"They've got to be here somewhere," said the Commander, lowering his binoculars.
"We've been out here for hours," Reynolds replied. "If this was the new Sixer camp, we'd have seen movement. They must have headed deeper into the West."
"Away from the ocean? They'd be mad to try," Taylor replied. "The forest is too thick if you go beyond the hills and without the sea to supplement their diet, they'd stave. No. They're here somewhere. Keep looking."
They did. Every couple of days more searches were dispatched, marking off new grid references. Intuition slowly gave way to methodical sweeps. Nothing turned up except a few long abandoned bunkers with welcome, stolen supplies.
Terra Nova recovered. Its fences were fixed, the gardens replanted and the buildings patched. Without contact to the future they had to make do with some rudimentary supplies the Commander fashioned from their surrounds. This week was special. The cores that powered all their hand held technology finally expired. The engineers were too busy securing the settlement to find a solution to charging them so people began writing books.
Skye knocked before entering the Commander's office carrying a cup of coffee. She found him sitting behind his huge, dinosaur skull table. It was one of the few items to survive unscathed from the raid.
"Give me a moment," Taylor acknowledged her presence without looking up from his notes. Their relationship was repairing but ever so slightly rocky. Her punishment was watching his heart break and feeling partly responsible for it.
"I'm not sure it's perfect yet but a panel of curious bystanders say I'm getting better," Skye said, setting the coffee down in front of him when he was ready.
"Coffee – that must mean the queue has finally gone from outside my door."
"Yes, they're gone. Don't worry, they'll be another line there tomorrow morning."
"Are the – uh – new homes finished yet? I'm sure I saw a memo..."
"Yes," she interrupted. "We're all back in a house only this time the walls are made of Iron-bark. No. It's okay – I love it," she assured him. "Mum used to say one day we'd have to survive without help from the future. It might be a bit sooner than we were ready for but it's what we expected. Most people had given up any dream of returning to the future so all in all, losing the portal has gone down rather well."
"I had a feeling," he replied softly. "Home is something you build with your hands." He tried her coffee. Her assessment of it was pretty accurate but it'd do the job. "I've been thinking – that shady still of yours."
"It's okay – closed for business as instructed, besides, everyone's being exceptionally law abiding of late."
"Actually I was going to give you the unofficial nod. Good for moral. Without supplies coming in from the future the bar's going to turn into a rather sad affair. I'll throw a couple of guards your way."
"And I'll toss a couple of pints toward the guards. Yep. Got it." Skye grinned.
"We'll look at making it official in the new year. I trust this won't impact your training?"
"I'm not sure I was put here for my green thumb..." Skye sulked. She wanted to be a soldier – train with the Commander but since Wash's death he was in no mood to entertain those particular aspirations. He'd come around in time. For now she had enough to atone for before she could argue the toss. "But if I can ferment things I'm sure I can grow them."
He nodded at her warmly. "Could you rustle up Shannon on your way out? I need a word."
"Not a social call?" Jim Shannon strolled into the Commander's office. It was littered with recovered pieces from the raid. Electronic remnants were in high demand and every evening the Commander had a flock of eager engineers waiting for a look at the new pile. They'd have to wait – scattered among the wire and fried circuit boards were crates taken from the Sixer camp.
"Not even close, Shannon." Taylor replied, indicating that he should have a seat. "Where are we at with the market?"
"Nearly back on its feet, sir," Jim replied. "Few more stalls and the settlement will be self sufficient – at least as far as food is concerned."
"That'll have to be enough for now. As soon as they've stopped starving they can begin building. We've got to get the store rooms full before the rains arrive. No one can do shit when those clouds start pissing everywhere."
"Looking forward to it." Jim tapped one of the crates. "These for me?"
"Came in last night after the raid. Looks like Reynolds found one of Mira's favourite holds. I've had Wallace crawling all over me trying to get a look in."
"Why not let him? It would certainly get him out of my hair. He's started following me around hoping for first pick at anything my team finds."
"I hope you reminded him that he already has first pick, as senior science officer."
"None of that explains why you're keeping his nose out."
The Commander nodded. "You have a point. Come here..." Taylor waved Jim closer toward one of the smallest boxes. He removed his combat knife from his vest and levered the lid off. "I never got the chance to go through this before all hell broke loose last month," Taylor continued. "It was brought in much earlier, found stashed between the rocks at the base of the Purple Falls by Wash's point team."
"Oh yes, I remember the Lieutenant's report. Unlisted items and a small collection of Sixer weapons. She was so pleased."
The Commander nodded. "Missed career opportunity. Wash should have bunked up with the archaeology team." He set the lid aside and pushed the box toward Jim.
Inside lay a fragment of pink quartz, half an inch thick, perfectly flat and covered in microscopic patterns. It was clearly broken off from a larger piece. One side was straight but the other three were fractured from the brake. Jim frowned, picking it out from the packaging. "That looks awfully like a-"
"-motherboard..." The Commander replied. "I know. For the last few days I've trailed through the archives wearing down our only working core and found preliminary research into quartz-driven electronics. Several teams at Hope Plaza were researching it in conjunction with long haul space flight. A team parallel to ours, also burdened with the task of continuing humanity. Hope Plaza wasn't only looking into the past for hope – they had their sights on the sky too. Never got off the ground. When the rift opened the Cretaceous won and the rest is, ironically, history. No point developing space flight for an extinct time line."
"I think I saw a few articles about that. Didn't their lead researcher..."
"Commit suicide? Yes. Failure hit them hard. Their funding dried up and they were shipped back out to one of the outer domes with the rest. One thing is for certain, they never got this far."
Jim set the quartz carefully into its crate. "I'm not sure I understand what you're getting at, sir."
"The fracture in time," he said, closing the crate. "It doesn't only lead to our present – it's jumping through other points in history."
"I know, we all saw that ancient figurehead the soldiers boxed up."
"No – Jim. Not only our past – the future too. A future that's not supposed to exist. That rift isn't gone. I've seen the cracks running all through the valley."
Jim flinched when he realised what was going on. "Sir... I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"I haven't even run the mission by you yet."
"You want to go out and follow these cracks – see what else might have slipped through into our reality. Preferably from the future."
"Is that such a bad idea?"
"Nothing good has come out of the future. Those are desperate times and we look like a moveable feast. Besides, you know as well as I do that the major rifts run straight across the Bad Lands. If you want to find out what's washing up in our time stream you'll have to follow the soldiers. We don't have the resources to leave Terra Nova or wage a war on the fly. I doubt we'll have a man spare for the next decade while we try and rebuild this place. We're starting a civilisation sir, every soul has to focus on that."
"It's all right, Shannon – I agree with you," Taylor replied, drinking the last of his terrible coffee. "I wasn't going to ask you or any of the men to go."
"This is such a bad idea..." Skye whispered, leaning in toward Josh. The Commander was barking his last orders while suiting up his armoured vest. Reynolds stood beside him, handing the Commander each item as required. "How can he leave now? We're starting to get somewhere."
"Dad tried to talk him out of it," Josh replied. "But he seemed determined to do this. I'm sure he has his reasons. Are you all right?"
"I shot his son, Josh." Skye replied softly. "I don't think he's forgiven me."
"Forgiven you for what? Shooting or letting him live?"
"Both, I imagine."
"You've got that look..." Josh turned Skye around to face him. "You're not thinking of following the Commander are you? Skye... You can't. Not only is it far too dangerous but he won't thank you for it."
"He can't be out there alone."
"Wouldn't be the first time." He gripped more tightly to her arm. "Think I'll keep an eye on you until he's well and truly gone."
"We'll escort you as far as Bone Ridge," Reynolds confirmed. "The relay tower will be placed up high. You should be able to get a radio signal back to Terra Nova from the edge of the Bad Lands. Once you go past the shale band you're on your own."
"I understand," Taylor replied, checking his comms. "Remember, no one comes after me. That clear?"
"Clear," he replied. "Sir – you are coming back, aren't you?" There was a glint of fear in Reynolds eyes. He'd promised Wash he'd keep the Commander safe. He was pretty sure that pact didn't end simply because she was dead. Reynolds lurched forward as Taylor smacked him hard on the shoulder.
"'course I'm coming back," he assured him. "Keep an ear out for me."
TERRA NOVA - CRETACEOUS
"That's your plan?" Wash admonished the Commander. They were laid out flat in the dirt, gazing at the valley below. One side was walled in by an impenetrable cliff, the rest were open to the jungle, several miles from the ocean. They could see the curve of blue off to their left and rivers winding through the land. Swamps cut off another flank preventing the larger predators from attacking while flocks of enormous herbivores grazed right over the grasslands the Commander had set his sights on.
"What's wrong with it?" He replied, wounded by her tone.
"Phrases like, 'sitting ducks' comes to mind, sir," Wash said. "First group of Slashers that come our way will back us into those cliffs. Hope you like cave paintings because there's going to be plenty of them in blood."
"Always so dramatic," he complained.
"Sensible and dramatic are two entirely different things."
"Like you and me, Wash," Taylor winked. She smacked his arm in reply. "Come on, there's not a lot of nesting spots in this era. This place has fresh water, fertile ground and a reasonably secure boarder. It's also not too far from the time distortion." He reached past her, guiding her line of sight. "See that stretch on the horizon?"
"Looks like some kind of desert."
"Sand dunes," he nodded. "When you're a bit higher up you can see that the whole plateau out there is reclaimed beached. Must be some iron and shale mixed in with the sand to give it those coloured bands."
"Have you been out that far?" Wash tilted so that she was resting on her elbows. It was warm in the sun and up here, on the ridge out of the jungle, the humidity dropped to a bearable level.
"Not exactly," he replied. "I walked along the edge where it meets the ocean. There's nothing to keep you alive in there. No shelter. No water and it's too far from the waterfall to go back for supplies."
"Why would anyone want to go out there?" Wash eyed the hostile terrain. It reminded her of home where the domes latched onto the barren stretches of parched earth.
"The time fracture runs right through it," he explained. "On a good day, if the dust kicks up, you can see the ionised particles swirling in great arcs, following field lines. Whole place is a magnetic mess."
"Even less of a reason, sir. We've both got enough pins in our bones to send us flying."
Taylor cracked a smile and the dragged her off the ground by the scruff of her jacket. "You're right. It's not the ideal camp site but it's the best we're going to find in the time we have left. What do you say we go scouting?"
A week passed. The rains came and went, sending a fresh deluge of leaf litter over the waterfall with each heavy night. In the morning, Wash and Taylor crept out of their cave – eyes on the surrounding jungle – searching for movement. Patterns could get you killed. There was always a predator laying in wait, taking note of common tracks.
"Have a present for you, Wash," said the Commander, coming back from one of their recons. She emerged from the other side of the pool and fixed him with a confused frown. Instead of replying, Taylor tossed her missing rifle straight into Wash's hands. She caught it easily then beamed down at her weapon, running her hand lovingly up the barrel. "Thought you'd like it."
"You've been back to the previous arrival area?"
He shook his head. "Nah – found it washed up on one of the old tree stumps along the river. That friend of yours is still hunting the area. Heard her a few times squawking."
"Damn. We need that equipment."
"I know. By my guess we've still got a few months before the follow up team is due. We might get lucky and she'll leave before they get here."
"We could always try to flush her out into new hunting grounds. What?"
Taylor was laughing heartily now, quite unable to hide his amusement. Sometimes she could be so determined regardless of the odds. "I fancy all my limbs right where they are," he replied. Even with a full unit there was next to no chance of doing anything other than annoying the creature.
He looks so different. Wash caught herself thinking. She'd ended up watching the Commander while he drove makeshift fence posts into the ground at Terra Nova. His grey hair fell to his shoulders. Most of the time he tied it back with one of her spare hair ties but they'd been for a swim earlier and he'd left it out to dry. His shirt lay over a nearby bolder, drying off along with her jacket. Their guns were closer, never more than an arm's reach.
"I'm going to start charging a fee if you keep staring like that," Taylor muttered between strikes of the pole driver.
Wash startled and immediately returned to her fence post. It was bloody hard work when you had to scavenge the materials to make the axe to fell the tree and form the posts to construct the fence. Every single thing took a million years especially when half their time was devoted to finding food. There was never enough it. Regardless of how good the fruit hanging off nearby conifers looked, it was all poisonous.
All they had to do was build the fence. If Taylor remembered correctly, this new team was bringing the basics to construct the first housing modules. It was up to him and the lieutenant to prevent opportunistic predators from picking them off while they laid the ground work.
"I hope they appreciate all the trouble we're going to on their behalf," Wash added, a few hours later.
"Probably not. Half-a-fish says they'll whine about the height of the fence and your shoddy alignment."
This was their new currency. "I'll take you on that. I wager it'll be the quality of your posts. Holy heck – is that a snake up there?" Wrapped around a nearby pine, a boa-constrictor the size of a god damn train had looped itself all through the branches. "Twenty metres at least!"
"Titanoboa – or its earlier relative. They're not supposed to get that big but the ones I've seen around here can be nearly twice that in the higher canopy. Don't worry – they're one of the laziest inhabitants. You'd have to piss it off pretty bad to lure it down."
"You ever managed that, sir?"
The ocean rolled against the shore, tugging in and our with the tide. Every couple of weeks they took one day off to explore the area. This time, Wash demanded that he take her to the ocean and he'd agreed, leading her along the river first where they ducked beneath the arching necks of Barosaurus. They were covered in a down of iridescent feathers which fluctuated between emerald and sapphire. Behind their necks, the males had stark patches of red which they flashed at the females. When she lingered too close, Taylor's hand found her arm, tugging her back to the safety of the water.
"They'll still give you a pretty good knock if you take to trying to pet them," Taylor assured her.
Instead they waded until they reached the beach and immediately found themselves weaving between huge clusters of tiny scavenger dinosaurs the size of chickens, prodding the sand with long, curved beaks. Further out, a fin patrolled ominously. How far back did she have to go to be free of sharks? First ones in and last ones out. They were right up there with crocodiles, lurking through the aeons.
"Is it what you expected?" Taylor asked, as she strolled in front. Her shoes were tied together and draped over her shoulder as she walked in ankle deep water, revelling each wave that brushed her skin. This was impossible in the future unless you were deliberately trying to poison yourself.
"I'm not sure what I expected," she replied.
"A fish, dragging itself onto the shore with flippers beginning to turn into legs?"
"Not exactly," she turned and flashed him a grin. "I..." she paused, choosing her words carefully, "didn't expect it to feel like home."
"Strange, isn't it?"
She nodded. "It's different – so different but this is still Earth."
"The basics don't change, Wash, only the scenery."
Wash paused as another wave hit. He was lingering above the water line, safe from the salt. She didn't mind as the cool waters lapped to her knees. "I meant to say thank you," she added, after staring at him in silence for too long. "For all of this. For bringing me here."
"Did you really think I was going to leave you holed up in some four-by-four when this place was waiting?"
"I deserved to be left there. At least, that's what my other CO said."
"In fairness you smashed him across the jaw with a right hook." And damn if Taylor didn't find that amusing. "I hear he deserved that as well."
"Left half my men behind. Wouldn't go back for them."
"Am I going to have a problem with you obeying orders out here, Lieutenant?"
She lofted her eyebrow at him, backing slightly deeper into the water. "That all depends on the order, sir."
There was something in her eyes that made Taylor back off to a safe distance. She was dangerous, especially out here, alone. They were the only two humans for the next seventy million years, give or take. Or a few months, depending on how you were counting.
Wash watched him walk away, leading her toward the mouth of the desert. It poured onto the beach, spilling through with its reddish sand which, now that they were closer, was littered with fragments of meteorite.
"Dammit!" She hissed, clutching her foot suddenly. Another giant shell the size of her head had scratched her with its razor edge.
"Told you to leave your boots on, Wash..." Taylor called from in front.
"Is that?" Wash trailed off as she lifted her hand. Above, there was something wrong with the air. Light was hitting it strangely. Like looking through a cracked glass, it refracted casting fragmented rainbows on the air behind.
"Don't touch that..." he advised, stepping around it. He reached for her sleeve, tugging her along with him.
Out there they found more than the sound of waves crashing and the distant screech of roving dinosaurs. Whispers. Distinct hisses on the air. They came from every angle as if they were trapped in a hall of mirrors.
"This is as far as I've been," Taylor said, as they stopped short of climbing the wall of sand to the flat.
"Wanna go up and take a look?"
He hesitated. "Stay close and put your damn boots on."
The sand was course and hot, left to bake all day. For a while Wash picked bits of meteorite out of it but soon the stones weighed her down and she had to pick a few specimens and chuck the rest. "I could buy a whole unit for one of these," she lamented.
"Well out here it would make a nice paper weight. Wait." He stopped again. "Is that what I think it is?"
They moved forward, both questioning if this was a dream after all. Buried ahead, partially revealed by a ravishing wind, was the black rubber of a tractor tyre. Its rim had rusted completely out but the rubber was perfect, preserved in its silicon prison.
"That shouldn't be here..." said Taylor.
"Neither should we," Wash pointed out. "But here we are and here it is. Come on, give me a hand."
"You're not going to roll that all the way back to the waterfall are you?"
"I bloody am."
And she bloody did. She stood in front of it for many hours while Taylor set the fire in the cave and put a few of those sand-dinosaurs (seagulls, he'd decided to call them) on to roast. "I thought you said you had grand plans for it?"
"I do," she assured him. "Well, I will, once I work out what those are." For now, she settled on transforming it into a strange bed so that for once she could sleep with a sensible gap between her ass and the floor.
"Can you hear that?" Wash asked, sitting on the small ledge beside the waterfall. Taylor emerged from the cave behind her sharpening a new spear head.
It was raining again. Banks of cloud rolled in from the ocean, hit the ranges and dropped a deluge on them. Thunder vibrated the stone and bright shards of lightning cut across the roof of the world, fracturing it. Beneath all that noise, Taylor could hear the short cries of dinosaurs fleeing.
"She's come back to hunt." Taylor nodded. "Right on time for our guests."
"What are we going to do? We can't leave her here." She was thinking about her team, still scattered out there somewhere. Eventually Taylor had brought back a few packs, the radios and a small assortment of weapons scavenged off the bodies. He never told her what he saw. His silence revealed all she needed to know.
"Maybe. Maybe not. What's she hunting? It's certainly nothing big because they've all cleared out."
Taylor was forced to admit that he didn't know. Information about these creatures had always been sketchy let alone detailed dietary requirements. "I can see where you're going with this and the answer is still no."
"A little recon, that's all..." she pushed. "Come on sir, it has to be worth a look. As you said, if this team doesn't make it then it was all for nothing. Clearly she's sticking around one way or another."
"And if we're on the lunch menu then that team is as good as dead."
"Sir... They're going to be here any day. Last time she cruised about for a week. Those numbers don't add up to anything good."
She was huge. Bristled with a line of black spikes which three feet long each and tracked all the way down her spine, she picked her way silently through the jungle. The first time Wash met the creature it had been a blur of blood and fear. All she remembered was a golden eye and the smash of her feet into the river. Now Wash saw the powerful tail curling around the trunks of sprawling figs – feeling her way around in the dark. Out in the open, her mottled skin looked strange but under the filtered light it made her invisible. If Wash hadn't seen her approach all the way from the river there'd be no chance of making her.
The Commander was a few branches higher in an opposing tree, using the sights from his rifle to watch the surface of the water. The dinosaur, 'Lucy' as he'd named her, seemed particularly interested in the rushing currents. Then, out of nowhere, a sheet of silver launched itself into the air.
Fish. Lucy was fishing. That's why she chased the rains.
Taylor lowered his sights and dropped his head onto the branch in defeat. There was nothing they could do about that. Short of stopping the river their friend was here to stay. All they could do was hope that the new expedition came out on the other side of the river, closer to Terra Nova.
"From now on, we work in shifts," Taylor said, when they made it back to camp. "We watch the valley day and night for signs of the rift."
"What does it look like?"
"Oh – you'll know," he assured her. "Trust me. You'll know."
It finally happened. Four days later, in the dead of night, the sky above the camp tore itself apart. Purple flashes mixed with green. A sharp flash of fire circled the point where the vortex pushed through. Wash picked up her radio.
Together, they fled through the night, scampering too fast for anything to hunt them. Taylor was in front picking the route while Wash kept her eyes on the forest. They had to be here somewhere. At the start of the grasslands, they found them.
The third team assembled within the area of grass burned flat by the vortex. Rovers came through first, lights on with their engines frightening off any of the smaller predators. Like all the rest, the people that came with the machines had collapsed on the ground, knocked for six by the change in air.
"Easy – easy!" Commander Taylor said, when he reached them. They were startled by his presence, reaching for their weapons but barely any of them made it before he'd calmed them. "I know you all feel like hell but we've got to get this moveable feast on the road right now. Everyone in the trucks. We'll drive."
They picked the healthiest of the crew to help bring in the six trucks. Taylor took the lead and Wash brought up the rear. In fact, they didn't manage to check any of their new arrivals until everyone was inside the rudimentary compound they'd built. As soon as the gates were closed, Taylor set fire to the perimeter surrounding them in a roaring glow. Safest thing for it.
"Okay, I realise you're all feeling pretty ordinary right about now," Taylor announced, as they helped everyone into the clearing at the centre of Terra Nova, "but it's important you all sit down and take slow, steady breaths. The nausea will pass faster if you sit. Questions will be answered soon. That's it, down on the ground. Lieutenant, see to it everyone has some water."
"Sir," Wash nodded, then started moving from person to person. Most were civilians but there was a scattering of armed reinforcements – a sight for sore eyes. She was halfway through her rounds when she stopped suddenly. Those eyes. She'd seen them before. In her dreams – every day. The Commander's eyes and yet it wasn't him. "Lucas...?" Wash whispered. "Is that really you?"
The Commander's son laid back against the rover. His head spun. Sweat dripped off his forehead in torrents, soaking through his uniform. There it was, printed straight above his left pocket. Lucas Taylor.
"Can I get some water?" Dr Malcolm Wallace had turned an unattractive shade of green. "God, is it always so hot? It's like suffocating on lava."
"Something with which I'm sure you have extensive experience," Wash lofted one of her eyebrows, leaving Lucas for a moment to attend Wallace. "You're our chief science officer."
"Yeah and who are you?"
"Your welcoming party."
"Sir – sir..." Wash had to drag Taylor away from the rover carrying their new supplies. "Before you go all 'Christmas morning' I need to tell you something."
"Well, out with it then." He chided impatiently. "If you haven't noticed we're all lined up like a buffet out here."
"I know, sir." And suddenly she found the words evaporating in her mouth. "It's one of the scientists – he wasn't on any of our briefing reports."
"Okay well – we can brief once these guys are all on their feet and we've slapped together the flat-pack housing."
"No – no sir..." Wash insisted, grabbing his arm sharply.
That made him pause. "Wash?" He shifted his gaze between the hand on his arm and her strangely mesmerising eyes. "What's going on."
"Lucas is here."
"Looks like my timing was a little off..." Lucas smirked, pointing to the unusual silver hair tied back sharply on his father's head. It was nothing compared to the litany of scars scratched into his face as though he were a map. That was all the enjoyment managed before Lucas hurled the last of 2140 into the grass.
Taylor didn't know what to say so he patted his son gently on the back. "I have to go for a moment. We'll – we'll talk. I promise."
Wash watched from a distance with her stomach twisting in knots. This could only go badly.
She jumped at the Commander.
"Why's that housing cube lying in slabs on the floor?"
It wasn't pretty but it was a damn sight better than an empty field with a bit of wooden fencing. Taylor took a step back to admire Terra Nova basking in its first light. Over the last ten hours they'd managed to erect a single walled structure. Walls. Made of super-light metal rather than bark. Strong enough to ward off most curious claws. The next buildings sat in crates ready to rise into the light.
"I'm even less sure about this than I was when we built the damn fence," Wash confessed, tilting her head awkwardly as she observed their progress.
"A bit of positivity might do you some good," Taylor advised. "Look on the bright side. Yesterday we were certain they'd all be eaten the moment they stepped through the portal – or dumped in the lake. They've survived the whole night. I'd call that a good innings to start."
"Now I'm really worried. I haven't seen you this chirpy since Morton Bay."
"Good night," he nodded appreciatively.
"If you count the sixty-seven stitches I put in you."
"I still maintain it was sixty-eight."
"Right. If you're going to be impossible for a while, I'm going to go help turn those crates into a warehouse." She was a few metres away before she spun around, pacing backwards. "He's waiting, you know."
Oh, Taylor knew.
TERRA NOVA - 2150
Taylor found himself back on the dunes with their restless sand scratching against his boots as the descended the last flows of rock from the ridge. For a moment his gaze lingered to the East where the ocean met the sand. He could see the intrusion of desert where he and Wash recovered that damn tyre. His indulgence ended and he returned his attention to the sweep of ruination laid out before him.
"Where'd you go, eh?" He asked the desert. Surely all those men couldn't simply vanish but then, dunes were deceptive. They rolled like the waves, appearing flat from one angle – concealing chasms on their flanks.
In truth, he didn't care where the soldiers went in this hell as long as they stayed out of his way. Taylor spent several hours staring at the sky, watching the light play around the fractures in the space-time continuum. It didn't take a scientist to see that they were getting deeper. Whatever was happening here, it was getting worse and for once humanity wasn't to blame. Something much bigger than a few hominids having a laugh with a nuke or two.
Taylor picked the most aggressive wound and set off toward it. Deserts, like ice fields, were incredibly deceptive. It took the rest of the day to reach the anomaly.
"Holy heck..." he whispered. There was no need to wait for a portal to open – it was already there, bleeding between two particularly nasty cracks. He could clearly see the quantum fluctuations writhing against one another in a space about the size of his arm. Not big enough for a human to pass through but...
Taylor looked down to the sand beneath his feet and found it awash with fragments from another time. Specifically the twenty-first century if the ancient cell phone case and assorted wrappers laying half-buried were anything to go by. He knelt down, fishing the Nokia out of the dune. It stuttered to life. The faint sound of a different ocean seeped through the crack.
He slipped the phone into his pocket and kept walking, following the fault lines deeper into the Bad Lands.
"How long's that been now?" Reynolds checked his watch.
Jim beat him to it. "Two days, five hours. No word from the comms yet. Should I start to worry?"
"Start?" Reynolds nearly choked. "I started worrying when we lost Wash. The last time something like this happened – well – he went a little mad."
"Yeah, I know," Jim replied. "I was there when he re-lived a bit of it. He seemed okay when he set off."
"He seemed motivated," Reynolds corrected. "Different thing entirely. Whatever he's up to, I sure hope he's thought it through. Oh god. Here we go again..." He nodded at the approaching chief science officer. "We should have let him tag along with the Commander."
"Be nice..." Jim insisted. "If we give him a hard time, my wife takes it out on me then my daughter will take it out on you."
"I've been looking for you two everywhere!" Wallace panted, using his wide-brimmed hat as a fan against the suffocating humidity.
"Dr... Didn't you have an important project with my wife all day?"
Wallace nodded. "I did – I mean, I do. That's just it. We were combing through the boxes of intel brought back from Mira's many camp sites. Anything useful was distributed among the medical and research teams. She was helping me. That's when we found this..." Wallace held up an old, hand-written journal with ratty pages and burn marks in the cover. The possession looked as though it had lived a hundred lifetimes before winding up in Mira's camp.
"You rushed all the way over here to show us an old book?" Jim asked.
"It's Lucas's journal." Now Wallace had their undivided attention. "From his early days – before Terra Nova. From what I've already skimmed through, this is the preliminary research that started the entire operation."
"Yeah well, we already knew that Lucas was in this over his head." Jim replied.
"Lucas doesn't interest me," Wallace cut him short. "His research however, is fascinating. You see, everyone's been so focused on making these portals in time move two ways that we've entirely skipped over one important fact... They've always been two way."
Jim shook his head. "Come on, you know as well as I do that our expeditions can only come through in one direction. Until recently, of course but that was a one off. The modifications Lucas made were destroyed."
"Our portals were one way – the natural rifts are two way and they always have been. Pieces of the world have been mixing together for god knows hows long. Taylor worked this out. That's why he's gone to the Bad Lands. He's looking for a natural rift big enough to-"
"Whoa – hold on a minute," Jim raised his hand, stopping both Wallace from speaking and Reynolds from scurrying off in a panic to collect his CO. "What's he want to go and do that for? The Commander loves this place. He'd never leave it."
"If it were just a matter of geography, I'd agree but Shannon, we already know that the it's not only time being messed about here."
"Get to your point, Wallace."
"Alternate versions of reality. Taylor's looking for someone not something."
Taylor sank to his knees in the sand.
He found himself surrounded by ghosts. They flashed across the sky above him – buried in the sand beneath. Soon they were in his dreams as he lapsed into sleep. Most of it was white noise but then he'd hear a flicker of clarity. Sometimes it came as canon fire from a raging sea battle. Then terrible music welling up from a night club. More often than not it was simply the roar of a creature roaming behind the veil. In his darker moments, Taylor almost wished it would come for him.
Surely he'd lost enough now? The only breathing remnant was skulking about the wildness, plotting the annihilation of Terra Nova. He couldn't decide what he hated more – what Lucas had done or the simple truth that he still loved his son.
It was easier out here.
His dreams wandered to Somalia. There were dunes there too. Deserts that consumed entire domes leaving them as strange bubbles in the dirt where humanity raged against the dying light. Sometimes the domes gave way under the weight of sand, collapsing into terrible pits of screaming and death. Lieutenant Washington is there. She sits on the foot of the chopper, listening to the count down. Then she's straight over the edge, zipping down a rope and straight into the sand. He's next – braving the rush of sand that tore at their suits like glass.
Local militia are already inside, crawling through the dome where his wife works. It's a military outpost with a scientific research branch. Ayani Taylor was their diplomat, liaising with the local warlords – keeping them at bay for as long as possible. Not long enough, Taylor remembers thinking, as they enter the main habitation. He looks up to see half the dome covered by sand and several worrying cracks making them way across the glass. Sand rains down from them, streaming through like a dozen waterfalls.
"Commander, sir..." Wash taps him on the shoulder. "Last transmission is this way."
Taylor woke to find a tiny scavenger nestled on his chest. The dinosaur – who could normally be found in flocks along the water's edge, had settled down on his chest, tucked his nose under a layer of long, pink feathers, and drifted off to sleep. The weight of its warm, sleeping body was both alarming and comforting. The task of removing it was less easy.
He gathered up the water collected during the night and took his rations carefully. Then he was back on his feet, heading further into the desert.
Three days in, Taylor made it to the top of an enormous dune. At the crest, the sand was so soft he was nearly at his waist. Behind, the drop made his head spin. Unlike mountain climbing there was nothing to use as purchase. Comically, his head appeared over the edge first then two grasping hands. With great effort, he swung his legs over and laid there, exhausted on the threshold.
The desert continued below but not the dunes. It was replaced with parched, cracked plains. The occasional eruption of a primitive cactus was the only thing to break the monotony.
Except for the bodies.
Those were rather obvious, strewn over the ground and left to rot.
Poor formation, Taylor thought, as he approached the massacre. The convoy had been ambushed. The first vehicle was knocked onto its side while rest swerved, ending up at random points with their doors open and bodies tipping out. The rest were on the ground, left wherever they'd fallen. All of them, too. Taylor quickly counted and it was near enough to what he thought the soldiers had left after their last fire fight.
They'd been dead a while but Taylor soon spotted the signs of trauma usually associated with a carnivore attacked. It was odd. Dinosaurs usually ate a significant portion of their kill even if it was provoked. The only marks on these bodies came from the killing itself. Slasher sized or slightly smaller. Fast and strong enough to knock the rovers over.
He should take their supplies back to Terra Nova immediately. Cut off from the future, they could use all the equipment he could salvage. As soon as he was finished, he intended to do exactly that. As if in promise, he spent the rest of the day stripping the bodies and loading the rovers. He'd need help bringing it all back but one was a start.
When he was done, he used the cool evening air to travel faster, heading for a particularly large crack that had started glowing brighter throughout the day. He had a feeling that it might be about to open.
"Are you suggesting that we should go after him?" Reynolds asked, leaning against the wall of the Commander's office.
Jim paced, not comfortable with the thought of occupying the Commander's chair. "Unless you have a better idea."
"I presume you mean, aside from following orders."
"Not very good orders."
"That – really isn't the point..." Reynolds was clearly torn. "Look – I want to be out there with the Commander as much as anyone – more than anyone, I'd say, with the mood he's been in lately but an order is an order. He's always got a good reason for them, even if he doesn't share."
"This is personal for him," Jim lowered his voice, even through they were alone. "As much as I hate to say it, Wallace is right. We can't leave him out there chasing ghosts. I think we can all agree that we've screwed around with Time enough for now."
"All right. All right..." Reynolds eventually relented. "But if anyone asks, this was under duress. No – actually, better not say that. Wouldn't look good – a cop getting the better of me. Sir. Mr Shannon, sir." Oh god. He was going to suffer for this later, one way or another. Why'd he have to go and fall in love with Shannon's daughter, of all the girls in Terra Nova?
"Do you think he's out here?"
"Oh, he's out here," Jim assured Reynolds, as they left their rover at the edge of the dune. They'd driven it all the way up the beach, coming in from the side instead of the ridge. If Wallace's estimates are right, the Commander should have reached the solid ground by now. They could reach it with a rover so long as they were careful. "Look at that!"
Reynolds was already looking at it. "I wish I could unsee that," he admitted. "It's not exactly what you'd call, 'reassuring'..."
Jim thought Reynolds had a point. It looked as if the sky was about to shatter like crystal at the opera.
There was more debris up ahead. In the moonlight, it was easier to pick out from the sand. Canon balls by their dozens had rolled into the troughs of the dunes while peeking out from the side of the main dune like a rib cage was a full galleon. Its body was in a state of decay but it was mostly whole, wrecked in the sand with shredded sails flapping in the night air.
Taylor approached in awe. How big had the rift been for an entire ship to slip through? Enormous...
As far as anyone knew, there was only one crack in time in the future and it led here. One time stream locked with another. The population was so dense that it was literally impossible for cracks like these to go unnoticed. These rifts – they were everywhere. Linking different times – different realities, all converging here in the middle of the Cretaceous. What if this was the source – the apex – the heart of the time disturbance? And if it was, what would that mean? That this truly was the dominant time stream or were they merely a place holder keeping the rest of reality in check? There was so much they didn't know about the world they'd chosen to live in.
...Maybe it was all for nothing and this world was heading toward a sudden gasp into oblivion, torn about by paradox.
Lucas probably knew.
The force of a nearby tear opening threw Taylor aside as if he were a leaf. He hit the dune hard, grasping at his chest in a futile attempt to catch his breath. It took a few minutes before he was back on his feet, standing before the new portal.
Six feet tall, only a couple wide and oddly tilted it had more in common with a torn stitch than the fabric of time.
Fascinated, Taylor leaned in close, his eyes falling closed as he listened for signs of life.
No – a shower. He cold hear the pound of water against tile and the accompanying cloud of steam. It was eerily familiar.
Taylor withdrew his hunting knife and edged it toward the surface of the tear. Then, with great care, he risked brushing the blade against the event horizon. It went in smoothly but that meant nothing. At the moment he was at equal odds that his favourite knife had simply been dismantled, atom by atom.
Drawing it out of the tear revealed the truth. His knife was fine. This truly was a portal that could transmit in both directions without any help whatsoever.
Taylor was about to explore further when suddenly he heard singing. A woman's voice, it came from the same tear as the shower. He should have walked away right then. This was a moment that great historians talked about. The one time a fork in the road opened and a world-altering chance emerged.
He could hear Wash singing on the other side of the rift.
'Make the most of it,' they said, handing her a towel. 'It'll be the last time you experience comfort for a long while'.
Well, Wash was rather of the mind to have a word to the Director of Hope Plaza regarding the definition of 'comfort'. It certainly didn't cover the standard issue towels that dropped lint over her legs like an over-zealous cat. Or the size of the shampoo bottle. You couldn't wash a mouse with that. It probably had something to do with the latest trend of servicemen going bald. No thank you. Practical as it may be, Wash was a thousand percent sure it was never going to come into fashion for her.
Eventually she gave up on the sad shower and wrapped one of the insufferably thin towels around herself. Dripping her way through the locker area, Wash found herself staring at her open locker door. There, stuck pride of place, was a photograph from her old hunting days back on the team. Her eyes drifted to her CO, standing front and centre like a proud lioness. It had been too many years since they'd worked together. She intended to tell him that, soon as she arrived.
She wondered how Taylor was faring. A whole day on his own in the ancient past. It couldn't be easy, even with the supplies he took through. She'd been with him in the jungle before. The last frontier on Earth where there were still animal large enough to hunt them down. Those nights were dark.
Wash stashed those memories away with the photo, placing it in her backpack ready for departure.
She sighed when she heard boots enter the locker room. Her best laid plans of preparing alone had been thwarted. Thankfully, the room was thick with steam, obscuring everything but the heavy walls and piercing lights above. She lingered on them for a moment, thinking how like stars they looked.
Taylor emerged through the steam, his fingertips brushing over the wall of lockers. They felt strange – unreal, as if he'd stumbled straight into a dream. Perhaps this was exactly where he was. Another one of his torturous hells of departed friends.
No... The damp stuck in his throat and standard issue soup reminded him of his years spent in barracks exactly like this.
She appeared as a silhouette, framed against the down lights. Wash had her back to him. He could see her long, dark hair meet the edge of a towel and her footprints on the floor. She was real and he couldn't breathe so he stood there like an idiot, transfixed.
Wash heard her name whispered and turned to find Taylor beside the lockers, frozen in place. Their time lines hadn't crossed in time for her to meet him before he'd set off to Terra Nova. Her shuttle was held up in a dust storm and when she finally arrived, he'd already embarked on a one way trip. So what on earth was he doing here, standing in the locker room with all of hell written across his face.
"Sir?" She swallowed her surprise. "I thought I'd missed you. Word was you were already through. Sir?" He wasn't saying anything – or registering her words. Wash risked a few steps, carving a path through the steam. "Are you okay, sir? You look..."
...like he'd waded through an ocean to reach this room, sold his soul and made a wager with the sun.
"I did miss you..." Taylor finally replied, quite unable to marry the image of her laid out on the table with the woman casually towelling off her hair in front of him. She as alive and she was dead. Both were equally true.
She smirked. "I thought as much. What's it been? A few year-"
Wash was cut short as Taylor reached out, catching her by the arm. He dragged her in against his body, spinning her until she found her back on the lockers. His lips crashed against hers and she found herself melting into his lips. Her body writhed in surprise as her lips parted, allowing her CO's hungry tongue to claim hers. It was all consuming. The burn under her skin – the scent of salt on his. If this was another one of her dreams then so be it. Wash would gladly submit to the feel of his hands on her back.
They kissed until another law of the universe forced them apart. Both gasped, searching for breath. Taylor tilted his head to the side and pulled her closer, holding her tight against his body as if he were afraid she'd evaporate like the steam.
"Sir – sir..." She whispered, pressing her lips to his ear. "What's going on?"
Eventually he pulled back, leaving her against the locker wall draped only in a towel that was threatening to fall. "Do you trust me?" Was all he asked.
Those eyes of his were set on her. "Always..." she replied, not sure if it was safe to reach for his arm.
It was the Commander who offered his hand. "Then come with me."
With her backpack slung over his shoulder, the pair of them tumbled through the crack of time and fell on the sand. He hit the ground first, landing on his back. There was another brief moment before Wash's full weight was on him, crushing them both into the dune. Draped in a towel, she lay against him in the moonlight. Almost immediately her head began to spin.
"Steady there, Wash," the Commander cautioned, rolling gently off until she was sitting in the sand with her head between her knees. "It's perfectly normal. The air here is different. It'll take a moment to wear off."
They sat side by side with his hand gently rubbing her back. He watched the seam in time shiver, reflecting a false view of the world. It was fading fast, rippling as though the wind had it. That's the problem with these natural portals – they were unstable. Soon it would be gone forever. Wash had no idea what she'd agreed too. She'd simply followed his lead, as she always did.
TERRA NOVA - CRETACEOUS
Lucas was faring worse than the other colonists. He'd been laid out in the shade for nearly two days, dripping sweat into the dirt with a bottle of water beside him. It had gone warm long ago and tasted bitter on his lips. His nausea had nothing to do with the heavy air. No, it was withdrawal from the ioniser. As it turned out, humans could become addicted to more than elaborate combinations of carbon. All the scientists involved in his research had the same sallow, pale skin and sunken eyes. They longed for the hum of their ionised core. Lucas's team had to share it with a rival and when their project was cut, those that were expelled couldn't face life without its presence.
"What are you doing here, Lucas?" Taylor asked, kneeling beside his son. He watched over him with a constant air of suspicion. The death of his mother had changed him for the worse. Not every wound left marks in the flesh. Lucas's were buried deep. In and out of trouble. Always courting the worst corners of the world.
"Or, 'hello' as most parents would say," Lucas coughed up what felt like half a lung.
"You know what I mean," Taylor replied, helping him drink more water. It was the only thing that would flush his system of whatever the hell it was he'd been taking. "Your name wasn't on any of the lists. This is a top secret operation. How did you get here?"
"Top secret for some," he replied, steadying himself as the water scraped its way down his throat. "This is my hobby. Oh come on... Don't look so shocked. What did you think your son was up to for all these years? Scratching a living at the University grading papers? Not my style."
To be fair, Taylor never imagined that his son was studiously training the next generation. "Not quite."
Lucas started to chuckle to himself. "You think that lot back at Hope Plaza figured this out on their own? Bunch of second rate professors, scared of their own shadows. That's what living in a bubble all your life does to you. There isn't a daring bone left in their bodies. People like that don't take the risks required to crack a puzzle like this. Guess I get that from you."
"This is your project?" Taylor stammered. It was going to take a while for Taylor to stop seeing Lucas as his little boy and begin to realise that he was a fully fledged nightmare.
"Put my own name on the list."
"Something's not right about that one..." Wash kept her eye on the Commander's son. A week laid out and finally he'd gained the strength to wander around the fence line, checking the connections. She preferred it when he'd been unable to walk. Made it easier to keep track.
Wallace, whose head had taken to exploding several times a day as new discoveries poured in, barely acknowledged Wash. "What? Oh – yeah. Maybe. Did you see this?"
Wash rolled her eyes and leaned over Wallace's shoulder. "Yeah. In the flesh. Tried to tear one my legs off. Aren't you supposed to be focusing on this water pipe?"
"I'm the Chief Science Officer not an engineer," he complained.
"Mmm and Strousse is a medic but he's still knee deep in Cretaceous swamp. Commander?" She said, spotting her CO wander over. He had a fresh wound on his arm courtesy of a falling branch.
"Can I have a word?"
Wash followed him outside the fence toward the tree line where a particularly dramatic pine provided much needed shade. Part of her wished that they'd built Terra Nova in the forest but the other, more sensible side, quickly reminded her of the array of creatures waiting in the shade to tear them to pieces. "If it's about your command centre, I've already added it to the list of things to be done this week. Right after the med bay is up."
He waved her concern off. "I'm perfectly happy with a cave, you know that. It's about..."
"Lucas..." Wash already knew where this was going. The Commander had been on edge ever since he'd arrived.
"I'd like you to keep an eye on him."
"Already got both eyes on him, sir. Is there anything in particular I should be on the look out for?"
"I'm not sure," he admitted. "From what I can gather, this whole little experiment is his doing. Not the colony – the portal."
"You're kidding!" Wash felt unnerved.
"He put his name on the list for this expedition and that got me thinking. If he has control over the teams coming through the portal then he could have stopped me." He paused, letting that sink in. "If he's able to stop me from coming to Terra Nova then he could have done something much worse."
"I don't follow."
"What if Lucas orchestrated my presence here? You know, I've been thinking back to how this all started and it doesn't add up. An old friend rings me up, out of the blue and returns a favour. A recommendation for a mission a damn sight better than a desk job. Of course I'd say yes. Leaving that world behind was exactly what I wanted to do." He gave her a rare, soft look. "I thought it would be best for both of us. Our profession is dying out. Neither of us want to spend our years bashing down civilian doors. There's no honour in that. No adventure."
"You're not wrong," Wash admitted. "Confinement was never really my thing. I thought I'd miss the comforts of the future but I don't – not for a moment."
"That's because you like the mud, Wash," Taylor winked.
"True but what about Lucas? If anyone could hate a world without technology, surely it's him? What's he doing out here in the middle of the jungle?"
"Survival? He knows that our world is dying."
She shook her head. "I don't see it. You've seen him. This place makes him ill. As much as you might wish it, he's not here for the company."
"No, you're right there."
"Which means there's something on Terra Nova that he's looking for."
"I agree. So – about keeping an eye on him..."
Lucas came good eventually. For a while, he played his part in the creation of the colony which surprised the Commander to no end. He helped put together several of the main habitation units – fixed the power relays and wired up a second batch of back up generators from spare parts. He was even what might pass for as 'popular' with some of the scientists, reminiscing by the huge fire they built every night to keep the predators away.
The Commander let his guard down gradually until there were some days where he didn't watch Lucas at all. Not Wash. She was always somewhere close by.
"Is that gin?" Wash was surprised by a bottle placed in front of her. She and the Commander were always furthest from the flames, preferring to linger with moonlight on their backs while the rest of their settlement wound down.
"Afraid so, Lieutenant." He let her take the bottle. "A gift from your new mate Wallace. Apparently he doesn't drink any more."
"He's not my mate," she corrected. "I took his place digging trenches on the proviso that he finish the water filters. Which he did."
"I don't care how you earned it, long as you open it."
They ended up laying in the dirt, side by side as the last embers of their fire smoked into nothing. The others had retreated into the shelter leaving them alone with the stars. They lay closer than they should, arms pressed together and her hair occasionally whispering over his cheek.
"We should have brought an astronomer," she said, smiling at the endless ink above.
"Believe me, they tried to come. Most of them have never seen the stars."
"Go on – let one of them in, soon as we establish communication. For me."
"You going soft on me, Wash?"
"Not at all," she assured him. "It's only – there's this huge rock on its way and I'd like to make sure I know its schedule."
Taylor laughed softly and turned his head to look at her. "This is the Early Cretaceous," he replied softly. "We've got more time before that rock hits than humanity has in our future before the air chokes them to death."
"It's different, isn't it?" She replied, also tilting her head. Wash found him staring at her through pale, blue eyes in a manner that sent a pleasant shiver down her spine. "Knowing how things are going to end..."
"Life wouldn't get very far if it started asking those questions." He paused, noticing a sadness wash across her. "This isn't the same place that we left. The moment we arrived here we began a parallel time stream – an alternate world. We don't know what's waiting in our future any more than we did before." Taylor trailed off when he felt her hand tangle with his. Too close. "Wash..."
"Shut up and watch the stars, sir."
There was no measure for how much Lucas resented the sight of his father laid out by the Lieutenant's side, gloating with their happiness. That would all end, he assured himself, as he ducked under the barrier and headed out into the jungle. It wasn't the first time he'd seen them like that. It might have been a different world – a different country but he remembered the way they looked at each other. Somalia would never leave Lucas. It had left a stain on him.
Unknown to the Commander, Lucas had send many things to the portal already including a set of drones that marked the nearby area. He followed the map, keeping to the rivers where he could move faster.
"I don't understand, are you certain you've searched the camp?"
"Sir, he's not here. No one has seen Lucas since last night," Wash assured him. "There's no sign of animal activity in the area around the camp which can only mean that he left on his own."
"As far as the river, then they end. I'm sorry sir. Sending our only patrol out to look for him would be madness."
Taylor knew that she was right. They could barely hold this place from a Slasher attack let alone send a team untrained for this terrain out on a search. "I know – I know..." He kicked one of the crates.
Wash sighed. "I should have been watching him, like you asked."
"Not your fault, Wash," he assured her. "Lucas came here on a mission of his own. He'd have slipped away eventually."
"Do you want me to find him? I can if you ask."
"No," he was firm with her. "These people are our responsibility now. Lucas will come back when he needs something. Until then, we make the best of what we can."
"What is that?" Taylor asked, peering over Wallace's shoulder.
The scientist startled. Manual labour wasn't his thing but all of them had to pull their weight. He took his breaks in the company of his field notes. The Commander had a habit of sneaking up on him. Wallace wasn't sure if it was a display of his stealth skills or a hint that he was a sitting target for any passing carnivore. "Uh – my notes," he replied, self-consciously.
"The portal, actually," he admitted. "You see, I've been thinking about what you said – how it opens up at random in the valley. When our follow up teams comes through with all their kit we're going to have to hope the end up nearby."
"I know. I was there when you drew up the recovery plans."
"Indeed." Of course he was, why did the Commander make him so nervous anyway? "Well, I took the liberty of brining the portal specifications of Hope Plaza with me. They're planning on bringing a ring through with them and assembling it on this side to give the portal something to latch onto when it's formed. It won't be for a few expeditions yet but I thought I might get the jump on things so that I'm ready when it's here. You know – in case anything happens." Wallace closed the book. "Ah, it's more Lucas's thing. I'm sure that's why he insisted on coming along. If anyone's going to be able to piece a bridge together on this side, it's him."
"For now, keep reading," Taylor insisted. Lucas was still missing.
"Thought I might find you here..." Wash dragged herself up the final ledge. She wiped the freezing water of the falls out of her eyes as she entered the cave. As expected, the Commander was there, sat beside his dinosaur skull, staring at the fire.
Their cave was covered in a fine curtain of fresh web laid out by the spiders that had moved back in. It must have been five months since they'd been here and everything was exactly as they'd left it. Including the Commander, it seemed.
"Did you think Lucas was here?"
Taylor shrugged. "I don't know where he is." Another twig was tossed into the flames. Too green to burn, it smoked. "Did you follow me, Wash?"
She smirked. "No need. You're about as difficult to read as a copy of Dover."
This time he laughed warmly. "You shouldn't be reading shit like that."
"And you shouldn't be out here on your own without telling anyone what you're up to."
"Is this going to be one of the famous Wash pep talks?"
"Sorry sir, as you know I only do a swift punch in the face." She sighed. "They were going to kick me out anyway..."
"Of your unit?"
"Yeah," she nodded.
There was a lingering silence between them. "I read the report," he admitted. "Your CO didn't leave the team behind. Why'd you really hit him?"
Of course he read the report... The vetting process for a mission like this must have been extensive. "He did leave someone behind. A young girl. Sometimes I can still see her clinging to the burning remains of her home. He told me there was no room in the colony for her. We disagreed on that."
Taylor shook his head. "No one could clear papers for parent-less child."
"I know," she replied, "but he didn't have to be such a jerk about it. Actually, I'm surprised they cleared me for this mission – all things considered."
"I might have tugged on a few strings."
Wash felt that warmth back inside her. To think that at some point he must have stood in a General's office arguing the point for her place on the mission... "It's not guilt, is it?" She asked carefully. "Because you know full well that you don't owe me anything."
Taylor owed her everything, not least of all his life. "Perhaps I missed your nagging. Honestly, you're here on merit," he promised. "It's a tall order to cut yourself off from the rest of the world – possibly forever. Most officers, no matter how good they are, lose their mind a little. You and I, we lost our minds a long time ago. Not sure it's possible to go for it a second time."
"You have a point there," she assured him. "The civilians seem okay," she added. "I think they're overwhelmed by the influx of discoveries. It's like bloody crack to them. Be a while before they get bored and started questioning their future. Do you think they're going to make it to the next drop?"
"They'll make it."
Wash laid back against the cave wall while he sat by the fire, watching it crackle and spit into the depths of the cave. "We don't have to tell anyone about this place. Can't hurt to have a hide if it all goes pear-shaped. Oh, and I had an idea about what we can do with that skull of yours."
TERRA NOVA - 2150
Wash hadn't said a word to him for nearly an hour. It was the depths of night. The desert air had cooled and she could hear the sea somewhere to their left, hugging the shore. The moon was cut into a crescent, drifting toward the horizon while the stars had been scattered in unfamiliar patterns.
"This isn't what I expected," she exhaled, lounging in the cool. "It's silly but I'd imagined jungles – rain, mud..."
"That's what I got," he replied gently. "Mixed in with all that deluge are predators waiting to pick you off and drag you into the shadows. This is far more peaceful. If I had my go again I'd like it to be like this."
The nausea had passed and she felt the first rush of increased oxygen. It was like the opening stages of intoxication. Now that they were calm, Wash realised she'd come to a whole new time period wearing naught but a standard issue towel. "Oh... god." She looked down at herself.
"There anything in your pack, Wash?" He was almost amused.
"Did get around to packing much, sir."
He shrugged out of his jacket and draped it over her shoulders. She shifted into it, rolling up the sleeves and buttoning the front. It didn't solve all her problems but it was a start.
"How did you get back through?" She asked, looking at him curiously. "The portal is one way at the moment and I feel sure someone would have mentioned it if you strolled back in."
"That's not the portal at Hope Plaza," he replied, pointing to the place where the rift had been. "I know it seems strange but I've been gone a lot longer than a day. For me, it's been several years..."
"Years..." She whispered. "Sir, you weren't alone..."
"For a time, yes. The other expeditions eventually joined me and after a fashion we had something resembling home. Terra Nova's not a collection of crates on those rovers you saw them prepping – it's real."
"It's not supposed to start happening until tomorrow." She was struggling to wrap her head around what had just happened to her. "There's something you're not telling me," she added, her voice dropping. "You forget sir, I know your poker face and I can read it like a satnav. The time jump went wrong, that much is damn sure but there's more..." Clearly there was more. Why else had he kissed her so desperately?
"That a rover?"
"Looks like..." Taylor replied. They'd been interrupted by the approach of headlights, rising and falling as it conquered the dunes. "Dammit! I told them not to follow me."
"Having trouble with orders, sir?"
"Wash – this is going to get a little weird," he tried to explain, scrambling to his feet.
"I'm here in your jacket, a towel – surrounded by the Cretaceous desert and you're worried about this getting weird?"
This is seriously weird... Thought Wash, squaring off against Reynolds and Shannon. Reynolds she knew barely by reputation mostly. A shining reputation actually, annoyingly polished. Shannon – well, she didn't have the faintest clue who he was but he seemed pretty chummy with the Commander. He didn't yell at anyone quite so passionately unless he cared.
While Shannon and Jim settled their differences, Reynolds took Wash aside. His jaw was left somewhere on the ground where it'd fallen in shock.
"I'm guessing I know you," Wash opened, as they stepped around to the other side of the rover, using it as a barrier. "Don't worry, the Commander sort of explained. Things went a bit wrong with the time line."
"Yes," Reynolds replied softly, "we knew each other."
There was so much hurt in his voice that even Wash picked up on it. "Oh – we don't have a thing, do we?" It took another moment for her to catch on to his past tense word choice. "Knew... You mean, you don't know me any more – because..." The pieces were falling together too fast. Reynolds was confirming her assumptions with the tears brimming at the edges of his eyes. She looked over the edge of the rover, catching a glimpse of the Commander. That would explain it. "Shit. I'm dead. How long ago?"
"Couple of weeks," Reynolds replied. "We were friends, Wash – good friends." And damn it, this was the same Wash. Every detail was identical. He wondered if there was another version of him running around. Stupid question, of course there was. All that considered, Reynolds was pretty sure she hadn't fully grasped what was going on here. "I'm – going to hug you now. Please don't hit me with anything."
"Do I do that?"
"Often," Reynolds assured her, before tugging her close for a hug. It couldn't be said that Wash was particularly cuddly but to feel her alive and warm in the world again was the sort of miracle that he was prepared to accept.
"How did I die?" Wash whispered, while they embraced. "I don't think the Commander will tell me the truth."
"You were shot," he replied softly. "Point blank, protecting the Commander and his team. It was honourable and brave, Wash."
She gave a short nod. "Good. I was worried I'd go the way of an Allosaurus snack."
"Actually, those died out a while ago," said Reynolds.
"If I'm dead, what was the Commander doing in the present sniffing around Hope Plaza?"
They parted and Reynold's hands returned to rest on his weapon. He knew never to let his guard down, even if the world seemed quiet. "That's what Shannon's raking his arse about now. We came out here to drag him back to Terra Nova before -" Hell, it was too late now to worry. "Before he did any damage to the time stream."
Wash bit her lip. "Guessing I'm the damage."
"In a matter of speaking. You're from a completely different time line, Wash – like all the fragments we keep digging out of the desert. When he took you, he changed the future of your world."
"You mean, there's another Commander out there – another Terra Nova waiting for me?"
"Yeah, that's what Wallace says."
"Right or wrong, you can't put me back. The portal thing closed behind us a few moments after we came through."
"Noticed that." Reynolds eyes drifted down to the towel around her waist covered by the Commander's jacket. He wasn't sure what was going to be more difficult to explain, her being suddenly alive or the attire. "Let's just hope Wallace is wrong about the world ending paradox."
"Do I know him too?"
"If you say so."
"Well enough. He's our only cop. Snuck into the expedition after breaking out of a correctional facility. He's married to one of our medical officers and has three kids here at Terra Nova. I'm ah – dating his eldest."
"One more thing, Reynolds," Wash reached out, catching his arm. She presumed they were friendly enough for that to be okay. "You don't have any spare pants and boots in that rover, do you?"
"Mother of..." Wallace dropped the specimen onto the table. It was the middle of the night – the entire camp was asleep but he'd stayed up after the radio call came in. He'd killed the waiting hours with a bit of casual research into nesting Raptors. Now, the failed egg lay as a shattered pile of shell and go beneath him. None of that mattered. "Commander, with all the due respect -"
"Do yourself a favour, Wallace and abort that statement." The Commander cruised in with Reynolds, Jim and Wash in tow. Jim simply shook his head in defeat while Reynolds found himself grinning. Wash – well, Wash was alive.
"Fine fine... Sit her down over there."
"Come on – all I want is a shower and change of clothes – do we have to go through this now?"
"Oh yes, we certainly do!" Wallace insisted, humming around the resurrected Lieutenant. "The universe doesn't like paradoxes. Each one picks at the stitching of our reality, you get enough of them and poof, all of reality could implode. Most believe that it will attempt to protect itself from things like this happening."
"Maybe I'm just not that big a deal?" Wash offered. "The universe probably can't be bothered."
"Let's hope that's true..."
Wash was there for nearly an hour before the Commander shooed him away. It was Reynolds who finally accompanied her back to her old quarters which had been left untouched since her duplicate's death.
"Are they going to argue all night?"
"Jim and the Commander? They'll have words, that's for sure."
"I can't believe all this is out here in the middle of the jungle," she added, turning every now and then to take in the camp.
"It's looked better, actually. We've recently survived a nasty raid that ruined most of the buildings and -"
"Killed me. I guessed."
"Pardon me for asking but you seem very relaxed about the whole thing."
"It's only been a few hours," she replied. "When I read the reports, I thought I was coming to Terra Nova to die. There were a lot of unknowns on those mission briefings. Frankly, I wasn't even convinced I'd survive the portal. In the end, it was all rather easy."
"That does sound easy. I came with a group of colonists transported directly into a lake. Nightmare. This is it..." He stopped at her habitation unit. "No one's touched a thing, Commander's orders. There's a radio inside – call if you need anything. We'll be around to collect you tomorrow. Do you ah – mind staying in until then? It's only-"
"I'm dead. I get it. You don't want a corpse stumbling around camp."
"Please do me a favour and refrain from phrasing it so bluntly around the Commander."
Wash showered first then changed. When she felt human again, she took a circle around her habitation. Incredible, she thought, perusing the sentimental items lined up along the bookshelf. Mostly she found claws, teeth and feathers scavenged from the jungle. Knowing her, they all had meaning. Then she came upon the photo. The same photo from her bag only faded and creased in different places.
"Gods above..." she whispered, brushing her fingertips over it. Wash moved over to her bag and extracted her copy then held the two side by side. Worry about it later. Wash laid the photo down and headed to the bedroom intent on sleep.
"It's not her, Taylor." Jim had been pacing the Commander's office for hours.
"Or course it's her," Taylor replied, sitting behind his desk. "And you're going to wear a hole in my floor."
"I mean, it's not the Wash you remember. Whatever it was that you shared-" Jim was trying to be delicate. Truthfully, no one knew what was between those two but there was something.
Finally, the Commander tired of Jim. "She's alive and exactly where she belongs."
Jim strode right up to Taylor's desk. "What about the other you, waiting for her?"
A flicker of recognition moved over his eyes. "He can look after himself." At least he won't have to watch her die.
Wash was a novelty at camp for a few weeks. The Commander gave Wash her old team back and soon enough she was leading patrols and training with the others. This time around, she found herself the student in Cretaceous survival. There was days, more often each week, where everyone forgot that the first Wash was dead.
She found the grave site on her own. It lay under a beautiful pair of trees with a view of Terra Nova. Instead of laying flowers, someone was planting them – tending to them carefully.
"So," she said, taking up her usual seat on the grass. "I've been going through your stuff – reading mission logs. Don't worry, I've made a note to put more effort into those things. Talk about a dry read."
"Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness," said a voice from behind.
"Sir – I didn't hear you sneak up."
Taylor was holding a small bag of seeds which he'd come to plant. He decided instead to lie. "The botanists need a chaperone. I volunteered you."
"Gee – thanks." Wash frowned at the sad look in his eyes. "It's okay to miss her – me. I know she's still dead. Are those for me?" She pointed to the small satchel he was trying to hide.
"In a fashion," he handed over the bag of seeds.
Wash smiled as she unravelled the tethers. "Why don't I give you a hand, plant them together?"
Since their arrival back at camp, everything had been painfully professional. Whatever the lapse the Commander had earlier, he'd avoided mentioning it. Wash couldn't avoid thinking about it. Every now and then she felt the ghost of his lips.
"There's something I've been meaning to show you," Taylor said, as they began their walk back to camp. "Do you have time for a detour?"
"That all depends on my CO," she grinned. "He works me like a damn slave."
There it was, a crack in his stoic face. It was very nearly a smile. "He'll make an exception for this."
Taylor took Wash along the river, telling her about the other Wash's arrival in Terra Nova.
"You were right about the sand dunes being more civilised," she said, after he'd finished. "What about yours?"
"Oh I spent more than a few days sleeping in trees. Wash – careful, I know they look friendly but they really don't like to be touched."
Like her predecessor, Wash had a habit of petting curious wildlife. "It's not far now."
He took her all the way to the cave beneath the falls. Wash stepped inside reverently. It was as though his soul had knit itself into every surface. Home. That's what it felt like. "Oh yes, this is what I imagined."
Taylor was shy – a peculiar look on his otherwise strong features. The only other person he'd told about this place was Reynolds and even then it was only so that he could help lift the dinosaur skull out. He watched Wash wander around the cave, lingering at various items right up until she found the enormous tyre with bedding strewn over it. Ridiculously out of place, she couldn't help staring.
"Is there a good reason for this being here?"
"I'm not sure," Taylor admitted. "That one is yours."
That'd be right. She had a habit for collecting miscellaneous items. Tentatively, she lowered herself onto it.
"Surprisingly comfortable. Are those crates mine too?"
Taylor followed her eye line to the pile of boxes partially hidden towards the back of the cave. She had bloody good eyes to spot them. "No. When it became apparent that Terra Nova was about to come under attack I moved the more sensitive items here for safe keeping. It's mostly fragments but that's all we could find of Lucas's research before he disappeared."
"You believe he's still alive?"
"Oh, he's out there and believe me, this isn't over for him. I figure that if we can work out what he came looking for in the first place we might have half a chance at finding him."
"Not really. All I know for sure is that it's in the Bad Lands, no doubt in the direction the army fled before they were slaughtered."
"We never worked that one out either." Wash pried herself free of the tyre and roamed over to him. "You've been holding back with me but I'm ready. This will never be over if we don't go back there and find some answers."
Taylor shook his head. "I'm not ready," he corrected.