The fifth day after the events in Leek's secret bunker, Connor woke up with a cramp in his left leg.
"Crap," he muttered, judging he must have slept funny, and without a thought, kicked the leg around a little to loosen it up. Then he remembered. "Hey!"
Sitting up, he hit the call-button for a nurse. When the woman entered the room, he shouted, "I can feel my leg!" with a wide grin.
The nurse laughed and said she'd call his doctor.
Abby bounced into the ARC with a wide smile on her face. Cutter and Stephen looked up in surprise. "I've just heard from Connor!" she cried, waving her cell phone around. "He's got feeling back in one of his legs."
"Excellent!" Cutter smiled.
"So they think he'll make a full recovery after all?" Stephen asked. Cutter and Abby had filled him and Jenny in on Connor's condition. Jenny had begun preparing full disability support for Connor, and also started a search for a new flat for Connor and Abby, just in case.
"It seems so. Connor said it feels like a cramp with pins and needles, but at least there's sensation. He's still going to be on muscle relaxers and pain medication for a while, though."
"Go tell Jenny," Cutter told her, and Abby ran off to the woman's office to share the good news.
"That's so great," Stephen said with relief, and Cutter nodded in agreement. Connor had told them that the MRI results indicated no actual damage to his nervous system. He simply had to wait for sensation to return. As for his hands, the hospital had given them a treatment where in all the burned layers of skin had been removed, and though it would take time, new skin would grow instead of crippling scar tissue. He'd had the dressings changed once, and claimed his fingers looked like raw meat. His enthusiastic horror-movie-like description had turned Abby green.
Stephen and Cutter were brainstorming all the ways they could improve the team's response to the anomalies. Not just by letting the military personnel do their jobs, but also what sort of scientific equipment they should be bringing to anomaly sites, to try and learn more about them.
Just as they were getting into various telemetry devices, the blaring alarm of the Anomaly Detection Devise began to shriek.
"Someone!" Cutter yelled, looking around for any of Connor's techies. A young asian woman slipped into the chair and narrowed the site down to a sports complex in Surrey. "Great, lets…" Cutter trailed off. The whole team looked at each other in sudden surprise. No Connor, and Stephen couldn't be in the field with his crutches. "Who?"
"Cutter, Jenny, and Abby, of course," Lester ordered coolly. "Also, Lieutentants Smythe and Wilson."
Cutter nodded. The two SAS men were well known to the core ARC team and competent. Cutter suspected one of them would become the main military man for the group, so this made a nice try-out.
They loaded up two trucks, ARC team in one, military men in the other, and headed out.
Halfway there, Abby muttered, "This is weird."
Jenny nodded. "It is."
"Look, nothing changes for now. Jenny, you keep the public out. Abby, you and I will find the anomaly, with Smythe and Wilson, determine if there are creatures, and handle it."
Abby nodded grimly.
At the site, the anomaly hung in a thankfully unused tennis court. Even luckier, the gate had been closed, so the creature that had stumbled through was contained, though not at all happy about it.
The bandy-legged squat creature snarled at them as they approached the fence.
"Right, that's the biggest Taz I've ever seen," commented Wilson dryly.
"It's not a Tasmanian devil, though I see the resemblance," Cutter answered, his voice distant with fascination.
"Sounds like one," Abby interjected.
"It's a repenomamus," Cutter told them. "One of the largest mammals known from the Cretaceous era.
"Cretaceous?" Abby said. "Isn't that like, the time of raptors and T. Rex, and other nasties?"
"Yes, but this fellow is a mammal that ate smaller reptilians. Fossils of Repenomamus have been found with remains of smaller creatures in its stomach."
"Like a badger," Smythe said suddenly. "A nasty solitary fellow."
"Quite," Cutter answered, amused.
"So, what's our move?" Wilson asked.
"Well, we're taller… we might be able to intimidate it into retreating through the anomaly," Abby suggested.
With much shouting and banging of trashcans and shooting skyward, the bad-tempered creature was eventually chased back through the anomaly. The team retreated back outside the fence and settled in to make sure nothing else came through before the anomaly collapsed. Cutter in particular frowned at it as he thought.
"What's up?" Abby asked.
"Repenomamus remains have mostly been found in China. England is an old island – it's unlikely that there were any repenomamus of that size found here during the Cretaceous."
"So the anomalies don't only tear through time, they jump halfway around the planet."
Abby gaped at him. She'd never thought about that factor.
"In addition," Cutter went on, "we almost always have a creature incursion of some sort… but our climate is different. We're colder, and our atmosphere has a third less oxygenation than the Cretaceous. Plus most early mammals were nocturnal. Why would it appeal to cross through an unknown shimmering light into an ecosystem not at all suitable?"
At Abby's urging, Cutter called Connor in the hospital to relay his thoughts. Connor was disappointed to have missed the repenomamus, and suggested that cameras be added to the standard kit. Then he settled in to do some research about prehistoric geology, carefully using his laptop with very slow and gentle single-splinted-finger typing.
After several hours, another visit from the irrepressible Mike from Physical Therapy, and much frustrated chewing on his lip, Connor looked up to see Abby and Stephen had come to visit.
"Hey little brother," Stephen said cheerfully, and Connor suspected he'd just come in for even more teasing than before. "How are you doing?"
"Much better. The pins-and-needles feeling is going away, though the left leg is still really achy and sore."
"How about the right?" Abby asked.
"Nothing yet, but the left coming back is a good sign."
They talked a little about Cutter's proposed changes and what they were working on. Connor told them what he'd found out regarding the latest realization of the anomalies' spatial divergence.
"Maybe they're wormholes," Stephen suggested facetiously.
"Nah, no spinning sensation, right, Conn?" Abby joked back. Connor just stared at her. "Conn?"
"Spinning… the earth spins!"
Connor let out a groan and started banging on his temples with the healthy heels of his hands. "Global rotation…. relative landmass location…. shit, how many times has the earth reversed the geomagnetic poles? Axial shifts….are the anomalies linking periods of extreme tectonic activity? Give me the laptop!"
Abby handed him the computer, and he began a web search. After a few minutes of watching Connor's muttering and reading, Abby and Stephen exchanged glances.
"We've lost him, haven't we?" Stephen observed.
"I think so. Conn? Connor?" The younger man blinked up at Abby. "We'll leave you to it, yeah?"
"Oh. Right, sorry Abbs. This could be useful."
Stephen and Abby made their goodbyes, Abby giving Connor a kiss on the cheek.
"Does his doctor know how much he's typing?" Jenny asked with concern the next day. The team, including Lester, was looking at a presentation Connor had generated and emailed from his hospital room. Connor had developed a theory that the spatial difference in where the anomalies led to had to do with the relative geological position of the earth then as compared to now. That would explain how the team could have encountered repenomamus from China and deinonychus from the North American continent, both Cretaceous era creatures. His presentation was full of suggestions about bringing in paleo-geologists and astronomers. If they could get night-sky images on the other side of anomalies with his soon-to-be-built robot scout, they could get much better ideas on the exact times the anomalies led to.
However, Jenny's concern has some legitimacy. The young man was supposed to be letting his hands heal. It appeared Connor was working harder than ever from his hospital bed.
"Frankly, if we can get this sort of information out of him, I'd consider keeping him tied down," Lester sneered. "This is one of the best presentations of scientific theory and suggestions I've seen out of any of you."
Abby grinned. "He's bored. That's the problem."
"It's not a problem if it makes him start thinking scientifically," Cutter responded absently, reviewing a slide displaying a graphic connecting anomaly sites in the UK to their geographic destination world wide.
Abby shot a look at Stephen, who only grinned. He well remembered the abuse and insults Cutter had heaped on him for ill-thought-out theories when he was a student himself, and Stephen doubted the approach would change for Connor. Students had to prove they had brains and knew how to use them, in Professor Nick Cutter's book.
"This is definitely something to start with," Cutter continued, still half-absorbed in reviewing the research presented.
"Very well, then, since we've lost the good Professor, I suggest the rest of you make yourselves busy elsewhere." Lester shooed them all out of his office. Cutter drifted away, Stephen slowly following with a bemused expression.
Abby turned to Jenny. "I'm headed over to the hospital after work, if you want to come."
Jenny blinked. "Do you think I should?"
"Yeah. Connor would love to see you." Abby cocked her head. "Why haven't you stopped by before?"
"I don't know…. I suppose I thought…"
"Jenny," Abby placed a hand on the other woman's shoulder. "You're part of the team too, you know."
Jenny found herself laughing a great deal that evening, playing poker for biscuits with Abby and Connor at the hospital.
The ARC medical personnel reviewed Stephen's injuries, checked his progress, and ten days after the incident in Leek's bunker, judged he could leave off using the crutches. He had to keep a brace on, and he met with a medic daily to do some exercises.
That same day, the bandages on Connor's hands were changed to a lighter protective covering. The growing skin itched, and he had to apply a steroid cream and wear gloves and resist scratching them. The sensation in his left leg had come back entirely, and enough of his right had returned that he could get around with assistance. If his palms were better, he could have been discharged with crutches or a cane, but the doctors were being cautious. Fortunately, the itching indicated he hadn't done any permanent nerve damage to his hands.
During the first anomaly alert with Stephen back in the field, a large brace on his ankle, Abby shook her head at the way Cutter and Stephen grinned at each other over a quartet of steropodon. They'd been extraordinarily lucky lately. This was only the second alert since Leek's bunker, and again only essentially harmless creatures had come through. She wondered how long their luck would hold out.
If all went well, in three days she'd collect Connor and take him home at last. She couldn't wait. After never wanting a flat-mate in the first place, the weeks without him had taught Abby exactly how lonely her life had been before the anomalies and Connor. Even Rex missed him, she thought.
Cutter agonized over sending the fuzzy proto-platypodes back – modern science had such little information about these creatures, merely a few teeth and a single jawbone. But this particular anomaly fluctuated greatly throughout its magnetic field, and they didn't want to risk stranding the creatures in the modern era. Stephen made jokes about 'design by committee' as they chased the funny things back through the anomaly. They were cuter than the dodos, in Abby's opinion.
"Oh thank god, at last," Connor gasped, falling face first into the sofa, and letting his cane fall on the floor with a clatter. Abby laughed at him. "I'm so glad to be home," he said into the cushion, his voice muffled.
"Sit properly, I'll bring you some tea," she offered.
"You're a bloody angel, you are. An angel! Can we have pizza tonight? I've become a stick from that awful hospital food."
Abby kept laughing as she put on the tea. She heard him greet Rex cheerfully. It seemed right, to hear him about the flat. She'd genuinely missed him. It had been strange and lonely and oddly uncomfortable, worse than when he was off dating Caroline…
"Conn? Did anyone tell you what happened to Caroline?" she called.
Dead silence greeted her. She returned to the living room to see him sitting upright and frozen on the sofa.
"I don't care."
Abby crossed to him. "Conn…"
"I don't care, Abby. I don't. She was paid to date me. She led us all into danger. She almost killed Rex – you were right, she had to have put Rex in the fridge. Then she stole him. I don't care what happens to Caroline, and I don't want to know." His miserable expression told her that he carried a lot of guilt inside, for being so foolish as to trust the trendy young woman.
Abby tried to think of something to say as she sat next to him. The woman in question had been given a suspended sentence for espionage, was on probation, and had restraining orders against her to keep her away from Connor or Abby, and the ARC, and injunctions that said if she went to the press, her sentence would be reinstated.
"She left me a voice mail, the day after." Connor said abruptly, in a very small voice. "She said she was sorry. She hoped I might call her. I didn't. I won't." Resentment didn't suit Connor very well.
The whistle of the kettle shattered the moment, and Abby went to set the tea to steep. When she came back, Connor had coaxed Rex into landing, and was gently scratching under the lizard's chin. She retook her place by him, waiting for more.
"You were right, Abby. You're always right." He told her. "You didn't like her from the start. I should have listened to you."
"I didn't like her because…" Abby swallowed and finally admitted it to herself the same time she admitted it to him, "I was jealous." His eyes met hers in surprise. "You were excited and paying her attention, and you even managed to ask her out for a drink without any trouble. You never… you never asked me for a drink." She couldn't read his face, so she just soldiered on. "And I know why she tried to talk to you after – because you're a hero, Conn. You ran in there, and you risked your life to save Stephen. It was… it was awful watching the medics work on you." Her breath hitched in her chest, remembering those terrifying moments. "I thought you were dying."
She shook her head, no longer able to speak, and Connor reached out and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, giving her a half-hug. She wasn't crying, but if she kept talking, she'd lose it completely. With a huff, she stood and went back into the kitchen, fetching the tea tray. When she returned, Connor grinned up at her.
"So … if you don't mind helping me back down the stairs…. can I take you out to dinner tonight?" he asked.
Stephen limped across the ARC from the biology lab towards his office. One poor steropodon quite literally had had the shit scared out of it, and Stephen was always a big proponent of what could be learnt from fecal analysis.
"Stephen." He turned to see Cutter coming towards him. "What have you got there?"
"Microbe report from the steropodon feces." Stephen waved the pages.
Cutter smirked. The SAS guys might think Stephen was nuts for his thing about feces, but like any good zoologist, Stephen took his learning opportunities where he could. "Why don't you leave that be for now, and come have a drink with me?" he asked.
The younger man stared at him. It was the first genuinely friendly gesture Cutter had made since Helen's inappropriate revelation several months ago. However, the zoologist knew better than to pass up the chance to regain some of the tight bond he and Nick had shared for so many years.
"Yeah! Just let me get my jacket."
To Be Continued in the Sequel: "Baiting Becker"