Jenny threw back her shoulders and strode confidently into Lester's office. "We've got a problem," she announced.
Her boss stood before his desk with an annoyed expression on his face, for once, thankfully, not directed at her. "So have I. It's called Christine Johnson," he grumbled. "Like a velociraptor, only better dressed."
"James, a creature has escaped through the anomaly."
"What is it?"
"We don't know."
"Well, can't you look its picture up in Temple's Big Book of Dinosaurs?" He snarled. "Where?"
"We don't know. The team is tracking it now. We have the anomaly site secured, but… there's something else."
"There were a few eyewitnesses. A pair of delivery drivers, and a woman at the museum."
Lester pulled on his suit jacket and straightened his tie. "Well, you know, have them shot and dispose of the bodies discretely." He left Jenny standing in shock as he walked out of the office. "Just kidding," his voice floated faintly back.
Becker eavesdropped as Temple set up his monitoring devices and chatted up the lovely Doctor Page.
"So, Dr Page. What do these hieroglyphs refer to?" Temple asked.
"That's what I've been...working on," she admitted. "But there are so many unanswered questions. Key fragments that are missing. And I've been trying to figure it all out." She sighed heavily. "If Marion had let me finish... Ammut would have got me and not her."
Temple shot her a sympathetic look. "I'm sorry, was she your friend?"
"Oh, no. Not at all." Becker almost snickered at her brusque dismissal. "But, you know. Given a choice, I wouldn't want her dead."
Temple blinked, somewhat shocked by the doctor's cavalier attitude. With a twitch, he turned his attention back to his equipment. He opened a toolkit, and Becker's jaw dropped a little to see a steel wrench fairly leap from the kit and through the air towards the anomaly. It bounced off the statue, knocking off a chunk before vanishing into the sparkling nothingness of the anomaly itself.
Temple's eyes were wide and horrified as he picked up the broken chunk of statue. He looked up to meet Doctor Page's accusing expression. "I didn't do it!" he immediately protested. Behind him, Becker rolled his eyes in exasperation.
"So, it just … fell off by itself?" Temple nodded, but Becker caught a glint of something in the good doctor's expression. "The Sun Cage," she said pompously, gesturing to the black statue, "Is cursed. Anyone who touches it is… is… doomed for life!"
"Really?" Temple yelped, totally buying her serious expression. Becker tried to hide his grin.
"Marion was the last person to touch that," Page pointed out.
"The dead woman?" Temple whimpered.
"Should have told you that earlier, right?" She sounded so regretful. "Sorry about that. Bad luck." Her eyes flicked up to meet Becker's and he clearly saw the teasing glint in them.
Temple slumped forward to bury his face in his hands. As he did, he bumped a box with his elbow, and a smaller statue on top wobbled. Just as it tipped, Becker lunged forward to catch it one-handed.
Temple looked up at Becker wide-eyed. "Bad luck?" he murmured.
Unable to resist, Becker glanced at Doctor Page before setting the ancient Bast statue on a box further away from the scientist. "Maybe," he said, a warning note in his voice.
The young scientist paled further before turning back to his devices. Becker tossed Doctor Page a wink, and she smirked in response.
When the mobile rang, Temple answered it instantly. He'd been working hard at his devices, Becker had to admit, his fingers fairly flying over the laptop keys. "Yeah, Cutter. I took a reading; whatever came through is at least fifty-five million years old." He nodded as he listened to Cutter. "Searching… "
Becker couldn't take any more hanging about. "Tell him I'm on my way." He waved at three of Smythe's men to accompany him.
Behind him, he heard Temple say "Action Man said he's coming." Becker winced, and avoided meeting any of the other soldiers' eyes. Epithets like that tended to stick in the military.
Becker managed to catch up to the others quickly, he and his men arriving on scene in two of the ARC SUVs. Maitland was calming a terrified traffic officer who'd had a close brush with the creature as Hart and Cutter examined the area. Hart plucked something from the destroyed roof of a car as they regrouped.
"Abby – what do you make of that?" Hart asked, handing the object over.
"Crocodile tooth," she identified it, as Hart and Cutter nodded. The three exchanged glances. "The river," Maitland suggested.
They ran towards the Thames, Becker and his men following. The ripples on the surface told them that something had entered the water there.
"Crocodiles usually attack from ambush in the water," Maitland pointed out. "They finish their victims off by drowning."
"So, why did this croc attack on land?" Hart finished.
Cutter pulled out his phone to make a call. "Connor! I think I know what you're going to find." He nodded, then said "Pristichampsus." He nodded again. "Alright." He snapped the phone closed and looked at his team. "It's in the Thames, but it won't stay there."
"It's going to come ashore, looking for warmth," Maitland agreed.
Hart had pulled a pair of binoculars from a pocket and was staring across the river. "And food," he added grimly. "If it's been living in Egypt, the Thames will be much colder than what it's used to."
Cutter also produced binoculars and joined Hart on the water's edge. "It'll be looking to get out soon…. Make that right now." Cutter pointed to a water access across the river.
"Car!" Becker snapped, and all four ARC members ran up the stairs and towards an SUV. They piled in, Cutter claiming the wheel. The rest of the men followed in the second car.
As they wove through the morning traffic to the nearest bridge, Maitland clung to a handgrip in the rear seat next to Becker to keep herself from being thrown against the captain as Cutter made a tight and highly illegal pass of another vehicle. "Lights and sirens!" she shouted at Cutter.
"Make a note!" Cutter snapped back as Hart laughed.
Becker wasn't sure it was funny, but he certainly could appreciate the need. Given the crowded roads and Cutter's reckless endangerment of other drivers, warning the public to get out of the way might not be a bad idea.
Cutter's phone rang, and Hart's hand shot across to pull it from Cutter's jacket pocket. Becker sighed – at least the team leader would keep both hands on the wheel. "Yeah? Jenny, we're headed to Jubilee Gardens! It's an Eocene crocodilian, it went in the Thames, but we're pretty sure it's come out right by the Eye. Yeah, meet us there." Stephen snapped the phone shut.
Minutes later, Cutter yanked the vehicle into a loading zone and slammed the brakes. Becker made a mental note never to ride with the zoologist again. Ms. Lewis met them at the entrance to the Royal Festival Hall.
As they looked for signs of the creature, frustration got the better of Becker. "If your tranquilizer darts don't floor this thing, we have no option but to use live rounds. Okay, Professor?" He was not happy about the volume of civilians in the path of a clearly dangerous carnivorous beast.
"Please - tell me we haven't lost it again," Ms. Lewis begged, but the sudden upswing in noise as people on the second level began screaming gave it away.
"Apparently not," Hart said as they all ran for the building.
Ms. Lewis began directing civilians away from the scene as the rest charged after the prehistoric visitor.
Becker wasn't entirely sure how they all got separated. Clearly the scientists had a different definition for 'a search' than the military. But the shouting and shattering of glass brought him at a run to find Hart and Maitland leaning over a ledge looking down.
"Are you okay?" Maitland shouted.
Cutter's voice came up faintly from below the ledge. "Oh, just enjoying the view."
"What the hell?" Becker asked.
"Went over the ledge, tied to the hose," Hart explained with a wave of his hand. "We'll pull the car around; they should be able to just drop down."
"And the creature?"
"Seems it's heading for the river again," Maitland admitted. "It probably just wants to go home."
They ran back out of the Center and Becker had a man drive an SUV around. As Hart predicted, Cutter and the poor bewildered cleaning woman were able to drop lightly onto the roof. Ms. Lewis immediately took charge of the shaken woman as the rest scrambled to head back to the museum.
Hart drove this time as Cutter called ahead. "Looks like Pristichampsus is heading your way, so make sure it can get to the anomaly!"
They pulled up to the rear dock of the museum where the creature had exited, but there was no sign of it. Becker led them into the loading area. For some strange reason, the statue had been surrounded by boxes on three sides, the open fourth side facing the loading docks. Of course, that was NOT the way the creature chose to return.
"Connor! Out of the way!" Hart yelled, bringing up his tranquilizer rifle. The young scientist stood in shock between the rest and the creature and in the path to the open side of the anomaly. To Becker's surprise, Temple leapt upwards to grab a hanging cargo chain, scrambling up the side of the pile of boxes. In wordless coordination, the military men all took aim at the creature. If it went for Temple….
"Guys, please. Just get it back through the anomaly. Don't shoot it." Cutter ordered lowly.
"It's my job to keep you all alive," Becker told him.
"I'm too young to die!" Temple yelped from where he dangled above the creature's head.
"It's injured. It wants to go home," Maitland insisted from behind Becker's shoulder.
"I don't know how long I can hold on!" Temple cried. His expression looked extremely pained.
Suddenly, Doctor Page cried, "Bow!"
"What?" Asked Hart.
"Bow down!" She insisted.
"What are you talking about?" Becker snapped.
"This creature is...is used to being treated like a god. They would have bowed as a sign of respect," she explained.
"If it doesn't think we're a threat, it might not attack," Hart offered.
"I'm not bowing," Becker snarled.
"Get down on the floor," Cutter ordered him. "Do it."
"Keep the gun handy," Hart added, keeping his own rifle ready even as he took a knee.
As they all knelt, the creature surveyed them, growling. Then, to their everlasting relief, it trundled over the boxes and vanished into the anomaly. The light expanded briefly, then collapsed and disappeared.
"Ow!" Temple fell to the floor, unable to hang on any longer. Maitland rushed to his side, Cutter following.
"Nice call," Hart complimented Doctor Page with a suave smile.
From the floor, Temple called to Doctor Page. "That's gotta be the end of the curse now, right?" He was shaking out his hands, as if he'd hurt them.
"Here's hoping," she told him with a shrug.
"The Curse?" Hart asked, confused. Becker exchanged a small smile with Doctor Page.
"I made it up," she whispered confidentially.
Hart's face lit up with a grin. "Don't tell him yet."
"Of course not," she assured him.
"Right, call Jenny. We need a clean up and containment here," Cutter announced. "Some sort of story, I'm sure she'll have something plausible."
Hart got on his phone as the others started picking up the scientific equipment. Temple began excitedly telling Cutter something that happened with the anomaly while they were out chasing the creature.
"Becker," Hart called. "Can you leave a couple men to secure the site?"
Becker made quick eye contact with Smythe, who nodded. "Yes, consider it done."
"Great. Yeah, Jenny, all set. Yeah… yeah…. Alright. See you there." Hart snapped his phone shut, and then turned a grin on for Doctor Page. "Doctor, we need you to come back with us to the ARC."
"What?" she gasped. Her pleased teasing mood vanished. "Why?"
"That'll be explained. But you have to come with us."
She glanced around, looking for support. When her eyes fell on Becker, he decided to get a bit back on the team's behalf. He lifted his gun into a slightly threatening ready position and gave her a serious look. "Ma'am? If you would?" One quick gesture brought a man into position behind her, and Becker himself indicated she should start walking. Her wide-eyed gaze was shocked at their sternness as she glanced wildly at the military escort, at Becker's firm expression, at the sudden seriousness of the ARC team.
"O-Okay," she stuttered, hitching her satchel more firmly onto her shoulder. As she walked past him and out of the loading area, Becker gave Hart a little smirk of his own.
To be continued in "Stealing Sarah"
AN: So I included the bit with Lester because that's one of my all time favorite Lester moments.