After Danny drove Abby to work, they met with Lester in his office and told him about the strange remains Abby had found on the Internet, the ones with "alien technology."
"And you think these are Connor's?" Lester leaned back in his chair and tapped his pen against the desktop.
"Yeah," said Abby. "Think about it. Connor has a mobile, a pen, a belt buckle, maybe a lighter. After being buried for millions of years, they'd be all corroded and probably wouldn't look like themselves."
"Someone who's looking for alien technology could interpret them that way," said Danny with a shrug.
"Connor would." Abby snorted. "Connor used to think everything was alien technology."
"All right," said Lester with a sigh. "Take Sarah with you. She's the expert with this sort of stuff. Your cover story is that you're scientists working for a government research facility. We don't need to give this person a reason to think the government is covering up an alien invasion, let alone dinosaur incursions, do we?"
As Abby and Danny turned to go, Lester asked Abby to remain behind.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked gently. "Danny and Sarah can handle it alone."
Abby straightened her shoulders. "I can't just sit here and wait. I'll be fine. I will."
Lester told her to hang back if the situation became too intense for her. "It would be a bit odd for you to act emotional over some old fossils, wouldn't it?"
Abby agreed and reassured Lester once again that she'd be fine. She headed to the locker room, gathered her gear, and popped a couple of over-the-counter pain relievers for her aching head. For a brief moment, she sat on the bench and took some long, slow breaths. This was going to be a long day.
- x – x – x –
Helen gave Connor as much water as he could stomach, forcing him to drink so slowly it was like torture, but eventually the overwhelming urge to gulp down an entire swimming pool eased up.
"We'll camp here for the night," she said. "Are you in a lot of pain?"
Connor nodded. "Leg's broken, I think."
"Yes, it is." Helen rooted in her backpack for a small plastic bottle. She shook out a couple of pills and gave them to Connor along with another cup of water. "These should do the trick."
He raised his head and took the pills. When he lowered it again, his muscles were shaking from the small effort, so he closed his eyes, having no desire to look at Helen Cutter any more than he had to. He didn't know what his promise to her meant, but he was perfectly willing to forget about it until morning. He was just glad he'd live to see the morning. Maybe he was the most selfish person in the world for agreeing to her demands, but it seemed pretty foolish to just die.
First chance he got, he was going to break her stupid promise if he could. Promises don't count if you're dying when you say them, do they?
- x – x – x -
The next morning, Connor woke up inside a small tent. Sunlight shone green through the canvas, and he watched the silhouette of a million-legger crawl up the material. It felt good to just lie there and be out of the hole. To be alive and warm, possibly too warm, now that the sun was up. He listened to the creatures and insects buzz and caw and screech somewhere in the jungle, feeling rather invisible here in the tent. After a little while, he turned his head. An empty blanket lay rumpled next to him, making him wonder if he'd shared this tent with Helen last night. God, he hoped not.
With a groan, Connor sat up and looked down at his leg. His pants had been cut off at the knee, and a crude splint was wrapped around his lower leg. Two sticks held it in place with rags tied around it. Connor tried moving his leg. It hurt like crazy, but not as bad as it had the day before.
His stomach rumbled from hunger just as the tent flap opened.
"So you're awake," said Helen with a satisfied smile. She crouched in the opening. "Hungry? Need to relieve yourself?"
"Yeah," he croaked. His throat felt rough.
Helen stepped away and told him to scoot to the opening. After Connor did, one of the clones helped him to his feet. Connor leaned on the clone and looked around.
They were on the edge of a small camp near the ravine situated on rocky ground. Besides the tent, there were several packs, a few canteens, and a tarp stretched between branches over what looked like a work area, complete with a table and several chairs. In the middle of camp, there was a fire with a small creature roasting on a spit. It smelled like wood smoke and roasted chicken. Connor's mouth watered.
"I was able to save some of my things from your attempted arson," Helen explained, nodding to the work area. "It's not the same as home sweet home, but it's better than nothing."
She pointed to the other side of camp where the jungle was encroaching on the rocky area of the ravine. "You can take care of business over there."
Connor gingerly put weight on his bad leg. It hurt, but if he leaned on the clone, it wasn't horrible. The two of them hobbled to the spot Helen had indicated, and Connor relieved himself. He thought about trying to escape, but he couldn't imagine walking anywhere on his own right now. When he was done, he meekly let the clone lead him back to camp.
After he dropped into one of the chairs, Helen gave him a canteen and a protein bar. Connor ripped open the bar and had devoured half of it before he even noticed the taste. Chocolate and peanut butter. It was delicious, but then again, anything would've been delicious at that point.
"Feel better?" asked Helen. She sat across from him.
He nodded cautiously. "Thanks."
"Glad to hear it." She leaned forward on her elbows. "Here's the deal. I saved your life last night, so you'll work for me. You have a broken leg, so that means you can't walk far, if at all. However, if you feel the urge to hobble off into the jungle, my clones have been instructed to capture you however they can. If that means, breaking more bones or even shooting you, then so be it."
Connor's jaw tightened and he set the rest of his protein bar aside. His hunger had just disappeared.
"I can still do my work with or without you, Connor, but it would be nicer to work with you. However, if you cause me too much trouble, I'll be happy to do to you what I did to my dear, departed husband. Always remember that you're expendable, Connor."
"You really are a bitch, Helen."
Helen's mouth twitched into a smile. "A ruthless bitch, if you don't mind."
"Fine, whatever. You already have my agreement."
"Good. I think you'll find working with me quite pleasant. And perhaps, we can do more than just work. It gets very lonely with only Neanderthal clones for company." She reached across the table and rested her hand on top of Connor's.
Connor jerked his hand back. Not only was he no longer hungry, he felt nauseated as well. "Just tell me what you need me to do."
Helen chuckled and pulled an anomaly opening device out of her pocket. "For starters, I need you to take a look at this. It's been losing its charge faster than usual, and I need to know how to fix it." She pushed it across the table.
Connor picked up the device and turned it over in his hands. Unlike the one he'd looked at in the hole, this one was shiny and had no wires hanging out. Despite his best intentions, he was extremely curious to be able to study the device. "Okay, I'll see what I can do."
- x – x – x –
Dr. Silas Morgan had a bad comb-over, a pot belly and skinny arms. He wore a short sleeve white shirt and jeans. His 1970s-style mustache twitched as he talked. "So you're from the government, are you? Most people think my ideas are too out there." He whistled and twirled his finger near his ear. "It's good to see someone taking an interest. Where did you say you were from again?"
"We didn't," said Sarah. Abby admired the way she looked calm and professional while giving him a conspiratorial wink. She was like Jenny that way. "It's all very top secret, you see."
Abby and Danny exchanged a smile.
"We'd tell you, but then we'd have to kill you," quipped Danny.
Dr. Morgan laughed uncertainly. "Oh, right. Of course, of course. Well, it's just down the hall here. Not too far." He led them down a tiled corridor, pulled out a key and unlocked a solid steel door.
After flicking on the lights, he led them into a room packed with metal shelves and file cabinets. A computer rested on an old metal desk in the corner, covered with papers and sticky notes. Plastic tubs lined the shelves. Notes and diagrams covered the walls, along with a periodic table of elements, a geologic time line, and a Dr. Who poster.
"I've gathered everything from digs over the years, though it's getting harder and harder to secure funding," Dr. Morgan explained. "My focus is on the unexplained. It seems the board doesn't like the unexplained very much." He sighed and tugged at his mustache.
"Yes, well, we like the unexplained quite a bit," said Sarah.
"Right, of course. You want to see the alien artifacts." Dr. Morgan walked between a couple of narrow shelving units and grabbed a tub from the second shelf from the top. Danny helped him carry it to the desk.
"Of course I don't know if they're really alien artifacts. I just put that on my Web site to grab attention. I don't actually know what they are, but they're over 400 million years old. I know that for sure and . . . well, you'll see what I mean."
He removed the lid and pulled out several items that were labeled and wrapped in bubble wrap. Dr. Morgan carefully opened one of them. He set it on the desk and turned on the desk light.
Abby, Danny, and Sarah leaned close. It was a rectangular piece of something, about the size of a candy bar. It was shiny where it wasn't all scratched up.
"Can I touch it?" asked Sarah.
Dr. Morgan told her to go ahead.
Sarah ran her fingers over the item, turned it around. "I think it's glass," she said, rubbing one side of the item. She passed it to Danny who then passed it to Abby.
Dr. Morgan tugged on his mustache and watched them intently.
"It almost looks like a mobile," said Abby, feeling the cool smoothness of the material. She found an indentation on the side and tried pressing it, not too surprised when nothing happened.
"It does, doesn't it?" Dr. Morgan unwrapped another item. This one was made of half metal, half glass, and it was about twice the size of the other item. Though it was a bit corroded, there was no mistaking the future technology. He handed it to Sarah who passed it around.
Abby's heart began racing as she studied it. She exchanged a look with Danny and Sarah and gave them an imperceptible nod.
She was holding an anomaly opening device.