“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” –M. Gandhi
“We must either find a way or make one.” –Hannibal Barca
521: There are Tappers, and then there are Controllers. They do the same thing in principle. Each has a problem, and each is a solution to the other one.
522: Some problems are preferable to other problems.
While Lester and Ryan were getting her car from the parking lot (and no doubt spraying scented sprays inside it), Helen was following Meghan to the back, where the little guys were kept. Unlocking her office, Meghan let her guest in, never letting her get between Meghan and the culaiches.
“This is Nick,” Meghan Mack said, introducing the lead culaich to Helen.
A smile lifted Helen’s lips. “I see, yes,” though Meghan didn’t understand why it was even slightly amusing. “And this must be Stephen,” gesturing to the neighboring crate.
“No, miss. That’s one I like to call Claudia.”
Meghan wasn’t sure why Helen was chuckling, nor did she think it advisable to inquire. She just knew she had to get the culaich pair into their kennels in the back of the minivan.
So she did, politely asking Helen not to get too close. Yes, the Benefactor could handle culaiches – but that was fifty and more years ago, and there were other reasons besides.
Location: MI7 Southern Warehouse:</b>
“How exactly do you train these thi- these culaich?” Ryan asked.
“Trade secret,” Meghan said. “Not even MI5 knows.”
“But you do.”
“I’m not MI5. I’m MI7.”
“Of course,” she answered just as he slid into the next room.
Lester and Helen were elsewhere in the building - not my concern as to where, Meghan told herself as she and Ryan searched for clues to why this holding facility had gone silent. In her heart, she knew why - to seal his power, King Leek is removing our best chance of taking him down - but in her mind, Meghan knew that they had to look.
“Found…something,” Ryan said, which brought her from the hallway into the room he’d ducked into not five seconds ago.
Three culaich lay dead on the floor, their innards spilled across the concrete floor. A human between two of them – Marvin Elk, she recognized him – in a similar state.
And then Meghan saw what had got Ryan’s attention… or should have, since he was still looking at the protective posture the culaich were assuming even in death.
What Ryan had barely taken notice of, and which was now engrossing Meghan, was the – bird? Dinosaur? Creature? – that had had its brains bashed in by a potted plant. In return, the creature had shredded their colleague – there wasn’t enough left for any identification to be made: it was all blood-soaked sweater and macerated face.
For all the strength a cululaich’s stomach needed to have, Meghan still lost her breakfast in the doorway.
She made sure there wasn’t any more bile in her mouth before she investigated the creature.
There was a rather soured stink, but there was enough of a resemblance to let the pieces slide into place. “The Nore,” Meghan whispered as she sniffed the dorsal side of the lone dead saurian. “Of course!” Her exclamation drew Ryan’s attention away from looking over the massacre of the culaich.
“What’s the Nore got to do with this?” Ryan asked.
“It’s where the tapper on one of the culaich stopped working -”
“The device atop their skulls, it guides them to be more compliant. Rather like tapping an elephant.” And, like tapping elephants, it usually works. “After the celebrations of Victory In Europe day,one of the tappers stopped working, and its untrained culaich went amuck. That’s when we learned about the culaichs’ weakness – people like me.”
“That’s it?” Ryan asked. “No offense, but you smell.”
“Yes,” Meghan said, grinning, “and they can’t stand it. We’re the ones they can’t kill.”
Standing on the other side of the saurian, looking down at her, he remarked, “Looks like you’re not the only ones any more.”
Once they were driving again, Ryan asked, “You said they were Silurovenators.” It’ had been all Helen had said when they’d told her about the dead body in with the culaiches and cululaiches and other MI7 agents.
“That’s right,” Helen said.
“They’re here from the future. Intelligent predatory dinosaurs.”
“Then you mean they’re from the past?”
“No. The one you described is similar to the ones I met in the future.”
“How can that be?” Meghan asked where she’d otherwise sat, mute and reeling from what she’d seen. Ryan was tempted to put his arm around her and tell her they were making things all right.
“Because a large population of something related to Sinovenator ran with me through a horizontal stacked row of Anomalies from the Cretaceous to the future. Then I got separated from them, and was reunited a million and a half years later. Silurovenators.
“For years, I was their prisoner and, if I wasn’t their ruler, then I was the highest advisor their ruler had. I guided and taught them as much as I could with basic hand signals.”
“Followed by a palace revolt?” Lester asked. “A change in political climate?”
“Entirely possible, James,” Helen said. “One day, I was pulled from the ‘cage’ they had kept me in…and hauled me to the edge of their known world, then they forced me through an Anomaly.” Almost my entire time away had been spent in that place. I found my way back to the present day, to Nick … but when he rejected me and my offer to search time together, just the two of us, I went off and found the Future Predators again – the culaich which I brought before Winston Churchill. “Someone was there with them. A person, though I’ve no clue who it could be.” Taylor?
* * * * *
Location: The Palace:
Leek was going on and on about the things arrangements for an excursion he wanted to take this afternoon.
While Royal Advisor J. Bull smothered a yawn, he then committed the cardinal sin of checking his fob watch for the time.
“Am I keeping you?” Leek asked, his and the Court’s attention on Bull now.
“No. Just habit.” Time.
“Let me see,” Leek said, and when Bull didn’t hand the watch over himself, an attendant yanked the device from John’s hands.
When it was in his own hands, Leek asked, “Who’s this?” examining the gilt-framed photograph of a young woman opposite the timepiece.
“Laura Tobin,” John Bull said.
“Yes?” He was resigned to ask what scheme Leek had cooked up this time – now that Leek’s plan was at fruition.
“Why’re you here?” Leek asked Bull. “Go, go propose.”
“I don’t know…” hesitant to leave him alone and unsupervised.
“Trust me on this. You need to seize the moment, before she gets picked up by some mindless jock.”
Laura is both smarter and more agile than they are; nonetheless, “Very well, Leek. If that is your wish, then I’ll be off.”
“Just come back later.”
“Of course. Worry not, Oliver,” John Bull said. “When victory comes, as it will, it will be a mere shadow of a greater victory on a larger scale.”
“A grand scheme I can’t even imagine, I’m familiar with the idea,” Leek said, having heard that shite from Bull before.
“Yes,” and John Bull went down the corridor.
Through that same corridor seconds later, came the Prime Minister at a run.
“Must have been a quiet one,” Leek observed.
“Your Majesty?” David asked.
“The crash. You and Bull slamming into one another.”
I didn’t see him at all in the hall. Then again, I was rather preoccupied. “I must not have noticed him.”
Leek sighed. “What’s so urgent this time? I was rather looking forwards to a boar hunt, and you interrupt yet again.”
Next to the puzzle who was Mr. Ryan, James Lester waited at the door for an answer. Personally he’d much rather have been doing something else, particularly now, in this critical time. But the Benefactor Helen Cutter had decreed that his time would be better spent recruiting an ex-employee of MI7…and the Benefactor Helen Cutter had backed Ryan’s decision.
Miriam Tremayne wasn’t who answered the door. “Can I help you?” the man asked Lester.
“Yes you may,” Lester said. “If you’re Donald Trevor, you can inform your wife that I’m here to talk to her. It concerns National Security.”
“Can’t see how that could be,” Mr. Trevor said.
“Oh really? And why is that?” Lester replied flashing his badge.
“James Lester fired her.”
They never read the name, just look at the rest. “Well isn’t that a stroke of luck – as *I’m* James Lester, I can hire her back.”
“Don’t let him in,” Ryan heard Mary say from out of sight.
“Mary?” Ryan asked.
She appeared, tucked against her husband’s arm. “Who are you?” Miriam asked. “And why’d you use that pronunciation?”
“I’ll explain, inside. And to show you can trust me, how about I tell you something that only a Tremayne or a close friend thereof would know?”
“I’m listening,” she said.
“As are we all,” Lester added.
“Every generation adds one rule to the traditions,” Ryan said, “concerning who the Tremayne children can marry.”
Miriam narrowed her eyes as she relented. “Come inside.” To her husband, she added, “Tea?”
“Of course,” Don said, then kissed her cheek, and went to the kitchen.
Once they were indoors, Miriam shut the door. “Out with it now. What do you know?”
“What, before tea?” Lester asked.
Ryan didn’t mind though. “In a manner of speaking, we’ve already met,” he said, and proceeded to tell them about his world, where there was neither an ARC nor an MI7.
And he told them about his death.
“Then how could you be here?” Miriam asked. “For all that the Grauniad calls Prince Henry a medieval king-in-the-making, even he’s never been credited with *that* miracle.”
“I woke up,” Ryan said simply, palms up. “Helen Cutter was there, telling me I was needed. She never told me how it happened.”
“So you’re not Christ after all – you’re King Arthur come to save us,” with the Benefactor as your Merlin.
“Actually, we need your help with that.”
She raised her eyebrows.
“We are prepared,” Lester said, “to remove the black marks from your record, Mrs. Tremayne-Trevors, contingent upon your cooperation.”
Miriam snorted. “I seem to recall being charged with conspiracy to commit treason alongside the man who is now Emperor of All Britain and the Commonwealths. So tell me why I shouldn’t just hand you both over to the authorities.”
“Well, loyalty to the Queen, for one,” Lester said.
“Except,” Ryan said, “except that all Tremaynes are loyal to whomsoever sits on the throne – you avoid dynastic politics that way.”
Miriam nodded. Favoring one side over another is probably what forced us to leave Persia. “That’s right. So, Mister Ryan, what argument can *you* offer?”
“Why?” Lester asked. “Wasn’t my offer more than sufficient?”
The ex-MI7 officer snorted. “There’s only one possible reason you’d come here to engage my services, Mr. Lester: you need a sniper. And since you’re here, all the ones you can trust are dead.”
“I trust you,” Ryan told her, just as her husband was bringing the tea out on a tray for everyone.
“Comforting,” Miriam said. “But not enough of a reason to commit regicide.”
“By your own words, Mister Ryan, you admit you don’t know me. You know some other Tremayne, one with a variant on my name. And that is hardly sufficient inducement to join your side.”
“Thank you for the tea,” Ryan said, standing up and moving toward the door, Lester following his lead as per orders. “One thing,” Ryan said, and took a step closer to whisper something in Miriam’s ear.
When he stepped back, Miriam stared at him. “And you didn’t mention this before…Why?”
“Helen Cutter said it was a stopgap measure,” something of last resort only.
“I see. Now leave.”
“You’re here,” John remarked with a calmness that Ryan found quite astonishing considering he was holding a gun on the unarmed Royal Advisor. “Good, I was beginning to question.”
“Some things. Nothing of consequence now; your presence here shows greater maturity than we’d estimated.”
“We who?” Ryan wanted to know. Someone who’s pulling the strings? Exactly how far up does this nonsense go?
“Royal we,” John said as he drew a pistol out from between the buttons of his vest and aimed it towards Ryan.
In self-defense, Ryan fired at Bull.
In response, John Bull stepped sidewa
One shot, one kill.
That’s all Meghan managed to squeeze off before the element of surprise was lost to them and the Silurovenators – the Ember Midnights – had surrounded them before anything further could be done. Helen Cutter may’ve said that these were slow and ungainly in comparison with Coeleosaurs and Mantiraptors - but then, Meghan realized, why *wouldn’t* they send their elite on a mission like this?
And that gave her an idea. Well, that combined with how several of the Ember Midnights – those who weren’t surrounding them – were investigating the fresh corpse of their kinsman… and looking at us frequently.
So, that in mind, Meghan slowly tapped one finger against the barrel of her pistol, wishing all the while that culaich would make an exception to their fish-avoidance just this once: Back-up would be nice. Or reinforcements. Yeah, very nice.
One of the Silurovenators left the corpse and came over to her. This one came a lot closer than the others were. Meghan could see all the age-wrinkles on the otherwise smooth skin of the two-fingered hands – hands that jerked down to point behind it. Jerked the hands back up so the elongate second finger pointed at Meghan’s empty hand. Clapped one palm on the back of the other hand.
Beside Meghan, Helen deciphered it: Dead. You. Yes?
Did you kill?
“How do I answer?” Meghan whispered, confronted by the wicked-strong scent of the Ember Midnight, a smell fishy and not like hers.
“I leave that in your hands,” Helen said.
“Thankee. I mean the Yes/No reply.”
“I already explained -”
“Well sorry,” and winced at the tone she’d taken with the Benefactor. “It’s fallen from my mind,” and inwardly smiled at the use of those lyrics., “seeing as I’m unused to giant birds.”
“Do what he did, then – pat the back of your hand for a Yes, pat the air beside your hand for a No.”
No, Meghan answered.
It repeated the sequence, this time pointing to her gun instead of to her. Dead. Object. Yes?
Did it kill?
Meghan’s answer was swif: Yes, and she more than half expected it to knock her gun from her hands, claws lacerating her fingers.
But it didn’t.
Instead it began mewling and cooing with the other Ember Midnights.
“How fluent did you say you got?”
“I didn’t,” Helen said. Generously adding, “I only learned hand signs.” That and spoken language would change over time. Which led to, So what are the gestures? A liturgical language, deliberately frozen? And then Helen read to Meghan the signs being made at them now.
Show, a flexing open and shut and open of one hand. No kill.
“Something unmistakeable,” Helen added, “unequivicoval.”
“Got it,” Meghan said, taking aim at a nearby tree branch. No real options, same as all my life. Only now, my options are to have my arse in a sling, or as an entrée. And then she fired, bringing to earth the end of the branch.
More coos and mews.
And then, something unexpected.
All the Silurovenators turned around and walked away. Not towards the entrance to Buckingham Palace. Not in the direction of anything important.
“Where are they going?” Meghan asked.
“Home,” Helen said.
“They told you so?”
“There’s nowhere else they can go.” It occurred to Helen the final reason why Taylor had refused to leave the Leeches: time travel was wearying, yes…but not as tiring as dealing with people was. Those words about paranoia and loyalty had not spoken of beings she’d encountered – they had been a hope, a prayer and a dream. I have done enough, Helen thought to herself. I will be a leaf.
A leaf might feed the hungry in detrius, or it might gather food to power the tree, but it had no great ambitions of its own. No ambition but to help Nick and to comply with Taylor’s prophecy…3,111:
3,112: Faunal diversity takes a nosedive in the future. After the Leeches and Siluroventators.
Even now, Helen wasn’t sure how those two facts tied together, but she didn’t mind trying to save Stephen – he was smart enough to be useful. But the truly important thing was to get Nick properly motivated to be the change the world so badly needed.
Meanwhile, in the Throne Room:
Lester gathered intelligence about his position without overtly looking around. The pair of guards who had dragged him limply here were just two steps away; Leek was at least four. Prime Minister Owen stood loyally at Leek’s side; both before and after the Civil War, there had always been individuals more loyal to the throne, to the ideal of monarchy than to him on whose head lies heavy the crown – David Owen was just another example of that. And unlike the Tremaynes, who at least have the decency tp keeping out of trouble, he’s outright – no, not conspiring, not at this stage – outright collaborating.
“James Lester,” Leek said in as much of a drawl as his accent allowed. “Looks like not all of us have been moving up in the world.”
“Ego’s heights will come crashing down smashingly,” Lester said with a smile.
Leek made a face. “Oh spare me that New Classical rubbish.”
“Even if I felt obliged to oblige you on that,” which I don’t, “it’s all my children listen to these days.” That and all the other bands who got on C.S.Lewis soundtracks.
Leek shook his head sadly. “You know, Owen, I can almost feel sorry for him.”
“You know something, Leek?” Lester asked. “Do you know the reason why I always admired Lord Churchill more than I did the Benefactor?”
“Enlighten me,” Leek said.
“Never give up, never surrender.”
And, at that moment, Miriam’s bullet shot through the glass and into Leek’s skull.
“It would appear that Mr. Ryan was more persuasive than I gave him credit for.”
Lester’s stern look was enough to keep people at bay. When Helen arrived, he didn’t hesitate to remark, “About time, I should say.”
Saying nothing, Helen stood next to where Leek still lay – she’d instructed that nobody move the body until she arrived. “Oliver Leek,” Helen said. “Under different circumstances, you might have been useful.”
With that, Lester added up some things: “It was him,” Lester opined. “He overthrew you and had you kicked out of the Ember Midnight civilization.”
Helen gave a small smile. It makes sense. And given the way time works, it could easily have been a Leek somewhere. “And grateful as I am for that, it wasn’t enough to keep me neutral in what we have done here.”
“For which your country owes you a debt of thanks.” Lester hesitated. “Again.”
A fuller smile now. “I believe I’ve earned a vacation from any and all things.”
“Quite a timely piece of career advice, and well-advised.”
“I’ll be seeing you, James,” Helen said. And before Lester could reply, Helen said in greeting, “Mrs. Tremayne-Trevor, Mr. Trevor.”
“We know,” Miriam said. “’Thank you’ to both of us.”
Lester looked at Helen, “They do know how to suck the fun out of it.”
“We don’t want thanks,” Miriam said. “Without Don’s engineering expertise, the rifle wouldn’t have been able to take the shot.” After he modified it, it succeeded. Harder-voiced, “And you promised.”
“So you left Ryan with only that option, did you?” Helen asked. “Well, far be it from me to go back on my word. Your husband will receive the best medical treatment in all of history.”
“No,” Don said.
“Excuse me?” his wife demanded.
“I’m not going -”
“Without me?” Miriam asked. “Damn right you’re not.”
To Helen, Don said, “We’re going.”
Helen nodded. He’ll help clean up well, I imagine. “Head through the Anomaly. I’ve got one more person to see before I leave here.”
And he wasn’t long in arriving, either. Ryan was trying to explain something to Mack as they walked over to Helen. “Seriously,” Ryan said, “they do sing that.”
Meghan groaned at the thought. “Any good songs?”
Ryan considered that. “Henry the 8th I am.” Mary’s not the only one who loves that ditty.
“You mean the lamentations of a particular soul in Hell? Its meh; I happen to own a copy of the soundtrack to ‘Dante’s The Paradisio.’”
Ryan groaned. “Trust me, its better than that.”
“Kind of hard not to be.” Arriving in front of Helen, Meghan said, “Reporting for duty, Ma’am.”
“Both of you have the option of remaining here or coming with me,” Helen told them. “I need to know now.”
“I’m staying,” Meghan said. “I can’t exactly do anything out there – without culaich, I’m just a stinkpot.”
“I’m staying too,” Ryan said. And this time its not to shame your husband into getting his arse moving, Helen. “This world’s growing on me.”
Helen nodded. “Good day then, Cululaich,” she said. “Goodbye, Director,” to Lester. To Ryan, “Have a good life, Captain.”
“You too, doc,” Ryan said, snapping off a salute.
Helen backed through the Anomaly – and was gone.
Meghan turned to face Ryan, panic plain on her features. “You can’t stay!”
“Why not?” Ryan asked.
“Bec…because…because – sir!” casting a pleading look to Lester. “Tell him why he can’t stay.”
“Don’t look at me,” Lester said to both of them. “I fully intend to procure dinner at this moment.”
Feeling slightly guilty because he was taking advantage of her distraction, Tom Ryan took a step closer, his nostrils eversoclose to Meghan’s hair.
She flinched, tried to take a step back.
Before she could, Ryan sniffed, a deep savoring inhale. The smell of safety, he sighed.
“Why are you here?” Laura asked him, coming from her position by the door to sit at his bedside.
It seems to have attracted you, John Bull thought to himself; causality and probability were lures to the pair of them. “Shot.”
“Never known you to be careless,” she remarked.
“Everyone else gets shot; I was beginning to feel left out,” he said.
“Since when do you get wounded?” Compassion asked with compassion.
“Since when do you sit at my bedside?” John Bull replied, an honest answer for her question. He knew better than to say ‘I missed you’ as it was part of the humanness that had been leeched from each of them in different ways.
“Did you do all that just so I’d visit you?”
John Bull smiled.
Text: Taylor’s Journal:
1,788: You’ll be back, Helen. That’s not a guess or a wish, it’s a recounting of historical fact.
1,789: I know you’ve got ideas, and the many I look forward to discussing it with you.
1,790: Time Loops Unto Omboros.
Soon, on Primeval…
“I discovered a lot of things. You can too.”