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Thanks: THE jay tryfanstone has done a stupendous job, above and beyond the call of duty and cannot be thanked enough for sparing the time. Thanks also to Alyse and Aithine for their excellent organization.
Summary: Nick and Stephen struggle to reconcile during an onslaught of action
Spoilers: set mid season 2
( Way to Go - Part One of Two )
Stephen awoke, yet again to the sensation of being in a strange place. Those were seagulls crying he could hear, Nick was in his arms - was he in the bed and breakfast? The sun had clearly not long risen but it was already full daylight, with Stephen's stirring Nick's light sleep was finally disturbed enough for him to wake also. They both sat up and then it became clear that the seagulls were no longer innocent seabirds but rather more alarming pterodactyls. As they watched, one of the circling forms dived toward the sea, and with exhilarating speed and grace swooped along the water. It extended its beak, dipping it below the water line, and emerged with several outsized fish which had been too close to the surface.
"Perfect!" Stephen looked across at Nick's face, glowing with delight, arched an eyebrow and grinned. "Well that's them fed. I suppose you expect me to catch one the same way for your breakfast?"
"We're gonna have to catch something, that's for sure." Nick said, his face darkening as he remembered their predicament. "We do need to think about a strategy for survival here. What we can eat. Fish should be fine, and any small mammals and reptiles we can hunt. As for vegetation we'll have to be a lot more careful, we've no idea what could be toxic. And we'll need to find freshwater." He reiterated his statement from the previous day. "The anomaly should re-open, they seem to always do so, we just have to wait."
"And survive." As he said this Stephen's eyes narrowed and his mouth twitched, acknowledging the enormity of it all. Determining not to let it overwhelm him, he continued lightly. "Right so 'smoke me a kipper I'll be back for breakfast'?"
"Ha, ha, very droll. You get the fish I'll get more wood for the fire."
When they'd been paddling yesterday Stephen had observed that some of the large fish were in the habit of swimming languidly close to the shore and would be easy to spear. After acquiring a sturdy branch and a length of suitable vegetation to use as twine, he cut a notch in the branch, inserted his knife and secured it in place with the twine. Setting off into the water, he took only a few minutes to spy a placid fish. While he recognized the order it came from, the species had no record among the preserved fossils he knew. The fish was easily skewered and he headed back to the beach, watching Cutter's movements as he reset and relit the fire.
They sat on the sand, backs against the branch, their branch, their home in this beautiful but misbegotten paradise. The fish tasted good, Cutter had not acknowledged how hungry he'd been but his stomach had rumbled in response to Stephen's growling. They'd both laughed at that, relieving the machismo too entrenched for either to admit weakness or cause the other to worry. The sun shone, the day was warm and using fingers to tease the flesh from the bones they happily munched away. The fish tasted like the sea bass that was served in the little Portuguese restaurant near the university campus, Stephen mused. And to the west the water rippled off the shore, sunlight twinkling off the disturbance.
There was no real warning.
The Machimosaurus exploded from the shallow water, out of Cutter's eye line, showering them both with salty water. With the noise and the sudden movement, Stephen's head snapped round. The creature was nine metres long and looked like an oversized crocodile, but moved with amazing speed and agility. Within seconds the immense mandibles filled with rows of gnashing razor sharp teeth were far too close. As he scrambled up and back, feet not secure in the shifting sand, the teeth grazed Stephen's leg through the cloth of his trousers. Stephen yelped. Cutter was pulling at his arm, yanking him further back out the way. But there was no time to pause, the thing was still coming, still snapping those deadly jaws.
Stephen danced back away, the thing's massive snout rearing up and forcing the two of them to dive aside, in opposite directions. The head, with its beady eyes, swung to and fro undecided as to which morsel to pursue, only feet from both. Stephen backed away, aiming to go further up the beach and into the trees, knowing to turn and run would be insane, he'd never get enough distance with the sand hampering his footing, and the creature would be on him, tearing his flesh to shreds. The creature followed Stephen's path. Cutter, still for the moment, watched in an agonized silence as it relentlessly followed the other man. With little conscious thought he glanced over to where the makeshift spear lay discarded, and dodged toward it. The Machimosaurus, sensing movement on the periphery of its vision, spun to face him. As it moved, the heavily muscled tail whipped around, catching Cutter full on his side, knocking him over and eliciting an involuntary yell as his breath was forced out of his lungs. The Machimosaurus had turned fully on him now, one lunge away. Blinking through watering eyes, his breath coming in gasps, Cutter stared at the face of one of evolution's ultimate killers. His mind shut down, containing at the last only one thought. Stephen should not see this.
But acting on instinct Stephen was waving his arms, shouting, attracting the creature's attention back to himself, his first instinct to protect Cutter. But the creature was fast, and Stephen stumbled on the loose sand. The thing was steadily closing.
Then Cutter shouted "Catch!"
Stephen looked instinctively towards the voice, saw an object whirling toward him. Snatching the distinctive canister, he pulled the top off and sprayed. A stream of pressurized insect repellant hit the Machimosaurus full in the eyes and snout. Bellowing in surprise and pain, it backed away. Stephen repeated the action and the Machimosaurus snapped its jaws and shook its head, trying to rid itself of the noxious substance. To no avail, and seeking security in its own environment, it sped back to the water, its body scissoring as it moved. As it plunged beneath the water, Stephen ran over to Cutter, hoisted him unceremoniously up, grabbed the rucksack from which Cutter had extracted the miraculous canister, and started to the trees. "We'd best get out of here!"
Reaching the tree line, Stephen, in the lead, made a beeline along the path their feet had trod back and forth to the anomaly site. He was aware with some irony that he mimicked the Machimosaurus' action of heading for home. At a rapid pace they made their way through the trees and verdant undergrowth, but when Stephen glanced back Cutter looked sweaty and held his arm toward his side.
"Yeah" Cutter said tightly. "Just winded. Let's just get back to the site."
The small clearing was as they'd left it, no shimmering reflected light, no anomaly. Cutter chose that moment to pass out. Stephen reached the crumpled body, and with panicky movements checked for blood and breathing. He sighed with relief as the figure stirred at his ministrations, and came to, but concern spread across his face as Cutter moaned. When the man's eyes did open and he tried to sit up, he grunted in pain and exclaimed "Hell!" before lying back down.
With Stephen's hands checked Nick's body, he asked, "Where does it hurt?"
Nick's mind flashed to an evening of watching a rented copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark, curled up on the sofa next to Stephen, and the culmination of the scene where Marion asked exactly that question of Indy.
"My side. I think I may have cracked a few ribs."
Stephen, lifting the man's shirt, could see a mass of darkening bruises covering most of Nick's side. He sucked in his breath. "Yeah, I think we'd better make you more comfortable and you ought to rest for a while. I'd just prefer if it were somewhere safe. I don't fancy any more run-ins with things that want to eat me today!"
While Cutter lay back, closing his eyes, Stephen sat on back on his haunches and tried to think through a solution. "Think you can move yet? Come on, I've got a plan."
"You've got a plan? Sure. Let's try, give me a hand."
"Yup, you don't have the monopoly on them. Trust me."
Cutter allowed Stephen to help him up and they carefully maneuvered across the clearing and into an area where the vegetation had been recently disturbed. And there on its side was the silver van that had brought them to this place.
"It'll offer a bit of shelter and protection," Stephen said and at Cutter's frown, he qualified, "It's the best we've got. Plus I've tried the radio and it still works. We can use it to check and possibly get a heads up on if the anomaly is returning. You're the one who identified the interference in the first place," he pointed out, the smirk fading from his expression as he noted just how pale Nick looked.
Letting Stephen lower him gently to sit with his back resting against the van, and trying for a weak smile Cutter said, "That's good thinking Stephen, I always knew you were smarter than me, in some ways."
Stephen rummaged around in the van, checking the contents, and muttering that if they hadn't been so distracted by their mutual adventuring into this intoxicating world then they'd have thought of this yesterday. Cursing tersely, he found very little of use in the van. This one had contained the scientific equipment and little else. A small bottle of water in the glove box had survived, but was not going to last them long and there was a somewhat crushed but useable emergency first aid kit. All the camp gear had been in the other van. They should learn from this, Stephen thought, and pack the vehicles evenly with essential provisions in each one. Assuming there is a next time, he thought bitterly.
He plunked down next to Cutter, careful not to jar him, and searching through the rucksack passed over a couple of chocolate chunks. "We can turn the radio on every couple of hours, to your frequency, and see if there's a change in the static denoting interference. Maybe it won't be so long before the anomaly reopens. How're you doing?"
"I'll be fine Stephen, don't worry."
"That's not what I asked, Nick."
"Okay, fine. It hurts to breathe, I've got a headache and I feel a bit fuzzy."
Stephen could not be sure, but he suspected Cutter was minimising his injuries. "Here, have these," he said, giving Cutter the bottle of water and two aspirin and wishing he could do more.
Sitting there in expectant silence they were startled by a sound from above. They'd grown used to the gentle creaking of the branches, the chirruping of insects and rustling in the undergrowth. Startling, this was a loud caw, and as they looked up, Stephen tensing, a bird about half a meter long flew past. It skillfully navigated the trees and landed on the ground not far away.
"Did you see that, can you still see it?" Cutter's hushed tones queried. "It was, it has to be, an Archaeopteryx. The russet plumage all over, except the head, the tail feathers, they fly...amazing!".The rush of excited words left him breathing fast and shallow, a shadow of pain crossing his features, his pale blue-grey eyes closing and his head resting back against the van.
Stephen rather thought that the beauty of the place and its wonders was wearing thin and he'd prefer to know they were near a medical facility.
The Archaeopteryx continued to rustle around in the undergrowth below the warm green canopy of trees, which Stephen thought were similar to the Bahamian pineyards he'd visited on route to a long-ago conference. Next to him Cutter's breathing had evened out, and although his skin was pale and sheened with sweat, he seemed to at least have dozed off. His face relaxed as the aspirin numbed the pain. Stephen sat silently, impatient and harrowed at his impotence to do anything that could resolve the situation. The jubilation of his earlier actions seemed hollow now. He didn't want to move and risk disturbing Cutter, and even if he did move, what was he going to do?
Several hours later and Nick's breathing patterns changed as he started to rouse, his eyes blinking, trying to bring things into focus. His confused features revealed his disorientation.
"Hey," Stephen said, wishing that Nick looked better rather than worse. He seemed paler, more drawn.
"Hmm, how long was I asleep?"
"Couple of hours. I'm going to try the radio now." Stephen got up, squeezed into the partially mangled vehicle and turned the radio on. They sat listening to the static for ten minutes with no discernible change before Stephen turned it off and returned. "Let me check your side," he said, very carefully lifting up Cutter's top to display the harsh purple mottling covering the man's skin. Stephen ran his fingers tenderly along the skin, feeling a number of bumps that just didn't feel right and as Nick hissed with distress his insides knotted with worry and a frown creased his face.
"Could I have some more water, please?" Nick asked, forming the words with care, the slight formality not putting Stephen at ease.
"Sure." And digging out two more aspirin he gave them and the remaining water to Nick.
Swallowing them, Cutter turned his head to Stephen, and was clearly bracing himself for an awkward question. "What happened to our existence at the university?"
Seeing Stephen's obviously perplexed expression, Cutter clarified: "Indulge me. Remind me, how we came to be in the ARC? Come on, distract me."
The normally taciturn Stephen now found himself having to regale his partner with the details, things the man should have known, but seemed to be hearing for the first time. Stephen worried over the possibility of head injury while he sought to distract his companion.
"After the first few creature incursions, we split the time between the University and the Home Office. Not that you were ever attentive while we were at the Central Metropolitan University, as Connor pointed out when you first met him! And the Dean got fed up with the proliferation of men in black, strange vehicles and activities at all hours of the day and ... and there was the argument you had with Lester."
"Argument with Lester? Really?" Cutter interjected sarcastically.
"Yeah, the one where he ended up calling you an irresponsible, ramshackle, maverick who needed to be kept on a tight leash. That was it. That and your unwillingness to help with Helen. After that Lester determined that with the need for tighter security and secrecy we needed a new place as a base of operations. Hence the ARC."
Stephen paused, looking back at his own memories. The packing of their shared office had not gone well, coming as it did after Helen's declaration of their affair at the original anomaly site. He closed his eyes, remembering the feeling of impending horror as she'd let it all out. His own shame, and the irretrievable hurt on Nick's face at the double betrayal. There was no question, he hated himself.
He told Cutter how they'd packed up their stuff in relative degrees of stony silence. No glowering looks or heated arguments, just simmering distrust. It'd taken over two weeks to get everything sorted. The majority of the stuff was Cutter's, the reconstructed skeletons; the specimens; the shelves burgeoned with books; box files of papers and the various paraphernalia of academic research. But they'd been together in that office for over eight years and he'd left his own mark all over the room. The maps on the walls with pins where he and Cutter been. Photographs from those same trips; their rucksacks side by side leaning against the wall by the door and his own Pneu-Dart model 176B CO2 powered rifle in the locked cupboard by the window.
He explained that eventually the silence between them had worn on both of them, and that on finding the pair of shot glasses next to the malt in the desk drawer, there had been an unspoken truce. Actually, a drunken reverie, and though they'd not had it out tensions had eased. The rest of the packing went more smoothly. He'd found innumerable golf balls that Cutter had putted under the furniture and lost to the dusty kingdoms of oblivion and they'd even laughed over it.
Stephen snorted mildly at the look Lester would give now if he found Nick putting a ball around the ARC using his favoured theropod radius.
"It's not been the same since. There are so many people involved now, it's like a corporate animal. Techs, security, administrators. It's not just you and me and Abby and Connor. It's more ..." he hesitated, "... more distant. There's no escape, no sanctuary."
Sanctuary was what their life had been together, a combination of exciting ventures for research coupled with the seclusion of university life. But no longer. Stephen sighed.
Cutter sat quietly for some time, clearly thinking over Stephen's reminiscences. Eventually, he shook his head. "Any chance of another drink?" he asked. "I'm guessing a malt is out of the question?"
There was only a small amount of water left in the bottle and Stephen passed it over. "I'll take the other bottle from my rucksack and find us some fresh water. There should be a stream nearby. I ought to do it before twilight comes. Judging by the rapid sunset last night, if this is the Jurassic, then we must be in a position closer to the equator now than present day."
He got up, collected the bottle and started off, turning back as Cutter called out, "Wait."
"I'll be fine, I won't be long, don't go anywhere." Stephen backed away. He thought he heard Cutter murmur as he left, but it was essential they had water.
The black 4x4 with its tinted windows slowed, and came to a halt by the group of people in the small valley. Stepping out from the vehicle, dressed in an impeccable Gieves and Hawkes pinstriped suit, was the sartorial figure of Lester.
"Will someone please tell me that my expensive errant professor has returned from his misbegotten sojourn?" he said to Connor, with a look that suggested there was only one correct answer.
Abby took a step closer to Connor, offering him her support against their somewhat tyrannical boss.
"Er well ..." started Connor.
Sighing, Lester said, "Oh no don't bother! Really this is too much. I finally agree to him going, after being pestered endlessly, and then he has the temerity to make a hash of the whole thing. It's a wonder I don't promote you," he said looking at Connor. "On second thoughts, I'm not yet clinically insane. So where do we stand. Do we know why this anomaly misbehaved? Have you located the stray creature yet? I really don't want to file a report that includes the phrase, 'One of our dinosaurs is missing.'"
"Ah well, as to the um, misbehaving, erratic anomaly, I think I have the answer," said Connor, "but I'm really not sure. There's no way to be sure, unless we can duplicate the conditions."
"I think it's all down to that, or rather up to that," Connor said indicating upwards. Above them, the small valley was spanned by the gently drooping power cables of the National Grid, trailing toward the pylon visible in the distance.
Lester's arched eyebrow suggested that a somewhat more comprehensive explanation would be desirable.
Connor carried on "It's a bit out of my league, after all, I was studying evolutionary zoology not physics."
Lester's glare hardened.
"But according to sources there's something called Flemming's Left Hand Rule, which, if you align your first and middle fingers and thumb, um like this - " Connor gestured somewhat futilely, " - then I think one finger is the direction of the magnetic field and the second finger the direction of the current in the wire, then the thumb, erm..., should point in the direction of the force on the conductor?"
Even Abby, who'd heard the rehearsed version, didn't look convinced.
"Electricity from these power lines can arc up to twenty metres to the ground and so basically, the overhead electricity being so close to the magnetic field of the anomaly meant that there were additional forces acting on it, which is why it was stronger and pulled bigger stuff through." Connor's voice changed to one of remorse as he stated, "I should've seen it. Then we wouldn't have lost Professor Cutter and Stephen."
His expression was so doleful after finishing that Abby had to resist an urge to hug him, knowing that despite all his best efforts, Lester still saw Connor as an irritating student rather than as an emerging scientist.
"Er so ... so what?"
"So we avoid this happening again by doing what?"
"Well, I suppose we really need to switch off the electricity," said Connor, giving the impression of having just conceived the idea..
"Switch off the electricity?" Lester paused. "You want me to sanction depriving thousands of homes in the area of electricity and disrupting holiday maker's vacations?"
"Do you have any idea of the innumerable compensation claims that the tax payer will be subjected to as a result of hordes of people suffering post-traumatic stress syndrome? From a prolonged period of being unable to boil the kettle for a cup of tea? No? Well I'll forward the paperwork to you. Connor, two Ns, Temple isn't it? - Fine. I'll get it attended to."
Good as his word Lester had already turned from Connor and Abbey, his mobile phone flipped open to make the necessary calls before Connor even had time to say thanks.
It took only half an hour, tracking sideways parallel to the tree-line to find a stream. Stephen checked the water and it was fresh, no tidal upsurge from the placid sea making it brackish. He filled the bottle and headed back. The daylight was starting to go as he got to the 4x4 van, where he'd left Cutter.
As he approached he heard an audible ruction up ahead, and hurrying toward it he could see his friend on his side thrashing in the grip of a seizure. Stephen's long legs powering him through the remaining trees he rushed to Cutter's side. He tried to steady the heaving body, crying, "Nick! Nick, it's me, I'm here, I'm back."
Almost imperceptibly Cutter calmed, and gradually the movements diminished, until Stephen could gently lift the man up, and positioned himself sat leaning against the side of the van. He rested Cutter as comfortably as possibly against his chest. Stephen could feel that the man was still trembling, and where their skin touched Cutter's was cool and clammy.
Stephen was worried. This wasn't just bruised or cracked ribs. He was pretty sure that there must be some internal bleeding from where the Machimosaurus' tail had lashed Cutter. Running through the symptoms in his mind he came up with the only assumption that fitted: Cutter was going into shock, and there was very little Stephen could do to help this side of the anomaly. "Damn it!" He sat there holding his lover, at least able to share his body warmth with the shivering form as the sun began to set in earnest.
This was not the time to have a fully self aware moment, but he couldn't help his thoughts as the very real possibility of no help and the seriousness of their situation overwhelmed him. What if he lost Nick? Stephen bit his lip, stroking Nick's straw coloured hair, his eyes shimmering with tears he was determined not to shed, even here where it didn't matter.
But it did matter. Things were bad, and not just life or death bad, but back in the real world bad. He and Nick weren't right, they weren't as they were supposed to be. He caught himself thinking 'it isn't fair', but it was. It was his fault, no matter how much Helen could be blamed too, if he'd not ...
Then he and Nick wouldn't be so distant. He couldn't lose Nick. He'd apologised, and put himself in opposition to Nick's strategy for the anomalies, but unlike Nick he didn't think he was one hundred percent right. In truth he didn't trust himself. If, when, they made it back things would have to start changing. He vowed to be less confrontational, to win Nick's trust back. If Nick could rely on Stephen at work, maybe, just maybe, the fledging resumption of their relationship started here could continue.
Nick moaned, bringing Stephen out of his reverie. "Nick? Nick. Can you hear me?"
Unable to see Nick's face, Stephen assumed that the lack of answer meant the man wasn't yet conscious. But the quiet answering voice startled him.
"Yes, Stephen. This...isn't good...is it?" For once the strident, overconfident tones weren't there.
"Not really what I'd call good. But it could be worse. There could be a Tyrannosaurus or a Velociraptor breathing down our necks. This is the Jurassic after all, not a walk in the park." But Stephen's attempt at levity couldn't raise a chuckle.
"What happened? You were gone."
"I went to find water, remember? When I came back you seemed to be having some sort of fit. How do you feel now?"
"Tired." Exhaustion and pain lacing the word.
"Well, it's practically dark now, and I'll need to move and light a fire. Get the water and turn the radio on again."
Gently shifting out from behind Nick, Stephen set him back against the van, getting a chance to look at his companion. As Stephen moved Nick grimaced, but his face relaxed once he was settled again. Getting up to collect wood and attend to the tasks at hand, Stephen felt dizzy, and squeezed his eyes shut to try and refocus them better. To little effect. He must be tired, hungry and dehydrated, well no surprise there, he thought.
Although suffering, Nick was still aware of Stephen and had noticed his companion's mis-step. He murmured, "Stephen, are you alright?"
Catching Nick's words, Stephen was quickly reassuring. "I'm fine, just tired."
The irony of mirroring Nick's's own earlier assertion not lost on him, Stephen carried on, clearing an area of ground and setting the fire. The light and warmth relieved the dark, relentless feel of the forest. The van radio continued to hiss static. He helped Nick take several swallows of water, but the offer of the last piece of chocolate was rejected. Nick seemed distracted, but it was probably the pain, and he would probably still be trying to fathom a way out for them. Resilient and recalcitrant, thought Stephen huffing to himself, but he was still surprised when Nick spoke softly.
"It's the Jurassic."
"Yes?" Stephen asked, drawing out the word in query.
Speaking carefully, minimizing his movements so as not to aggravate his chest and abdomen, yet with a hint of confidence and in a leading tone Nick said: "This isn't our world. Not our time. Things aren't the same. The continents aren't formed. Everything is different."
Stephen not following him, shrugged slightly.
Nick continued, "The atmosphere Stephen, it's ..."
"Hell!" Dawning realization elicited the curse. "Of course. The Jurassic." Slipping into his role as foil to his mentor, Stephen continued with his stream of quizzical conscious thought, "Right, so records show that carbon dioxide levels were around seven times those of today. Today's are at 387parts per million and seven times that would be about 2,700, but CO2 is only toxic to humans in higher concentrations of 10,000 ppm ... and even at those levels, at worst it would make us drowsy?" He tailed off.
"It's not the carbon dioxide, it's the oxygen. It's around 130 percent higher than we're used to."
Carrying on Nick's train of reasoning, recalling research learnt verbatim, Stephen said "And pulmonary and ocular toxicity result from longer exposure to elevated oxygen levels at normal pressure. Symptoms may include disorientation, breathing problems, and vision changes such as myopia." It all fitted. If they'd not been hiding the telltale signs from each other, they might've worked this out sooner.
"Yeah, and ...?"
"Prolonged or very high oxygen concentrations will damage cell membranes, collapse the alveoli in the lungs, cause retinal detachment, and ......seizures." Shutting his eyes tight, Stephen tried not to over-react and, keeping his voice even, said, "So, the longer we're here, the worse this is going to get." More seizures, which he wasn't sure Nick could outlast, more disorientation, and worsening vision. Making them easy prey.
"Aye. The creatures of this time are evolved and adapted to it. We're not."
The effort of talking had worn Nick out, and he sat quietly, obviously, like Stephen, aware of the full implications of his statement. As soon as they'd come through this situation was inevitable.
Stephen's instinctive reaction was to do something, anything, and he moved to reposition himself at his place behind Nick, endeavoring to keep the man warm and away from the cool metal of the van. Blankets or even coats would've been good, he thought miserably. He sat there mulling over the direness of everything. He should say something. What he felt. What Nick meant to him. The very profoundest part of him was sure they both knew where they stood, but getting it out wasn't always that easy. Stephen did not like the idea of perishing without being able to resolve his issues. Sitting there, holding Nick, all he could voice was, "Sorry."
The soft, slightly ragged breathing of Nick, assured him that maybe there would still be time, and with his mind working on what he would say, he eventually slipped into a light doze.
Hours later the hiss of the radio notched up unnoticed.
In the strong sunlight Connor yelped involuntarily and quickly jumped back a pace, as the Metriacanthosaurus suddenly shifted. "Erm, Abby? I think it might need another shot!".
"Oh Connor! It'll be fine, it's secured and I can't give it any more, it might do more harm than good and what would Cutter say if we killed it?"
The large carnivore had finally been subdued by a flurry of tranquilizer darts from Connor's team. It had already been slowed by the first round from Abby's side. They were now awaiting the transporter lorry to take it back to the ARC. Connor had argued for keeping the creature there, near the anomaly site, so that when it re-opened it could go back through. His agitation when denied was more a manifestation of his unwillingness to abandon the site and their friends rather than concern for the creature. It'd been two days now, and he felt as though he and Abby were the only bastions of Cutter and Stephen's wellbeing.
On his belated arrival to the site Lester had rather acerbically pointed out that Connor was now in charge. Although Lester had made the statement with his arms folded and an arched eyebrow on his stern face, shaking his head as he'd turned away, not quite believing he had no better candidates for the job. Clearly the man was damning Cutter for getting lost.
As the team in the transporter wagon were radioing in to say they were eight miles away, being escorted through Dorchester, Abby, nearby, said urgently "Connor, listen!".
Sure enough the signal was varying, distorting the voices at the other end. Connor rushed over to another of the portable radios on site and could hear that the interference was mounting. He checked the compass, which was starting to waver, and finally he looked expectantly at the hand held detector that Lester had condescended to bring with him. Sure enough it started to howl and as he and Abby stared toward the end of the small valley the anomaly blinked back into existence.
"Yes! I knew it would come back!" Connor cried, relief flooding his voice. Now all they needed was to see Cutter and Stephen stroll through ... or even race through yelling something about creatures behind them ... But nothing happened.
"Maybe they don't know it's returned," Abby said consolingly.
"Or maybe it's not the same one?" Neither Abbey nor Connor wanted to acknowledge that something awful and more catastrophic could be keeping their friends away.
"Well where ever it goes, you can now dispatch that thing through and then it'll be off our hands," instructed Lester. His sharp voice almost certainly recalled how it would significantly reduce costs to not have to maintain a welfare facility for errant dinosaurs.
"Er, shouldn't we go through and look for Cutter and Stephen first?" queried Abby.
"Yeah, we can hardly let a ginormous man eating predator through without doing that?"
Lester's face wrinkled in distaste at Connor's eagerness. Sighing, he replied, "Oh, I suppose so, if you must! But just make sure that Megalosuarus ... "
"Whatever! Goes back!"
And with that he left Connor and Abby to garner some military assistance. It was readily proffered, the men keenly aware of what was at stake and glad of a chance to help bring comrades home. In ten minutes they had their gear and were ready to advance. Connor left a suitably appraised tech monitoring the signals from the anomaly, which this time seemed to be strong but steady, and joined the others.
Stepping through the anomaly the group was met with darkness, and the unexpected change stopped them in their tracks as they sought to get their bearings. Always an exception, Connor, disregarding the disruption and with his mind on his friends, started to shout out for them. With no immediate answer he started forward and Abby joined in his calls. The military contingent, better trained and equipped, reached for their night vision goggles and began to fan out in a practiced search pattern.
Stephen started from his sleep confused. He could hear voices in the dark. Where was he? As his faculties somewhat diminished it took a short while to remember where he was and what could be happening. Finally grasping the situation, he found himself yelling incomprehensibly, anything to attract attention. "Here, we're here!"
The approaching movements through the undergrowth resolved themselves into Connor and Abby.
Seeing Cutter's still form, which hadn't stirred at the commotion, Connor's voice quivered "Oh God, what's wrong? What happened?"
Abby had crouched down and was trying to determine just that as the Special Forces men arrived. They efficiently evaluated the situation and took command. A portable stretcher was unfurled and, after prying Cutter from Stephen's reluctant hold, the casualty was lifted onto it. When he was strapped in and an unsteady Stephen provided with a shoulder to lean on, the small procession set off, torchlight helping them until the glare of the anomaly became sufficient to walk by.
A week later Stephen was sat in one of the ARC's vans, his fingers tapping on the steering wheel to the strains of 'This Ship coming out of the radio. He was waiting outside the hospital. Nick would be released soon.
The rescue from the Jurassic had been swift and sure. He wasn't fully cognizant of the details as the high oxygen had significantly affected his perceptions toward the end. One minute, it had been dark despair, seemingly the next was brightness and many hands helping them. Through it all he was aware of not wanting to leave Nick and forcibly saying so. He'd been beside himself when a second seizure had struck Nick on the trip to the hospital. Stephen had insisted he go in the same ambulance, and even thought he was impotent to help, he was mollified by the presence of skilled paramedics, who once the crisis had passed, reassured him that everything would be fine. Something that would definitely not have been the case 145 million years ago.
At the anomaly site the hard working team of technicians and Special Forces men had been left to see that the Metriacanthosaurus was deposited safely back through the anomaly. While briefly on the other side, the team had also attached a line to the crumpled 4x4 and winched it back though. Abby's instructions to not risk anything that could change the past, even though 145 million years was long enough to eradicate all traces, was an echo of Nick's own philosophy.
Back in their own time and with the exposure to elevated oxygen levels reduced, the effect of the oxygen toxicity and the symptoms, gradually dispelled. It took over two days and during that time he'd constantly fretted silently about Nick. Abby and Connor had visited him as soon as they knew what was happening. Nick had suffered a fair amount of internal bleeding from a broken rib piercing an artery, but relayed that he would be fine. He'd been assured that in the long term, a robust recovery from their oxygen toxicity was certain and that there should be no lasting problems.
No lasting problems. Only those between him and Nick. But it would be better now, Stephen was determined. He would take Nick home, to his house, the one that they'd shared so much in. They would talk. Their time stranded on the other side of the anomaly had shown him what was important. He could regain Nick's trust and love. They could agree to differ over the public denouncement of the anomalies. Nothing would get in the way.
He watched Abby and Connor's excited forms helping Nick with his bag as they exited the hospital entrance. He got out of the van, smiled and waved them over. Nick's figure, a tad slimmer than before and wearing his usual khaki jacket against the slight chill of a spring morning strutted toward him with the accustomed asurity. And as the distance between them closed Stephen's eyes searched out Cutter's.
A small smile played across Nick's tired face, "Glad to see you, Stephen,"
There was a way to go but it would work.