Title: Learning Curve - 2 of 9
Characters: Claudia, Abby, Nick, Stephen, Connor, Ryan, Lester
Pairings/Ships: Nick/Claudia, Abby/Stephen and Abby/Connor.
Spoilers: Some from 1x01-1x05. Set in an imaginary larger gap between 1x05 and 1x06.
Disclaimer: I don’t own them....Bugger... (although if anyone at Impossible Pictures wants to offer me a job that’d be great...)
Short Summary: Abby is feeling increasingly frustrated with Stephen’s behaviour towards her, wondering if he cares for her as much as she hopes. Claudia is feeling increasingly frustrated by her lack of field experience, wondering if the others see her as a hindrance. Both problems pale into insignificance however when a large predator is on the loose and they find themselves lost and running for their lives.
Author's Note: Reposted due to changes to the first parts and now complete. A million thanks and many gold stars to fredbassett for being the most fabulous beta reader.
Nick frowned in concentration as he studied the map in front of him, using a ruler to draw a more definite line between the two points he’d marked. Stephen was, by contrast, sitting at the computer at his own desk, tapping away into some complex satellite navigation software. Which was all well and good, Nick supposed, but he preferred to have something a little more tangible in front of him whilst he worked.
He extended the line he had drawn down towards London on the reasonable assumption that so far the anomalies seemed to be heading that way. The first had appeared in a place called Toot Hill just southeast of Harlow. The second had appeared that very morning, four days later, in the heart of Epping Forest. It was the fact that both anomalies seemingly led to deserted areas that made him suspicious and closer inspection of the environment on the other side of this new one did suggest that it indeed went to the same place and what appeared to be the same time as the first. That was obviously more than coincidence and it had caused him once again to consider the idea that these anomalies weren’t quite as random as they first appeared. That they were, as he had previous considered, following some kind of temporal fault line, the cause of which was still a mystery.
After all, he reasoned, there had to be some kind of method to their appearance otherwise Helen wouldn’t have been able to predict where and when they’d occur so accurately.
Taking the data from the only other previous occurrence of this that they knew of (the sequence of anomalies that had led to the Cretaceous period and the mosasaur), he saw that in that instance the anomalies had appeared further apart at random distances, getting weaker as they went and eventually almost disappearing altogether. He still didn’t know the cause of them but having even a basic ability to predict where they might show up would be an advantage and could save lives.
Although that prediction did require - in order for them to narrow down the search to a workable area at least - finding two anomalies leading to the exactly same era, which he had to admit was unlikely. Especially considering he suspected that there were many more anomalies appearing than they were actually aware of and that there were many more going undetected because they didn’t cause problems. The notion that the scale of this might be much larger than they were aware of was a definite concern to him. As was the idea that they were potentially facing larger and more widespread problems than a few rogue prehistoric creatures. After all, he found it hard to believe that rips in time were actually a good sign.
That was why even a problematic theory was better than no theory at all.
Of course a theory really meant nothing if he couldn’t test it and so both he and Stephen were working on predicting where the next one might appear whilst Connor had gone off to investigate and document the time period in question. With no major animals present, they had had to rely on plant life and insects for verification. Connor suspected it was the Eocene, somewhere between thirty four and fifty six million years ago, but he had gone to the library to do some research in order to confirm that. He said he’d call them if and when he found anything of note.
Nick stood up and crossed the room, passing the map to Stephen.
“Plot that,” he said, tapping the line he’d drawn, “That’s where it should appear next, somewhere along there.”
Stephen smiled a little. In truth he’d already done most of that anyway whilst Nick had been off scribbling on pieces of paper. Still he was well used to Cutter’s way of working by now and so he said nothing, simply nodded and continued the task at hand.
Nick appeared to be about to start saying something more when his phone rang. He held his hand up to Stephen, a signal that he wouldn’t be a moment as he fished the phone out from his pocket and answered it.
After a pause Stephen noted a small smile slip onto Nick’s face and he knew instantly who his friend was talking to.
“It’s going very well,” Nick continued with a nod, perching temporally on the corner of the desk, “We think we’ve got a possible route to look into. I’d like to talk to Ryan about setting up some kind of surveillance if that’s okay.”
Another pause and Nick frowned a little this time.
“Did something happen?”
Whatever she said made him smile a bit more broadly.
“I’m not surprised. He doesn’t exactly like us.”
Silence again as he listened.
“Well, I’m very glad of that...Okay, see you tomorrow.”
He snapped the phone shut and headed back to his desk, sitting down and shuffling through a couple of pieces of paper before he looked up, sensing that Stephen’s eyes were on him.
“What?” he asked genuinely perplexed.
The other man had a rather knowing grin on his face.
“Was that Claudia by any chance?”
Nick could sense the implication there and his answer was a little hurried, trying to brush the matter aside. To make it appear that it was of no consequence to him at all. Unfortunately it came out sounding a little guilty instead.
“As it happens, yes.”
Stephen was unrelenting in his bluntness.
“You like her, don’t you?”
He did, yes. It was something Nick was becoming increasingly aware of the more time he spent with her. It was hardly surprising really. She was beautiful, intelligent, caring and, most unexpectedly of all, there was just something about her that charmed him and made him feel a warmth that he hadn’t felt in years. With Helen gone he had never even considered finding someone else – he thought that perhaps it was the lack of closure that bothered him so, the fact that he had never really known what had happened to her that had prevented him from moving on. Perhaps however he had simply never met the right person until now. He couldn’t deny that it would be all too easy for him to fall in love with Claudia Brown.
But matters were more than a little complicated by circumstance and besides, he’d been out of this whole dating game for too long and he was admittedly a bit rusty about how it all worked. The last thing he really needed was Stephen winding him up about it and asking him questions he didn’t yet have the answers to. He therefore settled for the most evasive reply he could muster without directly lying.
“She’s very nice.”
Stephen looked skywards, not accepting such a dismissive response for one moment. He knew Nick better than that.
“You know what I mean,” he pressed.
Then he grinned a little wider.
“And she is very cute,” he pointed out, “You’d make a sweet couple.”
“As I said, she’s very nice,” Nick repeated again a little more firmly this time, making it quite clear that there were some things he liked to keep to himself.
Stephen smiled, not taking offence but admitting defeat for now as he turned back to his computer screen. Still, he couldn’t resist one final parting shot.
“Well if it is of any interest to you,” he said in a casual tone, “I’m pretty certain she thinks you’re nice too.”
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Nick glance up at him, hesitating upon the brink of asking more about that but in the end backing out. He could understand in a way why Nick was so reluctant to make more of the matter, what with Helen’s return complicating matters. Still, you only live once, Stephen always reminded himself. Nick was a good man and deserved to be happy and if Claudia was the one to make him so, then so be it. She seemed like a lovely woman after all and Stephen was in no doubt that what with the extent of her betrayal becoming clear, things were very much over between Nick and Helen.
How Stephen himself felt about that he wasn’t quite sure yet. In fact, he preferred to take the easy route out of it and not think about it at all. Helen had a habit of confusing things in a way he was still uncomfortable with.
“Abby seems to think you’re very nice,” Nick said, not even looking up from his work as he threw that comment into the arena.
“Well Abby’s mistaken,” Stephen said with cheery bluntness.
“Maybe it’s not your nice personality she’s after,” Nick said with a chuckle.
Stephen shook his head.
“How about we call a ceasefire on discussion of our less than stellar personal lives and go and talk to Ryan about setting up surveillance instead?”
Nick smiled in agreement.
“What a good idea.”
Claudia huffed irritably as the SUV bounced over yet another pot hole in the dirt track, jolting her spine sharply again. Why did these anomalies have a habit of appearing in the most awkward of places to get to? Epping Forest covered around six thousand acres of land and yet, with all that space to choose from, the anomaly had decided to spring up pretty much in the deepest part of it, far from any main road and accessible only by well worn dirt tracks, many full of pot holes and with treacherously steep embankments either side of them.
She guessed it must be sod’s law firmly at work. It seemed to be almost her constant companion of late.
Still, she supposed things could be much worse. Yes, there had been deaths but surely that was to be expected in such an extreme and unusual circumstances. And, as she constantly tried to remind herself, the numbers could and probably would have been much higher if it wasn’t for the selfless actions of all involved. She couldn’t pretend that the few casualties they’d suffered didn’t bother her but in a way she was glad that they did. She didn’t want to end up like Lester, hard at heart and apparently only able to see commodities and problems, not the people behind them.
She knew she couldn’t be far from the base camp. She had been there earlier in the day and even though it was dark now there were a few areas she recognised; the narrowing of the road as she continued and the small area of felled trees she’d just passed. If she was lucky, she’d be able to check in, get a quick status report, contact Lester and drive back home again to a hot bath and a glass of wine.
She smiled wanly to herself. Who was she fooling? She knew very well that once she got there she’d feel compelled to stay and keep an eye on the situation herself, not wanting to feel like she was neglecting her job. It looked like she was in for an all-nighter. Still, at least Abby would be there which was infinitely preferable to spending her time solely with the all too serious Special Forces men. She’d never really yet had an opportunity to get to know the other woman all that well so perhaps now would provide the time. After all, girls had to band together when surrounded by so much testosterone.
Utterly unexpectedly a figure suddenly ran out from the undergrowth and onto the path ahead of her, frantically waving its arms to flag her down. Claudia’s foot instantly slammed on the brake, the tyres skidding over the loose dirt surface. After a few painfully long moments the figure ahead seemed to realise the problem and tried to back up from the oncoming vehicle, but in their haste to get away they stumbled backwards, falling heavily to the floor.
By the time the car stopped, the person was out of sight below the bumper.
Claudia sat there in shock for a moment, breathing heavily.
Then all of a sudden reality seemed to sink in and she hurriedly got out of the car, shaking fingers fumbling with the seatbelt and door handle, her heart thudding in shock. She didn’t think she’d hit the person but she was worried all the same. Rounding the front of the vehicle she thankfully saw a rather stunned Abby sitting herself up just inches from the tyres, dusty but apparently unhurt.
“What the hell are you doing?” Claudia snapped as she bent down beside her, her relief coming out as anger.
Abby it seemed did not have the time for explanations.
She grabbed the front of Claudia’s jacket hard and used it to pull herself to her feet, wincing as she did so, although whatever injury she had sustained she apparently wasn’t going to dwell on it. It was only now the initial shock had worn off that Claudia realised how dishevelled and out of breath Abby was. As the other woman gripped tightly at her arms to steady herself she could see a definite trace of fear in her eyes.
“Oh my god,” Claudia said softly, holding her firmly to help her stay upright, “Are you all right? What happened?”
“We don’t have time,” Abby replied in a rush, “We have to get out of here”.
Claudia was about to ask why when from down the road in front of them she heard the all too familiar clatter of gunfire.
It was immediately followed by a piercing scream.
She looked back at Abby, sure that the other woman’s fear was now reflected in her own face. Explanations could wait until later, for now they had more pressing concerns. Preservation was their first priority and she had to get Abby safely out of there and then call for back up.
“Get in,” she ordered sharply.
Abby quickly hobbled round to the passenger side, using the vehicle for support as Claudia returned to the driver’s seat, slamming the door behind her and hurriedly restarting the engine. She tried to put the vehicle into reverse but she did it too quickly and the gears crunched painfully, refusing to properly to engage.
More haste, less speed.
Or was it more speed, less haste? She never was very good at remembering those sort of sayings. Half the time she thought they were nonsense anyway.
“Claudia,” Abby said quietly from next to her, “Hurry up.”
Claudia looked across at Abby and then followed her fixed gaze out of the windshield. Standing not twenty feet away was something that she didn’t recognise. She had learned enough from her time dealing with the anomalies however to assume that it was definitely a predator. It was like some kind of horrible mixture between a wolf and a hyena with a long snout full of teeth and a powerful looking, fur covered body. Even from this distance she could tell it was certainly bigger than the car, over six feet tall and probably three times as long. It looked dangerously powerful.
And it was looking straight at them.
By the time she had finished gawping, it was already moving in for a closer inspection.
“Claudia!” Abby shouted in concern, seeing the other woman near frozen with shock, “Go!”
She didn’t need telling again.
Slamming the car into gear, thanking anyone up there that it engaged the second time of asking, she floored the accelerator, reversing as fast as the vehicle would allow.
The animal began to accelerate too, going from an intrigued trot to a hunting canter.
Claudia yanked the handbrake up hard, turning the vehicle to face the other way. It wasn’t perfect – the road was slippery and she was out of practice – and she ended up a little too much left, scraping the car noisily along a tree, knocking one of the wing mirrors off as she got it back facing the right direction and sped off.
She caught Abby looking at her out of the corner of her eye, apparently surprised.
“I did a rally weekend for my twenty-first,” she explained.
Abby almost smiled despite the situation.
“Were you any good?”
The conversation came to an abrupt halt as the car was battered from behind, the rear wheels momentarily leaving the road, causing both occupants to cry out in surprise. In the darkness around them Claudia couldn’t get a good look at it but she could feel the impact of creature running so close by, treating them like prey, hunting them down.
She eased a little more out of the accelerator, going now even faster than she really should dare. The SUV was okay as a vehicle but it wasn’t really a true off roader and it certainly wasn’t suited to what she was asking it to do. They were being thrown around like rag dolls inside it even with seatbelts on and Claudia was barely keeping a decent hold on the steering wheel, the car precariously close to losing its grip on the road.
“We need to go faster!” Abby said redundantly, turning slightly in her seat to watch as the animal ran up alongside them with apparent ease.
Any faster though and they’d be off the treacherous road in moments.
Maybe, Claudia thought, just maybe they’d be lucky. Surely a creature with that amount of bulk would tire very quickly at these speeds and then they’d be free to escape. Which probably explained why it seemed so intent upon stopping them, slamming its weight fiercely into the side of the vehicle this time.
The car lurched to one side and she just about held it, catching the back wheels before they went into a skid. The second impact almost pushed them into a tree but she steered away just in time. By the third their luck had run out.
The sheer force of the blow pushed the car far enough side ways that wheels left the road, heading onto the steep incline of the embankment and dragging the rest of the car with them. Claudia tried her best to keep it going as they hurtled down the hill, knowing that it would be suicidal to stop with the animal still so close by. But the floor was too littered and she didn’t have a hope of seeing the rock or log or whatever it was that she soon hit.
She knew the car had flipped, could see forest floor flying round the side widows as they rolled, but she was unconscious well before they came to a stop at the bottom.