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...)
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.
For the entire drive down there Stephen had been trying to look on the positive side. After all, there were dozens of possible reasons why they hadn’t replied to the radio call, none of which had anything necessarily to do with something bad having happened to them. Worrying when there might be no need was pointless.
So what if Claudia hadn’t answered her phone even though Nick had constantly been trying to call her since they’d left the office? Maybe her battery was flat. Maybe she had the music up too loud and hadn’t heard it. Maybe, in the middle of the woods, there was just appalling reception.
No news was not necessarily bad news, he reminded himself.
Nick didn’t seem so confident. He closed his phone again, Claudia having failed to answer for what must be at least the twentieth time in as many minutes. Stephen knew the drill by now; Nick would sit there in silence, looking out of the window, expression grim. Any attempts at conversation would be brushed aside with short, terse answers. Any attempts at reassurance would be met by sharp, frustrated replies. Nick didn’t want to be reassured nor told that everything was going to be fine. He just wanted to get there and do something. He certainly didn’t want to sit in the car feeling helpless.
And so, moments later, he would try to call her again, even though he must have realised by now that chances were she wouldn’t answer. But it was better than doing nothing. It was better than not trying at all.
Stephen could sympathise with that in a way. The action of driving as fast as possible was keeping him focused as he followed Ryan’s vehicle down unfamiliar roads, watching the miles tick by, eating up the distance between him and friends who were potentially in trouble. When he did allow his mind to wander, straying from the task at hand just for a moment, all he could think of was that he had left Abby on a stupid argument. One that he might now never have the opportunity to make up for.
He pushed that thought firmly aside, refusing to give in to worry. He was no good to anyone if he wasn’t focussed, professional and calm.
He glanced across at his friend, hearing Nick sigh heavily as he closed the phone yet again.
“She’s not picking up,” he admitted. Stephen already knew that of course but there was a worrying finality to the way Nick had said it.
“Keep trying,” he ordered.
He wouldn’t even hear the suggestion of giving up on them so soon.
Nick looked at him for a long moment and then nodded, understanding the other man’s reasoning and trying the phone yet again.
Connor rubbed tired eyes, wincing slightly as the action only made them more sore. Plants weren’t really his thing to be honest and his knowledge of ancient insects was patchy at best. But since they were the only things he had to base his research on he’d had to make do, even if it had made the process of identifying the time period take longer than it normally would.
His original hunch had been right however. The samples he’d collected did seem to suggest the Eocene. His guess was that it was quite late in the era, perhaps somewhere around thirty five million years ago, a time when the supercontinent of Laurasia had completely broken apart into Europe, Greenland and North America and the globe was cooling down once more. Through much of the Eocene, the Earth had seen a phase of global warming that would make today’s environmental scientists’ eyes pop out. Even the Polar Regions would have been warmer than England was in the present day and that had led to an Earth that for many millions of years was almost entirely covered in forest.
It was that very fact actually which had allowed him to guess with such certainty at the specific part of the era they were looking at. The area on the other side of the anomaly was a sparse and barren scrub with little or no sign of the modern mammals that should populate the era. So he could only surmise that it must be towards the end of the Eocene, as the period of cooling took its toll, drying out the once lush landscape and killing off the forests. Combine that with the positive identification he’d managed of some early forms of grass that would have just started to grow during that time, and his dating of the period in question could be remarkably accurate. Well, to within ten million years or so anyway. Which in the context of the Earth’s history was the proverbial blink of an eye.
Pleased with his work, he picked up his phone and called Cutter, wanting to relate his findings.
The satisfied grin on his face faltered when the professor answered the phone in a sharp and irritable manner.
Connor raised his eyebrows, a little taken aback but continued on regardless. He assumed that Cutter was just having a bad time with his research and that things weren’t going quite as well as he hoped. He himself could get a bit tetchy when a theory wasn’t coming together how he wanted it too and so he sympathised with the professor’s mood.
“Things are going well then,” he commented with a hint of sarcasm before continuing, “Look, I managed to date the area beyond the anomaly. It seems I was right, it’s definitely the Eocene. Late Eocene actually since I-“
“That’s great, Connor,” Cutter replied tersely, “Pleased for you. Now I’ve got to go.”
“Oh well that’s sodding charming!” Connor bit back, feeling more than a tad put out by Cutter’s dismissive attitude, “Do you have any idea how long I’ve-“
“Connor, shut up!” Nick snapped sharply, a tone of voice he’d never used with him even when he had briefly dismissed Connor from the team. From that alone Connor knew there was something wrong even before Cutter continued.
“We’ve lost contact with the team at the anomaly and I need to use the bloody phone, okay?”
Connor frowned, confused, not really taking that in.
“What do you mean, ‘lost contact’?”
“They missed their call in and we can’t raise them on the radio,” Nick said with an exasperated sigh.
“What happened to them?”
“We’ll find out when we get there.”
“But...but Abby was there,” Connor said worriedly, knowing he was stating the obvious but unable to help it.
“Yes and probably Claudia too as well as half a dozen of Ryan’s men,” Nick replied hurriedly, “Look, we’re just pulling up to the site, I have to go.”
“What?” Connor asked, completely thrown by what he was hearing, “No! Hang on a minute-“
Too late, the line went dead.
He sat there for a long moment, feeling shocked and a little rejected. Their friends were potentially in trouble and no one had even thought of calling him to let him know?
That was really nice of them. What, didn’t they think he’d care or something? Did they think he was useless in situations like this? Did they think that he’d end up being a burden more than a help and that they’d be better off working without him?
He stood, hurriedly shoving his books and laptop back into his bag. They may not want him out there, might not think they actually needed him, but he was going regardless. He’d lost a friend recently and as far as he was concerned that was one too many. He wasn’t going to sit idly by and hope he didn’t lose another
Nick and Stephen both hesitantly surveyed the scene through the windshield for a long, silent moment. At first glance it was hard to tell that anything was wrong. The area around seemed quiet and undisturbed whilst the shimmering anomaly drew the eye away from any minor details that might have suggested something was amiss. The more they looked however, the more they noticed things.
Like the spent gun cartridges on the floor and the small stove which they’d been using to make tea lying abandoned on its side. The communications tent was flapping awkwardly in the breeze where some of the pegs had been torn from the ground. The flood lights were still standing but some were pointing in odd directions that no sensible human would have placed them in.
And then there were the footprints. To Nick they were a scattered mess amongst the mud, grass and leaves that meant very little. He guessed however that a better qualified man like Stephen could see more in them. Even Nick’s limited ability told him that they suggested that something dramatic had happened here. That people had been running and that something large with hooves feet had been the catalyst.
Ryan and his men were already out of their vehicles, their detached professionalism overriding any shock at the scene or concern for the fate of their colleagues. They were here to do a job and they could only do it properly if they kept their heads.
Nick and Stephen shared a grim look before getting out of their vehicle too, neither wishing to voice his own dour thoughts.
Ryan was organising his men, sending them off in different directions to do a quick sweep of the immediate area, telling them to be on their guard for a potentially dangerous creature that could still be nearby.
“What happened?” Nick asked as they joined him, knowing deep down that Ryan had no more of an idea than he had but somehow still needing to ask. Wanting to believe that someone could offer him a rational explanation that would give him some hope that his friends were okay.
“Give me a minute, all right?” the captain answered distractedly, pointing two soldiers in the direction he wanted them to search and then pressing on his ear piece, listening to some information coming in from base.
Nick couldn’t do nothing though.
“Any sign of Abby and Claudia?” he pressed, “Do you know what happened to them?”
“No, we don’t, we’ve only just got here,” Ryan replied, a little more tensely this time, walking to the tent and glancing quickly inside. As he suspected it was deserted.
Nick was still right on his heels.
“Well what about the thing that came through the anomaly? Any sign of it?”
“If you want to try and find some footprints, be my guest,” the captain suggested, patience wearing thin.
“What about the vehicles over there? Are any of those Claudia’s?” Nick asked nodding towards the parked vehicles, completely oblivious to Ryan’s mood as his mind worked through all the pertinent questions, “Do we know what she was driving?”
“Cutter!” Ryan finally snapped in frustration, angry just for a moment before he relented and took a deep breath, showing a bit of understanding, “Look, I know you’re concerned all right, but we’re trying to do our job and you’ve got to give us a chance.”
Nick nodded, held his hand up in apology and turned away, understanding what Ryan was saying. They needed to work through this professionally and systematically. They couldn’t run off like a bunch of headless chickens. They had to know the situation they were dealing with if they wished to be most effective. Besides, Ryan’s men were out here too. Seven people that he was responsible for, colleagues and friends, were also missing. Nick was sure that he was worried too but he apparently wasn’t going to let it get in the way of his job. There was something almost reassuring about the captain’s professionalism even if was a little cold.
Stephen walked over to stand next to Nick, placing a hand momentarily on his shoulder, looking at his friend with concern.
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t think it’s me you should be worried about,” he replied grimly, shaking his head.
Stephen looked as if he was about to say more, to offer yet more hollow reassurances, when he was cut off by a shout from one of the Special Forces men.
“Sir! Over here! Man down!”
Ryan ran over there without hesitation, Nick and Stephen mere paces behind. The soldier was lying face down in the bushes, half hidden from sight. It was unclear on first glance as to whether he was injured or dead.
“Get the medic,” Ryan ordered.
Much to their surprise there was a groan from what they had assumed was, at best, the unconscious soldier. Stephen and Ryan knelt down and between them carefully rolled him over as Nick stood back and let them work. Ryan’s tone was reassuringly business like, as though he was trying make his soldier believe that this happened all the time and that he was utterly certain of a positive outcome.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. There’s a medic on the way.”
Stephen lent over the soldier, instructing Ryan to angle his torch so he could see properly without blinding the man. Stephen was no doctor and his training stretched to basic field medicine at best, but he knew enough to make an educated guess. The man seemed to have taken quite a bash to the head. His eyes were open but they were glazed and unfocussed and he looked like he had a pretty intense concussion. He probably wouldn’t be of much help to them and his racing pulse and cold skin indicated the onset of shock which they certainly didn’t want to exacerbate. But they still had to try and get some information from him at least. Eight people were still missing and their lives could depend on them being found quickly.
“Do you remember what happened?” he asked, his voice calm and reassuring, nothing demanding in his question. He didn’t want to stress the guy any more than necessary.
“I think that...” the man began in a hoarse voice before a frown that seemed to be part pain and part confusion settled on his face, “There was something...”
His words were vague, slurred and a bit muddled, clearly a result of his head injury.
“Don’t push yourself, okay?” Ryan instructed, “Just tell us anything you can remember.”
The man swallowed and was quiet for a moment. Stephen almost feared the worst before he suddenly spoke again.
“Something...it came through...it wouldn’t stop.”
Stephen glanced around them. The bullet cases on the ground seemed to be clear evidence that they had tried to stop it and from what this guy was saying they had met with no success. That just compounded their problems – not only were numerous people missing but there was also a large and potentially dangerous creature on the loose.
“Anything else?” he asked gently. Everything he’d told them so far they could have worked out for themselves. They needed more. Some specifics they could use as a basis to work from. Anything that might give them a clue as to what they were dealing with or where the others had gone. “Did it look like a predator?”
“I don’t know...It had teeth...”
Up until then, Nick had remained remarkably quiet but in his current agitated state Stephen knew that that couldn’t last and he certainly wasn’t surprised when the professor crouched down beside the man too, leaning over him.
“What happened to Abby and Claudia?” Nick asked as his currently fragile patience worn thin, his question firm and demanding an answer with none of the gentle ‘it doesn’t really matter’ manner that Stephen had had, “Did you see them?”
“Cutter...” Ryan warned quietly, not liking to hear his injured man being interrogated. Stephen agreed. He could totally understand Nick’s concern but this wasn’t the way to go about getting the intel they needed. No matter how important his answers were, they couldn’t pressurise a man who by all rights should probably still be unconscious.
“We have to know where they went,” Nick reasoned sharply, turning on the captain. He wasn’t really angry at Ryan but he was taking it out on him anyway. Nick knew he was being harsh and cold but he didn’t particular care. There were important things at stake here. People could die.
“Abby....” the man said softly, struggling hard to remember, “She ran....we told her to run...She disappeared....I don’t know...”
He shook his head, clearly distressed at both his inability to be more useful and from the shock of the attack he was recalling.
“And Claudia?” Nick pressed as though he was oblivious to the man’s state, his concerns firmly elsewhere.
The man shook his head again, frowning with confusion, “She wasn’t here.”
That wasn’t the news any of them had expected.
“What do you mean, ‘she wasn’t here’?” Nick asked, almost angry, as though it was the injured man’s fault, “Don’t be stupid, she had to be. She can’t have just disappeared. Look, are you sure? Are you sure you didn’t see her? She was driving down here. She should have been here over an hour ago.”
Stephen saw a panic buried deep in his friend’s face that he had only seen once before under horribly similar circumstances.
The injured man shook his head again, confused by so many questions that he didn’t know the answers to, “I don’t know...I’m sorry...I don’t remember...”
“Well you bloody well need to remember!”
Ryan unceremoniously hauled Nick to his feet pushing him away from his colleague.
“That is enough,” he ordered in angry tones.
Stephen was the peace maker, stepping up and taking Nick’s shoulders, pulling his friend away as the medic finally arrived. Stephen looked almost apologetically at Ryan and the captain nodded in understanding although his glare was a firm instruction to get Nick out of his sight. Stephen decided to do just that. They didn’t need to be arguing amongst themselves.
He led his friend back to the car, the other man shaking him off once they got there. Nick leant back against the vehicle, wiping his hands over his face, looking weary.
“Is he going to be okay?” he asked, clearly feeling some sense of remorse for his treatment of the injured man.
“Those footprints on the floor, they were hoofed right?” Nick asked, trying to push his concerns aside in favour of deducing as much as they could about the situation.
“Yeah,” Stephen confirmed, “What are you thinking, one of the mesonychia?”
Nick nodded, “It would explain the size and the aggression. It fits with the era too if it is the Eocene. I should have checked that with Connor.”
Yes, Connor. He shouldn’t have snapped at the kid like that, it hadn’t been fair. He was just as concerned as the rest of them and he’d only wanted to know what was going on. Nick would need to apologise to him later.
There was a long moment of silence before he could no longer ignore the thoughts in his head.
“She can’t have just disappeared,” he repeated softly in bewilderment, clearly at a loss to understand the situation.
“You don’t know anything’s happened to her,” Stephen reasoned, “Maybe she’s stopped at a petrol station or something and hasn’t taken her phone with her.”
“No, she’s always got that phone on her,” Nick replied pessimistically.
“Then maybe she’s just somewhere with no reception.”
“And maybe she’s lying injured somewhere,” Nick retorted in frustration, fed up of being told that all was well when his gut was telling him that it wasn’t and already more than sick of feeling helpless, “Maybe she ran into whatever came through the anomaly. She could be dead for all we know.”
“She’s not dead,” Stephen said tightly.
“You don’t know that.”
“And you don’t know that she is,” the younger man snapped back, firmly holding his temper in check against the urge to lose it, “And you thinking like that isn’t going to help her. Nor Abby. Or had you forgotten about her?”
The guilty look on Nick’s face convinced him that, just for a moment at least, he had.
“No...No of course not,” Nick lied quietly, clearly too ashamed of the truth to admit it. Stephen felt it was pointless in the circumstances to force a confession from him though. He knew full well that Nick wanted Abby back safely too but his attachment to Claudia was much deeper and it was hardly surprising that she was the foremost thing on his mind.
“Abby’s tough and smart,” Nick reasoned, sounding like he was trying to convince himself as much as Stephen, “She’ll be out there hiding up somewhere. She’ll be okay.”
“And you’re saying Claudia’s not smart or tough?” Stephen asked, calmer once more, eyebrow slightly raised.
Nick smiled just a little, “I wouldn’t dare.”
Then he shook his head, sighing heavily, his true concerns coming to the forefront.
“It’s just...you saw how she was with the pterosaur. It’s not her fault, she’s just not as experienced as the rest us of are with dealing with animals. She doesn’t know enough about their behaviour and when you’re talking about creatures like this, that could get you killed.”
“Connor’s not exactly experienced either,” Stephen pointed out, “And he’s still alive.”
“By the skin of his teeth, yeah.”
The two of them shared a smile.
“Look, we know she left the office and was heading here,” Nick continued, “We know she didn’t turn up and we certainly didn’t pass her on the way so you tell me, Stephen, where is she? People can’t just disappear like that.”
But sometimes in Nick’s experience they did and he was achingly afraid of it happening again.
“Call her,” Stephen instructed, unable to answer his question, “Call her again. There’s no harm in trying, right?”
While Nick did just that Stephen went to find Ryan, to ask what he could do. For Nick’s sake at least they had to find Claudia. His friend had been through enough for one lifetime.
For his own sake he had to find Abby. And the first thing he was going to do when he did was to apologise for that stupid argument.