Title: A Quiet Break In The Country (5 of 8)
Pairings/Ships: Nick/Claudia, Abby/Connor.
Spoilers: Season 1
Disclaimer: I don’t own them....Bugger... (although if anyone at Impossible Pictures wants to offer me a job that’d be great...)
Summary: Never mind anomalies, the boys are having enough problems dealing with the troubles in their personal lives...
Following the revelations about Helen, Nick is trying to move on but is finding he’s rather out of practice in some areas and doesn’t enjoy the scrutiny of making his mistakes in public.
Stephen is trying to repair the fractured friendships with both Nick and Abby, unsure of how to make up for past mistakes.
Connor meanwhile is quite happy to admit that he fancies Abby but the thought that he might be falling in love with her is a bit more daunting.
They’re almost relieved when an unusual, dead creature is discovered in the grounds of a luxury country hotel. They should have remembered though how quickly things can turn dangerous.
Author’s Note: How a series two episode might have gone if it wasn’t for that pesky timeline change...Beta read by fredbassett
Extra Note: This fic is going on mini hiatus. Not because I haven't finished but because I'm off on hols. It'll return at the end of next week, I promise :)
Connor was in such a hurry to get himself ready and back to the cellar with his camera, that he’d walked half way down the corridor without his shoes and socks on before he realised what he’d done. Rushing back to rectify the problem, he also picked up his jacket, remembering how chilly it’d been in the draughty cellar filled with cold water.
He’d opened the door to leave again, his mind occupied by ideas of what they might find there, when a sudden thought broke through all others. His hand flew instantly to his right pocket, relief flooding through him when he felt the outline of the box. He’d almost forgotten that he still had the earrings on him, as there’d been no time to take them home and hide them before they’d left for the country. He was bloody lucky really not to have lost them in the search through the woods that afternoon. He should be more careful. After all, it’d taken him long enough to pluck up the courage to buy them in the first place.
Unable to resist, his hand slipped inside his pocket and he pulled the box out, intending to have another look at them, feeling the need to reassure himself again that he’d made the right choice.
Instead, his fumbling and startled fingers nearly dropped them as a voice interrupted him.
“Hurry up, Connor,” Abby pressed, meeting him at his doorway, “You’re taking longer to get ready than some girls I know.”
He stuffed the box hurriedly back into his pocket.
“Yeah, it’s all the makeup I wear,” he joked lamely, hoping she hadn’t seen anything.
If she had, she said nothing.
He shut his door and they headed down to the basement together, Connor making a mental note to put the box somewhere safe when they got back. Somewhere where Abby wouldn’t stumble across it and ruin the surprise, but not so safe that he’d forget where he’d hidden them.
He would have laughed at the notion if he hadn’t known just how likely that was to happen.
Claudia sighed, hands on hips, as she surveyed the scene in front of her. This certainly wasn’t ideal. She supposed that being in a basement did afford them some level of containment, but it was clear that at least two of the creatures had already found their way out and if they could, then others might be able to as well. Not only that, but it was also surprisingly more difficult to hide what was going on when the anomaly was on private property. Buckland was already demanding answers that she couldn’t give and she was running out of ways to avoid explanations. Thankfully, he’d left her alone for a moment, heading upstairs, perhaps to get a stiff drink to calm his seemingly rattled nerves. But, she had no doubt that he would soon be back and then the difficult task of trying to side step his questions would start all over again.
The moment she heard footsteps on the stairs, she tensed, ready for the battle, and was relieved to see only Connor and Abby rejoining them.
Watching them set to work, with no immediate threat apparent she really should go and call Lester, but a conversation between Stephen and Abbey caused her to hesitate. She knew the two of them had had a falling out recently, apparently over the revelation of his affair with Helen. Although Claudia could see that Abby’s reasons for being annoyed were essentially irrational, as it wasn’t her that he’d cheated on, at the same time she could understand them. Abby was disappointed. She’d built Stephen up on a pedestal and he’d let her down.
And it seemed she was in no mood to forgive him quite yet as Stephen stepped up beside and said something that, if it was meant to be private, wasn’t asked quietly enough.
“What was Connor doing in your room?”
The question seemed innocent enough but there was definitely some tension there.
“Excuse me?” Abby asked, dangerously, instantly taking umbrage. Any sensible man would have backed off at that tone but Stephen continued and Claudia couldn’t decide if he was brave or just reckless. It was something she’d often had occasion to wonder about.
“Connor,” he repeated. “He was in your room. Why?”
His tone was blunt and accusatorial this time, as though he believed that her evasion meant she had something to hide and he’d taken an instant dislike to that idea. Claudia winced. She wasn’t surprised when Abby didn’t take that well. Whatever the reason, she clearly didn’t feel the need to justify her actions to Stephen.
“None of your business,” she snapped, temper flaring, snatching the equipment he’d been handing to her out of his hands and storming off.
Stephen didn’t look pleased and unfortunately decided to turn his anger onto the young man in question.
“Connor,” he demanded, whipping around sharply to face the other man, who was standing a few feet away, fiddling with the settings on his camera, “where’s my bag?”
Connor looked a little surprised at the sudden onslaught, standing stock still like a rabbit in the headlights, “Bag?”
“I asked you to get it,” Stephen said hotly, “All the tranquilizer’s in there. Tell me you didn’t just leave it in the corridor somewhere.”
“Well, where is it then?”
“In my room.”
Stephen rolled his eyes.
“Fat lot of good it’ll do up there.”
Claudia sighed. Well, this wasn’t good. They had enough problems as it was without fighting amongst themselves. But she couldn’t blame Connor when he, quite rightly, didn’t take well to being spoken to as if he was an idiot.
“You just said get it,” the younger man snapped, obviously thinking Stephen was being really unreasonable, and probably not knowing the real reason for his anger. “You didn’t say get it and bring it here.”
Stephen wouldn’t back down, his misdirected anger spurring him on.
“Oh come on, it doesn’t take that much common sense,” he said scornfully. “Didn’t you stop to think that I might need the tranquilizer when we’re surrounded by potentially dangerous creatures?”
Abby stood to one side, appearing uncomfortable, perhaps aware that she was the cause of the sudden animosity. Nick, it seemed, was oblivious, too busy looking at something in the water to care about what else was going on. Clearly, Claudia was going to have to sort this out by herself.
“It’s the Silurian,” Connor pointed out derisively. “Next to nothing can go on land so unless you’re stupid enough to take a quick swim, I’d say we’ll be alright. And if you’d actually bothered to do some research instead of just charging in and playing the hero then-”
“Okay, that’s enough!” Claudia said sharply, stepping in between them, scolding them both with equal measure. She didn’t want them to think she was taking sides. “This is not a playground. You’re acting like children. You’re meant to be professionals so start behaving like them.” She took a calming breath and then turned to Connor, speaking in a softer tone, “Connor, would you please go and get the bag? Just in case.”
“Yeah. Sure,” he said grumpily, giving Stephen an evil, parting glare.
“And Stephen,” she said, quietly enough so that only the two of them could hear, “I would appreciate it if you kept your personal issues out of this job.”
Her tone suggested both understanding and a warning, and he nodded tightly in response.
The tension was broken when Nick finally spoke up, making it apparent that he hadn’t been totally ignorant of what had been happening, he’d just been too distracted to interfere.
“Wait,” he instructed, holding his hand out, “Connor, give me your camera.”
The younger man frowned but did as he was told.
“It’s quite hard to pick out with the naked eye,” Nick muttered, more to himself than anyone else, as he lined up the shot, “Maybe the flash will help...”
He took half a dozen photos in rapid succession and Claudia wondered whether flashing bright lights into the water was actually such a good idea. What if it antagonised or frightened the creatures down there? She didn’t get a chance to voice those concerns before Nick spoke again, his words mainly directed at Connor now.
“Look at that,” he said, pointing to the display at the back of camera, “See that shadow there? What do you think?”
Connor shrugged, “It’s...big?”
Nick smiled, “Yeah, but look at the shape.”
Connor frowned, looking more closely before realisation struck him and his mouth dropped a little. “It’s pointy. Really pointy. Is that a-?”
“An orthocone,” Nick confirmed with a nod, “And a pretty impressive one, at that. I’d guess cameroceras.”
Having no real clue what they were talking about and not liking it, Claudia stepped up to them.
“Nothing,” Nick said, looking pleased rather than concerned, “It’s just...it’s something we don’t really know that much about. It’s a distant ancestor of the squid. About the size of a truck, but harmless to us. A gentle giant.”
She nodded, smiling indulgently. Very nice, and she appreciated his enthusiasm, but they had other, more pertinent issues to be concerned about.
“Which is all very fascinating,” she said, trying to ensure they didn’t go off on a tangent, “but we do have larger problems.”
“Talking of which,” Abby muttered.
Claudia looked up to see that, sure enough, Buckland was walking back down the stairs again, looking rather more composed than he had when he’d left. She supposed that, to be fair, anyone not involved in this project would take a little while to process the idea that there was now a lake full of monsters in their basement. Unfortunately, for the rest of them, such occurrences were becoming rather common place.
Forcing a reassuring smile onto her face rather than the grimace she inwardly felt, she walked over to greet him.
“I want answers, Miss Brown,” he demanded, giving her no time to offer any more hollow reassurances, “I want to know what’s going on. What have you done to my hotel?”
“We haven’t done anything, I assure you,” she said, quick to quash that accusation. They didn’t need a legal issue on their hands. It wasn’t as if it would end in court or anything, but Lester wouldn’t be too pleased with the inconvenience of dealing with it. “You clearly have a flooding issue,” she explained, assuring that her words sounded confident, “Ground swell, perhaps.”
“And those...things,” he pressed, “They’re your doing?”
“Our guess is that the creatures were drawn here by the damp conditions,” she defended, careful to ensure that her words put no blame on either party. “They are semi aquatic after all, and there are no other large water courses in the immediate area.”
“Creatures?” Buckland asked, instantly picking up on the word he didn’t like, “Exactly how many more of them are there?”
She cursed her own carelessness under her breath but outwardly remained unaffected.
“It really is impossible to tell,” she said, not committing herself to an answer.
He didn’t seem appeased.
“You assured me there would be no more,” he said, tightly. “That no more had escaped.”
“We thought that was the case, but clearly we made a mistake,” she said, apologetically, segueing straight into the other matter she needed to discuss with him. “And since we don’t yet have an idea of the true extent of the problem, for the sake of your guests, you are going to have to evacuate.”
Buckland went wide eyed and pale at that statement.
“No,” he said adamantly, sounding as though the very idea was completely unthinkable. She’d had a feeling he wouldn’t like it.
“I’m sorry, Mr Buckland, but I’m going to have to insist,” she replied, firmly.
She could understand that he didn’t want to upset his guests or lose custom but in such a potentially dangerous situation she wasn’t about to take any chances. They could only be thankful that the escaped scorpion had found its way into her room and not one of the other guest’s. And even if they had been lucky once, the risk of one of them coming across a creature was too great for her to ignore.
“We’ll need to contact the local police,” she continued, briskly, showing there was no room for debate, “They can help us seal off the area until our own security personnel can get here.”
“For how long?” Buckland asked quietly, his demeanour having changed rapidly from indignant and annoyed to stunned. She thought that, honestly, she preferred the former. He was easier to read that way.
“Until we have dealt with the problem,” she said, having learnt long ago in her career never to give a precise, measurable time if she could help it. If you say anything definite, unforeseen difficulties would only arise, leading to recrimination when things weren’t done on time.
“How long is that going to-” Buckland began in alarm, not liking the sound of that one bit.
Claudia held up her hand, bringing him to an abrupt halt.
“I’m very sorry but I don’t know,” she said firmly, “We will of course keep you informed.”
She started to walk away, but Buckland followed her, his whole manner suddenly seeming to have changed yet again, as though a mask had slipped.
“Look, Miss Brown,” he half pleaded, appearing tired and stressed, “Please. This is a hard time of year for my industry. My finances are in quite a precarious state. I really can’t afford to close.”
“I’m sure you can’t afford to have a guest injured or attacked either,” she pointed out before softening slightly, trying to be reassuring, feeling uncomfortable at the desperation he was displaying, “This really isn’t as bad as it looks.”
Looking around at the sight of Nick and Connor taking photos and excitedly discussing the outcomes whilst Stephen and Abby took readings with various pieces of equipment, that was probably hard to believe. Especially as she’d mentioned the need to call the security forces in. No wonder he was worried.
“I assure you we will be discreet,” she promised, giving him the only true reassurance she could. “Not a word of this will get to the papers.”
He didn’t seem convinced.
“I think they might be curious when they hear about me closing and throwing guests out in the middle of the night.”
“We’ll say it’s a gas leak,” she suggested. “Unfortunate, but hardly news worthy. Especially in a building of this age.”
He nodded half heartedly, his thoughts clearly occupied.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me,” she said, taking the opportunity to escape, “We have work to do. If you could go and start organising the evacuation that would be very helpful.”
She smiled at him but he didn’t return the gesture before he turned, walked over to the stairs and sat heavily down. She decided to give him a moment, feeling some pity for the man.
“Well?” she asked, walking up to Nick and Connor.
“Silurian,” Nick confirmed with a nod, barely tearing his eyes from the shadows moving in the water to look at her.
“Lovely,” she dismissed, “What do we do about it?”
She was tired, it had been a long day and there was only so long she was prepared to indulge his scientific leanings for.
Nick shrugged, “What can we do? It’s not like we can put a big plug in the anomaly.”
“Fine. Then we’ll seal the place off and wait for it to close.”
“Which is all well and good,” he reasoned, “But that still will leave us with a cellar full of prehistoric sea creatures.”
“One problem at a time, eh?” she suggested with a weary smile.
He smiled slightly at that too.
Turning back, she decided that by far the most useful thing she could do was to go upstairs, contact Lester, ask for the Special Forces unit and then help Buckland get the guests out. She was of limited use here, and the others didn’t need her babysitting them. She couldn’t say she relished the idea of spending more time with the man, even more so now that his interest in her had given way to distrust, but needs must.
He wasn’t sitting on the stairs where she’d last seen him.
“He just went up,” Abby said helpfully, seeing Claudia’s puzzled look.
Sure enough, she heard the door close. Trudging up the stairs after him, she wondered if there was perhaps some sort of compensation he’d be entitled to. He had looked very concerned and she’d hate him to go out of business because of this. It wasn’t his fault the anomaly had decided to appear in his basement and he had been very accommodating with them so far.
By the time she reached the door she’d already decided that she would definitely try to do something for him, even if Lester would hate the idea. It seemed only right.
She yelped, jarring her wrist as she turned the handle, stepped forward and found, much to her surprise, that the door wouldn’t budge. Frowning, thinking she’d simply not pushed it down properly, she tried again but to no avail. She rattled the handle. Nothing.
She hurried back down the stairs, Abby being the first one to catch the look on her face.
“What’s the matter?” the other woman asked, with a frown.
“We’re locked in,” Claudia announced, incredulously.
Finally, she had Nick’s full attention as he looked up sharply.
“Don’t be daft,” he said, clearly not believing her, or at least not wanting to. “Why would we be locked in?”
“I don’t think Buckland wants us to evacuate his hotel,” she said softly, stunned. She could see he’d been desperate, but to do something like this? Yet what other explanation was there? The door hadn’t just locked itself.
Stephen dropped the meter he’d been waving around and dashed up the stairs, the others hot on his heels. Claudia should have perhaps been insulted that he tried the door for himself, thinking that he didn’t trust her or that she was being stupid and of course it actually opened. But she could see why he did. It was pretty unbelievable.
It didn’t move for him either, even when he braced his palms either side of the walls and kicked hard just below the handle, muttering something about the bloody doors in this hotel that she didn’t quite get.
Abby tried too, ushering him out of the way and trying a kick with technique behind it rather than brute force. The door barely rattled.
Connor even had a go, probably trying to impress Abby, Claudia thought with a roll of her eyes. But he just barged it and all he got for his trouble was a dead shoulder and a disapproving glare from the others.
“Mr Buckland!” Abby called, forcing her voice to stay pleasant, as she hammered on the door, “We’re locked in! Could you open the door please?”
When there was no reply, Stephen took over.
“Oi!” he hollered, bad cop to Abby’s good cop, smashing his fist against the wood, “Let us out!”
“Maybe it was an accident,” Connor suggested hopefully. “Maybe he didn’t mean to do it?”
“He accidentally turned the key and locked the door?” Nick queried, looking sceptical.
Speculation was hardly helping, so Claudia went back down the stairs to the platform area again but no matter where she stood, she couldn’t get a signal on her phone. It wasn’t really a surprise but she had thought it was worth a try at least.
“No good,” she announced, holding it up briefly to show the others what she’d been attempting.
Stephen shook his head with an angry sigh. He did not like to feel helpless.
“What the hell is Buckland playing at?” he wondered, “I mean, he can’t exactly just lock us in down here and forget about us.”
“He’s just panicking,” Claudia reasoned, somehow feeling better when she took a moment to understand it, “He’s scared of losing his business. I’m sure that once he comes to his sense, he’ll come down and open the door.”
She didn’t know if she actually believed that or just wanted to. The others certainly didn’t look convinced.
“How often does Lester expect you to check in?” Nick asked, mind working through the possibilities.
“Well, not until morning again now, of course. I was supposed to call him at eight.”
“Right, then,” Nick said with a confident nod, “And if he doesn’t hear from you, the first thing he’s going to do is send someone down here to find out what’s going on. Buckland doesn’t exactly strike me as a master criminal. He’ll fold as soon as a bunch of Special Forces men show up.”
She actually felt reassured for a moment before Connor felt the need to open his mouth and scupper that.
“Look, guys, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but has anyone else noticed that the water’s rising?”
Not visibly it wasn’t, but Connor was right. Three stairs leading on from the platform had been visible when they’d first found the anomaly nearly an hour ago. Now they were underwater, the level up by nearly a foot and the water lapped almost at the edge of the platform itself.
Nick sighed, running his hands over his face.
“He’s right,” he confirmed, his mind rapidly working out the reason, “The cellars didn’t completely flood straight away because the anomaly provides resistance.” He paused whilst he thought of an analogy. “It’s like having two paddling pools with a partition down the middle,” he continued, “Fill up one side and then stick a pin hole between them. It’ll take a while, but eventually the water will even itself out between the two.”
Digesting that principle, Claudia came to a rather alarming realisation.
“So, just how high is this water going to get?” she asked, not sure she really wanted to know the answer.
Nick shrugged. “Depends how far under water the anomaly is on the other side.”
Connor, apparently on a roll of bad news added unhelpfully, “And we don’t know what’s lurking in there either. We’re too big to be prey for the small ones but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something bigger down there.”
They all glared at him.
“What?” he asked, defensively, “I’m just saying...”
“Well, this is just great,” Abby said huffily, “We have two choices; we either drown or get eaten.”
“We’re going to be fine,” Claudia insisted, sounding far more confident than she felt. “But I think we can all agree that we’d prefer to try to get ourselves out of here instead of wait to be rescued.”
She got no argument in regards that fact and she was about to start suggesting they brain storming ideas when Connor spoke up again.
“Connor,” Nick warned, “if it’s going to be bad news can you just save it for two minutes?”
“Not really, no. Look.”
They turned to see what he was indicating at. Water was lapping at the edge of the platform now and, far more worryingly, feelers were probing about, the creatures clearly showing a sudden interest in what was going on up there now that they could reach it.
As soon as they started to crawl up, Stephen rushed in to action.
He hurried over the remains of the dilapidated metal railings, knocking out some of the loose poles. He took one for himself and passed one to Abby and another to Nick, neither needing to ask what the plan was.
Hurrying to the water’s edge, they used the poles to nudge the creatures back into the water, hoping to discourage them.
It didn’t seem to be working.
“Our movement must be resonating through the concrete and into the water,” Nick explained distractedly, concentrating on not missing anything like he was playing some sort of highly realistic arcade game, with the creatures squealing in protest.
“They’re not the same creatures as before,” Claudia pointed out, noticing that some of them were broader and flatter with paddle like tails instead of stingers. “What are they?”
“Don’t know,” Nick said, shoving her aside in between tackling two of the creatures.
The gesture was both chivalrous and at the same time very annoying.
She hurried over to Connor, who’d been left standing uselessly on one side. Neither of them were incompetent and she wouldn’t allow them to be treated as such.
“Can you do anything with this?” she asked, holding out her mobile phone, “Is there any way you can get the signal through?”
He shrugged, taking it from her. “Dunno...”. He looked around, surveying what was available to him. “Maybe if we could find some pipes or cables leading to the surface, I could try and run the signal up there. Might work.”
He didn’t sound confident but it was the best hope they had.
“Do it,” she instructed, before hurrying back to the others to tell them the plan.
She didn’t get a chance to say anything though before Nick huffed at her.
“Claudia, would you get back,” he insisted, sounding almost irritated.
She didn’t exactly take the instruction well either.
“I don’t need protecting, thank you,” she said in irritation, hands on her hips.
It seemed like Nick was determined to argue the point, opening his mouth to say something else before his eyes widened as he looked at her.
The next thing she knew she was being grabbed and dragged out of harm’s way as something much larger than anything they’d seen so far beached itself, landing right where she’d been standing only moments before.
She didn’t know what it was but somehow she got the feeling it was angry.