Claudia awoke with the bad feeling that there was something wrong. Opening her eyes, she saw that Helen was wide awake.
Watching her. “Have you slept?” Claudia asked.
“Drugged, yes. While the doctors were trying to fix me.”
“It’ll do you good to get some shut-eye.” God, now I sound like my mum.
“I don’t sleep.”
“At least now when I’m being watched.” Unless its by Nick. Couldn’t even sleep around Stephen.
“Then you have a problem.”
“As long as you’re in hospital, there’ll be someone keeping a close watch on you; if not me, then a soldier. So the sooner you sleep, the sooner we can get you back –“
“I was going to say ‘anywhere you like.’”
“I like my home. That it inconveniences you is only a bonus.”
“I don’t understand you, Dr. Cutter,” Claudia said.
“I don’t ask to be understood.”
“Clearly.” She shifted in the chair to keep one leg from falling asleep. “But what did I ever do to you, to earn all this enmity?” Is it my future? Something I do in my future to piss off you in your past?
“You mean aside from hitting on my husband and kissing him on four separate occasions?”
Four? “Only three,” and as the correction passed her lips, it occurred to Claudia that that wouldn’t help. Ooops.
Helen grumbled something. So. Then it hasn’t happened. That’s one good thing. “You might want to head down to Kent. Brutus sent something through. A headache, a trouble-maker.” I just don’t know what sort of trouble-maker.
“Brutus is your enemy?” The other Helen – the younger one – had mentioned a ‘Brutus’ who was the one behind the Anomalies. “Our enemy?”
“More of the latter.”
“But, I’m confused -“ and pretended she didn’t hear Helen’s under-the-breath quip, “didn’t you say that it was Brutus who made us able to detect Anomalies?”
“He expects us to help him destroy history.”
“Is that even possible?” Claudia asked.
Helen sighed. Not time for hauling out the big guns, but soon. “Picture two saplings growing side by side. The first is small and spindly, trapped in the shadow of the second one,” and the Anomalies may’ve pruned the first one back enough to cause the existence of the second - though there was no way Helen was going to tell anyone that part: it might shift Brown’s loyalties from what they’d been and will-be. “Brutus did what he did to us, so we would help him mulch the second sapling.”
“And we live on the second one.”
“Is there any way to talk him out of that course of action?”
“Nothing’s come to mind.”
“Oh.” Yeah, she’s had who knows how many opportunities over all these intervening years. “Can he be bargained with?”
“If you can negotiate with a predator that can open and close passages to other habitable points in Earth’s history, I’d love to know how.”
In other words, you don’t know. Okay, no shame there. “Is there a way to reach the first sapling, threaten to destroy it, something?”
“Only one history can exist at any one time - the many-worlds theory is wrong - so the only way to reach Brutus’ world is to destroy our own.” And yes, I did get this from a conversation with Connor. Just not one he’s had yet.
Meanwhile, at the Restaurant:
“An excellent choice, sir,” the waiter said once Nick’d ordered. “And you, ma’am?”
Helen bit her lip, choosing. “Ox heart, well done.”
The waiter jotted that down and returned to the kitchen.
“I’m in the mood for something mammalian,” Helen confided to Nick. “Do you think we could just pick up a cheeseburger on the way –“ and almost said ‘home’ – “back to the hotel room Sir James arranged for us?”
She’s only been gone for three years, Nick reminded himself. “Sure,” he promised.
While they waited on the meal, Helen enjoyed the companionable silence. He doesn’t seem angry; I would think Stephen would’ve confessed the whole tawdry thing by now, told my husband honestly that it only happened the once. “I’m sorry.”
Nick blinked. The quiet had been a good cover for his uncertainty. What do you say to a woman who left you, and is going to leave you again? “Sorry?” Nick said, asking, not repeating. I missed something, didn’t I?
Oh dear… all this time, and he doesn’t - I’ll fix that. “A few months before I went into the Forest of Dean, I… I had an affair,” in a voice that was anything but proud, and far from defiant. “I was going to talk to you about it when I returned from investigating the Forest – I’d resolved to. But…” the last word carrying implicit in it ‘but you know what happened next.’
Another one!? It took a moment before Nick added up that, while he’d learned about his wife’s unfaithfulness in the recent past, she hadn’t yet told him - a later her would … still hard to get used to that.
Reaching one hand out and setting it on one of hers, Nick said, “Thank you.” She looked relieved. That I didn’t make a scene, or that I’m still talking to her?
Their tableau was only interrupted by the arrival of their meals. Once the waiters had left, “This is the wrong time,” Helen said, “I know, but…”
“What is it?” Nick asked.
“Its about tonight. Later tonight,” she appended.
“What about it?” curious.
“Could you hold me?”
“I know, Nick, that I’ve been gone for a number of years – more for you than for me, so I’m told. But I’m not asking for money, or equipment, or even a night of sex. All I ask is that you hold me.”
“I can do that,” Nick said.
“Thank you,” sounding relieved, grateful…even happy. “I’ve been told I’ve got some long and harrowing years ahead of me… and, well, I figure that if I have something to hold on to, even if you’re only in my thoughts, I can make it.”
He nodded. Sounds doable.
As they ate and finished their late dinners, even sharing bits with one another, Nick suspected now wasn’t a good time to mention that he knew they’d lost their child. Even though no time would be a good time for that.
Every fiber of Connor’s being was focused on the hospital bed Siobhan would be put in once she came out of surgery. He wasn’t trying to overhear, but Stephen couldn’t help but catch bits of the younger man’s fevered prayers. With these holes in time, these “doorways into the past,” do we need God more of less these days? It was with an effort that Stephen returned his attention to his mobile conversation with Lester. “No, Connor’s fine. Yes, for the fourth time, only one civilian was injured, and none were killed.” It still felt funny, referring to people as civilians, even when he himself wasn’t military. Maybe I am, now, if not exactly a posterboy for RAF or SAS. “Send whomever you like. We’ll be here. Yes, the possum’s dead and on ice… though we may have a Gemini on our hands.” Each of them had gotten to decide a few of their code words – a gemini was when a second species had come through. “Yes, I’m looking.”
The spiders had brought a gemini, as had the pteradon. What’d transpired in Tewkesbury, they didn’t have a word for that.”
“Yes, I’ll tell him,” Stephen said and hung up. He stayed there, in the corner a while; before coming over to behind Connor, placing one hand on the lad’s shoulder. “Lester says he’s pulling for her. We all are.”
No patting the hand. No looking back. “Yeah. I know.” When Stephen pulled his hand away, “When it happened, Vader went to the Dark Side.”
At first Stephen thought Connor was speaking in 3rd Person, using a scifi event as shorthand. Then it hit him: Connor was comparing how he’d fared with Vader’s reaction to traumatic circumstances. “She’ll come out of that surgery in one piece, Connor,” Stephen promised. “She’ll be glad to see you.”
At The Park:
Captain Thomas Ryan stood in the park, facing (but paying no heed to) the houses on the other side of the hedgerow. He’d honestly thought he and Daisy would’ve hit it off…but no luck there. So he was here in Kent, investigating the attack on his goddaughter. Kermit’s going to go nuts. We finally convince him to take the wife on holiday, and this happens while he’s off sunning himself. Everything in the evidence baggies and in the dustprints served to confirm what Ryan’d been told by Connor, who’d been first on the scene…
= = = “Hello?” Siobhan asked, looking around, then looking over the low hedge. Nobody there. Sliding in through the space between two bushes, she stepped into the park, still looking for whomever was out here.
The first strike was to her right calf, a serrated thrust tearing across muscles. It didn’t bite down, whatever it was – it let go, and, before Siobhan had fully fallen down, it was cutting across the right Achilles Tendon.
Even as she screamed, she was looking for things to use against it. There were no stones nearby: the park was too well-raked for that, even here on the perimeter. Snapping a branch off a bush and swatting the – eel? – with it, though pestering and irritating to the beast, wasn’t as effectual as she would’ve liked.
So busy with the Hell Eel was she – the word ‘attentive’ the wrong word only because some of its connotations (loyalty, respect, even affection in some cases) – Siobhan was so busy that she almost didn’t see the gaping maw until it was too late. As it was, she pulled her right arm away only as the broad flattish mouth was closing; a nasty scrape was all she got from it – so far. = = =
The flatheaded creature was a definite – its corpse was being held for study, and he’d had a look at it before it was hauled away. It may’ve been the size of a tiger, but even if that tiger had crouched down as low as it could, it would’ve still been taller than this salamanderesque creature. While the forelegs clearly could function as legs, they were still fins. The hind limbs were fully fins, lobe-fins.
The Hell Eel was more of a puzzle. Siobhan was unlikely to have made it up – as much as she was a fan of classic horror, she didn’t lie. Particularly to Connor after a date. Besides, the ground plainly showed an eel-like something moving about in just the manner Siobhan had described.
Looking up and over, his attention directed by his sense, Ryan saw an Anomaly open up on the next hillock of this park. Something dropped out, a something that was long, flat, and scurried. Not slid, not moved like a snake; this was something different. Rather millipede-like, actually. “And who are you?” Ryan whispered as the Anomaly shut instantly. “And what’re you bringing to the party?” as the creature moved into the bushes and cover.
That was when Ryan’s mobile rang. “Yeah?” he said, answering it.
“Anything noteworthy?” Hart asked.
“Nothing but confirmation.”
“Feel up to a conference call?”
“Bring it on.”