Author Notes: Longest and last chapter folks! I really enjoyed writing this, and hope you enjoyed reading this! Thanks for the support.
There was no difference now between having your eyes shut or open, such was the darkness. There was just you, your heartbeat, and a pressure at your back.
It could have been your terrified mind, or it could have actually been the putrid breath of a predator against your face, the stench of once-living flesh potentially having been part of a warm hand you once touched.
Perhaps it was better that you couldn't be sure.
You close your eyes, a hopeless cause, in an effort to feel that you might succeed, that you won't be leapt upon and gutted, feeling your intestines sluggishly slid across the floor before you die.
Connor leapt out of his skin as five successive rounds were shot off in the confined space, followed by five thuds. His eyes flew open, but he still couldn't see through the inky blackness. And then a torch clicked on, aimed in his face, as its owner removed night-vision goggles from their head. The beam sliced through the darkness, falling on the twitching dead bodies of the extinct hunters. He managed to conjure a weak smile onto his shell-shocked face. Stephen was more vocal, "Abby? What the...But you..?"
The woman gave him a sharp nod of acknowledgement, "Nice to see you again Stephen. You both okay?"
As she spoke, more shadows of people flittered just outside the beam of torchlight. "Thanks. How did you get here?" Stephen seemed to be having trouble gauging the pair, as Connor was just as business-like with her, or so it appeared to him at least. Connor just knew they didn't have the time for pointless chatter.
"Anomalies are everywhere. All concentrated on the ARC. Leek initiated the Last Stratagem, and succeeded. Nick was right."
"Alright – what the hell was Cutter's theory?" Stephen was getting sick of being out of the loop.
"No time." Connor snapped, accepted a freshly loaded gun from one of the men with a nod. "We need to move. If any of the creatures make it outside..."
"No, we need to find Leek."
"He's here?" Connor spat, whirling back around, the air suddenly charged.
The future Abby remained stoic, "You know what we need to do."
Connor nodded jerkily, while Stephen frowned, having the feeling he was missing something vital, "Let's move out." He started down the corridor, almost in comparison to the distant roars. The men began to fluidly follow him.
Abby turned to Stephen, "You always believed the anomalies occurred for a reason. Nick always saw them as something 'wrong'. Wounds in the universe. He was right. Leek created the anomalies. In the future. They've echoed back. The Last Stratagem was a way to get into the past to follow Connor, to ensure his continued control."
She began to move away, but Stephen grabbed her arm, his mind having trouble grasping the concept, "But the anomalies have been happening since before Leek even joined the program! He couldn't have created them!"
"Time is hardly a straight line Stephen. Surely you've worked that out by now." He couldn't reply, the hard eyes and scathing tone that were so unlike the Abby he knew tying his tongue.
"This is ridiculous!" Abby hissed, leaning heavily against Cutter as they stopped for breath in the corridor.
"You're telling me. How's your arm?" HE glanced down at her in concern, regarding the blood ooze sluggishly from the gash in her left forearm.
"It'll be okay. I just wish I could've seen what did it."
Nick snorted, "Yeah? Well I'm just glad we got out of there."
"Do you think the others are okay?" Her voice was determinedly void of emotion.
"Sure." He flashed a smile, "But we can't stay here – that arm will attract some unwanted attention."
Neither believed his empty reassurances for one moment, but Abby had a more pressing question, "Cutter, what are we actually doing? How can we stop this?"
For a moment, Nick debated telling her, but knew that would be unfair, "We need to get to the control centre. Lester had a contingency strategy put in place in case of something like this. If I can get access to the mainframe, I can blow up this base, taking everything with it."
"What? Are you insane?"
"We don't have a choice!"
"So you're going to kill everyone in this base, and leave a smoking crater in the middle of London?
"Everyone on this base is as good as dead if we do nothing, you and me included, and this is a far better idea that taking the chance of the creatures making it outside."
"What if the explosion doesn't affect the anomalies? What would happen when the only facility designed to respond to the anomalies is destroyed?"
Nick looked at his friend, her eyes desperate to find reason, "Either way, the future is lost – better to take this chance than give Leek the ARC and a dictatorship."
Countless bullets and bodies later, the severely depleted team had made it to the walkway off the labs, the one that looked down onto the auditorium-like room that was the nerve centre of the ARC. They kept low, no longer needing their goggles as seven anomalies cast their fragmented glow over the proceedings. Creatures prowled next to armed men who definitely did not belong in this time, and there, there was Leek. He was almost unrecognisable to Stephen, but by the tensing of the others around him, including Connor, the change had clearly not been for the better. Gone was the drab suit, his clothes now screaming the message of authority, emphasized by the placid predator at his side. He was taunting Lester and Claudia, who sat under guard amidst bodies of their now dead colleagues. And then another, tentative figure moving out of the shadows, and there was the other Leek, the one Stephen had the displeasure of knowing.
The doors burst open, causing the little team to crouch further to the floor. Two men were dragging a third; Helen. They exchanged sharp words with each other, but the noise from the restless predators masked the precise content.
In the corner of his eye, he saw the strange new Abby rest a hand on Connor's shoulder to get his attention, "I need you to cover me. I can't risk a shot from this distance. My men will create a distraction, but it needs to be more. Can you do it?"
Stephen clenched his fists; she shouldn't be asking Connor that, but nevertheless, the younger man nodded, a little paler than before. Abby turned her piercing gaze to him, "Stay up here with him. Keep him focused and out of the line of fire. Makes sure he remembers to breathe." Stephen nodded in silence, while Connor made to protest, only be cut off, "I know you can handle it – just try and keep your stupidity to a minimum, okay?"
They both smiled weakly as the small team spread out into the shadows, making their way down. "Connor?" Stephen turned to the younger man, wordlessly asking after his state of mind.
"I can do this."He took a deep breath before exhaling shifting to a more comfortable position from a crouch to his knees.
And then everyone was in position, and it began.
Nick and Abby crouched behind some gun crates which had apparently been brought along by Leek Mark Two through one of the numerous anomalies. Abby wished her heart would stop beating so loudly; one of the creatures was surely bound to notice.
They were at a loss as to what to do. With the access terminals on the other side of Leek, there was no way for them to get over there without being noticed, let alone give the appropriate command codes before they were killed.
But any decision they might have come to was rendered unnecessary with the following explosion of gunfire, and the enraged creatures. Leek's voice carried over the noise as one of the future predators leapt in front of him and his cowering counterpart, unwillingly sacrificing itself for its master, "Nice try, Maitland, but I expected better!"
Abby and Nick exchanged confused looks. Why was Leek calling after her? A flying creature moving too fast to see distracted their attention as it shot towards one of the men, decapitating him before moving onto the others, and suddenly all gunfire was concentrated on the onslaught, as Leek called all his pets to his aid.
But then it faltered, juddering in midair for a spilt-second – enough to get a bullet through its neck. Leek was enraged, "Temple is here! Find him!"
Up on the walkway, Stephen was trying to calm a shaking Connor, who was doing his best not to moan and give away their position as he clutched his head in pain, trying to stay awake. His nose was already bleeding again; no doubt the scent of blood would summon the creatures soon.
Connor forced himself to open his eyes and focus, narrowly delving into the oppressive mind of the mammoth to alter its path of stampede and pacify it. He retched emptily as he wrenched his mind out again before it could get caught under the weight, grateful for the comforting presence of a friend.
An earth-shattering scream of triumph as one of the future predators found them, followed soon by a myriad of time-clashing animals. Dimly, he thought he heard Leek scream something, and a gun went off in his ear. His blurred vision tunnelled, and he latched into the first mind he felt, turning its intent around, and pitting it against the other attackers.
But then the gallery gave an almighty lurch, metal and creature alike screamed, and Stephen was gone, while Connor was falling through the air.
Abby would have screamed if Cutter had not clamped his hand on her mouth. They had watched the sudden discovery of their friends above them in helplessness and horror. And then Connor had been thrown from the walkway to what would have been his death, if he had not been caught in the web of snapped cables that had been part of the lower walkway before he finally did crash to the ground, unmoving. Stephen was still trapped above them, but Leek's command had been clear, and the creatures soon dived after Connor.
But then the cards changed once again, as Abby watched herself emerge from the shadows, firing shots into the air to get Leek's attention. Immediately he screamed at the destroyed minds of his creatures to kill her, as she aimed her gun with a precise air.
All of the creatures, be they dinosaur or mammal, had frozen mid-attack, shuddering as commands and instinct warred in their fragile minds.
Connor was shivering violently, his nose bleeding again onto the floor, matting into his hair as he forced the microchip in his brain to connect with all the devices in the room. His fingers where white, gripping the smooth floor.
Leek was the first to speak, "You are almost out of ammunition, Maitland, and your friend is very close to a haemorrhaged brain and inevitable death. Give it up; you cannot harm me."
Even from Cutter and Abby's position, they could all see it was true. Leek's sabretooth guardcat was frozen mid-leap, effectively shielding his body from the other Abby's position.
But then she smiled, almost catlike in herself, "It's always about you, isn't it?" She altered her line of sight with expert ease, shooting one round past the dictator she had been fighting for so long.
A thud. Not even a scream, gasp or cry, just the squelching thud of a bullet impacting a human skull.
She had shot Leek, but not the one they had expected her to.
Silence reigned, and then the anomalies began to pulse unstably, and the remaining Leek cried out in pain, blood blossoming slowly in his forehead as his body fell dead, before fading entirely.
Abby rose to her feet as the anomalies flickered and died, while the creatures and bodies of the men from the future began to fade as well.
Her future counterpart was already on her feet, running towards Connor, who, as the connections were severed, succumbed to a coughing fit, blood splattering the floor before he collapsed. The woman slowed to stand above him, suddenly oddly interested in her hands before she turned and looked directly at the girl she had once been. Abby frowned as her counterpart smiled softly, before fading as if she had never been there.
No one could move. It was Stephen appearing out of nowhere and staggering down to try and check on Connor that kicked them back to reality again, screaming for medical teams and help, shoving recent events to the back of the minds, to be dealt with later.
There was that beeping again. It was really starting to get old. And the white room. A little variety would have been nice.
His head throbbed behind his eyes, and he struggled to focus. He frowned. A strange yellow mess seemed to be growing from his arm. What the hell had happened this time? Experimentally, he tried to move the afflicted arm, and the mess made a noise of protest, before morphing into a sleepy Abby. Her confusion soon turned to a huge grin, "Connor! You're awake!"
Her voice roused the room's two other occupants. Nick appeared tired, but otherwise unharmed, and Stephen was only covered in very faint bruises. Abby's arm was lightly wrapped in gauze, but it too did not seem that bad. Cutter smiled, "Nice of you to join us. I know you need beauty sleep, but don't you think three weeks is a bit excessive?"
It took a second to process, and then, "What? Three weeks!"
Stephen's hand on his shoulder prevented him, from rising, "Not without cause, I assure you. You had us worried. What do you remember?"
Connor frowned in thought, and then grimaced, the mere memory of the alien minds merged with his own making his head pound. Abby took his hand gently in her own, "After the future me killed our Leek, everything disappeared. And then you collapsed; we thought you were dead."
Cutter looked grim at the memory, "The doctors had to operate – they said an abnormal mass of brain tissue had grown around the microchip. It was pressing on your skull. They managed to remove it."
"The chip's gone?" Connor asked in disbelief.
Stephen smiled ruefully, "It's not just the chip. There haven't been any anomalies since then. You should have seen Helen's face when we told her she had to stay put."
"That future never existed, which was why the future Abby, Leek, and all the men and creatures disappeared." Nick explained.
"And without Leek to create the anomalies in the first place..." Stephen trailed off.
Connor groaned, trying to wrap his head around the concept, but only found himself with the reward of a worsening headache. He regarded the three of them for a moment, "So does this mean we're all out of a job?"
Nick laughed, "I doubt Lester would let it go that easily. We still don't know if this is it."
"I don't follow."
Cutter shrugged, "If the anomalies were wiped from existence, you would think everything would return to the way it was before we even met each other, but it hasn't."
"Tell me that again when my brain doesn't feel like a chunk is missing." He yawned.
"We'll let you get some sleep. Get on your feet soon."
Cutter and Nick retreated, leaving Abby in what seemed like a suddenly very awkward situation. Connor was too sleepy to care, "I missed you."
She frowned, "I was the only one alive in the future, how did you manage to miss me?"
"The others were dead. You were alive, but you weren't you, just a constant reminder of who I was missing."
A nurse came in, and Abby jerked away from Connor's hand as if burnt. Connor smile knowingly. Her future self had told him what she had felt when she had thought him lost for good, as he had seen too many things to be scare or unsure anymore.
He felt the pull of sleep, while Abby smiled softly, "Goodnight Connor."
Author Notes: Well, I hoped you liked it, and that it wasn't too confusing! I'd love for any feedback you could give me!