(A MESSAGE FROM THE AUTHOR) Hello. Welcome to Unnatural History, and I hope you'll enjoy what lies ahead. This story was originally about a virus that came through an anomaly, but then I thought of something better. I have slight crossover elements in this story, but not enough to warrant full crossover status. Thanks to SassyJ for beta-reading. (END NOTE)
POLITE WARNING – This story contains occasional strong language, violence and sex references.
THE TIME IS OUT OF JOINT
Hamlet, Act I, Scene V, Line 188
WHITEBUSH TEST TRACK, KENT, ENGLAND – PRESENT
The anomaly hung in the air, like a glowing ball of floating shards of glass. It was surrounded by guards, all dressed in black SAS uniforms, guns pointed directly at the anomaly, should anything come through. A short technician stood at the laptop set on the pile of crates, absently pushing glasses up the bridge of his nose. Next to him stood a young man dressed in black trousers, black shirt and a black leather jacket. He peered over the technician's shoulder, occasionally glancing at the anomaly.
A sharp, high-pitched keening sliced the air, echoing from its source – the other side of the anomaly. The soldiers lifted their guns on reflex, and the young man by the laptop ran towards a car parked by the doors of the warehouse, returning a moment later with a rocket launcher.
The anomaly quivered, and seconds later a group of people fell through it, slamming into the ground.
"Lock it!" one of them yelled, desperate.
The technician rolled his eyes, and stabbed a button on the keyboard, activating the disruptors positioned around the anomaly. They whirred as they powered up, ready to release a blast of electricity into the anomaly's event horizon, inverting its electromagnetic field and locking it shut. Then a gigantic insect burst through it, seconds before the anomaly condensed into a glowing ball, hovering innocently in the air.
The soldiers opened fire at the insect, hoping to breach its tough exoskeleton. The creature slowed to a hover, scanning the mass of meat below it… and exploded.
Captain Becker looked up from where he had been lying underneath the anomaly, and saw a young man he didn't recognise lowering a rocket launcher. The kid had messy, sandy brown hair and piercing blue eyes set into an angular face, which rung absolutely no bells in Becker's memory.
A group of medics rushed forward, part of a medical team that the ARC kept on standby, two bearing a stretcher. Dr Morgan stooped in front of Becker, reaching her hand down to help him up.
"Any injuries?" she asked.
"Connor's broken his leg," Becker panted, "And we've all got some nasty cuts."
"I can see," Morgan said, then motioned for the stretcher bearers to take Connor to the waiting ambulance. Abby and Sarah picked themselves up, Abby limping after Connor. Morgan turned to Sarah and Becker, "We'll have a look at you at the ambulance," she said, leading them towards a black van that was the ARC's standby ambulance.
Becker heard a welsh-accented voice shouting orders, and glanced over his shoulder to see the technician, a short man with a white lab coat, short hair, fingerless gloves yelling at the soldiers, and the young man he didn't recognise collecting bits of insect and dumping them in a dustbin.
"Er… Doctor," he asked, glancing back to Morgan, "Who are those people, the technician and the kid?"
Morgan gave him an odd look, "You should know them by now, Captain."
"What?" Sarah said, turning to look.
"I don't remember them," Becker said.
"You must," Morgan said, stopping and turning to them, "Dr Taylor was a student with Professor Cutter, and Griffin helped us with that anomaly in Cardiff."
"There was an anomaly in Cardiff?" Sarah frowned.
"Yes…" Morgan frowned too, "Did either of you take a knock to the head?"
ANOMALY RESEARCH CENTERE (ARC) – PRESENT
Lester stood by the window in his office, looking over the main operations room through the window. The technicians were busy calibrating more Locking Devices, and experimenting with more compact units for easier transportation.
That had been one of the main priorities since Lord Bathelwaite had been assigned by the Prime Minister to liaise with the ARC on his behalf. Bathelwaite, a former military general, had made it very clear that the ARC should prioritise containing the anomalies as soon as possible, destroying anything that came through 'for the good of the people'. He had been against Griffin's appointment to the primary response team, and was putting pressure on Lester to mass-produce locking devices.
Lester resented Bathelwaite and his interference, preferring to be more cautious. They'd already seen what rushing in blind could do – all Cutter's talk of Claudia Brown. Dr Taylor had theorised that something had changed the timeline whilst Cutter had been in the Permian, causing this Claudia Brown person to vanish. Taylor had reiterated the theory when Becker, Sarah, Connor and Abby had claimed not to recognise him or Griffin, and had talked about rescuing somebody called Danny Quinn.
Lester's computer pinged, signifying an email. He checked it, and sighed. He picked up his telephone, and dialled the home office.
"Can I speak to Christine Johnson, please?"
Connor lay on a bed in the ARC's infirmary, a bandage wrapped round the swelling on his leg. According to Dr Morgan, it was just a sprain and he'd be fine soon. Abby and Sarah were sitting next to him, and Becker was standing behind them. On the other side of the bed were Dr Taylor and Griffin O'Conner.
Taylor was explaining his theory of an alternate timeline, which seemed to make sense. And from the looks on Connor and Abby's faces, they had encountered something similar before.
Becker had assessed the Welshman and the kid as soon as they had entered the room, and he wasn't sure of what he'd seen. Dr Taylor was a short man, his glasses forever sliding down the bridge of his nose, who permanently wore fingerless gloves. His pockets were filled with junk, ranging from tape measures and hypodermic syringes to a packet of jelly babies, which he'd offered round before the debriefing. Taylor was obviously highly intelligent, if a little scatterbrained and eccentric.
"So, Connor, Abby and this Danny Quinn went through the anomaly to find Helen Cutter," Taylor said, "And you ran into a future version of the ARC…"
"Yeah," Connor said, "It was all empty and destroyed."
"And it had some sort of device for controlling the anomalies?"
"It was like it was finding certain anomalies from a database," Abby said.
"It had a map like the one in the artefact," Sarah added, "Showing where to find an anomaly."
"But if it tracked anomalies," Griffin interrupted, speaking for the first time, "Why did she need to open them?"
Becker examined the kid. Griffin was young, maybe nineteen or twenty, and he was dressed in baggy clothes – black trainers, black trousers, black leather jacket over black shirt. His eyes, light blue, which seemed to watch everyone carefully, were set into an angular face that could have passes for Danny Quinn twenty years ago.
The kid held Becker's gaze, blinking freely, until Becker looked back to Taylor.
"Good point," Connor frowned, "Cutter did think about temporal faultlines a couple of years back, with the Mosasaurs."
"That's it!" Taylor seemed to jump with excitement, "The device Helen was using must act as a tracker that can find specific temporal faultlines, stored in a database."
"The artefact," Connor said.
"Yes," Taylor agreed, "Once you've found a faultline, it can open an anomaly on the faultline…" Taylor paused, thinking hard.
"You thought the Artefact was a map of all the anomalies there's ever been," Griffin said, leaning forward in his chair.
"And if that theory's right, then all the anomalies exist on temporal faultlines," Connor realised, "So any of them could be opened with that device?"
"In theory," Taylor said.
The intercom buzzed, "Dr Taylor," Lester's voice floated from the speaker grill, "I need a word. Now."
Taylor sighed, "No rest for the wicked," he smiled and left, dropping a packet of jelly babies onto the table next to Connor. Griffin checked his watch, then stood and followed Taylor out. As Connor opened the jelly babies, Becker excused himself, and left the infirmary.
Idly, he wandered through the corridors of the ARC, checking the security, seeing what else had changed. Professor Cutter's office door was now labelled 'Dr Malcolm Taylor', and had a reconstruction of Cutter's monstrosity of a matrix at its centre. Becker had never been able to understand it, but evidently Taylor could, and had reconstructed it from Cutter's notes.
The main operations room was much the same as it had been before the time-shift, as Taylor referred to whatever the event that had changed history was, except for several technicians working on building more anomaly locking devices. The Anomaly detector stood, tall and proud, against the ramp that led to the administrative level, where he could see Taylor talking to a frustrated-looking Lester. Becker wondered what they were talking about.
He wondered out of the operations room, past the labs where Abby was dissecting the remains of the insects from the future. He left her to herself, and paused at a doorway leading down to the basement levels. He didn't normally go down there, since there was normally nothing but deep-frozen creatures, generators and databanks. But now there was a sign on the door reading 'gymnasium'.
He followed the steps down, into a large open space, with a few mats and running machines, and a large padded pillar. Griffin was standing in front of the pillar, barefoot and bare-chested, standing in a classic karate stance – legs shoulder width apart, front leg bent, back leg straight, arms raised to guard against attacks on his torso or face – and alternately hitting it with his fists or kicking it.
Becker watched the kid for a few minutes, noting his lean muscular frame. Griffin paused after five more minutes, panting slightly and wiping sweat from his brow. He turned and leant against the wall, swigging water from a bottle. He looked up at Becker, raising his eyebrows.
"How long have you been standing there?" he asked.
"About five minutes," Becker answered, walking over to him, "You a boxer or something?" he asked.
"Mixed martial arts," Griffin corrected, "I liked learning to beat the crap out of people, and after I lost my job I–"
The familiar alarm blared into life, signifying the appearance of another anomaly.
"Y'know," Griffin said as he grabbed his shoes and shirt from the floor by the pillar, "I'd swear they were happening more often."
ETHIOPIA – PLIOCENE ERA
Danny Quinn fell to his knees, string at the empty air where the anomaly had closed. It was gone. His only route home.
"Fuck," he said, over and over again. Then he screamed it aloud, angrily punching a rock, then nursing his bleeding knuckles.
He was trapped here. Forever. Nowhere to go.
The language helped him vent his anger at life, God, the universe, whoever, for stranding him here. Alone. Apart from what was left of Helen.
That was it! Helen would have one of those opening devices!
Danny leapt to his feet, and ran as fast as he could towards Helen's corpse.
(AUTHOR'S NOTE) So there's the first chapter. Hope you liked it. Just so you know, the characters of Griffin O'Conner and Dr Taylor are the crossover elements – Griffin is from the movie Jumper, and Taylor from Dr Who. I justify my use of them with the fact the timeline has changed, and this quote from Douglas Adams: 'In an infinite universe, anything, even The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, is possible.' Ciao for now. (END NOTE)