Leaving Dylan and Paula behind was something that haunted Regina every moment of every day for the past year. She replayed the whole event over and over in her mind, trying to think of something she could have done differently, something they could have done differently, so they could have made it out together. Maybe they should have tried lifting the computer from the shorter end rather than the broad end. Maybe they should have blasted the computer with the chain mine gun or the anti-tank rifle. Maybe they should have...
But it never helped. Either Regina knew this idea or that idea wouldn't have worked, or she realized it just might have worked after all and she failed those two by not thinking about it then. Even worse, how did she not foresee those computers falling, anyway? A scenario like that was textbook in training, how had she ignored the possibility?
And that thought process was one that had repeated over and over, plagued Regina every single day since she returned with that damn research disk. How many walls or tables or other hard surfaces had she punched in anger, how many tears had she shed, how many nights had she spent laying awake in bed, she lost count. And even today, the pain and regret hadn't lessened in the least.
Whoever came up with the seven stages of grief was full of crap.
Regina had promised Dylan that she would return for them – create some kind of time paradox to allow her to go back and rescue them before the facility detonated. But she knew that was impossible. Ignoring the headaches of figuring out how Regina could show up at the last minute to same Dylan and Paula while Past Regina was still in the room without screwing up the timeline so bad that the whole thing didn't happen at all, how would she show up at such a precise moment? And even if she could, with what tool could she lift that colossal computer and help Dylan drag Paula to the time gate in the ten seconds they had remaining when Regina left them behind? No matter how Regina sliced it, she had promised the impossible.
When she returned with the research disk and apprised her superiors of the situation, two months of deliberation followed. Her superiors weren't all that interested in risking dozens of lives to go back and save two, but they were concerned with the fact that animals from 65 million years ago were thrown 3 million years ahead. They had screwed up the timelines left right and center over the past few years, and the scientists had now managed to convince the government of the importance of putting everything back to where it all was. And so, over the past year, the Third Energy research was used to perfect the time gate system, and now, the mission was on.
The plan was twofold. First, they would use some new timegate equipment, dubbed the One Way Ticket, to send the prehistoric jungle and all dinosaurs therein back to the Cretaceous period. Using the Third Energy research, the scientists had managed to create equipment that would only send nonmetals through time, which would allow it to send the plants and animals back through time while leaving most structures and other man-made things in place. With the dinosaurs gone, they could then get to work on returning Edward City and all other human influences back to their respective places and times.
The problem with this, though, was the fact that Dylan and Paula were, of course, nonmetal things. They would be sent to the Cretaceous along with everything else. Regina tried to protest to her superiors about this, but it was no use. They refused to risk any more lives to save two.
No man left behind? Garbage.
Still, Regina requested to assist in this mission, in hopes of convincing her superiors in the field to help save Dylan and Paula, if it was possible.
The mission was to take maybe ten minutes. Regina was among the soldiers – 100 of them – sent simply to guard the technicians and their equipment. The technicians would activate the equipment, setting it to a timer that would allow everyone to return home before they too were sent to the Cretaceous, and that was it. Bing bang boom, done.
And so, Regina sat in one of the several transport boats sent back into the displaced jungle, among 19 other soldiers in this particular boat. They calculated the absolute epicenter of the displaced Cretaceous environment, and had to set the equipment up specifically there. The equipment would be the epicenter of an effective radius, so it had to be placed in the center, lest it send the native plant and animal life from the future back to the past.
"Landfall in two minutes!" The pilot called out.
"Alright, ladies and gentlemen, this is it." The sergeant said, standing. "We only have to stay alive for ten minutes, and if you can't do that, you've got no right to be in the military! Suit up, move it!"
Everyone got to their feet and retrieved their weapons from the storage shelves above. M16 assault rifles for all. Soldiers in the other boats would also be carrying various heavier weapons. Regina told her superiors exactly how well the first ten minutes went the last time they were here, and they had no intention of letting that happen again.
"The drop zone for the equipment is 35 feet inland." The sergeant continued. "The second those doors open, coordinate with the others and form a defensive semicircle around our landing zone. If you see anything moving, make it stop, do you get me?"
"We get you, sir!" Everyone said, more or less in unison.
The boat began to slow down as it approached the shore. After a few seconds, it began to slowly spin around, the rear entry doors being turned to face the shore. The boat propelled itself backwards, getting as close to the shore as possible.
This anticipation took Regina back to the last time they were here. Awaiting her first steps into the prehistoric jungle, being all suited up, dozens of soldiers at her side, almost eager to go out an take on whatever the Cretaceous threw at her. But that feeling was quickly masked by a feeling of dread. The last time Regina was here, she had her first encounter with dinosaurs to look back on. Minimally armed, she barely survived encounters with even infant raptors. The fact that she was armed with much heavier weapons and accompanied by dozens of other soldiers gave her the anxious eagerness that time, but remembering the butchered corpses, the dozens of times she had to cheat death against raptors and rexes, wandering dark hallways with two bullets left in her pistol, masked all that eagerness.
This time, Regina knew that her weapons could take dozens of raptors... hell, she knew they could take a Rex on no problem, so the terrors of her first encounter with the dinosaurs was mostly gone. This time, though, her dread came from the last time she came here with dozens of soldiers armed to the teeth. It took maybe five minutes for virtually everyone she travelled with to either be separated or killed. And what was the difference between that visit and this one? Not a whole lot.
Regina wiped the sweat from her brow and waited for the boat to hit the shore.
"Regina, you're the veteran, you take point." The sergeant commanded.
"Yes, sir." Regina replied.
The boat jerked lightly as it hit bottom. This was as close to shore as they were getting.
The doors slid open, hitting everyone in the boat with a blast of heat. The light was blinding compared to the gloom of the boat, and the humidity was like walking into a wall.
"Alright, let's go." Regina said, and was the first leap out of the boat.