Title: Losing Time
Author: Stormy1x2 (traveling_storm)
Fandom: Primevil/Losers (2010 movie)
Word Count (this chapter): 7301
Set: at the end of S3 for Primevil and post-Losers movie. Ignores current S4 PEVL and comic book Losers.
Notes: An extra-special thank you to nickdevilance who combed through this, offered suggestions and basically put up with me asking tons of questions.
"How much of human life is lost in waiting." Ralph Waldo Emerson
The scene was so tranquil, so idyllic, it could have come straight off the back of a postcard, advertising the perfect get-away spot. Beautiful green meadows swooped off in the distance, rolling over gentle hills topped with white-flecked granite stones, looking almost artfully arranged to provide the perfect resting stop. The air was crisp, clean, the sky a vivid blue.
In the distance, puffy white clouds gave way to light grey, courtesy of the puffing volcano in the distance; close enough to appreciate, yet far enough away to reassure viewers of any kind of immediate danger. Overhead, what looked like flocks of birds – though large birds, to be sure – wheeled about in the sky, keeping to a formation only they could understand.
Indeed, it was picturesque. It was serene. It was paradise.
Danny Quin absolutely hated it. And if it were truly as perfect as it seemed, he grumbled silently to himself, there would picnickers and hikers trolling the hills, instead of hordes of humanities ape-like ancestors, picking and flicking and grooming each other. Soft grunts – the precursor of proper speech, he surmised – kept the various groups In contact with each other. The 'birds' above were obviously some kind of early evolution – Danny wasn't an expert like the other members of the ARC team, but he knew those weren't seagulls up there.
By his count, he'd been trapped in the past – the Plio-something, he recalled Connor mentioning – roughly thirty-six days. His clothes were still hanging on by virtue of him not running into any major predators (yet), though he'd shed his over-shirt to compensate for the mild weather. He'd found a...well, cave was one word to call it, to hole up in. It more resembled a burrow for a mole or badger and he really did not want to know what the prehistoric versions of those were. The overgrowing weeds and musty, dry smell, plus the lack of tracks anywhere nearby convinced him it was empty, and so he'd found some large rocks to push over that he used to form a door at night, and when he was out.
His hair and beard were driving him mad. He'd made an attempt at cutting his hair with his pocket knife in the beginning, but it was hard to see and painful to do. The most grooming he did now was trying to keep his beard from growing longer than Santa Claus'. He scratched at it irritably as he surveyed the landscape from his perch on one of the hills.
A grunt came from behind him; he turned to see one of the ape-men, as he'd come to call them, wandering past. They didn't bother him, though some of them did come up to sniff at him curiously in the beginning. He held up a hand. "Mornin', mate. Lovely day, isn't it?" Another grunt and the ape-man kept up his amble down the hill. "That's what I thought too. Good to talk with ya."
He was going to lose his mind, eventually. He was sure of it. If anyone did manage to find him one day, they'd have a hard time picking him out of the scads of hairy ape-men littering the Plio-whatsit.
Several hundred million years even further behind Danny, Abby Maitland and Connor Temple were in a similar situation, though they obviously couldn't be sure of it.
Connor still wondered what happened to Danny – where he was, if he was okay – but he and Abby had stopped talking about that long ago. They had enough to worry about dealing with their own dilemma of being trapped in a far more hostile land than Danny was, and besides, there wasn't anything that they could to do help him. Constantly talking about any sort of might-haves was only depressing and worrying.
He and Abby, on the other hand, were doing about as well as could be expected. Connor was thankful that his injuries from the sonic grenade and his subsequent tumble from a tree had resulted in rather mild injuries. His arm had been badly sprained but not broken as they had initially thought, and his concussion had healed rather well. There'd been no chance of him lapsing into a coma, not with Abby jabbing him in the ribs every hour.
They'd done their best to turn their tree-top refuge into more of an actual tree-house after it became apparent rescue wasn't immediately forthcoming. Belts, shoelaces and a spare t-shirt from the duffel bag Becker had tossed to Connor before their fateful trip and torn into strips, served as rope to lash branches together to form some kind of canopy over their heads. Thankfully the weather wasn't very cold, even at night. Curling up like puppies against the main trunk created enough body heat to ensure they'd have just enough warmth to be comfortable.
Connor had taken to carving notches in the bark of an ancient pine to try and keep track of the days. It wasn't completely accurate – there were a few days missing from the beginning of their adventure when Abby had been more focused on keeping Connor and herself alive, and then there had been that freaky encounter with a T-Rex on the plains near the forest they'd taken refuge in. It had been Abby's turn for the head injury and Connor had lost track of time waiting for her to wake up and speak a coherent sentence to him.
Then there was the simple fact that sometimes he forgot to do it.
Anyway, he was reasonably sure they'd been stuck for around two months-ish, give or take a week or two. A deep dread was starting to grow inside him that they would never make it out of the past, that they would never see their friends and family ever again. A cold sweat broke out over him when he thought about it, but then he saw Abby's blond hair (well, reasonably blond – her natural color was starting to break free thanks to the lack of hair care products in the ancient Jurassic) and was reassured that at least he wasn't alone. He hoped Abby was taking the same comfort in him.
"What's up?" Connor blinked and shook himself, before peering down at the ground to see Abby staring up at him, hands on her hips.
"Are you coming?"
"Coming?" Connor blinked again, freezing in place as he racked his brain trying to think of what he was supposed to be doing. "Yes. Coming. To, uh…" Abby sighed and rolled her eyes. She reached down to the carpet of nettles and rocks, picking up a stick that she tossed at his head. He ducked. "Hey!"
"We're not giving up, Con," Abby said firmly, pinning him back in place with a level glare. "We are going to keep checking the direction Helen and Danny were heading. We know there's an anomaly around there somewhere – at least there was one. Which means there's a chance of it reopening." She flung her arms out to encompass the vast emptiness – save for miles and miles of pine trees – around them. "It's better than just rotting away here. We've been over this."
"Right, I knew that." Connor pulled on his gloves and gingerly made his way down the tree. He was proud of the fact that he no longer fell the last six feet every time he attempted it. The most he did was stumble a bit on the last step but he blamed that on the unevenness of the ground. "Coming, coming."
Abby grumbled and muttered something he couldn't hear under her breath, and he offered her a sheepish grin as he reached her side. She gave him a light punch in the arm in return, and then started walking briskly in the direction they'd been checking day in and day out for any clues.
Connor didn't know what she was looking for, but then, he had no tracking skills. Back in the first few weeks after Connor had regained his mobility, she'd been able to tail Helen and Danny for quite some distance. It was slow going though, due to the fact that large predators liked to follow the same trails (and once again remembering the T-Rex, Connor shivered) which meant they had to move quickly, quietly and be ready to hide at a moment's notice. Unfortunately, rain had fallen and washed away most of the obvious signs that someone had been through. They also had to try and keep track of where they'd checked, so as not to confuse their own trail for Danny or Helen's.
Today they were going to check out a cliff that had been their focus spot the day before but they'd been chased away by a pteranodon.
"Now today, we're going to keep our eyes on the sky, yeah?" Abby poked Connor as they made their way towards the cliffs, skirting the huge boulders lining the base and climbing over the smaller ones.
"I was watching!" Connor protested. "Well, sort of. You know, it's actually quite hard to watch for predators on the ground as well as in the sky at the same t—"
Abby put her hand over his mouth, and he subsided with a grumble. "Just be careful. I don't want you being flown off for some hatchling's dinner."
"That wouldn't happen." He paused. "That couldn't happen. Right, Abby?"
She winked at him. "Just watch out."
Connor wasn't reassured by that, but he swallowed hard and gamely followed her as she moved nimbly amongst the rocks, keeping one eye on the sky.
A far-off shriek had them both diving for cover under a rocky overhang of one of the larger boulders. Abby stuck her head out and scouted the sky. "I don't see anything."
"Oh good," Connor said, nodding quickly. His heart was beating like a trip hammer. "Check again?"
She rolled her eyes and shoved at him before crawling out after him. "I think it's out hunting."
"That was the sound of triumph then?"
Abby shrugged. "Or she missed her target and is shrieking in outrage."
"Let's move quickly then," Connor decided and began to lead the way this time. They were able to make it to the base of the cliff with no problems. Solid rock walls sprung up all around them. Connor was glad to see the various outcroppings and overhangs littering the area – they would make lovely little hidey-holes in case anything big with sharp teeth decided to stop by. Behind him, Abby was stealthily creeping along the cliff base, eyes aimed skyward. "Anything?"
Connor suddenly froze, staring at the rock face in front of him. "Nope, something." Forgetting all caution, he hurried forward and up the small, rocky hill to the cave walls. Along a boulder was a splash of dark. "Blood."
"Last night's dinner?" Abby asked, right at his heels. "Yummy."
"Too old," Connor said. "And not enough to be the remnants of a meal. I think."
"What, you think it's Helen's or Danny's?"
"Maybe. I don't know." Connor motioned around the whole area with his arm. "I think we should check this whole area carefully though."
Abby nodded. "Good idea," she said, giving him a warm smile. "I'll check over there, you keep checking here."
Connor examined the rest of the boulder and then along the edge of it. Nothing out of the ordinary though, and it wasn't like he was expecting footprints to still be around after all this time. It had rained a few times in the last few months after all.
Still, hope sprang eternal, and all that.
They checked in silence, not wanting to draw any undue attention to themselves. Luckily it was warm out; Connor assumed most of the animals were dozing in the heat of the sun, instead of being as active as they tended to be during the dawn and dusk. He was clambering over some stones when he slipped on loose shale – a small cry escaped him as his foot slid out from underneath him and he fell onto his back, more stones falling free at his impact and trickling down the hill. "Ow!"
"Connor? You okay?" Abby called, sounding worried.
"I'm fine!" he gasped. "Just surprised, is all." He pushed himself up to a sitting position, wincing at the pull in his back muscles. "Well, that hurt." He was about to stand up when a shadow flew over the ground in front of him, and he froze. "Abby?"
She was already on it, smart girl that she was. "Connor, get under the rocks! To your right!" He flicked his eyes to the right and saw an overhang not thirty feet away. Abby was already under it, leaning out and reaching her arm towards him. "Come on!"
"Coming!" He rolled over, gasping as pain shot down his legs from his tailbone, making him freeze for a moment. The shadow reappeared, and he looked back over his shoulder. He froze again.
A large, flying dinosaur, similar to the Anurognathus they'd seen at the golf course almost two years ago, but this one was bigger. Much bigger.
"Connor, move it!" Abby was screaming at him but he could do was stare at the huge, brightly colored animal as it soared closer. Quetzalcoatlus, his shocked mind told him. One of the biggest flying dinosaurs of the Cretaceous. And it's about to crash into me!
Connor yelped and scrambled to his knees, kicking off the rocks and pulling at the ground in an effort to cover it more quickly. Abby grabbed hold of his hand and yanked him under the dubious protection of the outcropping and Connor jerked his legs in after himself. The Quetzalcoatlus shrieked as it swooped down and hovered for a second in front of the opening, flapping his wings fiercely. The winds it kicked up were impressive, and they had to shield themselves from the dust and debris being swept their way. The beating of its wings was loud, almost drum-like, and Connor had to shout to make himself heard. "Can you back up?"
"I'm as far in as I can go!" Abby shouted back at him, clinging to his back. The Quetzalcoatlus shrieked again and stabbed its beak in their direction but couldn't manage to turn its head towards the ground enough to manage it. A few seconds later, it pushed off, long talons scraping against the rock, and then the sound of beating wings was getting fainter. "Is it gone? What was it?"
"I don't know, and it was a Quetzalcoatlus," Connor said, panting heavily. "Hang on a second." Not that he was all that eager to stick his head out, but they couldn't very well stay there forever. He pulled himself forward and stuck out his hand. Wiggled his fingers. Nothing. A bit more and his whole arm was in the sun, waving frantically and then being jerked back inside. Still nothing. "Here goes nothing." Connor carefully leaned forward and was about to stick his head out—
Connor swore as he jumped and slammed his head into the roof of the cave-like crevice they were wedged into. "What?"
"Sorry," Abby said apologetically, but passed him her compact from her pocket. "Check with this."
"Oh yeah. Good idea. Much better than letting my tasty fingers be the test subject." Connor snatched up the mirror and held it out, angling it so he could see the area above them. Nothing to the left, nothing to the right, and nothing straight up. "I think it's gone."
"Well, it won't be for long," Abby said ruefully. "It knows we're here and that we'll have to come out at some point. I think we should leave now while we've got the chance."
"We didn't finish searching the area," Connor protested.
"Didn't you ever hear that old saying, 'he who cries and runs away, lives to cry another day'?" she asked, pushing past him and standing up.
Connor blinked. "Are you calling me a crybaby?"
Abby rolled her eyes and tugged on his arm. "Come on!"
"Yeah, right. I'm comin', I just—" his voice trailed off as something glinted at him from across the trail. "Abby, what's that?"
"What's what?" she asked, sounding flustered and impatient.
"Patience, Abby, patience." Connor picked his way cautiously across the ground, keeping his eyes fixed on where the glint had appeared. "Watch the skies for me please – I don't want to lose where I'm going."
"Hurry, Connor," she urged him.
Connor scanned the ground slowly, fully, taking in every rock, every pile, every leaf. One of these things is not like the other, he told himself, and slowed down even more. Then he saw it.
Black plastic or metal, a corner, sticking out of the ground, covered with dirt and dust, and half hidden by overgrown brush. Something definitely out of time and place. Connor lunged for it, ripping aside grass and dirt clods. When his fingers closed around sun-warmed metal, he thought for a minute he'd stopped breathing. "Abby?"
His heart was pounding like a bongo drum. "Abby, look!" He withdrew the battered modified anomaly-detector and held it in his trembling hands. The glass was cracked, and sand and dirt clogged every opening, wedged among the keys. He pressed the power button eagerly but nothing happened. He flipped it over and saw the back casing gone, one battery missing. "Damn it!"
Abby knelt down next to him. "Oh my god, is that—" she broke off and reached out, gingerly touching the edge of the detector with one finger. "Connor, does it work?"
"I don't know," Connor breathed. "But we have spare batteries in the packs back at camp. If I clean it out and the batteries work, then we could be looking at our ticket home!"
Abby whooped and lunged at him, wrapping her arms around his next in excitement. He hugged her back and then pried her off so he could stare again at the detector. "What are you waiting for?" Abby jumped to her feet and began pulling at him. "Let's go!"
"Yes, yeah, leggo!" Connor pulled his arm free. "You're getting very… with the pulling and all." He waved his arm at her. "It's going to be longer than the other one soon enough."
Abby laughed. "Whatever Connor. C'mon, let's get back to camp. I don't know about you but I am dying to get back to indoor plumbing and a hot shower!"
It didn't seem right. The ARC was humming with activity; fluorescent lights buzzing, power droning from the hundred of computers set up throughout the building, and the low mumbling tones of the ARC staff going about their daily jobs as though everything were absolutely normal. It just wasn't right.
Sarah Page raked her hands through her hair and once again tried to turn her focus back to the computer screen in front of her. That everything should continue on as normal, like nothing was wrong, nothing bad had happened, was grating against her nerves. By all rights, the ARC should have been like a morgue - silent, respectful of those who were gone. And they were gone - all of them. Every last member from the original team was either dead, or missing in time-space. Except for Lester, but he didn't count in her mind. Lester was in destructible apparently - much like a cockroach, though she'd never say that to his face.
The computer gave her a chiding beep; the coordinates she'd entered were incorrect. Again. A low growl of frustration escaped her and she punched in a second string of numbers, fingers jamming against the keys as though she were attempting to punish them for her failures. She was rewarded with a lighter, more cheerful beep this time and a green light. Coordinates accepted.
"One down, twenty thousand to go," she muttered ruefully, and stretched her arms out, interlocking her fingers and listening to her joints crack with a vague air of satisfaction.
"You'll get arthritis from that."
"That's an old wives tale, Becker," she said, stifling a yawn. "Tired, likely weaker joints perhaps, but not arthritis."
Captain Hilary Becker - sorry, that was Major now, she recalled - set a steaming mug of coffee on the desk next to the abused keyboard. "Any luck?"
"Little by little," Sarah sighed. She pushed herself away from the desk, scooping up the cup as she did so, and spun around on her chair so she was facing him. He looked as tired as she did, she noted absently. Pale, deep shadows were under his eyes. He likely wasn't sleeping much more than she was, but where she had her idea to work through, Becker was taking the loss of Abby, Connor and Danny deeply personally.
While she spent her time on the computer, trying to build the model Professor Cutter had once started in his lab with plastic tubing on her computer, Becker was stalking the ARC like a man possessed, determined not to let any security breaches infiltrate the sanctity of their base. Even as he took a 'break', so to speak, she noted the cleaning rag tucked into his belt, the bottle of fluid outlining his pocket, and his second favorite rifle in hand. Becker didn't seem to know the meaning of the word 'relax.' Then again, she thought with a grim tinge of amusement, neither did she these days.
Becker nodded at the computer screen. "Thought I heard a moment of triumph."
"One," she said, holding up her index finger. "Which makes two successful predictions - meaning ones that match coordinates we've been able to verify through us well… actually being there. Well, members of the team, that is."
"The anomaly where the team first found those giant insects, back when they were first starting out," Sarah said. "It's like trying to solve a mathematical equation with only a few of the numbers and thousands of possible answers. I'm an archaeologist, not a mathematician." She gestured at the computer screen where several glowing yellow lines floated in a three dimensional box, forming a loop. "Using our security cameras, I managed to plug in some of the anomalies on a shape that resembles what popped out of the tube when Connor and I were working on it. But without specifics, it's all guesswork. I had the one match up by accident, I think."
Becker rolled his eyes as he automatically checked the cartridge on the rifle and then began dismantling it on the empty desk next to her. "Give yourself a bit more credit than that, Sarah."
"I'd love to," she said with a small sigh. "But really, this is all taking too long. If we could just find someone who can take what we have and help us put those damn tubes back together - but here, on the computer - we're one step closer to being able predict the anomalies like Cutter was trying to do. And we could even be able to open them, like Helen could." Her hands tightened around her coffee mug in frustration. "Helen had the technology from the future, it must have originated here, in the ARC! We're the only ones working on it, the only ones with anything close to what she was using." She gestured to Connor's anomaly detector. "That's the start. This - "she pointed to her computer. "- is the next step. But I can't make it work, Becker! I can't think like him, I'm not Cutter!" Suddenly she realized her voice had steadily been rising and that she was shouting at Becker. She blinked, eyes darting around the room to see several scientists trying very hard to not stare outright at her. Her cheeks suddenly went hot and she ducked her head, mumbling a vague apology at Becker.
A low chuckle met her apology, and she raised her head again, glaring at him. "It's not funny!"
"You're right, it's not," Becker said, setting the gun down and holding his hand sup in self-defense. "But good lord woman, how long have you been holding that in?"
She blinked. Then a giggle escaped her, and she covered her mouth with the hand not preoccupied with keeping her coffee from spilling on to the floor. "Quite a while, actually," she snickered, a small snort escaping her. It was enough to make both of them start howling.
A few minutes later, their laughter dying down, Sarah wiped her eyes with her thumbs, mentally thanking the heavens she'd stopped seeing makeup as a priority – sweat and mascara did not mix and neither did tears. "Oh... I think I needed that."
"You and me both." Becker picked his discarded rag up and resumed his methodical cleaning of the rifle barrel. "So, do you feel a bit better now?"
"Yes," she said. "At least, enough to give it one more crack before I give up for the evening. And you?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "When will you be going off-duty?"
He shrugged, focusing on the gun in his lap. "I found that cot Connor was using when he was kipping here for a bit. I can grab a nap when you leave."
"You don't go home?"
"Not much to go home to," Becker said mildly. He held the rifle up and peered down the barrel. Apparently satisfied, he began putting it back together. "Besides, this way I can be on hand in case of any emergencies."
There had to be something wrong with that, but Sarah couldn't figure it out. She desperately needed a nap of her own. "Once more then," she said, and spun back around to face the computer.
Jensen was in a foul mood.
It was fairly obvious to anyone who saw him. Pooch tried to handle it by surreptitiously slipping the hacker his favorite treats and snacks stolen from god only knew where, considering they were in the asshole of nowhere, South America. Clay assumed Pooch kept a hidden stash on him for just such an occasion - becoming a daddy had seemed to bring out the 'be prepared for anything' to an insane level in him, and a cranky hacker must not have been much different from a cranky infant: ply with treats until they shut up. Unfortunately, Jensen wasn't talking much, so it didn't seem to be helping.
Aisha wasn't much help either. In fact, she seemed to be channeling Roque, what with the muttered threats under her breath as she continuously sent uneasy glances in Jensen's direction. She hadn't been with them yet a year, but she'd learned very quickly that a quiet Jensen was a dangerous Jensen. Her method of coping was to threaten, play with her shiny weapons (there was that Roque-channeling again) and stalk around the campsite like a restless cat. To keep her from going stir-crazy, Clay told her to go with Pooch on a supply run. She bared her teeth at him but went without complaint. Maybe a hiss though. He smirked.
Speaking of cats...Clay watched as Cougar sat solidly beside Jensen, meticulously cleaning his sniper rifle for the thirteen-thousandth time. Cougar had been the one to alert Clay to the situation with a tilt of his hat and a significant look in Jensen's direction. Once assured that Clay was on it, he'd taken up his own watch next to the hacker.
Just being there seemed to calm Jensen a little bit, even if it didn't make him talk. Then again, there was no need for constant chatter between those two, except when there was, and sometimes it was an order. Clay didn't give a damn about anyone's particular tastes as it related to what team they played for, but during off-time, when it got too quiet, the rest of the team knew it was a matter of time before the silence was broken by sounds Pooch swore he'd resort to puncturing his ear drums if he ever heard again.
Regarding the situation at hand however, Clay didn't know how he wanted to handle this, exactly. There were a few ways that he had at his disposal - tried and true methods of bringing a Loser out of their stupor, but getting Jensen drunk when he was silent was probably not the best option. A drunk Jensen was a damn-near suicidal Jensen who would accept any and all dares when he was in a good mood. In a bad mood, he might decide to blow up whatever was pissing him off. Which, ironically enough, was his second option, though Clay wasn't eager to mix a moody Jensen with high-explosives just yet. That was indeed a last resort.
Talking was out - the hacker did it better than he could anyway. Ordering him would work but he had nothing to order him with - they were in between missions at the moment due to Max apparently laying low. They'd tracked him to Chile but the warehouse in El Loa was a dead end - cleared out, likely only hours before they got there. Aisha was waiting to hear from one of her contacts about where to try next.
Giving Jensen something to hack would be ideal but without a starting point, it would be impossible to have him track Max from scratch; hence the waiting from Aisha. He could make something up, ask Jensen to hack a security system without getting caught as practice to keep him from getting rusty (laughable) - but letting Jensen play with random countries and their government websites was also what got them fatwa's issued against them in three countries and standing arrest orders in two more at the same time. Besides, Jensen already seemed to be hacking something - he hadn't moved from his computer in over four hours. Clay stifled a curse. Talking it was, then.
Before he could act on his idea, Jensen suddenly stood up and pushed away from the computer. He strode over to Clay, a wild look in his eyes. Clay bit back the urge to step back, and met the hacker's eyes calmly. "What's up?"
"I need to go to London," Jensen said quietly. His hands flexed into fists at his sides. "My cousin is missing."
"Your cousin," Clay echoed, feeling a pain start at the base of his neck. It was the same pain he often felt when talking to his men. Jensen in particular.
Jensen was nodding his head. "He's disappeared and his team can't find him. I need to help them." He was starting to wiggle in place, a sure sign of edginess.
"Calm down, soldier," Clay ordered gruffly. "Explain."
"It's kinda hard to explain." Jensen bit his lower lip and worried it for a minute. "I mean, really boss-man. It's a 'seeing is believing' kinda deal."
"And you need to go because?"
"Because according to the files I hacked into, my cousin's been gone two months, give or take a week, and no one knows where he is!"
"And you do?"
"Not…exactly," Jensen hedged. "But I know how to find him, and I start by going to London."
Clay squeezed his eyes shut. "Jensen…"
"Boss… please." Clay opened his eyes to Jensen looking at him with a pleading expression he hadn't seen in years. It made the hacker look about ten years younger. "He's my baby cousin. I taught him everything he knows. Other than Jessie and Hannah, he's the only other family I have that's worth something to me."
That was a low blow. Clay knew the reason his team stood behind him and backed him up the way they did was because he stood by them in their time of need too. 'Looks like we gotta 'nother field trip comin' up,' he thought resignedly, and nodded. "You gotta sell Pooch and Aisha on this," he said sternly. He didn't bother mentioning Cougar – the Sniper would follow Jensen without a word of protest. "And me."
"Soon as they get back," Jensen said. "It's gonna be an interesting show, that's for sure." He reached into a side pocket on his duffle bag and pulled out his wallet. Flipping through the numerous photos of Jessie and his niece Hannah, he finally stopped on an older picture that was wrinkled and creased from years in the wallet. A young Jake Jensen stood next to a small, grinning imp of a boy.
Clay peered at the photo. "That him?"
"Yup. He's about eight in this photo. First time I ever met him."
Jake was bored. He hadn't wanted to come along on this stupid trip but he'd had no choice. His dad ordered him along to help with packing up stuff but since they'd been there, there'd been nothing but boring meetings his dad kicked him out of. Now he was stuck in this big, half-empty house with absolutely nothing to do.
"Thanks for dying, Uncle Morrie," he grumbled. "Couldn't you have waited until I was old enough to leave the house?" Stupid abusive fucker. He'd barely been able to control his cheer when his dad had somberly broken the news to him and his mother.
Jake blinked and looked up. A woman was walking in the open front door, eyes darting around as though expecting someone to jump out. She looked vaguely familiar, though Jake couldn't quite place her. "Hi."
The woman jumped, pressing a hand to the front of her chest, half-burying it among the folds of her billowing blouse. "Oh!" A small smile broke out on her face. 'You startled me, Jacob."
Jake felt his spine stiffen. No one called him that. "My name's Jake," he corrected her firmly. "How'd you know?"
The woman's smile grew a bit more. "You look just like your mother." The smile disappeared. "And your father."
"Gee, thanks." Jake suddenly noticed a small head peeking around her skirt; dark, tousled hair, huge, wary eyes glued on him. "Hey there, little man." He'd always been good with kids.
The boy's eyes grew even wider before he ducked his head behind his mother again. She laughed gently and moved hand around to place on his head and gently guide him around her. "Now, now, Connor. Don't be shy. Say hello to your cousin, Jake."
Cousin? Jake squinted at the woman and then his jaw dropped. "Auntie Paige?"
She nodded. "I suppose I do look a bit different now."
A bit? Jake remembered the obligatory family pictures exchanged during every holiday season. Aunt Paige had been heavier, dressed in dark frumpy clothes. She didn't wear make-up. Her hair fell into her face in almost every picture, as though she were trying to hide from the camera, and Jake hadn't realized until years later, watching his mother do the same thing, that's exactly what she was trying to do. After all, no one wanted to see a big shiner in the family portraits. "Wow. I didn't even recognize you." How could he? The woman in front of him was about thirty pounds lighter, wearing a loose, cream colored blouse and a swirling gypsy-style skirt. Her hair was cut shorter, lighter with feathered ends that wisped out around her face. Her make-up was lightly applied everywhere except her eyes; they were outlined and made up with bright shades that brought out her natural eye color. Jake had the sudden thought she was making up for years of hiding her eyes from the world. "You look awesome."
"Thank you Jake." She gave the door to the meeting room a wary stare. "I suppose they're all on there?"
"My dad, the lawyer, a couple of Unc's buddies," Jake ticked off on his fingers. "You going in?"
She nodded. "I wonder if you might do me a small favor." She gestured to Connor who was still standing silently by her side. "Would you mind watching him while I'm in there? I hadn't been looking forward to bringing him in with me."
"Afraid they might start something?"
"The house still has my name on it," she said, shrugging. "We never officially divorced. Despite what everyone else claims they're entitled to, this house is mine." She shuddered. "They can have everything else. Clean it out for all I care. I plan on selling it as soon as the paper work is finished."
Jake nodded. "Probably a good idea." He didn't need her to explain why she wanted to sell it – he had a pretty good guess. After all, his dad was uncle Morrie's younger brother, and apparently Uncle Morrie had taught his little brother everything he knew. At least one of them was dead. "No prob, I'll watch the squirt."
"M'not a squirt!" came an indignant little voice.
"How old are you?" Jake challenged with a smile.
Connor glared at him. "I'm eight years old!"
Jake nodded. "So you're a squirt."
Paige laughed. "All right boys. I'm going in. You two, feel free to explore the house until we're done." She sighed. "I expect there will be some shouting and language not fit for the young before we're through."
"Gotcha." Jake held out his hand to Connor. "C'mon kidlet, let's go play."
Little Connor looked warily at him, and then at his mother who nodded and shooed him on. Slowly he reached forward and put his hand in Jakes. Jake tugged him forward and they went down the hail to the staircase.
Jake was being moody and broody again. Reminiscing had a habit of doing that to soldiers and so it was in his best interest to get him out of it. Besides, with Pooch and Aisha back, it was time to get the rest of the story. Clay kicked him in the foot, causing the hacker to look up. "So what did you mean by 'his team'? What does your cousin do?" Clay folded his arms, eying his hacker with trepidation.
"Okay, I gotta be honest," Jensen said frankly. "You're not gonna believe me if I tell you everything my cousin was doing. Hell, I didn't believe it at first, and I was going through his files and spying on the security cams in their building."
"My interest is piqued," Pooch commented.
"Bottom line, my cousin was doing some really hush-hush work for the Home Office – so hush-hush the Home Office only knows part of what they do."
"Like what we do?" Clay asked.
"Not even close," Jensen said with a grin. "Seriously, I'll show you some videos that will make your eyes pop open later, but the main thing is, my cousin disappeared when they were working on one of their projects."
"What makes you think you can find him?" Aisha asked. She stood there, arms folded and eyebrow arched. Clay was worried he might have to step in – Jensen was afraid of Aisha when he was in a normal mood, but this wasn't a normal situation – but Jensen only stared back at her, his own eyebrow raised in response.
"Are you saying we can't do better than London's finest?" Aisha acknowledged that with a shrug, and Jensen continued. "Look, there's a girl working in Connor's office trying to solve the puzzle on how to find him. Problem is, while she's got a decent working brain and a basic knowledge of math and computers, she ain't me. They need someone who can make that system sit up and beg to give out the information." Jensen jerked his thumb at his chest. "I can do it."
It wasn't bragging. Clay knew damn well that Jensen was brilliant – he had a genius level IQ that had to be seen to be believed and he could do things with a laptop that bordered on obscenely amazing. If Jensen said he could do it, Clay had no doubts whatsoever that he wasn't blowing smoke.
"What about Max?" Pooch pointed out quietly. "We know he's got a company here – he hasn't shown yet, but that doesn't mean he won't. Do we bag this operation so we can go and help out your cousin?"
"Jensen's cousin is not my priority," Aisha interrupted coldly. "I fund our operations to find Max so we can take him out once and for all. I am not funding your own private vendettas."
"Not a problem," Jensen retorted, just as coldly. "I didn't ask for your money. And really, I'm not asking you guys for your help. I'm saying I need to go to London. I wouldn't say no to a little help, but with or without you, I'm going." His face softened just a touch, as he pleaded with Clay. "He's my baby cousin, Clay. It's like if Jesse or Hannah were missing. I'd go in a heartbeat."
"Hell, I'm in," Pooch said suddenly. "It's family, man. You guys would be there if something happened to Jolene or Diante."
Jensen and nodded. He didn't look at Cougar – Clay already knew that Cougar would follow Jensen to the ends of the earth if necessary. That was two down. He sighed, throwing his hands up in the air. "What the hell. I haven't been to London in years anyway." Aisha looked angry, but she gave a curt nod. She was a Loser, which meant she went where they went. She didn't have to like it though, and Clay knew he'd be hearing about it – in great detail and at great volume – later on. "I'm guessing you have a plan?"
Jensen suddenly looked sheepish, nodding. "Flights are booked – we fly out of El Loa tomorrow at oh-eight hundred."
Cougar snorted and tilted the brim of his hat down, turning around, presumably Clay thought, to start packing. Pooch shook his head, letting out a chuckle. "Never a doubt in your mind, huh Jensen?"
Jensen shot a quick look at Aisha and then quirked a grin back at the transport specialist. "Not a single one."
"So what's a Jensen male doing unleashed in unsuspecting London?" Pooch asked with a smirk. "I can't believe you have family out there without supervision. Or was he about to be picked up for hacking like you were and so he split the country?"
Jensen stuck his tongue out at Pooch. "Actually, he's London born and bred. His dad and my dad are brothers. Uncle Morrie was an expat – worked for some engineering company. Your typical white-collar stiff."
"Your cousin's last name is Temple," Clay said archly. "Somethin's missing from your story, kid."
"'Cause I ain't done yet." Jensen waggled his finger admonishingly. "Don't interrupt story time, children. It's not polite." Pooch sniggered.
"Get on with it!" Aisha barked.
"Okay, okay! Well, he married a local gal and got her knocked up." Jensen scowled. "Knocked around too. He was a real charmer, you know? Well, about two months after Connor was born, Auntie Paige left his abusive ass and took back her maiden name – Temple. Uncle Morrie died years ago from a heart attack." He snorted derisively. "Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, let me tell you. Anyway, that's when I met Connor and Auntie Paige – Dad flew us over to pack up Unc's stuff and bring his ashes back stateside."
Cougar frowned faintly at that, but didn't say anything. Pooch sighed, rubbed his hands together, and then stood up briskly. "Guess I'mma get my stuff all together seein's how we're gonna have an early morning." As he passed by Jensen, he reached out and knuckled the blond's head roughly. "I thought you white boys liked to sleep in. Couldn't get anything after ten, huh?"
Jensen gave him a brief smile. "Your bad luck, man." He frowned, looking twitchy. "I'm gonna go back and keep looking through my cousin's notes. I downloaded the contents of his main computer to Priscilla but we've been busy lately. There's a lot of stuff I haven't gone through other than the most recent."
"I still want to know what it is about your cousin's job that you think we won't believe," Aisha spoke up.
Jensen paused on his way back to the room he was sharing with Cougar. "Aisha… seriously. This is something you need to see to believe."
End chapter 1