THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES
It was a cold evening in the Cretaceous. The fire crackled strongly, warming the sleeping human lumps curled around it. The shadows of the flame licked one woman's face, the only person still awake. Her face was pale and she had many layers of clothing drawn around her despite sitting so near to the warm fire.
A twig snapped behind her and the woman jumped, but two voices that she knew beyond doubt murmured words of calm.
"We have enough wood to last us through the night, now," Emily informed her.
"Come to bed," Ethan told her, an arm snaking round the woman's back, "Come on, Charlotte."
"But I need to watch the fire!" Charlotte protested.
"Go with Ethan." Emily nodded. "You are too sick to stay up."
Charlotte bit her lip but before she could answer, Ethan tugged her away and laid her down nearer the fire. He wrapped them both in a blanket and put his arms around Charlotte.
Watching, Emily sighed. Her friend had been sick for weeks now. Every day she could see the fever worsening and getting a stronger grip on Charlotte. Ethan said he knew of drugs, miracle medicines that could cure her. But Emily wasn't convinced and nobody would approve a mission into the future after what had happened to the last people to try…
Her hands were busy, throwing wood onto the fire and chopping away at logs with her knife. She let her mind sink into oblivion, desperately rejecting the image of two friends stumbling back through an anomaly. Two out of eight had returned and one had been injured beyond help.
When the fire was built high enough, Emily dropped her knife and it hit the ground with a dull thunk. Officially, she was supposed to be watching for creatures, but Emily was confident that the fire would keep most animals away. Instead of gazing around, she gazed upwards.
Seeing the stars was a luxury Emily still wasn't used to, even after a year and a half away from the scummy skies of her original time. She couldn't identify constellations or individual stars. All she knew of the shining things in the sky was that the very brightest star, the one that seemed to hang just out of reach, was called the North Star.
Reaching a slim finger outwards, she traced it in the sky.
"Pretty, isn't it?"
Startled out of her wits, Emily dropped her finger and scooped up her knife from the floor, turning it on her surprise visitor.
"Peace, Lady Emily," the woman said, holding her hands above her head, "I do not seek to harm you."
Emily slowly lowered the knife, but did not sheath it. "Who are you? How do you know my name?"
"I know all about you, Emily Merchant," the woman told her.
"Who are you?" Emily repeated, staunchly.
The woman moved forward just enough for the firelight to illuminate her features. Mistrustful eyes, cropped hair, a face set in determination.
"I am Helen."
A month after her strange encounter with 'Helen', Emily still couldn't shake the feeling she was being watched. The woman had melted into the shadows as though she was made of them, free to come and go as she pleased. Emily had made a thorough search of the area around their camp, but there was nothing. Nowhere the woman could escape to. No hiding places and definitely no gateways. Emily had been on edge ever since.
The group were leaving the Cretaceous, where they'd spent the last three months (as best they could calculate it), to seek a deserted settlement in 195 AD. The anomaly was a two hour trek away and the fifteen members of the time tribe were hiking up one of the largest hills in the area.
Emily was right at the back of the group, contemplating what she and Ethan were about to do. They had taken the last two watches together, and in the firelight, had planned to leave the tribe in order to find help for Charlotte.
Ethan was in front of her, Charlotte slung over his shoulder. She was getting progressively worse and worse, now so sick that she spent very little time awake. It was essential that she was treated as soon as possible. Emily only hoped that they weren't too late.
A twig snapped behind her and Emily spun around, knife half-drawn from its sheath in her boot.
"Peace, Lady Emily," a voice said from her side.
It was Helen. Of course it was Helen.
"Helen," Emily greeted, cautiously letting her knife arm drop to her side loosely, but not sheathing her weapon.
"You had better keep walking," Helen advised. "Or you will lose your companions."
"Nonsense," Emily replied, finding her footing in the face of adversity. "We're heading north. I can just follow the star."
"But you have not much time left, my Lady." Her title was said almost mockingly. "You want to help your friend, don't you?"
Biting her tongue, Emily set off along the path again. She had lost sight of Ethan but it did not matter. The tribe couldn't be too far ahead.
"Are you going to tell me who you are?" Emily asked, relieved to find her voice sounded normal.
"I've told you," Helen said with a hint of amusement. "My name is Helen."
"Yes, I believe we've established that. What I meant was, what are you doing in the Cretaceous? Where did you come from? Do you use the Gateways?" Emily's questions spilled from her mouth.
"In time," Helen replied shortly. "Now, all you need to know is this. When you leave this era for what is at the moment the present day, you need to return to the Cretaceous and the Tribe as quickly as possible."
"But, Charlotte-" Emily tried to reason.
"Is dying as we speak," Helen told her. "When you can no longer help her, dead or alive, you must return here. It is imperative."
Under Emily's gaze, she melted into the darkness.
It was a month on and with everything that had happened, Emily had almost forgotten Helen's instruction. Almost. She was feeling defiant, in a way. It was not Helen's business which time zone she was in.
Besides, Matt kept a close eye on her. She had tried to escape once or twice, but when it became clear it was futile, Emily decided to go along with this 'ARC' and learn more about the Gateways she had begun to take for granted. Their beauty would never fail to steal her breath, but the Gateways to Emily were just like doors. They held no significance beyond that. But the ARC studied them, trying to figure out how they worked. The younger man, Connor, had invented several devices that Emily did not even pretend to understand, all to do with the Gateways.
But what she could understand was the wedding ceremony the team were attending. It had turned out that the anomaly they were investigating was at a wedding, and the wedding was that of a former team member.
So now Emily was in formal clothes once more, as she had been dressed in the old days. She liked her dress very much. It was a lower cut than she was used to, but Abby had assured her it was all commonplace is the present time. And besides, there hadn't been much other choice.
But Matt had spotted her wedding ring.
They sat now in stony silence, Emily wondering in vain if she should tell Matt about her doomed marriage. She'd only known the man a month but he'd been incredibly decent to her. He had allowed her to live with him and had come to rescue her when she'd been kidnapped by Ethan. Ethan. The very idea that they had once sat alone together in the firelight and planned their friend's salvation made her shake her head. How anyone could change in so little a time was beyond Emily.
Men were beyond Emily, as she sat in stony silence with Matt and thought of Ethan. She was sick of men.
Pushing all thoughts from her head, Emily relaxed a little in her chair. Then she sat up abruptly as she recognised a face in the crowd.
Emily had been sure that Helen had forgotten all about her as she had changed time zones. Either that or the other woman had been unable to follow her. Evidently, Emily had been wrong.
Almost as though she sensed eyes upon her, Helen turned to lock Emily's eyes with her own and she couldn't help but shiver. Something was terribly wrong here.
As though someone had seen that moment between her and Helen, the chapel doors swung open and like a radiant star, Jenny began to walk up the aisle. Emily kept her eyes upon the bride as she made her journey northwards to the future.
When prehistoric dogs burst through the doors, Emily found herself glancing at Helen's seat. Of course, it was empty.
Emily glanced around her, instincts pricking. She still wasn't used to the smog of Victorian London after the clean air of other time zones she had spent such a long time in. She missed the stars and the solitude terribly.
Emily had left Henry behind this morning, claiming she wanted a walk and some fresh air. She had strolled through the streets of London, breathing through her mouth so as to not smell any of the foul air.
But now she could sense something was wrong. Other people, mostly men, went on happily with their business, but their senses had been dulled by living all their lives in Patriarchy.
If only she could see!
There was a small burst of a metallic sound, and Emily suddenly realised what she had been hearing; the low pulsing noise of an anomaly. And someone had just come through.
Quick as a flash, she slid into a doorway and out of the open street. Emily rifled through her short coat in the desperate hope that there might be something in it she could use as a weapon. With a sudden smirk, she reached up to her hair and removed one of the long, sharp pins. It wasn't much, but it was sufficient.
"If you're going to stab me, can I ask that you do it with something sharper?" someone asked from behind her.
Emily turned and in her shock, dropped the hair pin. It was Helen, of course.
"Helen," Emily greeted. "I should've realised that it would be you."
The other woman smiled. "Who were you expecting to be? Your dear Matthew?"
"He's not mine," Emily replied quickly, leaning down to scoop up her hair pin. "And it's Matt. Not Matthew."
Helen shrugged. "It's all irrelevant to me."
"Then what is relevant to you, Helen?" Emily asked, leaning against the wall of the doorway. "What do you want?"
Helen slowly and deliberately ran her tongue along her bottom lip. "You don't want to know, sweetheart."
A small shiver went through Emily's body. "I think I can take a pretty good guess," Emily muttered under her breath. "But tell me, what were you doing at Jenny's wedding?"
"Escaping the present," Helen replied truthfully. "I knew an anomaly would open there and I wanted to see Jenny once more, just to check…"
An emotion Emily didn't know flashed through her mind. "You knew Jenny?"
"Oh yes," Helen replied with a feral glint of teeth. "I knew her very well."
Emily paused, trying to decipher this comment, then gave up.
"I'm not having this conversation," she told Helen fiercely, and made to leave the doorway, but a tanned, scarred hand caught her upper arm.
"Emily," Helen hissed, an undercurrent of desperation colouring her voice. "Don't go back to the present. Promise me."
Emily hesitated. "I-"
"If you go back, you will die. This much I promise you," Helen said fiercely.
Emily slowly shook her head. "I won't promise you anything."
Helen released her. Emily walked away.
Emily sat in the recreation room late in the evening, fiddling with the dagger Matt had returned to her. Some song she didn't recognise played over the speakers and Emily could breathe through her nose.
By God, it was good to be back in the present.
She very deliberately did not jump. It was only Matt, she told herself.
"Are you all right?" he asked, rare concern flavouring his tone.
She shook her head. "I'm fine."
"Are you sure?" Matt asked, sitting down beside her and covering her pale hand with his own. "Because you've been on edge ever since you came back."
"I'm surprised you noticed," Emily admitted ruefully. "But it's nothing. Just feeling out of place, I suppose."
Matt cocked an eyebrow and Emily knew that he knew she was lying. But he left it.
"Anyway," he smiled. "There's something you need to see."
Emily sheathed her dagger in her boot and followed him as he lead the way down to the interrogation rooms. Already in the one he entered were Lester, Connor, Abby, Jess and Captain Becker.
"You can start now, Connor," Matt said quietly.
Connor nodded and Emily watched in fascination as he tapped a few keys on his laptop and a projection shone on the white walls.
Then she recoiled in shock as she recognised a much younger Helen smiling in what appeared to be a different era of the earth's history.
"Helen Cutter," Connor said, not without a certain amount of venom. "Danny told us without a doubt that she was dead. However…"
He punched another key. "When we were checking the CCTV from Jenny's wedding, one of the men came across this."
A grainy image of a figure running towards the anomaly in the basement appeared next to the original picture.
"I'm sorry," Lester said, peering closely. "But I'm not sure we have conclusive evidence that Helen Cutter is still alive. That could be any old loony running through the anomaly."
"It's definitely her." Connor answered firmly. "I sent it to an old mate of mine. We were at Uni together before I left and he went into forensics. He and his team ran tests and there's no doubt about it."
Emily wanted to tell Connor that she could have told him it was Helen without the need for tests. But she got the feeling she wasn't supposed to have a clue who Helen was, so she rephrased what she was going to say.
"Who is Helen, exactly?" Emily asked, with a genuine note of curiosity.
"She's an evil, scheming bitch," Abby burst out with suddenly, shocking Emily with her language. "She killed a lot of people, including her own husband, Nick Cutter. She burned down the old ARC and tried to wipe out humanity."
Emily blinked several times. "Excuse me."
She hurried out of the room and up the fire escape. Breathing in the cold air, she watched the north star and tried to process what she'd just been told.
Emily wasn't really surprised the first time she saw Helen eat an apple. It seemed natural that such an unbalanced and insane personality should eat fruit with a knife.
"Is there any particular reason why you're mutilating my apple tree?" Emily asked wearily.
Helen shrugged as she leant on the gnarled old bark. "I wouldn't call it mutilation. Nice house, by the way."
After the whole Philip Burton drama, the Government had shown their gratitude by sorting out all their various issues. Matt and Emily had been given documentation which made their existence official and Emily, Connor and Abby had been given a very nice sum of money to purchase accommodation.
Matt had helped her find this sweet little place. It had a garden, which gave her a sense of place again, and was very close to the ARC, so she could walk there. Emily was not a great fan of cars and Lester had been relieved that he didn't have to buy an insurance policy. 'Baby steps' had become her motto.
Emily smiled quietly in reply. "It suits me."
There was a pause while Helen sliced through the apple and Emily wondered if she dared to confront her about what Connor had told them.
"The ARC thinks you're alive," Emily said eventually.
"They're wrong," Helen replied, crunching down on a slice of fruit.
"You're eating a cooking apple," Emily said by way of reply.
"So I am," Helen said absent-mindedly, staring down at it.
Emily sighed. "Would you like some tea?"
They say a cuppa can solve most problems, and as Emily watched Helen over the rim of her mug, she thought they were probably right. Helen, hands clasped around a mug and hunched down in a chair, didn't look much like an evil, scheming bitch.
Helen was staring at her corkboard. Emily had pinned photos of the night sky to it, to remind her of all the places she had visited, the stars never really changed that much. Somehow, over many months, the stars had become her anchor to the earth.
"Who took them?" Helen asked softly.
"I did," Emily replied. "Jess lent me her camera. Jess is-"
"I know who Jess is, even if I haven't met her. As a matter of fact, I don't really know any of the team any more, despite us hating one another." To Emily, the statement sounded just a little remorseful.
"Where are you sleeping tonight? Are you staying in the present?" Emily asked her softly.
"This is my future," Helen replied. "I haven't slept in the present since Stephen died."
"Who was Stephen?" Emily wanted to know.
Helen heaved a sigh. "Too many questions."
There was another pause before Helen got up. "I have to go, but thank you for the tea."
"You're welcome." Emily smiled genuinely.
Helen stopped in front of her, and then bent down to kiss her. Emily froze in surprise.
Then the enigmatic woman broke away, chucked her apple core in the bin and walked out of the front door.
When Emily had mentioned at the office Christmas party (held early so as to give lots of rescheduling time in case of an emergency) that her family had not exchanged gifts at this time of year, she had been met with several drunken looks of surprise (and in one predictable case, a look of drunken indignity).
The following morning, Lester handed her a poorly wrapped bottle and whispered quietly that she didn't have to wait until Christmas to open it. She was careful to whisper back; the straight-laced boss had tipped one too many shots last night.
She could have invited someone back to share it with her, as she had no intention of waiting to unwrap it, but for some reason Emily felt curiously antisocial.
When she returned home, she set a couple of glasses on the table and gently ripped through the wrapping to find a shiny bottle of whiskey. Shrugging to herself, Emily poured two generous measures and sat down to drink it.
"Aren't you going to toast me first?" a sly and amused voice asked from the chair where the other measure of whiskey was.
Emily pursed her lips and considered. "To Christmas!"
Helen clinked their glasses. "And to James Lester's whiskey."
Emily took a generous gulp and it burned its way down her throat. "By God, that's good."
The other woman nodded. "I never supposed any different."
They sat in companionable silence for a little while, vague memories of Helen's lips pressed against her own flitting through Emily's mind and making her fidget. The woman sitting across the table appeared not to notice.
When Emily had finished with her glass, she picked up the whiskey bottle again with the air of one determined to become inordinately pissed. "Another?"
"Don't mind if I do," Helen replied.
Several measures on, Emily regarded Helen with a dopey smile whilst Helen looked morosely at her glass.
"When I drink whiskey, it makes me a little frisky." Emily announced.
"Well Shakespeare perfected the art of the rhyming couplet," Helen said loudly, the words blending together a little more than usual. "But he has nothing on you."
Emily mock bowed and smiled at the other woman. She wondered if Helen would stay tonight, or if she would go rushing off into the darkness, like she always did.
Realising that in her intoxicated state she was in no condition to face off dinosaurs, Helen resigned herself to a night in human company. It wouldn't be too bad with Emily. Emily was one human she understood. Bound by duty, but feeling the call of the wild. Prepared to rebel for what she wanted. Selfish without dishonour. Lies without dishonesty.
Unfortunately, Helen would die before they met one another, but that didn't mean she couldn't enjoy one more night in human company.
But after that, she had a prior appointment with Danny Quinn and a raptor. It wouldn't do to miss her own death after she'd put a lot of hard work into it.
Emily had only ever attended one funeral before.
When her elderly uncle had died, hundreds of people dressed in black had stood around the hole in the ground where they laid him, all paying their respects. Family, friends and older friends, customers… even commoners off the streets who had nothing else to do and nowhere else to be.
An aging man with a fine white moustache had played some sort of instrument. It made a low, mellow sound and seemed to illustrate what she was feeling without words. The loss of someone whom she had loved was running through those mellow notes. Despite his many flaws including (but not limited to) his drinking, his constant use of expletives and his distrust in his elder brother, the family patriarch, her uncle had been well-loved.
Flowers had been placed on the new soil, people had murmured their last words to him and then they had slowly started to dissipate.
This funeral was so different it was hard to believe it was a funeral at all.
Nobody wore black. Nobody said any words of sorrow and loss. Nobody played any music.
It was only her who bore flowers and even then she received incredulous looks from members of the team that had known the woman. But they had known her as a crazy killer who had wanted to wipe out humanity. Emily had known her as a woman that sometimes popped up around her and wanted nothing more than a drink and a chat.
At least there was a funeral.
When Danny Quinn had returned to the present, a wild look in his eye and a decomposing body under his arms, it looked as though it would be burnt and Danny sectioned. But Danny explained his reasoning of 'if today's scientists found an evolved human corpse at Site 333, we'd change history'. And Emily had begged for the body to be given proper respect in death.
So now the team stood around the grave as the body of a woman who had plagued them all was lowered in.
There were no last words or falling tears, just stony glances and cold, unfeeling faces.
Then Lester got a call from the ARC and they all piled into cars and began to leave.
"Emily!" Matt yelled. "You coming?"
"Not yet, " she replied from beside the new earth. "Go on without me. I can catch you up."
And so eventually, only she was left beside the grave.
Slowly, she took out a holly wreath from a canvas bag she had brought with her. She propped it against the stone, careful not to cover the wording, feeling her spirit return to her after a few hollow days when she was realising that there would be no more surprise visits from her friend.
Emily slowly let a smile light up her face. Then she swallowed her emotion, stood and left the graveyard.
Helen watched her leave, and then stepped back through the rift in time. Back home.