Wow, I am so sorry for the delay in posting this chapter. Really, I shouldn't have posted the first chapter – I thought I'd planned the story enough and was in the right place to write it… obviously not. I really struggled with this chapter, and I only hope the next one will be easier!
Anyway, thank you so much for all the wonderful reviews for chapter one – I was really gratified to see the response to this story. This story is kind of my baby, it's been in my head for so long, so I was really happy that people responded to it so positively. This chapter is quite boring in comparison, all talk talk talk and nothing is really addressed (I'm really selling it, aren't I?) but the action picks up more in the next chapter… here's hoping it's easier to write!
Please let me know what you think!
James Lester was a busy man. Every day was a busy day, every evening and every weekend spent reading reports and responding to emails. The job was important, he was an important man, and he reported to many other important people. All of whom were just waiting for him, or one of his team, to outlive their usefulness or make a mistake.
He was absolutely, positively, not in the mood for this.
He'd expected an anomaly. He'd seen the lights flashing as he'd got out of his car; he'd heard the alarms as he'd come up in the elevator. He'd even expected the hubbub of voices when he entered the Hub. He hadn't expected the first person he saw there to be Nick Cutter.
Nick Cutter, standing in the Hub as if he hadn't been dead for over two years. And behind him, Sarah Page. And next to her, a Danny Quinn who'd clearly had recent access to toiletries, unlike the last time he'd seen him. Completing the picture were versions of Connor Temple and Abby Maitland who looked like they'd stepped through an anomaly from three years ago.
Which, quite possibly, they had. There was an anomaly, locked, shimmering in the air by the wall. In front of the anomaly stood Becker, wearing civilian clothing and covered in blood. There was more blood on the floor, but none of the present company seemed to be bleeding. A quick glance at the team – his team – who were gathered around the ADD and staring at the other team, ascertained for Lester that they were obviously unharmed. Everyone was talking at once, hardly any of them to each other.
It took Lester a couple of seconds to take all of this in, and only a microsecond more to decide that he was not going to enjoy today.
"Would somebody please tell me what on earth is going on?" he demanded.
Gratifyingly, everyone stopped talking immediately, and they all turned to look at him. Lester didn't have much time to be grateful for this, as all of the strange new team - or old team, whichever they were - were suddenly... grinning at him.
"Lester!" Several of them exclaimed. They all started walking towards him, and though Lester stood his ground he could only hope they would stop before climbing the steps up to him. The other Temple was grinning like a fool. "It's Lester!" He said pointlessly to Cutter.
"I can see that Connor," Cutter said, but he was grinning stupidly too. He turned his stupid grin on Lester. "Good to see you Lester."
Lester frowned slightly. "Yes..." he said uncertainly. He glanced round at the rest of the… others… and saw that the stupid grins seemed to be endemic. He wasn't used to people looking that pleased to see him, so he decided to ignore it and focus on the fact that no one had answered his original question. Clearly he needed to be more explicit.
"When are you from?"
"Now," said the Other Connor, still grinning.
Lester looked over at the normal Connor - he wasn't grinning like his counterpart, but Lester recognised the look of excitement on his face... something scientific was happening. Lester hated that look.
"You're never gonna believe this," he said.
Lester raised an eyebrow. "I doubt that," he said drily. Disbelief wasn't something he believed in anymore.
"He wasn't in the last one," Dr Page suddenly said cryptically. She was talking to the Other Connor.
The Other Connor just shrugged. "They're all different, every single one of them," he told her.
"The other one wasn't, not really," said Quinn.
"Well clearly this one is," said Cutter.
Lester could feel a headache coming on already, so he turned to the one person in the room he thought might actually give him a straight answer.
"Jess, what is going on?"
Jess was standing to his left, facing the anomaly and the other team, and Abby was standing next to her, with her arm around her, he noticed suddenly. Jess had been staring away from him – at Becker, actually, who was staring right back at her. Lester had no time for the soap opera that was the team these days, so he just gave her a stern look as she looked round at him.
Jess pulled away from Abby and stood up a little straighter.
"The anomaly opened about seven minutes ago," she said, her voice shaking only very slightly. "This team came through – they say they're from an alternate reality."
"We are from an alternate reality," the Other Connor said immediately, looking indignant.
Lester held up a hand to silence him, and kept his eyes on Jess. "Why are they here?" He asked her.
"Their ARC was overrun by future predators," she said. "They came through to escape."
Lester lowered his hand slowly. Jess was looking back at him calmly, but he noticed now how tightly her arms were folded across her chest, and how tense the set of her jaw was. Future predators. Lester felt a twinge in his side which he knew was entirely psychosomatic and looked away, back at the anomaly and the other team. The first thing he saw when he looked this time was a dead future predator, lying on the ground with about a dozen bullet wounds in its chest.
Looking away from that only allowed him to focus on the blood on the floor, and all over Becker. Lester swallowed and then looked back at Jess.
"Whose blood is that?"
Jess swallowed before answering. "It's… the other version of me," she said quietly. "She has a bad wound in her leg. Dr Saunders took her to medical – the other version of Becker went with her."
Well, that explained why their own Becker was standing like a gormless idiot in a puddle of blood. Lester pursed his lips and looked back at the other team again – their grins were gone, replaced by worry, presumably for their version of Jess. Lester tightened his grip on his briefcase and took a step back.
"Perhaps we should speak in my office," he said.
Connor's head was reeling. He wasn't sure whether he should be excited or not… the other team that had come through were clearly in a lot of trouble, and their Jess was… well, let's just say that was a sight that was going to haunt him for a while.
But… it was an alternate reality. It was incredible. His life had had a pretty scifi feel to it for a long time now, but this was the closest he'd ever felt to being in a Star Trek episode, and that was pretty damn cool. Not to mention that Danny wasn't missing and Sarah was alive in this other reality… as well as Cutter. Cutter was also alive, and here right now. Connor missed all of the friends he'd lost, but losing Cutter had been something different. Cutter had been more than a friend – he'd been a guide and a mentor, and Connor missed him every day in everything he did. And suddenly, here he was.
Seriously. This was incredible.
He studied his other self as they all filed up the stairs and into Lester's office. It was like looking at himself from a couple of years ago. In fact, when he'd seen him and Danny come through the anomaly there'd been a second when he thought he was from the past… but he would have remembered it, right? So clearly not.
The same was true of the other Abby – with her short hair she looked just like when he'd first met her, when he'd first fallen for her… he decided then and there that he preferred her with longer hair. A glance at his Abby told Connor that she was more weirded out than excited by what was happening, but even that couldn't dampen his spirits. This was going to be so much fun, finding out the differences between their realities. Like, where was Matt? Why were they all so happy to see Lester? Why hadn't he grown out his hair?
The questions were endless.
They ended up standing on opposite sides of Lester's office – their team on one, the other team on the other. Lester gave Becker a glare before he could step over the threshold and track blood into his office, so he lurked in the doorway. He was looking pretty shaken still – he did have a lot of blood on him.
"Alright, let's start at the beginning," Lester said once they were all inside. He sat down behind his desk and leant back in his chair. "Why are you here?"
He was addressing the question to Cutter, clearly assuming that he was the other team's leader. It certainly seemed he was, the way the rest of them were all waiting patiently for him to answer.
"As JP told you, our ARC was overrun by future predators," Cutter said calmly.
Connor glanced at Jess to see her reaction to being called 'JP' – as nicknames went he thought it was pretty lame, but it seemed to have stuck in this alternate reality. She caught his eye when he looked over and he saw that she also looked pretty shaken; he gave her a small smile and then looked back at Cutter, who was explaining what had happened to them to Lester.
"An anomaly opened in the ARC, and they started coming through before we could lock it," he was saying. "There were too many of them – we initiated lockdown, to stop them getting out, but it meant we were trapped in with them. We had to open the anomaly and come through to get away." He shrugged and gave Lester the wry smile that Connor remembered so well. "Don't worry, we won't be here long," he said. "We've got just under 48 hours to get back before they initiate Plan Delta."
"What's Plan Delta?" Asked Lester.
"Delta as in D. For destruct," said Cutter. He took in Lester's blank look and seemed a little surprised. "You don't have a Plan Delta?"
"You mean a self-destruct?" Said Lester.
"Not exactly – if lockdown is initiated, those outside wait 48 hours and then destroy the contaminated area, unless signalled from the inside to delay or go earlier," explained Cutter.
The Other Connor leant forward around Cutter, looking at Lester eagerly. "Do you have a self-destruct?" He asked. He looked over at Connor as he spoke, and he smiled a little smugly at his other self.
"Yeah," he said.
The other him grinned. "That's so cool. Has it ever been used?"
Cutter rolled his eyes. "Connor…"
Connor remembered that tone as well, and his smile faded a bit as a wave of grief for his own Cutter washed over him. Maybe seeing this alternate version wasn't going to be as cool as he'd first thought.
The Other Connor was looking at Cutter indignantly. "What? It would explain why their ARC is so shiny and new," he said, sounding defensive.
That got Connor's attention. "Your ARC is different?" He asked.
"Yes," answered Cutter. "Well… it's definitely the same building, but the layout's a bit different and – as Connor says – it's not as… shiny."
The Other Connor leant round Cutter again. "So you've never used the self-destruct?" He asked Connor.
"No," said Connor. "We almost did once." He suppressed a shudder at the thought of those bugs, and focused on his other self's excited expression. He was starting to find it all cool again, despite his conflicted feelings over seeing Cutter.
He shifted awkwardly from foot to foot before speaking again. "So how did you get here?" He asked. "You say you just opened up the anomaly? You're saying you have a device that opens up anomalies to other… realities?"
The Other Connor blinked. "Don't you?"
"I wish!" Connor scoffed. "Where did you get it?"
"I made it," Other Connor said.
"What? How?!" Connor demanded. "How does it work? What powers it? Do the anomalies behave differently to usual anomalies? Have you been to an alternate reality before?"
"Temple," Lester practically growled. Connor looked at him and saw he was pinching the bridge of his nose, which he'd come to learn meant he was about a minute away from making someone work unpaid overtime.
"Let me ask the questions, or we'll be here all day," Lester said. He glared at Connor, who promptly shut his mouth.
Lester turned back to Cutter, who looked quite amused. "What I want to know is – how stable is that anomaly?" He asked. "Will it shut down unexpectedly and leave you stranded here?"
"Or reopen and let more predators through?" Added Matt.
"It's stable," the Other Connor said firmly. "It won't close until the machine is switched off. The only thing that could close it is me shutting it down or… well, I guess if the predators messed around with it on the other side… but it's in a protective case, and I don't think they can get to it. But it won't unlock by itself." He paused, and then added a dismissive: "don't worry".
Lester fixed him with a look that wasn't quite a glare for a long moment. "Alright," he said. "So what exactly do you want from us?" He asked Cutter.
"Nothing," said Cutter immediately. "Look, we just need a chance to regroup, come up with a plan and then go back through and find a way to clear the ARC. We need to at least try, before they resort to Plan Delta."
"We can help," said Connor. There was a silence as everyone looked at him, and he frowned. "Well, we… I mean we can. Can't we?"
There was silence as everyone just kept looking at him, until back up came from an unlikely source.
"We can," Becker said from the doorway. Connor looked at him and winced – it really was quite a lot of blood. Seriously, it was pretty disturbing. It didn't seem to bother him that much though – he was staring Lester down across the room, which was a little surprising given how much of a good soldier he usually was.
Lester looked away first, back at Cutter and all the others. "You should all report to the medical wing and get checked over, and then we'll discuss this further," he said.
"We need to check on JP anyway," said the Other Sarah.
Lester stood up. "Yes. Speaking of which, Captain Becker, I suggest you go and change your clothes."
Becker walked away without a word, leaving a few bloody footprints behind him. Connor looked sideways at Jess – she was staring at the footprints, and Connor was once again reminded of how weird it must be to watch yourself bleed out like that. He felt like he should say something to her, but to be honest he couldn't really think of anything that would be appropriate, and anyway she was leaving the office with everyone else.
Connor walked out as well but waited beside the doorway for his other self: he didn't seem surprised to see him there, and came straight over.
"You're going to need to tell me everything about the alternate realities you've been too – and the device," Connor said straight away.
The Other Connor looked thoughtful. "I'm really surprised you don't have one – the other reality we went to did," he said.
"Really?" Connor said. He grinned. "This is amazing. It's like something out of Mirror Mirror."
"Shouldn't one of us have a goatee?" Said the Other Connor, grinning as well. Connor laughed.
"I don't think I'm going to be able to keep up with the level of geekery now that there are two of you." It was Abby – she'd just come out of the office and had sidled up next to them while they'd been talking. Connor's grin widened as he looked at her.
"Twice the fun…" He said with a wink.
She shook her head but she was smiling as she did so, and she stepped a little closer as she turned to look the other him over.
"Hmm, I kind of miss your short hair…" she said after a moment. "You know, now that I see it again."
Connor grinned. "Yeah? I was thinking that I like your hair as it is now." He reached out and tugged the ends affectionately, and she smiled.
"Well lucky for you, so do I," she said, leaning into his side. She gave him a searching look. "You okay?"
"Are you kidding? This is amazing!" Connor said, grinning widely again. It quickly faded. "Well, except for Jess."
Abby's face turned serious as well, and she reached down for his hand. "Yeah. We should go see if she's okay."
Suddenly she frowned, and when Connor followed her gaze he saw why – the other him was staring at the two of them with shock all over his face.
"What's wrong?" Connor asked him.
The other him blinked and coughed. "Nothing," he said quickly. And then without another word he stepped round them and hurried after the others, who had already left the Hub.
Connor and Abby frowned after him, exchanged a confused look, and then followed.
(Hopefully more quickly this time!)