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Primeval fic: One Line at a Time (1/2)

June 13th, 2014 (06:07 am)
nostalgic

feeling: nostalgic

Title: One Line at a Time 1/2

Disclaimer: I do not own Primeval.

A/N: Written for the primeval_denial art challenge, using the wonderful artwork by reggietate. Beta by kristen_mara. Set ambiguously in S2 for reasons you’ll understand at the end of the fic. Spoilers for all of S2, though. Part two will be posted tomorrow.

Summary: No matter what Cutter wants to do, it seems like all the choices have been made for him, even until the very, very end.


-o-

I’m here to rewrite this tragedy
One line at a time
Hold on, I’m changing all the scenery
It’s okay, we’ll be fine
‘cause we know how this ends
We know there’s a better story

-from Rewrite This Tragedy by Sara Groves

-o-

This is Cutter’s life.

He works for a top secret organization called the ARC, which is dedicated to studying, controlling and containing a strange phenomenon known as anomalies. It’s not clear where these anomalies come from, but they’re getting worse. Cutter works with a misfit team of questionable qualifications, all dedicated to the cause even at great personal cost.

And there is great personal cost. People die; the secrets are audacious. The project has taken over Cutter’s life in every possible way.

His ex-wife is a psychopath. His teaching position is gone in all but name. The woman he loves is gone. And his best friend…

Well, Cutter doesn’t want to think about Stephen. It just hurts too much.

Sometimes it feels less than real, though. Like Cutter is reading a script and acting a part in someone else’s play. There’s a ridiculous inevitability to it all, and no matter what Cutter wants to do, it seems like all the choices have been made for him, even until the very, very end.

This is Cutter’s life.

As if he could ever forget.

-o-

The envelope shows up on his doorstep, no return address given. At first, Cutter mostly ignores it, dumping it onto the kitchen table with the rest of the mail he’s grown too tired to open, but this one catches his eye.

Wearily, he eats a cold sandwich and breaks open the seal. With the ARC as demanding as it is, Cutter’s had little time for hobbies or research, and he half hopes this will be an academic letter, reminding him of the life he used to live.

Before anomalies and prehistoric creatures. Before crazy ex-wives and lying best friends.

He’s a little disappointed, then, when it’s nothing of the sort. But it’s also nothing from the ARC. In fact, as best Cutter can tell, it’s nothing at all.

Just a map of the Avebury Chapel, and a short, typed note.

Sunset; tomorrow. No tricks, no expectations, no lies. Answers will be given.


Behind it is a script. Confused, Cutter starts to read.

-o-

OPEN TO AN ABANDONED MINISTRY OF DEFENCE BUILDING.

STEPHEN: [determined] We finish this now, Helen.

Helen doesn’t stop; she’s still walking forward across the abandoned interior. The lights are dim, but Stephen sees something in the shadows and stops.

Across the way, Nick is there, bloodied and sulking.

Stephen, perhaps thinking it’s an illusion, moves closer, growing aghast.

STEPHEN: [to Helen] You said he was dead. What have you done?

Cutter watches them from the shadows.

CUTTER: Not you, too. Don’t tell me you knew about this.

STEPHEN: [agitated] Oh, I’ve never seen this place before in my life.

HELEN: [to Stephen] I told you the truth. Lester brought me here.

Stephen’s doubts are obvious.

CUTTER: [growing angry] You ask her about what she really wanted to do. Go on, ask her about Leek. Ask her about how many people were going to die.

HELEN: [reserved] He’s trying to trick you.

It’s all too much, and the sudden clarity is overwhelming for Stephen as he realizes his mistake.

STEPHEN: [to Helen] I so badly wanted to believe in you.

Cutter eyes them knowingly.

STEPHEN: [angrily at Cutter] But that doesn’t put you in the right!

CUTTER: Stephen, there’s a whole army of predators in here. [gets to his feet] If any of them make it above ground, there’s going to be nobody left. Now if you want to help people, we have to do this.

HELEN: They’re too powerful, Nick. Nothing you can do.

CUTTER: Well, then you’re going to have to think of something or we’re all going to die. Now you brought them here. You know them.

Helen looks away; Stephen waits.

HELEN: [quieter] The siren. The creatures associate the sound with food. They’ll come back to the cage room whenever it sounds.

Cutter is moving toward the center of the passageway; Helen comes around the other way.

CUTTER: If we can lock them in there with the predators, then they’ll destroy each other.

They’ve both come to the center, near Stephen.

STEPHEN: [decided] Come on, then.

Helen and Cutter leave. Stephen is the last to follow.

-o-

It read like real life. The detail; the dialogue; the nuances of character. It’s so true to reality that Cutter feels queasy. It settles deep in his gut and lingers in the back of his mind. It’s stuck on his head on repeat as he reads it again and again.

The story of Stephen’s death.

Shaking, Cutter can hardly believe it. That someone would do this. That someone could do this. It’s beyond cruel; it’s pointed and tortuous. This is a very personal message, and one that’s meant to have an impact.

The details -- the horrifying clarity of the insight. Cutter feels like he’s there, watching Stephen get torn from limb to limb until there’s nothing left.

He reads over the words again, memorizing them woodenly until they are like fresh wounds in his mind, haunting them with their inevitability and total loss.

Cutter feels too numb to cry.

-o-

IN THE CAGE ROOM. Cutter comes in first, hitting the button. The buzzer sounds and there are distant sounds of predators.

CUTTER: It’s working. Let’s get out of here.

HELEN: I’ll seal the door. Nothing will get out.

The group moves toward the door. Stephen and Cutter make it out. Helen is nearly there when a raptor appears and lunges at her. Helen goes down at the doorway.

HELEN: [cries out]

Cutter and Stephen turn back to try to pull her to safety and stop the door while it starts to close. The raptor has her by the boot.

CUTTER: Stephen, shoot it!

-o-

The more he reads, the more Cutter starts to have his doubts.

This is natural, though Cutter can’t say he’s used to it. He likes to make his decisions and stick by them, no matter what. His entire career at the ARC has been a series of decisions he’s stood behind, for better or for worse.

Of course, that was easier when it was mostly for better.

Now, with all the worse, Cutter can’t shake the doubt.

This whole thing – it doesn’t make any sense.

If it isn’t a joke -- though, it’d be a twisted joke, no doubt -- then Cutter should report it immediately. It could be from Helen. It could be something top secret. If someone outside the ARC knows about the anomalies; if someone in the ARC is going off grid -- well, that could be an issue of national security. It could be anything, and Cutter works in one of the most sensitive and important departments in all of Great Britain. His part is essential.

He has a duty.

But... Cutter’s given up his free time, his career, and his life for this job. Now he’s leading a band of poorly equipped quasi-experts, chasing down dangerous creatures they can’t even talk about. He’s risking his life, and the lives of everyone around him. It’s cost him his best friend and the woman he loves, and damn it all, Cutter wants answers.

He fiddles with the note, chewing his lip.

Everything hurts these days.

It’s stupid to think that an anonymous note and a script of Cutter’s worst nightmare can give him any closure, but Cutter’s seen crazier things.

-o-

Nick kicks frantically, hitting the locking mechanism to stop the door from its automatic close. Stephen pulls his gun and takes aim. With two shots, the raptor is dead and Helen scrambles free.

HELEN: [breathless] The creatures are almost here.

Helen and Stephen move towards the exit. Cutter tries to close the door.

HELEN: [looking back] Come on, Nick.

Nick: [still struggling with the door] We need to close the door.

Stephen and Helen move back toward him, shocked. Nick fights the door a moment longer before approaching Helen

CUTTER: Or otherwise they’re going to get back out.

HELEN: [serious] We can only do that from in there now. The controls are on the other side, but whoever does it will be locked in.

The revelation settles hard. They all look toward the door. More sounds of predators are approaching.

CUTTER: [sighing] Then one of us has got to go back in.

Stephen looks, wide-eyed at Cutter.

CUTTER: [resigned] I’ll do it.

Helen is measured. Stephen is in complete denial.

STEPHEN: You’ll never make it out.

CUTTER: [to Stephen] Get out of here.

Cutter claps Stephen on the shoulder, pulling close to talk into Stephen’s ear.

CUTTER: [voice low] Just remember, Lester’s not the enemy.

-o-

In the morning, Cutter doesn’t go in to work. It’s his day off technically, though he’s spent most of his waking hours at the ARC, just trying to get ahead as much as he can. Since everything with Stephen -- and the loss is still fresh in his mind -- Nick just hasn’t had much interest in free time.

Besides, the more he can understand these anomalies; the more he can control them; the better off everyone will be. There’s always something to do, and Cutter seems to be the one who has to do it. It’s not an issue of control -- it’s just a matter of doing what needs to be done.

And it may be a little about control, he concedes as he flops over restlessly in his bed instead of getting up.

He’s been working too hard, maybe. It seems easier that way, to bury himself. That way he doesn’t have to think about it all. Not Helen or Claudia. Not Stephen…

He sighs, staring at ceiling while he lays in bed. The script is still on the bedside table, but Cutter can’t bring himself to reread it again.

The note says sunset.

Cutter can only think it’s going to be a long day.

-o-

Stephen shakes his head, denial growing stronger.

HELEN: Nick, please…

Cutter is moving toward the door while Stephen makes up his mind. Cutter turns back one last time to listen to Helen and then Stephen punches Cutter. Cutter goes down hard. He’s up within seconds, but the door is already closed.

CUTTER: [looks through porthole] Stephen!

STEPHEN: [on other side] Sorry, mate. I’m doing this one.

-o-

Map in hand, Cutter knows he has a journey ahead of him. Avebury Chapel is easy enough to identify, though that hardly assuages any of his growing concerns. Despite spending his life in Great Britain, Cutter has never actually been to Avebury. It’s always seemed too much of a tourist trap, and he has about as much interest in wading through ill-mannered Americans as he does fending off velociraptors in a shopping centre. All in all, it’s an odd choice, but nothing about Cutter’s life seems normal anymore.

He has to use Google to get driving directions, and he prints off a broader copy of the area, complete with step-by-step driving directions. Normally Cutter likes to trust his instincts, but at this point, he’s had enough surprises in his life.

Glancing at the time, he makes a few mental calculations. It’s not a long trip, but it’s not close either. If he leaves now, he should make it well before sunset. Folding the printed copy with the original smaller offering, he stuffs them in his pocket and gets ready to go.

-o-

He packs a lunch -- his fridge is sparse, but there’s enough for the road -- and he brings a jacket and an umbrella, just in case. He brings the script, placed neatly back in its envelope, too scared to read it again and too nervous to leave it behind. His phone is charged, but this far off the beaten path, he doubts he’ll get much coverage.

Lester would be apoplectic at the idea. His go-to man in the ARC, taking an unexpected holiday.

Cutter’s not sure exactly what the point of this venture is, but the idea of pissing off Lester and the greater ARC hierarchy does have some appeal.

The thought makes Nick smile, and he sets off with renewed vigour.

-o-

His spirits waver, however, as he travels down the road. By the time he leaves London, he’s wondering if this is really the best choice. He should tell someone; he should check in. This isn’t safe or responsible. What if something comes up? What if he’s needed?

It’s just like him, though, to think he’s the centre of the universe. He often thinks of the ARC as his program, which means he forgets that he doesn’t know how the ARC started at all. This altered timeline isn’t even his, and yet he’s running around acting like he can keep it safe.

Nick can’t do that. No matter how hard he tries, it’s not within his purview. He can’t even keep those closest to him protected and in check. Claudia. Ryan. Stephen.

Nick swallows hard, tightening his fingers around the wheel. He’s always done the responsible thing, and it’s got him nowhere.

If Cutter can’t solve every mystery, he thinks maybe he can solve this one. If that’s not enough, at least it’s something.

-o-

CUTTER: [pounds on door] No, open the door. Open it!

STEPHEN: [calm] Can’t do it, Nick. Can’t take the risk.

CUTTER: [pounds again, more frantic] Stephen, open the door!

-o-

Cutter stops for lunch, eating in the car while he fills up with petrol. He lays out the map and the note on the seat next to him and sighs.

Answers, it promises.

As if it’s that easy.

But whoever sent him the note knows Cutter well enough to know he’ll come. Because Cutter wants a lot of things in his life -- happiness, stability, someone to love -- but what he wants more than the rest are answers.

He crumples up the wrapper from his food and takes a swig of water from his bottle. He considers going back, but that’s the thing with his life. He doesn’t go back. He doesn’t even know how. Sometimes, it seems, there’s just nothing left to go back to, just faded, broken memories and a string of failures he can’t forget.

So, putting the car in gear, he just keeps going.

-o-

It’s pretty countryside.

Cutter can’t remember how long it’s been since he’s been out and just enjoyed things. He half expects an anomaly to open up by the side of the road, or a dinosaur to appear in his rearview mirror.

It’s funny to think just how stressed out he is.

Not that it’s without reason, of course. His job – his life, really -- is stressful by nature. There’d been a time, of course, when that wasn’t the case. Back at university, he’d been busy, but only on his own terms. He’d fretted over grant deadlines and entering grades.

The anomalies changed everything. The government may have its own dictates regarding the program, but Cutter’s always been there for his own reasons. He knows the anomalies have broad implications -- to the country, the world, to the very fabric of time and space. But it’s always been personal for Cutter.

From Helen to Ryan to Claudia to Stephen...

Cutter doesn’t want to think about Stephen.

So Cutter turns on the radio, and tries not to think at all.

-o-

When he gets to the remote car park, Cutter lets the engine idle. Though he’s never been there, Avebury Chapel seems strangely quiet. Cutter had half expected throngs of people, and though there are definitely folks milling about, it’s not too hard to find a good place to put the car.

Sitting there, though, he has to think this is rather odd. He has an anonymous note and a hand-drawn map to a popular tourist destination. He’s come for nothing more than the promise of answers, and he doesn’t know who he’s meeting or what they’re going to tell him.

For a top secret meeting, this isn’t very top secret.

And it’s not exactly convenient.

It doesn’t make much sense.

Still, Cutter looks at the map again. He hesitates, going over the possibilities again in his head.

It could be a trap.

It could be a joke.

It could be the opportunity of a lifetime.

There’s just one way to know.

And that is the thing, in the end. Cutter wants to know. He wants to know where the anomalies come from. He wants to know what Helen is really trying to do. He wants to know if he can get Claudia Brown back. He wants to know why Stephen…

Cutter just wants to know.

Decided, Cutter turns off the ignition, takes the map and gets out of the car.

-o-

Avebury Chapel is naturally preserved, but still well maintained. It’s not hard to follow the path, and it’s not long enough to let him second guess what he’s doing. He passes several people, and the day is getting hot. He wishes he’d brought more to drink as he wipes his brow and nods politely to the people he passes on his way toward the grounds.

As he passes through the circles of stones, he puts the folded map back in his pocket and starts to feel self-conscious. There’s not a lot of people here, but there are certainly people, and Cutter eyes them all with doubt. None of them pay him much heed, and Cutter starts to think he’s got this whole thing wrong.

Answers are not so easily won. They’re not treasures to be gained at the end of a hunt. They don’t just fall in your lap or get passed on in secret notes.

Answers are complicated. The truth is elusive. There are no absolutes.

There are just more questions.

So many questions.

Eyes burning, Nick almost turns back around, but then he sees the site and has to stop. Because the oddly positioned rocks have been photographed and studied for years, and no one knows what their purpose actually was. They have theory and speculation, and no one knows.

But people keep coming.

Because questions.

People want answers, but they keep coming for the questions.

That’s the way it’s always been.

-o-

STEPHEN: [backs up toward middle of room, away from Cutter] Tell Abby and Connor to stay out of trouble.

Stephen continues backward, never taking his eyes of Nick. The predators come into view, but Stephen does not look away. On the other side of the door, Cutter is trapped. He stands at the porthole, shocked.

Stephen continues to the middle of the room. The predators have surrounded him. He meets Cutter’s gaze one last time. He’s scared and resigned. Cutter is horrified as the attack begins.

Finally, Cutter looks away, collapsing to the floor, pressed against the door as he starts to cry.

In the background, Helen looks one last time and then leaves.

-o-

Cutter is early, but as he starts through the site of the stone rings, he hardly notices. Instead, he finds himself transfixed. He forgoes the usual tourist guides, and studies the rocks for himself. He considers the point of it all, why some ancient civilization saw fit to do just this. As much as it perplexes modern thinkers, Cutter doesn’t doubt that it makes perfect sense.

Most mysteries do, once you understand the context.

-o-

OPEN ON GRAY SKY; PAN DOWN TO SHOW CEMETERY. The remaining ARC team is there. It is a small, somber gathering while the benediction is given. Cutter stands stiffly, looking at the grave.

The marker is simple, just a name and date. If there is more to Stephen, the story will not be found here. It will never be enough to capture such a complicated life, and someone walking by would never understand the things that led to this.

Sometimes, even those who know what happened, don’t understand it themselves.

That’s the nature of people; that’s the nature of life.

That’s the nature of death.

He rips a picture of Claudia Brown and lets it flutter in the wind before turning to leave.

JENNY: Drink?

Cutter keeps walking.

JENNY: Another time, then.

Cutter stops, looks at Jenny.

CUTTER: [nods] Yeah. Yeah, that’d be nice.

-o-

Tourists come and go, and Cutter passes his time going from one stone to the next. He tries different views, moving as far away as he can for a wider sense of things.

The more he thinks he understands, the less he knows.

But isn’t that the point?

That’s always been Cutter’s point in the past. Cutter had never gotten into his line of work for instant gratification. Yes, seeing the creatures he’s studied in real life has a certain thrill, but he’s always been about the long haul. He’s never been afraid of pursuing something doggedly, and he misses the days when getting his hands dirty meant time in the dirt -- not carrying a gun.

Stephen had always been the one concerned with safety.

Not that Cutter wants to think about that now.

Cutter’s not sure he wants to think about anything.

-o-

Lester approaches.

LESTER: Cutter, call from the ARC. There’s a new anomaly. You better get going. Sorry. Bad timing.

EXIT Lester. Jenny follows.

Cutter lingers.

JENNY: [turned back] Cutter, are you coming?

CUTTER: Sure.

He may not be ready to leave, but it’s certainly time. The team has to move on. There’s nothing left to hold onto anyway.

Nothing left of Stephen.

Some mysteries are ones you never solve.

-o-

As dusk approaches, Cutter makes his way back to the middle circle. The crowd is thinning even more now, and Cutter’s been promised answers but he’s not even sure what questions to ask. He’s rocking awkwardly on the balls of his feet, contemplating leaving when a short, squat woman comes up to him.

“Nick Cutter?” she asks.

Nick’s heart skips a beat and his palms start to sweat. “Yes?”

She smiles, holding out an envelope. “Someone asked me to give this to you.”

“Someone?” Nick asks with hesitation.

“Didn’t say who,” she says cheerily. “The mystery! Sounds rather exciting, so of course I said yes!”

Nick hesitates.

“Go on now,” she says, thrusting it at him. “Have your answers!”

Cutter takes the envelope and watches as she chortles.

“My,” she murmurs as she walks away. “I wish everything in life could be that easy”

-o-

The sun is going down, and the shadows are long. Cutter stands beneath the tree and slides his finger under the seal.

Answers, he thinks.

He just hopes he really wants to know.

PART TWO

Comments

Posted by: nietie (nietie)
Posted at: June 13th, 2014 02:08 pm (UTC)
Nick/StephenBW

You are so evil with this cliffhanger LOL

Intense and atmospheric.
It’s stupid to think that an anonymous note and a script of Cutter’s worst nightmare can give him any closure, but Cutter’s seen crazier things. No closure, but fix-it! *g*

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 01:55 am (UTC)
stephen and cutter

I wouldn't have posted in two parts normally but that's how they wanted fives over 5K to go up. So it's not my fault!

Thank you :)

Posted by: knitekat (knitekat)
Posted at: June 13th, 2014 08:16 pm (UTC)

Ooh, intriguing and where is part 2?

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 01:56 am (UTC)
stephen cutter distance

I'm sorry I had to delay posting part two -- that's how I was asked to do it! Thank you, though, for reading!

Posted by: knitekat (knitekat)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 02:35 pm (UTC)

Not a problem.

Posted by: goldarrow (goldarrow)
Posted at: June 14th, 2014 02:38 am (UTC)

Wow. Just wow.
That is amazingly evocative.

Sometimes, it seems, there’s just nothing left to go back to, just faded, broken memories and a string of failures he can’t forget.
*sobs*

You iz ebil. *g*
Delightfully so.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 01:57 am (UTC)
stephen goodbye

LOL, most fic writers are a bit evil. Some of us more than others :)

Thanks!

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: June 15th, 2014 08:12 am (UTC)
Blurred


I love how you have worked in the script bit from Reggie's artwork!

And the quote at the start is so very appropriate. That's our manifesto/job description ;)

It is nice that Cutter is actually getting some answers and how he has to keep going forward and then how he enjoys studying the stones as he waits.

Will comment on Part 2 tomorrow


Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 01:57 am (UTC)
stephen cutter distance

I took the prompts a bit literally this year :) But I'm glad it turned out!

Thanks :)

Posted by: lsellersfic (lsellersfic)
Posted at: June 15th, 2014 01:03 pm (UTC)
Primeval:Nick

Ooh! This is a fascinating premise!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 01:58 am (UTC)
stephen hair

Thank you :)

Posted by: eriah211 (eriah211)
Posted at: June 15th, 2014 06:14 pm (UTC)

Ooooohhh, so intriguing (and so sad). I need to run to read part 2!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 01:58 am (UTC)
stephen sad

Stephen is always a bit sad in canon, I think. His storyline just isn't a happy one.

Thanks :)

Posted by: fredbassett (fredbassett)
Posted at: June 16th, 2014 05:43 am (UTC)

This this in with the artwork beautifully! Great story, especially the mysterious use of the script.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 01:59 am (UTC)
stephen happy

My muse really was very literal with the artwork, so I'm glad it worked out. Thanks!

Posted by: Celeste (celeste9)
Posted at: June 18th, 2014 10:12 pm (UTC)
primeval: team

Oh goodness, this is lovely, I think I want some answers as much as Cutter does! *g* Wish I had time to read the next bit right now. This is a really clever use of the artwork, and the insertion of the script was so, so sad.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 02:00 am (UTC)
stephen smiles

Poor Cutter -- I'm not very nice to him. Or any of them...

Thanks :)

Posted by: Cordelia Delayne (cordeliadelayne)
Posted at: June 19th, 2014 01:24 pm (UTC)
[primeval] abby and cutter

Ooh, very intriguing and atmospheric!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 02:00 am (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

Thank you :)

Posted by: fififolle (fififolle)
Posted at: June 26th, 2014 07:08 pm (UTC)
Primeval -

This is fascinating!! I love Cutter's reaction to what's going on. Whatever that is :D Brilliant fic.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: July 12th, 2014 02:01 am (UTC)
stephen broken

I'm glad you're enjoying it :) Thanks!

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