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Primeval fic: No Matter What the Ending (3/7)

June 24th, 2015 (02:01 pm)
gloomy

feeling: gloomy

PART ONE
PART TWO



-o-

It’s not all fun and games, of course.

She starts in the armory, because she’s been caught unawareness enough in her life.

“You’ve got decent aim,” Jenny says, as they practice at the range. “How long have you been on the team?”

“A year or so,” Abby replies. “Though I’d had some experience before that.”

“Well, it shows,” Jenny says, assembling what looks like a long range sniper rifle.

Abby watches her for a moment. “I thought you were a PR representative at the ARC?”

Jenny looks bemused by that. “I am,” she says.

“Have firearms always been a pastime of yours?” she inquires.

“Back in my life? A little bit, although most of my targets were clay pigeons,” she says. “But of everything I’ve tried to spin, nothing’s been quite as daunting as dinosaurs. I learned how to tell the public they had nothing to worry about, but I was around the ARC long enough to know there was always something to worry about. A good story will get you a long way, but a good shot? Makes a lot more of a difference.”

Abby nods a little, but doesn’t know what to say to that. It’s not something she’s thought about, really. The ARC, as they talk about it, isn’t something she knows yet. Their team is mismatched and thrown together, topped off with a disgruntled government employee in an attempt to make it official. They’ve been flying by the seat of their pants, and despite a few close calls, they’ve always been okay as a team.

It seems silly, suddenly, to assume they always will.

“It’s funny, though,” Jenny continues after a moment. “How much time I spent crafting other people’s lives for them. Even now, that’s exactly what John’s asking us to do.”

“So how is it any different then?” Abby asks.

Jenny pauses for a moment, looking thoughtful. Then she looks at Abby with a smile. “The ARC, as much as I’ve come to care for its cause and its people, it’s still a job, you know? I take the good with the bad. And here? This feels right. I feel right. For the first time in my life, I’m telling the truth about myself at least.”

Abby nods, and starts to smile back. “And your newfound love of guns?”

Jenny loads a gun, her grin widening. “And other diverse weaponry.”

She carefully hands Abby the gun before reaching for what looks like a rocket launcher. Abby asks, “What could we possibly need that for?”

“Damned if I know,” Jenny says. “But it sure is a lot of fun to fire.”

-o-

Abby starts in the armory, but it’s only natural that she finds herself in the library just as much. Arming herself is a good place to start -- literally. Arming her knowledge of what exactly they’re dealing with is likely to help her finish the task.

The library is almost overwhelmingly vast, but Sarah is an apt guide.

“Don’t try to figure out the shelving system,” she says with a chuckle. “I tried to put some of the books back for a while, but it didn’t make any difference. You’ll always find what you’re looking for.”

Abby peruses one of the racks along the walls, running her fingers along the bound spines. “And what if I don’t know what I’m looking for?”

“That’s the best part, honestly,” Sarah enthuses. “You’ll know it when you see it.”

“How is that even possible?” Abby asks, pulling out a volume about the prehistoric era. She flips through pictures of dinosaurs she’s seen in person.

“The best I can figure is that it’s related to the nature of this place,” Sarah explains. “Time doesn’t exist here, so space doesn’t work the same way either. The laws of physics have marginal control, but think about it. The beauty of a place that was, that is, that always will be? It knows what you want because you’ve already wanted it.”

Abby puts the book back. “You know an awful lot about time for someone who studies ancient culture.”

Sarah shrugs. “This place is a culture unto itself,” she muses. “And I’m enjoying trying to learn the language.”

-o-

Abby learns the language; she fine-tunes her aim. Although she’s not as prolific in her studies as Sarah, she still consumes a fair number of volumes each day. She can never match Jenny in target practice, but her aim steadies and she can assemble a gun in seconds flat.

There’s more to it than that, however, and Abby can’t help but be drawn to the technical headquarters where John seems to spend most of his time. At first, she just visits to check in, but each time she lingers a little longer, looking at the equipment.

“Do you want a closer look?” John finally asks one day.

“What?” Abby returns in surprise.

He nods to the screen. “Do you want to give it a go?”

Her mouth opens and she fumbles for a moment. “I didn’t know -- I thought--”

“I’m not in charge here, at least not in the way you’re thinking,” he says. “When I said this place was yours now, I meant it. Every part of it.”

She hesitates, but it’s tempting.

It’s too damn tempting.

“Come on,” he cajoles. “It’s pretty intuitive actually. I don’t think it’ll take you long to master the navigation and see whatever you want.”

She scoots in closer, taking in the strange control panel with more than a little curiosity.

“It’s a little like a video playback, only much more dynamic,” he says. “You can pick a time and a location and zoom in really close, like watching a movie. Or, if you want to step back, you can look at a year at a time, or a decade. Sometimes I like to pull it all the way back and listen to the universe hum. I can only imagine what it’d sound like if it were all in perfect harmony again.”

He pauses for a second, turning up the volume.

“Can you hear it?” he asks. “All the individual voices of the universe, finding their perfect, common pitch.”

She has to strain to listen, but there it is. A gentle, swelling hum that resounds with a vitality she can’t even quite place.

He grins, watching her. “See? You’re a natural.”

Abby feels her heart skip a beat. She nods tentatively toward the controls. “May I?”

“By all means,” he says, scooting out of the way. “Be my guest.”

-o-

Eventually, there’s another chair for her permanently at John’s station.

Somewhat after that, there’s another desk.

Then, another room.

At first, she learns the equipment.

Before long, she masters it.

That’s what it starts to get interesting.

-o-

“So the technology,” Abby says one day at dinner. “Can it be handled remotely?”

“I can perfectly orchestrate all movements in the timeline from here,” John explains.

“Not once we start changing things,” Sarah says, chewing thoughtfully. “You always talk about minimizing entanglements. If our backward progression has its full effect, would it be feasible that outside interference on the timeline could destabilize our progress?”

Jenny takes a sip of wine. “Your knot analogy,” she says. “If we pull all the way out each time, don’t we just risk more entanglements?”

John appears somewhat vexed. “But we don’t have the technology for site-to-site movement with that kind of precision. And I can pull you in and put you out there, but you’ll have to come back here first.”

Abby scoffs, thoroughly amused. “We don’t have the technology yet,” she says, eyes twinkling. “Just give it time.”

-o-

Time has no meaning here.

Except in the ways it has all meaning.

-o-

In her room, she sleeps soundly. She doesn’t understand why the sun rises -- Sarah tries to explain the theory, about the manifestation of ideals and routines best suited to their needs -- but she really doesn’t care. Each day seems better than the last.

She likes that her wardrobe has clothing that is all broken in. Her hair never needs to be trimmed, and there’s always hot water in the shower. Although none of her lizards are Rex, she takes care of three, whom she names Connor, Cutter and Stephen. She dotes on them, honestly, attending to their every need.

“Just consider it good practice,” she coos to them. “But you three are definitely going to owe me.”

-o-

And it’s more than that, too.

She likes to spend time with Jenny in the spa, where they give each other manicures, and Jenny convinces her to try a fresh shade of lipstick. Sarah is surprisingly good at bowling, and they drink beers while counting their pins on the lower levels.

More than that, she’s never without a partner for racquetball. It’s not a sport she’s played before, but she takes to it instantly.

They cook together; they do the dishes together; they live.

Together.

-o-

They still spend time alone, though.

Jenny with her guns, Sarah with her books.

And Abby with her technology.

Three separate pieces, working perfectly in tandem toward a common goal.

It’s hard not to feel invincible.

After time, Abby doesn’t bother trying.

-o-

It’s not that nothing changes here. Yes, there is a routine, but it evolves and grows. So does Abby and the other women. Jenny tells the best jokes, and Sarah is good at back massage. Abby starts putting together devices that none of them knew they wanted or that she would have ever believed that she could create.

Lots of things change in this place.

The difference is that everything changes right.

“Entropy,” Sarah declares over dessert one night. “It’s entropy in reverse.”

“Sorry,” Jenny says. “You’ll have to explain that one.”

“Wait, wait,” Abby says. “Entropy is the theory that everything is energy. Like, it’s all breaking down back to its most primitive parts.”

Sarah nods. “More or less, anyway. The natural world as we knew it existed with entropy or the reversion of power. Essentially it’s a degradation into chaos.”

“So in reverse?” Jenny ventures.

Sarah’s eyes are eager. “In reverse, energy is ascending. It’s coming together more perfectly. That’s what’s happening to us. That’s what we’re becoming.”

“No,” Abby says, shaking her head. “That’s what we are.

-o-

Eventually, Abby’s workspace is bigger than John’s. Sometimes, he watches her.

“What?” she asks.

“Oh, nothing,” he replies, looking bemused.

“No, really, what?” she says.

“Seriously, it’s nothing--”

“Then stop staring at me!”

“I was just thinking, is all.”

Abby continues tinkering on her latest project. “About?”

“About how good you are at this.”

She casts a glance at him. “You’re the one who said I’d pick it up.”

He nods. “I know, but it’s still remarkable to see,” he says. “I know that in the timeline you came from, you still fancied Stephen a bit. And Connor was more like a brother.”

“Connor?” she asks, making a face. “He is like a brother.”

“Abby, I’ve seen your actual brother,” John reminds her.

She thinks about that and shrugs. “He’s like the brother I’d want to have.”

“Or maybe he’s more,” John suggests. “You two are more alike than you’d think.”

She puts her project down and pins John with a glare. “Do you think that’s what this is all about for me? About getting a boy?”

“No, I--”

“Because it’s not, you know,” she says. “Maybe I fancied Stephen; maybe I could like Connor. Honestly, all that seems so long ago, and none of it matters like it used to. That was a different life.”

John’s expression turns a little. “It’s still your life, you know,” he says. “You’re still going to live it.”

For some reason, that’s an unsettling thought. She looks back down at her invention. “Not the same way as I did before, anyway,” she says.

“Just don’t forget why you’re doing this, Abby,” he says, gently.

“I thought we were doing it to save the world?” she returns without missing a beat.

“So don’t forget why it’s worth saving.”

She puts it down again, looking up again in consternation this time. “Because I need to snog a boy to make it worthwhile? I’m essentially building a time machine. And you want to talk about boys?”

John, quite appropriately, shuts his mouth.

Abby gets back to work.

-o-

Still, they do talk about boys sometimes. Part of their job, after all, is to save three of them.

“You know,” Jenny says as she maps out a plan to intercept Helen with minimal resistance. “When I first met Cutter, I thought he might be fun for a romp.”

Abby tilts her head. “That’s not really Cutter’s style.”

“As I quickly found out,” she says. “The more complicated he got, the more I found I just wanted to figure him out.”

“Such is the curse of an inquisitive nature,” Sarah quips.

“And the wayward heart, I’m afraid,” Jenny says with a melodramatic sigh. “There’s something about the ARC that makes it easy to stick close to one another. I’m used to keeping secrets in my line of work, but not like the ones at the ARC.”

“Almost dying on a daily basis does make you seem like family,” Abby reflects.

“And when he lost Stephen,” Jenny starts, pausing for a moment. She seems to gather herself. “When we lost Stephen, I thought, if I could just maybe make Cutter smile again then maybe things would be okay.”

“That can be the hardest task of all,” Sarah says softly. “By the time I started on, people didn’t smile all that much at all. Sure, a joke here or there, but not enough. Tom Ryan and Stephen Hart -- I never met either of them, but their loss hung over the place. I read up on them, of course, but no one wanted to talk about them. And then when Cutter--”

She stops short, chewing her lip.

Abby shrugs. “Back in my timeline, everyone is still alive. To think of it all falling apart like that….”

She doesn’t know how to finish either, it seems.

None of them do, really. They all have part of a story, the beginning without an end. That’s the point, perhaps. That’s why they’re here.

Because everything ends, one way or another.

It’s up to them to say if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

-o-

Sometimes, Abby still wakes up in the middle of the night, breath caught in her throat. She half expects to have a call from Cutter about an anomaly or a text from Connor about well, anything. She thinks if she goes downstairs to open the door, Stephen will be there.

Other times, though, she wakes up in the cage room as the predators circle. Then she’s in a burning building as Helen holds a gun to Cutter.

The life she’s lived.

The ones she’ll never experience.

And then in the morning, she wakes to the eternity behind them all.

-o-

One day, she finishes her mobile device. It’s like the one that Cutter and Connor had talked about, but never quite got around to making yet.

And hers is much, much more powerful than even they would have imagined.

Even John is genuinely impressed. “This is spectacular,” he says, turning it over in awe in his hands. “It has full autonomic control. You’ll be able to move seamlessly from one stop to the next.”

“The problem is the energy source,” Abby admits. “Here, it’s perennially charged. But once it leaves this place, Sarah thinks it’ll drain pretty quickly.”

“Enough for three stops, though,” John says. He shakes his head with a low whistle. “It’s amazing.” He sets it down and looks at Abby. “How did you do it?”

Abby does her best not to grin too much, but it’s mostly a lost cause. “Oh, you know,” she says. “I had some time on my hands.”

-o-

She takes her lizards to the roof, the three little ones anyway, and lets them crawl around on the sun-baked stones. They like it there, and Abby lays down in a lounge and lets herself drift off to sleep.

At first, she’s scared she’ll lose them, but they don’t seem inclined to run away. Nothing seems inclined to run from this place.

Cutter always sets out first, finding the highest spot he can. Stephen tries something different, but every time she goes to collect them, he’s found his way right up next to Cutter.

Connor, on the other hand, is never hard to find. He’s always curled up on Abby’s stomach, content to rise and fall with the rhythm of her breathing.

“That’s how it’s supposed to be, eh?” she says to them each as she takes them back inside. “Looks like you blokes have it all figured out.”

It’s ironic, of course.

The real men Abby knows are smart and kind and good, but they don’t know any more than these three lizards, sunning themselves in the afternoon sun.

No, this is Abby’s show.

It’s only now that she’s starting to believe that’s how it was always meant to be.

-o-

“Again,” Jenny coaches. “Keep both eyes open and brace yourself--”

Abby fires, but her shot pulls left.

“Accuracy is everything,” Jenny insists. “I know you, Abby. I know what you’re capable of.”

The next shot goes through the center of the target.

-o-

Some days, she gets lost in the library.

Not literally, of course. It’s not possible to actually get lost here.

But one book leads to another book, which leads to another book. And there are so many questions and not enough answers.

It’s Sarah who taps her on the shoulder. “Come on,” she says.

“But I’m not done yet,” Abby protests.

“We’ve been here all day,” Sarah reminds her. “It’s getting close to dinner.”

“But there’s still so much--”

Sarah smiles ruefully. “Good thing there’s always tomorrow.”

-o-

And tomorrow and tomorrow.

And always tomorrow.

-o-

When Abby finishes a second device -- more refined than the first -- she’s the one in awe. “Back home, I had to have someone help me hook up my router,” she admits. “And now look at me.”

John is inspecting it. “Everyone has latent abilities and untapped skills,” he says, tinkering with one of the components.

“But it’s not just electronics,” Abby says. “I can shoot, I can study, I can even cook. How is it possible to be good at everything?”

John shrugs, as if the question isn’t all that interesting to him. “Does it matter?”

Abby scoffs a little. “I just can’t wrap my head around it,” she says. “I’m literally an expert at everything I try.”

“Well, Sarah’s not far off in her entropy theory,” he says.

She cocks her head thoughtfully. “How does that explain anything?”

“Entropy is the breaking down of energy,” he says. “This is the place where it builds in the other direction.”

“That still doesn’t quite capture it,” Abby says.

John sighs, putting her device down. “You think of eternity as time. But it’s not just time, especially not here. It’s all matter.”

“So everything exists simultaneously,” Abby continues.

John nods. “And more importantly, it’s not about having all the time in the world. It’s about having all the potential. This place isn’t about infinity. It’s about being unlimited. There is unlimited time, just like you have unlimited potential. This place doesn’t suspend energy; it allows it to become the best it can possibly be.”

Abby thinks about this for a moment. “So you’re saying that I’m just becoming the best possible version of myself?”

“Yeah,” John says with a perfunctory nod. “More or less.”

Abby stares at him a moment longer, a bit too dumbfounded to come up with a reply.

“Though to be fair,” he says. “Mostly more.”

Abby knows it’s a whole lot more.

-o-

It’s great, really. Being the best possible version of herself is immensely satisfying in a way she’s never realized. She’s wholly self-sufficient and still perfectly integrated into a peer group that continues to make life more fulfilling. Abby wants for nothing here.

She can’t even imagine it sometimes, going back home. Waking up some morning to an anomaly call and a crowded apartment with Rex living illicitly in the rafters.

“Do you miss it?” she asks the other women from time to time. “Back home?”

“Sometimes it feels unfinished,” Jenny admits. “And that always bothers me. I mean, the thought of my job and my relationships being left open -- that’s not easy, I think.”

“And I worry that if we spend too much time here, we risk time back there,” Sarah says. “This place is so important to me, but back home -- that’s what matters in the universe.”

“I used to think I had my life so figured out,” Abby says with a small sigh. “I got to work with the biggest lizards imaginable, and I was saving the world -- at least, that’s what I thought. And I mean, the team mattered to me. They were like family, Nick and Claudia and Connor and Stephen--”

“So lizards and boys,” Jenny surmises. “That’s what you left behind?”

“Hey!” Abby says. “Like you’re any better!”

“That’s the hard part, though,” Sarah reminds them. “We can’t focus on those things here, but they matter in the places we come from. Our decisions in that life affect a lot more than we realize.”

“Which is maybe the point,” Abby says. “What if I was thinking about all the wrong things? I mean, what if Connor had it right all along? What if we should have been looking at the technology that can control it? And the science that can explain it? He’s a bit of a freak show, but it’s sort of a brilliant one and I never took the time to see it.”

“If it makes you feel better, he never changes,” Jenny consoles her. “And he makes more contributions than you could imagine to the program.”

“I can see why John’s identified him as an important constant,” Sarah says. “There’s something about him that makes him uniquely qualified for the ARC, and no matter what he experiences, that much remains ever true.”

“Other people change, though,” Jenny adds. “Cutter changed.”

“And the whole ARC with him,” Sarah agrees.

Abby shakes her head. “And poor Stephen. He never got the chance, did he?”

“Well, that’s what we’re really here for,” Jenny says.

Sarah smiles. “They all need a touch of infinity in their lives.”

“Unlimited potential,” Abby says. “Even if only for a moment.”

-o-

Abby works harder than ever, developing her third prototype to be stronger and more powerful than the last. There’s a cage for her lizards in the lab now, and she lets Cutter, Connor and Stephen watch her while she works.

So she remembers.

Because she needs something finite to grasp.

Something limited to get them home.

-o-

Her work gets better, more complex. John watches her, nodding with approval.

“It’s looking good,” he tells her.

She fiddles with one of the wires. “You could lend a hand, you know?”

He chuckles. “As if you really need it.”

Part of her wants to glare at him for being so damn flippant and standing by while she works.

The rest of her, however.

Knows he’s right.

-o-

“Are you sure, though?” she asks at dinner one night. “Can you really be sure that going in reverse order is going to be the safest way to go about it? It seems so weird to be saving Cutter before we save Stephen.”

“If we don’t, Helen can still change too many variables,” John argues. “We have to lock her death into place before we fine tune anything else. If we don’t, she may be able to thwart our progress before we finish it.”

“Not to mention the long term implications,” Sarah interjects, just as enthusiastically. “That’s how you untie a knot, after all. In reverse.”

“But going backward, we’ll have no way to guarantee a trip home,” Abby says. “We’ll have locked down the timeline with no escape route.”

John looks at her, a little perplexed.

Abby stops, about to take another bite of her meal. “What?”

It’s Jenny who clears her throat. “Home,” she says. “I think you’ve forgotten just where that is.”

“I know exactly where that is,” Abby protests. “But I suppose I never I thought about us being stuck there. Won’t there technically be two versions of us existing in that timeline by the end?”

There is silence at this, and Sarah looks particularly thoughtful. “I suppose it’s possible that altering the past will change the timeline so as that our futures will be changed.”

“Meaning what exactly?” Jenny asks.

“Well, think about it,” Sarah says. “If we kill Helen instead of Cutter and manage to save Stephen without sacrificing Connor’s impetus, then really there’s no reason for any of us to be pulled out of the timeline at all.”

Abby turns wide eyes to John. “Wait,” she says. “That’s why we won’t need enough energy to get back. There’s no need to return us home because the three of us will just stop existing?”

“Well,” John says. “It’s not as bad as it seems--”

Jenny scoffs. “We’ll be creating non-existence for ourselves,” she says. “How is that not as bad as it seems.”

“Because you will all live full and happy lives in that stablised timeline,” John says. “Better lives, the lives you were meant to experience. That was the whole point all along.”

“But it’s essentially suicide,” Abby argues.

“No,” John says, increasingly emphatic. “It’s anything but. Doing this, it’s life. It’s the only chance at life you or anyone else in the universe will ever have. If we don’t stop Helen, her meddling will destroy everything and everyone, including you, me and this place.”

There is a terse, uncertain silence. Sarah looks studiously away, and Jenny draws a deep breath. Abby grinds her teeth together, feeling the defiance swell up in her. This much about her has never changed: she knows what she wants to fight for.

And she never backs down.

“So we create a future for everyone else,” she says, voice hard and brittle. “And don’t get a say in what happens to us at all?”

John’s expression breaks a little. He chews his lip, shaking his head. “Look,” he says. “I could explain it all day long, but this is something you need to see.”

Abby sits stiffly in her seat.

John gives her a pleading look. “Trust me,” he says. “One more time.”

-o-

In the library, John sits them down on the couch, and takes a chair across from them. He sits forward intently, looking very much like he did on the day Abby first arrived here.

When Abby thinks about it, it seems like no time has passed at all.

John’s still in front of them, trying to convince them of the impossible.

“Jenny,” he says, meeting her unrelenting gaze. “You’re not a woman to be trifled with, so don’t imagine that I’ll try.”

She smirks. “I should hope not.”

“You don’t need Cutter,” he continues. “But we both know you want him. You don’t even know why, but it’s imprinted on your DNA.”

Jenny raises her eyebrows.

“Not anything like you’re thinking,” John says. “It’s not fate in the sense that the universe is pulling you two together or that you two need to fulfill some cosmic quota of togetherness. No, it’s part of who you are because Claudia Brown did it first.”

Jenny purses her lips, stiffening a little.

“I know, I know,” he says. “Claudia Brown isn’t a topic of conversation you like.”

“Well, how would you feel if everyone talked about the person you’re supposed to be in another timeline?”

“It’s not who you’re supposed to be,” John argues. “It’s a simple fact of who you were. The theory behind it is pretty complicated -- how two people can share the same DNA but be entirely distinctive people -- but that’s how Helen intended it. Because she knew that Claudia Brown had fallen in love with Cutter, and more importantly, that Cutter had fallen in love with her. It’s pretty hard to erase someone from every timeline, but it’s not so hard to change just enough. So she made Jenny Lewis, and that’s all well and good, but timelines are not as distinct as we’d like to think. Jenny Lewis was always going to love Nick Cutter because of Claudia Brown. Sure, you may fight it, and maybe you never give into it, but that longing will always be there for you, and you’ll still feel like the girl waiting on the wrong side of anomaly for a man that is never coming back.”

The annoyance has turned to uncertainty on Jenny’s face, and it’s clear that she’s forcing herself not to shy away.

John softens his voice even more. “And as hard as it is for you in all this, it’s harder for him because he knows. He remembers. When he looks at you, he still sees her, and he mourns the relationship he almost had.”

“So, what?” Jenny interrupts bitterly. “I’m supposed to go back and settle on being second-rate?”

“Who’s to say you’re second?” John asks. “Who’s to say he’s not mourning the relationship he never had because he knew it’d never be the one he had with you? You have to see, Cutter chooses you in the end. He chooses you not because you remind him of Claudia but because you’re not her. And he’s good with Claudia Brown, don’t get me wrong. But he’s amazing with you.”

That’s when they see it, each of them where they sit. They see Jenny’s confidence bolster Cutter; they see her sharp edge stand up to him when it’s needed. She pushes him to greatness and keeps him from his own blindness. By the time Cutter realizes they’re an item, Jenny has known for weeks. By the time Cutter’s ready to move in together, Jenny’s already made the spare key. Together, they are flawless at the ARC, and with Stephen and the rest of the team, their work makes it a powerful, efficient and safe organization, fully committed to the preservation of the timeline, the creatures and the public.

“The only thing you never see coming, for the record, is the baby,” John says. “But as Cutter will remind you, life does tend to find a way.” He straightens a little. “The ARC needs you together, more than you two even need each other.”

There’s a silence after that, and even if it’s heavy, it’s not tense. It’s full of potential almost, and none of them feel quite bold enough to speak.

John’s smile grows. “And that’s not the end of it,” he says, looking from Jenny to Sarah. “Let me tell you about more of the story.”

-o-

This time, it’s John who takes a moment to breath, resituating himself before he leans in with his elbows on his knees to look at Sarah.

“I know you’ve had lots of theories,” he starts. “And you probably can explain just about anything I’ve asked of you. But this isn’t about the theory. This is about the heart of everything.”

Sarah nods slightly, clearly braced for whatever may come next

“Sarah,” he says, smiling warmly. “You’ve never met Stephen Hart, but everyone is right when they say you’d like to. I don’t tell you this as a nice chatting point or by analyzing your personalities. I can tell you this because I’ve seen it.”

Sarah doesn’t look certain, but John is not tempered by that.

“You like to decrypt things,” he continues. “You look at the things unsaid and understand them. There’s no bigger mystery than Stephen, and you’re the fresh start he needs. You don’t let his past bother you; you let it ground you. You’re the first person who’s able to see him as more than Helen’s lover or Nick’s best friend. You weren’t there when he trusted Helen again, and so you don’t think there’s anything to forgive. You see the whole story when it comes to him. You see that this started when he was young and impressionable, and you know that his story isn’t over yet. With you, Sarah, it doesn’t have to be over. There can be a relationship, a marriage, children. You give him acceptance, and he makes you the center of his world. Loyalty can be a fault for Stephen, but it is also a virtue, and no one will know that like you.”

They all see it, somehow. They see Stephen turning her away at first, turning her down. They see her reading his file and not seeing what the big deal is. “Do you think you’re the only person in the world who slept with the wrong person?” she asks. “Who we were makes us who we are, but we always get to choose who we will be. Who will you be, Stephen?

He doesn’t know the answer, but he takes her hand and finds out.

There are furtive kisses in the ARC; there is breathless work side-by-side in the field. There’s Sarah’s flat when Stephen moves in, and the modest ring he buys her a year later. Sarah wears her hair down for the wedding, Nick is their best man, and they honeymoon in Egypt. Their daughter has dark eyes, and their son has unruly hair, and when Sarah finally takes a job as a professor elsewhere, Stephen stands eye to eye with Cutter and tenders his resignation with a firm handshake.

Cutter, after years in the field together, accepts it with a hug.

“You’re good at what you do because you don’t just care about the stories people tell,” he says. “You care about why they tell them. You give Stephen the courage to accept his mistakes and go past them, and that gives him the courage to be the right-hand man Cutter needs in the field. He helps define the ARC for the better, thanks to you. And that’s why when he does leave, it’s finally okay for everyone. And Stephen knows that Jenny is there to keep support Cutter in the way that he needs to be. People remember the end of the story, but it’s the people in the middle that make it meaningful.”

Sarah swallows and chuckles nervously. “You make it sound so easy.”

“Come on,” he says. “You wouldn’t like it if it was.”

Sarah can’t argue with that, and she looks down, tucking her hair behind her ear.

John takes another breath and looks to Abby. “Well,” he says. “That just leaves you. So let’s go back, then.”

“Back where exactly?” Abby asks.

John grins. “Back to the beginning.”

-o-

“This is a little hard for you, I think, because you’ve always known,” John says. “You still remember Robbie Dayton putting that lizard down your shirt, don’t you?”

Abby almost smiles despite herself. “That was the day I realized lizards were better than boys,” she says. “I suppose that’s always going to be true.”

“As well it should be,” John agrees. “But that’s my point. For you, the course has always been a constant, even when you didn’t know where you were going. People like Connor, on the other hand--”

“He’s just as passionate,” Abby argues, feeling strangely defensive.

“Passionate and brilliant, oh yes,” John says. “But he’s flighty and easily influenced. He has the stamina to memorize the genome of every insect from the Jurassic era, but the instant something better comes along, he’s moved on, just like that.”

“He’s very committed to the ARC,” Abby says.

“He’s basically the heart of it,” Sarah agrees.

“And his technology has been critical,” Jenny adds.

“Because the ARC is perfect for Connor,” John says. “It’s basically the epitome of every fantasy he’s had. There’s time travel; there’s prehistoric beasts, there’s even an active government cover-up, and he gets to play the role of the mad scientist and action hero all at once.”

Abby can’t disagree with that.

John is intent now. “But all of that hinges on a very simple moment in his life: the Forest of Dean.”

“Well that’s where it started for all of us,” Abby says, she glances to Jenny and Sarah and realizes her mistake. “I mean, at the very start.”

“Yes, of course,” John says. “But you know the only reason Cutter and Stephen ended up there in the first place is because of Connor. Because, in every timeline, he read a news article and had gumption enough to take it to his teacher.”

“But that’s tiny,” Abby says. “We’re talking life and death in other cases; how can a news article be so hard to control?”

“It’s not, really,” John says. “But it’s also not hard to lose control of. Once we start nailing down the timeline, we can’t guarantee all the details. Most of them won’t matter, but if something sets this one off balance, then the whole thing might fall apart. We’d be untying the wrong knot.”

“But wait,” Sarah interjects. “If that’s true, then how do we know the universe we’re creating will resemble the one we want at all? What if there are infinite alternatives that make our actions null and void anyway?”

“Because by locking down Stephen and Cutter, we’ve guaranteed certain things,” John says. “We’ve narrowed down the options, so to speak.”

“So we just need to lock Connor into place,” Abby ventures.

John straightens with a bold smile. “And everything will be exactly the way it is meant to be,” he concludes. “Happily ever after, all around.”

Abby has to shake her head. “Connor, though,” she says, because it seems more audacious the more she thinks about it. “Connor?”

“It’s always going to come back to Connor for you,” he says, a little sympathetic. “You just haven’t realized it yet.”

-o-

John sits back, and in an instant, Abby knows everything.

She sees Connor, moving into her flat when he gets kicked out of his own and eventually stumbling through a relationship with some woman named Caroline. She sees herself being accidentally shot by Connor with a tranquilizer dart. She sees him save her from certain death. She’s soaking wet and he’s there to hold her.

He’s there.

He’s there when Stephen gets himself killed, and he’s there in the aftermath that none of them want to face. He’s there when Nick dies, and that’s when it’s her turn to be there for him. They’re there for each other when they spend a year in the past, and that’s the constancy of it all: he’s there.

People come and people go, but Connor never leaves. Even when he’s doing the wrong thing, even when he’s doing the right thing, even when he’s doing nothing and everything, he’s there.

And then there’s the other universes.

He’s there when Stephen confesses that Helen came to him. He’s there to mitigate Cutter’s anger at learning the depth of Stephen’s affair. He’s there to pull Nick away before he makes a stupid sacrifice in a burning building.

He’s there when Abby needs someone to take care of her pets when she’s busy. He’s there when Abby’s tired and worn out from a long day at work. He’s there when Abby wants more; he’s there when Abby finds out she’s pregnant, and he’s there when she miscarries the baby a few weeks later.

He’s there when the ARC changes; he’s there when they need someone to lead. He’s there when they grow old. In a life of shifting realities, Connor Temple is always there.

From here, it occurs to her how empty it would feel without him.

“He’s not the hero you think you want,” John says. “But then, that’s not really the point. Maybe, instead, you’re the one he needs.”

Abby inhales, trying to steady herself from the flood of images.

“It’s a wide open story for you, for all of you,” John says. “But it’s a story none of you will ever get to tell if we don’t do this. We need to do this.”

“These three points in time,” Abby clarifies. “We fix these three things and that’s it?”

“Abby, you’ve seen the calculations,” John says. “Sarah, you know the theory. And Jenny, you know we have the practical skill. We can debate this forever -- literally -- but sooner or later, you’re all going to have to make your decision.”

“But you have to understand how hard it is to grasp,” Abby says. “I mean, we don’t even know where you came from.”

John rolls his eyes. “Yes, you do. Just think about it.”

“You’re a constant here, but you do evolve,” Sarah says. “Just like the rest of the castle.”

“It’d be like a computer interface, wouldn’t it?” Jenny asks. “There’d need to be some way to interact with us.”

“And he’s so dynamic,” Sarah continues. “Responsive to our needs.”

“Even the way he looks,” Jenny says. “I have no complaints.”

Abby scoffs. “We’re saying, what, then? That we’ve created him?”

“He’s got your instincts,” Sarah points out.

“And your grasp of the theory,” Jenny agrees, addressing Sarah.

“And Jenny’s pragmatism, I get it,” Abby says, exasperated. “But he brought us here. How can we create something that predates us?”

“Time doesn’t exist like that here,” Sarah says thoughtfully. “Besides, as far as we know, we discover this place later on in the timeline and create him to fix things in the past.”

“If I wanted to save the world, I wouldn’t trust anybody but myself,” Jenny says with a nod.

“But why would we have to recruit ourselves?” Abby asks.

“There could be a thousand reasons,” Sarah says. “Maybe the timeline had degraded so far when we started that we didn’t get to finish it. Maybe we didn’t actually achieve passage through the boundary, or maybe we went back and forth too many times and it collapsed.”

“Or maybe we just got old,” Jenny suggests. “Saving the world is a young person’s game.”

Abby groans. “So, to sum it all up, we made him. In a future we haven’t lived. To recruit ourselves to save the world,” Abby concludes. It sounds more outrageous in her head than it does when she says it. Frustratingly, the moment she says it, she knows unequivocally that it’s true. She shakes her head, shoulders drooping. “Which is why we have to trust him. Because we’re essentially trusting ourselves. No matter how much we want to doubt it, we just know it’s true, don’t we?”

She stops, almost laughing.

“This is insane,” she says, because it is. Eternity and dynamic representations and saving the whole damn universe.

“No more insane than the futures we’re erasing from the timeline,” John says.

Abby rolls her eyes. “But if you’re nothing but us, then who gives us the right?”

“Because Sarah dies,” John blurts. “She gets torn to shreds in the past and there’s not even anything left to bury. And Jenny, she loses Cutter before she even has a chance to have him, and she’s never the same afterward. Not even close. And Abby, you endure these losses and more. But you can’t save the ARC. You can’t save the world. Not with all that. Everything you do for the rest of your life will be ultimately and forever in vain.”

Sarah looks away at the mention, visibly paling. Jenny refuses to flinch, but her fingers tighten slightly into fists.

Abby swallows hard at the bleak picture. “That’s personal, though. We can’t save the world for our own personal pleasure.”

“Then don’t think about your rights,” John says. “What about your responsibility? Helen’s manipulation of the anomalies is going to destroy time itself. While the men are off fighting with one another or losing their way or dying, it’s up to you three to remember what really matters.”

“Even if it means erasing ourselves in the process?” Abby asks.

John chews his lip, silent for a moment.

“Especially then,” Jenny finally says.

“Always,” Sarah says, sounding almost regretful.

Abby slumps back and sighs. It’s an answer she’s known all along, no matter how many times she’s asked the question hoping for a different one. “Fine,” she mutters with a disdainful look at John. “Let’s save the world, then.”

Comments

Posted by: fredbassett (fredbassett)
Posted at: June 24th, 2015 07:35 pm (UTC)

Blimey, this is getting timey-wimey!

I like the look at how different the three women are, but still each with their own strengths.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 25th, 2015 07:02 pm (UTC)
stephen happy

Despite the fact that the plot got wildly out of control this one, I found it fun to write the women. I don't often focus on them in fic, especially these three together. So that was a nice challenge :)

Posted by: knitekat (knitekat)
Posted at: June 24th, 2015 08:29 pm (UTC)

This is getting very convoluted with the timey-wimey. Be interesting to see how it all works out.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 25th, 2015 07:03 pm (UTC)
stephen shocked

Time travel is never an easy thing to deal with, and someone I managed to make it MORE complicated. Apologies! Thanks for trying to stick with it.

Posted by: goldarrow (goldarrow)
Posted at: June 25th, 2015 05:45 am (UTC)

*mind boggles*

This is really getting convoluted for those poor women, making their own pasts/futures/changes.

Love it!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 25th, 2015 07:04 pm (UTC)
stephen broken

LOL, I don't know what I was thinking when I decided to write this one. I just feel like apologizing to everyone who's trying to follow along!

Thank you for reading!

Posted by: nietie (nietie)
Posted at: June 26th, 2015 03:47 pm (UTC)
abby

I like that library!

Wonderful chapter with the women preparing themselves for a difficult task.

Ooh, it could be they created John in the future. Lovely timey-wimey,.

Edited at 2015-06-26 03:48 pm (UTC)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: June 26th, 2015 06:28 pm (UTC)
stephen cutter sit

I do love a good library, and one that knew what I wanted would be even better than the ones that never put the books back where they belong!

Thanks :)

Posted by: lsellersfic (lsellersfic)
Posted at: June 27th, 2015 06:45 pm (UTC)
Primeval:Abby

I love the sense that the place is changing them so subtly - almost as if its moulding them to the needs of time itself - so that they couldn't go back to how they were, but then, of course, they don't want to.

Posted by: fififolle (fififolle)
Posted at: June 28th, 2015 09:11 am (UTC)
Primeval - Sarah Page

Ouch! It's still a lot to take in! Poor girls.

“Connor?” she asks, making a face. “He is like a brother.”
“Abby, I’ve seen your actual brother,” John reminds her.

LOL!!

I know they can do it!

Posted by: kristen_mara (kristen_mara)
Posted at: July 20th, 2015 10:05 am (UTC)
Tardis Stephen


There's plenty for Abby and Co (and us) to chew on in this chapter *G*. Yay for Sarah and Stephen - they would be perfect together. And how the world could be for Abby, Sarah and Jenny, and why. Hee re the lizards and that's cool at how the castle and each other helps them to realise their full potentials and get ready to save the world (in reverse too, the show offs, LOL)!

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