“Isn’t this cool?” Connor asked, leaning over Becker for the hundredth time to look out of the window.
He sighed; this wasn’t really anything new to him, being flown across the globe on an assignment. During his years in the army, he’d been sent all over the world. To Connor, however, it was all an adventure.
They had been contacted by a scientist in Nevada, who was an old acquaintance of Lester. He needed help, he said, and explained the problem to Lester.
“They have an anomaly, it seems,” Lester informed them all once the team were gathered in his office. “He has requested our assistance.”
“Have any creatures come through?” Abby asked, looking alarmed. “How long has it been open?”
Lester shook his head. “As yet, there have been no creature sightings or attacks, but an exclusion zone has been set up around the area just in case,” he said. “What they do not have, is the technology to close the anomaly. Which is where we come in.”
Connor’s eyes brightened. “You mean we get to go to America? Neat!”
Even now, half way across the North Atlantic, Connor was still bouncing around like an over excited kid. Lester had somehow managed to get them a private jet, which meant no airport waits and explaining all of the military and scientific hardware they had with them. Becker glanced about at the others. His soldiers were sitting near to the front, Mark casually stripping down a pistol and cleaning it, Dev and Luke asleep while Neil checked over his medical kit one last time. Abby and Danny were playing cards, though not for much longer if the pile of coins in front of Abby was anything to go by. She appeared to be cleaning him out of every bit of change he had. Just behind them, Sarah was curled up in her seat, completely absorbed in a paperback book, a smile appearing on her face every so often.
And he got Connor.
“Would you like to change seats? That way, you could see.”
Connor stopped fidgeting immediately and sat back down. “Sorry. I’m annoying you, aren’t I? It’s just that I’ve never flown in a private jet before and it’s exciting. We’re going to a different country.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve never been abroad before?”
Connor nodded. “Mum and dad didn’t take me abroad when I was a kid, then I was at Uni and I didn’t have enough money to go by myself, and then I was at the ARC.” He sighed. “It’s stupid, I know. I suppose it is to you, anyway. You’ve travelled all over.”
“Most of my travel has been to or from either training or war zones or security details. Not exactly a holiday.” He took Connor’s hand in his, glancing around to make sure there was no one watching. The entire team knew that he and Connor were a couple, but they had also been given the full lecture by Lester about keeping their relationship and all signs of it out of work. “Tell you what,” he said. “We could take a trip somewhere, together, next time we have some time off. Have a proper holiday.”
Connor grinned. “Really? That’d be brilliant,” he enthused, and Becker knew that there would now be no chance of calming Connor down. Still, he thought, it was kind of cute, the way Connor got so excited about things.
By the time they reached the anomaly site, Connor was slightly less hyperactive, mainly due to the mid day sun, right above them. The anomaly was out in the desert, just outside of Las Vegas, far enough away that so far they hadn’t had any stray tourists or local wander into the restricted area. It made everyone’s job easier when there were no explanation to worry about or media coverage to black out.
As the drove up to the barricade, a main in khaki army fatigues met them, his hand on the pistol holster at his hip.
“We’re from the ARC,” Danny told him. “You’re expecting us.”
The man insisted on seeing their ID’s before he would let them through, eventually pulling back the barrier and waving them forward.
“Colonel Parks and Dr. Alexander are down in the command tent,” he said, pointing it out.
Danny thanked him and headed for the large white tent that had been set up a distance away from the anomaly. Or what he assumed to be the anomaly since he couldn’t see it.
Two men approached before they had even got out of the cars, one a mountain of a man in army gear, the other reminding Becker of an older version of Connor. He was tall and skinny with a huge smile on his face and a notepad in one hand. He had the look of a man who hadn’t slept in three days because he’d found something more interesting to do.
The Colonel introduced them both and saw Danny looking at the other tent.
“We thought it best to keep the occurrence under cover,” he explained. “Word has been spread that there is a training exercise happening out here.”
“Good thinking,” Connor said, then turned to the scientist who was practically begging for his turn to speak. “Dr. Alexander? Hi, I’m Connor Temple. You’re the one who called Lester, right? How did you find the anomaly?”
As the doctor, Connor, Sarah and Abby began comparing notes and questions, Danny, Becker and the soldiers followed the Colonel as he took them to the anomaly site. They had the portable rover set up by the time that the others joined them, its camera on and ready for an exploratory trip through the anomaly.
They were curious because nothing had come through yet; it had been open for a day and a half by this point and still nothing. Since Connor also confirmed it looked set to stay open for a lot longer yet, they decided to explore.
“What is that?” the Colonel asked, eyeing Connor’s device with undisguised scepticism.
Connor continued to fiddle with the controls as Abby laughed.
“You should have seen version one,” she told him. “He made it out of a toy car and bits of my hairdryer.”
She got a glare from Connor at that. “It worked, didn’t it?”
Everyone watched over Connor’s shoulders, looking to the laptop monitor, as Becker took the remote control and sent the rover through the anomaly. The tiny camera mounted on the top showed them the landscape of this new world, but unfortunately, that was it. No creatures, no plants interesting enough to get Abby’s attention, and not much in the way of clues as to what era the anomaly opened up into.
Dr. Alexander sighed loudly. “I was expecting something a little more interesting, to be honest,” he told Connor.
Connor shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not all bad; there are no obvious predators or threats so that means it would be safe to go through and explore, right Becker?”
“I suppose so, if the anomaly is stable enough.”
A few of the soldiers nearby looked uneasy at the thought of going through the anomaly, and so a couple of Becker’s men volunteered to stay behind. Danny reluctantly agreed to stay as well, since Sarah and Abby had no intention of remaining.
So, ten minutes later, six people set off through the anomaly. Becker, Mark and Neil were armed, Abby carrying a tranquiliser gun, just in case.
“We’ll be back in three hours,” Becker told Danny just before he stepped through.
“I know; if you aren’t back or the anomaly looks like it’s in danger of closing, we’ll come and get you,” Danny finished.
The landscape looked similar to what they had just left, except that the tents and vehicles were gone, as were the phone transmitter towers on the hillside in the distance. They stood in an open field, the ground dry and dusty between the sparse grasses, a tree line to their left and a cart track leading to the right. The ruts looked well worn as though the track was used regularly. High above them, the sky was clear and blue, a lone bird circling.
“It’s just a regular bird,” Connor said, watching it with a disappointed look on his face. “I don’t get it.”
Becker had already walked a short distance along the tracks, so that he could see beyond the low line of bushes that blocked his view.
“There’s a town down there,” he announced. “Well, I say a town but it’s more like a collection of ramshackle wooden buildings.”
Sarah and Connor hurried over to take a look.
“We should leave; we could contaminate the timelines-” Neil began, but the two women had other ideas.
“Just a quick look,” Sarah begged. “We did come here to explore, after all.”
Becker glanced back at Mark, a silent exchange passing between them before Becker nodded. So far they had found no reason not to look around; even the plant life looked harmless.
“It shouldn’t hurt, right?” he asked Connor, whose own curiosity was already outweighing his concern.
He and Becker led the way down toward the buildings.
“So when is this?” Neil asked conversationally as they walked.
When Connor looked blank, Mark spoke up. “If I remember my history lessons at school, I’d guess somewhere mid 1800’s. The buildings down there look like the pictures of American Old West towns and, around here, a town that established would make it around 1860.” When the others looked over at him, surprised, he smiled. “What? I’m not just a pretty face, you know.”
Abby reached up and patted his cheek affectionately. “Clever and cute,” she said. “My kind of bloke.”
As Abby skipped ahead to catch up with Sarah, Becker glanced back to see Mark touch his cheek where she had, a dopey smile on his face. When he noticed Becker watching him, his expression changed and he glared at his superior officer.
Becker laughed. “For goodness’ sake, just go over there and ask her to dinner.”
Mark frowned, glancing at Abby to see if she heard them, but she was still chatting to Sarah. “I don’t need your help.”
“Well, making puppy-dog eyes at her isn’t exactly working, is it?” Becker said.
This time, Mark uttered a snort of laughter. “Says the man who spends a good portion of his day ogling a certain computer geek.”
Becker smacked him on the arm. “I don’t ogle. Anyway, it’s a moot point because I’ve already got Connor.” He followed Mark’s eye-line back to Abby. “Seriously, mate, just ask her.”
Before Mark could reply, Connor reappeared at Becker’s side, informing him that they were near the outskirts of the town. Now that they were close, they got a better look at the place. What had appeared to be rather weatherworn buildings looked sturdier from up close, their purposes now clear thanks to the painted signs above the doors and storefronts- a barbers’, a general store, a blacksmith.
“Hey, look, they’ve even got a boozer,” Mark commented, pointing. “Beer, anyone?”
Sarah looked across to the Saloon; it was just like the ones in all the old cowboy movies, complete with little swinging half-doors and a horse tethered outside. She glanced at Abby, seeing the other woman to be just as intrigued but Becker just shook his head.
Further up along the dirt street, a horse drawn wagon stopped and a man helped two small children down from the rear before offering his hand to the woman in the front. They walked away in the direction of the white-painted church set a little way back from the street.
“We need to do something,” Mark said, with a discreet nod toward the general store.
They were starting to attract curious glances from the people milling about in the town. Two women in high-necked dresses and bonnets with wicker baskets over their arms gave Abby and Sarah distasteful looks as they walked by, keeping to the other side of the street. A man in dusty black clothes and a cowboy hat eyed them suspiciously, his hand shifting his jacket aside to show a revolver at his hip. More people watched them from doorways and porches, or made a point of walking by as far across the street as they could.
Becker nodded. “We’re attracting too much attention for a place where everyone’s armed and gun control hasn’t even been heard of.”
“I would really like to take a look around,” Abby said, Sarah immediately agreeing with her. Mark volunteered to go with them.
They set off in the direction of the store as the three men set off in the other direction, both following Connor who had wandered off after spotting something interesting. It was like trying to follow a five year old on a day out at the park, Becker thought, as Connor turned and beamed happily at him before something new caught his attention and he was off again.
“Hey, Becker, come and look at this!”
Becker sighed but he couldn’t keep the smile off his face at how happy Connor was, darting about, looking at everything. Neil laughed and he and Becker followed.
“Don’t get me wrong, the dinosaurs are cool but this is brilliant!” Connor told them. “It’s just like a Clint Eastwood movie. Look at that bloke’s hat; I need a hat. I’d fit in if I had a cowboy hat.”
He could have anything he wanted, Becker decided, if it would keep that smile on his face.
“You’d look good in a cowboy hat,” Connor said. He looked Becker up and down and sidled up closer to add softly, “And you’d be really hot in leather chaps-”
Neil laughed as Becker groaned. “Don’t even think about it,” he told Connor.
“Too late boss,” Neil informed him.
“I was talking to Connor.”
“Doesn’t matter. I heard it and now I’m going to be stuck with that image in my head all day.” He sighed and glanced longingly at the saloon. “Now I really need a drink.”
They didn’t have any money, though, or at least none that could be spent in this time.
“We could still wait for the others there,” Neil pointed out. “And we can’t go back without being able to say we went into a real Old West saloon.”
Becker agreed, catching Connor by the arm and steering him away from his latest distraction. He caught sight of Mark at the far end of the street and uttered a shrill whistle, pointing, seeing that his Lieutenant had understood. The others would meet them in there.
The inside of the Saloon was gloomy with the lack of bright lighting and the haze of tobacco smoke and they slipped in quietly, selecting a table near to the wall. From here they had a good view of the other patrons, ranging from smartly dressed men in spotless coats with silver pocket watches to dusty cowboys looking as though they had slept in the same clothes they’d been wearing for the past week.
Connor leaned his elbows on the table and his face scrunched up in disgust. “It’s sticky,” he complained.
“That’s why we didn’t lean on it,” Becker told him, rolling his eyes. He glanced up as a man in a faded brown trenchcoat strolled over toward their table.
“Bugger,” he muttered, trying to discreetly slip the gun out of sight under the table.
The man stopped in front of them, flicking a chair back with the toe of his boot and sitting down casually. Becker saw the silver sheriff badge pinned to his lapel and sighed. They’d been here for a couple of hours and already they were in trouble for something?
“You folks aren’t from around these parts,” he said, looking at them one by one, his gaze finally settling on Connor. There was no question, just a statement.
“No Sir,” Connor replied. “We’re just passing through. You know, travelling.”
He sheriff eyed him curiously. “That so?”
Becker and Neil both nodded.
“So where ‘bouts you from?”
Connor smiled pleasantly, doing his best ‘look at me, I’m totally harmless’ expression, telling him how they were originally from England and that they were visiting someone near by.
The sheriff let him talk, and Connor managed not to put his foot in it and mention anything likely to get them shot whilst the other two added their input every so often. The initial distrust seemed to vanish with Connor’s enthusiasm at seeing the town; it appeared that was the way into the sheriff’s good-books. When he noticed that none of them had a drink in front of them, the sheriff signalled the barkeep.
“We don’t have any money on us,” Connor began, but the sheriff interrupted.
“This one’s on me, my way of welcomin’ you to our town.” He took the four glasses when the barkeep arrived and handed them each one.
“Thank you,” Becker told him. “It’s very generous of you.”
Beside him, Connor took a sip of the strong whisky and his eyes widened as he fought back a cough. The sheriff chuckled.
“The young ‘un ain’t much of a drinker, is he?”
There was movement nearby as a woman in a blue satin dress with too many frills and ruffles and a low neck-line came strutting over to the table. She smiled at Becker and trailed her index finger lightly across his neck. When he turned, she edged in closer.
“Why, hi there, sugar,” she purred. “You wantin’ some company?”
Becker smiled politely. “No, thank you.”
Completely undeterred, the smile on her red-painted lips grew even wider. “I heard you say you were travellin’ and I know it gets lonely out there…”
“Miss, I mean no offence but I’m not interested.”
“Oh, I adore the way you talk!” she said, her hand trailing a little lower.
Looking embarrassed, Becker removed her hand before it got any further. Seeing the others laughing silently he glared. Even the sheriff looked amused.
“Miss, I am already spoken for.”
The sheriff took pity on him then. “Molly, now you leave the man be. It’s honourable that he’s staying true to his woman.”
The amusement on Connor’s face turned to a frown as Neil leaned closer and whispered,
“Guess that makes you the woman, then.”
Molly left reluctantly, making her way back to the end of the bar where two others sat. She said something to them and they all turned to stare. A few moments later, the other two women came over, followed by Molly. The blonde haired one looked across at Connor and smiled in a way that couldn’t be taken in any way but as an offer.
He shook his head. “Sorry, but I have someone too and so, no thank you.”
She turned to Molly. “They do have the most charmin’ accents!” Far from being dissuaded, the women looked to the sheriff before sitting down. “What’s your girl called?” she asked Connor.
Connor glanced across at Becker and smiled wickedly. “Hilary.”
Becker choked on the mouthful of whisky he’d just taken. He quickly steered the conversation back to safer ground, asking the sheriff about the town. Eventually, the women were called away by the barkeep who didn’t look pleased that they were sitting around when it was obvious that the newcomers were not going to become paying customers. They returned to the end of the bar just as Mark walked in, looking around the room for them. Molly’s affections were immediately redirected and she sashayed over to him, hips swinging.
He noticed them at their table and looked back outside again, nodding. Abby and Sarah came in to join him and the whole Saloon fell silent.
“We don’t allow injuns in here,” the barkeep said loudly, looking directly at Sarah.
“Or women,” someone else piped up.
Becker sighed. This was going to end badly, he could just feel it.
“Sheriff, those are our travelling companions,” he said, standing to call them over. “If you would prefer that we leave…”
The sheriff shook his head and cast a look at the barkeep, who went back to chatting to two cowboys. The three new arrivals hurried over to their table, Mark keeping himself between the women and the rest of the patrons as best he could.
“Ladies.” The sheriff tipped his hat to them, even managing not to stare at their clothing or at Sarah in general. He nodded to Mark, not trying to disguise the look he cast over the weapon that Mark carried.
“You’ll have to forgive Jed,” he told the women, “but we don’t get many ladies in here, ‘specially not… attired as you are.”
“Great,” Sarah muttered. “So now they don’t like me because of how I’m dressed and because they think I’m Native American.”
The sheriff’s gaze fell to Abby and Neil pointed out, “Actually, I think its Abby’s dress sense that’s causing the problems.”
Abby looked down at herself and realised that he was probably right. Her black tights and mini-skirt, ankle-high boots and low cut top were not the kind of thing that would draw attention back home but here? Here she stood out. She zipped up the hoodie she wore, covering her top. It was the best she could do.
The sheriff offered them a drink too, looking surprised when the women turned down his offer of tea and opted for whisky instead.
As they introduced themselves and answered the sheriff’s questions, Abby noticed the two women by the end of the bar. Molly and the blonde still stood there, looking over now and then and smiling or waving.
“What’s with the fan club?”
Becker looked over his shoulder and turned back quickly, embarrassed. “They like our accents.”
“They’re just bein’ friendly,” the sheriff said. “Not often they come across a man who says no to ‘em but you’ve got your girls back home and all.”
“I told them about Hilary,” Connor said to Abby when she looked confused. She disguised her snigger by taking a drink when she saw Becker glare at her.
“Sheriff, whilst we were by the church, I heard someone mention soldiers. Is there a garrison nearby?” Sarah asked.
The sheriff nodded. “They came in to deal with the damned Indians; they’ve been gettin’ more troublesome lately, coming into town- No offence, miss.”
Sarah sighed. “Why are you apologising to me? I’m English, for goodness’ sake.”
“Begging your pardon, Miss, you just look…” At the irritated expression on her face, he stopped. “Well, we don’t see many coloured folks around here, apart from the Indians, of course.”
“So, sheriff, you were telling us about the army garrison,” Mark prompted.
The sheriff took his change in conversation gratefully and told them how the army had arrived a few years earlier, setting up a camp a few miles away. What had originally been a temporary posting had become more permanent and so construction had begun on more substantial accommodations. It was good for the town, what with the soldiers buying supplies at the local stores, and local businesses such as the blacksmith and the doctor were acquiring more trade.
Mark listened interestedly, asking questions, and Becker could see that he was dying to see the place. Unfortunately, it was getting late and if they didn’t return soon, Quinn would have a search party sent through the anomaly to look for them. He mentioned it to the others.
“But we’ve hardly seen anything!” Connor complained. “It can’t be time to go back already.”
Molly and the other women were outside now, sitting on the low porch that ran around the front of the saloon. The blonde made one last attempt to flirt with Connor, appearing offended when he didn’t even look her way, instead talking to Becker.
“Forget it, honey, he’s taken and you really aren’t his type,” Abby told her. The woman gave her a dirty look, eyeing her in an extremely uncomplimentary way. That just annoyed Abby. “The dark haired guy that he’s talking to,” she said, “is called Becker. Hilary Becker.”
She could see the moment that the woman worked out what she was implying and she stared at Abby.
“That’s right,” Abby confirmed, casting her an evil grin before hurrying to catch up with the others. When she looked back, she saw the women whispering together and looking their way. Molly shook her head but the blonde nodded. Abby smiled to herself, knowing she shouldn’t have done it.
“What are you smiling about?”
“Nothing,” she told Mark. “Just having some fun with the locals.”
They walked along in silence for a while before he said,
“It was fun, wasn’t it?” When Abby nodded, he continued. “Because I was thinking that maybe we could go for a drink sometime. Just the two of us.”
Abby turned to him. “Lieutenant Andrews, are you asking me on a date?”
“I- Maybe?” He glanced across at Sarah, pretending not to listen even though the smile on her face gave her away. It didn’t really matter, though, as Abby was likely to relate the whole thing to her as soon as they got a moment alone. “Yes, I was.”
“Good. Because I would love to.”
They stepped out of the anomaly a few minutes before their three hours were up, seeing the concerned faces of the Colonel, Dr Alexander and an assortment of ARC personnel and soldiers.
Danny had a team ready and waiting, kitted out for a rescue mission. He actually looked disappointed that he wouldn’t be able to go through. As Connor picked up his laptop, he asked,
“When did it lead to? What did you find? Were there creatures, dinosaurs, crazy women with an army of clones?”
Becker shook his head and Danny sighed loudly. He had been sitting here for the past three hours, doing sod-all, and all he got was a head shake. They must have had something to look at for three hours.
“So, nothing interesting?” he asked. “You didn’t come across anything dangerous?”
Connor, busily typing on his laptop to close the anomaly, said,
“Well, not unless you count the woman who kept flirting with Becker.”
Danny stared. “Woman?”
Abby nodded. “He was getting quite embarrassed. He went all red,” she told him with a laugh.
“Well I didn’t think we would get out of there alive if I told her, ‘Sorry, but I prefer blokes. Oh, by the way, meet my boyfriend’.”
A few of the American soldiers nearby smiled; one or two looked uncomfortable at that piece of news.
“So what happens when you close this thing?” the Colonel asked Connor. “Will it just vanish or do we have a permanent portal to keep under wraps?”
Connor shook his head. “All I can do is seal it against anything coming through. It’ll probably vanish on its own pretty soon; they don’t usually seem to hang around for long.”
The Colonel didn’t look particularly thrilled by that and Connor could see that he was already thinking up ways to keep this hidden until it did close on its own. They didn’t need to worry about it, though, as ten minutes later it began to fluctuate. Moments later it was gone, leaving no trace that anything out of the ordinary had ever been there.
The next morning, the team boarded the plane to take them back to England.
“I can’t believe that Lester wouldn’t let us stay a few more days,” Connor complained. “Jeff had offered to show us around as well.”
Ah yes, Jeff, Becker thought, remembering the young soldier who had drunk half his guys under the table last night in the bar. Luke and Neil were still nursing hangovers, sitting quietly at the back of the plane with a pair of dark glasses each and a bottle of aspirin between them. Quinn hadn’t fared much better and had been asleep since they boarded.
The American soldiers had decided to take them out for a night on the town before they had to go back home. Initially interested in hearing what they had seen through the anomaly, the night had eventually descended into an international drinking contest. It had been fun, even if they did only get back to their hotel about three hours before they had to get up again to fly home.
Abby had been conspicuously absent the previous night, as had Mark; they both reappeared this morning looking half asleep but extremely happy and were now sitting together, talking quietly.
Connor had teased her for a while and was now sitting beside Becker, proudly wearing the black cowboy hat that he’d bought himself the previous afternoon.
“I almost forgot,” he said, pulling a bag out of the backpack he’d brought onto the plane with him. “I got something for you too. Well, Mick did; I asked him last night.”
Becker had seen Mick and Jeff at the hotel this morning but he assumed that they had just crashed there after the previous night. As they said goodbye, Mick had handed Connor something…
He took the bag and opened it. Then he closed it again with a quick glance around at the others. He just knew his face was getting redder by the second. Sarah noticed and nudged Dev, both of them leaning in closer to see what he had. Dev snatched the bag from Becker’s hands before he could stop him and lifted out the contents.
“Leather chaps?” Dev grinned. “You think you know someone…” he mused.
Becker groaned; he was going to kill Connor. He was never going to hear the end of this, and what the hell must Mick and Jeff have thought when Connor asked them to get this?
He felt a hand on his arm and turned to see the worried expression on Connor’s face.
“Sorry,” he mumbled. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I just thought it would be fun.”
Ignoring the others, Becker gave Connor a quick hug. “I’m not mad,” he said.
Connor smiled. “So you’ll…?”
Becker sighed. “Don’t push your luck.”