"We want to go back."
"Well, you have a problem. We may be the solution."
"Well, the two of us. I didn't want to speak for you," Joon added, looking at Hillier.
She smiled sweetly back.
Stella suppressed a grin. "Who says you're qualified for this?"
"You don't like to kill," added Hillier.
"I'm aware. Hopefully I can avoid killing. If not..." he shrugged.
"Can I spare her?" Stella asked, indicating Hillier. "Thanks to her, I have very little control of the Gate outside of her expertise. Who will pull you back?"
"I can get with Mallory, get her to speed."
"Where are we going?"
Mallory spoke up from a workstation.
"Seriously. You're going to Pangea. Near the Tethys ocean. I wish I could go."
"When are we going?"
"Well, that's to be..."
"I mean, when in time?"
"Oh. Well, a little over..."
"Two hundred million years and change," cut in Hillier.
"We're sending you back to the Triassic period, initially. We think that's where they are. Presumably they can't travel from there, on their own, to different times."
"How many are there? Who are we looking for?"
"There are, what, seventeen?" Mallory looked at Stella.
"It is the age of dinosaurs. Yes, we needed security, specialists... "
"We're supposed to kill seventeen people."
"No. Bring them back. Find out why the fuck they haven't reported back. Only kill them if you have to."
"Oxygen levels. We sent the team back with protective gear, whatnot. We will of course do the same for your team."
"They could already be dead. Low oxygen, whatever. Dinos."
"Yes, it could be that they haven't returned because they're toast."
"That would make things easy."
"You'll have a list of personnel. And we'll send security personnel with you as well."
"Switching gears a moment... where are we with the Gate? Is Hillier working it?"
"Hillier is, among others, working it. Although if she goes back in time..."
"The concern is that it's open, and anything could come through. The sabotage destabilized things."
The waves rolled in. The sky was a purple haze as Joon stretched out, feeling the breeze roll in off the lake. There was no real beach here, just the vast grass plains and the great lake. More of an inland sea, really. He couldn't see the far side. Still, it reminded him of beach excursions back on Earth. A lifetime ago.
Maia splashed in the waves, shrieking as the high rollers buffeted her this way and that.
They'd been here for a few years now. Funny how time flew. They rarely saw anyone. The base camp was a day away, roughly, but only a skeleton crew remained. A few scientists to study the machines, explore the ruins. A few ecologists. Studying the ruins was something Joon enjoyed, as well. They lived in the ruins, you could say. The same place they had stayed for a night, all those years ago, with Hillier. Now- home.
They visited camp a few times a year, for supplies. To get news. Send a message to Stella. Mostly, though, they were alone. And happy.
Maia came ashore, wringing out her clothes. Often she swam naked. Why not? There was no one else around. She smiled and flicked water at him, and he reached for her but missed. She wrung out her auburn hair and Joon felt a longing. She smiled and set off for their home, the greenish black ruins they had adopted and renovated. They mostly added to it, with an awning to protect the entrance, gardens they had planted, and the like. Was it strange living in a ruin of the Ancients? A little bit, yeah.
There was something, though, about the great plains, the solitude- the wind on the lake- you could see in all directions for miles; something about this place that drew them. Like Poseidon, in a completely different way.
He heard a noise, and looked back. Where was Maia? There hadn't been time for her to reach the house yet. He picked up his gun- he always carried it- and saw thrashing in the green close by.
Maia- covered in blood.
And... someone crouching over her. A female. Shadows where the face should be. Only eyes. Maia twitching, blood dribbling from her lips.
Joon awoke wih a start, pulse racing. Drenched in a cold sweat. Maia, warm next to him, said something unintelligible and rolled over.
He held her tight, and sleep was a long time coming.
"There's a commotion down in Ops."
Stella strode into the room as Joon and Maia entered. Mallory was with her.
A tremendous bellowing could be heard, and her attention was drawn towards the Gate. There was a humidity in the air, and there were things... moving. On the other side.
"What are those?"
They appeared to be bipedal... no, others were running on all fours. The big ones were twenty five feet long or more, judging from her best guess. Were they stampeding?
They were in a hurry, and the din was something.
There was an impact, like one of them had staggered or run into the Gate.
"I have no idea," said Hillier. Stella hadn't seen her there.
There was an ear splitting roar then, drowning out the bleating and calling of the herd. They could feel the ground shaking. Then the herd was gone, and there were clouds of dust everywhere from their passing. They heard the roar again, farther away.
The landscape beyond was incredible. Great ferns, odd looking vegetation, trees looked strange. They were looking into a wooded area that also looked swampy. The air was thick with insects, and indeed a great dragonfly swooped through the gate and began buzzing loudly through the center. People shrieked and tried to get out of the way.
Soldiers were setting up perimeter alarms and electrified fencing around the Gate. Stella had authorized this earlier but obviously this galvanized quicker efforts.
"Is that where we're supposed to be going?" cried Maia.
Mallory came up.
"I'm going to go out on a limb and say... no. Not quite. That isn't... the Triassic. I think?" She looked at Hillier, who had a tablet. "Maybe... Cretaceous. Big dinos are later, Triassic is early. But who knows?"
"Readings indicate yeah, it's recent... more recent. Not Triassic."
Hillier seemed to agree with Mallory.
They watched as a dragonfly from millions of years past buzzed the room.