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Clutching At Straws

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Summary: 250 million years ago something went wrong and destroyed Claudia’s life. Now she’s trying to put it back together. A news report about strange happenings at a Scottish castle offers just the faintest glimmer of hope.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Primeval(Current Donor)SpeakertocustomersFR1315,1400121,21014 Jul 0814 Jul 08Yes
Disclaimer: the characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. Buffy Season 8 is the property of Dark Horse Comics. ‘Primeval’ was created by Adrian Hodges and Tim Haines, and was produced by Impossible Pictures for ITV. All rights remain with the copyright holders.

Author’s note; contains spoilers for ‘Primeval’ up to Season 2 Episode 1, and contains spoilers for ‘Buffy Season 8’ up to Issue 16. As ‘Primeval’ is a British show I’ve used British spelling.

Clutching At Straws
Giles turned away from his work to survey the approaching car. A silver-grey BMW 3-series Compact. It wasn’t a model owned by anyone that he knew, and he wasn’t expecting any visitors, which implied that it was a reporter or someone from the ranks of officialdom. He sighed, laid down the tattered book that he was trying to patch together, and walked towards the car.

He’d never been fond of the compact 3-series. In fact he thought of it as something of an abomination, the sleek lines of the saloon ruined by the travesty of that truncated rear end, looking as if it had been crudely sliced off with a chain-saw to get the car into a small parking space. He averted his eyes from the remarkably ugly car and focused on the woman who was climbing out from the driver’s seat. A much more aesthetically pleasing sight than the car.

She closed the door and stood for a moment straightening her linen jacket. Perhaps thirty or so, Giles guessed, with long reddish-brown hair and a wide mouth. He saw her clench her jaw, as if gathering her resolve before facing some dangerous assignment, and then she relaxed and faced him.

“Can I help you?” Giles asked.

“I certainly hope so,” the woman replied, “but frankly I doubt it.” The muscles in her jaw tightened again. “Then again, I’m desperate enough to clutch at any straws that I can find. I assume that you are one of the owners of this... castle?”

“I am part of the organisation that owns it, yes,” Giles confirmed, “or at least what’s left of it. I’m Rupert Giles.”

“Claudia Brown,” she replied, “from the Home Office.” Her lips twisted into a rather forced smile. “I’m sure that you’ve had all sorts of people here asking questions already. The police, the Ministry of Defence, other people from the Home Office, and of course newspapers.”

“Indeed so,” Giles told her. “I haven’t anything to add to what I’ve already said, I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I’m not even interested in what happened to the castle,” Claudia Brown said. “My interest is in some of the other reports than have originated in this area. The tales of wolves, giants, and centaurs.”

Giles frowned. “I can’t see why the Home Office would be interested in such things,” he said. “Surely that’s more in the province of the Daily Sport.”

“Or some of the more obscure satellite channels,” Claudia said, nodding. “A few months ago I’d have agreed with you. Anyway, they’re not what I’m after at the moment. I just want to know if anyone else came here asking about them. That is, someone other than tabloid journalists and cryptozoology nuts. More specifically, people from my own department. A Professor Nick Cutter? Stephen Hart? A pretty blonde girl called Abby Maitland and a scruffy student in a hat called Connor Temple? That’s the name of the student, not of the hat, of course. Or even, God help me, a sharp-suited Civil Service shark called Sir James Lester?”

Giles shook his head at each name. “I’m afraid not,” he said. “I wasn’t here at the time of the, ah, gas explosion, but my colleagues would have told me if they had had any such visitors. I’ve never heard of any of the people you mentioned.” He saw her shoulders slump at his words.

“I didn’t really expect that you would have heard of them,” she said, “but I had to try. This was pretty much the last straw in the bale. It looks as if I’m totally and utterly screwed. Oh, well.” Claudia sucked in her lips and then let out a long breath. “Can you direct me to an incredibly cheap hotel? Or to somewhere I could sleep in my car safely?” She glanced across at the folding table at which Giles had been working. “Or, perhaps, could you use some unskilled help with whatever Time Team-ish thing it is that you’re busy with, in exchange for a couple of sandwiches?”

Giles raised an eyebrow. “Problems with your expense account?”

Claudia’s mouth twisted. “That’s one way of putting it. I... well, let’s just say that I’m on a completely unauthorised project and I can’t claim anything I spend back. This isn’t a good time for me... financially.”

Giles tilted his head to one side and gazed at her for a moment. There was something that she wasn’t telling him, he was sure of it, but he didn’t get the impression that it was something about which he needed to be concerned. He could be wrong, of course, but he was prepared to take the risk. “I could certainly use some help,” he said, “and I do have some spare sandwiches.”

She gave him a full, genuine, smile for the first time. “It’s a deal,” she said. “Am I likely to get dirty? I’d better take off my jacket, I suppose, I’d rather keep it clean. And, by the way, what exactly is it that you’re doing?”

“Salvaging what I can from the wreckage,” Giles explained. “There was a great deal of irreplaceable knowledge stored here. Much of it was on, ah, computers, and that is gone forever, but there were some books here. Some of them were destroyed and others damaged. I’m trying to put them back together and save what I can.” It wasn’t as if Buffy would bother, and she’d probably have objected if she knew that he was here, but hopefully he could finish and be gone before she returned from America.

Claudia’s brow furrowed. “That sounds like a job for a librarian. I’m not sure that I would be of much help, I’m afraid.”

“I am a librarian,” Giles told her, “or at least I was for a long time. Really, all I need is someone to pass things to me. I can work much faster if I don’t have to keep getting up whenever I need something from beyond arm’s reach. My colleagues became bored very quickly, unfortunately, and wandered off leaving it all to me. You could certainly save me enough time to be well worth a sandwich and a cup of coffee.”

“Coffee? Oh, that would be heaven.” Claudia removed her jacket, revealing a lilac top, and went back to her car to leave the jacket on a seat. “I would have pegged you as more of a tea drinker,” she remarked as she rejoined Giles.

“Oh, indubitably,” Giles said, “only not from a Thermos. I think the best word to describe tea served from a vacuum flask is ‘vile’.” He realised that his gaze was focused rather too intently on the spectacular assets displayed by Claudia’s lightweight top, averted his eyes hastily, and rummaged under the trestle table and pulled out a bag. “Shall we have the coffee and sandwiches now? I was planning on taking a break at around this time anyway.”

“Thank you, yes, that would be lovely.” Claudia found a folding camp chair and sat down. “You know, the records that were held on computer might not be as irrecoverable as you think. It’s surprising how much data can be retrieved, with the right software, as long as the platters aren’t shattered.”

“Oh? I’d just assumed that, as the computers are beyond repair, that the information was gone forever.” Giles poured out two cups of coffee. “Sugar?”

“One, please. Oh, yes, it’s perfectly possible to retrieve data from dead computers. Gary Glitter, remember?” A frown suddenly appeared on her brow and she bit her lip. “That did happen here, I take it?”

“What?” Giles tilted his head to one side and looked at her. “Yes, I remember that Gary Glitter was arrested after he took his computer in for repair and they found child pornography on it. What did you mean by asking if it had happened here?”

“Nothing, just a... blonde moment.” Claudia took the cup and sipped at the hot coffee. “You mean you haven’t even tried to recover the data from the computers? It might be as simple as inserting the hard disks into an external drive caddy and plugging them into a USB port.”

“Computers aren’t my field,” Giles admitted. “What you are saying is all Greek to me. Or, actually, not Greek to me, as I speak and read both Classical and Modern Greek fluently. Klingon, perhaps.”

“They’re not my area of expertise either,” Claudia said. “My degree is in Law. I’ve picked up a little computer knowledge, and I can handle some things, but usually I just tell IT to do it, or ask... Connor.” She set down the coffee cup and stared into the distance.

“Egg and bacon, or smoked salmon and cream cheese?” Giles offered.

Claudia started. “Huh? Oh, the salmon would be lovely, thank you. Unless it’s your favourite.”

“I don’t have a strong preference,” Giles told her. “Take whatever you want.”

Claudia accepted the Tesco pre-packed sandwich, pulled open the pack, and sank her teeth into the sandwich with an eagerness that spoke of hunger. “Oh, I needed that,” she said, and took another drink of coffee.

“I get the impression that you have been having something of a difficult time lately,” Giles said.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Claudia replied. She didn’t expand on her statement but merely returned to her consumption of the sandwich.

“I gather that you have, ah, lost touch with your co-workers,” Giles probed.

Claudia heaved a sigh. Giles swallowed hard as her chest moved and he averted his eyes again. “I have,” Claudia confirmed. “I suppose you’re thinking that it sounds terribly ‘Spooks’ and that I’m using ‘Home Office’ as a euphemism for MI5. Nothing like that, I assure you, but it’s all rather complicated and you wouldn’t believe it anyway.”

“You’d be surprised at what I can believe,” Giles told her. He took a bite from the bacon and egg sandwich and chewed slowly.

“You wouldn’t believe this. Let’s just leave it as me helping you in return for sandwiches and coffee.”

“Your suggestion with regard to the computer disks has more than repaid me already,” Giles said, “and perhaps made this laborious patching up of the damaged books unnecessary. Tell me your story.”

Claudia took a deep breath. “I suppose I might as well. Even if you think I’m crazy and have me committed, well, at least in a secure mental hospital I’d have a bed and they’d feed me. Until they booted me out to ‘Care in the Community’, that is.”

“I very much doubt if you could tell me anything that would make me think that you’re crazy,” Giles assured her.

“I’d bet money on it. If I had any, that is.” Claudia finished off her sandwich, drank some more coffee, and pursed her lips. “Very well. I was part of a small Home Office department that was tasked with investigating odd occurrences, looking at them for political implications, and acting to make sure that any potential embarrassment for the Government was dealt with.”

“Odd occurrences?”

“Aliens, flying saucers, ghosts, ghoulies, and things that go bump in the night,” Claudia said. “Like the X-Files, but of course taking it for granted that everything would have a perfectly rational explanation. That is, until we discovered anomalies.”

“Anomalies?”

“I suppose you could call them holes in time,” Claudia explained. “The first that we noticed cropped up in the Forest of Dean. Two, no three, creatures from the Permian Era came through it. Two hundred and fifty million years old. A big, lumbering, placid creature that was some sort of ancestor of the dinosaurs, a little flying lizard that is incredibly cute and friendly, and a gorgonopsid.” She paused to drain the last of her coffee. “The opposite of cute. A ton of fangs, claws, and muscle with a bad attitude.”

“I didn’t hear anything about it,” Giles said.

“Oh, we covered it up, of course,” Claudia said. “The armour-plated cow thing went back to its own time, we shot the gorgonopsid, and Abby kept the flying lizard as a pet. Totally wrong of her, of course, but it didn’t do any harm and we all became rather fond of the creature.”

“You said ‘anomalies’ in the plural,” Giles prompted.

“Oh, definitely,” Claudia went on. “After that they started cropping up all over the place. My life became a recurring series of horrible events. I seemed to spend half my time screaming and being chased by hideous monsters. Mosasaurs in a reservoir, a pteranodon and a flock of horrible pterodactyls at a golf course, and then the really bad one. A predator from probably millions of years in the future.” She looked into Giles’ eyes. “I’m impressed. You haven’t called the police yet.”

“There’s still time,” Giles said. He smiled at her. “It’s certainly a remarkable story but I have experienced things equally as strange.”

Claudia’s eyebrows rose. “Really? Such as?”

“Later, perhaps,” Giles said. “Go on with your story.”

“The future predator hadn’t come to this time directly,” Claudia continued with her tale. “Apparently it had gone from the future to the Permian, and then from there, or rather then, to here. We were worried that if more came through they might cause enough changes to mess up history.” She grimaced. “It might sound like a bad science fiction film but that’s what my life had turned into.”

“Another sandwich?” Giles offered. “More coffee?”

“Yes, please. Anyway, I’d better tell you about the team. My boss, Lester, was a nasty piece of work but he was efficient at what he did. Time travel and prehistoric monsters was out of his line, however, and so he allowed us to recruit some civilians who’d become involved in the original Forest of Dean incident. Professor Nick Cutter from the Department of Evolutionary Zoology at Central Metropolitan University, his assistant Stephen Hart, and his student Connor Temple.”

“Central Metropolitan University?” Giles frowned. “I don’t recognise the institution. It sounds American, I would have said, but I have a passing familiarity with the American educational structure and I don’t recall it from there either. Australians, perhaps?”

“No, Nick was from Edinburgh,” Claudia said. “Central Metropolitan University was in London. It isn’t any longer.” She sucked her lower lip into her mouth and bit on it. “I’ll get to that later. Anyway, as well as Nick, Stephen, and Connor, there was Abby. She was a zookeeper in the reptile house at Wellington Zoo.”

“A New Zealander, then?”

“No. Wellington Zoo was in the Forest of Dean. Again, it isn’t there now.”

“Hmm.” Giles put his finger to the bridge of his nose and adjusted the position of his glasses. “I suspect that ‘it doesn’t exist in this reality’ would be a better way of putting it than ‘it isn’t there now’.”

Claudia’s eyes opened very wide. “You’ve come across something like this before, haven’t you? I never asked what your organisation does. Are you, well, an equivalent of me, or Nick, or Lester?”

“The Council of Watchers is strictly non-governmental,” Giles said. “I suppose there might be similarities. I’ll tell you more after you finish.”

“I’ll cut to the chase,” Claudia said, “and skip the parts about Nick’s ex-wife. Except that blockading the future anomaly in the Permian was her idea. The predator from the future was lethal. As well as killing three people it killed a lion and took it back to its lair to feed its young. If more of them got loose in the Permian they might cause enough changes to, perhaps, mean that humanity never evolved.”

“Or that the future predators never evolved,” Giles said, “which would lead to all sorts of paradoxes.”

“Nobody thought of that one,” Claudia said. “Anyway, the anomalies usually stayed open for only a few days at most. The plan was to send one of our Special Forces teams, and Nick, back into the Permian to guard the anomaly there against the future predators until it closed. They took the baby predators back with them as Nick thought they might have a homing instinct that would help them find the anomaly. I had a bad feeling about the whole thing.” She twined a strand of hair around the end of a finger. “I was scared that Nick, and Captain Ryan and his men, might get stranded in the Permian.”

“They weren’t worried about affecting the past themselves?”

“Oh, we were worried all right,” Claudia admitted, “but it was decided that it was the lesser risk. There was a huge mass extinction at the end of the Permian. Most of the animal life died off. Nick thought that it was unlikely that any changes they made in a few days would have any effect.” She clenched her teeth. “It seems that he was wrong.”

“So things are... different?”

Claudia gave a short, mirthless, laugh. “Oh, yes, they’re different all right. I watched them go into the anomaly. Connor said something about the autopsy result on the dead future predator. Did I mention that it seemed to be descended from bats? Anyway, he mentioned that it was a male, and that this must mean that there was a female around – and then suddenly he wasn’t there. Everyone had vanished. The anomaly was closed as if it had never existed. There was just me, all by myself, in the Forest of Dean.”

“That must have been, ah, distressing,” Giles said.

“Terrifying,” Claudia said. “I shouted, and I wandered around looking for them, and I didn’t find anything. I couldn’t even find the zoo, and it had been within easy walking distance. There was just me, and my car, and a load of trees.”

“Good grief,” Giles said.

“For a few minutes I thought that we might have wiped out all of human evolution,” Claudia continued, “until I saw a plane overhead. I walked around for a while until I saw a road, drove the car over the fields to it, and then headed for London. It was a relief to see that cars still drove on the left, and the signs were in English, as of course one of the first things that I thought of was that we’d changed things so that Hitler won the War.”

“Don’t worry, he didn’t,” Giles said.

“Well, of course, I realised that quickly enough,” Claudia said, “and once I thought to turn on the car radio it seemed for a while that everything was okay. It wasn’t like in that story, I think it was by Ray Bradbury, where the time traveller steps on a butterfly and when he gets back to the present it’s a Fascist dictatorship.”

“It was ‘A Sound of Thunder’,” Giles said, “and you are correct that it was Bradbury. It was spoofed on ‘The Simpsons’, too – at least in this, ah, timeline.”

“With Ned Flanders as the Fascist overlord, and the world where it rains donuts? Yes, I saw that. Anyway, the news on the radio was the same as I remembered, the music was the same, and I started to relax. I thought it meant that whatever they’d done could have had only a minor effect. Perhaps just something that meant that they, we, hadn’t gone to the anomaly on that day. Or maybe that they’d managed to get rid of the anomalies altogether, which could only be a good thing, except if it meant that Nick really had been stranded in the Permian. The zoo having vanished was worrying, I admit, but I don’t think that it was terribly financially viable and it wouldn’t have needed much of a change for it never to have been built. Unfortunately, when I got back to the office I discovered that the changes were a little more drastic than that.”

“It wasn’t there,” Giles deduced.

“The office was there, but it wasn’t my office,” Claudia said. “It was the Assets Recovery Agency. No-one there knew me. Even a couple of people who I’m pretty sure I’d met before. It was very awkward but I managed to make my excuses and leave. I went home. That was when I started to get very, very, scared.”

“Oh, dear,” said Giles. Her distress was evident. He felt a strong urge to put his arms around her, to comfort her, but he restrained himself. The gesture, to a near stranger, could easily be misinterpreted.

“I think you’ve guessed what I found,” Claudia said. “The door was a different colour, my key didn’t fit the lock, and there was someone else living there. Eventually I went to a hotel for the night. And my credit card didn’t work.”

“Ah,” said Giles. “I see the root of the whole sandwich shortage problem.”

“Yes, that was the start of it,” Claudia said. “When I phoned up about the card they said it didn’t exist. My debit card hit the same barrier. I can’t get any money out of the Cashpoint. My bank’s telephone banking has never heard of me. I didn’t dare go into the bank to see them face to face in case they thought I was a fraudster. Luckily I tend to carry quite a lot of cash, in case of emergencies, and I’d topped up recently. The trouble is that I’m burning up money at a horrible rate, because of having to stay in hotels, and it looks as if the contents of my purse are going to have to last me for the rest of my life. Apparently I don’t exist. No bank account, no job, no home, no e-mail address, my mobile won’t dial out, and I daren’t try selling the car because it probably isn’t in the DVLA computers. I don’t know about my National Insurance number but I bet it’s void too. And so much for my Civil Service final salary pension.”

“You could be in a very awkward position when the Government bring in the identity card scheme,” Giles said.

“It’s awkward now,” Claudia said. “That will just be the icing on a perfectly horrible cake.”

“Fascinating,” Giles said. “Ah, and very distressing for you, of course.”

“It’s like I was erased from history,” Claudia said. “I’m here, but I don’t seem to belong here, and as far as all the records are concerned I’m not here at all. I’ve been searching for the people I know but I just come up with blanks. Nick’s University doesn’t exist, there’s no such place as Abby’s zoo, and so on. Unfortunately all the bad things seem to be the same. Bush and Blair still invaded Iraq, Amy Winehouse still has the fame and fortune that rightfully belongs to Thea Gilmore, and they still made Celebrity Big Brother.”

Giles laughed. “Quite. May I ask what brought you all the way up here?”

“Clutching at straws, as I said,” Claudia told him. “I chanced upon a newspaper story about an explosion at a Scottish castle. It mentioned earlier reports of, well, monsters. Wolves, giants, and centaurs, oh my. It occurred to me that they could be garbled accounts of creatures from other time periods. If that was so, and there was an anomaly here, then just maybe my colleagues might have been here investigating. If they still exist, and are just based somewhere else, that is. Even if they don’t recognise me at least my story would make sense to them and they might be able to help me.”

“You may have clutched at a better straw than you guessed,” Giles said. “I can’t put you in touch with your friends, and I suspect that they don’t exist in this reality, but I should be able to help you anyway. I can offer you a job. It will take time to get around the bank account problem, I know, but it isn’t an insuperable obstacle and I can pay cash in the interim period. We can provide accommodation, too, although it will be in hotels in the short term.”

“It sounds far too good to be true,” Claudia said. “What’s the catch?”

“You might have to deal with monsters,” Giles informed her. “Obviously the post would be in an administrative capacity, and I sincerely hope that you wouldn’t ever have to come into contact with the, ah, sharp end, but I can’t give you any firm guarantees.”

“Oh.” Claudia leaned forward and stared into his eyes. “So, you are this world’s equivalent of Lester, or Nick, then?”

“As I said, I don’t work for the Government,” Giles said, “and the monsters involved are not from other time periods, but there certainly seem to be parallels. Ah, where should I begin? There is a standardised speech explaining the Council of Watchers but it was written long ago, at a time when the world was thought to be only six thousand years old, and it’s not really appropriate when I’m talking to someone who is familiar with hundreds of millions of years of prehistory.”

“Mainly through having seen ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Walking With Dinosaurs’,” Claudia admitted. “I wasn’t all that much into palaeontology before it became part of my altogether too exciting working life.”

“It still makes my normal opening spiel seem hideously primitive,” Giles said. “I’ll just give you the short version. Many of the monsters of myths and legends are all too real. There really are such things as vampires, werewolves, and demons.”

Claudia sat abruptly upright. “I suppose it seems horribly hypocritical,” she said, “but my first reaction is to think that you are, well, a nutter.”

Giles smiled at her. “A perfectly normal reaction,” he said. “I don’t blame you in the least. I can, however, prove it quite easily.” He reached into his jacket, took out his mobile, and dialled. “Xander? Would you come back over here, please?” he said. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet. No, I promise that I’m not just trying to trick you into helping me with the book restoration work. It turns out that it might not even be necessary. We might be able to get the information back from the computers, despite the damage. Anyway, come back here. There might even be some sandwiches left if you hurry. And bring Dawn with you. Yes, Xander, I know what I’m doing. Bring Dawn. She’ll save me rather a lot of explanations.”

- - - - -

“I’m a freak,” Dawn said, her mouth twisting. “A horrible monster.”

“Oh, no, you’re absolutely beautiful,” Claudia said. “Oh. I hope I don’t sound patronising. You are, though. Like something out of a Greek myth.”

“That’s because I am something out of a Greek myth,” Dawn said. “I guess it could have been worse, like, if the front end had been the horse. I still hate it.”

“My little...” Xander began.

“Don’t say it! If you say it I’ll have to kill you,” Dawn threatened. Xander closed his mouth.

“I think you’ve proved your point,” Claudia said to Giles. “I don’t need to see evidence of the other things that you mentioned. I’ll take the job.”

“Vampires aren’t beautiful,” Xander warned her. “Well, okay, some of them can be, but they’re mean and nasty and they kill people.”

“Is it true that they die if you stab them with a wooden stake?” Claudia asked.

“Sure is,” Xander said. “Well, except for the Dark Mas- for Dracula. But he’s a special case.”

“A wooden stake is indeed fatal to vampires,” Giles confirmed. “They don’t stand still to be staked, however, and I would recommend that you leave that part of the business to the, ah, professionals.”

“Poking a gorgonopsid with a stake would only get it annoyed,” Claudia said. “Yes, I’ll take the job. I’ve grown accustomed to eating, for a start, and I don’t want to have to give it up. I’m not going to be deterred by vampires.”

“I’m glad,” Giles said. He extended his hand, Claudia took it, and they shook. “I’m sure that we will be able to make good use of your administrative abilities, Miss Brown.” He smiled at her and she smiled back. She really was exceedingly attractive, in a womanly way that affected him far more deeply than even the prettiest of the young Slayers, and Giles found himself considering going back to wearing contact lenses.

“Call me Claudia,” she told him. “I hope you don’t mind if I start off by asking for an advance on my salary?”

“Oh, no, I quite understand, ah, Claudia,” Giles said. “It’s only natural in your position.”

“So, you’re from, like, an alternative reality?” said Xander.

“I suppose I am,” Claudia said.

“Cool,” Dawn said. “Hey, when we’ve come across time travel and alternative realities before, there’s usually a thing where it’s, like, kind of an exchange thing. Like, when Buffy went back to the time of the Shadow Men, there was a demon came through in the other direction, and we had to throw it back in to get Buffy back. You think maybe the same thing could apply here?”

“I suppose that it’s possible,” Giles said. “I don’t think that it’s of any relevance, however. If someone did, as you put it, go through in the other direction, it could have been any one of six billion people. It’s hardly likely that it would have been anyone we know.”

- - - - -

“Ah, this must be our new Public Relations expert,” Lester said. “Welcome to the ARC.”

“Uh, sir, that’s not Jennifer Lewis,” Leek told him.

“Never said I was,” said the girl who had walked into the Anomaly Research Centre. She was slim, dark-haired, and wore dark jeans and a tight black top.

“Then who on Earth are you?” Lester glared at her. “She sounds American to me. This is a breach of security.”

“Hey, don’t sweat,” the girl said. “I’m here to help.” A security guard grabbed for her arm. There was a blur of motion, almost too fast for the human eye to follow, and then the guard was sitting on the floor ten yards away. “It looks like you could use somebody like me.”

Abby glared at the intruder. “I don’t think I like her,” she remarked to Connor. He remained tactfully silent.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Stephen said, eyeing the newcomer appreciatively. “She seems to have a couple of good points.”

Nick had been gazing around the ARC, unfamiliar to him although – puzzlingly – not to any of his colleagues, but now he turned to the girl. “What do you mean, you’re here to help?”

“I hear you fight monsters,” she replied. “That’s what I do. I’m the best there is.” She tossed her head. “Five by five, dudes. The name’s Faith.”

The End

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