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‘What the hell is that alarm?’ Doctor Yuki Masaki says, clasping her hands over her ears.
‘I don’t know!’ her faithful assistant replies, checking the readout on his wrist PC.
‘What do you mean you don’t know!?’
‘I mean I’ve literally never seen this icon before!’ he clarifies, tapping the flashing red glyph. ‘I’m checking to see what it represents now.’ His fingertips dance across the virtual keyboard the projects out from the metallic band.
‘Excellent. And while you’re at it, figure out how to shut the damn thing off!’
Yuki studies her assistant as he cycles through several documents. His face screws up in concentration as he starts reading at length. His eyes widen for a moment and expression morphs into confusion. ‘What is it?’
He turns to face her. ‘It’s the intruder alarm.’
Yuki’s face falters. ‘That can’t be right. It’s impossible.’
‘So it’s gotta be a mistake.’
‘There’s a good chance that that’s the case…but we’ve got to be sure.’
‘Can you at least turn off the alarm?’
‘Oh, yeah. Sorry,’ her assistant says and punches in a couple lines of command. The klaxons go silent. ‘There we go.’
Yuki brings her palms down from the sides of her face. She heaves a sigh. ‘ Looks like we’ll have to end this excursion before it even begins. Alright, take us back.’
Yuki’s assistant exits out of his wrist PC and closes his eyes and relaxes his mind. The transparent orb around them starts to glow a soft yellow and gradually lights up to a brilliant white. In an instant, the location they tuned into snaps away from them, or rather, they whisk away from it. The psychic tethers rocket the two back the way they came through the Void. They watch the vivid colours of the timelines below them. Neither speak a word as they both let countless scenarios play through their heads. They aren’t sure what exactly was waiting for them, but they have a feeling it isn’t a good thing.
In the next instant both Yuki and her assistant were standing on the platform in the middle of her underground lab.
Nothing was in disarray…and no one was waiting for them.
‘Check the sensors,’ Yuki whispered to her companion.
‘There will be no need for that,’ an other-worldly voice booms around them.
Yuki flinches. ‘Jesus! C’mon inside voices!’
A bright orange glow starts up from the far side of the room, the area that exits to the breakroom and lounge. Yuki and her assistant look on as a hulking figure materialises through the thick metal doors. It lazily floats toward them, legs and arms down and straight. Flames swirl around its chiseled frame.
‘Whatever that is, it isn’t coming for a fight,’ Yuki’s assistant proposes quietly.
‘I’m not sure it could even if it tried,’ Yuki replies in the same hushed manner. ‘The fire isn’t catching on anything in here. None of the sprinkler systems have activated. I’m not feeling the heat from that fire either.’
Yuki takes a step forward, putting herself in front of her comrade. ‘Can I help you? This is my laboratory you’ve found yourself in; obviously it’s no accident. People don’t just stumble in.’
‘You can, indeed, help me, Doctor Masaki,’ the deep voice booms again. ‘I’m glad we finally get a chance to meet.’
With a flick of the wrist, a blue-white glow in the form of a cube surrounds both Yuki and her assistant. Intense beams create a grid pattern around them. They are not steady and flicker between a blinding white and a cooler blue.
‘More fire; cute,’ Yuki says, eyeing her holding cell. ‘Preeetty sure we’ve not met, there, buddy.’
‘Not in an official capacity, no. You were, however, watching my every move.’
‘What? Back in Australia? Nah, man, we were observing the bushfires in that small own. Your ass just happened to be the cause. No one’s left alive there to tell that tale.’
‘Correct. I was doing my best to get you to see me.’
‘Curious machine you have here, Doctor Masaki. You use it to study the world and its inhabitants without interference, no?’
‘It allows me to do that for extended periods, yes.’
‘But almost always it draws you to the ‘supernatural’, does it not?’
‘It detects patterns that intrigue me, yes.’
‘And death and destruction are almost always present?’
Yuki narrows her eyes and her tone turns sour. ‘Who the hell are you?’
The large man raises his eyebrows as if he’s surprised to hear the question. ‘I’m one of those people you chose to watch and let die.’
The inquisitor grimaces. ‘You really don’t remember me, do you? Well, I shouldn’t be shocked, considering how many lives you seen snuffed out over the years. There are a number of us who’ve seen you, while in their most desperate and tragic moments, peering down from beyond like an uncaring god.
‘You merely watch and ‘study’ and do absolutely nothing to lend a hand…to do the right thing.’
Yuki objects to this. ‘If we were to break through and interfere it would do more harm than good—’
‘And not acting to save lives when you damn well can prevent it? You callously watch us all. Are our lives nothing to you other than mere entertainment?’
‘What are you studying anyway, Doctor, that blinds you to the suffering and staggering levels of destruction you’ve witnessed?’
As she is about to answer, the malevolent being starts up again. ‘This machine could end our suffering. As penance for your failure to act, you will use this technology to turn around our fates or hand it over and stand aside!’
Yuki feels the last bit of her nerves being tested. ‘I’m not going to answer that. You’ve no right to come in here with your ventriloquist, Dolby surround sound speaking ass, clipping through my laboratory walls like a shitty DOS game and demand anything of me.’
‘You are complicit in—’
‘Again, I ask who the hell you are and what fucking authority you have to come here and accuse me and demands of me’
‘If you refuse to comply—’
‘STOP!’ Yuki’s assistant shouts. This catches both Yuki and the intruder off guard. They both pause and turn in sync to him. ‘Sir, if I may,’ the assistant regains his composure and steps forward. ‘Yes, we have seen our share of tragedies during our viewings…that is very true. But we have also seen plenty of ordinary, everyday…and, quite often, touching things. We’ve seen scientific wonders and documented supernatural events and beings that were once considered mythical.
‘We realised how little we knew about our world—and then on top of that learning of multiple timelines and planes of existence. Both lifeand death figure into our studies and we need to be able to explore them without manipulating the people of the environment.
‘I’m not a scientist…so I cannot even fathom what we could do or where we could go after compiling this data…but I trust Yuki…and I know she has practical reasons for these excursions.’
The fiery titan stews over this. He turns his attention back to Yuki and stares down at her so hard that the assistant thinks she will surely burst into flame. After a moment, he speaks slowly and icily, ‘Help us turn back time so that we can turn around our lives and those of our loved ones.’
With regret, Yuki shakes her head. ‘I can’t do that.’
‘Then you leave us no choice in the matter. You will see me again…and the others. It will not be a pleasant experience, I can assure you of that.’
Yuki steps through the fire grid surrounding her, unscathed and not even the slightest bit warm. ‘Then do something about it.’
The hulking man snarls and explodes into thick orange flames and disappears in a whisp of blue-grey smoke.
Yuki sighs after a beat. ‘Well, that was mildly alarming.’
Her assistant, on the other hand, was just beginning to feel the gravity of the situation weigh down on him. ‘What was that all about?’
‘I haven’t a clue…yet.’
‘What do we do?’
‘What we do every night—research.’
‘Bring up the data logs?’
‘Even the ones before my time?’
Yuki stalls for a moment. ‘I’ll get those. We may not have much time. That monster could affect some worlds—we saw that ourselves. But not ours. We need to figure out why and then we’ll have a more realistic timeframe for when to expect them again. And they will be back…but it’ll be a cold day in hell that they take my baby away from me.’
‘Yuki?’ Her assistant asks, sounding afraid.
‘When they do come back…what do we do?’
This stops Yuki in her tracks and she has to stop and think for a second. ‘I dunno, kid. That’s the next thing we gotta work on. I’m not gonna let anything happen to you. If shit looks like it’s gonna go sideways, you’re getting out of here. Got it?’
Her assistant considers this and reluctantly nods his head. ‘Yeah, got it.’