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Leppington, Colorado

30 kilometers north of Boulder

“I got nothin’ over here,” Yuki Masaki’s voice echoes through the darkness of the room.

“Yeah, same,” her assistant replies, downtrodden. “I was sure we’d find something in here.”

Yuki sighs and walks down the nave of the decommissioned church, smacking the pews as she makes her way to the altar. Her assistant is sitting in front of it, cross-legged and balancing his laptop on his knees. She takes a seat next to him.

“The signal was coming from this town, right?” he asks. “Like, there’s no way the coordinates were wrong?”

“We’re in the right town, that’s for sure. But this is the spot you wanted to check first—and there’s twenty bucks riding on it. Don’t give up so soon.” She looks up at the moonlight shining through the dusty ornate windows on either side of the mass hall. “There’s plenty more places to set up and take samples. Shall we?”

Her assistant thinks about it, frowning, and sighs. “Sure, why not.”

They scan, at close range, every nook and cranny of the sanctuary and move out to the vestibule. Minor pings, but nothing major. However, there are boxes and a stack of chairs against an internal wall. Yuki thinks there may be a door hidden away behind cobwebby items.

There is not—only another wall panel with cracked and peeling paint. Yuki turns away.

“Hang on a sec,” the assistant says. He feels a cold breeze at his legs. He puts a light to the ground. “I think there’s something down here.”

Yuki also points her flashlight down. “Those boards are a different shade to the rest. Here, help me move this stuff further away.”

He does.

They reveal a trapdoor. It has no lock on the latch, so they open it up with an ungodly creak. Wooden stairs descend into a void. A gust of cold air sends shivers down both of their spines.

Yuki gestures for the assistant to go ahead of her. “Ladies first.”

“That’s insensitive,” he replies while taking careful steps into the darkness.

“Cry about it on your blog.” Yuki grins wryly and follows her assistant.

The walls and floor of the basement are made entirely of stone. Ten sarcophagi rest before them, five in two rows. The carvings on each are unique and extremely detailed. All are undisturbed.

“Looks like we’ve hit the VIP lounge,” the assistant comments, shifting his flashlight side to side.

“Most likely people important to the town or with connections to the church,” Yuki says and sneakily adjusts the dial on her handheld energy meter when her assistant isn’t looking. She notices that he is taking in the details on a few of the memorials. “Names mean anything to you?”

He turns to face her and shakes his head. “Nah, nothing I can recall.” He takes a moment and tucks his flashlight under his arm and refers to his files on his wrist computer. “None of the names come up from our previous excursions in the region—same goes for the timelines.”

“How are the readings for you?” Yuki asks.

“I think they’re actually weaker down here. You?”

Yuki glances down at her screen and reverts back to the previous screen. “Weak on this end too.”

The assistant gets another discouraged look on his face. Just as Yuki is about to say something, he speaks up again. “Neither of us have checked the belfry?”

Yuki shakes her head. “I haven’t.”

“Race you to the top!” He gives Yuki no chance to prepare and hauls ass across the crypt and up the stairs.

Yuki thinks to herself, funny how he can bounce right back up from disappointment.

She doesn’t bother chasing after him; they still have a long night ahead.

I appreciate the optimism, but he needs to be able to accept defeat and the setbacks that occur out in the field…and not to try so damn hard to impress me all the time.

*~*~*

Ever since they decided to check out Leppington, she knew with a ninety-seven percent probability that they would not find the source of the readings in the church.

Early in Yuki’s science career—back in her college days—one of her mentors dropped a bit of knowledge while she was working on her dissertation. It sounded crazy, so she kept the details of her research close to the chest. The only person she dare talk to was Professor John McMillan. An eccentric octogenarian, she took to him immediately in her freshman year. Rumors spread rampant that he’d done some time in the loony bin…and if you had the pleasure of attending his classes or have another interrupted by him, it wasn’t exactly a hard sell.

She’d confided to him her outlandish theories involving time travel and parallel dimensions. Yuki was adamant that there were areas scattered around the planet, even in her hometown, where these planes of existence were close enough to aligning, all that was needed was a little boost to create gateways. She laid out a number of locations to scout. Upon viewing the maps he politely suggested she remove the churches and replace them with anything else, if there were alternate locations to choose from.

When she asked why, he more than happily explained.

“Signals from churches aren’t a fraction of what they were in the early twentieth century. Even until the late forties we got some pretty hefty readings. Year by year, less and less.”

“Every church?”

“Every last one that I studied and followed up on personally. Wait a tick, I’ve got just the thing.”

Professor McMillan got up from his desk and shuffled to a large armoire at the rear of the study. He unlocked the glass casing and effortlessly picked out a book from the dozens stuffed inside.

Thumbing through the pages, he returned to the desk and laid out the pages in front of Yuki. “Here we are, all the tracking sorted by state.”

Yuki flips back and forth through the pages; her eyes soak up the contents. “Excuse me, Professor, but some of these sites date back to the 1800s, some have several decades between studies, and some only start in the forties.”

“All that you see here,” he tapped the book, “before 1942 were tests conducted by my predecessor. I stumbled into his research while he was teaching here and I was still trying to sort my own shit out. It’s been my life’s work ever since.”

“Has any of this ever been published?”

“Planning on stealing my work?”

“No! Oh my god, nothing like that!”

Professor McMillan laughs. “I’m kidding. No, never have and never will most likely.”

“Why not?”

“I’ve not exactly trusted my colleagues here not to call the men in the white coats if I did submit the works. Or worse, if someone from the State Department or some CEO decided to get invested.”

Yuki paused for a moment. “Hang on, if you never published the material, what did you submit for your PhD?”

McMillan smirked. “Cooked up some bullshit theories on ghosts.”

“Well, I’ve got some theories there too, but I don’t think it’s shit.”

Back in the present, Yuki’s assistant calls out from above, “Hey, you comin’?”

“Keep your shorts on, I’m halfway up!”

“I’m getting a reading!”

This gets Yuki’s attention and she hoofs it the rest of the way up. “You’re actually getting something from this place!?”

Her assistant sighs. “No. Not exactly. I guess I’m just high enough to get a clear read, but it looks like it’s coming from somewhere over there.” He nonchalantly jabs his thumb to a lonely side street away from the businesses and homes.

“Hey, kid, don’t take it so hard. It’s science. Almost no one gets this shit a hundred percent right—especially on the first go. You got a fix on the location because you wanted to search this place. So maybe it was a good thing we came here first. Pretty sure this is the best vantage point in town.”

Her assistant nods and offers a small grin. “Thanks, Yuki.”

“That being said, I’m gonna need those twenty dollary-doos now.”

The assistant sighs. “Of course.”

*~*~*

Fifty minutes and a short explanation later, Yuki and her assistant are knee deep in rubble Edmonton Street. No cars drive by them, in spite of the signs and cones they took the time to set up. Yuki is mildly peeved at this.

“Isn’t it a good thing that we don’t have to deal with anyone?” her assistant asks.

“I mean, yeah,” Yuki concedes, “but, man, I spent some time on these forged work documents and company information. This damn logo didn’t draw itself!”

“Didn’t one of your interns come up with that?”

Yuki stops digging and puts down her shovel. “That is beside the point! There was still plenty of time used to make this professional looking design!”

“Fair enough, I guess. What other instances did you prepare for?”

“Having to enter occupied property: reports of gas leaks; wandering around private property: lost tourists; exploring derelict properties: land developers or safety inspectors—your choice. I also have camping gear, scuba supplies, and climbing equipment.”

“You tow around all this stuff and you complain about us setting up plastic cones,” the assistant says and rolls his eyes. He focuses his torch on the hole they are digging. “Hey. Think we got somethin’ here.”

Yuki kneels down and has a closer look. “Hello, what are you?”

“Sewer?”

“Nope. According to the city docs I downloaded, sewage runs under the sidewalks. Water, gas, and electricity—none of ‘em should be here.”

The assistant picks up his shovel and starts scraping away the earth. It’s a slab of concrete, almost a meter under the road.

“Stand back!” Yuki picks up the jackhammer she used earlier and cuts through. It isn’t very thick. Underneath, there are several planks of wood.

“Okay, shit, definitely stay back!” Yuki exclaims and gets out of the hole. “It’s a fucking pit!”

“Gotta be a cave,” the assistant says. “People used to find these entrances to cave systems and went spelunking. Farmers used to cover them up to keep kids from messing around.”

Yuki gets out her energy meter and crouches down and waves around the stick. “What we’re looking for is down here for sure.”

“Okay, cool…what’s next?”

“Somebody’s gotta go down there.”

“Who—” The assistant stops short and looks at Yuki, who’s now smiling. “Ah, dammit.”

“Well, I could never fit…” Yuki starts to defend herself.

“I better be getting hazard pay.”

“Twice that amount.”

“Gimme the rope.”

*~*~*

“Umm, Yuki…it’s much more than a normal cave, the assistant whispers into the mike on his headset.

“Alright, get as many pictures as you can. We’ll need that for the detail. Can you turn on the video camera?”

“On it.” The assistant feels around for the broadcast button on the small camera mounted on his helmet. “Should be on now.”

“Checking…excellent. Video is coming through. Before you start taking pics, let me know which direction you’re facing and slowly shine the light over everything and rotate counterclockwise.”

“Got it. Okay, facing southwest. Here you go!”

Yuki stares intently at her monitor and waits for the perfect harmony of light and balance. And then she sees it, the first in a series of cave paintings. To Yuki, there is something off with this art, something different to all the other Native American paintings she’s seen. It looks…panicked and rushed.

And most of the drawings resemble their hot-headed friend that paid them a visit several weeks back. At least a dozen other demonic-looking entities dominate the empty spaces between them. Tentacles, wings, claws, and more, stem from humanoid bodies.

“What the hell are these things?” the assistant’s shaking voice comes back over the radio.

“I don’t have a clue who they are, but I know what they are.”

The assistant fills the silence: “An army.”

“Yes.”

“There’s one more thing down here, Yuki. I’m turning to it now.”

The camera swivels around to the next surface. Once more there are dozens of smaller figures drawn on to the rock. By far, the largest of the paintings is done simply in black and ochre: furred limbs with deadly talons at the end of each lanky arm and leg and a monstrous pair of bat wings that span nearly the length of the wall.

“I know we’re working on Flameboy now,” the assistant says quietly, “but I think this is the one we really gotta worry about.”

Yuki notices something on the wall near the ground. “Hey, can you look down and to the right?”

“I was afraid you were gonna ask,” the assistant sighs and complies.

Dark red and black splotches coat the bottom half of the wall, where, ages ago, they flowed to the rocky floor. In the few seconds while the camera tilts, Yuki hopes it was just spilled materials of those that were painting. She realizes that hope is in vain as the first shattered bone makes its blurred appearance…along with hundreds more.

“I can’t exactly say how many bodies are down here. There are at least four skulls. I’m gonna take the photos now and get the hell out of here.”

“Yeah, shit, that’s fine. Do that and let me know when you’re ready. Once you’re out I’ll seal this up again.”

“Copy that.”

Wonderful, Yuki thinks. Another puzzle piece and more information to glean. Whatever these things were, they’ve invaded our timeline twice now at two very distinct points history. How many more are still undiscovered?

How many more are yet to come?

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