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Category Archives: Mystery

  1. Excerpt — The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival by Stephanie Osborn

    3

    June 23, 2016 by stephanieosborn

    by Stephanie Osborn http://www.stephanie-osborn.com This is not your father’s Sherlock Holmes… The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival is …
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  2. Where the Winds Blow — Part 10

    2

    January 2, 2015 by jorthusbooks

    by Ruth Davis Hays 2011 Computer issues have delayed the monthly post, but here it is. Passions set aside in …
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  3. “The Storm Inside” by R Davis Hays

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    April 25, 2014 by jorthusbooks

    I apologize for my absence on Cereal Authors; it has been a strange and hectic couple of months. Not that …
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  4. Stephanie Osborn Presents The Case of the Cosmological Killer: The Rendlesham Incident

    3

    November 23, 2012 by dellanioakes

    Excerpt: The Case of the Cosmological Killer: The Rendlesham Incident an SF mystery by Stephanie Osborn This is Book 3 of the …
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  5. The Case of the Displaced Detective: The Arrival

    1

    October 23, 2012 by stephanieosborn

    Prologue—Objects, Subjects, and Beginnings

    A tall, dark figure, clad in formal Victorian eveningwear, strode briskly down the shadowed street, casually swinging his silver-embellished walking stick. No carriages had passed in the last half-hour, and only one hansom cab had wandered by ten minutes before, its horse’s hollow hoofbeats echoing between the buildings. The gas street-lamps were long since lit, but between them were patches of deep darkness, patches entirely too broad for comfort in these circumstances. Beneath the brim of his silk top hat, eagle-sharp grey eyes darted about, studying the shadows, alert and aware. For well this man knew that danger lurked in the gloom this night, danger peculiar to him alone; and he was alone. So very alone.

    But not for long. He was headed to a specific destination. To the one man he knew he could trust, the one man who would stand at his side regardless of danger—for had he not done so, many times before? Was not this the reason for the deep, if largely unspoken, bond of friendship between them?

    His friend would help. There was no doubt in his mind on that point. Already today two attempts had been made upon his life, and well did this man need help.

    “Not far now,” the words breathed past thin, pale lips. “Almost ther—”

    The words died on said lips.

    A hulking, brutish shadow materialised from the alleyway in front of him.

    The elegant man in the top hat ducked just in time to avoid the lead-weighted bludgeon that swung through the space his head had occupied fractions of a second before. Instead, the silk hat took the brunt of the blow, flying across the sidewalk and into a puddle in the gutter, its side crushed. Flinging up his cane and grasping each end in his hands, the gentleman dropped into an Oriental horse stance, and prepared to do battle.

    “’Ere, now,” the other figure said, in a coarse growl. “Hit’s th’ end o’ you, it is. Me superior won’t be ‘arvin’ it, an’ Oi means t’ see ‘e don’t ‘arve ta.”

    “You can try,” the gentleman replied, calm. “But better men than you have tried, and here I stand.”

    A guttural, angry sound emerged from the assailant, and the cudgel swung again, this time with enough force to crush bone. Deft, the gentleman caught it with the center of his cane, but to his chagrin the walking-stick, his weapon of choice in many a similar street altercation, chose that moment to give up the ghost. It snapped in two, splintering and cracking. He snarled his own irritation, and flung the pieces aside when he realised there was not enough left to use as a decent weapon.

    Then he began to flit and weave as the other man smirked and lunged at him, swinging the club repeatedly, as hard as he could. It was a dance of death, and one wrong move by the gentleman would have serious, possibly fatal, consequences.

    But the man in the evening dress was not without weapons; no, his best weapons were permanently attached to his person. The alert grey eyes watched, looking for some opening; and when he saw his chance, he struck like lightning. A fist shot out at the loutish face, catching the hit man squarely in the mouth just as he realised his danger and started to shout for help. All that came out was a grunt, however, and the assassin fell to the pavement as if pole-axed, with both lips split.

    The gentleman hissed in pain, grabbing his fist with his other hand for a moment to let the worst of the discomfort pass before examining the damage.

    “By Jove, he has sharp teeth for such a troglodyte,” he murmured, peeling off the ruined black kid glove to expose the bloody knuckles beneath. “Completely through the leather and into the flesh. I shall have to have this disinfected, for certain. No time for that now. Go, man!” He turned swiftly to resume his journey.

    A crack resounded from the brownstone close at hand, and the man felt a spray of stone chips strike the side of his face. He flinched, and a sharp curse left his lips. He took to his heels and rounded the corner of the street, then disappeared into shadow.

    * * *

    Not ten feet away from the gentleman, though invisible to him, an elegant blonde woman in a white lab coat stood between tall, electronic towers. Behind her, concentric rows of computer consoles were manned by two dozen scientists, engineers, and technicians. Surrounding all of them was a huge, domed room carved from solid pink granite.

    The woman stood for long minutes, silent, watching.

    Finally one of the technicians broke the electronic silence.

    “So, Doc, whaddaya think?”

    “What do you think, Jim? How were the readings?” The woman turned toward him.

    “I’ve got bang-on, Dr. Chadwick,” Jim noted, glancing down at his own console, brown eyes darting about as he surveyed his readouts. “But I can’t say for everybody else.”

    “Rock steady at Timelines,” someone else called.

    “Sequencing looks good…” another said.

    “Software’s running nominally.”

    “Hardware’s humming right along…”

    On it went, from console to console. Finally the woman nodded.

    “Perfect,” she purred in deep satisfaction. “We’ve got our subject. Page Dr. Hughes and have her come down.”

    “On it, Doc,” Jim grinned, reaching for the phone.

    Chapter 1—Water Falls Through Wormholes

    “Are you sure, Skye?” Dr. Caitlin Hughes, the Project Director, a roly-poly redheaded woman, murmured to the attractive woman at her side.

    “I’m sure, Cait.” Dr. Skye Chadwick, a tall, athletic, well-proportioned blonde in her late thirties, and Project: Tesseract’s chief scientist, tucked an escaped strand of long spun gold behind one ear; the rest remained in the thick French braid that draped down her neck. “We’ve dinked all the way around it for several months now. We’ve got the alternate continuum thoroughly mapped out, and we know what we’re doing. All systems are fully operational and running like the proverbial top. It’s time to go in and observe firsthand. We’ll watch the actual event, then send in an exploration team.” She turned and met her friend’s bright green eyes. “Don’t worry. Washington will be more than satisfied.”

    “Oh, I’m not worried about that,” the project manager waved away the reassurances. “I just don’t want you or any of the team getting hurt if something goes wrong.”

    “Nothing will go wrong,” Dr. Chadwick said, almost in a whisper, but with confidence. Dr. Hughes took one look at the blue eyes, glancing between the clipboard full of notes and the information on the monitors, and realized Skye was concentrating on the preparations. Caitlin waited for a few moments, allowing Skye to follow through on the prep work before speaking again.

    “I can’t believe you actually found an alternate timeline like this one. It’s…well, it’s fascinating. The similarities, and the differences…”

    “Yeah,” Dr. Chadwick chuckled. “You know, the parallel universe concept has been around a long time, and it looks like we’ve finally managed to prove it. I’ll be glad to get this done and the sanitized paper written and published on the matter. It’ll blow the community wide open, not to mention the whole field of research.”

    “Watch out how you write it. If you’re not careful, your colleagues will think you’ve gone off the deep end and believe that TV show is real.” Dr. Hughes laughed.

    “Oh, you mean the time gate thing they film up in Canada?” Dr. Chadwick grinned mischievously. “Whose idea was that, anyway? It’s made for one of the best covers for a classified project I’ve ever seen.”

    “Nobody you’d know,” Caitlin smirked. “Friend of mine in the Pentagon came up with it. He’s a real smart-ass. Fun guy, but full of it.”

    “You don’t mean Mike Waters, do you?” Skye snorted, a decidedly amused, if unladylike, sound.

    “The very one. I didn’t know you knew him.”

    “Hell, yeah. Met him when I was in Washington two years ago for that conference. I don’t think I told you, but he made a play for me. We even dated once or twice, but it didn’t work out. I never could figure out how he wound up in D.C. instead of L.A., though.”

    “He said it was more of a challenge.” Dr. Hughes shrugged, then paused. “This is going to be really interesting, Skye. I mean, aside from the proof of concept, you’re going to get to watch one of your heroes. In action, no less.”

    Dr. Chadwick nodded, the expression on her face depicting decidedly mixed emotions.

    “Yeah. I can’t believe he’s real. But you know, there was this science fiction author…he theorized that our literature is reality elsewhere, and vice versa. Lemme think…who the hell was it…? Somebody famous…Oh! Robert Heinlein! You know, his ‘World as Myth’ concept. And an Argentine writer named Jorge Luis Borges first introduced the concept, sorta, even before quantum mechanics did. So I guess it makes sense after a fashion.”

    Dr. Hughes listened, understanding the notion; but she knew Chadwick better than to be easily diverted, and she scrutinized her friend, then pursued the issue. “This is hurting you.”

    “He’s going to die—for real—and I get to watch it. I mean, in this continuum, there isn’t a happy ending after the Falls. Wouldn’t it hurt you, if he was your hero?” Dr. Chadwick shrugged.

    “Yeah. Yeah, I guess it would,” Caitlin sighed, sobering. “Why are you doing this particular timeline, then?”

    “Because the team voted, for one, and for two, it’s the only one we’ve found where the incident isn’t…spied on. The…compatriot, henchman, whatever you want to call him…got rounded up, in this particular scenario. There’s only the two men, and we’ll be the sole witnesses to what really happened. When it’s…over, we’ll send observers in, take a good look, record some data, and pull out. We’ll be the only beings in the multiverse with an actual record of what happened.” Skye shrugged, trying to appear indifferent.

    “Oh,” Caitlin said, subdued.

    “Dr. Chadwick, Dr. Hughes, it’s ready,” Jim the technician called from across the large underground room.

    “That’s our cue,” Dr. Chadwick noted, managing to approximate a cheerful smile, addressing the room at large. “Everyone please stand behind the yellow line until the doors open. No food, drink, flash photography, or video cameras are permitted. Once aboard the ride, please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times until we come to a full and complete stop. Otherwise, they’re apt to end up in another universe somewhere without ya, and wouldn’t that fry your noggin?”

    Outright laughter ran around the room, and Dr. Chadwick added, “Checklist out!” She raised the clipboard she had held absently in one hand for the last several minutes while she talked, scanning over it.

    “Checklist…” the nearest experiment controller parroted.

    “Checklist out,” the next nearest vouched.

    “Checklist here…” and so on, around the room.

    “Go/no-go call,” Dr. Chadwick announced. “Processing?”

    “Go.”

    “Software?”

    “Go.”

    “Timelines?”

    “Go.”

    “Sequencing?”

    “Go…”

    * * *

    Ten minutes later, all was in readiness. Caitlin and Skye exchanged silent, eloquent looks. Caitlin “became” Project Manager Dr. Hughes, who nodded authoritatively. Dr. Chadwick accepted the unspoken permission to proceed.

    “Sequencing, bring us to observation mode,” the chief scientist ordered.

    “Going to observation mode,” the Sequencing position noted.

    Dr. Chadwick checked off a block on her clipboard.

    The room in which they stood was underground, deep beneath Schriever Air Force Base outside Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Chamber, as it was called, was the most secure facility in the United States, even more secure than Cheyenne Mountain, some miles to the west, newer, and far more advanced technologically. The underground facility was composed of a single large central chamber and eight smaller support rooms clustered around the main room, all carved of solid granite. Skye, Caitlin, and their companions occupied the central chamber, while support teams manned the equipment in each of the secondary rooms. Outside the complex, high-speed elevators and a network of corridors terminating in security airlocks covertly connected them to the rest of the base.

    The center of the huge rock-hewn room stood empty. The controller consoles huddled close around the periphery, but eight large columns, monoliths of titanium steel and circuits, surrounded the empty center. Upon Dr. Chadwick’s order, a hum began, moving sequentially around the room from column to column as the system powered up. A carbon dioxide laser beam shot out, interlacing the monoliths in the classic hypercube design, exchanging data, forging them into one coherent unit. In the volume of space contained within the high-tech Stonehenge, vague, three-dimensional, ghostlike images flitted.

    “Locus,” Dr. Chadwick called to the appropriately-labeled console, “dial in to Switzerland. Meiringen. The Falls.”

    The images translated in a dizzying kaleidoscope, then settled on an almost holographic image of a tall, multi-tiered waterfall high in the Swiss Alps.

    “Timelines, shift to Continuum 114…” Dr. Chadwick checked off a block on her clipboard. No change was seen, save that the hologram flickered momentarily.

    “Continuum 114,” the Timelines position called. “Date?”

    “Year 1891 of the Current Era, month five, day four,” Dr. Chadwick answered. Another check.

    Multicolored flashes darted through the hologram for several minutes, then settled.

    “Time?” came the request.

    “13:30 Greenwich Mean Time.”

    “Copy, 13:30 Greenwich,” Timelines answered.

    The falling water sped up to a ridiculous rate, then suddenly slowed to a complete stop. After a moment, it resumed a normal flow. Abruptly two men could be seen on a ledge near the top of the falls. One—tall, thin, dark-haired, grey-eyed, handsome in an austere, hawk-like sort of way—sat quietly on a rock only yards from the pinnacle of the path, clad in Victorian-style tweed traveling clothes. A sturdy hiking staff rested against the side of the rock on which he sat, and he calmly scribbled something on a notepad. The other man was older: Balding, stoop-shouldered, almost reptilian in movement and appearance, clad in black, waiting patiently along the downward path, and in a subtle, almost menacing way, blocking it. Before them, the falls leapt down in tiers for over six hundred and fifty feet. To one side, a gleaming, wet rock wall; on the other, a sheer drop.

    “Track subjects. Initiate recording. Begin silent protocol,” Dr. Chadwick ordered in an absent voice, her eyes fixed on the image in the center of the room. “Sequencing, focus, please.”

    Suddenly the images in the center of the room became more than images. They solidified.

    Skye and Caitlin tiptoed forward until they stood right outside the ring of monoliths, looking between two of the columns at the active tableau. Skye tensed, face drawn. Caitlin divided her attention between the events unfolding within the monoliths, and the pale, strained expression on her friend’s face.

    * * *

    The tweed-clad man studied his handiwork for a moment, then nodded to himself. He stood and removed the pages from the notepad, then placed them on the stone, weighting them down with a handsome silver cigarette case produced from a pocket. He studied the positioning, then adjusted case and papers. A small shift in the location of the hiking stick seemed to suit him at last, convincing him it would now draw attention to the objects resting on the dark grey stone. Then, with a grim, set jaw, he turned to his companion.

    “Well,” he murmured, “shall we complete this unsavoury little business?”

    “We shall,” his older, black-clad companion agreed coldly.

    The pair turned and walked to the very end of the path, wet with spray from the falls. Tweed Suit, pale but calm, turned and faced Black Coat. With a fierce, angry growl, Black Coat launched himself at Tweed Suit, a murderous gleam in his eye. Tweed Suit dropped into a martial arts crouch and closed with his opponent, but despite Tweed Suit’s greater strength and skill, Black Coat’s fury gave him a strength that was equal to his opponent. The pair grappled, teetering on the very rim of the precipice.

    This is an excerpt from the first book in my critically acclaimed science fiction mystery series, the Displaced Detective. Book 4 in the series comes out in November, with at least three more planned, quite likely more. The books are available in trade paper and pretty much every ebook format currently known to mankind! Purchase links are on my website, http://www.stephanie-osborn.com

    -Stephanie Osborn

    ~~~

    Prologue—Objects, Subjects, and Beginnings

     

    A tall, dark figure, clad in formal Victorian eveningwear, strode briskly down the shadowed street, casually swinging his silver-embellished walking stick. No carriages had passed in the last half-hour, and only one hansom cab had wandered by ten minutes before, its horse’s hollow hoofbeats echoing between the buildings. The gas street-lamps were long since lit, but between them were patches of deep darkness, patches entirely too broad for comfort in these circumstances. Beneath the brim of his silk top hat, eagle-sharp grey eyes darted about, studying the shadows, alert and aware. For well this man knew that danger lurked in the gloom this night, danger peculiar to him alone; and he was alone. So very alone.

     

    But not for long. He was headed to a specific destination. To the one man he knew he could trust, the one man who would stand at his side regardless of danger—for had he not done so, many times before? Was not this the reason for the deep, if largely unspoken, bond of friendship between them?

     

    His friend would help. There was no doubt in his mind on that point. Already today two attempts had been made upon his life, and well did this man need help.

     

    “Not far now,” the words breathed past thin, pale lips. “Almost ther—”

     

    The words died on said lips.

     

    A hulking, brutish shadow materialised from the alleyway in front of him.

     

    The elegant man in the top hat ducked just in time to avoid the lead-weighted bludgeon that swung through the space his head had occupied fractions of a second before. Instead, the silk hat took the brunt of the blow, flying across the sidewalk and into a puddle in the gutter, its side crushed. Flinging up his cane and grasping each end in his hands, the gentleman dropped into an Oriental horse stance, and prepared to do battle.

     

    “’Ere, now,” the other figure said, in a coarse growl. “Hit’s th’ end o’ you, it is. Me superior won’t be ‘arvin’ it, an’ Oi means t’ see ‘e don’t ‘arve ta.”

     

    “You can try,” the gentleman replied, calm. “But better men than you have tried, and here I stand.”

     

    A guttural, angry sound emerged from the assailant, and the cudgel swung again, this time with enough force to crush bone. Deft, the gentleman caught it with the center of his cane, but to his chagrin the walking-stick, his weapon of choice in many a similar street altercation, chose that moment to give up the ghost. It snapped in two, splintering and cracking. He snarled his own irritation, and flung the pieces aside when he realised there was not enough left to use as a decent weapon.

     

    Then he began to flit and weave as the other man smirked and lunged at him, swinging the club repeatedly, as hard as he could. It was a dance of death, and one wrong move by the gentleman would have serious, possibly fatal, consequences.

     

    But the man in the evening dress was not without weapons; no, his best weapons were permanently attached to his person. The alert grey eyes watched, looking for some opening; and when he saw his chance, he struck like lightning. A fist shot out at the loutish face, catching the hit man squarely in the mouth just as he realised his danger and started to shout for help. All that came out was a grunt, however, and the assassin fell to the pavement as if pole-axed, with both lips split.

     

    The gentleman hissed in pain, grabbing his fist with his other hand for a moment to let the worst of the discomfort pass before examining the damage.

     

    “By Jove, he has sharp teeth for such a troglodyte,” he murmured, peeling off the ruined black kid glove to expose the bloody knuckles beneath. “Completely through the leather and into the flesh. I shall have to have this disinfected, for certain. No time for that now. Go, man!” He turned swiftly to resume his journey.

     

    A crack resounded from the brownstone close at hand, and the man felt a spray of stone chips strike the side of his face. He flinched, and a sharp curse left his lips. He took to his heels and rounded the corner of the street, then disappeared into shadow.

     

    * * *

     

    Not ten feet away from the gentleman, though invisible to him, an elegant blonde woman in a white lab coat stood between tall, electronic towers. Behind her, concentric rows of computer consoles were manned by two dozen scientists, engineers, and technicians. Surrounding all of them was a huge, domed room carved from solid pink granite.

     

    The woman stood for long minutes, silent, watching.

     

    Finally one of the technicians broke the electronic silence.

     

    “So, Doc, whaddaya think?”

     

    “What do you think, Jim? How were the readings?” The woman turned toward him.

     

    “I’ve got bang-on, Dr. Chadwick,” Jim noted, glancing down at his own console, brown eyes darting about as he surveyed his readouts. “But I can’t say for everybody else.”

     

    “Rock steady at Timelines,” someone else called.

     

    “Sequencing looks good…” another said.

     

    “Software’s running nominally.”

     

    “Hardware’s humming right along…”

     

    On it went, from console to console. Finally the woman nodded.

     

    “Perfect,” she purred in deep satisfaction. “We’ve got our subject. Page Dr. Hughes and have her come down.”

     

    “On it, Doc,” Jim grinned, reaching for the phone.

     

     

     

     

     

    Chapter 1—Water Falls Through Wormholes

     

    “Are you sure, Skye?” Dr. Caitlin Hughes, the Project Director, a roly-poly redheaded woman, murmured to the attractive woman at her side.

     

    “I’m sure, Cait.” Dr. Skye Chadwick, a tall, athletic, well-proportioned blonde in her late thirties, and Project: Tesseract’s chief scientist, tucked an escaped strand of long spun gold behind one ear; the rest remained in the thick French braid that draped down her neck. “We’ve dinked all the way around it for several months now. We’ve got the alternate continuum thoroughly mapped out, and we know what we’re doing. All systems are fully operational and running like the proverbial top. It’s time to go in and observe firsthand. We’ll watch the actual event, then send in an exploration team.” She turned and met her friend’s bright green eyes. “Don’t worry. Washington will be more than satisfied.”

     

    “Oh, I’m not worried about that,” the project manager waved away the reassurances. “I just don’t want you or any of the team getting hurt if something goes wrong.”

     

    “Nothing will go wrong,” Dr. Chadwick said, almost in a whisper, but with confidence. Dr. Hughes took one look at the blue eyes, glancing between the clipboard full of notes and the information on the monitors, and realized Skye was concentrating on the preparations. Caitlin waited for a few moments, allowing Skye to follow through on the prep work before speaking again.

     

    “I can’t believe you actually found an alternate timeline like this one. It’s…well, it’s fascinating. The similarities, and the differences…”

     

    “Yeah,” Dr. Chadwick chuckled. “You know, the parallel universe concept has been around a long time, and it looks like we’ve finally managed to prove it. I’ll be glad to get this done and the sanitized paper written and published on the matter. It’ll blow the community wide open, not to mention the whole field of research.”

     

    “Watch out how you write it. If you’re not careful, your colleagues will think you’ve gone off the deep end and believe that TV show is real.” Dr. Hughes laughed.

     

    “Oh, you mean the time gate thing they film up in Canada?” Dr. Chadwick grinned mischievously. “Whose idea was that, anyway? It’s made for one of the best covers for a classified project I’ve ever seen.”

     

    “Nobody you’d know,” Caitlin smirked. “Friend of mine in the Pentagon came up with it. He’s a real smart-ass. Fun guy, but full of it.”

     

    “You don’t mean Mike Waters, do you?” Skye snorted, a decidedly amused, if unladylike, sound.

     

    “The very one. I didn’t know you knew him.”

     

    “Hell, yeah. Met him when I was in Washington two years ago for that conference. I don’t think I told you, but he made a play for me. We even dated once or twice, but it didn’t work out. I never could figure out how he wound up in D.C. instead of L.A., though.”

     

    “He said it was more of a challenge.” Dr. Hughes shrugged, then paused. “This is going to be really interesting, Skye. I mean, aside from the proof of concept, you’re going to get to watch one of your heroes. In action, no less.”

     

    Dr. Chadwick nodded, the expression on her face depicting decidedly mixed emotions.

     

    “Yeah. I can’t believe he’s real. But you know, there was this science fiction author…he theorized that our literature is reality elsewhere, and vice versa. Lemme think…who the hell was it…? Somebody famous…Oh! Robert Heinlein! You know, his ‘World as Myth’ concept. And an Argentine writer named Jorge Luis Borges first introduced the concept, sorta, even before quantum mechanics did. So I guess it makes sense after a fashion.”

     

    Dr. Hughes listened, understanding the notion; but she knew Chadwick better than to be easily diverted, and she scrutinized her friend, then pursued the issue. “This is hurting you.”

     

    “He’s going to die—for real—and I get to watch it. I mean, in this continuum, there isn’t a happy ending after the Falls. Wouldn’t it hurt you, if he was your hero?” Dr. Chadwick shrugged.

     

    “Yeah. Yeah, I guess it would,” Caitlin sighed, sobering. “Why are you doing this particular timeline, then?”

     

    “Because the team voted, for one, and for two, it’s the only one we’ve found where the incident isn’t…spied on. The…compatriot, henchman, whatever you want to call him…got rounded up, in this particular scenario. There’s only the two men, and we’ll be the sole witnesses to what really happened. When it’s…over, we’ll send observers in, take a good look, record some data, and pull out. We’ll be the only beings in the multiverse with an actual record of what happened.” Skye shrugged, trying to appear indifferent.

     

    “Oh,” Caitlin said, subdued.

     

    “Dr. Chadwick, Dr. Hughes, it’s ready,” Jim the technician called from across the large underground room.

     

    “That’s our cue,” Dr. Chadwick noted, managing to approximate a cheerful smile, addressing the room at large. “Everyone please stand behind the yellow line until the doors open. No food, drink, flash photography, or video cameras are permitted. Once aboard the ride, please keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times until we come to a full and complete stop. Otherwise, they’re apt to end up in another universe somewhere without ya, and wouldn’t that fry your noggin?”

     

    Outright laughter ran around the room, and Dr. Chadwick added, “Checklist out!” She raised the clipboard she had held absently in one hand for the last several minutes while she talked, scanning over it.

     

    “Checklist…” the nearest experiment controller parroted.

     

    “Checklist out,” the next nearest vouched.

     

    “Checklist here…” and so on, around the room.

     

    “Go/no-go call,” Dr. Chadwick announced. “Processing?”

     

    “Go.”

     

    “Software?”

     

    “Go.”

     

    “Timelines?”

     

    “Go.”

     

    “Sequencing?”

     

    “Go…”

     

    * * *

     

    Ten minutes later, all was in readiness. Caitlin and Skye exchanged silent, eloquent looks. Caitlin “became” Project Manager Dr. Hughes, who nodded authoritatively. Dr. Chadwick accepted the unspoken permission to proceed.

     

    “Sequencing, bring us to observation mode,” the chief scientist ordered.

     

    “Going to observation mode,” the Sequencing position noted.

     

    Dr. Chadwick checked off a block on her clipboard.

     

    The room in which they stood was underground, deep beneath Schriever Air Force Base outside Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Chamber, as it was called, was the most secure facility in the United States, even more secure than Cheyenne Mountain, some miles to the west, newer, and far more advanced technologically. The underground facility was composed of a single large central chamber and eight smaller support rooms clustered around the main room, all carved of solid granite. Skye, Caitlin, and their companions occupied the central chamber, while support teams manned the equipment in each of the secondary rooms. Outside the complex, high-speed elevators and a network of corridors terminating in security airlocks covertly connected them to the rest of the base.

     

    The center of the huge rock-hewn room stood empty. The controller consoles huddled close around the periphery, but eight large columns, monoliths of titanium steel and circuits, surrounded the empty center. Upon Dr. Chadwick’s order, a hum began, moving sequentially around the room from column to column as the system powered up. A carbon dioxide laser beam shot out, interlacing the monoliths in the classic hypercube design, exchanging data, forging them into one coherent unit. In the volume of space contained within the high-tech Stonehenge, vague, three-dimensional, ghostlike images flitted.

     

    “Locus,” Dr. Chadwick called to the appropriately-labeled console, “dial in to Switzerland. Meiringen. The Falls.”

     

    The images translated in a dizzying kaleidoscope, then settled on an almost holographic image of a tall, multi-tiered waterfall high in the Swiss Alps.

     

    “Timelines, shift to Continuum 114…” Dr. Chadwick checked off a block on her clipboard. No change was seen, save that the hologram flickered momentarily.

     

    “Continuum 114,” the Timelines position called. “Date?”

     

    “Year 1891 of the Current Era, month five, day four,” Dr. Chadwick answered. Another check.

     

    Multicolored flashes darted through the hologram for several minutes, then settled.

     

    “Time?” came the request.

     

    “13:30 Greenwich Mean Time.”

     

    “Copy, 13:30 Greenwich,” Timelines answered.

     

    The falling water sped up to a ridiculous rate, then suddenly slowed to a complete stop. After a moment, it resumed a normal flow. Abruptly two men could be seen on a ledge near the top of the falls. One—tall, thin, dark-haired, grey-eyed, handsome in an austere, hawk-like sort of way—sat quietly on a rock only yards from the pinnacle of the path, clad in Victorian-style tweed traveling clothes. A sturdy hiking staff rested against the side of the rock on which he sat, and he calmly scribbled something on a notepad. The other man was older: Balding, stoop-shouldered, almost reptilian in movement and appearance, clad in black, waiting patiently along the downward path, and in a subtle, almost menacing way, blocking it. Before them, the falls leapt down in tiers for over six hundred and fifty feet. To one side, a gleaming, wet rock wall; on the other, a sheer drop.

     

    “Track subjects. Initiate recording. Begin silent protocol,” Dr. Chadwick ordered in an absent voice, her eyes fixed on the image in the center of the room. “Sequencing, focus, please.”

     

    Suddenly the images in the center of the room became more than images. They solidified.

     

    Skye and Caitlin tiptoed forward until they stood right outside the ring of monoliths, looking between two of the columns at the active tableau. Skye tensed, face drawn. Caitlin divided her attention between the events unfolding within the monoliths, and the pale, strained expression on her friend’s face.

     

    * * *

     

    The tweed-clad man studied his handiwork for a moment, then nodded to himself. He stood and removed the pages from the notepad, then placed them on the stone, weighting them down with a handsome silver cigarette case produced from a pocket. He studied the positioning, then adjusted case and papers. A small shift in the location of the hiking stick seemed to suit him at last, convincing him it would now draw attention to the objects resting on the dark grey stone. Then, with a grim, set jaw, he turned to his companion.

     

    “Well,” he murmured, “shall we complete this unsavoury little business?”

     

    “We shall,” his older, black-clad companion agreed coldly.

     

    The pair turned and walked to the very end of the path, wet with spray from the falls. Tweed Suit, pale but calm, turned and faced Black Coat. With a fierce, angry growl, Black Coat launched himself at Tweed Suit, a murderous gleam in his eye. Tweed Suit dropped into a martial arts crouch and closed with his opponent, but despite Tweed Suit’s greater strength and skill, Black Coat’s fury gave him a strength that was equal to his opponent. The pair grappled, teetering on the very rim of the precipice.

     

     

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