Fleeting Friendships





Another pothole, but also, a new record. A whole two minutes and forty-eight seconds of peace and rest.

"Peace", he thought, that is why he was here, why he labored on this long journey. For twelve thousand miles, on two planes, a boat, several cars, and even occasionally on foot, he and his team have traveled, all in the name of peace. He is unsure if this peace will be sincere, though judging by the PCAAO's mere invitiation to this site, he assumes it is sincere enough. There had not been a joint Authority PCAAO collaborative research operation since before China's cultural revolution. Now there will be one right on Chinese soil. He is thankful that the times changed, and he was hopeful that this new generation of PCAAO personnel, which he and his team were about to liaise with, were also ready to change.

"Tomlinson, you sure this is the right way to where this facility is?" The man driving the car shouted.

The man in the front passenger seat began to speak with someone in Cantonese on the other end of a satellite phone. "My colleague says the camp is unmistakable, it's right in this valley we're about to travel down into, thirty more minutes he says."

Thirty more minutes, thirty more opportunities to attempt to find even a moment of respite, he rests his head back to the seat, and forcefully shuts his eyes to quicken his sleep.


The car would have no part in becoming a sleeping mat.

Eventually thirty minutes did go by, and the group reached the bottom of the valley, whereupon they began to approach a heavily fortified perimeter fence, surrounding a compound, with a cave opening visible on the side of a mountain.

"Is this the place?" The woman to his left asked. "Those guards have Committee patches, we must be at the right place."

"Just hold on a minute." Said Tomlinson. "They might not know were coming at this hour, I will inform them of who we are, nobody leaves the car." Tomlinson then stepped out of the vehicle, and began to approach the gate.

The guards began yelling in Mandarin, to which Tomlinson raised his hands above his head, and explained to them their purpose. "Are you the RPC Authority Research Team?" One guard shouted in English.

"Yes, we have been requested here by your organization, specifically by Doctor Gu Fueng, I would like to speak to him." He replied.

"All persons step out of the vehicle, we must confirm identities."

"Oh shit." The woman sighed. "Ok, everybody do what Eric is doing, just hold your hands above your head." The remaining three passengers slowly exited the vehicle and approached to stand side by side with Tomlinson.

"Please, each person state their name and profession for the record." The guards commanded.

"Alright." Tomlinson began, "I am Eric Tomlinson, Senior Anthropological Professor for the RPC Authority."

He motions to the driver, who continued. "I am Frank McLean, Senior Archaeological Professor for the RPC Authority."

"I'm Emma Rodgers, I am also a Senior Anthropological Professor for the RPC Authority."

"And I'm Zachary O'Brian, I'm actually only a Junior Researcher, Tomlinson is my Supervisor."

A guard wrote down each name, then retreated behind the perimeter wall, suddenly, exclamations in Mandarin are heard. A man in a lab coat stepped out in front of the guards, and they relaxed their stance. Tomlinson recognized his colleague.

"Gu, my friend, finally, it's so good to see you."

"Eric, I am so terribly sorry about this, I wrote down on the itinerary that you would be arriving."

"Oh it's fine, if this is as significant a find as you think it is, the security is valid."

"Well, we certainly believe it is, come, let us get you established, we have many plans for the anomaly."


Tomlinson motioned for the car, "Our equipment is in this vehicle, may we take it into the facility?"

Dr. Gu spoke with a guard for a moment. "He says it's ok, but all materials must be inspected first."

"Well, if you insist, alright you guys go ahead on in, I'll drive the car through." He walked back towards the car, the rest continued through the gate.

As they entered through the front gate, they began to realize the true scale of this operation, hundreds of personnel were within the compound, dozens were congregated at the opening of the cave, soldiers were drilling, research teams were plotting away in various laboratories.

"Is this more than just a PCAAO operation, I think I see some people from MI13 over there." Emma pointed to a research team, their agency patches signified their allegiance.

"We have invited several research teams from various agencies across the world." A booming voice from behind says to the group. "The nature of this discovery has forced us to rely on collaboration, much to my dismay."

The group turned around, and before them stood what appeared to be a general, clad in full uniform complete with various medals and patches. "My name is General Pai Tung, I am the commander of this facility, come, let me show you to your allotted research lab." He began to walk toward the direction of the other labs.

Frank quickened his pace to walk directly beside the general. "Uhm, well if I may ask, General Pai, why did you call upon various agencies and not the UNAAC directly? I'm sure that they would have-"

"We decided that a public statement to the UNNAC about this operation would have been detrimental to it. This might be a highly sensitive discovery for us, and we could not risk having any of our enemies being informed of it."

Frank paused for a minute, "Fair enough, but, what is it that is so significant?"

"Dr. Gu will have a seminar in the main facility, all research teams will report there later this afternoon to discuss the nature of the anomaly." The general stopped and stood before a mobile trailer. "Here is your allotted research lab, you are free to set up all of your materials in this building and this building only."

The group looked at the trailer, "This is barely bigger than a dormitory?" Zachary cried out.

"Precisely, this will also be your dormitory. We will have strict curfews, all research teams must remain in their allotted laboratories starting at 8 PM until 7 AM the following day. Research personnel must not enter into any other allotted lab besides their own." The general stared down the group. "Failure to follow these guidelines will result in your agency's immediate expulsion from this facility."

Just as he finished his sentence, Tomlinson walked over to inspect the lab. "Well this ain't all that bad, don't worry General, we'll be sure to follow all instructions with great care." Said Tomlinson, hauling a box of research materials. "Come on guys, let's get set up."

"The meeting will be at 3:30 PM, don't be late." General Pai said before heading off. The group brought in crate after crate of their equipment, devised a floor plan to accommodate beds and experiments, and began their setup.

"Damn Chinese, why do they have to be so restrictive?" decried Frank, as he booted up his laptop. "I mean if they put in all of these restrictions for us, why not just do the research themselves, and bar other agencies?"

Tomlinson Replied, "If they have invited us, they would have realized the anomaly may be too important for them to restrict."

"Alright, then what will they do with the research material that we collect?" rebutted Frank. "Are they just gonna use us to record data and then ship us back home?"

"They will not, besides, I have an agreement with Gu that we would each receive a copy of all data cataloged during this operation, He is serious about wanting the PCAAO to be more collaborative with The Authority."

Emma Then chimed in, "Sure, he may want to be collaborative, and perhaps others too, but I'm not sure that General Pai was happy about our presence here. In fact, I did some research, he is a well-known commander of several PCAAO units known to have engaged with our assets in Africa."

"Emma-" blurted out Tomlinson, "It's true." She continued. "His presence here is clearly bad news for us."

"Well, the PCAAO wouldn't dare attack agencies they invited." Replied Zachary. "That would be like, disrespecting hospitality, or something?"

Frank gave a wry laugh. "Kid, if there's one thing I know the Chinese are good at, it's putting up a welcoming façade."

"Oh shut it both of you." Tomlinson commanded, "Listen, the only reason we're here is because The Board and the leaders of the Committee have faith in one another on this operation, I expect all of you to share that faith, now let's run some diagnostics on our equipment, and head over to the main facility."

Frank rolled his eyes, and the group continued setting up their lab.

They finished their setup with just a few minutes to spare, and hurried over to the main facility, as they walked across the compound, they came across several personnel from another agency invited by the Committee, who appeared to be Russian.

"Ah, Greetings." A member waved. "You are RPC Authority team, yes?"

"Uh, yes, Eric Tomlinson, nice to meet you."

"Anatoli Voynich, pleasure to make your acquaintance." He gave Tomlinson a gruff handshake.

Tomlinson surveyed Anatoli's group, "I take it you're from the Ministry of Paranormality, yes?"

"Precisely, we are here under direct orders from the Kremlin."

"Ah I see, and my god is this vehicle here yours?"

He pointed to a massive, off-road capable caravan, complete with multiple levels, and clad in heavy plate armor.

"Ha Ha, yes, This is our Advanced Mobile Exploration Unit, Built by Russia, for Russia. This thing can survive a nuclear blast, and record all of the data associated with it!"

"Damn, that's impressive." Zachary said, "You got video games in there?"

"Er-Yes that's all very impressive but I think we should be heading to the meeting about this cave, shall we?"

"Ah yes, I get too caught up in my love for things my country makes, let us go." Anatoli motioned his team to follow Tomlinson's to the facility.

Tomlinson, his group, and several others entered into the main facility, he noticed that it appeared to be a repurposed school, they filed into what was originally a lecture hall, Dr. Gu called over to the group to a seating section.

"Thanks Gu, These are good seats, don't you have to head down there?" Frank asked.

"Yes, I just wanted to make sure you weren't left standing." A young woman suddenly called out for Dr. Gu. "Oh, Mae Lee! Over here." He beckoned her to come to him.

"Everyone meet Dr. Gu's most trusted assistant and daughter, Mae Lee." The woman stepped forward to bow before the group.

"Mr. Eric! It's so good to see you!" she immediately gave him a hug.

"It's great to see you too, you've grown so much since last saw you, I'd like to introduce you to my team."

"Frank McLean, nice to meet you."

"Emma Rodgers, it's nice to know I'm not alone."

Zachary paused for a minute, slightly stunned at her appearance.

"Zach." prompted Tomlinson.

"Er- Yes, Zachary O'Brian, nice to meet you."

"Alright you all get to know each other, I'll head down to prepare for my presentation." Dr. Gu headed to the front of the lecture hall.

Emma pulls Zachary aside for a moment, "Don't even think about it, we may be here for cultural exchange, but not in that kind of way."

He was taken aback by this comment, "Wuh-what? I just said hi to her?"

"Don't give me that, you were star-struck with her."

He brushed her off, "Ah hell, fine I'll focus on the task at hand, weirdo." Just then, General Pai called the meeting to order.

"Everyone, please be quiet, and direct your attention to the front." He began, in a slightly sarcastic tone. "Firstly, the People's Committee for the Acquisition of Anomalous Objects, as well as the Peoples Republic of China, humbly thank you for coming to assist us on this joint venture, Dr. Gu Fueng will now explain the nature of the anomaly and our plan to assess it." He motioned for the doctor to stand at the front.

"Thank you General. Alright, what we have here is a massive subterranean cave system, called Shen-Shufang Cave by the locals. We believe it has a geometrically inconsistent interior. It also appears to contain several cave paintings within it depicting anomalous beings." He presented drone footage showing these paintings. "We also believe it to be a burial ground for said anomalous beings depicted in the paintings. Our mission is to explore its chambers, catalog any and all paranormal materials, study them, and evaluate their validity. Any questions?"

"Is it booby-trapped?" asked Anatoli, his group chuckling.

"No, we have encountered no such mechanisms that have prevented us from exploring, though that is only our initial assessment."

Emma raised her hand to ask a real question, "What is the nature of these paintings? Do they depict an event, maybe a battle?"

"We believe they depict a local creation myth, emphasis on the local aspect, as this myth seems to only pertain to a folk religion practiced in this region for thousands of years."

"What is the protocol for handling an 'anomalous being?' Would they still be dangerous after so long of time?" asked Zachary.

"Actually, we do not know of any latent anomalous abilities the deceased beings might have, or if they are still active after what we estimate to be at least two thousand years after their death, so please, proceed with caution, and if you do find one, report it immediately to me."

Zachary wrote down his rules of engagement.

"Alright, that concludes the presentation, everyone, be ready to head into the cave at 8 A.M sharp tomorrow. We will only have 6 hours maximum to explore before the spatial anomaly begins to have adverse effects on your health."

The group awakened bright and early to make the necessary preparations for the exploration. They put on standard cave exploration gear, while also putting on equipment meant to counteract the spatial compression associated with non-Euclidean spaces. After all their prep work, they headed to the cave opening. Several teams were waiting already.

"Ah, RPC people, good to see you. So, who is ready to find dead gods?" Anatoli greeted them.

"Oh I hardly think we'll encounter any real remains, but if you say so." Replied Tomlinson.

Dr. Gu, along with his daughter, approached from behind. "Even if we do not find any divine corpses, I still believe we can glean much information about humanity's earliest encounters with the supernatural. Mind if we tag along with you, my friend?"

"Oh yes of course Gu, you're welcome anytime." Tomlinson agreed.

Zachary got a nervous look in his eyes, Emma in turn glared.

"Once again, nice to know I won't be alone." She smiled at Mae Lee.

"Alright, everybody listen up!" General Pai stood on a platform just outside the cave opening, "Each person who enters the cave must register with personnel here that they have entered the cave at this specific time, when you exit the cave, you must re-register who you are and when you left the cave. This is an important study into the temporal aspects of non-Euclidean spaces. Otherwise, good luck, stay safe!"

The group headed over to register, and then proceeded into the cave. Immediately they felt the spatial compression of the enclosed space, the sensation in their ears is similar to the feeling of being in an airplane. This subsided after a while, and they continued onward.

They immediately realized that the cave was a true geometrically inconsistent space, as while the mountain that the cave was connected to was barely three thousand square feet at its base, they estimated the wide-open chamber which they just stepped into, containing various side pathways, was much larger.

Each team was directed toward a side pathway from the main chamber, Tomlinson's group was directed to the fourth path they encountered, within the path they found several paintings.

"Check out this one, I think this depicts how the cave was made?" Emma pointed to various figures with tools standing before the mountain.

"I'm not sure I'm reading this right." said Tomlinson, "By the looks of these paintings, it seems as though this cave system has an extensive air filtration system, but it looks like it may have been used, as a weapon?"

"Whatever do you mean?" Dr. Gu asked.

"Well, it looks like these bad guys we're entering the cave, and so the divine being just blows-"


Before he finished his description, a massive wind began to flow through the chamber, so forcefully that Tomlinson and his team were forced back into the main chamber, and further back out to the cave entrance.

"OH CHRIST!" shouted Tomlinson, clawing at the ground, he was whisked back to the cave entrance.

Others of the group managed to wedge themselves into crevices, save for Mae Lee, who gripped onto a notch in the wall. Dr. Gu shouted in Mandarin for his daughter, just as she slipped, Zachary managed to grab hold of her before she was thrown against a wall. The winds continued for several minutes, after which they stopped altogether.

Dozens of research personnel lied limp within the cave and outside of it. "ALL PERSONNEL, RETREAT FROM THE CAVE." General Pai demanded, The group barely managed to stagger out of the entrance.

"ERIC, OH GOD." Exclaimed Emma, rushing over to him. He was unconscious, with a gash in his forehead, along with other various cuts along his body.

"Oh god, I am so sorry." Dr. Gu kneeled in anguish.

Medical personnel arrived on the scene to treat the wounded. "I'll head over with Eric, you stay here and help." Emma followed the personnel treating Frank.

"Gu, what the hell was that?" Frank confronted him, "How did you not see this coming?"

"We had never searched that far before, we had no way of knowing, my friend, please forg-"

"Gu." The general suddenly called out to the doctor in Mandarin.

He looked to him in bewilderment. "What do you want?" He shouted. The general would only speak in Mandarin, motioning for him to come over.

Dr. Gu looked back to Frank, "Please forgive me." He then headed off to speak with the general.

Seemingly subconsciously, Zach had been holding Mae Lee's hand the entire time, making sure that she was safe, to which they now both noticed.

"Oh uh, terribly sorry, are you alright?" He retracted his hand.

"Yes, I'm so sorry about all of this, I hope Mr. Eric is okay."

"Oh come on, there's nothing that you could have done, it's not your fault." He rested his hand on her shoulder. They stood there for an awkward moment.

"I should head over to see if my father is alright." She finally broke the silence, and headed off to where he previously went.

"See you later." He remained there for a moment longer, then the realization of the current situation hit him, and he began to help those injured too.

Thankfully, it was assessed that nobody had died, though there were several major injuries. Frank had sustained a concussion, and needed stitches for his head, he was ordered not to reenter the cave.

Eventually, all injuries were treated, and the remaining team members gathered in the main building hall for dinner.

Tomlinson's team sat at their own table, minus Tomlinson himself, who remained in the medical building, Dr. Gu and Mae Lee began to approach them. Frank gave a judging glare, then continued with his food.

"Mr. McLean, I have told you, I am immeasurably sorry."

"It's fine, He's not mad at you, you can sit." Emma diffused the situation, and they take a seat. Everybody ate away at their food in silence for a while, then Frank finally layed into Gu.

"How could you not know of this? Are there any more of these ancient booby-traps we don't know about because you didn't want to risk your men to scout ahead?"

"Frank!" Emma begged for him to calm down.

"Please Mr. McLean, we have testimonies and documented accounts of people who entered the cave where nothing of the sort happened, I simply have no idea why it happened now."

"Can you at least ensure that it won't happen again?" Frank blurted out.

"You are so rude!" Emma said to him, and then faced back to Dr. Gu "I apologize on behalf of him, he can take things so personally, it's such a pain."

Dr. Gu bowed his head, "I can assure you, when we go back into that cave, we will have special tethering equipment that will allow us to withstand the winds should there be any."

"Well you should've thought about that before you concussed our friend!" Frank stormed away.

"That is unacceptable!" Emma chased after him. Dr. Gu held his head in his hands for a moment, then went after his colleague.

"Well, that was, awkward. But it's probably fine, I'm sure they'll work something out," said Mae Lee. "My father is very sincere about his friendships, he never lets one erode over some mishap."

Zachary responded. "Yeah, and Frank isn't gonna compromise this whole operation over one man. We'll complete this mission together." She nodded in approval. "Oh that's right, I wanted to ask, what made you want to be an anomalous anthropologist like your father?" Zachary asked.

She responded, "Oh it's nothing really, My father just had me genetically engineered in a lab to be his perfect student."

Zachary chuckled at the comment, "Uh, what?"

She also snickered, "Sorry, that's not true, not technically. I grew up like most kids whose parents were important to the state, I went to the best schools, and my father did specifically request I be taught in anomalous schools of thought from primary school, to lead the next generation. So in a way, I was destined to follow in his footsteps."

Zachary paused for a moment, "That's, pretty fascinating actually, I didn't start learning about the anomalous till college."

"Oh believe me, disclosure of the anomalous at an early age is a top priority for the Committee. If you start something as a child, you'll have a much better innate understanding of the subject."

"That would never fly with the Authority." Zachary responded, "Even if we did disclose select people like you and your family, it's too risky to endanger a child with knowledge of forces they cannot comprehend."

"Why not? These forces exist whether you like want them to or not, it's up to us to comprehend them before they can hurt us."

Zach continued to rebuke, "But these forces are so misunderstood, how can we expect children to understand them better than we can?"

"I can speak from experience," Mae Lee's voice suddenly grew more serious in tone. "A child will come to understand an anomalous force very quickly." Zach was taken aback by this comment. "Uhm, well, if you say so."

They then finished their meals and bid farewell to each other. Zach stopped by to see how Tomlinson was doing, and ran into Anatoli, who was also visiting a team member who was injured. "Ah, Zachary, how good to see you are well." He greeted him as he entered the medical facility.

"It's good to see you're doing ok as well, too bad we couldn't have driven your mobile lab in there, I'm sure it would have taken those winds like a champ."

Anatoli let out a hearty laugh, "Perhaps it is true, but what can you do eh?"

He sighed, then began to hush his voice. "Listen, I must speak to your team leader, Tomlinson, as soon as possible, I may have information that is vital for the both of us."

"Oh damn, really? Well, he was injured too, he's here in this facility. I can relay it to him if you want?"

Anatoli scanned the room for PCAAO personnel. "Alright, I'll trust you. So, just before the wind gust, my team did in-fact encounter a corpse of what we believe to be an anomalous entity."

"No way! Really? Where? What did it lo-" Zach exclaimed. He was quickly hushed.

"Keep your voice down, that is not the crucial part, you see, we had a PCAAO operative with us, and he started to make a call. Now, I had no idea what he was saying, but he was staring us down very intently, almost like he did not want us to move from our position."

"What are you implying?" Zach said.

"I don't know, but his behavior was just a little odd to me, perhaps they have ulterior motives."

Zachary gave him a pat on the shoulder, "He was probably just reporting to other teams that they found a body, chill out man." He started to head back to find Tomlinson.

"Just be cautious, if you find something, be careful who you tell it to."

The group slept through the night with ease and began preparations for heading back into the cave. At the entrance, they were fitted with rock climbing gear, so that they would not be blown out again by the unexplained gusts of winds.

Once again, Dr. Gu and Mae Lee approached Frank and the others in the hopes of collaborating on exploration. Frank said nothing and continued to prep his gear.

"You are always welcome to work with us." Emma reassured the two. General Pai stepped onto a platform overlooking the personnel preparing to enter the cave, and addressed them.

"Attention everyone, I know our initial exploration attempt into this cave took an unexpected turn, we deeply apologize for this oversight. But, rest assured, we have taken steps to ensure that no such oversight will happen again. Now remember, check in when you enter and exit the cave, and be careful." He then stepped off of the platform, and began to put on his own exploration gear.

The groups followed the line to register their entrance time, and once again the moment they entered the cave they began to feel the spatial compression, though it was not as pronounced as before. Their trek into the cave was made more cumbersome with the rock climbing equipment, as it was obviously never intended to be used while walking on a horizontal plane.

Nevertheless, the group trekked to the main chamber of the cave, and down into a side tube different from the one they first entered. They knew it's different based upon the paintings on the walls.

"My, take a look at this." Frank pointed to a depiction of a divine being, encountering a tiger.

Mae Lee gasped at the sight of the next scene, "He skinned the tiger alive!" The paintings then depicted the divine being wearing the tiger's skin, "He turned into the tiger, but bipedal."

The last painting of the scene depicted the divine being as a skinless tiger, standing on its hind legs, holding up its fur and presenting it over a crowd of people bowing.

"My word, this is magnificent." Dr. Gu furiously wrote in his notes.

"Well this is probably nothing, it just appears to be a form of Animism." Frank rebutted.

"Oh but you forget Mr. McLean, in traditional Chinese mythology, The Tiger is always considered wholly an animal, never as both beast and man."

"Well, the mythology isn't always internally consistent, no mythology is."

"Mr. McLean, I can tell you with utmost certainty, that-"

Frank became ticked off at that comment. "Oh now that's rich, just like you told us with certainty that there were no booby traps huh?"

"How dare you!" Emma stepped between them. "Frank, when are you gonna realize that it's not his fault?"

"Maybe when he starts telling us the truth."

Dr. Gu's voice began breaking up. "I swear to all of you, on my life I have been truthful this whole-"

"There's something at the end of the cave!" Mae Lee said aloud, pointing to a stone slab with something on top of it.

The group rushed toward the slab. There they found on top of it, a mummified corpse, wrapped in cloth.

"Oh my god." Frank exclaimed, they marveled at it, and noticed that it appeared to be a mummified quadrupedal animal. "Everyone stand back, Do we have any shears?"

The group began to set up gear around the body. "I'll call for backup." Said Dr. Gu.

"Wait." Frank stopped him. "The moisture from their breathing and their body heat will have adverse effects on the body, we need to maintain the environment the exact way it is as long as possible."

And so, with everyone standing in a ring, Frank prepped his tools and began cutting the wrapping around the body. With delicate precision he slowly cut the length of the body, from the head until he reached the body's feet. He then called upon Zachary to help him lift off the bandages.

As they peeled back the layers of cloth, they began to see the corpse in it's entirety, and found it to be a heavily desiccated tiger corpse.

"It's only an animal?" asked Dr. Gu.

"Now wait, we don't know that, the entity may have just died as a tiger." As they removed more bandages, it became apparent that by all accounts, the corpse was a non-anomalous tiger. "Damnit." Frank stepped away from the specimen, and struck a wall in anger. "DAMNIT." He screamed louder.

"Mr. McLean, do not despair." Dr. Gu assured him. "I still believe we can glean much-"

"Glean? What can we glean from a dead animal? what can we glean from any of this!?" Frank raised his voice.

"Are you absolutely shitting me right now?" Emma burst in.

"Frank, we have been through thick and thin this entire expedition, he's been with us all the way, so how can you keep treating him like this is all his fault?"

"Alright fine, maybe I'm not mad at him, but I'm mad his organization has been a detriment to us throughout this whole affair, and he hasn't stepped up to stop any of it! Tomlinson got hurt and he didn't say a word!" They kept going back and forth.

Meanwhile, Mae Lee and Zach kept looking at the corpse. "There has to be more to this," Zach said, he put on a new set of gloves and began probing the corpse. As soon as his hand went over the body he knew right away, either the tiger had swallowed a man whole, or the corpse was in fact that of a man.

He was obviously perplexed by this revelation, as he could clearly see that from the outside, it looked like a tiger. He examined the skin closer, it was very brittle, almost leathery, normal skin wouldn't crisp up and become so brittle after so many years.

Mae Lee also noticed. "Let us try a bisection of a piece." They took a scalpel and cut a small square, underneath the skin they find heavily desiccated muscle tissue. But it was what was on the other side of the "skin" that revealed why it had accrued such a rough-hewn look.

It was in fact leather, most likely from a cow, somehow made to look exactly like tiger skin on one side. They could not believe they were fooled like this, and rushed to tell the others about the revelation.

"It's a man!" They shouted simultaneously, instantly stopping the bickering.

"What?" Frank said in disbelief.

"It's a man, he's wearing some sort of really convincing tiger suit, come." Mae Lee reiterated. They lead the group back to the corpse and showed them the bisected skin section.

"It's all leather, but one side just looks like tiger skin, we think there may be multiple layers."

Dr. Gu carefully examined the skin section, he held it up to a magnifying lens, and discovered it's true nature. "This…is astounding. There are these very intricate markings, if you look at one section, they only appear as such, but look at them all together, and you perceive them as a tigers fur pattern."

Each member examined the leather, and found Dr. Gu's statement to be true.

"Could it be?" Wondered Frank.

"I think it is, these are very low-level cognitohazards." Said Emma. "Not enough to damage your brain, but just enough to make you think you're seeing a tiger."

"The markings, they are also on the skin." Mae Lee pointed to the rotted viscera from behind the section they cut out. "I think the markings on his skin were tattooed." Sure enough, the viscera, when closely examined appeared as ink marked on the dried-out chest of the body.

Suddenly, Dr. Gu became giddy, he started to laugh uproariously and then embraced Frank. "Mr. Mclean, my friends, I am so grateful to have made such a significant discovery with you."

That hysteria began to spread to the rest of the group, Emma embraced both Zachary and Mae Lee, much to their dismay. Yet they too appreciated the nature of their discovery.

Eventually they settled down and began discussing their plan going forward. Then Frank focused on the state of the situation "Well, this is incredible, this opens up whole new research fields for early human interaction with the anomalous, but we've got to make sure this specimen is preserved, so let us all take a step back. Our very presence may have denigrated it already."

The group stepped out into the pathway they came from, they stood about halfway from the anomaly and the main chamber of the cave. Frank then addressed Dr. Gu, "Gu, call for some backup, tell them we have secured a specimen, and to prepare to preserve it."

"Right." He radioed the group's position and the description of the anomaly.

"Wow, can you believe it, primitive humans utilizing cognitohazards, it's uncanny." Remarked Emma. "How do you think they came to know them in the first place?"

"Perhaps they encountered a species of wildlife that naturally developed these patterns?" posited Mae Lee.

"Well they must've been smart, way smarter than we initially thought, to recognize these patterns as having an effect on their appearance. But guys, you also have to think, maybe we can utilize this, these patterns, for the modern-day?" Zachary responded.

"That's crazy Zach, what makes you think we can utilize them?" Emma rebuked.

"No, he might be onto something." Frank Chimed in. "If those symbols were still viable after all those years, who's to say they still can't be used today? There might even be other cognitohazardous patterns for other animals."

The group widened their eyes at this suggestion. Dr. Gu made an assumption. "Oh my, maybe there were others, other people who wore these other patterns, maybe they are in this very cave?"

"That's right, we'll have to coordinate with other teams to see if they found anything similar." Said Frank.

Once again they went back and forth, this time in a positive, more collaborating way.

As they did, Mae Lee said an aside comment to Zach. "I just had a thought, what if you could utilize these patterns in fashion? That way, you wouldn't have to harm endangered animals."

He chuckled at the concept. "I'm not sure the latest fashion trend is looking like a tiger." Then they both started laughing.

It was soon after that they heard footsteps coming from the cave entrance, "Ah, more men, tell them to be careful with the specimen, send only a few at a time." Frank requested Dr. Gu to address them.

"Certainly." He started to address the approaching personnel in Mandarin.

Just then, several soldiers came forth all at once, their weapons trained on the group.

Dr. Gu assessed them as confusingly hostile. "What is the meaning of this? Stand down, we have a specimen just a few meters farther into the cave."

"Do not worry, Gu, my soldiers are well-disciplined, they would never cause harm to a national asset." General Pai stepped forward, standing right beside his men.

"Pai, What is going on? We have a critically desiccated body with paranormal markings all over its body and clothes, your mere presence here-"

"I am well aware that my presence, as well as yours, is detrimental to the asset, that is why I will be escorting you and Mae Lee back to the facility."

The group was confused at his phrasing. "And us right, you'll be escorting us, too?" Zachary nervously asked.

General Pai paused to look to his men. "I'm terribly sorry, but no." Just then, two soldiers grabbed Dr. Gu and Mae Lee, dragging them behind the line, they kicked and screamed at this betrayal of trust.

Frank and the rest we're blocked off from the entrance, their backs towards the body, arms instinctively raised. "Just What the hell do you think you're doing?!" He shouted.

The general responded. "Mr. McLean, you and your research team are hereby accused of attempting to steal a national asset from the Peoples Republic of China, You are hereby sentenced to death for your treacherous actions."

"My Friends! Please! Forgive Me!" Dr. Gu cried out. The soldiers readied their weapons and take aim.

"Please don't do this, This isn't right, we just wanted to help!" Emma pleaded with them. General Pai was about to give the order, but at that moment.


The cave bellows, and the soldiers are knocked to the ground by the wind, being dragged out from the cave. The team fell too, their climbing equipment keeping them tethered to their location.

"WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE, EVERYONE, UNHOOK YOUR GEAR!" Someone shouted. The group complied, removing all rock climbing equipment, and subsequently being whisked out to the main chamber, and then to the cave entrance. Several other teams subsequently following them.

Delirious, ears ringing, and lying on the ground, Frank remembered just enough to realize their situation was clear, they had to escape the facility. Luckily, General Pai and his men were blown to another chamber within the cave, Frank stumbled over to what he thought was a research personnel from MI-13.

"Huh- Hey, Are you alright?" He slurred standing over him.

"Oh god, it happened again, bloody hell." The researcher stood up. "Yeah I'm alright, what about yourself?"

Frank quickly revealed their situation. "Yeah, whatever, but listen, The PCAAO are gonna kill us, we discovered something, and they think it's a national asset, they don't want us to research it, we gotta escape man!"

The researcher was thoroughly confused by this statement, as were his colleagues, who were gathering around him. "Mate, what are you talking about? We haven't discovered anything yet, but if we did, surely they wouldn't ki-" A shot rang out from the cave, the researcher tensed up at the same moment and fell forward. General Pai limped from the entrance, his pistol smoking.

The researcher's colleagues screamed, and made a mad dash, Pai continued to fire at the crowd. Frank ducked and weaved through the stampede to reach Emma and Zachary, who were still unconscious. They were roused quickly and told of the situation.

"Wuh-What's going on?" Zachary asked in a daze, shots ringing out all around him.

"We gotta get out of here! that's what!" Frank replied, they ducked behind wooden palettes set up several meters from the entrance. "Alright listen, I don't think Pai ordered the whole facility to turn on anyone who's not PCAAO yet, so if we can get to our shack before he sends out a call, we can escape."

Emma and Zachary nodded at the proposal, and started to make their way discreetly to the main facility. Sure enough, no soldiers stopped or questioned them once they made it away from the cave. They quickly entered their lab and began to gather their stuff.

"Oh shit, Eric, we gotta get him." Emma Realized

Frank dropped what he was doing, "I'll go."

"Wait Frank, you know the most about the anomaly, you have to get the info back to the Authority, I'll go, I know my way to the medical area." Zachary stepped up.

Frank nervously sighed. "Damnit alright, but be careful, If Pai sends out the order you gotta pull out no matter what."

"Just get everything ready." Zachary gathered his stuff and headed out the door. As he made his way to the facility, he continued to pass by PCAAO soldiers and personnel, all of which barely noticed his presence.

He entered the medical facility, and made his way to where Tomlinson was, just then a figure lunged from behind hospital curtains and attacked him, grappling him and cursing in Russian.

"Whoa! Hey stop! Stop!" He shouted. The attacker did, and quickly shed the curtains to reveal himself.

"RPC people, you survived the cave!" Anatoli grappled him again, though this time as an embrace. "Are your teammates alright? Do you know where they are?"

"Yes, we're holed up in our research shack, but we gotta get one more who's still recovering from the first time the cave wind thing happened."

"I see, I am also here for similar reason, listen, if you need help getting out of here, our truck is like tank, but also like hotel, we can fit both your team and my team in there."

Zachary thought it over, and agreed. "Alright, head to the entrance to the facility, we'll meet you there." They nodded to each other and headed off to find their friends.

Zachary found Tomlinson being tended to by a nurse, he cautiously approached the bed stall and revealed himself. The nurse was taken aback by his presence, "No visitors welcome." She addressed Zachary.

"Oh Zach, how's it going, did we make any discovery in the caves yet?"

"I'm discharging him from your service." Zachary responded to the nurse.

"You crazy, Patient is still concussion protocol." Zachary paid her no mind, removing the EKG wiring and hoisting him from the bed.

"Zach, what is going on? I need my rest." Tomlinson said as the nurse heads off to call for security.

Zach directed him towards the exit. "This whole situation is compromised. We did find something, but General Pai says we can't research it because it's a 'national asset' or whatever, and he doesn't want us to reveal this information to our organizations, so he's gonna kill us!"

Tomlinson pauses before continuing, "That's impossible, Gu and I had an agreement."

"Yeah well Pai didn't like that one bit."

Tomlinson resisted and stood his ground for a moment. "This is ridiculous, there must be some sort of misunderstanding, tell Gu to come to me and we can-"

Just then, their worst fears came to pass. Over the site-wide speakerphones, they heard General Pai's voice speaking in Mandarin. They did not know what he said, but Zach did have an educated guess.

"Oh shit, that was probably his order to kill all non-Chinese personnel, we gotta double time!" He slung Tomlinson over his shoulder again, and continued on their way out of the medical facility. Just as they approached the door, they began to hear gunfire, screams, and bodies thudding to the floor.

"Oh god, no, Gu, you've got to tell him this wasn't his fault." Tomlinson said, his voice shaky.

"He knows, look we gotta head for the main entrance, Frank and Emma will meet us there, along with some people who are gonna help us bust out."

Tomlinson fought back tears at the unintentional loss of his friend. "Alright, let's go."

They cautiously approached the door. What they found was just as they had heard, dozens of personnel lied all over the complex, they heard troop movements close by, and headed in the opposite direction. Eventually they made their way to the left side of the gate, hiding behind some buildings to avoid the guards in the watchtowers.

"Where are they?" Tomlinson looked around, the immediate area was completely abandoned.

"I don't know, we'll hold here for as long as-" A commotion then came from the guard towers, they had spotted something, fearing it was them they instinctively raised their hands in desperation.

Fortunately however, they did not spot the two, for their attention was directed to something coming from the research laboratories. A horn rang out from that direction, and preceding it was a massive vehicle, built not only for rugged terrain, but also built to be a mobile lab, Anatoli was making his move.

"Oh shit, that's them!" Zachary proudly exclaimed. The truck continued to barrel toward the gate, the guards opened fire on it, doing little to stop its momentum. All at once, the truck slammed into the gate, flinging it wide open, it immediately stopped just outside the gate.

Several men then stepped out of the truck, and returned fire on the guard towers, quickly neutralizing them. Zach and Tomlinson stepped through the gate and toward the driver's side of the truck, "What I tell you, This is Tank, but it is Smart Tank." Anatoli greeted them.

They quickly hustled into the cabin of the truck, Frank, Emma, and Anatoli's team were there to greet them. "Oh Eric, Thank God." Emma embraced him.

"Thank you so much Zach, you did good." Tomlinson gave him a pat on the back. The other members of the Russian research team introduced themselves, welcoming them with open arms.

A member of the team took the wheel for Anatoli as he headed back to address the group and his men of the situation. "Alright everyone listen up, we're going to be heading for India, I know a route to get across the border. We will then make camp about twenty miles in, and we will contact RPC Authority to deliver our guests safely to their organization. Then we will do the same for us."

"How do you think we will respond?" Asked Emma.

Anatoli was confused by this question. "Respond how, what will we respond to?"

"Our organizations, they won't just sit idly by at this act of treason, this is tantamount to an international incident."

The entire group paused, and Anatoli sternly stated. "We would have no say either way, all we can do is give a report on our experiences, but make no mistake, Miss, I don't think you should take an anomalous war so lightly."

Emma was indeed put in her place at the thought of dueling paranormal research organizations.

War, Zachary thought, that was not the reason he was here, he and his team sought peace, each day that they were here, they thought they we're advancing the Authority's relationship with the PCAAO. But it was not meant to be, they wanted no part in cooperating on grappling with the thought of the anomalous existing within early man. Or at least some of them didn't want cooperation. He thinks back to Mae Lee and Dr. Gu, always so sure that working as a team would lead to success. He prays they are safe, and hopes one day that they can make a change in the organization so that an event like this never happens again.

"Am I hearing this correctly?" Regional PCAAO Commander Yao Zhang quizzically asked of General Pai, as he stood before his desk.

Pai nervously stood at attention, "It is indeed commander, I simply could not let a national asset be used and subverted by the ene-" Zhang raised his hand to pause him.

"You do realize, it was me who contacted the Global Directors of the Authority to invite a team here, right?"

Pai gulped dryly, still standing at attention.

"We have rules of engagement with the Authority and other agencies." Zhang stood up to pick up a book from his desk. "And rule number one is." He slammed it down. "Never treat them like an enemy while cooperating on a research project!"

"S-s-sir, I can assure you, our find in the caves was-"

Zhang raised his hand to pause him again. "I will hear about the 'assets' we have recovered from the expert on them, not from you."

Pai looked aside, then bowed. "Yes sir."

"As for you, you are hereby demoted, and reassigned to Wushi Prison."


"Have fun dealing with 'sorcerers and witches', dismissed." He saluted the former general, and dismissed him. He then called for Dr. Gu.

Gu immediately came barreling toward his desk, groveling almost, pleading, "Please Yao, you must send an express apology to all agencies, they will not stand-"

He once again raised his and to stop him. "Just a minute Gu, first, I'll need to hear your full testimony and report on the materials recovered from the cave."

"But sir, if we don't send an apology now-"

"Compensation for all agencies will be duly given once we fully understand the nature of what it is that the personnel they sent were killed over, now please, your testimony on the anomaly."

"Very well."

Gu collected his notes and read. "Of the three remains we encountered within the mountain, all of them were found to be human. Upon their skin and their clothing, we discovered several cognitohazardous markings. These markings made each individual look like a different type of animal. One was discovered to be a tiger, a white demon, and another type of demon. The carbon dating of these corpses suggests that these individuals are at least fourteen hundred years old. We have also concluded that the culture in which these entities come from had a deep understanding of the paranormal."

Zhang carefully thought over the testimony, "Demons, a Tiger?" He stood back up, and walked over to a bookshelf. He selected one from it, and walked back to his desk. He opened it to a page with a graphic depicting all described beings, as well as a group of individuals battling them.

Dr. Gu gasped, examining the book, then the picture, then the book again. "Sir, you don't really think-"

"No Gu, I am certain."

Dr. Gu doubled down on doubting the revelation. "Sir, this story, it's only meant to be an allegory for human determination and perseverance in the face of those who would deter us. Surely-"

"Allegory?" Zhang rhetorically asked. "We have physical evidence that our most prized national story is real, and you still think it is allegory?" Dr. Gu bowed his head in shame. "Well, I guess it's not then."

Zhang looked back to the book. "It's a shame I had to discipline Pai, but no matter, I can call forth several more generals to fill his post."

Gu was blindsided by this statement. "Sir? what is the meaning of this?"

"Pai did what he had to do for his country, even if he did it in an incorrect way, something you or your daughter weren't so keen on."

Gu snapped at the thought of his daughter's fate in Zhang's hands. "How dare you threaten my daughter!" He slammed his hands down on the desk.

"You're lucky you're our foremost expert on this matter or I would have sent you both to internment immediately."

Gu tensed up, then relaxed once again at the futility of going against his orders. "Fine." He slinked back down to bowing his head. "What is our next course of action?"

"Continue research on all subjects, study their markings and see if there is a way to replicate them for modern use."

"Yes sir." Gu weakly saluted and walked out of the office.

Zhang had sympathy for him, he also wished for cooperation with the Authority. He knew in his heart they would soon expand their reach to the rest of Asia, not just them. He simply wanted to get on their good side before that happened. With this discovery however, he believed that they will now have to get on his good side.

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