"Some said it started with the mass graves, thousands of bodies dumped in huge pits and left unseen for years. Centuries. Millennia. Two millenia, in fact, plus a good couple of centuries at least. A sad fact of life, unremarkable but for two things.
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"The first: the bodies dated from ancient Rome, circa two hundred BC. And the second: they had clearly, unmistakeably been killed by machine gun fire, circa early twenty first century.
"At first it was ignored, disregarded. Learned intellectuals dismissed it as unremarkable, the deaths attributed to some as-yet unknown minor variation on common weapons of the time. Those who claimed it could be something more were dismissed as another von Daniken, another Icke, another 'alternative theorist' with all the sanity of a rhesus monkey fed hash cookies for thirty days straight and forced to perform in West Side Story.
"But then there were more.
"A ruin unearthed in China, a strange metal structure on four wheels fitted with what was, to all appearances, a variation on the internal combustion engine. A video camera to rival Hollywood's best, found under a palace from tenth century Persia. And perhaps most troubling, designs in an unknown alphabet, whose diagrams seemed to portray nothing less than the atom bomb.
"Rumours had been around for years, the Baghdad Battery, the Antikythera mechanism, debated by scholars for decades. But nothing like this.
"Hoax, said some. A message from the gods, said others. Aliens, said others more. And to some, it was nothing less than a sign of the end of days.
"For most, of course, it was an amusing five minute aside on the evening news and nothing more. People are like that.
"But some of us want to know more. And some of us want to find out before it's too late.
"What do you think?"
Cassie stopped, put the paper to one side. Michelle took her drink and sipped it steadily, staring her friend in the eye.
Sip. "I think you're batshit insane."
Cassie's face fell. "Really? So you don't think anyone will come to my meeting?"
"To launch my DVD." Cassie reached into her bag, withdrew a small plastic box and passed it over to Michelle. Its cover featured an ancient Egyptian mural, livened up with the poorly Photoshopped additions of a couple of machine guns and some 50 Cent style bling.
Michelle glanced at her questioningly. Cassie shrugged.
"I take back what I said." Michelle went to sip her drink, found it already sorely depleted. "I know you're batshit insane."
"At least that's something." Cassie's face suddenly broadened into a smile. "It is strange, though."
"I'll drink to that." Michelle glanced sadly down at her glass. "Well, I would, but..."
"Cheers." Michelle smiled, turned over the DVD in her hand. Cassie was right. It WAS strange. She was also right, however, that the world at large seemed to care little, more occupied with the latest in reality television. Who Wants to Shag a Midget Butler or some similar work of creative genius.
For a few, though, these events had taken the note of interest, occasionally featured in the sort of pop-science magazines favoured by those who wish to appear knowledgeable without the inconvenient business of actually attaining knowledge.
For fewer still, a tiny but fanatical number, their interest had become a full-blown obsession, burning with an almost religious fervour. Theories pinged across the world like tiny invisible electronic bullets being fired in a war for ideological supremacy. Some argued it was a hoax, though even within that sect, the reason for and source of the hoax remained hotly debated. To some it was an artistic endeavour created by some unknown genius. To others, it was a tool of the state to distract attention from its multitude of crimes domestic and foreign. To still others, it was being carried out to discredit the world of science by leading it down such obviously ludicrous routes of investigation.
Some accepted them as genuine. Again, the apostles of each sect clashed violently with their fellow heretics. Evidence of an ancient visitation by aliens, perhaps. Proof of time travel and a grim warning of its perils, perhaps. A message from a higher being, a warning of putting one's faith solely in the world of science and materialism. Perhaps.
Whatever it was, it was something. And, real or hoax, it had managed to evoke an almost cult-like obsession among its devotees. Cassie, it seemed, was among them. Hardly a surprise.
"So what do you think it is, then?"
Michelle jumped, nearly knocking the beer out of Cassie's hand. Cassie giggled. "Sorry."
"No worries. And...I really don't know. I think it's something."
"Me too." Cassie clapped her hands and smiled excitedly, her face lit up like a Christmas tree. "And I think it's something made of awesome."
"I'm sure." The two women raised their glasses in a toast to nothing in particular, each draining their respective beverage by a third.
Cassie fished a hand into her bag. "I made a list and everything."
Michelle raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"
"I put all the finds in the order they were finded. Found. And the dates we've got for them."
"The community. The OOParty party. Our slogan is...PARTY!"
Michelle raised a hand to her face. "This is an internet thing, isn't it?"
"It's not just an internet thing! I met up with them and everything!! They were nice. Except that one guy who...well, anyway. We've been collecting all the data about the finds and keeping track of any new developments. And I put all the finds in the order they were found and..."
Cassie handed Michelle the list. She glanced through it. "Roman soldier massacre, 200BC. Electric chair, Baghdad, 470 AD. Internal combustion engine, China, 640 AD. Persian video camera, 930 AD...they're getting closer and closer to the present."
"And BINGO was his name-o!" Cassie took the list and smiled.
"So what does that mean?"
"Buggered if I know. But it must mean something."
"Point taken." Michelle took her glass, drank deeply, let her mind wander as Cassie began to throw out one theory after another. Time travel, impossible. Aliens, unlikely. Perhaps it was all coincidence, media hysteria and nothing more. Something for those Weird World documentaries on late-night TV, fodder for the credulous and curious. Probably some thoroughly mundane explanation, but for the life of her she couldn't think what.
Eventually their conversation moved on, lurching from politics to comedy to the difficulty of getting a decent takeaway at this time of night. And, as is traditional, a great deal of reassuring one another that they were the best of friends and would never, ever be parted.
It's amazing how wrong people can be sometimes.