CHANCED ERASURES: PART TWO
Para was nervous. It wasn’t so much that she was around humans again, given how the time spent on missions with Alijda had involved several such encounters, it was more that the humans in this case were teenagers. And the personified parabola hadn’t interacted much with them, only knowing that many were forced to learn quadratics, and weren’t necessarily that fond of her, at least mathematically.
Fortunately, Chartreuse seemed fine with the situation, so Para decided to take most of her cues from the pink-haired girl who was leading the mission. Para rather hoped that the boy who emerged onto the school roof moments after their arrival would prove to be equally as easygoing.
“Aw, man, someone else figured out how to get up here?” the kid remarked.
He looked to be the same age as Chartreuse, meaning he’d be in his last year at this Multidimensional Academy. Or possibly part of their extended gifted program. Admittedly, from what Beam had been able to discern, everyone at this institution was gifted in some way, but the curriculum had some classes beyond the scope of what anyone might consider to be normal fare.
Actually, maybe these would be teenagers who liked parabolas after all?
“We’re pro,” Chartreuse answered. “But we, you know, won’t tell if you won’t.” She grinned back at him and winked.
The boy was definitely a student, at the least, because he was wearing the blue blazer and tie for the school. Chartreuse herself had yielded to the necessity of blending in, and was similarly dressed, along with a pleated green/blue skirt to match the tie, and a set of sensible shoes. Only Para had been allowed to keep her usual attire of a pinkish skirt with the bow around her neck, under her guise as an educational assistant.
Chartreuse had insisted on one exception though, which the boy was now looking at. “Those stockings aren’t regulation,” he said, raising a finger to point at the neon red fabric adorning Chartreuse’s legs. The colour did match the large bow in her hair. “Are you even a student here?”
Chartreuse crossed her arms. “How could I, like, be here, and in the rest of this ridiculous getup if I wasn’t? Unless you’re, you know, implying that I’m a ghost haunting the school or something.”
His gaze returned to Chartreuse’s face after that. “Oh, you’ve heard those rumours too? Nice!” He stuck out his hand, as if to shake. “I’m Sam Depas. I think we might get along fine.”
Chartreuse stuck out her hand too. “Chartreuse Vermilion,” she said, glancing down at his palm as they shook. “And the educational assistant with me is Para.”
Para lifted her hand in a little wave. Sam released Chartreuse and turned closer attention to her.
“Okay, I’ll bite. What’s with the bunny ears?” he asked after a moment of scrutiny.
“They tell whether my depression is at a minimum or a maximum,” Para answered automatically.
Sam blinked. “Whether your… oh, OH, I get it. You help out THOSE gifted people.” He looked back at Chartreuse. “I suppose you’re one of them? Maybe that’s why I haven’t seen either of you around so far. You get the special classes.”
Para also looked back towards Chartreuse, not entirely sure whether they should agree to that option. Chartreuse simply beamed. “As long as you don’t mean that as a slur, sure, that’s totally it!”
Sam winced. “Right. Foot meet mouth. Sorry, I failed the test to work elsewhere in the multiverse, and I guess my friends and I see your type as their own exclusive club.”
“Oh, no offence taken,” Chartreuse assured. “Honestly, I don’t know most of the other gifted types in those classes myself.”
Sam nodded. “Hey, so, uh, what was your otherworld aptitude identified as?”
Chartreuse pursed her lips. “Euh, crystals.”
Sam hesitated, but seemed to take that in stride. “Interesting. So was Para getting you to use your crystals to access the roof? Or is it not off limits for you gifties?”
“Para was doing something like that,” Chartreuse said, coughing. “But let’s, you know, get back to those rumours. Because it’s something we have in common. Like, is your ghost story the same one that I’ve, you know, heard about?”
Sam shrugged. “Beats me. Which one had you heard?”
Para noticed Chartreuse begin fidgeting with the crystal around her neck. “Oh, you know. The… one… about… the…“ She gestured, but Sam didn’t seem about to jump in and finish her sentence. “Uh, the person from the other world who, like, came to campus,” Chartreuse finished at last.
Sam nodded. “Right. She was caught and killed, and now roams the halls looking for a way home? Same story then, no surprise.” He frowned. “Chartreuse, are you okay?”
Para took a step closer to Chartreuse, whose eyes had gone wide. “Chartreuse is not keen on the whole ‘killed’ aspect of that story,” Para explained, off Chartreuse’s continuing silence. And Para wasn’t really thrilled it it herself, if it was at all indicative of Alice’s fate. Or their own.
Sam rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine, I suppose as the tale goes the otherworlder was ‘erased’ from existing. The moral of the story being that we don’t want any outsiders taking our advanced technology back with them. After all, who knows what sort of trouble that would cause, yeah?” He chuckled.
Chartreuse found her voice again. “Y-Yeah! But wait. Do you, like, believe it happened or not? Because earlier you seemed interested in ghosts, but now you’re, you know, dismissive.”
Sam gestured vaguely. “I love all urban legends. Doesn’t mean I necessarily believe every one of them. I mean, consider the story about some of the faculty being vampires. How that’s the reason for their youthfulness, and not de-aging treatments at all. I can appreciate the detail put into something like that without thinking it’s true.” He frowned again. “Do you believe all the rumours?”
Chartreuse toyed with her crystal. “I like to keep an open mind,” she murmured. “I mean, hey, surely there’s some rumours with a basis in fact. Don’t you think?”
Sam nodded. “Point. The idea that there’s some mystery room in this school, only accessible to those who are worthy? That strikes me as legit.” He leaned in a bit. “Maybe it’s even a secret door from inside your Clover Club’s meeting room. Hmm?”
Chartreuse blinked. “Clover Club?”
“Related to your otherworld gifted status,” Para murmured, deducing what Sam had implied. Though ‘clover’ also reminded her of what she’d read in the mission briefing, about what Alice and Beam had been investigating in the first place. Perhaps they’d stumbled onto something here.
“Are you not a member? I thought all of you giftie types were members,” Sam said, crossing his arms and eyeing her suspiciously.
Chartreuse glanced to the left and right. Para thought maybe she was looking for an escape, but then the pink haired girl leaned towards Sam, wiggling her eyebrows. “Promise not to tell anyone?” she whispered. “There’s, like, actually four clubs. Clovers, Diamonds, Hearts and Spades. I’m in Diamonds.”
Sam’s arms fell back to his sides. “Get out. You have secret clubs? Why don’t they all have club rooms?”
Chartreuse winked. “The meeting times and places are, you know, randomized.”
Sam peered closer at her. “Are you playing me?”
Chartreuse merely smiled and clasped her own hands behind her back. “Believe whichever rumours you, you know, like. But know that I’m totally as curious about the Clover group as you are. That’s fact.”
Sam’s gaze shifted from Chartreuse to Para to the surroundings before returning. “Hmmm. Okay then. If your EA works with all types, can she get us into the Clover Club room after dark tonight? Because that might tell you more about them while giving me a real scoop for my newsletter.”
So Sam had a newsletter? Para supposed that it made sense, given his interest in urban legends. How typical of a student was he? She hoped that they’d be able to check into his records before getting too deeply involved. Plus, this was at it’s heart, a surveillance mission only. No need to invite trouble.
“She, you know, might be able to,” Chartreuse answered enthusiastically, before Para could suggest otherwise.
Sam grinned. “Great. A couple of us will be by the statue at 8pm tonight. After that incident on campus a couple days ago, they’re focussed more on external security than internal. It’s a great time to do some explorations.”
Chartreuse exchanged a quick glance with Para. “Oooh, right, the incident. What do you, like, know about that?”
Sam gestured vaguely. “Only that I’m sure it’s not as big of a deal as they made it out to be. So, are you in?”
“We’ll see,” Para answered, before Chartreuse could speak. “This does seem highly irregular.”
Sam again looked them over, then nodded. “Well, doesn’t matter, I have a story either way. You two seem like the types who buck the status quo is all.” With another look at Chartreuse’s bright stockings, he turned away. “So, I came up here to check something about the school layout. See you ‘round, I hope?”
Without looking back, Sam walked over towards the fence at the edge of the roof. It was seemingly there to prevent anyone from falling, which seemed to Para to be an odd thing to have, if the roof was off limits. Though it could be standard on all buildings in the city.
Chartreuse motioned towards the door that Sam had come out of, and Para followed her through it.
“Sweet!” Chartreuse said, as soon as they were in the stairwell and out of earshot. She made a victory sign in the air. “We’ve already got a seriously solid lead on Alice, what with this clover group.”
Para nodded. “I don’t have a key to their room though.”
Chartreuse waved her off. “Yet! Think positive. You were going to go and check out the teachers lounge or whatever, while I, like, went to the cafeteria. Maybe they’ve got some master keys in there. We can’t, you know, lose out on the prospect of Alice being held in some secret room that was erased from school records!”
Para supposed that there was something to be said for truth within a rumour – Fractal City had really existed in the mathematical network where she originated, after all – but Chartreuse seemed to be jumping the gun a little.
“For all we know, the ghost rumour is true instead, and being perpetuated with advanced holograms,” she observed. “Plus the longer we’re here, the greater the chance of being discovered, particularly with your neon stockings.”
“Which is all the more reason to investigate tonight,” Chartreuse insisted. “Our names are in the database for, like, at least the next 24 hours, and you know, for the record, the student handbook Beam found didn’t, like, specify clothing accessories. I gotta be me.”
“I’m just saying,” Para said, feeling the bunny ears on her hairband twitch. “Maybe us splitting up is a bad idea after all. Since I might be able to deflect student interest in you. And you might be able to bluff people better than me.”
Chartreuse lifted her arms up, smiling. “Oh, no worries there, I’ll be interesting to people no matter what. And if anything, you know, goes wrong, one of us fires off the record of everything to Epsilon, and they’ll pull us out.”
Para hesitated, but Chartreuse was the person in charge. Maybe this was more about her being nervous about teachers, for that matter – what if some of THEM didn’t like quadratics! “Okay. Meet again in a couple hours back here?”
Chartreuse nodded. “Oh, and I’ll tell you this before we, like, split – I got a bit of a sensation off of Sam. Like, the guy’s hiding something, but he was genuine in terms of not seeing us as a threat.” She glanced at her ring. “That is, assuming this thing’s actually working the way it should to, you know, calibrate my abilities.”
Para wasn’t exactly comforted, but it’s not like she could change the situation. Wishing Chartreuse luck, the two Epsilon Project members went their separate ways.
VOTING CLOSES MIDNIGHT EDT SUNDAY JULY 29th
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
The choice of school was mostly a matter of whether Chartreuse would fit in. In a religious school, they would have stuck out, and not even been clear on the techno-deity being worshipped. In an all girls school, they would have blended right in, and there might have been romantic entanglements (also Sam would be female). Gifted school was somewhere in the middle, blending in, but with some suspicions. Note that a tied vote would have doubled things up (and likely had a second person with Sam). A reminder that your votes really do matter, please do spread the word!