CHANCED ERASURES: PART THREE
For Chartreuse, blending in was relative. It’s not like she went out of her way to stand out, but at this school in particular, she sensed she was a little different than the others. And not merely due to the neon red stockings she was wearing, or the fact that she didn’t want to drink the purple milk that seemed to be on sale. Maybe it was her mannerisms, or the way her increasingly queasy stomach made it hard to smile?
Fortunately, most of the others in the cafeteria were focussed on eating or socializing with their own friends, only tending to give her a quizzical look. The one time someone had approached her with a snark, Chartreuse had been defended by someone with a bright flower in their hair – someone else seeking loopholes in the school uniform, apparently. Chartreuse had murmured a thanks and moved on.
Unfortunately, the few conversations Chartreuse had been able to overhear were of no use towards her mission of tracking down Alice. She finally retreated to the library and sat quietly until she felt better.
“It’s not like my results were of any more use,” Para reassured, after they’d reunited at the end of the school day. “If the faculty know anything about recent dimensional encroachments or the Clover Club doing strange activities, they don’t talk about it openly.”
“You were, you know, able to get the room key though,” Chartreuse pointed out. “That’s something.”
Para smiled sheepishly. “One key fits all, as long as you know the morphing codes. We’re simply lucky they were updating the codes today.”
“Mmmm.” Chartreuse’s gaze drifted to the sky. “Unless the update matches, like, security upgrades from Alice coming here,” Chartreuse said, crossing her arms. She sighed. “At least my insides have quietened down.”
“You’re sure it’s more than just nerves? That the ring artifact’s not doing it’s job properly at acclimating you?” Para pressed.
Chartreuse shrugged. “Makes, like, the most sense. Anyway, the library was, you know, a nice place for down time too. Not many people in the stacks, they all just, like, e-book themselves or whatever. Hey, did you know this school was built on a burial ground?”
Para frowned. “No. That seems ominous.”
“History section seemed like it’d be helpful,” Chartreuse said, grinning. She produced a couple of paper books. “We might as well do some more light reading until it’s time to meet that Sam guy.”
Para nodded. “Okay.” The 8pm statue meeting could only have meant the statue of the school’s founder, a guy named Fenduro. “They do lock the building up after 9pm,” Para added. “So hopefully it doesn’t take long to find a lead.”
The two of them settled in to catch up on the local history and customs. Chartreuse didn’t find any mention of clovers.
When they reached the statue, they were met not only by Sam Depas, but also two other students. A girl with short, dark hair that Sam introduced as Sue Morts, and a tall boy with red hair who proudly proclaimed that he was Sir Thred.
“These are the two loons who convinced you to go up against the gifties, huh?” Sue said scornfully as she sized up Chartreuse and Para. “Seriously, we’d be SO much better off looking for evidence of corruption in the gym. There’s no WAY they buy that equipment on their budget.”
“Hey, what Sam says goes, the guy’s a genius,” Thred objected. “And the people who read his newsletter are counting on him.”
Sue simply rolled her eyes, realizing she’d be outvoted if she pushed her point. She looked sidelong again towards Para. Chartreuse decided that Sue was going to be the one to keep an eye on; Thred mostly had eyes for Sam.
Sam knotted his tie a little tighter. “Yes, well, if the Clover Club room doesn’t work, there’s still time to look elsewhere,” he asserted. “You two have the key?”
Para simply nodded.
“Okay then,” Sam said, taking a few steps towards the building.
“Ugh. Well, if you persist in your stubbornness, let’s at least go on a route that minimizes the chance of running into the automated janitor algorithms,” Sue said, jerking her thumb the other way.
Chartreuse blinked. “How do you know the janitor routes this late in the day?”
“Because my dad’s a janitor,” Sue shot back. And Chartreuse honestly couldn’t tell if that was a snark, or the truth. She’d thought ‘janitor algorithms’ meant they were artificial intelligences. Unless this was a world where AIs could give birth? After all, that holographic Beam girl had seemed pretty real…
“Good idea,” Sam said, quickly placing himself between the two girls. “Lead the way, Sue.”
Sam’s dark haired friend at least knew what she was talking about, as they had no issues reaching what Chartreuse divined to be the club area of the school, or the door of the Clover Club. The big four leaf clover on the door being something of a tip-off. After looking at the door number, Para tapped a combination into the device in her hand, and the end morphed into a key, which she inserted into the keyhole and turned.
The lock clicked open.
“Weiiiird. I’m surprised the gifties don’t have a better electronic lock,” Thred mused, leaning in to regard the mechanism as Para moved out of the way. “Like, with two factor authentication or something.”
“Which could trap anyone inside during a power failure?” Sue said. “I mean, have you forgotten what happened last time the weather grid went haywire? Not to mention the hacking issues if every individual club member had the access key…”
“Fine, fine,” Thred said, raising his hands. “Just, it seemed a bit too easy.”
“We did recruit someone on the inside,” Sam pointed out, motioning to Para.
“And if it helps, I do have, like, an uneasy feeling,” Chartreuse piped up. “Though it’s specific to Sir Thred.” She’d almost missed it, being so focussed on Sue, but he’d chanced to bump her slightly when stepping back from the lock.
Thred turned to look at her. “Is that good?”
Chartreuse tried to smile back. “No?” It had been hard to pinpoint. She wondered if she should have bothered to mention it.
“I’d have thought you needed to throw crystals at him or something, giftie,” Sue said, glaring.
Before Chartreuse could respond, Sam sighed. “Oh, stop. Look, anyone is welcome to stay out here, I’m going to at least pace the room, to see if it matches what the blueprints say.” He reached out to push the door open, then paused and looked back at Para.
Sensing Sam’s need for verification, Para reached out to open the door herself. Nothing happened.
Sam walked in and clicked on the light. “No one touch anything.”
The room looked like a typical club room, as far as Chartreuse could tell. There was a table in the middle with some chairs around it, a cabinet against the side wall that seemed to have it’s own lock, a video screen on the wall next to the door, an access point for a computer system on the table, and a few clovers posted up on the walls.
If this was the headquarters of an organization dedicated to inter-dimensional shenanigans, they weren’t being overt about it.
“Never easy,” Chartreuse murmured. As Sam paced the room taking occasional photos, with Thred and Para hanging back by the door and Sue ignoring Sam’s advice by moving the chairs to peer under the table, Chartreuse turned her attention to the cabinet. She knew there was probably no chance of opening the lock, but there was something tickling at her senses…
“The floor,” Para murmured.
Chartreuse saw it then. Scuff marks, as if someone had tried to move the cabinet to the side. She bent down to examine them, aware of Sue coming up next to her to look as well.
“Secret passage behind this?” Sue muttered.
Sam joined them. “Doubt it. The room sizing checks out. Unless there’s some sort of warp field back there, they probably just made a mess redecorating in here.”
“I dunno,” Chartreuse murmured. She reached into her stocking to pull out a small piece of quartz. Normally she’d need meditation for a future reading, but if there was enough of a vibe at the location… holding the crystal flat in her palm, she felt an urge to move her hand to the side. It gravitated towards one of the screws holding the cabinet together.
“What the heck is she–”
“Shhh,” Sam murmured, cutting Sue off.
Chartreuse pushed the screw. Which apparently wasn’t a screw at all, but a button, as it gave in. With a click, the cabinet slid slowly across the floor towards them, over the scuffed area. Thred led out a low whistle. Sue humphed, muttering, “Bet she’s a member of the Clover Club and knew about that all along.”
Sam went to the other side of the cabinet, to see what the movement had revealed. As Chartreuse replaced the quartz and came to join him in his crouch, she saw that the wall didn’t show anything resembling a passage. Merely a strange symbol, then the letter “R”, a room number, and a string of digits.
“That would be the room number for security,” Sam remarked. “Possibly with a valid combination to get us access. Impressive.”
“Oh, daaamn,” Thred said, jerking his gaze around the room. “Is the Clover Club spying on people? Are we being video recorded in here? Do we need to go there to erase the hologrid?!”
Sam pushed himself back to his feet. “That room’s definitely our next stop. Unlike the roof, I could never crack that code, and if there is a secret room linked to this Club, we’re sure to see it monitored there. We can also erase our presence from any recordings, if we chance to see them.”
“We are never getting to the gym,” Sue moaned.
Chartreuse and Para exchanged a glance. They both shrugged. If there was a way of locating Alice, being inside the school’s security room seemed like the best plan, so they might as well continue to play along.
The string of digits worked with Para’s key morph device, and gave them immediate access. Sam opened the door for the security room cautiously, half expecting a guard, but everything was automated. To a degree.
“Someone’s coming by here in about 20 minutes for a check, if I’m reading this sign-in sheet correctly,” Thred remarked, looking at the form next to the door.
“Okay,” Sam asserted. “Sue, you look at that bank of video monitors, see if you spot any room you don’t recognize, or any area that you should see, and don’t. Thred, have a look around for anything the Clover Club might be secretly doing in here, including a way of recording anyone being in their room. I’ll look through these file cabinets for any documents to photograph. And Chartreuse, you and your friend…”
“I totally need to view this disc,” Chartreuse broke in. Without even using the quartz, her eye had been drawn to what she recognized from her library readings was a holo-disc that had been left on the small end table underneath the sign-in form. She reached over and held it up so that Para could see the label, which simply read “Alice”.
(Along with more school exploration, so feel free to suggest an area they should go to next by commenting or tweeting!)
VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT WEDNESDAY AUG 15th
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
The vampire faculty would have avoided the time skip, looking a bit more at actual professors with Para to flesh out that rumour. There might have been an added religious angle too (for crosses and holy water). The ghost rumour would have jumped to 8pm as this entry did, but we’d be looking at more of a supernatural story, perhaps with a possession in the club room. The winner being the mystery room, we got more technological, with this secret chamber/treasure hunt story. Please do spread the word, the votes are close, I will not object to you telling your friends to come and back you up on your choices!
Sorry for the two day delay in posting; the voting period will still be about 8 days, as normal. The good news is it’s because I was spending the end of July doing more with “Time Untied”, finally concluding the pivotal scene I left hanging back in December (I’d done more edits in the meantime). Meanwhile, my 7-week-old daughter tends to take priority over everything else… I can only handle one creative endeavour in a day. In vaguely related news, I got my first 2018 coins recently, in late July (dimes). Followed by a loonie late last week. Thanks for reading!