CHANCED ERASURES: PART EIGHT
Alice began humming ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen, as she waited for Marlin to say which way to go. If he recognized the tune, he didn’t say, and she couldn’t see his expression in the dark. Finally, he remarked only, “Fine, if it’s up to me, how about another left turn in my life.”
“Analogies work,” Alice agreed. She felt along the left hand passage of the T-Intersection, eventually coming to a dead end. Or what seemed at first to be a dead end. Alice was plenty suspicious of the faint light coming from a knothole in the large wood panel blocking the passage. But she wasn’t sure if she should bend down to peer through.
“You think there’s a coded door here too?” Marlin asked from behind her.
“Maaaaybe,” Alice mused. She poked her fingers tentatively into the knothole, found she could jiggle the entire panel, and soon the wooden barrier slid to the side, into the wall. She grinned. “Or maybe not.”
The faint light was now a vertical crack, as there was a visible set of doors in front of them. Though between them and those doors was hanging a number of dark robes. They had apparently found their way into the back of a wardrobe.
Alice reached out to grab one of the robes, and she started putting it on. They knew what she looked like, after all, so a disguise seemed sensible.
“It’s like we’re in that children’s book,” Marlin remarked, moving past her to peer out of the partly open wardrobe door. “That one about the lion.”
“Oh, I hope not,” Alice mused. “As if this is Narnia, I’m in real trouble for being rescued, what with the time discrepancy in that series. Also, this cloth itches, I hope I don’t have to wear it very long.”
“Why wear it at all?” Marlin asked, turning back to her.
Alice shrugged. “When in Rome, do as Romans do. Which, contrary to popular belief, is not roamin’ around.”
Marlin blinked. “Pardon?”
Alice clucked her tongue. “So your Earth had C.S. Lewis but not St. Ambrose? That’s weird.”
She could now see Marlin shaking his head in the dim light. “I think you’re weird. Also, you do realize that being mistaken for one of their cabal could get you in more trouble?”
Alice grinned again. “I won’t make a… habit of it.” She flipped the cowl up onto her head. “Yeaaaaaah?”
Marlin sighed. “I’m going to stop talking to you now.”
“Oh, suit yourself. Or stay in those clothes, as the case may be.” With that remark, Alice edged her way out of the wardrobe, into the room itself.
It seemed to be a meeting room of some sort. There was only one overhead light, but that was enough to see a large table with about a dozen chairs around it, a hat rack and a potted plant against one wall… and no visible signs of other doorways.
Alice was just about to call out to Marlin, saying it was safe, when there was a flash of light behind the plant. She instinctively ducked down, and then edged under the table as she heard voices. Fortunately, the table had been decorated with an opaque cloth.
“All right, no one can hear us in here,” a female voice purred. “So explain it to me from the top.”
“Sure. How high is your top?” came a dry voice in response.
Alice recognized that second, male voice. It was sparkle-man, or rather Shay. The dark skinned man who had knocked her out following her interrogation the previous day. That is, it was either him, or it was someone wearing dark slacks who was very good at mimicking voices.
The other pair of legs, by contrast, was sporting heeled boots, and a tail fell between them. The purr of the voice was very possibly feline in nature. In fact, Alice knew that this particular world was involved in genetic splicing – Epsilon had been able to turn up very rudimentary data – but she hadn’t expected to encounter anyone of that nature around the academy.
“The first arrival,” the cat-woman responded.
Shay reached out for a chair, spinning it around and straddling it as he sat. So, Alice reasoned, while the woman might have been his superior, he was at the least seeing this conversation as informal.
“Two women, as far as we can tell,” Shay began. “A blonde, and the brunette that we actually caught. We had this ‘Alice’ lady questioned by Usa Staling, since this is technically her jurisdiction, but that didn’t go anywhere useful.”
Alice couldn’t help but smile to herself.
“Standard so far. And the second incursion?”
“Some guy named Marlin, who is either exactly what he says he is, namely some guy who had bad luck with dimensional roulette, or he is a very clever plant who believes his story to the point where we couldn’t find any other reason for his appearance.”
The tail on the cat-woman swished back and forth. “So that’s why you didn’t transfer Alice right away.”
“And why we put them together in the same cell, yeah. I figure we give it another hour, then retrieve that listening device we hid under Marlin’s collar.
Oh, perfect, Alice thought, wincing. She should have been more careful. Though at least now there was a chance she could get the device and destroy it. Actually, Alice hoped to destroy all records of her ever being here. It would save the headache of Beam and Fate potentially having to send someone to this world again for cleanup.
“Fine. And NOW what’s happening?” the cat-woman asked.
The chair that Shay was sitting on rocked up onto two legs, and then back down. “We caught a student, a guy named Sir Thred, messing with security outside the bunker entrance. And we’re pretty sure he wasn’t acting alone. There’s a record of academy room accesses this evening that didn’t trip any alarms because they used valid morph codes.”
That was new and interesting information. Alice filed it away, wondering if she could use it to her advantage.
It also occurred to her that it made sense that all of this was happening now. The Epsilon Station had most of time and space available to it, so she and Beam had set their arrival to be a point that maximized the chances of blending in. Apparently, that meant right before a number of other events involving this shadow committee. They were simply one more event amid the chaos.
The cat-woman had been tapping a foot on the ground, as if in thought. At last, she decided, “Then it could be coincidence. Do you think we’re in danger of being exposed?”
Shay’s chair rocked again. “I doubt it. There’s a good chance this Thred guy simply had a lead on that trail of breadcrumbs we left on the campus. You know, the one that would allow us to recruit non-gifties for the cause? We can tease that out of him. And unless Marlin’s recording device shows some evidence of collusion, we can ship both arrivals off to you in processing before morning. No one even needs to know you showed up here.”
“Mmmm. Good. I must admit, the sooner we get this off-world nonsense away from where magic spells are possible, the safer I’ll feel,” the cat-woman muttered.
“Hah. Why, worried my power will put you to sleep?” Shay said, the grin on his face evident from his tone of voice.
“I rather wish your report had done that instead. As it is, I’m still on edge. We’re too close to shutting down dimensional travel for good to have things get messed up now.”
“We WILL wait until all teams are back though, right? Before enacting the plan?” Shay verified.
“Yes, yes, yes,” cat-woman muttered. “Your brother will be fine.” Her feet paced back and forth for a moment. “Very well. Bring me some biscuits, I’ll remain here until you get the listening device information.”
Inwardly, Alice groaned as Shay stood up. The woman’s boots quickly took the place of his slacks as she sat down, admittedly the proper way around this time. Facing the table.
“I’ll return shortly,” Shay said. He walked back to the potted plant – and his feet vanished in a flash of light. The cat-woman’s feet soon disappeared too, as Alice heard them hit the table. Only the tail of the woman remained visible, twitching back and forth.
So, Alice mused, how long was she going to be trapped in this room? Also, how much had Marlin heard from the wardrobe, and would he have the sense to effect an escape now, before their absence from the cell was remarked upon?
Alice certainly didn’t have much hope that Marlin would be able to avoid spilling the beans, if he were caught again. She’d be forced to go on the offensive.
So maybe she should do that pre-emptively, and take on the cat-woman? After all, she might be able to get her belongings back that way, and with any luck, Beam had devised a way to break the jamming fields and home in on her communicator. The only trouble was, once she’d used up the element of surprise, she’d probably be at a disadvantage in a fight.
Making a dash for the potted plant was questionable, as she wasn’t sure how to activate the magic which had let Shay in and out, and escaping via the wardrobe would let on about the hidden passages. Assuming they didn’t already know.
Was the best plan simply to stay put, and hope that an emergency somewhere else would cause cat-woman’s attention to wander?
VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT TUESDAY OCT 30th
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Encountering Chartreuse and Sue would have led all of them to a rescue of Thred, while the Para and Sue encounter would have revealed more about Sue’s connection to this little underground movement. We got a left turn instead of a right turn, and so more time with Alice’s nemesis Shay, along with a reveal of the behind-the-scenes shuffling. Hope you liked it.
Sorry for the extra week of delay. I probably could have mashed something together for last Sunday, I even had a good idea of what I wanted here, but I couldn’t motivate myself. It felt like I’d get the same few votes no matter when I posted. (Thanks to Nebus though, for the shout-out in the MathEd Carnival #121!) This past week it was my wife’s birthday, my daughter turned four months old, and I had parent-teacher interviews, so no chance to write. I looked ahead though, and the extra week? Means I won’t be publishing the week of Christmas. Which is probably for the best. Incidentally, to see another vote-for-plot story that gets dozens of votes, Drew Hayes is doing his Halloween story 2018 again this year. It runs daily, go see.