CHANCED ERASURES: PART NINE
“You planning on attacking someone with a tuba?” Sam asked, looking skeptical.
Chartreuse glanced down at the instrument she was clasping to her front, then back up at Sam. “I might not be able to throw it far, but, like, playing it could be enough,” she offered up.
“Right.” Sam still looked unsure.
Chartreuse cleared her throat. “It’s, you know, a fair point. Maybe I’ll stick to crystals.” She smiled and set the tuba aside.
Honestly, going back into the instrument storage area had been a ruse anyway. Chartreuse had wanted to contact Fate, at the Epsilon Project, to give her an update. After all, where they were headed, things could go very badly.
On the communications channel, Chartreuse had quickly summed up the contents of the holo-disc that they’d seen, mentioned the presence of the secret area behind the music room wall where Alice was possibly being kept… and admitted that they were going in. They now knew the correct access sequence.
It was not because Sam had worked out the code, however. Rather, he had decided that it would be safer to lay low, and see if Usa Staling returned. She had. Sam had then watched her enter the hidden area, having pressed the symbols from the rooms they’d been in to spell out ‘SECRET’.
Upon hearing the – admittedly rushed – report, Fate had offered to pull them back. However, Chartreuse reasoned that vanishing at this point would simply raise alarms, plus despite all that they knew, there was still no guarantee that Alice remained on the premises.
And there was one other cause for concern. Usa hadn’t returned alone – she’d been leading a blindfolded Sir Thred. At least Chartreuse’s earlier bad feeling regarding Sam’s friend had apparently been justified.
That’s when Sue had suggested bringing possible weapons with them into the hidden area, which she’d further admitted was an elevator to an entire hidden part of the school.
“A tuba could make a good shield though,” Sue said, crossing her arms and leaning back against the wall.
“Now we’ll need a shield too?” Chartreuse mused, as she took her quartz crystal back out of her neon red stocking. “Will you ever get, you know, a little more specific about what we’re in for?”
“We may be facing defenders of the Council,” Sue elaborated, much to Chartreuse’s surprise.
“Council?” Para inquired. She’d grabbed a metronome. Chartreuse felt like that wouldn’t be of much use, but you never knew.
“The one Usa referred to during that holo-recording you saw of Alice,” Sue admitted. “Except, they shouldn’t have any interest in Thred, since all he did was grab that security guy’s hat. Unless… there’s things going on here that I don’t know about.”
Sam hefted his music stand. “You know, Sue, it might be helpful to know more about what you DO know about,” he stated. “And, I mean, apparently you wanted me to be part of this organization too, so does it really matter whether I find out now or later?”
Sue ran a hand through her short hair. “It’s not you I’m worried about. If only we’d done this alone…” She glanced sidelong towards Chartreuse.
“…then you, you know, wouldn’t have had the key to get into all the rooms,” Chartreuse pointed out. “Also, you’d have had the symbol for the gym, meaning Sam’s decision of hiding to learn the combination wouldn’t have, like, been a thing, and we wouldn’t know about Thred.”
“You are so amazingly shady,” Sue said, sullenly staring. “Damn it, crystal girl, every time I think I’ve figured you out, you say or do something that switches my theory.”
“Would it help if me and Chartreuse went into one of the soundproof practice rooms?” Para offered. “To let you two talk? If you think Sam would be better off knowing more, that is.”
“Bah, you can probably lipread,” Sue grumbled. She pushed off from the wall, and began to pace back and forth. “But know what? At this point, screw it. If you’re my enemy, I bet you’ll get information from me eventually, so by saying something now, we’re doing this on my terms. Because if you’re not my enemy, you should know what you’re up against too.”
Chartreuse wondered if she should insist that they weren’t enemies, but decided to simply see where the other girl was going with this.
With one final glare towards the pink haired mystic, Sue turned back to Sam. “See, those of us with abilities, like my invisibility? There’s a reason we come to this school. It’s because magic is possible here. On this site. Owing to the magic wars a couple centuries ago. It’s why Fenduro built the Academy.”
Sam seemed to consider that. “Your invisibility is a magic power then?”
Sue shook her head. “Not… inherently? But the magic can enhance it. I think. Actually, the Clover Club, they look into ways of integrating residual magic with science, and with me being kinda undercover, I don’t get to attend their meetings.”
Sam put his music stand down and leaned against it. “And why isn’t this magic stuff public knowledge?”
Sue shrugged. “The same quality that makes this place a great site for us to study magical effects also makes it a danger magnet. Would you want to send your kids to an actual dimensional observation hub? Plus there’s the ethics of the Council erasing the memories of people who find out.”
Sam flinched. “Whoa, whoa! Mind manipulation?! That’s strictly illegal.”
“Yeah, no idea who started doing that decades ago, but it’s pretty common practice now,” Sue sighed, rubbing the back of her head. “To keep everything under wraps. When word finally gets out, there might be hell to pay.”
“So, like, if I’m understanding you,” Chartreuse broke in, “if we fail here, your Council could tamper with our memories to make us forget any of this ever happened?”
“It’s possible,” Sue admitted. “I mean, they sure as heck won’t let Sam publish any of this in his newsletter. That’s kind of why I was hoping we’d get him inducted before he was inclined to say anything publicly.”
Chartreuse was abruptly reminded of the urban legend she and Sam had been talking about on the roof, after her arrival. About an otherworlder who had been brought to the school, and then ‘erased’ from existing. Could it be that only their memory had been erased? Leaving them as a member of this dimension, because they didn’t know any better? Perhaps it was even the reason for a genetic pool of ‘gifties’, if this sort of thing had been going on for decades.
Or maybe she was simply overthinking things.
“So,” Sam said, after a moment of thought, “maybe Thred saw something that he wasn’t supposed to. And the Council’s taking that memory away from him.”
“But all he saw was the security guy, right?” Sue objected. “A thing which could have been explained away easily enough. There’s simply no reason for Usa to have pulled Thred back in there. Unless they’re being extra paranoid tonight, and as such, plan to interrogate him and then wipe his memory of having done that.”
“An interrogation which may well bring our names into this,” Para realized.
Sue gestured in her direction. “Exactly. Between the drugs in the infirmary and all the security there’s some sort of epic cover up going on here, and I don’t like it. This is not what I signed up for when I came to this school. It’s almost like someone else is pulling the strings today. Someone shady.” She peered in Chartreuse’s direction again.
Sam pointed towards the wall. “Okay, so now we know. Sue, how do you propose we charge in and save Thred? You’ve been down there already.”
“To be clear, I haven’t seen all of it,” Sue admitted, looking back to him. “We only have access to the research lab area. Though, if you do get caught and thrown into the holding cells, there’s another puzzle on the walls there. It works the same as here on the music room wall. To see if you stumbled in by accident, or whether you really know what you’re doing.”
“You think that’s, like, where Thred got taken?” Chartreuse mused.
Sue shrugged. “I’d say no, but everything’s felt off tonight. Honestly, I’m kind of hoping that as soon as we get in there, we’ll learn this has all been one big misunderstanding.”
There was an uncomfortable silence.
“What can we expect to see first then?” Para asked.
Sue sighed. “Okay, so, there’ll just be the one guard on duty. Sam and I can explain about being here for solving the breadcrumbs puzzle, which will bump things up to Usa, or maybe even Shay, the local Council liaison. We’d then be held in a waiting room pending an emergency meeting about bringing Sam in, or making him forget about all this.”
“Maybe that room is where Thred is being held too?” Sam suggested.
“I’m hopeful,” Sue agreed.
“So what’s, like, the deal with the weapons then?” Chartreuse asked.
Sue pursed her lips. “Yeah, so, if the guard tries anything funny, we clock him, and I use my invisibility to go deeper and get Thred out of there. The Council’s not all about memory wiping, you know. There’s non-disclosure agreements. I’m hoping we can escape, lie low, and bargain for that outcome.”
Sam nodded. “Anything else we should watch out for?”
Sue shook her head. “No. Wait – yes. Don’t assume that anyone who’s unarmed isn’t a threat. Spells can get tossed around, and all the Council defenders need is a line of sight to you.”
“Aha, thanks for spelling that out,” Chartreuse said, nodding. Everyone turned to stare at her, Sue looking particularly annoyed. Chartreuse smiled back. “I’m, you know, defusing tension.”
“Let’s just do this,” Sam suggested.
“Please,” Sue muttered.
Sam picked his music stand back up and went to the wall, entering the SECRET code that Usa had used earlier. There was the sound of wind chimes, and the fifth door appeared. They all walked in.
Once the door was shut behind them, the elevator ran automatically down. Another door soon slid into position on the opposite side of the wall. Sam reached out and opened that one too, carefully poking his head around the corner first. “Oh. Um, hi,” he remarked.
Sam swung the door open wider, allowing Chartreuse to see a small reception area. There were even a couple of potted ferns near the one desk. At the desk, behind a panel of switches and dials, stood a nondescript twenty-year old with blond hair, wearing some sort of dark robe.
“Don’t come any closer!” the man said, bringing a gun into view.
Sam carefully set his music stand down and moved sideways along the wall, followed by everyone else.
“This student solved the entry puzzle,” Sue remarked, holding her hands up to show she was unarmed. “Albeit unconventionally. Also, are you new here?”
“Is that the way out then?” the man said, waggling his gun at the door.
This was when Chartreuse noticed the legs sticking out from underneath one side of the desk. Someone was unconscious back there. “You don’t, you know, work for the Council,” she realized.
The man shifted his aim towards Chartreuse. “Look, I don’t care about whatever your mystic Council is doing. Just let me out before you shut down dimensional travel!”
“Shut down… we wouldn’t do that,” Sue said, taken aback.
“Also, we’re not Council,” Para supplied helpfully. She waved her metronome in the air.
The blonde guy came around the desk. “Don’t con me,” he said, heading for the door that would lead back into the Academy. All the while motioning with his gun that they should continue to keep their distance. “I was in the wardrobe, I heard everything. You won’t catch me the way you caught that other lady.”
“Oh, caught who now?” Chartreuse asked, standing straighter.
“What wardrobe?” Sue said, frustration creeping into her tone.
“Could it be that we’re on the same side here?” Sam proposed.
“Just keep back,” the robed man said. He pointed at the ground in front of them and fired, presumably as some sort of warning shot. Except instead of the gun discharging, it let out a high pitched whine.
Sue’s eyes went wide. “Magic ownership override. Get rid of that,” she called out to him.
The man stared at the gun in surprise, and then perhaps more out of some self-preservation reflex than having heard Sue, threw it up into the air. The whine culminated in a “pop”, the gun raining a shower of sparkles down onto the entire area.
WHAT DO THE SPARKLES DO?
VOTING CLOSES 7am EST MONDAY NOV 12th
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Rather than having a standard “Alice runs for it; Alice stays hidden” sort of vote, the outcome you voted for last time (who is caught) reverse decided what she ended up doing. Since we haven’t seen/heard how Alice got caught yet though, I’ll hold off on my explanation. That said, the group breaking in encountered Marlin, as opposed to Alice (if he’d been caught) or Usa (if they’d both been caught).
THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
When the vote at the end of Part Six resulted in “Sam doesn’t figure it out (cut to Alice)”, Thred’s fate was sealed. Sam was destined to eavesdrop on Usa bringing him in to learn the access code instead.
I think I’ve covered all the loose plot threads by this point (aside from the shadow committee’s ‘shut down dimensional travel’ climax piece). Please let me know if you think I’ve missed something. Even though I’m making this up as I go along (seriously, that otherworld urban legend thing coming back wasn’t planned), I am trying to keep everything internally consistent. Thanks very much for reading!