Author: mathtans

Writer and high school mathematics teacher.

5.07: Jailbreak

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CHANCED ERASURES: PART SEVEN

“Ever feel like people don’t want you to succeed at something?”

Alice processed the words, but by the time it fully registered what her companion had said, she had already murmured back, “Hmmmm?”

“See, I’m thinking maybe the other wizards wanted me to get captured,” the young man clarified for her. “Maybe they gave me a bunch of misinformation about their group, figuring that I would spill it under duress, like I did earlier. So this is all a trap that I’ve sprung! What do you think?”

Alice turned away from where she had been inspecting the wall of their cell. “Is that how your wizard group usually operates?”

The man shrugged. “I… don’t know. This trip was kind of an initiation to the group.”

“Then your rite of passage took a left turn,” Alice concluded, looking back at the wall. The strange bricks seemingly stared back at her, their strange symbols taunting.

ALICE VUNDERLANDE
Commission by Cherry Zong

Alice knew she had been in the cell for at least a day now. The first time she’d awoken here, she’d been alone. Her jailers had come and knocked her out before taking her to that medical interrogation area, then sparkle-man (aka Pepa, aka Shay) had knocked her out there to – presumably – bring her straight back here.

The second time she’d awoken here, she’d had company. So either someone else had decided to visit this dimension, or more likely, the young wizard in the cell was an attempt to attack her defences. They were giving her someone to confide in.

She hadn’t risen to the bait. Even when they had come to take him away for questioning, seemingly in much the same way she had been the previous day, she had assumed it to be part of the ruse. She hadn’t paid much attention to it.

Now, when he’d come back babbling about his “home Earth”, where wizards would send someone through a portal using “dimensional roulette”, she’d been less certain. It was certainly plausible that this was a common holding area, and that therefore they had a common enemy. He’d even said “no” when she’d asked him – presumably still under truth serum – if he was working with their captors.

Then again, Alice hadn’t been born yesterday.

Still, the guy could be a resource that she wasn’t properly tapping. And she felt like she was running out of time to decipher her escape route.

“What’s your name, anyway?” Alice asked, turning again to the wizard and sizing him up. He was pretty nondescript, with short blond hair, wearing some sort of dark robe to hide his physique. Alice might have guessed his age as being early twenties.

He looked back up at her, from where he sat on the only bench in the room. “Marlin. I did introduce myself when you first woke up, yes?”

Alice pressed a finger to her chin. That’s right, she’d simply retorted that his name sounded ‘fishy’. “Okay, Marlin, I’m Alice. Question, have you noticed everything wrong with this cell we’re in yet?”

Marlin looked around. “What, you mean the fact that there’s only one washroom area for the two of us, with no door?”

Alice pursed her lips. “I will grant that situation is also a problem. But I’m hopeful of getting out of here before it’s an issue. Go deeper.”

Marlin looked around again and adjusted his robe. “Well, the bars on the door look sturdy enough, I doubt we’ll be able to chisel out the bricks, we’ve got no windows… seems like a pretty foolproof place to me.”

“You see, but you do not observe,” Alice quoted. Or, he was a plant by the enemy, and not interested in observing. Still, one more try. “We’re in a society that’s technologically advanced enough to have holographic recordings and truth serums, and yet we’ve been left in the dungeons and dragons area,” she explained patiently. “Go deeper.”

Marlin frowned. “Oh. Then you think we’re in their magical prison? One for preventing spell casting? Not that I can do any without my wand…”

“Whereas I’m not magical,” Alice interrupted, flicking some hair back off her shoulder. “And they know that by now. So why not fix us up in a maximum security room with force fields and laser beams, hmmmm?”

Marlin shook his head in confusion. “I’ll bite, why not?”

Alice pointed at him. “Either they can’t do it, or they won’t do it. You observe yet?”

He stared at her. She could almost see the question marks forming around his head. “How exactly does that help us?”

Alice sighed. Still, the guy was her only sounding board, and talking to herself out loud might be helpful. She’d just talk quietly, to keep her voice from carrying, as she hadn’t seen any obvious listening devices during her explorations of the room.

“Options for why they can’t,” Alice began. “Whoever’s holding us, they’re not a sanctioned group, and don’t want a power drain to register on a grid. Or, there’s something about this area that prevents such high tech gizmos from working, perhaps tech even interferes with their magic. Or, there’s something about this day or time of year that makes their regular tech-tech cells unavailable.”

“I see where you’re going now,” Marlin said, standing up from the bench. “Whereas reasons for why they won’t, it might be that some higher-ups have made a decision for them, or they have certain red tape to cut through first, or they’ve fallen in love with us.”

Alice paused in mid-stride at Marlin’s last remark. Definitely not an option she would have considered. Maybe the guy would be useful after all?

She spun on her heel. “Precisely. More to the point, I feel like these symbols” – she pointed at an arrangement of the bricks on the far wall – “are in here with us for a reason. Do you recognize any of them?”

Marlin walked over to have a better look. Slowly he shook his head. “No – though, okay, that one there, it was in the gym of the campus I’d teleported into upon arrival. But I don’t know what it means.”

Alice tilted her head. “Hold the phone. Were you also investigating the Clover Club here?”

Marlin glanced at her. “The what now? Is that some group of leprechauns?”

“Never mind, never mind,” Alice said, waving him off. His story of dimensional roulette remained plausible. She then tilted her head the other way. “Thing is, you can press on those bricks,” she remarked after a second. “But don’t,” she added, as he reached out.

“Why not?”

“It takes a while for them to pop back out and reset. We need to find the right code. And with those six symbols, there’s 720 possible permutations, never mind that the code could be shorter, or have repetition included. So, thoughts?”

“Wait, how do you know all this? You’ve been pressing random bricks?”

“Yes, my calendar’s been clear the last day or so,” Alice said dryly. “Focus, please.”

“What if the wrong combination lets poisonous gas in here or something?!”

Alice raked her fingers back through her hair. “There’s easier ways for them to kill us. Moreover, I think maybe the reason why they won’t hold us elsewhere is because we’re being tested here. With that.”

Marlin seemed about to laugh, but he stopped himself, then crossed his arms. “Interesting. But even assuming that is a way out, what would we do from there? We’ll still be in this facility.”

Alice shrugged. “I have devices locked up somewhere, you have a wand, surely there’s some way to escape this dimension. Alternatively, if they do secretly love us, and learning the code makes us their Gods, we’re good.”

“Huh.” Marlin leaned in to look closer at the bricks. “I was semi-conscious as they were bringing me back. It looked like we were going through a music room. Do the bricks let out sounds as you push them?”

“No,” Alice replied. She pursed her lips. “But we can. How’s your karaoke?”

Marlin blinked. “Is that a type of sushi?”

“Yeah, no. Pity I don’t know Iron Maiden’s “The Prisoner”, it’d be topical. Though Adele once said ‘Rolling in the Deep‘ helped her hit notes she didn’t know she could, so I’ll try that.”

“You’ll what now?”

“Sing, while you watch the bricks.”

He said something else, but Alice tuned him out, working to find her vocal centre. She knew she wasn’t the best vocalist, but it had been one of the things she’d tried out to fill time during her days on the Epsilon Station. When she finally started belting the tune out, it was with no reservations, no interest in what Marlin’s opinion as a music critic.

Fortunately, he had apparently been watching the bricks as requested, because as she finished and collapsed on the bench, he remarked, “Maybe I imagined it, but I think the symbols blurred into English letters a couple of times. Possibly letters from other languages too. That was weird.”

Alice leaned back. “What, no applause?”

“I’m trying not to lose track of what I saw,” he said. He then lifted his fingers to point at the bricks in turn. “E – C – R – T – E – S. What does it mean?”

Holding back a sigh at the lack of enthusiasm for her performance, Alice pushed herself back up. “Word jumble. Reset C? Erects? Secrete? No, too many E’s there… oh, duh.”

Alice slammed her palm rapid-fire into the bricks that Marlin had been pointing to. As the last one was pushed into place, there was a clicking sound, and a panel of the back wall swung out.

Marlin jumped back in shock. “Well done. What was that, ‘Set rec’?”

“Secret. As in secret door,” Alice explained. “Hard part’s obviously knowing the mapping of the symbols, particularly with two Es that don’t quite look the same. I gambled that I should move my hand in sort of a star pattern. Because I’m a pop STAR sensation.” She flashed Marlin a grin.

His smile was more hesitant. “So we go into this passage?”

Still no applause for the singing, fine. “You can stay here to be tortured,” Alice sighed. “I’m leaving. Also, if you come, still suspicious of you, for the record.”

“The record? Oh, you’re hoping for a record deal now, after that song?”

Alice lifted her eyebrow. “Better. A sense of humour serves you well when you’re with me.”

She headed into the passage, and after waiting a moment and having Marlin follow her, she reached out to pull the doorway shut.

“Uhm, it’s gonna be pitch dark in here,” he pointed out. The light they’d had in their cell had been filtering in from lamps in the corridor.

“Yup. If you use that as an excuse to grope me, I WILL kick you somewhere painful,” Alice assured him.

“That’s not what I… never mind,” Marlin sighed, as their light source was cut off.

Alice turned and started to walk. The walls of the passage itself weren’t jagged like rock, but neither were they brick. Perhaps the tunnel had been made using some futuristic carving tool, Alice reasoned, as the shape was pretty consistent all the way along. With it being about six feet high, she also didn’t have to worry about banging her head, and she could feel both walls as they went along.

Until she couldn’t.

Alice managed to stop herself before stepping face-first into the wall before her. They had reached some sort of T-shaped intersection. Marlin stumbled into her from behind.

“Don’t kick me,” he blurted.

“Sure, as long as you tell me left or right.”

She couldn’t see him, but imagined him frowning. “What makes you think I know?”

“I’m presuming that you were at least conscious for part of your time down here, and thus have some sense of which way might not lead to the guard house.”

Marlin sighed. “So, no pressure then.”

WHAT’S NEXT?

Options:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT TUESDAY OCT 9th

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Sam figuring it out first try would have put them into the hidden facility, and possibly they’d have treasure from the secret area/room of the school. Sam triggering the alarm would have had him spell the sequential word first rather than the secret one, resulting in a chase and having to hide. So yes, the puzzle that Alice solved was very similar to the one they’d been working on in the school. The fact that we cut to Alice though? Doesn’t mean that the others didn’t make it in, only that Sam himself didn’t figure it out. Though they could still be outside… any thoughts? On that, or on the new character here? Stay tuned, spread the word about the serial, and thanks for reading.

EXTRA ASIDE:
I managed to get 30 consecutive days of decimal views on WordPress here (as the stats revert to decimals when you’re under 10 page views). Is that an accomplishment?

Stats after 4+ years

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5.06: Strange Cymbals

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CHANCED ERASURES: PART SIX

Chartreuse pursed her lips. “I’m sure you’re right. Let’s, you know, head for the music room,” she decided after a moment of thought.

Sam flashed her a smile in response. “All right then. Back out through the vent.”

“Of course you’d pick his side,” Sue muttered as she walked past Chartreuse. Thred simply shrugged his shoulders and thrust his hands in his pockets, apparently willing to go along with the majority.

For her part, Para wasn’t quite sure what to make of this “scavenger hunt”. The chain of room numbers that were leading them around – did they truly connect to the fact that Alice had been interrogated here in the infirmary? And to the fact that there was a guard in the hall? And if so, what would there be in the music room?

More to the point, if not, then what was the significance of these rooms to the school? That felt like a question that deserved a more immediate answer, whether it connected to their mission at this academy or not.

In particular, while the Clover Club inscription had been on the wall, the security office had used a filing cabinet, the infirmary had used a bed, and the roof apparently involved a sculpture. All items put in place after the building had been built. So, put in place by whom?

Wait, hadn’t this academy been built on a burial ground?

PARA
Commission by Michelle Simpson

Para approached Chartreuse as Sam and Thred stood on the desk to access the ventilation grate once again. “In your later reading, did you learn anything else about why this school had been built on this location, of all places?” Para murmured.

Chartreuse turned. “Hmm? Oh, right, I guess we never, like, compared notes after our history browsing. There wasn’t anything in your book?”

Para felt her bunny ears twitch. “Officially something about this being the cheapest place in the growing municipality. I was hoping you had more.”

Chartreuse bobbed her head. “Yeah, well, it was cheap because they’d buried the casualties of the magic wars here, or something.”

Para’s ears twitched again, but her depression remained at a minimum. “My reading was mostly confined to local government and the like. Elaborate on these wars?”

Chartreuse glanced towards Sue, whom Para noticed by now was looking back at them. Presumably wondering if they were going to travel ahead of her, as they had last time. When they didn’t immediately approach, Sue’s eyes narrowed, but she simply turned away and boosted herself up towards the vent. Perhaps hoping that they would be left behind.

“I hyperlinked around through, like, a bunch of books,” Chartreuse admitted, as she headed towards the vent herself. “But the gist of it, and, you know, the reason they don’t like dimensional travellers here, is because a couple hundred years ago, a magic dimension came in conflict with this Earth.”

Para nibbled on her lip. “And they buried the victims of it on this spot?”

“Yeah, but eventually there was a treaty or something, and I think the bodies were, you know, dug up and returned. Still, the whole area was kind of a dead zone until a few decades ago.” Chartreuse paused before climbing on the desk, cocking her head at Para. “Why, is that important?”

Para shrugged. “I’m not sure. Something about this hunt we’re on doesn’t make sense to me. I thought maybe that was it.”

“You think this whole rooms thing is, like, a trap?”

“I don’t know,” Para admitted. “Let’s just get going.”

As Chartreuse climbed up though the opening, Para noticed a map of the school sitting in a corner of the desk. She quickly pulled it over, tracing her finger on it as she recreated their path. The clubs area was in the east wing. Security was to the south, the infirmary was to the north, the roof access was south again, and the music room… was roughly central. Nearby, as Sam had said.

Para traced her finger again. If she were to go to the west wing at the end of her movements, instead of centrally, she could create a five pointed star. Coincidentally, the west was where the gymnasium was located. Was there a connection to Sue’s rantings about their equipment?

Para pushed the map away. Perhaps she was seeing patterns where there were none. Though if she wasn’t, at least the single point of the star was up, implying good, rather than down, for evil.

Para hurried to climb through the vent and rejoin the others.

***

There was another security guard outside the music room.

Sam shook his head. “It was Hypno vials in the infirmary, I wonder what’s in the music room. Anyone know of a convenient vent access?”

“No. Also, this is getting too dangerous,” Sue decided. “Why don’t we come back tomorrow?”

“Because we’ve got Para’s skeleton key now,” Thred reminded them.

Para winced. “I just happen to know some of the morphing codes. Which, I admit, might not work on another day.” After all, there was a good chance the combinations would be changed again, if the insertion and subsequent deletion of her and Chartreuse to the database was remarked upon.

Sam turned to look at Chartreuse. “You have any other good ideas, or crystal balls you can use?” he asked.

Chartreuse rocked on her heels. “Maybe? A reading’ll, like, take some time though.”

“I definitely would not trust whatever she comes up with,” Sue stated.

Sam turned to Sue and frowned. “Can you stop? Chartreuse has been nothing but helpful to me all day, you know.”

“Which means it’s my turn to help now.”

The voice had been that of Sir Thred, and as Para turned to look at him, he strode around the corner of the hallway and towards the guard.

“Damn it…!” Sam gasped.

Sue reached out to grasp Sam by the shoulder, preventing him from following. “Too late. Thred’s made his choice.”

“Hi there!” Sir Thred said, his voice carrying down the hall. “Forgot my trombone. Could you open the door?”

“The school is closed,” the guard growled. “Leave, before you get yourself in a heap of trouble.”

“What are you doing here anyway?” Thred said, continuing his approach. “Are you a new teach–”

“LEAVE.”

What happened next was a brief scuffle and the sound of Thred running, followed by the sound of the guard’s footsteps as he called out in anger.

“Thred just grabbed the security guy’s hat,” Sam whistled. “He’s pulling the guy away from his post – now’s our chance. Come on!”

“This reeeeally isn’t a good–” Sue cut her voice off and simply ran after Sam, who had already taken off around the corner, Chartreuse on his heels.

They all seemed to have forgotten that Para was the one with the morphing key; she hurried to catch up. It wasn’t until they were all actually in the music room that she was able to remark, “That guard is probably going to be all over us as soon as we try to leave, yes?”

“One problem at a time,” Sam said. “Come on, let’s look around for the next clue and room location.”

“Why are, you know, the lights already on in here?” Chartreuse remarked. Para didn’t have an answer for that, and neither Sam nor Sue even acknowledged the question.

Sam was the one who located the strange symbol and the letter “S”, carved into the bottom of the main podium, but there was no room number this time.

“I guess this is the end?” Sam mused, as he stood back up. “But what does the word RECTS signify? Rectangles?”

“Maybe the next room number is, you know, somewhere else in here,” Chartreuse suggested. “Along with a symbol.” She peered under the high hat for the drum kit.

“Unless the Clover Club wasn’t the first room?” Para murmured, tracing her star pattern in the air again. Maybe the gym hadn’t been their next stop – maybe it should have been their first. She looked over towards Sue, who seemed to be chewing on her lower lip in thought.

“Huh. So we’re trapped in the music room without knowing our next destination,” Sam realized. “That kind of sucks.”

That’s when there was a sound of wind chimes, and Para saw Sue’s eyes go wide.

“We have to hide, now,” the dark haired girl said, her gaze flitting around the room.

Rather than question the statement, Para quickly moved to the side, ducking down behind the upright piano. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Chartreuse diving for the instrument storage room, one of four rooms that seemed to be self contained inside the music area. The other three looked like soundproof practice rooms.

Then there was the fifth room. The mystery room, the secret room, the one that hadn’t displayed a doorway until right at that very second. It was located just past the other four, in the corner. When it opened, Usa Staling, the academy head of security, strode out.

Para could only just hear Usa grumbling about a ‘stupid old wizard’ in the time it took Alice’s interrogator to march straight across the room and out the main door.

When Para looked back at the mystery doorway, it had disappeared again. Even so, she only stood up when she saw that Chartreuse, Sam and Sue had come out into the main area once again.

“How did Usa not see us?” Sam muttered. “Were we standing so still that we looked like music stands??”

“No,” Chartreuse said. “Somehow you two, you know, conveniently disappeared from sight in the time it took me to blink.” The mystic then looked pointedly at Sue.

Sue let out a breath through clenched teeth. “Fine. You want to hear this?” Her body went transparent, then she disappeared altogether, before slowly reappearing. “I’m a high level giftie.” She raised her finger to point at Chartreuse. “Which is how I know YOU are NOT one, hmmm?”

Chartreuse winced, as Sam took a couple steps backwards, ending up closer to Para. “This… this is impossible. Sue, you… you’re in classes with me.”

Sue lowered her arm, chewing her lower lip again as she looked at Sam. “Yeah. I’m kinda so gifted that even my peers aren’t sure about me, hence why I’m enrolled… undercover, if you will? Thing is, Sam, I see such potential in you. And there are people as high up as me who DON’T have extra abilities, aside from their intelligence. You could be one of them. I’m sure of it.”

“Then this WAS all a test,” Para concluded. “Starting at the gym and culminating at that mystery door here. A test for Sam.”

“I didn’t design it,” Sue was quick to point out. “I didn’t even know all the specifics, like where the clues were. But yes. Our group simply seems to have chosen the worst possible day to try this out, when SPIES and TRAITORS were in our midst.” She didn’t look directly at Chartreuse, but then, she didn’t have to.

Chartreuse shook her head. “Sue, please, I’m not… not those. Though I did, like, have my own reasons to be exploring the school, I guess.”

Sam held his head. “Okay, never thought I’d actually say this, but I can’t deal with this just now. Maybe I should go and give myself up to that security guy like Thred, figure it out tomorrow.”

Sue took a step closer to him. “You can’t. It’s too late for that now, it’d probably jeopardize any chance you’d have of getting in with the elites. Sam, you need to finish the puzzle tonight. Preferably before Usa comes back from… whatever SHE’S off doing.”

Sue advanced again, and Sam took another step away, almost bumping into Para.

“Can you tell him the missing pieces from the gym, Sue?” Para asked softly, bringing Sam up short.

Sue’s hands clenched into fists, and she slowly shook her head. “No. I’ve said too much already. Besides, you’ve already seen what you need to do here. So do your best, based on what you’ve got.” She peered back at Chartreuse. “And you? You can’t watch him. Even you,” she added, looking back at Para, “I’m a bit nervous about.”

“We can’t, what, watch him solve a puzzle?” Chartreuse asked, bemused.

“No, because solving the puzzle is what opens the door,” Para reasoned. “The mystery door we saw. That has to be it, as those symbols we saw from the other rooms, a lot of them are engraved on the wall, along with the more traditional musical notations as camouflage.”

“Definitely nervous about you now,” Sue decided.

Sam sighed. “So, what, I have to tap the wall over there in the order of the symbols we saw? When I don’t even know the first ones to use?”

Sue clenched her jaw, and said nothing more.

“Fun. Hey, anyone want to toss out words that end in -rects? Directs? Resurrects? Erects?”

Para reached out to touch him gently on the shoulder; he flinched very minimally. “Remember, Sam. Many of the rooms with clues are totally off limits to students,” she reminded. “Maybe this is something you CAN work out without having every piece.”

Sam frowned. “It WOULD be difficult to get every piece in order, the way we did,” he agreed. “And even then, it’d be more of a physical thing than a mental challenge.” He walked over to look more closely at the wall. “So perhaps it’s more about the locations within this scrambled jumble of symbols?”

Sue looked hopeful at that. Para still had her doubts.

WHAT’S NEXT? (Do you know what Sam needs to do?)

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT MONDAY SEP 24th

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Going to the roof would have had them run into an investigation of Chartreuse and Para’s arrival earlier in the day, resulting in a chase sequence. Going to the gym would have involved overhearing a conversation, and filling in the missing part of the star Para was tracing. The music room meant they’d have to work things out without the gym piece, which it turns out also meant Sue needing to explain herself. There was originally going to be a box locked with a cipher, containing a key, but I went this route instead. So will there be more than two votes this time? Please do spread the word about the serial, and thanks for reading.

5.05: Medical Alert

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CHANCED ERASURES: PART FIVE

“Whoops, we can’t go this way,” Sue remarked. She ducked her head out of the nearest corridor, back into the school stairwell.

Chartreuse felt a frown tugging at the corners of her mouth. Why had Sue led them here, only to turn them around? “I thought you knew the janitor routes,” she reminded. “Isn’t this, you know, why you’ve been in the lead?”

“That is not a custodian,” she answered. “It’s Usa, or one of her people. Keeping watch over the corridor down to the infirmary.”

CHARTREUSE VERMILION Commission by Ruuari

Which was a perfectly reasonable explanation, but then why was Chartreuse feeling uneasy about Sue once again? Though, she’d felt queasy in the afternoon, and there had been that unspecified reaction to Thred earlier. Perhaps her mystic systems were simply going a bit haywire, for whatever reason.

Sam crossed his arms. “They’re definitely hiding something, hmm? I wonder how we can get past that guy to check it out.”

Sue flashed her friend a smile. “Maybe our ‘giftie’ here could draw his or her attention away,” she said, jerking her thumb at Chartreuse.

Chartreuse shook her head. “Security has no reason to, like, treat me nicer than any of you.”

Sue smirked. “Oh, I know.”

Sue was definitely the most likely candidate for messing up their chances at locating Alice. Before Chartreuse could formulate an answer to the other girl’s remark though, Para spoke up.

“Couldn’t we get to the infirmary another way? Not through the corridors?” she proposed.

Thred clasped his hands together. “Yes! We get to do a ventilation shaft run, like in the movies. Cool.”

Para’s nose twitched. “I was thinking a window.”

“Nah, they’ll be bolted. Thred’s right,” Sam agreed, snapping his fingers. “All we need to do is snip the wires on the grate in the bathroom around behind the infirmary and use the duct.” He cleared his throat as everyone turned to look at him. “Not… that… I’d… know…?”

“You’ve been, you know, planning this information gathering mission for a while, huh?” Chartreuse divined.

Sue hmmphed. “More like he already tried that scheme once. Except that’s when he was trying to get OUT of the infirmary.”

Sam winced. “Ahh, no, you heard about that?”

“Read it. You’re not the only newsletter in the region,” Sue remarked. She then shot another glare towards Chartreuse, though Chartreuse wasn’t sure why.

This time Thred spoke before Chartreuse could speak. “Oh, right! That time you got heatstroke, but wanted to capture footage of the sunbathing protest outside.”

“It was for my article, not to see the people,” Sam insisted. “Anyway, nothing was proven, I could have twisted my ankle any number of ways while in the infirmary itself… let’s just circle around and get on with this investigation, all right?”

“Good idea,” Para agreed, again jumping in before tempers could flare. “Because at this rate, we’ll still be here when the building gets locked up. Which could be a problem.”

***

It didn’t take them long to bypass the security man’s location and get into the restrooms. Chartreuse idly noticed that were marked gender neutral – yet there still seemed to be a couple of urinals? To help save water, maybe?

“This trash can should work for getting us up to the vent,” Thred said, grabbing the object by the door and flipping it upside-down. Paper towels spilled out. So that part of society was recognizable, at least.

“By all means, lead the way then,” Sue said, leaning back against the wall, clasping her hands behind her head.

Sam blinked at her. “Are you not coming with us?”

She half smiled. “Don’t worry, I am, but last. Nice try at having a chance to look up my skirt though.”

Sam opened his mouth, then simply closed it and rolled his eyes as he turned his attention to the vent. For her part, Chartreuse looked down at her pleated school authorized skirt. Good point. The skirt wasn’t short, but crawling through a vent… “Guys can totally go first,” she agreed with a nod.

Sue gave her another look. Chartreuse divined the intent – they were about to have it out. Sure enough, once Thred, Sam and Para had climbed in, the dark haired girl’s palm fell upon Chartreuse’s shoulder. “I’ve figured out your game, you know,” she murmured, eyes narrowing.

Chartreuse couldn’t prevent her natural instinct of darting her gaze from side to side, as if seeking an escape. Had Sue figured out that they were off-worlders? “Like, what?” she managed to say, smiling as sincerely as she could manage.

“Please. You’re not a real giftie,” Sue continued. “Not here, at least. I’d know. Trying to make a name for yourself with this school, are you? Think this ‘Alice’ affair is the way to do it? Think again. Sam’s the one who will be seeing things through to the end tonight. He’s earned it. You, not so much.”

Chartreuse felt a measure of relief at the accusation, though again she tried not to show it. It seemed like Sue had fingered her as someone from a rival newsletter, perhaps even a spy from a rival school… and while having her cover blown wasn’t great, there were worse alternatives.

“Got it,” Chartreuse assured the other girl. “No sweat, with any luck, you totally won’t hear from me ever again after, you know, tomorrow.” Likely not even in the student records, if Beam was to be believed.

Sue’s expression became a grimace, perhaps not liking the quick agreement. She jerked her thumb towards the vent. “Whatever, like, y’know, hurry up and get in,” she snarked. “I want to see what Sam finds in the infirmary.”

Chartreuse didn’t hesitate. When she crawled out the other end of the passage – which was easier thanks to a nurse’s desk up against the wall – she found everyone else still seemed to be getting their bearings. She took a quick look around herself.

They were near the back of the room, in fact the same area that had been pictured for Alice’s interrogation. Off to the side were a couple of beds for students to lie down on, with curtains that could be drawn for privacy. Towards the front of the room was a possible reception area, with another desk and some chairs. And there were a few cabinets in the room for supplies.

One of them was open. A number of bottles and vials were spread out on a small table.

“Yeah, that’s weird, huh?” Thred said, as Chartreuse stepped closer to see. “That guard out there isn’t doing a very good job, someone’s already ransacked the place for medicine.”

Sam turned his attention from a poster of the skeletal structure on the wall to the curious table. “Have they? Is it my imagination, or are these vials not school issue?” He pulled out a handkerchief and picked one up, peering. “This one actually reads Hypno– and the rest is torn off.”

“Well, that’s damn sloppy,” Sue grumbled as she hopped down from the desk. “I wonder why those were left out.”

“So is it even legal stuff?” Thred gaped, looking over Sam’s shoulder. “I mean, maybe it’s whatever they gave that Alice person, in order to make her more obedient or passive or something.”

“So someone left it here as, like, a frame up,” Chartreuse guessed.

“To incriminate a nurse? Why?” Sam asked. He wrapped the vial in his handkerchief and put it back in his pocket. “And why the guard outside, if not to guard this?”

“Maybe for a totally unrelated reason,” Para offered. “Possibly something the guards themselves weren’t even told about.”

“Right! Could be that Alice girl is being held nearby,” Thred proposed.

Chartreuse exchanged a quick glance with Para before speaking. “Let’s, you know, see if anything else was left behind from that interrogation.”

“More to the point, why the video feed here was on the fritz,” Sam reminded them. “That’s the main reason we came, yeah? It wasn’t for the stuff on that holo-disc, though it’s a nice secondary.”

“I’m starting to think a few events are connected,” Sue observed, throwing Chartreuse another look.

Chartreuse busied herself with checking out the floor where Alice’s chair had been. She didn’t spot anything though, and a pass over it with her quartz crystal didn’t yield her any mystic impressions. Thred was the one who located a microdot near the camera; he left it there, Sam taking a quick picture.

Para beckoned to Chartreuse, as the other three gave the room one more sweep.

“I think that recording we saw took place about twenty-four hours ago,” the bunny girl murmured. She gestured back towards the solitary window to the outside. It was dark, but there must have been a lamp in the courtyard, allowing some light in. “That shadow on the wall from the IV stand, it looks very similar to how things are now, whereas in daylight, it would have looked very different.”

“You think all those bottles and things were just, I dunno, left out here for a day then?” Chartreuse asked, scratching her head. Granted, it did seem more likely than the idea that they’d watched a video that had been recorded less than an hour ago. Because how could the disc have ended up in security so fast?

Para shrugged. “Maybe. Or we’re not the first ones here this evening.”

“Oh, yay.” That didn’t bode well. Though it might at least explain the guard.

“Hey, check this out,” Sam said, motioning to them. Everyone came to join him, where he seemed to be again looking at the poster of the skeleton. “Do you see what’s wrong?” Sam asked.

Chartreuse, Sue, Para and Thred all exchanged glances. “Bad colour scheme?” Thred proposed after a short silence.

Sam lifted his finger to point. “The ossicles. The bones in the ear. This poster lists a fourth bone, the torus. That’s nonsense.”

“Ooh, yeah, that’s totally an astrological sign instead,” Chartreuse agreed.

Sue mumbled something under her breath, then louder stated, “In latin, torus can refer to a bed. Did we check the beds thoroughly?”

Sam shifted his attention to the nearest bed, then got down on his hands and knees to look underneath. “It’s funny,” he remarked. “I’m sure I’ve looked at that poster a half dozen times before when I was in here, and it never registered. We’re being trolled by the nurses.”

“Yeah, um, I’m still stuck on our ears having icicles,” Thred said, frowning.

“I’ll be damned,” came Sam’s voice moments later. “Like the previous rooms, it’s another symbol, the letter “C”, and the word “roof”… I’d have thought it to be graffiti, but now we know better.”

“R-E-C?” Para spelled out. “Something to do with recreation?”

Chartreuse pursed her lips. “I’m not, you know, keen on heading up to the roof. It’s pretty open. And what if we get stuck up there?” It also didn’t feel like a useful step in locating Alice.

“Well, I HAVE been suggesting the gym since the beginning,” Sue offered, leaning back against the wall again. Which was true enough, and she seemed to have Sam’s welfare in mind – but that wouldn’t help them with Alice either. Would it?

Sam pushed himself back out from under the bed, dusting off his hands. “No problem – it all makes sense now! On the roof, when the sun hits that weird sculpture a little before noon – the shadow it makes gives the number for the music room. I always wondered about that. That has to be next.”

“Was there a letter and a symbol too?” Para wondered.

Sam rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess? Maybe there was a “T”? I wasn’t looking for it.”

“Sounds like we might want to double check,” Thred decided. “To the roof, with a flashlight? You know how to get up there, right Sam?”

“Ugh, roof’s dangerous. I still say the gym,” Sue mumbled. “I know we can get THERE without being seen or getting in trouble.”

“No, no, I’m sure the music room would be our next stop after the roof, and it’s nearby,” Sam assured. “We don’t need either of those other places.”

“Sam, are you so keen on this scavenger hunt then?” Chartreuse wondered. “I mean, I thought you were in just this to, you know, go after the Clover Club.”

“Oh, we’ve stumbled on something far more interesting now, I’m sure of it,” Sam said. He grinned at her. “So, being one of the elite, which of those destinations do you think we should head for next?”

Chartreuse shifted her gaze towards the ventilation grate. Well, the roof was the more dangerous option, the music room the more logical one – assuming Sam’s memory held – and the gym… could it tell them more about Sue? She was becoming a problem, and maybe it would pacify her.

Either way, it seemed like none of the destinations related to Alice. Unless… well, which one was more likely to have more information about the security guys?

WHAT’S NEXT?

Options:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT MONDAY SEP 10th

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Getting stopped en route would have involved the group interacting with that guard fellow, possibly including a chase scene or something. When they got to the infirmary, there wouldn’t have been the drugs. Ending up somewhere before the infirmary wouldn’t have had anyone think of the vents, the alternative destination likely being one of the three in the current vote. And, incidentally, a tied vote would have split the party. It figures I’d have an idea for a tie on a vote where things are unanimous. So, where to now? Please do spread the word about the serial, the votes are close. Thanks for reading.

EXTRA ASIDE:
I now have a 2018 nickel. Also, the ConBravo commissions of Sherlock and Peaches (from “Time Untied”) are up in posts on my personal blog.

5.04: Missing Links

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CHANCED ERASURES: PART FOUR

Alice Vunderlande knew an interrogation room when she saw one. And this was not an interrogation room. In fact, it looked a lot more like a medical room. Was that good? Alice nibbled on her lower lip – the former head of the Epsilon Station decided that the fact that she seemed to have been strapped into a chair implied that this was bad.

Having somehow realized that Alice had regained consciousness, a woman stepped into her field of view. The curves of the uniform she had on implied she was a woman, at any rate, her face was somewhat obscured by sunglasses and a shawl. Was she local security? She carried with her a clipboard, sitting down at the desk which Alice was facing. “Your name, for the record,” the woman said in a bored tone.

“Alison Vunderlande, but I go by Alice,” came the answer, before Alice really had a chance to think about it. A hint of a frown played about her features – she felt like she’d been compelled to speak there. Had she been drugged? “And what’s your name?” Alice added as a follow-up. So she could still speak freely, nice.

“None of your business,” the woman answered, still looking at her clipboard.

“Okay, I’ll call you Salt, as in Salt-n-Pepa,” Alice chirped in response.

Alison Vunderlande As commissioned from: Cherry Zong

The woman didn’t react, implying that either the singing group hadn’t recorded the ‘business’ song in this reality, or that Salt here wasn’t a fan of their music. Well, Alice was doubly pleased to learn that she could still free associate, that was useful. People often had trouble following her train of thought, so if this was about to be an interrogation… Alice let her mind drift.

Having written something on her clipboard, Salt looked back up. “Okay, Alice. Who sent you to this reality?”

“No, Who’s on first,” Alice chirped back. Again, it had happened before she’d had a chance to think, but here the ‘truthful’ answer had been on her terms.

The woman seemingly stared for a moment, from behind her sunglasses. “Pardon?”

“Oh, nice. If you’re granting me a pardon, I’m absolved of guilt. Can I leave?” Alice smiled hopefully.

“No,” Salt said, a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice. “Alice, tell me about your mission.”

“Oh, my mission’s impossible,” Alice asserted. “I’m like Tom Cruise, but better looking.”

Salt shifted her gaze to stare at someone behind Alice. “You gave her the treatment, right?” The unseen person out of Alice’s view must have made some sort of gesture in response, because Salt looked back down at her clipboard, and then back up. “I suppose Alice has been trained in resistance techniques. This a battle of wits, is it, Alice?”

Alice had no idea what resistance techniques that Salt was alluding to, and strapped into the chair as she was, she couldn’t turn around to look at Pepa. So she simply smiled back, saying “Wit’s up, Doc,” before she could stop herself.

“Mmmm. At least I understood that reference,” Salt said, setting her clipboard aside on the desk.

“Oooh, Captain America,” Alice murmured. She recognized the quote.

Salt slightly pulled down her sunglasses. “Does your world have an America then?”

Alice nodded. “Both North and South.” She wondered about bringing up Australia or Antarctica.

“Really…” Salt leaned back. “How did your civil war end?”

“Captain America had it out with Iron Man.” The movie had been okay.

“Iron… what?”

“Atomic number twenty-six,” Alice asserted. The second most common metal, at least for most dimensional Earths that she was aware of… she managed to avoid saying that.

“No, stop, who is Iron Man?”

“No, Who’s on first,” Alice said, pleased for the chance to reuse the phrase.

Someone cleared their throat. “You’re losing the thread here,” came a male voice (Pepa?) from somewhere behind her.

“Yes, thank you, I’m aware,” Salt snapped back. She pressed her fingers to her forehead, glanced again at her clipboard, and then resumed staring at Alice. “Are you acting alone?”

“Oh, I can’t be acting, I never saw the script,” Alice protested. She wasn’t that much like Tom Cruise, surely.

Salt grit her teeth. “Alice, is your world trying to steal our technology?”

“It’s in a hell dimension, so I doubt it.” Alice held back a sigh – she hadn’t really been able to tangent away from that part of her past. But Salt probably lacked context.

“Hm, so it was that sort of dimension… how did you get here, Alice?”

Alice made an effort to shrug. “Oh, well, I assume you brought me here.”

“You mean we pulled you into this dimension?”

“No, I meant you brought me in this room.”

“I didn’t mean the room, I meant how did you get to our dimension.”

“Carefully?” Salt hadn’t quite asked a question that time, which was why Alice felt like her non-answer was reasonable. Care had certainly been required.

Salt snickered back. “Not carefully enough.”

“We were a few emotions short of a full care bear stare,” Alice yielded. Great her free association was working again – those animated bears did care fully.

Salt straightened. “Wait, you know emotional magic?”

“Oh, I was never THAT invested in Magic: The Gathering,” Alice said dismissively. It was hard to get into a multi-player card game when you mostly spent time by yourself. Wow, rambling thoughts were easier when she had only a vague idea of what Salt was talking about anyway.

Salt seemed to grit her teeth. “Alice, is your world magic based, or technological?”

“Yes,” Alice hedged, given the ambiguity.

Salt leaned forwards. “It’s both?”

Alice frowned. “No, I think ‘Both’ is a Drake song.” Or maybe Drake was featured on the song? She honestly wasn’t sure.

“That’s a…” Salt pulled off her sunglasses. “Damn it Alice, WHAT is your DEAL?”

“Three green mana, a blue-eyes white dragon, and the jack of spades,” Alice fired back quickly. “Do I win?”

“No.” Salt leaned back again, crossing her arms and staring.

“She seems to have won so far,” came a mutter of the male Alice had dubbed ‘Pepa’ from behind.

“Shut it,” Salt snapped. “Let’s try this. Alice, tell me about your home.”

“It’s between my lungs, above my diaphragm.”

Salt stared. “…the hell?”

“Also an apt description of my home, a hell dimension, we discussed this earlier,” Alice agreed.

“She means home is where the heart is,” Pepa snickered.

“Look, are you going to help, or laugh at me?” Salt shot back at her partner.

“You said you had this,” Pepa remarked. “As long as she’d been treated.”

“Treated?” Alice gasped. “I think I was tricked. Is it October 31st?”

Salt slid her palm down her face, dislodging her sunglasses. “Listen, Alice,” she began anew. “Either you answer my questions, and probably get a simple memory wipe and a zap back to your own dimension, or you go with HIM,” – she gestured back towards the unseen Pepa – “back to the Council, and you are potentially never heard from again. Now, which will it be?”

Alice licked her lips. On the one hand, that was daunting, on the other, she really couldn’t let talk of Epsilon slip out. And who was this Council? Maybe she needed to know more about that. “I thought I was answering your questions,” she managed to say.

“Answer my questions SENSIBLY,” Salt clarified.

“Sensibly,” Alice repeated, swallowing.

Salt nodded. “Now, what was your mission to this school all about?”

“Sensibly.” It was the only answer Salt had seemed to want, right?

Salt seemed like she wanted to punch something. “Oh, you are good.”

“And you haven’t even seen me in the bedroom yet,” Alice said, stifling a giggle. There hadn’t hadn’t been a question there, after all, so she could speak freely. Though she did start to wonder if she was getting delirious.

Salt clenched her fist. “Good grief, Alice, how can you still be such a pain?!”

“Sensibly.” That had been a question.

Salt threw the sunglasses she was holding onto her clipboard and stood back up. “Fine. I give up. You win. Shay, take her away and do whatever you like.”

Pepa – or rather, Shay – stepped slowly into view as Salt stalked off. He was a dark skinned man with a moustache, also wearing shades. His clothing implied that he was a doctor of some sort, but for all Alice knew, that was a disguise to get him in the room.

“So you can handle a mental battle,” Shay remarked. “What about a magical one?”

Alice cleared her throat. “Vunderlande power, make up! Let’s play, pretty cure modulation! Raising Heart, onegai!” she fired off. Nothing happened. She hadn’t really expected any of those to work, but when in travelling in another dimension, you never knew.

“Mmm hmmm,” Shay concluded. He snapped his hands up. A series of sparkles erupted from his palms. The light was intense enough that Alice tried to turn her head, closing her eyes – only to find that she couldn’t open her eyes again. Moments later, she slumped back in the chair, unconscious.

That’s when the holo-recording turned off.

***

Para didn’t speak at first. She knew she needed a way to ask questions about the video (holo?) content they’d just witnessed, ones which didn’t reveal that she had no idea of the answers. After all, both she and Chartreuse were supposedly familiar with the school. Yet what had all that been about?

Sam spoke first. “Okay,” he mused. “Apparently the incident a couple days ago might have been a bigger deal than I thought. Was that Alice girl caught by Usa? And who was this Council she referred to, why wasn’t Usa at the top of the chain of command here?”

“Usa?” Chartreuse said, canting her head.

Sam turned to her. “Usa Staling, head of security?”

“Ohh, that Usa,” Chartreuse said, bobbing her head.

Apparently that had been the name of Alice’s interrogator. Para was tempted to ask why this school needed such a high level of security, but maybe it was related to the multiverse work of the “gifties”. She opted to take the conversation a different direction.

“I didn’t recognize the last guy, that Shay,” Para stated. Which was a bit of a gamble, but based on what Sam had said…

“Yeah, me neither,” Sam admitted. He shook his head. “Anyway, I’m going to get a copy of this, it could be a massive scoop…” He pulled a device out of his pocket and plugged it into the base of the disc.

“Are you done there then?” Thred asked, taking a step closer and jerking his thumb towards a corner of the room. “Because you might want to take a look at this next.”

The something that had caught the attention of Sam’s friend turned out to be on the far side of one of the security filing cabinets. When Para went to check it out, she saw that someone had engraved things there, much like on the wall of the Clover Club. And again, it was a symbol, the letter “E”, and a room number. Notably, it was hard to see unless you were peering into the corner at just the right angle.

“That’s the room number for…” Para paused, as if trying to recall.

“Yup, the infirmary,” Thred supplied. “Same place where that holo-recording was playing out.”

“Which is interesting,” Sue broke in, having turned from her scan of the video monitors. “Because I can’t seem to pull up anything from said infirmary. There’s interference. Weird, huh?”

“Our next stop is totally the infirmary then,” Chartreuse concluded.

Sue rolled her eyes. “Joy. Granted, we only have about five minutes before someone comes here for a systems check. So whatever our destination? We should get a move on.”

Sam put down the holo-disc as he uncoupled his device, glancing towards the filing cabinets with a sigh. “Agh, I really wanted to have time to go through those… but okay, it sounds like this story continues where the doctors hang out. I’m game if the rest of you are?”

“Lead on, great one,” Thred said, gesturing towards the door with a bit of a bow. Sue simply shrugged, while Chartreuse and Para simply nodded.

As the three students filed out, Para took a moment to exchange a glance with Chartreuse. For the moment, it seemed like their hunt for clues about Alice was aligning with the hunt that Sam and the others were on for conspiracies in the school – yet what were they to do if the two groups found themselves at cross-purposes?

WHAT’S NEXT?

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT MONDAY AUG 27th

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
I’d had the prior Alice poll in mind since the start. On the face of it, a physical battle would have resulted in a tie (maybe she’d be left in a cell), whereas Alice could win a mental battle (maybe get away) and would lose a magical battle (having no magic). With both the last chosen (tie vote), I effectively chose to show mental – but she still lost in the end. There was also some behind the scenes maneuvering for who was involved in taking Alice in those decisions (the Council), but we’ll see more on that later. Please do spread the word about the serial, the votes are close. Thanks for reading.

5.03: Cabinet Shuffle

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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.

CHARTREUSE VERMILION
Commission by Ruuari

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”.

WHAT’S NEXT?
(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

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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!

EXTRA ASIDE:
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!

5.02: Room – or has it?

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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.

PARA
Commission by Michelle Simpson

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.

WHAT’S NEXT?

VOTING CLOSES MIDNIGHT EDT SUNDAY JULY 29th

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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!