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 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.
“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.”
VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT TUESDAY OCT 9th
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.
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?