Story5

5.09: Spell Check

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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.

CHARTREUSE VERMILION
Commission by Ruuari

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?

Options:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EST MONDAY NOV 12th

Previous INDEX 5 Next

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.

EXTRA ASIDE:
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!

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5.08: Shadow Cat?

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CHANCED ERASURES: PART EIGHT

Alice began humming ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen, as she waited for Marlin to say which way to go. If he recognized the tune, he didn’t say, and she couldn’t see his expression in the dark. Finally, he remarked only, “Fine, if it’s up to me, how about another left turn in my life.”

“Analogies work,” Alice agreed. She felt along the left hand passage of the T-Intersection, eventually coming to a dead end. Or what seemed at first to be a dead end. Alice was plenty suspicious of the faint light coming from a knothole in the large wood panel blocking the passage. But she wasn’t sure if she should bend down to peer through.

“You think there’s a coded door here too?” Marlin asked from behind her.

“Maaaaybe,” Alice mused. She poked her fingers tentatively into the knothole, found she could jiggle the entire panel, and soon the wooden barrier slid to the side, into the wall. She grinned. “Or maybe not.”

The faint light was now a vertical crack, as there was a visible set of doors in front of them. Though between them and those doors was hanging a number of dark robes. They had apparently found their way into the back of a wardrobe.

Alice reached out to grab one of the robes, and she started putting it on. They knew what she looked like, after all, so a disguise seemed sensible.

“It’s like we’re in that children’s book,” Marlin remarked, moving past her to peer out of the partly open wardrobe door. “That one about the lion.”

“Oh, I hope not,” Alice mused. “As if this is Narnia, I’m in real trouble for being rescued, what with the time discrepancy in that series. Also, this cloth itches, I hope I don’t have to wear it very long.”

“Why wear it at all?” Marlin asked, turning back to her.

Alice shrugged. “When in Rome, do as Romans do. Which, contrary to popular belief, is not roamin’ around.”

Marlin blinked. “Pardon?”

Alice clucked her tongue. “So your Earth had C.S. Lewis but not St. Ambrose? That’s weird.”

She could now see Marlin shaking his head in the dim light. “I think you’re weird. Also, you do realize that being mistaken for one of their cabal could get you in more trouble?”

Alice grinned again. “I won’t make a… habit of it.” She flipped the cowl up onto her head. “Yeaaaaaah?

Marlin sighed. “I’m going to stop talking to you now.”

“Oh, suit yourself. Or stay in those clothes, as the case may be.” With that remark, Alice edged her way out of the wardrobe, into the room itself.

It seemed to be a meeting room of some sort. There was only one overhead light, but that was enough to see a large table with about a dozen chairs around it, a hat rack and a potted plant against one wall… and no visible signs of other doorways.

Alice was just about to call out to Marlin, saying it was safe, when there was a flash of light behind the plant. She instinctively ducked down, and then edged under the table as she heard voices. Fortunately, the table had been decorated with an opaque cloth.

“All right, no one can hear us in here,” a female voice purred. “So explain it to me from the top.”

“Sure. How high is your top?” came a dry voice in response.

Alice recognized that second, male voice. It was sparkle-man, or rather Shay. The dark skinned man who had knocked her out following her interrogation the previous day. That is, it was either him, or it was someone wearing dark slacks who was very good at mimicking voices.

Alice’s Epsilon Logo

The other pair of legs, by contrast, was sporting heeled boots, and a tail fell between them. The purr of the voice was very possibly feline in nature. In fact, Alice knew that this particular world was involved in genetic splicing – Epsilon had been able to turn up very rudimentary data – but she hadn’t expected to encounter anyone of that nature around the academy.

“The first arrival,” the cat-woman responded.

Shay reached out for a chair, spinning it around and straddling it as he sat. So, Alice reasoned, while the woman might have been his superior, he was at the least seeing this conversation as informal.

“Two women, as far as we can tell,” Shay began. “A blonde, and the brunette that we actually caught. We had this ‘Alice’ lady questioned by Usa Staling, since this is technically her jurisdiction, but that didn’t go anywhere useful.”

Alice couldn’t help but smile to herself.

“Standard so far. And the second incursion?”

“Some guy named Marlin, who is either exactly what he says he is, namely some guy who had bad luck with dimensional roulette, or he is a very clever plant who believes his story to the point where we couldn’t find any other reason for his appearance.”

The tail on the cat-woman swished back and forth. “So that’s why you didn’t transfer Alice right away.”

“And why we put them together in the same cell, yeah. I figure we give it another hour, then retrieve that listening device we hid under Marlin’s collar.

Oh, perfect, Alice thought, wincing. She should have been more careful. Though at least now there was a chance she could get the device and destroy it. Actually, Alice hoped to destroy all records of her ever being here. It would save the headache of Beam and Fate potentially having to send someone to this world again for cleanup.

“Fine. And NOW what’s happening?” the cat-woman asked.

The chair that Shay was sitting on rocked up onto two legs, and then back down. “We caught a student, a guy named Sir Thred, messing with security outside the bunker entrance. And we’re pretty sure he wasn’t acting alone. There’s a record of academy room accesses this evening that didn’t trip any alarms because they used valid morph codes.”

That was new and interesting information. Alice filed it away, wondering if she could use it to her advantage.

It also occurred to her that it made sense that all of this was happening now. The Epsilon Station had most of time and space available to it, so she and Beam had set their arrival to be a point that maximized the chances of blending in. Apparently, that meant right before a number of other events involving this shadow committee. They were simply one more event amid the chaos.

The cat-woman had been tapping a foot on the ground, as if in thought. At last, she decided, “Then it could be coincidence. Do you think we’re in danger of being exposed?”

Shay’s chair rocked again. “I doubt it. There’s a good chance this Thred guy simply had a lead on that trail of breadcrumbs we left on the campus. You know, the one that would allow us to recruit non-gifties for the cause? We can tease that out of him. And unless Marlin’s recording device shows some evidence of collusion, we can ship both arrivals off to you in processing before morning. No one even needs to know you showed up here.”

“Mmmm. Good. I must admit, the sooner we get this off-world nonsense away from where magic spells are possible, the safer I’ll feel,” the cat-woman muttered.

“Hah. Why, worried my power will put you to sleep?” Shay said, the grin on his face evident from his tone of voice.

“I rather wish your report had done that instead. As it is, I’m still on edge. We’re too close to shutting down dimensional travel for good to have things get messed up now.”

“We WILL wait until all teams are back though, right? Before enacting the plan?” Shay verified.

“Yes, yes, yes,” cat-woman muttered. “Your brother will be fine.” Her feet paced back and forth for a moment. “Very well. Bring me some biscuits, I’ll remain here until you get the listening device information.”

Inwardly, Alice groaned as Shay stood up. The woman’s boots quickly took the place of his slacks as she sat down, admittedly the proper way around this time. Facing the table.

“I’ll return shortly,” Shay said. He walked back to the potted plant – and his feet vanished in a flash of light. The cat-woman’s feet soon disappeared too, as Alice heard them hit the table. Only the tail of the woman remained visible, twitching back and forth.

So, Alice mused, how long was she going to be trapped in this room? Also, how much had Marlin heard from the wardrobe, and would he have the sense to effect an escape now, before their absence from the cell was remarked upon?

Alice certainly didn’t have much hope that Marlin would be able to avoid spilling the beans, if he were caught again. She’d be forced to go on the offensive.

So maybe she should do that pre-emptively, and take on the cat-woman? After all, she might be able to get her belongings back that way, and with any luck, Beam had devised a way to break the jamming fields and home in on her communicator. The only trouble was, once she’d used up the element of surprise, she’d probably be at a disadvantage in a fight.

Making a dash for the potted plant was questionable, as she wasn’t sure how to activate the magic which had let Shay in and out, and escaping via the wardrobe would let on about the hidden passages. Assuming they didn’t already know.

Was the best plan simply to stay put, and hope that an emergency somewhere else would cause cat-woman’s attention to wander?

WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT TUESDAY OCT 30th

Previous INDEX 5 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Encountering Chartreuse and Sue would have led all of them to a rescue of Thred, while the Para and Sue encounter would have revealed more about Sue’s connection to this little underground movement. We got a left turn instead of a right turn, and so more time with Alice’s nemesis Shay, along with a reveal of the behind-the-scenes shuffling. Hope you liked it.

EXTRA ASIDE:
Sorry for the extra week of delay. I probably could have mashed something together for last Sunday, I even had a good idea of what I wanted here, but I couldn’t motivate myself. It felt like I’d get the same few votes no matter when I posted. (Thanks to Nebus though, for the shout-out in the MathEd Carnival #121!) This past week it was my wife’s birthday, my daughter turned four months old, and I had parent-teacher interviews, so no chance to write. I looked ahead though, and the extra week? Means I won’t be publishing the week of Christmas. Which is probably for the best. Incidentally, to see another vote-for-plot story that gets dozens of votes, Drew Hayes is doing his Halloween story 2018 again this year. It runs daily, go see.

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

Previous INDEX 5 Next

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

5.06: Strange Cymbals

Previous INDEX 5 Next

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

Previous INDEX 5 Next

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

Previous INDEX 5 Next

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

Previous INDEX 5 Next

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.