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09 August 2015 @ 08:42 am
_Twin Cities_ part 1  
I'm going to switch back to to the Doors universe for a bit. This was written to be the third book, then I got ambushed by Atlatis and I haven't finished retro fitting all that into this, so it's a bit confusing, here and there.

Chapter One

Dimension One, Milwaukee

"And back to Team five. Who is Harrison Ford, and what two things is he best known for?"

Alice and Joe swapped blank looks. They turned to look at Lupe and Richard, who shook their heads. Beyond them, Tori rolled her eyes. "Harrison Ford was an old ‘talkie’ actor both before and after the turn of the millennium. He’s best known for his roles as Han Solo in the first ever Star Wars and Indiana Jones in an archeology based series. Duh."

The moderator gave her a severe look for the duh, but the bell dinged for the correct answer and their team points jumped by another ten points.

"Tori! Way to go!" Alice tried to sound excited, not floored. So far, she’d handled the soft sciences, Joe the hard sciences, and Richard and Lupe the history, government and law questions. Alice had not been looking forward to the entertainment category. Perhaps I disregarded part of the team too soon!

"So Team Five keeps the initiative. And for fifteen points, the first over-time Superbowl victory was won by what NFL team?"

Uh, oh. There goes our chance at the city-wide championship.

"The Chicago Bruins in 2017, against the Houston Texans." Jenni sighed. "Bradly Horner was so cute!"

All five of them turned and gawked at her.

That got a snicker from the spectators, a very thin crowd of parents and a single news crew. The newsie was perking up with Tori and Jenni getting, umm, sassy.

The bell dinged, the next question was met with silence. Alice opened her mouth to guess Shakespeare, when Richard cleared his throat (irritating habit) and said "Christopher Marlow."

Ding.

Holy Moly.

Five days later they were on their way to the twin cities for the regionals.

***

Jenni’s mother was one of the chaperones. Mrs. Toppins was a good-looking blonde. As ditzy as her daughter, and not in the least inhibited. The way she eyed the male teachers made Alice wonder if the chaperoning wasn’t going to go the other direction. And I thought my parents were embarrassing! At least Mom dresses like an adult. A professional. And I can’t see her in skirts that short even if she was single. Alice gave the collection of chaperones a thoughtful once-over. Mr. Dover was in charge. One of the science coaches; He thought Joe was a genius—could be correct, too. Unfortunately he lumped Alice with Tori and Jenni as a silly girl, and a trouble maker on top of it. She could nearly hear him thinking "Ran away from home, had to scramble to get her grades back on top, ought not to be allowed to represent the school." She wouldn’t have cared about his disapproval, if he wasn’t so determined to keep her evil influence away from Joe. Richard and Lupe are getting off easy. They look so legitimate and professional. I need to learn how to project that sort of aura. She ran a hand through her stringy brown hair and looked down at her flat chest. It’ll be a few years before I can pass for mature, though. Maybe I can get a padded bra. And watch my father get even more weird. I guess he never thought I’d grow up. Thank goodness he’s busy at work. As a chaperone, he’d be a disaster.

The contest/// was held in the /// center of the University of Minnisota. The contestants and their chaperones stayed in the dorms on campus. Eight teams were competing at this level, the winner would go on to the Nationals.

The dorms were cubbies. Alice closed her eyes and prayed that nothing, nothing, would happen that would make her use the d-doors. We are here on a school trip. We are not helping Barton Street. In fact, he said the early indications are that the area hasn’t consolidated, so he can try to make friends, and failing that, swat the smaller computers easily. So . . . I am not tempted, at all. Really.

The others were busy, so she twisted the oval "hinge cover" locks off the d-door.

The cubby was a standard six meter cube, with the square door in the middle of one face. Inside, it was split into four rooms, two up, two down. Alice rolled her eyes as Tori and Jenni grabbed the top two and acted like that put them one up on Alice. Alice rolled her eyes again and deferred to Mrs. Toppins. It wasn’t like she was going to spend more than three days here, at the most. In the morning they’d square off against the Ohio Team, in the afternoon they’d face the Minnesota home team. The next morning Michigan. Then the four lowest scoring teams would be dropped, and the highest four face off for the semi-finals.

///
The third day, the final round.

Our only hope is to get entertainment questions that Tori and Jenni can answer.

Chapter Two

Dimension One, Washington DC and Minneapolis/St Paul

Captain Mirabeau L. Xicara kept his mouth shut with difficulty. The brass had apparently discounted half of their report about what had happened in Alter-Chicago.

They might at least have been happy to get part of a team back alive. My Chicago team, or three fourths of it, was the first to ever return. The only one, so far. We could confirm that we arrived where they thought they were sending us. What we found there, how our equipment performed, how the other people destroyed the Chicago AI. And just because they can’t make d-doors work the way the FBI group claimed to have done accidentally, doesn’t mean the doors can’t be manipulated. And the presence of other people, unidentified, organized and ahead of the military in understanding the Alternate Universe . . . "Sorry, General, we were too busy staying alive and winning to work out who those other people were" hadn’t gone down well at all.

"Our domestic group was already watching one of those FBI Agents shortly after a report of an irregularity involving the Agent’s daughter. We were about to write it off as a co-incidence when you returned from Alter-Chicago and reported Inspector Brown’s presence on the flip side, and familiarity with crossing using d-doors." The Major scowled over at them. "And despite all our efforts we can find nothing wrong with the d-door you came out of, or the door the FBI agents claim was their entrance to the Alternate Universe. They said it opened three times to the Alter-Chicago, each time close to the same spot."

Behind him, Beau heard Jackson shuffle his feet.

"I was on the team that checked out the daughter, looking for evidence of a natural broach. She’s got to be older than she looks, fourteen year old girls don’t keep their cool like that. Her scrawny boy friend turned out to be a little league pitcher. Beaned North with a hot sauce water balloon and called me Skippy."

Brigadier General Heinz glared. "And now we’re all being referred to as ‘Skippies.’ The President thought that was amusing, and is using it."

Beats the Alternauts the Brig was trying to get officialized. Beau very definitely did not say that aloud.

"We want 'Tex' and 'Milwaukee.' Watching Inspector Brown of the FBI is our best bet."

"Stephanopolis might be even more interesting." Beau suggested.

"Trust me, he's not being ignored. Nor Agent Mata. Nor the twin girls, nor the cowgirl with the palomino horse. Not that we can actually find them, but they'll show, eventually. Now, with the possibility of an easy way in and out of the alter-Earth, we're not about to send anyone across the old way, unless we absolutely have to. But all this surveillance has our manpower stretched to the limit. So I’m sending just the two of you to check out what Inspector Brown’s daughter is doing on a trip to Minneapolis St. Paul. The area is showing a high level of dimensional strain. We sent a team in, just over a year ago. The regional strain relaxed, then tightened up again, but not as high. It's never gotten any worse, so while it's a trouble spot that we're monitoring, it's not dangerous. Mostly hitches and delays in connectivity all over the metropolitan area. Find out if she has anything to do with that, either causing it, or fixing it."

Beau saluted.

***

"The regionals of the High School Academic Challenge." Beau leaned back against the column, his back to the /// center for academic excellence. His camera was focused on the door, his minicomp showing the picture to Major Reece back in DC as well as letting Beau keep an eye on the proceedings while looking like he was ignoring them. The wireless mike and ear buds kept the conversation private.

The Major was blathering on. "The computer at the /// is AI level. Hell, the city is riddled with AIs. Cities. Whatever. I’d say I wished we had the budget to send another team in, but we just can’t afford to lose any more men. Too many questions being asked, as it is. So keep an eye on the girl. She may be the break we need. We need something."

"Right. May I presume someone is still watching all three FBI guys? The parents seem like more likely conspirators than a batch of teenage kids. Maybe they're up to something while the kids are out from under foot." Beau kept his voice down, nearly silent. The mike picked it up; even Jackson, a few meters away was hearing him through his ear bud.

"Yeah, like half the teens in North America aren't computer experts and help their parents program the vid screen."

"That hasn't been true for three generations, now." Unless the screen defeats a major's thinking abilities. In which case, one pities his children. "However, all the students are inside now. I’ll see if there’s some place I can watch from, without being seen." Beau closed the connection, gathered his electronics and headed for the front doors.

Jackson sauntered in from the far side, and they stayed behind the adults who had followed the kids inside. There were open doors leading off the hallway, and papers pinned to the wall. Beau couldn’t spot the two Milwaukee kids, and edged over to check the schedules, the room numbers, and peek inside. He recognized the backs of the targets, and slipped into the small crowd of spectators. The kids would be up on risers, the audience in folding chairs at the far end of the room with the moderators and judges and two camera crews in between. Excellent. They hustled into seats toward the rear, behind other people.

"I don’t think they’d recognize us anyway." Jackson kept his voice low.

Beau raised a skeptical eyebrow. "If the boy is Tex, he’ll know us. If he's not, he's seen you once, six months ago."

"But not with a mustache."

Beau opened his mouth, then shut it firmly. No point in saying anything about the hairy monstrosity glued to the sergeant's upper lip.

"Anyhow, how could that scrawny thing be Tex?"

Beau nodded, conceding the point. "I think we’re chasing a figment of the General’s imagination."

"Ooo, can I watch you tell him that?"

"No. Now shut up, and watch. Maybe you’ll learn something."



Chapter Three

Dimension One, Minneapolis

"April 17, 2021, when President Johnson signed the Experimental Animal Protocols." Alice sighed in relief. They keep asking the easy questions.

A bell dinged—did every school have the same bell—and more points accrued. Unfortunately that was the last question in the science track.

Tori leaned forward and whispered. "There’s a couple of cute guys watching us, from the back. See the lady in the orange hat? They’re behind her."

"Doubt they’re looking at us." Alice turned her head toward Tori, and shifted only her eyes toward the orange lady. And behind her. Holy Moly. Beau.

A random draw and the history track lit up.

Richard and Lupe stepped up and Alice and Joe faded back. She rubbed her nose, and behind her hand, whispered, "Beau is in the audience. Don’t recognize him."

"Yes, Mother." Joe breathed. "And the guy with the moustache beside him is Skippy, the other guy, the one that I didn't bean with the water balloon."

Alice grinned, and turned her attention back to the first history question. Lupe and Richard put their heads together, then Richard answered confidently, and unfortunately, wrongly. Bzzzt!

He looked indignant, as the other team answered correctly and took the initiative.

A grueling two hours later they emerged victorious. Alice kept her smile in place until they were away from the cameras, then sagged. "Wow. That was intense. Jenni, you are brilliant, and Tori, I kiss your feet. I can’t keep those actors straight to save my soul."

Joe grinned, "What, no compliments for us guys? Excuse us." He turned and squeezed between Beau and Skippy without turning a hair. "I have a delicate ego, and need it pandered to, you know."

Whoa! Beau's handsome when he's just being a regular guy. Pity he's so old. "Ha! You’re totally impervious. Worse than Richard even. At least he notices when he’s insulted." Alice stepped between the two men, acting oblivious; the rest of the team followed on her heels. And that cannot possibly be a real mustache.

Lupe laughed. "And I like being insulted, it means someone is paying attention to me."

Mr. Dover moved in quickly, chivvying them out of the building. "We have a two hour break for lunch, then the next round will begin. So let’s stretch our legs and walk over to the student union."

Several other teams had the same idea, and Mrs. Toppins kept up a non-stop chatter with a gentleman chaperone from one of the other teams. Or perhaps at him would be a better description. He looked bored as she steered him over to introduce him to her daughter. He froze for a second then smiled and shook Jenni’s hand.

Alice shifted uneasily. He isn’t as blank-faced, but now it’s a concealing façade, not boredom. Does he know Jenni? She watched him step between mother and daughter, and escort them into the cafeteria. His face was turned toward the mother. But his hand lingered on Jenni’s shoulder.

***

Beau nodded in satisfaction. "That’s not them. The boy’s at least twenty cems too short."

Jackson sighed. "Yeah. You know, I could kinda like this job, now that it’s not a suicide mission."

Beau flashed a grin. "I wish the brains could figure out how to come and go like those other people apparently can. Then, yeah, it would be kinda fun."

"Too bad it looks like this lead is a dud."

"Maybe tomorrow, while all this is going on, we can search their rooms."

***

/// Clothes Alice is wearing, fun with makeup?

"Not Purple! And no, I will not hitch my skirt up higher. It's mid thigh, not a minskirt." Alice held still while Mrs. Toppins worked over her hair, spraying stuff . . . "That glitter will wash out, won't it?"

Tori snorted. "It would be mid thigh if you'd hitch it up a bit."

"Stop fussing! You three need to look awesome, psychologically dominate your opponents."

"Here, Mom. For her cheek bone. You look terrific, Alice."

Alice looked down at her padded chest. Thank goodness Dad can't see me dressed up like this! Not to mention the makeup. I look like an oversized brown mushroom, except where there's too much of the wrong color. Pink lipstick, pink cheeks.

"Hold still, the super glue . . . " Mrs. Toppins reached for her face.

Alice ducked. "Oh no! That looks so . . . cheap. I don't care what the fashion is . . ." And with Beau in the crowd I don't want to look like Alice Street!

She eyed the blouse hanging on the wall. It had a few purple highlights, but was a mostly gray paisley. "I think a more professional look would be better. . ." No one listened, as they teased her hair up into a mass of glitter highlighted curls. And stuck the stupid stone on her cheek bone when her attention was elsewhere.

The results looked good . . . they just didn't look like her.

/// They win second and third round. Interviewed for the news.

Mrs. Toppins was outside, chatting with her new boyfriend, Dave Martin. Jenni trotted over to tell her mom to get back on duty. "Oh, of course. Well, head for the dorm with Mr. Martin and I'll round up the other girls. We'll freshen up and go out to dinner."

///Aaron Martin, Dave's son, looks alarmed, when he hears that his dad is alone with Jenni. Alice runs back the way Mrs. Toppins came from. Sees Martin pulling Jenni into the dorm building. Sprints. The others must have taken a short cut, to arrive at the same time. Jenni's ID opens the Cubby door, but they all crowd in after.

"Stupid old hag, acting like a girl. Why would I want you?" Martin backed away, blocking the stairs up. Tori grabbed Mrs. Toppins and hauled her down a few steps, so Mr. Dover and the boys could crowd in. Alice reluctantly gave ground, stepping down, and down again. What was here, that would help . . .

What was a man doing, stepping out of her room?

She jerked her attention back to Mr. Martin. The man was trapped, desperate.

He shoved Jenni into Mr. Dover, but didn't release her, she was just his weapon, to push the teacher back, away from the door. Martin turned to get his back to the d-door. Jenni whimpered, but backed with him. He twisted her arm harder, even so. She gasped but quickly closed her mouth, her eyes darting around.

"Dad! Dad, remember the Pledge. Remember you’ve been washed of your sins. You’re starting over, clean and innocent." Aaron waved his hands helplessly. "Let her go."

"You naïve Jesus Freaks can go to hell. I can’t take this anymore." His eyes darted around. And he reached with his free hand to find the latch. While leaning on the door that she'd "enabled" already.

He’s desperate, dangerous. She scanned around. Lupe and Richard edged forward, ready to jump him. Joe was right behind.

Jenni gasped as he twisted her arm.

Her mother pushed past Alice, Tori clinging to her arm.

The door gave suddenly, Mr. Martin fell backwards, pulling Jenni through. The men all jumped for the door. Alice followed, tried to hold onto the door through the phase shift, the wrenching changes . . . Tori crashed into her and knocked her loose. The door snapped shut and disappeared.