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01 August 2017 @ 12:12 pm
_Twin Cities Zoo_ part 1  
This is the last story I'm writing/rewriting for the collection. You've all seen the early parts so I'll run through them quickly.

Twin Cities Zoo

Zoey Ivers

Chapter One

Dimension: One

Location: 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 2019, 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 Regionals were held in the Forrest Mars Center for Academic Excellence at 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

Location: Washington, D.C.

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.

And they hadn't been much happier with the report from Bermuda, even with an independent team of observers telling them the same thing.

At least most of the passengers on the two planes had sense enough to downplay the weirdness. The few who didn't were mostly laughed at. An amazing number of people tried to return to Bermuda to see if they could get back to the Dimension Six world.

Beau stiffened his back and tried to pay attention to the briefing.

They'd progressed through the first disastrous eight cross dimension excursions.

Although four of the problems eased up, so they were only disastrous in that none of the team members every made it back.

And now they were going to look at his Team Nine excursion to Chicago.

The first big break.

"Our domestic group was already watching one of those FBI Agents, 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.

The major cleared his throat. "You've all read the extensive reports on the Chicago mission, so I will skip the details.'

General Heinz nodded. "We want 'Tex' and 'Milwaukee.' But neither of them was in the Bermuda Event. But Inspector Brown of the FBI was there. And a woman who has some resemblance to his daughter."

"Stephanopolis was at the Bermuda airport, when we could suddenly escape back to normalcy. He might be even more interesting to keep an eye on." Beau suggested.

"Trust me, he's not being ignored. Nor Agent Mata, even though he was only in Alter-Chicago. Nor have we forgotten the twin girls, nor the cowgirl with the palomino horse, if we ever locate them."

"The Bermuda Event was completely unexpected." The major tapped another fat report in front of him. "I know it's recent, and many of you haven't had the time. Find it. We need this Alice Street. Badly."

"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." The general scowled. "A second event like Bermuda, and we'll be going to the President, and to Congress, for more people and looser constraints on our actions.

"But all this surveillance has our manpower stretched to the limit.

"We have Persons of Interest making a move, so I’m sending two experienced people to watch, and hopefully learn something. Captain Xicara, Sergeant Jackson . . ."

Here we go!

"I want the two of you to check out what Inspector Brown’s daughter and Agent Mata's son are 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, the strain is not yet at dangerous levels. But it is high enough to be causing hitches and delays in connectivity all over the metropolitan area. The Superstrand hook up is stalled out there. Find out if one of the Browns, Father or daughter, 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 Forrest Mars Center for Academic Excellence. His camera was focused on the door, his minicomp was sending 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.

He tweaked his cam to zoom in on the Brown girl, who did indeed have a superficial resemblance to Alice Street. But it was the boy beside her who really caught his eye. A younger, scrawnier version of "Tex" from Alter Chicago. We should check for cousins or illegitimate half brothers or something. This can't be Tex, but the resemblance is uncanny.

The Major was blathering on. "The computer at the Center 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 Tex is around here he’ll know us."

"He's only seen us once, six months ago. And 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 lip.

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

Beau nodded, conceding the point. "Could be a relative, but 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."

***

"April 17, 2021, when President Cruz 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's nearly 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."
 

 
 
 
muirecanmuirecan on August 2nd, 2017 12:05 am (UTC)
Searching their rooms sounds like such an invitation to trouble. ;D
mbarkermbarker on August 2nd, 2017 06:54 am (UTC)
What, you think that twisting the covers off the D-door locks/hinges is going to lead to...