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14 August 2017 @ 04:36 pm
_Twin Cities Zoo_ the end  
  

Joe followed Corporal Caruthers down a winding path. Another path came in from the left, and right there, facing the left path was a d-door. Joe leaned on it and gave it a hug.

"Saved! No offense guys, but this has not been my favorite cross-over. His fingertips zinged where they wrapped too far around the door and he flinched away from it.

"What's holding it up?" Mr. Dover shoved into the grass to get a look. "Ow! I got shocked!"

Jackson and Caruthers craned their necks to look and Joe set his spear down, shifting the bottom lock as he straightened. Stretched and leaned on the door.

"So. Do you all want to go through now, or shall we wait until we find everyone else?" He got his fingers under the top lock and lifted it, shifted it to the frame.

Caruthers glared. "Don't you ever listen? It won't open!" He jerked the handle, and stumbled backward as it swung open.

Joe grabbed the edge and pulled it all the way open. "Don't let it close, it'll disappear."

Caruthers looked wildly from the perfectly ordinary hallway on the other side to Jackson, back to the hallway and burst into tears. "We can't leave the captain!"

Dover nodded. "I have to find the students. I can't go." He circled Joe and looked around. "We can brace it, maybe trap it behind some grass so it can't close."

A loud squeal, from the cross trail.

Joe leaned at grabbed his spear. "Dover, get behind the door and hold it wide open. You two get over there, out of sight." He stepped back, half an eye on the d-door, but his attention on multiple running footsteps from around a curve in the path.

Alice came into sight first, running full out.

Joe stepped out far enough to hook her arm and pull her into concealment.

The soldiers stirred, Jackson eased out . . .

Beau rounded the curve, a giant boar on his heels.

"Go! Go!"

Carruthers and Jackson scrambled through the door, Beau, at a dead run leaped through and crashed into them. The boar jumped . . . Disappeared.

Joe grabbed the d-door and swung it shut.

It disappeared.

He took a relieved breath. "Well. That's the soldiers back where they belong. Any idea where everyone else is?"

Alice was panting, and swept her wild curls out of her face. "Home safe. Mr. What's-his-name the pervert was badly injured, everyone else looked to be in reasonable shape." She eyed Dover. "All we need is one more door."

Mr. Dover pointed. "Like that one?"



Chapter Out

Joe let Alice steer him and Mr. Dover into the nearest mini spa.

She followed them right in. "Get Joe into the shower, while I order clothes for both of you."

She turned her back on the men.

"You better not turn around." Joe grumbled.

Mr. Dover gave her a single disbelieving look, then turned to Joe, and started helping him remove layers of bloody former-shirts. The wolf bite was swollen and bruised, but not bleeding. Deep punctures, a couple of rips. The hot shower stung at first, then felt like heaven. He wished he could stay in it for hours. But he hustled out and found a whole wardrobe in his size and Mr. Dover already mostly dressed in a nice suit. God bless imbedded data on implanted ID chips! They're all the right size. Alice was missing, no doubt getting cleaned up herself. He peeled the backing off a waiting nanobandage, size extra large. And I'm going into an autodoc as soon as we get back to Milwaukee, where Barton Street can hide the records. The bandage covered the whole wound, and didn't show under the shirt. He walked out tying the tie, and feeling a bit over dressed. Right, Alice's dad is a superformal type in real life. She automatically thinks in terms of suits for men.

Then Alice stepped out of the minispa next door in an all new outfit for herself. Tan slacks with a crease. Orange tank top to display the unfortunately minimal feminine development. She had a jacket in bright multicolors draped over her left arm. No makeup. Blown dry hair almost straight and medium brown. Joe sighed. I really hope she grows up as spectacular as she is over there. But darker. She looks silly as a blonde.

They hustled out of the Gym together, and headed for the campus. "Mr. Dover, go find Richard and Lupe. Get them to the Regional Final. Warn them to not talk about crazy stuff, so no one accuses them of taking drugs. Alice and I will get to the Forest Mars Center together, and ream you guys for almost being late. Now hurry, because it is almost too late."

Alice was on her phone. "Where are you guys? Back at the Dorms? Are you ready? What do you mean what for? The finals. Half an hour." Alice was having trouble keeping a straight face. "Well, hit the shower, get dressed, and if Mrs. Toppins is too sick, just come by yourselves. Sheesh. I suppose I'd better check on Richard and Lupe, too."

They swung off the tram and trotted between buildings. Mr. Dover split off for the dorms.

"So, you guys ready?" Alice covered the receiver and grinned. "You'd think they had some weird adventure or something." She put the phone back to her ear. "Well, get out here, sheesh. Even Joe's ready."

Joe led the way to the check in, where the organizers were in a complete swivet.

"Where's the rest of your team? You have five minutes before you forfeit!" The skinny little professor danced around uncertainly. "Where are your chaperones?"

"Hustling the others. Is there any paperwork we need to fill out? Or any way to speed the check in?"

Richard and Lupe galloped in. "Dover's dragging the girls here, without makeup. They may pull a sit down strike."

Alice shook her head and stepped out to peer down the hall. "There they are. Do we have time for them to do their makeup?"

The professor huffed a bit as the girls rushed in. "The local news channel's makeup artist has been assisting the other team. There's hardly time . . . "

Suddenly a man with a huge box of . . . stuff sat all three girls down and went to work. Then he did the boys. "Stop looking so horrified. This will just even out your skin tone. You'll look much better on the vid."

They were rushed onto the stage, were introduced, fussed over.

". . . Marxism is a pretty theory of economics and culture, that has failed in every attempt to implement it, producing tyranny and mass slaughter of that nation's own citizens."

Bzzzt!

Joe frowned at the judges. What? Was I supposed to say it keeps my mouth minty fresh?

Unfortunately the other team answered correctly. "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs."

Team Wisconsin lost, if not ignominiously, by a solid margin.

Oh well. Joe didn't think he could deal with the Nationals.

The Skippies were in the audience, and muscled in at the end.

Alice slipped off her jacket, displaying bare arms without a scratch on them. "So what the heck happened? Did you guys go out and party all last night?" She was walking past Captain Bligh as she frowned up at Richard; Beau's gaze was fixed on her cheekbone. As Joe walked past, he got scrutinized in turn. He caught a mutter from the soldier, something about ". . . check for a brother or uncle or something . . . "

Then Alice's father was looming out of the audience. "Good try, Alice. Pity." He nodded to Joe. "Good answer, that last."

Alice nodded. "Too honest for them, I expect. We missed a bunch of the questions, though. We were too specialized . . . I can't blame anyone when I didn't know the answers either." Alice hugged her dad and then her mom and they walked off together. "Pity Joe, Richard and Lupe are all graduating next month. We'll have to think about putting a whole new team together if we want to do this next year."

Tori and Jenni swapped horrified looks and they both shook their heads. Decisively.

"Whatever you want, Pumpkin." Alice's dad gave her a quick hug.

Joe sighed. For all their fighting, Alice did have two parents who loved her. He looked around and spotted his own father, completely lost in an argument with one of the panel of experts. Nothing to do with the contest, of course. Just shop talk. My dad's the opposite of a control freak, but he loves me, too. I need to get him hooked up with Natasha, so I won't have to worry so much about him once I move to Boston.

The other four had their heads together. Richard trying to keep his voice down.

". . . and when I told them he'd been injured by a cape buffalo in a out-of-control VR game, they called the police, and I had a mandatory drug test . . . I was going to cite the statutes about testing minors without their parents' approval . . . and then I realized that I really didn't want my parents to know anything about this . . . and then these Dudes in suits showed up and . . . we can't say anything to anybody. Umm, look, just forget I said any of this, Okay?"

Tori's eyes widened. "Yeah. There's got to be a major government conspiracy to cover _this_ up!"

Joe looked over at Mr. Dover. Glassy eyed. "C'mon, let's round up everyone and get some dinner. We've earned it."

***

Beau scowled at the d-door. "I think Alice was not as frank with me as I'd thought. But Tex mentioned something about Milwaukee enabling a d-door for him. The problem may be that the local AI doesn't want visitors."

The General glared at the d-door. "And you said the . . . AI Avatars referred to that giant octopus as 'Pentagon' when you were in Alter-Bermuda."

"Yes." Beau winced. A man eating giant octopus. Damn. "I hope Milwaukee wins."

The general turned away from the d-door to frown at Beau. "We need to talk to the AI. Get it under control. And protected. We can't have another computer hacking into the Pentagon. If necessary, we'll shut down every computer in Milwaukee.

Beau paused to let his brains catch up with his tongue. "Yes, sir."

Oh . . . this is not good.