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13 August 2015 @ 04:55 am
_Twin Cities_ the end  
 

///encounter wolverine

The wolverine snarled and lunged. Wrapped front legs around the trunk, and scrambled for purchase with the hind legs.

"If that thing works out how to climb, we’re toast." Xicara looked up at Alice. Under the circumstances he was just as glad she was sitting sideways on a limb, and if her short skirt was riding up, he couldn’t see it. The legs were . . . really nice.

"Not to worry. I have a plan." She sounded a bit worried, but she leaned forward and smiled suddenly. "Psst! Hey, Wolverine! Watch this!" She rummaged in her pack.

Beau looked back down just as the wolverine screamed. It was pinned to the tree trunk, trapped by a two tined fork.

The upper tine of the fork pierced a fold of its skin and sank into the tree trunk. The arch had the critter collared, the lower tine also deep into the wood. Leaning on the handle, Milwaukee.

"Those are friends of mine. You are not allowed to eat them."

The wolverine gave a scream of rage and threw itself against the fork. Milwaukee braced himself. "I do not want to purge you and assimilate your equipment. I want your cooperation in data transfer. You can keep your territory."

The wolverine got its back legs against the tree and heaved. The tines jerked free of the wood, slammed back into contact, were shoved out again . . .

Milwaukee shifted, released the handle with one hand, reached out and grabbed a handful of fur and skin. The wolverine snarled, the pitch went high, into a whine of terror as it started pixilating.

Milwaukee released it. Leaned into the fork, holding the creature against the tree. His voice was gentle, more human than Beau had ever heard it. "I don’t want to kill you. I won’t kill you if you will cooperate."

The wolverine whimpered . . . sagged in surrender.

Milwaukee yanked the fork out of the tree, and the wolverine's coat. He stepped back, and as the wolverine snarled and pounced, he brought the handle round and clipped the animal’s chin, sidestepped, and the still spinning fork swung sharp tines around to face the wolverine.

The wolverine shifted uneasily, then backed away and fled.

"Drat." Milwaukee's voice was utterly flat and emotionless.

"Maybe, given some time to think about it, it'll try to negotiate." Alice slid down the tree. Beau followed.

Milwaukee nodded politely. "Cap'n Bligh. For what purpose are you here?"

"I came across following, I thought, Alice Brown. And found this Alice, who may or may not be the same person. I was investigating Alice Brown because she was visiting a city with significant dimensional strain." I may regret handing him, it, that little smidgeon.

"Dimensional strain. I felt some odd twisting, stretching effect in Milwaukee before we killed the T-Rex. There were occasional oddities that ceased then as well. Several humans appeared in dimension five, spontaneously. I did not monitor them constantly, I do not know why they disappeared from there. I thought perhaps they had returned to Dimension one or two. Perhaps I was feeling this strain you speak of."

"Do you know what causes it?"

"No. It coincided with the last six months of the AI war, there. I was the last and youngest AI. I do not know what came before. In Chicago . . . prior to the death of Chicago, I was not a part of the city, and was relatively insensitive to any phenomena that might be described as strain."

Beau thought about it. "So it could be just the presence of multiple AIs, like here? But the strain is much less here, and there are at least eleven AIs."

"Perhaps the strain builds as the AIs become more powerful, even though fewer. And a lack of war, reduces the strain." Alice shrugged. "Or just the aggressive or defensive activities of the AI are part of it."

Milwaukee turned and looked in the direction the wolverine had retreated. "I wonder if a local spot of strain increased or decreased, a few moments ago?" He froze with a frown on his face.

Beau glanced at Alice. She was quiet, just her eyes moved, looking around the forest.

Milwaukee reanimated. "I cannot sense strain in other than the vaguest manner, here. I cannot help you in this data search."

"We have people monitoring it in dimension one." Beau eyed the AI. "Perhaps we can combine that data with our encounters here. At least in a general sense."

"Excellent. I do not know what phenomenon would occur if the strain rate were to continue to increase past the level already experienced."

Beau glanced at Alice. "Umm, I wondered about people who might be stuck in your other dimensions . . ."

"Much though I hate to suggest the possibility, the T-rex may have eaten any poor fools trapped in dimension five." Alice looked over at the AI. "Did you have a dimension six?"

"The standard jumble of chaotic questions and unrelated comments. Humans are so odd." Milwaukee's brows drew in. "When I was new, I did not monitor the dimensions. Some were featureless. I was learning new things and thinking about them. I reached out and encountered firm defensive walls. I did not understand what was happening, until I witnessed the Ten-Peta overwhelm and take a smaller AI. I was shocked, and began to locate all of my connections and protect them. Fortunately the last fifty AIs had been so busy fighting, they hadn't noticed the new AI." He glanced at Alice, and a smile brushed his lips. "And I examined the biological vermin inside myself and my dimensions. That proved to be a very wise action."

Beau nodded. "So, you really are trying to cooperate instead of kill other AIs. I'd say something about that being contrary to our experience with AIs, but as Alice pointed out to me, there may have been three of them in Atlantis." He sighed. "And we don't have all that much experience. So . . . there are no unaccounted for humans wandering about Milwaukee or Detroit?"

"No. I assume the United States Army sent squads there?"

"Yes. Damn."

Alice scanned the area. "I've still got five people to try and find here. Have you seen Tex?"

"No. I have very poor bandwidth here, and it is eroding. This Avatar will disappear shortly. "

She peered worriedly at the AI. "Will that hurt you? Perhaps we should find a d-door."

"I don't think a data squeeze will have the same effect as being damaged . . . although I am solid, here." He gestured. "There is a d-door that way."

"Right." Alice picked up her crude spear, and headed for a break in the brush, more or less in the direction Milwaukee had indicated.

Beau set his teeth, and then followed the AI. I need to get some sort of commitment from my superiors, as to whose side we're on. I don't know if I ought to be helping or hindering Milwaukee. He considered his superiors, and decided that the freedom to act as he thought best might be even better. I think I'll trust the AI that thinks of itself as human, and negotiates instead of kills on sight. That values its friends.

***

Joe & skippies

***

Alice stopped and listened. Sobbing? Thumping? She eased toward the sounds. Peeked around a trees.

Aaron, Tori and Jenni were standing, looking lost. Mrs. Toppins was crouched in front of a d-door. Sobbing and pounding on it.

"Oh good, you guys found a door." Alice stepped out confidently.

"It won't open!" Mrs. Toppins wailed.

"Oh, sometimes they're just jammed up a bit." Alice brushed around the top edge, her left hand on the locking oval, twisting it loose, and shifting it from the door to the frame. She leaned down. "Are you all right, Mrs. Toppins?" She pried up the other, as she helped the woman up. "Beau, why don't you give it a good hard pull?"

It opened right up, of course. Jenni grabbed her mother and manhandled her through, Tori leaped after them.

Aaron hesitated.

"I sent your father through with the other two boys. He was injured—check the hospitals. And don't say anything about this place, or they'll think you're crazy."

Aaron bobbed his head and ducked through the door.

Alice met Beau's eyes. "How about you and I stick together and find Tex and your bubbies."

Milwaukee nodded. "I will attempt to gain control of a higher band width connection." He handed her his two headed spear.

"Right. Although I think we're about done here."

The AI stepped through the door, dissolving and fading, gone.

Beau eyed her, then released the door. It snapped shut and disappeared. "You did something to it."

She held out her hand, with the locking oval. "These, when they are on the d-door, control it, to some degree. If you look, there are usually two on the outside and two on the inside of every d-door. If you remove them from the outside—or just shift them from the door to the frame—you can exit the other dimensions back into dimension one through it. If you remove them from inside the cubby, you can open the door in unusual ways and get to the other dimensions."

"What happens if you remove them from both inside and outside?"

"The cubby collapses. Disappears with all the stuff—and no doubt any people—inside. Or something."

"But you just removed the inside ones."

"No, these are the outside ones. Really, you can check when we get back. Umm, my organization doesn't have the facilities to study why some d-doors can spontaneously appear in other dimensions."

"Your organization, my ass." Beau took the oval, jumped a bit at the small shock from the bottom. "And that's it? That all it takes?"

"Yeah. Every d-door has eight dimensional packets attached. It's just that they're usually very small. About ten percent of the time, the cubby dimension is large enough to be useful. I think the presence of an AI has something to do with the other dimensions being available. Milwaukee said his other dimensions were featureless. They may not open up until the controlling AI has reached some threshold in size."

"God damn." Beau looked blankly at the oval. "We don't have cubbies at HQ. They interfere with the equipment we use for those one way trips of ours. We bought a cubby, and tried everything we could think of, to get it to open . . . weirdly."

"We have no idea how much control an AI has over the doors in his region. Be careful, if, when, you get one working. I don't like the sound of the East Coast AI. Milwaukee has found his access limited to very tiny bandwidths. Insufficient to carry a personality."

Beau stuck the lock in his pocket. "Right. That's why they're trying to hustle the completion of the Pittsburg hub. The engineers don't understand why the programmers have artificially restricted bandwidth out of the region, and the programmers indignantly claim that they haven't, that the engineers have messed up somehow."

"And if you told them it was on account of the AI wars, you'd get 48 hours of observation at the hospital."

***

///Several disconnected scenes:

Alice turned up the trail at a sprint. Saw the huge dark elephant crunching toward her, and scrambled hastily back to the savannah, spotted the Cape Buffalo crashing out of the tall grass, dived back into the tall grass and started crawling.

The buffalo's bellow was answered by the elephant's trumpet. Alice turned and started crawling as silently as she dared. Lots of stomping. Enraged noises that could have come from either animal, and some that ought not have come from either. Dust blew through the grass in waves.

More thuds and crashes. A final trumpet by the elephant. Alice peeked between grass mounds, and spotted the elephant. A foot rested on the Cape Buffalo, as it pixelated, then blew away into nothing.

A sudden sprinkling of rain, then a steady shower. The Elephant showed no interest in returning home. Alice felt prickles, beneath her palms, and sat back to watch grass, fresh and green, springing up. All over. Out there, too. Broad leafed things were emerging from the ground, trees and things that looked like they belonged in pots in someone's home.

Why? Aren't elephants savannah dwellers as well?

No. Look at him. It. That's an Indian elephant, and the climate is changing to match the new master. Or more likely, to match all the landscaping around the elephant's home base.

The elephant tromped on out over the fast sprouting jungle. Alice eased back to the trail.

***

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, not to mention the uninjured right arm. 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 Trivia Challenge. Warn them to not talk about crazy stuff, so no one accuses them of taking drugs. Alice and I will get to the ///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.

Lost ignominiously.

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 all 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 right arm. 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 your teammates weren't up to the task."

"We're too specialized . . . I can't blame them, because 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.

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