For the Barton Street Gym fans. This was written as a report, but it needs to be rewritten as it happened.
"Part of Team Five has reported in from Indianapolis. They're on their way, now. In brief, a young woman named Alice and two red headed teenage girls who were really bio-models, helped them attack the local werewolf and escape."
Beau straightened. "Connie Deadcrow?"
Nod. "They lost Captain Kerrigan. The rest survived."
He felt an inner knot relax. "And this Alice? Do they have her? I have a multipage list of questions . . . " he trailed off at the shaking heads. "Damn. Wait, I thought they went to Denver. Team Five."
The general nodded. "Indeed. But they turned up in Indianapolis. Apparently thanks to your Alice."
"She's not my Alice."
"Team five should be arriving in an hour. You will sit in on the debriefing."
"Yes, sir!" So . . . Alice did say she'd try to find our lost personnel. Looks like she kept her word.
". . . hundreds of these cloned soldiers, all exactly alike. We scouted, tried sneaking in through their lines. Finally got caught at it. We had improvised clubs, wooden spears, and were trying bows, without luck . . . they had swords and metal spears . . . not very well organized, mob tactics, but they had the numbers . . . we retreated." Sergeant Connie Deadcrow scowled straight ahead, looking at no one. "When we killed, or badly injured one of them . . . It was like sharks, the rest turned on the wounded one and . . . ripped him apart. Ate him raw. Then they'd get back to chasing us. We used the improvised bombs. That's when the lightening bolt hit. I saw the Captain go flying over the edge of the gulch, the cannibals rushed us . . . we had to keep retreating. I led the squad into thick forest, dense brush, then we found ourselves up against a granite cliff. There was a small cave, we had to crawl to get in, kept crawling, there was a fresh air draft, finally came out into more forest. Not the same, less pine more hardwoods. We . . . I tried to keep bearings on the cave, so we could get back . . . " She swiped a sleeve across her forehead, then straightened, rigidly.
Poor Connie. Must be hell reporting that you've lost your senior officer. But I suspect the worst is yet to come.
"Finding no hostiles, we camped and scouted out the possibilities. Nuts, berries, and water. We heard a bit of rustling, didn't spot any animals till the third day. There was a big gray wolf stalking us. We had to watch our backs, circled up a couple of times with the spears out. Then it stopped hiding. It started watching us openly. It seemed quite curious."
"The tenth day, we encountered a group of the clone soldiers. They looked desperately hungry and rushed us. We injured a couple, then the wolf attacked them and killed one. We saw a repeat of the cannibal behavior we'd witnessed before."
She swallowed. "The wolf rushed in, killed another. They tried to mob him, umm, well, we jumped in and stabbed a couple of them. The wolf finished the rest off. It was injured, limped off. We followed it, keeping a safe distance."
"There was a d-door, just standing there against this huge tree. The wolf opened it and went through. The door shut and the whole thing disappeared."
"After that we explored around more. Found another d-door, but it wouldn't open for us. The wolf came back." She managed to redden, despite her olive complexion. "We asked it nicely to let us out, and it just did that doggy laugh thing, with an open mouth and tongue hanging out. It started playing tricks on us, sneaking up and scaring us . . . and one day I cussed it out and told it that it was a good thing it wasn't a werewolf, or I'd be digging up garlic to kill it with."
Beau suppressed a grin as he saw her getting redder than he'd thought physically possible.
"It blinked a couple of times, sort of did this special effects . . . shrink down to a diamond of light . . . then it expanded again in the form of a young man. Wolf grey hair, eyes yellow . . . buck naked. Grinning. 'What a fantastic idea! Why didn't I think of that!' he said."
She chuffed out a breath. "We spent, what? Almost a year? With that infuriating . . . werewolf . . . playing stupid games. At least we got him to conjure up some clothes . . . Eating nuts, berries and wild onions. Then a young woman walked out of the forest." She glanced at Beau. "She said her name was Alice Street, and that she'd met you and some others of our project. She claimed to be a member of an informal group of scholars studying 'the dimensional phenomena.' Said some kids had followed her and been kidnapped by a young man with gray hair."
She shot another glance his direction. "Anyway, the wolf brought two redheaded girls, umm, twelve, thirteen years old? Something like that, to our camp, because they were hungry and crying. Which they were. Alice whipped out food . . . God, we nearly mobbed her, for real food! Well, she and the wolf—she called him Indianapolis—argued back and forth about AIs and connection bandwidths, and the advantages of allying with Milwaukee . . . It was really strange. She knew so much . . . she said the clone soldiers must be bio-models. She said that in this dimension they grew to normal human size. Damn it. I can't believe we lost her!" She huffed out a breath. "She asked him where a d-door was. He said she was much too much fun to let go. Then something happened. Indianapolis fell down, obviously in pain, said they were fooling with his connections."
She shifted uncomfortably. "There were some odd visual hallucinations . . . as if the world was falling apart, or going flat, or collapsing . . . "
"Alice asked him where he was, and where there was a d-door. He said he was in the Karst Tower and pointed. She grabbed one of his arms and started hauling him that way. We all jumped in and grabbed him. Alice took off running, and we all ran after her. Kids and all. We saw the d-door. She opened it, held it while we all piled through—there was a perfectly ordinary hallway on the other side. And as soon as we had the werewolf through the door he just . . . went away. When the two girls passed through, they shrunk down to about eighteen cems. Alice came through, shut the door. Glared at us. 'Haven't you ever seen bio-models?' she said. Picked the girls up and put them in her backpack. We scouted around. Found an elevator lobby. Thirty-second floor, Karst Tower. Headed down. The elevator stopped twice, some other people crowded on. We didn't realize Alice had gotten off until we reached the ground floor." Beau could see the muscles in her jaw as she clenched her teeth. Lady needs a few groceries . . . "We couldn't find her. Someone called the cops . . . well, we looked like we'd been living in the woods for a year . . . I called in from the police station."
General Heinz snorted. "They are rather slippery. Well. Welcome home, Sergeant. Well done. I've got people on site, now. Checking the Karst Tower, and those power fluctuations." He shrugged. "Might be connected, maybe we'll find out."
"Yes, sir. If I may ask a few questions?" She received a nod, and shot a look at Beau. "Alice Street knew Captain Xicara? And the girls called him Cap'n Bligh?"
Beau's turn to blush. He glanced at the General, received a nod. "I led a team to Chicago. We met up with a group, half FBI, out to get the Bad Hacker whose runaway VR had nearly killed the girlfriend of one of them, and half these complete weirdos. Tex, Tommy, Milwaukee, Lone Prairie, two redheaded girls, a horse and five talking EMP bombs. They were out to try to talk the Chicago AI into playing nice, or failing that, kill it."
"No Alice, and you were incredibly lucky with your wolf. 'Chicago' used a giant rattlesnake as an avatar. And we wound up killing it. Milwaukee touched the body, and it blew away in smoke. Or maybe he absorbed it. Not sure."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis?"
"Yes. I think that the AIs identify themselves as cities." He glanced over at the frowning officers. "If we're not being led around by the nose."
"How did you get back?"
"Through a d-door. Not that we can get them to do anything, but that one opened up for Tex." He frowned. "Actually it opened up for Jackson. Perhaps by then, Milwaukee had control of it."
He shrugged. "Alice Street. Some oddities had previously happened in Milwaukee, and we were watching a teenage girl named Alice Brown. Father an FBI Inspector. Head of the Wisconsin State Cyber Crime Division. He and his main team were the Agents we encountered in Chicago. After Chicago, I followed him when he and his wife celebrated their anniversary with a tour of France. The plane we flew home in was equipped with cubbies . . . it managed to crash in an alternate dimension. A week later a second plane crashed. It had also been equipped with cubbies. Now illegal, of course. Alice Street was on the second plane. Ran around like the queen of the world, making escape look easy . . . Yeah, she rescued me too. And Inspector Brown and his wife. I got home, pounced on the Browns." He shrugged. "A heavy-handed attempt to control the girl had backfired, with her going missing for the duration. When she emerged, she was moderately disguised, and claimed to have just dodged all us bad guys all over the Gym."
"We kept an eye on her. She went to Minneapolis St Paul for a school competition. And we got into an interesting tangle with a half dozen high school kids and the pedophile who was after one of them, and fell through the d-door of Alice Brown's dorm room into another world. Tex, Alice Street, and Milwaukee were there, tons of nasty animal avatars. A total zoo." He scowled.
Connie was trying hard, and failing to repress a grin. "Did she escape again?"
Colonel Kessler cleared his throat. "Tex and or Alice have referred to their organization variously as the Department of Dimensional Affairs, a University research project, and the Rodent Liberation Front. But as far as we can tell, they appear to be two kids and various bio-models having a fun time exploring the dimensions."
Beau nodded. "They claim that their motive is to insure that the winner of the AI wars is an AI that likes people."
"Good . . . " Connie cleared her throat. "That's . . . scary."
"Yeah. Makes me wonder who controls Indianapolis, now." Beau watched her eyes narrow. Ha! She likes her werewolf. Maybe Milwaukee can make friends, or at least allies.