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Extradimensional Birdwatching Club (IC)

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October 12, 2019



As they stepped through the portal into the other dimension, the first thing Daystar noticed was that it was quiet - with only the familiar background hum of her radio bracelets sounding in her ears, and the distant whisper of the radio transmitter in the nearby basecamp. The second thing was how everything looked. A lifetime in Oklahoma, then DC, had not prepared her for the fall splendor of Earth-Vacant-B ("not quite Sanctuary but with a lot more nature!"), a world frequently visited by Claremont students looking for their first taste of extra-dimensional adventure. This was a world where humans had never been evolved, one where whales filled the oceans, animals the vast forests of North America, and birds the skies. Fall here was chillier than back home, she supposed, though it wasn't really an issue for her - she slipped her hands in the pockets of her light windbreaker as she looked up at the vast forest of gold and red. "Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this," she quoted under her breath, smiling in awe as she looked all around. 


For her part, Watchdog wasn't nearly so blown away by all the scenery - maybe because she'd been here ten years ago and had gotten crapped on by a whole lot of birds. "Let's keep moving," she murmured from inside her mask as they headed out into the center of the small encampment, where Mr. Jorgensen was waiting for them. Jorgensen was the school's new biology teacher, a smiling, easy-going guy who students sometimes took too much advantage of. He wore a plaid flannel shirt and jeans to greet the students as they stepped through the gateway, his thick beard adding to the impression of "hipster outdoorsman." 

"Hello everyone!" he called with a wave. "Keep moving and drop your stuff in the designated areas." This wasn't quite the rugged outdoor life of survival training; Claremont's small basecamp had places for tents, firepits dug, and even a generator and radio transmitter installed by previous generations of students. They'd been careful, though - outside of the small encampment here by the edge of the South River, there was little sign any humans had ever been here. And indeed, hardly any had... 

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Danica sniffed the air as she came through the portal, then took a deep, relaxing breath. "It smells so good here!" she enthused, making her way slowly towards the center of the encampment. She hadn't brought any stuff to drop, all of her equipment was safely tucked away in her shell, so instead she pulled out a pair of binoculars and trained them on the sky. "Do you think it's going to rain? I hadn't thought about the weather patterns being different here, but it's awfully cloudy." She disappeared inside her shell for a moment and came out with a large golf umbrella, setting it nearby just to be on the safe side. 

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Davyd had wanted to go on the trip with nothing but the morphic molecule clothes on his back.  Cold doesn't bother me, my body can adapt to any disease or poison, I'm stretchy, and I don't think I even need to eat anymore -- what do I need a tent or ropes or rations for?  But Jorgensen (and Summers) insisted he bring along some basic supplies.  After all, he was still learning to control his shapeshifting.  And what if his powers suddenly failed him?


So there he was, in gold boots, blue shorts, a gold short-sleeved tee, and a brown leather bag slung over his shoulders.  Despite his minor grumbling, he was still happy and excited to be there; even Ashley couldn't darken his mood.  An entirely different world, similar to but also different from Earth!  So many different animals to see!  They were there to focus on birds, sure, but what else would they come across?

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Benny had just been on that actual survival excursion, and this one was promised to be... easier?  Gentler?  He really didn't know, he had on the normal uniform, but it was under his clothes, though the jacket wasn't on, because it was warm enough to not warrant that.  He didn't feel the stuff would be warm at night, and even if it was a warm autumn day, they tended to have frigid nights.  He carried his waterproof bags down towards the area, looking about around them, frowning a little, expecting a bear, or something.  


Like Squid Mussolini.  Or something.  Fantastic and strange tales being what they were, he read a serial about this in a magazine.

He wasn't seeing the forest, point being.  Just the trees.  And there were a lot, as he moved his stuff into a position that might be orientated away from the group, like he intended to keep watch.  


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The first thing that hit Mia was the smell. She'd been out in nature before: Her father had insisted on camping trips when she was younger. But somehow, it was more potent here. There were other scents she could detect too. Ones she had never smelled before. Then an old history lesson occurred to her. She'd heard back, a long time ago, that the settlers brought with them a lot of things that changed the entire landscape. Earthworms, for one. The actual soil was different here. The enormity of it took a hold of her for a second, but she righted herself quickly.


Pulling her jacket tighter, she pushed further away from the portal, while her guitar hung in its case from a strap on her shoulder. When she found out they'd be camping a bit, she realized she needed something to pass the time. Beyond birds, of course. She wasn't really here for them, not really. She had come along because Judy had suggested it, and she wanted to make another friend. That, and the idea of a world where humanity had not changed the land intrigued her.


Coming to the rest site, she set her stuff down, and then pressed her fists into her back as she arched it, producing a noisy ripple of pops. She sighed, taking in that rich scent again. She could probably get used to this. 


"I can probably make anything you n--" she said to Danica, before seeing the umbrella come out. "Nevermind, you got it covered."

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It's so quiet...


Nick brought up the rear of the expedition, and stood at the portal looking around in child-like wonder. Like Judy the radio quiet was the first thing he noticed. For Nick the quiet extended outward along the electromagnetic spectrum, and the near total lack of human-made emissions felt like a weight off his chest. Pinpointing the two signals: something Judy was carrying, and a radio transmitter, Nick let out a long sigh of relief. Mentally, he opened the other half of his psionic senses to the world around him. The snap of twigs, the rumble of beetles in the earth, the subsonic calls of animals through the trees, all of them echoed loudly now that the barrage of signals were gone. He smiled.


Not wanting to be left behind, he hurried along with the group. His attire consisted of what one would expect from a Fall expedition. His usual jeans and shirt, of course, but also an insulated red jacket, hiking boots, backpack with light camping gear, and his cowboy hat. Oh, and a notepad and pencil for communication issues. No need to bring an electronic device to such a pristine place. Speaking of communication issues...


Once Mr Jorgensen gave the okay, Nick picked out a spot and dumped his backpack with a thud. "Enthusiastic" was probably a good term for the skip in his step. A quick scribble on his notepad and he walked up to the first person he didn't yet know. In this case, Danica.


The pad read, "I'm Nick. Nice to meet you," and was accompanied by an offered handshake and smile.

Edited by Dariusprime
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"I'm good, but thank you," Danica told Mia with a grin, just as the new guy approached. She set down her binoculars and accepted the pad of paper with some curiosity. She'd met a lot of her new classmates by now, but it was a big school, real estate wise, and she didn't move that fast. She glanced over the words, then smiled and offered her hand. "Hi Nick, I'm Danica," she told him with a smile. "I'm a sophomore. You're new this year, right?" Belatedly she thought to ask "Can you hear what I'm saying? Or should I write on the pad too?" 

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Nick, despite his small size, returned a good, firm handshake. The smile widened as he nodded one, twice, and then shook his head. Once his hand was free, he accepted the pad back and tapped his mouth with the back of the other hand.


Writing, the pad read, "I hear fine but can't speak. Thank you for asking."


Looking around at the assembled group, he wrote, "Have you been birdwatching before? I am out of my element here."


He didn't add that, aside from watching prairie chickens stomp at dawn, most of his avian interactions were based on culinary qualities.

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Benny didn't think much of the next thing.  He played things mostly close to the vest, it worked with three card Monty, and it worked here too. They all talked about their powers, and skills, and all that.  He downplayed it for himself.  Hanging the binoculars from his neck, he looked around for a tree that would fit what he wanted...



And he dashed towards the tree at a clip of speed that made him look like a freight train and less a guy.  He leaped towards it, arching over towards the trunk, as his hand reached out to grasp at the thing, as he landed with the ball of his foot against the tree, and he started to squirrel upwards with agility that belied his bulk as he moved up and up, until he was at a vantage point then.  He hooked a leg around that trunk as he survey their surroundings.

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Mia smiled back at Danica, and followed her eyes to Nick. They had met in the Tech Club, and he seemed like a nice guy, though she still didn't know him all that well yet. Her eyes drifted to the screen, and she shook her head. "Nah, only ever been camping, really. Only really came out here for sh--" she paused, her eyes drifting to the teacher. "Craps and giggles."


Her eyes narrowed. "Do you guys think we're going to run into turkeys? Because wild turkeys are evil. Did you know they can fly? Just fu--" eyes again on Jorgensen "Freakin' divebomb you from the trees. Especially since there's no humans in this world. They don't know to fear us, yet."


Then she looked to Jorgensen. "We're allowed to use our powers in the case of a wild turkey attack, right?"

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"You'll like birdwatching, it's great," Danica assured him. "It's my favorite club, because not moving around very much is an asset, and I'm great at that. Moving around too much-" She stared at Benny as he leapt into the trees, then turned back to Nick with a wry smile, "-scares the birds." She watched as the birds who'd been roosting in the nearby trees flew past overhead, then shrugged philosophically. "They'll be back. And there's a lot of ground birds around here too, because cats were never introduced in this world! There's so many fewer predators, so it's just, like, birds everywhere, don't step on one!" She flapped her arms a little, miming trying not to step on a surprise bird. "And probably turkeys too," she admitted to Mia. 

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There was quite a bit to do over the next few hours. 


The birds showed quite an interest in Judy, stopping to land on her whenever she held still for more than a few minutes. "It must be all the heat she emits," speculated Mr. Jorgensen. Judy was a good sport about the whole affair, not even shrieking when a beautiful red yellow and green parakeet landed right in her hair! "Contrary to popular belief," she offered, "this is not the first time Ah have been in the great outdoors." 


Benny had a great view from the top of the tree, even if he had startled quite a few birds of various sorts into flying away. He could see the South River, the forest that occupied all the peninsula that should have been Freedom City, and the Narrows beyond. The sky was indeed swarming with birds, a veritable sea of song, and the oceans too were swarming with fish and other wildlife so thick he could almost imagine walking on them. There were whales, right there out on the Narrows, only a couple of miles away! 


The boys were put to work pitching the tents and cleaning the shelters, while the girls went to work fetching water from the river and digging out firepits and latrine trenches. The club worked hard to minimize their environmental impact here, and they wanted to make sure everything was just right. Danica was able to find the 2018 marker the club had etched on a nearby boulder, though; Date Rock being the one place they could leave a permanent mark. There were almost ten years of visits on here. 


"Here, Davyd, this is for you!" Judy offered Horrorshow proudly, pulling something out from her bag that after a moment took shape as a floppy knitted hat, colored an irregular red and pink, with two button eyes sewed onto the top. "Ah've been making them for everybody. Ah wasn't sure what would be good for you, so Ah just sort of used a shapeless pattern. It'll probably fall off your head if you shapeshift, but it'll at least keep you warm!" 


Mia didn't see any wild turkeys at first, but she did startle a family of deer that bolted past her in the woods while she was getting the water - a big, fat, healthy herd that she'd expected to bolt - but instead watched her warily, with the caution an animal would show another animal but not an animal's instinctive fear of man. There were stags there, and does, and a few almost-still-fauns who were about to have their first winter. It was a sight she never could have seen back home. 


Over dinner that night, Mr. Jorgensen showed them how to cook beef stew over their campfires, while Judy tried to stir up interest in She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain When She Comes. Other than that it was quiet, though, maybe the quietest evening Nick could remember, except for the sleepy sounds of billions of birds in the trees. It was downright peaceful, really. 

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The peace reminded Nick of good memories. Going down to the creek by his great uncle's house and fishing all day. And sometimes all night. Watching the stars. Setting campfire food ablaze. Laughing at his uncle's corny jokes. Good times. Better days.


Up until that point, Nick pitched in with enthusiasm. One couldn't call him a survivalist, but he knew enough to pull his own weight whipping the camp into shape. All the while he listened, listened, listened. Every once in a while he'd freeze in place and stare off. Occasionally, what interested him was readily apparent. Like the very large tom turkey that studied the camp in the late afternoon. Other times he seemed to stare off blankly into the trees. Though loathe to admit it, the whales singing lower than human hearing intrigued him the most.


While he couldn't sing along with Snow White, Nick did clap along with the song. Before the delicious campfire cookin' put him out, Nick could be spotted stargazing across a sky that had never known human pollution. Jupiter sang loud and clear, and if he concentrated, he swore he could hear the rumblings of Io's volcanoes. The cosmic microwave background stole the show though. As the soothing echoes put him to sleep, he felt like he was listening to the divine.

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Davyd had never been camping before, and knew nothing of tents, so he volunteered to take lead on cleaning the shelters.  He tried offering to take over digging duty for Ashley & Judy -- largely in an attempt to get on Ashley's good side -- but Mr. Jorgensen insisted that they stick with their assignments.


It was during one such attempt that Judy presented her gift to him, which he accepted graciously.  "Oh, wow!  This is really good!  And I love the colors!  Thank you!"  He immediately put it on, and shifted a few tendril-like hairs to keep a firm hold on it.  "I'd heard something about you doing some knitting.  If you're interested, I'm sure my babusya would be happy to give you a few lessons!"  A beat.  "Ah, not that I'm saying you need lessons!  But, uh, ya know, if you wanted some."


Sleep did not come easily to Davyd that night, as he was unused to the cacophony of nature's sounds.  But eventually it did, and when it did his body reverted to a featureless crimson form, which remained just this side of humanoid.

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Mia didn't exactly understand why the work had to be sex-segregated, but she wasn't going to make a stink about it yet. She would instead internalize her irritation, like all healthy people did. The deer were a very nice site. She never really got to see them, even when camping, so she had to resist getting close. Probably would have resulted in getting her butt stomped by the mama deer.


Once night time came, Mia sat lazily by the fire, her chores done, and strummed on her guitar. It started first as a medley of various tunes, before eventually helping Judy out with "She'll be coming 'round the mountain." For her own satisfaction, she also played a bit of Jim Croce's "I've Got a Name", partially as an excuse to show off her singing.


Then, when she was ready to get bedded down, she found herself reluctant when she looked up at the night sky one last time. Seeing all those stars... It was enough to get lost in them. She wished that the sky was this clear back in their home dimension.


Still, tired after a day of work, she eventually gave in and drifted off to sleep.

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Danica was pleased with the division of labor since it was much easier for her to dig a trench than try to put up a tent (and lord knew she'd tried last year! She wondered if that was the reason Mr. Jorgenson had divided them up this year). Sitting on top of her shell like a lizard sunning on a rock, she commanded a small army of ghost turtles as they dug out a latrine trench, each one taking a bite from the ground and carrying it over to a dirt pile to spit out. It took a little while, and the edges were a bit raggedy, but it was just as deep and wide as in the wilderness camping pamphlet.  


For the rest of the evening she was content to wander near the camp, her slow speed no impediment when she wasn't trying to keep up with a group. It was so beautiful here, and so peaceful, she thought she could spend a year here and never get tired of it. Though to be honest, she'd probably get pretty tired of the latrine eventually. When dinner and singing time were over, she parked her shell close to the fire, so as not to take up unnecessary room in a tent, and climbed in for a good night's sleep. 

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The next morning, camp was made and breakfast was served, and there was quite a bit to do! 


There really was everything that an aspiring birdwatcher could want. The edges of the South River were crowded with shorebirds in numbers like no one in the group had ever seen; the seacoast (just a short half-hour's hike away) was marked with scoters, loons, Northern Gannet, and Great Cormorants. The skies were full of raptors and songbirds on their migrations - and there were so many birds. Carolina Parakeets in flight in vast, tree-filling flocks, and what looked like a substantial horde of unfamiliar blue and red pigeons until Mr. Jorgensen said "Oh, that's just the scouts! The flocks should be arriving here the day before we leave!" For those looking to fill their lifelists, to take pictures, to draw, or just to rest, there was much to do. The school had built a couple of blinds around, and there were plenty of places to watch. 


There was also much to do if you had other things on your mind. The ocean water was cold (it was New Jersey in October) but it was clearer than anybody had ever seen, and there were rocks to climb and cliffs to discover that humans had long since knocked down. There was distance enough you could enjoy yourself without disturbing anyone else's fun, too. There were deer and dogs, and other things; and wild horses around where the Pramas Bridge should have been, and for a little while Judy could almost forget the sound of radio rushing in her ears like water. Ashley kept her own council, hanging back and letting Judy relax. It was...nice? 

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When Dayd woke, he was grateful that he'd been in a sleeping back that zipped up all the way, because while he'd slept his body had shifted into a featureless red mass!  Okay, Davyd, get it together, don't want Benny or Mr. Jorgensen to see you like this.  They'd understand, sure... well, they'd probably understand... best not to risk it.


He started with the broad strokes first.  Two legs, two arms, one head.  Two eyes, two ears, a mouth.  Fingers.  Toes.  Hair.  Skin color.  Teeth.  I'm getting better at this, changing back faster.  Still wish I could stop from changing while I'm asleep.  Is that something all Grue deal with?  Or is it just because I'm part Grue?  I'll have to be sure to ask Daphne at our next training session.


When he emerged from his sleeping bag, Benny & Mr. Jorgensen had just finished getting dressed and were about to start breakfast, and he joined in.  "So I'm guessing eggs aren't on the menu, hrm?"


That ill-conceived joke got him cleaning duty.  But that did not take too long, and soon he was off, marveling at the variety of wildlife and doing his best to mimic them.  He focused on the river and sea, focusing on gastropods and cephalopods, which he found easiest to shift to (no skeletal structure to worry about!), though he also spotted and mimicked some otters, and wondered if Lulu would like that.  Late in the day, he got a very close look at some birds, when a seagull dove in for dinner and grabbed him while he was squid-ing about, but he managed to shift away without causing the bird much physical harm.  (Psychological harm, on the other hand...)  But when he looked up from his impromptu landing spot on the beach, he saw something completely unexpected, half-sunk in the sand: an old, worn-down, crushed beer can.


"Uh oh.  That... that can't be right."  A cold dread crept over him, "I... I need to call..."  He thumbed on his communicator, "hey, um, this is Davyd, and I found something really weird.  I'm, uh, I'm a bit turned around, though, and don't... I don't know exactly where I am.  But you can track me on this, right?  Or should I stretch up and out and wave my arms around?"

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Nick left straight away after breakfast and chores. The hike to the seacoast intrigued him the most, and off he set into the brush. The hike took him nearly three hours. Leisurely walking and frequent pauses under falling leaves ate up the time. Classmates heading to the sea likely spotted him dozing under a tree. Eventually, his path emerged onto the rocks where he overlooked the sea. A sea he had never seen before.


Today the topic centered on the theme of the trip: birdwatching. He spent hours with his arms wrapped around his knees watching the seabirds. His mind processed the sounds as it always did. The quiet however shifted the process from a frantic search for understanding to a tranquil inquiry. One of the few conscious thoughts the entire day came as a mental note to thank Lulu for the meditation lessons. This must be what serenity felt like.


In the late afternoon, a parakeet landed on a rock near his perch. The bird studied him. He studied it back. It chirped. He listened and smiled. Only days later would he learn about the species and its extinction. In this moment, the birds, whales, and the deep rumblings of the sea were about perfect solitude.


Until the radio signal came. Slowly his head turned toward the source. Davyd needed help, and his calculations suggested a location down the beach. Turning back to the rock, the bird was gone. Nick smiled, stood up without aches or pains, and stretched.


A quick check of landmarks, and the location of his rocky perch, followed. Once confident of his navigation, Nick scrambled down the rocks and jogged along the beach hoping to spot Davyd.

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Mr. Jorgensen's voice came over the signal first. "Well, ah, Davyd, I'm looking at the signal tracker here, and-" 


"Davyd." Watchdog's voice broke into the signal. "Coming to find you - signal is strong. Keep talking." It wasn't long before Ashley, with her sister in tow, arrived on the scene. Ashley had evidently done some scouting during their day of observation because she found the pathway down to the beach as if she'd been coming to the area all her life. She looked wary, but hadn't actually put her helmet up yet. "What is it?


When they saw it, Judy, standing behind her, frowned. "A beer can? Did...one of us bring it?" she asked, looking suspiciously at the other teens as if they might be about to whip out some alcoholic intoxicants. She had been having a fine old time on her birdwatching expedition, and still had her notebook tucked under one denim-clad arm. 


"No, look how old it is..." said Ashley thoughtfully. "...says something Abbey Single Ale. Anybody recognize it?" she asked the others. 

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Mia followed along after Ashley and Judy, mostly interested in taking a look at the beer can. She stared at it, being pretty old and all, but she didn't understand why people would be bothered. She didn't see it as especially threatening, even if it was pretty interesting.


"I mean, like, we've had other groups come here, right? Could be an old one leftover. Or, hey, you know. We're not the only dimension in the multiverse with dimensional travelers. Could be some alternate Claremont had the same idea we have had. Or you know, any sort of interdimensional traveler," she said dismissively. Then, a thought occurred to her. "Hey! What if there's other goodies? Campers forget cool stuff all the time."


She looked around, but saw nothing obvious. She frowned. "Would be neat to find an old magazine or something from another dimension."

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Back at the main camp, where the teens had a chance to meet up with Danica and Mr. Jorgensen, they continued their conversation about the mysterious find. Mr. Jorgensen took one look at the can, stroking his beard, then agreed with Mia. "I'm sure it's nothing. Claremont students have been coming to this world for over a decade, and I heard some of the students  got pretty wild back in the day, heh-heh-heh...not that any of _you_ should do that!" he added firmly. 


Ashley was scowling at Mr. Jorgensen. "Aren't you even going to report this on the emergency line?" 


"Ms. Smith, that's just for emergencies," said Jorgensen reassuringly. "We don't need to waste precious bandwidth on-" 


"Do you have any idea what that could be?" snapped Ashley. "Incursions from an inverted universe! A kidnap team sent here for us!" 


"Oh, Ashley," said Judy, "there's no reason to get so worried about a little beer can." She patted her sister on the arm, then said, "Cmon, we gotta talk about what we saw today, then maybe tonight we can tell stories!" The campfire was already burning, casting a cheerful glow around the dusk. 

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Nick apparently missed all the fun. At least at the recovery site of the beer can. The group looked to be returning to camp as he rounded a rock. Part of him was disappointed at his response time, but the better half of him responded positively to spotting Davyd. None the worse for wear at that. He silently drifted into the procession.


At the camp, Nick listened to the conversation. His eyes flicked around to the person talking at the time and visibly looked to be weighing the issue. As it continued, he motioned for the can, and if provided, took his quiet time examining the find. Like cataloging a crime scene. The brand, for many and varied reasons, meant nothing to him. Perhaps a "Best by" date or brewery stamp would tell him more. That in mind, he turned it over and around, eyeing it closely in the fire light and feeling its weight.


This innocuous thing dovetailed nicely with an idea he had before the trip. He loved being here, no doubt, but a small part of him wondered if this dimension was best left undisturbed at all. Protected but pristine. Not to mention dimensional travel kind of worried him. No one asked his opinion though.

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Danica had spent the afternoon at camp, stretched out on top of her own shell and napping like a cat in the sun, with occasional breaks to lift her binoculars and look at some birds. She couldn't keep up with hikers or waders, but she was more than happy to just enjoy herself for the day and then hang out with everyone once they got back. "You were gone all day and the best thing you saw was a beer can?" she asked with obvious disappointment. "Don't you even have pictures of birds?" She slid off her shell and back inside it, then donned the hat Judy'd given her as a hedge against the evening chill. "Dimensional travelers love worlds like this,  and it's on file with the Freedom League, right? Somebody else probably made a day trip a long time ago." 

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Mia shrugged her shoulders. Finding a beer can was interesting in its own right, she figured, give that this was a world without humans, but she didn't find it particularly exceptional. Still, she wanted to check it out, so she did.


"Well, I was teleporting around before I heard what was going on," she said, then thought to clarify. "Not out of communication range or anything. Though I would love to teleport down and see what Europe looks like... I heard the woolly mammoth partially went extinct because we over-hunted them. Would be cool to see one. Also a dodo."


"Mostly saw birds and rodents and stuff, really. Honestly, the one downside to all of this is that everything kind of looks the same," she said. "Also that it's cold as balls in the morning.


She thought for a moment. "Do you think any crazy hunter types travel to this dimension to try and hunt extinct things? Maybe that's where the beer came from."

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