Paul dug his fingers into the cool soil for extra leverage, then sat himself up. He felt loose soil crumble down his back and he exhaled a contented sigh through a broad smile he did not realize he wore.
“Intense,” he said with awe. He stood slowly, brushing the soil off himself, then he stepped out of the soil pit. He walked through a narrow, shallow pool of water to rinse his feet on his way out of the mudroom towards the kitchen. Paul flipped on the light then noticed a small dark circle hovering in the air in front of the refrigerator. He initially thought it looked like a black ball, but he walked closer to examine it. No matter how he looked at it, it appeared to be flat and facing him dead on. The color was darker than any black he’d ever seen. He used a nearby switch over the marble counters to turn the lights off again; but, he could still see the dark hole perfectly clear. After a moment he registered what it could be. “NO WAY!” he yelled then flipped the switch to get the lights back on again.
His smile somehow grew, and a nervous energy overtook him. He started to rush back to the mudroom, but then went back to the hole. He paced back and forth a couple of times, unsure what course of action to take before the hole answered for him. It grew as large as him, and clapped with glee. Immediately he turned a bar stool to face the large black hole, then sat down on it. Just as he hoped, someone stepped out of the hole. Two someones, both women. A tall, lean dark haired woman with a severe porcelain face, and a shorter, stockier woman with a bald head. They both noticed Paul, and the taller one smiled at him.
“I don’t know if you’ve realized this yet, but you’re naked,” she said to him. Paul’s large, pale body turned beet red instantly. He bolted to the bedroom door, across from his mudroom, and after a plethora of rustling he returned wearing jogging pants and dark torn t-shirt. He sat down on the bar stool again and smiled at the women.
“Sorry. Instructions said that’s the best way to get a connection with the soil,” he said. He offered a half shrug as an apology. The tall woman nodded.
“Of course. Are you,…” as she spoke, she turned her head to the bald woman. She stepped forward to finish the tall woman’s question.
“Drizz’tUchiha12,” she said with a soft voice. Paul doubted he would have heard her if it were not three in the morning with the city sleeping. He nodded.
“Paul Wilkins?” the bald woman asked in a near whisper.
“YES!” he said. He sat up straighter in his seat, his body vibrating with excitement. He met one. A real Unique! “Can I ask? I mean. Sorry, I don’t know why you’re here, but I know what you are. Which Uniques are you?” The bald woman took a step back, and the dark-haired woman answered Paul’s question.
“My name’s Dana Sharp, I’m actually a Zero just like you,” she smiled, then gestured at her companion. “Janet’s #14, La Muerte.” The shorter woman nodded slightly as an acknowledgment.
“Whooooa. You’re a Zero and you get to hang around with a Celestial??” Paul was instantly impressed. He’d only learned about Uniques earlier in the day when he first logged into the AlterNet. He hoped he’d get to meet one someday, but did not expect it to be the same day he learned about them. Dana nodded and gave Paul a wink with her right eye, the side opposite Janet.
“She works for me,” Dana said. “As for why I’m here, I’d like you to work for me too.” Paul’s eyes went wide, and he pointed at himself.
“Me?” He looked at Janet, but she did not even blink when their eyes met. She continued to stare through him with her light pink eyes. He looked back at Dana.
“I study Uniques, and naturally that means I have to study Zeroes too. You’re a very unique zero, and I have a great interest in learning why.” Paul’s mind raced past the mention of studying and focused on him being special.
“I’m special? How am I special? I’m just a Zero, there’s thousands of me,” he shrugged. Dana shook her head.
“That’s the thing. There isn’t even another one of you.” She took a deep breath to prepare for a long explanation. “The AlterNet has systems in place to ensure that Zeroes and Uniques are on even playing fields. One of those systems registers your soul signature and checks it against all other AlterNet servers. If more of you are found, you have the option of communicating with them,” she said. A look of confusion clouded Paul’s face.
“Really?” He scratched his scraggly beard as he went through his time logged in. “I don’t remember anything like that.” Dana nodded.
“It didn’t activate for you, because you’re the only you that’s ever logged into the AlterNet. I run a corporation across several universes, and I have more sophisticated equipment for tracking soul signatures. Whenever a new Zero logs in, my team starts tracking down other versions. If their Earth is at a certain level, we begin marketing the AlterNet there,” she said. She spread her hands out to indicate Paul’s kitchen. “Like here, you guys only got the AlterNet last week, but it’s been around a lot longer than that.” Paul nodded, but his eyes seemed to be glazed over. Dana smiled at him, then stepped closer to put a gentle hand on his shoulder.
“But we couldn’t find any more of you. What’s your favorite number, Paul?” she asked. He shrugged.
“I dunno, never thought about it. 7? No wait 46! I wanna be a Sol!” Dana chuckled. “Don’t we all. It doesn’t work like that, but I am curious about how you came to be. You’ll get to meet way more Uniques than Janet.” Dana winked at him. “I’ve got a Spider that you have to meet.”
“I’m in!” Paul said. He hopped off his stool ready to go.
“Janet. Earth 1 please.” The bald woman made a gesture in the air, and a black hole opened up wide enough to let Paul through. He jumped in without hesitation.