AlterNet Home

“What Kingdom?” Matt yanked his hand out of the woman’s filthy hands. He hoped she didn’t think it was rude; the reflex was a direct reaction to her grabbing him when he did not expect it. Luckily she didn’t seem offended. She stood from her nest of frayed, discolored blankets and cardboard and smiled at Matt.

THE Kingdom. It’s another world where you can live the life you want in the body you choose,” The grey-haired woman said. She gestured for Matt to follow her with a tilt of her head; then she started walking to the nearby alleyway. Matt was headed home; but, he was in no hurry. He had a stressful day at work that very nearly cost him his job but he lived alone. His house was lonely and empty; he decided that a few extra minutes of human interaction would do him good. He followed the homeless woman around the corner. She encouraged him through a hole in the chainlink fence from the other side. “C’mon!” she said excitedly. Matt paused in the alley and looked both ways. People went about their business walking by and ignoring the alleyway. Matt shrugged then squeezed through the hole.

By the time he got through the fence, the woman was standing inside an open doorway waving him in. She led him through a maze of dim, narrow hallways in the building until they reached something that reminded Matt of the break room at work.  Several small round tables decorated the cozy room. A refrigerator and counter with a microwave rested against one side of the room. A broken TV hung in the top corner of the opposite wall. Bright, but tiny, LED lights on the counter and tables did their best to illuminate the area. The homeless woman sat down and gestured for Matt to sit across from her.

“Three years ago…,” she said looking into Matt’s eyes. “…you gave me five dollars. I pay attention to everyone that donates. I’ve been watching you since that first day.” Matt’s eyes widened. He was surprised but did not know what to do with that information yet. He kept silent and listened. You’ve seen me almost every day. Sometimes you donate, sometimes you don’t; just like everyone else.” She smiled a bright, white, clean smile. Matt was surprised; he initially assumed her teeth to as unhealthy but he realized he’d never seen her smile before. “But you’re different. You always donate some of what you have, when you have extra money.”

“Huh?” Matt began to worry about what she knew about his finances.

“Like today. You had a horrible day, almost got fired. For most people that’d be enough cause to hold what they have tighter. You donated anyway. That’s why I picked you to go to The Kingdom today.” Matt stood from the table and backed up toward the door.

“How did you know that? How do you know about my finances?” The woman smiled. The room went black for a second, then light returned. Instead of the weak, blue LED light, a brilliant orange sun hung low in the sky. Matt was no longer in the small, rundown break room. He stood outside in a field of swaying amber wheat. The old woman stood in front of him; the table she sat at was nowhere to be seen.

“I told you, I’ve been watching you.” She spread her arms wide to gesture at the endless sea of grains. “Welcome to the-“

“Welcome to the AlterNet!” A black mannequin coalesced next to the old woman; it spoke with a feminine voice. The old woman sighed.

“Manual mode,” she said. The mannequin disintegrated into white powder as fast as it formed. The powder disappeared before it touched the ground.

“Welcome to the Kingdom!” the homeless woman said.

Hellish Service

“This is a special case,” Satan said. He nodded through the tinted glass window at the room on the other side. Two very different people sat on a red couch in warm, welcoming living room. Sunlight poured into the room through the windows. A short, waif-like girl with dark hair cuddled next to an older woman with salt and pepper hair. They watched a cartoon that Arthur did not recognize. This was the last stop on the tour before Satan turned him, and his best friend Julie, into Unique Souls. He assumed everything he didn’t recognize was from an alternate universe.

“A few lives before they hit the Celestial tier…,” Satan began to explain to his son Eric and his friends. “They started asking about each other. It’s kind of weird, but you get used to weird in this job,” Satan chuckled. “They asked if there was an upper-limit on points,” Satan looked at his son. “There is, but we’re not supposed to tell them that.” He brought a red finger to his lips and winked at the three friends. “So they kept going back down then asking for each other after they died. They used so many lifetimes they earned enough points to get all the perks. We couldn’t send them down anymore so the only option was to bring them together to find out what they wanted.” Satan shrugged.

“They want to be born as Unique twins. Both of them want, and have enough points, to become Sols. We have no idea how to do that.”

“Wow… so they’re just waiting until you figure it out?” Julie asked.

“Yes,” Satan nodded. “But, they don’t know they’re waiting.” He nodded through the glass. The inviting living room became a white padded cell. Instead of the girl and woman, two teenage boys were now seated, unconscious, against opposite walls. Julie watched one of them stir. He lifted his head as he came-to and looked around the padded room. Fear washed across his face until she noticed the other boy. The first boy scrambled to his knees then scurried across the floor toward the other kid. As he reached the other wall a door opened in the padding and a nurse dressed in red walked into the room.

“The nurse is going to tell them they were in an accident and after some more tests, they’re free to go home. We can’t send them to Earth anymore but we can keep them distracted here until we know how to give them what they want.”

“Wow,” Arthur said. “I never thought Hell would go out of its way to help someone.” Satan smiled at Arthur.

“This is your first time here, right?”

“As far as I know.” Arthur shrugged and nodded.

“It’s a bad habit to judge things based on other people’s opinions,” Satan said with a smirk. “Who’s to say they know any better than you?”

“Why can’t they both be born? I more or less get what a Unique Soul is, but I don’t see how being twins makes a difference?”

“Twin Uniques isn’t a big deal, we’ve done that before. The problem is both of them want to be Sols. We can only do twins if they’re different Uniques.” Satan shook his head, “Aside from that rules say one Sol per universe.”

“Rules? What rules? Whose rules?” Arthur asked. Satan laughed and shook his head. Then, he turned to lead them out of the room.

“All games have rules,” he said.

Clowning Around

“I want to give these…,” Alliane waved her hand over a pair of old white sneakers. They were frayed, faded and held together by strips of tape. “…the powers of this.” She placed a single brown leather boot on the metal picnic table next to the sneakers. Jenny, one of the three girls standing next to the picnic table, looked at the trio of shoes and tilted her head slightly.

“For what?” Jenny asked.

“You told me 100k?” Alliane placed a tiny golden, glowing cube on the table next to the shoes; it was smaller than a dime. Jenny nodded and swiped the cube from the table.

“Right, that’s what I’m going to do it for. Why do you want them imported?”

“Does it matter why? You already took the money,” Billy snarked at the girl with dark, spikey hair. She turned to look him in the eyes.

“I’m providing a service, and I like to do my best to help my clients. There’re a dozen ways to do what she wants and I want to find the one that suits her best. Is that okay with you, sunshine?” Billy straightened his back and sat up. He gave the girl a curt nod.

“They’re a wedding gift for my fiancé We’re going to join a derby team after the honeymoon.”

“Awwww that’s so sweet!” Dirge, a girl with black curly hair winding down her shoulders, said. “You should give them a wedding present!” she told Jenny. Then, she turned to face Billy. “Are you the  fiancé?” He shook his head. Dirge turned back to Jenny. “You have to give her a wedding present.”

“I will,” Jenny said. She waved her hand at the air in front of her to call her slate. A glass panel that only she could read appeared in front of her; to everyone else, it looked transparent. Jenny placed her fingers on the slate and began typing. A swarm of golden nanos gathered around the three shoes.

“Derby? What classes are you?” Dread, a tall girl with spiky white hair, asked.

“I’m a swordmage,” Alliane said. Then she pointed at the glowing golden sphere around her boots. “Fiancé is a scribe.” Dread nodded.

“We’re on a team too,” she said with a small, proud smile. “I’m a beastmaster,” Dread pointed at Dirge. “She’s a bard,” then she pointed at Jenny. “Programmer.”

“Ohhh yeah, I thought you girls looked familiar,” Billy said. “Luchadoras, right?” he asked. All three girls flashed him bright smiles. “Nice job against the Magi-knights,” Billy smirked. All three girls stared daggers at him then each focused on something else.

“It was our first match as a team, but we’re getting better,” Jenny replied while her fingers danced on the glass slate. “The next match’ll be an easy win for us. We’re going up against Clown Patrol.” she giggled. “Those bozos don’t take themselves or the game seriously.”

“What?” Billy asked in surprise. “You’re going up against Clown Patrol next week?” All three girls nodded. Billy shook his head.

“I need to warn you girls, be careful against LaughTrack.” Jenny laughed while typing; a swarm of nanos swirled inside the golden sphere.

“The bard? No sweat, Dirge can take him out,” she replied.

“No. He’s not a bard, there’s been a substitution. The LaughTrack you’re facing is a Calavera named Red. He’s a rubber slime clown with an air elemental soul, but that’s not the dangerous part.” All four women stared at Billy with their full attention. Alliane hadn’t heard anything about Billy’s ‘charge’ other than he was dangerous.

“The body he was born into has super speed,” Billy sighed. “I’m sure you can imagine what that’s like when you boost it with the power of a Calavera. But if you can’t,” Billy looked at Jenny in the eyes. “He killed everyone on an Earth in less than a minute.”  Jenny stopped typing entirely, the swirl of nanos stopped spinning. “I asked him one time how he could have possibly enjoyed something that happened so fast.” Billy took a moment of silence to look at each of them in the eyes.

“He said that he was moving so fast each second felt like a decade. He took time to enjoy every… single… kill; but, none of them knew it was happening.”

No Hands

“I saw him pull a card from nowhere. He has to be one,” Garth heard an unfamiliar voice as he came to. The last thing he remembered was a sharp pain on the back of his head while walking to his car after one of his shows. He realized he was tied to a chair. Despite opening his eyes several times he saw only darkness. He felt fabric against his cheekbones and eyebrows; Garth guessed he was blindfolded.

“Where am I?” he asked. “What do you want?”

“You’re safe,” the same voice said from Garth’s right. “Inconvenienced at the moment, but safe. We have a question for you.”

“You couldn’t have tweeted me?” Garth asked with a voice full of annoyance. He did not know who kidnapped him or why; but, he had been working in show business for almost 30 years. He had no problems picking amateurs out of the crowd no matter the profession. He only heard one man’s voice but he sounded in charge. The unknown voice trembled with doubt.

“We needed to make sure you don’t take any time do deliberate your response. Answer as fast as you can; without thinking. Ready?”

“Sure,” Garth shrugged as much as he could with his hands tied behind the chair.

“What’s your favorite number?” the voice asked. Garth forced out an obnoxious laugh before answering.

“72, everyone knows that,” he forced out more laughter to rub it in their faces. “It’s on my website.” Garth turned his head; if he wasn’t blindfolded he’d be looking up at the man that spoke. “Is that all you wanted to know?”

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!” the man screamed at the top of his lungs; Garth turned away and did his best to keep his ears away from the sound. He did not manage it very well.  The screaming stopped then Garth heard a heavy thud hit the floor.

“I’m sorry for wasting your time, Mr. Stone,” a woman’s voice said from directly in front of him. “When you wake up you’ll find a generous Booking fee as compensation for your evening to help you forget any of this ever happened.

“When I wake-” Garth’s question was interrupted by a sharp pain on the back of his head.

Vanilla Origin

She was beautiful,” Alliane said then returned the node to Billy. He gave it to her to show a picture of a white-haired woman in an orange dress sitting atop a t-rex. “But she looks so sad in that photograph.”

“Yeah. But I absolutely love her,” Billy paused. He took dropped the node into the breast pocket of his navy blue suit. Alliane’s attention darted around the park. She looked every jogger and Sunday-stroller up and down hoping to recognize someone she’d never met. When Billy went quiet she immediately turned to look at him and nodded her head.

‘I’m listening, sorry. You love her…,” she made a rolling ‘continue’ gesture with her hand.”

“When she smiles,” Billy said with a wistful look.

“Why isn’t she there?” Alliane nodded at Billy’s pocket; then, she used the action to start scanning the park again.

“That was the day she died.” Her attention focused on Billy instantly.

“I’m sorry,” she reached across the concrete picnic table to give his hand a short, comforting squeeze. “But why was she sad? She knew something was going to happen that day?”

“Yes,” Billy said. “I don’t feel like talking about that right now if that’s okay…” he said. Alliane nodded. “But can I talk to you about her?” he asked. Alliane was only his second friend; he still questioned everything.

“Of course,” she turned her body to face him as a sign that she was done only half-paying attention. “Tell me your favorite memory.” Billy smiled. “Take all the time you need,” she added. Billy nodded and stopped time around them

“Slumbering Estrellas…,” Billy nodded at Alliane. “… accidentally traverse all the time, right?” She nodded. “It’s the same for Slumbering Muertes. We accidentally stop time. It happened to Vanilla when she was eight. Stopping time is more granular than you might think. Every thing has its own time, and a lot depends on the Muerte’s notions of what time is.” Billy knocked on the metal table; Alliane heard the low echoing vibrations run through the metal. “If we think stopped time should mean no sound waves…” Billy knocked on the metal table again. Alliane did not hear a sound. “Then it means no sound waves. Generally speaking, we only stop as much as we think about.” Billy took in a deep breath, then released a heavy sigh.

“Vanilla stopped every thing. At eight years old. While still slumbering.”

“Everything?” Alliane asked. “So?” She had trouble seeing the trouble if nothing was moving.

“Everything around her. She was terribly frightened and started crying.” Billy shook his head. “She time-stopped gravity too. Her tears just stayed in the air whenever she moved. She tried wiping her tears away with tissue but they wouldn’t absorb. Time passed and they wouldn’t evaporate either. Every morning she woke up with hope, but she only found tears. She traveled the world leaving giant floating pools of tears everywhere she went. She doesn’t know how long it took, in the neighborhood of a thousand years or so,” Billy shrugged. “She drowned the world. Once she had no other place on that Earth to go her body let her traverse to a different one.”

“Whooaa..” a girl neither of them noticed said. They looked up and found three girls. A tall, pale, white-haired girl, a shorter girl with raven curls, and the shortest girl with black spiky hair. The girl with black curls in a black and orange dress was the one that sounded awed. “Your friend sounds amazing!”

“Alliane?” the shortest girl asked. “I’m Jenny. You had some boots you wanted to import?” Alliane nodded, then looked at Billy.

“I thought you stopped time,” she said. The curly-haired girl smiled.

“I’m Dirge. #14, La Muerte.”

“Alliane. #35, La Estrella.” Alliane was compelled to reply, though the introduction answered Alliane’s question. It seemed Dirge was as powerful as Billy.

M.P.D.T.

“Here’s the ‘science stuff‘ you wanted,” Eugene sighed the phrase. The round man in a white labcoat walked into Wallace’s lab carrying a milk crate’s-worth of shiny electronic components. The spacious lab was crowded with waist-high speakers pointed at a stocky, grey-haired researcher. He was hunched over working on something with his back toward Eugene; but, looked up when he heard his friend’s voice. He hopped up from his knees and trotted over to his colleague. He started to rummage through the buttons and wires with purpose. “How are you smarter than me without being smarter than me?” Eugene asked. Wallace shrugged.

“Give yourself some credit, Genie.” he smiled. “I said ‘science stuff’ and you knew exactly what I needed.” Wallace grabbed the crate from Eugene’s hands and placed it atop one of the speakers. “C’mon I’m about to fire it up.” He tilted his head toward the control console on one side of the room to get Eugene to follow him.

“What about the science stuff?” he asked Wallace once they reached the control panel.

“It’s for the next version if this doesn’t work. Ready?” Wallace reached for a large red button but Eugene grabbed his wrist.

“No. You’ve been working on this for weeks and I still have no idea what it’s supposed to do. Every time I ask you dodge the question. So I need to know what it does before you turn it on.” Wallace chuckled and relaxed his hand; Eugene released his wrist.

“I don’t know what it’s going to do,” he smiled. “But, I can tell you what it’s supposed to do. I’m hoping this sends out a signal.”

“A signal? To where?” Eugene asked. Wallace’s dark brown eyes sparkled and he placed a hand on Eugene’s shoulder.

“The universe,” he whispered with playful awe.

“What? Like…,” Eugene pointed upward with a finger. “out there? We already have people that do that.” Wallace shook his head.

“Not…,” he pointed upward with a single finger to mimic Eugene. “…up there.” He kept his right index finger up in the air and put his left index finger next to it; then, he separated them by about an inch. “Right here.” He repeated the motion by bringing both fingers together, then he pulled them apart again. This time he added a second hop after the first to show more distance. Eugene looked around the lab in confusion.

“Huh?”

“Parallel universes!” Wallace’s tone was almost a shout.

“Ohhh. Huh. What does your signal say?” he asked. The two had been best friends since childhood and remained so through graduate school. In all that time Eugene learned that Wallace would do anything he set his mind to; and, Wallace often set his mind to do some relatively amazing things. He could have explained that the speakers would somehow bring the dead back to life. Eugene would not have been shocked with the purpose, nor surprised when it worked. He occasionally regretted taking credit for some of Wallace’s more useful work, but his friend insisted. Wallace wanted to play with science stuff; he did not want to run the science department. Wallace grinned mischievously at the question.

“I’m ordering a pizza,” he replied. Eugene accidentally laughed in his face.

“HAHAHAwhat? You’re going to make first contact with an alternate universe…,” Eugene already accepted this part as fact. “to ORDER A PIZZA?!” Eugene’s tone was definitely a shout. Wallace leaned back in retreat.

“Yeah,” Wallace nodded without dropping his smile. “I call it the M.P.D.T.- Multi-verse Pizza Delivery Theory.”

“Of course you do,” Eugene sighed. “Alright, let’s hear the theory.”

“First contact is what it’s all about, right? That’s what you were worried about.” Eugene nodded. He was about to agree verbally but Wallace kept talking. “Right. So since it’s so important the question is this: Do we want our first contact to be with someone as clueless as us? Wouldn’t it be better to get in touch with someone who already has standards in place for this kind of thing?”

“Yeeeaaaahhh?” Eugene half-asked. He did not know where Wallace’s explanation was taking him.

“And we definitely don’t want to risk meeting a hostile Earth, right?”

Riight.” Eugene nodded.

“So what could be more non-hostile and mundane than pizza delivery? Anyone that can’t deliver the pizza won’t. Invaders will ignore the signal since we’re broadcasting so openly. They’ll think we’ve got a handle on things already. And if we get some kid from another universe delivering a pizza; well then we’re in business.” Wallace grinned. Eugene closed his eyes and sighed.

“No pineapple.”

“My lab, my rules,” Wallace smashed the red button. The speakers rumbled; various low tones repeated in a cycle and shook the lab. Eugene covered his ears but it did nothing to block out the sound. Every bone in his body vibrated with the low roar. After about 10 seconds the room went silent.

“Did it work?” Eugene asked. He looked around the room for anything new or out of place but saw nothing. Wallace shrugged.

“They’ve got 30 minutes.” As soon as Wallace replied Eugene grabbed his head and turned it around to face a black portal that opened in the center of the speaker array.

A young, silver-haired girl walked out next to a slightly older dark-haired boy.

“Hi!” the girl waved. “Did someone order a pizza? Your Earth isn’t in the system yet.”

“I hate you a little bit,” Eugene said as he patted Wallace on the back.

Satan’s Gift

“Just this once??” Arthur threw his hands up in frustration. “How many more times do you want to go to hell?” Julie shrugged.

“I dunno, it might be fun,” she said. Then she looked her best friend in the eyes.

“Yeah, my dad says they have a killer shopping district,” Eric chimed in. He stood at the door to Julie’s bedroom while the two friends decided whether they’d go to hell with him.

“You won’t let me go alone with Eric unless you see it’s safe for yourself, right?” Julie asked. Arthur nodded sharply. “I don’t need you to go with me; but, you need you to go with me. And I really want to go. Please?” Arthur looked at the door to reconsider Eric. He’d been Julie’s roommate for almost a year. In all that time Arthur heard only praise about him. She even asked Arthur if she could set them up but he always felt like Eric was hiding something.  Then, he found out that Eric was the devil’s son; something Julie had known for almost a year. He felt better knowing that she wasn’t lied to. Arthur nodded at Julie.

“Alright, just this once,” he said. Then he faced Eric. “So how do we get there? I’m not sacrificing any goats,” Arthur chuckled at his own joke. Eric rolled his eyes as he stepped into Julie’s bedroom.

“Hell is nothing like you’ve heard,” he shrugged. “Honestly, I’m pretty sure you’re in for a letdown.” Eric raised his hand and made a gesture at the air. “It’s a place like any other.” A tall, black portal opened next to Arthur. “C’mon,” Eric stepped into the portal and disappeared in the darkness. Julie was eager to follow but Arthur blocked her and stepped in after Eric.

Arthur stepped out of the portal into a quaint office. In front of him, Eric was hugging a giant red-skinned man with black horns. He wore a black business suit with a red shirt and white tie. Before he finished processing the scene he felt Julie brush by him.

“Mr. Satan!” She dashed to give the giant man a hug of her own. “I’ve heard so much about you from Eric!”

“Same here,” the devil said and returned the hug. “Thanks for accepting my boy. He uh, hasn’t had the easiest time making friends.”

“Because you gave me wings, dad,” Eric sighed. “But forget it,” Eric gestured at Arthur.

“That’s Julie’s best friend Arthur,” he said. The devil looked at Arthur up and down.

“You’re right, he is handsome,” he told his son in a hushed voice; Arthur still heard.

“Daaad,” Eric whined. “Be cool.”

“I can be cool,” the devil said with a smile. He stood up straighter and adjusted the lapels on his suit. “So, my boy’s good friend, and his crush,”

“Dad!”

“C’mon,” the devil grinned. “We’re all adults here. Anyway, what I was going to say is; how about a special treat for your friends?”

“Yes!” Julie hopped in place excitedly.

“What kind of treat?” Arthur asked.

“Well, the whole point of Eric being here was to show him how things work. I had a couple of volunteers lined up, but since you’re Eric’s friends you guys can hop to the front of the line,” the devil shrugged. “It’s not hell if we can’t indulge in a bit of nepotism, right?”

“Right! Let’s do it!” Julie cheered. She patted Arthur on the shoulder to encourage him.

“What are we hopping to the front of the line for?” Arthur asked.

“First, let me tell you what hell is.” The devil puffed his chest out proudly. “This is where we keep score. You two…,” he waved a hand at Arthur and Julie, “…,and almost everyone else, are being scored throughout your lives. Every time one of you dies we add the points from that life to your tally. Once you get enough points you can start getting perks for your next life.”

“Wait,” Arthur asked. “Every time a human dies .. all our points get thrown in the same pool? I don’t get it.” The devil shook his head; his horns bumped the ceiling. Arthur noticed several deep scrapes in the stone ceiling of the office.

“Sorry, that wasn’t clear. Any time one of you,” he pointed directly at Arthur. “dies, the points go on your score. There’re thousands of versions of you in different universes right now collecting points.” He turned and pointed at Julie. “She’s got thousands of versions too.”

“So what’s the treat? Extra points?” Arthur asked. He was no longer concerned about Julie’s safety but this new information made him very curious.

“Nah. The points are just a means to an end; and, you guys are skipping to the end.” The devil stepped forward and put a hand on Julie’s shoulder and one on Arthur’s shoulder. “Let’s turn you two into Unique Souls.”

Villainous Hobby

“Geez. Here we go again,” DarkBlack rolled his eyes as he sat down on the park bench. He raised and extended his cuffed hands for balance until he felt the cool metal beneath him.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” General Stronguy said. He placed a heavy hand on DarkBlack’s shoulder. “Why are we doing it over and over? Every other week for 30 years you’ve been causing trouble. I catch you and send you to jail. Then two weeks later you escape and I catch you again. Then again and again and again. Can’t you find something better to do with your time?” the General asked without hiding his condescension. DarkBlack sighed.

‘Look, I wasn’t ready for a lecture this time. Can you just take me to jail? I promise we’ll talk about it next time,” he asked the green-caped hero with stars on his shoulders.

“Why does there have to be a next time?!” General Stronguy asked. He sat down next to DarkBlack but kept his eyes on the lean villain. “You’re not even a proper villain. You don’t kill people, you barely do any property damage,” the General shrugged. “It’s like you only cause enough panic to get my attention and a free ride to jail.” DarkBlack nodded.

“Right. Can I get that ride now?” the hero shook his head.

“Not until I get an answer.”

“I’ll leave!” DarkBlack stood up from the bench and took a step forward. “Better get me to jail.” the General shrugged and sat back.

“Go ahead, I’m done,” he crossed his muscular arms. “I’m not coming out for you next time either.” DarkBlack took another step, but the hero did not twitch a muscle. DarkBlack hung his head and groaned out a heavy, frustrated sigh.

“I wasn’t ready!” he growled to himself. He looked at the General who remained seated with a relaxed, detached posture and a “gotcha” smirk on his face.

“Screw it, I’m tired of farming anyway. If I break you…,” he shrugged at the general. “…oh well, right?” DarkBlack locked eyes with General Stronguy then slowly raised his arms until the hero looked at the dampening cuffs on his wrists. Seemingly without effort DarkBlack pulled his hands apart. The cuffs disintegrated into white powder that vanished before it hit the ground. The General’s eyes widened but he did not make any moves to stop DarkBlack.

“You know, you sound like my mom,” he said. “Can’t you find something better to do with your time?” he repeated the General’s statement from earlier. “You’re always playing video games,” he added. “I’ve got news for her and you. I LIKE video games. I have fun playing video games. It’s my life and as long as I deal with my responsibilities,” he rolled his eyes again. “Which I do, thank you very much.  I can use my free time doing what makes me happy.” General Stronguy tilted his head.

“What are you-” he tried to asked DarkBlack, but the villain kept talking.

YOU are a video game,” DarkBlack said. “You’re not real. Actually,” he thought for a second. “You’re probably real, but not really a superhero. Just some Zero that was cast in the part.”

“Oh, wow. You’re insane. I think this time we’ll go to the asylum.” DarkBlack burst into laughter.

“YES! Perfect. See, this isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation. After doing the quest enough times you start remembering and getting glitchy.”

“Uhuh,” General Stronguy said as he stood from the bench.

“Usually I keep count. I have a mod that can fix you pretty easily, but it’s annoying to carry around so I only bring it when I think you’re starting to glitch.”

“Don’t worry DarkBlack. I’ll take care of you,” the General said as he lifted the short man into his arms; then he flew into the air. DarkBlack kept talking.

“But once I’m in the police station the quest resets, then I can bring it next time.”

“But I’m taking you to the asylum. Will that still reset the quest?” General Stronguy asked to humor him.

“Probably not, but you’re taking me to jail. You can’t take me anywhere else, you’re not scripted for it.”  The General laughed as he descended through the clouds.

“Of course you have an answer for every-..” The General stopped laughing the moment his feet touched the concrete sidewalk in front of the police station.

“Thanks, General!” DarkBlack hopped out of the General’s arms and dashed to the front door. General Stronguy appeared in front of him with watery eyes.

“Help me, please.”

Devilish Tour

“I can’t stand your father,” Julie said. Arthur narrowed his eyes and tilted his head. He sat in a giant purple bean bag across from his best friend; she sat on the bed.

“What does that have to do with,” Arthur skipped the name and pointed to the room on the other side of the wall. “HIS father being the devil!?” He hissed in a whisper.

“You’re my best friend, right?” Julie asked. Arthur nodded. “You…,” she pointed at him. “…are my best friend. Not your dad.”

“That’d be a good point except for the fact that his dad is the devil! He has wings for goodness sake!” Arthur gestured at the roommate through the wall to clarify which demon he was talking about.

“You didn’t know he had wings until he showed them to you.” Julie lowered her voice and bobbed her head from side to side to mock him. “If you’re really the son of the devil show me you’re a demon,” she imitated him from minutes earlier. “I’m dumb and I don’t trust my best friend.” Despite himself, Arthur chuckled at the last bit. He admitted to himself that she had a point.

“He cleans up after himself, pays rent on time, and pitches in for groceries,” Julie shrugged. “If he’s doing any demon stuff it’s not here. I’m good with that.” A light knock on Julie’s open bedroom door drew their attention.

“Hey, Eric. What’s up?” Julie asked the lean, dark-haired young man.

“Hey, uh. Do you guys wanna go to hell?” he asked.

“What?” Arthur asked. He stood from the beanbag so he wouldn’t get caught unprepared. Eric was blocking the door but they were on the first story. He figured he could use Julie’s computer monitor to break the window if they needed to escape. Eric sighed and rolled his eyes.

“My dad’s been talking about handing business over to me; he wants me to go see how things work. You guys want a tour?” He half shrugged. “If you’re there it’ll give me an excuse to skip out faster.”

“I don’t thi-” Arthur began to decline but Julie interrupted him.

“YES!!”

Death & Friends

“Thanks again for the upgrade,” WaterJet said. She lovingly cradled the blue ceramic pitcher in her arm like a newborn while they walked through the outdoor bazaar back to the guild hall. “But are you sure giving LaughTrack that boot is a good idea? He’s already faster than Hermes without them.”

“Oh, you guys have that myth on your Earth too?” Billy asked. He enjoyed learning about the mythologies of different Earths. WaterJet shook her head.

“Probably not, I was talking about an ex-guildie. He joined another guild but he’s got super speed. In derby he would get three laps before anyone else got one,” she said.

“Only three? LaughTrack killed everyone on an Earth in less than a minute; that seems a lot faster.”

“Oh right, you don’t know how the AlterNet works,” she said with a smirk. “Hermes is a lot faster than that but there’s a limit to how far ahead you can get. It’s usually three laps, but different rules can be agreed to.”

“Huh,” Billy stopped walking. The flow of people behind him started going around him and WaterJet. “I bought him this…,” He held up a single brown leather boot. “…because I thought it’d help your team if he got more laps.” Billy shrugged. “But if he can already get the max without it; it’s just redundant.” He looked at WaterJet. “Will this help him in any other way besides speed?” She shook her head.

“Negligible stat boost, nothing special.” Billy sighed.

“I probably should have asked you before I bought it. Is it any good for you?” He asked her. WaterJet shook her head.

“I’ve got good boots for my spec.”

“I’ll be right back,” he said. Billy wiggled his fingers at the air and opened a black portal. He walked through it then WaterJet waited several minutes for him. Finally, he came back without the brown boot.

“Where’s the boot?” she asked.

“Gave it to a friend of mine,” he said. WaterJet smirked; one corner of her blue lips tugged upward.

“You don’t seem like the type to have friends.” Billy nodded.

“I’ve got one.”