“Fine,” Nathan sighed with exasperation. This was not how his birthday was supposed to be celebrated. He sat in a cramped booth at a slightly-better-than fast food Italian restaurant. “I believe you now; everyone can read everyone else’s mind…. except me.” His parents spent the last 20 minutes doing parlor tricks with other guests in the restaurant to prove their point. He was surprised so many strangers were willing to help but he guessed it came with the concept of a mind open to strangers. “So, what’s so different about me?” When he asked, Nathan noticed a familiar look pass between his parents. If he had not been suddenly questioning his world that day he might’ve laughed at the exchange. The expressions they flashed at each other were a complete conversation. Nathan never learned exactly how they perfected it but he did kind of get the gist over the years.
His mother looked at his dad through narrow eyelids with her eyes rolled up and backward, his dad’s eyes were wide and filled with panic. The look roughly translated to his dad saying, “I wasn’t ready for that,” and his mom’s response of, “I told you this would come up.” Nathan realized they were willing to let that question go unanswered if he didn’t ask; it only made him more curious.
“Why does there have to be anything different?” Nathan’s dad asked with a broad smile. On some level Nathan was glad to have a father that couldn’t lie his way out of a paper bag; but, this wasn’t the time for it. Nathan looked at his mother expectantly. She nodded. Nathan sighed but nodded too. Hers was an acknowledgment that the answer was coming eventually. After she said whatever she had to say first.
“What kind of a price would you put on the world?” she asked Nathan. “Better question: Do you think someone could buy Earth?”
“Wh-what?” he tilted his head.
“Honey, I don’t think-,” Nathan’s father started to interrupt but she waved him away and kept talking.
“Hypothetically, if someone wanted to buy the Earth. What do you think it would take for the sale to happen?” Nathan chuckled.
“Hypothetcally, the world’s leaders wouldn’t ever agree to it. They couldn’t, where would all the people live?” he asked his mom. The woman smiled.
“Well that’s the biggest concern, right? The people. If a deal were worked out that took care of every resident, then no problems right?” Nathan shrugged.
“Yeah, I guess?”
“20 years ago our…,” Nathan’s mother grabbed her husband’s hand on the table when she said ‘our’. “…Earth was bought by a corporation named Sharp Development.” Nathan’s eyes went wide but his mother continued speaking. “It wasn’t this Earth.” Somehow Nathan’s eyes grew wider. His mother smiled and nodded. “Alternate universes are real, your father and I are from a different Earth.” Nathan closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. After a few seconds, he exhaled and looked at his mother in the eyes.
“I have a lot more questions now, but let’s finish this one first,” he shook his head. It was a hell of a birthday. “If you and dad are from different universes, but I was born here… why am I still the only one not reading minds?”
“It’s not actually mind reading. It’s called Whispering, it’s like a text message to the brain,” she said. The woman held her hand out above the table with her palm facing her son. Glowing blue text appeared on her palm as Nathan watched.
“It’s my AlterNet character.” Nathan nodded. He didn’t know what that meant but he hoped to find out later.
“Why haven’t I learned how to Whisper?” He sat up straighter. “Are you going to teach me?” Both parents shook their heads.
“When Sharp Development bought our Earth they offered everyone a chance to start a new life in the AlterNet by leaving their body behind.”
“What’s the Alternet?” Nathan asked. The second mention of it made him curious to find out sooner rather than later.
“It’s like a giant MMO. Your father and I were more than happy to spend the rest of our days adventuring together.”
“Wait a second! You guys made video game characters on another Earth? Where do I come in?” Nathan’s mom released her husband’s hand then reached across the table for Nathan’s. She squeezed it reassuringly.
“Your father and I…” she lifted her hand. Her fingers disintegrated into white powder, then reformed again in front of Nathan’s eyes. “…for all intents and purposes ARE video game characters. The reason you can’t Whisper is that you were born on this Earth. You’re an NPC.”