“It can’t be…,” Marshall retreated into the shadows. He flattened himself against the brick wall; he wanted to remain out of sight until he got a better idea of the situation. “Did you see that? It was a girl!” the lean, athletic man asked Bandit. His faithful German Shepherd tilted his head and continued to pant happily.
“At least, I’m pretty sure it was a girl,” Marshall said. “What do we do?” Bandit barked, then bolted out of the shadows and around the corner. Marshall sighed and followed at a slower pace. By the time he turned the corner, Bandit was already enjoying the attention of a smiling young girl. She looked up at the sound of Marshall’s heavy footsteps on the sidewalk. He noticed a reflection of golden sunlight flashed in her eyes then her smile grew broader. She stopped petting Bandit and stood.
“Hi! I’m Astrid, what’s your name?” The girl asked. She bounced on her heels excitedly but kept her hands behind her back.
“Hi, I’m Marshall,” he said. Marshall extended a hand in greeting. Astrid glanced at his hand but didn’t shake it. After an awkward moment, he lowered his hand.
“Do you know anyone named Mundo? Or maybe a restaurant or tattoo shop named, ‘Mundo’s?” Astrid asked. Marshall shook his head.
“There’s no one to know,…” he spread his arms to gesture at the empty city around them. “Bandit’s been my only friend for about three years now,” he said. Bandit barked at his name.
“Oooooooh,” Astrid’s eyes widened. “Last man on Earth, huh?” She asked with interest. Marshall tilted his head at her.
“Apparently not. Where’ve you been for three years? Are there others there?” Astrid shook her head and shrugged.
“Sorry, I just got here.”
“Just got here? The city?”
“This Earth.” Marshall subconsciously took a step back.
“Earth..?” he asked, then made a point of glancing upward. Astrid giggled.
“This Earth. Aliens aren’t real, but alternate universes are,” she replied.
“You came from another Earth?” Marshall chuckled. “Why?”
“Well,.. if there’s no Mundo. I’m here to meet you, I think.”
“Me? Is… is this a rescue?” He asked.
“I don’t think so,” Astrid replied with a shake of her head. “Do you want to be rescued?”
“Not so much,” Marshall replied. Marshall loved the solitary life he built over the past several years. He traveled from state to state doing as he pleased. Staying wherever he wanted whenever the mood struck. “So, why me?”
“Your favorite number is 34,” Astrid said. Marshall narrowed his eyes.
“How’d you know that, and what does it have to do with anything?”
“Uhh… it’s complicated. And if you’re staying on an empty Earth, it probably won’t matter too much. The short version is: you’re special. I’m special too. If I touch you, I can copy your ability.”
“Whoa, whoa…,” Marshall held his hands up to interrupt. “I think you got the wrong guy. I don’t have any abilities.”
“Your soul does. If you get a 34 scarred on your skin, your soul wakes up. But, I can copy you even if your soul is still slumbering.”
“Really?” Marshall asked. Astrid nodded. “What can I do?”
“Tattoos are the most common, but I’ve seen brandings and just plain scarification too. Anything that leaves a permanent mark under the skin permanently.”
“No, no,” Marshall chuckled. “I mean what abilities do I have that you want to copy?”
“I want regeneration, but you also have boosted strength, agility, and reflexes. You’re basically the ultimate soldier.”
“Whoa…,” Marshall grinned.
“So…, do you mind if I touch you?” Astrid asked.
“Just a copy, right? You don’t steal my powers or anything?” Astrid nodded. “You would’ve copied it if you shook my hand, right?” She nodded again. “Does it hurt or anything?”
“Not at all.”
“Thank you,” Marshall replied, then extended his hand. “Thanks for asking first.” Astrid shook his hand with enthusiasm.
“You’re welcome,” she replied, then Astrid let go of his hand and stepped back. “Well, thanks. Enjoy your Earth.”
“Leaving already?” Marshall asked.
“I’m about to find out,” she said with crossed fingers. “Ballisea?” Astrid asked timidly.
“What is it, little Luna?” a woman’s voice filled the air around them. Bandit stood on all fours; his ears perked up and he started to growl.
“Um. I’m ready?” Astrid said. Ballisea’s laughter filled the air.
“I knew you’d be entertaining,” Ballisea said. “Off you go.” A black hole opened under Astrid’s feet and swallowed her whole.