Star From Home

“For you, the first one’s on the house,” the bartender smiled at David. The somber stranger gave him a curious look as he sat down on the high stool.

“Don’t know why I’m special, but I’ll take you up on it. Gimme the hardest thing covered by your offer,” he said. The bartender nodded.

“No offense, but you look like you can use it,” he said as he opened a  metal ice chest behind the bar. He gestured at the rest of the bar with one of his hands. “I don’t mind giving away the occasional drink and it’s just us. What’s on your mind?” He pulled a glass bottle filled with a clear liquid out of the ice and set it on the bar in front of David. Then he filled a shot glass for

“You wouldn’t believe it if I told you,” David shook his head. “I don’t even think I believe it,” he shrugged.

“Yeah, probably not,” the bartender chuckled. “I tend to be skeptical about everything anyway.” He pushed the shot glass toward David. “Good luck to you, buddy. I hope it gets sorted out.” David used the bartender’s well wishes as a toast and gestured at him with the shot glass.

“Thanks,” He swallowed the liquid in one gulp, then looked at the bartender. “That’s water?” He asked and accused the bartender at the same time.

“Wait a second,” the man behind the bar smiled.

As David wondered what he was waiting for he felt a cooling sensation at the top of his mouth and back of his throat. His tongue began to tingle as if he were chewing mint gum. Suddenly his bones began to grow colder from the inside out. A chill ran down his spine and all at once he convulsed into a fit of shivers on the stool. The bartender reached for David’s shoulder to keep him seated while his body trembled with cold. After several seconds David began to feel warmth again; the trembling stopped.

“What the hell is that?” David asked. He watched the bartender fill the shot glass again.

“Strongest drink we have. It’s called Melted Ice.”

“Melted Ice?” David laughed. “So it is water!” He shook his head with a smile. “Never had water hit me like that, though.”

“It’s a special drink,” the bartender said. He grabbed a book of matches from the bar. “At room temperature and below it’s liquid. But…,” he struck a match then held the flame above the shot glass. “…at body temperature and above it starts to freeze.” Ice formed on the surface of the shot glass. David stared at the frosty glass with wide eyes.

“Whooaa… that… that’s gotta be a trick. Right?” he looked up at the bartender and noticed his nametag for the first time. It said “Mundo”. “That seems like it breaks some laws of physics or something,” David said. Mundo shrugged.

“Yeah in this universe, but apparently not the one it came from,” he said almost dismissively.

“What did you say!?” David hopped off his barstool and stood to meet the bartender’s eyes.

“Uhh.. the universe it came from has weird physics?” he asked.

“It came from another universe? Are you telling me I’m not crazy?”

“Well, I don’t see what one has to do with the other; but, sure. You don’t sound crazy I guess.”

“Okay. This is going to sound weird but-,”

“You’re from another universe and you don’t know how you got here? Everything is almost the same but not quite. And someone that you love doesn’t know who the hell you are,” Mundo grinned. “Is that about it?” David slid back onto his barstool while gawking at Mundo.

“How…,” he started to ask, but then found an obvious answer. “You did this to me? Why? I want to go home.”  Mundo continued to smile but he shook his head.

“I didn’t. You did it to yourself. As for how I knew,” Mundo pointed at his nametag. “We see people like you a lot in my line of work.”

“Bartenders?” David asked. “And what do you mean I did it to myself? How can I undo it?”

“Not bartenders, Mundos,” Mundo sighed. “But we’ll save that explanation for later. You are an Estrella, I can explain that to you later too. For now, all you have to know is you can hop between universes as easy moving from…,” Mundo pointed at David then at the empty barstool next to him.  “…one seat to another.” David laughed.

“Right. All I have to do is…,” he raised his hand in the air and wiggled his fingers. “…wiggle my hands and open a portal,” he said with his voice full of sarcasm. Mundo nodded and pointed at the black hole hovering in the air next to David.

“There you go!” he said. David stared at the hole.

“I did that? Is that home?”

“That will take you wherever you want to go. It might not be your home.”

“Well, why not? If it’ll take me where I want to go and I want to go home…,” David started to ask a question but Mundo shook his head.

“Estrellas,” Mundo said, then pointed at David. “You can go anywhere you want to go. Not where you think you should go.”

“Well, of course, I want to go home to my wife,” David said. Again, Mundo shook his head.

“Your powers work when you want them to. If you wanted to be there you wouldn’t have left.”

“Thanks for the drink, Mundo,” David said. He wiggled his hand at the air with more confidence. The small black hole grew tall enough for him to walk through. “I’ve gotta get home.”  Mundo nodded.

“You can come back anytime. Just think of this place.” David nodded and walked into the portal; it closed behind him. After several seconds another black portal opened in Mundo’s bar. David walked out soaking wet.

“Well, it looks like I don’t want to go home,” he said.

Sharp Question

Claire wiped sweat off her forehead and relaxed on her haunches in the grass. She planned to work on her garden for the morning; now it was well past noon and her shirt and overalls were soaked with perspiration. She meant to be done sooner but she had not even started yet.

While prepping the area her spade hit something buried just below the surface. Caution and curiosity prompted her to dig around the area and see what it might be. She worried it might be a buried cable and did not want to pierce it accidentally. Claire worked carefully to expose the area but stopped the moment she saw a bright red color peeking at her from under the soil. She stared at it for several moments and wondered why it looked vaguely familiar.

“It couldn’t be…,” She faced East subconsciously, even though she knew she could not see what she was looking for. Five miles East of her backyard a giant tree with bright red bark grew in the center of town. The tree was so much taller than the houses she could see the top of its bright red leaves her house. The same shade of red she found buried on her property. Determined to solve the puzzle she kept digging at the area.

Now, past noon, she had a small, inches-deep trench that spanned across her entire yard and into the yards of the neighbors on either side of her. She stared at the red root and shook her head. It definitely belonged to the tree.

“I’m impressed,” a woman said from behind Claire. The surprise of having a stranger right behind her, in her own yard, made Claire jump off the ground. Thanks to adrenaline and a five-year ballet career, Claire spun 180-degrees in the air. She landed facing the unexpected woman wielding her spade like a dagger. The stranger was a pale woman with dark hair wearing a white suit. She stood somewhat taller than Claire. “I intended to be here before you dug it all up,” the woman kept talking. She did not react to Claire’s surprise or threat at all. “But, I under-estimated your diligence.”

“Who are you? How’d you get in my yard?” Claire asked. She chanced taking her eyes off the stranger to look at the fence’s gate. It was still closed and locked.

“What’s your favorite number?” the stranger asked. Claire was insulted that the woman completely ignored her questions.

“37,” she replied. Her eyes went wide at the response and she clapped her hand over her mouth. After a second she moved her hand out of the way. “Why did I answer that?” she asked. She watched the woman’s straight lips curve into a large smile.

“Janet,” the woman said loud; she still ignored Claire’s questions. “Claire here is a slumbering Mundo,” she said. She sounded as if she was talking to someone but Claire did not see anyone else. She wondered how the woman knew her name, but she knew the question would be ignored. Then, she heard a soft rustle in the grass and looked down. A black cat with a red skull pattern in the fur atop its head sat on the grass next to the stranger’s feet. “Take her to the lab,”

“Yes, Ms. Sharp,” the cat replied.

“What? Wait-” Claire started to protest. Then, she blinked.

Waking up Dead

Vanilla gave a small gasp then stopped walking. Billy stopped next to her and looked out over the black lake. A perfect bright blue circle glowed on the water’s surface and mirrored the night sky perfectly. Billy stared at the horizon; if he were not standing up he might not be able to tell which moon was in the sky. The white-haired woman had spent the last couple of weeks showing off some of her favorite Earths. This Earth had no humans on it. Most of the Earths she took him to were devoid of humans; Vanilla preferred solitude. She turned to face him with a smile on her face.

“Wait here,” she wiggled her fingers at the air and opened a black portal. After she opened the portal she waved her hand at the forest around them. “Make a fire. I’ve got a surprise for you, I’ll be right back.” She disappeared into the portal.

“Surprise?” Billy mumbled to himself as he walked to the nearest copse. As he used the skills she taught him to build the fire he realized their relationship had changed. He mastered what she taught him then she began treating him less as an equal. Even their current tour of Earths felt like a road trip with a friend.

Billy reached for a thick green branch; he began to age it the moment he settled on it. The point where the branch met the tree became brittle. The dried old branch came loose in his hand as he wrapped his hand around it; he did not use an ounce of force.

The moon climbed higher in the sky by the time he collected several solid branches from different trees. Billy did not want to feel guilty for picking on a specific one. Moonlight lit up the path and he spotted a clearing a few feet away near the water’s edge. He carried his bundle of branches to the clearing them dropped them. He looked down and found a smooth, lemon-sized rock. He grabbed it and tossed it into the pile of wood. He used another skill Vanilla taught him to time-stop the rock in the air inches above the wood. He vibrated it in place to heat it up to a bright orange glow then he let it finish its journey. It landed and ignited the dried wood. Billy sat down to wait. He felt mildly impressed with himself.

Throughout the process of putting the fire together, Vanilla occupied his mind; he’d done it all almost subconsciously. Just as he began to wonder how long he would have to wait a black portal opened near the fire. Vanilla walked out of it pulling a black leather strap behind her. A large orange mine-cart followed Vanilla out of the portal; it was attached to the strap. A tall man with wide eyes and an open mouth stood, obviously time-stopped, in the cart.

“Sorry I took so long,” Vanilla said. “I needed something to carry him,” she pointed at the stranger. “This is Steven,” Vanilla said to Billy. The man wore a confused look on his face and his mouth hung open as if he were in the middle of speaking. “Steven is a slumbering Muerte, but he doesn’t know that.”

“Where’d he come from?” Billy asked as he stood up from the grass. “And why?” He began to wonder if Vanilla was going to replace him with Steven. He considered that she might be showing him different Earths so that he could go on alone while she trained a new student.

“I have my eye on a few different Earths waiting for a Muerte to be born. He’s here to help me demonstrate something for you.” Vanilla said. “You already know that killing other Uniques gives you a power boost,” Vanilla said. She paused; Billy nodded. “But it goes deeper than that. If you absorb the right kind of soul in the right kind of way you’ll get much stronger than if you just killed any Unique.”

“Does it make much of a difference?” Billy asked.

“Definitely,” Vanilla nodded. “#33, La araña will grow stronger if it eats other arañas. If they eat enough they can even become Celestials and learn to Traverse. But it has to physically consume them, it’s not enough to just get the killing blow. Now if an animal soul can become a Celestial, just think how powerful we could be.”

“Whoa…” Billy looked at her. “I don’t have to eat him, right?” he asked. Vanilla shook her head with a smile.

“No. If you, a Muerte, kill another Muerte while you’re both controlling time you get their soul and all their time powers. So I’m going to wake him, Awaken him, get him to use his powers, then you kill him. Okay?”

Transparent Secret

Jay drove home in silence. He normally filled his hour-long commute home with the news but his mind needed quiet today. His entire work week had been day after day of amazement and it culminated on this Friday. Jay was a government scientist and on Monday, he felt he had a solid grasp of the world. Now he headed home to the only thing left he could count on; his wife, Cammie.

He had permission, orders technically, to explain part of the situation to his wife; the whole team did. Jay’s superiors understood how much their findings changed the world. No one could be expected to keep a secret that major at all much less from a loved one. He planned to spend the hour planning the best way to tell her. Instead, his mind remained blank. It refused to do more than get him home safely. He accidentally spent several seconds sitting in his car before he realized he was in his own garage. He might have spent longer if Cammie hadn’t waved at him from the door to the laundry room.

“You okay, hon? You’re lookin’ a bit dazed,” Cammie asked as he shut the car door and walked toward her. Jay chuckled to himself as he wrapped his arms around her, rested his head on her shoulder, and squeezed. It wasn’t the usual mindless after-work hug; he deliberately took time to feel her presence. She responded immediately and squeezed back. “What’s wrong?” Something was obviously on his mind.

“Science,” he sighed and released the hug. He kissed Cammie’s forehead and stared into her hazel eyes. “Let’s go inside. We need to talk.” Worry flashed across her face. She leaned back about to step away, but Jay shook his head. “Don’t worry. We…” he leaned forward and touched his nose to hers. “…are totally okay. It’s just some work stuff.” She nodded and turned around to lead him into the house.

“Since when can you talk to me about work stuff?” She asked over her shoulder. She led him through the kitchen and living room into their bedroom.

“Since I got ordered to,” Jay said. Once they arrived in the bedroom he walked forward just enough to fall forward on the bed. He rolled over while Cammie sat down next to him.

“Orders? Is it that serious?” Jay turned to look up at Cammie and nodded. Cammie turned to lay down next to him; he rolled over again so they were laying on their sides facing each other. “Okay. Hit me.” Jay took in a deep breath.

“Okay. Did you know that the Earth could be bought?” he asked.

“What?!” Cammie asked, then laughed in his face. “I thought you were being serious.” He nodded.

“Babe. I am.” Jay said with a sincere tone.

“What?” Cammie asked again; this time she was ready to listen.

“Remember I was buzzing on Monday night because of work?” Cammie nodded. “That day…,” Jay paused to change his thought. “Okay, this is where I start sharing my work with you. I promise none of this is a build-up to a joke or anything. This is all 100% real.”

“Okay. I’m listening,” Cammie replied.

“Monday we, my team and I…,” he shrugged. “…mostly me, made contact with an alternate universe.” Jay watched Cammie for any changes. Her eyes darkened with worry but she still listened intently. He continued. “On Tuesday they came to us. Two women, human just like us, walked out of a black hole and gave us a Q &A session. Well, I guess only one asked and answered questions, but I found out later she’s the assistant.” Jay noticed Cammie was growing uncomfortable the more he talked. After 7 years together he learned her signs pretty well. She shivered slightly, despite being in the middle of July. She nibbled at her right cheek but pretended not to.

“Wednesday they met the president…,” Jay reached down into his pocket; he was still wearing his suit jacket from work. “…and they brought samples of their technology.” He brought his hand up between them to show her a small, transparent rectangle. It looked like a playing card made of glass. “I’ll tell you about this later,” he returned it to his pocket. “Yesterday they met with the world leaders,” he shook his head and smiled. “It was the coolest teleconference ever; it felt like everyone was really in the same room. They have such cool tech! But, the point is they met with the world leaders and made them an offer. Today, our Earth is officially owned by a corporation called Sharp Development.”

Laughter exploded out of Cammie despite her efforts to contain it. She covered her mouth and bolted off the bed. She ran into their walk-in closet but Jay still heard her laughing as if she’d heard the funniest joke in the world. He sat up, worried she might have had a mental breakdown.

“You okay, babe?” he called.

“YES! HOLD ON!” she screamed back from the closet. She sounded lucid and in an amazing mood for some reason. Finally, she came running out of the closet with something in her hands. She leaped onto the bed and landed next to him. She held a small, wooden jewelry box.

“Okay, you know I love you, right?” she asked. He nodded. “I have a secret in my past I’ve never told you about,” she shrugged. “It’s not bad or anything. But it didn’t matter once I met you,” she smiled. Cammie opened the box.

“I had never thought about it before…,” she said, then reached in. The lid blocked Jay’s view; he could have looked over it but he wanted to let her talk through things at her own pace. “But when you asked me about the Earth being bought I thought of a company that could do it. I was actually getting worried it might be someone else, but you finally spit out the name. Sharp Development coming here is the best thing that can happen.” Cammie pulled her hand out of the box and showed Jay a glass card like the one he showed her. “And I can probably tell you more about this than you can tell me.”

Taking a Gamble

“I just realized…,” Brooks said. He was sitting in a red and gold booth across from Margie; it was their first date and he suggested Chinese food. They made small talk until the waitress took their orders, then Brooks decided to dip into deeper conversation. “You didn’t know about other universes… so do you know about the AlterNet?” Margie shook her head.

“Alternate what?” she asked. A large grin grew on Brooks’ face.

“Alter.  Net, like network,” he explained. It’s a collection of universes set up for gaming. Do you have MMOs on your Earth?” Margie nodded.  “Virtual reality?” She lifted her hand and wiggled it to suggest: “sort of”.

“It’s like both of those combined, but on a bigger scale. Imagine a whole, real, actual, alternate Earth dedicated to gaming. You can be a wizard in a fantasy realm full of magic or a hi-tech cyborg soldier in a futuristic planetwide cityscape or anything between.” Brooks knocked on the wooden table. “And it all feels as real as this.”

“Wow,” Margie said. She had trouble picturing what it would be like but it sounded amazingly fun. “That sounds like an awesome Earth,” she said. Brooks shook his head and smiled.

“Oh no, it’s not just one, there are hundreds. Each Earth is a server, and different servers have different settings.

Hundreds?” Margie was genuinely awed. Brooks nodded. Before that day she regularly daydreamed about seeing the world one day. Some days it seemed like an impossible task; the world was just too big. Now Brooks was telling her that there were at least a hundred other Earths. And they were only used for recreational purposes. She knew she had to visit.

“How does it work? Can we go?”

“Of course. We can go after eating. In the meantime, start thinking about what kind of character you’re going to make. Oh yeah,” he snapped his fingers as he remembered something. “Unique…, ” he pointed at Margie to remind her she was one too. “…powers work in the AlterNet too. A lot of us take that into account when making our character.  He placed held his hand, palm side up, in front of her. It began to glow with soft orange light and Margie felt a warm current of air radiate from his hand.

“I can channel plasma through my hands so I chose to be a fire wizard. I can add plasma to my spells for more fire damage; get it?” he asked. Margie’s head bobbed at a 45-degree angle. She was trying to say yes, but her mind drifted to how she could use her abilities in the game. He mentioned she had “luck” powers, but she still didn’t really know what that meant.

“So what should I be? What can I do with luck?” she asked.

“Luck is a great stat and yours will be much higher than average,” Brooks said. The waitress delivered their food as he spoke; then left again with a quick promise to come and check on them again soon. Brooks continued. “But, there is a Cardmage specialization that for the most part only Borrachos, like you, play. They’re called Gamblers but all the abilities are luck-based,” Brooks shrugged. “It’s pretty useless to anyone that can’t control their own luck.”

“Then that’s what I’ll be,” Margie smiled, then giggled. “It’s kind of funny. On my Earth there are tons of stories about people being dragged to magical worlds to become heroes,” she winked at Brooks. “…and I get to do it on our first date.”

Lucky Star

[Brooks requested the location of your universe. Accept?]

Margie’s phone vibrated when the message popped up on the screen. She giggled about the app’s chosen terminology and pushed the ‘Yes’ prompt. She’d only been using the app for a couple of months but Brooks matched with her almost immediately. She filled out the usual profile questions; gender identity, sexual orientation, favorite number and so on. Hours after she joined she received a message. Brooks was a handsome mid-40s man with a full head of blond hair. He sported a prominent tattoo of a golden star with the number 35 on his neck.

Over time chatting led to flirting; then, to wanting to meet. Their schedules were difficult to sync up but their first date was finally happening. After she approved sending him her location she wondered how far away he lived. She was about to ask him for an E.T.A. when a sudden knock on the door startled her.

“It’s Brooks,” he said through the door. She was surprised he got there so fast, but she did not think too much of it.

Maybe he lives close by,” she thought and dismissed it. She did not consider the ramifications of that thought. He would have live in the same building and same floor, 40, as her to get there that fast. Ignoring those details she rushed to open the door.

“Hi!” she beamed when she opened the door. She was relieved when the handsome man looked just like his pictures.

“Hey,” he grinned back and extended his hand. “It’s great to finally meet you.” After the handshake, they stood at her door in awkward silence for a few moments before Brooks spoke up.

“Ready for dinner? I know a great Chinese place.” As he asked, Brooks wiggled his hand at the air.

“What are you-,” Margie stopped asking when a tall black hole opened in the air next to him. He gestured at it as if he were a gentleman holding the door open for her. She took a step backward.

“What’s that?” Brooks tilted his head at her, then he dismissed the hole with a wave of his hand.

“You don’t know what you are?” He asked, but kept going past that question. “How’d you get the app?” Margie did not know what to make of the first question so she ignored it to focus on the second.

“I won 3 free months in some contest,” she shrugged. “I don’t really remember entering, but…,” she smiled at him. “You’re here and I haven’t paid a dime so I guess I did.”

“You won it?” he looked at her through slitted, suspicious eyes. Then in an instant, his smile returned. He smacked his hand against his forehead and burst into laughter. “Of course! You’re a Borracho. Sorry, I doubted you for a second. I kind of forgot.”

“I’m not drunk! Why would you say that?” Margie asked. She took another step back into her apartment. Brooks still remained outside her door. If he tried stepping in it would only make her more uneasy.

“Oh, right. That explains you not knowing what you are,” he said to himself. “Well, I’m no Mundo but I’ll give it a shot. You…,” he pointed at her. “… are Unique… no wait,” he waved his hands in the air as if he were wiping that part of the conversation away. “That’s just going to get confusing. Okay, you’re number 25 out of 54,” he paused and shook his head. “No, that’s at the end already. Fuck it, we’ll find a Mundo later,” he threw his hands in the air in exasperation, then wiggled his fingers at the air. A small, vertical black hole, the size of a dinner-plate opened next to him.

I am from a different universe,” he pointed at the hole. “This is how I get from universe to universe.” He stuck his hand into the hole up to the elbow then pulled it out again. Now he held a brilliant golden rose. The petals looked more like reptile scales than the red velvety texture she was used to. “There are tons of different universes and getting to them is as easy as walking across the room. Some of them have beautiful things that you’ve never imagined.” He held up the rose and pursed his lips. He gently exhaled on the scaled leaves and it ignited into a soft orange flame.  “Like Dragonbreath roses. You found the app because you’re like me. You can’t make portals, but your skill is luck.” Margie had been listening but her eyes were focused on the rose. The flame continued to burn but it was not consuming the flower. By the time he finished talking the flame extinguished itself but the golden flower still looked perfectly intact. She took two steps forward to reach the door again and smiled.

“So, Chinese food?” she asked and reached for the rose. Brooks nodded eagerly but pulled the rose away.

“Yeah, please.” He held up the flower. “I have to put this back or Takeru will kill me.”

Deerly Departed

“You don’t know?” Clark asked with wide eyes. “Who doesn’t know how and when they’re going to die?” Eila nervously looked around the restaurant to see if anyone else heard him. She wasn’t embarrassed exactly, but the 32-year-old woman was not fond of strangers asking her questions. And they always did when they discovered she did not know how, or even when, she was going to die.

“Me,” she said. She expected, and even hoped for questions from him. They met on a dating app and this was their first meeting. The date had been going so well they started talking about their respective futures. Clark only had sixteen more years left, but his green text said he would be dying naturally at 3 a.m. on a Sunday. Then, he asked about her death.

“Let me see your D-card,” he grinned. He tried to sound playful, but Eila heard serious doubt in his words. She debated stalling. She could claim she left it at home and show him there; but, no one went anywhere without it. Eila realized if she made him wait, she’d only be making herself miserable in the meantime. She decided to risk the rejection early to find out if her blue text made him uncomfortable. She dug through her purse and pulled out a slim, black leather card holder. She pinched one end and pulled out a transparent, glassy business card. No one knew where D-cards came from or how they were made, but for those reasons, they were impossible to fake. She placed the transparent card on the white linen tablecloth and slid it across the table to Clark; but, she continued to cover it with her hand.

“It’s kind of weird, okay?” Eila said. Clark nodded.

“How weird can it be? It’s just a date and time in green or red text,” he chuckled.

“Yeah,” Eila rolled her eyes but moved her hand out of the way. The glass was so thin and clear that the D-card almost disappeared into the white tablecloth. The only reason it was still visible was the text.  Clark stared at it for several seconds, tilting his head first one way, then the other.

There was no time, no date. Just a large, bright blue “45” in center of the glass rectangle.

“45 what?” he asked. He looked up from the card into her eyes, then his eyes darted down again after he asked the question as if he didn’t trust it.

“I don’t know,” Eila repeated the only answer she had. “What are you doing?” Clark had pulled out his D-card and held the two back to back to compare the sizes. He gave a half shrug, then a sigh.

“It’s the real thing,” he said, then realized what it sounded like and began apologizing. “No, no, sorry. I didn’t mean you would try and trick me, but maybe it’s been a fake from the beginning? That’s what I thought anyway.” Clark held her D-card out and she took it back.

“Hey, that’s weird,” Eila said. She happened to be looking out the window and noticed a lot of commotion happening on the street.

“That’s new,” Clark said. He was starting at his D-card. The green date 16 years in the future changed to today’s date in red. Five minutes from now.

“Huh?” Both of them asked the other at the same time. Eila pointed out the window while Clark showed her his D-card. Before she registered the change the front glass window shattered. Several white skeletons climbed through the new opening while others crashed in through the doors. The patrons were frozen with fear; they did not know what to expect. A skeleton reached a waitress and plunged his bony hand into her chest without any hesitation or warning.

It wasn’t until the skeleton pulled her heart out that the other diners began to scream. Clark scrambled up to help Eila get to the back but several other customers had the same idea. The panic bottle-necked the crowd between the dining area and the kitchen; the door was not big enough to let more than two people through at a time.

The skeletons violently mowed through everyone in their way as they walked toward the crowd. Clark had been trying to lead her through the crowd and ended up stuck with Eila behind him as a result. A skeleton walked up to Eila and raised its arm, but paused. It stared at her for a moment then turned its attention to someone next to her. The skeleton killed the other stranger instead of Eila and started to work its way through the crowd around her.

Despite the coppery, bitter smell of blood in the air and the screams of despair around her; Eila realized the skeleton would not kill her for some reason. The realization struck as a skeleton killed the only stranger between it and Clark. Without thinking, Eila stepped in front of Clark.

“What are you doing!” Clark yelled. But even as he asked he realized the skeleton had moved on to another target.

“C’mon!” Eila grabbed his hand and led him toward the front. The group of skeletons ignored her. A few of them swiped at Clark, but Eila positioned herself in the way to keep him safe. She let out a heavy sigh as they reached the door. She did not know what they’d do next, but she would be glad to be out of the five-star death trap. The relief was short-lived when a tall, pale woman with bone-white horns appeared at the doorway; her eyes were focused on Eila.

“A Venado?” The woman said with audible disappointment. “You’re not even worth killing,” she complained, then shrugged to herself. “But, this Earth is mine now. So, off you go. Tell everyone Ballisea conquered your Earth.” Ballisea made a dismissive gesture at Eila and a black portal opened under her feet. She fell in, but Clark reacted fast enough to catch her hands as she fell. He grabbed the nearby door frame for extra support and tried to pull Eila up out of the hole.

“On the other hand…,” Ballisea said. A black hole formed around his wrist then disappeared. Eila fell screaming into the hole still holding his hand. “Being slaughtered is the only thing Zeros are good for.” The hole that Eila fell in disappeared. Five minutes after her arrival Ballisea killed Clark.

Sharp Solution

Dana Sharp personal log:

The meeting with Satan went smoother than expected. To sum up: I was surprised. Hell asked me for a favor. The Devil was intentionally vague, but he did use the phrase ‘rules’ several times.  Considering the favor he asked, I don’t think he was talking about the usual soul-selling rules.

He asked me to sneak two unborn Unique Souls into the AlterNet as twin Sols. He can’t do it because it’s against the rules. But it seems to be okay if I break the rules. The good news is he’s not in a hurry. I’ll have plenty of time to play with clean, brand-new Unique Souls straight from the source. They haven’t been contaminated by mortal flesh yet.

I am going to continue forward. I’ve got my eye on another one of my Zeros, thanks to Melody. The steps are lining up before me, bringing me closer to my goal. Solving the universe just got easier.

Divine Novelty

“Miracle?” Diego asked with a beer stein at his lips. After the question, he took a large swig to consider the question. “Don’t worry ’bout it, it’s on me,” he said with a polite grin. The scraggly stranger shook his head.

“No can do, Mr.” the man said. He returned Diego’s smile and showed off two rows of dirty, yellow teeth. “You bought a miracle,” he raised his own full mug; bought by Diego. “That means you get a miracle.” Diego chuckled. He faced the stranger and looked him up and down. He looked, and smelled, homeless. Diego decided the fastest way to get through this was to just get it over with.

“Alright,” Diego smiled. “You’ve been telling everyone you’re god for the past few nights.” Diego slid a cup of water on the bar closer to the stranger. “Let’s see some proof, make some wine.” The stranger shook his head and pushed the water glass away.

“I’m not that God. I’m just an average supreme being that likes to…,” he gestured at the rags that kept him decent. “…dress down and spend time chatting with…,” he nodded at Diego. “…lesser beings.”

Riiight. Okay then,” Diego held his hands in front of the stranger with his palms upward. “Miracle me.”

“Coming up!” The old man hopped off his barstool with gusto and looked Diego up and down. He walked to one side, then the other keeping his focus on the portly man that bought him a beer. After a few moments, he furrowed his brow, started mumbling to himself, and kept pacing behind Diego. Enough that he started to feel uneasy. Diego was about to turn around and tell him to forget it when the man sat down on his barstool again with a heavy sigh.

“Not the first time it’s happened,” the stranger said to himself. “Still surprising,” he mumbled.

“Have I been blessed with a miracle yet?” Diego asked. He knew the answer but was curious how the man would respond.  The stranger shook his head and reached across the bar.

“As it turns out your life is right on track. You don’t need a miracle, there’s nothing I can do for you.” Diego patted the man on his back.

“No problem, I understand,” Diego said. He was surprised that he felt disappointment growing in his stomach. Despite the unbelievable situation a tiny bit of hope grew in him. The stranger shook his head.

“You know,” he placed the glass of water in front of Diego. “Normally I don’t care if people believe me. But I want you to trust me when I say your life is on track. You’re doing great, Diego,” the stranger returned the gesture by patting Diego on the back. Diego could not remember introducing himself, but the man kept talking. “I can’t give you a miracle, but I can still prove my powers,” he pointed at the glass full of clear liquid to draw Diego’s attention. A tiny black circle, about the size of a quarter, appeared in the glass above the water. The homeless god guided his finger from the top of the cup down to the bottom; the black hole moved in sync with his finger.

The black circle traveled through the water, changing it as it passed. It reached the bottom and the stranger pulled his hand away; the black dot disappeared. The clear water had been replaced with a rich maroon-colored liquid.

“I’m not that god, but I know his tricks.”

Custom Footwear

“So he’s fast?” Jenny asked with a smirk. “There’s not a lot he can do in the AlterNet with just speed,” she said. She stood next to an aluminum picnic table in the park meeting with a client. Her hands hovered above the picnic table; a swarm of golden nanos swirled between the table and her hands. Dirge and Dread stood on each side of her while the client, Alliane, and her friend Billy were seated at the table. “But, thanks for the heads up. At least now we know about the new roster,” Jenny smiled at Billy.

“In fact…,” Jenny dropped her hands to her sides; the golden swarm fell to the table like dust. Gold powder completely covered the sneakers she was trying to import for Alliane. “As a wedding gift to you…,” Jenny handed a small golden cube to Alliane; she returned the woman’s payment. Then, she looked at Billy. “…and to say thank you for the tip about LaughTrack…,” Jenny positioned her hands over the gold-covered sneakers. The nanos immediately rose into the air as if she were magnetizing them. Then they began to swirl around the sneakers again like they were trapped in an invisible snow globe. “…you get the guinea pig special.” Everyone except Jenny looked confused.

[What’s the guinea pig special?-Dread] Jenny felt the Whisper from Dread tickle the back of her neck. Somewhere Alliane and Billy would not accidentally notice.

“What’s the guinea pig special?” Billy asked at the same time.

“It’s when I’m working on something new and need to test it out, I do it for free.

“Wait, what are you trying out?” Alliane asked. She sat up straighter and fought the impulse to grab the sneakers off the table. She had no idea what was happening in the cloud of nanos but she did not assume it was harmless.

“Like I told your friend,” Jenny nodded at Billy. “There’re a dozen different ways to import items into the AlterNet. Thanks to hearing about LaughTrack; I just invented a new one.” Jenny continued talking when no one asked any followup questions. “The other ways involve covering the object in a layer of nanos that the AlterNet recognizes. But, with my spec I can make anything out of nanos.” Jenny reached down into the golden cloud and pulled out the pair of old white sneakers Alliane brought. The golden dust settled to the table then disappeared. They left behind a gleaming white pair of sneakers. They looked almost exactly like the ones Alliane wanted imported; but, Jenny held those in her hand.

“Instead of making these usable I made a brand new pair using AlterNet crafting materials. They’re made from Soul Serpent leather so they’re great at channeling Unique energy.” Jenny smiled as she handed Alliane both pairs of white sneakers. “Everything else being equal they’ll be faster than other boots imported the normal way.”