In a Pinch

“He’s awake, Ma’am,” a blue-suited guard said. The young man stood at the door to the director’s office holding a small brown paper bag. He raised it to show her as the short, red-haired woman left her desk. She gave the guard a smile.

“You brought it, great!” She was genuinely excited about talking to their visitor. The guard followed his boss through the bright, tight maze of corridors and offices. Eventually, the director walked into a large gym-like room; the guard waited outside. A clear cube sat in the center of the room with a ragged man standing within.

“My name is Director Hastings,” she said as soon as she reached the glass wall. “I hope you have some answers for us.” She pressed the first page of the message that arrived tied to his wrist against the glass. “Why are you a problem?” she asked. She hoped he did not know that the rest of the message detailed his issues; she wanted to see if he would try to lie.

The man stumbled closer to the glass on bare feet. He wore a comfortable flannel robe and matching sweatpants provided by the researchers. He arrived in their universe buck naked and somehow standing while unconscious. Several blood-soaked bandages dotted his chest, arms and legs. The lab workers cleaned him up, carefully, before tossing him in the cube.

His eyes traveled over the document as if he were reading it for the first time, and he chuckled under his breath.

“441-B-2?” he smiled. “Man, I’m so glad to be out of that universe.” He raised his right arm and pointed at a fresh bandage. “Thanks for this, by the way. Pain’s gone too,” he smiled. “My name’s Julius.”

“What happened, Julius?” she asked.

“Tattoo removal, sandpaper style.” The Director’s face blanched slightly; her alabaster skin somehow looked whiter for a moment.

“So, they tortured you?” She asked. When he mentioned the tattoo, she remembered his note discussing tattoos. The prisoner shook his head and shrugged.

“Hurt like hell, but they weren’t doing it to torture me. It was just the fastest way to strip my tattoos before they sent me here.”

“Why?” Director Hastings asked. “Why did they remove your tattoos and why are you a problem?”

“You guys know about Unique Souls on this Earth yet?” he asked. The Director shook her head. The note gave a brief summary, but she wanted to hear his explanation.

“I am what’s known as a Unique Soul. There’s a lot of other stuff to it, but the important thing is if I get the number 40 marked on my skin,…” Julius lifted his left leg, tugged the pajama leg up, and pointed at a bandage on his calf. “…like I had here, I get special powers. The numbers and powers are different for other Uniques but in my case, I can control scorpions.” The Director looked him up and down.

“Did all your tattoos have the number 40?” she asked. Julius shook his head.

“Nah. They were scorpions. Another thing I can do is give life to pretty much anything that represents a scorpion, like…” he gestured at his numerous bandages. “…scorpion tattoos.”

“Are you a danger to this Earth? Are you evil?” Julius laughed obnoxiously hard.

“Evil? Hell, I don’t know. It’s all a matter of perspective, and that changes from Earth to Earth. Evil on Earth A does not necessarily mean evil on Earth uh… 440-B-12.”

“441-B-2!” She was quick to correct him.

“It matters less than you think,” Julius shrugged. “I can’t tell you if I’m evil or not, but I can tell you I’m honest and not an intentional asshole.”

“So why did they kick you off that other Earth?”

“They’re not fond of Uniques. They think we attract attention,” Julius grinned and shook his head. “Any that are caught are stripped of their tattoos and shipped off to another Earth. I was passing through and got picked up in a coffee shop.”

“Carl!” Director Hastings called the door; the guard walked in carrying the paper bag. Director Hastings reached in as soon as he reached the glass cell.

“I’d like to see a demonstration,” she said. She pulled a small blue and green plastic scorpion from the bag and held it on the palm of her hand. Julius shook his head, then he pointed at his calf again.

“Sorry. No number, no power.”

“Ah, right,” she nodded then reached into the bag again. “I’m sure this’ll be enough to help you overcome that obstacle.”  She withdrew something small in her hand and pushed it through one of the air holes in the cell. It landed on the ground with a high-pitched metallic sound and bounced several times. Julius crouched to pick it up.

“You’re kidding me?” He held up a silver dollar.

“Sorry,” The Director smiled mimicking his earlier sentiment. “When I said I wanted to see a demonstration, I didn’t mean your abilities. I meant your determination.”

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