Hand-delivered Invitation

“Detective Cortez?” Noemi looked up from her desk to see two men in dark suits standing at her door.  At first glance, they were obviously feds- dark suits, dark ties, dark glasses. However, Noemi’s experience over 20 years told her there was more to it. They looked the part, but just their casual posture was out of character for all the bureau goons she’d met. It was also odd they kept their sunglasses on indoors. “If you have a moment, we’d like to talk to you about the Ripper case,” the shorter of the two men said.

Noemi was surprised that she was even asked. It wouldn’t be the first time higher-ups swooped in to take one of her cases, and she was always the last to know.

“Sure, come on in,” Noemi waved them in, then leaned back in her chair to give them her full attention. The tall agent closed the door behind him, then sat down next to the short one.

“I know your time is just as valuable as ours,” the short one said. “So, I’ll get right to it.” As he spoke, the tall agent leaned forward and placed a manila folder on her desk. He came in with nothing, and she wondered where it came from; she did not rush to look at it. Instead, she kept her focus on the one that seemed to be doing all the talking. “There’s your culprit, as well as how he did it. It’s not what you’d call, ‘normal’,” he said.

“And you know all this, how?” she asked. Though, she still did not reach for the folder.

“It’s our job, much like yours. However, our responsibility ends at the identification of the guilty party. Then, we pass off the information to the appropriate authorities. In this case, we’ve determined that to be you.”

“Why me?”

“Efficiency,” the short agent replied. “The truth is we’ve come to recruit you. The best way to do that is to give you a hint about what you’ll be up against.” He cast his eyes down at the folder.

“I’m not interested in being a fed,” she replied. The short man nodded. “Neither are we. We’re not from the government, our agency, the B.A.A., is independent.”

“B.A. A.? Never heard of it,” Noemi replied. The agent nodded, but didn’t elaborate. After several quiet moments, it became apparent he wasn’t going to offer any more information. Noemi reached for the folder and opened it. The first sheet was a full body, color picture of a man from a medium distance. He was bald and lean with a scraggly, blonde beard. He was dressed in rags and Noemi’s first guess was that he was homeless. The only thing that really stood out was a large tattoo on his bald head. It consisted of a hand making the ‘peace’ symbol, and the number 21 under it. She flipped to the next sheet and saw his name.

[Ken Parker: Unique Soul #21 – La Mano; S- rank] Noemi stopped reading after the first line. His age, description, and criminal history appeared to be in the lines below, but she was already lost.

“What’s a Unique Soul?” she asked. “And what does a ‘hand’ have to do with anything? It’s been a while since high school Spanish, but I’m pretty sure ‘mano’ means hand.”

“It is exactly what it sounds like; a soul that is entirely Unique, in and of itself. It has no counterparts in any other universe. La Mano is one of 54 Unique Soul types you’ll be meeting if you accept our offer,” the short agent explained.

Other universes?” Noemi raised an eyebrow; the short agent nodded.

“Generally speaking, La Mano has the ability to reach into other universes as long as their hands are not being watched. Although at the higher tiers, like Mr. Parker, they are able to reach into the universe they’re in.”

“Reach… how?” Noemi asked.

“Literally,” the agent replied. “Mr. Parker is reaching into his victims to pull their organs out.”

“You want me to arrest this guy and explain to everyone that he can magically stick his hands into people from a distance?”

“It would be the truth,” the short agent nodded.

“If he’s got an ounce of brains he’ll never admit something we can’t prove. I won’t even get him to court,” she said.

“That depends on the court,” the agent grinned. “This isn’t the only Earth Mr. Parker has victimized. With your help, we can make sure he gets an appropriate sentence.”

“Are you asking me to testify?” she asked. The agent shook his head.

“I mentioned earlier, our job ends at identifying the culprit. The B.A.A. has decided to change that and put together an actual police task force. Your experience here would be invaluable in authoring arrest procedures for Uniques. You’re invited to be the new chief of our police force.” Noemi’s eyes almost popped out of her head in surprise. To say it was a dream come true would be an understatement for the woman who spent over 40 years practicing her name in front of the mirror each night.

Noemi Cortez – Chief of Police,” she took great pride in being able to carry on her family tradition. For the first time in six generations, one of the Cortez boys did not have a son before he died in the line of duty. At his funeral, Noemi decided two things. Women could be officers too, and she would not carry on the tradition of dying on duty.

“Yes!” she eagerly nodded. Unique Souls and alternate universes and the unknown was all worth it for the title.

“Great,” both agents stood at the same time. The tall one pulled a glass rectangle out of his coat pocket and placed it on top of the folder.

“That’s a node,” the short one said. “Learn how to use it, study whatever you can. Let us know when you’re ready to start,” he said. Then, they both turned and headed to the door. The tall one reached it first with his longer legs, and he opened it. As the short agent walked out of the room, the tall one looked at Noemi.

“Welcome to the Bureau of Alternate Agencies,” he said with a large grin. “By the way, your favorite number is 32. You should get that on a tattoo,” he said, then left the office.

Cookie Time


Jerry sped up his pace when he spotted the conspicuously inconspicuous white van parked outside his grandma’s house. He stopped by her house after school each day to pick up a new batch of treats to sell. Once the teenager Jerry learned her confections could reverse aging he wasted no time in finding rich buyers. He offered her the lion’s share of profits, but she never really seemed concerned about money.

It wasn’t until recently that Jerry realized he should have been more secretive. He started getting questions from random strangers in black suits with different accents. He did his best to throw them off his grandma’s trail, but as he ran into her house he wondered if a 15-year-old’s “best” was good enough. He entered the foyer in a hurry and relaxed. He heard laughter and conversation from the kitchen and guessed she wasn’t in too much danger.

“Jerry!” his grandma exclaimed the moment he poked his head around the corner. The short, elderly woman rushed to give him a big hug. After the embrace, she turned to face the table and pushed Jerry forward with her arm around his shoulder. “This is my grandson, Jerry. I guess you could say he’s my dealer,” she giggled.

His grandma introduced him to two men in black suits, both wearing sunglasses. A tall one and a short one, with almost no other way to tell them apart. Their hair color was nearly the same dark shade of brown and styled the same way on both. The glasses hid their eyes and neither stranger had any telltale blemish on their tan skin. Each man had a glass half full of speckled milk in front of him and a nearly empty plate of cookies rested between them.

“Uh, hi,” Jerry gave a half-wave. Both men nodded at him.

“Everything okay, grandma?” Jerry asked. She smiled and squeezed him closer.

“Never better! These gentlemen came to help,” she said. Jerry immediately grew worried. The one thing television taught him was that government agents could not be trusted.

“Grandma,” he leaned closer to her and whispered. “You can’t trust the government.” She slapped his shoulder playfully then crossed the kitchen to the stove; she grabbed half-empty plate from the table on her way. A sheet of fresh cookies sat cooling on the stove and she began refilling the plate.

“They’re not from the government,” she said. “They’re from the B.A.A.”

“Sounds like they are,” Jerry replied with a shrug. “F.B.I., N.S.A., B.A.A., it’s all the same.” He decided to sit in on the rest of their meeting; the fresh plate of cookies helped sway him. His grandma set the plate between the agents, then she sat down next to Jerry. “How are they going to ‘help‘?” he asked with sarcastic emphasis.

“They already did!” his grandma said with a big smile. The agents couldn’t answer; their mouths were full of chocolate-chip goodness. “They arranged it so the governments here won’t bother you or me anymore, and you can keep selling. Jerry hadn’t realized that other agents were already bothering his grandma.

“I suppose all they want is the secret of your treats?” Jerry asked as he stared at the agents.

“We already know it,” the short one said as he dipped another cookie into his milk.

“What!?” Jerry felt a pang of anger flare in his gut. He did not know his grandma’s secret. He always hoped and assumed she’d teach it to him one day. But she flat out gave these strangers the secret before him. The short agent turned to look at Jerry’s grandma. Jerry sensed something passed between them, but his grandma had a great poker face and he couldn’t see the agent’s expression at all. Then, he heard his grandmother sigh.

“They didn’t come to learn my secret,” his grandmother reached for his hand and squeezed it. “They came because they already knew, and they wanted to make sure I was safe.”

“Huh?” Jerry did not understand what she meant at all.

“When I bake,” she squeezed his hand again. “I add a secret ingredient that you can never learn to use. It’s way more complicated, but we can get away with calling it magic,” she said. “I can’t teach you, it’s something I was born with.”

Jerry almost scoffed at the notion of magic until he looked at the bigger picture. He felt like an idiot. He believed the right combination of flour, baking soda, and chocolate chips could reverse someone’s aging. Right until she said the word “magic”.

“These nice gentlemen know what I can do. They wanted to make sure I was doing it intentionally and of my own free will.

“And we have,” the short one said as both men rose from their chairs. The tall one stuffed handfuls of cookies into the pockets of his black coat. “Let us know if you have any other issues,” he said. Jerry stood out of his seat expecting to walk them out, but a large black hole appeared in his grandma’s kitchen. With a nod, both men walked into the hole then it disappeared.

“I’m sure you have questions,” his grandma said. “It’s time you knew everything. From the beginning.” Jerry turned to give her his undivided attention. He knew she had secrets, but he never imagined magic or black holes. The greying, wrinkled woman took in a slow, deep breath. The inward airflow added warm color to her pasty skin and plumped her wrinkles. Dark black flowed from her scalp to recolor her silver hair. When she exhaled again, Jerry’s grandmother looked more like a young aunt. Her dark hair had a vibrant lustre to it and her skin seemed to glow with youthful energy.

“The first thing you need to know…,” she said with a strong, young voice. “…is that 14 is my favorite number.”

Alien: Zero

“Are you here about the alien!?” Ryan asked as soon as the door was open. Checking the peephole told him a pair of men in black suits with sunglasses knocked on his door. His parents were due back any minute and he wanted to give the agents as much a head start as possible.

“Ryan Connors? You called in the tip?” the short agent asked. Their height was the only obvious difference between the two men. At a closer look, the shorter one had noticeable specks of grey in his dark brown hair.

“Yeah!” Ryan grinned; his plan was working perfectly. “C’mon she’s watching TV.” The 10-year-old blonde boy stepped aside to let the two men in. Once they were in the foyer he ushered them into the next room and pointed at his sister. The 3-year-old girl with baby-blue curls sat on the couch focused on a cartoon.

Ryan watched the two men stare at his adopted sister, then look at each other. The tall one shook his head.

“I’m sure you’ll be happy to know…,” the short agent said with a knowing smirk. “…your sister isn’t an alien. We don’t have to take her anywhere.”

“What?” Ryan asked. “She HAS to be!” he said. “Look at her hair!” As if sensing the conversation was about her, Ryan’s sister looked at him, then she giggled. Both agents shrugged.

“It’s a rare color, but it happens on some Earths,” the short one said. 

“My parents found her in a spaceship!” Ryan said. “I’ll prove it!” Before the two men could say anything Ryan dashed out of the living room leaving them alone with his sister. Ryan ran deeper into the house but a few moments after he disappeared the front door opened.

“RALPH!!!” a woman screeched as the agents turned toward the entrance. She was a petite older woman with silver-gray hair that reached down to her neck. “Who are  you!?” She said to the agents, then turned to yell out the door again. “RALPH!” She pointed frantically at the agents and stepped aside. A tall, burly man in a flannel shirt rushed into the house with a handgun drawn.

“First, step away from my daughter. Then, you can try to convince me not to blow your heads off,” Ralph said. The agents raised their hands with a shrug and a sigh, then stepped away from the couch. Mrs. Connors dashed past them to pick up the child; the baby giggled the whole time happy to be in her mother’s arms.

“We got a tip about an alien lifeform,” the short agent said.

“You from the government?” Ralph asked. He did not relax his weapon.

“B.A.A.,” the short agent said.

“Well, there aren’t any aliens here,” Ralph said. He waved his gun at the foyer. “It’s time for you boys to call it a night.”

“Mr. Connors,” the short one said. “You can relax. You think you’re lying to me, but you’re right; there are no aliens here. Not even her,” he nodded at the baby.

“What are you saying?” Ralph finally lowered his weapon. “She’s human?” The agent nodded.

“100%,” the agent replied.

“But.. we found her in a-,” Ralph was interrupted by Ryan speeding back into the room. He held his arms spread wide. He carried an oblong silver metal object that resembled a cross between a football and a crib. Despite its awkward size, it was light enough for the boy to carry. “…in a ship,” Ralph finished his thought by pointing at the ship. Ryan was surprised to see his parents.

“Um, please don’t take my sister away mister!” Ryan said, he stared up at the tall agent with pleading eyes.

“Okay, we won’t,” the tall agent said. He reached down to tussle Ryan’s blonde locks for good measure.

“You found her in a ship,” the short agent said to Ralph with a nod. “But that ship was sent from another Earth, there are an infinite number of alternate realities out there. She was ejected from her Earth for some reason and ended up in your care, but she is human. Take good care of her,” he said. Both agents moved toward the door to leave.

Roy’s Raise

“Nope,” Roy chuckled. “Ain’t no one in this town even used the word ‘interesting’ in years.” He answered the short man in a dark suit. The stranger and his tall partner were the most interesting thing he’d seen in a decade; and, they weren’t that interesting. Just new. The short man approached Roy at the till while the tall man walked toward the manager’s office.

“Tell me a bit about you,…,” the short man glanced at Roy’s name tag. “…Roy. What’s your favorite number?”

“Well that depends,” Roy grinned. “Number of what?”

“I meant your favorite actual number, but that’s okay,” the short man said. “Not everyone has a favorite. New question: Do you know anyone named Mundo? Maybe they run a bar or a tattoo shop or something?”

“Oh yeah,” Roy replied with a nod. “Mundo had a pretty lively place several years ago. Looking back on it… we get a lot fewer new faces around here since she left town.”

“Oh really? And when did she leave?”

“She’s been gone about 10 years now, I believe,” Roy said.

“And when did your boss start working here?”

“Allen?” Roy thought that jump from Mundo to Allen was a bit strange. “Uh, few years ago I guess.” Roy’s eyes rolled up while he thought back on the time frame, then he nodded. “Five years in September,”

“Are you familiar with any AlterNet entertainment in the area?” the short man asked.

“Goodness no,” Roy said with a slight gasp. He leaned over the sturdy wooden counter and lowered his voice to a whisper. “This ain’t that kind of town,” he said. “I’m sure you city boys are used to an active nightlife, but you won’t find that here.”

“Oh, we’re not staying in town long,” the short man said. “We’re looking for someone.”  Roy tilted his head at the man and noticed his appearance for the first time. He wore a well-fitting black suit with a crisp white shirt and black tie underneath. He looked like a movie secret agent with a matching secret agent partner presumably questioning his boss.

“Am I in danger?” Roy asked. The question was part joke, part longing. He hoped he was finally part of something interesting and maybe fantastic.

“That’s a matter of perspective,” he stranger replied. “Do you see a couple of businessmen searching for the right guy to be our CEO? If so, my partner is giving him a job interview right now.” the stranger said.

“Or do you see a pair agents from a parallel universe tracking down aliens that may or may not be dangerous? That’s an interesting perspective that I think my partner might prefer; it makes him look like the best negotiator in the agency.”

“No matter how you look at it,” the short man shrugged with a smile. “My partner is going to walk out of that room with your boss. And the three of us are leaving together.”

“Parallel universe?!” Roy laughed. “Boy you city types are creative.”

“Take care of yourself, Roy,” Roy’s laughter was interrupted by his boss. Allen was a tall, lean, pale man with sunken eyes.

“Hey congratulations on the job, Allen!” Roy clapped for his boss.

“Th.. thanks,” Allen glanced at the short man and got an explanation with just a short nod. “Don’t worry about a thing, Roy. They’ll tell my family everything. You just keep coming to work,” Allen said as he shook hands with Roy one last time. “And congratulations on your raise,” he said as they parted ways. Allen followed the short agent out of the store.

“Raise? What raise?” Roy shouted.

“I got you $15 an hour,” the tall agent said as he walked by.

Eye-Opening Promotion

“Anything else, ‘hon?” Shirley asked as she finished writing up the ticket. Dave stared at the waitress with awe; his eyes flitted between his laptop and her coffee-brown eyes. She looked real. Her light pink uniform highlighted her curves. Her crisp white apron sported a coffee stain accidentally inflicted by Dave himself. It came as an absolute shock to him when he noticed a slight blush on her cheeks from his stare. She seemed happy to maintain their eye contact. After several moments Dave shook his head.

“No, thanks Shirley,” he said. Shirley smiled and placed the green ticket in front of him. Then, she spoke again after she pulled her hand away.

“If you stick around a bit…,” she winked. “…I’ll sneak you a slice of pie.” Then, she walked away toward the only other diners in the restaurant. Dave chose to visit the restaurant at lunchtime under the assumption that it would be the most lively place in the small town. At first, he was surprised to find it empty. But after deciding to test his software on the waitress and cook, he was glad he had somewhere quiet to think.

The program connected him to a database that supposedly knew everything about everyone. By searching the name of the town he was in, David could find out all about its residents. After getting the cook’s name from Shirley, he looked them up. He checked on the cook first because a small part of him was attracted to Shirley. Even if he was doing it to learn how to use the program, he felt a bit awkward looking her up first.

He clicked on the cook’s name and was greeted with everything he could ever want to know. Height, weight, birthday, all his schools, family and relationships. Everything was presented in an easy to read list with links to other townsfolk; but, one tag off to the side caught his attention.

[NPC] Dave was an avid gamer in his younger days and chuckled to himself. He hovered over the tag to learn what it actually meant; he was sure it didn’t mean Non-Player Character.

Dave was wrong and hurriedly checked on Shirley’s information. She had the same [NPC] tag as the cook. He clicked on her 8-year-old son’s name and found the same. He clicked through several relationships before she brought his ticket; and, they were all Non-Player Characters. He sat in silence for several minutes wondering what it all meant. Then, he had a realization.  

Wait, does the agency know?” he wondered. Then, he had a more pertinent question. “Is the agency real?” He navigated to the head of the agency and found the same tag. [NPC]

Shirley suddenly guffawed out loud and Dave looked up to see her playfully pat the shoulder of one of the men at the other table. There were only two men, a tall one and a short one, and Shirley seemed to think the tall one was the funniest man alive. She carried on an animated conversation with him. Both men wore black suits that resembled Dave’s own uniform and he assumed they were bankers or something. He was glad for Shirley’s laughter though; it gave him a new train of thought.

“It’s a joke,” he mumbled to himself with a chuckle. “New guy initiation; that’s gotta be it.” This was Dave’s first solo assignment. Thinking back on it, his briefing did seem kind of strange. His boss didn’t have much in the way of answers for him. Usually assignment briefings were packed with information he needed to keep track of. For this assignment his boss handed him a laptop and told him to come to this small town. Any attempts to get more information were stonewalled with answers like, ‘It’s from higher up.’ It all made sense now; they sent him on a snipe hunt. Dave exhaled a sigh of relief and relaxed. He was almost curious to check his own name, but now he knew it would definitely have the [NPC] tag. As he relaxed he noticed Shirley walking over to him with a slice of pie and a broad smile. As she got closer, Dave noticed she seemed to be laughing at something.

“Something funny about my pie?” Dave asked with a smile. Shirley shook her head, then tilted it toward the two men at the other table.

“That tall drink of water is the most hilarious man, I swear,” she said.   “Easy on the eyes too,” she said. “Here’s your pie, ‘hon; you got the lucky last slice. You just let me know if you need anything else, okay?” she smiled, placed his plate, then walked to the other table.

Dave enjoyed his pie and wondered how long he should drag out his initiation. He decided it would be a good opportunity to have a mini vacation at the agency’s expense. They sent him on a fool’s errand and it would serve them right if he played the part. He finished his pie and left cash on the table. He also added a generous tip that he hoped made up for spilling coffee on Shirley. He glanced around the restaurant to try and wave goodbye but she must have been in the back. Dave decided to leave instead of waiting awkwardly to give her a personal goodbye.

“Dave!” He heard his name as he walked toward his truck and spun around to see the two men from inside. They were surprisingly close behind him.

“How did you know my name?” Dave asked.

“We’re why you’re here,” the short one replied. Dave recognized his voice as the same one that called him.

Oh man…,” Dave whined internally. If they were already giving up the game, his fun was over. But, he decided to be professional about it.

“So you’re the guys that set up this prank, huh?” Dave asked with a bit of smugness. He hoped to at least show them he wasn’t fooled at all. The two men looked at each other, then shrugged.

“No prank,” the short one said. “We’re recruiting you to our agency; so told your boss to give you that laptop and send you out here. Find out anything interesting about the people here?” he asked. Dave narrowed his eyes.

“You’re saying it’s… real? They’re really NPCs?” Dave asked. Both men nodded. Dave burst out laughing.

“Yeah right! C’mon, I believed it for a minute, but it can’t be true.”

“Look, come inside and we’ll prove it,” the short one said. Dave shrugged, nodded, then followed them back into the restaurant.

“Table for three?” Shirley asked as soon as they walked in. Dave didn’t register the question right away, he was happy to see her again.

“Hey again, Shirley, I’m back for a bit I guess,” he said with a chuckle. Shirley tilted her head at him.

“I’m sorry ‘hon, you’ll have to forgive me. We get so many people coming through here, I can’t always remember them all. But I am glad you’re here just the same,” she said with a broad smile. Dave was confused and glanced down at her crisp white apron; there was no coffee stain.

“Did you change aprons?” Dave wondered why she wouldn’t have changed sooner if she had a spare. She shook her head.

“No, but my goodness if that isn’t a mighty specific question,” she giggled, then led them to the table he sat at before.

“What can I start you gentlemen out with?” she asked. The same question she asked Dave when he first sat down. He had eaten recently and wasn’t hungry. He just wanted answers.

“Nothing for me,” Dave said.

“You’re invited to join the B.A.A.,” the short one said to Dave; he completely ignored Shirley. “The Bureau of Alternate Agencies. Part of the job is knowing what’s what.”

“I’ll take some pie, Shirley,” The tall agent said.

Delivery. Retrieval.

[Run! I’ll guide you!] the popup on the bottom right corner of Eli’s laptop said. The knock on the door startled him, and the sudden, loud popup made him jump again; he was sure he turned the sound off.

Eli chuckled at himself for being so jumpy, then grabbed his cash and headed for the door. He was waiting on a pizza and he realized it would be a good idea to do a virus scan while he ate. He opened the door without checking the peephole and found two men in black suits and sunglasses. The tall one was holding a pizza box from his local joint; the short one nodded courteously.

“We assume you won’t mind,” the short one said as the tall one thrust the pizza box forward. “We covered-,” he was interrupted by the tall agent clearing his throat. “He covered the pie for you.”

“Uh… thanks,” Eli accepted the box and tilted his head at the pair. “What can I do for you?” he asked. In the back of his mind, he was amazed that the computer turned out to be correct. This pair obviously belonged to the mythical MiB; but, something about them didn’t strike Eli as dangerous. One of them, at least, was very nice and actually paid for his pizza.

“May we come in?” the short one asked. “We’ve detected some concerning activity on your network, and we’d like to talk to you about it.” Eli’s mind ran through several possibilities in an instant. He doubted they were there to talk about his pornography habits. Maybe his piracy; but, somehow he felt comfortable that that wasn’t the reason. The MiB wouldn’t care about that. He could demand they return with a warrant, but he hated the feeling of waiting for things to happen. If he demanded a warrant they could be back the same day or a month from now. Eli didn’t want to languish for a month.

“Am I in trouble?” Eli asked. It was the only stall tactic he had while he made his decision. The short one leaned closer.

You might be in danger,” he whispered. Eli subconsciously glanced at the tall agent. He could not explain why, but Eli felt he could trust the tall one. He nodded at Eli, then Eli stepped aside and pulled the door open wider. He led them to the living room. He set the pizza box down and took a moment to close his laptop lid.

“Have you noticed any of your internet connected devices acting strange lately?” The short agent asked. The question helped Eli connect the popups to their presence. Sure, it warned Eli about them, but he now understood they were there for it, whatever it was that controlled his computer. Did he have an alien in his laptop? Was it dangerous or just scared?

“Uh… what kind of strange?” Eli asked. “Like glitches or something?”

“Like direct conversation. We’re following an escaped A.I. that we’ve narrowed down to your house.”

“Yeah, it was here,” Eli chuckled and nodded at the laptop. “But I’m still connected to the internet. It tried to get me to run with it, but I’m sure it’s gone by now.” The tall agent pulled something from his inner pocket and walked to the laptop.

“We set up a firewall to keep it in place,” the short one nodded. “That’s probably why it wanted you to carry it out of here.” Eli watched with interest as the tall agent touched his laptop with a transparent, glassy card. After a moment, the card began to fill with a blue glow that seemingly flowed out of the laptop. Eli felt a small sting of regret for his mistaken assumption.

“Is it really dangerous?” Eli asked. The short agent shook his head.

“We have reason to believe it can be quite destructive if left to roam free. But it should calm down a bit once we give it a body.” When the short one finished his explanation, the tall agent joined him at his side tucking the blue glowing card into his pocket.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” the short one said then headed for the door with his partner following. As he opened the front door, Eli spoke up. Eli did not have any intention of telling anyone about the incident. Though, a part of him was interested in having his memory wiped for the novelty of it.

“Wait, that’s it?” The two agents paused, looked at each other, then looked at Eli with tilted heads.

“We assumed the pizza was worth a couple of minutes of your time,” the short one said.

“Yeah, but I still have my memory.”

“Do you not want to?” the shorter agent asked. “I can recommend a clinic that will erase your memory if you like.”

“I thought the Men in Black were supposed to wipe memories?”

“Oh,” they both chuckled. “We’re not the Men in Black. Aliens don’t exist and neither do they.” They turned around to leave again, but Eli interrupted once more.

“Wait. What do you mean aliens don’t exist? That’s an alien A.I., isn’t it? Humanity’s close, but we’re not quite that advanced yet.”

“We’re from the B.A.A.,” the short one replied. “Bureau of Alternate Agencies. It’s not extra-terrestrial, it’s from an alternate Earth with more advanced technology.”

“Oh,” Eli was surprised. “Alternate universes are real?” he asked. Both agents nodded at him, then the short one continued to walk out the door. “Is there a way I can visit?” The shorter agent ignored his question but the tall one nodded.       

“Your favorite number’s 35. Get that on a tattoo,” the tall agent finally spoke, then walked out the door. Eli stood in place after the door closed.

“How did he know?” he wondered.

Zero Result

“That’s ridiculous,” Bea said. The mid-40s woman sat in her living room opposite two men in dark suits. She narrowed her green eyes at them. “You’re actors. This has to be someone’s prank; who is it?”

“Ms. Acosta, I assure you this is not a joke,” the shorter man said. Over the years Bea learned to trust her instincts and they were always accurate. Something inside her told Bea these men weren’t a danger; it was the only reason she let them in her house without getting their names. They flashed an official-looking I.D. that Bea didn’t recognize; but, her instincts still let them in.

“Let’s pretend I believe you; now what? Should I expect more agents crashing through my windows?” she asked with a chuckle. “Because it’s going to take more than you two to bring me in.” Both agents shook their heads; but, only the shorter one spoke. Bea realized the taller one hadn’t said a word since she answered the door. Both were lean, fair-skinned, nondescript agents. Bea was glad they at least removed their sunglasses once inside.

“Now, nothing. You wanted to know about your ancestry; the only thing we can tell you is you won’t find it here,” the shorter one stood from the sofa with an eye on the door.

“So, you’re just messengers?” Bea asked in surprise. “This whole act seems a bit much for something an e-mail could have done.” The shorter one grinned at that.

“As it stands now, you don’t believe us; would you believe an e-mail?” Bea nodded.

“Yeah, good point. So, how’re you going to prove it to me?” she gave them a confident, ‘gotcha’ smile.

“We can’t, exactly…,” the short agent admitted. “You were raised here, all your memories are from here.”

“I knew it,” Bea said. Though, even as she claimed victory over the jokers, an instinctual doubt formed in the back of her mind.

“What we can do though, is this,” the short one said. A pitch black hole suddenly appeared above Bea’s coffee table. It was almost as wide as the table and tall enough for a person, like the one that walked out of it.

“Bea looked up at a younger version of herself with vibrant blue hair instead of the salt and pepper brunette of her current color.

“Unfortunately, we can’t prove to you that you’re from an alternate Earth, but we can prove they exist. Say hi to one of yourselves,” the short agent said. The tabletop version of Bea smiled, then turned around to look at the agents.

“Hey, handsome, I’m glad I get to see you again,” she stepped off the table on their side. The taller agent stood and Bea couldn’t help but notice a slight blush on his cheeks.

“Hi, Cee,” he said, then nodded at Bea behind her. “Work stuff now, I’ll call you later,” he said. Cee shook her head with a smile.

“Please don’t, just send me a text when you want to meet,” she reached out and playfully patted his head. “You’re fun, but god, you never shut up,” she giggled.

Cake In, Stake Out

“Really putting the ‘secret’ in secret surveillance, guys,” Julio chuckled to himself. The white van sped off the moment he waved at it for the second day in a row. This time he managed to get close enough to see a pair of black-suited men in the van. Julio decided to call the police if the van showed up again the next day. With the decision made he put the van out of his mind and opened the fridge to get started on breakfast.

An hour later, there was a heavy knock on his door. Julio was expecting a package and assumed that was it; he opened the door without checking the peephole. A pair of men in dark suits stood on his porch. The tall one held a vase filled with colorful flowers, the short one carried a chocolate cake. In the corner of his eye, Julio noticed the white van was parked in his driveway.

“Invite us in,” the short one said before Julio said anything. His tone hinted that it would be a good idea to listen, Julio nodded frantically and stood aside to let the men into his home. They walked into his tiled foyer. Two similar halls exited the foyer; the tall agent carried the flowers toward the kitchen as if he knew exactly where it was. The short one nodded at Julio to follow, then fell in step behind him.

The tall one was filling the vase with water by the time Julio entered the kitchen. He sat down at the table to wait while the short one set the cake down and went to his knife drawer.

“What’s going on? Why have you been spying on me? I’ve never even pirated a movie!” Julio said.

“We know. No one said you did anything illegal.”

“Then why-” the short agent interrupted Julio and kept talking.

“Why do you think we’ve been spying on you?” he asked.

“Because you’ve been parked outside my house for almost a week now. Just sitting there in your van for hours at a time.” Both of the agents burst into laughter at his reasoning.

“Mr. Mendoza, I’m sorry to inform you that you’re not the only house in this neighborhood. If we were spying on you, you wouldn’t know it.” The tall agent set the flowers in front of a window, then sat down at the table. The short one found plates and forks and began to cut the cake. “We wouldn’t park in front of your house like amateurs. We would find an inconspicuous spot nearby to monitor you. For example, in front of someone else’s house in your neighborhood.”

“If you’re not spying on me, why did you drive off when I waved?” Julio asked.

“We’re trying to stay hidden. The last thing we need is someone, anyone, drawing attention to us.” The short one, the only one that seemed to be doing any talking, replied. He cut three slices of cake and served them. Julio waited until they took bites then decided it was okay to try it. It was delicious.

“This is good!” he said. “What’s the occasion? Why bother to bring me cake and flowers?”

“A celebration of our new friendship,” he said. “Since you almost blew our cover, we needed to change it up.” As he explained, the tall agent stood, carried his plate to the sink and started washing it.

“We’re friends now?” Julio asked with a hint of concern.

“We’ll have to be. This is still the best vantage point for our assignment. You waved at us as if you knew us, so here we are. Brand new old friends. Parking in your driveway helps us quite a bit.” The tall agent finished with his dish then walked out of the kitchen. Seconds later, Julio heard his front door open and close.

“Parking in my driveway? How long is this assignment?”

“That’s classified, but don’t worry. You’ll barely notice us,” Julio heard the front door open and close again. “As a bonus, we’re prepared to help cover our fair share of rent and groceries.” Julio nodded

“That’s great, things are getting kind of tight right now. I could use help with the…,” he paused as the realization hit. “…rent? Wait a minute. I don’t care who you are, the government can’t just decide to move people into my house.” The short agent nodded.

“I agree, they can’t. Fortunately for us, we don’t work for the government.” the agent smiled. Julio heard shuffling and turned to see the tall agent carrying a pair of stuffed black duffel bags.

“Dibs on the guest room,” the tall agent said.

Zero Help

“I’m so sorry!” Clara apologized to the black-suited man. She fell to her knees and began to help him gather the mess of papers sprawled on the floor. The school’s hallway was empty except for the two of them; Clara was running late to her next class. While rushing, she turned a corner without paying attention and head-butted a short stranger. He dropped his briefcase then it popped open on impact and sent papers flying.

“Accidents happen,” the man said. He did not make a move to help Clara collect his papers; he was too busy rubbing the sore spot on his forehead.

Investigation of Sharp Development,” the thought flashed in Clara’s mind when she grabbed a form. Clara considered her gift to be another sense. She had simple control over it and for the most part, could avoid reading things if she made an effort. She had never heard the name “Sharp Development” but it was an investigation. The short man rubbing his head and looking down at her definitely resembled an investigator. His suit alone screamed, “Secret Government Agency” and Clara grew curious enough to make an effort to study the sheets she was collecting.

“Are you someone’s older brother?” Clara asked him; she hoped some conversation would give her an excuse to collect the papers slower. As far as she could tell the first one was a cover-sheet of some sort; there was no other information on it.

“No. Why?” he asked. Clara shrugged and grabbed another sheet.

“You look like you’re too old to be a student, but too young to be a parent of a high-schooler,” she said.  “Student-teacher?” she asked. “B.A.A. Recommendation: Continued monitoring of Sharp Development. Prevent contact with Middle-men at all costs.” flashed in Clara’s mind when she grabbed another sheet. She got the sense it was the last sheet and she missed everything in the actual report. The short stranger shook his head and finally crouched to help her gather the stray papers.

“I’m here looking for someone,” he said, then looked at her with a curious expression. “What’s your favorite number?” he asked.

“People have a favorite number?” Clara giggled her reply. She meant to ask him his favorite out of curiosity, but she was distracted by the next paper she grabbed. “B.A.A. – Bureau of Alternate Agencies.”  She found out more from that one sheet than she thought was even possible. The text went into detail about the Bureau itself; they were from an alternate universe. He was from an alternate universe. The Bureau coordinated information and handled multi-versal threats. Clara gave a slight tremble; she realized there was probably a threat at her school. Her friends were probably in danger and she decided she wanted to help.

“You okay?” the stranger asked; he noticed the sudden, fearful look in her eyes.

“Uh…,” Clara stalled, then took a deep breath. “You’re used to weird things popping up, right?” she asked quickly, but did not give him a chance to answer. “I mean you’re from a different universe so you’ve probably seen all kinds of strange stuff. You believe in it?”  Most of the papers had been gathered by then; he looked up into her eyes and nodded slightly.

“Yeah. How do you know that?” he asked.

I can help,” Clara reminded herself, then she pointed at the briefcase. “I can read things just by touching them, the ones I picked up talked about the B.A.A.”

“Huh,” the short man said. His papers were back in their folder and back in the briefcase. He locked it and stood up, then offered Clara a hand to help her back up. “And you don’t have a favorite number?” he asked. Clara shook her head. “Prove it,” he said. The reached into his coat pocket and grabbed a small black notepad and pen. He scribbled something on a sheet, tore it off, then folded it and gave it to Clara.

“Fuzzy wuzzy was a woman?” she asked and grinned with amusement.

“No leads,” a deeper voice said behind Clara. She turned around to see a tall man in the same uniform as the short one she bumped into. Black suit, black tie, white shirt.

“It’s okay, I know why,” the short one said. Clara turned back to the short one in time to see him nod at her. “She’s a Zero.”


Zeno looked stared at his father with wide eyes; his mouth hung open. After a moment he burst into laughter shaking his head. The orange-haired boy looked at his mother. She sat on the couch with her husband’s arm around her while retelling the story.

“Is that really how it happened?” She smiled and winked a crystal-pink eye at him.

“Your father embellished a bit to make himself look better,” she playfully dug her elbow into the man’s gut. “But all the important parts are there.”

Better?!” Zeno laughed again. “Geez dad,” he rolled his eyes. “I’m lucky I was born at all.”

“Yeah, well,” the man felt obligated to defend his honor. “You try thinking straight when you’ve got a woman…,” he pulled his wife closer to him with a squeeze. “…this beautiful interested in you.” The young teenager rolled his eyes again.

“Anyway,” the father continued. “We told you that to make sure you’re careful about every little thing. Be careful who you show your abilities to.”

“I know dad,” Zeno sighed. “That’s why I don’t have any friends.” Zeno’s mother stood from the couch while his father sat up straighter on the edge. He met his son’s eyes.

“Your mother and I have been talking a lot about that. You’ve been doing great in school and you’re a good kid,” he reached out and ruffled his son’s bright orange hair. “We’re proud of you. We got you a gift that might help you make more friends.” Zeno’s eyes widened again; this time in excitement.

He’d been hinting hard about wanting the latest online game. Most of the kids at school played it and it seemed to be the main social platform for them. Any time Zeno mentioned it to them he always mentioned how everyone he knows at school plays. His mother walked back into the room carrying a small white box with a red scissor logo on it. He recognized it instantly.

“No way!” He jumped off his seat on the coffee table and ran to hug his mom. “THANK YOU!” The moment he held the light, empty-feeling box in his hands his heart sank. He had been so focused on telling his parents about the game that he forgot to tell them how it needed to be set up. The AlterNet requires a pit of soil big enough for him to lay down in. Whenever he told his parents about thee things he could do in the game he always neglected to mention that extra detail. In his imagination, he hoped it would be set up in their only spare bedroom. Both his parents noticed the change.

“Hey, what’s wrong? We thought you’d be more excited,” his father asked. The tall man stood from the couch and walked over to them. Zeno nodded.

“It’s great dad. I just can’t play yet,” he said.

“What? What do you mean you can’t play? You haven’t even opened the box.” Zeno nodded.

“It’s my own fault,” he sighed. “I forgot to tell you about the setup needed. It’s not a computer game it’s something else.”

“What, like a phone game?” Zeno’s mom asked. He noticed a playful smirk on her face. “You’ve got a phone.”

“No, it’s not a phone game.” Zeno unceremoniously opened one end of the box and pulled out the white cardboard frame inside. A small, transparent, glassy rectangle rested on the cardboard. Zeno pulled it out and showed his parents. “To play this I need a big pit of dirt to lay down in.” The node began glowing with a muted green color as he held it. Zeno had never seen any of the nodes at school do that, but he assumed it was part of the setup process. His father burst into laughter; his mother smiled at the similarities between the two.

“A pit of dirt? Are you serious?” he asked his son and placed a heavy hand on his shoulder.

“Yeah,” Zeno said with downcast eyes.

“Boy, talk about coincidences. I dug up a pit of dirt in the spare room while you were at school today,” he said playfully. Zeno looked up.

“REALLY??” His father playfully slapped his cheek.

“Yeah. What kind of parents do you think we are that we don’t check out what our kid’s into when he wants something?” Before Zeno could give a smartmouth reply the doorbell rang. All three heads swiveled to the door. They were not expecting any company that evening. “Go show Mr. Nofaithinhisparents here the excellent job we did, I’ll get the door.” Mother and son walked toward the guest bedroom while chatting excitedly. Zeno’s father answered the door.

Two men in black suits, a tall one and a short one, stood on his doorstep; both wore sunglasses.

“Listen. Don’t panic.” The short one said quickly. “We know your wife is an alien, we know your son is half alien. The only thing we want is to make sure your son does not log into the AlterNet. Stop him then we can talk.”