Sharp. Con-Descension.

Tristan headed for his throne room as he did every morning for the past month. He had about 15 minutes before the guards let worshippers in to see him and he liked to sit quietly with himself for a bit. Despite his fame, Tristan was aware enough to keep himself grounded. He knew if he let his stardom go to his head, he’d make a mistake that would cost him everything. He spent a few minutes alone in the golden chair every morning to remind himself where he came from and how he got there.

“Good morning, Mr. Davinport,” Tristan jumped. The stranger spoke as soon as he entered the room, he spun his head towards the voice and saw two women. One in a white suit and one in all black; both pale with dark hair. The woman in white was taller and leaner, and she spoke with the same voice that startled him. “Sorry for the surprise, but I’ll only need a moment of your time. My name is Dana Sharp,” the woman said. 

Tristan kept his eyes on both women as he listened to Ms. Sharp’s introduction and finished the trek to his throne. He sat on it and nodded politely at the women.

“I appreciate your determination in getting past my guards this early. What have you come to ask a god for, Ms. Sharp?” A brief, sudden giggle escaped from the woman next to her, but she managed to swallow it before it became insulting.

“Nothing,” Ms. Sharp replied with a firm, cold smile. “I’ve come to offer you my services; one god to another,” she said.

You?” Tristan asked in surprise. “You’re a god? Prove it,” he said.

“Melody,” Ms. Sharp commanded her assistant. The shorter woman in black stepped forward.

“Your favorite number is four,” Melody said. Tristan burst into laughter, then held up his left hand; a golden tophat with the number 4 was tattooed on the back.

“Everyone knows that,” he said. Melody nodded, then continued. 

“Your real name is Tristan Davinport the 4th. You were born April 4th, 2004 in Toledo to Tristan and Meredith Davinport. You have three older brothers -“

“Alright,” Tristan interrupted her. “I’ve heard enough. So, what are you offering then?” he asked.

“I’m offering you the chance to join me,” Ms. Sharp replied. “This is just one Earth in a multiverse of alternate realities. If you ally yourself with Sharp Development  you’ll gain access to all my resources and show your worshippers miracles they’ve never imagined.” She was good, but Tristan could spot a con a mile away. The thing that puzzled him, though, was that she was telling the truth; but, she was still hiding something.

“What’s in it for you?’ Tristan asked.

“You’re a smart man,” Ms. Sharp replied. “I don’t need to give you the company line about bettering humanity; instead I’ll tell you the truth. Advertising, plain and simple. Your worshippers buying and using my products, spreading the word about both of us throughout the multiverse.” Tristan nodded as he listened. Again, she seemed to be telling the truth; but, he still thought something felt off.

“And… what happens if I say, ‘no thanks’? What if I want to try and go it alone?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s not an option that’s available to you anymore,” Ms. Sharp replied.

“Huh?” Tristan asked. He was genuinely confused. It sounded like it could be a threat but even if she was a god, like him, they were on his turf.

“Before you ascended, this Earth belonged to its people as a whole. They could elect leaders, and those leaders are considered the Earths’ representatives. Normally, I need to convince the governing body of an Earth to sell me their planet.” Tristan felt a knot growing in his stomach the more she explained.

“In your case, however,” Ms. Sharp smiled. “One god may take an Earth from another god by force.” Tristan shrank slightly into his throne.

“What kind of force?” he asked.

“That’s up to you,” Ms. Sharp replied. “Enough force to twist your arm,” Ms. Sharp nodded at Melody; her assistant offered Tristan a red clipboard loaded with a form and pen. “Or enough force to kill you. Either way, this Earth is mine now.”

Sharp Bookkeeping

Leonard woke in a white room. He sat up to get his bearings and noticed the walls glowed with a soft white light. He found himself on an obsidian slab and swung his legs over the edge; the floor also emitted the same dim white light. He knew he was dead.

“Mr. Parsons, I hope you enjoyed your life,” a voice said behind him. The startled man swiveled his head toward the speaker. His stomach dropped as soon as he recognized the rotund blonde man dressed in a white suit.

“Welcome to Hell,” Lucifer smiled. Leonard was sure he woke up alone. He quickly spun his head around expecting the rest of the buyers to appear. “Something wrong?” Lucifer asked.

“Why am I here?” Leonard asked.  Lucifer giggled with high-pitched squeaks that sounded odd coming from his round frame.

“I know you got a bit delirious at the end there, but you sold your soul to me, remember?” Lucifer asked. Leonard couldn’t help but nod.

“Yeah, but..,” Leonard continued looking around the plain white room hoping to see anyone else show up.

“But what?” Lucifer asked. “You seem to be waiting for someone,” he added after a few moments of Leonard not answering. That caught Leonard’s full attention. He turned to Lucifer and nodded. He hoped being honest would start the show. Hell had rules to follow and if his soul was promised to others, they couldn’t do anything to him.

“I am,” Leonard admitted. “My soul has other buyers.” Lucifer chuckled.

“That’s not possible.” Leonard also laughed but shook his head.

“It is because I did it. I sold my soul to the fairies to guarantee financial security for my descendants. The witches guaranteed health and longevity for my soul. The vampires promised protection. And obviously, you were there for our deal.” Lucifer tilted his head slightly and narrowed his eyes.

“Were you trying to cheat Hell?” he asked. Leonard laughed again; more obnoxiously this time.

“OF COURSE!” he said. “You’re Hell.

“Oh. Well, this is a problem. Just to avoid any misunderstandings, I need to get this straight. You knowingly sold your soul to multiple parties, is that right?” Leonard nodded enthusiastically. The fact that Lucifer said it was a problem seemed promising. Lucifer chuckled; his laugh was deeper, and more intimidating than his giggles earlier.

“Mr. Parsons,” Lucifer smiled. “How disorganized do you think we are in Hell?” he asked. “Do you think we lack simple bookkeeping skills?”

“What?” Leonard asked. A tight knot began to form in his stomach. “What do you mean?”

“The moment you agreed to our deal, your soul was marked as Hell’s property. No one else could possibly claim it.”

“But…the fairies…,” Leonard said. “.. witches… everyone accepted my deal.”

“Accepted?” Lucifer asked. “Or… amended?” he said with a grin.

“Huh?”

“Mr. Parsons, you’re not the first to think himself clever by selling to multiple parties. If you were, you might have gotten away with it. As it stands, Hell now has procedures in place for this kind of thing. Once your soul is ours, it’s off-limits to anyone else. It leaves a mark on you visible to any parties that trade in souls. They’re not allowed to actually purchase it, but they can promise you anything you like. When that happens it simply amends your original deal with me.” Lucifer said. 

“Well…,” Leonard sighed. He was starting to realize he was about to spend an eternity in Hell. “… at least I got more out of you,” he chuckled. Lucifer shrugged.

“You could have done that in our meeting,” Lucifer said with a smile. “You sold your eternal soul, you had all the negotiating power.” 

“Oh,” Leonard felt foolish, but still content. He would endure torment for eternity so long as his family was taken care of.

“It’s a shame you tried to cheat Hell, though,” Lucifer added with a gentle shake of his head.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, there are a few different outcomes from this scenario,” Lucifer said. “Sometimes people don’t realize what they’re doing is considered cheating, or at least don’t admit it. In those cases, the amended deal is still in effect. Hell is, at its core, a customer service industry after all. The customer is often, always right.

“That’s what I-,” Leonard began to protest, but Lucifer shook his head.

“On the other hand,” he spoke over Leonard. “Some people try to cheat Hell. Then, they’re stupid enough to admit it when they get here. That voids all amendments.” Lucifer smiled. “Your descendants get nothing for your time here.”

“But….. but…,” Leonard sputtered trying to find a way out. Lucifer shrugged.

“You were gifted the ability to see and interact with Fae in exchange for your soul,” Lucifer said. “That deal was completed, so, let’s get started on that eternity of torture.”

Sharp in Deed

Justin sat in his small, tidy kitchen across from Dana Sharp, a woman he’d never heard of before she showed up at his door. Her crisp white suit, and the black suit of her assistant, somehow made his kitchen seem drab and messy in comparison. Aside from their impeccable appearance and business-like demeanor, they seemed positively insane.

“Not only are you saying I somehow own this Earth, but you also want to buy it from me?” Justin asked. Dana Sharp nodded. “But, if I already own everything on Earth, what do I need  your money for?” It was a valid question. Justin woke up that Saturday morning like any other. He had no idea he was entitled to the deed of Earth until Ms. Sharp told him. Then, she promptly offered to buy it.

“This claim began at the dawn of human civilization on this Earth,” Dana replied. “The universe recognizes your ownership; but, I doubt you’ll find anyone else willing to listen. At best, you’d be ignored.”

“And why would they listen to you?” Justin asked. Dana smiled.

“They don’t have to,” she said. “You’ve lived 30 years without the knowledge that the Earth was owned by a single person. That doesn’t need to change for everyone out there.” Justin tilted his head. It didn’t make sense to him that she wanted to buy the planet but didn’t seem concerned about the people on it.

“Then, why? What’s in it for you?”

“Mr. Cardenas, I think we may have different ideas about what I’m offering,” Ms. Sharp said. “I’m here to help you; I’m not asking for anything in return.”

“Yeah…,” Justin chuckled. “…nothing but the planet.”

“The universe places great importance on rules and contracts,” Ms. Sharp said.  “You may have lost yourself in thought when I explained my offer the first time. I understand; it’s a lot to take in. I am offering you a trade. You grant me ownership of this Earth and I give you the means to run it as you see fit; a way to enforce your claim as it were.”

“If you just want to help, why not give me that without claiming the Earth?”

“I’m sure a smart man like yourself already realized I’m from an alternate universe. This universe knows that I came from a different universe as well,” Ms. Sharp explained. “Anything I do to help you would be seen as a threat on this universe; it would not end well for anyone.”

“But if you’re the proper owner…,” Justin nodded in understanding.

“The act of you signing the universe over to me allows me to help you. My name on the deed no one knew existed instead of yours; that’s all that’s in it for me. Nothing changes unless you want it to; and, you’ll have the capability to generate those changes. On top of that, you’ll have access to the multiverse, if you choose. Your citizens can see other universes as well as welcome alternate tourists.”

Justin sat quietly for a moment and Ms. Sharp did not rush him. No matter how he looked at it, he only saw positives. On the far end, she really was insane and lying about everything. If that were the case, his signature wouldn’t mean anything to anyone. And, he would find out sooner by signing. If she were telling the truth about any of it, his life would improve. He started to imagine himself being praised for being a wise ruler and opening the multiverse to the citizens of his Earth. Dana Sharp’s name may be on the deed, but he would be managing the Earth and recognized as its ruler. Finally, he looked at Ms. Sharp and nodded.

“Where do I sign?”

Hellish Escalation

A cloud of dark red smoke bloomed to fill the area within the pentagram. The scent of spicy, candy cinnamon surprised Valerie slightly more than the red smoke.

“That worked?” she wondered aloud.

“You have the gift!” one of the brothers said. He hopped to his feet and stared intently into the red smoke; the rest of the cult members remained prostrated to concentrate on the pentagram. His voice sounded vaguely familiar to Valerie, but she couldn’t see any of their faces under the blue hood. It didn’t matter; they were all either Brothers or Sisters. Valerie had only been a member for about a week so far. She made it a point to think her own name every time someone called her, ‘Sister’ so she wouldn’t forget it.

Valerie did not imagine the alien invasion ending any time soon; it only began a month before she joined the cult. The aliens were powerful but didn’t seem concerned with hunting down every single human. It felt more like they were just going to start living on Earth until they supplanted humans completely. The one attempted nuke was as useless as all the coordinated attacks before it. The aliens almost acted like they didn’t even notice the explosion or radiation. The only thing she had left when she joined the cult was her name, and she was determined to hold on to it. 

The smoke began to dissipate from the pentagram but it left behind a short, squat pink-skinned figure with blood-red horns. He wore a crisp white suit with a red tie.

“Which one summoned me?” The demon asked with a nasally voice that took Valerie by surprise. It wasn’t what she expected from the rotund creature. Valerie looked at the Brother for guidance. He nodded and gestured for her to take responsibility.

“I did,” Valerie said. The demon was keeping an eye on both of them, then turned to give her his full attention.

“The summoning usually comes with an intent, but there must have been a glitch or something. I didn’t get one so, what do you want?” he asked. “We specialize in buying souls if you’re selling, but I’m open to negotiating pretty much anything.”

Valerie hadn’t expected the ritual to work. She briefly guessed that was why there was no intent. Now that he mentioned souls, she became a little worried about her own. The cult leader explained they were hoping to use the forces of hell to combat the aliens, but Valerie suddenly considered the cost.

“Aliens invaded,” she said. “What can Hell do to help us fight back?”

“Aliens?” the demon asked. His eyes widened in surprise, but he recovered quickly. He lifted his hand and made a ‘swipe down’ gesture with his hand. A large, grey slate of glass appeared and hovered in front of the demon. He focused on it and began typing, tapping, and swiping. After several seconds he seemed to find some sort of confirmation. “Oh shit, aliens,” he mumbled. His fingers fluttered across the slate one more time, extra quickly. Then, he dismissed the slate with a wave of his hand.

“Nothing. Thank you for calling, Good-bye,” The demon said. Red cinnamon smoke plumed around him and he disappeared into it.

“WAIT!” the Brother yelled out; Valerie was too surprised by how fast it all happened. She stared into the red smoke waiting for him to reappear. It had to be some sort of demon practical joke. She was relieved when she noticed movement in the smoke again.

“What’s your name?” a woman asked. The red smoke cleared to reveal a pale woman with dark hair. She wore a black suit, and she stared at Valerie with glowing golden stars in her eyes. Behind her, a pitch-black portal seemed to be swallowing the smoke. Again, the Brother acted quicker than her.

“Our Sisters do not need names,” he said quickly. “Who are you?” The woman turned to face him, and the stars vanished from her eyes.

“Maybe you didn’t notice, and that’s okay. It’s kind of dark in here,” she said. Her voice carried a cold, hurried edge. “I wasn’t talking to you.” Then she turned back to Valerie.

“I am talking to you, what’s your name?”

“Valerie,” she answered.

“Valerie, I’ve just been informed this Earth is infested with aliens. Would you like to go to a different one that isn’t?”

“YES!” Valerie readily agreed. She did not waste time wondering what the woman meant by a different Earth. All Valerie knew was that she was offered a safe haven. The woman stepped out of the black portal completely to introduce herself to Valerie.

“I’m Melody,” she said. Valerie meant to shake Melody’s hand, but she was distracted. She raised her hand and pointed at the Brother already sneaking into the portal. Melody smiled without turning around. The black hole disappeared then reappeared next to them; Brother walked out of it. He was immediately confused that he ended up in the same basement.

“Invitation only,” Melody. She gestured at the hole to encourage Valerie to enter. She did without hesitation.

“Please!” the Brother fell prostrate. He was now the only one; the rest of the cult sat up looking around. They were confused by her presence. “Goddess Melody! You must be a goddess to be so powerful!” he begged. “Is there nothing you can do about the aliens?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Melody said. The palms of her hands began to glow with brilliant blue light. “I’m going to.”

Day by Day

“Well, technically it is yesterday,” Nick chuckled. Victoria, the beautiful woman sitting across from him, pulled off a violet hair color very well. He enjoyed every second of the date so far; she seemed smart and funny to go with her good looks. But, suddenly, he had doubts when a slight look of confusion appeared on her face.

“How so?” she asked. She commented on the weather and mentioned it was as beautiful a day as the previous one.

“The loop?” he said.

“What loop?” Victoria asked. This time, a slight look of confusion washed over Nick’s face.

“Oh wow,” he said; mostly to himself. “I never met anyone that didn’t know.”

“Time loop?” Victoria asked, but shook her head. “How long does it run? I’ve only been in town for a couple of days.”

“It resets every day…,” Nick said. He had been leaning forward over the table to talk more intimately. He sat up straighter, confused by her confusion. “… across the whole world.”

“Really?” she asked. “But, yesterday was March 10th, and today is March 11th.” Nick nodded at her question.

“Well, the day is looping, but we still have free will. The loop started years ago. Since everyone knew about it humanity went ahead and started a new calendar. It’s technically March 11th, 0003, T.L. Where are you from that you don’t know that?” he asked. Victoria giggled.

“I’m from an alternate Earth, just passing through.” Nick stared at her for a moment, then nodded.

“If my world wasn’t stuck in a time loop, I’d probably have more trouble believing you,” he said.

“Do you want me to fix it?” Victoria asked.

“You can do that?” Nick asked; he leaned forward over the table again. Victoria shrugged.

“Technically not me, but I can arrange it if you want,” she said.

“Ye- no!” Nick began to answer, then changed his mind rapidly. “Please no!” he added for emphasis.

“Why not?” she asked. Nick shrugged.

“Honestly, it’s kind of nice. Resources are essentially unlimited, so people are nicer about sharing. The death of a loved one is temporary. Everything physical resets every day, but people still keep growing their knowledge. It was a rough first year, but people are settling in nicely now.”

“Hey, neat,” Victoria said with a smile. “Then, I won’t mess with it.”

“So, what’s a nice girl from an alternate universe doing in a time-looped place like this?” Nick asked with a smile.

“Well, I was working until you said you didn’t want the loop fixed,” she said.

“Working? Doing what exactly? Are you a scientist?” Victoria shook her head.

“I’m a Scout for Sharp Development. I visit alternate Earths and determine whether they have any value to the company. Yours doesn’t, by the way,” she added.

“What do you mean? To set up branch offices or something?” he asked. Victoria shook her head again; Nick loved the sight of her purple ponytail swishing back and forth behind her head.

“To buy,” she said.

“To buy… an Earth? Is that possible?”

“At the moment, Sharp Development owns over 1000 Earths,” Victoria smirked playfully. “Not including Earths where we have a branch office or something,” 

“1000 Earths??” Nick’s eyes widened for a moment, then he smiled. “What’s yours like?” Victoria shrugged.

“No idea, I haven’t been back in forever. I’m not even sure if it’s still there,” she said.

“How long ago could it have been?” he asked. “You look … 22? 23?” he asked. Victoria nodded.

“I wish! I’m almost 2900 though.”

“29.. hundred?” Nick asked in awe. “Wow.  That’s…   wow,” he took a few moments to process it in silence. Victoria sipped her coffee and let him take all the time he needed. Finally, he looked up at her and smiled.

“So, do you like younger guys?” he asked. Victoria leaned forward with a smile.

“I kind of have to.”

Escape. Faster.

“…and the last rule is: you have to escape within an hour,” the red-skinned demon explained. Despite this being his eternal damnation, Edgar was only half-listening to the rules laid out by the demon. He was too preoccupied with inspecting the spacious room and figuring out loopholes.

When Edgar first arrived in Hell, he was surprised to see it operating so professionally. When he arrived he had a selection of cold drinks waiting for him while he sat in the white lobby and listened to pleasant music. He was surprised that only a few other souls were in line waiting to be damned with him. Then, a clerk came and checked him in.

The clerk explained that this Hell was run by Sharp Development. Their standards differed from the Hell Edgar expected when he signed his soul over. Once he was in the system, he was allowed to finish his last drink, then he was taken to a large room that looked like someone’s home.

A giant living room was partnered with a small galley kitchen. A large screen TV with several video game consoles sat at the center of the room. A comfortable-looking sofa sat in front of the TV. The demon explained it was an escape room, but Edgar planned to put off escaping as long as he could; until the demon told him about the hour limit. That finally got his full attention.

“Why?” Edgar asked. “What happens if I don’t?” The demon smiled.

“You’ll feel a strong burning sensation until you do,” he said. Edgar was disappointed, but he took comfort knowing that elaborate escape rooms were one of his biggest pleasures. He loved searching for clues and trying to piece together abstract puzzles. It gave his mind a workout and he felt satisfied after solving the complicated escape. Inside, he grinned to himself like a fool. Hell couldn’t have made a bigger mistake; he absolutely loved escape rooms and would happily spend eternity solving them. But, as good as he was, he knew this was Hell, and he realized something.

“I have to escape every hour?” he asked. “What about sleep?” The demon shrugged.

“We’re a bit nicer here, but this is still technically a version of Hell,” he said. “I will give you a small hint, though. Each room you escape into will be pretty similar to the one before it. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll probably be able to squeeze in some winks here and there before your room ignites.”

“Oh,” Edgar was relieved and disappointed at the same time. He was glad he’d get the chance to catnap his way through eternity instead of being tortured; but, he wasn’t happy to hear the rooms wouldn’t change much. As much as he was looking forward to solving infinite puzzles, it wouldn’t be any fun if they weren’t hard.

“Alright,” the demon raised his hand and showed Edgar a stopwatch. “For the first one, you get some extra time. 3 hours. Go!” he clicked the button and it immediately switched to 02:59:59 and began counting down.

“Are you going to stay here?” Edgar asked. The demon shrugged.

“I planned to for the first one, but if you don’t want me to watch you work that’s fine. Just say, “Hey, Jim!” whenever you need me.

“Your name’s Jim?’ Edgar asked.

“The human mouth can’t say my name, but Jim works,” he said. At his words, a cloud of red, cinnamon-scented smoke appeared and enveloped Jim. After a moment it began to dissipate and he was gone with it. Edgar immediately felt at ease and eager to test his skills. He spun around the room to try and spot anything that stood out. He saw a standard, if well-off, living room. Nothing jumped out at first, but then a stray thought tickled his brain.

“I’m in Hell,” he said aloud. “Why would they give me a TV?” he asked himself as he strode toward the low obsidian coffee table and grabbed the remote. He looked it over carefully, and even pulled open the battery cover; but, it all looked normal. Then, he pointed it at the TV and pressed the ‘ON’ button. A white screen with red text appeared.

[CONGRATULATIONS!] [You have escaped.] [Move on to the next room.]

“What the Hell?” Edgar said. “No way.”  He looked around the room and saw an open door along the far wall. Looking through it, the interior looked exactly like the room he was in. His annoyance and curiosity carried him into the second room that looked identical to the first. The door shut behind him, and he heard a timer start. He looked up and saw a stopwatch counting down from one hour above the door.

“Damnit! I blew my three hours,” he grumbled, then shrugged. “Alright, I’m in it now; time to do this.” He looked around the room again, and immediately felt dumb. It was the same room he left. This time, he decided to get a snack at least before searching for the solution. He walked to the fridge and pulled it open.

It was empty inside except for a sheet of white paper hanging from the top. It had red text on it.

[CONGRATULATIONS!] [You have escaped.] [Move on to the next room.]

“You’re kidding me!” Edgar shoved the door shut, then yanked open the freezer door to check for any frozen foods. All he found was another sheet of paper congratulating him.

“Hey slow down! You’re too good at this!” Jim said, he was suddenly next to Edgar as cinnamon smoke dissipated.

GOOD?” Edgar asked with more than a bit of annoyance. “These aren’t hard at all!”

“They’re not?” Jim asked.

“NO! They’re so easy I can apparently solve them in less than a minute!”

“Oh,” Jim said. “Well, that changes things a bit. They were meant to be challenging.”

“They’re not,” Edgar added.

“Well, we can’t have it too easy for you,” Jim continued. Edgar, fully focused on solving hard puzzles readily agreed.

“Can you make it harder? Do it!”

“Sure, that’s no problem. If an hour is too easy, let’s make that limit five minutes.”

“What?” Edgar asked. “Nononono. The hour’s good, I just want you to make it harder.”

“I did,” Jim replied with a smile.

“You made the puzzle harder but you’re still only going to give me five minutes??” Edgar asked.

“Puzzle?” Jim chuckled. “Edgar, pal, I think you missed the point here. The puzzle is always going to be that easy. I made your eternity here harder,” He grinned with glowing red eyes. “It is still Hell, afterall.”

Stellar Pettiness

20 minutes into the date, Clark’s nerves settled down to make way for a new emotion. He wasn’t nervous anymore. He sipped his beer, and drummed his fingers against the table with equal parts annoyance and boredom. Victoria continued talking about her job, seemingly not noticing his new mood.

Clark had tags like “explorer” and “traveler” in his profile, and he matched with Victoria on those. He also mentioned that he’d been to alternate universes; as a joke. When he and Victoria first matched up, the conversation quickly turned to other universes and Clark thought it was fun they had a common interest. He did not expect her to make up a whole career that involved her regularly traveling to other universes. Nor did he expect her to spend the first 20 minutes of their date talking about those other universes in great, fictional detail. But one obvious became the last straw. He wanted to like her, but he could not let her lies pile up anymore.

“You found the freaking fountain of youth on an alternate Earth?” he asked. He did little to hide his condescending tone. “What are you doing here instead of being stupid rich?” Victoria shook her head; her violet ponytail bobbed with the motion.

“I found A fountain of youth, they show up on different Earths from time to time,” she added a smile. “And I’m here because I like pizza and I think you’re cute,” she said. “Sharp Development handles all my expenses, so I guess you could say I am stupid rich. Money’s not a concern, anyway.”

“Alright, hold on,” Clark said. “I think you’re pretty cute too, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a grip on reality. I’m on board to pretend all you want, but I need to know you understand you’re just pretending too,” he said. Victoria tilted her head in confusion.

“Pretending about what? What did I miss?” she asked.

“I’ve never ever heard of a company named Sharp Development. If they’re as big as you’re claiming the name would sound at least a little familiar. But the big thing is alternate universes. I mean, c’mon,  you know they don’t exist, right?” 

“Oooh,” Victoria shook her head. “I’m so dumb,” she giggled to herself, then bonked her own head playfully. At the exact moment she did, Clark noticed a quick flash of gold in her eyes. It happened fast enough that he wasn’t sure of what he saw; he dismissed it as a stray reflection. “Sorry,” she said. “I keep forgetting to check.”

“Check what?” Clark asked.

“Your profile said you’ve traveled to different universes,” Victoria replied. “I took it for granted instead of actually checking. But, now I see you were lying about that.”

“I wasn’t lying, it’s a joke because other universes don’t exist; if they did I think the world would know. On the other hand…,” he added. “I think you’re taking the joke far enough to be considered, ‘lying’.”

“Oh wow,” Victoria said. She made a distinct effort to lean back in her seat away from him. And, she shook her head again. “You know, I get where you’re coming from. But, you could’ve tried a little harder not to sound like you’re flat out accusing me of lying.”

“I am,” he said with a nod. It took Victoria a moment to recover, but once she did she relaxed completely and even gave Clark a smile.

“I think we’re both comfortable calling this done now,” she said as she stood. “I hope you have a good life,” she added. Then, she turned around and walked out of the restaurant. Clark chuckled to himself as he noted that she used the door. That botched date was on a Friday night.

At mid-afternoon the next day a woman dressed in all white appeared on Clark’s television; on every channel. As well as his phone, tablet, and every computer monitor in his home.

“My name is Dana Sharp, owner of Sharp Development. I am announcing that after meeting with the leaders of the world, I now own this Earth. Welcome to the multi-verse!”

Maddie Wonders

“What?” The question left Maddie’s mouth out of habit as she looked around the endless amber wheat field. She heard her friend say something confusing and responded the only way she could. “Alice?” Maddie asked the deep purple sky. Her question was answered with a giggle that came from behind her. Maddie spun around to see her friend that had been missing for a week. “What the hell’s going on?” she asked with equal parts annoyance, confusion, and joy.

“Choose your skills and begin the game!” Alice repeated the phrase that echoed around Maddie moments before. Maddie shook her head.

“Where have you been?” She asked. Maddie glanced around the open field again. “Where am I?”

“I went down the Rabbit Hole,” Alice grinned. “And, I found the AlterNet, that’s this place.” She reached down to caress a stalk of wheat. Maddie nodded.

“Uhuh,” Maddie said. She wasn’t particularly surprised by Alice’s answer. It didn’t tell Maddie where she was, but Maddie trusted Alice, and Alice seemed comfortable. “So, what skills, what game?” she asked.

“The AlterNet is an Earth-sized mmo; and, alternate Earths are just different servers. So, you just have to make a character, then I can show you around. I have a ton to show you.”

“Like… alternate Earths?” Maddie asked. Alice nodded. “But, how do we live? Will I be able to find a job on another Earth?” Alice shrugged.

“Probably,” she said. “But, you won’t need to. It’s just easier to work for a company that has branches on different Earths. I work for Sharp Development now, and I want you to come work for me.”

“Doing what?” Maddie asked.  Alice grinned.

“The exact thing you go to that conference every year for,” she said. “You want to create and I’m giving you that chance on a huge scale.”

“You want me to make hats for you?” Maddie narrowed her eyes and tilted her head at Alice in confusion. Alice gave a sigh and rolled her eyes, but a giggle escaped her mouth.

“You know, if you think that’s why you’ve been going to the conference everywhere, it probably explains why you’re still going.” Maddie’s confusion deepened, and Alice continued. “The first couple of times you went, you wanted to start a clothing line; then you noticed your hats were doing okay, so you started focusing on those more.” Alice could see the light come back on in Maddie’s eyes as she remembered the early days.

“Oohh yeah…,” Maddie said with a faint smile. “You’re going to help me with my clothes?” she asked eagerly and Alice nodded.

“Technically, you’re helping me with your clothes,” she said. “Ms. Sharp gave me a server, and I want to make the people look stylish and different from every other server.”

“A server?” Maddie asked. She was still trying to wrap her head around everything. “That means… she gave you an Earth?” Alice grinned and spread her arms to gesture at the field around them.

“You’re going to help me decorate it, and name it too. It needs an interesting name, there are a lot of them out there.”

“Well, you did get here through a Rabbit Hole, right?” Maddie asked. “What about, ‘Wonder-‘,”

Alice interrupted immediately. “PASS.”

Alice Wanders

“I just want to say for the record, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Alice said out loud. She was the only person in the corner of the park that morning. It was an early Thursday morning. After a few years of chasing leads, she finally found what everyone called the Rabbit Hole. The officer protested to herself as she stared at the dark hole in the ground. She knew she already decided on her course of action, but she gave her mind a way out, just in case.

The Rabbit Hole was first mentioned in a case 30 years ago. It was a case Alice’s father was working on, and the idea of an endless rabbit hole took root in Alice’s young mind. The case was quickly forgotten; it turned out to be a crazy homeless woman that swore up and down she’d seen another world.

Alice’s first case on the force, a decade ago, also introduced her to someone that entered and returned from the rabbit hole. It triggered a long search for Alice. There had been hundreds of cases that mention the rabbit hole, but they were low profile, non-violent cases. They were often missing persons that reported themselves missing after the fact. No one cared that one corner of the park seemed to consistently attract the mentally imbalanced.

Alice managed to get information out of a few of the victims; but, for the most part, they seemed wary of Alice mocking them. The handful of people she talked to all had similar stories; enough that Alice hoped she knew what to expect. She brought a hiking pack with some supplies including food, water, and a first-aid kit. She also brought along her gun, but left her badge behind. Alice wasn’t on a case. She was 10 years old again and ready to explore the Rabbit Hole.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Alice spoke and nodded to herself as she approached the dark pit; it was interesting that she could not see anything into it. It wasn’t shallow enough to see the bottom or even any of the sides. It was just a round black hole. “But it’ll be fun,” Alice closed her eyes and jumped in.

“Owwwwww,” She immediately landed off-balance with one foot in a pit and the other landed, and twisted, at the edge. She toppled backward. She opened her eyes as she fell back; she landed awkwardly on her backpack and heard the crunch of various supplies. Alice didn’t have time to care about that.

The azure sky she left behind was replaced with bright, violet clouds against a deep purple sky. Alice giggled and let herself relax completely. It was true.

The clouds and sky were exactly what she expected. Alice inhaled deeply and relished the moment until her backpack became too uncomfortable. Then, she sat up and looked around properly. Alice sat on a lush green hill overlooking a town. According to the victims she interviewed, Alice would not have much trouble finding a way back home in the town. She stood, turned around, and promptly started walking up the hill. Her ankle was tender, but she hobbled up the hillside with determination. She did not know where she was headed, but she was there to explore.

“Are you lost, little Corona?’ A woman’s voice suddenly echoed around Alice. She whirled around to find the source, but did not see anything. Movement in the sky caught her attention and she looked up to see a giant black hole in the sky. It looked as dark as the Rabbit’s hole but as large as the town below the hill. White skeletons began raining out of the hole on the town.

“This Earth is mine now..,” the voice said. This time, a tall, pale, horned woman appeared in front of Alice from out of nowhere. She wore a long flowing black dress, and two bone-white horns spiraled out of the top of her head. “…but, I’ll place you on another one. Have you any preference?” she asked. She stared down at Alice with a patient, amused expression.

Up until the moment the horned woman referred to it as an Earth, Alice still had her doubts. Part of her wanted to believe it was an alternate Earth. In every interview, she heard the phrase “It’s a lot like Earth.” Not only was this woman claiming an Earth, she offered to send Alice to a different one. Alice now realized there were at least three universes and wanted to know more. Her years of learning about people told her she did not want to give away her home Earth to the stranger. Alice did not know why the woman took a special interest in her, but she knew she did not want to drag it out more than necessary.

Alice went down the Rabbit Hole planning to explore. She now knew there was much more to learn than she ever expected, and she knew this woman wasn’t one to ask. But, she did offer to send her somewhere. Anywhere.

“I don’t know who you are or what you’re talking about,” Alice said. Her experience told her this woman would respect sincerity, and she would be able to tell if Alice tried to lie. “I am lost, can you send me somewhere I can learn?” she asked. The woman gave Alice a curt nod.

“When you get there, tell them Ballisea sent you,” the woman said. Before Alice could thank her, the ground disappeared beneath her feet. She sunk straight down into the hole, then landed on a smooth white, tile floor. She noticed two women in front of her, but before Alice could gather herself she was on her knees. One of the two women, one in black, rushed Alice and pulled her up by her hair. The woman held a blue glowing hand in front of Alice’s face and she felt waves of heat coming from it.

“Who are you!?” the woman in black asked. Her tone was calm, but just barely. Alice shut her eyes in pain as the woman yanked her to her feet. Alice thought about fighting back, but she still did not fully understand the situation. Maybe they didn’t either.

“BALLISEA SENT ME!!!?” Alice blurted out. Alice felt the woman’s grip loosen on her hair, but did not release her. The blue light surrounding her hand dimmed.

“Why?” The woman in black asked.

“To learn!” Alice said. “Ballisea showed up to conquer an Earth, but said I was free to go. I couldn’t think of anything and said I wanted to go somewhere to learn.”

“Melody,” the second woman, she wore a crisp white suit, spoke up. Melody, immediately released Alice’s hair, then helped her up to her feet. After Alice was up, Melody looked at the woman in white and nodded.

“47,” Melody said. Then, the woman in white nodded and stepped forward with an outstretched hand.

“You’ve come to the right place,” she said. “My name is Dana Sharp.”

Stellar Dis-curse

“Oooooh,” Victoria nodded in understanding. “Do you think something in the water changed you, or have you always been this selfish?” she asked with a slight smirk.

“WHAT!?” The old man bellowed the question in surprise. He sat on the ornate marble edge of the fountain to tell his tale; but, jumped to his feet at Victoria’s question. “I’m saving innocents from a curse!” Victoria shrugged, but shook her head. Her violet ponytail swished behind her with the motion.

“Just because you think it’s a curse, doesn’t mean it is. Not everyone is going to have your perspective.”

“I’ve lost everyone I love,” the old man replied. His anger was gone, his tone was weary. Victoria nodded.

“People die. You’re lucky to have loved them.”

“I’ve lived over 2000 years, and I thank God I’m nowhere near as callous as you,” he said. Victoria shrugged again.

“Like I said, different perspectives. Wait until you reach my age,” she added a wink, then continued. “Either way, this Earth is about to belong to Sharp Development. A working Fountain of Youth is surprisingly rare; it’ll be great for tourism.”

“Belong?” the elder asked. He tilted his head in confusion. “No one can own the Earth,” he said.

“Dana Sharp can do anything, and she already owns several thousand Earths. This is just one more.”

Who are you? Where did you come from? I’ve searched this Earth for millennia and never found anyone.”

“So… who are you protecting the fountain from?” Victoria asked with a giggle. He narrowed his eyes at her with a stern expression.

“I don’t know yet,” he replied. Victoria took the hint.

“My name’s Victoria,” she extended her hand in greeting. “I’m a scout for Sharp Development and your Earth is of particular interest. Sharp Development is a multiversal corporation with a presence on thousands of alternate Earths.”

“Gabriel,” the elder gave his name as he shook her hand. “There are… other Earths?”

“An infinite number,” she replied. “You’re whining about there being nothing left to see here; but, there are other Earths to see. There are things that exist beyond anything you could imagine.”

“How?” Gabriel asked. Victoria raised her hand and pointed at something next to him. The old man turned and was startled to find a black portal hovering in the air.

“Just walk in; someone will get you sorted on the other side.”  Gabriel hesitated a moment. He did not know what to expect but decided he had nothing to lose. With a stiff nod to himself, Gabriel made up his mind and walked into the portal. It closed behind him. Victoria pulled a node out of her pocket once she was alone.

“This abandoned Earth is now the property of Sharp Development,” she spoke to the transparent rectangle. The display flashed white, then the node disintegrated in her hand. The white powder dispersed into the wind; white nanos began to duplicate themselves in order to saturate the Earth.