Okay, Go!

Upside Down & Inside Out – OK Go

Upside Down & Inside Out – OK Go

(00:00)

“I’m ready. I want to be a Unique,” Jenny said. After wrestling with the question for weeks, she made her decision. Now, she stood in Ms. Sharp’s lab eager to go through the procedure. Ms. Sharp smiled and patted the Asian girl’s spiky black hair.

(00:14)

“I knew you would. Hop on the table,” the pale woman pointed at the metal and leather examination table. Jenny climbed on the table to lay on her back. Despite feeling confident of her decision, the process itself made her nervous.

(00:25 – 00:35)

Ms. Sharp walked to the control panel to start pressing buttons and flipping switches.

(00:36)

Ms. Sharp held a node up for Jenny.

“I need a container for your new soul, I’m planning to use a standard node. Do you have a custom one you’d prefer to use?” she asked. “I don’t think it matters too much, but I know you’re particular about your equipment.”  Jenny nodded the reached into her jacket for a node. She gave the transparent rectangle to Ms. Sharp with a nod.

She accepted the node and walked around to the head of the exam table. She inserted the node into a metal slot built into the table.

“You said it’s gonna hurt, right?” Jenny asked.

(01:01)

“Yes,” she replied. Jenny nodded.

“I’m ready,” she said.

“Are you sure? Do you know what you’re doing?” Ms. Sharp asked. “I know I told you, but you need to see it for yourself.” She pointed at a wall and an image appeared on it.

(01:10)

Jenny saw herself on the monitor. Thousands of herself. Some were older, some were male, but she knew they were all her. They seemed to be contained in a large warehouse.

“What gives you the right to do what you’re about to do?” Ms. Sharp asked Jenny.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Then she opened them again and locked eyes with Ms. Sharp.

“I got here first,” Jenny said firmly. “If I would do it, they would too.”

(01:27)

“‘Atta girl!” Ms. Sharp smiled and touched the girl’s arm for reassurance. “However, it’s one thing to say that,” she shrugged. “… it’s quite another to see it through. I need to be sure you understand the consequences. Tell me what’s going to happen.”

“All my alternate selves are going to die. All of those,” Jenny cocked her head at the while while keeping her focus on Ms. Sharp.

“Look at them, not me,” Ms. Sharp said. Jenny faced the screen.

“All of them are going to be killed. Right now. The rest will probably fall into comas and die. No more of me will be born. I’ll be the only me in any universe,” she said. She felt tears brush her cheeks but she refused to acknowledge them in any way.

“Okay. I’m convinced you know the consequences. Are you ready?”

(02:00)

“Ready,” Jenny said. A tall black portal appeared next to Jenny and Melody, a short woman with short, dark hair walked out.

“Sorry to interrupt, Hey Jen,” Melody smiled and gave the girl a polite wave before turning back to Ms. Sharp. “There’s a concern with the Yggdrasil project, I thought you should know.” Melody handed Ms. Sharp a node, but the rest took place behind Jenny’s view.

“I’m sorry Jenny, this needs my attention right now. Melody can finish the procedure. She knows the equipment as well as I do, and as I mentioned last time she’s already gone through it. Is that okay?” Jenny nodded.

“Okay, no problem. I understand,” Jenny said. She wanted Ms. Sharp to be there with her, but she knew if she postponed it she would chicken out. She trusted Melody and it helped to know she’s gone through it too. Ms. Sharp walked into the portal and disappeared without saying anything else.

“Everything’s ready, it looks like you were about to start. What’d’ya say, Jen?”

“I’m ready,” Jenny stared at the screen even though Ms. Sharp left.

(02:30 – 02:44)

Melody hit the start switch. All at once the duplicates on screen toppled over. They collapsed in a heap and purple energy began to fill the air. The energy was absorbed into the walls and channeled into the the docked node.

(02:45 – 03:15)

“There we go,” Melody said. She hit a second switch and the node popped out of the slot. She pulled it out and handed it to Jenny. “All set.” Jenny accepted the node with a look of confusion.

“That’s it? I thought it would take longer,” she said. Melody shook her head.

“Nope, this is the easy part.”

“Easy part? I thought there was only one part. And Ms. Sharp said it was going to hurt a lot.”  Melody’s eyes widened.

“No pain?” she asked. Jenny shook her head.

“Oh I see, that’s why you thought there was only one part. I don’t know why she didn’t tell you about the rest yet,” Melody shrugged.

“We need to remove your soul to make room for that one. That’s the part that hurts.”

Choice of Millions

[OT] Free-form Friday

Jenny stepped out of the pitch black, vertical hole that hovered in the air into a bright, white office lobby. A black cat with a red skull pattern in the fur atop its head followed her out of the portal, then the hole disappeared. The spiky-haired girl greeted the receptionist.

“Hi, Melody! Janet said Ms. Sharp wanted to see me?” She asked the woman.

“Hey, Jenny,” the dark-haired woman nodded. “Yup, she’s waiting for you,” the woman pointed at the door behind her. “Go on in.” Jenny walked toward the door and the black cat followed her.

“Janet, you can wait out here.” The cat hopped onto the secretary’s desk and stared at her.

“I’ll wait where ever I want, thanks,” Janet, the cat, said. She swished her dark bushy tail and another, smaller portal opened over the desk. She walked through it and disappeared. Melody and Jenny shrugged at each other, then Jenny continued into the office. Ms. Sharp stood from behind her desk when Jenny entered and smiled at her.

“Jenny! Congratulations on the win, you girls did a great job out there. Come sit down, we have something important to discuss.” The tall woman gestured at the seat in front of her large wooden desk. Jenny sat down while her mind wondered what was so important. She smiled at Ms. Sharp. “You know…,” Ms. Sharp began to pace around the room instead of sitting back down herself. “After you lost the first game I doubted myself a little bit.” She walked behind Jenny, and the girl needed to turn her seat to keep her focus on the woman in the white suit. She looked at Jenny and pointed a finger at her. “I doubted you very much.” Jenny’s stomach knotted itself with those words. She looked up to Ms. Sharp in so many ways, and the young girl could not stand being doubted by her. She decided it would never happen again.

“I almost kicked you off the team, but Bailey made me give you another chance,” Ms. Sharp explained. Jenny’s eyes went wide.

“Bailey did that for me?” She asked. Ms. Sharp nodded. “Wow… I thought she didn’t like me.” Jenny meant to mumble the comment to herself, but Ms. Sharp heard. The woman smiled at Jenny.

“You know she’s a Sirena, right?” Jenny nodded.

“Yeah…?” Jenny gave a half nod while she wondered what that had to do with anything. “OH!” The connection struck her like a bolt. “Oh, no… I never even considered she was controlling her emotions…  I just thought she didn’t like me because I’m a Zero.” Jenny’s head dipped slightly, but she kept her eyes on her chosen mentor.

“Not at all. She treats Uniques and Zeros exactly the same,” Ms. Sharp said. “Want to test her?” She asked Jenny with a smile.

“I… what?”

“I called you here because Bailey can’t keep up with the duties of being a Team Captain anymore. She recommended that you take over.” Jenny started smiling and discovered she couldn’t stop. She started nodding her head.

“YES! I’LL DO IT!” She jumped to her feet. Ms. Sharp held up a hand.

“It’s not quite that straightforward,” she said. Jenny let herself fall back to her chair. Ms. Sharp continued to pace around the room while she explained the situation. Jenny continued to turn in her seat to watch, thankful the chair spun with her. She caught a slight sigh from Ms. Sharp before the woman began speaking again.

“On paper, in public, you’re already the team captain. But the sticking point is I have investors I need to answer to. They’re fine with a Zero being the team captain on paper. Unfortunately, they’re less fine with a Zero being the actual team captain.” Jenny clenched her fists discreetly to hold back the tears.

“So then I can’t ever be the real captain?” she asked with a cracked voice.

“Well, that’s up to you. How important is it for you to be the captain?”

“I’ll do anything!” she said. Ms. Sharp nodded.

“I thought you might. The board members won’t accept a Zero team captain, so all we have to do is make you a Unique, right?”

“Yeah. Easy. Something that can’t be done.” Ms. Sharp shook her head and walked to the girl. She placed a hand on her shoulder and looked down at her.

“Jenny… It’s like you don’t know who I am. Do you think I would bring you here just to tell you something is impossible? Do you believe that I think anything is impossible?”

“You can do it? YOU CAN REALLY DO IT??!” Jenny jumped off her seat and wrapped her arms around the woman. “I wanna be a Sol! I mean, please. PLEASE!” She bounced in place still holding Ms. Sharp. After a moment the woman managed to free herself from Jenny’s grip.

“I can do it, but it’s dangerous, and it hurts. A lot.”

“You’ve done it?” Jenny asked. “Of course you’ve done it. What are you?” Again, Ms. Sharp shook her head.

“Not yet I haven’t. I don’t like pain, so I’ll wait until I make the process painless. Melody has though, she’s good with pain. She’s #35, La Estrella.”

“Cool. Yeah! I don’t care how much it hurts. I’ll do it.” Ms. Sharp walked to her desk and sat down in front of Jenny.

“First of all, I can’t make you a Sol. To do it I need one of the souls that you want to be. At the moment I only have plant souls handy. If your team continues to do well for me I’ll upgrade you to another tier when I get a chance.”

“I’ll take it!” Ms. Sharp held up a hand.

“And, you need to know the process. You understand what Uniques are, right? There would only be one of you. No more “you”s  in any universe. But, and this is the important part, to turn you into a Unique I need to kill a million of your Zeros. After that, all the ones that I don’t kill will die anyway. No more of you will be born. So you have to figure out whether you’re willing to make that decision for all your doppelgangers.”


Emotional Day

“There is… one last option,” Dr. Douglas said. “Maybe.”

“Maybe? This is my husband’s life! Can you help him or not?” Charlotte asked. Her husband, Daniel, remained quiet. The weight of the news was almost too much for him. Dr. Douglas gestured at Mrs. Fernandez to calm her down, but he shook his head.

“As I said, there’s nothing more we can do here,” The young doctor leaned over the desk and lowered his voice. There is someone who can help, but there’s no guarantee she will.”

“She’ll help. Who is she, how do I get in contact with her?”

“Well, that’s part of the problem,” the doctor shrugged. “If anyone has the technology to help it’s Dana Sharp, but I have no idea how to get in touch with her.”

“Can you give me a start?” Charlotte asked. She stood from her seat then helped Daniel up. “I’ve never heard that name.” Before the doctor replied Daniel chuckled weakly.

“Yes you have,” he responded with a raspy whisper. “Remember the VR game?” He chuckled some more. Charlotte moved closer to keep him steady, but she laughed at the memory too. Their daughter, Bailey, was bouncing off the walls. Bailey’s emotions are contagious and all three of them were overflowing with excitement in the days leading up to the game’s release.

“Oh! Her?” Charlotte asked Daniel, then she turned toward the doctor. “The Dana Sharp that invented the AlterNet?” The doctor nodded. “Well, that makes sense, okay. Thank you, Doctor.”

“Good luck,” the doctor said. He stood from his desk and shook both their hands. The Martins left the doctor’s office. They climbed in the car and Charlotte started it to get the air going, but she did not drive anywhere. She reached for her husband’s hand.

“Are we going to tell Bailey?” She asked. She already decided not to, but it was not a decision she could make alone.

“Are we not?” Daniel asked. “She can handle it.”

“She’s only 13. I know my emotions were a mess at that age,” Charlotte squeezed her husband’s hand. She turned and locked eyes with him, tears flowing out of hers. “I can’t handle her emotions on top of mine.” Charlotte felt his weak grip tighten slightly around her hand.

“That’s why,” he smiled at her. “When was the last time you felt her emotions?” Charlotte only thought for a second.

“The week we got the game… oh my god that was four years ago. What happened?”

“She saw what she did to us. It took me a while to notice it, but she’s gotten a pretty solid grip on her emotions.” Charlotte began shaking her head.

“No. No no, I don’t like her bottling things up like-” a squeeze of her hand interrupted her.

“That’s not it. She’s always had a level head, you know that. I think she learned not to let her emotions get carried away. And I think we should tell her because if she can spread some of that calmness around, we’ll all be better off.” Charlotte nodded, then shifted then shifted the car into Drive to head home.

“Okay, we’ll tell her. That makes it easier to get in touch with the Sharp woman anyway. She’ll probably have some ideas.”

“Right,” Daniel replied.

The drive home was quiet, neither of them had much to say. As Charlotte pulled into the driveway she and her husband immediately burst into giggles. Giddiness flowed into them like pixie dust from a straw. A brown-haired girl peered out through the Venetian blinds in their living room and waved excitedly at them. The blinds closed and Bailey was running at the car before they managed to get out.

“COME INSIDE!” She repeatedly made a “come here” gesture with both arms as she hopped up and down.

“WHAT’S GOING ON!” Charlotte ran to her daughter and they squealed like school girls. The woman started bouncing along with her daughter. Each of them smiled broadly. Daniel laughed as he placed a hand on Bailey’s shoulder.

“Calm down, Honey B. Tell us what’s going on.” Daniel felt a warm glow in his chest when he used her nickname. After the warmth disappeared he felt level headed again. He glanced at Charlotte and she looked to have calmed down too.

“There was a big tournament in the game and I won,” Bailey said in a more subdued tone.

“That must be some prize,” Daniel smiled at her. “Let’s get inside and you can tell us about it. We don’t need to be standing in the driveway.”

“Okay, but uh,” Bailey hesitated. “We have guests. Don’t be mad!” Charlotte looked at the driveway and on the street but did not see any unfamiliar vehicles. She smiled at her daughter.

“Did you finally make some friends at school?” Bailey rolled her eyes in response. “Hey, I felt that,” Charlotte reprimanded her daughter.

“Sorry,” Bailey apologized. “But this is way better than friends.” She put her hands up to keep her parents in the driveway. “It was a private tournament, right? They picked the best people out of 100 servers and I got first place. The prize is I get to be the captain of a roller derby team,” Bailey shrugged. “And so that’s what they’re here to talk to you about.” She clasped her hands together. “Please give me permission!”

“You’re the best player in the game?” Daniel asked.

“Not everyone showed up, and there’s way more than 100 servers. But yeah, I’m pretty good,” she smiled at Daniel and he felt her confidence.

“That’s my Honey B. Let’s go sign you up for the team.” He started walking towards the door.

“Mom?” Bailey asked.

“You want to join a team?” Charlotte hugged her daughter and kissed her forehead. “Of course! You’ll definitely make some friends there. C’mon.” She wrapped her arm around her daughter’s shoulder and they walked into the house behind Daniel.

The three of them stepped into the living room where Charlotte saw the guests. Two women, a seated one with short dark hair in a solid white suit and one that stood when they walked in. The woman that stood wore a matching suit in all black.

“Mr. and Mrs. Martin?” the woman in black asked. She held a clipboard in one hand and stretched out her other hand in greeting. Daniel shook her hand and nodded. She handed him the clipboard.

“Your daughter is a very talented gamer. My boss…,” she cocked her head toward the woman in white. “…is putting together an exhibition team to demonstrate her new product and we think Bailey would make an excellent team captain.” Charlotte looked toward the woman in white in time to see her stand from the couch. Her eyes widened and in a hurry, she turned to Daniel and yanked the clipboard from his hand; the pen left a long line of ink leading off the page.

“NO,” Charlotte said. She felt her heart break the moment she said it. She hoped Bailey would forgive her, but she developed a hunch. A woman powerful enough to hold such a large competition is talking about releasing a new product soon. It had to be her.

“Not unless you help my husband, Mrs. Sharp.” She stared at the woman in white. Dana Sharp smiled.

“Don’t do something for nothing, is that it?” she asked. “I can respect that. What can I help with?”

Star Shot

Britt yelped a high pitched scream and buried her head between her knees. She was seated directly in front of the screen when it exploded.

“Sparky?” Her father’s deep voice came closer, accompanied by hurried, heavy foot steps. “You okay?” Britt looked up at her father with tear stained cheeks; she pointed at the broken TV.

“Sorry, daddy,” her bottom lip quivered. Her father smiled and knelt down next to her.

“I asked if YOU are okay?” he said. The 8-year-old nodded with a chubby smile. “Good. How’d it happen?” her father asked as he moved to inspect the damage. Britt shrugged and gave her father a confused look that jutted her bottom lip out further.

“I was playing an’ I went like this,” Britt aimed an imaginary gun at the window and pulled the trigger. A tiny orange spark shot out of her finger toward the glass and shattered it. “WHOAAAA!” she half shouted and half giggled. Her father moved fast and grabbed her hand before she fired at something else. A wave of worry washed through the girl, but it dissolved when she saw her dad’s smile. He pulled her close and hugged her.

“You got your ability!” He patted her on the back. “Your mom’s going to be so proud!”

“Foley too!” Britt giggled. She looked forward to rubbing it in her brother’s face. He was older than her, but he did not have an ability yet. Her father stood up.

“C’mon!” he cocked his head toward the backyard. “Let’s go see what you can do.” They stepped out of the house and onto a custom deck.

“Stay there,” Britt’s father instructed. He pointed at an invisible spot just outside the house. He walked to the wooden railing and set a glass soda bottle on it. “Shoot it,” he said after stepping away. Britt aimed her imaginary gun and squeezed her index finger. An orange spark hit the bottle and made it explode.

“That’s good, but you have to control it,” the man said. He walked to the railing and set up another bottle. “Try and knock this one over without an explosion.” The girl nodded and stared at the glass bottle. The tip of her tongue peeked out of the corner of her mouth as she tried to squeeze the gun’s “trigger” gently. A slower, yellow spark hovered to the bottle. The moment it touched the bottle it violently exploded in a bowling ball sized fireball.

“Okay, I think that’s a good start for today,” Britt’s father chuckled. He placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll talk with your mom tonight, and we’ll find you a better spot to practice.” Britt’s eyes widened into a look her father saw every Christmas morning.

“The AlterNet?!!!!”  She looked up at her father and clasped her hands in a begging gesture. “PLEEEEEASE!!” He smiled down at her and winked.

“It’s not a bad idea. We’ll see what your mom says,” he turned to go inside. Britt smiled to herself. Whenever her dad said that the decision was already made.

Contract Upgrade

Theme Thursday: Dread

“Yeah, I think you got it,” Jenny said. The dark-haired girl nodded at Dread, a taller girl with white spiky hair, with an encouraging smile. “Let’s take a break.” The two girls skated to the edge of the glassy white track and sat on their team bench. Jenny smiled at the empty roller derby stadium around them. The sun hid behind a mountain of seats, on its way down for the evening. After enjoying a comfortable silence for several minutes, Jenny nudged Dread with her elbow.

“Hey,” she asked. She sat up straight and met Dread’s eyes. “What’s it like?…” Jenny hesitated for a moment, then clarified. “I mean, uh, being a Unique?” The pale girl smiled at Jenny and shrugged.

“It’s the same as being a Zero, except we get powers,” Dread said. Jenny shook her head.

“There’s gotta be more to it than that. There’s only one of you, anywhere, in any universe,” Jenny stared at the ground. “There’s millions of me out there,” she said in a softer voice. Dread placed a hand on Jenny’s shoulder to get her attention.

“Maybe,” she smiled once Jenny looked up. “But only one of them is sitting next to me.” Jenny smiled for a second, but then her face turned serious.

“Can you keep a secret?” Jenny asked. “Just for a little bit, it won’t stay secret for long.” Dread nodded. “Ms. Sharp offered to turn me into a Unique.” Dread’s eyes widened.

“What?” Jenny nodded with an eager smile on her face.

“Yeah! She said she’s been working on the tech for a while now and says its ready to test on Zeros! She offered me because I’m on the team!” Jenny grabbed Dread’s hands tight. “I’M GONNA DO IT!”

“What!? When?” Dread asked.

“She said in time for the next game,” Jenny shrugged. “So any day now, I guess.”

“Do you know what Soul?” Dread asked.

“Kind of,” Jenny sounded disappointed. “She said right now she can only do plant souls, so it’s going to be one of them.” Dread nodded, patted Jenny on the back, then stood up.

“Let’s keep practicing until you get your new soul.”

Teambuilding

“Penalty: Friendly Fire. Luchadoras, Torque,” the scoreboard announced in a deep male voice. All other skaters kept moving forward on the dirt road. Rook and Gremlin, two of the magi-knights, skated around Jenny as she stood up and dusted herself off.

“You okay, Jen?”  Dread asked over voice chat, but Dirge interrupted before Jenny could respond.

“What the hell was that??” Dirge yelled, obviously at Torque.

“Sorry, I-” Torque began to apologize, but Bailey interrupted her.

“Focus on the match. Jenny’s fine. Torque, get to the bench and wait out your penalty. We’ll deal with ‘why’ later,” Bailey settled the situation for them. The fire in Torque’s hair went out as she walked off the track towards the bench. As she sat down Bailey added one last reprimand.

“Ms. Sharp expects us to act like a team. If it happens again you’re out. Clear?” Bailey asked. On the track, Jenny was up and skating again. Rook and Gremlin were close to completing their second lap ahead of Jenny.

“Won’t happen again,” Torque replied.

“When you’re back in work with Dirge to keep their paladin busy. She’s easy to handle early on but if she gets too many laps she’ll be unstoppable.” Rook completed her second lap and proved Bailey’s point. A swarm of nanos formed a golden shield on the paladin’s left arm.

Gremlin, the short metal girl crossed the starting line next. Instead of continuing forward, she skated off the track to her team’s bench to tag in their sixth member. An athletic girl with green hair stepped on the track behind the starting line, then crossed it. A long, flowing, black leather coat formed around her.

“LongArm. Cardmage,” the scoreboard announced her name and class when she joined the match. Eight green floating octahedrons collected behind her in a single file line as she skated. She laughed as one of the octahedrons behind her exploded in a shower of green sparks.

“Zone: Camelot,” the scoreboard announced. A thin white line extended from the starting line around the track to connect with itself. It ran down the middle of the track dividing the dirt road in two. The inner half of the track transformed to dark grey stone. The cairns along the inside were replaced with stone battlements three feet high. The skaters on each team drifted into their team’s zone as they skated. Jenny, Dirge, Dread, and Bailey moved to the outside to skate in the fairy graveyard. Rook, Infernal, Thumper, Grace, and LongArm skated in Camelot. An eighth green octahedron coalesced behind LongArm as she skated. Then it burst into sparks again.

“Magi-Knights Card: Bounty. Target: Luchadoras, Dirge,” the scoreboard announced LongArm’s play.

“No way! How’d she play another card?” Dirge complained to her team. She slowed down to let Dread catch up to her. At the starting line, a swarm of nanos rose from the track and formed armored knight atop a white armored horse. It immediately charged forward.

“#21 La Mano,” Jenny replied. “Her Unique ability lets her bring one of her cards into play in addition to her starting draw. She can play it any time.

“How do we stop it?” Dread asked. She reached Dirge and matched her pace with the curly haired girl.

“Torque. New plan. Once you’re in go for the cardmage. Dirge can worry about herself and Dread will stall the paladin.” Bailey gave them new orders.

“Good luck,” Dread waved at Dirge and sped up again to catch up to the Paladin. Dread completed her second lap and a full-grown golden tiger formed next to her. She pointed at the paladin and the tiger ran forward toward the heavily armored woman.

Infernal, the red-skinned demon, completed his second lap at the same time as Dirge. He raised a flaming hand in the air.

“Blazing Rain,” the scoreboard announced. Molten drops of lava began falling over the entire length of the track, but the spell only damaged the Luchadoras.

“Ow,ow,ow,ow,” Dirge complained as the burning rain pelted her skin.

“Dirge!” Dread yelled into voice chat.

“What?”

“It’s RAINING,” she said.

“OH!”

“Unique #05: El Paraguas. Shield Variant,” the scoreboard announced the moment of Dirge’s realization. Clear bubbles formed around her teammates to protect them from the fiery rain.

“Thanks!” she chirped.

“Torque, get ready,” Jenny said as she approached the starting line. “I’ll take your penalty so you can take out their cardmage. I need a few more laps until I’m useful, but we need her out now.”

“Bailey?” Torque seemed unsure.

“Do it,” Bailey said.

“Thanks!” Torque jumped up ready for action. Jenny crossed the line and skated off the track to the bench. Torque stepped on the track behind the starting line and , it. Her twin afro-puffs ignited again. She aimed a finger gun at the green-haired girl wearing a black trench coat.

“Star Shot,” the scoreboard said. A small, bright orange spark shot from Torque’s finger when she squeezed an imaginary trigger.

“Team Bulwark,” Rook’s shield disintegrated into gold nanos that swarmed around LongArm. She started to move faster without it and managed to keep ahead of Dread’s tiger. The swarm condensed into a golden shield behind the girl to protect her. Torque’s shot bounced off harmlessly and the shield disintegrated again.

“Nice bait!” Bailey encouraged Torque.

“I know, right?” she replied. Her voice carried a full smile. The rest of the girls laughed.

“Flame Snipe. Target: Magi-Knights, LongArm.” Torque positioned her arms as if she were looking down the sight on an invisible rifle. She pulled the trigger and a fireball shot from her extended hand. On her head, the flame of one of her afro-puffs died out.

The fireball flew straight at LongArm and slammed into her back. The impact caused enough of an explosion to shove LongArm forward off balance. She tumbled forward on the dark stone ground. The mounted knight dissipated into nanos and disappeared.

“Point: Luchadoras,” the scoreboard announced. Then it followed up with another play. “Holy Aura.”

Thumper, the young boy in a white and red robe, flew over the starting line to start his third lap. A rainbow unicorn horn sprouted from the top of his forehead. All the Magi-Knights on the track began to glow with golden light.

“We might be in trouble,” Bailey told the team.

Las Luchadoras 5: Luchadoras vs. Magi-Knights

“This spectacle is for you,” Dana Sharp smiled at the array of cameras pointed at her. 16 in total, but 15 of them protruded from small black holes in the air. The black-haired woman sat in the owner’s box at the stadium in an elegant white leather high-back chair in. Her business suit matched the same bright shade of the seat; yet, her rigid, upright posture kept her from blending in with the upholstery. “I can’t think of a better way to welcome you to the multi-verse than by showing you what we have to offer your Earth. This roller derby match is a limited demonstration of the things each of you will be able to do in the AlterNet. I know I’m excited to get started,” Dana said. She glanced at her assistant, Melody, and received a nod to indicate everyone else was ready. “It’s a great honor for me to introduce one of your very own to start the match. I’m sure he’s a household name by now. The man who braved a black hole and found a universe on the other side, Bill Williams!” Dana clapped long enough for the live feed to switch to Bill standing down at the track, then she stopped. She dropped her hands to her lap and focused her attention on the large display in the room. The crowd’s cheering bothered Dana and she gestured at Melody to lower the volume.

A rugged looking uniformed man with a greying military cut stood next to the wide, smooth white track. He raised a pistol in the air and glanced at the first two people on the track. One was a young Asian girl with short, spiky black hair and the other was a dark-skinned woman in her early 20s. She sported coppery dreadlocks and bright yellow eyes. The pair, Jenny and Rook, nodded at Bill. He fired up into the air, then the two leaped forward. They skated as fast as they could, each focused on completing their first lap.

After they left their marks another pair stepped onto the track to take their place. A girl with a pair of afro-puffs on her head stepped into Jenny’s starting spot.

“Torque,” a deep male voice said. The announcement came from a black scoreboard floating in the center of the mile-long circular track. The scoreboard also displayed her name under the team name: Las Luchadoras.

“Infernal,” the scoreboard announced the name of an older man with a leathery face. His name appeared on the scoreboard under the team name: The Magi-Knights. He stepped into Rook’s spot. 20 seconds after the starting gun, the scoreboard buzzed. Torque and Infernal raced forward.

“Dirge.” The scoreboard announced the name of a girl with raven curls that took Torque’s place.

“Gremlin.” A girl with pink pigtails sprouting out the sides of her head stepped into Infernal’s place. The buzzer sounded for Dirge and Gremlin to start and they skated forward. Both girls seemed in less of a hurry than first two pairs.

“Dread.” A tall girl with short, spiky white hair stepped into Dirge’s spot. She looked at the young boy that hopped onto Gremlin’s spot. He looked to be about nine-years-old and still carried around more than his fair share of baby fat.

“Thumper,” the scoreboard announced his name.

“Good luck,” she said.

“Thanks! You too!” he smiled at her with full, chubby cheeks. The buzzer sounded and they skated forward at leisurely pace.

“Bailey.” A girl with a long brown pony-tail stepped into Dread’s spot.

“Grace.” A stern looking woman with shoulder-length blond hair stepped into Thumper’s spot. Bailey scanned the track to see how her team was doing. Jenny led by a decent margin. The interval between Dread and Bailey’s start lasted 45 seconds instead of 20.  Jenny passed the halfway mark before the last buzzer sounded for Bailey and Grace. Once all the skaters began their lap a female voice spoke to the stadium.

“For this match, we’re using standard Derby rules. However, the system is flexible enough to create your own rules in private games,” Melody said. She took over commentary to allow Ms. Sharp the chance to focus on watching her team’s debut game. “The competitors need to complete a lap before they can access their class skills. The goal is to knock everyone on the opposing team out of the game; and, that’s done by knocking each member down twice.” She said. On the track, Jenny was about to cross the starting line with Rook close behind her. “Here we go folks, things are about to get exciting,” Melody said. Jenny completed her first lap.

As she skated over the thin, white starting line her outfit changed completely. She began the match wearing blue jeans and a light blue t-shirt; she skated on black and blue roller-blades. Her clothes became a single piece white body suit. A red logo that resembled an open pair of scissors took up most of her back. The numbers “00” showed in black letters in the ‘V’ space left by the handle. A white mask with red trim covered her face and most of her head, but the spikes atop her skull were still visible. Her black hair now glowed with bright blue light. Her skates also changed to white, with a line of red wheels under them.

“Programmer.” The scoreboard announced Jenny’s class. Seconds later Rook crossed the starting line.

“Paladin.” The scoreboard said. Golden plate armor and a horned helmet formed around Rook. She slowed due to the weight of the armor and moved to the outer edges of the track to stay out of the way.

“Wizard.” Jenny glanced back at the announcement. Infernal crossed the starting line before Torque. A red flowing robe appeared around the thin man. His skin darkened to a blood red color and a pair of obsidian horns grew out of the top of his skull.

“Elementalist.” Torque crossed the line a few seconds after Infernal. Her costume matched Jenny’s, except the number ’35’ appeared between the scissor handles. Her mask also left her hair visible; her two afro-puffs burst into flames.

“Bard.” Half a minute later Dirge skated over the starting line. The number on the back of her white outfit read “14”.

“Blacksmith.” Gremlin’s skin and hair hardened into a shiny chrome-like metal when she crossed the line. She looked like an animated metal statue.

“Beastmaster.” The number on Dread’s back read “42”. Unlike the other girls, her white mask covered her face and hair like a balaclava.

“Healer.” A white and red robe formed around the boy. Then he jumped into the air and sprouted white feathery wings. He flew forward instead of skating.

“Knight.” The scoreboard announced almost a minute later. A suit of chainmail armor, with no helmet, coalesced around the stern woman.

“Cardmage.” Bailey was the last one to complete her lap. Her white bodysuit matched the rest of her team, but she did not wear a mask. The number on her back read ’06’. Eight green, floating octahedrons formed a single file line behind Bailey.

“Check in,” she said. Now that the whole team crossed the line they could communicate over private voice chat.

“Good to go,” Jenny replied.

“Present!” Dirge said.

“I’m here,” Torque responded.

“Check,” Dread checked in.

“Great. Let’s get started,” Bailey replied to the group. One of the green octahedrons behind her burst into green sparkles.

“Zone: Fairy Graveyard,” the scoreboard announced her play. The smooth white track transformed into a dirt path. Black grass sprouted along the sides of the track, and small cairns lined the outer edge. Torque noticed Infernal raise a hand in the air. It ignited with a bright orange flame that consumed his hand.

“Meteor Strike,” the scoreboard said. The flame around Infernal’s hand dissipated into black smoke, and Torque’s eyes went wide. She aimed a finger-gun at Jenny on the track as fast as she could and squeezed the imaginary trigger.

“Star Shot.” A small orange spark flew from Torque’s fingertip and struck the wheels on one of Jenny’s skates. The hit tripped her and her momentum tumbled her for several feet before she stopped flat on her back.

“Penalty: Friendly Fire. Luchadoras, Torque,” the voice boomed.

Las Luchadoras 4

“I see her,” Torque pointed at one end of the stadium with her right hand while she used her left to block her eyes from the sun. She stood on the smooth, white derby track with Jenny, Dirge, and Dread. Jenny saw Bailey coming through the gate and into the stadium. Her long, brown pony-tail bobbed as she jogged towards the girls.

“Awesome, we can get started,” Jenny said.

“Sorry I’m late, minor emergency,” Bailey apologized when she was close enough. “Did you guys run through your gear?” she asked. Torque and Jenny nodded, but Dirge and Dread shook their heads.

“I thought that’s what today was for?” Dirge said.

“No sweat, we can work on that too,” Jenny said. She smiled at Dirge. “I brought a few training scenarios we can try out on the track.” Bailey shook her head at Dirge.

“Saturdays are the only time we get the track. We can’t waste time doing tutorials,” Bailey said. She sounded stern but shrugged. “Can’t be helped, but from now on you’re expected to practice on your own time too. Clear?” She asked Dirge. Dirge pouted slightly and nodded. Her raven curls bounced as she bobbed her head. “Okay, we’ve got a match next week, so let’s make this practice count. First, I need to see what you all can do. Jenny’s the only one that actually tried out,” Bailey said. Jenny held up three nodes in her hand.

“Yeah, the scenarios I brought can,-” Jenny’s suggestion was interrupted by Bailey.

“I’ll look at the scenarios and see if we can use them at our next practice.” She grabbed the nodes from Jenny’s hand. “For now, let’s start with follow-the-leader. Log in.” Bailey stared at the girls but Torque was the only one that pulled her node out. Dread crossed her arms and stood up straighter.

“Jenny is the Captain,” Dread said.

“Yeah! Ms. Sharp said so!” Dirge added. Bailey let out a heavy sigh and brought her hand up to massage the bridge of her nose.

“I’m not going to waste practice time arguing about this. Look, it’s simple. We’re an exhibition team, right?” Dirge shrugged, but Jenny and Dread nodded. “Ms. Sharp wants publicity for the new AlterNet expansion. Anything she says in front of a camera is for the camera. I’m the team captain and Jenny is the attention grabber.”

“That’s not true!” Dirge stamped her foot in frustration. Bailey shrugged.

“She thought this might be a problem.” Bailey turned toward the nearest side of the stadium then yelled at the shadows under the mountain of seats. “JANET!” A black cat with a patch of red fur atop its head stepped out of the shadows and trotted to the group of girls. Jenny noticed the red pattern on the cat’s head resembled a skull when it stopped a few feet from Bailey. It sat and looked up at the girls.

“Kitty!” Dirge yelled, she rushed down to scoop it up.

“Please don’t,” the cat spoke with a gentle female voice.

“OW!” Dirge yelped when her head jerked back; Dread caught her by the hair to hold her back.

“Janet’s a Muerte. She’ll take you to Ms.Sharp,” Bailey turned her attention to Torque. “I’ll work with you until they get back.” Torque nodded. Janet swished her tail and a black hole tall enough for Dread to walk through formed in front of the three girls. Dread walked through first, followed by Jenny then Dirge.

On the other side of the portal, they stepped into a bright, white office. Cherry wood chairs lined a white frosted glass wall. A young woman sat at the receptionist’s desk across from the chairs. Jenny recognized her.

“Hi Melody, can we see Ms. Sharp?” she asked the assistant. She smiled and pointed at the row of chairs. “She’s with someone at the moment, have a seat.”

“Thanks!” Jenny nodded. Before any of the girls sat down a section of the glass wall behind Melody opened. A woman with shoulder length dark brown hair stepped out, followed by Ms. Sharp.

“Get some rest, Charlotte. He’s stable right now, and I have my best medics monitoring him,” Ms. Sharp rested a hand on the woman’s shoulder. The stranger brought a tissue to her eyes to dab away tears then nodded.

“Thank you, Ms. Sharp. I don’t know where we’d be without you.”  The woman turned away and headed toward an elevator that Jenny hadn’t noticed. Ms. Sharp turned her attention to the three girls and smiled at Jenny.

“Come in, let’s chat,” Ms. Sharp said. The three girls stepped forward, but Ms. Sharp held up a hand. “Let’s keep it between us Zeroes,” she added. Jenny turned and winked at Dread with a smile.

“It’s cool, wait here,” she said. Dread nodded and moved to sit down. Dirge sat next to Janet. Ms. Sharp disappeared into her office, and Jenny followed.

“Can I pet you?” Dirge asked the black cat.

“No,” Janet replied and hopped to another seat to put space between her and Dirge.

Jenny stepped into the office and discovered Ms. Sharp was already seated behind a glass desk. Jenny closed the door behind her and sat in the single chair in front of Ms. Sharp’s desk.

“Is Bailey team captain?” Jenny asked the moment she sat. Ms. Sharp smiled.

“Right to the point, I like that,” she nodded. “Yes. I’m sure she told you that you’re only ‘captain’ in public.” Jenny nodded. “It’s true. I’ve  already seen what she can do, but I can’t promote you to captain without seeing what you can do.”

“So, I’m just a token Zero on the team to draw the crowds?” Jenny asked. Ms. Sharp shrugged.

“Are you just a token Zero, or are you something better?” Ms. Sharp leaned forward over the desk and smiled at Jenny. “That’s your decision to make. You’re on the team because you’re good enough. However, with the upcoming expansion, I’d be stupid not to capitalize on having a Zero on the team. No matter how good you are, no one starts at the top.” Ms. Sharp leaned back and shrugged. “No one’s saying you can’t be team captain one day…” Ms. Sharp shrugged with a sharp smile. “.. but for now you have to start at the bottom like everyone else. Are you going to work your way up, or complain about not being there already?” Ms. Sharp raised her eyebrow when she asked Jenny.

“I’m gonna work,” Jenny said. She sat up straighter in her chair. Ms. Sharp smiled.

“‘Atta girl.” Ms. Sharp winked. “Bailey has the experience to run practices, and lead the team on the track. Learn from her and you’ll be the real team captain one day, I’m sure. In the meantime, don’t get caught up in titles. You’re all on the same team,” Ms. Sharp stood from her seat, then walked around the desk. “Anything else?” she asked as she moved towards the door.

“No. I guess that’s it.” Jenny said. Ms. Sharp opened the door.

“Don’t hesitate to see me if you need anything, us Zeroes have to stick together. I’ll assign Janet to be your guardian. If you ever need to see me, she’ll know where I am.” She gestured for Jenny to leave her office.

“I hope to see a great game next week,” Ms. Sharp said, then she closed the door. Dirge and Dread stood from their seats when Jenny walked out.

“Well?” Dread asked.

“Bailey’s the captain,” Jenny said. Then she smiled, “for now.” Dread shrugged.

“If you say so.”  Jenny smiled at the taller girl, then looked for Janet. The black cat sat in a chair waiting patiently.

“Can you get us back to practice, please?” Jenny asked the cat. Janet swished her tail instead of an answer; a black portal opened up for them. The girls walked out of the portal on the side, and into the stadium. Bailey and Torque sat on the penalty bench by the track, seemingly taking a break. Bailey stood when she noticed the girls.

“Everyone on board now?” she asked. The three girls nodded. “Great, let’s go over our strategy for next week. We’re facing off against the MagiKnights,” Bailey began.

“No way! They’re great!” Jenny interrupted. “They’re the top guild on the Violet server.” Bailey stared at Jenny in silence for several seconds, then started speaking again.

“That being said,…” Jenny shrunk back behind Dread. “…We’re up against their ‘A Squad’. Rook, Gremlin, LongArm, Grace, Infernal and Thumper,” Bailey paused and waved Jenny forward to speak up if she knew anything.

“Uh..,” Jenny stepped forward, and Bailey nodded at her. “Rook is a Fortress Paladin, and Gremlin is an armorsmith,” she said. She paused and glanced at Bailey, but the captain encouraged her to share more.

“LongArm: Justice Cardmage, Grace: Banner Knight, Infernal: Inferno Wizard, and Thumper is a Regen Healer. They’re very team-AoE focused.” Jenny moved away from Dread so that she could address all the girls. “Thumper and Grace have Unicorn souls for the AoE buff. Infernal too, so stay alert if he casts any spells. Gremlin is a metal elemental with a fire elemental soul. It’s also worth noting she’s a Nopal. She has access to metal, fire, and water at all times. Gremlin doubles Rook’s armor every three laps, so we should focus on the Paladin. We’ve got three laps to knock him out,” Jenny said. Bailey nodded.

“Thanks. That’s more information than I had,” she smiled. “But we’re going to bring Gremlin down first. They’re not team focused, they’re Paladin focused. If we break the buff chain everyone else is cake. Thanks to Dirge and Dread, Gremlin’s an easy target.” Dread moved to say something, but Jenny grabbed her shoulder.

“Bailey’s the captain,” she reminded Dread.

“Thanks,” Bailey sounded sincere enough for Jenny to smile at her. Bailey looked at Dirge and Dread. “I’m assuming you girls know the Silver Tongue combo?” she asked. Dirge replied to Bailey with a thumbs up gesture. “Great. Dread, how accurate is your roar?” she asked Dread.

“Any leaf on a tree,” Dread smiled.

“Show me,” Bailey said.

Las Luchadoras 3

“When I was nine my parents ran a small restaurant,” Dana Sharp said. She stood at an elegant dark wood podium on a stage made from the same wood. The stage sat in the center of a high school football stadium that was filled to capacity. 14 cameras poked out of 14 individual small, black portals in front of the stage. Each camera broadcasted the event to a different Earth. A 15th camera sat on the field to broadcast locally. “Nothing fancy, just pizza. One night a group of Uniques, Celestials, came through and treated my parents like garbage. My father did his best to prepare delicious food for them, while my mother did her best to meet their needs.” Dana shook her head. “It wasn’t enough.” Dana paused to take a breath and her hand moved up to wipe something out of her eye.

“I don’t know if there was anything special about that group, or if it happened to be the final straw… After we closed up that night my mother cried in the kitchen while my father gave me a piece of advice that I’ll never forget. ‘We’re Zeroes,’ he said. ‘There’s a billion other versions of you out there. We’ll never be as special as Uniques.  But,’ he said to me,” Dana brought a hand up to her chest. ” ‘I want you to try and be the best YOU.’ ” She let her hand fall.

“I vowed that no matter how many more of me were out there, THIS Dana Sharp was going to be the best one. Every bit as good as any Unique out there.” Cheering applause flowed through the stadium. She lifted her arms to bask in the applause.

“Today I run a major corporation, Sharp Development, across 15 universes. My AlterNet is accessible from over a thousand universes. Today, Uniques work for me.” Dana paused for applause and looked at the side of the stage. A group of five girls stood huddled together waiting for the right signal.

“But it’s not about Zeroes or Uniques being better than each other, it’s about being equals. Starting today Sharp Development will be sponsoring a roller derby team. Our goal is to help foster teamwork and cooperation between Zeroes and Uniques, for the good of everyone! Let’s start the introductions, shall we?” After the applause died out Dana waved at the group of girls. The first girl to climb on the stage wore blue jeans and a green t-shirt. Her long, chestnut pony-tail bobbed as she crossed the stage to stand next to Ms. Sharp.

“Bailey Martin,” Dana introduced her. Bailey bowed for the crowd and stood back. “Bailey is Unique #06, La Sirena. In the AlterNet she’s a human cardmage with a mermaid soul, give her a hand!” The audience cheered. A dark-skinned girl climbed on the stage next. She wore red high-top shoes and a red skirt with a black t-shirt. Two small, black afro puffs sat on her head, one on each side. Dana introduced her as she crossed the stage.

“Britt Matthews, known in the AlterNet as Torque. Britt is Unique #35, La Estrella. Her character, Torque, is a human elementalist, with the soul of a fire elemental,” Dana said. Britt gave a casual wave at the crowd and stood next to Bailey. A girl with black ringlet curls wearing a black and orange gothic lolita skirt climbed on stage next.

“Threnody Ingram, Dirge in the AlterNet. Threnody is Unique #14, La Muerte. Dirge is a fairy bard with a unicorn soul.” Dirge clapped excitedly to herself and eagerly waved at the crowd until Bailey stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. She fell back and stood next to Torque. Then, a tall girl wearing blue jeans and a red t-shirt climbed on stage. Her hair pointed upward in white short spikes.

“Dread Hansen. Dread is Unique #42, La Calavera. In the AlterNet, she’s a mermaid beastmaster with a tiger’s soul.” Dread was already standing next to Dirge by the time Ms. Sharp finished her introduction. She did not bother to acknowledge the crowd at all.

“And finally…,” Dana said. A girl with black hair that matched Dread’s hairstyle climbed on the stage. She wore blue jeans and a purple t-shirt.

“Jenny Minami. In the AlterNet, she’s a human programmer with a cyber soul. Out of the AlterNet, she’s a Zero like me. Like all of you.” Applause roared through the audience.

“Not only is this Zero good enough to be on a team full of Uniques, she’s good enough to lead them. Jenny will be the team captain. This hard-working young lady embodies everything we at Sharp Development are working for.” Jenny stood next to Dread, but Dana looked over her shoulder to wave the girl forward.

“This press conference was to introduce the team, but there is one more thing,” Dana said. She reached into the pocket of her white suit and pulled out a thin purple bracelet. She handed the bracelet to Jenny, then addressed the audience again.

“I mentioned earlier that the AlterNet can be accessed from over a thousand Earths, but I’ve never been one to rest on my laurels. Sharp Development has been hard at work on the next AlterNet expansion, and I’d like to give you all a peek at the fruits of our labor.” She turned her head and winked at Jenny. The girl nodded and put the bracelet on. Then she pulled her node out of her jean pocket.

“I made the AlterNet an even playing field for Uniques and Zeroes, but that’s just the beginning. I envision a future where Uniques and Zeroes are on an even playing field everywhere. Even where there’s no AlterNet access. Like this Earth for example,” Dana said. She stepped to the side to let the cameras focus on Jenny.  The girl held her transparent node high in the air. She looked straight at the camera, smiled, and said her login password.

“Jenny Rocks!” Violet light glowed from her node and everyone in the stadium gasped. Jenny inserted the node into the purple bracelet on her wrist and a purple flash of light consumed the stage. When it cleared Jenny was logged into the AlterNet. Her spiky black hair glowed with blue light. She wore a blue and gold body-suit with black fingerless gloves.

“Soon you’ll be able to access your AlterNet character from anywhere. Zeroes and Uniques on equal terms, everywhere.” A standing ovation resounded through the stadium.

Las Luchadoras 2

Jenny skated along the middle of the cobblestone path in a crouched position. She knew she was approaching the finish line so stood and leaned back to slow down. The bright blue glow faded from her hair leaving black spikes. She turned her body and came to a full stop an inch from the finish line.

“The Zero’s giving up!” The black and green naga yelled. Laughter erupted from the crowd of Uniques. Jenny recognized the croaky voice that pointed her ordinariness, but she ignored it. She focused on the two-inch white stripe that cut through the width of the cobblestone path. She’d done this before, but she knew Ms. Sharp was watching; Jenny needed to impress her.

“‘Betcha she’s not!” another girl yelled. It was a voice Jenny did not recognize and she wondered who it belonged to. She glanced at the crowd and noticed the girl with orange eyes smiling at her. She stood next to Dread, the tall girl with white spiky hair. Jenny realized they both stood up for her and thought they might be friends.

[You’re not, right? -Dirge] Purple glowing text appeared on the lower left corner of Jenny’s vision. She did not like the tickling sensation of Whispers in her ears and chose to route them to her eyes instead.

[No way! Watch this. -Jny] She Whispered a reply then gave Dirge and Dread a thumbs up gesture. Dread smiled.

“I told you!” Dirge yelled at the crowd. Their laughter died down and Jenny realized everyone was staring at her.

Awesome,” she thought. This was her chance to show Ms. Sharp what she could do. “Bailey!” Jenny whipped her head around to find her opponent. The girl stood on the other side of the track with her green hood down and an impatient look on her face. She uncrossed her arms and gestured them forward in a “move it along” motion. “Yep, you just lost,” Jenny giggled to herself. She appreciated the sportsmanship, but it did not mean she wasn’t going to take advantage of it.

Jenny stared down at finish line again then raised her left hand to move it over the line. After her hand crossed over the line she twisted it clockwise 90 degrees. Then she extended and contracted her fingers in different combinations until her hand emitted a soft blue light. A mass of bright, blue nanos gathered around her hand on the other side of the starting line. The glowing dots resembled a swarm of tiny blue fireflies. Jenny felt she collected enough then rotated her hand counter-clockwise. She changed the tempo of her gestures and the nanos flew towards her, but they could not cross the line backward. The swarm flattened like a sheet of paper against an invisible wall, the boundary of the starting line. The nanos formed a blue rectangle large enough for Jenny to walk through like a door.

Jenny pushed her left hand forward and smiled to herself when she heard a gasp from somewhere in the crowd. Her hand hovered in the air as if disconnected from her body.  She turned as she stepped across the line as if she were slipping her body into a coat that someone held for her. She moved through the blue rectangle and emerged on the other side as a disembodied head with floating hands. She faced the crowd then spun in place on her skates to show them her genius. As she twirled, her blue body-suit appeared and disappeared each time her invisible coat caught the wind.

[What did you do??? -Dirge] Jenny smiled herself when she saw the Whisper. Dirge seemed to be friendly and Jenny hoped they would both make the team.

[Hard to explain. -Jny] Jenny replied, but she did not want Dirge to feel blown off.

[Tell you after I win. -Jny] She added.

[Deal! -Dirge]

Jenny turned her attention back to the match. She skated forward again and scanned the track for her opponent. Bailey moved fast around the track with a look of annoyed determination on her face. Jenny decided she did not want to be close to the starting line when Bailey crossed it. She crouched low to increase her speed but skated on the outside lane of the track to keep an eye on Bailey. She thought her new friend might get a kick out of what was about to happen.

[Watch Bailey. -Jny] She sent Dirge a Whisper.

Jenny watched for the moment Bailey completed her second lap. The girl in green skated over the line at full speed, but she immediately slowed to a stop. Bailey looked at the starting line, then at Jenny. Jenny visibly shrugged, then giggled to herself and kept skating.

The sound of a buzzer made Jenny jump. She did not know what it meant, so she stopped and looked around. Ms. Sharp had stepped down from the stage and was walking towards the starting line. Ms. Sharp’s assistant followed close behind her, and she waved Jenny over. Jenny felt a knot tighten in her stomach, but she sighed and skated back to the start. By the time she arrived Bailey, Ms. Sharp, and Ms. Sharp’s assistant stood on the track. The rest of the Unique applicants, including Dirge, Dread, and the naga stood around them in a large circle.

“How did you block Bailey’s card draw?” Ms. Sharp asked Jenny.

“She can’t draw until I finish my first lap,” she explained. Jenny hoped that it sounded less like cheating if she explained it that way. She tugged at her invisible coat. “I haven’t yet.” The crowd didn’t seem to think so.

“CHEATER!” The naga croaked. Jenny hoped the naga did not make the team. Other members of the crowd started to boo, but Ms. Sharp held a hand up. Everyone went quiet.

“What are you?” The pale woman asked Jenny.

“Craftsman, programmer. Swarm Queen spec.”

“Human?” Jenny nodded.

“What soul are you using?”

“Cyber,” Jenny replied. Ms. Sharp stared at Jenny for a couple of seconds, then she nodded.

“Okay, you’re in,” She said. Jenny heard Dirge cheering over the boos from the rest of the crowd.

“I can join the try-outs?” Jenny asked. She was eager to show up the naga. Ms. Sharp shook her head.

“No. You’re on the team.” She turned to walk away, but her assistant made it clear to everyone.

“Three slots left. Line up with Bailey,” she said.

“SHE’S A CHEATER!” the naga yelled again. “Why does she get to be on the team?”

“If you think she cheated, then YOU don’t know how to play the game,” Bailey said. “You’re out.” The naga hissed at Bailey.

“FINE. But if I’m out, I’m taking her with me.” The black and green naga turned towards Jenny and rushed at her. Green light gathered in the snake’s hands. Jenny recognized it as a very painful monk skill that would hit eight times. Even if she had time to block the first, she could not keep up with all eight impacts. The green glowing fist flew towards Jenny’s face. She flinched and blocked with her hands, but the first hit never connected. She peeked through her hands and saw bulky, sea-green tentacles blocking every hit. The naga yelled at Bailey again.

“WHY ARE YOU PROTECTING A CHEATING ZERO?!” she raged.

“She’s on my team. You’re not,” Bailey said flatly. “And I already told you, she didn’t cheat. You can’t cheat in the AlterNet. If she did it, then it can be done. Leave or I’ll make you leave.” The naga stood tall and crossed her arms.

“You can’t make all of us leave,” she said. Most of the other Uniques there for try-outs gathered behind the snake. Before Bailey could reply Dread stepped in front of the naga and stared the snake-girl down. Dirge moved to stand next to Jenny and Bailey.

“We can,” Dread said.

“She’s a Calavera!” Dirge yelled. “She’ll stomp all of you.” Jenny noticed the naga shrank back a bit. She watched the crowd disperse until the naga and another girl were the only ones left. She was a dark-skinned girl with her hair made up in a pair of large black puffs on her head.

“Where’s everyone going? Am I that late?” the new girl asked.

“Hey, do you care if there’s a Zero on the team?” Bailey asked the girl. The girl’s eyes rolled upward while she thought about the question.

“Ummmm… ” Finally she shrugged at Bailey. “Kind of?”

“I’m going to ask you again. Give me a different answer,” Bailey said. “Do you care if there’s a Zero on the team?”

“YES!” the girl yelled.

“No.” Bailey corrected her.

“NO!” she repeated.

“Great, you’re on the team.” Bailey looked at the naga. “Why are you still here? Roster’s full.”