Star Brigade in the Lead

The sudden vibrations startled Parker into dropping the shiny oblong object. It fell into the soft grass and began emanating a golden light from its chrome-like exterior.

What the hell?” In the back of his mind, Parker feared it might explode in his face; he leaned closer anyway.

“Comin’ through!” someone shouted. Parker looked up and saw a short, pink-haired girl barreling toward him on skates unlike any he’d ever seen before. They left behind a two-foot-long visible trail of golden light. “MOOOOOOOVE!” She shouted; Parker did not. She brought her hands up to soften the impact but she still slammed into his chest. Parker was a tall, sturdy man. The unknown skater sent him staggering backward. He tried to keep his legs under him but he ended up on his behind in the soft grass. The girl, for her part, managed to stay on her feet. She crouched to grab the egg-like item but Parker noticed something behind her.

A second girl, shorter with raven curls falling down her shoulders, exited a tall, black portal and skated toward the girl that knocked him down. The second girl slowed down once the pink-haired one held the device in her hand. Another black hole opened in front of her and she skated through it and disappeared again.

“You okay?” The pink-haired girl turned her attention to Parker, but she did not make any attempt to help him up. Instead, she wiggled her fingers at the air and opened another black hole.

“What’s going on?!” Parker asked her. Once he realized she wasn’t going to help him up he got off the ground and dusted off his butt. The girl smiled.

“We’re winning!” she said with a wink. She skated into the black hole then she and it disappeared.

Handy Snack

“… and take Thumper with you,” Chef Salty said. “He never gets to go out,” The grizzly, greying cook tacked on a final instruction to the list of errands. Rook shifted on her hips and crossed her arms.

“Why am I doing this again?” she asked. The young woman made no attempt to hide the displeasure in her voice.

“Because I can’t leave my Earth and do it myself?” Rook rolled her bright yellow eyes upward.

“I know why you can’t go, idiot. I meant why am I going? You’ve got a whole guild of people waiting to serve the Violet Princess,” Rook gestured in the general direction of the barracks.

“This expensive adventure is your fault,” Chef Salty said. He pushed a finger into Rook’s shoulder. She lowered her eyes to the ground.

“Sorry,” she mumbled. “How am I gonna know that she doesn’t have Lunchables on her Earth?”

“Now you know why the first rule of Violet guild is, ‘don’t talk about your Earth.'” Salty smiled. A sudden ruckus came from the kitchen entrance. Rook and Salty turned to see Thumper on the floor. The chubby nine-year-old boy scrambled to collect the silverware he spilled.

“Sorry!” he yelled without looking up. Rook ignored the boy to talk to Salty.

“Since I’ve got a tag-along, give me some extra.” Rook grinned at the old chef. “I’ll make sure he has fun.”

“Funny you should mention that…,” Salty lifted his hand for Rook. She took the hint and held her hand out with the palm facing up. “I did say this was an expensive trip.” He placed two half-inch golden, glowing cubes in Rook’s hand. “It’s your fault, so you’re expected to a majority of the expense.” Rook glared down at the two cubes, then at Salty.

“That’s it? This is barely enough to get me there! How am I going to get back?” Salty shrugged.

“This isn’t an errand the guild is asking you to run; you’re cleaning up your own mess. That means you use your own resources that we both know you have.”

“I can pay!” Thumper appeared between the two with both tiny hands full of golden cubes. Salty raised an eyebrow at Rook. She sighed.

“Save your money kid,” Rook said. She pushed the boy’s hands away, then reached into her jeans. She pulled out a pitch black business card and threw it at the wall. A black portal appeared on the wall then seconds later a pair of young women walked out of the hole.

“Taxi?” the woman with short dark hair asked. Rook nodded. “Cool,” she said then turned to face the hole in the wall. The woman dipped her hand in the hole and it began to shrink. She pulled the black into her hand like a fountain pen collects ink. When the hole disappeared she gave the black business card back to Rook. “Where to?” she asked.

“I gotta visit a grocery store on my Earth,” Rook said. She extended a hand. “I’m Rook,” The woman shook Rook’s hand.

“I’m LlinnnnaaaOO WAY! ROOK?” Llina looked around the castle’s kitchen. “This is the Magi-Knights’ guild hall?” Rook gave her a slight smile and nodded.

“CAN WE GET A PICTURE WITH YOU?!” the red-headed woman appeared beside Llina and yelled the question at Rook.

“Serena! Don’t be rude!” Llina reprimanded her friend, then turned to Rook. “But since she already asked…,” she grinned. “Can we please? OH! Your ride is totally free. Round trip.”  

“Yeah c’mon.” Rook stood up straighter and posed. First with an arm around Llina while Serena took the picture, then the girls swapped places.

“Alright, one grocery store coming up,” Llina wiggled her fingers at the air and formed a pitch black portal.

“What’re you getting on your Earth that you can’t get here?” Serena asked. Rook looked at Salty, but the old man shrugged.

“They’re not in the guild,” he said.

“Lunchables,” Rook said. “The princess has a craving,” she sighed. Llina and Serena looked at each other and communicated with nods and shrugs. Then Llina slipped her grey backpack off her back and pulled out a bright yellow box.

“These?” she handed the box to Rook. “Or are they different on your Earth?” Rook smiled at the “Ham & Swiss” label and nodded.

“This is great!” She tossed the box at Salty. “Mission accomplished,” she said.

“Oh. Does that mean you don’t have to go anywhere?” Llina asked.

“Ooooor does it mean you don’t have to be anywhere?” Serena smiled. Rook laughed and slapped Serena on the back.

“Yeah. I got nowhere to be, so where are we going?”

“MY DAD!” Llina shouted. “Sorry. He’ll kill me if he doesn’t get to meet you though, he’s a big fan.”

“Sounds good, let’s go.” Rook nodded. Llina dismissed the portal with a wave of her hand, then she wiggled her fingers to open a new one.

“He’s gonna flip!” Llina dashed into the black hole followed by Serena. Rook moved to step in, but Llina poked her head out. “Hang on a sec, he’s probably going to want to change and clean up  a bit.” Then her head disappeared into the hole again.

Another ruckus drew Rook’s attention to the door. Thumper was on the floor picking up the silverware, though this time he was facing out the doorway.

“Don’t go too far, we’re going through in a bit.” Rook said. Thumper’s head whipped around with wide eyes.

“Really??” he asked. Rook nodded.

“Yeah, kid. Looks like we got wheels now. Where do you want to go?” she asked.

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.”

Corporate Secret

Julio paused and stared at the sights before him. A forest full of giant trees replaced his neighborhood. Sunlight poured in from the treetops and illuminated a small clearing on the forest floor. A familiar young woman with short dark hair sat on a stump in the clearing. She smiled and waved at Julio. The mid-40s man in a business suit walked through the lush grass to the young woman.

“No,” he said with a firm tone. “Now send me back please, Leah.” She shrugged.

“I haven’t asked yet. You can’t say no until I ask.”  He looked around at the forest, then back at the woman.

“You couldn’t have asked on my Earth?” She shook her head, her dark hair bounced from side to side.

“Not enough privacy,” she stood from the stump and walked to him. “Ms. Sharp sees and hears everything there.” Julio sighed and gave the woman a faint eyeroll.

“See? I knew it was about her.” He placed a hand on her shoulder and looked her in the eyes. “N-O.” he spelled out his answer. “Can you send me back so I can get to work on time?” he asked.

“She’s not real!” Leah blurted out. That gave Julio pause. He cocked his head to the side and looked at her while he processed the new information.

“What do you mean she’s not real?” A faint smile flashed across the woman’s lips.

“Her body is made of nanos like AlterNet characters,” she explained with a growing grin. “She’s an NPC!” Julio stared at Leah for a moment, then slitted his eyes.

“You’re suggesting the Ms. Dana Sharp, the head of a multi-universe corporation, is a rogue NPC?” Leah nodded with sparkling, eager eyes.

“The Ms. Dana Sharp that’s your boss. It’s mind blowing, right? I need your help to prove it.”

“Leah,” Julio cast his eyes down at the woman. “I know you get distracted easily, but I already said no.” He shrugged and smirked at her. “Anyway, it’s not like I see her any more often than anyone else. She’s my…,” Julio gestured with air-quotes “…boss because she owns the company.” Leah shook her head.

“But that’s why stopped you before going to work,” she said. Her bottom lip pouted at the older man. “She’s visiting your factory today.” She pushed a playing-card-sized rectangle of glass into his hands.

“What? How do you know that?” He looked through the node at the woman. “What do I do with this?”

“You don’t have to do anything. Just keep this in your pocket and get within 200 feet of her.”

“And then??” he held the device up as if threatening to give it back if he didn’t like the answer.

“If she’s human, nothing will happen,” she poked it with her index finger. “Like right now.”

“And if she’s not?” Leah shrugged and bit her bottom lip.

“She’ll fall apart?

“WHAT?!”

“Only a little bit!” she defended her self. “Just enough for everyone to see what she really is.” Julio sighed and pocketed the node.

“I’m gonna lose my job over this,” he said.

“No way. There’re too many people working, they’ll never narrow it down to just one.”

“You promise?” Leah gave him a thumbs up gesture.

“I promise. It won’t be traced back to you.”

“Fine. Now can I get to work?”

“Of course. I’ll even drop you off,” Leah lifted a hand in the air and wiggled her fingers. A vertical black portal appeared in front of Julio then it moved forward to swallow him. He found himself on the outskirts of the factory parking lot. “Good luck!” Leah’s voice came out of the black hole as it disappeared. He glanced at his watch.

“At least I’m not late,” he chuckled to himself and started the long walk across the parking lot. He started the morning full of nerves, but as the day wore on he felt more relaxed. Despite Leah’s tip, no one mentioned any visits from corporate all morning. By lunchtime, the plan slipped his mind entirely. He remembered the moment he saw a black portal open above the cafeteria stage.

“Uh oh,” a brief surge of panic flooded his mind. He hoped to be closer to the 200 foot maximum with the node instead of the 10-foot distance he sat from the stage. A pale young woman walked out of the black portal to approach the microphone.

“Ms. Sharp would like to say a few words,” she said with a mousey voice. Then she stepped to the side of the microphone. Julio felt horror in the pit of his stomach when the woman walked out of the portal. The workers gasped collectively at the sight. The figure resembled a swarm of insects trying to form the shape of a woman.

Upon hearing the gasp the figured lifted her arm to examine it. Tiny multi-colored balls flowed in the loose shape of a hand. The figure turned to enter the portal again.

“Melody,” she said. Her voice carried perfectly despite not having any lips. “Kill everyone.”

Ticket to Ride

“Might as well,” Lucy shrugged. She accepted the plate with two slices on it with a nod of thanks. “We’re all gonna die anyway.”

“Don’t say that,” Mando smiled at her as he plated another pair of slices. “My wish has worked out pretty well so far.” He patted the brick oven on the side. “This thing hasn’t let me down yet,” the older man smiled at the rest of his gathered friends. Though their attention was on the news, not on him. Mando’s large screen TV showed skeletons raining out of black holes in the sky. The view switched to different cities, but it was always raining skeletons. Each member of the small group that showed up took turns looking up at the sky. Lucy laughed.

“You’re right! I remember when it popped out at that banana and honey pizza,” her laughter drew everyone else’s attention. Greg, Mando’s stepson, joined in on the laughter as well.

“We didn’t know what to do with it! HAHA. We left it out and the next thing we know a monkey shows up from out of nowhere and starts eating it!” He doubled over in his seat, red-faced from laughter.”

“And then the doorbell rang,” Carla took over the story with a broad smile. “A clown was going door to door looking for his lost monkey.” She nodded at the pizza oven, then patted Mando on the shoulder. “That monkey’s favorite pizza was banana and honey, the clowns give it to him as a treat sometimes.” She shrugged. “There’s no way any of us could have known that, but it worked. That’s why we’re here today.”

“Or to spend our last day together,” Lucy added.

“Have some faith in the oven!” Carla said with a smile.

“Fine. I have faith in the oven,” Lucy rolled her eyes. After her statement, the oven dinged to let them know another pizza was ready. Mando looked at his guests’ plates, but everyone had at least a slice.

“Did someone want something else?” he asked while he moved to the oven. He grabbed the wooden peel and pulled the pizza out. “Uhh. Looks like ham and pineapple.”

“Gross, no,” Lucy replied first, but the rest of them seemed to agree the pizza sounded disgusting.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH” Lucy shrieked suddenly. Mando looked to see what the problem was. The short woman pointed at a vertical black hole hovering a foot off the ground.

“Get behind me!” Mando moved to stand in front of his guests. He held the loaded pizza peel in front of them. He saw white come out of the portal and panicked. He swung the peel like a catapult to launch the steaming pizza at the portal.

A deafening yell, louder than a train whistle, caused the pizza to explode in mid-air. The volume drove Mando and his friends to their knees. Once they were on the ground the sound stopped.

“Rude!” a girl’s voice said. Mando did not recognize it.

“We probably scared them,” another girl said. Mando looked up and saw three young girls. A tall one with short, spiky white hair, a short one with long black curls, and one between them with short, spiky black hair.

“Hi.” the Asian girl with black spikes waved. “Sorry if we scared you.” Mando felt safe enough to stand up. He helped Lucy up while Greg helped Carla. Once they were all on their feet Mando looked at the dark-haired girl and nodded.

“I think we’re all okay. Sorry for throwing the pizza at you. We thought you were invading. Who are you?” he asked.

“Oh! I’m Jenny,” she smiled. “That’s Dread,” she pointed at the tall white-haired girl. “And that’s Dirge,” she gestured at the girl with dark curls. “Why did you think we were invading?” she asked. Mando pointed at the TV. Black portals continued to rain skeletons on cities.

“We need to leave. Now,” Dread said. Dirge nodded and turned towards the portal.

“What’s going on?” Jenny asked.

“Ballisea’s taking over.” Dread answered her.

“Whoa…” Jenny watched the TV for several seconds. “You said she was powerful… but…. wow..”

“Let’s go, Jen.” Dread placed a hand on her shoulder. The girl nodded and turned to go back into the portal. She caught sight of the pizza remnants on the ground.

‘Oh man! Was that ham and pineapple?” She stopped before entering the black hole. “I love ham and pineapple.” The girl turned toward Mando. “Hey. Got any more?” The oven dinged and Mando nodded.

“I do if you take us with you.”

“Okay,” Jenny smiled.

“And the oven too!” Carla added.

“Uh..”Jenny looked at Dirge. The curly-haired girl nodded with a shrug.

“Okay!”


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.”

Pizza Planning

[OT] Sunday Free Write

“Thanks for the food, Mr. Martin,” Dread smiled at Jenny’s father after he took their order. Dread, Dirge, Jenny, and Torque sat in a green in a red booth together. The short, round man smiled at the group.

“Having you girls here will be great for business. Once you start winning games that is,” he chuckled.

“Daaadd! It was our first game!” Jenny whined, but she smiled and tried to kick her father’s shin from her seat. Her foot did not reach but the older man responded by sticking his tongue out at her.

“Pizza on the way,” he said, then walked away toward the kitchen. Jenny’s attention turned to her friends.

“I gave Bailey some info about the next team,” she explained. “She asked me to give you guys a breakdown because she’s busy.”

“This team should be easier than the Magi-Knights, they’re ranked pretty low,” Jenny said. She smiled, “They’re a guild on the Teddy-Bear Server named Clown Patrol.”  Dirge giggled.

“Sounds easy,” Torque said and laughed with Dirge. Jenny pulled out her node and motioned for the other girls to do the same. She brought up a picture on her node.

“Easier than our last game, definitely. But don’t underestimate them,” Jenny said. She sent a picture to the other three nodes. It showed a lanky clown with golden-yellow curls of hair at his temples. The top of his head was white and bald. He wore a red clown suit with over-sized yellow, floppy shoes.” The captain’s name is Laughtrack. He’s human, but he’s a bard, so he has a Unicorn soul. Next is WaterJet,” she said. The picture changed to a female clown carrying a white-lace parasol. Blue painted water drops resembled tears on her white face. “Mermaid elementalist with a water elemental soul. Torque, watch yourself with her.”

“No problem,” Torque smiled and gave Jenny a thumbs up. The picture changed to a tall, fat, mountain of a man. He wore a stained apron over his round gut, and a white hairnet wrapped around his rainbow afro.

“Cookie. Human chef with a Human soul. He can buff and debuff using his pies, so watch out.” The girls nodded while giggling. The picture changed again. “SlimeMime,” Jenny named the lean, athletic woman in classic mime makeup. “Human monk with a slime soul. Those guys are all pretty easy. We should take them out as fast as we can to focus on the main threats.” the picture changed again. This time it showed twin clowns wearing suspenders and cowboy hats standing back to back.

“Soggy,” Jenny highlighted the clown in a green cowboy hat. “Human rodeo clown with a slime soul. And Bull,” she highlighted the clown in a red cowboy hat. “human rodeo clown with a minotaur soul. They’re agility tanks, so they’ll be hard to hit. Focus on everyone else then we can take them out one at a time,” Jenny said. The girls nodded. Jenny was about to say more, but her father appeared at the table with a large pizza. Jenny waited for him to head back into the kitchen before she continued. The rest of the girls grabbed slices onto their plates.

“I talked to Ms. Sharp about getting another member,” she said when each girl had a mouth full of pizza. “The Magi-Knights have six, and the Clown Patrol have six. It makes sense to have someone on the bench. Having four people on the track for most of the early game last time slowed us down.” Torque swallowed her bite and looked at Jenny with sad eyes.

“Sorry,” she apologized again. She apologized several times since the game. Jenny shook her head and smiled.

“We already covered it. You made a good call. It’s just not how Ms. Sharp wants things run, apparently,” she said with a shrug.

“So what’d she say?” Dread asked, then took another bite.

“Bailey’s already looking at candidates. I suggested a healer, but who knows if she’ll listen,” Jenny commented.

“Do we know what Uniques they are?” Dirge asked. Jenny shook her head.

“They’re ranked so low that people don’t care. All I know is Laughtrack is #28, La Sandía. But I don’t know how that helps him in game,” Jenny said.

“Wait. When did you talk to Ms. Sharp?” Dread asked. She worried about Jenny going alone.

“At the beginning of the week. We talked about how the game played out and why we lost.”

“Was she mad?” Dirge asked sheepishly.

“It didn’t seem like it. But she did say she hoped we’d do better in the future.”

“You girls want anything else?” Mr. Martin appeared beside the table to ask.

“We’re good,” Jenny answered for the group. “Thanks, dad.” The man nodded and retreated to the kitchen.

“Your dad’s cool,” Dread said.

“Thanks,” Jenny smiled. “What about all your parents?” she asked.

“OH!” Dirge overflowed with excitement. “You totally need to meet my parents next time! You too, Torque,” she offered.

“Thanks. Uh, my home life is complicated right now,” Torque stared at the table. “Not in a hurry to show off the parents,” she said.

“Ballisea killed my parents,” Dread said. “Dirge’s parents adopted me, they’re really cool too.”

“Who’s Ballisea?” Jenny asked.

“How do you know Flutter and not Ballisea?” Dread looked surprised. Jenny shrugged.

“Flutter’s popular in game. Ballisea can’t be that great. Why? Do they know each other?” Dread nodded.

“Ballisea is Flutter’s boss. She’s way stronger than Flutter.”

“She sounds awesome.” Jenny smiled.