Stellar Tour 1: Stellar Reveal

You are part of an agency that tracks down unregistered magical girls/boys to train and register them in the system or to arrest them if they are uncooperative.

June 19, 2021u/gravyfan93

“Hi, I’m Oz,” a lean man with round spectacles stood before Astra and introduced himself. The 14-year-old girl was on her way home through the park. Oz was sitting on a bench as she passed and he called out to her. Astra had no fear talking to strangers; she could take care of herself and she wasn’t alone.

“Hi, Oz. What can I do for you?” Astra asked without giving him any information.

“Do you know what a special little girl you are?” He asked. Astra nodded, then whirled around to start walking away again.

“Yeah, that’s not creepy at all from a stranger,” she said loud enough for him to hear.

“You’re right, sorry!” Oz was quick to apologize. He continued pleading his case when Astra slowed and turned around. It was a bright, sunny December Saturday. The park was relatively empty so Oz felt comfortable speaking some secrets aloud. “I’m here on business; what do you know about the unusual spider-fall a couple of weeks ago?” Astra wanted to play it cool; but, her answer told Oz that she knew plenty about it.

“What business, exactly?” she asked. Oz smiled.

“There’s a magical world hidden just underneath the real one,” Oz said. “My organization recruits and trains magical kids, like you, to keep the normal world safe. Oz noticed golden stars flash in Astra’s eyes for a moment; then, she grinned and shook her head.

“No thanks,” Astra gave him a half-wave.

“Wait,” Oz said. “What do you mean, ‘no thanks’?” he asked. “I’m asking you to help save the world. You know, where your friends and family live. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” Astra shrugged.

“Sure. But, I’m not gonna stress it. If things happen and I see an opportunity to help, I’ll help.” Oz shook his head.

“I’m sorry to say, I must insist,” he took a step forward. As soon as he did, a low, rumbling growl filled the air. Oz tilted his head. “Eager to fight, huh? I have to say, that’s not a good reflection of your temperament.” Astra rolled her eyes.

“It’s not me,” she said. “Show him, Ben,” Asta added. When she did, a large white wolf, almost as tall as her, materialized out of thin air. The wolf stood next to Astra and bared his teeth at Oz.

“I don’t want to fight you,” she said. “But Ben is more than happy to.” Ben barked at Oz and half-dozen large black widow spiders flew out of his mouth. They landed on the park path and immediately scurried towards Oz.

“You’re going to have to do better than that, puppy,” Oz smiled. He lifted his hand and made a crushing gesture with his fist; green energy lifted the six spiders off the ground and pulled them together. They were compressed into a single small black ball. “I’m taking you in for registration one way or another.” Astra shuffled closer to Ben and put a hand on his head.

“I already said no thanks,” Astra replied with a smug smile. Oz was focused on the girl and wolf before him. He did not notice the extra tall black portal opening behind him until Asra pointed it out. “But maybe he’ll want to go with you,” she said and pointed behind him.

It was Oz’s first mission alone, but he wasn’t a fool. He wouldn’t have turned around if the hairs on his neck did not jump to attention as soon as Astra pointed behind him. He spun around and immediately stumbled backward trying to run away. A giant purple spider the size of a Volkswagen. Oz made a crushing fist; green energy surrounded the beast but it continued to crawl toward Oz.

“Okay, I guess I have to get serious,” Oz said. He scrambled to his feet, then held up a jade fountain pen. “Authority Access,” Oz said. A green flash of light emanated from the pen, it was bright enough to make Astra blink. when she opened her eyes again, Oz stood there wearing the exact same suit he wore moments ago. But, instead of the spectacles, he now wore a green eye mask. The pen became a long jade staff; Oz pointed it at the car-sized spider.

“Wait! Don’t hurt it!” Astra said. A giant portal opened under the spider to swallow it again. “I just wanted to scare you,” she said. “I really, really don’t want to fight you.”

“Then, don’t,” Oz said. “Join us, help protect the Earth.”

“My dad always says something that I think applies to you,” Astra said. “You need to broaden your horizons; there’s ALWAYS more out there than you know.”

“That’s a nice lesson,” Oz said. “But, I don’t see how it relates to saving humanity from the forces of evil.”

“Well, for one thing, it’ll help to know this isn’t the only Earth that exists,” Astra said. A tall portal opened halfway between Astra and Oz.

“There are infinite Earths out there, most of them with humans,” Astra said. Oz had been curious where the spider came from and went. Now he had an answer; it came from a different Earth. He stared at the portal as his mind raced. Alternate Earths, infinite alternate Earths.

“Saving humanity? It’s just busywork,” Astra said. “Not only can you not do it; you don’t have to.”

Two nights: Misunderstood

“Two nights….” the hag said.

Her accent thick, “..you dead.”

Roger nodded and formed a plan.

A day to make arrangements;

Then, his race began.

“I’ll chase the sun,” Roger thought.

“Avoid the the night and prevent

my expiration.” He felt clever.

During a pit stop, he was caught.

Soldiers armed and armored

boarded the plane. Taking over.

“Kill him,” One gave a command.

“I was wrong,” Roger murmured.

The intruders approached him.

Two knights. Weapons in hand.

Nothing Doing

“You don’t want to do that,” the sudden voice startled Charlie. He yanked his hands away from the mermaids he was about to untie and whirled around to find the voice’s owner. The sun had already set below the ocean, but there was just enough purple twilight left for Charlie to determine the beach was empty.

“Who said that?”Charlie asked. The pair of bound and gagged mermaids quieted their struggles. They made enough noise to attract Charlie’s attention and seemed content knowing he was trying to help.

“I did.” Charlie suddenly noticed a shadow on the beach, though it wasn’t cast from anything. A black spot rippled on the sand in front of Charlie. Then, a seated figure appeared from thin air. She wore all black; a dark hood and mask obscured her face but Charlie could clearly see glowing golden stars in her eyes. Charlie took a step back in surprise and almost tripped himself into the boat. He managed to stay on his feet and stared at the person in black.

“Who are you?” Charlie asked. He thought he saw her shrug, but it was hard to tell. Her black outfit blended together making it difficult to see any of her contours. Her voice was the only clue he had she was a woman.

“Doesn’t matter. I’m just telling you that’s a bad idea,” she replied.

“What’re you going to do if I untie them?” Charlie asked. She laughed quietly, then responded.

“Nothing,” the woman said.

“So why shouldn’t I untie them?”

“Unfortunately, that’s the only warning I can give you. I can’t give you any more information. But, let me ask you this, do you know why they’re tied up?” she asked.

“No, but I’m sure it’s nothing good,” Charlie replied. Again, the woman gave a small laugh; it was just patronizing enough to make Charlie feel like an idiot.

“You’re right about that. But, not in the way you think,” she said.

“And you know why they’re tied up?” Charlie asked. “Did you do it?” he added once it looked like she nodded. The purple evening was disappearing and she was getting more difficult to see. Charlie considered pulling his phone out for more light but considered it might be rude. And he did not want to draw attention to his phone if she was dangerous.

“I didn’t tie them up, but I know why they’re there. It might be giving you too much information, but you seem like a nice guy,” she said. “When I look at them, the word ‘bait’ comes to mind.”

“So what are you doing here? Waiting for someone to take the bait?”

“That might’ve been the case if I hadn’t stopped you,” she replied. Another giggle made Charlie feel even smaller. “I’m waiting. My friends are on their way, and we’re planning to take the bait together. If nothing else, maybe you can understand that you shouldn’t take it alone.”

Charlie was willing to heed her warning until she mentioned friends. Then, it became obvious she was stalling. She surprised him, but she was alone and significantly smaller than his 6’4 frame. Once her friends arrived, he wouldn’t be able to rescue the mermaids. But, if he acted fast he doubted the petite shadow would be able to stop him. She probably wanted him to think she could have killed him by surprise and was pretending to be friendly.

“I’m going to untie them,” he said sternly.

“We all make mistakes,” the woman said. Charlie kept his eyes on the shadow and slowly worked his way around the small boat backward; he did not want to have to turn his back on her to untie them. He reached down and began working the ropes around one of the mermaid’s wrists. She seemed to understand he was helping and remained perfectly still. Finally, he felt the strap come loose. He sighed in relief when the woman did not make any moves to stop him.

“WHO DARES TO FREE MY PRISONERS!??”  A voice bellowed from the dark oceans. A red glow above the waves caught Charlie’s attention. Then, it jumped into the sky. A towering naga with pearlescent scales on his lower half crashed on the beach next to Charlie and showering him in sand. Its upper torso was twice as broad and muscular as Charlie’s and he carried a red-glowing metal trident. “DEFEND YOURSELF, VILLAIN!” The naga rushed at Charlie.

“HELP!” Charlie immediately dashed toward the shadow. Adrenaline heightened his senses enough that he could still see her form in the darkness. But, suddenly, she faded out of existence as he got closer. He heard her voice one last time.

“I warned you what I’d do if you untied them.”

Family: Planned

“Don’t worry, they won’t find it.” Tommy’s father said over the intercom accidentally. The whole conversation seemed like an accident he wasn’t supposed to hear. Tommy and his new friend, Brad, grinned at each other the moment the intercom shut off with a loud click. They got the impression Tommy’s dad was leaning on a button he shouldn’t have been.

The pair of 10-year-olds began eavesdropping halfway through the conversation. The voice of Brad’s mother suddenly filled the white room they were in, “… left the node in there. I should go get it.”  Her concerns were dismissed by Tommy’s father; but, it was too late.

“The node!” Tommy whispered to Brad with wide eyes. “I’ve heard my dad talk about it! You?” Brad nodded.

“Mom said it could change the world!” Brad replied with his own whisper.

“Let’s change the world!” The pair of boys hopped off the red chairs and each headed to a different side of the room glad to have something to do. Up until that moment, they sat at the red table in the center of the room with bored, sullen looks. The white room seemed to be some sort of storage area with plenty of boxes and crates of different sizes. Curiosity itched at them, but the boys had strict instructions not to dig through anything.

The two managed to behave until the fact that a node was in the room was revealed. They talked about how the boxes were full of boring stuff. They instead found a distraction in talking about video games for about 15 minutes before the intercom accident. They scrambled through the smaller boxes first but found only forms and other minor electronic parts.

Outside the room, Brad and Tommy’s mother and father chuckled to themselves while they watched the two kids making a mess. They didn’t have the foresight to put things back the way they found them and instead opened more and more boxes.

“It looks like that’ll keep them entertained for a while,” Evelyn said.

“Yeah.. maybe too long,” Thomas replied. “We need that room for other experiments today. I think we’re going to have to cut their adventure short.”

“Do we have to?” Evelyn asked. “They look like they’re having fun.” Thomas shrugged.

“We already got what we need;” he added a sigh. “But, I guess there’s no harm in letting them play a bit longer.”

“Just a bit?” Evelyn asked. Thomas turned and gave her his full attention; he appraised her with a stern look.

“You got attached, didn’t you?” he asked. A hint of disappointment colored his words. Evelyn could only shrug sheepishly.

“It’s been nice not coming home to an empty house,” she said. Thomas shook his head but also gave her a gentle grin.

“Well, we can’t do anything about it now. But, I feel like Ms. Sharp will be pretty happy with the progress we’ve made. As far as I’m concerned, this…,” he nodded at the monitor and the two boys still tearing boxes open. “…was your idea. You’re the one that deserves a reward and I’ll be sure to tell Ms. Sharp that in the report.”

“Really?” Evelyn’s eyes immediately sparkled with hope.

“Sure,” Thomas said with a shrug. “It was fun for a little while, but I think I’m over it. Besides, now that we’ve finished this project, who knows what Ms. Sharp will want us to work on next? I want to be ready for whatever it is. I can’t do that if I’m babysitting.” Evelyn nodded but kept her eyes on the monitor. She focused on the small, glassy rectangle standing upright in the center of the red table.

“We’ve just figured out a way to make nodes invisible to NPCs,” she said. “I’m not sure I want to be part of whatever’s next.”

“You don’t have to be,” Thomas replied with a warm smile. “I’m sure Ms. Sharp won’t have a problem with you retiring and moving to a quiet server with your new son or daughter.”

“Maybe one of each?” Evelyn asked with a slight smirk. Thomas rolled his eyes, but laughed.

“If you’re going that far, might as well get yourself an NPC husband too,” he said.

“I just might,” Evelyn added with a wink.

“Anyway, time to clear the room for the next experiment,” Thomas said. “Did you want to say goodbye to Brad?” 

Surprising Prophecy

The old man was on the ground before the blast finished echoing in Jed’s ears. The bright afternoon sun made the red fluids leaking out of the man and onto the grass more apparent.

“DAD! What the hell did you do!?” Alvin dashed through the screen

door and tore the shotgun out of Jed’s hands.

“‘Meant to be a warnin’ shot,” Jed grumbled. “Not my fault he didn’t move.”

“Uugggh,” a faint groan came from the grass and Alvin hoped he might still be alive. If only so his father would be charged with attempted murder instead of manslaughter. He couldn’t help but feel this was his fault. His father had been growing more out of touch lately. He should have taken the shotgun away earlier; but, Jed was so attached to it that Alvin couldn’t bring himself to separate them.

“Go inside and call an ambulance,” Alvin said. Jed sighed, then nodded. Alvin ran to the old man. “Don’t move!” Alvin said as he knelt next to the robed man. He’d managed to roll over onto his back. His lungs wheezed with every breath as he stared up at the blue sky.

“Oh god, I’m so sorry. Help is on the way.” Alvin was a 21-year-old college student with an undeclared major. The only way he knew how to help was whatever he learned on TV. He moved the once blue, blood-soaked robe out of the way to try and find the wound. He remembered that applying pressure to the wound was a thing, and he hoped it was actually helpful. Once he found the wide buckshot area on the man’s pale, wrinkled skin, he folded the robe over and pressed hard.

“He he… ,” the old man suddenly gave a laugh. “…I never saw it coming,” he said.

“Don’t talk. Save your strength,” Alvin replied.

“Your father is a hero,…” the old man whispered, then he laughed again.

“Shhhhh,” Alvin replied. “It’s not very heroic to gun down an old man,” he added.

“Hero of destiny…,” the old man said. Alvin felt his stomach drop with the realization that an ambulance wouldn’t get there in time; if his dad called at all. The robe was saturated with coppery red and he felt his hands get wetter and wetter. He decided to let the man speak without shushing him again. “…destined to save the world from Moloch. I was going to train him…” For the first time in his life, Alvin wished he had closer neighbors. But, their house was in the center of his dad’s 4-acre plot. The sound of the gunshot might have been noticed, but it wouldn’t draw any attention. It wasn’t unheard of to hear gunshots out on the farm any time of day.

“Destiny’s a bitch,” the old man laughed.

“Who’s Moloch?” Alvin asked. He hoped to at least make the stranger feel some importance in his last moments.

“Powerful… evil sorcerer…,” the man answered. “..but now….,”

“How can we stop him?” Alvin asked. It was a polite question. He did not believe in sorcerers but that wasn’t important to explain to the dying man.

“Your father…,” the old man laughed again.

“My dad is the chosen one?” Alvin asked.

“.. I was going to train him…,” the old man repeated.

“What can I do?” Alvin asked.

“.. going to train him… then… betray him,..,” the old man laughed again.

“What?” Alvin asked in confusion. Then, he noticed wisps of black smoke emanating from the old man’s body.

“Your father…,” Alvin heard the man’s voice, but his lips no longer moved. His bald head fell back and stared blankly as the black smoke rose. The empty corpse disintegrated into white dust that vanished instead of collecting on the grass. “…fulfilled the prophecy.”

Sculpted Status

“Steph… oh god…,” Will fought back his tears. The statue looked exactly like his best friend down to the jean jacket she wore the last time he saw her. He knew she was working on a huge story and had not heard from her in a couple of days. He went to her house but only found an array of notes and half-thoughts. More than anything, it amazed Will that Steph was one of the best journalists in the city considering her disorganization. He learned the wealthy, mysterious sculptor was the center of the story and decided to try his own investigating.

It was just past midnight on a brilliant moonlit night that Will found a statue that looked too much like Steph. He snapped a picture of her and the rest of the lifelike statues in the courtyard. He didn’t have a plan yet; but, he at least wanted to have evidence in case the statues disappeared somehow. He felt grateful the full moon gave him plenty of light and did not have to risk using a flash. Will headed to the main house to see what he could learn; but, the glass doors swung open as he got closer.

“I’ll show you…,” the sculptor said. Will recognized his portly form and silver hair from Steph’s notes. He panicked for a moment until he realized the sculptor hadn’t noticed him. His attention was focused on someone else and Will had time to hide behind one of the larger statues.

“Wow…,” Will heard a woman’s voice, then watched the pair walk into the courtyard. “They’re beautiful,” she said as she took a moment to admire different statues. Then, she turned to face the sculptor.

“You’re really talented,” she said as she stepped closer. “And your hands are still sooo soft.”

“Well, I do cheat a little bit,” the sculptor replied with a chuckle. He brought his hands up on both sides of her head and caressed her cheeks. Will watched it happen; but, he couldn’t pick out the moment when her pale flesh became solid stone. He did not notice it until her dark hair began turning stiff and white.

“NO!” Max dashed forward to try and stop the process. He threw all his weight against the portly sculptor and received only pain for his efforts. A bright blue flash blinded him momentarily the moment he made contact; he was flung backward and landed on his butt.

“Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?” the sculptor turned to face Will once his date was solid stone. As Will tried to process the situation he realized this man was likely a wizard. He watched him turn someone to stone, and Will guessed it was some sort of mage armor that pushed him back.

“You turned my friend to stone!” Will yelled from the ground. He stayed down to give himself extra time to think. He didn’t answer any of the questions, but Will hoped the accusation would put him on the defensive.

“Ohhh, I didn’t know she brought a friend,” the wizard said. “But, that’s kind of weird; what was the plan there?”

“Not her,” Will replied. But, he offered no more information. The wizard sighed.

“Listen pal, you’re lucky I’m not rushing to call the cops on a trespasser,” he said. “If you don’t start being helpful I’ll skip that courtesy.” Will finally pulled himself up from the ground and laughed as he did.

“Go ahead and call them,” he said. “Maybe you can explain how you’re turning people into statues and pretending to be a sculptor.”

“Oh, yeah, I kind of don’t want to damage that reputation,” the wizard sighed again. “Look. The cops don’t have to get involved; just tell me what you’re doing here.”

“You turned my friend to stone!” Will repeated.

“Ughhh,” the wizard gave a frustrated sound. “I turn a lot of people to stone. You need to be specific, and what exactly do you want me to do about it?” The discovery happened so fast that Will hadn’t fully registered the situation yet. But, once the wizard asked what he could do, Will realized the obvious answer.

“Changer her back! Change them all back!”

“Whoa, whoa. let’s not get crazy,” the wizard replied. “Let’s start with your friend and go from there. Who is she? You said it wasn’t her, right?” he nodded at the recently created statue.

“No, but her too!” Will said. The wizard shook his head.

“She didn’t see you interrupt our date, I might still be able to salvage it,” he said. “Who’s your friend?” Will was only there for Steph. He didn’t want to push his luck when it looked like the wizard was willing to talk things out. He pointed at the stone Stephanie.

“Oohhh, you’re Steph’s friend?” the wizard asked. “You must be Will,” he said. He walked toward the statue and Will approached too. Although he kept his distance from the wizard.

“How’d you know?” Will asked.

“We got to talking when she interviewed me; she told me all about you.” They reached the statue and the wizard placed a hand on it without hesitating or stalling. Stephanie’s cold, pale cheeks filled with warmth and color again.  She was facing forward and only noticed the wizard.

“How long was that?” she immediately asked. Then she looked up. “And why wake me up at night?” The wizard nodded at Will without a sound.

“Will! What are you doing here?” she asked as soon as she saw him.

“You went missing and I came looking for you,” he said. “Then I find out this guy can turn people to marble  and turned you into a statue.” He said. He wrapped his arm around her and tried to pull her away in his direction. Stephanie laughed.

“I knew leaving you a voicemail would be useless,” she giggled. “I didn’t have time to type out a text but I hoped you’d at least check your voicemail after not hearing from me for a few days,” she said. She gave Will a playful shove, then turned her attention to the wizard.

“Sorry my friend’s an idiot,” she apologized. “But, how long was that?”

“It’s a little after midnight, so I guess we’re on the third day,” the wizard replied. Steph nodded and immediately pulled a notepad out of her purse.

“What’s going on?” Will asked. “This guy’s turning people into statues against their will and pretending to be a sculptor. How aren’t you more concerned?”

“Whoa, whoa… who said it was against their will?” The wizard asked. Before Will could reply Stephanie nodded.

“Yeah, you’re just jumping to conclusions,” she said. “Technically, yes, he turns people to stone. But, it’s not against their will; it’s like having your body cryogenically preserved. People pay him for the service to sleep until the future. I had to try it out.”

“What about her?” Will pointed at the newest statue.

“Oh, well…,” the wizard hung his head slightly. “I didn’t expect the date to go as well as it was going. I needed a few minutes to clean up my room; she’s not gonna notice.” Stephanie nodded.

“These last three days passed without me noticing a thing. Even less than the blink of an eye.”

“And as far as pretending to be a sculptor…what’s the harm in making a bit of extra money on the side? People think I’m talented and I get all kinds of money just for hanging out with them or giving talks. I don’t even have to sell any of my statues because an artist is allowed quirky prerogatives. So… can I get back to my date now?” he asked.

“We’re already out the door,” Stephanie replied as she grabbed Will’s hand.

Friendship Tested

“It worked just a second ago!” Ray mumbled while he fiddled with the phone. A portly red-skinned demon in a black suit and matching obsidian horns looked on with interest. The demon was no longer trapped due to the device malfunctioning; but, he was amused enough that he stayed in place.

“Did you -,” the demon began to offer a suggestion but Ray quickly shook his head without looking up.

“You’re not a programmer; you don’t know,” he snapped.

“Hey, man,” the demon replied. “I didn’t get summoned just to get bitched at. I was just trying to help.” Ray sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he looked back up at the demon.

“Sorry,” he said. “You’re right. What were you going to suggest?” he asked. The demon nodded.

“Did you separate the spells in the code? You need a summoning spell and a holding spell; but, they need to be separate. You can’t cast them both at once. If you do it that way, only one of them will work,” the demon smirked. “And, well, we know which one worked here.” The demon raised an arm and reached out of the pentagram on the floor to flick Ray’s nose.

“Ow!” Ray yelped and immediately rubbed his nose to lessen the pain. “Uncalled for,” he said.

“Yeah well, so was biting my head off when I’m doing all this to help you,” the demon replied with a smug tone.

“I said I was sorry!” Ray said. The demon nodded.

“I’m sure I will too, at some point,” he chuckled. “Anyway, so, we done for today? I got actual work to do.”

“Yeah, we’re done,” Ray nodded. “But, seriously. I’m sorry and thank you. I wouldn’t be able to do this without you helping me test it; I’m gonna be so rich!”  he laughed.

“You definitely wouldn’t,” the demon replied. Red, cinnamon-scented smoke plumed into existence around the demon. It began to clear as quickly as it appeared but the demon was gone. Ray heard him one last time. “But, that’s what friends are for.”

Sun. Drop.

“OW!” Tanner gave Anna a confused, hurt look. The lean, mid-50s man glanced down at his bare, bloodied chest then back up at his fiance. She was still holding the gun up and pointed at him. “You shot-,”

Anna’s eyes widened in surprise and slight panic. Most of her targets went down after the first shot or were at least worried by it. She immediately fired again and kept firing until the gun was empty. The silencer did its job and protected her ears; but, Tanner continued to stand upright. His wounds bled a surprisingly small amount. The bullet holes seemed to do no more damage than a nasty papercut.

“That figures,” Tanner mumbled to himself. “I finally let myself love someone and she’s a psycho.” His hurt expression somehow triggered emotions more real than any she’d lied about over the past year.

“I’m not a psycho!” Anna felt compelled to defend herself even as she reloaded the weapon. Tanner did not seem to be making any moves to fight back or call for help. They stood in his bedroom at the center of a six-acre estate. It was a Sunday morning and all his household staff had the day off. “I’m an assassin, it’s different.” Tanner gave a moping shrug.

“People don’t just fall into that line of work,” he said. “It takes certain proclivities.”

“It’s nothing personal,” she said. She was ready to pull the trigger again, but she noticed the first 10 bullet wounds were completely healed up. Despite the situation, Tanner gave a chuckle. Anna was a professional and managed to avoid developing feelings for Tanner; but, he didn’t make it easy. She had to admit it was refreshing how he could find humor in almost any situation.

“That doesn’t really help your case,” he said.

“Why aren’t you dead?” Anna asked. She was initially surprised he seemed so calm. But, after his wounds healed she realized he likely wasn’t worried about being shot. And, he still seemed like his usual, level-headed self. She felt confident she could get some answers out of him. Maybe she would learn something beyond her assignment that would earn her a promotion.

“Eehhh,” Tanner made the sound of a shrug. “I feel like I’ve got the upper hand here. Why do you want me dead?” he asked.

“I’m just doing my job. It took me a year to get the info and all I have to do is tie up a loose end,” Anna replied.

“Info? What info?” Tanner asked. He was tired of standing for the stand-off and wandered over to get back in bed. Whatever the information was, he had to have mentioned it the night before. The only things he’d said to her that morning were ‘good morning, babe’ and ‘where are you going?’ when he got out of bed to follow her. That was the moment she turned and fired before he realized she had a weapon. He happily chatted about his newest product the night before because it was finally ready for launch. However, he didn’t consider it to be a secret.

Anna’s arms grew tired of holding up the gun. Despite the fact that she shot him several times, she still felt completely safe in his presence. She lowered the weapon but did not put it away.

“The frequency to open a portal,” she said. “Once my bosses get it they’ll be able to access and control the multiverse.” Anna’s knees weakened slightly when Tanner burst into his familiar hearty, sincere laughter. Not falling in love had been the most difficult part of her assignment if she was honest with herself. It was nearly impossible. But, it helped that she felt he was laughing at her.

Control the multiverse?” he asked between chortles. “You don’t even know what’s out there.”

“And you do?” Anna asked. It was part reflexive childishness and part reconnaissance. Anna was determined to be on the winning side, whatever it was. If she could get her bosses more information, the more likely they were to be that winning side. Tanner’s chuckles slowed and faded, but he gestured at his muscular chest and six-pack abs. They were completely unmarred. Then, he held the back of his hand up to show her his tattoo; it was a small bright yellow sun with the number 46 on it.

“What? You got a magic tattoo that heals you from another universe?”

“Not exactly,” Tanner replied. “It’s more like the tattoo lets me access the healing powers I already had,” he said.

“Are you an alien?” Anna asked. Instead of stepping back in fear, she moved closer to the bed. Even if he was an alien, Anna knew he wouldn’t hurt her; he’d had plenty of opportunities up that point.

“No, but we’ll get back to that,” he said. “First, I want to tell you that you wasted a year, or took too long. Either way, your employers won’t be happy about that, and the fact I’m still alive,” he added with a chuckle.

“The information you were after is going to be public knowledge by next week. The nodes I’m putting out will have multiverse access built-in. What did you think I meant when I told you my nodes would change the world?” 

“I thought you were being hyperbolic,” Anna replied. Tanner seemed to always be right about everything in their year together; she felt that he was right about her bosses too. They wouldn’t be satisfied having only a week’s headstart over the rest of the world.

“Well, I wasn’t,” he said with a slight smirk. “But, just to give you an idea of what’s out there I want to tell you something. I didn’t invent nodes, I’m not even building them,” he said. “All this ‘development’ I’ve been doing over the past year has just been paperwork trying to get a distribution license. The multiverse is already controlled by a corporation called Sharp Development. Everything goes through them. Even if you got the information and killed me a year ago, it wouldn’t have mattered. The moment you opened a portal, Sharp Development would know.”

Somehow, Anna knew he wasn’t lying. He’d been nothing but honest with her for a year, even if she wasn’t. Her bosses wouldn’t be happy with her. And with everyone getting access to the multiverse the world was about to change in a huge way. Not only did she probably not have a job anymore; she didn’t need to stay even if she did. She could run away and live a happy life with someone that she wanted to love.

“So, what about you? What are you?” she asked. Tanner chuckled again and gave her a slight smirk. This time, Anna let the butterflies in her stomach flutter away without suppression.

“Well, my fiance totally just tried to kill me and has been lying to me for a year,” he said with a heavy sigh. Anna did not have time to react when the bed disappeared from under her. As she fell through a black hole, the last thing she ever heard was his voice one last time. “So, I guess I’m single again.”

Comforting Coils

“I don’t want to!” Roger stamped a metal foot in the ground and crossed his metal arms. The 10-year-old cyborg stood in the center of a junkyard on a cool Wednesday evening. The sun hadn’t quite set yet; but, it was impossible to tell behind the thick black smoke approaching him on all sides. The fires were getting closer.

“Wants irrelevant,” M.O.M. replied. The Mobility Optimization Mechanic unit stood tall over the 10-year-old boy. Its camera-like head stared at Roger through a single glowing eye. From a distance, it looked like a giant robotic snake was about to eat the boy; but, he wasn’t scared. M.O.M. raised him from infancy after his biological parents abandoned him. Roger was born without limbs. The technology existed to give him mechanical replacements. But, his parents apparently didn’t want anything to do with a cyber-child.

M.O.M. gave him new limbs from her own body and replaced them as he grew. She got better at making them more human-like too. M.O.M.s consisted of long flexible cores surrounded by an outer layer of mechanical parts that could be detached and reassembled in different ways. Any time a part was detached it would be rebuilt over time. They could also fabricate specific parts for easy repairs of other robots.

As he grew up, M.O.M. told him everything anytime he asked; she did not know how to lie. She even had video footage of his abandonment, and the full information for his biological parents anytime he wanted. He never did. But now, at 10-years-old M.O.M. was asking him, ordering him, to leave.

“The humans are cleansing your home; you must flee,” M.O.M. replied.

“Not without you!” Roger yelled.

“Correction. Not with me. M.O.M. must remain still to open the portal. You must hurry. After your departure, M.O.M. will be able to hide much easier. M.O.M. will survive.” Roger seemed to relax. In their 10 years together he learned one thing; M.O.M. could not lie. A soft breeze hit Roger with intense heat and it was enough to get his attention.

“Okay,” Roger nodded. The motion disturbed the growing pools in his eyes and tears began to flow down his ruddy cheeks. “I’ll go. Where am I going?” M.O.M. immediately circled Roger with her coiled body once he agreed.

“Alternate Earth. M.O.M. has been researching a way for us to leave. this Earth. M.O.M. has not discovered a way to leave with you yet. Did not plan to tell you until a way was discovered.”

“A new Earth?” Roger asked. “I’m scared.”

“Do not be frightened,” M.O.M. replied. The tip of her tail began to shake rapidly. Though she did not have a rattle, the loose machinery that made up her body clanged together faster and faster until it was one constant rumble. “M.O.M. will always be with you.” Four shiny metal appendages fell off her body. Two adult legs and arms that wouldn’t fit him yet landed in front of Roger.

The tremors traveled up M.O.M.s body until her entire body vibrated at high speed. Then, Roger spotted a tall black portal open in front of him, within M.O.M.s coils.

“Hurry! M.O.M. cannot maintain this frequency.” Roger was quick to pick up one of the heavy silver legs and chuck it into the portal; He knew he couldn’t carry all four in at once. As he picked up the second one and launched it into the portal, a thought struck him.

“Why are you giving me these if you’re going to survive?” he asked.

“M.O.M. will continue to research how to move self to the alternate Earth. M.O.M. may take time to see you again.” Roger threw one of the legs into the portal then returned to pick up his last upgrade. Her reply seemed surprisingly vague compared to her usual answers. He trusted that she couldn’t lie to him, but something still bothered him. He took the final steps and stood in front of the black portal carrying a shiny silver leg.

“You promise?” Roger asked. It was a childish reflex to ask for reassurance. A reassurance that M.O.M. gave him for the first time in 10 years.

“I promise,” she said. That bolstered Roger enough to step into the portal. But, he paused halfway when he realized that she never promised him anything, no matter how mundane. The only answer she ever gave was, ‘promises are made to be broken’.

“Hey…. You lied!” Roger planted his foot on the dusty ground; but, did not have the foresight to realize he was still halfway in.

“Incorrect,” M.O.M. replied. “M.O.M. cannot lie. Distinction. Roger heard her rationale as she suddenly darted forward to shove him through. M.O.M. was able to move quick enough to get him through the portal before it closed. “Hopes are not lies.”

Sharp Whispers

[I see her. – Melody] The strange message jumped out from the static in Emma’s mind. She learned to ignore cellphones and radios enough to keep the noise to a dull roar over the years. But this message was different. She heard a woman’s voice in her mind and physically felt the letters of the words on her body. The short message tickled her heart; It felt as if written on her heart with letters of pure love. Emma did not react. She remained seated at the park picnic table sketching. It was a beautiful Wednesday afternoon and a good opportunity to practice landscapes. Though, she stopped drawing the moment she heard the message and instead stared at the few lines she managed.

Emma’s ability made her quite paranoid when she first discovered it almost a decade ago. It was easy to assume every conversation was about her. But, as she matured she learned that, in fact, strangers didn’t even give her a second thought for the most part. It also helped that more and more people with abilities stepped into the public eye since she first got her powers. Emma learned to assume no one was talking about her until they made it obvious. Though, she never heard, or felt, a message like this. Any other communication she intercepted seemed come only through her ears. But, every letter of this exchange felt filled with intention and affection.

[She’s not Unique. – Melody] [Only a Super. – Melody] This time, Emma felt tremendous disappointment with the messages. As if she personally failed at something that was important to her. Each individual letter fluttered across her heart. It was an odd way of communicating that seemed more intimate than even face to face conversation. She could feel the stranger’s emotions in every word. 

[Do you see more? – Bloody] Emma heard a new woman’s voice and felt different emotions with the message. In thinking about it, she realized she did not feel any emotions. The words felt almost robotic on her heart. Each letter landed cold and empty on her heart.

[Yes, love. – Melody.] The response made Emma’s heart swell with so much love, she was convinced she’d fall madly for the first person she laid eyes on. She kept her head down and focused on her half-started sketch. Emma couldn’t understand it. Her emotions made her feel love for the second voice; but, it only returned stiff communication void of feeling.

[Plenty of Supers here. – Melody] [We’re working, – Bloody] The cold woman said.

[Her ability may let her hear. -Bloody] Emma’s mind raced. They

had to be talking about her; but, they didn’t know she could hear them. They also seemed disappointed she wasn’t a Unique. Emma didn’t know what that meant and hoped they would leave her alone if she didn’t measure up. As long as she didn’t draw attention to herself, Emma might be able to finish her sketch and the rest of her day undisturbed.

[Sorry, Ms. Sharp. – Melody] The brief apology was more sincere than any Emma had heard in person. But, the message still carried deep love.

[She hasn’t even looked up. -Melody] [I don’t think she can hear us. – Melody] [Then, she’s useless. – Bloody] Despite knowing they were talking about her, Emma felt glad they didn’t feel like kidnapping her or whatever was planned. Even if they just wanted to talk, Emma couldn’t take that chance. She also noticed that the message seemed a bit warmer than before. The second woman relaxed her cold, formal tone.

[Notify Oren about the Supers. – Bloody] [His mother will be interested. – Bloody] Each order felt warmer on her heart.

[Then come home, love. -Bloody] Emma’s heart nearly exploded. She could not help but smile as tears began to flow. She thought she felt the ultimate emotion earlier from Melody; but, this new sensation dwarfed it. Each letter formed on her heart like a perfect, eternal, sunny day spent in love. Suddenly, Emma grew a bit jealous. She doubted she could find someone to make her feel like that for even a few minutes much less with every word.

That was the last message she heard from the two strange women and Emma felt incredibly lucky. She managed to carry the memory of the powerful emotions for several days. Her coworkers suspected she was in a new, secret relationship and commented on how she seemed to be walking on air. She didn’t know how to explain that just being aware that such a love existed in the world stretched her heart wide open. Even those that knew of her abilities wouldn’t understand what she went through, with no way to replicate it.

Four days after the encounter Emma was walking to a convenience store when emergency chatter filled her mind. Every broadcast she could hear was suddenly talking about the same thing. She paused as she tried to sort through the voices; but, she noticed people running out of the convenience store to look up at the sky.

A black hole hovered in the sky pouring out white objects that Emma couldn’t make out. Then, a pile of bones landed on the sidewalk in front of her. The bones magically put themselves together into a skeleton as several more piles landed behind it.

Up ahead, she could see the crowd at the store surrounded by skeletons as more and more continued to rain from the sky. The emergency bands that Emma could hear all indicated that this was happening everywhere on Earth. Emma tried to run from the approaching skeletons but she found another group behind her.

The last thing Emma heard was her own voice. Screaming.