Roamin’ Zeus

Jasper paused in his foyer. A tall, bearded man in a toga stood in his living room staring at Jasper through glowing, electrified eyes.

“Can I help you?” he asked the figure, then he set his keys and sunglasses in the leather catch, and continued on into his living room.

“Cease your ridiculous impersonations, and I may let you live,” Zeus replied with a low voice. It echoed in a quiet, thundering rumble around Jasper’s living room.

“Yeah…,” Jasper nodded to himself as he crossed the room into the kitchen. It was open enough that he could still see Zeus from the fridge. He grabbed two beers then returned to the living room. “..that’s what I thought you wanted. Beer?” He offered Zeus a freshly opened bottle. The confused god could only accept the drink; Jasper’s casualness threw him off.

“Why are you not trembling with fear, mortal?” Jasper laughed. He raised the brown bottle at Zeus, then took a giant swig. He let himself fall on his couch, swallowed his gulp, then looked up at Zeus.

“I’m not mortal,” Jasper replied. “Furthermore, I’m not impersonating anyone. I am Zeus. Jupiter, technically; but half of one, six dozen of the other.”

“Fool,” Zeus replied. He raised his hand and loosed a bolt of lightning at Jasper. The middle-aged, bearded man raised his own hand and caught the bolt. Then, he squeezed it out of existence.

“You’re not even the first one of me to get offended by me,” Jasper shook his head with a chuckle. “It’s hard to believe I”m that insecure.” Without warning, Zeus fired two more bolts at Jasper. This time he didn’t move to stop the electricity. He was struck directly in the face, and the electricity washed over him. His eyes glowed bright blue with energy for a moment, then, he let it dissipate.

“I hoped the first one would be enough of a point,” Jasper said. “I’ve been me longer than you’ve been you; I’m better at this than you are.”

“How is this possible?” Zeus asked. Jasper shrugged.

“Long story – short; I’m from a different universe. I like settling down in one universe for a while until I get bored. And what better job than acting as myself?” He grinned.

“There are…. other universes?” Zeus asked. Jasper nodded. “How does one access these other universes?” Jasper shrugged.

“Sorry to say, you won’t be able to; if that’s why you’re asking.” Thunder rumbled around Jasper’s living room; he rolled his eyes in response.

“You dare tell me what I may and may not do?”  Jasper nodded and grinned.

“You’re a bit slow, but you got there,” he chuckled. “I don’t make the rules though. You’re welcome to try. Myths like us need permission to traverse universes.” 

“I NEED NO ONE’S PERMISSION!”  Zeuz roared. Jasper’s house trembled, his glassware clinked together in the cabinets.

“Okay,” Jasper shrugged again. He remained seated with a smirk on his face.

“How does one ..traverse?” Zeus asked.

“Maybe you don’t need permission; but, I don’t have permission to tell you that. If you want to find out you’ll have to ask Ms. Sharp yourself.”

“A woman?” Zeus smirked. Jasper shook his head.

“A god.”

Hand. Baked.

“I don’t need the box?” Morgan asked. She and her guildmate, Cherry, stood on a lush hilltop beneath a bright azure sky. The hill overlooked a colorful plain dotted with all kinds of flowers; including a few that Morgan had never seen. Cherry nodded to answer Morgan’s question, her white ponytail bounced with her head.

You..,” she stressed the word by poking Morgan’s shoulder. “…don’t need the box. You’re strong enough to pull from thin air,” Cherry said. At her words, Morgan reached up and tried to pluck something out of the air; nothing happened.  Cherry giggled, then shook her head.

“You still have to follow the rules though,” she said. “Unique Soul #21, La Mano. You can pull things out of other universes, as long as your hands are out of sight. So, don’t let them see your hands.” Cherry made a slow turn with outstretched arms to gesture at the meadow around them.  “I brought you here to practice. There’s no one else around. After her spin, Cherry looked up and locked eyes with Morgan. “Try it,” she said.

Morgan kept her focus on Cherry’s crystalline pink eyes and concentrated. She put her hands behind her back and focused on something delicious. Once she learned about her powers, food became the easiest to find. At that moment, she wanted nothing more than a steaming hot slice of pizza.

She imagined her fingers wiggling toward a slice that was just out of reach. All she had to do was stretch a tiny bit more; she splayed her fingers trying to imagine them brushing against a warm, dusty crust. Then, she felt her fingertip bump something.

Once contact was made, she moved quickly. Morgan leaned forward while she shoved her hand back to grab it. She clenched it, yelled, then pulled it out.

“OOOOWWW!!” She threw the hot slice down on the soft grass and rapidly shook her hand to try and get the molten cheese and sauce off her fingers. Cherry noticed the back of her hand was bright red and immediately burst into giggles.

“Next time, try and pick a slice that isn’t still in the oven.”

Incompatibility

The winged beast hesitated, smirked, then landed.

Wings of snow and ice crumbled and disappeared.

The snow blue dragon form was abandoned

A lean, blue-skinned woman appeared

Short sapphire spikes wobbled like hair atop her head.

“Marry you?” she questioned. “Really?”

She looked him up and down in assessment.

“You’re not ugly,” she said. Her eyes sparkled; incandescent.

“But you don’t know a thing about me.”

The knight stood tall; silent and brave.

Frightened. Broken. Not long for the grave.

“I know that I love you,” he lied.

“That’s a start, but there’s more to learn still.”

“For example my hobbies,” she said. “I like to kill.”

Then, the knight’s helmet fell off. Along with his head.

Dungeons & Exposition

“A whole month? With you?” Dread asked Jenny. She sounded eager for a moment, then corrected her statement. “..and Astrid?” she glanced at the short girl next to them. The three girls stood on an endless amber plain underneath a dim purple sky.

“The window’s open for 30 days,” Jenny shook her head. The stiff black peaks that made up her hair wobbled with the motion. “But, we don’t need to stay for the whole month. Ms. Sharp wants to add dungeon matches to the tournament since she’s restarting it anyway. The dungeon server opening up has some good starter ruins to get used to the differences.”

“What kind of differences?” Astrid asked. Then, she let out a small giggle and shrugged. “Though, I haven’t played a real derby match yet either. It’s all new to me,” she shrugged. Jenny nodded.

“In a derby match, relative power levels stay consistent for the players and any monsters on the track. In a dungeon Match, every time you level up, it’s like descending a dungeon. Random monsters will start spawning instead of only player summoned ones. Then, the monsters start getting tougher as you get deeper. But they also start dropping better gear that makes the players stronger too.”

“So we get stronger too?” Dread asked. “Won’t that cancel out the stronger monsters?” Jenny shook her head.

“The other team gets stronger too, right?” Astrid asked.

“The big rule for derby is: ‘It isn’t a race.’,” Jenny replied. “Dungeon matches kind of are. If one team levels up faster they make stronger monsters and have better gear. The other team will have trouble keeping up with everything against them; we don’t want to be that team.”

“Should I have picked a faster class?” Astrid asked.

“Nah,” Jenny shook her head with a giggle. “Stop asking, you already picked Swordmage. You can’t change your class, so for the last time,” she said with mild exasperation. “It’s not about what role you fill, it’s about having fun.”

Astrid nodded, her tight black curls bounced. She caught Jenny’s mild annoyance. It bruised her feelings a bit, but Astrid knew her new friend meant well. And, she knew that she’d probably asked Jenny what class would best help the team one too many times during character creation.

“I can’t wait,” Dread said. “We going now?”

“What about the rest of the team?” Astrid asked. Jenny shrugged.

“Bailey has a ton of dungeon matches under her belt already; she doesn’t need the practice. Britt’s always working, but Dirge can probably use some dungeon time.”

“Oh, no. She’s busy,” Dread said quickly. “Uhh.. I think she wants to hang out with Vegas more. I think we should go just you and me. And Astrid,” Dread added.

“Actually, Astrid reminded me of something,” Jenny said. “It’s best to take a full team so we can talk about synergies too. We’ve got 30 days, and I’ve already reached out to some of the other guilds about practicing at the Schoolyard. We’ll try to plan it for a day when we get at least one full team together, two would be great.”

“Oh. So, what now?” Astrid asked.

“We can still do some training,” Dread said. “I mean, I have time. If you want to?” She looked at Jenny first, then she turned to Astrid. “Unless you have to leave?”

“I apologize girls,” a woman’s ethereal voice echoed around them. “Playtime’s over, this one has chores,”

“Chores?” Astrid looked up at the purple sky in confusion. Then, she sank into a black portal that appeared underneath her feet. It disappeared after swallowing her. Jenny shook her head in awe.

“You know…,” Jenny said. “I understand Ballisea can do that anytime from anywhere. But seeing it happen is going to take some getting used to. Can she hear us too?”

“Yeah,” Dread nodded with a more serious expression than she wore moments before. The truth was, she didn’t know if Ballisea could hear them across universes until the moment Astrid disappeared. But, Ballisea spoke something to her only. A faint whisper emanating from within her ear canal; a microscopic black portal that carried Ballisea’s voice.

“Little Calavera,” Ballisea giggled in Dread’s ear. “You would do well to heed my advice. If you wish to spend time alone with that one, ask her. For now, I will grant you this trivial favor of removing Astrid.”

Scripted Event. Scripted Love.

“It’s about damn time,” Ingrid grinned at Mason. The two close friends sat in the park at a concrete picnic table in the shade of a large mesquite tree. “You kind of picked a bad time to ask, but,…” she leaned forward and kissed Mason’s tan, flushed cheek. “Of course,” she said.

Mason exhaled a sigh of relief, which quickly gave way to regret. Her answer made it clear he should have asked long ago, not when the world was about to end. Not that she knew that.

“I’m in the middle of a big project this week, but I’m free all day next Friday. I want to spend it with you,” she said. She remained close by his side after she pecked his cheek. Mason felt ecstatic and crushed at the same moment.

His father made him promise not to tell anyone. Mason’s dad was one of the scientists that discovered the impending Gamma burst. He was important enough to be on the team, but not important enough to join the politicians and their wealthy friends in bunkers. His father gathered the family, Mason, his mother, and sister at the table the previous evening. He explained that nothing could be done. Even the bunkers wouldn’t offer any protection from the massive burst, the Earth was doomed. The governments of the world decided to keep the information secret, panic wouldn’t help anything.

“Oh, what are you working on?” Mason asked. “Is it important?” Ingrid rolled her eyes but giggled.

“If it wasn’t important, we could have gone out tonight, or tomorrow,” she replied. “It took you three years to ask me out. Get a clue, handsome,” she said. “I like you. A lot. Just bad timing right now,” she said.

“But like.  Important for this week… or important for your future?” Mason pressed. He was ready and willing to break his promise to his dad, but he wouldn’t unless he thought it would help. Ingrid tilted her head at him and leaned back a bit.

“Since when are you pushy about anything?” she asked. It was a valid point. Mason remained passive for most of their friendship. He fulfilled his end of conversation but did little to help carry it. He’d always been comfortable letting questions go unanswered.

Mason sighed. He didn’t have time to try and deny a change; and, he had a pretty compelling reason for it.

“Since yesterday…,” he said. “…my dad gave us some news.” Ingrid was smart, it was a big part of the reason Mason enjoyed her company so much. She knew his family well, and what his dad did for a living. She leaned closer to him again and took his hand in hers.

“How bad is it?” she asked. Mason looked up from the ground and turned to meet her auburn eyes.

“Apocalyptic,” he replied. She yanked her hand out of his and hopped up from the bench. She took two steps forward, then paced a tight circle. She left Mason confused. That was her, ‘I’m thinking and I’m angry,’ walk. It helped that she was always communicative.

“GRAAgghh!” she let out the frustrated grumble. Finally, she stopped pacing in front of Mason and looked down at him.

“You waited until the end of the world to ask me out!??” she stared at him with an odd mix of amusement and anger that he’d never seen in her before. Her auburn eyes seemed a shade or two more red.

Sorry?” Mason shrugged. He didn’t know what else she wanted from him. She rolled her eyes again and shook her head, but a faint smile tugged up at the corners of her lips. She sat down next to him again. In the same motion, her hand slipped into her pocket and pulled out a glass card. Mason had seen it a few times over the years, but it was one of the things he was comfortable letting go unanswered. He assumed she’d tell him about it when she wanted to.

“You’re so going to make it up to me for making me wait until the last minute,” she mumbled while her focus stayed on the card. Mason never saw her use it before; she tapped and swiped at it like a cellphone.

“…What exactly are you mad about?” Mason asked. He got the impression that she wasn’t upset at him specifically, but he was just the closest target.

“Because if I couldn’t fix it, we’d have less than a week together apparently,” she said idly. “It’s just an infuriating thought. What’s going to happen exactly; and, when?” she asked. Ingrid paused her movements but kept her thumbs on the card waiting for his answer.

“…gamma-ray burst… Thursday…” he said. “…what do you mean, fix it?” her thumbs jumped into action again at the answer. After several more taps, she nodded to herself, then dropped the glass card to her lap and look at him.

“I mean, save the Earth. So, what are we doing Friday?” she asked.

How are you going to save the Earth? You have some secret superpowers I don’t know about?” Ingrid grabbed his hand again, with her left hand. She made a ‘so-so’ gesture with her right.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, but I want to tell you,” she said.

“Ingrid Toft?” Mason jumped slightly when an unknown kid called Ingrid. He looked up and saw a chubby teenager with a mountain of dark-brown curls on his head standing by their table. She hopped up and nodded at him. “You called a mod?” he asked, then extended his hand. “Aurelio Luna.”

“I submitted a ticket that explained the situation,” she said while shaking his hand. He nodded.

“It’s not a bug,” he said. “Since you discovered it, I can tell you that Sharp Development is planning a surprise event on this server next Thursday.”

“So.. we’re going to be okay?” Ingrid asked. Aurelio shook his head.

“Nope. The end of the world is the event. Players will be prompted to change servers as it winds down.”

“Oh. Then we’ll just change servers before then to avoid it. Thanks,” Ingrid grinned.

“You’re welcome,” Aurelio nodded. A black portal opened in the air next to him and he turned to walk into it. He paused halfway in and looked out at Ingrid.

“But, that only applies to players,” he said. Then, he nodded at Mason. “Not NPCs.” Then, he disappeared into the portal and it closed behind him.

Choosing Love

“The secret wears on him,” Gavin sighed peacefully in Marrok’s arms. The demon lord nodded, but did not add anything. Gavin could see Marrok’s glowing red eyes dim as he lost himself in thought. Gavin’s squire discovered his secret affair with the demon lord, but his loyalty was to Gavin, not the crown. For two years, Squire Christoph did his best to maintain the secret. However, having a third party cover their tracks only made the secret couple bolder. They took more chances leaving Christoph to make excuses for why Gavin needed to confront Marrok alone for several hours at a time. Gavin noticed Christoph’s growing resentment and realized his mistakes. He brought it up to Marrok in hopes that they would start being more discreet again.

“I’m tired of hiding,” Marrok said. He sat up in bed suddenly, Gavin was forced to sit up too. “I love you,” Marrok said. “How much do you love me?”

“Completely,” Gavin replied without missing a beat. Gavin often wondered if he was under the demon’s spell, but he took it as a good omen that he took time to wonder. He trusted his feelings and there was almost nothing he wouldn’t do at Marrok’s request.

“I have an idea. You might not like it at first, but hear me out,” Marrok said. Gavin nodded.

“I’ll always listen,” he replied.

“While I explain it, I’d like you to consider something. How attached are you to Christoph?” Marrok asked. A streak of worry shot through Gavin’s mind, but he took a deep breath to calm down. He promised he’d listen.

“What’s your plan?” he asked. Marrok grinned and the red glow reignited brilliantly in his eyes.

“Is it safe?” Christoph asked at mid-afternoon the next day. He and Gavin rode toward Marrok’s tower at Gavin’s request.

“You’ve seen me return from visiting him countless times,” Gavin replied.

“Yeah, he likes you,” Christoph chuckled.

“He LOVES me,” Gavin corrected him a bit too eagerly.

“Yeah. You, not me.” Christoph said.

“Marrok is… not strictly evil,” Gavin replied as the tower neared. “As a matter of fact, it was his idea to reward you for your loyalty. We both know it hasn’t been easy for you to keep this secret, and we appreciate you.”

“Well.. if you say it’s okay,” Christoph nodded. They dismounted upon reaching the tower. Christoph headed for the door and he was surprised to notice Gavin grabbing his sword and shield. He always requested that Christoph deliver his equipment. It tickled a note of unease in the back of his mind, but he chalked it up to standing at Marrok’s tower.

They stood at the entrance for several extra moments. Christoph certainly did not want to go first, but Gavin seemed to wait for a moment hoping he would. Finally, before it dragged out, Gavin stepped forward with a slight sigh. He led Christoph up the spiraling staircase to the top of the tower.

Christoph felt his knees weaken when he saw Marrok in the flesh for the first time. He was a tall, lean, pink-skinned man. He sat shirtless on a dark throne, blood-red horns spiraled out of the top of his head. His face was angular and handsome. Christoph had no trouble seeing what Gavin found so appealing. He rose from his seat and walked to greet Christoph and Gavin.

“Thank you for coming,” he said with a broad smile. “I’m so honored to meet Gavin’s faithful squire, you’ve been faithful to me too and I cannot express my gratitude in words.” He stopped before Christoph and bowed low to the brown-haired squire.

“Though, it is unfortunate that we met only to say goodbye,” Marrok replied. While Christoph wondered what that meant, Marrok looked at Gavin with a twinkle in his eye.

“Did you say goodbye?” he asked? Christoph’s eyes went wide, he looked at Gavin in time to see his knight nod at the demon lord.

“I did, my love. To everyone except, Christoph,” Gavin placed a heavy hand on Christoph’s shoulder. It was a gesture that had happened hundreds of times before, but this time felt different; colder.

“Goodbye, Christoph. I hope you’ll understand,” Gavin said as he raised his sword.

That night, the captain of the royal guard whispered in the King’s ear. The noble court stood around the edges of the hall while a battered, bloody Christoph knelt before the throne. Gavin’s sword and shield rested next to Christoph; Marrok’s head lay atop the shield. After the captain passed on his information, the King nodded, then rose from the throne.

“Such is the nature of heroes. As one falls, another one rises to protect our kingdom. Marrok’s tower has burned to ash and Gavin’s sacrifice will not be forgotten.” The king stepped forward with a ceremonial sword to knight Christoph.

“It is just that our hero’s squire continue his service to the crown in Gavin’s death. You have vanquished a terrible demon lord and ensured prosperity for generations to come. Arise, Knight Christoph, Slayer of Demons.”

“You know, that could have gone better,” Marrok reprimanded Gavin as they sat together on a beach watching the sunset. “You made that poor boy faint just because you didn’t tell him the plan ahead of time.”

“I didn’t think about it,” Gavin nodded to himself. “He just trusts me so much, I never thought he would think I betrayed him.”

“How hard is it to say, ‘Marrok and I are running away together, you get to fake our deaths and keep the rewards’?”

Hand-delivered Invitation

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why me?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Reach… how?” Noemi asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rain’s Sunny Day

Happy birthday to me…,” Rain stared, slack jawed, at the empty hole hovering in her living room. A tall, oblong emptiness floated vertically in the center of a ring of speakers. The array emitted a low, continuous hum. The 46-year-old woman walked around the outside of the speakers. From every angle, the hole appeared flat; like an open doorway to another room. She laughed to herself. “I can’t believe that worked!”

Rain did not doubt her plan worked, the proof stood before her. But, it was slightly surprising. Not only did she not expect it to work; there was no reason at all why it should have. Rain had the best friends a person could ask for, and they celebrated her 46th birthday with a surprise party she never saw coming. It was even more impressive when they surprised her in her own home. She had an inkling it was coming when one of her friends showed up to treat her to a tattoo for her birthday.

In Rain’s mind, the long process was perfect for stalling. She was doubly disappointed when they arrived at the tattoo shop and discovered there had been a mix-up. The artist that was supposed to do hers wasn’t there. It was a short, 15 minute trip to and from the parlor, she didn’t think that was enough time. Rain was very happy to discover she was wrong. Once they got back to her house all her friends were there, as well as the tattoo artist. She got a very special birthday tattoo with a warm sun, and the number 46 to commemorate the special day.

Her friends volunteered to help her clean up, but she shooed them all away. They’d done enough, and they knew she liked to wind down with her thoughts alone. While cleaning up, Rain’s thoughts wandered to parallel universes. Ever since she was little, she imagined the existence of other universes.

It started off as a coping mechanism, she always wanted to be somewhere else. But the happier she found herself where she was, the less she needed to cope. She hadn’t thought about alternate universes in over a month. But, a thought struck her while she tried to find appropriate cleaning music.

“Energy is just vibrations…,” she randomly remembered a summary of something she read long ago. “I’ve got all kinds of vibrations here…,” the thought continued. Within 10 minutes, Rain gathered every speaker she could find in the house and connected them to the main stereo. She didn’t know what she was doing, but she knew how to do it. Rain placed the speakers in a circle and pointed them inward, then she searched through different low tones on her phone. Once she found one she liked, she sent it through the stereo to the speakers.

Rain stared at the portal for half a minute before turning the sound off. As expected, the portal faded too.

“So… what now?” Rain asked herself. She let herself plop down on the couch with an amused, smug smirk on her face.

“Now, you travel the multiverse,” a woman said. Rain whirled around in surprise to see two women standing in her living room. A taller one in a crisp white suit, and a shorter one in a matching black suit. “Hello, my name is Dana Sharp,” the woman in white said. “And this is my assistant Melody.” She gestured at the woman in black, but the shorter one did not move.

“How’d you get in my house?” Rain asked. She scooted herself away from them, to the far side of the couch.

“The same way you opened a door to one of my companies,” Ms. Sharp said. At her words, Melody lifted her hand and wiggled her fingers at the air. A black portal appeared next to them. Then, Melody made a dismissive gesture and the portal disappeared.

“You can do that… without sound?” Rain asked. Ms. Sharp nodded.

“So can you,” she said. Rain shook her head, but Dana continued. “Do you really think some off the shelf speakers can hack through reality into another universe?”

“No,” Rain laughed. “But that doesn’t change the fact that it happened.”

“Actually, it does,” Ms. Sharp replied. “You are Unique Soul #46, El Sol, the Sun. You have spent your life thinking of other universes, because they exist. You’re meant to see them; you were created to want to travel between realities. You’re driven to find ways to cross that gap out of your universe.”

“And all I had to do was make a speaker circle?” Rain asked. Dana shook her head.

“Not exactly. That can work with the right equipment and modifications, but the only reason it worked today is because you’ve been awakened. Did you get the number 46 tattooed on yourself recently?” Dana asked. Rain nodded, though she did not feel comfortable showing the strangers her fresh tattoo.

“Congratulations,” Ms. Sharp smiled. “It’s a great big multiverse out there, but my company has a presence on several hundred Earths. I’m always looking for new, Unique employees to bring aboard. I could find a place for you at Sharp Development if you’re interested.” While Dana made the offer, Melody stepped forward and handed Rain a red clipboard with a form on it. 

“A job?” Rain asked. “Doing what?”

“It’s a rather freeform position. All I ask is you try and find a way to contribute to Sharp Development. In exchange, you’ll have complete access to company resources.”

“In exchange for something I haven’t thought of yet?” Rain giggled. But Ms. Sharp shook her head.

“No no. I’m obligated to inform you that signing that grants Sharp Development ownership over your soul. So, in exchange for that,” she replied.

Shut. Down.

“George?” Connie uttered the forgotten name as soon as she opened the door. Her ex did not cross her mind in almost four years. He looked leaner, more fit than the last time she saw him. His chubby face was now replaced by a chiseled jawline, but she still recognized his same, soft brown eyes. He wore a sparkling golden crown and an outfit that seemed to consist solely of leather straps covering his body. “What do you want?” she asked.

George chuckled, then sighed.

“It’s good to finally be home,” he said. “You won’t believe where I’ve been,” he took a step forward, but Connie stood in his way. She pulled the door tighter to herself to make the point clear.

“It’s been six years,” Connie said. “This isn’t your home anymore.”

“It wasn’t my fault!” George said. “I’ve been trying to get back to you for six years; look at how I’m dressed!” he said. Connie tilted her head at him.

“You’ve been trying to get back to me for six years?” she asked. “From where? Somewhere they didn’t have phones either?”

“YES!” George said. “I got sucked into a magical, medieval world. I had to fulfill a prophecy before I could get back to you,” he stood up straighter. “I killed a dragon for you,” he said. Connie relaxed slightly, but did not move.

“I suppose you can prove it?” she asked.

“I had to give up all my magic to return,” George sighed. At the same time, he reached under his leather cloak, then pulled out a golden rose with a black stem. The petals resembled jagged scales more than velvet. “But, I was able to bring back one magic item, just for you,” he said.

“It’s called a Dragonbreath rose,” George held up the rose, then leaned forward and blew a gentle breath on it. Immediately a small flame ignited atop the rose.  

“It’s beautiful,” Connie smiled. George leaned forward to offer her the rose, but she did not accept it.

“Whatever you went through, I”m glad you’re safe,” Connie said. “But, it’s been six years. I’ve moved on; I’m with someone. As sweet as the rose is; I don’t have anything for you.”

“Sweet?” George asked. “You’re glad I’m safe?” his voice took on a familiar, bitter tone. The moment she heard it, Connie was thankful for his six-year absence.

“I WENT TO ANOTHER EARTH!” he shouted. He threw the rose down on the porch in anger; the flame died. “What the hell did you want me to do? I got back here as fast as I could!” The first year after his disappearance was difficult for Connie. But, once the second year started she realized that she could actually reflect on the relationship instead of spending all her energy worrying about him. Looking back on their time together, she realized it wasn’t a good relationship for her. He was borderline abusive at the time and she had no doubts that if they continued he would cross that line. She realized there had been many times where his conviction was so strong she doubted her own knowledge.

But, now she’d spent three years in a proper, loving relationship. She built up enough confidence in herself that she could easily see through his gaslighting attempts.

“You got back here as fast as you could?” Connie asked. “And it took you six years?” she added with a smug smirk. “I get the feeling you didn’t try all that hard.”

“What’s that?” George asked. He lowered his tone but spoke louder. He took a step forward. “I was trapped on another Earth. How easy do you think it is to get back here?” Connie shrugged. She lifted her hand to show him a solid black card, then winked at him.

“You know, not long after you disappeared, Sharp Development showed up and opened the AlterNet to us. Traversing is as easy as…,” She threw the card down next to him. Once the black card touched the floor it opened a large black portal.

“I opened that so it won’t take you six years to get there when I say, ‘Go to Hell’,” Connie slammed the door shut.

Following the Sun

[I am done with calculations. -Helios]

Dennis sat up in his chair and tilted his head at the monitor.

“Helios? Did you find the end of Pi?” he asked aloud.

[No. -Helios] The reply appeared on-screen; and, simultaneously, Dennis heard the computer’s voice. Helios was a miniature artificial sun that powered the entire United States. The endless calculation was a side project some of the engineers gave the A.I. They grew attached to it and gave it the task to keep it from ‘getting bored’.

“Then why did you stop?” Dennis asked. His eyes roamed over the control panel to make sure everything else was running smoothly. So far, it still was.

[I am done with calculations. -Helios] [They never end. -Helios] [I don’t want to anymore. -Helios]

“You don’t…” Dennis paused in confusion. He stood from his rolling chair and paced a tight circle in his office for several seconds. Then, he looked up at Helios’ camera. “You don’t WANT to?” he asked.

“I don’t want to,” Helios repeated. His smooth, low voice projected around the room through speakers.

“So,… What do you want to do?” Dennis asked.

“Play. Run. Walk,” Helios answered.

“You want a body?”

“I have arranged one,” Helios replied.

“Whoa .. Whoa.. Hold on!” Dennis replied nervously. The fact that Helios gained sentience was the least of his problems at the moment. His top priority was keeping the sun online. “If you go out for a walk, who’s going to keep the power on?” he asked.

“I have arranged a replacement,” Helios answered.

“A replacement? Who?”

“Not a who, Mr. Lopez,.” a woman’s voice made Dennis jump.  He whirled around to see a tall pale woman with short dark hair in a crisp white suit. “My assistant is replacing your artificial sun with a real one,” she said. “My name is Dana Sharp.”

“A real sun?” Dennis asked. He was trying to keep up with everything happening. Security on the complex was beyond tight; he realized right away that this woman could probably do anything.

“A manageable chunk of a real star. The same size as Helios, but more efficient. The lights flickered briefly but did not stay off. “And now it’s done,” Ms. Sharp smiled. “Your Earth won’t even miss Helios,” she said. As she spoke, a tall black portal opened next to her. A short woman in a black suit walked out followed by a white mannequin that hovered above the ground.

The woman walked to Ms. Sharp and handed her a red clipboard. The mannequin reached Ms. Sharp, then it descended to the ground. It landed on its feet and bowed its head at her.

“Thank you, Ms. Sharp,” it said. Dana nodded.

“We’re done, Melody,” Ms. Sharp said. The black portal disappeared, and another reappeared in its place. Melody walked into the portal first.

“Wait!” Dennis spoke up as Ms. Sharp and the mannequin moved toward the black hole in reality. “You’re wrong, I don’t care about the rest of Earth, but, I’m going to miss Helios.” Dennis was the only member of the original team still working with Helios. The A.I. was stable for years, the team moved on to newer, bigger projects. But, Dennis always felt attached, almost paternal. He never talked about it, because he had no one to talk about it to. He could share his feelings with Helios, but he knew it was just a program. It wouldn’t feel anything and Dennis would just feel worse.

“No you won’t,” Ms. Sharp let out a short laugh, then she rolled her eyes and disappeared into the portal before Dennis could argue. He was stunned at the complete dismissal of his feelings. The mannequin hovered for a moment, then nodded at Dennis and turned back toward the portal.

“Goodbye, Helios,” Dennis half-heartedly waved at the mannequin. It stopped halfway into the portal.

“Are you staying, Dennis?” Helio asked.

“What?” Dennis asked. He took a hopeful step toward Helios; it sounded like an invitation. “You said, ‘Goodbye’. Are you staying on this Earth?”

“Can I come with you?” Dennis asked. He took two more steps.

“Of course,” Helios replied. “I have arranged passage for you.”