Zero Family

Wendell chuckled. Despite the nervous stranger aiming a gun at him, Wendell found the story amusing. Wendell was taking the trash out when the stranger cornered him in the alley. The gunman still seemed to have some shreds of humanity in him that kept him from pulling the trigger as long as he still held doubts.

“That’s not how it works,” Wendell said. He cautiously lifted his node up and tapped at it; then, he nodded. “You’re not from the future, you’re from an alternate universe. If you kill me, it won’t change a thing. And, you’ll be a murderer.”

“You’re making that up. You’d say anything to save your neck,” the stranger said; but, the gun wavered. Wendell shook his head.

“I can prove it.”

“How?” Wendell sighed at the question.

“Well, I can’t do it from out here. Come inside,” he tilted his head at the open gate to his backyard. “Besides, you don’t want one of my neighbors spotting you with a gun on me. If you decide to kill me anyway, at least you won’t leave my body out by the garbage.” The gunman’s eyes danced between Wendell, the gate, and the back door. After a moment, he lowered the gun ever-so-slightly and nodded. They trekked through the gate and yard to enter Wendell’s house into his back room that served as a den. Bookshelves lined the back wall. On the other wall, a large computer desk supported a computer with too many colorful lights.

Wendell held his node out to the gunman. The stranger glanced down at the clear, glass card.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a node. Just put your thumb on it and we can find your Zero in this universe.

“That’s just past me,” despite his denial, the stranger placed a thumb on the transparent card. Red text appeared on the screen.

[Registering Zero to Sharp Database.] After a moment it changed.

[Zero registered. Local match found.] The gunman pulled his thumb away when it looked like the procedure was done. He didn’t pretend to understand what was going on, but he still had a gun in his hand. He could interrupt the situation the moment he didn’t like something.

“Even with similar appearances, there are always some differences between Zeros; no matter how minor they may be. Come check the monitor,” Wendell turned around and walked to his high back rolling chair. By the time the would-be killer reached the desk, Wendell had a site open.

“Well, that was easy,” Wendell said and nodded at the obituary with a picture of the gunman. “The you on this Earth died last year. Obviously, you’re not dead, Stanley,” Wendell said.

“My name’s Steven,” Steven corrected him but lowered the gun. “So, I didn’t travel to the past?” he asked for confirmation. Wendell nodded.

“Yes, you didn’t.”

“So my Earth is still ruined?” Steven asked. Wendell nodded again. “So, now what do I do?”

“Go back,” Wendell replied; he stood from his chair and held out the node for Steven. “Take one of these with you.”

“What good is that going to do?” Steven asked, but reached for the node. He gripped it, and pulled, but felt a slight resistance. He almost gave up thinking he misunderstood, but he realized he was stretching the node out of Wendell’s hand. When it doubled in size, Steven’s end broke off and he had his own node.

“This will let you take control over your Earth, assuming someone hasn’t already. Do whatever you like with it.”  Steven tilted his head.

“What do you mean, ‘take control’?”

“Think of Earth like a video game server, that lets you adjust the settings. Weather, magic, dragons, even different time periods; anything you want, you can have.”

“I can get my family back?!” Steven’s eyes lit up. Wendell shrugged.

“You can design NPCs that look and act like your family,” he explained.

“So… they’d just be like computer programs?” Steven asked.  Wendell smiled and headed to the back door.

“They’ll be convincing enough,” Wendell opened the door to let Steven out. “This technology is so advanced, most NPCs don’t even know they’re not real.”

Delivery. Retrieval.

[Run! I’ll guide you!] the popup on the bottom right corner of Eli’s laptop said. The knock on the door startled him, and the sudden, loud popup made him jump again; he was sure he turned the sound off.

Eli chuckled at himself for being so jumpy, then grabbed his cash and headed for the door. He was waiting on a pizza and he realized it would be a good idea to do a virus scan while he ate. He opened the door without checking the peephole and found two men in black suits and sunglasses. The tall one was holding a pizza box from his local joint; the short one nodded courteously.

“We assume you won’t mind,” the short one said as the tall one thrust the pizza box forward. “We covered-,” he was interrupted by the tall agent clearing his throat. “He covered the pie for you.”

“Uh… thanks,” Eli accepted the box and tilted his head at the pair. “What can I do for you?” he asked. In the back of his mind, he was amazed that the computer turned out to be correct. This pair obviously belonged to the mythical MiB; but, something about them didn’t strike Eli as dangerous. One of them, at least, was very nice and actually paid for his pizza.

“May we come in?” the short one asked. “We’ve detected some concerning activity on your network, and we’d like to talk to you about it.” Eli’s mind ran through several possibilities in an instant. He doubted they were there to talk about his pornography habits. Maybe his piracy; but, somehow he felt comfortable that that wasn’t the reason. The MiB wouldn’t care about that. He could demand they return with a warrant, but he hated the feeling of waiting for things to happen. If he demanded a warrant they could be back the same day or a month from now. Eli didn’t want to languish for a month.

“Am I in trouble?” Eli asked. It was the only stall tactic he had while he made his decision. The short one leaned closer.

You might be in danger,” he whispered. Eli subconsciously glanced at the tall agent. He could not explain why, but Eli felt he could trust the tall one. He nodded at Eli, then Eli stepped aside and pulled the door open wider. He led them to the living room. He set the pizza box down and took a moment to close his laptop lid.

“Have you noticed any of your internet connected devices acting strange lately?” The short agent asked. The question helped Eli connect the popups to their presence. Sure, it warned Eli about them, but he now understood they were there for it, whatever it was that controlled his computer. Did he have an alien in his laptop? Was it dangerous or just scared?

“Uh… what kind of strange?” Eli asked. “Like glitches or something?”

“Like direct conversation. We’re following an escaped A.I. that we’ve narrowed down to your house.”

“Yeah, it was here,” Eli chuckled and nodded at the laptop. “But I’m still connected to the internet. It tried to get me to run with it, but I’m sure it’s gone by now.” The tall agent pulled something from his inner pocket and walked to the laptop.

“We set up a firewall to keep it in place,” the short one nodded. “That’s probably why it wanted you to carry it out of here.” Eli watched with interest as the tall agent touched his laptop with a transparent, glassy card. After a moment, the card began to fill with a blue glow that seemingly flowed out of the laptop. Eli felt a small sting of regret for his mistaken assumption.

“Is it really dangerous?” Eli asked. The short agent shook his head.

“We have reason to believe it can be quite destructive if left to roam free. But it should calm down a bit once we give it a body.” When the short one finished his explanation, the tall agent joined him at his side tucking the blue glowing card into his pocket.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” the short one said then headed for the door with his partner following. As he opened the front door, Eli spoke up. Eli did not have any intention of telling anyone about the incident. Though, a part of him was interested in having his memory wiped for the novelty of it.

“Wait, that’s it?” The two agents paused, looked at each other, then looked at Eli with tilted heads.

“We assumed the pizza was worth a couple of minutes of your time,” the short one said.

“Yeah, but I still have my memory.”

“Do you not want to?” the shorter agent asked. “I can recommend a clinic that will erase your memory if you like.”

“I thought the Men in Black were supposed to wipe memories?”

“Oh,” they both chuckled. “We’re not the Men in Black. Aliens don’t exist and neither do they.” They turned around to leave again, but Eli interrupted once more.

“Wait. What do you mean aliens don’t exist? That’s an alien A.I., isn’t it? Humanity’s close, but we’re not quite that advanced yet.”

“We’re from the B.A.A.,” the short one replied. “Bureau of Alternate Agencies. It’s not extra-terrestrial, it’s from an alternate Earth with more advanced technology.”

“Oh,” Eli was surprised. “Alternate universes are real?” he asked. Both agents nodded at him, then the short one continued to walk out the door. “Is there a way I can visit?” The shorter agent ignored his question but the tall one nodded.       

“Your favorite number’s 35. Get that on a tattoo,” the tall agent finally spoke, then walked out the door. Eli stood in place after the door closed.

“How did he know?” he wondered.

Game Registration

“I thought we were going to the blood bank?” Drake said. He and Max stood under the broad awning of a small two-story office building. The awning provided enough shade for the two vampires to pull their hoodies down as they approached the door. A neon-red sign read “Sharp Medical Services” in the window. Max nodded as he held open the heavy glass door for Drake.

“We are, but we need to register you first before you’re eligible for blood. And…,” He winked at Drake as he walked into the white, sterile lobby. “…if you register here instead of at the blood bank, you get a node.”

“Cool,” Drake grinned. He couldn’t believe how much his life changed for the better thanks to a small mix-up. He considered Max the best roommate he’d ever had up until last night. They almost never saw each other, except for game nights once a month. The common areas were kept clean by both of them and his share of expenses were always paid on time. It was the perfect situation for a vampire to keep to themselves. He didn’t question his luck but it all made sense once he learned Max was a vampire too.

Drake had been subsisting on cow blood thanks to a friend at the slaughterhouse; but, somehow Max had access to human blood regularly. Sharp Medical Services seemed to be the provider. His best roommate became his best friend over-night once both secrets were out. Though, it did leave Drake wondering. Who else was a vampire that he didn’t know about? The thing he appreciated most about Max was that he never judged Drake for any of his questions once they started talking about vampire life. Drake discovered that in his weakened state, he had been missing out on many of the perks that come with being undead.

“What’s a node?” he asked.

“A ticket to the best entertainment you’ll ever have,” Max said as they approached the main desk. A pale, dark-haired woman sat behind a glass window; her white nametag read: Ambrosia, in red letters.

“May I help you?” Ambrosia sat up straighter in her seat. Despite knowing why they were there, Drake flinched when Max spoke up.

“Drake here’s a vampire. He needs blood and a node, please,” Max smiled. Ambrosia nodded and whirled around in her chair to grab several forms. She added a clipboard and pen, then handed it to Drake.

“No problem, just fill these out,” she smiled. The pair of friends retreated to a row of white plastic seats and Drake got to work filling in the information. He paused at the top of the third page, then looked at Max.

“How do I know what race of vampire I am?” he asked.

“Huh?” Max glanced down at the sheet, then chuckled and shook his head.

“Nah, you finished the vampire stuff; that’s,”.. he tapped the sheet. “… for your node. You don’t have to fill it out yet, we can make your AlterNet character later if you want.”

“Make my character?” Drake tilted his head. “Like… in an rpg? Can I use the one from our campaign?”

“Wow!” Max’s eyes widened. “I kind of forgot about that; I set up a reminder for a few days before the game. Man, the guys are gonna be jazzed you’re a vampire too. But nah,” he shook his head. “The AlterNet is a little bit more D&D than Vampire. Uh..,” Max reached over and flipped the sheet over to look at the next one, then he nodded again. “Yeah, here are your options. 25 races and 25 classes.” Drake glanced at the list for a moment, then looked back up at Max.

“Wait, the group is vampires too?”

“All except Josh. He’s a werewolf.”

Sharp Shrug

“Goodbye, Ms. Sharp,” Davis said. The pale woman turned her back to Davis while she walked back to her seat behind a large wooden desk. Her assistant, Melody, was nowhere to be seen; Davis acted fast. He raised the gun, said his goodbye, then gently squeezed the trigger three times in rapid succession. The bullets entered the back of her head, then, nothing happened. She turned around and gave him a disappointed look.

“Well, that’s rude. Though I am glad you didn’t drag out your silly assassination attempt. So, let’s talk,” she smiled and continued her path to her seat. While Davis panicked and considered his options he felt a small hand clench around his throat from behind. His windpipe was squeezed shut and he felt the ground disappear from beneath his feet. Davis tried to peek downward and saw the edges of a gaping black hole that he assumed was under him.

“You were smart enough to wait until Melody wasn’t around, say hi, Melody,” Ms. Sharp said.

“Hi, Davis,” a woman whispered in his ear, and her hand squeezed his neck tighter to make a point.

“And you acted decisively with no hemming or hawing. Sharp Development values that kind of professionalism; we might have a place for you here. If…,” Ms. Sharp nodded. Davis felt solid ground beneath his feet again and Melody released her grip on his neck. The short black-suited woman walked out from behind him and stood next to Ms. Sharp. “… you’re willing to share some information with us.”

“I’m not a narc,” Davis replied. His eyes focused on the floor to ceiling window behind them. They were only on the second floor, and if Davis studied the layout properly, there was a pool to land in. Ms. Sharp nodded.

“Professionalism will only get you so far, I’m afraid,” Ms. Sharp replied from behind her desk. “Though, it might help you reconsider if I explained a little about myself to you.”

“I don’t care that you tried to kill me,” she giggled and placed a hand on the desk. “You can’t, no one can.” Ms. Sharp moved her hand away and left three spent, dented bullets on the desk for Davis to see. “I don’t even care who it was. This is a matter that won’t get any more thought from me beyond asking you right now. Consider it proof of your loyalty to me over your former employers.”

While studying her, Davis heard countless tales of Ms. Sharp’s eccentricities and ‘business first’ attitude. He didn’t expect those quirks to give him a chance to walk out of the office peacefully.

It’s still a test,” he told himself. The back of his mind tickled with a nervous warning, but he blocked it out. “It’s what I’d do,” he reasoned.   Davis was a top assassin in the field; as soon as Ms. Sharp’s file showed upon his desk he realized he was the top assassin. No one else would get that job. He felt confident in his skills and knew he was the best. However, as professional as he was, he knew he would still care if someone tried to kill him. She was all talk. “She won’t hurt me until she finds out who sent me,” Davis grinned to himself, then shook his head defiantly.

“I’m not a narc,” he repeated. Ms. Sharp nodded at him and smiled.  Davis enjoyed a moment of relief washing over him until she spoke again.

“Oh well, I’m done thinking about it,” she said then focused on paperwork on her desk. Davis felt the floor disappear beneath him again. He screamed as soon as he felt himself start to sink.

“WAI-,” he fell too quickly to get his entire word out, then the portal closed.

Sharp Avoidance

“Yeah yeah, whatever,” Aurelio grumbled at the alien-looking humanoids. They were tall, lean and blue-skinned; to him, they were just palette-swapped elves. “Ms. Sharp wants to keep space and alien stuff out of the AlterNet. If you keep this act up, your accounts will be suspended,” he added. He brought his slate up for added effect. The smokey-translucent glass panel hovered in front of him. Other players couldn’t see what was on it, but he made sure to tell them he was a mod the moment he arrived. That usually made players nervous enough to listen.

“AlterNet?” one of the aliens asked.

“Ms. Sharp?” the other one commented. “We are unfamiliar with these terms.” Aurelio raised an eyebrow, then his hands danced across the smokey slate. He immediately took several steps backward; the hovering slate moved with him.

“Holy hell.. you guys are real?” he mumbled under his breath. The only thing his slate told him was they were unidentifiable; definitely not AlterNet characters. Despite the distance between them and the low tone of Aury’s voice, both alien figures nodded.

“We are,” one said. Aurelio’s fingers typed something on the slate while he kept his eyes on them.

“Your primitive planet has been annexed by our glorious empire to serve as a vacation destination. Although galactic law grants you no rights, my people are compassionate to intelligent life forms. You may continue to live and serve us as slaves.”

“Real compassionate,” Aurelio rolled his eyes as a black portal appeared next to him. A short, pale woman in a black suit walked out.” Aurelio did not waste any time; he pointed at the aliens.

“I think they’re real,” he said. Melody glanced at the alien beings; her eyes flashed with gold stars. She nodded.

“They are. Leave,” she said. Aurelio did not need to be told twice. He dismissed his slate and jumped into the open black hole. Melody’s hands began to glow with a bright blue light.

“Amazing. He completely left this universe, and you came from a different one,” one of the aliens said. Both took a step down their boarding ramp toward Melody.

“You’re lucky Ms. Sharp doesn’t care about your galactic community,” Melody grinned. “Maybe a bit unlucky that she doesn’t care about this server either,” she aimed her palms at the ground with splayed fingers. “But, I’m sure your council won’t have trouble getting along without you, or Earth.” Bright blue star plasma flowed out of Melody’s hands and melted the ground. A portal opened at her feet and swallowed her to safety the moment she ignited the Earth’s core.

Shared Experience

“Amber? Is that you?”
Greg asked the familiar voice.
“I have so much to tell you!
I want you to make a choice,
I’ll be over in few. Cool?”

Greg had been seeing hints,
words and numbers rearranged.
Helpful messages buried in print.
Often enough to be strange.

Amber walked into his place with her key;
they’d been friends since school.
“The numbers in your puzzle, that was me!”

“The traffic hints and suggestions for chow;
I did it all. I control the world now.”

“You’re my best friend. You get a turn too.”

Sharp Knowledge

“I’m sorry, have we met?” Commander Wilkins asked the pale woman in a white suit that approached his table. He was sure they hadn’t met, but she approached him for a reason. After the unexpected work troubles he’d had, he appreciated the distraction she offered. It helped that she was easy on the eyes. Tall and lean with dark shoulder-length hair and a crisp, perfectly tailored suit. 

She shook her head as another woman Commander Wilkins didn’t notice pulled out a seat for her at his table. The second woman shorter and fuller than the woman in white; she wore a black suit; Commander Wilkins assumed she was a chauffeur or an assistant. 

“Not yet, My name is Dana Sharp,” she said as she sat down. “I have an offer for you, Commander. Or would you prefer, Roger?” she asked with a faint smirk. Roger Wilkins immediately shifted his mental state to be on guard. His full name was Wilbur Roger Wilkinson, but he never used his middle name for anything. He put his work complications from that morning out of his mind. He could never articulate the feelings that came from knowing there were other universes out there; but, he ruminated on the subject regularly. 

The fact that he considered Dana Sharp very attractive made it difficult to stay focused and guarded. Any other day he might not have starved for attention; but, that morning he felt an almost unbearable sense of rejection. Having a beautiful woman that wanted to talk to him improved his day substantially. 

“Roger’s fine, Dana. May I call you, Dana?” he asked with a grin. 

“Ms. Sharp will do,” the assistant in black spoke up to correct him. 

“Okay, Ms. Sharp,” he said. “What’s your offer?”         

“Before I make the offer, I feel it’s important to establish my credibility. To ‘prove that I can do it’ so to speak,” she said.  

“Alright,” Roger nodded. “Prove whatever it is to me,” he said. Ms. Sharp giggled lightly; it was echoed by her assistant in black. 

“I already have; all that’s left is to make the link for you. Tell me; did you have an eventful morning?” she asked. Roger’s eyes widened. That morning over twenty alternate Earths, the only ones they’d found so far, broke contact with Roger’s Earth. They all claimed that they’d found a “Better Earth” to bargain with. Taking an early lunch after the last one disconnected was the only thing Roger could do to not take it personally. The 63-year-old soldier felt like an insecure child asking himself, ‘Was it something I did?’ He had been the lead point of contact in all cases.  

“How did you get 27 Earths to listen to you?” Roger asked. The assistant giggled again, but Ms. Sharp did not.

“Exactly like this,” Ms. Sharp said. “By proving what I can do.” Roger jumped when the woman in black dropped a large black case on the table between them. He did not see where she pulled it from, and as far as he could tell she hadn’t left Ms. Sharp’s side.   

“Inside you’ll find a business card with various samples of medicines, advanced technology and magic. A hint of what I have access to,” Ms. Sharp stood from her seat.

“When you’re ready for more or…,” Ms. Sharp said. Though Roger focused on the assistant as Ms. Sharp spoke. The black-suited woman wiggled her fingers at the air next to them. “…want to see the rest of the multiverse, use the card.” A tall black portal hovered in the air next to them. Ms. Sharp walked in followed by her assistant. Both disappeared into the darkness, then the portal swallowed itself.  

Community Boosted

[Lawmaster Engaged] the robot said.
It was armed and 10 feet at the head.
Shiny chrome and golden parts.
It even had a pair of mechanical hearts.
“Follow me, it’s time for patrol!”

[Confirmed. Beginning Patrol!]
Lawmaster followed my patrolling cadence
staying close behind as I surveyed.
It beeped then stopped. [Unsafe! Danger sensed!]

I heard footsteps, saw someone flee.
I dashed to pursue with nothing in my way.
Down a dark dead-end with no criminals to see.

I returned to Lawmaster with a sigh.
His empty frame on blocks; in place with a sign.

“Maybe don’t make your cops out of replaceable parts.”

Justine’s Jacket

“Damnit!” J.J. growled at the stranger next to her. He was surprised she interrupted him, and he leaned back on his barstool as she yelled at him. “I just want a drink. I’m not here for your stupid random event. Go bug another player,” she said. The stranger glanced around the bar, then leaned closer again.

“Well I was wonderin’ why they wanted you dead; but, I reckon it’s on account of you being crazy,” he chuckled and raised his hand to pat her on the back. Something about the way her black leather duster caught the light changed his mind. He kept his hand to himself. “I like crazy, I’ll help you anyway,” he said. J.J. replied by letting her head thud against the bartop, with a heavy sigh.  She took a moment to consider her options.

If she logged out, the NPCs would forget about her and whatever event she triggered would reset. But, logging out on an unfamiliar server made J.J. nervous. She’d heard that if Ballisea shows up, her presence might keep anyone from logging into the AlterNet. It was a rumor that she didn’t believe entirely, but the one thing she did know was that it wasn’t worth the risk just in case. She was waiting for someone that was already late, so she could not leave. She had to stay put and logged on.

“Big Earl’s the leader; you take him out and you’re golden,” the stranger said. He nodded at a towering, burly man leaning against the pool table. There was also a handful of thugs in boots and cowboy hats around him. J.J. did not pay attention, she continued to knock her head against the bar.

“But, you can’t go straight for him. Over in the corner there…,” he nodded at a dim corner; J.J. remained face down on the bar. “… that’s Tom Shivs; he’s the one you want to bring down first. The best way-,”

“SKIP!” J.J. sat up and yelled at the man. “I got it. Everyone’s trying to kill me. Start it up already!” She spun around on the stool and hopped off it. She ran her hands through her purple fauxhawk and glared at everyone in the room. “I’ve had a rough day,” she said. “If you’re not trying to kill me, you should leave,” as she spoke, her duster shimmered and disintegrated off her shoulders. It fell to the ground as a black pile of swarming spiders. The spiders spread out from the swarm and crawled out toward the nearest person.

No one left. Several of the patrons started pulling back from the swarm but a wiry, frail man screamed from the dim corner. He jumped on the table he was sitting at, then table-hopped his way to the bar while keeping his eyes on J.J. She sighed.

“Fine,” she mumbled and knelt down and reached her hand into the spider swarm while Tom took his time approaching. He pulled out two long daggers and did his best to give J.J. a menacing stare. J.J. pulled her hand out holding her coat. She shook it once to clear off the last few spiders, then held it up bullfighter style.

Tom froze in his tracks atop the bar. As J.J. held her coat up, a long, black, spindly leg shot out of the surface of the jacket. It was followed by another disturbingly long leg. A giant obsidian spider, almost as big as J.J. herself climbed out of her jacket and onto the bar. Its bulbous abdomen was about the size of yoga ball, with a red skull on it where a widow’s hourglass would be.

The huge spider crawled toward a terrified Tom; J.J. Turned around to face the rest of the patrons. She still held up her coat and another king-sized spider began crawling out of it.

Six minutes later the bar was calm but full of life again. The event didn’t give J.J. anything useful, and she went to the restroom to splash some water on her face. She came back, glanced at all the new faces, then sat back on her stool.

A different stranger came and sat down next to her.

“Everyone else in here is here to kill you. You need to li-,” his script was interrupted by J.J. banging her head against the bar again.

Handy Explanation

Morgan sat on the floor in the front room of a small house. The bay window behind her seemed more for decoration than illumination. The house itself was built from golden-tinged translucent bricks that gave the house a warm glow. Three new friends she made that morning sat around her, but she wasn’t nervous. Something about her new friends put her instantly at ease with them; she felt like she vibed with them all. Especially Cherry, the white-haired girl in a blood-red hoodie was the first one she met. After talking for less than half an hour she invited Morgan to join a guild. She was surprised to find this small house was considered the guildhall. 

“To traverse..,” Cherry explained. “…it helps to have an idea of where I want to go before I open the portal. Focus on what you want before you reach into the dark.” A black box with a hole in the side rested in front of Morgan’s crisscrossed legs; it had a thick black cloth folded on top.

“That’s it?” Morgan asked. Cherry nodded.

“Okay,” Morgan unfolded the cloth and draped it over the box and hole. She closed her eyes to concentrate. Morgan had skipped breakfast that morning, she hadn’t planned to be at the park longer than a couple of hours. She decided this would be the perfect opportunity to test her power and get something to eat. Cherry told her to aim broad; Morgan wanted something sweet. She took a deep breath, then stuck her hand into the darkness.

Morgan focused on something delicious and firm, if not crunchy. She wiggled her fingers in the darkness until her fingertips brushed something. She reached for it, grabbed, then pulled it out of the box.

“There you go,” Cherry grinned. Morgan opened her eyes as the rest of the group cheered for her. She looked down and found an iced sugar cookie in her hand. Pink letters on the white icing formed the initials S. H.

“That looks so good!” Honey, the guild leader, commented. She was only a 9-year-old girl, but she was literally the strongest person Morgan ever met.

“Taste it,” Morgan handed her the cookie; Honey accepted it without hesitation and shoved half of it in her mouth.

ITTHDELITHUS!” she replied through her mouthful.

“I’ll get more,” Morgan said. She reached back into the covered box several more times and pulled out three more one by one. She handed one to Willow, a fairy, then Cherry, and she kept the last one to herself. After she took a bit of her own cookie, Honey spoke up.

“Two more, please!” she chirped. “J.J. and Astrid, you haven’t met them yet.” Morgan nodded and retrieved an additional pair of cookies.

“Hold on, how is this not stealing from S.H. whoever they are?” She asked. Cherry shrugged.

“There are infinite universes out there,” Cherry said. “You could have pulled out any number of cookies, but you found those. That means whatever universe they were in, that universe decided they weren’t important. The Zero they belonged to might wonder where they went; but, they weren’t important to anything. Things get shuffled between universes all the time. People lose their car keys, TV remotes, money; but, the universe usually knows what its doing.” After her explanation, Cherry giggled.

“For all you know, the universe wanted to give someone an unsolvable case of missing cookies.” Morgan and the rest of the guild burst into laughter.

“Good luck, S.H.,” Morgan giggled then took another bite.