Vanilla Bean

“I did it!” Billy shouted. The teenager danced around an orange rock stuck in the air. It hovered several feet off the ground and glowed brightly with heat. “Vanilla! I DID IT!” He yelled at the white-haired woman resting atop a T-rex’s tail. The giant dinosaur was stuck in time like the hot rock. Vanilla hopped off the tail and walked to Billy. She glanced at the rock; then nodded at Billy.

“Good job, now you’re ready to learn something more complicated.” Vanilla reached for the tennis ball-sized rock. Its glow dissipated by the time she wrapped her hand around it; Billy assumed she sped up time to cool it down. She held the stone up with her left hand in front of Billy. “Right now the stone is here,” Vanilla declared. Then she moved it through the air to a spot on her right, Billy’s left. “Now, in the rock’s future, it’s over here. You’ve got a pretty good handle on that since you’ve been looping it through time. The next step is to try and to loop only half of it,” she smiled; her sparkling orange eyes distracted Billy. Then he heard a soft thud on the ground to his right. He looked down at it and saw half the stone.

“Whooaaa,” Billy’s eyes went wide. He looked at Vanilla’s hand and found the other half of the rock still in her grasp. “How’d you get so strong?” Vanilla held up the whole rock in one piece and winked at Billy.

“I had someone teach me like I’m teaching you.” Vanilla lightly tossed the rock at Billy’s head.

“Ow,” the rock bounced off his forehead then stopped in time. He did not react quick enough to stop it before it bumped him. Billy plucked it out of the air. “His lessons were harsher,” Vanilla added and looked into Billy’s eyes. Their bright orange-crystalline color seemed to cloud over. “But he didn’t have as smart a student as I do.” Billy grinned as his cheeks flushed red.

“Thanks! What’s he like? Can I meet him?” Vanilla shook her head.

“That’s enough questions for now,” she pointed at the rock in his hand. “Get to work.” Billy blinked. Vanilla was gone when he opened his eyes.


Jim channeled more heat than he could handle. He fired a beam of bright blue, almost white, plasma from his hands at the tall, pale woman with white horns. Jim focused on channeling heat, not protecting his hands; he felt searing pain as the skin on his palms began to melt.

He hurt himself in vain. The blue beam traveled toward the woman’s head but a small black hole appeared in front of her and swallowed the plasma. The beam stopped; Jim’s hands were burned to a crisp and he could no longer access his star. The black hole disappeared to reveal the woman’s smiling face.

“It’s like you don’t know who I am,” she said. Then, she cocked her head and narrowed her eyes. “Do you know who I am?”

“I don’t care who you are!” Jim shouted. He raised his hands and yelled in pain. He fired a wide beam of white-hot plasma at her knowing it would destroy his hands.

“You don’t know me!” the woman said gleefully. A larger black hole opened to swallow the beam. At the same time, a second black hole appeared behind the woman. The appearance of a second portal gave Jim hope for reinforcements. His hopes shattered when a white-hot beam of plasma flew out of the portal behind her toward Jim. He closed his eyes and waited for the end, but it never came. “Do you know how rare it is that someone doesn’t know me?” She said; she sounded closer. Jim opened his eyes. The tall, horned woman now stood directly in front of him. He saw a flash of white past her. The same beam seemed to be traveling back and forth behind her. A black portal swallowed it, while the other one sent it out. He knew she was controlling the portals but he’d never seen anyone use them with such minimal effort. “When I’m in a good enough mood to care that is,” she smiled. “Aren’t you lucky?”

Jim raised what was left of his hands. All 10 fingers were completely burned down to black, short knuckles. The skin on the palm of his hands was almost completely gone with bone showing through. Despite the intense pain he hoped he could get her point blank. The woman looked down at his hands and shook her head.

“That must hurt,” she said. Two small black portals appeared around   Jim’s wrists. They traveled forward and swallowed his crippled hands then disappeared. Blood flowed out of his wrists due to the now missing hands. Jim roared in pain. “Oops that might have made it worse, let me fix it,” she giggled. A small black portal, the size of an apple, appeared to Jim’s right, and a matching one to his left. A small, thin beam of white energy flowed from the right hole to the left. It brushed past his wounds and cauterized them. Despite the intense pain, Jim noticed the bigger beam traveled from right to left behind her as well. It boggled his mind that she somehow she divided it with portals without even trying; and, she was still juggling it.

“My name is Ballisea, estrella.” She identified him by his Unique Soul; he wasn’t worth acknowledging as a person. “I want you to tell everyone you meet that they should flee when I show up.” Jim watched the white plasma continue to bounce between universes behind her and realized he never stood a chance. He eagerly nodded his head happy to be alive.

“Yes! Yes! I will!” Ballisea looked him up and down, then shook her head.

“No, something’s missing,” she said. Her voice carried doubts and Jim immediately began fearing for his life again. “Look at you, you’re pathetic. I’ve had more trouble from Zeros.” The pale woman tapped her chin thoughtfully. “I need something to really drive the point home.” She paced a circle around the wispy, ruined man then stopped in front of him again. “I know!” She smiled and looked Jim directly in the eye. “You’re going to want to stay very still. Starting…,” she winked at him. “Now.” Jim saw black in his peripheral vision; he almost turned to look.

“Ah, ah,” Ballisea clicked her tongue and gave her head a gentle shake. “If you move, you die.” She took several steps back. “I’ll show you something interesting though.” She held her hand out and caught a large rock dropped by a black hole. She held the rock up to Jim. “This is you.” A small, vertical black portal formed around the middle of the rock. “This is what I did to you.” She let the rock go; two halves hit the ground. “That’s what happens if you move. Bye now. Don’t forget to tell everyone about me,” Ballisea said. She walked through a black portal and disappeared. Jim watched the beam of white plasma come out one last time, except it came out of a cluster of tiny black holes as a shower of light. Jim realized she made hundreds of teeny portals to whittle the beam down into harmless sparks.


“Sorry about your Earth, Metro,” Roger said. The cyborg stepped out of a tall black portal and joined the other two in the garage.

“Condolences: Accepted,” Metro, a short, spindly humanoid robot, replied. Roger thought he saw Metro’s eyes darken. He could not be sure due to the robot’s abstract face. Golden light pulsed where his mouth would be when he spoke. “Action: Express Gratitude. Thank you, Roger.”

“Anywhere else you want to go? You robots have any other Earths?” Sirius asked. Roger saw the tall, anthropomorphic Doberman cast an eye toward the door as if he wanted to leave.

“Information incomplete. Metro only knows two Earths.” His head dipped low; Roger thought he looked sad. Roger stepped forward and patted the chest-high robot on its head. His shiny silver hand clanked against Metro’s white, bald metal head.

“Well only one of those Earths isn’t occupied by Ballisea, so you’re welcome here as long as you like,” he said.

“Lodgings:..,” Metro’s head swiveled a full 360 to appraise the garage. Roger’s old, run-down truck was parked on one side of the large building. He recognized dozens of archaic, from his point of view, tools. “…accepted. Action: Contribute. How can I help, Roger?”

“Hey you want to pull your own weight, that’s perfect,” Roger said. “It’s not neces-”

“We need a sixth,” Sirius said. Roger forgot he was there, and now he wished he rushed him out sooner. “Thanks for the trip, Sirius. You can leave now.” Sirius smiled and turned his short snout up at Roger as he turned toward the door.

“Metro will be the sixth that you need. Information Request: Sixth what?” Roger patted Metro on the shoulder then walked around to stand in front of him.

“We need a sixth member for our roller derby team,” he shook his head. “But I don’t think you can do it. The nanos here don’t recognize you.” Metro raised his hand up. The white-crystalline skeleton hand disintegrated into golden nanos. The luminescent swarm hovered where his hand was, then it formed into a bone-like hand again.

“Metro is nanos. Metro ignores AlterNet nanos,” he looked up at Roger. “Information Request: Will Roger accept contribution of Metro as sixth?”

“Hey, you don’t gotta contribute anything,” Roger said.

“Response: Unrelated,” he continued to stare at Roger to wait for an answer. Roger sighed.

“No, I will not accept your contribution as sixth,” he said. “It wouldn’t help us at all.”

“Response: Denied. Elevated pulse detected. Lie detected. Action: Metro will become sixth.”

“No, we don’t nee-” Roger tried to change Metro’s mind but he was interrupted when a swarm of golden nanos enveloped the small robot. After a moment the swarm cleared. The small, lean, crystalline robot was replaced with a shorter, more human form. He was a solid-white, big-eared gnome with curly golden hair and a golden goatee.

“Holy hell, did you go through the character creator that fast?”

“Affirmative. AlterNet designation: MetroGnome. Class: Bard.”

“MetroGnome, huh?” Roger grinned. “I like it.” he walked around the thigh-high gnome looking him over. “Why a bard?”

“Metro’s class choice compliments Unique Soul #32, El Músico .” Roger took a step back and stared at the alabaster gnome through wide eyes.

“You’re a Unique??”

“Affirmative. Metro is Unique.”

Ticket to Exposit

“What I wouldn’t give to go back in time,” Percy crumpled the useless lottery ticket in his hand and shook his head. He tossed the tiny paper ball into the nearest garbage can and continued his way through the park.

“What for?” a woman asked. Percy turned toward the voice. A woman with long white hair in a flowing orange dress stood next to a young man in a navy-blue pinstripe suit. They looked more out of place in the park than Percy did in his mechanic’s overalls. The over-dressed pair seemed nice enough that Percy decided to answer.

“T’ win that billion dollar jackpot,” he chuckled. “The things I’d do what that money, boy I tell you.”

“But you wouldn’t win anyway,” the young man said. Then he turned to the woman for confirmation. “Right, Vanilla?” She nodded.

“Right, Billy,” She shrugged and turned to walk away. The boy’s answer irked Percy enough that he felt he had to defend himself.

“O’ course I’d win, that’s how time travel works. If I know the winning numbers I get the money,” he grumbled at their backs then turned away.

“That’s not true,” Billy said. Percy turned around. “Can I prove it to him? Pleeeeease?” he asked Vanilla. The woman rolled her eyes and sighed.

“Alright, but make it quick.” He ran to Percy. “What are the winning numbers?”

“6-17-18-42-58. Why?” Percy blinked. The moment he opened his eyes Billy showed him a lottery ticket. Percy recognized the numbers and yanked the ticket out of his hand. It had the previous day’s date; the day of the drawing. Before Percy got too excited Billy gave him a newspaper with the winning numbers shown. The new winning numbers that did not match his ticket.

Offering a Seat

“Mrs. Houston?” Erica heard her name and whirled around. She stood at the entrance to her small, single-office in the run down strip mall at 7:50 a.m. about to enter and start her day. The area’s residents did not stir much until about noon. Hearing her name made her jump; she did not expect to see anyone around. She found a short, elderly, Asian woman standing behind her. She relaxed when she realized a woman that ancient wouldn’t pose much of a threat.

“Yes, Call me Erica,” Mrs. Houston smiled and finished unlocking the door. “Come inside. How can I help you?”  She led the old woman in and gestured at a metal folding chair in front of a small wooden desk. Erica dropped her purse in its usual filing cabinet then sat down in front of the woman. “I haven’t seen you around town, are you new here? Mrs… ” she waited for the woman to introduce herself.

“Ms. Chang,” the woman said with a smile. “Yes, I’ve only been here for a day. The word around the neighborhood is you’re someone that can be trusted; you genuinely care about the people here.” She said. Erica did her best to keep a straight face, but her bottom lip trembled a bit as tears gathered in her eyes. She almost did not go to work that day. Until she heard those words she assumed this would be her last day on the job. She’d spent years trying to make a difference but she did not see any evidence.

The neighborhood and a good portion of the city were nearly overrun by crime. The police were paid, handsomely, to stand around and look the other way; they would not lift a finger. Erica had been doing her best to work with the people that did show up at her door. Not only individually but she often put them in contact with each other. Her plan was to try and foster a sense of community so they would be more inclined to help each other. Hearing that they considered her trustworthy changed her mind in an instant.

“Thank you,” Erica managed to hold back the tears. “How can I help you?” Donna Chang shook her head.

“I don’t need your help, I’ve come to help you.” The frail, wrinkled woman made a show of looking around the office with a critical scowl to give Erica a clue about what kind of help she was offering. Erica sat up straighter and shook her head. She did not know anything about this woman, but she knew Dralio made her a similar offer.

“No, thank you,” she nodded toward the door. “You know the way out, it’s not a big place.”

“Dralio is dead,” Donna said. She did not stand from her seat to leave; she stared at Erica expectantly. The social worker sighed.

“I assume you’ve taken his place?” she asked. Donna gave a slight nod.

“I’m giving you the same answer I gave him. I will improve things here. One family at a time if I have to. I will not send anyone your way for extra…,” Erica raised her hands to form air-quotes. “…’work’ that we both know they won’t come back from. I don’t care if you are vampires. You can kill me, but you can’t scare me off.”

“I am not Dralio,” Donna said. “I am not a vampire. I don’t want to kill you or scare you off. It’s as I said, I came to help you.”

“Uhuh, I’ll bet. What’s in it for you?” Erica asked. The stranger’s calm demeanor helped Erica keep her own feelings reigned in.

“Nothing except for the joy of helping others,” Donna replied. Erica scoffed, then forced out several peals of harsh, sarcastic laughter.

“Yeah of course. Why didn’t I think of becoming a mafia boss to help others!?” she asked rhetorically.

“It’s never too late,” Donna smiled.

“What?” Erica asked with a puzzled expression. “You’re serious?”

“What we are does not have to dictate what we do.

The factions that reported to Dralio now report to me,” Donna shrugged. “He grew cocky, sloppy,” the elderly woman pointed at Erica. “Even you knew he was a vampire. I took his seat to teach him a lesson; but, I have no long-term interest in staying here. I am looking for someone to manage things when I leave.”

“And all these vampire factions are going to take orders from a human?” Donna nodded.

“The vampires are only one faction. There are also the werewolves, zombies, and fairies. They will obey your command as if it were my own.”

“Werewolves? Zombies and fairies too??” Erica asked with wide eyes.

“See? That surprised you,” Donna giggled to herself. “Dralio was very sloppy.”

Hopeful Applicant

“Weaknesses?” Harry asked. The pale, frail woman bit her lip with hesitation. Then she gave a faint head-nod as if making up her mind about something.

“Garlic and silver?” she asked. She was reassured at every step that they employed vampires. Despite that, she feared security would rush through the door to stake her then and there. Harry looked up from his form.

“Are you asking me or telling me, Ms. Hope?” Harry had been working for the company for almost 20 years. He gave up trying to keep up professional appearances on the first day. Once he started hiring vampires, werewolves and other fae he realized this wasn’t that kind of job. He loved every moment of the 20 years after that realization. The vampire woman sat up straighter. Harry’s question put her at ease; he obviously didn’t care what she was as long as she could do the job.

“Garlic, silver, and holy water, but not crosses.” Harry nodded, then focused on his form again. He checked three boxes and added a note.

“Unique number?” he asked. Then he looked up when the answer did not come quick enough. Ms. Hope gave him a confused look.

“I’m sorry?” she asked. “No one assigned me a number.” Harry’s pen dropped out of his hand to the table; he sighed.

“I’m sorry for wasting your time Ms. Hope. I don’t know how you got this far in the interview process without anyone telling you. We won’t be able to offer you a position with us,” he stood from his desk with an outstretched hand. “Thank you for coming.”

“What?” The woman did not rise to accept his hand. She remained seated and stared at him with red glowing eyes. “Because I don’t have a number that one of your people should have assigned to me?” Harry shook his head; he caught sight of the clock on the wall and did some quick mental math. She looked like she really needed help and Harry decided he had enough time to explain things properly to her. At least that way maybe she would leave without taking it out on him.

“What’s your favorite number?” he asked as she sat down. Ms. Hope shrugged.

“Three-hundred seventy-one,” she blurted out the first number in her mind.

“Ms. Hope I can explain to you why you’re not suited for the job, but I’m afraid it won’t change anything. We still won’t be able to offer you the position but you’ll at least know why.” She rolled her eyes at him, but the red glow dimmed.

“Fine, let’s hear the reason.”

“There are beings…,” he looked directly at her. “..of which you are not one, that are known as Unique Souls. The long and short of it is each one is identified by a number 1-54. While it is true we often hire vampires; this posting is for Uniques only,” he offered her an apologetic shrug. “I’ll keep your file handy for future postings but there’s nothing I can do right now.”

“What can they do that I can’t?”

“Stop time, travel between universes, destroy entire Earths, kill dragons, talk to plants, and so on. Each number is a different type and each type has different abilities.”

“Universes? Plural?” Ms. Hope asked. Harry nodded.

“In fact, my boss is from another universe, another Earth. It’s a lot like this one but with less fae.” Harry’s phone rang. Ms. Hope remained on the chair with a stunned look on her face so Harry took the opportunity to answer it.

“Hi, it’s Harry,” he said as he picked up. Ms. Hope only heard his side of the conversation. “Yes, Ma’am. No Ma’am, I was going to-” he kept his eyes on Ms. Hope. She began to feel like he was talking about her. She began to come out of her daze from the unbelievable things she heard about. “She’s not a Uni-” Harry’s eyes broke contact and confirmed Ms. Hope’s suspicion. “Oh, I see. No one told me, it’s a good thing you called. Thanks, Melody. Bye.” Harry hung up the phone. Ms. Hope sat up straighter and gave him her full attention.

“Well, now I know how you got this far without anyone telling you. Directive from up high,” he shrugged and gave her a smile. “You must have really impressed them somehow, they want to offer you the job.” Her lips pulled up into a giant grin; her eyes sparkled. “On one condition,” Harry added.

“I’ll do it, anything!” Harry placed a clipboard with a black sheet of red text on it and grinned.

“You just have to sign your soul over to the company.”

AlterNet Viewpoint

“I wish I stayed with the Magus,” Kirk complained to his friend as he shuffled through the crowded school hall.

“He was a phony!” Emily reminded him. “Besides you didn’t have a choice. But look at all these kids! Isn’t this better?” Kirk shook his head.

“It would be better if I could practice my magic,” he replied.

“SHHHh,” Emily shot him a look. “You don’t have to tell the whole school.” Kirk rolled his eyes and pointed at a frazzled boy. He was staring at a black hole that occupied the inside of his locker.

“WHO STOLE MY BOOKS?” the boy yelled as they walked past.

“I don’t think anyone would be surprised if we used magic here,” he said. “This doesn’t feel like a normal school.”

“You’ve never been to a normal school,” she reminded him. “The one you went to was created by the Magus.” Emily stopped at her locker and began working the combination.

“No, I haven’t. But we’re only here because someone you delivered pizza to asked you if you wanted to go to school. That’s not normal.”

“He wasn’t some random guy. It was Aurelio Luna from SoundCrowd!” Kirk rolled his eyes again.

“You hadn’t even heard of them until we started delivering pizza.”

“So?” Emily asked as she reached for a book in her locker. “I’m a fan now and that’s what’s important.”

“Hi! I’m Mundo,” a violet-haired girl popped up next to Kirk. “I heard you were a fan of SoundCrowd, want to join my club?”

“No,” Kirk replied.

“What kind of club?” Emily asked her.

“Coach Luna asked me to put a team together to practice against his team. What are your character classes?” Emily shrugged.

“We don’t have any. We’ve never been in the AlterNet,” she replied with a trace of sadness. Despite her tone, Mundo burst into laughter.

“Told you we didn’t want to join,” Kirk said to Emily. He turned to walk away and Emily followed him.

“Wait!” Mundo stopped them. “What’s wrong?” Mundo looked at Emily and recognized her hurt feelings. “Wait.. are you serious?” Emily nodded.

“Yeah. Why would we joke about that?” she asked. Mundo looked at them with wide eyes.

“This school is in the AlterNet.” she said.

Stellar Friend

Billy stepped out of a black portal and into a large, messy, active kitchen. One mountainous cook danced between three different stoves. Multiple pots and pans sat on lit burners on each stove. The giant chef moved between the three stoves like a ninja.

“Who are you?” A woman asked. Billy noticed a short, elderly, Asian woman eyeing him suspiciously. He decided he did not want to deal with her and stopped time. The young man turned to find his way out of the kitchen but stopped in his tracks. The elderly woman stood in front of him again with an annoyed look. In the background, Billy heard the chef still stirring his steaming pots. “Who are you?” She repeated the question.

“I’m Billy. #14, La Muerte,” he replied with a sigh. He expected her to introduce herself too, but she did not.

“What you want here, Billy?” she asked.

“I’m looking for someone. Uh.. a friend; An estrella with a star on her hand,” Billy shrugged. “She’s probably with a diablito.” The woman’s eyes narrowed.

“You know Alliane?” She asked. Billy nodded. “No trouble, okay?” Billy lifted his hands in surrender.

“No trouble. I just need to talk to her.”  

“Start time again,” she said. Billy did. The woman nodded and pointed at a darkened doorway. Wait in the back. Too busy in front. I’ll get her.” She turned to head out the door.

“Uh…” Billy stopped her. “Tell her I said please.”

“Okay,” she disappeared through the swinging door. Billy walked to the dim room in the back. It looked to be a private dining area set up for a giant.

“Hey, Billy. What’s up?” He heard Alliane’s voice behind him and turned around. He sighed with relief when he noticed she came without her fiancé.

“Hi. I need some advice.” The woman nodded and walked into the room. She sat on the monstrous table and waited for Billy to explain. “Do you know anything about Derby?” She nodded.

“Yeah, some. Why?”

“You can’t kill someone while competing, right?” Again, she nodded.

“Technically you can if everyone agrees to turn the safety features off. But as a general rule it’s pretty safe.”

“Thanks,” Billy nodded. He wiggled his hand at the air and opened a black portal.

“Wait! That’s it!?” She hopped off the table and stood between Billy and the portal. “You came all the way here just to ask me if it was safe?” Billy nodded.

“Yeah, it’s not a big deal,” he pointed at the black hole in the air behind her. “As far as I’m concerned I walked into the next room to ask you a question.”

“But why derby?” She grinned. “Are you gonna compete?” He shook his head.

“No. My charge is competing.”

“Your charge?” She burst into laughter. “Like a stepson or something?” she giggled. “Worried about Billy Jr. getting hurt, huh?”

“No. I had to be sure he couldn’t kill anyone,” he replied honestly. He wanted to be sure Ray could not permanently harm the other skaters.

“Oh. Why me?” she asked.

“Why you what?” Billy asked.

“Why did you ‘walk into the next room’ to ask me?” Billy shrugged.

“The person I usually talk to isn’t around anymore and my list of friends isn’t as expansive as you might imagine.”

“Friends, huh?” Alliane grinned and stepped out of the way. “I like that. Anytime you need a friend,” she pointed at the portal. “You can always find one in the next room.”

Squad Support

“Taking the visor off,” Eury advised the room by habit. The 14 year-old-girl in pajamas sat on the edge of her bed and looked down at the floor. She removed her violet-crystal visor and placed it on the nightstand next to several spares. Then she slipped on her sleep mask as she lay on the bed. “You there, Abby?” She asked aloud. Her friend was the only person in the room when she gave the warning, but she might have left in the few seconds it took Eury to lay down. Or she may not have felt like talking; the real reason Eury learned to wait until her eyes were covered.

“Yeah, I’m here,” Abby called back. Eury was glad she felt like talking. “What’s up?”

“Who’re you going to be tomorrow?”

“I’m still gonna be Abby I guess. That’s a weird question.”

“NOOooo.” Eury sat up in bed and faced the direction of Abby’s voice. “It’s the first day of school!” Eury threw her hands on the bed in excitement. “The first day of a brand new school! A school just for UNIQUES! No one knows us; we can be who we want to be!”

“Oh, okay,” Abby nodded in understanding, not that her friend could see. “Yeah, I’m still gonna be Abby.” Eury groaned with frustration and threw herself backward on the bed.

“Why aren’t you more excited?”

“I haven’t lived my whole life wanting to go to school,” Abby shrugged. “I’ve already been. It’s not that great.”

“And you’re not even a little bit excited about meeting SoundCrowd?” Eury asked.

“No way. They know we’re on Ballisea’s team; I’m sure they’ll treat us like jerks because we’re the ‘bad guys‘.”

“They wouldn’t do that!” Eury replied. “Probably. Some of them might, but Dirge wouldn’t!”

“Whoever you’re pretending to be will disappear the moment the rest of the students find out we’re Ballisea’s side,” Abby said.

“But it’s my chance to be cool!” Eury whined at the ceiling.

“Eury,” Abby said with a softer, closer voice. Eury felt the bed shift as Abby sat down next to her. “You kill people by looking at them. How much cooler do you want to be?”

“I guess,” she grumbled.

“What’s wrong with Eury?” Eury recognized Lupe’s voice from the direction of the doorway and guessed the girl just walked in.

“She’s nervous about school,” Abby replied.

“I’m not nervous.” Eury faced the direction of Lupe’s voice. “I thought it would be a good time to try out a new me.”

“She thinks she needs a cooler identity,” Abby added.

“What? No way,” Lupe grinned. Only Abby saw it. Eury felt the bed shift in the other direction when Lupe joined them on her bed. “You’ve already got a cool identity.”

“I know. I kill people by looking at them,” Eury said meekly.

“Nu-uh. That’s cool too, but there’s something even better.”

“Really?” Eury sat up again. “What?”

“Yeah, what?” Abby asked.

“You too,” Lupe said. Eury got the impression she was talking to Abby.

“Us three and the boys were all hand-picked by Ballisea. The strongest Unique that ever existed chose us…,” Eury felt Lupe poke her arm to drive the point home. “…to be on her derby team. You both know the stakes; you know she really wants to win this. She thinks we’re the best shot she has.  You guys…,” Lupe stood up. Eury felt the bed pop back up in her absence.

“…we’re the B-Squad!”

It’s About Time

“Hey, Vanilla?” Billy asked the white-haired woman walking next to him. The pair navigated their way through a bustling outdoor market on a cool, sunny morning. They walked and talked while avoiding the other patrons walking and talking in reverse. Vanilla walked around a mother forcefully shoving a serrated hunting knife into her child’s hand.

“Yes, Billy?”

“How does time work?” The world stopped moving backward; it stopped entirely. The market-goers all stood still.

“What do you mean?” she asked him.

“Stopping and restarting time I kind of get. It should just pick up where it left off. But we can rewind and even fast-forward time. We can make time loops,” he shrugged. “I don’t really get it.” Vanilla nodded.

“That’s a good question. You should know how it works so you can make the most of your abilities.” She raised her hand and wiggled her fingers at the air. A black portal opened before her. “This Earth,” she gestured at the open-air market around them. “Is probably somewhere in its mid 20th century. Come,” she walked through the portal. Billy followed. He emerged on another Earth into a vast green plain of swaying grass. The first thing Billy realized was that he was covered in shadow. He looked up and saw a time-stopped T-rex mid-step.

“This Earth is obviously much earlier in its cycle,” Vanilla said. “Each Earth has its own independent flow of time; but, it is a cycle. Rewinding or speeding up time moves it along its set course. Creating a time loop is as simple as choosing two points and replaying the section between them,” Vanilla faced Billy and grinned. “And that’s just the beginning.”

“But I thought time-loops was an S-rank skill?” Billy asked with a tilted head and confusion in his eyes. “Is there more?” Vanilla shook her head.

“It’s not about what you can do; it’s about how creative you are doing it,” she said.

“Huh?” Vanilla crouched to grab a large baseball-sized stone from the ground. She tossed the grey, jagged sphere into the air and it got caught in stopped time.

“Time-stop, right?” She asked. Billy nodded. She started time again and the stone fell into her hand. She whirled around and launched the stone upward toward the frozen T-rex. Billy watched the stone fly toward the giant beast as if traveling through a vat of molasses. It traveled no more than an inch a second, but it was on a direct path to hit the dinosaur’s knee.

“You can slow down time too?” Billy asked in awe. Vanilla shook her head.

“No, but I can stop it and start it again. Really fast.” She pointed at the stone. “Watch.” Billy looked and saw the stone stuck in the air again. “If you’re clever, you can control the local time of an object.” She held her hand out and the stone flew back to her hand. “And if you’re really inventive you can put it all together.” She threw the stone back at the dinosaur’s knee with all her might.

Billy stared wide-eyed as the stone flew through the air almost too fast to see. It stopped within an inch of the animal’s skin then reappeared in front of Vanilla and flew toward the giant lizard again. Each time it seemed to be getting faster and faster. He noticed it began to glow bright orange. After half a dozen high-speed loops he looked at Vanilla.

“What are you doing?”

“I trapped the stone in a time loop between my hand and the dinosaur. I’m speeding up the stone, but not the air around it. The friction heats up the stone and it remembers everything from the previous loops.”

“It remembers?”

“If it was a person, they would remember everything. They would realize they’re in a time loop and be conscious of the passing time. This can only remember its speed. Every time it flies through the loop it picks up more speed.” The glowing hot rock appeared in front of Vanilla again, but this time she stopped it from flying off. She looked down at the ground and crouched to retrieve a second rock. She tossed it to Billy then pointed at the floating orange stone.

“If you can make it glow like mine I’ll show something even better.”