Death’s Tour

“Really?” Leah asked. “All the time?” The teenager asked her friend as they walked along a narrow alley.

“HEY LOOK! ARTIE’S GOT A GIRLFRIEND!” A shout and chorus of laughter came from the other end of the alley from a group of thugs.

“All the time,” Arthur said quietly with a nod. He kept walking towards the bullies and Leah followed him without hesitation.

“Why do you put up with it?” she asked. It was a slightly personal question, but she felt comfortable asking. This was only the first time they met in person but they gamed online for years. He invited her over to see his town. They’d just started their tour when Leah realized the townsfolk had very little love for Arthur. It seemed like every new person they ran across had a snide comment for Arthur; but, they seemed to treat Leah perfectly civil. After one encounter, Leah asked how often it happened.

“Meh,” Arthur shrugged. “‘Putting up with it’, implies it bothers me. I don’t even pay attention really.”

“Hey Artie, who’s your girlfri-,” the lead thug froze mid-sentence and mid-step as Arthur and Leah walked by. The small herd of thugs also froze. They approached from the sides of the alley to try and box in the pair of friends, but at the moment they were too spread out. Arthur and Leah waved through them effortlessly. Leah wasn’t surprised. She knew he was a Muerte before they met in person, and she’d already seen him use similar tricks on their tour so far to avoid trouble.

Once they were safely past the time-locked thugs, Arthur released them.

“-nd. HEY!” the thug immediately spun around. “YOU CAN’T RUN FOREVER ARTIE!” he yelled but made no attempt to chase them down.

“I think I can,” Artie chuckled to himself, Leah joined in.

“Why don’t you just keep time stopped whenever you go out?” Leah asked. They emerged from the alley onto a main, active street. Dozens of horses and their wagons traveled the road both ways. Leah followed him across the street. She was mildly amused at everyone seemingly going out of their way to insult Arthur. She saw several people double back just to do it twice. Once they crossed the street and entered another alley, Arthur answered.

“Sometimes I do, but I’m showing you the city. If it was going to be time-locked I might as well send you a picture.”

“Thanks,” Leah smiled. She genuinely appreciated the tour, despite the people. Her Earth was advanced and seeing Arthur’s medieval Earth was novel and enjoyable. “Why don’t you prove them all wrong?” she asked. “It wouldn’t even be that hard for you.” Arthur nodded.

“You know, it’s kind of funny. I had that exact thought; it wouldn’t be hard at all. I could stop time for each one of them individually. Give a demonstration, age them up or make them younger, whatever. I could kill half the kingdom too, there are just so many options.” Arthur turned a corner and kept talking.

“I sat down and asked myself, how far would I really go to prove them wrong? How much effort do I want to put into it?”  Arthur stopped walking and looked at Leah.”And you know what I realized? None,” he chuckled. “I literally have infinite time available to me…,” he said. “…and I still don’t want to spend one second of it trying to prove something to someone that doesn’t want to see it.”

Guiding Star

The two women giggled at Nova. Despite being hopeful when he approached them, he quickly decided they would be no help.

“Thanks anyway,” he nodded at them, then started walking through the mall again. He looked at and listened to the passing shoppers hoping to pick up another kernel of conversation. The first two women he approached on this new Earth seemed to be talking about alternate universes casually. He approached them with as level-headed an introduction as he could come up with on short notice.

“Hi, my name’s Nova. I heard you talking about alternate universes and I was wondering if you could help me. For some reason every time I wake up I’m on a parallel Earth.” Nova thought about the message as he looked for someone new to try it on.

“Excuse me, Nova?” He felt someone tap his shoulder. He turned and found the two women that giggled at him looking apologetic.

“Are you serious, you’re lost?” one of them, the brunette asked. As Nova nodded to answer the first question, the other woman asked a different one.

“What’s your favorite number?” The blonde asked.

“35, why?” Nova answered.

“You don’t know why?” The blonde followed up.

“Never thought about it,” Nova said with a shrug. “I didn’t even know I had a favorite number until you asked.”

“I meant..,” the blonde giggled. Less obnoxiously than earlier. “…you don’t know why we’re asking your favorite number. You don’t, right?” Nova shook his head.

“And you don’t have a 35 tattooed on you somewhere?” the brunette asked. Again, Nova shook his head.

“Get one,” she said.

“Then you’ll stop Traversing in your sleep,” the blonde added.

“And, you’ll be able to do it…,” The brunette said she lifted her wrist and wiggled her fingers in Nova’s direction; but at something behind him.

“Any time you want,” the blonde added. Then, she stepped forward and placed her hands on Nova’s chest. Before he could enjoy her hands or wonder about her motives, she shoved him hard. Instead of stumbling back into other shoppers he tripped and fell backward.

He landed flat on his back on a concrete sidewalk looking up at a hole in the air. The two women and the mall were on the other side of the hole. They smiled and waved at him as the portal closed.

“What the hell?” Nova immediately registered he was in another universe, again, as he stood up and dusted himself off. He was in what seemed to be a small town. As he took in his surroundings he realized he was standing in front of a tattoo shop named Mundo’s. A small sign on the door said, “Get Your Favorite Number Free!”

Key Difference

“I just don’t understand,”

Pete whined out aloud.

His playing was bland.

Worse; it was bad and loud.

“I played perfect yesterday.”

He sat in the living room

jabbing his fingers on keys.

Face down and clouded with gloom.

He sniffled; wiped his snot on his sleeve.

“That’s the way life swings,

son,” his dad said with a smile.

“You know your gifts change each day.”

Pete shook his head in denial.

“I played perfect at church too! Today!”

“Son, pianos and organs are two different things.”

Sharp Prototyping

‘Have fun!’ ~ Dana Sharp.

‘p.s. – Please note: My name is off-limits in conversation.’

‘p.p.s.  – Please refrain from using the phrases ‘AlterNet’ or ‘Unique Soul’

Albert lay on his back in bed and looked up at the note he found next to him that morning. ‘Memo’ would be a more appropriate term. A red header decorated the top of the daily sheet; it read, ‘Sharp Development’.

In Albert’s world, “I can’t talk about it,” was a valid answer to almost any situation. Everyone from co-workers to celebrities all had their days delivered to them every morning. Often those included special instructions for the reader only. Albert had his share of secrets over the years. But, this was the first time he’d ever had a day off, or heard the name Dana Sharp. Not to mention the other unmentionable words. He sighed, dropped the memo, then continued to lay there. He stared up at the popcorn ceiling with a blank mind for almost twenty minutes. He was vaguely aware of time passing, but he was wide awake. He did not drift off to sleep, but he had nowhere else to be so he stayed and stared.

What the hell do I wish to do?” That thought seemed to jump out of Albert’s mind eager to break the silence. For the first time in his life, Albert was able to wonder what he wanted without the daily memo guiding his choices. Seconds after the new thought crossed his mind, he heard the distinct rustle of paper next to him. It wasn’t unheard of to receive more than one memo per day, but it wasn’t common. He picked up the new sheet, delivered by invisible forces, and looked at it.

It was the shortest message yet. Four words in small print at the top of the page, just under the giant red header.

‘What’s your favorite number?’

“Ten,” Albert couldn’t help but answer the question out loud. However, he was less surprised by the compulsion than the fact that he suddenly had a favorite number. As he wondered about that he slowly became aware of his bedroom growing brighter. He looked up to see his walls disintegrating into white powder. A bright white glow filled the room from behind the disappearing walls. Then, he spotted a tall, pale woman in a white suit. She stood in the space that used to be his bedroom and smiled broadly at him.

“Congratulations!” she said. “You did it.” Albert sat up in bed, but did not want to leave the covers in only his boxers. He tilted his head at her in confusion.

“Who are you? What did I do?” he asked.

“My name is Dana Sharp, owner of Sharp Development,” she said. “And YOU just woke up. In lab conditions that I know how to recreate. You’ve helped me solve a very tricky problem, thank you so much,” Dana said.

“I don’t know what I did,” Albert said; still confused.

“The short version is; you taught me how to spawn a Unique soul into a swarm of nanos,” she said. Albert shrugged and shook his head.

“I don’t know what any of that means,” he said. Dana Sharp shrugged also.

“It means you’ve served your purpose,” she said. At her words Alberts hands began to itch with an intense burning sensation. He panicked and looked down in time to see his hands disintegrating into white powder.

Stellar Pettiness

20 minutes into the date, Clark’s nerves settled down to make way for a new emotion. He wasn’t nervous anymore. He sipped his beer, and drummed his fingers against the table with equal parts annoyance and boredom. Victoria continued talking about her job, seemingly not noticing his new mood.

Clark had tags like “explorer” and “traveler” in his profile, and he matched with Victoria on those. He also mentioned that he’d been to alternate universes; as a joke. When he and Victoria first matched up, the conversation quickly turned to other universes and Clark thought it was fun they had a common interest. He did not expect her to make up a whole career that involved her regularly traveling to other universes. Nor did he expect her to spend the first 20 minutes of their date talking about those other universes in great, fictional detail. But one obvious became the last straw. He wanted to like her, but he could not let her lies pile up anymore.

“You found the freaking fountain of youth on an alternate Earth?” he asked. He did little to hide his condescending tone. “What are you doing here instead of being stupid rich?” Victoria shook her head; her violet ponytail bobbed with the motion.

“I found A fountain of youth, they show up on different Earths from time to time,” she added a smile. “And I’m here because I like pizza and I think you’re cute,” she said. “Sharp Development handles all my expenses, so I guess you could say I am stupid rich. Money’s not a concern, anyway.”

“Alright, hold on,” Clark said. “I think you’re pretty cute too, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a grip on reality. I’m on board to pretend all you want, but I need to know you understand you’re just pretending too,” he said. Victoria tilted her head in confusion.

“Pretending about what? What did I miss?” she asked.

“I’ve never ever heard of a company named Sharp Development. If they’re as big as you’re claiming the name would sound at least a little familiar. But the big thing is alternate universes. I mean, c’mon,  you know they don’t exist, right?” 

“Oooh,” Victoria shook her head. “I’m so dumb,” she giggled to herself, then bonked her own head playfully. At the exact moment she did, Clark noticed a quick flash of gold in her eyes. It happened fast enough that he wasn’t sure of what he saw; he dismissed it as a stray reflection. “Sorry,” she said. “I keep forgetting to check.”

“Check what?” Clark asked.

“Your profile said you’ve traveled to different universes,” Victoria replied. “I took it for granted instead of actually checking. But, now I see you were lying about that.”

“I wasn’t lying, it’s a joke because other universes don’t exist; if they did I think the world would know. On the other hand…,” he added. “I think you’re taking the joke far enough to be considered, ‘lying’.”

“Oh wow,” Victoria said. She made a distinct effort to lean back in her seat away from him. And, she shook her head again. “You know, I get where you’re coming from. But, you could’ve tried a little harder not to sound like you’re flat out accusing me of lying.”

“I am,” he said with a nod. It took Victoria a moment to recover, but once she did she relaxed completely and even gave Clark a smile.

“I think we’re both comfortable calling this done now,” she said as she stood. “I hope you have a good life,” she added. Then, she turned around and walked out of the restaurant. Clark chuckled to himself as he noted that she used the door. That botched date was on a Friday night.

At mid-afternoon the next day a woman dressed in all white appeared on Clark’s television; on every channel. As well as his phone, tablet, and every computer monitor in his home.

“My name is Dana Sharp, owner of Sharp Development. I am announcing that after meeting with the leaders of the world, I now own this Earth. Welcome to the multi-verse!”

Infernal Efficiency

“Well, how would you feel?”

The demon asked. Jim shrugged.

“If you knew your tormentor well,

maybe someone you loved and hugged.”

“You’re here to punish her,

but you misunderstand the reason.

It’s not because she hates you some.”

“This gets both of you for the price of one.

Your love was as true as they come.”

“This way you torment yourself and her.”

Maddie Wonders

“What?” The question left Maddie’s mouth out of habit as she looked around the endless amber wheat field. She heard her friend say something confusing and responded the only way she could. “Alice?” Maddie asked the deep purple sky. Her question was answered with a giggle that came from behind her. Maddie spun around to see her friend that had been missing for a week. “What the hell’s going on?” she asked with equal parts annoyance, confusion, and joy.

“Choose your skills and begin the game!” Alice repeated the phrase that echoed around Maddie moments before. Maddie shook her head.

“Where have you been?” She asked. Maddie glanced around the open field again. “Where am I?”

“I went down the Rabbit Hole,” Alice grinned. “And, I found the AlterNet, that’s this place.” She reached down to caress a stalk of wheat. Maddie nodded.

“Uhuh,” Maddie said. She wasn’t particularly surprised by Alice’s answer. It didn’t tell Maddie where she was, but Maddie trusted Alice, and Alice seemed comfortable. “So, what skills, what game?” she asked.

“The AlterNet is an Earth-sized mmo; and, alternate Earths are just different servers. So, you just have to make a character, then I can show you around. I have a ton to show you.”

“Like… alternate Earths?” Maddie asked. Alice nodded. “But, how do we live? Will I be able to find a job on another Earth?” Alice shrugged.

“Probably,” she said. “But, you won’t need to. It’s just easier to work for a company that has branches on different Earths. I work for Sharp Development now, and I want you to come work for me.”

“Doing what?” Maddie asked.  Alice grinned.

“The exact thing you go to that conference every year for,” she said. “You want to create and I’m giving you that chance on a huge scale.”

“You want me to make hats for you?” Maddie narrowed her eyes and tilted her head at Alice in confusion. Alice gave a sigh and rolled her eyes, but a giggle escaped her mouth.

“You know, if you think that’s why you’ve been going to the conference everywhere, it probably explains why you’re still going.” Maddie’s confusion deepened, and Alice continued. “The first couple of times you went, you wanted to start a clothing line; then you noticed your hats were doing okay, so you started focusing on those more.” Alice could see the light come back on in Maddie’s eyes as she remembered the early days.

“Oohh yeah…,” Maddie said with a faint smile. “You’re going to help me with my clothes?” she asked eagerly and Alice nodded.

“Technically, you’re helping me with your clothes,” she said. “Ms. Sharp gave me a server, and I want to make the people look stylish and different from every other server.”

“A server?” Maddie asked. She was still trying to wrap her head around everything. “That means… she gave you an Earth?” Alice grinned and spread her arms to gesture at the field around them.

“You’re going to help me decorate it, and name it too. It needs an interesting name, there are a lot of them out there.”

“Well, you did get here through a Rabbit Hole, right?” Maddie asked. “What about, ‘Wonder-‘,”

Alice interrupted immediately. “PASS.”