Secret Keeping

“Good morning,” a pleasant voice followed by a loud metal clang pulled Cesar out of his sleep. He woke with start, then sat up on the uncomfortable cot facing the ruckus. A short broad woman with a tight chestnut bun atop her head wiggled an aluminum clipboard close to the cell’s bars. “Congratulations, your story checks out,” the woman said. She put her hand on the bars and pulled the cell door open. “You’re a free man,” she said.

Cesar didn’t jump to his feet right away. He briefly wondered if each of his friend’s story checked out too; before they went missing.

“I can go home?!” Cesar asked. He finally stood from the cot with a tall stretch. His 6’4″ frame towered over the short woman.

“Not exactly,” the woman replied. She stepped back to give Cesar room to step out of his cell. “You’ve stumbled into some major secrets; this is top level stuff that we can’t risk the public knowing about.”

“So, I’m not free, I’m just in a bigger cell?” Cesar asked. He appraised the stocky woman. She looked like she could give him real trouble before he knocked her out. If Cesar was going try an escape; knocking her out would be his first priority.

“Follow me,” she said. She walked to the door, scanned a card, then opened the door and walked through. Cesar was right behind her.

“We’re not bad guys, Mr. Lopez. I’m sure you’ve heard all sorts of rumors but you are safe here,” she said while she led him through several narrow hallways.

Yeah, my buddies disappearing is just a rumor,” Cesar grumbled internally. He continued to follow her hoping she’d lead him to where his friends were being held. He had no idea if they were still on the premises, the last one disappeared months ago. She led him to an office door and walked in. The name on the door and on the desk plaque said ‘Alicia Johnston’.

“Have a seat,” she gestured at the chair then sat behind the small desk. “You’ve discovered something we don’t want getting out. Short of killing you, which we won’t do,  the only way we’d be comfortable letting you go is by sending you somewhere our secret doesn’t matter.”


“This Earth is one of many,” Alicia said. “The people in charge like the way things are going. To avoid you blabbing about the outside world that isn’t there, we just have to send you to a different Earth. Luckily you have a large variety to choose from.”

“You can send me to an alternate Earth?” Cesar asked in disbelief.

“Whichever one you prefer,” Alica said. She placed a photo album on the desk between them, then opened it to the first page. It looked like a flyer for a renaissance fair. A large castle sat in the center of the sheet surrounded by different pictures of knights, wizards and dragons.

“This one’s been popular with the snoops that’ve been coming through here lately,” Alicia said.

“Wait. You’ve sent others to different Earths too?” Cesar asked. Alicia nodded.

“Of course. You don’t think you’re the first one that’s snuck onto the base because of curiosity do you? You won’t be the last I’m sure.”

“And you’ve sent them all to different Earths? Can you tell me which one my friends went to?” Alicia shrugged.

“I don’t know who your friends are, and I’m not allowed to give out any information about previous clients. But like I said,” she tapped the picture of the castle. “This one has been popular lately. Lately being about six months.”

“Alright, I’ll take it. So, what now? Do I have time to go home and pack?” Cesar asked. Alicia shook her head and wiggled both sets of fingers at Cesar.

“No time, you’re already there,” Alica smiled as Cesar felt the floor disappear from under his chair. He and it fell straight down; he landed on a hill side of soft green grass. In the distance he spotted the same castle from the photo album.

Sharp Repercussions

“It’s gone, Sir,” the faceless soldier spoke up from the row of monitors. “There’s no impact, no debris, no sign of it anywhere,” the soldier’s voice carried his subdued relief. Then, the room erupted into cheers.

Commander Walden breathed his own sigh of relief, then turned to face Ms. Sharp.

“How’d you do it?” he asked. “Where’d it go?”

“It hardly matters,” Ms. Sharp replied. “The important thing is, I held up my end of the deal. Now it’s your turn.”

“My turn?” Commander Walden grinned, then chuckled.

“I still have no proof you did what you claimed.” Ms. Sharp sighed.

“Mr. Walden,” Ms. Sharp said. “You’d do well to consider your next step very carefully. It was a simple agreement; I make the meteor disappear and you inform the president about what I did. There’s no room for renegotiating. Let me assure you the consequences of trying to cheat me are much worse than putting in a word for me to  the president.” Commander Walden shrugged.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said with a grin. “If there were a meteor threatening the Earth, we’d know about it. But, there isn’t. So, it seems you haven’t done a thing. This is military property, please leave the premises.” Ms. Sharp sighed again but nodded in understanding.

“Melody,” she said. Her assistant, who remained silent thus far, nodded. A black portal appeared next to them, Commander Walden recognized it as the same kind she walked out of.

“No hard feelings, eh?” Commander Walden winked at Ms. Sharp as she stepped into the black portal. “You’d have done the same thing for your Earth,” he said. Ms. Sharp paused before the black hole swallowed her, she faced the commander and shook her head.

“I wouldn’t have, Mr. Walden. My word means everything. However, I do understand,” she said with a slight smile. “You made a choice. No hard feelings. Bring it back, Melody,” she said, then disappeared into the hole.

“Wa… WAIT! Bring it back!?” Commander Walden shouted in surprise. Melody nodded and gave him her own smile.

“What’d you expect?” Melody asked. “You’re the one that broke the deal.”

“METEOR IMPACT IN 10 SECONDS!” one of the soldiers yelled. Commander Walden was distracted by the shout. By the time he looked back to Melody for help she was gone.

Slow Day in the Afterlife

“Shouldn’t you be out reaping?” Isla asked Miller. The lean man with long stringy hair relaxed on a chaise looking out over the ocean. He was shirtless, showing off his silver scythe tattoo; it had the number 14 in red on the blade. He shrugged without looking up; his gaze was focused on his node.

“Dispatch says no jobs,” he said. “I thought you were nice enough to give me the day off.”

“Death doesn’t take days off,” Isla said. Miller looked up at her through mirrored sunglasses.

“It doesn’t?” he asked. “You might want to find out where all your clients are going then.” Isla shook her head and sighed. She let herself plop down on a lounger next to Miller’s.

“I know where they’re going. I just didn’t know it was this bad already,” she said. Isla wiggled her fingers and opened a small saucer-sized black portal in the air next to her. She reached in and pulled out a frosty beer. “Want one?” she asked Miller. He nodded.

“Where are they going?” Miller asked as he popped the top off his bottle.

“There’s a Zero named Dana Sharp,” Isla said. “Well, she was a Zero. Now she’s running her own afterlife, and it seems to be off to a good start.” Isla and Miller watched the waves and sinking sun for several minutes.

‘So…,” Miller broke the silence. “… the big guy’s okay with that?” Isla laughed.

“The big guy is bored. It’s why he lets Ballisea run amok, and I guess that wasn’t enough excitement. I guess I can’t blame him though, he’s seen and done it all already.”

“How old is he?” Miller asked. Isla shrugged.

“Older than we’ll ever know,” she said. “This isn’t his first multiverse.”

“What?” Miller sat up and turned around to face her. “You’re kidding, right?” Isla smiled but shook her head.

“We’re not even his first attempt at Uniques,” Isla leaned back on her lounger and relaxed. “The very first Unique Souls were conquerors; he called them the Conquistadors. A corona, sirena, corazon, diablito and calavera and they were all much stronger than the Conquerors we have now. They were so powerful the only thing he could do was seal them away.”

“So we’re going to just let Dana Sharp take all our souls?” Miller asked. Isla nodded.

“Nothing we could do anyway. It’s all up to the big guy. If he’s letting it happen, I’m okay with it too,” she said.

“I’m good with that too,” Miller nodded then settled back onto his seat. He watched the waves and took a sip of beer. 

Super Support

“Your father and I will be gone for a week…,” Eileen said. The 53-year-old mother encouraged her son while she finished labeling a week’s worth of pre-prepared meals. “…that means your sister will be taking care of things.”

“I know, mom,” Alex grumbled. The 27-year-old leaned against the counter and stared down at the white tile floor. “I’m not going to cause any trouble for her.” Eileen put away the last meal and closed the fridge; then, she walked over and put a hand on Alex’s shoulder.

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, Lex,” she said. Alex rolled his eyes at his mom’s nickname. It wasn’t worth arguing about anymore; he ignored it like she ignored his eye roll. “Your sister is just one person and she can’t be everywhere at once. In fact..,” Eileen nodded at a color-coded schedule on their stainless steel fridge. “…she knows that so well she decided to plan her week. That’s everywhere she’s going to be all week, and when,” Eileen grinned at Alex.

“If you wanted to get involved in some mischief, well no one would ever know.” Alex sighed.

“I’ll think about it, mom,” he said.

“And she said she’d be too busy to worry about whatever…,” Eileen used air-quotes. “… ‘dumb plans‘ you have for the week anyway.”

“Okay,” Alex nodded. “I get it. Maybe I’ll hit a bank or something, okay?” Eileen beamed.

“Your suit is washed and in the closet,” she leaned forward and kissed his forehead. “Ellie said if something happens and she does have to show up, just run and she’ll let you get away.”

“C’mon, mom,” Alex sighed. “No one’s going to believe anyone ran away from someone that can fly as fast as she can. And everyone knows she has x-ray vision, so I can’t hide either. We might as well announce Princess Supreme and Lex Lazer are working together.”

“They will believe it, because Lex Lazer has a new weapon…,” Eileen opened her purse on the counter and dug through it. She pulled something out and tossed it to Alex. “…powered by this magical space rock.” Alex caught the faintly glowing, green rock in his hands.

“What’s this? When did you guys go to space?” he asked. Eileen giggled.

“We didn’t. It’s just a rock your dad painted green. Whenever you fire a laser through it at Ellie, she’ll pretend she got dazed and you can run for it. It’ll work on us too, when we come back. But, you can really make a name for yourself while we’re gone. Maybe even move out into your own villain’s lair,” she said.

“I’ll think about it,” Alex said and gave his mother a hug.

“It doesn’t have to be a bank, you can start small like that convenience store up the street.”

“Enjoy the trip, mom,” Alex said as he moved to leave the kitchen.

“You’d better commit some villainy young man!” Eileen shouted playfully, but they both knew it was as good as an order.

“I’ll think about it!” Alex’s shout came from the hallway and Eileen smiled to herself. They both knew it was a, ‘yes’.

Sharp Purchase

A red plume of smoke filled the summoning circle. It wasn’t the sulfury yellow Denny expected; it smelled like cinnamon instead of rotten eggs.

Did the sugar actually make a difference?” Denny wondered briefly, then he noticed a figure in the circle as the smoke cleared. A short, chubby man wearing a white suit stepped forward and out of the pentagram. The man’s blond hair was neatly combed over his bald spot. He wore a deep red shirt under his white coat. Along with his white tie, he looked more like a salesman than the demon Denny expected. Denny jumped back when he realized the man walked out of the circle.

“YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE TRAPPED!” Denny shouted as he tried to keep his recliner between him and the stranger. He was glad he tried the summoning in his basement. The man chuckled and put his hands up to show he meant no harm; he even took a step back.

“If you used the right ingredients, a demon would be trapped,” he said. “But, you didn’t so you got me. I’m not a demon, and therefore not trapped.”

“You’re not a demon? Then what are you doing here?” Denny asked. He relaxed a bit but still remained on the other side of the brown leather seat.

“I’m here to make a deal with you just the same. I assume you were planning to sell your soul?” he asked.

“To a demon,” Denny nodded. “Not to another human. What can you do for me?”

“Mr. Carson I assure you my company, Sharp Development, can offer you a much better bargain for your soul than any demon.”

“How’d you know my name?” Denny asked. The man chuckled and gestured at the powdery, white pentagram at his feet.

“Intent is part of the summoning ritual, isn’t it? It’s along the same lines as ‘Caller I.D.’, a demon would have to know whom they’re dealing with.”

“You can really bargain for my soul?” Denny asked. The man nodded.

“I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t,” he said. The short man took a step forward and extended his hand. “You can call me Lucifer,” he said. Denny took a step around the recliner when he saw Lucifer extend a hand, but he stopped the moment he heard the man’s name.

“You’re the devil!?” he asked and again stepped back. Lucifer chuckled and shook his head.

“Lucifer’s a name like any other. Sam, Denny, Jesus; they’re just names. I’m here to buy your soul for my employer, but it’s only a coincidence. I have no affiliation with Hell, my loyalties are to Sharp Development.”

“What does Sharp Development, whatever that is, want with my soul?”

“What does Hell want with it?” Lucifer shrugged. “It’s not my job to know, and I imagine you’d have a hard time getting an explanation from a demon. So, it’s kind of moot; the point is do you want to sell it or not?”

“Alright,” Denny nodded and relaxed completely. Lucifer had plenty of time to hurt him if he wanted to, but he remained polite and friendly. “What can you give me for it?” Lucifer’s grin faded; he shook his head.

“Some advice Mr. Carson. You’re not obligated to deal with me. If you choose not to, it’s possible you’d try to summon a demon again with the proper ingredients. Should you go that route please promise me you won’t ask the demon, ‘What’ll you give me?’. They will give you as little as they can get away with. Let’s try this. You tell me what you’re after.” Lucifer said. Denny was genuinely surprised Lucifer was being helpful.

“I don’t know,” Denny admitted with a sigh. “Things are so hopeless right now. I need a new life,” he chuckled. “A new planet maybe. I dunno, I just thought a demon could just magically fix everything for me.” Lucifer nodded in understanding.

“You found the right guy,” he chuckled. “A new life? Maybe a new planet? Why not both? Let me tell you, that’s a deal you’d never get from Hell.”

“You can do that?” Denny asked. Lucifer nodded with a grin.

“Sharp Development specializes in giving people the life of their dreams. And we have access to thousands of Earths; any of which you can choose to live on. We have prehistoric worlds full of dinosaurs, futuristic worlds with flying cars, and everything in between. Recreate your body the way you want, and you’re not limited to human. There are 25 races to choose from.” 

“I can get all that by selling my soul?”

“To Sharp Development,” Lucifer nodded. “The best you’ll get from Hell is some extra money. Maybe billions, but, the way your Earth is going… would money really make anything better for you?”

“Not really,” Denny admitted. “I’d rather just start fresh as a new me in a new place.” 

“Great!” A puff of red smoke erupted from Lucifer’s hand. When it dissipated he was holding a glossy white clipboard loaded with papers. “I just need your signature on a few forms.”

Sharp Opportunities

“For how long?” The woman’s question froze Jared in his tracks. He took two steps back to his spot with his pocketed jewelry before she asked. She shouldn’t have asked anything, much less remained standing in place with her eyes closed. He turned around to give her a more thorough look. She smirked slightly, eyes still closed. “It’s not really a trick if my eyes are closed the whole time,” she said.

When he first approached her, he only saw a young woman with a bright pink ponytail and a small red star tattooed on her cheek. She looked like someone adventurous. He looked closer and saw a 35 in the center of her tattoo. She wore a crisp white blazer with red buttons and a red scissor logo on the left. Her smirk disappeared.

“I just got mugged didn’t I?” she asked and opened her sea-blue eyes. She smiled the moment she noticed Jared still there. “Well, what’s the trick?” she asked. Jared returned the golden bracelet to her with a concerned look on his face.

“Who are you?” he asked. She accepted the bracelet and looked it over, then she slipped it back onto her wrist.

“Lyra. Who are you?” she asked as she extended her hand in greeting. “And do I get to see a trick or not?”

“I’m Jared. You remember me?” he asked as she shook her hand. Lyra shrugged.

“You couldn’t have met me before today,” she said. Jared nodded.

“I didn’t; but, you remember me from today, just now?” he asked Lyra giggled.

“Well you kind of stand out,” she said. She gestured at his clothing. He wore colorful baggy pants with rainbow suspenders. A rainbow wig sat atop his head with a floppy unicorn horn extending from it. “Which, I guess is a good thing for street performers.” Jared shook his head.

“No, that’s not what I mean.” He looked up and the sidewalk and quickly spotted another mark. Years of standing on the street taught him who he could approach and who was likely to fall for his scam. “Watch this,” he said.

Jared stepped in front of a tall, portly man in a business suit. It wasn’t always about how they were dressed, Jared could pick out a target by the way they carried themselves.

“Excuse me, sir,” Jared said. “You look like a good-natured fellow. Could I trouble you for two seconds to practice a trick I’m working on?”

The man stopped walking and looked down at the notably shorter Jared and smiled.

“Sure, I love magic tricks,” the stranger replied.

“Great! Can I borrow your watch for a moment?” The man eagerly removed his watch and presented it to Jared. Jared accepted the watch.

“Now, close your eyes,” Jared said. The man did without question and Jared ambled back to stand next to Lyra.

“There is no trick, is there?” Lyra asked with a trace of disappointment in her voice. Jared shrugged. The stranger suddenly opened his eyes. He glanced around in a moment of confusion, his eyes passed over Jared twice, but the man shrugged to himself and resumed walking.

“I can make it so people forget me when I’m out of their sight,” Jared said. “How do you remember me?”

“Hold on a second and I’ll tell you,” Lyra said. She snatched the watch out of Jared’s hand and dashed to catch up to the stranger.

“Excuse me sir, I think you dropped this,” Jared heard Lyra explain to the man as she returned his watch. After he thanked her, Lyra walked back to Jared.

“No more stealing,” she said sternly. “I remember you because I’m a Unique Soul like you. You’ve only been using your ability on Zeros.”

“Am I supposed to know what you’re talking about?” Jared asked. Lyra sighed.

“I hoped you might because you’re already awakened; I’m not good at explaining everything. I guess that means you don’t know anyone named Mundo, do you?” Lyra asked. Jared shook his head.

“Well, you can learn the details later. Want a job?” she asked.

“Doing what?” Jared asked. He didn’t have to be a street performer. He could let people remember him and hold a normal job, but Jared never felt comfortable with ‘normal’. He actually did practice magic tricks and occasionally had true performance days where he didn’t steal anything. He enjoyed the freedom and creativity he currently had. Lyra shrugged.

“Almost anything you want. I work for a giant company and we’re always looking for Uniques to hire. Sharp Development has logistics and supply divisions, travel and transportation, banking, education, medical services and even entertainment. Anything you want to do, you can probably find a place to do it.”

“Entertainment? Like, television?” Jared asked. Lyra nodded. “Alright,” he said. “I’ll take a look, what do I have to do?”  Lyra giggled.

“Close your eyes.”

Zero Acting

“Not this time,” Taylor grumbled to herself as she climbed out of bed at six a.m. The sun wasn’t out yet. Her room was dark and best of all, quiet. For as long as she could remember in her young life, she woke up every morning at 6:15 a.m. to upbeat music that no one else heard. She had no idea where it came from, but she never woke up to an alarm.

She set her alarm for six a.m. the night before, but it didn’t go off this morning. Luckily, she did not count on it. She spent the entirety of the day before willing herself to wake up early. Taylor changed out of her pajamas and into a dog-themed onesie she used as a costume the previous month. She ignored the black jeans and yellow t-shirt that were laid out for her. She had no idea where they came from. Her mom insisted she never entered Taylor’s room; and, the school clothes were often outfits Taylor never saw before. She decided to make a point of rebelling that day.

Taylor walked out of her room at 6:10 a.m. and was surprised to find the house dark and quiet like her room. All the previous mornings she woke up to music, the smell of bacon hit her nostrils as soon as she was awake. Usually, she was downstairs by 6:45 in time to sit down to a large breakfast spread that included waffles, pancakes, and french toast. Along with the bacon, omelettes, and cereal, Taylor never had a problem with the same breakfast every morning. She wondered why her mom wasted so much food, but she didn’t complain about her options.

She expected her mother at least, to be awake and in the kitchen. It should have taken more than half an hour to cook up all that food. She padded through the quiet house, walked through the empty kitchen, and ended up in the living room. It was a spacious area with large bay windows that looked out into the dark world waiting for sunrise.

Taylor stared out the windows for a moment, but suddenly she heard the music start. She whirled around and her eyes landed on the VCR clock. It said 6:15 a.m in bright blue numbers.

“Where’s it coming from?” she wondered. Then, she noticed her own shadow on the hardwood floor. She turned around and noticed the kitchen light was on; the scent of bacon hit her nostrils.

“What’s going on?” she wondered. Taylor wandered into the kitchen to find her mother standing in front of the stove with all four burners going. Two boxes of sugary cereal, one with marshmallows, sat on the table with four places already set. Three glasses at each place filled with orange juice, milk, and water. Two of them also had cups for coffee. “I just walked through here!” Taylor knew it was impossible for everything to get done in the short time she spent in the living room.

“Mom? What’s going on?” Taylor asked. Her mother, a short woman with shoulder length brown hair turned around and smiled. But, her eyes seemed to focus on something behind Taylor.

She did not acknowledge Taylor at all. Then, bright yellow words appeared in front of her mom, just below her neck.

[Zero – NPC as June Seaver]

“What the Hell?” Taylor asked, but her mother simply stopped smiling and returned her attention to the stove. “MOM!” Taylor yelled to no avail.

“Morning mommy,” Taylor’s 8-year-old sister walked into the kitchen. She stopped at the entrance and grinned.

[Zero – NPC as Tammy Seaver] appeared in front of her in the same bold yellow lettering.

“CUUUT!” a man’s voice yelled. Taylor spun around to see a bald man walking in from the living room. She did not recognize him. She looked to her mother for help, but June remained frozen by the stove. She glanced at Tammy and saw the blonde girl still smiling at nothing. The bald man walked straight to Taylor and looked down at her with a sigh.

“You’re not in bed for your credit scene,” he said. His tone of voice was surprisingly warm. Taylor briefly registered that part of her morning routine was snoozing the alarm for five minutes and rolling over. She guessed that retreating under the covers caused her to miss her own yellow text. “So, I guess it’s safe to say you woke up,” he chuckled and smiled. “Good morning.”

“What’s going on? Who are you? What’s wrong with my family?”

“You can call me Bald Lenny,” he moved to the table and sat down at Tammy’s place; then, he gestured for Taylor to sit down too. “Your family isn’t real,” he gestured at the kitchen around them. “This is a TV show, except we use scripted NPCs instead of actors.”

“NPCs? Like in a video game?” Taylor asked though she remained standing. At her height, the only way she could meet Bald Lenny eye to eye was if she stood while he sat. Bald Lenny nodded.

“We’re in the AlterNet, a multi-universe sized game. 

“But,.. I’m real,” Taylor said. Bald Lenny shrugged.

“We don’t know what causes it. Every now and then and NPC gains consciousness,” he nodded at her. “They wake up.”

“What happens now?” she asked.

“Well, you’re a person now. I don’t think we could force you back onto the show if we tried. You can do anything you want; I have access to resources to put you on any type of Earth you want to live out the rest of your life.”

“What about my family? They’ll miss me,” she said. Bald Lenny shook his head.

“They’re not real. It’s easy enough to cast another NPC that looks just like you for the show.”

“I’ll miss them…,” Taylor admitted.

“No one’s saying you have to leave,” Baldy Lenny grinned. “Have you ever wanted to try acting?”

Quiet. Riot.

“Yeah,” Turbo sighed to himself. “I’m lost.” The boney teenager searched for the front office of his new school for 20 minutes. The school was as large as the only college campus he’d been on, with several satellite buildings. It took him that long to wind his way through the courtyards and crowded halls to get from one end to the other.

The halls were crowded and loud and he had trouble finding anyone that wasn’t already in a conversation to ask for directions.

Turbo ended up in a building that was likely a gym. The waxed wood flooring seemed to emit a soft pale glow. The rows of bleachers on opposite sides were the biggest clue to the building’s purpose.

“Doing better?” Turbo heard a soft voice coming from under the nearest set of bleachers. If the gym wasn’t so quiet he wouldn’t have heard anything at all; it was almost a whisper.

Alright!” he cheered internally. Turbo doubted a whole crowd would be hiding out under the bleachers. He hoped he could finally get some directions. It did occur to him that the person might be up to something they didn’t want to get caught doing. Instead of peeking in, he spoke up from where he was.

“HELLO!??” he shouted. “ANYONE IN HERE!!!??”  

“Shhhhh!!!” a hissing sound came from under the bleachers. A tall, lithe girl with short, light blonde hair dashed out of her hiding spot.

“Sorry,” Turbo smiled at her and lowered his voice to a normal tone. “I’m just looking for-,” she interrupted him again by dashing forward and clapping her small hand over his mouth.

“Shhhh!” she said again. “Whisper.” Before Turbo could react another voice spoke up.

“It’s okay, Nia,” a girl with bright orange hair walked out from under the bleachers. “I’m fine now,” she said. She walked to Turbo as Nia pulled her hand off his mouth.

“I’m Riot,” she said and extended her hand. “This is Nia,” she tilted her head at the blonde.

“Petunia to you,” Petunia glared at Turbo.

“Turbo,” he shook Riot’s hand with a broad grin. His name had plagued him for all of his short life. He loved it, but he always felt out of place going to school with Johns and Janes. But on his first day at Toku-High, he met someone named Riot. He instantly felt more positive about the year ahead.

“Everything okay?” he asked. He needed directions, but that could wait for a moment.

“Yeah,” Riot nodded. “There’s just a lot of noise and excitement in there. “She waved in the general direction of the main building. “I need a quiet place to calm down and Coach Dread said I could use the gym.”

“Oh, okay,” Turbo nodded. “Well, I don’t really get it, but it sounds like everything’s cool. So.. can one of you…,” a quick glance at Petunia’s cold brown eyes told him it wouldn’t be her. “…point me toward the front office. I still kind of need to register.” The girls giggled at him, but Riot nodded.

“Yeah, lemme see your node,” she said.

“Uhh… is that a thing I get when registering?” he asked. Petunia sighed and rolled her eyes, but Riot continued to smile. She reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out a card-sized pane of glass.

“Do you have one of these?” she asked.

“Oh!” Turbo reached into his pocket and produced his own. Riot touched her node to his. When she pulled it away a white arrow appeared on the display pointing to his right side. He turned slightly and the arrow moved like a compass needle. “Awesome,” he said. “Thanks!” He smiled, waved, and turned to follow the arrow.

“Bye-bye,” Petunia waved.

“Hey wait!” Riot said. “You’re a Calavera too, right?”

“Uhh… ?” Turbo shrugged.

“What’s your favorite number?” Riot asked.

“42,” Turbo replied, then paused. “Wow. Didn’t know I had one.” Again, both girls giggled at him. Riot walked a circle around Turbo looking him up and down.

“Turbo, huh?” she wondered aloud. “I wonder what you can do.”

“Do?” he asked. “What do you mean?”

“You’re a Calavera. When you get awakened you’ll be super strong, but you’ll probably also have an ability that fits your name. Coach Dread is a Calavera. She has a sonic scream that can totally be classified as “dreadful”,” Riot chuckled to herself. “Coach Haste can give others super speed. Frost is another Calavera student here. He can…,”

“Make ice?” Turbo asked. Riot wavered her hand in a ‘more or less’ gesture.

“He can coat himself and anything he’s touching in frost. That’s about it, but it makes good armor.”

“And you?” Turbo asked.

“I get stronger and faster from ambient kinetic energy or sonic vibrations. But,.. I can’t really control it yet. So if it gets to be too much I kind of go crazy until I use up the extra energy. I usually go somewhere quiet before it gets to be too much.”

“And I walked in here yelling and screaming,” Turbo shook his head and looked Petunia in the eyes. “I’m sorry,” he apologized to her. He got the impression that he offended her more than Riot.

“It’s fine,” Riot said. “When you get to the office tell them you want to be awakened and they’ll take care of it.”

“Does it hurt?” Turbo asked. Petunia giggled at him, by herself this time.

“You can crack an Earth in two; don’t be a baby,” she said.

“Take it easy, Nia,” Riot said. “He’s new; you didn’t know everything at first.” She turned her attention back to Turbo.

“It usually takes a tattoo or scarring of some kind, but they use nanos to give you a micro tattoo smaller than a bedbug. You won’t feel a thing.”

“Whoa… Nanotechnology? Superpowers? This school is pretty amazing,” Turbo said.

“Wait until you try out roller derby,” Riot smiled. “Think of how much fun you can have with superpowers on the track.”

Sharp Security

Thomas sat in his car sipping a warm coffee and staring at the white building. It was only three stories and not very large, but something about it seemed imposing. Large red letters along the side read “Sharp Development”. The clock on his dashboard told him it was 7:58 a.m. He was risking being late to debate whether he would risk going in at all.

Thomas put his coffee down and held up his I.D. to examine it again. “Tommy Brandt – Extrauniversal Counseling Division,” he read the name and eyed the picture. Tan skin, dark brown hair and light brown eyes. “He looks exactly like me,” he tried to convince himself that going to work was the right thing to do. ” No one can tell that I’m not ‘Tommy’,” he rolled his eyes at the name. He insisted on being called Thomas from a young age; he felt ‘Tommy’ was too informal and playful. But name aside, the Tommy from this Earth seemed to have everything going for him.

The woman he woke up next to was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He had a confusing start to his morning, but Thomas was a sci-fi fan. He quickly decided two things. First, he somehow switched bodies with an alternate version of himself. Second, if it wasn’t a dream, it might be permanent. He really wanted it to be permanent. That hope led him to ask his wife enough questions to get himself to work. Seeing the word ‘Counseling’ on his tag gave him more courage. On his own Earth, Thomas became a social worker and professional counselor. He hoped to bluff his way through work until he learned how to actually do the job. He also took note of the ‘Extrauniversal’ part of his title, but that only added credence to his situation.

“Well, if I get fired, that just means I can start fresh with a new job,” he said to himself. With a deep sigh, Thomas opened the door and made his way to the entrance. His hope to get in and somehow find his desk without drawing attention to himself was shattered the moment he stepped into the large white lobby.

“HEYHEY, IT’S TOMMY!” A portly guard shouted from the single security desk in the center of the lobby. His voice carried around the mostly empty room. The guard station sat between the entrance and the elevators. It was set up in such a way that a person could walk around the guard station, but it would be very obvious they were trying to. The lean guard next to him smiled broadly.

“Cutting it close, ain’t ya, T-Bone?” The lean guard asked once Thomas was close enough to their station. Thomas sighed internally. If ‘Tommy’ wasn’t bad enough, it seemed he now had to put up with ‘T-Bone’. “Better get up there, the new arrivals are probably already waiting on you.”

“New arrivals?” Thomas asked as he swiped his I.D. through the card reader; he hoped it was the right thing to do. The question came out before he could stop it. Thinking quickly, he tried to play it off as a generic work statement. “I didn’t know we had anyone scheduled this early,” he said. Luckily, the guards nodded.

“Unexpected,” the portly guard said. “Some astronauts went through a black hole. They ended up near the Bozo server; it didn’t take long for them to get flagged.”

“Great, well I guess I better get up there,” he said. He started toward the elevator, but he was interrupted.

“Hey, T-bone,” the lean guard said. Thomas turned around and saw him holding up a flat pane of glass with a hand outlined on it. “You forgot the biometrics.” All humor in his voice was gone. Thomas also noticed the portly guard standing more alert with his hand down by his unbuttoned holster.

“Oh sorry, I guess my mind was already getting ahead of me,” Thomas chuckled to play off the mistake. He wasn’t worried about biometrics at all, it was still Tommy’s body after all. He put his hand down on the stencil. After a short moment it buzzed and lit up with a red glow. Before he could say anything the portly guard had his gun drawn.

“Who are you?” the chubby guard asked while the lean one stepped back and drew his own gun after setting the scanner on the desk. Thomas panicked. He decided that being fired was better than being shot and decided to tell them the truth. Once they kicked him out for being insane he could see about another job.

“I don’t know!” Thomas said as he raised his arms in the air. “My name’s Thomas Bronson, I think I’m ‘Tommy’ from an alternate universe. I just woke up in this body today! Please don’t shoot! I don’t know how I got here, I’m just trying to get by!”

Both guards were immediately overcome by laughter and they reholstered their weapons. Thomas guessed they thought he was joking, and he took it as a good sign. Then, the lean guard put an arm around his shoulder and began walking him toward the elevator.

“Don’t worry about a thing Mr. Bronson. We’ll get you sorted out and back in your body in no time,” he said.

“You can do that?!” Thomas was genuinely surprised they not only believed him, but had the ability to fix it. “Do… do you have to?”  he asked as the guard pressed the ‘Up’ button.

“Well, yeah,” he chuckled. ” I want my buddy, T-Bone back. Something wrong with your Earth?” Thomas shook his head.

“Not my Earth,” he said. “My life. Things are so much better for me here. I have a beautiful wife, nice house, and what I think is probably a great job.” The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. The guard led Thomas into it, then pressed the button for the 3rd floor once they were in.

“What if I told you we could get you back into your own body, and give you any life or wife you want?” the guard asked.

“I’d say yes!” Thomas said eagerly.

“Yeah, I thought so,” the guard replied with a smile. “It’s easy, all you have to do is meet Ms. Sharp and sign some papers.”

Sharp Expectations

“Ladies and gentlemen this is a truly historic event. This is humanity’s first manned mission through a black hole. Who knows what our brave astronauts will find on the other side? We’ll keep you updated with reports throughout the day.” The female news reporter said with a broad smile. Frankie yawned and turned off the TV.

“It’s the last thing you’d expect,” Frankie mumbled to himself with a  chuckle while he considered his day. It was 6:30 a.m. He was supposed to be at work by 8, but he didn’t see the point in going to work anymore. He managed logistics for a local warehouse but he knew he was out of a job when the astronauts returned from their mission; his day was now free. He glanced around his small apartment from the couch. The living room was the size of a standard bedroom and the single bedroom slightly larger. The galley style kitchen consisted of a refrigerator, sink, and stove all lined up against one wall. He could have afforded a larger apartment but in his mind, the smaller one was easier to keep clean; not that he managed that very well. His eyes fell on the recycling bin overflowing with beer and soda cans and he briefly considered spending the day cleaning. Luckily his phone buzzed with a text to distract him.

“OMG! Did you hear!?” a text from Sarah came with a link attached. The link preview showed a picture of the reporter from the TV talking to an astronaut and Frankie grinned to himself. Sarah was his closest friend and she helped him decide how to spend his day.

“Off today?” he texted a reply then stood from the couch. She replied quickly; his phone buzzed as he walked into the bathroom.

“Yeah, what’s up?” Sarah’s text asked.

“Breakfast in an hour at the cafe,” he sent the message then hopped in the shower.

An hour later Frankie walked into his regular cafe and caught sight of Sarah already there. Her shoulder-length copper-red hair was tied back in a ponytail and she wore black and pink sweats; Frankie assumed she just came from the gym.

“Why aren’t you at work?” she asked as he sat down across from her. Frankie shrugged.

“Once the team gets back things will be completely different,” he said. “My job probably won’t exist anymore.” Sarah narrowed her eyes at Frankie.

“Huh? Where’d you get that idea?” she asked. “I mean, it’s kind of cool we’re exploring a black hole. I’m sure there are things that’ll benefit us, but how’d jump to being unemployed?” Frankie smiled.

“You’ve been my best friend since we met,” he said. “But, there’s a lot I haven’t told you about before we met. One of those things is: I know what’s out there.”

“No you don’t,” Sarah said with a mocking tone. Before Frankie could reply the waitress appeared next to their table to take their orders.

“Morning guys,” she smiled. “Usual?” Sarah nodded her agreement.

“Chocolate pancakes instead of French toast today,” Frankie said. “And Vanilla shake instead of coffee.”

“Got it,” the waitress walked away and Frankie picked up the conversation where they left off.

“I do and I can prove it,” he said. “Give me some paper and something to write with,” he nodded at her purse.

“Shake for breakfast?” she asked with a raised eyebrow as she dug through her bag.

“It’s a day worth celebrating,” he replied. “Thank you,” he added when she handed him a blue pen and a notepad. He scribbled a note, then handed the items back to her.

“Don’t look at -” Sarah interrupted his warning with a question.

“What’s Sharp Development?” She asked. Frankie sighed.

“You weren’t supposed to look at it until after they came back,” he said. “It was going to be all mysterious and stuff. “

“You should have told me before handing it back,” she said and added an exaggerated eyeroll for good measure.  “What does Sharp Development have to do with the astronauts?”

“That’s what they’re going to find on the other side. More likely, that’s what’s going to find them.”

“It sounds like the name of a corporation,” Sarah said. Frankie nodded.

“Sharp Development is the biggest corporation in the multiverse.”

Multi verse?” Sarah asked. “You’re saying not only are there alternate universes out there. A single company has spread out over more than one?” Frankie chuckled.

“Try more than one thousand; a lot more.”

“There’s over 1000 universes?” Sarah asked. Frankie nodded. “And the same, single company has a presence in at least those thousand?”

“That sounds like a logistics nightmare,” Sarah giggled. Frankie nodded.

“It was,” he said wistfully. “More than I could handle anyway.”

“You?” Sarah asked with wide eyes. “You used to work in another universe? Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“They fired me for underperforming and confiscated my node. I didn’t have any proof,” he said then tapped the notepad. “Now I will.”