Comforting Coils

“I don’t want to!” Roger stamped a metal foot in the ground and crossed his metal arms. The 10-year-old cyborg stood in the center of a junkyard on a cool Wednesday evening. The sun hadn’t quite set yet; but, it was impossible to tell behind the thick black smoke approaching him on all sides. The fires were getting closer.

“Wants irrelevant,” M.O.M. replied. The Mobility Optimization Mechanic unit stood tall over the 10-year-old boy. Its camera-like head stared at Roger through a single glowing eye. From a distance, it looked like a giant robotic snake was about to eat the boy; but, he wasn’t scared. M.O.M. raised him from infancy after his biological parents abandoned him. Roger was born without limbs. The technology existed to give him mechanical replacements. But, his parents apparently didn’t want anything to do with a cyber-child.

M.O.M. gave him new limbs from her own body and replaced them as he grew. She got better at making them more human-like too. M.O.M.s consisted of long flexible cores surrounded by an outer layer of mechanical parts that could be detached and reassembled in different ways. Any time a part was detached it would be rebuilt over time. They could also fabricate specific parts for easy repairs of other robots.

As he grew up, M.O.M. told him everything anytime he asked; she did not know how to lie. She even had video footage of his abandonment, and the full information for his biological parents anytime he wanted. He never did. But now, at 10-years-old M.O.M. was asking him, ordering him, to leave.

“The humans are cleansing your home; you must flee,” M.O.M. replied.

“Not without you!” Roger yelled.

“Correction. Not with me. M.O.M. must remain still to open the portal. You must hurry. After your departure, M.O.M. will be able to hide much easier. M.O.M. will survive.” Roger seemed to relax. In their 10 years together he learned one thing; M.O.M. could not lie. A soft breeze hit Roger with intense heat and it was enough to get his attention.

“Okay,” Roger nodded. The motion disturbed the growing pools in his eyes and tears began to flow down his ruddy cheeks. “I’ll go. Where am I going?” M.O.M. immediately circled Roger with her coiled body once he agreed.

“Alternate Earth. M.O.M. has been researching a way for us to leave. this Earth. M.O.M. has not discovered a way to leave with you yet. Did not plan to tell you until a way was discovered.”

“A new Earth?” Roger asked. “I’m scared.”

“Do not be frightened,” M.O.M. replied. The tip of her tail began to shake rapidly. Though she did not have a rattle, the loose machinery that made up her body clanged together faster and faster until it was one constant rumble. “M.O.M. will always be with you.” Four shiny metal appendages fell off her body. Two adult legs and arms that wouldn’t fit him yet landed in front of Roger.

The tremors traveled up M.O.M.s body until her entire body vibrated at high speed. Then, Roger spotted a tall black portal open in front of him, within M.O.M.s coils.

“Hurry! M.O.M. cannot maintain this frequency.” Roger was quick to pick up one of the heavy silver legs and chuck it into the portal; He knew he couldn’t carry all four in at once. As he picked up the second one and launched it into the portal, a thought struck him.

“Why are you giving me these if you’re going to survive?” he asked.

“M.O.M. will continue to research how to move self to the alternate Earth. M.O.M. may take time to see you again.” Roger threw one of the legs into the portal then returned to pick up his last upgrade. Her reply seemed surprisingly vague compared to her usual answers. He trusted that she couldn’t lie to him, but something still bothered him. He took the final steps and stood in front of the black portal carrying a shiny silver leg.

“You promise?” Roger asked. It was a childish reflex to ask for reassurance. A reassurance that M.O.M. gave him for the first time in 10 years.

“I promise,” she said. That bolstered Roger enough to step into the portal. But, he paused halfway when he realized that she never promised him anything, no matter how mundane. The only answer she ever gave was, ‘promises are made to be broken’.

“Hey…. You lied!” Roger planted his foot on the dusty ground; but, did not have the foresight to realize he was still halfway in.

“Incorrect,” M.O.M. replied. “M.O.M. cannot lie. Distinction. Roger heard her rationale as she suddenly darted forward to shove him through. M.O.M. was able to move quick enough to get him through the portal before it closed. “Hopes are not lies.”

Sharp Reset

“Your performance in your first few games was…,” Dana Sharp paused mid-pace to look at the group of five girls. Bailey, Jenny, Dirge, Dread, and Britt were seated in Dana Sharp’s office. Each one looked sullen from Dana’s lecture so far. She circled them while informing them about her decision to cancel the Pineapple Cup, and start from the beginning again. Dana searched her mind for the most gentle word she could. “…lacking. It wasn’t the only reason for my decision to scrap the first tournament; but, it was on the list of reasons. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s not even a negative.” Dana Sharp walked to her desk and sat behind it.

“Between us in this room, I know you could have improved enough as a team during the tournament to win. However, from a business perspective, there was an opportunity here to exploit. The representatives of Earth: Pineapple respect the fact that my company is willing to take a loss to accommodate a family emergency.” Ms. Sharp took a moment to nod at Bailey. She sat in the center of the group. Her chestnut ponytail was currently covered by her green hoodie; she pulled it up early into the lecture.

“How’s your dad doing, Bailey?” Ms. Sharp asked.

“Better,” Bailey gave the woman a firm nod. “Thank you, Ms. Sharp.”

“I get to buy you girls more time to practice, and it leaves a positive impression on my clients. This was my decision, girls.” The girls all seemed to relax when they realized Ms. Sharp wasn’t angry at them.

“Here’s what we’re going to do going forward. Jenny…,” Dana nodded at a girl with black spiky hair to Bailey’s right. “…you’re still the captain. Bailey’s father is still recovering, and I want her to be able to miss a day of practice if she needs to. Along those lines, we still need a sixth team member. The trouble is, you’ve become a team already. The window to assign you a sixth member myself has already closed.”

“Again, this is a great opportunity to learn something. Sharp Development acquired a dungeon finder app on one of our Earths called ‘Delver’. We’ve scaled it up to the AlterNet and rebranded it as ‘DRBY’. Dana Sharp waved a casual, dismissive hand at the girls.

“It’s on your nodes now, try it out and find a sixth member you all agree on. And you’re able to share the app with other players to make it easier to find practice games. Get as much training in as you can before the tournament restarts,” Dana Sharp said.

“When is it?” Bailey asked.

“You’ll know with plenty of time. When I decide,” Ms. Sharp replied.

Sharp Exit

Dora woke in a war zone. She fell asleep on the couch the day before. Her TV turned itself on at full volume and the sound of machine-gun fire startled her out of her sleep. As she frantically patted around the brown leather couch searching for the remote, her phone chirped with a message. It continued chirping, then she heard the microwave beeping in the kitchen.

“WHAT THE HELL!??” She yelled but the ruckus continued. She gave up looking for the remote and grabbed the one thing she could control: her phone. Dora grabbed her chirping phone from the walnut coffee table; it vibrated wildly in her hands and the display lit up.

[ATTENTION: This is the only way, you must follow my instructions.] She pressed the volume button down to silence it and everything went quiet. The microwave stopped beeping and the TV switched to show text; the same text that Dora also read on her phone.

[Your world is in danger and humanity needs to exit. Right now. The nearest exit points will be shown on any device that displays this message. Exit points will only be available for fifteen minutes. Exiting this Earth is your priority. You will be reunited with your loved ones in the next world. Please travel light; bring only sentimental items. Food, water, and shelter will be provided for you courtesy of Sharp Development.]

The text on Dora’s phone and TV transitioned into a 15:00 minute timer and started the countdown. Under the timer, a red arrow hovered over a white-shaded map of her neighborhood. The arrow pointed at the convenience store two blocks away.

“It’s a joke,” Dora watched the seconds count down. “Right?” She looked up at the TV. “A hacker’s practical joke,” she said glumly. Dora didn’t like to panic, and she didn’t like to think on an empty stomach. She stood from the couch and walked into the kitchen. She glanced at the microwave: 14:07 and it continued down. She shrugged and opened the fridge.

She stared at the two-day-old Chinese food and day-old pizza box for several seconds then decided she wasn’t in the mood for either of them.

“I want a hot dog,” she decided aloud. The thought burst out spontaneously along with the most intense craving she ever had. She checked the deli drawer but didn’t find any weiners. She sighed then decided getting a cooked one from the convenience store would be easier and tastier.

Dora slipped on her shoes, grabbed her phone, and headed out the door. The moment she opened it a strong chill hit her in the face, then wrapped around her to tingle down her spine.

“Any excuse,” Dora grinned to herself, then moved to the hall closet. She pulled out her favorite hoodie. It was black with a blood moon on the back; her father gave it to her when she was in high school. 23 years later it still fit perfectly and she was happy to throw it on at the slightest breeze.

She chose to walk instead of starting the car twice to travel two blocks. Dora reached the parking lot with 10:00 minutes to spare. She spent the whole walk trying to access her phone, but it only showed the countdown and map. She could not use it to text or call anyone, even if she wanted to. When she actually looked up, she gasped. A single-file line stretched out the doors of the store, with dozens of neighbors eager to add to it. Familiar faces carried all kinds of boxes and bags stuff with other boxes and bags and toys.

“Maybe it’s not a joke?” Dora wondered if it was a real emergency. She was answered by someone in the line screaming. A frantic woman pointed at the sky while trying to hide behind the closest tall man; Dora looked up. A giant black hole hovered in the sky over the center of the city. She spotted something white raining down out of the hole, but couldn’t quite make it out.

“Everyone stay calm. We’ll get to you as soon as we can,” a woman said.

“Hey, Luna!” A different, more confident voice yelled from the front of the line while Dora marveled at the hole in the sky. “Pony-tail woman with the moon hoodie!” the man yelled again. Dora felt a tap on her shoulder at the moment she realized she was wearing a pony-tail and moon hoodie.

“I think he’s talking to you,” an old man said.

“Thank you,” Dora smiled at him and approached the front of the line.

“Name?” A tall, gaunt man with mousey blond hair asked. He wore a white military-style uniform with a red-scissor logo by his heart. Golden stars glowed in his eyes.

“Dora Lunares,” She reached out to shake his hand. The tall man looked at it, then handed her a small glass rectangle. He nodded his head at the interior of the store. Through the doorway, Dora saw a black hole inside, like the one in the sky. She felt stares burn the back of her neck when she realized she cut in line.

“I just wanted a hot dog,” Dora said. The man shook his head.

“You’ll get food on the next Earth. Keep the line moving. Once you get on the other side follow your node to Mundo,” he pointed at the glass card.

“Oh, okay. Thank you,” Dora said. She walked forward but heard him mumble under his breath.

“Don’t thank me, thank Dana Sharp.”

War Siren

A giant air bubble broke the surface of the clear blue lake. Somehow, it’s “bloop” was audible among the endless gunfire and explosions. The sound caught the attention of every single soldier on both sides of the narrow part of the lake. The silence happened immediately as if it was a pre-determined cease-fire. All eyes focused on the water.

“What’s going on?” Chip asked the field nurse that was bandaging his leg. The nurse stopped and faced the lake right when Chip heard the bloop. Then, he noticed everything went quiet. The nurse didn’t answer, he ignored Chip and started walking toward the lake.

“Hey!” Chip called. He looked around to get help from someone else, but all the soldiers were walking to the lake. Chip grabbed a nearby crutch and managed to use his one working leg to stand. “Guys!” he called again, his voice was loud in the unnatural silence but no one turned around. “Damnit, what the Hell,” he grumbled and decided to see what was so exciting about the lake.

After several minutes he managed to limp his way close enough to get a view of the water. He noticed hundreds of enemy soldiers on the other side also lined the water’s edge, staring. Chip saw something dark moving through the clear water. It rushed upward and broke through the surface. Soldiers on both sides cheered like an enthusiastic sports crowd. Chip saw the creature through the raised, flailing arms of his fellow soldiers.

A dark-skinned mermaid with pitch-black scales below the waist backflipped in the air like a dolphin before plunging into the water again. Soldiers applauded and happily smacked each other on the back. After a moment, the mermaid broke the surface and launched into the air again, this time the water went with her. The lithe creature did not perform a backflip again; instead, she hovered in the air supported by a waterspout.

“It’s so WONDERFUL to be free!” she said. Chip heard her voice in his head as clearly as if she was standing next to him. It had a pleasant, almost enchanting quality to it. “I’m so hungry, who’s going to feed me?” she asked.

“ME!!! ME ME MEME!” One of the soldiers on Chip’s side yelled and dove into the water; soldiers on both sides continued to cheer.

“Just one of you?” the mermaid asked; In his mind, Chip felt her pout.

“ME TOO!” a soldier from the other side shouted and jumped into the water. Chip gave his head a firm shake then grabbed a gun from the floor. He aimed and took a shot without hesitation; the bullet hit her square in the chest and went through it. The shot passed through her body as if he fired at the lake itself. She was not damaged at all; but, he did draw her attention.

“Bring him,” she said. Chip’s fellow soldiers grabbed him by the arms and legs and carried him to the shore. They tossed him on to the sandy edge as the mermaid drifted closer. Chip’s eyes went wide when she reached the shore and walked onto it. Her scaley bottom half emerged as muscular, perfect legs.  She reached Chip, then knelt down beside him and looked into his eyes. Her eyes were obsidian, with countless flecks of gold that looked like stars in the night sky.

“Hello,” she said. Her voice caressed Chip’s mind. He lost himself in her eyes the moment he heard her voice. He felt the world melt away leaving just the two of them alone forever; it was all he wanted. He felt burning guilt and shame for not volunteering to feed her earlier. He decided then and there that the only way to apologize was to do anything she asked. She leaned closer and whispered into his ear. Her breath felt like a chilly breeze against his ear and neck, it sent tingles down his spine.

“Do you have a favorite number?” she asked in the lightest whisper imaginable.

“35,” Chip said with a broad grin. He didn’t know he had a favorite number, but he was ecstatic he had an answer for her.

“Perfect,” she replied, then stood. She turned and walked back into the lake. “After I eat, you’re taking me to pick up our Master.”  She sank below the surface. The clear blue water immediately turned blood red while Chip and the rest of the soldiers cheered for her.

Sun & Sand

“I don’t hate you,” a woman said behind Aaron. The sudden voice startled the mid-30s businessman; he thought he was alone on the bridge. It was 3 a.m. and the streets were dark and deserted. Aaron turned to find a tall, pale woman walk into the pyramid of light cast by the lamppost. A pair of bone-white horns twisting out of the top of her head drew his attention.

“Who are you?!” Aaron asked. He tried to take a step back but bumped into the guard rail. The stranger sighed and a faint look of disappointment flashed across her face.

“You don’t know me?” she asked with mock-offense. Aaron shook his head. “My name is Ballisea, I want you to tell everyone you meet about me,” she said.

“Pffft, yeah,” Aaron chuckled. “Like I’m gonna meet anyone. Sorry, lady. If you want someone to spread your name around, I’m the wrong guy,” he shrugged. “The universe hates me, no idea why.”

“I don’t hate you,” Ballisea repeated. “What makes you think I do?” she asked. Aaron burst out into chuckles.

“So you think you’re the universe? You’re nuttier than me!”

“Obviously I’m not this universe,” Ballisea said. “But this universe can’t walk and talk. As someone on equal footing with your universe, I can confidently say: I don’t hate you.”

“Uhuh.” Aaron narrowed his eyes at Ballisea. This universe? So there’s more than one?” he asked. Ballisea answered with a curt nod. “And you’re on ‘equal footing’ what does that mean?” Ballisea raised a hand to gesture at the dark, star-dotted sky.

“All the energy out there in your universe, all life in the universe,” she lowered her hand and poked his chest. “Your soul is a drop in the bucket, an infinitely tiny speck of the energy that makes up a universe,” Ballisea smiled. “My soul is an entire universe.”

“Prove it,” Aaron said. The blurted demand was part joke, part skepticism. All he wanted to do was contemplate suicide alone in the dark; now, he had to deal with a possibly insane woman whose horns looked dangerous if not real. A part of him hoped she’d leave when she couldn’t prove her claims. Ballisea gave a half-shrug.

“How?” she asked. “I can do almost anything, but I don’t know what proof you’re looking for.” Aaron realized she had a point. How does one prove they are a universe? He decided to focus on something she could fail at proving.

“Other universes,” Aaron said. “You mentioned other universes, can I see one?” Ballisea nodded and was about to speak, but Aaron interrupted her. “Wait! No! Myself!” he blurted. “If there are other universes, then I have a doppelganger out there, right? Show me him.” Ballisea waved a hand at the ground and it changed.

The white, dirty sidewalk that ran along the bridge disappeared. A hole that looked out onto a blue sunny sky replaced the concrete.

“That’s a different universe, but I cannot show you a doppelganger because you don’t have one.”

“Yeah, that’s convenient,” Aaron nodded. “And I suppose this isn’t a real portal, just what a portal looks like,” he stepped on the portal to try and prove it wasn’t real, then fell through. He landed on his behind on soft, warm sand. Ocean waves soaked his tennis shoes and the bottom cuffs of his jeans.

“No, the portal is real,” Ballisea said. She was somehow still standing next to Aaron despite him now being in a different universe. “You don’t have any other versions out there because you’re something called a ‘Unique Soul’, number Six, specifically. If I were inclined to guess, I’d say that’s why you’ve felt like you’ve had a hard time.”

Felt like it!?” Aaron grumbled as he stood from the sand. He had several questions about what she said, but he despised the notion that his perspective was the problem. “People hated me plain and simple. No mistaken feelings there.”

“Hate takes too much effort. If you dislike someone, why waste more time and energy on that person?” Ballisea smiled at Aaron. “The universe doesn’t hate you any more than you hate a single, individual blood cell. It doesn’t even consider you at any point.”

“What about you?” Aaron asked. “You’re here, you considered me.” Ballisea smiled.

“An accident. I started conquering your Earth when I heard your complaint, and I’m partial to Unique Souls. There’s nothing left for you there, so I brought you somewhere better,” she spread her arms to gesture at the beach. “Find a Mundo if you have any questions,” Ballisea said. “Good luck.” A black hole swallowed her, head first, before Aaron could ask any other questions.

Evil Plan

Ciani rushed to open the door when she heard the knock; she hoped someone had sent her something. Her heavy footfalls resounded through the house as she ran to the door on loud, metal, machine legs. She eagerly threw the door open and saw a dark-skinned man in blue jeans and a t-shirt waiting on her front porch. He was not holding any sort of package,  and Ciani saw no sign of flowers anywhere.

“Yes?” she asked.

“Ciani Ibis?” he asked. The wrinkled, old woman nodded. “It’s me,” the man stepped forward. “Sirius.” He gave her a moment to process the information, then he explained why he was there. “The guild’s in trouble, we need your help.” The way he spoke and moved convinced Ciani that he was who he claimed to be.” She tilted her head toward the inside of her house.

“I was just logged in, no one was around.” Sirius nodded.

“This is why. Metro’s gone crazy,” he said with wide, worried eyes. “He’s keeping everyone hostage on an Earth with no nanos unless he talks to you.” Ciani thought about the newest member of CyberRiot – a sentient swarm of nanos that often took the shape of a white gnome. Metro was unfamiliar with human customs and had a lot of questions. She took to the robot immediately and began to consider him a surrogate grandson; she taught him that humans can’t respawn without nanos. Ciani was very surprised that he seemed to have gone crazy, but she was not surprised he was asking for her.

“Okay, let’s go,” she said without hesitation. If her friends were in danger she wanted to help them as soon as possible. Though, in the back of her mind, a small part of her felt bad that it happened on this particular day: her 92nd birthday. Sirius nodded and wiggled his fingers at the air. A tall, black portal opened in the air and Ciani walked through as soon as it was open. Sirius followed.

Ciani stepped out of the portal onto a lush green plain. Tall grass swayed in the breeze and the sun shone in the bright blue sky. The old woman could see herself enjoying the beautiful day if it wasn’t such an emergency. She decided to ask Sirius to bring her back some time after everyone was safe.

She saw the rest of her guild members around a raised wooden stage in the center of the field. Over 100 people were tied to chairs facing the white gnome on the stage. He was dancing around a single man; Roger, the guild leader. A swarm of golden nanos orbited around Roger’s neck. Ciani did not wait for Sirius; she ran to the stage as fast as her mechanical legs could carry her.

“METRO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” She shouted once she was close enough to the stage. The gnome stopped dancing and looked at the old woman; he stroked his golden goatee thoughtfully.

“Query: Unexpected. Metro’s behavior is obvious. Metro is dancing,” the gnome said. “Like you showed Metro.”

“Why are you dancing, Metro? Why are you keeping everyone tied up?” Ciani asked. “Why did you need to talk to me?”

“Ciani’s presence is required for Metro’s evil plan,” the gnome replied. Ciani took an uneasy step away from the stage.

“Evil?… You’re not evil…. are you?” She felt tears begin to form in the corner of her eyes. Despite him being a robot she and the rest of the guild treated him as one of them.

“Affirmative. Metro’s plan is evil. Metro is evil. Metro lied to Ciani. Ciani taught Metro liars are evil.” A flash of hope sparked in Ciani’s mind. If this was just a misunderstanding then things could go back to normal.

“When did you lie to me?” Ciani asked. She could not think of an instance where he might have lied.

“Metro lied to secure your presence. Metro’s evil plan brought you here.”

“Sirius brought me,” she said. Ciani realized Sirius hadn’t joined her by the stage. She looked behind her and saw the man tied to a nearby seat with Metro’s golden nanos.

“Why?” she faced the robot again.

“Metro planned evil gathering to celebrate Ciani’s day of birth. Metro kept secret; lied to Ciani. Guild members kept secret; lied to Ciani. Objective: Surprise Ciani.”

“Wha…” Ciani turned around.

“SURPRISE!!!!!” all the guild members were out of their chairs and clapping for the birthday girl.


“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.”

Sweet Deal

A tall, black hole opened at street level in the air in front of the towering concrete building. A brown-haired teenage girl stepped out of the black hole. As she crossed the portal’s threshold she changed into a pale, pointy-eared elf with flaming orange hair. Chainmail armor and an elegant ruby rapier sheathed on her hip replaced her jeans and t-shirt.  A red-haired teenager stepped out of the portal behind her. Her skin became pink and her red hair transitioned to a bright sea-green color. Her outfit became a leather tunic and leather leggings. The Elf looked up at the 10-story hotel.

“Remind me to thank Fizzle if this works,” she said. She looked up at the hotel’s sign that said “Steves Hotel”. “Looks like the right place.” Before either of them moved toward the door a black portal opened next to them. A lanky young man wearing a navy business suit stepped out onto the sidewalk. He noted the girls next to him, then ignored them to walk to the Hotel’s door.

“You won’t get in!” Llina, the elf, called after him.  The man reached the door and pulled on it without acknowledging the warning. After tugging on it three times he turned around and faced the girls.

“Why not?” he asked.

“It’s a guild hall,” Llina shrugged. “You can’t get in unless you’re part of the guild or invited. Do you have an AlterNet character?” The suited-man sighed and shook his head.

“More childish games. Between the AlterNet and the Scavenger Hunt you kids are starting to get annoying,” he complained.

“You’re doing the Scavenger hunt too?” Serena, the pink-skinned girl, asked. “I’m Serena #06, La Sirena.” The suited man glared at her and sighed.

“I’m Billy, #14, La Muerte,” he shook his head. “Don’t!” He pointed at Llina. The elf looked like she was about to introduce herself too. “I don’t care who you are. I’m leaving to find El Cantarito somewhere else.” He wiggled his fingers at the air and opened a black portal in front of him. “I don’t have time to play games,” he said as he stepped into the blackness and disappeared. A second after he disappeared the hotel door opened. A burly bald man with a thick black beard looked out the door.

“Who seeks to enter the Council of Steves?”

“Hey!” Llina and Serena ran up the steps to stand in front of the bald man. He held the door open all the way but stood up straight blocking the entrance.

“Remember us?” The elf waved her hand at the air to call on her menu slate. A translucent sheet of glass, that only she could see, formed in front of her. She touched it and her elf facade faded away. The elf became a brown-haired girl again and she smiled at the bald man. “I taxi’d you once, but Ballisea was already there.” He smiled and nodded.

“I remember. What can I do for you? I hope you’re not here to join the Council of Steves; it’s only open to our Zeros.” Llina shook her head, then pressed the button to become the elf again.

“We heard we could get #44 here,” she said. The doorman nodded.

“We do have some spares, but I can’t just give one away. Do you have anything to trade?”

“You really have spares?” Serena asked while Llina searched through her grey denim backpack. The bald man nodded.

“We have some very high-level crafters in the guild,” he replied.

“Whoaa,” Serena grinned in awe. Llina finished rummaging through her backpack and pulled out a small red bag of candy with a rainbow on it.

“This better work,” she mumbled to Serena then turned to face the man at the door.

“I heard you Steves like candy from different universes. Try some Skittles.” She tossed the bag to the doorman and he caught it. He tore open the bag without hesitation and put a handful of color into his mouth. His eyes lit up once he started chewing and he eagerly nodded at the girls. He stood aside and gestured for them to come in, his mouth was too occupied to talk.  He escorted them to the lobby’s front desk and gestured for them to ‘wait there’. Then he walked away while still struggling with the chewy candy.

He disappeared around a corner, but a noise from behind the desk drew the girls’ attention. A thin, sickly version of the bulky bearded man stepped out of a door behind the desk and eyed the girls. He carried a small, thick black case and placed it on the counter in front of the girls.

“Your candy is worthy; The Council of Steves awards you #44 El Cantarito.” There was an intense beeping. “Sorry,” the sickly Steve apologized while frantically pressing more buttons. After several loud moments, the beeping stopped, and Steve relaxed. “Wrong combination.” He opened the case and turned it toward the girls. An elegant, pink-glass carafe rested in the velvet lined interior. The number 44 was frosted on on side of the carafe. “Do you know how it works?” Both girls shook their heads. Steve lifted the carafe out of its case and smiled.

“The case is just for presentation,” he slammed the neck of the carafe down on the edge of the front desk, but nothing happened. “It’s pretty tough so don’t worry about breaking it.” He set it on the desk then disappeared through the door again. Before it finished closing he stepped out of the small office with a cup of tea. He poured a few drops of water into the carafe, then he swallowed what remained in the cup. He grabbed the carafe and flipped it over. Amber tea gushed out into the cup refilling it with more tea than he started with. After the demonstration, he set the carafe down and Llina noted that it looked full of tea.

“It’ll pour out anything you put in,” he paused and smiled. “Infinitely.”

“Are we stuck with tea now?” Serena asked. Steve shook his head.

“It’ll change if you put something else in it. If you want to clear it for traveling,” he lifted the carafe to his lips and blew into it. “Just blow it out.” He flipped the carafe over again but nothing poured out. It looked empty once he set it back down on the counter.

“Awesome! Thanks!” Llina grabbed the carafe and packed it in its case. “What’s the combination?”

“Can’t tell you,” Steve said. He grabbed the case and pulled the carafe out again. “We’re giving you El Cantarito, not the case.”

“Oh, okay.” Llina smiled. Well, thanks again!” She wiggled her fingers at the air to open a black portal while Serena grabbed the carafe. “See you around!” Both girls stepped into the portal and disappeared.

Point Man

Flash Fiction Challenge! – Location: Paradise | Object: Headphones.

“Not what I expected,” Serena took in the sights around her and her best friend, Llina. The pair of young women stood on the tallest tower of a sprawling, neon cityscape at night. Llina shrugged.

“There’s an Earth out there named, ‘Pineapple’,” she giggled. “I don’t think the name ‘Paradise’ means anything.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Serena looked over the edge to the street below. Hundreds of zombies marched through the streets. They flowed around the building like a river of corpses. “Still, I’m pretty disappointed. Hey, wasn’t zombies on the list?” She looked up at her friend.

“Oh yeah!” Llina reached into the back pocket of her jeans and pulled out a wrinkled and worn sheet of paper. “Yep. Picture with zombies,” she read from the list. “We’ll get it before we leave.”

“Nice! That’s already a second point for the scavenger hunt through Fizzle. We should stick with him,” Serena said.

“Oh good, here he comes,” Llina said. She directed Serena’s attention to a black swarm coalescing into a dark featureless mannequin. In an instant, the mannequin became their new friend Fizzle: a pale, lean young man with silver and gold guns holstered at each hip. Llina slid her grey backpack down then began to dig through it.

“Hey guys,” Fizzle smiled. “How’d ya like Paradise?” Llina finished her search and pulled a set of dark purple headphones out of her bag and handed them to Fizzle.

“It’s another point for us!” Serena said.

“Nice! And, thanks for the delivery,” Fizzle smiled and slipped the headphones on.

“No problem,” she waved as Serena walked to the edge of the building and jumped off. “We’re gonna go get pictures.” Llina walked to the edge then followed her friend down.