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.

AlterNet Income

“I’m a cop, remember?” Mick smiled at his twins, Fern and Olive. The three family members sat in their kitchen enjoying breakfast when the subject of money came up. “I think I know how protection rackets work. But it’s a video game.” The twins sighed as one. Without a word they faced each other and shook their fists three times. On the third, Fern held his hand out flat while Olive’s two fingers mimicked scissors. He gave an accepting nod, then stood and walked out of the room.

Mick always enjoyed watching their interactions. He’d always heard twins were close; and, sometimes psychic but his pair seemed to take it to a whole new level. He assumed they were in constant communication with each other. They were only 13, but he could not remember a single instance where they talked over one another. As children, only one of them ever cried, usually Fern.

When they were toddlers, Fern would do all the crying, even if Olive was the one that needed something. It was extremely hard on his marriage; their mother felt like she wasn’t up to the job because she couldn’t figure out what was wrong with Fern. Luckily, they realized the answer was as simple as checking both of them in time to save their family.

Once that problem was solved, life became easy. With their needs met, the twins seemed content to spend time in each other’s company. Mick and his wife joked that the twins were talking psychically. Sometimes, Mick was more than sure it was true. The way the twins moved and spoke made Mick feel like they were one person in two bodies.

“Dad,” Olive sat up straight and looked at her father. “You’re getting focusing on the wrong thing. First, it’s not a video game, it’s a Virtual Reality game. It’s not real, but it feels real.” She flicked the edge of her juice glass with her finger to make a ‘ping’ sound. “As real as this.”

Mick wasn’t dumb. He researched the AlterNet before he bought access for the twins. He knew it was more than them sitting in front of a monitor at a keyboard because he dug the soil beds in their shared room.

“I get that. And I can see how people in the game would pay for your protection. But that’s game money,” he said.

Dad,” Olive said. Her voice carried more teenage condescension than a 13-year-old should have. “You’re still focusing on the word ‘game’. Just think of it as a different reality.”

“But it’s not real, it’s virtual,” Mick countered.

“It’s more than virtual,” Olive said while shaking her head.

“It’s like an alternate reality,” Fern said as he walked back into the kitchen. He returned to his seat next to Olive. While he sat down, Olive reached out and placed her node on the table in front of her dad. She tapped the screen, then pointed at a section for Mick to look at.

[Sharp Bank: Balance: $73,000.00 ] His eyes widened. He banked with the same company and recognized the balance as legitimate.

“I collected a service fee for a quick demonstration,” Olive said. As she spoke, Fern held out a small, luminescent, golden cube. “This is a payment from one of our clients in the game. First of all, as you can see…,” Olive said.

“You can see it. Even in our real world,” Fern finished Olive’s thought while he waved his hand over the cube for show. “You might think I brought any little toy from my room,” Fern said. He reached forward and placed the sugar-cube sized currency on the center of the node.

“But, I didn’t,” Olive said. The golden cube disintegrated into white powder. Instead of collecting in a pile, the powder vanished before it landed. Even though his attention was already on the node, Olive pointed at a specific line again.

[Sharp Bank $127.38 cents deposited after currency exchange.] Mick checked the balance again.

[Sharp Bank: Balance: $73,127.38]

“It’s.. real,” Mick said. He stared at the node until the screen disappeared; it left behind a card-sized piece of transparent glass. Suddenly, he looked up.

“Can I join your gang?” he asked. Both twins’ heads shook side to side in unison.

“Dad,” Olive said.

“You’d make the rest of the guild uneasy,” Fern said.

“You’re a cop, remember?” Olive said.

Star Patron

27, 44, 30, 21…,” Elmer waved the patrons through without giving much attention to them or their IDs. Mundo’s club wasn’t the hottest spot in town; but, it had its share of regular customers that enjoyed the more subdued atmosphere. He reached the end of the short line and paused. “1973?” The young man holding up his ID didn’t look quite 21 yet. His tan skin was taught and glowed with youth.

“Hold on,” Elmer held his hand out to stop the man. Elmer stared at the number for a moment; a golden ‘1973’ hovered above the man’s dirty blonde hair. No matter how he looked at it, the number did not change; this man was definitely 1973 years old.

“Something wrong, sir?” the young man asked timidly. Elmer shook his head.

“No, Mundo just likes me to check in with any Uniques that come through. You do know you’re a Unique Soul, right?” he asked.

“Um.. I”m a what?” he asked.

“Sorry, I may have jumped the gun,” Elmer said quickly. “What’s your favorite number?”

“35,” the patron responded quickly. He looked a bit surprised that he answered, but he shook it off. “I just want to listen to some music and have a couple of drinks; what’s my favorite number have to do with anything?” Elmer grinned and nodded.

“Yep, you’re a Unique Soul. But, you didn’t know that,” Elmer looked the young man up and down again. “You don’t have a tattoo do you?” he asked. The man narrowed his eyes for a moment, then shrugged.

“I”ll go somewhere else.” He turned away but Elmer interrupted.

“I know that you’re almost 2000 years old, and my boss can explain why.” The man froze in his tracks, then slowly turned back around.

“How did you know?” he asked.

“I’m a Unique Soul too, #10, El Árbol. I can see your age floating above your head. You’re Unique Soul #35; you can travel between universes, but I don’t want to tell you too much. Mundo likes to do the explanations herself.” Elmer tilted his head at the entrance.

“Go straight to the bar, Mundo’ll be glad to see you.”

Red Thread Deception

“Goodness!” The middle-aged fortune teller, Madame Poinciana, dashed to Adam’s side. She crouched slightly and offered him a ring-adorned, wrinkled hand to help him up from the dust. “I see you’ve visited the beer tent,” she said with a sly smile, then winked. “I’d recommend waiting the extra year you need to make it legal.” Adam was stunned; not just from the fall.

“How’d you know?” Adam asked as he accepted her hand. Once he was on his feet he started dusting the legs of his blue jeans. “I mean, my age. I wasn’t drinking, but you knew how old I was before I said anything,” he looked at the dirt by the tent’s entrance. “It felt like I tripped on something.”

“I’m hardly qualified for the job if I can’t at least read your age,” she said. Madame Poinciana’s gaze followed his to the floor; then, she gasped. She fell to her knees; her flowing red-orange gown kicked up a cloud of dust around her and she grabbed something from the ground. “IMPOSSIBLE!” She shouted the loudest whisper Adam ever heard and held up a length of red string. At first glance, Adam thought it was plain string, but as she twisted it, it twinkled in the tent lights.

“What is it?” Adam asked. Madame Poinciana rolled her eyes.

“It’s always the clueless ones,” she mumbled under her breath. She returned to the small round table in the middle of her tent. She gestured to the other seat. “Sit,” she said curtly. Her light brown eyes felt colder and her personable smile was nowhere to be seen.

“Uh..,” Adam took a step back. Getting his fortune read sounded like fun. He didn’t put too much stock in superstition, but he was willing to spend five dollars on entertainment. However, her change in demeanor no longer promised fun. “Sorry I tripped,” he shrugged. “But, I just remembered I’m out of cash,” he chuckled nervously. “The fall jogged my memory.” 

“This isn’t about money,” Madame Poinciana held up the red string. “Sit, please. This is impossibly important.” Again, her mood changed in an instant, Adam sensed deep concern from her; enough for him to sit down.

“Do you know what this is?” she asked about the string.

“A thread?” Adam asked.

“Not just a thread,” she took it between both hands and held a 6-inch section taught in front of him. “This is the red thread of fate. Specifically, yours.” Adam chuckled.

“Then how am I alive?” he asked. “The myth says I’m supposed to keel over when it’s cut.”

“Sure. If fate cuts the string, your time’s up. The difference here is you cut it yourself. That’s a very different situation; it’s not supposed to happen.”

“Uh.., are you sure it’s mine?” Adam asked. He leaned forward on the table. On top of knowing his age, each word she said was filled with confidence and a sort of practiced, understated awe. In the back of his mind, Adam began to believe she had experience with the secrets of the universe. She gave a gentle nod.

“No doubt about it. You and this thread share the same energy, I can feel it.”

“Wow. So… what happens now?” Madame Poinciana’s mouth grew into a broad, toothy smile.

“That’s up to you,” she said.

“How do you mean? What are my options?” Adam reached for the red string and fidgeted with it while he waited for the answer.

“Now?” she giggled. “Now, you don’t matter.”

“Wait. That’s not good,” Adam stopped fidgeting.

“No,” Madame Poinciana folded an edge of the fringed tablecloth onto the table and tugged a golden strand free. “It’s fantastic.”

“This tablecloth…,” she wiggled the fringes, then dropped the edge over the side again. “…is still a tablecloth. It still serves its purpose even without this single strand,” She winked and held up the golden string.

“But this…,” Madame Poinciana took the red string from Adam’s hands. “This can become anything it wants,” her fingers quickly manipulated the pair of strings together. “It can become its own tablecloth, or anything else it wants to be. It just has to find a friend to help it grow.”

Madame Poinciana opened her hands to show Adam . Both strings were entwined into a quarter-sized red and gold loop that reminded Adam of ‘friendship bracelets’ from his jr. high days.

“I can’t tell you what to do, but I can show you a path that’s open to you now,” she offered him the loop and he accepted it. “As a friend,” she added with a smile.

“Please!” Adam nodded as he slipped the loop onto his thumb for good luck. Madame Poinciana produced a small white box from somewhere under the table; it had a red logo that resembled a pair of scissors. She slid it across the table to Adam.

“What’s this?” Adam asked as he tugged at the top of the box.

“NO!” she stopped him. “Don’t open that here! Only at home, alone. The magic in there is for your eyes only,” she shook her head. “Even I don’t know; but, I know you’ll find answers.”

“Okay!” Adam stood up in a hurry with the box in hand. “Thank you Madame Poinciana!” He shouted and waved on his way out. As grateful as he was, his gratitude didn’t compare to his desire to get home at that moment.”  He dashed out of the tent with a goofy grin on his face.

“Crap!” Madame Poinciana cursed once she was alone again. She reached into the cubby under the table and pulled out her node. After a couple of taps, she held it up to her ear.

“Hey, sorry. It happened again,” she said to the person on the other end. “Yeah, just now. I’m sure it won’t be long until he shows up. Yeah. 20 years old, short dark hair, athletic. WHAT!?” she whined. Then, she listened with a sour look on her face. After several moments she started nodding.

“Fine, fine. You’re right, it’s my mistake, but a 20% processing fee feels high. No, you’re right, 80 thousand dollars is still a lot. Yes, I understand the paperwork is a nightmare to begin with, I don’t mean to make it harder. I’m sorry, I’ll get the name of the next one for sure.”

Slimy Friend

Willow fluttered into the adventurer’s hall with a purpose. Her black, flowy dress hung limp and hid her feet; she hovered ghost-like straight to the quest board. A set of long, veiny, translucent insect wings kept her five-foot fairy frame aloft. The bright pink quest card was still there. It stood out from the wall of drab yellow and off-white quest cards pinned to the board.

It showed up a week ago and immediately caught her interest. When she inspected it she only found a time and place. No other details were given, not even the name of the requester. Willow only recently discovered the AlterNet within the last year. She did not feel ready to handle the unknown. She settled for lesser quests and assumed someone else would take the pink one.

She was surprised to see the quest still on the board the next day; then, the next. A week later it was the day mentioned in the quest and no one had taken it. Something about that made her feel a bit sorry for the quest giver. NPC quests reset each day and most adventurers optimized their routine around them. The pink card couldn’t have been an NPC quest; it was missing all the important information. She hated the idea that she could have helped someone that needed it.

It could be a trap,” Willow considered the possibility as she stared at the pink card. “But it could also not be…” She stepped back and scanned the rest of the board. All the usual stuff was there, including Sue, the ungrateful hypochondriac. Willow hated the NPC girl, she was obnoxiously snotty. Figuratively and literally. It was an unreasonable hatred since the girl was a fictional character, but it burned in Willow just the same. She yanked the pink card off the board with a shrug and a sigh. “I’d rather get mugged than go see her again,” she decided.

An hour later she found a small house in the center of an open plain. Its size was somewhere between a children’s playhouse and a mobile home. The house was built with golden-translucent bricks. The roof seemed to be made of the same material in shingle form. The sun was reaching its apex and light forced itself through the bricks; Willow saw a small shadow moving around inside.

It doesn’t look too threatening,” Willow walked to what looked like the door. The golden, glassy squares were arranged in a different pattern on the front of the house. She knocked. A young blonde girl opened the door. She looked at Willow through narrowed eyes until the fairy flashed the pink card. The girl smiled instantly.

“HI! I’m Honey!” She stepped out of the house.

“You put this up?” Willow asked. The girl nodded. “What’s the quest?” Honey bit her bottom lip nervously and looked Willow up and down.

“Wanna be my friend?” she asked.


“I have a guild now,” Honey used her thumb to point at the house directly behind her. “But I don’t have anyone in it,” the girl sighed. “I have one friend but she’s too busy to play much.” She looked up at Willow with eager eyes. “It’s a high level guild! I stole it from a PvP server and they bought all the perks already.

“Maybe,” Willow said. She tried to inject coolness into her voice, but she already decided. She had been looking for a guild recently, but she wasn’t very social. A guild with only one other person in it would let her get used to the flow of things before they recruited too many others. Willow extended her wings and fluttered to give herself more height. Honey was already too close to her short stature. She pretended to be thinking.

“What’s the guild name?” Honey shrugged.

“Deathdealers or something dumb. I haven’t changed it yet. Oh! You can help me pick out a name!”

“Wait. You stole a guild? By yourself?” Honey nodded. She lifted a hand in front of Willow’s face. The light peach skin changed color. It became a translucent gold color that matched the house, then her thumb fell off. It pulled a long, viscous string and was still attached when it landed on the floor. Honey used her other hand to break the string and the golden fluid formed another thumb in its place. Her skin returned to its normal, fair color.

“Oh you’re a slime,” Willow said.

“Hey, don’t talk about my friend like that,” another voice said behind Willow. She turned to see a short girl, older than Honey, in a red hoodie. She was carrying a pink bakery box and wearing a smile despite her reprimand.

“Cherry!” Honey dashed past Willow to hug the new girl.

“Making new friends, huh?” Cherry asked with a smile. Honey nodded.


“Nice,” Cherry walked forward and held the box with one hand to offer Willow her other. “I’m Cherry, nice to meet you.”

“Willow,” she introduced herself.

“Thanks for coming,” Cherry said as Honey grabbed the box from her and ran inside. Once the girl was through the door Cherry lowered her voice. “Even the AlterNet can be lonely if you don’t have friends,” she said. “I’m glad I’m not the only one here for her birthday.”

Root Problem

“See you in a bit!” Lena grinned at the message on her phone. Then she felt pangs of disappointment as a minor detail suddenly came to mind.

“You don’t know my address?” she typed to the group. They’d been chatting for almost a year. She stumbled across the group and joined on a whim. She was glad she did, she’d never been able to find the group by searching for it. She could only visit the group if she used the group bookmark. The group, “AlterNet Enthusiasts”, were friendly and Lena quickly found a group she clicked with. They seemed to have a static group and talked about their in-game adventures as if they were real. As they grew closer she mentioned her state and city; but, she never gave an exact address. The fact that they were on their way to her house, without knowing where she lived made Lena think she’d been catfished somehow.

*DING* Lena heard the notification but it didn’t come from the phone in her hand. She looked up and saw a tall black portal in the center of her living room. A short girl in a long black robe walked out while staring at something that looked like a phone in her hand. She looked up from it and smiled at Lena.

“Don’t need it. Hi!” She stepped forward and offered her hand to Lena. “I’m Wilma.” As she introduced herself two more teenagers about the girl’s age stepped out. Twin girls, one wearing heavy silver armor that jangled with every step. The other wore a long white robe.

“What’s going on?” Lena asked then she took a step to the side and let herself fall on the couch. She recognized them immediately, after Wilma introduced herself. Their classes were obvious enough to match what she knew about them. The one in the robe was Sarah the healer and the armored girl had to be Samantha the knight.

Despite the surprise of them coming from nowhere, Lena was more embarrassed about the age gap than anything. “You’re just kids?” They were gamers and she assumed they’d be younger than her 40 years. Their posts often hinted at adult freedom to come and go. They were almost always playing and often talked about getting together. Not once had any of them mentioned needing parental permission for anything. They looked 14 at most. They all grinned at her, and Wilma shook her head.

“We’re not just kids, we’re Uniques.”

“Unique what?” Lena asked. The three visitors burst into very kid-like giggles.

“Unique Souls,” Wilma shook her head. “Don’t worry about it, we’ll get you caught up later. Right now we want to invite you to join our group.” She shrugged. “We wanted to invite you sooner, but it was a pain to find out which Earth was yours.” Lena’s confusion blossomed again; she tilted her head at Wilma.

“Which….. Earth?” she asked. She was glad the kids didn’t laugh at her again.

“I knew it,” Wilma nodded, then joined Lena on the couch. “Your Earth was hard to find because you’re not connected to the AlterNet yet. I don’t know how you found the group, but it was probably a glitch.” She shrugged. “We are from different universes,” Wilma paused for a moment in thought, then started again. “Well, I’m from a different universe, and they…,” Wilma pointed at Sarah and Samantha. “…are from a different, different universe. There’re tons out there.”

“So… wanna come play in the AlterNet?” Wilma asked. Lena’s eyes grew wide. She saw their posts to the group in a new light now.

“That’s… it’s real? All your adventures.. you really did them?”

“Yep! Come play with us,” she smiled.

“YES!” Lena jumped off the couch and ran to Sarah and Samantha to give them both hugs.

“Great, let’s go make your character,” Wilma said. She stood from the couch and wiggled her hand at the air to open another portal. Sarah and Samantha walked in and disappeared; then, Wilma encouraged Lena.

“Go ahead, it’s safe,” she smiled at the older woman.

“Thanks!” Lena dashed forward into the black hole. She went through it and ran into one of her living room walls.

“OWWwwwww….” Lena turned around already rubbing her nose. She looked at Wilma; the young girl sighed.

“Shit, I’m sorry. I should have asked this first; what’s your favorite number?”

“Ten,” Lena said automatically, then she stopped rubbing her nose. “Hey, I didn’t know that,” she added. “Why?”

“The bad news is you can’t leave this Earth. The good news is, you’re a Unique Soul too. #10, El  Árbol.” Lena’s face fell; her eyes began to water at the corners.

“I can’t play with you?” she whispered in disappointment. She’d received a lot of information in a short time, and now she wouldn’t get to explore with her new friends. She doubted they’d make time to visit an old woman when they could go anywhere. She wasn’t sure how to deal with her emotions. Wilma rushed forward and hugged her.

“Of course you can,” she said. She withdrew from the hug and looked Lena in the eyes with a smile. “You just have to let us dig a hole in your living room.”