“‘Le’Ben!” Milla was surprised when her zombie body tried to speak. Not just speak, she gave an answer she didn’t know she had. Edna, the stranger that brought her to the clinic seemed just as surprised as Milla; but, somehow the medic wasn’t shocked.
“Zombies have a favorite number?” Edna asked the medic. She had minor scrapes and bruises after trying to escape a group of zombies. She almost didn’t until zombie-Milla stepped in and helped Edna escape. Edna initially thought the posters advertising a reward for ‘friendly’ zombies were just a scam designed to get people killed. But, Milla was very obviously a friendly zombie. Edna asked her all sorts of questions, but she didn’t seem able to talk or keep her balance easily. Zombie-Milla shuffled in place at a respectful distance while still keeping an eye on Edna. Meanwhile, Edna found the nearest Sharp Medical Services branch to turn in her undead friend.
Once they reached the office the medic ignored Edna’s minor wounds and focused on zombie-Milla. He approached without fear, looked into Milla’s glazed, dead eyes then asked a question.
“What’s your favorite number?” Edna jumped when Milla moaned out a quick and loud word that sounded a lot like ‘eleven’.
“Congratulations,” the medic said to Edna. “This one does, that means you qualify the reward.” He handed Edna a small, card-sized glass rectangle. “The receptionist will activate this for you on the way out,” he said.
“Thank you!” Edna grabbed the card and ran out of the room. The medic smiled and looked at Milla.
“You probably don’t know what’s going on, but don’t worry about a thing. Soon you’ll wake up in a body and this’ll all feel like a bad dream.” The medic approached Milla with a syringe. She did not feel anything, but moments after he injected her, her vision began to go dark. She heard the medic one more time before she lost consciousness.
It wasn’t easy to surprise Lynx. He was a well-traveled Estrella that had seen most of what the multiverse had to offer; including sights that most others never would. Estrellas have the ability to travel between universes at will; but, they can also see the true nature of anything. That true self is represented by an aura in humans. Lynx could tell what someone was just by looking at them. Zero, Unique, Fae, and worse were all easily distinguishable with a glance.
Lynx felt like he’d seen it all and wanted to slow down to appreciate the small things. Instead of universe-hopping he took a job as a deckhand on a cruise-liner. He chose to work cruise ships because he felt like he could help if there were ever any accidents at sea. Lynx never considered himself a jerk; but, his traveling from Earth to Earth highlighted how much more he could be doing to help in small ways. It was this habitual helpfulness that made a decision for Lynx before he could process it. He was too busy being surprised.
“What are.. whoa…..,” Lynx stared at the huddled pair of teenage girls. Their faces were filthy and underfed. Their fear opened their eyes wider which made them sink even further in their sockets. Their clothes consisted of grimy layers of rags covering the holes in themselves. One had vibrant green, stringy long hair while the other’s hair was just as malnourished. Except her green hair was several shades lighter. It wasn’t their urchin-like appearance, nor even their green hair that surprised Lynx. He’d found stowaways before; and, he’d seen every color and type of hair imaginable. What stunned Lynx was their auras; their aura.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Lynx said. He felt he needed to say something so his stare wouldn’t be so awkward. He’d never seen anything like it. The twins were Unique Souls #11, the Cantaloupe; and, #28, the Watermelon. Lynx flashed his star sight as soon as he spotted the stowaways and saw their auras.
The one on the right with the darker green hair was #28. Her aura consisted of a long golden vine spiraled around her. Small, ethereal, golden-green watermelons were growing out of the vine.
The one on the left with the lighter hair was #11. Her aura resembled her twin’s. Instead of watermelons, her golden vine sprouted ghostly golden cantaloupes. However, Lynx had never seen two auras connected the way these twins had theirs. It wasn’t easy for him to differentiate the two Auras at first because they were both engulfed by a single vine.
“I’m going to help you,” Lynx said. “Come on, let’s get you some food and better clothes.” The girls relaxed at that, and Lynx was again amazed. Auras are active. They move constantly, more or less in accordance with what a person is doing. When Lynx surprised the girls, they froze and stopped their auras. As they started to stand up, the aura vines around them began spiraling around them again. Lynx watched the spot where their vines connected move from between them to circle around the one with darker hair.
“What?” He tilted his head as the vine continued to undulate around her. He noticed that as the connected spot moved, the rest of the vine did too. For a moment, while the girls made their way to him, both auras were around both girls. The vine around the darker haired one was no longer just watermelons. She had cantaloupes on her vine too. Lynx checked the lighter haired one and she also had both as the vine flowed between them. The best skill Lynx picked up in his travels was how to keep cool when weird things were happening. Most of the weird things that happened to him turned out to be awesome once he took a moment to understand them.
“I’m Lynx, an Estrella if you know what that is,” Lynx pointed at the golden stars in his eyes. “What are your names?” he asked while he kept his attention on the vines. The watermelons and cantaloupes switched completely. Now the watermelon vine surrounded the lighter haired one.
“Sidra,” the one with dark green hair said. It looked like they both said it; each of them mouthed the word. However, only Sidra vocalized it.
“Canta,” the other one said in an identical voice. Again, mouthed by both of them.
“This way,” Lynx said. He walked out of the storage room and down the cramped hall of the lower decks. He dismissed his star sight. “Are your parents with you?” he asked.
“No,” he heard Sidra say. But, something bothered him about the way she said it. Lynx froze in his tracks. He turned around slowly, not wanting to scare them off. He needed a question but didn’t want to sound like he was interrogating them.
“So, what’s first? Food or showers?”
“Shower,” Sidra said. Both girl’s mouths moved. Something bothered Lynx and he felt he was almost there. He needed more questions.
“Okay, well I’ll go get some food after I drop you girls off in a room you can use. What do you want?” He asked and focused on Sidra’s mouth.
“Pizza,” Sidra answered. Both mouths moved, but this time Lynx caught on. He looked at the girls and let a big smile take over his face. He wanted to let them know he wasn’t mad or scared.
“Son of a bitch,” he thought; amused. “You can hear me, can’t you?” Both girls blinked.
“You’re not scared?” Sidra asked. This time, neither of their mouths moved.
“We’re sorry,” a different voice said; Lynx guessed it was Canta’s true voice. “Talking is hard,” she said in his mind. He heard Sidra laughing too, while both girls stood in front of him seemingly emotionless.”Yeah,” Sidra laughed in his mind, and finally body as the girls relaxed completely. Sidra grinned and raised her arm to point at Canta, who was smiling too. Despite their activity, Sidra’s voice still came into his mind and she didn’t bother with mouth movements. “She can’t even do it yet!”
“You don’t have to apologize every time,” Rose giggled. “That’s why we’re practicing; try it again.” The pair of new friends sat in a diner for a Saturday brunch. They met on a crowded subway when Rose read his mind and gave him her number. When he finally called, Rose suggested the diner; she explained the mid-morning rush would help Ruben hone his control. Ruben never heard of Mundo’s, but he had to admit the food was great. Ruben closed his eyes and concentrated on keeping his thoughts to himself. The meal was still fresh in his mind.
“That was the best steak and eggs I”ve ever had,” Ruben thought.
“YOU can come back any time, Melón!” A bald man with a forest green beard called out from the kitchen. Rose giggled again and shook her head.
“You’re trying too hard,” she said. Ruben leaned closer to the center of the table and lowered his voice to a whisper.
“Did he call me a melon?” Ruben asked. Rose laughed again, but this time she nodded; her pink bangs bobbed with the motion.
“One thing at a time. Get your thoughts under control, then we’ll explain the rest to you.”
“Or you can just get a tattoo,” Mundo said. The stocky bald man appeared next to their table and gave Ruben a slice of pie. “On the house for my new favorite customer,” he grinned.
“Oooh yeah, I didn’t think about that,” Rose said.
“Tattoo?” Ruben asked. He was trying to follow the conversation as best he could. He knew Rose and apparently, a notable portion of the population could hear his thoughts as if he were broadcasting them. She seemed to know how and why it was happening, and it looked like Mundo did too. Though, he had no idea what a tattoo had to do with anything. While thinking about it; he noticed that Mundo had an Earth tattooed on his right hand with the number 37 above it. He also knew Rose had a rose tattooed on the back of her neck with the number 41 on its petals.
“You want me to take care of the kitchen so you can do the honors?” Rose asked Mundo with a friendly smile. Ruben got the impression the two were old friends.
“Rosita, I would love that,” Mundo sighed. “But, it would be selfish. I have standards to maintain. Not just anyone can cook the world’s best steak and eggs,” he patted Ruben on the shoulder and chuckled.
“You go ahead, but stick around until things calm down. We’ll get a tattoo on him.” Mundo waved and returned to the kitchen.
“Tattoo?” Ruben asked again.
“You are what’s known as a Unique Soul; Mundo and I are too. Right now, your soul is in what’s called, ‘Slumbering’ mode,” Rose added air quotes around slumbering. “Your abilities are kind of leaking out. But if we Awaken your soul, you’ll have control over them. To Awaken your soul you need to get your number on your skin; you’re number 11. El melón. I’m number 41, La Rosa, and Mundo is number 37. El Mundo.”
“Is that why I can’t read your thoughts? Because I’m not Awakened yet?” Rose shook her head.
“El melón can broadcast and read the minds of other melons, but it’s not full telepathy. You’ll also be able to thicken your skin somewhat; kind of like I can do this,” Rose said. She held up her arm and Ruben watched thick, spiky thorns sprout out of her skin.
“Whoa…,” Ruben was impressed and excited that he was special like her. The thorns receded and Rose lowered her arm.
“So… I need to get a melon tattooed on me?” Ruben said with slight concern. Rose giggled.
“You only need the number 11, but I like roses, so I added a rose to mine.”
“So there are other melons and roses and mundos out there?”
“It depends on what you mean by, ‘out there’,” Rose said. “On this Earth, no. That’s why we’re called Unique Souls, only one of us per Earth, not that every Earth gets every Unique.”
“Hold on. Other Earths?” The thing that surprised Ruben most was that he immediately accepted it as true. The moment she mentioned it, deep inside it felt like something he’d always known. “That sounds amazing! Why didn’t you mention that sooner?” Rose shrugged.
“It doesn’t mean much for you and me; we can’t leave this Earth.”
“So we know there are other Earths out there, but there’s no way to get to them?” Ruben asked. Rose shook her head.
“Getting to them is easy for Uniques that aren’t rooted to their Earth. We literally can’t leave this one, even with a portal right in front of us.” Ruben suddenly became aware of a tall old man that approached their table. He wore a forest green suit with a gold vest. His right eye drew Ruben’s attention immediately. It seemed to be a glass eye painted to look like a globe; and it rotated slowly in its socket. The number 37 was tattooed directly under it.
“That’s not strictly true,” the man interrupted their conversation with a smile. “A standard rule of life is: it all depends on who you know.”
“I never told anyone the voice was female…,” Jeff said. He glanced at the doctor with wary eyes and stepped back. Dr. Tate smiled broadly, then chuckle.
“How much does it really matter whether I’m male or female?” the voice asked. Jeff ignored it and focused on the doctor.
“What?” The older man asked. “What do you mean?” Jeff’s eyes narrowed, then he looked toward the door; he half expected a burly orderly to step in and glare at him.
“See? He doesn’t care,” the woman whispered in his mind. Jeff clenched his fists in annoyance but kept his attention on the doctor.
“I never mentioned the voice was female. How did you know?” Dr. Tate’s grey eyes darkened with confusion.
“Why are you acting like it’s a secret?” he asked Jeff.
“I never asked you to keep me a secret.”
“It’s in my head!” Jeff said in a near-shout, the frustration threatened to burst out. Dr. Tate took his own step backward. He inched toward a red button on the wall that would summon security. “How do you know she’s female?” Jeff hopped off the examination table and moved toward the door, ready to bolt.
“Oh,” Dr. Tate sighed. Jeff noticed the doctor visibly relaxed. The older man sat down on his rolling stool and smiled at Jeff. “You don’t know what you are, do you?”
“Maybe if you didn’t try to ignore me all the time you’d have learned something,” the woman said. Jeff felt a certain smugness with the thought.
“What I am?” Jeff lifted his hands and held them out to the doctor with his fingers splayed. “I’m human.” A burr of doubt irritated the back of his mind. Most humans probably did not have multiple voices in their head. “Right?”
“HAHAHAHAHAHA!” Laughter erupted in Jeff’s brain loud enough to make him flinch. Luckily, the doctor nodded in agreement allowing Jeff to stay calm.
“The short answer is, ‘yes, you’re human’. But you have abilities.”
“Like hearing voices in my head?”
“Like receiving thoughts telepathically.”
“Thoughts? You mean she’s real?” Dr. Tate nodded.
“Real. Documented, and annoying,” the greying man smiled.
“Heeeeey. I heard that.” Dr. Tate nodded at Jeff’s right hand.
“Those pills are pretty popular.”
“Popular? How many people have abilities like me?” Dr. Tate shrugged.
“Not too many on this Earth. However, we get a lot of traffic from other universes and usually they can hear her.”
“Hang on. There are other universes? Doc, C’mon what’s going on?” Jeff looked around the room suspiciously. “This is a prank, right? Are you even a real doctor?” Dr. Tate nodded.
“As real as the voice in your head. I have other patients to attend to,” Dr. Tate shrugged and stood from the stool. “Take the pills, don’t take the pills. I don’t care. Come back if you have an allergic reaction.”
“Wait!” Jeff blocked the door. “What about my abilities?”
“Sorry I don’t have time to get into that any deeper.” Dr. Tate placed a hand on Jeff’s shoulder. “If you really want to know you’ve got a few options. Make a new appointment with me, try to find a traveler from a different universe, or try talking to the voice.”
“The voice?” Jeff asked. The doctor’s response satisfied him enough to move out of the way. Dr. Tate nodded while he walked out of the exam room.
“She’s a Mundo. It’s her job to explain it.”
“It’s not my job! It’s my career of choice!” Mundo retorted in Jeff’s mind.
“What’s a Mundo?” Jeff asked himself aloud. He stayed behind in the exam room after the doctor left.
“Well look who wants to chat all of a sudden,” Mundo replied. “I’m #37, El Mundo. You’re #11, El Melón. That’s all you get for now until you help me.”
“What’s wrong?” Milo thought the question. He sat on the sun-faded green leather seat of his school bus. The teenager noticed an uneasy feeling in the back of his mind as soon as he woke; and, it grew more uncomfortable as the morning wore on. By the time he climbed on the bus to school, he realized the anxiousness wasn’t coming from him. Though he considered the voice in his head a friend, he rarely initiated contact. He never needed to, she often chatted up a storm. She told him stories about her day or things that happened at school. Secretly Milo felt proud of his imagination for coming up with such a rich backstory.
“How’d you know?” the thought formed in his mind with a girl’s voice. “Duh, nevermind. Sorry, nervous.”
“It’ll be alright,” he thought as the bus reached the school. He did not know what would be alright, but it was the only thing he could think to say. The broad platitude served him well over the years when dealing with the voice. He grew up with the voice in his mind. He distinctly remembered the voice talking before he could. It was ever-present and he accepted it as a natural part of life.
Milo walked straight to his first class after disembarking the bus. He did not have any friends to stop and visit with. He was friendly enough to everyone, but never pursued any friendships. The voice in his head ensured he never felt lonely. He was the first student to Biology and sat at the tall, black, two-person lab table. Milo doodled while he waited for class to start. Then other students began filing in. He kept drawing, but as more students found their seats he felt panic growing in his gut.
“I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!” the thought repeated in his mind. The Biology teacher walked in and closed the door behind himself as the bell rang. The high pitched beep was drowned out. “I’M SO LATE!” she yelled in his mind. Like the silence throughout most of the morning, the stress he felt flowing through him was also new. Before he could try and console her with another blanket statement, a girl shoved the door open and rushed to step inside the classroom. The purple-haired girl in jeans and a rock band’s t-shirt stopped when she realized all eyes were on her.
“Sandra Mata?” The teacher asked. The girl nodded slightly.
“Okay, find a seat anywhere,” he told her, then he looked up at the rest of the class. “Today we have a new student. I expect all of you to do your best and be welcoming to her. Now, let’s get started.” The teacher pulled down the projection screen then dimmed the lights. Sandra found the only empty seat, next to Milo, and directed her attention to the video starting.
“PHEW! I made it,” the thought came to Milo. “Sorry, there was a lot going on this morning. But now I’m in class, and we’re watching a stupid movie.”
“No problem, I’m glad you made it,” Milo thought his reply. He did not bother mentioning the movie. He knew the voice wouldn’t have mentioned the movie if he wasn’t watching one too. After several spooky coincidences over the years, Milo realized that his imagination knew everything he knew.
“But I am sitting next to a cute boy,” her thoughts said. Milo chuckled, amused with himself. Obviously, his imagination realized he found the new girl attractive and built a story out of that. It interested Milo enough to find out what he really thought about the girl.
“Oh yeah? Tell me about him,” he replied.
“What? You never ask me anything,” his mind replied. He felt a smug satisfaction growing in his chest. “You’re jealous!”
“No, I’m not jealous, just bored. Tell me about him. Entertain me!” he joked. Milo hoped his mind was in an entertaining mood.
“He’s kind of scrawny, but in a cute way,” she replied. Milo cast a side glance at Sandra to double check, but she was definitely not scrawny when she rushed into the classroom. Maybe his mind picked up more detail than he did. “He’s got bright blue glasses and dark brown hair.” Milo definitely did not see any glasses on her, and her hair was a beautiful shade of violet. He began to wonder what his mind was describing when Sandra nudged his elbow with hers.
“Hi, I’m Sandra,” she whispered. Milo barely heard her, but he nodded and smiled.
“I’m Milo,” he said.
“And his name’s Milo,” the voice in his mind said. Milo froze. He felt thankful for the movie playing on the screen and the dim lighting in the classroom. As far as anyone knew he was watching the movie, but his mind was racing.
“Hey, why were you so nervous this morning anyway?” Milo asked in his head.
“I told you like a dozen times. New city, new school. I don’t know anyone here, and I was almost late today. I was late, but not enough that anyone cared,” she explained.
“What’s your name?” Milo asked for the first time. He was not sure if he wanted to hear a name or not.
“Are you serious right now?” she asked.
“It took you 14 years to ask for my name!” A happy flutter vibrated in Milo’s stomach. “It’s Sandra. What’s yours?” she asked. Milo turned to Sandra and said it a bit louder.
“Hi, I’m Milo,” he introduced himself again. “I’m scrawny, but in a cute way,” he smiled.
“NO WAY!” she screamed in his mind while her eyes grew in surprise. Milo gave an exaggerated shrug.