Starry Morning

“I’m never drinking again,” Wendy grumbled to herself as she padded down the steps. Her eyelids were almost closed to block out the bright morning sun. She held on to the railing with one hand while supporting her aching head, and blocking more of her view, with the other. The pain throbbed so much she wasn’t convinced her head was firmly attached. “Mornin’,” she mumbled at the dark shapes she passed as she headed straight to the coffee pot. Just as she started to wonder why everyone was awake and in the kitchen, she was distracted by the lack of coffee maker.  It wasn’t there. Its usual spot was now a bare marble counter. “Coffee?” she let out a whine of confusion.

“Shhhh it’s okay,” Wendy felt a pair of comforting hands on her shoulders. She was guided to an unfamiliar dining room table and offered a seat with a steaming hot cup of coffee in front of it. The new counters and new furniture made Wendy wonder if she missed a kitchen remodel while she took a sip of the best coffee she ever tasted. She sighed at the taste and her head instantly felt better. She took another sip then decided she was awake enough to greet her family.

“Good morning,” she looked up with a big smile, then her smile vanished. Wendy didn’t recognize any of the three smiling strangers sitting in front of her.

“Good morning,” an older woman with greying hair said. Wendy identified her voice as the one that guided her to coffee. “Are pancakes okay or do you want something else?” she pointed to the short stack being assaulted by a man and girl. The question confused Wendy. She expected strangers to be more concerned about a stranger in their house.

“I’m sorry! I don’t know how I got here!” Wendy said. She stood from the table ready to leave, but the woman moved faster and stood in front of her shaking her head.

“It’s fine, it happens to us a lot. You’re safe here,” she said.

“Huh?” Wendy asked. “What do you mean it happens a lot?”

“My name is Vanessa,” she introduced herself then pointed at the man sitting at the table. He was tall and lean with round glasses. “That’s my husband, Mundo, and our daughter Sunny,” she pointed at a young brunette girl that looked about 14.

“It seems like we get a new Estrella waking up here at least once year,” Vanessa encouraged Wendy to sit down again. Then she went to the fridge and started pulling out ingredients to make more pancakes.

“Estrella… like star?” Wendy asked. She saw Mundo nod his head while finishing up a bite of food.

“Unique Soul #35, La Estrella,” Mundo said after he swallowed; he used his fork to point at Wendy. “Vanessa is Unique Soul #23, La Luna. Sunny is Unique Soul #46, El Sol, and I am Unique Soul #37, El Mundo.”

“So we’re all Unique Souls,” Wendy shrugged. “What’s a Unique Soul?”

“To answer that question, you first need to know that alternate universes exist,” Mundo said. “A Unique Soul is the only copy of that soul in any universe. No doppelgangers, evil twins, or anything like that. You’re the only you anywhere in any universe. That status comes with some special powers,” Mundo added as Vanessa placed a plate of food in front of Wendy.

“Each Unique Soul is different. You, #35, can channel star plasma through your hands. You can also make portals to traverse to other Universes, which is how you got here,” Mundo said.

“Here where?” Wendy paused the fork inches from her mouth to ask the question. Once she asked the food continued its journey.

“Our house isn’t in the same universe you came from. You probably traversed in your sleep.”

“That can happen?!” Wendy asked with wide eyes. “Boy, I’m glad I landed here instead of someplace with more danger and fewer pancakes.” The friendly family laughed at her comment, but Mundo shook his head.

“Traversing can happen in your sleep, but you wouldn’t wake up in danger. The universe has a way of listening to your subconscious and dropping you off wherever you want to be.”

“Would’ve been nice when I was younger,” Wendy giggled.

“Most of the time Uniques can’t access their abilities without getting a tattoo first. If this is the first time it happened you probably got a tattoo recently, right?” Mundo asked. Wendy’s memories of the night before suddenly clarified. She did in fact get a tattoo of a star and the number 35 on her thigh.

“So if I can ‘traverse’, that means I can get home any time I want, right? Even after I check out some other universes?” Mundo nodded.

“Yes, but only if you take Sunny with you,” he said. Wendy began to wonder if she was being put on babysitting duty, but Mundo clarified his statement. “More specifically, only if you let Sunny show you some of her favorite, safe, Earths. It would be a good idea for you to learn about how things work out there.”

“Deal,” Wendy grinned.

Moon. Light.

“What?” Faldwell tilted his head at the electronic device. “Am I speaking to the Sky Spirit?”

“Sky spirit? What the hell is going on down there, we haven’t heard from Earth in weeks.” Faldwell sighed and turned to face his band of  fur wearing, face painted, dirty followers.

“Hold on, guys. I think the quest is bugged, he chuckled nervously. “You know how new servers are,” he gestured at the air to produce his slate. Everyone else saw it as a smokey glass pane, though he clearly saw text with access to all his menus on it. He navigated to the support menu and requested a mod. Moments later a black hole opened next to him and a young man with a bush of dark brown curls on his head walked out.

“Mod Aurelio,” he pointed at his nametag. “What’s the problem?” he asked as he approached Faldwell.

“Hello? Earth? This is Moon City Delta, are you there?” Faldwell gestured at the primitive tech that illustrated their trouble. “We’ve got hundreds of families up here worried about you all.”

“Quest is bugged,” he added clarification.

“Oh. Hold on this needs to be escalated,” Aurelio brought up his own slate.

“Should I talk to them?” Faldwell asked. Aurelio shook his head as he typed on the glass. Seconds after he stopped typing another black hole opened. A short, plump, pale woman in a black suit walked out.

“Hey Melody, we’ve got a problem. Moon full of Zeros,” he pointed at the radio in time to hear them try again.

“This is Moon City Delta, do you read us Earth?” Melody glanced at the radio, then at the small crowd gathered around them, then at Faldwell. He was dressed in furs and grime like them, though he also wore an elaborate headdress made from a lion’s skull and a mane made of colorful feathers.

“Guild leader?” she asked. Faldwell nodded.

“The Sky Spirit’s blessing is the last thing we needed to earn our guild hall,” he said.

“Sharp Development apologizes for the inconvenience. Please accept this server…,” she gave Faldwell a card-sized piece of glass, then pointed at a fresh portal that opened next to him. “… for bringing this bug to our attention, and as an apology for troubling your gameplay experience.” His eyes went wide.

“A server!? A WHOLE server just for us?” Melody nodded.

“If you need any help setting it up, you’ll be able to contact Aurelio directly,” she smiled.

“Thanks! C’mon guys!” Faldwell immediately rushed through the portal followed by his role-playing cult.

“Uh… Earth,” the radio spoke again once the guild left. “The great Sky Spirit commands you to speak to us. Where are you?”

“Warn them about the cataclysm,” Melody said as she looked up into the sky for the moon. The palms of her hands started glowing with bright blue light.

“On it,” Aurelio replied; his fingers danced on the glass slate.

[Server Notice: Cataclysmic Event! The moon is shattered. Server template is updated from Apocalyptic to Catastrophic. Environmental safety programs have been disabled. Permadeath is enabled. Please relocate to a standard server if you wish to remain safe. Sharp Development takes no responsibility for players that remain on this server.]

“Done,” Aurelio said. Melody nodded and pointed her glowing hands at the moon. Streaks of bright blue plasma launched out of her hands at it.

Resistance Resisted

Aurelio lifted the glass off the smooth marble bar top and took a closer look. The liquid inside looked like honey but moved like oil; tiny black flecks dotted the amber liquid.

“What is the club special, exactly?” he asked the bartender. He winked at Aurelio.

“It’s so delicious it’ll change your life.” He replied with a broad grin.

“Uhuh,” Aurelio narrowed his eyes at the bartender for a moment, then shrugged and took a big gulp. He lowered the glass and placed it on the rotting wood bar top; he noticed the changes immediately.

The bar suddenly seemed almost empty. He looked around in surprise and counted six other patrons instead of the wall to wall bodies moments before. The colorful club lights was a single blinking lightbulb. The bartender’s once upscale uniform became a ratty dark apron; Aurelio wasn’t sure if it was black or just that dirty.

“Welcome to the real world,” the bartender said with a smile.

“What do you mean, real world?” Aurelio asked.

“I mean, THIS…,” he spread his arms to gesture at the dilapidated bar. “…is the real world. What you saw before was a lie. The governments of the world are trying to keep us under control. Instead of fixing their mistakes, they’re just blinding us to them. The club special is a temporary antidote to show you the truth. And now that you know the truth, the resistance needs you. Will you join us?”

“Oh, so it wears off?” Aurelio asked with interest. “Great,” he said. “This place looks pretty crappy right now, I liked it better the other way.”

“The other way is a lie!” the bartender said.

“Says who?” Aurelio asked. The frustrated bartender frantically gestured at the bar again.

“YOUR OWN EYES!” he said. Aurelio shrugged.

“I mean… by that logic when it wears off, THIS,” he mocked the bartender by gesturing at the condemned bar around them. “will have been a lie, right?”  he asked.

“But it’s not! This is reality!”

“Says who?” Aurelio repeated his question. “And for that matter, what are you even resisting?”

“We’re going to topple the world governments to set humanity free.”

“Free from what?”

“From that fake, manufactured reality they’re living in.”

“You know,” Aurelio sighed. “For someone that talks about reality a lot; it’s funny how much you don’t understand it.”

“Huh?” the bartender asked. Aurelio shook his head and reached into his shirt from the neck to pull out an ID badge.

“Whatever, I don’t have time to explain it. It wouldn’t kill you to spend some time with a Mundo,” Aurelio said. The bartender’s eyes went wide and he took a single step back when he heard the word, “mundo”. Aurelio placed a white badge with a red scissor logo on the wooden bar. The bartender took another step back when he saw the badge and bumped into his liquor shelves; they crashed down around him. Aurelio casually picked up the mostly empty glass of gold liquid and held it up to the bartender.

“Give me the bottle,” he said then put the glass down. The bartender nodded and stepped forward to reach under the counter. He quickly pulled out a bottle and put it on the counter.

“Ms. Sharp is always on the lookout for new ways to use nanos. She heard about you tricking people into your guild, then she heard about your special drink,” Aurelio stood and grabbed the bottle. He nodded at the ID badge on the bar. “This server is now yours; topple your governments any time you want.”

Lunar Steel

“Fight me yourself, witch!” Hercules bellowed and smashed the skulls of two skeletons together. Dozens more still surrounded him and the few others left standing. King Arthur and his knights, along with Robin Hood, Merlin, and a bevy of myths lay slain on the wide-open field. Behind Hercules, Thor continued fending off the skeletons with brilliant arcs of lightning. Ballisea smiled at the brutish man.

“If I did that, it wouldn’t be any fun at all,” she said. The tall, horned woman stood atop a hill looking down on raging battle. “I haven’t had this much fun in eons.” A bolt of lightning shot at her from behind; it passed through her and struck a group of skeletons in front of Hercules. “I wish more Earths were as feisty as this one.”

“Your evil ends here,” Raiden said hovering over her to land next to Hercules. Thor fought his way through the skeletons to meet up with the other two. He gave Raiden a nod, then both loosed electricity at Ballisea. The beams passed through her head; she smiled and began walking down the hill with their attacks still flowing through her.

“It’s like you’re not even paying attention,” she said. They ended their attack. “But, I find your ‘never give up‘ attitude wonderfully entertaining. I’ll make it easy on you.” Ballisea snapped her fingers; the hundreds of skeletons on the field vanished in an instant. “One on one, each of you against one of my representatives. If you win, I’ll leave your Earth unconquered.” Hercules stepped forward and nodded.

“We accept.”

“Wonderful,” Ballisea smiled. “Who’s first?” Hercules pounded his chest in answer. She looked him over for a moment, then nodded. “I have just the thing.” A hole opened in the air next to her and someone fell out.

“Hah!” Astrid said, happy she landed on her feet. She looked around and caught sight of Ballisea first, then she saw the three men. The scrawny young girl moved toward Ballisea.

“What’s up?” she asked. Ballisea nodded at the three men.

“Want to fight them?” she asked. Astrid grinned and turned around.

“Yeah!” she said. She did not need more reason than Ballisea asking.

“She’s a child! And a girl!” Hercules’ protests were joined by Raiden and Thor.

“The poor thing isn’t even ten yet and you’re sending her against three gods?” Thor added.

“I’m FOURTEEN!” Astrid yelled. “And I’m stronger than you!”

“Cruel witch! Sending a malnourished child to fight your battles; we won’t attack a child no matter the age,” Raiden said.

“I’M NOT MALNOURISHED!” Astrid yelled and charged at Raiden. She moved faster than he expected, and she would have scored a direct hit. Fortunately for Raiden, Ballisea reacted even quicker. A black hole opened in front of Raiden. It swallowed Astrid. She fell, face first, on the field in her initial spot.

“He’s not your opponent yet,” Ballisea said. She pointed at Hercules, “That one is.” Hercules shook his head. “I will not fight a child, but she seems to believe she has strength enough to match the gods,…”

“Stronger!” Astrid shouted the interruption but Hercules kept speaking over her.

“I propose a contest of strength instead,” he said.

“Aww man, I was in a fighting mood,” Astrid grumbled when Ballisea nodded at Hercules. A black portal opened in the air next to Astrid’s 4’9″ frame and a black cube fell out. It landed on the ground, made a sizeable crater, and buried itself more than halfway.

“Since it’s not a fight anymore I’ll let all three of you go at the same time. First, all of you get a chance to lift that cube, together. Then, Astrid. Whoever lifts it higher wins.”

“Agreed,” Hercules said with a broad smile. He stepped forward alone, knelt and touched the black cube. “Not that I’ll need their help.” He scooped dirt out from around the edges to get a better grip on the 1′ cube. He heaved, but it did not budge.

“Maybe some help, Thor,” he said with a grunt. Thor walked forward, knelt and helped Hercules. With both their effort, the cube wiggled upward a bit. “RAIDEN!” Hercules added; his face was strawberry red with strain. Raiden teleported instead of walking the three steps, he wanted to show Ballisea she wasn’t the only one that had tricks. He knelt and added his strength to theirs.

After grunting for several seconds, they managed to lift the cube out of its hole entirely. They moved as one and carried it to Astrid before they dropped it at her feet.

“Good luck, little girl,” Hercules said while trying to catch his breath.

“Whoa, it’s kind of pretty!” Astrid said. She reached down, lifted it like a beach ball and manipulated it in her hands as she tried looking at all its sides. “What is it?” She asked Ballisea. The three gods stared at her slackjawed.

“It’s called Void-forged steel,” Ballisea smiled. “It’s kind of like the Unique Soul of metal-working. That cube is actually millions from different universes forged together into one. Anyway, I believe that means I won,” Ballisea smiled at Hercules. Astrid grinned.

“Unless you wanna try again? Catch!” she shouted and tossed the cube at them. She used an under-handed toss and launched the cube in a high arc. The three gods spread out to avoid getting hit, but a portal appeared in the air. It swallowed the cube then dropped it on Astrid from above her head.

“Owww,” Astrid said as the cube fell forward and into her hands; she caught it. “What was that for?”

“Don’t throw it or you’ll break the Earth,” Ballisea said. “Off you go,” a portal opened under Astrid and swallowed her and the cube.

“Thank you for the entertainment, gentlemen, but I must get back to what I was doing.” As she said that, hundreds of portals opened around them and skeletons began marching out.

Sharp Secret

“Hold up,” Aurelio raised his hands in a ‘whoa’ gesture. “Say that again, so you can hear what it sounds like.” Jenny shook her head.

“Oh come on,” she said. “We both know what Dana was capable of. Is this really that surprising?”

“But, Satan? THE devil himself is real.. and he gave Dana Sharp a project?” Jenny nodded. “Then…,” Aury grinned. “…is she in Hell? Oh man, I hope she is.” Jenny shrugged.

“No idea, but I’d say that’s a good guess. Anyway, let me finish,” Jenny took a deep breath and stared into Aurelio’s coffee-brown eyes. “I figured out how to do it.”

“Do what?” Aurelio’s brown eyes narrowed.

“The project she was working on. I know how to finish it.”

“Do you want to finish something for Satan?” Jenny nodded with a broad grin.

“She has two Uniques, both Sols, in her lab that have never been born into a body. The project’s goal is to birth both of them in the same universe.

“I know you’re smarter than she was, but how do you have it figured out after a couple of weeks when Dana couldn’t?” Aury asked. Then his eyes widened as he realized another possibility. “How do we know she’s actually dead, and not getting you to finish her work from the shadows?”

“The answer was at the tournament. I’m sure she realized it; if she was still alive she’d have done it herself.”

“The tournament?” Aurelio asked. “What’s the answer then?”

“Wonder,” Jenny smiled.

“Wonder? The Calavera from CyberRiot?” She nodded eagerly.

“She’s a Unique born naturally in the AlterNet. She let me run some tests, and I’m pretty sure I can duplicate the process that gave her consciousness using the two souls…” Jenny paused and met Aurelio’s eyes again. “…with your help. And, Oren’s.”

“Hah, good luck with that; no one’s seen Oren since the tournament. What do you need from me?”

“Your badge.”

“My badge? What badge?”

“You better still have it!” Jenny reached out and gave Aury a gentle shake. “Your mod badge, from when you worked for Dana. She has a private office in her lab that I can’t access without mod priveledges. I’m sure it’s full of helpful info, maybe even some leads on Oren. She always kept a close watch on him.”

“GUYS!” a sudden shout made Jenny and Aurelio jump in their seats. They turned to find a tall, pale teenager in black clothes; he sported a prominent widow’s peak. Then, Jenny turned to stick her tongue out at Aury before she greeted the newcomer.

“OREN!” she shouted using the same tone he did then followed it up with a giggle.

“Great news,” Oren said; he stood up straighter and puffed out his chest. “I’m celebrating my 18th birthday by having a derby tournament. I want you guys in it: say yes.” Aury and Jenny’s different answers came out at the same time.

“No,” Aury said.

“Yeah!” Jenny jumped out of the couch to hug Oren.

“Great! Help me spread the word: the winning team gets their own server.”

“No,” Aury repeated.

“Yeah yeah, Jenny already said yes. This is gonna be awesome!” Oren waved his hand at the air to open a tall black portal. “I can’t wait to tell my mom I have friends!” he jumped through the portal; it closed behind him leaving Aury and Jenny alone again.

“His mom?” Aury asked. “Did we know he had a mom? I mean, of course he has one but do you know who she is?” Jenny shook her head and sat down next to Aury again.

“No, but if you find your badge, I”ll bet Dana knew.”

Lunar Might

“You’re already the greatest,” Mundo smiled while he poured a drink for Captain Hero. The red-caped superhero sat on the bar stool with a bored look on his face. “No one’s seen a supervillain in years, they’re all gone. You did that. Your legacy is firmly cemented.” Mundo finished pouring and set the bottle down.

“Ehhhh, you know how people are.” Captain Hero shrugged as he downed the drink in one gulp. “Forgetful. Dismissive. Five years later, and people are already starting to forget me.” Captain Hero gestured for Mundo to give him another serving. He watched the bartender pour.  Mundo was a mid-40s gentleman with a neatly trimmed beard. He wore a black dress shirt with forest-green suspenders; a sprig of peppermint was pinned to his shirt.

Captain Hero had been visiting the bar for years before Mundo even started there. They became friends as Mundo worked his way up to owning the bar; they were close enough to know each other’s secrets. Captain Hero was a mild-mannered health inspector named Charlie Hernandez. Mundo did not have a secret identity as such, but he knew about things that Captain Hero never imagined. Things such as the multiverse.

“Gone,” Captain Hero whispered as Mundo finished his pour. “They’re gone,” he said.

“Huh?” Mundo asked for clarification. Captain Hero’s eyes grew wide and he smiled up at Mundo.

“They’re gone!” he gave an exaggerated ‘oh well’ shrug. “We’ll just have to get some more. YOU can find more.” Mundo raised an eyebrow.

“How so?” he asked. Captain Hero gestured wildly at the air around them.

“Out THERE! Can’t you find a villain from another Earth or something?” Mundo chuckled and shook his head.

“Charlie,” he said with a softer tone. “Things are different out there. I’m telling you as a friend, you can’t handle what’s out there.” Captain Hero glared.

“What do you mean I ‘can’t’ handle it? I’m the strongest hero on Earth!” Mundo nodded.

“Sure. This Earth. There are people out there that you wouldn’t even be able to touch; your strength would be useless. And even then, there are plenty of people that are just plain physically stronger than you.”

“No one’s stronger than me!” the Captain growled.

“You think so, huh?” Mundo smiled and idly tugged at the peppermint on his shirt. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll prove it.”

“Huh?” Captain Hero narrowed his eyes at Mundo.

“Give me a minute,” Mundo said. He walked out from behind the bar and into his office. Captain Hero tried to see in through the window, but all he saw was Mundo sitting quietly with his eyes closed. After almost five minutes, the bartender left the office with a giant ear to ear grin.

“A bet,” Mundo said once he stood behind the bar again. “Right here, right now. I’ve got someone stronger than you on the way.” Captain Hero sat up straighter.

“Really!?” he asked. Mundo nodded.

“Hold on. You’re not going to fight, I just want to prove there are people stronger than you. Arm wrestling. If you win, I’ll help you bring all the supervillains you want to this Earth. If you don’t win, you admit that you’re not ready for what’s out there. Deal?” Mundo held his hand out.

“Deal!” Captain Hero eagerly shook his hand.

“Mundo?” A small voice asked. Mundo and Captain Hero turned to see a young dark-skinned girl with wild hair sitting on a barstool. She sighed and mumbled under her breath. “Of course she could have put me on a Mundo’s doorstep at any time.”

“Astrid?” Mundo asked the girl, she nodded and smiled. “Astrid, this is Captain Hero. He’d like to see how strong you are.” Captain Hero burst into loud, obnoxious laughter.

HER!? An 11-year-old?” Astrid sat up straighter.

“I’m 14,” she said with a straight face.

“There are thousands, if not millions of people stronger than you. Some…,” Mundo nodded at Astrid. “You would not expect.”

Lunar Request

“It can’t be…,” Marshall retreated into the shadows. He flattened himself against the brick wall; he wanted to remain out of sight until he got a better idea of the situation. “Did you see that? It was a girl!” the lean, athletic man asked Bandit. His faithful German Shepherd tilted his head and continued to pant happily.

“At least, I’m pretty sure it was a girl,” Marshall said. “What do we do?” Bandit barked, then bolted out of the shadows and around the corner. Marshall sighed and followed at a slower pace. By the time he turned the corner, Bandit was already enjoying the attention of a  smiling young girl. She looked up at the sound of Marshall’s heavy footsteps on the sidewalk. He noticed a reflection of golden sunlight flashed in her eyes then her smile grew broader. She stopped petting Bandit and stood.

“Hi! I’m Astrid, what’s your name?” The girl asked. She bounced on her heels excitedly but kept her hands behind her back.

“Hi, I’m Marshall,” he said. Marshall extended a hand in greeting. Astrid glanced at his hand but didn’t shake it. After an awkward moment, he lowered his hand.

“Do you know anyone named Mundo? Or maybe a restaurant or tattoo shop named, ‘Mundo’s?” Astrid asked. Marshall shook his head.

“There’s no one to know,…” he spread his arms to gesture at the empty city around them. “Bandit’s been my only friend for about three years now,” he said. Bandit barked at his name.

“Oooooooh,” Astrid’s eyes widened. “Last man on Earth, huh?” She asked with interest. Marshall tilted his head at her.

“Apparently not. Where’ve you been for three years? Are there others there?” Astrid shook her head and shrugged.

“Sorry, I just got here.”

“Just got here? The city?”

“This Earth.”  Marshall subconsciously took a step back.

“Earth..?” he asked, then made a point of glancing upward. Astrid giggled.

This Earth. Aliens aren’t real, but alternate universes are,” she replied.

“You came from another Earth?” Marshall chuckled. “Why?”

“Well,.. if there’s no Mundo. I’m here to meet you, I think.”

“Me? Is… is this a rescue?” He asked.

“I don’t think so,” Astrid replied with a shake of her head. “Do you want to be rescued?”

“Not so much,” Marshall replied. Marshall loved the solitary life he built over the past several years. He traveled from state to state doing as he pleased. Staying wherever he wanted whenever the mood struck. “So, why me?”

“Your favorite number is 34,” Astrid said. Marshall narrowed his eyes.

“How’d you know that, and what does it have to do with anything?”

“Uhh… it’s complicated. And if you’re staying on an empty Earth, it probably won’t matter too much. The short version is: you’re special. I’m special too. If I touch you, I can copy your ability.”

“Whoa, whoa…,” Marshall held his hands up to interrupt. “I think you got the wrong guy. I don’t have any abilities.”

“Your soul does. If you get a 34 scarred on your skin, your soul wakes up. But, I can copy you even if your soul is still slumbering.”

“Really?” Marshall asked. Astrid nodded. “What can I do?”

“Tattoos are the most common, but I’ve seen brandings and just plain scarification too. Anything that leaves a permanent mark under the skin permanently.”

“No, no,” Marshall chuckled. “I mean what abilities do I have that you want to copy?”

“I want regeneration, but you also have boosted strength, agility, and reflexes. You’re basically the ultimate soldier.”

“Whoa…,” Marshall grinned.

“So…, do you mind if I touch you?” Astrid asked.

“Just a copy, right? You don’t steal my powers or anything?” Astrid nodded. “You would’ve copied it if you shook my hand, right?” She nodded again. “Does it hurt or anything?”

“Not at all.”

“Thank you,” Marshall replied, then extended his hand. “Thanks for asking first.” Astrid shook his hand with enthusiasm.

“You’re welcome,” she replied, then Astrid let go of his hand and stepped back. “Well, thanks. Enjoy your Earth.”

“Leaving already?” Marshall asked.

“I’m about to find out,” she said with crossed fingers. “Ballisea?” Astrid asked timidly.

“Who’s Balli-“

“What is it, little Luna?” a woman’s voice filled the air around them. Bandit stood on all fours; his ears perked up and he started to growl.

“Um. I’m ready?” Astrid said. Ballisea’s laughter filled the air.

“I knew you’d be entertaining,” Ballisea said. “Off you go.” A black hole opened under Astrid’s feet and swallowed her whole.

Lunar Trajectory

“Ha!” Astrid landed on her feet this time. The scrawny girl looked around at her new surroundings. Moments ago she stood next to a wide, deep chasm; then, Ballisea sent her somewhere else. Astrid landed at the edge of a filled parking lot; a sea of colorful cars stood between her and a lively strip mall. She shrugged to herself and started walking toward the crowd.

As Astrid drew closer she spotted dozens of “Sale” signs. The storefronts promised heavy discounts on everything inside while throngs of shoppers swarmed in and out of each shop. They carried a rainbow of bags, colorful boxes, and bags of boxes. Astrid reached the main walkway.

“Excuse me,” she asked the first person that crossed her path. A burly man with both hands full glanced down at Astrid, then walked around her without a word. “Rude,” she sighed then tried again with the next person. The good thing about a busy strip mall is there were plenty more people to ask.

After four strangers buzzed past her without giving her more than a half-glance, Astrid decided to change her tactics. She stared more intently at the flow of strangers around her. Then, she found what she was looking for; someone without packages that didn’t seem to be in a hurry. A young girl in a blood-red hoodie exited a furniture store and seemed to be strolling along. Her pace was significantly slower than the shoppers around her. Astrid headed straight for her but slowed down when the girl walked into a pizza shop.

“Crap,” Astrid sighed, then she giggled when she put more thought into the situation. “Actually, I am hungry. Great.” She decided to continue into the restaurant. It occurred to her that even if she didn’t get to talk to the girl, her waiter had to talk to her. She resumed walking toward the pizza shop. The girl in the red hoodie walked out as Astrid was about to enter. She glanced at Astrid, then smiled broadly.

“Hola, Luna,” she said. Astrid froze. Her eyes widened and her smile touched her ears.

“Mundo!?” she asked excitedly. It made sense to her; a Mundo would be able to tell what she was at a glance, but the girl shook her head.

“I’m Cherry. An Estrella,” she said but did not offer a handshake.

“Even better!” Astrid chirped.

“Walk if you wanna talk, I’ve got people waiting on me,” Cherry said. She turned and started walking. Astrid eagerly followed. This was Astrid’s first meeting with an Estrella, and she wanted to stay on her good side.

“Two things, first, can I touch you?” she asked. Cherry stopped walking.

“Why?” she asked.

“Star Sight is one the abilities I’m saving room for,” Astrid said. Golden stars glowed in Cherry’s eyes as she stared at Astrid.

“One of the ones you’re saving room for?” she asked with a smirk, then started walking forward again. “You’ve already got the strength of a Calavera and the flight of a Pajaro, what other ones do you want?” Astrid kept pace next to Cherry as they walked through the crowd.

“I didn’t even want flight; but, my mom’s a Pajaro, so I didn’t have a choice. Along with Star Sight, I want the Borracho’s luck, Soldado’s regeneration, and el Mano, just because it’s handy.”

“You’ve really planned it out, huh?” Cherry asked as she slowed down in front of a fried chicken restaurant. Astrid nodded.

“I met a Mundo who explained how I work,” she said. “Speaking of which, that’s the second thing,” Astrid said.

“Wait here a second,” Cherry said, then disappeared into the restaurant. A few minutes later she walked back out. “So what’s the second thing?”

“A ride. Usually, I look for a Mundo to get me a taxi, but since you’re an Estrella, I could just ask you.” Cherry smiled and offered Astrid her hand.

“Go ahead,” she said. “I’ll let you copy my Sight.”

“Thanks!” Astrid wasted no time in grabbing the girl’s hand. She immediately felt a tingle in her soul and in her eyes. She squeezed her eyes shut to let the sensation pass, then she opened them, and gasped. “Oh my god, it’s beautiful!” Astrid saw dozens if not hundreds of tiny, twinkling, floating stars around Cherry. They swirled around her like a lazy, gentle tornado. A brilliant golden cloth with a star insignia hung from Cherry’s shoulders like a cloak. Astrid blinked the vision away and Cherry returned to a normal girl in a red hoodie. 

“You’re welcome,” Cherry smiled. “But, I can’t help you with your second request,” Cherry said. “You’ve already got a ride.”

“What are yo-,” Astrid did not get to finish her question. A black hole opened under her feet and swallowed her up.

Lunar Origin

Astrid looked the frail, short man up and down. Astrid’s mother, Tana, stood 5’6″, but the bag of bones next to her was noticeably shorter. His skin color matched Astrid’s, both were several shades darker than Tana’s dark brown. There was no doubt he was Astrid’s father.

“Hi,” Astrid said, then she turned to the young man who delivered her father home. His dark suit made him look like a government agent. “Are you really a Muerte?” She asked with wide eyes. He nodded.

“Yep. I found your dad time-locked; when I freed him he wanted to come straight home to you,” he smiled at her and offered his hand. “I’m Billy.”

“Astrid,” she smiled. She glanced at his hand long enough to acknowledge it, but she did not dare touch him.

“Time-locked?” Tana asked. She turned to her husband for an explanation. He shrugged.

“I blinked and it was 14 years later. Whoever it was had to be pretty strong to stop me.” After answering his wife he turned his attention to the young girl.

“Where are all your friends?” he asked. “I just found out it was your birthday today,…” the lean man looked around the living room of off-white walls and hardwood floors. There were no hints that a party was about to happen.

“I don’t have any friends,” she said with the same tone one might use when stating that the sky was blue. It was a fact plain and simple. “Hey, can you give me a ride?” she looked at Billy.

“Astrid! Don’t be rude,” Tana tried to reprimand her daughter. “At least talk to your father. It’s not his fault he was gone for so long.”

“Why don’t you have any friends?” her father asked.

“I’m a Luna, dad,” she immediately felt bad. She meant to give the endearment a bit of snark, but it came out sounding much meaner. She sighed and relaxed a bit. “I don’t know if you remember; everyone here is a Super. I’m a Luna. Anytime I touch them, I copy their powers, and they don’t like that.”

“Oh,” he said. “I thought Lunas had a limit to how many abilities they could copy?” Astrid nodded.

“I do, but that only applies to Uniques. Supers are just higher-end Zeros; there’s no limit for their powers.”

“Well…,” the frail man started rolling up the sleeve of his flannel shirt. “…did your mom tell you what I am?” he asked. Astrid shook her head and watched as her father’s forearm came into view.

“I thought you were gone,” Tana answered.

“REALLY!!???” Astrid screeched as the sleeve revealed her father’s tattoo. The tattoo was a thick slice of cake with a sugar skull decoration sitting on it. The number ’42’ was printed on the skull’s dome. Astrid wasted no time in reaching out to grab her father’s hand. The moment they touched Astrid felt her strength grow.

“Yeah,” her father chuckled. “My name kind of gives it away, but yeah. I’m a Calavera.”

“Oh,” Astrid said. “What’s your-” her question was interrupted by Tana patting her husband’s shoulder.

“Heavy, dear, why don’t you go wash up and change. You’ve been wearing the same clothes for fourteen years.”

“Your name is HEAVY!?” Astrid giggled. Heavy’s eyes shifted to Tana; she shrugged.

“You were gone,” she said.  Heavy sighed.

“I was only gone for a few minutes,” he whined. Tana kissed his cheek.

“I’m glad you’re home.”

“So can I go!?” Astrid asked her parents. “Pleeeeeeeeasssse?” she clasped her hands.

“Go where?” Heavy asked.

“Out there,” Astrid pointed at Billy. “Somewhere I can make friends maybe. I want to travel and see new things.”

“It’s dangerous, and that’s not even counting the one in a billion chance of meeting Ballisea,” Heavy said. Astrid shrugged.

“Mundo gave me a ton of information, I can handle it.”

“Oh, you know a Mundo?” he asked. Astrid nodded.

“He dated mom for a few years. They broke up last week.”

Lunar Lift

Dennis shut his eyes, clenched his fists, and tensed his body as the rocky ground below rushed up to meet him. Instead of the brief, final moment of agony he expected, his backpack caught something. He felt the straps bite into his shoulders the moment he stopped falling, then he was lowered gently to the ground. Dennis immediately sighed with relief.

“Oh no, were you trying to die?” Dennis rolled over as the question was asked. “I can take you up again and drop you if you want.” His mouth dropped when he discovered who saved him. Dennis was not a small man; he stood 6’5″ and weighed about 280lbs. Despite that, a young girl that didn’t look older than 11 or 12 hovered in the air above him. He shook his head and sat up.

“No! You saved my life!” He stood up and dusted himself off as the girl landed in front of him. “How did you save my life?” he asked.

“I got here just as you went off the bridge, I wasn’t sure I’d make it in time. My name’s Astrid,” she offered her hand. Dennis shook it with a smile.

“Yeah, but,… how? How did you fly? How can you even carry me?”  Astrid shrugged. Then, before Dennis knew what was happening, she carried him up into the air and placed him on the old bridge he fell from.

“Like that,” Astrid replied. “I can fly and I’m strong. Hey,” she changed the subject. “Do you know anyone named Mundo? Or like a tattoo shop or bar or something named Mundo’s?”

“Why?” Dennis asked. Despite the fact that she saved his life, Dennis wasn’t in a hurry to volunteer information. His younger brother’s name was Mundo, but he was not about to offer family up to a stranger; even if she did save his life. After he asked, Dennis resumed his journey across the bridge. He wanted to get to the other side while Astrid was still nearby, just in case he tripped again. He heard Astrid giggle behind him.

“You know, that’s a good question,” she said. If you had asked me about 10 minutes ago, I would have told you it was for a ride.”

“A ride?” Dennis asked over his shoulder, then returned his focus to the rickety bridge. He was almost to the other side.

“Yeah. Mundo usually knows the right people that can get me where I’m trying to go,” she replied. “But that hasn’t been happening lately.”

“What do you mean?” Dennis asked. They reached the end of the bridge and stepped on to solid earth. He turned to look at Astrid; she was chewing on her bottom lip with a thoughtful look on her face.

“HEY!” she shouted at the sky.

“What are you-” Dennis began to ask, but he was interrupted by Astrid screaming again.

“BALLISEA!!”

“Who’s Bal-“

“What is it, little Luna?” a woman’s voice spoke from all around them. Dennis whirled around but he saw only Astrid and no one else.

“Are you moving me from Earth to Earth?” That question caught Dennis’ attention. His brother mentioned alternate Earths sometimes; but, Dennis chalked it up to imagination. Astrid asked about his brother by name. She also seemed to know something about different Earths; the two events had to be related.

“Did you say-” He started to ask Astrid, but the mystery voice spoke over him.

“Of course I am,” the absent woman replied.

“Why ar-” Astrid began to ask, but a black hole opened at her feet. The girl fell in and the hole closed in less than a second; then, Dennis was alone again.