Stellar Tour 1: Stellar Reveal

You are part of an agency that tracks down unregistered magical girls/boys to train and register them in the system or to arrest them if they are uncooperative.

June 19, 2021u/gravyfan93

“Hi, I’m Oz,” a lean man with round spectacles stood before Astra and introduced himself. The 14-year-old girl was on her way home through the park. Oz was sitting on a bench as she passed and he called out to her. Astra had no fear talking to strangers; she could take care of herself and she wasn’t alone.

“Hi, Oz. What can I do for you?” Astra asked without giving him any information.

“Do you know what a special little girl you are?” He asked. Astra nodded, then whirled around to start walking away again.

“Yeah, that’s not creepy at all from a stranger,” she said loud enough for him to hear.

“You’re right, sorry!” Oz was quick to apologize. He continued pleading his case when Astra slowed and turned around. It was a bright, sunny December Saturday. The park was relatively empty so Oz felt comfortable speaking some secrets aloud. “I’m here on business; what do you know about the unusual spider-fall a couple of weeks ago?” Astra wanted to play it cool; but, her answer told Oz that she knew plenty about it.

“What business, exactly?” she asked. Oz smiled.

“There’s a magical world hidden just underneath the real one,” Oz said. “My organization recruits and trains magical kids, like you, to keep the normal world safe. Oz noticed golden stars flash in Astra’s eyes for a moment; then, she grinned and shook her head.

“No thanks,” Astra gave him a half-wave.

“Wait,” Oz said. “What do you mean, ‘no thanks’?” he asked. “I’m asking you to help save the world. You know, where your friends and family live. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” Astra shrugged.

“Sure. But, I’m not gonna stress it. If things happen and I see an opportunity to help, I’ll help.” Oz shook his head.

“I’m sorry to say, I must insist,” he took a step forward. As soon as he did, a low, rumbling growl filled the air. Oz tilted his head. “Eager to fight, huh? I have to say, that’s not a good reflection of your temperament.” Astra rolled her eyes.

“It’s not me,” she said. “Show him, Ben,” Asta added. When she did, a large white wolf, almost as tall as her, materialized out of thin air. The wolf stood next to Astra and bared his teeth at Oz.

“I don’t want to fight you,” she said. “But Ben is more than happy to.” Ben barked at Oz and half-dozen large black widow spiders flew out of his mouth. They landed on the park path and immediately scurried towards Oz.

“You’re going to have to do better than that, puppy,” Oz smiled. He lifted his hand and made a crushing gesture with his fist; green energy lifted the six spiders off the ground and pulled them together. They were compressed into a single small black ball. “I’m taking you in for registration one way or another.” Astra shuffled closer to Ben and put a hand on his head.

“I already said no thanks,” Astra replied with a smug smile. Oz was focused on the girl and wolf before him. He did not notice the extra tall black portal opening behind him until Asra pointed it out. “But maybe he’ll want to go with you,” she said and pointed behind him.

It was Oz’s first mission alone, but he wasn’t a fool. He wouldn’t have turned around if the hairs on his neck did not jump to attention as soon as Astra pointed behind him. He spun around and immediately stumbled backward trying to run away. A giant purple spider the size of a Volkswagen. Oz made a crushing fist; green energy surrounded the beast but it continued to crawl toward Oz.

“Okay, I guess I have to get serious,” Oz said. He scrambled to his feet, then held up a jade fountain pen. “Authority Access,” Oz said. A green flash of light emanated from the pen, it was bright enough to make Astra blink. when she opened her eyes again, Oz stood there wearing the exact same suit he wore moments ago. But, instead of the spectacles, he now wore a green eye mask. The pen became a long jade staff; Oz pointed it at the car-sized spider.

“Wait! Don’t hurt it!” Astra said. A giant portal opened under the spider to swallow it again. “I just wanted to scare you,” she said. “I really, really don’t want to fight you.”

“Then, don’t,” Oz said. “Join us, help protect the Earth.”

“My dad always says something that I think applies to you,” Astra said. “You need to broaden your horizons; there’s ALWAYS more out there than you know.”

“That’s a nice lesson,” Oz said. “But, I don’t see how it relates to saving humanity from the forces of evil.”

“Well, for one thing, it’ll help to know this isn’t the only Earth that exists,” Astra said. A tall portal opened halfway between Astra and Oz.

“There are infinite Earths out there, most of them with humans,” Astra said. Oz had been curious where the spider came from and went. Now he had an answer; it came from a different Earth. He stared at the portal as his mind raced. Alternate Earths, infinite alternate Earths.

“Saving humanity? It’s just busywork,” Astra said. “Not only can you not do it; you don’t have to.”

Sharp Tower

“Hello, neighbor,” Betty turned to see a young man in jeans and a t-shirt approaching her with a big grin on his face. He extended his hand once he was close enough. “Name’s Jorge, I just moved in next door.” Betty left her key on the door long enough to shake his hand.

“Betty,” she said. “Welcome to the building.”

“Thanks,” Jorge said. He noticed her white uniform with the name ‘Sharp Scoops’ embroidered in red on her sleeve. “So,.. uh.. what’s the scoop on the community here?” he grinned at his own joke. Betty smiled politely at the attempt; it wasn’t the worst one she’d heard.

“They’re friendly enough,” Betty said. “But most keep to themselves. It feels like a lot of time they only use this exit to go to work.” Jorge didn’t know what she meant, but he quickly realized she was coming home from work and probably tired.

“Oh man, I’m sorry. You’re probably dying to get in, and here I am chatting away,” Jorge chuckled to himself; he took a step back to hint that he was leaving. Before he could say anything else, Betty nodded.

“I’m pretty beat. If you’re not doing anything later come over around seven. You can meet my roommate and we’ll have some pizza and tell you more about the building,” she said.

“Yeah, that sounds awesome, thanks!’ Jorge nodded, then turned around to return to his apartment. Betty walked through the door and made a beeline to the couch to relax for a few hours.

At 7 p.m. on the dot, Jorge knocked on Betty’s door. She opened the door still wearing the same white uniform but looking much more chipper.

“Right on time, pizza just got here,” she said. She opened the door wider to invite Jorge in; the moment he stepped into her bright apartment, something felt off. He couldn’t pinpoint what it was at first. He noticed two pizza boxes stacked neatly on the counter by the kitchen; but, it was a restaurant he didn’t recognize. He’d never heard of Mundo’s pizza despite living in the area all his life.

“Thanks,” Jorge handed her a bottle of red wine once she closed the door.

“I forgot it was my roommate’s game night, so it’s just us,” Betty said. “But she’s looking forward to meeting you next time.” 

“Me too,” Jorge said. Betty pointed him at the small round table and encouraged him to take a seat while she grabbed the pizza box and a couple of wine glasses. As she moved to the table, a stray sunbeam caught the light and flashed in Jorge’s eye. he blinked for a moment until it passed. He looked toward the balcony and noticed a golden sun hanging in a deep blue sky.

“What the hell?” he said aloud. Betty was about to sit down but stopped; hovering her bottom above the seat.

“What the hell what?” she asked. Instead of answering, Jorge stood up and walked to the glass door to peer outside. Betty stood and followed him.

“It’s 7 p.m. When I left my apartment, the sun was down.” Betty giggled.

“Well, that was in your apartment,” she said. “Out there it’s…,” Betty pulled out a small transparent rectangle and tapped the screen. “…3 p.m.”

“What? That’s not possible,” he said. Betty’s smile dimmed slightly.

“What’s your favorite number?’ she asked.

“What?” Jorge took his eyes off the blue sky to give her a confused look. “How is the sun out?”

“Huh.” Betty replied. “Well…,” Betty spun around to return to the table, but kept talking along the way. “…I’m not sure how you made it into the building, but you’ve got a lot to learn.” She sat at the table and gestured for Jorge to join her. After a moment, Jorge walked over and sat also.

“So, the short version is, each apartment is in a different universe,” Betty said as she grabbed a couple of slices from the box. Jorge did as well.

“How?” Jorge asked. He did not immediately believe her, despite the evidence. But, if she had a reasonable explanation, it would go a long way to convincing him. Betty shrugged.

“I couldn’t tell you, that’s all Sharp Development at work,” she said. “But, uh, I can prove alternate universes exist, if that helps?”

“It would,” Jorge nodded.

“Great,” Betty stood from her seat. “Let’s go back to your place.”

“Okay…,” Jorge was confused but he stood and followed her out of the apartment. He noticed for the first time that there were no windows in the hallway. She reached his door first, but he was right behind her with the key ready. He let her into his darkened apartment then turned on the lights. He glanced at the balcony and saw a full moon high in the sky. He felt a minor embarrassment at his mess of unpacked boxes, but there were other things going on.

Betty walked straight to the balcony and opened the sliding door to step out.

“Come on,” she said. “Pizza’s getting cold.” Jorge walked onto the balcony into the cool night air. Betty held up a pitch-black card.

“This is a traverse card,” she said then slid the glass door closed. She threw the card against the glass and it opened a tall black hole. “This is a portal,” Betty said. She walked through it without another word.

Jorge entered the portal and found a sunny day on the other side. As he got his bearings, Betty opened a glass sliding door. Once she went in, he realized they were now on her balcony and he followed her back to the table and to their slices of pizza.

“Whoa…,” Jorge said. He was trying to process everything. “I’ve been to another universe!” he said.

“Two,” Betty corrected him.

“Two?” he asked. She nodded.

“The hallway is on one Earth, and every apartment is in a different universe.”

Star. Spider.

Greg hopped out of his bed as soon as he opened his eyes. He heard wild screaming outside his house and ran to the window. He spotted the few neighbors that spent their weekend mornings outside rushing indoors. All of them were screaming, a few of them were flailing at the snow that was falling.

“It wasn’t supposed to snow today…,” Greg mumbled to himself. His mind latched on to that fact to help him process why everyone was so scared of it. It wasn’t until several of the snowflakes landed on his window, and began crawling up the glass, that he realized something odd was happening. He immediately thought of his daughter and bolted out of the bedroom; he grabbed his robe on the way.

“ASTRA!!!!” he shouted as he barreled down the stairs. He knew she would be outside in the backyard. He opened the sliding door and paused. He realized he wasn’t wearing any shoes and didn’t want to step onto the spider-filled ground if he didn’t have to. As he paused, he saw his daughter laying on the lush green grass, leaning against a large white wolf.

She and the pet wolf she got 10 years ago appeared to be napping together. Somehow the spiders falling from the sky all chose to miss their yard. Greg felt calmer knowing she was safe. He eased the glass door open and padded out in socks.

“Astra, Ben,” she said addressing his daughter and her pet. “What’s going on?” he asked. The girl’s eyes popped open and she grinned at Greg.

“Hey dad!” she said excitedly. Ben opened his eyes too, but just long enough to let Greg know he was paying attention too. Then, he closed his eyes again. “We learned something cool!” Astra said.

Greg nodded in patient understanding.

“Did you have to terrorize the neighbors to do it?” he asked.

“Ohhh,” Astra’s eyes clouded a bit. “Didn’t think about that, sorry dad,” she said.

“You and Ben put the spiders away, then you can come inside and tell me about your new trick, okay?” he said. Astra nodded and Ben opened his eyes again. It took Greg the better part of the decade to get used to Ben having such a human-like personality. Although, admittedly, Ben didn’t even make himself visible for Greg for the first two years, so he didn’t count those.

Greg returned inside and to his room to put on some actual clothes. After taking a few minutes to wash up and dress, he returned to the kitchen to find Astra and Ben sitting at the table. Ben sat on his haunches on a chair next to Astra. The giant wolf towered over her, even more, when they were seated.

“Alright, what’s this new trick exactly? How did you get it to rain spiders?” Greg asked. He sat down across from them. Ben towered above him too.

“We can put our powers together!” Astra said. She reached up and put her right hand on Ben. She raised her left hand and wiggled it at the table. A small, saucer-sized black portal opened over the table. Immediately, a half-dozen spiders fell out of the portal and onto the table. There were different varieties in a rainbow of colors. Greg didn’t recognize any of them. It always surprised him how he was still seeing new types of spiders after 10 years. The spiders crawled across the table to another portal and disappeared into it.

“Whooa!” Greg chuckled in awe and surprise. 10 years ago Mundo, the owner of the pet shelter, explained what Astra’s and Ben’s abilities were. She also took time to explain the amazing abilities of all Unique Souls. Some were powerful enough to mind control an entire Earth, some strong enough to shatter an Earth. She also took time to explain about the multiverse at large and that Astra could get to any of them at any time. “That’s pretty awesome!” he said.

“Buuuut,” he tilted his head. “You can obviously do it, why make them fall from the sky?” he asked. Astra’s eyes immediately looked at the table between them; her bronze cheeks took on a faint blush.

“It was a test to see what it looks like,” she apologized to the table. “In case it doesn’t snow on Christmas.”

Spider. Lady.

“Where- Ow!” Tara banged her head against something, then fell back to the cold, concrete floor. “What the hell?” she asked aloud while rubbing the ache on her forehead.

“Careful,” a soft voice said. “These cages aren’t that big.” Tara’s pain subsided and she looked around to try and get a better idea of her surroundings. She was in a cage with thick metal bars. Though it was dim, a small window with bars on it let in a sliver of moonlight. She was able to see several other cages in what appeared to be a basement or storage room. Though, only one of the other cages was occupied. A young girl that appeared to be about Tara’s age was doing her best to sit close to Tara. She sat with her arms around her knees and leaning against the side that faced Tara’s cage.

“Where are we? How’d I get here?” Tara asked.

“There were six other girls when I woke up here,” the girl replied. “Men came and took them, and the ones that arrived after me away one by one.” She spoke with the most defeated voice Tara ever heard; the girl’s tone was flat and distant.

“I’m Tara, what’s your name?” Tara asked. She guessed the situation and decided she wanted nothing to do with it. It was time to leave.

“Doesn’t matter,” the girl replied.

“That’s kind of long; I’m going to call you D.M. instead. How long have you been here, D.M.?” While Tara tried to make conversation with the girl, the locks to their cages were being dissolved by acid. Tara also managed to learn about their location and the people that put here there, from within the cage.

“Four girls showed up after me,” she said. “I think it’s about one a week; you’re the fifth.”

“Damn, well don’t sweat it, D.M. You’re out of here tonight,” Tara replied. The locks on both their cages popped off; two heavy clinks sounded on the concrete floor.

“What?” D.M. sat up on her knees and looked at Tara in surprise. “Did you do that? How?” she asked. Tara crawled out of her cage and stood to give a tall stretch.

“C’mon, I’m hungry. I’ll explain it over a pizza,” she said. D.M. timidly crawled out of her cage and enjoyed a stretch herself.

“There’s guards!” she said as Tara headed toward the door.

“Nah,” was all she said before opening the door. D.M. followed Tara out of the room and into a narrow hallway. She was glad for the dim lighting. It was brighter than the storage room, but not bright enough to blind her coming from a dark room. The moment she looked down the hall, D.M. shrieked in fear.

The two guards she expected to see were both on the ground; each one was covered with dozens of different types of spiders. The guards were already dead and the spiders were wrapping them in webbing.

“It’s cool,” Tara said. “They won’t hurt you, they’re with me.”

“…with you? What does that mean?”

“I can control them, c’mon.” Tara repeated. “I’m hungry. I’ll answer all your questions when I get some food.” 

“What about the rest of them?” D.M. asked. She pressed herself against the opposite wall to walk by the guards. Tara shrugged.

“What rest of them?” she asked with a smirk. D.M. followed Tara out of the building they were in. She spotted what looked like a main house, and two more corpses were on the ground being wrapped up by hundreds of spiders.

“Where did all these spiders come from?” D.M. asked.

“From me,” Tara replied as they kept walking.

“Okay…,” D.M. said. She didn’t know what that meant, but she knew Tara saved her life. She would get to see her family again as soon as she found out where she was. Tara seemed to know which direction to go so she continued to follow her.

“My name’s Denise,” D.M. said. “Denise Martinez.” Tara giggled as they walked through the acid-melted iron gate.

“D.M. it is,” she said. “I gotta say, you’re taking everything that’s happened pretty well. What’s your favorite number?” Tara asked.

“Three,” D.M. said. Tara nodded to herself.

“Yeah, I thought so. We’re going to have a very interesting conversation.”

Violet Adult. Indigo Child.

“50 years?” Wilbur shook his head with a gentle chuckle as he organized his paperwork. “That’s kind of incredible,” he added. Violet sat quietly in front of his desk as the middle-aged man mostly mumbled to himself. She knew he wasn’t talking about her specifically as much as the whole group. The others were either sitting in the waiting room or being interviewed by other caseworkers. One thing Violet learned in the bunker was to remain quiet while adults were talking. That included when they were talking to themselves.

Violet’s gaze wandered around the small office while Wilbur seemed preoccupied with putting his forms in the right order. The office was extremely plain with solid white, empty walls. The two seats in the room, Violet’s and Wilbur’s, were both black leather rolling chairs; though, the back of Wilbur’s was taller. Small wire baskets covered the wooden desk between them. Wilbur pulled a sheet from each of the different baskets, read it over, then either returned it to the basket or added it to the pile he collected.

Violet focused on him since the office was so plain. He stopped reaching into the baskets and read the ones he chose more carefully, occasionally re-shuffling their order.

“Alright, Sorry,” Wilbur finally said after stapling his packet together. “Your group is kind of a new situation, we don’t have a standardized packet yet. So, welcome to the real world! ” he added with a broad, warm grin. It was the first time he gave her his full attention, and his smile put Violet at ease. 

“Let’s start with the easy ones,” he said. “What’s your full name?”

“Violet Victoria,” she replied quietly.

“That’s a beautiful name. How old are you, Violet?”

“15”

“Okay. What kind of education did you get down there?” Violet tilted her head at the question.

“What kind of what?” she asked.

“Uh..,” Wilbur didn’t expect the question. “Can you read?”

“Yes, Mr. Johnson,” she said and nodded at his nametag.

“How about numbers? Addition, subtraction, multiplication, .. any of that sound familiar?” Violet giggled.

“I know what math is,” she said.

“Great, where did you learn that?”

“My mom taught me,” she replied.

“Did she teach others?” Violet shook her head.

“No, their parents taught them.”

“You’re a bit older than I thought. Let’s see if we can’t get you straight into a high school,” Wilbur reached into one of the baskets. He pulled out a form, then added it to the back of his stack with a second staple.

“What’s high school?” she asked.

“It’s a place to learn about all kinds of things with other kids there your own age. A lot of other kids,” Wilbur explained. Violet nodded eagerly as she listened..

“Yes please! That sounds fun!”

“It’ll mostly depend on what you’ve already learned, but you seem like a bright girl.  You’re in here alone..,” Wilbur said with a softer tone. “…does that mean your parents passed away?”

“No,” Violet giggled. “They’re in a different interview right now. At 15, I’m an adult,” she said. “At least, that’s how it worked down there,” she added when she noticed his surprise.

“Well, unfortunately, that’s not how things work up here. Before you sign any of these, we’ll need your parent’s permission,” he replied. Wilbur dropped the packet on the desk then leaned back in his chair to reach into his pocket. He pulled out something Violet had never seen before.

It was glass, but only the size of a playing card. As she wondered what it was, Wilbur tapped and swiped at it with his fingers. Violet thought she saw lights flashing on it, but couldn’t make out anything.

“I sent a message to let your parents know to come in here after they’re done,” he explained.

“What’s that?” Violet asked. Wilbur grinned.

“It’s called a node, it’s like a cellphone, but better,” he said. He noticed a slight glimmer in her eyes. “You don’t know what a cellphone is either, do you?” he asked. Violet shook her head.

“Well, it’s not important, because this is better,” he leaned forward on the desk and encouraged her to come closer too.

“You used it to talk to someone in another room?” she asked.

“Nodes can be used to talk to people in other universes,” he said.

“There are other universes!?” she looked up from the node in surprise. Wilbur nodded.

“Actually, that reminds me. It’s in there some where,” he gestured at the dropped packet of papers. ” But, what’s your favorite number?”

“33.” Violet said. “Why?”

“Because you’re special, and that answer alone got you into high school,” Wilbur said.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Violet said. “Is everything so weird up here?”

“It’ll make sense eventually, I’m not the one to explain it to you,” he said. But, how do you feel about spiders?”

“Is that food?” she asked.

“No,” Wilbur said. He focused on the node in his hand and tapped it several times, then he turned it around to show her a picture of a black widow spider.

“That’s so beautiful!” Violet said. “Wow… I can’t wait to see one in real life!”

“Awww hell,” Wilbur grumbled himself in the same tone he’d use if he left the oven on at home. Not urgent, but concerning none-the-less. Violet didn’t notice because she felt a tickling sensation. She looked down and noticed three small black widow spiders sitting on the back of her hand.

“Wow! Did they come from the node!? They’re so cute! How many more can it make!???”

“No! Wait!” Wilbur tried to interrupt her questions several times, but she kept speaking over him in her excitement.

After a few minutes, Violet’s parents opened the door to Wilbur’s office. Wilbur sat as far back against the wall as he could with his head in his hands. Between him and Violet’s parents sat a swarm of black and red spiders crawling all over their daughter while she giggled.

“Hi mom! Hi dad!” Violet said when she saw them. “Did you guys know about spiders?” she asked. Her mother answered by fainting.

Justine’s Job

“Not that one!” J.J. stopped Maurice with a hand on his shoulder. She was rewarded with a pair of hands, from two different men, against each of her shoulders. Each of the men used their free hands to aim sidearms at her head. The tall pale man on the right had dark long hair and his eyes glowed red. The shorter, bulkier man on the left sported a bushy brown beard; his eyes glowed yellow.

“Why not?” Maurice raised a thin eyebrow. The gesture deepened the wrinkles already on his forehead. It was the only hint of surprise at anything happening in the empty bar. Three men, a woman with a purple crewcut, and a silent bartender were the only bodies in the bar. J.J. interrupted Maurice as he moved to sit on one of the dozens of unoccupied stools and it made him curious. He also took note that his men’s attempts at intimidation didn’t phase her at all.

“It’s a trigger,” she said. “It’s not hard, but we don’t need that kind of distraction right now, do we?” she asked. Maurice glanced down at the stool, then at the bartender. The late 20s man stood at the end of the bar wiping a glass while facing the other way. Then, he nodded.

“Fair enough,” he leaned forward and spread his arm to gesture at the vacant tables. “After you.” The two men pulled their hands off J.J. and she nodded. She turned and picked a round, wooden table that seemed built for two. Maurice sat across from J.J. while his guards remained standing on both sides. Once they were both seated Maurice gave a slight nod. The tall, pale henchman placed a golden glowing cube on the table between them; it was the size of a grapefruit.

“You have my request?” he asked.

“Yeah, about that…,” J.J. said. In an instant, the golden cube was gone from the table and Maurice was moving to stand. “Wait!” J.J. shouted. “I have it! I just don’t know how much you need,” she said. Maurice’s bottom hovered above his seat for a moment as he tilted his head at J.J.

“What?” he asked. J.J. nodded, and she gave an exaggerated shrug.

“Look, all cards on the table: I’m new. I don’t know the going rate for this stuff. I heard a couple of guys talking about it in a bar somewhere, and here I am.” An amused smile tugged at the corners  of Maurice’s thin lips and he let himself settle back onto his seat. J.J. relaxed when it seemed like he would stay and she sat back in her seat too.

“That cube looked like 100 million; how much is that worth?’ J.J. asked. Maurice appraised the short, pale woman. Her crewcut was a deep shade of royal purple. Her black duster covered most of her body  but he could see a white t-shirt underneath it and she had a large hairy tarantula tattooed on her neck. Her appearance wasn’t anything special, but Maurice had dealt with a lot of people to get to his current position. What impressed him the most was how at ease she was. She didn’t flinch when his henchman brandished guns. She was either naively honest, or actually unconcerned with the possibility of being swindled. The one thing he could tell for sure: she would deliver whatever she promised.

“How much do you have?” Maurice asked. J.J. maintained eye contact with an amicable smile on her face; but, she did not say a word. Maurice felt a brief moment of embarrassment, the first time in possibly a decade, when he realized her silence meant, ‘I asked you first.’ He’d used similar tactics in the past and her carefree attitude hinted that he did not stand a chance of winning that contest with her. He nodded again, the cube was placed on the table again.

“It is 100 million. That normally buys 250ml.” J.J.’s coffee-brown eyes widened; it amused Maurice to see something finally surprise her.

“100 million nanos for one cup!?” she asked. “That’s insane! What do you even use it for?”

“Alchemy,” Maurice smiled. “It’s one of the rarest substances in the multiverse and its properties are useful in a variety of formulas. I’m assuming you do have..,” Maurice chuckled. ” a cup’s worth of it for me? Otherwise, I don’t think you need to waste any more of my time.”

“Oh yeah!” J.J. nodded. “Gimme whatever’s on tap!” J.J. shouted in the general direction of the bar, then she turned back to Maurice.

“Just need to get you a container,” she said. In seconds a blonde waitress appeared to place a frothy mug on their table. Then she wandered off. J.J. lifted the mug and chugged the amber liquid in one go. Once it was empty, she took a moment to dry the inside of the mug out with napkins from the table. Then, she lowered the mug beneath the table and hid it in her coat.

“So how fast do you go through this stuff?” J.J. asked as she nonchalantly hid the mug on her lap.

“It’s so rare; I can never get enough,” Maurice replied. J.J. giggled.

“You keep saying it’s rare. But nothing in the multi-verse is rare; if you know the right people.” J.J. pulled the mug out from under her coat and placed it on the table. The mug was filled to the brim with a viscous, translucent blue liquid. J.J. shrugged.

“There’s at least a cup in there, I don’t have a measuring cup or anything,” she said.

“How…?” Maurice asked. He held his right hand out; the shorter, bushier henchman presented him with a long, thin, obsidian spike that ended in a needle point. He reached forward with a steady hand, gently touched the tip to the surface of the liquid, then, he pulled up. A thin wispy strand followed the spike upward as Maurice stretched it out like a strand of pizza cheese.

“How did you get so much liquid silk?” he asked. “The spiders are impossible to find and savagely ferocious.” J.J. smiled.

“I asked nicely,” she said.

Death & Spiders

“Have a good shift!” Betty stood by the sink putting the finishing touches on two cups of hot chocolate. She waved from the kitchen as Elsa stepped out the door, black cloak and scythe in hand.

“Thanks, see you in a bit,” Elsa replied and shut the door behind her. Betty blinked. Then, the apartment door opened again to admit a noticeably wearier Elsa. The ponytail she left with was gone; her hair was down to just past her shoulders. She wore the cloak and the long handle of the scythe dragged on the ground as she gripped it high on the hilt close to the obsidian blade.

“How long?” Betty asked and walked out of the kitchen holding both mugs. Elsa dropped the scythe. It sliced a thin, pitch-black gash in the air as it fell, then disappeared into its own portal. She collapsed on their couch and eagerly accepted the mug from Betty.

“I don’t even know,” Elsa blew on the chocolate to cool it down while she replied. “It could have been a month,” she shrugged. “It could’ve been a century.” She blew on the drink again. Betty giggled to herself as she sat down next to Elsa.

“Must’ve been a hell of a shift, you’re not even cooling it down with time,” she said, then took a big gulp of steaming hot chocolate. Elsa sighed and nodded.

“Chase said it gets easier to keep track; I hope he’s right,” Elsa blew on the mug one last time, then took a soft, slurpy sip. She closed her eyes and breathed a warmer, happier sigh. “Why is mine never this good?” Elsa asked, then slurped another sip.

“Secret ingredient,” Betty winked. Elsa rolled her eyes.

“You already know I’m Death, no fair keeping secrets,” she said.

“You didn’t have to tell me,” Betty playfully stuck her tongue out at Elsa. “I never would’ve noticed if you didn’t.”

“That’s why I told you,” Elsa sighed. She used her thumb to point at the front door behind them. “In and out just now; but that first week was miserable. I had to hide out in the library for eight hours to convince you I was at work,” she blew on the mug again.

“I don’t have the energy to cool down a cup of chocolate by a few minutes, much less fast forward another eight hours on top of my shift. Although…,” Elsa nodded. “…it was easier to tell you once I saw your tattoo.” Elsa held her left hand up showing the number 14 scarred into it to clarify which tattoo she meant.

Betty’s body was decorated with several tattoos that were all hidden under her clothes. Elsa asked her about it once and Betty explained that she liked to surprise anyone that got to see them. The specific tattoo that Elsa referred to was a spiny orbweaver spider inked on the outside of Betty’s right breast. It had the number 33 in black on its back.

“I hoped that after a whole year rooming together, you could trust me enough to give me your chocolatey secret,” Elsa sighed. Then, she stuck her tongue out at Betty to hint that it was a joke. Luckily, Betty laughed.

“If I tell you, you’re going to stop drinking it. Do you really want to give up something this delicious?” Betty took another gulp.

“Why would I stop drinking it?” Elsa asked. “It’s not like you’re putting spiders in it, or something,” she giggled. After a moment she realized she was giggling alone. Betty held an amused, “I’m not telling” look on her face.

“Right?” she asked for confirmation, then lowered the mug down to her lap when the answer didn’t come right away.

Well…,” Betty said. “…kind of?” she asked her answer.

“What do you mean, ‘kind of’? Are there spider bits in this hot chocolate or not?” Elsa wasn’t all that upset; she liked the drink enough to accept some unexpected extras. A as long as they were minimal.Fortunately, Betty noticed that Elsa wasn’t upset.

“When I learned I could summon spiders from other universes, I spent a lot of time trying to find different types. One day I was really hungry when I was practicing, and I kept thinking about snacks instead of spiders. Then,… this happened.” As she spoke a small, glossy, chocolate brown spider crawled out of her ear. It crawled onto her face, then toward her lips, and into her mouth. She started chewing on it with a smile.

“I found chocolate spiders.”

Elsa narrowed her eyes at Betty while she processed the situation. She glanced down at the mug in her lap, then back to Betty.

“How much?’ Elsa asked. Betty shrugged.

“Not counting the milk and cinnamon… all of it.” Elsa sighed.

“Yeah, okay,” she lifted the mug up and blew on it some more. 

Justine’s Jacket

“Damnit!” J.J. growled at the stranger next to her. He was surprised she interrupted him, and he leaned back on his barstool as she yelled at him. “I just want a drink. I’m not here for your stupid random event. Go bug another player,” she said. The stranger glanced around the bar, then leaned closer again.

“Well I was wonderin’ why they wanted you dead; but, I reckon it’s on account of you being crazy,” he chuckled and raised his hand to pat her on the back. Something about the way her black leather duster caught the light changed his mind. He kept his hand to himself. “I like crazy, I’ll help you anyway,” he said. J.J. replied by letting her head thud against the bartop, with a heavy sigh.  She took a moment to consider her options.

If she logged out, the NPCs would forget about her and whatever event she triggered would reset. But, logging out on an unfamiliar server made J.J. nervous. She’d heard that if Ballisea shows up, her presence might keep anyone from logging into the AlterNet. It was a rumor that she didn’t believe entirely, but the one thing she did know was that it wasn’t worth the risk just in case. She was waiting for someone that was already late, so she could not leave. She had to stay put and logged on.

“Big Earl’s the leader; you take him out and you’re golden,” the stranger said. He nodded at a towering, burly man leaning against the pool table. There was also a handful of thugs in boots and cowboy hats around him. J.J. did not pay attention, she continued to knock her head against the bar.

“But, you can’t go straight for him. Over in the corner there…,” he nodded at a dim corner; J.J. remained face down on the bar. “… that’s Tom Shivs; he’s the one you want to bring down first. The best way-,”

“SKIP!” J.J. sat up and yelled at the man. “I got it. Everyone’s trying to kill me. Start it up already!” She spun around on the stool and hopped off it. She ran her hands through her purple fauxhawk and glared at everyone in the room. “I’ve had a rough day,” she said. “If you’re not trying to kill me, you should leave,” as she spoke, her duster shimmered and disintegrated off her shoulders. It fell to the ground as a black pile of swarming spiders. The spiders spread out from the swarm and crawled out toward the nearest person.

No one left. Several of the patrons started pulling back from the swarm but a wiry, frail man screamed from the dim corner. He jumped on the table he was sitting at, then table-hopped his way to the bar while keeping his eyes on J.J. She sighed.

“Fine,” she mumbled and knelt down and reached her hand into the spider swarm while Tom took his time approaching. He pulled out two long daggers and did his best to give J.J. a menacing stare. J.J. pulled her hand out holding her coat. She shook it once to clear off the last few spiders, then held it up bullfighter style.

Tom froze in his tracks atop the bar. As J.J. held her coat up, a long, black, spindly leg shot out of the surface of the jacket. It was followed by another disturbingly long leg. A giant obsidian spider, almost as big as J.J. herself climbed out of her jacket and onto the bar. Its bulbous abdomen was about the size of yoga ball, with a red skull on it where a widow’s hourglass would be.

The huge spider crawled toward a terrified Tom; J.J. Turned around to face the rest of the patrons. She still held up her coat and another king-sized spider began crawling out of it.

Six minutes later the bar was calm but full of life again. The event didn’t give J.J. anything useful, and she went to the restroom to splash some water on her face. She came back, glanced at all the new faces, then sat back on her stool.

A different stranger came and sat down next to her.

“Everyone else in here is here to kill you. You need to li-,” his script was interrupted by J.J. banging her head against the bar again.

Worldly Parents

“I can’t believe he slept through that,” Wanda whispered to her husband as they snuck out of their son’s bedroom.

“Why are you whispering?” Elkson asked in his normal volume. “He just slept through a tattoo, he’s not waking up any time soon.”

Partial tattoo,” Wanda replied as she followed her husband to the kitchen. Both parents burst into giggles once they were comfortably in a different room. “I  couldn’t finish it…,” she giggled madly. “… he wouldn’t wake up!”

“I thought he was dead!” Elkson wheezed with a high-pitched, red-faced laugh. There was a very real moment of fear when the loud buzz of the tattoo machine didn’t stir him. Wanda touched it to his skin, and he didn’t move. Elkson checked his pulse, checked his temperature and held a mirror to his nose. He seemed alive and well, just tired. Wanda got as far as finishing the number 37 before deciding that surprising him with a whole tattoo might be a bad idea. They expected him to wake up to be able to talk about it. The parents laughed at their son’s comatose sleep for a moment longer before they decided to start breakfast.

45 minutes later Wanda was finishing the first batch of pancakes as Elkson brought in ham steaks from the grill.

“What if he’s not like us?” Wanda asked her husband; they met at the table each dropping off their dish and stood face to face. Her onyx eyes dulled with worry. Elkson leaned forward and kissed her forehead.

“He’s 18 now. We tell him about us anyway.”

“What if he thinks I’m creepy,…” she whispered and cast her eyes downward.

“Oh please,” Elkson wrapped his arms around her. “He won’t think you’re creepy any more than he’d want to hunt me down. You’re his mom, he loves you. If we take it slow and explain everything to him he’ll come around. But, you’re sure he said 37?” he asked her. Wanda nodded. Elkson kissed her forehead again.

“Then there’s nothing to worry about. Even if he isn’t like us, it’s still his favorite number. He’ll love it.”

“Good morning!” A lean 18-year-old with bright green bedhead and              sleepy eyelids walked into the kitchen. He waved at his parents absentmindedly as made his way to the table. His eyes never left the stack of pancakes and ham. “Oh man, I couldn’t sleep through the smell,” he rubbed his stomach. Both parents immediately cackled between themselves as they surrounded him for a hug before he sat.

“There’s the birthday boy,” Elkson said as Wanda pecked her son’s cheek. He stood in place and let them smother him with affection for a few minutes before they broke away and let him sit down. He reached over his right shoulder with his left hand trying to scratch an itch. Wanda slapped his hand away.

“You’re about to eat, scratch later,” she gave Elkson a sly smile as a hint to let it play out.

“Hey,” the birthday boy said as he loaded his plate. “I’m 18 now, I want to try making some changes,” he said. 

“Okay,” both parents agreed with interest.

“First, and .. I know it’s weird,”  he shrugged as he grabbed the syrup. “But this is what I want,”

“What’s that honey?” Wanda asked. She scooted closer to Elkson in anticipation of good news.

“You know my name?” he asked.

“Roger?” Elkson asked.

“Mitch?” Wanda asked at the same time. Neither parent used his actual name. He rolled his eyes and chuckled.

Thanks for that,” he grumbled with a smile. “Anyway, forget it. I’m going by Mundo from now on,” he took a bite of pancakes and ham.

“Mundo?” both asked at the same time. “Why?” Wanda followed up. Mundo shrugged.

“It makes it easier for people to find me,” he replied.

“Uhhh.. Okay, sure thing Mundo,” Elkson said. He didn’t quite get it, but his son was convinced and he didn’t see any harm in indulging the phase.

“And, since we’re here having this wonderful breakfast…,” Mundo looked at his mom for the first time that morning. He grinned and glanced at his dad. “…thanks for breakfast by the way,” he said, then took another bite.

“Since we’re here, there’s something else we need to talk about.”

“Oh?’ Wanda asked.

“We need to talk to you about something too,” Elkson added. “After you though,” he said. Mundo nodded.

“If I know you guys, it’s probably the same thing,” he said.

“Mom,” he looked at her. “You have a golden aura that looks like a spider’s web, and there are dozens of different types of spiders crawling all over it and you. You are Unique Soul #33, la araña. You can summon spiders from other universes through your pores.” Wanda stared at him slack-jawed for a moment, then she stuck her tongue out at him playfully. A medium-sized, shiny, spindly black widow spider rested on the tip of her tongue until she pulled it back into her mouth. She relaxed when she realized he was still sitting at the table with a smile on his face and love in his eyes, and still eating. He even laughed at the spider in her mouth.

“And me?” Elkson asked giddily.

“#45, El Venado,” Mundo smiled at his dad. “You can summon deer from other universes through your pores,” Mundo said.

“REALLY!?” Elkson jumped to his feet, shut his eyes and started straining. He did not know how his son knew about Wanda, but he chalked it up to whatever his ability was. He was like them, and Elkson seemed different this morning. He trusted him and thought it would be amazing to pop a deer out of his hands. Then, he heard Mundo laughing.

“No, dad,” he said. Wanda joined in the laughter. “But you’ve got a solid noggin,” Mundo knocked his green hair for illustration. “Your aura looks like giant golden antlers. You can ram the hell out of most things. And you’re supposed to be extra graceful,.. but I guess not every venado gets that. I’ve seen you work,” he laughed.

“Oh honey…,” Elkson turned to Wanda. “our son turned out to be a jerk as an adult. Let’s send him back!” he said. Wanda slapped his arm and rolled her eyes.

“So, how do you know all this?” she asked. “How can you see our auras?”

“It’s my job,” he smiled. “I’m #37, El Mundo.” He pointed at Wanda. “You get spiders. You get some deer powers. I get the secrets of the universe.” He used his left arm to try and scratch his right shoulder again. Both parents giggled but served themselves breakfast.

Marcie’s Life. Marcie’s Test.

“How can they be humans and extraterrestrials at the same time?” General Hopsitel asked as his aide escorted him to the first meeting. The pasty, rotund general waddled through the narrow halls with renewed purpose. He was ready to retire the week before; then, first contact was made.

“Well, ‘terrestrial’ just means ‘from Earth’. These humans contacted us from somewhere else,” Marcie replied with a subtle eye-roll. General Hopsitel wasn’t a bad boss initially. Each year the General gave her more responsibilities to handle. She was thrilled at first because it meant he trusted her. 15 years later, she was essentially doing his job and giving him cheat notes.

“Do we know anything about their planet yet? Location? Name?”

“Nothing. After contact was confirmed both sides exchanged basic information. Once they learned we were humans too they fast-tracked the first meeting.” General Hopsitel stopped before they exited the building and looked at Marcie.

“This just happened last week, right?” he asked. Marcie nodded, and the General ignored her eyeroll. She was damn good at her job and he gave her all the leeway she wanted. “How did we translate so fast?” Marcie grinned then pushed through the doors out into the sunshine. The General followed her.

“They speak English,” she said as she crossed the base.

“English? And we know they’re humans?” General Hopsitel asked. Marcie nodded.

“No, it’s not a prank, Sir.”

“How do we know? If we don’t know where the signal is coming from…,”

“This,” she handed him a letter envelope from a stack of forms on a clipboard. The General grabbed the envelope; it was heavier than an empty one, but not by much. He opened it and found a small glass card in it. He pulled it out and looked it over while they entered another building. It was about the size of a playing card and just as thin.

“Glass?” he asked. Marcie shook her head.

“They sent us that. It’s called a node and it’s way more advanced than anything we have right now.” Marcie took it from him, tapped it several times, then handed it back. When it was in his hands again he noticed it showed the time. He ran his finger on it like Marcie did and it changed to a homescreen style layout that reminded the General of his smartphone.

“We have smartphones too,” the General said. Marcie sighed. She normally didn’t mind their work relationship, but they weren’t normally making first contact and changing the world. The added stress made her a bit bitter. She stopped and took the node from his hands again.

“Our smartphones can’t do this,” she said as she held up the node in front of his face. The General watched the node stretch as Marcie pulled at both ends. When it was about twice its size, the long piece broke in two; Marcie handed him one back, and tapped it in his hand. It brought the time up. Then, she showed him the clock on the second piece. Both said 9:55 A. M.

“Okay,” General Hopsitel nodded. “I believe you.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Marcie gave him a playful mock salute as they reached the meeting room. She opened the cafeteria door for him, then followed him in. The General stopped as soon as he entered the room. Most of the tables and chairs were cleared out leaving only the white concrete floor. Half a dozen men and women in labcoats sat in the center of the cafeteria next to the rest of the military representation: three other generals.

“Where’s the President?” he asked. “What about the rest of the world leaders?” He expected to see a room full of delegates from at least the first world countries.

“We were contacted. As far as we can tell, that signal was sent only to us; it’s not a broadcast. They gave America node technology. If they wanted the rest of the world to have it, they would have broadcast a message for the whole world. The President needs plausible deniability if this does get out. ‘Officially’ he doesn’t even know about this meeting. Now hurry up, it’s time.” She shooed him toward the crowd of scientists and soldiers. He saw a large black hole appear in the center of the crowd. By the time he got there, the hole was gone but three new strangers stood in its place in the center of the crowd.

They trio, two men and a woman, looked like average 20somethings in jeans and t-shirts. Each sported an elaborate tattoo on their arm with different numbers.

“Hello Earthlings!” the taller, raven-haired man said. His tattoo was a bright blue star on his forearm with the number 35 on it. “We’re from Earth too,” he said with a laugh. Immediately the group around General Hopsitel seemed confused until the woman stepped forward. She had a black widow spider tattooed on her arm with the number 33.

“He means we’re from Earth also, not Earth two as in the second one,” she explained. “There is no ‘Earth 2’, there are too many to count.”

“Too many?” The scientist closest to General Hopsitel asked. The woman with the spider tattoo nodded and seemed about to answer, but the second man spoke up from behind her. He sported an eagle on his arm with the number 20.

“Full saturation!” he shouted gleefully.

“Thanks for using that node we sent you,” #35 said with a grin. He pulled his own out of his pocket and tapped and swiped on it. Marcie was startled when her pocket vibrated. She stood unnoticed by the door waiting for the General to finish. She watched the situation with interest, but could not hear anything.

She pulled the node she created out of her pocket and saw a message.

[User: Corvus has requested ownership over Server: Marcie’s Test. Do you wish to transfer ownership?] [Yes] [No]

Marcie’s eyes went wide. She didn’t know what it meant exactly, but she knew she entered ‘Marcie’s Test’ as a placeholder name for the Earth while she experimented with it. At the time she wondered why her Earth needed a name. Her first instinct was to deny access; she did that then looked back to where Corvus was looking at his node. He was a fair distance, but she saw his smile turn into a look of concern.

“Uhh.. Actually. Sorry guys,” Corvus said to the scientists and generals. “We have to go. We’ll get-,” his exit was interrupted by the woman.

“What?” she asked. He turned to face her.

“Something came up,” General Hopsitel heard him say through gritted teeth.

“OH, right.” she said. Corvus wiggled his fingers at the air and summoned a black portal.

“We’ll call you,” he said, then the trio wasted no time running into the black hole that appeared; it closed behind them.