“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.”