“It’s Aurora, right?” Cliff’s mother asked. The birthday boy was crowded in his living room on all sides. Multicolor balloons and red ribbons decorated his cozy home. Friends and family just watched him open gifts, but now it was time for the real reveal. His mother leaned in close with a large grin; she hoped by being closer the news would hit her first.

Cliff stared at the thin black string tied around his pinky at a complete loss. It was supposed to be red and stretched out in the direction of his soul mate. His mind should be full of information about his destined partner but the dark string gave him nothing. Instead of stretching out, a two-inch strand black strand hung off his pinky tied to nothing. He worried for a moment that it meant a life of loneliness; but, that wasn’t something to discuss at his birthday party.

“Well… it’s personal,” Cliff said.

“AUGH!” Cliff’s family filled the small room with tangible disappointment. Everyone except his mother, she continued to smile.

“Now, now,” she said to ease their disappointment. “If he wants to keep it personal, that’s his choice and we’ll respect it,” her grin grew wider. “Just like we respect Aurora’s choice not to reveal her soul mate either!”

“Hey, where is she anyway?” Cliff’s father asked over the laughter that filled the room.

“Late,” Cliff’s mother replied. “She’s picking up a special gift for the birthday boy. Because he’s probably her soul mate.” His mother was only making Cliff feel worse about not understanding the string. It helped knowing Aurora would miss his party entirely; she told him ahead of time. He hoped and expected it to be Aurora. They grew up together being the best of friends, although she turned 15 first. Her parents had the foresight to tell the partygoers ahead of time that there would be no reveal.

He hated putting his mom on the spot like that, but he knew she’d understand once he explained the situation after the party. He hoped that maybe she even had an idea about what it might mean. Mothers tend to know things; his did at any rate. Ten minutes later Cliff got a call from Aurora, as planned, to let him know that she was going to be extra late. The party didn’t last too much longer after that. Then when most of the cleanup was done, Cliff told Aurora to go ahead and come over. While he waited, he thought it was best to tell his mom that she wasn’t his soul mate.

“I didn’t want to say anything during the party…,” he opened up to her as she sat down to recover the partying and cleaning. “but, I think there’s something wrong with my string,” he said. He wiggled his right pinky at her to clarify which string he meant.

“What is it, honey?” she asked. His mother had sat back on the couch to relax, but she immediately sat up straighter and scooted forward to listen.

“Well…, I don’t know who my soulmate is,” Cliff said. As he tried to explain the dark string to his mother, it suddenly filled with color. He did not pick up any new knowledge, but the string no longer hung limply. It was stretched taut in the direction of his front door and shined with a brilliant golden glow. As the string filled with color, the doorbell rang.

“Oh, it’s Aurora,” Cliff’s mother said. She hopped to her feet to answer the door. Cliff watched his mother open the door to let Aurora in. As soon as the door was open, Cliff spotted a golden glow on Aurora’s right pinky stretching towards him.

Awesome…,” Cliff mumbled to himself. He had a ton of questions, but the most important thing was that he found his soul mate.

“Happy birthday!” Aurora said as she hugged Cliff.

“Thanks!” he said. After they separated, Aurora held up a transparent, glassy card.

“I got you a special gift,” she said. “It’s called a node.”

“I’ll take that,” Cliff’s mom snatched the node out of Aurora’s hand before any of them could react. “There’s something I want to hear first,” she said. Then, she looked at Cliff expectantly. You were saying?” she asked. Cliff glanced at the golden string on his finger. Now that Aurora was close enough, he could see a whole string tying them together. He smiled and wiggled his pinky at his mom.

“It’s Aurora,” he said. His mom shook her head.

What’s Aurora?” she asked. Cliff sighed, but he did enjoy humoring his mother for this instance at least.

“Aurora is my soulmate,” he said. Despite his mom being the only one in the room that didn’t know it, Cliff felt the most embarrassed. His cheeks flushed with red and he glanced at Aurora to see her give him a shy smile. 

“That’s better,” his mom smiled at both of them, then handed the node to Cliff. “You and I are going to have a major conversation later,” she said. “nothing bad,” she added as soon as a nervous look appeared on Cliff’s face. “Now go show him how to use this,” she said to Aurora.

“Thanks, mom!” Cliff leaned forward and gave his mom a peck on the cheek.

“Thanks, Mrs. Longoria!” Aurora said. Cliff chuckled and his mother rolled her eyes.

“How many times do I have to tell you, Estrellita?” she said. “Call me, Mundo.”

Sharp Informant

“H. hello?” Mario froze when he spotted the violet-haired woman peeking into the window of a coffee shop. It had been close to 35 years since he’d seen another person. Not that he was lonely. Somehow it felt like all the animals on Earth knew he was the last human on Earth. He discovered early on that predators would ignore him and managed to get a lot of traveling done. Being able to camp out anywhere without fear was especially liberating; even deadly insects and reptiles minded their own business around him.

Mario had a lot of time to wonder about why the aliens seemed so wary around him. After a couple of decades though, he realized it didn’t really matter. He had an entire Earth to himself and the freedom to travel anywhere in the Americas. As comfortable as he was alone in nature, he did often return to the city to reminisce about the past. He was wandering the abandoned downtown of a city he’d never visited when he spotted her. She whirled around and Mario caught a glimpse of golden stars in her eyes for just a moment; he assumed it was a stray reflection. She gave him a friendly, broad smile as if she recognized him.

“Hey, Mundo!” She said. “What happened here?” she spread her arms out to gesture at the empty town around them. Mundo had a dozen questions running through his head, but one bothered him the most. Thinking back on his time alone, he felt completely sure he was the last person on Earth, without ever really being able to confirm it. He realized his surety disappeared moments before he turned the corner and saw her.

“Where did you come from?” he asked. She had to have come from somewhere because she wasn’t around before. He wondered if she was another alien.

“Where did I…?” She tilted her head in confusion at the question. Gold stars flashed in her eyes again and Mario knew it wasn’t a reflection. If she was alien, she was different than the ones Mario remembered. After the stars flashed, the woman smacked her forehead. “Pay attention,” she mumbled to herself. Then, she focused on Mario.

“Sorry, you’re still Slumbering,” she smiled. Then, she shook her head. “You don’t know what that means either. But, that’s okay.” She seemed intent on saying more, but Mario shook his head.

“Where did you come from?” he asked again.

“An alternate universe,” she replied. “What happened on this Earth?”

“Aliens,” Mario replied. Her reply could have been a joke or a flat-out lie. But, Mario had over 30 years to deal with the existence of aliens. If they were real, anything could be. He did not doubt her for a moment and was more worried about whether she would believe him. She seemed to come to the same conclusion about him.

“Whoa, really!?” she asked. “They didn’t invade?” Mario shook his head.

“Nah, they just took everyone,” then, he shrugged. “Everyone but me. Talk about rejection, right?” he added with a chuckle. She took a step back and her eyes lit up with golden stars again; this time she had a slightly concerned look on her face. Her head moved up and down as she actively scanned him.

“They didn’t even touch you?” she asked. Her head continued to move up and down as she studied him intently. “How old were you?” she asked. She relaxed finally and the stars disappeared again.

“No. They seemed afraid of me. I was 12 when they took my parents away. My dad was a big guy, a boxer. He tackled them, but they took him down easily. Forcefully. I tried to jump in and help, but they just avoided me until one of them put me in a forcefield that kept me in place. I watched them take everyone in my neighborhood. Then, they just left and the forefield disappeared.”

“Whooooooaaaa…” the violet-haired woman said with awe. “…they know too…,” she whispered to herself. “…they have to.” She quickly reached into her pocket and pulled out a transparent glass rectangle.

“What?” Mario tilted his head at her. “You look like you figured something out.” She nodded vigorously but kept her attention on the glass. Her thumbs flew over its surface and Mario guessed she was typing something he couldn’t see.

“Is it why they left me here alone?” Mario asked with a chuckle. “‘Cause that bothered me for years.”

“One sec..,” she nodded. Mario was surprised. He stood patiently for a moment until she finally gave him her attention again. She looked up at him with a smile.

“You remember what they look like, right?” she asked. Mario nodded.

“Yeah, they were humanoid. Actually, a lot like elves,” he said.

“Interesting,” a new voice said. It startled Mario when he noted two new women standing next to the purple-haired one. He was focused on her and suddenly they were in his peripheral vision. “Thank you, Victoria,” The woman in a white suit said with a nod at the purple-haired one.

“You’re welcome, Ms. Sharp,” Victoria bowed her head slightly. Then, she stepped back into a black hole that wasn’t there a second ago. It closed and disappeared taking her with it.

“As for you, Mundo, I am very curious about why the aliens left you alone. Why don’t you tell me about it?” she asked. Mario burst into laughter.

“My name’s Mario, and I was just telling Victoria that I have no idea why. It bugged me for years, then I just quit worrying about it.”

“Of course you do,” Ms. Sharp replied. “You just don’t know that you know. Melody, jog his memory,” Ms. Sharp said. The woman in the black suit stepped forward and gently took Mario’s hand between both of hers. Then, he noticed a bright blue light glowing in her palms.

“What are you-OWWWWWW!” Mario yanked his hand away to shake off the sudden burning sensation. “What the hell!?” he shouted. He checked his hand to see a ’37’ scarred on it. Then, it was like a dense fog was lifted from his brain.

He suddenly remembered everything. Not only could he recall his childhood with perfect clarity; he could recall all his childhoods. He could feel every animal and plant on Earth. He knew why his name was Mundo. He remembered the rules; at last, he knew why he was left behind.

“They want to meet peacefully. No Uniques on either side.” Of the two women, only Melody showed any reaction. Her eyes went wide with shock. But, Ms. Sharp responded casually.

“Then, they have Unique Souls too?” she asked. Mundo grinned at her.

“Of course. It’s only fair if every side gets soldiers.”

Cactus. Dry.

“Go ahead,” Mundo smiled at the lean, mousey man at the bar. He wore a cactus-green pin-stripe suit and seemed to have something on his mind. It took him two shots of tequila to open up. “I’m usually the one talking. As much as I like it, it’s nice to hear other voices too,” she said.

Mundo’s bar had its share of daytime regulars. The bar was little more than a storefront for under-the-table business, or a library for college students during the day. Thorne was the only one drinking.

“You can’t win for trying these days…,” Thorne shook his head, then downed the third shot. He gestured at Mundo for a fourth one. “You ever have an idea so good, it takes off without you?” he laughed at his own question as Mundo refilled his shot glass.

“What, another one?” Mundo asked. “What happened to the Syndicate you were talking up a couple of weeks ago?” Thorne froze before he took the fourth shot. His eyes widened at Mundo.

“You remember me talking about it?!” he asked. 

“Sure,” Mundo shrugged. “You’re the only Nopal that’s ever come through here. You seemed really excited about the Syndicate. Everyone’s talking about it, so what’s the problem?”  

“No one believes me…,” Thorne sighed. He took his fourth shot, then set the glass down to ask for another. He continued talking while Mundo refilled it. “I guess I’m not surprised,” he whined. My last few contracts were huge failures. I invented the Syndicate just to give myself some visibility, but I can’t even prove I belong to the organization I made up,” Thorne chuckled. “As much as I love my job; the business side is murder.” He downed the fifth shot and requested another. Mundo obliged.

“Well if you tell me how to prove Syndicate membership, I’ll let everyone else know and you’ll be set,” Mundo said. Her polite, customer service smile grew wider when Thorne tilted his head at her. 

“Huh?” he asked “Let who know?” Mundo giggled and shook her head at him. 

“Everyone,” she stressed the word. “I’m a Mundo, it’s what we do.” 

“Oh yeah!” Thorne slapped his palm against his forehead once he remembered Mundo’s abilities. “You can talk to everyone on Earth, can’t you?” 

“Or just the people likely to be interested in the Syndicate,” Mundo said. “Same group from a couple weeks ago.” 

“You?” Thorne was surprised. “You’re why the Syndicate is so popular all of a sudden?” Mundo nodded, but shrugged.

“I’m fond of Plant Uniques,” she said, then filled the shot glass a sixth time. 

“Thank you!” Thorne said. He hopped to his feet and began digging through his pockets. “I’ve gotta give you something extra,” he said. Mundo shook her head, then smiled and pointed at the shot glass. 
“You’re already paying for all this alcohol that doesn’t work on…,” Mundo pointed at Thorne. “…#39 El Nopal.”

Stone Flushed

“Gaia, I come in peace…,” Firebolt held his hands up when Gale Stone opened the door. She sighed, then stood aside to let him in.

“I know; call me Gale,” she replied. Gaia was the most powerful supervillain in the world, with hair and clothes made up of tangled roots. Gale was the brown-haired soccer-mom that opened the door. Firebolt relaxed his hands and walked into her house.

“Thank you,” he said. She closed the door behind him, then turned around.

“What do you want?” she asked. Firebolt tilted his head in confusion.

“You said you already knew?” he asked. Gale rolled her eyes.

“I said I knew you were here in peace. Just because I can know everything doesn’t mean I bother checking up on any of you idiots,” she said. “But, when you’re standing on my doorstep mumbling, ‘I hope she doesn’t kill me, I hope she doesn’t kill me,’ it’s kind of a different situation,” she smiled. Firebolt nodded.

“Spex said you might be able to help us with a problem the league is having.” Gaia’s smile disappeared as soon as she heard the name. Firebolt was surprised when he identified her new expression as concern.

“Is he okay?” she asked. “Why didn’t he come himself?” Firebolt shrugged.

“Just because he’s your son-in-law doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t kill him; that was his excuse anyway.” Gale’s concern disappeared and she giggled.

“I do have quite the reputation don’t I,” she asked. “Well, get on with it. Why are you here?”

“I, and several other league members, are being blackmailed with our secret identities,” Firebolt said. “This new villain, The Stalker, follows us around; he’s invisible, intangible, and can teleport. The only way we’ve been able to spot him is with the psychics in the league. But we can’t contain him.”

“Well the only way to capture someone like that…,” Gale began. She took a deliberate, slow look around her living room. “…is to catch them by SURPRISE!” When she said ‘surprise’ a thick green vine sprouted out of the hardwood floor. It speared forward and impaled itself in the drywall.

A lean, pale, frightened man appeared for just a moment before he flashed out of existence again.

“You missed?” Firebolt asked, and shook his head. “He was here in your living room and you missed?”

“Next time the league wants to ask me for a favor, don’t hold a meeting about it. I’m sure this idiot stalker thought he’d try and blackmail me for my secret identity too.”

“How’d you know about the meeting?” Firebolt asked. Gale rolled her eyes. “I told you, I can know everything; if I’m curious enough.”

“Then,… how’d you miss?” FIrebolt chuckled. He felt a bit braver knowing Gaia was a terrible shot. Gale smiled and opened the door for him again.

“You’re asking the wrong question. It’s now about how I missed, it’s about why,” she said. “I read his mind, he can only use one of his powers at a time. And he’s only a short-range teleporter.” Gale nodded out the door. The same lean man stood on her front lawn with golden vines pierced through his arms and legs, and one wrapped around his mouth. He wriggled in pain as blood leaked out of his wounds. “He can’t use his powers as long as those are in him; I just didn’t want a bloody mess in my house.”

Super & Unique

“We should leave,” Joshua said. The nurse had only been out of the room for a moment before he suggested it.

“Nonsense,” his wife replied without looking at him. Her focus rested entirely on the wiggling bundle in her lap. A fair-skinned, dark-haired baby boy giggled at her various faces. “We need to get our boy taken care of.”

“Something isn’t right, Mary,” Joshua said. “The nurse looked surprised when she gave him his first shot,” he said. “You saw how fast she excused herself.”

“It’s a doctor’s office, dear. Things come up,” Mary replied while still making the boy giggle.

She was supposed to give him more than one,” Joshua added. “What if he’s not… normal,” Joshua asked. That did get Mary’s attention. She looked at her husband with stern eyes.

“Our boy is perfect,” she said. “The nurse said she’d be back in a moment; maybe she went to get the rest of the vaccines.” The baby’s giggles died down without Mary’s attention, but they began again as soon she was locked onto his sparkling blue eyes. Joshua sighed and leaned closer to Mary’s ear.

“Honey…,” he said. “I know we’re going to love him no matter what, but you have to consider the fact that we found him in a crater in a field. Maybe something happened when she gave him the shot.”

“If something out of the ordinary happened, don’t you think she would have shown it a bit more?” Mary asked. “She didn’t even blink, she injected him, then set the needle down and excused herself.” Mary paused for a moment after that and tilted her head slightly; she looked up from the baby again.

“She didn’t dispose of it properly…,” Mary realized. Joshua stood and walked to the small cart the nurse left behind. He picked up the plunger and examined it; the needle only extended a fraction of what he expected, he held it out to his wife.

“It’s broken,” she said plainly. Then she looked down at the baby’s leg and realized the nurse left without applying a bandaid. “Maybe we should,-” Mary’s suggestion was interrupted by a knock on the door. It swung open to let in a tall, lean, aqua-haired woman in a white coat.

“Mr. and Mrs. Clark, my name is Dr. Mundo,” the woman smiled at them, then she looked down at the baby in Mary’s lap.

“Oh my, it looks like you’re going to have your hands full with this one,” she said. Mundo tilted her head slightly, as if she noticed something, then he gave Mary and Joshua a more thorough appraisal.

“Where did you find him?” she asked.

“He’s my son!” Mary said. Her voice only carried slight traces of annoyance and anger; but, they were enough to interrupt the baby’s giggles. Dr. Mundo shook her head.

“Not biologically,” she said. The Clarks stood to leave, but Dr. Mundo continued. “I’m not trying to take him away from you, but if you’re going to raise him, there’s a lot you need to know. To give you the right information, I need the right information from you,” she said.

“Why?” Joshua asked. He realized that seemed vague and clarified. “Why aren’t you trying to take him away from us?”

“The simple answer is, he’s not from this Earth,” she said. “I’m not sure how he got here. If his real parents ever come looking for him, that’s for you and them to work out. Until then, I know you’ll give him a good home.”

“What do you mean he’s not from Earth?” Mary asked. Both parents sat down again; they seemed to trust the doctor a bit more.

“Oh, he’s from Earth. Just not this one. Alternate universes exist and this little cutie seems to be from one of those.”

“How do you know… any of this? You just walked in,” Joshua asked. A broad smile took over Dr. Mundo’s face.

“I’m so glad you asked,” she said.

“I’ll get to that answer eventually. First, let’s talk about your baby, have you named him yet?”

“Constance,” both parents replied simultaneously; to their surprise. Things happened so fast, they hadn’t had any time to discuss names. They had a library of names to choose from; they often discussed children in the past. Before they gave up. However, Constance was not on any of their lists.

“It’s a beautiful name,” Dr. Mundo said. “So, let’s get started. Your son is what’s known as a ‘Unique Soul’. I mentioned alternate universes earlier; you should know that a ‘Unique Soul’ does not have a counterpart in any other universe. In all of infinity, there is only one child like your son.” Both parents smiled at that extra bit of information.

Dr. Mundo was about to say more when a sudden knock struck the door. The same nurse that tried to give Constance a vaccine peeked in but now her white uniform was covered with a growing green sludge.

“Dr., I’m sorry. Fae emergency,” she said. Dr. Mundo nodded, then turned her attention back to the Clarks.

“I’m sorry, something’s come up. But, we really should continue this. Please make an appointment on your way out,” Dr. Mundo turned to leave the room, but paused in the doorway.

“You should know that Unique Souls often attract each other. Now that he’s part of your life, you should be prepared for lots of unexpected things. If anything out of the ordinary happens before our next meeting; here’s the important stuff. Your son is Unique Soul #42, La Calavera. Even at his age right now, he’s the strongest person on this Earth. On top of that, he’s also a Super with the ability to fly.” She turned away again, leaving them semi-confused. But, to their surprise, she paused again after a step.”And, one final piece of advice until our next meeting. If you ever meet anyone named Dana Sharp; or someone claiming to be from Sharp Development. Do not trust them under any circumstances.”

Wedding. Arrangement.

“Your daughter?” Arc-Wielder asked. The serpentine vines that held him upside down turned him right side up and placed him gently on the ground in front of Gaia. The hero corp. warned Arc-Wielder that Gaia was out of everyone’s league. Her reputation diminished a bit over the past four years; but, as powerful as she was, she usually kept to her own town. The heroes learned if they didn’t try to mess with her, she wouldn’t bother with them too much. Arc-Wielder, however, wanted to make a name for himself.

He was in her clutches two minutes after his first heroic act. Arc-Wielder tried to defend himself, but his electricity had no effect on her. Green vines shot out of the ground to grab his ankles then pulled him down into the earth. He was dragged fast with no idea in which direction he was being pulled. After what felt like several minutes, he saw light again.

He found himself dangling in the air staring at an upside-down woman with a bodice formed from brown and green vines. Her hair resembled a bundle of roots tied back atop her head; he recognized her instantly.

“PLEASE DON’T KILL ME, GAIA!” he pleaded. His blue mask, and cape, were lost somewhere in the Earth. His face was flush with the worry of his impending demise and the strain of all the blood rushing down. Gaia sighed and rolled her eyes. Four thick earthen spikes shot upward faster than Arc-Wielder could react. In an instant, he felt his head supported by four thick columns as the points missed his head by centimeters.

“I wouldn’t have brought you to my forest if I was going to kill you,” she said. “I brought you here to talk…,” Gaia added. “…to my daughter.”

“Why me?” Arc-Wielder asked once he was on his feet again.

“Because she needs your help, Greg,” Gaia said. Arc-Wielder’s eyes shot wide.

“How’d you know my name?” he asked. It took all his heroism to stay in place and not start taking steps backward. Not only was she out of his league entirely, she apparently knew his secret identity. Trying to run wouldn’t get him very far, but he hoped he could at least earn a sliver of respect by pretending to keep his cool.

“Mr. Gregory Quaid, you’re 28 years old, single, and own a moderately successful business. I wasn’t the entire reason for your move here, you’re expecting to grow your business even more here,” she said. Gaia’s smile grew wider as Greg’s face lost color. “The hero corp. hasn’t quite figured it out yet; but, I’m the actual, literal spirit of the Earth. I know everything.”

The brown roots atop Gaia’s head suddenly fell off her head and the vines that were wrapped around her torso loosened. Greg watched a  mid-40s soccer mom appear from underneath the roots and vines. He never would have guessed she was wearing jeans and a t-shirt under all the greens and browns.

“Keep my secret and stay alive,” Gaia said. She smiled and offered Greg her hand. “My name is Gale Stone, and my daughter’s name is Cadence.” Greg accepted her hand; but, instead of a handshake, he could only tremble slightly at the contact before pulling away.

“How.. uh..,” Greg swallowed his nerves. “How can I help your daughter?”  Gale sighed again, but with less annoyance this time.

“My little girl’s all grown up. She’s gotten men in her head and she’s decided she wants to get married.” Gale locked her jade eyes with his dark brown set. “That’s where you come in.”

If Greg had not been terrified out of his wits, he might have had a different, more helpful reaction. But, this all-powerful woman forced her trust on him and now she seemed intent on bringing him into the family.

“You’re kidding!” Greg laughed as soon as the words came out. It was a nervous, high-pitched laugh as he broke eye contact. He quickly looked around the forest clearing to find an escape path. That was the first time he noticed there wasn’t one; they were surrounded by a thick wall of trees. “I can’t marry your daughter!” he said. With no way out, he locked eyes with her again; they were colder this time.

“What do you mean, exactly?” she asked. Her voice was flat and her smile was gone.

“I’m honored! I really am!” Greg said while shaking his head. “I can’t marry a supervillain’s daughter! What if the hero corp. finds out?” Greg’s question was answered by a sharp lash across his cheek; one of Gale’s vines swayed like a snake in front of Greg as if expecting the need to give him another one.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Gale asked. This time she had an edge of frustration in her voice.

“Your daughter? You brought me here to talk to me about her…,” he said. “I’m successful and single. She wants to get married…,” Greg made several gestures with his hands as he explained his thought process. Gale immediately burst into a fit of giggles. Greg thought he was safe for a moment until he was suddenly upside down again. He felt vines roaming all over him; constricting and exploring his clothing as if trying to find a way in.

“As if a Zero like you is good enough for my daughter,” Gale continued to laugh. Greg knew he was going to die. He closed his eyes to wait for the inevitable. It started with another slap against his cheek.

“Hey, open your eyes idiot,” Gale said. He did.

“OOOOoooooooh. Shit.” Greg sighed as he felt his cheeks growing flush again; from the blood rush and embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” he said. The vines placed him on the ground again. He reached out and grabbed his business card from one of the vines; it was the site he saw the moment he opened his eyes and felt like a moron. Then, he knelt to grab his open wallet from the ground. “Your reputation, you know…,” he said.

“Are you going to help, or not?” Gale asked. Greg eagerly nodded, with a mock tip of the hat. 

“Quaid’s Wedding Plan and Design at your service.”

Secret Soldier

“Don’t move, Gaia. I don’t know what you’re doing in my city, but you still have crimes to answer for,” Spex yelled at the dark-haired woman. Gale Stone walked across the college campus searching for her daughter. She wore blue jeans and a black blouse, not her root-woven costume; she stopped walking and wondered how he recognized her. While in costume, long green vines replaced her shoulder-length black hair. Even her daughter was surprised when Gale revealed her identity.

“What’s your deal?” Gale asked vaguely. The hero didn’t quite look like one. He wore a well-tailored black suit with a bright blue tie, and a pair of thick, blue-rimmed glasses. She felt her node vibrate while she considered how to deal with him, then sighed. She knew it was from her daughter.

Sorry, sorry,” Gale thought. It was her way of knocking on Cadence’s mind. Gale had always respected Cadence’s mental boundaries. She could communicate telepathically with anyone on Earth, but she still raised Cadence the normal way; with lots of crying. On both their parts. “Did you just text me? I don’t want to dig through my purse right now.” While she thought, Spex continued talking.

“My deal? I don’t like villains roaming freely in my city. Are you going to turn yourself in quietly?” the suited hero asked.

“YES!” Cadence screamed in Gale’s mind. “Don’t hurt Spencer! I’m running to you!”

“Spencer?” Gale asked. “This stuffy Soldado is your boyfriend?”

Well?” Spex took a step forward. “Have anything to say for yourself, Gaia?”

He’s a Soldado?!” Cadence asked. Then, she ran out from behind a building towards Gale and Spex.

“I’m looking for someone,” Gale pointed at Cadence dashing in their direction. “There she is.”

“What!?” Spex’s eyes went wide the moment he recognized his girlfriend.

“She’s my mom!” Cadence said. “Please don’t hurt her, Spex.”

What are you doing?” Gale asked her daughter mentally.

Play along. I’ll explain later,” Cadence replied.

“Gaia is your mom!?” Spex asked. “You couldn’t have prepared me for that a little bit?” Cadence looked around at the bystanders, then tilted her head at Spex.

“What.. do you mean.. Spex,” she asked.

“My girlfriend’s mom is the most powerful, most evil villain in the world! That’s what I mean!” he said. He huffed angrily and pulled his glasses off. The suit and tie shimmered, the disappeared once the spectacles left his face. His blue jeans made Gale wonder how comfortable the suit was with them on under it.

“Spencer! What’s your deal!?” Cadence asked her boyfriend. She gestured around at the crowd who all picked that exact moment to look away at something else.

“She’s definitely your mom,” Spencer said. “What’s the problem now?”

“Your secret identity!” She said.

“Secret?” He asked. “Since when?” Cadence tilted her head at him.

“Since always?” she asked. “Even before I met you, everyone told me you liked to keep your identity secret.”

“It’s just a pair of glasses,” Spencer said. “I’m not trying to hide my identity; it’s the source of my powers.” To make his point, Spencer took a step back and put the glasses back on. His black suit appeared immediately, then it disappeared when he took them off again.

“Your strength, healing, and fighting abilities?” Gaia asked. “Those powers?”

“Oh yeah…,Cadence mumbled to herself.

“Yeah,” Spencer nodded.

“Well, Spencer, it seems we have a lot to talk about. Let’s get started,” Spencer was immediately swallowed into the ground. Gaia began sinking at a slower pace as if she were riding an elevator. “See you in a while, dear,” Gale blew a kiss to Cadence. She gave her mother one final warning.


Short Notice

July 19, 2019

“Ready for the final touch?” Mundo asked. The surly, heavy-set woman held the tattoo machine inches off Maxwell’s forearm. His tanned skin was covered with a freshly-inked potted ivy. Long green strands crept their way down his arm; there was an empty spot on its red pot. She released the foot pedal and leaned back in her seat when the pale college student took too long to answer. Instead, he swallowed hard.

“How’s this going to happen again?” he asked. Mundo sighed and set the machine down carefully. She was annoyed but patient; Maxwell wasn’t the first unsure Unique she woke. She offered him a cold water bottle. She felt like he was more nervous about the needle than anything else. He knew the answer but he needed a break. Mundo gave him a friendly smile and an exaggerated shrug.

“It’s impossible to say how exactly. For you it’ll probably be stats floating over the heads of Zeros,” she said. The broad woman looked out through the shop window at the bustling city street outside. “I can see most of them,” she turned back to him. “Once it happens, tell me what you see and I’ll tell you what stat it is.” Maxwell set the water down and presented his arm to Mundo again.

“Ready,” he said. Mundo nodded and grabbed his arm. She leaned on the foot pedal to start the machine’s high-pitched buzz. Mundo touched the tip to the red pot. With a slow, experienced motion she inked in the number 52 onto the pot. Again, she released the pedal to quiet the machine then sat back.

“All done.” She began prepping the plastic to protect it but Maxwell focused his attention at the stream of passersby.

“I don’t see anything,” he said. His eyes danced from head to head: blonde, bald, mohawk. All he saw was hairstyles the same as always.

“Sometimes it’s instant. Sometimes it’s not,” Mundo shrugged. “Give it time.” She wrapped his forearm. She had just finished when he yanked his hand away and jumped out of the chair.

“I SEE IT!” he shouted while pointing out the window. His head swiveled from side to side like a garden sprinkler as he eyed the new numbers floating above everyone’s heads.

“Alright. What do you see?” Mundo said. She stood from her stool and stretched as tall as she could. It wasn’t much; she was taller sitting on the stool. After the stretch, she took several steps to stand next to him and stare out the window.

“A date…,” Maxwell’s gaze hopped from head to head, then he nodded. “They’re all dates,” he pointed at a hurried man in a dark suit. He rushed past carrying a briefcase. “That one has today’s date,” he said.

“Yep,” Mundo nodded. “He’s dying today, you see their death date.”  He faced her with a concerned look.

“Can’t we do something for him?” She met his eyes; hers were narrowed with slight confusion.

“Why?” she asked.

“Because he’s going to die?” Maxwell said. Mundo nodded.

“That’s right. No matter what you do, he’s still going to die. Probably still today, but maybe you can keep him safe until tomorrow or the next day.” She shrugged then she wandered to the customer service counter. “Are you signing up to be a permanent guardian angel?” she asked him. Maxwell sighed and shook his head. Mundo pulled her own bottle of water out from under the counter and took a big gulp. She sighed after she swallowed and sat down on the tall stool she kept there. “Besides…,” she pointed out the window again. “…things change all the time.” Maxwell looked out at the crowd and picked a random, attractive stranger to check her date: it was today’s date also. He started looking at as many as he could. All the dates had changed to today’s date.  Maxwell turned to Mundo.

“What.. what’s going on? Is that supposed to happen?” He asked. Mundo was in the process of lighting a cigarette.  After she exhaled the first puff she smiled at him.

“It looks like everyone out there is going to die today,” she said flatly. Maxwell looked at her; his eyes flitted above her head; she shook it.

“It only works on Zeros, but don’t worry,” she took a long drag from the cigarette and took her time exhaling. The persistent stream of pedestrians stopped. They all stared upward. “… we’re going to die today too.” The still crowd suddenly dispersed in all directions. They ran away screaming in fear. A single white skeleton landed in front of Mundo’s tattoo shop. “Ballisea’s here.”

Global Shutdown

The lunchtime murmur in Mundo’s cafe suddenly went quiet. The handful of patrons all looked up from their meals at the same time, as if they had the same thought. Albert knew he wasn’t the only one visited by the foreign thought. What he didn’t expect was a sudden fit of giggles erupting at the counter.

“Mundo!” a woman called. She was in the small group of three that started giggling at the message. A young woman with forest green hair came out of the kitchen and immediately joined in with their giggles. Albert glanced around the cafe. The trio, two men and a woman, in their conversation with Mundo were the only ones talking. Most of the patrons left in the few seconds that Albert watched the excitement at the counter.

“Others will try to lie to you and say they can hear my voice too,” the mysterious voice invaded Albert’s mind again. “But they’re lying. Yours is the one true religion. Only trust my followers,” it said. Albert couldn’t help but feel amused. He was an atheist. Whoever the voice belonged to; it certainly wasn’t a god. The vague terminology sounded more like poor attempts at cold reading.

“You’re not God; don’t listen to him, folks,” a woman’s voice suddenly spoke in Albert’s mind. More laughter erupted from the counter.

“Who dares interrupt my message to my faithful followers!?” The male voice boomed in Albert’s mind.

“Why are you trying to get in the way of people’s days, Larry? You’re not God. I know where you live; I know that you decided to try and take over the world without pants on. If you’re going to keep pretending, I’ll have to send someone in person to ask you to stop.”

“I’m sorry. This isn’t God, I won’t bother anyone anymore,” the male voice said.

“I’m not God either,” Mundo said in Albert’s mind. “Listen to whatever your faith tells you, don’t listen to random voices in your head.”

Fresh Recruits

“You don’t have to apologize every time,” Rose giggled. “That’s why we’re practicing; try it again.” The pair of new friends sat in a diner for a Saturday brunch. They met on a crowded subway when Rose read his mind and gave him her number. When he finally called, Rose suggested the diner; she explained the mid-morning rush would help Ruben hone his control. Ruben never heard of Mundo’s, but he had to admit the food was great. Ruben closed his eyes and concentrated on keeping his thoughts to himself. The meal was still fresh in his mind.

That was the best steak and eggs I”ve ever had,” Ruben thought.

“YOU can come back any time, Melón!” A bald man with a forest green beard called out from the kitchen. Rose giggled again and shook her head.

“You’re trying too hard,” she said. Ruben leaned closer to the center of the table and lowered his voice to a whisper.

“Did he call me a melon?” Ruben asked. Rose laughed again, but this time she nodded; her pink bangs bobbed with the motion.

“One thing at a time. Get your thoughts under control, then we’ll explain the rest to you.”

“Or you can just get a tattoo,” Mundo said. The stocky bald man appeared next to their table and gave Ruben a slice of pie. “On the house for my new favorite customer,” he grinned.

“Oooh yeah, I didn’t think about that,” Rose said.

“Tattoo?” Ruben asked. He was trying to follow the conversation as best he could. He knew Rose and apparently, a notable portion of the population could hear his thoughts as if he were broadcasting them.  She seemed to know how and why it was happening, and it looked like Mundo did too. Though, he had no idea what a tattoo had to do with anything. While thinking about it; he noticed that Mundo had an Earth tattooed on his right hand with the number 37 above it. He also knew Rose had a rose tattooed on the back of her neck with the number 41 on its petals.

“You want me to take care of the kitchen so you can do the honors?” Rose asked Mundo with a friendly smile. Ruben got the impression the two were old friends.

“Rosita, I would love that,” Mundo sighed. “But, it would be selfish. I have standards to maintain. Not just anyone can cook the world’s best steak and eggs,” he patted Ruben on the shoulder and chuckled.

“You go ahead, but stick around until things calm down. We’ll get a tattoo on him.” Mundo waved and returned to the kitchen.

“Tattoo?” Ruben asked again.

“You are what’s known as a Unique Soul; Mundo and I are too. Right now, your soul is in what’s called, ‘Slumbering’ mode,” Rose added air quotes around slumbering. “Your abilities are kind of leaking out. But if we Awaken your soul, you’ll have control over them. To Awaken your soul you need to get your number on your skin; you’re number 11. El melón. I’m number 41, La Rosa, and Mundo is number 37. El Mundo.”

“Is that why I can’t read your thoughts? Because I’m not Awakened yet?” Rose shook her head.

“El melón can broadcast and read the minds of other melons, but it’s not full telepathy. You’ll also be able to thicken your skin somewhat; kind of like I can do this,” Rose said. She held up her arm and Ruben watched thick, spiky thorns sprout out of her skin.

“Whoa…,” Ruben was impressed and excited that he was special like her. The thorns receded and Rose lowered her arm.

“So… I need to get a melon tattooed on me?” Ruben said with slight concern. Rose giggled.

“You only need the number 11, but I like roses, so I added a rose to mine.”

“So there are other melons and roses and mundos out there?”

“It depends on what you mean by, ‘out there’,” Rose said. “On this Earth, no. That’s why we’re called Unique Souls, only one of us per Earth, not that every Earth gets every Unique.”

“Hold on. Other Earths?” The thing that surprised Ruben most was that he immediately accepted it as true. The moment she mentioned it, deep inside it felt like something he’d always known. “That sounds amazing! Why didn’t you mention that sooner?” Rose shrugged.

“It doesn’t mean much for you and me; we can’t leave this Earth.”

“So we know there are other Earths out there, but there’s no way to get to them?” Ruben asked. Rose shook her head.

“Getting to them is easy for Uniques that aren’t rooted to their Earth. We literally can’t leave this one, even with a portal right in front of us.” Ruben suddenly became aware of a tall old man that approached their table. He wore a forest green suit with a gold vest. His right eye drew Ruben’s attention immediately. It seemed to be a glass eye painted to look like a globe; and it rotated slowly in its socket. The number 37 was tattooed directly under it.

“That’s not strictly true,” the man interrupted their conversation with a smile. “A standard rule of life is: it all depends on who you know.”