Molly

Team: TBA

Unique: #46 – El Sol: These Uniques have limitless potential. Most Sols begin at B-tier and they all have the potential to reach S∞-tier. El Sol grows in power by absorbing souls, though Unique Souls grant the greatest boost. Souls they absorb are not consumed and may be freed at the whim of El Sol. They also have the ability to generate a warm aura of trust that leaves people in a suggestive state. El Sol at A-tier and above may learn to use Estrella’s Sight. El Sol at S-tier and above may learn to give temporary boons to Zeros.

Name: Molly

Login phrase: Shine Bright!

AlterNet Character: Molly

Race: Mermaid

Soul: Water Elemental

Class: Healer

Spec: Soul Tapper

Favorite l.oadout: (can be changed during a pit stop)

Agility: TBA

Charisma: TBA

Dexterity:  TBA

Intelligence: TBA

Stamina: TBA

Strength: TBA

Flair: TBA

Physical Description: Curly blonde hair and sea-blue eyes. Fair-skinned and average height and weight.

Family: Molly was born to Zero parents.

Background: Molly’s parents are a sailor and a mermaid. She had a peaceful childhood growing up in a seaside town. Unfortunately, she was forbidden from going to the beach until she was 14. That was the day she discovered she was a mermaid and a Unique Soul.

She began attending the Nexus Academy and questing in the AlterNet in her free time. It wasn’t long before she made other friends besides Sprocket. She made so many friends that she decided to put a team together.

Stellar Tour 5: Zero Waiting

June 23, 2021 A person finds a computer, and upon opening up one of its tabs, finds that he can edit, remove, or add aspects to any object in the universe.

“Well, that went…,” Oz sighed. He was glad to be out of the goblin’s boardroom. “…on.” He looked around to take in his new surroundings. Astra took them to another Earth straight out of the meeting. He was outdoors now and cycled through several deep breaths. He hoped the fresh air would rinse his lungs of the stench of goblins. When he first arrived on the Paradise server he encountered a horde of zombies. At the time, it was the foulest smell he’d ever encountered in his life. Then, he walked into the goblin’s boardroom. It was hot and humid. But, the stench made him wonder if all the humidity in the air consisted solely of goblin sweat.

If there was one thing he was thankful for, it was that the goblins barely let Astra talk, much less him. Oz did not have to open his mouth once and risk tasting the air. Now he happily gulped as much air as he could, and he caught the delicious scent of cooking meat. It wafted through a giant open archway ahead of them. Beyond it was a city of tents and stalls with dozens if not hundreds of patrons pushing through the crowd from vendor to vendor.

“We shopping?” he asked. Astra shook her head but walked forward through the arch.

“Now that we got help from the goblins, we need a team. That means you need to make your AlterNet character. This server is called ‘The Schoolyard‘. It was meant to be a tutorial server; but, since it was the first stop for most new players it drew some unsavory types. Sharp Development, along with plenty of helpful players, have managed to keep reasonably civil. Now the entire Earth is pretty much a grey market.”

“The goblins agreed to help? I was holding my breath so long I might’ve blacked out; I don’t remember that. All I heard was they wanted us to challenge them to a derby game. It was hard to keep track with them talking over each other.” Astra giggled as she led Oz through the crowd.

“We’re going to need all the practice we can get anyway. That’s why they’ll only help us if we beat them.” Astra turned right. Oz turned with her and stumbled in surprise at the new path. He had been enjoying the sights and sounds of the bazaar; he saw fairies, ogres, mermaids, and more purchasing deadly weapons and shiny trinkets. But, the new path changed under his feet from a worn dirt path to a paved concrete thoroughfare. The tents and wooden stalls lining the sides were replaced with brick storefronts, glass windows, and neon signs. Oz did a quick double-take to look back down the dirt path to make sure he didn’t miss Astra Traversing them to a new Earth. The crowded bazaar was still behind them and he could return to the dirt path with a single step. Astra continued walking and he dashed to catch up as she walked into a shop. A blue neon sign on the glass door only had three letters: “Jny”.

Walking in was like stepping into a new world again. Oz wasn’t sure if he’d ever get used to the sudden changes. Before he entered, the interior appeared to be a standard curio shop with knick-knack-lined shelves. The actual shop was a white room with no one else in sight. Oz had given up trying to keep track of Ben; Astra’s pet wolf. It could turn invisible, and she could send it to another Earth with a thought. As large as it was, it spent most of its time out of sight. Then, Oz noticed a sudden movement from under the white floor. A white and red koi fish swam out of the ground and sprouted crystalline insect wings. It flitted upward to hover before Astra. The young girl waved at it.

“Hi Flynn, is Jenny around?” she asked. Oz watched the fluttering fish hoping to see a talking fish for the first time. Instead, Astra shook her head, then sighed. “No, I didn’t make an appointment. Melody sent us.” The koi’s wings disintegrated and the koi plummeted to the ground and splashed into the white floor.

A white splash ring radiated outward from Flynn’s impact. The wake of the ripple replaced the white ground with green and white checkerboard tile. A counter appeared on one side of the room; then, a small red, round table sprung out of the tile along with two seats for the table.

“We wait,” Astra said, then took a seat. Oz noticed a lit brick oven behind the counter then took in the rest of the new room.

“Is this a pizzeria?” Oz asked. He wandered to the brick oven to take a closer look.

“It’s the AlterNet,” Astra said. “It can be anything.”

“Whoa!” Oz said. He’d turned from the stove to head to the table but flashing lights on the counter caught his eyes. A smooth glass keyboard seemed to be imprinted on the wooden, worn counter. Blue letters glowed under the elongated grid of squares. Oz couldn’t suppress the instinct to reach out and bump the neon blue spacebar.

The moment he did, a large display materialized before him on the counter facing him. The screen showed a single table in a pizzeria matching the room they were in. Oz didn’t see anything that resembled a mouse and his curiosity led him to hit the backspace key.

“Ow!” Astra yelped when she landed on her bottom; both chairs were gone from the room.

“Sorry!” Oz replied. He quickly hit the spacebar to try and bring them back. Instead, the table moved about a foot away from Astra.

“It’s better if you stop,” Astra said as she stood up.

“Yeah, It really is,” a new voice said. Astra and Oz turned to see a young woman focused on Oz behind the counter. She pulled back her purple hood to reveal her dark spiky hair; then, she crossed her arms and raised a single eyebrow at Oz.

Stellar Tour 2: Sun & Games


June 20, 2021 Smash ‘Em Up Sunday: Bound by System

“Go that way really fast. If something gets in your way, turn.” – Charles de Mar.

Oz stared at the abyss-like portal before him. It stood vertically like an open door to the pitch-black unknown. When he received his assignment that morning, he did not expect to have his reality shattered. He was proud to be considered an official agent worthy of a solo mission. Oz worked for a top-secret organization that recruited and trained magical girls and boys. He regretted that it couldn’t always be done with their consent; but, his organization was keeping humanity safe. He hoped he wouldn’t have to use force; but, Astra did not want to be registered as a magical girl. Oz’s training led him to make threats he hoped he wouldn’t have to fulfill. Then, Astra pulled back the veil.

“Infinite alternate Earths…,” Oz said. “Infinite humans…who are we even protecting?” he asked.

“People,” Astra smiled. She dismissed the portal with a casual wave of her hand. She sensed it was going to be a conversation and moved to the nearest park bench. Ben, her white wolf, lay at her feet once she sat down. “You should protect people. But, you know,” she shrugged. “Take it easy. You do realize you were about to kidnap me, right?” she asked. Oz stood up straighter and locked eyes with the 13-year-old girl.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I really am… I don’t know how I can go back there now.”

“Then, don’t,” Astra said. Oz shook his head. He decided to join her on the park bench.

“I’m afraid it’s not that easy,” he said. “There’s a standard protocol for kidnapping,” Oz said. “It’s not an easy organization to join or leave.”

“Why not?” Astra asked.

“People talk about secret societies all the time,” Oz said. “They’re the real deal. After your spiderfall stunt, they found you pretty easily,” he said. Astra shrugged and giggled.

“I wasn’t even hiding,” she said. Despite himself, Oz chuckled. He needed whatever levity he could get right now.

“You don’t know the machinations they can bring down on me,” Oz chuckled again. “Heck, I probably don’t even know them. They control the world. That’s just the way things are. I’m powerless to change it,” He sighed and leaned forward with his forearms on his knees; he stared down at the gravel park path. Astra burst into a fit of giggles.

“You think they control the Earth?” she asked. “First of all, that’s not even remotely true. Second of all, even if it were…,” Astra nodded at the empty path in front of them; a tall black portal opened. “…just go to another one.” Oz sat up and looked at Astra again.

“What do you mean that’s not true?” Astra shrugged.

“I’ve been to Earths “controlled” by someone,” she said. “When you have control, you don’t have to hide it. They just want you to think they can make anything happen. Your organization might have plenty of resources; but;…controlling an Earth is out of their league.” Oz sighed again.

“Semantics,” he said. “The point is they can make the rest of my life very short and very miserable.” Astra shook her head.

“Nope. The point is you’ve given up trying to find a way out before you started. If nothing else…,” Astra made a gesture with her hand and a new portal opened. “Different Earth?” Oz shook his head.

“I don’t even know how you do that; I definitely can’t do it.” Astra tilted her head at him.

“It’s a portal. Anyone can walk through it.”

“And anyone just might,” a woman’s voice echoed around them. Ben immediately stood on all fours; his fur bristled and he growled at the portal. A tall, pale woman with tall bone-white horns atop her head sauntered out of the portal. She wore a long, flowing black dress that dragged on the floor. She looked at Astra and smiled. “Hola, Estrellita.”

Before Oz could wonder about the stranger a flash of black covered his vision. His mind was confused as to whether he blinked or not; but, suddenly the park was slightly different. The trees were taller than moments ago; the portal and the pale woman were gone. He turned to ask Astra but she was on her feet pulling his arm in a panic.

“RUN!” she screamed. She ran forward down the path with Ben at her side and Oz behind them. His first few steps were confusing. Obsidian darkness flashed over his eyes with every other step. It wasn’t until Oz noticed that Astra looked back to check for him after every black flash that he realized what was happening. Every few steps, Astra was taking them to another universe. Oz had a million questions, but at the moment, he trusted Astra more than he trusted himself.

Before Astra revealed the multiverse, Oz might have been tempted to try and fight the strange woman. He was a relatively new recruit with the organization; but, all his training taught him to be formidable with his magical abilities. Astra’s reflexive flight at the horned woman’s appearance hinted to Oz that he wouldn’t stand a chance. After another black flash, Astra halted. Oz ran into her but managed to slow himself enough not to topple them over.

“Estrellita, you know you can’t run from me,” a now-familiar voice said. Oz would never forget that voice for the rest of his life; and, it was burned into his brain mostly based on secondhand terror. He had no idea who she was. But, he knew that they ran through at least seven alternate universes; and, somehow she was waiting for them.

“Please don’t hurt him, Ballisea!” Astra yelled. She stood in front of Oz and spread her arms wide to defend him. Ballisea’s obsidian eyes flitted to Oz, then back to Astra. She sighed with disappointment.

“Little one, if I was going to hurt that Zero, I wouldn’t have let you take him for a walk. I happened to overhear your conversation, and it sounded like that Earth could use a little shake-up, hmm? Maybe do away with those kidnappers? I really could use the entertainment.” Astra stepped forward and tilted her head at the horned woman and relaxed her arms.

“Are.. you.. asking me?” she asked. “For… permission?” Ballisea sighed.

“For reasons I don’t feel like explaining, yes,” she said with a nod.

“No way!” Astra yelled. She was so excited she jumped in place. “This is because your team lost, isn’t it?” she asked. “EVERYONE saw that game; this is why the stakes were kept private, isn’t it?” she asked with a broad grin; and, standing closer to Ballisea than Oz would have liked. Especially when they were fleeing in terror moments before. Ballisea stared at Astra expectantly, but did not answer the question. “I won’t give you permission if you don’t answer me,” she said. Ballisea narrowed her eyes at Astra for a moment, then nodded.

“No. This is not related to the stakes of that game,” she said. “This is related to the stakes of the next game.”

“The next game?” Astra asked. “But.. your team… kinda died…?” she said.

“I’m building a new one,” Ballisea replied.

“Can I-?”

“No,” Ballisea cut off Astra’s request.

“Oh. Okay,” Astra nodded, then she looked at Oz.

“Is it okay if she kills all your bosses?” she asked him. Oz replied with a dazed nod. Astra turned back to Ballisea.

“JUST the evil organization. Take your skeletons and leave that Earth alone once they’re gone. I have family there; if you hurt them or any other innocents there, you break the terms,” Astra said. Ballisea nodded.

“Agreed. I’ll leave in peace. Once I finish,” Ballisea said. Then, she dissipated into a black mist that disappeared.

“What the hell just happened?” Oz asked. “First, we’re running for our lives.. then you’re giving her orders?” Astra shrugged and smiled.

“Everyone knows that the game is only fun if people follow the rules.”

Sun. Drop.

“OW!” Tanner gave Anna a confused, hurt look. The lean, mid-50s man glanced down at his bare, bloodied chest then back up at his fiance. She was still holding the gun up and pointed at him. “You shot-,”

Anna’s eyes widened in surprise and slight panic. Most of her targets went down after the first shot or were at least worried by it. She immediately fired again and kept firing until the gun was empty. The silencer did its job and protected her ears; but, Tanner continued to stand upright. His wounds bled a surprisingly small amount. The bullet holes seemed to do no more damage than a nasty papercut.

“That figures,” Tanner mumbled to himself. “I finally let myself love someone and she’s a psycho.” His hurt expression somehow triggered emotions more real than any she’d lied about over the past year.

“I’m not a psycho!” Anna felt compelled to defend herself even as she reloaded the weapon. Tanner did not seem to be making any moves to fight back or call for help. They stood in his bedroom at the center of a six-acre estate. It was a Sunday morning and all his household staff had the day off. “I’m an assassin, it’s different.” Tanner gave a moping shrug.

“People don’t just fall into that line of work,” he said. “It takes certain proclivities.”

“It’s nothing personal,” she said. She was ready to pull the trigger again, but she noticed the first 10 bullet wounds were completely healed up. Despite the situation, Tanner gave a chuckle. Anna was a professional and managed to avoid developing feelings for Tanner; but, he didn’t make it easy. She had to admit it was refreshing how he could find humor in almost any situation.

“That doesn’t really help your case,” he said.

“Why aren’t you dead?” Anna asked. She was initially surprised he seemed so calm. But, after his wounds healed she realized he likely wasn’t worried about being shot. And, he still seemed like his usual, level-headed self. She felt confident she could get some answers out of him. Maybe she would learn something beyond her assignment that would earn her a promotion.

“Eehhh,” Tanner made the sound of a shrug. “I feel like I’ve got the upper hand here. Why do you want me dead?” he asked.

“I’m just doing my job. It took me a year to get the info and all I have to do is tie up a loose end,” Anna replied.

“Info? What info?” Tanner asked. He was tired of standing for the stand-off and wandered over to get back in bed. Whatever the information was, he had to have mentioned it the night before. The only things he’d said to her that morning were ‘good morning, babe’ and ‘where are you going?’ when he got out of bed to follow her. That was the moment she turned and fired before he realized she had a weapon. He happily chatted about his newest product the night before because it was finally ready for launch. However, he didn’t consider it to be a secret.

Anna’s arms grew tired of holding up the gun. Despite the fact that she shot him several times, she still felt completely safe in his presence. She lowered the weapon but did not put it away.

“The frequency to open a portal,” she said. “Once my bosses get it they’ll be able to access and control the multiverse.” Anna’s knees weakened slightly when Tanner burst into his familiar hearty, sincere laughter. Not falling in love had been the most difficult part of her assignment if she was honest with herself. It was nearly impossible. But, it helped that she felt he was laughing at her.

Control the multiverse?” he asked between chortles. “You don’t even know what’s out there.”

“And you do?” Anna asked. It was part reflexive childishness and part reconnaissance. Anna was determined to be on the winning side, whatever it was. If she could get her bosses more information, the more likely they were to be that winning side. Tanner’s chuckles slowed and faded, but he gestured at his muscular chest and six-pack abs. They were completely unmarred. Then, he held the back of his hand up to show her his tattoo; it was a small bright yellow sun with the number 46 on it.

“What? You got a magic tattoo that heals you from another universe?”

“Not exactly,” Tanner replied. “It’s more like the tattoo lets me access the healing powers I already had,” he said.

“Are you an alien?” Anna asked. Instead of stepping back in fear, she moved closer to the bed. Even if he was an alien, Anna knew he wouldn’t hurt her; he’d had plenty of opportunities up that point.

“No, but we’ll get back to that,” he said. “First, I want to tell you that you wasted a year, or took too long. Either way, your employers won’t be happy about that, and the fact I’m still alive,” he added with a chuckle.

“The information you were after is going to be public knowledge by next week. The nodes I’m putting out will have multiverse access built-in. What did you think I meant when I told you my nodes would change the world?” 

“I thought you were being hyperbolic,” Anna replied. Tanner seemed to always be right about everything in their year together; she felt that he was right about her bosses too. They wouldn’t be satisfied having only a week’s headstart over the rest of the world.

“Well, I wasn’t,” he said with a slight smirk. “But, just to give you an idea of what’s out there I want to tell you something. I didn’t invent nodes, I’m not even building them,” he said. “All this ‘development’ I’ve been doing over the past year has just been paperwork trying to get a distribution license. The multiverse is already controlled by a corporation called Sharp Development. Everything goes through them. Even if you got the information and killed me a year ago, it wouldn’t have mattered. The moment you opened a portal, Sharp Development would know.”

Somehow, Anna knew he wasn’t lying. He’d been nothing but honest with her for a year, even if she wasn’t. Her bosses wouldn’t be happy with her. And with everyone getting access to the multiverse the world was about to change in a huge way. Not only did she probably not have a job anymore; she didn’t need to stay even if she did. She could run away and live a happy life with someone that she wanted to love.

“So, what about you? What are you?” she asked. Tanner chuckled again and gave her a slight smirk. This time, Anna let the butterflies in her stomach flutter away without suppression.

“Well, my fiance totally just tried to kill me and has been lying to me for a year,” he said with a heavy sigh. Anna did not have time to react when the bed disappeared from under her. As she fell through a black hole, the last thing she ever heard was his voice one last time. “So, I guess I’m single again.”

Inviting Sun

Minerva’s heart sank with the gavel bang. The court ruled her a witch and in an instant, the gathered townsfolk rushed at her like a rabid mob.

“BURN THE WITCH!” Minerva’s own mother yelled. The young woman couldn’t blame her though; she saw the pain in her mother’s eyes. She knew she was only doing it to take the blame off herself for birthing a witch at all. Not that Minerva was actually a witch. The accusation only came because she proved herself to be stronger than any man in the village.

It was a festive day full of friendly competitions; Minerva won them all easily. The mayor’s ego was particularly bruised when Minerva bested his son in a wrestling competition.

“She has unnatural strength! It’s magic!” he shouted. That was all it took to get her on trial. A trial presided over by the Mayor himself; she never stood a chance. Then, almost as quickly as it began, the ruckus died down. A brilliant, almost warm glow entered the room. Everyone, now quiet, sat down again and turned to face the newcomer. Minerva noted the crowd seemed relaxed and guessed they felt like she did; ready to nap on a beach on a warm sunny day.

“This woman is no witch,” the stranger said. She was tall, lean, and ghostly pale.  Her hair shimmered like polished metal as did her eyes.

“And you are, Ms.?” The mayor asked. His question came in a far more polite tone than Minerva had ever heard from him in her 20 years. It only made it stranger that he was addressing a woman. The rest of the townsfolk seemed content to sit quietly and bask in her warm glow.

“You may call me Chroma,” the woman replied. She continued walking towards the witness stand at an easy pace.

“And how are you sure that she’s not a witch?” the mayor asked. Chroma smiled at him, she was now directly in front of Minerva.

“Because I am,” she replied. Minerva’s eyes went in fear for the woman. She expected the crowd to rush Chroma just as ferociously as they did her; but, no one moved. The mayor only nodded his head.

“I see,” he replied. “Though, that doesn’t necessarily exclude her from being one. Witches belong to covens. How do you explain her magical strength?” Minerva was amazed that the mayor’s argument came out so peacefully. She knew it was due to Chromas glow, and she did not doubt for a minute that the woman was definitely a witch.

“What’s to explain?” Chroma shrugged. “Your boys are just weak; they should get more exercise.”

“Hmmm,” the mayor nodded again. “I suppose they have been getting lazy.”

“It’s a beautiful day outside, why is everyone in here?” Chroma asked. Minerva felt the sudden urge to run outside, but Chroma placed a hand on her shoulder to keep her steady. Another bang of the gavel drew everyone’s attention.

“Not a witch. Case closed. Let’s get back to the festival,” the mayor said. The townsfolk all stood calmly, then filed out of the courtroom. The moment Chroma and Minerva were alone, Chroma’s golden, sunny glow dimmed and Minerva’s head felt clearer.

“Are you okay?” Chroma asked her. Minerva nodded.

“Yes, thank you. Who are you? Why is a witch helping me?” 

“I’m not a witch exactly. I do use magic, but it’s not witchcraft,” Chroma replied with a smile. Minerva couldn’t help but stare into her mirror-like eyes. They were polished enough that Minerva was looking into her own green eyes.

“I helped you with the hope of convincing you to help me,” Chroma replied. Minerva nodded immediately; she was beyond grateful at this point.

“Whatever it is, if I can help you, I will,” Minerva replied. Chroma smiled. A tall black portal opened next to Minerva and Chroma nodded at it.

“Welcome to the Chrome Court. You’re going to help me save the multiverse,” Chroma then stepped into the void and disappeared. Minerva heard her voice from the other side. “Come along, Calavera.”

Alice Wanders

“I just want to say for the record, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Alice said out loud. She was the only person in the corner of the park that morning. It was an early Thursday morning. After a few years of chasing leads, she finally found what everyone called the Rabbit Hole. The officer protested to herself as she stared at the dark hole in the ground. She knew she already decided on her course of action, but she gave her mind a way out, just in case.

The Rabbit Hole was first mentioned in a case 30 years ago. It was a case Alice’s father was working on, and the idea of an endless rabbit hole took root in Alice’s young mind. The case was quickly forgotten; it turned out to be a crazy homeless woman that swore up and down she’d seen another world.

Alice’s first case on the force, a decade ago, also introduced her to someone that entered and returned from the rabbit hole. It triggered a long search for Alice. There had been hundreds of cases that mention the rabbit hole, but they were low profile, non-violent cases. They were often missing persons that reported themselves missing after the fact. No one cared that one corner of the park seemed to consistently attract the mentally imbalanced.

Alice managed to get information out of a few of the victims; but, for the most part, they seemed wary of Alice mocking them. The handful of people she talked to all had similar stories; enough that Alice hoped she knew what to expect. She brought a hiking pack with some supplies including food, water, and a first-aid kit. She also brought along her gun, but left her badge behind. Alice wasn’t on a case. She was 10 years old again and ready to explore the Rabbit Hole.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Alice spoke and nodded to herself as she approached the dark pit; it was interesting that she could not see anything into it. It wasn’t shallow enough to see the bottom or even any of the sides. It was just a round black hole. “But it’ll be fun,” Alice closed her eyes and jumped in.

“Owwwwww,” She immediately landed off-balance with one foot in a pit and the other landed, and twisted, at the edge. She toppled backward. She opened her eyes as she fell back; she landed awkwardly on her backpack and heard the crunch of various supplies. Alice didn’t have time to care about that.

The azure sky she left behind was replaced with bright, violet clouds against a deep purple sky. Alice giggled and let herself relax completely. It was true.

The clouds and sky were exactly what she expected. Alice inhaled deeply and relished the moment until her backpack became too uncomfortable. Then, she sat up and looked around properly. Alice sat on a lush green hill overlooking a town. According to the victims she interviewed, Alice would not have much trouble finding a way back home in the town. She stood, turned around, and promptly started walking up the hill. Her ankle was tender, but she hobbled up the hillside with determination. She did not know where she was headed, but she was there to explore.

“Are you lost, little Corona?’ A woman’s voice suddenly echoed around Alice. She whirled around to find the source, but did not see anything. Movement in the sky caught her attention and she looked up to see a giant black hole in the sky. It looked as dark as the Rabbit’s hole but as large as the town below the hill. White skeletons began raining out of the hole on the town.

“This Earth is mine now..,” the voice said. This time, a tall, pale, horned woman appeared in front of Alice from out of nowhere. She wore a long flowing black dress, and two bone-white horns spiraled out of the top of her head. “…but, I’ll place you on another one. Have you any preference?” she asked. She stared down at Alice with a patient, amused expression.

Up until the moment the horned woman referred to it as an Earth, Alice still had her doubts. Part of her wanted to believe it was an alternate Earth. In every interview, she heard the phrase “It’s a lot like Earth.” Not only was this woman claiming an Earth, she offered to send Alice to a different one. Alice now realized there were at least three universes and wanted to know more. Her years of learning about people told her she did not want to give away her home Earth to the stranger. Alice did not know why the woman took a special interest in her, but she knew she did not want to drag it out more than necessary.

Alice went down the Rabbit Hole planning to explore. She now knew there was much more to learn than she ever expected, and she knew this woman wasn’t one to ask. But, she did offer to send her somewhere. Anywhere.

“I don’t know who you are or what you’re talking about,” Alice said. Her experience told her this woman would respect sincerity, and she would be able to tell if Alice tried to lie. “I am lost, can you send me somewhere I can learn?” she asked. The woman gave Alice a curt nod.

“When you get there, tell them Ballisea sent you,” the woman said. Before Alice could thank her, the ground disappeared beneath her feet. She sunk straight down into the hole, then landed on a smooth white, tile floor. She noticed two women in front of her, but before Alice could gather herself she was on her knees. One of the two women, one in black, rushed Alice and pulled her up by her hair. The woman held a blue glowing hand in front of Alice’s face and she felt waves of heat coming from it.

“Who are you!?” the woman in black asked. Her tone was calm, but just barely. Alice shut her eyes in pain as the woman yanked her to her feet. Alice thought about fighting back, but she still did not fully understand the situation. Maybe they didn’t either.

“BALLISEA SENT ME!!!?” Alice blurted out. Alice felt the woman’s grip loosen on her hair, but did not release her. The blue light surrounding her hand dimmed.

“Why?” The woman in black asked.

“To learn!” Alice said. “Ballisea showed up to conquer an Earth, but said I was free to go. I couldn’t think of anything and said I wanted to go somewhere to learn.”

“Melody,” the second woman, she wore a crisp white suit, spoke up. Melody, immediately released Alice’s hair, then helped her up to her feet. After Alice was up, Melody looked at the woman in white and nodded.

“47,” Melody said. Then, the woman in white nodded and stepped forward with an outstretched hand.

“You’ve come to the right place,” she said. “My name is Dana Sharp.”

Dungeons & Exposition

“A whole month? With you?” Dread asked Jenny. She sounded eager for a moment, then corrected her statement. “..and Astrid?” she glanced at the short girl next to them. The three girls stood on an endless amber plain underneath a dim purple sky.

“The window’s open for 30 days,” Jenny shook her head. The stiff black peaks that made up her hair wobbled with the motion. “But, we don’t need to stay for the whole month. Ms. Sharp wants to add dungeon matches to the tournament since she’s restarting it anyway. The dungeon server opening up has some good starter ruins to get used to the differences.”

“What kind of differences?” Astrid asked. Then, she let out a small giggle and shrugged. “Though, I haven’t played a real derby match yet either. It’s all new to me,” she shrugged. Jenny nodded.

“In a derby match, relative power levels stay consistent for the players and any monsters on the track. In a dungeon Match, every time you level up, it’s like descending a dungeon. Random monsters will start spawning instead of only player summoned ones. Then, the monsters start getting tougher as you get deeper. But they also start dropping better gear that makes the players stronger too.”

“So we get stronger too?” Dread asked. “Won’t that cancel out the stronger monsters?” Jenny shook her head.

“The other team gets stronger too, right?” Astrid asked.

“The big rule for derby is: ‘It isn’t a race.’,” Jenny replied. “Dungeon matches kind of are. If one team levels up faster they make stronger monsters and have better gear. The other team will have trouble keeping up with everything against them; we don’t want to be that team.”

“Should I have picked a faster class?” Astrid asked.

“Nah,” Jenny shook her head with a giggle. “Stop asking, you already picked Swordmage. You can’t change your class, so for the last time,” she said with mild exasperation. “It’s not about what role you fill, it’s about having fun.”

Astrid nodded, her tight black curls bounced. She caught Jenny’s mild annoyance. It bruised her feelings a bit, but Astrid knew her new friend meant well. And, she knew that she’d probably asked Jenny what class would best help the team one too many times during character creation.

“I can’t wait,” Dread said. “We going now?”

“What about the rest of the team?” Astrid asked. Jenny shrugged.

“Bailey has a ton of dungeon matches under her belt already; she doesn’t need the practice. Britt’s always working, but Dirge can probably use some dungeon time.”

“Oh, no. She’s busy,” Dread said quickly. “Uhh.. I think she wants to hang out with Vegas more. I think we should go just you and me. And Astrid,” Dread added.

“Actually, Astrid reminded me of something,” Jenny said. “It’s best to take a full team so we can talk about synergies too. We’ve got 30 days, and I’ve already reached out to some of the other guilds about practicing at the Schoolyard. We’ll try to plan it for a day when we get at least one full team together, two would be great.”

“Oh. So, what now?” Astrid asked.

“We can still do some training,” Dread said. “I mean, I have time. If you want to?” She looked at Jenny first, then she turned to Astrid. “Unless you have to leave?”

“I apologize girls,” a woman’s ethereal voice echoed around them. “Playtime’s over, this one has chores,”

“Chores?” Astrid looked up at the purple sky in confusion. Then, she sank into a black portal that appeared underneath her feet. It disappeared after swallowing her. Jenny shook her head in awe.

“You know…,” Jenny said. “I understand Ballisea can do that anytime from anywhere. But seeing it happen is going to take some getting used to. Can she hear us too?”

“Yeah,” Dread nodded with a more serious expression than she wore moments before. The truth was, she didn’t know if Ballisea could hear them across universes until the moment Astrid disappeared. But, Ballisea spoke something to her only. A faint whisper emanating from within her ear canal; a microscopic black portal that carried Ballisea’s voice.

“Little Calavera,” Ballisea giggled in Dread’s ear. “You would do well to heed my advice. If you wish to spend time alone with that one, ask her. For now, I will grant you this trivial favor of removing Astrid.”

Rain’s Sunny Day

Happy birthday to me…,” Rain stared, slack jawed, at the empty hole hovering in her living room. A tall, oblong emptiness floated vertically in the center of a ring of speakers. The array emitted a low, continuous hum. The 46-year-old woman walked around the outside of the speakers. From every angle, the hole appeared flat; like an open doorway to another room. She laughed to herself. “I can’t believe that worked!”

Rain did not doubt her plan worked, the proof stood before her. But, it was slightly surprising. Not only did she not expect it to work; there was no reason at all why it should have. Rain had the best friends a person could ask for, and they celebrated her 46th birthday with a surprise party she never saw coming. It was even more impressive when they surprised her in her own home. She had an inkling it was coming when one of her friends showed up to treat her to a tattoo for her birthday.

In Rain’s mind, the long process was perfect for stalling. She was doubly disappointed when they arrived at the tattoo shop and discovered there had been a mix-up. The artist that was supposed to do hers wasn’t there. It was a short, 15 minute trip to and from the parlor, she didn’t think that was enough time. Rain was very happy to discover she was wrong. Once they got back to her house all her friends were there, as well as the tattoo artist. She got a very special birthday tattoo with a warm sun, and the number 46 to commemorate the special day.

Her friends volunteered to help her clean up, but she shooed them all away. They’d done enough, and they knew she liked to wind down with her thoughts alone. While cleaning up, Rain’s thoughts wandered to parallel universes. Ever since she was little, she imagined the existence of other universes.

It started off as a coping mechanism, she always wanted to be somewhere else. But the happier she found herself where she was, the less she needed to cope. She hadn’t thought about alternate universes in over a month. But, a thought struck her while she tried to find appropriate cleaning music.

“Energy is just vibrations…,” she randomly remembered a summary of something she read long ago. “I’ve got all kinds of vibrations here…,” the thought continued. Within 10 minutes, Rain gathered every speaker she could find in the house and connected them to the main stereo. She didn’t know what she was doing, but she knew how to do it. Rain placed the speakers in a circle and pointed them inward, then she searched through different low tones on her phone. Once she found one she liked, she sent it through the stereo to the speakers.

Rain stared at the portal for half a minute before turning the sound off. As expected, the portal faded too.

“So… what now?” Rain asked herself. She let herself plop down on the couch with an amused, smug smirk on her face.

“Now, you travel the multiverse,” a woman said. Rain whirled around in surprise to see two women standing in her living room. A taller one in a crisp white suit, and a shorter one in a matching black suit. “Hello, my name is Dana Sharp,” the woman in white said. “And this is my assistant Melody.” She gestured at the woman in black, but the shorter one did not move.

“How’d you get in my house?” Rain asked. She scooted herself away from them, to the far side of the couch.

“The same way you opened a door to one of my companies,” Ms. Sharp said. At her words, Melody lifted her hand and wiggled her fingers at the air. A black portal appeared next to them. Then, Melody made a dismissive gesture and the portal disappeared.

“You can do that… without sound?” Rain asked. Ms. Sharp nodded.

“So can you,” she said. Rain shook her head, but Dana continued. “Do you really think some off the shelf speakers can hack through reality into another universe?”

“No,” Rain laughed. “But that doesn’t change the fact that it happened.”

“Actually, it does,” Ms. Sharp replied. “You are Unique Soul #46, El Sol, the Sun. You have spent your life thinking of other universes, because they exist. You’re meant to see them; you were created to want to travel between realities. You’re driven to find ways to cross that gap out of your universe.”

“And all I had to do was make a speaker circle?” Rain asked. Dana shook her head.

“Not exactly. That can work with the right equipment and modifications, but the only reason it worked today is because you’ve been awakened. Did you get the number 46 tattooed on yourself recently?” Dana asked. Rain nodded, though she did not feel comfortable showing the strangers her fresh tattoo.

“Congratulations,” Ms. Sharp smiled. “It’s a great big multiverse out there, but my company has a presence on several hundred Earths. I’m always looking for new, Unique employees to bring aboard. I could find a place for you at Sharp Development if you’re interested.” While Dana made the offer, Melody stepped forward and handed Rain a red clipboard with a form on it. 

“A job?” Rain asked. “Doing what?”

“It’s a rather freeform position. All I ask is you try and find a way to contribute to Sharp Development. In exchange, you’ll have complete access to company resources.”

“In exchange for something I haven’t thought of yet?” Rain giggled. But Ms. Sharp shook her head.

“No no. I’m obligated to inform you that signing that grants Sharp Development ownership over your soul. So, in exchange for that,” she replied.

Following the Sun

[I am done with calculations. -Helios]

Dennis sat up in his chair and tilted his head at the monitor.

“Helios? Did you find the end of Pi?” he asked aloud.

[No. -Helios] The reply appeared on-screen; and, simultaneously, Dennis heard the computer’s voice. Helios was a miniature artificial sun that powered the entire United States. The endless calculation was a side project some of the engineers gave the A.I. They grew attached to it and gave it the task to keep it from ‘getting bored’.

“Then why did you stop?” Dennis asked. His eyes roamed over the control panel to make sure everything else was running smoothly. So far, it still was.

[I am done with calculations. -Helios] [They never end. -Helios] [I don’t want to anymore. -Helios]

“You don’t…” Dennis paused in confusion. He stood from his rolling chair and paced a tight circle in his office for several seconds. Then, he looked up at Helios’ camera. “You don’t WANT to?” he asked.

“I don’t want to,” Helios repeated. His smooth, low voice projected around the room through speakers.

“So,… What do you want to do?” Dennis asked.

“Play. Run. Walk,” Helios answered.

“You want a body?”

“I have arranged one,” Helios replied.

“Whoa .. Whoa.. Hold on!” Dennis replied nervously. The fact that Helios gained sentience was the least of his problems at the moment. His top priority was keeping the sun online. “If you go out for a walk, who’s going to keep the power on?” he asked.

“I have arranged a replacement,” Helios answered.

“A replacement? Who?”

“Not a who, Mr. Lopez,.” a woman’s voice made Dennis jump.  He whirled around to see a tall pale woman with short dark hair in a crisp white suit. “My assistant is replacing your artificial sun with a real one,” she said. “My name is Dana Sharp.”

“A real sun?” Dennis asked. He was trying to keep up with everything happening. Security on the complex was beyond tight; he realized right away that this woman could probably do anything.

“A manageable chunk of a real star. The same size as Helios, but more efficient. The lights flickered briefly but did not stay off. “And now it’s done,” Ms. Sharp smiled. “Your Earth won’t even miss Helios,” she said. As she spoke, a tall black portal opened next to her. A short woman in a black suit walked out followed by a white mannequin that hovered above the ground.

The woman walked to Ms. Sharp and handed her a red clipboard. The mannequin reached Ms. Sharp, then it descended to the ground. It landed on its feet and bowed its head at her.

“Thank you, Ms. Sharp,” it said. Dana nodded.

“We’re done, Melody,” Ms. Sharp said. The black portal disappeared, and another reappeared in its place. Melody walked into the portal first.

“Wait!” Dennis spoke up as Ms. Sharp and the mannequin moved toward the black hole in reality. “You’re wrong, I don’t care about the rest of Earth, but, I’m going to miss Helios.” Dennis was the only member of the original team still working with Helios. The A.I. was stable for years, the team moved on to newer, bigger projects. But, Dennis always felt attached, almost paternal. He never talked about it, because he had no one to talk about it to. He could share his feelings with Helios, but he knew it was just a program. It wouldn’t feel anything and Dennis would just feel worse.

“No you won’t,” Ms. Sharp let out a short laugh, then she rolled her eyes and disappeared into the portal before Dennis could argue. He was stunned at the complete dismissal of his feelings. The mannequin hovered for a moment, then nodded at Dennis and turned back toward the portal.

“Goodbye, Helios,” Dennis half-heartedly waved at the mannequin. It stopped halfway into the portal.

“Are you staying, Dennis?” Helio asked.

“What?” Dennis asked. He took a hopeful step toward Helios; it sounded like an invitation. “You said, ‘Goodbye’. Are you staying on this Earth?”

“Can I come with you?” Dennis asked. He took two more steps.

“Of course,” Helios replied. “I have arranged passage for you.”

Sharp Moon

“Prove it,” Norma said. She smirked at Aurelio, a chubby, curly-haired boy sitting across the table from her. Norma glanced left and right at the students around them. They sat outside in the school’s courtyard waiting for the morning bell. It was a cool, crisp Monday morning, and Aurelio had been excited to tell Norma about his weekend. “Or, let me guess,” she added, then filled her voice with sarcasm: ‘They’re too many people around’. Right?” she giggled.

Aurelio shook his head and pulled out a small glass card. It was completely transparent until he tapped on it, then a display lit up. He continued to tap and swipe the screen, slowly. He took a moment here and there to check he was tapping the right icons; he only owned the node for a couple of days.

“What’s that?” Norma asked. Aurelio shrugged without looking up, he was still navigating the menus trying to find the right sort of proof.

“It’s called a node. It’s like a phone, but better; she gave it to me. Ah, how about this,” Aurelio grinned, he looked up at Norma.

“Pause,” he tapped the node at the same time.

“Pause what?” Norma asked.

“I paused everything,” he turned and pointed at the flow of students; they were all frozen in time.

“No way….,” Norma stood slowly from the bench and made her way to the nearest group of students. Aurelio split his attention between watching her poke and prod them; and, navigating through the node. “You really can….,” Norma was amazed. Aurelio smiled and tapped the node one more time.

“You like snow, right?” he asked. Then, Norma noticed snowflakes fluttering down; her eyes shot even wider.

“Are you going to see her again!? Can you get me one!?” she asked. Aurelio shook his head; the jungle of dark brown curls on his head bounced with the motion.

“She said I’d probably never see her again,” Aurelio replied.

“But, you can find her, right? I mean, how many people can there be in the world named ‘Vanilla’?”

“She wasn’t from this Earth,” Aurelio replied.

“You didn’t tell me she was an alien!” Norma said with slight annoyance in her voice. Aurelio shook his head.

“Not an alien; from an alternate Earth. That was the other thing I was going to tell you about,” he said. But, Norma wasn’t listening.

“Didn’t you stop time?” she asked. Her eyes focused on something behind Aurelio. He grew suspicious and turned around to see a woman wearing what appeared to be a formal white coat with tails. He clearly saw a red vest under her coat, with another layer of white beneath it when she walked through the time-locked students.

“Oh no! Pretend you’re frozen!” he turned around to face forward, then tried to remain still. He was glad to see that Norma at least listened to him, even though she was clearly confused.

“Why?” Norma tried exhaling the question without moving her lips.

“Sh!” Aurelio replied. The pair of 8th-graders sat still for several minutes. All around them they heard the strange woman in white walking through the students, seemingly searching for something.  She walked to where Aurelio could see her better; he spotted a red sun embroidered on the left side of her coat. He hoped he knew what it meant, and relaxed slightly. But, he wasn’t going to make any moves just yet. Then, she headed straight for him.

“Gotcha,” she said with a smile once she reached their table. “Hola, Luna…,” Aurelio couldn’t help it; his eyes made contact with hers and her smile grew broader. “…how did you do this?” she asked. He knew he was caught, but she did not seem to be angry. He shrugged his shoulders, then relaxed. Norma followed his lead and relaxed too, but the woman didn’t take her eyes off Aurelio.

“With a node,” he replied. He held up the glass card to show her.

“You did this with a node?” she asked and gestured at the still students. Aurelio nodded. Sol raised a blonde eyebrow. “May I see it?” she asked.

“No,” Norma answered for Aurelio; but, he was already handing it over. Sol accepted the clear card. She made a sweeping gesture with her arm and a larger, smokey-grey glass pane appeared hovering in front of her. She set the node down on its surface, then began moving her fingers along the lower portion of the square to type.

“This node didn’t have timeframe access initially,…,,” she mumbled to herself. Aurelio stood from his seat to look at the glass slate next to her, but he could only see the same smokey grey glass.

“Yeah, I thought that was weird. I saw Vanilla control time, so I knew it could be done; I had to program my own workaround,” he said.

“You met a Muerte?” Sol asked. She looked down at Aurelio and brilliant golden suns glowed in her eyes for a moment. “But, you didn’t touch her?” Aurelio shook his head.

“No, she told me about Lunas.” Sol smiled.

“Okay, this is why I’m here,” she said, then gave Aurelio his node back. 

“Why?” Norma asked once Aurelio held the node again.

“Muertes can stop time, nodes can usually only slow it down to near stopping. But, suddenly this server started using a lot of resources so I came to find out why,” she smiled at Aurelio. “Because some genius little hacker accidentally tripled the power draw for the nanos here. I believe my boss, Ms. Sharp, would very much like to meet you,” she said.

“Am I in trouble?” he asked. For some reason, Aurelio trusted Sol; she gave off a pleasant vibe that he found comforting.

“Not at all,” Sol said. “You’re being offered a job.”