“You want to report 30 years of people giving you things when you ask them to?” The officer behind the counter shook his head with a chuckle. “Mister, we’ve got real police work to do here,” he said. While he spoke, he reached across the counter to accept a short stack of pizza boxes from a teenager with green hair. “Why don’t you come back when you’ve got an actual crime to report?”
Philip sighed. He didn’t know what he expected, but that wasn’t it.
The urge to confess his crimes crept up on him over the last few years. He finally decided it was the right thing to do but he suddenly found himself at a loss when the officer didn’t even give him a second look. As he walked out of the police station with his head hung low, the green-haired teenager caught up to him.
“Hi,” the teen said. “I’m Mundo.” Philip glanced at the teenager but didn’t slow his pace. He was lean, pale and despite being bright green, his hair color somehow looked natural. He seemed friendly enough. Unfortunately, Philip wasn’t in the mood to make new friends.
“You want to stop talking to me and get back to work,” Philip said. After over 30 years of practice, Philip had a pretty good grasp of his ability. He injected his words with enough of his power to make the kid go away; but, Mundo smiled and kept pace with him.
“That’s not going to work on me, but I can explain it to you if you want,” he said. Philip stopped walking. He’d never met anyone that knew about his ability, much less reject it. He assumed there’d be people that could, but he never bothered to search. He preferred instead to keep a low profile.
“Why doesn’t it work on you? How do you know about what I can do?” Philip asked. Mundo grinned.
“You know how you can get people to do whatever you want just by telling them to?” he asked. Then he continued when Philip nodded. “That’s your thing. Knowing and explaining stuff is my thing.”
“Alright,” Philip looked up and down the sidewalk. They stood at the edge of the parking lot; Philip could see the clearly marked delivery car parked next to his own. It was late morning and they were alone outside. “I’ll bite. Explain something to me about my powers.”
“Your favorite number is 47,” Mundo said.
“Yeah…?” Philip agreed immediately, but he could not make a connection between that and his powers. It was weird that Mundo knew it though.
“You’re Unique Soul #47, La Corona,” Mundo added. “Your power would be much stronger if you got a tattoo.”
“How much stronger?” Philip asked. He’d always wanted a tattoo, but he never bothered to make time for it. It would be as simple as walking into a tattoo shop and telling them to do it; but, Philip was always distracted by some other want that didn’t take up as much time.
“Right now, you can get a few people to do what you say just by asking. Once you’re Awakened with a tattoo, you’ll be able to get the world to do what you say just by thinking.”
“What?” The question left Maddie’s mouth out of habit as she looked around the endless amber wheat field. She heard her friend say something confusing and responded the only way she could. “Alice?” Maddie asked the deep purple sky. Her question was answered with a giggle that came from behind her. Maddie spun around to see her friend that had been missing for a week. “What the hell’s going on?” she asked with equal parts annoyance, confusion, and joy.
“Choose your skills and begin the game!” Alice repeated the phrase that echoed around Maddie moments before. Maddie shook her head.
“Where have you been?” She asked. Maddie glanced around the open field again. “Where am I?”
“I went down the Rabbit Hole,” Alice grinned. “And, I found the AlterNet, that’s this place.” She reached down to caress a stalk of wheat. Maddie nodded.
“Uhuh,” Maddie said. She wasn’t particularly surprised by Alice’s answer. It didn’t tell Maddie where she was, but Maddie trusted Alice, and Alice seemed comfortable. “So, what skills, what game?” she asked.
“The AlterNet is an Earth-sized mmo; and, alternate Earths are just different servers. So, you just have to make a character, then I can show you around. I have a ton to show you.”
“Like… alternate Earths?” Maddie asked. Alice nodded. “But, how do we live? Will I be able to find a job on another Earth?” Alice shrugged.
“Probably,” she said. “But, you won’t need to. It’s just easier to work for a company that has branches on different Earths. I work for Sharp Development now, and I want you to come work for me.”
“Doing what?” Maddie asked. Alice grinned.
“The exact thing you go to that conference every year for,” she said. “You want to create and I’m giving you that chance on a huge scale.”
“You want me to make hats for you?” Maddie narrowed her eyes and tilted her head at Alice in confusion. Alice gave a sigh and rolled her eyes, but a giggle escaped her mouth.
“You know, if you think that’s why you’ve been going to the conference everywhere, it probably explains why you’re still going.” Maddie’s confusion deepened, and Alice continued. “The first couple of times you went, you wanted to start a clothing line; then you noticed your hats were doing okay, so you started focusing on those more.” Alice could see the light come back on in Maddie’s eyes as she remembered the early days.
“Oohh yeah…,” Maddie said with a faint smile. “You’re going to help me with my clothes?” she asked eagerly and Alice nodded.
“Technically, you’re helping me with your clothes,” she said. “Ms. Sharp gave me a server, and I want to make the people look stylish and different from every other server.”
“A server?” Maddie asked. She was still trying to wrap her head around everything. “That means… she gave you an Earth?” Alice grinned and spread her arms to gesture at the field around them.
“You’re going to help me decorate it, and name it too. It needs an interesting name, there are a lot of them out there.”
“Well, you did get here through a Rabbit Hole, right?” Maddie asked. “What about, ‘Wonder-‘,”
“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.”
“Wait! I love her!” Duke blurted out the only phrase that would work. Duke Fisher had the ability to see five minutes into the future. It happened constantly like watching two TVs at the same time. He’d had several years of practice with his ability, but it wasn’t always so easy to manage. What made it even more difficult was that the future was usually unwritten.
His vision of the future was usually a muddled mess of events until one future became more and more likely. It became clearer as the future came into focus and became the present. That all changed the moment he saw skeletons rain from the sky five minutes into the future. As soon as the first skeleton landed, he only had one clear future. It was either that, or no future. The words didn’t make sense, he’d only met Amber that day and not that long ago. He couldn’t possibly love her, and he didn’t. But saying it was enough to get the intruder’s attention.
“You love her?” Ballisea asked. The tall, pale woman was made taller by bone-white horns curling out of the top of her head. She appeared moments after a skeleton fell through the skylight in Duke’s office. “A Corona in love with a Zero?”
Amber wanted to protest the statement too, but her throat was being gripped by bony skeleton fingers. She did appreciate that its grip loosened slightly when Duke confessed his sudden love.
“I don’t know what that means,” Duke said. “But if you’re going to let me go,…” he paused for effect and gave a heavy shrug. “There’s no point without her.”
“You’d die for her?” Ballisea asked.
“I’d die without her,” Duke nodded. He was following his vision to the letter, not even questioning the words. The skeleton holding Amber released her; she fell to her knees gasping for air.
“You don’t know who I am,” Ballisea said to Duke. “You don’t know what you are.” Duke helped Amber get to her feet and wrapped his arm around her for show. He shook his head at Ballisea.
“I don’t,” he said. “But, I know you know what love is. You don’t have to hurt anyone.” Ballisea grinned.
“Oh, I know I don’t have to hurt anyone. But, I do,” she sighed. “because I know what love is. You think you love her? Would you give anything to protect her? You’re ready to die for her, could you defy death for her? Would you destroy universes to save her?”
“I would!” Duke said with full confidence in his lies.
“Then who are you to tell me I can’t do the same?” Ballisea asked. Duke tilted his head.
“What?” he asked. That was a question he did not see in his future. He pulled Amber closer to him and put himself between her and the skeletons. For the first time in his life, he didn’t know what was coming next.
“You’re trying to convince me I don’t have to hurt anyone, but it’s somehow okay for you to rampage for love?” Ballisea shook her head.
“I’m never going to get my husband back if I keep letting Zeros escape,” she said. Her voice had a sudden cold edge that wasn’t there before. “Don’t worry, you won’t see a thing,” It happened so fast, Duke didn’t realize Amber was gone until after it happened. She slipped through his arms and sunk into a hole in the ground faster than she could scream.
“Thank you for reminding me of what I should be doing. Now, go, and be with your loved one forever,” Ballisea said. It was the last thing Duke heard.
“My God,” Herod fell to his knees before the woman in white. He swore to himself he’d never kneel for any man. But, she proved to be a God.
“You’re a king, act like it,” Dana Sharp replied. She glared down at him until he realized what she meant. He stood and straightened his back.
‘Yes, my God,” he said. Dana sighed.
“If this meeting is going to continue, address me as Ms. Sharp,” she said.
“Yes, My- Ms. Sharp.” Herod said. He did not know why she chose him to be there, but he did not want to be sent away from her presence. Not before he could learn more about her miraculous magic. Herod knew some magic himself; it’s what helped him achieve his status.
He wasn’t born into a royal family, he was lucky he was born into a human family at all. Though it was not common knowledge, Herod was a banshee. His wail could strike ice-cold fear into anyone, and that was only one of his tricks. Over the years he learned how to use his wail as a form of song magic. After that it was easy to enthrall his way to a kingdom. He briefly considered trying his magic on God, before she proved who she was. Then, he reconsidered.
“I don’t like the direction your kingdom is taking,” Ms. Sharp said. She gestured at a seat for Herod, then walked around her disk to sit in front of him. Herod tilted his head in confusion as he sat down.
“But, it was all for you, Ms. Sharp,” he said. “To find you in the heavens.” Once Herod took his throne, he immediately put a heavy emphasis on education and heavenly exploration. 15 year into his reign his royal scientists had developed a machine that could fly. Herod’s determination and magic drove innovation faster than normal human progression. He had a yearning in his soul to find what was out there.
“I didn’t ask you to look for me. But, I am asking you to stop,” Ms. Sharp said. She gave him a faint, playful smirk. “Out there, at least,” she pointed upward at the white ceiling.
“I don’t understand,” Herod said. It was difficult to admit, but he knew God, Ms. Sharp, would know whether he understood or not. If he admitted it, at least he’d get answers.
“This Earth is one of an infinite number of Earths. There is nothing out there worth finding; it’s big and empty and dark. Better to look at your neighboring Earths and learn from, or teach them something.”
“There are other Earths!?” Herod’s eyes shot wide.
“There are,” Ms. Sharp nodded. “I can teach you how to reach them, so long as you change course. I don’t mean just you, your kingdom as well. Further explorations of the heavens are to be outlawed; infractions punished by death.” Herod chuckled with a shake of his head.
“The more the public sees me trying to prevent it, the more curious they’ll be.”
“You are the ruler of this particular Earth, they’ll listen to you,” Ms. Sharp said.
“My kingdom is vast,…” Herod shook his head with humility. “But it’s not the whole planet.”
“Not yet. Aside from changing your direction, there is one more reason for our meeting.”
“Yes, Ms. Sharp?” Herod asked, ready to serve. He had a lot to process, but that could wait. He stood before good here and now.
“I’m rewarding your faith with a boost to your powers,” she said. Herod blanched, but, after taking a moment to close his eyes, he remembered she knew everything. Including what he was. And, he was excited to get a reward. He managed to recover quickly and opened his eyes again.
“I’m honored!” he said. Dana handed him a sheet of paper. There was a simple golden crown drawn on the sheet. A red scissor logo decorated the center of the crown, and the number ’47’ was drawn on the scissors in white.
“I’m sorry,” Alicia apologized to the young man. “There may have been a miscommunication; you said you were here about my ad?” Alicia sat behind a large, dark wooden desk in her study while the visitor in a white blazer and red tie sat across from her. A pair of red scissors was stitched on the front of the blazer. He nodded.
“Your ad prompted my visit; but, I’m not here to babysit. My employer excels at fulfilling…,” the man paused and his lips formed a slight smirk. “…shall we say, niche needs. I believe you can benefit from our services for more than just a babysitter.” Alicia was immediately intrigued. Finding a babysitter proved more difficult than she expected. She ran the ad daily for a month and Perseus was the first person to respond. His name intrigued her and she was hopeful he would take the position.
“Well, you’re my only appointment today; tell me more,” Alicia replied. Perseus nodded.
“Sharp Medical Services offers a wide selection of pure and mixed blood-types from a variety of demographics. We know blood preference is a very personal choice. Whether you prefer young yuppies or grizzled hippies; we guarantee you’ll find something you like.”
“That does sound like something I’d be interested in,” Alicia said. “But, blood supply is not my main problem; it would have just been a nice bonus to find a sitter that’s willing to donate.” Perseus nodded.
“Sharp Development also has an Education division with several schools. Our teachers are trained to be able to handle special students. How old is the child?”
“He’s three, but very smart. He’s already writing numbers,” Alicia giggled to herself. “I don’t know where he picked it up, but I swear he draws a ’47’ every chance he gets. It must be his favorite number for some reason.” Perseus smiled wide.
“He sounds like he’d be perfect for one of our kindergartens. We have several night time schools to help out our more nocturnal parents.” Alicia smiled at him. She couldn’t believe how everything was coming together for her.
“Although, to help avoid any misunderstandings it’s better if we speak more honestly. You, and by extension your son, are vampires; is that correct?” Alicia’s smile faded slightly and she was immediately on guard. It seemed too good to be true; but over the centuries Alicia learned to trust her instincts. No matter how she considered him, her instincts said he was honest about the schools and blood. Alicia remained quiet for almost two minutes and Perseus did not make any effort to rush her answer. He sat still, smiling and waiting. Finally, Alicia nodded.
“We are,” she said.
“Great, thank you. There have been a few parents that tried to keep their secrets, and their children ended up with very incompatible classmates. Of course…,” as Perseus spoke, golden stars glowed briefly in his eyes. “…I can see what you are, but we’re only able to act on what you tell us.” The golden stars faded. Alicia’s eyes widened in surprise. She thought she’d seen every form of magical creature that existed; but, he was something new.
“What are you?” she asked.
“I’m Unique,” Perseus winked. “I hope you don’t think I’m dodging the question, but I do have other appointments after this. However, I can promise you’ll get an answer to that question when you take your son for orientation. If you agree, I can have him enrolled in time to start tomorrow.”
“Everything sounds wonderful. I’m very interested in your program, but I suppose we need to talk about tuition.”
“Oh, there is none. Ms. Sharp, the company’s owner, believes very strongly in a proper education for Unique children, like your son. All I ask is that you be available to visit the campus tomorrow night with your son, and his father if that’s a possibility. After the orientation, we’ll be able to pick him up every evening and drop him off after school.”
“About his father…,” Alicia sighed. “…in the spirit of honesty, I should mention… his father was a Unicorn.”
“Wow,” Perseus seemed genuinely surprised. “That’s quite an interesting combination. Off the top of my head, I can’t imagine any complications with other vampire classmates, but I’ll definitely research it. Thank you for mentioning it,” Perseus said as he stood to leave. “Oh, and of course I’ll need his name.”
“If you’re going to take something, it’s best to ensure it doesn’t already belong to someone,” Ms. Sharp said. The woman in a white suit stood before the world summit with dozens of armed guards surrounding her. She wasn’t scheduled to speak; she emerged from a black portal at the podium, followed by her assistant Melody. A shorter woman in a black suit.
World leaders convened to discuss their success. They found clean water, nutritious soil and a plentiful source of precious metals on the alternate Earth. They’d begun the process of importing supplies by the time the world congress met.
“We sectioned off a hundred square miles,” one of the representatives replied. “Our groups saw no property signs posted or any other indication that section of land was owned.”
“I own the Earth you’ve been dumping your prisoners on for a century. I’ve let that slide, but now I see you’re just horrible neighbors.”
“The Earth?” another delegate chuckled. “No one can own Earth!”
“Melody?” Ms. Sharp asked her assistant.
“15 owned, 529 where we have a presence and almost 5000 unofficial servers,” the short woman replied.
“At a moment’s notice, I can take ownership of almost 5550 Earths. You’re stealing from one of the 15 that I hold very dear. I’m willing to drop the matter and forget about it as long as you stop. And find something else to do with your criminals,” Ms. Sharp said.
“That’s.. that’s impossible!” someone shouted. “There’s no way you can enforce your claim on an entire Earth!”
“That almost sounds like you want proof that I can,” Ms. Sharp replied with a smile. “Oren?” she called for someone. Another black portal appeared next to her, a pale teenager wearing all black walked out.
“I’m assuming there are delegates from all over the world in this room right now,” Ms. Sharp said. “Oren, convince them,” she added. A red crown glowed in the center of Oren’s pale forehead while everyone watched. The most vocal delegate chuckled when nothing happened after a minute of silence. Then, his phone rang. Then, every phone in the room started to ring.
“Go ahead, answer them,” Ms. Sharp said. The rings quieted down as the delegates each answered their phones. The room filled with chatter for almost five minutes while Ms. Sharp stood at the podium patiently. Then, the delegates started hanging up the phones, but the chatter continued as they talked between themselves.
“How’d you do it?” the mouthy delegate shouted his question angrily.
“Oren,” Ms. Sharp replied. The delegate immediately hopped into the aisle and ran down the stairs screaming wildly and flailing his arms. He stopped in the center of the floor, then calmly turned around to face all the delegates; then he cleared his throat.
“My little buttercup has the sweetest smile…,” he started to sing, then stopped.
“As you can see, Oren can convince anyone to do anything. Like, say, sing a song….”
“I WOULD WALK 500 MILES!” the delegate shouted.
“… or maybe, call their parents, siblings, aunts, cousins at work. Go on and on about how much it would mean to them if the Earth were signed over to me.” The vocal delegate walked to the closest armed guard and leaned down to wrap his mouth around the barrel. Then he smiled around it and gave the guard two enthusiastic thumbs up.
The guard tried to pull away, but the delegate grabbed his arms to keep him in place.
“There’s no limit to what he can make someone do, or where he can make them do it from,” Ms. Sharp grinned. “I wonder how many of you that got a call have guns at home.”
“Does that answer your question?” She turned and asked the suicidal delegate. He immediately pulled away from the barrel sobbing, but nodding his head in understanding.
“Are you going to stop stealing from my Earth now?” she asked. The delegate nodded, but she also heard several positive responses from the rest of the congress.
“Thank you,” Ms. Sharp nodded, then turned around to step into a black portal that Melody created.
“Wait! Don’t you want our Earth?”
“Of course not,” Ms. Sharp turned to say. “You throw people away like garbage instead of helping them. You waltz into the multiverse and take whatever you feel like because of some pitiful sense of entitlement. Your Earth is full of assholes and I want nothing to do with you.” She turned around again and stepped into the portal, followed by Oren then Melody. Then, the black hole disappeared.
A plume of yellow, sour-smelling smoke erupted under the bridge. Allen scooted back in fear along the dirty ground until he hit the wall behind him. A short, plump, red-skinned demon in a navy blue suit walked out of the smoke. He glanced down at Allen and smiled.
“Hello,” the demon said. He sounded surprisingly pleasant, like a call center employee on their first call of the day. “Let’s bargain. What do you want for your soul?” he asked. Somehow, the demon’s smile eased Allen’s mind. He found the strength, with the support of the wall, to push himself up to his feet.
“Food, friends, a nice house and a healthy, lucid, long life. Give me a few decades like that and you can take my soul to Hell when I die.” The demon nodded and snapped his fingers, an obsidian clipboard appeared in his hands.
“Happy to help,” he said. “Let’s get to it. Name?” he asked. Allen narrowed his eyes.
“You’re Satan… don’t you know it?” he asked. The demon sighed.
“Of course I know your name, Mr. Allen Lopez. I need you to tell me your name for the paperwork. Surely you can understand the need for bureaucratic procedures in my line of work. And for the record, I am not Satan; he only handles important deals,” the demon said. Allen gave a slight nod of understanding and waited for the next question.
“NAME?” the demon repeated.
“Oh, sorry. My name is Allen Lopez,” he replied.
“Thank you. Favorite number?” the demon asked.
“47. That’s a weird que-,” Allen was interrupted by a heavy sigh from the demon.
“Damnit, I thought I finally got one,” he mumbled, then looked at Allen. “Wait here,” he said. Before Allen could ask why the demon disappeared. Allen waited for half an hour before another plume of yellow smoke filled the underpass. This time a much larger demon stepped out of the smoke, still in a navy blue suit and carrying a wicker basket. This demon was more than twice Allen’s height, his thick black horns scraped the bottom of the bridge.
“Allen!” the demon said excitedly. “Good to meet you,” he dropped the basket at Allen’s feet. “This is yours. No tricks, bargains or anything, just a straight gift. I heard you were hungry.” Allen knelt to peek inside the basket. He saw fresh clothes, an envelope full of cash and a bucket of fried chicken. He shook his head and forced himself to close the basket and step away from it.
“I haven’t sold my soul yet, I can’t take that,” he said.
“Here’s the thing, Allen. Hell can’t buy your soul, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work out a deal.”
“Wait. What do you mean you can’t buy my soul? Why not?” As he asked his eyes widened. “Is it protected by God?” The demon burst into booming laughter that echoed in the short tunnel around them.
“Protected is a strong word. Let’s just say the universe runs on certain rules. One of those rules is I can’t buy souls like yours.”
“Oh,” Allen said. “So.. how can we make a deal?”
“Well, I can’t buy your soul, but you can join my team. And the people on my team are very well taken care of.”
“What do I have to do on your team?” Allen asked, then he realized something. “Your team? Are you Satan?”
“I am,” Satan smiled. “And you don’t have to do anything. Just agree to be on my team, then live your life the way you see fit. Wait, actually, there is one thing you have to do,” Satan corrected himself. “Get a tattoo with the number 47 on it.”
“And then what?” Satan shrugged.
“Then you live your life however you like. You’ll be able to contact us if you find yourself in need of anything.”
“And I don’t have to.. hurt anyone? Or like get followers or anything?” Satan chuckled; it rumbled the air around Allen.
“We’re not a pyramid scheme, you don’t need a downline.”
“But what happens to my soul when I do die? How do I know I’m not going to Hell?”
“Because if you could, we would have bought your soul. I have to cut this short, I interrupted another meeting to talk to you. However, I don’t want you to feel pressured to make a decision now. That basket is for you, no strings attached. Get back to me if you decide you want to be on my team,” Satan said.
“Wait!” the demon’s kindness made Allen’s decision for him. “I’ll do it! I’m on your team!” he shouted. Satan nodded.
“Wonderful. I still have to go, but I’ll send someone with a welcome package. Enjoy your meal until then, by the time you’re done you’ll have a home waiting for you.” Satan disappeared in a puff of foul-smelling smoke. Allen ignored it and grabbed a chicken leg to start eating.
After finishing a couple of pieces he noticed a minty scent fill the air. He looked up to see a tall man with a white beard in a green suit.
“So, tell me about your dream home,” the man said.
“That’s impossible…,” Dr. Marcus said. She wasn’t angry; the 50-year-old woman stared at the obsidian door in awe. The door stood 15-feet tall and 10-feet wide; it appeared to be made of metal darker black than anything Dr. Marcus and her team had ever seen. The metal was so impervious, they could not scratch off a sample with any of their tools. All testing was done on-site, on the door itself.
“You’d think so;” her assistant, Roy, chuckled as he put his gadget back in its case. “No mistake, I re-calibrated this thing a dozen times to be sure. Quantum-dating says that door is 45-billion years old.”
“And you do know our universe is only about 14-billion years old, right?” Dr. Marcus replied without taking her eyes off the door. Though they were hard to see on the dark metal, the door was covered with intricate engravings. It made her wonder what could do that to the metal when their most advanced tools couldn’t scrape off a single flake. Roy nodded.
“I do know that, but even if I didn’t; this door is 45-billion years old. Whether our universe was here or not doesn’t matter.” Dr. Marcus’ mind boggled at the thought of what might be behind the door as she tried to stare a hole through it. A beep sounded from Roy’s direction. After a few moments, he shouted.
“Oh shit!” His exclamation drew Dr. Marcus’ attention; she turned in time to see him checking his watch. His head trembled as if he were saying ‘no’ rapidly; he looked up at Dr. Marcus with saucer-sized eyes.
“We have to leave. NOW,” he said. He dropped to his knees and began collecting stray gadgets from the floor and tossing them in his bag.
“Why?” she asked. Roy tossed his phone at her as an answer while he stood and jogged to another area to collect more gear. Dr. Marcus looked at the phone; it was a message from her researchers and a picture.
[Dr. M, I feel like I have to point out this isn’t an April Fool’s prank. It turns out those glyphs are different languages. We found Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and English, among others we can’t identify. They all say the same thing. The door sealed away a powerful being. The engravings say, ‘Corona’ no matter the language, but that’s just Spanish for ‘crown’. Either way, the sealing is only temporary and it will open on its own. Today. April 1st. at 10:00 a.m.; don’t ask me how they got the time but it literally says 10:00 a.m. I’m calling our military contacts after I send this. If you’re near there, don’t be. -Dr. Paulson. ]
“Ready,” Roy was ready by the time Dr. Marcus finished reading. She glanced at her watch. 9:59 a.m.”
“Go ahead, I’m betting it’s a prank,” she said. She tried to force a smile; Dr. Marcus did not believe for a second that it was a prank. Dr. Paulson was as dry and stiff as they come; he wouldn’t know a joke if it threw a pie in his face. “If it opens, I’ll run,” she winked. Roy rolled his eyes; the pair had worked together long enough that he knew she was lying.
“Good luck, doc,” he said with a shrug. As much as he knew she was lying, he knew he couldn’t talk her out of it. Aside from that, he valued his own skin more than hers. It wouldn’t be the first time he left her alone to willingly face danger; as he jogged away he hoped it wouldn’t be the last.
Dr. Marcus lifted her wrist so that she could see it and the door at the same time; she watched the seconds count down. At 10:00 on the dot, a loud crack filled the small cavern. It startled her then she noticed a thin, glowing red line running down the center of the door. She thought it was a single door, but one side pushed open as she watched. The thin line of red light slowly grew wider as the right side pushed out toward her; Dr. Marcus clenched her fist unsure what to expect.
She heard a faint grunting sound, then she realized the door itself wasn’t making any noise. She expected to hear it dragging on the ground but the cavern was silent aside from the grunts.
Over several minutes, Dr. Marcus kept her eye on her watch, the door pushed open. The door stopped opening several times, and she heard heavier breathing instead of grunting. It reminded her of someone catching their breath. She got a better look at the door the more it opened; as far as she could tell it was at least five feet thick.
Her curiosity about what might come out over-rode her fear. She knew something was definitely coming, and whatever it was; it was strong. After five minutes, someone stepped out from behind the door. Dr. Marcus couldn’t help but gasp; it drew the figure’s attention.
The middle-aged man wore a flowing golden robe. He sported a neatly-trimmed brown beard and a full head of matching hair pulled back in a pony-tail. A pair of pitch-black horns grew out of his head and curled back to resemble full-grown ram horns. He seemed startled to find anyone there.
“Hello,” he said casually. Though he was still catching his breath, his voice came out smooth and somehow calming. Dr. Marcus instantly felt relieved; she knew in her soul that she was safe in his presence. At that moment, Dr. Marcus decided her life’s purpose was to help this man acclimate himself to the modern world.
“Bring me something to eat,” he said, then he walked back into the room behind the door.
“Yes, Master,” Dr. Marcus bowed slightly, then turned around. She began running toward the exit hoping she could still catch Roy.
“No way…,” Greg whispered to himself in awe as he stared out the window. Violet starlight twinkled behind the mint-green clouds. He turned to the person next to him; the mid-20s woman was asleep. The same as every other passenger. As he swiveled his head to scan the cabin he heard a sharp gasp behind him and whipped around to see. Jane, the helpful stewardess that checked him in, rushed to his row.
“How are you awake!?” she whispered. After her question, she looked left and right to make sure she did not disturb anyone else. Greg pointed out the window.
“Why are the clouds green!?” he whispered back, not as quietly.
“Come here!” she hissed like a parent reprimanding her child in public. She gave him a sharp gesture, then walked toward the back. Greg followed. When he got there, he noticed her face changed from minor annoyance to noticeable disappointment.
“This is probably my fault,” Jane sighed. “What’s your favorite number?”
“One,” Greg said. “Why? How does that explain green clouds?”
“I knew it. It’s my first Traverse flight and I was so excited to check in my first passenger,” she pointed at Greg. “You shouldn’t have even been able to buy a ticket, but I’m supposed to ask everyone their favorite number anyway,” she shrugged. “Now I know why.”
“Sorry,” she sighed again. “This flight,” she paused, then shook her head. “This airline, Sharp Air, has flights that travel between alternate universes,” she gestured out a window at the clouds.
“It’s not exactly an advertised benefit, but those that find it useful know about it. Those that just want a cheap flight are put to sleep. You should be asleep, except our Corona can’t knock out any Uniques.” Greg narrowed his eyes at her.
“Uhuh. I missed the second half of that, but… we’re in an alternate universe?” He asked.
“Yes!” she nodded.
“And how does my favorite number keep me awake?”
“You, me, the pilots and the other flight attendant are known as Unique Souls. You’re #01; El Gallo, The Rooster.”
“Because my favorite number is one?” Jane shook her head.
“Your favorite number is one because you’re El Gallo. Watch. What’s your favorite number?” she asked again.
“One,” Greg replied.
“What’s your favorite number?”
“One. You already know.”
“What’s your favorite number?” Jane continued to repeat the question. “Lie to me,” she added.
“OneTWELVE!” Greg blurted out the two numbers as one word.
“Don’t answer me. What’s your favorite number?”
“One.” Greg rolled his eyes as the answer came out on its own.
“Your soul knows what it is…,” Jane poked Greg in the chest, then she raised her hand to poke his forehead. “…even if your body doesn’t. There’s a Mundo at the next airport that would love to answer all your questions about what that means.”
“Um, about that. How does this work? Where is the next airport and am I ever getting to Florida? The Florida on the Earth I came from?” Jane smiled and nodded.
“We get passengers from other universes to take them back to ours. Going sideways through dimensions loosens up enough time to land, swap passengers and get back to your destination. All within the same time the normal flight takes.”
“So, everything’s working as it should, right?” Greg asked. Despite his calm demeanor, he really needed to hear that everything was okay. Jane smiled; she seemed to recognize that he needed reassurance.
“This is my first time, but the pilots and the other flight attendant have done maybe hundreds. There’s no reason to worry, everything’s on plan,” she patted his shoulder with a smile.
“Alright. Alright, cool. I, uh. I guess I’m gonna go look at the green clouds some more.”