Seafood

Ted hummed to himself as he crossed the empty parking lot. He bobbed his head and matched his steps to the beat of pop music playing through his earbuds. His long shadow, created by the sun peeking over the warehouse, seemed to dance on the dark asphalt behind him. He wore light grey sweatpants, a black tank top and a small red rucksack hanging on his back. Ted planned to spend most of the daylight exploring the abandoned hill-top complex.

The cluster of buildings rested on an East-facing hill and was shrouded in mystery. Ted liked to research any spots before he went poking around to make sure he stayed clear of any trespassing charges. No one knew anything about this place. It had been abandoned as far as anyone could remember; no one even knew anything about the company based there.

The warehouse Ted chose to start in looked almost brand new. It had white, clean walls and crystal clear windows. If Ted had not been eyeing this place for weeks he’d be tempted to assume it was just closed for the weekend. He reached the heavy, windowed double doors and smiled to himself.

“It’s gonna be a great day,” he said. One of the doors was cracked open. It had been left to close under its own weight but it did not have enough force to shut properly; friction caught it against the frame. He pulled the door open with ease and took a step over the threshold. Ted stopped before his leg touched the floor inside and slowly pulled his leg back out of the building.  He leaned back to look at the sides of the building. Dozens of clear windows line the tall white walls. Ted looked into the building again. The interior was pitch black with no sign of the growing daylight penetrating the windows. “Huh,” Ted stood in the open doorway and peered into the darkness. He pulled one earbud out to see if he could hear anything. A soft, blue light glowed to life somewhere inside the moment music stopped flooding his ear.

“Wonderful day,” Ted smiled and stepped inside toward the light. The door shut firmly behind him but he continued moving forward. Now that he had a starting point Ted put his earbud back in. The light vanished; Ted froze in his tracks. If he had his eyes closed behind a blindfold at night, it would not be darker than it was inside that building. He turned to face the door but couldn’t find it. There was no light coming in through any of the windows that he knew were there. “What the hell…?” he pulled his earbud out again to concentrate and listen. He noticed a soft blue light at the edges of his vision and turned around again.

A wide blue circle glowed on the ground a bit further ahead of him. It reminded him of a still pool lit from below the water. It was a perfect circle about 10 feet across. While keeping his eyes on the pool he slowly inserted his earbud to bring his music back; the pool vanished.

“No way…,” Ted pulled the earbud out again and the lit surface appeared again. He tried it once more to be sure. Earbud in: light gone. Earbud out: glow on. Then he remembered he had two ears and pulled the other one out leaving both of his ears bare.

Brilliant golden light flooded the room as if heavy curtains were pulled back from his eyes. His mind instantly felt sharper, clearer than it ever did, and he heard a soft, beautiful, melodic humming somewhere in his soul. The pool’s surface looked like a perfect mirror, it reflected all the green around it. High green grass grew around the pool and tall, red-needle pine trees formed a half forest around one side of the pool. Ted looked around and the building was not what expected.

Instead of an empty, abandoned, messy warehouse, Ted felt like he was in a hidden meadow somewhere. He searched for the doors, but he could not even find the walls anymore. Just wide open sky and plain and trees and grass. And a pond.  He noticed a small wooden sign next to the pond and walked over to inspect it.

The short, 12-foot walk was possibly the most pleasant experience Ted ever had. The soft grass melted under each step but managed to support him. He felt a cool breeze protecting his skin from the warm sun that he couldn’t see. He heard what sounded like a chorus of angels singing from within his soul. He felt the song with his whole being, not just his ears. As if their harmonious voices kept the fabric of the universe together. He smiled as he strolled, then stopped at the sign. It was waist-high planted into the earth.

“Property of Sharp Development

#47 La Corona: Harper – Mermaid”

“Mermaid?” Ted chuckled to himself and shook his head. Even as he denied it a naked woman popped her head out of the water. The mirror surface barely rippled. Her eyes smoldered like deep blue fire. Her long aqua-green hair was plastered back and down her slender, pale-blue neck.

“They remembered me!” she smiled at Ted with breathless excitement. Every syllable she voiced held a month’s worth of the pleasant walk he just had. She sounded like his mother and every single woman he’d ever loved unified into a single, loving, all-forgiving voice. “Hi,” she floated to the edge and rested on the green grass as she would at the side of a concrete pool.

“Hi,” Ted let himself collapse in front of her. He leaned on his side facing her and planted his elbow on the ground to prop his head up. “What brings you here?” he asked awkwardly. He was not embarrassed though. It didn’t matter what he said, he just wanted to get her talking about herself. He wanted to know everything about her from her own perfect lips.

“You,” she said with a playful bat of her eyelashes. Ted smiled and shuffled himself forward. He wanted to be close enough for her to touch on the off chance she suddenly decided she wanted to touch him. He did not want to miss any opportunity to make her happy.

“Me, huh?” he asked playfully, flirty. “What uh… what is it about me that got your attention?” Harper the mermaid leaned further out of the water, closer to Ted, and inhaled deeply.

“Your smell…,” she said. “I bet you taste delicious,” she sighed as she looked into his eyes. “They haven’t fed me in so many years…” her complaint came out as a soft, whispered whine. Ted shook his head as a rush of anger coursed through him.

“Those bastards,” he gritted his teeth as he sat up and slipped off his tanktop. “Don’t worry, I’m here now. I’ll take care of you.” He stood then dropped his sweatpants and briefs. He eagerly dove into the frigid, clear water. “Dinner time,” he smiled at the mermaid. Her eyes flared crimson as she charged at Ted. He leaned back in the water. “Amazing day,” he said to himself.

Time to Whine

Julio glanced at the driver sitting in the high cab; the trucker’s eyes were on his phone. Even if he looked right now he wouldn’t have time to stop. Time seemed to slow to a crawl and Julio became aware of everything around him. He was the only one crossing at the moment; it eased his mind that no one else would get hurt. It was a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon. He was headed home after spending the morning with his wife and children.  They had a great family breakfast before his wife took the children to a playdate. All things considered, he felt like the important people knew he loved them. Julio was ready. The red semi was three feet from him when he closed his eyes and relaxed his body to wait for the end.

I hope it doesn’t hurt too long,” he had just enough time to think. After another two seconds, he was still standing in the middle of the street with his eyes closed. “This adrenaline rush is weird, time is taking forever.” Then Julio became aware of footsteps hitting the blacktop behind him.

“He’s not that bad,” a woman said. Her voice traveled from left to right as she walked by behind him. “We’re here, aren’t we? Aury has to be kind of a jerk because of his position but he’s not mean-spirited about it.  Did it ever occur to you that he’s making you do easy jobs before we can hang out?” The voice continued to travel past Julio, even though a semi should have been rolling through him. He peeked open one eye and saw the truck stopped in place. The driver also seemed stuck in place staring at his phone. “He doesn’t need you to do a server reset for him.” Julio heard the woman say. Her voice grew distant as she reached the other sidewalk.  “HEY!” she yelled suddenly. Julio couldn’t help but turn around. He saw a dark-haired young woman standing next to a pale, lean teenager in black clothes. He had a sharp widow’s peak in the center of his forehead and looked sullen as if he were being reprimanded.

“Yeah?” Julio asked. As he took in the view he noticed everyone else was frozen in time.

“I’m going to start time again. Are you really where you want to be?” she pointed at the semi. Julio shook his head and immediately bolted across the street to the pair of strangers.

“Thank you! Thank you so much!” Julio immediately began showing his appreciation. “You saved my life!”

“Yeah,” the pale teen nodded. “So return the favor and leave us alone.”

“Oren!” The woman hit his shoulder. “Don’t be mean, he’s just being appreciative.” She turned to Julio and extended a hand. “I’m Sonia, and this is Oren. Don’t mind us, we’re just passing through.”

“But.. but you stopped time. How’d you do that?” Oren grumbled and wiggled his fingers at the air; he opened a black portal in the air beside them and walked through it without another word. 

“Don’t take it personally,” Sonia said. She smiled at Julio but moved toward the hole in the air. “He’s grumpy about someone else. Bye now,” she said as the portal closed with her on the other side. The hole disappeared completely then time roared back to life.

Space Lizard Wizard

“What kind of action!?” a young voice yelled over the murmuring crowd. The suited reporters all stopped talking and turned to find the voice; all eyes fell on a teenage boy with a helmet of curly hair. The gathered media members stepped away from him in fear.

“Pardon?” one of the humanoids asked from the boarding ramp. They stood beneath a large black, futuristic, generic spaceship. The two strangers wore elegant white hooded robes that hid most of their bodies. Only their green, scaly faces could be seen. Their elongated snouts in combination with the scales made them look like walking lizards. The boy walked forward, the reporters stepped out of the way clearing a path for him.

“You’re threatening action. What kind of action?” he asked.

“This kind, human,” one of them said. He lifted his right hand; a bright blue bolt of lightning shot from his hand and charged at the boy. It struck him square in the chest but nothing happened. The teen smiled.

“Is that an official PvP request?” he asked then gave an exaggerated shrug. “Most people don’t usually duel Mods but if that’s what you want..”  Both figures on the ramp immediately took a step backward.

“Yo-you’re a Mod?” the one that didn’t attack with lightning asked. The boy nodded and continued walking until he reached the boarding ramp.

“Ms. Sharp wants you two to stop impersonating aliens,” he shook his head. “She doesn’t care if you take over a couple of abandoned servers,” he looked around at the gathered crowd. All cameras were on him; he shrugged. “They’re just NPCs anyway,” he added. “But the ‘idea’ of aliens is not something she wants to promote in the AlterNet. Clear?” he asked. Both figures immediately began nodding; they pulled back their hoods to show their fully reptilian heads.

“Good,” the boy said. “OREN!” he shouted. A black hole opened next to him. A taller, older teen walked out. He was deathly pale with a sharp black widow’s peak in the center of his forehead. “Server Reset,” the boy said then walked into the black hole that Oren created. Oren sighed and nodded his head.

“Sure thing, Aury,” he said. Oren raised his hand and pushed his finger against a single, red, glowing dot in the air. Red light rippled out of it and washed across the Earth. Everything in its wake was reset to that morning before the “aliens” landed.

The crowd of reporters was gone. Only the black spaceship, the two lizards and Oren remained in a wide-open field.

“Is that kid really a Mod?” One of the lizardmen yelled the question. Oren looked at him, then raised his hand in their direction.

“Yes,” Oren growled in frustration. The alien impersonator that asked the question fell into a hole that appeared under him, but it closed around his neck before he disappeared. His lizard head rolled forward down the ramp; it disintegrated into white nanos as it traveled.

Flaming Crown

“I promise I’ll be careful,” Marcus looked up at his mother with pleading eyes as he asked for permission. She looked down at him with tired eyes and gave him a soft, sad smile.

“Anyone want to take Marcus to see the Universal Flame?” She asked the group of siblings gathered around the picnic table. The concrete picnic table was the family’s first stop after the gates of the theme park.

The park was once a solemn and stringent cathedral used for religious rituals. The Universal Flame was thought to reveal a person’s destiny until it started giving less than insightful predictions. The last official prediction was recorded over a hundred years ago. It said, “Heart Attack” in response to a morbidly obese man that needed to be wheeled to the fire. According to the same record, he died three days later of a heart attack. No one doubted the predictions of the flame, but they didn’t need it to tell them the obvious.

As people lost interest in the flame the church could not maintain the cathedral and was forced to sell. The Universal Flame could not be moved; they tried. Instead, they sold it with the cathedral. It was incorporated as its own attraction.

“No….,” all six of Marcus’ siblings, ranging in age from 19 to 14, replied without looking up from their nodes. His mother sighed and looked at her 7th child. She was about to tell him no.

“I’m 11!” He held up his transparent, glassy node. “I have a node. I’ll be fine, mom.” He pointed at the mostly empty park around them; it was still early. “There’s no one around.” She looked unsure, but she also looked tired of saying ‘no’.

“You better call me if you so much as stub your toe young man,” she said. Marcus stood taller and puffed his chest out as much as a sickly, 11-year-old bag of bones could. It was the first time she called him a “young man”. All four of his brothers hated it but he couldn’t wait for the day that he was considered a man.

“Yes, Ma’am!” Marcus beamed and immediately bolted in the direction he thought the flame was. He didn’t know where it was exactly, but he wanted to get away before his mom, or worse: one of his siblings, changed their minds.

Marcus could not run long before he got winded, but he ran long enough to lose sight of his family. Now that he was on his own he slowed down to appreciate his first taste of freedom. He was at a theme park on a bright sunny morning with almost no one else around. He did not have an army of siblings giving him conflicting orders about what he needed to see next. He could wander and peruse at his own leisure.

He walked slowly and tried to catch his breath; then, he noticed a sign that pointed the way to the Universal Flame. He was closer than he expected. Marcus took a left turn at his next chance and found the right building.  It was a relatively small building with a handful of steps leading up to the entrance. Four black stone pillars lined the front of it. Marcus was glad to see there was no line. He walked as quickly as he could without losing his breath. The steps slowed him down but eventually, he made it to the top and wandered in.

The interior was straightforward and empty. It was not much bigger than Marcus’ house. The floor was black like the pillars but extra shiny somehow; it reminded Marcus of the night sky.  The walls were decorated with ornate tapestries, each one taller than Marcus himself. At the back of the room wide space was cut in the floor for the flame. It burned soft and calmly like a barbecue grill waiting for something to cook. It took up almost an entire third of the floor.

“Whooaa…” Marcus took a step closer to the flame; then stopped. It grew brighter. He waited a moment then took another step, again it grew brighter and he stopped. “How about THIS?” he said as he sprinted forward. It was only a few steps before he got to the edge. When he stopped the flame was taller than him and bright orange. “This is awesome!” he grinned.

“Okay,” he closed his eyes and started talking to himself. “No matter what it says, don’t be disappointed,” he reminded himself. He stood up straighter and spoke to the blaze.

“Universal Flame! Burn down the curtains of time so that I might see what lies ahead,” he said. Normally it was an ordained priest giving the incantation, but according to the internet, anyone would do. The flame dimmed and sunk into its hole. Marcus leaned forward to peer over the edge. “Universal Flame?” he asked again.

The flames jetted upward with a roaring whoosh and formed a towering spire of fire. After a few seconds, the blaze died down again. The fire sunk but left a flaming word floating in the air.

“Conquest,” the flames said.

“That’s a hell of a fate, kid,” a man’s voice said from behind Marcus. He jumped and turned around in the same motion and saw a tall, lean, pale young man with a sharp widow’s peak. He looked like he was the same age as Marcus’ oldest sister. She was 16. The stranger wore black jeans and a black t-shirt.  “What’s your favorite number?” he asked.

“47!” Marcus shouted. The boy was frightened but the answer forced itself out anyway; Marcus didn’t even know he had a favorite number yet. The stranger grinned; a red crown began glowing on the center of his forehead just under the point of the peak.

“There’s someone I want you to meet,” the teenager said and stepped toward Marcus.

Queen’s Court

Owen sat up in bed and looked at the bare, beige carpet in the center of his bedroom.

“YEEEEEESSS!” he cheered to himself and hopped out of bed. He ran to his kitchen to find the dining room chair he chopped up the previous night. He grew suspiciously hopeful that the day was resetting. He did not want to destroy anything irreplaceable; he chopped the legs off the chair and left the pile in his bedroom before going to sleep.

Two hours later Owen sat in his favorite coffee shop taking notes. He watched the locals while keeping an eye on social media for anything useful. After a while, he noticed a young woman with dark hair sneaking glances at him. She wore blue jeans and a simple black blouse. After an hour of watching him, without getting a drink, the young woman left.

I’ll talk to her tomorrow,” Owen decided and threw himself back into his research of the day. He stayed in the coffee shop until they closed, then headed home. He was content with his research and had some ideas of how to make the best of the day; if he got it again. He took the time to destroy the chair again before bed; he wanted to have an immediate indicator of whether his day reset.

The next morning Owen was glad it was the same morning; the dismantled chair was in one piece again in his kitchen. He spent extra time getting ready. He wanted to feel fresh and confident when he struck up a conversation with the stranger today.

He walked into the coffee shop and glanced around. Everyone was there again except the woman he was looking for.

Maybe she didn’t get here until later…,” Owen reasoned. He expected to chat her up a bit to get some information for the next time then move on to his plans. Without her there he sat down and decided to double check his info to kill time. Owen looked up every time the door opened but she did not walk in until after lunch. She wore a bright white blouse with navy blue slacks; not the blue jeans and black shirt from the previous day. “What the hell?” Owen realized she wasn’t just dressed differently; she seemed to be unaffected by time resetting. That day she came into the coffee shop hours after she left it the previous day.

Owen watched her accept her drink. Instead of the going to the same seat she sat in yesterday she walked straight to his table and sat down across from him.

“Hi!” she smiled. Her eyes sparkled with a glassy, bright pink color he’d never seen in someone’s eyes before.

“Hi,” Owen replied. “Uh.. can I help you?” He mentally kicked himself; he planned to be smoother when talking to her. She nodded.

“I think so. My name is Bijou,” she said and extended a hand across the table. Owen shook it.

“Owen,” he introduced himself.

“I need someone that can control time,” she said. She looked around the cafe with a suspicious eye then winked at Owen. He caught a glimpse of a tattoo on her eyelid but it disappeared again before he identified it. “Kind of like what you’ve been doing for a few days.”

“How did you know!?” Owen hissed across the table with a loud whisper. She winked again with the same eye, slower this time. Owen saw her tattoo clearly. The number 47 in black with a small golden crown atop the seven decorated her right eyelid.

“I’m a Queen. I recognize power when I see it.”

Fated Meeting

The skittish mugger looked at his gun, then back at the lean, wispy man. It looked like his skin was pulled tight over his bones; his apparent malnutrition is what gave Linus the courage to victimize the man. He did not plan on firing a single shot, much less six. Now that he was approaching 50, Linus had learned that plans are made to be broken.

“Fate, huh? So can you change mine?” Linus asked. Fate cocked his head to the side and gave him a questioning look.

“You don’t need me for that,” he replied with a calming, even tone. Linus gave a half nod and hid his gun under his coat.

“Yeah, I suppose you wouldn’t seein’ I just tried mugging you,” he shook his head. “Sorry, and thanks for not killing me.”

“Why would I?” Fate asked. He seemed perpetually confused as far as Linus could tell from the short five-minute interaction they’ve had so far. Linus only meant to fire a warning shot to scare the man; he did not seem to understand he was being robbed.

“‘Cause I tried to take your money and kill you. It’s only fair you’d want revenge. Anyone that can take six shots in the chest without blinking can probably make short work of me.”

“Do you wish ill upon the breeze that caresses your face?” Fate asked. Linus shook his head in equal parts astonishment and offense.

“That’s all those bullets were to you? A stiff breeze?” Linus asked. Fate smiled at him.

“A gentle breeze. Do you want money?” Fate asked suddenly. Linus laughed. He had grown used to Fate’s quirks already. He was not surprised Fate did not know what a mugging was. Fate reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out a small, glassy rectangle about the size of a playing card. “I’ve been told this works as a credit card if you swipe it.” He tossed it at Linus. “She said it has no limit,” Fate shrugged. “I don’t know what that means, but I’m sure you do.”

“And you’re just giving this to me??”

“I don’t need it. You don’t either, but it seems like you need to learn that lesson for yourself.” Linus stared wide-eyed at the device. When he touched it, it lit up like a display and showed the current time with an infinity symbol next to it.

“Wait a minute. Who’s ‘she’ that you mentioned? Is this hers? Is she gonna come back for it?” Linus began to push the glass card back to Fate; but, the frail man shook his head.

“My queen, Bijou, gifted it to me to keep me entertained while I wait for her. She’ll be here soon. My wait is almost over.”

“Your Queen? Fate has a queen? How does that work?”

“How does what work?” Fate asked.

“I mean, you’re fate. You control and guide people’s lives. You decide people’s circumstances. I never thought you’d report to anyone.”

“Oh,” Fate chuckled. “You’re confused. I’m not…,” he used air quotes. “FATE. My name is Fate but I decide my own. Just like you.”

“But then what are you? I know I shot you point blank.”

“I’m a Unique Soul. #42, La Calavera.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Linus shook his head.

“It means I can make short work of you if I wanted to.”

“Fair enough,” Linus nodded. “But what ab-” he stopped talking. His mouth dropped open and he stared at something behind Fate. A pitch black portal, somehow darker than the dark alley, opened in the air. A short dark-haired woman walked out. Though she stood in shadows, Linus clearly saw bright pink crystalline eyes staring at him. Once she walked up to Fate Linus got the impression that she stared at him just to ignore him. She looked at Fate.

“Ready?”

“Yes my Queen,” Fate said with a deliberate nod of his head. Then he turned around and walked through the portal. Bijou followed and the portal closed behind them.

Squad Support

“Taking the visor off,” Eury advised the room by habit. The 14 year-old-girl in pajamas sat on the edge of her bed and looked down at the floor. She removed her violet-crystal visor and placed it on the nightstand next to several spares. Then she slipped on her sleep mask as she lay on the bed. “You there, Abby?” She asked aloud. Her friend was the only person in the room when she gave the warning, but she might have left in the few seconds it took Eury to lay down. Or she may not have felt like talking; the real reason Eury learned to wait until her eyes were covered.

“Yeah, I’m here,” Abby called back. Eury was glad she felt like talking. “What’s up?”

“Who’re you going to be tomorrow?”

“I’m still gonna be Abby I guess. That’s a weird question.”

“NOOooo.” Eury sat up in bed and faced the direction of Abby’s voice. “It’s the first day of school!” Eury threw her hands on the bed in excitement. “The first day of a brand new school! A school just for UNIQUES! No one knows us; we can be who we want to be!”

“Oh, okay,” Abby nodded in understanding, not that her friend could see. “Yeah, I’m still gonna be Abby.” Eury groaned with frustration and threw herself backward on the bed.

“Why aren’t you more excited?”

“I haven’t lived my whole life wanting to go to school,” Abby shrugged. “I’ve already been. It’s not that great.”

“And you’re not even a little bit excited about meeting SoundCrowd?” Eury asked.

“No way. They know we’re on Ballisea’s team; I’m sure they’ll treat us like jerks because we’re the ‘bad guys‘.”

“They wouldn’t do that!” Eury replied. “Probably. Some of them might, but Dirge wouldn’t!”

“Whoever you’re pretending to be will disappear the moment the rest of the students find out we’re Ballisea’s side,” Abby said.

“But it’s my chance to be cool!” Eury whined at the ceiling.

“Eury,” Abby said with a softer, closer voice. Eury felt the bed shift as Abby sat down next to her. “You kill people by looking at them. How much cooler do you want to be?”

“I guess,” she grumbled.

“What’s wrong with Eury?” Eury recognized Lupe’s voice from the direction of the doorway and guessed the girl just walked in.

“She’s nervous about school,” Abby replied.

“I’m not nervous.” Eury faced the direction of Lupe’s voice. “I thought it would be a good time to try out a new me.”

“She thinks she needs a cooler identity,” Abby added.

“What? No way,” Lupe grinned. Only Abby saw it. Eury felt the bed shift in the other direction when Lupe joined them on her bed. “You’ve already got a cool identity.”

“I know. I kill people by looking at them,” Eury said meekly.

“Nu-uh. That’s cool too, but there’s something even better.”

“Really?” Eury sat up again. “What?”

“Yeah, what?” Abby asked.

“You too,” Lupe said. Eury got the impression she was talking to Abby.

“Us three and the boys were all hand-picked by Ballisea. The strongest Unique that ever existed chose us…,” Eury felt Lupe poke her arm to drive the point home. “…to be on her derby team. You both know the stakes; you know she really wants to win this. She thinks we’re the best shot she has.  You guys…,” Lupe stood up. Eury felt the bed pop back up in her absence.

“…we’re the B-Squad!”

Royal Joke

“Today? Impossible.” Marcus Howzer said. He scoffed at Ms. Sharp from behind his large stone carved desk and shook his head. “This kind of technology needs too much approval to be rolled out in a day.” The white-suited woman sighed stood from her seat.

“I’m disappointed Mr. Howzer. I assumed that you’d have more imagination given how much of the world your corporation has touched,” she shrugged. “My offer was a courtesy, one business-person to another.” A black hole appeared behind Ms. Sharp while she continued to address Marcus. A lanky, pale teenage boy in black jeans and a black shirt stepped out of the portal. A short, dark-haired woman in a black suit stepped out after him. “I give myself approval.”

“Full Saturation, Ms. Sharp,” Melody said. Dana Sharp nodded.

“Start it up, Oren. Contemporary template.”

“You said I’d get to pick!” Ms. Sharp turned her attention to the teen.

“I said you’d get to pick IF he,” she pointed at the panicking man with a phone to his ear. “accepted the deal. He didn’t.” Ms. Sharp’s eyes narrowed at Oren. “Do your job and you’re free to go play with Sonia for the rest of the day. You can go do whatever template you want anywhere else.” Oren sulked but nodded.

“Fine. Gimme the patch notes.” Melody handed Oren a sheet of paper before he finished asking. He read them over, turned the sheet over to check the other side, then he looked up at Ms. Sharp.

“That’s it?” Ms. Sharp gave a stern nod.

“That’s plan B. I wouldn’t know what patches you’d want if you chose the template.”

“HANDS UP! NOBODY MOVE!” None of them noticed the officers until they announced their presence. Five uniforms pointed guns at the three intruders.

“Melody, kill them.” The dark-haired woman’s hands began to glow with blue light, but a wall rose from the ground between Melody and the policemen.

“Full saturation,” Oren said. “They don’t need to be killed.”

“Fine,” Ms. Sharp said. A black hole opened in front of her and she stepped through, followed by Melody. “Feel free to name the server,” Ms. Sharp added on her way out, then the portal closed. Oren sighed and waved a hand at the wall. Five square spaces opened in it, enough to see the policemen’s faces.

“This world is about to change in a big way. Get to your loved ones.” The wall crumbled into white powders that disappeared before it hit the ground. The men looked unsure until Oren sat down in front of Marcus’ desk. “You too.” The big man nodded and hurried out from behind his desk. A red Aura gathered around Oren. His pale skin reflected the neon-red light as he sat still and closed his eyes. In his hands, he held the patch notes.

Oren concentrated on the notes in his mind’s eye until each word on the sheet glowed with the same bright red color. The glowing words lifted off the sheet and floated in front of his face. He opened his grey eyes and brought his hands up on either side of the words. He clapped his hands together and compressed the words into a single, glowing red dot.

“I dub thee, Bozo Server,” Oren said. He touched the glowing red dot with a glowing red finger. The action sent a ripple through reality as each nano learned its job in an instant.

After a moment the same red floating text appeared in front of Oren. This was the official patch that everyone would see.

[Welcome to Bozo Server!]

[Sharp Technologies apologizes for an issue that failed to grant users access to their Menu slates and HUDs. To apologize we are gifting each player:

  • 1 free node
  • 100 million Prime-nanos
  • Character reroll
  • MAX level boost

The Bozo Server is a contemporary template. Humans are the only unlocked race but other races may be individually purchased. Your gift of 100 million Prime-nanos is available to be spent here.

Medic, Bard, Thief, Monk, Merchant, Craftsman, Clown, and Dancer are the only unlocked classes in this template. Other classes may be individually purchased. Your gift of 100 million Prime-nanos is available to be spent here.

NPC jobs are available. If interested please opt-in during character creation.

MAX level boost will unlock all skills of your chosen class. They are a one time gift only. Sharp Technologies will not reimburse you for wasted MAX potions.

Thank you for joining the AlterNet! Please accept our terms and conditions to re-make yourself.]

“Looks good,” Oren nodded and approved the message. A second ripple radiated out through reality. Oren heard a car crash on the street below as he stepped into his portal and disappeared.

Taken In

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Matron Silver asked. The officer that dropped off the scrawny, pink-haired 8-year-old girl left in a hurry. The older woman closed the door and leaned against the edge of her desk to address her new arrival. The girl looked up to meet the woman’s brown eyes.

“Justice,” she said. The woman placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder and leaned forward with a polite, sad smile.

“What a beautiful name they left you with.” Justice was one of the rare kids that ended up at the orphanage by accident. Her parent’s car accident would have left all three of them dead if Justice’s lycanthropy didn’t save her life. “How bad are your changes?” Matron Silver asked. The girl shook her head.

“I can control it already.”

“Really?” Matron Silver raised a grey eyebrow. Justice bit her lower lip.

“Almost,” she admitted. The Matron nodded, smiled, then walked around the desk to sit down across from Justice. She pulled open a drawer and grabbed a folder from inside.

“We’ll find out tonight.” Matron Silver dropped the folder on the desk and gave Justice a somber, sympathetic look. “When I was your age, I hated when people didn’t explain things to me. I’m sorry about your parents, Justice. The accident only happened a couple of hours ago,” the Matron sighed. “…and here you are. I’m sure you feel that things are happening too fast. I want you to know you can slow down and ask any question you want okay?”

“Okay,” Justice nodded. The woman gave her almost half a minute to ask a question, but the girl seemed impatient to keep things moving.

“You don’t have any questions then?” Justice shook her head.

“I know why I’m here,” she tilted her head at the sunset outside the window. “I’d rather be here than a jail cell anyway.”

“Smart girl,” the Matron smiled. “So, when you say, ‘almost’ what does that mean? How much can you control it?” The woman opened the folder and readied a pen.

“If I’m alone and it’s quiet, I can stay in control. My wolf doesn’t like noise though,” Justice said. Matron Silver filled in the top sheet of Justice’s file while she nodded at the girl to keep her talking. “If I lose control my wolf likes to go to the park. I’ve never killed anyone and my parents said that my wolf will anything for cheese.”

“Your wolf sounds easy to manage,” the Matron smiled. “Of course this is your first change here….” she pressed a red button on one corner of her desk. “…you’ll understand that we need to see how well you do for ourselves.” The door opened. A tall, pale teenager with a widow’s peak walked into the room through a sunbeam. “This is Oren, he’ll help you to your room, and stand guard for the night.” Justice nodded and smiled politely at the matron, then stood up. Oren walked out the door first and Justice followed.

“You’re not a vampire,” Justice said the moment they were in the narrow hall. “Sorry, that’s a question. What are you?” Oren stopped walking, then turned to size Justice up. He looked her up and down.

“What?” he asked. Justice stared into his translucent grey eyes.

“You look like a vampire, but you’re not one,” she said. “You’re not a werewolf, fairy, or human either. You’re something I’ve never smelled. Oren’s lips stretched into a small grin.

“You’re interesting too. I’ll explain in your room,” he said, then walked forward again. After navigating the maze of halls Oren stopped in front of one of the steel reinforced doors.

“This is your changing room,” he opened the door. “You’ll get your living room tomorrow,” he said almost apologetically. Justice could see why the changing room was slightly less than a prison cell. Bare floor, bare walls and a set of filled food and water bowls.

“So what are you?” She asked. Oren stepped into the room and closed the door.

“I’m bored,” Oren said. He smiled and made a sweeping gesture at the air with his hand. A black hole, darker than anything Justice had ever seen, opened in the middle of the room. She noted it was tall enough for Oren to step through. “I know where we can play an awesome game though. Wanna come?” Justice did not waste time nodding; she bolted through the hole without a second thought.

The over-enthusiastic young girl was surprised when she saw light on the other side of the hole. It surprised her, even more, when she ran headfirst into a woman. Justice barely had time to register the woman’s white suit before they collided.

“So-” Justice tried apologizing as she collected herself, but a hand around her throat interrupted the word.

“Who are you!?” A shorter woman in a dark suit lifted Justice off the ground by her neck.

“Chill Melody!” Oren shouted behind Justice. “She’s from the orphanage.” Justice was able to breathe again, and she felt the ground under her feet again.

“I’m sorry,” Melody apologized to Justice, then she stood and glared at Oren. Justice did not see the woman she ran into anywhere. “Normally our visitors don’t come down here.” Oren put a hand on Justice’s shoulder.

“She said I was something that she’d never smelled before,” Oren said. “I thought I’d introduce her to the AlterNet.” Melody looked down at Justice and smiled.

“What’s your name, Sweetheart?”

“Justice,” she replied.

“Just Justice?”

“Justice Knight.”

Expository Lunch

“What’s your name?” Bijou asked Agent Mundo. The two women sat in a red and gold booth in a Chinese restaurant. After placing their orders, Bijou decided to start the questioning. The federal agent promised her answers.

“It’s Mundo,” she said. “Agent is just a title.”

“But what’s your first name? Or is it Mundo?” Mundo gave a half shrug.

“I was born Olive Brooks, but I changed my name to Mundo when I was ‘Awakened’.” Bijou nodded. She didn’t know exactly what ‘awakened’ meant, but she knew she’d get the answer soon. Her mind latched on to a more immediate question.

“Do I have to change my name too? To Corona or whatever you said I was?” Bijou loved her name too much to change it. Luckily Mundo shook her head at the question.

“No, it’s mostly a Mundo thing. Not all Mundos do it, but it makes things easier for everyone.”

“Okay, you’re starting to lose me,” Bijou said. “How many Mundos are there? You said we were called Unique Souls, but it doesn’t seem very unique if there’s more of you, and you all change your name to Mundo.”

“Most Earths produce a Mundo at some point,” Mundo said.

“That! That’s what I want to know. You said, ‘This Earth hates unicorns.’ Are alternate Earths really real?” Bijou asked. Her crystalline pink eyes sparkled with hope. If alternate Earths were real she knew she could find the right one to make her dream come true. Mundo nodded.

“Yeah. Real and easily accessible for Uniques.” Bijou grinned broadly.

“Can we go??” Bijou imagined Mundo giving her a tour of her favorite Earths.

“You can,” Mundo said. “I can’t leave my Earth.” Bijou’s smile dimmed slightly.

“Why not?”

“It’ll help if I explain how Uniques work in general,” Mundo said. She sat up straighter and smiled at Bijou. There’re 54 different types of Uniques broken down into six tiers.”

“Oh, those are the numbers you told me, right? You said you you’re #37 and I’m #47. Does that mean I’m stronger than you?” Mundo shook her head.

“Nope. The numbers themselves don’t mean much other than identifying the Unique. You probably are stronger than me, but technically you’re on a lower tier. The ranking isn’t about how strong you are, it’s about what you can do.” Mundo pointed at Bijou.

“You are La Corona, so you’re in the Conqueror tier. Everyone in that tier is powerful enough to conquer the Earth they’re born on.”

“Oh yeah! You said I was born to be one of the most fearful things on Earth,” Bijou said. “That’s to help me conquer the Earth?” Mundo nodded.

“Yeah. Each one goes about it a different way. Coronas are the strongest conquerors and they’re born in the form of whatever the humans fear at the time. I guess when you were born people were really scared of unicorns for some reason.”

“What tier are you? What do you do?”

“I’m in the tier above you, called Celestials. Celestials can open portals to travel between universes. Conquerors can easily conquer their Earth, celestials can easily conquer several.”

“But you said you can’t leave?” Bijou asked.

“Right. That’s specific to Mundos, and one of the lower tiers. My ability is knowledge. When I got my tattoo it flooded my mind with information on Uniques and the multi-verse. It’s weird to doubt and generally not think about other universes one day; then, to know for a fact that they’re real the next. Mundos help teach Uniques about themselves and their abilities.”

“Wow, it’s a great thing I ran into you!” Bijou smiled. Mundo nodded.

“It would have happened eventually. Uniques are drawn to each other, it actually makes my job easier. When I heard about the unicorn attack at the university, I assumed there was a Unique involved. All I had to do was show up, and there you were.”

“So you can’t leave this Earth.. but have you met travelers from other Earths?”

“Oh yeah, quite a few. I’ve got some friends that come by regularly.”

“Wow, what are their universes like?”

“Their particular universes are kind of boring, but there’s a lot of awesome stuff out there. If you can imagine something, there’s probably an Earth like that.”

“Oh! What about aliens?” Bijou asked. Her sole reason for attending college was to become an astronomer, but even that was a means to an end. More than anything she dreamed about meeting alien life. Now that she had access to other universes she could just find one with aliens in it and meet them. Unfortunately, Mundo shook her head.

“Sorry, no aliens.”

“You’re kidding me! Out of all the travelers you met, not one of them came from an Earth that’s met alien life?” Mundo nodded.

“Pretend this Earth is an apartment in a very trusting building,” Mundo said. Bijou nodded. “There’s only one key to open the main door, and all the apartments are unlocked. Once a Unique has been to your apartment, it gets a key and can come back any time to any of the apartments. Not only that, but Uniques share the key with everyone they meet.” Bijou’s eyes narrowed with confusion.

“Aliens?” she asked to get Mundo back on topic.

“Yeah. No one that has come into this apartment building of ours has met any aliens, nor met anyone that has met any aliens yet.”

“You can’t know that for sure, right?” Alternate Earths were great, but Bijou wanted to see the universe, not just more Earths.

“Once aliens have the key to our building we’ll have the key to theirs. Then we’ll be able to enter all kinds of new Earths that have met aliens.” Mundo shrugged. “There’re infinite universes out there. Sure we can travel between a few, but it’s still only a small corner of infinity.”