“Don’t fight it,” Mike repeated.”You have to let go or you’re in for a bad trip,” he said. The high-school senior sat across from his best friend, Katie, on the floor in her bedroom. She was entrenched in a black beanbag with her head resting on the bed behind her.
“I’m not fighting it,” Katie growled her reply. She was already tired of his single piece of advice for the experience. “I should be feeling something by now, right?” Katie sat up in her beanbag. Mike shrugged, then focused his attention on his phone. He browsed the internet for a few minutes in silence until Katie spoke up again. “Maybe I should take more?”
“NO!” He said quickly, then he lowered his voice when he had her attention. “It says on the internet that if you take too much, your mind might not make it back to this reality.”
“What does it say about how long it takes to feel something?” she asked.
“That’s what I’m looking for,” he replied without taking his eyes off the phone. After a moment of reading, he stopped and looked around Katie’s room. Posters of pro surfers and swimmers decorated the ocean-blue walls of her small room. A shelf in the corner, over the computer desk, was filled with swimming trophies. “No… way…,” he said it loud enough to be heard, but he only meant to talk to himself.
“What’s up?” Katie asked.
“I think I know why Shift doesn’t work for you,” he said. “Apparently, there are people that don’t have versions in other realities. When they take it, nothing happens.”
“How do I know if I’m one?” Katie asked.
“What’s your favorite number?”
“50,” she replied, then gave Mike a confused look. “When did I get a favorite number?’ Then, she noticed his broad grin. “What? Does that mean I’m one of the special ones, then?” she asked. He nodded vigorously.
Eric wandered through the forest behind his home. The sun was high in the sky; not yet past its peak, but the forest canopy filtered most of the bright light. The path that Eric preferred was relatively dim for such a bright day. He entered the forest to search for solid, construction-worthy branches, but he enjoyed the stroll so much it became a secondary goal. He was enjoying the sounds and smells of the forest around him when a glint caught his eye from the ground up ahead. He dashed forward to the shiny sparkle with a grin.
“Dollar would be great, nickel is good too,” he thought. This wouldn’t be the first time something caught his attention, it was usually just coins. Though the forest was behind his house, it wasn’t his family’s property. The path he was using was frequented by hikers that often dropped loose change. He reached the glint and dusted off the dirt around it. He was surprised when it wasn’t a coin.
“Whoa!” Eric lifted a small, smooth, glassy rectangle out of the dirt and shook it off. It was transparent with the size and thickness of a playing card. “Is this a phone?” he wondered aloud. He did not see any buttons so he pressed his thumb against the screen.
[CONGRATULATIONS] appeared on the display in red text; it was bright enough to be seen perfectly in the dim daylight. A logo red pair of scissors also appeared with the message, then the text changed.
[You have been randomly chosen as the Game Master for this AlterNet server. To accept your prize please read the terms and services agreement then choose ‘Yes’.] Two icons appeared on the screen as well as several tiny horizontal lines. The ‘Yes’ looked bright red while the ‘No’ was a much dimmer green. He was almost 10 and in his short life, he’d learned one thing. No one ever reads the terms and conditions. He pressed ‘Yes’ to see what would happen next.
[Contract approved. Your soul now belongs to Sharp Development in exchange for your own Earth.] Eric chuckled when he realized it was a joke somehow. Of course, they couldn’t take his soul, much less give him the Earth. The device vibrated several times in his hand. It occasionally used enough force to vibrate his hand.
[Eric Lagos – Age 9. Unique Soul #50, El Pescado has been registered as Game Master. Please select a server template. For help with the setup process please say, “Help” at any time.
“Help.” Eric did not waste any time. The device jumped out of his hand and hovered in the air in front of him; then he noticed black dots collecting around it. In seconds a giant swarm of black dots surrounded the device, then they solidified. They turned into a black, featureless mannequin that seemed to be facing Eric.
“Welcome to the AlterNet!” it said with a soft feminine voice. “Here is a list of available templates. Please ask if you have any questions,” it said. The dummy lifted its arm in the air and a large glassy slate appeared in the air; it looked like a larger version of the gadget Eric found. Red text glowed on the slate in columns and Eric stepped closer to read them.
“Sci-fi, Fantasy, Horror, Steampunk, Contemporary…” he read the first few out loud then looked over the rest. They all seemed to be vague genre descriptions. One, in particular, caught his eye.
“What’s ‘Waterworld?’ he asked.
“Waterworld melts the polar ice caps and raises the sea level 300 feet. Uniques #06 La Sirena, #30 El Camarón, #50 El Pescado and #54 La Rana receive attribute bonuses from Waterworld servers. Build time: 72 hours”
Eric did not understand everything it said, but he did recognize #50. It told him that’s what he was and it sounded like whatever it meant he would get bonuses.
“I want that; do it,” he said. The mannequin extended his arm; Eric saw the glassy rectangle come out of its hand in front of him. It was giving him another prompt.
[Waterworld template: Start] He pushed the screen and a thunderclap resounded across the sky.
“Commencing flooding procedure,” the mannequin said as Eric felt drops of water starting to land on his head. His eyes widened.
“Wait… it’s real!?” He asked. The mannequin nodded. “… and my… soul?” he asked.