“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.”