Handy Exposition

“The first thing you should do is get a tattoo,” Justice said between bites of food. She sat in Donna Chang’s restaurant enjoying a meal with her friend, Andrea, and Andrea’s parents.

“A tattoo??” Andrea’s mother asked while shaking her head. “You’re only 14. You’re not getting a tattoo,” she told her daughter. The woman’s plate sat in front of her untouched. She and her husband both ordered despite disliking Chinese food. Arnold, Andrea’s father, did pick at his food but it only reminded him that he wasn’t a fan. Justice shrugged and continued talking to Andrea.

“It doesn’t have to be a tattoo, and it doesn’t need to be big or anything,” she said while ignoring the adults. “You just need the number 21 on your skin somewhere,” the pink-haired girl cast a glance at Andrea’s mom. “Permanently,” she said while looking the woman in the eyes, then she turned back to her friend. “Brand, tattoo, whatever as long as it leaves a scar.

“You’re not going to join a team that requires you to ruin your beautiful skin,” Martha told her daughter. “If you want to join roller derby that badly we can find you another team.”

“BRITT!” Justice yelled toward the kitchen door. A dark-skinned girl with twin afro-puffs on her head emerged through the swinging door and headed for the table.

“What’s up?” she asked.

“Two big favors?” Justice asked. Britt nodded with a smile.

“Favor one; I want to take Andrea to make an AlterNet character,” she cast her eyes at Andrea’s parents to clue Britt in. “The nanos can awaken her. Favor two; can you please explain Uniques to them? You can prove it better than I can.”

“No sweat, it’s pretty slow right now anyway,” Britt replied. She wiggled her fingers at the air and opened a tall, black portal next to the table. Then she handed Justice a small, pitch black business card.

“Thanks! Let’s go,” She tapped Andrea on the shoulder then dashed through the portal. Andrea followed without giving her parents time to object, then the portal disappeared. Britt sat down in front of the straight-laced, wide-eyed parents.

“What just happened?” Martha asked.

“Where did they go?” Arnold asked at almost the same time.

“Your daughter is special,” Britt said.

“We know and we’d like her back,” Martha said.

“They’ll come back when they’re done, it shouldn’t take more than 15 or 20 minutes. In the meantime, I’ll tell you about your Unique daughter.”

“What do you know about our daughter?” Martha asked.

“Where did they go?” Arnold asked again. He seemed more curious than concerned for his daughter. Britt was glad at least one of Andrea’s parents seemed to trust Justice. She decided she’d rather speak to him than the mother and turned her attention to Arnold.

“Think of roller derby like a video game; they went to make Andrea’s character.”

“Oh. Nice,” Arnold replied with a large smile.

“Your daughter is something called a Unique Soul. She’s the only her in all the universes.”

“Of course she is,” Martha said with a stern voice.

“… so there are other universes?” Arnold asked? Britt nodded; both to agree with him and to congratulate herself for making the right decision. He was definitely the one to talk to.

“There’s an infinite number of alternate Earths; with thousands of other versions of you,” Britt pointed at Arnold. “And her,” She tilted her head toward Martha but did not take her eyes off Arnold.

“I wonder if all of your versions are this rude,” Martha said aloud.

“I’m Unique too. There’s only one of me,” she grinned. “So, yeah,” she nodded at the woman then turned back to Arnold. “When a Unique is born, they’re referred to as ‘Slumbering’ until they awaken their powers; that’s done by getting their number on their skin. Then they’re ‘Awakened’.

“She better not come back with a tattoo!” Martha said sharply. “I heard that wolf girl say she would ‘awaken’ Andrea.”

Justice won’t leave a visible mark on your daughter,” Britt stressed her friend’s name.

“What kind of powers?” Arnold asked.

“Each Unique type has different abilities. Your daughter, #21, can pull anything she thinks about from another universe.” Britt lifted her hand off the table and held it with the palm facing upward; it began to glow blue. Arnold leaned back as he felt a heat current flow out from her hand; as if he just opened an oven. “I’m #35. I can channel plasma from a star.” The glow dissipated and Britt dropped her hand to the table.

“What does this have to do with roller derby?” Arnold asked.

“Most of the competitors are Uniques because we can use our powers in the game.”

“What about the wolf gi-,” Martha interrupted herself when Britt turned and glared at her with brilliant golden stars around her pupils. “What Unique is Justice?” she corrected herself quickly.

“She’s a Zero. That’s what we call…,” Britt pointed at both parents. “…non-Uniques. She has other powers though; besides the werewolf thing.” As Britt explained a small, vertical, dinner-plate sized portal appeared on top of their table. A black cat with a red skull-like pattern on its head walked out of the portal and sat on the table. It looked around the table then settled on Britt. The portal closed behind it.

“Where’s Justice?” the cat asked with a soft, feminine voice.

“She’s making a character for her friend on the Kingdom server,” Britt replied. “Andrea wants to be on Justice’s team.” The cat swished its tail and another portal opened up next to her.

“Her team doesn’t need any more members,” the cat replied. It stood and walked toward the other portal.

“But they only have four members?” Britt asked.

“That’s all they need.” The cat disappeared into the portal, then it closed.

Team Justice

“Honey, are you sure this is the right place?” Mrs. Topps asked her daughter. The three-person family stood in front of a Chinese restaurant. A neon red sign came on as dusk fell around them; it read: “Donna Chang’s”.  “We don’t like Chinese food,” she reminded Andrea.

“You and dad don’t like it,” the teenage girl said with a visible eyeroll. “I love it. But we’re here because this is where my new friend likes to hang out.”

“Is she Chinese?” The older woman asked.

“She’s a werewolf,” Andrea replied with a shrug.

“From China?” the mother asked with a concerned tone.

“Dad?” Andrea turned around to ask her father for help. He smiled and reached up to pat his daughter on the head.

“I think your mother’s allowed to give you a hard time if you’re making up stories about werewolves, vampires, and dragons. It’s all in good fun,” he said with a smile. Andrea sighed, but she knew there was no sense arguing. She’d be able to prove she was telling the truth within the next few minutes.

“C’mon,” Andrea led her parent into the restaurant. Despite it being a Friday evening, the restaurant was mostly empty. A single teenage girl sat at a large table; she turned toward the door when the tinny bell over the door signaled new customers. She recognized Andrea and ran over to the trio with a large smile on her face.

“Hey Andy!” she said. When she reached the family the two teenagers greeted each other with a hug.

“Justice, these are my parents,” Andrea gestured at the adults behind her, then turned toward them. “Mom, dad. This is Justice.”

“Hi!” Justice shook the hands of each parent.

“Justice is a werewolf,” Andrea said. “Show them!” she grinned. Justice nodded and stood up straighter. She took several deep breaths, then grunted as if she was straining. She shut her eyes and clenched her teeth. Her head changed shape as dark black fur pushed out of her skin on her forehead. The fur continued to grow out down her face, neck and under her shirt down her arms. Her face became an elongated snout with a black nose and purple glowing eyes.

During the girl’s transformation, Martha Topps stepped next to her daughter while Arnold stepped in front of them. Within a few short moments, the fair-skinned girl was replaced by a black-furred humanoid wolf.

“What do you want?” Arnold asked; his voice trembled with fear. The fur began to recede back into the girl’s skin; her snout grew shorter.

“Orange beef,” the girl, now Justice again, said with a smile. She turned and walked back to the table. Andrea stepped around her dad and followed her friend. Mr. and Mrs. Topps stood in shock watching their daughter chat animatedly with the wolfgirl.

“Table for two?” A sudden, bright voice said behind them. Both parents jumped; Arnold jumped higher. They turned and saw a dark-skinned waitress smiling at them. Her name tag said: Britt.

“She’s a werewolf!” Arnold hissed a whisper at the waitress while pointing at Justice.

“The owner and the cook are dragons,” Britt shrugged. “That’s the kind of place this is.” Arnold looked at his daughter; she was smiling. He did not see that often around the house.

“Is she in any danger?” He asked Britt.

“Who?”

“My daughter,” Arnold nodded at the table with the two girls. “The one that’s not a werewolf.”

“OH! You’re Andrea’s parents? Nice to meet you!” Britt greeted them both with a handshake. She looked at the table and nodded.

“Justice is trying to get her to join roller derby. Andrea’s in danger of having too much fun.” Britt smiled and waved as she headed back to the kitchen. The couple obviously did not need her help to find a table.

“Roller derby? Oh no. I’ve seen those women on TV, they’re so violent,” Martha whispered in her husband’s ear as they walked to the table.

“Guess what!? Justice said I could try out for her roller derby team!” Andrea said as her parents sat down. Arnold nodded.

“We’ll go cheer you on,” he said. He glanced at Martha and she nodded. Both of them knew not to mention their worries to Andrea.