Star Shy

“It’s completely safe!” Grant reassured the 14-year-old girl, his granddaughter. The scrawny bundle of bags shook her head; everything else shook. She wore a bulging green canvas backpack on her back with several colorful pouches clipped to its various zippers for more storage. A forest green messenger bag hung from her right shoulder and she carried a lime-green satchel with her left hand. She nodded at the sign.

“Transportation to another dimension? Really, grandpa?” She tried to inject teenage annoyance in her voice but her grandfather raised her. He could hear the fear in her words and smiled in return.

“There’s hundreds of thousands of these across the world, it’s only happened once,” he shrugged and put a hand on the straps on her shoulder. “And they came back fine, it was just an inconvenience.” He tugged at the straps. “Looks like you’re all set for any inconveniences that come our way. I’ve been through dozens of times, we’ll be fine. Besides,” Grant pointed at the bright red number painted on the wall behind the teleportation pad: 35. “I even picked your lucky number.” The girl rolled her eyes but nodded.

“Okay, so how does it work?”

“Just step on it and press the button. Everything goes black for a second and then when the lights come on your parents will be waiting for us.” The girl took a deep breath then hopped onto the black metal platform. She turned to face her grandfather but her eyes were closed.

“Ready!” she said.

“Alright,” Grant stepped on the pad next to her. The circular pad wasn’t much bigger than a small car, its limit was four at a time. White walls surrounded the back of the platform and came around to the front. Grant fed his tickets into a mechanical slot in the wall closest to him.

“Teleportation in five seconds,” a female voice said. “Four,” she continued the countdown second by second. At one Grant felt his granddaughter’s hand slip into his and he squeezed it. “Teleporting,”  the voice said. The lights in the room went out leaving everything pitch black. Suddenly light returned and Grant realized something was wrong. He held the girl’s hand tightly and tried to pull her closer to him without alerting her.

“Are we there yet?” she asked. She kept her eyes closed but Grant guessed she noticed there was light again.

“Not yet, keep your eyes closed, Cassie,” Grant said while he tried to figure out his next step. They stood in the middle of a large, white-marble hall. Marble pillars lined the sides, but the width of the hall reminded Grant of an eight-lane highway. He expected to see his daughter and son-in-law but saw no one. He did not hear the busy sounds of the teleportation station.

“What do you mean not yet? It’s supposed to be instant!” the girl opened her eyes. “Whoooooaaa,” she looked around at the gleaming stone floors and walls. “Are we in another dimension?”

“Not necessarily,” Grant said.

“Well, we haven’t been atomized and I still feel like I exist,” the girl replied with genuine sarcasm. Despite himself, Grant chuckled. “So how do we get back?” she asked. Grant shrugged. He was about to elaborate but he heard voices coming down the hall. He looked toward the sound and saw a group of kids, about his granddaughter’s age, turn a nearby corner and into the hall. They stopped as soon as they saw the pair. After a moment of processing the situation, a girl with pink hair broke off from the group and dashed toward Grant. The rest of the group trailed behind her at a slower pace.

“HI! Welcome!” The pink-haired girl waved and smiled at Cassie. She seemed unsure and took a step backward while Grant stepped in front of her.

“Hi, I’m Grant,” he said.

“I’m Jessie,” the girl introduced herself as the rest of the kids arrived: two boys and two girls. She pointed them out clockwise to introduce them too. “That’s Rana, Margo, Andy, and Mark.” Grant decided they seemed friendly enough. He nodded at each one as they were introduced, then stepped aside.

“This is my granddaughter Cassie.”  The girl gave the group a weak smile. “She’s kind of shy,” Grant added. “Where are we?” he asked to take the focus off her.

“This is the Star Academy. We get estrellas like…,” She looked at Grant and he caught a golden flash of light in her eyes. Then, she looked at Cassie with the same light. “…her all the time.”

“Well, I’ve never heard of the Star Academy, but it seems like a nice place. Can you help us get home?”

“I’ll do it!” Mark and Andy both volunteered in unison and stepped forward.

“Yeah, I’ll get you home right now,” Jessie said. Then, she cast a glance to the boys on her left with narrow, slitted eyes. “You guys have to train.” They sighed, groaned, and turned to leave without another word. Jessie extended her hand toward Grant.

“Think about your home and give me a handshake,” she said. Grant thought about his daughter waiting for him and shook the girl’s hand; he thought he saw a light purple pulse pass from his hand to hers.

“Got it,” she turned to the two girls. “Wanna visit?” she asked them. Rana and Margo both nodded. Jessie raised her hand slowly while keeping her eyes on Cassie. She waited until she had the girl’s attention then wiggled her fingers in the air. “By the way, you can learn this too,” she said while looking Cassie in the eyes. A tall black portal opened next to them. “You can come back here any time you want.”  Margo and Rana walked into the portal first to show them it was safe.

“Really?” Cassie asked with a loud whisper. Jessie nodded.

“As sure as your favorite number is 35,” Jessie winked.

Star Brigade

“Go show Margo around,” the short, burly man said. He supported an unconscious man hanging over one shoulder and an unconscious woman on the other. “I’ll get her parents a dorm and get them caught up. Then I need to tell the king about Ballisea.”  Rana, a short green-haired girl, nodded.

“Thanks, Dad.” She leaned forward and pecked his cheek. “We’ll be in the library, I’m gonna show Margo the AlterNet.”

“Thank you for taking care of me and my parents Mr. Ruiz,” Margo said. The man nodded and walked away carrying her mother and father.

“C’mon!” Rana led Margo toward the other end of the large, hallway. The floor was made of sparkling white marble, with large pillars along the hallway made of the same beautiful stone.

“Who’s the king? Is he going to stop Ballisea?” Margo asked with a hopeful voice. Rana giggled but recovered quickly.

“No one can stop Ballisea. He needs to report our Earth was taken so the Academy can update their databases.”

“That’s it?!” Margo stopped walking and faced Rana. Her green eyes narrowed to angry slits. “Ballisea conquers a whole Earth, and all they’re going to do is update their records? Isn’t anyone doing anything to stop him?” Rana nodded, then lifted up a single finger.

“First,” she said. “Ballisea is a she. Second…,” Rana bent her index finger at the joints and nodded the tip of her finger in a ‘yes’ motion. “…see this?”

“Yeah?” Margo said though she didn’t know what she was supposed to be seeing. Rana wiggled the finger a couple more times, then stopped.

“That’s how much effort it takes Ballisea to conquer an Earth,” she shook her head. “The only thing we can do is stay out of her way.”

“RANA!” A girl’s voice echoed around the marble hallway. Rana and Margo turned to see an older, pink-haired girl running toward them. Two boys that she was walking with continued their slower pace toward Rana and Margo.

“JESSIE!” Rana dashed forward to meet the girl part-way and hugged her.

“When did you get here?” Jessie asked. “What’s the occasion?”

“Just now,” She shrugged. “Ballisea.” Margo caught up to them and stood next to Rana.

“Oh, that sucks. Who’s your friend? Unique?” Rana shook her head.

“Zero. This is Margo. Margo, this is Jessie.” The two boys caught up to Jessie. “Who’re those guys?” she asked.

“Mark and Andy, new Estrellas at the Academy. We decided to start a Derby team. OH!” She hopped excitedly “We need you, and Margo!” Jessie turned her attention to Margo. “Have you been in the AlterNet yet?”

“Yeah, Rana said that too. But I don’t get it. Alternate what?” Mark and Andy snickered, but Jessie turned around.

“Shut up you guys didn’t know either,” then she turned back to Margo. “Alter, net. Like internet,” she looked at Rana. “Did they have internet on her Earth?” Rana rolled her eyes.

“Yeah, a lame one.” Jessie nodded then focused on Margo again.

“It’s a game, like an MMO,” she paused and looked at Rana. “Those too?” Rana nodded. “But you only get one character. I’m a monk,” she used her thumb to gesture behind her. “Mark’s a wizard and Andy’s a chef,” she said. Then she pointed at Rana. “Rana’s a ninja.”

“We were on our way to the library to make her character,” Rana said.

“Cool! We’ll meet you there,” Jessie said. She wiggled her fingers at the air and opened a black portal. “C’mon guys.” She stepped through the portal, then both boys followed her. After the portal disappeared Rana continued toward the library.

“Did she say chef?” Margo asked as she followed.

“Yeah. His class is Craftsman, but he picked Chef as a specialty,” Rana giggled. “Although Jessie probably picked it for him.”

“When she said derby I thought she meant roller derby,” Margo shrugged. “But I don’t see how a chef would work.”

“She did mean roller derby. There’re special rules for the non-combat classes, but don’t worry about that. Pick whatever class you want.” She led Margo through a high arched opening.

“Whoooa,” Margo paused just inside the library. “I think this is bigger than our school!”  She looked up and counted three floors, each lined with floor to ceiling shelves of books. Several dozen tables dotted the open space in the middle and most of them were occupied. She turned to Rana.

“This is a school, right? How come you’re not coming here?” Rana shrugged and smiled.

“I liked our school,” she said, then started walking again. “Mudrooms are this way.” She turned down a narrow hallway near the entrance.

“Mudrooms?” Margo asked. She saw small study rooms along the hallway. Instead of tables, each one had a large hole filled with rich brown soil in the center. “What are those for.” Rana smiled as she opened the door to an unoccupied mudroom.

“It’s how you connect to the AlterNet.”