Moderated Discussion

“It’s not my problem,” Gavin grumbled backward over his shoulder.  The princess sat bound and unfortunately, not gagged, in the back of his wagon. Gavin was thankful to see the city growing in the distance. They would be in the capital before dusk and he would be rich enough to celebrate a wonderful evening.

Gavin did not bother to gag her because he did not expect her to talk so incessantly over the two-day journey back from the dragon’s lair. He’d saved princesses a time or six but they usually shut up after about an hour of not being talked to. Not that they had a conversation. It was two days of her talking at him about how boring and repetitive her royal life was. She renewed her attempts to talk him out of returning her as soon as the city spires came into view.

“Of course it’s your problem!” the princess replied. “I’m just going to sit in my room bored for a day until the dragon comes and kidnaps me again. Aren’t you tired of saving me?” she asked. Gavin slowed the horses a bit, then turned around to face the princess.

“What did you say?” he asked. A smirk grew on the princess’ face.

“Aren’t you tired of saving me?” she repeated. “Or, do you just like throwing me over your shoulder?” she added.

“You…. you remember?” Gavin asked. The princess nodded.

“I’m tired of sitting in the castle and in the dragon’s lair; I feel like that’s all I’ve seen my entire life. There’s more out there,” she said. “I want to see the AlterNet.”

“WHOA!” Gavin pulled the reins hard and halted the wagon. He hopped off the cart and dashed around to the back to stare at the princess on more even footing.

“Where did you hear that word?” he asked. Slight fear filled her eyes and she pulled back slightly.

“I-..I don’t know,” she said. “I just know it.”

“Aughh,” Gavin gave a heavy sigh. “Well, at least that explains why you wouldn’t shut up,” he said. The princess noticed he was suddenly more relaxed and she felt more at ease.

“Does that mean you’ll help me?’ she asked. Gavin sighed again, then nodded.

“Yeah. Now that I know how,” he said. He reached under his cloak and pulled out a transparent card.

“That’s a node!” the princess said eagerly. She scooted closer to the edge of the cart to get a better look. Gavin kept his attention on the node, but didn’t try to hide it from her; his thumbs tapped quickly on its surface. “What are you doing?’ she asked.

“Getting someone to help,” he said.

“Thank you!” the princess replied with a bright smile. She extended her bound hands in a friendly gesture. “My name’s Princess,” she said. Despite his situation, Gavin couldn’t help but chuckle. He reached out and shook her bound wrists.

“Of course it is,” he said with a smile. After they shook hands, a disappointed look took over her face.

“Aren’t you going to untie me?” she asked.

“Hi,” a new voice made both of them jump. They turned toward the speaker and saw a chubby, curly-haired teenager wave at them.

“Mod Aury,” he said. “NPC troubles?”

“What?” Princess asked. She looked at Gavin for guidance and saw him nodding at Aury and pointing at her. “What does he mean?” the question was out before she registered he was talking about her.

“He’s going to help me get you back to your father,” Gavin replied.

“WHAT!?” Princess’ heart sank from the betrayal. She turned toward Aury hoping to make an appeal. A large grey glass hovered in front of him as his fingers moved across it.

“I don’t know you, but please, Aury. Don’t make me go back there,” she begged.

“Done,” Aury said. He tapped the glass slate one more time and it disintegrated into nothing.

“Thanks!” Gavin said. He gave Aury a friendly wave, then headed back to the front of the wagon.

“Why have we stopped?!” Princess asked. “Make haste! If we reach the city before dusk I’ll make my father give you a bonus reward!”

Scripted Event. Scripted Love.

“It’s about damn time,” Ingrid grinned at Mason. The two close friends sat in the park at a concrete picnic table in the shade of a large mesquite tree. “You kind of picked a bad time to ask, but,…” she leaned forward and kissed Mason’s tan, flushed cheek. “Of course,” she said.

Mason exhaled a sigh of relief, which quickly gave way to regret. Her answer made it clear he should have asked long ago, not when the world was about to end. Not that she knew that.

“I’m in the middle of a big project this week, but I’m free all day next Friday. I want to spend it with you,” she said. She remained close by his side after she pecked his cheek. Mason felt ecstatic and crushed at the same moment.

His father made him promise not to tell anyone. Mason’s dad was one of the scientists that discovered the impending Gamma burst. He was important enough to be on the team, but not important enough to join the politicians and their wealthy friends in bunkers. His father gathered the family, Mason, his mother, and sister at the table the previous evening. He explained that nothing could be done. Even the bunkers wouldn’t offer any protection from the massive burst, the Earth was doomed. The governments of the world decided to keep the information secret, panic wouldn’t help anything.

“Oh, what are you working on?” Mason asked. “Is it important?” Ingrid rolled her eyes but giggled.

“If it wasn’t important, we could have gone out tonight, or tomorrow,” she replied. “It took you three years to ask me out. Get a clue, handsome,” she said. “I like you. A lot. Just bad timing right now,” she said.

“But like.  Important for this week… or important for your future?” Mason pressed. He was ready and willing to break his promise to his dad, but he wouldn’t unless he thought it would help. Ingrid tilted her head at him and leaned back a bit.

“Since when are you pushy about anything?” she asked. It was a valid point. Mason remained passive for most of their friendship. He fulfilled his end of conversation but did little to help carry it. He’d always been comfortable letting questions go unanswered.

Mason sighed. He didn’t have time to try and deny a change; and, he had a pretty compelling reason for it.

“Since yesterday…,” he said. “…my dad gave us some news.” Ingrid was smart, it was a big part of the reason Mason enjoyed her company so much. She knew his family well, and what his dad did for a living. She leaned closer to him again and took his hand in hers.

“How bad is it?” she asked. Mason looked up from the ground and turned to meet her auburn eyes.

“Apocalyptic,” he replied. She yanked her hand out of his and hopped up from the bench. She took two steps forward, then paced a tight circle. She left Mason confused. That was her, ‘I’m thinking and I’m angry,’ walk. It helped that she was always communicative.

“GRAAgghh!” she let out the frustrated grumble. Finally, she stopped pacing in front of Mason and looked down at him.

“You waited until the end of the world to ask me out!??” she stared at him with an odd mix of amusement and anger that he’d never seen in her before. Her auburn eyes seemed a shade or two more red.

Sorry?” Mason shrugged. He didn’t know what else she wanted from him. She rolled her eyes again and shook her head, but a faint smile tugged up at the corners of her lips. She sat down next to him again. In the same motion, her hand slipped into her pocket and pulled out a glass card. Mason had seen it a few times over the years, but it was one of the things he was comfortable letting go unanswered. He assumed she’d tell him about it when she wanted to.

“You’re so going to make it up to me for making me wait until the last minute,” she mumbled while her focus stayed on the card. Mason never saw her use it before; she tapped and swiped at it like a cellphone.

“…What exactly are you mad about?” Mason asked. He got the impression that she wasn’t upset at him specifically, but he was just the closest target.

“Because if I couldn’t fix it, we’d have less than a week together apparently,” she said idly. “It’s just an infuriating thought. What’s going to happen exactly; and, when?” she asked. Ingrid paused her movements but kept her thumbs on the card waiting for his answer.

“…gamma-ray burst… Thursday…” he said. “…what do you mean, fix it?” her thumbs jumped into action again at the answer. After several more taps, she nodded to herself, then dropped the glass card to her lap and look at him.

“I mean, save the Earth. So, what are we doing Friday?” she asked.

How are you going to save the Earth? You have some secret superpowers I don’t know about?” Ingrid grabbed his hand again, with her left hand. She made a ‘so-so’ gesture with her right.

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, but I want to tell you,” she said.

“Ingrid Toft?” Mason jumped slightly when an unknown kid called Ingrid. He looked up and saw a chubby teenager with a mountain of dark-brown curls on his head standing by their table. She hopped up and nodded at him. “You called a mod?” he asked, then extended his hand. “Aurelio Luna.”

“I submitted a ticket that explained the situation,” she said while shaking his hand. He nodded.

“It’s not a bug,” he said. “Since you discovered it, I can tell you that Sharp Development is planning a surprise event on this server next Thursday.”

“So.. we’re going to be okay?” Ingrid asked. Aurelio shook his head.

“Nope. The end of the world is the event. Players will be prompted to change servers as it winds down.”

“Oh. Then we’ll just change servers before then to avoid it. Thanks,” Ingrid grinned.

“You’re welcome,” Aurelio nodded. A black portal opened in the air next to him and he turned to walk into it. He paused halfway in and looked out at Ingrid.

“But, that only applies to players,” he said. Then, he nodded at Mason. “Not NPCs.” Then, he disappeared into the portal and it closed behind him.

Sharp Moon

“Prove it,” Norma said. She smirked at Aurelio, a chubby, curly-haired boy sitting across the table from her. Norma glanced left and right at the students around them. They sat outside in the school’s courtyard waiting for the morning bell. It was a cool, crisp Monday morning, and Aurelio had been excited to tell Norma about his weekend. “Or, let me guess,” she added, then filled her voice with sarcasm: ‘They’re too many people around’. Right?” she giggled.

Aurelio shook his head and pulled out a small glass card. It was completely transparent until he tapped on it, then a display lit up. He continued to tap and swipe the screen, slowly. He took a moment here and there to check he was tapping the right icons; he only owned the node for a couple of days.

“What’s that?” Norma asked. Aurelio shrugged without looking up, he was still navigating the menus trying to find the right sort of proof.

“It’s called a node. It’s like a phone, but better; she gave it to me. Ah, how about this,” Aurelio grinned, he looked up at Norma.

“Pause,” he tapped the node at the same time.

“Pause what?” Norma asked.

“I paused everything,” he turned and pointed at the flow of students; they were all frozen in time.

“No way….,” Norma stood slowly from the bench and made her way to the nearest group of students. Aurelio split his attention between watching her poke and prod them; and, navigating through the node. “You really can….,” Norma was amazed. Aurelio smiled and tapped the node one more time.

“You like snow, right?” he asked. Then, Norma noticed snowflakes fluttering down; her eyes shot even wider.

“Are you going to see her again!? Can you get me one!?” she asked. Aurelio shook his head; the jungle of dark brown curls on his head bounced with the motion.

“She said I’d probably never see her again,” Aurelio replied.

“But, you can find her, right? I mean, how many people can there be in the world named ‘Vanilla’?”

“She wasn’t from this Earth,” Aurelio replied.

“You didn’t tell me she was an alien!” Norma said with slight annoyance in her voice. Aurelio shook his head.

“Not an alien; from an alternate Earth. That was the other thing I was going to tell you about,” he said. But, Norma wasn’t listening.

“Didn’t you stop time?” she asked. Her eyes focused on something behind Aurelio. He grew suspicious and turned around to see a woman wearing what appeared to be a formal white coat with tails. He clearly saw a red vest under her coat, with another layer of white beneath it when she walked through the time-locked students.

“Oh no! Pretend you’re frozen!” he turned around to face forward, then tried to remain still. He was glad to see that Norma at least listened to him, even though she was clearly confused.

“Why?” Norma tried exhaling the question without moving her lips.

“Sh!” Aurelio replied. The pair of 8th-graders sat still for several minutes. All around them they heard the strange woman in white walking through the students, seemingly searching for something.  She walked to where Aurelio could see her better; he spotted a red sun embroidered on the left side of her coat. He hoped he knew what it meant, and relaxed slightly. But, he wasn’t going to make any moves just yet. Then, she headed straight for him.

“Gotcha,” she said with a smile once she reached their table. “Hola, Luna…,” Aurelio couldn’t help it; his eyes made contact with hers and her smile grew broader. “…how did you do this?” she asked. He knew he was caught, but she did not seem to be angry. He shrugged his shoulders, then relaxed. Norma followed his lead and relaxed too, but the woman didn’t take her eyes off Aurelio.

“With a node,” he replied. He held up the glass card to show her.

“You did this with a node?” she asked and gestured at the still students. Aurelio nodded. Sol raised a blonde eyebrow. “May I see it?” she asked.

“No,” Norma answered for Aurelio; but, he was already handing it over. Sol accepted the clear card. She made a sweeping gesture with her arm and a larger, smokey-grey glass pane appeared hovering in front of her. She set the node down on its surface, then began moving her fingers along the lower portion of the square to type.

“This node didn’t have timeframe access initially,…,,” she mumbled to herself. Aurelio stood from his seat to look at the glass slate next to her, but he could only see the same smokey grey glass.

“Yeah, I thought that was weird. I saw Vanilla control time, so I knew it could be done; I had to program my own workaround,” he said.

“You met a Muerte?” Sol asked. She looked down at Aurelio and brilliant golden suns glowed in her eyes for a moment. “But, you didn’t touch her?” Aurelio shook his head.

“No, she told me about Lunas.” Sol smiled.

“Okay, this is why I’m here,” she said, then gave Aurelio his node back. 

“Why?” Norma asked once Aurelio held the node again.

“Muertes can stop time, nodes can usually only slow it down to near stopping. But, suddenly this server started using a lot of resources so I came to find out why,” she smiled at Aurelio. “Because some genius little hacker accidentally tripled the power draw for the nanos here. I believe my boss, Ms. Sharp, would very much like to meet you,” she said.

“Am I in trouble?” he asked. For some reason, Aurelio trusted Sol; she gave off a pleasant vibe that he found comforting.

“Not at all,” Sol said. “You’re being offered a job.”

Starstruck. Star strike.

“Ms. Sharp appreciates your efforts and loyalty,” Aurelio said with a nod. “And, I agree with her,” he added. The portly teenager sat across from a young woman with bright pink hair. She wore a crisp white blazer and was several years older than Aurelio. They met at midnight in the local diner. A handful of patrons tried to sober up at the counter while he and Lyra sat in a booth in a dim corner.

Any onlooker would think Aury was either trying to date out of his league, or Lyra was stuck on babysitting duty. But, Lyra knew why he was there. Nervous flutters began in her gut the moment he asked her to meet, two days ago. Now that he was finally in front of her and confirmed the reason for the visit, she was instantly on Cloud 9. He was now officially her boss; and, Lyra was one step closer to her goal.

Dana Sharp was the most amazing woman Lyra met in her travels between universes. She decided to try and follow her lead. Lyra gave her all for the company and worked her way up through the multiversal corporation. She turned in good work and made herself reliable and replaced each one of her bosses on her way up. She knew she couldn’t replace Aury, but he was already at the top level. He took orders only from Dana or Melody, but Lyra knew she could make room for herself in Dana’s inner circle. She took Aury’s personal visit as a very good indicator of her progress.

“Thank you!” was the only response Lyra could muster. She was beyond awed at his presence, but it was her own fault. Melody suggested to Lyra that she should avoid using her star sight on Aurelio. Unfortunately, Melody neglected to explain why and Lyra needed to find out for herself.

She flashed her vision for a brief moment when he arrived. Less than a second, but 10 minutes later the afterimage of his soul still danced in her vision. A large glowing, blue crescent moon floated in Lyra’s vision behind Aurelio. Its light was more intense than the sun.

“I asked you to meet here to have you start right away,” Aury said. “We were already monitoring the situation when you reported it. Ms. Sharp decided to bring this server down to limit this kind of information getting into the AlterNet.” Lyra nodded. She hoped and guessed the location was an intentional choice. As she waited for him in the diner she caught the news. Another human skeleton found on another Mars. She reported it to Melody immediately, but Aurelio was the one that responded. He only confirmed their appointment.

“Check for Uniques,” Aurelio said. Lyra remembered to look away from Aurelio before she used her star sight. Her eyes glowed with golden stars as she looked around the restaurant. Only two patrons remained aside from them. She shook her head.

“There aren’t any.” Aurelio chuckled and shook his head too.

“On the server,” he said, he held up his node to hint that she should use hers.

“OH!” She blushed, but was quick to pull her node out. Several new icons on her home screen made it apparent her status was already upgraded. She tapped one labeled, ‘Server Info’.

[N.F. Independent, contemporary. Unnamed.] [population: 7.92 Billion Zeros.] [Unique Souls: 2.] [#23 – La Luna; Aurelio Luno | #35 – La Estrella; Lyra Orphae]

“Just you and me,” Lyra said.

“Good, now change the permissions to make sure no other Uniques show up.” Lyra nodded as she swiped through the menus on her node.

“Got it,” she said.

“Now…,” Aurelio moved out of the booth and stood up. He took a moment to hike up his jeans. “Give me a head start, then do your job,” he smiled. He wiggled his fingers at the air and opened a black portal. Lyra’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Lunas can traverse!?” she asked. She’d never heard of a Luna copying that particular ability.

“I can,” he said idly and took a step toward the portal.

“Any other questions?” the teenager asked.

“Uhh. Oh!” Lyra nodded. She stood from the booth too. Despite their age difference, they were more or less the same height. “I think I know the answer, but, I don’t want to risk messing up the first day,” she said. “The server info said N.F. That means nano-free, right? So, I won’t be able to use the nanos?”

“Right. Just do an impression of Melody,” Aurelio chuckled then disappeared into the portal.

“That’s what I thought,” Lyra said. Her hands began to glow with hot, blue light.

Sharp Memory


“We’re closed!” Jenny shouted through the door without paying much attention. Someone knocked on the pizzeria door as she was rushing through a final check for the night. She was in a hurry to catch up with her friends for a party but needed to leave the restaurant in good condition. The person knocked again and stepped closer to the door so that the dim yellow light from inside the pizza shop fell on her pale, round face. Jenny sighed at the familiar face and opened the door.

“Hey, Melody. What’s up?” she asked. She had not had more than a passing conversation with Melody Sharp in almost three years. Jenny did not have any friendship left for the woman, but she respected her enough to see what she wanted. The woman’s face softened into a smile and she reached into the coat pocket of her black suit.

“Happy Birthday, Jenny,” she said. She pulled a red-translucent node from her pocket and presented it to the now 18-year-old girl. Jenny’s face brightened and she reached for it. “It’s from Dana,” Melody added. Jenny dropped her hand, not completing the exchange.

“How?” Jenny asked Melody through narrow eyes. The woman quickly shook her head.

“No, I’m sorry,” she said. Her lip trembled and Jenny noticed she was moments from breaking into tears. With a deep breath, Melody collected herself. “I wanted to try and… I don’t know… change your last memory of her,” she sighed. “Sorry, I put too much thought into it. It’s not from Dana… I just think she’d want you to have it.” The answer appeased Jenny; Melody had always had a blind spot for Dana Sharp. Jenny felt bad seeing that Melody still mourned Dana after three years and reached for the red node. She understood they were married, but at her end, Dana turned on Melody too. 

“Thanks, Melody,” she said sincerely. “But what is it? You wouldn’t give it to me if it was just a node.” Melody shook her head.

“It’s a key. To Dana Sharp’s secret lab, now your secret lab,” she said.

“Are you offering me a job?” Jenny asked. Melody shook her head.

“The lab has always been separate from Sharp Development. And I don’t expect you to be as nice to me as you are now, once you visit.” Jenny gave Melody a curious look, but the woman kept talking. “I don’t have the time to travel there regularly, nor staff that I trust enough, to keep it maintained. At least in your hands, it won’t be wasted.” Melody turned to leave but Jenny interrupted.

“What’s in there? You seem pretty confident I’m not going to like what I find.” Melody stopped at the door to answer, but she did not turn around.

“Dana had a lot of secrets,” she said softly.  “When I married her…,” Melody’s voice was trembling. “She’s not the only one that lied to you. I’m sorry, Jenny,” she said and pulled open the door to leave. She left quickly, leaving the teenager alone in the pizzeria again.

[Hurry up. Aury’s eyeing the cake. – Dread] the Whisper tickled the back of Jenny’s neck; it felt like Dread was breathing on her. Directly after that Jenny felt another Whisper vibrate in her ear.

[On your way? Should we start? -Aury] Jenny rolled her eyes and giggled to herself. Only Aury would start the party without the birthday girl present. She had a vivid vision of him lighting the candle and singing happy birthday to an empty chair just to get to the cake Jenny’s mom made. She pocketed the red node and planned to put it off for the next day. Tonight she wanted to celebrate her birthday with her best friends. Jenny raised her arm and wiggled her fingers at the air. She opened a black portal and disappeared into it.

Sharp Avoidance

“Yeah yeah, whatever,” Aurelio grumbled at the alien-looking humanoids. They were tall, lean and blue-skinned; to him, they were just palette-swapped elves. “Ms. Sharp wants to keep space and alien stuff out of the AlterNet. If you keep this act up, your accounts will be suspended,” he added. He brought his slate up for added effect. The smokey-translucent glass panel hovered in front of him. Other players couldn’t see what was on it, but he made sure to tell them he was a mod the moment he arrived. That usually made players nervous enough to listen.

“AlterNet?” one of the aliens asked.

“Ms. Sharp?” the other one commented. “We are unfamiliar with these terms.” Aurelio raised an eyebrow, then his hands danced across the smokey slate. He immediately took several steps backward; the hovering slate moved with him.

“Holy hell.. you guys are real?” he mumbled under his breath. The only thing his slate told him was they were unidentifiable; definitely not AlterNet characters. Despite the distance between them and the low tone of Aury’s voice, both alien figures nodded.

“We are,” one said. Aurelio’s fingers typed something on the slate while he kept his eyes on them.

“Your primitive planet has been annexed by our glorious empire to serve as a vacation destination. Although galactic law grants you no rights, my people are compassionate to intelligent life forms. You may continue to live and serve us as slaves.”

“Real compassionate,” Aurelio rolled his eyes as a black portal appeared next to him. A short, pale woman in a black suit walked out.” Aurelio did not waste any time; he pointed at the aliens.

“I think they’re real,” he said. Melody glanced at the alien beings; her eyes flashed with gold stars. She nodded.

“They are. Leave,” she said. Aurelio did not need to be told twice. He dismissed his slate and jumped into the open black hole. Melody’s hands began to glow with a bright blue light.

“Amazing. He completely left this universe, and you came from a different one,” one of the aliens said. Both took a step down their boarding ramp toward Melody.

“You’re lucky Ms. Sharp doesn’t care about your galactic community,” Melody grinned. “Maybe a bit unlucky that she doesn’t care about this server either,” she aimed her palms at the ground with splayed fingers. “But, I’m sure your council won’t have trouble getting along without you, or Earth.” Bright blue star plasma flowed out of Melody’s hands and melted the ground. A portal opened at her feet and swallowed her to safety the moment she ignited the Earth’s core.

Moon. Light.

“What?” Faldwell tilted his head at the electronic device. “Am I speaking to the Sky Spirit?”

“Sky spirit? What the hell is going on down there, we haven’t heard from Earth in weeks.” Faldwell sighed and turned to face his band of  fur wearing, face painted, dirty followers.

“Hold on, guys. I think the quest is bugged, he chuckled nervously. “You know how new servers are,” he gestured at the air to produce his slate. Everyone else saw it as a smokey glass pane, though he clearly saw text with access to all his menus on it. He navigated to the support menu and requested a mod. Moments later a black hole opened next to him and a young man with a bush of dark brown curls on his head walked out.

“Mod Aurelio,” he pointed at his nametag. “What’s the problem?” he asked as he approached Faldwell.

“Hello? Earth? This is Moon City Delta, are you there?” Faldwell gestured at the primitive tech that illustrated their trouble. “We’ve got hundreds of families up here worried about you all.”

“Quest is bugged,” he added clarification.

“Oh. Hold on this needs to be escalated,” Aurelio brought up his own slate.

“Should I talk to them?” Faldwell asked. Aurelio shook his head as he typed on the glass. Seconds after he stopped typing another black hole opened. A short, plump, pale woman in a black suit walked out.

“Hey Melody, we’ve got a problem. Moon full of Zeros,” he pointed at the radio in time to hear them try again.

“This is Moon City Delta, do you read us Earth?” Melody glanced at the radio, then at the small crowd gathered around them, then at Faldwell. He was dressed in furs and grime like them, though he also wore an elaborate headdress made from a lion’s skull and a mane made of colorful feathers.

“Guild leader?” she asked. Faldwell nodded.

“The Sky Spirit’s blessing is the last thing we needed to earn our guild hall,” he said.

“Sharp Development apologizes for the inconvenience. Please accept this server…,” she gave Faldwell a card-sized piece of glass, then pointed at a fresh portal that opened next to him. “… for bringing this bug to our attention, and as an apology for troubling your gameplay experience.” His eyes went wide.

“A server!? A WHOLE server just for us?” Melody nodded.

“If you need any help setting it up, you’ll be able to contact Aurelio directly,” she smiled.

“Thanks! C’mon guys!” Faldwell immediately rushed through the portal followed by his role-playing cult.

“Uh… Earth,” the radio spoke again once the guild left. “The great Sky Spirit commands you to speak to us. Where are you?”

“Warn them about the cataclysm,” Melody said as she looked up into the sky for the moon. The palms of her hands started glowing with bright blue light.

“On it,” Aurelio replied; his fingers danced on the glass slate.

[Server Notice: Cataclysmic Event! The moon is shattered. Server template is updated from Apocalyptic to Catastrophic. Environmental safety programs have been disabled. Permadeath is enabled. Please relocate to a standard server if you wish to remain safe. Sharp Development takes no responsibility for players that remain on this server.]

“Done,” Aurelio said. Melody nodded and pointed her glowing hands at the moon. Streaks of bright blue plasma launched out of her hands at it.

Resistance Resisted

Aurelio lifted the glass off the smooth marble bar top and took a closer look. The liquid inside looked like honey but moved like oil; tiny black flecks dotted the amber liquid.

“What is the club special, exactly?” he asked the bartender. He winked at Aurelio.

“It’s so delicious it’ll change your life.” He replied with a broad grin.

“Uhuh,” Aurelio narrowed his eyes at the bartender for a moment, then shrugged and took a big gulp. He lowered the glass and placed it on the rotting wood bar top; he noticed the changes immediately.

The bar suddenly seemed almost empty. He looked around in surprise and counted six other patrons instead of the wall to wall bodies moments before. The colorful club lights was a single blinking lightbulb. The bartender’s once upscale uniform became a ratty dark apron; Aurelio wasn’t sure if it was black or just that dirty.

“Welcome to the real world,” the bartender said with a smile.

“What do you mean, real world?” Aurelio asked.

“I mean, THIS…,” he spread his arms to gesture at the dilapidated bar. “…is the real world. What you saw before was a lie. The governments of the world are trying to keep us under control. Instead of fixing their mistakes, they’re just blinding us to them. The club special is a temporary antidote to show you the truth. And now that you know the truth, the resistance needs you. Will you join us?”

“Oh, so it wears off?” Aurelio asked with interest. “Great,” he said. “This place looks pretty crappy right now, I liked it better the other way.”

“The other way is a lie!” the bartender said.

“Says who?” Aurelio asked. The frustrated bartender frantically gestured at the bar again.

“YOUR OWN EYES!” he said. Aurelio shrugged.

“I mean… by that logic when it wears off, THIS,” he mocked the bartender by gesturing at the condemned bar around them. “will have been a lie, right?”  he asked.

“But it’s not! This is reality!”

“Says who?” Aurelio repeated his question. “And for that matter, what are you even resisting?”

“We’re going to topple the world governments to set humanity free.”

“Free from what?”

“From that fake, manufactured reality they’re living in.”

“You know,” Aurelio sighed. “For someone that talks about reality a lot; it’s funny how much you don’t understand it.”

“Huh?” the bartender asked. Aurelio shook his head and reached into his shirt from the neck to pull out an ID badge.

“Whatever, I don’t have time to explain it. It wouldn’t kill you to spend some time with a Mundo,” Aurelio said. The bartender’s eyes went wide and he took a single step back when he heard the word, “mundo”. Aurelio placed a white badge with a red scissor logo on the wooden bar. The bartender took another step back when he saw the badge and bumped into his liquor shelves; they crashed down around him. Aurelio casually picked up the mostly empty glass of gold liquid and held it up to the bartender.

“Give me the bottle,” he said then put the glass down. The bartender nodded and stepped forward to reach under the counter. He quickly pulled out a bottle and put it on the counter.

“Ms. Sharp is always on the lookout for new ways to use nanos. She heard about you tricking people into your guild, then she heard about your special drink,” Aurelio stood and grabbed the bottle. He nodded at the ID badge on the bar. “This server is now yours; topple your governments any time you want.”

Sharp Secret

“Hold up,” Aurelio raised his hands in a ‘whoa’ gesture. “Say that again, so you can hear what it sounds like.” Jenny shook her head.

“Oh come on,” she said. “We both know what Dana was capable of. Is this really that surprising?”

“But, Satan? THE devil himself is real.. and he gave Dana Sharp a project?” Jenny nodded. “Then…,” Aury grinned. “…is she in Hell? Oh man, I hope she is.” Jenny shrugged.

“No idea, but I’d say that’s a good guess. Anyway, let me finish,” Jenny took a deep breath and stared into Aurelio’s coffee-brown eyes. “I figured out how to do it.”

“Do what?” Aurelio’s brown eyes narrowed.

“The project she was working on. I know how to finish it.”

“Do you want to finish something for Satan?” Jenny nodded with a broad grin.

“She has two Uniques, both Sols, in her lab that have never been born into a body. The project’s goal is to birth both of them in the same universe.

“I know you’re smarter than she was, but how do you have it figured out after a couple of weeks when Dana couldn’t?” Aury asked. Then his eyes widened as he realized another possibility. “How do we know she’s actually dead, and not getting you to finish her work from the shadows?”

“The answer was at the tournament. I’m sure she realized it; if she was still alive she’d have done it herself.”

“The tournament?” Aurelio asked. “What’s the answer then?”

“Wonder,” Jenny smiled.

“Wonder? The Calavera from CyberRiot?” She nodded eagerly.

“She’s a Unique born naturally in the AlterNet. She let me run some tests, and I’m pretty sure I can duplicate the process that gave her consciousness using the two souls…” Jenny paused and met Aurelio’s eyes again. “…with your help. And, Oren’s.”

“Hah, good luck with that; no one’s seen Oren since the tournament. What do you need from me?”

“Your badge.”

“My badge? What badge?”

“You better still have it!” Jenny reached out and gave Aury a gentle shake. “Your mod badge, from when you worked for Dana. She has a private office in her lab that I can’t access without mod priveledges. I’m sure it’s full of helpful info, maybe even some leads on Oren. She always kept a close watch on him.”

“GUYS!” a sudden shout made Jenny and Aurelio jump in their seats. They turned to find a tall, pale teenager in black clothes; he sported a prominent widow’s peak. Then, Jenny turned to stick her tongue out at Aury before she greeted the newcomer.

“OREN!” she shouted using the same tone he did then followed it up with a giggle.

“Great news,” Oren said; he stood up straighter and puffed out his chest. “I’m celebrating my 18th birthday by having a derby tournament. I want you guys in it: say yes.” Aury and Jenny’s different answers came out at the same time.

“No,” Aury said.

“Yeah!” Jenny jumped out of the couch to hug Oren.

“Great! Help me spread the word: the winning team gets their own server.”

“No,” Aury repeated.

“Yeah yeah, Jenny already said yes. This is gonna be awesome!” Oren waved his hand at the air to open a tall black portal. “I can’t wait to tell my mom I have friends!” he jumped through the portal; it closed behind him leaving Aury and Jenny alone again.

“His mom?” Aury asked. “Did we know he had a mom? I mean, of course he has one but do you know who she is?” Jenny shook her head and sat down next to Aury again.

“No, but if you find your badge, I”ll bet Dana knew.”

Zero Sensitivity

The knight relaxed and lowered his sword. His black chain armor jangled as his posture slouched. The white-robed healer and green-leather-clad ranger let themselves fall to the floor. The two women sat facing each other and launched into gossip about their guild as if they were sitting in a staff break room. 

“You too, Aaron,” The knight said while looking at an empty corner of the wizard’s throne room. A ghost-like hooded thief that only the party members could see shook his head and sighed. He was translucent and black wisps of energy rose from his body. The black tendrils dissipated and he became solid.

“He didn’t know I was here!” Aaron whined.

“Did too,” Malabad the wizard replied reflexively. A smokey grey, translucent slate hovered in front of the ancient, lean, bearded man. He held the puffy sleeve of his green and black robe out of the way with one hand. He tapped and swiped at the slate with the other; only he could read what was on it. He stopped interacting with it then dismissed it with a wave. The thief hunkered in a corner and relaxed against the wall. Malabad looked at him then pointed up at the wall behind his throne with his thumb. A large sun symbol made out of gold hung high on the stone wall. “It’s enchanted with Solar Sight. I can see everything in the room as if it were outside on a bright sunny day.” The thief grumbled to himself and pulled his node out of his pocket to play a game. Malabad turned his attention to the knight.

“There should be a GM here soon,” he said apologetically.

“There’s a GM here already,” a new voice said at the same moment that the Knight nodded at Malabad in understanding. Everyone in the room turned to see a kid with a jungle of dark brown curls sitting atop his head. He looked about 14 or so, younger than everyone else in the room. He wore blue jeans and a light blue shirt.   “You can call me Aury. Staff not working?” he walked up to Malabad and held his hand out. The wizard handed his staff over. The staff consisted of a mop handle with bright colorful streamers tied around the top half of it. The GM looked at it, then chuckled.

“I can already tell you the trouble,” he said. “Imported?” He asked about the staff as he looked it over carefully. Aury ran his fingers through the streamers dragging out the rainbow of paper-like strands. Malabad nodded.  “Damn.. this is nice work,” the GM said, mostly to himself. He rolled the long stick between his hands like a clay snake; the streamers fluttered and floated up as they caught air. Then, they fell again when the momentum stopped. “Real nice. Who did it?” he asked. “Ms. Sharp gives out recruitment bonuses,” he said then gave back the staff, Malabad chuckled.

“She already works for Ms. Sharp,” he said. “What’s the problem?” he asked. Aury’s own slate hovered in front of him; his fingers danced across its surface as he typed.

“The problem is… you didn’t read the patch notes,” he chuckled. “As of the last update, imported items need to be mentioned in the rules of any game agreements.” He looked up from his typing and looked over each member of the gathered group individually, then he went back to typing. “You guys run a regular game, I’m guessing, and just re-used the rules.” They all kind of nodded. “Who is she?” the GM asked again. “You said she works for Ms. Sharp already?” Malabad nodded.

“Jenny, the Luchadoras captain,” he said. The GM stopped typing and turned his attention to Malabad.

“No shit, really?” he asked. Malabad nodded. “Whoa, I had no idea that Zero was so smart.” 

“You got a problem with Zeros?” five voices asked him simultaneously. The GM shook his head and focused his attention back on the slate. Not that he needed it there, his hands continued typing even while he was sticking his foot in his mouth. The typing itself wasn’t entirely necessary either. Aury could reprogram the rules of their game using just nanos but he enjoyed the act of typing. After several more seconds of heavy silence, Aury stopped typing and the slate disintegrated into a white powder.

“Done. I changed the rules to include your staff for this one session. Next time you’ll have to add it yourself so make sure you go through all the rules and see if you missed any others,” he said. Malabad nodded. He lifted his staff in the air and it began to glow green with power.

“Awesome, thanks!” he said. Aury nodded and pulled a pitch-black business card from the pocket of his jeans. He dropped it on the floor and it opened a black hole. He stepped on it and began to sink as if he were riding down an escalator.

“Thanks for the tip about Jenny,” Aury said as the hole disappeared.

Malabad turned to face the knight. The healer and ranger got to their feet. He raised his staff.

“YOU’RE NO MATCH FOR M-” he began to yell, but his warcry was interrupted by a high pitched ringing sound. The thief appeared again, this time directly in front of Malabad, and answered his node.

“Hello?” the thief sighed heavily once the other voice started speaking. His demeanor shifted down. His posture slumped; his eyes focused on the cobblestone ground. “Okay, okay. I’m going. bye.”  He looked up. “Sorry guys. Time’s up, it’s my sister’s turn to use the mudroom.” He sighed and his body reverted to a black, featureless, floating mannequin. [DISCONNECTED] hovered above it in red text.

“Screw it,” Malabad said. “We’ll pick it up next week. 300 participation XP for everyone.” Small “300”s appeared over each of their heads and above the mannequin in golden numbers.