Cherry’s Skills

“CHERRY!!” Honey yelled through the crowd. It was a Saturday morning at the derby park with the golden sun hanging in the deep blue sky. A teenager in a blood-red hoodie turned around and waved at Honey as the young girl got closer. Honey noticed a girl, closer to Cherry’s age than her own, standing nervously next to Cherry. The girl had a bulging green canvas backpack with several colorful pouches clipped to its various zippers for more storage.

“Honey, meet Cassie,” Cherry introduced the girls once Honey was close enough. She shook Cassie’s hand. “What’s up?” Cherry asked after their greeting.

“Did you pick a class yet? The Luchadoras asked us if the Honeybees wanted to set up a practice match; I said yes.”

“I was just talking to Cassie about that,” Cherry nodded and grinned. “I think I’ve settled on Dancer.”

“Dancer?” Honey tilted her head. She hadn’t known Cherry for very long, but Honey felt she had a decent sense about her. “You know that’s kind of an active class, right?” she asked with a giggle. Cherry tended to have a laid back approach to life; it was hard for Honey to imagine her being as energetic as Dancers needed to be.

“It’s only as active as you want to make it,” Cherry said. “The only thing I have to do is touch the markers, right?” she asked.

“Yeah, but that’s kind of the point,” Honey said. “They’re all over the track.”

“You want to see something awesome?” Cherry asked suddenly. “I brought Cassie here to show her but you’re here too.”

“Sure, okay,” Honey was distracted by the new question. She felt she still had time to talk to Cherry about her class choice.

“Now, watch.” Cherry held both hands up at chest height with her palms outward. She raised both hands toward the sky and aligned her palms to face each other. From Honey’s perspective, it looked like Cherry held the sun in her hands. Then, Cherry clapped her hands together hard. Instead of dropping her hands she continued to hold them up with the sun ‘caught’ between her palms. Honey realized Cherry was counting.

“…3…4…5!” She said ‘five’ with volume then pulled her hands apart.

“What am I watching?” Honey asked, she heard Cassie giggle and assumed that she knew at least.

“Give it a moment,” Cherry said. “In the meantime, when’s this practice match?”

“Saturday,” Honey replied, then she turned her attention to Cassie. “Are you on a derby team? The Honeybees still have room,” she said.

“Thank you,” Cassie said. “but, I’m already in Star Brigade.”

“No way! That’s so cool, you guys should come practice too!”

“R..really? Can we?” Cassie asked. “Sure! The Honeybees formally invite Star Brigade to practice with us. You and anyone on your team.”

“Thanks! I know they’ll be excited,” Cassie replied. “I’m a Merchant, what class are you?” she asked Honey.

“Monk. And I guess Cherry’s going to be a Dancer,” Honey giggled. “Though, I can’t imagine it.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s no rule that says I have to embarrass myself skating up and down the track trying to touch all the markers.”

“But, that IS the rule! You need to touch the markers or we don’t get buffed.”

“Right,” Cherry smiled. “The only rule is I have to touch them, it doesn’t say how.”

“Huh?” Honey couldn’t see what Cherry was thinking. Cherry raised her right hand and wiggled her fingers to get Honey’s attention. Once she had it she slowly dropped her hand and slid it into the front pocket of her red hoodie.

“I don’t need to skate anywhere when I can just do this,” Cherry said. As she spoke a small black portal opened in front of Honey’s face. In an instant Cherry’s hand shot out, flicked Honey’s nose, then withdrew and the portal disappeared.

“Owww,” Honey rubbed her nose. It didn’t actually hurt, but the action gave her a moment to recover from the sudden surprise. Cherry and Cassie giggled.

“Okay, I see,” Honey said. “But can you keep it up for the whole game?” She didn’t know much about Estrellas like Cherry. She vaguely remembered hearing random Estrellas complain that portals take a lot of energy out of them.

“Cherry can swallow the sun! The game is nothing compared to that.”

“What?” Honey chuckled. “What do you mean ‘swallow the sun’?”

“Remember when I asked you if you wanted to see something cool?” Cherry asked. Honey nodded.

“It takes a bit over eight minutes for sunlight to reach the Earth. I think I asked you that about eight minutes ago, right?”

As Honey considered the question, the sun flickered out of existence. The sudden darkness made Honey realize what Cassie said was almost literal. Then, she heard Cherry counting over the growing mumbles of the crowd.

“…3…4…5!” On five, Cherry clapped once and the sun came back on. The other park-goers cheered momentarily then continued about their business.

“Whooaaa..,” Honey said in awe. She always knew Cherry was competent, but she had no idea how powerful she was. “You really did that. Wow,” Honey looked around the park. She knew most of the crowd were NPCs, but not all of them. She giggled.

“Wow, the sun disappeared for five seconds… and none of them will ever know why it happened.”

“You think that’s wild,” Cassie giggled. “Somewhere out there an Earth had two suns for five seconds.”

Cherry Soul

“Wait, really?” Cassie asked. The scrawny, brown-haired girl stepped in front of her friend in a blood-red hoodie, Cherry. “The Academy said it couldn’t be done.” The pair of friends walked along the beach when Cherry made her unbelievable claim.

“Yeah. Not by them,” Cherry grinned.

“And you can teach me how?” Cassie’s eyes went wide with hope. Cherry nodded, but her grin faded. A black portal opened on the sand next to them.

“C’mon,” Cherry walked into the portal and disappeared. Cassie followed. On the other side of the portal, she stepped out onto a short hill surrounded by a lush, colorful garden. A variety of white flowers surrounded the hill with a band of orange flowers beyond the white ones.

“Where’s this?” Cassie asked as she admired the scenic surroundings.

“Just a place I know,” Cherry shrugged. She sat down on the hill and glanced up at Cassie to let her know she should too.

“What do you know about Ballisea?” Cherry asked the moment Cassie sat.

“Huh?” The change in topics confused her, but she trusted Cherry enough to know there was a point. “Uh, the only thing I need to know is ‘run’.” Cherry nodded.

“That’s a pretty good thing to keep in mind. Why?”

“Why… run?” Cassie asked with a chuckle. ” ‘Cause she’s unstoppable. The most powerful Unique ever.” Again, Cherry nodded.

“What if I told you that she used to be stronger? A lot stronger.” Cassie turned and stared at her friend silently. “The short version is, she accidentally split her soul into five pieces. She kept one, of course, so right now she’s about 20% as powerful as she was.”

“Whoooaaaa,” Cassie’s mouth dropped. “What about the rest?” Cherry pulled back her red hood revealing her snow-white hair.

“She’s #46, El Sol…,” Cherry said. “…the top Celestial. The other four were born into the rest of the Celestials. #14, La Muerte became someone named Vanilla. #37, El Mundo became Peppermint. #35, La Estrella…” she drifted off, but Cassie caught the pattern.

“Cherry,” she said. Cherry nodded. “And La Luna is…” Cassie asked. Cherry shook her head, her white ponytail swished back and forth with the movement.

“We don’t know who the Luna is yet, but they’re supposed to take the name Blueberry.”

“Oh. So.. that’s how you can do what they say can’t be done?” Cassie asked. “Because you’re Ballisea-lite?” Cherry nodded.

“My soul is a piece of hers, it comes with some great perks.”

“And you can teach me, even if my soul doesn’t have that piece?” Cassie asked. Cherry met Cassie’s hazel eyes. Golden stars glowed in Cherry’s eyes and she held her hands out with the palms facing up.

“I promise…,” she said. The palms of her hands began to glow with bright white light, then the glow in each palm changed color. Her right palm glowed with blue light and her left with red, then the colors cycled. Red transitioned to orange, then yellow; blue grew into white. The golden stars in Cherry’s eyes also changed color. Instead of the brilliant golden light, the stars pulsed with a rainbow of glows. “…you’ll be able to channel more than one star at the same time.”

Stellar Placebo

“This is a new one,” Lloyd said. He was used to showing up in dim alleys near a crowded street. Sometimes it was day, sometimes it was night. He saw bits of each Earth when he stepped out to ask, but he had never landed inside somewhere. Much less somewhere clean and empty. A gleaming white marble floor replaced the pot-hole riddled blacktop. Smooth white pillars replaced the dirty white-grey concrete buildings on either side of him.

“Stick to the plan,” he reminded himself. He looked up and down the wide white hallway and picked a direction. After a few minutes of walking and admiring the marble hallway, he reached an intersection. Then, he heard footsteps before he picked a direction; he chose to follow the footsteps. Lloyd turned the corner and froze in his tracks.

The most beautiful woman that Lloyd had ever seen walked toward him. She looked like she was on her way too or from one of her many workouts. A green towel hung around her neck and matched her green shorts. A white tank top showed off her lean, muscular arms. Her chestnut hair framed her face perfectly and her eyes were filled with stars. A golden star glowed brightly in the center of each eye.

“Hola, Estrella,” she said with a smile and adjusted her course to stop and chat with him.

“Hi!” Lloyd said. “stick to the plan,” he reminded himself again. He did not know why she called him an estrella, but it did not matter. He would be on to the next Earth in a few minutes. “I’m taking a poll and I was wondering if you could answer a question for me?” he said while his hand dipped into his pocket.

“Are you now?” the woman asked with an amused smile. “Of course, I’ll be happy to give you any information you need. Hey, that’s a nice phone,” she said when Lloyd pulled his phone out. He felt a bit of pride at her statement. It felt good that someone finally noticed it.

“Thanks!” Lloyd said cheerfully. “I have a bit of music here and I just want to know if you’ve heard this song before, okay?” he asked as he tapped and swiped at his phone.

“Can do,” she said with a nod. Lloyd hit ‘Play’ on the song and the woman’s face lit up the instant she heard the first few seconds.

“I love that song!” she said. Lloyd sighed and nodded.

“185,” he mumbled to himself.

“What’s wrong? Don’t you like the song?” she asked. Lloyd shook his head as a reflex, then transitioned it into a nod.

“Yeah, I love the song too,” he said. “Anyway, thanks for answering my question,” Lloyd began looking around the four-way intersection. He couldn’t make anything out down any of the halls and decided it would be easier to go back the way he came. “Gotta go now,” he said with a wave, then turned his back to her and started walking.

“Go where?” the woman asked suddenly. Her voice sounded like she was holding back a laugh. She caught up to Lloyd and continued to follow him.

“Uh, I have to go turn in the survey results,” he said. As much as he would have loved a woman that beautiful following him around on his home Earth, he wasn’t on his home Earth. He didn’t know where he was and someone following him around asking questions was something he wasn’t prepared for.

“Turn them in to whom?” she asked. Somehow her questions made Lloyd feel like he was being mocked. It felt like she knew he was lying and waiting for him to admit it.

Fine, I’ll admit it,” Lloyd decided. “I’m never going to see her again, and we’re alone so no one will believe her.” He realized that he did not need to be hidden to travel to another Earth. He stopped walking and turned to face her.

“You won’t believe me, but it doesn’t matter,” Lloyd stared directly into her starry eyes. “I’m from a different universe, and the song that I played for you exists in every other universe. I’m traveling to universes asking people if they’ve heard it to try and solve the mystery of why it’s everywhere.” The woman’s smile grew wider as he talked, but she did not laugh. Lloyd reached into his pocket and pulled out the black plastic cube.

“Nice meeting you,” he said. Before he pressed the button, it disappeared from his hand. The woman swiped it before he even saw her move.

“What’s this?” she asked. Lloyd registered that she took the device at the same moment that he saw her press the button. He meant to yell “NOOOO” but, nothing happened. She pressed the red button several more times and it made an empty clicking noise each time.

“Ohhhhh,” she said suddenly. “Is this what you used?” she asked.

“Yeah, that’s how I hop universes,” Lloyd said hoping she’d return it. Instead, she broke it open and looked inside.

“Hehe,” she giggled lightly then handed the parts back to Lloyd. “I believe you,” she said. “But you’re wrong.”


“It’s true you are from a different universe. But that song doesn’t exist in every other universe. And that little doodad isn’t how you hop universes.” Lloyd felt obligated to defend his time spent searching for the song.

“I’ve found it in 186 universes so far! There’s gotta be a reason,” he said. The woman nodded.

“There is. You’re looking for it,” she said.

“What? That doesn’t make any sense. How could it be in every single universe I’ve visited?”

“Pretend you got into a cab,” she said. “And you tell the cab driver you want to go somewhere you can get…,” she shrugged. “…whatever, fried chicken. So the cab takes you to a restaurant, and you pick fried chicken. When you leave that restaurant, you tell the next cab driver you want fried chicken. If you kept that up, it would be easy to say, ‘Every restaurant I visited has fried chicken’ right?”

“185 universes!” Lloyd said loudly. That number had to be significant. The woman shrugged.

“How many universes are there?” she asked. Lloyd’s eyes widened. He had never stopped to consider that question.

“I- I don’t know,” he admitted.

“No one does, but the word: ‘infinity’ gets tossed around a lot. So, do you think 185 is important in the context of infinity?” she asked. Lloyd sighed.

“Thanks, now I’m disillusioned and I can’t even get home,” he said. The woman’s dam finally broke and all her laughter came flooding out.

“You soldered a button to a quartz crystal,” she said between guffaws. “I already told you, that thing wasn’t how you got between universes.”

“Right, so the power was in me all along?” Lloyd asked sarcastically, but the woman nodded.

“Like I said, Hola Estrella.”

Three Star Service

“Thanks, Cassie,” Torque said. “My hands feel a ton better already. What’s in it?” She leaned against the rough, dark brown trunk of a towering pine tree. She was massaging a slick golden liquid between her wounded hands. The red-black burns scarring her palms crumbled off like the silver flakes of a scratch-off ticket. The scrawny girl with glasses shrugged. She knelt to the forest floor and returned the bottle of gold liquid back in her green backpack.

“I couldn’t find anything out beyond…,” Cassie lifted her hands for air-quotes. “…nanos and magic,” she said. “I guess it’s a secret the Academy wants to keep.” Torque nodded then stopped rubbing and looked at her hands. They were completely healed.

“Where’d your friend go?” Torque asked before the silence could get awkward.

“She brought me to have a picnic with the unicorns; but, then we found you,” Cassie said with a friendly smile. Torque immediately felt like she was intruding.

“I’m all better now, see?” Torque showed Cassie her healed palms. “You guys have your picnic,” she raised her hand in the air and wiggled her fingers rapidly. “I’ll go practice somewhere else,” she said. Despite her words and her digits waving frantically in the air; nothing happened. Torque still hadn’t completely mastered Traversing yet. Cassie giggled and shook her head.

“I’m still answering your question,” she said. “Cherry went to go get more supplies so you could join us.”

“Oh,” Torque said. She quickly latched on to the excuse and dropped her hand. “Yeah, I could eat. Thanks,” she said. After she accepted a wide, horizontal black hole appeared on the ground, then it traveled upward. It revealed a perfectly square dinner table as it floated up. The table was made of dark wood and it was surrounded by three chairs made from the same material. A tall brass candlestick sat on the middle of the table with a lit black candle resting in it. Torque whipped her head back and forth looking for Cherry.

“She’s not here?” Torque asked. “She put the table here perfectly without seeing it?” She asked in amazement. On her best days, Torque could open a portal to anywhere about half the time. Traversing was supposed to be easy for Estrellas, but she never thought it could be so effortless for someone. Cherry placed the table blindly from another universe. Cassie smiled. A smaller black hole appeared and rose from the table; it left behind three large pizza boxes.

“She’s really good,” Cassie walked to the table and sat down. She did not dig into the food yet, but she pointed at another chair for Torque. As Torque eased into her own seat a worrying thought struck her.

“Is she… in Star Brigade too?” she asked. She was relieved when Cassie shook her head.

“She’s uh…,” the fair-skinned girl bit her lip in thought for a moment. “She has a job that keeps her busy,” she said. “She’s not even a student at the Academy.” Another black hole left a basket of fried chicken on the table. Torque marveled at every delivery. The food containers landed flush on the table as if they’d always been there. They did not appear even a millimeter above the table needing to fall that last bit.

She can probably teach me better than Dirge,” Torque considered how she might get Cherry to tutor her. Then, she wondered if Cassie was doing the same thing. Before she could ask, the white-haired girl appeared in her seat at the table; deposited by a black portal. She immediately reached for a box of pizza; Cassie joined in and grabbed some chicken.

“Oh, forgot the drinks,” Cherry said. She took a big bite of pizza as a black portal appeared and disappeared leaving behind a 3-liter soda. A second portal delivered a short stack of empty plastic cups.

“Okay,” Torque said. “How the hell do you do that so well?” she asked. Cherry smiled and the pizza bulged her cheeks out. Without saying a word she reached for a plastic cup and held it up. A small, quarter-sized portal appeared above the cup and began leaking soda into it. Cherry nodded at the 3-liter bottle and Torque looked. She saw a small black portal in the bottle draining the soda; her eyes widened. Cherry stopped the stream of soda, took a big gulp to wash her pizza down, then she looked at Torque. She shrugged.

“Don’t know,” she said. “I just do.”

Star Bring Aid

“Are those…,” Cherry pointed to the sun-drenched glade surrounded by tall, narrow conifers. “…or are they not unicorns?” she asked Cassie. The scrawny girl with a green backpack did not reply; she was too entranced by the small herd of unicorns. Five white unicorns grazed in the sunlight; sparkles floated around them. It looked like an aura of magic glitter.

“Thaank you!” Cassie whispered and squealed at the same time; she sounded like a polite mouse in a library.

“C’ mon,” Cherry encouraged the shorter girl then she took a step forward. Cassie grabbed her arm.

“Don’t scare them away!” she whispered. Cherry turned and smiled at Cassie.

“They’re not so jumpy on this Earth, they’re pretty hard to scare. Watch,” Cherry tossed a small glowing red ball at the herd. Cassie gasped; she recognized it instantly.

“No!” she wiggled her fingers at the ball mid-air. A small, saucer-sized black portal opened and swallowed the ball before it landed.

“Hey, you’re getting pretty good!” Cherry laughed and patted the girl on her backpack. “But I can do this,” she grinned and faced the herd. “HEY! YOUR HORNS ARE STUPID!” she yelled. All five animals turned to look at her but did not move otherwise. “See? They’re like warhorses, nothing scares ’em.”

A brilliant blue streak shot across the tops of the trees with a roaring whoosh; it ignited every tree it touched. The unicorns bolted deeper into the forest away from the disturbance.

“Hah, scaredy cats!” Cherry yelled at the fleeing unicorns.

“AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!!” A scream came from the same direction that the blue streak came from. Cherry turned to Cassie and pointed at a black portal.

“Go back to the academy, I’m going to go check,” she said. This wasn’t the first time she’d sent Cassie home early from an adventure because of complications. But, it was the first time Cassie did not listen. The girl stepped forward, away from the portal, and shook her head.

“I’ll go with you. I have to keep the unicorns safe,” she said.  Cherry rolled her eyes, but she giggled and led the way.

“They’re not that special; they’re like rats on this Earth,” she said.

“They’re special to me,” Cassie replied. “And rats are cute,” she added.

“Owwwooohhhh,” someone groaned and both girls froze to listen. “Ow ow ow ow,” a girl whined from behind a large tree in front of Cassie and Cherry.

“She sounds hurt,” Cassie said in a low voice, then she turned toward the tree. “Hello? Are you okay?” she asked in a louder voice.

“Yes! I’m fine!” the mystery girl said. The sound of rustling grass came from the other side of the tree. “I’m just…,” the girl made a heavy grunting sound as if she were straining to move something heavy. “…just taking a break.” A dark-skinned girl with twin black afro-puffs on her head came from around the tree while leaning on it. She tried to act casual while simultaneously relying on the tree to hold her up. “Hi,” She said; both hands were behind her back. Cassie squeaked again.

“TORQUE!” she said excitedly.

“That’s me. Have we met?” Torque asked. Cassie shook her head.

“Not yet. I’m in Star Brigade. We’re playing against you in a couple of weeks,” she said. Torque smiled at her.

“Was that you that screamed?” Cherry asked.

“Screamed?”  Torque shook her head. “I yelled. I’m just out here, you know.. yelling. Because it’s fun,” she said.

“And the plasma blast?” Cherry asked.

“Pla-” Torque looked up at the blue sky then glanced around the forest as if looking for something she knew didn’t exist. “Plasma? How do you mean?” Cherry burst into a sudden fit of giggles; Cassie laughed with her.

“Cassie, what’s Estrella rule #1?” Cherry said. She stood up straighter and crossed her arms proudly.

“Look with your special eyes,” Cassie said. Golden stars glowed around her pupils; then, the glow disappeared returning her eyes to normal.

“As an Estrella…,” Cherry pointed at Torque, “…you can see what someone is. It’s a good habit to use it the first time you meet someone new. So. Did you burn your hands off?” she asked with a grin.

“Ha HA, WhAT?” Torque shrank back slightly. “‘Course not.” Cherry stared at Torque silently for several seconds until she brought her hands forward. Both of them were blackened; burned and bloodied. “A little bit.” 

Cassie dashed to Torque to check on her wounds. She slid her green backpack off her shoulders and began digging through it.

“This happens all the time at the academy when students try to tame a new star,” Cassie said. 

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.