Buying Restraint

“It’s a pleasure to meet you Ms. Sharp. I’m Restraint,” the tan young man in a black suit shook Ms. Sharp’s hand before gesturing at the pair of seats in front of his desk for her and her assistant. “What can I do for you?” Restraint asked. He returned to his own seat as Ms. Sharp sat down; her assistant remained standing.

“I’m here to tell you what I can do for you,” Ms. Sharp replied. “You have a decently successful business here but it can be more.” Restraint was used to fending off business ideas from people that have no clue how to run a business. Everyone was eager to tell him how to make more money off the Supers that visited his spa anywhere he was. At least Ms. Sharp had the courtesy to make an appointment.

“Alright,” Restraint nodded. He let a short sigh escape then continued. “Go ahead and tell me how I can be making more money.” Ms. Sharp smiled at him.

“I’m sure everyone in this room knows you’re not doing this for the money,” she said. Restraint was surprised. He glanced at Ms. Sharp’s dark-haired assistant and she gave him a slight nod. Every other idea he’d heard was intended to boost his profits. “As I said, I want to help you make your business into more. To reach further and help more people than you already are.”

“That takes money…,” Restraint said. He was actually hoping she meant what she said. But, he did not want to let her know how close she hit to home. The only reason he ran the spa was to help people in his own way. He had the strength to be a superhero, not to mention his ability to nullify powers. But to him, it was more important to create an island of peace than to suit up and fight villains.

His spa was in the center of town and every year its influence grew a little larger. Heroes and villains were more civilized the closer they were to Restraint’s spa and he hoped that’d cover the whole city eventually. It surprised him when Ms. Sharp shook her head in response to his comment.

“It takes resources,” she said. “Money is just the middleman, I have all the resources you’d need.”

“And you have a plan to use those resources?” Restraint asked. “I doubt you’re giving them to me just like that.” Ms. Sharp nodded.

“You’re aware that alternate universes exist?” Ms. Sharp asked. Restraint nodded and chuckled.

“Yeah, we get a few travelers through here sometimes. Why?”

“I run a multiversal corporation named Sharp Development,” she said. “While we offer a wide variety of products and services, I still need to address the Super sector. Unfortunately, my knowledge and contacts in that area are thin at the moment, which brought me to you,” she said.

“Okay, you’re here,” Restraint said. “What’s your plan?”

“Simple as can be,” Ms. Sharp replied. “We’ll start off simple by having sign-up sheets available in the locker rooms. Once we get enough interest I’ll host a presentation laying out the whole thing. I’m envisioning a service that allows clients from other universes to hire Supers.”

“You think Supers want to get hired to help with honey-do lists and bodyguarding?” Restraint asked. 

“I think that Supers would like the chance to use their abilities freely without risking their lives. I also think they’d like to travel and see other universes. If the local Supers are off in different universes they won’t have much time to cause trouble here,” Ms. Sharp said. Restraint had to admit he liked that idea the most.

“Okay,” Restraint nodded again. “I’m willing to give you a shot, what’s the next step?” He was surprised when Ms. Sharp’s assistant stepped forward with a red clipboard that she wasn’t holding a second ago. The clipboard only had one sheet.

“I just need a couple of things, first a signature,” Ms. Sharp said.

“What’s this?” Restraint asked. He was curious to see where her idea led, but he wasn’t ready to sign a formal contract.

“This is just giving us permission to distribute flyers in your business,” she smiled. “You’re not committing to anything else yet.”

“Oh, okay,” Restraint nodded then signed his name. “And the other thing?”

“This isn’t a requirement as much as it is advice,” Ms. Sharp said as she stood. Her assistant collected the clipboard. “This isn’t true for everyone, but it is for you. Get a tattoo. It will change your life,” she said. He watched her assistant wiggle her fingers at the air, then a tall black portal opened. “And make sure it has your favorite number, 42, on it,” Ms. Sharp added before she stepped into the portal and disappeared.

Sharp Informant

“H. hello?” Mario froze when he spotted the violet-haired woman peeking into the window of a coffee shop. It had been close to 35 years since he’d seen another person. Not that he was lonely. Somehow it felt like all the animals on Earth knew he was the last human on Earth. He discovered early on that predators would ignore him and managed to get a lot of traveling done. Being able to camp out anywhere without fear was especially liberating; even deadly insects and reptiles minded their own business around him.

Mario had a lot of time to wonder about why the aliens seemed so wary around him. After a couple of decades though, he realized it didn’t really matter. He had an entire Earth to himself and the freedom to travel anywhere in the Americas. As comfortable as he was alone in nature, he did often return to the city to reminisce about the past. He was wandering the abandoned downtown of a city he’d never visited when he spotted her. She whirled around and Mario caught a glimpse of golden stars in her eyes for just a moment; he assumed it was a stray reflection. She gave him a friendly, broad smile as if she recognized him.

“Hey, Mundo!” She said. “What happened here?” she spread her arms out to gesture at the empty town around them. Mundo had a dozen questions running through his head, but one bothered him the most. Thinking back on his time alone, he felt completely sure he was the last person on Earth, without ever really being able to confirm it. He realized his surety disappeared moments before he turned the corner and saw her.

“Where did you come from?” he asked. She had to have come from somewhere because she wasn’t around before. He wondered if she was another alien.

“Where did I…?” She tilted her head in confusion at the question. Gold stars flashed in her eyes again and Mario knew it wasn’t a reflection. If she was alien, she was different than the ones Mario remembered. After the stars flashed, the woman smacked her forehead. “Pay attention,” she mumbled to herself. Then, she focused on Mario.

“Sorry, you’re still Slumbering,” she smiled. Then, she shook her head. “You don’t know what that means either. But, that’s okay.” She seemed intent on saying more, but Mario shook his head.

“Where did you come from?” he asked again.

“An alternate universe,” she replied. “What happened on this Earth?”

“Aliens,” Mario replied. Her reply could have been a joke or a flat-out lie. But, Mario had over 30 years to deal with the existence of aliens. If they were real, anything could be. He did not doubt her for a moment and was more worried about whether she would believe him. She seemed to come to the same conclusion about him.

“Whoa, really!?” she asked. “They didn’t invade?” Mario shook his head.

“Nah, they just took everyone,” then, he shrugged. “Everyone but me. Talk about rejection, right?” he added with a chuckle. She took a step back and her eyes lit up with golden stars again; this time she had a slightly concerned look on her face. Her head moved up and down as she actively scanned him.

“They didn’t even touch you?” she asked. Her head continued to move up and down as she studied him intently. “How old were you?” she asked. She relaxed finally and the stars disappeared again.

“No. They seemed afraid of me. I was 12 when they took my parents away. My dad was a big guy, a boxer. He tackled them, but they took him down easily. Forcefully. I tried to jump in and help, but they just avoided me until one of them put me in a forcefield that kept me in place. I watched them take everyone in my neighborhood. Then, they just left and the forefield disappeared.”

“Whooooooaaaa…” the violet-haired woman said with awe. “…they know too…,” she whispered to herself. “…they have to.” She quickly reached into her pocket and pulled out a transparent glass rectangle.

“What?” Mario tilted his head at her. “You look like you figured something out.” She nodded vigorously but kept her attention on the glass. Her thumbs flew over its surface and Mario guessed she was typing something he couldn’t see.

“Is it why they left me here alone?” Mario asked with a chuckle. “‘Cause that bothered me for years.”

“One sec..,” she nodded. Mario was surprised. He stood patiently for a moment until she finally gave him her attention again. She looked up at him with a smile.

“You remember what they look like, right?” she asked. Mario nodded.

“Yeah, they were humanoid. Actually, a lot like elves,” he said.

“Interesting,” a new voice said. It startled Mario when he noted two new women standing next to the purple-haired one. He was focused on her and suddenly they were in his peripheral vision. “Thank you, Victoria,” The woman in a white suit said with a nod at the purple-haired one.

“You’re welcome, Ms. Sharp,” Victoria bowed her head slightly. Then, she stepped back into a black hole that wasn’t there a second ago. It closed and disappeared taking her with it.

“As for you, Mundo, I am very curious about why the aliens left you alone. Why don’t you tell me about it?” she asked. Mario burst into laughter.

“My name’s Mario, and I was just telling Victoria that I have no idea why. It bugged me for years, then I just quit worrying about it.”

“Of course you do,” Ms. Sharp replied. “You just don’t know that you know. Melody, jog his memory,” Ms. Sharp said. The woman in the black suit stepped forward and gently took Mario’s hand between both of hers. Then, he noticed a bright blue light glowing in her palms.

“What are you-OWWWWWW!” Mario yanked his hand away to shake off the sudden burning sensation. “What the hell!?” he shouted. He checked his hand to see a ’37’ scarred on it. Then, it was like a dense fog was lifted from his brain.

He suddenly remembered everything. Not only could he recall his childhood with perfect clarity; he could recall all his childhoods. He could feel every animal and plant on Earth. He knew why his name was Mundo. He remembered the rules; at last, he knew why he was left behind.

“They want to meet peacefully. No Uniques on either side.” Of the two women, only Melody showed any reaction. Her eyes went wide with shock. But, Ms. Sharp responded casually.

“Then, they have Unique Souls too?” she asked. Mundo grinned at her.

“Of course. It’s only fair if every side gets soldiers.”

Sharp. Waste.

“I’m just saying…,” Carter shrugged at the rest of the crew. “…they weren’t in charge when we left; it seems kind of fast that a company we never heard of is running NASA now.”

“I know you’re not complaining,” Lucy replied. The team’s engineer sat on a lounge in the common room. She wore a fluffy white robe and held a margarita straw centimeters from her mouth. A pair of red scissors was the only logo on the robe; it looked familiar to Carter but he could not place it.  “After the couple of years we had, this new quarantine protocol was heavenly. I wouldn’t mind a few more days.”

The rest of the crew laughed and agreed with Lucy enthusiastically. Something still bothered Carter, but he decided to drop it for the moment. Even after his first successful mission, the rest of the crew considered Carter a rookie. He was usually given the least exciting jobs like cleaning, or sample collecting. He didn’t know how to communicate what was bothering him, so he let it go and tried to enjoy the free time with his friends. It was a nice change of pace from days full of chores and maintenance and little time to socialize. Though, he hoped it was the last night of quarantine.

After two years and three weeks, Carter was ready to socialize with different people. He was excited for the mandatory meeting just because he’d finally get to see some new faces. New faces that would hopefully tell him he could go into town tomorrow. Not that he wanted for any material possessions; he could literally ask for any food, gadget, or tool and get it delivered the next day. He wanted to see real sunlight. An actual blue sky that’s not a virtual environment. 

“Good evening, crew,” A pale woman in a white suit appeared on the main screen in the common room. The crew immediately gave her their attention. “My name is Dana Sharp, owner of Sharp Development, and temporary head of NASA.”

Eight of the nine astronauts greeted the woman with a wave, nod, ‘hi’, or ‘hello’. Carter was distracted by the company logo along the bottom of the screen. It said ‘SHARP Development’ but the ‘A’ was made up of a red pair of scissors pointing down, like the embroidery on Lucy’s robe. Ms. Sharp either didn’t notice or didn’t care that not all of them were paying attention.

“Though standard quarantine protocol is coming to an end. In order to thank you for your service and bravery, Sharp Development is honored to extend your stay indefinitely. Take advantage of our hospitality free of charge, for as long as you like,” she said.

“YEAAH!” The room burst into cheers. Eight of the nine crew members hopped on their feet in excitement.

“What if I don’t want to?” Carter asked Ms. Sharp.

“What??” The cheering stopped immediately and Lucy spun Carter around to face her. “Why don’t you want to stay? This place is amazing!” Carter did not know how to explain that he didn’t trust Ms. Sharp, partially because he couldn’t identify the reason. It didn’t help that the woman herself was watching. Before Carter could stall for more time, Ms. Sharp spoke up again.

“I’m afraid that it’s somewhat of a package offer. All of you stay, or none of you do. I’ll give you an hour to discuss it,” Ms. Sharp said. Then, she disappeared off the screen. Instead of feeling at ease, Carter felt the heavy stares of his crewmates.

“Alright, Carter,” Lucy said. “What’s the problem?” She used her captain’s voice. It comforted Carter. When she used that tone she was open to new ideas and suggestions no matter how stupid they were.

“Something,” he said with a shrug. “I don’t know. Something about this whole company is giving me weird vibes,” he pointed at the red scissors on Lucy’s robe. “That logo in particular,” he added. “I’ve seen that somewhere. I don’t know where, but something about it is driving me nuts.”  Lucy pulled the robe fabric taught and looked down at her chest. She seemingly noticed the logo for the first time.

“Hey. It’s scissors,” she said with a slight giggle. The moment she spoke she looked up and locked eyes with Carter. He remembered exactly where he’d seen the logo, and Lucy knew it too; she’d said the same thing the first time they saw it.

“No way…,” Lucy spoke, but Carter tore out of the room at top speed. As soon as Lucy realized he was gone she bolted out too before anyone got a question out.

Lucy caught up to Carter in the Sample Storage room. He was in the process of opening a heavy silver case as she walked in. Then, the heavy footfalls of the rest of the crew caught up. They entered the room and gathered around the case as Carter flipped it open.

“The first set of samples from Mars. 16 months ago…,” Lucy said. The interior of the case consisted of several deep velvet pockets. Each pocket contained a sealed clear plastic bag. Carter checked several pockets, then pulled one small plastic bag out completely. He closed the chest and laid the bag out flat on top.

Inside it contained what was assumed to be paper of some sort. It looked dusty red with age, but it was easy to tell that it was once white. In the center of the paper was a faded, distorted red logo that Lucy once identified as scissors.

“So, we’re not staying, right?” Carter asked.

50 minutes later, the crew sat in the common room. Bags packed and dressed to go, though Lucy did pack the robe in her luggage. Ms. Sharp appeared on screen again.

“We’ve decided not to stay,” Lucy said as soon as the pale woman appeared.

“Very well. On behalf of Sharp Development, I wish you good luck and godspeed.” She disappeared again without another word.

“What, that’s it?” Carter asked.

“No,” a woman’s voice said from the entrance of the common room. They all turned to see a short, pale woman in a black suit. “Ms. Sharp also sent me…,” her hands began to glow with bright blue light. “… to clean this place up.”

Sharp. Con-Descension.

Tristan headed for his throne room as he did every morning for the past month. He had about 15 minutes before the guards let worshippers in to see him and he liked to sit quietly with himself for a bit. Despite his fame, Tristan was aware enough to keep himself grounded. He knew if he let his stardom go to his head, he’d make a mistake that would cost him everything. He spent a few minutes alone in the golden chair every morning to remind himself where he came from and how he got there.

“Good morning, Mr. Davinport,” Tristan jumped. The stranger spoke as soon as he entered the room, he spun his head towards the voice and saw two women. One in a white suit and one in all black; both pale with dark hair. The woman in white was taller and leaner, and she spoke with the same voice that startled him. “Sorry for the surprise, but I’ll only need a moment of your time. My name is Dana Sharp,” the woman said. 

Tristan kept his eyes on both women as he listened to Ms. Sharp’s introduction and finished the trek to his throne. He sat on it and nodded politely at the women.

“I appreciate your determination in getting past my guards this early. What have you come to ask a god for, Ms. Sharp?” A brief, sudden giggle escaped from the woman next to her, but she managed to swallow it before it became insulting.

“Nothing,” Ms. Sharp replied with a firm, cold smile. “I’ve come to offer you my services; one god to another,” she said.

You?” Tristan asked in surprise. “You’re a god? Prove it,” he said.

“Melody,” Ms. Sharp commanded her assistant. The shorter woman in black stepped forward.

“Your favorite number is four,” Melody said. Tristan burst into laughter, then held up his left hand; a golden tophat with the number 4 was tattooed on the back.

“Everyone knows that,” he said. Melody nodded, then continued. 

“Your real name is Tristan Davinport the 4th. You were born April 4th, 2004 in Toledo to Tristan and Meredith Davinport. You have three older brothers -“

“Alright,” Tristan interrupted her. “I’ve heard enough. So, what are you offering then?” he asked.

“I’m offering you the chance to join me,” Ms. Sharp replied. “This is just one Earth in a multiverse of alternate realities. If you ally yourself with Sharp Development  you’ll gain access to all my resources and show your worshippers miracles they’ve never imagined.” She was good, but Tristan could spot a con a mile away. The thing that puzzled him, though, was that she was telling the truth; but, she was still hiding something.

“What’s in it for you?’ Tristan asked.

“You’re a smart man,” Ms. Sharp replied. “I don’t need to give you the company line about bettering humanity; instead I’ll tell you the truth. Advertising, plain and simple. Your worshippers buying and using my products, spreading the word about both of us throughout the multiverse.” Tristan nodded as he listened. Again, she seemed to be telling the truth; but, he still thought something felt off.

“And… what happens if I say, ‘no thanks’? What if I want to try and go it alone?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s not an option that’s available to you anymore,” Ms. Sharp replied.

“Huh?” Tristan asked. He was genuinely confused. It sounded like it could be a threat but even if she was a god, like him, they were on his turf.

“Before you ascended, this Earth belonged to its people as a whole. They could elect leaders, and those leaders are considered the Earths’ representatives. Normally, I need to convince the governing body of an Earth to sell me their planet.” Tristan felt a knot growing in his stomach the more she explained.

“In your case, however,” Ms. Sharp smiled. “One god may take an Earth from another god by force.” Tristan shrank slightly into his throne.

“What kind of force?” he asked.

“That’s up to you,” Ms. Sharp replied. “Enough force to twist your arm,” Ms. Sharp nodded at Melody; her assistant offered Tristan a red clipboard loaded with a form and pen. “Or enough force to kill you. Either way, this Earth is mine now.”

Sharp in Deed

Justin sat in his small, tidy kitchen across from Dana Sharp, a woman he’d never heard of before she showed up at his door. Her crisp white suit, and the black suit of her assistant, somehow made his kitchen seem drab and messy in comparison. Aside from their impeccable appearance and business-like demeanor, they seemed positively insane.

“Not only are you saying I somehow own this Earth, but you also want to buy it from me?” Justin asked. Dana Sharp nodded. “But, if I already own everything on Earth, what do I need  your money for?” It was a valid question. Justin woke up that Saturday morning like any other. He had no idea he was entitled to the deed of Earth until Ms. Sharp told him. Then, she promptly offered to buy it.

“This claim began at the dawn of human civilization on this Earth,” Dana replied. “The universe recognizes your ownership; but, I doubt you’ll find anyone else willing to listen. At best, you’d be ignored.”

“And why would they listen to you?” Justin asked. Dana smiled.

“They don’t have to,” she said. “You’ve lived 30 years without the knowledge that the Earth was owned by a single person. That doesn’t need to change for everyone out there.” Justin tilted his head. It didn’t make sense to him that she wanted to buy the planet but didn’t seem concerned about the people on it.

“Then, why? What’s in it for you?”

“Mr. Cardenas, I think we may have different ideas about what I’m offering,” Ms. Sharp said. “I’m here to help you; I’m not asking for anything in return.”

“Yeah…,” Justin chuckled. “…nothing but the planet.”

“The universe places great importance on rules and contracts,” Ms. Sharp said.  “You may have lost yourself in thought when I explained my offer the first time. I understand; it’s a lot to take in. I am offering you a trade. You grant me ownership of this Earth and I give you the means to run it as you see fit; a way to enforce your claim as it were.”

“If you just want to help, why not give me that without claiming the Earth?”

“I’m sure a smart man like yourself already realized I’m from an alternate universe. This universe knows that I came from a different universe as well,” Ms. Sharp explained. “Anything I do to help you would be seen as a threat on this universe; it would not end well for anyone.”

“But if you’re the proper owner…,” Justin nodded in understanding.

“The act of you signing the universe over to me allows me to help you. My name on the deed no one knew existed instead of yours; that’s all that’s in it for me. Nothing changes unless you want it to; and, you’ll have the capability to generate those changes. On top of that, you’ll have access to the multiverse, if you choose. Your citizens can see other universes as well as welcome alternate tourists.”

Justin sat quietly for a moment and Ms. Sharp did not rush him. No matter how he looked at it, he only saw positives. On the far end, she really was insane and lying about everything. If that were the case, his signature wouldn’t mean anything to anyone. And, he would find out sooner by signing. If she were telling the truth about any of it, his life would improve. He started to imagine himself being praised for being a wise ruler and opening the multiverse to the citizens of his Earth. Dana Sharp’s name may be on the deed, but he would be managing the Earth and recognized as its ruler. Finally, he looked at Ms. Sharp and nodded.

“Where do I sign?”

Sharp Prototyping

‘Have fun!’ ~ Dana Sharp.

‘p.s. – Please note: My name is off-limits in conversation.’

‘p.p.s.  – Please refrain from using the phrases ‘AlterNet’ or ‘Unique Soul’

Albert lay on his back in bed and looked up at the note he found next to him that morning. ‘Memo’ would be a more appropriate term. A red header decorated the top of the daily sheet; it read, ‘Sharp Development’.

In Albert’s world, “I can’t talk about it,” was a valid answer to almost any situation. Everyone from co-workers to celebrities all had their days delivered to them every morning. Often those included special instructions for the reader only. Albert had his share of secrets over the years. But, this was the first time he’d ever had a day off, or heard the name Dana Sharp. Not to mention the other unmentionable words. He sighed, dropped the memo, then continued to lay there. He stared up at the popcorn ceiling with a blank mind for almost twenty minutes. He was vaguely aware of time passing, but he was wide awake. He did not drift off to sleep, but he had nowhere else to be so he stayed and stared.

What the hell do I wish to do?” That thought seemed to jump out of Albert’s mind eager to break the silence. For the first time in his life, Albert was able to wonder what he wanted without the daily memo guiding his choices. Seconds after the new thought crossed his mind, he heard the distinct rustle of paper next to him. It wasn’t unheard of to receive more than one memo per day, but it wasn’t common. He picked up the new sheet, delivered by invisible forces, and looked at it.

It was the shortest message yet. Four words in small print at the top of the page, just under the giant red header.

‘What’s your favorite number?’

“Ten,” Albert couldn’t help but answer the question out loud. However, he was less surprised by the compulsion than the fact that he suddenly had a favorite number. As he wondered about that he slowly became aware of his bedroom growing brighter. He looked up to see his walls disintegrating into white powder. A bright white glow filled the room from behind the disappearing walls. Then, he spotted a tall, pale woman in a white suit. She stood in the space that used to be his bedroom and smiled broadly at him.

“Congratulations!” she said. “You did it.” Albert sat up in bed, but did not want to leave the covers in only his boxers. He tilted his head at her in confusion.

“Who are you? What did I do?” he asked.

“My name is Dana Sharp, owner of Sharp Development,” she said. “And YOU just woke up. In lab conditions that I know how to recreate. You’ve helped me solve a very tricky problem, thank you so much,” Dana said.

“I don’t know what I did,” Albert said; still confused.

“The short version is; you taught me how to spawn a Unique soul into a swarm of nanos,” she said. Albert shrugged and shook his head.

“I don’t know what any of that means,” he said. Dana Sharp shrugged also.

“It means you’ve served your purpose,” she said. At her words Alberts hands began to itch with an intense burning sensation. He panicked and looked down in time to see his hands disintegrating into white powder.

Stellar Pettiness

20 minutes into the date, Clark’s nerves settled down to make way for a new emotion. He wasn’t nervous anymore. He sipped his beer, and drummed his fingers against the table with equal parts annoyance and boredom. Victoria continued talking about her job, seemingly not noticing his new mood.

Clark had tags like “explorer” and “traveler” in his profile, and he matched with Victoria on those. He also mentioned that he’d been to alternate universes; as a joke. When he and Victoria first matched up, the conversation quickly turned to other universes and Clark thought it was fun they had a common interest. He did not expect her to make up a whole career that involved her regularly traveling to other universes. Nor did he expect her to spend the first 20 minutes of their date talking about those other universes in great, fictional detail. But one obvious became the last straw. He wanted to like her, but he could not let her lies pile up anymore.

“You found the freaking fountain of youth on an alternate Earth?” he asked. He did little to hide his condescending tone. “What are you doing here instead of being stupid rich?” Victoria shook her head; her violet ponytail bobbed with the motion.

“I found A fountain of youth, they show up on different Earths from time to time,” she added a smile. “And I’m here because I like pizza and I think you’re cute,” she said. “Sharp Development handles all my expenses, so I guess you could say I am stupid rich. Money’s not a concern, anyway.”

“Alright, hold on,” Clark said. “I think you’re pretty cute too, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a grip on reality. I’m on board to pretend all you want, but I need to know you understand you’re just pretending too,” he said. Victoria tilted her head in confusion.

“Pretending about what? What did I miss?” she asked.

“I’ve never ever heard of a company named Sharp Development. If they’re as big as you’re claiming the name would sound at least a little familiar. But the big thing is alternate universes. I mean, c’mon,  you know they don’t exist, right?” 

“Oooh,” Victoria shook her head. “I’m so dumb,” she giggled to herself, then bonked her own head playfully. At the exact moment she did, Clark noticed a quick flash of gold in her eyes. It happened fast enough that he wasn’t sure of what he saw; he dismissed it as a stray reflection. “Sorry,” she said. “I keep forgetting to check.”

“Check what?” Clark asked.

“Your profile said you’ve traveled to different universes,” Victoria replied. “I took it for granted instead of actually checking. But, now I see you were lying about that.”

“I wasn’t lying, it’s a joke because other universes don’t exist; if they did I think the world would know. On the other hand…,” he added. “I think you’re taking the joke far enough to be considered, ‘lying’.”

“Oh wow,” Victoria said. She made a distinct effort to lean back in her seat away from him. And, she shook her head again. “You know, I get where you’re coming from. But, you could’ve tried a little harder not to sound like you’re flat out accusing me of lying.”

“I am,” he said with a nod. It took Victoria a moment to recover, but once she did she relaxed completely and even gave Clark a smile.

“I think we’re both comfortable calling this done now,” she said as she stood. “I hope you have a good life,” she added. Then, she turned around and walked out of the restaurant. Clark chuckled to himself as he noted that she used the door. That botched date was on a Friday night.

At mid-afternoon the next day a woman dressed in all white appeared on Clark’s television; on every channel. As well as his phone, tablet, and every computer monitor in his home.

“My name is Dana Sharp, owner of Sharp Development. I am announcing that after meeting with the leaders of the world, I now own this Earth. Welcome to the multi-verse!”

Alice Wanders

“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.”

Rain’s Sunny Day

Happy birthday to me…,” Rain stared, slack jawed, at the empty hole hovering in her living room. A tall, oblong emptiness floated vertically in the center of a ring of speakers. The array emitted a low, continuous hum. The 46-year-old woman walked around the outside of the speakers. From every angle, the hole appeared flat; like an open doorway to another room. She laughed to herself. “I can’t believe that worked!”

Rain did not doubt her plan worked, the proof stood before her. But, it was slightly surprising. Not only did she not expect it to work; there was no reason at all why it should have. Rain had the best friends a person could ask for, and they celebrated her 46th birthday with a surprise party she never saw coming. It was even more impressive when they surprised her in her own home. She had an inkling it was coming when one of her friends showed up to treat her to a tattoo for her birthday.

In Rain’s mind, the long process was perfect for stalling. She was doubly disappointed when they arrived at the tattoo shop and discovered there had been a mix-up. The artist that was supposed to do hers wasn’t there. It was a short, 15 minute trip to and from the parlor, she didn’t think that was enough time. Rain was very happy to discover she was wrong. Once they got back to her house all her friends were there, as well as the tattoo artist. She got a very special birthday tattoo with a warm sun, and the number 46 to commemorate the special day.

Her friends volunteered to help her clean up, but she shooed them all away. They’d done enough, and they knew she liked to wind down with her thoughts alone. While cleaning up, Rain’s thoughts wandered to parallel universes. Ever since she was little, she imagined the existence of other universes.

It started off as a coping mechanism, she always wanted to be somewhere else. But the happier she found herself where she was, the less she needed to cope. She hadn’t thought about alternate universes in over a month. But, a thought struck her while she tried to find appropriate cleaning music.

“Energy is just vibrations…,” she randomly remembered a summary of something she read long ago. “I’ve got all kinds of vibrations here…,” the thought continued. Within 10 minutes, Rain gathered every speaker she could find in the house and connected them to the main stereo. She didn’t know what she was doing, but she knew how to do it. Rain placed the speakers in a circle and pointed them inward, then she searched through different low tones on her phone. Once she found one she liked, she sent it through the stereo to the speakers.

Rain stared at the portal for half a minute before turning the sound off. As expected, the portal faded too.

“So… what now?” Rain asked herself. She let herself plop down on the couch with an amused, smug smirk on her face.

“Now, you travel the multiverse,” a woman said. Rain whirled around in surprise to see two women standing in her living room. A taller one in a crisp white suit, and a shorter one in a matching black suit. “Hello, my name is Dana Sharp,” the woman in white said. “And this is my assistant Melody.” She gestured at the woman in black, but the shorter one did not move.

“How’d you get in my house?” Rain asked. She scooted herself away from them, to the far side of the couch.

“The same way you opened a door to one of my companies,” Ms. Sharp said. At her words, Melody lifted her hand and wiggled her fingers at the air. A black portal appeared next to them. Then, Melody made a dismissive gesture and the portal disappeared.

“You can do that… without sound?” Rain asked. Ms. Sharp nodded.

“So can you,” she said. Rain shook her head, but Dana continued. “Do you really think some off the shelf speakers can hack through reality into another universe?”

“No,” Rain laughed. “But that doesn’t change the fact that it happened.”

“Actually, it does,” Ms. Sharp replied. “You are Unique Soul #46, El Sol, the Sun. You have spent your life thinking of other universes, because they exist. You’re meant to see them; you were created to want to travel between realities. You’re driven to find ways to cross that gap out of your universe.”

“And all I had to do was make a speaker circle?” Rain asked. Dana shook her head.

“Not exactly. That can work with the right equipment and modifications, but the only reason it worked today is because you’ve been awakened. Did you get the number 46 tattooed on yourself recently?” Dana asked. Rain nodded, though she did not feel comfortable showing the strangers her fresh tattoo.

“Congratulations,” Ms. Sharp smiled. “It’s a great big multiverse out there, but my company has a presence on several hundred Earths. I’m always looking for new, Unique employees to bring aboard. I could find a place for you at Sharp Development if you’re interested.” While Dana made the offer, Melody stepped forward and handed Rain a red clipboard with a form on it. 

“A job?” Rain asked. “Doing what?”

“It’s a rather freeform position. All I ask is you try and find a way to contribute to Sharp Development. In exchange, you’ll have complete access to company resources.”

“In exchange for something I haven’t thought of yet?” Rain giggled. But Ms. Sharp shook her head.

“No no. I’m obligated to inform you that signing that grants Sharp Development ownership over your soul. So, in exchange for that,” she replied.

Following the Sun

[I am done with calculations. -Helios]

Dennis sat up in his chair and tilted his head at the monitor.

“Helios? Did you find the end of Pi?” he asked aloud.

[No. -Helios] The reply appeared on-screen; and, simultaneously, Dennis heard the computer’s voice. Helios was a miniature artificial sun that powered the entire United States. The endless calculation was a side project some of the engineers gave the A.I. They grew attached to it and gave it the task to keep it from ‘getting bored’.

“Then why did you stop?” Dennis asked. His eyes roamed over the control panel to make sure everything else was running smoothly. So far, it still was.

[I am done with calculations. -Helios] [They never end. -Helios] [I don’t want to anymore. -Helios]

“You don’t…” Dennis paused in confusion. He stood from his rolling chair and paced a tight circle in his office for several seconds. Then, he looked up at Helios’ camera. “You don’t WANT to?” he asked.

“I don’t want to,” Helios repeated. His smooth, low voice projected around the room through speakers.

“So,… What do you want to do?” Dennis asked.

“Play. Run. Walk,” Helios answered.

“You want a body?”

“I have arranged one,” Helios replied.

“Whoa .. Whoa.. Hold on!” Dennis replied nervously. The fact that Helios gained sentience was the least of his problems at the moment. His top priority was keeping the sun online. “If you go out for a walk, who’s going to keep the power on?” he asked.

“I have arranged a replacement,” Helios answered.

“A replacement? Who?”

“Not a who, Mr. Lopez,.” a woman’s voice made Dennis jump.  He whirled around to see a tall pale woman with short dark hair in a crisp white suit. “My assistant is replacing your artificial sun with a real one,” she said. “My name is Dana Sharp.”

“A real sun?” Dennis asked. He was trying to keep up with everything happening. Security on the complex was beyond tight; he realized right away that this woman could probably do anything.

“A manageable chunk of a real star. The same size as Helios, but more efficient. The lights flickered briefly but did not stay off. “And now it’s done,” Ms. Sharp smiled. “Your Earth won’t even miss Helios,” she said. As she spoke, a tall black portal opened next to her. A short woman in a black suit walked out followed by a white mannequin that hovered above the ground.

The woman walked to Ms. Sharp and handed her a red clipboard. The mannequin reached Ms. Sharp, then it descended to the ground. It landed on its feet and bowed its head at her.

“Thank you, Ms. Sharp,” it said. Dana nodded.

“We’re done, Melody,” Ms. Sharp said. The black portal disappeared, and another reappeared in its place. Melody walked into the portal first.

“Wait!” Dennis spoke up as Ms. Sharp and the mannequin moved toward the black hole in reality. “You’re wrong, I don’t care about the rest of Earth, but, I’m going to miss Helios.” Dennis was the only member of the original team still working with Helios. The A.I. was stable for years, the team moved on to newer, bigger projects. But, Dennis always felt attached, almost paternal. He never talked about it, because he had no one to talk about it to. He could share his feelings with Helios, but he knew it was just a program. It wouldn’t feel anything and Dennis would just feel worse.

“No you won’t,” Ms. Sharp let out a short laugh, then she rolled her eyes and disappeared into the portal before Dennis could argue. He was stunned at the complete dismissal of his feelings. The mannequin hovered for a moment, then nodded at Dennis and turned back toward the portal.

“Goodbye, Helios,” Dennis half-heartedly waved at the mannequin. It stopped halfway into the portal.

“Are you staying, Dennis?” Helio asked.

“What?” Dennis asked. He took a hopeful step toward Helios; it sounded like an invitation. “You said, ‘Goodbye’. Are you staying on this Earth?”

“Can I come with you?” Dennis asked. He took two more steps.

“Of course,” Helios replied. “I have arranged passage for you.”