Contract Upgrade

Theme Thursday: Dread

“Yeah, I think you got it,” Jenny said. The dark-haired girl nodded at Dread, a taller girl with white spiky hair, with an encouraging smile. “Let’s take a break.” The two girls skated to the edge of the glassy white track and sat on their team bench. Jenny smiled at the empty roller derby stadium around them. The sun hid behind a mountain of seats, on its way down for the evening. After enjoying a comfortable silence for several minutes, Jenny nudged Dread with her elbow.

“Hey,” she asked. She sat up straight and met Dread’s eyes. “What’s it like?…” Jenny hesitated for a moment, then clarified. “I mean, uh, being a Unique?” The pale girl smiled at Jenny and shrugged.

“It’s the same as being a Zero, except we get powers,” Dread said. Jenny shook her head.

“There’s gotta be more to it than that. There’s only one of you, anywhere, in any universe,” Jenny stared at the ground. “There’s millions of me out there,” she said in a softer voice. Dread placed a hand on Jenny’s shoulder to get her attention.

“Maybe,” she smiled once Jenny looked up. “But only one of them is sitting next to me.” Jenny smiled for a second, but then her face turned serious.

“Can you keep a secret?” Jenny asked. “Just for a little bit, it won’t stay secret for long.” Dread nodded. “Ms. Sharp offered to turn me into a Unique.” Dread’s eyes widened.

“What?” Jenny nodded with an eager smile on her face.

“Yeah! She said she’s been working on the tech for a while now and says its ready to test on Zeros! She offered me because I’m on the team!” Jenny grabbed Dread’s hands tight. “I’M GONNA DO IT!”

“What!? When?” Dread asked.

“She said in time for the next game,” Jenny shrugged. “So any day now, I guess.”

“Do you know what Soul?” Dread asked.

“Kind of,” Jenny sounded disappointed. “She said right now she can only do plant souls, so it’s going to be one of them.” Dread nodded, patted Jenny on the back, then stood up.

“Let’s keep practicing until you get your new soul.”

Pizza Planning

[OT] Sunday Free Write

“Thanks for the food, Mr. Martin,” Dread smiled at Jenny’s father after he took their order. Dread, Dirge, Jenny, and Torque sat in a green in a red booth together. The short, round man smiled at the group.

“Having you girls here will be great for business. Once you start winning games that is,” he chuckled.

“Daaadd! It was our first game!” Jenny whined, but she smiled and tried to kick her father’s shin from her seat. Her foot did not reach but the older man responded by sticking his tongue out at her.

“Pizza on the way,” he said, then walked away toward the kitchen. Jenny’s attention turned to her friends.

“I gave Bailey some info about the next team,” she explained. “She asked me to give you guys a breakdown because she’s busy.”

“This team should be easier than the Magi-Knights, they’re ranked pretty low,” Jenny said. She smiled, “They’re a guild on the Teddy-Bear Server named Clown Patrol.”  Dirge giggled.

“Sounds easy,” Torque said and laughed with Dirge. Jenny pulled out her node and motioned for the other girls to do the same. She brought up a picture on her node.

“Easier than our last game, definitely. But don’t underestimate them,” Jenny said. She sent a picture to the other three nodes. It showed a lanky clown with golden-yellow curls of hair at his temples. The top of his head was white and bald. He wore a red clown suit with over-sized yellow, floppy shoes.” The captain’s name is Laughtrack. He’s human, but he’s a bard, so he has a Unicorn soul. Next is WaterJet,” she said. The picture changed to a female clown carrying a white-lace parasol. Blue painted water drops resembled tears on her white face. “Mermaid elementalist with a water elemental soul. Torque, watch yourself with her.”

“No problem,” Torque smiled and gave Jenny a thumbs up. The picture changed to a tall, fat, mountain of a man. He wore a stained apron over his round gut, and a white hairnet wrapped around his rainbow afro.

“Cookie. Human chef with a Human soul. He can buff and debuff using his pies, so watch out.” The girls nodded while giggling. The picture changed again. “SlimeMime,” Jenny named the lean, athletic woman in classic mime makeup. “Human monk with a slime soul. Those guys are all pretty easy. We should take them out as fast as we can to focus on the main threats.” the picture changed again. This time it showed twin clowns wearing suspenders and cowboy hats standing back to back.

“Soggy,” Jenny highlighted the clown in a green cowboy hat. “Human rodeo clown with a slime soul. And Bull,” she highlighted the clown in a red cowboy hat. “human rodeo clown with a minotaur soul. They’re agility tanks, so they’ll be hard to hit. Focus on everyone else then we can take them out one at a time,” Jenny said. The girls nodded. Jenny was about to say more, but her father appeared at the table with a large pizza. Jenny waited for him to head back into the kitchen before she continued. The rest of the girls grabbed slices onto their plates.

“I talked to Ms. Sharp about getting another member,” she said when each girl had a mouth full of pizza. “The Magi-Knights have six, and the Clown Patrol have six. It makes sense to have someone on the bench. Having four people on the track for most of the early game last time slowed us down.” Torque swallowed her bite and looked at Jenny with sad eyes.

“Sorry,” she apologized again. She apologized several times since the game. Jenny shook her head and smiled.

“We already covered it. You made a good call. It’s just not how Ms. Sharp wants things run, apparently,” she said with a shrug.

“So what’d she say?” Dread asked, then took another bite.

“Bailey’s already looking at candidates. I suggested a healer, but who knows if she’ll listen,” Jenny commented.

“Do we know what Uniques they are?” Dirge asked. Jenny shook her head.

“They’re ranked so low that people don’t care. All I know is Laughtrack is #28, La Sandía. But I don’t know how that helps him in game,” Jenny said.

“Wait. When did you talk to Ms. Sharp?” Dread asked. She worried about Jenny going alone.

“At the beginning of the week. We talked about how the game played out and why we lost.”

“Was she mad?” Dirge asked sheepishly.

“It didn’t seem like it. But she did say she hoped we’d do better in the future.”

“You girls want anything else?” Mr. Martin appeared beside the table to ask.

“We’re good,” Jenny answered for the group. “Thanks, dad.” The man nodded and retreated to the kitchen.

“Your dad’s cool,” Dread said.

“Thanks,” Jenny smiled. “What about all your parents?” she asked.

“OH!” Dirge overflowed with excitement. “You totally need to meet my parents next time! You too, Torque,” she offered.

“Thanks. Uh, my home life is complicated right now,” Torque stared at the table. “Not in a hurry to show off the parents,” she said.

“Ballisea killed my parents,” Dread said. “Dirge’s parents adopted me, they’re really cool too.”

“Who’s Ballisea?” Jenny asked.

“How do you know Flutter and not Ballisea?” Dread looked surprised. Jenny shrugged.

“Flutter’s popular in game. Ballisea can’t be that great. Why? Do they know each other?” Dread nodded.

“Ballisea is Flutter’s boss. She’s way stronger than Flutter.”

“She sounds awesome.” Jenny smiled.

Teambuilding

“Penalty: Friendly Fire. Luchadoras, Torque,” the scoreboard announced in a deep male voice. All other skaters kept moving forward on the dirt road. Rook and Gremlin, two of the magi-knights, skated around Jenny as she stood up and dusted herself off.

“You okay, Jen?”  Dread asked over voice chat, but Dirge interrupted before Jenny could respond.

“What the hell was that??” Dirge yelled, obviously at Torque.

“Sorry, I-” Torque began to apologize, but Bailey interrupted her.

“Focus on the match. Jenny’s fine. Torque, get to the bench and wait out your penalty. We’ll deal with ‘why’ later,” Bailey settled the situation for them. The fire in Torque’s hair went out as she walked off the track towards the bench. As she sat down Bailey added one last reprimand.

“Ms. Sharp expects us to act like a team. If it happens again you’re out. Clear?” Bailey asked. On the track, Jenny was up and skating again. Rook and Gremlin were close to completing their second lap ahead of Jenny.

“Won’t happen again,” Torque replied.

“When you’re back in work with Dirge to keep their paladin busy. She’s easy to handle early on but if she gets too many laps she’ll be unstoppable.” Rook completed her second lap and proved Bailey’s point. A swarm of nanos formed a golden shield on the paladin’s left arm.

Gremlin, the short metal girl crossed the starting line next. Instead of continuing forward, she skated off the track to her team’s bench to tag in their sixth member. An athletic girl with green hair stepped on the track behind the starting line, then crossed it. A long, flowing, black leather coat formed around her.

“LongArm. Cardmage,” the scoreboard announced her name and class when she joined the match. Eight green floating octahedrons collected behind her in a single file line as she skated. She laughed as one of the octahedrons behind her exploded in a shower of green sparks.

“Zone: Camelot,” the scoreboard announced. A thin white line extended from the starting line around the track to connect with itself. It ran down the middle of the track dividing the dirt road in two. The inner half of the track transformed to dark grey stone. The cairns along the inside were replaced with stone battlements three feet high. The skaters on each team drifted into their team’s zone as they skated. Jenny, Dirge, Dread, and Bailey moved to the outside to skate in the fairy graveyard. Rook, Infernal, Thumper, Grace, and LongArm skated in Camelot. An eighth green octahedron coalesced behind LongArm as she skated. Then it burst into sparks again.

“Magi-Knights Card: Bounty. Target: Luchadoras, Dirge,” the scoreboard announced LongArm’s play.

“No way! How’d she play another card?” Dirge complained to her team. She slowed down to let Dread catch up to her. At the starting line, a swarm of nanos rose from the track and formed armored knight atop a white armored horse. It immediately charged forward.

“#21 La Mano,” Jenny replied. “Her Unique ability lets her bring one of her cards into play in addition to her starting draw. She can play it any time.

“How do we stop it?” Dread asked. She reached Dirge and matched her pace with the curly haired girl.

“Torque. New plan. Once you’re in go for the cardmage. Dirge can worry about herself and Dread will stall the paladin.” Bailey gave them new orders.

“Good luck,” Dread waved at Dirge and sped up again to catch up to the Paladin. Dread completed her second lap and a full-grown golden tiger formed next to her. She pointed at the paladin and the tiger ran forward toward the heavily armored woman.

Infernal, the red-skinned demon, completed his second lap at the same time as Dirge. He raised a flaming hand in the air.

“Blazing Rain,” the scoreboard announced. Molten drops of lava began falling over the entire length of the track, but the spell only damaged the Luchadoras.

“Ow,ow,ow,ow,” Dirge complained as the burning rain pelted her skin.

“Dirge!” Dread yelled into voice chat.

“What?”

“It’s RAINING,” she said.

“OH!”

“Unique #05: El Paraguas. Shield Variant,” the scoreboard announced the moment of Dirge’s realization. Clear bubbles formed around her teammates to protect them from the fiery rain.

“Thanks!” she chirped.

“Torque, get ready,” Jenny said as she approached the starting line. “I’ll take your penalty so you can take out their cardmage. I need a few more laps until I’m useful, but we need her out now.”

“Bailey?” Torque seemed unsure.

“Do it,” Bailey said.

“Thanks!” Torque jumped up ready for action. Jenny crossed the line and skated off the track to the bench. Torque stepped on the track behind the starting line and , it. Her twin afro-puffs ignited again. She aimed a finger gun at the green-haired girl wearing a black trench coat.

“Star Shot,” the scoreboard said. A small, bright orange spark shot from Torque’s finger when she squeezed an imaginary trigger.

“Team Bulwark,” Rook’s shield disintegrated into gold nanos that swarmed around LongArm. She started to move faster without it and managed to keep ahead of Dread’s tiger. The swarm condensed into a golden shield behind the girl to protect her. Torque’s shot bounced off harmlessly and the shield disintegrated again.

“Nice bait!” Bailey encouraged Torque.

“I know, right?” she replied. Her voice carried a full smile. The rest of the girls laughed.

“Flame Snipe. Target: Magi-Knights, LongArm.” Torque positioned her arms as if she were looking down the sight on an invisible rifle. She pulled the trigger and a fireball shot from her extended hand. On her head, the flame of one of her afro-puffs died out.

The fireball flew straight at LongArm and slammed into her back. The impact caused enough of an explosion to shove LongArm forward off balance. She tumbled forward on the dark stone ground. The mounted knight dissipated into nanos and disappeared.

“Point: Luchadoras,” the scoreboard announced. Then it followed up with another play. “Holy Aura.”

Thumper, the young boy in a white and red robe, flew over the starting line to start his third lap. A rainbow unicorn horn sprouted from the top of his forehead. All the Magi-Knights on the track began to glow with golden light.

“We might be in trouble,” Bailey told the team.

Las Luchadoras 5: Luchadoras vs. Magi-Knights

“This spectacle is for you,” Dana Sharp smiled at the array of cameras pointed at her. 16 in total, but 15 of them protruded from small black holes in the air. The black-haired woman sat in the owner’s box at the stadium in an elegant white leather high-back chair in. Her business suit matched the same bright shade of the seat; yet, her rigid, upright posture kept her from blending in with the upholstery. “I can’t think of a better way to welcome you to the multi-verse than by showing you what we have to offer your Earth. This roller derby match is a limited demonstration of the things each of you will be able to do in the AlterNet. I know I’m excited to get started,” Dana said. She glanced at her assistant, Melody, and received a nod to indicate everyone else was ready. “It’s a great honor for me to introduce one of your very own to start the match. I’m sure he’s a household name by now. The man who braved a black hole and found a universe on the other side, Bill Williams!” Dana clapped long enough for the live feed to switch to Bill standing down at the track, then she stopped. She dropped her hands to her lap and focused her attention on the large display in the room. The crowd’s cheering bothered Dana and she gestured at Melody to lower the volume.

A rugged looking uniformed man with a greying military cut stood next to the wide, smooth white track. He raised a pistol in the air and glanced at the first two people on the track. One was a young Asian girl with short, spiky black hair and the other was a dark-skinned woman in her early 20s. She sported coppery dreadlocks and bright yellow eyes. The pair, Jenny and Rook, nodded at Bill. He fired up into the air, then the two leaped forward. They skated as fast as they could, each focused on completing their first lap.

After they left their marks another pair stepped onto the track to take their place. A girl with a pair of afro-puffs on her head stepped into Jenny’s starting spot.

“Torque,” a deep male voice said. The announcement came from a black scoreboard floating in the center of the mile-long circular track. The scoreboard also displayed her name under the team name: Las Luchadoras.

“Infernal,” the scoreboard announced the name of an older man with a leathery face. His name appeared on the scoreboard under the team name: The Magi-Knights. He stepped into Rook’s spot. 20 seconds after the starting gun, the scoreboard buzzed. Torque and Infernal raced forward.

“Dirge.” The scoreboard announced the name of a girl with raven curls that took Torque’s place.

“Gremlin.” A girl with pink pigtails sprouting out the sides of her head stepped into Infernal’s place. The buzzer sounded for Dirge and Gremlin to start and they skated forward. Both girls seemed in less of a hurry than first two pairs.

“Dread.” A tall girl with short, spiky white hair stepped into Dirge’s spot. She looked at the young boy that hopped onto Gremlin’s spot. He looked to be about nine-years-old and still carried around more than his fair share of baby fat.

“Thumper,” the scoreboard announced his name.

“Good luck,” she said.

“Thanks! You too!” he smiled at her with full, chubby cheeks. The buzzer sounded and they skated forward at leisurely pace.

“Bailey.” A girl with a long brown pony-tail stepped into Dread’s spot.

“Grace.” A stern looking woman with shoulder-length blond hair stepped into Thumper’s spot. Bailey scanned the track to see how her team was doing. Jenny led by a decent margin. The interval between Dread and Bailey’s start lasted 45 seconds instead of 20.  Jenny passed the halfway mark before the last buzzer sounded for Bailey and Grace. Once all the skaters began their lap a female voice spoke to the stadium.

“For this match, we’re using standard Derby rules. However, the system is flexible enough to create your own rules in private games,” Melody said. She took over commentary to allow Ms. Sharp the chance to focus on watching her team’s debut game. “The competitors need to complete a lap before they can access their class skills. The goal is to knock everyone on the opposing team out of the game; and, that’s done by knocking each member down twice.” She said. On the track, Jenny was about to cross the starting line with Rook close behind her. “Here we go folks, things are about to get exciting,” Melody said. Jenny completed her first lap.

As she skated over the thin, white starting line her outfit changed completely. She began the match wearing blue jeans and a light blue t-shirt; she skated on black and blue roller-blades. Her clothes became a single piece white body suit. A red logo that resembled an open pair of scissors took up most of her back. The numbers “00” showed in black letters in the ‘V’ space left by the handle. A white mask with red trim covered her face and most of her head, but the spikes atop her skull were still visible. Her black hair now glowed with bright blue light. Her skates also changed to white, with a line of red wheels under them.

“Programmer.” The scoreboard announced Jenny’s class. Seconds later Rook crossed the starting line.

“Paladin.” The scoreboard said. Golden plate armor and a horned helmet formed around Rook. She slowed due to the weight of the armor and moved to the outer edges of the track to stay out of the way.

“Wizard.” Jenny glanced back at the announcement. Infernal crossed the starting line before Torque. A red flowing robe appeared around the thin man. His skin darkened to a blood red color and a pair of obsidian horns grew out of the top of his skull.

“Elementalist.” Torque crossed the line a few seconds after Infernal. Her costume matched Jenny’s, except the number ’35’ appeared between the scissor handles. Her mask also left her hair visible; her two afro-puffs burst into flames.

“Bard.” Half a minute later Dirge skated over the starting line. The number on the back of her white outfit read “14”.

“Blacksmith.” Gremlin’s skin and hair hardened into a shiny chrome-like metal when she crossed the line. She looked like an animated metal statue.

“Beastmaster.” The number on Dread’s back read “42”. Unlike the other girls, her white mask covered her face and hair like a balaclava.

“Healer.” A white and red robe formed around the boy. Then he jumped into the air and sprouted white feathery wings. He flew forward instead of skating.

“Knight.” The scoreboard announced almost a minute later. A suit of chainmail armor, with no helmet, coalesced around the stern woman.

“Cardmage.” Bailey was the last one to complete her lap. Her white bodysuit matched the rest of her team, but she did not wear a mask. The number on her back read ’06’. Eight green, floating octahedrons formed a single file line behind Bailey.

“Check in,” she said. Now that the whole team crossed the line they could communicate over private voice chat.

“Good to go,” Jenny replied.

“Present!” Dirge said.

“I’m here,” Torque responded.

“Check,” Dread checked in.

“Great. Let’s get started,” Bailey replied to the group. One of the green octahedrons behind her burst into green sparkles.

“Zone: Fairy Graveyard,” the scoreboard announced her play. The smooth white track transformed into a dirt path. Black grass sprouted along the sides of the track, and small cairns lined the outer edge. Torque noticed Infernal raise a hand in the air. It ignited with a bright orange flame that consumed his hand.

“Meteor Strike,” the scoreboard said. The flame around Infernal’s hand dissipated into black smoke, and Torque’s eyes went wide. She aimed a finger-gun at Jenny on the track as fast as she could and squeezed the imaginary trigger.

“Star Shot.” A small orange spark flew from Torque’s fingertip and struck the wheels on one of Jenny’s skates. The hit tripped her and her momentum tumbled her for several feet before she stopped flat on her back.

“Penalty: Friendly Fire. Luchadoras, Torque,” the voice boomed.

Fluttering Leaves

“Dread, how accurate is your roar?” Bailey, the team captain, asked.

“Any leaf on a tree,” Dread smiled at Bailey and hope she would demand proof.

“Show me,” she said. A green, hovering octahedron appeared behind Bailey. “Log in.” Dread held her node up and said her password.

“AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!” she screamed at the flat, clear rectangle in her hand until it glowed with purple light. She inserted it into a dock on her belt buckle, then a bright flash of light enveloped her body. After the light faded, Dread stood tall in her AlterNet outfit.

Black leather pants, and a black leather jacket with a purple and gold yin-yang sparkling on her back. A tiger in the gold section stalked the shark that was sneaking up behind it in the purple section. A golden skull decorated the front of her pitch black motorcycle helmet. Bailey nodded, and the octahedron exploded in a shower of green sparks.

“Zone: Fairy Forest,” a floating scoreboard announced from the center of the track. The smooth white track transformed into a grey cobblestone path. Grass and Trees sprouted out and upward along the sides of the track, but still within the boundaries. Bailey pointed at a tall, thick oak tree oak tree that grew next to the starting line.

“Torque, pick a leaf,” she said over her shoulder.

Torque skated forward and aimed at the tree with her hand using a ‘finger-gun’ gesture.

“Star Shot,” the scoreboard announced Torque’s move when she squeezed the ‘trigger’ of her finger. A tiny orange spark flew from Torque’s finger into the tree. Dread looked up and saw a single leaf with a star burned through the center of it; the edges of the design smoldered.

[Do it better! -Dirge] Dread chuckled when she felt Dirge’s Whisper in her ear.

[Going to. -Dread] She replied. Dread turned to face the tree head-on. Bailey made a point of staying next to the tree while Dirge, Jenny, and Torque took several steps back. Dread stared at the smoking leaf, inhaled deeply, then yelled at the tree.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” The leaves jumped off their branches and scattered through the air. The force of her scream caused a mini-whirlwind against the track boundaries. The leaves that went out of bounds disappeared, while a large portion of the rest landed on Bailey. She stared at Dread while brushing leaves off her shoulders.

“Accurate must mean something different in your universe,” Bailey said. Dread pointed at the, now crooked, tree. Bailey looked up. The marked leaf was the only one left on the barren tree. “Huh. Nevermind, you’re great.”

[Yeah you are! -Jny] Jenny sent a Whisper. Dread’s only reply was a thumbs up gesture to the girl with black spiky hair.

“Okay. New plan. Let’s work on basics. Jenny, teach Dread how to use macros, all that yelling is gonna get old really fast. Dirge, you can do black portals, right?” Dirge mimicked Dread and replied to Bailey with a thumbs up gesture.

“Great, pair off with Torque and teach her how. So far she can only do nano-assisted portals,” Bailey said. She held up the three nodes she grabbed from Jenny earlier, “I’m going to go look at these. That’s all you’re working on for practice today; you have the field until sundown. We’ll keep in touch during the week to discuss strategy. I expect all of you to practice between now and next week’s game.” Bailey nodded at the four girls then turned to walk away.

“That’s it? That’s your idea of practice?” Dirge asked. Bailey stopped and turned to face her.

“You guys missed a solid chunk by going to see Ms. Sharp. I stayed behind and worked with Torque. Now I have to leave, and it’s your turn to stay behind,” Bailey said. She looked at the rest of the girls. “Everyone on this team has enough autonomy to act like adults. If you don’t like how I run the team then show me you can do it better.” The girls remained quiet. Bailey nodded and turned around to leave.

“What’re macros?” Dread asked Jenny when Bailey was far enough away. Jenny turned to look at the derby track. Once Bailey left it reverted back to a smooth white surface.

“We’ll take this end, and you and Torque take that end,” Jenny said to Dirge. “It’ll be kind of crowded, but we can make it work.”

“Too crowded. Dirge, take Torque to our track,” Dread said. Dirge nodded, then made a gesture with her hand in the air. A black portal opened next to Dirge and she invited Torque to step through. Once they both went through the portal disappeared.

“You guys have your own track?” Jenny asked. Dread nodded.

“Pretty much,” Dread replied.

“Awesome, okay. Now we have a ton more room.” Jenny reached into her pocket and pulled out several nodes. She sorted through them while talking to Dread. “Macros are system shortcuts that let you use your abilities faster and easier,” she chuckled. “I guess Bailey doesn’t want you screaming all the time.” Jenny found the node she was looking for and shoved the rest back into her pocket. “Once you’ve got macros set up you can use your scream just by speaking certain words.”

“What words?” Dread asked. Jenny shrugged.

“Any you want. Personally, I like to use the ability name. It’s easier that way. For your roar, it’d be Tiger’s Roar.” Dread nodded and smiled at the shorter girl.

“I like it.”

“Great,” I’ve got just the thing to practice with. She threw the node onto the track, then a swarm of golden nanos appeared and began flying around it. The cyclone of nanos coalesced into a tall, imposing, pale woman with bright red hair. The woman looked at Dread and smiled.

“Flutter!” Dread jumped in front of Jenny and yelled over her shoulder. “RUN!”

Team Benefits

Sunday Free Write [Link to post.]

“Congratulations girls, you’re a team,” Melody said. Ms. Sharp’s dark-haired assistant approached the five girls carrying a white briefcase. She handed the case to Bailey, then she turned to Jenny. “Ms. Sharp would like to meet with you Monday afternoon,” she said, then she looked up to the rest. “Everyone else, be here early next Saturday. That’s it for today.” Melody nodded at Bailey, then walked away.

“Before we break, I’ve got to give you these,” Bailey said. She cocked her head and hefted the briefcase to get the girls to follow her. She walked to the edge of the stage then rested the broadside of the briefcase on it. She opened it, reached in, then turned around. She held five thin, translucent-purple glass bangles.

“Sorry, I didn’t get your name,” Bailey said to the girl with a pair of black afro-puffs atop her head.

“Torque,” she said. Bailey nodded then handed her a bracelet. She handed the rest out, one to each girl, before slipping her wrist into the last one.

[Party: Test. -Bailey]  Dread felt the Whisper tickle her ear drum.

[Party: Check. -Dread] She replied.

[Party: HI! -Dirge]

[Party: I’m here. -Torque]

[Party: Hey. -Jny] Once all the girls checked in Bailey seemed satisfied.

“Keep these on you at all times. We can Whisper to each other even if we’re not in the AlterNet, and no matter what universe we’re in. Be here at 6:30 Saturday morning,” she lifted her hand up to show off the bangle. “These also work as a timer to keep you sync’d up to this Earth. That’s it for today, you’re free to go.” Bailey turned to gather the white briefcase.

“Hey, you guys hungry?” Jenny asked the group.

“Yes,” Dread was the first to answer.

“Starving.” Dirge added.

“I could eat,” Torque said.

“Pizza? My treat. Actually, my parents run a pizza shop. So, I guess it’s their treat,” Jenny corrected herself.

“Please,” Dread said. Dirge and Torque agreed to the invite, but Bailey was walking away.

“You’re invited too, Bailey!” Jenny half-shouted at the girl. She shook her head and kept walking away.

[Party: No thanks. Busy. -Bailey] She replied in a Whisper without turning around.

“Rude,” Dirge commented under her breath, but Dread elbowed her in the side to quiet her.

“C’mon, follow me for pizza,” Jenny smiled at the three girls left and headed off the field. Jenny led them to the downtown area, only a few blocks away from the derby stadium.

“Hey,” Jenny said. The group walked in silence for the first leg of the trip until she broke the silence. She looked at Dread.

“Thanks for sticking up for me,” then she smiled at Dirge. “You too.” Both girls smiled at her.

“What’d I miss?” Torque asked.

“I’m a Zero. Everyone else was trying to give me a hard time about it, but they,” she gestured at Dirge and Dread, “didn’t.”

“Oh! You’re the Zero. Sorry, I don’t hate Zeroes, I just wanted to give the right answer,” she apologized. Jenny nodded.

“We’re cool,” she said. Jenny turned a corner, and the girls followed. Moments after turning, a high pitched shriek filled the air.

“OHMYGOD!!” Dirge squealed. Jenny and Torque turned to see what happened. Dirge jumped in place clapping her hands, and Dread wore a giant smile.

“What’s going on?” Jenny asked. Dread pointed at a building behind Jenny. She turned and found a red brick Chinese restaurant with a red neon sign that read: “Donna Chang’s”.

“What about it?” Jenny asked.

“It’s the best Chinese food ever. Let’s go there!” Dirge said. Jenny shook her head.

“Can’t. No money, but pizza’s free,” she said. Dread hooked Jenny’s arm in her hand and pulled her towards Donna Chang’s.

“It’ll be free too,” Dirge said.

“Uhh. me too?” Torque asked. She was not sure if they were only offering to cover Jenny’s meal, but Dirge nodded.

“Totally. C’mon!”

The girls reached the entrance and pushed the heavy glass door inward. A tinny bell over the door announced them as customers. A short, elderly Asian woman walked out of the kitchen and smiled at Dirge.

“Threnody!” she walked straight to the shirt girl and gave her a hug. Then the woman smiled at Dread and nodded. “Dread. It’s good to see you girls again.”

“This is Jenny,” Dirge pointed at the girl with black spikey hair. “And that’s Torque. We’re gonna hang out here a lot, okay?”  The woman smiled and nodded her head.

“Of course, your friends are always welcome here,” she said. “Sit,” she gestured at a large red booth with a wooden table in the center of it. “Order when ready,” Mrs. Chang said, then she left the girls alone.

“Free pizza and free Chinese food? This is the best team ever,” Torque joked. The girls giggled. Torque and Jenny each grabbed a menu to browse, but Jenny noticed Dirge and Dread did not grab theirs.

“Hey this place hasn’t been here very long, and I’ve never seen you two. How are you regulars here?” She asked.

“Mrs. Chang is a Unique and she takes her restaurant with her whenever she goes to a new universe,” Dread explained.

“Oh wow, I never thought of that,” Jenny said.  After browsing their menus for a few minutes Torque and Jenny let Dirge know they were ready to order.

“You guys want to see something cool?” Dirge asked. They nodded. Dirge leaned in toward the center of the table and waved them closer as if she was going to reveal a secret. Jenny and Torque leaned in and turned their heads slightly to listen.

“Takeru.” Dirge said. Her whisper was nearly inaudible to them.

“Yes, Ms. Threnody?” a deep voice sounded from behind her. Torque and Jenny jumped in their seats at the sudden sound. They looked up to see a large, tall man in a cook’s outfit. Various dragon tattoos in different colors decorated both of his arms.

“Sesame chicken for me, and orange beef for Dread,” she said. Then Dirge gestured at Jenny and Torque for their orders.

“Broccoli Beef,” Torque said.

“Sweet & Sour chicken,” Jenny ordered. The burly man nodded.

“Yes, Ms. Threnody.” Takeru nodded and walked away.

“Is he a Unique too?” Torque asked. Dirge shook her head.

“No, he’s just a dragon.”

Las Luchadoras 3

“When I was nine my parents ran a small restaurant,” Dana Sharp said. She stood at an elegant dark wood podium on a stage made from the same wood. The stage sat in the center of a high school football stadium that was filled to capacity. 14 cameras poked out of 14 individual small, black portals in front of the stage. Each camera broadcasted the event to a different Earth. A 15th camera sat on the field to broadcast locally. “Nothing fancy, just pizza. One night a group of Uniques, Celestials, came through and treated my parents like garbage. My father did his best to prepare delicious food for them, while my mother did her best to meet their needs.” Dana shook her head. “It wasn’t enough.” Dana paused to take a breath and her hand moved up to wipe something out of her eye.

“I don’t know if there was anything special about that group, or if it happened to be the final straw… After we closed up that night my mother cried in the kitchen while my father gave me a piece of advice that I’ll never forget. ‘We’re Zeroes,’ he said. ‘There’s a billion other versions of you out there. We’ll never be as special as Uniques.  But,’ he said to me,” Dana brought a hand up to her chest. ” ‘I want you to try and be the best YOU.’ ” She let her hand fall.

“I vowed that no matter how many more of me were out there, THIS Dana Sharp was going to be the best one. Every bit as good as any Unique out there.” Cheering applause flowed through the stadium. She lifted her arms to bask in the applause.

“Today I run a major corporation, Sharp Development, across 15 universes. My AlterNet is accessible from over a thousand universes. Today, Uniques work for me.” Dana paused for applause and looked at the side of the stage. A group of five girls stood huddled together waiting for the right signal.

“But it’s not about Zeroes or Uniques being better than each other, it’s about being equals. Starting today Sharp Development will be sponsoring a roller derby team. Our goal is to help foster teamwork and cooperation between Zeroes and Uniques, for the good of everyone! Let’s start the introductions, shall we?” After the applause died out Dana waved at the group of girls. The first girl to climb on the stage wore blue jeans and a green t-shirt. Her long, chestnut pony-tail bobbed as she crossed the stage to stand next to Ms. Sharp.

“Bailey Martin,” Dana introduced her. Bailey bowed for the crowd and stood back. “Bailey is Unique #06, La Sirena. In the AlterNet she’s a human cardmage with a mermaid soul, give her a hand!” The audience cheered. A dark-skinned girl climbed on the stage next. She wore red high-top shoes and a red skirt with a black t-shirt. Two small, black afro puffs sat on her head, one on each side. Dana introduced her as she crossed the stage.

“Britt Matthews, known in the AlterNet as Torque. Britt is Unique #35, La Estrella. Her character, Torque, is a human elementalist, with the soul of a fire elemental,” Dana said. Britt gave a casual wave at the crowd and stood next to Bailey. A girl with black ringlet curls wearing a black and orange gothic lolita skirt climbed on stage next.

“Threnody Ingram, Dirge in the AlterNet. Threnody is Unique #14, La Muerte. Dirge is a fairy bard with a unicorn soul.” Dirge clapped excitedly to herself and eagerly waved at the crowd until Bailey stepped forward and put a hand on her shoulder. She fell back and stood next to Torque. Then, a tall girl wearing blue jeans and a red t-shirt climbed on stage. Her hair pointed upward in white short spikes.

“Dread Hansen. Dread is Unique #42, La Calavera. In the AlterNet, she’s a mermaid beastmaster with a tiger’s soul.” Dread was already standing next to Dirge by the time Ms. Sharp finished her introduction. She did not bother to acknowledge the crowd at all.

“And finally…,” Dana said. A girl with black hair that matched Dread’s hairstyle climbed on the stage. She wore blue jeans and a purple t-shirt.

“Jenny Minami. In the AlterNet, she’s a human programmer with a cyber soul. Out of the AlterNet, she’s a Zero like me. Like all of you.” Applause roared through the audience.

“Not only is this Zero good enough to be on a team full of Uniques, she’s good enough to lead them. Jenny will be the team captain. This hard-working young lady embodies everything we at Sharp Development are working for.” Jenny stood next to Dread, but Dana looked over her shoulder to wave the girl forward.

“This press conference was to introduce the team, but there is one more thing,” Dana said. She reached into the pocket of her white suit and pulled out a thin purple bracelet. She handed the bracelet to Jenny, then addressed the audience again.

“I mentioned earlier that the AlterNet can be accessed from over a thousand Earths, but I’ve never been one to rest on my laurels. Sharp Development has been hard at work on the next AlterNet expansion, and I’d like to give you all a peek at the fruits of our labor.” She turned her head and winked at Jenny. The girl nodded and put the bracelet on. Then she pulled her node out of her jean pocket.

“I made the AlterNet an even playing field for Uniques and Zeroes, but that’s just the beginning. I envision a future where Uniques and Zeroes are on an even playing field everywhere. Even where there’s no AlterNet access. Like this Earth for example,” Dana said. She stepped to the side to let the cameras focus on Jenny.  The girl held her transparent node high in the air. She looked straight at the camera, smiled, and said her login password.

“Jenny Rocks!” Violet light glowed from her node and everyone in the stadium gasped. Jenny inserted the node into the purple bracelet on her wrist and a purple flash of light consumed the stage. When it cleared Jenny was logged into the AlterNet. Her spiky black hair glowed with blue light. She wore a blue and gold body-suit with black fingerless gloves.

“Soon you’ll be able to access your AlterNet character from anywhere. Zeroes and Uniques on equal terms, everywhere.” A standing ovation resounded through the stadium.

Zero Chance

“Thank you all for coming out today,” A woman with short black hair spoke from a wooden stage in the middle of a stadium. Dirge and Dread stood at the back of the gathered crowd. “Quite a few of you showed up, so we’ll be moving fast. Although before we get started, Ms. Sharp would like to say a few words,” the woman said. She stepped aside and a woman dressed in all white approached the microphone.

“I have four slots available. I hope you’re ready to impress me,” the woman said. Then she walked to a chair on the stage and sat down to wait. The first woman stepped forward again.

“Please log in and join Bailey’s raid group.” She pointed to someone at the front of the crowd and a raised arm appeared. A girl wearing a forest green hoodie, with the hood down, and long brown hair hopped onto the stage next to the woman. “Bailey is team captain, and the reason we only have four slots,” the woman explained.

“They’ve only got two left,” Dirge said. “Right?” She nudged her elbow into Dread’s side. The taller girl nodded.

“Right,” she said.

“The first phase of try-outs will be follow-the-leader. Once we get you down to a manageable number we’ll move on to proper games,” the woman said from the stage. A red light flashed somewhere towards the front of the crowd.

“Do we need to log out and log in again?” Dirge looked at Dread with a confused look. “I don’t know how to join the raid group,” she confessed. Dread shook her head.

“Nah, I already joined us,” Dread said. “You should’ve played the tutorial,” she smiled.

“I think they’re starting,” Dirge pointed at the stage. A black and green naga wearing a long leather tunic climbed on the side of the stage. It slithered to the microphone and pointed a finger towards Dread.

[What did you do? -Dirge] The Whisper from Dirge tickled Dread’s inner ear.

“Uniques only, right? Can we toss that Zero out?” the naga asked before Dread could defend herself. The crowd murmured as they looked at each other, then at Dread to pinpoint the Zero. Dirge looked behind Dread. She saw a girl about her height with spiky black hair that matched Dread’s white spikes.

[She’s behind you. -Dirge] she informed Dread. Dirge gave the girl a quick smile then and faced forward again. She shrugged at the crowd in front of them.

“Who?” the dark haired woman asked into the microphone.

“Behind that Calavera in the red shirt,” the naga said. Dread straightened her back to stand taller.

“Hi, what’s your name?” the woman asked Dread from the stage.

“Dread.”

“Dread, could you step aside please?”

[Don’t do it! -Dirge]

[Not going to. -Dread] She replied to Dirge’s Whisper with one of her own.

“I’m right here!” Dread heard the girl yell from behind her. The girl stepped out from behind Dread, and the crowd parted. Everyone except Dirge and Dread took several steps away from the Zero to make sure that she could be seen.

“Why are you here, Zero?” Ms. Sharp addressed the girl from the stage.

“Because I’m good enough,” the girl said.

[I like her. -Dirge] Dread gave a slight chuckle.

[Me too. -Dread]

“Go home, Zero. You’re embarrassing yourself,” the naga shouted from the stage. Dread looked at the Zero, but she continued to face the stage with no sign of turning away.

“Do you have a problem with Zeros?” Ms. Sharp’s voice sounded quieter. She turned to face the naga, and the microphone only caught part of her voice.

“Nonono, not at all. Sorry, Ms. Sharp,” the naga put her hands up in front of her and backed away slightly.

“You think you’re good enough to keep up with Uniques?” Ms. Sharp’s voice sounded full again as she spoke into the mic, directly at the Zero. The girl nodded.

“I know I am.”

“Let’s find out,” Ms. Sharp said. “Get on the track. Right now.” The girl walked forward. The other applicants shuffled together to close the path behind her. “Bailey? Try her out,” Ms. Sharp said on the stage, then she walked back to her seat. She turned it around to face the track behind the stage. The first woman took the mic again.

“Knock-down contest. Three to win,” she said.

“Let’s go!” Dirge ran around the back of the group towards the track, but all the other Uniques seemed interested too. The crowd flowed to line the side of the white circular track. Dread pushed her way to a spot near the starting line and Dirge managed to follow in her wake. Once comfortable with her spot Dread checked the track. She noticed the Zero logged in already. She wore a blue bodysuit, and her spiky hair glowed with blue light.

The black scoreboard in the center of the track buzzed to start the match. Bailey shot forward as soon as the buzzer sounded, but the Zero was slow to move from the starting line. She pushed hard to catch up to Bailey but seemed to be struggling.

“She can’t even keep up,” a girl next to Dread said. Several Uniques laughed and Dread turned to stare down at the girl who spoke.

“It just started,” Dread said. She glared at the girl then looked at the track again.

[What if she can’t? -Dirge] Dread’s eardrum vibrated.

[She wouldn’t be here. – Dread] She replied to Dirge. It was not long before Bailey completed her first lap. Eight green octahedrons formed a line behind Bailey when she crossed the line. They hovered in the air behind her like ducklings.

“What a loser!” Someone else in the crowd said. A group of Uniques began to boo the Zero. Dread almost turned around to shut them up, but Bailey played her first card. Dread did not want to miss any part of the match.

“Zone: Fairy Forest,” the scoreboard announced Bailey’s play in a deep male voice. The smooth white surface of the track transformed into a bumpy cobblestone path. Several Uniques stepped back as trees and lush green grass shot out of the track along the edges.

The Zero skated towards the finish line but rolled to a stop inches in front of it. The blue glow faded from her hair.

“The Zero’s giving up!” Dread recognized the naga’s croaky voice. Laughter erupted around them, but Dread stared at the Zero.

“Betcha she’s not!” Dirge yelled backward at the crowd. They continued to laugh.

[She’s totally not. -Dirge] Dread smiled when she felt Dirge’s Whisper.


Las Luchadoras 2

Jenny skated along the middle of the cobblestone path in a crouched position. She knew she was approaching the finish line so stood and leaned back to slow down. The bright blue glow faded from her hair leaving black spikes. She turned her body and came to a full stop an inch from the finish line.

“The Zero’s giving up!” The black and green naga yelled. Laughter erupted from the crowd of Uniques. Jenny recognized the croaky voice that pointed her ordinariness, but she ignored it. She focused on the two-inch white stripe that cut through the width of the cobblestone path. She’d done this before, but she knew Ms. Sharp was watching; Jenny needed to impress her.

“‘Betcha she’s not!” another girl yelled. It was a voice Jenny did not recognize and she wondered who it belonged to. She glanced at the crowd and noticed the girl with orange eyes smiling at her. She stood next to Dread, the tall girl with white spiky hair. Jenny realized they both stood up for her and thought they might be friends.

[You’re not, right? -Dirge] Purple glowing text appeared on the lower left corner of Jenny’s vision. She did not like the tickling sensation of Whispers in her ears and chose to route them to her eyes instead.

[No way! Watch this. -Jny] She Whispered a reply then gave Dirge and Dread a thumbs up gesture. Dread smiled.

“I told you!” Dirge yelled at the crowd. Their laughter died down and Jenny realized everyone was staring at her.

Awesome,” she thought. This was her chance to show Ms. Sharp what she could do. “Bailey!” Jenny whipped her head around to find her opponent. The girl stood on the other side of the track with her green hood down and an impatient look on her face. She uncrossed her arms and gestured them forward in a “move it along” motion. “Yep, you just lost,” Jenny giggled to herself. She appreciated the sportsmanship, but it did not mean she wasn’t going to take advantage of it.

Jenny stared down at finish line again then raised her left hand to move it over the line. After her hand crossed over the line she twisted it clockwise 90 degrees. Then she extended and contracted her fingers in different combinations until her hand emitted a soft blue light. A mass of bright, blue nanos gathered around her hand on the other side of the starting line. The glowing dots resembled a swarm of tiny blue fireflies. Jenny felt she collected enough then rotated her hand counter-clockwise. She changed the tempo of her gestures and the nanos flew towards her, but they could not cross the line backward. The swarm flattened like a sheet of paper against an invisible wall, the boundary of the starting line. The nanos formed a blue rectangle large enough for Jenny to walk through like a door.

Jenny pushed her left hand forward and smiled to herself when she heard a gasp from somewhere in the crowd. Her hand hovered in the air as if disconnected from her body.  She turned as she stepped across the line as if she were slipping her body into a coat that someone held for her. She moved through the blue rectangle and emerged on the other side as a disembodied head with floating hands. She faced the crowd then spun in place on her skates to show them her genius. As she twirled, her blue body-suit appeared and disappeared each time her invisible coat caught the wind.

[What did you do??? -Dirge] Jenny smiled herself when she saw the Whisper. Dirge seemed to be friendly and Jenny hoped they would both make the team.

[Hard to explain. -Jny] Jenny replied, but she did not want Dirge to feel blown off.

[Tell you after I win. -Jny] She added.

[Deal! -Dirge]

Jenny turned her attention back to the match. She skated forward again and scanned the track for her opponent. Bailey moved fast around the track with a look of annoyed determination on her face. Jenny decided she did not want to be close to the starting line when Bailey crossed it. She crouched low to increase her speed but skated on the outside lane of the track to keep an eye on Bailey. She thought her new friend might get a kick out of what was about to happen.

[Watch Bailey. -Jny] She sent Dirge a Whisper.

Jenny watched for the moment Bailey completed her second lap. The girl in green skated over the line at full speed, but she immediately slowed to a stop. Bailey looked at the starting line, then at Jenny. Jenny visibly shrugged, then giggled to herself and kept skating.

The sound of a buzzer made Jenny jump. She did not know what it meant, so she stopped and looked around. Ms. Sharp had stepped down from the stage and was walking towards the starting line. Ms. Sharp’s assistant followed close behind her, and she waved Jenny over. Jenny felt a knot tighten in her stomach, but she sighed and skated back to the start. By the time she arrived Bailey, Ms. Sharp, and Ms. Sharp’s assistant stood on the track. The rest of the Unique applicants, including Dirge, Dread, and the naga stood around them in a large circle.

“How did you block Bailey’s card draw?” Ms. Sharp asked Jenny.

“She can’t draw until I finish my first lap,” she explained. Jenny hoped that it sounded less like cheating if she explained it that way. She tugged at her invisible coat. “I haven’t yet.” The crowd didn’t seem to think so.

“CHEATER!” The naga croaked. Jenny hoped the naga did not make the team. Other members of the crowd started to boo, but Ms. Sharp held a hand up. Everyone went quiet.

“What are you?” The pale woman asked Jenny.

“Craftsman, programmer. Swarm Queen spec.”

“Human?” Jenny nodded.

“What soul are you using?”

“Cyber,” Jenny replied. Ms. Sharp stared at Jenny for a couple of seconds, then she nodded.

“Okay, you’re in,” She said. Jenny heard Dirge cheering over the boos from the rest of the crowd.

“I can join the try-outs?” Jenny asked. She was eager to show up the naga. Ms. Sharp shook her head.

“No. You’re on the team.” She turned to walk away, but her assistant made it clear to everyone.

“Three slots left. Line up with Bailey,” she said.

“SHE’S A CHEATER!” the naga yelled again. “Why does she get to be on the team?”

“If you think she cheated, then YOU don’t know how to play the game,” Bailey said. “You’re out.” The naga hissed at Bailey.

“FINE. But if I’m out, I’m taking her with me.” The black and green naga turned towards Jenny and rushed at her. Green light gathered in the snake’s hands. Jenny recognized it as a very painful monk skill that would hit eight times. Even if she had time to block the first, she could not keep up with all eight impacts. The green glowing fist flew towards Jenny’s face. She flinched and blocked with her hands, but the first hit never connected. She peeked through her hands and saw bulky, sea-green tentacles blocking every hit. The naga yelled at Bailey again.

“WHY ARE YOU PROTECTING A CHEATING ZERO?!” she raged.

“She’s on my team. You’re not,” Bailey said flatly. “And I already told you, she didn’t cheat. You can’t cheat in the AlterNet. If she did it, then it can be done. Leave or I’ll make you leave.” The naga stood tall and crossed her arms.

“You can’t make all of us leave,” she said. Most of the other Uniques there for try-outs gathered behind the snake. Before Bailey could reply Dread stepped in front of the naga and stared the snake-girl down. Dirge moved to stand next to Jenny and Bailey.

“We can,” Dread said.

“She’s a Calavera!” Dirge yelled. “She’ll stomp all of you.” Jenny noticed the naga shrank back a bit. She watched the crowd disperse until the naga and another girl were the only ones left. She was a dark-skinned girl with her hair made up in a pair of large black puffs on her head.

“Where’s everyone going? Am I that late?” the new girl asked.

“Hey, do you care if there’s a Zero on the team?” Bailey asked the girl. The girl’s eyes rolled upward while she thought about the question.

“Ummmm… ” Finally she shrugged at Bailey. “Kind of?”

“I’m going to ask you again. Give me a different answer,” Bailey said. “Do you care if there’s a Zero on the team?”

“YES!” the girl yelled.

“No.” Bailey corrected her.

“NO!” she repeated.

“Great, you’re on the team.” Bailey looked at the naga. “Why are you still here? Roster’s full.”

Home Track

Sunday Free Write

“Let’s see how you did,” Jelly_Jim stood in front of the Dirge and Dread, the sun glistened through his green translucent body. Once the girls returned from their first task he took them to the derby track for a quick test. “Let’s see your beast,” he asked Dread. The tall white-haired girl nodded and stepped forward. She took a deep breath and summoned Thunder without using her menu. A golden tiger leapt out of the yin-yang symbol on the back of her leather jacket and padded around to the stand between her and Jelly_Jim. The slime man nodded at her.

“Nice. How ‘bout you?” He looked at Dirge. The shorter girl with raven curls nodded and held her hand out. A silver bell with a black strap materialized in her hand. He gave her an approving nod, then looked at both girls.

“Now I can train you. A million Cubes each,” he said with a smile.

“What?” Dread asked.

“You didn’t mention that!” Dirge added as she stamped her foot in anger. Jelly_Jim’s viscous shoulders flowed upward in a shrug.

“It didn’t matter because you weren’t ready. I gave you some advice, but I didn’t think you’d survive from the Schoolyard,” he said. “I’ll admit it, you’re better than I thought.” Dirge and Dread high fived each other, but the gelatinous man shook his head. His body wobbled. “But, still not good enough to train for free.”  Dirge smirked. She brought her hand up to show Jelly-Jim a red and white poker chip, then she flipped it at him with her thumb. Jelly-Jim snatched the token out of the air and inspected it. His eyes widened.

“How’d you get this?” His hand swallowed the token into his translucent body and it flowed up his arm, then it disappeared when it reached his torso.

“You just agreed to train us, right?” Dread asked. His head wobbled when he shook it back and forth.

“I agreed to take a closer look at you. Maybe you’ll be worth training for free. Where’d you get the chip?” He asked again.

“It doesn’t matter,” Dirge chirped with a smile.Jelly_Jim gave a lopsided grin.

“That’s fair. Okay, no hustles this time. You two against me in a straight knockdown contest. Sound good?” Both girls nodded in agreement.

“Excellent, don’t hold back.” A translucent square menu coalesced in the air in front of them to present the game invite.

“Challenge from Jelly_Jim: Knockdown Contest.”

[Ready? -Dirge] Dread felt the Whisper tickle her inner ear.

[Yeah. -Dread] She replied. Dread clenched her fists. Dirge still held the bell in her right hand, and she reached out to accept the invite with her left. She touched the display to accept the invite, and it began to disintegrate into nanos. Before it completely disappeared Dirge shouted at Jelly_Jim to distract him.

“HEY!” A small, flat silver blade shot from her mouth and embedded itself inside Jelly_Jim’s see-through body. Dirge rang her bell and the silver spike began to glow inside him with golden light.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Dread yelled the blade with her Tiger’s Roar ability. Jelly_Jim doubled over to hold his stomach. He groaned for a split second before he exploded.

“Winners: Dirge and Dread,” A deep voice announced from the scoreboard. Dirge and Dread gave each other another high five while green slime rained down on them. Green slugs crawled their way back to the the bottom half of his slime body lay. They melded into one mass and formed Jelly_Jim again. He smiled at them.

“I really underestimated you, that was brilliant,” he said.

“So you’ll teach us?” Dirge asked. Jelly_Jim shook his head again.

“I specialize in teaching Uniques to use their powers in the game. You’ve got that down. Looks to me like you just don’t know how to play the game,” he said. “I’ve got nothing to teach you.”

“You could teach us to play?” Dread asked.

“The game is too complicated. The best way to learn is practice, go play some games,” he said. “I’ll let you use this track any time you want,” he held his hand up and produced the red and white poker chip again. “Consider this a rental fee.” It disappeared into his hand again. “But playing against other Uniques is the only way you’re going to get better.” Dirge looked at Dread.

“Try-outs?” she asked. She pulled the flyer out to remind Dread. The taller girl nodded.

“Yeah, Sounds fun,” Dread smiled. She glanced around the smooth white track. “And we’ve got a home track to practice on.”