Okay, Go!

Upside Down & Inside Out – OK Go

Upside Down & Inside Out – OK Go

(00:00)

“I’m ready. I want to be a Unique,” Jenny said. After wrestling with the question for weeks, she made her decision. Now, she stood in Ms. Sharp’s lab eager to go through the procedure. Ms. Sharp smiled and patted the Asian girl’s spiky black hair.

(00:14)

“I knew you would. Hop on the table,” the pale woman pointed at the metal and leather examination table. Jenny climbed on the table to lay on her back. Despite feeling confident of her decision, the process itself made her nervous.

(00:25 – 00:35)

Ms. Sharp walked to the control panel to start pressing buttons and flipping switches.

(00:36)

Ms. Sharp held a node up for Jenny.

“I need a container for your new soul, I’m planning to use a standard node. Do you have a custom one you’d prefer to use?” she asked. “I don’t think it matters too much, but I know you’re particular about your equipment.”  Jenny nodded the reached into her jacket for a node. She gave the transparent rectangle to Ms. Sharp with a nod.

She accepted the node and walked around to the head of the exam table. She inserted the node into a metal slot built into the table.

“You said it’s gonna hurt, right?” Jenny asked.

(01:01)

“Yes,” she replied. Jenny nodded.

“I’m ready,” she said.

“Are you sure? Do you know what you’re doing?” Ms. Sharp asked. “I know I told you, but you need to see it for yourself.” She pointed at a wall and an image appeared on it.

(01:10)

Jenny saw herself on the monitor. Thousands of herself. Some were older, some were male, but she knew they were all her. They seemed to be contained in a large warehouse.

“What gives you the right to do what you’re about to do?” Ms. Sharp asked Jenny.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Then she opened them again and locked eyes with Ms. Sharp.

“I got here first,” Jenny said firmly. “If I would do it, they would too.”

(01:27)

“‘Atta girl!” Ms. Sharp smiled and touched the girl’s arm for reassurance. “However, it’s one thing to say that,” she shrugged. “… it’s quite another to see it through. I need to be sure you understand the consequences. Tell me what’s going to happen.”

“All my alternate selves are going to die. All of those,” Jenny cocked her head at the while while keeping her focus on Ms. Sharp.

“Look at them, not me,” Ms. Sharp said. Jenny faced the screen.

“All of them are going to be killed. Right now. The rest will probably fall into comas and die. No more of me will be born. I’ll be the only me in any universe,” she said. She felt tears brush her cheeks but she refused to acknowledge them in any way.

“Okay. I’m convinced you know the consequences. Are you ready?”

(02:00)

“Ready,” Jenny said. A tall black portal appeared next to Jenny and Melody, a short woman with short, dark hair walked out.

“Sorry to interrupt, Hey Jen,” Melody smiled and gave the girl a polite wave before turning back to Ms. Sharp. “There’s a concern with the Yggdrasil project, I thought you should know.” Melody handed Ms. Sharp a node, but the rest took place behind Jenny’s view.

“I’m sorry Jenny, this needs my attention right now. Melody can finish the procedure. She knows the equipment as well as I do, and as I mentioned last time she’s already gone through it. Is that okay?” Jenny nodded.

“Okay, no problem. I understand,” Jenny said. She wanted Ms. Sharp to be there with her, but she knew if she postponed it she would chicken out. She trusted Melody and it helped to know she’s gone through it too. Ms. Sharp walked into the portal and disappeared without saying anything else.

“Everything’s ready, it looks like you were about to start. What’d’ya say, Jen?”

“I’m ready,” Jenny stared at the screen even though Ms. Sharp left.

(02:30 – 02:44)

Melody hit the start switch. All at once the duplicates on screen toppled over. They collapsed in a heap and purple energy began to fill the air. The energy was absorbed into the walls and channeled into the the docked node.

(02:45 – 03:15)

“There we go,” Melody said. She hit a second switch and the node popped out of the slot. She pulled it out and handed it to Jenny. “All set.” Jenny accepted the node with a look of confusion.

“That’s it? I thought it would take longer,” she said. Melody shook her head.

“Nope, this is the easy part.”

“Easy part? I thought there was only one part. And Ms. Sharp said it was going to hurt a lot.”  Melody’s eyes widened.

“No pain?” she asked. Jenny shook her head.

“Oh I see, that’s why you thought there was only one part. I don’t know why she didn’t tell you about the rest yet,” Melody shrugged.

“We need to remove your soul to make room for that one. That’s the part that hurts.”

Ticket to Ride

“Might as well,” Lucy shrugged. She accepted the plate with two slices on it with a nod of thanks. “We’re all gonna die anyway.”

“Don’t say that,” Mando smiled at her as he plated another pair of slices. “My wish has worked out pretty well so far.” He patted the brick oven on the side. “This thing hasn’t let me down yet,” the older man smiled at the rest of his gathered friends. Though their attention was on the news, not on him. Mando’s large screen TV showed skeletons raining out of black holes in the sky. The view switched to different cities, but it was always raining skeletons. Each member of the small group that showed up took turns looking up at the sky. Lucy laughed.

“You’re right! I remember when it popped out at that banana and honey pizza,” her laughter drew everyone else’s attention. Greg, Mando’s stepson, joined in on the laughter as well.

“We didn’t know what to do with it! HAHA. We left it out and the next thing we know a monkey shows up from out of nowhere and starts eating it!” He doubled over in his seat, red-faced from laughter.”

“And then the doorbell rang,” Carla took over the story with a broad smile. “A clown was going door to door looking for his lost monkey.” She nodded at the pizza oven, then patted Mando on the shoulder. “That monkey’s favorite pizza was banana and honey, the clowns give it to him as a treat sometimes.” She shrugged. “There’s no way any of us could have known that, but it worked. That’s why we’re here today.”

“Or to spend our last day together,” Lucy added.

“Have some faith in the oven!” Carla said with a smile.

“Fine. I have faith in the oven,” Lucy rolled her eyes. After her statement, the oven dinged to let them know another pizza was ready. Mando looked at his guests’ plates, but everyone had at least a slice.

“Did someone want something else?” he asked while he moved to the oven. He grabbed the wooden peel and pulled the pizza out. “Uhh. Looks like ham and pineapple.”

“Gross, no,” Lucy replied first, but the rest of them seemed to agree the pizza sounded disgusting.

“AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH” Lucy shrieked suddenly. Mando looked to see what the problem was. The short woman pointed at a vertical black hole hovering a foot off the ground.

“Get behind me!” Mando moved to stand in front of his guests. He held the loaded pizza peel in front of them. He saw white come out of the portal and panicked. He swung the peel like a catapult to launch the steaming pizza at the portal.

A deafening yell, louder than a train whistle, caused the pizza to explode in mid-air. The volume drove Mando and his friends to their knees. Once they were on the ground the sound stopped.

“Rude!” a girl’s voice said. Mando did not recognize it.

“We probably scared them,” another girl said. Mando looked up and saw three young girls. A tall one with short, spiky white hair, a short one with long black curls, and one between them with short, spiky black hair.

“Hi.” the Asian girl with black spikes waved. “Sorry if we scared you.” Mando felt safe enough to stand up. He helped Lucy up while Greg helped Carla. Once they were all on their feet Mando looked at the dark-haired girl and nodded.

“I think we’re all okay. Sorry for throwing the pizza at you. We thought you were invading. Who are you?” he asked.

“Oh! I’m Jenny,” she smiled. “That’s Dread,” she pointed at the tall white-haired girl. “And that’s Dirge,” she gestured at the girl with dark curls. “Why did you think we were invading?” she asked. Mando pointed at the TV. Black portals continued to rain skeletons on cities.

“We need to leave. Now,” Dread said. Dirge nodded and turned towards the portal.

“What’s going on?” Jenny asked.

“Ballisea’s taking over.” Dread answered her.

“Whoa…” Jenny watched the TV for several seconds. “You said she was powerful… but…. wow..”

“Let’s go, Jen.” Dread placed a hand on her shoulder. The girl nodded and turned to go back into the portal. She caught sight of the pizza remnants on the ground.

‘Oh man! Was that ham and pineapple?” She stopped before entering the black hole. “I love ham and pineapple.” The girl turned toward Mando. “Hey. Got any more?” The oven dinged and Mando nodded.

“I do if you take us with you.”

“Okay,” Jenny smiled.

“And the oven too!” Carla added.

“Uh..”Jenny looked at Dirge. The curly-haired girl nodded with a shrug.

“Okay!”


Choice of Millions

[OT] Free-form Friday

Jenny stepped out of the pitch black, vertical hole that hovered in the air into a bright, white office lobby. A black cat with a red skull pattern in the fur atop its head followed her out of the portal, then the hole disappeared. The spiky-haired girl greeted the receptionist.

“Hi, Melody! Janet said Ms. Sharp wanted to see me?” She asked the woman.

“Hey, Jenny,” the dark-haired woman nodded. “Yup, she’s waiting for you,” the woman pointed at the door behind her. “Go on in.” Jenny walked toward the door and the black cat followed her.

“Janet, you can wait out here.” The cat hopped onto the secretary’s desk and stared at her.

“I’ll wait where ever I want, thanks,” Janet, the cat, said. She swished her dark bushy tail and another, smaller portal opened over the desk. She walked through it and disappeared. Melody and Jenny shrugged at each other, then Jenny continued into the office. Ms. Sharp stood from behind her desk when Jenny entered and smiled at her.

“Jenny! Congratulations on the win, you girls did a great job out there. Come sit down, we have something important to discuss.” The tall woman gestured at the seat in front of her large wooden desk. Jenny sat down while her mind wondered what was so important. She smiled at Ms. Sharp. “You know…,” Ms. Sharp began to pace around the room instead of sitting back down herself. “After you lost the first game I doubted myself a little bit.” She walked behind Jenny, and the girl needed to turn her seat to keep her focus on the woman in the white suit. She looked at Jenny and pointed a finger at her. “I doubted you very much.” Jenny’s stomach knotted itself with those words. She looked up to Ms. Sharp in so many ways, and the young girl could not stand being doubted by her. She decided it would never happen again.

“I almost kicked you off the team, but Bailey made me give you another chance,” Ms. Sharp explained. Jenny’s eyes went wide.

“Bailey did that for me?” She asked. Ms. Sharp nodded. “Wow… I thought she didn’t like me.” Jenny meant to mumble the comment to herself, but Ms. Sharp heard. The woman smiled at Jenny.

“You know she’s a Sirena, right?” Jenny nodded.

“Yeah…?” Jenny gave a half nod while she wondered what that had to do with anything. “OH!” The connection struck her like a bolt. “Oh, no… I never even considered she was controlling her emotions…  I just thought she didn’t like me because I’m a Zero.” Jenny’s head dipped slightly, but she kept her eyes on her chosen mentor.

“Not at all. She treats Uniques and Zeros exactly the same,” Ms. Sharp said. “Want to test her?” She asked Jenny with a smile.

“I… what?”

“I called you here because Bailey can’t keep up with the duties of being a Team Captain anymore. She recommended that you take over.” Jenny started smiling and discovered she couldn’t stop. She started nodding her head.

“YES! I’LL DO IT!” She jumped to her feet. Ms. Sharp held up a hand.

“It’s not quite that straightforward,” she said. Jenny let herself fall back to her chair. Ms. Sharp continued to pace around the room while she explained the situation. Jenny continued to turn in her seat to watch, thankful the chair spun with her. She caught a slight sigh from Ms. Sharp before the woman began speaking again.

“On paper, in public, you’re already the team captain. But the sticking point is I have investors I need to answer to. They’re fine with a Zero being the team captain on paper. Unfortunately, they’re less fine with a Zero being the actual team captain.” Jenny clenched her fists discreetly to hold back the tears.

“So then I can’t ever be the real captain?” she asked with a cracked voice.

“Well, that’s up to you. How important is it for you to be the captain?”

“I’ll do anything!” she said. Ms. Sharp nodded.

“I thought you might. The board members won’t accept a Zero team captain, so all we have to do is make you a Unique, right?”

“Yeah. Easy. Something that can’t be done.” Ms. Sharp shook her head and walked to the girl. She placed a hand on her shoulder and looked down at her.

“Jenny… It’s like you don’t know who I am. Do you think I would bring you here just to tell you something is impossible? Do you believe that I think anything is impossible?”

“You can do it? YOU CAN REALLY DO IT??!” Jenny jumped off her seat and wrapped her arms around the woman. “I wanna be a Sol! I mean, please. PLEASE!” She bounced in place still holding Ms. Sharp. After a moment the woman managed to free herself from Jenny’s grip.

“I can do it, but it’s dangerous, and it hurts. A lot.”

“You’ve done it?” Jenny asked. “Of course you’ve done it. What are you?” Again, Ms. Sharp shook her head.

“Not yet I haven’t. I don’t like pain, so I’ll wait until I make the process painless. Melody has though, she’s good with pain. She’s #35, La Estrella.”

“Cool. Yeah! I don’t care how much it hurts. I’ll do it.” Ms. Sharp walked to her desk and sat down in front of Jenny.

“First of all, I can’t make you a Sol. To do it I need one of the souls that you want to be. At the moment I only have plant souls handy. If your team continues to do well for me I’ll upgrade you to another tier when I get a chance.”

“I’ll take it!” Ms. Sharp held up a hand.

“And, you need to know the process. You understand what Uniques are, right? There would only be one of you. No more “you”s  in any universe. But, and this is the important part, to turn you into a Unique I need to kill a million of your Zeros. After that, all the ones that I don’t kill will die anyway. No more of you will be born. So you have to figure out whether you’re willing to make that decision for all your doppelgangers.”


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.