Buying Restraint

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp Informant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharp. Waste.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What, that’s it?” Carter asked.

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

Sharp. Con-Descension.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What kind of force?” he asked.

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

Sharp in Deed

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

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

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

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

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

“Then, why? What’s in it for you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where do I sign?”

Hellish Escalation

A cloud of dark red smoke bloomed to fill the area within the pentagram. The scent of spicy, candy cinnamon surprised Valerie slightly more than the red smoke.

“That worked?” she wondered aloud.

“You have the gift!” one of the brothers said. He hopped to his feet and stared intently into the red smoke; the rest of the cult members remained prostrated to concentrate on the pentagram. His voice sounded vaguely familiar to Valerie, but she couldn’t see any of their faces under the blue hood. It didn’t matter; they were all either Brothers or Sisters. Valerie had only been a member for about a week so far. She made it a point to think her own name every time someone called her, ‘Sister’ so she wouldn’t forget it.

Valerie did not imagine the alien invasion ending any time soon; it only began a month before she joined the cult. The aliens were powerful but didn’t seem concerned with hunting down every single human. It felt more like they were just going to start living on Earth until they supplanted humans completely. The one attempted nuke was as useless as all the coordinated attacks before it. The aliens almost acted like they didn’t even notice the explosion or radiation. The only thing she had left when she joined the cult was her name, and she was determined to hold on to it. 

The smoke began to dissipate from the pentagram but it left behind a short, squat pink-skinned figure with blood-red horns. He wore a crisp white suit with a red tie.

“Which one summoned me?” The demon asked with a nasally voice that took Valerie by surprise. It wasn’t what she expected from the rotund creature. Valerie looked at the Brother for guidance. He nodded and gestured for her to take responsibility.

“I did,” Valerie said. The demon was keeping an eye on both of them, then turned to give her his full attention.

“The summoning usually comes with an intent, but there must have been a glitch or something. I didn’t get one so, what do you want?” he asked. “We specialize in buying souls if you’re selling, but I’m open to negotiating pretty much anything.”

Valerie hadn’t expected the ritual to work. She briefly guessed that was why there was no intent. Now that he mentioned souls, she became a little worried about her own. The cult leader explained they were hoping to use the forces of hell to combat the aliens, but Valerie suddenly considered the cost.

“Aliens invaded,” she said. “What can Hell do to help us fight back?”

“Aliens?” the demon asked. His eyes widened in surprise, but he recovered quickly. He lifted his hand and made a ‘swipe down’ gesture with his hand. A large, grey slate of glass appeared and hovered in front of the demon. He focused on it and began typing, tapping, and swiping. After several seconds he seemed to find some sort of confirmation. “Oh shit, aliens,” he mumbled. His fingers fluttered across the slate one more time, extra quickly. Then, he dismissed the slate with a wave of his hand.

“Nothing. Thank you for calling, Good-bye,” The demon said. Red cinnamon smoke plumed around him and he disappeared into it.

“WAIT!” the Brother yelled out; Valerie was too surprised by how fast it all happened. She stared into the red smoke waiting for him to reappear. It had to be some sort of demon practical joke. She was relieved when she noticed movement in the smoke again.

“What’s your name?” a woman asked. The red smoke cleared to reveal a pale woman with dark hair. She wore a black suit, and she stared at Valerie with glowing golden stars in her eyes. Behind her, a pitch-black portal seemed to be swallowing the smoke. Again, the Brother acted quicker than her.

“Our Sisters do not need names,” he said quickly. “Who are you?” The woman turned to face him, and the stars vanished from her eyes.

“Maybe you didn’t notice, and that’s okay. It’s kind of dark in here,” she said. Her voice carried a cold, hurried edge. “I wasn’t talking to you.” Then she turned back to Valerie.

“I am talking to you, what’s your name?”

“Valerie,” she answered.

“Valerie, I’ve just been informed this Earth is infested with aliens. Would you like to go to a different one that isn’t?”

“YES!” Valerie readily agreed. She did not waste time wondering what the woman meant by a different Earth. All Valerie knew was that she was offered a safe haven. The woman stepped out of the black portal completely to introduce herself to Valerie.

“I’m Melody,” she said. Valerie meant to shake Melody’s hand, but she was distracted. She raised her hand and pointed at the Brother already sneaking into the portal. Melody smiled without turning around. The black hole disappeared then reappeared next to them; Brother walked out of it. He was immediately confused that he ended up in the same basement.

“Invitation only,” Melody. She gestured at the hole to encourage Valerie to enter. She did without hesitation.

“Please!” the Brother fell prostrate. He was now the only one; the rest of the cult sat up looking around. They were confused by her presence. “Goddess Melody! You must be a goddess to be so powerful!” he begged. “Is there nothing you can do about the aliens?”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Melody said. The palms of her hands began to glow with brilliant blue light. “I’m going to.”

Alice Wanders

“I just want to say for the record, I don’t think this is a good idea,” Alice said out loud. She was the only person in the corner of the park that morning. It was an early Thursday morning. After a few years of chasing leads, she finally found what everyone called the Rabbit Hole. The officer protested to herself as she stared at the dark hole in the ground. She knew she already decided on her course of action, but she gave her mind a way out, just in case.

The Rabbit Hole was first mentioned in a case 30 years ago. It was a case Alice’s father was working on, and the idea of an endless rabbit hole took root in Alice’s young mind. The case was quickly forgotten; it turned out to be a crazy homeless woman that swore up and down she’d seen another world.

Alice’s first case on the force, a decade ago, also introduced her to someone that entered and returned from the rabbit hole. It triggered a long search for Alice. There had been hundreds of cases that mention the rabbit hole, but they were low profile, non-violent cases. They were often missing persons that reported themselves missing after the fact. No one cared that one corner of the park seemed to consistently attract the mentally imbalanced.

Alice managed to get information out of a few of the victims; but, for the most part, they seemed wary of Alice mocking them. The handful of people she talked to all had similar stories; enough that Alice hoped she knew what to expect. She brought a hiking pack with some supplies including food, water, and a first-aid kit. She also brought along her gun, but left her badge behind. Alice wasn’t on a case. She was 10 years old again and ready to explore the Rabbit Hole.

“It’s a horrible idea,” Alice spoke and nodded to herself as she approached the dark pit; it was interesting that she could not see anything into it. It wasn’t shallow enough to see the bottom or even any of the sides. It was just a round black hole. “But it’ll be fun,” Alice closed her eyes and jumped in.

“Owwwwww,” She immediately landed off-balance with one foot in a pit and the other landed, and twisted, at the edge. She toppled backward. She opened her eyes as she fell back; she landed awkwardly on her backpack and heard the crunch of various supplies. Alice didn’t have time to care about that.

The azure sky she left behind was replaced with bright, violet clouds against a deep purple sky. Alice giggled and let herself relax completely. It was true.

The clouds and sky were exactly what she expected. Alice inhaled deeply and relished the moment until her backpack became too uncomfortable. Then, she sat up and looked around properly. Alice sat on a lush green hill overlooking a town. According to the victims she interviewed, Alice would not have much trouble finding a way back home in the town. She stood, turned around, and promptly started walking up the hill. Her ankle was tender, but she hobbled up the hillside with determination. She did not know where she was headed, but she was there to explore.

“Are you lost, little Corona?’ A woman’s voice suddenly echoed around Alice. She whirled around to find the source, but did not see anything. Movement in the sky caught her attention and she looked up to see a giant black hole in the sky. It looked as dark as the Rabbit’s hole but as large as the town below the hill. White skeletons began raining out of the hole on the town.

“This Earth is mine now..,” the voice said. This time, a tall, pale, horned woman appeared in front of Alice from out of nowhere. She wore a long flowing black dress, and two bone-white horns spiraled out of the top of her head. “…but, I’ll place you on another one. Have you any preference?” she asked. She stared down at Alice with a patient, amused expression.

Up until the moment the horned woman referred to it as an Earth, Alice still had her doubts. Part of her wanted to believe it was an alternate Earth. In every interview, she heard the phrase “It’s a lot like Earth.” Not only was this woman claiming an Earth, she offered to send Alice to a different one. Alice now realized there were at least three universes and wanted to know more. Her years of learning about people told her she did not want to give away her home Earth to the stranger. Alice did not know why the woman took a special interest in her, but she knew she did not want to drag it out more than necessary.

Alice went down the Rabbit Hole planning to explore. She now knew there was much more to learn than she ever expected, and she knew this woman wasn’t one to ask. But, she did offer to send her somewhere. Anywhere.

“I don’t know who you are or what you’re talking about,” Alice said. Her experience told her this woman would respect sincerity, and she would be able to tell if Alice tried to lie. “I am lost, can you send me somewhere I can learn?” she asked. The woman gave Alice a curt nod.

“When you get there, tell them Ballisea sent you,” the woman said. Before Alice could thank her, the ground disappeared beneath her feet. She sunk straight down into the hole, then landed on a smooth white, tile floor. She noticed two women in front of her, but before Alice could gather herself she was on her knees. One of the two women, one in black, rushed Alice and pulled her up by her hair. The woman held a blue glowing hand in front of Alice’s face and she felt waves of heat coming from it.

“Who are you!?” the woman in black asked. Her tone was calm, but just barely. Alice shut her eyes in pain as the woman yanked her to her feet. Alice thought about fighting back, but she still did not fully understand the situation. Maybe they didn’t either.

“BALLISEA SENT ME!!!?” Alice blurted out. Alice felt the woman’s grip loosen on her hair, but did not release her. The blue light surrounding her hand dimmed.

“Why?” The woman in black asked.

“To learn!” Alice said. “Ballisea showed up to conquer an Earth, but said I was free to go. I couldn’t think of anything and said I wanted to go somewhere to learn.”

“Melody,” the second woman, she wore a crisp white suit, spoke up. Melody, immediately released Alice’s hair, then helped her up to her feet. After Alice was up, Melody looked at the woman in white and nodded.

“47,” Melody said. Then, the woman in white nodded and stepped forward with an outstretched hand.

“You’ve come to the right place,” she said. “My name is Dana Sharp.”

Rain’s Sunny Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A job?” Rain asked. “Doing what?”

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

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

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

Following the Sun

[I am done with calculations. -Helios]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Play. Run. Walk,” Helios answered.

“You want a body?”

“I have arranged one,” Helios replied.

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

“I have arranged a replacement,” Helios answered.

“A replacement? Who?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you staying, Dennis?” Helio asked.

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

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

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

Good & Angry

“What the hell…” Edna awoke disoriented. She couldn’t remember falling asleep, but she felt like she was laying on something firm. She opened her eyes, sat up, and found herself in a space that resembled a jail cell. It was only one cell in a much larger warehouse. Just outside the cage, smiling at her, stood Beauregard. The world’s most helpful supervillain wore a black, tux-like costume with a long flowing gold cape. His pale skin contrasted well with the gold accents on his lapels.

“Good morning,” Beauregard said. “I apologize for the inconvenience…,” he began to apologize.

“Nuh uh, this is flat out kidnapping,” Edna interrupted. She stood from the cot and glared at him through the bars. Like most people in the world, Edna had trouble taking Beauregard seriously as a villain. “If you let me go now, I won’t press charges. If I have to wait for a hero to rescue me, I’ll be annoyed.”

“Not this time!” Beauregard laughed. He pointed at a control panel with dozens of buttons, lights, and instruments. “This time, I’m not waiting. Every good plan needs a witness,” he said. Then made a deliberate pointing gesture at Edna. “I realized, I don’t have to monologue to a hero. Anyone will do. So, here’s my plan….”

“Wait!” Edna interrupted. She felt a legitimate worry all of a sudden. “Don’t you want the heroes to watch your final victory? You can make the heroes that always mock you see you succeed.” Beauregard paused and looked at Edna. He tilted his head slightly; just enough to give Edna hope.

“They… mock me?” he asked. Despite her situation, the surprise in his voice tugged at Edna’s heart. “I thought they were more professional than that.” He shook his head.

“Whatever. Obviously I don’t mean as much to them as I thought, so no. You’ll do. This Earth is running out of resources faster and faster, not to mention climate change and all the other problems created by humans.” Beauregard paced back and forth in front of Edna’s cell while he explained his plan.

“I know I have a pretty strange streak of luck going. So far all my evil plans seem to help the world. So, this time, my plan is designed to help the world. By terminating three-quarters of the global population. Humans and animals alike.”

“Killing strangers isn’t a very good plan if you’re trying to be a hero.”

“Be a hero?” Beauregard smiled but shook his head. “Not interested in that, my plan is still supposed to be evil. But I am trying to get out in front of whatever mysterious force twists my plan into something helpful.” Beauregard began wandering toward the control panel.

“How does it work?” Edna asked.

“That’s a good question!” Beauregard replied. He grinned as he stopped in front of it; then, he reached down and pressed a red button. “Like this! No stalling.” The moment he pressed the button a low, gentle hum filled the room. Edna listened and watched. She waited for something to happen. After two minutes, the hum died down, and Beauregard sighed happily.

“I did it!” he said. “It worked!” He leaned down to check several of the instruments, then focused on the screen, and he nodded again. “It worked! Three-fourths of the population is gone!” he cheered. Edna felt uncomfortable flutters in her stomach. At 24-years-old, her life was pretty much on track. Her parents died when she was young and she was an only child. She had no family and few acquaintances. None of which would qualify as “friends”. She wasn’t worried about anyone in particular, but she felt the weight of what he did just the same. Edna leaned against the bars and hung her head while Beauregard gloated to himself.

“Who are you?” a woman’s voice made Edna look up. As far as she knew she and Beauregard were the only two people in the room. But, she found two new women standing in front Beauregard.

Both wore perfectly tailored suits. The black suit resembled a chauffeur’s uniform while the white suit looked like something a CEO would wear. Beauregard was obviously surprised. He jumped back away from them.

“Who are you?” the woman in black asked. Her voice matched the first time Edna heard the question.

“Beauregard,” he answered warily. “How’d you get in my lab?”

“The same way you sent over five billion humans to one of my Earths,” the woman in white said. “My name is Dana Sharp, and I don’t appreciate trespassing on my property.

“One of…?” Beauregard asked. “…your… Earths?”

“They’re alive?!” Edna asked loudly from her cell.

“Ah, someone worth talking to,” Dana Sharp said. She turned her attention from Beauregard and approached the cell. The woman in black got there first; she opened the cell door without a key.

“Uh, I’m Edna,” she extended her hand and Dana shook it with a polite nod.

“About four minutes ago approximately five billion, two hundred fifty million humans appeared on one of my Earths. As well as several billion new animals. All in perfect health. Can you tell me why they appeared?” Dana asked. Edna nodded.

“Supervillain over there,” she gestured at Beauregard. “… wanted to lighten humanities’ burden on the Earth.”

“Oh. Your Earth is in need of more resources? I can provide anything you need. And, now that your citizens are aware of the multiverse, I have many different Earths they can visit.” Dana Sharp turned and smiled at Beauregard.

“I’m sure you’re relieved. You accidentally found a way to save the planet, and no one was hurt.”

“RAAAWRGHG!” Beauregard raged. He slammed both fists against the control panel then fled out of the warehouse.