Royal Example

“If you’re going to take something, it’s best to ensure it doesn’t already belong to someone,” Ms. Sharp said. The woman in a white suit stood before the world summit with dozens of armed guards surrounding her. She wasn’t scheduled to speak; she emerged from a black portal at the podium, followed by her assistant Melody. A shorter woman in a black suit.

World leaders convened to discuss their success. They found clean water, nutritious soil and a plentiful source of precious metals on the alternate Earth. They’d begun the process of importing supplies by the time the world congress met.

“We sectioned off a hundred square miles,” one of the representatives replied. “Our groups saw no property signs posted or any other indication that section of land was owned.”

“I own the Earth you’ve been dumping your prisoners on for a century. I’ve let that slide, but now I see you’re just horrible neighbors.”

“The Earth?” another delegate chuckled. “No one can own Earth!”

“Melody?” Ms. Sharp asked her assistant.

“15 owned, 529 where we have a presence and almost 5000 unofficial servers,” the short woman replied.

“At a moment’s notice, I can take ownership of almost 5550 Earths. You’re stealing from one of the 15 that I hold very dear. I’m willing to drop the matter and forget about it as long as you stop. And find something else to do with your criminals,” Ms. Sharp said.

“That’s.. that’s impossible!” someone shouted. “There’s no way you can enforce your claim on an entire Earth!”

“That almost sounds like you want proof that I can,” Ms. Sharp replied with a smile. “Oren?” she called for someone. Another black portal appeared next to her, a pale teenager wearing all black walked out.

“I’m assuming there are delegates from all over the world in this room right now,” Ms. Sharp said. “Oren, convince them,” she added.  A red crown glowed in the center of Oren’s pale forehead while everyone watched. The most vocal delegate chuckled when nothing happened after a minute of silence. Then, his phone rang. Then, every phone in the room started to ring.

“Go ahead, answer them,” Ms. Sharp said. The rings quieted down as the delegates each answered their phones. The room filled with chatter for almost five minutes while Ms. Sharp stood at the podium patiently. Then, the delegates started hanging up the phones, but the chatter continued as they talked between themselves.

“How’d you do it?” the mouthy delegate shouted his question angrily.

“Oren,” Ms. Sharp replied. The delegate immediately hopped into the aisle and ran down the stairs screaming wildly and flailing his arms. He stopped in the center of the floor, then calmly turned around to face all the delegates; then he cleared his throat.

“My little buttercup has the sweetest smile…,” he started to sing, then stopped.

“As you can see, Oren can convince anyone to do anything. Like, say, sing a song….”

“I WOULD WALK 500 MILES!” the delegate shouted.

“… or maybe, call their parents, siblings, aunts, cousins at work. Go on and on about how much it would mean to them if the Earth were signed over to me.” The vocal delegate walked to the closest armed guard and leaned down to wrap his mouth around the barrel. Then he smiled around it and gave the guard two enthusiastic thumbs up.

The guard tried to pull away, but the delegate grabbed his arms to keep him in place.

“There’s no limit to what he can make someone do, or where he can make them do it from,” Ms. Sharp grinned. “I wonder how many of you that got a call have guns at home.”

“Does that answer your question?” She turned and asked the suicidal delegate. He immediately pulled away from the barrel sobbing, but nodding his head in understanding.

“Are you going to stop stealing from my Earth now?” she asked. The delegate nodded, but she also heard several positive responses from the rest of the congress.

“Thank you,” Ms. Sharp nodded, then turned around to step into a black portal that Melody created.

“Wait! Don’t you want our Earth?”

“Of course not,” Ms. Sharp turned to say. “You throw people away like garbage instead of helping them. You waltz into the multiverse and take whatever you feel like because of some pitiful sense of entitlement. Your Earth is full of assholes and I want nothing to do with you.” She turned around again and stepped into the portal, followed by Oren then Melody. Then, the black hole disappeared.

Royally Lonely

“Sounds like everyone loves this guy,” Tyler chuckled to himself scrolling the messages.

“He’s back. Get ready!”, “I’ve been waiting!”, “I can’t believe it’s time!”

He returned his phone to the nightstand and rolled over in bed. After a few moments, he felt pressure on his bladder. “Damnit,” he grumbled. He threw the blanket off and padded to the restroom in the dark.

After washing his hands, he turned off the bathroom light, returned to his dark bedroom, but stopped at the doorway. A small, dim, red light illuminated a pale figure sitting on his computer chair. The crimson glow came from the outline of a crown on the boy’s pallid forehead. The stranger didn’t appear to be older than 10 or 11, he was a young boy dressed in all black with a prominent widow’s peak that almost touched the red crown.

Tyler gasped. He recognized the boy as something that looked like a vampire, and someone that didn’t belong in his home; he ran to the kitchen. The mid-20s man scrambled, barefoot in boxers, to the knife drawer. Instead of wasting time turning the light on, he used the light post outside to help him find a weapon. After a second he pulled out a medium-sized bread knife. He chose it over the bigger, sharper butcher knife because unlike that one, he knew the bread knife was made from silver. He spun around wildly expecting the young vampire to be right behind him.

Instead, the boy was only just stepping out of the bedroom. His red glow appeared brighter and more sinister in the darkened, tight hall. The boy walked toward Tyler’s kitchen at a leisurely pace.

“Wanna play?” The boy asked. He stopped walking once he reached the threshold of Tyler’s kitchen where carpet changed to tile.

“STAY BACK!” Tyler yelled and waved the bread knife around. The boy looked down at his unmoving feet, then up at Tyler again; he tilted his head.

“I already am. Wanna play?” he asked again. Tyler stopped swinging the knife and relaxed his arm. He lowered the weapon, but not by much; the boy didn’t seem to be threatening him but he still looked dangerous.

“Who are you?” Tyler asked.

“Oren,” Oren replied.

“How’d you get in my apartment?”

“Uh..,” Oren made a quick gesture at the air next to him. Somehow a small, round section of the empty space became darker. Oren stuck his hand into the darker section and it disappeared; then, Tyler felt something grab his hand. Before he could yell in surprise, Oren pulled his hand out of the darkness again. This time he was holding the silver bread knife. “Like that,” he said. Then, Oren grabbed the blade and stuck his hand into the hole again.

Tyler jumped when the handle popped out of a hole in front of him. He accepted it with the realization that this kid could have killed him a dozen times already if he wanted to. Maybe he really did want to play.

“Play what?” Tyler asked. Oren smiled.

“A game I made. The rest of the building plays but you’re new. So, I had to ask you before we play.”

“Oh!” Tyler abandoned the knife completely. He remembered everyone else’s messages. His new neighbors seemed excited and it sounded like they’d done it before; he reasoned it was safe to agree. “Yeah, I’ll play.” He was about to ask how but Oren spoke up first.

“Thanks!” Oren grinned. He clapped his hands while the crown on his forehead grew brighter and brighter. After a few moments it dimmed again, but somehow the kitchen was still filled with light. Tyler glanced out the window and saw a bright purple sky.

“Did you do that? Why is the sky purple?” he asked Oren. The pale boy nodded. Now that there was more light, Tyler noticed Oren’s light grey eyes.

“It’s easier to just move the building,” Oren said.

“To where?”

“To my game! It’s called the AlterNet, it’s on a different Earth.”

“You teleported the whole 15-story apartment building to a different Earth!???” Tyler asked. He was starting to wonder if it was a dream. Oren giggled.

“Yeah, but it’s not a big deal,” he said. “You should see what my mom can do.”

“100-story buildings?” Tyler asked sarcastically. He decided it would be easier on his mind to accept it as a dream and play along. Oren shook his head.

“I moved your building to a different Earth, right? So, automatically that means there are multiple Earths, right?” Tyler chuckled and shrugged; anything Oren said wasn’t real.

“Sure,” he said.

“What I did with your building, my mom can do with Earths.”

“Neat!” Tyler smiled. “She sounds strong. Well, go get your friends so I can learn how to play the game,” Tyler tried moving the dream along; Oren’s gaze fell to the ground.

“My mom says I can’t have friends,” he said.

“What? No way, what about everyone else in the building?” Oren shrugged.

“I can have fun with strangers that happen to be having fun on my server.”

“But, that’s dumb! You can have friends, what’s she gonna do?”

Oren looked up from the floor to meet Tyler’s eyes; his expression was serious and stern.

“Kill them,” he said.

Sharp Secret

“Hold up,” Aurelio raised his hands in a ‘whoa’ gesture. “Say that again, so you can hear what it sounds like.” Jenny shook her head.

“Oh come on,” she said. “We both know what Dana was capable of. Is this really that surprising?”

“But, Satan? THE devil himself is real.. and he gave Dana Sharp a project?” Jenny nodded. “Then…,” Aury grinned. “…is she in Hell? Oh man, I hope she is.” Jenny shrugged.

“No idea, but I’d say that’s a good guess. Anyway, let me finish,” Jenny took a deep breath and stared into Aurelio’s coffee-brown eyes. “I figured out how to do it.”

“Do what?” Aurelio’s brown eyes narrowed.

“The project she was working on. I know how to finish it.”

“Do you want to finish something for Satan?” Jenny nodded with a broad grin.

“She has two Uniques, both Sols, in her lab that have never been born into a body. The project’s goal is to birth both of them in the same universe.

“I know you’re smarter than she was, but how do you have it figured out after a couple of weeks when Dana couldn’t?” Aury asked. Then his eyes widened as he realized another possibility. “How do we know she’s actually dead, and not getting you to finish her work from the shadows?”

“The answer was at the tournament. I’m sure she realized it; if she was still alive she’d have done it herself.”

“The tournament?” Aurelio asked. “What’s the answer then?”

“Wonder,” Jenny smiled.

“Wonder? The Calavera from CyberRiot?” She nodded eagerly.

“She’s a Unique born naturally in the AlterNet. She let me run some tests, and I’m pretty sure I can duplicate the process that gave her consciousness using the two souls…” Jenny paused and met Aurelio’s eyes again. “…with your help. And, Oren’s.”

“Hah, good luck with that; no one’s seen Oren since the tournament. What do you need from me?”

“Your badge.”

“My badge? What badge?”

“You better still have it!” Jenny reached out and gave Aury a gentle shake. “Your mod badge, from when you worked for Dana. She has a private office in her lab that I can’t access without mod priveledges. I’m sure it’s full of helpful info, maybe even some leads on Oren. She always kept a close watch on him.”

“GUYS!” a sudden shout made Jenny and Aurelio jump in their seats. They turned to find a tall, pale teenager in black clothes; he sported a prominent widow’s peak. Then, Jenny turned to stick her tongue out at Aury before she greeted the newcomer.

“OREN!” she shouted using the same tone he did then followed it up with a giggle.

“Great news,” Oren said; he stood up straighter and puffed out his chest. “I’m celebrating my 18th birthday by having a derby tournament. I want you guys in it: say yes.” Aury and Jenny’s different answers came out at the same time.

“No,” Aury said.

“Yeah!” Jenny jumped out of the couch to hug Oren.

“Great! Help me spread the word: the winning team gets their own server.”

“No,” Aury repeated.

“Yeah yeah, Jenny already said yes. This is gonna be awesome!” Oren waved his hand at the air to open a tall black portal. “I can’t wait to tell my mom I have friends!” he jumped through the portal; it closed behind him leaving Aury and Jenny alone again.

“His mom?” Aury asked. “Did we know he had a mom? I mean, of course he has one but do you know who she is?” Jenny shook her head and sat down next to Aury again.

“No, but if you find your badge, I”ll bet Dana knew.”

Royal Request

Paz lurched awake and ready to fight. The last thing she remembered was being kidnapped by a giant spider. The 14-year-old girl sat up in a comfortable bed in a dim room that she did not recognize; and, she was not alone. The loft-like room almost seemed to be as large as Paz’s house. She rested on what she guessed was a king-size bed with red silk sheets. A pair of ornate wooden nightstands decorated both sides of the bed; each had a small lamp. A lit fireplace was tucked into one wall. A woman sat on a rocking chair, reading by firelight until she heard Paz move.

“Wh- Where am I?” Paz asked. She recognized the pink-haired woman as one of the teachers from school when she turned her attention to Paz.

“Calm down. You’re safe now,” the woman said. She stood from her seat and crossed the room to sit on the bed. “The guard spider brought you here.” Paz exhaled a bit of relief. At least she was still on the same Earth. Thinking about her mission caused her to look at the woman with new appreciation. It could not be a coincidence that she ran into this particular teacher.

“Ms. Knight?” she asked. “Where’s Oren?” Ms. Knight’s delicate features hardened and her eyes narrowed.

“Who told you he was here, and who did you tell?” she asked Paz.

“No one!” Paz said. “It’s why I came alone.” she looked down at the red sheets and lowered her voice. “Jenny told me accidentally, but I promised her I wouldn’t tell anyone.”

“Jenny…,” Ms. Knight growled in the back of her throat, then she shook her head and looked back at Paz. “And? What do you want, an autograph? Your own nanos? If you’re just here to ask for things, go home.” Paz shook her head.

“No! I’m not asking for anything, someone is asking for him.” Anger flashed in Ms. Knight’s eyes and she stood from the bed.

“So you’re just going to hand him over to someone else that’s going to use him like Dana Sharp did?” She said with harsh sarcasm. “Or maybe this person only wants to kill him like Mommy Ballisea? Hmm? Oren wants to be left alone until the tournament.” Paz climbed out of bed during Ms. Knight’s accusations to plead with the woman. She shook her head.

“No! It’s not like that, it’s…,” Paz hesitated. It sounded crazy, and if she had not been there to see it she would not believe it either. “… it’s an NPC,” she said. That gave Ms. Knight a moment’s pause.

“What?” she asked the girl.

“On Oren’s server, there’s an NPC asking for him. We think she might be a Unique.”

“Uniques can’t be born on AlterNet servers,” Ms. Knight said matter-of-factly. Paz nodded to show she knew that. 

“That’s why it’s odd,” Paz said.

“Which server?” Ms. Knight asked. “Oren has several.”

“Uh..,” Paz made a gesture with her hand as if she were plucking something out of the air, but nothing happened. “… there aren’t any nanos here? I need my node,” she said.

“This room is isolated from AlterNet nanos, just tell me about the NPC,” Ms. Knight said. “Is she part of a quest?”

“It’s a 900-year-old server,” Paz nodded. “There’s a quest in a goblin cave. At the back, there’s a cage with a princess in it; she’s the one asking for Oren.”

“Tell me more about the cave,” a man’s voice said. Paz jumped and looked toward the new voice. A tall, lean, young man stood in one corner of the room. His skin was so pale he almost glowed in the dark, he wore all black clothes. Ms. Knight sighed and sat back down by the fire to keep reading. Now that Oren decided to talk to the girl himself, she had nothing else to do.

“Oren!” Paz cheered and eagerly explained the cave quest.

“There’re no monsters on the way in, but there’re four or five ambushes on the way out.”

“You said one of my servers. 900 years?” he asked. Paz nodded. Distant memories flickered at the back of Oren’s mind as he tried to remember what his life was like so long ago. He remembered what belonging to a family felt like. “Show me,” he said. A tall black portal opened in the center of the room. Paz nodded and jumped into the portal. “You too, Justice,” Oren glanced at Ms. Knight with soft eyes. “Please,” he added.

Time to Whine

Julio glanced at the driver sitting in the high cab; the trucker’s eyes were on his phone. Even if he looked right now he wouldn’t have time to stop. Time seemed to slow to a crawl and Julio became aware of everything around him. He was the only one crossing at the moment; it eased his mind that no one else would get hurt. It was a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon. He was headed home after spending the morning with his wife and children.  They had a great family breakfast before his wife took the children to a playdate. All things considered, he felt like the important people knew he loved them. Julio was ready. The red semi was three feet from him when he closed his eyes and relaxed his body to wait for the end.

I hope it doesn’t hurt too long,” he had just enough time to think. After another two seconds, he was still standing in the middle of the street with his eyes closed. “This adrenaline rush is weird, time is taking forever.” Then Julio became aware of footsteps hitting the blacktop behind him.

“He’s not that bad,” a woman said. Her voice traveled from left to right as she walked by behind him. “We’re here, aren’t we? Aury has to be kind of a jerk because of his position but he’s not mean-spirited about it.  Did it ever occur to you that he’s making you do easy jobs before we can hang out?” The voice continued to travel past Julio, even though a semi should have been rolling through him. He peeked open one eye and saw the truck stopped in place. The driver also seemed stuck in place staring at his phone. “He doesn’t need you to do a server reset for him.” Julio heard the woman say. Her voice grew distant as she reached the other sidewalk.  “HEY!” she yelled suddenly. Julio couldn’t help but turn around. He saw a dark-haired young woman standing next to a pale, lean teenager in black clothes. He had a sharp widow’s peak in the center of his forehead and looked sullen as if he were being reprimanded.

“Yeah?” Julio asked. As he took in the view he noticed everyone else was frozen in time.

“I’m going to start time again. Are you really where you want to be?” she pointed at the semi. Julio shook his head and immediately bolted across the street to the pair of strangers.

“Thank you! Thank you so much!” Julio immediately began showing his appreciation. “You saved my life!”

“Yeah,” the pale teen nodded. “So return the favor and leave us alone.”

“Oren!” The woman hit his shoulder. “Don’t be mean, he’s just being appreciative.” She turned to Julio and extended a hand. “I’m Sonia, and this is Oren. Don’t mind us, we’re just passing through.”

“But.. but you stopped time. How’d you do that?” Oren grumbled and wiggled his fingers at the air; he opened a black portal in the air beside them and walked through it without another word. 

“Don’t take it personally,” Sonia said. She smiled at Julio but moved toward the hole in the air. “He’s grumpy about someone else. Bye now,” she said as the portal closed with her on the other side. The hole disappeared completely then time roared back to life.

Space Lizard Wizard

“What kind of action!?” a young voice yelled over the murmuring crowd. The suited reporters all stopped talking and turned to find the voice; all eyes fell on a teenage boy with a helmet of curly hair. The gathered media members stepped away from him in fear.

“Pardon?” one of the humanoids asked from the boarding ramp. They stood beneath a large black, futuristic, generic spaceship. The two strangers wore elegant white hooded robes that hid most of their bodies. Only their green, scaly faces could be seen. Their elongated snouts in combination with the scales made them look like walking lizards. The boy walked forward, the reporters stepped out of the way clearing a path for him.

“You’re threatening action. What kind of action?” he asked.

“This kind, human,” one of them said. He lifted his right hand; a bright blue bolt of lightning shot from his hand and charged at the boy. It struck him square in the chest but nothing happened. The teen smiled.

“Is that an official PvP request?” he asked then gave an exaggerated shrug. “Most people don’t usually duel Mods but if that’s what you want..”  Both figures on the ramp immediately took a step backward.

“Yo-you’re a Mod?” the one that didn’t attack with lightning asked. The boy nodded and continued walking until he reached the boarding ramp.

“Ms. Sharp wants you two to stop impersonating aliens,” he shook his head. “She doesn’t care if you take over a couple of abandoned servers,” he looked around at the gathered crowd. All cameras were on him; he shrugged. “They’re just NPCs anyway,” he added. “But the ‘idea’ of aliens is not something she wants to promote in the AlterNet. Clear?” he asked. Both figures immediately began nodding; they pulled back their hoods to show their fully reptilian heads.

“Good,” the boy said. “OREN!” he shouted. A black hole opened next to him. A taller, older teen walked out. He was deathly pale with a sharp black widow’s peak in the center of his forehead. “Server Reset,” the boy said then walked into the black hole that Oren created. Oren sighed and nodded his head.

“Sure thing, Aury,” he said. Oren raised his hand and pushed his finger against a single, red, glowing dot in the air. Red light rippled out of it and washed across the Earth. Everything in its wake was reset to that morning before the “aliens” landed.

The crowd of reporters was gone. Only the black spaceship, the two lizards and Oren remained in a wide-open field.

“Is that kid really a Mod?” One of the lizardmen yelled the question. Oren looked at him, then raised his hand in their direction.

“Yes,” Oren growled in frustration. The alien impersonator that asked the question fell into a hole that appeared under him, but it closed around his neck before he disappeared. His lizard head rolled forward down the ramp; it disintegrated into white nanos as it traveled.

Flaming Crown

“I promise I’ll be careful,” Marcus looked up at his mother with pleading eyes as he asked for permission. She looked down at him with tired eyes and gave him a soft, sad smile.

“Anyone want to take Marcus to see the Universal Flame?” She asked the group of siblings gathered around the picnic table. The concrete picnic table was the family’s first stop after the gates of the theme park.

The park was once a solemn and stringent cathedral used for religious rituals. The Universal Flame was thought to reveal a person’s destiny until it started giving less than insightful predictions. The last official prediction was recorded over a hundred years ago. It said, “Heart Attack” in response to a morbidly obese man that needed to be wheeled to the fire. According to the same record, he died three days later of a heart attack. No one doubted the predictions of the flame, but they didn’t need it to tell them the obvious.

As people lost interest in the flame the church could not maintain the cathedral and was forced to sell. The Universal Flame could not be moved; they tried. Instead, they sold it with the cathedral. It was incorporated as its own attraction.

“No….,” all six of Marcus’ siblings, ranging in age from 19 to 14, replied without looking up from their nodes. His mother sighed and looked at her 7th child. She was about to tell him no.

“I’m 11!” He held up his transparent, glassy node. “I have a node. I’ll be fine, mom.” He pointed at the mostly empty park around them; it was still early. “There’s no one around.” She looked unsure, but she also looked tired of saying ‘no’.

“You better call me if you so much as stub your toe young man,” she said. Marcus stood taller and puffed his chest out as much as a sickly, 11-year-old bag of bones could. It was the first time she called him a “young man”. All four of his brothers hated it but he couldn’t wait for the day that he was considered a man.

“Yes, Ma’am!” Marcus beamed and immediately bolted in the direction he thought the flame was. He didn’t know where it was exactly, but he wanted to get away before his mom, or worse: one of his siblings, changed their minds.

Marcus could not run long before he got winded, but he ran long enough to lose sight of his family. Now that he was on his own he slowed down to appreciate his first taste of freedom. He was at a theme park on a bright sunny morning with almost no one else around. He did not have an army of siblings giving him conflicting orders about what he needed to see next. He could wander and peruse at his own leisure.

He walked slowly and tried to catch his breath; then, he noticed a sign that pointed the way to the Universal Flame. He was closer than he expected. Marcus took a left turn at his next chance and found the right building.  It was a relatively small building with a handful of steps leading up to the entrance. Four black stone pillars lined the front of it. Marcus was glad to see there was no line. He walked as quickly as he could without losing his breath. The steps slowed him down but eventually, he made it to the top and wandered in.

The interior was straightforward and empty. It was not much bigger than Marcus’ house. The floor was black like the pillars but extra shiny somehow; it reminded Marcus of the night sky.  The walls were decorated with ornate tapestries, each one taller than Marcus himself. At the back of the room wide space was cut in the floor for the flame. It burned soft and calmly like a barbecue grill waiting for something to cook. It took up almost an entire third of the floor.

“Whooaa…” Marcus took a step closer to the flame; then stopped. It grew brighter. He waited a moment then took another step, again it grew brighter and he stopped. “How about THIS?” he said as he sprinted forward. It was only a few steps before he got to the edge. When he stopped the flame was taller than him and bright orange. “This is awesome!” he grinned.

“Okay,” he closed his eyes and started talking to himself. “No matter what it says, don’t be disappointed,” he reminded himself. He stood up straighter and spoke to the blaze.

“Universal Flame! Burn down the curtains of time so that I might see what lies ahead,” he said. Normally it was an ordained priest giving the incantation, but according to the internet, anyone would do. The flame dimmed and sunk into its hole. Marcus leaned forward to peer over the edge. “Universal Flame?” he asked again.

The flames jetted upward with a roaring whoosh and formed a towering spire of fire. After a few seconds, the blaze died down again. The fire sunk but left a flaming word floating in the air.

“Conquest,” the flames said.

“That’s a hell of a fate, kid,” a man’s voice said from behind Marcus. He jumped and turned around in the same motion and saw a tall, lean, pale young man with a sharp widow’s peak. He looked like he was the same age as Marcus’ oldest sister. She was 16. The stranger wore black jeans and a black t-shirt.  “What’s your favorite number?” he asked.

“47!” Marcus shouted. The boy was frightened but the answer forced itself out anyway; Marcus didn’t even know he had a favorite number yet. The stranger grinned; a red crown began glowing on the center of his forehead just under the point of the peak.

“There’s someone I want you to meet,” the teenager said and stepped toward Marcus.

Royal Joke

“Today? Impossible.” Marcus Howzer said. He scoffed at Ms. Sharp from behind his large stone carved desk and shook his head. “This kind of technology needs too much approval to be rolled out in a day.” The white-suited woman sighed stood from her seat.

“I’m disappointed Mr. Howzer. I assumed that you’d have more imagination given how much of the world your corporation has touched,” she shrugged. “My offer was a courtesy, one business-person to another.” A black hole appeared behind Ms. Sharp while she continued to address Marcus. A lanky, pale teenage boy in black jeans and a black shirt stepped out of the portal. A short, dark-haired woman in a black suit stepped out after him. “I give myself approval.”

“Full Saturation, Ms. Sharp,” Melody said. Dana Sharp nodded.

“Start it up, Oren. Contemporary template.”

“You said I’d get to pick!” Ms. Sharp turned her attention to the teen.

“I said you’d get to pick IF he,” she pointed at the panicking man with a phone to his ear. “accepted the deal. He didn’t.” Ms. Sharp’s eyes narrowed at Oren. “Do your job and you’re free to go play with Sonia for the rest of the day. You can go do whatever template you want anywhere else.” Oren sulked but nodded.

“Fine. Gimme the patch notes.” Melody handed Oren a sheet of paper before he finished asking. He read them over, turned the sheet over to check the other side, then he looked up at Ms. Sharp.

“That’s it?” Ms. Sharp gave a stern nod.

“That’s plan B. I wouldn’t know what patches you’d want if you chose the template.”

“HANDS UP! NOBODY MOVE!” None of them noticed the officers until they announced their presence. Five uniforms pointed guns at the three intruders.

“Melody, kill them.” The dark-haired woman’s hands began to glow with blue light, but a wall rose from the ground between Melody and the policemen.

“Full saturation,” Oren said. “They don’t need to be killed.”

“Fine,” Ms. Sharp said. A black hole opened in front of her and she stepped through, followed by Melody. “Feel free to name the server,” Ms. Sharp added on her way out, then the portal closed. Oren sighed and waved a hand at the wall. Five square spaces opened in it, enough to see the policemen’s faces.

“This world is about to change in a big way. Get to your loved ones.” The wall crumbled into white powders that disappeared before it hit the ground. The men looked unsure until Oren sat down in front of Marcus’ desk. “You too.” The big man nodded and hurried out from behind his desk. A red Aura gathered around Oren. His pale skin reflected the neon-red light as he sat still and closed his eyes. In his hands, he held the patch notes.

Oren concentrated on the notes in his mind’s eye until each word on the sheet glowed with the same bright red color. The glowing words lifted off the sheet and floated in front of his face. He opened his grey eyes and brought his hands up on either side of the words. He clapped his hands together and compressed the words into a single, glowing red dot.

“I dub thee, Bozo Server,” Oren said. He touched the glowing red dot with a glowing red finger. The action sent a ripple through reality as each nano learned its job in an instant.

After a moment the same red floating text appeared in front of Oren. This was the official patch that everyone would see.

[Welcome to Bozo Server!]

[Sharp Technologies apologizes for an issue that failed to grant users access to their Menu slates and HUDs. To apologize we are gifting each player:

  • 1 free node
  • 100 million Prime-nanos
  • Character reroll
  • MAX level boost

The Bozo Server is a contemporary template. Humans are the only unlocked race but other races may be individually purchased. Your gift of 100 million Prime-nanos is available to be spent here.

Medic, Bard, Thief, Monk, Merchant, Craftsman, Clown, and Dancer are the only unlocked classes in this template. Other classes may be individually purchased. Your gift of 100 million Prime-nanos is available to be spent here.

NPC jobs are available. If interested please opt-in during character creation.

MAX level boost will unlock all skills of your chosen class. They are a one time gift only. Sharp Technologies will not reimburse you for wasted MAX potions.

Thank you for joining the AlterNet! Please accept our terms and conditions to re-make yourself.]

“Looks good,” Oren nodded and approved the message. A second ripple radiated out through reality. Oren heard a car crash on the street below as he stepped into his portal and disappeared.

Taken In

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Matron Silver asked. The officer that dropped off the scrawny, pink-haired 8-year-old girl left in a hurry. The older woman closed the door and leaned against the edge of her desk to address her new arrival. The girl looked up to meet the woman’s brown eyes.

“Justice,” she said. The woman placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder and leaned forward with a polite, sad smile.

“What a beautiful name they left you with.” Justice was one of the rare kids that ended up at the orphanage by accident. Her parent’s car accident would have left all three of them dead if Justice’s lycanthropy didn’t save her life. “How bad are your changes?” Matron Silver asked. The girl shook her head.

“I can control it already.”

“Really?” Matron Silver raised a grey eyebrow. Justice bit her lower lip.

“Almost,” she admitted. The Matron nodded, smiled, then walked around the desk to sit down across from Justice. She pulled open a drawer and grabbed a folder from inside.

“We’ll find out tonight.” Matron Silver dropped the folder on the desk and gave Justice a somber, sympathetic look. “When I was your age, I hated when people didn’t explain things to me. I’m sorry about your parents, Justice. The accident only happened a couple of hours ago,” the Matron sighed. “…and here you are. I’m sure you feel that things are happening too fast. I want you to know you can slow down and ask any question you want okay?”

“Okay,” Justice nodded. The woman gave her almost half a minute to ask a question, but the girl seemed impatient to keep things moving.

“You don’t have any questions then?” Justice shook her head.

“I know why I’m here,” she tilted her head at the sunset outside the window. “I’d rather be here than a jail cell anyway.”

“Smart girl,” the Matron smiled. “So, when you say, ‘almost’ what does that mean? How much can you control it?” The woman opened the folder and readied a pen.

“If I’m alone and it’s quiet, I can stay in control. My wolf doesn’t like noise though,” Justice said. Matron Silver filled in the top sheet of Justice’s file while she nodded at the girl to keep her talking. “If I lose control my wolf likes to go to the park. I’ve never killed anyone and my parents said that my wolf will anything for cheese.”

“Your wolf sounds easy to manage,” the Matron smiled. “Of course this is your first change here….” she pressed a red button on one corner of her desk. “…you’ll understand that we need to see how well you do for ourselves.” The door opened. A tall, pale teenager with a widow’s peak walked into the room through a sunbeam. “This is Oren, he’ll help you to your room, and stand guard for the night.” Justice nodded and smiled politely at the matron, then stood up. Oren walked out the door first and Justice followed.

“You’re not a vampire,” Justice said the moment they were in the narrow hall. “Sorry, that’s a question. What are you?” Oren stopped walking, then turned to size Justice up. He looked her up and down.

“What?” he asked. Justice stared into his translucent grey eyes.

“You look like a vampire, but you’re not one,” she said. “You’re not a werewolf, fairy, or human either. You’re something I’ve never smelled. Oren’s lips stretched into a small grin.

“You’re interesting too. I’ll explain in your room,” he said, then walked forward again. After navigating the maze of halls Oren stopped in front of one of the steel reinforced doors.

“This is your changing room,” he opened the door. “You’ll get your living room tomorrow,” he said almost apologetically. Justice could see why the changing room was slightly less than a prison cell. Bare floor, bare walls and a set of filled food and water bowls.

“So what are you?” She asked. Oren stepped into the room and closed the door.

“I’m bored,” Oren said. He smiled and made a sweeping gesture at the air with his hand. A black hole, darker than anything Justice had ever seen, opened in the middle of the room. She noted it was tall enough for Oren to step through. “I know where we can play an awesome game though. Wanna come?” Justice did not waste time nodding; she bolted through the hole without a second thought.

The over-enthusiastic young girl was surprised when she saw light on the other side of the hole. It surprised her, even more, when she ran headfirst into a woman. Justice barely had time to register the woman’s white suit before they collided.

“So-” Justice tried apologizing as she collected herself, but a hand around her throat interrupted the word.

“Who are you!?” A shorter woman in a dark suit lifted Justice off the ground by her neck.

“Chill Melody!” Oren shouted behind Justice. “She’s from the orphanage.” Justice was able to breathe again, and she felt the ground under her feet again.

“I’m sorry,” Melody apologized to Justice, then she stood and glared at Oren. Justice did not see the woman she ran into anywhere. “Normally our visitors don’t come down here.” Oren put a hand on Justice’s shoulder.

“She said I was something that she’d never smelled before,” Oren said. “I thought I’d introduce her to the AlterNet.” Melody looked down at Justice and smiled.

“What’s your name, Sweetheart?”

“Justice,” she replied.

“Just Justice?”

“Justice Knight.”

First Gear

“Huh.” Greg stared at the watch parts scattered on the concrete sidewalk. He looked at the stopped cars in the street; they were driving by at full-speed moments ago. Greg wanted to cross, but did not want to wait for the light. He reached into his pocket for the watch. He squeezed the button too hard and the small pocket watch flew out of his hand. After time stopped.

“Well, at least I have time to think,” he said aloud. The ominous silence of stopped time left always him uneasy. Greg shrugged to himself and crossed the street as he originally planned. He was on his lunch break and decided to eat while he figured out what to do next. As he approached the entrance of his favorite burger spot a tall black hold appeared in the air in front of the door. Greg stopped walking. A pale, tall young man wearing black jeans stepped out of the hole followed by a young woman.

“They can move?” Greg stayed still. “They don’t know I can move,” he planned to stay still and see what happened. The pair seemed to notice time was not moving. They looked at the stopped cars, and peeked inside the restaurant, then they talked to each other. The woman seemed excited, then the pale man turned and looked at Greg. “Don’t move, don’t move, don’t move,” he reminded himself. “It’s just coincidence.” The couple began walking towards Greg. He fought to keep still. Once they were close enough the woman locked eyes with Greg.

“You’re right! I can see the difference!” She said with a large smile, then she waved at Greg. “Hi. Did you stop time?” Greg stared at an imaginary dot behind the red-headed woman. He did not so much as blink. The woman turned her attention to the pale young man.

“Well he doesn’t want to fix it,” she shrugged. “It doesn’t look like there’s anything else to do here, let’s move on.”

“You can fix it!?” Greg grabbed the woman’s hand.

“Maybe. It depends on a few things. First I have to know, did you do it?” She slid her hand out of Greg’s grip. He nodded.

“Yes. It was an accident!” She gave Greg an appraising look, then she looked back to her pale friend.

“He’s a Zero.. right?”  He nodded and she turned back to Greg.

“How did you stop time?”

“Uh, I had a watch,” Greg turned to point at the sidewalk across the street. “It stops time when I press the button, but I dropped it.”

“A watch?” She asked her friend. He nodded and started crossing the street. The woman followed him, and Greg followed her.

“Some Uniques can imbue items with their magic,” the man explained to his partner, and Greg also heard. Though he did not understand the explanation beyond “magic”. The trio reached the clockwork mess and the strange man knelt to poke at the bits and pieces. “Ha!” He grabbed a piece off the concrete then stood and smiled at the woman. He held out his palm to show her a small golden gear that glowed with faint golden light. “Definitely a Muerte. Take it, it’ll make your magic stronger.”

The woman touched the gear then she immediately began to glow with golden light. The gear dimmed until its light disappeared completely. After several seconds the glow around the woman dimmed and she smiled.

“That was awesome! There was tons of magic in there,” she rubbed her hands together. “I feel great!”

“Cool,” the pale man nodded. “Ready then?” He waved a hand at the air and another black portal opened up.

“Wait!” Greg spoke up. “You said you were gonna fix it.”  He asked the woman. The tall man stepped into the black portal and disappeared, but the woman nodded and smiled.

“Oh yeah, I almost forgot,” she snapped her fingers as she stepped into the hole in the air. Time roared to life before she disappeared.