Vampire by Starlight

“Fourth!?” Victoria asked with wide eyes. “That’s super high,” she added with a shake of her head. Her violet bangs wobbled with the motion. She met her date at the coffee shop and they easily settled into a conversation. It didn’t take too many questions from her to land on the topic of vampires. Wendell surprised her when he mentioned they were the fourth leading cause of death.

“Well, vampires are apex predators. I’m surprised ‘death by a vampire’ isn’t number one,” Wendell said. He was slightly annoyed when Victoria pulled out her phone and began texting while he was talking. He guessed she was arranging an emergency to leave the date; she wouldn’t be the first one to skip out early. Her phone appeared more advanced than any he’d seen, but his feelings were too bruised to give it much attention.

“Everything okay?” he asked. She nodded but continued typing for half a minute before she looked up again.

“Sorry, work stuff. This place is great,” Victoria said. She slipped her phone back into her purse then gave Wendell her attention again.

“So,.. you’re not leaving?” He asked. Victoria shook her head again.

“No. Why, do you need to leave?” she asked.

“No no,” Wendell said. He realized he needed an excuse to keep from sounding too insecure. A quick glance through the window at the night sky gave him an idea. “It’s just that, in the past, any time I mention that fact at night my dates suddenly realize how dangerous vampires are and hurry to get home.”

“Oh,” Victoria giggled. “Vampires aren’t dangerous; they’re just hungry. Though, maybe it’s just me that isn’t threatened by them,” she added with a confident smirk.

“Oh?” Wendell asked. He smiled at her and his voice took on an amused quality. “You’re not scared of vampires?” Victoria giggled again.

“If I was, I would’ve left already,” she said. Wendell’s smile grew broader. He laughed to himself when he realized she was talking about the night waiting outside. It wasn’t particularly late, but the sun was gone so the streets were empty.

“Yeah, I guess you are brave being out after dark,”  he added. He once had a date tell him the danger of meeting after dark made it more exciting.

“Oh, I don’t care about that,” she said. “I meant because you’re a vampire.”

“Huh?” Wendell was too surprised to offer a more cohesive thought. She was the first one to identify him before he revealed himself. Not that it was soon enough to save her. The coffee shop itself was run by vampires and most everyone in there at the moment was one. A few brought dates for dinner like Wendell had. He felt lucky that her voice wasn’t loud enough to alarm any others; and, he hoped to play it off. “What do you mean?” he asked. Victoria smiled and golden stars began to glow in her eyes.

“I can see you,” she said. Though, she leaned over the table and deliberately kept her voice low. “I can see all of you,” she said as she scanned the coffee shop around them. Wendell’s stomach dropped. She obviously wasn’t normal. She said she wasn’t afraid of vampires, and knowingly stayed in their company. He leaned back in his chair with his face whiter than it normally was.

“What are you?” he asked. Victoria smiled.

“Unique Soul #35, La Estrella,” she said. “You don’t know what that means yet, but you will soon,” she added.

“I know Spanish,” Wendell replied curtly. He was usually the one surprising his dates and he was eager to defend his honor. “Estrella means star,” he said. The golden stars faded from her eyes, but Wendell was still trying to make sense of what she said. “You have the soul of a star?” He asked while still trying to sound confident in his conclusion.

“Not exactly,” Victoria shook her head. “It’s more like my soul is tied to a star.” She held her hand out with the palm facing up and it immediately began to glow with a soft blue light. “Gimme your hand,” she said. Though, he didn’t have a chance to pull away because she grabbed his hand at the same time she asked. She placed his hand hovering over her blue palm.

“It’s hot!” he yanked his hand away as if from a flame. Victoria nodded.

“That’s my star. I can use its energy any time I need to; and even better, I don’t die until it does. Or someone kills me, but that’s pretty hard,” she smiled. Her confidence rubbed Wendell the wrong way; he was supposed to be the one scaring her. He was the apex predator. He fumed silently while she continued the conversation.

“Anyway, things are about to change big time… probably in the next week or so,” Victoria said.

“Why?’ Wendell asked dryly.

“I texted my boss about this Earth. Once Sharp Medical Services sets up here you won’t have to hunt humans anymore. You’ll be able to get blood from one of our blood banks. And society can move forward without everyone trying to kill each other.” Wendell snapped and leaped into action. In the blink of an eye, he appeared next to Victoria and lifted her out of the booth by her neck. His eyes glowed red while he bared his fangs at her.

“What if we like killing?” he asked with a sinister smile and began to squeeze her neck. He was used to women fighting him off, but he did not expect a blue glowing palm to strike his cheek. He was surprised for a moment because it felt more like she was offended than fighting for her life. Then, the slap began to burn as intense as sunlight. He dropped her to rub his cheek, but his hand also began to burn. He looked at it in panic and saw what looked like brilliant blue napalm burning through his hand.

“If you like killing, then you have problems,” Victoria said. She grabbed her purse while ignoring his panic and turned to leave. But she left Wendell with some reassurance. “Don’t worry, Sharp Medical Services also offers therapy.”

Stellar Normalcy

“Not at all,” Roger smiled. The violet-haired woman returned the warm smile and sat down next to him.

“Thanks,” she said. “I’m not used to a coffee shop being so crowded.” Roger chuckled. She seemed to be open to conversation; and, now that he finished writing he felt comfortable talking.

“Not from around here?” he asked. “This place is always full.” She shook her head. Her long violet strands shimmered in the sunlight pouring in through the windows.

“I do a lot of traveling for my job,” she brought her hand up between them. “My name’s Victoria.”

“Roger,” he replied as she shook her hand. “Travel, huh? That’s interesting. I bet you’ve seen some amazing places.”

“Yeh,” Victoria replied and shrugged her shoulders at the same time. “The novelty wears off after a while. This place has more customers than I’m used to;  but, sometimes it feels like all I do is visit coffee shops,” she said. “What do you do?”

“I’m a writer,” Roger said. Victoria’s eyes flitted to the open laptop, then back to him.

‘Oh no, sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Victoria began to apologize but Roger shook his head. He made a point to close the laptop lid to make the point.

“You didn’t, I just finished.” Her eyes lit up.

“You finished a story? That’s so cool! What’s it about?” she leaned closer with a curious smile on her face.

“It’s about a girl that leads a normal life-,” Roger made it that far before Victoria interrupted.

“Oh, I can totally relate to that,” she said. Roger smiled and continued.

” …until she meets a strange man in a bar.”

“And then?” Victoria asked.

“And then her life gets interesting,” Roger smiled. “I don’t need to give it away.”

“Boooo…,” Victoria rolled her eyes,  but giggled to let him know she was kidding.

“I wish my life would get interesting,” she said.

“What do you do?” Roger asked. “You said you travel, but what for?”

“Unfortunately, traveling is my job,” she sighed. “The company I work for, Sharp Development, is always on the lookout for new resources, opportunities, or information. So my job is basically to travel around and report back whatever seems helpful.”

“Are you kidding?” Roger asked. “That sounds amazing!”

“Yeh,” Victoria shrugged again. “The company is amazing, but the work is starting to get old.” She smiled. “It seems like the coffee is getting worse in every shop I go to at least.”

“You visit that many coffee shops?” Roger asked. Victoria nodded.

“It’s the quickest way to meet someone and get information.”

“So you’re always chatting up strangers?” Roger asked. Victoria shook her head.

“No. Usually, I set something up with a dating app-“

“Dating app?” Roger interrupted with curiosity. Victoria giggled.

“Yeah, you don’t have any here yet. So I’m moving on tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Roger said. He debated for a moment and decided to go for it. “Well, if you’re looking for a date, my evening’s free. I’d be happy to take you out.” Victoria smiled at him.

“Technically…,” she said. “I wasn’t looking for a date anymore. I was ready to move on. But,” Roger was feeling deflated until she added the ‘but’. “It wouldn’t hurt to see more than just the coffee shop,” she said. “My evening was reserved for a date anyway, so yeah. That sounds good.”

“Besides,” she added with a wink. “Maybe you’ll make my life more interesting like the girl in your story.”  Roger chuckled.

“I doubt that,” he said. “They go off on adventures to a parallel universe,” he decided he could spoil the story for her a little bit. He regretted it when her smile dimmed just a tiny bit.

“Oh man,” she said. She playfully shoved him away. “You said it was something interesting.”

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.”

Scout. Out.

“Yeah. I mean, I don’t like to brag, but I can lift a semi,” Brett said. A broad grin accompanied his confession to Victoria.

“On top of the super speed and flight, that you also don’t like bragging about?” Victoria asked. They’d only sat together for about 10 minutes, long enough for the waitress to get their orders. Brett brought up Super powers and seemed eager to hesitantly mention his own abilities.

“Yeah, I got the full set,” Brett grinned. He was handsome, Victoria had to admit that. He was fit and tan with sparkling white teeth and short chestnut hair. But his attitude was wearing thin on her; she didn’t think his good qualities made up for being so undeservedly cocky. She decided to turn it into business instead of a date.

“Are Supers common on this Earth?” she asked. Upon changing the nature of the date in her mind, Victoria decided Brett probably wouldn’t be much help. She looked up and glanced around the crowded coffee shop with golden stars in her eyes, then she nodded.

“What do you mean this Earth?” Brett asked. Victoria smiled at him without the stars in her eyes.

“I meant what I said. THIS Earth. And, it looks like Supers are very common; I’m the only one in the shop that isn’t a Super like you.”

“I don’t know if it’s that common…,” Brett began to argue, but then decided to focus on her. “So, are you an alien or what?” he asked. Victoria shook her head.

“I’m a scout. Sharp Development is now interested in your Earth.”

Day by Day

“Well, technically it is yesterday,” Nick chuckled. Victoria, the beautiful woman sitting across from him, pulled off a violet hair color very well. He enjoyed every second of the date so far; she seemed smart and funny to go with her good looks. But, suddenly, he had doubts when a slight look of confusion appeared on her face.

“How so?” she asked. She commented on the weather and mentioned it was as beautiful a day as the previous one.

“The loop?” he said.

“What loop?” Victoria asked. This time, a slight look of confusion washed over Nick’s face.

“Oh wow,” he said; mostly to himself. “I never met anyone that didn’t know.”

“Time loop?” Victoria asked, but shook her head. “How long does it run? I’ve only been in town for a couple of days.”

“It resets every day…,” Nick said. He had been leaning forward over the table to talk more intimately. He sat up straighter, confused by her confusion. “… across the whole world.”

“Really?” she asked. “But, yesterday was March 10th, and today is March 11th.” Nick nodded at her question.

“Well, the day is looping, but we still have free will. The loop started years ago. Since everyone knew about it humanity went ahead and started a new calendar. It’s technically March 11th, 0003, T.L. Where are you from that you don’t know that?” he asked. Victoria giggled.

“I’m from an alternate Earth, just passing through.” Nick stared at her for a moment, then nodded.

“If my world wasn’t stuck in a time loop, I’d probably have more trouble believing you,” he said.

“Do you want me to fix it?” Victoria asked.

“You can do that?” Nick asked; he leaned forward over the table again. Victoria shrugged.

“Technically not me, but I can arrange it if you want,” she said.

“Ye- no!” Nick began to answer, then changed his mind rapidly. “Please no!” he added for emphasis.

“Why not?” she asked. Nick shrugged.

“Honestly, it’s kind of nice. Resources are essentially unlimited, so people are nicer about sharing. The death of a loved one is temporary. Everything physical resets every day, but people still keep growing their knowledge. It was a rough first year, but people are settling in nicely now.”

“Hey, neat,” Victoria said with a smile. “Then, I won’t mess with it.”

“So, what’s a nice girl from an alternate universe doing in a time-looped place like this?” Nick asked with a smile.

“Well, I was working until you said you didn’t want the loop fixed,” she said.

“Working? Doing what exactly? Are you a scientist?” Victoria shook her head.

“I’m a Scout for Sharp Development. I visit alternate Earths and determine whether they have any value to the company. Yours doesn’t, by the way,” she added.

“What do you mean? To set up branch offices or something?” he asked. Victoria shook her head again; Nick loved the sight of her purple ponytail swishing back and forth behind her head.

“To buy,” she said.

“To buy… an Earth? Is that possible?”

“At the moment, Sharp Development owns over 1000 Earths,” Victoria smirked playfully. “Not including Earths where we have a branch office or something,” 

“1000 Earths??” Nick’s eyes widened for a moment, then he smiled. “What’s yours like?” Victoria shrugged.

“No idea, I haven’t been back in forever. I’m not even sure if it’s still there,” she said.

“How long ago could it have been?” he asked. “You look … 22? 23?” he asked. Victoria nodded.

“I wish! I’m almost 2900 though.”

“29.. hundred?” Nick asked in awe. “Wow.  That’s…   wow,” he took a few moments to process it in silence. Victoria sipped her coffee and let him take all the time he needed. Finally, he looked up at her and smiled.

“So, do you like younger guys?” he asked. Victoria leaned forward with a smile.

“I kind of have to.”

Stellar Pettiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Check what?” Clark asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stellar Dis-curse

“Oooooh,” Victoria nodded in understanding. “Do you think something in the water changed you, or have you always been this selfish?” she asked with a slight smirk.

“WHAT!?” The old man bellowed the question in surprise. He sat on the ornate marble edge of the fountain to tell his tale; but, jumped to his feet at Victoria’s question. “I’m saving innocents from a curse!” Victoria shrugged, but shook her head. Her violet ponytail swished behind her with the motion.

“Just because you think it’s a curse, doesn’t mean it is. Not everyone is going to have your perspective.”

“I’ve lost everyone I love,” the old man replied. His anger was gone, his tone was weary. Victoria nodded.

“People die. You’re lucky to have loved them.”

“I’ve lived over 2000 years, and I thank God I’m nowhere near as callous as you,” he said. Victoria shrugged again.

“Like I said, different perspectives. Wait until you reach my age,” she added a wink, then continued. “Either way, this Earth is about to belong to Sharp Development. A working Fountain of Youth is surprisingly rare; it’ll be great for tourism.”

“Belong?” the elder asked. He tilted his head in confusion. “No one can own the Earth,” he said.

“Dana Sharp can do anything, and she already owns several thousand Earths. This is just one more.”

Who are you? Where did you come from? I’ve searched this Earth for millennia and never found anyone.”

“So… who are you protecting the fountain from?” Victoria asked with a giggle. He narrowed his eyes at her with a stern expression.

“I don’t know yet,” he replied. Victoria took the hint.

“My name’s Victoria,” she extended her hand in greeting. “I’m a scout for Sharp Development and your Earth is of particular interest. Sharp Development is a multiversal corporation with a presence on thousands of alternate Earths.”

“Gabriel,” the elder gave his name as he shook her hand. “There are… other Earths?”

“An infinite number,” she replied. “You’re whining about there being nothing left to see here; but, there are other Earths to see. There are things that exist beyond anything you could imagine.”

“How?” Gabriel asked. Victoria raised her hand and pointed at something next to him. The old man turned and was startled to find a black portal hovering in the air.

“Just walk in; someone will get you sorted on the other side.”  Gabriel hesitated a moment. He did not know what to expect but decided he had nothing to lose. With a stiff nod to himself, Gabriel made up his mind and walked into the portal. It closed behind him. Victoria pulled a node out of her pocket once she was alone.

“This abandoned Earth is now the property of Sharp Development,” she spoke to the transparent rectangle. The display flashed white, then the node disintegrated in her hand. The white powder dispersed into the wind; white nanos began to duplicate themselves in order to saturate the Earth.

Dave gets Bummed

Stephanie froze mid step when she heard the chuckles coming from Dave’s cubicle. She closed her eyes and sighed.

“God damnit,” she grumbled to herself, then changed direction.

“Hey Dave, what’s funny? I wanna laugh,” Stephanie admitted. She really wished she could find humor in anything; even if it was a good thing at the moment. It had been a busy week since the aliens suddenly took over. During that week, she learned it wasn’t sudden at all; it was only recently their invasion reached critical mass. Stephanie managed to avoid infection, even if she didn’t know how it was happening. She triple-purified all her water, ate only sealed foods, and avoided contact with anyone. Luckily, Stephanie didn’t have a lot of friends before the invasion.

‘Hey,” Dave grinned. “Nothing special, just a cat video. But, hey. Since you’re here…,” Dave stood from his rolling chair and stepped into Stephanie’s personal space. “… have you noticed anything… weird around the office this week?” he whispered in her ear. Stephanie got her wish; she burst out into raucous laughter at the situation.

Dave had never been the brightest employee, but he was popular among the staff for his easy-going attitude. If anyone was going to avoid being possessed by aliens on sheer dumb luck alone, it would of course be Dave. The contrast with her own high-stress week of trying to keep a low profile only made Dave’s question that much funnier.

After two solid belly laughs, Stephanie’s eyes shot wide and she clamped her hand over her mouth. It was too late. She looked around and saw several employees poking their heads over the walls of their cubicle. They were all staring at her.

“Damnit, Dave,” she hissed and grabbed his hand. “I was almost out of here, come on!” She pulled him out of the cubicle and immediately started running. Easy-going Dave shrugged and ran with her.

“Where we going?” he asked.

“Alien parasites took over the world last week,” Stephanie explained while she ran. She was glad she’d been wearing sneakers to work since then. She doubted the aliens would bother enforcing the dress code.

“Bummer. So where can we go?” he asked. Despite the outlandish explanation, she noticed that Dave picked up speed to keep up with her. “And why aren’t they chasing us?” He asked after a glance backward.

“Hivemind. It thinks it can get us ahead.” Stephanie said. She led Dave through a maze of off-white halls and into her office. ” But, it doesn’t know where we’re going.” Dave chuckled.

“Your office is the first place I’d look for you,” he said. Despite the point, he relaxed against the door jamb for a bit to catch his breath. Stephanie nodded.

“We’re not staying here, I just needed to get something.” She was at her desk and back before Dave finished recovering. She quickly grabbed his hand and led him out of the office again.

“HEY!” a security guard yelled from the end of the hall. He was obviously on his way to her office. Turning around, they spotted another guard coming from the other direction.

“Alright, screw it,” Stephanie sighed and turned around to go back into her office. Dave shut the door while she started tapping the transparent card she grabbed from her desk.

“What’s that?” Dave asked. His question was followed by the doorknob jiggling. Dave leaned against the door as the guards started pounding on it.

“Later,” Stephanie said. A black portal opened in the corner of her office and a woman with light purple hair walked out. She wore a crisp white blazer.

“Who’re you?” Dave asked while the pounding continued. He braced his large frame against the door.

“Victoria,” she answered. Dave saw gold stars flash in her eyes as she looked at him and Stephanie.

“Let’s go,” she said, then stepped aside.

“C’mon!” Stephanie grabbed Dave’s hand and pulled him into the portal. On the other side, Dave found himself standing in what appeared to be a lobby. The murmur of busy strangers and the dinging of elevators immediately filled his ears. He stood on a gleaming white floor. He spotted red in the corner of his eye and looked up to see a large sign: Sharp Development.

“Where are we?” Dave asked.

“Somewhere safe. A different Earth,” Victoria said as she walked out of the portal; an intense blue glow was dissipating from her hands.

“Okay,” Dave said, unphased. “For how long? I mean, when can I get back?”

“Dave..,” Stephanie said. “That Earth was completely taken over by aliens.”

“So… are we talking … years?” he asked. Stephanie shook her head, but Victoria answered.

“Sharp Development refuses to let aliens get a foothold on any Earth,” Victoria said. Dave chuckled.

“Kind of late on that one,” he said. Victoria nodded.

“That’s why I destroyed it behind us,” she said.

“You… what?” Dave asked. He glanced at Stephanie for confirmation. Dave wasn’t a bright man, but her expression was obvious.

“Oh…,” Dave sighed and cast his eyes downward. He’d only been at the company for a couple of years. During that time, Stephanie never saw Dave without a smile. For the first time in years, a glum expression took over Dave’s face. “Bummer. That’s where all my stuff was.” 

Clouded Sun

“No thank you,” Cliff read the words going through his head as the train rolled to a stop. His full name, Cliff Robertson, was on one of the few lines on the first page. The text, ‘No thank you.” followed his name. He returned the small stack of papers to the empty seat, then shuffled his way off the train. He caught a glimpse of the second line, but he didn’t need a script to tell him what he was going to do.

Cliff spent most of his life ignoring unusual, inconsequential happenings. He grew up experiencing magical things, but they happened less and less as he aged. He learned to ignore them the way he assumed other adults did. This note meant for him was just another instance of wonder to ignore. He was looking forward to going home and relaxing at the end of his long week.

Two blocks from his house, a woman popped out of an alleyway in front of him, and she fell in step next to Cliff as he passed. Her hair was purple and she wore a long white coat; he recognized her as the same woman that left the papers on the train.

“Your favorite number is 46,” the woman said. The moment the words left her lips, Cliff stopped walking. He locked eyes with her and nodded with a smile.

“It is, I don’t think I knew that,” he said. Then, he faced forward again and resumed walking. She was quick to keep up with him. “Aren’t you curious how I know that?”

“I make it a point to never be curious,” Cliff replied. As far as he was concerned, he was exchanging pleasantries with another faceless stranger. Although, he did decide he didn’t want the strange woman knowing where he lived. Instead of crossing to the next block, Cliff took a right. The woman followed him.

“But you live back that way,” she pointed at a 10-story, aging building. “Where are we going?”

“I know where I’m going,” Cliff lied with a shrug. “I don’t care where you go.” The woman sighed.

“I was trying to pique your interest with the script and theatrics. I’ve got a job offer for you,” she said while they walked. The scenery deteriorated as they got closer to his apartment complex. Now that they were walking in a different direction, the buildings were looking cleaner.

“I’ve already got a job,” he replied. It seemed like a silly thing to mention because she already knew everything else about him for some reason. But, it was the only thing that came to mind; it would be rude if he just stayed quiet.

“Yeah, a boring one,” the woman said. “Sharp Development has thousands of jobs available on any Earth you want. Live the life you want to live. Don’t waste it in some crappy apartment waiting to die.”  Cliff stopped in his tracks again.

“Different Earths?” he asked. He couldn’t explain the sensation, but somewhere deep inside him, it was like he remembered a fact he’d forgotten about. “Like alternate universes?” he asked. Even as the question left his lips, he knew it was true. The woman nodded.

“You look like an old-west guy,” she said. “You could live out your life on a frontier Earth.” Cliff thought for a moment, then resumed walking. This time, he headed back in the direction of his house. He realized the ruse was a waste since she already knew where he lived. He hoped that once he reached his door he could end the conversation.

“You can’t tell me you’re not interested,” the woman said keeping up with him. Cliff nodded.

“I can,” he said. “I like my life here. It’s not perfect, but I know how to work it. I can do without the complications of alternate Earths. Besides, I imagine I can find the same problems I have here on all the other Earths.”

They crossed to Cliff’s block in silence while the woman tried to figure out a way to convince Cliff to join.

“A tattoo!” She blurted out once the idea hit her. She looked up and realized they were almost to his building. She panicked. “Get a 46 tattooed on you, and you’ll be interested in what’s out there!” she said. Cliff smiled as he unlocked the door. He opened it, stepped in part way to block the entrance, then he turned to face her. He pulled the door closed with a shrug and an apology.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “No thank you.”

Sharp Empowerment

“…and… he moved on,” Victoria said with a sigh. The pink-haired woman walking next to her nodded in understanding.

“It’s understandable, you were gone for years; but, that doesn’t make it easier.” Lyra patted Victoria on the shoulder. “What will make it easier is you moving on too. Which brings us to here,” Lyra used her arms to gesture at the narrow bridge beneath them. It was only about six feet wide and made of solid white marble. It was built to cross a bottomless void to a circular, red platform in the center.

“Thanks to my promotion, I need someone to take over my former duties. I’ve found that being single makes the job way more fun,” Lyra giggled at Victoria. “There are a few of these, but they’re all the same.”

Victoria looked around in awe. Everything around the bridge, and now as far back as she could see behind her, was enveloped in complete darkness. She saw only the white of the bridge and their approaching destination glowing in red.

“Most of your time will be spent scouting out new Earth. I don’t even bother if they haven’t advanced to at least some version of social media. But, that’s a personal choice. Your job is to recommend Earths to Ms. Sharp, along with a course of action. She can already take over any Earth she wants…,” Victoria heard a nothing but awed respect in Lyra’s voice any time she spoke about Ms. Sharp.

“She doesn’t have time to sit down and plan what she wants to do with every Earth. She trusted me to give her recommendations that would benefit Sharp Development as a whole. And now I’m trusting you.” She smiled at Victoria; her eyes glanced up at the young woman’s hair. Her shade of light purple wasn’t too far off from Lyra’s bright pink hair. “Because I like your hair.” She giggled as they reached the center circle. it was a solid red, 10′ diameter platform. A white, short podium jutted out of the center of the circle. Lyra led Victoria to it.

“Like this Earth for example,” Lyra said. Victoria had a loose understanding of the history that got her there at that moment, so she was interested in hearing a more official version.

“I never would have suggested this Earth. When it was found by a scout, it was just entering the dark ages. That was 30 years ago, and now they’ve colonized the moon.” Victoria was surprised; her eyes widened and she tilted her head.

“Ms. Sharp let that happen?” Lyra nodded, but laughed.

“The scout suggested that Ms. Sharp leapfrog their technology from the dark ages to 2030/2040ish. Humans here never learned how to store energy. They never need to, we keep their world powered and their devices are always on. Unfortunately, that power can only reach as far as their moon.” Lyra shrugged. “They’ll never be able to replicate it.” She gestured at the white podium. The surface outlined a pair of hands side by side.

“Until they meet an Estrella that doesn’t work for Sharp Development,” Victoria said with a smile. She stepped forward to the waist-high podia and placed her palms in the outlines. Her hands immediately glowed with blue light. She pushed plasma energy from her star through the podium at a steady rate to recharge the planet.

“That can’t happen, this is one of Ms. Sharp’s private server. Employees only.”

“She can lock out Uniques!?” Victoria was surprised. She could not even begin to imagine the process involved in locking a universe. Lyra grinned and nodded.

“Ms. Sharp can do anything.”