Sir Alistair Smythe, robot intelligence, employee of the crime-lord Kingpin, sat in his laboratory. His fingers were folded, his elbows rested on his wheelchair, and a brooding stare dominated his face; only he knew how long he had been sitting like this, in his normal thinking position. He had come up with a contraption that he did not fully understand and was hesitant to use. But, as much as he hated to admit it, without giving results to his boss, his job and life were at stake.
Smythe reached over and picked up the device, a small, glass sphere. The sifting violet particles inside fluttered at his touch as he turned it over in his hands. The average person would simply think it a boring knickknack, but in reality, it was the most complex invention he had ever created.
"Smythe!" boomed an impatient voice, suddenly very near. Smythe didn't move, his eyes still glassy.
A form emerged to his right, a large, full-bellied man in a white coat. There was a furrowed frown on his thick face.
"This had better be a success, unlike certain other failures I'm sure you needn't be reminded of," the man boomed.
The spider-slayers. Smythe's absent stare darkened.
"I am sure you will be quite pleased with this one." He held up the sphere without looking at his employer.
Kingpin snatched it up and held it irreverently at arms length. "What is this?" he asked.
"Exactly what you asked for," replied Smythe flatly, not moving. "A dimensional transporter."
A greedy gleam lit up Kingpins beady eyes. He brought the sphere to eye level and turned it slowly.
"Has it been tested?"
"Is testing required?"
Smythe raised an eyebrow. "It's a highly volatile radioactive sphere, capable of taking out half a continent if mishandled. Would you like to repeat the question?" He added smugly.
Kingpin's glare was poisonous, even though he knew Smythe wasn't looking. "Don't test me, Smythe. We all know what will happen if you do."
"Right. Didn't I mention the continental damage?"
Kingpin ignored the remark, examining the sphere.
"How does it work?"
"Theoretically, you tell it what you want and toss it in the air."
"It's that simple?"
"Theoretically. Think of it as a semi-intelligent android, compacted into a sphere and responsive to voice activations of a single user. But it's also unstable and untested. It would be foolish to-"
A flip of the Kingpin's wrist, and the globe was in the air, spinning and growing large, now starting to shake."I want a villain that matches Spider-man's cursed agility," he bellowed.
"No!" Smythe screamed. His chair whirred to life at his command, dragging him backwards and away from the violent surges of the growing sphere. "The atmosphere and gravitational atoms can't hold it! It's going to re-transport itself! DUCK!"
Suddenly it flattened like paper and then sucked itself out of sight, causing an explosion that lit up the room and sent both the men hurtling to the other side.
The empty rattle of falling debris was interrupted by coughs as
Kingpin emerged out of the rubble, grinning maliciously.
"Well, my little friend," he muttered through his teeth, "Let's see what you can find."
The sphere had disappeared, nowhere to be found.
Chapter One: In which the usual morning lineup includes a burnt pie, a new dress for Pascal, and a blast from a sparkly globe from...somewhere?
The smell floated to Rapunzel a split second before she jumped, squealed in terror, and dropped her sewing.
"No, no no no no no!" She flung her hair to a rafter and slid down the glossy rope to the kitchen, where the oven was smoking. She whipped out a pair of paint-splattered and embroidered pink cooking gloves and gingerly opened the oven door.
Smoke billowed out, and Rapunzel coughed as she peered through the greyness into the blackened oven.
Suddenly, a bright orange object came tumbling out, and the rug burst into flames.
"AAAAAHHHH!" screamed the girl, stumbling backwards and tripping over her hair. The flames cracked, and started spreading towards a pile of books in the kitchen doorway.
Not the books!
Rapunzel was in action in one second flat. She jumped to her feet and flung a rope of hair at the books, tossing them out of harms way. At the same time, another length of hair darted towards a pail of laundry water on the windowsill, and Rapunzel yanked it over the fire. The flames hissed angrily as they died out, but now water was spreading faster than ever towards the splayed pile of books. Rapunzel jumped, rolled over the floor, grabbed all of the books, threw a rope of hair upwards to the rafters, and pulled herself and the books into the safety of her room upstairs, collapsing onto the floor in a tangled heap of damp hair.
Rapunzel laughed breathlessly as she sat up and brushed sweat off her face.
"Well, that was a nice way to shake out the boredom," she panted, standing up, then the smile on her face disappeared as she looked down at the chaos downstairs. Water was pooled everywhere, and steam thickened the air, especially around the burnt rug and still-smoking oven.
In the very middle of the room, there sat what looked like a mangled lump of charcoal.
"Not again..." she groaned. She slide down her hair again and splashed slightly as she landed in the pool of dirty laundry water. She grabbed the black lump and looked at it dejectedly. "How many pies do I have to incinerate before I actually make one right?"
She felt a patter of tiny, wet feet tickle their way up her back, and suddenly a gasping, wheezing green face appeared at her cheek. The chameleon's eyes were huge with terror.
"Pascal!" Rapunzel cried, "Where have you been? I've been looking for you all morning, I had a new dress for you to try on!"
Pascal narrowed his eyes and chirped gravelly as he pointed at the floor where the books had been.
Rapunzel raised an eyebrow. "You were hiding from me?"
Pascal nodded without remorse.
"And got soaked in the process," Rapunzel said with an I-told-you-so-grin. "Bet you won't hid from me again!"
Pascal chattered back a cheeky response.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," Rapunzel replied, rolling her eyes, "I'll try not to ruin any more pies. Not like I can help being a terrible cook."
The chameleon's cheeky expression melted into pity. Pascal cooed as he rubbed her cheek soothingly, looking up at Rapunzel with the biggest eyes he could manage.
"I know, I know," she sighed, unable to suppress a small grin as she tucked her hair behind her ear and petted her best friend with her free hand. "That's easy for you to say, 'practice makes perfect.' Seems like I'm only ever practicing how to make burnt pies, though," she added with another sigh.
Rapunzel turned away from the wreck and looked at the afternoon sky, blue as ever, peeking through her only window. She walked closer and put the charred pie pan on the windowsill, leaned on her elbows, and rubbed her shoulder with one of her hands.
It was a beautiful day. It was late summer; the leaves were toying with the prospect of changing, and the sharp scent of fall was just beginning to weave itself into the breeze. Rapunzel took a deep breath, and the edges of her mouth twitched into a sad smile as she let it out slowly.
"Isn't it lovely?" she asked Pascal, who had dropped to the windowsill and sat looking at her with a worried expression.
"Oh, I just wish..." she whispered, dropping her chin to rest on her arms, and looking out. Pascal knew what she meant. He put a tiny, three-fingered hand on her arm and purred soothingly.
"I mean, my birthday is coming up," she said quickly, running a hand through her hair. "Certainly, a sixteen year old can handle the outside world, right?"
Pascal shrugged his tiny shoulders.
"Ungh!" Rapunzel buried her head in her arms. "Who am I kidding? I can't even bake a decent pie. Having a birthday isn't going to change that."
There was a tear on her face when she raised it. "I just wish there was something I could do, but I'm not good at anything in here. Maybe, maybe out there, I'd have a purpose, you know? I'd do anything to get out of here! Anything to get what I want!"
A burning light suddenly ripped through the room behind her. Rapunzel shrieked and grabbed Pascal as she whirled around. There was a steady, loud hum and slightly purple light coming from inside the kitchen.
Rapunzel stood there, gasping, clutching a bluer-by-the-minute Pascal, and watched the light. It seemed to be moving, like light she had seen reflected from water in her pans. She took a slow step forward, inching her way towards the light.
"What is that?" she murmured, not to anyone in particular, which was a good thing because Pascal was too blue to answer anyway. Not another explosion, she begged silently.
She turned and peeked into the kitchen, and caught her breath.
A huge green ball was floating in midair, surrounded by purple and blue light that seemed to breathe. The ball trembled and shrunk, pulling itself into a smaller shape. The colored light flattened itself around the ball until the whole thing looked like a miniature, kitchen-sized galaxy.
Was she crazy, or was it...calling her? Rapunzel couldn't hear the voice so much as she could feel it. She felt its urge, its pleading for her to come closer. Suddenly she wanted to reach out and touch it, to feel it.
Rapunzel timidly extended her hand, then jerked it back in fear. The light looked so sharp, so hot. Did she dare?
"Come on, Rapunzel," she murmured, squeezing her eyelids shut. In the darkness, the voice of the light seemed louder. "You can do this..."
She slowly reached out again, and the light almost bounced as it reached for her. Now it was touching her, and oh!
How it felt! Like water, only thicker. Rapunzel trailed her fingers through the softness, then put her hand through and gasped. Her fingertips felt a cold sweep of air, as if...
As if there were something-somewhere-inside the light. Rapunzel pushed her arm further in, and felt a crisp, cold wind whip through her fingers and past her hand.
The voice was urgent now, louder than ever. Here was her chance. Taking a deep breath, she stepped into the light.