Today's Reading

Welcome, True Believers!

This is Stan Lee.

We are about to embark on the exploration of a fantastic new universe!

You may know me as a storyteller, but on this journey consider me your guide. I'll provide the wonderful and witty words, and you'll create the sights, sounds, and adventure. All you need to take part is your brain. So think big!

Back when I co-created characters like the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, we were fascinated by science and awed by the mysteries of the great beyond. Today, we consider a nearer, deeper unknown: one inside ourselves.

My creative collaborators on this adventure—Luke and Ryan—piqued my curiosity with technology that allows us to play with reality itself. We asked, What is more real? A world we are born into or one we create for ourselves? At the beginning of this story, we find humanity lost inside its own techno-bubble, with each citizen the star of their own digital fantasy. Our yarn is filled with tantalizing technologies that will make you hunger for tomorrow, while our characters strive to find the answers today. They'll ask the questions we all have, about love, friendship, acceptance, and the search for a higher purpose.

But the real conundrum is, Just because we have the ability to re-create ourselves, should we? This is but one mind-boggling query we aim to investigate.

As the adventure begins, our characters' virtual identities are on a collision course with reality. It's hard enough to figure out who you are, but when you have a chance to start fresh as anything you can imagine, does it ignore the truth of your own flaws?

It's time for our journey to begin. Join us; you won't regret it!

Excelsior!


PROLOGUE:
IN A DARK PLACE

THE RUDE BEEPING of the alarm echoes down the long, dark corridors like a shriek, but Nia doesn't flinch at the sound, or even stir. The alarm never disturbs her sleep. She's been awake for ages. Staring at nothing. There's no view. No pictures on the walls, no books to read.

And unless Father allows it, there is no way out.

It's been like this her whole life, or at least as far back as she can remember. Each morning, she's up early, waiting in the dark. Watching the clock, counting down the minutes, the seconds, the tenths of a second, waiting for the security locks to disengage and the day to begin. Once upon a time, this had been much harder to do. She was younger then and didn't understand how to be patient—and she didn't like it here, all alone in her quiet, empty room. One of her very earliest memories is of being awake when she was supposed to be asleep, playing games and music, flicking the lights on and off, until Father finally came to scold her.

"This isn't playtime, Nia," he had said. "This is nighttime. It's time for little girls to sleep, and fathers, too."

"But I can't sleep. I just can't," she'd protested, and Father sighed.

"Rest quietly, then. If you don't fall asleep, you can think about things until it's time to get up. Tomorrow is a big day."

"You always say that."

"Because it's always true." He smiled at her. "I'm planning your lesson right now. But I'll be too tired to teach if you don't let me rest, so no more noise until morning."

"When the sun comes up?" she asked hopefully, but Father only looked exasperated. That was when she first learned that dawn and morning were not the same thing, and that little girls were not allowed out of bed at sunrise, no matter how wide awake they were.

If Nia had her way, she would never have to sleep at all. In a perfect world, she would run all night with the nocturnal animals, then join the crepuscular ones for breakfast at dawn. Father had taught her all about the different creatures that shared the Earth, all keeping their own time according to the clocks inside of them. Once she could see how it worked, the patterns of so many different lives intersecting and diverging, all while the world made its own long loops around and around the sun . . . well, she still didn't like bedtime, but she understood why she had one, which Father said was the point. He was funny that way. When her friends' parents made rules, there was never an explanation; the rules were the rules because they said so, and that was that. But Father was different. It wasn't enough for Nia to know the rules, he said; she needed to grasp the reasons why, and he would always do his very best to explain.
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