Decrypting Rita is a sci-fi webcomic by Egypt Urnash (aka Margaret Trauth), completed as of October 7, 2015. It stars the title character, a cyborg spy sent to assassinate the head of the Sunrise Foundation, Barrett, while guided by her handler Carol. However, things go awry and she ends up deactivated. Eventually, he hands her off to his subordinate Kim, who locks her up in storage...only for her to break out.
Meanwhile, in an unnamed West Coast US city a former dancer named Rita muses to her friends about the strange dream she had where she was a cyborg spy sent to kill the dream's version of her friend Barrett. The suicide of his girlfriend Kim not too long ago still fresh on her mind, she decides to go back into the spotlight for one last dance.
Meanwhile, in a world of High Fantasy, the dragoness Rita regales her elven girlfriend Kim her dreams—one where she was a golem of some sort and one where Kim was dead. She prepares for the day with a friendly spar against her dark elf boyfriend Barrett, a worshipper of the spider goddess Lolth. However, the spar is interrupted by a trio of adventurers (Tom the archer, Gary the fighter and Carol the cleric) who aim to slay her. Not one to tolerate such anti-draconian sentiment, she prepares to stand off against the harassers...
Meanwhile, in the SkyLands a Hat Lady known as Rita travels with her fellow cohots Tom and Gary on a journey towards the Goddess's Head. Along the way, they meet such myriad people as Barett, the despotic ruler of New Zendia, and the glass-like boy Kim.
As you can probably tell by now, all four stories happen to have the same characters but in different situations and with different relationships. Where it gets interesting is when Rita-1 (the cyborg) catches up with her ex Tom-1. Tom-1 deliberately attempted to shoot Carol-1 to catch Rita's attention and get her to join him on an extremely dangerous maneuver known as "gongoozling inside a gravity well". No sooner does that happen than Rita is suddenly thrust into Rita-3's (the dragoness) place. She only has enough time to assess her situation and disarm the adventurers before reverting back to her universe.
And then the real Mind Screw starts.
You can read it here on Urnash's site.
Decrypting Rita contains the following tropes:
- Alternate Universe: Four of them at minimum, not counting Universe Aleph:
- Universe 1: The beginning universe, a Science Fiction spy thriller where Rita is the fastest cyborg spy alive. Represented with blue.
- Universe 2: A Slice of Life drama where Rita is a former dancer with plenty of problems on her mind. Represented with red and yellow.
- Universe 3: A Dungeons & Dragons-esque fantasy world where Rita is a dragoness with two lovers living with her. Represented with gold and umber.
- Universe 4: A Gaslamp Fantasy with Floating Continents and airships where Rita is a Hat Lady. Represented with green.
- Universe Aleph: A Beautiful Void mountain of eggs watched over by Kim-Aleph, where Rita is all of the above and more. Here, Color-Coded for Your Convenience applies more to the characters than the world: Kim-Aleph is green and Rita-Aleph purple.
- Animal Motifs: In addition to Rita's dragon motif, Barrett is usually associated with squids and octopi.
- Anachronic Order/Unusual Chapter Numbers: Starting at around the eleventh chapter (the first instance of "23"), the chapters begin to jump around in both numbering gimmick and time. The first half alone alternates between roman and arabic numerals. Two are even repeated because their earlier instances have been corrupted, thus obscuring some of the more surprising plot developments in the story.
- Assimilation Plot: What Barrett-1 and Barrett-3 are ultimately planning.
- Faceless Eye: The Panopticon is a mysterious group of eyes floating in the void between the Alternate Universes.
- Fountain of Youth: After Rita-4 re-emerges into her native universe, she ends up in a body much younger than her previous one. She even gains a new hat to match.
- Gainax Ending: Barrett-1's Assimilation Plot works and the resulting Hive Mind convinces Rita-1 to join up with them. Rita-2, at the end of her rope, returns home and has one last bong before going to sleep. Meanwhile, Carol-3 and Rita-3 try in vain to stop Barrett-3 from ending the world when Carol suddenly realizes that the world isn't actually doing so. An elderly Rita-4 waves her husbands good-bye as she walks off the plank into the embrace of the Goddess. And then, all those universes—and more—converge as Rita-Aleph awakens, hatching from her egg. She soon finds Kim-Aleph, who greets her cordially. As the two constantly shift between all their forms across all universes, Kim guides Rita to outside the Rookery while assuring her that all her personae will remember a little about her even if it's not much. Finally, we cut back to Rita-1 who seemingly joins the Sunrise Hive Mind. Except at the last minute she lets out a confident smile as Barrett-1 and Kim-1 have a collective Oh, Crap! moment. End of story.
- Infinite Canvas: One of the greatest uses of this trope in webcomics, albeit horizontally rather than vertically.
- Jigsaw Puzzle Plot: The comic has four alternate universes with semi-overlapping stories told in parallel, some of which are in partial Anachronic Order, but at least each world is color coded.
- The Lost Lenore: Kim-2 for Barrett-2. So much that when Kim-3 is thrown into Universe 2 by accident, Barrett-2 is overjoyed at her "return" and begins socializing with her at the expense of Rita-2.
- The Mole: Carol-1 was secretly helping Barrett-1's assimilation ploy despite being Rita-1's handler and lover.
- Mythical Motifs: Rita has dragons, primarily evident with Rita-1 (who dates Carol-1 in a dragon-like chassis) and Rita-3 (who is a dragoness).
- Numerological Motif: In set theory, aleph refers to a series of numbers denoting the cardinality/size of infinite sets. Fittingly, the final chapter—in which an infinity of universes with Ritas converge together—is called Chapter Aleph.
- Once More, with Clarity!: Two instances regarding Chapters 23 and 14:
- The first iteration of Chapter 23 is corrupted and its checksum fails. All we see is Kim-1, Barrett-1 and another person speaking in unison as they greet Rita-1. Once it is repaired, it reveals that not only has Barrett's Assimilation Plot begun, it has also taken in Carol. Who was willingly part of the ploy.
- Chapter 14 requires two sweeps of repairs before it can be read. The first and second times only show Mattie offering a sort of software to Rita, who voices her concerns. Only on the final iteration do we also find out it's an upgrade and the Vespuline hive wants to stop the Sunrise hive as the latter is forcibly taking over solitary minds, something the Vespulines cannot tolerate.
- Shout-Out: The end of chapter 25 contains a reference to Garfield as one of infinitely many universes containing a Rita.
- Start of Darkness: Barrett-3's moment comes after Kim-3 is thrown into Universe 2 in a magic ritual gone wrong. Eventually, he descends into making another ritual that will cause the world to become one giant collective mind.