[AUTHOR’S NOTE] This is a short set in the Unlucky Seven universe (or Uni7erse as was recently suggested to me). If you like what you read here and you’re not familiar with the source material, check the links on the sidebar to buy/borrow Unlucky Seven and the Obligatory Sequel. You won’t regret it!
[AUTHOR’S NOTE II (the revenge)] This is a pretty long one. I’m working on some site reformatting so that not all the text is on the front page (in case someone gets spoiled and also so you can have easier access to all my posts without scrolling!) Changes to come in 2016. Happy New Year!
“Is this all you ever do?” said a familiar voice, followed by a sigh, “Honestly, you’re hopeless.”
Justin, having fallen asleep on the couch in front of a binge watch of one of his new favorite shows, cracked his eyes open to see that other version of himself – Firestarter of Earth One (or two, depending on who you asked) – standing in a very heroic pose directly in front of him. It appeared as though he had a few others with him, but he couldn’t make out who they were. He didn’t really care to.
Justin closed his eyes and fumbled around for a throw pillow which he quickly placed over his face, attempting to hide from what would likely be another very talky ordeal.
“What are you doing back here?” asked Justin, “I thought you gave up on recruiting me.”
“Well, the pickings were slim,” said Firestarter, “We are not very cooperative people, as you can probably imagine. Also, there aren’t many realities in which the accident happened and, even in the ones where it did, I got the same conversation as I did with you.”
“So, why don’t you go bother them?” Justin asked, pressing the pillow harder against his eyes, “Maybe you can ‘inspire’ another one of the lazy bastards like me to join your cause.”
“I tried that already,” Firestarter said, “See, the weird thing about these alternate universes is that they’re sort of linear. When I leave here and go backward, I’ll be on Earth One. When I go forward, I’ll be on Earth Three. You can’t jump from one to three, you have to go through two. So, once I got, like, five-hundred earths away from home, I had to backtrack to get to here. You’re the last stop before I get to Earth One, so I figured I’d make the offer again after I introduce you to my team.”
“You’re still insisting on colonizing this Earth Two,” Justin said, “Seriously, dude, just stop it.”
“Relative to my point of origin, this is Earth Two,” said Firestarter, “No one else had any problems with being Earth Sixty-Three or Earth Four-Hundred and Fifty Nine.”
“Earth Two just sounds so, I dunno,” Justin paused to think, the pillow still on his face, “Derisive?”
“Yeah,” Firestarter said, sighing, “The Us of Earth Three said that too. Come on, let me do this one last sales pitch and then I’ll be out of your hair forever, ok?”
“Fine,” said Justin with a reluctant groan as he removed the pillow from his face, “Show me what we’ve got to offer.”
As he looked around the cave, he saw five other men and one woman. Though some of them wore masks, all of them had smoke for hair.
Justin clenched his eyes shut, wishing they would all be gone when he opened them. His wish did not come true.
He stood up and walked to the nearest of his other selves. This one wore Victorian-looking garb – mostly black and grey in color. His moustache and goatee (seemingly a trademark of all Justins) were well waxed with the goatee coming to an almost sharp point and the moustache perfectly curled into handlebars. He wore a pair of brass-rimmed goggles (currently on his forehead) and the facemask (currently pulled down around his neck) was something of a more bulky gas mask – silver metal with bronze flames riveted to it as decoration. A top hat with a small brass smokestack at the top billowed with his smoke hair. On his side was an elaborate wire-hilted rapier – also brass.
“Steampunk,” Justin said, looking over at Firestarter, “You went out and found a steampunk us.”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Steampunk Justin in a huffy sort of wandering British accent, “There is no need to refer to me in the third-person when I am standing right in front of you.”
Justin looked to Firestarter again, peering at him over his glasses.
“Dude, I know,” said Firestarter, “Weird thing is, you’d be amazed at how many steampunk iterations of reality there are in our neighborhood.”
“You may call me Justinius” said the man in brass, half-bowing, “And, what is this ‘steampunk’ to which you refer? A few of our dopplegangers seem to have quite a negative connotation with this term and have applied it to me.”
“Your world,” Justin said, “Full of brass and gears and steam power and calculation engines and airships and crazy clockwork robot ninjas and things like that, right?”
“Clockwork robot ninjas?” Justinius said, shocked, “Preposterous. Curtis’ clockwork fighting men are more than simple ‘ninjas’. And robot – such a crude and incorrect term. Though they may be our enemy, one must respect the craftsmanship and, indeed, their general shape and concede that they are androids.”
“And I thought I talked too much,” Justin said, “What about you? What’s your story?”
He pointed to the woman with smoke for hair, sharing a similar yet decidedly feminine version of his face. She, like him, was dressed simply in a black hooded sweatshirt, black pants, and boots. It was strange for Justin – like looking at a twin sister. Her smoke hair billowed higher and darker than any of the others.
“I’m Jennifer,” she said, her voice a strange elevated version of his own, “The us of Earth Sixty-Three.”
She extended her hand to Justin and he looked at it before looking up at her.
“Earth Sixty-Three,” Justin said, his eyes rolling at Firestarter, “Seriously?”
“Coincidence,” said Firestarter, shrugging, “It’s an arbitrary numbering system.”
“Pretty big coincidence that the only female version of us you could get to come along is from Earth Sixty-Three,” Justin said, “Just saying.”
“Look, I know,” said Jennifer, “To me, you’re all Rule Sixty-Three me. It’s hilarious. Can we get past it? I’ve had to deal with this on way too many different Earths already; I don’t need to hear it from you, too.”
“Was she the only one gender-bent on Earth Sixty-Three?” Justin asked, still looking at Firestarter.
“I’m standing right here, dick,” she said, “You were right, Firestarter, this one is probably the biggest jerk out of all of us.”
“Well, I can’t exactly ask you who else on Earth Sixty-Three is gender-bent, can I?” said Justin, “You don’t know who is what gender in my little corner of our multiverse.”
“Does it even really matter?” she asked.
“Do you have a burgeoning relationship with a male ice elementalist? One who you think out-classes you in looks? You probably exchanged an awkward kiss in the laundry room after he revealed he was responsible for the accident?” Justin asked, “Maybe named something like Zack?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. Her hair flared around the edges for a moment.
“His name is Zane,” she muttered
“Yeah,” Justin said, “Earth Sixty-Three was a totally arbitrary designation.”
“How do you think I feel?” asked another version of himself, “He designated my world Earth Thirty-Four.”
This one didn’t wear a shirt. He was ripped and athletic, his brown skin glistening in the overhead lighting. He wore a pair of low-hung jeans, exposing his prominent hip bones. His face was like Justin’s but much thinner, chiseled, and with perfectly groomed facial hair. Above the pair of sunglasses he wore, his smoke hair seemed thicker and almost slicked back, undulating shades of black and grey along his scalp rather than above it.
“Ugh,” Justin said, “You’re from the porn dimension?”
“It’s not really,” said the hunk, “This is just the style.”
“Since when are we stylish, six-pack?” Justin asked.
“Speak for yourself,” said Jennifer, “Firestarter there caught me on an off day.”
“Indeed, sir,” Justinius chimed in, “Perhaps it is you who, on this plane, is without style. Some of us, however, have a reputation to keep.”
Justin slapped the top hat from Justinius’ head causing his steampunk counterpart to make some unidentifiable harrumphing noises.
“Seriously, Thirty-Four,” Justin said, “What’s with the get-up?”
The chiseled one shrugged.
“Being ripped is a big thing on my Earth, I guess,” he answered, “People don’t wear much for clothes because we’re a lot more comfortable with our bodies. I’m actually considered a fat guy in my reality.”
“Stop trying to blend in,” said Jennifer, “We’re all jealous of you and you can’t humble that away.”
“You’re wasting time,” grumbled a very deep and angry version of Justin’s voice, “We’re one world away from actually getting to the problem. Why are we arguing with this little chump?”
“Big Christian Bale fan, are we?” asked Justin to the figure lurking in the shadows.
A pair of flaming eyes blinked into existence followed slowly by an orange glow on the figure’s head and his hands. Justin rolled his still very human eyes uncontrollably.
“Is this guy for real?” Justin asked.
“That’s the Last Ember,” said Firestarter, “He comes from an Earth where the Project took over.”
“I was the only survivor of their attack,” said Ember, “I fight to avenge my fallen friends, destroy Kurt and the Project, and restore the world to what it once was.”
“Oh, I get it,” Justin said, “In your world Kurt allied with the Project and took us down from the inside. Then somehow some superhero apocalypse occurred and you think you’re the only one left behind to fix it.”
“Um,” grumbled Ember, “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”
“Ok,” Justin said, “Gritty reboot universe.”
“Sounds fair,” said Ember, “Does that make this the whiny little bitch-verse, then?”
“Easy, Ember,” said Firestarter, “This one of us seems to know quite a bit more than even I give him credit for. Don’t you, Earth Two?”
“No doubt,” Justin said, “And you need to stop with all this Earth Two crap. It’s really getting under my skin.”
“What can this ass hat do that the rest of us can’t?” Jennifer asked, “What makes him so important?”
“He can see the narrative,” said Firestarter.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” grumbled Ember.
“It’s some kind of predictive foresight,” Firestarter answered, “He can tell what’s going to happen before it happens based on his knowledge of superhero situations.”
“If you’re me,” Justin said, looking at Firestarter, “You should have that, too.”
He looked around the room, each of his doppelgangers stared blankly back.
“Really,” Justin said, “We’ve fallen into that trap, have we? You’ve all experienced your ‘superhero journey’ without being tainted by existing fiction. That is such a flimsy plot device. Like, can there really be that many worlds without superhero stories? I mean, I guess that explains the seriousness and the general lack of cynicism in the room.”
“Well, to be truthful,” said Justinius, “I believe we, the members of this group of otherworldly duplicates, all share the same general attitude toward life and that we all look to move toward the greater good. I can’t say the same for you or your ilk.”
“’Me or my ilk’?” Justin asked, “What’s that supposed to mean, Sir Hammerlock?”
“It means,” said Justinius, “That you are yet another one of the crass and ignominious versions of us. There are so many of us who are simply uneducated and uncivilized and, to be quite frank, it sickens me.”
“Be careful,” Justin said, his hair flaring up, “Or I’ll knock off more than just your top hat, you brass-plated limey wannabe.”
“Don’t do that,” said a much deeper voice from behind him as Justin felt a large weight rest on his shoulder, “We’re all us, we should all be friends here.”
Justin turned to see a large orange and white furry hand – or was it a paw – resting on his shoulder. Turning the entire way around, he was now face-to-furry white chest of a nine-foot tall anthropomorphic tiger. His face was completely feline with large green eyes and a strange smirk which exposed his rather large canines. Small black whisps of smoke emanated from his stripes making them even more hypnotic.
After studying him for a moment, Justin clenched his eyes shut and whispered:
“Seriously, there’s an anthro-verse?”
“If that’s what you want to call it,” said the tiger, “We just call it Earth. I’ve been through a lot of worlds with Firestarter and mine seems to be the only one where humans aren’t the dominant species.”
“Ok,” Justin said, “Steampunk, I get. Sixty-three, Ember, and even Thirty-Four I kind of understand. But, seriously… an anthro-verse? There are so many questions I have for you. Like, is everyone a tiger or is everyone a different animal? How does that work for food? Do you hunt and eat things smaller than yourself? Is it all land animals or are there fish people, too? Lizard people? Insect people? Why is my analogue a tiger? If there are other animals are you, like, genetically bound to date within your species or is that just done for procreation?”
“This happens every time,” the tiger said looking at Firestarter, “We need to start making a printed FAQ.”
“Just console yourself with the fact that Justin of Earth Two-Thirty-Seven is a jacked anthropomorphic Sumatran tiger with the same fire powers as the rest of us and smoke for stripes,” said Firestarter, “That’s cool enough. You don’t need him to explain everything about his society.”
“Sorry I wasn’t here when they woke you,” said the tiger, “I had to use your restroom.”
“Really?” Justin asked, “How does that work? Do you have, like, more human-like… parts and stuff?”
“Can we not discuss that?” Jennifer asked, “Does it really matter?”
“It’s a legitimate question if he used our bathroom,” Justin said, “Plus, he brought it up.”
“We’re wasting time!” shouted Ember from the shadows.
“Seriously,” Justin said, “Is that all you’re good for? Barking from the corner in a two-pack-a-day voice? I just want to understand how Shere Khan over here functions.”
“He’s right: it doesn’t matter,” said the tiger, “We have serious business that requires our attention and we need the help of every one of us we can find.”
“Like I told Firestarter,” Justin said, “I’m not interested on throwing my life away on some massive multi-versal crossover adventure. Seriously. Next thing you know it’s going to turn into something where I get replaced by an other-dimensional duplicate while I’m trapped in limbo or something and then twenty years later, when sales of the book are flagging, they’ll reveal that the me everyone on this Earth thinks is me isn’t really me and they’ll bring back the really real me from the void or wherever it is you guys go when you sneak through your little cracks in the universe. I have too much going on here and I don’t want to just dump it and leave it behind.”
“You’re binge watching a magical girl anime,” said Jennifer, looking at LENNY’s main screen, “Is that the ‘too much’ you’ve got going on?”
“Shut up,” Justin said, defensive, “A friend of mine recommended it and I’m only watching it so I can participate in the conversation.”
“I bet you say that about all the girly shows,” Jennifer taunted.
“Anyway,” Justin said, turning to Firestarter, “The answer is still no, like it or not.”
Firestarter sighed, looking down and shaking his head.
“Fine,” he said, “But can you do us one favor?”
Justin narrowed his eyes at his more heroic counterpart.
“What?” Justin asked.
“Tell us what’s going to happen,” Firestarter requested, “You’ll know. I know you’ll know.”
“Multi-versal danger?” Justin asked.
“Single enemy, multiple enemies, or crazy galactic-level entity?” Justin said.
“Crazy galactic-level entity,” Firestarter said.
“Hm,” Justin said, “Fighting in the earthly realm or that limbo between dimensions?”
“Limbo,” Firestarter said.
Justin counted the duplicates again and stroked his goatee in thought. He motioned to Firestarter to come closer, which Firestarter did.
“How attached are you to these chumps?” Justin asked in a whisper, “I mean, I know they’re us, so like, you should be very attached, but let’s be real. You’re not expecting any of them to come back, are you?”
“No,” he whispered back, “Not even myself.”
“Everything is going to go great,” Justin announced, loudly, “You’re going to fight and you’re going to win. It’s gonna be a long battle. A tough one. Probably at least a giant-sized seventy-two page issue or like a three-part episode, but in the end, you’ll win and all will be right with the multi-verse.”
“Be serious,” said Jennifer, putting her hand on her hip.
“I am being serious,” Justin said, “If there’s one thing I know, it’s me, and I know that I can persevere. With this many me’s in the mix, you should have no problem with whatever it is you’re facing.”
“Jolly good,” Justinius piped up.
“Simple as that?” grumbled Ember, stepping out of the shadows and revealing his bushy, unkempt, salt-and-pepper beard along with his tattered costume and wispy smoke hair, “No more cynicism? Somehow I’m not convinced.”
“This is real,” Justin said, “Firestarter knew to come here. I am quite good with narratives. I’ve seen it all before. These things never go wrong.”
Justin clapped Firestarter on the shoulder and looked straight into his eyes with an expression Firestarter immediately understood.
“Good to know,” said Firestarter, clapping Justin on the opposite shoulder, “I hate that you won’t be with us.”
“Me too,” Justin said, “In a way. But, good luck.”
“Thanks,” Firestarter said, “You heard him, people. We’ve got some interdimensional ass kicking to take care of. Let’s get to it.”
“Finally,” Ember said as the group formed up around Firestarter.
“Nice meeting me,” Justin said.
“Likewise, I guess,” Jennifer added.
“You know,” muttered the tiger as he passed Justin to join the others, “Tigers have exceptional hearing. But, thank you all the same.”
Justin’s resolve cracked a bit.
“I hope I get to see you again, man,” Justin said, petting the tiger’s arm, “Good hunting.”
“Thanks,” said the tiger.
Firestarter’s gaze was locked on Justin’s as he raised the kludged, Kurt-made, dimensional cracker on his wrist, giving him a solemn nod as he pressed the button.
“Until we meet again, Earth-Two,” said Firestarter smirking.
They turned into smoke and vanished before Justin could get out a comeback.