[AUTHOR’S NOTE] This is a short set in the Unlucky Seven universe (or Uni7erse). 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!
“No,” Justin shouted, “No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am,” he shouted back at himself, “I am the Firestarter of Earth-One.”
“You look absolutely nothing like him,” Justin said, “I mean, me. I mean, you look exactly like him. I mean, me, but that costume… you have got to be kidding.”
Justin motioned up and down at the bright red spandex body suit, black vinyl boots, matching gloves and domino mask accompanying the cross-dimensional standard goatee and smoke hair. A stylized black flame logo was emblazoned across his chest.
“You got a better one?” asked his tightly-clothed clone.
“Everyone has a better one,” Justin said, “Look, I’ve already dealt with the Firestarter of Earth-One – a name which I wholly disagree with – and you are most certainly not him.”
“I have been to so many dimensions and, like, nine times out of ten I get into this argument,” said Firestarter, “This is Earth-Two-Fifty-Six and I am the Firestarter of Earth-One, so let’s just leave it at that and get down to business.”
“Is this the part where you ask me to join your merry warband of other us-es?” Justin asked, “Are we off to fight some kind of multi-dimensional threat in a limbo-like dimension between realities?”
“Uh,” he started, taken aback, “Yes?”
“Then no,” Justin said, “I already said no to the first us that came knocking. Twice. He at least looked cool. You are… well, in light of everything I’ve seen, you’re a straight up fashion victim. You disappoint me.”
“We all dress like superheroes on my Earth,” said Firestarter, “Don’t tell me your guys go out fighting crime in civvies.”
“I mean, kinda?” Justin said, “It’s more comfortable that way. Plus, there are cooler ways to obscure your identity than a domino mask, boy wonder.”
“Boy wonder?” he shouted back, “I’m all man!”
“Well, at least they have Kevin Smith movies in your universe,” Justin said, sighing, “Ok, so is there a sales pitch? Did you bring your cadre of Justins you’ve gathered over the last however many realities?”
“Two-hundred and fifty-six,” said Firestarter, “And yes.”
He motioned to the shadowy area behind LENNY and three additional figures emerged. One stayed behind, obscured. Justin’s eyes grew wide as he looked the visible ones over. He threw his hands up in frustration and sat down on the couch.
“Ok,” he said, “Y’know what? I’m gonna need everyone to give me a full explanation of where exactly the hell you are from and why the hell you are dressed or appear the way you are because this is way more ridiculous than the last bunch.”
“The last bunch?” asked Firestarter.
“I told you, man,” Justin said, “I met the Firestarter of Earth-One. Another other us on the same kind of ridiculous quest that you are on.”
“You weren’t just being a jerk about it,” Firestarter said, “You were serious. Someone really came to recruit you.”
“Twice,” Justin said again, “The second time, he had his little band of AU troops with him, just like you do.”
“How didn’t we run into them?” Firestarter asked his people.
“He was going in a different direction,” Justin said, rolling his eyes, “He said this was his Earth-Two. If this is your Earth-Two-Fifty-Six, then you probably just missed him one Earth ago. He was ahead of you trying to stop this dimensional catastrophe or whatever. Guess that means I should be your last stop. He went forward from here and got all the us-es he could. Maybe you should try going to your Earth-Negative-One once you get back home.”
The group of his counterparts buzzed in muttering conversation.
“Well, come on,” Justin said, “Line up, show me what you’ve got. I’m starting to like this multi-dimensional me thing. Soothes the ego.”
The first one to step forward was wearing a grey pin-striped suit with a black canvas trench-coat and fedora. He wore a full gasmask to obscure his identity. Smoke billowed out from beneath the brim of his hat.
“Ok, Sandman,” Justin said, “What’s your story?”
“I am… the Flame,” he said with a sweeping gesture of his arm, his voice sounding rather like an old radio show announcer, “Member of the Society of Seven on what Firestarter here refers to as Earth-Thirty-Nine.”
He lifted his lapel revealing a pin bearing a very familiar logo with the Roman numeral VII.
“Does that mask come off,” Justin asked, “Or are you my mummy?”
“Why does every one of us ask me that?” the Flame asked.
“Inside joke,” Firestarter chuckled.
“So, what’s your deal?” Justin asked, “Nazis win the war or something? Alternate history?”
“Nothing alternate about it,” the Flame said, “Just history. The Nazis lost, but there are a few other – whaddayacallem – divergences from what seems to be the common timeline. Y’see…”
“Yep,” Justin said, holding his hand up, “Interested, really, but not right now. Earth-Thirty-Nine. Film Noir-verse. Got it. What’s with you in the renn faire costume?”
The next version stepped forward, wearing dark brown leather armor banded with metal plates. He wore a red cloth mask over his face with dark black circles painted around his eyes. Smoke, of course, rose from the top of his head. Two jagged swords were tucked into the leather belt which held the red tabard bearing a black roman numeral VII tight to his waist.
He was larger, more physically fit than any of the others present. Taller, wider and more defined. What was visible of his face was heavily scarred, noticeable even through his war paint.
“Lord Pyre,” he said, continuing in a rough and wandering sort of British accent, “Of the Seven Lords of Inguohall, Protector of the Eastern Plains, Harbinger of the Blaze.”
Justin squinted at him, pursing his lips before leaning in to Firestarter.
“Is this guy serious?” he muttered, slightly motioning at Lord Pyre.
“You have no idea,” Firestarter whispered, “Crazy medieval fantasy world. Don’t even understand how there was one of us there.”
“Will you join the quest, doppelganger?” asked Pyre, “You don’t look quite as seasoned as some of my other duplicates, however, you burn as the rest of us do. You should fare well in the battle yet to come. As well as any of these… lesser… versions.”
“What do you mean, ‘lesser’?” piped up the next Justin in line. He was a very pale-skinned version, same face and body type as Justin himself, but with piercing blue eyes instead of the original’s camouflage green. He wore a stocking cap on his head and regular modern street clothes.
“You heard what I said, abomination,” sneered Lord Pyre, drawing one of his blades, “I shall not speak well of one of our number who does not burn.”
The blade of the sword became red hot, as did Lord Pyre’s clenched hand around its hilt.
“Whoa there, Jahaerys Targaryan,” Justin said, “What’s the deal? Why is he an abomination?”
“He burns not,” said Lord Pyre, shrugging, as if it were a common thing.
“You burn not?” Justin asked.
“I burn not,” the pale Justin said with an exasperated sigh.
“How did you get here then?” Justin asked, “I thought we could only do this reality-hopping thing by changing into smoke and sneaking through cracks in the dimensional fabric?”
The pale Justin removed his stocking cap, revealing spikes of ice in place of his hair.
“Whoa,” Justin said, “I got Zoey’s powers?”
“And Zoey, on my world, is the ‘one who burns’,” said pale Justin, waggling quote fingers in Lord Pyre’s direction.
“But you can still change into smoke?” Justin asked.
“Water vapor,” pale Justin said, his exposed body suddenly turning into a solid form of ice, “It takes a lot more concentration than just this, but I can manage it when I need to. Most of the Zoeys I’ve heard of haven’t explored this part of their power set yet, but, it’s there.”
“How?” Justin asked, “I know my Zoey would probably love to know.”
“She’ll get there,” pale Justin said, “Better if she does it on their own. It’s not really something you can teach.”
“If Zoey’s got our powers on your Earth, why didn’t they just bring her instead?” Justin asked.
“He could do the water vapor thing,” Firestarter said, “Plus, he’s one of us. Not that having her along would be a bad thing but we could use the variety in talents.”
“Abomination,” growled Lord Pyre.
“Shut up, Sauron,” said pale Justin, “Or I’ll feed you to the hobbits.”
“Stop,” said a telepathic voice which seemed to pierce all of their minds simultaneously, “We have discussed this infighting before. Let’s channel that aggression into the larger fight to come.”
“Who the hell is that?” Justin asked, looking to Firestarter, “Don’t tell me there’s one where we got Jess’s powers too.”
“Uh, no,” Firestarter said, “But this one is usually a bit of a… shock… to our other-dimensional counterparts, so we leave him until last.”
“Try me,” Justin scoffed, “We’ve got ice boy, Conan, and the Silver Shroud over here… I’ve seen steampunk, gender bent… even Rule Thirty-Four us! Oh, and the Anthro-verse! Can you believe there’s an eight-foot-tall TIGER version of us with smoke for stripes? Like, how do we get more shocking than that?”
“Like this,” said the voice piercing his mind.
The figure which emerged from the shadows was as distinctly inhuman as anything you would see on documentaries about life near volcanic vents of the Marianas Trench.
It stood on approximations of spindly limbs and was nearly eight feet tall. Its skin was a translucent blue. The long ovular head (at least, it was probably a head) bore no features. No eyes, nose, or mouth were apparent. The outline of its brain (presumably) pulsed when it spoke in telepathy. It wore a toga-like cloth from its narrow faux shoulders to its imitation of thighs.
Justin’s jaw dropped.
“This is one of us?” he asked.
“Yep,” Firestarter said, “Earth-Fifty-One. Meet Alien us.”
“You may call me Blue,” it said, moving in a fluidic fashion to extend his hand.
Justin reached to shake it and felt a sensation as he had in the past with Jess.
“You just read my mind,” Justin said, “Like the whole thing.”
“Yes,” said Blue, “You are quite astute. I see this world’s Jess has… interacted with you in depth.”
“What are you?” Justin asked.
“Much like the Anthro-verse version you have seen, life in my dimension evolved differently than the common strain,” Blue said, “Consciousness often inhabits a similar physical body on most planes. This is why our versions always exist in one form or another. Life is not about the physical shell in which you dwell, but it is about the soul and intellect – the true undeniable energy of being – which persists through infinity.”
“Cool,” Justin said, casually, “So, what exactly are you again?”
“I am an amorphous life form,” it said, “Again, possessing our same consciousness, making me one of you. We are a completely different species evolving from different genetic ancestors than humans. I don’t want to go into the history of it for fear of boring you to death. Let it suffice to say that we are able to mildly shapeshift and have natural psionic abilities. My natural form is much different from this. I am currently shapeshifted to the approximation of a humanoid to make other humanoids feel comfortable.”
“Do you… uh… ‘burn’?” Justin asked, glancing at Lord Pyre.
“Yes,” answered Blue, “Though, unlike most of us, I am able to alter the entirety of my physical structure into a more plasma-based fire, which is how I am able to slip through the ‘dimensional cracks’ as you call them.”
“Ok, but I’m curious,” Justin started, “In your dimension do you…”
“Please don’t ask me the same sort of questions you asked the tiger,” Blue interrupted, “From what I have seen in your mind, you have many and to answer some of them aloud may be unsettling to the rest of the group.”
“You’re telepathically communicating to me,” Justin said, “Can’t you just tell me? Like, just me?”
Blue sighed telepathically. This was accompanied by a brightening of his glowing brain and a slow dim as the sound of a loud exhale went through everyone’s head. Blue turned its blank face area toward Firestarter, who nodded.
“You’re not coming with us, then?” Firestarter asked.
“No,” Justin chuckled, “No. I told the other guys the same. I’ve been mostly avoiding putting my life on the line in my own reality. I’m not going to go dimension-hopping for the sake of a team-up storyline. I’ll tell you what I told the other Firestarter of Earth-One.”
Justin motioned for his spandex-clad counterpart to come close. He opened his mouth to whisper.
“I can extrapolate,” Blue interrupted, “That you mean to say we may not all survive.”
“Likely won’t,” said Pale Justin, “Been saying that from the beginning.”
“You seem the most like me,” Justin said, turning to his ice-haired iteration, “Why the hell did you decide to leave your home and run with these guys?”
Pale Justin shrugged.
“The cause sounded desperate and they needed my help,” he said.
“Bunch of crap,” Justin said, “Lies. Why did you join up with them?”
“Because if you can’t trust yourself, who can you trust?” he followed up.
“No,” Justin shouted, “Come on. Give me something good.”
Pale Justin sighed and closed his eyes.
“Because the narrative said I should,” he revealed, “We can all see it, to some extent. It goes along with Blue’s whole ‘same consciousness’ spiel. You say another group of us was here before. So we weren’t the first and we probably won’t be the last. This is the fourth group that tried to recruit me. One of them even went for my version of Zoey as well. I figured with as many of us coming through dimensions I couldn’t ignore it anymore. The narrative pushed me to go so I finally relented and went.”
“Four times?” Justin asked, “The original Firestarter I talked to said the Multi-verse is linear; how did four groups come through your reality without picking up any of the others?”
“Don’t be so naïve,” said Pale Justin, “The Multi-verse is whatever it wants to be. Just know that someday you’ll feel the narrative finally tug at you and pull you along for the ride.”
“Yes, small pudgy duplicate,” said Lord Pyre, “And when your testicles have finally descended into manhood, you may join us in the fight. I would be happy to have you by our side. Wars require fodder, after all, to help the real warriors reach the objective.”
“Thanks, big guy,” said Justin, “That means a lot. Oh, and Flame, please stop back if you can. I’d like to hear about that alternate history bit.”
“Eh, I won’t have to,” said the Flame, straightening his suit, “You’re getting the farewell package. So, farewell.”
Justin turned to look toward Firestarter and was met with the squishy mass of one of Blue’s appendages and his vision went black.
He woke up on the couch, unsure of how long he had been asleep. His mind ran over with memories of each of their worlds and he ran to one of LENNY’s workstations to begin writing it down.
He couldn’t type fast enough. He didn’t want to lose any of the details.
Suddenly, in the middle of all of his new data, he caught the memory of what exactly they were going after in the center of the Multi-verse.
He sat, his eyes unfocused, looking catatonic in the chair as he processed exactly what all of these groups had been doing.
Pale Justin was right. The narrative would pull him in eventually.