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Around the Worlds

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Their current path through the multiverse was taking them to universes that had more aliens and tech than magic, and a steadily diminishing few of which had Skrulls or potential contact with the Lantern Corps. The majority of people in these universes started off suspicious, which was only reasonable, but became friendly once they realized they were talking to other people who were in the business of just trying to save everyone’s asses. Stories were shared, schematics exchanged, and portal addresses taken note of.  “We’re getting quite a little black book going here,” Tony mentioned to Reed. “I’m really liking some of these people.”   

“I am too,” Reed answered somewhat absentmindedly. He was in the middle of their usual pre-portal equipment check. “But we should probably consider turning around, so to speak. There are doubtless other universes closer to ours that actually need to be warned, or possibly may need our help. We can always come back to this area once the war is over.”

Tony made a face and sat back in his chair. “You’re assuming we’ll still be here once the war is over, Reed.”

The leader of the Fantastic Four stopped working to look at him. “I won’t deny I’ve thought of that myself,” he said. “What ‘winning’ might end up looking like, that is, considering that the end-game players are all wielding foundational primordial powers. Which are something we really have no experience with. Max seems to be using a very minimal amount of power…”

“Because a minimal amount is all he has to use,” Tony told him. “I’ve seen him use more, just once. During our first encounter with the Justice League, I was up in the air when Dr. Holland showed up, and I almost made a mess in my suit when I saw what was happening in those trees. Armored alien soldiers in what was basically a tank, and the plants just tore them apart and started mulching the remains. But when Max went out there he just walked right into the middle of it, nothing touched him. And when Holland tried to take a swat at him for interrupting, not only did the vine bounce off a shield none of us knew Max could create…the vine burst into flower. And then he went back to his regular, minimal power usage when Superasshole confronted him, but it was still more than enough. I think we’re seriously underestimating just how much power a fraction actually is, and what that means about the whole group coming out to play is scaring the hell out of me.”

Reed stretched one arm out and squeezed his shoulder, going back to his pre-portal checks. “I won’t say it’s not frightening me, I’ve just been trying not to think about it. Especially since Sue and I talked about it one night and the conclusion she came to about what the five powers actually merge to create is something that makes me question…I mean, I’ve been an atheist for my entire adult life, Tony. I never expected to start fearing the power of God with a capital ‘G’.”

“Good to know I’m not the only one who had that thought.” Tony sighed. “I’ve always been an atheist, though, so for me this is beyond disturbing. Regular ‘gods’ and magic I can handle, but this…”

“I know,” Reed said. “It’s mind-blowing in an entirely different way. But at the same time, now we know something about it that our ancestors who created those monotheistic religions didn’t.”

“True,” Tony agreed. “If this really does result in the re-emergence of a capital-G God, it’s not a god that sticks around. Jake and Jarvis showed me…well, the cartoon, and that explained some things. The Bearers split the power back up once their elemental deity is done, and then they just go back to doing what they were doing, waiting until they’re needed again.”

Reed’s hands stilled on the controls, just for an instant. People often accused him of not being very observant, but Josie’s reaction every time Max mentioned his predecessor waiting…well, it was telling. A god might be good, could be merciful if it so desired, but the power on its own was simply a force, and therefore without sentiment. Without mercy. He put that thought aside, finished the last test. “All right, we’re ready.”

“Jarvis, let our backup team know we’re about to open the portal,” Tony said. He waited until Josie had responded before nodding to Reed. “Okay, let’s go.”

Reed initiated the sequence, the generator hummed and the portal made a connection and then opened. Into a room with a window, and outside of the window… “That looks like Hawaii.”

Tony pointed. “That looks like an alien wearing a Hawaiian shirt. Hi there! Are we too late? Invasion’s already over with?”

The fat pink and purple alien made a snorting noise. “Didn’t get started. Is that what this inter-multiverse portal call is about?”

“Partly,” Reed told him. “We became aware of a plan to invade and conquer multiple Earths, and we’ve been attempting to warn those universes closest to us - relatively speaking, anyway. Here the power behind the invading force is known as Thanos, but in a few other universes we’ve also heard the name Darkseid.”

Darkseid?!” The alien’s ears went up. “What in the world have you humans done, letting him loose again?”

Tony held up his hands. “Hey, we didn’t do anything. Thanos started showing up a few universes over from ours, someone caught on and started working to stop him. Darkseid is what they’ve got moving in on them in yet another area, we weren’t entirely sure if they were  just different names for the same guy or what.”

“Or what. Darkseid wants to rule the multiverse,” the pink alien told him. “He’s been imprisoned for eons, so if he’s out now…well, nobody knew. This Thanos guy is probably his minion or something. I’ll pass the word along.” He examined his side of the portal. “This is nice, looks stable too.”

“Thank you. You have portal technology?”

The alien nodded. “We use it for travel. And I have a portable version I use to catch escapees.” A smaller blue alien with big floppy ears stuck its head into view and blew a raspberry at him, and he rolled his eyes - all four of them. “Keep it up, I’ll beam you into the ocean and make you swim back.” It ignored him, having seen the portal, and hopped into the room to take a closer look. “They say they called to warn us. Darkseid’s loose, Stitch.”

The floppy ears flapped, and the smaller alien pointed through the portal with two of its four arms. “Over there?” it asked in a high, squeaky voice.

“No, somewhere else.” A little Polynesian girl with a camera slung around her neck came running in. “No, kid, stay back. This is an interdimensional portal, it’s dangerous.”

Reed’s eyebrows had gone all the way up. “You’re living with the humans?”

“Of course they are,” the little girl told him with a scowl. She was probably somewhere around seven or eight. “They’re family.”

“Family,” the alien called Stitch confirmed. He bounced over to her and got a hug, obliquely putting himself between her and the portal. “Ohana.”

“Means family,” Max said from the doorway behind Tony and Reed, making them both jump. He was wearing shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, and so was Blake. “Sorry, took me longer than expected to find the right outfit - I wanted to at least try to blend in.”

The two older men looked at each other, then at him. “Is this…another one?” Reed wanted to know. Max nodded. “So we need to go through?”

Max shook his head. “Blake and I are going through.” He waved to the aliens and the little girl. “Unless these guys need help. Do you?”

The pink alien snorted. “No, we’ve got it covered - unless Darkseid shows up, then nobody has it covered.”

“Actually, that’s why I’m popping over for a visit,” Max told him. “You’re the good guys?”

He nodded. “Now we are, yeah.”

“They are,” the little girl confirmed, nodding. “I’ll go tell my sister we’re having company from another dimension.”

“Wait,” Stitch squeaked. He hopped back to the portal, looked at it, sucked in two arms and then hopped through. On their side he was bigger than he’d looked before, around three feet high with a wide mouth full of teeth. He cocked his head, then shook it and bounded over to Max and Blake to look them over and sniff. “Smell okay,” he squeaked. “Where kitty?”

Max smiled. “She’s off hunting. I didn’t think I needed to call her home this time.” He raised an eyebrow at the pink alien. “Any idea what the time difference is between here and there, so they’ll know when to open the portal back up? They can’t leave it open, it draws the wrong kind of attention.”

The pink alien waved that off with one of his four-fingered hands. “I can portal you back. Hang on…” He rummaged through some equipment that was piled haphazardly into a box on the floor, then pulled something out and aimed it into the portal; it let off a burst of yellow light with a ring in the center, and he checked a readout on the device. “Okay, got it. Yeah, I can send you back. And the time dilation’s only about two days, give or take. Come on through.”

Stitch grabbed Max’s hand, then Blake’s, and pulled them both to the portal and through it. Max waved to Tony and Reed. “Go ahead and shut down, he’ll send us back. I’m not sure when, though.”

Tony checked something on his tablet, then nodded. “Okay, we’ll see you two when you get back,” he agreed. “Close it up, Reed.”

Reed did, but raised an eyebrow at him. “Josie…”

Tony held up the tablet. “Messaged me. They’re telling the truth…and the pink alien loves that little girl like she was his own. The blue one is pretty much her pet, but he’s also probably the most dangerous thing on their version of Earth right now. Anything that tries to attack any of them will be dead before it has a chance to be surprised.”

“So their version of Blue, I suppose, just with more arms. Some of the time, anyway.”

“Yeah, that kind of threw me. I wonder what else he has hidden besides extra arms?” The tablet beeped. Tony looked at it, smirked, and held it back up so Reed could see. In all-caps Josie had responded, DON’T ASK.

 

The next few days on the island were kind of boring. In spite of the pink alien’s assertion that he could get Max and Blake home, nobody was comfortable changing the settings on the portal generator until they were back, just in case. No sea monsters were attacking New York. No bad guys had attacked anything else. No new Skrull activity had been detected anywhere. Blue prowled the beach when she wasn’t hunting or sleeping but otherwise didn’t seem to be worried by the absence of her owners. Today she was napping on the patio after demanding attention from everyone who had showed up for the afternoon’s informal meeting - and scent-marking everyone as well, according to Reed. Who was currently reading the notes in their ‘little black book’ and adding more notes according to the way their discussion was going. “We really should backtrack,” he was saying. “We’ve gone far past the area where our particular warnings will do much good. But there may be more closer to home - relatively speaking - who need the warning. And we should probably also check up on some of the ones we’ve already met to make sure they still don’t need help.”

“And some of them volunteered to help us out if we needed it, we should probably check back in with those worlds too,” Jake suggested. “Like those guys with the gray skin and sunset-colored horns.” 

“You want us to talk to the trolls again?” Jake shrugged, but Tony winced. “Yes, exactly; I don’t either. Especially not the one who shouts all the time.”

Ben snorted. “I think that one may be compensatin’ for somethin’ - did you notice his horns were shorter than everyone else’s?”

“It was noticeable, yes.” Reed made another note. “I don’t deny we should check in with them, but I’ll let Jake do it - all the yelling gave me a headache last time. So we’re all agreed, it’s time to turn around?”

“Yes.” The word seemingly came out of thin air, except that thin air had a pinpoint of light in it which spiraled open into a pink-and-purple portal. The pink alien was there, along with the blue one called Stitch, the little girl, and Max and Blake. But someone else was present now too, an athletic-looking young woman who closely resembled the little girl. She looked worried, and Max had his hand on her shoulder. “Nani, you’re fine,” he was saying. “You’ve got this. We’ve got this.”

“But when you talk to him…”

“I’ll make sure he understands,” Max assured her. “Sweetheart, your predecessor’s mistakes are not your fault. We all know that. What we need you to do is move forward, okay? Practice, play with it, have some fun. Maybe take your poor long-suffering boyfriend out and make him some sweet waves to ride.”

“You think I should tell him?”

He kissed her forehead. “Yes. He was okay with aliens, he’ll be okay with this. He loves you, and it’s time you let him in.”

Nani threw her arms around him, and the very faint bubble of pink light around Max tinged with blue and a winding hint of green. And then she hugged Blake, who kissed her forehead the same way his husband had. “You’ve got this,” he repeated. “And remember, Maui said he might show up to…to help you train, and to make sure your boyfriend is ‘worthy’. So you’ve got…got that to look forward to.”

That made her laugh. “He’ll probably turn David into a shark!”

“So then you’ll make it rain on him until he turns him back,” Max said. “Have fun with it, the way he does.”

“I’ll try.”

“We’ll make sure she does,” the pink alien said. “You guys be careful, okay? Don’t worry about us, I have backup plans in case any of the really bad stuff makes it this far.”

“Knew you would. Still, though, call us if you need anything.” Max shook hands with him, and then he and Blake stepped through the portal and waved as it shut back down. They both looked more than tired, but Max waved off the exclamations of concern. “No, we’re fine, it’s just the aftereffects of getting hit with blowdarts on top of doing some unexpected time travel. Hey Jarvis, ask Thor for me if he’s ever met Maui?”

“I will ask him,” Jarvis replied. “And I have notified Dr. Strange about the blowdarts.”

“Tattletale.” Max stretched. “Maui’s the guy the island is named after, he’s a demigod,” he explained for everyone else’s benefit. “Unfortunately, the Kakamoras’ darts still worked on him too in spite of that.”

“Kaka…”

“About two feet high with orange-brown skin and wear masks made out of carved…carved coconut shells,” Blake provided. “Mean little fuckers. But Nani and her ancestor said we weren’t…weren’t allowed to kill any of them. On purpose,” he added as a seeming afterthought. “Maui requested…requested that clarification.”

“He’s a big fan of loopholes,” Max agreed. “But he still didn’t kill any of them.”

Tony’s eyebrows were all the way up. “You couldn’t…” he waved his hand, “…do your thing?”

“No, it didn’t work on them. They’re like Skoodles that way.”

Tony didn’t get that reference, but Jake’s eyebrows went up in alarm. “No…”

“Yep, afraid so. No longer an issue, though. They got like that because they lost their food supply - it was a tree that literally went extinct. Alec gave me a seed to give to Nani, she and her ancestor took it to someone who could fix the problem, and after that most of the Kakamoras were more than happy to stay home on their island.”

“Where they eventually died out,” Blake added. “It was around three millenia ago, their timeline, according to…according to Maui.” He yawned. “I need a shower and…and sleep. Time travel sucks.”

“It does,” Max agreed. “Everyone else thought so too, but it was worth it just to see…well, what we saw. Which was amazing. Come to think of it, we might also want to ask Thor if Te Fiti has ever been here.”

“You got your thing done?” Tony wanted to know.

“Yeah.” Max smiled. “Nani’s got a lot of backup, a really tight family, she’s gonna be fine. I’m a lot less worried about her than I am about Alec, honestly.”

“He’s…he’s got the connection,” Blake reminded him. “Two of you now, not just one.”

“True. And he’ll have three soon.” As though that had reminded him, he pulled a scrap of parchment and a folded sheet of notebook paper out of his pocket and handed them to Reed. “This is where we need to go next. Nani’s ancestor and Maui gave me the first hint, and then Jumba made the best guess he could about coordinates. It’s probably two, maybe three universes back in this direction, according to the pattern we’ve been using.”

“Which, by the…by the way, Jumba was able to read from our portal,” Blake added. He pulled the backpack he was carrying off his shoulder and fished in it, pulling out sheets of scribbled notes, hand-drawn schematics, and a few electronic-looking odds and ends. “His science won’t work in our universe. Mostly. He thinks, anyway. But this is how he did it, with notes about how to clear the buffer so we’re…so we’re not leaving a trail someone…someone else can follow.”

Reed actually paled. “We’ve been…”

“No, not like that,” Blake assured him. “I told…I told him. He said not like that.”

“He was right,” Tony agreed. He’d taken some of the papers. “This…okay, I think I get it. Sort of, anyway. Portals have a unique energy signature, we knew that. But they apparently make unique ripples through the fabric of time-space,” he turned the paper sideways, “sort of like pulling a thread makes fabric ripple? It smooths back out on its own, for the most part, but a little bit of the ripple is still there and you can follow it…because we’re still dragging the string.”

Jake had taken possession of one of the schematics, and Ben got up to look over his shoulder. “That looks like a power interrupter,” he said, pointing a rocky orange finger. “Their science might be weird, but their math’s just fine. I think that’s what cuts the string, right? You just make a little hiccup in the power flow right there?”

Reed stretched around so he could look as well, then returned to his former position with a sigh of relief. “Yes, I think so. If we insert a function like that into the portal shutdown sequence, we ‘snap’ the string. We’ll need to go over it more thoroughly, of course, but if I read it right just a millisecond interruption of the portal’s power flow would be enough.”

“That’s how I’m reading it too,” Tony agreed. He raised an eyebrow at Max. “Do we need to go to your next stop within a certain timeline?”

Max started to say something, then stopped and shrugged tightly. A certain tension invaded the air. “Two or three more stops in our current pattern should get us there.” Blue ambled over to him to butt her head against his leg, and he buried one hand in her fur; Blake did the same. “Let’s go to our room, sweetheart, and you can have some treats.”

Blue made her happy noise, and all three of them disappeared. Ben cleared his throat in the frozen silence that followed. “That sounded like time runnin’ out to me.”