When Worlds Collide -- REALLY Collide
Monday, August 22nd, 1988
Hill Valley Narbonic Verse
“Ahh, eighties sweet eighties. It’s good to be back on familiar ground.”
Jack looked lovingly at the town spread out below them. “Your world was a bit too animated for my tastes,” he continued, looking back at Marty Seven. “And your version of Emmett – a teenager with a penchant for overstatement and the like. He almost had me scared for a moment, you know? Then he proved himself to be the same bleeding heart all the rest of them are.” He smirked. “I should have known he was just blowing hot air.”
“I dunno,” Biff muttered, looking a little rattled. “The way he was talking, and – that weird voice of his. . . .”
“Yeah, that guy’s dangerous,” Stanley agreed. “I was about ready to hand over everything in my wallet and the deed to my house just to get him to stop!”
Jack rolled his eyes. “Idiots,” he muttered. “Are you really that weak-willed, to cave into him that easily?”
“Hey, you yourself said he scared you for a moment,” Stanley retorted.
“True, but being scared and caving in are two different concepts. You notice I knew exactly how to disarm him.”
“But what about that weird voice?” Biff protested. “It’s freaky!”
“Who cares?” Jack said, waving a hand about carelessly. “It’s harmless, I’m sure. We don’t have to concern ourselves with it.”
“Any more side trips planned?” Sandra asked, looking curious. “Or are you afraid of ending up in another weird-ass dimension like that?”
“Not for a while yet,” Jack told her, bringing the train further down. “And no, not particularly. The place did have its charms, with that overlarge rampaging robot.” He grinned over at Marty Seven, who glared at him. “Not to mention we got ourselves another Martin out of the stop. Talk about an unexpected bonus.”
“I still can’t get over why he doesn’t speak anything but that German crap,” Biff said, glaring at Marty Seven like it was a personal failing on the teens’ part.
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” Jack said, frowning in puzzlement. “The only thing I can think of is that America was colonized by Germanic cultures rather than the Spanish and English ones we’re familiar with. Though, really, that didn’t look like California down there. . . .” He stopped the train and turned to Marty Seven. “Where are you from?” he asked, switching to German.
“Europa Wulfenbach,” Marty Seven said, frowning back at him. “Did – did you say ‘America’ just now?”
“Er, yes. . . . Why? And what on earth is Europa Wulfenbach?”
“It’s the united world of Europe under the sway of the Wulfenbach family, except for England. Though these days it’s a combination of Wulfenbach and Heterodyne. And I asked because we haven’t heard from either of the Americas in years!”
Jack blinked a few times. “Whyever not? And why were these Wulfenbach people so sloppy as to forget to conquer England? If you’re going to take over the world, you should do a proper job of it.”
“It’s hard to conquer something that’s under water,” Marty Seven replied, deadpan. “And we don’t know. Communications stopped coming before I was born.”
Jack rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Interesting. Your world is like no other I’ve ever seen.”
“Yeah, well, it’s home, and I’d like to go back now.”
Jack smirked at that. “It sucks to be you, then. Because you’re never going home. Not now, not ever.”
“What?! You can’t just keep me here on this train! Emmett--”
“You seriously think your friend there is going to come and save you? Oh, definitely not, Mr. McFly. You and your alternates are going to be long dead before that happens.”
Marty Seven shook his head. “No way. Emmett’s going to kill you first.”
Jack chuckled at that. “I’ve already died. Didn’t take.”
Marty Seven’s eyes narrowed. “Ditto, you douchebag.”
That brought Jack up short. He stared for a moment, eyes wide with disbelief. Nothing about Marty Seven indicated he was lying. What – his dimension has the means to bring people back to life?! That’s – not good for my plans. He scowled and leaned in closer. “All that means is that I’m going to have to be very, very thorough in disposing of you,” he hissed. “And don’t think I won’t enjoy every moment of it.”
With that, he turned back away, going back to the controls. “Stay alert, everyone,” he said, continuing to bring the train down. “We’ve got ourselves another Martin McFly to catch. Let’s see if we can get this one and get out without another tiresome confrontation with my ‘brothers.’”
Marty One looked over at Marty Seven. “Hey, are you okay?”
Marty Seven looked back, face twisted up in a scowl. “Do I look okay? I’m stuck on this weird train with a bunch of other mes and some lunatic who looks like an older version of my best friend who apparently wants to kill me, and practically everybody’s speaking some language I don’t understand! On what continent does that translate to ‘okay?’”
“Sheesh, dude, don’t take it out on me!” Marty One snapped back. “If you haven’t noticed, we’re all in the same boat here! Minus the language shit, which I’ll admit, must suck for you.”
“Yeah,” Marty Seven said, cooling down some. “Sorry. It’s just – first we had to deal with that stupid clank somebody thought it would be funny to set on the town, then this idiot kidnaps me! And Emmett. . . .” He looked down at his feet. “Damn it, when that asshole there had me there with the knife to my chest. . . .”
Marty One grimaced. “Yeah. I’m sorry. That seems to be his thing – threatening us with death so the Docs will back off.” He paused, wondering how to ask this next part delicately before deciding to just throw caution to the wind. “But, uh – did you just – did you just basically tell him you died before and came back to life?”
Marty Seven shifted awkwardly. “Yeah, I did,” he admitted. “Where I’m from, if you have a well-preserved body, you can take it to a Spark or somebody and they can try and resurrect it. It doesn’t work a lot, and sometimes you get a new person instead of the old one – you know, memory wipe – but it happens. I was lucky, a really good Spark got a hold of me and patched me up right away. He sighed. “Guess that makes me the most expendable guy here. Emmett should have gone for it. So long as this Jack guy let him have my body. . . .”
“Hey, I don’t think anybody’s expendable,” Marty One said firmly. “And neither do the Docs. Obviously yours didn’t think so. And you said yourself it doesn’t work a lot. He must know that.”
“I know,” Marty Seven said quietly. “And I know why he didn’t do it, either; I – I died in front of him the last time, but. . . .” He sighed deeply. “This sucks.”
“Won’t argue with you there,” Marty One nodded. “And some poor bastard version of us down there is gonna probably find out how much it sucks.”
“Damn it.” Marty Seven looked toward the back of the train. “Come on, Emmett,” he said softly. “I know you can get us out of this. You’re a Spark! That’s more than I can say for me!”
Monday, August 22nd, 1988
Hill Valley Narbonic Verse
“And then, I shall RULE THE WORLD! MWAHAHAHAHAHA!”
“Nope, sorry bro. Still not evil enough.”
Marty looked sulkily over at his older brother. “Come on, Dave, I’ve been practicing that laugh for two weeks.”
“You could be practicing it for two years. It’ll never sound evil enough. Because you? Not evil.”
“I’m a Mad Scientist!”
“You’re still not evil.”
Marty scowled at Dave for a moment, then let his face relax back into a grin. “Yeah, I guess I’m not. Still, was there anything to the laugh?”
“I dunno. I’m not exactly the best judge on evil laughs.”
“You’re part of a world-spanning conspiracy! You have to heard somebody laughing evilly!”
“Honestly, Marty, we’re all pretty laid back for guys who run the world. None of us really do the evil laugh thing.”
“You’re missing out.”
Dave smirked at him over his paper. “Why don’t you ask Doc about this sort of stuff instead of me? He’s your fellow Mad. He has to know more about it.”
“I dunno. I’ve never really heard Doc do much of the whole ‘mwhahaha’ thing. Then again, I don’t think Doc could be honestly evil to save his life. Even his breakthrough or whatever you want to call it was pretty – I don’t know, easy. Calm. Didn’t hurt anybody except himself.” Marty grimaced a little. “Better than what I did.”
That got Dave to lower his paper more. “Marty, don’t start thinking about that again. You weren’t – you’d just gotten out of the clutches of Helen Narbon Sr. You had a right to be absolutely off your rocker. It’s no worse than what a lot of other Mads have done.”
“Still, I – it’s a hard thing to live with, knowing you nearly killed an entire roomful of people.”
“Key word here is ‘nearly,’ Marty. Doc talked you down in time, and that’s the important part.”
“I guess.” Marty shook his head and smiled again. “So, anything interesting in the paper today?”
“Eh, not really. Don’t know why I bother reading it some days.” Dave folded it up and put it aside. “What are you up to, besides bothering me with your oh-so-evil laugh?”
“Nothing, really,” Marty admitted, plopping on the couch. “I don’t have any new song ideas, I already practiced my guitar for an hour, I don’t have classes today, and my latest project’s stalled out.” He scowled at nothing in particular. “Have to order a part from somewhere. Why can’t some Mad invent teleportation?”
“Somebody probably did, honestly.”
“Then why didn’t he try to market it? I swear, that’s the problem with everybody – they’re all too afraid to share their inventions and make some money! Even Doc’s like that!” He shook his head, grumbling. “When I come up with the big one, I’m getting a patent then calling up a bunch of companies and offering them the product.”
“Good luck with that,” Dave said, turning on the TV. “There’s a reason most places refuse to touch a Mad’s stuff.”
“I know, I know, we’re all clinically insane and prone to trying to unleash our horrors upon humanity,” Marty muttered. “But I’m a music Mad! What am I gonna do, rock them to death? Rock and roll music is harmless! You gotta get into supersonic waves before you can do any real damage. And I don’t even like touching those frequencies. Give me major headaches.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Dave replied. “There’s gotta be something you can do, though. Can’t you go visit Doc for a while?”
“He and his family’s at the zoo,” Marty explained.
“What about your other fri--”
Dave stopped as Marty gave him a bit of a look. “Sorry,” he said, turning a bit pink.
“It’s okay,” Marty sighed, looking down again. “I suppose I should try to make some new friends, but – it’s hard when you’re the type of guy now who might get an idea out of nowhere and start scribbling crazy shit on the napkins. Or the wall.”
“Yeah, I figure.” Dave slung a friendly arm around Marty’s shoulders. “You’ll always have us, bro.”
Marty smiled a little. “Thanks. Means a lot.”
“And don’t you have a girlfriend you can go see too?”
“She’s stuck in work/study until five this afternoon, then I think she’s going to see her grandma.” Marty groaned and ran his fingers through his hair. “The world has deprived me of all my friends!” He glared up at the ceiling. “You could at least let me get unstuck on my project!”
“Maybe you just need to clear your head,” Dave suggested. “Why don’t you take a spin in your truck? Or hell, even on your skateboard? Fresh air might do you some good. I know a walk in the park helps me when I’m feeling bored at work.”
“You feel bored at work?”
Dave gave him a light slap upside the head. “Yeah, contrary to popular opinion, I do have a life outside the office.”
Marty laughed. “Could have fooled me.” He dodged another slap. “But yeah, that’s probably a good idea. I haven’t taken my skateboard out in a while. And I really got nothing else to do. Thanks.”
“No problem. See ya in a few.”
“Yeah, see ya. And tell Mom and Dad where I went if they come back.”
“Sure thing.” Marty nodded and headed outside. He grabbed his old Valterra skateboard from the garage, looked up and down the street, then hopped on and started north.
As he skated, he started feeling better. Dave had been right – the fresh air was just what he needed. He took a corner, then did a wheelie just for kicks. Jesus, I haven’t done this in forever. I need to start up again. Forgot how much fun it could be.
He continued down the road, doing a few tricks like spinning the board and jumping hedges, laughing at the sheer joy of movement. For a moment, he felt like a normal teenage boy again. Not some technically insane supergenius with a penchant for warping sound. “Wonder what the guys would think if they could see me now,” he muttered.
Thinking about his old friends brought up a pang. He knew he’d really lucked out with Jennifer and his family being so accepting of the new him. Maybe it helped that they knew Doc so well already, and thus knew it wasn’t always the kind of thing that lead to trying to destroy the world and make everyone around them their slaves. The rest of his friends, on the other hand. . . . They’d been willing to tolerate his relationship with Doc. Some of the band had even started to warm up to the scientist. The instant he’d had to admit he was Mad, though, they’d all pretty much bolted. Even Rick, who Marty had known ever since just before the beginning of high school had ditched him. It still stung, even after all this time. Stupid evil Mads, giving the rest of us bad press. . . .
He shook his head and turned his concentration back to his skateboarding. He didn’t want to think about depressing things now. He wanted to have fun and relax, like a regular boy.
Which proved difficult when Biff Tannen appeared in front of you, holding a gun.
Marty let out a yelp and screeched to a stop in front of the auto detailer. “Biff? What the hell?” he said, eyeing the gun nervously. Biff with a gun unnerved him. Reminded him too much of that awful 1985-A hell.
“Hey McFly,” Biff greeted him, grinning like his birthday had come early. “Fancy meeting you here.”
Marty was briefly tempted to spit out something like, “I live here, you dork,” but bit his tongue. If Biff was armed, there was no sense in provoking him. Damn, and all my sonic stuff’s back at the house. Think, McFly, think. What’s going on here? Why does Biff have a gun? “Didn’t expect to see you around either,” he said, backing up a step. “What’s the deal with the gun?”
“Nothing special,” Biff shrugged. “Just kidnapping you.”
“Ah. That makes sense.” Marty was privately amazed at how deadpan he sounded. Dude, you’re nuttier than you thought you were. Some asshole with a gun comes up to you and says he’s here to kidnap you, and you just take it in stride? “Any particular reason why? Dad not pay you enough for the last wax job?”
Biff snorted. “Nothing like that. Too bad for you, honestly.” He reached out and grabbed Marty’s arm. “I gotta say, though, you’re taking it kinda well.”
“I think I’m in shock or something,” Marty admitted with a small nod. The adrenaline was starting to catch up to him now, however, kicking his brain into overdrive. Okay, Biff Tannen’s trying to kidnap me. That won’t fly. I’ve got my skateboard, but I don’t have any tools! Damn it, otherwise I might have been able to fashion it into a sound frequency nullifier that –
Wait a sec, I’m way overthinking this. Stick to the classics, McFly! As Biff dragged him forward, Marty jabbed his knee as hard as he could into Biff’s groin.
Biff’s face contorted with shock and pain, turning first white, than an interesting shade of maroon. He released Marty and fell to the ground, looking like he wanted to curl up in the fetal position. Marty took the opportunity to hop back on his skateboard and start back for his house. Damn it! Good thing Dave’s still home. Him being a part of a global conspiracy had better be good for stopping his brother getting kidnapped!
“Hey! Stop him! Butthead kneed me in the balls! He’s getting away!”
“Oh, perfect, just perfect,” Marty muttered, putting on some speed. Figures the asshole would have accomplices. That’s it, I’m not going anywhere without my sonic screecher anymore. Could really use the distraction –
Something suddenly wrapped around his wrists, yanking him off his skateboard. “Whoa!” Marty looked down to see what looked like thick strands of hair wrapping around his arms. “The hell? Get off!” he yelled, trying to claw the stuff off with his fingers. “Where the hell did--”
Something hard thudded into the back of his head. Marty sat there dazed for a moment, watching the world spin. Then he fell back, the lights going out.
Monday, August 22nd, 1988
Hill Valley Narbonic Verse
“Great. Another world where I’m not at home.”
Doc One paced the train, compulsively checking his watch every thirty seconds. “Damn it, Three, you showed up shortly after we did! You think this other version of me could show the same consideration!”
“To be fair, he has no idea we’re here waiting for him,” Doc Three pointed out, though he too looked quite impatient.
“Do you think we should go looking for him instead?” Clara Five suggested. “Or maybe start the search for Marty on our own, instead of waiting for your other self?”
“The Marty of this universe might appreciate the latter,” Jennifer Seven agreed.
“I know, but it’s hard to know where to start,” Doc One admitted. “I don’t know if this verison is living at home, or if he’s living on-campus or in his own apartment – hell, I don’t even know if he goes to college! That’s the problem with all these alternate realities – superficially, a lot of them look the same, but there’s plenty of differences in how our lives went.” He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Not to mention all this constant running around is starting to wear on my nerves a tad.”
“You think it’s bad for you?” Mystie said with a yawn. “We’re more used to staying awake in sunlight these days, but – damn, I’m going to need a serious nap sometime soon.”
“Don’t think I could sleep even if I wanted to,” Doc Four said softly, leaning against the side of the train. “Not with Marty in that man’s clutches.”
Emmett Seven looked worriedly at his counterparts. “A lot of you are close to running on empty, aren’t you? Too bad I can’t offer you some of Agatha’s coffee. That would perk you right up.”
“Yeah, but there’s the chance it would leave them in that ‘everything’s so perfect’ daze,” Jennifer Seven pointed out.
“She says that only happens to one out of every four consumers now!”
The rest of the passengers eyed each other. “Nothing’s normal about your reality, is it?” Jennifer Six asked, shaking her head a little.
“May I point out we’re in a time-traveling train.”
“Yeah, but the rest of the world doesn’t know about that where I come from.” She paused, looking over at her Doc. “Then again, the rest of the world does know about the kids, so. . . . Six of one, half a dozen of the other?”
Doc Six chuckled. “Not quite the same thing. The DeLorean isn’t sentient.”
“Though it should be,” Tommy said. “Like Kitt!”
“Kitt doesn’t actually exist, you know.”
“All our realities are weird in their own ways,” Doc Five said, with a small smile. “Just we consider yours weirder than most.”
“It runs both ways,” Emmett Seven shot back. “But yeah, if some of you need to sleep, now might be a good time to do so. Not like we need all seven of us explaining things to him, right?”
Doc Four sighed. “Maybe,” he said softly. “But like I said, I doubt I’d be able to.” He shook his head. “I don’t think I’m going to keel over from exhaustion just yet. I can hold out a while longer.”
“Are you sure?” Doc Three asked.
Doc Four looked at him, mouth set in a stubborn line. “I have to. Just in case this reality’s the one.”
“Hey, we’ve got a car coming!” Jennifer Two yelled, peering out the backmost window to the train.
The Docs broke off their conversation, rushing over to join her. Sure enough, the E. Brown Enterprises van was pulling up into the driveway. As they watched, it turned and headed into the garage. “That should be our man,” Doc One said, sounding relieved. “Or at the very least his wife.”
“Who wants to take bets on it being Clara again?” Mystie said jokingly.
“No way,” Josephine said with a grin. “The odds are too high.” She looked around at the various Claras. “It’s amazing how he just seems to gravitate toward you, isn’t it?”
“I know,” Clara Six said, looking around herself. “Does that bother you at all?”
“It’s weird, yeah,” Mystie admitted. “Knowing if circumstances had been different. . . .” She went over and put her arm around Doc Two. “But if I wasn’t secure in my love for mine, I doubt we’d be together.” Doc Two smiled back at her, and they kissed.
“As for me, I’ve had to get used to it,” Josephine said, going to cuddle with her own Doc. “After all, I live in a reality where Emmett did marry her. Lucky for me we get on so well.”
“Lucky for her too, I’m sure,” Clara Three nodded. “I do wonder if there are any other girls, or if it’s just us three.”
“You never know. We might see someone else. I’m not betting on it, though.” She inclined her head at Emmett Seven. “Not after seeing a teenage version of him still with you.” Emmett Seven and Clara Seven blushed.
The doors to the garage opened again, and out came the current reality’s Doc and his family. Sure enough, it was another version of Clara, Jules and Verne that accompanied him. The kids were hold animal-shaped balloons and talking excitedly to their parents, who were grinning and laughing back. Doc One grimaced as he looked at the idyllic scene. “Damn it. They look so happy, and we get to ruin it.”
“Better to ruin it now than have it ruined later when Marty turns up missing,” Doc Four said with a deep sigh. “Shall we switch off the invisibility?”
“Got it.” Clara pulled the appropriate lever.
The Docs watched the scene as the train flickered back into proper visibility. For a moment, it seemed like nothing was going to happen. Then the native Doc looked up – and did a very wide-eyed double take. “What the--”
Clara saw his shock and looked up too. She did her own double take. “Now how did that get out here?”
“I don’t know. But I don’t think it bodes well.” He frowned a little. “Think it could have waited until a little while after we got back from the zoo. . . .” He started toward the train, brow furrowed in confusion and determination. “You take the kids inside and I’ll see what this is about.”
Clara nodded and ushered the confused Jules and Verne inside. Doc went up to the train, saw the window everyone was crowded at, started to speak – then stopped as it hit him that there was more than one him there. He stared for a moment, jaw hanging open. “Good God, do I really look like that when I get shocked?” Emmett Seven said, raising an eyebrow.
“Afraid so,” Jennifer Seven giggled.
Finally, Doc found his voice again. “I assume there’s a good explanation for this,” he said, trying to sound less shocked than he looked and not really succeeding.
“No, there’s an utterly crappy explanation for this,” Jennifer Three said from her post the next window down. “Let’s get the usual question of the way – have you seen Marty today? Or know where he should be?”
The native Doc looked at her a moment. “Home, I assume,” he said, frowning.
“Home, meaning. . . .”
“With his parents. George and Lorraine. I’d expect you to know that.”
“Not necessarily,” Jennifer Three admitted. “Was true with me, but. . .look, let them explain it to you,” she said, waving at the assorted Doc. “You know you’re the one who’s good with the technobabble shit. Trust me, there’s plenty of it coming.”
Doc looked back to the cluster of Docs in the window. “This is a lot more than just a glitch in the space-time continuum, isn’t it?” he said slowly, looking a lot more worried.
“It’s a glitch spanning multiple universes,” Doc One said with a tired sigh. “The extremely short version of the tale is this: Someone named Jack who claims to be our twin brother – he does look quite a bit like us – has somehow managed to create a system where he can skip from reality to reality. He’s been traversing various dimensions, with an eye to kidnapping the local Marty of each one. Unfortunately, so far he’s been successful each time. We’re tracking him in hopes of saving the Martys he’s already taken and maybe preventing any more from being kidnapped. Which is hard when you’re not sure where he lives or where he’s supposed to be from world to world,” he grumbled, glaring at the ground. “So you haven’t seen the kid today?”
Doc shook his head, looking a bit bewildered. “Nope. Clara and I took the boys out to the zoo. Marty’s been at home all day as far as I know.” He paused for a moment. “Someone has invented a way to skip through realities?”
Doc One nodded. “Damned if I know how he did it,” he said. “He leaves a wormhole every time he skips – we’ve been following him through those.”
“You might want to call your Marty, make sure he is still at home,” Doc Three said. “And if he is, tell him to lock every door and window until we get there.”
“Right. I guess I’ll go do that.” Doc started to walk to his house, then turned and looked back, frowning. “If this person’s going around kidnapping Martys, why is there a teenage version of me there?” he said, pointing at Emmett Seven.
“Believe it or not, he had a Marty,” Doc Four said. “Go call, please. Let’s make sure Jack hasn’t gotten to yours first before we go into the longer explanation.”
Doc hesitated a moment, then nodded and headed inside. Doc Three shifted his position a bit. “All right everyone, keep your fingers crossed.”
“Do you think he really believes us?” Jennifer Four asked, twisting her hands together in worry.
“It’s hard not to believe when there’s seven different versions of you staring you in the face, isn’t there?” Doc Five pointed out. “At the very least, he’s willing to call his Marty and make sure he’s all right.”
“Wonder what would happen if we got one who refused to believe,” Doc Two mused.
“Seeing us would help convince them we weren’t any variation on their future or past self, I’m sure,” Jules said, his brother tentacles nodding.
“Heh – yes, our various ‘eccentricities’ should help in that regard,” Doc Three agreed with a small grin. Then he frowned a little. “Does anyone else find it odd that, with the exception of One, we keep ending up with superpowers of a sort? Even Emmett’s inventing ability seems out of the ordinary.”
The other Docs looked at each other. “I couldn’t tell you,” Doc Four said with a shrug. “Perhaps weirdness is just attracted to us.”
“I’d buy that explanation,” Emmett Seven nodded.
Doc returned, now with Clara on his heels. He was shaking his head. “I got Dave,” he said to the others. “Apparently Marty went out skateboarding roughly a quarter of a hour ago. Hasn’t returned yet.”
“Shit,” Doc One growled. “Did he know where Marty was going?”
“No, just said he was out.”
“Of course,” Doc Four said, rolling his eyes. “It would be too much to ask for Dave to know where he was going. . . . Seems like you’d better get in. And your wife too, if you’ve got someone to watch the kids.”
“Hang on a second – before I go anywhere, I want a bit more explanation. Why is this Jack person taking Martys?”
“We haven’t been able to get much of a straight answer out of him,” Doc One admitted. “Just that the Marty of his universe managed to defeat him in some way, so now he’s decided to take it out on every Marty he can get his paws on.”
“We’d say he’s insane, but it should be obvious, isn’t it?” Mystie spoke up.
“I’d say so,” Doc agreed, still looking dubious. “And given my strict attitude toward the space-time continuum, I think we can rule out a prank. . . . What I’m not ready to rule out is this being all a crazy dream I’m having.”
“You could pinch yourself,” Jennifer Five suggested.
“We all wish this was a crazy dream, really,” Doc Three said, a weary note in his voice. “But, unfortunately, it’s all real and we have an obligation to keep chasing this man until we can catch him. We’d prefer your help.”
“And if this is all a crazy dream, you don’t have much to lose by coming with us, right?” J.C. said, popping into the window.
The Doc and Clara looked at each other. “I guess not,” he admitted softly. “Clara, do you want to come along or would you rather stay here with the kids?”
Clara looked in at the other Claras she could see. “Looks like I come along, usually,” she said slowly, obviously having a bit of a hard time comprehending it all. “And if this is the serious situation the rest of them seem to think it is. . . . When are we coming back?” she suddenly asked.
“Well, this is a time machine, and we do intend to make full use of that fact once we’ve retrieved our best friends,” Doc One said. “I can’t blame you if you don’t want to leave Jules and Verne – it is Jules and Verne, right? – alone for long, though. I know how you worry.”
Clara frowned, looking between the train and the house. “If we could be back in five minutes our time, I suppose it would be all right,” she said. “But I still feel a bit nervous leaving them with just the dog.”
“Wait a minute, Clara,” Doc said suddenly, grinning in a surprisingly manic way. “This might be the perfect opportunity for me to test something. Wait right here.” He dashed back into the garage.
The others watched him. “I know that smile,” Jennifer Seven said, going back to cracking her knuckles. “That is not a good smile.”
Emmett Seven gave her a look. “I think it’s a great smile,” he retorted. “And will you quit doing that?”
“You knew this was my nervous habit when you let me sign up,” Jennifer Seven shot back. “And of course you would think it’s a great smile.”
“Let’s see what he comes out with before we judge whether that smile’s great or not,” Doc Five said, looking amused.
Doc returned shortly, holding a small remote and still grinning maniacally. Clara looked at the device, intrigued. “Oh! So you’ve worked out the bugs in that?”
“I believe I have,” Doc said. “Here, let’s give it a test.” He pointed out a small disk mounted above one of the nearby windows on the house. “Looks perfectly ordinary, right?” he called to his other selves.
“As ordinary as something like that can look, yes,” Doc Two agreed, frowning.
“Aha! But watch!” Doc pressed a series of buttons on the remote. There was a clicking noise –
Then, suddenly, a set of mechanical telescoping poles shot out from the sides of the disk, folding over and forming a close-barred cage on the ground. Doc’s grin widened. “Perfect.”
There was a moment of silence. “We’re sure we’re in a new reality?” Jennifer Six suddenly asked, staring in shock.
“We have to be! He’s not speaking German! And the controls say we’re back in California – I checked!”
Doc looked at them, confused. “Huh? What’s wrong?”
“What’s wrong is that your voice did that weird change thing!” Jennifer Five said, looking just as stunned as her counterpart. “And we’ve already gotten that!”
“Pardon?” Clara said, raising an eyebrow. “I expect they all do that when they get in the mood. Er, for inventing,” she hastily clarified, turning pink.
“Nope,” Doc Four said. “We thought it was a phenomenon unique to his universe.” He indicated Emmett Seven, who looked rather surprised.
Doc looked at Emmett Seven. “So? You must have just picked up my younger self,” he shrugged.
“I’m from Europa Wulfenbach in the year 1897,” Emmett Seven said.
“. . . . Or not.”
“Europa what?” Clara repeated, looking confused. “I lived in the 1800s for a while, and I’ve never heard of that.”
“Definitely not the same place, then,” Emmett Seven said. “It’s home for me. Europe was united under the rule of a Baron Klaus Wulfenbach. Ever hear of him?”
“No – though we did meet a Gil Wulfenbach briefly, at the last Mad Science Symposium.”
“. . . We have symposiums now?”
“This is weird,” Jennifer Seven said, shaking her head a little. “It’s like we landed in some sort one-off future of our own world!”
“Do they call what you have here the Spark?” Clara Seven asked, pushing her way to the front of one of the windows.
“No, they just call it – Mad. . . .”
Doc trailed off, staring at her. Clara Seven fidgeted uncomfortably. “Um, if this is about the scarring, I--”
“Half that, half you’re a teenager, but – what happened?” Doc suddenly demanded of Emmett Seven.
“What do you mean, what happened?” Emmett Seven shot back.
“Kid, I’m a Mad Scientist. I’ve got the diagnosis to prove it. I know a reanimated person when I see one.”
That got astonished looks from the other Claras inside the cab. “Reanimated?” Clara One repeated. “You mean – oh, you poor dear!”
“Not quite like that,” Clara Seven said, pulling at a lock of hair awkwardly. “I – well – I didn’t start out like I’m sure you did. I’m a full-on construct. I was made from two girls who died of diphtheria back in my home village.”
“Made? From the ground up?” Doc repeated, eyes wide. Clara Seven nodded. The scientist groaned and leaned hard against the side of the train. “Great Scott, do not tell me I got that desperate. . . .”
“I found her like that!” Emmett Seven snapped, looking annoyed. “Damn it, even my other selves assume I have to build myself a girlfriend?!”
“Given our dating record. . . .” Doc Four deadpanned.
It at least brought a smile to the young man’s face. “All right, but still. . . .”
“I’m sorry,” Doc said, looking deeply apologetic. “I should have known better, at least. I know I’m not good with the biological side of Madness. I’m strictly a mechanics person. You too, I assume?”
“Pretty much,” Emmett Seven nodded. “I mean, I know some basic stuff about constructs to help if Clara gets hurt, but. . . .” He shivered a little. “I don’t like the blood and guts that goes along with construct-making.”
Doc Two shook his head. “This would happen to us. We think the last reality is unique among all the others, and it turns out there’s a just-slightly-different one right around the bend.”
“Brown’s Law,” Albert agreed, patting his shoulder.
“What exactly is that supposed to do?” Josephine asked.
“Basically, it’s a motion-activated trap,” Doc said, resetting it with another press of a button. “It springs out and catches anyone passing underneath. In non-test circumstances, it also summons the police. I had some issues before with it capturing the inhabitants of the house, but I think I’ve gotten those licked. Anyway, Jules and Verne are going to be staying inside, so it wouldn’t be a problem anyway.”
“Looks a bit like something Gil – my version, anyway – created once,” Emmett Seven said thoughtfully. “Not exactly the same, but the idea behind it is.”
Doc nodded. “I wouldn’t be surprised if even a normal inventor came up with an idea like this. It’s pretty simple.” He sighed. “Anyway, you were saying we ought to come along and make sure Marty’s okay?”
“Exactly,” Doc One said. “It’s getting a little cramped in here, I admit, but better to have you along than not.”
“My thoughts precisely,” Doc agreed, frowning. “Damn it, how is it danger always seeks out that kid?”
“We have no idea,” Doc Five said tiredly. “It must be something in his genes.”
“I’ll go tell Jules and Verne we’re going out for a bit,” Clara said. She eyed the remote in her husband’s hand. “Are you sure the one above the door won’t try to capture me?”
“Pretty much positive – but I’ll deactivate it just in case, if you’re really worried,” Doc said, pressing another button combination.
Clara chuckled. “It’s less worry and more I know how much time it can take you to perfect something,” she said, kissing his cheek. She headed inside.
“Practice makes perfect!” Doc called after her. He looked back at the crowd of Docs, cocking his head. “Is my count right? Is there really seven of you?”
“Yes, there is,” Doc Four said. “We’ve been using a numbering system to keep us all straight – you’re number Eight.”
Doc shifted his gaze to the left. “Seems like you’ve got an equivalent number of Claras and Jennifers.”
“Not quite,” Doc Two said, looking slightly awkward. “Though it is true that most of us bring at least two other passengers.”
“Oh? Did Clara or Jennifer stay behind once or twice?”
“It’s more like there’s two realities where we married different people,” Doc Four explained.
Doc blinked a few times. “Marry – marry someone other than Clara?”
Mystie and Josie waved shyly. “Hi, we’re choices two and three,” Mystie said.
Doc looked at them, brow furrowed. “Strange. . . .”
Clara returned, nodding. “They’re just going to play quietly in Jules’s room until we get back,” she said. Doc nodded back and rearmed the security devices. “Are we off, then?”
“I suppose so.” Doc pocketed his remote and headed for the door, which Doc One obligingly opened.
Clara stared around at the large crowd as they board. “Golly,” she muttered. “How do you keep everyone straight? Who goes with who?”
“Like I told your husband, we’ve been using a numbering system,” Doc Four said as they rose into the air. “Makes things easier.”
“I’m number One,” Doc One said, turning away from the controls briefly. “And this is my Clara and Jennifer.” Clara One and Jennifer One waved.
“I’m Two, and this is my Jennifer and my wife Mysteria,” Doc Two said, indicating his companions.
Clara’s eyes widened. “Wife?”
“Uh, yeah,” Mystie said, looking awkward again. “I know it must look weird.”
Clara looked over at Doc. “Yes, it does,” she admitted. “I suppose if we really are talking different dimensions, there must be some where we never met, but. . . .” She shivered a little. “It’s not pleasant to think about.”
“No, I guess not,” Doc Two agreed, looking almost guilty.
“If it makes you feel any better, he ends up with you more often than not,” Mystie said, waving her hand to encompass the large amount of Claras on board.
Clara looked at her doubles and smiled a little. “I suppose so. A bit.”
“Anyway, I’m Three, and I have a Clara and a Jennifer,” Doc Three continued, pulling his friends close.
“I’m Four. I’m another married to someone else – this is Josephine,” Doc Four said, introducing the blond woman. “And yes, this is our Jennifer.”
“It gets weirder – we’ve already permanently dimension-hopped once, so back home we have another version of him who is married to you,” Josephine said with a tiny smirk. “He kind of gets the best of both worlds in that one.”
Clara and Doc shared an astonished look. “Golly,” Clara said again.
“I’m Five – I have a Clara and a Jennifer,” Doc Five said, as his companions waved. “My friend J.C. here also insisted on coming along.”
“I’m the fun one,” J.C. said, grinning and showing off far too many teeth.
“I’m sure you are,” Doc said, automatically backing away.
“She’s not dangerous – just a little overenthusiastic,” Doc Five quickly assured them.
“I’m Six – a Clara and a Jennifer,” Doc Six introduced himself. “Though my Clara and I sort of brought along our own passengers.”
“And Tommy!” the tentacles introduced themselves.
Doc stared, mouth hanging open slightly. “They talk?! What are they?”
“They started out as mere extra hands of a sort, but after a lab accident, they ended up gaining sentience,” Doc Six said. “It takes a while to explain.”
“I think I can guess my other self’s passenger,” Clara said, with a grin at Clara Six’s pregnant belly.
Clara Six blushed. “I guess I have two then,” she admitted, her clothes morphing again into black goo. “He was actually referring to Rosie here.”
Clara blinked a few times, staring at the goo slithering over her other self’s body. “Rosie?”
“Again, long story,” Doc Six said.
“It’s an alien symbiote,” Clara Six explained, blushing harder. “It’s friendly, I assure you.”
“An alien? From outer space?” Emmett Seven said, looking quite intrigued. “That’s amazing! Does it talk too?”
“Sometimes,” Rosie obliged, causing everyone to start.
“She’s not the chatterbox the tentacles can be, but yes, she can talk if she wants,” Clara Six confirmed, blush deepening even further.
“So cool. And we’re the latest ones, the Sevens,” Emmett added, looking back at the newest Doc. “Clara and Jennifer again, though as you pointed out, Clara’s a construct rather than a natural-born human.”
Doc shook his head. “This is utterly fantastic. I’m starting to lean toward the dream explanation.”
J.C. frowned, then reached over and pinched him hard. “Ow! Okay, not a dream!”
“It gets worse,” Doc One assured him, grinning a bit wickedly. “We’re all rather – special – in our own way. Except me, but being the sole normal one in this group renders me an oddball.”
“We’ve got two vampires--” Docs Two and Four raised their hands “–one electricity-controlling mutant--” Doc Three gave a wave “– one living cartoon--” Doc Five nodded “– one with the tentacles--” Doc Six smirked in an “isn’t it obvious?” kind of way “– and Seven and you make two proper mad scientists.” He looked at Doc with a frown. “Though you said something about having the ‘diagnosis’ to back it up?”
“It’s technically a genetic disorder,” Doc explained. “Some sort of inheritable mutation – people haven’t quite been able to figure it out yet. It lies dormant until puberty for most people, then you suffer a psychotic episode where – it’s hard to describe. Just – all the possibilities in science you’ve never seen before open up before you. A lot of people get themselves injured or even killed during it, but enough survive and pull through to become proper Mads.”
“The Breakthrough,” Emmett Seven said with a knowing nod. “Sounds like you have what I have. Were you sleepwalking too when yours happened?”
Doc shook his head. “I was – sleepwalking? How can you have a breakthrough while asleep?”
“It helps if your Spark’s been suppressed by an outside device.”
“Somebody figured out how to do that in your world?? People have been working on it here, but nobody’s succeeded yet. Funny how someone from the far past could beat us there.”
“Hey, if I were you, I’d be glad they haven’t figured it out yet,” Emmett Seven said. “The one I had gave me severe headaches every time I even tried to think about the simplest mechanical concept.”
Doc winced, face screwed up in imagined pain. “Great Scott. I don’t think I could live like that.”
“It was hard,” Emmett Seven said, nodding and looking down.
The other Docs looked a little disturbed. “None of us suffered any psychotic episodes during puberty,” Doc Three said. “The closest I came was discovering my power over electricity, zapping my father a little during an argument. . . .” He frowned. “You didn’t – hurt anyone, did you?”
“No, thankfully not,” Doc said, sighing deeply. “I snapped after hearing my classmates laugh at me one too many times. Common cause, really, being laughed at – anyway, I stormed off to try and get my thoughts straight and figure out something to build to wow them. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, I just wanted to get some respect, and I thought something appropriately flashy might do it. I found my way into one of the labs, found some parts, and surrendered to the madness, building--” he stopped and chuckled. “I don’t even remember anymore. I don’t think I quite knew at the time. I worked for hours, and it was going fine until I put in one pressure-release valve the wrong way. . . .”
“That’s all it takes,” Doc Five said with a sigh of his own. “Let me guess – explosion?”
“Took out a couple of classrooms. Luckily for all concerned, it happened after almost everyone had gone home. Two teachers still on campus heard the blast and came running – they found me unconscious in the wreckage. I was in a coma-like state for about three days, before finally waking up.”
Josephine whistled. “Wow. I’m glad you pulled through.”
“Me too. Though it was tough, adjusting. Most of my classmates didn’t like me before the explosion – once they found out I was Mad, well. . . .” Doc looked at the floor of the train. “Didn’t help that my parents kicked me out of the house at gunpoint.”
“They what?” Doc Four gasped.
“Mom? Mom helped?” Emmett Seven added, eyes wide with horror.
“She was the one holding the gun,” Doc told him. “Told me if I came inside, she’s shoot me.”
“I – she – I don’t believe you! Mom would never – Elias must have gotten to her or something!”
Doc blinked and unconsciously pulled back a little, surprised by Emmett Seven’s vehemence. “That’s what I’ve always assumed,” he said quickly. “She didn’t seem all that happy about it.” He cocked his head. “Why does it matter so much to you?”
Emmett Seven paused. “Because--” he swallowed “– because my mom died saving me from Elias.”
There was dead silence in the train. “What?” Doc One finally said, most of the color draining out of his face.
Emmett Seven nodded. “Elias was chasing us and had us cornered in Holly’s house. Mom herded us into a back room and blocked the door with her body while we escaped out the window. I was just leaving when--” he stopped, shuddering. Clara Seven put a comforting arm around him. “When I heard the gunshot, and saw her fall. . . .”
“Oh my God,” Doc Six whispered, the tentacles clacking their claws in shock. “I – I never – Elias loving Mom was one of the constants in my life. He might not have been able to stand me in later years, but he adored Sarah.”
“That’s what I thought too,” Emmett Seven said bitterly. “But no – apparently giving her a Spark son was reason enough for her to die.” He sniffled. “I couldn’t even stop to help her – he was right on my heels.” He bit his lower lip to keep it from trembling. “Holly lost her mother in the same fight. All of us – the entire group – are pretty much orphans these days.”
“All of you?” Jennifer Four repeated, looking at her counterpart.
Jennifer Seven nodded. “Yeah. Marty lost his parents to the wasps and the mob; Holly’s dad died early from flu and then Othar Tryggvassen –a friend of Elias’s, that should tell you everything – killed her mother; Othar killed Clara’s creator and turned her entire village to monsters; Elias killed Sarah, and Emmett’s disowned himself from his father; and as for me – well, my Mom died shortly after I was born, and my dad. . .well, he was one of the bad Sparks.”
“You’re joking,” Jennifer Six said.
“Dead serious,” Jennifer Seven said. “He treated me okay, but I knew he was a nasty piece of work. Tried to kill our neighbors and take over their village. Emmett and Marty stopped him, so he kidnapped me and Clara as consolation prizes and tried to kill us. Again, Emmett and Marty saved us, and he ended up dying.” She sighed and cracked her knuckles again. “I – wasn’t really all that sad.”
“Jesus Christ,” Jennifer Three whispered, hanging onto the side of the train. “I hate to say this, but your world? Kind of messed up.”
“You won’t get any argument from us there,” Emmett Seven said with a humorless grin. “But it isn’t all bad, and it is home. And we’ve got each other, at least.” He, Clara Seven, and Jennifer Seven smiled at each other.
“Is that why you froze up when he was threatening to kill Marty?” Doc Two said sympathetically.
Emmett Seven winced. “Part of it, yeah. It’s a bit more complicated than that.”
“It’s always more complicated than that, isn’t it?” Doc One said, voice soft.
“With us? Probably.”
Doc Three sighed and shook his head. “Speaking of complicated, how should handle the search now? If he went out skateboarding, he could be anywhere.”
Doc One started to speak, then stopped and looked over at Doc Two. “Wait – you’re connected to yours, right? You can feel he’s still here?”
“Yup, they haven’t left yet,” Doc Two confirmed. Doc Four added his own nod.
“Connected?” Clara asked.
“We’re the vampires,” Doc Four said. “We’ve got a special ability to link us to humans. We have it with our Martys.”
“. . . I get the feeling I’m less surprised by this than I should be.”
Mystie couldn’t help a snort of laughter. “Yeah, well, they’re already kind of joined at the hip at times, aren’t they?”
“Well, he’s like my son or my little brother in a way,” Doc Two said, rubbing the area above his heart. “I don’t know how else to describe it.”
“Trust us, even those of us without the connection feel it,” Doc One said sincerely. “It’s just – can you communicate with him over it? I seem to recall you can.”
“Yes, though I haven’t been doing much of it,” Doc Two admitted. “Just sort of sending subconscious reassurance to keep him from freaking out.”
“Why not?” Jennifer Five asked.
“Probably the same reason as me – worried Jack would either hurt Marty worse or knock him out to keep us out of his head,” Doc Four said, grimacing. “I don’t like it, but I can’t take the chance. Especially since we tend to feel each other’s pain in extreme conditions like this.”
“Not good,” Doc Six agreed, the tentacles squeaking.
“Damn,” Doc One muttered. “Well, can you risk a quick question? Just to ask one of them if somebody new has arrived?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Doc Two closed his eyes briefly, concentrating. Marty?
Hey Doc, Marty Two’s voice came, sounding nervous. Didn’t think you were gonna say anything. How’s things over there?
Tense. Worried. We’ve picked up the latest iteration of ourselves. Has Jack –?
Yeah, he has. Least this one speaks English. It’s weird having some version of us around who speaks only German. Lucky that first Marty can translate.
Marty One knows German?
Says his Doc taught him. Have you got any plans to get us out of here?
Doc Two sighed. Beyond try to take over his train by force? Not really. And that’s not really viable with him having firearms. I know I can take being shot, but – you can’t.
Damn. Come one, one of you has to be able to do something! I mean – why can’t one of you be a real doctor! Uh, no offense, but you know what I mean.
Yes, I do, but I don’t think it would make a difference. Jack’s got our number in calling us “bleeding heart types.” I think we are when it comes to you.
Yeah. Marty Two was quiet for a moment. Well, there’s eight of you now, so you gotta come up with something soon. You’re all supposed to be smart.
We’re trying our best, kid. Listen, where are you?
Not too far from my house, actually – not sure exactly where, but we’re definitely in Lyon Estates. They just brought the other Marty in, he’s unconscious. I think they’re waiting for him to wake up before they go. I bet Jack wants to – shit, Sandra’s looking at me funny. I think she can tell what we’re doing.
Damn. I’d better cut the connection, then. Stay safe, kid. Doc Two paused and considered that. For a relative value of “safe.”
I know what you mean, Doc. You guys do the same. I don’t want to see any of you get shot either. See ya later.
Doc Two sent off a final you too before returning to his own head. He opened his eyes to see Doc Four sitting on a bench, looking supremely depressed. “You contact yours too?” he asked softly.
Doc Four nodded, not looking up from the floor. “I couldn’t stay as long as I wanted,” he whispered. “Poor kid was so scared. . . .” He wrapped his arms around himself. “And yes, unfortunately they do have the latest version of Marty.”
“Crap,” Doc Six growled, the tentacles hissing. “How is it they always manage to beat us to the punch?”
“Stupid Brown’s Law,” Albert agreed, flexing his pincers angrily.
“At least they’re still here,” Doc One said. “We can try and keep closer on their tail again. Did either of them tell you where he was?”
“Couldn’t give exact directions, but their train is in Lyon Estates,” Doc Two reported. “And given it’s a large, time traveling, flying steam train and he never seems to bother using the invisibility. . . .”
“Right. Sorry if this causes any problems for you,” Doc One said as he set their course. “We try to stay invisible except when picking up our other selves. I doubt Jack cares.”
“It’s fine,” Doc said, waving a hand dismissively. “I’m known as one of the Mad. A flying steam train is par for the course for me. You can’t damage my reputation more than I already have.”
“Well, one bit of luck,” Doc Three said. “Onwards and upwards, everyone. The chase is on again!”
“Is it ever really off?” Doc Five quipped.
“Maybe someday,” Doc One grumbled, taking them north.
By the time they arrived in Lyon Estates, the other train was chugging out of it, heading in the direction of the community college on the edge of town. Doc One swung them around – a process that seemed unbearably slow – and started tailing them. “I don’t think we should try for another direct confrontation just yet,” he said reluctantly. “Those never seem to end well.” The other Docs nodded, Emmett Seven clutching his gun to his chest.
“How’s my Marty, do you know?” Doc asked Docs Two and Four, starting to look really worried.
“Unconscious at the moment, my Marty said,” Doc Two replied. “That was a few minutes ago, though, so the situation might have changed.”
Indeed, as they came up closer to the other train, the Docs started to hear what appeared to be a Marty yelling. “No, I don’t know who you are! And I don’t care who you are! Just tell me what the hell you did and why there’s seven other versions of me here!” There was a pause – perhaps Jack answering. It was hard to make out. “What?? I don’t – that’s ridiculous! You let me out of here right now!”
“Kid, don’t,” Doc Four muttered, looking pained. “You’re just going to get yourself hurt.”
“You – you – YOU ASSHOLE, YOU LISTEN TO ME! UNLESS YOU LET ME OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW, YOU ARE GOING TO REGRET IT FOR THE REST OF YOUR PATHETICALLY SHORT LITTLE LIFE! I’VE GOT A LOT OF WAYS SOUND CAN HURT, BASTARD!”
The expression on the Docs faces, especially Emmett Seven’s, were utterly priceless. There was silence in the cab for a moment. Then, almost as one, they turned to their new member. “Did – did we just hear--” Doc Four stammered, eyes huge.
Doc fidgeted under their gaze, looking very nervous and awkward. “Yes,” he said quietly. “I didn’t mention that, did I? It didn’t seem important at the time. . . .”
“Marty?” Emmett Seven said, voice almost a squeak. “Marty’s a – a Spark? A Mad? Whatever you call it?”
Doc nodded. “It happened last year, at the annual symposium. He had a rather rough breakthrough, I’m sad to say.”
Doc One looked from the villain train to his counterpart and back. “This – I don’t know how this is stranger than my other selves being mutants and vampires and the like, but it just is! Maybe because Marty has always been an ordinary teenage kid to me. . . . What happened? He’s a musician, not a scientist!”
“He still is, sort of,” Clara said. “His speciality seems to be sound. And he certainly hasn’t given up his guitar. As a matter of fact, he seems to enjoy playing even more than before. You should hear some of the things he comes up with.”
“Great Scott,” Doc Two muttered, leaning against the wall.
“It was a shock to me too,” Doc said, looking sympathetic. “I never expected him to go through that. I always thought he’d end up in the music industry, even if he didn’t achieve his dream of being a rock star.” He looked thoughtful. “Though I suppose he might still go into it, he’s made some interesting compositions. . . .”
“But how did he break through?” Emmett Seven demanded, still in shock.
Doc sighed. “It’s not a pleasant story. . . . We all went to the Symposium last year as a group. It was my first in a while – I was trying to hide my Madness from everyone, to avoid more persecution.”
“And doing a very bad job of it,” Clara added. “He finally just came out and admitted it a few days in.”
Emmett Seven couldn’t help a smirk. “You honestly thought you could hide it?”
“You of all people should know we’re prone to moments of stupidity,” Doc said. “Anyway, after that was all sorted, things were actually going pretty well. I’d been invited to speak on a panel about time travel, and I was quite looking forward to it.” He blushed a little. “To tell the truth, I was planning on doing some gloating in a relatively safe environment. Even among my fellow Mads, I’m a bit looked down upon. I was hoping to get one over on them for a change. I was preparing for my speech when Marty vanished. He’d separated from us during our tour of the floor vendors, and. . . .” He stopped, fidgeting again. “This next part is going to sound completely crazy.”
“It can’t be any crazier than anything we’ve already run into,” Doc Six said firmly.
“Don’t say that until you’ve heard my next sentence. Which is he ran into the cabal of Daves that run the world.”
“. . . Perhaps I was wrong.”
“Daves?” Mystie said, blinking. “Is that some sort of weird code name?”
“Nope. I’m literally talking about people named Dave.”
“Like – Marty’s brother?” Jennifer Three said slowly.
“Exactly. In fact, Marty’s brother is in on this. Unfortunately his flight was delayed and he was late for the meeting. He might have been able to stop what happened next.”
“Do we even want to know?” J.C. said, looking like someone had given her brains a good stirring with a large spoon.
“Well, if you want to know why Marty’s a Mad instead of an ordinary teenage boy. . . .” Doc sighed. “He ended up spying on their meeting after seeing our local mailman there and got caught. And some idiot there suggested taking him to Helen Narbon.”
Something about the pure venom in Doc’s voice as he said the name immediately raised the hackles of the other Docs. “Who’s she?” Doc Four said, voice darkening.
“One of the sickest women to ever walk this earth,” Doc replied, own voice dark. “And one of the most dangerous Mads around. She’s almost completely without morals – anything and anyone is fair game for her experiments. And trust me, she’s caused massive destruction with her experiments. Wrecked quite a few cities and such.” He looked at the floor. “The Daves hired her as a sort of scientific consultant. Damned if I know why.” He shook his head. “They brought Marty to her, and she dragged him over to another Mad she was getting along with at the time and stuck him in – I believe it was some sort of total isolation booth. Marty told me later it was as sensation-free as they could get. He thought he could just wait it out, but. . . .” His shoulders slumped. “His mind just couldn’t take whatever they’d done. By the time his brother arrived on the scene, bawled out his fellow Daves and rescued him, he’d snapped. The next time I saw him, he’d escaped from his rescuers and--”
Doc stopped, obviously not wanting to go on. “And. . . ?” Doc Three gently prompted.
Doc’s voice was soft. “Remember what I said about psychotic episodes?” He sighed deeply. “Marty marched into the room we were in, holding a sonic gun he’d just built. He intended to use it to melt Dr. Narbon’s brain. Without regard for what happened to the rest of the people there. Or himself, for that matter.”
“You – you’re lying,” Jennifer Six said, face pale and eyes narrowed. “You have to be. Marty would never do anything like that!”
“In his right mind, of course not,” Doc said, finally raising his head. “But he’d just gone through a major trauma. He wasn’t thinking clearly. He was more or less lost in his own head, trying to figure out where on earth he was and why all these ideas were practically assaulting him.”
Something about the way he said that poked at the other Docs’ brains. They looked at him, frowning. “Is that – is that what you went through?” Doc Five finally asked, concerned.
Doc nodded, eyes looking ever so slightly haunted. “It’s – it’s scary. You lose yourself for a while. I think the ones who go bad, the ones like Helen Narbon – they never do find themselves again. And even if you do find yourself, the world’s so different. . . . You can do incredible things, things you could never even imagine doing before, things that would never occur to a non-Mad mind, but there’s always a price.” He looked over at Emmett Seven. “You have any idea what I’m talking about?”
“A little,” Emmett Seven admitted. “Sometimes the ideas come so fast and furious I can’t keep up. I still sleep-invent sometimes. Constantly worried I’m going to wake up one day and discover I lost a finger or something.”
Doc nodded again. “I don’t have that problem, but I know being overwhelmed.” He looked back at the others. “I just thank God or whoever that I was there that day. I was able to talk him down back to something approaching sanity. Poor kid was a wreck.” His eyes went back to the floor. “I’ll never forget what he said, how his face just crumbled. . . .” He sniffled a little bit. “‘Doc, it – it hurts. . . .’”
Clara put an arm around him. After a moment, so did Emmett Seven. “Is he okay now?” Emmett Seven asked. “Er, well, you know what I mean.”
Doc nodded, swallowing down his threatening grief. “We got him calmed down and more in-tune with what happened. Though there was nearly a nasty incident with Dave, once he tracked down his brother. Luckily Jennifer and his family were very understanding about what happened to him.” He chuckled a little. “Thank God for George’s love of the paranormal and anything related to science fiction.”
“Always found that a great asset of his,” Doc Two agreed with a fanged grin.
“Anyway, he’s adapted nicely. Lost some friends, but that was inevitable, I’m afraid. He’s happy enough working on his new sound-based devices and his compositions.” He smirked up at the others. “Likes to set classical music melodies to rock song lyrics and vice-versa if he can. It’s amazing the combinations he’s come up with. And most of them sound wonderful. He’s got a real talent for it.”
Jennifer Seven looked over at Emmett Seven, frowning. “You know, Marty keeps making up all those new songs and melodies we’ve never heard before. You yourself mentioned you guys first met because he’d come up with a new musical style.”
“Yeah,” Emmett Seven agreed, looking both nervous and thoughtful at the same time.
“I’d watch him carefully if I were you,” Doc said, looking over at his younger counterpart. “Especially if you run into a Helen Narbon of your own. If he does break through – try to make it easier on him than it was for my Marty.”
“Of course,” Emmett Seven nodded. “He’s my best friend. He – he’s stood by me, through everything.”
“I think it’s pretty much the same with all of us,” Doc One said, making sure to keep an eye on the villain train so it didn’t get too far ahead. “He’s always been one of the family.”
“With some of us more than others,” Doc Four murmured, holding himself. Josephine leaned her head on his shoulder.
“He’s always been there for us,” Verne agreed, drooping a little. “And now we can’t go help him without one of them getting hurt.”
“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Doc asked, looking around. “A way to overpower him?”
“There’s probably a lot of ways we could do that,” Doc Three said bitterly. “I could drain power from the train, Two and Four and their wives could try and fly over and attack as vampires, Six and his Clara could use the arms and the symbiote, you and Seven could probably invent something to open up the train like a big can opener – please don’t do that, by the way, it’s my train he’s stolen – but the fact of the matter is, every scenario we’ve come up with runs into the same problem. He’s got the Martys with him, and he’s got an array of weaponry. Not to mention a small group of psychopaths willing to assist him. Any assault we’d make would probably result in one Marty getting killed. And even with a time machine, that is not acceptable.”
“Hell no,” Emmett Seven said, eyes narrowed.
“Definitely not,” Doc Six agreed, the tentacles hissing a bit.
“So all we can do is chase and hope for a lucky break,” Doc One said. “It’s not easy in the least, I know.” His hands tightened on the controls. “I think we’re going to have to draw lots to see who gets the first punch at this bastard once we catch him.”
“It would be more to the point to check over the Martys,” Doc Four suggested. “I say whichever one of us is the match to the Marty he shot should have first go.”
“Or maybe we should just take it in numerical order,” Doc Six said, tentacles hissing louder. “I don’t mind going near the end.”
“Let’s catch up to him first,” Doc Two said. “Then we can figure out who to beat up in what order.”
“Speaking of catching up, looks like he’s noticed us,” Doc One said, as the other train suddenly started descending. “And it appears he wants to play games.”
“When does this bastard not want to play games?” Doc Four muttered.
“Do you think he’s trying to shake us, or is he just being his usual asshole self?” Doc Two asked, going to the front with Doc One.
“My money’s on the latter,” Doc One said, keeping pace with the other train as best he could. “Though undoubtably he’ll try to get rid of us before he changes dimensions again. Can’t afford to lose his lead, after all. We might succeed in rescuing a Marty.”
“Are there any Martys he’s missed?” Doc asked. “After hearing about all this and telling you about what happened with my Marty, I need to hear some good news.”
“One,” Doc Four said. “Remember how we said we lived in a dimension with another version of myself? Luckily Jack didn’t know that. He just took my Marty – my alternate’s Marty is still safe and sound at home.”
“Oh, thank God,” Clara said with a sigh.
“One out of nine,” Doc Three said softly. “We don’t have a very good track record, do we?”
“I think someone upstairs is messing with us,” J.C. said, glaring at the ceiling.
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” Albert said, sounding a bit bitter.
The other train kept dipping and weaving, leading them on a rather roundabout chase through town. Doc One kept on their tail, eyes fixed on the train ahead in grim determination. “Does anyone find it worrying that Marty Eight’s gone silent?” Emmett Seven finally said after a few minutes’ fidgeting.
“I was trying not to think about it,” Doc said. “Someone want to ask about it?”
“I will,” Doc Four said. Marty, you there?
Hey Dad, Marty Four replied, sounding depressed. What’s up?
The current version of me wanted to ask about his Marty. We heard him yelling before.
Wouldn’t be surprised if the whole state did. He was pissed off. Still is, honestly – I can see him stewing. Not that I blame him. . . . Did you hear him do the freaky voice thing?
Yeah, we all did. Doc Four let himself smile. You should have seen Emmett Seven’s face.
You should have seen Marty Seven. He started babbling in German so fast Marty One couldn’t keep up with him. Even Jack looked shocked for a second there. Of course, then he stuffed a gag in Marty Eight’s mouth and threatened to cut out his tongue and hands, so. . . . He’s still muttering against the gag, but it’s a lot quieter.
Doc Four winced. I see. That would explain things. He hesitated a moment. Has Jack done – anything else – to any of you?
Besides slapping us around a little? Not yet. But he keeps talking about what he plans to do once he really manages to shake you guys, and. . . .Marty Four’s voice broke. Dad, I’m scared. This guy is goddamned twisted. And that girlfriend he’s managed to pick up is just the same. They keep talking about ripping us up with some new torture device, then they start sucking each other’s faces. I keep wanting to puke.
I don’t blame you. We don’t intend to let him out of our sight any longer than we have to, Marty. And once we figure out how to disable the other train without getting any of you hurt. . . . I’m coming for you kid. Don’t ever doubt that.
Never would. We all know you’re coming, Dad. We know you won’t give up. Any of you.
Never, Doc Four confirmed. I’ll be here if you need me, kid.
Thanks. I love you, Dad.
I love you too. Doc Four sighed deeply as he cut the connection. “They gagged him,” he explained to the others. “Though apparently he was able to shock even Jack for a moment. Then the bastard reverted to form and threatened to amputate his tongue and hands to get him to shut up. He used visual aids, I’m sure.”
Doc’s spine stiffened. “He--” He got up and glared at the train in front of them, now on a direct course to the local community college. “You bastard, I’m going to take you apart,” he snarled, voice full of Mad rage.
“Not without my help,” Emmett Seven said, stroking his gun.
“And ours,” Doc One said, eyes narrowed. “Damn it, if I wasn’t sure ramming the train wouldn’t help any of us, I’d just go ahead and plow on into him!”
“What’s he doing, anyway?” Doc Six asked as they sped along. “Why’s he going to the college?”
“Only he and God know, and I don’t think God’s telling,” J.C. said, continuing to glare at the ceiling. “Though it would be nice to have a hint!”
They reached the college campus, a small mixed square of greenery and concrete, ringed by tall grey buildings. Students below them looked up and gawked in amazement at the one visible train. “Here we go,” Doc One sighed. “Sorry about this, Eight.”
“Like I said, it’s not really a problem.”
The other train started accelerating. “Aha, looks like he’s ready to go,” Doc One said. “This time we’re onto you, Jack! You’re not leaving us behind this time!”
Jack didn’t seem to care, continuing to pour on the speed. Doc Two frowned as he noticed the villain train’s direction. “Great Scott. If he isn’t careful, he’s going to plow right into that building.”
“He probably figures he’ll hit 88 before--”
Doc One suddenly stopped, the color slowly leaving his face. “Wait a minute. This is the same psychopath who threatened to carve up the Martys to fuel the train! I think he’s planning on hitting that building!”
“What?! But there might be kids inside!” Clara Five gasped.
“Do you think he cares? Damn it, we have to get him off that course!” Doc One started pouring on the speed himself, moving so he was next to the villain train. “What do you think, should we risk a time travel and make sure the building’s deserted?”
“After seeing how this goes, maybe,” Doc Six said. “If we can keep him away in the first place, so much the better.”
“I thought the plan was not to hit him,” Jules said, sounding a little confused.
“I think we can safely give him a nudge,” Emmett said, frowning as he did some mental calculations. “Just a slight tap to push him off course and into open air.”
“And if I have to hit him to keep him from killing a bunch of innocent people,” Doc One added, “I will. Hopefully such an act would disable his train as well, and maybe we could end this.”
The two trains were speeding side by side now, aiming for the building. “All right, on three,” Doc Two said, as Doc One nodded. “One, two--”
The villain train abruptly veered right, away from the building. “Three?” Doc Two continued automatically, blinking. “The hell?”
“He tricked us!” Doc yelled, waving a fist at the departing train. “He obviously knows how we think – he meant for us to hit the building! Hit the brakes!”
“Way ahead of you!” Doc One yelled back, yanking on the brake lever. The train screeched in mid-air, momentum carrying it forward even as the sophisticated aerial braking system forced it to slow down rather rapidly for a large locomotive. “I don’t know if we’ll stop in time, though – brace for impact!”
The occupants of the train grabbed onto anything they could find, bodies tight with tension. “Please, please don’t let us kill someone,” Jennifer Six prayed.
The train finally screeched to a stop just as it hit the building. There was a loud “crunch!” followed by the tinkle of glass breaking, then they were still. The Docs rushed the front to survey the damage as startled screaming broke out inside. “How is it?” Clara Five asked, grabbing a fold in her dress and wringing it.
“Not as bad as it could have been,” Doc One said, breathing slowly. “We didn’t hit the structure with a great amount of speed – it was more like a bump than a full-on hit. We took out some bricks and a few windows, but the place still seems structurally sound.” He frowned as he leaned out and saw the students divided between running out of the building and going to investigate the disturbance. “Though I’m reluctant to move the train until I’m certain everyone in there is at least off this floor.”
“Leave that to me,” Doc Three said, pushing past him gently. He extended a hand and screwed up his face in concentration. A few lightbulbs in the lamps closest to the damage promptly exploded, scaring off the stragglers.
“Careful!” Doc Five said, watching with mingled interest and worry. “We don’t want anyone getting hurt.”
“I’m being careful! Nobody was hit!” Doc Three looked over at his counterpart, letting his hand drop. “I’ve actually helped the X-Men with a mission or two when they came to California. I know how to handle civilians.”
“Did you get to fight Magneto?” Tommy asked, intrigued.
“Haven’t had the pleasure yet. Hoping I never do, honestly – Magneto’s dangerous.” He glared in the direction the villain train had sped off in. “Much like our much-loathed friend here.”
“Won’t argue with that,” Tommy said, waggling his tongue in that direction.
Once the floor was clear of people, Doc One carefully maneuvered the train away from the building. The dent the train had left was very clear, but the bricks appeared to be holding. Doc One looked apologetically at Doc. “I’m sorry I didn’t realize he was trying to fool us earlier,” he said.
“No, it’s all right,” Doc said, the Madness out of his voice. “Judging by everything you’ve said about him, he probably would have plowed into the building if you hadn’t fallen for it.” A pause. “Did he really threaten to cut up the Martys for fuel?!”
The other Docs nodded. “See why we hate him?” J.C. said, arms folded.
“I saw that the first time one of you mentioned his name.”
There was a sudden, piercing whistle from below them. Puzzled, Doc Two craned his head out. The local Jennifer was standing below, scanning the sky. She spotted Doc Two’s head and made an obvious “land” gesture. “Well, it appears we’ve found this reality’s Jennifer,” he reported. “I take it she had classes today?”
“Either that or she was at her work/study job at the library,” Doc said, looking a little embarrassed. “She probably realized right away this was my fault.”
“Well, she wants us to land,” Doc Two said, as Jennifer repeated the motion.
“I have no objections,” Doc One said, initiating the procedure. “We were probably destined to pick her up anyway. Not to mention I want to give the train another look-over, make sure nothing was damaged this time.”
“I can send Spinbot to have a look,” Emmett Seven offered. The clank, hearing its name, cautiously came out of its corner. “Yes, you’re forgiven,” Emmett Seven told it. “He’s a survelliance clank – see all the eyes? Anyway, he could get to places you can’t reach. And everybody would probably just assume my counterpart here made him, right?”
“Probably,” Doc agreed, looking at the clank with interest. Spinbot looked back, spinning to view him with all four of its little eyes. “Fascinating robot. Though, did you just call it a ‘clank?’”
“Local term for them,” Emmett Seven explained. “I’ve never even heard the word robot.”
“Guess someone didn’t write a certain play yet,” Doc said.
“I’ll explain later.”
“That might be better, yeah,” Doc One admitted. “Just on the off chance someone sees two of us. Unless cloning is popular here too,” he added, a touch sarcastically.
“I’m pretty sure someone’s figured it out, but it wouldn’t work here – they all know my talents are mechanical in nature.”
The train landed in the middle of the square. Doc One opened the door and gestured for Spinbot to fly out. “All right, let’s see how good you really are.”
Spinbot clicked once and spun outside, fluttering all around the train. As he did, Jennifer ran up, looking quite upset. “What the hell’s going on?” she demanded. “Has the space-time continuum decided to explode on us or something? What’s the deal with the two trains and nearly crashing into the political science building?”
“Jennifer, just get in,” Doc said, going to the doorway. “It’s a long story, by all accounts, and by the time it’s done, you’re going to want to join us.”
“What? Can’t you give me any sort of explanation?”
“Someone’s kidnapping Martys from different dimensions and forcing us to chase him so he doesn’t end up killing them,” Emmett Seven provided, poking his head around the doorframe.
Jennifer stood there in silence for a moment. “. . . . My job cannot be that boring, and my brain cannot come up with this much craziness in a dream,” she finally said.
“Yes, and yes,” Doc nodded, looking tired. “Like I said, it’s probably easier if you just get on now. And we’re sorry about hitting the building, we were trying to prevent the other fellow from doing so.”
“Believe us, he would have gone right through – no attempt to stop at all,” Clara Three spoke up.
Jennifer shook her head and ascended the steps. “You know, I was used to my life not being normal,” she said softly. “But this? This pushes the weird envelope even for me – yikes!”
Jennifer jumped backwards as she saw her other selves. “Oh my God! Now I know I’m not dreaming!”
“Bet you wish you were though, right?” Jennifer Five asked, leaning against the side of the train.
“Not sure. This would the kind of dream to make me question what sanity I’ve got left.”
Spinbot flew back inside, cheeping. “What’s the report?” Doc One asked, looking at his younger counterpart.
“All clear, apparently,” Emmett Seven said, with a relieved sigh. “He saw no obvious signs of damage, anyway.”
“So long as the flux capacitor’s not broken,” Doc One said, looking quite relieved himself.
“Nope, still as solid as ever,” Emmett Seven confirmed.
“Good.” He looked over at Jennifer, who still looked rather stunned. “Are you along for the ride? So far the answer’s been yes, but it’s probably best not to assume.”
Jennifer looked around. “Someone’s kidnapped Marty?” she asked. “And is planning to kill him?”
“Not just one Marty – eight now,” Jennifer Four said, looking a bit watery-eyed.
“And in the most gruesome way possible,” Doc Four added, eyes glowing with fury.
Jennifer nodded, stiffening her spine. “I’m in, then. But a full explanation would be nice.”
“We’ll do our best,” Doc One promised, closing the door and bringing the train up again. “You try to tell her – I’ll look for the temporal distortion.”
“All right,” Clara One nodded. “It all started in our dimension, sadly. . . .”
They were about halfway through when Doc One saw the familiar shimmer in the air. “Hold on for a second,” he said, interrupting Doc Four’s part of the story. “I found our hole between dimensions. Everyone hang on – it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
“Can’t be any bumpier than what you’ve already had,” Doc muttered, looking quite pale.
“True, but still.” Doc One turned and gunned the train toward the distortion.
And soon the Narbonic Universe was short one Mad Scientist and friends.