When Worlds Collide -- REALLY Collide
“Damn damn, where are they?”
Clockwork stalked through the seemingly endless hallways, frowning. “They were right behind me just a few minutes ago, I swear! How could we have lost each other so suddenly?” he muttered. “Honestly, the things we go through just to track down our mun sometimes. . . .”
Clockwork blinked, then looked down. Sitting by his feet were two familiar puppies. “Something of that sort,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “More that I’ve lost everyone else. Where did you two come from?”
“We got bored, waiting in the Inkwell,” Steve said, scratching an itch on his side. “So we shifted and started looking for you guys.”
“We’re still not sure why you thought Wonderland was a good place to find Vic,” Gary added, sniffing the air.
“Well, she’s been so into Alice and her various iterations, that when we discovered she wasn’t in her room. . . .” Clockwork shrugged. “You haven’t seen Marty and the others, have you?”
“Just you,” Gary said. “How the hell did you lose Marty, anyway? Aren’t you two joined at the hip?”
“We’re not that bad,” Clockwork retorted. “And I’m not sure. I was leading the group before. It’s possible I got too far ahead and went left while everybody else went right, or something like that.” An idea hit him. “You don’t think you could smell him out, could you?”
Steve and Gary looked at each other. “We could try,” Steve said, though he didn’t sound too confident. “Problem is, I’m not sure what he, or any of the others, smells like.”
“You’re not sure??”
“Hey, we’re not natural dogs!” Gary said in their defense. “We don’t know how to handle these ‘heightened animal senses!’”
“You seem to have taste pretty well conquered,” Clockwork commented with a slight snort.
“Well then, if Marty’s left some sort of taste trail. . . .” Steve snarked right back.
Clockwork and the puppies turned around. “Marty!” he yelled.
“Doc! Where are you?”
“I’m – er – hang on.” Clockwork closed his eyes and concentrated. A gust of wind swept down the corridor, fanning out at either end. He added a rumble of thunder for good measure. “Over this way!”
“Okay, hang on. . . .”
A few minutes later, Museical and Simon appeared at one end of the corridor. “Man, you can really get turned around in here,” Simon commented. “What’s the deal with this?”
“I’m starting to think the royalty of Wonderland – this Wonderland, at any rate – just likes mazes,” Alice commented, stepping forward.
Museical ran forward, enveloping Clockwork in a hug. “Shit, I’m glad we found you,” he said, squeezing tight.
“Er, I’m glad to be found,” Clockwork said, returning the embrace. “Though you’re acting like I was missing for a week, not just a few minutes.”
“We’ve got trouble, Doc,” Museical reported, pulling back. “Big trouble.”
Clockwork frowned. “Big trouble? Like – exploding Chicago coffee house trouble?”
“Exploding Chicago in general trouble, maybe,” Museical said with a wince. “Andrew’s here.”
Clockwork knew his mechanical heart was incapable of skipping beats, but it felt like it had skipped one anyway. “Who?” he croaked.
“Wait, wait, Andrew as in Andrew Sparks?” Steve asked, frowning. “As in the bastard who turned Doc into Steampunk Terminator?”
“That’s him,” Museical nodded.
“Apparently we have an infestation of all the most annoying and dangerous antagonists from Victoria’s head,” Alice added. “Andrew’s just the one we have the most personal interest in.”
Clockwork shook his head, trying to process this. “How do you know he’s here? Did – did any of you--”
“No, nothing like that,” Victor said, pulling at his tie briefly. “It’s – rather more complicated.”
There was a round of tired nods from the others. “While we were looking for you or Vic, Dee happened to overhear someone yelling for help in a locked room. When Simon chainsawed the door open, we found it was – well – ten other Martys,” Lucy reported.
“Ten – did someone attack the muse house?” Clockwork asked, blinking.
“No, that’s the thing,” Museical said. “They’re the story versions of everybody! A bunch of them are what VampMarty and VultureMarty and the rest of them would be like in the actual stories. One of them’s me, Doc! That’s how we know Andrew’s here!”
Clockwork stared. “The story – but how did they get here?”
“Apparently this guy named Jack Brown – you know, NonTrilogy’s evil twin – has found out how to skip dimensions,” Museical said. “He stole one of the other Doc’s train and started kidnapping every Marty he found. He’s got a really bad grudge against NonTrilogy’s, and he decided to take it out on every other Marty in existence.”
There was a brief silence after this. “What kind of crack are you guys smoking, and where can we find some?” Gary finally asked, tilting his head.
“Oh, trust me, we wish this was just some drug-induced hallucination,” said a familiar voice. What looked like another Marty rounded the corner. “It’s all too real, though.”
A couple of other Martys appeared as Clockwork and the puppies gawked. One of them looked hard at Steve and Gary. “Are you guys the sentry turrets who turn into dogs?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah,” Steve said, backing up a little. “I’m Steve, he’s Gary.”
“Hi. You’re accusing us of smoking crack?”
“Hey, when it comes to Aperture Science, you quickly learn to leave reality at the door,” Gary said in their defense.
“Great Scott,” Clockwork whispered as the rest of the Martys joined the group. “This is – this is new and strange, even for us.”
“So we’ve heard,” another Marty said. “Museical told us about you and Victor falling into some sort of crazy Chicago once. You know anything about how to get us all back home?”
“Sorry, I never got a chance to really study the Rifts,” Clockwork said apologetically. “Too much was going on most of the time.”
“We’d have to take care of Jack and the others anyway,” a different Marty pointed out. “Can’t leave our Docs at their tender mercies.”
“How many bad guys are we talking about here?” Steve asked, sniffing around the Martys curiously.
“We’ve got Jack Brown, Doc’s insane twin; Biff Tannen, you guys gotta know him; Sandra Rabyen, this bitch of a vampire killer; Amina Ali, one of the Libyan terrorists and she has a thing for Jack; Stanley Carlyle, a former hospital intern who’s got a grudge against – I guess you guys call him OckDoc; and Andrew, who Marty Nine and Museical tell us is the worst person in the entire world,” one of the Martys counted off.
“Don’t forget that the Queen of Hearts and her cronies seem to like Jack,” another Marty said. “Incidentally, why the hell does she look like Biff?!”
“Vic seems to find it amusing to stick Tannens in drag,” Clockwork said, deadpan. “I believe the Duchess of this realm is Buford.”
“Buford?” The Marty snorted. “Okay, that’s actually pretty funny.”
“Can you help us?” another Marty pleaded. “I’m sure our Docs could kick their asses, but a little extra firepower wouldn’t hurt.”
“No way!” a third Marty protested. “Do you know what’ll happen to him if Andrew gets his paws on him again?! Not to mention I don’t think you can stop a Fae – not unless you kill it with cold iron.”
“What is so awful about this Andrew guy?” the second Marty said, looking deeply frustrated. “I get that he’s a dick and not exactly human, but what did he do?”
There was a sudden hiss of steam from under Clockwork’s coat. The group of Martys stared. Clockwork sighed and shrugged off his coat, revealing the large gears sticking out of his joints. “He did this.”
“Holy shit,” one of the Martys whispered.
“He – he – what the hell?” a fourth said, shaking his head.
“He partially mechanized me,” Clockwork explained. “Most of my skeleton is metal now, run by steam power. He also replaced my stomach, heart, and teeth. Essentially, I’m a very weird cyborg.”
“Who – who does that?” one Marty blurted.
“Fae do,” the Marty who was apparently the counterpart to Museical said darkly. “They don’t think like humans do. To them, chopping up somebody and replacing all their bones with metal is just something to do to stave off the boredom. Like making me go on-stage for days at a time to sing.”
“Exactly,” Clockwork agreed, pulling his coat back on. “And they don’t like it when someone escapes. If they’re not planning to put you back after they’re through with you – and that’s exceedingly rare – then your only hope is to run, and pray they get distracted enough not to come looking for you.”
“Shit,” the leader Marty hissed. “So bringing you along would put you in danger – but hey, what happens to your Doc, Nine?”
Museical’s counterpart – Nine, evidently – went white. “Oh no. . . . Damn it, what do we do?”
“We go and see what’s going on and if we can help,” Clockwork said firmly. “I’m not possibly condemning my counterpart to another twenty years of hell. If we all work together, we might have a fighting chance against this bastard. Where do you think they are?”
Doc Five winced as another heart-shaped projectile exploded above his head. This was getting ridiculous. They’d been in standoff for what felt like forever. Every time one of them tried to make a move to attack, one of the Card Guard would launch off a missile, forcing them to duck or dodge. Even attacking in groups didn’t work – the guards would just fire off a volley of missiles and laugh as they scattered. Jack was obviously enjoying every minute of it. “Give up yet?” he said calmly, arm wrapped around Amina.
“Oh, they never give up,” Sandy said, looking smug. “They’re too stupid for that.”
“What’s stupid is kidnapping my best friend, and then expecting me to just lie down and take it,” Doc Three growled.
“Fighting back isn’t getting you anywhere, though.”
“That’s only because you convinced this lunatic to get her army to help you!”
“Lunatic?! Do you really think flattery will get you anywhere?” Queen Biffica said, though she was smiling.
“In the name of Sir Isaac H. Newton, something has to happen, and fast,” Doc Four muttered. “Otherwise I’m going to go crazy.”
One of the guards on the upper level suddenly turned, as if he’d spotted something. “Halt! In the name of – another one of you? Shouldn’t they have run out by now?”
Both good guys and bad guys shared a surprised glance. Another Doc? “How many of us can there be?” Doc Five muttered.
“Damned if I know – I just hope he doesn’t end up taking a heart missile to the face,” J.C. said, bouncing up and down anxiously.
“It would be advisable for you to get out of my way,” the familiar tones of a Dr. Emmett Brown stated calmly.
NonTrilogy Doc arched an eyebrow. “Hey,” he said, “you don’t suppose that’s--”
“Would it? I don’t think so,” the guard said, weapon at the ready. “If you don’t leave right now, I’ll--”
Out of nowhere, a strong breeze whipped through the room. The Docs scrambled to secure loose items. “What in the name of Sir Isaac H. Newton?!” Doc Three began –
Then paused as he noticed something. The breeze wasn’t just affecting them – it was also affecting the card guards. Specifically, it was lifting them up and scattering them about like – well, cards. They tumbled uselessly in the wind, yelling in fear and dropping their weapons.
Finally, the breeze abated. The card guards, now very dazed, drifted slowly earthward. A familiar figure appeared on the upper balcony, smirking. The other Docs and the baddies looked up. “Show-off,” VampDoc2 said, rolling his eyes good-naturedly.
“I can’t help it if I’m gifted,” the Doc replied, looking down at the motley scene. “So, I’m assuming this is the trouble. . . .” He glanced over to the half of the room where Jack and his crew were gathered. He paled a bit. “Damn it, why do you have to be here. . . .”
“Who are you?” Jack snapped, trying and failing to put his hair into some semblance of order.
“You don’t recognize your own twin brother? Although that’s a misstatement, considering I don’t have a Jack--”
“I know that part! But what universe’s hell spawned you?”
“That’s Clockwork,” Hatter Doc said brightly. “He’s an alternate of – Doc Nine, was it? – Yes, Doc Nine. The one who has steam coming out of his joints.”
“Wait, what?” Andrew looked between the two Docs, suddenly looking unbalanced. It appeared to be a rather unfamiliar sensation for him. “How can – I only had one back in the lab!”
“Diverging universes,” the Doc identified as Clockwork said coolly. “Apparently I missed out on a week’s worth of torture because I decided to run early.”
“Torture? We were doing science!”
“That was not science!” Clockwork snapped – and above him, thunder abruptly boomed. “That was a perversion of everything science is!”
“Ridiculous! We were going farther than your mere mortal mind could go! I was doing you a favor, getting you away from everyone who could hold you back! You deserved my attentions – that’s a honor!”
“Yes! How can you say that we didn’t break the bounds of knowledge? We learned, Professor! We learned! And we did! I couldn’t have left you there, to struggle and sweat with no reward! I had to bring you to my realm! Just like the others!”
“Great Scott, I don’t even want to know who else you dragged away.”
“Jealous? You shouldn’t be, you outstripped practically all of them--”
“No. You bastard, you’re not advancing science, you’re retarding it!”
“You just don’t understand, Professor. I can’t let a genius like yourself stay with these humans. You need proper care, proper training! And I’m the only one who can give you that!”
“You do what you must because you can?” a voice suddenly spoke up from somewhere behind Clockwork.
“Exactly!” Andrew agreed with a bright smile.
“Aperture Science would have loved him,” another voice muttered. “He and GLaDOS would have gotten along like a house on fire.”
“I have no doubts,” Clock mumbled back.
“Oh, I’m not even getting into this,” Jack muttered. “I have their Martys, I don’t have to put up with yet another version of my goddamn brother. Who wants to be the one to kill him?”
“You’re the meanie who put all those Martys in that room?”
A little girl scurried down the stairs, frowning at Jack. “Dee!” Clockwork yelled, running after her.
Dee ignored him. “Why do you look so much like Daddy?” she demanded, arms folded.
“I’m his nonexistent twin,” Jack said, frowning down at her. “You managed to produce a little girl this time?”
“It’s more complicated than that,” Clockwork said, grabbing Dee’s arm. “And if you do one thing to harm her--”
Jack just smirked at him. “Now, honey, where’s your mommy?” he cooed fakely at Dee.
Dee glared at Jack. “I don’t have one,” she snapped.
That made Jack blink a little. “Oh, adopted? They actually let you adopt a child?” he added to the Docs at large. “The worthless, insane, completely incompetent--”
“He is not!” Dee yelled, as Clockwork tried to pull her away. “And he made me!”
“Made you?” Sandy repeated, one eyebrow arched severely. “Like in the lab?”
“You actually made your own kid,” Biff said, looking a little stunned. “Man, I knew you got up to crazy shit in that garage of yours, but even I didn’t think you’d ever go that far.”
“What purpose does she serve?” Andrew asked, stroking his chin curiously. “Mere companionship? I thought you had your dogs for that.”
“I was created to aid in the completion of time travel,” Dee announced proudly.
“. . .A little girl?” Amina said, puzzled.
“I’m not a little girl!”
“That’s funny,” Jack started, rolling his eyes. “From where I’m standing, you look just--”
There was a sudden twisting in front of him, and where Dee had stood, there was now a fully tricked out DeLorean time machine. “Just. . .like. . . .”
“What the hell?” Biff squeaked, eyes huge. “How did – how did you--”
“Not me,” Clockwork said, leaning on the top of the car with a satisfied smile. “Apparently falling through a Rift between realities sometimes grants a vehicle shape-shifting abilities. I don’t have the slightest idea how it works, but then I didn’t have the slightest idea how pretty much any of that world worked.”
“What insanity have we walked into?” Douglas finally said, unable to keep his mouth shut any longer.
“We’re in Wonderland, and you choose now to ask that?” Sandy retorted, though even she looked shaken by the sudden “child into car” transformation. “It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. We’re still in control here. Once the card guards get their senses back--”
“I can knock them over with wind any time I like,” Clockwork said calmly. A soft breeze wafted behind him, spinning around a card guard who’d started to get his bearings again. He flopped over. “And, frankly, the only reason I’m not hitting you all with lightning right now is because the one I really want dead wouldn’t die.”
“You could hit them all with lightning anyway,” Doc Four said, causing him to turn around. “We certainly don’t mind.”
“You’re a weather controller?” Doc Three added.
“It’s a long and complicated story,” Clockwork said. “Of course, I suspect the reason you’re all here is also a long and complicated story.”
“Not all that long,” Jack said, getting his mind working again. He was in a realm of living cards, and he’d started out this adventure in an animal-based Hell – seeing someone transform into a time machine shouldn’t rattle him so much. “I’ve been taking their Martys and--”
Something hit him just then. “Wait a minute. How did--” He stopped, looked at the DeLorean. “How did that know about them?”
“Dee is not a that,” Clockwork shot back, “and those Martys of yours aren’t as captive as you’d like.”
The other Docs immediately perked up. “You rescued them?” Doc Five said, the faintest hints of a smile on his face.
“My Marty and his friends did, actually,” Clockwork said proudly. “They mentioned you all were in trouble, so we decided to come over and help you. Well, actually, they mentioned a certain Fae bastard was here, and I wasn’t going to let my counterpart suffer at his hands again. . . .”
“Where are – actually, no, don’t answer that,” Doc Six backpedaled. “We don’t want them knowing anything.”
“This castle can’t be that big,” Jack snarled, now thoroughly pissed off. How and why were his plans suddenly going so wrong now? Maybe it has to do with us landing in this horrible fictional place. “We’ll find them again. And this time, I won’t waste any time killing them. I’ll start with yours!”
“You really want to mess with the man whose emotions control the weather?” NonTrilogy Doc asked, arching an eyebrow. “Funny – of all the unkind words I could say about you, ‘dumb’ never made the list before now.”
“Shut up! I’m not afraid of him, or of any of you! I’ve been through far worse! I have been through the fires of Hell themselves! You are all child’s play!”
“Then why are you losing your temper?” one of the voices from the balcony said.
“He’s probably just making it all up,” the other one said.
“Who are you?” Sandy called, frowning and pointing her gun in the general direction of the voices.
Two puppies came jogging down the steps – one white, one black. They grinned up at the vampire slayer. “We’re Steve and Gary,” the white one announced. “I’m Steve, he’s Gary.”
“Hey, crazy girl,” Gary said amiably.
“Talking dogs.” Sandy looked back over at Dee. “Well, after the person turned car. . . .”
“No, she started out as a car – she turns into a person,” Gary corrected.
“And we’re not really puppy dogs either,” Steve said. “We transform into mechanical monstrosities too.”
“Oh? Care to demonstrate?”
“Sure!” There was another moment where the fabric of reality twisted, and then sitting in the two puppies’ place were two – what appeared to be turrets of some sort. “Hey,” they said, as if this happened every day.
Sandy stared for a moment. Then she snorted. “Oh, jeez. At least the DeLorean was impressive. What are you two supposed to be?”
“We’re sentry turrets,” Steve said, now sounding a little ticked off.
“Sentry turrets? Like to guard someplace? One kick and you’d go right over!” Sandy began to laugh in earnest. “You have the dumbest design I’ve ever seen! What can you do, really?”
The red glow in the turrets’ eyes seemed to darken ominously. “We – can do this,” Gary said coldly. Two panels set with multiple guns popped out of their sides. “DISPENSING PRODUCT, BITCH!”
The air was suddenly alive with gunfire. Sandy had mere seconds to hit the floor. A few bullets grazed her, and two scored solid hits in her abdomen. Behind her, the wall started to bear a marked resemblance to Swiss cheese. “YEAH! HAVE SOME PRODUCT! HAVE SOME FUCKING PRODUCT!” Steve yelled, rocking from side to side slightly with the force of the gunfire.
“APERTURE SCIENCE WISHES YOU A NICE DAY!” Gary added furiously.
“Holy shit!” a Marty voice said from the balcony – the other Docs looked up to see a Marty that looked near-identical to Marty Nine gawping at the scene.
“Wow, you forget they can do that,” someone else – a young man with red hair and a large nose – agreed, eyes wide.
“More crazy people?!” Biff demanded, jogging around to the other side of Jack to make sure he was far out of the turrets’ range. “How many of these friends do you have?”
“Quite a few,” the man said, scowling at him. “And incidentally, I have a chainsaw.”
“And that’s only one of the things he usually carries around,” the new Marty added.
“Jack?” Douglas’s voice was thin and reedy. “I know I’m going to get smacked for this, but I have to say it. I think we’re outclassed.”
Jack elbowed him in the gut. “We are not outclassed!” He grabbed a stave from one of the still very dizzy hearts. “I am never outclassed!”
“You’re certainly outnumbered,” Doc Four growled, letting his eyes glow. “I don’t care how many of those stupid homing devices you have, you can’t beat all of us.”
“I can certainly well try. And just to prove I mean business. . . .” He spun around and fired off a round straight at the new Marty’s head.
“SHIT! Marty, duck!” Clockwork yelled, blasting the missile with a gust of wind.
The new Marty and his friend dropped. The missile spun off course from the wind, tried to correct by swerving in a large U –
Then, for some reason, exploded in midair. The group stared at the remains of the missile. “Are they supposed to do that?” TeenDoc asked slowly.
“For the love of God, tell me I didn’t grab a defective one,” Jack growled.
“What the hell? Who’s firing?”
A rather short blond girl rushed onto the balcony, looking pissed. “Hey, bozos, we’re not enemies! You nearly scared Victor literally out of – his. . . .What in the name of Marty Feldman??” She looked between the two groups. “What’s going on here?”
“Just what we need, more new people,” Sandy grumbled, still pinned down by turret fire. “Ow. . . .”
“Who the hell are you, butthead?” Biff snarled, pointing his gun at her.
“Off with her head! Off with her head!” Queen Biffica yelled, waving her scepter.
“What brings you here?” DocWolf said, rather casually in the other Docs’ opinions.
“Wondering where the hell all of you had gotten to! Have you started a war?”
“Not us – him,” HatterDoc said accusingly, pointing at Jack.
The girl turned to look at the group of baddies. Her eyes widened. “What the everloving – what are you doing here?! You’re dead!”
“As I have told many, many others, I got better,” Jack hissed. “And – wait a minute, how do you know me?”
The girl suddenly looked embarrassed. “I, uh, kind of thought you up.”
“. . .What.”
“What?” Doc Ten echoed, staring at the girl in disbelief. “Really, who are you?”
The spot where the girl was standing abruptly darkened, as if it had been cast into shadow. She drew one arm across her face, like she was holding a cape. Dramatic music started up.“I am the terror who flaps in the night! I am the creature who makes pens and pencils run in fear! I – AM--”
“A fanfic writer with delusions of grandeur,” NonTrilogy Doc said, cutting her off.
The music stopped abruptly, and the room lightened again. The girl glared at NonTrilogy Doc. “You guys just can’t let me have my fun.”
“Where on earth did that music come from?” Doc Three muttered, searching the ceiling.
“Fanfic writer?” Jack repeated slowly. “Oh, come on, don’t tell me this is that girl you were talking about earlier. The one you claim made all this.”
“Yeah, that would be her,” OckDoc said, in a rather tired voice. “Vic, chaos. Chaos, Vic. I’m sure you’re already well acquainted.”
“Is there really a need for all that sarcasm?”
“We know you, so yes,” OckDoc replied, tentacles grumbling. “You care to explain to us why practically every single major antagonist we’ve encountered in your stories and role-playing backstories is here?”
“I don’t know! Like I said, Jack-boy there is supposed to be rotting in the pits of Hell! And as for the rest of them--” Vic noticed the turrets firing wildly at Sandy. “Wait, who’s that? Steve, Gary, quit for a minute!”
“She insulted us!” Steve snapped, not ceasing in the least.
“That’s no reason to waste all your ammo, idiot. Besides, I want to know who’s under the rain of bullets.”
“Sandra Rayben, one of the most tenacious vampire hunters to ever grace this planet,” Doc Two filled in with a sigh.
“Sandy?! I wrote exactly one story with her in it, and I never even typed it up because I lost interest in the universe – ah, no offense,” she added hurriedly to Doc Two.
“Don’t take any – losing interest means you don’t have to put up with any more threats to your way of life,” VampDoc told his story alternate.
“Oh, this is just crazy,” Allysin said, folding her arms and glaring. “I refuse to believe this girl is responsible for all life on the planet, so to speak. I’ve hit my limit on the insanity. Who is she really?”
“We’re telling the truth!” TeenDoc protested.
“Believe the ‘fanfic author with delusions of grandeur’ part, then,” NonTrilogy Doc said, looking frustrated. “That’s true enough.”
“I do not have ‘delusions of grandeur,’” Vic snapped, finally coming down from her perch on the stairs. “I am a perfectly normal – okay, even I can’t finish that with a straight face. But I’m not delusional. Not when it comes to grandeur.”
“I just refuse to believe this girl created our universe and everything in it,” Allysin continued, scowling. “I ain’t fictional.”
“Well, not in the context of your own world, no,” Hatter Doc said reasonably. “Here, though, the rules work a little differently.”
“And I didn’t create all of your world,” Vic added. “I borrowed big pieces of it from other sources. You need to blame White Wolf games for your little Faerie problem.”
“So we’ve heard,” Fred said suspiciously. “And I’m from a video game, and Victor from a movie?”
“Bingo. Now you’re getting it.”
Allysin snorted. “Yeah, yeah, tell me another one. I’m not buying it, pretty lady.”
Vic sighed and rolled her eyes. “Okay, fine, believe what you want. I think I’ve got bigger fish to fry anyway.”
“You don’t have any fish to fry! What possible reason do you have for being here!”
“Oh, shut up Andrea!” Vic snapped, turning around.
Allysin started to reply – then froze, eyes widening with shock. “What did you call me?” she whispered, mouth hanging open slightly.
Vic stopped, then slapped a hand to her forehead. “Allysin. . .I can’t believe I just said that!”
“What’s my real name, then?” Victor spoke up, voice trembling.
Vic looked at him. “Well, technically, your real name is Victor – I just changed it to Timothy to reference Tim Burton.”
Victor took a moment to process this information. “I never liked being called Timothy, you know,” he blurted.
“It could be worse,” Tie-Twister said darkly. “My full name is Victor Fitzwilliam Van Dort.”
“Fitzwilliam?” Victor repeated, blinking. “Who names their child Fitzwilliam?”
“Isn’t that from Pride and Prejudice?” Fred added, just as stunned as anyone else.
“Yes, and one of her friends has a crush on Colin Firth, who played Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy in one of the movie adaptations,” Tie-Twister said. “That’s what called her attention to the name, and she thought it was hilarious, so she had Mother think it high-class and saddle me with it.”
“That does sound like Mother,” Victor said.
Allysin, however, was starting to turn red with rage. “You’re – you’re the reason – you did all of this to – what the hell is wrong with you?! I should brain you with my mallet!”
“You’re welcome to,” Vic said with odd calm.
“I – what?”
“I said, if you want to take a swing at me, go ahead,” Vic said with a small, almost embarrassed shrug. “I’m not going to deny I put you through hell. I’m hardly the first, and I won’t be the last, but I’m sure you care exactly zero percent about that, so, yeah.”
“That’s one of the reasons we put up with her – she’s surprisingly good about this sort of thing,” OckDoc said. “I’ve personally put her out the window a couple of times.”
“Out the window?” his counterpart Doc Six said, frowning. “Not that I can’t say she didn’t deserve it, looking at our various backstories, but it still seems a little harsh.”
“Authorial privilege!” Vic said cheerfully, bouncing on her heels. “I’m indestructible.”
“Plus once she put a trampoline under there,” OckDoc added, tentacles nodding.
The group of bad guys were watching the scene with various levels of disbelief. “So, this is God?” Biff muttered. “Guess all those pagan weirdos were actually right.”
“This is not God,” Jack said, feeling the beginnings of a major headache come on. “She cannot be God. I refuse to believe some blond 18-year-old is our God!”
“Good thing I’m not 18 then,” Vic said, overhearing. “I’m 23. I know, it’s the face. Curse.”
“Does she treat everything with such disrespect?” Amina growled, glaring at the blonde girl.
“Hey, it helps when you’re God,” Vic smirked at her. “Don’t worry, though, I’m not going to demand you worship me. Mostly because you personally skeeve me out.”
“I don’t know what that means, but I do know that you are not Allah or God or whatever you want to call yourself,” Amina snapped back. “You are a wretched stain upon the fabric of life. You are the filth that should be eliminated from the world! And I know my dear Jack knows just how to take care of you,” she added, smiling up at her new boyfriend. Jack smiled back down at her.
Vic stared for a moment. “Your dear – oh, in the name of Sir Isaac H. Newton, please tell me those two do not have a thing for each other,” she begged of the nearby Docs.
“My other selves told us they’ve been making out all over the train,” Museical called from where he and his friend were still hunkered down.
“Oh, yuck. Talk about unholy matrimony,” Vic muttered, making a face.
“You’re asking for one of these to be fired straight into that pretty little face of yours,” Jack warned, warming up the heart stave again.
“Uh, yeah, you miss the part where I said I’m indestructible? Authorial privilege?”
“Bullshit!” Sandy’s voice suddenly came. A leg swept out, knocking Steve and Gary over.
“Uh, a little help please?”
Sandy jumped back to her feet. The wounds in her abdomen were bleeding, but they barely seemed to slow her down. She pulled a knife and ran straight at Vic. “I’ll show you indestructi--”
About a foot away from the girl, she suddenly slammed right into an invisible wall. Stunned, she fell backwards. Vic examined her nails. “Yes, okay, lovely effort. May we move on to the part where I send all of you idiots back to where you came from?”
Sandy got back to her feet, now looking a little wobbly. She took an experimental swing at Vic. And then yelped as her hand connected with the invisible wall. “Nice one,” Vic said, deadpan. “You want to break your foot next?”
“She’s not going to let you touch her,” VampDoc2 said as Sandy wound up for another attempt. “Admittedly, it would amuse me to see you beat yourself up trying. . . .”
“Shut up, you filthy aberration,” Sandy snarled, slapping a hand against the invisible wall. “I don’t know how this bitch got her hands on a – a force field, but I--”
Something suddenly pushed her backwards, throwing her to the ground again. Vic sighed and rolled her eyes. “Oh, we are going to have to do this the hard way, aren’t we?” She waved at the other Docs. “Leave them to me. I’ll have them crying for their mamas in no time.”
“I do not cry for anyone, especially my mother,” Jack said. “We’ll figure out a way to hurt you.”
“Assistance requested and all that crap!”
Jack turned to look at the overturned turrets. He grinned. “Like, say, smashing those two?” he said, turning his heart stave on the robots.
“Don’t you--” Vic started, advancing.
“Um, did he say smash?” Gary asked, a distinct note of worry in his voice.
“Or blow up,” Jack said, charging his stave. “I’m easy.”
“Shit! Transform! Transform!”
“Go go power rangers!” Steve yelled as the two hurriedly turned back into their puppy forms.
“Seriously, dude? Power Rangers?” Gary asked, shaking his head.
“Don’t worry about it! Run! Run!”
“What’s going on?”
“Oh, great, how many of him are there?” Biff snapped as another Victor appeared at the top of the stairs, looking quite worried.
“Don’t worry, it’s only the three of us,” Tie-Twister said coldly.
“No, I think it’s only going to be the two of you,” Jack said, swinging the charged stave around to point at the new Victor, who froze. “I’m rather tired of all these alternates myself. Farewell, whatever version of Mr. Van Dort you are.” He aimed carefully, and –
Found that he couldn’t fire. For some reason, he could not activate the trigger. “What the – is it jammed?” he asked, lowering the point to try and get a better look at the firing mechanism. “I could have sworn--”
A loud explosion promptly blew up the section of floor in front of him. The others scrambled for cover as debris flew around. Smoke curled up from the floor, then dissipated, leaving the blackened figure of Jack standing there. He glared around the room. “Nobody. Say. One. Word.”
“Does laughing count as a word?” Vic replied, not even trying to hide her grin.
Clockwork, however, seemed less amused. “He really could have hurt him – all right up there, Victor?” he called, obviously worried.
There was no reply. The new Victor had vanished from sight. “Victor?”
“He kind of hit the ground, Doc,” Museical said, slowly getting to his feet. With a grunt, he pulled up the limp body of the new Victor, half-slinging it over his shoulder. “I think Jack spooked him good.”
Jack grinned. “Well, at least I caused the little bastard to faint. That should keep him out of our hair for the moment. Of course, I’m still open to more permanent solutions.”
“You touch him and I will end you,” Clockwork said, voice dark.
“Oh, found yourself another little boy-toy?”
Jack suddenly found himself on the receiving end of a gust of wind so concentrated it felt like a punch to the face. He stumbled backwards, blinking, as Clockwork glowered. “I can do a lot worse, so I’d refrain from using such language.”
“And besides, he’s ultra-protective of everyone who lives at the Inkwell, so your gay sex insinuations don’t really fit,” Vic added, rolling her eyes.
“I haven’t seen one girl here yet – that DeLorean doesn’t count – so I think--”
A knife suddenly flew past his head, embedding itself into the wall. “It appears you have need of me,” a young woman said as she made her way past Museical and down the stairs, pulling out a pack of cards as she did so.
“Perfect timing, Alice,” Vic grinned. “Here’s your girl, Jackie-boy! Of course, now I’m sure you’re just going to make some joke about him constantly associating with teenagers, but you must now acknowledge he resides in a place with women.”
Jack was baffled enough not to take the bait. “Now who the hell is this?”
“What’s with the weird dress?” Stanley added, tilting his head.
“Alice Pleasance Liddell,” the girl introduced herself with a mocking curtsy.
“Alice – Wonderland’s Alice?”
“Have you even noticed where we are?” Sandy demanded. Looking at Alice, she added, “I’ll, uh, give you that I wasn’t expecting her to be that old. . . .”
“How old were you expecting me to be?”
“Seven? Seven and a half?”
Alice rolled her eyes. “Just because that was my age in the books doesn’t mean I’m frozen at that moment forever. I most assuredly did not take Humpty Dumpty’s advice to heart.”
“What the hell does that even mean?” Biff demanded.
“Don’t remember our conversation from Through the Looking-Glass? He told me that seven and a half was a tricky age, and that, with proper assistance, I could have left off at seven.” She smirked in a way that seemed to hint at horrible things happening in the very near future. “Shall I assist you in leaving off at your current age?”
Biff stared at her a moment. Then he smirked back. “How do you plan to do that?” he said.
“Well, these are very useful in that regard,” Alice said with a little shrug, holding up the cards.
“A pack of playing cards? What are they, razor sharp on the edges?”
The smirk made a reappearance. “Precisely.” She suddenly grabbed a few of them and hurled them at Biff.
The startled auto detailer managed to dodge a good number of them, but a few whisked past him, slicing cuts into his arms and leg. “Ow! What the--” He stared down at the cuts, then back up at Alice. “What kind of Alice are you?”
“The kind whose family died in a fire shortly before my eighth birthday,” Alice said calmly, readying more cards. “I’ve been in bedlam since I was small.”
“. . .It’s been a while, but I don’t remember that from the books.”
“You can read?” Alice retorted mildly.
Biff scowled and brought his gun up. “Yeah, I can. I can also shoot this. So unless your little cards can cut through it. . . .”
Alice examined the gun for a moment. Then she shook her head. “No, I don’t think my cards would do well against your gun,” she allowed, dropping them in her apron pocket.
Alice nodded, then reached forward – and plucked the biggest gun Biff had ever seen out of thin air. The damn thing was almost as tall as she was, with a flared barrel that looked good for shooting cannonballs. “So I guess I’ll just have to pull out my own,” she continued with a little grin.
Biff gaped, his gun hand sagging. “What – what--”
“It’s called a Blunderbuss. It can essentially annihilate anything that annoys me. Though the recoil is absolutely terrible. It always takes me a few minutes to recover.”
“Sucks,” Biff squeaked.
“This is getting ridiculous,” Jack growled. “I don’t believe any gun, no matter how big, could take out all of us in one hit.”
“What, has seeing – and experiencing – the power of the heart staves not convinced you that normal physics need not apply here?” Vic asked.
“We’re all talking too much,” Jack said, swinging his stave up. “Let’s see what firepower we can really pull off. Everyone, either grab a stave or get one of those fucking guards on their feet!”
“Shall I blow them all up?” Alice said, cocking her gun and causing Biff, at least, to freeze halfway toward grabbing one of the fallen weapons.
“Well, I still kind of want to know what the hell they’re doing here. . . .”
“You’re not going to get the chance to find – Hey!”
Jack jumped as something grabbed his stave and tried to yank it out of his hands. “Who the hell dares–” he began, half-turning.
Only to see what looked like a green, glowing Victor Van Dort standing behind him.
Jack couldn’t help a moment of staring. Every time he thought things couldn’t possibly get any weirder. . . . “So, I – succeeded in killing you?” he said slowly. “I have to admit, that’s nice.”
“No, I’m afraid I’m not quite dead,” the young man replied with a frown.
“Then – then how are you--” Victor babbled, staring at his supposedly-dead duplicate with wide eyes.
“Er, yes, did I forget to mention he has the ability to die temporarily and become a ghost?” Tie-Twister said, pulling at his tie awkwardly.
“How the hell do you get that superpower?” Fred asked.
“Have a mun with a strange sense of humor,” the ghostly Victor said, trying again to yank the stave from Jack’s hands.
“You’re from a movie where you accidentally marry a corpse,” Vic argued. “How could I not give you a death-related power? And this is the result of falling into an alternate universe Chicago through a rift that changes something about you,” she added to the others. “Same reason Clockwork can control the weather, in case he didn’t mention it earlier.”
“Why do I get the feeling that movie had something to do with my Durance as well?” Victor said, eyes narrowing slightly.
“Uh, yeah,” Vic said, suddenly looking a little embarrassed. “I can be a horrible person, I admit.” Looking at the bad guys, she added, waving to Jack and Andrew, “Exhibits A and B, right there.”
“What are you talking about?” Andrew said, folding his arms. “All I ever tried to do was help my Professor! There was nothing malicious about it! We had an excellent student-teacher relationship!”
“Yeah, that’s what makes you creepy, Andrew,” Vic said. “You just don’t get it. And that’s why you’ll never know all there is to know.”
Andrew’s face darkened. “What did you say?” he said, eyes narrowing to slits.
“I said, Mr. Seeker of all Knowledge, your quest can never be completed. Because there’s always going to be knowledge you just can’t know, on account of being you.”
“I am a Fae,” Andrew growled, his voice taking on an odd, echoey tone. The others, even Jack, backed away slightly. “I am eternal.”
“No you ain’t. I’ve read the sourcebooks. You don’t fight with your fellow Fae, don’t struggle and strive to become evermore perfect, and you just fade away.”
“Really?” Allysin said in hopeful tones.
“What would any human know about us?” Andrew said, eyes starting to glow. “Humans, though fascinating in their own ways, are far inferior to the might of my race.”
“Hmmm. Really. That’s really weird, then, how I plan to have that lot of Changelings back there kill you and another Fae at the end of their story.”
Four mouths dropped open in unison. “What?” Doc Nine whispered.
“Oh, so you’re really not that far along? Okay then, I’ll spoil the surprise – Doc gets to kill Andrew and Victor gets to kill Rosie.” Vic grinned and spread her arms wide. “So, who’s your god?”
“You – you let me kill R-Rosie?” Victor whispered.
“Yup. With ironic echoes and everything.”
“I am not going to be killed by my Professor!” Andrew yelled. His form had twisted a little now – not much, but he somehow looked rather less human than he did before. The glowing eyes and the grease dripping off his fingers didn’t help. “He would never do such a thing!”
“Think again, Andy,” Clockwork snarled. “I’d love to cave your head in with a tire iron.”
“Same here,” Doc Nine agreed, face dark. Glancing over at Vic, he added, “I really get to kill him?”
“Scout’s honor,” Vic said, holding up a hand. “And that’s not just a hackneyed phrase – I was a Brownie back when I was a little ickle girl.”
“You were in the Girl Scouts?” OckDoc said incredulously.
“Yeah. Had the handbook and everything.”
“This is ridiculous!” Andrew roared. “Though obviously I didn’t do enough work on you, Professor!”
“You did no work! These mechanical things are all my doing!” Clockwork roared back, steam pouring out of his elbows.
“I put them in, didn’t I? And I can take them out as well!” He made a sudden grab for Clockwork’s arm. “Come, we’re going--”
He stopped dead as his hand hit an invisible wall a few inches above the Changeling character’s arm. He and Clockwork stared for a moment. “Home?” Andrew said, a bit of his human form coming back as anger was replaced by confusion. He flexed his fingers above the barrier. “Now what is this?”
“Oooooh, poor little Fae,” Vic said with a distinctly mocking grin. “Did we forget something important?”
“What are you prattling on about now?” Andrew snapped at her.
Vic sashayed up to him. “Oh, how quickly one forgets,” she cooed. “You made him a promise, back when you first took him. Or, rather, the first time he tried to get out of your clutches. Remember? ‘If you make it home, I will never touch you again.’”
“He didn’t make it home!” Andrew said, frustrated. “I found him lost in the Hedge!”
“He didn’t make it home the first time,” Vic corrected, grin widening. “It’s all in the phrasing, Andrew buddy. And I didn’t see any time limit attached to your little promise.”
Andrew’s expression slowly went from “I will cut you if you keep talking” to “oh, shit. . . .” “But – but he didn’t make it back to Hill Valley!” he protested, still trying and failing to grab onto Clockwork’s arm.
“No – but I consider the Inkwell home now,” Clockwork said, voice soft. “Hell, I even called Chicago home a couple of times!” He turned to Vic, eyes bright. “You mean – I can touch him, but he can’t touch me?”
“Precisely,” Vic smirked.
Clockwork looked at Andrew, who stared back with uncomprehending eyes. Then he drew back his fist –
POW! There was a blast of high-powered wind, an absurdly loud crash, and then – the sight of a large hole in the wall opposite the scientist, roughly the size and shape of a Fae. Andrew’s legs could be seen sticking out of it. Clockwork grinned brightly. “Great Scott, that was satisfying!”
There was a round of general staring. “Jesus Christ, Doc, you just punched somebody through a wall!” Museical finally yelled, mouth hanging open.
“I noticed,” Clockwork said, frowning. “Vic, why didn’t the punching bag do that? It weighs a lot less than a full-grown Fae, and I was pretty damn angry at the time I was using it.”
“I didn’t want to get in trouble for wrecking the Conrad,” Vic said. “People might have complained, you know.”
“Excuse me, someone was just punched through a wall here!” Museical yelled, gesturing at the hole. “Now is not the time for discussing shit like that!”
The bad guys similarly gawked at the hole. “You – he – gaaahhh. . . .” Biff whimpered.
“I think Biff’s brain is well and truly broken now,” Vic commented with an evil grin. “Soon he’s gonna end up like the Bursar.”
“Jack, I’d like to rethink our plans a little,” Sandy said, staring at Clockwork with nervous eyes. “I mean, this whole kidnapping plan was great when we didn’t have someone who could flatten us with just a punch--”
“I don’t even need that much,” Clockwork said, smiling in a way that made him look exactly like the mad scientist plenty of people said he was. “The weather responds to my emotions. All you have to do is get me ticked off enough that I lose control.”
“Yeah, we definitely need to reassess our goals here.”
“They haven’t won yet!” Jack protested. “If he can flatten us all, why doesn’t he just do it?”
“DON’T TEMPT HIM!” everyone else, even Amina, yelled.
The distraction proved enough for DGVictor to finally pull the stave out of Jack’s hands. He bolted for the opposite side of the room and his body. “Here, you take this,” he said, shoving the stave into J.C.’s hands.
“Okay,” J.C. said, starting as some of his fingers brushed through hers. “Yikes, that’s cold!”
“My apologies – I can’t control that.” He went over and placed a hand on the limp body still slung over Marty’s shoulder. There was a flash of green, then the ghostly Victor was gone. Moments later, his eyes popped open. “Oh, it feels good to be back,” he commented, getting to his feet.
“You’re not going to be back for long!” Jack yelled, running at him (and just barely dodging a lightning strike out of nowhere – “Damn it,” Clockwork hissed). Victor scrambled away from Marty, only to stumble over the head of a card guard. Jack was on him in an instant. “I am sick and tired of you all causing me problems! Well, soon you--”
It happened so suddenly that it took his mind a few minutes to catch up. As he reached out his hands to try and grab DGVictor’s throat, they froze. He tried to force them forward, but they refused to move. And through his anger, he could feel – an urge. A distinct urge not to hurt. “The hell?” he muttered, trying and failing to even wiggle his fingers in a threatening way.
Everyone else seemed similarly confused – Jack got the feeling it was the only reason he wasn’t under a pile of angry Docs right now. “I thought you were going to strangle him?” J.C. said, raising the stave so it was level with Jack’s head. “Incidentally, back off or I’ll blow you to kingdom come.”
“I can’t,” Jack said, deciding just to let the confusion show. Hell, it was a very trying day all of a sudden – he was allowed to be confused.
“You?” Amina said, astonished. “Show mercy to some beanpole American--”
“English,” Vic corrected.
“–English swine?” Amina continued, rolling her eyes. “Jack, that’s not like you.”
“No, it’s not that I won’t – I literally can’t,” Jack snapped. He wasn’t about to admit to any weird feelings of friendliness toward this young man. They didn’t feel right anyway.
“Can’t?” Vic repeated, arching an eyebrow. “That’s not right. The only way you couldn’t is – is if. . . .”
Her voice trailed off as her eyes went wide. “You weren’t making some sort of weird joke when you said, ‘I got better,’ were you? You bastard, you’re a fucking runner!”
“I haven’t got the slightest idea what you’re talking about!” Jack yelled, finally straightening up. The animation returned to his hands, leaving him quietly relieved.
“We’d like some clarification too,” Doc Six said, the tentacles hissing. “Just so we know exactly what we’re dealing with here when it comes to him. And the best way to kill him.”
“That’s the problem,” Vic said, her voice now icy. “He’s already dead.”
There was another round of general silence at that. “Wait, what?”
Jack arched an eyebrow. “What the hell do you mean by that?”
“I mean – wait, you don’t know?” Vic gaped at him. “How the hell could you miss the fact that you’re dead?”
“I’m not dead!” Jack snapped. “I was before, but I recovered! I came back!”
“Coming back doesn’t mean you’re magically not dead, you moron. Seriously, how did you not notice?”
“I’ve had a lot on my mind,” Jack said sarcastically. “Also, I’m not dead.”
“Fine, then. Prove it,” Vic said, crossing her arms. “Check your pulse.”
“Gladly.” Jack lay two fingers on his wrist, scowling at all and sundry. This was absolutely ridiculous. Well, everything about his current situation was absolutely ridiculous, but this was more so than the rest of it. How the hell could he be dead? Surely he would have –
Would. . .have. . . .
He looked down at his wrist as he realized that there was something rather important missing. He quickly transferred his fingers to his neck. The carotid artery and jugular vein were in there, he’d have to feel it. . . .
Nothing. As a last resort, Jack pressed both hands hard against his chest, searching with newfound desperation for the familiar beat, beat, beat. . . .
Emptiness greeted his hands. He looked up slowly, into the face of a very smug-looking Vic. “But – but I’m breathing,” he said, not willing to admit defeat just yet. “Why would I breathe--”
“Two possibilities,” Vic interrupted him, holding up her fingers. “One, you’re doing it out of habit. Two, you’re merely taking in air to talk, and you’ve been too busy to notice you haven’t been breathing otherwise. It’s one of those things we don’t really think about when we’re alive, you know.”
Jack stared at her, then, on impulse, tried to hold his breath. There was no gradually growing burning in his lungs, no need to open his lips and bring in air. He felt a shudder go through him. “I’m warm!” he said desperately.
Vic frowned. “Okay, that one I’m not sure about – rot? Or maybe it’s just a leftover from Hell, I don’t know.”
“And what about the fact that I feel pain?” Jack growled, trying to ignore the growing sense of uneasiness deep in his gut.
Vic looked at him flatly. “I had you in Hell, genius. It doesn’t work as well unless you have a mortal shell with working nerve endings. Pratchett’s taught me that much. Basically, your nervous system works – for a given value of such – but nothing else does. You don’t need to eat, you don’t need to breathe, but you can still feel.” Looking at his face, she added, “Well, okay, maybe the circulatory system works too – though I dunno. Can you bruise if the blood’s not flowing? I need to get some biologists in my head.”
Jack shook his head, the uneasiness temporarily masked by anger. “Do you mean to tell me,” he snarled, “that I managed, through planning and extreme luck, to escape Hell, and return to Earth, and that didn’t include restoring me to LIFE?!”
“Nope!” Vic said, going back to perky. “You’re dead dead dead, and nothing will ever change that, you worthless pile of scum.”
“What happens if I try killing you?” Jack hissed.
“Then all of reality – your reality, anyway – winks out of existence. God, remember?”
“What does this have to do with him not being able to hurt the beanpole?” Douglas asked quietly, as the others gaped.
“Oh, dead things like that Victor,” Vic said easily. “It’s a side effect of the ghost thing. Zombies and the like see him as one of their own. Jack must have gotten hit with a particularly strong blast of the effect.”
“You mean I can’t lay a finger on him?!” Jack yelled.
“Nope,” Vic grinned. “Life sucks, doesn’t it?”
“You – you--”
“Me!” Vic said, still grinning widely. “Honor thy God, or face her wrath. Though you might face her wrath anyway, if you’re a horrible bastard like you are.”
Jack turned to glare at the newest Victor, who’d regained his feet. He shrugged. “It’s hardly my fault.”
“I’m not accepting defeat,” he growled. “I refuse to accept defeat. I’ll figure out--”
And then it hit him. He turned to look at Andrew, who’d finally crawled out of his hole, a new smile crawling across his face. “Andrew?”
“What?” Andrew snapped, rubbing his head and sounding extremely ticked off (and extremely inhuman).
Jack pointed between Clockwork and the newest Victor. “Trade?”
Andrew frowned for a moment. Then it clicked, and he smiled. “That sounds lovely.”
“Oh no you don’t!” Clockwork yelled, a fresh wind picking up. “I’m not letting you lay a finger on him!”
“He’s my special guest, so he can do as he likes!” Queen Biffica snarled. “Off with your head!”
“You know what, this has gone far enough,” Doc One declared, eyes narrowed. “Everyone without a defensive power of some sort, head for the doors as fast as you can. The rest of you--” He took a deep breath. “Hit them with everything you’ve got.”