PART ONE: MALIS AB, is here.
OUR STORY SO FAR: Seal Team i was dispatched to steal the portal that connects all multiverses. The team's helicopter crashed onto the shed that covered the portal. And all heck broke loose.
Jimmy Earwig motioned for silence as the Commander In Chief, President Dewey, entered the room for a briefing. When he did so, the room instantly quieted. The door behind President Dewey was still closing, slowly, though, and the team could hear the chaos in the hallway outside.
A woman's voice: "What do you mean Sam was in the shed when it was hit by the helicopter?"
A boy: "Mom, he'll be all right. He's a wizard."
A man: "Tom, you keep quiet. We've not decided..." and then they were gone or the door was closed.
Jimmy Earwig turned to face President Dewey and the rest of the heads of the various armed forces. Behind him, multiple screens lit up.
"Here is what we know," he said. News headlines began scrolling across images from around the multiverses.
DATELINE NAMIBIA, AFRICA, PLANET EARTH MULTIVERSE 1.036.A: AUTHORITIES ALLOW FREE HUNTING OF ELEPHANTS AND RHINOS AFTER MILLIONS BEGIN STAMPEDING THROUGH TOWNS.
The pictures began flipping as Nick talked. A series of planets crashing together. Riot police in Space Ranger gear beaming red lights on frightened teddy bears to keep them calm. A pile of doughnuts, for some reason.
Jimmy Earwig consulted his notes.
"At 0100 hours local time, Seal Team i's helicopter was hit by an Electrodactyl, a creature native only to multiverses 3.03B and 15.1952A. This creature was freed by the efforts of two young children who were actually inside the portal at the time."
Some gasps around the table. Jimmy wasn't sure if it was from the picture on the screen (fourteen planet Jupiters forming a vast line along its orbital track, being pushed by a tiny man in a cape) or the headlines
DATELINE SOUTHERN CONTINENTAL PLATEAU PLANET ASAHIRI MULTIVERSE 465.32m A COUP WAS REPORTED TODAY AS A SKELETON CLAIMING TO BE DICTATOR FOR LIFE AWON V'awon TOOK OFFICE BY FORCE AND HAD THE FULLY-FLESHED VERSION OF DICTATOR FOR LIFE AWAN V'awon EXECUTED.
Or Jimmy's news that children had been playing in the portal. He went on after a moment.
"The explosion destroyed the portal."
The pictures behind Jimmy changed to technical graphs. The first one looked like a Venn Diagram with a million circles comprising it.
"But worse than that." Jimmy pointed at the center of the circles behind him. The news headlines continued to scroll.
DATELINE CENTER OF STAR XG-71. MEASUREMENTS SHOW THAT FUSION OF ELEMENTS HIGHER THAN ATOMIC NUMBER 10 IS OCCURING AS SEVERAL STARS OCCUPY THE SAME POSITION AT ONCE, CREATING CONDITIONS RIPE TO CREATE URANIUM SOLAR RAIN. SOLAR SYSTEMS BEING EVACUATED.
"The portal wasn't just a conduit between the multiverses. It was the thing that held them apart."
"I was going to ask you that," said the Secretary of Interstellar War. "I thought this thing just let us get from one multiverse to another."
"No, sir," Jimmy said. The next slide came up. It was a slice of Swiss Cheese, triangular and blocky. A few nervous chuckles offset the line that slid over the picture.
THIS WARNING IS GOING OUT OVER ANY NEWS BROADCAST TO ANY PLANET WITH SENTIENT BEINGS. BE AWARE THAT THERE ARE NOW MULTIPLE VERSIONS OF YOURSELF. DO NOT BE ALARMED. DO NOT MAKE CONTACT WITH ALTERNATE VERSIONS OF YOURSELF. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU TOUCH AN ALTERNATE VERSION OF YOURSELF.
"This is our multiverse," Jimmy Earwig told the assembled leaders, indicating the cheese. "Each hole in the cheese is another universe. In each hole, an entire civilization or civilizations live. An entire universe, and sometimes more than one, is in each hole."
Next slide: the cheese took up the entire screen and the holes were more numerous.
The headlines kept scrolling:
WAR BEGINS ON THREE DIFFERENT OCEAN WORLDS AS DOLPHINS DECIDE THEY ARE NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS... DATELINE OUTPOST OMEGA, PLANET PLUTO, MULTIVERSE 767.33333K.2: ICE STORMS HAVE INTENSIFIED AND CONTACT WITH OUTPOST OMEGA HAS BEEN LOST ALL COLONISTS PRESUMED DEAD... DATELINE ANDROMEDA NEBULA DUST COLLECTOR STATION 1...
"...and there are lots of holes," Jimmy was explaining. A tap and another tap and the holes kept multiplying, each separated by thinner and thinner amounts of cheese. "But the holes were always separated by the cheese, if you will; the holes never touched. So each universe was allowed to grow and develop and there were literally an infinite number of universes.
"The portal," Jimmy went on, switching to a new view of the now-destroyed shed glowing with an eerie purple gleam, a shot taken through Seal Team i's superenergy scope, "Was the only way between these multiverses. We knew of it, and a few others knew of it, in various multiverses, and it was generally little used. The portal actually appears in each of the multiverses."
On the screen, the holes each got tiny purple glowing dots. They continued to multiply on the cheese.
"...But it moved around, shifting, as the universes grew and shifted, making it hard to access and hard to control unless you knew exactly what you were doing. Until..."
A new slide showed a family moving into a house, hauling a couch up a hill while two boys ran off to the side.
"...until someone had the bright idea of locking it down in one place. This..." the screen switched to a shed as a new headline rolled past:
THE ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL NOW EXISTS IN MULTIPLE FORMS. IF YOU FIND A SMALL GOLDEN RING DO NOT PUT IT ON. TURN IT IN TO LOCAL AUTHORITIES.
Jimmy Earwig sighed. "This had the effect of locking the portal in place in every multiverse, making it more obvious and easier to use and, as an added... bonus, maybe... it somehow increased the way the multiverses multiplied."
"You mean?" asked President Dewey.
"Yes," Jimmy Earwig nodded. "More multiverses, faster."
The cheese again, onscreen, now with tiny dots in each one. It was apparent that soon there would be no cheese. The group watched grimly for a few moments.
"What happens when they touch?" The Secretary of NeoEnergy asked.
"We didn't know, until now." Jimmy said. The shots now began to flicker with scenes of the multiverses again. "The blast of the helicopter, which we think was an accident, blew up the portal, something that was not possible unless it had been fixed in place. That caused the multiverses to instantly merge."
On the screen, the cheese wedge again, now with one hole in the exact center.
"This has created numerous problems."
"All those people, existing in one universe." The Secretary of Nonsentient Species Control said quietly. "That's some of those headlines."
"And not just people," Jimmy said. "Not just multiple copies of the same person, and not just imaginary people."
On the screen, armies fought, monsters roared, spaceships crashed, stars flared and went dark.
"Here is the problem. The problems," Jimmy said.
On the screen, a picture of himself appeared.
"I exist," Jimmy told the room. There were nervous chuckles. The photo shifted to show 10 Jimmy Earwigs, side-by-side. "I exist in multiple forms in multiple multiverses." The photo shifted again, to show 100 or more Jimmy Earwigs. Each now was subtly different. "But in an infinite amount of multiverses, literally every combination of atoms that adds up to Jimmy Earwig can exist." Now, on the screen, Jimmy Earwigs with moustaches talked with all-bald Jimmy Earwigs, and the combinations began to be more bizarre. A three-armed Jimmy Earwig arm-wrestled 100 tiny Jimmy Earwigs at once. "And so on, and so forth. If you can imagine a combination, that combination exists."
A pall settled on the room as what this meant settled in.
"It's Theseus' Ship," a woman said. She was the Undersecretary For Stating The Obvious To Help The Plot Along.
"Yes. With a twist." Now, on the screen, a zombie version of Jimmy Earwig walked up to a version that seemed normal. "Because there are versions of all of us that can only exist in one or two multiverses. Like the version of Jimmy Earwig that instantly annihilates all other versions of Jimmy Earwig." The zombie reached out a hand and touched the other version, and crumbled into dust.
"And, of course, Evil Jimmy Earwigs abound." On the screen, various goateed versions of himself appeared.
"But that means everything ever imagined could exist!" The Undersecretary spoke up again.
"That is true, and it is correct," Jimmy said. Video cuts of superheroes helping cartoon cats out of trees appeared. A man in a yellow shirt with a weird, upside-down V-like insignia used obviously-fake karate moves on a similarly-clothed man wearing a blue shirt and fake pointy ears. A television screen showed President "Mitt" being sworn in.
"It's not, though, the imaginary versions that are of concern. Seal Team i has handled those before, easily. A few dinosaurs with lasers would be nothing. No, what is worse..." Jimmy turned off the screen and looked each of them in the eye. "What is worse are the abstract concepts. Take a moment to think about that."
In the darkened room, each pondered what he meant by that.
He turned the screen back on. New video feeds, this time uninterrupted by headlines, showed almost-unintelligible scenes. In some places, glowing lights whirled around people who were Bewildered. In others, large spiky chunks of crystal poked at unusual angles designed to Confuse.
"Every thought... EVERY thought... that can be had can become alive in an infinite set of multiverses," Jimmy reminded them. "So if there is even one way for Uncomprehending Dementia Coupled With Extreme Paranoia to take physical form, it has occurred." He paused.
The screen went dark.
Then it lit up again, as he said "And it is now with us in our universe." On the screen, a whirling spout of psychotic radiation glared from a thousand eyes as it swallowed a skyscraper.
"We're doomed," a man's voice grumbled.
"We are not," Jimmy said. "But that is not the worst yet."
"What... is... the worst?" President Dewey asked.
"First, let me tell you the plan."
On the screen a large machine appeared, in schematic form.
"This," Jimmy told them, "Is the Emulsifier."
An animation of the machine showed several arms starting to glow, large crystalline globes spinning and developing charges. It spun and slowly creaked into life. Around it, the white background began to turn yellow.
"It will undo the damage... we think... by generating enough dark energy to begin to propel the multiverses back away from each other."
Jimmy grimaced. "For lack of a better word. Dark energy is the only thing we can use, because it is created simply by wanting it to exist."
"How is that possible?"
"It's not," Jimmy said.
"Once you have eliminated the possible, all that is left to try is the impossible," said the Secretary of Helpful Misquotes.
"It will generate dark energy, and using that, the multiverses will slowly spread out again, moving further and further out into the cheese, as it were, leaving each universe eventually on its own."
"We have this technology, now?"
"No." Jimmy said. "But we know someone who can make it."
He went on to tell them the plan. And to tell them who their greatest foe was, and why that was.
"Why are we here?" asked Sergeant Deadly, shivering in the dank, dreary atmosphere.
"For protection," Jimmy Earwig said. His battle armor clanked as he walked through the mazelike tunnels that went down and down and down, the doors to the cells becoming larger, more intimidating, and harder to crack open as they passed them. All of Seal Team i followed behind him.
Twenty minutes into the walk, they came to a set of large pillars that crackled and buzzed with energy. Inside the pillars sat a man in a recliner, his feet up, watching television.
Seal Team i immediately fanned out and held their weapons sighted on the man, who paid no attention to them but went on watching his television show and eating something that, Jimmy saw, was a fish taco.
"Must have been behaved awfully good to get one of those," he said to the man.
"These?" the man held up the taco and made a face. "This is a punishment. I'd sworn off of these. And now it's all I've been given to eat for a week."
"You know it was," the man responded. "Did you know you can build up a resistance to reality?" He pointed to the pillars. "You think those Reality Stabilizers can hold me forever?" He tapped his head. "No way. No way. Things have never been less real up in here." He narrowed his eyes. "And each day, I get a little better at nullifying reality. Each day, I become a new, awesomer version of me. So one of these days, I'm out of here."
Jimmy sighed. "I have a deal to offer you."
"I need a drawing."
The man put his fish taco down and turned off the TV. "What kind of drawing?"
"This." Jimmy held up the schematics of the Emulsifier. The man came over, staring at it, inspecting it closely.
"What's it do?" he asked.
"Something to do with the multiverses ending?" the man pointed to the now-dark television.
"Never mind," Jimmy repeated.
"What's in it for me?"
"You get to draw something."
"Not good enough."
"That's my offer."
"Not good enough." The man turned and walked back to his TV. Jimmy groaned to himself.
"One day," he said quietly.
The man stopped, listening.
"One day with art supplies, Rusty."
The man, Rusty, turned around.
"One whole day?"
"You draw this," Jimmy held up the Emulsifier. "We turn off the Reality Stabilizers for one second, once the drawing is done, and then back on. And once they're back on, you get the art supplies for 24 consecutive hours."
"One condition," he said.
Jimmy looked at him, eyebrow raised.
"No more goddamn fish tacos," Rusty said.
"Deal," Jimmy said. He motioned to the team member who had an easel, charcoal pencils, and other art supplies.
"Two conditions," Rusty said.
"No," Jimmy told him. "We had a deal."
Rusty sighed. "Can't blame a guy for trying."
"When that guy has drawn more horrendous creations than any other person in the history of the multiverses, when that guy has unleashed angry, dead gods on innocent civilians, when that guy has allowed a World War full of genocide to rage on for years and years and years, refugees trapped in flooded train stations for eons... yeah, I can blame that guy for trying," Jimmy said.
"Gimme the art stuff," Rusty snarled. "You'll get your drawing."
Jimmy pushed the supplies through. "Four of you!" he barked to team members. "Guns leveled on him at all times. Radio me as soon as the drawing is finished." He turned to Rusty. "Do it right, or it won't matter what we promised you." Motioning to the rest of the team, he left.
"In the multiverses, everything exists because if there is an infinite number of combinations of atoms," Jimmy had told the collected leaders, "then all possible combinations of those atoms eventually come into being. That gives us the power to create things, for better or worse. We can create great things, simply by imagining them, and it's as if the force of our thoughts spur this... dark energy... into being and that thing begins to exist.
"The problem," he'd gone on "Has been in finding it, because there's no reason those things would pop up next to us. But now, with all the multiverses collapsed into one universe, everything we create or think, every combination of atoms, is right here, in our world. All we have to do is find it, in our one small, now overcrowded, universe."
Those words rang in his mind as he walked through the base, activity around him at peak levels. Seal Team i had managed to keep most of the other, fake Seal Teams that existed in other multiverses out of this headquarters, selectively letting in a few new team members but using larger Reality Stabilizers to keep Headquarters relatively normal. Outside, Jimmy knew, imaginations ran wild. Billions upon billions of entities, real and imagined, were now trying to co-exist, or not. People were meeting their dopplegangers, imaginary creations were knocking on their creators' doors, and the imaginary creations of those imaginary creations -- monsters fictionally created by the fictional creations of real people -- were also coming alive. Each shift in reality, the replacement of one tiny sliver of reality here or there, created an almost-same thing, with a new sliver being added until a man could find echoes of himself in a space-going sentient radioactive triceratops that suddenly claimed to be married to his wife.
"And we have to go out in that, to find and activate the Emulsifier."
Teams of troops, pressed into action by various good rulers, were waging wars against evil armies from other dimensions. Buildings bulged at crazy angles as skyscrapers tried to accommodate the infinite varieties of their existence. Deserts were flooded by ancient oceans that had existed in them a billion universes away.
He opened the door to the hangar where his troops were gathered, and saw Darth waiting for him. Without a word, she ran up and threw her arms around him, kissing him ferociously.
"Don't go out there, Jimmy. Don't. I'm begging you."
He let her finish the speech, finish the kiss, and pulled back slightly, staring into her dark eyes. Named after her father's best friend, Darth had seven times been voted Sexiest Woman Alive, and even after her death had won Sexist Woman Dead three times. Jimmy didn't mind that she was a ghost, and didn't mind when people asked him how ghosts could have physical form.
"Everything's possible," he'd tell them when they asked.
"Darth, I have to," he said. "It's my job."
"Let someone else go. Jimmy, I have a bad feeling about this."
"What, you're psychic now?"
"I don't have to be," Darth told him, pouting. "I know."
"How do you know?" Jimmy said. Her soft hands pressed into the back of his neck as she said:
"They all told me."
Jimmy looked over her shoulder, and saw about twenty versions of himself standing there. They looked almost exactly like him. One had red hair. One had a beard. There were no goatees -- nobody would let an Evil Jimmy in here. One wore a cyborg eye and was missing an arm.
And one was ghostly gray.
"You," he said. "What's your story."
Ghostly Gray said "In my universe, I'm the Jimmy that dies on this mission."
Jimmy considered this.
"Where's the Jimmy that survives this mission?"
Nobody stepped forward.
That scene was still with him when he'd left the other Jimmy Earwigs in the hangar, admonishing them to watch over Darth and protect her. In at least 15,000 different universes, ghosts could be killed quite easily. They'd sworn they would, even Ghostly Gray, who privately had said "I'm sorry for us, Jimmy."
"It's okay," Jimmy said.
He hadn't asked Ghostly Gray if they'd gotten the Emulsifier going. That was only one possible outcome, he knew. There might be a billion universes where Jimmy had found it, wherever it sprung into existence once Rusty drew it, and had gotten it up and running, and it had worked. There might be a trillion.
But in the time it took to get Seal Team i's new helicopter loaded, three more Jimmys-Who-Die had shown up in the hangar, and nobody yet had met one who lived.
Over his headset the report came.
"Let's go," Jimmy said. The hangar doors swung open, the Reality Stabilizers charged down, and the helicopter shot up through the opening, past two Tyrannosaurus Rexes that were furiously arguing about whether being self-aware was enough to confer sentience on a species. The dinos ignored them and they were out into the world, as Jimmy turned on the Inventoscope, which would home in on the newest things to pop into creation. If he was right...
"There." He locked in the location.
"Halfway across the solar system," the pilot said.
"Good thing this helicopter is equipped for space travel," another team member said.
"Lock and load," Jimmy told his team. "We're heading for Jupiter."
"MALIS AB!" the team shouted.
Jimmy got a chill up his spine.
In the basement, the four guards standing over Rusty reignited the Reality Stabilizers. "24 hours, starting now," Sergeant Deadly said.
"Got it," Rusty responded. He sat down and began his next drawing.
"What is that?" Sergeant Deadly asked. "Some sort of egg?"
Rusty didn't answer.
GO ON TO PART THREE HERE