A well-known fact about the Marvel Universe: It has a little boy in it, who can create pocket universes and banish people there. His parents love him very much, even though he banished them there once.
An unknown fact about the Marvel Universe: Other little boys in other universes can treat the Marvel Universe like a pocket universe, and banish people there too.
An little-known fact about me: One of these boys is an idiot third-cousin of mine.
When I visited my mother back in 1989, she had some house guests. She had a cousin who'd been knocked up by some guy who she said was an artistic publisher type out in California, with Hollywood connections and all that. That had happened about four years previous, so now she had a three-year-old boy, named Stan. The two of them would bounce around among their relatives, and apparently it was Mom's turn. I even played games with the kid, because that's apparently what my generation's grownups are expected to do with kids. And hey, the kid needed a playmate.
Now it's 1999, and the kid's thirteen years old. He's kind of a moron, but he loves Marvel Comics. And he's much smarter when he talks about them. Or even when he plays games about them.
The only reason I mention this kid is... two superhero friends of mine asked me to track some missing teammates of theirs. And the trail led straight to my idiot third cousin.
I live in a world where the superheroes actually used to change things by their presence. A bunch of them actually overthrew George Bush in 1996.
I've seen enough of alternate universes to know, the heroes don't always work that way. In one universe, the superheroes are called "Marvels", so I call it the Marvel Universe. There, they apparently take a vow never to mess with what normal humans do normally. Which is to say, they only use their powers to negate supervillains.
Well, that's an interesting vow to take... but if I used my power of computer programming only to neutralize villains and not to develop the rest of society, that would kind of restrict my career choice to roughly the U.S. National Security Agency. Most computer programmers don't take that choice, so I don't see why most heroes should either. But I digress...
Anyway, my universe's superheroes got in this big war with supervillains, and disappeared. Society really didn't care, because most of the supervillains they were fighting disappeared then too. But I actually had a friend or two among the heroes. And one of them came back one day - and asked for my help.
This friend of mine is Jill Stern, also known as Stonewater. She's an unbreakable superhuman samurai martial artist. She disappeared with the other superhumans. Now she's back... but the rest of her friends aren't. And all Jill remembers about where they were, is... she was a bouncer in Iowa. But she made some calls, and nobody's seen her or her friends in Iowa lately.
Jill's asked all her techie friends what they can do to track the missing heroes. The answer is, practically nothing. Now, she's desparate enough to try magic. And I'm her best contact for that; she knows I know magicians, from when we met during a universal merge.
Actually, I'm the best mage-like person I know for that kind of thing, because I have access to some fairly reliable tracking powers. I store them in my car Tater, a Geo Tracker. Get it?
But for that trick to work, my Tracker has to be in contact with people who know the abducted. I know a couple of the missing heroes who used to work for Ellipsis, a.k.a. Stephen Wolcott... but Jill wants to go for her boss Julie Wolcott, Ellipsis's wife. For that, Jill will have to come along with me and Tater while we go hunting.
And so, we cross the country by car, to California. (Did I mention, I live in Massachusetts?) Boy, that's no fun. My car does drive itself, but I still like to spend nights in hotel rooms. But Jill wouldn't tolerate any delay. I think I'll have dreams of highway noises forever now.
And so we arrive outside my idiot third-cousin Stan's house, in a tacky apartment complex in San Bernardino. We do the "knock-knock" on his door, and he answers. He's alone at home; he's 13 now, and his mom and dad both work. And he recognizes me, even though I have changed my appearance substantially since he saw me ten years ago.
Someone else had come back from the Disappeared with Jill: the superheroine known as Morningstar. (We've met.) And Morningstar's there already, trying to talk to Stan.
Morningstar has a power stone, which turned her on to this guy. It tells her the link to her own friends is here somewhere - but it doesn't help her read his mind. All it does, is point at this gameboard where he has lots of cardboard cutouts with crudely-drawn people on them who might be superhumans.
Well, Tater knows the solution is somewhere in here. Morningstar knows it too. And, based on my knowledge of four-year-old intellects, it could be in that game.
So I say, "Wanna play a game, Stan?" His eyes light right up.
Jill pulls me aside, and asks what the hell I'm doing. But Morningstar joins in to say, maybe I'm on to something, and in any case it couldn't hurt to make friends with the investigation subject. There's lots of argument after that (mostly on the concept of "investigation" vs. "interrogation"), so I duck out and set up the board with Stan. Hey, even if nothing comes of this, I promised him a game, and for kids his age, one does not break a promise.
Stan gives me two pieces; he says they're Stonewater and Morningstar. He keeps an entire box of pieces for himself. Well, I guess he's the Gamemaster here.
He puts my pieces on one circle on his board. There's one line leading out of that circle, going to another circle. He asks, "Where ya moving first?" Well, here's where I'd best consult with the team. Good thing we finally got their attention.
Team conference. We all know that something in this house is likely to have banished all the Disappeared. Once I start playing this game, anything could happen. My allies have no better idea, so I sit down to play while they watch.
First move: I put my counters onto the next circle over. Surely enough, there's a "pop" behind me, and my allies are gone!
Stan rolls dice, and says, "They land in Dubuque, Iowa." (rolling again) "There's a storm forming out of nothing around them. My move." (rolling again) "The Avengers notice. They start assembling. Reserve and former members too. Your move."
Well, the point is to find Ellipsis, and Morningstar's shown that her power stone can follow that trail. So I say, "Morningstar tracks Ellipsis with her power stone."
(rolling dice) "She finds him in a really little apartment. With Julie. And they're fighting."
... and so on, and so on. It seems Ellipsis is a now a part-time computer handyman, and his wife Julie is a cocktail waitress at the local casino. And they're not married. And Stan won't just let me bring them home before the Avengers get to Iowa, because nobody on my team is a dimension traveller.
Well, I sent them to this other universe, so I must have the power to send them back - if I'm there with them. So I say, "I enter the game myself."
Poof! I'm watching Stonewater and Morningstar get dogpiled by Thor, Hercules, the Hulk, Wonder Man, Iron Man, and the Sub-Mariner, while other Avengers are waiting around for a good shot on them. Oh, come on, this can't be fair.
But as I watch, Stonewater manages to put a hand on Morningstar's power stone. And it does some tricky telekinesis to loosen their enemies' grips. They break free, and bolt!
I look around for the first time. I'm standing next to Stephen and Julie Wolcott. They're looking as amazed as I am at this fight.
So I say, "I'm your ride. Home you go." Poof, they're gone!
But I still have teammates here, and I'm the only one who can bring them home. Fortunately I wear a trenchcoat which flies, so I can follow the action. And fortunately my allies are perceptive, so they know I'm here for them. And fortunately they can deflect force bolts, dodge really, really well, and grab me. Poof!
We're home. Well, actually, we're back in Stan's bedroom, but that's close enough. And Stephen and Julie Wolcott are waiting there for us.
Stephen says, "It seems I am indebted to you. There is yet recovery work, but we may proceed." Meanwhile, Julie and Jill are hugging, and Morningstar has her hand on Stephen's shoulder.
Well, it seems my work is done here. Everyone else can take a plane home... but for me, my car is waiting. Hooray, I get to take a real cross-country trip, without a superhuman samurai forcing me!
It seems I barely missed another superhero fight!
So yes, I'd guess we're in for another bit of superhuman warfare ahead.