You probably have a few questions at this point:
Why do superheroes worry about universal merges? Because they're usually caught in the middle of them. They're usually fighting the hardest against them, because most people don't want them. Supervillains, on the other hand, usually fight the hardest for the merges, because they figure if most people don't want it, it might just be advantageous to them.
Why do superheroes have conventions? Well, why not; everyone else does. Superheroes often have mass meetings; I went to one earlier this year. (Has it just been one year?) But people saw a need for some less crisis-oriented gatherings of superhumans. The United Nations peacekeeping organization "Paxis" is putting this convention on, as a recruiting event.
What goes on there? Anything to do with superhumanity, including:
- What were the DuoPolarity events? Like I said, they were universal merges.
- What's a universal merge? If you're this deep into reading my memoirs (and you are), you're probably already familiar with the concept of "universal merges". For the rest of you, I'll do the best I can to relate how our experts explain these things.
- Did you ever wish that you'd decided to do something differently? Well, according to experts, there's an alternate universe where you did! They call the collection of alternate universes a "Multiverse".
- These experts used to say, the Multiverse would just branch out forever like a tree. But since then, they've found evidence that not every alternate universe survives. And that makes sense to me. Let's face it, the Multiverse doesn't care whether I clip my left-hand fingernails first or my right-hand.
- So, there's a process wherein universes merge, if they're not too different. That's like two branches merging within a tree. And trees do that more often than one might think; we just never notice, because we never see more than one branch where there were two. Likewise, realities.
- This leads to alternate pasts from the same present. The scientists say, alternate pasts make just as much sense as alternate futures, based on the way atoms behave.
- We've all seen this, every time we ask, "Where'd I leave my keys?" In one past, they're in your coat pocket; in another, they're in your pants pocket. Experts say, "deja vu" relates to this phenomenon, as do many memory lapses.
- Some universes merge their pasts; some don't.
- Eventually you may find your keys in your pants pocket, which means the universe with your keys in your coat pocket doesn't survive; that universal past merged into the other, like two tree branches merging together.
- But there are some alternate pasts that don't merge easily, because they're too fundamentally different. Take, for instance, the question, "Was Jesus of Nazareth born of a virgin?" Historians can't give a definitive answer, given the weirdness that apparently goes on in some periods of history (including our own), and neither can our universe. (I actually had a chance to ask his mother once, but I was kind of busy then, so I didn't think of it.)
- The inhabitants of a universe have some control over whether a universal past merges.
- Working with our earlier example: The universe doesn't care what order I clip my fingernails in, because I don't care, and nobody else does either. But the universe does care how Jesus of Nazarath came about, because a lot of the world cares about that.
- Given the close relationship between past and present, some universes merge their present states too. But, as ever, the inhabitants therein have some control over this. Some people try to force it; most people fight it.
- Most merges happen without our ever knowing it. But when there's a lot of contention over it, the merge's effects may become prolonged and visible.
Who gets to go? The entire public can go, hence my own eligibility right now. Some events give superhumans priority, though, and some (like the "Danger Rooms") are superhumans only.
Why's my brother there? Well, he does work for Nightfall Systems, which develops suits of battle armor. These suits aren't mass-produced, because there's a lot of cybernetic brain-interface tuning involved... but they're still the world's most reliable source of superhuman powers. My brother field-tested one of these suits, a shrinking "Hornet" model... alongside me, at the height of the DuoPolarity events. They still let him sign out that armor. So, he's a superhuman, and a trusted one.
Why's he running a game about the DuoPolarity events? Well, I can imagine those events had a lot of governments concerned. It's only right that the U.N. bring in an experienced contractor to run training simulations for candidate employees. It's even appropriate that they run games about it for the general public, as a publicity sort of thing.
- A dealer's room of superhuman memorabilia.
- Role-playing games about superhumans. Both tabletop and live-action - as far as possible, up to and including "Danger Rooms".
- Free screening for superhuman powers! I scan "negative". Oh well, that's what I thought.
Why did they name the DuoPolarity events after a company? Well, actually, my friend Ted Clark and his wife Ingrid founded the DuoPolarity Companies and ran the Boston office, and he named it after the events.
- And he's letting me in to the games too, because hey, I'm at least one of the player characters; I've been in two of these events.
- My bro is a stickler for accuracy; he even got Laura James, formerly Laura Greene whom the world knows as Morningstar, to sit in too. She's a mommy now, with a devoted husband and toddlers in tow, but I gotta admit, it looks natural on her.
Anyway, I have fun at the game. I get to pick between Me 1988 and Me 1996, so I go with the 1988 model. I met him in 1996, of course. He was a shaved-head martial artist prick, and he surely felt I was a long-haired hippie-freak mystic prick, but at least he was capable without having his own superhuman powers.
- Of course, my bro changes the details of the scenario for national security reasons. The last couple of times, we were scrambling for power objects across Rhode Island. But in the game, it's nationwide. Calvin says, it makes better training that way.
- And so, we have to figure out how many game turns it would take me to fly from Boston to Seattle to collect one of the power objects. But the rival team gets pulled over by cops in Arizona, so my team's still ahead.
After the game, Calvin hands me and Mrs. James two envelopes. I can't swear about hers, but mine's from Governor Corrigan of California, better known as "Crusher Joe". He'd like me on a contingency team for statewide planning in case of another DuoPolarity event. Oh, shit, it was eight years between the first two, and it's seven years since, so I guess we are about due for one next year. (12 December 2003)
DuoPolarity: The Summit Meeting. The Governor of California wants to see me about this DuoPolarity stuff, so I'm off to Sacramento.
- I've been in D.C., trying to referee a First Contact situation, because I'm the one guy on Earth that knows the most about our visitor species. But none of the "experts" want to hear any more out of me, because I'm too insistent on protecting the rights of Earthlings. In fact, they're all ignoring me. They've done it before, too. Be it all on their heads.
- So, it might be time for a temporary job change. I'm not all that eager for more public sector work after my latest experience, but I'm not all that able to be picky either. So I take a leave of absence, then I'm goin' to California with an achin' in my heart, and all that.
Surely, everyone I know who's been through these merges is there too. I met them during merges, of course, but I've also run across them in real life. Besides me, there's...
- Calvin Ferguson, my brother, who was there with me the first time I went through the merge. And I saw him and me the second time. He's a security agent of Nightfall Systems, a private corporation employing superhumans (such as my brother, when he wears one of their suits).
- Jill Stern, a.k.a. "Stonewater", martial arts heroine. Affiliated with the Total Conversion Foundation, a private superhuman force.
- Laura James, a.k.a. "Morningstar", telekinetic heroine. Affiliated with the Paxis Directorate, a corporation working for the United Nations. Besides DuoPolarity, Jill and Laura and I go back to a crossover incident or two back in '99, just before the world ended. Really. Fortunately it got better.
- Vara Hosea, sometimes known as "Bokor", rock star and mystic heroine. Vara and I met back in '95, during the Escalation.
- Then, of course, there was Governor Joe Corrigan himself, sometimes known as "Crusher Joe", professional wrestler and hero. He and I met back in '00, just before the Jehovahpower War.
It's really pretty amazing how much I used to get around in the superhero community...
Of course, there were others who were in the merges, but (as might be expected) half of them were from other universes. The rest who were from here, were from other times; there was the actual Queen Zenobia who fought the Romans, and a future mage called MANIC 5, though sometimes he calls himself MANIC 6 to try to fool people. They mostly disappeared, soon after the last merge.
The Governor greets us in a special secure conference room, in the basement of the Statehouse:
- "I really oughta thank you all for coming. Sure you're being paid, but it's not like all of you need the money.
- "I couldn't get everyone we knew who was in one'a these merges. But I didn't want everyone, I wanted you. Y'all represent:
- "Governments." (looking at Laura)
- "Magic." (looking at Vara)
- "Science." (looking at Jill)
- "Industry." (looking at my brother)
- "And who knows what else." (looking at me)
- "I know y'all don't necessarily always get along. I know the feeling, 'cause I got this representative of Nevada Power and Light" (pointing at me, the obvious nemesis of California) "in the room with me. But the State of California is payin' us all to work together. And y'all know how damn important the job is."
- But then a disembodied voice comes from throughout the room. "Oh? If it's that 'damned' important, why wasn't I invited?"
A black cloud appears within the room, spreads out wings, and dissolves! Left behind, is the mage MANIC 5.
I'll give the superhumans some credit: they don't attack the guy on the spot. They just yell at him a lot, things like, "You tried to sink San Francisco!" Oh, was that him that some American superheroes including Morningstar just barely defeated?
But I'll give Crusher Joe the most credit of all: he yells the loudest of all, "QUIET DOWN!" Then...
- "You, sir, are damn hard to deliver an invitation to." And he hands MANIC 5 an envelope. The other superhumans start yelling again, but then they get yelled at themselves: "I SAID, QUIET DOWN!"
- "... Thank You. Now, if I can continue...
- "Like I said, there are some past tensions among us, but we gotta work around that. So, I'd like to personally welcome MANIC here to our crisis team. I'd like us all to work together with peace and love and brotherhood and BODY SLAM!"
Then Crusher Joe bounces MANIC 5 off the far wall - and jumps to slam him on the rebound! Then he starts pounding him, saying, "Sink San Francisco, will you? Not on my watch!"
But then someone flies through the wall and explodes! We're all tossed around, and when we pick ourselves up, MANIC 5 is gone.
- Morningstar's the only reason I'm not a splat on the wall right now: she has a force field, and quick reactions, and a strong desire to protect the powerless. Such as me. And my brother. Even he can't get into his "Hornet" armor that fast.
- That splat-maker wannabe surely looked like Ellipsis, but Stonewater and Morningstar both swear it wasn't. (And they usually argue about everything else.)
- It was another guy who got energy powers in the same experiment as Ellipsis. Morningstar says she can't tell us how many people have those powers (meanwhile, Stonewater holds up three fingers), but Paxis knows where they all are - except this guy.
- It would seem MANIC's controlling this energy wielder... which explains where he was getting enough energy to set off the San Andreas Fault near San Francisco that one time. Well, at least now we know what the bad guys will strike us with next time... (26 December 2003)
DuoPolarity: The Event. It's a good thing we've been preparing. Heroes from another universe are once again invading my own, in search of a menace that not even all their powers can defeat. Oh joy. But it's not what you're thinking...
It starts in Sacramento, after a bunch of superheroes and I get out of our meeting with Governor Crusher Joe. And it's three days before Christmas.
- Everyone else is rushing home for the holidays. Of course, for me, "home" is wherever I am; I always go visit someone else's home for Christmas.
- Of course, my brother's offended I'm not rushing off to visit him and his household. But hey, I gave him the presents for my nephews; I'm staying behind for vacation for once. This way, I won't see his kids melt down the way they always do when they run out of presents.
- Vacation, of course, starts in the hotel bar where I'm staying. They've got nice colorful Christmas lights up, and they're mixing nice colorful multi-flavor margaritas with bits of colorful liquor floating around to match the colors of the lights. It must be like jello shots added to the mix. Beer's more my usual style, but they got my attention with this one, and they surely are tasty.
But then, the bar I'm in gets an unusual new patron...
- A guy walks in, holding a sledgehammer, just like he was Thor. But it's a half-handle hammer, and the guy's blonde and wearing primary colors instead of nice warm fur, so he's probably an alternate universe Thor.
- And he doesn't look 1200 years old or so, and he's not walking around like he's just slumming. Oh boy, it's comic book Thor, not the real Marvel Universe Thor who rules in Asgard and moved it into orbit over New York City. I'm guessing he's just dressed up.
- And he tells bad jokes. He says Daffy Duck said to him, "You're Thor? I'm tho thor I can hardly thtand!" Ha ha.
- Still, he's willing to sit at the bar and have margaritas, so he's not all bad. I even buy a pitcher to split with him. Or, more precisely, the State of California does, since I'm still on their tab tonight, thank you Crusher Joe.
- But then Doctor Strange walks in, saying, "We should be safe now; I sent a mystic simulacrum of myself ahead to draw fire..." Then he recognizes me. We've worked together.
Oh, joy, superheroes from the Marvel Universe are dropping in on me, even after I promised never to set foot in their universe again. And they feel they can share their problems with me. But this one might be my problem too...
- One of their own mages (I get the impression, he's an old enemy of Doctor Strange) decided to summon chaotic forces to do his bidding. He got cartoon characters!
- "Thor" here recognizes them as the Loonie Toons! Y'know, Bugs Bunny and company. "Thor" actually came here with "Duck Dodgers", but Daffy Duck got hijacked on the way, leaving only his rocket costume behind. "Thor" actually hung onto the costume! (So it seems he knows Daffy Duck after all.)
- Speaking of "Thor", it seems this is a guy from Doctor Strange's universe who got the Thorpower while the real Thor wasn't using it. I happen to know the real Thor is using Odinpower right now, so I'll admit he might have Thorpower to spare. I've held the power myself on occasion.
- Of course, the Marvels confronted these characters in the streets, with results that might be expected. You bash a Loonie Toon, it just gets back up again, and says, "Of course, you realize, this means war."
- Meanwhile, Doctor Strange worked up a banishment spell. This enemy of the Doctor's screwed up the spell enough, so that:
- The Marvel superheroes got banished... to where I live, thanks.
- The Toons got banished too... to the past. Which is a past that I and the Marvels seem to share, so their problem is mine too. And my universe's. So I guess I'll have to deal with it...
... But waaait a minute! I'm now a duly deputized officer of the State of California, with authority to deal with extradimensional intruders! I may not have the power to deal with them myself any more, but I can get the Governor to summon people to deal with them, which is even better!
- On the one hand, the people he'd summon first are all my friends, and they all wanna celebrate Christmas Eve two days from now. But on the other hand, we all came here to do a job, and I'm still here on the job site. Whether or not they want to do the job, I'm here, and I still gotta.
- So, I call the Gov, and I say, "This is serious. They came tonight." And I tell him the details.
- And he quite seriously says, we were never meant to be the frontline warriors in case of intrusion; he's got his own resources for that. My friends and I are useful enough to him as contact people and strategists. Of course, if I'd like to act as a contact person for the intruders, I can expect my senior resource pay, plus the same bonus the frontline people get...
- Hey, I like the way Crusher Joe thinks! And here I am, on the job already! Okay, I'm in.
Before long, we get some information. Laura James (Morningstar) reports in, and she says the Bible's changing! The book of Leviticus now has instructions on how to referee fights between Toons! Oh, shit, reality is so screwed.
Thor and Doctor Strange are all in favor of pursuing these Toons into the past right now... but it doesn't take a lot of effort to convice them, "now" is a sufficiently loose concept under the circumstances, to allow a night of sleep. The State of California will pay the tab for them at my hotel, if I have anything to say about it, and I think I do.
By the time we wake up, a world full of Biblical experts and cartoon afficionados has analyzed the changes, and identified these seven changes:
- Bosco the Monkey replaced Father Abraham as the ancestor of Israel.
- Daffy Duck and Porky Pig led the Exodus.
- The Tazmanian Devil performed the feats of Samson.
- Bugs Bunny defeated some especially stupid giant in the time of King Saul, except Saul was replaced by Yosemite Sam, who hunted Bugs all over Israel until Sam disappeared and Bugs was crowned king.
- Buster Bunny the son of Bugs was crowned his successor, and built a temple.
- Pinky and the Brain rebelled against the kingdom of Buster Bunny and established their own dynasty, but it wasn't long until that plot failed.
- And, finally, the Seleucid Empire hired Elmer Fudd to deal with a band of rebellious Israelite brothers (and one sister)... but their nickname isn't "The Hammer", it's "The Anvil". And their real name isn't Maccabee, it's Warner. It's the Animaniacs!
I'm almost inclined to leave it alone... except only the Old Testament has changed so far, and I really don't want to read a Bible where the Messiah claims the title "Son of Bugs Bunny".
So, as a DuoPolarity consultant, I'm forced to admit that seven changes to reality are the hallmark of the DuoPolarity challenges so far.
- The last two times, there've been seven power objects, but we never saw what was inside these objects; we only knew, they were capable of drawing people from different times to one.
- This time, there might still be power objects involved, but they've drawn people (well, Toons) from one time to several... seven, in fact. I suspect people are meant to go fight for these objects.
- Surely there are better ways to the ultimate goal, but unless someone identifies the people responsible for this conflict, it's kind of hard to figure it out... but really, that's not a problem.
- Doctor Strange knows his enemy; it's one Baron Mordo.
- And I have a good idea about my enemy; it's probably MANIC 5, who got a nice big grudge against Crusher Joe just yesterday. And I gotta admit, I was cheering for Crusher Joe on that one.
- Usually, we'd divide a team of seven superhuman agents to fight our opponents, then discover we have common cause, then unite to fight our enemies. Why don't we just skip to the "fight our enemies" phase. What a concept. Then maybe we can clean up the past. And the Governor agrees.
- Unfortunately, Doctor Strange says he can't find his enemy, due to the same universal barrier that shunted the Marvels here. And we can't find our enemy yet; he always was good at hiding. But Governor Corrigan's started drawing upon the resources of our entire world for this one, so it might just happen.
- But meanwhile, we gotta send heroes for the challenge. And (thanks to our having prepared contacts) our universe has its own time machines for this kind of thing, without Doctor Strange having to use his spells and reveal his own position. So, Governor Corrigan's says his mission team's ready.
- But wait a minute... the Marvel Universe has just sent its mightiest to fight the Toons, and they couldn't make headway. I think the sort of battle-hardened warrior we need, is improvisational comedians. Meanwhile, the superhuman strike force can wait until the real targets come on scope.
- The Governor's willing to trust me on this one. He knows an improv troop, who are willing to help out. But there are only six of them, and they could use a contact. I guess that would be me, because my whole life is like improv comedy.
- Meanwhile, my bro's come back from his flight home. He's even more duty-driven than I; he'd do this crap even if he weren't paid. And he's much more suitable than I for leading a superhuman strike force.
Well, now I've got my own strike force, with seven targets. But I know my force works better as teams. I don't, but most everyone I've ever met does. And there's no rule that says we have to fight our enemies one on one.
So I divide us into two teams. The more musically inclined can go introduce a new melody into Bosco the Monkey's life, and hopefully bring back Father Abraham. The rest of us can go deal with Bugs Bunny and bring back King David, because that's kind of pivotal. I go with the latter team.
- Well, dealing with Bugs Bunny isn't all that difficult, if you know his weaknesses. We dress a lady member of our team up as a female rabbit, and load up with lots of carrots.
- Our target is the battle between David and Goliath. That's fairly easy for a time machine to find, given the historical records and the fact that the recent time travellers are sticking out like zits on the skin of time.
- I'm pleased to report, our strategy against Bugs Bunny works like a charm. We arrive singing, "Carrots wait for no one, so we eat them now..." And we draw Bugs off into the fields, so the future King David has his own chance to fight.
- Once Bugs starts eating our carrots, we just leave our team "wench" to feed him until he contentedly goes to sleep.
- But "we", of course, is a strong term for it. There's still a bit of hazard duty, and we can't all go...
- David's opponent is still this doofy giant who likes to hug things and pet things and call them George, but that's not a major problem. We send one guy out to tie the giant's shoes together. And that guy would be me; the rest of the team works best together.
And so David of Bethlehem smites a giant on schedule. It hardly matters which giant.
- How do I get close to the giant? I just grunt and speak sign language a lot. I'm kind of large by ancient Middle Eastern standards myself, and I'm obviously stupid because I didn't learn their language as well as the doofy giant did, so the Philistines figure I must be a guy from his homeland.
- How do I distract the giant? Well, he speaks my language; Toons speak all languages, just like universal translators. So, I say at the critical moment, "Look! A zeppelin!" It's not like he knows or cares what a zeppelin is; he still looks.
- But then I hear a voice: "Waal, taarnation! Let's go smite them Philistines!" Uh oh, I forgot Yosemite Sam was here!
- But hey, the job is to get rid of him. Maybe I don't have the best answer on the spur of the moment, but I say:
- "Hey, Sam, there's this guy down the coast, calls himself Pharaoh, says he can whip your &$$!" Of course, I'm talking to a Toon, so I can't just say "whip your ASS" like I usually would.
- "Waal, hot fire of tarnation! I'm'a gonna show this Pharaoh guy who's boss!" And so he marches off into the desert.
When we get back, the other team is waiting for us. They report success! They got Bosco the Monkey marching off toward Arabia, so Abraham had no competition marching to the Promised Land.
- And it seems the Bible's turning back to its accustomed state! We seem to have picked the right two points to counteract; without Toons as ancestors of Israelites and their royalty, it's a lot harder for Toons to be socially acceptable back then.
- As for Egypt, maybe Yosemite Sam took over down there and maybe he didn't, but we can't tell any difference yet.
- If he did take over, he'd have established a new dynasty... but that brings up the question of who would bear his Toon children. I'm guessing, no interbreeding.
- But maybe we'd best watch the hieroglyphics for signs of a God of Tarnation...
- And now that I think of it, we never did pick up any power objects from where we went. Maybe they're meant to stay there, back in Old Testament times. That would explain a lot of superhuman powers that are reported to have existed back then...
- And the superheroes are off fighting their mage targets right now! Well, we've done our mission, and now it's our job to wait. Well, it's my job to wait; the comedians just go on home.
- Unlike some people I've worked for, I am not the sort of boss who willfully wastes his workers' time. I don't think Crusher Joe is either.
- But if I'm wrong, Crusher Joe can surely whip my ass, but I'll still rumble with him to defend my underlings. Because that's part of my job, as I understand management.
- And hooray, the heroes come back successful, more or less. We'd hoped for captive mages, but the enemies both got away.
- They had to abandon their underlings to do it, though; the underlings promptly defected to our side.
- If there's any justice, the enemy mages are hiding in holes right now, hoping their local friends remember to slip them bits of produce.
Well, I guess experience does pay off... assuming the Egyptologists don't complain too much.
Postlude. As I write this, it's Christmas Eve. We had two days to get the mission over before Christmas, and we just pulled it off.
- My bro's gone back home to Michigan, as the one passenger on a California Air National Guard fighter jet.
- I'm still staying in California, but I don't need a hotel room now; two of my new friends on the improv team invited me over.
- They're dating, and as long as I'm with them, they can say the emergency's still on and duck out on the future in-laws.
- So I'm crashing on their sofa in San Francisco. Experience shows me, sofas are often better than hotels.
Merry Christmas, one and all! God bless us, every one. (23, 27 December 2003)