Author's Note and Introduction: This is a story focusing around an OMC that borrows both characters and setting from Marvel and DC comics. "Hal Chambers" is the only original character in this story.
He no longer knew which world he had been born into. A few things remained in his memories. It had been the early Twenty-First Century. Automobiles were rampant in the streets, and the United States was the Earth's last Superpower. Metahumans were new to the world, people who were granted abilities beyond the previous rules of science. Hal Chambers was one of those metahumans. He had the natural ability to create portals to different universes.
Hal considered himself an explorer. He could dial up a new universe by focusing on its quantum signature, and travel anyplace he pleased. It did not occur to him for several weeks that he had no way of recording a universe's signature. Still he traveled. The only thing left in his life was exploration.
He arrived into the middle of a fight. Gunfire sounded to either side of him. He was in a mostly-deserted city street. Cars were piled up for cover, behind which were both factions. Hal inspected the two teams of combatants. One group was wearing uniform body armor and had assault rifles. The others were dressed casually with pistols. The civilians were severely out-numbered.
Hal did not know what they were fighting over, or who was in the right – if anyone. He did know that the civilians would only be fighting those odds if they were desperate.
"It's another Mutant!" shouted one of the soldiers. "Kill him!" There was little he could do. Opening a portal would just send them to a random reality – one where they could potentially cause even greater harm. Instead of fighting, he ran. He picked the direction of the Mutants. Hal jumped onto the car the Mutants were hiding behind and slid across. His shoulder hit the pavement first.
One of the Mutants came over to check on him. "Are you alright?" he asked, helping Hal sit up. "I don't recognize you. Where'd you come from?" Hal looked around and saw that the Mutant helping him was identical to 3 others.
"That doesn't matter," said another. "He's a teleporter, he can get us out of here."
Hal flinched. "No, I can't." Besides the four-of-a-kind, there was one other man, and a woman. "They're Mutant hunters," Hal realized. There was only one greater threat. "Are they going to send in any Sentinels?" The four-of-a-kind paled at the thought.
"Relax, Madrox," said the other man, the leader. "No, we're not powerful enough for them to bring in Sentinels. If you can't get us out of here, then at least help us fight."
"Unless I see what I'm doing, the best I can do is disintegration ... I won't kill them." They looked at him oddly. "This isn't the place to explain."
"Dammit. They are going to send in a Sentinel, now that you're here. If you don't finish them or teleport us, we're all going to die." It was worse than the leader realized. Hal wasn't even a Mutant – the Sentinel would not perceive him as a threat. If Hal just left them there ... the Sentinel would come anyway.
"If I teleport you, you can't ever come back. I've never been able to go to the same planet twice." The leader scowled at him. "If I destroy the Sentinel, they'll just send more. I can't fight more than a couple."
"If you don't teleport us, we're dead!" shouted Madrox.
"Drop the guns before you step through." Hal closed his eyes and opened up a doorway of energy. Hal's new acquaintances did not even hesitate, despite the severity of their situation. Three of the Madroxes vanished before the final one walked in. The woman quickly followed. Only Hal and the leader remained in the war-torn world.
"It's better to be alive," the leader said. A mixture of relief and fear played on his face. He was beyond caring for whatever cause he fought for – his only thoughts were for survival. "Thank you – for everything." The leader went through, followed by Hal.
They were in an alley, at least. Better than the middle of gunfire like last time. Two Madrox copies were at the alley entrance, watching the sidewalk with wide eyes and caution.
"Where are we?" the Mutant leader asked.
"I don't know," came the honest answer. "My name is Hal Chambers, and my Mutation is to open doorways between realities. The only problem is I don't know where I'm going or where I came from."
"That's quite a limitation," the woman said.
"Now would be a good time for introductions. I'm Warren Worthington. As you probably noticed, my Mutation is a fourteen-foot wingspan." Hal noticed the white wings sprouting from Warren's back for the first time. He felt ridiculous. "This is Tessa Niles, a telepath. That's Jamie Madrox. He self-replicates."
"Duplicates," one of the copies said. The Madroxes stepped into each other and merged into a single Jamie Madrox. "This world doesn't look like it has to deal with the Mutant Registration Agency or Sentinels. What ... what do we do?"
Warren crossed his arms. "Don't be so hasty to decide that. We need reconnaissance." Madrox nodded and turned back to the street. "Meet back here at 1600." He stretched his wings and flew out of sight.
Hal watched him go. "I think he forgot about me."
"No. Warren doesn't expect you to help. You don't appear to have any training, and we're used to working as a team." Tessa motioned to the sidewalk. "The two of us should stick together."
It was still morning, so the street was bright. Few pedestrians walked the streets, but significantly more people were there than Hal had seen in Tessa's world. If the large signs were any indication, they were near the center of the city. Hal found a newspaper stand and glanced at the headlines.
"This has to be some kind of joke," Tessa said. She picked up a newspaper and showed him the headline.
"'Superman Saves Orphanage.' What's so crazy about that?"
"It's even the Daily Planet." She shook her head. "Superman is just a comic book character where I'm from."
Hal's expression also turned to disbelief, but for a different reason. "You read comic books?" She was an athletic brunette in her thirties, a far cry from the stereotypical comic book guy.
"Not everyone who reads comics looks like a Simpsons character. Besides, Superman is a cultural icon. He transcends the genre."
He read the cover price on the newspaper and paid the vendor. "Now you can find out all about the real thing, instead of the kiddy version."
Tessa assumed an aloof air that was her standard demeanor. The pair continued down the sidewalk. "This might be a nice place to settle down."
"You don't strike me as the type to settle down."
"Not yet," she admitted. Tessa flipped through the newspaper, pausing a fraction of a second on every page. "It seems a decent place to live. Do you want the paper?"
They had spent the better part of the day wandering Metropolis. Tessa's impression seemed dead-on. This Earth had its share of problems, but nothing on the scale of Tessa's home. No Mutant Holocaust threatened to loom. Even though metahumans and Mutants were almost common, there was little prejudice against them.
"How does your Mutation work?" asked Tessa. They were on their way back to the alley to meet Warren and Madrox.
Hal searched for a way to put it into words. "Colors look different because they're different wavelengths of light. They vibrate at different frequencies. Universes are like that, too. Everything in the same universe vibrates on a quantum scale. You can call it the quantum frequency or QF.
"If I impose a different frequency on an object, it is sent to the corresponding universe. The easiest way to do that is with a portal." He waited for any questions, but she had none. They walked in silence for a few minutes before he picked up again. "The problem is that I don't see a QF as a number. I see it like most people see colors. Picking out Universes with big differences is easy – red and blue look very different. Only, there might be billion of universes that can be described as 'light blue.'"
Warren and Madrox were not yet at the alley when they arrived. Hal checked his watch and saw that there were still a few minutes left. "I like you," announced Tessa. "What do you look for in a new world?"
Hal shrugged. "I was never interested in settling down. I'm trying to find a way to map the universes. I think it's possible to figure out what a world is like just by looking at the quantum frequency. There isn't any way to describe it, though."
"Not with words. Mutant abilities are too intuitive." She hesitated before continuing. "Warren didn't tell you the full extent of my Mutation. I'm only a mediocre telepath." Tessa gave him a rare smile. "They call me a living computer."
Hal raised his eyebrows. "So you can play computer games directly in your brain?"
"Only solitaire." That elicited a laugh. "If you permit me, I can tap into your metahuman ability and sense quantum frequencies. It may be possible to create a database of universes and assign a numerical value to each QF."
"So if I let you read my mind whenever I make a portal, we can travel universes with precision?"
Tessa nodded. "It's more complicated then that. I don't have enough power or experience as a telepath to create that kind of link. We would need help. Are you interested?"
He took in a long breath. Her suggestion was his only chance of revisiting any universe. It also seemed to be the only way to sketch the universal map he strived for. She was offering to make his dreams come true. The breath slowly came out. She was also offering to be his companion for an awfully long time. "I can't say no," he finally said with a grin.
Warren and Madrox returned at roughly the same time. All four of travelers reviewed what they had learned over the course of the day. Madrox had the most to report. "We have a choice," Warren said with crossed arms. "Do we move on to another world, or try and make a home for ourselves here?" The group was silent for a long time, considering.
Hal answered first. "If you decide to stay here, I will, too. I haven't stayed in one universe for more than a few weeks since ... in the last twenty years."
"I'm not anxious to go world-hopping," said Madrox. "There's no guarantee the next place will be any better than the last one. This might be as good as it gets."
"Hal? How does this world compare to the others you've seen?"
"Insofar as worlds where meta-humans exist, this one is on the safer side of average. There are established superheroes with incredible powers, and they seem to be the right kind of people for the job. I like it here."
Tessa voiced her agreement. "I have come to trust our new friend. Wherever he goes, I will follow." Hal blushed at her vote of confidence, and Warren nodded.
"Then we'll stay. Our first priority is food and lodging. Madrox, I want you to send dupes all over the city. Get as many part-time jobs as you can and start making money. Try for work off the books. People here have similar accents to ours, so we should be able to pass for locals. Twenty jobs can get us a month's salary for a day of work."
Madrox smacked the wall and a duplicate of him appeared. He passed on the instructions and the dupe went on to start his task. "He'll take care of it. What about tonight and dinner?"
Hal took out his wallet and pulled a few twenty-dollar bills. "This is the local currency. Or it's close enough that most people can't tell the difference. In the past, I would leave a world before the Secret Service caught on. That isn't an option anymore. If this world is anything like the others I've been on – and it seems to be – then they'll take counterfeit bills very seriously."
They were silent for a few more minutes. "What do we have to sell?"
"Patents," Hal immediately answered. "Every universe has slightly different technology. If you happen to know a formula for glue or how to make a jet engine, we can file it with the U.S. Patent Office."
Everyone in the group turned to Tessa. "I downloaded every patent on file, in our world. It was in hopes of finding a new weapon to use against the Sentinels, not for profit."
"That's perfect for the long-term," Warren said. "We have Madrox providing us with a financial base, and the patents can give us a corporate empire with proper planning. That still leaves us with a problem: what about tonight?"
Hal interjected. "There's another problem: identification. Our driver's licenses aren't valid in alternate universes. Neither are social security numbers. If we're not U.S. citizens, we can't do much of anything. The libraries aren't closed yet. I suggest we try and find out if alternate versions of us exist here."
"Madrox and I investigate," Tessa told him. "My telepathy might be strong enough to convince government clerks to assign us social security numbers."
Warren frowned. "I was hoping for a bed tonight, but we have too much to do. It won't be the first time any of us have gone without sleep and food." A smile grew on his face. "I'm going to read up on the local business world."
"Why are you smiling about economics?" Madrox asked.
"My parents raised me to take over Worthington Industries. I never cared for the company until the Government seized it. Rebuilding the Worthington financial empire is the best way to continue my family legacy."
Madrox chuckled and shook his head. "I suppose when you can fill the world's population with duplicates of yourself, you have a different approach to leaving a legacy. Warren, I'll be glad to be ninety percent of your workforce."
Warren grinned. "Let's get to work."
Hal smirked. With Tessa's partnership, this Earth could act as a hub for future travels. He finally had a place to call home.