On Twisting the Hellmouth
On Archive of Our Own
It may help if you've read the previous story, Five Dates Supergirl Didn’t Enjoy… And One She Did, which introduces several plot elements, but it isn't essential.
This is a DC Movieverse / DC Comics / Avengers (Movie) crossover. All characters belong to their respective creators, giant megacorporations of doom, etc. and there is no intent to infringe on copyright. The title is from a novel by Elmore Leonard.
Marcus L Rowland
Pepper turned away from the New York skyline and said "Yes, Jarvis?"
"There is a cat in laboratory four."
"What sort of cat?"
"A small brown one. It does not appear to be of any particular pedigree or breed. If it was a dog I would call it a mongrel."
"You're a snob, Jarvis. Okay... make sure it doesn't get into anything that will hurt it, I'll be down in a second. Any sign of Tony?"
"Mister Stark is still en-route, ETA approximately eleven minutes."
Pepper descended to the laboratories and followed Jarvis' directions to a clear area, where one of Tony's industrial robots was keeping the cat busy with a laser pointer. She kneeled and said "Cut the laser. Hey, kitty."
The cat pretended to ignore her until she clicked her fingers, then it sidled towards her, and allowed her to stroke its ears and eventually pick it up. "Hey now, what's your name?" She noticed that it was wearing a collar, and looked at a small metal tag. "Pasadena Humane Society - My name is Streaky." On the back was a phone number.
"Jarvis, the tag has a phone number. I'm guessing it's a Pasadena area code, number 555 4389. That's odd..."
"It is. As you know, no Californian area includes 555 in the local dialling code."
"Where did he come from anyway?"
"I'm afraid I don't know. He appeared from under one of the work benches. I do not currently have a camera covering that area."
"Show me where."
The robot with the pointer beeped at her, then scooted across the floor towards one of the benches, as Jarvis said "I think we may have a problem."
"You're not kidding." Under the bench a vortex of rippling light, like a donut-shaped aurora about a foot across, hovered a few inches above the floor, inclined at about twenty degrees from the vertical. There was a scattering of earth below it. Through the opening she could see a slanted view of a neatly mowed lawn and some trees and bushes. She guessed it was a park or someone's back yard.
"The structure and signature of the energy field resembles that produced by the Tesseract... on a smaller scale, of course."
"Put me through to Tony."
"Hello, you have reached the helmet of Tony Stark, boy genius. Please leave a message. Beeeeep."
"Yeah, like that works so well. Tony, we have a problem."
"We're broke? You're pregnant?"
"Nope to both. But you do have a new baby here."
"What sort of baby?"
"Some sort of mini-portal, it's under a bench in one of the labs."
"Jarvis, give me some video... hey, cool!"
"It appears to be expanding," said Jarvis, "the diameter was thirty-two centimetres when I first saw it, it's now thirty-four point seven."
"Where is this in relationship to the original matrix portal?"
"Directly underneath it."
"The matrix generated its portal about a kilometre above the generator, can't remember the exact number."
"Twelve hundred and forty metres."
"About how far from it is the mini-portal."
"Approximately nine point seven metres below the generator."
"Give me a ratio between those distances."
"Ignoring the margin of error, the ratio of distances is exactly one hundred and twenty eight to one. By the way, the portal is now nearly forty centimetres across, and the rate of expansion is slowly increasing. It will intercept the floor and the surface of the bench in less than a minute. I suspect that it will damage them."
"Okay... I think it's a harmonic of the original portal, smaller and probably opens out somewhere a lot closer to home."
"We just found a cat that seems to have walked through from Pasadena."
"Pasadena California? How far is that... okay, can't see an obvious connection."
"It may not be this world's California," said Jarvis. "The phone number on its collar does not correspond to any local code in current use."
Outside Pepper heard a sonic boom, and braced herself for another argument with the FAA. Moments later there was a clatter outside and Tony ran in, wearing his usual slacks and a Discworld T-shirt, the glow of his arc reactor nicely centred under the disc.
"Cool portal! Where's the cat?"
"Are you suffering from some optical deficiency?" asked Jarvis.
"Here," said Pepper, holding up the cat, which looked at Tony in disdain.
"Great, let's see what makes him tick."
"Over my dead body."
"Don't worry, I won't hurt him, just a few sensors. Jarvis, is Pepper being horribly irradiated even as we speak?"
"If she were, I think that I would have remembered to mention it."
"That's a no, I hope. Anything weird about it?"
"It appears to be an ordinary cat. However, I'm detecting occasional anomalous quantum events."
"I was under the impression that you were the genius."
"Did we see anything like that with Thor or Loki?"
"No. By the way, the upper edge of the portal is about to come into contact with the power line to the bench. Should I shut it down?"
"Go for it."
"Done. It will be several minutes before the bench collapses."
"Okay, is Bruce around?"
"He's on his way up."
"Good - I think we need to think about getting this thing out of here before it brings down the building."
"That does sound unusually prudent. For you."
"I think we can move it," said Bruce Banner. "The trouble is that if we do, we may change where it opens too."
"You mean the dimension Loki's storm-troopers came from? That would be bad."
"Possibly, or maybe Asgard itself."
"Excellent! Let's try for sideways out of the window then up, say a few metres above the roof, that shouldn't be too tricky."
"How do we get Streaky home if we do that?" asked Pepper.
"Quickly," said Bruce. "I want to take some more readings, but the events we're seeing could be caused by quantum entanglement."
"What does that mean?"
"I'm guessing that the cat comes from a fairly close worldline, maybe there are only a few minor differences. If I'm right it exists in both worlds, and there's quantum entanglement between the particles of the two versions now it's in our world. That's not really sustainable, so the entangled particles will vanish randomly from one or another cat. Eventually both of them will be damaged so badly that they die."
"How long have we got?"
"At the moment it's slow, it'll be hours before there's any harm. Say twelve hours for real damage, eighteen to kill both cats."
"You've got thirty minutes," said Pepper. "After that he's going back."
"Twenty-five. We are not going to hurt a cat."
"What happened to twenty-nine through twenty-six," asked Tony.
"Trying for fifteen?" asked Pepper.
"Fine," said Tony. "Bruce, I'll see to moving the portal, you see what you can find out from the cat, then give me a hand. Pepper, get the others in, if this goes horribly wrong we'll probably need backup."
Natasha dangled a small cuddly toy in front of Streaky's nose and made "good boy" noises, while Pepper stroked him and tried to keep him from moving from the focus of a small battery of sensors.
"Okay," said Bruce. "I think that's about it. There's an escalating pattern of quantum events, I'd say it was the beginning of an exponential series, a cascade of decaying particles. Make it six hours to significant damage, ten or twelve to death."
"Call it entropic cascade failure," said Tony, "it'll sound snappier when we write the papers and file the patents. Anything else we can learn from our feline friend?"
"Not really. Natasha, gently toss him back through the portal, but don't put your hands too close, we don't want you to get sucked into the world without shrimp or something."
"Without shrimp?" asked Captain America.
"Obscure geek reference, don't worry about it."
Natasha said "хороший кот" and tossed him towards the opening. He hit the portal and hung in mid-air, then bounced off and landed on the workshop floor, yowling, his fur bristling with rage.
"That's weird," said Tony. "Someone get a broomstick or something, give the portal a poke."
"I think that there may be higher priorities," said Jarvis. "In four minutes the lower edge of the portal will intersect one of the girders supporting this floor. I think that this might have unfortunate consequences."
"Get it out of here," said Steve. "We can solve the cat problem a lot easier if the building isn't collapsing."
"Okay," said Tony. "I think I can give it a little nudge, maybe move it up a few inches. Everyone stand well clear." He tweaked a couple of settings on the jury-rigged assembly of electromagnets and lasers he was working on, and switched on the power. For a few seconds nothing happened, then the portal disappeared.
"Was that supposed to happen?" asked Steve.
"No. Jarvis, what the hell just happened?"
"The portal re-located."
"Dare I ask where?"
"Approximately twelve hundred and forty metres above the tower. It is now considerably larger, incidentally; I'd estimate four to four point two metres in diameter, and it appears to be leaking water."
"I'd better get up there and take a closer look."
"What do you see, Tony?" asked Bruce.
"Okay, I'm just coming up level with the opening now... same scenery as before, looks like the new improved portal just sliced through a water pipe on the other side. I make that a couple of liters a second."
"Okay, I've got it on the monitor. Seems to be a lot of interference though. Try firing a repulsor burst at the portal, see what happens."
"Okay... a low-power shot has no effect... let's take it up a notch." Tony fired again, with enough force to knock down a small tree. On the far side of the portal the ground erupted, forming a shallow crater, and earth cascaded through the portal and onto Tony.
"I'd say that about twenty-five percent of the force is getting through," said Bruce.
"Sounds about right," said Tony. "I wonder what would happen if I fired a... holy crap!" He flew back from the portal, and was narrowly missed by a blue car that sped through and began to plummet towards the roof. He dove after it and grabbed the rear fender, which promptly tore off the back of the car. His repulsors threw him back up towards the portal as he struggled to regain control.
About a hundred feet up the car started to slow, stopped, and rotated until it was more or less horizontal, then slowly descended to land on the roof. Tony landed as its occupants, a man and a woman, climbed out.
"Are you all right?" asked Tony.
"Apart from a missing fender," said the driver, an attractive blonde wearing jeans, running shoes, and a silky blue blouse. "I really wasn't expecting to run in to anyone up there. Oh, and hi, I'm Kara Zor-El."
"Dick Wing," said the passenger, a tall muscular brunet wearing a smart grey suit.
"Hi. We're looking for Kara's cat."
"You have no idea who I am, do you?"
"Should we?" asked Kara.
"Just a second," said Tony, flipping open his visor. He lifted into the air, flew to his landing pad, and walked back towards them as the robotic arms stripped the armour from his body.
"That's amazing," said Kara. "How do you get the timing that accurate?"
"Genius, and massive parallel processing power," said Tony. "You're interested in engineering?"
"I'm studying it."
"And you've already built yourself a flying car? Look me up when you graduate."
"I'm pretty sure this isn't our timeline," said Kara, "so that might be kinda difficult."
"I'm certain of it," said Tony. "I'm pretty famous, so is my company. Stark Engineering. If you were an engineering student from around here you'd know me."
"Sorry," said Kara. "I guess it doesn't exist in our world."
"Okay. We've found your cat, if you'd like to follow me I'll take you to him. Jarvis, send a couple of the engineering robots up to fix their fender."
"Neat T-shirt," said Dick, "how do they get that glowing effect?"
"That would be me," said Tony, but didn't elaborate.
As they came down the stairs Jarvis said "Sir, I feel that you should be aware that the gentleman is carrying concealed weapons. Escrima sticks, several throwing stars, a small Taser, and something that looks like a grapnel gun, as well as various other devices. The young lady is unarmed."
"Now he tells me," said Steve. "Okay, is this going to be a problem?"
"Not unless you make it one," said Dick. "I'm just here to help Kara find her cat, we don't want any trouble."
"Neither do we," said Tony. "What are you? Cop, gangster, bodyguard?"
"Vigilante," said Dick.
"Okay," said Tony. "Just so you know, there are probably at least four people here who can beat you up without working up a sweat. I'm not one of them, so watch out because I'll cheat if I have to."
"I'm not here to fight."
"We just want to get Streaky and take him home," said Kara. "Oh, and shut down that portal thing if it's yours, it's chewing up my back yard."
"So how does the car fly?"
Kara smiled. "Magic pixie dust. I caught Tinkerbell and waved her over the engine."
"Do you mind if the robots look under the hood?"
"Knock yourself out."
"Everyone," said Tony, "These guys are Kara Zor-El and Dick Wing, they're here looking for Kara's cat. Kara's an engineering student, and Dick's in the vigilante business. Meet Natasha Romanoff, Clint Barton, Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, and Pepper Potts."
"Hi!" "Pleased to meet you."
"Neither of you know any of those names?"
"Okay, you really aren't from around here. That's weird, because if your time line is really distant we shouldn't be seeing quantum entanglement events, and your cat's showing them."
"Where is Streaky anyway?" asked Kara, looking around the room.
"Didn't you have him?" Pepper asked Natasha.
"I haven't had him since we tried to put him through the portal."
"That might be difficult," said Kara, "the last time I ran into a dimensional portal it carried a big energy charge, I think that there are sometimes big differences in potential between different dimensions. Coming here is like going downhill, but you might have to pump in a lot of energy to get back through it."
"That's why you needed the car," said Tony, "a Faraday cage to get you through the energy field."
"That and we needed transport. So... Streaky?"
"Who had him last?"
"Natasha had him," said Pepper, "then we moved the portal out of here in a hurry. Anyone seen him?"
"He's got to be here somewhere," said Bruce. "Wait a second, I can track his movements through his quantum signature. But I'll have to eliminate your signatures first."
"What do we do?" asked Kara.
"Just stay where you are while I calibrate the sensors... that's odd, neither of you is showing any significant entanglement events. Though I'm detecting some from the roof."
"What does that mean?" asked Dick.
"It probably means that you don't exist in this dimension, maybe some of the atoms in your body do, but less than I would expect. Which is odd because a doppleganger of your cat does, and your car does."
"That's quite likely," said Kara. "Dick is a refugee from another dimension, he's only been in my world for a few months. And if I'm around at all in this universe I'm probably a few light years away from Earth, wouldn't that prevent entanglement?"
"Yes, it propagates at light speed..." said Bruce, then said "Wait a second, doesn't that mean you're an alien?"
Kara held up her hand in a Vulcan salute and said "klaatu barada nikto. Take me to your leader." Clint and Natasha watched her warily.
"You're an alien?" said Tony. "Why do you look human? Here to impregnate all the men with your flesh-eating eggs? Shape changer?"
"I wish, shape changing would be useful sometimes. No, Krypton was seeded by aliens who abducted early humans from Earth, about a hundred and fifty thousand years ago. Nobody's entirely sure why they did it, or why our evolution didn't diverge more, but we're not that dissimilar to Earth's humans. In fact my cousin married a woman from Earth, they have a kid."
"How did you get to Earth?" asked Bruce.
"A space warp a lot like your portal the first time I visited Earth, a spaceship the second. But that was a long dangerous voyage in suspended animation, it nearly killed me. I don't recommend it."
"Your people can do that and you're studying engineering? Our engineering?"
"We're trying to introduce our science and technology to Earth, but unless we start out with Earth's technology and build on it carefully it might as well be magic, people try to use it without understanding it. That's already got people killed. One criminal idiot who thought he had a handle on it came close to destroying most of the eastern seaboard."
"Sensible policy," said Bruce.
"How do you stop people from helping themselves?" asked Clint.
"I'm just naturally persuasive," said Kara.
Behind her Dick raised his eyebrows and said "Riiight...."
"Now, about Streaky?"
"I'm on it," said Bruce. "The instrument readings aren't clear, I think he's got under the floor through the hole the portal made, but he's within thirty feet."
"Okay," said Tony. "Jarvis, use the systems I installed for cleaning out escaped laboratory specimens, but turn off anything that might hurt him."
"Laboratory specimens?" asked Dick.
"Intelligent slime moulds, things men was not meant to know, rats, that sort of thing. We're big on research here."
"What exactly is here?" asked Dick. "I was wondering, because this doesn't look like a commercial operation somehow."
"We're the Avengers," said Steve, "we're what the papers like to call a superhero team." It was obvious that he was uncomfortable with the term.
"We used to have some of those in my world," said Dick, "they can be fun, especially the Christmas parties, but they get a bit cumbersome if you get too many big egos in the mix."
"No argument there," said Pepper.
"There isn't anything like that in my world," said Kara, "though we do have some superheroes. Can you imagine Batman and Hancock on the same team?"
"For about ten seconds before they killed each other," said Dick.
"Do either of those names ring any bells?" asked Tony.
"No," said Natasha.
"I have the cat isolated," said Jarvis. "He is under the floor, grid reference G-11."
"Underneath the particle accelerator?" said Tony, checking the layout on one of the ubiquitous screens.
"Is there a problem?" asked Kara.
"It weighs forty-eight tons, it's bolted down, and we'd need to disconnect about sixty cables to move it more than a couple of feet."
"The quantum effects he's experiencing might damage him by the time we can get it moved."
"Which would be bad," said Kara.
"Bad for him, certainly," said Tony.
"And for us." Bruce turned the screen to face them. "There's something I forgot, the energy release. The entangled particles don't just disappear, they annihilate each other. It's a cascade effect, starting very slowly but increasing exponentially. Say your cat weighs four kilograms, two kilograms would eventually be converted to energy. It's being radiated as neutrinos, which is why I didn't detect them at first, they tend not to cause problems. But in the last few seconds before the reaction completes a few hundred grams of matter will be converted to energy. Even as neutrinos we're talking a blast of several kilotons, possibly even worst."
"Two blasts," said Kara. "You said there must be a cat like Streaky somewhere in this world, probably in your version of California, he could be anywhere and the same thing would be happening to him."
"Bruce," said Tony, "we need to get him out of there now, and back into his own world. Can you do it without losing control?"
"No other option?"
"Not in the time we have available. Let me get suited up first."
"How long have we got?" asked Kara.
"My best guess is still an hour or so before he starts to get hurt, but I've revised downwards twice now."
"Kara..." said Dick. "Isn't there something you should be telling these guys?"
"I guess." Kara looked embarrassed.
"What exactly might that be?" asked Clint, suspicion in his voice.
"Well... it's probably easier if I show you. Can you cut the power to the particle accelerator?"
"Already done," said Tony, "I didn't want the radiation to hurt him."
"Okay," said Kara. She went to one of the massive anchoring bolts and gripped it between her fingers and twisted. The head tore off. "Oops."
"It's okay," said Tony.
"What Kara kinda forgot to mention," Dick said as she moved around the machine and removed or destroyed the bolts one by one, "is that Kryptonians are pretty strong."
"I'm getting that. What do you think, Bruce?"
"I'm jealous; the other guy could smash the thing if I hulked out, but I don't think I could do anything that delicate. Assuming I was in my right mind, of course."
"Okay," said Kara, dumping the last bolt on the floor a few seconds later. "how far do I have to lift it before you can get the floor panel out?"
"About a foot," said Tony.
"Can I do that without damaging the cables?"
"Maybe, not sure."
"Okay, let's give it a try." Kara bent her knees, put her hands under the main mass of the particle accelerator, and lifted. It went up, wobbling a little, until some of the cables were taut. The floor panel she was standing on dented slightly under her feet. "How's that?"
"Just a second," said Tony. "Steve, can you lift the next floor panel enough to slide it out from underneath?"
"Let me help," said Dick. The floor panels had recessed lifting handles; Steve and Dick grabbed them and pulled and the panel lifted up a little; straining as hard as they could they managed to pull it back a couple of feet before the cables got in the way.
"There he is," said Clint, pointing into the cavity under the panel. He reached in and tried to get a hand to Streaky, but there wasn't quite room for him to reach far enough through the narrow gaps between the cables.
"I've got this one," said Pepper. She kneeled by the opening and waved a small metal can towards Streaky. He snuffled and walked towards her, but stopped too far back for easy grabbing.
"Isn't that my caviare?" said Tony.
"It's a good cause."
"Can you hold the accelerator for another moment?" asked Natasha. "I think I can reach him now."
"I think so," said Kara.
"Good." Natasha dropped to the floor and squirmed under the cables, snaking her torso under the bulk of the generator, and grabbed Streaky. Clint pulled her out.
"Now just slide the panel back and put the accelerator down again and we're okay," said Tony. Everyone else glared at him.
"You've got the cat," said Bruce, "and I've modeled the wind flow around the tower, it looks like the water and dirt that's falling through the portal will be thoroughly dispersed before there's serious breakdown of its entangled particles. The mass won't be concentrated enough for the neutrino flux to do any damage."
"Are you sure you can shut the portal now?" asked Kara.
"Positive," said Tony. "The way it behaved when we tried to move it told me what we were doing wrong. I can shut it down completely."
"Have you guys got everything?" asked Clint.
"We've got Streaky, you've put all the earth that you could vacuum up into the trunk, and I don't think we've left anything behind."
"Once this closes we probably won't be able to reopen it into your dimension," said Tony, "I'm pretty sure it linked to it randomly. Make sure you have all your belongings."
"We're fine," said Kara. "Buckle up, this is going to be a bumpy ride." She fastened her seat belt and started the engine; Tony noticed that the belt seemed to be thicker and stronger than a regular belt, and guessed that it had something to do with her strength. Dick waved, and the car rose into the air, wobbling slightly, and ascended in a spiral towards the portal.
Tony followed, all of his instruments trained on the car, looking for an energy signature that might explain how it flew. There was some sort of hyperspace flux, but he couldn't imagine how any so-called pixie dust could generate the effect. Maybe nanobots? There was something about the way the car was flying that seemed a little off to him, but he couldn't quite figure it out. "Jarvis, did you find anything unusual in the engine compartment?"
"No, just standard components."
"What about the 'Magic Pixie Dust' she mentioned; any nanobots or strange chemicals, or the sort of energy signature we got from Asgard technology."
"No sir. I believe that she may have been joking."
Ahead the car wobbled again and banked for its final approach to the portal, and hit the boundary at about 50 MPH then slowed as though it had run into something soft but strong, coming to a halt with the front two thirds in Kara's world, the rear wheels and trunk in Tony's, with the car's suspension caught on something. Tony flew up and pushed up and forward on the rear fender; the car lurched forward and back into Kara's world, and he stopped himself before following it and hastily backed off from the portal. Through it he glimpsed Kara and Dick get out of the car. Kara waved at him, and he waved back, then said "Bruce... shut down the portal."
"In five... four.. three... two... one..." There was a bright flash and the portal was gone.
"Just when exactly were you planning to tell me about your visitors?" asked Nick Fury.
Tony smiled at the screen and said "Why tell you? You've got bugs all through the tower, you knew as soon as I did."
"Did it occur to you that I might have experts who could help?"
"Really? You know someone who knows more about portals than my team?"
"Yes. Reminds me, you probably can't patent anything derived from entropic cascade failure. There are already several classified patents in that area."
"Tell me more."
"You don't have the need to know. Now about the alien... do these Kryptonians pose a threat?"
"She seemed okay, but she said their technology nearly destroyed the eastern seaboard. And she was really strong... maybe Hulk strong, without the turning into a green rage monster part. One reason why getting them out of here quickly seemed the best way to handle things."
"Any other abilities? And did you get anywhere on the flying car?"
"Yes to both. There was something odd about the way that car flew, I analyzed the video and eventually realised that when it changed direction it was pivoting around the driver's seat, not the car's centre of mass. The car wasn't flying, she was, she just brought the car along to give her boyfriend a ride. I'm still figuring out how it works, but with luck it's something I can duplicate. Knowing that it's possible is a good start towards a solution."
"Now if there's nothing else, I need to make sure that Jarvis has flushed out the last of the cat poop from under the lab floor. We've got about twenty minutes before the cascade really gets started, I'd really like to make sure it's well clear of New York and harmlessly diluted first."
"Carry on. Fury out." His picture disappeared, replaced by a picture of Natasha holding Streaky captioned 'I has a Natasha.'
"Asshole," said Tony.
"He can still hear you, you know," said Pepper.
"And he's still an asshole. Now, about that cat poop..."
"They seemed like nice guys," said Linda Lee, as they walked back into her house. "Maybe we could have given our civilian names. But there were one hell of a lot of weapons around that building, and cells even I might have had trouble getting out of. And cameras everywhere, it was like 1984. If we do exist in that world, I really don't want them knocking on our door."
"I think they were a government-sponsored superhero team," said Dick Grayson. "I've never heard of one of those that ended well. Stark and Banner were their scientists, I'm guessing that Barton, Romanoff and Rogers were muscle. Rogers was pretty strong, well over normal human levels, all three of them moved like they had combat and martial arts training."
"I've seen Romanoff's picture in our world. She's on the 'Ten Most Wanted' wall at NCIS headquarters, arms trafficking and murder. I don't know any of the others."
"Give the names to Bruce... our Bruce... maybe he can track them down."
Outside Streaky yowled, and Linda's dog started to bark. "Now what?"
Another portal was opening a few feet above the lawn. As they watched a man fell through and landed, crouched, on the lawn. The portal slammed shut, and the man stood, a bearded blond giant holding a huge hammer, and said "Greetings, fair maiden, I am Thor of Asgard. If this be Midgard, canst thou direct me to the abode of those known as the Avengers?"
"Now that might be tricky," Linda began. She had a feeling it was going to be one of those days...
Entropic Cascade Failure is stolen from Stargate SG-1. I've changed its effects considerably, the technobabble shouldn't be taken too seriously. The World Without Shrimp is a Buffy reference; in this universe (which has Buffy crossovers in previous stories) it is presumably a common philosophical concept.
Comments please before I post to archives.