Thirteen Tales From Another World
Tale of the Junior Hero Program
Meanwhile on an island paradise.
“Heroes aren’t born, they’re made.” Dr. Callyco spoke solemnly as he laid in a hammock reading a comic book.
“… Okay I mean sure, but kind of weird to say out of the blue.” Dr. Cutie Pup was laying next to the kitten in the hammock. He blinked and yawned having just been woken up. “But I get it, they go through trials that test their character and-“
“Nah! I’m just talking about the fact they are physically made! Science experiments gone awry! Strange zappy things! Alien parasites! Supernatural possession! Magic swords! And weird leftovers you find in the fridge.”
“I question that last one actually creating any heroes…” Dr. Cutie Pup gave the kitten a look.
“It happens! All the time!” The kitten huffed. “Anyway, the point is things happen, people get superpowers or cool gadgets and then they become heroes. “Some of you listening in from in may be from a world without heroes, but give it time.” The kitten paused. “Of course, not just anyone can be a hero.”
“From the possible ways you gave to become one, I feel like anyone could.” Dr. Cutie Pup rolled his eyes.
“It takes a certain kind of personality! And there’s like training and stuff! And guidelines!” Dr. Callyco exclaimed. “As tonight’s guest Cris is going to learn. Tonight, for our sixth tale, I bring you the Tale of the Junior Hero Program.”
Thirteen Tales From Another World
Tale of the Junior Hero Program
As Cris sat at the kitchen table dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt he had no idea he was but moments away destiny grabbing him by the ankles and tossing him far, far away from any semblance from normalcy. He was completely unaware of what fate had in store for him as he simply sat there, eating a bowl of cereal, still trying to wake up as he waited the coffee to finish brewing. It was right there, at that moment, before he even had a chance to enjoy his first sip of morning coffee that it happened.
A giant swirling silver and blue vortex opened up in his kitchen. It covered the entire south wall. Cris hesitated, unsure if what he was seeing was really happening. Nothing he had learned growing up had taught him what to do if a gaping portal opened up in your kitchen. He wasn’t even 100% it was real. He hadn’t had coffee yet after all. It could be a dream or some figment of imagination.
Cris’ hesitation cost him his only chance to escape destiny. The vortex began to exert its own gravitational pull, pulling in the kitchen table, Cris’ bowl of cereal and his still brewing coffee into it.
“H-hey! I was going to drink that!” Cris objected. Slowly his half-asleep brain put together something very serious and very weird was going on. He was being pulled towards the vortex just like everything else. He grabbed onto the kitchen counter trying not to get pulled in. But, the vortex’s pull only got stronger as time went on. Cris’ fingers began to ache, and finally he lost his grip as he was pulled into the vortex.
What he saw next, he had a hard time comprehending. He landed on his feet, but there was nothing to physically support him. He was just standing on air, if there was even air. There probably had to be air. He was breathing after all. It almost looked like a hall of mirrors hovering in some kind of white void. But there weren’t just walls of mirrors, some of them were above Cris where a ceiling should have bene, other far below him where the ground should have been. Each and every single one of them reflected something different. One mirror, he saw two catboys, one an orange domestic cat, the other a brown lion playing a board game. Another he saw fox playing very happily in the snow. One of them appeared to be lead to tranquil looking meadow with a great oak tree. Those were only the first few he saw. The mirrors seemed to be endless, each reflecting a completely different scenes. Cris wasn’t sure what he was seeing but as he looked between all of them, he saw one that looked familiar.
His kitchen! Though it was missing all of its furniture and pretty much any appliance that wasn’t fixed to the wall. It looked like it was a good fifty feet away from him, far above his head. Wherever he was… If he got back to the image of his kitchen, would it take him home? But how was he supposed to do that! He couldn’t fly! For now he ran in the direction of his kitchen. Much to his surprise, he found he started to run upwards. Suddenly, it was as if gravity shifted so that the image was now straight in front of him instead of above him. This gave him pause. He knew he should run back as fast as possible, but he had to test something. He looked at one of the images beneath him. He started walking towards that. Once again, gravity seemed to change as he suddenly found himself level with it. It would seem in this… He wasn’t sure what to call it. A gateway? Nexus? Nexus sounded good. In this nexus he could easily walk to whatever image he wanted. Apparently, gravity was completely relative to where he wanted to go.
He turned back to the kitchen but it was gone. Cris was confused, then as he looked around, he saw that none of the reflections stayed still for long. They’d stop in one place, sit there for about a minute and then simply move somewhere else. Cris began to look around again trying to find the kitchen, or anything that looked familiar. After a few minutes of searching, he saw it, this time well below him. It had to be a hundred feet away! He could barely tell it was his kitchen. Then again, maybe it was someone else’s kitchen. Regardless, there wasn’t any time to waste if he wanted to get through. He ran as fast as he could towards the kitchen.
Once more the entire universe shifted so he was running level with it. As he got closer, he was sure it was his own kitchen. He was so focused on it that he wasn’t observing anything else. As a result, he didn’t see one of the ‘mirrors’ that suddenly swerved in front of him. It was of a stone fountain somewhere in the jungle. Whoever constructed the fountain was long gone, as vines and moss had grown all over it. But water still sprayed upward.
Cris skidded to a stop. He wasn’t quite fast enough, and he went halfway through the mirror. He felt water from the fountain splash onto him as he quickly pulled himself back into the nexus. Unfortunately, while he was dealing with this his kitchen had moved again. But at least now he confirmed these reflections he saw were exits.
Cris looked around in desperation trying to find his kitchen again. He went around the mirror of the fountain and began to run in the direction he had last seen it. As he did something strange was happening. His clothing was getting baggier on him. He also was starting to feel more energetic instead of exhausted as he ran. Suddenly, his shorts and underwear fell down around his ankles. He tripped on them and went rolling along the ground, or what passed for ground. He kept changing directions as he rolled. When he managed to stop, he sat up and looked down at himself. He was so small compared to his clothes! And… His body was so soft. Like…
Like a little kid’s.
He couldn’t be older than seven or eight. He had turned into a kid! He wasn’t going to bother questioning how it was possible. He was running around in some kind of void full of mirrors leading to different places and possibly different worlds. The strange was to be expected. Maybe it had been because of the fountain water? Had that been the literal Fountain of Youth?
He stood up, stepping out of his shorts, and continued in just a giant t-shirt. At least it was something. But now he had a major problem. He was lost. No matter which direction he looked there was no sign of his kitchen. That was bad. These mirrors seemed to go on forever. The odds of picking the right direction by chance were low and once he started going in one direction he might become impossibly lost. But considering this place moved on its own staying in one place would also get him lost forever. There was no choice. He tried to recall the direction he had tumbled from and ran in what he thought was the direction of his kitchen.
Another mirror moved in front of him. He managed to stop, but tripped over his shirt hem and fell into it. The place was impossibly hot. It was like he was insane a volcano. And as he looked around and saw that he was in fact on a giant marble platform above magma that he might actually be. There was an altar on the platform, and atop it a single torch lit with a golden light. Without warning the fire leaped from the torch onto Cris. He let out a scream and quickly stumbled backwards back into the vortex.
He was on fire! But… It didn’t hurt? Yes, he was clearly on fire. The shirt he was wearing burnt up, leaving him naked as the fire went out. Yet, there was a strange sensation in him. As if something had lit a fire in his belly. Not knowing why, he held out a hand. A small orb of fire immediately appeared floating above it. He focused and it grew larger, then he tossed it into the distance as it vanished from sight. So, the flame had given him some kind of pyrokinesis. If he got home, it looked like he was going to have to invest in flame retardant clothing.
Home! Would people even recognize him now. He was a little kid! A little kid with power over fire. That was cool. But he really needed to do something. Cris looked left and right trying to figure out where to go. Then suddenly, the mirrors all shattered at once. Cracks formed in the infinite void of white, reality seemed to shatter, and then Cris was somewhere else.
“Looks like that put an end to your multiverse conquest!” A deep voice shouted. Cris couldn’t make it out. He wasn’t sure where he was but there appeared to be a long of wires and broken machinery around him.
“Curse you Jolt Puma!” Another voice shrieked. “But this isn’t the last time you’ll see Professor Discord! I shall have my revenge!” The voice faded off.
“Ugggh…” Cris felt fuzzy for some reason. Where was he? Wherever it was, there was no mirror or vortex to step back through. He was stuck here. He slowly stood up and pushed a piece of machinery aside. “Gah! Something landed on my tail!” Cris quickly grabbed his tail in his hands and held it close to him protectively. Wait, he had a tail!?
“A civilian? Trapped among Discord’s vile machinery! Worry not! I’ll have you out in a moment!” The deep voice shouted again. Cris assumed this was the person called Jolt Puma. All of the broken pieces of machinery began to spark, and then suddenly lifted up into the air and were tossed to the side.
Now Cris could see where he was. It looked like a mad scientist’s lair right out of a Saturday morning cartoon. Except someone had trashed the place completely. At one point there had been vials full of various liquids, a bunch of tesla coils, one of those balls filled with purple electricity and catwalks hanging from the ceiling. Now most things were in pieces.
As for the source of the voice, it was a mountain lion, but one that walked on two legs, wore a domino mask, a blue flowing cape, and metal bracers on his wrists and shins.
“You’re an actual puma?” That was the very first thought Cris had.
“Yes, and you’re a red panda. You okay kid? Didn’t get hit in the head, did you? If Discord has broken Union rules, I swear…” He started.
“I’m fine!” Cris wasn’t sure if he was actually fine. But, he was physically unharmed. Provided you didn’t count random changes to your age and species harm. Speaking of species, he had a tail now, it had hurt when a piece of machinery landed on it. And the mountain lion had called him a red panda? Cris looked down over his body. He didn’t just have a tail. He was covered in red and black fur, had a muzzle, a striped tail and… He felt up around his head. He even had animal ears. He was a humanoid animal just like the lion. Just… a red panda.
“Good. You had me worried Professor Discord had gone off the deep end there. Assaulting a child is immediate grounds for dismissal from the Union and possible Censure.” Jolt Puma explained.
“Union? Censure? What are you talking about?” Cris tilted his head.
“Everyone knows about the Adversary Union, all heroes and villains are required to be registered with it and abide by all Union rules.”
“Still no idea what you’re talking about.” Cris shook his head.
“Hmmmmm.” Jolt Puma examined Cris for a moment. “You seemed surprised that I was a puma… And at your own appearance… Know nothing of the Union. Considering almost every kid collect trading cards… You’re not from this world, are you?”
“Huh?” Cris paused as he remembered all the reflections he saw. “I suppose… Probably not? I’m not 100% sure what just happened… But I was a human then there was a vortex in my kitchen and then all kinds of weird stuff happened. There was a fountain, and then a volcano, then I gained fire powers and suddenly I apparently show up at the end of a superhero fight!?”
“What’s a human?” Jolt Puma asked confused. Then he gained focus. “As I thought.” He sighed, his voice came down to something akin to a normal person. It was almost fatherly. “I may act like a meathead but I’m more perceptive than I let on. Professor Discord was working on a machine to give him access to the multiverse so that he might conquer other worlds where there were no heroes to stop him. When the machine powered on, my guess, vortexes opened in an infinite amount of realities making a gateway between all possible universes and timelines.”
“Okay, you officially know what’s going on better than I do.” Cris grinned. “Don’t suppose that means you can send me home?”
“Afraid not.” Jolt Puma’s shoulders sagged. “I’m sorry to let you down, but working with the multiverse is dangerous. Had Professor Discord actually succeeded in his plans he would have been guilty of several Union violations. No doubt he hoped to escape to a world where they could not pursue him. You must have just been unfortunate enough to be close to where one of the vortexes opened.”
“How did I get here though?” Cris asked. “There wasn’t any portal or vortex or anything that I came out of.”
“I believe that may have been my fault.” Jolt Puma sounded absolutely dejected. “When I destroyed the machine, it closed the gateways. All the nexuses closed, meaning you were likely deposited at the point of origin where everything first opened. Right here. I regret… In my hastiness to destroy his machine before it could cause damage I did not think to check if anyone had already been dislodged from their world. I’m truly sorry. It’s my fault you can’t go home.”
“I don’t know about that.” Cris thought over everything he saw. “That place was pretty wild. There were like mirrors reflecting a bunch of different things that I guess were different worlds. I lost track of mine, and there were so many I could have wondered forever and never found it. At least you got me out of that weird place.”
“I see.” Though he didn’t say anything, it was clearly a relief to Jolt Puma that he hadn’t caused Cris to become stranded in this world. “Still, we’ll have to figure out someone to take care of you. You’re just a kid and-“ He paused. “Wait, you said something about fire powers?”
“Yeah!” Cris grinned. He could have corrected Jolt Puma and told him he was really an adult just turned into a kid. But right now, mentally he was a kid showing off a new toy. He created a fireball above his paw again and made it grow and shrink in size. Then, remembering how the flames hadn’t burnt him, he focused and created an aura of fire that surrounded his entire body. “Not bad, eh?” He turned the aura off.
“These powers… They could prove quite formidable but also quite dangerous left unchecked.” Jolt Puma was considering something. “I’ve never liked heroes who take child sidekicks. Even with Union rules it’s always seemed too risky to the child’s well being to me. But… You’re not just going to need someone to look after you, but someone to mentor you and help you control your powers.”
“What? I can control them fine!” Cris insisted.
“Maybe, now, but what about in a high stress environment?” Volt Puma asked. “If you just gained these you have no idea if they react to your emotional state or not. Volt Puma paused. He was clearly having some kind of internal struggle before he spoke again. “By Union rules, grade B and higher heroes can have kid sidekicks. I apologize I would ask you to live such a life. But if you became my sidekick, I could reveal my secret identity and give you a place to live as well as watch over your developing powers.”
“I’m sorry, why are you apologizing?” Cris asked. “You just told me I get to be a superhero! That’s like! Every kid’s dream! And I suspect most adult’s!” Cris really wasn’t sure which he counted as. But, be a fire throwing red panda kid who fought crime? How could he not want that! Getting back to his own world was a trivial thing now. In fact, it would be a major setback! He was about to become a superhero! Well, a superhero’s sidekick. It was close enough. “Where do I sign on?”
“Well, we’ll have to go by Union headquarters to pick up the paperwork.” Volt Puma replied.
“That… That was a phrase. I actually have to sign something?” Cris gave Volt Puma a skeptical look.
“Of course!” Volt Puma grinned. “You’re going to have to officially register, as well as pass both a field and written exam to become an official sidekick. And of course, there’s the course to teach you all the Union guidelines.”
“You have to be kidding me… I basically have to go to school!?” Cris whined.
“Oh yes, that too, you’ll also have to be enrolled in school with your civilian identity. The Union is very strict there. Sidekick duties must not interfere the educational process. Plus, we have agents who ensure you receive a little bit of leeway since you’ll be splitting your time between school and superhero duties.”
“But…” Now Cris decided it was time to come clean about his age. “I’m actually an adult! I just ran into a fountain, and it turned me into a kid! I’ve already been through school.”
“Nice try, but you’re not getting out of it that easily.” Volt Puma grinned. “Besides even if that were true, and you were an adult, which you don’t act like mind you, you’d still have to go to school. You’re still physically a minor. And there are plenty of things you have to learn.”
“But I already learned all of it!” Cris waved his arms.
“Oh really?” Volt Puma’s grin grew wider. “Who was the first president of the United States?”
“That’s easy. George Washington.” Cris puffed his chest out proudly. Did he really think such a simple question would stump him?
“Wrong.” Jolt Puma replied smugly. “It was Chistopher Beaverton.”
“Now hang on, I know it’s George Washington!” Cris tried to object.
“Where you came from yes. But you’re in a different timeline now. It has its own history, its own way that things work.” Jolt Puma dropped the smug attitude. “To put it simply a lot of the knowledge you have is now incorrect. If you’re going to manage to adopt to a new timeline then you’re going to have to learn both history and how things work here.”
“Okay fine… But… Why do I have to take math or language arts classes?” Cris asked.
“Well, just like the history, the literature in this world is different and so the famous plays and books everyone knows of you’ll have never heard of, let alone read.” Jolt Puma then grinned again and spoke in a teasing voice. “And I’ve never met anyone of any age who couldn’t use a little brushing up on their math skills!”
“Ugggggh.” Cris moaned. “Fine, I’ll go to stupid school.”
“See, acting like that is why I don’t believe you were ever an adult to begin with.” Volt Puma patted Cris on the head. “But, you won’t be enrolled in school until we can make sure your powers are in complete control. We’d prefer you not accidentally burn down a school. “So, you have a little bit of a vacation. Which you can use to study for the Union written exam.”
“Ugggh you’re going to kill me! Don’t I get some kind of grace period before I have to do all this?” Cris asked.
“You want to be a sidekick, and maybe one day a full-fledged superhero?” Jolt Puma asked.
“Yes…” Cris muttered. He knew he had lost the argument. The prize was just too much to pass up. There was no way he wasn’t going to start fighting crime.
“Now… We’ll need to do something about a secret identity.” Jolt Puma looked thoughtful. “We can call you Fire Panda when in costume. I’ll need to get you a fireproof domino mask.”
“Uh, how are we going to have secret identities?” Cris gestured at Jolt Puma. “You are literally naked except for the mask, bracers and cape.”
“Yes, but I have the mask.” Jolt Puma stuck his tongue out playfully. “That’s just how it works. As long as you have your mask on no one can recognize you.”
“Are the masks magical or something? Cris tilted his head in confusion.
“Nope. That’s just how masks work.” Jolt Puma thought for a moment. “Perhaps, people can see through masks in your world, but here no one can recognize you if you’re wearing any form of mask.”
“That’s… Weird…” Cris hadn’t considered that physics might be different in this world. But the idea of what people could perceive was different here? How did that even work? It made no sense! Surely people would see through such an obvious ruse! Except… Cris was standing in front of a real superhero right now, and he had no reason to doubt he had managed to keep his secret identity.
“I see a demonstration is in order.” Jolt Puma reached up and pulled his mask off. “I’m David Dandy, small time scientist researching cures for various diseases off government grants.”
“WHAT!?” Cris stared at David. It was like he was a completely different person! But he looked exactly the same! And yet, his brain couldn’t mash the two images together. Even having witnessed the mask be taken off his brain could not picture David as Jolt Puma. They were two entirely separate entities. “I… But how does!? That doesn’t make any sense!?”
“I take it you understand now.” David snapped his fingers, and his bracers and cape came off, folded up and then disappeared into a pouch he wore on a belt. The belt was the only clothing he wore now. “Now what’s your name?”
“Cris.” Cris was still trying to process what had just happened.
“Alright Cris, let’s get some food into you, then we’ll swing by the Union. Traveling the multiverse probably leaves you hungry. Along the way I can tell you as much about the world as possible.” David placed a hand on Cris’ shoulder.
“Uh right.” Cris never did get to eat breakfast. Or drink his coffee. But coffee was gross anyway. Why did he drink it previously? Who cared? He was going to get some real food! And then it was off to the superhero life!