Who: Scott Lang, Dr. Strange What: Welcome to new New York! When: weekend Rating: Green, light spoilers
"Well, what'd your mother say?" Scott reached for the dial on the radio, turning the volume down on whatever innocuous pop station Cassie had selected for their morning commute. Normally, he was a firm believer in the passenger getting to choose the radio, but seeing as he'd already lost out on so much time with her, enforcing that rule was bordering on nitpicky. They'd fallen into a nice little routine in the last few weeks, no need to rock the boat. If it wasn't broke, right? Cassie's high school was on his way to the office, so they'd taken to practicing for her permit - because she was driving now, which was an idea he'd probably have trouble adjusting to even if he'd been around for years 10 to 15 - in the mornings.
And it was probably good she'd been driving, anyway, because he might have pumped the brakes when she'd asked if she could move in with him.
"She said you and Hope should have dinner with them to talk about it." The brunette shrugged, signaling that she was turning into the school's drop-off lane.
Scott's eyes left her, briefly, to make sure she was keeping enough distance between them and the car in front of them. "Uh, okay--brake lights, brake lights--we can do that. I'll call her later to figure it out."
The car stopped with a little lurch. "Really?" Cassie threw it into park with a grin, unbuckling so she could hop out and retrieve her backpack from the back seat. "Okay, cool, I can.." Whatever words followed were lost in a sudden wooshing sound, save for the uncertain "dad?" right before he fell out of the car. Or.. no, not the car. There was no car. There was no school. There wasn't even air.
Scott splashed to the surface, finding his footing in the (thankfully shallow) pool of water he'd been deposited in. A few passersby eyed him warily as they passed the fountain. "Hey, just.. dropped something," he murmured, awkwardly motioning to the water. The women averted their gazes. Scott, figuring he had more pressing matters to attend to, squinted at the sky to see if there was a portal, a machine - anything that might clue him into the sudden change of scenery. This was, interestingly enough, not the first time he'd been deposited from one place to another in the blink of an eye, so the experience wasn't setting off alarm bells yet. It was kind of just a really loud kazoo, at this point.
He patted his soaked pants down and found himself without a cell phone. Still in his console, probably. "Figures. H-hey, ma'am? Ma'ams?" he called, waving again at the women as he slogged across the fountain (and persisting despite the fact that they'd sped up). "Hey, could I use your phones?"
The women began speed-walking away. There was no telling if that guy was on something or not, bathing in a fountain like that.
And then things got weirder. Fireworks sparked and began whirling in midair, suddenly springing open to reveal a portal with a man dressed in a combo that could only be described as balloon magician at a yoga convention. He might pull a rabbit out of an incense burner, by the looks of it. His demeanor, however, was absolutely serious.
"Scott Lang. I'm Doctor Strange," he said, introducing himself. "I'm a Master of the Mystic Arts, and a consultant to the Avengers. Welcome to a new universe. I trust being copied and sucked through a dimensional rift was...as smooth a ride as possible."
He looked down at the fountain and back up at Scott's face again, clearing his throat with an audible ahem.
"If you follow me into the Sanctum," Strange offered, "we'll get you a towel."
"Oh, no, it's okay! I'm Ant-Maaand they don't care." Scott hauled himself over the side of the fountain with a wet slap, shaking himself out a bit once he was upright. The women were clearly not going to be of any help, but it turned out reinforcements were already on the way.
That quiet hiss of fireworks wasn’t immediately familiar, but the figure stepping out of the ring they formed definitely was. “Oh, good. Listen--” he cut himself short upon the introduction, realizing that Strange didn’t remember meeting him. Which made sense, he guessed. Guy could hold an entire lake at bay with his bare hands, he probably wasn’t all that concerned about someone who needed a suit to do anything remotely supernatural. Still, it was nice that he’d learned his name. That showed some integrity, he thought, and.. wait, had he just said a new universe?
“Uh,” was all he managed as he drifted through the portal behind the other man when he'd been beckoned to, pursing his lips as that kazoo went full-blown klaxon. “Hold on. What kind of universe are we talking about? I thought you lived in New York.”
"This is New York," Stephen replied as the portal closed behind them. Of course, he replied in a voice that was meant to be reassuring but just sounded like...well, the arrogant prick that everyone knew Strange to be sometimes. "You landed in a fountain in one of the city parks. There are two New Yorks, one in each universe."
Dr. Strange motioned a hand toward a side table where a wrapped package was, with handmade paper and colorful twine from Nepal. Shop local, everyone. Local to Kamar-Taj, that is. It floated toward them and hovered nearby as he turned to face Scott, locking him in place with a stare.
"Do you know what the Multiverse is, Mr. Lang?"
It was hard to take offense to any arrogance in his tone when he was busy tamping down on his panic, so he didn’t. Instead, he allowed the fact that his newfound understanding (well, “understanding” might have been a strong word) of the Quantum Realm was making this whole dual New Yorks thing a little easier to bear. Of course, the idea that he was no longer in his New York was piling an entirely different set of worries onto him, so that was sort of a wash.
The package floating imposingly nearby wasn’t giving him any reassurance, either. Scott eyed it as Strange posed his question, letting his distraction get the better of him for a second before he answered. “I--no. Yeah. I think so?” he settled on, managing to avoid asking if the Multiverse had anything in common with that 90s TV show Sliders, because the last time he’d used a pop culture reference to understand science he’d been very thoroughly shut down. Part of him hoped he was misunderstanding in this case, too - the whole plot of Sliders had been that they couldn’t get home. “But you can just.. open one of your portals, right? Send me back? I’m pretty sure I was in a live parking only zone and my kid can't drive without a chaperone.”
"...no," Dr. Strange said, with a slight purse of his lips as he tried to think of how to explain it. "It means that we were one universe took a left turn at Albuquerque. We're a new entry in a plethora of untold universes, many of which have you in them. The transferal of your consciousness at this moment in time is also a one way trip. This isn't Hot Tub Time Machine, where Chevy Chase shows up to fix our hot tub and there's a relatively decent soundtrack of eighties hits. It's more Quantum Leap, where you've popped into this universe's Scott Lang. And then it's a little Sliders, since you can't get home, but you can't travel elsewhere either. You don't leave unless one of our two universes decides to drag you back through the mouth of madness connecting us together. I tried to stick my face in for a peek while traveling the astral plane. Not recommended."
Apparently, the mystic neurosurgeon wasn't above such references. This made sense since he was a walking Wikipedia anyway, along with the most unfun person to watch Jeopardy with or challenge to Trivial Pursuit. The mere fact that he remembers Trivial Pursuit is one of those 'Nuff Said moments.
"As for that other universe?" Stephen raised his eyebrows. "Your daughter will be all right. Your original self probably had a dizzy spell. Slumped over the front seat, drooled a lot. She probably screamed. Someone called an ambulance, and the car was towed. You, or rather other you, will recover before they get other you to the hospital."
An uncomfortable silence set in, the package bobbing in mid-air like an unhappy balloon.
"Yeah, not a lot of this is going to make sense," Dr. Strange tacked on.
"No, yeah, Hot Tub Time Machine is bullshit," he murmured in agreement, raising a hand to scratch at his brow. It was less a gesture of confusion and more a nervous tic, though, because the explanation Strange was cobbling together from decades-old sci fi shows was actually.. helping? The Multiverse and the theories surrounding it were definitely more nuanced than you're kind of Scott Bakula now, but at least he understood that the sudden change of scenery wasn't a death sentence.
That Cassie would be all right was a plus. The thought of completely disappearing on her again was terrifying - there were only so many times your father could go missing, presumed dead, before it really started causing psychological trauma - so he was relieved to hear he hadn’t. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world that he wouldn’t have to be the one to deal with that bill, either. Sucked for the other guy. “Makes about as much sense as anything else in my life recently.” He shrugged. Eyed the package. Eyed Strange. “You showed up pretty quick. Do you have a Google alert for anybody coming through a dimensional rift, or has this happened a lot--is that for me, is that why it’s hanging out over there?” He motioned to the package, impatiently drawn back to its expectant hovering. It was, surprisingly, the most unsettling thing about this whole ordeal. Now that his family was no longer in danger of thinking he’d been sucked into a wormhole, anyway.
Meanwhile, Dr. Strange was contemplating that it would have been nice if Dean Stockwell showed up as a hologram with helpful hints and tips about what they were supposed to be doing. Instead, he was left trying to use old references from the eighties and nineties to Frankenstein together an explanation. An explanation that didn't include Hot Tub Time Machine, seeing how everyone tended to think it was bullshit. It was a splat on the Tomato Meter.
"You could say that," Stephen said, crooking a finger at the package and pointing over to Scott. It obediently floated over within reach, as he continued to explain. "This seems to be the arrival point for everyone, so I cast a spell net over the city. And this?"
He nodded toward the floating package.
"This is your welcome pack. Laptop, phone, prepaid card, keys to your new apartment. And a color pamphlet that you'll want to read after you order a pizza and take a nap. And...oh. Right."
Dr. Strange looked at Scott and opened a small portal, reaching in and grabbing a folded navy blue towel and some clean pants and a t-shirt from what looked like a linen closet. They found it helpful to keep some clothes in case gamma-charged scientists came randomly crashing through the roof. These were held out to Scott the old fashioned way, using his hands.
"You'll need this too. Don't want to get the new apartment wet."
Scott reached tentatively for the parcel and found its weight gently settling in his hands like it was being placed there by another person. The control Strange had over his powers might have been awe-inducing if his curiosity hadn’t been piqued by the welcome package itself, however. Keys to an apartment? Here, in New York? “Oh, I can't--thanks,” he allowed the other man to pile the clothes on top of his belongings, briefly reminded of intake at San Quentin, “yeah, I can't live here. Everything I have is in San Francisco. My family is there.” A pause. “My family is there, right? Cassie Lang, Hope van Dyne?”
Would he even know?
A little tendril of dread started snaking its way into his stomach. Strange's words came floating back: many universes contained him, which implied that just as many didn't. It hadn't occurred to him until now, but what if that was true for Cassie? Or Hope? Hank and Janet? What if there was no one to go back to in California? Scott could take Multiverses and being yanked from one dimension to another, but without the people he cared about? Things would go from “weird but okay” to “unbearable.”
"Hope is here. She's staying in the apartments that new arrivals are in," Stephen replied, in what he hoped was a reassuring way. "If you had family there, then they exist here. The only stipulation is that they won't know a thing about being in another universe, so I advise you steer clear of that sort of statement. Not unless they arrive in New York under similar circumstances."
Dr. Strange smiled a little, hoping that would set Scott more at ease. He opened another portal revealing an apartment and walked through, the portal staying open behind him.
"You'll be comfortable here." Strange turned in place, looking at the front door and thinking of the floor plans in his head. He seemed to be musing aloud, "Hope's down the hallway. She has the two bedroom."
Of course he remembered that. The cape flowed around Stephen's shoulders as he turned in place to look back at Scott.
"If you have any other questions," he told Scott, "I can answer now. Otherwise, my card is the package. Just in case you want to visit the Sanctum or text me. I also respond to network posts, and don't charge for house calls."
That was doctor humor. Dry as the Sahara doctor humor.
Hope is here. Scott nearly bolted out the door of the Sanctum right then, but managed to reason that running around New York sopping wet was probably not the most efficient way to find her. Besides, Strange had more information to give him: the rest of his family was safe in San Francisco, provided they hadn’t come through any rips in space-time. And, seeing as the wizard had only said Hope’s name, he was willing to bet they hadn’t been subjected to that. Scott felt a little of the tension that had gathered in his shoulders seep out again, both relieved that he’d have someone in this with him (he’d feel guilty about that thought later, probably) and that the more civilian members of his social circle weren’t involved at all. He’d still have to come up with a way to explain why he’d gone to New York, but that was a problem for Future Scott.
For now, he just really wanted to see his girlfriend. “All right,” he murmured, now firmly on the side of “processing.” He’d had more questions, mostly out of curiosity than urgency, but they’d flown completely out the window the moment her name was mentioned. He was quiet as he stepped through the new portal Strange had made, taking a moment to glance around the modernly furnished and probably exorbitantly pricey apartment. “I uh. I think I’m good. I'll try to get settled. Thanks, man.”
He had the courtesy to wait until the other man had gone before rushing out the front door and down the hall.