Nothing but Dans, All the Way Down
by Konstantine Paradias
“So that’s it? You don’t even care?” Lumberjack Dan asks from the living room, trans-dimensional goo still clinging on him. By the time I’m back from the kitchen, he’s made himself cozy, picking ectoplasm off his plaid shirt.
“Watch out for Invisible Dan,” I warn him. Lumberjack Dan hops onto his feet, searching for the slight sag on the couch, the depression that a pair of feet would make on the carpet. By the time I’ve come back, he’s run around in circles, before plopping himself down.
“Watch it!” Invisible Dan shouts. I’m bringing in the nachos and salsa, when I catch the familiar rumble of Invisible Dan fumbling his way across the living room, searching for the edges of the dining table. The plates have come tumbling down and one of the paintings has been torn from the wall and trampled before Invisible Dan’s rampage finally stops.
“Is he…is he going to be okay?” Lumberjack Dan says, head cocked to search for the sound of Invisible Dan stomping around.
“He’s gonna be fine. He just can’t see himself, so he’s got trouble orienting. Science Dan promised to make him a pair of refracting light goggles to help with that, but he’s been slacking,” I say, before dipping a half-dozen nachos into the spicy mix.
“Then the rest have already got here before me?” Lumberjack Dan asks.
“Oh my, yes. There was Wizard Dan, Astronaut Dan and Olympian Dan and Cyborg Dan, three Crimefighter Dans, an Elf Dan, a Giant Hunter Dan, a Wolfman Dan and a Vampire Dan. And then there was Just There Dan, but he didn’t do much.”
“Was there a Batman Dan?” Lumberjack Dan says, halfway through stuffing his face with a handful of nachos, salsa splattered all over his rugged beard.
“Well, duh,” I say “tortured billionaire, gadgets, the works. Burst right through my garage, spouted some nonsense and ran for it. He was back, two weeks later. Turns out, his money isn’t legal tender in this universe and police doesn’t have any patience for masked avengers over here.”
“But he did tell you, didn’t he? Why he came all the way here?” Lumberjack Dan says, struggling with the cap on his beer bottle. I let him sweat for a while, before I finally help him twist it off.
“Something about a Grand Conjecture. Didn’t pay too much attention, if I’m honest. Had my hands full trying to keep my landlord from kicking me out, what with my garage exploding and all that.”
“It’s called the Grand Conjuction, Dan. And we need you,” Lumberjack Dan says somberly, before stuffing another handful of nachos into his face. “The Multiverse is in dire peril. The Anti-Dan is…”
“For Pete’s sake, not you too! Why can’t you weirdos get it, I’m nobody,” I say, pushing myself out of my couch. Lumberjack Dan shoots up behind me, nachos and salsa firmly at hand.
“Then why do you think we all come here? Why do we all attempt this weird journey, across countless universes, trudging through…that thing,” Lumberjack Dan says, pointing at the howling non-space above where my TV used to be “only to find you?”
“I don’t know, maybe I’m not your guy! Maybe I’m just Regular Dan, you ever think about that? Or maybe I’m just Roped Into This Dan, the guy with the job and the house and a girl named Mandy that gave up on his sorry behind and a dead end job. I could be No Hope Dan, how about that?” I say, gritting my teeth. Somewhere behind us, there’s the sound of distant cursing and I know that Invisible Dan’s trapped himself in the bathroom again.
“I’ve met No Hope Dan. He’s just a hippie who’s trying to make a living off cat videos. He still lives with his mother and even he answered the call,” Lumberjack Dan rumbles, his salsa-dripping finger pointed accusingly. “A hundred thousand of us: Dans of every shape, size and configuration, we’ve been gathered to face the coming storm.”
“Then go! Save the multiverse! You guys got the talent, you got the numbers! What good could I possibly do?” I say, my voice teetering on the edge of hysteria. An evil cackle wafts up from the fruit cellar and I know it’s NEET Dan, pausing in between his bouts of online trolling to savor my despair in between his regular schedule of raiding my fridge and not paying rent. Undaunted, Lumberjack Dan points his nacho-stained finger at me and booms:
“Every single Dan in the entirety of Creation isn’t enough to take down the Anti-Dan and you know it. God knows we’ve tried it. We had Invincible Alien Dan and God Emperor Dan go up against him but he’s sent us packing, every time. We’ve sent the entire Dan Fleet against him, but the defenses in his Universe are nearly impossible to break through. We need someone who can wield the power to destroy him, the power that runs through the quantum fabric of all reality like a raging wildfire, you know, that weird energy-energy stuff that they have in comic books but not in the real world, with all that Kirby crackle in it, the …”
“Please don’t,” I moan.
“We need the warrior-king of a million Universes…” Lumberjack Dan says, licking his fingers.
“No, no no come on…”
“We need Champion Dan,” Lumberjack Dan says and before I’ve known it, I’ve waved my hand in that certain kind of way, it’s like riding a bike, you never forget it no matter how hard you try, and a wave of energy-energy as big as a steamhammer hits Lumberjack Dan and sends him flying across the living room and into the hole in the Multiverse, back to whatever strange world he’s come from.
“Not again,” I moan. There’s a crashing noise from the bathroom and I don’t even have to look to know that Invisible Dan’s torn down the medicine cabinet again.
“I got this, I got this!” I hear him shout and I just plop myself down on the couch and stare into the shimmering tear on the face of Creation and realize that I’m too tired to bother with dinner.
“God, I miss Michelin Chef Dan,” I say, before reaching for the takeaway menu.
“Dark clouds gather. The end of all hope is at hand,” Shaman Dan says, leaning back on my boss’ swivel-chair.
“What have you done with Mister Murdoch?” I say, searching the darkened office for his squishy, pudgy form. Instead, I hear some muffled groan or another coming from the filing cabinet.
“The Murdoch man is in the broom closet, safe in the arms of Mescalito,” Shaman Dan says, his bone-charms rattling across his caftan “he shall not interfere in our discussion.”
“This was supposed to be my performance review,” I say. From across the desk, Shaman Dan nods sagely and passes me a glass of lukewarm coffee.
“I peered into the Murdoch’s mind. His review was not favorable. You had really bungled up the last quarter,” he says and a thousand hours of pointless overtime flash in my head and all the dirty looks from all the office cliques click together. I’m sipping at the bitter coffee that’s gone cold and know how this review was supposed to have gone.
“I did what I could…” I mutter. The coffee tastes strange, leaving my mouth drier than ever before. Could be nerves. Has to be.
“You toiled under a halogen sun in a bleak place, doing menial work in a mundane Universe, all for nothing,” Shaman Dan says. On his shoulder, something tiny and mean with an all-too-familiar face giggles evilly.
“God, I can’t stand another job hunt…” I say, cringing at the thought of piles of complimentary biscuits and loan notices gathering under the rug.
“This would have been your sixth place of work?” Shaman Dan asks, pawing through the scattered stack of printouts all over Mister Murdoch’s desk. Out from the shadows, the ghost-forms of wizened reptiles fix their amber gazes at me.
“Six different jobs in six years. I know it doesn’t look good…” I say. Shaman Dan cuts me off with a wave of his hand.
“Your feet are cracked and dusty. Your hair is tousled by the whipping wind. Your back is peeling from destiny’s glare,” Shaman Dan says in a low growl. Around us, the air is so thick, you could almost cut it. Something bobs across the surface of the coffee, reaches up a tiny appendage and waves at me.
“What the heck is that supposed to mean?” I ask, confused. “What did you put in the coffee-“
“For too long, you have wandered in the wasteland of your life. For too long, you have put off the great turning of the wheel,” Shaman Dan says and his breath is like the desert wind, grating against my skin.
“What are you doing? There’s sand, why is there…”
“Ku’toom maa-ta, the drums are calling. Fa-toom kaa-toom, hear him stomping down the hill…” Shaman Dan says and there’s a slight hint of an Irish accent in his voice like he’s overcompensating and I want to say something, but his caftan starts to weave and bob and suddenly he explodes into bugs and I want to scream but I can’t because they might fly into my mouth…
“Can I at least get my phone-“
I wake up in freefall, with a world of greens and ambers rising up to meet me and the air whipping at me so hard it threatens to flay my skin off. There’s a shadow across the sun, a rainbow glint from the corner of my eye and then talons grasp me in mid-air, stopping my descent.
Soon as my guts have plopped back into their proper place, I start to scream.
“Oi, keep it down,” someone roars above me in a menacing baritone. I turn to look up at it and see my own face, covered in scales with two pairs of eyes and a grin made up of three rows of razor-sharp teeth.
I start to scream again and I don’t stop, even after there’s tiny lights dancing in my eyes, even after my throat’s gone way past raw.
“Woden help us, it’s been fifteen minutes,” Dragon Dan says “do something about it, will you?”
“Hold my beer,” I hear someone say and feel them shuffling behind me. I turn to look and only have time to catch a glimpse of a head full of flaxen hair that shine like the midday sun sticking out from under a horned helm before an arm the size of a tree trunk smashes into my face.
“We call it the Dan Hold,” Industrialist Dan says, his hands sweeping majestically over the 360-degree panorama, revealing the sprawling metropolis of glinting spires and shimmering castles, the hanging hive-towns and floating neighborhoods that orbit the stone Dan-head, hewn from the dead cinder that once was a sun.
“Jesus wept, that’s embarrassing,” I say while trying not to stare too hard at the levitating gondolas that pass by the window. A crowd of Dans of every shape, size and configuration float by me, all too eager to check out the newcomer.
“The Anti-Dan draws closer by the minute,” Adventurer Dan says, bringing up a complex hologram with a wave of his hand “before long, he will have completely transmuted his home Universe into a Thaumic Resonator and then…”
“You utter bastards,” I groan as I check the back of my head, feeling the baseball-sized bump on the back of my head “you kidnapped me.”
“Kidnapped is a strong word,” Fire Elemental Dan says, smokeless flame erupting from his steepled fingers. “We merely…requisitioned you.”
“You had that Shaman weirdo put something in my coffee and then you dropped me from the sky and then…” I pause, noticing the jock in the horn helm staring at me from the other end of the table “that dingbat tried to bust my head open!”
“Thunder God Dan didn’t mean to hurt you,” Femme Fatale Dan says and I stare up at her hourglass figure and skintight attire, an unpleasant tingle running down my spine. “Isn’t that right?”
“You were screaming like a little girl. For fifteen minutes,” Thunder God Dan offers and all across the room, the Dans shrug and nod, impressed. Android Dan, his silvery uniform seeming to somehow dance in the light, says:
“We would never have done this against your consent. But the situation is dire. Universe 6-Omega…”
“The Anti-Dan Universe,” Wizard Dan butts in. Android Dan shoots him a dirty look. When Wizard Dan has shriveled into his chair, he adds:
“The Anti-Dan Universe has gone through a series of changes. Apparently, the Anti-Dan has abandoned his original plan of gradually eliminating all Dans from every possible Universe. It seems that the sheer number of realities make killing every one of us individually logistically impossible. And so, he has constructed a doomsday machine…”
“Thaumic Resonator,” Adventurer Dan says. Android Dan shoots him a smoking glare, followed by, literally, a thrown punch – his clenched fist blasts off from his extended wrist, propelled on miniature jets at supersonic speed. It smashes into Adventurer Dan’s gaping jaw, knocking him out cold. When the rocketing fist has orbited back to the empty wrist and locked snugly back into place, Android Dan says:
“Which will allow him to generate a Null cloud that will eliminate the entirety of the Multiverse and every Dan that has ever been or ever will be in the process. So far, we have been unable to breach his defenses and every confrontation has resulted in abject failure. Should he succeed, then it will be the end of life in the totality of existence. Please, Dan, you are the only one who can stand up to him. You are the Champion Dan.”
Across the hall, all around the glass dome, in screens all across the city, the Dans of every conceivable reality are staring at me, waiting with bated breath and I know it’s easy to make all of this come to an end; all I have to do is say ‘no’ and stomp out of there. I want to kick down their table and tear down their idiotic Dan Hold; I want to tear that stupid face from the Universe and I want to never have to see any of those sad weirdos ever again but I know they’ll never let me go.
Not until it’s done.
“Okay,” I say and the Dans break into a deafening cheer and Femme Fatale Dan gives me that sultry little look again and so does Android Dan and I just make up an excuse and lock myself up in the bathroom for a while.
“This,” Invincible Alien Dan says, as we float across the featureless vastness that encases Anti-Dan’s Universe “is the Outer Rim. In the six months since Anti-Dan set it up around his Universe, it has hardened to the point where not even my blows or Annihilator Dan’s magna-beams can tear through it. We have put up our own defenses in the event that he attempts to break through the siege but…”
While Invincible Alien Dan is going on about quantum crossroads and entropic shells, I reach my hand out and run my finger across the Outer Rim’s smooth surface. A tiny crack sprouts across the gray face and begins to blossom outward in a spiderweb pattern, too discreet to make out.
“What’s that?” I say, pointing at the widening crack spreading across the rim, if only to keep Invincible Alien Dan from dragging on.
I’ve barely traced its ragged outline with my bare hands before it starts to get wider. In the blink of an eye, the crack collapses into a hole that grows exponentially across the outer rim of the Anti-Dan’s Universe.
“Breach!” Invincible Alien Dan shouts across all channels and the Dan Fleet revs up its engines, ready to storm the breach. Before I know it, I’m in the Cruiser Danatos, with Space Ace Dan blathering on about the breach, zipping across the face of a vast blackness. Under my feet, an engine that burns with blue-hot power purrs as it outruns light itself.
“There it is! Anti-Earth! Anti-Dan’s citadel should be…” Space Ace Dan says as soon as the little orb of blue and green starts to come into view. We’re tearing across the atmosphere, watching the planet roll by beneath us. Only then do I notice the gaping metal firepit across the face of the world.
“Where’s Australia?” I mutter. Space Ace Dan just laughs.
“Anti-Dan had it repurposed, soon as he broke up with Anti-Mandy. Maybe it got to be too much.” Space Ace Dan says.
“Do we all fail? With our Mandys, I mean.”
“I wouldn’t know, man. I married mine,” Space Ace Dan says and he holds up his right hand to show off the cobalt blue hologram on his finger. I’m halfway through reading the rolling digital inscription on its face when a beam of burning light from Anti-Dan’s Australian death-cannon tears the Cruiser Danatos clean down the middle and I’m suddenly careening across the air, with nothing but an emergency jetpack to keep me level.
Forty seconds later, I’m skidding across the surface of the Pacific Ocean, heading for where Sydney used to be. From below, a swarm of Anti-Dan robot harriers burst from the ocean floor, talons clicking, off to meet the invading horde of Dans.
“Let’s get this…” I start to say and get a mouthful of water so I settle for keeping my mouth shut. I’m just starting to get bored, when the shoreline of Sydney explodes into a black, skittering cloud of inhuman monstrosities that charges at me from every direction.
“Well, that was easy,” I say as I look back at the hordes of dismantled Dan-bots, the legion of half-xeno Dan slaves and the crushed champions of the Anti-Dan Universe that have been splayed out in my trail.
“They were the tramplers of Universes. My Antimatter Horde,” Anti-Dan says from atop his throne of Dan skulls and snaking wires “you took them down in less than fifteen minutes.”
“I don’t wanna have to brag…” I say, blushing. The Anti-Dan rises from his throne, shedding his cloak as he comes down the steps. With a flick of his wrist, a blade of crackling red energy comes to life.
“You can’t stop me. I’ve come too far, sacrificed too much,” Anti-Dan says. With a gesture, fractal shards of metal blossom across his body, turning into a writhing suit of armor. An arsenal of impossible weapons sprouts from his back, suspended in the air around him like a deadly mandala.
“Look dude, all you gotta do is stop before you kill everybody. Just…tear down this thing, pull back the Null cloud and I swear I’m going back.”
“Do you know what they took from me? Those self-serving bastards, do you know what they did to me? To us?” the Anti-Dan cackles and slashes at me again, a half-dozen blows that flash across the air and cut swathes across the ground around me. I roll and I duck and I flail around and somehow come out unscathed, even as his energy blade cuts through concrete and steel frames as if they were made from butter, even as it set fire to the air around us with every swipe.
“They ruined my job!” Anti-Dan howls, as we’re rolling across a mountain range, crashing like giants. He slams me through half a mile of granite and I chuck hunks of pyrite at him, torn with my bare hands. Our blows echo like thunder.
“They destroyed my house!” Anti-Dan screams at me, while we’re grappling over a pool of molten magma. Below us, the Earth’s tectonic plates shiver and slam together, the force of the blow throwing us apart.
We’re teetering on the edge of the Australian generator, the Hordes of Dans clashing above us like gods on Judgement Day, when Anti-Dan finally tears his shattered armor off himself and howls:
“They took my Mandy!”
When he lunges at me again, I take a step back and let the momentum carry him past me. He’s over the edge before he can react, his red saber tumbling down into the seething darkness and all that’s keeping him from falling down into whatever nightmare machine is down there is my own sweaty grip.
“They screwed us over good, didn’t they?” I tell him and the horror begins to slip away from Anti-Dan’s eyes, replaced by a strange understanding. In that moment, the world-killer facade falls away and I can see, behind all the cosmic villainy and the terror and the Universe-devouring hubbub that he’s about as confused and mad about it all as I am so I just help him see the obvious.
“You know, I’ve got them all here. Every last Dan. You don’t even need to fire the damn Null Cloud.”
The Anti-Dan stares at me, dumbfounded. Slowly, the realization starts to sink in. When it finally hits home, he grins an all-too-familiar grin.
We settled for a compromise, in the end; Anti-Dan didn’t like how I kept him from killing everybody, but trapping every last Dan into a bleak universe that was mostly turned into a weapon of mass destruction wasn’t such a bad measure, all things considered.
“They’re not gonna starve in there or anything, are they?” I asked.
“Not as long as they don’t tear down the automated takeaway joints,” the Anti-Dan said, as the Outer Rim healed itself shut behind us.
“That’ll do” I said with a shrug.
From the kitchen, Invisible Dan is struggling with his new mitts, working the cast iron skillet over the open fire. It’s stir Friday, so dinner’s the usual mess of veggies with a sliver of meat and some re-heated Wednesday leftovers, just in case. From the basement, NEET Dan is arguing over the internet with someone from the other side of the world. His online venture hasn’t paid out the big bucks yet, but he’s chipping in.
“How was work?” Anti-Dan asks, a swarm of reality-bending nanobots sealing up the dimensional tear in the living room.
“You mean flipping burgers and handling fryers for minimum wage in a fantasy land?” I say and Anti-Dan gives me his signature knowing grin.
“We can always try someplace else. There’s gotta be a world where we’re up to our eyeballs in cash,” Anti-Dan offers.
“Yeah, but it might not have a pair of identical half-elf Mandy twins,” I say. Invisible Dan guffaws from the kitchen just before the skillet clatters down onto the floor, making a hot mess all over the linoleum.
“Good one, Dan!” Invisible Dan says. Anti-Dan just shrugs and goes back to shutting down the secret pathways of the Multiverse, one world at a time.
“I’m thinking Dwarf. Who’s up for Dwarf?” I say, reaching out for the takeaway menu. Anti-Dan just shrugs. Invisible Dan sticks his mitt out in a thumbs up. Somewhere outside, there’s the distant screech of a manticore-shuttle, flying across the face of an unfamiliar sun.