Venom stumbled out of a portal.
Four humans, three of whom were clearly wearing symbiotes, looked at them.
One of the symbiote-human combos started at the sight of them. "Eddie?!" She stepped forward, reached out, stopped, drew back slightly. "You died years ago! How...?"
Eddie reached back toward her; their symbiotes bridged the distance between their hands, connecting in the middle. Their symbiote, rather. The same symbiote, separated by decades. A single symbiote and two hosts, Eddie and—
"Alea," said Venom—which Venom? their minds were briefly tangled together—2020 Venom. "You're taking care of my other now?"
"You're the famous Eddie Brock I've heard so much about." Alea's face and legs were revealed as the majority of her symbiote oozed off her and over to Eddie, stirring through its past self like colors roiling in an oil slick and nuzzling over its past host.
"So, what is this," Eddie asked, "a time travel thing?"
"Or a parallel universe thing," said another one of the symbiote-bearers, a woman wearing her symbiote like a hooded jacket. "I've got some experience with these cross universe duplicate things. I was just catching everyone else up to speed on how this works, I can give you the abridged version."
"We're good, we've done some universe hopping too," Eddie said. "How do you know we're all from separate universes, though? Are all of us...?"
"Venom." Jacket-symbiote raised her hand. "Briefly. Going by Ghost-Spider now."
"Black Panther," said the one with wings. Her dreads were stretching out toward Eddie, as if trying to reach him the way Alea's other had; she calmly brushed them back behind her shoulders. "But my other was once Venom before coming to me. Ngozi."
Ghost-Spider shrugged. "No secret identities today, huh? Fine—I'm Gwen."
"I'm not Venom," grumbled the final member of the party, a black trench coat-wearing man lurking near Gwen.
"Yeah, outlier. He's my plus one, I think," Gwen said. "I've run into him in a couple of these universe-hopping gigs, guess that's how he got sucked in. Some kinda quantum entangled nonsense or something. This is Spider-Man, I call him Noir to tell him apart from the others."
The other three Venoms immediately tensed. "Spider-Man of the Peter variety?" Eddie asked cooly.
"Oh," Alea said.
"Great," Ngozi said.
Gwen winced. "Ooh, is there a history?"
The other three vaguely muttered about their others' bad breakups.
Gwen glanced at Peter questioningly.
He shrugged. "Never met a Venom. No bad blood here."
"Right," Gwen said. "Well. Sorry, looks like you're all stuck with him. We can all be mature and professional in front of an ex, right?"
Ngozi nodded, but with some effort that made it obvious she was fighting her symbiote to do it. Alea hesitated, but nodded more willingly. Eddie just crossed his arms and grumbled.
"Cool," Gwen said.
Eager to move on from the subject of Spider-Man, Eddie said, "We should probably figure out what we're all doing here. Any of you aware of any inter-dimensional experiments or reality-blurring mystical rituals that might've caused something like this?"
The others all shook their heads. Gwen said, "Maybe if we look at our similarities. There's usually some parallels between the people that are pulled in these things."
"Obviously, we're all some variety of Venom," Ngozi said. "Except Gwen's friend." She only gave Peter a sideways glance, clearly trying to remain neutral despite her other's antipathy. Eddie glared at Peter on her behalf.
Alea said, "But there should be billions of Venoms across the multiverse, right? Why are we the ones that are here? What's the common thread?"
"You and I are both close to our others," Eddie said. "I felt that when we touched. You care for it in itself, not just for what it can do for you. That's rare enough it might mean something—maybe we've been hauled in on some kind of symbiote rescue mission." He looked at the other two Venoms. "What about you? Would you fight to protect symbiotes?"
"Absolutely!" Gwen said. "If they're anything like mine? Mine's basically a big gooey baby made out of gummy spiders. If I'm not looking out for it, who knows what could happen to it?" (Eddie and his other briefly pondered over the "gummy spider" description.)
"I've never had to protect mine before," Ngozi said. "But when I met it, it was a captive. If I met another in a position like that, I'd fight to save it. How could I not?"
Eddie felt his other's mood bubble up in the face of not one, not two, but three alternate hosts that considered it and its kind worthy of protection simply for its own sake. "So we're all pro-symbiote. Looks like we have a solid starting point for a theory."
Peter raised a hand. "Question. Why is being pro-symbiote noteworthy?" he asked. "Isn't it like being pro-stomach?"
All four Venoms looked at him in bafflement. Ngozi was the one to ask first, "How do you mean?"
"Everyone's got one inside 'em and you'd be pretty screwed without it. Like a stomach," Peter said, as if this was a perfectly obvious thing to say.
There was a pause, and then the Venoms exploded into questions. Alea's voice managed to carry above the others, "What do you mean, 'everyone's got one'?!"
"What do you mean, what do I mean? Egeryone's got one!" Peter declared. "You're born with one! It splits off your mother's in the womb! What, are you saying not everyone keeps 'em on your worlds? Is it some kinda cross-universe circumcision? Did your twenty-first century rock concerts scare them all off?" He addressed the latter question directly to Gwen.
She crossed her arms. "Hey, mine loves rock. And, no, none of us are born with symbiotes!"
"Then when do you get them?"
"Mine came to me from heaven," Eddie said, and at his other's prompting, clarified, "Space."
Ngozi said, "A jar."
Gwen said, "A lab."
Alea said, "Space by way of jars in a lab."
Aghast, Eddie asked, "Were all your symbiotes jarred when you met?" Poor things.
Gwen asked, "You guys have aliens?"
"Wait," Peter said. "The rest of you—is your Earth not covered in symbiotes?"
"No! It's just my other and its offspring," Eddie said.
Ngozi nodded, and Alea added, "A few more have come and gone, but that's it."
"Only one's been made in my universe," Gwen said.
Ngozi asked, "Made? Yours was invented? On Earth?"
"By Dr. Elsa Brock."
Eddie warred over what questions to start with —whether this Elsa was his sister or his genderbent alternate was high on the list—but settled on, "So when you called it a gooey baby, you meant that literally?" She nodded. "Once we've resolved whatever crisis brought us here, want to trade symbiote parenting tips?"
Gwen laced her hands together in faux prayer. "Please."
"And you!" Eddie pointed at Peter. "Are you saying your Earth is covered in symbiotes?"
Peter pointed back. "Is this why you've got colors and we don't?"
"Hold on, hold on, everyone hold on." Gwen turned to Peter. "You have a symbiote."
He gestured at himself, indicating his clothes, as if it should have been self-evident that his black trench coat had been a symbiote all along. "Man's best friend. Wouldn't leave home without it." He paused. "What do people in your universes wear?"
Gwen went on excitedly, "What do you call it? Do you call it anything, does it have a name?"
Peter hesitated. "I've always called it Vinny."
"Vinny! You're a Venom too!" Gwen laughed in delight.
Eddie's, Ngozi's, and Alea's symbiotes stretched longingly toward the mythical symbiote-sympathetic Spider-Man.