"Can I help you?" The photographer asked.
"Absolutely." Maggie said, sounding very eager. She glanced behind her nervously. "Can I come inside?"
"Sure." He walked to his desk and picked up a clipboard. "What will it be today? Glamour shots? Press photos? Insurance evidence perhaps?"
Maggie closed the door and drew all the shades. "Full nudity. I want you to capture EVERYTHING on film. Can you do that for me?" She panted.
The photographer looked her up and down and then swallowed audibly. When he spoke, it was with a Mickey Mouse voice. "Sure."
Maggie ripped her shirt off. "Then grab all your cameras, Mickey."
Maggie made him take over 1,000 pictures. She posed standing, sitting, laying prone, laying supine, in a chair, on a chair, under a chair, on the couch, pressed against the wall, climbing the wall, hanging from the chandelier, on the floor again with her legs bent behind her, on the desk, hanging from the desk, swinging from the chandelier, climbing up the open door leading to the bathroom, stepping into the shower, taking a shower, drying off, washing her hair in the sink, drying her hair, and standing over the photographer after the man had collapsed into a limp heap in the middle of his office.
Then Maggie dressed quickly, filled out an address where he could send the bill, and asked him when the photos would be ready.
"I can have them all developed by tomorrow." The photographer squeaked. "I'll be up all night working on these."
"I'll send my boy around noon to pick them up, then." She headed for the door.
"Do you ..." the photographer sat up and cleared his throat in a vain effort to sound more than six years old. "Do you trust him with all these piccies?"
Maggie grinned devilishly. "Absolutely." And then she was gone. The photographer collapsed back into his heap with a frail moan. It would be ten minutes before he had summoned the energy to limp to the door and turn the "open" sign over to "closed."
Maggie skipped down the street towards the bus stop, a huge grin gracing her face. As she skipped, she hummed a new John Melloncamp song, "Women Seem." At the bus stop, she gaped openly at a leggy blonde wearing a dress that would make Jennifer Lopez blush. The blonde noticed her attention and glanced down to see if anything was out of place.
"Sorry," Maggie muttered and averted her eyes.
The bus took her twelve blocks down to a hotel. She strolled in, much less exuberant, outwardly at least, and took the elevator to the sixth floor. She let herself in.
Remmy was the only other person in the main room of the suite. He was watching a show that sounded like it was an in depth discussion about computers. The expression on his face was one of rapt attention.
"Is Maggie back yet?" Maggie asked.
"Nope, I'm the only one." Remmy replied distantly.
Maggie walked over and peeked at the screen. "Diana, why aren't you out enjoying your body? We switch back in a couple hours."
"I've 'enjoyed' enough of this body, thank you very much." Diana said distastefully. "I have no clue what Remmy ate the last couple days, but something came out of him an hour ago that would make
Mallory grinned innocently with Maggie's face. "Nothing much. Did some women watching. It's a lot easier to do when you're a woman."
"You're a pig." Diana chided lightly.
"Hey, I didn't swap our bodies. But I don't see the problem with seeing how the other half lives. This will probably make me more sensitive towards women."
It was true that it hadn't been his fault. This morning when they Slid into this world, they arrived in the middle of a theme park. One of the attractions was a machine that swapped the minds of the two people nearest each other. The Sliders had arrived inside the machine, a 30 foot square room people entered to have this gag afflicted on them, and the machine had thought they were paying customers and swapped Mallory with Maggie and Remmy with Diana. After a minute or two of panic they noticed the signs on every wall. Along with the usual legal disclaimers was the vital information that the effect only lasted about 12 hours. After much discussion, and after they checked into a hotel, they decided to take advantage of this opportunity to see how the other half lived, as Mallory had put it.
The door opened to admit Maggie and Remmy in Mallory and Diana's bodies.
"You're not gonna believe this, guys." Remmy gushed. "I mean NOT GONNA believe this!"
"What?" Diana and Mallory asked in unison.
"We never switched bodies."
Maggie rolled her eyes and collapsed into an easy chair. "He's been giving me a headache with this for the last hour. I don't buy it. I AM Maggie in Mallory's body. You can't tell me different. I know what and who I am!"
Remmy let her finish and then went on excitedly. "I mean, come on. Their level of technology on this world is a little better than what we're used to, but switching the minds of two human beings? That's been bugging me because I didn't see how it was possible. On our world we're a hundred years away from being able to do something like that, even taking into account exponential technological advancement which usually makes it difficult to predict where we'll be more than a decade ahead."
Diana frowned with Remmy's face. "Okay, I'm scared now. He's starting to sound like me. Being in my body is not good for him."
Remmy smiled. "There's a reason for that, but I'll get to that. I went back to Frostyland and talked to the people that run that Body Swapping attraction we arrived in. I pestered them until they finally told me how it works. They didn't want to, but apparently there had been a big news expose a couple years ago so it wasn't a widely held secret to people who live on this world anymore. What the machine does is scan the minds and memories of the people entering it. Then it makes an imprint of the personality and memories of the person you are 'switching' with. So for 12 hours or so you walk around thinking you are the other person, as they think they are you. But it's just a very technically sophisticated slight of hand. It can still be very informative if the person you switch with is of the opposite gender because you get their last couple years of memories and their personality so you can really feel what it is like to be the other gender. And yeah, they only imprint the last couple years of memories. That's all that's needed to maintain the illusion of a complete mind transfer for the 12 hours it will last. In that small time period this is little chance someone would need to think back deeply into their past. It's around 12 hours because by then the mind starts rejecting the imprint and the real mind resurfaces. The real mind retains all the memories of what happened during those 12 hours it was submerged, and usually it retains some of the imprint, so we'll always have some of our swap partner's memories and some insight into their personality."
"Fascinating," Remmy who thought he was Diana said. "And you're starting to sound like me ... I mean, you, again because when you realized what had happened and you started dwelling on it, Diana started rejecting the imprint that much quicker."
"Precisely." Diana who remembered she was Diana said. "And the explanation before the press blew the lid off this was that when the minds switched back they were not in the machine so they could not 'carry' memories of those 12 hours with them. So the two host bodies were left with the memories. I can't believe anyone ever fell for this!"
"Jesus God," Mallory who thought he was Maggie said. "Now there's two of them. I can't take two Dianas."
"So when we switch back, we won't remember what we did in this body?" Maggie who thought she was Mallory asked feverishly.
"Well-." Remmy said.
"You're-." Diana said.
They smiled at each other, and then Remmy said, "I'll defer to the real me."
"You're still not getting it. There was never a 'switch.' I know it feels real to you, but it is really glorified hypnotism. I mean, it is still fantastic technology, don't get me wrong. We're a decade or two away from being able to think about recording memories, these people have been able to do it for a long time if this technology is now being used for mild amusements. To say nothing of doing so without having to even be in contact with the subject. Wireless mind recording and writing!"
"Is there an answer to my question anywhere in this gobbledygook?" Maggie who thought she was Mallory snapped.
"Sorry. The answer to your first question is no. When Mallory rejects the imprint and his real personality surfaces, he'll have no idea what you did while you thought you were Mallory. Just as you have and will have no idea what Mallory does, even when he's doing it thinking he's you."
"Excuse me." Maggie who thought she was Mallory told them. "I need to lay down. This has ... this comes as quite a shock." She disappeared into the room she shared with Diana. After about a minute she emerged, cussing under her breath about their poorly stocked bedroom, and searched the writing desk until she found a pencil and a pad of paper. She stood and realized the other three were staring at her. "What? I don't know how you three keep track of sheep, but I need to write them down to keep track of what number I'm on!" She stormed off to the bedroom again.
The other three settled in front of the TV.
Maggie emerged from her room again, clutching something that looked like a folded up sheet of paper in one hand. She crossed the main room of the suite without looking at them and disappeared into the bedroom Mallory and Remmy shared. They could hear the zipper of Mallory's travel bag go down. There was a rustle, and then they heard the zipper again. Maggie emerged from the bedroom, face flushing hotly, and returned to her bedroom.
"She's not taking this well." Mallory who thought he was Maggie said.
A little after midnight, Remmy and Mallory stirred when someone opened their door.
The two male Sliders heard her go to Mallory's travel bag. Heard the zipper pulled back so hard it sounded like a machine gun. Heard the entire contents get dumped on the floor. Heard those contents get tossed across the room, under the bed, in the closet, out the window, on both beds, out into the main room, and into the trash can. Heard a piece of paper finally get discovered and picked up. Heard the piece of paper get shredded into a thousand smaller pieces. Heard Maggie say, "if you had done this yourself instead of me doing it thinking I was your dirtbag ass, I would cheerfully throttle you in your sleep! I should do it anyway because Diana assures me it WAS for all intents and purposes your mind. But since it was kinda me who did it instead of you, I might let you off with just a serious maiming. I haven't made up my mind yet." Heard her leave the room and close the door so hard it cracked in the middle.
"Not taking it well at all." Mallory who now remembered who he was murmured.
"What the hell did you DO while in her body?" Remmy wondered.
"I don't know. I have no way of knowing. You heard the gobbledegook."
"What WOULD you do if you suddenly woke up in Maggie's body?"
For three or four seconds Mallory didn't react. Then his eyes shot open wide as milk saucers. "Oh. My. God." He sat up. "I think I'll sleep on the fire escape for the next year until she cools off."
"We Slide in the morning." Remmy reminded. "We'll be on another world and it's getting close to Christmas so she'll forget about it in no time."
Mallory clutched his pillow and headed for the window. "I have to live to see the morning first. I think I'll go down to the alley and sleep in the dumpster. She'll never look there."
"SLEEP!!!," the Asian man pronounced in a loud voice. Everyone else, save the four Sliders, in the room groaned. There were a few muffled curses, a few pillows pulled over heads, and a few defections to the hallway. Quinn grunted and opened his eyes, noticing that Wade had done the same but that Arturo and Remmy had not. Both of them snored, happily oblivious to the man shouting at the top of his lungs at 2am.
"... is for MOOKS!" The man leaped to his feet and walked among the bodies on the floor. "Look at you tools! LOOK AT YOU!! This looks like a homeless shelter with a bunch of bums recovering from a cheap wine binge! YOU ARE ALL TOOLS OF YOUR AWAKE MASTERS! Do you think Bill Gates sleeps? Do you think President Gore sleeps??? DO YOU THINK THE ACTING GOD WE CALL JOHN BLACK SPENDS 8 HOURS A DAY FACE DOWN IN A PILLOW WITH HIS ASS EXPOSED TO THE WORLD????"
"Oh, Jesus God, Ant, not AGAIN!" Someone moaned, throwing a used toilet roll at him.
Ant dodged it easily. He was standing over a snoring Arturo now. "Let's take this man here. Except for the sound of a crazed woodchuck being strangled with linguini that is arising from his gaping mouth and the faint odor of bean burritos that seems to be arising from everywhere around him, he is devoid of action. HE IS MOTIONLESS AND AFFECTS THE WORLD AROUND HIM NOT A BIT!" Ant kicked him. "I CAN DO ANYTHING I WANT TO HIM BECAUSE HE IS COMPLETELY VUNERABLE!"
Quinn sat up, "hey, stop that!"
"Why don't you sit down and shut up?" Wade added.
"What are you going to do about it?" Ant asked in a non threatening voice. It was not a challenge but sounded like an honest question. "You could probably beat me senseless. You are strapping and I am not strapping. But consider this before balling your fist. You are still enslaved by sleep. And as soon as you go to sleep I'll go get my pound of roaches I ordered special from Bug Mighty and my gallon of Super Glue. You'll wake up hearing someone screaming 'UGHHHH' and it will be a minute before your sleep fogged mind realizes that the person screaming is YOU!"
"What is your problem?"
"I'M TRYING TO WAKE YOU PEOPLE UP! SLEEP IS FOR MOOKS! I HAVEN'T SLEPT IN 25 YEARS!! I REALIZED THAT WE HAVE BEEN BRAINWASHED INTO THINKING WE NEED SLEEP but that in reality we do not. I haven't slept in two decades and I feel GREAT."
Quinn frowned. "I remember you. I saw you when we arrived earlier. You have bags under your eyes the size of Donald Trump's ego, the eyes themselves are so bloodshot that they look like white lines are crisscrossing a sea of red, and you are hallucinating so badly that you thought I was a talking mongoose wearing a raspberry beret. You need some sleep, man. Bad."
"You were the mongoose?" Ant asked suspiciously, peering closer. "Yes, yes, I can see the beret now. Throwing off the shackles of sleep has improved my sight but not yet granted me the ability to see in the dark. Very well, talented mongoose, if you wish to remain enslaved I shall trouble you no more. Your ilk is good for keeping away snakes. Besides, any lower creatures who can speak are charmed indeed despite their questionable hat choices." He leaned closer, shooting a quick glance towards Wade then returning to Quinn's face. "I would watch the Squirrel, though," he whispered conspiratorially. "Glorified rats with hairy tails, if you ask me. And that HAT! What was she thinking?"
"What?" Wade asked hotly. "What hat do you see on me?"
Ant leaped to his feet. "Don't speak to me, Squirrel! You're probably in on the sleep conspiracy! I'll listen to none of your devilish lies, you hairy imp!"
"Imp?" Quinn asked, amused.
"HAIRY?" Wade asked, outraged. She got to her feet. "That's IT. I'm going to kick his ASS!"
Quinn grabbed her. "Come on, its not worth it."
"That's easy for you to say, you get to be a cool mongoose with a dashing beret! I'm a hairy tailed rat with a bizarre hat!"
"Who cares what one nut thinks?" Quinn soothed.
Wade sat reluctantly. "You're right. But I'm only going to control myself because he's right in that I have to sleep sometime and he'd Superglue some roaches to me. Ick."
Quinn sighed. "You know, after the last two Christmases I was really hoping that we'd have a normal one this year. But now we're stuck with a man crazier than Walt Disney."
"Well, I wouldn't go THAT far but yeah, we're stuck. It's a five day walk through frozen wastelands to any other town and no machines in this town work any more." She added, "and we're here for two weeks, till just after Christmas."
"That sums it up." Quinn sighed.
Breakfast the next morning consisted of canned tuna. Apparently these holocaust survivors had made it to this small town just before winter and the only industry in this town was a tuna cannery. All other food had been eaten by November so it was tuna until Spring.
They were just finishing when an old man rushed through the front entrance of the warehouse the survivors had turned into their shelter.
"Oh good! I'm in time!" He searched the room until his eyes lit on the Sliders. "You are the first group of Sliders. Hello! I have heard much about you." He came closer. "You're about to meet four other Sliders. I have foreheard it."
"Foreheard?" Arturo said. "What are you babbling about?"
"This is the Hearer." One of the survivors explained. "He can hear the future. He's heard about you guys for a long time. We were very amused by your adventures last Christmas. He heard you would be coming yesterday and told us to welcome you."
"Yeah," someone else chimed in, "you don't think we welcome in just anybody, do you? We share our tuna with no strangers. But the Hearer has heard that you Sliders are all right so we agreed to not kill you."
"I guess we owe you a debt of gratitude." Arturo told the Hearer.
"We'll see if you still feel that way after you hear what I have to say!" He cackled. Before he could elaborate a vortex appeared and four more Sliders began to emerge. When the vortex vanished and as the four newcomers noticed the first four Sliders, the Hearer continued. "Two of you from each group of Sliders must go on a quest. Ant must go with you."
Ant had been sitting up in a rafter, carving something with a rusty knife. At this he tossed aside what he was doing (ignored the complaint of the person the knife landed next to), dangled down from the rafter and dropped to the floor. "Listen to the Bunny Rabbit with the Madonna breast cone on his head! THAT BUNNY RABBIT ROCKS! I LOVE THE BUNNY RABBIT! Where are we going??? When do we leave? I'M ALL ABOUT DOING WHAT THE BUNNY RABBIT SAYS!!!"
Quinn buried his face in his hands. "There is no force on any Earth that could make me go anywhere with that
"SHUT UP MONGOOSE! THE BUNNY RABBIT IS TALKING NOW!!!" He bowed low and waved his hand towards the Hearer. "Pray continue, your big floppy earness."
The other four Sliders were coming to join them, looking dazed with confusion.
"Your quest is to find a man named Chris Mouse and bring him back here before Christmas. If you fail, none of you eight will ever Slide again." The Hearer finished.
"TEE HEE." Ant giggled. "Bunny talks, bunny ROCKS!"
After Remmy, Maggie, Diana, and Mallory exchanged introductions with Remmy, Arturo, Quinn, and Wade, the latter group filled in the former group on what the Hearer had said. Then the Hearer repeated what he had said. Then Ant came forward and proceeded to give his disoriented, horrendously mangled version of what the Hearer had said. When one of the crowd stepped forward to repeat what the Hearer had said, Arturo finally exploded and sent the unfortunate crowd member running with his ears stinging from insults only half of which he was educated enough to comprehend.
"So who goes and who stays?" Quinn asked.
The Hearer shrugged. "All I know is that each group must have one Remmy, so one Remmy must go and one Remmy must stay."
"That'll make it a lot easier for us to follow what's going on." Maggie agreed. "With two Remmys in one group you'd never know who the hell was saying what to who."
"And I know that it must be two members from each group. No more, no less." The Hearer added. "That is all I've heard."
Quinn glanced suspiciously at Ant, who was busy assembling something out of a broom, an old coat, and some buckets. "What about that lunatic? Why does he have to come?"
"All I know is that your quest will fail if he does not go with you."
After much deliberation, it was decided that the healthiest, younger Sliders should go since they had a better chance of surviving the harsh conditions outside of town. Maggie, with her military background and toughness, was a lock. Quinn and Mallory were also good choices because they were young and strong. Which left Quinn's Remmy to join them because the other group had two members going already and a Remmy had to go. Remmy was not thrilled but he didn't complain too loudly.
The task of sitting in the warehouse in relative warmth and comfort fell to Arturo, Wade, Remmy, and Diana.
"Let's leave now so we can get as far as possible before dark," Quinn suggested.
"Head due North," the Hearer advised. "That will take you to Chris Mouse."
"What if this cat doesn't want to come back with us?" Remmy asked.
"Perhaps that is Ant's role." The Hearer replied sagely.
The eight Sliders glanced over at the raving man. He had finished his construction. If you squinted your eyes, stood on one foot, and leaned almost to the floor then it looked a little like a scarecrow. As they watched, he carved a grin on the bucket serving as a head. Then he turned to the crowd. "Okay fellows. I've built a replacement Ant to handle things while I'm gone. He'll wake you up during the night as usual, watch out for hobgoblins, and take my place in the cooking and chore rotation. His name is Li'l Ant and he'll take good care of you."
The crowd accepted what he said with grins but no catcalls. Try as he might, Quinn couldn't see anyone who seemed to genuinely dislike the lunatic. He irritated all of them, especially at night, but none of them seemed to dislike him. "What's the story on him?" Quinn asked The Hearer. "Why do people put up with him?"
The Hearer lowered his voice. "Has anyone here told you about the alien attack on our world?" When only the first four Sliders nodded, he went on. "Well, five years ago, aliens arrived here on earth. They wanted to trade us all this knowledge and minerals that don't exist on Earth for the code to Windows 95. It seems that all they had were sucky assed Macs and they wanted to upgrade to a real operating system. But Bill Gates told them he didn't care WHO they were or what planet they came from, or what they offered. He hadn't become a billionaire by giving his code away. So he told them to stick their deal up all three of their asses. The aliens got mad and ice bombed us. We finally managed to trick them after several years of harsh fighting. Bill Gates offered to give them the code to Windows 98 in exchange for peace. The aliens agreed and loaded it on all their machines. But Win 98 was so buggy and prone to locking up and crashing that when we surprise attacked it was a cakewalk. We wiped them out. The war ended a couple months ago, and not before one final ice bombing. So this winter has been so harsh we can barely function. Once summer comes we'll be okay, and the effects of the ice bombing will have worn off.
"Anyway, a fugitive alien showed up right after winter isolated this town and took us hostage. It had this powerful hand weapon that could spray their freeze lotion like a fire hose, we had no chance. It told us that it planned to cut its losses and kill us all after it realized that it couldn't contact anyone to make a threat against us to force safe passage. It began to do just that. But then Ant started talking. It was a steady stream of charming dialogue that made the alien pause and reconsider. I don't remember much of it now but it was logical and distracting, and when the alien drew close to Ant and had lowered its guard a little, Ant pounced. He turned the hand weapon around and used it to kill the alien. Unfortunately there was a backwash as the energy bounced from the concrete floor back into Ant. It was not strong enough to freeze him, but it ... changed him. He has not been able to sleep since, and perhaps that is the only reason he is the way he is now. Or perhaps the ricocheting energy had something to do with that. I don't know because I have Heard nothing about it. But everyone still alive in this town owes their life to Ant's bravery, and the way you see him now is the price he is paying for saving us."
The Sliders looked again at Ant. He was packing for the trip. As they watched he placed one gold sock, a hair brush with no bristles, a dog eared copy of a story called "CRISIS," a Hurt Me Elmo doll, and one nearly empty tube of an externally applied laxative into a raggedy sea bag. The bag had a hole in it, so when Ant stood up, all of the contents slipped through and remained on the floor. Ant, oblivious, started walking towards them.
"Is that a Destroyer novel that fell out?" Remmy5 wanted to know. "His name was Remmy and he was..."
"I find it very difficult to believe THAT used to be a heroic man," Quinn added.
"Forget heroic, I find it difficult to believe he was ever sentient." Arturo scoffed.
"I'm ready to go!" Ant told them enthusiastically, swinging his empty bag back and forth.
"I'm NOT wearing a yak fur cloak!" Maggie insisted.
The first four Sliders had tried stepping outside yesterday when they arrived. It was high noon, the sun was shining brightly, and they were wearing their winter gear. Arturo, with his extra insulation, lasted the longest before retreating the two feet back into the warehouse ... a whole 20 seconds. Wade had the least tolerance, she didn't even make it all the way outside. To put it bluntly, it was
"No way. It smells like a drunk cat's breath. PEE-YEW!"
"Let me put it this way," Remmy tried. "There is a test for how cold it is. You spit. If the spittle freezes before it hits the ground it is officially
"No force on any Earth could make me wear a stanking yak cloak."
"As you wish," Quinn said patronizingly as he draped a yak cloak over him that stank to high heaven. He gagged as he tied it close around his body. His Remmy followed suit.
Mallory and Maggie left theirs on the floor of the warehouse and buttoned up their jackets. "Where's Ant?" Maggie asked, hoping to hear that he had locked himself in the bathroom or something.
"He's already dressed and waiting for us outside." Quinn replied and lead them to the front door. He pulled it open one inch.
The cold darted in and seized Maggie and Mallory. Maggie, standing six feet away, stopped suddenly and screeched, "OH MY GOD!! Shut that smegging door!!!" Mallory, throat paralyzed with cold, gestured wildly.
Quinn pulled the door closed.
When Maggie recovered her breath her eyes found The Hearer. "You want us to go out in THAT? Are you out of your mind? It's colder than Hugh Grant's bed out there! NO WAY!"
The Hearer shrugged. "It makes no difference to me. If you don't bring back Chris Mouse before December 25th, none of you will Slide again. And if none of you Slide again you'll be able to enjoy all six months of this winter."
"Come on Maggie," Mallory said, holding his nose with one hand and pulled on a yak cloak with the other. "We're going to have to take one for the team."
"This is not taking one for the team, this is taking one FROM the team!" She snapped, glaring at her Remmy and Diana. But she pulled on the yak cloak. "Besides, don't you say anything to me after that crap you pulled on the last world!"
The outer door opened. The hideous cold rushed in, then began to cuss under its breath when it realized all of them, the only people within 20 feet of the door, were wearing yak cloaks now. Ant was standing outside wearing cut off jeans, a sleeveless shirt, and open toed sandals. He wore sunglasses and was rubbing sun tan lotion on his arms. "What's taking you sleep slaves so long?"
"Did Jack Williamson write 'The Legion of Time' on your world?" Diana asked Arturo. They were sitting together near one of the heaters, sharing a cup of hot coca.
"1938, right? The first story about parallel worlds."
"On our world he didn't publish it until 1940, if I remember right. But yeah, that was it." She took a deep breath and then changed her voice to sound like a lecturing character. Oddly, she sounded the same as she always did. "With the substitution of waves of probability for concrete particles, the world lines of objects are no longer the fixed and simple paths they once were. Geodesics have an infinite proliferation of possible branches, at the whim of subatomic indeterminism."
Arturo smiled, pleased. "I've never met anyone else who's got that book memorized."
"Just certain passages," she replied shyly.
"Well, you're young, my dear." His smile grew. "More tea, my dear?"
Remmy was glaring at them from across the warehouse floor. "They're getting on well."
"Sorry I'm not better company." Wade replied defensively. She didn't feel anything in common with him. In fact, both of them had clamed up after their hesitant conversational probes had been mutually slaughtered.
Remmy sighed. "I didn't mean that as a slight. I'm just frustrated at being left behind. They're over there having a tea party, warm as a kitten in a bed while our friends are out there in sub 'Oh My God' cold."
Wade didn't answer directly. Instead she said, "why are you avoiding looking at me? I don't think you've looked directly at me, even while talking, since we met."
Remmy met her gaze and pretended to leer at her. He scoped her body in an exaggerated way with his eyes bulging out in mock lust. "Better?"
She smiled but was not to be dissuaded. "Then there is the fact I was not with your group even though you said it started out the same as mine did. Something horrid happened to me, didn't it? You didn't rescue me in time from Lottery world, did you?"
Remmy lay back and closed his eyes. "No, we rescued you. That time. Let's just say that -."
He was interrupted by something hard kicking his head. Startled, he sat up and turned around.
"Lazy boy," it growled. "NO SLEEP!!"
Remmy gaped at the collection of broomhandles, mops, mop buckets, blankets, and other assorted items Ant had put together to make a horridly deformed sleepcrow.
"Good lazy boy, keep those eyes open." Li'l Ant growled in satisfaction.
From across the room The Hearer looked on in horror. "Oh my dog! Er, god! What have I done!"
"I ... can't ... take ..." Mallory huffed.
"This ... cold ..." Maggie continued.
"Any ... more ..." Remmy finished. He was carrying Quinn over his back or Quinn probably would have added something. Quinn's arms were sticking straight up in the air, as if he were frozen stiff.
Ant had taken his shirt off and was jogging ahead of them with his arms in the air. "I feel free!" He sang in a nonexistent key.
The singing was driving Remmy mad. He didn't mind people not having God given singing talent like him, but they had to at least be able to hit one out of every five notes. "If he covers one more Dolly Parton song I'm going to cheerfully strangle him!" Remmy gasped. He set Quinn down. "Okay buddy, you carry me for awhile, I'm too cold to move."
Quinn groaned, broke the ice from his limbs, and then picked his fellow Slider up.
"Hey, maybe I'll dye my hair..." Ant began.
Remmy started crying. "Dolly done competently is bad enough, but he is BRUTALIZING it!"
To get his mind away from singing, Maggie forced herself to pick up her pace and catch up with him. "Ant, we're having trouble dealing with this cold. What's your secret?"
He met her eyes. For a second she thought she saw intelligence there. Buried, but there somewhere. Then he opened his mouth. "But OWLLLLLL BEEEEE, fine and dannnnnnndeeeee!" Frozen spittle flew from his mouth and rebounded from her face.
"Alrighty then," Maggie replied, dropping back to her normal pace.
Ant sang a couple more bars, then he slowed until he was next to her again. "You have to be somewhere else, Maggie. Your body will be here freezing, but your mind can be anywhere. Let your mind go somewhere else. It takes the pain away."
"I like someone who practices what he preaches." She quipped as he sped up again.
Another hour went by. They moved as fast as they could in order to generate as much heat as possible. Just when the Sliders felt they could not go another step and they'd die out here ... freezing solid to the tune of "Islands in the Stream" screeched in Z flat ... they crested a hill and took sight of a small town in the valley below.
"Thank God." Maggie gasped.
"We've only come about 15 miles. I wasn't expecting another town for twice that distance, the way the people back there were talking." Quinn admitted.
"How do you figure that?" Mallory asked from above. Quinn was now carrying Mallory, who was carrying Remmy.
"We've been walking at a steady trot for five hours now. Even at our pace we're not doing better than 3 miles an hour."
"I'm just glad you were wrong about how close the next town was." Remmy wheezed. "I hope to God Chris Mouse is in this town or this quest will be over before it's begun."
"Well, look what the Houyhnhnms dragged in." Someone said in a snide voice. The four Sliders stopped as three men leaped from behind trees on either side of them. The men wielded sharp sticks and one metal ax. The man clutching the ax was apparently both the group's leader and the one who spoke from behind the tree.
One of the other two snickered. "They look like Yahoos to me. Let's sell them!"
Maggie glanced back at Quinn. She seemed to be searching his face for something. Perhaps reassurance, so he smiled back at her. She nodded almost imperceptibly and returned her attention to the obvious highwaymen.
"So this is how you morons make your living?" Maggie began, voice full of contempt. "You stand behind some trees all day long, freezing your nads off and hoping someone will saunter by with a million dollars in his or her pocket so you can roll them? This is your livelihood? I'll bet your parents are really happy they spent their lives working their tails off to provide you with an education!"
The leader seemed taken aback. "Why you gotta bring my momma into this?"
"Yeah," one of the others said, wiping one eye and sniffing, "my mother was a great woman."
"Words can hurt, you know." The leader protested.
"Extortion is a job of last resort," the third bandit explained. "We tried to sell short on McDonalds stock when we found out they were bringing back the McPizza but apparently they solved the fact that this food item sucked the big fat hairy nasty one the last time they offered it many years ago. So it was actually good this time and we got our asses handed to us. I have a quadruple mortgage to pay for, Sam needs a tooth transplant operation and he also owns a boat which as you know is a hole in the water you throw money into. And Andy," he indicated the leader, "he has it worse than all of us, financially speaking."
"I'm married," Andy explained.
Remmy winced. "You poor, poor man."
"Marriage is a hole in your life you throw money into." Andy added.
"So we have to seize you, rummage through your possessions to find anything we can sell, and then take you to the Houyhnhnms. They offer top wheat for fresh Yahoos." Sam finished.
Maggie grinned and put her arm around Quinn's waist. "Well, you guys have messed up this time. Quinn here is a real live action hero. He's a vanilla Shaft. He's Batman without the homoerotic undertones. He's a modest Incredible Hulk. He's Superman with a gun. My man Quinn always carries a gun and will cut you down so hard you'll wish to God you'd just pissed off Tony Soprano instead of my man Quinn here. We don't call him Smoking Hand for nothing!" She turned to Quinn. "So, do you want to waste them or let them scurry away with their sob stories?"
Quinn gaped at her. Then he seemed to decide that she was bluffing and put on his most convincing glare. Lowering his voice two notches he said, "yeah Ma-…" He stopped and brought his voice back up one notch because he sounded like one of Marge Simpson's sisters. "Yeah, Maggie, I guess we can let them go THIS TIME."
The three bandits laughed merrily. "Yeah, this nerd is a Gunslinger. The most dangerous thing he carries around is a protractor." Andy said when he caught his breath enough to speak. "But don't try and play Poker, miss. Your bluffs are crap."
Maggie reddened. "Okay, fine! I tried to be magnimmy ... magnama..."
"Magnanimous." Remmy supplied tersely.
"Yes, magnanimous, but since you'd rather have pain instead of your dignity, I'm going to let Quinn teach you a lesson you'll never forget! Don't bring sticks and axes to a gun fight! Quinn! Whip it out and bust a cap in these
Quinn gaped at her again. "Did you really think I had a gun?"
"Quinn!" Maggie hissed urgently. "Do it! These guys are asking for it!"
"I don't have a gun, Maggie. I've only used one a couple times when I had to, I certainly don't carry one! I'm a nerd, not an action hero!"
Maggie gaped at Quinn. "You don't have a gun?"
"The Quinn you guys traveled with must have been very different from our Quinn." Remmy observed.
"NO GUN?" Maggie exclaimed. "What kind of
The Bandits advanced, looking angry.
"Can you guys do me a favor?" Maggie begged. "Will you beat Quinn first so I can watch?"
After the four had been beaten senseless, robbed, and tied up, the three bandits heaped them onto a wagon and started rolling them towards the town.
Maggie woke first and nudged Remmy awake. "Hey, where did Ant take off to?"
"I don't know." The other man mumbled. "The last I saw him was right before the bandits showed up."
Ant's face appeared above them. He was walking behind the wagon looking down at them. "Hey fellows! We're going to see the talking horses!"
"We don't have time for your drug induced fantasies right now, Ant." Mallory snapped. "Untie us!"
"I like the talking horses." Ant said conversationally. "They are among the few not seduced by the darkness of sleep!"
"Horses sleep, Ant." Quinn said, trying to ingratiate himself with the lunatic. "They just do it standing up. Now, if you'll untie us, I'll tell you more about horses."
The wagon stopped rolling. The Bandits must have noticed Ant.
"Run Ant!" Maggie called. "Go back to where we came from and get our friends!"
Ant smiled at her and stood in place until the bandits rounded the wagon.
"Looks like we missed one, Sam!" Andy was saying, then he got a good look at Ant's face. "I don't smegging believe it! Chris Mouse! Howya doing, buddy!"
"I'm fine," Ant replied distantly.
Maggie sat up, face reddening. "Excuse me, WHAT DID YOU SAY HIS NAME WAS????"
"His name is Chris Mouse. He's a big war hero, surely you've heard of him? He went from town to town, cleaning out the remaining aliens until one wounded him and messed over his mind in some town near here."
Maggie gulped enough of her rage down so she could talk coherently. "Okay, Quinn and Mallory, you two are officially off my
"My head?" Wade asked, not for the first time, in a shocked voice.
The Hearer had come over to them, staring at Li'l Ant with huge eyes, raving about how much he had screwed up. It a while of incomprehensible sputtering before he calmed down enough to explain. Unfortunately, right before they noticed him stumbling over to them, Remmy had blurted out the fate of the Wade who'd traveled with him.
"The aliens had the ability to animate non living objects. They could take a dresser and program it to do simple tasks, in that case to open the drawers when you approach. They could program a car to go to a specific location, a sign to bend over and wack someone as they walk by." The Hearer began. "As you can imagine they caused a lot of chaos for us before we finally defeated them. We have no idea how they could 'program' inanimate objects, but we believed it was mental."
"My HEAD?" Wade repeated again.
"Why did you have to tell her?" Diana glared at Remmy.
"She was grilling me."
Arturo was the only Slider completely paying attention to The Hearer. "So now Ant has this ability." He indicated Li'l Ant.
"Precisely. But another ability some aliens displayed was body swapping."
"Not that again," Remmy shuddered.
"No human mind can accomplish this animation trick," The Hearer continued. "So what must have happened is that when Chris Mouse triggered the weapon, the alien must have swapped bodies with him at the last second. The alien body, with Chris' mind within, was destroyed. The alien mind didn't have time to properly take control, so its cognitive capabilities were severely limited, as you witnessed with him. The fact that he never slept, which the aliens never do, and can handle extreme cold, another alien trait, should have clued us in but none of us wanted to believe that the great Chris Mouse could or would have been Swapped. We were all in denial."
"So Ant is Chris Mouse???" Arturo asked angrily.
"Yes, see, my Hearing was that if four of you Sliders went off with him into the frozen wasteland, Chris Mouse would return with his mind restored. Our great hero would be whole again just in time for Christmas, his favorite holiday. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I had to trick you into doing it so we could have Chris back. That's why I lied about you needing to do it or you would never Slide again."
"You dirtbag." Remmy spat.
"If you only knew how much he meant to us!" The Hearer countered. "But don't you see? The ALIEN is the mind that is submerged underneath the confused personae of Ant! So it will be the powerful, deadly alien that the Sliders will release! Release on a world that believes the conflict is over so has let its guard down. Released on a world that is hunkered down for the winter and ready to celebrate the first peaceful Christmas in years! There is no telling how much damage it can cause before it is stopped!"
"When you screw up, you do it in biblical proportions, don't you?" Arturo commented.
"I just have one question. MY
Arturo, Diana, Remmy, and a livid Wade were dressing for the cold when the knock on the front door of the warehouse startled everyone inside. The Sliders had decided to pursue their friends in an attempt to stop them from whatever they were going to do to awake the alien mind inhabiting Chris Mouse's body.
"They shouldn't have a problem doing the right thing, since they're the four superior Sliders." Wade had said.
"Yeah, we're fat and/or weak." Arturo had agreed sarcastically. "But we make up for our inferior bodies with sharper minds. If I had gone along, I would have noticed almost immediately that Chris was really an alien. He said he was sorry to see Tom Green and Drew Barrymore break up. What more proof did we need?"
One of the survivors opened the warehouse door. A beautiful horse stood there wearing a pullover sweater, a ski cap, and what looked like a jet pack on his back. He trotted in. "I am Canter, I bring a message from the Houyhnhnm people." He said in a rich baritone.
The Hearer stepped forward. "Greetings from the humans. Speak your message."
"Not long ago, we bought four Yahoos. They claimed they were traveling with the honored Chris Mouse but when questioned he said he had been traveling with a mongoose, a rabid spider monkey, a tittering blowfish, and a singing loon. But the Yahoos were adamant that they had come from here. Do you have any information for us?"
Diana stepped forward, "Sir Canter, the four humans ... was one of them an asthmatic smartass with a a horrendous haircut?"
Arturo asked next. "Did any of them whine harder than an NBA player forced to stay at a Motel 6?"
"Is one of them an abrasive tramp with the body of Britney Spears, the mind of Fabio, the disposition of Jack Nicolson, the morals of Madonna, the vocabulary of Pee Wee Herman, the libido of Bill Clinton, the fashion sense of Bill Murry, and the charm of Alice Cooper?" Remmy wanted to know.
The talking horse stared at him impassively for a long moment. "I only know who Bill Murry is, those other names mean nothing to me. 'Groundpig Day.' HEE HEE."
"Imagine a female Bill Murry." Remmy offered.
No hesitation this time. "Ah, yes indeedy, we have one of those."
Wade was last. "How about a nerdy brainiac who refuses to love me despite the fact that I adore him and am hotter than Cajun gumbo, but who instead will abandon me without looking back if I'm ever captured by ape Nazi wannabes who will cut off my
"Nerd, you say? Good heavens yes! We have one of those."
"It sounds like you possess our four friends," The Hearer concluded. "Will you return them and Chris Mouse to us?"
The Houyhnhnm sighed, tapping one hoof on the concrete floor of the warehouse as he thought. Then he said, "well, we're throwing a Christmas party tonight and we don't have anything lined up for entertainment. We were going to have these four ripped to shreds by starving kittens. If we give them back what will we do for entertainment and kitten food?"
The Hearer thought for a minute. "How about you take these four instead?" He gestured to the four Sliders.
"Um, excuse me, but that's not going to get us anywhere, you blistering idiot!!"
The Hearer looked irritated. "Hey, do you want your friends back or not?"
"They'll be safe but then WE'LL be the ones ending up in the kitty litter box!" Remmy protested.
"Perhaps you can negotiate a solution that results in none of us dying?" Diana added.
"Picky, picky," The Hearer muttered as he turned back to the horse.
"I don't suppose you have a Geneva Convention on this world?" Quinn called out hopefully.
Their Houyhnhnm guard eyed them disdainfully for a second, then returned his attention to his feedbag.
"'Cause it's not like it's FREAKING COLD out here or anything. Don't you have a holding cell indoors?" Quinn added.
Stony silence, save for the sound of munching. Quinn sighed and returned to the other three, who were huddled together in one corner of the open cage. He crawled in with them.
"Are things always so bizarre on your Slides?" Quinn asked after a minute.
"Usually more so." Mallory confided. "Maggie's usually getting hosed by a politician or kidnapped by aliens and I'm usually getting religion or trying to get someone to rip your mind from my brain."
"Oh yeah," Quinn said. "Diana told me that you had been melded with their Quinn." He paused thoughtfully, and then said, "how's that working out for you?"
"It reeks." Mallory admitted. "You have one
A hovercar landed on the street several yards away. The other four Sliders emerged with another Houyhnhnm. They rushed to the cell. "Hi guys!" Diana said brightly.
"We hate to have to rescue you like this," Wade added as she trotted up, "seeing as how you four are the superior Sliders and all, but we had to do it."
"They're going to let us go?" The captured Remmy exclaimed.
"For a price." Wade said with relish. "Their Queen, Winnie, finally agreed to let you go on one condition. On Christmas Day she will show up and ask each of you four for a boon. You must comply with whatever she asks, no matter WHAT it is. She allowed that it will not involve your death or serious injury, but anything else goes. If you agree to this, you are free to go right now. If not, you'll be the evening's entertainment and that's not a good thing."
"I strongly urge you to agree," Arturo added. "They are sadistic little ponies. Nothing like I imagined them to be. Nothing can be worse than what they have planned for you tonight, trust me."
The four imprisoned Sliders reluctantly agreed and were released. On their way back to the hovercar, Canter brought a bound and gagged Chris Mouse. "Unfortunately, we noticed that Chris Mouse is not himself and we liked him how he was before. Fortunately, we have the technology to correct minor brain damage because your brains are so simple. Unfortunately, Chris Mouse's mind has been taken over by an alien who is evil so as soon as we fixed the brain damage, he tried to take over our entire town. Fortunately he was still in the operating room and we had some Saneall handy."
"Wouldn't that be 'hoofy' instead of 'handy' ?" Arturo wondered aloud.
"Oh, in that case I can't hand you a strong supply of the only drug on Earth that will save you from his apocalyptic rage. I'll just have to keep it with me then." Canter turned to go.
"I'm sorry." Arturo said quickly.
"It's hard to believe someone with your gut could bend well enough to stick his foot in his mouth," Maggie told him before speaking to Canter. "Don't mind him. We'll take all the Saneall you can spare."
Mollified, Canter gave her the bag he had been holding in his mouth. "He must have 2 CC's of this every 20 minutes. Timing is crucial. More than 2 minutes late and the alien will have full control of the mind and it will start animating objects to free it and kill all of you. Too early and his body will start rejecting it and to same thing will happen. So give him precisely 2 CCs at exact 20 minute intervals. Is that clear?"
"Crystal." Quinn promised.
"And store him in a room with nothing dangerous that he can animate. The alien can animate anything, but it cannot defy the laws of nature. It can't make a brick fly. A brick can't locomotive itself in any fashion. But a toy car can. A blanket can crawl. So keep him out of rooms containing flexible objects with sharp edges and you should be okay even if you screw up his medication schedule. Give him his next shot in precisely five minutes. If you are not the incompetent buffoons I think you are, then the alien will be eradicated from the mind after 112 more injections. But only if they are administered as I have stated. Good luck, and don't forget Queen Winnie will be visiting Christmas Day for her boons."
During the flight back they worked out a schedule where each Slider would spend an hour with Chris before being relieved by the next Slider. They decided to house him in the Teddy Bear storage room. 300 boxes filled with Teddy Bears destined for toy stores all over the West Coast were the only inanimate objects in the room. Even the tables and chairs had been removed.
"This is the most harmless room we have," The Hearer informed them. "Even if you forget to give him a shot on time there is nothing here he can harm you with."
Mallory peeked in a box, grinning as he looked at the innocent stuffed animals housed inside. "Yeah, they're stuffed fat with fluffies, they can't harm anyone."
Arturo took the first watch. Both Remmys, Diana, Quinn, and Mallory emerged for the holding room to discover Wade and Maggie in each other's faces across the huge main room.
"You just can't stand it that the four inferior Sliders saved your 'athletic' asses!" Wade leaped on the table and pumped her hips, grinding her crotch right in front of Maggie's face. "That's right! The four subordinate Sliders won the day! We saved your asses and you're supposed to be the four strongest Sliders!" She grinded harder as Maggie jerked back. "Who's your daddy?? WHO'S YOUR DADDY????"
Maggie's face reddened. "Fine, you were of minor assistance. Don't lose your head over it."
Wade's eyes widened. She jumped down from the table. "Oh, I see, you weren't worried. Your ass is never in danger because you spend so much time on your back!"
"You don't have to yell. I don't want you to get a sore throat." Maggie cautioned.
"Thanks for your concern, considering the military rank you achieved on your home world, I'm sure you know all about having a sore throat!"
Maggie's face reddened further. "You always were hotheaded, you know that?"
"I'd rather be known as hotheaded than have the nickname 'Easyhead.'"
Maggie glanced at the others, who were gaping at them. "Now see, you've made a scene. I feel like we're in a fishbowl."
"If you didn't want to be a public spectacle, why'd you get those implants?" Wade shot back.
"I love my body." Maggie returned. "It's the only one I have, it's not like I can just throw it away or anything."
Wade sneered. "Yep, you and five million other people have loved your body."
"You're just jealous that I'm so far ahead of you."
"Nobody could catch up with you," Wade said, "you've been rode more often than OJ's golf cart!"
Maggie's mouth twisted. "Ichabod Crane called, he wants you to stop chasing him!"
"Viagra called. They want an address where they can send you roses for how much business you've personally drummed up for them."
Arturo reached them, "now ladies, this is unseemly and isn't accomplishing anything."
Maggie grinned fiercely. "You're lucky he came along, I was getting ready to rip your head off!"
"Oh, tramp off somewhere!"
Remmy1 glanced at Quinn ruefully. "How are we ever gonna make it another four days until our Slide?"
"If things stay this entertaining the days will practically fly by!"
Mallory's shift was at midnight, but the other six followed him in and the previous watchperson, Wade, stayed.
Mallory sat next to the tied up and gagged Chris Mouse, set his meat and cheese tray on the floor next to him, then glared at the others. "What's with the audience? Run off to bed, I'll wake Remmy5 when my hour is up!"
Arturo swallowed nervously. "You look tired. You don't have to stay up, why don't you let me take this shift? You can take a shift in a couple days."
"In a couple days the drug will have worked and he'll be cured!"
"Oh. Oh yeah, that's right."
Mallory's eyes narrowed. "You don't think I can handle this, do you? You think I'm going to
The other seven shuffled their feet nervously. Finally, one of the Remmys said, "you wouldn't forget to give him his medication on time, would you? I mean, that is a nice spread you have there. What if you're thinking more about the meat, cheese, crackers, mustard, hot sauce, and orange slices than what time it is?"
"Mmmmm, orange slices." The other Remmy said dreamily.
"I'm not going to forget!" Mallory insisted. "Now shoo! I refuse to sit here while you seven watch me like a hawk!"
"You're really not going to forget?" Maggie asked doubtfully.
"Of course not!"
"You won't forget?" Diana seemed thunderstruck at the thought of him being competent.
"NO! I WON'T
The other Sliders left nervously, several glancing back as if to see if Mallory's eyes were already glazing over.
Mallory closed the door after them and returned to his place on the floor. He glared at Chris Mouse, who seemed to be sleeping. "It's only one hour, how the hell could I forget?" Mallory asked scornfully.
"So apparently horses developed with intelligence on this world."
Diana, Quinn, and Arturo were cups of hot clam juice and sitting around a radiator as if it were a campfire.
Arturo regarded Diana skeptically. "I don't see how creatures without manipulative appendages can evolve intelligence. It's not possible."
"Which means that they were mostly likely genetically engineered. The people of this world seem like they were much more advanced than most other worlds we've encountered." Quinn said.
"What leads you to that conclusion?" Arturo challenged.
He held up his mug. "Have you ever been able to stand clam juice before? The fact that they've been able to make it palatable is a technological marvel!"
"I THOUGHT WE AGREED TO SLEEP ON OPPOSITE SIDES OF THE WAREHOUSE???!!!"
Maggie appeared from behind a stack of crates, clutching a pillow and blanket, and headed for the alien holding room. "I'll sleep with our prisoner, he's much preferable over YOU."
Arturo took this in and turned back to his companions. "Wade is not taking the news of what happened to her double very well."
"Not as well as you're taking the news of what happened to your double," Diana agreed.
"The difference is I am an egomaniac." Arturo confided. "I know that I am superior to all other doubles. That some moron who looks like me let his brains get sucked out through his nose is no reflection on ME. Wade, on the other hand, feels like what happened to her double reflects on her. She is harboring a lot of anger over it."
Maggie opened the door to the holding cell.
Mallory was buried under a sea of plush stuffed bears. They were pulling his hair, jumping on his head, covering his limbs, and bashing him with his food plate. Maggie leaned against the door jamb for a couple minutes, watching Mallory get trashed by several dozen of the fifteen to twenty inch bears.
Then more box lids were pushed open and more bears were plunging forth from them so she decided enough was enough. As she turned to call out to the others, a dark black Gund bear with a long snout dived in between her feet with a joyful "weeeee!" sound. Maggie lost her balance and fell to the floor with a squeal. The Gund crawled up from between her legs, started making choking sounds, covered its nose with one plush paw, and kept crawling.
Arturo, Quinn, and Diana leaped to their feet. They took in the attack on Maggie and the bear buried body of Mallory in the room beyond and then looked at each other. "Mallory's brain must be eradicated!" They said in unison.
"Hey everyone! The alien has recovered!" Arturo called as he led the charge.
A ten inch TY bear leaped on Quinn's face and started jabbing at his eyes. Two Schmid bears attacked Diana's legs, tripping her. Arturo got inside the room and did a swan dive on top of Mallory, crushing ten bears between him and Mallory.
Two cackling Pooh bears had joined the assault on Maggie, pulling her shoes off and wacking her with them.
The other Sliders were coming. Both Remmys had grabbed chairs. Wade stopped to asked the Hearer for help. "There are twenty healthy men here, ask them to help us!"
"This is your fight. You were supposedly watching him. You made your bed, now cry in it."
Wade snatched his cane without reply and headed for the bear room.
A tiny Steiff bear was crawling down Arturo's throat. Six marshmellow bears were tickling him and keeping him thrashing involuntarily so he couldn't grab the bear choking him.
Most of the bears that had been attacking Mallory were limp, crushed rags. Unfortunately, so was Mallory. An A & A bear dressed like a cowboy inspected Mallory, saw he was out for the count, and turned to his army of Native American bears. "Come on, boys, lets get us some Slider ass! YEEEEEEEEEHAW!" They charged one of the Remmys.
Remmy1 swung his chair and knocked a 'Li'l Indian' bear across the room. He slammed into the wall with a feeble cry and slid down the wall like a hastily discarded French letter. Remmy swung again, this time the bear was thrown into the overhead ceiling fan. A cloud of fluffys and shredded bear fur floated down.
Remmy5 swung from next to his doppelganger. Two Flome bears, dressed as Jack and Rose (complete with period costumes), went sailing over the stacks of boxes. "I'm flying, Jack!" One of them called. The other turned and gaped at her in horror right before they both went splat against the wall.
Then Wade was next to Remmy5, decapitating bears left and right with her cane.
Maggie had tied her three attackers together with her belt and flung them towards the warehouse door. She smashed a discarded beer bottle against the door jamb and joined her friends just as Diana joined the other end of the line. Quinn had torn apart his attacker and stood to join the Sliders line.
The fifty bears remaining faced the line of six Sliders from half a dozen feet away.
"You people are some cruel bastards, tearing up sweet, plush teddy bears." The bear from "A.I.", Teddy, said.
Quinn noticed that several Gund bears were trying to free Chris Mouse. "Tell them to stop or we're going to charge and slaughter the lot of you."
"Their fat little hands will never get his binds free." Teddy observed playfully. "They don't have any fingers. Not many of us do."
"Look, we don't have any quarrel with you bears. If you get back into your boxes we'll pretend this never happened."
Teddy kicked some bear stuffing. "Tell that to Fred. He had six cubs, did you know that? What am I going to tell his widow?"
Arturo had finally managed to pull the bear from his mouth. "You blistering idiots! He's distracting you! There were boxes on both sides of the room, remember!?"
The Sliders had formed a line from the door to the far wall, bisecting the room and facing Mallory and Chris Mouse, who had been against the wall in the middle of the room. They had completely forgotten the bear crates behind them because when they entered the room there had been no activity that direction.
As one, they turned.
So many stuffed animals crowded behind them the floor was bearly visible. At least a hundred pairs of eyes looked menacingly up at them. Then, with a primal scream, the legion charged. On the other side of the Sliders line, the other fifty bears charged.
Still trying to catch his breath, lying on the floor next to Chris Mouse, Arturo thought he heard an evil chuckle emerge from the alien. "Oh shut up," he gasped. "You're next after we take turns throttling Mallory!"
It was a starkly fluffy room.
Teddy Bear innards lay EVERYWHERE. Piles of fluffys had come to rest against the walls like snow drifts. The stuff coated every surface, every Slider, as if a Teddy Bear gut monsoon had just finished moments ago. In a sense, it had.
But the worst derbies was the severed Teddy Bear body parts tossed here and there or dangling from ceiling rafters, boxes, and even the door knob. If the Teddy Bear Fairy was paying a visit tonight instead of Santa Claus, it would have to stop by the bank and take out a double mortgage before arriving here to pay for missing body parts.
The violence was over now. The seven Sliders still conscious had finally been subdued. A.I. Teddy was walking among the exhausted prisoners, gloating a little before he doled out their respective death methods.
"You thought you were winning by slaughtering so many of us." He said in his customary gruff voice. His eyes widened in horror. "The losses were beyond my wildest nightmares. I estimate we took 60% casualties. But with each swing of the chair you got a little more exhausted. Each bear losing his head was trading that dome for another ounce of your strength expended. And finally we tireless stuffed animals were able to push your gasping, fatigued bodies to the floor and sit on your faces and arms and legs. And now I will tell each of you what your personal excruciating death will be like."
Mallory sat up. He glared at A.I. Teddy but knew there were too many of them left for an attempt to free his friends to be successful. He looked the other way, at the still bound and gagged Chris Mouse. He scooted over to the alien possessed body. "Perhaps we can do a deal." He suggested, freeing the gag from Chris Mouse's mouth.
"What could you possibly offer ME, HU-man? In minutes your friends will be dead and one of the others in the warehouse will be intimidated into releasing me. Then I shall take over this city and move from city to city, animating whatever necessary until I have control over this entire region. After that, I'll take over Canada or something else equally delicious. I hear they have great syrup basted moose up there. And after Canada, THE WORLD!! MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!!!"
"So you believe that there is nothing in this world I could offer you to make you free my friends, give up your dreams of conquest, and retire to a quiet cabin up North where you will live out your days in peaceful bliss?"
"Are you on CRACK? There is nothing in this UNIVERSE you could offer me!! I'm going to take over this world for people!"
Mallory grinned. "You see that woman?" He pointed at Maggie.
"Yeah, so what?"
Mallory leaned forward and whispered in the alien's ear.
"... And you two Remmys will be forced to watch Hee Haw reruns until you are screaming for your quick, merciful deaths, which will not be given to you." A.I. Teddy was saying. "And you, Wade, well, let's just say there is a new meaning to sleeping with the fishes..." He collapsed.
All over the room, the remaining Teddy Bears collapsed and became inanimate.
"You've got yourself a
"Mallory, what did you say to the alien to get him to free us and swear off evil for the rest of his life?" Maggie asked, as she followed him from the holding room.
"Just something moronic. Don't worry about it."
She continued to follow him. "I saw you point at me. What did you say to him?"
"Look, I saved your life. Isn't that enough?"
"My life wouldn't have been in danger if you weren't the most retarded mendicant in the history of any planet! There is ice algae on the seventh moon of Jupiter with more sentience than you! How could you forget to give him the medication?"
Mallory smiled fondly. "Lemme tell you, when cheese is so good that you forget to preserve your own life by injecting someone else, then you have to save that product label to ensure you always buy that brand!" He waved the saved label. He had arrived at their sleeping area. Mallory bent to his backpack and picked it up.
"Mallory, why are you picking up your backpack?"
He headed back towards the holding room.
"Mallory, why are you taking your backpack to the alien?"
Mallory walked faster.
Maggie increased her own speed. "Mallory, what are you going to give the alien from your backpack?"
Mallory reached the holding room and slammed the door shut before she could follow him inside.
Maggie pounded on the door. "You found the note and read the address of where I had the pictures taken before I recovered my mind and could destroy the note, didn't you? You went there the next morning before we Slid and picked the pictures up, DIDN'T YOU?"
Inside, she could faintly hear Mallory say, "here is a sample picture."
"Oh. My. God." The alien gasped.
"Will you swear off evil forever?" Mallory demanded.
"Son, if you give me all 1,000 of those, I'll never leave my cabin up North again! It will be all I can do to pick up the phone and order pizza!" The alien swore reverently.
"Very well." There was a thudding sound, as if the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary had been dropped to the floor from four feet in the air. "This is all of them. I'll untie you now."
"Maggie, Winnie's here! Bring Mallory down from the ceiling rafters!"
It was the next morning, Christmas morning, and the Sliders were just finishing exchanging their gifts. Maggie's gift to Mallory had been hurting him only one fourth as badly as she wanted to. It would have been half but he HAD redeemed himself by saving their lives. She was just putting the finishing touches on that gift when the horse envoy arrived.
"Behold! Queen Winnie of the Houyhnhnm people!!" The lead horse boy declared.
"Do you have a cold?" She asked as she entered the warehouse. "You sound a little hoarse."
Arturo groaned. "Oh, Jesus God Almighty, this is going to be painful."
Winnie was wearing a regal robe made of purple silk. A diamond crown was tied to her head. A whiskey glass, still half full and containing clinking ice, dangled from her feed rope. A burning cigar jutted from the left corner of her mouth.
"Ladies and germs! How are you? You look like a good crowd!"
The people in the warehouse erupted in boisterous cheers. One of them leaned towards Arturo as he continued to clap with the enthusiasm of a 14 year old boy at a Britney Spears concert. "You better clap and laugh. They tend to stomp us if we don't. Queen Winnie fancies herself a stand up comedian."
The Sliders contributed half hearted clapping.
Winnie took a sip of her whiskey and trotted to the Sliders. "So these are the four who owe me a boon. Since it's Christmas day, I'll be gentle. Ordinarily I'd ask for a loving rub down or something. But I'm running low on material so each of you must supply me with a new joke. Those of you who make me laugh live. Those of you who provide lame jokes that would leave the audience so quiet you could hear a mouse pissing on a cotton ball will be stomped to death by Mr. Stompy." She indicated one of her envoy. The horse she indicated was the largest present. He had a new pair of Dr. Martens on. He met their respective gazes with a baleful grin.
The Sliders gulped.
"Rembrandt Brown, you're first. Step forward and give me a joke."
Remmy1 stepped forward. "This is a tough crowd, you're making it hard to keep my equinimity."
Winnie gaped at him for a long moment. Then she said, "equine... ha ha ha ha ha! You live!!"
Settling back into line, Remmy1 whispered, "the lamer the better, guys. I guessed right."
Winnie settled her eyes on Quinn next.
He stepped forward. "Um, well, what do you do when a horse wants to buy a dress?"
"I don't know." Winnie replied.
"Ha ha ha ha! You live!" Winnie trotted sideways to Mallory. "I'll have my boon now, Mallory."
He stepped forward. "No. I can't take any mare of these jokes!"
Winnie stared at him. Then she said, "stomp him."
Mr. Stompy started forward.
Mallory spoke quickly. "This is not a stallion tactic, but could you go to her and come back to me so I have more time?"
Winnie looked horrified. "You're the unfunniest bastard I've ever heard. I'll make a deal with you." She replied. "If you shut up now and promise to never again in your life try to be amusing, I'll let you live."
Mallory nodded vigorously.
Maggie stepped forward. "There once was a gelding from Nantucket..."
Winnie laughed. "That's a great one. I haven't thought of that one years. For reminding me of it, you can live. Canter! Mr. Stompy! Let us depart! Merry Christmas everyone!"
After the horses had left, the four endangered Sliders let out their collective breaths. "Thank god she didn't require good jokes. I couldn't think of anything," Quinn muttered.
Arturo cleared his throat. "Well, that was ... bizarre."
The alien once known as Chris Mouse rushed up to Mallory, tears in his eyes. "Thank you! OH, THANK YOU!! This is the best Christmas EVER!! This is much better than being evil or taking over the world!" He rushed back to his room and they could hear locks being thrown in place. From inside they could barely hear A.I. Teddy saying "Not again! Oh, I'll be in my crate!"
"But who am I to say what is bizarre and what isn't, anymore?" Arturo finished.
It was time for both groups to Slide the next morning. Since both their timers had the same prior damage to them, both had to wait for the same moment to Slide. As the timer counted down the last minutes they said their goodbyes.
"I'm sorry I was such a
"Yeah, I'm sorry for what I said. I didn't mean any of those awful things." Maggie replied.
"Awwww," Diana said. "They're making up after so much ugliness."
Wade smiled at Diana. "No, actually, we're both mouthing insincere apologies because we never have to see each other again and we can fantasize later that we were bigger than the other person by apologizing."
"But we still loathe each other and always will." Maggie added. "But since we'll never have to see each other again, why not be pretend civil?"
"I can dig it." Diana said. "I've been living the lie of civility with Mallory for years."
The two Remmys were exchanging goodbyes and bean dip recipes. Mallory and Quinn were exchanging clothing tips. Arturo was at Diana's side, waiting to resume his goodbye conversation with her.
"One minute!" Quinn declared.
Maggie pulled out her group's timer. "55 seconds!"
Arturo looked at her, shocked. "They trust YOU with their timer? They're braver than I thought!"
She glared at him but there was no time to argue with him. She rushed to Quinn and said goodbye to him. Remmy5 hugged Wade hard, whispering for her to watch her head.
As the time ran down, the Sliders collected into their two groups and waited for the vortexes to open. After the wormholes were created, the groups waved one last time to each other and dived through.
"Man am I glad to be rid of that shrill, annoying little tramp!" Maggie called out, joyously.
"Oh really?" Wade asked, face reddening.
Maggie turned in horror. Wade, Arturo, and Remmy5 were with her. "Wha-?"
Arturo looked horrified. "The two wormholes must have intersected as we were leaving the world! Two of us switched groups!" He looked at Maggie and Wade glaring at each other. "I wish now I'd let the other Arturo Slide."
Mallory helped Diana up. "I liked that other group." He told her.
"I liked you guys too." Quinn said and Remmy helped him up.
Mallory turned in delight. "I'm with you guys! I'm away from that harpy! WOO HOO! WOO HOO! WOO HOO! WOO HOO!! WOO HOO!!!"
It took them three hours to calm him down enough to get him to stop jumping up and down and yelling that huzzah.