TITLE: "Masque"
AUTHOR: JTHeyman


Series: "Wade Welles, Slider"
Series Timeline: D-01

Spoilers/References: Anything in the first three seasons, but especially the "Pilot", "Double Cross", and "Exodus". Also, my story "Wade Welles, Slider". Read that one first.

Disclaimers: "Sliders" and its characters, etc., are the property of a group of people and corporations, including Universal and St. Clare. I am just borrowing them. No copyright infringement is intended and, besides, I'm not making any money on this.

Copyright: Original story, characters, settings and situations are Copyright 2005 by JTHeyman.

Rating: PG

Archiving: Yes, please. Just let me know where it is so that, if I ever revise the story, I can send you the revised copy.

Author's Note: This story takes place immediately after "Wade Welles, Slider". Thanks to Pam for feedback and comments.

For Those Who Came In Late: This series follow the further adventures of Wade Welles after Season 3 of "Sliders". Please refer to "Wade Welles, Slider" (the first story in the series) to find out how and why she started Sliding alone.


"Masque"


Leaving Remmy's World, as she'd chosen to call it, Wade Welles found herself all alone in the Slide. The ride was just as wild, but she was alone. She'd never Slid alone and the sensation was ... less.

The wormhole dumped her out on a deserted beach. As she brushed off the sand, the Timer began beeping. She pulled it out quickly and looked at the readout. It was time to go already. She hit the button to access the wormhole and she was off again. Again, she Slid alone. She wasn't sure if she could get used to that.

This time, she landed in the middle of a picnic. Well, perhaps on the picnic would be more accurate. Sitting up, she saw that her legs had landed on the hamburgers and hotdogs, her right arm had hit the apple pie, her back and left arm had taken out the lemonade ... and she was fairly certain that was potato salad in her hair.

"What happened?" a man asked her. "What was that?"

"Sorry," Wade began. "I ...."

The Timer's beeping interrupted her.

"Again?" she said aloud. She hoped that these two-minute Slides weren't going to be the norm from now on.

"What's that?" the man asked as she pulled out the Timer and hit the button.

"I'm really sorry about your picnic," Wade said once the vortex had fully formed. She crouched and recovered an undamaged piece of pie. "I hope you don't mind," she said as she wrapped it in a napkin and put it in her jacket pocket.

"Uh ... no," the man replied, dazed.

"Thanks," Wade said, then she jumped through the vortex.

She tried to embrace the idea of Sliding alone this time but, although she still enjoyed the sensations of the Slide, she was still too used to Sliding with others. She wondered if she'd ever get used to Sliding solo ... and what she'd do if she couldn't.

As she exited the wormhole this time, she tried to save the slice of pie and managed to do a creditable job, squashing it only slightly. She quickly pulled out the Timer and checked it. A little under two days. Then she took a deep breath ... and began choking. Something was very wrong with the air. She looked up and saw only desolation. It was too cold. The air was full of dust. Turning around, she found that she had landed outside some kind of huge dome. Still coughing, and starting to feel the cold, she started walking along the dome's wall. After perhaps a hundred paces, perhaps two hundred, she found a doorway. She was freezing now, her lungs laboring with the dust she'd been inhaling. There was no buzzer, no intercom, just a number pad. She began pounding on the door.

"Please," she said, choking. "Please let me in." A coughing fit shook her small frame, bringing her to her knees. "Please."

Another coughing fit left her weaker, the cold sapping the strength from her limbs.

After one more weak tap at the dome's portal, she fell unconscious.




Wade was waking slowly when her chest seized and she was wracked by a violent coughing jag. Someone put a bedpan under her mouth and she spit into it.

"You're gonna be okay," a man said.

She took a tentative breath. The air was a little stale, but it was clean and warm. "Thanks," she said, her voice cracking.

"Oh, here," the man said, holding out a styrofoam cup. "Small sips only. You inhaled mucho dust and radiation out there."

Wade took a sip of water and then the man's words sunk in. "Radiation?"

"Shyeah," he said. "Oh, don't worry," he added, seeing the look of horror on her face. "The fat cats who built this place stocked it with all the latest anti-rad meds money could buy." He grinned and leered at her. "Our kids will be perfect ... not a mutant in the bunch."

Wade couldn't tell if he was joking or not. "Who are you?"

"Me? Name's Conrad Bennish, Jr., but most everyone calls me Bennish."

"Quinn's friend?"

"Don't know any Quinn," he replied. "Oh, hope you don't mind, but I scarfed that apple pie you were carrying. I haven't had real apple pie in over a year. It was, like, ultra dee-lish."

"Uh, fine," Wade told him. From what Quinn had said, Bennish was brilliant but unmotivated as a physics student back on Earth Prime, a stoner, and secure in his mistaken belief that every woman wanted him. The few doubles of him that she had met tended to bear that out. "Where are we?" she asked him. Remembering the Timer, she added, "And how long have I been unconscious?" She sat bolt upright in the bed before realizing she was naked under the sheet. She clutched the sheet in front of her and asked, "And where are my clothes?"

Bennish smiled devilishly before answering. "In reverse order. Your clothes are being decontaminated. I had to remove them in order to treat you for radiation exposure. And no, I didn't take advantage of you. That would be un-cool. I want you to succumb to my irresistible charms." He gave her what he thought was his most devastatingly sexy smile. "You've only been out for about six hours. And you're in the Bennish Dome, about fifty miles south of where San Francisco used to be ... at least on this Earth."

"This Earth?" Wade asked, playing dumb.

"That thing in your pocket that was counting down? I'm betting that's how you control access to the Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky bridge."

"The what?" Wade asked, fearing that Bennish knew exactly what he was talking about.

Bennish picked up a remote, aimed it over his shoulder without looking and hit PLAY. A video of Wade's arrival outside the dome appeared on the monitor. Bennish let it play until the vortex had disappeared and then turned it off. "I gotta know. How do you maintain quantum coherence over a macroscopic compact region of time and space?"

"Uhh...." Wade began.

"And that thing in your pocket? The construction is beautiful. But why is it counting down?"

"I...."

"Oh ... and how many parallel Earths have you seen? How many are there, anyway?"

"Look, I don't know how it works," Wade managed to say.

"You don't?" Bennish asked, his face falling. "Bummer."

"The only thing I know is that the Timer counts down to the next window of opportunity when I can Slide. If I miss the window, I'm stuck for 29 years wherever I am."

"Slide?"

"Yeah ... that's what Quinn called it ... Sliding. It's how we ... how I travel between dimensions."

"Whoa. 'Sliding', huh?" Bennish said, thinking it over for a moment. "Cool."

"Umm ... could I have some more water?" Wade asked, holding up the empty cup.

"Sure thing, babe. Anything for such a stone fox as yourself."

Wade shook her head, trying to clear it. "My name's Wade."

"Wade," Bennish repeated. "So how'd you end up Sliding?"

Wade grinned ruefully. "Quinn invented it, another Quinn from a parallel Earth had come and started messing up his life, so he invited me and Professor Arturo to come over in order to show us that it wasn't him causing all the trouble but his double." Wade paused. "I wanted to take a spin around the universe. It was a mistake."

"What happened?"

"The Timer was set to return us home in 5 hours, but we landed on a world of ice. We opened the vortex early and the Timer lost our home coordinates. We started Sliding randomly. We never made it home."

"Whoa." Bennish thought about what he'd heard. "Arturo? There was a Professor Maximillian Arturo, back when I was in college."

"Probably the double of the one I knew. What happened to him? What happened to this Earth?"

"The dude went back to England before the war."

"What war?"

"W W three. Someone, somewhere got antsy and pushed the button. No one knows who launched first, but once the first missile was airborne, both sides did their best to sterilize the planet. Didn't they have a nuclear war on your Earth?"

"No," Wade said, shocked. "Communism fell. The Soviet Union broke up peacefully ... well, mostly. There was no need for a war."

"The Soviets?" Bennish asked, disbelievingly. "They were on our side. It was France that had all the nukes pointed at us."

"France? I thought they were our allies."

"Shyeah. Maybe on your Earth. Here, after France took over Germany and most of Eastern Europe in World War II, they became the mondo power in Europe." Bennish paused, then continued in a more sardonic tone. "Not that it matters any more. Western Europe is pretty much glow-in-the-dark now and the rest of us are just as doomed."

"Why doomed?"

"This dome could have held three hundred people until the radiation levels drop low enough. Y'know how many we got here? Seventy-three, including me. And the rest of them are, like, rich dudes and their wives, most of them in their sixties or older. Oh, and a few servants. They used the extra space to hold champagne and caviar and other things rich people can't live without."

"What about kids?"

"What kids? They're all too old to have kids. Even the kitchen staff and the maids are old. They're just here to live out their final days in comfort, with cocktail parties every night. And from what I hear, most of the other domes are just the same. The old, rich dudes in power knew this war was coming, built domes to take care of themselves, got someone like me to run the machinery, and shut the door behind them, leaving the rest of the human race out there." He pointed out a small porthole-type window to the nuclear wasteland outside.

"That's horrible."

"That is my dad ... Conrad Bennish, Sr. Of course, when he finds out about Sliding, he and his friends can just Slide to another world and start all over." He added bitterly, "Ya gotta love it."

"They can't," Wade said urgently, sitting up again. She began coughing. Bennish handed her the water and she took a drink before she lay back again. "The Timer isn't built for that many people. It could fail and everyone would be killed ... or trapped between worlds forever."

"How many can it support?"

"I don't know," Wade said. "Maybe a dozen people, maybe a few more ... maybe less. If you want to save your parents, I can take you and them, but if everyone finds out ...."

"I know what would happen," Bennish said. "My father would pick the people with the most money and let only them Slide ... and you would be left behind."

"But...."

"Look, you're not even supposed to be here. Knowing my dad, he'd probably want to throw you back outside. With you here, he might have to give up a cigar or two in order to make sure the air purifier isn't overburdened. But hey, I'm not gonna tell him you're here. You can stay in here until you have to Slide. He almost never comes down here."

"Th-thanks," Wade said gratefully.

"Look, you're still recovering from the radiation exposure. The meds usually take, like, a full twelve hours to negate it all completely. Go back to sleep."

"Thanks," Wade repeated, the exhaustion of the last day catching up with her. She was asleep in seconds.

Bennish waited until she was sound asleep, then went to another room. He powered up the short wave radio. "Yo, Wing ... you there, dude?"

"What is it, Bennish?" Wing's voice came back.

"I got big-time news, hombre. But you're gonna have to act fast."




Wade dreamed.

She wandered through a devastated landscape. It was cold and there was dust in the air but she barely felt them. She approached a crossroads in the dim gray light. Ahead, she saw a grave marker that read:

MAXIMILLIAN P. ARTURO
DIED ON ANOTHER EARTH
HIS FRIENDS LEFT HIM BEHIND

Wade put her hand to her mouth in horror and turned to the left. She saw another marker:

REMBRANDT LEE BROWN
DIED ON THE WRONG EARTH
ABANDONED BY A FRIEND

"No!" Wade cried. She turned the other way and saw a third marker:

QUINN R. MALLORY
DIED ON THE WRONG EARTH
BELOVED HUSBAND OF MAGGIE

Wade shook her head in denial. "No, no, no." She turned around but the three grave markers blocked three directions. She turned back the way she came and saw a fourth grave marker:

WADE KATHLEEN WELLES
DIED LOST AND ALONE
NEVER MADE IT HOME

Wade collapsed, screaming, "Noooooo!!!"




"Noooooo!!!" Wade was screaming.

"Whoa!" Bennish said, shaking her. "Ya gotta be quiet. We don't want anyone hearing you."

Wade looked around the room quickly for a moment then took a deep, shuddering breath. "Nightmare," she said to Bennish. "Sorry."

"Yeah, well, okay then."

Wade sat up and saw her clothes sitting on a chair. "Umm, after I get dressed, I'd really like to eat something."

"Sure thing," Bennish said, bounding up. "Come on out when you're ready."

After Bennish left, Wade dressed quickly. The Timer, though, was not with her things. "Okay, stay calm," Wade said to herself. Much more coherent, now, she checked out the room in which she had been resting. It appeared to be a small medical facility with three beds. Two entire walls were lined with glass-doored storage cabinets containing equipment and pharmaceuticals. Different sections were labeled and color-coded. "Heart" medications were red. The "Arthritis" section was orange. And one section, with black and yellow colors, was labeled "Radiation". A knock at the door disturbed her snooping.

"You ready?" Bennish called.

"Yeah," Wade responded.

The door opened onto a short hallway. Bennish pointed out the other doors as they walked. "That one leads to the dressing room with radiation suits, the airlock, and the outside. The doors are computer controlled so that only one can be opened at a time and so they'll shut automatically if the sensors detect any radiation. My own design," he added proudly. "That one is my private room. The one at the end leads to the rest of the facility. And this one is the communications center, for talking to the other domes. I set up the food in here."

The "communications center", as Bennish called it, was a small room that contained assorted radio equipment along one wall, access to intercoms along a second wall, and assorted electronic gear along a third wall. He had set up a card table and two folding chairs in the limited empty space.

Wade was relieved to see the Timer sitting on the table, apparently undamaged. She picked it up and quickly checked its readouts. Twenty-nine hours and thirty-three minutes until the Slide. She put the Timer in her pocket.

Bennish smiled. "Don't worry," he said, "I wouldn't dream of damaging the Timer. It's, like, a work of art."

Wade smiled her thanks.

Bennish pulled out a tray crudely concealed from Wade's view by a folder. "It ain't much but, at this time of night, it's the best I can do without raising suspicions." He pulled the folder away to reveal a pitcher of water, two glasses, a plate with some crackers on it, a jar labeled "Tang", and a half-dozen tubes that looked liked they should be holding toothpaste or oil paints. "Survival food," Bennish explained. "If something ever happens to the good stuff, they have crates of this that they can live on."

"It's ... fine," Wade said, bewildered. She was about to eat food that people had stored in the event of a nuclear war. Despite having grown up during the tail end of the Cold War with its nuclear standoff, she never really considered what it would mean to have to survive after a nuclear war. "I'm so hungry, I could eat anything."

"That's good," Bennish said, "because that's how hungry you have to be to eat this crap."

Wade looked at him for a moment, trying to figure out if he was serious, but Bennish couldn't keep a straight face for very long. Every emotion was always right there on the surface. He broke into a wide grin. "Naw," he said. "It ain't that bad. Try the chicken-in-a-tube, there. It really does taste like chicken."

Wade couldn't help but laugh at the dumb joke.




The meal wasn't great, but there was enough to satisfy her hunger. The reason Bennish couldn't get anything else was that it was already after 2 a.m. when Wade finally woke up. After they ate, he warned her not to go into the rest of the facility and then went to his room to sleep.

Wade updated her journal with Beach World, Picnic World and a brief note about Dome World. Then she wandered back to the medical facility and continued checking the medical supplies. She knew it was kind of like checking someone's medicine cabinet but she was curious. When she was done, she crossed her arms and took in an overall view of the whole collection again. "Everything that an octogenarian would need," she said, disgustedly. "Nothing for maternity or child care. Bennish was right ... they are partying while the world ends."

Wade yawned widely. The sleep she'd gotten while recuperating apparently hadn't killed her weariness entirely. She lay on one of the beds, fully clothed, and stared at the ceiling for a long time, eventually dropping off. This time, her sleep was deep and dreamless.




Wade awoke to find Bennish moving medical supplies. "What time is it?" she asked.

"Almost ten. I forgot that today is inventory day. I'm supposed to get this to my dad by noon, but I'm behind. He's gonna be, like, totally ripped if I'm late. He might even come down here."

Wade rolled out of bed. "Give me a minute to freshen up and I'll help," she said.

Ninety minutes later, they completed the inventory. While Wade made a meal of water, crackers and something out of a tube that misrepresented itself as tofu, Bennish delivered the inventory report to the elder Bennish in order to keep him away from Wade and the Timer. As she finished, the radio began signaling an incoming transmission. Wade looked to it in worry but Bennish walked through the door and tuned it in.

He leaned toward the microphone. "This is Bennish Dome. Repeat, this is Bennish Dome. Identify."

"This is Wing Dome, calling Bennish Dome. This is Wing Dome calling Bennish Dome. Is that you, Bennish?"

Bennish relaxed. "You know it, dude."

"Are we a go? Is it all set?"

Bennish glanced at Wade as if he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "One sec, dude."

Wing's reply was cut off as Bennish lowered the volume.

"Uhh, Wade ... I kinda got a favor to ask."

"What kind of favor?" Wade asked, suspecting that she already knew.

"I want to Slide with you. And I want to bring two friends along."

"The next world could be just like this one, but with no dome to protect you. Or it could be worse. Are you sure you want to take that chance? Are your friends sure?"

"The human race is already dead. They just don't know it, yet." He shrugged. "We wanna live."

Wade sagged a little. "Okay. I'll take you."

Grinning broadly, Bennish turned up the volume again.

"...you stoner son of a ...." Wing was ranting.

"Dude! It's okay. She said yes. Repeat, she said yes. Come on over."

After a pause, Wing said, "Great! I'll tell Lo-Lo. We'll be there before the deadline. Wing out."

"Bennish out and clear." He put down the microphone and leaned back in his chair.

"I hope you know what you're doing," Wade said to him.

"You know it, babe ... I mean, Wade," Bennish replied. "In fact, it's time for a celebration." He reached behind one of the radios, moved a loose piece of wall, reached in and came out with a package of licorice. "I was saving this for a special occasion. You want some?"

Wade smiled slightly, remembering another Bennish and another piece of licorice. "As long as you don't lick it, first."

Bennish looked puzzled. "Why would I do that?" Wade relaxed a bit. "Sounds cool, though," he added as he handed her a piece.

Wade shook her head. She was unleashing Bennish and two others on an unsuspecting world. Wing was probably the same Wing that Quinn knew as well, although there was little sense asking Bennish about that. Since this Bennish seemed a lot like the Bennish Quinn knew, she could bet that Wing was probably similar as well: a competent, buttoned-down Asian-American without Quinn's (or Bennish's) genius but with a streak of practicality. Still .... "Who is 'Lo-Lo'?" Wade asked.

"Wing's girlfriend," Bennish replied. "Each of them takes care of a dome similar to this one."

"Did any other of your friends survive?"

"Sure. Nearly my whole doctoral level physics class was drafted into one dome or another. People with skills handling radiation, and who weren't in the military, were at a premium. But they're too far away to get here before the Slide. Only Wing-man and his girl can get here in time."

"Bennish," Wade said slowly, "What about the other people in this dome? I know they're just partying until the end, but if you're not here to take care of things, and the other two aren't in their domes, what happens?"

Bennish was silent for a long moment, then said, "They'll just have to take care of their own grunt work and inventories. And if they don't, then their party is shorter than it would have been ... their fault."

"So they'll be okay, otherwise?"

"Yeah," Bennish said. "Unless someone messes with 'em, these domes are pretty self-sufficient."

"If you say so," Wade said.

"So," Bennish said, "Tell me about the worlds you've seen."

For the rest of the afternoon, Wade told Bennish stories of some of the various worlds she'd seen, from the boring ones, to the ones with monsters and with people who were worse than the monsters. Bennish, in his turn, told her what he knew of the history of his Earth and how France became a superpower, and what the war was like.

"How long ago was it?" Wade asked.

"About ... eighteen months, now. Both sides thought the other was bluffing. It was, like, both sides were saying 'If anyone messes with us ... boom!' Only, both sides messed with the other and both sides launched. When San Francisco and Oakland went up, the light from the blasts actually blinded one pompous old windbag who refused to wear the polarized goggles because she thought they ruined the way her face looked. It was only temporary, though. She can see fine, now."

"Surely some people must have come to these domes, asking to be let in."

"Yeah," Bennish said. "Lucien, my father's chief of security, was in charge of guarding the doorway. The keypad outside is electrified. If you had tried to enter a code and entered the wrong one, you would have been electrocuted. You're lucky you just pounded on the door." He paused, then said, softly, "A lot of others weren't."

"You let them die out there?"

"Hey, it wasn't my call. They locked me out of this area until after the refugees stopped coming. Afterward, I took over one of the rooms here as my private quarters, so I wouldn't have to deal with the others. Most of them were having a costume party while people were dying outside."

"That's terrible."

"Yeah," Bennish agreed. "I ...."

"What?" Wade asked.

"It's almost dinner time. You want to go get some real food?"

"But I thought you said I can't be seen."

"They're having a costume party tonight. And I know just the costume for you to wear."




"I don't know about this," Wade said inside her "costume" as they approached the dining area.

"Look, just keep calling yourself 'Lo-Lo'. You're visiting from another dome and, since we didn't have any extra costumes that could fit you, you're wearing your radiation suit. And since, like, I didn't want you to be left out, I'm wearing mine. Just chill. The darkened visor will keep anyone from seeing your face and the filters in the hood will disguise your voice. They're gonna kick us out anyway but at least we can get some good food first and remind 'em what's really going on out there. Just grab a plate, load it with what you want, and follow my lead."

Wade had never really been comfortable as the center of attention in a room full of strangers. She had doubles who were corporate heads and rebel leaders, but she would much rather have just maintained a low profile. Still, she needed Bennish's help to remain unobtrusive until the Slide and she knew that if she annoyed him too much, all he had to do was tell someone and she'd be trapped in this dome forever, or thrown out in the wasteland ... probably the latter. When she walked into the dining area, though, she became the focus of all eyes. Being hidden inside the suit, though, gave her a bit of freedom and she quickly regained her composure and looked around. "Dining area" was a misnomer. "Grand Ballroom" would be closer. The room was in the center of the dome and its ceiling was the highest point of the dome, which had been decorated with dozens of lights so that no one could actually look outside. Most of the people were dressed in fancy 18th century style costumes, although some wore more modern things like the overweight, balding superhero dancing with the matronly Madonna (from her early period, with the undergarments worn outside the clothes). All of them, though, looked at Wade and Bennish and their reactions ranged form gasps to cries to outraged muttering.

"Come on," Bennish said. "Let's grab some food."

Wade could barely see through the darkened visor so she told the serving chef to just give her two plates with samples of everything. The man looked over her shoulder, nodded and then began filling plates.

"Who is this, Conrad? And why is she here wearing ... that?"

"Chill, Dad. This is Lo-Lo. You met her once, the time you came to pull me out of school and put me to work here."

Wade started to extend a hand but the elder Bennish ignored her.

"Why are you wearing that?"

"It's a costume party, right? She didn't bring a costume so we decided to wear the suits."

Conrad Bennish, Sr. looked like he'd swallowed a bug. "Get out. Just take your food and get out. Both of you." He turned and walked away. "It's okay!" he announced to the others. "They're leaving!"

Bennish leaned over to Wade and said, "See? No problemo."

Wade took her two plates, Bennish took one plate and a bottle of wine and they left.

Back in the communications room, Wade had to admit that the food was wonderful: eggplant parmesan, oysters rockefeller, chicken cordon bleu, shrimp cocktail, fresh bread with butter, canned pears in syrup, and a very good white wine that tasted every bit as expensive as the fine food. The only lack was fresh fruit.

"They couldn't find a way to keep fruit trees growing in the dome," Bennish explained. "The power requirements were too massive. In the end, they went with canned fruit instead, and that's almost gone."

"That's why you couldn't wait to eat the apple pie that was in my pocket," Wade said.

"Yeah," Bennish replied. "Fresh, homemade apple pie. Just think ... this time tomorrow, I might actually get to eat it again, and my dad never will."

"You and he really don't get along, do you?"

"He wouldn't even make room in his precious dome for my girlfriend and her family," Bennish said. "They weren't of 'the right class' to be allowed in. She died when the mushroom hit Oakland."

"I'm so sorry," Wade said.

"It was a while ago," Bennish replied. "I can accept that she's gone. It's the fact that he's still here that bugs the crap out of me."

A red light started flashing.

"Damn," Bennish said. "Someone's coming. Follow me." Wade followed him out of the room. He opened the door that led to the room with the radiation suits. "When I close this door, open the other one and crouch down in the right hand corner. That way, the camera won't see you. And whatever you do, don't hit the red button that says 'OUT' or you'll be outside in the radiation again."

"Okay," Wade said, forcing herself to trust him. She followed his instructions and crouched in the corner of the airlock. Belatedly, she realized that the Timer was in the communications room.

Meanwhile, Conrad Bennish, Sr., was in a fury. "How dare you bring in a guest to this dome unannounced? Don't you realize that every time we open the door to the outside, we risk exposure to the whole dome?"

"Shyeah," the younger Bennish retorted. "I programmed the safety protocols. And I run safety checks before and after I open the doors."

"That's bad enough," his father continued, not having heard a word, "but showing up to our soiree in radiation suits? Completely unacceptable! Where is this 'friend' of yours now?"

"She left right after dinner." Bennish noticed the Timer sitting on the card table with the remains of their meal. He tried to ignore it.

"So you opened the doors a second time without authorization? Unbelievable!" His father turned away. "No, don't even try to explain. Your face shows all the guilt I need to see. Had anyone else done this, I would have ordered their banishment outside. If you weren't my son ...."

Bennish slipped the Timer into his pocket and kept his mouth shut. His father could say what he wanted, as long as he didn't interfere with the Slide.

"Tomorrow, you're moving back to the main complex with the rest of us," his father went on. "Then, tomorrow afternoon, you'll reprogram the doorways to accept only Lucien's or my own access code."

Bennish's resolve to remain quiet fled in the face of this insult, being forced to program himself out of the system. "You know what? I'm cool with that. I'm tired of being one of the servants. One of your friends can take inventory and man the radio."

"Oh, you'll still be responsible for those things. We're just going to make sure you can't open any doors."

Bennish shook his head. "What time is your attack dog Lucien gonna come make me move in the morning?" Bennish asked.

"That's Mr. Ducharme to you, boy. He'll be here at 9 a.m."

"Tell him not to touch my stuff. I'll move it myself."

The elder Bennish shook his head. "I can only hope that living with polite company will teach you a little respect." He left without saying another word. He'd made his decision and he expected it to be obeyed.

Bennish dropped onto one of the chairs and waited until his father had left, then gave a slow ten count. Only then did he go to the intercom, open a channel to the airlock and say, "You can come back, now."

After a moment, Wade appeared in the doorway.

"What happened?"

"Tomorrow, at 9:00, he's going to force me to move back into the dome, then he wants me to give all access over the doors to him and Lucien. What time is the Slide?"

"Tomorrow, around 8:30."

"Good. I'm gonna hit the sack. Wing and Lo-Lo should be here early and I want to be awake to let them in."

"You're sure no one will wander in here tonight. After that scene at the party ...."

Bennish grinned. "That was, like, great, wasn't it?"

Wade shook her head. "That was scary. But about someone finding out I'm here?"

Bennish went to a computer keyboard and typed in a long string of characters. "There. Now no one can get in here unless I unfreeze the doors."

"No one?"

"No one, no way. I programmed the system, remember? I can do anything here." He rose and walked to the door. "And now, foxy lady, I'll see you tomorrow."

Wade watched him go with a mixture of admiration and unease. Still, she had no choice. "Yeah, keep telling yourself that," she muttered as she headed to the medical facility for one more night.




Wade's sleep was light and uneasy. She was afraid that someone would find her and stop her from Sliding, or that she'd sleep too late and miss the Slide altogether. As a result, she awoke quickly when she heard the outer airlock door opening. The medical facility's clock said it was 7:51. Just enough time to wake up and Slide out, assuming that what she heard was the arrival of Bennish's friends.

She gathered her jacket and made sure the Timer was accessible, then she went to the communications room.

Bennish was there, confirming the decontamination of the two radiation-suited figures. "They're here," he said. "Great timing, too. It'll take about fifteen minutes for the de-con process to be complete, if you wanna grab a bite before the Slide."

"Sure," Wade replied, suddenly nervous for some reason. She went to the table and managed to eat a few crackers and drink some water. She kept glancing at the monitors, knowing that she had been brought into the dome the same way, except without a radiation suit.

Finally, the airlock telltale light switched from red to green, indicating no radiation danger, and the inner door opened. Bennish got up and Wade followed him out. The inner door was just opening and Wing stepped out. He was just as Wade remembered from the doubles she'd met and Quinn's description, except he seemed a bit ... edgier ... darker. Wade shook her head. Of course, he was dark and edgy. He had survived a nucelar war and he was about to travel to a parallel Earth for the first time. His companion was just taking off her hood ... and Wade stopped short.

"Logan St. Clair?" she managed to croak out.

"Whoa," Bennish said. "You know Lo-Lo?"

"So this is Wade the Slider," Logan said. "Pleased to meet you." She held out her hand to Wade.

Wade backed off. Intellectually, she knew this wasn't the same woman that had tried to kill Arturo on Blackout World but, emotionally, she still remembered Logan trying to shoot her in a rage after following them to another world.

"What's wrong with her?" Logan asked. "Don't they shake hands on her Earth?"

"Sorry," Wade said finally. "I had a bad experience with one of your doubles once. I just never put 'Lo-Lo' and 'Logan' together."

Wing smiled. "We call her that because she's crazy," he said. "It's a Hawaiian term my mother taught me."

Logan smiled at Wing, then turned to Wade. "And that's why I call him 'Wingnut' ... because he thinks I'm crazy and he still loves me."

Wing laughed. "Hey, I just rigged the doors to open. You're the one who planted explosives." He turned to Bennish. "How are you rigged?"

"Wait a minute," Wade interrupted. "Rigged the doors? Explosives? What's going on?"

Logan looked at Bennish. "You didn't tell her?"

"Like, I forgot, okay?" Bennish said a bit sheepishly. "I got something to do first. You explain it to her." He left and ducked into the medical facility.

Logan turned to Wade and said, "We can't afford to have any of them following us, so we made sure the domes that we ran will be compromised. No survivors."

Wade covered her mouth with her hand in horror. "You murdered them?"

"They murdered the world," Wing said. "They could have saved the human race, or at least prevented a new dark age, but they chose to ignore the world and live it up."

"You are still going to let us Slide with you," Logan said, coming close to Wade. "Right?"

"Right," Wade said. There was nothing she could do. She was outnumbered by people willing to kill. She had to take them along. She pulled out the Timer. "Five minutes."

"Yo, Bennish!" Wing called. "Five minutes."

Bennish reappeared. He was stuffing a box of radiation treatment drugs into a backpack already full of them.

"What's that for?" Logan asked.

"If the next world has radiation, too, we'll need these. If not, maybe we can sell it to raise some quick cash ... maybe even be famous."

Logan nodded. "Good thinking. So how did you rig this place?"

"It's beautiful. And my dad gave me the idea. I reprogrammed the computer to accept his personal code for all of the doors, internal and external. When he uses his code, it will open every door in the dome and then crash the system. I just wish I could be around to see his face when he realizes what happened." Bennish grinned, proud of what he'd done.

"One minute," Wade said, just wanting this waking nightmare to be over.

A pounding on a door behind them got their attention. Lucien and Conrad Bennish, Sr., were at the door leading back to the main dome area.

"They're early," Bennish said.

Logan and Wing just waved at them.

Wade said, "Ten seconds."

Bennish yelled, "Dad! Use your personal code on the door!"

Wade pushed the button to open the vortex as Mr. Bennish started entering his code. The second the wormhole was open, she jumped through.

Wing and Logan joined hands and jumped after her.

Bennish waited until the outer door began opening, then the door between the airlock and the changing room. Alarms began going off all over the dome. Bennish got to see the look on his father's face, then jumped through just before the vortex closed.

Whatever Sliding alone had been like, Wade preferred it to Sliding with three insane, murderous people. She felt ... unclean ... and she couldn't wait for the Slide to be over.

The wormhole threw her out onto a grassy area next to a street. She recognized it: the edge of Golden Gate Park. She looked around for any sign that this might be her Earth, but when she saw the billboard stating that Jerry Garcia was running for re-election as president of the United States, she knew she wasn't. When she saw the street peddler selling marijuana and LSD, and the cop buying from him, she knew Bennish would be right at home.

While she was looking around, Wing and Logan tumbled out in each other's arms.

"Let's do that again!" Logan yelled. "That was almost as good as sex!"

"I dunno," Wing said. "That landing was rough."

"So, what Earth are we on?" Logan asked Wade.

"I don't know," Wade said. "I've never been here before, but it looks like the 60's never ended. Drugs, at least some of them, are legal and Jerry Garcia is president."

"Who's Jerry Garcia?" Wing asked as Bennish came tumbling out of the wormhole just before it closed.

"Whoooah!!!"

"On my Earth, he was a guitarist and lead singer of a 60's group whose fans were known for smoking pot and following the band around on tour. I guess, here, since the people liked what he sang, they made him the president. If anything, this should be a peaceful world for you to start over."

"One ride to a customer, huh?" Logan asked.

"Look," she said, trying to stand up to Logan. "I agreed to get you off that world, despite not knowing what you were going to do. This world seems peaceful so you can live your life here without a nuclear war." She pulled out the Timer and checked it. "I'm here for almost three weeks. If things start to look nasty, you can meet me back here for the Slide. Nineteen days, six hours and six minutes from now. Okay?"

"Okay," Logan said. "But even if it's safe, if we don't like it here, we're gonna meet back here anyway."

"Fine," Wade said, putting away the Timer. "I need to go find a job. I'll see you here in nineteen days." She walked away slowly, without looking back.

When she was out of earshot, Logan said, "We should take the Timer away from her and go exploring. I'm sure I can backwards engineer Sliding if I have the Timer. What do you think, Wingnut?"

Wing nodded. "Later, Lo-Lo. For now, let's enjoy three weeks in hippie-world."

Bennish grinned. "Way ahead of you, dude," he called as he headed for the drug peddler.

Wade tried to keep her heart from racing. She walked out of the park, across the street, down three blocks and then into a deserted alley. Looking around, she pulled out the Timer just as it began beeping. "Nineteen days ... nineteen minutes ... an easy mistake," she said. She felt a little guilty, leaving those three psychopaths on this world, but this was only the second Logan St. Clair she'd met and they were both evil. Giving her any chance to get access to the Timer was a monumentally bad idea.

She shuddered, then pushed the button and jumped into the vortex again. On the next world, Wade thought to herself, she was definitely going to need a bath.



THE END


Earth 1120


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