TITLE: "Excerpts 1997-1998"|
Series: "Wade Welles, Slider"
Series Timeline: D-03
Spoilers/References: Anything in the first three seasons.
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-13, just to be on the safe side.
Archiving: Yes, please. Just let me know where it is archived so that, if I ever revise the story, I can send you the revised copy.
Author's Note: This represents highlights of the year of Sliding after the story "Alone".
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, series timeline D-zero) to find out how and why she started Sliding alone.
What follows are excerpts from the Times Best Seller "Interdimensional Gypsy: The Story of Wade Welles, Slider". Published in 2005 and edited by J.T. Heyman, it's the allegedly true account of a young woman who travels between alternate worlds. Ms. Welles disappeared a month ago, just as her book was released. Her publisher released the following statement: "Ms. Welles went Sliding again ... travelling between worlds with her companions. We only hope that she comes back one day to write the sequel."
· · ·
I despised that world. Back on Earth Prime they said, "Chivalry is dead," as if that were a bad thing. I know better. In the kingdom of New Cornwall, chivalry was alive and kicking. Unfortunately, the kicking was usually done by those in power and everyone else got kicked. If you were a noble, chivalry meant you could be challenged to a contest of arms over the slightest infraction of some idiotic code and the loser would forfeit his horse, his armor and probably his life. That's if you were a man. If you were a noble woman, you sat in the castle and embroidered until you were sold into marriage for an alliance or as a bribe so that your realm wouldn't be invaded. And if you weren't a noble, well ....
Working as a scullery maid in the castle of Lord Gryphon wasn't so bad. He was one of the good ones. At least, he kept his men-at-arms from abusing the servants and made sure his subjects were fed and sheltered. Then, one day, he had to play host to Simon, Lord Orsini. Things went downhill ... fast.
Lord Orsini's son, Michael, found me, writing in my journal. For three weeks, I'd been super careful because servants weren't supposed to be able to read or write. No one in the castle ever came to the lower garden. It was overgrown because Lord Gryphon's father had ordered it left untended after his wife, the current lord's mother, had died. The son had continued the tradition of his father. I didn't think anyone would find me there when I needed to get away from all the bowing and scraping. I hadn't counted on the curiosity of the younger Orsini. He's a monster of chivalry, all about his power as a lord and everyone else would kneel before him or suffer the consequences. My blood ran cold when he smiled after seeing me writing in my journal.
The other shoe dropped. Michael Orsini's son tried to rape me. First, he tried to coerce me with the threat of revealing my ability to read and write but, when I said no, he said it was his "right" as a lord to "bed any wench I choose" and grabbed me. I introduced him to the concept of "no means no" with a well-placed knee. Unfortunately, I then had to run for my life. Luckily, there was only a day left until the Slide....
· · ·
I know that this world never had an Alfred Hitchcock but, if you knew the reference, you'd understand why I called it that. Hitchcock directed a movie called "The Birds" in which a huge flock of birds basically go nuts and attack a small town. This is how it happened on Hitchcock World.
I had been there for a day and half, with two more to go. Three-day Slides were a rarity, so I usually used them as vacation time and writing time. In the months since I'd started Sliding alone, I was usually on a world for a few minutes, when there was no time to do anything, or a few weeks, when I had to go to work. I'm not sure why. Frankly, the physics and math are beyond me. I just hope that if the Timer ever starts to act up, I'll be able to find a friendly physicist to help me.
Right then, though, I wanted to try writing poetry and songs. If nothing else, I'd had a lot of experiences to draw from. I didn't get to write too much, though, before ....
"Wow. There are an awful lot of seagulls out there," I said, trying to make small talk.
"What?!" Amy shouted. "Why didn't you tell me?!"
"What is it?" I asked, but Amy was already on the phone.
"Sheriff! The gulls are gathering!" she yelled into the receiver, then slammed it down. She ran to the windows and began closing the heavy shutters I'd noted earlier. "Help me!" she yelled at me.
Wade's Rules of Sliding # 8: When the locals start running for cover, it's a good idea to do the same until you find out what's going on.
I began helping her close the shutters when the warning sirens began wailing.
That's when the kitchen door's shutter gave way. A huge raven flew through the opening so fast, I didn't have time to do more than raise my arms. One of his claws ripped right through my shirt, carving a deep gash in my left shoulder. Gus managed to put up another piece of plywood over the opening to prevent any of the other birds from getting in. The raven turned toward him. That's when Amy, her red hair flying, hit it with a frying pan. If I wasn't in so much pain, it would have been funny, like one of those old TV shows.
Things quieted down at dawn, which was a good thing. I really didn't want to open the vortex inside Amy's house. That would have been rude. I went outside as the Timer neared zero. It was creepy ... all those birds just sitting there, watching us, slowly flying off in twos and threes.
The thing is, I think one of the birds from Hitchcock World might have followed me through the wormhole....
· · ·
One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is how a different culture could be ruling over California from parallel Earth to parallel Earth, but people are often just people, with the same hopes, dreams ... and prejudices ... as the Earth from which I started. The faces and the names change, but the people are the same, both good and bad. Like the Earth on which China had colonized the West Coast before the Europeans got there.
I was working for EuroBurger, a cheap take-out place offering "ethnic" European food, in much the same way Chinese take-out places operated back on Earth Prime. The food had ethnic style, but was drastically changed to meet the taste buds of the ruling Chinese culture. I mean, seriously, soy sauce on french fries? Still, it was a job, and not too disagreeable, even if the ruling Chinese class looked down on us "foreign devils" as below dogs in the order of things.
I was taking out the Tuesday dinner shift's trash when I saw it: a white woman, a "quai loh", being beaten by a Chinese man. He had thrown her out the back door of the business down the alley and began kicking her and hitting her with something ... a long soup spoon I think. I was about to go try and intervene when I felt a hand on my arm, stopping me.
"Mr. Chang?" I asked, looking at the man who was half-owner and silent partner at EuroBurger. Piao Chang had always been kind to me, but I didn't understand why he was blocking me now.
"That's Liu Chang, one of my cousins," he said. "He owns the Iron Bowl restaurant."
"He's beating that woman," I said, trying to pull free.
Mr. Chang held onto me tighter. "She works for him. She's being punished for some infraction, whether real or imagined. And she's illegal ... like you."
"That doesn't give him the right to ...."
"Yes, it does," he said, "according to our laws. Illegals have no rights."
"I can't do nothing!" I said.
He sighed. "You must. When it is over, then you can help me take the woman to a shelter I know. They will treat her injuries and, if donations have been good this month, they'll arrange to send her back home." Mr. Chang looked at me with sadness in his eyes. "It is all we can do."
"It's not fair," I said.
"Life is not fair," he said to me. "This is simply one thing you must learn in your journey through life. And another is that you cannot change the world. Change yourself, if you must. Live your own life according to your own rules. But if you try to change the world, you will find only failure and sorrow."
"But I have changed the world before," I told him. "On other worlds," I added, taking a risk.
"Have you?" he asked. "Are you sure that anything had really changed when you left those other worlds to come to this one? Or did you merely disrupt the order of things by your presence, which returned to its path once you had departed?"
Before I could answer, he pointed down the alley. "My thrice-cursed cousin has finished and returned to his restaurant. Come, help me with the woman."
I wondered a long time about Mr. Chang's words. Could I change anything? Or was each world locked into its path? Was that the most I could do: help the occasional woman beaten by her employer? What did that mean for Sliding? What would be the point? I wasn't sure there was one....
· · ·
I met him on an Earth that was close to Earth Prime in many ways, but not perfect. He was a college professor at California University ... anthropology. I met him first in the college library where I was using the quiet space to write, and then again while I was tending bar at the local watering hole. We hit it off almost immediately. He had that "geek with a sense of adventure" aura that I seem to find myself always being attracted to.
We went to a Middle Eastern place, specializing in the foods of Egypt. I think I could be falling for him. The thing is, although I think he'd understand about Sliding, I don't think he'd go with me if I asked. His work is far too important to him, especially now that he's up for several grants which would let him travel to faraway places and study the locals.
Wow. That was ... better than Sliding.
"But surely you don't believe that," he said to me, caressing the scar left by the raven on Hitchcock World.
"I don't know," I said. "It makes sense, in a way. I mean, what can one person do to change the course of a whole planet? Maybe all we can do is to affect one person at a time."
Daniel sat up and looked at me intently. "Wade, I don't know what happened to you, but isn't it possible that this Piao Chang was simply someone whose upbringing, whose culture, simply didn't believe in the power of one person to make a global difference? For example, many Taoists don't. There's even a verse to that effect in the Tao Te Ching. What you have to decide is whether you should stop trying."
"I don't know," I said again. "Quinn, a friend of mine, thought so, but.... Sometimes, I think a planet is just too big to change."
"Give me a lever and a place to stand, and I will move the world."
"Archimedes. In this case, I think it means that you can't always change the way things are, but if you apply the right push in the right place at the right time, you can move the world."
I thought about that for a moment, then smiled. "I love it when you talk that way."
Yup. Still better than Sliding.
Daniel left yesterday. His grants had run out and he got an offer from the government to do some translation. (After all, he can read and speak over a dozen languages.) He said he couldn't tell me any more. And besides, I'd told him I was leaving town in a few days anyway. I never did actually tell him about Sliding. I think we both knew that our time together was always going to be ... brief ... and now it was over....
· · ·
Ghost Cat World
For several days, I'd been wondering why everyone walked around skittishly. Finally, I had to ask someone. Sia seemed less affected than most of the others so, after the bar closed down, I asked her, "What's with everyone?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, resting her carpet-broom for a moment.
"Everyone seems so ... skittish ... and exhausted ... like they've seen a ghost or something."
Sia stared at me for a long time. "You really don't know, do you?"
Uh oh. What had I said? I continued wiping down the bar as casually as possible. "Know what?"
Sia dropped the broom and came over to the bar, looking me straight in the eyes. "Who are you? Where are you from?" she asked with an edge of intimidation.
"You know me," I said, trying to calm her down. "I'm Wade. I started out in San Francisco but I travel a lot."
"Uh uh. There's got to be more to it if you don't know about the ghosts."
"Yeah. The ghosts. How come you don't know about them?"
I'd really put my foot in it this time. I'd have to tell her the truth. I just hoped she could handle it.
"...and that's how I ended up here," I said, taking a sip of my coffee. The tale had taken longer than I thought, and we'd ended up at an all-night diner.
"That is a wild story, girl," Sia said after a moment. She drained her coffee and motioned to the waitress for a refill.
"It's all true," I said, shrugging. "So, now will you tell me about the ghosts?"
"I don't know how it is in your world but, here, if you kill something, its ghost follows you around for the rest of your life."
"What, you mean like if you step on an ant?"
"Naw. Only mammals. People, dogs, cats, mice, rats and on and on."
"But you're talking about murdering them, right? Like shooting them?"
"Naw, girl. If you're responsible for the death of an animal, then its ghost will follow you forever. Shooting, hitting them with a car, setting a trap for the rats ... any of them will create a ghost."
"Are ... are any ghosts with you, now?"
"Girl, except for the Buddhists, and apparently you, we've all got ghosts. Mine are just a couple of mice and rats I killed with traps in my apartment. Better a few ghosts than whatever disease those little nasties might be carrying."
A few days later, I was driving back from an errand (I had borrowed Sia's car) when it happened. A ball of gray fur darted out in front of me and there was no time to stop. There was a sickening thud under the tires. I pulled over immediately, shaken. When I got out, the people on the sidewalks were studiously avoiding me, putting as much space between themselves and the accident as possible. I went behind the car and saw it ... a small, gray kitten, lying in the road. It was dead. There was no collar, no tags. I could feel the tears in my eyes, partly because of what I had done, partly because I was remembering my own kitty, several years ago, back on Earth Prime,
"Does anyone know whose kitten this is?" I said, but no one replied. They seemed surprised by the fact that I had even stopped but they were keeping their distance, as if they were afraid that....
I spun around and saw a wavering, hazy image of a gray kitten, staring at me. I looked back at the dead kitten and then at the spectral one. It was the same cat.
"I'm sorry," I said to it, still crying. "I couldn't stop in time."
It mewed again. So. This was what everyone else was dealing with.
"Ah, don't worry about it, girl," Sia told me. "Trust me, you're probably better off with a ghost cat than with the ghost rats I have to deal with."
"But I killed a kitten."
"It was an accident. These things happen."
I looked over to the corner of the bar where the kitten was washing itself. The man sitting there had no idea that he kept putting his beer mug through the ghost every time he set it down. "I don't understand how you all deal with it."
Sia looked at me and her tough-as-nails expression softened for a moment. "It's life. We deal. What other choice do we have?"
Eventually, I named the ghost kitten. I thought about calling him Quinn, but I just couldn't do it. I couldn't call a ghost Quinn. Quinn Mallory was still too alive to me. So I called him Swayze. I think he was amused by the name. I would talk to him all the time, which kind of freaked out other people. They all apparently behaved as if the ghosts weren't there, the way some people ignore the homeless, the panhandlers and the scary people on the bus. "If you pretend they aren't there, maybe they won't bother you" seemed to be the standard operating procedure.
"I can't do that," I told Sia. "Swayze behaves like a real cat. And besides, I kind of like him ... when he isn't doing anything particularly ghost-like. I like having him around when I write. I read some of it to him and he listens to me. I think maybe he knows what I'm saying."
"Weird, Wade. That's just weird."
"Here, Swayze. Let's set up your kitty bed over here by mine."
Swayze looked at me, then dutifully inspected his new bed with the red bow, as if he hadn't been at the pet store with me. The bed was more than I would have liked to pay, probably because very few people kept mammals as pets, for fear of adding to their ghosts. Birds and fish were the common pets on that world ... no ghosts. Still, it made me feel better.
I "borrowed" the laser pointer from one of the hotel's conference rooms. Swayze liked it, just as if he was a real cat. He chased the beam of light all around the room. When I laughed from the pleasure of watching him, he looked at me with all the dignity he could muster. It was one of those intense cat-stares, the kind when you could swear they're trying to talk to you. He ignored the light and came over to me, walking through the ottoman as if to deliberately remind he was a ghost, and jumped up on the bed.
Then he purred.
As the Slide approached, I began to worry. Having a ghost cat on a world where they were common was one thing, but what was I going to do with a ghost cat on other Earths?
"I don't know what's going to happen, Swayze. I wish I could hold you and let you know that."
That's the downside of a ghost cat. There's nothing to hug.
It was finally time for the Slide. I looked over at Swayze, sitting regally in his kitty bed, watching me prepare. "Here goes," I said. I pushed the button.
The vortex formed and Swayze showed no fear at all. I remembered Quinn saying how freaked out his cat Shroedinger had been every time he activated the wormhole, but Swayze calmly walked over to me and stared at the vortex.
"In case I don't see you again, good bye, Swayze. I'll miss you."
I jumped in the wormhole and was surprised to see him jump in with me.
As we Slid, I could have sworn I heard a voice half-say and half-purr, "I'm free now. Thank you."
When I arrived at the other side, there was no sign of Swayze the ghost kitten anywhere....
· · ·
I hated that one. What would you do in a Los Angeles where everyone was always betting on everything, where wagers had to be made and accepted all the time, on everything, and people have learned to cheat? I lost most of my money on that awful world just trying to keep possession of the Timer and to keep my body in one piece. Luckily, I was only there for a few days.
In a quiet moment, I remembered Remmy and I knew he would have loved this world. The man would bet on anything, whether he really understood it or not. He'd have been in his element. On the other hand, my "virtue", such as it is, would have been in jeopardy the whole time if he'd been there. Quinn could've cleaned up at the blackjack tables though.
I finally made one bet I knew I could win but which I knew I could never collect. That was the trick. While you have one active bet going on, you don't have to bet on anything else. The con artists of L.A. preyed on tourists, like me, who didn't know that rule.
The bet? That I would be able to disappear off the face of the planet at a particular time, the time of the Slide.
Boy, won't they be surprised....
· · ·
I know Sliding is never time travel, but when you end up in a place where the technology level is obviously at some point before or after our own, it's hard to remember that. On this particular world, it was early 1998 but, from everything I saw, it looked just like the late 1800's ... from the clothing to the bicycles to the working conditions to the lack of rights for women.
I finally got a job in a sweatshop. They pay by the piece instead of an hourly wage, but I should be able to make enough to survive until the Slide. The problem with these time-shift worlds is that the money is never the standard American money ... all the presidents are different.
It's harder than I thought, working by the piece. I spend nearly twelve hours a day sewing, just to afford the lousy room and a little food. I don't know how single women managed to survive back in those days. That must explain why so many of them married anyone they could. I've got to find another way.
Well, I was fired. I temporarily forgot where I was and let the foreman know exactly what I thought about the working conditions. I think he wasn't used to anyone using that kind of language, especially a woman. I saw smiles on the faces of several women before they ducked their heads and went back to their work. Who knows? Maybe I started women's lib. Now, though, I have to find another job.
I didn't know I could be so hungry. I'd take the chance of stealing some food, if it wasn't for the risk that they'd take away the Timer. Still, I'll make it ... somehow.
I did it! I got a job that'll keep me sheltered and well-fed until the Slide!
I was singing in the street for spare change. (Now I know what Rembrandt went through when we made him do that. Sorry, Remmy, wherever you are.) Anyway, the police were rousting me when this large, well-dressed black man, Rodney Price, tells them to stop. He gave the two cops a payoff and then he turned to me and said, "I just helped you. Now I want you to help me."
"What do you want?" I asked him, fearing the answer.
"You can sing," he said, smiling, knowing what I'd been thinking. "Can you do anything else?"
"I can play piano a bit ... and I write my own songs."
"That one you were singing. Was it one of yours?"
"Excellent. You're hired. I own a club called Frost & Fire. Come with me and we'll sign the contracts."
"Wait," I said. "What are the terms?" I may have been hungry, but I wasn't stupid.
"Don't worry," he said. "You're too skinny to be my type. You sing and play, I give you enough for a decent room, food and clothing. Since I'll have to buy your clothes for you to perform, I keep the extra until you're paid up, at which point, the extra is yours."
I thought it over for all of two seconds. "Deal," I said.
"What's your name?"
"Wade ... Wade Welles."
"Wade," he said, as if tasting the name. "Unusual. And the repeated initials are always a good selling point. I like it. You don't have to change it. Now, come on. I haven't got all day." He paused and added, "Unless you like singing in the street for pennies."
The last three weeks have been ... comfortable. From now on, I'll have to start looking for performing gigs instead of always shooting for the low-profile jobs. Tonight's my last night, although Mr. Price doesn't know that. No, his prize singer will disappear suddenly after her last song, without a trace.
I stepped up to the piano to loud applause. I had built a reputation quickly for my "new" style of songs, which I didn't think were quite up to par, yet, but the crowd seemed to enjoy them. And I was still a new enough attraction that people kept coming to see me, although I had heard that a few of my songs were already being copied in other clubs, much to the dismay of Mr. Price. The audience quieted down as I sat at the piano and began to play.
"My last song tonight is a new one. I call it Always Leaving. I hope you like it."
I'm leaving tonight, always leaving
You don't know that I'm leaving, always leaving
I've seen things you just can't imagine
And I can't stay
I've seen knights on white horses, fighting
I've seen birds on the wing by the thousands
I've seen love in a pair of blue eyes
And I can't stay
So I'm leaving tonight, always leaving
Don't you know that I'm leaving, always leaving
I've seen things that would freeze your very soul
And I can't stay
I've seen a woman beaten down in an alley
I've seen gamblers bet their lives on a whim
I've seen the ghost of a tiny gray kitten
And I can't stay
And I'm leaving tonight, always leaving
You left me once, so now I'm leaving
I've seen the love die in your eyes
And I can't stay
No, I can't stay.
So I'm leaving tonight, always leaving
Can't you see that I'm leaving, always leaving
Don't you know that I'm leaving, always leaving
Please ... ask ... me ... to ... stay.
I Slid to the sound of applause.
· · ·
"Interdimensional Gypsy: The Story of Wade Welles, Slider" is available at your local bookseller.