TITLE: "Before It Starts"|
Series: "Wade Welles, Slider"
Series Timeline: D-04
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 2006 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.
For Those Who Came In Late: This series follows 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. This is the sixth story I've written in this series, fifth in the chronology. The first four are available as part of Earth 1120 at: http://slidersweb.net/otherworlds/1120/index.htm
"Before It Starts"
Wade was in position for the Slide well in advance of the Timer hitting zero. She'd had a lot of practice. After all, she'd been doing this for nearly five years, the last eighteen months on her own.
Aaron would not be coming with her.
She let the thought roll around in her mind and found that it wasn't nearly as painful as she'd thought it would be. She'd met Aaron Lake almost immediately upon arriving on this world, eleven weeks and four days ago. He'd come around the corner to investigate the light of the vortex ... and the noise of her unceremonious arrival on a pile of trash cans. He'd fallen for her immediately. He'd helped her find an apartment and a job. It was his nature. He made a decision and then he followed it through all the way.
Under the intensity of his desire for her, she found herself desiring him, too. Eventually, she told him about Sliding. That led to the fight. Having fallen in love with her, he'd wanted to marry her and start a family immediately.
· · ·
"Sliding is no way to raise a child," Wade told him.
"You can stop Sliding," Aaron said matter-of-factly. "I'm sure Quinn and Maggie have either found home and settled down. Or else they're dead," he said, naming her worst fear.
"I can't believe that," she said. "I won't."
"I can't compete with the ghost of Quinn Mallory."
"You're not competing with him," Wade had tried to explain, wondering even now if it was true or not. "Why don't you come with me, Slide with me for a while?"
"I don't want to go to other worlds. I like it here. I want you to stay with me. I love you, Wade."
"I love you, too, Aaron but I don't want to stay here." She waved her hand at the pale green sky above them. "I miss blue skies."
"Damn it! You just don't want to give up Sliding on your stupid quest to find Quinn Mallory. It's been eighteen months, Wade, and how many times have you seen even just doubles of him, let alone found any sign of Quinn himself?"
"I know it'll take time," Wade said.
"So when is it time to admit that it's over? When is it time for you to have that family you always wanted?"
"Not yet," she said quietly.
"Not yet is gonna become never ... and sooner than you think. I'm sorry, Wade. I can't do this. Go if you have to go. Just don't expect me to wait for you to come back."
"That's your choice," Wade remembered saying. "Good-bye, Aaron."
· · ·
She wondered if she was ever really in love with Aaron or just grateful to him. She thought love would hurt more. The thing is, in the three days since the fight, she had come to the realization that maybe it really wasn't about Quinn any more. The truth of it was that she liked Sliding. Yes, she kept looking for Quinn and Remmy but it was half-hearted at best. She ... .
Her reverie was cut short by the beeping of the Timer. It was time. She hit the button to open the wormhole and the familiar reddish whirlpool manifested in front of her, like an old friend. She took one step forward and waited for the rush as it whisked her to her next destination. She remembered saying once that the ride was better than sex. She wouldn't go quite that far any more, not since Daniel, but the thrill never got old. Wade's last thought before the vortex grabbed her was to wonder what new world she'd see next. Maybe she'd even find Quinn this time ... or at least one of his doubles.
She emerged on the other side in a tumbling roll. Glancing around, she saw that she was in Golden Gate Park again, the afternoon sun not quite warm in the early autumn sky. She pulled out her Timer to see how long she'd be there … less than forty-eight hours. Unusual. The longer she Slid, the longer her average stay on a new world was becoming. Several weeks, maybe a month was usual, now, with two months or longer becoming more frequent. Two days was a vacation. On the plus side, there was a photon trail. Someone had gone Sliding from this world.
"You're an interdimensional traveler," an all-too familiar voice said behind her. "I knew the wormhole opened onto a parallel world."
Wade turned slowly, steeling herself for yet another double of Quinn Mallory. Whatever she had been about to say, it died stillborn on her lips. "Quinn?" was all she could manage.
"Wait. How do you know my name? Who are you?"
Wade's mind reeled. I hate these worlds, she thought to herself. To the too-young man in front of her, she said, "I'm from a parallel Earth and I knew your double on my Earth. My turn. What year is it and how old are you?"
"You don't know what year it is?"
Wade sighed. Same old Quinn, asking questions and too-rarely giving answers. "Calendars change," she said, forestalling the whole "time moves slower on certain worlds" conversation for later.
"It's 1994 and I'm 22. I've gotta ask. How did you stabilize the wormhole?"
"I didn't. Your double did. Look, I've gotta check into a hotel. I'm here for two days. Do you know if there's a Dominion Hotel in San Francisco?"
"San Francisco? Where's that?"
Wade mentally kicked herself. The appearance of this Quinn had shaken her from her usual caution. "Uhh ... on a lot of worlds, this city is called San Francisco. What's it called here?"
"San Juan," the young man replied. "Look, why don't you stay at my place? My mom takes in guests from time to time. She says she's going to turn our house into a full-blown bed-and-breakfast once I graduate. Besides, I can fill you in on this world so you don't make any mistakes."
Well, you walked into this one, Wade thought to herself. To Quinn, she said, "That would be ... great."
Quinn drove his vintage BMW 2002 while Wade looked at the advertisements. It was always informative to see how the billboards and other signs formed a commentary on their world. This one seemed to be just like the world she came from ... as it was five years ago.
"You've been awfully quiet," Quinn ventured as he pulled up to a red light.
"Sorry," Wade replied. "I've been traveling on my own so much, I tend not to make small talk unless I'm working someplace that requires it."
"Wait a minute ... I know you now ... Wade Welles. I work with you ... I mean your double ... at Doppler Computer. But you look so different."
Wade sighed. "Green light," she said just as the driver of the car behind them leaned on his horn. As Quinn jackrabbited the Beemer, overcompensating, Wade took a deep breath. "I'm nearly five years older than the Wade you know. On my original Earth, it's 1999 now."
"But, according to Professor Arturo, parallel worlds should all be on the same date, not years apart."
"I'm no scientist but, if I remember correctly, there were two theories to explain shifts like this one. The first is that everything happened normally, just several years behind. If that first amino acid didn't form on your Earth until five years after it formed on mine, then you're five years behind. The other has something to do with days being shorter or something, so that although it's 1999 on both Earths, one has actually had more time than the other and is a bit further along. I'm guessing that, here, it's the amino acid theory but there'll never be any way to prove it." She paused to let him take it all in. As he opened his mouth to ask another question, she pre-empted him. "So, have you gotten it to work yet?"
"Your Sliding machinery. You knew I came from another dimension, so you must be working on it."
"Umm ... 'Sliding' machinery?"
"Oh, yeah ... that's what Quinn called it. Sliding."
"I like it."
Wade gave a small laugh. "I'm not surprised."
"Well, here we are," Quinn said, pulling up to the same old house the Mallory family owned on almost every Earth. "I just thought of something. Mom knows I work with Wade Welles, so we should probably say you're someone else ... I don't want to worry her."
"Has she ever met your Wade?"
"No ... not that I know of."
Wade thought briefly of some of the fake names she'd had to use over the years, on worlds where the paperwork was more important than the person: Natalie, Sarah, Terry. Shaking her head, she said, "Let's keep it simple. I'll be Kathleen Wade. If your mother makes any comments about my last name being Wade, we can say I'm a distant cousin of the Wade she knows about and that she was named after my great-uncle or something."
"Why are you named Wade?"
"Uh uh. One rule: no questions about my life before I began Sliding. I don't want you to have an unfair advantage over my double."
"Well that's not fair. You know a lot about me because you know my double."
Wade smiled impishly, then the smile turned sad.
"We have a lot to talk about," she said, "but first, let's go talk to your mother and find me a room."
· · ·
Amanda Mallory was preoccupied with a guest who wasn't happy with something about his room so Quinn checked Wade in and led her to her room.
It was small but comfortable ... homey, the way all good bed-and-breakfasts should be. Wade nodded her acceptance of the room. Opening a dresser drawer, she took her few possessions out of the oversized leather jacket she'd acquired on Aaron's World and placed them in the drawer. Her journal, a pen and pencil, a change of underwear and socks, and a couple of high protein bars.
"That's all you have?" Quinn asked.
Wade looked at her meager possessions, self-conscious about them for the first time in years. "Yeah, well ... I know a man who told me once that one of his favorite lines from a book was, 'You don't really own anything that you can't carry at a dead run.' I know what he meant. When you're Sliding without a compass, you never know when you might have to run for your life." She let her hand linger over her journal and added, "Anything more than this, I'd end up having to leave it behind someplace. Quinn ... my Quinn ... used to say that Sliding means improvising. Everything else that we needed, we picked up along the way. So ... just a few essentials to keep me going."
Quinn shook his head. "I'd think you'd at least bring along a backpack."
Wade shrugged, changing the subject. "So how about showing me your lab? It's been a while since I saw the Batcave," she added, smiling.
Quinn gave her a strange look, then smiled and said, "This way."
They paused at the basement door while Quinn dug through his pockets for the key.
"Ever since a couple of kids got downstairs and erased part of my blackboard to play tic-tac-toe, I've had to keep it locked up."
"What happens if you lose the key?" Wade asked.
Quinn grinned. "There's a spare in the kitchen, behind the canned vegetables. I figure no kids are gonna move a dozen cans of beets and peas to find it by accident."
"I guess that's why you're the genius," Wade said, gently teasing him.
Finally pulling out the key, he unlocked the basement door, just as his mother came around the corner.
"Well, who's this?" she said.
"This is Wa- ... Kathleen Wade," Quinn told her. "She's going to be staying with us for a couple days. I put her in the room with the blue-flower wallpaper."
"Well, far be it from me to scold my son for bringing home strange, attractive women ... especially paying guests." She paused, seeing the open door. "And showing her the basement? Who is this person?" she added, smiling mischievously.
"Mo-om," Quinn drawled, pleadingly.
"This is a first," Mrs. Mallory said. "I don't think he's ever shown anyone what he's working on down there. You must be pretty special."
"Mom! She's ... she's Wade's cousin ... you know, the Wade I work with? She knows a bit about what I'm working on and I wanted her to see what I've done so far. She can help. That's all."
Mrs. Mallory nodded, not believing a word about Quinn's motives but pleased none-the-less. "That's fine, Quinn. And you Miss ... Wade, was it?"
"Call me Kathleen," Wade said.
"Kathleen. How is your cousin?"
"She's just fine," Wade said. "I think she has a little crush on Quinn, here, but I'm hoping she'll get over it."
Mortified but trying to hide it, Quinn said, "When you two are done trying to embarrass me, I'll be down in the lab." He slipped through the open doorway before either of the women had a chance to respond.
Wade and Mrs. Mallory laughed at Quinn's discomfort.
"How long are you in town for?" Amanda asked.
"Just two days," Wade said. "Long enough to see a few sights before it's time to move on. Maybe check in on the family."
"Was it true, what you said about your cousin?"
"About the crush?" Wade asked. She thought back to her own feelings of five years previous. "Yeah. Quinn thinks of ... Wade ... as a sister, though. She's been trying to get through to him for a while but he's been wrapped up in his secret project."
"Well, when Quinn finally does come up for air, it would be good if there was a nice girl waiting to introduce him to life again. He spends so much time in that basement, I worry about him. I'm afraid he'll become a complete recluse." Mrs. Mallory smiled. "Or blow the whole house up."
Taking that as her cue, Wade said, "Let me see what I can do to get him out of the lab for a change."
"Are you a physics student, too?"
"Me? No. I'm more familiar with ... the practical side of what Quinn's working on."
"Good," Mrs. Mallory said, nodding. "Quinn needs to have someone practical around, to keep him grounded. Maybe you should get your cousin to come over some evening. At least it might get Quinn out of the basement for a while."
Wade chuckled. "First, though, I'd better see what I can do to make sure he's on the right path down there." She moved to the doorway, paused, then added, "I wouldn't want him blowing up the house ... at least, not while I'm in it."
Wade heard Mrs. Mallory laughing as she walked down the stair. It was an odd feeling. She felt closer to Mrs. Mallory now than when she had first met Quinn's mother ... or any of the times since then. She shook her head. She didn't want to be Quinn's mother, but five years had wrought a tremendous change in the Quinn she knew ... and, she knew, in herself as well.
She paused at the bottom of the stairs. She hadn't been in Quinn's basement ... any Quinn's basement ... in years. Entering the main floor of the lab, she saw the tangle of electronic equipment on Quinn's worktable, along with what she recognized as his first primitive Timer. Behind the worktable, she saw the green chalkboard with an even more confusing tangle of letters, numbers and squiggles that meant something to Quinn and Arturo but was just so much gobbledygook to her ... the Sliding Equation ... the thing on which all of it was based. In the lower right hand corner, she saw that he hadn't quite solved the equation yet.
"There you are," Quinn said. He indicated his lab with a sweep of his arm. "So, what do you think?"
"I still think it looks like the Batcave," Wade replied. "And I think I remember the solution to your squiggles, there."
"Yeah. I mean, I have no idea how any of the other pieces tie into it, but the little thing at the end reminded me of some stuff so I just remembered it. It was Big X … my first boyfriend was a fanatic about ‘The Great Escape’ … little r, superscript 12 … that sounded like a droid from Star Wars … A with a little circle on top of it ... my dad was an Angels fan … all of it over infinity. Of course, on my Quinn's blackboard, there was a smiley face, too. "
Trembling a little, Quinn wrote the term on the board, then stood back and checked it out.
"Oh my God," he said. "That's it. That's it! Why didn't I see it before?" He turned and hugged Wade fiercely. "Wade, how can I ever thank you?"
Before she could answer, he was bouncing over to the worktable, digging through the clutter there. He pulled out a small tool and used it to open his Timer and being making adjustments.
"You're not done," Wade said.
"You're not done. That's not the solution. That's the starting point."
"What do you mean? I was already able to Slide. You just helped me finish the math explaining how."
"But not how to get back."
"No, that's no problem. See? I set the Timer and it brings you back automatically."
"Unless something goes wrong," Wade said.
"What could go wrong?"
"Ice tornadoes ... nuclear fallout ... plagues ... evil doubles ... vampires?"
Quinn laughed. "Yeah, like all of that happened."
Wade just looked at him. Was Quinn always that cocky?
Quinn's smile faded. "Well, yeah, but they can't all be bad, right?"
Wade nodded. "There were some good worlds, as long as you didn't break any of the local taboos. Some were almost paradise."
"See? It'll be a piece of cake."
"Until it isn't. Look, you need to be able to record your home coordinates before you start Sliding. At least that way, if something does happen, you can just reprogram your timer to take you home again."
"How do I do that?" Quinn asked.
"I don't know," Wade said. "I know it can be done because my Timer can record coordinates but I don't know how the Timer does it."
"That could take months to figure out," Quinn said. "Years, maybe."
"Years here, or years randomly Sliding from world to world, working minimum wage jobs under the table, running for your life and trying to figure it out after you're already lost."
"Part of me still wants to go Sliding right this second." Quinn paused and then, in an odd tone, asked, "What's it like?"
"In the Slide? It's ... indescribable. It's like a roller coaster and infinity and sex all mixed up at the same time. And it's different Sliding alone or Sliding with other people ... and different with different people. Of course, then it dumps you out on your butt, or on your back, or on your face, when you reach the other side."
"But what ...?"
"Quinn?" called Mrs. Mallory from the top of the stairs.
"Yeah?" he called back.
"Dinner will be ready in an hour. Will Kathleen be staying for dinner?"
Quinn looked at Wade, who shrugged. "Sure."
"Yeah! She will!" he shouted.
Wade shook her head. "I think I'll go wash up."
"What? Oh, sure," Quinn said, his mind elsewhere.
"Think about what I said," Wade told him as she headed for the stairs. "Please.”
"I will," Quinn replied.
Wade climbed the stairs. After she shut the door, Quinn began tinkering with the Timer again. "Paradise," he said softly. "Infinity." He made one final adjustment and closed the Timer up again. "Piece of cake."
· · ·
Unlike most Bed and Breakfast places Wade was used to, the Mallory B&B offered guests dinner as well as breakfast, for an added cost. Amanda Mallory had found, though, that some people liked a good home-cooked meal when they were traveling, and her place had begun to attract just that sort of people. Nearly all of her guests came in from their various travels for dinner at six.
Wade found herself seated at one end of the table. To her left were a young couple on their way to Tahiti via San Juan and Honolulu. To her right was a quiet forty-ish man and to his right was a thirty-ish woman. The man who had been complaining about his room earlier was absent. Instead, Quinn sat at the head of the table and kept up the small talk, occasionally helping his mother bring out the food.
"So, Delia," he said to the woman next to him, "what brings you to San Juan?"
"There's a famous tattoo artist who lives here, Shepard Cole. He's agreed to do some work on me. He's really fantastic."
"Tattoos?" Wade asked. "I've thought about it but I do so much traveling, I'm afraid they might cause me problems in some of the ... countries ... I go to."
"That's a drag," the woman replied.
""What kind of tattoo, if I may ask?" said the forty-ish man. "Oh, I'm Lee, by the way."
"Nice to meet you," Delia said. "What I really want are wings on my back ... but I can't afford a tattoo that large. I'm going to get a white rose instead."
"That's nice," the man said. "I hope I get a chance to see it before I leave."
Delia smiled. "I don't think so," she said. "I didn't tell you where I was getting it."
The man choked on his water and the rest of the people at the table laughed politely.
"So," Quinn said, steering the conversation away from Delia to the other side of the table, "you guys are going to Tahiti?"
"And Bora Bora," the young woman said.
"Myra's always wanted to go," the young man said. "I'm not much for the tropics, myself, but I've always been a little curious about Tahiti ... so, this year it's the Pacific Islands. I'm actually looking forward to it."
"How romantic," Wade said.
The two shared a sly smile.
Myra said, "Well, Don, go ahead and tell them."
"We're just friends," the man said. "I keep trying to find her a man so she can fall in love and I can avoid conversations like this."
"You know you love conversations like this," Myra said teasingly.
The man smiled. "Someday, I'll figure out what kind of guy she likes ... then she can go on these trips wherever she wants and I can get some peace and quiet."
"Until I find the right woman for you ... then we can all go on vacation together."
The man laughed. "You see what I put up with?"
"Right," Quinn said, wondering just how bizarre all of the guests were, tonight. "I'm almost afraid to ask," he said, turning to Lee. "Are you on vacation?"
"Sort of," Lee replied. "I'm on what you might call a working vacation. I'm a freelance photographer in my spare time. There are a few things I want to shoot while I'm out here, in addition to some sightseeing ... strictly tourist," he added. "What about you, Ms. Wade?"
"Me? I'm ... I guess you could call me a gypsy at heart. I've been doing a lot of traveling. Sometimes I waitress or tend bar ... sometimes I sing ... sometimes I manage to sell some of my stories ... whatever lets me keep traveling, seeing as much of everything as I can."
"You sing?" Delia asked.
"Whenever someone pays me," she said. "For a few days, though, I'm just stopping over ... see the city, maybe visit some relatives."
"Where are you headed after San Juan?" Lee asked her.
"Wherever my feet take me," Wade replied.
"A toast," Don said, raising his glass. "To wherever our feet take us."
"Hear, hear," Quinn said as everyone joined in the toast.
· · ·
After dinner, Quinn had to go to an evening seminar.
Wade sat outside on a porch chair for a while, enjoying the sights and sounds of San Francisco ... no ... San Juan, she reminded herself. So many worlds ... so many names for the same city on each one.
"Are you okay?" Amanda Mallory asked her.
"Hmm? Oh. Fine," Wade replied.
"You looked a million miles away."
Wade gave a small grin. "Farther than that," she said. "Dinner was great."
"Thank you." Quinn's mother sat in one of the other chairs. After a moment, her face became serious. "Do you understand what Quinn is doing down in the basement?"
Wade looked at her, then looked up at the sky. A sliver of moon was visible. No stars, of course ... not in a city with as much light pollution as San Franci- ... San Juan. "I don't understand the science behind it," Wade said, "but I know its implications and its ethics." She paused and then added, softly, "And its dangers."
"So it is dangerous," Mrs. Mallory said.
"Not exactly," Wade replied. "It's all in how you use it ... like a car. Use it safely and it will make your life better. Go too fast and it can hurt you ... or others."
"Or kill you?"
Wade thought about Professor Arturo but remained silent.
"You compared it to a car. What about ... accidents?"
"If you're not careful ... yes."
"Oh," Mrs. Mallory said, then she fell silent as well. After a moment, she rose and headed back into the house. As she reached the door, Wade spoke up.
"I'm trying to make sure Quinn understands that," she said.
"Thank you," Mrs. Mallory replied. "I'm going to turn in. Quinn will lock up when he gets home."
"Good night," Wade said.
She waited a good half hour before she went inside herself. All the other guests were out on the town. She'd turned down offers to go out with Lee, Delia and the young Tahiti-bound couple-who-weren't-a-couple. As quietly as possible, she moved the cans of vegetables and got the spare key to the basement. She opened the basement door and crept down the stairs.
She moved quickly and easily to the video camera she'd spotted earlier ... Quinn's video diary. Pulling out the tape marked "September", she rewound to the beginning, turned the sound off, and began fast-forwarding through it, pausing here and there. There was an image of Quinn, illuminated only by a flashlight, excitedly chattering about the big incredible thing that went whoosh. She forwarded a bit more and saw the vortex being filmed from different angles. It was a little disconcerting to see that it had no back ... just a ripple looking through the other side, like a Mobius strip kind of thing with only one side. She forwarded a bit more and saw him tossing various items through the wormhole ... some dice ... a toy dinosaur ... a paper airplane. A bit further, she saw the primitive Timer in his hands and slowed it down. He looked at his watch and then looked up to catch a football as it came out of the wormhole.
Throughout it all, Wade marveled at Quinn's enthusiasm and wonder.
Finally, she got up to the current entry and pushed up the volume just a bit.
"... -ade's double from another dimension. It works and it's safe. She tried to tell me about dangerous worlds but it can't be that bad. And there are places like paradise out there. It's worth the risk. I mean ... how am I supposed to learn the coordinate system without going out there and getting some coordinates? Besides, I was going to go through myself in a few days anyway."
Wade let it run to the end of the last entry and then turned it off. She replaced the tapes where she'd found them, crept up the stairs, locked the door and replaced the key where she'd found it.
Enthusiasm, wonder, and a complete lack of caution, she thought to herself as she made her way to her room. She thought back and realized that Quinn ... her Quinn ... was just like that five years earlier. It was all just a big adventure to him … and to her as well … when she’d started.
And this Quinn didn't even solve the Sliding equation himself. Then again, she realized, neither had her Quinn. It was another Sliding Quinn who had solved it for him ... just like she had solved it for this one. She realized how foolish she'd been. Quinn ... her Quinn ... had never solved the equation ... never figured out how the car worked, to continue the metaphor she'd brought up earlier. And she'd still chosen to "take a spin around the universe" with him. It was like going for a joyride in a racing car with someone who never got their license. Exciting but insanely dangerous.
She lay awake for a long time before sleep finally came.
· · ·
When she awoke the next morning, Quinn was already gone. His mother explained that he had a morning class. After some coffee and a leftover danish, Wade decided to spend the day walking around San Francisco as it was before she'd left it five years ago ... even if it was called San Juan on this Earth.
She walked all over San Juan, checking out her favorite places. They were all there. The modern art museum still had the "new" work by Ralfinoe. She was even able to get a seat at her favorite cafe ... the one with the picture of the Earth, as seen from the moon, on all of the windows. She remembered that it always helped her to put things into perspective back then, knowing that she was on a planet hurtling through space. Of course, since she'd started Sliding, she found out what perspective really was.
Speaking of perspective, she thought, a gallery she liked was in that same neighborhood. If it was the same as her home Earth in 1994, there would be a collection of tromp l'oeil works by local artists there. If she hadn’t gone Sliding, she'd meant to go back and spend some more time there, because her friend Sabrina had a piece on display.
Wade rose and walked to the gallery.
Walking inside, even knowing what to expect, she was taken aback by just how good some of the art was. Facing the door was a piece that looked like you could just reach through the painting and pluck the rose that was there. She shook herself and began walking through the gallery slowly and deliberately.
"Welcome to the Stonetree Gallery. Can I help you?" a woman asked.
"No, thank you," Wade replied. "I'm ... just looking. I know ... knew ... one of the artists, Sabrina Hammond. You have some amazing pieces here."
"Thank you. Take all the time you need."
Turning a corner, Wade saw her friend's painting hung on a central pillar. Looking at it now, years later, Wade knew it wasn't a perfect piece, as evidenced by its placement out in the center of the room rather than along a wall which would enhance its effect. It was technically good, showing a window with an ornate, curling frame, opening up on a rolling landscape. Off in the distance, in a copse of oak trees, there was the suggestion of a horse ... or maybe a unicorn. The tromp l'oeil perspective effect was good but the painting itself didn't have the reality of colors that some of the better pieces had. She tried to remember if she had critiqued it this much when she first saw it.
"It's back here," she heard a young woman say.
"I can't wait," replied another young woman.
Cursing silently, Wade quickly walked around pillar, keeping it between herself and the two women.
"Well, Wade, what do you think?"
"I'm impressed," Wade heard her double say. "Is that a unicorn in the back?"
"Yup," Sabrina answered. "You know me ... I have to add the fantastical to all of my paintings or it just isn't my painting. They wanted something as realistic as possible so I had to hide the unicorn's horn among the leaves but I knew you'd get it. Oh, there's supposed to be a big party at the end of the showing when they auction off all of the paintings. It's a week from Thursday. You're gonna be there, right?"
Wade remembered Sabrina on her world mentioning the auction. She'd said no because she ....
"I can't," her double said. "That's the night of the hockey game. I got the tickets last night. Quinn and I are gonna go."
Sabrina sighed. "That's okay," she said. "I know how much you like him. I've gotta say, though, brain-boy has gotta be utterly clueless not noticing after all this time."
"I'm gonna start dropping some more hints," Wade's double said.
"Girl, forget the hints and just jump him at the game."
"Sabrina!" Wade's double said in a shocked tone.
"Wade!" Sabrina replied in a mocking tone. "Seriously. That's what I'd do. He is kinda cute. If you don't make a move, maybe I will."
"Don't even think about it. Come on. I have to get to work."
"You do like the painting, though?"
"Yeah," Wade's double replied. "I really do. I'm so proud of you."
Wade listened to the two women leave, then found a bench and sat down heavily. It was all happening again. Wade choosing to go with Quinn to the hockey game instead of to Sabrina's art auction. Sabrina's advice. The only difference was that there was no double of Quinn to precipitate the group Sliding together.
"No," Wade said to herself. "Just me. I've got to stop him."
"I'm sorry?" the gallery attendant said. "What did you say?"
"Nothing," Wade said. "It's nothing. Thanks." She rose and left the gallery. Her sightseeing trip was over. She began heading back to the Mallory Bed and Breakfast. She just needed to make a quick stop at a convenience store, first.
· · ·
"Don't do it," she told him after dinner when they were down in the basement.
"What do you mean, don't do it?" Quinn asked, busily opening panels on his Sliding equipment and recalibrating it.
"Don't Slide. Don't Slide without knowing how to get home again."
Quinn paused and stared at her. "How do you know what I'm going to do?"
"Are you kidding? I can see it in your eyes. You can't wait to jump through and see alternate Earths. There's too much that can go wrong. I'm asking you not to do it. You ... the other you ... had nightmares about never seeing his mother again."
"I'll be careful," he said.
"And what if you run into the Kromaggs?"
"Kromaggs? What are they? Some kind of rock band?"
"They're Sliders who can control the Slide. They've been invading and conquering other Earths. They're not really human ... the Professor thought they might be an alternate evolution from some kind of killer ape. They captured us once and played mind games to try to find out where we were from. If we had known our home coordinates, they would have invaded and destroyed everything and everyone we love."
"So? How many times have you seen them?"
"Twice that I know of," Wade replied. "The second time, I found out that my double on that world had been shipped off to some sort of rape camp to breed Kromagg/Human hybrids ... I don't know why. I've been looking for some kind of anti-Kromagg weapon on other worlds, too, just in case we run into them again."
"Twice in five years? That's hardly a major threat. I'm sorry about that other Wade but, even if I thought that the Kromaggs were a threat, Sliding would be the only way I could help my Earth prepare to fight them ... just like you."
"All it takes is for them to find you once and follow you back here. Right now, they don't know you exist. Don't you get it? I don't have a choice but to keep Sliding. You can stay here and figure out how to navigate and maybe find a way to get what you want without any threat to your home Earth at all. I'm asking you to take that time. Please, " Wade added, begging.
"While you keep Sliding on the adventure of your life?"
"Adventure? All I want is to find Remmy and Quinn ... my Quinn ... and go home. If we can find a defense against the Kromaggs, too, that would be even better."
"I don't believe you," Quinn said, getting angry. "You love Sliding. I don't think you'd stop even if you could. I don't know why you think I should stay here and cower in my basement but ... can't you see? I have to go see for myself what's out there."
Wade slumped. "I can't stop you," she said bitterly. "But I can ask you to leave my double out of it. With her crush on you, she'd follow you into the vortex without a second thought. Don't let her make the same mistake I did."
"She really does have a crush on me?" Quinn said, surprised. "I thought you were just making that up to embarrass me in front of my mom." He thought for a moment. "When she talked about scoring the hockey tickets, she said something about her ex-boyfriend being jealous that we were going on a date. But ... we're just buds."
"She doesn't see it that way. Her feelings for you would blind her to the dangers of Sliding, just like they blinded me."
"Look, I'll think about it, okay? Whatever she feels about me, we'll work that out later. She's a friend. I really think that if I did offer her the chance to Slide, it should be her choice."
Wade shook her head, knowing she'd lost the argument. She couldn’t stop it. It was all going to happen again and another Wade Welles would suffer.
"What time do you Slide out tomorrow?" Quinn asked her.
"Nine-thirty," she replied. "At least I'll have time for breakfast before I go." She looked Quinn in the eyes and, as a last resort, added, "Please think about what I said?"
"I will," Quinn replied.
"I've had a long day," Wade said, yawning. "And I don't know where I'll end up tomorrow or what I'll have to do. I should get some sleep."
"Sleep tight," Quinn said. "And try not to worry,” he added half-heartedly, smiling. "Who knows? When I do Slide, maybe I'll get lucky and run into your Quinn and Rembrandt on the first try. Then I can have them track your wormhole."
"Maybe," Wade said in a tired voice. "Good night."
Wade walked up the stairs slowly. As she reached the door at the top, she heard Quinn saying softly, "She likes me?"
· · ·
It was just before six a.m.
Wade waited for Mrs. Mallory to leave the kitchen, heading upstairs for something. She had her chance. Holding the spare basement key she'd taken from its hiding place the night before, she quickly entered the kitchen hallway and opened the basement door. She shut the door quietly behind her, just as Mrs. Mallory was coming back down to the kitchen.
Moving silently down the stairs, she looked at the maze of equipment in wonder, already regretting what she was going to do ... what she had to do.
First things first. She went to the blackboard and ran her fingertips over the equations. The keys to Sliding. She copied them down, just in case she ever needed them. It was a risk, she knew, if they were to fall into the wrong hands, but she'd figure out a way to hide the equations in her journal ... somehow. Once she had written down every squiggle in its correct place, she took out the rag and the bottle of water from the convenience store bag. Very carefully, she obliterated every trace of the equation from the blackboard. She watched it dry and then took a piece of chalk and wrote a message for Quinn on it.
Maybe that will slow him down, she thought.
There was one more thing she had to do way to be sure, though. She went to the main console of Quinn's Sliding equipment. Opening it up, she began pulling out circuit boards. When she had most of them out, she put them on the floor and began stomping on them, the delicate green boards shattering under the force of her boots. The she took the primitive Timer and threw it with all her might against the cement floor where it sparks and short-circuited and broke into several dozen pieces.
A beeping sound got her attention. She took out her Timer and nodded. It was time to go.
She activated the Timer and watched the vortex begin to grow. As it reached its full size, she heard a shout from the top of the stairs.
"Wade!" Quinn yelled at her.
Wade turned away from him and jumped into the wormhole, Sliding away.
· · ·
Quinn walked down the stairs slowly, looking at the devastation. His attention turned to his blackboard, wiped clean of everything. In place of the Sliding equations, he saw the message Wade had left him.
"I'm sorry, but I have to stop this - before it starts."
Quinn shook his head. He saw with grim satisfaction that his video diaries were intact. He put in the current tape and rewound it to the previous day's entry. As the tape rewound, he reached into a drawer and pulled out his new and improved Timer, counting down from twelve hours and ten minutes. He paused the tape and noted with relief that the full set of equations, including the solution, were clearly displayed on the screen. He put the Timer down, popped a new tape into the video camera and hit the remote to record.
"September 27th. The Wade Welles from the alternate Earth tried to erase the Sliding equations. Luckily, after that run in with the kids playing tic tac toe, I made a habit of recording a copy of the equations on these tapes. She also tried to destroy my Sliding equipment. She got most of it but she missed the Timer. I'll still be able to go on my first Slide in about twelve hours." He paused and added, "Gotta remember to invite Wade over tonight. She's gonna love Sliding."