What if you found a portal to a parallel universe? What if you could slide into a thousand different worlds, where it's the same year and you're the same person, but everything else is different? And what if you can't find your way home?
"Are you my Professor?" Quinn asked.
"My dear boy, how do I begin to try to prove it to you? The only thing I can try is to tell you my story." Max Arturo settled himself onto the cell's lone cot. His eyes wandered the energy field looking for any weakness to exploit as he told his story. "I, and my friends, landed on a dying world...I woke up in full control of my faculties inside a rather futuristic lab. It was a long time before I had contact with anyone and I still have a scar from where the bullet hit. I don't know why the Kromags decided to keep me alive," Arturo finished.
Quinn looked around the bare cell before responding. His eyes had misted over several times and he cleared his throat. "You are my Professor. Why would they save you? Why keep us here? Why is our home world so important?"
"I wish I knew dear boy. I wish I knew."
Logan swung her legs over the side of the stasis pod and looked around. She took in the shards of bloody glass from someone beating his way out of the other pod. The white walls had bloody hand prints leading to hers. Looking down she noticed her big brother. Quickly she jumped down, avoiding glass and blood. "Col, are you ok?"
"Hey sweety. I'll be fine. The blood's stopped." Colin smiled weakly.
"We need to get out of here." Logan began to ramble as she hunted through drawers and cabinets. "I don't know who these people are or what they want," she tossed Colin bandages and antiseptics, "but I know who they keep following. Bingo!" She pulled out the two duffel bags the siblings had used for the spare timer and clothes.
"One thing at a time," Colin grunted as he cleaned his numerous, shallow wounds, "is it still there?"
Grinning Logan held up the timer from her bag and the power chip from his. "Advanced societies can be full of stupid people. Let's get dressed and try to get out of here."
A bit later, Logan looked up from a lab terminal. "Colin look at this." Logan brought up a screen on the wall terminal showing the names of prisoners being kept in the facility. Her finger pointed to one name. "Do you think he's related to us?"
"There's only one way to find out," Colin hefted an energy weapon purloined from a locked cabinet and gave a feral grin. The siblings slid quietly out of the lab and into the empty, darkened hallway.
"Maggie was Mary all along?" Arturo whistled.
"Yeah. I'm beginning to wonder who else might have been planted in our way."
"Quinn, you can't start thinking like that. We will get out of here. We will find Wade and Rembrandt. We must."
"This is an advanced timer," Quinn smiled in appreciate of Bennish's design.
The ex-flower child ran his fingers through his newly shorn locks. He'd have to grow it out again. "It still needs some work."
"You have incorporated some impressive programs."
For all of Quinn's sincerity Conrad Bennish didn't trust him. Despite what Wade, and her friend Remmy said, Bennish didn't believe this was the Quinn he'd been best friends with all through college. One thing he'd learned from dealing with the FBI and attaining his doctorate in physics was not to let his deepest thoughts, his intuitions show. As Quinn turned to examine the core of the timer Bennish moved his hand in a weird manner around the unaware Quinn.
"It's nice man," Quinn repeated his earlier sentiment as he turned to give the timer back to Bennish.
"Thanks," Bennish took his hands out of his pockets to take the timer. "So, you and Wade going to see Buffy III tonight?"
"Yeah. Hopefully we can settle on a wedding date tonight too."
"Good luck man. See you tomorrow."
Logan and Colin Mallory slipped through the dark hallways and avoided detection like a pair of professional thieves. Not that the Mallorys broke into places for something as mundane as theft. As if sharing the same thought the two flashed identical grins at each other. "This way," Logan whispered. Nodding, Colin followed her into the cell block. The prisoners all slept. At least until the pair reached the last cell. Approaching it they could hear the steady murmur of conversation. Logan hesitated and then gestured to Colin that she would keep watch.
"I know I need a better outlook Professor, but it's hard." Quinn faded like a hologram and Max Arturo began to sit and cry. He had been tricked again. Before he could complete either action a tall, lanky man with brown hair bowed mockingly beyond the force field and motioned Max to the corner. The man then fired his weapon at the control panel.
"Takes less time this way," he yelled over the klaxons. "Follow me."
As soon as the klaxons began Logan entered the coordinates of a safe world and the cloaking feature. Then she opened the portal. A circle of the deepest blues and greens broke the reality of the hallways. Without waiting she dove in.
Arturo skidded to a momentary halt while Colin used his momentum to launch into the shimmering circle of color. Arturo, prodded on by the nearing shouts of the guards jumped into the closing vortex.
Bennish slipped into his home lab. As he threw on a tie-dye lab coat he started the program on his wall sized super computer that would block all the bugs planted by the FBI. Once he was certain no one could figure out his movements he dodged several tables, couches and chairs moving towards the wall safe and punched in 03-22-95. The lock released and Bennish opened the door of the safe. Inside were several devices and what looked to be replacement parts for timers. "Time to find out what Quinn altered this time," he muttered to himself as he grabbed the real prototype timer.
"Thank you for the rescue. Who are you two?" Arturo dusted himself off and looked around. There was something very familiar about this world. He looked around again. "It can't be," he whispered to himself.
"Let's get into it after we hole up in a hotel." Colin checked his weapon and stowed it in his duffel bag.
"Motel 12?" Logan stood up and looked at the two men.
Arturo let out a gasp of shock. "What? Logan St. Clare?"
"Actually, I'm Logan Mallory. This is my brother Colin. Note the resemblance." She sounded a bit sarcastic. "Are we ready to find a motel yet?"
In another dimension...in a slightly different time...
Margaret shook the red hair from her eyes. Growling softly she padded forward on the balls of her feet. Her brown eyes scanned the sterile lab for movement. Quinn's body lay next to Wade's on a stainless steel table in the center of the room. Three of the walls were stark white with no adornment or break. The final wall, the one she looked to the room from, contained only a broad doorway. Nothing moved in the room. Satisfied, Margaret rolled three colored smoke bombs into the room. Under the cover of blue, green, and black smoke she lifted a timer, activated a vortex, and slid the table containing the two bodies through.
On the other side, a startled man looked up. Before his eyes a hole opened in the sky. Blues, greens and blacks bled into the purple. Instinct took over and he dived off to the side as a metal table, bearing two bodies, hurled out. A red-head he knew well, landed in a practiced crouch just before the hole closed. "Butterfly, you've returned to us," his voice was lightly mocking.
"Don't. Call. Me. Butterfly." Margaret snarled before turning to the bodies. "I think they are still alive," momentarily softening she whispered, "I hope."
"Let's get them to the lab," Diggs rose gracefully and led the way. "Were they disconnected?"
Margaret didn't bother to answer as she pushed the table across the gray grass and into the lab's entry. She passed the security checks without batting an eye. An observer might think she'd been through this process before. In fact, Margaret had been searching for her friends, her fellow sliders, for too many months.
Quinn had separated from Wade and Rembrandt while trying to help Margaret bring her husband's killer to justice. They had tried in vain to find Quinn's home earth. On only their third slide they'd been separated. Since then Margaret had tried to find them. Any sign of them. She'd stumbled across Diggs and after saving the life of his wife and son, she'd been able to enlist his help. Together Diggs, his wife and Margaret developed a new timer based loosely on the one she'd stolen after Quinn had disappeared.
It had led to her finding Quinn. Three times now and none of them the right one. She'd managed to track him to a Kromagg outpost. The experience had been unnerving. Monsters bent on the destruction of humanity. However, this latest venture had been a result of that find. Perhaps this was her Quinn. Perhaps this was his Wade. Perhaps they could lead her to the one man she couldn't seem to get out of her head. "Butterfly, snap out of it. They are waking."
Quinn swung his long legs over the edge of the table and cracked a smile. "What did he call you Maggie?"
"Shut up, Quinn." Margaret let hope in for a moment.
"What Maggie?" Quinn chuckled.
"What?" Wade sat up and smiled.
"SHUT UP." Margaret turned a glare on Diggs who was curled into a ball of laughter on the floor. Exasperated, she turned and activated the intercom. "C'mon in. They're awake."
They didn't have quantum signatures to check, so Diggs' wife was the next best thing. Over the course of the past few months the two women had bonded and discovered that Quinn had deeply affected both their lives. They were both very different women for having known him. They had been able to ascertain to a degree that satisfied them both that it was the same Quinn. Wade, Diggs and Quinn were wiping tears of laughter from their eyes when the door opened.
"Gillian." Quinn stood silent. Wade looked confused. Margaret and Diggs waited for Quinn to react.
Margaret asked Quinn softly, "why you are traveling with a double of your Wade?"
Wade and Quinn looked stunned. "How do you know I'm a double?" Wade asked quietly.
"If you were the real one your reaction to me would have been something other than confusion." Gillian moved to stand beside Diggs, keeping her husband as a shield. "So Quinn, why aren't you home?"
Quinn took on the look of a hunted animal. "I don't have to answer your questions." His head moved with a rapidity generally seen in cornered rats, "where are you? Where are you bastards??" His screams became less and less understandable with each moment. Then things got stranger. Quinn seemed to be losing his formidable mind.
Margaret looked up and Wade wasn't Wade. She was a petite Asian woman and she had a device of some sort. "Gillian," Margaret whispered, "is the shield up?"
Gillian turned her horrified glance from Quinn to Margaret, "yeah," she drawled letting her gaze follow Margaret's. The two women watched Wade-not pull apart the device she held. Wade-not held each piece up to the light, cursed and put it back in the casing. "Who the hell is she?" Gillian whispered to Margaret.
"No idea. Not Wade."
"You think we should make Quinn look at her?"
"Ok." Gillian moved off to Quinn's left. "Quinn." His name was enough to turn him towards Wade-not. An incomprehensible growl issued from his throat as he launched himself at Wade-not.
Meanwhile Diggs had been walking up behind Quinn. He slid a needle into Quinn's butt and depressed the plunger. Looking startled Quinn collapsed. Wade-not, oblivious kept up her strange behavior with the device and it's parts. Gillian handed Diggs another syringe. He moved behind Wade-not and repeated the procedure. "Is it just me or did that break our bizarro meter?" Diggs looked up from the two comatose bodies.
"Not just you." Margaret offered and Gillian, nodding, concurred.
Bennish and Rembrandt looked at the muggers in shock. The two men had guns and threats. "Man, you don't want our wallets. We don't have any money." Rembrandt, his hands up, was backing slowly away.
"Stop," one of the muggers commanded. He raised his gun threateningly, "you're the Cryin' Man. You've got money."
Bennish slipped his prototype from his pocket. He didn't remember grabbing it, but now he was glad he had. In theory the back side of a vortex should work as a shield. His timer wasn't strong enough to pull them in on it's own. He looked at Rembrandt and then fired the timer. The muggers started shooting and hit the ground as bullets came flying back.
Together the three separated and secured Wade-not and Quinn. Margaret sat in the room Quinn occupied. "What happened to you? Oh, Quinn. Didn't you find your way home? Who broke you Quinn? Who was that woman?" Margaret sighed.
"He's not going to answer you Butterfly."
"I know that, but I think he's my Quinn. What could've possibly put him in this state? Do you think it's those monsters I found?"
"I wish I had the answers Butterfly, but I don't." Diggs gave Margaret a quick, but sincere hug. "Keep watch over him. He'll know you're here."
Wade and Quinn sped up. The footsteps behind them were getting closer. They'd noticed the group of boys watching them as they left the movie theater. Quinn would've been willing to take on one or two, but five was such a big number. "Run," he shouted, grabbing Wade's arm to pull her along. They turned towards the street the car was parked on. They ran without looking. They ran in fear. They ran right into Bennish and Rembrandt sending all four tumbling into a closing vortex.
Maggie gently touched Quinn's forehead.
Arturo sat in shocked silence. Logan and Colin Mallory sipped their sodas. "Any comments?" Colin asked.
"So, Logan St. Clare and Maggie Beckett were plants? Were the two of you? Were Mary?"
"As far as we've been able to figure," Logan answered sympathetically.
The world was on fire. The world was fire. Wade and Rembrandt had been there before. Bennish didn't think, for once he just reacted. He pushed the button. He activated the vortex. He saved their lives. "Tell me you didn't activate that early," Wade's face bore a look of resignation.
"We were gonna burn in hell." The adrenaline rush slowed Bennish's thoughts. "Oh, no. No."
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