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6.1 - Azure as the Sun Rises
by ThomasMalthus

Chapter One

A world of darkness enfolded Quinn Mallory. He had seen or felt little but darkness since leaving his homeworld (had it been only five years ago?). Only to discover this place. This wretched island of despair. Within a few days of his captivity, he knew every geographical feature of the land mass that surrounded him and knew that it offered him little beyond basic sustenance. A small stream provided fresh water and the occasional fish. The small game, birds and a few assorted other small mammals that Quinn figured was unknown to the biologists of his home world, was his main staple of food. Although the unwilling native rarely felt the need for clothes, humility had departed a long time before, when he felt truly depressed he donned the tattered remains of the clothes he had been wearing when he first slid. Both as a reminder of his home and of his failure. His colossal blunder. And now he paid the price.

This Quinn Mallory had never met a woman named Wade Wells. He had met someone and they had married but she was all but forgotten now. But he would never forget how he left Mrs. Melissa Mallory alone to suffer. And his parents. They were but wisps of memory now, but they never ceased to torture him slowly as he began to drift asleep. He was nightly reminded of everything that he had done wrong over the course of his life. He would not forget these things when the sun, this earth's bizarre, scorching hot, cruel sun, rose, either.

As the young physics student entered his normal pattern of restless sleep, he noticed something out of the ordinary coming into focus. It seemed like the blue vortex that he had used to come to this earth. Another young man, looking too much like himself, or at least how he used to look, to be believed, popped out of it. Was this a dream? a vision? some fractured version of reality? Quinn did not know, but intended to find out.

"Who are you?" His voice cried out in a harsh tone that could only have originated from vocal chords that had not been used much in years.

"Isn't it obvious? I'm you," the other man, now clearly another version of Quinn Mallory, replied.

"You're me?" Quinn responded incredulously. Then chided himself, "Of course, a double. From a parallel world." The other Quinn nodded slightly with a grin. "Professor Arturo and I postulated that people from one world could have exact biological duplicates on parallel earths, assuming of course that divergences in parallel histories were concurrent..." He stopped as another train of thought came to him. "I wish Professor Arturo were here to see this." As he said this, he realized its implications. "On second thought, maybe I don't."

This last piece of dialogue seemed to register an emotion on the other Quinn's face, but from five years of having no contact with other humans, Quinn had a little trouble discerning what it was. "Is something wrong?" he asked meekly.

"No, nothing at all," his double replied.

Quinn didn't buy his double (which in future he would reference as otherQuinn)'s explanation, but let it pass for the moment. "Why are you here?"

OtherQuinn hesitated. "I'm not."

'Oh," Quinn replied. When his brow furrowed in confusion, otherQuinn explained.

"You see, when sliding, accidents happen."

"Tell me about it," Quinn replied morosely.

"They can be worse than getting stuck on some primitive world like this, impossible as that may be for you to believe," otherQuinn continued. "All sorts of things can happen. Kidnapping, murder, interdimensional espionage, being-merged-with-a-double-who-looks-nothing-like-you, that sort of a thing."

Quinn's brow had not yet unfurrowed. "Let's just say that I'm no longer a physical presence within the universe... any universe."

Quinn ventured a response. "You're dead."

"Basically," otherQuinn replied.

Had Quinn been in contact with the mainstream culture of parallel worlds for the last five years, he likely would have said something in reference to Haley Joel Osment and "The Sixth Sense". However, since he hadn't, he didn't. Instead, he replied, "So I repeat, why are you here?"

"To help you get off this Godforsaken piece of rock," otherQuinn said with a smile. It did not take long for that expression to be mirrored in Quinn's face. "But first you have to agree to help me."

"Of course," Quinn replied, realizing he may well be making a deal with the devil and suddenly not caring. "I'll do anything you want."

"I understand your zealousness, but you might want to hear the terms first." Quinn nodded and otherQuinn elaborated. "I have friends out there. Trapped in worlds where I left them, either forcibly or..." Now the emotion that crossed otherQuinn's face was pure pain. "voluntarily. But I've been given a chance by powers higher than myself to make that wrong a right. The only catch is I have to do it by helping you. So how 'bout it? A spin around the universe sound like fun?"

Had someone been watching this exchange with a stopwatch going, they would have seen that it took only 2/17ths of a second for Quinn to respond with "Sure!" OtherQuinn gave him a warm smile and the one soul in two bodies communed with each other.

Quinn had not been to the Cave in quite a while. It had been his original residence when he first landed here, but it was too dank and open during the winter months and he had been forced to abandon it for a makeshift hut it had taken him long hours to build. He saw no advantages to returning to it as it carried nothing but bad memories. Oh, yes, and the Calculating Wall.

The Calculating Wall was where Quinn had tried so many times to devise a way to go home, all without success. Now the frustrated physics student and his helpful but deceased double stood before it (Had they walked there? It seemed to take no time at all.). It did not take long for Quinn to understand the fundamentals and for him to be able to figure out how to fix his timer.

Quinn awoke with a new spirit of determination. With amazing vigor, his brain recalled every last aspect of the equation that otherQuinn had shown him. Quickly making some improvements to the timer, and bidding this world a hasty good-bye, he joyfully slid to a different existence. On the other side, Professor Maximilian P. Arturo's laboratory will have captured its first interdimensional traveler.

Chapter Two

Bright lights shone down on his forehead, making the darkness that would otherwise exist dissipate as though it had never been. If only something that could make the demons that haunted him (a mixed metaphor, perhaps, but a poignant one) do the same. As he approached the spot where his nightly torture took place, his palms began sweating profusely. As he heard the familiar "Hey now!", he entered on stage and would begin to deliver his monologue. It was a typical day in the life of Larry Sanders.

The monologue went smoothly. Of course, there were the typical Viagra jokes about President Dole. They were getting a little stale, gotta remember to remind the writers. The war was not mentioned of course (the rifle-toting soldier standing just behind the curtain made sure of that). Some jokes at the expense of recent film star Elian Gonzales. Then he introduced his guests, popstar sensation Kurt Cobain and Doctor Maximilian Arturo, the inventor of sliding. It would be a good show.

If only he knew how wrong he would be.

The first thing he remembered when he woke up was the smell. There was a scent of disinfectant and polished metal. But mostly it was the absence of trees and flowers and animals and nature untamed that he had been exposed to for so long. It was a beautiful smell, really.

The second thing was that he was trapped in a large cell. This was considerably more disheartening. There were no other people in the room, nor was there anything in it, short of a small cot on one side of the cavernous room. No doors, no windows. Quinn Mallory was all alone and trapped. Again.

"NOOO!!!" he screamed. His mind shot out things like 'Did I leave one cage just to enter another?' and 'Who built this awful place?' and 'Will I ever be able to get out of here?'". But his voice just kept crying out.

Unknown to Quinn Mallory, his cries did not go unheard. The control panel was sparsely manned today, it was true, but Douglas Arturo and Conrad Bennish, Jr. heard every second of Quinn's cries of existential anguish. They could have set him free, could have let him have his first chance at exploring a parallel world. He would have seen a world, not unlike his own, except that the Golden Gate Bridge was blue, Bob Dole was president, and a few people's lives were different. There was one other significant difference, but he wouldn't have noticed it. But the eyes of Quinn Mallory would never look upon this world. Letting captured sliders go, as they had discussed months ago, would be out of the question. And so, the son of Maximilian Arturo and one of the greatest thorns in his side sat and did nothing. But they heard.

Professor Arturo reclined in his chair and shot the audience a look of concern. "Well, you know I can't say much, Larry. The Government has been very kind to me and this would likely not be so if I compromised my position."

Larry nodded, but looked disquieted. "A lot of people depend on you and the work you do, Doctor Arturo; does it ever put so much stress on you that you would think of leaving it?"

He chuckled. "Oh, no, not at all. Just knowing that the work I do may save countless millions of lives is so rewarding that I would never even dream of leaving." The government sharpshooter standing nearby nodded and said something inaudible into his headset.

"Well, it's nice to know that a first-rate mind like yours is being put into a project of this magnitude," Larry said with a smile.

"Oh, you flatter me too much," he said, but his body language said the opposite.

"We'll be right back with Kurt Cobain. No flipping."

The sensor lights that would run vital statistics on Randomly Acquired Test Subject Quinn Mallory were invisible to him, yet they would tell the heads of Project: Backdoor everything they needed to know about him. The data would then be analyzed by the Project Computers and spat out as irreplacable data for the scientists manning the control panel. The process took eight seconds.

Conrad Bennish, Jr. looked over the results. "Any trace of Mek bio-infection?" Douglas Arturo asked.


"How about his lungs?"

"99.76 percent match-up. They're compatible." This prompted the younger Arturo to bark some commands to the computer which adjusted the oxygen levels in the room.

"You want to call Max about this?" Bennish queried.

"Immediately." Douglas Arturo hit the large red button on his cell phone to tell his father that months of their planning had finally met fruition.

Professor Maximilian Arturo, as he still called himself, ignoring the honorary doctorate he had received while on this world, was unable to answer his cell phone as it rang. He knew it must be an emergency, as that would be the only reason anyone would disturb him during the show. But right now he couldn't say anything. Right now he had a gun pointed at his head and talkshow host extraordinaire Larry Sanders was dead.

Chapter Three

General Minerva Ko could often be found staring at a picture that had graced her desk since she had been asked to head Project: Backdoor's military division. It was black and white, faded and showed some wear and tear around the edges. But the image it conveyed could not, nor would not, be erased from her memory. A six-year-old girl, a mere face among the crowd of Asian-Americans being herded into trucks like cattle, crying loudly with a very visible tear running down her face. The girl bore no resemblance to the sixty-four year old counterpart that could not let her face be forgotten. That face did not know why Pearl Harbor meant that she and her family would lose their home, why she would not get to see her friends for years, or the torment that lay ahead for her. It was the last day of innocence that Minerva Ko ever experienced.

But that day had shaped her life. As she grew older, she took a vow of vengeance. Despite the nearly impossible odds, she joined the military and rose through its ranks. If she ever relented, even momentarily, in her quest it didn't show. The ghost of the girl in the picture had ruled Minerva Ko's life, from frightened, but determined cadet to commanding general of the most important installation in the United States. But somehow this ghost was in rare form today.

"Why was I not informed of the fact that we captured our first randomly acquired test subject at 1500 hours AT 1500 HOURS?!?" General Ko bellowed to the hapless second lieutenant who delivered the message from two of her least favorite people: Dr. Douglas Arturo and Conrad Bennish, Jr.

Never losing his cool, Lt. Randall countered, "That information was not in my briefing, sir."

Exasperated, Gen. Ko sighed and sank into her chair that she had so hastily risen from in anger mere moments before. "Where is Doctor Maximilian Arturo when all of this is going on?" she asked with an air that feigned calmness.

"To the best of my knowledge, sir, Doctor Arturo is being interviewed on 'The Larry Sanders Show'", Randall responded.

Minerva rolled her eyes. "Get Arturo Junior and that idiot Bennish in here. Let's see them justify this breach in protocol."

"Yes, sir." The harried lieutenant gladly exited the General's office.

When Maximilian Arturo saw the face of the man with the gun, the amount of fear that he had harbored for his life doubled instantly. The red glint in his eyes and the decayed aura of one of side of his face was trademark of Mek Neurologically Enhanced and Controlled Replicant Operatives or NECROs. NECROs were determined foes who never abandoned their mission without its successful completion, even if it meant their deaths.

"Target: Maximilian Arturo. Acquired." The NECRO's voice said in an eerily detached tone. "Permission to execute requested." The project had never been able to trace a signal being sent out or received from within the NECRO, but some form of communication must take place as this dialogue was standard operating procedure for NECROs. Their target would be riddled with bullet holes soon afterwards.

"Permission accept..." was all the NECRO had a chance to emote before Lieutenant Major Montgomery Andersen leveled his rifle (government enhanced with all the right juices for fighting Mek, of course) and the assassin was just so much ash.

"How did that monstrosity break through our security?!?" Arturo demanded loudly to Major Andersen, who had been carefully monitoring Arturo's perimeter, along with his squadron, since his arrival.

Andersen shrugged. "No idea. We had all the exits manned and the audience was thoroughly bio-scanned. This thing must have been waiting here a long time."

"I am not interested in your speculations." Arturo bellowed. "I am interested in you finding out how in blazes this cold-blooded killer got within five feet of me to begin with! Now get on it!!!"

"Yes, sir."

Although the soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Major Andersen followed his orders ostensibly, they did not show the enthusiasm that they would have had it been an order straight from General Ko. He would have words with her about that, to be sure. Arturo then recalled that he had receieved a call on his emergency line just as this fiasco began. It did not take a genius of his caliber to discern that the call was from the project, and that some major event had just occurred.

Dialing up his limo driver so he could discover what this new turn of events was, his mind wandered idly again to the basic differences he had discovered between this earth and Earth Prime. Here, France was still a monarchy, Jimmy Carter had been re-elected, Japan had never invaded China, and Michael Collins had been the first man to walk on the moon, and oh yes, a strange group of relentless invaders called the Mek had come to nearly dominate the United States. At least he hoped that was a difference, for the sake of his homeworld.

Quinn Mallory had looked the entire cell up and down and found nothing short of a small patch of electrical equipment near the ceiling that he couldn't reach. He had screamed, he had wailed, he had tried to talk sense into whoever was out there, but still he was trapped here. It had been nearly three hours and he still had forty-five remaining before he slid off this world. Despair reigned in the mind of Quinn Mallory.

That is, until he got his first visitor.

Chapter Four

General Minerva Ko entered the passageway and took her first look at Quinn Mallory. He was a deplorable sight. His clothes were tattered, his hair was filthy and unkempt, and his eyes possessed a sunken-in look that she had only seen in a very few, very depressed, individuals.

"Greetings, Randomly Acquired Test Subject 001," she started, sounding as emotionally detached as a living human being could. "I trust you shall find our facilities adequate for all your needs. You are an essential part of our project here and all..." Before she could finish, Quinn Mallory had began bounding towards her, intent on wringing all of his questions out through a show of force that would perhaps be his ticket out of here. He made it three feet and was downed by something he didn't even see.

"Well, I had hoped not to use the paralytic before we had our conversation, but if you intend to disallow that, I will act accordingly. Since you will not be rendered unconscious for approximately 90 seconds, I will give you a brief rundown of what we expect from you here." General Ko motioned for some orderlies outside to prepare him for the experiments. "I'm afraid there is not much we can tell you about our purpose, but rest assured, your life is not in danger." With Quinn unable to stop her, she picked the timer up from the cot, examined it, and stuck it in one of her labcoat pockets. "You will not be needing this, however, as you will be our guest for quite some time. We have already obtained vital physical information from you. What we really need now is some information on you, personally. Where you came from," Quinn's vision was getting hazy and his hearing wasn't much better, "what intents you have on this world, and other such matters which pertain to our national security..." And with that, he was out.

After being thoroughly scanned and tested, Maximilian Arturo entered the laboratory facilities of Project: Backdoor with an extra spring in his step. Some of it was caused by his recent escape from the brink of death at the hands of a Mek NECRO assassin. But most of it was based on his most recent calculations, that he was just about to share with his fellow scientists in their weekly meeting.

Douglas Arturo, Conrad Bennish, Jr., Julius Wing, Margo Keener, Keith Mitchell, Leland Evans and Diana Davis (protegé of the late Oberon Geiger) all filed into the meeting room with the same drudgery that they usually did. Only Maximilian Arturo had a broad smile on his face.

"You may be wondering why I called this meeting," Arturo started out.

"Um, you didn't. This is our weekly meeting," Dr. Mitchell pointed out.

"Ah, yes. A minor point. Anyway, I believe I've found a way to integrate my own private research with the main problem that has faced this project from day one." At that, the buzz that ran around the room was deafening.

"After years of probing the subject, we came to the consensus that the Mek were not of extraterrestrial origin, but as my research suggested, from a vastly altered parallel world. Thus instead of attempting to kill them en masse", he carefully avoided the word 'genocide', "we concluded that the most effective way to rid ourselves of them was to send them to their point of origin, their 'home dimension', if you will. Until now, we had merely speculated on ways to do it. But due to the fruition of my latest research, I think you'll all agree that that problem is solved." Removing a small device from his pocket, he asked, "Who among you can tell me what this is?"

Dr. Mitchell, who had a doctorate in medicine as well as in ontology and cosmology. "It's a biomed scanner."

"Indeed. And with a few modifications, a simple biomed scanner can detect the signatures that come to exist in the cells of living organisms that travel interdimensionally. Although extended 'slide's between parallel universes would create a multilayered signature, I believe that the primary signature would be most prevalent. If I can integrate this with our already existing sliding technology, do you realize what kind of a breakthrough this would be??"

The scientists all gave him blank looks, processing the information in their analytical minds. Douglas Arturo was first to respond, "If we had a power source capable of it, we could slide all the Mek to their 'home dimension' using the slide trace signatures in their cells!"

"Indubitably," the Professor replied approvingly, to the boy who was so like his son, yet by some fluke of fate, was not.

Doctor Leland Evans replied next. "Also, this would be a great determinant in discovering Mek plants. Just run them through the slide trace scanner and if they have a signature other than from our world, we know they're not on our side."

"Uh, yes, I hadn't thought of that," Arturo fumbled, although he had thought of it, all too much. If such measures were enacted, not only would he lose his ticket home, but he would likely meet some horrible fate at the hands of the security-crazed government. He had seen the atrocities they had committed against suspected Mek spies and he didn't want to experience them.

"Of course, I'll need to work out the details first, but I'd say we've come to quite a watershed in our movement, eh?" At that, they all shared a small cheer. This was interrupted by an officer rushing through the doors.

"We were not supposed to be disturbed in here!" Arturo exclaimed. But his remarks were quickly forgotten as he shouted, "They've taken Houston!" The third capitol of the United States in close to two years had fallen. Their previously joyous mood gained a measure of dread.

Chapter Five

Maximilian Arturo walked out of the meeting. He was saddened that it had ended on such a sour note. With Houston fallen, the damage the Mek had done was virtually irreparable. "We know so blasted little of them," Arturo muttered underneath his breath. The reason why, if they were some sort of alien force, they had invaded only the United States was particularly puzzling.

Arturo's mood got fouler at the sight that greeted him as he turned the next corner. General Minerva Ko, who had co-commander status on Project: Backdoor and was in charge of the military aspects of it, approached him aggressively. The General had been a thorn in his side ever since the project came under the supervision of the U.S. Military.

"Doctor Arturo," Gen. Ko started, "I thought it would be prudent to inform you that we have acquired our first random test subject from a parallel world."

"A voluntary slider?!? Why that's marvellous!" Arturo replied joyously. "When did this happen?"

"Approximately eight hours and twenty-six minutes ago," the General replied casually.

"Why wasn't I informed immediately?!?!?" Arturo thundered.

"I was told that the scientists on duty at the time did try to contact you, during your stint on the Garry Shandling show..."

"Larry Sanders," the Professor corrected coldly.

"Whatever," General Ko adopted her own restrained smile. "When they failed to attempt to contact me until several hours after the fact, I questioned them about it and the answers they gave me were simply unacceptable. I ordered them to say nothing to you until we had discussed it fully."

Arturo leaned in to her. "Madame, I do not see that we have anything to discuss. You have made it perfectly clear that your soldiers will only follow direct orders from you, and yet you complain that my scientists will not keep you informed. I was nearly killed by a NECRO because of this petty divisiveness. We must agree to a unified command, or our purpose here will never be met."

"I agree," General Ko affirmed, "and so do my superiors. That is why I received these orders merely minutes ago from Acting Supreme Military Commander Thaddeus Westmoreland, signed by the President himself. You are relieved of co-commander status and I am in full and complete command of this entire facility." Professor Arturo gazed at the dispatch in horror.

"They can't do this!!" Arturo bellowed. "This is my project! I have a government grant..."

"The Emergency Powers Act of 1998 makes anything that the President and the Supreme Commander of the Army order jointly and for military purposes on government property legal," Ko smirked.

Flummoxed by all this, Arturo needed desperately to change the subject. "Where is the test subject? I need to see..."

General Ko quickly interrupted. "You do not need anything, Dr. Arturo, except a good night's sleep. There will be much work to do and a very important staff meeting to attend in the morning."

Quinn Mallory came to in a room even drearier and more forboding than the one he just left. He was bound to a chair and a balding, grey-haired man with glasses and wearing a labcoat stood over him. "Hello there. You're going to be our guest for quite some time it seems." He began, flashing a smile that revealed a row of teeth resembling those of a large rat.

"Where am I? Who are you?" Quinn spoke in a voice that dripped of both confusion and fear.

"I am Dr. Stanley Armand. While I cannot yet divulge our location to you, I'm sure you'll find out everything you want to know soon enough. But first," he said, beginning his pacing routine around Quinn's bound and petrified form, "we need to know a little something about you."

"About me?" Quinn asked.

Dr. Armand tried to appear reassuring and failed. "Where you come from. What you mean to do on this world. Simple things like that." He paused, taking a drink from a nearby glass of water, which only served to remind Quinn how thirsty he was. He had had no food or water during his time here.

"Why don't we start with your homeworld. You're not from this dimension, are you?" Stanley asked.

"No. At least, I don't think so."

"You don't think so?"

"I've been away from home...awhile. I'm not even sure I'd recognize it if I got back there."

Armand chuckled. "Well then, what was your homeworld like when you left?" he said the last three words as though he were humoring a small child.

Quinn waxed nostalgic. "It was wonderful. I had a great life, a loving wife and a blossoming career. Then I had to try this stupid sliding experiment..."

"Sliding?" He said, as though he'd never heard the word used before. "Back up. You invented this 'sliding' device to take you to other worlds?"

"Yes, only I didn't fully understand everything about it. I decided to use myself as a guinea pig and ended up stuck for five years on this horrible world..."

"Five years, eh? Any other people on this parallel world of yours?"

"None," Quinn stated glumly.

"How did you come to visit our world, Mr., uh, um, well, where are my manners, it doesn't seem that I asked you your name."

"It's Mallory. Quinn Mallory."

"Well, Mallory Quinn Mallory," it was an old joke and very lame in this instance, Quinn thought to himself, "how did you get here from there?"

"This other Quinn, he helped me."

"Other Quinn? A doppelganger perhaps?"

"Something like that. Anyway, in a dream, he showed me how to fix my timer and slide off of that world."

"I see," he said with a false enthusiasm. "Well, that certainly explains it."

"Look, I know it sounds crazy, but..."

"It's not crazy." When Quinn tried to interrupt again, he continued. "I'm going to have to take what I've found out to the people in charge here. You just sit tight and someone will come and take you back to your quarters. Thank you, you've been very co-operative."

"So he's Mek?"


"You're sure."

"I'll need a few more sessions with him to discover his intent, but his story is extremely unconvincing and his manner is erratic and unstable. Textbook Mek brainwashing victim."

"Very well, proceed with caution, however, Dr. Armand. If the Mek were able to send him here, he must be capable of doing great harm."

"Agreed, General Ko. I'll report back to you as soon as I've further interrogated our Mr. Mallory."

Douglas Arturo and Keith Mitchell had the night shift watch duties for the laboratory tonight. "Some theories your father came up with, eh?" Keith asked.

"Oh, yes. Quite." Douglas Arturo replied unconvincingly.

"Something bothering you? You seem awfully quiet tonight." Dr. Mitchell said, always worried about the health of his fellow scientists.

"No. Nothing. Nothing at all."

In another part of the facility, the younger Arturo's friend, Conrad Bennish Jr. told "his mother" all about what had happened that day. Curiously, that information would find itself in the hands of a very interested party, that was not at all interested in seeing Project: Backdoor succeed.

Chapter Six

Professor Maximilian Arturo had been here before; he could feel it. It was a feeling not based on rational observations, more like something in the air or the wisps of memory, but this was a place where he once stood before. When his eyes started to focus on things, he knew exactly where he was. He should, he'd been to countless parallel versions of it. It had been the scene of his great achievement and his greatest downfall. Quinn's basement.

As Arturo looked around the room, it was not exactly as he had remembered it. The equation on the wall that had so mystified him did not appear to be finished. A few of the objects in the room had been moved around. Instead of a video diary, a pile of written notes that seemed to deal with the mechanics of sliding cluttered Quinn's desk. Stooping to read them, he heard a familiar voice. "It's not finished yet."

"Quinn?" Arturo exclaimed, turning around quickly. He could say nothing else as his eyes confirmed what his ears, and his heart, had told him. He now faced Quinn Mallory, his student, the boy who had been a son to him and who had taken him on the greatest adventure of his lifetime. What was there in the world, in any world, that he could say to him?

"I'm so sorry, my boy." It was feeble, yes, but it had to be said. When he attempted to continue, Quinn interrupted him.

"Sometimes, nothing can be done," Quinn replied with an understanding smile. "But you have to do something for him."

"Him?" Arturo replied, perplexed.

Before Quinn could reply, a vortex opened behind him. "The mirror man. In the pit." This did not do anything to alleviate Arturo's confusion. Quinn's smile faded. "Everybody has to choose now, Professor. I can't help you anymore. You have to help me. I'm sorry."

The vortex started to suck him in. When the Professor attempted to move to prevent it, he found that he could not move. "Quinn, no!" he bellowed.

"I'm sorry you have to choose," was very much what it sounded like he said before he was taken away from the Professor once again.

Professor Maximilian Arturo woke with a start as his television blinked on, his version of an alarm clock, and the morning routine began as usual. The TV was turned on to the CNN Headline News, because he couldn't stand those talking heads who hosted the morning shows on the networks. There was so little good on television these days, (although Arturo had to admit, he found that vampire show on the WB to be quite interesting) but he did like to keep informed about the goings-on in the world.

"If you're just tuning in, our top story: Talk show mogul Larry Sanders was killed yesterday during the middle of taping last night's program. According to a preliminary investigation done at the request of Attorney General John McCain, the murder was committed by an escaped war criminal who is still at large. The network has expressed it's deepest sympathies, but no word on whether Jon Stewart, who was rumored to be replacing Sanders next season, will be his immediate replacement. Stay tuned throughout the day as this story unfolds. In entertainment news, Cher and Haley Joel Osment..."

Arturo flipped off the television and got out of bed with a groan. Today would be a long, arduous day.

In the back of his mind, Maximilian Arturo knew he should be in the meeting that had been called for all staff members today. General Ko would be decidedly not pleased that he was not in attendance. But then again, maybe that's exactly why he wasn't there.

Douglas Arturo was just getting off duty when the Professor caught his son's double in the hallway. "Good morning," Maximilian said cheerfully enough.

"Good morning, father," Douglas mustered, visibly weary and irritable.

"Rough night?" the Professor ventured.

Doug shrugged. "Not too. We've been told to keep a tighter eye on internal security, now that we've got a random one on our hands."

"Speaking of our randomly acquired captive," Arturo replied. "I don't suppose you know what cell he's being held in. Out of curiousity only, of course."

"Of course," Douglas replied with a smirk. "DC463. And be careful, father. Armand's got a real bug up for this new slider. Thinks he's a Mek spy."

The Professor rolled his eyes. "Dr. Stanley Armand sees Mek spies in his breakfast cereal." Douglas barely stifled a laugh.

"Now, now. You know Commandant Ko only picks the most competent personnel for the project."

The Professor agreed with a chuckle. "Oh, of course. I forgot that our fearless leader is incapable of failure. You must pass the 'walk-in-a-straight-line' and 'recite-the-alphabet' tests in order to work on the project that our nation's future depends on."

Now Douglas could not keep from grinning. Professor Arturo need to be on his way, however. "Shall we meet later? To discuss those, uh, theories I went over with you before."

The younger Arturo now looked serious. "Of course." As the Professor walked off, Douglas got a different sort of grin on his face.

He had expected that General Ko would have revoked his own personal access code to the "Authorized Personnel Only" rooms of the Project. What Professor Maximilian Arturo was betting on, however, was that she had not had time to change the emergency codes. Sure enough, the access code worked and the middle-aged British gentleman stepped into DC463. The sight which greeted him was one that completely floored him and left him completely speechless. Quinn Mallory.

As he moved around the room, examining him thoroughly, as though he were a rare animal species or an ancient hieroglyph, his mind groped for something to be able to say that would answer the questions that were bombarding it and at the same time convey the gravity of the situation. But there were no words like that in the English language, or no other Arturo knew. So he stayed quiet. It was Quinn who spoke first.

"Professor?!?" he exclaimed. Arturo had to remind himself not to get too excited, it could still be a double. It could always still be a double.

"Quinn." he replied, less incredulously, but with no less recognition.

"How did you get here?" Quinn asked, befuddled.

The question threw Maximilian for an instant. "I...I've been here..." He suddenly realized that this would all be on video camera. "...all along."

"Oh," Quinn said sullenly. "You're not my Professor Arturo. You're a double, then. Another one."

"You've met another parallel Arturo?" he enquired.

"A parallel me." Quinn paused a moment. "I guess you know a parallel me, too. You knew my name."

"Yes," Arturo said. "My Quinn Mallory was a bright young student. A gifted boy." Phrasing carefully and with the thought of this conversation being taped on his mind at all times, he continued. "He hung around too much with his friends WADE WELLES and REMBRANDT BROWN, but other than that, he had a fine career ahead of him."

"Those names..." Quinn reacted. "I remember them. The other Quinn, he told me to look for them. To look for them and you. Well, not you, another you. That I was supposed to take them home."

Arturo was visibly intrigued. "It seems that we have a common interest in this duplicate of yours, Mr. Mallory. He sounds like quite the interesting fellow. Where did you meet him?"

"On that world, that world I was stuck on for so long. He came to me, like in a dream, and he gave me the equation to escape."

Everything started to click in Arturo's head. The dream. The equation. The Quinn that Arturo had known was trying to help both his double and himself. The Professor would have to help this Quinn escape, as he would be his ticket home, as well as bring him back with the others, who had apparently been lost on parallel worlds as well. Just then, General Minerva Ko entered the cell. "Doctor Arturo, you are restricted from visiting Randomly Acquired Test Subject Mallory and you did not attend the mandatory staff meeting this morning. Either you have forgotten the proper protocol for your position or you are attempting to undermine our project. Regardless, you will be confined to your quarters until further notice." As Arturo began to protest, suddenly there was a siren sounding and the noises that signalled a complete lockdown accompanied it.

"Warning. Security breach in Sector 10. Non-humanoid presence detected."

Minerva Ko cursed. "They must have tracked one of our probes back here." Whatever had happened, the project, the nation and Professor Maximilian Arturo and Quinn Mallory were all in grave danger.

Chapter Seven

Lieutenant Major Montgomery Andersen recoiled in surprise at the sight before him. Mek agents had suddenly materialized within the confines of Project: Backdoor's military training facilities in Sector 10. Quickly barking orders, his superior, Major Torvald Wythe, who was commander to his deputy commander of Task Force 2, had his crack troops ready and in firing position within seconds. Strangely for an invading force, the Mek were not nearly so organized. As the redhot energy blasts began to decimate the Mek force, they still refused to attack. What kind of a raid was this?

Adding to the confusion, one of the Mek opened a vortex and began herding other of their seemingly alien race into it. They were retreating within seconds of entering this world. Not about to let this happen without a few Mek casualties, Andersen kept firing at the sitting duck targets. One Mek, its red eyes gleaming and its yellow skin shaking with hatred, shot back using a strange weapon that the Lieutenant Major had not seen in battle before. Major Wythe was hit. At that, some of the men withdrew to attend to their commander, even as Andersen commanded to them to continue fire. Though there were some casualties, most of the Mek managed to withdraw safely. After the blasting stopped, Lt. Major Andersen could hear the voice of General Minerva Ko loud and clear.

"Major Wythe, status report." Her booming voice said from apparently nowhere.

"Major Wythe's down, sir", Andersen replied. "The Mek have withdrawn. A few men have minor injuries but nothing too serious."

"The Mek are flaunting their knowledge of our location," Ko hissed under her breath. "Andersen. Leave three men to attend to Major Wythe and lead the rest of the team in pursuit of the Mek agents who just departed."

"Sir?" Andersen queried, confused.

Ko was audibly impatient. "You can track them, can't you, Major Andersen?"

"Yes, sir. And we will, sir. Right away, sir." With that, Andersen and his men prepared for a reconnaissance mission to a parallel earth that they knew nothing about.

Professor Maximilian Arturo dared not question the logic of General Ko's decision, as he was in enough trouble as it was. Although Task Force 1 was on maneuvers 50 miles away and Task Force 2 would have been the project's main source of defense if another Mek attack should come, she gave the order anyway. She was devoted to maintaining base security, Arturo had to give her that.

With the lockdown still in place, General Minerva Ko removed a panel in the wall and found the internal controls for the cell. Punching in the manual override code, Ko opened the doorway and walked outside, lecturing Maximilian Arturo on government protocol all the way. As the heavy doors closed behind them, leaving Quinn Mallory alone again, a figure grabbed General Ko from behind and held a gun to her throat. Professor Maximilian Arturo was shocked to discover the culprit's identity.

"Douglas?!?" he thundered. As Minerva Ko struggled to get away, Arturo pleaded. "Are you insane?!?!? Put the gun down this instant!"

Douglas seemed a completely different man. "You can't order me around anymore. What power do you have over me, now, huh? Looks like I'm holding all the cards here, doesn't it?" Before Arturo could reply, he tossed Ko into an empty detainment cell and closed it behind her. As the Professor attempted to move closer to disarm him, he moved back to check his father's advance. "Now, now. No moving unless you're told."

"You don't want to do this." Arturo began to plead.

"Oh, but I do. I had it all planned out. All it required was some dead, confused Mek who I slid here so that Fuhrer Ko would send Task Force 2 after them. Then the base is defenseless and all that's left is you and me." he said, inching towards the control panel. Once there, he activated a window that allowed Quinn to see everything that was going on. "Oh, and your precious Mr. Mallory here. Wouldn't want to leave him out of the action, would we, 'father'?"

Professor Arturo watched in horror as the man who was, on this earth, his son, stared down at him with a gun in his hand. So much his son, yet so much not.

"Did you think I wouldn't know? That I would just buy it like everyone else?!?" Douglas Arturo exclaimed. "You're not my father. You killed him. Now I'm going to kill you."

"I didn't..." the gun cocked and the Professor froze.

"Just shut up!! You're some sliding double of my father." When Maximilian attempted to interrupt. "Remember that picnic in the park that you said that we had that summer in York, just the two of us?" Arturo slowly nodded. "Well I don't!! Because it didn't happen on this world! Maybe on your world you cared about your son, but my Maximilian Arturo never did."

"I'm sure that he did," the Professor said soothingly. "Put the gun down before you..."

"I said no." His voice was cold now, beyond the point of reason or love.

Quinn Mallory saw his chance at getting home falter before him. If Maximilian Arturo died now, he would never again see his family or friends. Frantically he began punching in five-digit numbers that ended in 742, as he had seen General Ko use to exit this cell. He prayed that one of the combinations would work in time to be able to save his ticket home.

Douglas Arturo's hand that didn't have a gun reached for the console, always keeping the gun aimed at the heart of the Professor. "Here's another little vacation outing for you, father. Only I don't think I'll be coming along for this one."

A vortex opened between them and they both stepped back. "Five months ago one of our probes came back completely charred. What little data I gathered from it indicated a world filled with fire and brimstone, active volcanoes, with little or no possibility of major life forms being able to survive even a few hours there. I saved the co-ordinates just for you."

"Please don't do this. You can't do this," Arturo recited, almost as if it were his mantra.

"I've read your journals father. You've been itching to leave this world for years. Now's your chance."

36742...37742...38742...39742. Success! As the prison door slowly opened, Quinn Mallory prepared to make his move.

Professor Arturo was through coddling this child. "You're not going to get me through this vortex alive, Douglas."

"Don't say my name again!" his son's double spit out. "If I have to shoot you, I will. You're not my father." He said it almost as if to convince himself. "It's your fault that he left me! And you're going to pay..."

At that moment, Quinn Mallory sprang forward and slammed his fist into the jaw of the raving Douglas Arturo. Regaining his balance quickly as Quinn reacted to the pain in his fist, the younger Arturo shot wildly, grazing Quinn's shoulder. Crying out, Quinn fell to the floor. Maximilian Arturo was close enough now to grasp Douglas' left hand and the struggle for the gun began. Each Arturo attempted to maneuver the other into a position from where one could gain complete control of the weapon. Their movements, illuminated by the perilously close vortex, were almost beautiful, but it was a tragic beauty.

Everything was happening in slow motion to Quinn Mallory, but after recognizing that he wasn't going to pass out from the pain, he was able to move from off the floor and watch the struggle. Quinn was seeing the action as though he were a million miles away. He approached them slowly, and prepared again to move. That was when he saw the gun go flying across the room.

Douglas Arturo was now directly in front of the vortex, although he was not facing it, with the Professor standing in front of him, looking into the horribly grim maw. The younger grasped the labcoat of his father's double. "Send me through the vortex now, son, and we both die." Arturo said in a tone that attempted to inject some degree of rationality to this situation.

"I'm ready," Douglas responded. He fell back into the vortex, bringing with him...only torn pieces of labcoat, as Quinn Mallory held the Professor back from certain doom. The vortex closed.

"Professor, are you..." Quinn began to ask.

"Fine, Mr. Mallory. Just fine." A small tear almost escaped Professor Arturo's cheek. Instead, he reached for the timer that had previously been taken away from Quinn Mallory by General Ko, and had apparently fallen out of her uniform during the struggle, and handed it over to him. "How long do we have until the slide?"

"Roughly twenty-four hours and..." before he could finish his words, a strange, swirling vortex enveloped them both, carrying them to destinations unknown.

Twenty-two minutes later, to be precise, the lockdown was discontinued by the system and Conrad Bennish, Jr. entered the control room. The first thing he heard was the cries of General Minerva Ko, still trapped inside a locked cell. Releasing her, Bennish punched in the numbers, curious to know exactly what had happened.

"Report, Mr. Bennish," General Ko ordered. "What is the status of Task Force 2?"

Bennish glanced at the control panel and his eyes widened in shock. "Unknown. Their co-ordinates have been erased. We cannot pinpoint their location, sir."

"What?!?" Ko exclaimed. "How can that be?"

"The computer says the last person to use the control panel was Douglas Arturo. But that doesn't make..."

General Ko interrupted. "Where is he? And for that matter, where is the elder Doctor Arturo?" With a quick glance at Quinn's cell, she added. "And test subject Mallory?" General Ko demanded to know.

Running a bioscan on the entire facility, Bennish retorted, "Not here, sir." Running another quick check, Bennish reported, "A vortex was opened approximately 26 minutes ago."

"Is there no way we can retrieve Task Force 2?" Ko asked, frustration filling her voice.

"None I know of, sir." he responded.

"Then get Task Force 1 back here as soon as possible to apprehend the Arturos and Mallory. We will not rest until they have been apprehended. We'll chase them across the multiverse if we have to. But they will be brought to justice for what they've done." Bennish grimly nodded, thought of what the reaction of his bosses at the FBI would be, and did what he was told.

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