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6.9 - The Charm
by ThomasMalthus

Chapter One

He sat at the end of the conference table, trying not to exude the raw fear that he felt. He was not used to dealing with those who were not of his own kind. As he looked over the various participants of this meeting, he grew more and more uneasy. When he saw one particular member of the opposing side, he nearly jumped out of his seat.

Addressing the leading Lesion trade delegate, the man hissed, "It's bad enough I have to deal with you Mekkans. Did you have to invite a Cerellian along, too?"

The little alien creature looked at him angrily. "First of all we are not Mekkans, we are Larnani. Therefore you can stop having your words translated into Lakairnan and switch to Gayars, the language we prefer. Only a human could make such an idiotic mistake. Secondly, we certainly did not invite Zandokh," at the human's incomprehension, he reidentified him, "the Cerellian. He invited himself." The Larnani was silent as the Cerellian's forehead throbbed. "He seeks to remind us that he is a silent partner in our corporation and that he has every right to be here. If you find his presence offensive, good. It was the effect he desired. He also says your hair makes you look stupid."

The man suddenly felt ridiculous in his suit and tie. It was certainly not his normal attire. Cerellians had a way of unnerving him. Of course, with what they did to humans... "Fine," he said through gritted teeth. "But I don't want my mind violated. The grey," he said, using the derogatory name for Cerellians, "enters Larnani brains only."

The alien being's forehead pulsated more quickly now. The head of the Lesion delegation spoke for him. "He agrees to this. He says he would not sully himself by entering a human mind, and that it would be distasteful for any self-respecting Cerellian to do so." While the human male seethed, the Larnani continued. "I believe we can skip the formal introductions and get down to business."

"Fine with me," the man replied. The fear returned quickly.

"If I have to spend one more second on this Earth, I'll go insane," Wade complained loudly. Of course, she had to speak loudly, as the words of others walking around her came close to drowning her words out completely.

"That is a shame, Miss Welles," the Professor commented. "Seeing as there are about 120 seconds until we slide, your insanity appears imminent."

"Ha ha, Professor," Wade shot back. "So funny I forgot to hit you in the shoulder." Wade then proceeded to do just that. "Or not."

The Englishman rubbed his shoulder. "Well, pardon me for trying to get something humorous out of this horrendous world," Professor Arturo groused.

"Are you sure we couldn't have just slid from our hotel room?" Remmy asked, covering his ears as best as possible.

"We had to be out of there by 11 and didn't have enough money to rent the room for another night just so we could stay off the street for a few hours," the Professor reminded him. "Therefore we will have to endure this racket for another minute or so."

"I don't know, guys," Quinn said in a mellow tone of voice. "This place isn't too bad." All three other sliders looked at him like he was nuts. "At least these people know how to manage their time."

Rembrandt took another look around him. Everyone was talking over each other all at once. Apparently people were able to hear and speak at the same time. It gave him a headache just to think about how that would work.

"But at what cost?" Arturo lamented. "The art of conversation, the give-and-take of speaking with another individual, is lost in favor of this...this...deafening roar." His arm gestured out to the people around him. The four sliders wound their way into a quiet spot to slide.

"I'll be glad to get out of here, too," Rembrandt commented. "The way they play music on this world, five songs at a time overlapping each other." He shuddered.

Arturo pointed the timer at a wall and pressed the button to activate the vortex. He then stepped through it. Rembrandt jumped through next, followed in rapid succession by Wade and Quinn.

"We believe we have made a generous offer," the Larnani spoke smoothly. All the other heads bobbed up and down in agreement.

All except one that is. "16000 creds is not an offer," the only human at the table replied with what he hoped was indignancy. "It's an insult. SE has built an economic empire on this world, you can't just buy it for zarnan feed."

"Might I remind you that we do not need to buy it," the Larnani said evilly from across the table. "You may have gained quite a bit of economic power in the few years you've been here, human, but this is still our world to do with as we please. Your company can be ours in the blink of a human eye, with your agreement or without it."

"I wouldn't be too sure about that," the man grinned back. "About any of it, as a matter of fact. If you were running this world as much as you thought you were, we wouldn't even be having this conversation."

"Things have changed on this world," the little creature (he was a little under four and a half feet tall) gloated. "For both my kind and yours. And I believe you know which side now holds more power or you would never have agreed to this meeting."

"I came to this meeting," he replied, trying to save face as much as possible, "so that I could see if you wanted to make a serious offer to buy our corporation. Since you came here only to insult me and to flaunt your new Lesion-engineered social status, I believe we have nothing further to discuss." He then got up from the table and walked out dramatically. Or at least he tried to. He was shoved back into his chair by two Larnani guards in full armor.

"You brought armed guards?!" the businessman asked incredulously.

"Why, of course," another Larnani remarked. "What's a hostile takeover without them?"

Professor Maximilian Arturo landed hard on the metal ground. Metal ground? What kind of world was this? Before he could get up to investigate, Rembrandt came flailing through the vortex and landed right on top of him. "Owww!" he exclaimed.

"Sorry, Professor," Rembrandt apologized unconvincingly. Wade and Quinn both experienced similarly hard landings as they came out of the vortex.

"Do any of you take my age into consideration before you physically assault me for your own amusement?" the Professor demanded. "I'm not getting any younger, you know." As he tried to stand up and move, he could not do so without considerable pain. "I think you broke something, Mr. Brown."

Rembrandt carefully examined himself. "Nope, I feel fine, Professor."

Arturo looked at him foully. "You broke something of mine, you blistering idiot!!"

"Think you can make it to a doctor?" Quinn asked with concern.

"And we would pay for that with what, our good looks?" Wade asked cynically. "We need jobs."

"How long are we here?" Rembrandt asked.

"A little less than a week," the Professor answered. "Which will seem like an eternity with this tremendous pain in my backside, especially sleeping on these damned metal streets since we have no money to pay for a hotel room!"

"Stay here with the Professor, Rembrandt," Quinn said, taking charge of the situation. "Wade and I are going job hunting."

"Oh we are, are we?" Wade asked playfully.

"Unless you've got a better idea," Quinn responded matter-of-factly. In fact, Wade had none, so she accompanied Quinn without further protest.

The two of them examined the city around them. The look of the construction was distinctly artificial. In addition to the metal streets, every building appeared to be made of the same type of material. The sky wasn't visible, as the buildings seemed to stretch up to some distant point unseen from the ground. There were so many of them that the city was filled with shadow. Flying cars, much like the ones they had seen on the Mekkan homeworld, flew overhead while the ordinary gas-powered variety operated on the ground. The look of those cars was reminiscent of those from the 1930s and 40s.

The pedestrians were another matter. It wasn't as though they were unfriendly, but they did seem to keep to themselves. The people there were a hodgepodge of culture, with no dominant race or ethnicity to be seen.

"What kind of a world is this?" Wade asked aloud.

"Don't know," Quinn replied disinterestedly. "I suspect we'll find out before we have to slide out though. It seems we always do." The physics genius stopped in front of a store that, after his translator chip kicked in, he found out was called "The Enchanted Orb". There was a sign in front that read "Now Hiring".

"What do you think, Wade?" Quinn asked.

"As good a place to start as any," she replied, looking over the place and wondering what kind of mischief they could get into on this world.

Chapter Two

A little bell rung as Quinn opened the shop door and rung again as Wade closed it. A balding heavyset man behind the counter looked them up and down before he made his standard pitch. "Welcome to 'The Enchanted Orb'. Let me guess, you're looking for some sort of love potion." Before the two of them could speak, he continued. "We just got the best thing in from the foreign markets. You drink it down and it works like nothin' else in this world! Just don't ask me what's in it, cause I'm sworn to secrecy..."

"We're not looking for love spells," Quinn interrupted gruffly.

"We want work," Wade stated in a voice that was slightly peeved over his perceived intentions of their visit.

"You two want to work here?" He scoffed. "What do you even know about magic?"

Quinn spotted a deck of cards on a shelf. He swiped them, took the cards out of their package and held them out like a fan. "Pick a card. Any card."

The shopkeeper rolled his eyes but did so. Quinn made a show of closing his eyes in concentration. "Your card is the three of spades." The man showed him the card as an ace of diamonds. Quinn fumbled the cards and they all fell to the floor.

The magic shop clerk was now very frustrated. "Now please put that back on the shelf. It perfectly balances my Bill Bixby thermos collection," the man said, for all the world sounding like that comic book guy on "The Simpsons".

"Look, we need work badly. I'm willing to learn whatever there is to know about magic if it means I can get a job here," Wade said with determination.

"No way, girl," he replied. "We have strict hiring practices here. Magic experts only."

Wade was getting desperate. "I...I know the witch's alphabet."

The man returned to his seat, nonplussed. "Oh, give me a break. Everybody who watches that 'Willow' show on TV knows the witch alphabet."

Wade gave Quinn a look that said 'do something'. "Look, we've got a hurt father out there on the street and no place to stay. We need money."

The man's face suddenly lit up. "Well, if you needed money, why didn't you say so? You can apply for..." he paused dramatically as he pulled something out of a drawer. "The Conjurer's Card. Don't bring primordial spirits from the netherrealms without it."

"A credit card?" Wade asked distastefully.

Ignoring her, he continued. "It has a ten thousand cred limit and can get you anything you want. Reasonable monthly fees, very low interest. Of course, I'll have to see your credit history."

Quinn and Wade looked at each other, uncertain. Quinn was the one who spoke. "We don't exactly have a credit history."

"Perfect. You're approved." Quinn began to fill out forms to get the card. Meanwhile, Wade looked around the shop, transfixed by all the things that were for sale here. One particular thing caught her eye. An amulet with a black stone center. She tried it on and it glowed when the charm made contact with her body. "Neat," Wade remarked.

Quinn still had more forms to fill out. Wade's attention idly turned towards the television the clerk had on. It was some sort of news program.

"Admittedly, Harry W. Houdini has done a fine job as Governor of Oklahoma, but do you really think the skills that he has picked up there will translate well into those necessary to govern the United States?"

"That's an excellent question, Tom. Governor Houdini often points out that if Oklahoma were a nation, as it was in 1947, it would have the eighth-largest economy in the world. But the governor doesn't really have much control over that. Wouldn't you agree, Bob?"

"Well, he still makes a better candidate than Vice-President Copperfield. The man is so stiff. Plus, he claims that "Magic: the Gathering" was based on the exploits of himself and his wife, Claudia Schiffer, and c'mon, inventing the pull-the-rabbit-out-of-the-hat trick? The guy has delusions of grandeur."

"All valid points. Coming up, Siegfried endorses Roy in the Nevada Senate race. Will there be political repercussions about this cross-party fiasco?"

"Here you go," the man told Quinn and handed him his card.

"That was quick," Wade remarked.

"Our customers depend on quality service in the fastest time possible," the man told her, obviously parroting something he had been trained to say.

As Quinn started to leave, Wade whispered in his ear. "Let's try this thing out first." She held out the little bauble. Quinn sighed, but acquiesced. He gave the little trinket to the gentleman to ring up.

"Ah, a power amulet. Excellent choice!" he grinned. With all the service charges added up it was 18 creds. "Our card of choice is the Conjurer's Card. Would you like to use your Conjurer's Card today?" he half-chortled.

"Of course," Quinn replied without much amusement. Eventually, they finished the transaction and walked out of the store. Now to find a place to stay.

Rembrandt stood by Professor Arturo. The Englishman was now propped up along the side of a building, still in the alley where they landed. "How you feelin' now?" he asked.

"Not much better, I'm afraid, Mr. Brown," the Professor answered him. Rembrandt looked carefully at the Professor. What made him keep up his hitting-the-Professor landings? He should have known better by now. He was an experienced slider, wasn't he?

Wasn't he?

Something in Rembrandt's mind clicked a little. Experienced slider. It rang true in a way Rembrandt hadn't encountered before. Maybe he would have to take sliding a little more seriously from now on. After all, these guys were his friends and they were all in for the long haul together. They couldn't afford longstanding animosities.

Wade walked awkwardly beside Quinn as they headed back to where they had left Arturo and Rembrandt. There had been a palpable tension between the two for the last few slides. Wade still hadn't forgiven Quinn for being, well, not who she had expected. And for keeping the truth from her. It was time to end all that, Wade realized. This couldn't very well go on forever.

"I know who you are," Wade stated abruptly.

Quinn began to eye her suspiciously. "You do?"

"The Professor told me," she continued. "So if you're wondering why I've been kind of cold around you lately, that's why."

"Oh," Quinn stated with what sounded like a trace of relief. "It was all his idea, you know."

"I can believe that," Wade answered him. "He thinks I need protecting. He still sees me as a little girl lost out there in the big multiverse and thinks that its his job to watch over me."

"In all fairness to him, you did seem to be in pretty bad emotional shape when we found you," Quinn pointed out.

"You would be to, after..." Wade stopped herself. "I was ready for it. You didn't have to lie to me."

"I didn't even know you that well then," Quinn said in his own defense. "But now that I do, I can see that you're right. There was no reason to keep the truth from you." He paused for only the briefest of moments. "I'm sorry."

Wade's pause was improbably even shorter. "Apology accepted." Wade only hoped that things could get back to normal now.

The meeting had been over now for nearly an hour and he still hadn't recovered. He held an icepack to his head gingerly. He didn't know if he would ever get rid of this throbbing pain in his head. What could be worse than a day stuck in a meeting with those cut-throat ruthless freaks...

Just as he was thinking that, a messenger ran in. "Sir, I just got an urgent call from one of our distributors. It seems he accidentally sold the amulet."

"The amulet?" he replied disinterestedly. Then his eyes widened. "The amulet???" The messenger shook his head. "That numbskull!! Tell him he's fired. Exiled from this world. Turn him in to Lesion. Just make sure he's punished..."

The meek-looking man hesitantly interrupted him. "He knows who has it, sir. He sent us this surveillance tape of two individuals purchasing it."

"I have to take back what I said before. The man is brilliant!" he exclaimed. "Well, what are you waiting for? Play the tape."

The man rolled a TV/VCR into the room and put the tape into the recorder. The images that appeared on the screen showed a young man and woman buying the amulet.

"Wait a minute," he said, looking carefully at the two inadvertant troublemakers. "I remember those two." He paused in thought for a moment. "Get them here. Now." The fierce look in his eyes said he wasn't playing around. The other man obeyed his boss quickly and without question. Those two would be found and brought here, no matter the cost.

Chapter Three

Harry Thorne liked to hit people. He was good at it. So it was a stroke of good luck that he'd gotten a job as muscle for hire at an early age instead of ending up dead in a pool of blood from picking on the wrong Larnani. The fly in the ointment, and wasn't there always one?, was that he'd gotten a promotion. His new boss wanted less pounding, more giving orders. Not exactly a move up in the world from Harry's perspective, but it had a better retirement plan. His knuckles, however, had never forgiven him for giving up being a professional thug.

Today he was happier. The Boss wanted results, not finesse and this guy looked like he could take a few lumps. So rather than let the new muscle rough him up, Harry decided to do the job himself. And he was loving every second of it.

"I don't...know why...you're hitting me..." the owner of the Enchanted Orb managed to say between getting hit in the face. "I'll cooperate..."

"Not an issue in question," Harry replied sadistically. "The Boss wanted me to send you a message first. Before you talked." He finally decided to let up. After all, for him to answer questions his jaw needed to be able to move. He grasped the pathetic-looking man by what hair he had and stared him down. "Where are they?"

"I don't know," he replied feebly. As Harry readied his fist for another blow, he continued. "They said something about a sick father on the street or something, I dunno. I hear idle chitchat all day, you think I'm gonna remember..." He stopped talking and doubled over in pain as the man in black leather's fist could be restrained no longer.

"You feel like explaining yourself?" he asked, walking around the store and letting his own thugs hold the guy down.

"I couldn't keep it out in plain sight," he spoke hoarsely. "Some of those Mekkan bastards came in, halfbreeds the both of them...I had to get it to blend in with something and I thought it looked just enough like a power amulet for me to disguise it. Which worked a little too well." He half-chuckled until one of the men holding him slammed his fist into the former man's stomach.

"Don't be glib," Harry admonished him. "You're lucky this wasn't a hit. But the Boss doesn't want the Mek sniffing around, investigating a suspicious death. Who knows, if you keep up the tricks you might even get off with just a pay cut and a trip to a much less lucrative market." The man gulped. He'd heard horror stories about the mines. He hoped they were false. "You run to the Mek, though..." He pointed his gun right at him. The man flinched reflexively.

He pulled his men out of the Enchanted Orb. Word was in from the people following the two with the stone. Time to move.

"So instead of jobs, you come back with a piece of plastic?" Arturo asked sarcastically. "Out of magic beans, were they?"

"Actually, I think the store we were in had some..." Quinn started, then stopped himself, realizing this was no time to attempt humor. "It should be enough to get the four of us by for a few days, Professor."

"And get you to a doctor," Wade added.

"I just don't trust those blasted things," Professor Arturo spoke as Rembrandt and Quinn helped him to his feet. "They resemble more a new form of debt slavery than an economic resource."

"I doubt they can send us credit card bills from another universe, Professor," Rembrandt threw in.

"Ha," Arturo exclaimed. "You've obviously never encountered a truly determined bill collector."

"So, where to now?" Wade asked. "A hospital?"

Maximilian Arturo snorted. "Before I subject myself to whatever quackery passes itself off as legitimate medical treatment on this world, I believe we should get ourselves a hotel room."

"I hear that," Remmy agreed. "A little R&R is just what the doctor ordered."

"Then it's agreed," Quinn stated, after noting that Wade nodded her assent. "To the best accomodations the Conjurer's Card can buy!"

Wade read the sign on the hotel. "The Carlton. Never heard of it."

"Not very surprising, Miss Welles," the Professor commented. "Let's see what this fine establishment has in the line of orthopedic beds, eh?"

The four of them entered the revolving door that took them into the hotel. It looked ritzy enough, all right. Quinn wasn't very knowledgable about the credit system, but 10000 credits seemed like a lot. He hoped it would suffice for their short stay here.

"Good heavens!" the Professor exclaimed. The others looked to see where he was pointing. It was at the hotel's elevators. At first they looked perfectly normal, but when you looked closer...

"Who uses those things, midgets?" Rembrandt wondered aloud. The top of the elevator rose only five feet from the floor. None of the sliders could have used it if they had wanted to.

The four of them approached the check-in desk. Quinn moved up to speak to the concierge. "We'd like two rooms, please. First floor."

"Of course," the man said with an affluent air to his voice. "May I see your MLCAC cards?"

Quinn fumbled. Wade spoke up quickly. "I'm afraid we don't have any of those."

The man did his best to fake sorrow. "I'm terribly sorry, the first floor is reserved for Mek-Larnani Coprosperity Alliance citizens. There are rooms available on some of the higher floors, however." Arturo looked as though he were about to admonish the man behind the counter, but refrained. Instead, he gave the go ahead to Quinn. "Very good, sir. How will we be paying for this transaction?"

"Um, Conjurer's Card," Quinn told the man, producing it from his well-worn wallet.

"You are joking, sir," the man said, starting to laugh. Until he realized they weren't joking. "Oh. Then I must regretfully inform you that we do not accept that card. If you have no other form of payment..." He paused, judged the situation accurately from their faces and continued, "...then I will have to ask you to leave."

"Unbelievable!" Arturo fumed.

"We don't want to make a scene," Quinn reminded them. "Let's just leave here without saying anything." After they did so, it was Wade who spoke first.

"'Mek-Larnani'? Didn't we hear that somewhere before? Like..."

"Lesion World," Rembrandt finished. "Damn."

"You think they could have started conquering human worlds this fast?" Quinn asked.

Arturo stroked his beard in thought. "Possibly. Or perhaps they ruled this world before Lesion took power. For all that we stood out there, they did at least have some contact with humans before our arrival."

"Yeah," Wade said, remembering more about that world, "and didn't they say something about having colonies?"

"Maybe we should find someplace else to stay before we start investigating," Rembrandt added.

"Agreed," the Professor stated with finality.

The people assigned to trail the two with the stone were typical of those who worked for the Boss; they were all in their late twenties to early thirties and each of them probably had a strong enough criminal record to keep them from gaining employment elsewhere, but not enough for the Mek to demand their heads on a platter. Harry joined them at the Carlton just as the two in question were exiting with another two individuals they had met up with.

"Pretty sloppy," the woman in charge of that team said of their current quarry. "They haven't tried to shake us at all. Almost as if they didn't even know we were here."

"Not very professional," Harry agreed. "Maybe these guys aren't with the MLCA after all."

The group leader merely shrugged in response. As the four of them moved away from the hotel (with an unpleasant disposition on their faces) the other four followed them as inconspicuously as possible. Eventually they stopped at a phone booth and one of them began looking through a phone directory.

"Should we move in?" the woman asked.

"Now's as good a time as any," Harry replied.

The four sliders really didn't know what had happened to them. One minute they had been trying to find a new hotel to stay in, the next they were being grabbed by a bunch of toughs with guns and stuffed in a van. This was turning out to be a weird slide already.

Their hands were each bound behind them, and on their head was a black hood with an airhole around the nose. The mask got tighter around the mouth, eyes and ears. There was no way to determine where they were going, which was probably their captor's purpose.

The van eventually came to a stop. The four of them were forcibly led out and pushed around, presumably to be taken to their leader. When the forced march finally stopped, the quartet were pushed down to their knees and the hoods were removed. In front of them was a desk and an office chair, turned around so that all they could see was the back of it.

"Leave us," came the voice from behind the chair. Everyone else exited the room swiftly, leaving the sliders and their mysterious new captor alone. "So. It appears we meet again."

"Again?" Wade asked, puzzled.

"Who in blazes are you?" Arturo blurted out.

"Come now," the man's voice said, as the chair slowly turned around to reveal a duplicate of Quinn Mallory. "Surely you remember the Sorceror."

Chapter Four

"So...you're the Sorceror," Quinn remarked, thinking he had to say something. "Wow. I mean, the Sorceror. That's...impressive."

"Why did you bring us here?" Wade asked.

"Just what I was about to ask," Quinn piped up.

The Sorceror smiled. "We have much to discuss. First of all, why aren't you home?"

The sliders remained silent for a few moments. Quinn wondered if he should try to say something again. Eventually Arturo answered him. "Apparently your autosetting the timer didn't bring us home."

"Impossible," the Sorceror scoffed. "Autosetting the timer is always a surefire way to get to its home dimension. Anyone even remotely familiar with sliding technology knows that."

"Maybe...maybe we were home," Rembrandt threw in. "Yeah, a lot had changed. But there weren't as many differences as some other worlds we've been to."

"It wasn't fair!" Wade exclaimed. "We only had less than a minute to decide." She took a few seconds to process all the thoughts running through her head. "God, look at what we could have prevented."

The Sorceror recognized he had gotten things off on the wrong foot. He quickly changed the subject. "At any rate, I brought you here primarily because I need your help. Something is amiss in the multiverse. And I need everybody with the ability to slide, even those with just a messed up antigrav experiment, that I can get."

"We're listening. Although it seems we have little choice in the matter," Arturo groused.

The Sorceror looked confused, then remembered that their hands were still tied behind them. "Oh, of course, how silly of me. Guards, unbind their hands." As the burly men standing behind the sliders untied them, Sorceror Quinn moved to a video screen. "Perhaps this publicity video I've designed would help you understand the situation."

"He kidnapped us to make us watch movies?" Quinn whispered to Arturo disbelievingly. The elder man merely shrugged in reply.

The Sorceror began manipulating some electronic equipment. Soon the monitor in front of them flickered to life. The first shot showed an aerial photograph of Earth. "Our world. On the surface it seems peaceful. Relations between the Mekkans, Larnani and humans are as friendly as they've ever been. Since the Mekkans discovered our world over two hundred years ago, those who have cooperated with them have prospered," here the video cut away to a painting of George Washington shaking hands with a Mekkan in a powdered wig far too oversized for the little creature. "While those who have resisted the changes the Mek brought with them have failed." Another painting, this one of Napoleon's forces being driven back by a Mekkan force that was smaller in number. A caption below it read: Dunkirk, 1812.

The video continued, this time focusing on a brownish-yellow skinned creature similar to a Mekkan but with a smaller sucker mouth and a bit taller. "Since the creation of the Larnani race, things have run smoothly for Mekkan-Human relations. It may seem to some that nothing could ever upset this balance. However, there is a shadow of evil that looms over our peaceful world. And this evil has a name... Lesion."

The video now cut to Sorceror Quinn himself speaking. "You've heard the rumors. Lesion is a name on everybody's lips and suckers. But who are they? What do they stand for?"

Wade shot her hand up. Sorceror Quinn stopped the film, annoyed by her intrusion. "We already met Lesion. We get the whole Lesion-is-evil concept. Hell, we saw it for ourselves. What we want to know is 1. how did you get to a Mekkan trade colony, if that's what this world is and 2. what do you want with us? We already promised Jermaches Molaudian we'd pass the bad word about Lesion on to other worlds in the know about sliding. What else can we do?"

"Oh, very well," the Sorceror sighed. He wasn't really that good at interpersonal relations. Something he would have to work on if he wanted to go any further in the multiverse. "After we first encountered each other, business started drying up on the world I was on. We decided to move on to other universes, but they were no more interested in our products than the one we left. Sorceror Enterprises nearly declared bankruptcy...when we discovered this world. The Mekkans are atheists, and through their influence promoted atheism among humans as well. There wasn't anybody selling anything spiritual. That's when we moved in, became a phenomenon all over again, as well as a human political force to be reckoned with, the first in two hundred years."

"This is all extremely fascinating," piped up the Professor, a little tired of these games the Sorceror was playing. "But what does it have to do with us?"

"Yeah, it sounds like you're doing great here," Rembrandt added.

"I was. Until Lesion took power." Sorceror Quinn went into exposition mode once again. "The Mekkans have used the Larnani to rule our world for as long as they've been around, forty or so odd years. Which has been great for us, because the Larnani don't have that much pull in the Mekkan hierarchy. So it created sort of a salutory neglect system, allowing trade to flow from world to world unprohibited. Lesion mucked up the works by giving Larnani full citizenship rights. Since then, it's been a lot harder to be an independent human on this world."

"Who are these Larnani guys?" Quinn asked.

Uncomfortable in his answerman role, Sorceror Quinn shifted in his seat. "I bet you guys are famished. Raoul, bring our guests something to eat." He then got up abruptly and escorted them to another part of the building.

The Sorceror provided the five of them with what probably passed for a gourmet meal on a world where Mekkan tastes had dominated for two hundred years. Needless to say, it was barely palatable. The atmosphere was more relaxed, but the sliders weren't. There was something the Sorceror wasn't telling them. "So how did you find out we were here anyway?" Wade asked.

"That's just one part of the story to come," the Sorceror answered cryptically. As the Professor used one of his utensils (all three of them were cupped with prongs and a sharp end, thus acting as spoon, fork and knife all at once) to lift some of the better-looking food, it disappeared before he could put it in his mouth.

"What the devil!" he exclaimed. Looking around him, he saw a strange creature munching happily on his food. It was small, yellow and reminiscent of a bird, although its neck was ridiculously flexible. The long stretchy neck of the creature bobbed happily back and forth as the food slid down it. "What is that?!" the Professor asked the Sorceror with distaste.

"A Mekkan pet," he answered, "called a zarnan. Kind of like a chicken, only not as tasty. Some Larnani gave him to me when they were still trying to get on my good side. His name's Habby." A beat, as he looked at the faces of the sliders. "Short for Habalinez." Still nothing. "Oh, come on, people. The Habalinez Zarnan. It's funny!" The Sorceror returned unhappily to his food when none of the sliders got it.

"OK, enough with the casual dinner," Quinn said, throwing down his utensils dramatically. "Let's get down to business. What else do you have to tell us?"

"And how do we fit into all this?" Wade continued.

"Yeah. Haven't you bored...I mean told us enough about this world's history already?" Rembrandt complained.

The Sorceror used a napkin to wipe his face and instructed his servants to start clearing the table. "Not quite. If you possess a soulstone and you don't know what it's used for then you don't understand the heart of this war. That's very dangerous the way things are, even for guys who live like you do." Without saying anything else, he motioned for them to follow him. The foursome wondered if this meant more propaganda films.

In yet another room, this one looked it was used for business conferences, the Sorceror once again began explaining the ways of the multiverse to our sliders. "The Larnani were just here, trying to buy out Sorceror Enterprises. I was able to hold them off today. Who knows how long that can last?" The Sorceror moved to sit at the head of the table. The four sliders took their own seats.

"So give," Wade instructed him. "What's with this soulstone?"

"It all started with the Cerellians," Quinn stated, moving to a series of large cards with images printed on them. This one showed a grey creature with a large head and large black eyes. "Don't let creatures like the Kromaggs and the Mekkans fool you. They may look strange, but they're indigenous to Earth, just like us. The Cerellians actually come from another planet, in a distant star system most human worlds haven't even discovered yet. They invented space travel and found Earth thousands of years ago, conquering humanity and discovering interdimensional travel within another millenium. Despite their brutal treatment of their human slaves, they are a largely peaceful people, concerned mostly with trade and colonization."

"I saw one of those," Rembrandt suddenly interjected.

"Let me guess," Wade cracked, "you were driving late at night and..."

"No!" Rembrandt exclaimed. "On the Kromagg manta ship. The one that captured us! I saw one of those things' head!"

The other sliders looked skeptical, but the Sorceror nodded in the affirmative. "That fits with the history. The Kromaggs went to war with the Cerellians for a little while. But I'm getting ahead of myself. About forty years ago, a virus hit the Mekkan and Kromagg population. It made all their females completely barren. No explanation was given for why and no cure was found. The only solution being offered was by the Cerellians. They had tested the virus on their human slaves and got no reaction. For some reason, humans were immune to it. Their idea was to create hybridizations of the Mekkans and Kromaggs with human DNA, in theory allowing the new beings to reproduce. The Cerellians were very cooperative, as long as they got their creds."

"So the Larnani... are half-human?" Arturo asked incredulously.

The Sorceror smiled. "Precisely. Very perceptive." He moved back to the cards. "As for the Kromaggs, the pure versions look like this," he produced a visual of the Kromaggs that looked like the ones they encountered first. "The half-humans like this."

Wade took a good look at the half-human Kromaggs. They looked exactly like the type that had taken over Earth Prime, kidnapped her and taken her to... the thoughts cut off there. But the emotions of fear and loathing rose to the surface.

"The Mekkans eventually discovered a cure, eliminating the need for the Larnani and making them second-class citizens. Unfortunately they were unwilling to share it with the Kromaggs, who then declared war on the Mek. The Kromaggs outclass the Mek militarily, but they do have a secret weapon. One that's powered," he said, reaching over for Wade's amulet, "by stones like these. Soulstones. That's where I need your help."

"If we help you," Quinn spoke up, "what's in it for us?"

"Simple," the Sorceror replied. "If you do this one thing for me, I'll autoset the timer again. A sure shot at your homeworld. Now do we have a deal?"

Chapter Five

Quinn moved to Professor Arturo's side. "Can I talk to you for a minute?" The elder man nodded. Quinn gave the others a quick look. "Scientist stuff," he explained.

"Can autosetting the timer really get me home?" Quinn asked the Professor, not sounding too much like he wanted a 'no' answer.

"It's a possibility," the Professor answered.

"Then we have to do it," Quinn stated emphatically, not waiting for Professor Arturo to finish his thought.

"I'm not sure it's a strong enough possibility to risk our lives for," the Englishman continued, despite his friend's haste.

"What are you saying?" Quinn asked, a little irritated.

"I'm saying perhaps we should consider all our options before we trust the promises of this man, who we only met for a brief period of time on another earth and whose true motives we know little of," the Professor replied, finding it hard to keep his own voice down.

"Other options?" Quinn exclaimed with puzzlement in his voice. "What? Sliding randomly forever? Is that a viable option for you, Professor?"

"We should stick together until we can all find our home worlds!" Maximilian Arturo was silent for a moment after he'd said it, as he was waiting to see what Quinn's response would be.

"So that's it then," Quinn summarized angrily. "You want me to miss a chance at home because you can't bear to lose me. Wade's not speaking to you and Remmy's mind could snap at any moment, so you figure I'm all you've got." He paused to scoff. "It's pathetic." He moved away from the Professor and back towards where the others were. "I'm taking this deal and the rest of you be damned."

Arturo was left standing there, beaten and dispirited. Suddenly a back spasm hit. It was all he could do not to collapse to the floor. He wouldn't give Mr. Mallory the satisfaction.

Wade and Rembrandt watched as the other two sliders moved away from them. 'Scientist stuff indeed,' Wade thought to herself sarcastically. 'Quinn wants to go home.'

Rembrandt turned to Wade with a quizzical look in his eye. "If the timer goes back to where it came from, won't it just take us back to that Egypt world..." Rembrandt trailed off for a moment.

Wade jumped a little at the statement. Remembering that they had switched to using a timer from a world dominated by Egyptian culture a few years back (yet still before they were divided) was as far forward in the timeline of sliding as Rembrandt's mind had gone since he had started repressing everything. "What was that, Remmy?"

Rembrandt Brown froze for a moment, as if sorting through his thoughts. "Nothing. Never mind."

Quinn went back to the seat the Sorceror had provided him with. The other Quinn had been silent while the sliders had talked among themselves. "It's a deal," Quinn said.

"Does he speak for all of you?" the Sorceror asked, his eyebrows raised. He could definitely tell something was amiss in the group.

"I'm game," Wade told him.

"Anything for home," Rembrandt chimed in.

"And you, Professor?" the Sorceror asked. "Do you consent as well?"

Professor Arturo was silent for a moment as he walked over to where the others sat. He eased himself gently into his chair, a wave of pain showing up slightly on his face despite his best efforts. The answer came simply, yet felt forced. "Yes."

"Good," the Sorceror replied with a grin. "Because you're going to be one of the most important players in our little drama. Now here's what you have to do..."

Wade turned the little gem in her hand over and over, examining each facet carefully. According to the Sorceror, when pressed against human skin it shone with a green illuminescence, recognizing the soul within. Walking around to where the Professor was lying on a table, she pressed it against his arm. Sure enough, the little stone glowed bright green. "Huh. So you do have one."

"Ha ha, Miss Welles," Arturo groused from his vulnerable position. The Sorceror had some of his best masseuses working on the Professor's back. It had been one of the conditions of the deal, per Arturo's insistence.

Wade's eyes wandered back to the little stone she had purchased the day before. It was a coveted artifact for the Mekkans. Even a small shard of the so-called "soulstone", like this one, could power a weapon of unimaginable destruction. They said they only wanted to use it against the Kromaggs, but who could tell with them?

Wade decided to drive her point home. "I'm amazed you even agreed to let Quinn try to get to his home. Or maybe you're trying to figure out a way to ruin that, too. After all, if Quinn gets to live happily ever after on his world, that won't fit in with your little 'second chance' with him, will it?"

"You give me far too much discredit, Miss Welles," the Professor said from his table. "I'm perfectly willing to let Mr. Mallory attempt to get home." He cleared his throat with difficulty, as one of the masseuses was doing some neck work. "As for me keeping the truth from you as to the true identity of this Mr. Mallory, I can assure you I deeply regret.."

"I know, Professor," Wade stated kindly. "I'm just getting it out of my system." She walked in a circular path around the room. "Are you going to be up for what the Sorceror wants you to do?"

"Oh, I believe so," the Professor stated. "What's the worst that could happen?" Wade and Arturo both looked like they were turning over worst case scenarios in their head. "Perhaps that was a misphrasing. But at least I'll have Mr. Brown by my side."

"I'm not sure I like this plan," Rembrandt complained, as the Sorceror stood over him, his head in his hands in frustration.

"It's just for a few days at the most, Remmy," Quinn said, trying to reassure his friend.

"Yeah, I know," he said. "It's just I don't think they'll fall for it."

The Mekkans had accused the Sorceror of having access to soulstone quarries for years now and he had always denied it. Nonetheless, the quarries did exist and rebellions there had paralyzed Sorceror Enterprises. All the Sorceror needed was a convincing diversion for a few days, so he could mobilize his operation to prevent the hostile takeover.

"Larnani aren't that good at reading human emotions," the Sorceror told him. "Just stick to the script and you'll be fine."

The three of them were so caught up in their own conversation they didn't even notice the door opening. Finally the Sorceror caught a glimpse of someone peripherally. "We didn't order any..."

"Subject acquired," the voice said.

"Oh, sh..." the Sorceror started to exclaim, he ducked quickly, barely having time to motion to Quinn and Rembrandt to do the same. In a matter of seconds, the Sorceror's bodyguards had their weapons trained on the intruder. A few seconds after that, there was a dead body on the floor.

"How'd that thing get in here?!" the Sorceror asked incredulously.

One of the burlier bodyguards leaned over the corpse. "It's Jenkins, sir."

The Sorceror cursed angrily. "What is that?" Quinn asked.

The bodyguard answered him quickly. "NECRO assassin. Weapon of choice if you're trying to assassinate a troublesome human."

The Sorceror ran his fingers through his hair. "If they're resorting to this, we haven't got much time."

"What's a NECRO?" Rembrandt asked.

The bodyguard who wasn't moving to dispose of the body explained. "They inject a human with some kind of a virus that's common among Mekkans, and it makes him extremely suggestible and superstrong...but only for a little while, until they 'crash and burn'."

"'Crash and burn'?" Remmy asked.

"Die," the Sorceror replied simply.

"Let's just get this over with," gulped Rembrandt.

A few days later, several impatient Larnani waited in the Sorceror's conference room. "Where the kafloogan is he?!?" one of the more-important-looking Larnani, named Brala, stated harshly.

When the doors to the room opened, all semi-turreted eyes turned towards it. However, instead of the familiar lean frame of the Sorceror, two other humans dressed in grey entered. They wore all-black eye coverings (the Larnani believed they were called sunglasses, to protect the ridiculously stationary eyes of humans from the sun), although Brala couldn't understand why they would be worn inside.

"What are you doing here?" Brala hissed in halting English.

"Shall we tell them?" the darker-brown-skinned one said to the one with more facial hair.

"Why not? We're here to buy Sorceror Enterprises." The buzz around the room reached a fever pitch.

Chapter Six

Quinn paced while Wade sat idly on the bed in the new hotel room the Sorceror had fixed them up with. "I can't help but notice that we don't play too big of a role in this plan," Quinn said with some disappointment in his voice.

"And, what, you wanted excitement?" Wade asked with a note of surprise. When Quinn frowned, she backpedaled. "I'm sorry. I guess I just don't see you as the action type."

"I saved you during that earthquake, didn't I?" Quinn asked, a little more hurt than he was letting on.

"Yeah, let's look at your track record a little. You didn't want anything to do with our plan to take down that boy emperor," before Quinn could interrupt, she went on, "good call on that, by the way, you had trouble with that airborne kitty they called a griffin on Roman Theme Park World, you fainted when we were hanging on for dear life off the side of the Pan America Building..."

"Fine, fine, point taken," Quinn interrupted irritably. "I don't know, I guess I just expected my last slide to be a little more dramatic."

"Your last slide," Wade replied thoughtfully. "I guess I haven't thought about it much. I've been giving Arturo such a hard time about his feelings about it that I never even thought..."

Quinn looked at Wade earnestly. "It'll be hard for me too, you know. Over these last few slides, the three of you have grown to mean a lot to me. We've formed a bond, a slightly artificial bond, but a strong one nonetheless." He now sat down himself. "But...home. There's nothing quite like it. You stay out here long enough, with your entire world changing around you every couple of days, you start to lose a part of yourself. Going home, it's like suddenly being able to get it all back."

"How long has it been?" Wade asked. When Quinn looked a little puzzled, she elaborated. "Since you've been home."

Quinn looked down. "Five years. I spent most of that on that hellish island I was trapped on."

"You were stranded on an island?" Wade's face darkened for a moment. "The Professor never told me."

"He didn't know," Quinn told her. "Don't give him such a hard time. He lost his world, too, you know."

Wanting to change the subject, Wade looked down at her little soulstone charm. She held it up to the light. "Do you think this is really that important?"

"The Sorceror wouldn't have put his best guards outside if it wasn't," Quinn responded matter-of-factly. "Important enough to give me a ticket home in exchange for it."

"Maybe," Wade said, looking closely into the heart of the thing. "Maybe so."

"Why were we not informed?!" one of the Larnani squawked to a smug-looking Sorceror.

"I'm sorry, I thought your own intelligence services would be enough to tell you that my new acquaintances have now become players in this deal," he grinned. The little creature inwardly seethed. Intelligence was seen as sacred to the Mek-Larnani, one of the great many contrasts between them and the Kromaggs, who are notorious masters of disinformation.

Brala stepped into the conversation now. "We will discuss the ramifications of this little sleight-of-hand later. For now, we must know whether you have decided to accept our offer or not."

"Calm down, Brala. First let's hear what these gentlemen are offering for SE." Quinn sat back in his chair, enjoying the squirming of the Larnani.

"500,000 creds," Arturo told those assembled there.

"And you stay on as a Senior Partner," Rembrandt continued.

The Larnani angrily huddled. This was definitely a challenge to their plan of action. Finally, Brala resumed his seat and spoke. "You drive a hard bargain. However, we are prepared to offer 150,000 creds and the guarantee of Mr. Mallory's citizenship rights by Lesion."

"Did you even hear their offer?" the Sorceror asked them contemptuously. "These guys are going to give me way more than that."

"Are they really?" Brala sneered. "Perhaps you do not see things quite as clearly as we do. Things will become very dangerous for humans in the coming months. It would be good to have assurance, to know that no harm will befall you." He leaned in menacingly. "What price would you put on your life?"

Rembrandt looked at Arturo. "Was that a threat?" he asked him loudly.

The Professor looked back at him. "It sounded very much like one to me."

"You know what?" Remmy asked the other slider. "I don't think these guys are using fair business practices."

"A very serious accusation, Mr. Brown," Arturo said, scratching his beard for effect. "You know, I believe we've been remiss in letting them know about our security policy."

"I knew we forgot something," Rembrandt replied. Pulling out his briefcase, he opened it up to reveal complex blueprints, maps and assorted other important-looking security-type documents. "We've got modern, postmodern and postpostmodern defense systems working around the clock to make sure that this facility, its employees and yourself, Mr. Mallory are constantly safe and secure."

Arturo took over and began to point to certain portions of the blueprints. "Our electronic barriers are all of the latest and best simKroMek technology; we'll have guards stationed on all floors that are trained in at least eight forms of deadly combat. Not to mention that if Lesion attempts to do anything dastardly like launch an all-out assault to physically harm our newest Senior Partner, we will have a sliding machine in a hidden compartment of the facility, ready to whisk you away to an untraceable location."

"Impossible," scoffed one of the Larnani.

"Silence," Brala hissed angrily.

"So, as you can see, our offer has many hidden benefits as well," Arturo finished.

Rembrandt grinned widely. "We wouldn't want the Sorceror to think that Lesion was the only one who could run a protection racket."

"What Earth did you say you came from again?" one of the Larnani (maybe the one who had scoffed earlier, but it was so hard to tell them apart) spoke with sly wonder in his voice.

"We're not at liberty to divulge that information," Arturo countered quickly. There was an awkward silence for a moment. The Larnani seemed to be communicating without speaking. Unless they had learned something from the Cerellians, there was no way they were actually doing so. Perhaps they were reading each other's expressions in a way humans couldn't. At any rate, at last Brala spoke.

"Well, as entertaining as this meeting has been, I would say we're done here. I would strongly suggest that you take our offer into consideration before believing the word of these neophytes..."

"Hey!" Remmy exclaimed. "We are not..." He was silenced by a swift kick in the shin from Arturo.

"...enough to place your life in their hands." Not saying another word, Brala walked out of the meeting room. The other Larnani followed him.

Wade was asleep on her bed. She had been sleeping soundly lately, a good sign as Quinn reckoned things. She had put the soulstone charm on the nightstand by the bed. Quinn picked it up swiftly, not wanting to disturb her slumber. He examined it closely and put it up to his own chest. He then placed it in his pocket and opened the door of their hotel room.

The guard outside started to stop him. "Where are you going?" he asked.

"Out to get some fresh air," Quinn answered simply.

"You want one of us to tail you?" the other guard asked.

"I think I'll be fine," he assured them.

The second guard nodded. "Very well. But be aware that your double has many enemies here." She then stepped aside and let him pass.

Quinn walked down several flights of stairs, exuding a sense of casual movements that he hoped was convincing. Once he was outside the hotel, he started to walk across the street.

It was amazing how many people recognized him. Some waved and smiled admiringly. Others scowled and turned away quickly. How odd it must be to be famous like that, Quinn thought.

He moved swiftly to a hotel across the street. Walking up to the concierge, he asked for the telephone.

"Give me Brala Hindoran," Quinn spoke into the phone.

A few moments later, he spoke again. "Yes, I believe I have something you might be interested in. Meet me tomorrow at 77 Mekalech Way."

Chapter Seven

Arturo and Rembrandt breathed a sigh of relief as soon as the Larnani were out of the building. "You think they bought it?" Remmy asked.

"It was only supposed to be a diversion, something to keep them from trying anything drastic," the Sorceror answered him with assurance. "It looks like it worked like a charm." At that moment a shrill beeping began to eminate from the Sorceror's coat. He then proceeded to withdraw a small electronic device, put it down on the table and activate it. An image appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, of a man in some sort of blue jumpsuit. "What's the word, Cooper?"

"The rebellion's been put down. The mines are operational again. We're sending your security forces back your way," the man answered with relief in his voice.

"Excellent," the Sorceror answered. "Keep me posted." He then deactivated the machine. "Well, that's it, gentlemen," he told the two sliders. "Without the miners' rebellion tying up my resources I should be able to resist any sort of hostile takeover from the Mek-Larnani."

"So...is our business here finished?" Professor Arturo inquired.

"Not quite," the Sorceror answered. "There's still one matter to attend to."

Quinn walked as nonchalantly as was possible down the streets of this Earth's San Francisco. It was odd seeing such a familiar city encased in such an alien design. He had to constantly look back at the city map he had picked up a few blocks back to make sure he was still headed in the right direction. "Treachery's turning out to be a little harder than I thought," Quinn muttered to himself.

At last he saw 77 Mekalech Way. Not wanting to attract undue attention he moved through the shadows of the buildings around him as much as possible. Before he entered, his hand reflexively went to the little gemstone that he was going to trade for a ticket home. Then he checked to see if he still had the timer. It was all there. He was as prepared for this as he was ever going to be.

The door let out a long, low groan as Quinn opened it. It wasn't the safest-looking place he'd ever seen. It had been some sort of factory most likely, but it had seen better days. So had Quinn, for that matter. "Anybody home?" he called out.

A Larnani sat casually, smoking a potash (the Larnani loved smoking burnt potatoes for some incredibly odd reason). Flanking him were four well-armed guards. Quinn suddenly felt very vulnerable. "Did you bring the item?" the Larnani, whose voice sounded a lot like Brala's, asked him.

"You Brala?" Quinn asked. He needed to be sure.

One of the guards looked a little too trigger happy for Quinn's taste. "Of course. Don't be stupid. Do you have it or not?"

"I've got it," Quinn answered, trying his best to sound really tough (and not doing a very good job).

"Let's see it then," Brala instructed him. Quinn withdrew the stone from his jacket pocket and held it firmly in his hand. Brala motioned for one of the guards to bring it to him. Quinn reluctantly gave the Larnani the stone. What choice did he have?

"You can do it, right?" Quinn asked a little more nervously than he wanted to. "Autoset my timer? Just like what the Sorceror promised?"

"Yes, yes, of course," Brala said and Quinn gave him the timer. The Larnani's gaze, however, was fixed on the soulstone. "But first I must make sure you're giving me the right merchandise. There is so much that can be passed off as genuine, but there is one sure way to test it to make sure it's pure soulstone." Without Brala even having to say anything, two guards grabbed Quinn. Another one pressed the soulstone to his chest. Nothing happened.

"Aha!" Brala exclaimed. "You were trying to make a fool of me! This is not the soulstone, this is some worthless trinket!" As the guards looked at him angrily, Quinn spoke up quickly.

"Alright, alright, you caught me. Can't blame a guy for trying, though, can you?" Quinn laughed nervously. He stopped when one of the Larnani guards leveled his weapon at him. "It's underneath my shirt. Here, let me just get it out..."

"No more tricks!" Brala ordered. The other Larnani guards had their weapons trained on him as well. Slowly and carefully Quinn pulled up his shirt and removed another gem.

"See? Here it is," Quinn answered with fear in his voice. He did not move as the guards did the test once again. This time the stone glowed bright green.

"Well, perhaps I underestimated you after all, human," Brala spoke happily. "Bring the gem to me!" he barked to his subordinates. As he held it in his hand, the rest of the world seemed to slip away.

Quinn collected the other gemstone and began moving towards the exit. "So...you'll get in touch with me about the timer, right? Before it hits zero?"

"You have my word," Brala answered distractedly. Quinn left the building without another word. "The fool!" the Larnani leader explained after Quinn was out of sight. "If he believes I will ever return a sliding apparatus to a human, he is more addled than most!" The Larnani all had a good laugh about that.

One of the guards spoke up for the first time. "It appears to be beeping now, Lord Brala," he pointed out.

Brala picked up the timer. "This is the oddest transdimensional remote I've seen yet, what in the world is it doing?" He began to examine the timer carefully. After a few moments his semi-turreted eyes moved wildly. "This is not for sliding! This is a..." Before he could finish, the entire building was blown to smithereens.

"I still don't understand how you duped the Larnani," Wade commented a little confusedly. Several days had passed since the incident. There were only a few moments left until the slide.

"It's simple," Quinn told her. "I showed them the soulstone first, but they didn't believe it was the right one. So then I gave them a glowstone amulet that the Sorceror gave me, so they believed that was the soulstone. I guess they were so distracted by all that that they didn't even notice the 'timer' was really a detonator."

Wade still looked confused. "I guess what I don't understand is, how come they didn't believe the soulstone was real?"

Quinn shrugged. "Don't know. Maybe the Larnani are easily fooled."

Professor Maximilian Arturo stepped in quickly, wanting to end Wade's train of thinking as swiftly as possible. "We certainly tricked them, eh, Mr. Brown?" he chuckled.

"They never knew what hit 'em," Rembrandt agreed. He then turned to the Sorceror, who was still working on the timer. "Hey, how's that comin'?"

"It's ready to go to its homeworld," the Sorceror grinned. Everybody seemed excited...except Professor Arturo.

"Cheer up, Professor," Wade told him. "This is supposed to be a happy occasion."

"Indeed," Arturo agreed. "Yet I wish I could be as confident as the rest of you that we will reach our intended destination."

"I keep tellin' you, Professor, that last time was a fluke," Rembrandt spoke up. "As long as we get some time to investigate things on the next world, we should be good to go." Remmy rubbed his hands together and broke into a wide grin.

The Sorceror took the liberty of activating the vortex. Quinn instinctively began to move towards it. "Good luck," the Sorceror told him.

"Thanks," Quinn responded. "For everything." He then jumped gleefully into the void.

Wade and Rembrandt each said their goodbyes to the Sorceror and left for the next world. Arturo stopped a second before joining them. "You know that for most of us, this isn't a homecoming, right?"

"Yes, but you have to pretend for the sake of Mr. Brown," the Sorceror answered. When the Professor looked surprised, he explained. "Quinn told me everything." After a moment of silence passed, he spoke again. "It's a good thing you're doing, getting him home. It's what your Quinn would have wanted."

"I'd like to believe that, Mr. Mallory," Arturo responded. "I truly would." And then he entered the vortex himself. It closed shortly afterward.

As the Sorceror began to walk back to his office, he was astonished to see another vortex open right in front of him. Out popped several men and women in military uniforms and sporting a great deal of weaponry. One of them moved to the front of the troop and began issuing orders.

"Status, Mr. Wing?" he asked quickly.

An Asian man apparently named Wing looked frustratedly at a piece of electronic equipment. "We're already picking up a vortex that just went out of this world."

"Damn," Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery Andersen cursed. "We must've just missed them." He then noticed the Sorceror. "You," he stated flatly. "Rogers, scan him." The subordinate officer did his duty and reported that this was not the Quinn Mallory they were looking for.

"Keep him around for questioning anyway," Andersen stated. "If he knows the whereabouts of Test Subject Quinn Mallory and the traitorous Maximilian Arturo, he may be able to help us after all."

[ Earth 2013 Episode Guide | The Otherworlds ]