6.13 - The Depths
A green vortex opened up in an alleyway in downtown San Francisco. It was deserted, thankfully. From it's opening maw spewed forth a gushing tide of water and one nearly-drowned man. His name was Jack Burke, former mediocre policeman turned very inadequate thug. He gasped for breath as soon as his head rose above the cascade of rushing water. 'Damn', he thought. 'This wasn't what I signed up for.'
There had been two others with him. A kid, barely out of high school and some other guy that used to be really close to the men at the top until those men changed. He should've figured it was a high risk mission from the start, but he was suckered into it anyway. It was his first time off-world and he was a little bit intoxicated with it. He had been cured of that quickly.
The world they'd landed on wasn't even industrialized. The people spoke something that their translator couldn't make heads or tails of. Not to mention that they were hostile and superstitious. 'Sliding' didn't exactly fit their conception of what good spirits would be doing, so they decided to kill their new guests. There was fighting, but despite the sliders' technological superiority, the outcome was obvious.
They killed the other two in ways too unspeakable to mention. They saved drowning for him; apparently they considered it the worst form of death. Something to do with their sea god being the most feared. At any rate, it was a lucky break for Jack, who wagered that he could slide underwater just as well as he could above it. He worried for a moment that the timer's circuitry might fry, but it all seemed to work out just fine.
There was a pouch on his belt that was waterproof and contained the communicator he used to keep in touch with headquarters and that they used to keep track of him. He spoke into it. "Weaver Three, dispatch..." He stopped to cough and then couldn't stop. He allowed his lungs to breathe the air in deeply and then relaxed them. Although it wasn't the standard distress call, it was enough to get a retrieval team after him.
Just as he began to look for that team, he spotted a police car driving the street not too far from where he was. He found a place to hide and stayed there. While the risk of getting arrested was minimal, the chances that he would run into somebody he knew from the force was much greater. He didn't want to risk that. He rose up when he couldn't hear it any longer.
He waited a few more moments in silence and fear. The mission had been an utter failure and the people that worked for him didn't like failure. Still, considering the casualties they had taken, he was sure the Triumv would be glad to have made it out with even one of their operatives still breathing.
At last, he spotted two men who looked vaguely familiar. From the way they dressed, he was sure they were employees. "Hey," he exclaimed. "I was wondering if you were ever going to get here." After a minute's pause, they said nothing. "Not talkative, eh? Can't say as I blame you." He looked around for a moment. "Where's your ride? I've got a whopper of a botched mission to explain to the boss and..." Those were the last words he spoke.
"I feel ridiculous," Professor Maximilian Arturo said to Rembrandt as the two of them walked the San Francisco docks. He wore a black felt pirate hat, a blouse, a black vest, bright green-and-orange striped slacks and had a patch over his eye.
"Oh, c'mon, Professor," Rembrandt encouraged. "That's what all the respectable types wear on this world. You remember the laughing fit that guy had at your jacket and tie when we slid in."
"You're just relieved you only have to wear the kerchief," he said, indicating the cloth wrapped around Rembrandt's head. Remmy chuckled a little. "It's almost time to leave this wretched world. Where's Miss Welles?"
"Probably just taking in the sights before we slide," Rembrandt answered him. "You've got to admit that this San Francisco is at least tourist friendly. And they have the best seafood of any world we've been to for months."
Arturo grumbled something that sounded like it might have been agreement. The two of them walked along the dockside without saying anything else until Wade arrived with Quinn in tow. "Sorry I'm late. The traffic at sea here is even worse than normal traffic."
"You have our normal clothes, I take it," the Professor asked her rather grumpily. Wade nodded affirmatively. "Excellent. Let's find a secluded place to slide, shall we?"
They arrived outside of a building that looked like it had been closed down for more health violations than they could count. Arturo gave Wade a look. "What? You wanted secluded. Everything else within miles of here has been turned into a dock, a dockside shop or a dockside restaurant."
As the Professor seethed, Quinn looked down at his own brightly colored outfit. "I'll be glad when I can ditch these clothes."
"I'm not waiting," Arturo told him. "We could land anywhere, including in the middle of a black tie banquet for the Queen. And I've had enough mortification for one day." The other three followed suit. Soon, it was time to slide.
Quinn entered the vortex first, followed by Wade. Before Rembrandt jumped in, he yelled back to Arturo over the roar of the vortex, "How long are you going to hold a grudge against Quinn?" He entered the void without answering. Rembrandt only shook his head and followed through.
Quinn and Wade fell hard against the pavement as they landed. Quinn didn't seem all that thrilled with getting up. "Is it me, or does each world just get colder?" Wade asked as she zipped up her jacket. She stood slowly and dusted herself off.
"Oh. My. God." Came a female voice, seemingly from nowhere. Wade and Quinn looked around to see a young woman, pale with sandy brown hair and short but thin.
Wade cursed inwardly. She hated these situations. "Uh, look, this may seem weird, but it's actually part of a..."
"Are you suppliers?" she asked incredulously.
"Uh...yeah, we're suppliers," Quinn answered in a dazed voice as he rose to his feet.
This seemed to thrill her even more. "Ohmigod. And you're not for the Triumv, right, cause...not out in the open...oh, man this is so cool, I've got to tell Corey..." With that, she scampered off. Just in time, as Rembrandt and the Professor were coming through.
"That world was maddening," Professor Arturo assessed. "I simply refuse to believe that everyone dresses like pirates because the U.S. lost the Tripolitian War."
"I'm sure it's more complex than that, Professor," Quinn said as he attempted to help the elder man to his feet. He would accept none and rose on his own.
"We've got other problems," Wade told them. "We were spotted sliding in."
"Oh man," Rembrandt complained. "This gets old."
"By whom?" Professor Arturo asked.
Wade chewed slightly on her lip. "A young girl, couldn't have been much more than 18 or 19. She didn't sound like the most credible witness in the world, but she mentioned something about suppliers..."
"How much time do we have here?" the Professor interrupted.
"Six days," Quinn answered as he glanced at the timer's readout.
Arturo straightened his coat. "Miss Welles, it is far too early in the slide to worry about the particular differences of this earth's history and it is far too late in the evening for us to begin researching it now. Let's worry about acquiring a place to stay for now, eh?"
Wade noddeed her head in agreement. The four of them began to walk through town.
"Nothin's open," Rembrandt said, making a quick evaluation of the local shops and other businesses that cluttered the streets.
"Some of these stores are just starting to open up," Quinn commented, pointing to some stores starting to turn their lights on and unlock their doors.
"This must be a world that loves the night life," Wade said with a small chuckle in her voice. "Haven't run into one of those for a while. For pirates, those guys on the last world really had no idea how to party."
"I cannot speak for the rest of you, but I would appreciate being able to get a good night's rest," Professor Arturo said. "I couldn't get much rest at the fleabag hotel we were forced to stay in on the last world."
"Maybe we should get jobs here," Wade suggested. "It does seem to be pretty modern. And they all dress normally."
"Well, we got the jobs on the last world," Rembrandt pointed out, bringing up unhappy memories of Remmy's tenure singing sea chanties and the Professor's short-lived career as a fry cook. "I'd say it's yours and Quinn's turn."
"Fine," Wade said. "Quinn and I will look for a job, you find us a place to stay." With that, the elder sliders walked off to do just that. Although she seemed unhappy about it, she tried to reconcile the decision to herself. "At least we won't be bored here for six days."
"And we certainly need the cash," Quinn threw in. "I don't think I could look at another hush puppy after that last slide."
"I can supply you with the cash," a young-sounding voice proclaimed from above. "Assuming you've got the goods."
The two sliders looked up. There, pacing back and forth on a ridgepole was a pale, blonde young boy who had scrawny to spare and wore a long black coat. "Goods?" Wade asked after a moment. "What goods?"
"You're suppliers, aren't you?" the young man asked. "My girlfriend told me..."
"She's a little confused," Quinn tried to persuade him.
"No way man," he said with assurance as he flipped himself down to the pavement right in front of them. "I heard you talkin' about having some slide. So hook me up." The determined look in his eyes said he would not take no for an answer.
"'Slide'?" Wade questioned. "We don't even know what that is."
The young man eyed them suspiciously. "You mean to tell me you didn't transloke in here?"
"At this point, I think I need a vocabulary lesson," Quinn replied, acutely aware that his misspeaking put them into this situation. "What's 'transloke'?"
"Short for translocation," he answered. "Travel between worlds. Everybody knows, but they don't talk about it much."
"We did...transloke in here," Wade told him. "But we're not suppliers, we swear."
"We're tourists, sort of," Quinn stated awkwardly.
"We're just trying to find our way home," Wade said, overlapping Quinn's statement.
"Tourists...looking for a way home while exploring the multiverse," he said thoughtfully. "I like it."
Wade and Quinn shared a look that said "Yay?" "Thanks," Wade finally responded.
"Could you tell us what these suppliers are?" Quinn asked.
"I probably shouldn't," he said in a whisper. "If you aren't familiar with the term, I'd suggest you'd stay out of their way. They're pretty powerful around here." He got a sly look on his face. "But if you need a guided tour, let me know. Name's Corey Walker. I have the best rates in town." He promptly disappeared, seemingly into nothingness.
"Why do I think he has the only rates in town?" Wade asked.
"Never mind him," Quinn said not very reassuringly. "We still need to look for work."
Wade nodded and they began to walk the streets of this world's version of San Francisco. There seemed to be startlingly few "Help Wanted" signs. One shopkeeper they asked about new hires suggested with a chuckle that they check out a nightclub named "The Depths". It seemed they were always hiring. Not having much other choice, the two sliders made their way towards the place.
"I must say, Mr. Brown, that this is the finest hotel I've yet seen on our travels," Professor Arturo told his companion. "But I doubt very seriously we can afford a room here. Not for one day, much less six."
"No harm in trying, Professor," Rembrandt told him. The two of them looked appreciatively at the large array of furniture strewn about the lobby, the many plush staircases and the well-stocked bars on either side of the long entranceway. The two of them finally wound their way to the front desk.
"Excuse me, madam," Arturo began. "Might I inquire how much it would set us back to stay the night here?"
"Certainly, sir," she answered cheerfully. "It'll be five dollars a night if you two want separate rooms. If you're willing to share that'll cut the cost in half, of course." At their dropped jaws, she went into her sales pitch. "But really it is worth it. You'll have full access to our Olympic-sized swimming pool, all of our meal bars and of course, free admission to all of the shows that take place regularly in our ballroom."
Arturo managed to compose himself. "Five dollars is very steep, and we are on a very tight budget, but I suppose we can splurge every now and then." He handed her ten for two rooms and hoped against hope that Francis the Talking Mule wasn't on the ten on this world, or something equally ridiculous. Luckily, it all seemed to work out.
"The porter will show you to your room, sir," the woman said. Soon, a man came out, took their bags and escorted them to their hotel room. Once they arrived there they soon collapsed on their beds.
"Oh yeah," Rembrandt said with a smile. "This world is sweet."
"So, it's a good thing I told you. Right? You're pleased?" Corey Walker said to the man behind the desk.
"Yes," he answered ambiguously. "You did the right thing. Of course."
"Good," he answered with relief. "So you'll hook me up again, right? I mean this should really be worth some major slide."
"I'm certain something can be arranged." The man seemed not at all interested in the boy standing in front of him.
"Great!" he exclaimed, his smile growing ever wider. "So when can I expect it?"
Now it was the other man's turn to smile. "Oh, I'd expect some slide to be coming your way...very soon." He quietly withdrew his gun from the desk drawer in front of him.
"Wow," exclaimed Wade. The line out the door looked a mile long. "This must be a really popular club."
"Must be why they always need people," Quinn commented as an afterthought. He went up to the bouncer. "We're looking for work here. Who can we talk to about that?"
The gruff man with a shaved head looked the two of them up and down, then fixated on Quinn. "You're not our type. Get lost."
"Not their type?" Quinn queried after they had left his earshot. "What did he mean by that?"
"Well..." Wade started off. She tried to be delicate. "The sweater really doesn't look flattering. And I don't know why you picked the last several worlds to start wearing your glasses again, but it just doesn't help the look at all."
"OK," Quinn said a little defensively. "What you're telling me is I look like a nerd."
"Basically," Wade answered.
Quinn paused in thought a moment. "Not a problem. I'll go get changed, ditch the glasses and we'll go back in. Undercover."
"We really should check back in with the Professor and Remmy. It's almost ten o'clock, they're probably getting worried." Wade withdrew the communication device that kept the group in contact with each other when they split up.
"They'll probably be mad that we didn't find work," Quinn said. Wade made him hush and informed Arturo about their situation. Once Wade finished the conversation, she turned to Quinn.
"You have got to see where we're staying," she told him enthusiastically.
"I have to admit, this is pretty relaxing," Quinn said, stretching out on his King-sized bed. "I could get used to this."
"Don't," Rembrandt cautioned him lightly. "We'll be back to roach motels before you know it. Especially if you and Wade don't get employed any time soon."
Quinn yawned. "It seems like this 'Depths' place is probably our best bet."
Rembrandt took his socks off and made his toes separate. "Doesn't sound very friendly. But whatever pays the bills, especially if you get paid up front. Someplace that tips would be nice, too." He laid back on his bed. "Man, I need some ice."
"Right now?" Quinn questioned groggily. "It's after midnight."
"Hey, you weren't the one who had to do seven encores of 'Blow the Man Down'." Remmy shuddered. "My throat'll be red for a week. I gotta get something cold on there before it gets worse."
"Maybe the Professor will do it," Quinn suggested as he began to nod off.
"Yeah," Rembrandt answered. "Wade probably needs the privacy anyway." As he knocked on the door he chuckled inwardly about the fuss Arturo and Wade made about bunking together. But it was their turn. "Professor?" he asked when there was no reply.
"What is it?" came a not-too-mildly irritated voice from the other room.
"You want to get me some ice?" Rembrandt asked in what he hoped was a pathetic tone.
After much haggling, and the agreement that Rembrandt would serve the Professor cold drinks for the rest of the slide, the elder Englishman rose from his slumber to fetch Remmy's ice. As he wandered downstairs with the rather generous plastic bucket they had provided them with, he heard a man at the front counter speaking rather loudly.
"I'm looking for a man and a woman, both look to be in their late twenties, both with short brown hair. They might have acquired lodging with you today." As Arturo watched over the balcony, the man showed her a police sketch. She shook her head and Arturo let out a breath he didn't even know he'd been holding. Before the man walked away, he got a glimpse of it. It was a pretty good match for Quinn and Wade.
"What do you want these people, anyway?" the woman asked.
"They're wanted for questioning about a murder," he reported grimly. Professor Arturo made his way quickly back to the room.
"So..." Quinn let out sharply. "I'm wanted for murder. What else is new?"
"You needn't be so glib," Professor Arturo responded. "This could put us all in danger." They were at the hotel's breakfast bar in the lobby.
Wade wasn't taking it lightly. "Did he say who was murdered?"
"No," the elder man said after thoroughly chewing a scone. "I plan to find out, though."
"How?" Rembrandt wondered.
"I have my ways, Mr. Brown," Arturo responded enthusiastically.
"And you're set in them," Quinn muttered under his breath.
"Maybe we're overreacting here," Rembrandt pointed out. "You said they were just wanted for questioning, right Professor?" He nodded agreement. "Why not just go to the police and tell them you had nothing to do with it?"
"We don't know what this world's police are like for one thing," Wade answered. Arturo once again nodded.
"Also, their doubles may well have committed some crime or be well-known criminals," the Professor pointed out. "We can't risk having them arrested for their double's misdeeds."
"So what do we do then?" Quinn asked.
"Leave everything to me," Professor Arturo stated. "I may need Mr. Brown's assistance but the two of you should stay out of it. Considering the nature of this problem, the best thing you could do is keep a low profile."
Seven hours later, Quinn and Wade entered 'The Depths'. "This place gets packed early," Wade commented at the crowd inside the place.
Quinn took a good look at the place. It was reminiscent of some dance clubs he had been to on his home world although considerably larger. It was well-maintained; there was no litter on the floor and tables were cleaned and ready practically the moment anyone left. There were also a great many teenagers in the place. "I guess school gets out early here," he remarked.
Wade looked at Quinn. He had indeed ditched his glasses and wore a deep blue t-shirt with a leather jacket that he had 'obtained' from the coat check. Wade couldn't help but compare him to the Quinn she had known as at this moment, the man before her looked remarkably like him. "Are you sure about this?"
"We still need work," Quinn answered her quickly. "And besides, I've got a hunch that our 'tour guide' from yesterday can give us some answers about this murder."
"You think we'll find him here?" Wade asked, frowning as she looked at the din of people around them.
"I'm counting on it," he answered her.
Despite reservations, Maximilian Arturo entered the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department. He had spent the last several hours at a nearby library, researching the history of this town and as much as he could about this world in general. It was still not very much to go on. Still, he had to discover what he could. Delving in further would require a little duplicity.
"Excuse me," he said, laying his British accent on a little more thickly than he usually did. "My name is Maximilian Arturo, formerly of Scotland Yard. I'm looking for a Detective Tandy." The officer at the desk pointed the way towards an office.
"Detective Tandy," he said, attempting cheerfulness as he entered the office. "I'm Maximilian Arturo, an aspiring private investigator. Perhaps you've heard of me."
The man looked at him blankly. "I'm afraid I haven't."
Arturo furrowed his brow. "How odd. At any rate, I am formerly of Scotland Yard. As you'll remember that organization was done away with when the Act of Union put England under the jurisdiction of the FBI in 1987..."
"I'm aware of all that," the man replied impatiently. "What can I do for you?"
Professor Arturo cleared his throat. "It's come to my attention that there is a murder case currently under investigation. A very recent murder. I've done some research on this city and there have been startlingly few such occurances in recent years and no cases have gone unsolved. It's quite a track record. I'm very impressed." Flattery never hurt, the Professor found.
"Thank you," the man said, still not willing to indulge the Professor. "Are you here just to give me congratulations or was there something you seriously wanted to discuss?"
"I must admit that my record on murders was more dismal than yours and I'm thinking about opening a detective agency and I wanted to examine your methods up close. " The man only stared at him in response. "And of course offer my services wherever possible."
"All right," he responded with regret. "You can come along with me to the next part of the case."
"Excellent," Arturo replied enthusiastically. "And what is that exactly?"
"The coroner's office," he answered with a slight smile. "We've got a body to examine."
Rembrandt Brown had headed back to the hotel room after breakfast, grabbing the hotel's complimentary newspaper on his way in. Most of the stories made little sense to him. The ANA's military had evidently taken Kerouac City from the Canadiens, whatever that meant. The San Francisco Queens had beaten the Sacramento Devils in a sport Rembrandt had never heard of. The comics page all seemed to be war propaganda. He finally turned to the obituaries, his morbid curiousity getting the best of him.
He looked over the names of the dead and came upon one he recognized. Artie. Heart failure. For some reason, it struck a chord with Rembrandt. He read the full article to see where the funeral service would be. He then decided he would be there.
It had been several hours. Still no sign of the young man they'd seen shortly after sliding in. "I think your theory needs work," Wade observed.
"Maybe," Quinn noted sourly. "Still, the atmosphere has been enlightening."
"Which part?" Wade asked with sarcasm. "The fistfight, the vomiting, the fact that Sonny and Cher are back together on this world and that the dance floor has been playing their music nonstop for the last hour?"
"Fine, be a pessimist." Quinn stirred his drink. "This world hasn't been that bad. Not really."
"What, are you thinking about skipping out on us again?" Wade teased. "Bailing out? Hanging us out to dry?"
Quinn frowned deeply and looked down at his drink. Wade felt a little guilty. "Sorry if that sounded harsh. I really was just kidding."
"I know," Quinn told her. "I'm sorry..."
"You've said it before," Wade reassured him. "We all get it. Well, Rembrandt was a little confused, but the rest of us understood..."
"No, really, Wade." Quinn looked her straight in the eye. "I need to do this. Let me finish."
"OK," Wade said softly.
"When you travel like we do," he started, "you lose a sense of what's real. What's familiar is far away, it's twisted. You don't know who to trust. Sometimes you can't even trust yourself. What I felt like I needed was a family, a person, any person, who represented some sort of bond. Something that wouldn't be broken or thrown away in a moment. Something that I needed from the three of you. Something that you haven't given me."
"What?" Wade replied incredulously.
Quinn held his hands up defensively. "I'm not trying to blame you, really. I'm just trying to..."
"How dare you!" Wade exclaimed. "How dare you imply that we owe you anything? You would have died or been lost a dozen times already if it hadn't been for us!! Do you know how hard it is to look at you and know that you're not who I want you to be? Do you even have a clue?"
"Just stop for a second, OK," Quinn pleaded with her. "Let me explain."
"You've explained enough," Wade told him coldly. "What you haven't done is given us a chance to trust you. There always seems to be a knife in our backs every time we do." Wade started out the door.
Quinn began to follow her, but noticed his quarry in the corner on his path towards the door. He went over to him with some hesitation.
"Hey man," the young blonde boy said to Quinn. "I think this is what you're looking for."
Quinn looked at the card Corey gave him and turned it over in his hand. "What is this?"
"It's the address of a place that'll give you what you've been looking for," he answered. "A place called Neverwhere."
Quinn stood at the precipice of a cliff. The sun was shining a bit too brightly for San Francisco, but the place didn't feel foreign to Rembrandt. Everything seemed far too familiar. Which was especially odd because he didn't recall being here before.
"I don't like goodbyes," Wade said passionlessly. She turned to Rembrandt. "But then you don't either. You don't like to talk about it at all."
Rembrandt's confusion showed on his face, or so he thought. Quinn and Wade didn't seem to be reacting to him at all. He wondered what all this was about. A casket lay there before him. He knew instinctively that it was Arturo's. "How did this happen?" he asked.
"We don't have time for this, Rembrandt," Quinn informed him. "We have to move on. We always have to move on."
"But why?" Rembrandt pleaded with him. "Why can't we..."
"Shh," Wade instructed in a soothing voice. Her face was indistinct and blurry. "We're almost home now, Rem. Don't lose your head..."
Suddenly the world seemed to be plunged into darkness. Wade, Quinn and the casket were all gone. He was suddenly possessed with a fever. He could no longer stand. He fell quickly, but there was no ground to catch him. He was able to scream once before sound too seemed to disappear into the abyss. He kept tumbling helplessly into the maw until...
Rembrandt awoke with a start. He hadn't had a dream that shook him this much since he saw himself as a superstar on a world where wearing pants was illegal. He rose and got himself a glass of water. He put the last of the ice from the bucket in the water and drank it quickly. After a few moments, he returned to his bed and tried to forget about his dream. 'Weird,' he thought. 'I wonder what it all meant.'
Quinn stopped Wade before she got too far from the door. "Wade, wait!" he called out.
"We don't have anything to talk about," Wade replied in icy frustration.
"Yes we do," Quinn told her. Before she could interrupt him, he held up the business card that their sought after informant had given him. "Neverwhere."
Wade's interest was somewhat piqued, but she was clearly still ticked off. "What's Neverwhere?"
"It's the place where we can find some answers," Quinn told her with assurance. "Maybe get some work, too. Corey says the people who run the place have been looking for us."
Wade cocked an eyebrow. "You think they might know something about why we're wanted for murder?" she asked.
"I think there's a good chance of that," Quinn answered.
"Then we should go," Wade told him with authority in her voice. The two of them walked along the streets of San Francisco, still appreciating how different this world was than most they'd visited. The city appeared clean, but this was perhaps because few people seemed to linger out on the streets. Some buildings seemed futuristic in design and implementation, others as though they had been around for decades but were perfectly preserved.
The two sliders' attention was diverted for a moment by two people in a back alley. They were the first people they had seen who weren't scurrying between buildings. Both of them leaned against a brick wall on opposite sides of each other. They had some sort of crystal-like object strapped to their foreheads. The objects were glowing, but Quinn couldn't tell why. The two of them seemed to be enthralled by the stones. "Weird," Quinn commented before walking on. Wade lingered a moment more, but eventually followed him.
Professor Maximilian Arturo couldn't honestly say that he'd enjoyed his time at the morgue, but he had learned some things. The deceased's name was Jack Burke. The man who was currently driving the car he was riding in, Detective Larry Tandy, had apparently at one time been a friend of the deceased. He was an ex-cop who had apparently went to work as hired muscle for a group that the Detective would not name. He did, however, refer to his employers as 'those bastards again' at one point. He suspected there was more to this entire situation that the good detective was not letting him in on, but he decided to bide his time and see if he could discover more information on his own.
The man stopped at the wharf that was their destination and the two of them quickly exited the vehicle. Arturo did his best not to stare outright at the docks surrounding them. There were more ships lined up there than he would have ever imagined in San Francisco harbor. The entire bay seemed to be crowded with them. His curiousity couldn't be completely suppressed, however. "Are there always so many ships in San Francisco?"
The man smiled. "You didn't research this city as well as you thought, did you?" Arturo said nothing. "No," Detective Tandy answered him. Arturo nodded his head. "Usually there are more. This is a pretty slow day. Which means I can get some answers from some of my best stevedore snitches."
Professor Arturo did his best to keep up with the other man, but he knew his way around this place and Arturo clearly did not. He was doing his best to hide the fact he was out of breath when he came up to two burly men standing alongside the docks loafing. "Tandyman!" one of them called out.
"Who's your friend?" the other one, a little more nervous it seemed, asked with concern.
"Just some English twit who thinks he can make it around here," the policeman scoffed. "Ignore him. I need information. There are new suppliers in town and I've got a murder that makes me think turf war. What do you think?"
Arturo held back his indignation, using all of his diplomatic skills to concentrate on the man in front of them's answer. "Oh yeah," the nervous one replied. "There's something big going down alright. But you're not gonna believe me when I tell you what it is."
Quinn and Wade were almost to Neverwhere. Or at least where they had been told Neverwhere was. "I don't know what Neverwhere is supposed to look like, but this doesn't look like it." They stood in front of an old abandoned factory that didn't look like it had been used in years.
"It's here," Quinn told her with confidence. "Somebody's supposed to come out and meet us, to show us the way in."
"You've got some nerve," Wade said under her breath.
"What?" Quinn asked with mock innocence.
"Pretending like you're in charge of anything, much less me," Wade told him. "I'm the experienced one. I should be calling the shots."
"Alright, oh fearless leader," Quinn bowed to her with great flourish. "What shall we do now?"
Wade hesitated for a moment, her assurance never leaving her. "I guess we'll just...continue to wait here."
"Good plan," Quinn responded sarcastically.
There were a few more moments of silence. Wade broke it. "I didn't try to be your enemy. I really wanted to help you."
Quinn considered being flip, but decided against it. "I know that."
"Then why..." she started with harshness in her voice. She then decided to tone it down. "Why are you always doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing? Why can't you learn to trust people?"
Quinn unexpectedly sent her a big smile. "Call it a character flaw." Before anymore could be said, a woman called to them and ushered them through a door they hadn't seen before and into Neverwhere.
He exited the vortex quickly. He was in no danger on the last world, it was as docile as their preliminary reports had suggested. Still, there had been some...unpleasantness. Bloodshed where he hoped there would be none. In particular, he hated to kill doubles of his father. Nonetheless, it had to be done. One of the necessities of sliding that he would never get used to.
"What's next on the..." he started, but was soon interrupted by a terrible coughing fit. He coughed up something in his kerchief but wouldn't let the woman standing in front of him see what it was.
"Are you alright, sir?" she asked him.
"Yes," he answered. "But tell the boss I need to talk with him about this one. We've got to make a switch soon."
"Yes sir," she answered mechanically. "I hate to bother you further, sir but there are some people here I think you should see."
Quinn and Wade were fascinated by Neverwhere and the products that lined the shelves. Music like the Beach Boys' Smile album, Elvis: Live from Maui '80, and a Nirvana CD from 1995 called Slew Seattle. A copy of William Shakespeare's 'Scipio Africanus'. A 1965 version of 'A Streetcar Named Desire' starring James Dean and Marilyn Monroe on DVD.
"What's the story behind this place?" Wade asked the woman at the counter.
She smiled. "Why don't I fill you in while your friend goes in the back? There's someone there who wants to talk to him."
Wade nodded but managed to whisper in Quinn's ear. "Be careful."
Quinn Mallory walked through the door to the back room and saw a man about his age that he didn't recognize. He wore a grey sweater and green overcoat and had a stubbly beard. The light in his eyes when he saw Quinn indicated that perhaps this man was familiar with him. Then all doubt was removed as he spoke. "Quinn," he said with warmth in his voice. "It's been a long time since I've seen you, brother." Although this Quinn did not recognize him, the man standing before him was Colin Mallory.
Rembrandt walked into the church that the newspaper said would be holding the funeral service. He realized how long it had been since he'd gone to any church the minute he walked in. 'Of course, it's not all my fault,' Rembrandt thought. 'A lot of worlds have kooky religions, or other weird practices I don't want to get involved in'. Still, he hadn't realized quite how much he'd missed it.
He signed in and sat down without saying much to anybody. The truth was he stuck out like a sore thumb. He couldn't reasonably pass himself off as a member of the family, and judging from the sparsity of the people, he guessed Artie didn't have too many friends. He continued to sit in silence as the minister began talking. He caught some of the words, but mostly he let his mind wander. What the hell was he doing here anyway? Paying respects to a man he didn't even know?
'No,' Rembrandt assured himself mentally. 'To the man I did know.' As the service concluded, each person was expected to go up and pay their last respects. He got in line, waited his turn patiently (despite stares from other people in the room) and went up to the casket. He looked carefully at the pale face of the man lying there. There was just something wrong about the way he looked. He thought about singing something appropriate, even just softly to himself, but decided against it. His appearance here already seemed odd, no need to draw added attention.
As he walked away from the coffin, an older woman came up to him. "Excuse me? Are you a friend of Artie's?" she asked. When Rembrandt didn't say anything for a moment, she continued. "I don't mean to be rude, but Artie didn't have many friends. I'm his sister and, well, not even I li...knew him that well."
"We only met a few times," Rembrandt told her. "But he changed my life."
"Brother?" Quinn asked the young man in front of him with confusion evident in his voice. "I'm sorry... I don't have a brother."
"Not in your reality, huh?" he asked, a smile breaking out on his face. "That's a shame. But it doesn't matter to me. No matter how many Quinns I meet, I still think of each one of them as my brother."
Thoughts were racing around Quinn's brain. He didn't know quite what to say. "You're familiar with parallel worlds?" was the best he could come up with on short notice.
"Oh yeah," Colin said with enthusiasm. "It's sorta my job. That's what I brought you here for, bro."
Quinn looked hard at the man sitting in front of him. "My brother," he said with awe in his voice.
"I take it you've never met a version of me before," Colin said with a chuckle. "It takes some getting used to. My brother passed on a little while ago...I know it's not the same but..."
"I'm sorry," Quinn told him. Colin nodded his thanks and stood to shake his hand.
"But we haven't even been properly introduced have we?" he asked. "I'm Colin."
"Quinn," he said without thinking. "That's stupid, of course you knew that."
"Not a problem," Colin said with a grin. "Believe me, I've dealt with worse reactions from doubles of people I knew."
Quinn's brow furrowed. "You said you worked with sliding?"
"We don't call it that, but yeah," Colin said. "It's our stock and trade."
Quinn's curiousity was piqued. "And what is it exactly that you do?"
Colin, now seated once again, leaned back in his chair. "Gosh, where to start?"
"Why don't you tell me what you did today?" Quinn asked.
"I established interdimensional relations with a world on the brink of nuclear war and encouraged peace-keeping efforts there," Colin volunteered. When Quinn looked impressed, he went on. "Prevented an aspiring dictator from seizing power on a world where democracy is a fledgling project. I've still got one major project on my agenda, but that pretty much sums up an average day."
"Impressive," Quinn noted with a raised eyebrow. "Beats the hell out of sliding randomly," he grumbled to himself.
"Doesn't it, though!" he exclaimed. "I've done it myself and didn't really care for it. Before the Triumv found me I was as lost as you are now."
"The Triumv?" Quinn asked. "Is that the name of your organization?"
"Exactly so," Colin assented. "You catch on quickly."
"You pretty much have to," Quinn commented. "What about this place? Is it just a front?"
"Neverwhere?" Colin spoke, as if saying 'That old thing?'. "It's just a way to pay the bills. Fringe benefits from the kind of massive dimension-hopping we do. We deliver products that were made on one world to a world where they never existed. I'm sure you saw our selection as you came in."
"Again, I have to say impressive," Quinn stated. He was about to say more, but something beeping interrupted him. Colin withdrew some form of electronic device from his coat.
"I lost track of time," Colin informed him. "We need to get moving. That is, if you want to come." Quinn didn't hesitate for a second. He followed his brother into the next room, eager for what awaited him.
Wade wondered what had happened to Quinn. It had been nearly an hour since he'd gone into the back room and her attempts to discover what was going on from Marcie, the woman who had already conned her into taking this job, were not going well. Besides, there were customers to deal with.
"Excuse me," one meek-looking woman said to Wade in a near-whisper. "Do you have anything by...Tony Danza?"
"Of course," Wade said, trying to make her voice sound as exciting as possible, despite finding everything about this place completely dull. "Something from the AfterTaxi oeuvre, perhaps?"
"No," the woman corrected her sheepishly. "I want a Tony Danza album. You know, the one where he sings the classics?"
Wade was temporarily dumbstruck. But she managed to recover quickly. "I'll see what we have."
"Thank you," she said as Wade walked away. She looked at the inventory and discovered that they did, indeed, have some Tony Danza albums. She shuddered. Could this job get any worse?
"Here you go, Sister," Colin said, as he and several other men, including Quinn, unloaded the last of the crates through the portal. "I hope that'll last you through the week."
"Through the week?" Quinn said, his face red and his lungs breathless. "How many kids do they take care of?"
"An entire town's worth," Colin pointed out. "You wouldn't believe how repressive and cruel the government that rules this place is."
"God bless you, Colin Mallory," the elderly woman said with admiration. "The children here all love you. Are you sure you don't have time to read them one story?"
"Sorry, Sister Cloris," Colin told her with regret in his voice. "I'm afraid these men have some serious loading to do before we can make the shipments tomorrow. Otherwise I'd love to." The nun patted his cheek and before long the group of men were returning to their dimensional home base.
"So what do you think, brother?" Colin asked Quinn.
"You've got a great outfit going," Quinn said, not knowing exactly how to compliment him without knowing more. "But I've still got a few questions."
"Shoot," Colin said, as the two of them walked off, separating from the other men as they went off to do the grunt work.
"First of all," Quinn started, "what exactly is 'slide'?"
"According to my new friend at the police department," Professor Arturo pronounced to his gathered friends as the night drew to a close, "'slide' is a rather unconventional form of drug. It's highly addictive and it creates the illusion of your mind traveling to a parallel universe."
"And according to my source," Quinn pointed out. "Slide was only introduced to keep the populace off of more harmful drugs and the police are easily bought off thugs who are only sorry they didn't think of the idea for 'slide' themselves."
"Which sounds more believable to you, Mr. Mallory?" Professor Arturo asked wryly. "Besides, I've seen some of the things this 'slide' can do up close. It's not pretty."
"I agree that this 'slide' thing is bad," Wade said, her feet propped up on her bed. "But what does it have to do with us?"
Arturo sat on the bed opposite her. "Miss Welles, I believe it has everything to do with you and Mr. Mallory and why the two of you are wanted for murder."
"I'm not certain my source can completely be trusted," Professor Arturo said somberly. "But there is reason to believe that whoever supplies this 'slide' sees the two of you as competition. You are viewed by the police as prime suspects in the murder of this man, Jack Burke." He showed the two of them the picture. Rembrandt craned his neck to look at it also.
"I've never seen him before," Wade said a little pointlessly.
"I suspect he died before we slid in," the Professor pronounced. "But we can't exactly tell that to the police."
"So what do we do?" Quinn asked with a sigh.
Arturo sat down and took a drink from his water glass. "Our Mr. Burke worked in shipping, presumably for the Triumv, although my source wouldn't say. However, he used to be a policeman. I get the feeling his murder wouldn't have even been investigated if he hadn't been." The Professor paused. He let his thoughts collect for a moment and then turned to Quinn. "You say that you're in with these Triumv people?" Quinn nodded. "Stay that way. I believe that they are the killers here."
Quinn didn't really buy it, but he once again nodded. There was no need to get into a further argument with the Professor. "I can do that."
Arturo leaned in towards him. "Whatever you do, don't give them any reason to suspect your disloyalty. These are not people to be trifled with."
"I got it," Quinn agreed, letting a little annoyance slip into his voice. "I'm not an idiot, you know."
The Professor decided to let that comment slide for the moment. "Mr. Brown, I may need your help tonight. The man who's been helping me is meeting me at a warehouse a few blocks from here, but I'm growing suspicious of his intentions. I may need all the help I can get."
"You've got it, Professor," Rembrandt said simply, but with assurance.
"You need me to come along, too?" Wade asked half-jokingly.
"No," the Professor answered in all seriousness. "If something should happen, if we should land in trouble, we need somebody we can count on to get us out."
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Quinn.
The Professor wasn't impressed. "It wasn't a shot at you, Mr. Mallory. Just a statement of fact." Quinn glared at the older man a while but said nothing.
"I don't know about you guys, but I'm ready for some sleep," Rembrandt said. No one could argue with that. They all headed off to their rooms for a good night's rest.
This was one of the last places he thought Quinn would have thought he'd end up when he started off the day. Pointing a gun at a man's head and trying desperately not to have his hand shake. "Everybody stay down and stay quiet and nobody gets hurt!" Colin exclaimed as he entered the home of a man he suspected was running contraband. "Open that crate," he instructed one of the stronger individuals who worked for him.
As the large box opened, Colin inspected it carefully. "Heroin," he said with disgust. "Just like we thought. Load it up, boys." Some of his minions began to tote the crates out of the house. Once it was all gone, he nodded to the rest of his men to withdraw.
"What are we going to do with all this?" Quinn asked, indicating the illegal paraphenalia that they had taken from the house. "Take it to the police?"
Colin snorted. "And have them redistribute it for their own profit? I hardly think so." He barked some more orders to his men and the two of them entered one of the trucks. "We'll dump it. Bury it underground somewhere. There's a place we use where nobody would look." Quinn said nothing else about the matter.
As they reached the back door of 'Neverwhere', Colin turned to Quinn with a smile. "Why don't you go see your friend behind the counter? I'm sure she could use a break. We can take it from here." Quinn agreed and walked off to see Wade. Once he was out of earshot, Colin had a serious coughing fit. Once he stopped, there was quite a bit of blood on his hand. He wiped it off nonchalantly. "I have GOT to talk to the boss about this," he declared.
Inside, Wade was helping a customer buy a DVD. It seemed he wanted something called "Doorways," a TV series that had been popular on this Earth, but had been cancelled after its first season. This was the entire second season. Wade examined the back of it carefully and then rolled her eyes. 'Give me a break', she thought but sold the item anyway. As she watched the young man leave, she saw Quinn enter the store. She was glad to see him, but she wasn't about to let him know that. "Have fun?" she asked coyly after taking a look at the sour expression on his face.
"Not really," he answered honestly. "How are you holding up?"
Wade made a face. "There's a reason this stuff is rare. Most things I can't believe anyone would really want to buy. Still, considering this place's location is a secret, it does pretty good business." She looked at Quinn. He seemed to be a little distracted. "What's going on in there?" she asked playfully.
"I have a brother here, Wade," Quinn said softly. "And all I can think about is spending the rest of the slide getting to know him."
"Oh," Wade responded, quite frankly not knowing what else to say. "Well, I don't see any reason why not." She smiled at Quinn, but she couldn't help but be just a little worried about him.
Rembrandt really didn't know why he'd come back here. It wasn't too long from when the Professor said to meet him. But the pastor had been nice enough to invite him back for their regular evening service...
He looked around the church. It was homey, a place he could have seen himself attending on a weekly basis. And the people here seemed friendly enough. Not being able to go to church regularly was one of the things that he regretted most about sliding. Perhaps that would have to change when possible.
"I'm glad you decided to come," the elderly minister told him warmly. "Our numbers have been thinning lately. And we could always use another voice in our choir."
"I can't stay too long," he told him with regret.
"Can you stay long enough for one hymn?" the minister asked. "It's one of my favorites."
Rembrandt decided that he could. He let his mind wander as the choir sang. What was he losing by sliding from world to world? Stability, safety? The fact that he didn't miss more about his life at home was a testament to how little there was of worth back there. At least Quinn and Wade had families to go home to. Rembrandt was a grown man, growing older by the day. He hadn't been to his hometown for years, even before he left. He'd never taken the time to marry or have a family.
Finally, he shook away those thoughts. He needed to go help the Professor. As he left, he listened to the words of the chorus. "He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock that shadows a dry thirsty land/ He hideth my life in the depths of his love/ And covers me there with his hand/ And covers me there with his hand"
Colin walked into the underground headquarters. There were probably more electronics here than anywhere else in California. This was where he could almost always find the Boss. Except for now, it seemed. "Hey, Weaver," he called out to the woman behind the plexiglass with the bulkiest body guards on staff watching over her. "Do you know where..."
"Negative," she answered in that cold, crisp voice of hers. She never stopped doing her job for a moment as she spoke, nor would Colin have expected her to.
He finally saw his employer walking down the hallway. He seemed preoccupied but Colin didn't particularly care at the moment. "You've got to do something about this body."
He raised an eyebrow. "Do I now?" He allowed a slight smile to cross his face. "What's wrong with it?"
Colin held his hand against his chest where his lungs were sore. "I think it has tuberculosis. I've been coughing up blood and my lungs are sore as hell. You know, you didn't tell me that this could be a problem."
"There could always be a problem," he responded with a smirk. "It's the nature of the procedure. But it's the best I can do for you... for now."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Colin asked.
"It means I'm working on it," he snapped back. He then resumed his normal level of suaveness. "Why don't you bring your friend by soon? I'm sure he'll want to meet our new guests." Colin mumbled agreement and walked off, leaving the senior partner of the Triumv to his own thoughts.
Fifteen minutes later, Detective Larry Tandy held Professor Maximilian Arturo and Rembrandt Brown at gunpoint. "Why didn't I buy a gun?" the elder British man asked.
The man who supposedly worked for the police escorted the two sliders inside a large compound. The place had a futuristic feel to it; there were little gadgets lying around everywhere and the walls were full of computer panels. The Professor and Rembrandt didn't make too much of a show of looking around however, in case they were considered later to have too much knowledge to live.
"Here they are, DA," Tandy said. "These are the men you wanted, right?"
"Yes, of course," he said. He turned around to face the two sliders.
"It can't be," the Professor breathed.
"Hello, father," Douglas Arturo said with a devilish grin on his face. "Welcome to your hell."
"What the hell is your problem?!" Quinn wanted to know. Wade had pulled him aside frantically, as if there were some matter of life or death involved.
"That guy's the brother you've been talking about?" Wade asked with a mixture of fear and incredulity in her voice.
"Yeah," Quinn answered nonchalantly. "So what?"
"You remember that world where you were comatose?" Wade asked him. When he nodded, she continued. "Colin led some sort of gang there that was having this big standoff with the government. He nearly got all of us killed."
Quinn clearly wasn't impressed. "So?" Wade gave him a look of exasperation. "We've seen how different doubles can be. Or are we forgetting the one I met that liked to play Dr. Frankenstein or the version of you that hung your sister out to dry?"
"Of course not," Wade whispered to him as Colin ventured further into earshot. "I'm just saying maybe you should think twice about trusting this guy."
"He's my brother, Wade," Quinn said earnestly.
"No, he's not," Wade said with compassion in her voice. "As much as I know you want to believe that about him, you can't lose sight of the fact that he's not really your brother."
"Right," Quinn answered simply. "Of course."
Wade knew better than to think she was really getting through. But she had done all she could do for now. "Just be careful," she cautioned.
"Come with us," Quinn advised. Wade looked hesitant. "Come on. What's the worst that could happen?"
As the sensation of falling finally stopped, Maximilian Arturo felt it was safe once again to open his eyes. The first sight he saw was an unpleasant one...his own son's smiling face. "Are you ready to talk now?" The Professor said nothing. Douglas decided to continue talking anyway. "Most people don't usually make it this far, you know. I rarely have to break out the dead end slide. You should be very proud of yourself." The elder Arturo's head had yet to stop spinning. He was just now beginning to see colors again. "Dead end's tough stuff. Sometimes I distribute it early on through so-called competitors so that our slide seems better and safer by comparison. The police shut them down, of course, because they're in my pay..."
"Go to...hell..." Professor Arturo managed to say as he began to lift up his weary head.
Douglas laughed hardily. "Already been there. All told, it's not that bad of a place."
"Why?" the Professor asked, finally managing to look at the man who was his son on another world, the son of the man who died in his place. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because you sent me there to die," he growled as he hovered over the man who could have been his father. "I'm about to repay the favor."
"You're going to send me to some kind of fire and brimstone world, then? Like you tried to last time?" Arturo asked with spite in his voice. "Not very imaginative, even for you."
He laughed again, with no mirth this time. "No. I've got something better planned. Something much more fitting." He looked up at the ceiling. "Weaver, have the boys send in some of those Segravo land eels." He then turned his attention back to the Professor. "They really are quite marvelous creatures. Of course, you'll get a chance to see that up close."
Colin, Quinn and Wade rode in the car as an awkward silence suddenly pervaded. "No, Colin," Wade finally answered. "Really, we're just friends. And we've never done...that."
"Oh," Colin answered with a little bit of disappointment in his voice. "Sorry. I didn't mean to embarass you there, bro." Wade inwardly winced everytime Colin called Quinn 'bro'.
"It's no problem," Quinn answered honestly. Wade was less enthusiastic, but tried not to let it show.
"So if you two aren't together," Colin began outwardly deducing, "and you're from different homeworlds, what keeps you together?"
The silence came back. Quinn cleared his throat, but said nothing. Wade stammered for a moment, then said "Well, we only have the one timer..." She regretted it as soon as it came out of her mouth.
"Oh," Colin said again. "Well, maybe this can work out then. We've got ample sliding facilities at the base. And we're all looking for our homes, too." He now seemingly turned his focus entirely to his brother. "You can have all the comforts of home, a fulfilling job and still not give up on your quest for home."
Quinn seemed to be digesting all of this. "That sounds...nice."
"It is," Colin replied. Once again silence reigned, although Wade yearned to break it.
Quinn didn't find the building itself all that impressive, actually. He was getting to the stage where sliding was becoming blase and didn't find himself enjoying the characteristics of each new world they visited. Furthermore, he was tired of having to pay attention to his surroundings. Wade, however, was taking it all in with suspicion. She asked Colin what all the equipment was for, but his answer was evasive.
"Come on," Colin said. "I want you to meet the boss."
The three of them came up to a dark-haired man that looked to be a little older than Quinn. He looked somewhat familiar. Colin made the introductions and his employer smiled politely. "I hear you're quite the promising new employee," he told Quinn.
"Well," Quinn hedged, "I guess so."
"Don't be modest," the young British man told him. "If everything Colin says about you is true, then you definitely have a spot on our team. What do you say? Are you on board?"
Quinn hesitated only for a moment. "Yeah," he said with confidence. "I'm in."
"And what of your lady friend here?" Douglas ribbed. "Is she to join us as well?"
Before Wade could say something unpleasant, Quinn stepped in. "I think she's going to need a little more time."
"Very well," he said as he led the four of them into another room. "I have a task for you to perform, since you've become one of us now. There have been some interlopers discovered in 'Neverwhere'. They seek to destroy our operation. This, of course, cannot be permitted and they must be made an example." He pulled back a curtain to reveal Professor Arturo and Rembrandt standing on a platform with a plexiglass window between them. Douglas Arturo then indicated a button. "This will send them to another world, one where they will meet with a swift and brutal death." He turned to his new employee. "Quinn, will you do the honors?"
Quinn froze. He was tempted to look back at Wade, for her to give him something to go on. He looked at the Professor and Rembrandt, but their faces were impassive. Quinn wasn't sure they could even see him from where they were.
Finally, he thought about how he got into this in the first place. His first slide. The first time he hit the ground on another earth. As he fell to the sand, the timer slipped out of his hand and cracked open on a rock. By the time he'd gotten it repaired, he'd already missed the slide. It hadn't been his fault.
He made the decision. He pressed the button. A vortex enveloped his two fellow sliders. Douglas patted Quinn on the back and at the same time a chill ran down his spine.
To Be Continued . . .
[ Earth 2013 Episode Guide | The Otherworlds ]