6.11 - Desert Sands
Through his binoculars, General Robin Arkham could see the Union Jack flying over San Francisco. From his position, the flag seemed to be waving towards the bay, pointing straight at the sun setting over San Francisco Bay. In several ways, looking at the sight in front of him showed how well things had turned out. The smoke had cleared enough for him to be able to see it (firefighting during battle was an impossible burden to bear) and, most of all, that his army had taken the city. The Pearl of the Desert. However, there was a definite downside to it as well.
"Fleet from Sitka still not here?" his adjutant, Major Donald Lloyd Henries, asked with some degree of cynicism in his voice.
"I'm afraid not," Arkham responded solemnly. "It appears the Japanese Fleet have not yet arrived in this part of the Pacific."
Henries shrugged casually. "More of the spoils for us then."
The General poured himself another shot of whiskey. "I wish it were only that simple. The Japanese will still want their fair share for keeping the Russkis occupied in Alaska and... there is still the pesky matter of winning the war, rather than the battle."
"Piece of cake, sir," Henries threw in, trying to cheer up his superior officer. General Arkham gave him a look that showed it wasn't working. "Alright, piece of frustrating, long, guerrilla desert warfare..." As he trailed off, the highest ranking officer of the Anglo-Canadian Expeditionary Force moved to an old chest that lie near his cot. The tent was relatively simple (he could have asked for more elaborate quarters, but decided it would have been bad for morale) and not very large for a general of his stature. Most of his subordinates had better quarters than this, Henries included. Arkham opened the chest and withdrew a medal.
He smiled wryly and showed the pin to Major Henries. "Transvaal, eight years ago. Now there was a campaign. No political considerations, no having to wait for allies to show up..." He stopped, thankfully, as Henries had heard Arkham describe the war in South Africa numerous times before and it didn't bear repeating another time. "Say, do you hear something outside?" Before Henries could answer, several heavyset men entered the tent. Moving swiftly, one of them knocked out General Arkham before he could so much as register a protest. Henries was quicker, drawing his pistol as fast as he could, but still not fast enough to do any good against the small man who stood beside his larger counterpart (who was now getting ready to carry the General off). A quick shot to the gut made the adjutant collapse into a ball on the ground.
"My apologies, amigo," he sneered as he walked out the door. His own commander would be very pleased that Robin Arkham was captured. Which meant he would be very pleased as well.
The vortex that opened unsettled the dust that seemed to cover everything in the dark room the sliders soon found themselves in. Some rats scurried off to find a quieter place to dwell as Wade crash landed near a particularly heavy crate.
"Ow!" she complained, rubbing her sore shoulder incessantly. The pain almost made her forget to move out of the way of Rembrandt, who she remembered was right behind her. Not a moment too soon she rolled towards the door while the Cryin' Man came out from behind her. He was adorned in a gold sequined outfit that shone poorly in the dark room they slid into. Quinn and the Professor followed not far behind. They both stood guard at the mouth of the vortex, as if waiting for someone else to come out. They breathed a sigh of relief when the wormhole closed as normal.
"I have to say that was one of the more harrowing experiences of my life," the Professor grumbled. "And one I would rather not repeat."
"I hear that," Rembrandt echoed, dusting himself off as he rose from the floor.
"You're the one who got us into it!" Wade reminded him emphatically.
"I was just trying to make us a few bucks doin' a gig or two. How was I supposed to know my double had so many paternity suits against him?" Remmy asked rhetorically.
"Maybe we'd all better be a little more careful when it comes to getting involved with the locals," Quinn said, anxious to avoid any bickering.
"An excellent caveat, Mr. Mallory," Professor Arturo added. "One that I believe we should immediately employ on this world by laying low..."
"Wait," Wade interrupted. "What's that sound?" As she spoke the last word, they heard a massive explosion come from behind them. They all hit the floor instinctively.
"Not another warzone," Rembrandt groused. "We can't go five worlds without..."
"Now's not the time, Remmy," Quinn told his friend sharply. "We've got to find a way to get out of here." He moved to the door, keeping his back to the wall at all times and managed to peer out into the open. "Nothing hostile out there I can see. Maybe they're just doing demolition work." A moment later, another explosion made the wall opposite where Quinn stood collapse. Professor Arturo managed to get Rembrandt and Wade out of the way before anyone was hurt.
"Seems kinda doubtful," Wade remarked.
"We really need to get out of here," Quinn instructed them, staying behind to make sure all three of them got out, then following a moment later. Rubble filled the streets and there was a twinge of smoke in the air. It was not a pretty place to be.
"What now?" Rembrandt asked.
"We get them safe," Quinn spoke into his friend's ear as the other two walked a few feet in front of them, "and then we find all of us a way out of this place."
Rembrandt fought the urge to protest and nodded stoically. "You think there's even a place here that'll pass for safe..." Just as he spoke, they came upon an empty trench, fortified with a cement and steel covering that was bolted into the ground.
"If this is so secure, how come there's nobody hiding out here?" Wade asked earnestly.
Quinn picked a small object off the ground. "Gas cannister." He then looked inside the trench. "No bodies. So either they made it to more breathable air without casualties or this place has been cleaned out since the attack. For our purposes, it doesn't matter." He walked over to the Professor. "You and Wade should get inside. Remmy and I will try to get help."
The Professor seemed indignant. "Are you sure that's wise, Mr. Mallory? I think Miss Welles and I are perfectly capable of taking care of..."
Quinn interrupted him by handing him the timer. "Take it, and make sure it doesn't get damaged. We'll be back for you before you can even miss us. If we don't make it back, you know the drill." He then walked off without another word, Rembrandt following in his careful footsteps.
"Do you know where you're going?" Rembrandt asked him after a few moments of silence had passed between them.
"Not really," Quinn answered honestly, trying to keep a good lookout in regards to their surroundings.
"I would call you crazy, but then I'd be crazier cause I'm the one following you," Remmy chuckled. He then got serious. "What's goin' on with you, Q-Ball?"
"I don't know what you mean," Quinn answered him curtly.
"I think you do," Rembrandt responded knowingly. "You've been shouldering a lot of the burden lately. Becoming a real A-type leader."
"So?" Quinn asked.
"So...that's not like you," Rembrandt told him as he grabbed his arm and stopped him. "You're gettin' us all worried, man."
Quinn started to get defensive. "Somebody needs to be in charge. I may not be as smart as the Professor, or as good at fighting as Wade or as experienced as you are, but I've got a little bit of all three and that's the sort of qualities a good leader needs."
Rembrandt got a distant look in his eyes. "We did just fine without you!" he exclaimed hoarsely. Before Quinn could respond, Rembrandt groaned and folded to the ground, holding his head and swaying back and forth slowly. Quinn fixed his attention on Rembrandt, so much so that he completely ignored the soldiers inching up from behind him.
"The impudence!" Professor Arturo exclaimed pacing back and forth (as well as he could) across the trench.
"I know," Wade replied nonchalantly.
"I'm at least twenty...fifteen years his senior and he orders me around!" he fumed.
"I know," Wade once again answered, getting a little exasperated.
"I'm a grown man, I don't need to be coddled like a child," he said, turning to face Wade.
"So now you know what that feels like, too, huh?" Wade asked him, a smirk on her face.
"Touché," the Professor said, after reflecting on her comment a moment.
Wade shrugged off the poignancy of his comment and put a sweeter smile on her face. "Quinn's been protective over the last few weeks. He's just going through a phase, I think. He's never had a team to work with before and he hasn't had much time to adjust. Let's just give him a little..."
The Professor heard something above them and motioned for Wade to remain quiet and to crouch low enough so they couldn't be seen. Boots marched in succession over their bunker. "Alright, mates," a distinctively British voice called out. "Let's make sure this city doesn't have any pockets of resistance left in 'er, eh?"
"Stay right where you are," came the voice from behind Quinn Mallory, distinctively British and hostile. Both he and Rembrandt raised their arms in defeat.
"Search 'em," the man who seemed to be in charge ordered the men around him. After a quick search of their clothing (in which, luckily, no stripping was involved), they pronounced their prisoners clean. "Smart. Very smart. Play your jacks right and you could only end up on body bag detail with the ASC."
"So where'd you take the weapons?" one of the more zealous British soldiers asked Quinn harshly.
"We don't have any weapons," Quinn answered in honest befuddlement.
"You lie," he responded through gritted teeth. "We tracked you yankee rodents from our munitions supplies, we know what you took."
"It wasn't us," Quinn responded calmly. The angry man in front of him looked like was barely restraining himself.
"Hey, we don't want any trouble," Rembrandt told all the men earnestly. The man who appeared to be their commanding officer only guffawed in response.
"'Course not. You'd rather get captured by us here than those wretched Confederate slave drivers, I'd wager." There was the mildest tone of contempt in his voice, but he let it go for now. "Arkham'll send out a force to sweep out hidden munitions in due time. You should know better than to expect people who've held out so long to talk so easily, Roarke." He then turned his attention away from his subordinate and towards his new prisoners. "You come with us, we make sure you have food and shelter. It may not be much, but it's better than those American refugee camps outside o'town."
The fact that this didn't sound like the worst fate in the world to Quinn and Rembrandt came out of experience; war zones were deadly places and being captured at least meant being alive. Still, there was an uneasiness about their capture. "I can't believe the Confederacy is still around here. Didn't those redneck yahoos learn their lesson from the Civil War?" Rembrandt asked Quinn.
"Maybe they won the war here," Quinn told his friend, which did not lighten the mood. "In a world where the British are still a force to be reckoned with on the North American continent, anything is possible." They spent the rest of their unpleasant trip, which involved being forcibly marched to an unknown destination at gunpoint by hardened soldiers, in silence. But both of them said a silent prayer for the safety of the others.
"This trench isn't going to do us any good now, sir," a green-looking British officer in a clean uniform informed his much more haggard-looking superior officer. "Can't we just blow the thing up?"
"We can't rule out American guerrilla forces retaking parts of the city," the man calmly informed him despite wanting to bludgeon him with his rifle. "Just sweep the bloody thing and be done with it."
"Great," Wade whispered to the Professor. "What do we do now?"
"We don't panic," he told her solemnly, "and we can get out of here just fine, find the others and slide ou...ow!!" His reassurances were interrupted by a large pike that was being swept through the fortified trench which hit him in the head. The entire army outside was now alerted to their presence. There was only one thing to do now.
Professor Maximilian Arturo (and, after a few moments of indecision, Wade Welles) exited the trench sheepishly. "Well, gents, I'm afraid you caught me in a rather delicate situation..."
"'S that so?" the commanding officer asked contemptuously. "State your name and your business here."
"Maximilian Arturo," he answered in his last true statement for a good while. "I'm with a special engineering corps that's working on the development of a new superweapon to be used in the war."
"A superweapon?" he asked with some sarcasm in his voice. He was clearly having fun with this and his veteran soldiers were gleefully joining in.
"Can we see it? Or is it invisible?" one of them chuckled.
"Well...," Arturo hesitated. "I'm really only supposed to show it to the general himself..."
"Arkham's camp's on the other side of town, what were you doing all the way over..." the young man who had spoken to the general about blowing up the trench started to ask.
"...but I suppose you could take a peek. I'm sure General Arkham wouldn't mind." He quickly withdrew the timer from his overcoat. His audience tried hard to disguise the fact that they were impressed with the gadget, but failed.
"It's...pretty advanced," the commanding officer had to admit.
"How did you get the clock numbers to light up like that?" another one asked.
"I'm afraid that information is classified," Arturo informed them with mock disappointment.
"British intelligence," the man spit out as if it were a curse word.
"So, eh, what exactly were you doing in that trench?" the group's commander asked slyly.
"Oh, come now," Arturo answered, attempting to be equally coy. "A man of the world such as yourself wonders what I'm doing all alone with an American girl?"
Wade (who up until this time had been perfectly content to let the Professor do all the talking) realized what he was insinuating immediately. "Hey!" she started to exclaim, but the look the Professor gave her told her to keep quiet for now.
The man didn't notice however and barked gales of laughter. "Haven't the foggiest," he replied facetiously. "You want a lift back to headquarters?"
At that moment, another officer in khakis ran up to him with urgent news. "Captain, we just got word over the ringer. General Arkham's..."
"...been taken, don't know by whom." Quinn and Rembrandt listened intently, wondering how this news would affect their situation.
"Damn," their leader swore, closing his eyes with pain. "Guerrilla raiders already in place, some sort of contingency plan in case we took the city. Had to be." He stopped to ponder another moment longer. "We'd better get these blokes out of here and see what needs to be done. This is the worst catastrophe we could have imagined..." As he spoke those ironic words, a group of American snipers emerged from some surrounding rubble and opened fire.
"Take cover," Quinn told Rembrandt, although there was no need. The two of them watched the ambush enfold with a mix of horror and a sense of opportunity. Most of the British troops went down before they could even return fire.
"Go!" one of the Americans yelled at Quinn. When saying it once wasn't enough, he repeated himself. "Get out of here or stay and fight!" Without having to be told a third time, the two of them got out of there quickly.
"Was that really necessary?" Wade asked with reproach in her voice. The two of them had managed to acquire some private time to finish up their business as the military group around them dealt with their commander's capture.
"I'm sure you had a much better story," he replied sarcastically. "I can tell because you so readily told it to them."
"You can joke," Wade told him angrily, "but you're not the one who has to pretend to be a whore."
"It's not as serious as that, Miss Welles," he told her gently. "It's merely a cover story to get us to somewhere safer. Hopefully it won't have to be repeated."
At that moment, Quinn and Rembrandt snuck into the building where the other two sliders' heated discussion had been taking place. "Thank God," Quinn said, summing up what all of them felt.
"You alright?" Rembrandt asked them.
"We're fine," the Professor answered. "We were discovered, but I came up with an adequate story and we seem to be safe. Where have you been?"
"We got stopped about six blocks over by a British patrol unit, but there was some sort of ambush set up for them. We managed to escape, just barely." He was dramatizing it a bit, but he could be forgiven; it was his first combat experience. "Anyway, now all four of us can stick together."
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea," Professor Arturo stated. Quinn and Rembrandt both examined him quizzically.
Another vortex opened just outside the city and deposited five military personnel and one scientist harshly on the ground. "Blast it! Can't we do anything about that landing, Wing?"
He looked as agitated as anyone else about their landing, but kept his cool. "It might not be a good idea to..." he stopped when he saw the look on Lt. Col. Andersen's face. Wing knew he wasn't just angry about their landing. "I'll look into it right away, sir."
Andersen brushed himself off and coughed in protest to his desert surroundings. "What about our runaways? Are they here?"
"Haven't slid out yet, sir," Wing reported dutifully.
"Excellent," Andersen responded. "We'll get the lay of the land first, then fan out to locate Dr. Arturo and subject Mallory."
Robin Arkham woke up slowly. He didn't know where he was but he was pretty sure he'd never been here before. He felt woozy, almost as if... But no. He hadn't gotten himself into that kind of trouble since Khartoum. But sometimes old habits were hard to break. 'Damn,' he thought. 'If word gets back to Viscount Rockingham in Vancouver...'
Those particular fears were eased as he got a look at his surroundings and new ones quickly took their place. "Where in blazes am I?"
"That's a good question," a heavily accented voice answered him with less harshness than might be expected. "Unfortunately, our survival depends quite a bit on our ability to keep our location secret from you Anglos. And you have to admit, we've been doing a hell of a job so far."
"Bandits," Arkham spit out like a curse. "What do you want with me? Ransom? Information? You can forget about it. I'm more expendible than you know and I'll never tell you..."
"You can shut your gob, as you Brits say," another one of his guardians commented as he pointed his rifle threateningly. "We don't know why the General wants you, we just know that..." He stopped himself. "We don't have to explain ourselves to you. You'll find out everything soon enough."
"Bloody peachy," he muttered. "I don't suppose you've got any brandy on you." The wryness of the comment was lost on his audience, who were clearly unnerved by his presence. "Right then," he sighed. Might as well sit back and wait for things to unfold.
"You were opposed to us splitting up an hour ago!" Quinn fumed. "Now you want us to? Why?"
The Professor stayed remarkably calm. "I've established a plausible cover story for myself and Miss Welles, Mr. Mallory. Those people standing guard outside, instead of shooting at us, will take us someplace safe. If I tried to expand the story to explain your presence it would merely jeopardize any chance we had of getting out of this God forsaken warzone alive!"
"So what are we supposed to do, Professor? Fend for ourselves against a hostile army with no weapons?" Quinn asked with rhetorical snideness.
Professor Arturo smirked. "You and Mr. Brown were quite eager to prove yourselves capable as our protectors, I would think you should be more than up to the task of protecting yourselves."
"We've got what, a week here?" Rembrandt asked rhetorically to the Professor. "It might be good to go our separate ways for a while."
"You can't be serious!" Wade exclaimed. "How are we going to slide out of here if we're scattered to the four winds?"
"I'm glad you asked," Arturo grinned as he withdrew an object from the group's duffel bag. "Two-way communicators. I picked them up on the last world."
"You think of everything, don't you, Professor?" Quinn asked with resentment in his voice.
"Someone has to," he responded curtly.
Just then the group heard British voices talking outside. Quinn and Rembrandt moved to the background as one of them popped their head halfway in. "Mr. Arturo are you and your lady friend finished, uh, visiting in there?" he asked churlishly.
Quinn and Rembrandt looked at him like he had suddenly grown horns. "Uh, yes, be right out." When he looked at the others' faces, he grew defensive. "It was the only excuse I could think of at the time."
Quinn looked uneasy. "What do we do now?"
"Lay low for an hour or so," he instructed his two male friends authoritatively. "Make sure the coast is clear, then try to head out of town. Go south. Miss Welles and I will go off in the same direction." When he mentioned Wade, he turned around to face her. "What are you doing?"
"Messing up my hair," she answered matter-of-factly. "I'm going for the disheveled look."
"You're not going to let me forget about this anytime soon, are you?" Arturo asked her.
"Not likely," Wade muttered.
"Um, before you go," Rembrandt piped up, "there is probably one thing we should discuss."
"What's that?" the Professor asked.
Remmy held up the little gadget he had been given. "How does this walkie-talkie thing work?"
Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery Andersen was pleased to see his scouts return unharmed and particularly to see them with transportation. They'd never get out of this desert alive on foot. "What have we discovered?" he asked one of his officers on horseback.
Captain Burton responded quickly. "There are soldiers scattered around here in pretty good numbers."
"An ambush force, perhaps?" their commander asked.
"Not likely." This time his answer came from Lieutenant Morrill. "A lot of 'em are injured and the rest look scared. Had a hell of a time convincing them not to shoot us."
"A retreating force with nowhere to retreat to." Andersen raised his eyebrows. "That could be to our advantage." As the gears continued to turn in his mind, another question sprang to his mind. "What kind of weapons technology level do they possess?"
This was Burton's expertise. "If I had to estimate, I'd say about World War One-level, maybe Spanish-American War. I haven't seen any airplanes around so, it's hard to pinpoint..."
"Thank you, Captain," he said, quickly cutting off his munitions officer. He then turned to Wing. "Are you sure we couldn't have travelled back in time..."
The scientist seethed. "For the twelfth time, no!! We are in another dimension, not another time!"
Andersen smirked. He just liked to annoy the guy. "It never hurts to ask." As he mounted one of the horses his scouts had brought him, he decided definitively on a plan of action. He turned to Morrill, Burton and his personal bodyguard, Major Stratton, and quickly assumed instructional mode. "The cure for a broken army is a person in charge. Military men who are scared and dying respond remarkably well to orders." He reigned his horse in and after consulting some more with his scouts, and before long the five of them rode off to find an army to lead.
Quinn and Rembrandt had stayed remarkably still for what seemed like forever. Quinn estimated it had been close to an hour and the sounds of men speaking were getting more and more distant. "You think it's safe to go outside?" he asked somberly.
"Only one way to find out for sure," Quinn responded foolhardily. He then proceeded to look out the doorway. He saw nothing but the usual rubble and ruins strewn about. "Let's go." The two of them gradually made their way out of the city, trying not to dwell on the many horrific sights that came into view on their way.
"What now, Q-Ball?" Remmy asked.
"I guess we head south, as much as we can without a compass at any rate," Quinn grumbled. "If this isn't the most lame-brained, hastily concocted plan he's ever had..."
"Oh, yeah," Rembrandt replied with a note of sarcasm in his voice. "It's much riskier than your lame-brained, hastily concoted plan." When Quinn didn't respond, he continued. "OK, it's not an ideal situation, but we don't get very many of those, do we? Let's just make the best with what we've got..." Both of them instinctively hit the ground when a round of ammunition went off not far over their heads.
"Don't come any closer!" came a panicky voice from just over an entrenched dune. Quinn and Rembrandt remained crouched. What were they going to do now?
Sweat had beaded up on General Robin Arkham's face. The tent to which he was confined was flimsy, most likely in order to let as much breeze in as possible, but that also meant it didn't provide much protection from the heat. His captors didn't seem to mind it though.
"Water," he pleaded pitifully. "I need water."
One of the guards dutifully walked over to his canteen and poured some water out in a cup for their prisoner. "Drink up, Anglo. You'll have to do much talking when the General gets back..." As soon as he got within range of the chair General Arkham was tied to, the Englishman flipped the object completely over, knocking the other man flat on the floor of the tent. Arkham managed to grab the man's bayonnet with a hand he had gotten partially loose from the ropes and saw through them. As his other guard started to react, General Arkham pummeled him with the butt of the rifle and then began to cut through the ropes binding his legs. He pondered for a moment whether or not he should take one of them as a hostage, decided the chance was too great that they would overpower him, and moved outside of the tent.
A few of the Mexican expatriots had already started to gather materials for the night fire. "Did I ever tell you about the time we were cornered by the Federales just outside of Santa Fe? They thought they had us trapped in this old mission, but what they didn't know was..." The speaker then turned around to see General Arkham free. "Hey!" The struggle was brief, as Arkham could see he was outmatched. He hadn't really thought he had a chance to escape. But he was tired of playing by their rules.
"Well," a feminine voice came from behind him as the men who had wrestled with him now held him in place. "I see our guest is awake." Arkham took a good look at the woman. She was striking, some might even say attractive. She looked to be in her late twenties with green eyes and dark black hair. Her strong accent told everyone she was a Mexicano, not an Hispano. "I'm General Roberta Juarez. It's time we had a talk."
There he stood, as if rooted to the spot. General Robin Arkham, leader of the Anglo-Canadian Expeditionary Force that had just recently captured San Francisco and broken American lines in the Western theater, was now reduced to prisoner of war status in a Mexican encampment out in Santa God-knows-where. His escape attempt had seemingly been for naught, but he wasn't about to go back to being confined without finding out what was going on. "'Roberta' Juarez?!?" he asked confusedly. "Don't tell me Diego's so busy plotting the Emperor's overthrow in Havana that he sent his daughter to do his dirtywork?"
One of the guards flanking the general lunged towards him, presumably to do him some serious harm. Roberta stopped him with a word, probably in some local Indian dialect Arkham had never heard of. It wasn't Spanish, that was for sure. "You'll have to excuse my compatriot. We aren't used to British haughtiness around here."
"Get used to it," the man practically spat (except he had no saliva) in reply. "The Empire's going to retake California and there's very little a band of Mexican peons is going to stop us."
He expected more anger, but what he got was laughter. "Nobody's ever been able to hack it out here," the tall man at the General's side chuckled, "except hela monsters and us. But you're welcome to try."
"We'll do more than..." General Arkham started. Roberta Juarez spoke another few phrases in that language Arkham didn't understand and two men moved threateningly towards him. There was no chance for escape now and so he did nothing as they gagged him and began to take him elsewhere.
General Juarez moved to some other men that were standing around. "Get him some water and let him rest up. Soon our guest will find out why we went to such lengths to get him."
'Not another tricky situation we can't get ourselves out of,' Rembrandt groaned mentally as he watched a nervous-looking young American? (he couldn't tell with these antiquated uniforms, but the voice gave him a clue) soldier pointing a rifled musket at him. Both he and Quinn looked at each other, unsure of what their next move should be. "We're not here to hurt anyone," Quinn told him as calmly as possible.
"Don't come any closer!" he yelled, sweat pouring off of his forehead. "You limeys aren't going to get my cart!" At first, Quinn and Remmy had no idea what he was talking about, but soon enough it became clear he meant the primitive-looking automobile that sat behind him, looking relatively undamaged. They also saw a body next to the young man's own, lifeless and broken to the point that it was barely recognizable.
"We don't want your cart," Rembrandt insisted, although he wasn't exactly sure logic was going to work at this point.
"You pushed us back pretty far," he said in a clearly feverish and possibly delusional way. "But we pushed back. We pushed back hard. When our backs are against the wall, we..." His words were interrupted by a severe coughing fit. Quinn moved towards him, but at his movement, the man raised the gun sight to his eye again. "I said don't move, dammit!!"
He continued rambling. "Sarge said I could drive the cart, first one in our regiment and I could drive it. They been keepin' em in Kentucky and West Virginia to keep out those Confederate bastards, but they finally got some down to us and I say it's about time, yessir, about time indeed."
"You're right," Quinn said, trying to play along. "Why should everybody in the east get everything while we get nothing?"
"Shut up," his raspy voice hissed out. "You damned 'locans caused this war. Wouldn't be hurt if you hadn't come. Wouldn't...be...hurt..." Never letting go of his weapon, he let his back fall and hit the mound of dirt behind him. "Feel cold," he said to nobody in particular. "So cold." The two sliders then noticed a large bleeding wound in his chest.
"You need help," Rembrandt declared, trying to ensure his cooperation as much as making an observation. "Q-Ball, you see a first aid kit around here or anything?"
"No," Quinn answered quickly. He was preparing to make a tourniquet from a jacket that was lying on the ground in order to treat the man.
"Don't come...closer," he warned feebly, as his breath seemed to slip away. Quinn moved to his chest and applied pressure. When Rembrandt checked his pulse it was declining steadily.
"He's almost gone," Rembrandt declared. Quinn continued to apply pressure to the wound, knowing that it would only prolong the inevitable.
"Don't take the cart," he blurted out sharply. "Just please...leave me the..." It was his last gasp. The man's last expression, glassy-eyed and strangely hopeful, was haunting to them.
Quinn moved away from the man quickly and moved over to the automobile. The technology was rather simplistic, but he knew enough about old cars to get it running. "What are you doing?" Rembrandt asked, for maybe the fifteenth time this slide.
"Get their canteens and any provisions that aren't ruined," Quinn ordered like he was Remmy's commanding officer. "We're taking this thing out of here."
Rembrandt started to protest on several counts but decided it would be easier for both of them if he just did it. Soon enough Quinn had managed to start the thing. "We still headed south?" he asked his friend.
"As far as this thing will take us," Quinn answered without much emotion. Rembrandt hoped they would get there soon. It was already getting dark.
"I swear, Max," a drunken British officer told him with a punch on the shoulder. "Even though you and I both grew up in London, it's like we lived in different worlds. Tell me again about this 'tube'?"
Maximilian Arturo sat in the officer's lounge (aka a local pub that had been abandoned during all the fighting but was put back in business as soon as they got someone there who could pour drinks), getting soused. "Well, you see it's like a train that moves through this tunnel, this underground tunnel and it takes you around London, anywhere you want to go. Marvelous contraption, except you have to wash your nose out afterwards. I'm surprised you've never been on it."
"Been on it?!" the man laughed as though it were the funniest thing he'd ever heard. "I've never even heard of it and I've lived in London my whole life!!" The men around him laughed, too.
"Honestly, Max," another man snorted out, "you have the most vivid imagination. You're just like that sci-fi writer, what's-his-name, Ian Fleming. Next you'll be telling us about submarines that can go 700 miles under the sea."
Another one piped up quickly. "'Underground railroad'?" he questioned sarcastically. "Is it as popular with Negroes in your London, Max, as it is in the Confederacy?" From the hush in the room that followed, it was clear this was an uncomfortable subject for many of the men in the room. Soon the topic was changed, but it snapped Maximilian Arturo back to reality.
"If you'll pardon me, my friends, I've had way too much to drink," Arturo said, dismissing himself with a smile plastered on his face.
"Enjoy your time with the missus, Max," one of the men called after him, using the derogatory term for American (and Canadian) 'camp' women that Arturo refused to use himself. That got them talking about said women and Professor Arturo was never so glad to get out of a place as he was then.
In truth, Arturo wasn't as drunk as he'd let on (he could likely drink any of them under the table) but he had given away more than he'd wanted to. That was a dangerous thing for somebody in his situation and it was a mistake he'd just as soon not repeat. He walked into the quarters the acting commander had acquisitioned for himself and Wade. "It's about time you got back. What did you find out?" Wade demanded as soon as he walked in the door.
"Find out? Ah yes, find out. I don't think they'll be letting us leave anytime soon." Wade's brow furrowed, but Arturo continued. "It seems my story worked a little too well. I broached the subject of my departure and it only seemed to bring confusion to the surface...and more than a little suspicion."
"Great," Wade muttered to herself. "Did you at least find out what the story is on the history of this world?"
He nodded in the affirmative. "It seems as though the British and French intervened in the American Civil War on the side of the Confederacy here. The Dominion of Canada was never created here and so the British still have direct control over that part of the continent. Similarly, Mexico is still in French hands, but that's the complicated part..."
"More than I wanted to know," Wade cut him off. "We've got to get out of here if we're going to meet the others."
"I am aware of this," Arturo replied sternly. "But it's late and I'm in need of some bedrest."
"And by bedrest, I assume you mean 'sleeping on the floor'." Professor Arturo looked up at Wade, mildly shocked. "They gave us one bed and I am not sharing."
Arturo's frustration showed. "Woman, do you realize that I could merely say the word and you'd be in some wretched tent somewhere with several dozen other frightened young women this army has taken as 'camp followers'?"
Wade never even flinched. "And do you realize that if you don't get out of that bed I will physically remove you from it?" Arturo, once he realized she was serious, grumbled but did little else as he moved to the floor. Wade threw him a pillow and a blanket. "Good night, Professor." More profane grumbling was her only reply.
"Well, it's official. We're out of gas." Quinn said, after giving up on cranking the motor vehicle back to life.
"I bet you've used that line on a thousand other sliders," Rembrandt chuckled, although it was only mildly amusing. It was late and they were out in the middle of nowhere.
"How much water do we have left in the canteens?" Quinn asked.
"Most of it," Rembrandt replied. "We didn't drink that much."
Quinn looked around. In the distance, he thought he saw a campfire. Unless it was a mirage... "Come on, Remmy. I think I know where we're going now."
Quinn and Rembrandt were nonchalantly shoved into General Roberta Juarez's line of view. "I don't know why I ever let you take charge of things like this. You have the worst luck ever..." Rembrandt complained, before a Mexican guard shoved him none-too-gently with the butt of his rifle.
"What do you want us to do with them?" the man asked his commander in Spanish. She looked the two new arrivals over closely.
"Let them speak for themselves," she spoke in English. "Let's hear the exciting story they have to tell us."
Quinn was more than a little flustered in Roberta's presence. "Well...that is to say...we were...uh..."
"Better yet," she posited, which gave a very welcome reprieve to Quinn. "Let me guess. You're with the Underground Railroad taking your friend here to what you presume to be safety in Mexico."
"Yeah," Quinn said unconvicingly. "You nailed me...it, in one guess." He put his hands in his pockets as if he didn't know what else to do with them.
"If you could see fit to take us in, ma'am, I know we'd find some way to be of help to you," Remmy threw in.
Roberta smirked. "I'm sure you could." Her eyes flashed for a moment, lighting up her green eyes. "Show this one," she pointed, indicating Rembrandt, "to a suitable tent for the two of them. I want to speak to the other one alone."
The others around them walked off as Quinn Mallory and Roberta Juarez began to size each other up. After a few furtive glances, she moved to pour herself some water from the canteen. "Want some?" she asked.
"What?!" Quinn responded, as if startled out of a daze.
"Water. Do you want some water?" she repeated.
"Uh, no," he said with relief. She indicated for him to sit and she soon did the same, positioned across from him but still near the fire.
"What is your name?" she asked with a genuine curiosity in her voice.
"Quinn Mallory," he answered.
"Quinn," she repeated, considering the name. "I don't believe you."
He quickly spoke up. "No, really, my name's Quinn. It's kind of an odd name, I know, but you see I had this uncle..."
"Not about that," she stopped him. "I don't believe you're Underground Railroad." Before he could ask her why, she answered him. "Your tan's maybe two days old, nowhere near what it should be considering how improperly dressed you are for travel in the desert and how long a journey it is from the Rio-Mo line. Your accent's distinctly Californian and your hair and fingernails are neatly trimmed." She paused a moment, letting him take it all in. "Plus the two Underground Railroaders I was expecting were rather unexpectedly found dead about a dozen miles east of here."
Quinn suddenly became nervous. "What are you going to do with us?"
Roberta smiled. "I said I didn't believe you. I didn't say I didn't trust you." She placed her cup of water down on the collapsable table that sat next to her. "There's something mysterious about you, but it's nothing sinister." When Quinn looked surprised, she explained. "I wouldn't have made it this far without being an impeccably good judge of character." She looked out at the sand dunes and the way the stars contrasted the lackluster barrenness of the earth around them. "You get out here, you get to see what's true about someone. All the lies you build up around yourself are stripped away."
"That's...very poetic," Quinn responded, not knowing anything else to say, really.
Roberta chuckled lightly. "There's not much to do out here except get very introspective. You get used to it after a while." The two of them looked on, Quinn not wanting to break the silence that now pervaded. "You look tired. You should get some sleep."
"Yeah, I guess I better go find the tent Remmy's in. He's probably already taken the comfortable cot, too," Quinn mock groused.
Roberta stopped him with her hand. "My dear boy, why would you want to sleep there?"
"You troops are the sorries bunch of losers I've ever seen in my life!!" Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery Anderson barked to his assembled beaten American compatriots. "But you're all this nation has. So it's time to shape up or ship out! If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the..."
"Sir," Wing interjected. "I think you've reached your commander's cliché quota for this speech. Why don't you just tell them what you want them to do."
"Uh, yes," Anderson replied. "The information we've gathered seems to indicate that some portion of this army was set to rendezvous with a certain Mexican guerrilla leader, a General Juarez, several miles due southeast of here." He turned aside to Wing quickly. "We are sure that's where Mallory is, right?"
Wing nodded. "Our scouts put him there a few days ago, where he was, ahem, ingratiating himself with their commander."
Anderson turned back to the gathered shaken troops. "I want you to gather everything we can salvage and prepare to march. We move out tomorrow morning."
Anderson then turned to Wing again. "How long til we rendezvous with the team sent after Arturo?"
Wing frowned. "Sundown tonight, sir. You know that." As Anderson walked off, Wing began talking to himself. "What an odd question to ask."
"Mr. Arturo," an unfamiliar voice said from behind the professor. There stood a man in uniform, looking very professional.
"Yes?" he answered, not sure what this man wanted him but hoping he could fake his way through it.
"I'm Geoffrey Tourssoy, British Intelligence," he said, sticking out his hand for Arturo to shake it.
"I'm sorry, I don't believe we've met," Professor Arturo told him with a fake grin plastered on his face.
"Odd. I briefed every BI agent sent to this theatre of the war, you would think I would remember someone with such an important mission as yours." From the tone of his voice, Arturo could tell the man spoke with thinly veiled insincerity.
"Are you certain? How odd," was the best he could do on the fly. "Almost as odd as the fact that Colonel Chivington didn't let me know I was expecting a visitor."
"He didn't know. We don't exactly like to draw attention to ourselves. But I'm sure you know that as well as anyone." He looked up at Arturo pointedly. "Now to the matter at hand. This device you're developing is not in any of the files we have on this side of the Atlantic, so I'm afraid I'll need you to go into every detail. What it does, how it works, what it's made of, everything."
The Professor's left eyebrow arched up. "Are you sure you have clearance for this?"
"Of course," the man said in a tone that showed he was mildly offended. As he began to reach for the identification papers he carried with him in his inside jacket pocket, Arturo leaned in as if to look at it but instead whispered into his ear. "Draw your pistol and hit the ground." The man was confused but Arturo spoke with such authority that he did so without questioning. Not a moment after they both lay flat on Arturo's carpet the first shot was fired from the window behind them.
Agent Tourssoy swore. Arturo managed to make his way to a weapon the Colonel had provided him. "Who are these blokes?" Tourssoy asked him.
Before Arturo could answer him, a distinctly American voice called out, "We don't have to do this, Arturo. Hand over the timer and we'll let you live."
Now it was the Professor's time to curse, although he only did so mentally. These guys knew about sliding and probably had a device of their own. How long had they been tracking him? At last the thought occurred to him: Azure Gate Bridge World. 'General Ko. Damn that infernal woman.' "I'll die before I give it up," he barked from his position. He then threw an object into the shooter's line of fire which was promptly riddled with bullet holes. Once the would-be assassin had given away their location, Arturo tried to move himself further away from where he himself could be hit. Surely someone would hear the shooting and come to his rescue. But Tourssoy had other ideas, shooting in the direction of the enemy agent. The Professor heard a cry of pain and an abort order went out to the rest of the agents. After waiting a few moments to make sure the coast was clear, both of them got up off of the floor.
"I must say, I was wrong about you," Tourssoy stated. When Arturo feigned puzzlement, he elaborated. "My superiors told me to meet with you, to see if you were some sort of phony agent trying to spy on the Anglo-Canadian Expeditionary Force. Seeing how badly the Americans want you out of the picture, clearly we were in the wrong. You have my sincerest apologies."
Arturo did his best to keep his composure. In fact, he had decided to make the best of the situation. "Of course. One can never be too careful. I want a new room with sentries flanking it at all times. Nobody goes in or out without my permission." Tourssoy nodded curtly. 'That turned out well,' Arturo thought. 'Except for my near-death experience'. Which got him to thinking about these soldiers Ko sent after him. After him and...a thought struck him. Quinn was in danger. He had to contact him right away, assuming it wasn't already too late.
Quinn rose wearily and wiped the sleep from his eyes. The sun shone brightly through the tent and he continued to keep his eyes shut for a few moments as he adjusted. Roberta had already gone; to where, who knew? It certainly was strange how things had progressed on this world, although Quinn wasn't one to complain.
A strange beeping noice eminated from the backpack he had, ahem, acquisitioned earlier. It had to be the Professor's communication device. It continued beeping at an annoyingly high pitch until Quinn blearily remember how to answer it. "Professor?" he asked in a tone of voice that undoubtedly brought his exasperation to the surface. "Where are you?"
"I'm afraid we still haven't made it out of San Francisco," Professor Arturo told him. "We may have to change our rendezvous point. Where are you now?"
Quinn held the device between his head and shoulder while he put his pants on. "I'd say about ten, fifteen miles outside of San Francisco, maybe more. It's hard to keep track when there are no road signs. Remmy and I hooked up with a band of Mexican guerrillas."
"Never a dull moment, eh, my boy?" the Professor asked with a more solemn tone to his voice than Quinn was accustomed. "Listen, this wasn't just a social call. There was an attempt on my life last night. I think it might have been the military from Azure Gate Bridge World. If they were after me, they're probably trying to kill you, too."
"No shots fired as of yet, Professor," Quinn told him, now buttoning up his shirt. "Listen, I'm going to have to go and check on Remmy. Let him know what's going on."
"Fine," Professor Arturo responded. "I'll get back in contact with you if anything further develops." Roberta Juarez had managed to conceal herself from her latest paramour as she peered through the tent at him speaking into that unusual contraption. He was proving to be even more interesting than she had thought at first. Unfortunately, there were more pressing, if also more mundane, tasks that had to be dealt with at the moment.
Wade Welles tried not to gawk at the poor conditions of the people she saw around her. The buildings they housed the "camp followers" in were dilapidated. The women looked harried and weary, as if they were enduring an endless hell. Wade was familiar with that look. But there were children here as well, and their appearance was of ill-nourishment and poverty. British officers had their choice of these American women, and probably few to none chose one with a child. And there probably weren't too many women saying no, either. Who wouldn't want to get away from here?
Wade tried to keep her mind on the business at hand. She hauled two buckets attached to each other by a long handle that was slung across her back. They would be used to carry Arturo's and her water rationing for that day. There was apparently getting to be a big water shortage in San Francisco, not surprising since the outlying areas of this 'Pearl of the Desert' were so arid. Wade stood in line patiently and then stood firmly as the men at the well filled the buckets with water. She shouldn't have been surprised that that made it so much heavier, but she was.
As she moved slowly back to her quarters, she saw a young girl run out to her. "Water!" she exclaimed excitedly. Her eyes pleaded with Wade's for just a drink. She looked as malnourished as any child she'd seen on this world yet.
"OK," Wade conceded. The child looked back at her in incomprehension. "It means alright. Here." Wade withdrew a small cup she had taken in case she had wanted a drink for herself along the way. The child started to put the cup in the bucket to draw some water out when a British officer walked over.
"I'm afraid you can't waste water like that, ma'am. Rationing's tight and we've got an army to supply." The man looked down at Wade as though he expected immediate obedience.
"I can 'waste' water however I want, it's my water ration," Wade replied testily.
"Wrong," he answered sourly. "It's Agent Arturo's water. You bring it to him and he decides what to do with it."
"Is that so?" Wade came back, standing upright as she did so. "You know what? I really don't like your attitude."
"I don't really sodding care what you like," he responded gruffly. "American war prisoners aren't allowed to speak to British officers that way. If you so much as open that smart mouth of yours again..."
"Fine," Wade answered with gritted teeth. She bent to pick up her buckets again and, in one fluid motion, knocked the man down with a swift sweeping kick. "I won't say another word." She then gave the cup full of water to the child, who had waited patiently and fearfully during the exchange of verbal blows.
"Bint!" the man cried out from behind her. She tuned out the rest of the choice curse words he cast in her direction and sincerely hoped this wouldn't cause too much trouble for her and the Professor.
"You've got to be loony!" General Robin Arkham exclaimed as Roberta Juarez began to explain why they had taken him. "Of all the people on Earth who you could have picked to recruit, I'm the absolute last person..."
"Oh, come now," Roberta interrupted him. "You don't feel any sympathy for our cause? You're that far removed from your brother?"
"My brother was court martialed!" Arkham retorted angrily. "That's what he got for helping you and your bloody revolutionary government in Mexico, which you couldn't even hold onto."
"If the British High Command had reinforced us..." Roberta started.
"Rubbish! You had superior numbers and two of the best bleeding generals this hemisphere's ever seen," (in reference to Lawrence Arkham and Diego Juarez it was likely an exaggeration but that hardly mattered in this emotionally charge atmosphere) ,"and you still lost! So what do you pathetic bunch of banditos want now? The Royal Fleet to escort you from Cuba to Mexico City?!"
Roberta's eyes grew more intense. "We need you to tell anybody back in London who'll listen that the Empire of Mexico has reinitiated the slave trade."
"That's insane!" Arkham responded after a few poignant moments of silence. "I suppose you have some sort of proof of this."
"Photographs of ships taking slaves into Veracruz harbor," she said, throwing the pictures down where the British General could see them. "They're flying Guatemalan flags, but the make of the ship is clearly German."
"I can't help you," General Arkham spat, although his face had become softer. "Even if what you're saying is true, they won't listen to me. Britain can't spare the manpower from the American war to fight Germany and that's even assuming they care enough about Germany trying to make their colony more profitable to make a declaration of war..."
Roberta cut him as quickly as she could. "I suppose it was naive of us to think one man could make such a difference," Roberta told him with some sadness in her voice. "Which I suppose makes it necessary to use you for phase 2 of our plan instead." Robin Arkham looked decidedly more nervous.
"General Juarez, come quickly," a voice called out from outside of the tent. "Colonel Perry is here."
All things considered, Rembrandt had enjoyed what had been close to 24 hours in this camp. Although Quinn hadn't bothered to show up at their quarters last night, he had gotten to know some pretty friendly folks around the part of the campsite he'd been assigned. A guy by the name of Cornelius was particularly helpful about getting him oriented to the way things were around here. But everybody seemed to be pretty distraught about this Colonel Perry guy. The camp's entire black population was gathered in one place, as if they were preparing for inspection.
When Remmy got a good look at Perry himself, he was less than impressed. The man was short, stubby and none too handsome. But the look he gave Rembrandt and the people around him struck a chord of fear in their hearts. Most of them had seen such looks before and knew what they heralded.
Before too long, General Juarez showed up. "I instructed my paymaster to give you the usual rate for our supplies, Colonel, does there seem to be some sort of problem?"
"With the supplies? No," he answered, stroking his beard in a vain attempt to convince those around him he was seriously thinking about something. "But there is a problem here."
Roberta Juarez plastered on a patently fake smile. "I would be happy to help you with any problem you might have."
"Some of my Rangers reported a family of escaped slaves headed west from the Rio part of the Rio-Mo line. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?" His grin was every bit as ugly as every other part of him.
"No, sir," General Juarez answered earnestly. "We harbor escaped slaves from the Confederacy, but the Republic of Texas has long known and approved of that."
"Well, you see, there aren't that many places for negroes, or anyone else for that matter, to go once you hit west of the line. And your camp was pretty close to the Rio-Mo a few weeks ago..." He trailed off, hoping he had made his point. In a way, he had.
"Ladies and gentleman," General Roberta Juarez called out in a very official tone. "Is anybody here from Texas?"
"No, ma'am," all of them, even Remmy, responded in the best fake Southern accent they could muster.
"I'm terribly sorry, Colonel Perry, but as you can see all of these good folks are from the CSA. I'm afraid your escaped slaves must have gone elsewhere." The Colonel of the Texas Rangers seethed, but he could do little else. "Do have a pleasant afternoon, Colonel," Roberta called after him as he began to ride away.
General Roberta Juarez returned to her tent wearily. Quinn was still there, having been unable to locate Rembrandt, didn't know where else to go. "You're not who you seem, are you?" Roberta asked him rhetorically.
"I don't know what you mean," Quinn replied dumbfoundedly.
"I saw you talking on that wireless telephone," Roberta informed him. "I suspect we have much to talk about. We can discuss it on our journey."
"Journey? Where?" Quinn asked confusedly.
Roberta began to move some of her things around. "We're backing up an American surprise attack on a little Mexican port city called Los Angeles."
Some British thugs threw Wade into Arturo's room. "Hey!" she exclaimed.
"You should keep your mistress in line, Agent Arturo," one of the men said to him, "and get your things together. The army's moving south. It seems the Americans are trying a last ditch attempt to get themselves a Pacific seaport by attacking a little town called Los Angeles. We will stop at nothing to prevent them from doing so."
What struck Maximilian Arturo as the most unbelievable thing was that Los Angeles really was a small town here. Soon to be made much smaller, into rubble to be precise, if the American navy and British army had anything to say about it.
"So, explain it to me again?" Wade asked the Professor with her brow furrowed in worry.
The Professor sighed. "Apparently, the Americans have tried to seize themselves a seaport from which to launch an invasion of Northern Mexico. The British got wind of it somehow and are attempting to prevent a landing of American troops here. The Americans don't have a large enough marine force to storm the city and the British Navy's tied up in San Francisco, so it's rather like the old axiom about the elephant and the whale..."
Wade quickly interrupted him. "I mean, why aren't we more worried that those army guys are going to try to grab us again? As soon as the fighting started, they took our guards away."
"I think they asked for reassignment," Arturo groused. "They'd have been more willing to stick around if you hadn't kicked that one guy in the..."
"Hey, he asked for it!" Wade exclaimed, defending herself. "He'll think twice before he calls me 'chippie' again, that's for sure." Wade's speech slowed. "Do you smell something?"
"Some sort of gas," Arturo said, quickly holding his shirt over his nose and mouth in a vain attempt to keep from breathing in the noxious fumes. Both of the sliders tried to get something to cover their mouths with. They were knocked unconscious first. Three soldiers in gas masks moved in.
"Take 'em out quick," the officer in charge ordered. "We don't wanna miss the slide out."
"Any luck reachin' the Professor?" Rembrandt asked Quinn as he closed the communicator shut in frustration.
"No," he said in a monotone voice that, matched with the distance in his eyes, showed his mind was on something else.
"We slide before sundown, are you sure we'll be able to hook up before..." Rembrandt stopped talking when he saw his friend wasn't paying much attention.
"Right now, Rembrandt, I'm not sure of anything," Quinn said, walking over to Roberta Juarez without another word.
She barely acknowledged his presence as he moved closer to her. She was too busy planning and was clearly not too happy about what she was having to plan. She cursed in a language Quinn didn't understand. "Those damn gringos couldn't wait a few hours for reinforcements?!" she threw out in anger. Turning her mind quickly back to the information she barked out orders that were to be followed immediately and to the letter, no exceptions.
"What?!" she asked Quinn impatiently.
"I'm sorry," Quinn replied, though he didn't know what for. "I didn't know you were..."
"Busy? Why would I be? I only have an army to lead," she hissed, although it was losing some steam. She had a lot of venom to release and not many people she could safely vent it on. Their caravan was nearing San Francisco. There wasn't much time to prepare for what would probably be a lost battle. "You could be a little more helpful, you know," she said, more gently this time. "Use some of that future knowledge of yours to help us out a little."
"I'm not from the future," Quinn started to explain. "Like I told you, it's Earth in this same time, but a lot of the events are different..."
"Yeah, like the Confederates didn't win their war for independence and Mexico overthrew the French and never even saw the Germans come to our shores," Roberta recited, as though from memory. "I heard it before. Still don't know if I should believe it."
"You just have to trust me," Quinn said with a smile. Roberta could not bring herself to return it. Before anything more could be said, one of the General's adjutants ran up to her. "General, we've got hostiles up ahead. Not very many, but they're armed to the teeth."
"What do they want?" she asked, as if she didn't really want to know.
"Unless I'm mistaken...him," he said and pointed to Quinn Mallory.
Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery Anderson had been waiting at a key junction of the Serra trail that led into Los Angeles for the better part of a day now. Finally, he had stopped Roberta Juarez' army. There was very little standing between him and total victory. Well, there was Wing.
"Sir, we've got Arturo and we've got their sliding device. Why don't we just go home, say we killed Mallory and everybody'll be happy." Wing had a weary look in his eyes as he spoke the words.
"You've read Mallory's profile," Anderson told Wing as if he were speaking with absolute authority, which in a way he was. "If we leave him here, there's too much of a risk that he'll develop another sliding gizmo."
Wing's exasperation heightenend. "Sir, with all due respect the technology's way too primitive on this world for even a scientist of Mallory's stature to..."
Anderson was in no mood to be questioned. "Forget about it, Wing and that's an order. I don't want to hear anymore whining about going home. We're closer than we've ever been, don't you realize that?" Wing looked less than thrilled, but Anderson seemed very satisfied with himself. "I'm not going home without both of my quarries. And I'm sure as hell not losing half of my men for nothing."
Another one of his subordinate officers rode up to him. "Sir, I think General Juarez is trying to establish a parley."
Colonel Anderson's jaw tightened. "Fine. We'll discuss terms like civilized men."
He wasn't prepared for a woman general. Not that he was sexist, you understand. He just hadn't had very good experience with them in the past. Lieutenant Colonel Montgomery Anderson brushed off that concern for now and prepared to concentrate on the matter at hand. "My terms are simple. Mallory for unhindered passage into Los Angeles. Hell, we'll even give you some of our leftover weaponry. We won't need it ourselves after sunset."
General Roberta Juarez arched an eyebrow. "Anything else?"
"Yeah," Anderson went on. "There are some mighty brave, but mostly wounded and demoralized, American soldiers a few miles up the path. If you'd take them in, it'd be much appreciated, ma'am."
"Well, I'm afraid your terms are unacceptable," Roberta said with a half-smile on her face.
"I'm sorry to hear that. We have some pretty state of the art equipment and more than a little poison gas. We souped it up so it works as knockout gas, but we have some mustard gas in its pure form, too. And I'd hate to damage your troops that way," he said in the most friendly threatening voice the Mexican general had ever heard.
Roberta's half-smile broadened to a full one. "Don't you want to hear why?" At Anderson's quizzical look, she elaborated. "I'll give you Mallory. But I want the device."
"I can't believe you're doing this!!" Quinn yelled as some of Roberta's soldiers hauled him and Rembrandt forcibly to the point where the parley was taking place.
"I could say the same to you," Wing practically growled to Colonel Anderson. "How could you agree to let a local keep Mallory's timer?"
"Don't question me," he ordered him sharply. "This band of glorified peasants aren't going to be able to figure how it works for years. And in a few minutes, it'll have to be twenty-nine of 'em."
Roberta turned the timer over in her hand. "It is a marvelous little device, isn't it? Whoever built this was a genius."
"I did," Quinn growled at Roberta.
"For a genius, you still have a lot to learn," Roberta chuckled, rustling his hair playfully. "Especially about women. And politics."
"Let's get this deal moving," Anderson said, trying not to let on how desperate he sounded.
"Wait," Roberta said, stopping her guards for a moment as they began to give Quinn to Colonel Anderson. "A kiss goodbye first." Her lips brushed his for a short moment. "There. It'll give him something to remember me by."
The guards deposited Quinn and Remmy harshly in the well-guarded tent that also contained the Professor and Wade. "Now what?" Rembrandt complained.
"Now, we get ready to slide out of here," Quinn said softly to the others. He pulled up the back of his shirt to reveal the timer, hidden in his back pocket. "How long til we slide guys?"
Attempting to tastefully stare at Quinn's behind, Wade answered, "Less than a minute. You just love cutting it close, don't you?"
"You know it," Quinn answered her in a macho tone of voice. "Uh, do one of you guys think you could activate the timer?" Wade eventually agreed to do so, managing to get her tied hands into the timer in Quinn's pocket. She then jumped through the vortex first.
Rembrandt had to turn to Quinn and ask him a question before they left. "How did you know you could trust Roberta?"
Quinn paused as Professor Arturo jumped through the void next. "I didn't. I just didn't have a choice." Quinn and Rembrandt then made it through the wormhole in turn. By the time the clueless guards figured it out, they were already gone.
"What do you mean, they're gone?!?" Colonel Anderson exclaimed wildly. "How can they be gone?"
"It was some sort of trick," his subordinate answered feebly. This was worse than anything. This was worse than half his crew going AWOL on that world that was so similar to their own, and Anderson didn't think that there was anything that would ever be worse than that. "Should we open fire on the Mexicans, sir?"
"No," he answered, his voice cold and distant. "My Lord, could anything else go wrong?"
"You shouldn't tempt fate like that, sir," Wing instructed him. "They're something wrong with our timer. It looks like the power chip's gone."
Anderson tried hard to conceal his seething rage. "Do you know how you said not even a genius like Mallory could reinvent sliding on this backward world?"
"Y-yes, sir," Wing answered timidly.
"I'd revise that estimate if I were you, Mr. Wing."
The four of them landed in a bunch of boxes, only these were cardboard. It looked like the inside of a warehouse. A small warehouse.
"Where the devil are we?" Professor Arturo asked no one in particular.
"I don't know, but I'm just happy to be some place that's air conditioned," Rembrandt said with a relieved chuckle in his voice.
Just as the wormhole closed, a door opened. A women dressed all in leather and with pale make-up on walked through the door. "I don't know how you got in here, but," she examined their hands, all bound with rope, carefully, "I think you came to the right place. Heather's House of Leather carries everything someone into bondage could ever need."
"Madame, I'm afraid we're not quite your sort of clientele," Arturo explained with as much finesse as was possible for him in this situation. "However, if you would untie us, we would be extremely grateful."
"OK," she replied, a little disappointed. "But you'll have to buy something."
"Oh, never mind!" he exclaimed, fed up with this world already. "Just show us the door."
The four of them walked outside. "You think Anderson and his guys'll follow us again?" Wade asked.
"I find it highly unlikely," the Professor answered. "I swiped their power chip. Wing let me have a peek inside the hood, seems it had been malfunctioning lately. It had backup batteries so he wouldn't notice the difference right away, but... it's strange. I think he really wanted me to mess it up somehow. The world he said they would be going to sure sounded like torture to me." He then decided to leave that gloomy subject. "Although it may be preferable to staying in this modern day Sodom and Gomorah even if only for a few days. Priority one: we find a way to get back to San Francisco. My opinion on this city has remained unchanged for many years, but I'll reiterate for those of us who haven't been paying attention."
"I know, I know," Quinn replied. "You loathe L.A."
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