7.2 - Everywhere, Everything
Over the last few years, Americans have traveled a difficult road. As a nation, we've endured Kromagg invasion, Lesion invasion, unusually destructive earthquakes and the short-lived pop career of one of Elvis Presley's children. It can't help but make us wonder: what are other dimensions and what do they mean to me?
Your government understands your concerns. But to be honest, we don't have the answers yet. Rest assured, however, that we're looking for them, and looking hard.
That's why we've built the Maximilian P. Arturo Center for Interdimensional Studies. 'Professor' Arturo, as he humbly insists on being called, heads up the institution and more than qualifies as an expert on all things interdimensional. His résumé includes curing a devastating plague with simple penicillin, building the atomic bomb in order to destroy an errant asteroid, enduring years of social and scientific hardship because of an amusing mix-up in a basement and campaigning fervently for the non-requirement of marriage by the age of twenty-five.
We don't understand that one either.
The Arturo Center isn't content to just conduct research from afar, however. The very first 'sliding' team (that is officially sanctioned by the U.S. government) will soon be launched and charged with the task of making contact with potential allies and scouting the worlds of dangerous enemies. This crew will include two of Arturo's close personal friends: former Spinning Topps sensation Rembrandt Brown and sales clerk turned ex-breeder commando Wade Welles! We can't figure out exactly what useful skills they bring to the table, but you can be sure that they'll croon and, uh, charm their way into the lives of denizens of other worlds. Scientist Diana Davis will also be in the group.
But leading the team to great heights of destiny is Quinn Mallory: boy genius. The man who invented interdimensional travel, not just on this world but on a host of them. He is a man of intrigue who embraces danger and never backs down from a fight. Undoubtedly some version of him has been everywhere and seen everything. But enough of my embellishments. Let's hear his story straight from the horse's mouth."
"Hi," Quinn said with obviously feigned shyness. He was decked out in a dark gray bathrobe and reclined comfortably in an executive-style swivel chair. "I'm Quinn Mallory and I'll be putting your hard-earned tax dollars to work as the leader of... the Sliders." He stopped for five very awkward seconds, blinking furiously from the bright lights above him. "Is that right? The Sliders? Or is this where I'm supposed to say 'sliding team'?"
"Cut!" an exasperated director called out and began storming off the set. "That's it! I told you if 'Boy Genius' here forgot one more of his lines I was through!" Arturo started to say something. The tall bearded man would hear none of it. "Forget about it, Professor. You want the take done right, you talk to him."
Maximilian Arturo grumblingly wheeled himself onto the small set where Quinn Mallory held his head in his hands. "What seems to be the matter?" Arturo asked.
"What's the matter?" Quinn retorted sarcastically. "We're wasting time. We could be postulating theories or theorizing postulations... this is just a bunch of nonsense. Especially all of that 'SuperQuinn' garbage. They talk me up like I'm the greatest thing since sliced cheese. "
Professor Arturo shook his head. "I don't think you're giving your selves enough credit. Many of the Quinn Mallory doubles we've encountered have discovered sliding, and you invented time travel..."
"And together we made the recipe for Kaos," Quinn interrupted. "Thanks for reminding me of that."
Arturo looked at him with discernment. "I understand your frustration."
"Really?" Quinn asked, ever so slightly amused. "Is that on your 'résumé', too? Understands every Quinn's frustration?"
"I am aware that making this promotional video is tedious work," Arturo told him in a harsh whisper. "But it is a necessary evil. We must secure funding if we're to unlock the secrets of Kaos and get you safely home. Try to think of it that way...after we get back from lunch. Care to join me?"
"No," Quinn declined not very politely. "I need to study my lines." The whirring of Arturo's wheelchair eventually fading to nothingness, Quinn's thoughts could now race in peace. Was this just meaningless press garble or was it for real? Were other Quinn Mallorys significantly more accomplished than he? And just how much of a hero did these people expect him to be?
Rembrandt Brown and Wade Welles clung instinctively to the damp, rough surface of the cave wall as the illumination of the vortex vanished behind them. "You got your light, Wade?" he asked lightly, as if he could take it for granted.
He could. She withdrew the flashlight from her bag of goodies, turned it on and steered them successfully towards the proper cavern from memory. Wade had certainly changed a lot from her Doppler Computer days. But as they approached the narrow black gaping maw of the cave, this wasn't overwhelmingly apparent. "You go first," Wade instructed shakily.
Rembrandt obliged, if a bit unwillingly. They would have less than two minutes to complete this mission before a retrieval vortex generated from the Arturo Center would suck them back home. Well, not 'home' home, but that was a thought process to be followed up on later, when there was time for thinking. When there was time for anything other than just reacting on instinct.
The job was to 'retrieve' an 'artifact' from the private collection of a very eccentric Larnani. The statuette in question was made of pure soulstone and thus was naturally of considerable interest to the good folks at the Arturo Center. However, as attested to by the two minute window, the mission was very dangerous.
As the two sliders neared an opening, Remmy got unexpectedly curious. "What do we know about this Larnani guy, anyway?"
"Just that he's rich, crazy and loaded with soulstone," Wade answered with a grunt. "That and he's a big Indiana Jones fan."
As Remmy and Wade stood fully and took a look at their intended object of theft, they saw it stood on a large stone with a bright spotlight shining down on it. "Damn," Rembrandt assessed as he looked at the situation objectively. "Did you pack any sand?"
Dr. Diana Davis stood at the grave of one Captain Maggie Beckett and felt very guilty. Since returning, she had put off asking about Maggie's fate for days, hoping against hope that she had pulled through. Although not a pessimist by trade, Diana didn't expect this to be the case, as her wounds had been severe. Maggie was an exceptionally strong woman, a natural-born fighter, a decent leader and a good friend. Diana would miss her.
Still, there was little time for mourning (and even less time than one would expect for mourning Maggie, or so it seemed to her anyway). After the ten minute walk back to the Arturo Center, Dr. Davis used her newly crafted swipe card to re-enter the facility. Their first scheduled 'random' slide, which seemed like a bit of a contradiction to her (but what did she know?), would be in a few minutes. Professor Maximilian Arturo and Quinn Mallory were waiting for Rembrandt and Wade to return from whatever world they had journeyed to this time. They had gone on several 'mini-slides' of varying import since returning to their home world.
Dramatically, the void opened in front of them and Rembrandt and Wade were hurled violently to the ground. Behind them, a distinctly unpleasant rumbling sound could be heard. "What is that?" Diana asked.
"You don't want to know," Rembrandt answered her between belabored breaths. Both he and Wade seemed a little winded. "It didn't follow us through, did it?"
Arturo shook his head as he deactivated the wormhole and then turned again to face them. "I trust you retrieved the item in question." Wade stood slowly and then withdrew the object from her bag. "Excellent. Now...who's ready for a debriefing?" Maximilian Arturo looked over the unlikely quartet and saw that Rembrandt and Wade looked weary while Diana and Quinn were filled with unmerited enthusiasm for the task ahead. He nearly sighed. It was somewhat of a comedown from what he was used to, but it would have to do.
The four of them made their way to a large cushioned platform where all interdimensional travel was designated to take place. To Diana, it felt like Mallory should have been there to make a lame 'Beam me up, Scotty' joke. The rest of them were primarily interested in what Arturo had to say. "I'll try to make this as short as possible. First of all, I am not coming with you." Rembrandt and Wade both started to protest vociferously. The Professor shot them down. "Spare me your pathetic pleas and PC arguments for how this chair won't hold me back. The biggest reason I'm not accompanying you is that I am sorely needed here. Although I will not deny that the prospect of capture by a hostile government or having to flee from a natural disaster is more daunting when a man cannot perform the simple task of bending his knee."
Rembrandt and Wade looked at each other. The 'veteran leadership' on this team would fall to them almost by default. Arturo seemed to sense their appreciation of this new authority. "However, do not allow yourselves to think that any assortment of inevitable miscues and mishaps will go unnoticed by me. Do you remember those translator chips that were rather suddenly shoved in your heads on Mekkan Prime?" As the two sliders nodded slowly, 'Welcome to the Jungle' by Guns N' Roses started unexpectedly playing in their heads. "I modified them while you were sleeping. They will now become 'links' between this facility and yourselves."
"You did brain surgery on us while we slept?!" Wade replied incredulously. "Without even asking? That's..." She took a good look around. This wasn't going to be one of those typical Wade-and-Arturo ethics versus efficiency arguments, as he now had the potential to exercise way more power than she could. The armed guards surrounding them made that fact poignantly clear. "...remarkable," she finished weakly.
If Arturo noticed her indignant tone, he didn't show it. "Dr. Davis will be given the unenviable task of timer maintenance," Rembrandt and Wade shared a quick worried glance, "but if anything goes seriously wrong, feel free to request a retrieval team. We'll pick you up."
Professor Arturo began distractedly fidgeting with some of the controls that lined the panel in front of him. "I believe that's most of what you'll need to know. The four of you will be randomly sliding for now, but if there should happen to be anything specific we'd need to accomplish..."
"We'll get it done," Rembrandt stated for the group.
The newfangled timer in the Professor's hand opened the vortex seconds after Arturo activated it. He then handed the device to Diana. "Godspeed." As three of the four ventured through the wormhole, Quinn lingered uncertainly. The elder British man pushed himself to the younger scientist's side. "You have yet to see your potential, Mr. Mallory. Step through that portal and entire worlds will open up to you, and I don't necessarily refer to other dimensions." Quinn cast him an odd sidelong glance before diving in after his new companions. Professor Arturo forced himself away from the console. "I only hope he's up to it."
The four sliders found themselves running away from a squealing, grasping mob of people apparently very interested in at least one member of their group. "It must be another world where I'm a superstar," Rembrandt suggested.
"You know, there was only one of those," Wade reminded him in a futile effort at ego deflation. Meanwhile, Quinn was lost in his own thoughts. Could something he had done here deserve this sort of attention? Normally he would dismiss such thoughts, but after the Professor's little pep talk...
The sliders made a wrong turn, ran into an alley, and found themselves at a dead end. "Oh, great," Wade muttered. "Here they come. Brace yourselves."
Within seconds, they were surrounded by a crowd of people who all wanted one thing. "Diana! Diana! Diana!" they chanted fervently. The other sliders looked at their resident scientist in what could only be interpreted as pure shock. Rembrandt and Quinn were kicking themselves. This was going to be a long slide.
An exhausted Rembrandt Brown somehow closed the door and quickly found himself resting against it. "Oh man. You are never leaving this hotel room, girl."
"I guess I just never imagined it," Diana said aloud, almost in shock. "Me, a star? What could I have possibly done to deserve this kind of treatment?"
"Maybe it was the overwhelming power of your false humility," Quinn muttered to himself.
"Fame is a lot different than I imagined," Diana remarked, apparently ignoring Quinn. "It's intense. And painful. I think I have a wrist cramp." She tried to shake her hand free of the muscle spasms that accompanied several hours of signing autographs.
"You better be glad that autographs were all they wanted," Rembrandt said all-too-knowingly although perhaps not as much knowingly as he would have liked. "Some people in that crowd looked like they might have wanted a piece of you, and I do mean literally." A sudden surge against the door made Remmy groan. "Here we go again."
"Hey," a muffled voice cried from outside. "It's Wade. Let me in." Rembrandt opened the door just enough for her thin frame to come through. "It's a zoo out there. I asked the management to do something about this crowd, but they seem pretty star struck themselves."
"Did you find out why Diana's famous?" Rembrandt asked with genuine curiosity.
Wade shook her head. "The people I asked all laughed at me. But..." she reached into her back pocket and withdrew a thick paperback book. "I think this should answer all of our questions."
Professor Maximilian Arturo bemusedly scratched his chin. "A world where Diana's a celebrity, eh?" he asked Rembrandt with a chuckle. "This should be standard operating procedure by now. Good Lord, how many worlds have we been to where one of us has been enshrined in that particular cult?"
"Not enough," Rembrandt answered, thinking of himself. But then he got a good look at the crowd gathering below their room. The police were just now clearing out the ravenous throng. "And way too many."
Dr. Diana Davis sat staring at the book in her hand, "Diana Davis: My Story as Told by Me". She said nothing as she reverently turned each page in the book. "Have you noticed that most of Diana's fans are female?" Quinn asked observantly.
"Guess that means you're not a sex symbol," Remmy said with a smile.
"Or you are and there are more differences on this world than we think," Wade noted with a raised eyebrow. "But I kind of doubt it. You read the stuff in the book. She's the first woman to climb Everest, to walk on the moon, to pitch a no-hitter."
"Anybody can pitch a no-hitter in Dodger Stadium," Quinn complained under his breath.
Wade heard that, but ignored it. "She must be some kind of feminist icon. Pretty refreshing, if you ask me."
"Or dangerous," Rembrandt pointed out. "As exciting as all of this is, our Diana can't actually do any of those things. We've got three days here. What happens if somebody wants her to show them something spectacular?" Nobody had a good answer for that, least of all Diana herself, who was still thoroughly enthralled by the novelization of her life. However, the tension was broken a bit when the phone rang. Wade started to answer it, but then stopped herself. It was probably for Diana. The physicist had to be shaken out of her trance to pick up the receiver.
"Hello?" she offered timidly.
"Where the hell have you been?!" an angry voice demanded on the other end. Before she could respond, he continued. "No, don't answer that. I don't want to know. Just be sure to let your handlers know what's up before you disappear next time, OK?"
"OK?" Diana agreed confusedly.
The man on the other end seemed to breathe a sigh of relief without actually doing so. "Great. You're staying at the Trygve Lie, right?" He didn't wait for her to answer; he had tracked her down here so he obviously knew the answer. "I'll have Cookie send you over two passes to your premiere tonight."
"My premiere?" Diana echoed with uncertainty.
"The movie, Diana. Remember your movie?" he asked with barely curtailed exasperation. The self-styled scientist thought she might have heard the man on the other end (who hadn't bothered to introduce himself) instruct someone else in the room to either cut back on or increase her meds, but she wasn't certain. "Look, just be there, OK? Nine o'clock at the Hansberry." Now he did sigh. "This is a huge obligation, Di. Don't blow it." He hung up the phone without so much as a goodbye.
Diana hung up the phone a little numbly. "I guess I'm going to go see a movie tonight."
After taking a few moments to briefly summarize the conversation, such as it was, to her companions, Diana watched as their expressions became chagrined. "I'm not sure that this is such a good idea, Diana," Rembrandt told her. "Impersonating your double is risky business, especially when you're dealing with the celebrity version."
"I don't even want to consider the logistics of the situation," Wade commented as she shook her head dismissively. "Getting you back in time for the slide could make this little night at the movies more trouble than it's worth."
Quinn frowned. "Why would we need to worry about that? If one of us gets left behind after a slide the Arturo Center can just send in a team and retrieve them. They could probably even set up a rendezvous point with us on another world."
"Right, but..." Wade trailed off. He had a point. She hadn't considered the effect of them having a 'home base' on whether or not they could miss a slide. "Right."
As if on cue, Professor Arturo spoke his mind from inside Rembrandt's. "I believe you're overlooking something. What if this world's Diana Davis attends this premiere as planned? Will you be willing to explain the concept of doubles to a jeering crowd of Hollywood imbeciles? Could they possibly grasp it, even if you tried?"
"He's got a point," Rembrandt said aloud. As Wade and Quinn had been discussing previous close calls on missing the slide, the other three sliders looked at him with bewilderment written on their faces. He then took the time to relate what the Professor had said.
"It's probably not a good idea for her to go, then," Quinn pointed out. "What with the danger of running into her double and all."
"We should probably keep a low profile for the rest of the slide," Wade advised. She and Rembrandt shared a brief look of bemusement. They both knew how well that had worked out in the past. "Or at least try. I'd recommend we check into a new hotel if I thought we could do it without attracting more attention to ourselves."
Diana's eyes were cast downward. She wouldn't have minded sneaking a peek at a film about her, regardless of the fact that it would be chronicling a life she hadn't lived. Apparently, however, this was out of the question. "So I guess those free movie passes will be going to waste, huh?"
Rembrandt had a mischievous look in his eye. "Not necessarily."
"I can't believe they went to this big premiere thing without us," Quinn groused, his face set in a petulant scowl. The two more experienced sliders had rationalized the decision by saying that they needed to explain the presence of the other Diana if the real one made an appearance. Neither Diana nor Quinn had really bought it, but what could they do?
Well, insubordination was one thing. Diana looked at him incredulously. "And I can't believe you snuck out of the hotel after Rembrandt and Wade specifically instructed us to stay put. I also can't believe you convinced me to go with you."
"Will you relax?" Quinn asked with rhetorical bravado. "God, do you always do what you're told? Lighten up. Don't you want to see what made your double such a big shot on this world?"
"I guess so," Diana replied uncertainly.
"Good," Quinn said with a big smile. "Then a covert mission to the movies is exactly what you need."
Diana looked both of them over carefully. They wore matching tan overcoats and hats that were conveniently on sale in the hotel lobby. However... "Hey, if I'm the one who needs to be disguised, why are you the one in shades?" Quinn shrugged. "Hand them over."
Quinn's height allowed him to avoid her attempt to grab them. "I would, but these are clearly men's sunglasses." He flashed her a winning smile and the two of them continued to wander the streets of the city until they eventually found the dark alley they were looking for. Unfortunately, about two hundred people had beaten them to it; they had flocked around the theater in hopes of catching a glimpse of Diana and/or her film biography, or possibly they were just really enthusiastic about the new "American Bagel" sequel. At any rate, they did not look happy.
He tapped one of them on the shoulder. "What's the problem? Is it a sell-out?"
"She was supposed to be here," the woman complained. When Quinn frowned, she elaborated. "Diana Davis, the real one. She was supposed to come back to her hometown for the premiere and she..." Her voice trailed off as she got a good look at Diana. "Hey, you look a little bit like her. Make that a lot like her. Are you...?"
Quinn smoothly removed his own sunglasses, shoved them on Diana's face and pulled her hat down over her eyes. "Impersonator. She's got this great routine where she... pretends to climb Mt. Fuji while... striking out Jason Giambi."
"Who's Jason Giambi?" the woman asked with confusion in her voice.
Quinn made an incredibly fake laugh seem somewhat convincing. "Gotta go." He then turned to Diana as they made a hasty get away. "I guess the plan where we casually sneak in is out," Quinn remarked sourly as he looked at the devoted throng of people with disgust.
"It wasn't much of a plan to start with," Diana scolded him mildly. She let out a long sigh. "Let's just head back to the Hotel. I'm pretty sure they have cable and I want to catch some 'Lex and the City' reruns. I am so far behind..." As they walked along the alley that led them behind the theater and down a few blocks, they heard a car screech to a halt. They couldn't see it clearly from their vantage point, but they saw something being thrown out of the car that looked person-sized. As it then roared off into the night, the two of them jogged quickly to where the incident occurred. There was a dead body lying prone in the middle of the street.
Quinn's sharp eyes followed the vehicle. It was a stretch limousine, but he couldn't make out the make and model from this distance at night. He did get a pretty good look at the license plate, however. As he then turned his attention to what the car deposited, he saw Diana's hands stained with blood as she attended to the victim. She then stood quickly with a shocked expression filling up her face. "My God," she exclaimed. "It's me."
Diana stared at her own lifeless face in disgust and horror. That was pretty much to be expected, except she did it for a very long time. "This is bad," Quinn assessed.
"This is bad?!" Diana mimicked in a panicked voice. "This is bad?! My alternate is dead and all you can say is...?" Her mouth was quickly covered by Quinn's hand. Diana's muted protests, along with her saliva and teeth, nearly forced it away.
"We can't afford to draw attention to ourselves. If anyone finds us and her here, what are they going to think? Best case scenario: the police take us in for questioning and ask some long, hard questions about who you are and where you came from. Worst case..." Quinn shuddered. He had no doubt the Arturo Center could pull them out of them some dangerous scrapes. He didn't want to test their ability to subvert the penal system.
"What do you suggest we do then?" Diana asked, her voice mixing anxiety with more anxiety.
Quinn looked around quickly. A hospital was as out of the question as dealing with the police. They couldn't carry her back to the hotel and they didn't have a car, as Wade and Remmy had driven their rental to the premiere. Luckily, Quinn had a spare key and had flirted with the parking attendant on the way there. "We're taking her with us. I'll go get the car, you stay here."
"What?!" Diana exclaimed sharply (but quietly). A million questions raced through her mind, but only the most immediately relevant one flew forth. "What am I supposed to do until you get back?"
Quinn looked thoughtful. "Have you ever seen 'Weekend at Sven's'?"
Wade Welles and Rembrandt Brown were surprised to see their rented car being driven around the block by Quinn. He was accompanied by someone whose identity was concealed by dark sunglasses, a hat that was pulled almost all the way down over their head, a red scarf and what looked like one trench coat over another. As Quinn slowed at the curb, Remmy and Wade piled in the back. "I thought we told you to stay at the hotel."
"We couldn't wait for the reviews," Quinn told them with a smile. "What's the verdict?"
"Well..." Wade started.
"It was, uh," Rembrandt stammered.
"Bad?" Quinn offered.
"Horrible," Wade corrected. "The movie was called 'Soaring on the Wings of Glory'. My eyes are sore from all the rolling."
"Yeah, and let's just say Halle Berry isn't going to be winning an Oscar anytime soon," Rembrandt finished with a chuckle. "So, Diana, what's with the Invisible Man get up?"
"My alternate's dead body is in the trunk," she answered almost robotically.
"That's not funny," Wade said. Her eyes grew wide. "You're not joking, are you?"
"She never jokes," Quinn answered for her.
Both of the more inexperienced sliders could feel the anger rising from behind them. "It was his idea," Diana declared defensively.
"To kill your double?!" Rembrandt demanded.
"No!" they simultaneously and vehemently insisted. "We found her," Quinn followed up. "She was thrown out of a limo behind the theater. We didn't know what else to do."
Rembrandt and Wade fumed in silence for a few moments. "Did you get the plates?" the latter slider asked.
"One of the many advantages of having a great memory," Quinn answered while tapping his forehead.
Wade took a deep breath and released it. "Then I think you probably did the right thing."
"What?!" Rembrandt asked incredulously.
"Think about it," Wade said. "If they find her body, how long will it take before this becomes one of those huge media circus celebrity death cases? Even if the police accept that you were just witnesses, your faces would be plastered all over the news and that's the last thing we need." Wade crossed her arms. "Now I guess it's all up to us to figure out who did this."
Rembrandt brooded in the back seat. Things had gone from OK to bad too quickly for him to process everything and he suddenly felt a lack of control that unnerved him. With their next course of action up in the air, he expected Arturo to weigh in with his opinion any time now. Instead, the voice inside his head was strictly his own and listening to it made him almost miss something Quinn said. "I think I have a plan. What if Diana walks a few miles in her double's moccasins? Nothing too elaborate, just a quick switcheroo to help get us a little more info on the situation at hand. A sneak peak at a day in the life of the deceased, if you will."
"Boy you're just full of bad ideas, aren't you?" Rembrandt asked with a harsh laugh.
Before Quinn could retort, Wade did. "I'm going to go with Remmy on this one. Let's just stick to basic gumshoe tactics until we can figure out what's what. We could start with running down the plates on that limo."
"...or with what to do with the body," Wade seemingly finished (she was actually completing another unrelated sentence, but that was unimportant right now).
"Yeah, I don't want to be the one to explain the 'new corpse smell' when we take the rental back to Endeavor," Quinn remarked.
"Could we show a little respect, please?" the muffled voice of Diana said through the thick scarf surrounding her mouth. "This is my alternate we're talking about."
"She's right," Rembrandt said supportively. "Now," he said to Quinn, "help me pull this crate out of the dumpster. I've got an idea." The two of them removed the large box (it might have been used to transport a new freezer or small refrigerator) and put alternate Diana's body inside it. They then managed to tote it into their room without incident, although it was a tad awkward in the elevator.
"Now what?" Wade asked. "Two of us share a room with a dead body for two days?"
"Unless you have a better suggestion," Rembrandt answered earnestly. Her non-response indicated that she didn't. Remmy reached for a plastic bucket that was lying on their dresser and tossed it to Quinn. "Get some ice. Lots of it."
"Why do I have to do it?" Quinn asked defiantly.
"You don't," Rembrandt answered with a no-nonsense tone to his voice. "One of us can," he indicated himself and Wade, "and you can stay here and help position the body to where we can pack ice under it."
"Going," Quinn answered quickly. He strode out of the room with sudden verve for the task ahead of him.
Said task was more than a bit gruesome for all of them, but eventually the deed was done. The icebox, as it were, contained the remains of one Diana Davis, some used towels and multiple bucketfuls of ice. Now the question remained: what to do with the box? "We could store it in one of the bathtubs," Quinn suggested.
"And have only one shower?" Wade and Diana asked with simultaneous incredulity. That nixed that idea.
"Yeah, the maids might get suspicious about it, too," Rembrandt pointed out. "We could put it under one of the beds, but I don't think it would fit just right. Which means it would only go under the bed of our lightest sleeper, so to speak."
"I guess that would be Diana," Wade replied.
Diana looked up and down Wade's slender frame. "You'd guess wrong," she said indignantly.
"I think we're forgetting something here," Quinn interjected. All eyes turned on him. "We're not operating on any kind of budget. We can spend as much money as we want."
"Management? This is Diana Davis. I'd like to add three rooms to our bill, please. No, there won't be any additional guests joining us."
"Why three?" Quinn asked Rembrandt in a whisper.
"This way everybody gets their own room, plus there's one for the box," the elder slider answered. "We can disguise it as a storage room."
"Which means we'll need to go shopping to make it look like we have something to store," Wade pointed out as if it were a fact of life. Rembrandt acknowledged her trump card with a slight smile.
"How can you even think of buying things at a time like this?" Quinn asked with a frown of disdain.
"Quinn, when you've slid as long as we have, you learn to multitask," Rembrandt told him sagely. Quinn didn't buy it. "Speaking of which, I could definitely use a bite to eat. Those appetizers at our little soiree tonight weren't very appetizing."
Wade looked like she agreed. "I saw a seafood and salad bar down near the lobby."
"Sounds good to me," Rembrandt said affirmatively. "If we're not here when you wake up in the morning, we've probably gone off to track down that license plate. You might want to stay by the phone in case we need any help."
As Remmy and Wade walked out the door, Quinn curled his lip in defiance. "Fat chance," he declared. Diana had just hung up the phone and shot him a confused look. "Wade and Remmy went to get something to eat. They told, uh, you to stay by the phone tomorrow in case they needed any help."
"That's nice," Diana said with a bob of her head and a big yawn. She clearly wasn't as much of a tool of whatever was confining him to this life as Rembrandt and Wade but she played by their rules entirely too much. Quinn had no intention of doing any such thing.
As the fingers of Wade Welles gently tapped the keys of the keyboard in front of her, her eyes turned towards Rembrandt. "Does this situation seem strange to you, or is it just me?"
"It's a little odd," Remmy admitted. "We've done more breaking and entering on the last few worlds than in the rest of our time sliding combined. Computers aren't normally this difficult to access, either. And what exactly is up with the décor in here? Is this early Aquaman or what?"
Wade smiled at him. "Yeah, there's definitely a big fish theme. But that wasn't what I was talking about. I meant our situation in general."
Rembrandt scratched his moustache. "You mean the Arturo Center? Talkin' to the Professor through chips in our heads? Not having to worry about missing the slide? A newfangled timer that looks like it could scramble an egg while it's still inside its shell?"
"That," Wade agreed, "and Diana."
"Plus there's a whole new Quinn to get used to," Remmy went on. "What the devil do we call him anyway? The Third Quinn? Q-Mall? Triple Quinn? Or how about Cubed Ball?" Wade's eyes remained fixed on the computer screen while Rembrandt spoke. He still wasn't sure how she was dealing with their own Quinn's death: so long ago in actual time, so recent in their memories. "It is definitely going to be weird being around him."
"And Diana," Wade threw out. Rembrandt started to say something in response, but she cut him off. "I think I've got it." She scrolled down the page until she found the owner of the limousine in question. "'Ellis Security Company'," Wade read aloud. "Huh. That wasn't quite what I expected. But I guess that's where we should start."
"I guess so," Rembrandt agreed while exhaling sharply.
Wade's right hand searched one of the drawers of the desk in front of her for a pen, then scrawled the address on a piece of paper and stuffed it in her pocket. "Let's go."
"Wade," Rembrandt said, stopping her in her tracks. "It is strange. My life makes less sense to me now than it did when I was starting out. I just wanted to let you know that...it's not just you." His eyes met hers with reassurance. "It'll never be just you."
Wade wasn't fond of emotional displays lately and she didn't really have time for one right now. So she changed the subject. Looking around this private 'computer suite' they had had to illegally gain access to, she frowned. "What do you think people use this place for anyway?"
"I don't know," Rembrandt answered as he gnawed slightly on his lip. "Maybe they come here just for the halibut." Wade's fist found its way to his shoulder much faster than he thought possible.
Quinn's hands were nearly numb from the cold but continued to search the box anyway. To those who couldn't see what he was doing, it would have sounded for all the world like he was digging through a cooler for his favorite soft drink, or maybe a leftover hot dog. To his captive audience, however...
"Ugh!" Diana exclaimed, her eyes shut tightly. "Could you please stop doing that?! It is so beyond morbid."
"Alright," Quinn replied, as if admitting defeat. He closed the lid of the box and returned to face the living Diana. "I don't think I'm going to find anything else worth examining anyway. It's time to take a good look at what I already have."
Dr. Davis was decidedly displeased. "With all...possibly due respect, Quinn, I don't think you're going to discover much from some chewing gum and bits of pocket lint. Besides, I thought we were supposed to leave the murderer-hunting to Rembrandt and Wade?"
"Hey, I've seen all of those TV shows with the initials 'C' and 'I' in the title," Quinn replied defensively. "I know what I'm doing here." Diana didn't really believe him, but she wasn't willing to stop his 'investigation' either. And so long as he was searching through packs of Doublemint gum and Life Savers candies, he probably couldn't do much harm. It was then, however, that he decided to pick up the watch.
They had found a gold pocket watch on Diana's person that reminded the sliding Diana of one her grandmother had owned when she was a child. It wasn't the same one, naturally, but the fondness of the memory made her internally wince as Quinn started looking it over carefully. "My mom used to have a watch like this," he declared authoritatively. "When you pulled out the face, there was a hidden compartment where you could store things. And unless I miss my guess..." Quinn pulled the mechanical component of the watch up out of the setting and found the aforementioned compartment. "Voila. We have a clue."
"And that would be...?" Diana asked with expectant and mild curiosity.
"An inscription," Quinn answered her. He then read it aloud in an overly bombastic voice. "To my dearest Diana – May your dreams continue to lead you to the stars. Your beloved Dr. Watkins." He turned to Diana. "You think your alternate was offed by a jealous boyfriend?"
Diana shook her head to indicate that she didn't. "'Dr. Watkins' doesn't sound like a name I'd call my boyfriend. Maybe an obsessive admirer?"
"We won't know until we find out," Quinn said a little obviously. "Let's start tracking down this Watkins guy. I'm guessing he probably used to work with Diana. Grab your life story and we'll start running through your past employers in the phone book." Diana willingly obliged, as usual.
"This is it," Wade declared authoritatively to Rembrandt. They both shared a look of determination as they attempted to nonchalantly observe the comings and goings of the individuals who had business with the Ellis Security Company. Wade coughed nervously. "Um, what do we do now?"
"Patience, Miss Welles," Professor Maximilian Arturo's voice soothingly advised. "We're compiling the information as I speak." The 'line', as it were, went dead for a moment and then Arturo came booming back into her head. "It appears that this company is affiliated with something called the Diana Davis Scientific Foundation, a group of people who work with and around the famed Dr. Davis."
Wade stared at nothing in particular. "It scares me that you're able to learn all of that from just radio and TV signals."
"Well, it's actually a little more complicated than that," the Professor answered. "You see..."
"I'll stick with scared over confused," Wade told him dismissively. As the two of them approached the building, Wade relayed the information to Rembrandt.
"This just gets weirder," Remmy said wearily. "These people make their living off of Diana and then they play a role in her murder? We must be missing something." Wade nodded and the duo, not knowing what else to do, walked up to the front desk. "We need to speak with someone in charge."
"What about?" the disinterested desk clerk asked them in as bored a voice as he could manage.
Wade leaned towards him. "We saw Diana Davis...dead."
That did draw the man's attention, but only for a moment. "Uh huh," he responded in a nonchalant tone. "And when was this?"
"Does it matter?!" Rembrandt snapped. "We saw the body and we saw one of your vehicles driving off after it was dumped. Now if you don't want us to go to the police about this, you better start answering our questions."
There was finally a reaction on the face of the man behind the counter. Unfortunately, it was bemusement. "Right. If you'll go down the hall and take the third door on your left, I'll pass your request along to the management and someone will take your complaint. It shouldn't be more than a few minutes." His tone undercut that notion.
Rembrandt started to go at the irritant, but Wade stopped him. "Let's just cooperate and see what happens."
Diana Davis did not want to be standing here in a strange hallway outside the door of the man who could have been her alternate's murderer. Not for the first time on this slide, she wished she had her PDL with her...if only so she could knock some sense into Quinn with it. He had been the one who insisted she accompany him. "I won't have any credibility without you," he had explained. 'Yes,' thought Diana, 'but you might also have a double homicide.' No pun intended.
Quinn's knuckles rapped the wooden door of the apartment of Dr. Henry Watkins. They had no weapons and no experience with fighting, so they were more than a little wary as the man who was now their chief murder suspect opened the door. To their surprise he was genial, handsome and well-dressed. "Yes?" he asked curiously. Neither of them could say anything. "Do I..." he saw Diana and stopped himself, "...know you?" he finished in a near whisper.
"We'd like to discuss something with you," Quinn said quickly. "If you don't mind, that is."
"Of course not," the good doctor agreed. "Come in."
Rembrandt and Wade were nearly bored to frustration when a gray-haired man of average height and inhuman smile came through the door accompanied by two armed bodyguards. "Good afternoon," he cooed. "Am I to understand you have a complaint to lodge against our company?"
"You're damn right we do," Rembrandt retorted angrily (and perhaps not too smartly). "Your people killed Diana Davis!"
"I know what you're thinking," Quinn told Dr. Henry Watkins as both he and Diana had a seat, "but this isn't Diana Davis. Or at least not the one you know, er, knew. Er..."
"It's alright, Mr....Mallory, you said your name was?" Quinn shook his head. Dr. Watkins continued speaking. "I know that the real Diana Davis is dead."
"How...?" Quinn started. He couldn't finish.
But Diana could, fear motivating her as much as anything else. "How could you possibly know that?"
"I'm afraid you're quite mistaken, sir," the weasely man replied with amusement. He nodded to one of his goons and they turned on the television. It was one of the dozens of 24-hour news channels that the two of them had discovered since they had begun sliding. "This is the live feed from the Great Will games. As you can see, the third runner on the left is Diana Davis."
Remmy and Wade got a good look at the screen. The woman in question was clearly Diana, the shots were clearly live and something, just as clearly, was wrong. "Whoever you saw or think you saw, it wasn't our Miss Diana. Now...what say we forget this ugly incident ever occurred, hm?" The two sliders were too dumbstruck to do anything other than nod their agreement. "Good!" he told them enthusiastically. "Get waivers for them to sign," he stage whispered to his flunkies.
"How do I know?" Watkins asked rhetorically. "I was there when she died, six years ago."
"Six years ago?!" Quinn and Diana exclaimed at the same time.
"That's right," Dr. Watkins said, his eyes blazing with fury. "The Diana Davis act that's been going on over the last few years...all smoke and mirrors, or smoke and doubles, you might say. Hundreds of alternates from thousands of parallel worlds have been imported by the DDSF to do one thing...create the image of the perfect woman."
Quinn was shocked for a moment. Finally, he managed to speak. "They have seen Diana, right?" Diana promptly smacked him.
Rembrandt slammed the pay phone's receiver down in anger. "No answer." He looked over at Wade, who was seemingly lost in her own thoughts. "Damn. I thought I told Quinn to stay put."
"We're going to have to get used to the fact that they're not used to this," Wade said casually. "Taking orders, being part of a team. Well, maybe Diana is..."
Remmy nodded knowingly. "We'll all need some time to adjust, but they could at least show some common sense. Diana could be in a lot of danger."
"Particularly if she comes near here," Wade agreed with a nod back at the Ellis Security Company building. "I don't know about you, but I wouldn't trust these guys if they were the last suspicious thugs on Earth."
"Yeah. I wish I could trust my own eyes, though," Rembrandt remarked in frustration. He referred to the footage of a very alive, very not theirs Diana in an athletic competition on live television. "Do you think it could have been faked?"
"Maybe," Wade conceded. "Maybe it's even possible the dead body in our hotel room isn't actually Diana's. But I just don't think so." She eyed the building they had just exited with wariness. "They're hiding something and going to great lengths to do it. If only we could find out what it was."
"So they're kidnapping these Diana doubles just to create an image of some superstar Diana?" who else but Diana asked Dr. Henry Watkins. "That doesn't make any sense."
Dr. Watkins looked chagrined. "In the warped minds of the people in charge of it, it does. And I'm reluctant to admit that at one time I was one of them."
"Then maybe you can shed a little light on the situation, because I'm still pretty much in the dark here," Quinn commented inquisitively. "What's the story on this interdimensional kidnapping scheme and what does it have to do with the fact that we found a dead Diana double?"
Dr. Watkins registered mild surprise at the last few words of his question, but said nothing about them. "Diana, the real Diana, and I were both physicists who shared a belief in parallel dimensions. That common belief led to the creation of a device that made travel to other dimensions possible, as well as to our doctorates and a shiny Nobel Prize. Whether or not it was also enough to start a relationship over is debatable, I suppose, but we thought so at the time."
"So..." Diana said carefully. "You and your Diana were..."
"Engaged," the domestic physicist finished for her. "We planned our wedding over and over again. We must have set about seven different dates, but there was a rather large obstacle in the way of our big day."
"Fame?" Quinn offered a little harshly.
Dr. Watkins shook his head sadly. "ALS. The disease that took her life from her one day at a time, while I watched helplessly."
Quinn nodded knowingly. "Lou Gehrig's disease."
Dr. Watkins frowned and shook his head in incomprehension. "Who's Lou Gehrig?" The answer wasn't particularly important, so he went on. "I couldn't stand looking at her getting weaker each day, watching her grow old beyond her years. I couldn't, wouldn't be helpless. So I used the equipment we built. I tried to help her any way I could. But first I needed test subjects."
"So you're the one who started bringing parallel Dianas to this world?" Diana asked somewhat accusingly.
"It was strictly on a volunteer basis," Dr. Watkins explained defensively. "They came of their own free will. But they were of no use to me. They were, however, of considerable use to others."
"Just who are these 'others'?" Quinn asked with one eyebrow raised.
The physicist cast his eyes downward. "Politicians, businessmen, policy makers. The people who make the world go 'round. I had come to some of them for backing and when the payoff wasn't enough for them they forced me out. They then started finding Diana doubles on their own, trying to build this perverse persona of the woman who can do anything."
"Just from what we've seen so far, it looks like they've succeeded," Quinn remarked, as if the man in front of him was likely to disagree.
He didn't. "Yes," Watkins said with a grimace. "But succeeded at doing what? And at what cost?"
"Wait a minute," Diana interjected. "Why go to all the trouble of importing a phony 'superwoman'? Wouldn't it be cheaper just to find some woman on this world and make it look like she could do anything? I mean, they are the ones pulling the strings behind the Diana Davis act, right?"
"Well, yes and no." Dr. Henry Watkins stood slowly, then walked to a nearby cabinet and poured himself a drink. "They run the show, but they're not responsible for the talent. Just about every Diana's had some kind of unique ability that they add to the mix."
Diana's eyes filled with wonder. Quinn quickly moved on. "Which I guess brings me back to the point: why the dead body? Wouldn't these people want to protect their investment?"
"Of course," he answered, a wry smile forming on his face. "So long as it remains a productive one. Should one Diana get out of line or cease to be useful to them, however, they have no qualms about eliminating a double or two."
"My God," Diana exclaimed. Quinn showed similar concern, but only on his face.
Watkins continued speaking, his voice growing sadder by the moment. "I've tried to convince the authorities that this is the case, but unfortunately the DDSF holds most of the cards, and they're very well respected. This makes them even more dangerous."
"Just how dangerous are they?" Quinn asked, as if playing into some old comic routine.
Dr. Henry Watkins' expression was grim. "Sometimes they don't stop at parallel Dianas. They've also been known to kill those who came too close to their secret."
Quinn and Diana looked at each other with fear in their eyes. Well, Diana more than Quinn. Rembrandt and Wade were likely in great danger.
Roger Bresnar cast off the coat from his uniform in exhaustion. It had been a rough day. In addition to dealing with the overflowing pile of paperwork that his predecessors had left him, he had had to deal with five different sets of kooks, each reporting a 'dead Diana Davis' sighting. He had no idea why there was such a rash of these claims, except that it was currently the 'in' thing to discuss in San Francisco, rather like an urban legend. He would relish the day when it went out of style.
Unfortunately for him, this wasn't that day and his day didn't look like it was going to end well, either. Two people who had registered a complaint earlier that day approached him menacingly. On the dark street where his car was parked he couldn't run very far, he had no weapons and he was terrible at fighting. He was also pretty scared. "W...what do you want?"
"We're taking a new approach," a middle-aged African-American man said. "We don't want to report seeing a dead Diana. We want to let you know that we have a live one. And if you don't let us get a good look at your operations, we're going to go public and expose your little scheme."
Rembrandt Brown was bluffing. He and Wade didn't know the whole story, but the two of them plus the Professor found a solution involving doubles to be the most intellectually satisfying theory. All three agreed this organization had to be investigated (for Diana's sake if for no other reason), and if interrogation and intimidation was where it needed to start then, well... The man whose name they didn't know was Roger cowered just a little. "I don't know what you're talking about," he asserted.
"How convenient," Wade remarked dryly.
"Hey, I believe you," Remmy said with a suave smile. "You're just a guy who sits behind a desk. They probably don't tell you much, do they?" He nodded silently. "Good. Then telling us everything you know about this place shouldn't take long."
He swallowed noticeably. "What are you going to do if I refuse?"
Remmy shook his head. "Me? Nothing. I'm a singer. I'm also a pretty smooth talker, but to be honest with you I'm not as physically fit as I used to be." As Rembrandt continued to speak, Wade's knee made contact with the upper part of the other man's stomach. He doubled over in pain. "I'm getting up there in years, you know. But getting back to the point, if you don't feel like talking, there are a lot of other things you could do to help us out. You could, for instance..." Wade kicked his nose just hard enough to smart like the devil but not enough to break it or make it bleed. "...show us where your bosses work. We've been watching the perimeter for a while now and nobody with anything fancier than khaki pants on has walked out to their car. Doesn't that seem a little strange to you?"
Wade came threateningly close to hitting Roger below the belt. He cried out for her to stop. "I'll talk," he said through belabored breaths.
"Wonderful," Rembrandt said with an agreeable smile. "Be sure to speak up. Us old folks get a little hard of hearing sometimes. Must be all of those concerts I did when I was a teenager."
As both sliders expected, he hadn't known much, but he was willing to show them to an area that was designated 'authorized personnel only'. Up until this moment, he hadn't been authorized. Now he had little choice in the matter. He guided his two captors past several darkened and a few dank rooms in a stroll that took more time than either Remmy or Wade would have liked.
"You think this could be a trap?" Wade asked with a frown of sincere concern on her face.
"I don't think this guy's shrewd enough to lead us into one," Rembrandt assured her with what he hoped was confidence in his voice.
Mere moments later they walked into a room that, if the echo of their footsteps was any indication, was voluminously large. Bright lights flickered to life and shone down upon them, blinding them temporarily. When the duo could open their eyes again, they saw a platoon of men (and some women) pointing various firearms at them. The only exit they knew of was the door they came in, and it was soon slammed shut and sealed.
"I really hate it when I'm wrong," Remmy complained.
Rembrandt and Wade were effectively frozen in place, unwilling to make a sudden move that might put their ability to live through the next few moments in serious doubt. While the people holding them at gunpoint didn't look willing to relinquish their firearms, they seemed hesitant to fire them as well. Both sliders were experienced enough to wait for this new threat to give them an opening to work with before they did something heroic (and possibly stupid).
Nobody said a word for a few tense moments. Finally, a dumpy looking man with balding hair and a paramilitary uniform of matching gray color stepped forward. It was the same 'gentleman' who had intimidated them with news footage before. "I'm afraid you two have a bit of a problem," he understated for dramatic effect. He then grinned menacingly. He wasn't good at it. "We've been watching you. We know what your game is. I just don't think you've got the slightest inkling of who you're dealing with."
"We know enough," Rembrandt answered defiantly. They had come too far on a bluff to abandon their story now. "We know that this DDSF place isn't exactly on the up and up. And we know that our Diana can bring you down."
That threat gave the man and his gun-toting counterparts pause, but only for a moment. A wry half-grin appeared on his face. "Yet you are here and she is somewhere else." He gestured to some of the guards and before the sliders could react, people with guns were within closer range of them. It turned out they were merely taking the hapless employee that he and Wade had coerced into helping them out of harm's way. They had not made a move on the two interlopers yet. Maybe that meant the goons were wary of a trick the two sliders might have up their sleeve. Or it could just mean that they still had a trick or two of their own that they hadn't played yet.
"What else did you expect?" This time it was Wade blustering for the sake of their unwelcome captors. "Did you really think we were going to just show up here and hand her over to you?"
"That would have been wise," the man in charge retorted simply. "How long do you think it will take us to find her? Two days, maybe three at the most? And what sort of bargaining chip will you have then?" he asked slyly. The sliders didn't have a good answer, mostly because they didn't fully understand the question. They were about to ask some of their own when they were rudely interrupted.
"Take them to the questioning room," another voice commanded. The woman whose voice asserted it was short and plain and dark-haired and wore a classic all-white lab coat. "We'll know what they know soon enough."
Rembrandt's mind panicked. In slides past, when any two of them were in trouble, they could almost always count on the other two to bail them out. Now, they were more or less on their own. "Wait," he cried out defensively. "If our friends don't hear back from us within the hour, Diana will go to the press and spill her guts. All your dirty laundry will be on national television in time for the morning news shows. And believe me, we're not bluffing." Would this bluff work any better than the others? Diana making any kind of public statement would get lots of media attention. As their captors weighed the possibilities, Remmy shrugged mentally and cast Wade a supportive glance. It was all up to them to work out of this mess.
"I just can't stand sitting here and doing nothing!" Diana exclaimed. Night had fallen, morning had taken its place, uneasy sleep came and went, and now both of the nouveau sliders were awake and cranky. Diana in particular was displeased with their (read: Quinn's) unwillingness to come to the aid of their fellow sliders.
"We're not 'doing nothing'," Quinn assured her. "We're keeping you safe. Rembrandt and Wade can take care of themselves," he paused to sound indignant, "or so they seem to think."
"They didn't come back to the hotel last night," Diana mentioned glumly. "I'll admit I'm not that familiar with Wade, and Rembrandt's changed some since I slid with him, but so far as I know this is not like them."
"No, I'd imagine not," Quinn remarked dryly. Diana's eyebrows rose with curiosity. "I'm just saying they seem like the 'slow and steady wins the race' types. They're not very...adventurous."
Diana looked amused. "I think you might be wrong about that. But coming back to the point..."
"The point is this," Quinn interrupted authoritatively. "They went looking for whomever killed your double and, in all likelihood, they found them. They wanted us to stay out of it. So we're out of it."
Diana was incredulous. "How can you say that? We're a team."
Quinn frowned and shook his head. "We're not a team. We're well-paid mercenaries taking on some maguffin interdimensional espionage missions and looking for three different home worlds. That is assuming you're looking for yours?"
Diana turned her face away from him. "That doesn't matter. We have to..." She stopped. She had absolutely no suggestion to offer. "...do something."
Quinn threw his hands up in resignation. "I've already talked to the police. Dr. Watkins says he's going to look into some connections he has with people who still work at the DDSF. I don't know what else we can try. Other than grab breakfast, which is what I'm planning on doing. Besides, if the two of them really get in trouble, there's always the..."
A quartet of assailants dressed in business suits burst into the room suddenly and covered the mouths of the two newest sliders with chloroform. They were unconscious within seconds. "...Arturo Center," Quinn finished in a whisper. Nobody heard him.
Maximilian P. Arturo frustratedly escorted himself to the control room. He had spent the previous night filling out forms that he had at one time known the purpose of, but which now became a big blur in his memory. Perhaps it was better that way. The Professor sighed. He wasn't cut out for the life of a bureaucrat, nor could he sit behind a desk all day, handicap or no. Besides, if he didn't keep up with the goings-on of Remmy and Wade, they weren't likely to let him forget it.
When he looked in on them, so to speak, he quickly picked up on the frantically unhappy tenor of his two compatriots. They were in no mood to exchange pleasantries. "Get us out of here, Professor!" Wade exclaimed rather impatiently.
"Yeah," Rembrandt echoed with more composure. "We could sure use one of those retrieval teams about now."
"Yes, well," Arturo hemmed as he scratched his beard nervously. "We've, uh, recently been making some massive upgrades to the facility. Most of the physicists we have on staff don't come cheap either. And have you seen the new coffee machine in the lobby? It also dispenses tea. It's very convenient."
Rembrandt frowned. "So...what are you saying?"
Professor Arturo sighed. "We don't have the budget to send in the cavalry. You're on your own."
"What?!" Wade exclaimed in disbelief. "But you said..."
"I know what I told you," Arturo interrupted. "I was merely attempting to bolster your confidence in yourselves. Apparently, it didn't work." Wade and Rembrandt eyed each other guiltily. "Think. You two have practically gone to hell and back. This obstacle is nothing compared to ones you've faced in the past. Er, what particular obstacle are you facing this time, anyway?" As the two sliders patiently explained, Arturo nodded absently. "Yes. Well, I'm sure you'll do just fine. If not, um, let me know." He yawned. It was now morning, but he hadn't gotten any sleep. "Good night."
"Great!" Wade exclaimed sarcastically as Arturo's voice clicked off in her head. "What are we supposed to do now?"
Given that the idiots in charge probably hadn't believed their threat about Diana going public within the hour, Rembrandt was a little surprised Wade didn't already have a plan of escape. Maybe she was a little off of her game. He decided not to call her on it. "Well, they haven't killed us yet," Remmy stated obviously. "The 'wait and see' approach might not be the best for our sanity, but I don't know of anything else we can do." He tried to encourage Wade even as she scowled. "Quinn and Diana are still out there. Most Quinns we've met have been pretty clever, and Diana should have some pull on this world. They could be working to get us out of here right now."
Wade didn't look convinced in the least. "Or they could be doing something incredibly stupid. And are you sure we can trust Diana? She did work for Lesion, you know."
Rembrandt frowned again. "I thought we cleared all of that up." Wade's muttered 'I guess' prompted a follow up question. "Is there something bothering you about her?" Remmy trusted Wade's instincts like nobody else's, but he hadn't noticed anything different about Diana. She had been a pretty valuable teammate back in the day when he'd slid with Maggie and Mallory, although they hadn't had much chance to get to know each other.
"It's nothing, really," she said in a voice that undercut that notion. "It's just...when Mallory was in your group...he didn't keep any of Quinn's physics smarts, did he? I mean he couldn't fix the timer or drone on about the helix spiral or anything like that, right?" Rembrandt shook his head in the affirmative. "So I guess Diana was his replacement then. And now she gets the job again. I'm just not sure if she knows what she's getting herself into."
Rembrandt sensed the meaning behind her words. "She's not Quinn, Wade. She'll never be him and she'll never try to replace him. Not in the way you mean."
"I know that," Wade said with a sad half-smile that conceded she needed the reassurance. "It's just... how did you do it? Adjust to new teammates all of the time, without losing your mind in the process?"
Rembrandt's grin was contagious, as Wade now smiled fully. "That could take a long time to explain, girl. And I'm not sure..." He was interrupted by guards entering their cell. Their captors had been deliberating on what to do with the two of them, apparently all night. They must have come to a decision. "...we have that much," he finished.
Rembrandt and Wade were taken back to the larger of the two rooms they'd seen since coming here. "Very well," the man who appeared to be in charge of security here said in an unhappy tone. "We have decided to keep our hands clean in this. We agree to negotiate your ransom terms."
"Ransom terms?!" Wade exclaimed in surprise.
"Look, we don't want any money," Rembrandt told them in no uncertain terms. "We just want justice. We want to make sure that no more innocent people get killed."
"We haven't killed anybody," the woman who was apparently the top scientist in these parts said with confused assurance. "Why else would you come here unless you wanted a ransom? Why not just take your kidnapped Diana double to the police and be done with it?"
"Kidnapped?!" Wade exclaimed in surprise.
Rembrandt gulped. "I think there's been a misunderstanding. We didn't kidnap anybody and we don't want a ransom."
"No," Dr. Henry Watkins said with an eerily friendly smile from behind all of them. He held a gun to Diana's (that would be ours, just in case you're a little confused at this point) throat. "But I did and I do. Now, is that agreement to negotiate strictly for them or can I horn in on the action?"
Before anyone could do anything, two bulky individuals who appeared to be working for the somewhat-less-than-good doctor dragged a groggy-looking Quinn into the view of the two sliders who were not in immediate danger. "This doesn't look good," Wade assessed.
"Watkins," the woman who had appeared to be in charge of the scientific aspects of this facility declared, saying the name as though it were an expletive. "What do you want now? More stocks? A weekend on the company yacht?"
"Don't patronize me," Dr. Henry Watkins scoffed, as Diana wriggled slightly in his grasp. "You know what I want. It's what I've always wanted."
"Forget it." This time it was the balding gray-haired man who spoke. "The board isn't giving you control of the company again. We'd sooner be exposed."
"Would you?" the irate scientist asked, his voice amused and his eyebrows raised in surprise. "You'd throw everything you've worked for away and face imprisonment for fraud just to keep little old me out of your hair?"
The female in authority spoke again. "In a word, yes. In two words, definitely yes."
The man who Wade inappropriately thought strikingly handsome and who Rembrandt recognized as the man who'd helped him on the world where he inadvertently caused a plague put a frustrated expression on his face that was practically a snarl. "One of us is bluffing. I know it's not me. I am the one who went to all the trouble of getting a hostage, you know."
"Can somebody tell me what the devil is going on here?" Rembrandt asked huskily.
"I think I can," Quinn said smugly, if weakly. "Dr. Watkins is the guy who murdered the Diana we found. As to why, well I'd wager it has something to do with the standoff between him and these clowns."
"You are correct, sir," he replied in what was either a direct or indirect homage to Johnny Carson. "If the government won't tear down this interdimensional duplication scam, then I suppose it's all up to me."
"What the hell gives you the right to destroy what we've built?" the doughy balding man demanded angrily.
"What you've built?!" Watkins scoffed. "You couldn't build a sand castle in a box full of sand, er, a sandbox. I was the one who designed the project, the one who sought out the first Diana alternates. All you did was make a mockery of it!"
"That's not true," the female scientist protested. "We've given hope to women all over the world."
"Hope?!" he retorted, growing angrier by the moment. "Hope for what? That they too can climb tall mountains without dying of frostbite or pitch in a major league baseball game? Falderal! What about real change, real opportunities for women, the things the real Diana would have wanted?"
He had silenced his foes, but he still held Diana at gunpoint. Quinn cleared his throat and spoke up quickly. "I don't have an answer for you, but there is something you should know."
Dr. Henry Watkins looked amused. He took a step towards Quinn and then motioned for one of his thugs to hit the young physics genius in the stomach. "And what is that, exactly?"
Before Quinn could gurgle a reply, men in familiar blue uniforms burst in brandishing weapons. "The police are here," Quinn reported with a grimace-like smile.
"All's well that ends well, I suppose," Arturo commented from inside Rembrandt's head. The sound still jarred him even after several days on the job; hearing the bombastic voice of Maximilian Arturo inside your own brain was a little taxing. Since they were now taking 'luggage' with them on their slides, Remmy made sure to remember to stash some Tylenol in his bag of necessities.
"I don't know if you could call this a good ending or not," Rembrandt assessed with a veteran's cynicism. "Sure, Quinn blew the whistle on Watkins' operation when he figured out that somebody lookin' to cover up a murder wouldn't dump a body behind a crowded movie theater. The Doc's in jail for now, but who knows if this world's justice system will convict him? Plus we still aren't sure exactly what to do about the Diana Davis Scientific Foundation, now that we know they're not quite as evil as we originally believed."
"I know all of that," Professor Arturo snapped irritably. Why Rembrandt had felt the need to rehash facts that were already intimately familiar to all parties involved was beyond him. "I just meant that all four of you lived through the experience. As I understand it, that was an outcome in doubt for some harrowing few minutes."
"Yeah," Rembrandt agreed with a note of sadness to his voice. "I guess all of us living through the slide was something I took for granted before. I sure don't now." He chuckled slightly. "But as for a happy ending, I'm still waiting for the part where all the bad guys die, justice and honor win out in the end and we get to go home afterwards."
"Aren't we all?" Arturo asked rhetorically, even though he wasn't entirely certain that was true for him. "But life doesn't usually work out that way."
"I suppose not," Remmy said almost dismissively. Speaking to an Arturo who wasn't physically there wasn't as fulfilling as seeing the man in person, watching his expressions and his gestures as they came to life and listening to the inflection in his voice without the crackle of static smudging it. But then again, it wasn't like he wasn't going to see the man again. Was it?
Banishing those thoughts as best he could, Rembrandt turned his attention to Wade and Quinn, speaking just within earshot of where Remmy stood. The two spoke uneasily, as two people both familiar and not familiar with each other might. In this instance it was helpful to Rembrandt, as the distance they stood from one another made them speak louder.
Not that they weren't speaking loudly enough if you were, say, across the room from them. "It's not a scam!" Wade exclaimed. "Not if what they've done is real."
"It isn't," Quinn retorted with just a touch of anger in his voice. "It can't be. One fictional composite person is taking credit for what dozens of women have done. How can you support that?"
"Are you honestly trying to tell me that one person never took credit for the work of a whole group on your world?" Wade asked slyly. "Diana's giving young girls a role model and a positive message, that they can do anything they set their minds to. How can you oppose that?"
Wade watched Quinn's eyes carefully. She had seldom seen him get fired up over anything like this; something he wasn't directly involved in, which did not affect the well-being of their group. Well, unless a pretty girl was involved. Wade stopped herself. She was now unwittingly comparing this Quinn to the other(s) she had known. What did that say about her? Did it say anything at all?
"Because it glosses over the real need for social reform," Quinn went on, unaware of what was playing out in Wade's mind. "According to Dr. Watkins, there never was a civil rights or women's liberation movement here, due to an overtly oppressive Wallace Administration."
That took Wade aback for a moment. Were they really having this conversation? "George?" she asked with one eyebrow raised pointedly.
"Mike," Quinn replied with a slight and reluctant shy smile of his own.
Wade laughed very softly. "I see. And did Watkins tell you this before or after he gassed you and tried to kill Diana?"
"Before," Quinn answered matter-of-factly. He shook his head. Relying on the slightly deranged scientist for moral authority wasn't getting him anywhere in this argument. "Look, the point is that these alternate Dianas don't belong here. They belong on their home world. S." He added the plural hastily and waited for Wade to respond.
Instead, she cast a sidelong glance at the flock of Dianas that stood on a platform just below them. "I don't know. I think that's really up to them."
Diana was surrounded by herself. It was an unusual experience, to say the least. "So the food is good?" she asked one of her alternates. They almost nodded as one. "And the accommodations?"
"Comfy," one of them (a version with dyed blonde curly hair) answered for the group.
Diana nodded, taking it all in. "So you like it here?" She was answered by a sea of nods that were indistinct from her own.
"We're appreciated," one answered for all of them. Another chorus of nods accompanied her.
"Well, I..." Diana swallowed. What was she going to say? "...guess that's all that matters." She began to step away from them, feeling a slight sensation of freedom as she did so.
"Wait," one of them called out, as another put their arm on hers. "You could stay with us. We could always use another scientist."
Diana looked up at where the other three sliders stood. They watched her with an odd sort of fascination. She turned back to them and sighed. "So could they." Without saying anything else to her slew of alternates, she ascended a ladder and found herself on the same level with her new compatriots.
"What's their answer?" Rembrandt asked. His eyes went to Diana's, but she didn't return his gaze. "Do they want to leave with us or not?"
"No," she answered simply. Wade and Quinn exchanged looks of cautious satisfaction and pure worry. "They're staying."
There were only a few minutes left before they would depart this world for another one. Another random destination, another random window...unless the Professor had a specific job for them. Wade and Rembrandt were already getting used to the grind, the others likely weren't there yet. All four of them had already accrued a bag full of items from this slide. They were packed and ready to go.
On that note, Quinn saw something in Diana's face that perhaps the others didn't. "And what about you? Do you want to stay here?"
Diana began to open her mouth to answer. Nothing of great importance came out of it, and all four of them slid as planned.
[ Earth 2013 Episode Guide | The Otherworlds ]