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 [ A Child's Game ]
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6.3 - A Child's Game
by ThomasMalthus

Chapter One

Marilyn Thompson had been working for the Imperial Hotel ever since it had been the Imperial Hotel, which actually was only five years, and before that the Hearst Hotel (after President Patty Hearst) and the Dewey Suites. She moved from floor to floor with a knowing grace, a knowledge that came from long, arduous hours putting her kids through college by sweeping floors and making beds. They were all grown and gone, now, though.

Mrs. Thompson had entered the main hallway on the seventh floor more times than she could count, and she had seen too many odd occurances to be too skeptical about anything, but nothing she had seen in all her years prepared her for a gaping blue hole that suddenly formed out of thin air. As a young man in shabby clothes was flung out of it, she felt her mind suddenly freeze up and her heart pulled tighter. She collapsed to the floor, unconscious, and the last thing she saw before the darkness was that blue light, exotic, beautiful and otherworldly, illuminating the room.

Quinn Mallory tumbled from the vortex, eager to explore this new world that would hopefully have a social system that would not lead to more bickering between Wade and Arturo. Pushing himself to his feet, he saw an elderly woman lying on the floor not far from where he was. "Ma'am??" he cried out, moving towards her. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?" Quinn queried, to no response from the woman. Moving his fingers to her neck, he realized to his horror she wasn't breathing. Acting on instinct, Quinn began CPR in the fervent hope of saving this poor woman's life.

Arturo flopped down face first on the carpeted floor. As he began the process of hauling himself into a standing position, Quinn immediately and emphatically instructed the Professor to get help. "Of course," Maximilian Arturo agreed, and rushed to the nearest door.

After pounding repeatedly on the entranceway, the Professor heard a male voice from inside ask confusedly, "What's going on?"

"Open up, man, we have a medical emergency!" Arturo bellowed. "Call an ambulance!"

The door opened. "Where've you been?" the voice sarcastically asked as Arturo's jaw dropped. "Haven't had ambulances in close to five years. What, have you been living in a cave or..." The sentence trailed off, as this world's Conrad Bennish, Jr. got his first glimpse at a vortex to another world. "Woah!"

Arturo had no time for this. "This woman needs medical attention, now if you can help us..."

Bennish interrupted in that distinctly rude Bennish way. "Calm down, grandpa. If anybody can get this lady some help, it's me. Gonna be hard getting her to a hospital, though."

Arturo seethed. "See what you can do then, hmm?"

Bennish nodded and moved back into his room. While this was going on, Wade had slid out and the vortex closed behind her. "It's not working," Quinn bemoaned, frustrated at his unsuccessful attempts to revive the woman.

Wade moved beside him and started to take over, without much success. Quinn then walked to where Arturo was, checking to see if he found help.

"Well, if we can trust this world's Bennish, then help should arrive anytime." Quinn looked at him blankly, and Arturo realized he had no idea who Bennish was. "A dubious hope at best," Arturo said sadly.

As if to prove him wrong, Bennish moved again from outside his room. "They're bringing my limo around. If we can carry her there, they might admit her to Feinstein Memorial, they're pretty liberal about who they let in." Quinn nodded and moved himself into position to pick up Mrs. Thompson. Before he left, however, Bennish said to Arturo, "I get back, we're going to have a long talk about that vortex. Capice?"

Arturo nodded somberly and Bennish and Quinn entered the elevator with the stricken old woman.

"Lord, the trouble we get ourselves into," Arturo unhappily muttered. Wade looked equally saddened.

A few moments of silence passed between them. "This world looks normal so far," Wade commented. "I don't know about you, but I could use a change of clothes, a shower and something to eat. Tunnel worlds may not lack excitement, but they're not big on room service."

"Agreed," Arturo half-chuckled. Pulling out his wallet, he grimaced, then forced the smile back. "Assuming my money is good here, we should have enough for at least a night's stay." Wade looked relieved. "Perhaps then we can engage in conversation. An exchange of notes on where we've been and where we're going, so to speak."

"That could take a while," Wade frowned. "How long do we have?"

Arturo looked at the timer that Quinn had handed him before he left. "A little over three days."

"That should be enough time," Wade smiled, although it was an uneasy one. Who was this Arturo, and what was his agenda? She would find out, one way or the other.

Chapter Two

"Can't this thing go any faster?" Quinn shot Bennish as the limo driver guided the vehicle along at a plodding 25 miles an hour.

"Hey, he's obeying the limit, all right? Just because you feel responsible for some old bat..."

Bennish could say no more, as Quinn's death gaze told him that if he did so, he would need a hospital stay himself. Instead he pushed a button which allowed him to communicate with the driver. "Think you could speed it up a little, bro? We've got a dying lady here."

Finally arriving at Feinstein Memorial, Quinn and the limo driver, who Bennish finally did call by his actual name, Chuck, carried the woman inside while the ever-obnoxious Bennish attempted to finesse the doctors into admitting her. Seemingly miraculously, he did get her admitted.

"You're lucky," a doctor who wheeled out a bed for the elderly woman told Quinn. "We already have a patient, so we have some doctors already in residence who can help her." Quinn looked confused, but couldn't give much away about his ignorance of the way things worked on this world. "But this has to be hush hush and we have to be well-paid."

Before Quinn could speak, Bennish replied, "You'll get your money. Just get her all checked in and there'll be plenty enough dough to go around, OK?" While saying this, he stuffed a fifty into the man's shirt. Acquiescing, he gently put the woman onto the bed and began to wheel her into a room.

"You satisfied now, Quinn?" Bennish questioned. "Cause hangin' around in a hospital isn't exactly my idea of a good time."

"You're sure they'll take care of her?" Quinn asked. Bennish nodded slightly. "Then I've done all I can do. Maybe you can explain some things to me. I'm not exactly from around here, so..."

"Save it man. I'll tell you everything you need to know about what goes on around here." Conrad Bennish, Jr. and Quinn Mallory walked out of the hospital doors, leaving the hospital and its two patients in peace.

The room that Wade and Arturo checked themselves into was quite nice for their finances - two double beds, a sizeable bathroom and a television set. Arturo idly flipped through channels, discovering mostly non-news news programs and reality shows. "Uninventive swill," the Professor muttered under his breath. He couldn't be too upset, though, he and Wade had managed to find some suitable clothes for the three of them at a secondhand store not far from the hotel. Moreover, he had showered for the first time since sliding to the tunnel world.

Wade stepped from the bathroom, dressed in her new wardrobe. "What do you think? A little more flattering to my figure than torn rags from a prison camp, huh?"

Arturo chuckled lightly. "Yes, this relaxation almost makes one forget all about large bug creatures and teams of fascist 'Outbreak' rejects."

Once that remark had been made, silence reigned over them. "I'm tired of not knowing," Wade said, quickly cutting to the chase. "As far as I knew up until you two rescued me on that tunnel world, my Professor was dead. Is it possible that..."

"...I'm him?" the elderly Englishman continued. "Tell me, Miss Welles, do you recall landing on a world where the Golden Gate Bridge was blue?"

"Yes," Wade stated matter-of-factly. There was a slight pause, and then the light dawned on her. "We took the wrong one."

"Indeed," Arturo replied numbly. "I lived there for four years, hoping, waiting...it wasn't easy."

"I know," Wade agreed sadly. The Professor glanced at her questioningly, but said nothing about it.

"It seems we have a lot of catching up to do," Arturo finally stated, breaking the moments-long silence between them. Wade nodded. "Perhaps you should begin by telling me what happened after my rapscallion double took my place," Arturo suggested.

Wade shrugged. "For the first few months after we left that world, everything seemed fine. We had the same kind of family relationship we'd always had. Ran into the Kromaggs, but other than that..."

"You actually encountered the Kromaggs?" Arturo queried.

"You know them?" Wade queried.

"I've never actually seen one, but there were some various sketchy tidbits of information about them that were sent to me by the Azure Gate Bridge world's government after I began a sliding project there. Just whatever secrets we could gather from the Mek we'd captured." When Wade looked at him strangely at the word 'Mek', he elaborated. "The Mek are a bunch of sliding aliens who invaded our...the world I was stranded on, several years back."

"That actually sums up a lot about the Kromaggs," Wade said with a half-smile. "Not much actually happened between us and them the first time we encountered each other. We kept on sliding for months until the Professor, your double from the world you were stranded on, died. He sacrificed himself to save Quinn." Arturo was momentarily taken aback by this, but allowed Wade to continue. "Nothing was the same after that. I told myself it was all Maggie, but..."

"Maggie?" Arturo questioned.

"Another slider we picked up on the world where your double died." Wade sighed and paced about the room. "Like some morbid rotation system," she muttered, too low for Arturo to hear.

The Professor looked at her with more than a little concern. "So how did you end up separated?"

"We found home," Wade said, shocking Arturo for the second time this conversation. "Remmy and me. Quinn had to stay and help Maggie, of course."

"Ah," Arturo replied knowingly. "I'm still not following. How did you end up in the state we found you in on the last world?"

"We were waiting in Los Angeles for Quinn to come with us. To make it home," Wade remarked sadly. "The Kromaggs beat him to it. They destroyed our world, like it was nothing. The Maggs imprisoned Remmy, did things to him, mentally, that you can't imagine...and me, I don't think I need to tell you what they did to me in their damn breeding camps..." She trailed off now, and fought off tears. Arturo moved to her, but she shrugged him off. "Every human on the planet was their science project. We weren't people to them. We were just test subjects."

The Professor had no idea what to say at this moment. "Miss Welles..."

Wade interrupted him. "I think I need some air," she remarked.

"Of course." With that, Wade walked out of the hotel room. She didn't know what to make of her new situation or of this Arturo who was either the same imposter they'd run into four years ago or someone who she once knew who now knew next to nothing about her life. This would be a new struggle for her, a fight for what had once been the dearest thing in the world to her. She wondered if it could be again.

Chapter Three

"Sliding. It's a rough gig, man. A struggle for survival from one world to the next. Just when you think you've got everything figured out, something comes along that changes it all. And you've gotta run from some local yokels whose dairy god you've offended or something."

"Indeed, Mr. Bennish," Arturo commented, putting another forkful of Lobster Thermidor in his mouth.

"You've gotta be ready for anything. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's the thrill ride of a lifetime. But the slim odds of gettin' back home, the constant threats to life and limb...I mean sometimes don't you just wanna stick with some boring world for a few months, just to take a break?" Conrad Bennish, Jr. queried.

"Believe me, that thought has crossed my mind," Professor Maximilian Arturo applied a napkin to his bearded face. "So how did you end up sliding?"

"Ran into some wacko college professor who was all into theories of advanced gravitation. Thought I'd try an experiment to see if I could get some extra credit, cause...you know, I skipped class a few times...and bam, I discover this portal to another existence. Landed right in the middle of this warzone. My sliding gizmo took a bullet and I couldn't get home. I was stuck on that world for weeks. I eventually fixed it, but I couldn't control the trip anymore," Bennish sighed.

"A similar thing happened to our group," Arturo said, as if they were swapping war stories. "Only we discovered a world that was frozen over, some sort of climactic disaster, and advanced the timer to escape it. In doing so, we also eliminated any chance of being able to return home."

"You gotta autoset the thing, dude," Bennish said arrogantly. "It took me a year of hopping from world to world to get access to sliding equipment, but I did it and it got me home."

"We tried that, actually. It didn't work."

"Woah. That really blows. So you're stuck randomly sliding forever?" Bennish asked, emoting some small degree of compassion.

Arturo didn't feel like giving the full story of their experiences to this Bennish, even though he was paying for this dinner and had upgraded them to a nicer hotel room, he was still Bennish. He simply nodded negatively.

"Maybe it's for the best." The Professor sent his younger companion a questioning look. "When I got back, a lot of stuff had changed. Everything was so...so..."

"Weird." Wade Welles had wandered a few blocks down the street from their hotel and had discovered more than a few oddities. Like...

"Parental licensing? What kind of fascist society forces you to get licensed to be a parent?" Nonetheless, there she stood, outside this San Francisco's Family Planning Center, looking at people lined up to get their 'parent's license'.

"Imperial Edict No. 305. No reproduction without the Emperor's consent," someone said from behind her. Recognizing the voice, she turned to face a much cleaner and stubble-less Quinn.

"Didn't you clean up nicely?" she asked playfully.

Quinn smiled sheepishly. "I went down to the local barbers to get a shave and a haircut. On Bennish's dime, can you believe it? More like Bennish's $14.75, but still."

"A generous Bennish? I guess anything can happen on a parallel world, huh?" Wade laughed.

Quinn smiled back at her, despite the fact he had no previous experience with a Conrad Bennish, Jr. and still felt somewhat uncomfortable even having a conversation with this Wade person. "Speaking of that, have you heard anything about this Emperor guy? He seems to have a lot of rules and regulations about who can do what."

Wade continued to look at all the posters bearing some sort of imperial edict on them that covered the wall of the Center and the long line of couples, young and old, that waited in line to get permission. "I don't know who he is, but he's got to be powerful. He's got to be ruthless, conniving and..."

"...ten years old." Bennish stated to an incredulous Maximilian Arturo.

"A ten-year-old boy took over your world while you were gone for a year?" Arturo asked with a shocked expression on his face.

"Well, no," Bennish replied, calming Arturo down a little. "He was actually eight at the time. His tenth birthday was last month. There was this awesome parade, you shoulda been there."

"How could a world accustomed to democratic freedoms enslave itself to the whims of a mere child?" Arturo ranted. Bennish motioned for him to quiet down.

"He's actually done a lot of good for this world. There's no wars, the population growth is down, there's no hate and not much crime anymore..."

Arturo fumed. "Are you telling me, Mr. Bennish, that you like being ruled by a tyrannical toddler?"

Bennish grinned. "Well, I'm biased, but yeah, he's done a lot."

"Biased?" Arturo queried.

"Oh, yeah. That's how I got all this cash, dude. I'm the Emperor's chief advisor!"

It was all the Professor could do to keep from choking on his lobster.

Chapter Four

The next morning, Arturo, Wade and Quinn were dressed and ready to go...somewhere.

"So what exactly are we getting all dressed up to do, Professor? And what's with the suit?" Quinn queried questioningly.

Arturo straightened his tie in the mirror. "I can hardly have an audience before the Emperor in the clothing we purchased yesterday from 'Joe's Clothes', Mr. Mallory." When both Quinn and Wade shot him a disbelieving look, Arturo elaborated. "Conrad Bennish, Jr. is a high-ranking official in the Emperor's court, hard as that may be to believe. He's invited me to head a scientific research team and wants me to spend a few days in the palace explaining myself and my theories to him. Of course, that may be difficult for his ten-year-old mind to grasp, but..."

"The Emperor's only ten years old?" Wade gawked.

The Professor nodded soberly. "Indeed, and if you've done any exploring on this world at all, you'll know that this Emperor fellow rules the entire world with an iron hand and that he has all sorts of harsh, prohibitive edicts."

"We saw the parental licensing place yesterday," Wade replied affirmatively. "You can't have kids unless the Emperor permits it."

Quinn then chimed in with something that had been bothering him for their entire stay on this world. "When I took that woman to the hospital with Bennish after we first got here, they acted like it was a huge bother to even admit her. And having doctors on staff was apparently a once in a blue moon event."

Arturo had a knowing look on his face. "That affirms my suspicions, Mr. Mallory. From some things that Bennish said, I gather that scientific research is virtually nonexistant on this world. That includes medical research and even practicing medicine on this world. All courtesy of a ten year old boy who has been given an unimaginable amount of power over people's lives through some political fluke."

"That's insane!" Wade protested. "Why don't the people overthrow him?!?"

"I've been wondering that very same thing myself, Miss Welles," Arturo replied grimly. "I checked a few things out on the internet last night, on one of the few computers that was still up and running in the library a few blocks from here. Not one site said anything negative about the Emperor. Now I don't know about any of the worlds you've visited since I was left behind, but on my world, there were websites that denounced even cute, cuddly puppies and chocolate ice cream. Yet there is not even the slightest criticism of a small boy who controls every aspect of their lives."

"If I were a citizen of this world, I think I'd be afraid of what the Emperor's goons would do to me if I did criticize him," Quinn replied earnestly.
Arturo looked as though he expected Quinn's question.

"You've come upon what is perhaps the oddest thing about this world, Mr. Mallory. There's no edict outlawing sedition or libel. This world has a free press. It's just that nobody chooses to question this tyrannical toddler."

Wade looked as though she knew where the Professor was headed. "You think he has some sort of psychological hold on them."

"Precisely, Miss Welles," Arturo answered emphatically. "If I can get close enough to the boy, I'll have a better chance of finding out exactly how he's doing it."

"But what guarantee is there that you won't be affected?" Quinn asked.

"None. That's why I am going to attempt to contact you once I'm inside his palace. If I fail to do so, or if my message seems odd for any reason, try everything you can to get me out, except for going in yourselves. If you cannot get me out in two days, slide without me." The Professor put on his jacket and looked as though he were ready to dine with the Queen.

"You'd risk the slide for what? One parallel world and its political eccentricities?" Quinn asked sarcastically. "Come on, Professor, this world's not that bad."

Wade goggled at Quinn while Arturo motioned for him to stop with that line of thinking. "Says the guy who led the American Revolution not long after we started sliding." Luckily for Quinn, she let the issue drop and turned her attention back to the Professor. "I'm not too sure about your plan, but unlike Mr. Sunshine Patriot here, I want this Emperor brat gone, too. I'll do whatever it takes to help."

"That's all well and good, Miss Welles, but your part of my plan is every bit as dangerous as mine." The Professor glanced down at his watch. "Blast, there's no time to explain it all right now. I'll phone you from the palace tonight around 8:00 and let you know all the specifics."

"Are you sure that's safe?" Quinn asked with a concerned tone in his voice.

The Professor frowned. "Not really. But I have to try, Mr. Mallory. You might not understand it right now, but perhaps you will someday. Right now I have to go meet Bennish. In the meantime, I would suggest you find something to occupy your time until tonight." With that, the Professor walked out the door.

Quinn looked at Wade smugly. "Any ideas?"

"Yeah," Wade replied looking deep into Quinn's eyes. She then handed him a wadful of cash, apparently part of a stash that had been part of Bennish's gift to Arturo. "Get us some groceries and some more clothes. Some good ones this time."

"What are you going to do?!?" Quinn asked indignantly.

"Me? I'm going to insult the Emperor in some pretty public places. If you finish shopping early, you might want to come join me." Quinn didn't look happy about it, but a few minutes after Wade walked out the door, he did the same. He was definitely not looking forward to the mundane chores that sliding from world to world brought along with it.

Chapter Five

"Good Lord," Arturo breathed, looking around the room where Bennish's sliding project was being housed. "It's enormous."

Bennish could barely contain his pride. "Well, yeah, man. The Emperor doesn't spare any expense when it comes to sliding stuff."

"I would never even dream of it, Conrad," the young Emperor remarked from beside his apparent closest adviser. He was not at all what the Professor had expected. Oh, he looked like a ten-year-old boy well enough, and was physically unimpressive at about four and a half feet tall with sandy brown hair, blue jeans, a short-sleeved shirt and a baseball cap on. But from the way he talked and the way he presented himself, he might as well have been Arturo's age, or at least Quinn's. It was like something out of a bad Keanu Reeves movie. 'Some sort of boy genius or precocious political figure, perhaps?' Arturo inwardly speculated as the conversation went on without him. "Exploring other worlds is the future hope of this one."

Arturo replied with a hardy, yet flummoxed, "That's a very refreshing attitude, your majesty. On most of the worlds we visit, sliding is not embraced by society or its rulers."

"A foolhardy attitude to hold when there is so much benefit to coming in contact with other universes," the Emperor commented dryly, as he seemed to do everything.

Arturo suddenly got a horrible thought about the Emperor's purpose in sponsoring a sliding project, but could only keep it to himself for now. After the tour was concluded, Bennish asked with a sneerish grin, "Wanna go for a ride?"

Wade attempted to walk nonchalantly into the small, out of the way dive she'd managed to locate on a casual walk through what would seem to be the bad part of town. There had already been three less-than-decent propositions made towards her and her feet were sore. She desperately wanted to go back to the hotel, but she couldn't have come all this way just to achieve nothing. She forced herself to walk to the bar, sit down and order a drink.

Not unaware of people looking at her, both with suspicious and leering glances, she began plotting the quickest way out of here and preparing herself for anything that might happen. Which wasn't actually possible when it came to sliding, but she did her best anyway. She decided to try to make smalltalk with the only guy in the place who looked like he hadn't even noticed she'd entered, a small man with a grey beard and a fedora who was sitting on the stool next to hers. "So, do you like coming to places like this or do you just like to make yourself do things that you don't actually like to do?" Wade asked with a nervous giggle.

"What's it to ya?" he muttered back gruffly.

"Well, it's not like it's any of my business or anything," Wade replied, startled that she would be put on the defensive so suddenly. "It's just that, well, you don't exactly look happy to be here."

The man gave a small laugh. "And you look too happy to be here, so I guess we both have interesting stories to tell, eh?"

"You really don't know the half of it," Wade laughed back with some trepidation audible in her voice. "Listen, since you look like such an," she struggled for a word, "individualistic type of person, I was wondering if maybe you knew some people who might want to overthrow the Emperor."

"What?!?!?" the man exclaimed and all the activity in the bar stopped. "This girl wants to get rid of the Emperor!!!"

"I didn't mean to...cause any trouble", Wade remarked trying to defend herself from an increasingly angry group of barflies.

"That's it!" the bartender yelled. "You're outta my bar for life! Get outta my sight!"

Wade left the bar with a puzzled expression on her face, trying to put a great deal of distance between her and that angry mob. But some of the mob weren't satisfied with her just leaving, including the man in whom she had naively confided. As they followed her, they spread the news of what she'd said, and pretty soon an entire lynch mob was chasing her through San Francisco.

'This was a really, really bad idea,' Wade thought. It was quite the understatement.

As a flash of light seemingly consumed Conrad Bennish, Jr. and Maximilian Arturo they were instantly teleported from an enormous laboratory to a lush garden, filled with plants and trees. In the distance, Arturo saw a small log cabin. The garden and the cabin alike were set up on a rolling hillside, overlooking green, lush mountains that looked like some he'd seen while traversing Northern England.

"See the differences between this form of interdimensional travel and yours, Max?" Bennish asked. "No slide window that closes in sixty seconds, no risk of any locals hitching a ride, no unhappy landings, just one continuous wave taking you where you want to go."

"How does it work exactly?" Arturo wondered.

Bennish shrugged slightly and grinned sheepishly. "I can show you the math when we get back to the lab, I just thought you might like a demonstration first. Basically, instead of building a bridge between two worlds, we only displace matter on one world with matter from ours in a sort of interdimensional transference system."

"Quite ingenious," Arturo said in a voice that relayed how impressed he was. "So why exactly do you need my help?"

"Because it's a one-way trip," Bennish answered. "Our teams go to a parallel world, then they have to go straight back home or they lose their ability to return home at all. But if we actually learn to build Einstein-Rosen bridges..."

"Then you can travel to any world at your leisure, without the restriction of having to return to your homeworld after each slide," Arturo finished. His suspicions about what this sliding technology would be used for grew deeper.

"Normally there would be no problem just using our sliding system the way it is now," Bennish went on, unknowingly digging himself further in the hole in Arturo's mind, "but the Emperor insists that his Expeditionary Forces have no restrictions on their abilities to travel interdimensionally. Don't ask me why the little dude wants it that way, but..."

Wanting to change the subject, Arturo asked, "What's the story behind this world?"

Bennish explained. "It's an uninhabited world one of our teams discovered about a year ago. The Emperor had it turned into his retreat."

"He truly thinks of everything, doesn't he?" Arturo half-heartedly chuckled. "How long until we leave here?"

Bennish looked at his gizmo. "Only a few more seconds. Just wanted to give you a taste of it before you decided whether or not to help us." The Professor and Conrad Bennish stood in silence for their remaining few seconds on this world and again felt the ray of light course over them, returning them to Bennish's lab.

The Emperor stood not far from them on a balcony near the room's entrance, looking as though he were overseeing everything. "So, Mr. Arturo, are you now ready to explain your theories of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge to us, in exchange for our help in returning you to your homeworld?"

Before the Professor could answer, an Imperial aide rushed in looking worried. "Sir, there's an angry mob outside the palace, getting ready to lynch a woman! Shall I..."

"I'll handle it," the boy said with a world-weary sigh and walked out the door. The Professor breathed a sigh of relief. But that relief faded when he learned the identity of the woman.

It was getting near eight o'clock, so Quinn Mallory decided to head home from a long day of shopping. He was not normally the shopping type, but first of all, he and his newfound companions both needed supplies desperately, secondly, he had lots of cash, courtesy of Bennish and this world's Emperor, and thirdly, he had not done anything as normal as just walk through a city shopping for items of necessity in five years. "And besides, who knows what kind of kooky world we could land on next?" Quinn said to himself.

Taking the elevator to the seventh floor, he took the room key from his pocket and opened the door. Collapsing in a heap on the bed from exhaustion, he suddenly realized that Wade wasn't here. He thought for sure she would be back in time to catch the Professor's call. However, when the alarm clock next to Quinn's bed read 8:00 Wade was nowhere to be found. The phone rang and Quinn answered it. "Professor?"

"Quinn, listen to me carefully," Professor Arturo said from the other end, now in his personal quarters that the Emperor made up for him. "Miss Welles has decided to do something unbelievably stupid," at this point Quinn thought he heard Wade saying 'I was only trying to help you' in the background, "and she is now confined to the Imperial palace for her own protection against an angry mob outside. So now my plan hinges on you, Mr. Mallory."

"I never agreed to this, Professor," Quinn replied. "You and Wade may get your jollies from overthrowing dictators, but it's not exactly my line."

Arturo sighed, realizing the enormity of the Pandora's Box he was opening here. "Look, these scientists here have some knowledge of slide signatures. That combined with the unique way in which they slide, may enable me to get you home. However, it requires that you be in the palace when we slide. And for that to be able to happen, I need you to follow my plan to the letter. Now, are you with us?"

Quinn hesitated for only a moment. "What do you want me to do?" he asked with a new sense of eagerness. Arturo explained his plan to a reluctant Quinn and the plan was laid that would hopefully free this world from the tyranny of its boy emperor.

Chapter Six

Breaking and entering was something new to Quinn Mallory, and it showed. The nervous boy genius fumbled pitifully with the key to the lock at the gate outside of what the Professor had told him was this world's Maximilian Arturo's residence. Or it used to be. 'Cancer,' Arturo had said on the phone the night before, 'About eighteen months ago. I was always afraid I'd go that way.' Nonetheless, Arturo's double's misfortune gave the sliders the chance to successfully implement their plan. Now all Quinn had to do was get in there and follow Professor Arturo's instructions to the letter. It would be an easier task if Quinn hadn't been so wary about it. He cursed himself again for his ill-founded fears as he tripped over a garden hose. Of course, the blame couldn't be laid entirely at Quinn's feet, so to speak, the place looked distinctly run down, obviously nobody had been here to maintain it for quite some time.

"Which is good for our side," Quinn said to himself, a reassurance to continue the journey if nothing else. He then took Wade's knife that had been stashed under her bed and tried to pick the lock with its blade. When that didn't work he took the handle and smashed in the small glass window above the door's handle and undid the rusty lock himself. Entering the former Arturo residence, he coughed a few times and then proceeded to look around. As the Professor had anticipated, his double's fetish for "manly" authors like Ernest Hemingway and Rudyard Kipling revealed itself quickly, books like "A Farewell to Arms," "Kim" and "The Old Man and the Sea" cluttered his bookshelves. Apparently this Arturo wasn't a physics genius, but maybe teaching was in his genes: he had been a college professor of English literature. "The real goods will be in the basement," Quinn mused. "They always are."

Sweeping some cobwebs out of his way, he indeed made his way to the basement. Having lit a match (that he found with some other pipe-smoking paraphernalia) to guide his way, he hoped he wouldn't run into any unexpected open gas lines. Luckily, he only found some more signs of Arturo's obsession: exactly what the Professor had said would be there. Wrapping it all up in some large laundry sacks he "borrowed" from the Imperial Hotel and putting the timer in with everything else, he tried to put everything back the way it was before he found it and tried to walk out of the place as casually as was possible. "Let's just hope this works."

"Mr. Bennish, I must say your colleagues don't seem to be grasping the finer concepts of the inner workings of the Einstein-Rosen Bridge," Arturo complained.

"Well, they're not as brilliant as experienced sliders like you and me," Bennish boasted. "But eventually they'll get it."

Professor Arturo sighed. "Perhaps it's because I know little of the scientific research that has gone on here with regard to interdimensional travel, but if you'll pardon my saying so, it seems as though they have little more scientific knowledge about sliding as the average person on the street."

"This is precisely the case," the Emperor replied with an utter lack of intonation. "Our scientific research on the issue of sliding has not advanced significantly whatsoever since Mr. Bennish first discovered it. Which is why we need your help so desperately."

"I cannot stay long enough to actually help you build an Einstein-Rosen bridge, so I'm afraid my help is limited to an instructional role," Arturo explained cautiously. The Emperor merely nodded. A few moments later, his head seemed to twitch violently. His aides rushed to him and asked him if he wished to rest. He nonverbally seemed to refuse, and then said he had some business to attend to before he could rest at his retreat. At that, the young boy left Bennish's research facilities.

As Arturo watched the young monarch leave, Bennish asked "Do you want to go over some of the numbers again?" The elder Englishman cut him off quickly. "I'm feeling a little weary myself. Perhaps we should take a short break, hm?" Conrad Bennish nodded solemnly and the Professor was allowed to walk back to the room that had been appropriated for his use. Once he was sure he wouldn't be followed, he made his way to Wade's room. Upon opening the door, he saw that Wade was up and dressed already (she no longer slept as peacefully as she once had, and seemed always to be up at the crack of dawn). "Is everything ready to go?" she asked the Professor eagerly.

"Quinn should be here any minute, if everything goes according to schedule." When Wade looked as though she might question him, he added, "I've already told the men at the gate to let in my 'lab assistant' with all of my 'scientific equipment' for all of the scientific instruction I'll be giving Bennish and his team of scientists before we leave. They shouldn't give him any problem." Arturo then changed the subject. "Have you been able to determine the Emperor's usual daily habits?"

Wade nodded in the affirmative. "Their computer systems were child's play to hack into. I honestly don't think they even tried to keep personal information about the Emperor a secret."

Arturo smirked. "Judging from the people's reaction to your defamation of his character, I doubt he feels he needs to keep anything about himself from the public."

Wade grimaced at the thought of the angry lynch mob that still partially lingered outside the palace. "At any rate, he goes to his own personal Shangri-La at 3:45 today."

The Professor grinned widely. "Excellent. That'll still give us a few hours before the slide to correct for anything unpredictable that might happen."

When Quinn arrived a few minutes later, everything was in place to execute their plan: stopping the Emperor and ending whatever psychological control he had over his people.

They had been waiting for the Emperor to arrive at his peaceful mountain log cabin. "He's two minutes late," the Professor stated flatly.

From a makeshift work bench, that was formerly just a picnic table, behind him Quinn Mallory looked up frustratedly. "It's hopeless! This technology and ours isn't compatible at all."

"Indeed?" Arturo asked, feigning dismay. He had known there was little to no chance any technology they took from the lab would be able to help Quinn reach his home.

"Take a look at how the design is laid out!" Quinn fumed. "There's no way to take that and just arbitrarily add it on to our timer. It would take days, maybe even weeks or months, to make any kind of integrated technology like that and even if we could, we'd need a lot better understanding of Bennish's sliding machine..." Quinn exhaled heavily. "If we only had more time on this world."

"Let's face it, Mr. Mallory," Arturo interrupted him. "We still have a long way to go before we reach home." Wade came back into their view from patrolling the grounds directly around the cabin. "Still no sign of the Emperor?"

"That's a no." Wade said, looking almost as frustrated as Quinn. She held one of the rifles that Quinn had smuggled from the other Arturo's basement. They weren't loaded but they could be if necessary. For now all they wanted to do was force the Emperor to abdicate and allow more democratic freedoms. If it came to more than that, they would be ready.

As if to heighten the drama inherent in the situation, a flash of light appeared not far from where they stood. Unloaded weapons at the ready, they watched as the Emperor and half a dozen guards were transported into being only a few feet away from them.

"You should have known that to come here without my knowledge would prove an impossible task," the Emperor remarked dispassionately. His guards surrounded the sliders, pointing their own guns at them.

"You so much as fire a shot and your boy king dies," Wade threatened.

The Emperor smiled. "Their guns aren't loaded. Now hold them here until Bennish can arrange our transport back."

"How long do you truly believe you can hold this world in chains?" Arturo asked him. "Even if you do have some sort of mass psychological control over the world, how long can it last? Eventually the people will rise up and destroy you."

"You are a fool to make such pronouncements when knowing so little of the nature of my world," the Emperor replied haughtily. "My world cannot..." Before he could finish, Wade reached for a gun that had been concealed in her pants leg, cocked it and fired at the Emperor. The guards began to return fire, but soon stopped and fell lifelessly to the ground. The Emperor's forehead gushed blood and his small body lie pitifully on the grass. At that moment, a beam of light enveloped them all and took them back to the Imperial Palace and Bennish's lab. Around the laboratory, scientists were collapsed in a heap on the floor, all except for Conrad Bennish, who looked completely distraught.

Conrad Bennish seemed grief stricken and quickly made his coat into a makeshift tourniquet for his young ruler. "We've got to get him to where he can get help," Bennish said numbly. He picked up the Emperor and took him outside to his car. As the sliders followed him, they saw what seemed like the entire world ground to a halt. Everyone was unconscious, perhaps even dead. Professor Arturo seemed to speak for all of them when he said, "My God, what have we done?"

Chapter Seven

Professor Arturo, in full medical scrubs, exited the room at Feinstein Memorial Hospital where the four of them had done their best to perform surgery on the young boy who the sliders had nearly brought to death's door. The doctors and nurses here, much as everyone else they had encountered on the way over here, had been found unconscious when they arrived, so it was up to them to save this world's ruler's life. All four of them had insisted on being there: Bennish didn't trust the three of them alone with the Emperor, Wade said she had been forced to help out in emergency surgery quite a few times in the breeding camps and Quinn mentioned that he had done some minor makeshift operations in the past (Arturo surmised he would have needed to, having lived on an island by himself for five years) and Arturo was needed to keep the other three from stepping all over each other during the procedure. Finally, they had left the messy job of removing the tiniest bullet shards from the emperor's head and sewing up the wound solely in the Professor's hands.

"How is he?" Bennish asked with much concern.

Maximilian Arturo had a grim look on his face. "The wound looks bad, but not fatal. It's lucky the bullet did little more than graze his head. He might have suffered some brain damage, but I'm sure with his youthful constitution he'll make a full recovery in a few months at most."

"It doesn't look like this world will last that long without him," Quinn muttered. Wade had said little to nothing throughout the entire ordeal and continued her silence.

"How long 'til he's conscious?" the Emperor's young, hippiesque adviser queried frantically.

Arturo shrugged. "It's hard to tell. Maybe a few hours. Maybe longer."

"It's too long," Bennish lamented. "He'll have too much work to do when he comes to." At this point, the only apparently conscious native of this world began to almost wail. "How could you do this? Do you have any idea how..." he trailed off.

"What exactly has happened?" Wade asked Bennish.

Bennish's answer came swiftly, disjointed as it was. "I suspected...when I got back from sliding everybody was just so different...I knew there had to be something wrong with them, so I asked the Emperor, right after he called me to the palace and heaped constant titles on me, and he said..."

"He said..." the Professor repeated to probe the answer from the reluctant Bennish.

"...he said something went horribly wrong, with everybody. That they needed him. It didn't sound like an ego trip, it was more like he was sad about it." The sliders looked at each other warily. "I never brought up the subject again. It sounded like it was difficult for him to even talk about what had happened."

A few moments passed in contemplative silence until they heard some restless movement coming from the Emperor's bed. The foursome rushed in to check on him. Unexpectedly, he began to speak.

"I should have known...this wouldn't work like I hoped..." he spoke raspily, clearly still disoriented from the whole ordeal.

"I know this must have been a horrible ordeal for you, Your Majesty," Arturo addressed the bedridden boy, "but we really would like to know what's going on here."

"What's wrong with everybody?" Wade asked solemnly.

"And what can we do to help?" Quinn added, surprising even himself.

The boy looked up at them through eyes that were barely even able to open. "It seems strange...my life was so normal only a few years ago...and now..." Before Wade, Quinn or Arturo could interrupt again, he continued. "My parents, they thought that paranormalist guy who told them I had special talents was nuts...I thought sometimes I could hear other people without their mouth moving...or that stuff I was looking at moved by itself...but I didn't think it was anything special...or that I should worry about."

"You had some kind of psychic power." Wade stated questioningly.

"Which I sorely misused," the youngster breathed.

"What happened?" Quinn asked, his curiousity piqued.

"It sounds stupid, but I got really angry one day. I don't even remember what about. It was like this thing woke up inside me," the Emperor struggled to say. "Something that wanted to destroy the whole world. And it did."

"You killed everybody in the world?" Wade wondered incredulously.

"Not killed exactly. More like it made everybody catatonic or braindead."

"Much like they are now," Arturo threw in morosely.

"I panicked for a little while, screaming and crying, until I realized it wasn't doing me... or the world... any good. So I rebuilt them all. It seemed to take forever, but I sort of went into their minds and rewired them. I couldn't control them all the time, but they couldn't survive for very long without my guidance."

"And we thought we were overthrowing some sort of tyrant," Quinn muttered to himself.

"In a way you were," the boy piped up. "After a while, I struggled with the moral issues that came with keeping everybody alive with no capability for free will or to survive on their own. Then Mr. Bennish showed up. Without him, this world would have died long ago. He not only provided me with a person who actually had thoughts that I didn't control but gave me the chance I needed to find others who could help me."

"That's why you needed sliding," Arturo exclaimed.

Although his head must have still been hurting him quite a bit, he nodded slightly. "I thought I might even be able to find a double of mine who had the same kind of powers, someone who could share the burden of ruling this world."

"Can you do what you did before again?" Quinn asked. "Can you 'rewire' everybody?"

"I think the question is 'should he?'." Wade commented. Before Arturo and Quinn could criticize her, the Emperor stopped them.

"She's right. My wound may have been a blessing in disguise. At first I thought I owed these people their lives because I took it from them, even if I didn't mean to. But now I just don't see the point. What I've given these people isn't life. In its own way, its worse than death."

The three sliders knew little of what to say at that. "Where do you want to go from here, then?" the Professor asked.

"We could take you to another world, where you could start new lives," Wade volunteered.

The Emperor replied quickly. "I can't speak for Bennish, but for myself I say 'no'. Whatever happens, my place is here."

Conrad Bennish, Jr. shook his head in the negative. "I can't leave now. I've spent too much time and effort on this world to leave it now."

The Emperor contemplated their future role. "Maybe I could bring a few people back, enough to keep the human race going. But I will exercise dictatorial powers no longer."

A few more silent beats passed. Quinn finally broke it with "There's only a few more minutes until the slide guys."

"Wait," the Emperor interrupted. "Before you go, there's something you must see."

"Good lord!!!" Arturo exclaimed. Wade was speechless.

Quinn thought back to the picture the Professor had given him of his former sliding team and instantly recognized the man in a hospital bed before him. "Rembrandt," he said almost reverently.

As the trio stood and gaped in disbelief, Conrad Bennish, Jr. wheeled his Emperor into the room. Still confined to a bed, the Emperor explained Rembrandt's situation.

"Yes, as far as I can tell, he is your former companion. He arrived on the world where I have my retreat a few months ago, delirious with some sort of fever. When I looked into his mind, I saw that he knew much about sliding, so I took him back here to see if our doctors could help him. They couldn't, and he soon lapsed into a coma. I've been able to keep him alive all this time, but have been unable to cure him. Until now, that is."

With a furrowing of the boy's brow, Rembrandt began to awaken painfully. "Will he be OK?" Wade managed to ask.

The Emperor immediately reassured her. "He'll be fine, eventually. His mind wasn't very good, I'm afraid, the fever just about destroyed it. But I filled in some gaps from your memories of him."

All this sunk in slowly in our sliders' minds. "This is all just too much," the Professor asserted.

A few moments later the six of them were out in the hallway, preparing for the slide. The Emperor was still lying down, with his head reclined, visibly exhausted. Rembrandt was being propped up by the Professor and Wade held the timer in her hand. When the time came, she activated it. "There's really no way to express our sorrow for what we've done," Arturo told the injured youth.

"This world died a long time ago. Perhaps it's time to just let it rest." Arturo nodded grimly and took both Rembrandt Brown and himself through the wormhole.

"I...wish things had turned out differently," Wade said awkwardly. The boy smiled at her and she then departed from this world.

Quinn started to jump into the vortex, but was stopped by the former ruler of this Earth. "You can't hide the truth from them forever."

Quinn Mallory just shot him an expressionless look back. "I know. It'll all come out soon." Quinn then followed his companions off of this world.

"You know, maybe it would have been better for them to stay here," Conrad Bennish, Jr. commented to the boy he would have to get used to calling by his real name, which he didn't even know. "They could've helped us set up a way to survive on this world. Then they could have used our sliding equipment to leave this earth, maybe even to find their home."

Benjamin Stephens, now an emperor no longer, looked at his friend and said, "A fine idea, Mr. Bennish. But it wouldn't have worked. A greater destiny awaits them than merely finding their home earth. They just don't realize it yet. But they will. I just hope they can handle it all."

[ Earth 2013 Episode Guide | The Otherworlds ]