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6.14 - O Grave New World
by ThomasMalthus

Chapter One

Quinn had never seen Wade move so quickly. She had shown remarkable restraint up until now, saying next to nothing on the walk back to their hotel. Right now however her foot was lodged in the small of his back, she had withdrawn the gun Colin gave him from his side and had it pointed at his head. "I should just kill you now," Wade told him.

"Wade, wait," Quinn requested desperately. Her foot pressed his body against the wall harder. "I can explain," he managed to get out.

"Doubt it," Wade told him with venom in her voice. "But I can hold off for a little while if you want to waste your breath." She reluctantly relseased him, backed up quickly in case it was a trick and kept the gun aimed at him at all times. "Start talking," she ordered.

"The Professor and Remmy are OK," Quinn assured her. "I can't explain how I know yet, but..."

"OK?!" Wade questioned incredulously. "Hell, even if they're not dead and Douglas Arturo's a lying bastard, a theory I'm very willing to buy at the moment, they're on another world!! Without a timer! They're stuck there!"

"Wade, you have to trust me here," Quinn requested in as calming a voice as he could manage. "No harm will come to them."

"No," Wade told him with cold determination. "You have stabbed us in the back, run out on us and let us down too many times for me to give you the benefit of the doubt now."

Quinn seemed ready to make another appeal but then quickly took a chair and swung it in Wade's direction. The crack of the wood hitting plaster muffled the words Quinn whispered into Wade's ear. "That does it!" Wade exclaimed. "I'm taking you out of here! To the roof. Let's go." She guided Quinn out of the room at gunpoint and they tried to make their way up the stairs as discreetly as possible.

Douglas Arturo seemed to be paying no notice to Colin as they walked through the halls of the Triumv's complex. "So...I came through, right?"

The slightly older British man looked at him as though he might have been a gnat. "What?"

"You wanted rid of your pretender father and you've been talking for months about getting talented new recruits," Colin pointed out. "I really think I deserve..."

"What? An employee-of-the-month certificate?" Douglas snidely retorted.

Colin coughed for effect. "I was thinking more along the lines of a new body."

"Oh," he answered simply, as though startled slightly by the thought. A rare smile came over his face. "I had almost forgotten about that. We got a shipment in today that I've been wanting to show you." They walked to an open side panel a few yards away. Douglas put his hand on it for a moment, making a handprint impression that glowed red for a moment. The panel opened, revealing a huge docking area with sliding machines lining each wall. He and Colin walked over to two guards and the boss none-too-politely ordered them to come with them and open a crate. "One of our crews discovered it in one of the old Kromagg cloning facilities a couple of weeks ago, but I decided to have our labs soup it up a bit. We certainly don't want any more defective models."

"No," Colin answered earnestly. "We don't." As the two men pried open the crate, Colin viewed the contents of it carefully. It was a version of himself alright, the same type of altered Quinn clone that made up every body he had yet possessed. Ever since his original one had been destroyed he had been living the life of a nomad, having to depend on bodies of his doubles. The body floated slightly on the clear substance the Kromaggs used to preserve human tissue, which itself was contained in a coffin-sized plexiglass tube. Some kind of malleable white substance held the tube snugly in the crate and for the life of him Colin thought it looked like styrofoam.

"I gave it the works," Douglas boasted. "Super strength, speed, faster reflexes, heightened senses. You'll never be at a disadvantage with an opponent again."

'I should certainly hope not,' Colin thought to himself. To Douglas, he said, "So what are you waiting for? Unstick me."

Professor Maximilian Arturo and Rembrandt Brown landed with a thud against floor padding that likely had seen softer days. The only light came from the vortex itself and that quickly closed behind them in case they even contemplated escape. Arturo instinctively began to feel around the walls, trying to get a sense of exactly where they were. Rembrandt wanted desperately to panic and was only barely stopping himself from doing so. "What do you think? He's going to suffocate us in here?" he wondered aloud. "Or maybe one of those ironic deaths like there's an opening right in front of us but we can't see it so we die when poison gas pours in?"

The Professor continued his search, but decided to answer Rembrandt's ramblings anyway. "He said 'swift and brutal death', as I recall. None of that seems very swift." He paused and tried to look in the general direction where he had heard Rembrandt's voice. "For that matter, why are we still alive at all?"

"Maybe..." Rembrandt started to say. He was interrupted by a constant pounding on one side of the room. Neither of them could manage to speak as the pounding got louder. Finally light poured into the room and both sliders covered their eyes instinctively. When they were able to open them, they saw a man with a helmet that just barely covered his eyes pointing a gun at them. Neither of them could help it; they gave out a fearful yelp when they saw him.

He rolled his eyes. "We don't have time for this." He grabbed each of them by the hand and pulled them out of the hole he had managed to blast out. "You have to get out of here. You're both walking targets without a weapon." The two of them were unwilling to argue and managed to make their way outside through the system of corridors that the soldier had indicated. There seemed to be some sort of firefight going on not too far away and that made their haste in departing all the more urgent.

As Arturo and Rembrandt finally made their way to the outside, they took in everything around them. Directly in front of them a fire blazed out of control, seeming to engulf an entire wing of the large building they had just exited. All around them soldiers were directing people out of harm's way. The people themselves looked like refugees, hopeless and lost. One woman Arturo noticed was shivering like mad and seemed to have trouble keeping focused, as her head bobbed and turned from one place to another in quick succession.

The two sliders made their way to an open area about a hundred yards from the compound. More soldiers stood guard, although these looked like the officers in charge were scraping the bottom of the barrel: boys too young to shave and men with more than a little gray in their hair. Rembrandt and Arturo shared a look. The way things looked so far didn't inspire too much confidence in their ability to survive this situation. "Look at it this way," Rembrandt said, trying to look at the positive. "At least we're not dead."

At that moment a large explosion rocked the compound in front of them. More soldiers poured out, some badly wounded, others just in a seeming state of shock. Luckily there were a few who were willing to take charge of the situation. "Fall back!" a man who looked like an officer barked. Everyone, soldier and civilian alike, followed that order without hesitation. More explosions filled their eardrums until it seemed as though the entire world was going to blow up around them.

They finally arrived at a large wall that looked like it might have formerly been some kind of guard post. The men and women in charge indicated that they should stop there and once again no one argued. Some of the other soldiers came toting carts full of weapons and ammunition and began handing them out to the civilians that looked like they were able bodied. The man shoved two assault rifles at the Professor and Rembrandt. "Great," Arturo groused. "What exactly am I supposed to do with this?"

Wade pointed the hand gun at Quinn's head. They currently stood on the roof of their hotel, the Royal Dominion, and Quinn was perilously close to the edge of the roof. "How exactly am I supposed to buy this? Whose word am I supposed to take?"

Quinn hesitated. "Mine." Wade scowled. "His?" Wade made her face look even more unpleasant somehow. "Does it matter?"

"It does to me," Wade answered, letting pain filter into her voice for the first time since Arturo and Rembrandt had departed this world.

"Look, Wade..." Quinn started to say as he inched towards her.

"Give me the timer," she ordered.

"What?" he asked incredulously.

"You heard me." Wade kept the gun steady as she moved it to one hand and reached out for the device with the other. Quinn gave it to her without another word. "I don't want to see you again until the Professor and Remmy are back. Understand?" Quinn nodded his agreement. "Good. I want you to update me constantly. We'll work out a system to get messages to each other through the hotel. And I swear to God if you're lying..."

"I'm not," Quinn assured her. She wasn't buying, although a part of her really wanted to.

"Good," she answered. "Now get out of here. Get out of my sight. But get them back."

It looked like a mad scientist's laboratory and perhaps it was. Douglas Arturo stood at the control panel and was pressing buttons and pulling levers at an impressive rate. Colin stood motionlessly, trying not to let the fluid on his lungs make him cough. Hopefully it would be the last time he would ever have to resist the disease.

"Are you ready?" Douglas asked. Colin looked him in the eye. This was the man who had saved him, who had found him in his unstuck condition and offered him another chance at life. He nodded that he was indeed ready. Colin Mallory quickly became unstuck.

Douglas then pushed a button that rotated the platform that now contained an unstuck Colin Mallory and two duplicate clone Colin bodies. Some more buttons were pressed, levels were pulled, calibrations were entered and the formerly unstuck Colin was now connected to the new body, as though he had been pasted to it. After a few moments of rest, Colin awkwardly stood up. He clinched his fist and then released it. "How do you feel?" Douglas asked.

Feeling the sheer power surging through him, Colin smiled at his partner in crime. He picked up a steel girder and bent it with his bare hand. "I feel just fine."

Chapter Two

Millions of thoughts and emotions flooded Corey Walker's mind as he became thoroughly enthralled by the visions that the slide was making him experience. He knew how the process worked, unlike most on this world. The gemstone he had strapped to his forehead had a duplicate (he would have called it a double if he thought the crystalline structures were living creatures) that existed back at the Triumv's headquarters and was hooked up to a generator. There was something about the combination of the generator, the vibrations of the crystals and the power of the human mind that combined to actually open a vortex, contained completely within the user's brain. And it was quite the rush. Obviously.

This day and this time had been ingrained into his brain, so much so that not even his mind in its current state could forget it. He reached down from the mattress he was lying on and pulled up a large black duffel bag. He withdrew a small electronic device from one of the pockets and pressed a button to turn the power on. The display revealed what he had already known. There were about ten seconds until he was scheduled to translocate out of this dimension.

He watched the seconds and minutes fly by with some slight interest. If he had still been operating according to the original plan, it would have been his lifeline out of this world. The world he had thought of as a hellish nightmare before leaving his own to come here. He had almost requested another assignment.

But he had not. The vagaries of fate were merciless and cruel. He watched the timer count down to zero. He did not activate it. He had been told that if the device were not activated when the timer ran down, he would not be able to use it again for thirty years.

'It wasn't supposed to be like this,' he thought. But little else crossed his mind, except for the feelings and thoughts of half a world and the swirling image of the vortex moving him from one world to the next. He cursed himself once again and let the slide take him.

Quinn sat in the corner and pretended to read the menu. Not that he would actually want to order anything from this place, not even the water. It looked like it hadn't seen a health inspector since the Carter administration... assuming there'd been one on this earth. He was just starting to get tired of waiting when Colin showed up.

"Why art thou wroth?" Colin asked as he sat down, never making eye contact.

"And why is thy countenance fallen?" Quinn answered immediately.

Colin looked up at him. "Sorry about the passwords. But in my line of work you never know when you could be dealing with a double. You have to take certain precautions."

Quinn nodded. "You look...different."

"New body." Colin responded nonchalantly. "This looks like it could be the one."

"So...." Quinn said, leaning in closer to the man who might have been his brother, "we've got nothing to stop us then."

The waitress came by and the two of them fell silent. Colin ordered a glass of some drink Quinn had never heard of and finally the woman walked off. "Douglas has a big gig for me tomorrow. He said I should take the day off to get used to the new bod, but then I'll get to go to this plush new world. I figure we can do it from there." Quinn frowned. "What? You got plans or something?" he smiled.

"No," Quinn answered. "It's just...Wade. She'll want..." Colin looked at him seriously. Quinn managed to smile. "Yeah, I'm on board. No problem." Quinn really did not want to think about Wade's reaction right now, so he steered the conversation to something more pleasant. Like what they were going to do once they got to the new world.

Wade walked into Detective Larry Tandy's office as casually as she could. "I'd like to file a missing persons report."

"That's really not the kind of thing I normally deal with," he replied, never looking up from his paperwork.

"Huh," Wade said, feigning confusion. "That's odd. Considering you helped make the two people I'm looking for missing I figured it was your area of expertise."

Now he looked up at her. "My dear, I have no idea what you're talking about."

Wade decided she'd had enough. She closed the door, pulled his desk a few feet forward despite his squawked protests, jumped over the desk, kicked his chair against the wall and pulled a gun in his face. It wasn't the smartest thing to do in front of a cop, but it got his attention. "Then let me remind you. My friends, Maximilian Arturo, Rembrandt Brown, you remember them? Arturo was working with you on a case, he called in Rembrandt for help, you took the two of them to the Triumv. To Douglas Arturo. Is any of this ringing a bell?"

There was just a trace of fear on the man's face. "What do you want?"

She smiled. "Douglas Arturo's head on a platter."

He laughed hardily. "Do you think if anyone could stop him that easily that we'd be his lapdogs? You're in way over your head here, little girl."

Wade hit him hard. As he groaned in pain, Wade made her demands. "I want two things from you. First, I want to know everything: what Douglas has been up to, who his allies are, what he plans to do in the long run. Secondly, after you spill everything you know, I want you to deliver a message to him. His home world's looking for him. We're just advance scouts of an entire security force. They should be due any day now. If he wants to live, he should surrender now, cause General Ko wants him dead." Feeling she had told a fairly convincing lie, she sat on his desk and listened as he told her everything he knew.

Professor Maximilian Arturo and Rembrandt Brown huddled next to the fire, a landscape of makeshift tents and weary people behind them. Although they had been herded here by the people in charge nobody seemed to be able to give them a straight answer on what this place was or why they had been sent here. Night had fallen, and the two were no closer to finding useful information. "This is bad," Rembrandt commented, oversimplifying horribly.

Arturo stared at the fire, lost in thought. He barely even registered Rembrandt's comment and could only manage a grunted agreement in reply. At least Remmy thought it was agreement.

A woman in tattered clothing wandered over to their bonfire. She stuck her hands out to the fire, but then withdrew them back quickly, shivering. "Cold," she said to herself.

"Hey there," Rembrandt said with as much genuine interest as he could feign. "What's your name?"

She looked at him for half a second then turned to look at the tent behind him. "Don't you know? I thought everybody..." Her head jerked violently. "Everybody wants to rule the world."

Rembrandt now remember where he'd seen her before...she'd been the woman who seemed to be having seizures as they left the compound. "Is that what these people want to do? Rule the world?"

She laughed hysterically in reply. "Wouldn't be hard. There's nothing here to..." She suddenly cast her eyes downward. "..do except stare at the ground and wait for the worms to come out."

Rembrandt sighed mentally. He was getting nowhere. "Do you know who's in charge here? Who can tell us what's going on?"

"We're waiting," she answered him. "Just waiting." She put some of her hair in her mouth. "The men in helmets yell at us because they can, but we wait anyway."

Rembrandt saw someone who he thought he remembered giving them orders back at the compound. He turned to Arturo. "I'm going to go see if I can find out what's going on here. Want to come?"

"I'll stay here, Mr. Brown," the Professor told him. "Someone needs to watch our tent."

Rembrandt began to walk off. "You never did tell me your name," he said to the woman.

She looked at him straight in the eyes. "It's Weaver." She then walked off to parts unknown. Rembrandt headed towards the man in the helmet.

A man screamed in agony as chains pulled his arms and legs further and further from his torso. "You know what you've done. Why won't you confess it?" Douglas Arturo asked him. The man did not reply, he only kept moaning. "Did you really think you could get away with stealing a shipment and distributing it yourself? What kind of shoddy organization do you think we run?"

The door opened and Arturo didn't bother to turn around. He gritted his teeth in frustration. As he swiveled to let forth his fury, he yelled, "I told you I didn't want any...interruptions." He stopped at the sight before him.

One of the guards seemed to be surrounded by black energy, so much so that his own form could only barely be made out. The other guard seemed to be glued to the being's hand but was actually suspended there by glowing red energy that extended from the thing's hand to the man's chest. Finally the other man dropped, quite obviously dead.

Douglas turned his attention slightly back to the man he had been torturing. "I'll deal with you later." He then walked over to the creature, who upon a closer look, bore the familiar visage that Douglas was expecting. "You weren't supposed to be here for a few more days. This must be serious."

"It is," the thing said, it's face alternating between the individual who Douglas Arturo called master and the host body he was possessing. "I'm afraid we have a dire situation. One that must be rectified immediately. But I must say, I think you'll find it most unpleasant."

Chapter Three

Tiffany Hoyt opened the drawer tentatively. "So what are we supposed to do with this now?"

Her boss, Woody Langer, seemed devoid of emotion as usual. "Rule it a suicide."

Tiffany balked. "You have got to be kidding me." When Woody said nothing, she decided to strengthen her case. "He's got a big gaping hole on the side of his head and...and have you seen the ballistics reports? How can you rule this a suicide?"

"Orders from Tandy," he answered mechanically. Tiffany shot him a look. "I don't like it any more than you do."

"I can tell," she assessed mockingly.

Woody frowned at her. "Tandyman wants this Burke guy buried and forgotten about by the weekend. If you want to argue with that, don't get me involved."

Tiffany bit her lip in frustration but said nothing else. She started to fill out the paperwork and slammed the drawer shut. If she was going to have to gloss over an injustice, she didn't want it staring her in the face.

Wade didn't like the looks of this place. A rundown tenement, practically hidden behind some sort of factory that was the only thing you could see in this area from the road, was not the safest place to be, particularly in a world like this. She made her way up the rickety staircase, but stopped as she heard an argument going on.

"I can't believe you've been holding out on me like this," a young woman shrieked.

"It's not what you think," came a softer voice, seemingly male but perhaps not.

"Not what I think?! Then what the hell is this?!!" Wade heard a crash and then silence pervaded. As she reached the top of the stairs, she found what she was afraid of. The disturbance was coming from her intended destination. 'Perfect timing,' she mentally complained.

"Look, I...there's a lot to explain," he said, clearly dodging her accusations, whatever they were, as best he could.

"I don't care," she said as she began to walk out the door, almost running over Wade. "You can just talk to yourself. It's what you were always best at." She choked back a sob and continued her rant. "And I'm taking this." She held up a small blue-gray device that looked somewhat like the sliders' timer. "Your sliding days are over."

"Amber, can you at least let me..." he started as he rushed out the door. She slapped his face and it stopped him cold. He stood motionless and she walked down the steps, now no longer holding back tears.

Corey Walker at last recognized Wade's presence. "What do you want?" he asked with irritation in his voice.

"Good to see you again, too," Wade told him with a smirk. "Bad time?"

"Yeah," he answered angrily. "Why don't you come back around never?" He began to walk back inside his apartment.

Wade wasn't about to let him get away that easily. "It's about Douglas Arturo. I've taken a crash course in the history of this place since he showed up and I can't say I like any of it much. From what I hear, you don't either."

"I don't know what you're talking about," the young man responded icily.

"You tried to stop him before," Wade told him as if he didn't know. "I want to do the same thing now. I need to know what his weaknesses are and I thought you might want to help me."

"Do what?" Corey sneered. "You want to teach him a lesson? 'Drugs aren't cool'? Find somebody else to do your public service announcement."

Wade sighed. "Fine. I've got a timer. I notice that you don't. Do you really want to be stuck on this world forever?"

"You know I'm not from here?" he asked with a frown.

"It wasn't hard to figure out," Wade answered, a little smugness in her voice.

"Douglas..." he started, as if he were confessing something. Wade thought she might be on the edge of getting him to help her. Then he pulled out a gun. "Douglas told me to use this if anybody came looking for help in overthrowing him. I don't really want to, but I will. Give me the timer."

"Do you really think I'm dumb enough to have it on me?" Wade asked. Corey just looked at her. "Um, that's the glib way of saying I don't. And just to give you a heads up," she paused, maneuvered herself into position too quickly for him to notice and kicked the gun from his hand, "I'm a little tired of guns being pointed at me. For that matter, I'm tired of threatening people for information." Corey looked down in defeat. Wade knew she had him. "Now, let's talk about getting rid of Douglas Arturo."

Professor Maximilian Arturo really didn't like being threatened. "I assure you, I want rid of my son's double as much as the rest of you." 'The rest of you' referred to a tent full of officers who now stared suspiciously at the elder British man after he revealed his last name.

"I don't think we should take an Arturo's word for anything," the one who was sitting behind a desk said dismissively.

"Why do you think we were sent here?" Rembrandt wondered aloud. "For a vacation? Douglas Arturo wanted us dead."

The two of them had grown tired of not knowing what was going on around here and had decided to finally confront the higher ups about it. What they got in return was a healthy dose of suspicion. "Or you could be spies. Maybe Douglas got word of what was going on here and decided to put a few moles in the mix."

"A somewhat convincing argument," Professor Arturo was forced to admit. "However, it would be even more convincing if we knew what in blazes was going on here, but I suppose you lads won't take that into consideration."

"Or how about this?" Rembrandt threw out. "We're a couple of out of shape middle-aged civilians. What could we possibly do to stop you, even if we wanted to?" Arturo glared at him. "Sorry, Professor. But it had to be said."

The three men and one woman who seemed to manage things around these parts huddled together. Finally they parted and one of the men faced the two sliders. "Alright, we won't put you in confinement...for now. But it's back to work detail."

"Wait just a moment," Professor Arturo requested. "I'm not going out there to do backbreaking manual labor without at least some explanation as to why I'm here, working like some medieval peasant."

"He does have that trademark Arturo arrogance, doesn't he?" the woman asked rhetorically. Before Arturo could deride her, she continued. "We'll tell you everything in good time. Right now we've got a wall to finish." The Professor was tempted to give her more than just a piece of his mind, but Rembrandt managed to steer him out of the tent. As the two of them went back to their mason work, Arturo let out a stream of epithets that kept Rembrandt entertained for the next hour.

Colin and Quinn stood and pretended to listen attentively as Douglas Arturo explained the particulars of this world and what their mission was there. Of course, Quinn and Colin already knew what they were going to do once they got there. "...shouldn't run into much trouble with the locals, as prelimary scouting reports indicate the region is populated by a pacifist group. There is a large youth culture brewing, however, and you know what that means."

"Target the hot spots?" Quinn guessed.

"Correct," Douglas responded joylessly. "And don't forget your mantra: sell, sell, sell. We're not there to make friends, people."

Colin nodded knowingly. The two of them were then escorted to the terminal they would be using to slide to this other world. A group of blue-suited guards with guns flanked them on both sides and several crates sat behind them, waiting to be toted to the other side by these guards. These men never seemed to say much. 'Probably years of saying the wrong thing in front of Douglas and ending up who know where,' Quinn thought.

The vortex opened and the two Mallorys stepped inside. The guards followed close behind, bringing the crates with them as they came. They were supposed to contain weapons, slide and various other forms of contraband. Colin assured Quinn that they were really full of food and medical supplies.

It was pitch dark where they had landed and the group quickly turned on flashlights to see exactly where they were. Cattle, pigs and chickens were all caged and penned around them and there was hay on the floor. There was a hay loft above them. "Great," Colin complained. "A rustic world. Douglas told me these people were pacifists, he didn't say they were Amish."

"It doesn't necessarily mean this place is backwards, just because we're at a farm," Quinn pointed out. "The rest of the world could be as modern as the one we just left."

Colin gave Quinn a look. "You can tell a lot about a world from where you land, I've always found." He decided to leave the petty matter behind him and ordered his men to scatter the perimeter and get a sense of where they were.

"I take it you're not a farm boy," Quinn said to his would-be brother.

Colin smiled. "You'd be right." Colin looked around with the flashlight, making sure all the guards were out of earshot. "We don't have much time."

"Do you really think we can pull it off?" Quinn asked.

Colin withdrew the timer as he began to walk outside. "We can activate it in a little under an hour," he told Quinn. He ran his flashlight over the barn door. "Wait," he whispered.

"What is it?" Quinn asked with concern.

"I recognize this barn," Colin said with dread in his voice.

"What?!" Quinn exclaimed. "I thought you said..."

Colin didn't give him time to finish. "We've got to get out of here, Quinn! It's a trap!"

Chapter Four

Douglas Arturo hated betrayal. When he wasn't the one doing the betraying, that is. The man from whom he received his orders had left him a visual aid. Concrete proof that Colin was planning to steal the organization from him. 'The fool,' Douglas thought with only a glimmer of sadness. 'He wouldn't have come close to succeeding, even if I hadn't found out.'

He heard a knock on the door and put the small device he used to view the image away in his desk. He made sure he had a gun on his person. "Come in," he called out. He breathed a mental sigh of relief as he saw it was one of his guards. He had to at least feign irritation, however. He had a reputation to uphold. "What is it?" he snapped.

"There are protesters outside," he said meekly. Douglas glared at him. "It's the usual stuff, but I just wanted to know if I should call the cops, or..."

"No," he said, cutting him off. "I'll handle it myself. I've run out of fresh torture victims. It's about time I get a new supply." As he walked out the door, his only regret was that he wouldn't be able to dole out the punishment himself. 'Oh well,' the young British man thought to himself. 'It's still a fitting way for him to die.'

Wade walked into Corey's apartment and immediately wished she hadn't. "OK," she said quickly taking in the decor, such as it was. "This place really needs some housecleaning. I guess Amber back there wasn't much into keeping house."

Corey sneered. "Who are you? My mother?"

Wade suddenly felt self-conscious. "I'm not old enough to be your mother! I'm not even thirty yet!"

"It's just an expression," he replied in frustration. "You don't have to take everything I say so literally."

Wade cursed herself mentally. "I knew I should have splurged on that wrinkle cream on the last world," she muttered to herself.

Corey shot her a look of impatience. "I don't think you came here to discuss beauty products, unless you're from Avon Interdimensional. In which case bonus points for selling me this story just to get your foot in the door."

Wade sat down on the chair that had the least amount of junk on it. "I guess I should ask you where you come from, what brought you here, that sort of thing. Let's get the backstory out of the way."

Corey sat down in a folding chair opposite Wade. "Well, I'm not from this dimension, you already know that much. Where I'm from, we don't see many people live past twenty-five. At least not any more. Young people are being given more and more positions of power. That's where I came in. I was a scout for a startup translocation company called the Proteus Corporation...until Lesion invaded my homeworld." Wade gave him a knowing look. "I take it you're familiar with Lesion."

Wade nodded. "We were on the Mek homeworld when they took over." Corey looked impressed.

The young man now got back to his narrative. "Anyway, everybody in translocation was put to work doing interdimensional espionage. Our world and several others had decided to pool our resources, to stop Lesion not only from invading our earths, but from invading any earth. We all agreed to do whatever was necessary. I got an assignment to infiltrate a group selling arms to Lesion called the Triumv. The rest is history." He looked around the room. "Really, really painful history."

"What exactly happened?" Wade asked, gently encouraging him to go on.

"I started working for the Triumv, trying to get incriminating information...and ended up getting hooked on slide." Corey looked down in shame. "Douglas found out who I really was, but he didn't consider me a threat. He bought me off with a crateload of the stuff."

Wade didn't know what to say. She really didn't have much respect for the guy, but she did need his help. "It doesn't have to be like this." She paused and tried to gauge how far gone he was. "I can stop Douglas Arturo by myself, but I'd rather have your help."

"OK," he agreed with a whisper. "I'll do whatever's necessary." He smiled slightly. "When do we get started?"

"Right now," Wade said with as much authority as she could muster. As they walked out of the apartment, she turned to the young man. "One more thing, though. Is there really an Avon Interdimensional?"

Professor Maximilian Arturo and Rembrandt Brown were being herded back towards the compound where they had arrived. The building stood in charred ruination for the most part, but it looked as though several wings had been saved. Arturo wasn't really paying attention to the details of scenery, however. "This is utterly tiresome, Mr. Brown," he growled to the man next to him.

"I'm tired of the prisoner treatment, too, Professor," Rembrandt told him, trying to smooth his ruffled feathers. "But this could be good. I mean, they only asked to see us, right? They could be giving us the rundown on what's going on around here."

"Or they could be putting us in a jail cell, or forcing us into some other kind of punishment that they mete out on this helacious world," the Professor grumbled. "Which actually wouldn't be too terrible, considering the alternative. If it weren't for the fact that incarceration makes our ability to eventually leave this world that much more difficult, I'd say it was completely preferable to the menial labor they've had us doing."

"Do you think Quinn and Wade will have a tougher time getting us out of here if we're imprisoned?" Remmy asked.

The Professor tried to hide his feelings as best he could. "I believe we're on our own here, Mr. Brown."

Rembrandt said nothing else as they navigated the now blackened halls and corridors that ran through the building where they had initially arrived. Finally they came to an expansive room filled with darkness and not much else. Two stools sat in the middle of the room, seemingly inviting the two sliders to sit there. They did so without too much additional mumbling and grumbling.

Not long after they sat down the entire room lit up. Once the two sliders could see again, they noticed that the young woman they had met earlier sat in another part of the room. Also, there was a plexiglass window through which several of the military figures they had complained to the day before sat. Arturo grew more and more perturbed by the minute.

"What is it now?" Professor Arturo fumed. "Are we under suspicion for criminal misuse of a trowel?"

One of the officers stood to talk to them. Smartly, he ignored Arturo's comments. "We've got a problem, I'm afraid. Our plan has gone slightly awry."

Rembrandt stuck up his hand. "Just what exactly is this plan?"

The man sighed and sat back down. A female officer stood and started to explain. "This world was a dumping ground, for whoever Douglas Arturo deemed undesirable. There's a man on the outside who hopes to change things: for us and for our homeworld. It is he who we follow. Our revolution against Douglas' forces has been successful so far, but it has cost us the lives of the people who thought they could get us out of here. Scientists, who understood the translocation equipment of this facility."

The other officer indicated that he was once again prepared to speak. "Due to this tragedy, there are only two people who we think might have a chance to get us home. You, of course, Mr. Arturo. And the person who knows the most about the system here, because she designed it." He indicated Weaver, who was sitting in the corner staring at the lightbulb that was shining down on her.

"Wonderful," the Professor groused. "And just who is this modern George Washington that you're following?" he asked the man who seemed to be in charge.

"Colin Mallory," he answered with pride.

Colin and Quinn Mallory ran as stealthily as possible through the woods surrounding the farmyard they had landed in. In the short while they had known each other, Quinn had never seen Colin so panicked. "What exactly are we running from?" Quinn had the presence of mind to ask once he had caught up to within earshot of his brother.

"Trust me," Colin breathed. "I don't have any friends on this world."

Quinn finally persuaded Colin to stop running for a while when they reached a big tree a few hundred yards out from where they had exited the forest. "I know you said you can tell about a world from where you land, but isn't this just a little ridiculous? One symbol on a barn door and you're scared for your life?"

"I've been here before," Colin told him. "My first botched mission."

"Wow," said Quinn. "You botched a mission before that one where you were holed up at the Alamo compound?" Colin had let Quinn in on the time he had previously run into his current sliding team. "I'm surprised he let you keep working for him." Colin gave him a funny look. "Not that he shouldn't have or anything. I'm sure it wasn't your fault." An awkward silence pervaded for a moment or two. "Please continue," Quinn said while clearing his throat.

"Apparently there are some worlds that turn slower than others," Colin said leaning against the tree that provided the only cover they had from what Quinn already imagined was roaming hordes of unfriendly armies. "It makes it seem like you're going back in time when you go to them from a world that turns regularly. Anyway, this is one of those. It's about three hundred years behind the times." Colin motioned for Quinn to start moving again. "I was told to sell weapons and other supplies to a Native American group that ruled this part of California called the Chumash. Everything was going well until this group of English settlers showed up to massacre the Indians. I was forced to pull back after a prolonged battle that, let's say, didn't go too well for our side."

"Harsh," Quinn assessed banally.

"Now if the Chumash won, they probably want my head for abandoning them and if the English won they want me for giving the Indians weapons in the first place." Colin stopped again and Quinn followed his lead.

"It's a little soon for another break, isn't it?" Quinn asked, only mildly teasing as he needed the rest more than his brother did.

"It's too late," Colin said, pointing to the east. "The Puritan Army's here." Quinn looked and saw seven men on horseback, each with AK-47s slung around their shoulder. They were dressed all in black and wore large black hats that had a prominent gold buckle above the brim. Behind them came what looked like a humvee carrying a man with long gray hair and a slight beard. He looked none too pleased.

Chapter Five

Quinn's hands chafed against the rope that bound them. He couldn't see well enough in the virtually moonless night to undo the knot, and if he did get any bright ideas about escaping, several humorless hulking figures sat behind them with automatic weapons pointed in their direction. Their weapons had been taken from them, not surprisingly. "I can't believe this is happening," Quinn complained.

"It's Douglas," Colin told his brother in a monotone. "It's his style. He's the one who would know about how screwed up things got here." Colin leaned back. "He must have found out about our plans somehow."

A bump in the road jarred them all. As best Quinn could tell, the humvee was solar-powered (it made sense, as there weren't likely to be refined petroleum products available on this turn-of-the-eighteenth-century world). Its source of power was currently not in use, and a team of hardy-looking horses pulled it with little difficulty. Quinn, Colin and the men holding them captive were riding in a simple cart, not even as sophisticated as a Conestoga. 'If I can remember back to fifth grade arts and crafts, maybe I can teach them how to make one,' Quinn thought wryly. Their current means of transportation wasn't much protection from the holes and ditches that came up along the way. There wasn't much road out here, just a dirt trail that looked like it had been made recently and haphazardly.

Quinn, as he often did, decided to voice his displeasure. "I hate horse-drawn carts. They're uncomfortable, they smell bad and they usually mean trouble."

Colin seemed to take no notice. "I just can't believe it. I was so careful."

The guards did take notice, however. "Hush," one of them ordered angrily. To drive the point home, he struck Colin in the back with the butt of his gun. Neither of them spoke again as they waited solemnly to reach their destination. *

As Quinn and Colin were herded off the truck and brought before the man who seemed to lead this group, Quinn tried to get a good look at the place where they had been taken. It was a small collection of log cabins, lean-tos and a few more European-style homes that were still simple in structure and design. Evidence that this was a work in progress was abundant, as building materials were strewn about not far from the buildings themselves. Apparently their owners weren't worried they'd be stolen. Quinn thought the man standing in front of them was a big part of the reason why.

"Mallory," the man huffed angrily. "I did not believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. Here you are again in the world of the faithful. What would ever possess you to be so brazen? It suits you not at all."

"It wasn't my choice," Colin told him with fear and some hatred in his voice.

"I reckoned as much," the man responded. "Your ineptitude and callousness are matched only by your cowardice." Colin said nothing in reply. His hands were now bound behind him. "I do not know what designations you devils make with regard to family, but is this man your kin? There is a resemblance."

"He is my brother," Colin answered honestly.

"Then I suppose some sort of introduction is in order," the man said, giving them a smile for the first time. Quinn found it eerie and disturbing. "My name is Roger MacAllister and I am your sworn enemy."

Rembrandt had learned more British cuss words today than he had in his entire time sliding. His friend from across the Atlantic (and a parallel world or two, but who's counting?) was on the floor, trying to work on a console that they were told operated the vortex. The stream of epithets grew louder and finally, with a growl, Arturo emerged from the mess of wires and electronics seemingly the worse for wear. "This is maddening!"

Rembrandt did his best to keep cool and not agitate the Professor further. After all, he was the only one who could get him out of this mess. "What's the problem?"

"The problem?" the Professor repeated in anger. "The problem is that these fascisti who run this glorified death camp neglected to tell me that this is not an actual sliding machine!"

"What?!" Rembrandt exclaimed, genuinely concerned for the first time. "Why would they do that?"

Arturo sighed. "Probably because they didn't know themselves." He bit his lip. "It assists in opening the vortex, and helps position it within the sliding radius, but it is incapable of opening a portal itself. It's rather like that device we saw on the Mek homeworld, although it draws on a larger power source."

The Professor was losing Rembrandt. "Uh, what about her? Maybe she knows something about it." He indicated Weaver, who the officers in charge said had designed the system, and who was standing not five feet from them, apparently singing something to herself.

"That raving lunatic?!" Professor Arturo fumed. "Her only coherent thought of the day has been 'I like bunt cake'!! I'd sooner take advice from the Maytag repairman!"

Rembrandt chuckled lightly but Weaver didn't look too thrilled. "Nuts," she said softly. The two of them ignored her. "Nuts!" she said, this time much louder.

"OK, we get it," Rembrandt said to her, hoping to calm her down.

"NUTS!!" she screamed. "Use it to break open nuts! Eat the nutty nutty goodness inside!" As some guards dragged her away to be medicated, she cooed one last statement. "You have tooooo...."

"I'm not a bad man, lads," he said as Quinn and Colin Mallory were tied to large stakes stuck in the ground that didn't look like they were about to fall over any time soon. "I'm a hard working Scotsman, a true believer in the word of God, unlike those Pharisees in London," he took the time to grumble. "I came to America to build a new life for myself and my family with people of like mind. I even spent a hellish winter in Patagonia, because I did not feel safe in the hands of Cavaliers, Huguenots or Spaniards. All to come to Francis Drake's fabled land of California." He watched as his men tightened the ropes around the two men until they groaned in pain. "And what do I find once I get there? Savages, armed with Satan's own arsenal, looking to kill me and mine." As his fellow Puritans walked away, satisfied that the men they were after would not be able to escape without heavenly intervention, which they deemed doubtful, MacAllister's voice grew bitter. "They only got half of what they bargained for, though. That and a grieving, infuriated Scottish man."

"I'm sorry," Colin told him in a voice that revealed how much pain he was in.

Roger didn't even turn around to look at him. "Kindly remind this monster that I was not through telling my story." Without saying a word, one of the stronger men tightened his ropes. Colin did his best not to scream, but it wasn't enough. "It was not difficult to gain access to their weapons, however. These savages are good fighters, no doubt, but they lack the divine spark that only God can provide. We got our revenge on them at least." He now turned to look at the two brothers, bound to poles that stood in the middle of a circle. "Now we get to have it on you as well."

"You've got to admit, it's pretty damn ironic," came another voice from behind him. To Colin, it seemed vaguely familiar.

"Roberts?" he asked with mild confusion in his voice.

"Very good," the man answered. He was one of the guards that accompanied him to this world and also one of his co-conspirators against Douglas Arturo, or so he had thought. "Do you know my first name too, or is that too much to ask for?"

"You set this up," Colin said in a venomous tone. His throat was already raw and scratchy and this made his voice sound even more angry.

"Douglas set it up," Roberts told him. "We just carried it out." Colin shot him a look of pure hatred. "You were stupid, Colin. Douglas may be a selfish greedy underhanded bastard, but at least he takes care of himself...and the people who are loyal to him."

"Yeah?" Quinn exclaimed as he finally decided to speak up. "Just see how long it takes before he hangs you out to dry."

Roberts laughed hardy. "Cute. Very cute." He walked away from the two men tied to stakes and gathered the troops who were decidedly now on Douglas Arturo's side. Within a few moments, they had activated a vortex and left this world en masse.

Now Roger MacAllister reappeared before them. "There is one more guest I would like to bring out. One you are undoubtedly familiar with, Mr. Mallory."

"So is anything actually going to happen to us here?" Quinn asked snidely. "Or are we just going to play 'This Is Your Life'?"

MacAllister ignored him and wouldn't have gotten the reference anyway. Several Puritans hauled out an unconscious man who looked like he hadn't been healthy for a while. "Ramirez?" Colin questioned.

Roger smirked. "What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground."

"Genesis 4:10," Colin reported unhappily.

"I suppose devils can read the word of God as well as men." Roger MacAllister looked Colin Mallory in the eye. "There is one matter on which we seem to agree, Mr. Mallory. The men who betrayed you are untrustworthy. They struck a bargain with me, but I do not believe they intend to fulfill their end of it." He paused for a moment and watched as Ramirez was tied to a stake himself. "So I will make the three of you a bargain. If all of you can agree on which one among the three of you should be allowed to live, I will let that person go and give them this." He held up a timer that was counting down the minutes until the next slide. "I believe it allows you to return to your own plane of existence. I will tell your fellow devils who betrayed you that one of you escaped and I need further resources to hunt you down."

"And if we do not decide? What then?" Colin wondered.

"Then," Roger MacAllister said as he was handed a torch from one of his followers, "you shall all burn to death." The kindling that lie around the stakes suddenly lit up as the Puritan leader put the torch to it.

"This isn't fair!" Quinn exclaimed. "We haven't done anything!!"

The grim man's face appeared set in stone. "Ye who begat this maelstrom shall be made to endure it."

"That isn't from the Bible," Colin pointed out desperately.

"No," MacAllister agreed as he walked away. "But it should be."

Chapter Six

Douglas Arturo sat bleary eyed, looking at the monitor and trying his best to focus on the task at hand. He swore and slammed his chair back. He really didn't want to do this now. But there was no way around it. The organization couldn't survive without a third partner. 'After all,' Douglas thought, 'we would hardly be able to call ourselves the Triumv if there weren't three of us.' The name was a little tired, but he didn't have the option of changing it. It had been decreed by the one who started this organization in the first place.

As if reading his mind, his monitor flashed purple three times. That could only mean one thing. Douglas clicked on the incoming message and saw the familiar face of the only being in the universe he would take orders from. "Lord Hephaestus," Douglas said humbly, using the name he preferred to be called by humans. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

"You have yet to replace the traitor," he remarked in his half-hiss of a voice. Douglas looked mildly surprised and opened his mouth to say something. "Do not concern yourself with how I know. Just be certain that I do. I demand little of you, Douglas Arturo, and only ask for results in return. You know I must have three operatives in play to implement my plan fully."

"I...I am sorry, Master," he replied, showing rare true obeisance. "But it is a difficult task. I thought if I gave Colin life he would obey me, but he betrayed me the first chance he got. If I can't trust someone who depends on me for their very existance...who can I trust?"

Hephaestus paused for a moment. "And the other Mallory could not be persuaded to join you?"

Douglas smirked. "I'm beginning to think the entire Mallory clan is incapable of being corrupted."

There was no humor in Hephaestus' face, such as it was. "There you are wrong. But if this one cannot be, so be it. I have another candidate for you to consider."

Wade walked along the pier by herself in an attempt to gather her thoughts. Corey Walker was supposedly off contacting the people who had sent him here in the first place. It seems his timer had some sort of communicator attached to it that still worked, even though it would not be able to open a portal to a parallel universe for another 29.7 years. She had only been told that of course, she wasn't a scientist and couldn't have done the equations if she'd wanted to. She had never been put in a scenario in which she might find out if the penalty for missing the slide was that long wand hoped to never truly find out.

That train of thought led her to pull out the timer. Fourteen hours until the slide. She hadn't heard from Quinn in over a day and couldn't factor his actions into any likely scenario. It was all up to her. Surprisingly, at least to herself, she was uncomfortable in that situation.

"I've been so self-reliant for so long," Wade thought aloud. "I didn't even notice how much I've come to depend on the others." She swore to herself that she would get the Professor and Rembrandt back. She was less determined when it came to Quinn.

'Damn him,' Wade thought. 'He doesn't care about anybody but himself. To take off like that after everything he's pulled? He deserves whatever he gets.'

The fire grew larger as Quinn and Colin struggled not to breathe in the smoke from the bonfire surrounding them. The ropes binding them didn't seem to be responding to their efforts to break through either. "I think Douglas sabotaged this host body," Colin complained. "There's no way these ropes should be holding me."

Quinn only nodded at that statement, strange as it was. Trying his best not to focus on what might be his untimely death at the hands of religious extremists who really had no reason to hate him in particular, he watched as the third man, whom Colin had called 'Ramirez', coughed and sputtered his way conscious. "Where in the...?" he started to ask in a hoarse voice.

He opened his eyes slowly and looked around. "Oh, hell," he stated simply. He attempted to blink the smoke out of his eyes and then looked at exactly who surrounded him. "And so nice to see you again, Colin. You found another way to get my ass killed, I see." His voice dripped with sarcasm.

Quinn didn't like the guy's tone of voice. "What exactly is that supposed to mean?"

"Who the hell are you? Colin, Jr.?" Ramirez asked scathingly.

Before Quinn could respond, Colin answered in a soft voice. "He's my brother. And leave him out of this."

Ramirez gave a nasty-looking grin. "I hate to tell you this, but he's burnin' with us. I don't think he can stay out of this. Besides, he's the one who attacked me."

"You deserved it," Quinn stated simply. "There's no reason to jump on Colin. He's not responsible for this, Douglas Arturo is."

"Is that so?" Ramirez replied in an astonished voice. "Well, that's news to me. All this time I thought it was Colin who left me to die here, but it was really Douglas Arturo! You learn something new every day, I guess."

"Are you just gonna let this guy trash you?" Quinn asked his brother.

"He's right," Colin said solemnly. He let out a deep sigh before continuing. "The locals shot him. I thought he was dead. I left him here."

"How..." Quinn wondered, obviously let down. "How could you do that?"

"This isn't the Marines, Quinn," Colin told him sadly. "When a mission goes badly, it's every man for himself."

Ramirez was more than a little peeved at this point. "Wish I'd have known that before I took a bullet for you, but I guess that's more or less the creed we live by."

The flames rose higher and began to burn the bottom of their stakes. Roger MacAllister walked by outside of it. "Have you come to your decision yet?"

"Decision?" Ramirez questioned. "What did I miss?"

"One of us gets to go free if all three of us can agree on who it is," Colin told him. "And we have made our decision. It's Quinn."

"The hell it is!" Ramirez exclaimed. "You cheating bastard, you never even told me one of us could get out alive!"

"Quinn had nothing to do with this!" Colin exclaimed. "He doesn't deserve to die."

"And I do?" the other man exclaimed. "Hell, I guess that decision wasn't quite as hard to make the second time around, was it?"

Colin considering firing back, but stopped himself. He thought a moment. "How long do you have?"

"What?" Ramirez squawked incredulously.

Colin viewed him with intense scrutiny. "I can't imagine the treatment for a gunshot wound to the chest here is very advanced. Gangrene sets in and I doubt these people would even believe in germs. They probably pulled you from your death bed to put you up here, didn't they?"

Ramirez couldn't bring himself to lie to Colin. "What of it?"

Quinn gave a distressed look as the fire began to burn his ropes. "We're running out of time here."

"The last thing you'll get to see is me burning to death. Won't that be revenge enough?" Colin asked, his eyes pleading with his former henchman.

"Oh the hell with it," Ramirez said after mulling it over for a moment. "Let the other Mallory live."

"I am a man of my word," MacAllister said grimly. He ordered his men standing by with buckets of water to douse the flames surrounding Quinn. They then untied him. His skin was beet red from the heat and he inhaled more than a little smoke, but he was alive. He watched as his brother was enveloped by the flames, but could do nothing. He collapsed in a heap, physically exhausted and emotionally drained.

Professor Maximilian Arturo stood over the device that was not quite a sliding machine. "There must be something I'm missing."

"Give it a rest, Professor," Rembrandt advised wearily.

Arturo looked at his fellow slider. "The slide is in roughly ten hours, Mr. Brown. I cannot afford to waste any of that time sleeping."

"We've been at it all night," Rembrandt pointed out, not quite willing to give up on slumber as an option.

"I have been 'at it' all night," the Professor corrected. "You have done nothing but complain and offer completely unhelpful advice!"

"You know, I'm getting pretty tired of that condescending attitude of yours," Rembrandt said testily.

Arturo was livid. "And I am growing tired of your constant yammering while I am trying to think!" He pounded his fist on the machine for effect. Three plexiglass tubes extending from the top of the machine all bent over. Professor Arturo recoiled in horror. "Now look what you've done!"

"What I've done?" Rembrandt retorted. "You were the one who..." They were interrupted by a giant whooshing sound. It was a vortex.

"The back-up mechanism! I knew there had to be one here!" Arturo watched the swirling maw with joy. "I've found it!"

"Oh now you found it," Rembrandt groused irritably. "When something went wrong it was my fault."

"Oh do give it a rest, Mr. Brown," Arturo told him, apparently willing to let bygones be bygones. "Let's inform our hosts of our success and get the hell off this miserable world."

Wade barged into the Triumv's headquarters, headed for Douglas Arturo's office. His secretary saw her and knew she would be in for it if she let somebody just wander in here. "Excuse me," she called out. "Do you have an appointment?"

Wade turned around and pulled her gun out of her jacket pocket. "No. But I don't think I'll need one."

Chapter Seven

Quinn detected the smell of smoke and the sound of fire crackling. He awoke with a start. Once his eyes opened fully, he saw that he was no longer at risk of burning to death. No flames enveloped him and he was not bound to a stake. The fire came from a hearth built into the wall that faced him. Taking a gander at his surroundings further, Quinn saw he was in a small room with antiquated furniture. The only light provided came from the fire and a few candles and a lantern that were strategically placed around the room. He saw a man warming himself by the fire.

"Where am I?" he asked weakly.

"In my home," came a cold, familiar voice. Quinn suddenly remembered where he was and what he was doing here. More importantly, he remembered who this man was and what he had done.

Fueled purely by anger, Quinn leaped from the chair he had been lying in and grabbed Roger MacAllister by the throat. "You killed him! You bastard, you killed my brother!!"

The Puritan leader saw the fury flash in Quinn's eyes for a moment, but was not frightened. "Stop this," he instructed mildly. "You haven't the strength to kill me."

As if his words had taken the wind from his sails, Quinn's hands went limp and he collapsed to the floor. He launched into a coughing fit and instinctively scooted himself back towards the chair where he woke up. MacAllister stood and returned to the fire. "I dinnae suppose I could convince you that what I did was right."

Quinn was still furious, even though he was too fatigued to do anything about it. "How could you even convince yourself? You claim to be a Christian, but you kill a man in cold blood?"

MacAllister looked at the flames. "Sometimes ye cannot wait for the Lord to punish the wicked," he told Quinn, "and you have to bring a little bit of Hell to Earth. Show the vilest of sinners what they can expect after they pass on."

Quinn could not look at the blaze and instead directed his attention to a portrait hanging on the opposite side of the room. It clearly featured a younger version of the man whose home he now occupied, as well as a seemingly much younger woman and several children. MacAllister saw what he was looking at and a wave of pain crossed his face. "I didn't have time to get a more recent portrait made. Two of my lads weren't born yet when that one was painted."

"Your family..." Quinn started awkwardly. "Were all of them...?"

"Killed?" Roger MacAllister's expression grew grimmer. "Every one of them." There was a moment of complete silence. "But like I said, I didn't think you would understand. You don't know what it's like to lose your family, your home." Quinn started to contradict him, but thought better of it. "Go," he instructed. "You're not wanted here. Leave this place and never bring more of your kin to trouble me again." He threw Quinn the timer and the slider looked at it. Roughly ten minutes until he could leave this world. He walked outside and vowed to get as far away from this place as possible.

Douglas Arturo looked up from his desk to see a figure standing at the door holding a gun on him. He had to admit it, he was a little bit amused. "Isn't this a charming scene?" he asked as he leaned back in his chair, in an effort to appear more relaxed than he actually was.

"This isn't a game," Wade told him angrily. "I will kill you."

Douglas' smile got wider. "Really? Then why aren't you killing me now?"

"I need to know where you sent the Professor and Remmy," Wade told him firmly.

"You mean where Mr. Mallory sent 'the Professor' and 'Remmy'?" The names were said with pure condescention in his voice.

Wade couldn't help but wince. "You know, I'm running a little short on time here, so don't be surprised if I decide to see if you're more cooperative after being shot in the kneecaps."

"Ooh, the threats. I just love that part. What comes next?" he wondered idly to himself. "Ah yes. The scene where the villain pulls the corny trick of telling the heroine to look behind her."

Wade wasn't amused. She was even less amused when one of Douglas' henchmen hit her from behind. She was so jarred that the gun fell from her hand. This seemed an open invitation for the guard to pull his, but when he did so a much-less-unconscious-than-he-thought Wade kicked it from him. A struggle soon developed and Wade managed to gain the upper hand by flipping the man across the room. Douglas took this opportunity to go for Wade's gun. He was stopped in his tracks by another figure, holding a gun straight to his temple. It was Corey Walker.

"You?!" Douglas guffawed. "What are you even doing here? I payed you off, remember? You couldn't possibly already want more."

"I'm not going to live like that anymore," the young man said. His hand only quivered slightly as he put a bullet in the other man's brain. Douglas fell lifeless to the floor and blood pooled around him. In the instant before that, the guard had slammed Wade to the ground. He now withdrew his gun, pointed it at Corey and shot him through the chest. He kept firing until Wade kicked his legs out from under him. Once the man was on his knees, Wade kicked him in the face hard enough to break his nose and bloody up his face pretty badly. He wouldn't be active for a while.

Wade surveyed the damage. There was a gaping hole in Douglas' head and Corey looked like his chest cavity had been ripped open. Neither of the two were breathing. Blood was everywhere. She considered doing something for them, but realized there was nothing she could do. She went over to Douglas' desk, looking for information about the Professor and Rembrandt's whereabouts. She came across a massive file that looked like the payroll. "Damn," Wade exclaimed.

A huge vortex opened in the middle of Triumv HQ and unloaded dozens of soldiers looking for revenge. Not far behind them came Professor Maximilian Arturo and Rembrandt Brown. They were considerably less gung-ho.

Rembrandt watched as the officers who had relished giving them orders for the last few days pointed guns at the Triumv guards. "Man, I really don't want to be here."

Professor Arturo looked drained. "For once I agree with you. Our talents would best be used elsewhere." The two sliders watched as various guards responded by either surrendering or fighting back. Eventually all the activity moved to other parts of the compound and the two of them could manage to sneak out.

Rembrandt managed to hail a cab. As the two of them climbed in, Pavel Kurlienko wrinkled his nose. "I no take homeless people."

Arturo looked at the two of them. They had been wearing the same set of clothes for days and they were none-too-clean. Plus there weren't exactly showers where they had been. "We are not homeless," he seethed. "Now take us to the Royal Dominion Hotel." Pavel complied without further protest. "Blistering idiot," Arturo declared irritably.

The vortex brought Quinn Mallory to a place on the last world he recognized and for that he was somewhat grateful. However, it was the base of operations for Douglas Arturo and the Triumv. Quinn cursed. He was in neither the mood nor the shape to deal with Douglas and his cronies. His thought processes stopped for a moment of panic as half a dozen guards in that familiar blue Triumv uniform rushed in his direction. At first he thought he might be captured again. Nothing of the sort happened however, as the guards were seemingly rushing past him, running away from something inside the building. "That can't be good," Quinn said aloud.

Against his instincts, he began to wander towards the building. Quinn heard a lot of shooting going on and was more than a little reluctant to go any further. He considered entering what appeared to be a back door when he heard more footsteps coming his way. He turned around slowly, expecting to see more guards. Instead, he saw Wade.

The two of them just looked at each other for a moment. There was some anger, some resentment, and a whole lot of disappointment in the looks they shared. Both of them thought about screaming at each other or trying to make awkward conversation. But they were both too tired for that. Instead they both walked to each other and ended up hugging. It was a nice moment, until Wade kneed him in the stomach.

"Idiot! You couldn't even leave a message for me?!" Wade demanded with only a little playfulness in her voice.

"What are you talking about?" Quinn queried quizzically. "I left you a note with the bellhop."

"Jimmy?" Wade asked. Quinn nodded. "Oh. He worked for Douglas. I guess that explains that." Now Quinn looked at her a little strangely. "I got my hands on the payroll. Would you believe that over ten thousand people work for Triumv Enterprises, directly or indirectly?"

Behind them a wall got blasted to smithereens. The two of them decided to make haste to a place a little farther away. "What's going on in there?" Quinn asked with seemingly genuine interest.

"Oh. Big firefight," she answered nonchalantly. "Also, Douglas is dead."

Quinn looked pretty relieved. "What about the Professor and Rembrandt?"

Wade smiled slightly. "After I broke his leg, one of the guards told me that he saw them take off in a cab. They probably went back to the hotel."

"We slide in what, less than three hours?" Quinn questioned, although he already knew the answer. "I could use a little rest myself. Are you sure we shouldn't stick around to see how this turns out?"

"Nah," Wade answered. "I'm sure they've got it under control." As she said that, a guard in blue was flung hard out a window and landed not five feet from them. They walked to see if they could hail a cab and a mailman walked by. Wade punched him in the gut. Quinn stopped and looked at her. "He worked for Douglas," she told him.

Wade waited patiently as her three male compatriots showered and changed clothes. Once they were all assembled again, an awkward silence pervaded. There was still about an hour and a half until the slide. "So what do we do now?" Rembrandt asked.

"I haven't had anything to eat for over a day," Wade told them. "I don't want to risk waiting until the slide and possibly landing somewhere where there's nothing edible for miles."

Arturo nodded agreement. "There's only one problem," the Professor commented. "I haven't any money."

"I, um," Quinn started, "got some money from Colin. Before he died." His voice was sad, and somewhat repentant. Neither Wade nor the Professor knew quite what to say to him.

Rembrandt didn't quite pick up on the emotions of the moment. "Pizza sound good?"

The End

* Or as another author might put it in his own oh-so-apt way, "Colin speaks up by telling Quinn, he was careful but the man told Colin to shut up, and then butted him in the back with his gun, and Colin shut up."

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