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7.4 - The Importance of Being Quinn Mallory
by ThomasMalthus

Chapter One: Import/Export

This was how I always knew it would end. The hot desert sun beating down on me, dangerous bandits holding me at gunpoint, all the while straddling the back of an old horse with the burn of a cheap rope around my neck. It was a hell of a way to die. But I'm guessing you know I didn't.

"Tough luck, eh, amigo?" one of the men bearing firearms, who wore a large sombrero and a stubbly beard, called out. "You should learn an important lesson about not upsetting the taco cart."

"Yeah," his sidekick, a much shorter man with a larger sombrero and even more stubbly beard, heckled. "You'd better not mess with our socioeconomic system and/or political structure again."

"Of course he won't, because he will die," the larger one reminded the other. He then turned back to face me. "Any second now, the Mexican jumping bean I fed your horse will work its magic, and you will be left to hang until dead. We will watch from a safe distance, as we fear excited horses."

"Wait," I called out to him, my voice raspy from the dry heat and the ever-present tug of the noose around my throat. "I just want to ask you one question." They leaned in to listen. "Of all the mistakes...I made...in coming to Greater Mexico...do you think the biggest was...not wearing a hat?"

"Perhaps," the leader mused. "The heat in the Sonora Desert is very unbearable, although the humidity is actually not too bad. But, to answer your question, I think your biggest mistake was making me angry!" He withdrew his pistol and aimed it at my head. "I will not wait for your horse's digestive system. I kill you now!"

As the gun went off, my head ducked under the bullet not a millisecond too soon. The sweat from my neck had already loosened the noose, you see. From there, I grabbed the rope tightly in my teeth, pulled myself up from the horse and kicked the guns from the hands of my Mexican captors. With the upper hand now mine, I watched as they ran away like nervous schoolgirls. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only threat I had to contend with that day.

From behind me, a horde of Native American warriors of indistinct tribal status tramped across the plain, the blood-curdling cries rising up from their throats letting me know that they weren't in the mood to open a casino. Hastily grabbing a nearby sombrero, I climbed back on my horse and started riding like my life depended on every gallop, which, incidentally, it did. Eventually I started to outdistance them, and then I saw it.

The Grand Canyon. Apparently on this world it was in Mexico. Or something. Anyway, there it was and I was riding towards it. No time to stop. So I just go with it. The horse and I go flying off of the gorge to our certain doom. Until I remember my parachute.

It seemed like an overly cautious move at the time, but I had packed a parachute in my knapsack for just such an emergency. Holding my horse's torso steady with my legs, I pulled the cord and sailed smoothly down to the ground, safe and sound. My horse, however, despite my best efforts, was now rendered immobile. Which was really unfortunate, because that was when I needed him the most.

Across the horizon, I could see rows of them lumbering towards me. Tanks. They looked none too friendly. When I got within close range, I could tell why. There were swastikas on the side of them. The tanks were being driven by those most insidious characters of the twentieth century...

"Wait, wait, wait," Quinn interrupted. "Mexican banditos, hostile Native Americans and Nazis, all in one place?"

"Hey, it was a parallel world," his double, dressed in an outfit loud enough to make Al Calavicci proud (a gray shark-skin jacket, Hawaiian shirt, purple sunglasses and red leather pants), downed his third drink of this sitting with gusto. "I think the Germans invaded Mexico around 1942. So there I was, in the present-day, and these Nazis were looking pretty hard for some kind of ancient artifact..."

"I think I've heard this one before," Quinn told him as he began to slink away from his counterpart. Judging from the fact that he had been alone when Quinn came in, everyone else had had the good sense to do so a long time ago.

"Hey, if you've got a good story of your own, don't hesitate to jump in," Quinn crowed a little too loudly. "But from what I hear, you haven't done much to write home about."

With his honor now challenged somewhat, Quinn returned to his seat at the bar. The establishment in question was called the Weary Traveler, a small watering hole that was big on glitz and little on anything else; rather like the man sitting in front of him, now that he thought about it. This Earth's San Francisco had a strange kind of Las Vegas Lite feel; sort of like Branson, Missouri, only nowhere near that uncool. Frankly, none of them had found much enjoyment here... until Quinn discovered a double with some sliding experience under his belt. Now said double was rubbing that advantage in his face. "Well, I'm new to the game. Give me time."

"Newsflash, hotshot," the other Quinn told him cockily. "If you're not aggressive out of the gateway, no petty thug on any parallel world is going to respect your authority. You may think you can bluff some rubes into thinking you're the genuine article, but most people can sense what you're capable of and what you're not from a mile away. And those who can't generally aren't worth wasting time on. Unless, of course, they're well-built with a pretty face. Or blonde hair." He caught someone matching that description as she walked by. "Hey, how's it goin'?" He got a slap in the face for his troubles. He turned back to his double, nonplussed. "Broads, you know?"

"So if you're such a great slider, why are you stuck here?" Quinn asked, eyebrows raised in suspicion. They had recently been told to look for Lesion agents everywhere, but he doubted they'd pick one this ostentatious.

"I had a three-second slide where I didn't look at the timer for ten seconds," Quinn shrugged. "Those are the breaks, I guess. I'm going to build a new sliding machine one of these days, you know. Just need the funds. I've been trying to get a lounge act together to pay for it."

"Good luck," Quinn told him a little snidely. He rose from the table, this time seemingly for keeps. "But it's time for me to get out of here. I've got a slide window to catch."

"Yeah, so you can help some more people with their tax audits," the other Quinn grumbled. "The problem with you, Mallory, is you got no drive. You should see sliding as an adventure, not as drudge work. Make it exciting. Mix it up a bit." He pulled his sunglasses down to make eye contact with him. "Don't forget who you are, man. You've got a helluva reputation to live up to."

Quinn winced. "So I've been told."

"Just think about what I said," the sitting Quinn advised. He then paused in thought for a moment. "Hey, you're not going to be needing any money you picked up on this world, are you? They're pretty strict about people trying to pass off funny money as legit on some of these worlds, you know."

Reluctantly, Quinn dug in his jeans for a few wadded-up bills that he had received on this world. He put them in his double's palm. "Gracias," he said with a weasely smile. "Oh, and if you see this world's Wade, tell her I'm a changed man. If she wants to look me up, give her this number." He scratched off a telephone number on a bar napkin and handed it to Quinn. He politely put it in his jacket pocket. "Have a nice life, pal."

Quinn walked out of the bar and down the three blocks to their meeting place in silence. Was there anything to what his alternate had told him? Sure, this sliding gig wasn't what he had wanted for his life and never being able to go home tended to make it a pretty depressing existence. But who was he to go against what was apparently a string of world-changing, heroic Quinn Mallorys? If they could do it, surely so could he.

Diana, Wade and Rembrandt were all there waiting on him, and not very patiently. "We've got about thirty seconds," Diana reported.

"You're cutting it kind of close," Rembrandt said reproachfully. The youngest of the sliders shrugged him off.

"Don't tell me you spent your last day here with that genetic accident double of yours," Wade scoffed. "I'm still nauseated just from our two-minute 'encounter' at our hotel."

"He was... a bit much," Quinn admitted. "But I think he might be right about a few things."

Diana smirked. "And dead wrong about everything else. Those orange and green Kangaroos of his are just wrong." That drew a skeptical look from the others. Deciding not to explain herself, she pointed the timer at a nearby wall and pushed a button to open the vortex. "It's time," she remarked obviously. The four of them made their way through the portal without incident.

Unfortunately, their exit was a bit more noteworthy. They landed near a busy intersection not far from a tourist-friendly neighborhood filled with generic restaurants and hotels. While Quinn and Diana got the 'luxury' of landing in some nearby bushes, Wade and Rembrandt nearly received a faceful of sidewalk. Luckily, it was dark and few people saw them come in. Unluckily... "Damn, girl. You've been trying to soup up our timer. Can't you get it to give us some decent landings? Next time we could land out in the road."

"I...I can work on it," she stammered, a little flustered after untangling herself from the brambles.

"Just where are we, anyway?" Rembrandt asked nobody in particular as he attempted to massage the pain out of his left shoulder.

"San Francisco," Quinn answered him, seemingly marveling at the knowledge. "Always San Francisco."

"I know that much," Rembrandt told him irritably.

Wade decided to make her question more specific. "Have you got anything yet, Professor?" she asked aloud, using their unusual form of communication.

"Yes," his irritated voice snapped from inside of her and Rembrandt's head. "This world is entirely too fond of some sort of hybrid of rap and country music! I'll let you know if I find anything pertinent once I actually have time to do so." His rant stopped as abruptly as it always seemed to.

"Just asking," Wade muttered in her own defense.

"It's amazing how fast we've gotten used to having a base of operations," Diana commented. "We used to do just fine on the fly."

"Yeah, not always," Rembrandt reminded her with a slightly bitter chuckle.

"How long do we have?" Quinn asked, his double from the last world's state of imprisonment not far from his mind.

"Until tomorrow morning," Diana told them all. "Looks like we'll have enough time to get a hotel room, get some sleep and get out of here. Assuming we don't get into any trouble."

"That's assuming a lot," Wade pointed out. Quinn's eyes, meanwhile, fell on an elderly woman about to be assisted across the street by a boy scout. His brow furrowed in concern as the young boy kicked her leg and walked off. Quinn started to move towards her. Wade stopped him. "What are you doing?"

"Going to help that old lady," Quinn answered her matter-of-factly. "It's all part of my new mission statement. It's time for Quinn Mallory to start doing what's right. To help those who can't help themselves and to stand up for the defenseless."

"And if that old lady's a not-helpless, not-defenseless Lesion agent?" Wade managed to ask with a straight face.

"Then I'll take the purse lashing of my life and learn my lesson. Happy?" He walked over to her without further comment.

"I couldn't help but notice your plight, ma'am," Quinn said politely as he walked up to her. "I don't know why that boy scout, um, kicked you and all, but rest assured I'm happy to help."

"That's awfully kind of you, sir," she replied with a grateful bat of her eyes. "A lot of the scouts end up attacking me for my position on gay rights. It's why I have to wear shin guards. But I'm glad to see you're more enlightened than they are."

"Uh, sure," Quinn gulped nervously.

"What's that all about?" Rembrandt asked Wade. She merely shrugged. The three of them waited patiently for him as the two crossed the street. A heckling crowd of youngsters gathered around quickly. They didn't feel inclined to interfere...until some angry bystanders turned on the fire hoses. Both Quinn and the old woman were quickly soaked. "Homophobes!" the old lady cried out as she shook her fist.

As Quinn wrung his clothing dry on their walk to the hotel where they hoped to spend the night, Wade moved close enough to him to whisper in his ear. "So, did you learn your lesson?" she asked with a smirk.

Quinn rebuffed her smirk with an undaunted smile of his own. "Not quite yet."

Chapter Two: Viva la Revolucion!

"More to drink, comrade?" the small, gray-bearded man sitting next to him offered Quinn Mallory in heavily accented English. Quinn declined the invitation with equal aplomb. He was starting to wish he had been able to do so this morning as well. "Is your loss. The cafeteria here packs a mean punch." He laughed heartily at his own joke. Nobody else joined in.

"Understand, Mr. Mallory, we didn't bring you here for the refreshments, although they are quite tasty," another man, younger but not by much, mustachioed and oily, smiled at him through yellowish teeth. "You have quite a reputation around these parts. You are a revolutionary."

"Revolution!" came the enthusiastic cry of those sitting around him. A few of them tapped their punch cups together in a toast, which resulted in more than a few drops of fruit punch landing on the disposable paper tablecloth.

"So I've been told," Quinn muttered in response.

"Do not be modest, comrade." This comment came from the bearded one, the man who Rembrandt and Wade had recognized and quickly avoided. Quinn was starting to think that for once in their lives they had the right idea about something. "You single-handedly guided the rebels into the Soviet fortress, saved the beloved Constitution from the Russian fire stoves and broke the Communist stranglehold on the West Coast." He sounded as though he were reading the line from a script, it was so rehearsed. He must really be big here.

"No one here denies your greatness, Mr. Mallory," this one from a shabbily dressed man with a five o'clock shadow who Quinn would have taken for a derelict if he hadn't known better (and he wasn't sure he did). "But the goals of the revolution changed a bit after you left the movement."

"How so?" Quinn asked innocently. His eyes grew wide with horror as he saw the changed expressions on the faces of the people around him. It was as if he had just asked the roomful of elderly folk if they had stories they wanted to tell about their grandchildren. The indignant cries of revolution deferred rang in Quinn's ears.

One man stammered in anger. "Why, the leadership was taken over by...by..."



"Animal abusers!"

"They were supposed to free America," another one, young enough to still have brown in his hair, told him harshly. "Instead, they settled for a California Republic."

"Bah, some republic," the short, bearded man complained. "Is country club for President Wilkins and his rich backers. What about the common man? He's forgotten."

"So, is that what you want my help with?" Quinn asked eagerly. "Spreading the revolution across America?"

"No, comrade," the hobo-looking individual said in a whisper. "This revolution has failed us. We need a whole new one, one built on the backs of the workers!"

"Or those who used to be workers," another elderly gentleman threw in. Everyone nodded sagely. "You can lead us into a new socialist paradise! One that gives everyone a fair shake at life, or at least what remains of it."

"Wait," Quinn interjected. "Let me get this straight. You were on board when this Wilkins guy wanted to get rid of communism, right?"

"Of course," one of them answered for all of them. "Death to the commies!"

"But now you want to get rid of democracy and start a socialist government?" Quinn continued, his puzzled stare fixing on just about everyone in the room.

"Bah, some democracy," the man who Quinn now recalled Remmy and Wade had named as Pavel groused. "Is nothing more than capitalist aristocracy."

"You don't have to decide one way or the other right now," the oily-haired man reminded him. "Just relax, play some Bingo with us, and think about it a while. Capice?" Quinn managed to nod. He just knew it had been a bad idea to come to the rec center on Bingo night.

Quinn Mallory groggily dragged himself across the street to a phone booth that looked like it had seen sturdier days. Still, he managed to cram himself into it and pick up the ringing receiver. "What is it?" he asked irritably.

"I...apologize for the means of contact, comrade," one of the familiar voices from the rec center told him breathily. "But we cannot be too careful. Wilkins' spies are everywhere."

"It's three o'clock in the freaking morning!" Quinn yelled into the phone. "Wilkins' spies are asleep, just like everybody else with any choice in the matter. Goodbye!"

"Wait," the voice called out from the other end just as Quinn released it to swing like a pendulum within the booth, smacking itself silly in the process. With some grumbling, he picked it back up. "Meet us in the park at three o'clock in the afternoon. We are having an anti-anti-government rally. Your presence there would be beneficial to our movement."

Quinn wasn't sure he heard that right, nor was he sure he had wanted to. He sighed. "Fine. If you'll leave me alone I'll be there. But, uh," he leaned into the phone, getting in the conspiratorial mood somewhat, "what exactly do you want me to do?"

"Free the Pigeons!" Quinn called out unenthusiastically from a park bench. Around him, his elder comrades-in-arms chanted similar phrases, and some held signs that read "Pigeon Toe the Line for our Feathered Friends." Quinn wasn't entirely sure he had been this humiliated in his life, but he wasn't going to waste time comparing embarrassments in order to find out.

It was definitely the most public of said humiliations, however. Crowds of people gathered around to gawk at the latest weirdos parading their wares at Golden Gate Park. In this case, what the people were selling was a new government, which made the spectacle no less appealing for the same sort of on-lookers who would be enthralled by a train wreck. Quinn had tried bringing the fact that all the attention they were drawing was negative to his comrades-in-arms, but had been roared down with a chorus of pro-pigeon chants.

Among those mocking the proceedings were Rembrandt, Wade and Diana. Remmy fired the first shot. "Man, I can't believe Quinn let himself get suckered into throwing in with these rejects. I mean helping freedom fighters is one thing, but these people are just...nuts."

Wade, her expression serious, munched peanuts as she watched the proceedings. "They're extremely misguided, to be sure. I mean, I've seen more than a few revolutions in my day, and these people don't know the first thing about starting one. First of all, the distribution of manpower's all wrong. The movement has too many elderly people to begin with, not that I'm using age discrimination here mind you, but they should be compensating by sending out whatever young, able-bodied people they do have, like Quinn for instance, door-to-door. Nothing says 'you have nothing to lose but your chains' better than a personal appeal. Secondly, pigeon mistreatment? Yeah, there's an issue that's going to resonate with Joe Sixpack. What's their complaint about that anyway?"

"That feeding the pigeons in Golden Gate Park has been restricted to designated areas," Diana replied with a snicker as she perused one of their shoddily-reprinted pamphlets with squinting eyes.

Wade gestured towards the protesters. "See? There's another thing. They really need to find a better way to get their message across."

"I'm sure you have a few suggestions," Rembrandt remarked dryly.

Wade nodded vigorously. "You're damn right I... Wait, are you patronizing me?"

"Never," Remmy answered. "I'm just thinking you've done this way too many times, girl. Better sit this one out."

Wade acquiesced with a shrug. Diana pointed to Quinn as he moved to greet them. "Hey, I think they finally gave him a break."

Unfortunately, his fellow sliders were unwilling to do the same. "We, uh, brought you a change of clothes like you asked." Wade told him with a knowing smile.

"Thanks," Quinn replied flatly as he quickly removed his 'Socialism- It's Not Just for Wimpy European Countries Anymore' T-shirt (it had been rather thoroughly soiled by their feathered comrades) and donned one of his normal short-sleevers. "They say I can take a lunch break. Who else is hungry?"

"I was before I saw that shirt," Diana remarked distastefully.

"I could use a real meal," Wade responded. "These freedom peanuts taste strange." She tossed the offending nuts in a nearby trash can.

Quinn grimaced. "Actually, that's...pigeon food, Wade. Genetically engineered birdseed, mostly. I thought I told you."

As Wade made a valiant effort to remove every particle of the substance from inside her mouth, Rembrandt turned to Quinn. "If you don't mind me asking, what on Earth possessed you to go through with this?"

Quinn shrugged lightly. "My double started this revolution, but the people who finished it didn't follow through," he explained. "I don't know, I guess I just feel a responsibility to these people because of what he did. Or maybe because of what he didn't do."

"I get that," Rembrandt replied with a nod. He then held up Quinn's t-shirt by one of its few clean places. "But do you have to do it this way?"

"At least there's no chance of taking a stray bullet," Quinn told him with a smile. "So did you really meet this Wilkins guy before?"

"Sure," Remmy said with a slight grin of his own. "But that's a story best told by Wade." He turned to his longtime fellow female slider, who had just finished clearing her palette.

Wade relished the opportunity to recount one of her most exciting hours from their early adventures. "It was our first slide. Well, if you don't count the ice tornado. And on that world, I was the big revolutionary leader. Anyway, it was a lot like this world, only the Russians had apparently taken it over by force, and..." Quinn started tuning her out within a few moments. His eyes were fixed on an object adorning the park: a statue of himself. The plaque below it read: Quinn Mallory, Hero of the California Revolution. It was a shining monument to a time gone by and a handy physical representation of what Quinn hoped to do as a slider. It also had about a dozen pigeons perching on it, so Quinn followed his companions down the avenue to a local Italian restaurant without hesitation, pretending to listen to Wade all the way.

Chapter Three: Protector

Quinn Mallory lingered awkwardly at the entrance to his house, or the house that would have been his had he been home. He gathered his words carefully, looking for some magical combination that might gain him entry into this place and therefore into the mourning process that the Mallory family was again enduring. They were only going through it a second time from Quinn's perspective, however. He couldn't expect any of them to be used to the pain of the loss.

By sheer force of will, Quinn made his hand make contact with the door. He didn't realize he had been holding his breath until he tried to speak to Mrs. Mallory. "Hi," he said in a squeak. "I'm Quin...Quincy. Quincy Quinlan. I used to work with Michael." Amanda Mallory said nothing, but offered a smile and stepped back to allow him inside the house. "I heard about what happened. I'm sorry I couldn't make it to the funeral."

"It's all right," she said, her voice clearly fighting to be polite through heavy sadness. "I'm sure Michael would understand, too."

Quinn nodded solemnly. A few moments of awkward silence passed between them as Quinn took in the house, his house as it had looked nearly twenty years before, with awe. Amanda Mallory tried her best to make polite small talk, but her best really wasn't that good.

"I was wondering if I could talk to Quinn," 'Quincy' suddenly blurted out. "Believe it or not, I went through something exactly like this at his age and I did some pretty stupid stuff. Michael told me quite a bit about him, but if you don't feel comfortable..."

"No, of course," Mrs. Mallory said, a little flummoxed herself. "I'm sure he could use the company. He's in his room, as usual."

Quinn nodded politely and took one last look at his mother, not quite as he had remembered her as a child, but close enough for him to appreciate the chance to see her again. Still, that wasn't why he was here. He made his way down the familiar hallway and into the room of Quinn Mallory.

It was filled with all of the things that had engaged his imagination over the years: model space rockets, plastic dinosaurs, posters from poorly animated Japanese cartoon shows, it was all there just as he'd remembered it. It almost took his breath away. Again, he had to make himself focus. He wasn't here to relive his childhood. Or at least that's what he told himself. After a few painstaking moments of silence, he felt compelled to speak to the younger version of himself. "Nice room."

The young Quinn Mallory sat with his legs folded on his bed, what might have passed for a pout firmly etched on his face. "I guess."

Quinn didn't expect it would be that easy. He picked up one of the toy dinosaurs from his dresser. "I used to have a stegosaurus almost exactly like this, but the paint job wasn't nearly this good. Did you do this on your own?"

"No," little Quinn answered, his voice still cold, distant. "Dad helped me."

"That's nice," Quinn replied casually. He cleared his throat and inched slightly closer to his child double. "You know, about your Dad..."

"I know what this is," young Quinn interrupted. The two Quinns looked at each other. The older, taller version arched his eyebrows, as if challenging him to say what was on his mind. "You're some sort of grief counselor. Just like the one I saw at school."

Quinn shrugged. It wasn't the worst cover story in the world. "And if I am? Does that mean you won't talk to me?" His double said nothing. "It's fine. You don't have to talk about anything you're uncomfortable with."

Now it was young Quinn's turn to shrug. "There's nothing to talk about. It was my fault."

Quinn swallowed hard and made eye contact with his double. "It's natural to feel that way, but I think you might be wrong about that."

"What do you know?" Quinn asked, hurt in his eyes and a muted sob in his throat. "You weren't there."

Quinn almost started to say that he was, but then thought better of it. He didn't realize how easy it would be to blow his cover until he started to actually connect with his younger self. So far, the connection seemed to be felt only on his end. "I know what happened."

His own eyes set in the face of a child blazed back at him. "Then you know why it happened."

One Quinn Mallory knew he was possibly overstepping his boundaries by sitting on the bed of the other. "I know why you think it happened. I know why you feel responsible. Believe me."

Quinn Mallory the Younger curled up into a ball on his bed. "Leave me alone," he insisted. "Just go away."

Quinn stood slowly and nodded his head. He knew what he had to do. "Fine. There's another room I wanted to look at anyway."

It might have been a bluff. Smaller Quinn unfurled himself slightly to watch as his older counterpart moved to the doorway. To be honest, the Quinn Mallory who was not of this Earth didn't know if he had the guts to do it, either. He hadn't on his own world. But this, very clearly, was not the same reality. He walked down the hallway slowly, his prepubescent doppelganger in horrified tow.

Rembrandt Brown's back rested uneasily against the hard surface he was leaning on. He had held this position for hours, and was getting a little weary of it. He watched Wade as her face contorted into an ever more intense mask of concentration. Remmy sighed. This wasn't going to be over soon. "Don't your thumbs ever get tired?" he asked her in exasperation.

Wade barely registered the question. Her eyes were transfixed on the screen in front of her. "What?"

"Nothing," Rembrandt replied, his eyes started to drift closed. He pulled up a chair and gave his back a rest. "Just wake me up when you run out of quarters."

Wade turned her head for a second and the distraction may have been costly, as when she looked again her game was over. "Oh, great. Now I have to start all over again." She angrily dug change out of the pockets of her jeans and deposited them in the appropriate slots.

Diana walked slowly towards them, her arms burdened with hot food. Rembrandt caught sight of her through one half-open eyelid and then his eyes popped open wide. "Good Lord, Diana! How many pizzas did you get?"

"Seven," she replied meekly. "I'm sorry, but you said you were hungry and I was hungry and then there was Wade and Quinn and possibly little Quinn and do you remember how cheap pizzas were back in the '80s? Besides, the cashier wasn't looking too closely and I managed to slip some bills printed in the 1990s by him."

Rembrandt rose from his slouched position and cast a wary eye on the people behind the counter. The last thing they needed was to get in trouble for counterfeiting. "We better take these out of here."

Wade nodded slightly. "You guys go on. I'll catch up with you."

It was Diana's turn to be exasperated. "Are you still playing that weird game?"

Wade scoffed. "What, you didn't have Ms. Pacman on your world?"

"Yes, but I always thought it was weird," Diana replied defensively.

"Look, I missed my chance to bond with 80s arcade games the last time we visited a world that was stuck in the past. Quinn says the chances of us running into a third world like this are infinitesimal and after the game had been out a few years it was never really the same. Just let me get this out of my system." Her voice pleaded with her fellow sliders even as she never took her eyes off of the game.

"Fine," Rembrandt conceded. "But remember we slide out tonight." Wade barely registered the remark as she continued making her yellow circle adorned with a pink bow eat small white dots. "Come on. We should drop some of these off at a local shelter. No sense in letting them go to waste." His fellow slider started to protest. "Just let it go, Diana." She nodded sadly as they walked back to their hotel.

"No, don't!" was smaller Quinn's last rushed together pleading warning before his older counterpart stepped into the room that had been verboten for weeks now. In contrast to young Quinn's room, this one was adorned all in pink, with a darling little princess mattress in the center of it. Teddy bears and posters of boy bands from the 80s (although was that Ralph Machio in Menudo?) complimented the feminine feel. "You shouldn't be here!" the junior member of the Quinn duo exclaimed angrily.

"No, I guess not," Quinn said, his voice choked a little with strong emotions flooding back to him. "But at least I had the chance to look at it one last time." His double looked at him strangely. "In the original history, all of this stuff was taken out. Sold or put in storage. All of it was gone before I had the chance to say goodbye to her."

"What are you talking about?" little Quinn asked, his eyes filling with tears for a reason even he wasn't sure of.

The front door opened and closed and Quinn knew he didn't have much time. He crouched and gave his younger self a smile. "Let's just say I made a mistake once, but it wasn't when I was watching my sister swim. It was when I was mourning her death. I was so caught up in blaming myself that I didn't take the time to really show how much I loved her." A look of confusion was still etched on his younger double's face, but Quinn went on anyway. "You blame yourself for being afraid, for not saving her, but you shouldn't. The accident wasn't your fault." Both Quinns' minds flashed back to that moment of panic, the very instant when Lily called out for help from what seemed like a mile away. The moon was new, the night was dark and the words spoken between the two siblings had been angry. Quinn ran to her as quickly as he could but discovered his phobia was too strong to overcome. "You're her protector, Quinn. Don't let her memory, her spirit, die."

"Quincy Quinlan?" the confused and slightly angry voice of Michael Mallory came booming from the living room. "Who the hell is that?!?"

Quinn grimaced sheepishly and asked one more favor of his familiar doppelganger from the past. "Can I use your window?"

Chapter Four: Live by the Sword

"So," a man who seemed to squint and sweat a lot said aggressively as he stood in the four sliders' way. "I can plainly see that you're not packing cold."

"Packing cold?" Quinn repeated dumbly.

"I think it means that we're not carrying swords," Wade stage whispered to him, getting a good look at the variety of blades being toted by the townspeople who surrounded them ominously.

"Oh, right," Quinn said quickly. "That we're not."

The man continued to step slowly towards them. "Any particular reason for that?" he asked huskily.

"We forgot ours at home," Rembrandt answered for the group. He swallowed hard but tried to get the people surrounding them not to notice. "Now if you'll excuse us..."

"Wait," he instructed. He drew his sword. Everyone else followed suit. They began closing in on our heroes.

"I don't like this," Diana whined.

"This could turn pretty ugly pretty quickly," Wade diagnosed. "OK. We run on count of three. One... Two..." Before she could say three the mob were within hacking range of them...and were handing them the weapons by the handle.

"Here, take mine," one offered. "You can't go swordless in this here town," a thickly accented voice declared. "Nothing's too good for Quinn Mallory," the same man who had been gruff with them before assessed. Some even asked Quinn to sign their sheaths.

"Sure," Quinn agreed. "Is Limpy spelled with one 'm' or two?"

"Anybody want to guess why Quinn is so popular on this world?" Rembrandt asked, tongue firmly in cheek.

Wade flipped idly through the brochure for the hotel they were staying in, named after, well. "'Quinn Mallory, Father of the Sword'." She tossed down the glossy promotional item and threw herself on her bed. "Must have been a pretty difficult conception."

"You two can laugh all you want," Quinn pointed out with defensive self-confidence. "But I got us these primo accommodations strictly by virtue of being me. Top that." Remmy and Wade shared a knowing laugh but said nothing else on the subject.

"I don't get it," Diana remarked skeptically. "Swords have been around for millennia. Even if this is a parallel world, I can't believe an entire modern society developed without them."

"You're mistaken, young lady," a polite and vaguely Texan voice called out from the doorway. Remmy and Wade rose protectively. They couldn't believe they'd forgotten to close and lock the door. "Quinn Mallory didn't invent swords. He discovered the sword."

"What's the difference?" the female physicist asked with a frown.

Their uninvited guest smiled thinly. "What, she doesn't know?" he asked Quinn frankly.

Quinn hedged uncomfortably. "Well, I've, uh, done so many things while sliding, I just didn't get around to telling her about...uh...why don't you fill her in?"

"I'd be glad to," he agreed as the smile disappeared, "but I've got a party to plan. A big ol' shindig in your honor that's going down tonight. I trust you'll be there."

Quinn attempted to swallow, but found he could not do so. He really didn't want to be skewered by an angry mob for standing them up. "Wouldn't miss it," he croaked.

"Fine and dandy," the man said with a dismissive smile and a tip of his hat. He exited without saying another word.

"That's one party I wouldn't mind sitting out," Wade muttered.

"Yeah, me too," Rembrandt concurred. He then got a sly look on his face and offered up a coy shrug. "But then again, who says we have to go? It's in Quinn's honor, not ours."

"Well, but..." Quinn stammered, "that's just a formality. You're part of my group. I'm sure they'd be insulted if you didn't attend."

"Your group?!" Wade retorted with an incredulous smirk. "You've been sliding for a few weeks and you already think you're in charge?!!"

"Who's going to step up if I don't?" Quinn asked with rhetorical bravado. "You? Sorry Wade, but I didn't think you liked playing hero anymore. Rembrandt? I guess if we ended up on a mission where we had to sing in a Grand Alliance musical, you could be handy to have around. Other than that...well, just how old are you? And do I even have to go into why Diana's a poor choice?" He crossed his arms smugly. "Face it. I'm the natural leader of this team. I'm the one people on parallel worlds look up to. Maybe one day you'll realize that and give me the respect I deserve."

"Something happen to your eye, Mr. Mallory?" the man with the wide-brimmed white cowboy hat and black boots asked.

Quinn reflexively soothed his shiner with his hand. "Oh, this. Some guy really wanted me to sign his mace." The real reason, the business end of a Wade Welles' left hook, wouldn't have fit with his macho image on this world.

"Yeah, the mace lobby," the other man replied with a sigh. "You might want to be avoidin' their kind. Desperate medieval freaks." A change in music signaled the man to take his boots off of the table. "That's my cue. Try not to blush."

The man, who had previously introduced himself as Hack Whitaker, approached the podium and addressed the hundreds of attendees. "I now call this 6th Annual National Association of Sword Appreciation Convention to order. I know we have a lot of serious issues to get to, continued dumping of Japanese katana blades in American markets and the new ban on semi-double-edgeds just to name a few, but I don't think anybody minded that we changed most of our program to honor our recently returned founder, Quinn Mallory!" Thunderous applause followed. After some prompting, Quinn stood and took a bow.

Hack flashed a winning, toothy smile. "Before we bring Mr. Mallory up here for his keynote address, I think a more fitting introduction than any longwinded speech I could make is the video record we have of Quinn Mallory's departure from our...well, from around these parts." That drew a small amount of laughter. "Enjoy."

A movie screen was suddenly revealed by retreating curtains and the lights died quickly. Quinn Mallory watched as the camera panned down the length of his double, who wore a dusty green jacket, faded blue jeans, a silly-looking cowboy hat and a look of determination. He had a gun in his hand. So did the man who faced him. As dramatic music played in the background, Quinn's firearm dropped to the ground. "No," he declared. "I'm not going to do this."

"You would undertake this trial unarmed?" a startled man with a shock of gray hair asked in disbelief.

"No, not unarmed," Quinn responded with a smile. "Just without a gun." From behind him, a figure who resembled Professor Arturo opened a vortex. And the picture got a lot worse.

For a moment, the camera was pointed directly at the ground. A voice was then heard saying "Are you getting this?" and Quinn was once again in the frame. He stood directly in front of the vortex, giving his face an otherworldly glow.

"You'll never need guns to solve your problems," Quinn declared as he prepared to jump through the void. "Not...'s lon..as you hav..." The sound was starting to break up. "your...ords..." There wasn't time for more. Quinn Mallory had moved on to the next world.

The people surrounding the scene were abuzz. Looks of confusion and questions were passed around. "What did he say?" asked someone close to the camera.

The man who would have been his opponent in the showdown stepped forward. "He said we wouldn't need guns, as long as we had...swords?" That did little to ease the confusion.

The film footage cut off there. Applause once again filled the hall. "Ever since that day, the movement to abandon the violent era of the gun has grown in stature and influence, and the sword has returned to its rightful place of reverence in our society!" He was interrupted by more applause. "And now, the man who made it all possible: Quinn Mallory."

A deafening roar welcomed the young physicist as he approached the podium. Quinn cleared his throat and waited for his audience to stop clapping. He had to wait a few minutes. "Thank you," he managed to say weakly a few times. "I'll try to be brief here. First off, all of you are very, very wrong about what my dou...what I said when I was here before." The natives were starting to get restless. "When I told you to stop making guns the answer to all of your problems, I wasn't suggesting that you just replace them with swords. Replacing one weapon with another isn't the solution."

"I knew it," a voice from the audience loudly complained. "He's become a shill for the martial arts enthusiasts."

"No, no, no," Quinn protested vehemently. "I wasn't advocating violence at all. I didn't say as long as you have your 'swords', I said as long as you have your 'words'. Talking to each other. Understanding our differences. That's the only way we can have real progress."

Hack Whitaker now stood and spoke up angrily. "We can't sell 'talking' or 'understanding'! And words?! I mean there's a reason the last bookstore went out of business a few months ago." He pulled his hat down firmly on his head as his right hand reached for the scabbard at his side. "We're businessmen, Mr. Mallory. And if you can't make us feel good about the product we sell, then I suggest you step back from the podium."

"But...what about progress?" Quinn looked down sheepishly at the hundreds of people staring at him menacingly. On the one hand, he was the man that had changed their world. On the other, they had invested a lot in swords.

"So you were saved by the mace lobby?" Diana asked Quinn as he attended to his two black eyes in the mirror.

"They were protesting outside and I just happened to run into them," Quinn explained in a groan. "I had to sign a pretty extensive endorsement contract, but I think it was worth it." Wade, still a little peeved but amused nonetheless at Quinn's discomfort, picked up the document in question. "I wonder if I'll be known as the Father of the Mace."

"Not with this paternity waiver in here," Wade reported grimly. "Damn. There were times when I could have used one of these."

Chapter Five: An Ordinary Life

Quinn Mallory felt as though he were ready to collapse. Actually, he had felt that way for most of the day, but now he could finally act on it. His car, sitting alone in an unusually dark parking lot, seemed a welcoming refuge from the craziness of the working week. As he withdrew his keys from his pocket, (his hand reaching down past his wallet to the familiar S.J. Sharkie-shaped part of his key chain) he cursed aloud and loudly as he dropped both his keys and his wallet and a sudden gust of wind blew them under the car.

As Quinn dropped to his knees, he began to openly grumble about this utterly miserable day. His new boss, Mr. Mainor, made Hurley look personable and intelligent by comparison. The incompetence being exercised by management at Doppler Computers not only forced Quinn to sell substandard computer tech, but seemed to attract the most obnoxious and ignorant San Franciscans as customers. It all added up to one big headache, day after day.

Peeling some gum off of his wallet as he recovered it from the ground (and making a mental note to thoroughly wash his hands when he got home), Quinn's attention was suddenly riveted to a large whooshing sound not far from where he crouched. Moving closer to the noise, he discovered it was accompanied by a large blue glow that was very familiar. Also, it seemed that some oddly dressed people were falling out of an alley.

A petite African-American woman wearing a ringmaster's outfit stumbled into his line of sight. In her hand was a small electronic device that, after thinking for a moment, he concluded looked strikingly similar to the timing gizmo he had invented years ago. Following her within a few moments was a larger, older person in a clown costume swearing up a storm who nearly crashed into the Ringmistress.

'What the hell is going on here?' Quinn wondered to himself. 'A hoax? A hallucination? A Universoul Circus troupe doing an elaborate light show?' Or was this, finally, what he always knew was true? The possibility, nay, the certainty of interdimensional travel, with the proof showing itself before his very eyes?

It became a lot more believable as he recognized the third slider to tumble gracefully on the pavement. "Wade," he whispered aloud. Immediately, his thoughts flew to that day in his basement, years ago. Hadn't she begged him to take her for a spin around the universe? He had longed to, but his fears got the best of him.

"October 10th. After a week of studying it, Professor Arturo and I have concluded that the wormhole I created in my basement...needs further study. 'It's frustrating as hell, but this could be the greatest scientific discovery of all time. We cannot rush things.' That's what he says, anyway. I'm tempted to enlist Bennish's help and try to do an end run around the Professor by going directly to the new dean. There seems to be some friction there. I don't know, though. It doesn't seem fair to Arturo somehow."

The final piece of this odd ensemble was a reasonably tall man in a yellow jumpsuit with a matching motorcycle helmet covering his head. Once the helmet was removed, Quinn recognized the man as himself. Or himself as he would have looked on another world. "Nice haircut," he commented sarcastically. He then made his voice fall silent. Quinn wanted to watch these people for a while, so that he could discern their intentions here. After all, it stood to reason that people traveling interdimensionally would have a purpose for doing so, and that purpose could well be nefarious.

The anger of the eldest traveler seemed to bear that out. "That does it!" the man in the clown suit exclaimed and pointed an accusatory finger at his double. "We have put up with a lot of crap during this 'double obsession' phase of yours, but I am not going to be embarrassed like that again, you hear?" The other Quinn started to say something but wasn't able to. "I don't even want to talk about it anymore, OK? I just want to get out of this ridiculous outfit, have a long, hot shower and get a good night's rest."

"Um, guys," the woman in the large black hat and red coat said meekly. She held up the timing device. "Less than two minutes."

"Great," Wade grumbled as she looked down at her oversized leotard, which was multiple shades of purple. "That's not even enough time to change clothes."

"Tell me about it. At least you don't have make-up on," the clown reminded her. Wade gave him a skeptical look. "OK, so you do, but my situation's different. This mime gunk was put on me against my will." He turned around to get a poignant glance in at Quinn. "I am not a freakin' circus clown."

"Could have fooled me," the Quinn that was in the yellow outfit muttered aloud. Before the irate man who apparently wasn't a clown could launch into him again, Quinn cut him off. "I'm getting pretty damn sick of your complaining. My autistic double had never seen a circus. It was his lifelong dream. We were doing a good thing back there." These people didn't seem malicious after all. Well, except maybe to each other. Dare he make contact with them?

"November 25th. Days of piecing together what went wrong with the public exhibition have resulted in alterations in almost every part of the machine... but nothing that makes the device generate another vortex. Professor Arturo wants to move the entire experiment to a lab on campus and get more of his students to work on it. He wants them as witnesses if you ask me, in case lightning strikes more than twice. I guess he's tired of being laughed at, too."

"You could have slipped him a twenty and sent him to Wringling Brothers!" Rembrandt exclaimed as, with great effort, he removed a small pebble from his large floppy shoe. "And don't give me that crap about circuses being banned in the city. He could have left San Francisco."

"He did have that little clown car," Diana pointed out. "Wait, can you drive those on the open road?"

"You're all heartless," Quinn assessed in huffy disbelief.

Wade wasn't going to take that lying down. "That's not fair, Quinn. I was the one who suggested bringing the circus to him. And Remmy came up with the idea of selling popcorn."

"That's not the point," Quinn came back. "I'm the only one turning what would otherwise be wasted, random slides into an opportunity to accomplish something. Don't you want to interact with your own doubles? Find out what your life is on another world?"

"I've met doubles that made me never want to see my face again," Wade told him. Rembrandt and Diana nodded their approval, but were unwilling to elaborate further. "If you keep interfering in the lives of your other selves, sooner or later you're going to get burned. Maybe literally."

The wormhole opened unceremoniously and Diana leapt through first. Rembrandt quickly followed. "Think about it," Wade advised as she hurled herself into the void.

"Not likely," Quinn muttered, his gaze turning slowly from the vortex to take one last look at this world. "I'm just sorry I didn't have time to find my double on this world." He then disappeared. After a moment, so did the wormhole.

Finally able to breathe again, Quinn Mallory found himself standing slowly and then ambling over to where the void had recently opened and then closed again before he even really knew for sure what was happening. He ran his hand along the place where the void had been. "I'm not crazy," he whispered joyously. But a whisper wasn't enough to convey how he felt. "I'm not crazy!" He laughed and wept at the same time, overcome with a feeling he hadn't experienced in a long while. Hope.

"January 9th. Unbelievable. Professor Arturo killed the on-campus project. Which means I have to take everything back to the basement. Not nearly as fancy, but I did do my best work here. Didn't I? I'm not sure. It's hard to be sure of anything. Maybe the energy field the device generates causes hallucinations. Maybe nothing happened the other times when I thought I saw this...this void. The Professor's started talking that way. As for me, I just don't know yet. I... I need more time."

Quinn Mallory glanced down at his watch happily as he strode through the door of the Mallory house. His mother would be out for another hour. Just enough time to get things back on the right track.

The shrill tone of the telephone rang in his ears, but he really didn't care. As he bounded down the basement staircase two steps at a time, the computerized answering machine message was barely audible. "Hey Quinn, it's Wade. I thought you said last week this was about the time you usually got home. I guess not. Anyway, Bobby and I thought we'd go to that new place on Sullivan. I know you hate being a third wheel, but who knows? Maybe you'll find Ms. Right." She laughed, but the amusement in her voice was warm and genuine. "Then again, maybe not. Call me when you get in. Bye."

Quinn flipped the lights on and immediately blanched at the amount of dust that covered everything in the basement. He usually only had time to come down here in the mornings, and then mostly just to watch television. He never even mentally registered how much this place had fallen apart. The only thing not completely covered in cobwebs and dust was the machine itself, which was covered with a beige tarpaulin. Of course, the tarp itself was dusty. Quinn unceremoniously removed it. After coughing for a few seconds, he surveyed what was left of the device. He then strode over to the chalkboard. After wiping the grime from its surface, he saw that nothing remained of that famously frustrating equation. "Guess it's back to the drawing board."

"February 3rd. Professor Arturo has strongly recommended that I alter the premise of my doctoral thesis. Essentially, give up on anti-gravity and whatever...this...was. But I'm not giving up. I'm not. Not as long as I have this basement, the device. I can bring it back, I can. I've been going over the tapes, trying to figure out how I did it before, what was different. If only it hadn't been an accident, if only I could figure out this blasted equation! If only."

Quinn stopped the tape. He didn't need to hear anymore. There had been too many "if only"'s in his life over the last several years. There was no way to go back and change history, at least none that he had figured out yet. The only thing he should have been concerning himself about was the reality of the present and the potential of the future. Now that he knew at least some version of himself possessed the potential to develop interdimensional travel, all that he had to do was realize it in the here and now.

Rising from the worn chair, Quinn Mallory once again stood in front of his camcorder. He pushed the record button and timidly began to speak. "August 19th..."

Chapter Six: The Man Who Saved the World

"Are you going to need a lozenge?" was the first question Lesley Stahl asked Quinn Mallory as they sat down for his television interview. He had attempted to clear his throat in an effort at modesty, but ended up with a severe coughing fit. Luckily, the cameras were not yet rolling.

"I'll be fine," a red-faced Quinn assured the '24 Hours' reporter. He only wished he believed that. This world had certainly been the most personally demanding he'd yet visited; he had barely had a chance to even get settled into his hotel with his fellow sliders. Maybe that was just as well. His companions were barely speaking to him.

After getting a nod from her producer, Ms. Stahl turned to look at Quinn. "We're just about ready to start. Are you sure we can't get you anything?"

"A peek at the questions would be nice," Quinn muttered.

Stahl pulled her face back in a slight grimace. "Sorry. Full enclosure laws strictly prevent it."

There was a quick adjustment made to the lighting and then the familiar countdown was heard. Quinn tried to mentally exterminate the butterflies in his stomach. It didn't work. "Hello and welcome to this special edition of '24 Hours'. Tonight, Quinn Mallory. He's back. What does it mean? What are his plans for us? Has he been dating? In this hour, we will attempt to get answers from the elusive Mr. Mallory, we will be taking your phone calls in our 'Spotlight' segment and Quinn will give you his reaction live, plus Mickey Rooney's piece on why shower curtain production has gone downhill lately. Stay tuned."

"I don't like this," Rembrandt complained as the show went to commercial. "It's not good for our mission and it's going to make it tougher to slide out of here."

"I wouldn't worry about that," Wade assured him as she shook her head dismissively. "Don't you think it's odd that we've run into so many situations on different worlds where Quinn's double is the focal point?"

Diana was somewhat impressed by Wade's observation, but for reasons unknown to her, she refused to let it show. "I've been thinking about that. It's possible we've reached a cluster of worlds that are interconnected by the actions of another group of sliders, one prominently featuring a parallel Quinn Mallory." Rembrandt and Wade looked at her with what they hoped was an interested gaze. It didn't quite work. "Then again, it could be a massive coincidence."

"I don't know," Remmy hedged. "The Professor's been kind of secretive lately. Maybe this is some kind of test. Quinn is the least experienced..." Wade and Diana suddenly shushed him as '24 Hours' returned.

"Quinn, I want to start you off with kind of a softball question. You first gained international attention by developing a cure for the MPA plague from a mixture of sodium sulfate and old Styrofoam peanuts, which in turn was pivotal in curing famed international physicist Dr. Laslo Favreau. Dr. Favreau, as you may remember, was the lone advocate of a large-scale missile defense system that would have protected us from an incoming comet, RTU43102. Unfortunately, Favreau suffered severe brain damage while dying of the plague and was forced to call upon your expertise to aid him in actually bringing the system to scientific fruition. Together, the two of you managed to shoot down the comet at the precise last instant that its complete destruction was possible. Once you began to thoroughly examine the comet, however, you discovered it was a sort of sneak attack vehicle for a group of interdimensional conquerors that were described in your 'Mallory Manifesto' as the Kromagg Dynasty. You made a nationally televised speech warning against the future danger of full scale invasion by the Kromagg. Since then, of course, we have been vigilantly waiting for these ape-like killers to descend from the skies, but aside from a few lunatic ramblings, we haven't seen any indication of their return."

Lesley suddenly stopped speaking. Quinn could only look at her blankly. After a few seconds, he managed to speak. "I'm sorry. Was there a question in there?"

Ms. Stahl nodded blithely. "Yes. Yes, I believe there was."

"OK." Quinn squirmed, shifted in his chair, and pulled at the collar of his shirt. "Well, I, uh, have run into a few Kromaggs of late and it seems like they've, uh, changed or reformed or whatever you want to call it. I wouldn't worry about them." He could almost feel the angry eyes of Rembrandt and Wade bearing down on him. "There are these new guys, though, called Lesion..."

"Let's move on," Stahl interrupted. "I want to talk to you about President Jobs' new health care proposal. Have you had a chance to look at that?"

Quinn's discomfort began compounding itself. What exactly was he being interviewed about anyway? "I...I'm sorry. I haven't. Was I supposed to?"

"All right," Lesley seemed to make herself say. "What about the budgetary spending numbers? Have you formulated a plan to bring down the deficit?"

Quinn's mouth was agape. "No. Why would you...? I..." His voice sputtered to a halt after a few attempts at indignant protest.

The seasoned CBC reporter furrowed her brow in a very pronounced frown. "Mr. Mallory, if you don't mind me saying so, it doesn't seem like you're taking our plight very seriously."

"What plight?!" Quinn demanded in frustration. "Everything's fine here. There's no more comet, no plague, no Kromaggs. Everything seems perfectly normal."

"But there are still problems," Lesley half-whined. "Surely you can't think that the world is perfect?"

"No world is perfect," Quinn asserted with confidence, despite his relative lack of experience in exploring other dimensions. If his newfound companions had found such a world, he had no doubt they would have stayed there. "But this world seems fine." Lesley Stahl just stared at him. "Look, I know I've done big things here, great things in fact. Saved the world three times over. I've seen the posters, the banners, I went through the ticker tape parade, I know how highly you regard me. And I'm glad I could be of service. But I'm not a miracle worker. I didn't come back to address some specific problem. I'm just traveling randomly. Well, not exactly randomly. In fact, this might be a good opportunity to tell you what we're really doing out here. You see, there are these guys named Lesion..."

At that point, certain large well-tailored men escorted Quinn out of the studio. Out of the studio, and into a large van. Once in the van, a burlap sack went around his head and a rope was tied around his neck. Muffled expletives were not reacted to. Quinn found himself rapidly blacking out.

All of this was inexplicably still being shown on '24 Hours'. In the case of one particular viewer, that was the point at which the TV was turned off. Conrad Bennish, Jr. let the remote control fall from his hand, while the other one stroked his stubbly beard. "Uh huh," he said aloud, using the negative meaning of that grunt-like phrase. "This is bogus."

"We've only got ten minutes," Diana told the others solemnly. She then turned to face Bennish. "Do you think he'll be awake and lucid by then?"

"Doubt it," he answered solemnly. Bennish was pretty much as Rembrandt and Wade remembered him, except he wore normal eyeglasses instead of sunglasses, was decked out in a freshly-laundered tuxedo and his hair, while still long, looked like it had actually seen a comb recently. In other words, he was completely different. "We're lucky we got him back from the Fedregs at all. They don't usually like to make nice with their political opponents."

"So few repressive governments do," Arturo commented. In this reality, Maximilian Arturo had opted to leave his sliding group and stay behind, fearful of what could be wrought on this nearly apocalyptic world when Mr. Mallory's improvements prolonged its life. He had reason for it. "I find it most unfortunate that my adopted government falls in this category, but it can no longer be denied. Quinn's kidnapping was illegal, immoral and an incredibly poor way to treat a man who they believed was a national hero. I am only heartened by the fact that we retrieved him before he was set to leave this world."

"Yeah, but look at what we had to give up to get him back," Conrad whined. "We had to cancel three rallies, abandon our tertiary base up north and I lost one of my best stashes in years!"

Professor Arturo cracked a half-smile. "Forget about the weed, Mr. Bennish. The dense jungle that is your mind is already murky enough." He then turned to face Rembrandt, Diana and Wade. "As for the rest of it, I would say it was worth sacrificing for the cause. Quinn's return to us, although short lived, should give our movement a psychological boost."

"Why did they do it?" Wade asked incredulously. "They think he's Superman or George Washington or something. Did they really believe they could hold him against his will?"

"Young lady, I do not believe they felt they had a choice. They have no legitimate claim to power other than what has been gained through the innovations he has given them and have nothing to offer him save for that. They will do anything to hold onto that power, and felt that he might be a further instrument of it, even if he had no choice in the matter." The Professor looked at an unconscious Quinn with an oblique sort of longing. "Some days I wish I had continued on to guide him. A brilliant young man, but so impetuous. Still, he had his father and Miss Stephanie as correctives. I felt a bit like a fourth wheel."

Rembrandt frowned. "Are tricycles big on your world?"

Arturo scowled a bit, perhaps taking the remark as a slam at his girth. Unlike their own Professor, this one retained his impressive frame. Bennish decided to change the subject. "So, how long have you guys been hanging out with the Q-Man?"

"Only a few months with this one," Diana answered in a voice too chipper for its own good. "We've slid with three completely different Quinns. Well, they have." She pointed to Rembrandt and Wade. "I've just met one. Well, I met another one, but I didn't slide with him. But the first Quinn was trapped inside my friend, so I never actually got the chance for a formal introduction."

Bennish looked bored out of his skull as he popped a piece of grape bubble gum into his wide open mouth. "Fascinating," he opined unenthusiastically.

The Professor still watched protectively over Quinn as he slumbered. Rembrandt sighed aloud. "We haven't done this in a while, but if you wanted to you could come with us. I'm sure the man in charge of our operation wouldn't mind; he's your double. And believe me, this Quinn needs some serious guidance."

Arturo shook his head proudly. "There is still too much to be done here. Quinn led by example on this world for the months we were here, but now no one is following that example. They're fighting for the table scraps of the accolades for his accomplishments, rather than furthering them." He took one last look at Quinn as Wade opened the vortex. "As for this Mr. Mallory, I'm not overly concerned. Though he may stumble, he will eventually find the right path. The one I knew certainly blazed that path wherever he went. Give this one time."

Chapter Seven: Skirt Through the Moral

"I'm through with this crap," Quinn declared to an already complaint-weary Rembrandt. "Trust me. My doubles are nothing but trouble. Double trouble. Heh. That's cute. I wonder why nobody's thought of that before." He was also very drunk.

"You know, if you had just listened to us..." Rembrandt stopped himself. Lecturing wasn't going to be helpful at this point. "Every Quinn Mallory you meet is different from you in some way, large or small. Sometimes you may not be able to tell the difference."

"I can," Quinn answered confidently. "Large is really, really big like an elephant and small is... tiny."

"I know the difference between..." Rembrandt began to fume. "Forget it. Drink your drink so we can get out of here. I don't like the looks of this place." The name of the bar was 'Lester's', a quiet little dive that was adjacent to their hotel.

"You liked the looks fine before," Quinn slurred in this establishment's defense. "'Let's go in here' you said."

Remmy shrugged. "You were determined to get sloshed and this place is within walking-while-dragging-your-sorry-butt-on-the-ground-behind-me distance of our room. So it seemed like a good idea at the time." Rembrandt cast a worried glance about the bar. "But this place is packed with women. Angry-looking women. That's just...weird. And a little scary."

"It's probably just Worked Up Women's Wednesday or something," Quinn said dismissively. "But if you want to leave, go on. Don't let me storp you. I can walk on my own two feet." At that, he looked down at his feet. "Hey, there's three down there! Cool!"

Rembrandt rolled his eyes. "Come on, Q-Mall. Let's get you out of here." He started to pick Quinn up at the armpits, only to have him go limp and fall to the floor. Rembrandt collapsed back onto his barstool in defeat.

Before he could redouble their efforts to get Quinn standing and walking, a tall, leggy brunette walked up to them. "Q-Mall?!" she exclaimed loudly. "That was my pet name for him! You blabbed it to this guy?!" Sympathetic coos from the peanut gallery abounded. "You...you jerk!" The contents of her drink were soon on Quinn's perplexed and somewhat sleepy-looking face.

As she stormed out of the bar, Rembrandt looked around warily. "Doesn't look like you have a lot of fans in the crowd," he told Quinn with a self-satisfied smirk. "Might be best to do your closing number and get out of here."

"I don't know what I did to deserve that," Quinn remarked with surprising lucidity. He then got mildly contemplative. "Maybe I don't wanna know."

"I'd say that's a safe bet." Rembrandt's arm hurt more than it had in recent weeks thanks to his failed attempt to get his erstwhile sliding companion to an upright position, but he offered it again to Quinn nonetheless. Perhaps it was a humanitarian streak that he barely knew still existed. "Come on, let's get you washed up. You smell like a roadie I had one time. Guy never met a bottle or glass he didn't prefer looking at the bottom of." With some colossal amount of effort, the two of them made it to the men's room and successfully made use of the sink therein.

After stumblingly exiting the restroom, the two of them ran into Diana, quite literally in fact. The three sliders quickly exchanged apologies, but nobody seemed to care all that much. "Didn't expect to see you here this soon. Or at all, actually. Weren't you supposed to be figuring out what some doohickey did before some bad guys with a similar doohickey could?"

Diana winced, but answered politely. "Yes. The Professor and I think we have it figured out. It's a good thing, too, because I don't think Wade was going to be able to take much more 'techno babble'." At that moment, the dance mix-style music, which had previously been only slightly obnoxiously loud, got a lot harder to speak over. "A team from the Arturo Center is taking over from here. We could leave now, but..." She took a good, long look at Quinn. "Maybe we should wait until morning."

Rembrandt wasn't used to being able to slide whenever he wanted. Thanks to some changes made to their timer, they could. He didn't know why that didn't comfort him. He wasn't quite ready to admit to himself that he thrived on the pressure of making the slide. "Sounds like a plan." His eyes darted across the room. A few dozen more young women had piled into the bar, packing the area close to the door to the point of congestion. "Damn. I think we need an exit strategy to get out of here."

"That's less of an exaggeration than you might think," Diana commented solemnly. Remmy shot her a curious look. "I'll explain later. You go on. I'll worry about getting Quinn out of here." Rembrandt nodded slightly and began weaving his way through the crowd. After a few painstaking moments of squeezing his slightly overweight body through a group of women who were still streaming into the place as though it were the only bar in town, Remmy made it to freedom.

Quinn, who had been nodding off slightly in the previous few moments, opened his bleary eyes and noticed Diana was there. "So, do we have a plan?"

"It's a little complicated," Diana began to explain. She hedged for a moment, then continued speaking. "And it may involve slapping you around a bit. Are you up for it?"

Quinn Mallory thought about the plan for only a moment, before the inevitable decision for bold action was taken. "Sure," he said with a coy smile.

Quinn Mallory didn't want to wake up, but he didn't feel he had much choice in the matter. The sun was up, his head was pounding and Wade was watching him with an interminably smug grin on her face. "Good morning," she greeted him cheerily.

He might have muttered something foul in response to that, but it didn't quite register in his brain and it had no discernable effect on Wade's unusually pleasant attitude. As he tried to move, he found pain met him in just about every part of his body. "I hurt all over," he commented matter-of-factly. "The hangover I get, but why am I so sore?"

Wade's smile fell to a half-grin. "What exactly do you remember about last night?"

Quinn pinched the bridge of his nose with the index and middle fingers of his left hand. "Not much. I remember getting drunk, being drunk and passing out drunk. The rest of the evening is a blur for some reason." Wade let a small chuckle slip. "Why? What happened?"

Wade looked him in the eye with an amusement that was hard for him to grasp. "Let's just say the women in the bar had previous, erm, encounters, with your double." She arched her left eyebrow. "And I thought my Quinn was smooth. You'd tell one girl you only had a few days until you left this world...and then move on to another one and feed her the same line. Rinse, lather, repeat. Eventually, word got around. They were pretty sure you weren't coming back after the welcome you got last time you slid to this world. The details are slightly sketchy, but it seems you were nearly high heeled to death."

Quinn was repulsed, but got defensive anyway. "You do realize that that wasn't me, right? I mean, you're talking like I'm the one who slept around with these women." His righteous anger was starting to boil just a little, even as badly as he felt right now. "How dare you insinuate that!? I have respect for women! I mean, I haven't even been with a..."

Wade cut him off with a quick hand gesture. "I really don't need to know that part. That's not the point."

Quinn examined Wade carefully. She was familiar with him in a way that was distinctly unnerving. "Then I guess I'm missing it. Either that or the pounding in my head is preventing me from thinking straight. Spell it out for me."

Wade crossed her arms and put a thoughtful pout on her face. "These last few slides, you've been going out of your way to impose yourself on other people's lives, trying to make a bad situation better, whatever you think you have to do for your double. You're like that guy in that time travel show."

As Quinn sank back to his bed, he rubbed his forehead in frustration. "Marty McFly?"

Wade bit her lip. "No, I think that was in a movie. On my world, anyway." She sat next to where he lie and started to speak softly. "Everyone gets curious, you know. They want to see what their life would have been like in different circumstances. But it's not always the easiest thing to deal with when you get a good look."

"Everything that you are, everything that you ever could be, every part of yourself that you wish wasn't there, you'll see it reflected in them. Sometimes it's flattering, even uplifting. Other times, it makes you wonder how you could share their genetic code." Wade took a deep breath and looked down at Quinn. He was sleeping once again. "Maybe we should talk about this later," she said to herself with a wry smile.

Wade watched Quinn sleep with fondness. For some reason, she felt like sweeping the events of the previous night, (wherein she bailed out the most recent slider Mallory with the tale of his callously leaving her in a breeder camp, thus giving her an opportunity to spend some 'alone time' with him,) under the rug. It wasn't this Quinn's fault after all. For some reason she hadn't quite figured out yet, she was willing to excuse his rookie mistakes. Well, most of them.

"He just needs time," Wade spoke aloud. She then covered him with a blanket and left to tell the others that their slide out would be delayed yet again.

The presence of the corpse made the facts pretty clear. The Quinn Mallory that Zeb Pike-Cross had been tracking for nearly a week now was deceased. Killed in some stupid bar fight over a woman. Apparently on this world, they were scarce and Quinn, per usual, was putting up a bigger fight for her honor than she ever had. Right now, the bounty hunter felt like breaking a few heads himself, but as long as he had the ME here... "I don't suppose any of his relatives have been over here checking on him? He has an identical twin, you know." There was no harm in fishing for clues to the whereabouts of another Quinn double, just in case there was one on this world.

The middle aged man shook his head. "Sorry," he said, although he didn't seem to be. That let out the man typically known as Colin as well; although he wasn't strictly on the capture list, Zeb suspected the interested party would accept him in a pinch.

Leaving the morgue as quickly as he possibly could, the elder bounty hunter quickly met up with his younger, and decidedly more feminine, partner, who also happened to be his wife. "It was him. Guess we should move on to the next mark."

Natalie Cross looked chagrined. "Great," she muttered. "This is the fifth Quinn we've tracked who managed to bite it before we got our hands on him."

"I know," Zeb replied as he withdrew their sliding device from his knapsack. Before activating the vortex, his brow furrowed in confusion. "I wonder if that means something."

[ Earth 2013 Episode Guide | The Otherworlds ]