6.21 - The Journey
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If you've never known the pain of being thrown on the ground so hard that it started to loosen the tape holding the skin of your stomach together and then sliding (if you will) in the dirt for about two feet after landing, then what Quinn Mallory was going through would be completely foreign to you. As he looked back up at the portal from a parallel universe that had brought him here, Quinn wished it was a feeling that was still unknown to him as well. He had gone through some rough tumbles out of the wormhole before, of course, but this time it wasn't caused by the force of ejection, uninviting terrain or any of the other standard hazards of sliding. No, the source of his current discomfort was his fellow slider, Rembrandt Brown, who was currently on a bit of a rampage.
From his vantage point of being on the ground, Quinn got a good look at Wade as she emerged from the void. She always handled herself gracefully upon landing. He was really too far away from the wormhole's exit point for her to have a snowball's chance of hitting him, but Wade still made her body roll sideways until the momentum stopped and then managed to be in a standing position within a matter of seconds. She strode over to Quinn's side protectively. "Are you OK?"
"Not really," Quinn answered hoarsely. "Is he...?"
Wade cut in quickly. "The Professor's talking to him, but who knows? I don't think he's going to be in a great mood when he comes through."
"Stupid," Quinn commented. When Wade frowned, he elaborated. "I was stupid. I guess I should have kept the news to myself."
"No, it's better that we knew," Wade assured him. "Here, let's get you off the ground," she offered helpfully as she began to pick him up. After a moment's effort, Wade carefully laid his shoulder back down on the ground. "Or maybe you should just stay there a while."
"Good plan," Quinn winced. It wasn't long before Rembrandt and Professor Arturo almost simultaneously emerged from the vortex. In an instant it closed behind them.
"Be reasonable, Mr. Brown," Arturo advised as he stood. "A display of anger is healthy, but resorting to physical violence against a man too weak to defend himself is going too far. We don't even know what's what on this world yet, we certainly don't need to start making problems for ourselves."
"That's all he's done since I've known him," Rembrandt said with harshness in his voice. "Abandoning us time and again, sticking me and the Professor in that hellhole war zone for kicks!"
"Actually, that was all part of a plan," Quinn started to explain.
"That's not the point," Remmy interrupted dismissively. "Look, maybe I was wrong to throw you through the vortex like that, but I'll be damned if I'm going to leave here before I give you a piece of my mind. You lied to me for months, claiming to be the Quinn that I knew. Sure, you had help and yes, you had your reasons. I guess I just can't believe I was dumb enough to fall for it."
"I've heard this speech before," Quinn said coldly. "Are you going to add anything new or can I get up and see if I can duct tape myself back together?"
"Stop being so damn glib!" Rembrandt cried. "You've been a help to us at times, I won't deny that. But none of it matters. Because when it comes right down to it, you don't care about any of us, not really. You're only looking out for yourself. That's why we're on your home world, instead of still out looking for ours."
Quinn made solid eye contact with Rembrandt. "You're wrong."
"I'm wrong?" Remmy demanded. "I'm sorry, didn't you take us back to your world as soon as you had the chance? Didn't you abandon us in our quest to get home without so much as a farewell? How the hell could you take our plans and spit on them like this?" Rembrandt was interrupted by the Professor clearing his throat. Apparently, their disturbance had drawn a bit of a crowd. Wade tried to hide the amused look on her face as she, Arturo and a nearby post helped Quinn to his feet. "And one more thing," Rembrandt said, unwilling to let go of his anger just yet and trying desperately to save face, as it were, "why do people on your world have three noses?"
"We have less than an hour here," Quinn complained to Professor Arturo as the two of them finished their meals quickly. "If anything had happened to me, there would have been no time to patch me up. It would have been the situation from two worlds ago all over again."
Professor Arturo did his best to be diplomatic. "I'm sure Mr. Brown wasn't thinking clearly on that point. I'm not even certain his little tirade was particularly aimed at you." Quinn turned his head to one side and gave a disbelieving look to Arturo. "Alright, perhaps I'm wrong. But I just spent the better part of two weeks with Mr. Brown. Believe me, he has other things on his mind." Arturo watched Quinn weakly stir his water. "And if you don't mind me saying so, it seems you do, too. I somehow doubt your own sour mood was brought on entirely by Rembrandt's ill-advised assault."
Quinn leaned back in his chair. "I could be home right now, but instead I'm someplace where they've apparently never heard of rhinoplasty. It's a little disheartening."
"Not to disparage your discovery, Mr. Mallory," the Professor advised, "but we've enjoyed precious little success with regard to auto-setting the timer. I maintain that slide signatures are still the foolproof way to get all of us home."
"I guess," Quinn conceded half-heartedly. "I just wish I'd had more time to work on it on the last world."
Arturo nodded solemnly. "It must have been difficult, passing up the chance to live for hundreds of years."
Quinn shrugged. "Anything involving indentured servitude's never really that good of a bargain. Besides, if I change my mind I can always go back there." At the Professor's questioning stare, Quinn elaborated. "While I was working on the timer, I also figured out a way to re-open the portal to the previous world we visited."
"Wouldn't that weaken its integrity?" Arturo questioned.
"Probably," Quinn agreed. "So I wouldn't recommend it unless it was an emergency."
"And we've certainly been prone to encounter more than our share of those," Arturo nodded. "I would say at the very least that it wasn't a waste of your time."
"I was even thinking about using my world as a sort of hub for our research," Quinn said with optimism. "We'd have to be constantly going back and forth between my home earth and a reasonably safe dimension in the process. But I don't know. Even if it wouldn't have an effect on the vortex, it just feels wrong." Professor Arturo started to say something in response, but Quinn changed the subject quickly. "Oh, one more thing I forgot to tell you about the changes I made to the timer. I installed an alarm in case we would ever lose it. I can't imagine what we'd have to go through if that ever happened."
"Nor would you want to," Arturo assured him. As the waitress came over to their table to present them with the check, Quinn couldn't help staring at her multiple proboscises. He tried to act casual, but eventually he drew her attention.
"Not that I mind the gawking, but if you're that self-conscious you might want to try staying on the two-noser side of town," she advised with amusement in her voice.
"'Two noser'?" Quinn asked incredulously as she walked away.
"Best not to ponder it right now, Mr. Mallory," Professor Arturo said with aplomb. "It's almost time for the slide. Let's go retrieve the others."
"Do you want to talk about it?" Wade asked Rembrandt, as their own multi-nostriled server deposited their drinks on the table.
Rembrandt took a long drink of his beer (thank God he was free of that last world!) and then shook his head. "What's to talk about? I told him I was sorry."
"You exploded on him," Wade said with incredulity in her voice. "Are you honestly going to tell me it was just because you thought he had gone to his home world?"
"I don't suppose you'd believe me if I said 'yes', huh?" Rembrandt replied with a half-smile. "Alright, fine. I guess I've got a case of the going home jitters. I thought about Quinn getting to his world, his life, and I realized how much trouble we're going to have rebuilding ours. When I left, I swore I wouldn't return without some kind of superweapon, something to drive the Maggs off our Earth forever. Huh, scratch that. I'm not even coming back with the same group of people. Hell, the only thing I have now that I didn't have then is a mustache." Rembrandt took another swig of his brew. "The last three years of my life have been one big waste."
"Hey!" Wade exclaimed as she slapped the table to get his attention. "When I left our world, I was being dragged off in chains to some Kromagg hell. I didn't know what was going to happen next or even if I was going to live to see the next morning. But you never gave up on saving me, and you know what? That made it a little better." With his attention now fixed on her, Wade felt she could rib him a little. "Of course, you didn't rescue me. Weren't even there when it happened." She looked up at him with pride. "But 'wasted years'? Come on. You've done more than most people can dream about."
"I don't know, Wade," Remmy hedged humbly.
"And as for this 'superweapon', where were we supposed to find it?" Wade asked with traces of humor in her voice despite her serious demeanor. "I mean, did you want us to drag Emperor boy along so he could put the entire Kromagg Dynasty in a coma?" She put her hand on Rembrandt's. "We've been through too much. We deserve to go home."
"Even if it's infested with Maggs?" Rembrandt asked with an eyebrow arched.
Wade shrugged but confidence shone in her eyes. "We can take 'em." She then looked away. "Of course, it's not a done deal yet. Who knows, maybe we won't get home for a while and you can ask Quinn and the Professor to work on a giant Kromagg-killing laser instead." Rembrandt managed to smile at Wade, even though his thoughts on that matter were with the terminally ill Arturo. His impending death gave a sense of morbid urgency to going home, despite the Kromagg threat. Remmy wasn't going to let Wade know how much his freaking out on Quinn was about finding out the Professor was dying. He looked her in the eyes. It was hard keeping something from her, even if it was out of respect for his wishes.
Lost as he was in his own thoughts, Rembrandt didn't see the Professor or Quinn until they stood right beside him. "It's time," Quinn said simply.
They all came tumbling out of the wormhole in reasonably good shape, and Quinn was grateful for nice soft wet grass to cushion his landing. Wade helped him up quickly, and they began to assess their new surroundings. "I haven't seen a world this foggy since, well, Fog World."
"I can't see a damn thing. Was it this dark on the last world?" Rembrandt wanted to know.
"I don't think so," Quinn replied warily. "I'm pretty sure it was early afternoon."
"I can barely make out the readout," Professor Arturo reported. "We have slightly less than two days to find out if this world is hospitable. But I suspect we'll find out sooner than that."
"It looks like there's some light coming from that direction," Wade said, pointing towards a faint brightness and losing sight of her own hand in the process. The four of them began meandering along, following Wade's lead as closely and with as little bumping into each other as possible.
After a few moments, the Professor stopped in his tracks. Rembrandt halted soon after out of concern. "Perhaps we should go back the way we came."
"Why's that?" Wade asked suspiciously.
Professor Arturo swallowed the lump in his throat. "Because those aren't lights, Miss Welles. They're eyes."
One of the creatures took a tremendous leap and landed within a few feet of the sliders, giving them a good opportunity to take a look at it. The thing was tall, sinewy and had bright eyes which contrasted with its dark green skin. Other features included wide, three-digit hands and feet along with twitching ears which tapered to a point. However, nobody there was really interested in looking at it. At this point, they were really more concerned about running for their lives.
None of the sliders could see each other, but their voices were distinct against the shriek-like hooting of the bizarre beings around them. "Run like hell!" "Where are we going?" "Anywhere but here!" "I still can't see a damn thing." It seemed as though their feet weren't touching the ground as they ran...until the Professor stumbled over something and landed with a splat in the mud. Rembrandt managed to grab Quinn and Wade, and the three of them huddled protectively around their fallen comrade.
"Curse this wretched swamp!" Arturo growled from his prone position. "Go on, leave me here. I'll find a way to catch up with you."
"That's not an option," Rembrandt told him sternly. "Maybe running's not the best strategy here anyway. I'm betting those things are faster than we are and we don't know anything about what else we'll find around here yet. It's possible we could be heading for help...or into the arms of something a lot worse."
Wade had been scanning the horizon as Rembrandt spoke. She pointed to a nearby hilltop. "Look, up there. Is that some kind of beacon?"
"Maybe you could lay off pointing out lights for a while, huh Wade?" Quinn advised half-teasingly.
"No, that one looks distinctly manmade," Professor Arturo concurred. "We have yet to discover what manner of men live on this world, but I'd say they're immensely preferable to these horrific creatures."
"Yeah, it's worth a shot. Wade, take the Professor as far as you can up that hill. See if you can make contact with whoever's up there. Quinn, you and me are going to see what these overgrown frog things can take." The others nonverbally accepted Rembrandt's authority and moved to carry out his orders.
Arturo lifted his arm over Wade's shoulder and limped alongside her as they moved towards their intended destination. "So what do you think, Professor? Should I apply for professional human crutch the next time we have to find work?" Arturo said nothing in response.
"So, do we have some kind of plan?" Quinn asked Rembrandt. "Unexpectedly rushing them, maybe? It could cause confusion."
"I think we should pelt them with rocks and see what happens from there," Rembrandt said nonchalantly. "But honestly, maybe we don't need to. They seem to be leaving us alone now that we..." Remmy was interrupted when one of the creatures pounced on his chest, knocking him to the soggy ground.
Quinn's hands quickly fumbled for stones in nearby mud puddles. He threw them as quickly as he got his hands on them, and as hard as he could. The attempted stoning had minimal effect. Well, except for one. "Ow! Damn it, Q-Ball." Even without the friendly fire, Rembrandt was having trouble with the strange being that struggled against him. Quinn watched helplessly as more of the things began creeping around them, seemingly entering formation. Both of them sincerely hoped it wasn't to feed.
As a collective cry began to gurgle in the throats of their captors, a crack of thunder filled the air. It took Quinn and Rembrandt a moment to realize that it was gunfire. The being that had been pinning Remmy to the ground now lay on it himself, cold and lifeless. Several other shots followed close behind and it didn't take the hopping green monsters long to figure out that they were no longer welcome here.
"Nice shooting, Wade," Rembrandt complimented as Quinn offered him a hand. As the former slider stood, both of them turned to face their savior. Even in the darkness, they could see clearly that it was not Wade.
"Don't mention it," came a familiar, if a bit raspy, voice. "Your friends are someplace safe. I'll take you there." Quinn and Rembrandt followed their mysterious benefactor uphill, and it wasn't until they were within a few hundred yards of the large torch that Wade had mistaken for a beacon that they saw the face of the man who saved them. It was another Rembrandt Brown.
"Good morning," the Rembrandt who had saved them the night before greeted the sliders as he rose from his cellar.
"So it is morning, then?" Wade questioned rhetorically with relief in her voice. Her next question wasn't rhetorical. "How can you tell? It must be as dark now as it was when we went to sleep."
"We don't get much sun around here, it's true," this Rembrandt, who was easily distinguished from theirs by his full, thick beard, explained. "But if you look at the night long enough, you can start to tell the difference between the lighter and the darker parts." He pointed to the sack in his hand that he toted from the cellar. "Anybody want breakfast? I've got some pretty good succotash in here." Quinn passed; the others were hungry enough to accept.
"How long have you been here?" Arturo said, as the casual interrogation began. "You know who we are, so I doubt you're a native. How did you come to live on this world?"
Rembrandt chuckled. "I thought my Professor had cornered the market on asking too many questions, but I think you've got him beat. I can thrill you with my life story after we eat. I'm not much for narration on an empty stomach, and I have to make sure I won't leave any of the good parts out."
Quinn Mallory came in from another room, holding a spyglass that he had been using to look outside. "Are you sure we're safe here?" he asked the Rembrandt who was doing the cooking. "Unless I'm looking through this wrong, there are some pretty huge things down there. And did I see a dragon?"
"You could have," Remmy answered. "You wouldn't believe the kinds of creatures that inhabit this earth," he said while pouring them all some kind of berry concoction. "I've been lucky to survive this long, I'll tell you that." He returned the jug to a large wooden cabinet and turned to face them again. "Not that all of them are hostile. I've been using some of them to protect my garden outside from pests."
Each slider made a mental note not to go out to the garden as the five of them sat down to eat. The 'indigenous' Rembrandt said grace and the quartet and their host managed to make polite conversation for a while until everyone was finished. Their host pushed himself back from the table. "Well, I guess I've stalled long enough. It's time to tell the tale." He stood, sighed and looked at the assembled sliders. "You sure you don't want any more juice?" The foursome shook their collective heads.
Bearded Rembrandt crossed his arms and looked down at the table, no longer able to make eye contact with any of his newfound guests. "I'll start by stating what should be the obvious: the reason I know you is because I used to be part of a group just like yours. There was me, the Professor, Wade and Quinn. We called ourselves the sliders. I'm betting that's what you call yourselves, too." Now he did look up at them, his eyes filled with a pain they were all too familiar with. "I guess my story should begin on the last world I visited as a member of that group."
"The fact that we got into trouble was no surprise. It always seemed like if we didn't find it, it found us. We had stumbled into the middle of an invasion; a band of seafaring marauders were trying to take over some mainland village. The Professor thought they might have come from some islands in the Pacific. The truth was we didn't know anything about the situation there, except that we had become prisoners of it, and it wasn't long before that description was literal. Some megalomaniac decided we were going to be his personal slaves. It was the type of bind that Quinn was normally so good at getting us out of. But we'd lost him. On some world run by the freakin' Egyptians, to one of their life-and-death experiments. Didn't even get a chance to say goodbye." Wade and the Rembrandt who had recently arrived shared a knowing look.
"We tried to escape, naturally, but their leader's goon squad caught up with us right before the slide. We'd made so many lucky escapes before, maybe we got overconfident, I don't know. But I was the only one to make it out of there. I told them I'd come back for them." He walked back to the system of wooden shelves that he seemed to keep everything in. Rembrandt withdrew a timer that looked like it had been smashed on something hard on one end. "This stopped me. A freak accident on the other side of the portal trapped me here. I tried to fix it, tried everything I knew how. But I just didn't know enough about how it worked."
"I know the feeling," Quinn remarked empathetically.
"So I've been stuck here the last few years, trying to make the best of a terrible situation. I won't say I haven't been blessed; if I hadn't discovered this little hill fort I probably would have been a goner a long time ago. This house and the things in it are the only things I've been able to find that suggest human life ever existed here. Of course, I haven't ventured out too far from this refuge. But I'd like that to change." Something about Rembrandt's whiskers made his smile look crooked. "In fact, I'd like to propose a deal. Near as I can tell, the co-ordinate storing device in this timer is in good working condition...and I noticed your timer doesn't have one."
The other Rembrandt eyed him carefully. "Got a good look at our timer, did you?"
"Let's just say I was curious," the first one answered jovially. "If you take me back to the world I left and help me rescue my friends, you can have it. Hell, you can leave us on the next world you land on if you want to."
"I'm sorry," Wade interjected, "but if our doubles didn't have any luck on this world, what makes you think that we would?"
"Two things," Rembrandt answered her with confidence. "The world they're trapped on has technology that's about on par with Medieval Europe...and whoever vacated this house left me with a room full of firearms. Second, we've got something crucial that we didn't have before."
"What's that?" Quinn inquired.
"You." Bearded Remmy then extended his hand to the young physicist. "So what's it going to be? Do we have a deal or not?"
Quinn nearly ran into Rembrandt as he walked out of the door, a timer in either hand. In lieu of a laboratory, the improvised guest bedroom was where he had been working. It took him a moment to recognize Remmy as the one that belonged to his group. "What's the word? Are they compatible?" Quinn nodded affirmatively. "So does that mean you're going to take him up on the deal?"
"Well, I thought I'd discuss it with you three first, but yeah, I really don't see any reason not to," Quinn answered honestly. "He's giving us exactly what we want. It probably would have taken Arturo and me months to develop a device like that on our own. Besides, it's not like we wouldn't have helped him even without that being a condition of the deal. They're your doubles. Why wouldn't we save them?"
"There's something off about him," Rembrandt declared. "My double's keeping something from us, I know it."
Quinn shrugged. "I haven't noticed anything suspicious. He saved our lives, gave us food and shelter, plus offered us something we need on a silver platter."
"And that's not suspicious?" Rembrandt asked with rhetorical vigor. "People don't just give of themselves without asking something in return."
Quinn shook his head. "He wants us to go save his friends from the hands of some lunatic. I'd say that's something."
"I don't know, Q-Ball," Rembrandt cautioned, with more than a little pouting in his voice. "Seems like it could be a trap."
Quinn wasn't impressed. "Look, I don't know why you don't trust yourself, so to speak, but he seems nice enough to me."
"Of course he's nice to you," Rembrandt said with a surprised chuckle. "He thinks you walk on water. No, more like sprint on water."
"You're exaggerating," Quinn retorted.
"I don't think so," Remmy countered. "I've never seen my face light up so much as when he's around you. To him, you're some sort of Superman." He gave Quinn a hard look. "What do you think he's going to do when he finds out you have trouble with more than kryptonite?"
Quinn started to walk away. "Cut him some slack, OK? He's been isolated from everyone for a long while. Of course his memories are going to be a bit...distorted. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with him."
"The guy was waiting on someone else to come and save him, someone exactly like how he pictures you," Remmy came back. "That's not just stupid, it's dangerous. If we hadn't arrived when we did, he'd have died here on Monster Island, waiting for a hero on a white horse to come along with his last gasp. That's not a way to live your life."
"What do you know about it?" Quinn asked, his voice possessing a strange evenness. "Being stranded somewhere alien, living your life from day to day, without anyone else to rely on? It's harder than you know. Sometimes you have to hope for a miracle just to make yourself wake up each morning." Quinn was lost in his memories of that unpleasant time in his life for only a moment. "This Rembrandt told me he never lost faith that he would leave this world. Not once. He prayed for it every day."
A wry smile crossed Rembrandt's face. "You think it was to God or Quinn Mallory?"
"So, do we have everything?" Wade questioned with a sarcastic smile on her face.
"Don't encourage him," a winded Rembrandt scolded her. He looked down at the vast array of supplies the five of them would be taking to the next world. "Next we'll be loading up all of the furniture, too."
The other Rembrandt, Quinn and the Professor entered the room not more than a moment later. "It's not a perfect fit," Quinn was explaining, "but I still think it'll work. I just hope the adhesive we had to use won't damage anything vital."
"There's only one way to know for certain," Arturo muttered pensively.
"They better have pack mules on this world we're going to," the Rembrandt with less facial hair groaned. "It's going to be pretty hard to hunt down anybody if we're carrying all this junk around with us."
"Hey, we need all of this 'junk'," Rembrandt's double reminded him mirthlessly. "This is a battle, and we're going to seize every advantage we can get. If that means we have to take everything here that's not bolted down, then that's what we'll do."
"Look, I didn't mean anything by it," Remmy said defensively. "I was just..."
"Complaining?" the other one asked, his mood lightening. "Yeah, I used to be pretty good at it, too. Look, I know you guys have been through a lot of rough scrapes before, but don't underestimate the danger on this world. Even though we have the edge in weapons technology, they're still formidable opponents. Your safety is going to be at risk every second we're there. So stay alert, and don't get cocky. I can't promise you anything about the job ahead, except that it's not going to be easy."
One Rembrandt looked at another as they stood on a sandy knoll, overlooking a set of manacled prisoners that were being freed, one at a time, by Quinn. "OK, so what was supposed to be hard about this?"
"No, 'this' was too easy," the Remmy who had been here before declared. "But it's not all there is. We still have more to do."
Rembrandt smiled. "You mean besides taking the place over and setting all of the prisoners free?"
"Not all of them," Professor Arturo reminded them from behind the two Rembrandts. "We still haven't found my double, or Miss Welles'."
Rembrandt's smile hadn't disappeared. "Well, we're working on it. What do we have here, four days? With that much time, I'm sure we can find out what happened to them."
"That shouldn't be too difficult. They're with him, I'm sure of it," the other Remmy asserted.
Rembrandt's brow furrowed. "You're talking about that Cryhela guy again?"
Remmy sighed. "Krah'aea, and yes. Once we find him, all bets are off. These are just his minions we've been dealing with." He had already ordered some of said minions to request his presence via smoke signals, which apparently was the time honored system of communication along the Pacific coast on this world. However, with their loyalties in question, who knew if they would really come through or not?
Professor Arturo was getting a slight headache from Rembrandt in stereo. "Speaking of this tyrant's lackeys, perhaps we should see if Miss Welles has made any progress, eh?"
Bearded Remmy had raised his spyglass to his eye, both hoping and fearing that the conqueror himself would arrive by ship at any moment. He lowered it and followed his double and the Professor to a small hut away from the shoreline.
"How's the interrogation...going?" the Rembrandt Wade was most familiar with asked as he entered the room. He stopped in mid-sentence as he saw Wade staring down another man with fire in her eyes. The slight man looked more than a little uncomfortable. "Uh, Wade? You do know the guy in the chair is who you're supposed to be threatening, right? That's just the translator."
"Yeah?" Wade asked irritably. "Well, then tell him to act like it. All he's given me is the same damn phrase for nearly half an hour."
"That's all he's been saying, I swear!" the other man said in nervous self-defense.
"I made him cry!" Wade exclaimed in disbelief. "Are you telling me that all he's doing is chanting 'I must wait' over and over again?"
He gulped and nodded. "In different tones, using different words each time, yes."
"Let it go, Wade," the solo Rembrandt instructed. "This guy is more afraid of what will happen if he talks than he is of you. I knew this was going to be a long shot."
"Great," Wade replied, throwing her hands in the air in frustration. "You know, it's not my fault the translator chip doesn't work with this language. What's the deal with that anyway?" she asked the Professor.
"How should I know?" Arturo retorted. "Perhaps it's simply a dialect that it doesn't recognize. Frankly, none of us know enough about the design to even begin to make an intelligent guess. We're just lucky they don't sauté our cerebrums."
"Are you sure this is the guy who's in charge here?" Wade asked the Rembrandt who wasn't in her sliding group. "Maybe he's just a decoy."
Remmy walked up to him, pulled up the patch over his eye, and revealed an empty eye socket. "This is one of Krah'aea's top guys alright," he proclaimed. "He takes their left eye out, and then puts a bounty out on anybody missing that eye that isn't in his employ. It's a good way to discourage rebellion, and to recruit people with one eye." He flipped the patch back over the empty socket. "Rumor has it he even eats the eye after he removes it, just to show how tough he is."
Rembrandt and Wade looked at each other quickly. "Kromagg," they said simultaneously.
"What?" Remmy questioned. "You mean those ape things in bad sweaters? What do they have to do with this?"
"We tend to run into them a lot," Wade tried to explain. "Well, more than you would think. Generally speaking, if someone's name starts with 'K' and they like to eat eyes, they're Kromagg."
"Nah," other Remmy dismissed. "I saw this guy up close. He's human."
"Well, they can take human form, too," Rembrandt elaborated. "It's a little complicated."
Before further comment could be made on this possible development, Quinn rushed in. "Guys, you might want to take a look at something."
"Gunpowder?" bearded Rembrandt wondered aloud as the four of them (the aforementioned Remmy plus the Professor, Wade and Quinn) inspected a storage area hidden inside a sealed off cave a few miles from the beach. "How the hell did they get their hands on this?"
"This world may not be as primitive as you first thought, Mr. Brown," Professor Arturo assessed.
"If they have guns, there goes our edge," Wade said pessimistically.
"We still have some advantages," Rembrandt reminded the group and himself, trying to keep spirits from sagging. "We should seal this place off. Keep it out of their hands any way we can."
A Native girl ran up to them shortly after they exited the cave and started chirping something. The quartet ignored her until she started repeating one word. "Krah'aea."
It took them a few minutes to reach the lookout point where the two Rembrandts had been standing earlier. One Remmy, the one who had never been here before now, stood perfectly still, the spyglass set firmly in his hand as he looked out into the sea. "Is it them? Are they here?" the other Rembrandt questioned frantically. One Mr. Brown handed the object off to the other one. He could see Krah'aea's flag ship clearly. The warlord looked as fearsome as he remembered, and rather too pleased with himself. But it was not he who Rembrandt fixated on. On the ship were his Wade, looking haggard and despondent, and his Professor, weather-worn and overly tired in appearance. Rembrandt let the spyglass drop from his hand, and the instrument landed softly on the sand below. Professor Maximilian Arturo, his gray hair long and his beard tied in braids on either side, wore an eye patch over his left eye.
One Rembrandt Brown was sitting on the little sandy hill, staring at the vessel of his enemy as it made its way gradually to the mainland. He seemed paralyzed, and had not spoken since seeing his former sliding companions aboard Krah'aea's warship. It was a safe bet that the sight had detached him from the reality of events around him.
The other Rembrandt Brown had a different reaction. "Damn it, we can't just sit here! We have to do something!"
"It's too late," the other Rembrandt decreed in a whisper. "Too late for that now."
"Don't give me that!" Remmy retorted angrily. "We can still fight these guys. We've got better weapons."
A large roar silenced the dialogue between doubles as everyone within earshot hit the ground. They watched in horror as a nearby structure was obliterated. Professor Arturo looked Rembrandt in the eyes. "They seem to have cannons."
"They can bombard the coast," Wade said, the strategist in her taking over, "but we've got a lot of land to hide behind. We can draw everybody back and by the time they can land any of their forces..."
The second Rembrandt seemingly snapped out his daze it was to interrupt Wade. "There's a river that runs alongside most of the settlements in the area. He'll sail down it and lay waste to everything in this valley if he has to. He knows that I'm here." He gritted his teeth in frustration. "We wouldn't even have time to dam it. Damn it!"
"Look, we're not giving up," Rembrandt declared with authority in his voice. "You proved you were a pretty good shot on the last world," he told his double. "You and Wade take cover here and see if you can hit anything out there before it comes our way."
"What are you going to do?" the other Remmy asked.
"Blow up the gunpowder supply," he reported matter-of-factly. "It won't do us any good, and it could make a big difference once his army hits the shore."
"Isn't that kind of dangerous?" Quinn questioned.
"Yeah. Which is why you're coming with me," Rembrandt instructed. Quinn reluctantly complied.
Wade and the Rembrandt who remained behind took crouching positions, surrounding themselves with features of the terrain as well as they could. "Still seems pretty damn pointless," Remmy muttered.
Arturo would have none of it. "Perhaps, Mr. Brown, but we came here for a reason. Our goal has not yet been achieved, and I don't think we should let it slip from our grasp without a fight." At that moment, another cannon ball crashed thunderously near them. "I'll just be down there, calming the locals."
Wade gave the Rembrandt next to her a supportive glance. "You want to take the first shot or should I?"
The battle, lopsided as it was, went on for the better part of a day, or perhaps the worse part, depending on how one looks at things. To say there were heavy casualties would be inadequate given the scope of warfare's devastation throughout history, but there was dying, more than either side would have liked. For purposes of clarification, nobody perished who intimately concerns our tale. But their actions left dead behind in their wake; not all of them heroes, but their passing worth noting nonetheless.
The captured don't make it onto the casualty lists, but in this case the five people who only recently came to this world felt rather like they should have been. In humiliation, they were paraded through the village they tried to save, and eventually herded into the provincial palace, which Krah'aea commandeered for his own purposes. From the sliders' viewpoint, those purposes seemed like doling out punishments and gloating vaingloriously.
On their first look at Krah'aea, the sliders concluded he looked like a combination of Genghis Khan and the Incredible Hulk, and possessed the charm of neither. The behemoth of a man looked ridiculous sitting on the small throne built for his governor, the much smaller man Wade had had little trouble bullying earlier. Nobody had the courage to laugh. Nobody had the courage to do much of anything. Upon proper 'encouragement', the Wade who had presumably been his slave for years spoke for him. "One of you must die."
Our four sliders plus the other Rembrandt looked at each other, fear and bewilderment filling their forlorn looks. "It seems most improper for there to be seven of you miracle workers among my ranks. Most improper indeed." The man himself cackled from behind Wade as she turned his words into English. "Step forward." The five of them did so without hesitation. "You," he said, and Wade pointed to Rembrandt, then, after a moment's conference with Krah'aea, both Rembrandts. "I did not find a need for one of you before. I see even less for two. One of you might be better served as a dead man." Wade then shifted her gaze to the Professor's double. "I know that the you I know is a capable lieutenant, but two of you might make matters a little confusing. Duplicity could ensue. Also, you are the oldest, the weakest, the most dispensable." The overlord's speaker then reluctantly turned to her own double. "I saw your proficiency with weapons on the battlefield, and my governor attests to other mighty feats you are capable of. Perhaps you are too much trouble to keep alive." With perhaps more hesitancy than she had displayed with her own duplicate, Wade looked at Quinn. "And you. You I know not. Perhaps I do not want to. I become bored easily with new faces. I like familiarity."
"I could choose," Wade said, her voice starting to break a little. "Perhaps I could draw lots, or simply kill whoever looks like the most fun. But I think it's more proper to leave the decision in your hands. I want you five to decide who among you should die."
Mustachioed Rembrandt spoke for the group. "We're never going to do that."
"I figured as much," Krah'aea smiled. "Kill them all."
"Wait!" The voice of protest came from Maximilian Arturo, sitting at the right hand of Krah'aea in a row of his top lieutenants. "There is no reason for their blood to be shed. Not when there are so many practical uses you could put them to. You've focused only on the negatives of their presence here, but there are many positives to be considered as well."
Krah'aea made a show of thinking the matter over. "Perhaps you are right." The next thing he said Wade refused to translate, but the Wade who had been traveling between worlds only a few days ago had found her face in the ruler's meaty right hand as he looked her over. Wade, and everyone else in the room, seemed to get his meaning well enough.
"That won't happen," Wade declared with indignant fury.
"Won't it?" Wade was back to translating, as Krah'aea got an amused look on his face. "If there are problems with docile cooperation, then it most certainly would not be proper to keep all of you. I would have to kill one of you, as I said before. The old man, perhaps?" He signaled with a movement of his hand to his guard to kill him.
"No!" Wade cried. "Don't! I'll..." She looked at the Professor sadly. "I'll do what you want."
Krah'aea laughed deeply. "So the game is played again, with the same result." Waves of sadness passed over the faces of both Wades. "I shall consider your potential usefulness. But I will not let your rebellion against me go unpunished."
The four sliders plus an extra Rembrandt couldn't see a thing, their nostrils rebelled at the smell of the place and they felt like they had been kicked by a mule all over. But those were really the least of their problems. The chains of their leg manacles were tangled together so that none of them could stand, but they weren't sure they wanted to. The place could collapse around them at any moment. Krah'aea had imprisoned them in the charred ruins of the cave that Rembrandt had blown up.
"I don't get it," one Rembrandt said (it was impossible to tell one from the other in here). "Why hasn't he killed us already?"
"Unless I miss my guess, the developments we've seen on this world: gunpowder, steam-powered ships, cannons, all of them came from my double," Arturo groused. "To this madman, we're not human beings, we're walking blueprints."
"I don't know anything about technology," another Rembrandt complained. "I was lucky if I could get my toaster to work back home."
"Better not let him hear you say that," Quinn advised.
"Another reason he's keeping us alive," Wade threw in, "is because he doesn't see us as a threat to him. If we're going to get out of here in time for the slide, that has to change." She tried to look in the Professor's direction. "You did hide the timer, right?"
"In a place he'll never find it," Arturo replied confidently. "But I don't follow your line of thinking. I doubt we'll succeed in taking this Krah'aea on directly. A quick escape close to the slide would most likely produce better results."
"That's what we tried last time," Rembrandt (who was now clearly the one with the beard) pointed out. "Trust me, it didn't work."
A thought struck Quinn. "Could we advance the timer? I know we'd be taking the chance of not being able to repair it on the next world, but it would be preferable to spending the rest of our lives here."
"Only as a last resort, Mr. Mallory," Arturo advised sagely. "But if we can escape sooner rather than later, I'm not certain I'd be opposed to it. We are decidedly outnumbered by Krah'aea's forces and I doubt he'll take his eye off of us for a moment. Any escape plan will be risky enough without having to worry about how much time we have until the window."
"How much time is there?" Quinn asked with concern.
"I haven't exactly been counting the hours," Arturo came back somewhat snappishly. They were all pretty irritable from exhaustion. "But we came in yesterday morning, so it should be a little under three days."
"I just hope that's long enough," a Rembrandt said worriedly. "Krah'aea knows how to play us against each other, threaten one to get the other to do something. That must be why..." His voice trailed off. "There's something else you guys should know. The last time we were here, Krah'aea wanted the timer pretty badly. That's the reason he took an interest in us in the first place. Unless he's had a change of heart, the location of the timer is the first thing he's going to try to get out of us, and I doubt he'll do it over tea." The three male sliders who had been conversing fell suddenly silent.
Quinn was unnerved by the quiet. "So, does anybody have any suggestions about how to get out of here?" he asked.
"Krah'aea can't keep us in this cave forever," another Rembrandt decreed. "We'll have to see what he has planned for us after that, but if he wants the timer, we're going to be seeing daylight soon. From there, well..." He coughed and cleared his throat. "Wade and I have a plan."
Wade Welles was alone, as was sometimes the case of late, when she heard a soft tapping against her door. Krah'aea was nowhere near so subtle, so she figured it had to be one of his servants who had foolishly forgotten something, or had forgotten to do something, and feared the wrath of his master. Wade didn't much blame them. "You can come in," she called, never rising from her seat to concern herself with who the visitor might be.
Rembrandt eased the door open and slipped inside without anyone noticing. "Not so loud," he cautioned. Wade nearly did a double take in surprise. She rushed to Rembrandt and threw her arms around him. Remmy couldn't quite bring himself to hug her back.
"Thank God, Rembrandt," she said breathlessly. "There were times I thought I'd never see you again. I thought you'd never... Oh, what does it matter now? You're here."
"I'm supposed to be somewhere else, so I can't stay that long." Rembrandt sighed heavily. "Maybe this was a bad idea."
"No," Wade pleaded. "Stay, please." She held onto Rembrandt's arm and guided him to a seat across from her own. "What brings you here?"
"I came here to rescue you," Remmy said, deliberately misinterpreting her question a bit. "You and the Professor. Now I'm just trying to escape myself. The people I brought here and I have a way to get out. But I wouldn't feel right about leaving without offering you a chance to walk away, too." Rembrandt looked her over, his face frozen in an expressionless mask and his voice cold and flat. "That is, if you still want to go."
A flash of pain in her eyes was the only indication to Remmy that a little piece of Wade's heart was breaking. "How can you ask me that? All I've thought about since you left is leaving this place, this world... How could you think I like living here?"
"Seems like you've got it pretty good," Rembrandt said with a short shrug, while averting his eyes from her. The anger in his voice was intense, but contained nonetheless. "This is Krah'aea's bedroom, isn't it? But there's only the one bed. So you two are roommates, right? Only you sleep on the floor. Is that it?"
"I...I'm not proud of...anything, actually," Wade came back in a very meek form of her own defense.
"You shouldn't be," Rembrandt told her harshly.
"You don't know what it's like," she insisted emphatically, tears starting to fill her eyes. "Arturo and I were here for three years and we had nothing but each other. He was going to take that away, too. He would have, if I hadn't..." Wade swallowed and made eye contact with Rembrandt. "I'd be willing to do anything to help you. But that's all I've been doing since you left. 'Do whatever you can, just so long as it keeps you alive'. That's what Arturo and I agreed to after you left. We didn't really think you'd want to come back and rescue a pair of self-righteous corpses."
Rembrandt looked back up at her. "I'm sorry, Wade. I..." He couldn't find a way to finish his thought. Wade found it sufficient nonetheless. "Listen, there is something I want you to do. But I've got to know something first. Is there a barber in the house?"
"How long has he been in there?" one of the English-speaking guards asked the Rembrandt with a moustache, who was standing outside the bathroom door.
"Probably as long as you're thinking," Remmy told him. "If he's anything like me, and that's fairly likely, he always has bladder problems right after being chained up in a cave."
"Or maybe he try to escape," another guard remarked suspiciously. "I should see."
"I wouldn't do that," Rembrandt warned. "I've always been jumpy when strange people come in on me in the bathroom. Now I'm not saying who would get hurt in that scenario, but you're the one with the musket. And I'm pretty sure Krah'aea wants both of you, and both of us, alive."
"You go in," the guard ordered. As Rembrandt started to walk into the bathroom (there wasn't any running water, but apparently Krah'aea loathed outdoor toilets), he said something else. "Send him out."
Rembrandt turned his head in deference. "Whatever you say." Once out of sight, he removed the facial hair he had on his face and began applying the fake beard the other Rembrandt had left behind him.
Hours earlier, the seven people on this world who weren't born on it gathered in a large, empty closet to co-ordinate their plan. One Rembrandt looked at the other. "Your quick change routine is going to have to distract the guards for a little while, at least until I can get close to Krah'aea's chamber. By the time I get there, both Wades should be in place and ready to move."
Krah'aea's smile was wretched, but the two women still managed to return it as he entered the room. Wade's stomach turned as she watched him look them over lustfully. She couldn't believe her double had put up with this for any length of time... until she remembered her own experiences, and shuddered mentally.
"The Professor's already got some weapons waiting for me near there," Rembrandt said. "I'll swing by, pick them up and come in the way you guys told me about." He indicated the Arturo and Wade who had been there when the other five arrived. "Meanwhile, the two Arturos need to see about getting the timer. We don't want to be stuck looking for it while we're on the run."
"Of course Krah'aea approved this expedition," Maximilian Arturo insisted to a team of guards outside the palace gates. "He wants to make sure the local population isn't planning another revolt." He quickly silenced grumbling about needing to get clearance from their leader. "Krah'aea is alone in his chambers with two very lovely ladies. For your own sake, I doubt you'd want to disturb him."
"Quinn's supposed to be working in Arturo's weapons lab," it was Wade who spoke now, "but instead he'll be out getting our transportation. I understand there isn't much in that department around here...so we're going to have to ride alpacas."
"Look, I'm never going to know if the device I'm building can be transported en masse to Oaxaca if I don't get alpacas to do stress support tests on," the aforementioned Mr. Mallory argued with the man who kept watch over them in the stable. He eventually acquiesced and let Quinn take several of the beasts back to the cave that served as Arturo's "lab". Once they were loaded down with food and water, Quinn's portion of the plan was fulfilled.
"Too bad Quinn has to be so far away," the Rembrandt who at that time still had his beard commented. "We could really use his help when this all goes down."
"Yeah, well somebody has to be ready at the rendezvous point, and everybody else is needed where they are," the other Rembrandt reminded him. "Once the Arturos have the timer, they'll join Quinn. Our journey will be a little trickier, but that's where you come in." He referred to his scheduled to be bathroom-confined double.
"What is it now?" the harried guard asked Rembrandt, who was starting to sport some serious sticky build-up on his face from the constant changes in facial hair. "More vomiting?"
"I think he passed out," Rembrandt reported woefully. "Help me drag him to the barber's."
"Barber's?" he asked with a puzzled expression. "Why would we take him..." That was all he got out before Rembrandt grabbed his musket from him, knocked him hard in the face and once again in the stomach for good measure. He went down quickly. More guards followed, but they soon met the same fate. Rembrandt looked carefully down either hallway. All clear. Now it was up to his double and two women who were both Wade Welles.
"You sure you're up to this, Wade?" Rembrandt asked her as they nonchalantly exited the closet.
"I've handled worse than this guy," she said with confidence. "It shouldn't be any problem."
The dagger that Wade had concealed under her pillow flew into her hand and was aimed swiftly at the heart of Krah'aea...only to stop short a few inches from his flesh, as she felt the firm grip of his hand on her wrist. Eventually the pressure forced her to drop the blade. The dictator flung Wade across the room and she hit the wall with a rather tremendous thud. Motivated by the commotion, Rembrandt made his move against the guards standing just outside the door to Krah'aea's bed chamber a little earlier than he had planned, only to be quickly outmaneuvered himself and rendered unconscious. The other Wade, who had not lifted a finger during the fight, cowered in a corner. All of this was accomplished in approximately fifteen seconds. The plan was out the window that quickly. "Take them out of here," the Polynesian conqueror ordered.
"I should have known this wouldn't work," the whinier of the two Wades whined. "Krah'aea got to be king of his island by besting a bunch of other warriors in single combat. The guy's a master of at least a dozen fighting techniques. You had no chance."
"So why didn't you tell me that?" the other Wade demanded.
Wade didn't sound too sure of herself. "I thought you knew something I didn't. Like maybe you had super powers or something, I don't know."
If Wade could have seen anything in this pitch-black cave, she would have strangled herself. "Super powers?! You risk your life because you think I have super powers?!! How stupid are you?!!!"
"What does it really matter, Miss Welles?" Professor Arturo asked with a melancholy note to his voice. "Krah'aea opened a path for us to lead him straight to the timer and we followed it. We've lost our only bargaining chip, and our method of escape."
A gruffer, more guttural-sounding Arturo voice chimed in with a one word summation. "Hopeless."
"It is never hopeless," Rembrandt said firmly. "That's one of the iron laws of sliding: never give up hope."
"Yeah?" the Wade who had 'gone native' asked cynically. "Seems like a good time for it to me."
Conversation overlapped horribly in the cave as the discussion raged on. Rembrandt and Wade were for another strike at Krah'aea, this time with more of the sliders in on the fight. Professor Arturo hoped for a deal with the man, perhaps fictitious advanced weapons designs in exchange for the timer. The other Arturo and Wade held their ground, maintaining that their circumstances were too dire to take further risk.
"Hey," Rembrandt interrupted loudly. "Now, I don't know about you, but I've been in some pretty hairy situations before, and I've always made it out. You know why? Because I'm a slider. Sliders improvise, they gets things done and whatever happens, no matter how bad it gets, you always get to leave when the timer hits zero. Now who wants to help me come up with a real plan to get us out of here?"
"You're wrong," Quinn declared with sudden conviction. "You're all wrong. A new elaborate plan isn't going to work. Surrendering isn't going to help. And offering a deal just makes us look weak, which we are." He paused a moment, and silence reigned as he did so. He had their undivided attention. "He's going to anticipate every move we make, just like he did before. Why? Because he knows us. He knows how we operate, how we think."
Quinn smirked, and although nobody could see it, they could almost hear it. "Well, he doesn't know me. I found the gateway to an infinite number of universes. I can change whole societies in a matter of days. I'm the guy that Kromaggs have nightmares about. I'm Quinn Mallory, damn it, and it's about time I started acting like him." Quinn was starting to get a bit too caught up in the moment. "You want to know what a slider is? It's someone who's just along for the ride. If you want to be that, stay here. Come up with another plan. Make him an offer he'll probably refuse. Or just give up. Meanwhile, I'm taking the fight to him."
Rembrandt tried not to scoff. Wade's voice showed serious concern. "What are you going to do?"
Quinn's voice was filled with conviction. "This guy doesn't play by our rules, so it's time to start playing by his."
"You heard me," Quinn, who was now standing in the shadow of Krah'aea in front of his throne room, said hastily. "I challenge you to single combat."
"I must say, this is amusing," Krah'aea reported through a translator. "Tell me more about this challenge. Will you be wearing a clown costume? Will we throw custard at each other?"
"Laugh it up," Quinn retorted angrily. "It'll make my victory over you all the sweeter." He seemed to take Quinn's advice, as he laughed heartily for a good two minutes. "You can stop any time now."
He wiped tears from his eyes. "Very well, spindly one. I accept your challenge. What shall it be, mudballs at dawn?"
Quinn shook his head. "Right, and have your goons jump me the second after I clean your clock? I think not." There was a look of defiance in his eyes. "I'll only face you on neutral ground. Something only another universe can bring us."
"You are truly foolish," Krah'aea declared, now in all seriousness. "This is an incredibly transparent ploy. You shall not escape so easily."
"So you don't accept?" Quinn questioned arrogantly. "Are you a coward, then?"
"Do not tempt my wrath, boy," Krah'aea warned. "I admit I know little of travel between worlds, but it intrigues me nonetheless. You play on this curiosity. But to what end?"
"He's just inhaled too much gunpowder," Wade threw in nervously. "He's a little crazy, too. So if we could just forget this ever happened..."
"No," his thunderous voice proclaimed, silencing Wade's protests. "He has issued the challenge, and I have accepted. However suspicious I find his motives, I will agree to his terms, as well. But I have some of my own. We shall go through the whirlpool alone, without weapons and fight each other to the death. Agreed?"
Quinn nodded his acceptance. "I wouldn't have it any other way." He cleared his throat, showing some trepidation for the first time. "I'll...uh...need some time to prepare."
Krah'aea's laughter once again filled the room. "You would need more than a lifetime. But I agree to that as well. Take your time. Practice any form of combat you wish. I shall crush you underfoot, as I have all other challengers." He leaned back on his tiny throne. "Contemplate that for the few days you have left to live."
Quinn walked out of the throne room exuding as much bravado as was humanly possible. Once outside, it was all he could do not to faint. This was going to be tougher than he had thought.
"Does your Quinn know what in blazes he's doing?" one Maximilian Arturo asked another. The curious one had only one eye and grayer hair. The two of them, in addition to both Wades and both Rembrandts, were staying with Quinn in a private villa not far from the palace. All of them enjoyed the improved accommodations, but none particularly cared for the price paid for it.
"How should I know?" the other Arturo replied dismissively. "It isn't as if he discussed what he was going to do with any of us before he did it. We all certainly would have advised against it if he had. But what's done is done." He looked around the room. "I'd say thus far it's produced pleasant results. Or did you want to go back to that blasted cave?"
The one-eyed Maximilian Arturo snorted. "Krah'aea is not a man to be trifled with. He will show Quinn no mercy. I simply fear for his life." The gruff voice of this Arturo seemed to soften. "I suffered greatly when I lost my Quinn. I wouldn't want to see you go through the same ordeal."
Professor Arturo curtly nodded his thanks. How could he let the other man know that he had already lost the Quinn he had known on his own world? It wouldn't have been easy, and in any case was unnecessary. "You could help him, you know," one Arturo told the other. "I'd wager you know more about this fellow than any person here. The fighting tactics he likes to use, hidden weaknesses and the like. Share what you know with Quinn."
"I'm afraid there's little to tell. He overwhelms the enemy with his superior strength and then kills them slowly once he's broken them," the silver-maned Arturo reported. "As for weaknesses, I haven't seen any." His eye focused on something distant. "If Quinn fails, this is the last we'll see of freedom for a long while. Possibly for the rest of our lives."
Professor Arturo smiled musingly. "Then he won't fail."
"He's going to get his behind kicked from here to the next Earth!" Rembrandt fumed. Along with his double and Wade's, he was a few minutes' walk from their villa, admiring the ocean view while they still could. "What the hell does he think he's doing anyway? He's being even more of an idiot than usual."
"Quinn's not an idiot," the Wade who was not his own scolded him mildly.
"You don't even know him," Remmy came back. "We're going to have to go to a Plan B. Do something to distract Krah'aea right before the fight goes down, then slide out. How does that sound?"
"Risky," the other Rembrandt answered. "Why not just have faith in your Quinn? I'm sure he knows what he's doing."
"Yeah, right," the Rembrandt who had begun the conversation (and who was now more difficult to distinguish from the other one, as they were both clean-shaven) responded sarcastically. He exhaled, seemingly letting some of his anger out with his breath. "Look, even if Quinn does have some great plan that he's not telling us about, it's still hard to leave your future in somebody else's hands. I mean we were so close to getting home, and now..."
"You have a way home?" Rembrandt interrupted, curiosity evident in his tone of voice.
His double nodded. "Once we got our hands on your doohickey, another doohickey we've had for a while made it possible."
"Could we use it, too?" Wade asked pitifully, giving him her best doe-eyed stare.
"Yeah," Remmy answered them a little hesitantly. "If we can get off of this rock alive, we can all go home. We're right on the edge of it, and now..." He looked back up the path to the villa. "Now it all depends on what Quinn can do."
Quinn Mallory emerged wearing specially designated training robes that were ceremonial to the indigenous culture. Frankly, he couldn't make anything out of the symbols and signs that cluttered the outfit, but they were supposed to represent courage and honor. Quinn needed all of that that he could get. He assumed a clichéd martial arts pose and shot his trainer a fierce look. "Prepare me."
Wade walked up to him and casually hit him in the gut. "Ow!" Quinn complained. "What are you doing? That's where I got stabbed four worlds ago!"
"And it's the first place Krah'aea's going to attack you," Wade told him sternly. "You don't need training, you need your head examined. I'm a better fighter, I haven't suffered a major stab wound in the last few weeks and I couldn't beat Krah'aea. Trust me, this isn't going to work."
"You win," Quinn groaned in defeat. "Let's take a break." The two of them made it (Quinn just barely) to a couple of small stools just outside of the room.
Wade folded her hands in her lap. It was time to try to talk Quinn out of this without causing him bodily injury. "What do you think you're going to do, anyway? Dazzle him with physics equations? Trick him into playing a game of chess? Or are you just hoping to slide in front of a mack truck?"
"That's an idea," Quinn answered optimistically. "I don't really know yet. What would your Quinn have done? Isn't this the sort of situation he usually got himself into?"
"Sometimes," Wade answered. "But usually it was because some blonde girl was in danger."
"Ouch," Quinn said with a wince. "I think I struck a nerve. Sorry."
"Not a problem," Wade said, shrugging the bitterness off a bit. "As I remember it, usually something lucky would happen and Quinn would be saved. Then lucky things stopped happening, the Professor died, I got sent to a breeder camp, and Quinn, as I understand it, faded from existence after finding it impossible to coexist with some relative of his in the same body. So I wouldn't really try to follow in his footsteps."
"I'm not," Quinn told her with conviction. "Believe me, I would never try to...replace him. I guess I just saw the other three panicking, and I knew what they needed was leadership from somebody they looked up to. For whatever reason, that person was me."
Wade smiled. "They had good reason, Quinn. You're not as inept as some of us have made you out to be. Except when you come up with hare-brained schemes like this, of course." This brought them back to an unpleasant reality. "I can probably get us out of here. There are a lot of guards outside, but I think between me, you and the two Rembrandts we can probably do some damage to them, maybe even get past them safely. It's better than fighting Krah'aea."
"We'd be leaving without the timer," Quinn reminded her.
"I know," Wade remarked sadly. "But we've got you, plus two Arturos. How long would it really take you three geniuses to build another one?"
Quinn scratched his chin. "With this world's technology and absolutely nothing to work with, I'd say about three hundred years."
Wade managed to chuckle, despite the gloom of his statement. "Bet you wish you'd taken that offer of a five-hundred year lifespan now, huh?"
Quinn had to laugh aloud at that. After a moment, he grew serious again and drew closer to Wade. "Actually, I do have a plan. I wasn't going to involve any of you, but it would help me out a lot if you could do something for me."
"Sure," Wade agreed. "Fill me in."
"Actually, I'd rather you didn't know the details," Quinn hedged. "But I have to know if you trust me."
Wade only mulled the question over for a fleeting moment. "Of course I do. What would I have to do?"
"Just be ready to move on my signal," Quinn said with quiet authority. Quinn Mallory and Wade Welles stood apart from the other five sliders as they approached the hill where Quinn and Krah'aea were going to slide out and then engage in deadly combat on the next world. It was only a matter of minutes now until that would happen.
"Any hint as to what that signal's going to be?" Wade questioned without much hope of getting an answer.
"You'll know it when you see it," Quinn assured her. "Wish me luck?"
"I'd wish you a miracle if I thought it would do you any good," Wade told him winsomely. "Good luck."
The other sliders moved closer to Quinn. "Are you sure we can't come with you? Perhaps attempt some last minute heroics?" Professor Arturo asked.
Quinn shook his head. "The deal is I go in alone. I don't want to make things worse than they already are." The looks on the other sliders' faces seemed to ask if that was even possible, but Quinn started walking away nonetheless. "See you soon," he called back.
Wade looked on as Quinn walked up the mountain path to where Krah'aea waited for him. "There goes the bravest bigamist you'll ever see."
The Rembrandt who had recently shorn his beard stood beside her, perplexed. "If we get through this alive, you're going to have to explain that to me."
Wade smiled. "Deal."
Quinn stood ten feet from Krah'aea, seemingly paralyzed with fear. He hoped his face wasn't revealing just how scared he was. From the Polynesian conqueror's amused and overconfident stance, he kind of doubted it. "Do not worry. I am a man of my word. I shall not harm you until you get through the portal. Then I shall harm you quite a bit." Quinn wasn't comforted by that statement, mostly because he had no way to understand what Krah'aea was saying. So he was a little jumpy when the behemoth of a man threw something at him. It took him a couple of seconds to realize that it was the timer. Krah'aea said something else that Quinn couldn't comprehend, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out his meaning. He wanted Quinn to activate the timer, presumably because he didn't know how to do so himself.
The ticking of the timer made it seem like a bomb in one of the dozens of action movies Quinn had watched back home. He couldn't stop looking at the readout until it finally hit zero. He pressed the button and watched the vortex form in front of his eyes. Lumbering towards it slowly, he prepared to jump through. A large hand stopped him. Again, the words were unintelligible, but the meaning was clear. Krah'aea had no intention of letting Quinn go first. He watched helplessly as the fearsome warrior regally strode through the void.
Quinn looked into the portal with dread. He couldn't back down now. There was too much riding on this. Quinn had to summon up a great deal of courage from inside himself, an inner strength that he had seldom displayed before. This was the courage that the Quinn Mallory his companions first knew seemingly thrived on; the courage of a hero. Releasing a deep breath, Quinn watched as the vortex closed in front of him. He looked down at the device he had built so many years before, counting down to a window of opportunity that it could no longer open for another 29.7 years.
Quinn Mallory had just watched his best chance to leave this world go up in smoke. But at least Krah'aea was gone. If all went as planned, this would be enough. Although this sort of trickery wasn't heroic in the traditional sense, Quinn still felt some measure of celebration was necessary. "Sucker," he called after Krah'aea with a wicked smile.
A small metal object came hurtling down the hill in close proximity to where the sliders and a bunch of interested on-lookers stood waiting to find out how the contest would be decided. Once it came to a halt, Wade picked it up. "It's the timer," she said with a puzzled expression. "Why is it beeping? And shouldn't they have already left by now?"
The Professor Arturo with no empty eye sockets picked it up and looked it over. "It must be that alarm Mr. Mallory installed. Good Lord, it's deafening." After a few minutes of fumbling around with the controls, he deactivated it. While the timer was open, he gave the inside of it a quick inspection. "Other than the alarm, the device has been dismantled. What's going on here?"
The other Arturo chimed in quickly. "Follow me," he instructed authoritatively. His Wade and Rembrandt followed quickly. The others hesitated.
"Do it," Wade told them. "I don't understand it yet either, but this is all part of Quinn's plan."
"I can't say I like it much," Rembrandt complained. He complied without further comment, however. They were all too curious as to what this 'plan' entailed to do otherwise.
"Missing the slide?!" Wade asked incredulously. "That was your plan?!!"
Quinn looked sheepish. "Well, when you put it that way it doesn't sound too great, but yeah. That was it." His voice then took a serious tone. "The problem was Krah'aea. He's been removed. Problem solved. It's that simple."
"Yeah," Rembrandt said angrily, "except for the problem of us being able to ever leave this world!"
"Perhaps I should step in at this point," Maximilian Arturo stated. He took on the role of master of ceremonies easily, perhaps because they were gathered in his weapons lab. "As evidenced by his interest in the timer, and his willingness to take Quinn up on his 'challenge', Krah'aea's interest in interdimensional travel was more than a casual one. He wanted to build a sliding machine of his own, so he gathered the largest collection of alchemists and artisans ever seen on this world and put them under my direction. With the limitations of this world's level of technology, we weren't able to actually construct a working one." He gestured for the sliders to follow him to a hidden area of the cave. Once there, Arturo unveiled a bulky contraption that would have taken up two rooms had it not existed in a large cave. "But we came damn close."
"Three hundred years, huh?" Wade nudged Quinn. The physics genius smiled, but said nothing.
The Professor nodded in Quinn's direction and he began unceremoniously adding the parts he had taken out of his timer to the machine. Arturo then turned to Rembrandt. "Do you remember that world we visited that resembled Victorian England?" Remmy nodded. The Professor picked up a small device. "This is the prototype of the timer I designed on that world. With any luck, and given that Quinn has upgraded it a bit, this should be able to open a portal." The aforementioned Mr. Mallory moved away from the device and Arturo activated the timer. A tiny vortex sprang into being, no larger in diameter than your average pencil.
"No offense," Wade said earnestly, "but none of us can go through that."
"None taken," Quinn responded. "It can't generate enough power to open a new portal. But it should have enough to open an old one."
"You're sending us back to the world we last visited, then?" the Professor Arturo who had been silent all this time asked, picking up on things quickly. Quinn nodded. "And from there? We simply retrace our steps in perpetuity?"
"No," Quinn answered. "That's where this comes in." In his hand was the timer, bent and broken on one end, formerly destined to be cannibalized for parts, which Rembrandt had insisted on taking from that world to this one.
"See?" Rembrandt said proudly. "I knew there was a reason we needed all that stuff."
Days had passed, and the seven of them were now on a world that three of them called home. In exchange for taking the trio home, the quartet gained the use of their timer to go to their own home world. It was a deal that seemed beneficial to all.
Rembrandt peeked out from behind a heavy red curtain. He then turned back to look at his double. "Are you sure you're ready for this?"
"I don't know," he answered honestly. "Going home again, after all this time and everything I've seen? It's not easy. I mean, where do I start? Should I try to get back in touch with my family? An old girlfriend? Artie? And how do I go back to my musical career? For that matter, do I go back to it? Or if I don't, then what?"
"Actually, I was asking about your pipes," Rembrandt revealed meekly. "I've done some gigs recently, but I'm guessing you didn't get your kicks from serenading monsters." He sat down across from his double.
"Oh," Remmy replied softly. "I guess I just spilled my guts for no reason then."
"No," Rembrandt assured him. "You brought up some good questions for both of us. Ones that I've been doing my best to avoid thinking about ever since the idea of going home came up. Most of mine are peppered with fears about the Kromaggs, though."
"They really took over your world?" one Rembrandt asked as the other nodded. "Damn. That must be tough."
Remmy nodded again. "Tougher than you think. The Maggs are really the least of our problems. We've still got Lesion to deal with. For all we know, they could have conquered our world by now. I told you about them, right?"
"Buncha short yellow folks with a really big tin god? Yeah. We'll be on the lookout." Rembrandt gave his other a hard look. "It seems like you're going home to a world worse than the one I was trapped on. That must take away some of the excitement."
"A little," Rembrandt admitted. "Look, I'm sorry I didn't trust you before. I have no idea what all you went through back there, and I had no right to..."
"You were right," other Remmy told him solemnly. "It was all I could do not to steal your timer and run the first time I saw you. In fact, if it hadn't made more sense to work with you, I... I can't really say what I would have done."
His double sighed. "Stopped believing in miracles, huh?" Rembrandt asked his counterpart, a knowing sadness filling his voice.
Remmy nodded. "I got one anyway, though. A window that had been counting down for years, just ready to open the minute we jumped back through? You tellin' me that wasn't the hand of God?"
"I don't know," Rembrandt answered after a moment's silence. "I just don't know anymore."
A stage hand signaled something to them. One Rembrandt saw it; the other didn't. "I think we're on."
Dueling Rembrandts was a rousing, if confusing, musical success. Luckily, the karaoke bar the seven sliders had taken refuge in had most of Remmy's solo efforts in their extensive song bank. All of the sliders deemed the first time they'd seen two Rembrandts singing on stage much more dramatic, but this performance was at least an amusing distraction. The sliders needed it.
Well, most of them. The two Arturos were engaged in a lively discussion regarding which of the tyrannical bosses that had made them invent sliding was the stupidest. The others made idle chitchat for a while, but that soon grew old. As the Wade who was now officially home rose to get a glass of water, the other one slipped into the seat beside Quinn. "Isn't it weird?"
"What's that?" Quinn wondered, humoring her as much as engaging his own curiosity.
Wade was watching her double with morbid fascination. "She's home. She can go back to her life, her family. Why isn't she jumping for joy?"
"Give her a break, Wade," Quinn advised passively. "She hasn't even been home a day. Her life was pretty horrific there for a while, in case you didn't notice. It'll just take her a while to adjust."
Wade slumped back in her chair. "If it was me and this was home, no Kromaggs, no Lesion War, I'd be thrilled. The first thing I would do is go find my parents and Kelly...and then go back and get Callie. We could start a whole new life with no world hopping."
"It's not the same, Wade," Quinn told her with assurance. "You're different people."
Wade chuckled lightly and let the subject drop. Starting on another, she looked directly at Quinn. "Thank you."
"For what?" Quinn wondered. "Endangering the slide? Making things more difficult than they had to be? Being a coward?"
"For giving up your sure ticket home," Wade elaborated. "It couldn't have been easy."
Quinn shrugged. "Don't make a big deal out of it, Wade. I did what I had to do." He took a drink from his own glass, filled with something that was decidedly not water. "Besides, this is the end of our journey. We're all going home."
"Ha!" a suddenly boisterous one-eyed Arturo cried over their conversation. "I can top that one! I tried to explain the wormhole phenomenon to Krah'aea once, and he ended up believing that portals remained open at all times. Blistering idiot!"
Krah'aea warmed himself in the skins of freshly killed animals as he cooked their meat to a blackened crisp over a small fire he had laboriously built. As his teeth tore into the tough hide of whatever strange creatures inhabited this barren world of snow and ice, he dreamed of doing the same to Quinn's throat. Once he made his way to this world, the interloping scientist would find himself completely out of his element, and would be defeated quickly. Well, depending on what mood Krah'aea was in. It had been nearly a week, and the conqueror was starting to get a little aggravated. But he was a patient hunter. Sooner or later, Quinn Mallory would arrive on this world. After all, he had given his word.
[ Earth 2013 Episode Guide | The Otherworlds ]