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6.0 - Prelude at the Nexus
by ThomasMalthus

Floating. That's what the sensations currently rippling around Quinn Mallory could only be described as, and that wasn't doing it justice. Not by a long shot. He was light. Lighter than during any slide he'd ever been on. No burdens, no heavy thoughts, just light and peace.

"Where am I?" It seemed a lame question to ask, since there was no one there to hear it and since he wasn't really sure that he wanted an answer.

"Where else would you be, my boy?" a familiar voice unexpectedly responded. "This is the afterlife. That thing the scientific mind always attempts to understand, but always fails. I doubted its existence myself. Yet here I am." Arturo paused, then continued. "Do you know why you are here?"

"I was... a part of Mallory... and then..."

"He won." The first Quinn Mallory negative expression, at least since he'd arrived here, came to his face at that moment. "It was a mistake. Metaphysically speaking, that is. You were never meant to be a part of that travesty, I assure you." He paused for a while and then continued, "Nobody can slide too long, Mr. Mallory. It wears you down, makes you forget about who you are, who you were, what you want. But you weren't ready to leave that life just yet. You were called back quite by mistake. They came looking for another and really, your loyalty to your brother is quite astonishing. So willing to sacrifice your life for his."

"I had a great inspiration."

"And a lot of guilt. A dangerous combination if ever I saw one."

"You felt it, didn't you?" When the elder man nodded, he continued, "What did you have to be guilty about, when you threw yourself in front of me?"

"You know I wasn't the right one. Not the one that left with you. You knew all along, but you always kept it a secret from the others."

"You were desperate and lonely. You'd lost your homeworld every bit as much as we had... and it's what he would have wanted, no matter how much he might not have admitted it."

"And you knew Colin wasn't your brother, too." Quinn nodded acceptance. "But you blame yourself. You feel you've deprived Colin of his true brother."

"Colin.. is he..?"

"His mission in the universe is completed."

"And mine isn't?"

"That's for you to decide."

"OK, I've had enough with the cryptic confusion. What am I doing here?"

"Patience, Mr. Mallory, is key to anything worthwhile. Didn't I teach you anything? There seems to be someone the Boss wants you to see before you decide whether to ascend."

"And that would be?"

A vision cleared before Quinn Mallory. Another version of himself with a stubbly beard, long hair and shabby looking clothing sat on the most desolate rock he thought he'd ever seen. A piece of burned out electronic equipment rested in his hand. The hand itself was worn and weathered from repeated instances of having to defend himself from the local population of wild animals and working with crude tools in various futile attempts to repair the timer. His eyes gave the entire face a dead, sunken-in look that Quinn could have went the rest of his existence without seeing.

"This Quinn Mallory went on his first slide alone, much as you did. Only he was perhaps a little more adventurous, setting the timer for forty-eight hours. Wishing to escape this place early, as any sensible human would, he unknowingly doomed himself to an eternity here. On his homeworld, he left behind two loving parents and a budding family, not to mention an overweight English physics professor who would soon become his mentor. A situation not completely unlike your own, eh?"

"I get it. He's me with worse luck. Or better, depending on your perspective. And?"

"He lacks the strength of character that you inherited from years of sliding and his emotions seem to have undergone considerable atrophy, but from what I've seen of him, he is not beyond redemption."

"And you want me to redeem him? In case you haven't noticed, I'm dead."

"You're still working through a considerable amount of guilt. Not only over myself and Colin but about your companions who are still out there." Quinn could not deny this, as it would be futile to lie to the man who knew him so well. "With a new timer, he could be led to find them, if the 'spirit moves him', shall we say. Let this boy be their salvation and then maybe he can become his own. It's completely your choice, Mr. Mallory."

Quinn Mallory looked into eyes that were his and also were not. And pondered.

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