7.1 - Regenesis
A light drizzle rained down on San Francisco and set the tone all too perfectly for the sort of day that Rembrandt Brown and Wade Welles were having. At what seemed like long last, it was Quinn Mallory's funeral day; the delay having been caused by nonstop rain that made the burial even more difficult than it should have been. Some speculated that the mysterious Lesion super ship had seeded the clouds as its final act of attrition. Wade, had she given the matter much conscious thought, would have dismissed the notion as something too frivolous for these Mekkan goons to have wasted their time on.
Rembrandt Brown watched as the water on the ground began to rise beneath his feet. His thoughts idly turned to a new flood of Biblical proportions that might swallow the world whole and leave only the righteous standing. He then wondered if he would be one of them. He let out a small sigh and shook his head. Too many people had died already for him to wish for more death.
Quinn Mallory had been interred in a hastily slapped together wooden box that just a few moments earlier was eased into the ground and covered with dirt. In the last few moments it had been visible, his face had been cold and expressionless. 'Not too different from how he was the last few years I knew him,' Rembrandt thought to himself and then chided his mind for thinking that way. This was a hell of a time for his trademark wicked sense of humor to kick in. For one thing, Wade needed him to be supportive.
Or at least that's what he believed. In fact, Wade was searching Rembrandt's face for some sign that he was mourning. She had already cried a great deal and she wouldn't be "over it" for quite some time, but she had allowed herself to grieve. Rembrandt, however, wasn't letting himself do so. She was well aware of his tearful sobriquet during his singing career, so she was left to wonder why the Crying Man hadn't let loose with the waterworks, to ease her own concerns if for no other reason.
Wade scolded herself mentally. She could no more control how Remmy mourned than she could the horrific events of the past few days. That brought her back to an emotional place she didn't really want to be in. Her eyes sank down to the recently turned-over earth that now covered the man who had been her husband, if more by accident than design. "I can't believe we're leaving him in an unmarked grave."
"Yeah," Rembrandt sympathized, some of his voice caught in his throat. "They said there wasn't time to build a headstone before the funeral."
"Still, it just feels wrong," Wade commented, a remark that summed their entire situation up rather succinctly. "Maybe..." She crouched down to the wet ground and picked up two rocks; one large, one small. Wade etched the initials "Q.M." on the larger one and placed it at the head of the plot, or at least where she imagined it was. "I guess that'll have to do for now."
Rembrandt eased his arm over Wade's shoulder and led her back to the medical wing of the military complex that was, unfortunately, still their home. One member of their group was still in critical condition and they would not leave his side for long. After all, sliders didn't just abandon each other.
Doctor Diana Davis watched with silent anguish as Mallory's body went up in flames. It shouldn't have troubled her so; he had already been pronounced dead several days earlier and even then his mind was long gone, completely subsumed beneath a personality that she had come to learn was a byproduct of the NECRO virus. Still... 'He should have been buried on his home world.' Even with the dangers of the virus spreading (which necessitated his incineration) and the improbability of gaining access to sliding equipment with her nonbelligerent status pending, she still wanted nothing more than to take his body to its rightful resting place. It was a foolish concern, perhaps, but one that was important to her nonetheless.
Another doctor, the physician who'd attempted to save Mallory's life, stood beside her. "I was able to salvage some of his personal effects from contamination. Would you like something ... to remember him by?"
Diana looked at him blankly. Mallory was the reason she had left her world, at least ostensibly. He had been a close friend ever since they left their home and had also been instrumental in keeping her alive since she had arrived here. Yet not one thing came to mind as something she would associate with Mallory. Nothing she could take with her as a keepsake or memento at any rate. "No," she answered him slowly. "Just get rid of it."
Head bowed and arms crossed, she walked down the hallway to where Maggie lie comatose. As Diana's eyes rose slowly to examine her almost lifeless body, she had difficulty fighting back tears. It didn't help that the doctor who had just offered her trinkets from Mallory's wallet had followed her down here to give her a report on Maggie's health. The news wasn't good.
Turning away from him, Diana nearly ran into Rembrandt and Wade. The two sliders were clearly not extremely interested in Maggie's well-being, as they exchanged short questions and muted expressions of sympathy for incomplete explanations and small apologies. They then quickly made their way to the room of one Professor Maximilian Arturo.
Diana quickly became lost in her own thoughts. Was this what had become of the only sliding group she had ever known? Mallory was dead after spending his last moments on this or any other Earth as a murdering monstrosity. Maggie hovered close to death, her mortal wounds coming from a battle with her fellow slider. As for Rembrandt, he apparently wanted nothing to do with anyone from his old life. Bitterness over the death of their own Quinn would likely keep Remmy and Wade from speaking to her for quite some time.
Despite her tenseness, Diana made herself sit down. Life wasn't exactly going the way she had planned it. The only question was: what was going to happen to her now?
"I believe we can clear the human female scientist," Jermaches Molaudian declared as he reviewed the situation on Earth 51601, otherwise known as Earth Prime to the humans with whom he was most familiar. "SubConsul Brown attests to her loyalty and general usefulness, and blames her misalignment on her own naiveté."
"Would not such nativity interfere with any future endeavors she embered upon?" one of his Mekkan subordinates questioned.
Molaudian bounced his eyes. If only all members of his species possessed his command of the English language. Luckily, they did not converse in it often; only when English-speaking humans attended their meetings, as was the case today, did they get to practice their skills (or lack thereof) in that tongue. "I do not believe so. Most humans we have thus far acquaintanced have proven very resourceful. I have a feeling that this one will be no different." He made a fluttering motion with his sucker mouth to indicate that he wanted to move on. "I am pleased to report that we have the Lesion soulstone weapon under lock and key. We have stationed three new units on that world just to ensure its safety."
"I can't believe they just dropped it in our laps," one of the human officers sitting beside Molaudian enthusiastically noted. "We've gained a huge victory without significant losses for our side."
The Mekkan diplomat turned resistance leader knew this to be untrue, but said nothing. One human's life meant little to the assembled leaders with whom he spoke, but it meant much to the humans who he had met on Mekkan Prime. He had delayed sending a message to his human compatriots on their home world for this long mostly because of his unfamiliarity with human mourning rituals. As the meeting wound down, he realized he could procrastinate no longer. From his quarters, he composed a message to be sent to SubConsuls Rembrandt Brown and Wade Welles.
Although Grand Alliance Supreme Command celebrates the non-destruction of your native Earth, we were saddened to learn of your loss. I, Jermaches Molaudian, assay particularly high levels of grief. SubConsul Quinn Mallory was a man of integrity, character and strength; a true asset to the fight against Lesion. He will be missed.
Grand Alliance Consul, Allied Co-President and Mekkan Premier in Absentia Jermaches Molaudian"
He sent the message without relish. Hopefully his words would ease their sorrow somewhat. Jermaches Molaudian sincerely wished it to be so, since he had no idea when he might need their services again.
"The doctor says he's going to be fine," Rembrandt told Wade with a smile in his voice, if not on his face. "The last operation went as well as could be expected. He should be waking up soon." They had both worried about Professor Arturo as much as was possible, given that Quinn's death had cast a shadow over everything else in their lives. This news came as a big relief, particularly to Wade.
"How long until we can see him?" she asked, her tone of voice still a bit shaky.
"Before the day's out," Remmy reported. He looked Wade over. "Maybe you should head back to your quarters until then. Get some rest."
"How could you...?!" she started to snap at him, but then stopped herself. Wade was still on edge from everything that had happened. "I can't rest, Remmy. I haven't even been able to sleep since Quinn died."
Rembrandt's eyebrows rose dramatically. "I've noticed. That's why I'm prescribing a good, long nap. I'll wake you if anything changes."
Wade considered contesting the point, but was too weary to do so. "OK," she agreed with a sigh. "Thank God the Professor's going to be alright. You will let me know as soon as he comes to, right?"
"Yeah," Rembrandt answered her flatly.
"Thank you, Rembrandt," Wade said with a little smile. She then turned and walked back to her room, most likely to lie on her bed and stare at the ceiling for a few hours with Remmy none the wiser.
As Wade walked out of sight, wisdom was what Rembrandt sorely needed. Should he tell Wade of Arturo's condition or respect the Professor's wishes on that count? Remmy didn't have an answer for that question, other than to just leave it in their friend's own hands. It would be painful enough to lose two of their number in such a short time without having to endure premature sorrow. Maybe the Grand Alliance doctors could look at Arturo's condition and see something that those on 'long life' world didn't.
Rembrandt reclined in his chair and leaned his head against the wall. He had no idea how much he would really miss Quinn until he left. Now that he was gone...he realized that it wasn't as bad as it might have been. Perhaps it was a callous response, but he had too many emotional calluses to feel much when he endured a loss.
Weariness wore on him after a few minutes and he wound up resting his eyes for just a minute. Actually, it turned out to be a little longer than that. Rembrandt drifted off to sleep in the middle of the hallway in his chair, and dreamed one very strange dream.
Rembrandt Brown found himself on a different world, literally. The landscape of green rolling hills offset by gray, postindustrial buildings in the distance seemed oddly familiar to Remmy, although not from anywhere on Earth Prime. Even after getting his bearings, he still wasn't sure where he was. He was, however, quite sure who was with him. "Q-Ball?" he called out to the figure standing next to him. "Is that you?" There was no answer, but as he moved closer to him there was little doubt. "What are you doing here?"
"Where else would I be?" Quinn retorted, delightedly answering a question with a question.
Rembrandt looked around. There was nobody near where they stood and the scenery was beautiful, if eerily familiar. "Am I in Heaven?"
"That I can answer," Quinn replied smugly. "No."
Rembrandt frowned. "Hell?"
"Uh...no," Quinn reassured him. "You're not dead, Rembrandt. But I am. That's why I'm here."
"You're confusing the Dickens out of me, Q-Ball," Remmy told him in all seriousness. "It's just like old times."
"Do you know this place?" Quinn asked, changing the subject as quickly as he could.
Rembrandt gave his surroundings one more once over and shook his head. "It's vaguely familiar. Didn't we have some kind of gunfight here once?"
"No blood was shed on this ground," Quinn told him cryptically. "But something important did happen. A death."
"Is this where we buried Arturo?" Rembrandt threw out for a second guess. "On that world with the survivors from Maggie's Earth?"
"OK so technically it wasn't an actual, physical death," Quinn corrected. He turned and looked at Rembrandt expectantly. "You really don't recognize it."
"Well, if you'd give me time to..." Rembrandt stopped. He knew. "This is it, isn't it?"
"The first breeder camp world we ever visited," Quinn continued with a nod. "I take it you remember what happened there."
"How could I forget?" Rembrandt asked, now a little upset with Quinn. "'We don't have time?'?! Man, what were you thinking?"
Quinn turned on his heels to face him. "I think the real question here is, 'what were you thinking?'"
"If all you brought me here for is to play head games, then I'd just as soon wake up," Rembrandt groused.
"It doesn't work that way," Quinn explained with a shrug. "And I'm here to help you say goodbye."
"Say it, then," Remmy requested, now visibly irritable. "We can even hug if you want. Knock yourself out."
"You don't understand," Quinn told him a little condescendingly. "Something happened here that you need to work through."
"So who are you now, Quinn Mallory, Ghost Psychiatrist?" Rembrandt asked, curiosity mixing with contempt in his voice. "Alright, I'll give. What is it?"
"This is where you stopped believing," Quinn answered with quiet simplicity. "In yourself. In me. In the notion that we were ever getting home."
"No," Remmy interjected in his own defense. "I never...how could you..."
Quinn shook his head with a 'tsk'. "It's better to be honest about this whole thing, Rembrandt. I'm not here for my health, but then again I guess that's pretty obvious, huh?" He sat down on the ground seemingly without touching anything. "You got proven right, though, didn't you? I ended up a part of Mallory, Wade ended up as a head and home ended up as an afterthought."
"I was sent back specifically to change all that," Quinn rose quickly with a harsh glow in his eyes. "To make it right. And I did. I got you home. Wade's not just a head anymore. I even gave you the Professor back, which was something you never expected. But you didn't get the package deal. You didn't get me."
"Damn you," Rembrandt cursed, his voice breaking a little. "Why couldn't you just...let us know? That you were there, that you were the one we knew?"
"I did," Quinn answered in a whisper. "As much as the spirit could, without disrupting the other one too much. But now that we're both dead, his luck's the poorer. I was gone to start with. Ashes to ashes."
"It wasn't right," Remmy argued. "The Professor would have gone to his grave a hero, instead of..." He stopped just short of wishing Professor Arturo dead. "You didn't have to die."
"Actually I did," the deceased physics genius told the former R&B singer. "That was all part of the plan. Just like you are, just like the Professor is, only you haven't had a look at the big picture. Your moment to shine will come. Everything in good time. Remember that."
"Remember what?" Rembrandt questioned. In the next instant, however, he unwillingly awoke.
Wade Welles stirred slowly as the last moments of sleep clung to her all too tightly. Her position was unfamiliar...had she fallen asleep in a chair? She didn't remember doing so. A rewinding noise caught her attention just next to her ear, as a familiar voice spoke the same date over and over. "November 14th..."
She rose from her chair and took a hard look at her surroundings. It wasn't long before Wade knew where she was. She spoke with perplexed wonder. "I'm in Quinn's basement."
"Yes, and the high-tech deluxe version at that," Quinn told her with a big smile.
Wade threw her arms around him. "Quinn! You're alive, you're here." He chuckled slightly as she hugged him tightly. As Wade backed away from him, a thought struck her. "Wait a minute. Where's here? Where am I?" Her face fell. "This is a dream, isn't it?"
Quinn's expression was contemplative. "Only if you want it to be."
Wade's eyes examined him carefully. Was he for real? Did it matter? "Then I don't want it to be."
Quinn's eyes gleamed. "That's wonderful," he told her soothingly. "Then I guess I should get started, huh?"
Wade didn't stop frowning. "What?"
"I need to start the move," Quinn explained as if she should have known already. "You know I'm not going to be here anymore, right?"
"W-where are you going?" Wade asked numbly.
"To the past," Quinn told her. "To be in the past. Why else would I come back here?"
"'Back here,'" Wade repeated, still processing everything around her as though it was going a mile a minute and she was moving in slow motion. "I know this place. I'm on that world where reality changed around us because Quinn traveled through time. This is where... you died."
"So you do remember," Quinn said cheerily, suddenly all too pleased with her. "At least a part of you does anyway. Do you remember what you wanted to tell me?"
"No," Wade answered earnestly. Then something popped into her head. "Yes. I do, I..."
Quinn cut her off. "I know, Wade. Shh. It doesn't matter anymore."
"How can it not matter?!" Wade wanted to know. "I should get a chance to say goodbye, shouldn't I?"
"Sure," Quinn answered, seemingly growing more unconcerned by the moment. "Just be quick about it. I haven't got a lot of time."
"I've heard that one before," Wade muttered. "Hey, wait..."
Wade jolted awake as quickly as she ever had, dressed, and ran to where she had last seen Rembrandt. It took her longer than she would have liked; the place was still very foreign to her and was labyrinthine in construction. "Remmy, I have to tell you something."
"Can it wait?" he asked a little snappishly. "Something's happened to the Professor."
Dread filled Wade's once hopeful face. "What?" she barely managed to utter as Rembrandt looked around for their friend's attending physician.
"I don't know all the details yet, but they say there's been some kind of rejection of their treatments," Remmy reluctantly explained to her. "They need to go back in for more surgery. It's not a matter of life or death, but...we're dealing with spinal injuries here. They've been telling us he might have trouble walking. Now they're saying he might never stand on his own power again."
Wade bit her lip as she stared at the floor. She eventually forced herself to meet Rembrandt's gaze. "It's just too much," she whispered. "That's why..." Her voice trailed off as she hesitated to finish her sentence.
Remmy's curiosity about what she had to say was finally piqued. "That's why what, Wade?"
"That's why we should go back," Wade sputtered. Incomprehension cast a shadow over Rembrandt's face. "Back to the world where Quinn's double built that time machine. We can go back and keep any of this from ever happening."
"We've got a little less than two days until we can access the window, so we've got to act quickly," Wade went on. "We have to get the co-ordinates loaded into our timer somehow and then I think we should concentrate on finding ways to convince that world's Quinn to let us use his equipment. Maybe we should bring proof that Quinn died with us. Has his death certificate been printed yet?"
"Whoa, Wade, slow down," Rembrandt requested. "Are you sure you've thought this through?"
"Of course," Wade retorted, a little hurt that Remmy could even suggest such a thing.
"Then bring me up to speed, because I'm not getting everything," Rembrandt told her in an effort to get her to take a second look at her proposal. "You're saying we should use our timer to leave our home Earth when the Professor's not out of the woods yet and Maggie..." He stopped himself when Wade gave him a harsh look. It wasn't the time to open up that particular can of worms. "Without Arturo or Quinn, we'd be risking our lives going back out there without anybody who can fix the timer, and we would be doing it just to find some Quinn double who'd probably be happier flying kites with Ben Franklin than helping us."
"It's worth trying, isn't it?" Wade asked him, a little disappointed than he hadn't immediately agreed with her position. "That Quinn wasn't so bad. He was actually pretty helpful. Once we tell him what..." Emotion clouded her voice for a moment. She cleared her throat and continued. "...what happened, I'm sure he'll agree."
"And if he doesn't?" Rembrandt asked of her, his voice firm and authoritative. "What are you going to do then? Are you going to let Quinn go?"
"I...I don't know," Wade admitted, her face suddenly filled with fear and anguish. "I'm hoping it won't come to that."
Remmy saw that her argument was starting to unravel, but Wade didn't respond well to direct attack. Instead, he decided to see how far ahead she had thought this out. "Assuming you get another chance to go through Voyager Quinn's time portal, how far back are you going to go? A week, a month? Back to 1994, so you can stop us from sliding in the first place?"
His questions didn't seem to have the desired effect, as Wade slowly turned from him. "I don't know why you can't see this for what it is," she said softly.
Rembrandt's face revealed his increasing curiosity. "And what is that, exactly?"
"A second chance," Wade answered him, tears now strong again in her eyes. "That's what he was trying to give us, don't you see that? He was trying to put us back together again. And you stand there and act like I'm going to go back and take all of that away?" She was silent for just a moment. "Wouldn't it be worth it, if there was even a chance of getting him back? Of getting us back?" Remmy said nothing. "If you want your old life the way it was, you can have it. Me? I want it the way we were: together, come what may." Wade chuckled slightly. "I thought I wanted to go home, to be with my family and live my life. I guess I didn't realize I was already doing that."
"Wade..." Rembrandt started.
She wouldn't let him go any further. "Don't try to talk me out of this, Rembrandt. I'm going, with or without you." Wade began to walk away from him.
"Wait," he called out from behind her. "With." Those two words stopped her in her tracks. "I'd follow you to the ends of any Earth, Wade. You know that. But we need to do some things first."
"Like what?" Wade wondered, the smile on her face now irrepressible.
Remmy sighed. "Like convince a certain someone else to come along."
"No!" Diana cried out shrilly. Maggie Beckett's attending physician had just given her a piece of particularly bad news: the extent of what they were authorized to do simply to keep the former marine alive was now diminished, so that the plug would be pulled, as it were, within a few hours. "There has to be something else you can do. Please. I don't have the money to pay you, but I can get it. I'm a scientist, I can get work somewhere. I'll pay you every cent I make. Just don't let her die like this."
"I'm sorry," he told her with less reassurance than he might have otherwise. The situation was clearly making him uncomfortable. Relief crossed his face when Rembrandt and Wade approached the hysterical Diana and diverted her attention away from him. He took that opportunity to slink back to his office.
"Hello, Diana," Rembrandt said, formality taking the place of what might have been hostility in his voice.
"Rembrandt," Diana replied with a nod. "Did you come to pay your first and last respects?" she asked with a distinct hardness to her voice.
Remmy exhaled sharply. This was going to be tougher than he had thought. "Actually, no," he answered earnestly. "I'm here for something else."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Diana asked rhetorically, although she was now less volatile. At least Rembrandt was honest. "So what is this about? Am I going to be detained for further questioning about my role in helping 'Lesion'?"
"No," Wade answered. "Actually, you've been cleared. You're free to go." She couldn't resist elaborating on that point in the hope that it might help their cause. "In no small part because Remmy vouched for you."
Diana looked Rembrandt in the eye. "I suppose I should thank you." She then turned her head away from him. "But somehow I just can't bring myself to do it."
"It doesn't have to be like this, you know," Rembrandt replied, frustration starting to seep into his voice. "We used to be friends."
"Yeah?" Diana retorted angrily. "That's when you used to give a damn about what happened to us."
"I still do," Remmy insisted in his own defense.
"Maggie's dying, Rembrandt," Diana said, relentlessly determined to drive her point home, "and you haven't even been there. You just don't care."
"The Hell I don't!" he insisted emphatically. "Maggie was by my side for longer than you knew her. I don't pretend to understand why she made the choices she did, but she was a brave fighter and a good friend. She doesn't deserve to die."
That was seemingly Wade's cue. "And we have a way to make sure that she doesn't."
It took a matter of moments for the two sliders to explain to Diana Davis what they had in mind. She digested the information as quickly as possible. "What if it doesn't work?" she asked them. "What happens to her," she nodded her head in Maggie's direction, "then?"
"We have authority here," Rembrandt explained. "We can order her to be kept alive using whatever means possible."
Diana's eyes narrowed. "Is that a condition of the deal?"
"No," Wade and Rembrandt both exclaimed at the same time. The last thing they wanted was for Diana to think that they were holding Maggie's life as a bargaining chip. That certainly wasn't the case...was it?
Dr. Diana Davis sighed wearily. "I don't like it much," she confessed. "But given the alternative..." Her voice trailed off tellingly. "When do we leave?"
Rembrandt Brown was alone next to the hospital bed of Professor Maximilian Arturo. Because of the various sedatives flowing through his veins, his face was now devoid of the expressions and liveliness that made the man so damned fascinating to watch. Remmy searched it anyway, trying to discern advice from a man in no position to give it. "What would you do, Professor? Humor Wade and me and manage to go along for the ride, grumbling all the way? Would you be willing to gamble our future on the ability of one world's Quinn Mallory to turn back the hands of time?"
Remmy looked at him as though he actually expected an answer. He laughed slightly. "Yeah, I didn't think so. Too bad you're not really here to make that decision. That's part of the reason we have to go back. That and for Quinn." He thought of the two scientists who had endured rough spots together throughout the journey. Still, the relationship between them always seemed to repeat itself. "Maybe you would sign off on what we're about to do after all," he mused.
Rembrandt wasn't really sure how comfortable he felt leading a team back out into the multiverse, even if it was just to a world they had been to before and one that had been relatively peaceful to boot. There were so many things that could go wrong. For instance, Wade could strangle Diana in her sleep after one techno babbling too many. His thoughts on that were interrupted by one of the aforementioned female sliders walking down the hallway, her back weighed down with a knapsack full to bursting with stuff. "Hey," he called out to Wade as she approached. "What are we going to do with all of that?"
She looked apologetic. "I kind of threw my weight around and now we have..." she began shuffling around in the bag as she spoke, "...skiing equipment, SCUBA gear and I think these are little missile launchers. Sorry."
"Guess it's good to be prepared," Rembrandt noted with a shrug. "I don't know what we're supposed to be preparing for with all of this, but..." He finished that sentence with another slight shrug. He then looked down the hall in the direction from which Wade had emerged. "Where's Diana?"
"She's carrying the rest of our stuff," Wade explained. Rembrandt looked at her suspiciously. "The timer and the co-ordinate storage device," she explained in her own defense. "She thinks she's got everything punched in correctly."
"Yeah, I've heard that one before," Rembrandt remarked without confidence, remembering her attempt to slide him home on the world with that Sliders TV series. The two of them walked in the direction Wade indicated and met her halfway.
"So, I hear that you've taken up timer programming again," Rembrandt said with the corners of his lips turned ever so slightly into a grin.
Dr. Davis looked a little sheepish. "I, uh, not only programmed the co-ordinates for the world you want to go to into the timer, I already took the liberty of setting the co-ordinates for Earth Prime as our next destination." Rembrandt and Wade weren't really that impressed, but they at least seemed to be paying attention. "Are you ready?" Diana asked. Neither Remmy nor Wade could think of a reason not to be. They both nodded curtly. The physicist among them opened the portal and jumped through.
"You won't be sorry," Wade yelled to Rembrandt over the roar of the void. She then followed Diana into its maw.
Remmy looked back at Earth Prime. He really didn't want to leave this place again after what had happened last time. Still... he had made a commitment and owed it to Wade to make good on it. "I hope not," he said a little sadly and hurled himself into the vortex.
The three sliders, the group of whom had never actually slid together before, flew out of the wormhole and found themselves on the streets of a parallel San Francisco once again. Well, except for Rembrandt. He had taken a bad spin upon landing and rolled off of the pavement and down an embankment. "Would someone help me up here, please?" As Wade stood and brushed herself off, she offered him her hand. Rembrandt gladly accepted it. "Any idea if we're on the right world yet? I'm not really interested in starting another plague." He then gave Diana a harsh look, not caring that she didn't understand the cause behind it.
"This is it," Wade told him, giving him some quick reassurance. She pointed off in the distance. "There's the World War II Memorial. See? We're here." A bright smile lit up her face for the first time in what seemed like ages.
"Looks like," Rembrandt agreed with a small nod of victory. "Guess we should go find Quinn, huh? Want to head to his house first or see if he's still working overtime for the feds?"
Wade shook her head. "The Mallory house is the safest bet. Let's just head there and see what happens."
"Um, guys?" Diana interjected. "I don't mean to rain on your Quinn parade, but I could use a break."
"A break?" Rembrandt asked in disbelief. "Did you think you were coming on a vacation?"
Diana looked at them with her eyes strangely wide open. "Honestly? I didn't know what to expect. I only know that this is the first world that looks like it has decent food and shelter I've been on for months. I'd like to have a hot meal, take in a movie, get a good night's sleep where I don't have to worry about getting killed by Kromaggs during the night, take an actual shower..." Remmy and Wade unconsciously took a step back from her. "It doesn't sound like you guys need me for what you're going to do."
Wade turned to Rembrandt. "She may have a point there."
Remmy sighed. He was seemingly in charge and was starting to hate that fact. "Fine. Take the night off. But we only have," he took a quick glance at the timer in Diana's hand, "less than two days, so be sure to meet us there tomorrow morning. If anything unexpected goes wrong with the timer, which I'm taking by the way, we might need your help."
"But the plan isn't to slide out of here, is it?" Diana asked, proving she wasn't as unintelligent as she sometimes appeared. "Once we make any changes in the past, that's it for us. We took one for the team, so to speak."
"We don't know that for sure, but..." Wade didn't finish the thought. She hardly needed to.
Diana nodded slowly and swallowed hard. "Just wanted to make certain we were on the same page." She started to leave them and then turned around. "Are you sure you guys don't want to join me? There are definitely a few things I need to do on what could be my last night on Earth."
"No thanks, Diana," Rembrandt declined for both of them. They then once again nearly parted ways. Once more, she stopped them. "What is it now?"
Diana looked sheepish. "I've never been to Quinn's house before. Could you give me directions?"
Without any trepidation, Wade knocked on Quinn Mallory's door and waited for someone to answer. Given that it had been months since they'd been to this world, anyone could have appeared there: Mrs. Mallory, telling them that her son had moved away; an FBI Agent, letting them know this whole place was under federal investigation; or just new tenants saying they'd never heard of Quinn or his device. Luckily, it didn't happen that way. Quinn Mallory himself answered the door, albeit in a towel. A little embarrassed, he ushered them in quickly and bade them sit down.
"Wow," Quinn commented as he looked the two of them over. "This is a surprise." Nothing else was spoken between them for a few moments, as the awkwardness of the situation seemingly hung in the air. He cleared his throat nonchalantly. "Would you two mind if I changed into some clothes?"
A matter of minutes later Quinn emerged in wrinkled clothing that looked like it had been quickly pulled out of his dirty laundry. Since they weren't exactly here to critique his fashion sense, the sliders said nothing about that. What they did say showed how little of their time they wanted to waste on pleasantries. "I'll bet you're wondering why we're here."
Quinn slumped in his chair. "You two get right down to business, don't you? I have to say I find that... a little annoying." Remmy and Wade looked at him strangely. "No 'how's it going?' or 'what's been happening on this world since we left?', just straight to the chase. Well, fine. I guess a part of me is wondering what you're doing back here."
"We need to use the time machine," Wade blurted out.
Quinn's eyebrows perked up. "What? Aren't you the people that told me I should never use it again because I might irrevocably screw up history?"
"Well...technically yes," Rembrandt answered hesitantly. "But our position on that is a little different now."
Quinn shook his head dismissively. "Forget about it. Even if I hadn't started dismantling the device... it's out of the question."
"Look, we can explain why we need it," Wade insisted, as determined not to give up on this as she ever was. "Quinn, our Quinn, died recently, along with some others of our group that we were separated from. The Professor's in pretty bad shape, too, all because of a mishap that could easily have been avoided on our home earth. We have to go back and warn our past selves about what's going to happen."
Quinn nodded slowly and with understanding as she spoke. "Let me repeat myself. Forget about it. Even if I hadn't started dismantling the device, it's out of the question."
"Why did you...?" Rembrandt started, as he looked at this Quinn double with confusion in his eyes. Then, comprehension. "Are we being watched? Or listened in on?"
"No," Quinn quickly countered. "I don't know, maybe. It doesn't matter. Look, you can't use my device. I'm sorry." He stood and opened the door. "You should probably go now."
Remmy looked down at the ground a little sadly as they walked out of the door. "I guess that settles that."
"Yeah," Wade replied, her own tone matching Rembrandt's. "It's a shame we're going to have to do what we have to do."
The two sliders suddenly looked up at each other and said the same thing at the same time. "Break in."
"I don't see why I have to be the one to do this," Diana complained sulkily. She held a pair of binoculars uncomfortably up to her eyes as she examined the Mallory house from a rented car parked a respectable distance away. They had been on this 'stakeout' for most of the morning.
"Because you're the only one he hasn't seen yet," Rembrandt explained. "He might just think you're some paranoid FBI agent. Now just keep looking."
Diana rolled her eyes, but did as she was told. She got a feeling she wouldn't like what would happen to her if she displeased her fellow sliders. Luckily, she caught a break. "Quinn's leaving the house."
Wade turned to face Rembrandt. "I guess the only question that remains now is: is he going to work or is this another grocery store run?"
Remmy groaned. "How many more gallons of milk could boy genius here possibly need?"
As they watched his car pull away, Wade motioned for them to move stealthily towards the house. They quickly clustered around the kitchen door. "Are you sure you can do this?" Rembrandt asked Wade.
"If some guy the Professor hired can, I can," Wade told him confidently. "Now hand me out the skis."
Moments and bits of broken plastic later, the three of them stood in Quinn's basement. Diana began examining the time travel equipment. Wade, all too knowingly, headed for the VCR. Rembrandt took a moment to relax and rummage through Quinn's mini-fridge.
Wade rewound the tape and pressed play. "February 19th. I've begun to manipulate the portal to the point where I can now choose my destination precisely, within a matter of hours. I'm still fine tuning the process, but..." Wade froze the picture in disdain.
Diana came to the same conclusion upon inspecting the time travel device. "I'll admit I didn't design this thing, but it doesn't look like anything vital has been taken out. If anything, it looks like there's been some recent additions to the internal circuitry."
"Don't ask me what it is, but something about Q-Ball's refrigerator does wonders for cold cuts," Rembrandt assessed between bites of a ham and salami sandwich. Wade and Diana just looked at him. "What?" Before he could be scolded for eating on the job, all three of their eyes turned to a figure walking down the basement stairs. It was Quinn.
"Come on, don't be so shocked," Quinn advised nonchalantly. "I work for the government. You think I can't tell when people are spying on me?" He walked over to the VCR and hit the Stop/Eject button twice. "So I guess you know I'm still in the time travel business. You could report me to my superiors and get me detained for questioning more or less indefinitely. But I now have you on charges of breaking and entering. I'd call us even on that score, wouldn't you?" The three of them looked down guiltily.
Quinn grinned at them. Now that he'd made them squirm, it was time to reel them in. "But I'm a reasonable person. Now that we're in my basement, where FBI listening devices go to die, I think we can come to some sort of arrangement. There's something I've wanted to do for a while now and going back a few months would enable me to go through with it. We could do the whole double warning thing and then you can help with something else. Do we have a deal?"
Rembrandt, Wade and Diana looked at each other. (Actually, Rembrandt and Wade looked at each other and Diana looked at Rembrandt and Wade.) They hadn't come this far to say 'no' now. "We're game," Wade agreed for them.
"Good," Quinn replied soothingly. He then reached into his closet, withdrew four objects and tossed three of them to the sliders. "Better wear these." The trio looked down at their crash helmets and then up at him incredulously. "Let's just say the modifications I made caused the trip through the tunnel to go a little rougher. This ride could get pretty bumpy."
Dr. Diana Davis, despite everything she had experienced while sliding, had never been fired out of a cannon before. While that was still the case, upon having journeyed through this 'time tunnel' of Quinn Mallory's, she felt she could relate to those who had. She flailed through the portal head first, a mattress strapped to her back making her landing a little less brutal than it might have been. Wade had made an unkind remark about Maggie when Quinn had suggested the idea, but, as Diana crashed to Earth without doing any permanent damage to herself or objects around her, she felt relieved it was there.
She was supposed to unhook herself from the improvised runway and give the other sliders some room to land. Unfortunately... "I'm stuck," Diana remarked as she made her fingers work the straps surrounding her in vain. It wasn't long before she stared haplessly at Rembrandt, shrieking as he crashed within inches of her.
"What the hell are you doing?!" Remmy demanded as he pulled his face up from the cushion. "Get out of the way!"
"I'm stuck," Diana repeated frantically. Rembrandt moved to her aid for a moment, but was interrupted by Wade's shout of "Coming through!" Rembrandt rolled over just in time and gave Wade barely enough space to land between him and Diana. Before any of them could do anything, Quinn followed behind her, his body twisting from the force of ejection. This meant that he landed on the three sliders lengthwise and all of them bore the brunt of his fall.
A collective "Ow!" rose up from the four time travelers, as they moaned, groaned and staggered their way to standing positions, wasting no time in removing their helmets as they did so. Quinn was the first to take a careful look around. "Well, we're in my basement and not Ancient Egypt, so my calculations look to be right on target."
"That was a concern?!" Diana asked incredulously.
Quinn shook his head with a chuckle. "You don't have much of a sense of humor, do you?" he asked her. Unwilling to answer that question, Diana instead turned to inspect the time travel device as it was now.
"It looks different," Dr. Davis assessed. "I guess we're really in the past."
"Yeah, but how far back did we go?" Rembrandt wondered aloud, without directly questioning Quinn.
The young scientist answered anyway. "I guess there's only one way to find out." He strode over to his little refrigerator, opened the door, and withdrew a half gallon of milk. "Eureka!" he exclaimed, holding the dairy container aloft in celebration. "November 20th! We've done it!"
Wade looked confused. "I thought we were supposed to be going to the 13th?"
"We were," Quinn answered her, excitement making him more impatient than usual. "I mean, we did. I buy milk that will expire in a week every day as sort of a calendar for myself when traveling through time. Call me paranoid if you want, but it's something most people wouldn't bother tampering with." He smiled goofily. "Plus, Wells laps up the stuff."
"Wells?" Wade asked with no small amount of amusement in her voice.
"My cat," Quinn replied matter-of-factly.
Rembrandt waved his hand in the air in a gesture of impatience. "Fine, we're here. Now are we going to do what we came to do or not?"
"I guess that depends on which timeline is in play," Diana spoke up. "From what you guys have told me, we could either run into you now or when you slide in two days from now. And, unless I miss my guess, we should have seen your alternates already if they were going to be here." Quinn's slight nod acknowledged that she was right.
"Guess it's time to..." Rembrandt started. "...can't lay low," he finished emphatically. He frowned in frustration. Those two snippets clearly didn't go together. "Wait, what was I saying?"
"It doesn't matter," Wade cut in. "We're not going to get anything done staying in this basement all day." She charged up the stairs, treading carefully as she approached the blue force field, opened the door and then closed it as quickly as she possibly could. She was visibly shaken. "What the hell happened out there?"
Quinn, irritatingly, answered a question with a question. "What are you talking about?"
Wade dragged Quinn by the arm to the top of the basement staircase. She opened the door. "That." Quinn's eyes grew wide in astonishment. Outside, instead of the rest of his house, he variously saw a dirt road crammed with pedestrians and horse-drawn coaches; a seemingly mile-high forest teeming with wildlife, most of which he didn't recognize; a barren wasteland, covered as far as the eye could see with scarce but hardy plant life managing to eke out a meager existence through the cracked and broken earth. Still more images crowded into his sight until he retreated back into the basement, for his sanity's sake if nothing else.
"This is bad," Quinn declared. It was perhaps the understatement of the year. "We must have done something wrong. Unhinged something. Hell, I don't know." He strode over to a panel of electronics on the time travel device that most likely controlled the beast when a portable timer-like device couldn't.
"What are you doing?" Diana had the presence of mind to ask.
"Sending us back to the present, or at least as close as I can get." He adjusted some more dials and pressed a few buttons. "We have to stop ourselves from coming back here."
"Wait a minute," Rembrandt and Wade exclaimed at the same instant. Wade followed up with "This wasn't what we agreed to," while Rembrandt asked, "Are you sure that's a good idea?"
Quinn shook them off. "Look, it's not a perfect solution, but it's the only one I have right now. Desperate times call for desperate measures." Finishing his adjustments, Quinn pressed a big red button and looked for the portal to open. Instead, nothing happened. Quinn pressed it again, harder this time. Still nothing. "It's not working," he told the others in disbelief. "Why isn't it working?"
Rembrandt's eyes were still fixed on the stairs. "I think we have a bigger problem," he said simply.
"What could be bigger than this?!" Quinn snapped in anger. Then he saw what Remmy was talking about... and agreed with him. Slowly but surely, whatever was making things go berserk outside was creeping down into the basement, causing the staircase to slowly disappear. "I don't get it. That energy field was supposed to provide stasis for this entire area, regardless of what happened to the timeline."
Wade was suddenly reminded of the Professor's concern for this world that had caused them to intervene here in the first place. She had been so caught up in getting Quinn back that it had simply slipped her mind earlier. And while she still had no intention of giving up on Quinn, she could hardly bring him back if she were erased from existence herself. "We should get out of here."
"I tried activating the device on this end," Quinn assured her in frustration. "It didn't work."
Rembrandt grasped Wade's meaning, however. "I think we've got another device here that might fit the bill." He removed the timer from his jacket pocket.
Diana moved up to him. "With all due respect, Rembrandt, the timer's counting down to a slide window opening in two days and," she cast a poignant glance at the pure chaos that was slowly advancing on them, "I don't think we have that long."
"We'll have to advance it and take our chances on the next world," Wade declared.
"But that trick never works," Rembrandt muttered under his breath. He wasn't about to disagree with Wade on this out loud, however. Instead, he tried to reconcile the solution to the problem. "We'll be going back to Earth Prime, minus about three and a half months. We can still warn ourselves..."
Quinn, more than a little panicked, cut him off. "Wait. What about me?"
"You're welcome to stay here," Wade told him grimly. "But if you want to survive, I suggest you come with us." Quinn nodded slightly in agreement. He clearly didn't like the solution, but it appeared to be the only viable one.
"Ready?" Rembrandt asked, as if any of the assembled travelers were going to say no. "One...two...three." He pressed the button to open the vortex and watched it sputter to life, only to close again within a few seconds. "What the hell?" Rembrandt wondered to nobody in particular as he activated it again. Again, it closed within moments of opening.
"It's not going to stay open for long. We're going to have to go through quickly, and all at once," Diana asserted. "Everybody bunch together as tightly as possible." The four of them managed to position themselves to where they could likely all fit in a phone booth. They were very motivated by the fact that the turmoil outside had moved to within feet of where they stood. "Do it."
Rembrandt activated the vortex and the four of them slipped through it. It was perhaps the shortest trip through the void that any of them had endured. The wormhole spit them out weakly and closed within five seconds of their arrival. Again, there was groaning on the part of the former time and current interdimensional travelers and they took much longer to stand than before. "We should have held on to the helmets," Wade complained.
"Yeah, I don't want to go through that again any time soon," Rembrandt threw in with a humorless chuckle that turned into a cough.
"I don't think we'll have to worry about that," Diana told them bleakly. She held up the timer for them to examine. It was in as poor a shape as any of them had seen. "It's completely fried."
"So I guess we'll be here for a while," Wade commented. She and the rest of the group looked the place over. They were in the middle of a desert, with absolutely nothing else...no sign of civilization or people in sight. "Homey."
"This doesn't look like any place that would be in the slide radius of our timer, at least not on any normal world," Rembrandt said with a frown. 'But then again, how normal is our world now?' he thought to himself bitterly. "I wonder if that big skipping record effect did something to it."
Diana nodded as if to say it was a possibility. "I guess we should make finding out where we are our top priority."
"Or when we are," Quinn said coldly, the first words he had spoken since arriving here. "Whatever was going on back there, it was skewing the flow of time. If your sliding device was affected by it, we might not have left from the time we think we did. In effect, we could be anywhere in time."
"What the hell are you talking about, Q-Ball?" Rembrandt demanded. "Sliding is never time travel."
Quinn's eyes widened, giving him a wild look. "Yeah, but time travel is time travel. And, in case you've forgotten, we traveled through time."
"So what?" Wade asked nonchalantly. "We went back all of three months. We may have to fudge a little more on our age than usual on our birthdays, but..."
"You guys just really don't get it, do you?" Quinn asked in pure aggravation. "Whatever happened back there very well could have thrown time's arrow for a loop. We could have left from any point in time."
"He's right," Diana agreed gloomily. "And who knows if it caused any other problems? It might have shorted out our timer's preset coordinates."
In Wade's mind, fear sank in quickly. "We could be on any world at any time." She really didn't want to know what Kromagg Prime had been like several hundred years previous.
"OK, the important thing is not to panic," Rembrandt said calmly. It was time to ask the one question that he had been dreading ever since embarking upon this journey. "Diana, is there any chance you can fix the timer?"
Diana shook her head as she flipped it open. "I'm sorry. The electronic components are pretty well shot. It doesn't look like it was structurally sound to start with, so..."
"Damn," Rembrandt said, quiet anger starting to slip into his voice. "Times like this I wish Q-Ball were still here."
Unconsciously, the eyes of Wade, Rembrandt and Diana were drawn to the fourth figure among them. Once he noticed, he grew a little livid. "Don't look at me! I didn't design this crazy thing. It looks like a prop from one of those old Flush Gordon movies." He exhaled deeply. "Look, wherever and whenever we are, we're not going to accomplish anything standing around in the desert, waiting to die of thirst."
"Yeah, the blistering heat doesn't much agree with me," Rembrandt said, although he looked at Quinn with more suspicion than the others. He was holding something back. Remmy just couldn't prove what it was yet.
"Tell me about it," Wade complained, her fair skin already starting to redden from the climate surrounding them. "It must be 100 degrees out here."
The four of them trekked through the vast expanse of arid land, using a compass from Wade's knapsack full of junk to find their way around. What they were finding their way around was still a mystery, however. Quinn and Diana grumbled incessantly, but offered no alternative plan for their salvation. After a few hours, their ability to move was severely hampered by their dire need for rest.
"Guys?" Diana asked pitifully. "Do you think we could stop somewhere for the night?"
Wade looked up towards the sun (although not directly at it, as she wasn't an idiot), still positioned high in the sky. "It doesn't look like it's much past noon." Remmy cleared his throat and she got the idea. "Sure. A little break would be nice about now."
"An oasis would be ideal," Quinn pointed out as if someone was going to disagree. "But I think I saw a cave over that way. At this point, I don't think we can turn any form of shelter down."
Rembrandt squinted against the harsh sunlight. "That's not a cave." Although it could have been a mirage, Rembrandt could have sworn there was a large camouflaged (for the desert, not the greenery one would normally expect) truck making its way slowly in their direction. "We've got a moving vehicle approaching. Be prepared for anything."
The four of them took something roughly approximating a defensive stance. However, with exhaustion, heat and thirst thoroughly sapping their energy all they would have been prepared for were some rowdy toddlers, and even that was pushing it. Luckily, although their visitors were exercising their Constitutional right to bear arms (assuming such a provision existed on this world if it weren't their home), they did not choose to use them or even aim them at the quartet. Instead...
"It's them!" one voice could be heard calling out. "They're here! We've found them!"
"Thank God," a deeper voice rumbled. "No more 'Where's Waldo' duty out in the middle of nowhere."
As the vehicle ground to a halt, tossing up an impressive amount of sand in its wake, the troops already walking alongside it gave deference to a man who stepped out of the passenger side of the vehicle. He strode up to them with his left hand extended, all crisp attitude and cool demeanor. "So you're the sliders. I was beginning to think you were a myth," he said with a slight grin.
Rembrandt, Wade and Diana did nothing. Quinn stepped forward and shook the man's hand. "Hello, I'm Quinn Mallory. I can't say I expected much of a welcoming committee, but this is a nice..."
"Quinn Mallory," the man repeated blankly. He then turned to his aide. "Is he on the list?" The subordinate officer shook his head. "Throw him in hard cell until we can determine his origin. We can't be too careful here."
"Whoa," Rembrandt interjected suddenly. "Go easy on the cell-tossing. He's with us."
"Sorry," he replied with a shrug. "Consul's orders."
Wade and Remmy looked at each other. Wade said what they were both thinking. "Wouldn't the orders of two SubConsuls override one Consul's?"
The man scratched his chin and only managed a light shrug as a response. "You got me there. Better not risk it." He motioned for his junior officer to come within earshot. "Don't box him, but keep an eye on him anyway."
As the four of them were herded into the vehicle, their exasperation showed itself quickly. "Does anybody have the slightest idea what's going on?" Diana demanded loudly.
Well, at least one person did. Professor Maximilian Arturo sat imperiously before them and seemed a different man. He had lost so much weight he was positively svelte, his hair and beard were trim and neat and his clothes were tailor-made. Still, the sliders didn't notice the difference right away. Part of it was because they were so glad to see him alive he could have been wearing nothing but greasepaint and a bowler and they'd have barely noticed; another might have been the attention the wheelchair he was now confined to garnered. The spinal treatments had clearly been ineffective and the very private British man would say little more than that on the subject. Rembrandt wanted a moment alone with him to see if he was still suffering from the disease that, if he had understood correctly, should have killed him by now.
'Now' being sometime in late July, 2002. The time skip had resulted in the foursome losing roughly a year and a half of their lives. Adjusting for the fact that they were in November, 2001 when they left time travel world, they had been 'bounced' nearly two years into the future. This, combined with the oddity of their current location, was more than a little disorienting to the foursome.
After detainment, more detainment and some extra detainment thrown in for good measure, they had been forcibly 'escorted' to what was known as the Maximilian P. Arturo Center for Interdimensional Studies. Apparently, although Arturo had lost some of his girth, he retained his massive ego. The program was sponsored by the Grand Alliance and intended to study the problems arising from interdimensional travel. Rembrandt and Wade had no clue exactly what those problems might be, but if they resulted in dimensions unraveling on themselves, it was undoubtedly worth as much of the time, effort and manpower of the Grand Alliance as they could spare.
From the look of things, Arturo had made certain that his staff fit the bill. The place was teeming with activity, and even the conference table the four of them sat around, supposed to only contain those in the highest level management positions, had at least fifty people sitting around it. Rembrandt felt decidedly uncomfortable. And, for some odd reason, he had the desire to tear all Hello Kitty wall calendars into little pieces.
Arturo's voice boomed impressively as he took the time to inform the newly arrived quartet of interdimensional/time travelers of what had transpired over the last year or so. Much of the details were foreign to them, particularly Diana and Quinn. Still, the gist was this: for the most part, the war had gone well for the Grand Alliance. Lesion's forces had rolled back, having gone from controlling and/or having armed forces stationed on nearly two hundred worlds to somewhere around thirty. Unfortunately, these worlds were the core of Mekkan strength and included Mekkan Prime and what is usually referred to as "the trade colonies". Grand Alliance forces continue to lack the ability to challenge the rogue Mekkan government on those Earths, while Lesion is crippled to the point of being unable to expand further. The war, therefore, is a stalemate. One side must do something drastic to break it, and soon.
Maximilian Arturo took a long drink of water after giving the obligatory exposition. "I trust everyone understands the gravity of the situation. Unfortunately, Lesion is no longer the only threat with which we must contend."
Quinn cleared his throat impatiently and drew some quick negative attention to himself, which was clearly his intent. "This interdimensional intrigue stuff is great and all, but I don't see what it has to do with me."
Arturo's eyes met those of this version of Quinn Mallory in a hard gaze. "I'm afraid it has everything to do with you, Mr. Mallory. Observe." At the push of a button, a large screen emerged from behind him. Images appeared on it which didn't appear to make sense when presented together in succession.
"I don't get it," Diana told the group as she strained her eyes to look at the blinking images. "Is it a video collage?"
"Hardly," the Professor rumbled gruffly. "This is what has been happening to dozens of realities across the multiverse. Temporal fluctuations which we believe may eventually eliminate any semblance of life on Earth. The process starts slowly, and then the flow of time begins to disintegrate completely. And it's spreading." With another quick motion of his finger, the images disappeared. "It has been dubbed Kaos. We believe it originated on your home Earth, Mr. Mallory, sometime not long after your departure."
"That can't be right," Quinn complained. "At worst, that thing we saw could only have been a localized effect. How could it have spread to the whole world like that?"
Arturo had the urge to slap this particular derivation of Quinn Mallory. How many of them had not the slightest idea what destruction they were capable of? "We're trying to determine exactly how it happened. We've enjoyed precious little luck so far. Of course, any aid you could afford us would be very much appreciated."
"Why don't we make a deal?" Quinn suggested smugly. "I'll help you with your problem and you help me with mine: getting home."
"We'll do what we can," Arturo answered brusquely. "As for your return home, that may present a problem. We're still not certain how Kaos enters other dimensions. Until then, all worlds where it is known to be present are under interdimensional quarantine, as it were. I'm afraid you're going to be away from your home for quite some time."
Wade Welles found Rembrandt Brown standing almost perfectly still outside the Arturo Center, which was only one of the many facets of what was shaping up to be their strange new world. The 'strange' part referred to how much had happened since their departure: the creation of the Arturo Center, the changes in the war effort and even at home, as human governments were just beginning to assert themselves over the Kromaggs. But as for it being their actual home, well that was where the 'new' part came in. Professor Arturo had pulled the two of them aside only moments ago and informed them of something both joyous and heartbreaking: this Earth, ravaged by Kromaggs and perennially at war with Lesion, was not Earth Prime.
Wade looked at Rembrandt as he stared off into the distance. It was a clear night, for San Francisco's sky at any rate, and Remmy's eyes were fixed on the stars. "I guess we blew it," Wade remarked. Rembrandt refused to reply. "We didn't get Quinn back. We're right back where we started, only missing a few months and, of course, now we know this isn't..." Her voice, filled as it was with strong emotion, trailed off. She still wasn't sure if she was supposed to be happy or sad that this wasn't home.
For a few moments, they didn't say anything to each other. Rembrandt couldn't find the words to say. Past, present and future blurred together in his own personal vision of chaos, otherwise known as his life. Remmy half-smiled. There had been little to no stability in his existence before his Cadillac sped into an interdimensional wormhole. Why should things be any different now?
Wade's hand found its way onto his arm as a gesture of support. Rembrandt appreciated it, but refused to meet her gaze. He wanted to be alone but he also didn't want Wade to leave. For some reason, that didn't seem like a contradiction to him. He exhaled and expected fog to come out of his mouth. Remmy still somehow expected it to be winter, even though it was now summertime. A few moments later, he turned and looked Wade in the eyes. "I'm sorry."
Wade looked puzzled, but put a slight smile on her face anyway. "About what?"
"About everything," he replied breathily. "About leading us back to that blasted time travel world. About all of our plans getting screwed up because of what happened there. About losing eighteen months of our lives." Rembrandt again looked out at the sky. "About so damn much."
"It wasn't your fault, Rembrandt," Wade told him softly. "You couldn't have known what would happen. None of us did. But if you want to blame someone..."
Rembrandt interrupted her. He knew where she was going with that. "No. I guess it's just one of those things that happen when you're used to traveling from dimension to dimension and then try your hand at time travel." He smiled. "Did that sound as weird as I think it did?" No answer came readily. "And to think I used to be the normal one of the group."
"Hey," Wade protested lightly.
"Present company excluded, of course," Remmy amended. That seemingly satisfied her, although Rembrandt seemed as restless as ever. "What am I going to do now, Wade? Although it's pretty close, this isn't my world. I don't fit in here with a bunch of eggheads and I probably wouldn't make it out there. Not now. Who's going to hire a washed up R&B singer in post-Kromagg invasion America?"
Remmy sighed heavily and looked away from Wade. "I never was a scientist, or a fighter. The only thing I have experience at is sliding and I don't know how much longer I can do that."
Wade wasn't buying it. "I think you're selling yourself a bit short. You're a survivor, Rembrandt. You could never have come this far if you weren't."
"Yeah, I've come real far," Rembrandt retorted with a chortle. "All the way back here and I still don't know what the hell to do with myself."
Wade cleared her throat. "I'd like to make a suggestion." Rembrandt's attention was suddenly focused completely on Wade. "The Professor has offered us a position here. Well, actually, the Grand Alliance Consulate did, and he says he's just passing the offer along, but I suspect he had more to do with it than he's letting on."
"What?" Rembrandt asked cynically. "Another desk job? Filling out paperwork for some Mekkan bureaucrats to sort and file?"
Wade smiled slyly. "Not quite. I think this one may be more your style."
"I get paid for sliding?" Diana asked, surprise filling her voice as she read the form in front of her. "I get paid for sliding?!" she asked again, shock quickly transforming into excitement.
The guard who had delivered the message was flummoxed. "I...I'm not aware of the contents of the message, doctor. I apologize."
"Don't worry about it," Diana replied, barely paying the man any notice as he walked further down the hallway. Her eyes continued to ogle the figures listed on the paper. Could the benefits package really be this generous? She could hardly believe her good fortune.
Decidedly less than impressed was Quinn Mallory, who got the message a few moments after Diana did, but read much, much faster. "Wonderful. Just perfect."
Diana didn't pick up on his tone right away as she looked at him standing across the hall. "I see you got the same letter I did. Isn't it incredible?"
Quinn rolled his eyes. "Yeah, amazing. First I get dragged along on some half-baked 'Cassandra with 20/20 hindsight' mission back in time; then I'm pulled away from my home dimension because of some weird looping effect that I don't even get the chance to study the cause of; now I'm being shanghaied into some kind of interdimensional NASA?! It's not exactly something I'd like to write home about. Assuming I could write home, which apparently I can't."
Diana cocked her head to one side in a gesture of sympathy. "Yeah, I can see how this might not be exactly what you wanted. Still, so far as I can tell these people are going to be looking for a way to get you home pretty much full time." They traded odd looks. "I'm sorry, I don't think we've actually been introduced. I'm Dr. Diana Davis."
They shook hands quickly. "Quinn Mallory. But then again, I'm guessing you've met another me before."
"Yes," Diana told him. "Well, no. Maybe? It's kind of a complicated story."
"Seems like everything is here," Quinn groused. Diana was beginning to think he protested too much; if the time traveler-cum-slider was anything like her, he was practically salivating over the technology gap between this facility and anything else she'd ever seen before. "So this is your home world?"
"No," she answered with a small shrug.
Quinn was slightly taken aback. "Oh. But you're here for a reason, right?"
Diana's shoulders once again rose and fell. "Your guess is as good as mine."
Quinn's smile was unexpectedly disarming. "Then I suppose we're in the same leaky boat, aren't we?" He looked back down at the piece of paper in his hand. "Are you going to sign this?"
Diana nodded quickly. "I'm going to get paid for sliding," she said enthusiastically.
Quinn read it over again. "I suppose I don't have much of a choice. They must expect me to do some serious penance for creating this Kaos thing."
"Oh, I don't think anybody blames you for that," the resident human female scientist assured him.
"Actually, this clause in the contract does," Quinn pointed out to Diana. "'By signing this document, Quinn Mallory assumes full blame and liability for the creation of the Kaos effect.'"
"I don't remember seeing that on mine," Diana said with a look of confusion on her face as she once again perused the document in front of her.
Quinn just shook his head. If she could make it as a slider, surely anyone could. "Forget about it. Look, I'll go into this thing blind if you will."
"Deal," Diana answered him. The two of them signed the forms, stuffed them back in the envelopes and put them in their outgoing mail. Thus the first professional sliding team was born. God help us all.
Maximilian Arturo removed the bifocals from his bleary eyes, wiped them clean of sweat and dust and placed them gingerly inside his glasses case. He then deposited the container inside the front right pocket of his white lab coat, released one brake on his wheelchair to turn himself in the proper direction and the other when he was ready to move. He traveled speedily, offering 'good night's and 'see you in the morning's to the rest of the staff as necessary. There was a certain air of geniality about him that existed now that hadn't before he faced life forever bound to a chair. Perhaps it was the inner optimist in him asserting itself, or maybe he just enjoyed his newfound authority. At any rate, he seemed to be well-liked here.
Entering his quarters required a seven-digit passcode that he punched in from memory without thinking about it. Actually, he messed it up the first time but nailed it on the second try. Muttering curse words that half the Yanks in this facility wouldn't have appreciated, Maximilian Arturo wheeled himself into his room, careful to avoid the new bookshelf he had just had put in, and deposited the chair at the foot of his bed. Picking himself up with his arms as best he could (he plopped back down in the chair more than a few times), he eventually flailed onto his bed, where he then crawled into a comfortable position. 'Comfortable' being a relative term. Not being able to move your legs tended to breed discomfort.
After taking a moment to catch his breath and relax, Arturo lifted himself up on one elbow and reached underneath his bed. After grasping at the carpet for a few moments, he at last found the box of doodads he was looking for. With some effort, he slid it out from under the bed, picked it up and plopped it down on his mattress. It appeared to be a box full of mostly useless trinkets, bits of electronica that he had hoped to make use of some day but which just took up space at the present time. Appearances, however, were often deceiving.
Three seemingly unrelated bits of metal, when fitted together at a certain odd angle, formed a holographic view screen that didn't register anything other than pink static and white noise for about five minutes. Eventually, a terse voice crackled on the other end. "What is your business?"
"I wish to file a report," Arturo responded gruffly. He waited another few moments; the process of vocal identification was rigorous and supposedly eliminated the possibility that doubles could use it. Arturo wasn't so sure. Still, he was in no position to complain. When it bid him to proceed, he did so.
"Postulation Alpha has been proven correct. Those who created Kaos were not destroyed by it. They arrived here today as babes in the woods. They have no idea what has transpired since their departure." He was starting to hear an echo so he made some quick adjustments before he continued. "As ordered, I lied to them. I told them that this was not their home world, although I'm still unclear as to why this was necessary. I request further instructions on how to proceed. That is all."
Maximilian Arturo flipped a knob on the abstract art-like communication device and then smoothly disassembled it. He would not receive an answer for a few days and there was no point in leaving it intact except to needlessly increase the chances of its discovery. Throwing the pieces back into the box, he then returned the carton to its usual place below his bed, turned off the lights in the room and slept peacefully.
[ Earth 2013 Episode Guide | The Otherworlds ]