6.15 - The Sacrifice
He considered knocking, but then decided to let himself in. It was one of the perks of the job, so why not take advantage of it? The house itself seemed a fascinating piece of architecture. He chided himself for wanting to give the place a quick once over. There was really no need to look anywhere but the basement. He walked down the stairs as quickly and quietly as he could.
The place was certainly large enough to house a pack of elephants but was filled with complex-looking machinery. 'Could he have built all this on the salary he makes?' he wondered. He picked up a gizmo that had been laying on some sort of makeshift work table. It looked like something that belonged in the lab and he didn't recall anyone signing it out. Which begged the question: what was it doing here?
A mini-fridge in the corner caught his attention. 'Ah, luxury,' he thought with a mental smirk. Deciding he could use something to drink, he reached in and got himself a soda. No sense in not taking advantage of his guest's hospitality, such as it was. He made his way over to a television with a video camera sitting on top. A VCR with labeled tapes haphazardly strewn about around it was seemingly waiting for some curious stranger to hit the Play button. He sat and put one of the tapes in. "Let's see what you've been up to, Mr. Mallory."
A frazzled-looking Quinn Mallory stared into the camera. "September 13th. My attempt to replicate a machine for interdimensional travel has taken a decidedly bizarre turn. Interdimensional portal, uh-huh. Something else, definitely."
He raised an eyebrow. Something else? Something like what? This had to be reported.
But why right now? Maybe there was something he could find out for himself down here. It was what he was paid to do, after all. He walked over to the equipment he had seen Mallory standing in front of on the video. 'What the hell does Quinn Mallory plan to do with all of this?' he thought to himself.
Quinn Mallory looked for some way to escape, although he knew it was in vain. He would be trapped here for the duration of this horrible ordeal, no doubt about it. He was starting to get used to the beating his body was taking and he hoped that meant his body was going numb. He had certainly felt enough pain for one day.
Around him, Professor Maximilian Arturo, Rembrandt Brown and Wade Welles each held large sticks and weren't being shy about hitting him with them. He knew pleading with them would do no good; he had already made his voice hoarse with pleas within the first few minutes of the assault. There was but one hope for his salvation now. He watched the clock with anguish on his face. It had been over fifteen minutes.
Quinn tried desperately to focus on something else as the hits just kept on coming, as the saying went. Hopefully he was not the only one having difficulty dealing with this level of punishment. Finally, his relief arrived. The buzzer sounded obnoxiously and the flying sticks wielded by his friends finally ceased their relentless assault. Quinn, although dizzy and almost ready to collapse, looked over at the ring next to them. The other man, a plumber from Oxnard, was down for the count. His fellow sliders seemed jubilant, but Quinn was just exhausted. He couldn't stand much longer, but he knew he had to stagger his way out of the circle for the contest to be officially declared over.
"Looks like we have a winner, ladies and gents!" the host, Anson Williams, called out with what Quinn felt was undue enthusiasm. "But of course we can't give you our top prize until you answer just one question. What game show gives you the most amount of prize money for the least amount of work?"
Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo's exhausted arms protested that statement, not to mention what Quinn would have said had this not been scheduled to air on national television. But they hadn't come this far only to lose the money on a technicality. "You Bruise, You Lose," they all answered in monotonous union. Anson grinned like an idiot in response.
"That's right, folks!" Williams called out. "Tell them what they've won, Don!"
"Five thousand dollars!!!" came the overly excited disembodied voice over the loudspeakers. A glittering cardboard prop in the shape of the number 5000 lowered from the ceiling. Quinn was apparently too close to the flamboyant sign, as the shining glitter temporarily blinded him.
"You're walking away with the big prize of the night," Anson told the Sliders. "For people who normally work as archaelogoanthropologists that's a pretty tidy sum, huh?"
Arturo swallowed his scientific pride. "Why, yes. We couldn't be more delighted to have gotten the money this easily." Quinn shot him a dirty look, but had the energy to do little else.
"That's it for today! Unless you folks have anything else to say about the show, there's some waivers for you to sign backstage," he said, indicating the foursome could speak, but obviously not expecting any sort of response.
Quinn, despite being horribly sore, was still defiant. "Weren't you Potsie?" he asked snidely.
Anson gritted his teeth. "Mo, Mugsie," he called out to two burly gentlemen sitting by the exits. "Why don't you show our guests backstage?" As the two men crammed them through a narrow exit, the sliders each gave their own little protest. "Hey!" Wade cried out. "Wait a minute," said Rembrandt. "Ow!" called out Quinn. "Confound you," said the Professor.
"And now our final question goes to you, the audience," Anson Williams called out. "On what show does it pay to get beaten?"
"You Bruise, You Lose," the audience chanted in unison.
"Five thousand dollars!" Rembrandt declared as they exited the studio. Normally they wouldn't have been shouting their monetary status to as many miscreants as could overhear, but this world was so low on crime that the police force had been reduced to people who on any other world would have been mall security guard rejects.
"Yes," the Professor concurred pleasantly. "It will be nice not to have to worry about making money for a few slides." Quinn groaned, but otherwise said nothing.
"I can't believe we've spent two weeks on this world already," Wade said, looking around at the city that was called Con Paradiso on this world. It certainly had seemed like paradise to the sliders so far. Well, most of them anyway.
"Oh sure," Quinn stated. "You're all thrilled with this world, but you didn't have to get beaten for half an hour." He looked at the bruises and welts now developing on his arms. "Now I know how Rodney King must have felt."
"I doubt it," Rembrandt said under his breath.
"Come now, Mr. Mallory," Professor Arturo declared. "We all agreed that it was the easiest way to make money on this world. Besides, if you really feel that poorly, we could always take you to a doctor. We have the money to do that sort of thing now."
"I can't go see a doctor," Quinn groused. "One of the waivers I signed said I couldn't go see a licensed physician for the next two weeks."
"Well, you know," Wade said, rubbing salt in the wound, "if you hadn't missed that first question you wouldn't have had to endure the beating for quite so long."
"How was I supposed to know that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by George Washington on this world?" Quinn wanted to know. "I mean how is that even possible?"
"I think the point was to give the stupidest answer you could think of," Rembrandt pointed out. "Unless Francis Ford Coppola really did direct Bambi here."
"And I wasn't let in on that little fact because...?" Quinn asked earnestly.
"Because the ravenous vultures otherwise known as the television viewing public doesn't want to see you answering questions," Professor Arturo answered honestly. "They want to see you getting publicly flogged."
"That's great. Very comforting," Quinn told him while rubbing his own sore right shoulder. "I think I'm going to go get some ointment and head back to the hotel."
"I'm pretty beat, too. No pun intended," Wade said slyly. "I think I'll head back too."
"Suit yourselves," Rembrandt said, dismissing them. "Me, I want to celebrate. Now that we got some real dough, I want to get something to eat. None of that fast food crap, either."
"I couldn't agree more, Mr. Brown," Professor Arturo said with a smile. "I was thinking about a big, juicy steak just this morning..."
"This isn't so bad," Quinn said as his body lay completely motionless on the bed. He was letting the ointment seep through his pores, as it was just about the only thing he had the energy for.
"Maybe on the next world we can afford to get three rooms," Wade said as she poured herself a glass of ice water. "No offense, but sharing is just...awkward, you know?"
Wade sat on her bed and opened a book. She had read it several times and was just now getting to her favorite part. Just as she became engrossed, Quinn asked her something. "Do you think the Professor's still mad at me?"
Wade bit her lip. "I think he's moved past anger and gone straight to deep-seated resentment and disappointment. Rembrandt's a little oblivious, but I don't think he's going to throw you a surprise party anytime soon." Wade shot him a fiery look. "As for me, I'm still at anger."
Quinn didn't know quite what to say. "I haven't done very well so far with this sliding gig, I know." A thought occurred to him. "Hey, since Arturo and Rembrandt are doing the male bonding thing on this world, maybe we could do some bonding too."
"Is that a come on?" Wade asked with some disgust in her voice.
"No!" Quinn insisted. "It's just...we haven't had a chance to talk seriously. Ever since I blew it at that Depths place... Anyway, I saw this great little bar not far from here while I was looking for someplace to buy a tourniquet. Maybe we could go there tomorrow?"
"I don't know," Wade replied with uncertainty in her voice. "I worked out a lot of my issues with you during the game show..."
"Why doesn't it surprise me that you'd find that level of violence cathartic?" Quinn said only mildly teasingly.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Wade demanded.
"You'll have to join me tomorrow if you want to find out," Quinn said with a grin. Wade stuck her tongue out in response.
Rembrandt was never certain what motivated him to attend church on any given parallel world. Was it the notion that he could die on a world as a result of any sudden circumstance? The fact that how a world approached religion often revealed as much about a culture as anything else? Or was it that every time he walked into a church he felt a little closer to home?
'Probably a little bit of all of the above,' Rembrandt mused. Plus, curiosity had gotten the best of him. He just had to find out why this place was called the Apostle's Church of St. Judas.
The interior of the place reminded him of a Catholic Church. He had only been to one once, back about twenty years ago after a girl named Renee dumped him in Montreal. It wasn't a pleasant memory. Rembrandt almost backed out the door to find somewhere else to worship, but he managed to stop himself. 'Curiousity,' he thought, managing to paste a smile on his face. He found the smile mirrored in the faces of all those around him. 'At least everyone's friendly enough,' he thought.
After taking his seat, the first thing he noticed were that a lot of the people wore necklaces with a rock attached, much like people from his homeworld would wear crosses. 'There's got to be something behind that,' Rembrandt thought. "Excuse me, miss," he called out to a young woman sitting in front of him. "What does that rock on your chain mean?"
"It means that I'm a Christian, of course," she answered, nonplussed. Several other people he questioned were similarly not forthcoming with information about the origins of their faith. So Rembrandt decided to go straight to the source.
It had been a long time since he'd cracked open a Bible, so he was a little rusty. But he was sure some of these book names weren't right. "Matthias? Antiochans? The Gospel According to St. Bartholomew?" Rembrandt wondered, perhaps too loudly for the people around him, as he was met with some angry stares. "Sorry," he whispered.
Meanwhile, Professor Maximilian Arturo was also doing some book work. He had decided an engaging activity for these quiet worlds would be to compile an alternate history notebook. Arturo concluded that it might be useful in tracing divergence points and in figuring out why human history unfolded as it did. If not, then he could at least publish it when he got home and make a few bucks. 'If Miss Welles' diary could be successfully published, why not this?' the Professor mused.
In truth, finding things to occupy his time as the journey continued was becoming more and more difficult. There was the matter of keeping the timer in working order and getting home, of course. Arturo had considered the implications of slide and quantum signatures and that it could lead to a ticket home. Unfortunately, this would take a lot of time and effort and drain a considerable amount of their resources. It would also require a world with the necessary technology and a capable assistant, which regrettably meant working with Mr. Mallory.
Arturo sighed. His relationships with his sliding compatriots were continually growing worse. Rembrandt, who arguably was the closest friend he had on the team, was a veritable amnesiac who had to be tiptoed around in conversations with the others. Wade had never truly forgiven him for lying about Quinn's true identity and in any case they continually clashed over methods and leadership.
Then there was Quinn. In a way, Arturo pitied him. To be the odd man out in a group that had such an extensive history together had to make him feel isolated. Isolated or not, however, many of his actions thus far were still deplorable. There were times that Professor Arturo wondered how the Quinn he knew and this Quinn could possibly share the same genes, even though he knew the differences that could exist between doubles.
And yet there was a part of Maximilian Arturo that could not help but see everything in this Quinn that he saw in the one who left Earth Prime with him: a devoted student, gifted protege, and a boy closer to a son than his own flesh and blood had ever been. It had been difficult seeing a version of his son, Douglas, as an interdimensional hoodlum; it was downright painful to know that Quinn had put his life in the hands of that same hoodlum on the word of someone he barely knew. Despite all the disappointment, he knew there was such great potential in him. The Professor sighed. Perhaps he would just have to keep a closer eye on him from now on.
Quinn and Wade sauntered into Ed's Place. Neither of them could see into the place through the glass door, as it was covered in dirt smudges. Inside, there was a jukebox that looked like a brick had been hurled through it and a group of men sitting around the bar who looked like they were too slovenly to drive tractor trailers. "Oh, yeah. This place is classy," Wade remarked sarcastically in a stage whisper.
Quinn frowned slightly. "It seemed like a nice enough place yesterday."
Wade's mouth showed a half-smile. "Must have been the massive head trauma."
Quinn was starting to get a little peeved. "Do you want to get out of here?"
"No," Wade said with a touch of poutiness in her voice. "As long as we're here, we might as well have a drink." The two of them sat down at a small table next to the bar.
"What'll it be?" the barkeep asked nonchalantly. Quinn ordered a beer and Wade ordered ice water. "I'm not in much of a drinking mood," she explained.
"So," Quinn said, trying to think of something for them to talk about. He was failing miserably.
"So," Wade repeated, unwilling to discuss anything of substance with her fellow slider at this moment.
Both of them gradually turned their attention to the TV as the awkward silence continued indefinitely. Their drinks came just as the commercials ended. Quinn and Wade did a good job of pretending to be enthralled with CNN Headline News.
"Our Top Story for Today: Sweden has once again denied UN weapons' inspectors the right to view their chemical weapons plants. President Andre Marrou has asked the government in Stockholm to reconsider the proposal or risk military action from the Security Council. More from Peter Coyote at UN Headquarters in Beijing."
"We're not friends," Wade said suddenly, drawing Quinn's attention from the television as quickly as was physically possible. "I don't want you to think I came here because I value our friendship...because I don't. We don't have one."
"Oh," Quinn replied, a little dumbstruck. He was quick on his feet though. "If we're not friends, what are we then? Co-workers?"
Wade pondered it for only a moment. "No. We're not even that close because this gig isn't really voluntary, despite what you seem to think." Quinn couldn't pretend that didn't hurt. "What are we? We're strangers occupying the same lifeboat. Nothing more." Silence pervaded between them once more.
"...ish Premier Adolphus Gustavson has denied stockpiling such weapons and says he will continue to fight for his nation's sovereignty in Beijing."
One of the men, clearly drunk, raised his glass in the air. "I say...we've beaten one Adolf, we can beat another." That got a roar of approval from his fellow barflies.
Quinn was frustrated and had to vent it somehow other than at Wade. "How can you compare the ruler of Sweden to Hitler?" he asked.
The bartender looked at Quinn like he had just grown a third eye and it was winking suggestively at him. "Hitler?!" he asked incredulously. "We're talking about Eichmann!"
The man who spoke initially rose from his bar stool. "Eichmann!" he exclaimed as if it were an expletive. "If it weren't for that bastard I wouldn't have spent the best years of my life in Russia fightin' World War II."
Quinn looked at the man carefully. He couldn't have been too much more than fifty. "Wait a minute," Quinn said. "You fought in World War II? Give me a break!"
Professor Arturo had finally gotten through the lengthy section of this world's history that included World War II. Here, amazingly enough, it lasted up until 1975, with the U.S. only entering in 1959. It was a long, complicated story but basically Winston Churchill never came to power here, and the British Prime Minister that ruled in his stead, Lord Halifax, made a bargain with Hitler after he invaded Poland. The war went smashingly for the Axis after that point, until the Nazis became bogged down in Russia and the Japanese were being continually undermined by partisan resistance in China. Before the twenty year mark passed, new leadership was able to arrive in Great Britain, as Anthony Eden became PM in 1957. He did the job Churchill would have done in Arturo's own history, eventually drawing the United States into the war in 1959 after the German invasion of the Azores. After the long and bloody affair was concluded, Britain, the United States and a democratic China managed to rebuild the world on principles that were basically democratic, but at a terrible cost. Approximately half a billion lives were lost in the process of the thirty-six year long war.
"Listen, punk," the man said in a derisive tone of voice, "I flew over two dozen missions over the Baltic in '73 so that ingrates like you could sit here and complain over a beer! So if you don't want all your teeth knocked out, sit down and shut the hell up!!" There was a roar of agreement across the bar.
"Sorry," Quinn mumbled, a look of defeat etched on his face.
Rembrandt looked down at the Bible in front of him. Matthew 16:18 was exactly the same here, even though in this world's history Peter betrayed Jesus (who was stoned to death here) and it was Judas who became the leader of the early church. "Upon this rock I will build my church," Rembrandt quoted quietly. He chuckled a little. "I'm sorry Lord, but that's a pretty bad pun."
Rembrandt barely glanced up as a blue flash suddenly covered everything. As he looked around, the church seemed a completely different place. Some of the stained-glass windows were broken and pews were turned over. There were people weeping at the altar. 'What the devil happened here?' Rembrandt wondered.
Professor Maximilian Arturo was reading a volume of recent history when it disappeared from his hands. He looked around to find the library virtually empty of books and completely empty of people. The lights had gone out as well, leaving him literally and figuratively in the dark. "What's going on?" he asked to no one in particular.
"That can change, can't it?" Quinn asked Wade. "Us being friends?" When Wade looked ready to answer, he stopped her. "That is to say I can change. And I will. I swear."
"Look," Wade said. "You want my advice? Keep a low profile for the next few worlds. Don't play the hero for a while. It doesn't suit you that well anyway. And most of all, try not to make any..." The blue flash interrupted her. She looked at Quinn as everything changed around them. "Oh my God!" Wade cried out.
"The entire place has changed," Quinn said, looking the bar up and down. It now said "Al's Place" and was completely devoid of patrons. It looked like it had been closed for a while. Dust had piled up on the counter and the mirror behind the bar was shattered. Weirdest of all, their drinks had vanished from in front of them.
"Your, um, attire's different, too," Wade pointed out. Quinn looked down to see that his shirt had disappeared. Thinking it might have fallen off somehow, he looked around for it. His search ended unsuccessfully.
Feeling a little embarassed, he pulled his coat from behind the chair he had been sitting on, threw it on and zipped it up. "I just bought that shirt yesterday," Quinn complained. "I wonder why the rest of my clothes didn't disappear. Not that I'm complaining..." Quinn did a quick inventory of his outfit just to make sure his last statement had been true. "My socks are gone."
Wade, now feeling a little self-conscious, did a check of her own clothing. "Mine too. So much for that big sale on socks at the Gorge."
"Anything else missing?" Quinn asked with a raised eyebrow.
For no reason that Quinn could see, Wade put her jacket on and zipped it up as he had. "Nope."
"Wade, check the timer," Quinn instructed with worry in his voice. Wade's eyes showed similar concern, and she seemed reluctant to check it. "Relax, there's probably nothing wrong with it. Just take a look." Wade was so distracted by this weirdness that she didn't even care about taking orders from this Quinn.
Wade pulled out the gizmo and her eyes grew wide. "It...it says we have over two weeks here. We were supposed to slide out tomorrow morning." She looked around them. "Could we have slid somehow?"
Quinn wouldn't let the relief he felt show on his face. They hadn't missed the slide. "I didn't see a vortex, did you?" Wade seemed dissatisfied with that as an answer. "It'll be OK, Wade. We just need to rendezvous with the Professor and Rembrandt..."
Wade let out a gasp. "The Professor...Remmy...if we somehow slid without them, they'd be stuck back there."
"I don't think we have to worry about that," Quinn told her. "From what we've seen so far, I'd say it's probably some kind of local phenomenon. I suspect we'll learn more about why when we meet up with the Professor." Wade nodded. She then frantically withdrew something else from her pocket and got a horrified look on her face. "What is it?" Quinn queried.
"The money," Wade said with a whimper. "It's gone."
"All of it?" Quinn asked with a grimace.
"Well, there's some fuzzy change in here that I picked off the sidewalk on the last world, but otherwise..." Her sentence trailed off there. "Damn it!"
"Let it go, Wade," Quinn told her, forcing himself to speak in a calm tone of voice. "Let's head to the Dominion and see how the others are faring."
Professor Maximilian Arturo was missing a tie and some socks but was otherwise none the worse for wear. Shining a mini-flashlight around, he was hoping to find his way out of here more than anything else, but some clues as to what exactly had happened to him and this library would have been welcome as well. The books he had been studying, as well as most every other book in the entire building, had vanished. However, his own personal notebook was undisturbed and currently resided in the inside pocket of his overcoat. There had to be some sort of rhyme and reason to it all, but the Professor was unprepared to give a definitive answer now.
As he walked by, one book sitting on the shelves caught his eye. "'The Eagle and the Bear: Perspectives on the Cold War'", Arturo read aloud. Odd. He didn't remember reading anything about a cold war in the books he had been reading. He decided to take the book, putting it in another one of his coat's large pockets. He didn't feel much guilt over taking it. 'I doubt there's even a librarian around to hand out a fine.'
After stumbling around in the barely lit building for a little while, the Professor could have sworn he heard voices coming from another room. Creeping his way closer to the noise, he realized it was in a language he didn't understand. It sounded a bit like several people speaking Japanese and, judging from the abandoned location, it certainly didn't seem like these people wanted anyone eavesdropping on their conversation. As Arturo attempted to leave without drawing their attention, he stumbled and nearly fell into a large shelf where books undoubtedly were once stored. The Professor was relieved for only a moment. He watched in horror as the shelf collapsed with a loud bang. The British man grimaced and attempted to make a hasty exit. He stopped as he heard footsteps coming too quickly for him to outrun them. There would have to be a confrontation.
Sure enough, the men were Japanese, although closer to Arturo's age than he would have guessed. At first, they yelled and gestured wildly at him. The Professor felt he had to do something to help his case. "Listen gentlemen, I don't know if any of you speak English, but I assure you that my presence here was merely an oversight on..." As he spoke, the men in business suits scrambled away from him as if he had suddenly become a grave threat to them. Arturo was left alone to continue pondering his escape route from this building. 'What a strange world.'
Quinn and Wade stood in front of the Dominion Hotel, their place of residence up until all this weirdness occurred. They weren't having any luck getting in. "Sorry, this is a restricted area," a weaselly looking man of slight build told them. He stood in front of the door like a sentry.
Wade looked defiant. "Restricted by whom?"
"Mayor Fujimori," he said with bravado in his voice. "You got a problem with it? Take it to City Hall. This entire block's what ya call a historical landmark." He snickered slightly.
Quinn looked up at the decrepit building. It had definitely seen better days. The current decor did seem to fit with the rest of the neighborhood; Quinn guessed this must have been what passed for Con Paradiso's red light district. "Look, we don't want trouble. We just left some things behind when we were here a few days ago."
The man smiled, revealing ugly yellow teeth. "I don't remember seeing you no two days ago," he told them. "And even if you were here, if you left anything worth a crap inside it's gone by now."
"He's right Quinn," Wade said softly to her fellow slider. "We should probably just..."
The man cut her off. "Damn right I'm right," he said proudly. "But of course, if you're hell bent on getting inside, I'm sure we could work something out." He leered at Wade. "I like 'em feisty."
Wade's eyes narrowed. "I wouldn't sleep with you if you were the last slimeball on Earth."
The man shrugged unapologetically. "I got a warm place to sleep tonight. Do you?" Quinn managed to get Wade to walk away from the man slowly. "Your loss!" he cried out.
As the two of them made their way across the street, they spotted the Professor and Rembrandt waiting on a street corner. The Professor was missing his standard trenchcoat and tie, but otherwise his attire was unchanged. Rembrandt was wearing Arturo's overcoat and was clutching it as tightly against his body as he could manage. The Professor saw the disgusted look on their faces as they walked over from the Dominion. "I take it you two had poorer luck than we did."
Wade decided to vent a bit of her anger. "Well, I was propositioned, but other than that I'd say you're right."
Arturo nodded. "They said they'd let me in for a few quid, but seemed disappointed when I told them I didn't have any British currency."
Rembrandt adjusted the slightly-too-large-for-him jacket around his legs. "What's with the new look?" Quinn asked Remmy with a smirk.
"You remember those jeans I bought yesterday?" he asked Quinn.
"Let me guess. They vanished?" Wade said sympathetically.
"Sittin' in church in my underwear," Rembrandt moaned. "It was like a freakin' nightmare."
"I'm afraid our wardrobe is not the most pressing problem at hand," the Professor pointed out.
"Says the man with pants," Rembrandt groused.
Quinn ignored him. "Any idea what caused this, Professor?"
There was a slight gleam in Professor Arturo's eye. He liked being the brains of the outfit and he didn't mind showing it. "I take it from your question that you've come to the same conclusion I have: there is no possible way that this is the same earth we arrived on. We are not hallucinating nor have we been teleported to another part of the city. Things are decidedly too different for this to be the case." Quinn nodded quickly. "Then allow me to continue that thought process and prove that just as this is not the Earth we arrived on, we have not traveled to a new dimension, either."
"How can that be?" Wade asked, frowning in confusion.
The Professor opened up his coat, the one Rembrandt was wearing, and withdrew a book. In the short time it was open, Wade saw that Remmy had taken his leather jacket and tied it around his waste for the sake of modesty. Rembrandt uttered a short protest and then closed the coat again sulkily. "Exhibit A: this book, obtained after the big change in this world, the cause of which is still unknown. Exhibit B:," he withdrew another book from his own coat, "is my alternate history notebook, with an outline of the history of the world we arrived on, up until the 1980s. The two feature strikingly different accounts of the last sixty years."
Quinn seemed uncomfortable with the Professor's pause in narration. "Care to elaborate on that Professor, or are you just going to leave us hanging?"
The elder British man was tempted to say something snide, but ultimately decided against it. "We all saw the large World War II Memorial on the slide in, if you'll recall. Well on this world, as it is now, it never happened. Instead, a Cold War took its place, dominating world affairs and putting the entire population in constant danger of nuclear oblivion. It's really a quite fascinating turn of events."
"I think we're all pretty familiar with the Cold War, Professor," Wade remarked.
"Not this particular version of it, Miss Welles," the Professor noted sourly. "I'm afraid on this world, the war of ideology was between communism, led by Soviet Russia; and fascism, led by Nazi Germany."
Maximilian Arturo lay hopelessly awake on his dingy little cot. There were supposed to be over a hundred homeless shelters in Con Paradiso, as San Francisco was known on this world for some reason they had not yet ascertained, and the Professor was sure they had picked the absolute worst one. There was no heat to be had, the blankets they gave you were most likely flea-infested and the smells brought the experience to a whole new level of horrid. Wasn't it just yesterday that he was lying in bed in a nice hotel? Circumstances had turned around too quickly on this world, even for him.
It was too dark to read and in any case Arturo had had his fill of history for one day. There was little to do other than think and try to keep his teeth from chattering. And there was nothing pleasant to think about. He had not wanted to alarm his fellow sliders, but they were in considerable danger on this world. He would not tell them why as long as there remained some ambiguity about the matter, but the longer their stay here, the more he would worry. He hoped to determine the cause of the phenomenon that had so drastically transformed this world, but had no great expectation of doing so. It would take a miracle landing in their laps for this mystery to be solved.
Arturo's attention turned immediately towards the entrance, as there was suddenly a lot of frantic knocking on the door. The attendant, a bleary eyed young man with a stubbly beard, rose groggily to the door. He pulled it back partially to see who it was. "Man, it's past curfew. You know I can't let you in."
"Have a heart, Jackie," he said with a voice that belied desperation. "They're crawlin' all over the city lookin' for me."
He sighed. "Trouble with the cops again, Murray?"
"No, man, not the cops!" he exclaimed. "The Jappia! I'm not talkin' about jail, man, I'm talkin' about dead!"
'Jackie' unhappily removed the chain. "This is it. I don't owe you no more favors." The other man nodded as the attendant showed him to a cot. It was the one next to Arturo's.
Deciding there really wasn't anything better to do, the Professor decided to strike up a conversation with the man. "Excuse me, I couldn't help eavesdropping. Did you say you're running from something called the Jappia?"
The man half-chuckled. "You're not from around here, are you?" Arturo shook his head. "Japanese mafia. They're takin' over this town, no doubt about it." He looked at the Professor carefully. "You wouldn't happen to be a lawyer, would you?"
The Professor mildly kept his exasperation to a loud stage whisper. "If I were, do you think I would be here?"
The man's eyes grew wide. "Hell, yeah! I fought a shyster for half a piece of bread just yesterday!" Arturo adjusted in his cot irritably. He was liking this world less and less. "Hey, I didn't mean to offend. It's just that a lot of barristers hopped a boat over the pond after England went red. And I may need a good lawyer. The cops may be as corrupt as hell, but I'll take my chances, know what I'm sayin'?"
The Professor did not, but there was something that inspired him to keep the man talking. "What is it exactly that you've done?"
"Nothin', man!" he assured him. "I was just hangin' with my boy Akawa! We were casin' this old house down on Blue Jay when suddenly Ak goes down some old stairwell and disappears! When I look down there, there's this big ol' blue wall! My chain got fried just by touchin' it!" He held out part of a broken chain and Arturo suddenly looked fascinated, but the other man misinterpreted the look. "I know it sounds hokey, but it's true. Now since Akawa was one of theirs, they wanna fry my..."
"You say he simply disappeared?" the Professor interrupted. He didn't even bother to listen to his response. Wasn't Blue Jay Way on or near where Mr. Mallory lived on his home earth? He looked down at Quinn, who was sleeping peacefully on the floor not far from him due to a severe cot shortage. On how many worlds had they traced scientific phenomena to his basement?
Feigning sleep, Arturo turned his back on the still yammering young derelict. Was he Salieri to Quinn's Mozart? Perhaps there was a trace of jealousy, but he could not bring himself to hate the boy for his genius. But he could also not stop himself from resenting Quinn, just a little. He closed his eyes tightly and began to breathe slowly. Sleep eventually carried him away from these thoughts.
"Man, I can't believe this!" Rembrandt complained looking down at his now oatmeal (or gruel as the Professor had called it) stained oversized overcoat. "The Cryin' Man, in this get up, in broad daylight! If we were home..."
"We're not home," Wade irritably pointed out. She had had a night as rough as the Professor's and her hair didn't look the best. The two factors were downright lethal when combined.
"...there'd be paparazzi all over the place!!" Rembrandt finished, unphased.
Professor Arturo saw no point in questioning the veracity of his statement, as it was almost too easy. "Look around you, Mr. Brown. Compared to this lot we're dressed in satin robes."
It was Quinn who decided to scope out their fellow pedestrians. The motley crew of panhandlers, swindlers and penny ante merchants gave the neighborhood the look of a Hooverville. There were a great deal of moneychangers, people who gave those with virtually useless American money deutschmarks, rubels and other foreign currency for very inflated rates. Hobos huddled against fires burning in rusted-out trash cans eyed them suspiciously. "This place does have a very post-apocalyptic feel," Quinn remarked.
"Try post-Great Collapse," the Professor corrected him. "Here, America was the last bastion of democracy for nearly twenty years, but it couldn't hold up against the economic strain. The nation virtually imploded."
"That's fascinating and all," Wade said. "But what does it have to do with us?"
"Do you recognize that house, Mr. Mallory?" Arturo asked his young would-be protege.
"No", Quinn answered off-handedly. "Wait, yes. That's my house! Isn't it?"
The Professor's eyebrows raised. "I believe so, although your vacillations hardly fill me with confidence in my theory. Due to the different twists of history, I'd wager that house has been abandoned for quite some time." The four of them eventually made their way to the abandoned house. It seemed quaintly palatial, if such a combination could be achieved.
Quinn picked up a newspaper, the Con Paradiso Pravda, from the sidewalk. "'Liberals Nix Plan to Attack Belize, President Buchanan Furious'," Quinn read. After scanning the paper for a few moments, another derelict came along to challenge him for ownership. Quinn surrendered it without a fight, and this particular piece of journalism ended up as kindling.
The gate was rusty, but it opened easily enough. It looked like someone had pried at the hinges recently. Arturo figured that it was the man he had spoken with last night and his disappearing companion. They made their way inside the house with relative ease.
Dust filled the air as they walked through the place. Rembrandt coughed loudly. "I don't think this place has seen any occupants for a while." He then thought about the vagrants regularly making rounds around the place. "No permanent ones at any rate."
Professor Arturo led the way to a door midway through the house. The sliders peered in reluctantly. As the man had raved, a glowing blue force field, a seeming wall of energy, guarded the entrance. The field was clear enough to see through, however, revealing a room that was much better maintained than the rest of the house.
"It looks just like my basement," Quinn banally assessed. "Minus the visual effects, of course."
"What exactly are we doing here, Professor?" Wade wondered.
"Mr. Brown," Arturo instructed, "hand me something from inside the house."
Rembrandt picked up a nearby vase and handed it to the Professor. "Careful with that, I think it's pretty frag..." He watched with mild shock as his English friend tossed the thing casually at the field...and it vaporized. The sliders all instinctively moved back a few feet.
Having made one point, Arturo did not hesitate to let the other shoe fall. He removed his coat and tossed it at the blue force field. It passed through without incident. "I'll bite, Professor," Quinn remarked. "How did you know that would work?"
The Professor held his hands behind his back. "If we conclude that someone willfully tampered with the history of this dimension, and that that someone was a resident of the dimension we arrived in, then in order to prevent a paradox from happening, some link must have been preserved. A link that would not be disrupted when the change occurred. I believe something in this basement, something protected by this quantum force field, is that link."
Wade looked carefully at the shimmering barrier. "A jacket's one thing. But can we get through there safely?" she inquired.
Behind them, Japanese men in suits with rather impressive looking firearms began pointing them at the sliders. An older man stood to the side, barking orders. Arturo looked at his companions with a sense of urgency. "I believe we may be called upon to find out."
"Who are these guys?" Quinn asked under his breath.
"Japanese mobsters," the Professor reported. "They're either here to investigate what happened to some local hoodlum or they've been following me since I left the ruins of the local library because they think I heard something I shouldn't. Either way I doubt they're thrilled with our presence here." As if to prove his words, the man began to indicate rather emphatically that they escort the sliders out. "Our only chance is to go down into the basement. On three. One."
"Oh, man. I don't like this," Rembrandt whined.
One of the men closest to our heroes began to point his automatic rifle in our heroes' direction. Quinn looked like he was almost ready to sweat bullets.
"Three!" As one, the four interdimensional travelers disappeared behind the blue barrier. The sharp-dressed men charged the basement. One of them disappeared and none followed after that. They did fire down the stairwell, however. Rembrandt and Quinn flinched as the men repeatedly fired, but no bullets came through the barrier.
"How the hell does that work?" Quinn wondered.
"Guys, forget about that!" Wade called out. "Come take a look down here!"
As the three male sliders joined Wade, they immediately saw what she meant. The room was voluminous; all of them would have guessed it was as large as the entire Mallory house was on most worlds. One whole wall was consumed by electronic equipment, and this didn't look to be some souped up stereo system. There was a large workbench with various tools, wires and metal gizmos strewn about it. A recliner sat in front of a television with a video camera resting on top of it. But as they began to truly explore the place, those weren't the things that interested the sliders most.
Wade opened up a door near the stairwell. "Hey, there's a bathroom in here! I call the shower!"
"Food!" the Professor exclaimed as he opened up the mini-fridge that occupied one corner of the monolithic basement.
Rembrandt pulled back a sliding door not far from the bathroom. "Oh yeah, a wardrobe! Care if I borrow some pants, Q-Ball?"
"Go ahead," Quinn replied as he picked out several items of clothing to change into after he took his own shower. "Although we still don't know if there's a me who lives here."
"I'd say we know now," Professor Arturo declared. Quinn walked over to him to see what he meant. Arturo had paused the tape that was in the VCR, which looked like it was a home movie. The still image was of a frazzled Quinn Mallory, pointing at some of his basement equipment. The Professor hit the play button. "October 25th. I've created a computer program to detect variations in the formation of the tunnel."
Rembrandt was the first to make a comment. "What do you think, Professor? That this world's Quinn was another slider?"
"I'm uncertain as of yet, Mr. Brown. Give me an hour or so with these tapes and allow me to see what this Mr. Mallory was working on. Then I'll have a theory." The two other sliders walked away from Arturo. As they waited for Wade to exit the shower, they helped themselves to the contents of the mini-fridge.
"My double must spend most of his time down here," Quinn said, as he liberally slathered mayonnaise on his turkey sandwich. "I wonder what happened to him?"
Rembrandt nodded slightly. "You build this freaky blue wall to protect your basement from whatever the hell happened here and you're not even in it at the time? That just doesn't make sense to me."
Rembrandt, Quinn and Wade all managed to eat, shower and change some of their clothing within the next hour or so. Arturo's attention was always riveted to the tapes. Eventually, he was prepared to assess what had occurred here and he told his fellow sliders to gather around the television. The Professor pressed the play button.
"May 28th. It's been almost a week since Bennish and Professor Arturo disappeared and the FBI must be getting desperate. They've been questioning me like I just came back from Stockholm. From what I can tell, the Feds think Bennish crossed the Einstein-Rosen bridge. It's insane, of course, but they've 'volunteered' me to work on a project to look into the possibilities of interdimensional travel. While they're at it, they should ask me to find a way to turn base metals into gold, but what are you going to do? These government guys mean business. So this is important, Mom. If you find me somewhere with a bullet through my head..." Arturo hit the fast forward button.
"So he's a slider?" Wade asked, her brow furrowed.
"I don't think so," Arturo stated. He hit play.
"August 15th. I've finally brought home enough equipment to start the project over on my own terms. If this works, this could be it. My big chance. I'll show those other idiots." The tape moved forward. "September 12th. I've done it! Oh my god, I've done it!" A muffled screaming voice could be heard upstairs. "I think I nuked the power." Forward again. "September 13th. My attempt to replicate a machine for interdimensional travel has taken a decidedly bizarre turn. Interdimensional portal, uh-huh. Something else, definitely. But what?" Fuzzy white lines carried the tape forward again. "September 24th. Without extensive testing I can't be sure, but I believe the tunnel leads to another point in time." He made the camera zoom in to his very serious face. "If I'm right, this means that I've invented a form of time travel." The serious look vanished. "I'm gonna be rich!"
This time as the action stopped Arturo had to put in a new tape. "October 25th. I've created a computer program to detect variations in the formation of the tunnel. If I can determine what causes these variables, I'll be one step closer to figuring out how to control it." Arturo hit the button again. "November 8th. I've developed a program that can detect exactly when the other end of the tunnel will open. It'll only stay fixed on that time for a few minutes, and there's no guaranteed way to operate the equipment by remote once you're on the other side. So whatever, or whoever, makes the journey through, if they don't get back in that short amount of time...it's a one-way trip."
"Time travel?" their group's Quinn questioned. "Is that even possible?"
"Watch and learn, Mr. Mallory," the Professor told him. He then put in a new tape. "November 14th. I'm getting tired of running scenarios and postulating theories. It's time to go through with the ultimate test. Tomorrow, I'm going through the time portal. According to the coordinate reader program, at approximately 3:17 pm there should be a window opening in the early fall of 1935. There, I can do what thousands have only dreamed about. I can take out Adolf Hitler."
At that point, the Professor rose and stopped the tape. "That's the last entry. The rest is mostly this Quinn's attempts to 'preserve evidence' if something should happen to him and a few unkind remarks about what Mr. Bennish is doing instead of sliding." Arturo reported somberly. "The book I had with me reported that Adolf Hitler was indeed assassinated in this new history, on a trip to visit his good friend California Governor William Randolph Hearst. In Con Paradiso."
"So what are you saying, Professor?" Rembrandt asked. "That this Quinn went back in time, killed Hitler, and it made things worse?"
"It would seem so, Mr. Brown," Arturo stated with authority. "It shows how very fragile historical causation can be, eh? One of the world's great dictators and murderers eliminated and a chain of events is set in motion that transforms an unusually pleasant America into the hell we've seen over the last day."
"So what do we do now?" Quinn asked.
"I don't see why we should 'do' anything," Wade said with some mild level of anger. "This Quinn screwed up, big surprise there, but the mess is already bad enough without us getting involved when we really don't know much about the situation. We've found a suitable place to lay low until the slide out, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't stay put."
"I do," Professor Arturo remarked.
"Enlighten us, please," Wade requested sarcastically.
The Professor held his hands behind his back. "Time travel has already altered the history of this world once, and that disrupted our slide window. We had been scheduled to slide out today, instead we are stuck here for several more weeks. If further time travel takes place, it could be altered again, putting us at great risk of missing the slide."
"All the more reason to stay here," Wade pointed out. "If anybody tries to go back through, we can stop them."
Arturo was getting more than slightly exasperated. "This is time travel we're dealing with here, Miss Welles. Even though Mr. Mallory speaks of it as a one-way trip in his video journal, he could have found a way to change that once he reached the past. Therefore he could arrive anytime between the initial change and our arrival, and anytime after the equipment was operational for that matter, and change history once again."
"What are you suggesting we do, then?" Quinn asked. "Go back to 1935 and stop him?"
Professor Arturo gave him a sour look. "Hardly, Mr. Mallory. This Quinn has undoubtedly done research on the time period and would have a distinct advantage over us." He walked over to some of this world's Quinn's computer equipment. "According to this, there's a portal opening in less than an hour that will take us back three days. That should be sufficient to prevent the incident from ever occurring." Arturo pulled his face back in a grimace. "But there is a price."
"What price?" Wade asked.
The Professor sighed heavily. "If we travel back through time and prevent this timeline from ever coming about, we will create an entirely different world, one where this warped reality never came into existence. And when it is destroyed, we shall be destroyed with it."
"Oh, come on, Professor," Rembrandt chastised him. "You're exaggerating! We won't remember all this, but we'll still be here. We'll still be the same people we are now."
"You can choose to see it that way, Mr. Brown," the Professor added somberly. "But it doesn't change the facts. Physically the sliders who will exist once we correct this flaw in time will no more be us than any double you've ever met. We will physically cease to exist, pure and simple."
"I don't accept that!" Wade exclaimed, suddenly hysterical. "Why the hell should we go off to our deaths? We're safe here!" All the other sliders stared at her. "Look, I'm sorry this America went to hell in a handbasket, but it's not our fault! We have no obligation to help these people and we certainly have no reason to die for them!"
"There is a reason," Arturo tossed out, stopping Wade's rant in its tracks. "Something I've been reluctant to discuss with you. The integrity of this dimension, its cohesion, may be unraveling. The new history has overwritten the old, much like recording over a videocassette tape. But the other dimension still exists, as this blue bubble protecting the Mallory basement proves. If the two continue to overlap each other, space and time may come unhinged and the entire universe would pay the consequences."
"You're saying we could die anyway?" Quinn asked. The Professor nodded.
"Why the hell didn't you tell us this before?!" Wade demanded.
Before Wade and Arturo could start a fruitless argument, Rembrandt intervened. "Look, none of us really wants to go do this, OK?" he said, looking at Wade. "But it's the right thing to do." This time he glanced at Professor Arturo. "So let's take a vote. All in favor of going back in time three days to stop this Quinn from screwing up history, raise your hand."
Rembrandt raised his own hand, as did the Professor. Slowly, Quinn's hand shot up as well. "Et tu, Brute?" Wade asked. She then raised her own hand in defeat. "Alright. What do we do first?"
The time portal deposited them on the floor of this Quinn's basement a little more roughly than they were used to. Rembrandt slowly rose first, rubbing his neck. "Man, compared to this, sliding's a picnic. My back is going to be sore for a week. To hell with time travel."
"A compelling argument, Mr. Brown," Professor Arturo half-jokingly stated as he pushed himself up on a chair. "Perhaps you should repeat it for this world's Mr. Mallory. One can hardly change the world with fractured vertebrae."
Quinn had to be helped up by Wade, still sore from the beating he'd taken a few days earlier...or today, however you wanted to reckon time now that it had been so royally screwed up. "Thanks, guys. I'll remember all this the next time we land in thornbushes."
Wade glared at Quinn. She still couldn't believe they had had nothing approximating proctology on that world. "Let's not bring that up again." Deciding to change the subject, she took a careful look around. "So where's Quinn?"
"What did you think, Miss Welles?" the Professor asked. "That he's some sort of recluse who never leaves the basement?"
"Judging from what's down here...yeah," Wade replied.
"How's the timer?" Rembrandt asked solemnly, a little suprised that he was the first to ask about its condition.
"Still operational," Quinn answered, breathing a small sigh of relief. He stole a look at the Professor. The two of them had figured nothing bad would happen to the device, but they weren't certain. "The time to the window's changed again, but we anticipated that. It's back to reading two days."
There was a great pause. "Well, we can hardly just stand around here and wait for him to show up," Arturo stated authoritatively. "For one thing, I'd like to shower and change into some clean clothes before I present myself to this parallel Mr. Mallory."
The four of them made their way up the basement stairwell. Everything seemed normal. Through the windows, the sliders could see the outside once again resembled the suburban paradise that it normally was. Similarly, in spite of the enormous basement, the Mallory house looked pretty much the same as it always did. The sliders found all this comforting enough. Except that while they were roaming through the house, they ran into Mrs. Mallory.
"Quinn!" she exclaimed, as she quickly closed the refrigerator door. "I thought you were supposed to be at work! I certainly didn't know you were going to be inviting friends over."
"Mom?" Quinn asked, a little taken aback. For some reason, he had not expected to find her here.
"Careful, Mr. Mallory," Professor Arturo said under his breath.
"Quinn, what's the matter?" she asked with concern in her voice. "You act like you haven't seen me in years."
At that remark, Quinn seemingly shook off his temporary paralysis. "Listen, Mom, there's something I need to tell you, but I think you may need to sit down first."
"Yeah," came a half-stunned voice from the door. After a moment, all parties present recognized it as belonging to the Quinn of this world. "I think we both will."
"Wow." The Quinn Mallory who had invented time travel was sitting in the recliner in his basement. He had just listened to everything the sliders had had to tell him, and he was a little overwhelmed. "I can't believe it. I mean, first of all, that travel between parallel worlds was possible. I was sure Bennish was a crackpot, or some kind of pot anyway, but..." He trailed off, trying to digest everything. "And how the hell do the Nazis and Soviets both get the bomb in 1940? It wasn't discovered until the 1960s."
Wade's mind wandered as the Professor explained how the bomb came about on their own world. Something was wrong here. Her instincts were abuzz and her stomach churned itself into knots. It felt alien somehow, just being here. Once the scientists were through discussing parallel technological histories, Wade decided to ask a question that had been weighing on her mind. "We don't mean to impose on you, but we're a little light on cash. Could we possibly...?"
"Mi casa es su casa," Quinn answered. He then looked at his double. "In your case, I suppose that's quite literal, huh? When I first saw you, I would have sworn you were from the future. But you're really my double." One Quinn Mallory stood and examined the other closely. "Incredible."
"You do appreciate the gravity of the situation then, Mr. Mallory?" Professor Arturo asked. "Understand that we would not have risked our lives for some trivial matter. This is gravely serious. You mustn't travel back into the past to change history."
"No, I get it," Quinn answered with a nod. "No time travel. Scout's honor."
The quartet looked at each other. Eventually, Arturo motioned for them to follow him over into one corner of the basement. The four of them gathered in a huddle. "Well, he seems agreeable enough," Wade assessed.
"Yes," Arturo agreed, "but if he doesn't go back through time, why are we still here?"
"Something's wrong here," Quinn stated. "I can't put my finger on it, but..."
"I agree with Q-Ball," Rembrandt said with a cynical tone to his voice. "I wouldn't count on this Quinn being as good as his word." Quinn gave Remmy a curious look, but said nothing.
"I don't know," Wade said, looking back over her shoulder at the latest Quinn double they'd run into. "He really seems like he understands what's going to happen if he goes back in time. Shouldn't we at least give him a chance to..."
"To what?" the Professor asked snidely. "Wreak havoc with history again? No, Miss Welles, we must take action. The consequences of inaction will be too dire for us to sit and do nothing."
"That wasn't what I was suggesting," Wade insisted loudly.
The other Quinn peeked his head over into their huddle. "Everything OK?"
"Yeah," Rembrandt assured him at the same time Quinn said "Sure". Alt-Quinn walked away, not entirely reassured, but unwilling to press the matter further.
"Does anybody else feel like there's some element of fate at work here?" Remmy asked. "I mean, if he really wants to go back in time and kill Hitler, do you really think the four of us are going to be able to stop him?"
"I've been thinking about that, Mr. Brown," Arturo remarked seriously. "I believe we may be able to find an ally in the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
"The FBI?" A slightly incredulous Wade asked. "But doesn't Quinn work for them here?"
The Professor nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, and I'm betting they don't know about their star employee's little hobby."
"I can't believe we're going to sic the Feds on this guy when we're guests in his house," Quinn groused. The others ignored him.
"So what are we waiting for?" Wade inquired impatiently. "Let's go get this done while we still have time to spare." She paused awkwardly. "No pun intended."
"I believe we've raised this Mr. Mallory's suspicions enough for one day," Arturo decreed. "Tomorrow, Miss Welles and I will contact the FBI. Mr. Mallory and Mr. Brown will stay here in case anything goes wrong."
"And with you handing out the marching orders, what could possibly go wrong?" Quinn asked snidely. "Right, Professor?" He was once again ignored.
"I don't like this," Quinn reported to Rembrandt as the two of them stood guard at the basement door like sentries. His double sat in front of his computer, typing furiously.
"I know it's boring, Q-ball," Rembrandt told him. "But the Professor said to keep an eye on this guy. Considering what he's done, I think it's a pretty reasonable request."
"I'm not talking about that," Quinn said with a small sigh. "It's all the assumption we're making here. That we can't take his word for anything. That we can't trust him. I know it shouldn't get to me, but he's my double. I think we could at least give him the benefit of some doubt."
"How much doubt are you willing to give him?" Remmy asked. "We've all seen what he did when he screwed with history. And since we're all still here, it looks like he does it again, even after he knows what's gonna happen." Quinn frowned. "Look, I know you don't want to believe the worst about another version of you. I can understand that. But we've all met doubles we had nothing in common with. Remember our doubles from that one world where yours was Frankenstein and mine was his monster?"
"Yeah," Quinn agreed. "But I also remember meeting two other Quinns on that world. They were brave, smart, resourceful and cared about doing the right thing for their team, not for themselves." Quinn took a hard look at his double standing across the room. "I don't know about you, but to me that guy seems a lot more like them."
Rembrandt said nothing else. Quinn was not suggesting they leave their "posts", so he wasn't inclined to argue. It was then that the other Quinn called out to them. "Hey guys, come take a look at this!"
Walter Johnson wasn't in the mood for visitors. The Swedish bikini team was coming to Con Paradiso and he hadn't been assigned to the squad that was investigating them, despite being this division's primary expert on that nation's activities. 'Pure favoritism,' he mentally whined. But the problem wasn't necessarily with the Bureau's top brass. 'There's nothing wrong with this country that a good man at the helm couldn't fix.' Unfortunately, as far as Johnson was concerned, Andre Marrou was not that man. He was just about to hurl a dart at Marrou's picture when the secretary buzzed him. Distracted, he couldn't come up with a reason not to let them in.
A slightly more than middle aged overweight man and a reasonably cute much younger woman entered his office. "How can I help you folks?" he asked with a voice that belied anything but helpfulness.
The man was about to say something, but the girl cut him off. "We know about what Quinn Mallory's working on and we know you're the agent supervising the project. There's something we need to discuss with you."
He pushed his chair back towards the wall. "I can assure you that whatever projects the FBI may or may not be working on, any and all information regarding them is classified."
The old guy hadn't looked pleased whenever his 'companion' spoke so frankly, but now seemed to have no problem doing so himself. "Quinn Mallory has used equipment we believe he took from your project to build a time machine. We have reason to believe that Mr. Mallory plans to use this time travel equipment to alter history. If this is something the FBI wants to endorse, then so be it. We shall handle the matter ourselves. If it is not, it is imperative that we combine our efforts to stop him."
These two strangers now had Johnson's full attention. "He's planning to use the equipment? You have proof?"
The young woman spoke haughtily. "There's a stack of videotapes down in his basement that should be all the proof you need."
"I don't intend to push," the bearded English man piped up, "but time is of the essence here."
"Well then what are we waiting for?" Agent Johnson asked. "Let's get down there."
Quinn Mallory was waiting for them when they came down the basement stairs. His confident smile surprised Wade, although she was more surprised by the fact that Rembrandt and their Quinn were nowhere to be seen. The Professor saw them though, as soon as he came all the way down the stairwell. They were both tied to chairs not far from where this Quinn was standing. Wade gasped as she too caught sight of their companions' predicament. "What in blazes have you done?!" the Professor angrily demanded.
"It's only a temporary situation," Quinn stated simply, his face losing a little of its joviality. "Until we come to a satisfactory resolution."
"What resolution?" Wade asked. "What do we have to resolve?" As she spoke, Agent Johnson started to draw his gun.
"I wouldn't do that," Quinn said, clearly addressing the FBI agent. He pressed a button and opened the time portal. "This will be open for exactly two minutes. On the other side is the Con Paradiso of 1935, soon to be visited by none other than Adolf Hitler." Johnson's brow furrowed, he was clearly contemplating the nature of Mallory's threat. "If you shoot me I'll fall back into the wormhole, and even as my dead body falls to the ground over sixty years in the past, it'll be changing history. The whole cycle will start all over again." He stepped forward, looking the federal agent in the eye. "It'll start again, because that's what happened the first time around, isn't it?"
"Quinn, listen to me," Professor Arturo said, trying to diffuse the situation as best he could. "None of us wants the history of this world to change again. Shut down the vortex and all of this will be over."
Quinn looked indignant. "I'm doing this for you. You have to see what happened. You have to see what he's capable of."
"What who's capable of? What are you talking about?" Wade inquired, seemingly the most inquisitive of the group.
"I figured it out," he said with a small level of excitement in his voice. "There weren't that many clues, it's true, but what was there was very telling. The fact that I don't own a gun, coupled with the fact that my tapes have been tampered with, led me to my ultimate conclusion. Basically, what it all adds up to is a case of betrayal, murder and temporal espionage. Anytime you want to help fill in some of the blanks, Agent Johnson, feel free."
The federal agent's eyes narrowed. "You've got nerve, Mallory, I'll give you that. To pull a stunt like this, and try to make it my fault? It's just like you."
Quinn ignored his remarks. "A few days ago, you broke into this house, entered the basement and discovered the time travel equipment. Actually, you probably didn't know what it was for until you watched the tapes. Regardless, you thought about reporting me, about shutting me down. But then you thought better of it. Maybe there was some way you could exploit it. Maybe you could go back in time and do something important for once. Change something for the better. And so you decided to kill Hitler."
"It's crazy talk," he said, a little too frantically. "None of this is true," he said to the Professor and Wade.
Quinn knew he had the other man on the ropes. "You were going to confront me about it yesterday, but there were more people in the house than you expected. What were you going to do, blackmail me? Threaten to expose the project? Whatever it was, it wouldn't have worked. All of that led to the little showdown that would have taken place here in the original history. And if we don't stop it, it'll happen again." He looked back and forth between the Professor and Wade with a sincere look on his face. "You have to make sure he doesn't go back through. Promise me."
The two sliders looked at each other. Both could find little to take issue with in the request. Professor Arturo, as he was wont to do, spoke for both of them. "Agreed. We won't let anybody get through that portal. Now step away from there this instant!"
Quinn complied slowly, and for a moment both of them suspected he was going to try something. He did not. However, since their attention was riveted on Quinn, they were completely oblivious when only a few feet from them the government agent they had recruited for help withdrew his weapon and shot Quinn Mallory twice through the chest. Blood splattered on the wall behind him and he fell heavily to the floor like a lead weight.
Arturo was paralyzed, unable to process what had happened quickly enough to do anything about it. Wade was different; her instincts were sharp and she was more comfortable with this level of danger, however disturbing that thought was. On this day, at least, it was a blessing. As the cold-blooded murderer rushed towards the tear in the fabric of space and time, Wade tackled him, putting all of her weight onto her elbows as they landed squarely on the back of his legs. There was a small struggle, wasn't there always in this sort of situation?, but the result was a foregone conclusion. Wade was stronger, more agile, and more combat ready. Plus the FBI man was suddenly outnumbered.
Wade had never known Rembrandt was capable of such violence. Not the Rembrandt who had never known the horrors of Kromagg captivity anyway. In mere moments of constant assault the man was past unconsciousness; between the two of them they had caused enough damage to put him in a coma. But Rembrandt didn't seem to be finished. His hands moved so quickly they seemed to have a mind of their own. "Remmy, stop!" she called out.
"Don't tell me that!" Rembrandt bellowed mournfully. "This guy killed Q-Ball! He deserves to die!"
Wade was about to express her uncomprehension, when it hit her. Like a sucker punch to the gut that reached all the way inside her and tied her intestines into a gigantic system of knots. Fear consuming her, she instinctively looked at the other man who had appeared to be tied up. Had it all been some sort of elaborate ruse? Wade didn't have the mental energy to process the answer. She barely had the energy to look this Quinn in the eye. The apologetic look in his eyes said volumes, but he felt the need to speak his sorrow anyway. "I'm sorry," he told her. "If I'd have known, I'd have never agreed to this..."
Wade shut her eyes tightly, as if that might shut out his words. Suddenly she couldn't bring herself to look at this other Quinn. Suddenly his face was the most horrible sight she could have possibly imagined seeing. If she had ever doubted that she'd formed a bond with this Quinn, as inept and heartless as he could be at times, now the doubt had vanished. The sudden loss made all the differences between them seem trivial. She now knew what Quinn must have felt when he thought her dead on the second world they'd visited. The pain was overwhelming.
Finally, she pulled herself away from her grief for a moment to look at their Quinn, bleeding on the floor. Professor Arturo was attending to him, trying to keep Quinn, as well as his own hope, alive. Both seemed lost causes. Quinn had only enough energy to make out a few last words. "We...were all...going to die...anyw..." His eyes didn't close, but the life in them was suddenly gone.
Suddenly that thought filled Wade's mind. She had nearly forgotten their impending destruction. "Do you think it's true?" she said, her teary eyes turned towards Professor Arturo. "That we'll be gone as soon as this portal closes?"
"Nothing is certain in life, Miss Welles," Arturo remarked somberly. "But in all probability, yes."
"Good," Wade said. She was only mildly surprised that the word had actually escaped her lips, but none of the others looked likely to scold her. They were probably thinking the same thing. "How much longer?" This question was directed to the other Quinn, but she did not look at him when she asked it.
"About fifteen seconds," the other Quinn answered simply.
A thought occurred to Wade. When the change had happened the first time, their memories of the previous world had been intact. If this Quinn could remember their being here... "Quinn," she called out. It took a second for the Quinn native to this world to respond, but he did so. "You can't let us forget this happened! We're staying at the Dominion Hotel! Find us and tell Quinn..."
Rembrandt wasn't listening to Wade in his final moments on this or any other earth. He was pondering whether or not there was a Heaven for people who died due to temporal phenomena. He concluded that there must be. In the midst of all this stress on his mind, he also seemed to recall something about a group with him and three people named Mallory, Maggie and Diana...
Quinn nodded his agreement to fulfill Wade's request and watched the three of them vanish as the portal closed. Moments after their disappearance, he tried to keep in mind that this had all really happened, and that it was not a figment of his rather vivid imagination. The fact that Walter Johnson was bloody and unconscious on his basement floor did a pretty effective job of that. As his mind whirred about the possibilites of what to do next, he heard his mother call from the basement. "Quinn, don't you have to go to work today?"
The Quinn Mallory of this world could only watch from a distance. The four people who he had met in recent days, yet not exactly those same four people, were gathered at the World War II Memorial. It wasn't much compared to what some of the cities had erected in memoriam for the millions of people who had died in the war, but it always held special meaning for Quinn. His father's name was on that wall. His finger had traced it many times.
Killing Hitler seemed like a hell of an idea at the time, but now it seemed rather foolish. If there was some use for the time travel device he had built, he would find it. But it was not meant for changing history. Wasn't there a Chinese proverb that went, "You can build the future but you can't destroy the past"? Quinn shrugged mentally. If there wasn't, there should have been.
The sliders had bought a bouquet of flowers to place at the memorial wall. It was the anniversary of V-G day, so there were literally swarms of them already in place there. None of them thought that made the gesture any less meaningful. "Do you think any of them knew?" Wade asked the Professor. "What kind of world they were preventing? What kind of life they were making for their children?"
"I think some of them might have," Arturo said with a boisterous sort of respect. "The optimists among them, at any rate."
"There aren't many causes worth dying for," Rembrandt remarked, his spiritual side emerging just a little bit. "But when you find one, you better be prepared to go all the way."
"I guess we were," Quinn said, still a little shocked by the news delivered from his double. That double stood and watched as the four of them looked at the memorial in silence for a while and then walked away. As he understood it, they left this world in a few minutes. There was still time for him to catch up with them and to tell the man who might have been him what Wade had wanted him to say.
He shook off the impulse. He had made the right decision. It was too personal of a message for someone who didn't know them to say and it had been uttered in the heat of the moment. Besides, if the sentiment was really heartfelt, it would come out one way or the other.
Quinn took one last look at them as he saw them jump through a hole in the air. They had told him they were searching for their home. He turned against the cold wind as he walked back to his house. He hoped they didn't get so caught up in their search for home that they lost sight of what they had with each other. They had sacrificed entirely too much for that.
[ Earth 2013 Episode Guide | The Otherworlds ]