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6.7 - Stigmatic
by ThomasMalthus

Chapter One

He had never really believed it before when they said history repeats itself. Human nature was too chaotic, too random to have the same sort of thing happen twice.

Yet here they were, making a stand at the Alamo. It was the Alamo Club, yes, but when he had named it that he wasn't intending a big showdown with the government, he was merely hoping to impress some financial bigwigs in the Travis and Crockett City areas of Texas.

Of course the Texas patriots had won the day back then, whereas their own fate was still up in the air. It was a time for courage, a time to show their individual and collective mettle. Too bad he didn't command an army of well-disciplined soldiers. He led a ragtag band of ruffians who were not used to fighting for their lives. Evidence of that fact was seen in the sniveling form before him.

"I got a wife and kids, man", Gordon pleaded pathetically. The man staring down at him with an air of authority had always pegged him as a wimp, when the chips were down. "You can't make me do this."

"What do you think?" he replied with a sneer. "They're just gonna let you go out there? Surrender? Your body's gonna have more holes in it than a whiffle ball before you so much as utter a syllable."

"Please, man," the balding man in his early forties continued to beg. "I gotta get out there. I can't die in here like this."

"What's the matter?" the other man said with a smile. "Where's your sense of adventure? Where's your sense of history? Don't you wanna go down in the history books like Jim Bowie? Your kids'd like that. Reading about their daddy in all the history books."

"I don't care about that!" the man exclaimed, fed up with the whole scenario. "You're sick, man. I'm done with you!" As the older man started to walk away, his boss, Colin Mallory, pulled a gun from his black leather jacket.

"It's too bad really," Colin remarked as he pulled the trigger three times, burying three bullets in the man's back. "People who get shot in the back trying to escape...they're more or less forgotten about."

Colin felt another shell rock the place. 'Yep,' he thought, 'Santa Ana's coming. And this time, he's going to win.'

Rembrandt hit the dirt, spinning on the broken ground, trying to position himself to get up so he could catch Q-Ball when he came through the wormhole. The Cryin' Man tried to take a quick look around to see if there was a hospital nearby they could take him to, but the dust he had kicked up was obstructing his view. Even when it settled, the place looked hazy. Unnaturally so.

Remmy wasn't quite standing upright when Quinn came through, but he did his best to catch him. While Quinn did land in his friend's arms, he send both of them crashing back to the ground. Rembrandt groaned painfully.

As Rembrandt once again tried to push himself up off the ground, a difficult task with a body lying on your stomach as dead weight, Wade came through the vortex. Unable to avoid hitting the two of them, she did her best to make the landing as smooth as possible. She didn't do too well. "Ow!!" Rembrandt exclaimed.

"Sorry," Wade replied with a grimace. "Let's get Quinn out of the way before the Professor comes through." Wade stood easily and took one of Quinn's arms, and Rembrandt took the other as he began to stand up. As they began to move out of the path of the vortex, Arturo came through shouting "Incoming!" He managed to avoid hitting Quinn, but ran smack dab into Remmy, knocking him down face first into the dust.

"You people are tryin' to kill me," Rembrandt complained as he got up. "Landin' on me like I'm some kind of mattress. What a way to treat a guy doing a good deed."

"Payback, Mr. Brown," Arturo replied with a little chagrin. "Simple payback." Turning his mind to the serious matters at hand, the Professor looked at Quinn, who was being uneasily supported by Wade. The Professor moved to hold him up on his right side. "We should find a hospital right away."

"This place doesn't exactly look like a hospital zone," Wade commented, looking at the desolate landscape.

Rembrandt heard a loud sound in the distance. "Yeah, and that doesn't sound like thunder."

"Well, we've got to try!" Arturo exclaimed, more irately than he had intended. "I'm sorry. But we have no idea what's happened to Mr. Mallory. I wish to God we'd never met those Lesion devils."

"It's too late for that now, Professor, what's done is done," Wade reminded him. "We'll get Quinn to a hospital no matter what." That was an order out of her mouth, not an encouragement. "How long 'til we slide, Remmy?"

Rembrandt glanced at the timer and did the math in his head. "Five days, give or take."

Another cracking sound brought more tension to the situation. The Professor surveyed their surroundings. The buildings around here were rubble, broken pieces of brick, cement and steel. "If whoever brought this place down is still about firing weaponry, I don't believe it's safe for us to stay here for long."

"We should get movin'," Remmy agreed.

"You've got my vote," Wade replied. Arturo and Rembrandt draped Quinn's arms over their shoulders and carried him that way. It was an arrangement that would wear thin after while; neither man was getting any younger, nor were they in the best physical shape.

They heard some expressions of pain from beneath some scattered debris. Wade dug as best she could, trying to find the source of the cries. "Now is hardly the time for good samaritanism, Miss Welles," Arturo commented, although it was half-hearted. Wade soon cleared enough rubble away to reveal a burly tall Hispanic man, bleeding profusely.

"Quick, give me something to stop the bleeding," Wade commanded the others. Rembrandt tore a piece of his own clothing (the simple black-and-grey Mekkan outfit was not really Rembrandt's style anyway). Wade began to apply it to his wounds. The man deliriously brushed her away.

"Simone!" he cried out. He thrashed wildly with as little energy as he had.

"Simone's not here," Wade told him gently. He seemed to accept the news with grace, but a look of sadness mixed with the pain already evident in his face. He opened his eyes and looked at Wade.

"Too late...for me now," he managed to say. He coughed up blood for a little while. "Get to Simone. She's with the others..." He couldn't speak anymore. His head fell back against the wall, exhausted from the effort of talking.

"What are we gonna do now?" Rembrandt asked.

"We can't just leave him here to die," Wade pointed out.

Arturo pondered the situation for a moment, then gave orders. "Mr. Brown, you stay here with our newfound patient, and watch over him and Mr. Mallory. Miss Welles and I will continue on and try to find some evidence of civilized life, perhaps these 'others' that this man spoke of."

"Why me?" Rembrandt complained, though not with much protestation in his voice. The support beam that had kept the injured man from being killed instantly still stood, and there was nothing else around that could fall and hit them if the area was shelled. Except, of course, the shell itself. Rembrandt tried not to think about that.

Arturo spoke frankly. "I could not hope to defend the timer or Mr. Mallory, much less save this man's life, if something were to happen. And Miss Welles lacks the finesse to deal with a situation in which violence is not called for."

"Oh, you're just saying that because I've threatened to kill someone on three of the last five worlds we visited," Wade mockingly pouted. She playfully punched the Professor in the arm.

"Just don't forget about us, OK?" Remmy called out as the two of them walked away.

Michael Mallory paced nervously around the room. Amanda, his wife, sat silently, staring intently at an empty corner of the room.

"I just wish they would stop the bombing," he said, distress and grief dripping from his voice. "Or...or maybe if they just unleashed it all. Just so it's over. I just want it over."

"It'll never be over," Amanda said in a monotone voice. "Don't you see? We've created a monster. A legendary monster. And that doesn't end, not even with death. Death only makes it worse."

"It can't get much worse than this, Amanda," Michael stated in frustration. "I can't keep a job. Nobody'll hire me. We can't hold onto this house for much longer."

"I wish we'd never given him life," Amanda cried. "It was so much easier before...and now this." She wept openly and bitterly, burying her head in her husband's lap.

"Maybe you're right," Michael agreed to his sobbing wife, looking back on the strange situation surrounding his son's birth. "My God, Amanda, maybe you're right."

The Professor and Wade heard voices coming from inside a part of the complex that hadn't been shelled into oblivion yet. They were faint, too low for the sliders to understand exactly what they were saying, but they sounded desperate. Bursts of gunfire from inside seemed to follow the artillery blasts. Perhaps someone inside was fighting back.

"Shall we risk going in there and finding out what's going on?" Professor Arturo asked Wade.

His female companion shrugged. "Doesn't look like we have many options here. Might as well go with that one." With that, the two of them moved inside the worn room. And found dozens of guns, ranging from small arms and large rifles and semi-automatics, pointed in their direction.

"We mean you no harm," Arturo told them slowly. "We merely wish to speak to whoever's in charge here."

"Yeah," said a voice from the shadows moving slowly out into what showed of the sunlight through the haze of warfare. "What do you want with me?" The rough, devil-may-care voice was attached to a scruffy looking young Caucasian with shoulder-length brown hair.

"Who are you?" Wade asked.

The man scoffed. "What...you been livin' in a cave in Mongolia? I'm Colin Mallory, the homicidal maniac who the Feds are shellin' this place to get to. Now we get to the important stuff, like who you are." Wade and the Professor had never heard the man's name before, and they soon wondered if they would regret having heard it at all.

Chapter Two

"So I'm thinking," Colin spoke as he swaggered about the bunker-like room. "Either you're with the Feds or really dumb or, possibly, both." He casually levelled his own handgun at the sliders, making them feel decidedly uncomfortable.

"I assure you, sir," the Professor said with as little a tremble in his voice as possible. "We are not from the Federal government. We landed here only a few moments ago..."

"Landed?" Colin said, as confusion wrinkled his brow. "The J-men shot down my boys when they tried to airlift us some supplies. You tellin' me they're going to let in an overweight English guy and a chick?"

"It's not like that," Wade responded a little angrily. "What my friend here means to say is we just flew in from England and we needed a place to stay. So we hid out here. When the bombs started falling, at first we just hunkered down. But one of our friends is hurt...badly. He needs medical attention."

Arturo chafed at the unbelievability of Wade's story but it was better than telling this ruffian about sliding. "My companion is quite correct. So if you could see it in your heart to send someone out to take care of him..."

"Hey," Colin retorted irritably, "we got lots of wounded already around here, pops. I don't need to send my people all over this damned warzone to save some wounded stray." Colin cocked his gun dramatically. "Besides, we did 'inventory' on everybody here when the place started to come down around our ears. And we didn't see you." Wade and Arturo feared for their lives as Colin pulled the trigger... after he had pointed it out the window, shooting presumably in the direction of the federal agents outside. "But right now I've got bigger fish to fry. You make yourselves quasi-useful and don't get in my way, I might just let you live."

As Colin moved away from Wade and the Professor, a young woman moved towards them. "When you were outside...did you find anyone?"

"Yes," the Professor responded. "A large Hispanic man. One of our other friends is tending to him."

"That's Jorge! How is he? Is he going to make it?" The girl looked frantic, anxious to hear what the sliders had to tell her.

"Are you Simone?" Wade asked her. "He was calling out for you. He looked pretty bad, but with Rembrandt there to take care of him, I'm sure he'll be fine," Wade answered her, not really knowing what to say but wanting to reassure her all the same.

Rembrandt's eyes darted in the direction from which Wade and the Professor had departed. "Where the devil are they?" He hated being left by himself here like this and he worried that something might have happened to his fellow sliders. The two men under his care were sprawled out on a bed of rubble. Quinn was breathing steadily, but he was still unconscious, the other man came in and out of consciousness, spouting some sentences in Spanish that Remmy didn't understand.

Now looked to be one of those moments. The man sat up slightly, leaning his elbow painfully against a piece of concrete. "Pablo," he cried out weakly. Remmy noted it was the first name he had called out that hadn't been 'Simone'. "Come here, brother. Need...to talk to you, tell you..."

Rembrandt moved closer to the man, hoping that it might do him some good. "I'm sorry, Pablo.." he stopped to cough up some blood, "Sorry I got you into this whole mess. You take care of Mama and Simone when I go...hear me. Don't let them down. Not like I did." He collapsed back against the wall, his head jerking wildly, and blood flowing from his mouth. He stopped moving in a few moments. Rembrandt checked for a pulse. There was none.

"Damn," Remmy swore. It had been several hours since his friends had left to get help. Now one of the men whose life they had entrusted him with was dead and Quinn wasn't going to get any better just lying here. Rembrandt wondered if he could perhaps move Quinn a little while, try to find out exactly where the Professor and Wade had gone to. As the debate raged in his head, a shell came dangerously close to hitting the two of them. That settled it. Rembrandt put his friend's arm around his neck and used all the strength he had to tote him.

Pablo Ramirez' AK-47 sat uneasily in his arms. 'Madre dios, how I don't want to be here,' he thought to himself. He nearly cursed his brother, Jorge, mentally for getting him involved in the operation...then felt guilt for leaving his brother behind. But Colin had given the order and it was dangerous not to obey him.

Jorge had started working as a thug for some conquistequilas not far from Veracruz, the town where the two of them had grown up. When Colin Mallory offered him a shot at the big time, his brother couldn't resist it. But he didn't have the brains to run an outfit on his own. For that he needed his brother. 'Had a good shot at med school, before this happened,' Pablo reminded himself bitterly. He was so good at organization that Colin had made him his right-hand man. Pablo turned his weapon outside, shooting at some movement several hundred yards away. He then quickly maneuvered himself back inside.

He had heard the strangers tell Simone that they had seen Jorge. From the way the accident looked to him, there was no way his brother would survive for long. Dammit, how long was Colin going to keep this standoff up? They couldn't win, didn't he know that? Pablo was sure he did, he just didn't care that much.

Pablo looked at Simone again. Now there was a girl who was going to get her heart broken. Loving a guy like Jorge, it was bound to spell trouble. He felt bad for her. As some more shots rang out, Pablo again sprayed bullets out the window, hoping to hit something on blind luck alone.

"Colonel, these men that we have penned down in the last standing part of the building are only getting lucky shots in," the lieutenant reported to his commanding colonel. "Are we just gonna stand around all day, letting 'em pop off ammo until wipe out the whole battalion?"

Colonel Zebulon Pike scratched his beard. "What alternative would you suggest, lieutenant?"

"Sir," the subordinate, a Lieutenant Anderson, replied patiently, "I would suggest we storm the place."

"Have you ever been inside a place after it's been under siege, Lieutenant?" Colonel Pike asked sincerely. Anderson nodded in the negative. "It figures." He sighed. "But you may have a point, we've waited long enough for them to run out of ammunition. It's time to take action."

Wade and Arturo had never seen a group of bandits fight for their lives before now. Really, Wade thought she probably could have lived without it. Men and women alike operated all kinds of weapons, mostly automatic rifles and handguns, attempting to keep out the encroaching army surrounding them.

Right now, the two of them were helping the wounded as much as they could. There was little they could do, as there were no real medical supplies to be had and their numbers were growing virtually by the minute. Of the several dozen people holed up in here, most of them were injured somewhere. Those that could still move around and fire a weapon were doing so. The sliders wondered how long this scenario could last.

Rembrandt struggled into the building, still managing to carry Quinn reasonably well. When the Professor saw him, he moved to pick up Quinn's other arm and sling it over his shoulder. The two of them took Quinn to where the other wounded lie.

"I thought you were going to wait there with the injured man and Quinn until we returned," the Professor commented.

"He's dead," Rembrandt said with some remorse in his voice. "I couldn't wait any longer. Did we find anybody who could help us?"

"A homicidal maniac decided to let us live if we didn't get in his way," Wade told him. Rembrandt nodded solemnly. "I don't think we're going to make it out of here easily."

"I agree," the Professor grumbled. "If we're going to get out of here alive, and get Mr. Mallory some help, we need to distance ourselves from these people. They clearly don't have our best interests at heart."

The three sliders looked at the scruffy gang members who were keeping up the tenuous defense of this building. "They don't seem too concerned about us one way or the other." Rembrandt observed.

"Perhaps this is the time to make our move then," the Professor suggested.

Wade showed her frustration. "And do what? Take our chances with this world's government thugs? Pardon me if I'm not too thrilled about that option."

"It's the only way we can get out of here," Arturo replied. "But if you have a better suggestion..."

"What if we hid out?" Rembrandt spoke up. "Crawled under some rubble and waited for the Feds to find us."

"That doesn't sound very safe," the Professor said, dismissing the idea out of hand. "Besides, Mr. Mallory needs immediate medical attention."

"Yeah," Wade agreed. "We don't know what's wrong with him. Lesion could have damaged his brain or his central nervous system. It's probably dangerous enough just carrying him around."

"Beats gettin' shot trying to surrender," Rembrandt reminded them.

"Well, we've got to do something!" Arturo bellowed. "This situation isn't going to resolve itself."

Suddenly, a group of government storm troops invaded the building, wielding weapons and shooting those holed up there liberally. Colin Mallory himself was shot in the chest, and he quickly fell to the ground, moaning and groaning in pain. After this occurred, many of the gang threw up their hands in surrender. The sliders were among them.

"Anybody shoots and it's all over," one of the officers called out. "Put the shackles on them and haul them on the truck." As the sliders were being hauled off, they worried intensely for Quinn's safety...and their own.

Chapter Three

FBI Agents Carter and Erskine had acquisitioned an office for themselves with difficulty, but in the end their tough negotiating skills, as well as a call from FBI Director Hoffman, had let them have a place where they could coordinate where the case went from here. Although the San Diego police were unhappy that the Federal government had overridden them, there was little they could do about it.

"We can't put Colin Mallory in the prison's hospital ward yet, because he's not officially under arrest," Carter reminded his partner. There were many things which made Bill Erskine a good FBI Agent, but the patience to deal with the intricacies of the legal system was not one of them.

"No hospital in the area will admit him, or any of his gang," Erskine stated gruffly. "Not that I care that much, mind you," he stated to make sure that his partner knew he hadn't gone soft. "I'd just like to have a living person to put on trial. Much as they deserve it, I don't want to put Mallory's henchmen on trial for what he did." Agent Erskine continued to pace about the room.

"Not to mention that unconscious, wounded suspects don't tend to interrogate well," Ted Carter reminded him.

Erskine only grunted in reply. Then, deciding to actually make a coherent sentence, he asked his partner a question. "Who do we have that we can question?"

Ted Carter opened a folder on his improvised desk and flipped quickly to a list of names. "A girl from Thorpesborough named Simone Charles, our Jane Doe, the two of our John Does who are conscious and Colin's right-hand man, Pablo Ramirez, who hasn't so much as said 'hola' to us or the SDPD."

"Ramirez won't crack," Erskine said matter-of-factly, "and the Native girl doesn't know anything, you mark my word. It's our little Doe family that's the key to all this."

Carter pursed his lips. "They haven't got records and their names and fingerprints don't match any we've cross-referenced in all the databases we have access to." For the FBI, that amounted to anybody who had been arrested at any time, virtually anywhere in the world.

"Exactly," Erskine said, seizing upon that fact as though it were damning in and of itself. "They're the odd ducks of the group. Which means they're not just dealers, these are high-level players who've never been arrested before. Can you imagine how important these people are in the game? They weren't even assisting in the defense of the compound."

"Which also means we can't charge them with that," Carter rebutted. "Or anything else, for that matter."

"True enough," his partner sighed, sitting in the swivel chair of the lieutenant who ran this part of the precinct. "But we can interrogate the hell out of 'em." Carter could only nod his head solemnly in agreement.

"I've decided that prison life just doesn't agree with me," Rembrandt complained, looking bitterly through the bars holding the three sliders inside the holding cell where the FBI had deposited them after their arrest. "I don't like the food, I hate the accodomations. It just plain all around sucks. I get the feeling you guys don't like it either." He didn't pause to ask them their opinion, but they didn't interrupt him to contradict that statement either. "But somehow one of us manages to get arrested at least once every three or four slides. Now explain to me how we manage that?"

Professor Arturo sighed. "Mr. Brown, our ignorance of a society's rules compounds our own sense of what is legal and acceptible to increase the chances of our arrest on a parallel world to far greater than it would be at Home or for an average citizen of a parallel world."

"It's unbelievable that you actually had a logical explanation for that," Remmy stated. "Like that was what I wanted. Ever heard of sympathy? Can't you tell when I'm just complainin'?"

Arturo was just plain irritable and willing to take it out on anybody. "Yes. Usually, it's when your mouth moves."

Before the two of them got into it further, Wade stopped them. Normally, the three of them would have been separated by gender, but it was evidently more important for the Feds to keep the suspects isolated from the other prisoners than for the women to be divided from the men. "Will you guys stop it? This bickering isn't solving anything."

"It makes me feel better," Arturo responded unconvincingly. "Besides, we have little else to do in here. They won't so much as give us a newspaper to read."

"I don't know what they're waitin' on," Rembrandt commented. "They should free us and throw this ruffian's gang behind bars and throw away the key."

Wade snorted. "Not likely, since we were captured in their company. They won't just release us, unless we're acquitted once we're on trial. I don't know about you guys, but I'm not quite ready to be put on trial again." All three sliders remembered their harrowing experience from a few days ago and shuddered.

"That's assuming they even have a criminal justice system on this world," Arturo threw in to darken their mood even further.

"What do you think about this Colin guy?" Remmy asked. "The brother our Quinn never had?"

"The name Mallory's common enough," Arturo said, seemingly dismissing Rembrandt's theory out of hand. "Though it is quite the coincidence that we ran into someone with the same last name and roughly the same age as our Mr. Mallory so soon into the slide."

"I wish we hadn't," Wade remarked, though she knew her wish would be in vain.

"What do you think they did with Q-Ball?" Remmy wondered aloud.

"Hopefully they've taken him to a hospital," the Professor answered him. He then wondered what good it would do for Quinn to go to a hospital. Perhaps they should have left him with Lesion. At least they would have known how to fix him.

Some official-looking men headed to the trio's cell. They began to unlock the door, and started to usher the sliders into another room. "Where are you taking us?" Wade wanted to know.

"For questioning," one responded. "You've been rotting in here long enough." They could hardly disagree with him.

"And that's about the size of it," Rembrandt concluded wearily (and unconvincingly). They had decided not to tell the FBI the truth about sliding and so they needed a cover story to get them out of this situation.

Unfortunately, theirs wasn't holding up very well. "You work for a delivery company," the shorter, stockier man with a five o'clock shadow questioned with a disbelieving tone in his voice.

"Yes," Arturo answered with a small chuckle. "Not one of the major ones. My friends and I believed we could start a small business that could compete in the marketplace against the large corporations." The Professor hung his head in mock shame. "How wrong we were."

The other agent, taller and cleancut, walked around the room while he began his part of the interrogation. "And you just happened to get trapped in the Alamo Club for several days just when our Federal agents started their standoff with Colin Mallory?"

"Talk about your bad luck, huh?" Wade replied with a small chuckle. "Listen, one of our friends was unconscious and in need of medical attention when we were arrested, can you tell us how he..."

The shorter one, she thought he had identified himself as Erskine, interrupted her with a growl. "We ask the questions around here. You answer them. I thought we were pretty clear on that."

The three sliders looked nervously at each other. There was no way the Feds were buying their story and they had to get out of here, get the timer and get Quinn to a hospital before they slid in less than four days. The two FBI agents went over into a corner of the room to discuss things.

"This is bad," Rembrandt commented. "We'll be lucky if we get out of here without some serious jail time."

"There is also the difficulty of getting the timer back," Professor Arturo mused to himself.

"That gets old after a while," Wade complained. As the three of them spoke, some of the San Diego police officers ushered in a young woman. After a few seconds, Wade and Arturo recognized her as the girl from the Club. Apparently she'd made it out OK too.

"We didn't request an interrogation for Ms. Charles yet," one of the agents pointed out in frustration.

"She wants to make a statement," the guard said and then stood over her, watching her like a mother hen.

"I seek sanctuary in my homeland," she spoke quickly. "Religious asylum in Thorpesborough for those born there is allowed under your law, yes?"

One of the agents laughed. The other turned pale. The pale one moved to leave the room. "I'll place some calls, find out if Thorpesborough and the Bureau can work it out."

A number of minutes passed in painful silence. The young Native American girl looked worried, but considering where she was, it was to be expected. Finally, Agent Carter returned to the room, crestfallen. "Not only does Shaman Littlefoot approve of the asylum, the Director of the FBI approved it as well. Orders from the President, he said."

The other FBI agent looked like he might swear up a blue streak. What did Abby Hoffman and Kevin Costner have to do with this? Why was this girl so special?

"Well, girl," Agent Erskine told her without much relish, "looks like you're headed home."

"Not just me," she told them briskly, still not looking too happy. "Everyone who you captured with me as well. We all request asylum."

Agent Erskine scoffed, but the look on Agent Carter's face was grim. "Very well," he responded.

"Are you nuts?!?" Agent Erskine demanded to know.

"I've got my orders," the other agent responded solemnly.

"Fine," Erskine said through gnashing teeth. He then managed a wicked-looking smile. "We'll let the DAS handle Colin Mallory and his crew."

The three sliders looked at each other and wondered what their stay in this Thorpesborough place would be like. If the reaction of Agent Erskine and the continued sadness of the young girl were any indication, it would not be a pleasant one.

Chapter Four

The train that carried Maximilian Arturo, Rembrandt Brown and Wade Welles to the town of Thorpesborough was not built for commercial use and it showed. For one thing there were not enough passenger compartments for anybody running the train to make any money off of doing so. For another, the train lacked the amenities a normal train would have. Like, say, tables or comfortable seats. Or actual beds.

Well, perhaps that was going a bit far. Wade had visited her "room" and there was what could be passed off as a bed lying there in wait for her. She never thought she would miss the comfortable (but much too small) Mekkan beds from the last world, but now she was doing exactly that.

Wade yawned and twisted irritably in her cold metal seat. "Find anything out yet?" she asked the Professor half-interestedly.

Arturo squinted at the brochure he had managed to obtain about life in Thorpesborough. "Thorpesborough is a community designed for Native Americans not far from San Francisco. It appears to function like a reservation, only urbanized."

"Sounds like plain old discrimination to me," Remmy half-grumbled and half-mumbled. He had given up on going to his bed to sleep, but apparently not on sleeping itself, as his drowsy head drifted downward almost as soon as it went up.

Rembrandt's comment gave Arturo pause. He then examined the writing in front of him once more. "Perhaps not. It says here that Jim Thorpe, the famous American Indian athlete from our world, entered politics here. It seems that he embraced the idea of economic improvement put forth by Booker T. Washington, 'cast down your buckets where you are'. Only he didn't think his fellow Indians could do so from a reservation. Hence, Thorpesborough."

"That sounds like the short version," Wade commented.

"Well, it's only a brochure!" the Professor snapped. "What did you expect, 'War and Peace'?" Wade frowned at Professor Arturo, who apologized for himself. "This world has been a tiring experience so far. I haven't slept since we left Lesion world."

"We're all bound to be getting on each other's nerves," Wade agreed, not directly stating that Arturo was getting on hers, but tacitly implying it.

"Perhaps we should take a short break from each other," the elder Englishman proposed. "We're all tired and frustrated, not to mention worried sick about Mr. Mallory."

Quinn lay in stable condition at the back of the train, along with the notorious Colin and those in his gang who had been injured in the standoff the sliders had found themselves unfortunately caught in shortly after they arrived here. Simone Charles and Pablo Ramirez were in another compartment of the train. For some reason, the Feds had insisted they stay separate from each other.

They had also taken malicious glee in handing them over to the DAS, which Wade found out later stood for the Department of Aboriginal Services, an ambiguous name if ever there was one. That didn't make her look forward to whatever they might do to them once they got to the Native American city.

Wade was in one of those moods where she was tired, unwilling to sleep, bored, and wanted desperately to do something. Arturo had read the tourist pamphlet for Thorpesborough about as many times as a sane human being could be expected to. Rembrandt was fast asleep. Wade decided to strike up a conversation. "We still have a long way to go, don't we?"

Arturo looked at his watch and double-checked the train's schedule. "We should reach Thorpesborough in a few hours." He rubbed his eyes tiredly, but his earlier tirade against the accomodations here meant that he probably wouldn't be sleeping tonight either.

"That's not what I meant," Wade replied, biting her lip. "Home's not getting any closer, is it?"

"You and Mr. Brown were home," Arturo reminded her. "I was given to understand it was an unpleasant experience."

"That wasn't home, that was hell," Wade stated definitively with icy steel in her voice. "There's got to be a place out there that hasn't been torn to pieces by the Maggs or Lesion or God knows who else. There's got to be somewhere we can go home to. I mean we've got an infinite number of worlds, one of them's got to be it, right?"

Arturo had believed that the number of parallel worlds out there were infinite at first. Quinn had disagreed, saying that there were possibly only a few hundred worlds. At the time, he had thought the boy an idealist who just wanted to think that he could get himself and his friends home quickly. Now he saw the pragmatism in young Mallory's approach and when he had the chance to do the same (albeit, in the reverse way his pupil did), he took it. The look on Wade's face would have procluded doing otherwise. "I believe so, yes." He put his hand reassuringly on her shoulder. "We will find home, Wade."

They sat in silence for a moment. It had been a while since Arturo had called Wade by her first name. It felt reassuring. She then decided to make the conversation even more awkward by bringing up another sore spot. "What about Lesion? We told Molaudian we were going to warn everyone about them."

Arturo sighed. "With the way the people here treat us, we'd be lucky if they only sent us to an insane asylum."

Wade rose from her seat, tired of the pain that shot through her back from sitting. "We dropped the ball before, you know, with the Kromaggs. We had the chance to warn people and we didn't take it." Wade looked far away. "If we had only..."

The Professor tried being more soothing now. "It's doubtful most of the worlds we visit will be able to do anything to stop Lesion, or the blasted Kromaggs for that matter. It would do little good to tell others about Lesion who do not know about sliding. If we run to anybody who fits that bill, I'll be the first to give them everything I know about those lunatic aliens."

Wade seemed satisfied at that. At last, both of them decided to try to at least get a few hours sleep before they went into their new town of temporary residence.

"I don't like the looks of this place," Remmy said, looking around downtown Thorpesborough. Specifically, he had his eyes set on the hotel the DAS (a bunch of militarized rejects who got their jollies from exercising what little authority they have) had arranged for them. The Tecumseh stood at the end of a dark, grungy alley lit only by neon signs from other buildings close by.

"It's just temporary until we can arrange for Quinn to stay in a hospital here," Wade reminded him. Passing by red graffiti that said KILL THE WHITE DEVILS didn't make her comfortable here either.

The Professor nodded his agreement. "Yes, I believe we have enough money to stay in a real hotel as soon as Quinn is being taken care of. Until then, we have to stay here." The DAS, apparently lacking any sort of compassion whatsoever, refused to admit Quinn into a hospital directly from the train. He had to have a place of residence here first.

As the three of them checked into the hotel, they tried their best not to look around. They were better off. The owner showed them to their room, one with a nice view of a neon light not far from the Tecumseh. "I don't think I have to ask what normally goes on here," Wade said, looking around at the sparse, decidedly spartan accomodations. The beds did look spacious though.

"It certainly appears that anything goes here," Arturo said, sizing up the zeitgeist the city had presented them so far.

Rembrandt had already began looking through the phone book. "Physicians, physicians...oh no."

"What is it?" Wade asked.

Remmy gave her a sour look. "It says 'See Shamans'. I don't want to see a shaman. I'm not really interested in getting blueprints to save Q-Ball's brain again."

Arturo looked equally chagrined. "If that is the case, we must take Quinn to go see a shaman." Before the others could protest, he cut them off. "For now we have no choice. He needs medical care badly. I'll stay with Quinn while the two of you check hospitals in San Francisco."

"Aren't you forgetting something?" Wade asked. "In San Francisco, we're wanted criminals."

Professor Arturo looked somber. "The authorities have had no cause to give out our identities to anyone. As long as you don't proclaim from the rooftops that you were caught with Colin Mallory's gang, you should do fine." He then amended himself. "Though you should probably split up. It'll make it harder for anyone who knows anything about the incident to connect you to it."

Wade looked at Rembrandt. "I'm game if you are." Wade nodded as Rembrandt was already headed out the door. "Catch you later, Professor."

Wade looked reluctant to head out after him, but prepared herself mentally to go and help Quinn. "I hate to leave him, you know. Just gotta remind myself that I'm doing this all for Quinn."

"He's not our Quinn," Arturo said simply, stopping Wade's heart for just a second. Time itself seemed to stand still. Wade froze there, staring at Maximilian Arturo blankly.

"What did you say?" she managed to reply, meekly.

Arturo looked straight ahead at the motel wall. "He...rescued me from Azure Gate Bridge World only a short while before we found you. You were distraught and convinced that this Quinn was yours. I told him to play along."

"How...how could you?" she asked, her voice virtually inaudible. The words were like a knife in the Professor's heart. "Does Remmy know?"

"No," the Professor stated as if that was supposed to make her feel better. "I thought in his mental state it would just be one more thing he'd repress."

"God," Wade exclaimed. "What gives you the right?!? Who lets you decide what we can handle and what we can't??"

"Could you have handled it?" Arturo asked.

Wade paused in thought for a moment and then dismissed. "It doesn't matter. You *lied* to me. You made me think that this...this person was somebody that I loved. Somebody that I would die for. And you ask me if I can handle that?" Wade gave the Professor a look of genuine disgust. "I'm going to the hospital for..." she stopped herself, laughing bitterly. "for somebody I don't even know."

"If you don't want to do this for Quinn," Arturo pleaded with her, "at least do it for me."

Wade's eyes focused fiercely. "Who did you think I was talking about?" She slammed the door behind her.

Chapter Five

Maximilian Arturo stood virtually motionless as Quinn Mallory was wheeled on a gurney into a hospital room. Thankfully, the shamans at least kept the pretense of an actual medical facility. The Professor could only hope that there was more than pretense in their ability to heal Quinn.

"What..." Arturo stopped himself, not wanting to sound condescending. Quinn was in this man's hands, no matter how little hope he had that anything could be done. "What will you do for him?"

"Whatever we can," the grim-looking shaman replied. "Probably not much, but we will use everything at our disposal to save his life." The man looked like he had seen his fair share of death. That discomfited the elder Englishman at first, until he realized that look could only come from years of experience. And he had been honest with Arturo. That counted for something.

The physician, dressed like one people of Earth Prime would be used to except for some red beads that hung from his neck, turned to look at Professor Arturo. His eyes said that he was unwanted, at least at the present time. The doctor started to say something, but he interrupted him. "I'll just get out of your way now, Doctor." As he began to step out the door, he could not resist the urge to speak again. "Take good care of him. Please."

Once he entered the hallway, he saw what the everyday life of people who worked here must be like. The place was packed with people, most of them with injuries that, to the naked eye, seemed worse than Quinn's. If not for Miss Charles' connections, Quinn would have probably languished away, with no hope of recovery.

'How much hope has he now?' he wondered idly. The repercussions of that line of thinking were anything but frivolous. Professor Arturo was so consumed by his thoughts that he almost ran into a middle-aged couple.

"I'm terribly sorry," he apologized. Then he took a good look at who they were. "Mr. and Mrs. Mallory?" he asked incredulously. He then realized the foolishness of his question, but it was too late to take it back. If they didn't know him, he was likely to be in trouble. If they did, it would just be awkward.

"Do we know you?" Amanda Mallory asked with some wonder. Then she appeared to chide herself. "Of course. From that interview on 20/20."

"That was a total farce," Michael Mallory threw in. "Complete misrepresentation of our feelings."

"Of course," Arturo agreed, not quite knowing what to do in this situation. He decided, perhaps stupidly, to delve further into this conversation. "Why are you here?"

"For our son," Amanda stated flatly, as if she would rather be on a distant planet somewhere rather than here.

Their son? Arturo's panicked mind flittered around, trying to figure out how they could know that their son Quinn, or his double at any rate, was here. Did Quinn have a double here? "Your son is here?" Arturo managed to ask finally.

"Yes," Michael admitted without much relish. "Colin was hurt badly in the raid on the compound." The Professor breathed an inward sigh of relief. 'So Colin is their son', he thought to himself. "None of the regular hospitals would admit him, so they had to take him here. Now we have to find out which doctor is in charge of the patients brought in from San Diego..."

"Dr. Black Raven," Arturo replied, all pretense of leaving these people to their own business. At their puzzled look, he explained. "I was with that party. One of the few who were uninjured. I wish all of us had been so fortunate." He took them back to Quinn's room to where the doctor stood treating him. To the Professor's relief, it looked like standard medical procedure.

As Michael Mallory went over to talk to the physician, Amanda looked down at Quinn. "Are you his f..."

"Friend," Arturo replied, interrupting her before she could ask the question that had already begun to form on her lips. "Just a friend." Once he spoke the words, he wondered whether they were really true.

Rembrandt's eyes flashed fire. "Look, I don't know what you're thinkin', but my friend's not connected to..."

"Riiiight," the cynical head nurse said, never turning her eyes away from the paperwork that sat on her desk. "And I suppose it was just a coincidence that he was taken from the Alamo Club, where Colin Mallory's gang was hiding out and that his last name just happens to be Mallory."

"Actually," Rembrandt replied, more angry perhaps than he had right to be. "Yeah. A big, infuriating coincidence."

The nurse looked up briefly. She was clearly not in a good humor. "Look, mister, I don't know what you're trying to pull here, but go do it somewhere else. We've got enough patients who are on the up and up. We don't need to start taking in criminals."

"Yeah, since when do you decide who you take in and who you don't?" Remmy asked harshly. "Ever heard of the Hippocratic oath?"

"The what?" she asked, her brow furrowed in incomprehension. "Look, I haven't got time for this."

Rembrandt threw his hands up in frustration. "Make time. Do something. I'm desperate here."

The nurse, her fury disappearing for perhaps a second, looked Remmy squarely in the eyes. "Look. Maybe you're telling the truth. Maybe he's not connected to Colin Mallory and his lot. But we can't admit him. Period. I don't have the authority. The AMA has a strict policy against admitting those who are involved in the criminal element." She watched Rembrandt deflate. A look of sorrow passed over her face, if only for a moment. "If your friend's really that bad off I can call Thorpesborough General. It's a little far out, but I've got some friends there..."

"No," Rembrandt interrupted her, deciding he was getting nowhere. "Thank you, but no." He walked away, his heart heavy. He didn't like to fail, especially when it meant he was failing a friend in trouble. For some reason, that sort of thing seemed to hurt more these days than ever before. As he started to walk towards the elevator to head out of Saint Francis Hospital and try another, he heard a familiar voice that stopped him in his tracks.

"I won't go in there," the faint voice said coldly. "That boy is not my son, you hear?" It was his father, no doubt about it. He had to remind himself it would only be a double, but at the moment he didn't care. A familiar face was just what he needed to cheer himself up.

Not wanting to burst in without knowing what was going on, Remmy listened quietly to the goings-on between Herschel Brown and a young woman. "Reverend Brown, you don't know what kind of trouble I could get into for having him in here," she whispered in what was almost a hiss. "I did this as a favor to you. And you won't see him???" 'Reverend?' Rembrandt couldn't imagine his father as a minister.

"Don't do me any more favors, girl, you hear?" he told her sharply. "He deserves what he gets." At that, the man who might have been Rembrandt's father marched away, the young woman trailing off after him, pleading with him all the way.

Rembrandt snuck into the room over which the two had hovered. He looked at the unconscious African-American man solemnly. "Christopher Brown," he said, looking at the chart. He then saw the date of birth. He did a double take. "This guy's my fraternal twin!" he exclaimed, taken aback. "Guess Q-Ball's not the only one with a brother he never met."

Wade Welles had had no luck trying hospitals. Something about an AMA regulation, not being able to admit someone with a criminal record, Wade didn't really catch it all. To tell the truth, she was too angry to.

'Damn Arturo,' she thought to herself. 'No matter how much it seems like he changes, he's always the same guy. An egotistical control freak out to protect poor little Wade.' Her anger towards Arturo however was only being used to keep her from thinking about Quinn. How could he not be the Quinn she knew? She had noticed the little differences, sure, but with the passage of time, there was bound to be some changes in a person, wasn't there?

What had happened to Quinn? Something horrific, something wonderful? Had he found someone else, (if he'd ended up with Maggie, then it was a different Maggie she'd seen when her head was turned into a computer by the Kromaggs)? It was the not knowing that was driving her crazy. She wondered how much of the truth the Professor knew and then cursed him again.

Going to the free clinic to get help for Quinn was a last resort, the only course left for her to pursue at this point. She walked in and waited in a rather lengthy line to talk to someone at the front desk. When they heard her case, they were less than sympathetic. Wade quickly surmised that they wanted a bribe from her to get Quinn any help. Wade scoffed and walked away. 'Some free clinic', she thought to herself ruefully.

Outside, she saw Simone Charles walking towards the door. "Simone?" Wade cried out. "What are you doing here? I thought you got a clean bill of health."

"I...I did," she admitted, keeping her head down and her eyes glued to the ground. Whatever was going on, she wasn't happy about it. "I'm clean," she stated weakly and then burst into tears. Wade didn't know what else to do. She put her arm around her, comforting her.

"What's wrong?" Wade asked. Simone was now sobbing uncontrollably. She eventually managed to hold her head up and speak so Wade could understand her.

"I'm pregnant," she said firmly. Wade didn't know why that was a cause for alarm until she elaborated, although she should have known right away. "It's Jorge's baby."

"Oh," Wade remarked, not the smartest, most sympathetic thing to say in this situation to be sure. She couldn't imagine all the pain involved in finding out she was pregnant with her dead lover's baby. But there was enough common ground there for Wade to reach out to her. "Is there anyone who could help you out with the baby? Your family, maybe?"

She laughed bitterly. "Oh, my parents want to help alright. Just not in the way I want them to." Wade looked confused. "That's why they made me come here. They want me to have an abortion."

Chapter Six

Amanda Mallory paced nervously across the hospital, trying not to bump into the many others who were crowded into the waiting room. "Why is it taking so long?"

Michael moved next to her reflexively. "It's a complicated surgery, Amanda. If it's taking a long time, it means they can do something for him. That they are doing something for him. Now just calm down. Sit."

"I can't," she replied in a half-wail. "I have to know. Now. One way or the other." She collapsed in her husband's arms, weary beyond the imagination of Maximilian Arturo, who watched without envy a few feet away. Eventually, Amanda Mallory did sit, and she laid her head against the wall. Her eyes closed quickly and she was consumed by her exhaustion. Sleep came easily, although she never would have expected it.

"Perhaps you should do the same," Arturo weighed in through a cautious whisper, more than half-hoping that he could leave them and go back to the hotel room. He had not slept well the night before either.

Mallory shook his head negatively. "I don't think I can. Amanda's never had any trouble sleeping. I haven't slept since we got Colin, not really."

Arturo's brow furrowed. "You must be joking, sir. Why your son must be over twenty years old at least. Surely you've slept..."

"We haven't had him that long." Arturo's speech stopped abruptly, taking in Michael Mallory's words.

"He is your son, yes?" Arturo asked confusedly.

"In some ways." Michael swung his head slightly, indicating a door that led to another room.

"Why the air of secrecy?" the Professor asked once they were inside the room.

Michael Mallory quickly got down to business. "OK, look. Normally I wouldn't tell just anybody this. But if anything happens to me or Amanda if...things go badly in the operating room...somebody has to know. We don't have any friends anymore and none of our relatives have talked to us in months."

Arturo looked at the man intently. "Your secret's safe with me, whatever it is." His scientific curiousity got the better of him.

"Colin's not our biological son," Michael said as low as he possibly could. "About a year and a half ago, I was contacted by some salespeople I'd never heard of before. They offered me something..." He stopped, lost in thought, trying to explain his state of mind. "Amanda and I could never have kids. It wasn't possible. We wanted to so badly, and when we finally realized we couldn't we didn't just want to adopt some kid who we didn't know. We wanted it to be ours. These people...they offered us that." He smiled ruefully. "Our flesh and blood at retail price."

"How is that possible?" Arturo asked, amazed.

Mallory shook his head. "I honestly don't know. They brought out Colin and said he was our son. I thought it was impossible, but they had the DNA tests to prove it. We were kind of wary at first, but we got lonely, got desperate. After a while, we accepted."

"And...he was your son?" the Professor queried disbelievingly.

"Oh, yes," Michael replied, almost breathlessly. "He looked so much like our child, felt so much like ours, that...we loved him immediately...unconditionally. We lost the respect of some of the people who were dear to us before Colin came into our lives, but... I don't think I would have done it any differently if I could." He then stopped himself, thinking of the current situation. "Well, if I could have stopped this madness from happening, I would have."

Arturo's puzzlement continued. "How did this all happen?"

"Colin started hanging around with the wrong crowd." He laughed, again without mirth. "I guess every parent says that in this situation, but it's true. He changed, almost overnight. Became...someone else. I don't know if it was a side effect of whatever they did or..."

"Why tell me this?" Arturo asked, tiring of asking questions of this man he hardly knew.

Michael Mallory handed Maximilian Arturo a card with a phone number on it and the name Cyril. "The guy who I made the deal with to get Colin gave me this card to contact him. I tried using the number to get info on the people he works for, but I didn't have any luck. I never had the courage to give it to the police. If we should suddenly disappear, I want you to give it to them." Arturo nodded his agreement, despite the fact that he likely wouldn't be around to do anything about it in a few days.

"I don't expect you to understand," Michael Mallory said, turning his head away from the Professor with a distant look in his eyes. "I could look at him and in my mind know he wasn't my real son, but in my heart I felt it so strongly that I couldn't stop loving him as a father loves his son. And now, to come so close to losing that...to losing him... You have no idea what that's like."

Arturo moved next to him, looking equally far away. "Perhaps I do, Mr. Mallory. Perhaps I do."

Rembrandt Brown looked Christopher Brown up and down, examining him thoroughly. There was a facial resemblance he could detect. He wondered idly if he'd had a double on this world. His idle wondering stopped as the ill-looking man's eyes opened.

"Who are you?" he asked sullenly.

"A relative," he answered quickly. "Rembrandt Brown."

"Never heard of you," Christopher said in a tired voice. Well, that answered one of Rembrandt's questions anyway.

Rembrandt shrugged as casually as he could. "Distant cousin. We only met a couple of times. I was at Aunt Esther's funeral." Assuming she had existed on this world, it was a safe bet his Aunt Esther was dead. She would have been over 120 if she was still alive.

"Why're you here?" he asked Rembrandt irritably.

"I've got a friend here in the hospital I was visiting and I saw you as I was walking down the hallway," Rembrandt explained falsely. "Thought I'd stop by and say 'hello'."

Christopher laid his head back on his pillow as if to sleep again. "Well, you can just go on by and say 'goobye'. I said no visitors, and that's what I meant."

Rembrandt couldn't accept that. Not when there seemed to be so much trouble here. "I saw your father outside your room just a few minutes ago."

"You remember him from Aunt Esther's funeral, too?" Christopher asked sarcastically. "You got one of those photographic memories? Aunt Esther died thirty years ago and that's a long time to remember a face." He sat up in bed as well as he could, propping himself up on his elbow. "Look, you can stop BSing me. I know I ain't got no cousin Rembrandt. Daddy sent you here to preach to me about saving my soul before the rapture." He said the last six words with the conviction and inflection of a Baptist preacher.

"What if he did?" Remmy asked, willing to probe this problem to its roots any way he could.

"You can tell him forget about it." Christopher shifted in his bed indignantly. "You can also tell him he's a coward. He should come down here himself, not send one of his parishioners to do it."

"The Reverend doesn't know I'm here," Rembrandt replied truthfully. "And I am a relative of yours."

"Right," Christopher scoffed. "Because we're all brothers and sisters in Christ."

"That's true enough," Rembrandt replied. "But it goes a little bit deeper than that."

"Yeah?" Christopher shot back. "How many 'brothers' you got that's dying?"

It was intended to shock Rembrandt and it did, if only for a moment. "I'm sorry. Is there anything they can do?"

"What, Daddy didn't tell you?" Christopher asked incredulously. "No. He wouldn't. He thinks prohibition was a commandment from God, not just some amendment to the Constitution." When Rembrandt still looked like he didn't understand, Christopher explained. "It's cirrhosis of the liver. They don't give liver transplants to alcoholics. All they can do is dull the pain, but the end is inevitable."

"All the more reason you should be stickin' close to your family and getting in touch with God," Rembrandt said as he stood up and looked out the window of Christopher's room.

"God's never done anything for me," Christopher retorted. "And I don't want my family to see me like this. Don't you think I want everything back the way it was? But life doesn't work that way. Now I'm stuck here, broken and dying. The last thing I want is for the people that love me to see me this way."

"I don't think..." Rembrandt began, but was quickly cut off by Christopher. "Get out," was his simple command. The ferocity of the voice told him he should do so immediately. Rembrandt felt a twinge of regret leaving the hospital. And the strangest pang of sympathy.

"I..." Wade was so stunned she could think of nothing to say for a few moments. When she did speak, she cut right to the chase. "Do you want to have an abortion?"

"I don't know," came the instant reply, with more confusion and tears than ever before. "I wish I could be as confident that it's the right thing to do as my parents are."

"Maybe it's because I'm not from around here, but...I guess I just don't understand why they want this. Did they disapprove of Jorge?" As Wade looked at her for a reply, Simone Charles laughed, though the pain behind the comment was evident in her face.

"That's an understatement. You see, to them I'm still married. They even had my wedding ring waiting for me when I got back. I took it off and left it in their house right before I ran away from home."

"You were married?" Wade asked, trying her level best to be the friend this girl needed, despite the fact she didn't know her very well.

She nodded quickly. "To John Littlefoot. The Shaman's son. It was such a gala affair. The Charles family marrying into the Littlefoots. Everybody had a ball. Or at least so I'm told, since it was pure torture for me. But then nobody asked me if I had a good time." She sniffled and wiped away a few tears. "John got mixed up with some local toughs and got into trouble with the law. It would have gotten him jail time if he'd been anybody else, but since he was John Littlefoot, they made him work for the DAS." Wade shivered at her own memory of dealing with the fascistic Department of Aboriginal Services, as thankfully short as it was. "They gave him work so far underground and undercover he couldn't so much as write me a letter. And if something should happen, let's just say they don't have 'We regret to inform you' telegrams to send out. They don't believe in leaving a paper trail. You just have to wait. And I got tired of waiting. My parents didn't. We fought about it and I ran away and used some of John's old connections to get myself out of town. That's how I met Jorge and got involved with Colin Mallory's gang." She sighed in exasperation. "And now I'm back, because it was this or jail. I think I would have preferred jail, come to think of it. There'd be more freedom. Of course, I couldn't take care of a baby there either."

"Do you want a child?" Wade asked, aiming at the crux of the situation.

Simone looked up at Wade. "I've been through a living hell, and this child is going to be an everyday reminder of all that pain I went through. I can't take care of a baby and I don't have a way to support a child. At least, that's what my folks keep reminding me."

"You didn't answer my question," Wade said. Simone looked back at her and her face contorted with anguish as tears began to flow again.

"Yes," she said, leaning on Wade. "I want this baby so much my heart aches. I've lost so much in my life, and I just can't lose this baby, too. I just don't know how I'm going to make it work."

"You'll make it work," Wade told her. "Trust me, I've been there. It's a hard road, but in the end it's worth all the pain." Before Simone could question her about that, she stated, "In fact I think I've got an idea about how you could keep your baby already." Simone said nothing as Wade moved to a payphone, determined to save her child.

Chapter Seven

Death was near. Colin Mallory never knew how he would feel about dying. A sense of loss, perhaps. Of promises and dreams unfulfilled. But never a sense of disappointment.

Yet that was what he felt now. Oh, sure, he'd been disappointed before. Each new life he had tried to build had turned out unsuccessfully for him. The people in whom he had trusted his fate for so long had told him a permanent arrangement would be hard to come by. Still, this one had gotten entirely out of hand.

Had he been too greedy? Wanted too much, too quickly? He would have to examine the conundrum in great detail later. Right now he was too busy preparing for death.

It's an odd sensation. Not the peaceful transition nor the violent transformation that others who've never endured it might expect. Just an end, abrupt and sudden and beyond human comprehension. He almost felt sorry for the shell that would be left behind and the parents who would feel the grief of a lost child.

Almost. He had lost of his ability to sympathize, after the incident. A fatal flaw? Perhaps. But he could survive fatalities. Not too many, of course. Even a cat only has nine lives. It was yet another thing which bore further examination.

As the moment came, he felt himself starting to slip away. There was nothing more to be done here. And so, with little fanfare, Colin Mallory left this world. Or, more precisely, left this dimension.

"...I'm sorry, Mrs. Mallory. We did all we could." The doctor did his best to exude sympathy, but it was clear he had done this too many times for it to matter much to him.

Amanda Mallory wished she could cry. But she couldn't. The tremendous sense of relief that overrode all her other emotions made her angry with herself. She tried to force the tears to come out, so she wouldn't look like a heartless monster. It still didn't work.

"There are some forms," the doctor went on, but Mrs. Mallory couldn't hear him. She was quickly lost in her own thoughts. Where would their lives go from here? They had already been so consumed by the tragedy of the life of their "son", Colin. Their name would keep them from having a normal life. Colin had sullied their reputation for good.

And for what? Anyone who knew their history knew that organized crime was doomed to failure. Nobody had even tried it since that upstart Capone and his "bootleggers" flopped colossally. Surely her son was no fool. He had to know it as well as anyone.

One thing was for sure, their lives were over. She turned to her husband and looked him squarely in the eyes...and wept.

The five elders stood around Quinn Mallory's body in a semicircle, chanting furiously. If Professor Arturo had been in his room to see it, he would have thrown a fit. As it was, the ritual was a last ditch attempt to save the young man's life. Nobody had really expected it to work.

So they were all more than a little surprised when there was some movement in Quinn's eyes. One of the elders noticed this and stopped the ceremony. They hurried out of the room quickly.

"Mr. Arturo," another doctor, Dr. Black Raven, called him over to another room. The Professor had been watching as the Mallorys were told the news. Horrible business, that. He envied the doctor not in the slightest. "Your friend, Mr. Mallory, seems to be coming out of his comatose state. We thought you might want to take a look as soon as he becomes lucid."

"Marvelous," Arturo exclaimed excitedly. "When can I see him?"

The Native American physician looked pensive. "Give him about an hour to clear his head and get his bearings."

"Thank you," the Professor said, shaking the man's hand vigorously. Arturo could barely contain his nervous energy. Would Quinn be OK? Would he be changed? Had Quinn really been in contact with a Mekkan god?

His questions would remain unanswered for now. Which, to Maximilian Arturo, was infinitely maddening.

Rembrandt Brown paced nervously by the phone in their new, improved hotel room. He had looked the number up in the phonebook, but couldn't bring himself to dial the numbers. How could he talk to a man who sounded exactly like his father, who, in a way, was his father, without breaking down? Still, he felt a responsibility to reconcile father to son. 'Especially when it could have been me in his shoes,' Rembrandt thought soberly.

He finally worked up the nerve to dial the numbers. The phone's ringing on the other end seemed to take an eternity. "Hello?" the scraggy voice answered on the other end.

Rembrandt almost didn't speak. "Hello?" the voice on the other end repeated.

"I want to talk about your son," Rembrandt blurted out, the harsh reality of his father's double's voice on the other line having driven any sense of finesse and diplomacy that might have existed in him otherwise.

His voice became colder. "What's he done now?"

Rembrandt began to take this conversation seriously. "Maybe I didn't make myself clear to you. I want to talk about you and your son."

"What do you mean?" he replied quickly. "I'm not a drunk like him, if that's what you're implying."

"I saw you at the hospital yesterday and I think you're making a big mistake," Rembrandt replied, trying to salvage the situation as best he could.

"You were spying on me?" Herschel Brown retorted with venom in his voice. His tongue became sharp. "Who the devil are you, anyways?"

"Just a friend of the family," Rembrandt answered truthfully.

"Anybody who's a friend of Christopher's is not my friend," he responded emphatically.

The younger Mr. Brown sighed. "I think you're wrong about that."

"Christopher's the one who's wrong," Reverend Brown stated flatly. "Dead wrong. And he deserves everything he gets. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to write this Sunday's sermon."

"Not about forgiveness, I hope," Rembrandt replied, hoping for one last dig to drive his point home. "Wouldn't want anybody to accuse you of not practicing what you preach." The other end went dead. Almost as soon as he returned the receiver to its cradle, the phone sprang to life again. Rembrandt answered it. "Hello." After a moment, he went on. "Wade? Where in blazes are you?"

"Not far away. Just saying goodbye to a friend." After a few more minutes of conversation, Wade hung up and exited the phone booth. "You nervous?"

"A little," Simone said as she turned the address Wade had given her over and over in her hands.

"Don't be," Wade spoke with confidence. "Pablo seemed really excited to be an uncle. I think he feels like it's a piece of Jorge that he can hold onto."

Simone nodded knowingly. "That's the way I feel, too." She paused a moment to think. "I really thought I was going to put this part of my life behind me. I didn't think that it could be the very thing that saved me."

Wade smiled back at her. "Life's funny that way." As they began walking, they talked about unimportant things. After the momentous conversation they had been having, it was more than a little relieving for both of them. When they got to Wade's hotel, they stopped to speak for the last time.

"Do you need me to walk you to the subway station?" Wade asked sincerely.

Simone nodded negatively. "I'll be OK."

"Yeah," Wade told her earnestly. "I think you will."

They said their goodbyes and Wade walked into the hotel lobby. She ascended the stairs and unlocked their room. Rembrandt was putting his jacket on. "Leaving so soon?" Wade asked.

"Arturo just called. Quinn's awake." At that, Wade gathered what she needed and followed him.

"He seems to be coming out of it rather well, considering the state he was in when we admitted him," the doctor said to the three sliders, moving around him as he lay there groggily.

"How do you feel, Mr. Mallory?" the Professor queried.

"Feel?" Quinn asked numbly. "Alright, I suppose. I've just been through a lot lately." A thought suddenly occurred to him. "How long til...we leave?"

"A few more days, Quinn," Wade told him. She still had not forgiven Arturo and was having a hard time dealing with Quinn, now that she knew he wasn't the right one.

"If you don't mind," the doctor interrupted, "I'd like to be alone with Quinn for a few moments."

"I'm going to keep you here for another day," Dr. Black Raven stated. "For observation purposes only. Your recovery is, dare I say, miraculous, Mr. Mallory. The spiritual rejuvenation ritual the elders do usually isn't any help, but..."

"Was there a point to this, doctor?" Quinn asked sharply.

"Yes." He was now completely serious. "There was a matter that I thought I might bring to your attention."

"You're holding out on me." Quinn stated with absolute certainty. "Tell me what's wrong."

Dr. Black Raven looked uncomfortable. "The physical we did on you, after you woke up. We found marks, wounds, on your back and your knee."

"Are they infected? Am I gonna be OK?" he asked in rapid succession.

The doctor nodded. "No, the wounds seem to be closed up and...well, old. Like scars."

Quinn's brow furrowed. "OK, now I'm confused. Why did you even want to talk to me about some old wounds?"

The physician looked him in the eyes. "Because they're not old, Mr. Mallory. When we admitted you, those scars weren't there."

Quinn looked at the doctor and then examined his newfound scars. "Huh," Quinn said, without very much surprise at all.

[ Earth 2013 Episode Guide | The Otherworlds ]