6.5 - Suspicion
The courtroom went from being empty and lifeless to bustling with people within a few mere moments. Pretty soon, security had to close off the room. The disappointed onlookers who couldn't get in lined the streets outside, trying to get just a peek in at what they expected to be a big show. From all indications, it looked like their expectations were right.
The two sides of the case filed into the courtroom. The prosecution came in neat and orderly and with smiles of confidence on their faces. Quite smug, to look at them. The face on the attorney for the defendant was less joyous, if equally determined. The jury came in next, looking a little bit overwhelmed by everything. The judge took his seat at the bench and looked over everyone. 'This is going to be a circus,' the man complained to himself. At last, the bewildered-looking accused entered the courtroom and took his seat. This was the judge's cue.
"Maximilian Patrick Arturo, you are charged with suspicion of duplicate impersonation. How do you plead?" The judge read in the most dispassionate voice he could muster.
Arturo turned to the man sitting next to him. "What in hell is going on here, Mr. Mallory?!?"
Quinn sighed heavily. "Just say 'not guilty'. They're not going to buy an insanity plea now. Don't screw this up for yourself, Mr. Arturo."
Professor Maximilian Arturo felt he was going insane. How had he ended up here, in this courtroom, charged with this ridiculous crime? He didn't even remember sliding onto this world! Still, even in maddening times, sometimes the best policy was to follow the path of least resistance. "Not guilty, your honor."
"Very well," the judge said with some amusement. "Mr. Brown, Mr. Mallory, your opening statements."
While Rembrandt Brown rose in his gray suit to make his case before the jury, Arturo turned to Quinn again. "At least let me see my casefile." Resignedly, Quinn Mallory handed the Professor the manila folder that contained everything about the elder man's case and then turned his entire attention to DA Brown's opening statement.
"Ladies and gentleman of the jury, it is the assertion of the state that the Maximilian Arturo you see before you willingly and unlawfully deprived his counterpart of another dimension of his livelihood and existence by..." Arturo tuned out the prosecuting attorney, who apparently liked to hear the sound of his own voice as much as his own Rembrandt did. 'The others,' Arturo thought. 'Where in blazes are they?' Glancing around the courtroom, he saw no sign of them, only their lawyer doubles (Miss Welles was apparently also on the prosecution's team, taking fierce notes while Mr. Brown spoke). Arturo caught a snippet in Rembrandt's opening statement about an "Azure Gate Bridge". 'Good Lord,' Arturo's brain panicked, 'they really are putting me on trial for trading places with my double. Which I did, in a way, but I had no other choice. Surely a jury will understand that.'
Quinn sat back in his chair and whispered to Arturo. "Brown's aiming for the governorship next year. That's the only explanation. There's no way a bigshot like him would take this case otherwise." The Professor finally got a look at his casefile. It was threadbare and mostly comprised of copies of sworn affidavits from the other sliders. He had no time to look at them in detail, they were quite extensive, but he was sure if this world's government was able to make a case against him, their testimony had to be fairly damning. And why shouldn't they be? Quinn and Wade both knew that he had impersonated his 'Azure Gate Bridge World' double, and Wade knew that the wrong one had ended up sliding with them from that world. They would be lying under oath to say otherwise in their statements.
He began listening to Rembrandt's speech again. "This interdimensional charlatan forced the real Earth Prime Maximilian Arturo to remain on Azure Gate Bridge World, where presumably he is to this day. And did he do this for any noble purpose? To better mankind, perhaps, or make the sliders' journey an easier one? No. He merely wanted to use the timer, the Earth Prime sliders' only method of reaching their homeworld, to win the Nobel Prize for Physics." The jury gasped. Arturo was equally shocked. 'They're putting me on trial, thinking that I'm that rapscallion who took my place?!?' It was everything Arturo could do not to bellow loudly in protest. 'This whole world is insane!!!' At last, Rembrandt ended his opening statement and took his seat next to Wade's.
"Mr. Mallory," the judge spoke. "Do you wish to make an opening statement at this time?"
"Yes, your honor," he spoke up. "As the jury well knows, California Statute 35115 is a relatively new measure. It's only been on the books for a few years. As you also know, Maximilian Arturo is the first person to be charged with violating the statute. Now maybe you're thinking, 'what's that got to do with this case'? Doesn't it still all boil down to innocence or guilt on the part of the defendant? Certainly it does. But keep in mind that you are not just deciding Mr. Arturo's fate, but setting a potentially dangerous precedent for any future interdimensional travellers. The charge of duplicate impersonation is difficult to prove and the defense believes that there is no way the prosecution can hope to conclusively do so in the case of Mr. Arturo, other than using smear tactics and vague allusions in hopes of making the jury so fearful that it will have to decide in their faithful. But I know that you can be judicious and fair to Mr. Maximilian Arturo, a man wrongfully accused of a crime he did not even know existed until he arrived on this world. Ladies and gentleman of the jury, I thank you."
"Does the prosecution wish to call its first witness?" the judge intoned from the bench.
"We do, your honor," Rembrandt replied. Arturo's head was spinning. 'This is all moving too fast,' he inwardly complained. 'They can't really hope to conduct a trial this way, can they?' "The state calls Earth Prime Wade Welles." Arturo looked hopefully at the entrance to the courtroom. Nobody came through. Bitterly disappointed, the Professor turned back around in his seat...
...only to see the same Wade that had sat with Rembrandt being sworn in.
"It's like bloody 'Alice in Wonderland'," Arturo cursed in a whisper. "If that is the same Wade Welles I've been sliding with for the last few weeks, then I'm the Queen of England."
"Calm down, Mr. Arturo," Quinn cautioned. "This angry British guy act isn't doing you any good with the jury."
"Believe you me, Mr. Mallory, it's no act. This entire experience has been sheer madness!!" Arturo exclaimed, perhaps more loudly than he should have.
The judge pounded his gavel. "Another outburst like that, Mr. Arturo, and I'll hold you in contempt of court. Proceed, counselor."
"Miss Welles, did you or did you not sign this affidavit in regard to your and the defendant's actions on and succeeding the duration of the slide which took you to 'Azure Gate Bridge World'?" Rembrandt inquired.
"I did indeed," Wade replied.
Remmy nodded. "Let the affidavit be admitted into evidence then as Exhibit A. Now, Miss Welles, you got to know the Maximilian Arturo that was native to that world pretty well, didn't you?"
"Yes, I suppose I did."
"How would you describe his character?"
"He was... incredibly self-centered. Fixated on getting all the glory for inventing sliding for himself. He would have done anything for that."
"If this was true, why did you so readily believe that he was the same Maximilian Arturo that you had known for eighteen months?"
"We didn't know that the other Arturo didn't slide when the rest of our doubles did."
Wade sighed. "And it wasn't that out of character for our Arturo to act that way."
"I see." Rembrandt let a slight grin slip out. "To what degree was which Arturo left that world with you ambiguous?"
"Extremely. The rest of us slid out, leaving the Arturos there slugging it out with each other. We all had our suspicions about which one slid. But we couldn't do anything about it, couldn't go back to that world. I guess we all just convinced ourselves he was the right one."
Rembrandt looked as though he was about to drive the point home. "But now you believe that this is not the case."
"I know it for certain." The courtroom was abuzz. The judge pounded his gavel for silence.
"How do you know for certain, Miss Welles?" Rembrandt asked.
"He confessed it to me." Wade held her composure as the crowd held their breath in.
Rembrandt leaned in to her. "What exactly did he say to you?" At this point, Quinn ineffectually objected on the grounds of hearsay, only to be quickly overruled.
"When I stated that 'We took the wrong one' on the Azure Gate Bridge World, he replied in the affirmative, and then went on to describe what life was like for him after having taken his double's place." Arturo cursed inwardly. What Wade was saying was technically true, there was no way he could disprove it. 'The system's set up all wrong,' Arturo thought. 'There's no way I can win here'.
"No further questions," Rembrandt stated with an air of confidence in his voice. Quinn turned to Arturo for a moment. "Unless you've got a way for me to clearly refute her charge, we're sunk." Arturo slumped in his chair. This had truly been a nightmare world.
The spectre of incarceration on a parallel world where impersonating your double is illegal loomed ominously over Maximilian Arturo. 'I don't suppose it matters that the others have done the same dozens of times. It's common procedure.' His companions were not on trial with him, however, they were the legal team at the trial. Rembrandt Brown was the District Attorney, Wade apparently worked with him and Quinn was his defense attorney, and not the sharpest or most optimistic one he'd seen.
Before Quinn got up to cross examine Wade, a thought struck Arturo. It would take some work, but considering how weird this world's legal system seemed, it just might be his only way out of this. He grabbed a pencil and paper and frantically pulled at Quinn's arm. 'The motive,' he scrawled. 'Hammer away at my supposed motive for replacing my double.' His young attorney and fellow slider (presumably) furrowed his brow in incomprehension. Arturo frustratedly (and rather too loudly) whispered to Quinn. "You don't have to understand it, Mr. Mallory, JUST DO IT!!"
The judge again warned Arturo of the threat of contempt of court as Quinn Mallory stood to question Wade. "Why would the Maximilian Arturo of this 'Azure' world want to replace your own Arturo?"
Wade rolled her eyes. "It's like I told Mr. Brown, he wanted the timer."
Quinn paced dramatically about the courtroom. "And just why would Mr. Arturo, the one native to that world that is," with a wink at some of the prettier females in the jury, "risk everything, his life, his career, by abandoning his own world to get a small piece of electronic equipment?"
Wade looked frantic. "H-he thought it would win him the Nobel Prize on our world. If we got home, he wanted to take all the credit for inventing sliding and shut you out of everything you'd worked for, just like he tried to do on his world."
"And just how do you know his motives, Miss Welles? Was that part of Mr. Arturo's alleged 'confession'?" Quinn even did the air quotes with his fingers. Arturo took a drink of the glass of water beside him and tried desperately to pretend that it was whiskey.
Wade was confused. "No...one of the Arturos...our Arturo said that was what he wanted."
Quinn mirrored her own confusion for effect. "But you don't really know which Arturo said that, do you? If your belief that Arturo's confession to you was the only thing which pointed out that the wrong Arturo had slid, how could you know which Arturo was which until one of them landed on the next world with you?"
Wade was speechless. "I...he..."
Quinn looked smug. "Nothing fur..." He stopped when he saw something Arturo had written on scratch paper. "One more question, your honor. Why didn't the Arturo of that world, who you claim is my client, just invent his own sliding machine or his own timer? Why resort to following someone else to steal theirs?"
Wade finally looked back in her element. "The guy was a total charlatan. I don't even think he was much of a physicist. He couldn't build a sliding machine if his life depended on it."
Quinn looked impossibly more smug. "No further questions for this witness, your honor."
As Quinn took his seat next to Arturo, the two of them whispered back and forth rapidly. By the time the judge said "Does the prosecution wish to call its next witness?" Quinn held up his hand. "Your honor, may we approach?" The old man nodded tiredly. Quinn and Rembrandt both stood and moved to that place where lawyers go when they approach the bench. You know the place I'm talking about.
"Your honor," Quinn said excitedly, "I can end this case tomorrow. All I need is some time and a court order for some scientific equipment."
Rembrandt openly scoffed. "How does Mr. Mallory expect to defend this interdimensional interloper with a bunch of space gizmos? This is a court of law, not 'Nineveh 3'."
Quinn looked desperate. "Just give me a chance, your honor. Adjourn for 24 hours and I'll give the jury an argument so convincing this case'll be decided in an hour."
The judge looked pensive. "Mr. Brown, I see no reason why Mr. Mallory should not be allowed to produce this evidence." Before the prosecuting attorney could voice his objection, he spoke to the entire courtroom. "Court is adjourned for 24 hours." He then turned back to Quinn. "Now what is this about a court order?"
Quinn grinned widely. "It's a list my client made of things he'll need to prove his innocence."
"Wait a minute," Rembrandt protested. "How can we be sure this sociopath won't use this techie stuff to escape?"
The judge cut off Quinn's own response. "These things will have to check out with security. But I see no reason not to have them brought here. Unless Mr. Brown has further objections."
Quinn then jumped in with a concession to his legal opponent. "You can restrain him, have armed guards, whatever you want."
Remmy sighed. "Fine. But I reserve the right to object to this if it becomes a fiasco."
"Don't worry about that, Mr. District Attorney," the Judge said with a chuckle. "I'll not only stop it, I'll have everything about it stricken from the record and tell the jury to disregard, if Mr. Mallory so much as thinks about pulling one of his famous stunts."
Arturo's "cell" wasn't nearly as bad as he had thought it would be. It had a rather, large spacious bed, a nice little table with a lamp and some books, as well as a television set. Best of all, he didn't have to share it with anyone. The door was still locked though, and Arturo mourned that he couldn't get out of here and find out what exactly the problem with this crazy world was.
Since the books were not really his taste (apparently this world was heavily into lawyer romance and he really didn't want to read that piffle). He flipped on the TV in frustration. He seemed to recall that on the last few worlds, the only watchable show on TV had moved to some obscure little network like The Learning Channel or PAX. "Just like those blistering idiot network executives!" Arturo complained.
He was flipping past a Pauly Shore movie when he saw a commercial that caught his eye. "Good Lord, that's the courtroom I was just in! And that's Rembrandt." As Rembrandt was repeating some of his diatribe from earlier that day, a voiceover said, "Rembrandt Brown wears Nikkes." The screen then flashed to a scene of himself, yelling at Quinn in one of his many moments of incompetence during the trial. "JUST DO IT!!" he screamed. "Unbelievable," the Professor muttered under his breath. He then turned over on his bed, hoping to get some sleep. The day's proceedings had tuckered him out more than he would admit. He drifted off to sleep in no time.
Sure enough, all the equipment had been hauled into the courtroom by the next morning. Quinn was jubilant, Arturo now had some hope but was still confused about the general purpose of the proceedings.
"Ladies and gentleman of the jury," Quinn said, "we will today prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Maximilian Arturo that you see before you came from what has been dubbed 'Earth Prime' by the media. Today he will build his own sliding machine, proving that he is not the Azure Gate Bridge World native who was a scientific quack." Before Arturo took over, Quinn added, "Just remember, if a sliding machine he's building, you must find him not guilty." The Professor, and most of the free world, cringed at his horrible rhyming, syntax, and just his brain functions in general.
Arturo then proceeded to write some equations on a board the defense had brought in for just such a purpose. Then, using the men who had lugged the equipment into the courtroom in the first place to work on construction, he built a sliding machine. As he started to test it, Rembrandt stood up in protest.
"Objection! Your honor, if he builds a portal to another universe right here in this courtroom, he could just jump through and escape to some other world, that might not be so tough on lying, cheating impersonators."
The Judge nodded. "Sustained. Bailiff, handcuff the defendant to that place where lawyers go when they approach the bench. You know the place I'm talking about." The bailiff did so, and Arturo pressed a button that opened the vortex. It was blue and shimmered like a rippling pool on a summer's day. The jury gasped. Rembrandt was chagrined. Quinn was jubilant. Arturo desperately wanted to be unhandcuffed.
"We've heard enough," the jury foreman announced. How odd the judicial system on this world was! "We, the jury, find the defendant Maximilian Arturo...."
It was a dark and stormy night. The castle at San Simeon, long the site of the infamous Tribunal, had never looked more ominous. Crowds that had huddled in against the rain were moved casually aside by the officers of the court approaching the large oak door as it lowered over the moat, giving them access to the inside. "Stand aside, peons!" one of the robed figures on horseback yelled at some old women who didn't move fast enough for him.
Some of the more brightly-adorned men removed their wet robes to reveal ornate clothing underneath. They made their way to one corner of the Tribunal Court. A younger man moved next to her, still with a brown hood covering his face. The Judge moved into his own seat, adorned in a red cowl and with gold medallions around his neck, his presence chilled everyone to the bone.
"What's going on?" she said groggily. "Where am I?"
"Hush, lass," the brown-robed man sitting next to her said with an Irish accent. "Ye cannae do much to save yerself now. But what ye can involves keeping your mouth shut."
The Judge scowled. "Lord Arturo, what is this wench you've brought me? Another heretic?"
The elderly English man stood up in a gesture that at once called attention to himself and showed off his splendid bright clothing, a sharp contrast to the drab attire of anyone sitting in the Accused corner. "Mayhap, your honor, but that is an examination that will have to be undertaken another time. This one has committed an even greater crime against the state. Duplicate impersonation."
The crowd gasped. The Judge looked equally startled. "Tis a most grave charge, Your Eminence. Are ye sure ye want to go through with it?"
Maximilian Arturo was unshaken. "Bien sur," he replied haughtily, knowing full well that only the upper echelon knew French and that "of course" or "most assuredly" would have won him more points with the crowd. Maximilian Arturo had no interest in that whatsoever.
The Judge looked resigned. "Very well then. Present the Accused before the Tribunal."
"The state of Drakonia officially charges Wade Kathleen Welles with duplicate impersonation." The crowd murmered a bit, until a glare from the Judge silenced them.
"Is there a body who wishes to speak for the Accused?" The Judge asked tonelessly.
"That there be," the man sitting next to Wade spoke up. Pulling back his hood, Wade could now see that it was Quinn. Of course! She knew she'd heard that bad Irish accent before. But what was going on here?
"Do you wish to make a statement in defence of the Accused before Lord Arturo devises her test?" The Judge asked, presumably unconcerned as to how he answered.
"I do, yer honor," Quinn stated as he stood up staggeringly. "There's no way Lord Arturo, even with all the resources of the Grand Inquiry, can prove that this fine lady is from another world. 'ts impossible. T' do so would require a sophisticated system in which there was a way ye could find something unique about the same people's different versions on each world. Such a thing, if it did exist, would be either the work of God or the Devil. Since Lord Arturo is clearly not the former, and the defence will concede that he is, in all probability, not the latter, it is my assertion that Lady Welles should be free to go on her merry way."
The Judge nodded slightly. "Your statement has been noted in the Tribunal records, Monsignor Mallory. Lord Arturo, what have ye for us now?"
Arturo rose majestically again. "Before I proceed to prove this charlatan's guilt beyond all doubt, I would like to introduce a special assistant that I have called here to San Simeon to help me. He is a Moor, well-versed in matters of interdimensionality, he has read all the Greek accounts of travelling to foreign worlds beyond our own that are on record in Cordoba. I plan to produce him as a witness to convict Miss Welles of being the despicable duplicate that she truly is, as well as call him as my assistant in prosecuting her to the fullest extent of our law."
Into the torchlit room walked Rembrandt Brown, decked out in Arabesque clothing and wearing a scimitar at his side. He took his place next to 'Lord' Arturo and sat down without saying a word.
'Good Lord', Wade thought to herself. 'Are these my friends, under some spell or drug? Or their doubles?' For the millionth time she thought, 'Why is this happening to me?' Looking down at herself, she saw she was dressed in a long white gown with the letter 'I' emblazened on it in red. For the first time, Wade thought about the slide in. She didn't remember anything about it. She couldn't even picture exactly what this world was supposed to be like. 'So very strange.'
Lord Arturo did not stop to let Wade think for even a second. "On that note, I would like to now subject my foreign friend to an inquiry about the Accused."
The Judge affirmed Arturo's request. "Monsignor Brown, in all your extensive studies of duplicates on parallel worlds, have you ever seen a case where two people who look and sound exactly the same act completely differently?"
Rembrandt turned to face the Professor. "But of course. It is very common to see when you experience travel between worlds."
Arturo began to pace about the room. "I see. In that case, how easy would it be for a duplicate to take the rightful place of a real person?"
Rembrandt pondered this for a moment. "It is not extremely common, but I would imagine it can be done with some ease. Some people are easily fooled."
Arturo nodded solemnly. "I must ask you then, Monsignor Brown, did you know Lady Welles before she was separated from the group known colloquially as the 'Sliders'?"
"I most certainly did. Lady Welles was a friend of mine. And that is not Lady Welles!" Those in the room buzzed again until the Judge silenced them, this time with the smash of his mace against the oak desk of the Tribunal.
"How can you be so certain?" Arturo asked bemusedly.
"Lady Welles has apparently undergone some torture from a group of hideous demons called the Kro-Maggs. They are apparently quite vicious. She is clearly not the same person I knew. Quite unladilike."
"Unladilike, you say?" Arturo asked, knowing full well how the trap was being set up.
Rembrandt moved his head ever so slightly to show he agreed. Apparently nodding was very big on this world.
Lord Arturo took this as his cue to start strutting about even more. "Your Honor, since it has been so clearly established by this Tribunal that the difference between the woman you see before you today as the Accused and the woman who was Lady Wade Welles, is an unladilikeness..."
"Wait!" Wade called out. "Doesn't my defence attorney get to cross-examine..."
"Silence her, she speaks with the Devil's tongue!" The Judge called out. Two armored men approached her until she signalled that she would be silent.
Quinn leaned over to her. "What did I tell ye about being quiet, eh? This is a trial, not a friendly chat. The Accused doesn't get to ask questions. Just sit there and pray that you can live through whatever hoop they've got for you to jump"
"As I was saying," Lord Arturo grumbled, "this unladilikeness seems to be the most noticeable feature of the imposter. Therefore, I propose that three of this Tribunal's finest armored warriors do combat with the Accused. If she behaves like a lady during the combat, she will be found innocent. But if she fights like a warrior, it shall be clear to all that she is an impersonator!"
Wade was pale. Quinn leaned over to her again. "On second thought, lass, ye might want to pray that you don't live through the hoop. If you're found guilty, it'll be much worse for ye."
Wade was no longer pale. She was positively ashen.
Wade looked down at the casket, up at her friends, then down again. Maximilian Arturo, Rembrandt Brown and Quinn Mallory all stood around in suits looking solemn. And looking solemnly at who was in that casket.
It was her. She was at her own funeral.
And poorly dressed for it at that. She wore military fatigues from the waist down, a green tanktop and combat boots.
"What's happening here?" Wade asked.
"You weren't invited," Quinn replied as he pulled his female friend aside.
"But it's my funeral! Don't I get to mourn?" Wade cried in exasperation.
"Why should you? You killed her!" Rembrandt cried out angrily. "You killed her! You..."
Quinn moved next to him. "Calm down, Rembrandt. It's OK. I'll get her to leave. It's OK, man, I swear."
"I killed...how could I kill myself?" Wade asked Quinn in confusion.
"You're not you anymore, don't you know?" Wade just said nothing in reply to Quinn's puzzle. "Don't believe me, huh? Then take a look for yourself." As Quinn held a mirror up to her face, it looked distorted. It was indeed a face not her own, but it looked vaguely familiar.
When she recognized it, she screamed. And then woke up.
Once she had done so, she was sorry she had. Her "trial" was today on this Medieval hell world. 'The next person who tells me the Middle Ages were a romantic time gets their head chopped off,' Wade mused grumpily. She dressed quickly in the ridiculous all-white outfit with a red 'I' emblazoned on the chest and inwardly cursed about the fact that this dimension apparently hadn't heard of bathing.
Her mind quickly drifted to the more serious problems at hand, however. Where were the others? Surely they were out there somewhere, trying to rescue her. Surely they weren't the same men accusing her, the same men who derided and questioned the very nature of her existence.
'Was that fear creeping in?' she wondered to herself. 'Maybe. Maybe it's justified. Three knights are going to try to skewer me on their lances today. I'd say that's a legitimate cause for worry.' Of course it was. If only they had been the ones she feared.
As soon as she walked out of her cell door, the red-robed guards who had stood outside her door procluding possible escape followed her to the Tribunal courtroom. They were all waiting for her, as though they had nothing better to do than wait for her to wake up. Quinn moved aside on the Accused bench, allowing her room to sit. "Rest up, lass," he whispered to her as she took pains to take her seat (the accursed dress was irritating her no end), "you're going to need all the strength ye have for this one."
"Is every body present that needs to be?" The Judge asked loudly. When both sides nodded, he proceeded. "Lord Arturo, the scene is yours to set now. What is to take place here for the one who claims to be Lady Welles?"
"Your Excellence," Lord Arturo started, already laying it on quite thick, "I propose today to send three of our greatest champions into combat with Lady Welles, to determine her true self for all to see. Allow me to introduce our fine combatants. The first is a recent victor in the latest crusade and a current favorite at the court of King George. Welcome Count Amadeo, the Green Knight." Some in the Tribunal courtroom clapped, others cheered openly. Wade looked fearfully at the thickness of his armor, the sharpness of his sword. Lord Arturo continued unabashed. "From our recently made allies in Byzantium, one of the fiercest warriors ever to chuck a spear at a Goth. The Emperor Heraclius' own son, Valencius!" The man's armor was lighter, only chain mail would protect his head from attack, but the fierce look in his eye betrayed the fact that few got the chance to attack him at close range. "Lastly, our own local hero, and by far the greatest warrior in all of San Simeon, bar none, Sir Arthur!" At his name, the crowd erupted in applause. The man looked amiable enough, but the blade in his hand was clearly not for show. The brownish red stains on it spoke more for the killer than any amount of gaudy armor could have.
The knights took their place in front of the table where Lord Arturo and Rembrandt sat. The "Moor" spoke next. "In order that the Tribunal might not suspect tampering in the results of the fight, we shall have it take place right here, in front of many witnesses, as well as yourself, Excellency."
The Judge nodded gratefully in reply. "Very well. Proceed as you will, Monsignor Brown, Lord Arturo."
The two elder men motioned for Quinn to put Wade out into the area they had cleared for the combat. Quinn reluctantly indicated that he would do so. "I don't know whether to tell you good luck or not. But I'd rather you not be dead when you come out of there." With those inspiring words to cheer her on, Wade approached the center of the Tribunal courtroom. The three of them approached her menacingly, sizing her up to see how quickly and in what way she would most easily fall.
To be honest with herself, Wade had no idea what to do. She couldn't defeat these men with no weapons, and she could hardly hope to dodge them forever. Yet that was what she had to do, temporarily at least. The three of them were sloppy at first, unused to fighting with each other and unaccustomed to enemies that could move as quickly as Wade could (unencumbered with armor as she was). The Green Knight's mace got tangled with Valencius' sword and Sir Arthur nearly knocked the Green Knight unconscious with his own blow.
"Do ye see, your Honor?" Quinn asked the Tribunal Judge. "The girl canna defend herself. Tis pure murder to leave her in there with those killers."
"Silence!" The Judge barked quickly. "Let us see how this proceeds, Mr. Mallory, before we condemn or acquit anyone."
In truth, and perhaps without realizing it, Wade took this period of time to size up her opponents as well. 'Arturo said the Green Knight's been on crusade. Probably a pampered noble, not used to much strenuous fighting.' Although she still wasn't sure that she should counterattack. From what Arturo and Quinn had been telling her, it seemed as though if she fought back it would be worse. The internal debate ended when Sir Arthur's sword came within centimeters of her brow. It was time to fight.
As Valencius too moved in to attack Wade, he lowered his sword to strike a blow against her...only to be met by Sir Arthur's sword. The two of them got into a quarrel in a language that Wade didn't understand, yet the meaning was all too clear. 'The imposter is mine!' 'No, you fool, I saw her first!' Wade didn't particularly care how that fight turned out (well, maybe just a little), but cared only for the opportunity it afforded her. The Green Knight moved sluggishly as he saw Wade move towards him and she seized her chance. As Amadeo started to draw his sword, Wade managed a swift kick with a lot of power behind it to his abdomen. The man collapsed in a metallic heap. The armor, heavy as it was, was also unable to bend and was unflexible enough to prevent anyone from getting up after falling down in battle. The Green Knight was down for the count.
But his weapons weren't. Wade wasted no time in grabbing his sword and shield and using them to her own advantage. As she turned around, she saw that Valencius had won the battle with Sir Arthur, as the man apparently fell to the ground beaten. Wade nearly pumped her arm and cried out 'Yes!', and likely would have if she wouldn't have dropped her weapons in the process. Though Valencius was by no means a wimp, he seemed far more beatable than Sir Arthur. 'Prince. Fights for show, not because it's his trade or his life depends on it.' Wade proceeded to block blow after blow of Valencius' sword against the Green Knight's shield and managed to make a few well-placed attacks of her own. Within a few minutes, Valencius was exhausted.
Then came the blitzkrieg. Wade suddenly virtually stopped using her shield so much and opened up a barrage of cuts and hacks at the weak spots in Valencius' armor. Bleeding, though in no serious danger of death, as well as extremely exhausted, Valencius fell to the floor with Wade's last blow. The woman looked around the Tribunal courtroom triumphant. Lord Arturo looked disappointed. The Judge looked intrigued. And Quinn, Quinn looked like he was saying "Look out behind you.." 'How odd,' Wade thought. That was nearly the end of it all, as Sir Arthur had gotten up and struck Wade in the back of the head with the handle of his sword.
Wade still possessed discipline and training that her enemy did not know of. She pretended to black out to give herself a few moments of rest and then turned the enemy's tables on him, attacking him from behind when he wasn't looking. While it wasn't the coup de grace that Wade was vainly hoping it would be, it certainly evened the stakes a bit. Sir Arthur looked dazed, and Wade saw what was perhaps her only chance. Taking the one sure-to-connect hit she knew she had, the Accused smashed the shield from his grasp. Although she attempted to finish him off with a second blow, Sir Arthur brought his sword to his face just in time to save himself from what might have been painful injury or death. There they stood, locked at an empasse, their two blades only inches away from Sir Arthur's face.
A whirlwind of blades swirled around the two warriors. Minutes passed as the two master warriors struggled to best each other. One fatal error was made though. Sir Arthur stopped to see if a small cut he had made on her arm would make her swoon, thus giving him the victory in combat. It was nothing more than a ruse. Wade's blade clanged against the knight's gauntlet and the sword flew from his hand. Wade put one foot solidly on it, and the other soon found itself flying into Arthur's face. The last man went down with a thud and the three warriors were defeated. It was all Wade could do not to collapse on the floor.
"Well, there you have it, your Grace," Lord Arturo stated in a pleased voice to the Judge. "Clear evidence that Wade Welles is not who she says she..." But the nobleman who looked like her friend could say no more, as he had a sword pointed at his throat. The Moor sitting beside him pulled out his crossbow. "He'll be dead before you pull the trigger. You want him to live, listen up." Rembrandt relaxed. The Judge, who looked like he had been tempted to call the guards in, refrained from doing so. Quinn looked amused.
Wade looked severely brassed off. "I don't know what kind of crazy justice system this world operates on and I don't care. But I'm getting a little sick and tired of getting treated like I'm not the real Wade Welles. I went through Hell the last two years. I got kidnapped and raped by the most sick, ugly-looking bastards that ever walked any planet and ended up as a head in a fishbowl! I come back through all that, I get my act together, I start working as a team player again and everything's back to normal. Until some BACKWATER, OUTDATED, MINIATURE VERSION OF THE SPANISH INQUISITON SAYS I'M NOT ME!! Well, I'll tell you something, people. I may not be the person I once was, but I sure as Hell am NOT her."
The Judge took that opportunity to get a word in edgewise. "And who exactly is her, Miss Welles?"
Wade remembered back to her dream, but didn't scream this time. She wasn't worth it. "Maggie Beckett."
"I believe I've heard enough then," the Judge continued. "The Tribunal finds Lady Wade Welles..."
Slider General's Warning: The opinions and statements of the characters in this story in no way reflect the opinions of its author. Offensive language used in this story is used for dramatic purposes only. If you are easily offended by derogatory language and name-calling, I would recommend you not read this story. You have been warned.
It was a hot and humid day, not that unusual from how the weather usually was around these parts this time of year. The courtroom stood alone in the middle of town, a pillar of law and order in a town that had a profound respect for both. Or at least their own version of it.
The atmosphere was that of a picnic. Or perhaps a new carnival had come to town, like that one that had the sideshow freaks in Ogden a few weeks back. To the casual observer, this would have been a natural assumption.
In fact, the trial that would soon take place possessed many of these attributes and drew townsfolk just as much as any of these. This would be quite the event, a spectacle unlike any that had hit the state of Tennessee in generations. People were already gathering around in droves, trying to sneak a peek into the courtroom. It was more than a trial, really. It was a conflict of ideas, and everyone around knew it. They knew that their own way of life was in danger.
As the dawn blossomed into morning, the principle participants filed into the courtroom to the general amazement of the crowd. The prosecuting attorney was met with dazzling smiles, flashbulbs going off like crazy and more than a few 'oohs' and 'aahs'. The defendant himself caused a parallel reaction in the crowd, as he could feel the hate eminating from their eyes searing him to his very soul. They were an angry mob waiting to be formed.
As everyone took their seats, Rembrandt Brown looked around himself in wonder. 'Where the devil am I?' he thought to himself, knowing better to speak out loud in such an atmosphere. 'How did I get here?' Suddenly a familiar fear enveloped him, fear of being alone again, fear of losing everything that mattered. Compounding the feeling was his intuition that something was very wrong here.
The last person to file in the courtroom, a young man who looked very much like Quinn Mallory only with oily, slicked-back hair, took a seat next to Rembrandt. He spoke rapidly with an urbanized Southern accent. "Mr. Brown. Very pleased to meet you, sir. Courtesy of the ACLU I'll be your counsel for this case. I'm here to see that justice is done."
"What am I charged with?" Remmy asked softly, almost scared to find out.
Quinn sighed. "Now's hardly the time for courtroom shenanigans, Mr. Brown. Just sit back and try not to get too riled up."
The Judge came in unannounced and took his seat. "The court will come to order." Remmy took a hard look at the Judge's face. He looked familiar, that was for sure. But Remmy couldn't place him. The prosecution didn't take nearly as long for Remmy to recognize. "Is that Wade?" he asked Quinn.
"Yes," the younger man replied bemusedly. "Wade Welles, hometown hero. Local girl makes good. Still doesn't change the facts of the case, though."
Sitting behind Wade was Maximilian Arturo, wearing a sheriff's uniform and looking like an extra from a bad Burt Reynolds movie from the 70s. He looked smug and self-assured, even more than usual, and was shaking hands with every man in the courtroom. 'It's gotta be a dream,' Remmy thought, attempting to calm his jangled nerves.
"Does the defendant wish to enter a plea?" The Judge asked, barely hiding the contempt in his voice.
"That he does your honor," Quinn Mallory. "The Defendant pleads not guilty." The courtroom was electrified in that moment, as now the fireworks of the case looked to begin in earnest. The Judge pounded the gavel, calling in vain for order. Eventually the crowd quieted down, as they didn't want to miss any of the drama that was unfolding here.
"Miss Welles," the Judge called out, "are you prepared to make your opening statement?"
"I am, your honor." At the Judge's urging to proceed, Wade continued. "Look in the eyes of the defendant, ladies and gentleman of the jury, and tell me what you see? Is he just another nigger, a shiftless worthless dog who ought to be taken out in the streets and hung, rather than waste the court's time? Perhaps. Or perhaps he's something far more sinister. The prosecution will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Rembrandt Brown is merely a tool, a pawn in a greater conspiracy. And its various components show a face that is all too familiar, yet all too foreign. The Kromagg Dynasty," some gasped in the audience at this, and Wade paused to drink from her glass of water. "The Kromagg Dynasty is a force of evil that grows stronger by the day, and comes ever closer to encroaching on our homeland and our freedom. If we allow one of their agents, no matter what lowly form they might be in, to infiltrate our land, to impersonate someone within our nation, to take their place, how far will it go? Nashville? Washington, D.C.? Each and every single one of our hometowns? Possibly. Or possibly not. If we can stop this Rembrandt Brown, this ape among apes, from successfully spying for the Krommie menace, then maybe we can save our own country and our own families from meeting that fate. Thank you."
Rembrandt thought he might throw up. To hear those words come out of Wade was so completely overwhelming, he felt he might lose his mind. It was the most disgusting thing he had ever experienced. The rest of the courtroom lapped it up however, seeming to hang on the prosecutor's every word.
Quinn Mallory rose to his feet. "Well, that was quite a performance, Miss Welles. But let us not lose ourselves in the emotions of this case. Let us remember that there are some concrete facts worth examining here. The basics of the case are thus. There has been no evidence that has been sent to me by the prosecuting attorney's office nor that has been uncovered by my own staff of investigators that lend any shred of evidence to the claim that Mr. Brown is a so-called 'duplicate' or 'double' from a parallel universe. Furthermore, it is the contention of the defense that the ludicrousness of this claim is only outdone by the absurdity that this man is an agent of the Kromagg Dynasty. Miss Welles asked you, members of the jury, to look at the man Rembrandt Brown, as a..." he couldn't bring himself to say the word, "Negro, as a spy. But I ask you to look at him as a man who only ever sought to entertain, but got mixed up in problems larger than himself. A man who came here from Kentucky to pursue his dreams of being a musician. Let us not destroy this man's life out of our own fears, however real they may feel to us."
The crowd grumbled intensely after Quinn Mallory's opening speech. Quinn's face looked grim. "It doesn't appear to be going so well for us. They have little evidence, but that doesn't seem to matter here."
"Does the prosecution wish to call its first witness?" The Judge asked.
"Not at this time, your honor. We call for a 24-hour recess." At this, the crowd seemed abuzz with bafflement.
"Very well. Court will reconvene at 11:00 tomorrow morning." The Judge pounded his gavel and stepped outside the courtroom.
"That was a might strange. Why would she be calling a recess now?" Quinn asked.
"Don't ask me," Rembrandt said, more than a little shaken by these events. "You're the legal expert here." From the courtroom, Remmy was carried harshly to a nearby jailcell and deposited without much thought for his own well being. In the cell next to him was another prisoner, an older man with a grizzled stubbly beard that reminded him of his own father, or perhaps of Theodosius Barnes, a man he had met on another slide a long time ago.
"So..." Rembrandt started awkwardly. "...is this how things usually go in here?"
"You shut the hell up!" the other man screamed. "You're a traitor!"
"Oh yeah, this is gonna be pleasant," Rembrandt grumbled to himself. Feeling utterly defeated, he lay back on his cot, trying to get some sleep. He would have a long day ahead of him tomorrow.
A few hours later, he was disturbed by noises that deeply disturbed him. The noises were angry and full of hate, and worst of all were coming from a large group of people. The mob he had seen in his mind's eye as he was entering the courthouse were now coming after him.
"String him up!" "Hang the Krommie nigger!" "Let's teach him what we do to his kind!" The sentences didn't come out that clearly to Rembrandt's ears but they terrified him nonetheless. One of the police officers opened the gate and the mob was soon upon him.
They jostled him outside, taking the time to bruise and batter Remmy as much as they could. Once they reached a suitable tree, they threw the rope over one side and made one end into a noose. Lifting Rembrandt into the air, they put his neck into it and pulled it tight. And all was black.
Rembrandt thought he felt the slightest sensation of something snapping just as he hit the ground. He was fading in and out of consciousness, so he couldn't register much of what was happening around him. He didn't think he was hanging from a tree anymore, and that was definitely a positive.
"You boys better get on out of here," shouted the bellicose voice from the direction of the jailhouse. "Mr. Brown here's going to stay alive so he can stand trial. We can't treat him like he's some common thief or rapist. He betrayed our country. We need to show him and his Krommie friends what happens to 'em around here and that doesn't mean just being strung up for our Sunday picnics." The crowd hesitantly listened to the words of Sheriff Maximilian Arturo, the man who had shot the rope that spared Rembrandt Brown's life...at least temporarily.
"Wendell, Jackson," the sheriff said, calling out scoldingly to two of his own officers that had been participating in the lynching, "I oughta take your badges for this. You two should be ashamed of yourselves. Now get our prisoner back up here in his cell." The two younger men started to make excuses for themselves while they hauled Rembrandt's limp body back up to his cell. They deposited him none too gently in his bed, leaving him to the "mercy" of the court. And he slept.
Rembrandt Brown stood at the edge of a cliff, gazing down over the misty maw that awaited anyone so foolish as to jump off from where he was. He looked all around in vain, trying to gauge where he was and how he got there.
"You've got to do it, Remmy," Quinn told him emphatically while maintaining a friendly tone to his voice. "I don't know how much longer I can hold them off. The only way out is to jump."
"But I'll die," Rembrandt pleaded with Quinn, who seemed oddly distant.
"It'll seem that way at first, but you'll get used to it. You'll know you're still alive when the pain hits." Quinn moved back into the mist, almost out of sight.
"Wait! I can't do this alone!!" Rembrandt yelled to Quinn, who he now could not see at all.
"I'm afraid that's the only way it can be done. I'm so very sorry." Quinn's voice was slowly fading away.
Rembrandt looked down over the cliff and then pulled himself back from it instinctively. Looking back over his shoulder, he saw a horde of faceless men rushing towards him. Perhaps they did have faces, but Rembrandt just couldn't see them, as they were moving far too quickly to be perceived. They moved with a certain menacing air about them and Rembrandt threw himself to the ground, hoping that they would stop before they trampled him. A bit unexpectedly, they did so. Before Rembrandt could so much as feel relief, the group picked him up over their heads. "Hey! Stop! What are you doing?!?" Rembrandt's words were unheard by the group holding him aloft, and went unheeded as they tossed him into the pit below. He fell far, screaming all the way, lost inside it as his voice echoed all around when suddenly...
He woke up.
As he rose from his bed and saw the sun coming in from the bars of his cell, he felt an overwhelming ache from his neck. "Wasn't a dream, I guess," Rembrandt thought sourly to himself. "They really did try to hang me." A sinking fear now presided over him, controlling his thoughts and reactions. He dressed quickly, fearful of what they might do to him if he weren't prepared for it at a moment's notice. He then waited, his eyes darting at every movement he saw outside his cell. "Been in too damn many of these to start getting crazy now," Rembrandt said aloud. Of course, he had usually been with his sliding companions in his previous stays in the various prisons of the multiverse. 'Except, of course, when you were captured by the Kromaggs.'
That sent up some red flags in his brain and it jarred him to another topic. 'Can't think about that now. Gotta think about how I'm going to get out of this situation.' He got even more depressed and distraught thinking about that, however. 'This whole system's set up against me. No way I'll leave this world without being executed.' When he began to think of leaving this world, he began to think about his fellow sliders. Where in blazes were they? They couldn't be those horrible doppelgangers that were involved in this mock trial, could they?
Finally freed from the dual prisons of his cell and his mind, some guards came to escort him to the courtroom. The place was just as packed today as it been yesterday. Quinn Mallory looked grimly at him. "I heard about your little 'adventure' last night. You're fortunate you came through it alive."
Rembrandt chuckled mirthlessly. "Then how come I don't feel fortunate?" When Quinn had no answer, he decided to move on and give the kid a break. "Any new hopeful developments on the legal front?"
Quinn shrugged and looked downcast. "Can't say as I know of any. The prosecution's witness list is a bit scant, but I don't think it's going to matter much with a jury this hostile." Remmy nodded solemnly. It was bad alright. "I don't suppose you know of anything that might convince a jury that you are who you say you are," Quinn asked hopefully.
Rembrandt paused for a moment, but dismissed the idea. "I don't think so." Quinn accepted this fact without much relish. It would be a tough road ahead for both of them.
"All rise," said the bailiff from behind them. Everyone in the courtroom did so, though Remmy stood slowly, trying to minimize the pain of moving his neck. The Judge entered the courtroom. "You may be seated," he entoned in a deep, rich voice. "Miss Welles, would you now like to call your first witness?"
"I would, your honor, " Wade replied smugly. "The prosecution would like to call Rembrandt Brown himself to the stand."
"Oh boy," Rembrandt muttered under his breath as he rose to take the stand. The bailiff looked like he almost didn't want to give Remmy the Bible to be sworn in on. "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?"
Some heckler from the audience yelled out, "What does he know about God??? He's a Godless Krommie!" There were cheers of agreement from elsewhere in the courtroom. The Judge pounded his gavel, calling for order. It was reluctantly achieved.
"I do," Rembrandt stated with a simplicity that brought power to his proclamation.
"Mr. Brown," Wade said condescendingly, pacing about the courtroom. "Isn't it true that you were a prisoner of the Kromagg Dynasty for several months?"
He paused for a second, seemingly straining his mind and overcoming quite a bit of emotional pain. The Judge ordered him to answer, and he did so. "Yes, but..."
Wade interrupted him, uncaring as to what else he had to say. "What sorts of things happened to you under their care?"
Rembrandt answered slowly. "They...tortured me. Made me think things, played mindgames with me. They made my life a living hell."
Wade paused a moment herself. "You said they played mindgames with you?"
"Yes," Rembrandt stated hesitantly.
Wade acted like she had him caught in a trap. "Did they program, or brainwash, you to do their evil bidding?"
"Yes." Rembrandt now seemed very far away.
"What did they have you do?" Wade asked with mock sincerity.
Another wave of pain flashed across his face. "They made me try to kill Quinn Mallory, just as he opened the Slidecage."
Wade let a smile escape her lips. "So they turned you into a cold-blooded killer?"
"You don't understand," Rembrandt burst out. "They stripped me down of everything I cared about, everything I was. They took it all away, and left me with almost nothing. They did it so they could mold me into what they wanted me to be."
Wade now moved in for the kill. "If they did all that, if they robbed you of so much, then how can you know for sure that you're even the same person that you think you were?"
Rembrandt hesitated in painful thought. "I....I can't know." The courtroom nearly erupted. The Judge called for order, but was not heeded. After a few minutes, and as Rembrandt thought he was going to break down completely, the courtroom was finally quiet enough for the Judge to ask Quinn if he was ready to proceed with the questioning for the defense. When he nodded, the Judge told him to proceed.
"Even if you don't, or can't, know, do you think that you are the Rembrandt Brown who left Earth Prime with Quinn Mallory, Maximilian Arturo and Wade Welles?" Quinn asked, trying to save what he could of this case and Rembrandt's sanity.
"I believe so, yes," Rembrandt replied. "But with what those devils do to you, you learn that you can't trust anything anymore."
"What makes you believe this way, Mr. Brown?" Quinn asked him gently.
"I still remember my family, I still remember growing up. I remember all the worlds I visited, even that Kromagg hell, as well as could be expected. And I can still..." He trailed off, lost in thought and more than a little bit hesitant to continue.
"Can still what, Mr. Brown?" Quinn queried.
Rembrandt looked up with determination. "I can still sing the Anthem. The Star Spangled Banner."
"With the court's permission..." Quinn trailed off as he saw the Judge nod. "Sing it, Remmy."
As Rembrandt belted out the first lines of the Anthem, "Oh say, can you see...", he began to discern a change in the mood of the crowd. People in the audience who were shooting him looks of hatred before now looked at him with a grudging respect. As he continued to sing, he seemed to have the crowd mesmerized with every line. As he wound up, holding the 'a' in brave for as long as his singing voice would allow, he was met with a standing ovation. After a little while of that, the Judge called for silence.
"Has the jury reached a verdict?" The Judge asked.
"We have, your honor. We, the jury, find the defendant Rembrandt Brown...
"Not guilty!" "Not guilty!" "Not guilty!"
Those words echoed in the minds of Maximilian Arturo, Wade Welles and Rembrandt Brown as they stared at the bright lights shining down painfully into their eyes which were being held forcibly open with metal prongs. They were still groggy and weren't in any position to move yet. But they were more than ready to voice their confusion over this situation.
"Where am I?" Arturo asked. "OK, what gives now?" Wade bemoaned. "What the hell is going on?!?" Rembrandt bellowed, seeming to encapsulate all of their feelings in one expression.
The prongs removed themselves with a slight sting as the ornate-looking machines hovering over them were moved back from the couches on which they had been laying. Quinn Mallory and a man in his mid-sixties with an air of authority about him moved into the sliders' view.
"How do you feel now?" the man asked.
"Well, confused mostly," Wade replied snippily. "What just happened to me?"
Rembrandt echoed her confusion. "Yeah. How'd we get here, QBall?"
"You mean, you don't remember?" Quinn asked. The three of them looked dumbfounded. Moving quickly to the man standing beside him, he said with some urgency in his voice, "You told me they'd remember..."
"And I told you it was untested and experimental..." The older man retorted.
"If somebody could fill us in immediately before I go completely INSANE, it would be appreciated!" the Professor angrily barked.
Quinn sighed. "Well, it all started on the really weird slide into this world."
San Francisco during rush hour traffic. Not the best time to be out and about. Especially not if you're sliding in from another dimension.
The vortex opened more roughly than usual. Perhaps this was because it opened thirty-five stories above the ground, pointing straight downward. The maw positioned itself just off the corner of the roof of the Pan America Building, one of the largest skyscrapers on this world's San Francisco.
Maximilian Arturo catapulted through the vortex and then yelled like mad as he saw how far he had to fall. Luckily, he was stopped by a scaffold not far from the top floor of the building. Not so luckily, his falling onto it sent the scaffold sliding downward, still attached to one of the cables on the roof, but making a break and fall to the ground more likely than the Professor would have preferred. Rembrandt and Wade, coming in quick succession, followed Arturo's path and both grabbed onto the corner of the scaffold, holding on for dear life.
"You're adding too much weight to this thing. It won't hold us. You'll kill us all!" the Professor screamed.
"We're adding too much weight?!" Rembrandt said in incredulous shock. "Look who's talking."
"Now's not the time to bicker, people," Wade chided them. "Quinn'll be down here with us any second and there's no chance it'll hold all four of us. Now it's time to think of a solution before..." The trio looked up at the vortex and saw Quinn Mallory fall through it as it closed behind him. Coming in a little closer to the rim of the wormhole than the other sliders had he managed to land safely on the roof of the building.
"Thank God!" Arturo exclaimed. "Mr. Mallory!! We're down here!!"
Dazed, Quinn looked down at his companion sliders and then at the thirty-five stories below him. And fainted.
Rembrandt bit his lip. "Oh, that's just great. Anything else that could go wrong this early in the slide?"
Professor Arturo, who had previously been holding on with only one hand and holding the timer in the other, maneuvered the gizmo into his front coat pocket and placed his other hand firmly on the railing. "Our situation is precarious enough as it is, Mr. Brown, without you tempting fate."
"Excuse me for not being thrilled about bein' trapped up here," Remmy whined. He looked down again. "Oh man, this is the worst."
"I've got a plan," Wade said. "If we can swing the scaffold back and forth enough, I think I can get enough momentum to do a backflip to the roof. Then I can pull you guys up using those cords that are attaching this thing to the building in the first place."
"To hell with that," Rembrandt said, overlapping Arturo's "Are you insane, Miss Welles?!".
"Well, I can do this with you guys," Wade said with a sly look on her face. She then began to swing herself towards the building and then back out again, shaking the only thing holding the sliders off the ground something fierce. "...or without you."
"Oh god, I think I'm going to throw up," Rembrandt remarked in terror.
Arturo had a sour look on his face. "Oh very well, Miss Welles. If you insist on behaving like a madwoman, I suppose all the rest of us can do is play along."
The three of them began to rock the scaffold. It teetered dangerously, and Rembrandt thought he might heave up his nachos a few times, but soon Wade thought she had enough momentum to try for it. "OK. Ready? One. Two." Before she could reach "Three" the cord holding them to the building snapped under the strain. Luckily, it was while the three of them were swinging towards the building, and they only fell a few stories down to a window ledge.
The three of them watched the scaffold crash to the ground below. "New plan," Rembrandt said in a stressed-out voice. "You don't get to make our plans anymore."
"Fine," Wade retorted angrily. "I didn't hear the two of you coming up with a better one."
"How could you?!" the Professor asked briskly. "Between Mr. Brown's incessant moaning and your overconfidence in your own acrobatic abilities, a sensible person could barely get a word in edgewise!!"
"Sensible?!?" Wade replied through gritted teeth. "You're the one who got us into this mess!!"
"Him?!" Rembrandt asked. "You're the one whose Mary Lou Rhetton routine nearly got us all killed!!"
Ignoring Remmy, Wade continued. "I told you about the problems with the timer landing way too far above ground on that earth with the boy emperor, remember?! We landed on the seventh floor of a hotel from several hundred feet underground!! But oh no, 'standard deviation' you said, 'not enough technology on this world to fix our problem, if we have one', you said!"
Arturo's gesture towards Wade was all melodrama. "Wade Welles, physics genius!! What's next, are you going to turn water into wine?! Is the 'new Wade' going to cure cancer and end poverty in our time, hm?!"
"What's that 'new Wade' crack supposed to mean?!?" Wade demanded to know.
The Professor was positively livid. "Good Lord, woman, with the way you brandish knives, threaten people and handle guns like you're a marine, it's makes me question who you really are."
"You think I'm not... me?!" Wade exclaimed, with a great deal of hurt in her voice.
Arturo continued fiercely. "What else am I supposed to think? With the way you act, you could just as easily be a double of Wade's, masquerading as our former companion!"
"You're one to make accusations about somebody being a double!" Rembrandt exclaimed. "We still don't know which Arturo left that Azure world with us! You could just be some imposter, out to steal the timer!"
The elder Englishman's exasperation seemed to know no bounds. "That's preposterous, Mr. Brown!! I am your Maximilian Arturo, and none other!"
Wade sounded positively broken. "I don't know, maybe he's right, maybe you're not our Arturo. Hell, we don't know what the Kromaggs did to Remmy when they captured him or where he's been for months on end. Maybe he's a double, too."
Rembrandt stared ahead, frozen in place. He said nothing and soon passed out. Arturo managed to catch him before he fell to his death.
"Wonderful!" Arturo yelled, with less ire in his voice than before. "Perhaps we should stop bickering and start thinking of a way out of this." Wade said nothing.
The other man finished the story from there. "Eventually, one of our rescue crews did get you down from there. When they saw the emotional trauma you had endured, they turned you over to my care."
"I just have one question," Remmy asked. "If all that happened while you were passed out, QBall, how come you know about everything we said and did?"
Quinn held up a small disk. "Some local filmmaker recorded it all. This world's really into voyeurism, reality programming, 'ultimate news', that sort of a thing."
The psychiatrist continued. "Your deep-rooted fears and anxieties were much easier to pinpoint with the information on this video to help me. I thought that my machine here would help you out. It creates hypnotic scenarios for the user that bring subconscious fears and doubts to the surface and attempts to alleviate them. It's not exactly been patented yet, as I'm still in the experimentation phase, but Mr. Mallory here signed all the waivers."
"Very brave of you to risk our lives like that, Mr. Mallory," the Professor grumbled. He then took stock of his emotions. "Odd, there wasn't as much venom in that remark as usual."
"I feel calmer, too," Wade retorted. "I guess being put on trial really puts things in perspective."
"Indeed," Arturo agreed. "And the Judge here," he said, indicating their psychiatrist, "seems to have pointed us back in the right direction."
Remmy scratched his head as he got up from the couch. "Yeah, sorry about that remark about you not being the right Arturo, Professor. Guess I got carried away."
"We all did." The Professor told him. The three of them looked at each other, feeling the warmth of their friendships again.
Quinn cleared his throat. "In case you guys were wondering, I think I found the problem with the timer. The spectrum stabilizer was fried, so I found some replacement parts and managed to fix it. It should give us normal slides from now on."
Arturo smiled proudly. "Marvelous, Mr. Mallory. How long until we leave this world?"
Quinn gave the timer a quick glance. "We still have a few hours. I thought you might like to relax a while, so I booked us in a room with our own private spa."
The sliders were elated at the news. "I'll never doubt your genius again, QBall!" Rembrandt replied excitedly.
"How did you pay for it?" Wade wanted to know.
Quinn grinned. "Hey, they paid a pretty penny for using our images in that TV show, 'Cliffhanger'. Apparently people fall from buildings a lot on this world and it's funny to watch. Or something. I didn't really ask a lot of questions, I just took the money." He looked at the doctor. "Speaking of money, I've got to pay the Doc's fee. You guys go on ahead to the hotel. The cab out front'll take you right to it. I'll meet you guys there."
As the three of them walked out, Wade said to Remmy. "That guy, I think he was the Judge at my trial, too. He looks familiar."
Rembrandt leaned over into Wade's ear. "I think it's..." The rest was too low for anyone else to hear.
"Get out!" Wade said as the three of them moved out of earshot.
"Thanks for everything, doctor," Quinn told the elder man as he handed him a wad of dollar bills.
"Don't worry about the fee, kid. It's on the house. Take that money and spend it on a 'parallel world' with lots of great looking girls." Quinn looked hesitant, but he continued. "The research money your friends saved me by letting me try this thing out will more than pay for the session. I should be the one paying you." He paused for a moment as Quinn returned the money to his pocket. "I'm just sorry I wasn't able to stop your friend from repressing his memories so badly."
"Nobody asked you for a miracle," Quinn said. "You've done so much for us as it is."
"Hey, no problem. You guys were so stressed out, you knew you couldn't keep things the way they were, right?" his slight Southern drawl made it come out sounding a bit like "riite".
"Like what?" Quinn asked.
"What I mean is you couldn't go on together like that. With suspicious minds."
It was all Quinn Mallory could do to keep from laughing. "You're right about that. Thanks for everything, Dr. Presley."
A sixty-five year-old Elvis Presley, who on this world had apparently chosen to take up psychiatry, looked at the young slider amiably. "No, thank you, Quinn Mallory. Thank you...a lot."
[ Earth 2013 Episode Guide | The Otherworlds ]