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6.17 - Nuclear War
by ThomasMalthus

Chapter One

An intense flash of light brightly illuminated the darkness that otherwise pervaded. A mushroom cloud billowed up from the ground, racing towards the heavens in a deluge of smoke and dust. Below it, death was certain to be coming for many. It was an impressively gruesome sight to behold.

'Or it would have been fifty years ago,' Quinn thought while rolling his eyes at the obvious use of stock footage. The people around him certainly seemed enthralled by it, however. He had decided to take in a movie on this world while he still could, having never had the chance to see a black and white film at the theater before. The culture of this world was a hodgepodge: movies and television seemed to be at about 1950s-level technology, while the car of choice for most people was the Volkswagon. And Quinn could have sworn he heard a teenage girl two rows up use the word "beyotch".

Still, lame special effects and rude teens aside, it wasn't a bad world to kill a few weeks on. The prices were reasonable; he had taken in a movie and eaten dinner here for under five dollars. His new, shorter haircut was very in here. Never mind that it was an involuntary fashion statement from having his head shaven by an alien race. Without Rembrandt to tiptoe around in conversation, Quinn found himself able to relax more easily around his reluctant companions. He was discovering, however, that that bothered him somewhat.

To be sure, Quinn appreciated the three people he had come to know and tolerate over these last few months. Discovering exciting new worlds also was a plus of his new situation. Truth be told, however, Quinn yearned every moment to return home. He often wondered if anyone still looked for him to return. He missed his wife and his family in ways he couldn't possibly make the others appreciate. Quinn had also been a rather successful and well-paid employee of a small yet budding electronics company in Oakland; if he returned home with working sliding technology, he could be a millionaire tomorrow.

But that was just it. Quinn Mallory was starting to realize that he wouldn't be home tomorrow. Nor the next day, nor the next. He was seeing his future there get dimmer with every strange and new world they reached. Quinn munched thoughtfully on his popcorn (they used real butter here, for which he was thankful). He never wanted his friends' seeming resignation to not getting home to become contagious. He withdrew a picture of Melissa from his wallet and held it up to the flickering light of the screen. Quinn let a smile escape his lips for a brief moment... and then promptly returned to watching the movie. Apparently, there were now giant ants running around. He didn't want to miss that.

"So...that's it?" Wade asked, a little disappointed. "You slide off into the sunset, leaving the plague-ridden world behind you?"

"Hey, you tell me," Rembrandt responded a little more defensively than perhaps was necessary. "You guys found me on the world I landed on. You can take the story from there."

Wade nodded slightly as she took a drink from her beer. "Right, that was the one with the boy emperor that we tried to overthrow." Remmy furrowed his brow. "It actually turned out that was a bad thing. Long story. That's actually the world where my poor decision led to apocalyptic consequences." Rembrandt turned away dismissively. Wade wasn't through encouraging him. "So, see, it can happen to the best of us."

"When did you get so glib?" Rembrandt asked while nursing his own beer.

"About the time I gave up hope that you and Quinn were actually going to rescue me," Wade answered with pain in her voice. She was unable to look her longtime friend in the eye. "How's that for sincerity?"

"I'm sorry," he answered her in a much softer voice. "About a lot of things, really. But especially that."

"Don't be," Wade told him, reassuring him as best she could with a half-smile. "After all, you weren't the one who 'wasn't sure if you had time.'

Rembrandt got a startled look on his face. "How do you know about that?"

Wade's smile now vanished. She made eye contact with Rembrandt. "It was never far from your mind, whenever we were close," she fumbled for the right words, "whenever I was drawing you to me. I sensed it in you. All the disappointment, all the anger, summed up in that one statement."

"Speaking of that," Rembrandt started to say.

Wade cut him off. "Let's not," she whispered, once again forcing herself to look at the ground. "I'm not ready. It's too..." She couldn't bring herself to finish.

Rembrandt wouldn't have let her anyway. "I understand." His own eyes became distant. There was a bit of a pause in the conversation, lengthy, but not really all that awkward. There was a strong sense of comfort between them. "I've done some thinking about our group, the way it is now." He paused to down the last of his drink. "The Quinn we have with us obviously isn't our Quinn. That explains a whole hell of a lot by the way." Wade managed to smile a little at that comment. "He's just a double who lost his way, hitching a ride with us. And the Professor? Have you considered that we spent more time with the 'wrong' one than with the original?" Wade gave him a confused look. "Don't get me wrong, I've had to be teamed with some people who I wasn't sure I could count on, but those two don't exactly inspire me to put my life in their hands."

"What are you saying?" Wade asked meekly.

"All I'm saying is...I'm not sure how much I can trust them," Rembrandt stated with a small sigh. "But I know I can trust you." He gave Wade's hand a reassuring squeeze.

"Thank you," Wade said, her voice filled with emotion. "I know you haven't really seen me since Earth Prime, not all of me anyway," she half-chuckled. "But I just can't talk about what happened right now. Give me time and I'll tell you everything." Rembrandt nodded his head slowly as he leaned back in his chair. "Also, if I could give you a little advice. Don't sell Quinn and the Professor too short. They haven't gone through as much as we have, but they're pretty handy to have around."

Rembrandt started to say something, but stopped as he looked over his shoulder. "Speak of the devil," he muttered as Quinn approached them

Wade was decidedly more friendly. "How was the movie?"

"Well, it's certainly not how I remember 'Gone With the Wind', but I guess it wasn't too bad." Quinn glanced quickly around the room. "We slide in fifteen minutes, where's the Professor?"

"In the back room," Rembrandt answered him briskly.

Quinn groaned. "Playing bar room trivia again? I thought he was cured of that for good after last time."

"He says he's got a system," Wade said with a shrug. "I tend to doubt it, though."

Rembrandt looked at his watch. "We've got a little time to spare. Want to see him fall flat on his face?"

The three of them slipped casually past the bouncer through the red door into the poorly lit room where Arturo was sitting in a chair, buzzer in hand. The moderator was in the process of reading the scores. "Mr. Kim, you are in the lead with 5200 points, Ms. Rawlins, you're a close second with 3800 points. And Mr. Arturo, well, you currently stand at -16000 points." A lot of the people in the audience were snickering. Rembrandt, Wade and Quinn tried their best not to be among them. It wasn't enough. "But remember, the next round is quintuple the points so it's still anybody's game. Now, back to the lovely Barbara. What's our category for the final round, darling?"

"Cosmological equations," came the bubbly voice in reply. Arturo got a predator's grin on his face. This was going to be fun.

The Professor led the way out of the bar with a very smug look on his face. "I believe the three of you owe me an apology."

"Oh, we're sorry, Professor," a yawning Wade told him chidingly. "We had no idea you could be so lucky."

"Ha ha," Arturo responded unenthusiastically. "Just for that, you lose out on your share of the winnings."

"What exactly did you win?" Rembrandt was curious to know.

Professor Arturo peered into the bag they had given him that contained the former contents of the 'kitty' or the 'pot', whichever term was preferred on this world. "Roughly four hundred dollars, mostly in change, ones and fives; five packs of cigarettes; a handful of dog racing slips... and a ham sandwich."

"Ten seconds, guys," Quinn reported. They instinctively ducked into an alley to slide out from.

Arturo started to put everything that wasn't money in a nearby trash can, but Rembrandt stopped him. "What are you doing?"

"Trying to make some homeless man as 'lucky' as I apparently was," he replied with a pointed glance at Wade. "Why?"

Quinn opened the vortex in front of them, so Rembrandt had to speak loudly to be heard. He pointed to the cigarettes that were about to make their way out of the Professor's hands. "If we find ourselves in jail on the next world, those could be worth keeping."

Wade and Quinn disappeared into the void while Professor Arturo examined Rembrandt closely. He had changed a great deal since regaining his memory. Arturo wasn't sure it was all for the better. His newfound pessimism was but one example of this. He casually tossed the boxes over to Rembrandt. "Very well, Mr. Brown. But if dealing in tobacco turns out to be illegal on the next world, don't say I didn't warn you." The Professor then jumped through the wormhole himself, with Remmy coming through last in the order.

His first thought upon emerging was that at least the landing was soft for a change. Rembrandt's attention was then riveted upon Quinn and Wade, who seemed to be frozen in place. Fortunately, they weren't really paralyzed, (wouldn't that be a wonderful development this early in the slide?), but he saw what they were staring at quickly enough.

Or rather that they were merely staring back. They were in the middle of a brightly lit church that was packed with people. Worse yet, judging from the clothing of about half a dozen people near the altar, they had landed during the middle of a wedding. "Look on the bright side, Mr. Brown," Professor Arturo told him in a stage whisper. "At least this isn't prison."

The bride began walking towards them. She increased her speed once she got a good look at their faces. She uttered only one surprised word, but that was enough. "Rembrandt?!"

Chapter Two

The four of them entered a room where it appeared the woman who was now none too subtly escorting them in here had prepared for the wedding. The bride gave Rembrandt a knowing look as she pulled herself back through the doorway. "Stay here. I need to talk to the groom for a moment. I'll be right back." She blew a kiss to Rembrandt. He was taken off guard too much to do anything other than force a smile onto his face that more closely resembled a grimace. The bride-to-be that wasn't yet locked the door behind her.

"We've certainly already managed to draw enough attention to ourselves this slide," Professor Arturo noted. He tugged on his beard thoughtfully. "Perhaps we should try to explain away our odd arrival on this world with a rather well-crafted white lie. Some sort of publicity stunt, perhaps..."

Quinn carefully examined the timer for a few moments. "We've got a little under two weeks here. I don't intend to spend more of it than I have to in the bride's dressing room." He took a peek outside to see if they might make a break for it. No such luck. A meandering horde of relatives and well-wishers still lingered outside and showed no sign of leaving. Quinn leaned on the door and put his hand to his head in frustration. "This is exactly why Missy and I eloped."

"Do you know her?" Wade asked Rembrandt with concern evident in her voice. Of all of the sliders, Rembrandt had come across the most doubles of old flames. Perhaps this was one of them.

Remmy dismissed the thought with a nod of his head. "Never seen her before. She seems to know me pretty well, though."

The Professor picked up a newspaper that looked like it had recently done double duty as a coaster for someone's coffee cup. He began to peruse the ads to see if any company might seem desperate enough to make his 'publicity stunt' cover story work. Quinn continued to peek out the door. "Somehow I don't think this wedding's going to go off quite as planned. The commotion out there doesn't seem to be dying down any." He heard something fragile shatter against the door as the roar grew louder. He flinched instinctively and move back. "Tough crowd."

Professor Arturo stopped listening to what Quinn was saying and took the paper over to Rembrandt. "Take a look at this, Mr. Brown."

"'Longtime Freedom Activists to Finally Wed'," Remmy read aloud. His eyes scanned the rest of the article as rapidly as they could. "Noted author Richard Lilly and entrepeneur/heiress Colette Brown, widow of the late travel tycoon, Rembrandt Brown..." His voice steadily rose in pitch while reading those last few words.

"No wonder everybody's freaking out in there," Wade commented, crossing her arms in mild frustration. "They all think you're some rich dead guy."

"Hey," Rembrandt said, his mind exploring certain possibilities. "As far as this world's concerned, I am some rich dead guy. Only I'm alive."

Quinn managed to beat the Professor and Wade to the punch. "I don't think that's such a good idea, Remmy. Impersonating your dead double is not only potentially heartbreaking, it's also in really bad taste. Trust me on this one."

Rembrandt started to defend his position, but it was then that Colette re-entered the room. Arturo got close enough to speak directly in Rembrandt's ear. "Besides, I think the missus here might have a little something to say about you getting any of the money."

"You saw the way she looked at me," Remmy reminded him in a whisper. "She adores me. How could she possibly say no?" As Rembrandt turned around to look her in the eyes, he was rewarded with a hard slap in the face.

"What the hell are you doing?!" she demanded to know. The question didn't seem rhetorical, but she didn't give Rembrandt a chance to respond. "Did SPAMMA send you?!" She paced around the room frantically, flailing her arms in fury. "Erggh! I thought we agreed on this! No stunts, no interruptions, just give the court what it wants while we keep contesting the other cases! Why was I left out of the loop on this one? Whose brilliant idea was it to crash the wedding with this...this...?!"

Before the former Mrs. Brown could finish that sentence, Professor Arturo thought it wise to interrupt her. "Excuse me, madam. I hate to seem rude, but we are not from this 'spam' organization you spoke of. As a matter of fact, we are rather in the dark as to exactly what is happening here."

"It's not what's happening, it's what's not happening!" she exclaimed. She clumsily withdrew a folded piece of paper from the pocket of a jacket that had been hanging up in the closet. "I have a court order here that says I have to have an unambiguous marital status upgrade within forty-eight hours or I'll have my name pulled out of the system, maybe for good. The MSA judiciary who issued it is in the front row scowling! Do you understand what that means?!"

Wade smirked. "Believe us when we say we have absolutely no clue."

Colette Brown gritted her teeth in anger. "It means that if I don't find a reasonable explanation for this poor copy of my dead husband popping in through a gigantic glowing hole before half the wedding party gets bored and leaves, I can kiss my future goodbye! Now what exactly are you people planning to do about that?!"

"I'm not your husband," Rembrandt told her in a soft, firm tone.

His double's widow scoffed. "That I never doubted for a moment. I stopped believing in miracles a long time ago. Oh, you're not bad, as lookalikes go. Eight years ago you might have convinced me, if my eyes were bleary enough with tears from crying over him. If you hadn't been quite so....full...in the face, you might have sold me..."

"But I am Rembrandt Brown," he interrupted her. There was something about his voice that was so completely familiar. He locked eyes with her for the first time. Also for the first time, the widow Brown was rendered completely speechless.

"Mrs. Brown," Professor Arturo remarked respectfully, "we have a story to tell that you may not believe at first. But we assure you, it is true."

Quinn held the timer up proudly, waving his hand parallel to the read-out Vanna White style. "We're from another universe."

Colette Brown sat staring at the floor, taking everything she had just heard. "So...you're just like my Rembrandt was. Same parents, same birthday, same life?"

"Basically," Rembrandt answered her. "Personalities can be different, and that can lead to different choices..."

"But, genetically..." Colette said, clearly not listening to Rembrandt, "you're exactly the same, right?"

"Yeah," Remmy answered hesitantly. "Why do you ask?"

Colette Brown's eyes widened. She started giggling like a little girl. "DNA tests, voice print matches, skin samples, fingerprints, ultrareliable eye witnesses, you'll have to slim down a little bit of course, but...ooh and medical examinations. Doctors' testimony! The possibilities are endless!"

"You lost me somewhere," Rembrandt told her with confusion written all over his face.

"Stay right here," she ordered them once again. "I'll just be a moment." Colette flung the doors open and immediately got the crowd's attention. "Ladies and gentleman, I have an announcement to make. As of right now, I am stating my intent to file an appeal!" The last three words were practically squealed, and they produced a mix of reactions among the crowd. Most of the wedding guests looked almost as perplexed as our sliders, but more or less happy; a group of men in business suits, however, were decidedly less thrilled.

Fifteen minutes later, Colette Brown stood at the door to the chapel, saying goodbye to all the people she had painstakingly invited to the wedding. She didn't know quite what to say, but she knew she had to tell them something. "Sorry." "Change of plans." "Husband's still alive, you know how that goes." "At least you get to keep your coffee maker." When all the guests cleared out and before the sliders could interrogate her as to just exaclty what was going on, she wandered over to the man who almost became her husband. "I know this isn't what we agreed to," she told him in apologetic tone of voice.

"Don't worry about me!" Richard exclaimed with a chuckle. "You're the one who has the hard part. Have you talked to the, um, evidence, about what he's going to have to do?" Colette shook her head. "Better get to it. Let's not count our sheep before they're weaned."

She smiled politely. "Oh, come on. Did you see the way he looked at me? How could he possibly say no?"

"I don't like it," Rembrandt sulked after hearing the 'plan', such as it was.

Colette was puzzled. "What's not to like? Didn't you tell me you were a celebrity on your world?" Quinn started to say something, but Wade elbowed him in the ribs. "I thought you'd be used to something like this."

"The occasional public appearances and publicity photos I can take," Remmy declared indignantly. "But being monitored twenty-four hours a day? Somebody's watching me every second, when I sleep, eat...?" A thought struck Rembrandt. "When I eat a bacon cheeseburger, I look disgusting! That's gonna end up on tape?"

"We'll take bacon cheeseburgers off the menu, then," Colette responded, trying to be as diplomatic as possible.

Rembrandt eyed her with suspicion. "You expect me to go two weeks with no bacon cheeseburger? Are you nuts?" In desperation, he looked to his friends for help.

"Well, it's a bit much to ask for," Wade told Mrs. Brown.

Arturo then chimed in. "It is abhorrently invasive! I see no reason why Mr. Brown should agree to it."

Colette arched an eyebrow. "Of course, I would set all of you up with your own accomodations. Your choice of the most luxurious hotels in town, or a rather plush apartment if you'd like more privacy. And you'd have access to the best cars, restaurants and shops in town, with plenty of spending money to go around."

There was a short silence among the sliders. "You know, it would only be for a few days, just until we slide out," Wade stated.

"Did I say invasive?" The Professor asked with a smile. "I meant attentive." He walked over to where Rembrandt was and gave him a poignant glare. "Exceedingly attentive."

Rembrandt bit his lip. "What about you, Quinn? You gonna add your knife to my back, too?"

Quinn smiled. "I learned a long time ago not to get involved in a marital spat. Whatever happens is fine with me."

"That's good...Ken, was it?" Colette asked with amusement in her voice.

"Quinn," he corrected quickly.

She continued unabashed. "Because unless I miss my guess, none of the four of you have triple M cards." The blank looks on their faces was all the answer she needed. "I can doctor up phony ones for Rembrandt and probably one other person without much trouble, but it'll raise too many red flags if all of you get bogus cards. Two of you will have no choice but to get married. The two who will raise the fewest eyebrows are you," she said, pointing to Wade, "and you." This time, she pointed at Quinn. The two of them shared a distressed look. "What?" Colette asked. "Is that going to be a problem?"

Chapter Three

"This plan is insane!" Wade exclaimed frantically in what must have been the frilliest wedding dress on the planet as she paced as quickly across the floor as she could in high heels. She was in the same room where the plan in question had been hatched nearly two days ago. "You can't actually expect me to go through with this."

"If you don't, you'll spend the rest of your time here in jail. You've already filed for the wedding license and signed a dozen premarital waivers." Colette Brown was attempting to put the finishing touches on Wade's make-up, but was having a hard time keeping her still.

"OK. So this plan's not insane, this world is insane!" Wade fumed. "How could a society that calls itself democratic force people to get married against their will?"

A half-smile formed on Colette's lips. "That's exactly what I've been saying for years. Now hold still. I think there's still a pin in your dress."

Wade's shoulders slumped in defeat. "What do I need with an M and M card anyway?"

"Triple M," the widow Brown corrected. "Well, you'll need it if you want to buy anything, go anyplace or stay anywhere that isn't behind bars."

That information didn't stop Wade's grumbling. "Who came up with that stupid idea anyway?"

"Senator Joseph McCarthy," Professor Maximilian Arturo read aloud from a history book that Colette had given him, one that had been written by the man whom she had nearly married. "He sponsored the bill and gave it an ominously alliterative title, the McCarthy Mandatory Marriage Act."

Quinn chafed as Rembrandt adjusted his bow tie. He was dressed up to the nines, decked out in the best tuxedo Colette Brown's resources could get them on short notice. Not surprisingly, it was rather snazzy. That was the furthest thing from Quinn's mind at the moment, however. "Does anybody even care that I'm already married?"

"I wouldn't sweat it, Q-Ball," Rembrandt told him with forced cheer in his voice. "I don't think marriages are legally binding in other dimensions."

Arturo still had his nose buried in the book. "It seems it was a reaction to something called the Harbin Conference, a gathering of the leaders of all communist countries in China during the early 1950s. The assembled leaders agreed to outlaw marriage as an inherently capitalist institution."

"That's great," Quinn mumbled. "So I became a bachelor by default just by stepping through the vortex."

"You're missing my point," Remmy insisted emphatically. "What I mean is: you and Wade aren't really getting married. This is just something we need to do to stay out of trouble on this world."

The Professor turned the pages slowly, squinting through his bifocals to scan every page carefully. "Everyone here is issued these 'Triple M' cards at birth, much like Social Security cards on our own world. All persons must be married or have filed an appeal to the Court of Marital Status Appeals by their twenty-fifth birthday."

"What's all this 'we' stuff?" Quinn snorted. "I'm the one who has to betray his wedding vows, not you."

"I've got my own cross to bear," Rembrandt retorted, more than a little miffed at Quinn's martyred tone. "I'm getting dragged across the country to be pictured doing who knows what with a woman I'm supposed to be pretending is my wife. I'd say I have it a little tougher than you."

"In contrast to the entrenched support the measure has today, the bill was highly controversial at the time it was passed. After McCarthy fell from power, Senator William Knowland attempted to repeal the legislation during a wave of anti-McCarthyism." Professor Arturo rested his head in his hands as he read on. "The attempt failed and Knowland's career was ruined in the process."

Quinn wasn't buying it. "Yeah, try not to choke on your lobster thermidor." He looked at himself in the mirror. Not too shabby, given the circumstances. "Meanwhile, I get a 'honeymoon' with a woman who can barely stand me and who could probably permanently disable me with a few swift kicks if she put her mind to it."

"Don't be so hard on her," Remmy chided him. "She's been through a lot more than you know. And she certainly never fails to stick up for you."

Professor Arturo now was clearly lost in his own thought processes. "Senators Everett Dirksen of Illinois, William Proxmire of Wisconsin and Robert Byrd of West Virginia all tried to repeal the bill, and all similarly failed."

It was then that Wade knocked loudly on the door. "You ready in there, Quinn? Let's get this show on the road. I don't want this to take longer than it has to."

Quinn looked at Rembrandt with resignation. "Oh, yeah. This is going to be fun."

Professor Arturo closed the book he had been reading. "Just grin and bear it, Mr. Mallory. Remember we'll be out of this world in a little more than a week."

Colette Brown walked into the room without knocking. Considering she was paying for all of this, Quinn supposed it was her right. "Father MacKenzie says he's ready. You better get out there." Quinn and Rembrandt made their way out of the room. Colette began to follow until the Professor stopped her.

"Am I to understand from this book that former Senators Proxmire and Byrd are still alive?" Arturo asked thoughtfully.

"Proxmire died around five months ago," Colette informed him. "I was at the funeral. I keep telling Richard he needs to update that part of the book."

"Ah. Thank you, Mrs. Brown." He suddenly looked completely lost in thought. "That was all I needed to know."

When Professor Arturo didn't move for a few moments, Colette expressed concern. "Are you coming?"

Arturo looked startled. "Why, of course." He chuckled heartily. "I wouldn't miss this for the world."

Given the unusual circumstances behind it, the wedding went off relatively uneventfully. Quinn said "I do" so quickly that most in the audience missed it and Wade practically snatched the ring from Rembrandt, who was only performing his duties as the best man. Still, most of the legally mandated witnesses to the wedding would find little else to take issue with. The bride and groom, however, were decidedly less than enthusiastic when they saw what they had to do before they could go on their honeymoon. "What is this?!" Wade demanded at the sight of the stack of forms and folders sitting next to the wedding cake.

"Paperwork," Colette told them, trying hard not to let a small smile escape her lips. "It's standard procedure for newlyweds."

Quinn took some papers out of the stack. His eyes just grew wider as he looked at them. "How long is it going to take to fill these out?"

The widow Brown shrugged. "Are we ready to go, Rembrandt?" Remmy agreed silently and the two of them started to walk off.

"Wait a moment," Professor Arturo requested of the two of them. "I was wondering if I might come with you."

Colette shook her head. "I'm sorry, Mr. Arturo, but I don't think so. Although this is technically just a business trip, there are appearances to keep up here. Having you along..."

"I would only be with you for a short while," the Professor went on to explain. "I intend to catch another flight once we arrive at the airport in St. Louis. One that will take me to West Virginia."

"Wait," Wade interjected, looking up from her particular stack of forms. "Where are you going? And why?"

"Mrs. Brown," Arturo stated, knowing full well who he would have to convince in this. "I intend to open up a second front in your campaign to repeal the Triple M Act. I'll be taking your case to the Congress itself, and I hope to bring the man who came the closest to defeating it with me. I believe I will find that man in the Appalachian Mountains."

"Are you sure about this, Professor?" Quinn asked, now more than a little concerned about Arturo galavanting across the country.

"Positive," Professor Arturo answered him, his voice brimming with confidence. He once again opened the book he had been holding in his hand and started reading. "This volume states that a Senator Byrd came within three Senate votes of overturning the bill, and even had the support of the President. His stand on the measure proved futile, and the presidency of Ronald Reagan was destroyed in the process."

"Somebody from West Virginia had that much power?" Wade asked. Arturo nodded slightly, never looking up from the book.

"Well," Colette started, pondering the notion in her mind, "I suppose it couldn't hurt. Byrd's become quite the recluse in the years since then. He has a bit of a reputation as an obstinate old crank." She looked at Arturo. "I think the two of you will get along smashingly."

"Then I guess it's settled," Quinn declared, as if he had any say at all in the matter. "Just be sure you're back before we slide out."

The Professor agreed with a standard platitude. Rembrandt knew that that comment was partially directed towards him as well. "No problem there. I'll be back here in time for the slide with bells on."

"Oh, that reminds me," Colette said with amusement in her voice. "I wanted to wish the two of you good luck on your honeymoon." She looked Quinn in the eyes with mischief in her own. "You're going to need it."

Chapter Four

Rembrandt and Colette Brown sat awkwardly across the table from each other. They were at a place called Sara-Lou's; apparently this was where Colette and her Rembrandt went on their first date. In keeping with the image they were hoping to create and foster, the widow Brown had reasoned that this was where she and her husband would go first if he were found alive. It was supposed to look like a romantic dinner for two between people in love who hadn't seen each other in years. However, the incredible lack of anything to say was complicating that appearance a bit.

It wasn't helping that everything was going down on videotape. The cameraman sat at a table close to theirs, taking in every movement Rembrandt made. He wasn't sure exactly why he found the intrusion so irksome, but he wasn't about to let that stop him from acting on the feeling. "Can you turn that blasted thing off for a second?"

Colette forced a smile. "Not to contradict you, dear, but wouldn't that defeat the whole purpose of this exercise?"

"That's what I wanted to talk about," Rembrandt said in a near whisper. "What exactly do you expect me to do here anyway?"

"Nothing," Colette answered innocently. "Just sit still, don't say much and don't act all weird when something comes up you're not familiar with. You know, act naturally."

"I just..." Rembrandt started. "I don't want you to get the wrong idea about this. I'm not going to stay here."

"And I wouldn't want you to," Colette answered a little coldly. "We're being honest with each other now, right? Do you think I like looking at the face of my dead husband, staring back at me with no recognition in his eyes? It's downright morbid." She forced herself to look down at her napkin. "I loved him, damn it. I don't want some copy. I just want to be able to honor his memory for the rest of my life. By not having to get remarried."

"So that's it, then?" Rembrandt asked with a mixture of relief and regret in his voice. "Some home movies and bloodwork and you're set for life?"

"Five years at most," she answered with a small smile, finally looking up again. "But by then we should have the legal victory we've been looking for." She paused to sip her water. "We've had our opponents on the ropes for too long. It's time to finish them off."

"Who exactly are these opponents?" Rembrandt asked. Colette was spared having to answer when their food came. Digging into a delicious plate of fried shrimp and clams, Remmy almost forgot what the question was.

Meanwhile, another video camera followed the two of them as the dinner progressed. It then panned back to some people in suits standing at the doorway. There were still more of them at the entrance to the restaurant. "I don't know about this, boss," the man looking through it said as he shut off the video camera. "He's too well guarded. We'll never get through to him."

"I wouldn't worry too much about that," the much larger, silver-haired man next to him said. "We only need to get him alone for a moment." He grinned maliciously. "And that's when Big Ben will strike."

"Keep going," Wade instructed firmly. "Just a little further. That's it." Wade turned her head sideways to get a better look. "Now push it up against the wall."

An exasperated Quinn stood in the corner of their garish honeymoon suite with a sleeping bag and a pillow in either hand. "My head's going to be behind the dresser."

"And?" Wade asked, in as disinterested a tone as she could manage.

"My pillow won't even fit back there," Quinn whined.

"It will if you turn it lengthwise," she advised, nonplussed.

Quinn grumblingly adjusted his pillow so it would fit in the little space between the large piece of furniture and the wall. "You could be a little nicer about this, Wade. I didn't want this anymore than you did."

Wade crossed her arms in protest. "I keep telling you: this isn't a punishment. I just want to make it clear. Even though this world says we're married, that doesn't mean we're going to act on it."

"Believe me, I get the message," Quinn groused. The not-so-friendly exchange was interrupted by a knock on the door. Wade jumped up to open the door. It was room service, toting one of their standard trays of covered dishes. He also had a large envelope in his hand that he promptly handed off to Wade.

"What's this? More forms to fill out?" she asked as she looked the package over. It was from Colette.

"I have no idea, ma'am," he answered earnestly. "Frankly, it's none of my business." After nervously rolling the cart back and forth, he finally abandoned all pretense of nonchalance and stuck his palm out.

Wade didn't even notice. "The missus seems to have forgotten her manners," Quinn remarked. He dug into his own stash of money and handed a few bills to the bellhop. The man quickly disappeared after the money hit his hand. It was almost too bad; Quinn had really wanted to complain with somebody else around. "So, do I get to sit at the table? Or are you going to make me eat my filet mignon in the closet?"

"I'm not an ogre," Wade retorted, managing to make her voice sound hurt. "Go ahead and eat. I'll be there in a second." Unable to contain her curiosity, Wade tore into the envelope and started reading its contents. "'Since you opted for the non-video option in your marital insurance package...'?! What the hell is this?!?"

After taking a few bites of his steak, Quinn realized it would probably be better if he found out what this was about sooner rather than later. "What does it say?" he wondered aloud.

"It's a checklist," Wade said incredulously, "of everything we have to show some Honeymoon Inspection Team after we leave here." Wade's eyes scanned the items with disgust. "Un-frickin'-believable!"

"Oh, come on, Wade," Quinn remarked dismissively. "How bad could it possibly be?"

Wade held the list up so Quinn could see it. He attempted to address each item in turn. "Well, we might be able to get that done. With a blender maybe, or..." "Hmmm, stretching it, but jumping up and down a few hundred times would probably have the same effect." "This one could be a problem." "Ouch. I don't think either of us is that limber."

"How are we going to get all this?" Wade demanded to know. Quinn shot her a look. "I mean besides the obvious." Before Quinn had a chance to give a serious answer, they were interrupted by another knock at the door. Wade opened it and saw that the person who had knocked was obscured by a large package. She removed it from his hands without a word and plopped it down on the bed. Wade withdrew a pen from the nightstand and started using it as a boxcutter.

"Let me guess," Quinn posited with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "Highly sensitive audio equipment? A chemistry set? Heat/motion sensors?"

"It's everything we need," Wade answered in a much lower tone of voice than she had been using. "Colette categorized and labeled it all." She looked up at Quinn quickly. They shared a quick smile. "Well, this is... great. I mean, she didn't leave anything out. We're all set to go."

Quinn nodded. "That's wonderful." He walked over to the tray and covered his steak. "I'm pretty beat. It's been a long day and I think I'm going to hit the sack. Literally."

Wade examined Quinn thoughtfully as she bid him good night. Why had she been so hard on him? She began to say something to him, but stopped herself. She only watched as he fell asleep halfway across the room from her. That night, Wade cursed herself silently as she drifted off to sleep alone.

Maximilian Arturo pulled into the driveway of former Senator Robert Byrd in his rented car. Other than a shaky flight from Charlotte to Charleston and getting lost a few times on the Clay County roads, the trip had been fairly uneventful. He hoped that would change as soon as he started talking to the aged legislator.

As Arturo stepped out onto the gravel path, he took in his surroundings. The entire landscape reminded him of Wales. As a young boy, he had spent many a summer there, running through the fields and selling whatever he could get his hands on just to have some spending money. Perhaps the setting would be a good motivator in selling his plan to Byrd.

The scene wasn't breathtakingly beautiful, but the small valley that the Elk River had carved out of the mountainous countryside was rather tranquil. A good place to spend retirement, if nothing else. The Professor saw the river nearby and idly considered getting some fishing done while he was here. Still, despite appearances, the place wasn't that remote. It had taken him less than an hour to get from Yeager Airport to here. Arturo suspected that Byrd's national reputation as a "recluse" had more to do with the fact that nobody wanted to come out here than anything else.

He knocked sharply on the door, hoping the man still had his wits about him enough to remember their phone conversation. Arturo's fears were quickly relieved when the man smiled slightly as he opened the door. "Come on in," he said with warmth. As the Professor entered, he noticed how modern and well maintained everything was inside the house. Byrd continued speaking as they walked down the hallway. "I can't tell you the last time a reporter's been interested in my opinion on anything. Much less one coming all the way from England."

Byrd indicated that Arturo should sit and he did so. "I'm afraid I haven't been entirely honest with you, Mr. Byrd. I am not a journalist, I am merely a concerned citizen."

The former Senator's forehead furrowed in confusion. "I don't understand. What's this all about?"

Professor Arturo leaned forward in his chair. "I'm given to understand that you led the last attempted attack against the Triple M Act. Myself and some like minded people are convinced that that heinous bill can only be overturned by an act of Congress. And I believe that can only be done with your help."

"I don't believe this," Robert Byrd proclaimed with a sigh. "You came all the way here to make me go through this again?"

"Hear me out, Senator," Professor Arturo requested.

"I'm not a Senator anymore," Byrd declared angrily. "This issue ended my career, can't you see that? It destroyed my life and it'll wreck yours too, if you persist on pursuing this."

"Allow me to worry about that," the Professor answered smugly, knowing full well he wouldn't have to deal with any professional fallout from his position. "Listen, I will do this with or without you. But I would rather have your aid."

Byrd stood and pointed towards the door. "I don't need this. Please go."

"Very well," Arturo agreed diplomatically. "I will leave and never bother you again, but only if you listen to my proposal in full." The former Senator from West Virginia nodded his agreement. Arturo smiled inwardly as he prepared to make a sale.

Chapter Five

Professor Maximilian Arturo had stretched his legs as much as was humanly possible. He had likely memorized every curve and dip of the surrounding fog-covered hills. The Professor had even considered buying overpriced soda, coffee or snacks just to pass the time. He was that bored.

Finally, Robert Byrd emerged from the rest stop bathroom. He did not look apologetic in the slightest. "Let's get moving again, shall we?" Arturo asked rhetorically with as little irritation in his voice as he could manage.

The next few miles were spent in complete silence. In point of fact, Byrd was still less than thrilled to be on this little road trip. Arturo, having gotten the other man to agree to come with him, now had precious little to say to the aged former Senator. In addition, small talk was neither one's forte.

Byrd cleared his throat, and it was as if a herald was announcing that the king was about to speak. "Are there any members of Congress in particular to whom you plan to suggest introducing your legislation?"

The Professor had honestly been hoping to broach the subject of who to talk to himself, and was unprepared when the tables were turned. "Well, I am a California resident," Arturo told the other man, which wasn't exactly a lie. "Perhaps I should try one of that state's senators."

"Pete Wilson's out," Byrd declared. "He's happily separated from his wife and wouldn't dare challenge the bill. Georgette Warren's a possibility...a remote one, really, but still..."

Professor Arturo gritted his teeth. "Did you have a suggestion to make on the matter?"

"I apologize," he muttered in reply. "It's just that it's been so long since I've been to Washington. I don't feel I can adequately gauge the political winds there, as it were." He soon became lost in his own thoughts. "But that shouldn't be what you're fretting about. You've got little enough time here as is." Byrd referred not to the fact that Arturo would be leaving this dimension in a matter of days, but to a little lie he had told about some sort of terminal illness.

Still, the statement had a ring of truth to it. "On the contrary. I can think of no other task which I would rather have occupy my time than the one at hand." After that was said, silence once again reigned. At least until the next rest stop.

Wade sat on the bed with her palms turned flat against the bed spread. She bit her lip as if concentrating intently on something, but in truth she was merely trying to keep her hands still. She simply couldn't find anything to do with them.

Quinn sat away from her, as he usually had for the last several days, in an uncomfortable wicker chair. Both of them were seemingly afraid to move. The clock ticked monotonously in the background, making every second seem to last an eternity. "This is getting really old," Quinn stated obviously.

"I know," Wade agreed with a sigh. "We've got an hour and a half to kill until lunch. Maybe there's a good movie on HBO or something." She picked up the remote control and idly switched on the television.

"It's only been an hour since breakfast," Quinn pointed out. "And HBO aired 'Road to Madagascar' starring Pauly Shore and Carrot Top three times yesterday. What do you think the odds are that it's on again?"

Wade said nothing as she flipped stations. At the sound of 'This sure doesn't look like Maui, baaaadie', she promptly hit the mute button. Quinn rose from his chair and pressed the power button on the television. He looked Wade in the eyes. "We could talk, you know."

Wade looked up at him with a half-smile. "What about? Politics? The weather? The fact that I've been a heartless bitch ever since we got married?"

Quinn grimaced. "Harsh. I would've probably said 'jerk', to prevent bodily harm if for no other reason." Wade's smile grew but she looked away. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Sort of," Wade replied noncommittally. "I guess it's not that hard to explain. This whole marriage thing came out of nowhere, and I....just wasn't ready."

As he rose from his chair, Quinn nodded his understanding. "I think we've gone through this charade long enough. I can talk to Colette, see if she can work something out with the people in charge of this place."

He expected Wade to agree or say 'thank you' or something equally positive. Instead, she seemed more distant than ever. "Rembrandt," she said with a chuckle. "He's been so supportive since he got his memory back. So sensitive to everything I've been through. Kromaggs, breeder camps, having my head in a jar... I didn't want to talk about any of it and he understood."

"Your head was in a jar?" Quinn asked incredulously. He shook it off quickly. "Look, if you don't want to talk..."

"I do," Wade replied with a small laugh in her voice. She then turned deadly serious. "But what he didn't let me talk about, what he didn't even consider, is the pain and the heartbreak of being around you these last few months."

Quinn cast his eyes downward. "I'm sorry. I know I haven't always done the right thing..."

Wade cut him off quickly and put her arm on his shoulder. "It's not you. I mean, it's not anything you did or didn't do. It's who you are. Or who you could have been." Quinn found her earnestness compelling. He made solid eye contact with her. "Nobody told you, did they? That I was in love with Quinn? Our Quinn, I mean."

"Not exactly," Quinn answered as best he could. "I knew you two were close, but..." He stopped himself and remembered his own experiences with parallel Melissas. "It must be hard to even look at me."

"Sometimes," Wade whispered softly. "Other times, it's just easier to pretend that..." She stopped herself. "I shouldn't be telling you this."

"Maybe not," Quinn said soothingly as he put his hand on her shoulder. "Or maybe I'm the only one who you can tell."

The next few moments were a blur. It was unclear who kissed who first, but needless to say the point was moot within a matter of seconds. It was more than a little unexpected, although not entirely improper. After all, they were married.

Rembrandt sat with his head in his hand, contemplating nothing in particular other than the throbbing pain in his feet. They were bruised and battered from having tangoed all day. Or rather, having attempted to tango. "I told you I would be no good at this."

"I don't understand how you, Rembrandt Brown, can have no natural sense of rhythm," Colette declared frustratedly. "What? You sing but you don't dance?"

"Hey, I got rhythm," Remmy retorted, quickly jumping to his own defense as usual. "I just don't get the fancy footwork is all. Dance has a natural flow to it. It can't be learned in steps."

Colette smirked. "That's exactly what I would expect somebody with two left feet and a lot of hurt pride to say."

That didn't make things better. "Why did we have to do this anyway? Couldn't we just go out to dinner again?"

The former Mrs. Brown poured herself a glass of water. "I'm supposed to be slimming you down, remember? You need exercise, not three seven-course meals a day."

Rembrandt was far from mollified. "I don't remember agreeing to that part of the plan."

Colette chuckled. "Hey, it's all or nothing with me, baby." Realizing she had let her guard down a bit, she suddenly forced herself to remember that this wasn't her husband in front of her. "My Rembrandt used to love to tango."

"Really?" Remmy asked suspiciously.

She visibly brightened at the memory. "Well, the first few months we were married he hated to go dancing. Then I locked him out of the bedroom for a while and he changed his mind." She downed the rest of her water and grabbed her purse. "I have a meeting with my lawyer in an hour. I better leave now if I'm going to beat the traffic on the freeway. I'll see you when I get back?"

Rembrandt stood himself, slowly so as to test how much weight his legs were prepared to take. "Actually I thought I might catch a concert in town. An old touring buddy. On my world, anyway." He winced painfully. "At least that was the plan before you crippled me."

"Oh," Colette replied with more disappointment than she expected. "Well, I'll see you...later, then." As Rembrandt heard her pull out of the driveway, several men in black entered the house and seized him. Remmy didn't even have time to call out before he was rendered unconscious, not that anyone would have heard him.

The men loaded him onto a van and slammed the door behind them. They waited a few moments and then took off. "Strap him down, boys. We won't be through with him for a while."

Maximilian Arturo and Robert Byrd stood in the office of Senator Stuart McGee of Tennessee, staring at a piece of paper that the Professor held in his hands. "How long have you had this?"

"As long as I've been in Washington," he answered matter-of-factly. "This thing gets passed around at every Congressman's party, so long as the cameras aren't around. It's a sound proposal but nobody's had the guts to introduce it."

"Is there any way I might be the man to do it?" Arturo queried.

"It would probably be better received by a more familiar face," McGee reasoned. "But considering that I won't do it, and that Byrd shouldn't do it alone..." He scratched his chin. "Why? What are you planning on doing?"

Arturo read the document in front of him once again. "Something appropriately heroic."

Chapter Six

"Ladies and gentlemen of the Congress," Professor Maximilian Arturo began in a booming voice that he had not used since his teaching days. "I would be sojourning meekly indeed on the path of my predecessors if I did not point out that this nation currently has the greatest albatross of social injustice around its neck since the time of the Civil Rights Movement. Nor should we make light of the comparison. Would Marcus Garvey have marched the streets of New Orleans for sociopolitical independence if he knew that ultimately it would be quashed by an America so consumed by its hatred of communism that it has shackled its population in one of the worst facets of life imaginable. Our greatest freedom, that of personal liberty, has been utterly compromised."

The Congress rumbled, and the hyperbole of the Professor's speech so far seemed to strike a disonant chord with the legislators. "At this time I would like to attempt to proclude the usual objections to altering the content of the Triple M Act that invariably arise. We do not intend to discontinue the practice of issuing Triple M cards to people at birth. Their utility in identification is too invaluable for such a thing to be feasible, nor would it be desirable. Nor do we plan to disturb the unions already in place, so long as both partners agree that the marriage should remain legally binding. What we do propose is the removal of the enforcement clause, and that divorce be made an option."

Arturo's powerful captive audience were once again abuzz with excitement. "On that note, with regard to those persons who are currently employed in the Marital Status Appeals court system, we have a proposal to ease your fears of unemployment as well. We hope to introduce something called Divorce Court."

"It's going smashingly," a feminine British voice cooed as the assembled group watched C-SPAN. "You say you found this man, Colette?" The woman who still went by the name of Mrs. Rembrandt Brown nodded disinterestedly. "Wonderful. Simply marvelous."

Richard Lilly looked at the woman who would have been his wife had not the man they now watched on TV and three other strangers unexpectedly interrupted his wedding. Not that he wasn't grateful; the political defeat they averted was in itself a great victory for the movement, not to mention the momentum it had gathered due to the other advantages these four dimensional newcomers had brought with them. He followed her as she walked to an empty corner of the room. "Don't mind Brenda," he told her with a warm chuckle in his voice. "To her, any Englishman on this side of the Atlantic is nothing short of a miracle." He got only a forced smile and a curt nod in response. "Of course, that still doesn't mean we shouldn't be celebrating. This is another chance at what we've been fighting for for a lifetime."

"What you've been fighting for, you mean," she responded sadly. "You, all of you, are the real victors in this. Me? I just got involved in this movement so I could be left alone." The look in her eyes became distant once more. "And now I'm not so sure I want to be."

"Are you talking about Rembrandt? The, erm, other Rembrandt, I mean?" Colette didn't need to answer, Richard already knew the truth. Another man in his situation might have been hurt, but Colette and Richard were longtime friends and nothing more, nor did either of them want that to change. "You're still worried about him, aren't you?"

"Is there any reason I shouldn't be?" she asked, her deep concern showing through her voice.

"Well, he's a grown man, for one," Richard reminded her sternly. "He can take care of himself. For another, he's not..."

"Don't say it," Colette hissed. "Damn it, don't treat me like I'm a lovestruck teenager! You know me better than that."

Richard lowered his voice so the others couldn't hear. "I thought I did." She said nothing as he went on. "He won't stay with you. You do know that, right? But I suppose that won't stop you from trying."

"You don't understand!" she exclaimed, emotion thick in her voice. This time there was no way the rest of the room didn't hear her. After the attention she captured from them faded a little, she continued. "How painful, and how wonderful, it is. All at the same time. It kills me to spend time with him. But I can't stop myself." Richard looked down at his feet, saying nothing in response to her tirade. "I wouldn't expect you to understand anyway. There's nobody else in the world who knows what I'm feeling right now."

As Wade's exhausted red fists finished slamming against the punching bag, she backed away from it and started eyeing the swaying piece of equipment as though it were some sort of foe to be vanquished. She stretched out her fingers and wiped the sweat from her brow. This was getting to be quite the workout. It was exactly what she needed. After giving herself another moment to catch her breath, she started kicking the bag. Wade was pretty sure that was against the rules, but didn't care much. She wanted to work her legs and she wasn't in the mood to go nowhere on a treadmill.

In truth, Wade would have been more comfortable had the bag in front of her been some sort of opponent. She was starting to like the worlds where there were bad guys who needed to be knocked down. On this world, where the only difficulties they were experiencing were of social semantics, she felt uncomfortable. It was odd, because Wade distinctly recalled those being the worlds where she felt most at home when they were just starting out.

Of course, that wasn't the only problem she was facing right now. But Wade had come here to avoid that situation, not to contemplate it. Nonetheless, it was once again making its way to the forefront of her thoughts. It really wasn't fair. She needed time and space and distance and everything else you were supposed to have before you could look at a relationship objectively.

The only catch was that Wade probably was never going to be able to get any of those things. Quinn, like the Professor, Rembrandt and the never-ending stream of complications that arose from travel between parallel earths were integral parts of her world. She couldn't ignore him, that would be overly cruel and would likely be an unworkable situation anyway.

After tiring herself out, Wade collapsed on a nearby weight bench, unhappily lost in her own thoughts. This was exactly why she hadn't wanted to get involved with Quinn back when she was sliding with the one from her own world. To get involved with this Quinn, one she barely trusted and had only a small amount of respect for, it defied logic. Except that, somehow, it made the most sense of anything she'd said or done since reuniting with the Professor and Rembrandt.

Was it about closure? The fact that she'd never had a chance to mourn her own Quinn? Or was it about comfort? Something you could get used to, something that could make this life have some modicum of normalcy?

Quinn stood on the rooftop of the hotel that was his temporary place of residence on this world and couldn't come up with an answer for the last two questions. He had always been the loyal type on his own world. He loved Melissa and wouldn't have traded the few years he had with her on his homeworld for anything on any world. So why did he cheat on her? Twice? With two different women?

The answer was fairly simple, although he was reluctant to face it. Quinn Mallory sucked at being lonely. He was also rather unaccustomed to having his reality change around him. This was a man who had married his high school sweetheart, yet who regularly hung out in his parents' basement, constructing electronical doodads like the one that got him into this mess in the first place. Even though that had all been years in his past, even then most of his time had been spent on one world. One horrendous, montonously boring, glorified death trap of a world, but just the one world regardless. He had even sort of gotten used to it at one point.

A steam-producing sigh escaped Quinn's lips. One thing was for sure. He couldn't have any kind of real relationship with Wade. They were from different worlds, literally. Besides, if they did become involved, it would tamper with the internal cohesion of the group. Given that that factor was what had kept him alive on some worlds, he was understandably unwilling to risk that. Besides, he was a married man. When he got home, he'd have his wife, his parents, and his life back. Or so he hoped.

Rembrandt Brown awoke with a jolt as a distinctly horrible mix of numbness and pain was seemingly consuming the lower portion of his body. As his vision came into focus, he saw that he was in a bathtub. Incidentally, it was full of ice water. Shrieking as he scrambled to remove himself from the water as fast as possible, he slipped on some ice cubes that had been melting on the floor. He hastily grabbed onto a nearby counter and pulled himself up, searching frantically for something warm and dry to change into.

It was then that he noticed a man sitting calmly in a corner across the room from where Rembrandt stood shivering. He had the most shiniest silver grey hair Remmy had ever seen and a calm, assured grin on his face. "Who the devil are you? Where am I?" He then noticed that there was tape and a cotton swab on his arm. Remmy glared at him, looked back at the bathtub, and shook his head free of cobwebs. "You're one of those kidney-stealing freaks, aren't you?"

"Hardly," the man retorted drolly. "We only took some of your blood. Not much, just enough to suit our purposes."

"Vampires then, huh?" Rembrandt asked rhetorically as he backed away from the man. "I should warn you. I've faced 'em before and lived to tell the tale. And don't try any of that mesmerism stuff on me either. It doesn't work."

The man in the suit sitting in front of him rolled his eyes. "If you'd like to stop playing games, Mr. 'Brown', I can explain myself. We took your blood so that we could examine your DNA. You see, we plan to prove that the return of Colette Brown's long vanished husband is nothing more than the latest parlor trick Colette Brown's using to prolong the legal battle she's been fighting with the MSA courts for years. Within the hour, we should not only have proof that you are not Rembrandt Brown, but we should also know exactly who you are. Unless of course, you'd like to fess up now." A particularly wicked grin broke out on the man's face.

"Quid pro quo," Rembrandt answered in a surprisingly authoritative voice. "I want to know who you are first."

The smile stayed in place. "My associates refer to me as Big Ben. I've never been able to ascertain exactly why. I'm a legitimate businessman with many interests in this city, as well as other enterprises across the country..."

"The mob?" Rembrandt interrupted. At least the man's grin faded. "Why would the mob be interested in this marriage thing?"

"White collar crime is all the rage these days, don't you know," he answered without really answering. "I wouldn't know anything about it myself, of course, but some do manage to get their hands on phony certificates, bogus licenses..." 'Big Ben' shrugged casually. "Supply and demand. But don't play coy. You didn't get this far inside Colette Brown's social circle without knowing what's what."

"That's just it. I'm not from here." Rembrandt now had the man's undivided attention, as all the smugness and pretension vanished from his demeanor. "You see, I am Rembrandt Brown. But I wasn't born on this earth. I'm from a parallel world."

"Fascinating," the grey-haired man nodded. "And how exactly did you come here from this other planet?"

"It's the same planet, just a different dimension," Rembrandt said. He then stopped himself, realizing he didn't really care what this man thought of him. "I'd give you the whole story, really I would, except that there are some people out there who are going to be worried about me if I don't check in."

"Oh, you won't be going anywhere for a while," 'Big Ben' told him, his voice oozing with self-confidence. "That door is sealed tight, locked with the most sophisticated electronic equipment that money can buy." As he spoke, Rembrandt tugged on the door to no avail. "So, as you can see..." Remmy's efforts were interrupted, however, when the door opened from the other side.

"We've got the results in, boss. But I don't think you're going to like..." He stopped speaking as he noticed his employer was glaring at him.

"I thought I told you to use the slot in the door?" Ben demanded through clenched teeth.

"It was stuck," the younger man explained lamely.

Big Ben seized the papers from his minion and apparently speed read them. "Very well, let him leave." The minion complied reluctantly and Rembrandt was certainly in no position to protest the move. "He better serves our purposes on Colette's side of the battle anyhow." The evil grin was back. "I can't wait to see him on the witness stand. 'Parallel earth'! Our lawyers will tear him apart."

Chapter Seven

Quinn Mallory sat down across the table from Wade Welles as sneakily as he could. She barely acknowledged his presence, keeping her eyes intently fixed on the television set across the room. Robert Byrd, having taken the initiative on the floor of the Senate in Arturo's stead (the Professor had returned from Washington, D.C. earlier this morning), was speaking with a passion that unveiled his flare for the dramatic. "There are many things that I will go to my grave regretting. My membership in the Ku Klux Klan, my record-length filibuster against the Civil Rights Act... In fact, let's just say that my position on race relations before 1970 was rather ill-thought-out and leave it at that. Although I can't change any of those things, I can change what I regret most of all from my years in Congress: my failure to destroy the McCarthy Mandatory Marriage Act. And as I bring this particular filibuster to a close..." Wade began to tune him out, as he had said that particular phrase about five times already in the short time she had been listening to him.

"Hi," Quinn said as he lamely tried to get Wade's attention. It didn't work. An awkward moment of silence passed. "I wouldn't have sat here, except I don't know anybody else here." The latter 'here' was a hotel room that appeared to have become SPAMMA mission control ever since Arturo and Byrd launched their legislative offensive. "Except the Professor, and he doesn't exactly seem...approachable." Quinn directed his eyes towards Maximilian Arturo, who was either inebriated or doing a good job pretending he was, and who was surrounded by a swarm of people, the closest of whom was a middle-aged British woman who seemingly hung on the Professor's every word. There was little chance he could be pried out of there, even if he wanted to be.

Quinn fidgeted aimlessly, waiting for Wade to say something. But she remained silent. He leaned back in his chair and let out a deep sigh. "If you're uncomfortable, I can head back to the room. There's still about a dozen Stephen King books up there I haven't read."

Wade made eye contact with him for the first time. "I still can't believe that he was twice as prolific on this world as on our, I mean, my homeworld." She stopped herself, feeling a little guilty at the slip. Wade now had to say something that dealt more with the matter at hand. "We can't..."

"I know," Quinn interrupted. "Believe me, I know. It's all I've been thinking about these last few days."

Wade nodded vigorously. "It's just...it's so strange. And we'd be in such close quarters, pretty much all the time. If anything went wrong in the relationship..."

"Hey, you're preaching to the choir here," Quinn retorted emphatically. "I mean I'm a married man. I've got a wife waiting for me that I'm anxious to get home to. Plus I'm not exactly the secret extramarital affair type. Or at least I wasn't until I started this sliding gig."

"Good, then we're on the same page," Wade smiled. "We can put this whole thing...behind..." A thought occurred to her suddenly. "That remark about not cheating before you went sliding, that was just referring to me, right?"

Quinn tilted his head to one side nervously. "Well...not exactly."

"Oh," Wade answered, a certain amount of softness entering her voice. The confidence returned to her voice quickly, however. "Well, I guess it makes sense. I mean, she was your wife's double and she thought you were her long-lost husband, so..."

"It wasn't with her," Quinn said quickly. "You remember that Mexican guerrilla commander, Roberta something or other?"

"You pig!" Wade said, mildly irritated and only a little bit amused. "You had an affair with a woman whose last name you can't even remember?!" She folded her arms and turned herself around, in a pout that was only about half mockery.

"I don't know if I'd technically call it an affair," Quinn said meekly in his own defense. "I mean she was holding me...as her prisoner, and..." At that moment, Rembrandt and Colette Brown entered the room, sparing Quinn from further humiliation. "How did it go?" he asked the somewhat married couple.

Rembrandt walked by without saying a word. Quinn was wondering if the others had made a bet to see who could go the longest without talking to him when Colette decided to answer the question. "Not well." Remmy cast an inauspicious glare her way. "I told him the police would dismiss his story out of hand the second he brought up the name...."

"The guy kidnapped me, damn it!" Rembrandt insisted with a perfectly in-character whine. "I don't deserve to get laughed at for it!"

As Remmy fumed, Colette leaned in and explained the situation to Quinn. "'Big Ben' Turner is a guy the mob often uses to shake up people they consider...marginal threats."

"Marginal?! I'd show them marginal if I didn't have to leave this world so soon!" Rembrand declared. "How long do we have here anyway?"

"Two more days," Quinn answered with a frown. He then turned his attention back to Mrs. Brown. "So the police just turned you away? That doesn't seem right."

"They said they'd look into it, but I doubt they'll give the case much consideration." Colette lowered her voice to a whisper. "'Big Ben' Turner's a mental patient at Gate Haven Hospital. He spends most of his time playing with toy clocks. The guy wouldn't hurt a dead flea."

"How was I supposed to know that?!" Rembrandt wanted to know. "He seemed threatening enough."

Colette looked at Rembrandt endearingly, putting her hand to his cheek. "Well, the important thing is that you're safe from him now." Remmy stormed away, or at least as much as he could in this crowded room. He ended up over at the table with the hors d'ouevres, about fifteen feet from where Colette stood giggling.

Wade exhaled audibly. "I'll go talk to him," she said with an air of resignation in her voice.

Quinn watched her go over to Rembrandt and turned to face Colette. "So..." he started to say, only to notice that she had started making the rounds, as it were, with all of her socialite friends. "Right. Back to the room it is then."

"Mr. Mallory," Professor Arturo bellowed just as he was about to walk out the door. Quinn did a sheepish about face and headed back in the sloshed Englishman's direction. "Just the man I wanted to speak to! It occurs to me, Mr. Mallory, that I've been sitting in this room, listening to people tell me how great I am, for nearly two full hours now. Meanwhile, here you've sat, all the way across the room from me and doing practically nothing, with no chance for you to give your opinion on why I'm so great. So I concluded that I had best come over here and give you an opportunity to do so before you stormed off in a huff over whatever it is that you and Ms. Welles are fighting about this week."

Quinn forced a smile. "You're great."

"That's m'boy," Arturo told him with his arm wrapped around Quinn's shoulder. "You should come over and hear me tell the story of how I invented the atom bomb that single-handedly saved the world from a plague. I don't think you're a Quinn that's heard that one."

The younger slider paused for a moment in thought. "Why did you do it, Professor?"

Arturo's face broke out in a wide grin. "Well, Mr. Bennish had discovered a virus called the Q, which was spread by cream soda, and..."

"Not that," Quinn said, stopping him as quickly as he could. "I mean why did you go to Washington? Why risk the slide, and your life if Rembrandt's tales of mafia involvement are to be believed, to fight for this?"

"I don't know how to put it, Mr. Mallory," Professor Arturo began to answer, his tone suddenly turning serious. "When I was a young man I nearly made a terrible mistake. I almost married someone, a woman who would have given me little other than economic and social status. It was quite the infatuation."

"What happened?" Quinn questioned with genuine curiosity.

"I left her right before the wedding. Premarital jitters and all that." Arturo started to eye the bar again. "Needless to say she was none too pleased. On this world, she would have had the legal right to sue me, throw me in jail, or worse: actually make me go through with the marriage. But if I had become chained to that harpy then, I would never have met the love of my life..."

"Christina." The Professor was startled when Quinn interrupted him. "An Arturo might have told me about her once or twice."

The Professor let out a small chuckle. "Yes. You know I always believed the term 'nuclear family' was very apropos. Perhaps that's why I used it at least a dozen times during the course of my speech, eh? It speaks to the integrality of the family to happiness of course, but relationships can also result in some devastating explosions." He looked at Quinn with a twinkle in his eye. "I trust no such explosion will erupt over the events that have transpired between you and Ms. Welles on this world."

"How did you...?" he started to ask, but there was no point. Why would a magician ever reveal the secrets of his trade? "Got it. No exploding." Exclamations of victory interrupted them and they turned to see what all the fuss was about.

"Thank God!" Wade exclaimed as she unwrapped the latest expensive item she'd ordered on Colette's dime. She eyed it longingly. "Ooh, and it's exactly the shade I wanted, too."

"Ms. Welles, when are you going to give up on those silly wigs?" Professor Arturo asked. "They look hideous."

"As soon as we find a world where the Sinead look is in," Wade retorted as she adjusted the thing so that it wouldn't rub her scalp the wrong way.

"I don't foresee that happening any time soon," Quinn grumbled to himself.

"My point exactly," Wade retorted. The Professor groaned, but said nothing else. It was then that Rembrandt walked into the room. "Why the long face?" Wade, now adorned in an auburn wig, asked him.

"Colette just asked me to stay here," Rembrandt told them grimly. "And I've accepted."

"What?!" the three of them asked in unison.

Remmy's sour face was consumed quickly by a grin. "Just kidding. She only wanted to know if we needed anything else before we left." The grin grew wider. "I had you going there for a minute, though, didn't I?"

"We have an hour remaining on this world," Arturo declared as if he was deciding when they would leave. "I am going to take a nap until then. If Mr. Brown pulls any more practical jokes between now and then, please refrain from telling me about them when I awake."

"What was that all about?" a stocky bespectacled man behind Colette asked her. He got no immediate response. "Mrs. Brown? Are you OK?"

"Yes," she answered quickly with an insincere smile. "Just taking care of unfinished business."

"With your, uh, husband's lookalike, that Max guy and those other two?" Colette nodded in reply. "We did do what you wanted there, right? Making them think that the bill passed, I mean?"

"The bill will pass," Colette assessed with steely determination in her voice. "So what's the harm in letting them know how much good they did here a little bit ahead of schedule? Now they can relax and enjoy their remaining time here, before..." She cast her eyes downward and blinked a little bit. "Before they leave. I don't know them that well, I admit, but I kind of get the feeling they don't get much rest doing what they do." She walked off without another word to him, trying not to think that Rembrandt could have had all the rest he ever wanted had she accepted his offer. What she did think about was the life he had to be leading: constantly searching for home with no solace or refuge to be found in the meanwhile. She spoke aloud to herself, not caring if she seemed a little crazy to those around her. "It must be hard."

[ Earth 2013 Episode Guide | The Otherworlds ]