Quinn couldn't believe it. In the last few hours, he had been in a near fistfight with Rembrandt, found out Maggie was dead, and now Logan St. Claire was asking for his help.
It was all a lot to take in. He and Rembrandt wanted to mourn Maggie, but it didn't look like they had any time.
"Last month," Laze said. "One of our runners didn't return. For a while, we thought he had been captured, or that he got overzealous and kept going from world to world. But, when we sent a team to check on the world we sent him to, they didn't return either."
"The runner wasn't fully committed," Logan said. "But these were committed, honorable men we sent, and we couldn't think of a reason why they didn't come back."
"So," Laze said. "We sent in a probe with all the instruments we could attach to it. And it was completely destroyed as soon as it landed on the world."
"Oh my God," Arturo said, shocked. "That sounds like your invention."
"That's what we believe it is," Laze said. "The Slide Trap."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Laze," Arturo said sympathetically.
"Don't worry, Professor," Laze said. "I don't hold grudges anymore. We couldn't have know the consequences of evacuating."
Quinn was getting restless. What did Logan have in mind for him and who was this Laze?
"I hate to break this reunion up," Arturo said. "But what do you want with me Logan?"
"I can actually explain that," Laze said. "I have since invented a device that should protect sliders from being drawn to the Slide Trap. We would like to test it, and we'd like you to be the one to test it for us, Mr. Mallory."
"Wait," Rembrandt said. "You just got our friend killed and you want us to give you Quinn to test a device that you're guessing might be able to protect him from the Slide Trap."
"We're a little more confident than that, Mr. Brown," Laze said.
"I have to agree," Arturo said. "Couldn't you send a probe first?"
"We've already sent a probe and it worked," Laze said. "But human trials are something completely different."
"Why me?" Quinn asked.
"Recent tests have indicated that the human body takes a minor beating every time it passes from one world to the next," Laze said. "It causes no perceivable damage, but it does leave a minor impression on the body after a certain amount of slides."
"The body reacts to the process like creating a scab on a wound," Quinn said.
"Exactly," Laze said. "And for my device to work, the person will need that 'scab' to survive the trip without suffering a major injury."
"You need someone who has slid for a long time," Quinn said. "That's why you need me."
"Yes," Logan responded. "We need someone who has been sliding for years, and you've been sliding the longest."
"Wait," Rembrandt interjected. "You were trapped inside Mallory for a year, Q-Ball! I've been sliding the longest! I'll go."
"No, Remmy," Quinn said. "I'll do it."
Logan smiled. She had her guinea pig.
As Logan and Laze prepared for the slide, Rembrandt approached Quinn.
"Are you sure about this?" he asked.
"I think so," Quinn said. "I know she has something up her sleeve, but she seems genuinely different. Maybe her anger towards the Kromaggs has overridden her anger at me."
"I just don't know," Rembrandt said. "I won't be able to bear losing two friends in one day."
"You won't," Quinn said. "What do you know about this Laze guy?"
"I don't know much about him," Rembrandt said. "He tried to kill Quinn and a lot of your doubles after Quinn left him behind on some Earth. He's another guy I don't feel good about trusting."
"Sometimes you have to have faith, Cryin' Man," Quinn said.
"There's a difference between faith and stupidity," Rembrandt said. "You have to realize when to draw the line."
"I know what I'm doing," Quinn said.
"I hope so," Rembrandt said. "Now you be careful!"
"I will," Quinn responded.
The intercom called Quinn to the sliding area. Rembrandt noticed that Logan had a suspicious smile on her face, and Laze seemed more excited than usual.
"I don't like this," Rembrandt whispered to the Professor.
"I know," Arturo said. "I can't help but feel we're making a big mistake letting him do this."
Laze approached Quinn, and he attached his quarter-sized device to his neck. Logan then injected a needle into his arm.
"Good luck," she said, activating the vortex.
Rembrandt tried to sense sarcasm in her voice, but she sounded normal. But something wasn't right.
"The timer is designed to bring you back in thirty seconds," Logan said. "Just breathe normally, and this should be a piece of cake."
"Okay," Quinn said. "Let's do it."
Quinn looked over at his friends, smiled, and leapt into the vortex.
Immediately after the vortex closed, Logan's assistants surrounded the remaining sliders.
"Get them ready!" Logan said with an evil smirk on her face.
"What are you doing?" Rembrandt asked.
"You'll see in due time," Logan said.
"You sent him to die didn't you?" Arturo asked.
"I was just returning a favor," Logan said coldly.
"And you killed Maggie too, didn't you?" Logan asked.
"Actually, no," Logan said. "I actually thought she would make a valued member of my team, but it seems she wasn't cut out for the fight against the Kromaggs."
"You bitch!" Rembrandt said, as angry as Arturo had ever seen him. "I'm going to get you back for this, Logan!"
Logan turned away, disgusted.
Take them away," Logan said, turning back to her panel.
Laze escorted the group to a large room, and Arturo punched him in the face as soon as he closed the door.
"You maniacal fiend!" Arturo said. "I cannot believe that you would be a part of something like this!"
Laze rubbed his face and put a finger up to his mouth.
"Listen carefully," Laze said. "I'm going to help you all if you give me a chance."
"You're damn right," Rembrandt said. "Considering you just killed two of our friends."
"Mr. Mallory isn't dead," Laze said.. "At least, not by the Slide Trap. And I have no idea what happened to your other friend, but I'm confident that Logan was behind it somehow."
"The device was real?" Arturo asked.
"Yes!" Laze said. "I don't know what's going on, but I'm sure that you all are in serious trouble."
"Wait," Rembrandt said. "If you knew Logan was evil, why would you work beside her?"
"She was my only way to get lab access," Laze said. "Once I found out that the Kromaggs were using my design, I had to find a way to rectify it. And if that meant working with Lucifer herself, that's what I would do."
"But you think Quinn's all right?" Wade asked.
"On the contrary, Ms. Welles," Laze said. "I think he's alive, but he was caught, no doubt. He was sent to a heavily guarded, heavily populated Kromagg military outpost. He might've bypassed the trap, but they'll know he's coming."
"Dr. Laze, how do you plan to help us?" Arturo asked.
"I don't know what Logan is planning," Laze said. "But I don't want you your blood on my hands, so I have your timer."
"But our timer will not work now," Arturo said. "We have to wait until it reaches zero."
Laze thought quickly, and he pulled out a timer from his pocket.
"Take this timer," Laze said. "Hide out until you're ready, then come back here and slide out."
Laze handed Arturo his timer and pulled out the sliders' timer.
"I'll keep this locked up until you come back!" Laze said.
"Thank you, Doctor," Arturo said, extending his hand.
"Even if this works," Laze said, returning the handshake. "I still owe you about a thousand more."
Before Arturo could activate the vortex, Logan's assistants came into the room, and the Professor slipped the timer into his pocket.
They led the sliders back into the sliding area, where Logan was smiling.
"Welcome back," Logan said. "You're about to be very helpful to me."
"What are you going to do?" Rembrandt asked.
"I guess it wouldn't hurt me to tell you now," Logan said. "Some of my friends were captured, and I'm arranging a prisoner exchange. I really appreciate that you would step in for them, and I will never forget your sacrifice."
"Come on Logan," Rembrandt said. "That's not your style. What's in it for you?"
"I get safety from the Kromagg Dynasty, of course," Logan said with a smirk.
Suddenly, a red vortex opened and seven Kromaggs and three humans exited. Logan approached the Kromagg and pulled out a disk.
"Wait," Laze said. "What is that?
"Research," Logan said innocently. "It's part of the trade, too."
"You can't!" Laze said, as Logan's assistants tried to restrain him. "Not my work!"
"Sorry," Logan said, her innocent face turning into an evil smile.
The Kromagg handed her a Kromagg timer that would give her unrestricted access to all Kromagg-controlled worlds in exchange for Laze's research.
Laze broke away from the assistants, and he lunged at the lead Kromagg. He dropped the research and his gun. Laze grabbed the gun and fired at Logan.
Logan dived out of the way, and immediately activated her Kromagg timer, disappearing behind a desk.
But before he was able to get another shot off, a Kromagg behind him hit him with a blast.
The sliders were helpless to do anything, but during the chaos, Rembrandt was able to grab the information disk without anyone seeing him. They assumed it had been destroyed.
"You shouldn't have done that, human," the Kromagg said, staring down at Laze.
He opened a vortex and pushed the sliders inside. The vortex closed, leaving Laze alone in the room, dying.
Quinn awoke in a cold sweat, but he couldn't open his eyes. He didn't exit the vortex, did he? No, he didn't remember that at all, and he had no control over his body.
"The device must have failed," Quinn thought. "I'm dead."
But before he could think anything else, he heard a voice.
"Wake, human!" the voice said.
Suddenly, his eyes opened and a Kromagg appeared in front of him. It looked like he was in some kind of laboratory, and the architecture told Quinn it was Kromagg.
"Quinn Mallory," the Kromagg said. "Welcome."
Something was wrong. He couldn't speak, and the Kromagg knew his name. He was either in a Hell controlled by Kromaggs, or he had been captured.
But he was supposed to return 30 second after he arrived. Had something gone wrong, or was this Logan's idea of a cruel joke?
"You should find that you are unable to control your bodily functions," the Kromagg said. "Yes, while our war efforts are down, our technological achievements are beyond human capacity."
"That's great," Quinn thought.
"You're going to help us, Mr. Mallory," the Kromagg said.
Quinn tried to shake his head, but he couldn't move anything.
"I know what you're thinking," the Kromagg said smiling. "But you have no choice."
Rembrandt returned from his interrogation to the cell. Actually, it was more of an observation than an interrogation, he thought.
Arturo and Wade waited anxiously as Rembrandt returned. They were both nervous because this had been their first time they had ever been inside a Kromagg prison.
"Are you okay, Rembrandt?" Arturo whispered.
"I'm fine," Rembrandt said. "How are you two?"
"They haven't done anything to us yet," Wade said, looking very scared.
Rembrandt had dealt with the Kromaggs several times, so he felt empathy for Wade and Arturo. He tried to remember the first time he had been captured and imprisoned.
"It will be all right," Rembrandt said. "But are we getting out of here?"
"Not at the moment, Rembrandt," Arturo said. "There is some kind of energy field in here that has drained the timer of power."
"So what do we do?" Rembrandt asked.
"I do not know, Mr. Brown," Arturo said.
Rembrandt was nervous. He wished Quinn was there. Not only had he dealt with the Kromaggs and their technology, but he was also familiar with the timer. He would be able to come to a solution, but he was probably in even more trouble.
It appeared that Quinn was working alongside several other humans. Since none of them seemed to be moving voluntarily, he assumed they were all under Kromagg control.
"I can read your thoughts," the Kromagg told him. "But I have found that humans will think one thing and then say another. And since that amuses me, I will temporarily turn off our controls on you.
Suddenly, Quinn could move everything, but he was obviously very sore.
"Yes," the Kromagg said. "That is one of the side effects of our machinery, but it's one we have found easy to live with."
With control over his arm, Quinn instinctively felt for the device on his neck. But it was gone.
"Looking for this, Mr. Mallory?" the Kromagg asked. "It will be dissected by our scientists so that we may alter our defense technology. Nothing will stand in our way."
"It will just be a temporary solution," Quinn said. "You're on the run, and you're scared."
"You humans and your foolish hopes," the Kromagg said laughing. "It will be your downfall. But you bore me, so I'm going to return to my duties."
The Kromagg nodded, and Quinn lost control over his body again. It brought back awful memories of being stuck inside Mallory.
It was the worst torture he had ever been through.
With Quinn out of the picture for the moment, Arturo was thrust into command. But he was completely unfamiliar with Kromagg technology, and he didn't even know how to approach a way to get the others out of there.
They had a timer, but they couldn't leave. They had the means, but they needed the opportunity.
Suddenly, a light shined on Wade. This meant that it was Wade's turn to go to the interrogation.
"You'll be all right, Wade," Rembrandt said. "You don't have anything they want, so they won't hurt you."
Wade tried to force a smile, but Rembrandt could tell that she was paralyzed with fear. The forcefield covering the door vanished, and Wade was led towards the interrogation room.
As soon as she was gone, Arturo looked at Rembrandt with hope.
"Rembrandt," Arturo said optimistically. "When that door opens, the energy barrier keeping us here is taken down."
"What does that mean?" Rembrandt said.
"We will only have one shot, and the timing would have to be perfect," Arturo said. "But I believe that we will have enough time to open the vortex and slide out."
"Sounds good to me," Rembrandt said.
"Do you think it will work?" Arturo said, genuinely asking for his opinion.
Now, this was a change of pace. For as long as they had known each other, Rembrandt had been asking Arturo for advice and double checking his plans with him.
But right now, Arturo was asking for his expert advice. It made him feel good.
"I think it will," Rembrandt said.
Rembrandt looked up to the ceiling. If they escaped, he would dedicate the miracle to Maggie.
"I know you're going to help us with this one, girl," Rembrandt whispered.
Quinn watched as his own hands worked on Laze's device against his will. He was dismantling the device to see how it worked, and it appeared that the other humans were working on other pieces of human technology.
"How's the work coming, human?" the patrolling Kromagg guard asked.
"Its coming along, master," Quinn said against his will. "We should know all we need to know in a couple of hours."
The Kromagg pressed a button, and he began to work faster and harder on the device. And there was nothing he could do but watch.
"That should make you do it faster," the guard said, laughing to himself.
"Great strategy," Quinn thought. "Let us destroy ourselves."
Wade returned to the cell half an hour after she had left. She was asked several questions, but she didn't have the answer to any of them. But Rembrandt was right; she wasn't harmed. And it didn't turn out to be as bad as she had thought.
This time, however, a Kromagg guard was escorting her back to the cell. Arturo guessed that they had seen the timer, and if that were true, then they would only have one shot at this.
As soon as the Kromagg opened the door, Arturo pulled out the timer and opened the gateway.
"Run, Ms. Welles," Arturo said, and Wade ran and dove into the vortex.
The Kromagg guard saw what was happening, and he reached to close the door, reactivating the barrier. But before he could get there, Rembrandt ran and tackled him. Arturo ran to try and grab the gun, the Kromagg was stronger than he would've thought.
He and Rembrandt struggled to hold the gun, but it flew away from all three. When it hit the ground, the gun fired automatically and hit a power conduit.
"You fool!" the Kromagg said, throwing Rembrandt into a wall.
"Go!" Rembrandt screamed. "I'll be right behind you!"
Arturo looked worried, but he decided to jump inside. As soon as he entered the vortex, however, he realized that he still had the timer.
If Rembrandt didn't jump inside, he'd be stranded.
For a second, Quinn regained control over his body again, and the way the Kromaggs acted, it appeared that it hadn't been their doing.
The lights also dimmed, indicating that there was a problem with the electricity.
However, the lights returned to normal, and Quinn lost control of his body again. The Kromagg guards immediately brought out their radios to see what happened.
But Quinn knew something for sure. If that happened again, he would take full advantage of it.
Thrown towards the gun, Rembrandt picked it up, and the Kromagg froze.
"You can't kill me," the Kromagg said, inching closer to him. "Our armor is resistant to that weapon to prevent prisoners from harming guards. You should just give up; the only way out is through me."
He was right. The Kromagg had cut off the only angle to the vortex. Obviously a physical match for him, Rembrandt knew he couldn't fight his way out.
But he could think his way out.
"Just give up, human," the Kromagg said. "You have no one here to help you."
"That's where you're wrong," Rembrandt said, firing the gun at the panel again.
The panel exploded, and the power went completely out in cell. The only light Rembrandt could see was the white glow of the vortex.
"No!" the Kromagg guard said, as the prisoners began to escape.
An alarm went off, shining a bright red light in the corridor every couple of seconds.
As Rembrandt ran towards the vortex, he saw that the guard had been crushed by the released prisoner. When the vortex closed, the guard was left alone in the jail area, unconscious.
When the lights went out, and the luminance was replaced by the red glow of the alarms. Quinn had regained control over his body, and he turned to watch three of the five guards run to combat the jailbreak.
This was his chance, he thought, and he ran and tackled one of the two remaining guards. He took the guard completely by surprise, and he was knocked unconscious.
He had hoped that someone would follow his lead and attack the other guard, but a gun barrel to his back indicated that they hadn't.
"You're free!" Quinn screamed, bracing for another hit to his back.
But it never came. In fact, a second later, the other guard hit the ground beside him.
Quinn looked up to see three humans standing over the Kromagg's body. One of them extended his arm to Quinn and pulled him up.
"Okay," Quinn said, taking command of the group. "We're safe for the moment, but we have to get out of here. Does anyone know this facility very well?"
Quinn couldn't see very well, but he could tell that no one had answered in the affirmative.
"Okay," Quinn said. "We're going to need to find a way off this Earth. I guess we'll need to find some kind of sliding device."
"No need," one of the humans said. "I've been working on a timer. I think it might be able to save us all."
"Anyone else?" Quinn asked. "The more timers we have, the safer it will be for all of us."
A couple of other humans raised their hands, and Quinn started to separate the humans into three groups. He found a person who knew about sliding to head the other two groups, and he led the third group.
"If you know your home coordinates," Quinn told the leaders. "Then, by all means, go home. But if you don't know them, follow me."
The sliders landed back in Logan's facility, and they frantically searched for Laze. He hadn't told them where they could find their timer, and he was nowhere to be found.
Rembrandt ran to Laze's office, and he found a note.
"Hey, guys!" Rembrandt screamed to the other sliders. "Look at this! It's from Laze!"
Arturo and Wade ran into his office, and waited for Rembrandt to read the note.
"It says to open the drawer on the desk to get the timer," Rembrandt said, reading the note. "He says that he couldn't find the world Quinn was sent to, but the equipment in the lab should be able to. He says that he has taken off, and that he wishes us the best of luck."
The group silently wished Laze luck as well, and Rembrandt grabbed the timer out of the drawer.
Arturo grabbed Laze's laptop computer, and he logged onto the facility's main computer. He activated a program that Laze had created to search for the world Quinn was on.
"Ingenious," Arturo said. "Dr. Laze has created a program that will search for whatever world Quinn was on, and it's moving at an alarming rate."
"Can't we just track the last wormhole?" Rembrandt asked.
"We could," Arturo said. "But Laze said that Quinn might've been moved to a different world after his arrival."
"Or maybe he escaped," Rembrandt said, trying to act positive.
Quinn overestimated the power of the timer he was using because it was unable to bring he and his group to Logan's world. If it had worked, it would've sent him to her laboratory, but he and his group landed on a desert highway.
When he landed, he noticed that the timer was completely fried.
"I'm sorry," Quinn said. "But we're all stuck here."
"I'd rather be stuck here than have to go back there," one of the men said. "We appreciate all that you have done."
The group decided to walk and try to find shelter, but Quinn stayed behind. He knew his friends were coming, and he wanted to be there when they did.
Arturo found the coordinates, and he downloaded them into their timer. He then walked over to the closet and found a rifle. If he was going back into the Kromaggs' den, then he would be prepared.
"Mr. Brown, Miss Welles," Arturo said, loading the rifle. "If either of you would like to stay here, I will return for you when I've rescued Quinn."
"No way, Professor," Rembrandt said, grabbing a rifle for himself. "We're not letting you go alone."
"I'm in too, Professor," Wade said, and Rembrandt tossed her a weapon as well.
"Then, its settled," Arturo said, activating the timer.
Quinn woke up in the heat of the desert. He guessed that he had passed out, and that he would need to find shelter and water as soon as possible.
But before he could do anything, a vortex opened. Quinn saw it, and he marveled at how beautiful it looked in the desert sun.
The three sliders emerged from the vortex with guns in hand, but they all smiled when they saw that Quinn was alone.
"Q-Ball!" Rembrandt said, running to hug his friend.
Quinn returned the hug, and he reunited with the other sliders.
"It's good to see you, my boy!" Arturo said.
"Words can't express how I feel, guys," Quinn said.
"What happened to you?" Rembrandt said.
"Something caused a bunch of chaos on the world I was on," Quinn said. "And we were able to escape."
"So the device worked?" Arturo asked.
"It worked perfectly," Quinn said. "And I gave it to one of the prisoners I encountered. He said he was with the resistance, and I assumed they could really use it."
"Laze would be happy to hear that," Arturo said.
"What happened to he and Logan?" Quinn asked.
"Laze was the one who helped us escape," Arturo said. "And Miss St. Claire escaped using a Kromagg timer."
"She was working with them, wasn't she?" Quinn asked.
"That's what it seems like," Arturo said.
"I knew it," Quinn said, putting his hand to his head.
"Don't worry," Arturo said. "She fooled all of us."
"No, it's not that," Quinn said. "I just don't think we've seen the last of her."