As the time to leave approached, Rembrandt looked over the city of San Francisco. He still wasn't home, and he wondered if he'd ever see his real home again.
The last several years had been hard. From the time he heard that he was going to sing the National Anthem at the Giants' game, things had gone horribly wrong. First, Quinn ripped him from his home and his life, forcing him to slide from world to world.
And as soon as he and his friends were starting to become a family, their patriarch was taken from them. Then, as soon as they were done grieving the Professor's death, they discovered their home had been destroyed.
And although both the Professor and Earth Prime had been returned to him, it didn't make either situation any less tragic. Whatever world the Kromaggs had invaded, there were human souls on it who had lost their home. And even though Arturo's double lied and cheated his way into the group, he was still a human being who didn't deserve to die the way he did.
For the next couple of years, nothing went completely right. Sure, he gained friends in Maggie, Diana, and Mallory, but he lost Quinn, Wade, and Colin. Whenever life gave him a break, it quickly slapped him back down to the pits when he finally put his guard down.
Then, came the real tragedy. After taking a crazy risk for one last chance to go home, he was rewarded with the return of his friend and the "liberation" of his home. He was given a new friend in Wade and a fresh breath of air.
And even though there were hardships for some of the trip, Rembrandt was finally happy for the first time in years.
And when it all seemed to be falling into place for him, it all fell apart again. Mallory tragically died in an accident. Diana left the group, crushed after her friend's death. Then, the Kromaggs and Conrad Bennish stole his best opportunity to go home, and Maggie was killed.
He knew, eventually, that things would get better. That eventually, there would be a bottom to the pit he was falling down.
But would he survive the fall before things started to get better?
After getting a close look at the timer, the Professor was finally able to see how much wear and tear it had gone through.
Not only was the power affected, but almost a year of sliding had taken its toll on the frame of the device.
But he didn't think it was anything to worry as he counted down to zero.
When the limit hit, he turned the switch, but he saw that he had to turn it harder than he usually has to. And the vortex seemed to struggle to open.
Despite the obvious problems, none of the sliders were very worried when the vortex seemed to be at full strength. In fact, Quinn looked surprised when the others looked slightly hesitant.
He leapt inside first, followed by Rembrandt and Arturo. Immediately after Arturo entered the vortex, Wade saw an obvious change in the color and texture of the vortex. Worrying that it was starting to destabilize, she desperately lunged herself inside.
But as she entered, she was hit by a jolt of electricity, and she lost consciousness.
On the other side, the first three sliders emerged, checking each other to see that everyone made it out okay. But as soon as Arturo fell out, the vortex, again, changed color and texture.
"That's odd," Quinn said, as a lifeless body fell out of the vortex.
Wade's body hit the ground hard, and she rolled for a couple feet before her she sat motionless on the ground.
"Oh my God," Arturo said, fearing the worst.
They all knew that if Wade was alive, her body had taken a serious punishment. But she wasn't showing any signs of life.
Quinn ran, and quickly took her pulse. He looked up, right at Arturo, and he shook his head. For whatever reason, Wade was dead.
Rembrandt shook his head.
"I don't believe it," Rembrandt said.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Brown," Arturo said. "I know you and Wade were close. I must admit she was a joy to have in the group."
"What's happening?" Quinn asked. "We were a group of seven just a couple days ago, and now we're down to three."
But Rembrandt couldn't hear anything. He refused to believe that another tragedy had struck them.
"No," Rembrandt whispered.
"I know, Rembrandt," Arturo said, putting his arm around him. "I can't believe we lost her."
Arturo felt awful. He had promised Quinn that he would protect Wade, and it looks like he failed.
"Quinn, we have to find out how she died," Arturo said.
"We will, Professor," Quinn responded. "I want to take the timer apart to see if anything is wrong with it, but we only have a little over half an hour here."
Kneeling over Wade's body, Rembrandt started to cry. He grabbed her hand, and he held it up to his head.
And that's when he felt it. It was only a slight twitch, but it was enough to give Rembrandt hope. He picked her body up, and he ran to a busy intersection.
"Remmy, where are you going?" Quinn asked.
"She moved!" Rembrandt screamed. "We've got to get her to a hospital!"
Rembrandt stopped, as if waiting for Quinn's approval. He knew there was very little chance, but he also knew in his heart that if there was a chance to save her life, he had to do it.
"We'll meet you there in a couple minutes," Quinn said, nodding.
Rembrandt ran and waved down a cab, rushing to the neared hospital.
"This is futile, Professor," Quinn said, after Rembrandt was out of sight.
"I know," Arturo said. "But he obviously feels strongly about it."
Arturo moved towards the intersection to hail his own taxi cab. Half way there, he turned back around.
"And I hope he's right," he said.
I do too, Professor," Quinn said, following quickly behind him.
At the hospital, Quinn and Arturo found a doctor shaking his head after a talk with Rembrandt.
"They're wrong," Rembrandt said as soon as he made eye contact with the two other sliders. "Their equipment is wrong."
"Remmy," Quinn sighed. "I know you want her to be alive. We do too! But you're not thinking straight."
"I saw her move!" Rembrandt said. "She's alive!"
"Maybe you just believe so strongly that she's alive that you convinced yourself that she moved," Arturo said. "We all wish that it is true, but all other evidence proves that it is not."
Rembrandt expected his friends to be more understanding. But it was as if they were ready to sign her death certificate. But he wasn't going to give up.
"She's not dead," Rembrandt said. "I know she's not, and I'm not going to let her go."
Quinn and Arturo didn't have the heart to argue with him anymore. It would only make him more agitated, and it was obvious that he was not going to listen to them.
"Let's go, Mr. Brown," Arturo said. "It is time for the slide. You will feel better when we're off this Earth."
But Rembrandt just shook his head, and he moved into the hospital room.
"We're going to scare a lot of people if we open this out here," Quinn whispered. "Let's follow him in there."
"Agreed," Arturo said, following Quinn into Wade's hospital room.
As soon as they entered, Quinn closed the door, and he activated the vortex.
"We have to go Mr. Brown," Arturo said, but Rembrandt didn't even look at him. He just stared at Wade.
"It's okay," Quinn said. "I'll make sure he follows us."
Arturo nodded, and he dove inside. Quinn walked over to Rembrandt, and he slowly grabbed his arm.
"Remmy," he said, forcing Rembrandt to look at him. "We have to go. She's already gone, so let her go."
Rembrandt's eyes were full of tears, and Quinn immediately felt bad for being so forceful with him. But he could tell that Rembrandt was about to give up.
"Okay," Rembrandt whispered softly.
Rembrandt stood up, and he walked with Quinn towards the vortex. But as soon as they reached it, Rembrandt tried to force Quinn inside.
But Quinn saw it coming, and he was ready for it. He wrestled with Rembrandt, but he was basically trying to drag both into the vortex.
However, Rembrandt wrestled one of his arms free.
"Sorry, Q-Ball," he said, punching Quinn in the face.
The punch startled Quinn, and he lost his balance, falling into the vortex.
A nurse opened the door as Rembrandt was picking up Wade.
"Oh my God!" the nurse screamed as she saw the vortex. "What are you doing?"
"No offense," Rembrandt said. "But I think I can get her better help somewhere else."
The nurse stood in shock as Rembrandt softly placed Wade into the vortex. But as soon as she fell inside, the vortex went through the same change it went through before.
Fearing the worst, Rembrandt jumped inside. As soon as he entered, he was hit with the same jolt of electricity.
On the next world, Quinn landed angrily, holding his nose.
"What happened?" Arturo said. "I thought you were going to make sure he went in."
Quinn moved his hand, revealing a slightly bloodied nose.
"My plans changed," Quinn said.
They both waited for Rembrandt. But, as Quinn expected, Wade was the first one to breach the vortex. As she exited, she was hit with another jolt of electricity, and the vortex again shifted colors.
Wade landed on the ground, and both male sliders were completely surprised to see her alive and alert.
"Whoa," Wade said. "What happened?"
But before Quinn or Arturo could say or do anything to show their excitement at her condition, Rembrandt's lifeless body hit the grass hard.
"Remmy!" Wade screamed, trying to get up, but she screamed in pain.
Not knowing who to check on first, Quinn and Arturo split up. Running to Wade, Arturo looked her over.
"What happened?" he asked.
"I don't know, Professor," Wade said. "I feel like every bone in my body is broken."
"That actually might be the case," Arturo said. "We need to get you and Mr. Brown to a hospital."
"What happened to Remmy?" Wade asked, trying not to move.
"We don't know," Arturo said. "But we're going to find out."
Although Rembrandt didn't show any signs of life either, the sliders knew that he was okay. If Wade survived the experience, then Rembrandt would as well.
But this was definitely not something that needed to continue. They needed to find out the source of the problem as soon as possible.
Quinn and Arturo quickly took Rembrandt and Wade to the hospital. While Wade only had minor injuries caused by the previous slide, the doctors informed Quinn that Rembrandt was dead.
"He's not dead," Quinn said. "This has happened before, and no matter what your scans say, he's not dead."
"How did you treat him to make him improve the last time?" the doctor asked.
"We don't know," Quinn said.
"What would you like us to do?" the doctor asked.
"Just keep him hooked up to all the equipment," Quinn said. "Here's the number where we'll be. If anything changes or if you discover what's going on, give me a call."
"This won't be cheap," the doctor said.
"This is my friend," Quinn said forcefully. "Money is no object."
Quinn slammed his screwdriver into the table in frustration. He had taken the timer apart, put it back together, and then he had the Professor do the same thing. Just to be sure, he then repeated the process.
And he didn't find anything wrong with it.
"Something's wrong here," Quinn said. "There's nothing wrong with the timer."
"I agree," Arturo said. "What do you think is the problem."
"I think it has something to do with the power source," Quinn said.
"But the crystal and the power source are still quite strong," Arturo said.
"I know," Quinn said. "There must be some kind of problem with the wiring, but if we start ripping all that apart, we run the risk of destroying the whole timer."
"You think the power isn't getting through all the way?" Arturo asked.
"That'd be my only guess," Quinn said. "The power source is doing its job, but the right amount of juice isn't getting to the beam. You saw how it struggled to start the vortex."
"I know," Arturo said. "So you think the timer is only creating a vortex powerful enough to support three sliders?"
"That's what it seems like," Quinn said.
"If that's true," Arturo said. "Then we only have two more slides to figure this out. The vortex somehow took Wade out of the coma, and I'm sure it will work for Rembrandt. But I do not want to risk doing it more than once."
"Agreed," Quinn said. "That's why I want you to leave me here."
"Quinn," Arturo sighed.
"No, Professor," Quinn said. "It makes perfect sense. You all slide, see what happens, and we'll each try to find a solution."
"And what if the next slide takes a month?" Arturo asked.
"I'll get a job," Quinn said quickly. "What else can we do? The fourth slider is going into a coma every single slide, and before long someone is going to get hurt. I'm not going to let that happen."
"We're not leaving you here," Arturo said forcefully.
"Then, I'm going to be the fourth slider!" Quinn exclaimed.
Wade overheard the conversation and interrupted.
"No," she said. "I'll do it. I've already survived it once, and we need both of you to get the timer fixed."
"That's impossible, Miss Welles," Arturo answered. "We are not going to risk putting your body through that again."
"I don't think it affected me!" Wade exclaimed.
"The answer is no," Arturo said, causing Wade to pout.
"So, it's settled," Quinn said. "I'm going to be the fourth slider."
Arturo didn't want to argue. He nodded his head, too tired to argue.
In the morning, Quinn and Arturo did all they could to try and repair the wiring. They felt they had done some good, but they weren't sure that they had done enough.
There was only one way to figure it out.
"Where is she?" Quinn asked as the slide approached.
"She'll be here," Arturo said. "It can't be easy to get a 'dead' person out of a hospital."
"They already think we're crazy, Professor," Quinn said. "It can't be that hard."
Suddenly, Wade knocked on the hotel room, and the Professor went over to open it for her.
"You can't imagine how many weird looks I got getting here," Wade said, pushing a lifeless Rembrandt in a wheelchair. "How much time?"
"Thirty seconds," Quinn said. "Why do you have to cut it so close?"
"Sorry," Wade said sarcastically.
"I'm sorry," Quinn said. "I just hope this works."
Quinn silently counted down to zero, and he activated the timer. The beam seemed stronger, but the vortex still struggled to get to full power.
"What do we do?" Wade asked.
"Don't worry," Quinn said. "Go!"
Wade hesitated, but she jumped inside. To ensure a soft landing, Rembrandt and Arturo picked up a mattress, and they threw it inside. Then, they carefully placed Rembrandt inside. Then, Quinn motioned for Arturo to jump in, but the Professor didn't move.
"You go, Quinn!" Arturo said.
"No!" Quinn said.
"Go, damn you!" Arturo screamed.
"I'm getting my way this time," Quinn thought, and he shoved Arturo into the vortex.
As soon as Arturo fell inside, the vortex started to change.
"Oh no," Quinn thought, jumping into the vortex.
On the next word, Wade landed and stared at the vortex. Expecting to see Rembrandt, she was surprised to see a mattress fly out, narrowly missing her.
A couple of seconds later, Rembrandt and Arturo fell out. Rembrandt was now conscious again, and the two bounced off of the mattress onto the grass.
Wade and Arturo looked up at the vortex as a lifeless Quinn fell softly onto the mattress.
"Damn you, boy," Arturo whispered to . "I'll find a solution. I promise."
"What happened?" Rembrandt said. "Let's get Wade to a hospital!"
But Wade waved at him, and Rembrandt's eyes opened wide.
"It's a miracle!" Rembrandt said, but then his eyes moved to Quinn. "And another curse. Quinn now? What's going on?"
"Well," Arturo said. "We have good news and bad news. The good news is that we know what's causing people to go into comas, and we know how to bring them back."
"That's great," Rembrandt said. "And the bad news?"
"We don't know how to stop it," Arturo said bluntly.
Rembrandt and Arturo carried Quinn to the Dominion Hotel.
"Shouldn't we take him to a hospital?" Rembrandt asked.
"No reason to," Arturo said. "The doctors can do nothing for him."
"So you just get healed by going through the vortex?" Rembrandt asked.
"It appears so," Arturo said.
The pair carried Rembrandt inside, and they were approached by Gomez Calhoun.
"Wait," Gomez said. "What are you doing with that dead body?"
"He's not dead," Rembrandt said, trying to act casual. "He's just sleeping."
"He doesn't look like he's sleeping to me," Gomez said. "He looks like a stiff."
Rembrandt and Arturo both looked at Quinn and then at Gomez as if he were crazy.
"He doesn't look dead to me," Arturo said. "He just had a lot to drink last night."
"Whatever you say," Gomez said, walking away.
"My good man," Arturo said. "Do you have a wheelchair for us to use?"
"I don't even have a full-time bellboy," Gomez said, laughing.
In the room, Wade and Rembrandt sat with Quinn while Arturo desperately tried to work on the timer. But he wasn't thinking straight. He was too busy worrying about Quinn and wishing it had been the other way around.
There was little he could do that Quinn and he hadn't already done on the previous world. Frustrated, he slammed his hand on the table.
"Damn!" he screamed, causing Rembrandt to join him in the living room. "I don't understand what's wrong!"
"It's okay, Professor," Rembrandt said. "We'll find a solution."
"But will it be too late?" Arturo said. "So far the process has healed you and Ms. Welles, but what if it doesn't work the next time? Or the next time? Quinn and I would feel awful if the timer led to a death."
"We all know the risks," Rembrandt said.
"But you put your lives in our hands," Arturo said. "You pull your weight when we land on each world, but you depend on us to get you there safely."
"That's right," Rembrandt said. "But we don't expect you to solve every problem before it does any damage."
Arturo closed his eyes and put his head on the table.
"Let's think our way through this," Rembrandt said. "What do we know about the problem?"
"Well," Arturo said, lifting his head. "We know from the accounts you and Ms. Welles gave that the vortex is starting to destabilize as soon as the third slider enters the vortex."
"Right," Rembrandt said.
"That tells me that the vortex is too weak to support four people," Arturo said. "So, as a result, whoever enters the vortex fourth falls into some kind of coma."
"So we just add more power?" Rembrandt said.
"That won't work," Arturo said. "Quinn and I checked the power source for the timer, and it's working perfectly. Whatever the problem is, it's happening after the timer is activated."
"And you checked the wires?" Rembrandt asked.
"They're working perfectly," Arturo said.
"Okay," Rembrandt said, trying to rationalize the situation. "What if we built something onto the timer that would add extra power when the vortex is activated?"
Arturo thought about that.
"That might work," Arturo said, looking at the timer. "But I wouldn't even know how to begin to build something like that. Especially not in the time we have left on this world."
He looked down.
"Leave me here," Arturo sighed.
"No," Rembrandt said.
"It's the only way out," Arturo said. "I can begin work on the device, and you can safely travel with Quinn until I've completed it."
"No, Professor," Rembrandt said. "We're not splitting up now."
"But I'll just be dead weight if you bring me along," Arturo said.
"Then, Quinn will find a solution," Rembrandt said. "You get started and he'll do what he can afterwards."
"But what if he doesn't?" Arturo asked. "Or even worse, what if the next slide is only a couple minutes long? Then, someone will still have to be left behind, and I'd rather that person be me."
"It's out of the question," Rembrandt said.
Arturo stopped. He knew he wasn't going to get anywhere with this argument either way. Especially since he had been on the other side of it before.
"I'm going out for supplies," he said, rising out of the chair.
"You want me to come with?" Rembrandt asked.
"No," Arturo said. "I'd rather be alone."
Outside, Arturo passed several hardware stores, but he just kept walking. He knew that he was wasting time, but he had to go through his thoughts.
However, he didn't realize that he hadn't eaten in a long time, and he was sleep deprived. As the pain and exhaustion finally caught up to him, he frantically searched for a place to sit down. But before he could find one, he collapsed on the ground.
Hours later, the Professor hadn't returned.
"Where is he?" Wade asked, looking out the window. "He should've been back hours ago."
"I know where he is," Rembrandt said. "He's hiding out until the slide."
"Why would he do that?" Wade asked.
"Because he's a selfish bastard who thinks he's always right," Rembrandt said.
Arturo woke up in a hospital bed. Looking at the file by his bed, he read that he was in the hospital suffering from dehydration and severe exhaustion.
He felt better know, but he wondered how much time he had wasted. It would be nearly impossible to make the kind of device they needed in the time he had. If he wasted as much time as he thought, then there would be no hope.
Looking across the hall, the Professor saw a doctor performing laser eye surgery on a patient.
"Okay Nurse," the doctor said. "I'm going to need a little more power. Activate the amplifier."
A nurse pressed a button on the laser, and the laser instantly had more power.
"I don't believe it," Arturo thought. "I guess luck is finally back on our side."
When Arturo exited the hospital, he realized that he had been in the hospital overnight. When he reentered the room, Wade was worried.
"Professor!" Wade screamed, hugging him as hard as he could. "We were worried sick!"
Rembrandt was happy to see him, but he was angry that he had wasted so much time.
"I almost didn't expect you to come back," he said. "I thought you were going to force us to leave you behind."
"I would not do that, Mr. Brown," Arturo said.
"Did you get the supplies?" Wade asked.
"Better," Arturo said smiling, and reaching into his pocket. "I found this."
Arturo showed the group one of the amplifiers from the hospital.
"Where did you get that?" Rembrandt asked.
"I was taking a walk, and I collapsed due to exhaustion," Arturo said. "Don't worry, I'm fine. But while I was there, I noticed the doctors used a device that amplified a laser they use here. I think that, with a couple of minor changes, it will solve our solution perfectly."
"So they just gave you one?" Wade asked.
"Not exactly," Arturo said.
"You stole?" Wade asked, shocked.
"Borrowed, Miss Welles!" Arturo said. "I don't even think they'll notice that it's missing."
As the slide approached, Arturo was putting the final touches on the timer. He had attached the amplifier, and he ran the wiring to it so that it would activate as soon as the timer activated.
He wasn't sure that it would work, but there was only one way to find out. He walked into the living room, and he proudly showed it off to Rembrandt and Wade.
"Its finished!" Arturo said.
With a minute left until the slide, Arturo began to get nervous. If the timer was fixed, would it keep the vortex from waking Quinn up from the coma? If it didn't, then he realized that Quinn might never wake up.
But there was nothing he could do now. He had to hope and pray that it would work.
Arturo opened the vortex, and the amplifier took effect. The beam shot out perfectly, and the vortex seemed stronger than ever.
"I think it worked!" Rembrandt said.
"There's only one way to check," Arturo said.
Wade jumped inside, and Arturo and Rembrandt picked up Quinn. Slowly placing him inside the vortex, the two sliders looked at each other.
"It's going to work," Rembrandt said. "I know it will."
"I'm sure you're right," Arturo said.
Rembrandt stared at him for a couple of seconds before jumping inside himself. Arturo waited to see if anything happened but nothing did.
With no reason to worry, the Professor jumped inside.
On the next world, Wade exited the vortex, and she was ecstatic to hear Quinn scream as he fell out behind her.
"Quinn!" she screamed, running to his side.
"Oh man," Quinn said. "What a ride."
Rembrandt and the Professor both flew out behind him, both alive and well. The group all hugged when they realized they were all okay.
"So everything's fixed?" Quinn asked.
"Yes, Mr. Mallory," Arturo said. "You didn't think that I could do it, did you?"
"I had my doubts," Quinn said smiling.
"So, what was it like?" Arturo asked, being the only one not to experience the comas.
"Yeah," Rembrandt said. "I can't describe it myself."
"It only lasted for a couple seconds," Quinn said. "But it felt like being on the astral plane."
"The astral plane?" Rembrandt said.
"Don't ask," Quinn said, smiling. "I have a theory, but I'm way too tired to get into it."
"How much time do we have?" Rembrandt asked.
"Plenty," Arturo said smiling.
As a man rushed into the hospital room, a doctor sat waiting to begin surgery.
"Its all right, Mr. President," the doctor said. "We're going to begin surgery immediately, so we're going to put you to sleep."
The wounded man nodded, and a nurse put a mask over his face.
"Ms. Taylor," the doctor said, prepping his device. "This is going to be very time sensitive, so I need you at your post!"
"Yes, Doctor," the nurse said, moving to the side of the device.
"Starting the incision," the doctor said. "Its working! I can see it, but I'm going to need the amplifier!"
"Just say the word, Doctor," the nurse said. "I'm ready."
The doctor continued to cut into the President's chest. After a few seconds, he put one of his hands up, indicating he was almost ready.
"Okay," the doctor said. "On my mark. Three, two, one. Go!"
The nurse pressed the button for the amplifier, but nothing happened.
"Nurse, now!" the doctor screamed. "We're going to lose him!"
"It's not working, Doctor!" the nurse said, frantically looking for the problem.
The nurse looked to see if there was something wrong with the amplifier itself, and she gasped when she saw what had happened.
"It's gone!" the nurse screamed. "It looks like someone just ripped it off! We need to move him to another room!"
The doctor's head dropped to his hands.
"Its too late," the doctor sighed. "He's gone."