The vortex opened on a field of grass overlooking the bay. Arturo, Wade, Rembrandt, and Quinn fell out, happy to be landing on the soft ground.
"Should I even ask if this might be home?" Rembrandt asked, as each looked in a direction.
"No," Arturo said, looking onto the water.
"Still lost, huh?" Quinn asked.
"On the contrary," Arturo said. "I know exactly where we are."
The others joined Arturo, and the four sliders looked at the majesty of the Azure Gate Bridge.
"I'm home!" Wade exclaimed, running to hug Rembrandt.
"It sure seems that way," Rembrandt said, returning the hug.
"Let's go!" Wade said, dragging Rembrandt by the arm. "What are we waiting for?"
The sliders began to walk towards the city, when a clear vortex opened in front of them.
"Kromaggs?" Rembrandt asked, remembering their initial attack on this world.
"No," Quinn said. "Kromagg vortices are red."
Seconds later, Quinn-1 emerged from the vortex.
"Long time, no see," Quinn-1 said, smiling. "I know you all are busy looking for home, but I had to bring you here."
"Quinn!" Wade said, running towards Quinn.
"Good to see you kept good care of Wade here," Quinn-1 said, and the two hugged.
"You said you were right behind me," Wade said.
Quinn smiled, but he didn't respond. He knew that there was no truthful answer he could give her.
"All right, Q-Ball," Rembrandt said. "You know you're going to have to explain all this. Where did you just slide from?"
"Just from the laboratory," Quinn-1 said, winking at Arturo.
Rembrandt still looked confused.
"He didn't slide," Arturo said. "He seems to have finished a device we abandoned to start this little mission. A teleportation device, if you will."
"Exactly," Quinn-1 said. "That Bennish double's timer gave me all the answers I needed."
"Brilliant," Arturo said.
"Thanks," Quinn-1 said, he suddenly remembered why he had come. "But that's not important right now."
"What's going on?" Rembrandt asked.
"The Kromaggs are here!" Quinn-1 said, reprogramming his timer.
"Not again," Quinn thought.
"At the lab?" Arturo asked.
"No, they're everywhere!" Quinn-1 said, a note of panic in his voice. "All over the world!"
"Wait!" Rembrandt said. "I thought the Kromaggs aren't invading anymore!"
"This might be a last ditch effort to do as much damage as they can before completely retreating," Quinn said.
"There's no time to argue this!" Quinn-1 said. "Let's go!"
He opened another clear vortex, and the five sliders jumped inside.
The sliders landed inside the laboratory, and Quinn-1 immediately ran to a separate room.
"Well, Mr. Mallory," Arturo said, surprised to see the facility repaired so well after the attack. "You've done a good job of cleaning up the place. It looks better than it did when we first left!"
"We can talk about the redecorating later," Quinn-1 said. "We have more important things to focus on now."
"What do you want?" Rembrandt asked. "Do you want us to fight?"
"No," Quinn-1 said. "The military can do that. I need you to help me work on this virus."
"You have the virus?" Quinn asked.
"It was dropped off here," Quinn-1 said. "Along with this."
Quinn-1 pulled out a device from his pocket.
"That's the device that Dr. Laze created!" Arturo said.
"Laze?" Quinn-1 asked, surprised.
"Yeah, we met up with him again," Rembrandt said.
"And it appears he has begun to reform himself," Arturo added.
"What's it for?" Quinn-1 asked.
"Running," Quinn said before Arturo could answer.
Quinn didn't mind that Quinn-1 was asking for his help, but it seemed he was dealing with the Kromaggs a lot. And the last two times, he had narrowly averted death. He knew luck wouldn't be on his side three times in a row.
"It's the term used for someone that spreads the Kromagg virus," Quinn said. "They use that device to safely travel from world to world, carrying and spreading the virus."
"But this isn't a sliding device," Quinn-1 said. "I've analyzed it, and I couldn't tell you what it does.
"It protects people from the Slide Trap," Arturo said.
"The Kromaggs got it?" Quinn-1 said, completely surprised. "And I'm guessing they stole it from Laze's world."
"That's what we've assumed," Arturo said.
"And I'm sure when they were downloading the information, they came across our information," Quinn-1 said. "Which they used to figure out my world."
Rembrandt was suddenly worried. If the Kromaggs had taken over Quinn-1's world with information from the Slide Trap, could they have pulled the information about Earth Prime.
"You don't know that," Arturo said, noticing that Rembrandt looked worried. "And even if it did, it isn't your fault."
"Don't try to ease the pain, Professor," Quinn-1 said. "Just because there was nothing to do about it doesn't mean that it isn't my fault. If I don't drop Laze off, then he doesn't create the Slide Trap. If he doesn't create the Slide Trap, the Kromaggs don't steal it."
"Don't be so vain," Arturo said. "If Laze didn't create the Slide Trap, someone else would have. But Laze has created a way around it, and that will help humanity in countless ways."
While Quinn-1 and Arturo spoke, Rembrandt slipped over to Quinn.
"If they took the information about Quinn's world," Rembrandt said. "Could they have figured out our coordinates?"
"It's possible," Quinn said. "I'm not going to lie to you. But I doubt it; the Kromaggs wouldn't have any reason to suspect that you're from different worlds from Quinn. They might've found information, but they probably discarded it."
Quinn wasn't sure that was true, but he wanted to reassure Rembrandt that Earth Prime was probably safe.
But they had another reason to get home as fast as possible.
A lab attendant ran by, but Quinn-1 stopped him.
"Do you have an update?" Quinn-1 asked.
"Yes," the attendant said. "The army is pushing back the Kromagg invasion force, but new vortices are opening up everywhere. They say that they could be overwhelmed if something doesn't happen."
"What about the other countries?" Quinn-1 asked.
"They're not doing so good," the attendant said. "The forces in Europe seem to be holding, but most of the rest of the world fell without much of a fight. The attack was too fast for some of the Third World countries."
"We need that virus now!" Quinn-1 exclaimed.
"What do you have to do?" Quinn asked.
"It came with a note," Quinn-1 said. "It said to activate the virus, and then to release it. But no one here has any idea what they're talking about."
"I'll take a look at it," Quinn said. "I've recently come into contact with it, and I might be able to help you out."
"Thanks," Quinn-1 said, extending his hand.
"We should begin immediately," Arturo said.
Rembrandt called the attendant over.
"Do you know if the Dominion hotel is safe?" Rembrandt asked.
"Nowhere is safe," the attendant said. "The Kromaggs can open vortices wherever they want. But the military is trying to keep fighting out of the major cities, so for the moment, the whole city is safe."
"Okay," Rembrandt said, calling Wade over with his hand. "We're going to try and hold up at the Dominion. We're just as safe there, and we don't want to get in the way."
"Be careful," both Quinns said simultaneously.
"We will," Wade said.
Wade was worried. Not only was she concerned about her world, but now she knew that she would have to choose which Quinn to stay with. And she wasn't looking forward to that at all.
When Rembrandt and Wade reached the Dominion Hotel, they found it to be completely abandoned. In fact, much of the area seemed to have been abandoned since the Kromaggs arrived.
"Spooky," Wade said. "You think we should stay here?"
"They said we'd be as safe here as anywhere else," Rembrandt said, walking into the hotel. "Besides, we'll have the whole place to ourselves."
However, as they walked up to their usual suite, he and Wade found several homeless people living in the hotel. They looked scared, but Rembrandt tried to show that he didn't mean any harm.
When they reached the room, they found the door slightly ajar. Inside, they expected to find more homeless, but Colin Mallory was sitting on the couch.
"You have a lot of nerve coming here!" Rembrandt said, stepping in front of Wade.
"Remmy!" Colin said. "Don't be angry with me! I can explain everything."
"Get out of here!" Rembrandt said. "Unless you want to explain it to my fists."
Colin backed off as a sign of peace.
"You have to trust me," Colin said softly. "I can explain."
"Give him a chance," Wade whispered to Rembrandt.
Rembrandt didn't want to put himself or Wade into any kind of danger, but he felt that he could listen to Colin's explanation.
"Okay," Rembrandt said. "Explain."
"I was under Kromagg influence," Colin said.
"And how do we know that you're still not under a Kromagg influence?" Rembrandt asked.
"I have no proof that I'm not," Colin said.
"So I have to trust you?" Rembrandt said. "You want me to trust you after what you did to Quinn?"
Rembrandt recognized that Colin was more human than he had been before. But if he was deceitful before, it was more than possible that he could be doing it again.
"That's all I ask," Colin said.
"I'm not sure I can do that," Rembrandt said.
"I understand," Colin said. "But you need to take me to Quinn. It's very important that I talk with him."
Rembrandt didn't trust Colin, but Wade saw the humanity in his eyes. Maybe she was being na´ve, but she believed him.
"He's at the lab," Wade said. "We can take you to him if you want."
Rembrandt was slightly surprised at Wade, but he knew she was a very accepting person.
"Fine," Rembrandt said, as Wade and Colin seemed to be asking for his permission. "But we're not going now. We both need some rest, and we need to let Quinn do his work."
"Okay," Colin said. "As long as I get to see Quinn, I suppose I can wait."
Arturo and the two Quinns had been working on the virus for about an hour, but they were having trouble activating the virus.
"Blast!" Arturo said after another attempt failed. "I'm a scientist, not a doctor!"
"I hope I'm not the only one who thought of this," Quinn said. "But shouldn't we be giving this stuff to a doctor?"
"I have an idea," Quinn-1 said sarcastically. "How about we keep arguing and get less work done?"
"No," Quinn said. "Because we need to spend more time updating your comedic material."
"Oh that's funny," Quinn-1 replied. "But didn't you say that you were familiar with this virus?"
"Yes, I did some research," Quinn said. "But the fact that I was under Kromagg supervision made it a little harder to fully concentrate."
"Let's try to focus, you too," Arturo said. "Now, what progress have we made?"
"Other than figuring out what won't work," Quinn said. "Nothing. We've used every type of energy and current that we can think of, but nothing has activated this."
Suddenly, Quinn-1 put a finger up and smiled. Without saying a word, he jogged to another room in the facility.
"Okay," Quinn said. "What was that?"
Suddenly, Quinn-1 returned with a dictionary in his hand. He flipped through the pages, and he held the book in hands ceremoniously.
"Activate," he said. "'To induce radioactivity.'"
The three scientists all immediately felt very stupid.
"Of course!" Quinn exclaimed.
"Think of the irony," Arturo said. "Three physicists and we didn't even think to use the physics term."
Arturo laughed as he prepared the experiment.
"Wait!" Quinn said. "Didn't we use radioactivity before?"
"Yeah," Quinn-1 said. "I told you to do it about 20 minutes ago!"
"No, you didn't!" Quinn said, putting down the vial.
"Yes I did!" Quinn-1 responded.
"Stop it, you two!" Arturo said. "Are you all doubles of each other or brothers?"
Quinn stopped laughing.
"I don't have a brother," Quinn said coldly.
"You did for a while," a voice said.
Quinn looked over to see who spoke, and he saw Colin.
"Don't be angry," Colin said, noting Quinn's reaction. "Let's talk first."
Quinn was reluctant to go with his brother, but he wanted some answers. He knew he was going to be more careful, however.
"Go on, Mr. Mallory!" Arturo said. "We can do this without you."
"Thanks, Professor," Quinn said.
Rembrandt quickly approached Quinn.
"He says he was being controlled by the Kromaggs," Rembrandt whispered. "I'm not sure that I trust him, but his story sounds legit."
"Well," Quinn responded. "We'll see."
The trio entered an office and sat down.
"I must explain something," Colin said as everyone sat down.
"I think that you should," Rembrandt said.
"First tell us how you became a Kromagg spy," Quinn said, getting right to the point.
"Brother, listen to," Colin said before being interrupted by Quinn.
"Don't call me that!" Quinn said angrily.
"I understand why you'd be angry," Colin said. "But you shouldn't be angry with me; I was under Koliton's control."
That name sent shivers down Quinn's spine. For some reason, that Kromagg had some sort of connection to his family, and he wanted to know why.
"He kidnapped me from my world about a year before I met you," Colin said. "He completely brainwashed me in a plot to return the Kromaggs to their homeworld. He reprogrammed me to work with you to find Kromagg Prime, and they would use the tracking device inside you to invade."
"So, they were using both of us," Quinn said.
"Exactly," Colin said. "But when I became unstuck, he saved me and sent me to another Kromagg brainwashing center. After trying another way to capture and use you, he brought me back and reprogramed me to bring you to his laboratory."
"What's so important about me?" Quinn asked.
"They were intrigued by you when you were first captured four years ago," Colin said. "They were going to use you to bring them back to Kromagg Prime, and now they think you hold the key to defeating the human virus."
"Wait," Rembrandt said. "If this Kromagg had such a strong control over you, how did you escape?"
"Yeah," Quinn said. "Especially since he apparently has the ability to control minds throughout the multiverse."
"Koliton has one of the strongest minds in the Kromagg Dynasty," Colin said. "But when he contracted the virus, he lost his control over me."
"Wait," Quinn said, in the middle of an epiphany. "You're the one that saved me!"
"Yes," Colin said. "As soon as I was released from Koliton's grasp, we shared a mental bond, and I was able to see what he was seeing. I realized what I had done, and I realized I had to get you out of there."
"Why didn't you reveal yourself?" Quinn said.
"Would you have jumped inside the vortex if you knew it was I who created it?" Colin asked.
"Good point," Quinn said. "But I'm still confused on what this all has to do with me. Is it because of our home world?"
"That was a lie," Colin said. "Neither of us are from Kromagg Prime."
"This is it," Quinn thought. "The revelation I had been searching for for the last three years."
"It was actually an ingenious plan," Colin said. "He molded a captured Earth to make it look like your home world. Then, they altered your quantum signature slightly, so that it would look like you were from another Earth."
"What about me?" Rembrandt said.
"They altered you all as well," Colin said. "So that any scans would send you to their false world."
"That explains why the world I landed on was empty," Rembrandt said.
"Exactly," Colin said. "When they abandoned the project, they completely abandoned the false world."
"So, my mother on that Earth, the microdots, the stories," Quinn said. "They were all part of an elaborate way for me to do their dirty work for them."
"Pretty much," Colin said. "Like I said, it was an ingenious plan."
"I can't believe this," Quinn said. "It's like everything I've learned over the last few years is a lie."
"But isn't that good?" Rembrandt said. "You're really from Earth Prime, along with the rest of us."
"No," Quinn said. "That part is great. The idea that I was the lost son of the greatest scientists that ever lived was pretty cool. The fact that I'm just a normal guy is sort of a let down."
"You're not normal, Q-Ball," Rembrandt said.
"Thanks, Remmy," Quinn said, laughing.
"No, seriously," Rembrandt said. "From the sound of it, you are really important to the Kromaggs."
"Yes," Colin said. "For years, they put all their hopes of returning to their homeworld on you. You may not be the lost son of Kromagg Prime, but you're a key player in the struggle between Kromaggs and humans."
"I guess that's cool too," Quinn said. "But I feel so stupid. I mean, I was just as much of a Kromagg pawn as you were. But I can't blame my problem on mind-control."
"It was a perfect plan," Colin said. "There was no way for you to recognize their intentions."
"Yeah," Rembrandt said. "Plus, you outsmarted them. Their plan failed."
"Only because I failed," Quinn said. "I was trying to get back to Kromagg Prime, and I couldn't do it."
"Don't look at it that way," Rembrandt said. "Now, Colin, I'm curious. You said that we were all given new quantum signatures."
"Correct," Colin responded.
"Is there any way to reverse that?" Rembrandt asked.
Colin smiled, and pulled a small device from his pocket.
"Yes," he said. "I'm going to use this on you, and it will restore your original quantum signature."
Colin activated the device, and a blue light shined on Rembrandt and Quinn. Then, a red light flashed, causing Rembrandt and Quinn to quickly close their eyes.
"What was that?" Quinn said. "Are you trying to blind us?"
"Sorry," Colin said. "I've never used this before."
"And it worked?" Rembrandt asked.
"It will take longer than that," Colin said. "But eventually, your signatures will be returned to normal."
A little dazed from all the revelations, Quinn, Rembrandt and Colin returned to the laboratory as Arturo and Quinn-1 finished their experiments.
"Did it work?" Quinn asked.
"I think it did," Quinn-1 said, smiling. "It definitely did something. Professor, could you get me two vials?"
"Why two?" Arturo asked.
"Just in case," Quinn-1 said, smiling.
Arturo handed him the vials, and Quinn-1 filled them with the activated virus.
"Now, how do we use this?" he asked, looking at Quinn.
"Why do you keep asking me?" Quinn asked.
"You said you're the expert!" Quinn-1 said.
"I did not!" Quinn responded. "I said that I had come into contact with it. I never said I was an expert."
"You don't know anything about it!" Quinn-1 said.
"Just look and see if they told you in your instructions," Quinn said.
"I looked," Quinn-1 said. "It's not in there. I guess they didn't know we're so stupid here."
But before the two doubles could continue arguing, an alarm went off.
"That can't be good," Rembrandt said.
"It's not," Quinn-1 said. "That means they opened a vortex in the facility."
Suddenly, three scientists ran inside, followed by a rover carrying two Kromaggs and a large weapon.
The Kromagg gunner fired the weapon at one of the fleeing scientists, and he disappeared into thin air. Rembrandt recognized the device; it was the same device that Dr. Geiger had that caused people to become unstuck.
Quinn-1 and the others ducked under a panel before the Kromaggs could see them.
"What do I do with this stuff?" Quinn-1 asked.
"I don't know!" Quinn whispered. "Just throw the vial at them!"
"You think that will work?" Quinn-1 asked.
"It's airborne," Quinn said. "I don't see why it wouldn't do something. You have two vials; give it a shot."
Quinn-1 looked over at Arturo, who nodded. Quinn-1 took in a deep breath, stood up, and threw the vial at the Kromaggs.
The Kromagg soldiers threw up their arms to protect themselves from an explosion, but they lowered them when they saw that none had occurred.
The gunner Kromagg armed the unstuck weapon, and the rover slowly moved toward the panel.
"How fast until we know if it worked?" Quinn-1 said, getting ready to make a run for it.
"It shouldn't take long," Quinn said. "From what I've seen, it kills pretty fast."
"Fast enough that we shouldn't run?" Quinn-1 asked.
Quinn wasn't sure, but he knew he didn't want to risk it. He didn't answer.
"Should I throw the other vial?" Quinn-1 asked.
"No," Quinn said. "If this didn't work, we'll need to make sure we use that properly."
Suddenly, the gunner Kromagg coughed. The other Kromaggs immediately stared at each other, and they pulled out their weapon and fired at the Kromagg.
"Shoot him!" the lead Kromagg said, and the replacement gunner fired the unstuck weapon, vaporizing him.
Noticing this, Rembrandt nodded to Quinn-1, who stood up, threatening to throw the other vial.
The Kromaggs, in a state of chaos and confusion, abandoned the rover and ran out of the room.
"I'd say that worked," Arturo said. "Let's alert the military. Perhaps we can find a way to spread it more quickly."
"Yes sir," Quinn-1 said smiling.
"They left their gun," Rembrandt said. "What should we do with it?"
"I know what to do with it," Colin said.
"What?" Quinn asked.
Colin turned to Quinn.
"Use it on me," Colin said. "I will inject myself with the virus, and use device the resistance sent to protect myself from the Kromagg defenses."
"No," Quinn said.
"I can do this, Quinn," Colin said. "I need to do this to avenge what they've done to me."
"It's suicide," Quinn said. "Being unstuck will kill you eventually."
"But imagine the good that I can do until then," Colin said. "I could spread the virus to countless worlds without detection. And with the device, I could slide onto any world I want."
"That's really noble, Colin," Quinn said. "But it's crazy, and I'm not going to allow it."
"I learned a lot from Koliton," Colin said. "The Kromaggs believe it is possible to survive being unstuck with the right conditioning."
"But we don't have the same mental powers as the Kromaggs," Quinn said. "Maybe a Kromagg can survive it, but you can't."
"No, Quinn," Colin said. "When I had the mental connection with Koliton, I read his thoughts about me. He realized that I was stronger than the others. The Kromaggs have long believed that humans have the potential for even greater mental powers. However, our powers have been forever untapped."
"So you think you're strong enough to survive?" Quinn said.
"I don't know," Colin said. "But I think it is worth the risk to figure it out."
"No," Quinn said. "And that's final."
"I have to agree," Rembrandt said. "If you were confident that it is possible that you could survive the whole thing, it would be different."
"I am confident!" Colin said. "I wouldn't suggest it if I wasn't!"
"You don't know for sure," Quinn said. "You just feel bad for what you have done, and you want to make up for it. But you're just speculating and hoping, and that's not going to be good enough."
"But," Colin said.
"But nothing," Quinn said, interrupting him. "We're going, and you're coming with us."
Colin nodded, but he kept his eyes firmly on the unstuck device.
As night fell, military doctors were leaving the compound.
"I think we have enough information to duplicate it," one of the doctors said. "Thank you for your help.
"Happy to do it," Quinn-1 said.
Quinn-1 knew that he would eventually be blamed for the invasion, and he wanted to be sure that he was doing as much as he could to help out.
"What do you want to do with the original vial?" the doctor said. "Do you want us to take it off your hands?"
"Do you need it," Quinn-1 asked.
"I don't think so," the doctor said. "We have a big enough sample at the moment."
"Then I'd like to keep it," Quinn-1 said.
"That's fine with us," the doctor said.
As the doctors left, the two Quinns were able to talk.
"Are the others at the hotel?" Quinn-1 asked.
"Yeah," Quinn said. "Wade was pretty shook up when the vortices started showing up."
"I bet," Quinn-1 said. "Is she going to stay there?"
"For the moment," Quinn said. "Her family abandoned the city with the rest of the population. So, she's going to stay with us for the moment."
Quinn-1 wanted to ask if she had decided to stay with them, but he decided it wasn't the right time.
"Where's your brother?" he asked, changing the subject.
"I don't know," Quinn said.
Suddenly, the two Quinns heard a noise coming from the main laboratory.
"Oh no!' Quinn exclaimed, running towards the lab.
In the lab, an attendant was injecting Colin with the virus.
"Are you sure your body won't reject it?" he asked.
"Yes," Colin said. "It was designed to be carried by humans."
"Okay," the attendant said. "Go stand over there."
The attendant stepped onto the rover, and he aimed the weapon at Colin. He prepared to fire as Quinn ran in.
"Colin!" Quinn screamed. "Don't do it!"
"I have to, Quinn!" Colin screamed. "Fire!"
"No!" Quinn screamed, frozen in his place.
The attendant fired, and Colin disappeared.
"Why?" Quinn asked. "Why did you do that?"
"He asked me to," the attendant said. "He had a look in his eyes that told me he was supposed to do it, and I didn't feel big enough to stand in the way of destiny."
Quinn put his hands in his face, and knelt onto the ground. He was mad at the attendant, but he was too upset to say anything else.
"He was a martyr, Quinn," Quinn-1 said, putting his hand on Quinn's shoulder. "Except he won't die for the cause he's fighting for. He's going to survive; I can feel it."
Quinn stood up and walked to the street. It was a clear night, and it was possible to see the entire universe.
"Goodbye, brother," Quinn said into the darkness. "We will always remember your sacrifice. Always."