The vortex opened in an abandoned alley. Remmy, Arturo, and Wade flew out of the gateway, one by one, landing in a large pile of garbage. Before any of them could get out of the way, Quinn flew out screaming. When he hit the edge of the vortex, an electric charge struck the timer, knocking it from his hand. The charge also sent Quinn violently into the trash pile.
"Are you all right, Q-Ball?" Rembrandt asked Quinn, who was buried in a stack of old papers.
"Yeah, Remmy," Quinn said. "Thank God for lazy businessmen. I've never been happier to see a company not recycle."
"What happened?" Wade asked, still dazed from the violent slide.
"I'm not sure," Quinn said. "Something electric hit me as I flew out of the gateway, and it knocked the timer out of my hand. Is it okay?"
Rembrandt went to pick up the device, inspecting it for signs of damage. It seemed structurally fine, but when he looked at the counter readout, he looked very surprised.
"What is it, Mr. Brown?" Arturo asked, concerned.
"Guys," Rembrandt said. "We've got 48 hours on this world."
"Rembrandt," Arturo said smiling, realizing Rembrandt's mistake. "As we've explained to you before, the timer has no time restrictions. The old timer had to wait for the right time to open the vortex because of power limitations, but this device has no need for that. We simply open the vortex when we want to."
Rembrandt looked confused.
"Then why is it counting down from 48?" Rembrandt asked, handing the device over to Quinn.
Quinn looked over at the Professor. Rembrandt was right, but Quinn couldn't understand how. What was going on?
"What?" Quinn exclaimed, both confused and angry. "This isn't possible! We haven't activated the timer early, and this timer was built specifically so that we wouldn't have to. I didn't even rig a timing mechanism on it, just in case. The readout was just a precaution!"
Quinn examined the timer. It had landed on the soft pile of trash, and there wasn't any obvious physical damage.
"It's probably just a problem with the wiring or the battery," Quinn said. "The electrical pulse must have triggered something. I honestly can't say what or how, but there's a way to find out."
Quinn motioned to activate the timer, but Arturo screamed before he could do so.
"Quinn, no!" Arturo exclaimed, worried about the consequences of activating the timer. "I understand what you're thinking, and I don't understand what is the matter, either. But I say we wait for the duration of the timer readout. You're right; it is probably just a problem with the wiring. Even a small jolt to the system could cause it to act up, but we must be sure. When it is over, we'll examine it if its still counting down."
Before Quinn could respond, the timer began to make a "beeping" noise.
"I know I'm a layman," Rembrandt said. "But I know that's not good!"
The sliders heard sirens in the distance.
"And I know that's not good!" Wade added, and the group started to run to the other side of the alley.
On the other side, they reached a fence and a door. But the fence was covered with barb wire, and the door was locked. There was nowhere to run.
Two squad cars entered the alley, and stopped at a safe distance. Seven officers exited the cars with guns drawn and approached the sliders. When they saw the sliders posed no threat, a van came down the alley and parked beside the cars.
"I suggest we give ourselves up before this gets out of hand," Arturo whispered to the others. "Maybe they can explain what has happened to the timer."
Rembrandt and Wade agreed, but Quinn was too concerned with the timer to pay attention to the situation. The group slowly walked towards the officers with their hands up.
The lead officer approached, noting that Quinn was still working on the timer.
"Give me the timer, sir!" the armed man said. "You'll get it back as soon as possible, but we need to question you first!"
Quinn looked annoyed. He didn't want to turn the timer over to these guys, but it didn't look like he had much choice. He wanted to hurry and discover the problem before the limit. If not, he feared the timer would reset.
Reluctantly, he handed the timer over to the man, and the group was led to the large van.
The van drove beyond the city limits of San Francisco to a large facility in what was downtown Oakland on Earth Prime. A sign on the road indicated that they were entering the headquarters for the Department of Interdimensional Travel.
As they exited the van, many workers stared at them in fear. Rembrandt guessed that this world was worried about sliders, but he didn't want to jump to any conclusions.
When they entered the facility, the sliders were led to an empty interrogation room. As they waited for their interrogator, the group talked discussed their predicament.
"What are we going to do?" Rembrandt asked, concerned that the "flawless" journey had turned sour so quickly.
"I don't know," Wade said, feeling a need to talk. For the first time since deciding to slide, she was regretting her decision. "But I bet this isn't how they treat all of their guests."
"I don't know," Rembrandt said. "I got the impression that they don't look kindly on visitors. Did you see how those workers were looking at us?"
"Yes," Arturo said. "It was almost as if we were prisoners of war."
"Great," Quinn said, obviously annoyed at the entire situation. "Just what we need: a xenophobic world."
"Now, don't be so pessimistic, my boy," Arturo said. I believe there is a connection between this facility and what happened to the timer. I would guess that they can explain it all to us."
The wait was longer than expected. A guard came in an hour later, and he informed them that they would not be interrogated until the morning. Upset and angry, the sliders were led to small quarters for the night.
In the morning, the group was led back to the room, and they waited for their interrogator.
The door opened, and a woman walked out. Rembrandt was shocked to see who it was, believing he might never see her again.
"Hello," the woman said. "My name is..."
"Diana!" Rembrandt screamed. Standing in front of him was Diana Davis.
"Yes," Diana said, shocked. "How did you know that?"
"I know your," Rembrandt said, wondering in mid-sentence if he should reveal what he knows. "Well, I know one of your doubles."
"Oh," Diana said, disinterested in what Rembrandt had to say. "Now, to get to the point of this. What is your business on this world?"
Remmy was surprised at Diana's attitude. She acted completely different than his friend did. She was more aggressive, and far less compassionate.
"We're just passing through," Quinn said. "We're tired, and we've been held here far too long. Just give us our timer, and I promise we'll be out of your hair in an hour."
Arturo looked disappointed in Quinn, who refused to believe that there was anything wrong with the timer.
"I'm sorry, but there is no "passing through" here," Diana said condescendingly. "Let me see your I.I.D."
"I.I.D?" Quinn responded sarcastically.
"Interdimensional Identification," Diana said, obviously annoyed at the visitors. "You aren't registered with the IPF?"
The sliders gave another puzzled look, indicating they didn't know what the "IPF" was.
"Really," Diana said sternly. I demand to know where you are from. Are you spies for the Pirates?"
"Miss," Arturo said, trying to calm the hostility between Diana and Quinn. Honestly, we are just passing through. We are sliders, and we mean you nor your world any harm. And like my companion said, as soon as our timer is fully functional, we will leave."
"What's wrong with it?" Diana asked. "It seemed to be working fine when I examined it."
"I'm sure you understood it," Quinn said sarcastically under his breath. Arturo looked embarrassed, but it didn't appear to him that Diana heard him.
"The timing mechanism is counting down," Arturo said. "We have no reason to believe that it should be doing so. We were actually hoping that you could shed some light on that."
"Oh," Diana said, realizing the problem. Well, I actually can explain that, but its a long story."
"And I'm sure you'll tell us all about it," Quinn whispered, this time loud enough for Diana to hear. She simply ignored him, trying to converse with the Professor.
Quinn was annoyed, though. This wasn't how this trip was supposed to go. He and the professor had worked for months on the timer, perfecting every aspect of the design. With their collective knowledge of sliding, they felt like they could predict every foreseeable problem a slider could face while sliding. And now it appeared all his work had been compromised in a matter of seconds. And he wanted to know why.
"Well," Quinn said with the same sarcastic tone. "We've apparently got approximately 38 hours until we leave because of your little laboratory. Will your explanation take longer than that?"
Diana returned a disgusted look, and tried to continue with her train of thought.
"Well," Diana started. "I'll try to make my story short, then. I suppose it started about ten years ago, when a group of sliders came to our world offering to trade natural resources in exchange for technology."
"We were intrigued by the offer, and we accepted," Diana continued. "After a while, we even created our own sliding technology, and we began sending sliders out to scout the multiverse. Before long, our world became a center of interdimensional trading, with sliders coming from across the multiverse to buy and sell. It was an amazing renaissance for our world, and it led to worldwide prosperity."
"But that prosperity did not last for long," Diana said. "Our world had never considered the negative aspects of interdimensional travel. Call it what you want, but we are a na´ve people. A group of interdimensional pirates arrived on our world and began to reek havoc on our trading facility. Hundreds were injured in their raids, and many resources were lost."
"As time went by, things got worse," Diana continued. "We were under constant attack from these pirates, and our prosperity collapsed. Not only were worldwide governments suddenly against us, but we were shocked to find out that other worlds were upset with us as well. They blamed our world for lax security, and they demanded that they be reimbursed for what had been stolen."
"Needless to say," Diana said. "We couldn't afford to do that without pillaging our own world. It was decided that we would simply close off our world to interdimensional travel to defend ourselves as well as we can. So, we created a system that puts an automatic signal on the person's timer, and sets a two day limit on their window. Then, we would have sufficient time to capture and interrogate any sliders who arrive on our world. It worked well enough to curb the pirates' attacks, and before long, they ceased. Every once and a while, like today, we get an arrival, but they are usually easily explained away."
Diana got up, indicating that her story was over. But she looked over at Quinn first.
"In fact," Diana said. "When someone shows up, more often than not it is you. Or at least one of your doubles."
After Diana finished her sentence, a guard came in.
"Doctor Davis," the guard said. "We've had three more illegal slides come through in the last hour."
"Of course," Diana said. "Just when we think we have them. How many is that now?"
"Thirty-seven," the guard responded. "And they're getting harder to track each time one arrives. They have developed some sort of device that weakens our signal."
"You haven't lost the signal for any of them?" Diana asked, forgetting about the sliders.
"Well, we lost a couple, temporarily, but then we got them back," the guard said, worried he would upset Diana too much. "Should I alert the Lieutenant?"
"Only if you lose the signal for good." Diana said. "There's no need to cause a panic."
The guard left the room, and Diana turned to face the group again.
"I'm sorry," Diana said. "Now, I hope you can understand why I'm so jumpy and paranoid."
"I understand, madam," Arturo said. "But do you think you can you help our problem?"
"I honestly don't know," Diana said. "Your timer is one of the most advanced I have ever seen, so this is the first time I've seen this act as a problem. I could help you find a solution, though."
Quinn didn't feel comfort from this woman's promise to help. If she didn't understand how the timer worked, how was she going to help fix it?
"Thanks," Quinn said with a hint of sarcasm. He was upset with her, but he knew it wasn't her fault. She was trying to save her world, but it appeared that she had ruined their journey.
Dr. Davis put aside all of her duties to work with Quinn and Arturo on a solution to their problem. Considering the gravity of her situation, Quinn was slightly touched that she would abandon her work so quickly to help them. It almost made up for her destroying his equipment.
Quinn simply wanted to be left alone with the timer to see if he could discover a way to fix it. This timer had been in his dreams for years, and there were so many precautions put into it that there had to be a reasonable solution to their problem.
It was just affecting the display. That's what it had to be. The timer counting down just didn't make any sense. The timer wasn't built to support any sort of countdown. So, why was it counting down?
While Quinn worked by himself in another room, Diana tried to show the Professor how her security technology worked.
"Its rather simple," Diana explained. "We've created an array of devices placed around the world that creates a field around the dimensional fabric around the Earth. As soon as a sliding device passes through the field, it is hit with an electric pulse."
"Most of the time, the device is temporarily weakened so that it takes 48 hours for it to rip through the fabric," Diana continued. "I assume that is what has happened here. The device has been stunned, but it should return to normal when you make your next slide."
"But you're not one hundred percent sure?" Arturo asked.
"No," Diana said. "We've never dealt with the timers after they have left our world. That's kind of the point."
Arturo and Diana shared a laugh. Diana felt bad that the sliders were put into this position. But it would be of no concern soon...
While the scientists worked on the timer, Wade and Remmy got to know each other. Wade began by telling Rembrandt how their sliding adventure had gone. Quinn and the Professor had hypothesized that there would be entire groups of doubles, and Rembrandt had always been curious about how their adventures would have gone. But he was surprised to hear the truth.
Wade mentioned how isolated her Rembrandt had been. He was not the light-hearted friend that Rembrandt had been in his early years of sliding. Sure, Rembrandt felt like an outsider in his own group, but it was worse for his double. He never felt attached enough to feel comfortable with Wade and Quinn.
Eventually, Wade told him, he lightened up, and Wade explained that they had become friends. However, this still concerned Rembrandt, because he and his Wade quickly became good friends. It seemed so foreign to him that he and Wade wouldn't get along.
But it also made him remember his own Wade. It was nice to be with one of Wade's doubles, but he knew it would never be the same. And that it would be wrong to try to replace his memories of Wade with this double.
When Rembrandt mentioned what happened to his Wade, Wade was almost in tears. He told the story with such emotion that it was hard for her not to be. It was obvious that he loved her, and Wade felt a strange connection to her double. For a moment, she wished that she could be her double, to have someone love her so strongly.
Rembrandt comforted her, knowing that Wade was out there somewhere. When he heard Wade's last message, he felt that she was somewhere where she would be safe. So, if she was dead or alive, he knew she was happy. And that was enough to ease his pain.
He and Wade talked throughout the night, telling stories from their own adventures. But, by the end of the night, Rembrandt was the only one talking. Wade was entranced in his stories of Kromaggs, war, and danger.
The Kromaggs were even more thrilling and horrifying to her because her sliding group had never encountered them. Rembrandt found that odd because he had run into them so many times.
But the hatred he once felt for the Kromaggs had lessened. He was still scarred by his experience on the false Earth Prime, but since he knew his world and family were safe from them, he had very little reason to hate them as much. But he still feared them. They haunted his dreams, and he knew that one day he would have to deal with them again.
In the morning, the three scientists resumed their work, but Diana and Arturo were convinced that there was little they could do. If they were to open the vortex before the counter hit zero, it would most likely corrupt the timer, destroying all their coordinates. Either the timer would return to normal upon the next slide, or it would retain its 48 hour limit.
Either way, they had to wait the remaining 12 hours before the slide.
Quinn, on the other hand was more skeptical. He still believed there was a way to fix the timer. But he agreed with the Professor that it was too dangerous. Besides, they would be able to leave in a matter of hours.
With little to do, Quinn found a couch in the lobby and tried to catch up on his sleep. Hopefully, this would all turn out to be a very bad nightmare.
With four hours left before the slide, Quinn was awoken with the sound of a large explosion. A group of invaders had attacked the compound, and the entire facility was in disarray.
He rushed through hallways full of scared workers, making his way to the laboratory where he had worked with the Professor and Diana. He met the Professor in a side room, noting that Diana was speaking with the same guard from the day before.
"Dr. Davis!" the guard said, obviously shaken by the attack. "A group of the sliders have attacked the compound at the northern and eastern gates. Don't worry, though, ma'am, you should be safe in here."
"How did they avoid detection?" Diana asked.
Diana was shaken herself, and she was confused confused. How did so many people evade detection? Perhaps these weren't sliders at all, but simply some other group angry with the facility.
It had happened times before, but never an attack this strong. Many people were upset with what happened as a result of the introduction of sliding, and many people wanted to see the technology destroyed. Little did they know that the facility was protecting them from what they feared the most.
"Our guess is that they slid in en masse, and allowed a couple of their compatriots to be captured," the guard answered. "The remaining invaders pooled their resources and began their attack. In our next update, we'll need to add some kind of technology that counts how many people pass through each vortex."
Diana was amazed. How was the technology failing so quickly? It had worked so far, but she knew it was time to take the technology to the next step.
"Okay, Simmons," Diana said. "Go to the lieutenant, and you can tell him that we will be ready to initiate stage two in a few hours."
"Have we tested it yet?" Simmons asked, the worry on his face alerting Quinn.
"No," Diana said. "But there's no time for that now, is there?"
"I guess not," Simmons said.
He saluted to Diana, and he ran past Quinn and Arturo towards the command center.
"Stage two?" Quinn asked, rushing to Diana's side.
"Don't worry," Diana said. "I'll make sure that no matter what we do, you'll still be allowed to leave as scheduled."
"But what, madam, are you planning to do?" Arturo asked. "What is this 'stage two?'"
"Its our final step to ridding ourselves of attack," Diana said. "Our government was seeking a quick solution when the first attacks came. Our current defense system is simply a temporary fix. Our main objective is to create a system that will completely close our interdimensional borders to all travel."
Arturo was shocked. Diana seemed to have a love for sliding technology, and now she was going to be a major part in banning it?
"Madam," Arturo said. "I understand your concern to protect your world, but I do not believe that restricting sliding altogether is the answer. I, myself, am a slider, and the things that I have learned while doing so cannot be understood. It would take a lifetime's worth of memoirs to simply cover my first full year of sliding."
Arturo walked over to Quinn, who was in awe of the Professor. He knew that when the Professor wanted to make a speech, it was time to listen. Arturo grabbed the timer out of Quinn's hands and continued.
"This device shows you the mistakes man can make so that we can prevent them in the future," Arturo said. "Yes, there is danger involved, but that is the price for discovery and understanding. Protect yourselves, yes, but I do not believe nor agree with the idea that you must leave behind the most influential science I have ever seen."
Something in the Professor's speech triggered something in Quinn. For some reason, he felt compelled to help this woman, despite all the problems she had caused.
"Wait!" Quinn said. "You all are familiar with the idea of quantum signatures, right?"
"Yes, we are familiar with that," Diana said, intrigued. "Why do you ask?"
"All you need to do is set up a system that detects different quantum signatures," Quinn said. "You could basically keep the same system, and it will allow you to keep track of all the activity of any slider on your Earth. It could even keep track of how many sliders are here."
It was so simple, Diana thought. Why hadn't she thought of that?
Arturo smiled. It was nice to see that Quinn was over his anger towards Dr. Davis. But they weren't out of the woods yet.
Simmons arrived in Rembrandt's quarters to inform him of what was going on.
"I've been asked by Dr. Davis to escort you and Ms. Welles to the main laboratory," Simmons said.
"Are we going to be all right?" Rembrandt asked.
"We should be," Simmons responded. "Most of the activity is on the other side of the facility. But I must ask that you and Ms. Welles stay close behind me."
Rembrandt and Wade made their way with Simmons to the laboratory. There, they were reunited with Quinn and the Professor, who were busy adapting the technology to scan for individual quantum signatures.
"You really don't need to do all this work," Diana said. "You only have so much time before your slide. We can manage."
"It is all right, Doctor Davis," Arturo said. "You know that there is nothing we can do until the limit ends."
Quinn nodded reluctantly.
"Besides," Quinn said. "The faster we finish this up, the faster we can resolve this little problem you're facing."
After a couple of hours, Simmons reported that the fighting had slowed down significantly. There were several casualties on both sides, but the attack was, for the most part, over.
However, Diana was told that there had been attacks all over the world. And while most of the attacks had been overwhelmed, the pirates had succeeded in robbing in each attack. Even the San Francisco facility had been slightly raided.
"How surprised are they going to be when this system goes online?" Quinn said with a smile.
"I don't know how to thank you," Diana said. "I can't believe how helpful you've been, especially after you've been treated."
"Think nothing of it," Arturo said. "But please remember what I've told you about sliding."
"I certainly will," Diana said with a smile.
It was time for the slide. It was a time that Quinn thought would never come. He never thought he would have to wait for a slide again, but now it appeared he would. He knew that Diana and Arturo had hypothesized that this malfunction would disappear on the next world, but he had a bad feeling about it.
Before they left, Diana gave Quinn a disk with all of her research, so that they might find a solution later if it didn't present itself. She apologized and said her good-byes.
"Rembrandt, I hope that you find your friends," Diana said. "Give my double my best."
Remmy smiled. This was more like the Diana he knew.
"Professor Arturo, Quinn," Diana said. "Thanks for your all your help, and I'm sorry for the problem I've started. And I definitely want to thank you for your help with the defense system. I can't promise you that our government won't want to move to stage two, but I promise I will fight it, Professor."
Arturo smiled. The sliders thanked Diana for her help.
Quinn opened the vortex, and the four sliders jumped in. Diana looked on as the vortex closed.
"Oh my God!" Diana screamed as she stared at her computer screen.
She stared at the screen with a blank face. Her computer had been running diagnostics on the timer, and the results had come up. Quinn's timer was strong enough that the temporary power failure would have eventually gone away with a simple power recharge.
However, now that they had activated the vortex, she knew what was going to happen.
The vortex closed on the next world, and everyone was concerned with the timer. They huddled around Quinn, who had a very concerned look on his face.
The timer was counting down from 48 hours.
"Well, Mr. Mallory," Arturo said. "I believe that we've got a couple of days to find a solution before we catch the next slide."
Rembrandt was worried. They were running out of time as it was, and now they had to wait even longer on each world.
"Hang on, Quinn," Rembrandt thought. "We're coming. It will just take a little longer. But we're coming."