"Are you ready, Quinn?" Wade asked, hovering over Quinn's bed.
He was asleep. In fact, he had been asleep for the last two days. The team decided that he deserved the rest and that they needed to stay the tenure so that he could get his rest.
The last few weeks had been hard on Quinn. He was happy to be back sliding, but things kept going wrong. They had landed on two straight dangerous worlds, and none of the sliders were able to sleep. But it affected Quinn the most, who was in the need of the most sleep. While Arturo slowly improved from his flu-like illness, he was the lone scientist. And that forced him to stay up longer than anyone else.
Getting to Los Angeles could be as easy as simply traveling there and resetting the sliding radius. Or as difficult as rebuilding a new timer from scratch. He wanted to be sure, though, so that he wouldn't have to add another mistake to the list.
"Get up, sleepyhead!" Wade said playfully.
"I'm up! I'm up!" Quinn screamed, covering his eyes from the bright lights of the room. "Has it been six hours already?"
"Six hours?" Wade said, slyly. "Well, yeah, technically."
"How long has it been?" Quinn asked.
"Well, six hours and a day and a half," Wade said with a smile.
But Quinn looked annoyed. He didn't want to waste any more time than he had to, even at the risk of his own health. In a journey like this, every second was precious. He wanted to speak, but Wade interrupted him.
"It was for your own good!" Wade said. "I don't want to hear a word about it. I just can't believe you slept that long. You should be nice and relaxed by now."
"So, when are we leaving?" Quinn asked, accepting the note of kindness from his friends.
"Thirty seconds, Mr. Mallory," Arturo said.
Quinn, startled, fell out of his bed. He was already fully clothed, so he was immediately ready to go.
Arturo opened the vortex, and he jumped inside. Wade smiled at Quinn and jumped in herself.
"After you, 'sleepyhead,'" Rembrandt said with a smile.
Quinn shook his head, laughed, and jumped inside the gateway. Rembrandt followed him in before the vortex closed behind him.
Inside the tunnel, Rembrandt looked on at Quinn, ahead of him. Suddenly, Quinn made a quick turn to the left, traveling much faster than usual..
"Oh no," Rembrandt thought, expecting a much rougher landing than usual.
But he didn't follow Quinn. The tunnel Quinn entered closed up, and Rembrandt continued forward. That had never happened before, and that worried him.
On the other side, Rembrandt landed alone. He looked around for the others, but they were nowhere in sight. Strange things had happened inside the vortex, but nothing like this. Rembrandt thought as hard as he could, but he could only come up with one explanation. His friends had landed on another world.
And he was alone without a timer. Unless a miracle happened, he was home.
Inside a laboratory, a man watched as his panel lit up like a Christmas tree. He smiled and pressed the appropriate buttons on the panel.
Seconds later, a vortex opened inside a large transparent cage. But as soon as the vortex opened, the electricity went dead, and the emergency lights came on just in time to see Quinn tumble out of the gateway.
"Well, if it isn't Quinn Mallory," the man said. "I haven't seen one of you in quite a while. I was beginning to think that I had succeeded. Well, once the power comes back, you'll be dead like the others. Enjoy your temporary freedom."
Quinn looked up, and he was shocked to see the familiar face. He couldn't believe his eyes.
"Dr. Laze?" Quinn asked.
"Oh my God!" Laze said, taking off his glasses and moving slowly towards the cage. "Quinn Mallory? The Quinn Mallory? Do you know what that means? That means my crusade is almost over! And I actually get to watch you die!"
Arturo didn't like the sound of that. He was curious who this man was, especially since Quinn and Wade seemed to know him from somewhere.
"So," Laze said, giddy with excitement. "Did you make it home?"
Laze knew the answer, but he asked nonetheless. He hated Quinn, but he respected his intelligence. He knew that he had the potential to get back home. He also didn't recognize the older gentleman with him.
"In fact I did," Quinn said smugly. "Now I've begun another journey."
"Oh," Laze said sarcastically. "And what is your mission this time, Mr. Mallory?"
"Search and rescue," Quinn said. There was no reason to give Laze any more information than was required.
"You're always helping people, aren't you?" Laze said. "Are you going to introduce me to your friend?"
"This is Professor Maximillian Arturo," Quinn said. "Don't worry, Professor. He may be a 'doctor' by definition, but he shouldn't have the right to be in the same room with you."
"Do not listen to him, Professor Arturo," Laze said. "It seems that Mr. Mallory here has underestimated me for the second time. Now where is your other friend. Rembrandt, was it?"
Where was Rembrandt? Quinn knew that he was the last one to leave the previous world. Had something happened to him? Either way, Quinn didn't want to give Laze anything.
"Remmy is back home," Quinn said, thinking of his own Rembrandt. "He made it big there."
"Lucky for him," Laze said with a false smile. "Unlucky for you that you didn't stay with him.
Laze laughed, and he walked out of the room.
"Don't worry, guys," Quinn said. "We'll get out of this."
Quinn wasn't sure, though. There didn't seem to be any way out of this cage, but he didn't expect an easy escape. Quinn might've outsmarted him before, but now Laze had the advantage. And that worried him a lot.
After a few minutes, Rembrandt became increasingly worried. He wasn't sure if he should stay put or go looking for his friends. He decided that the best solution would be to walk to the Dominion Hotel. If his friends were on this world, that's where they would meet.
The hotel was on the opposite side of the city, but Rembrandt decided to walk. Just in case he was now home, he wanted to explore this world. Maybe he would get lucky and he'd find out he was on the Seer's world.
"Quinn," Arturo said, breaking Quinn out of a trance. "I think I've figured it out."
Quinn was staring at Laze's control panel. If he couldn't think of something quickly, they would all be dead. But he couldn't stop thinking about what happened. But Arturo broke his concentration.
"How to get out of here?" Quinn said.
"No," Arturo said. "How to change the sliding radius. We'd have to wait for the entire two days to pass and simply slide."
"How does that change anything?" Wade asked, trying to keep her mind of the impending danger.
"My dear, Miss Welles," Arturo said, jokingly. "We travel to Los Angeles during that time. The sliding radius should reset, theoretically."
"I don't like how that sounds," Wade said.
"Don't worry, Wade," Quinn said. "It'll work, but that will have to wait. We're getting out of here in six hours."
Quinn was hoping that was true. If the power outage lasted long enough, then they would be able to slide. Of course, he could simply open the vortex early, but that would be his final option. He assumed there would be plenty of warning signs before the power came on, and he didn't want to essentially destroy the timer if he didn't have to.
"What about Remmy?" Wade asked, concerned. Was he killed by Laze's device?
"We can always slide back for him," Quinn said.
"Wrong, Mr. Mallory," Arturo said. "We cannot. This 'trap" Dr. Laze has created is off-line but only temporarily. We can't be sure when it will turn itself back on. When we slide, it will have been 6 hours since we arrived, and it will be 6 hours after the next world. By then, I'm guessing, it will be back online, and we will be eradicated upon arrival. I say we take advantage of the situation, and try and reason with him."
"I don't think he wants to reason," Wade said.
"Definitely not," Quinn said. "Trust me, Professor. I've dealt with this guy. We outsmarted him once, but luck was on our side. And lightning doesn't strike twice."
"What happened between you all?" Arturo asked, not fully sure that Quinn would answer. But he wanted everyone to keep talking to keep their minds of what could happen.
"A few years back," Quinn said. "We came upon a world where Sweden was in control of the United States. A very strange world. Laze was the head of a lab trying to create a sliding device. We helped him at first, but during our stay, his lab was attacked.
"Laze claimed it was a group of anti-technology activists," Quinn continued. "After a while, they broke through the lab's defenses. Laze helped us escape, but not before I saw one of them. They were wearing army uniforms."
Arturo didn't seem surprised.
"You see, Laze was a fugitive," Quinn said, confirming the Professor's suspicions. "He was hiding out in the lab, trying to escape to a parallel world. The lab apparently didn't know that he was a fugitive, and he wasn't holding them hostage or anything. But as we escaped, I confronted him on this. He admitted, and we acted as if it didn't phase us. We were cornered in the underground systems, and we were forced to take him with us.
"But on the next world," Quinn said, with a hint of shame in his voice. "We just left him. We felt that was punishment enough."
Even though the sliders didn't see him, Laze sat quietly, listening to Quinn's story. He took the opportunity to break the silence.
"And that's it, Mr. Mallory?" Laze said sarcastically. "That's how you would like to think it ended. Unfortunately, its not. Yes, you did drop me off on a world, and in a way, it was what I wanted. But in the next few weeks, my new world was attacked."
Quinn was shocked. That's why he was so bent on revenge. It was all his fault. Countless numbers of his doubles were killed because of his mistake.
"The Kromaggs attacked my world, taking me prisoner," Laze said. "Luckily for me, that world was freed by the Interdimensional Police relatively quickly, and I was freed. I asked if I could have a lab on some world to do some research. They agreed, but supervised me for a while. I spent several weeks working on a better defense against Kromagg attacks. That, of course, was my cover-story. I wanted to destroy you, but that wasn't enough. I knew there were more of you out there, so I decided to kill all of you. The Slide Trap pulls your vortex into this "cage", and immediately kills vaporizes anything that comes through."
Quinn looked up at the corners of the cage. Turret-like devices stood ready to strike at any moment.
"And as much fun as it is to watch you squirm," Laze said. "It will be twice as much fun to watch you die."
Quinn looked back at his two friends. Wade was trembling, and Arturo looked worried as well. It didn't seem that Laze was in the mood to discuss their release.
They were in big trouble.
On the way to the hotel, Rembrandt couldn't help but notice all the "help wanted" signs in the shop windows. He didn't want to think about it, but he kept imagining that he'd have to walk into one of them in a couple days to get a job.
That thought scared him. Could he really go after a permanent job, or would he hold out for the slim chance that someone would find him?
He just wanted to make it to the hotel. There was still a chance that his friends were there. But on the way, Rembrandt couldn't help but notice that a man in a restaurant across the street was staring at him.
"Mr. Brown?" the man screamed.
Rembrandt didn't recognize the man, who was now running towards him.
"Are you talking to me?" he asked.
"You're Rembrandt Brown, right?" the man asked, gasping for breath.
"Yes," Rembrandt said, curious. "Who are you?"
"My name is Lester Burns," the man said. "You slide with Quinn Mallory, right?"
Rembrandt was frozen. The man had said "slide." How did he know about sliding?
"How do you know about all this?" Rembrandt asked.
"I was an assistant of Dr. David Laze," Lester said. "He runs a lab down the street. Your picture was in a file in the lab along with Quinn Mallory's."
"What?" Rembrandt thought. "This guy has a file on us? This guy has to be connected with what has happened."
"Are you a slider?" Lester asked. "I mean, you have to be, right? Because I did some research and none of the people in the files exist."
"Yes," Rembrandt said, annoyed with the man. "I am a slider. Now, I've answered your questions. You answer one of mine. What's going on?"
"I'm trying to figure out that myself," Lester said. "You slid in recently?"
Rembrandt nodded, causing Lester's eyes to open wind.
"That means his trap is off-line," Lester said softly. "If it was on, you would have been killed."
"What?" Rembrandt exclaimed, but Lester was deep in thought.
"That must mean that his security is offline," Lester said. "Thank you for your assistance."
Lester started running away, but Rembrandt grabbed his arm tightly.
"Wait," Rembrandt said. "You're not going anywhere until you tell me what's going on. Do you know what has happened to my friends?"
"Your friends?" Lester asked.
"I was sliding with some of my friends," Rembrandt said. "The vortex split in two directions at one point, and they went one direction. Then, that tunnel closed and I went another direction, and I landed here alone."
"It must have occurred while you all were in the vortex," Lester said. "How long into the slide?"
"I don't know," Rembrandt said, trying his best to think back correctly. "About half-way?"
"Then, your friends probably survived," Lester said. "They were pulled towards his cage, but they are probably still alive in the complex."
So, his friends were alive and on this world. If there was any way they could be rescued, Rembrandt was going to do it.
"Let's help each other," Lester said. "I need to get into the complex, and you need to save your friends."
Lester extended his arm.
"Partners?" Lester said with a smirk.
"Sure," Rembrandt responded.
He didn't trust this man, but he felt he didn't have any other choice. If anything, he could just point Rembrandt into the right direction. If he could just find out where his friends were, he'd be halfway there.
Quinn was starving. He hadn't eaten a good meal in a couple days, and now he could feel the effects. His body felt refreshed from the extra rest, but he knew he needed food to recharge. But since Laze expected them to be dead soon, there was no way he would waste food on them.
The other sliders were getting restless. Wade didn't know how to handle the situation, so she did the only thing she could think of. She talked to Laze, who was working furiously.
"What's the problem?" Wade said, trying to act as sincere as she could to this madman.
Laze was annoyed, but nevertheless, he answered her question.
"My equipment uses quite a bit of energy," Laze said, unable to fight Wade's charm.. "I had been meaning to let it rest for a while, but its been a busy catching season. My main power source died off quite a while back. I guess my auxiliary power died as soon as it pulled your gateway to the cage. But don't worry, my dear. It will all be over soon."
Wade was surprised. Was he this cruel last time? But she couldn't help but notice something on his face. It almost seemed as if he was heartbroken, and that he was forcing himself to act cruel. If she was right, it seemed like he wasn't glad to see Quinn die. But that he just wanted the killings to stop.
"Don't worry about me," Laze said. "The main source starts to recharge immediately after it runs out of power. If my calculations are correct, it should be starting any minute."
Laze smiled and went back to work.
A cab quickly took Lester and Rembrandt to Laze's downtown laboratory. It was unmarked, but it looked more magnificent than the other buildings in the area.
Lester pointed to a laser, meant to protect the door from intruders.
"No power," Lester said. If the lab was working, that laser would be on. Its okay; let's just be careful."
Lester wasn't positive that he was correct. Laze could've easily placed a new system that simply appeared to be offline to catch people trying to break in. But there was no time to second-guess himself. Time was running out.
Rembrandt and Lester walked through, unharmed.
"Everything's clear," Lester said, sighing.
"But the door's aren't open," Rembrandt said.
"Don't worry," Lester said. "Laze is the kind of person who will change his entire security system every month, but he never changes the code on the keypad. He says he doesn't have any more room in his head for things like that."
"Good for us," Rembrandt said, knowing things were about to get much worse.
Lester quickly punched in the correct numbers and the doors opened.
"Let's go!" Lester said, running towards the area with the Slide Trap. But he stopped when he reached a locked door.
"What's wrong?" Rembrandt said, looking at the door.
"He changed this," Lester said, pointing out the slot for an ID card. "This used to be a keypad, just like the outside door. I guess the bastard finally brightened up."
"Can we go around?" Rembrandt said. "Or bust through the door somehow?"
"Not unless you have a bulldozer or two," Lester said. "That wall is probably made of at least four feet of pure steel. It would take a week to 'bust through.'"
Lester looked up at the ventilation system.
"But with the power off," Lester said. "There could be other ways of getting in."
The sliders heard a buzzing sound coming from another part of the lab. Instantly, they were all at alert. Quinn pulled the timer out of his pocket, noting that they weren't even close to the six-hour limit. And the power was coming back on. Instinctively, he put his hand on the dial.
Quinn knew the consequences, though. If he opened the vortex early, he would corrupt the timer, instantly destroying all the coordinates. It would send them back to square one. It would make the job of finding the Professor's Quinn infinitely times harder.
But they were no good to anyone dead. The Professor knew what Quinn was planning to do and he gave his silent approval.
Quinn motioned to open the vortex, but he stopped when he saw Laze run into the room.
"No!" Laze screamed "Not yet!"
Laze ran to the control panel. He pressed a button on the panel, and moved the lever, apparently shutting off the power to the Slide Trap.
"I'm not ready to see you die," Laze said. "Yet."
Quinn slowly put the timer back into his pocket, as he and Arturo gave a sigh of relief.
"Oh, and did I mention?" Laze said in a sarcastic tone. "Don't try opening your vortex while inside the cage. You'll just end up back here, anyway."
Laze laughed as he went back to work.
Inside the ventilation system, Lester and Rembrandt slowly moved towards the room with the Slide Trap. But as soon as the power was restored to the facility, the laser-system of the vents returned.
"Oh no," Lester said. They were so close to the vent that would lower them into the room.
"What do we do?" Rembrandt said.
"I don't know," Lester said. "As soon as we cross through these lasers, the vents will close and fill with nerve gas."
"That's not good," Rembrandt said.
"No, it's not," Lester said. "Move!"
Not only were there lasers, but they moved every few seconds.
"The system randomly moves the lasers around," Lester said. "Which means that, eventually, they will move enough to let us pass."
"But we'll have to be really lucky, right?" Rembrandt said, fearing the worst.
"Precisely," Lester said. "Cross all the fingers you can. This is going to be very tricky."
What was Laze waiting for? Sure, he was different from most madmen, but this was bordering on insanity. Why not just get it over with?
Quinn hated this. Was he going to do something more terrible than the quick death the Trap would've provided? What did he have up his sleeve?
Wade thought it was a good sign. She thought he might be changing his mind about killing them. She knew he wasn't as evil as he was trying to be. He was just an angry man, caught up in a situation he no longer had control over.
But if she was right, why were they still locked up?
Suddenly, the three heard noises from the ceiling. Was this what Laze had in mind for them?
But, surprisingly, the group saw two figures fall from the overhead ventilation system, causing sirens to go off.
"What in the Hell is going on?" Laze screamed, returning to the room.
"Laze!" Lester screamed, seeing the man for the first time in months.
Laze's face turned cold as he slowly walked and shut off the emergency sirens.
"Lester Burns," Laze said coldly. "How did you get in here?"
"Luck, mostly," Lester said. "It seems your device failed you a little bit. Someone broke through."
"Remmy!" Wade screamed, and the other two sliders were relieved to see that their friend was alive and well.
Rembrandt nodded to his friends, trying not to get carried away. They weren't out of the woods yet.
"Mr. Brown," Laze said, smiling. "I can't say I'm surprised to see you here. But I am surprised to see that a man like you trusted this weasel."
"If that's not the pot calling the kettle black," Quinn said, sarcastically. "I don't know what is."
Laze ignored Quinn's comment.
"I knew I'd get back," Lester said. "The others might have ignored my mission for the time being, but when I gain control of the slide trap, they'll make me a general."
"What?" Rembrandt said. He didn't like the sound of that.
Lester's face shifted, and a Kromagg face appeared.
"I knew it!" Laze screamed. "That's why you were so curious. You wanted the schematics!"
Lester pulled a device from his pocket and activated it. Laze knew it was a summoning device for more Kromagg troops.
Rembrandt came up behind the Kromagg and quickly hit him on the back of the head. He fell to the ground, unconscious.
"Get them out of there!" Rembrandt said.
"Never!" Laze said, turning the alarm back on. "I have waited for this moment for years! There's no way I'm going to give it up when I'm this close!"
"Laze," Quinn said, trying to act sincere. "There's no way I could apologize for what I did to you. I simply couldn't risk the safety of the others. But you have to let us go."
Laze was still hesitant. He didn't want to allow it, but he knew the Kromaggs would be coming soon.
"We'll take you with us!" Quinn said, realizing the irony.
Laze put his head down. He felt as if this were the end of the road.
"Fine," Laze said quietly.
"I thought you said that there was no way out," Wade screamed over the alarm. She knew he was changing.
"I built a way out just in case," Laze said. "Just sit tight."
Laze pressed a button, and a bright light filled the cage. Rembrandt grabbed his shirt.
"What the devil did you just do?" Rembrandt screamed.
"That is my way out, Mr. Brown," Laze said, pointing to the side of the cage.
The three sliders appeared as the light died down. Rembrandt smiled and ran to reunite with the group.
"How much time do we have?" Rembrandt said.
"About ten minutes," Quinn said.
Laze reconfigured the Slide Trap to capture any invading Kromaggs, and the group moved to a protective bunker.
"We should be safe until the slide," Laze said. "Remember, Mallory, you owe me one."
Just then, a vortex opened, and a group of Kromagg soldiers emerged, holding weapons.
"Blast!" Laze screamed. "His device must have shut down the power to the Slide Trap!"
"Hand over this facility peacefully, and you will not be harmed," the Kromagg said.
Quinn looked at the timer. Four minutes. He had to stall. They were too close to risk everything.
Laze didn't know what to do. This world was probably already full of Kromagg invasion troops. There was nothing he could do to prevent that. But he had to do something. He slowly moved towards the controls for the security grid.
"Freeze, human!" the Kromagg screamed, pointing his weapon at Laze.
Laze began to work faster, and the Kromagg fired at him, hitting him in the arm.
Rembrandt took this opportunity to attack one of the Kromaggs. When other soldiers stepped in to try to restrain Rembrandt, Quinn and Arturo began their attack.
With their surprise attack, the sliders were able to delay the Kromaggs enough for Laze to turn on the security grid.
"Let's go!" Laze said, pointing the group to a secure room.
Quinn looked at the timer. A minute and a half left. He still had to stall.
"We have to wait 90 seconds!" Quinn said.
The Kromaggs on the other side of the door began firing at the controls of the grid. In a matter of seconds, they would get through.
"Now, Mr. Mallory!" Laze exclaimed.
Laze looked at Quinn, and he knew that Quinn was not going to open the vortex prematurely. He opened a drawer and pulled out four weapons.
"We're going to have to hold them off, then," Laze said, throwing a weapon to each of the men.
Seconds later, the door burst open, and weapons' fire began entering the room. The sliders returned fire as best as they could.
"How much time, Mallory?" Laze screamed.
"Ten seconds," Quinn responded.
As soon as Quinn spoke, the sliders heard metal objects bounce into the room.
"Grenades!" Laze said.
"Now!" Quinn said, opening the vortex.
The group of five quickly jumped into the vortex, just before the grenades went off.
The Kromaggs opened the door and looked at room as soon as the smoke cleared. Although they had lost the sliders, they had a mission to accomplish. They walked back down the corridor to the panel.
"And this panel has the information of all the visitors?" the Kromagg said.
"And the schematics for the device," the second Kromagg said, smiling.
All five sliders tumbled out of the vortex, rushing to safety before flames flew out behind them.
"Wow," Rembrandt said. "That was close."
"It sure was," Laze said. "So, how much time on this world?"
"Don't even try that!" Quinn said.
"I know," Laze sighed. "This new world is more than I deserve. I will have to find a way to reconcile with the universe. All those things I've done."
"This is a new world, Mr. Laze," Arturo said, smiling. "What better place to start a new beginning?"
But Quinn wasn't so quick to smile. Laze might be trying to turn a new leaf, but he was still a mass murderer. He walked away without saying good-bye.
"Will he ever forgive me?" Laze asked the Professor.
"Should he?" Arturo responded, walking away himself.
As the other sliders left, Laze was left to admire his new home.
"You will, Mr. Mallory," Laze whispered. "I'll see to it."