|Disclaimer: The Sliders television series' characters and storylines are property of Universal and St. Clare Entertainment, series creator Tracy Tormé and Fox Broadcasting Network and The Sci-Fi Channel. No copyright infringement is intended and no monetary profit is being made off of this work. All other characters who are not found on the Sliders television series were created by me, and should only be used with my prior permission. Posting to archives is encouraged as long as my name and title stay with the story.|
Author's Note: Beware of spoilers. This story is part of my Season 6 Sliders series, picking up where the episode "The Seer" leaves off. You should be familiar with most, if not all, of the original Sliders series, as well as the preceding episodes of my fanfiction, before reading this story.* * *
Trudging up the steep mountainside which led along a dusty trail were seven healthy, sturdy llamas. And riding atop each of those seven llamas was one of seven human travelers: Rembrandt Brown, Maggie Beckett, Mallory, Diana Davis, Janine Chen, Malcolm Eastman, and Wade Wells.
"This is sure some way to travel!" exclaimed Mallory, steering his llama across the trail. "Giddyup, Pedro!"
Malcolm blinked. "Mallory, you named your llama?" he snickered.
"I hate to tell you this," Maggie addressed Mallory, "but your llama is a girl." Maggie was riding on her own llama directly behind Mallory's.
Mallory blushed. "Okay, so I'll change her name to Conchita Jesus," he corrected himself, whimsically.
Diana snorted. "Mallory, you never cease to amaze me with your creativity."
A pale, queasy expression had spread over Janine's delicate Oriental face. "I think I'm gonna be sick," she informed the group. The increasingly high altitude was obviously getting to her.
"Just hold out for a little bit longer, Mountain Girl," Rembrandt advised, light-heartedly poking fun at Janine and her discomfort. "We'll be off this world in another minute or so." Remmy clutched the timer in one of his hands, while he gripped the reins of his llama with his other hand.
Janine responded with a nauseous groan of anguish. "I really hate high places."
"You didn't complain when we were trapped on that Dublian spaceship," Maggie pointed out.
"Well I was kind of a little preoccupied back then," Janine grunted, grumpily. "Us being prisoners of a psychotic alien species and all."
Wade scanned the view of the widespread valley beneath them. The rugged, chalky cliffs sloped upward, towering above the rocky plateaus and lush rural farmland.
"I think we've made pretty good time," observed Wade. "Those angry ranchers must be at least a mile behind us still."
"Mallory, why'd you have to go and steal those ears of sweet corn from their fields?" Diana scolded her friend.
"Hey, I was hungry," whined Mallory. "Besides, I don't see why they're bothering to chase us all the way up here."
"Probably because we stole their llamas to get away from them," Malcolm rhetorically proposed.
"It's hard to believe," Wade exclaimed, "that on this world South America actually conquered North America!"
Rembrandt laughed. "You should know by now to believe the unbelievable on other Earths, girl," he told Wade. "Especially after we stayed on that world without clothes, back when it was just you, me, Quinn, and the Professor."
"Yeah," agreed Wade, thinking back. "And thanks for not peeping at me, by the way, Rem." She smiled at Remmy, graciously.
Suddenly, the seven sliders heard catcalls and whistles screeching from behind them in the distance. A tiny moving speck could be seen quickly approaching them, making its way along the mountain trail.
"They're coming!" shouted Maggie. "Remmy, how much time is left?!"
"Not much!" Rembrandt responded, thankfully. The group dismounted their llamas and descended onto the coarse, grungy ground.
"Then let's do it!" said Malcolm, clapping his hands together. He joined his older "big brother" figure, standing beside Rembrandt as the Cryin' Man eagerly clicked open the vortex when the timer hit zero.
The portal opened against the side of one of the magnificent mountains, beckoning the sliders forth with its windy, tumultuous roar.
Rembrandt and Malcolm made their slide together, as usual; Janine hobbled into the vortex right after them, clutching her stomach as though she was seriously going to throw up.
"Come on, Diana!" encouraged Wade, over the thunderous noise of the whirling, gusty wormhole. Wade and Diana joined hands and plunged forward, allowing the vortex to swallow their bodies.
"How did those two become such fast friends?" grumbled Maggie, a twinge of jealousy in her eyes. Maggie had thought she'd formed somewhat of a special sisterly friendship with Diana over time, and now wondered if Wade was beginning to come between them.
"They bonded over fettucine alfredo a few worlds back," joked Mallory. Seeing that Maggie wasn't amused, Mallory extended his arm outward with exaggerated chivalry, offering for Maggie to link arms with him. "Shall we?"
Rolling her eyes at Mallory's corny behavior, Maggie shoved Mallory headfirst into the vortex. She jumped in as soon as he'd gone through.* * *
The gang exited their wormhole, each slider being tossed onto the fertile, grassy green lawn in one of their favorite San Francisco city parks.
"Golden Gate Park!" whooped Remmy, grinning from ear to ear while he viewed the surrounding landscape. "Good to see ya again!" He glanced down at the timer's display panel. "Only 90 minutes here, though."
"Uh, Remmy," said Wade, as Diana helped her up off the ground, "this isn't exactly Golden Gate Park." She pointed to a nearby marker that had the name of their location printed on it in fancy bold lettering.
The sign read: "Azure Gate Park."
Rembrandt's mouth dropped open in disbelief. "You don't think . . . ?"
"Stranger things have happened to us, Remmy," pointed out Wade.
The septet began strolling along the park's paved cement sidewalk, bicyclists and rollerbladers leisurely breezing past them on wheels.
"Hey, why's the Golden Gate Bridge blue?" Mallory queried. He gestured off in the faraway distance toward where a vivid blue-colored version of the Golden Gate Bridge towered over San Francisco Bay.
"The Azure Gate Bridge!" Wade exclaimed. She excitedly squeezed Rembrandt's hands. "We HAVE been here before!"
"Are you sure about that, Wade?" contradicted Maggie. "There could be infinite worlds with a blue Golden Gate in San Francisco."
Wade shook her head wildly. "No, it's fate. We were brought back here for a reason!" she insisted.
"So you guys have been here before?" asked Malcolm.
Rembrandt nodded. "About 18 months after we first began sliding with Q-Ball, the four of us found this world. It resembles Earth Prime almost identically, we thought we were actually home - - until we discovered out that on this world the Professor's alternate never slid. He stayed behind and took credit for Q-Ball's invention."
"That was pretty low," disapproved Diana. "And scientifically unethical."
"Remmy, look!" Wade pointed toward a park bench about thirty feet away from them. Seated on the wooden bench was the portly figure of Professor Maximilian Arturo, intently reading a newspaper.
"It couldn't be . . ." Rembrandt strained his eyes to gaze at his rotund, long-lost friend. "Professor?!" the Cryin' Man called out in hope.
Professor Arturo glanced up from his newspaper, only to catch sight of Rembrandt and Wade enthusiastically running toward him. "Mr. Brown?! Miss Wells?!" he gasped in his unmistakable British accent.
Wade jumped into Arturo's arms, embracing him. "Professor, is it really you?! We thought we'd never see you again!" She and Rembrandt were practically in tears.
"I knew in my heart that someday you would return to this world to retrieve me," Arturo said, his face lit up with joy. He swayed his head back, sizing up Wade's profile. "Miss Wells, what on Earth have you done to your hair?!"
Wade blushed, touching her short, bright red tresses. "You like it?"
The Professor coughed. "The important thing, my dear, is that YOU like it."
Pressing her lips together, Wade flinched good-naturedly. "Same old Professor!"
Now it was Rembrandt's turn to hug the Professor. "Good to see you again, Professor!" he exclaimed, tearfully.
"Good to see you too, Mr. Brown," Arturo whole-heartedly agreed.
"We thought you were dead this whole time," piped up Wade.
"Dead?!" Arturo exclaimed, shocked. "Far from it! I have been stuck on this monotonously uneventful Earth for the past four years!"
"So we really did take the wrong you?" Rembrandt realized, recalling the pre-slide brawl between Arturo and his evil double the last time they were on Azure Gate World, right before their departure from that Earth.
"Of course you took the ‘wrong me', you nitwit!" huffed the Professor, indignantly. "I cannot believe that wretched imbecile of a double of mine actually fooled you all for so long!" Arturo glanced around. "Speaking of which, where is Mr. Mallory?"
Rembrandt and Wade traded nervous glances. How would they break the news?
By this time, Mallory, Diana, Maggie, Janine, and Malcolm had joined Wade, Rembrandt, and Professor Arturo. They were gathered around the reunited trio of original sliders, watching the threesome with interest.
"Ah, these are comrades of yours, I presume?" Arturo inquired to Remmy and Wade.
Mallory stared carefully at the Professor. "I've seen you before . . ."
Janine switched her gaze from Arturo over to Wade and Rembrandt. "Who's the fat guy?" she asked her two friends, expressionless.
Wade stifled a laugh, and Professor Arturo acquired an offended scowl regarding Janine's reference to him. "I beg your pardon, young lady?!" he responded, self-righteously.
Rembrandt chuckled, giddily hooting one of his trademark laughs. "Perhaps some introductions are in order?" He turned to Arturo. "Professor, these are our friends who we've been sliding with for awhile." He gestured to each slider as he introduced him or her. "Captain Maggie Beckett, formerly of the U.S. Marines; my little buddy and main man, Malcolm Eastman; Janine Chen, a professional slider by trade; and Dr. Diana Davis, quantum physicist. Guys, this is Professor Maximilian Arturo."
"Pleased to finally meet you, Professor Arturo," Diana shook the Professor's hand and greeted him.
"Likewise, Dr. Davis," the Professor cordially returned.
"And this," Rembrandt slapped Mallory on the shoulder, "is Quinn Mallory."
Arturo blinked in frustration. "Nonsense, Mr. Brown! This man bears no resemblance to Mr. Mallory whatsoever!"
"I was melded with ‘your' Quinn in a fluke lab accident," Mallory explained. "Our bodies are basically compatible, except I bear some genetic differences from your Quinn."
Arturo's eyes widened. "Are you serious?!"
"It's true, Professor," admitted Rembrandt. "Maggie, Diana, and I were there when it happened."
"So you and Mr. Mallory are . . . sharing the same body?" gaped Professor Arturo, staring at Mallory in amazement.
Mallory nodded. "Now I remember where I recognize you from! Quinn's flashbacks. I occasionally receive a mental glimpse into Quinn's past memories, when his brain interferes with mine."
Sizing Professor Arturo up and down, Maggie looked awestruck. "Quinn told me you were shot by Rickman, the same man who murdered my own husband, Steven."
"Miss Beckett, I'm not acquainted with this ‘Rickman' fellow whom you speak of, but I can assure you he did not ‘shoot' me," proclaimed Arturo.
"Rickman shot the Professor's double," Malcolm filled it in for Maggie. "The Professor who we met on our homeworld was the wrong one."
"Indeed he was," Arturo agreed with Malcolm. "Mr. Brown, Miss Wells, I am immensely astounded that you were unable to see through the deceptive charade of that fraudulent rogue!" Professor Arturo was, of course, referring to his evil alternate from Azure Gate World.
"We're sorry, Professor," apologized Wade, sincerely. "We did have our suspicions about him . . . but he acted so much like you!"
The Professor sighed. "Well, I suppose what's done is done."
Remmy smacked his hand against the side of his head. "We should have known it wasn't you! There were clues that we'd slid with the Wrong Arturo . . . I even saw a freakin' shrink because I was so confused!"
"Didn't you even question the cagey bloke, to make sure he was really me?" Arturo inquired.
"Yes, but not until a little bit later," Wade recalled. "As I remember it, we were too busy running when we first arrived on the next world . . ."
Wade and Rembrandt began to narrate for the Professor some of the post-Azure Gate World events . . .* * *
The translucent, clear-textured vortex appeared above a garden in the backyard of a residential neighborhood house. Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, and the Wrong Arturo came tumbling out of their portal, landing smack in the middle of a compost pile.
"Whoa, what a trip! Another perfect landing made by Rembrandt ‘the Cryin' Man' Brown!!" hooted Rembrandt, throwing his head back with laughter in the middle of the compost heap. He slapped Wrong Arturo on the shoulder. "Wouldn't ya say so, Professor?"
"Yes, Mr. Brown," grunted Wrong Arturo, in response, "every time we slide anew I cross my fingers and pray we will land in an odorous compost pile such as this one, amid a decaying collection of rotted banana peels and putrid canine droppings!" His voice was riddled with irate sarcasm.
As the quartet climbed out of the mass of decomposing fertilizer, Quinn stared at Wrong Arturo critically. "How do we know you're really ‘OUR' Professor?"
"Mr. Mallory," Wrong Arturo addressed his former student's alternate, "I can assure you that I . . ."
"Guys," interrupted Wade, "look!" The short-haired, dark brunette female slider pointed off in the distance. A shaggy, snarling Saint Bernard was scampering toward the interdimensional quartet. The dog fiercely bore its teeth, most likely guarding its owners' property.
"What do we do, Q-Ball?!" quivered Rembrandt.
"I think we should just stay calm . . ." Quinn reasoned. "Animals only attack when they feel they're being threatened."
"I disagree," voiced Wrong Arturo. "That bloodthirsty beast appears to have us on his lunch menu. Under the circumstances, I suggest that we - - run! Run like hell!"
In a sweaty panic, Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, and Wrong Arturo fled from the garden, the riled, barking Saint Bernard hot on their tails. Even after the sliders had sprinted several blocks away from the house, the ferocious dog was still angrily snipping at their heels.
"How do we make it go away?" called Wade, referring to the dog.
The Saint Bernard lunged forward, clinging to Wrong Arturo's leg and gnawing at the material of the professor's pants leg.
"Knock it off, you hairy, repugnant mutt!" Wrong Arturo spat at the Saint Bernard. "This is fine tailor-made fabric, and you're ripping its seams and slobbering all over it!"
"I don't think it can understand English, Professor," stammered Rembrandt.
"Damn mutt! This is why I despise canines!" blared Wrong Arturo, attempting to shake away the Saint Bernard's grip on his leg.
Quinn abruptly grabbed a rake which had been leaning unused against an adjacent tree. The young physics student swatted the rake at Wrong Arturo's leg, shouting as he beat the Saint Bernard in order to pry him away from the professor's leg. Once Quinn had warded off the dog, the foursome took off running again - - the vicious dog still obstinately chasing them.
"Quick! In there!" Upon reaching a bustling downtown area, Wade indicated for them to duck into the entranceway of a nearby diner.
"The impudence of that purulent hound!" Wrong Arturo ranted from behind the protective safety of the restaurant's glass door.
"Man, I'm starving!" whined Rembrandt. "Let's get us some grub!"
Minutes later, Wade, Remmy, Quinn, and Wrong Arturo were relaxing in a leather-upholstered booth. A waitress dispersed menus amongst the four of them.
Wrong Arturo unfolded his menu, hungrily inspecting that day's specialties. "I believe I will have the Beef Wellington," he told the waitress in his uppity, declarative tone of voice, "well-done, served with a side order of steamed asparagus. To top it off, bring me an apple cobbler for dessert, and a mug of your finest beer to wash it all down with. And make it snappy!"
Quinn, Wade, and Rembrandt exchanged curious glances. They knew how their professor loved Beef Wellington and asparagus, and that he possessed an extremely large appetite. This sure seemed like their professor!
"Now if you'll excuse me, I must visit the gentlemen's room," Wrong Arturo got up from his seat and headed for the restrooms.
Wade lowered her voice. "Do you think he's the right one?"
"Well, he has the Professor's enormous appetite," observed Rembrandt.
Quinn shook his head. "It's too early to tell. We need to question him some more."
Half an hour later, Wrong Arturo returned from the bathroom, just as their food was arriving at the booth.
"Ah, a meal fit for a king!" remarked Wrong Arturo, savoring the pleasant aroma of his Beef Wellington. "Shall we dig in?" Not waiting for a response, Wrong Arturo proceeded to gulp down his food with famished fervor.
Quinn slowly blew at the steam ascending from his chicken n' dumpling soup. "Professor, we need to talk . . ."
"Not now, Mr. Mallory!" snapped Wrong Arturo, between mouthfuls of tender beef loin. "Can't you see I am too occupied right now to chit-chat?! Please, allow me to enjoy my dinner in peace!"
Rembrandt, who'd been chomping on some barbecued pieces of fried chicken, traded glances with Quinn and Wade. His eyes met theirs, and Wade shook her head slightly. She was signaling that now was not the best time to upset the professor - - whichever one he may be.* * *
"Wait a minute," interrupted Maggie. She glared Professor Arturo down. "How do we know you're not the Arturo originally from this Earth?"
"Miss Beckett," spoke the Professor, "for someone whom I hardly even know, you are starting to become an utter pain in the ass!"
Wade gave Maggie the Evil Eye. "I believe you, Professor."
"Why thank you, Miss Wells," said Arturo. "Your confidence renews my spirit." He shifted his head toward Maggie. "If you need anymore evidence, captain, I can prove to you that I am one of this group's original sliders."
"Yeah, you'd know all the details of your early adventures with Remmy and Wade," voiced Malcolm to the Professor.
"Quite right, young lad," Arturo conceded, giving Malcolm a respectful smile. "For instance, I recall one very distinct world where we encountered spiderwasps - - a lethal hybrid species which was a cross between a spider and a wasp."
"Oh, I remember that for sure!" affirmed Rembrandt, shuddering at the memory. "A giant swarm of those critters was about to attack us."
Wade nodded her head in empathy. "Fortunately, Remmy and I vortexed out of there in time. But then we were separated from you and Quinn," she reminded him.
"Ah, yes," the Professor recalled. "One of those blasted insects followed Mr. Mallory and myself through the wormhole, and it made itself at home on my dorsal area. Quinn attempted to squash the mutant insect with a stone, but he ended up giving me a rather painful bump on the head when he hurled the rock."
"Ouch," Diana said, sympathetically.
"Exactly my sentiments, Dr. Davis," conceded Professor Arturo. "We had arrived on a world inhabited by hippies, and I was forced to wear a tie-dyed sash around my forehead in lieu of a bandage."
Janine snickered. "I'll bet you looked adorable too."
"I sure remember that world. The Summer of Love had never ended!" Wade raved. "I taught astrology to the hippies of that Earth."
"On another world we visited, an asteroid was headed on a fatal collision course with the planet," Arturo shifted scenarios. "I worked with the alternate version of one of my former slacker students, Mr. Conrad Bennish, to devise an atom bomb that blasted the impending asteroid to smithereens. And then there was the time I ran for mayor of San Francisco on that world dominated by women."
"And lost," Wade teasingly reminded him, with a smile.
"Must you rub it in, Miss Wells?!" huffed the Professor, flaring. "I believe I fulfilled my debt in our wager by functioning as your slave for over a week on the succeeding world."
"Yeah," said Wade, with a twinkle in her eyes, "that was hilarious."
"Do you remember the Earth where I was a famous rock star?" Rembrandt asked.
"Yes, I was mistaken for Luciano Pavarotti by the starstruck people of that world - - the blistering idiots!" The Professor thought back some more. "There was also an alternate universe where Alexander Fleming had never invented penicillin. I was able to synthesize a primitive aspirin that provided scientific progress for their medically underdeveloped society. On another world under British rule, my double was a corrupt, power-hungry sheriff whom we helped to overthrow."
"Yeah, well on one world MY double was a mind-transferring doctor!" boasted Mallory, competitively. "He and I looked exactly like George Clooney too!"
"Then there was that world where Miss Wells won the lottery," the Professor looked at Wade, "only for us to discover that it was a system of population control. In another dimension, germ warfare plagued the planet, and us gentlemen were confiscated as sex objects by some hormonal wenches who were trying to repopulate the planet by forcing men to breed!"
"It just all seems so surreal!" exclaimed Wade. "When I think back to what we've been through together . . ."
"Not to mention becoming acquainted with the Kromaggs," Arturo ominously brought up.
"We met up with the ‘Maggs again later, Professor," cautioned Rembrandt. "Many times. They've invaded Earth Prime."
"Good heavens!" gasped the Professor, thinking of his homeworld. "So you finally made it home? . . . Only to find that the Kromaggs now control our world?!"
"Yeah, I was held prisoner in their breeding camps for a year," Wade added.
Remmy sighed. "Awhile back, I injected myself with an anti-Kromagg virus that's been living in my bloodstream. If we can ever find Earth Prime again, all I'll need to do is release my blood into the air and the Kromaggots will be wiped out."
Professor Arturo tried his best to absorb all of this heavy information.
"So if the Wrong Arturo slid with us, then you don't remember any of the things that happened later," Wade realized, staring at the Professor. "You don't remember the world with dinosaurs, or the time you went blind, or your terminal illness, or when you dressed up as Santa? . . ."
"Miss Wells, the reason I don't recall any of those events is because that wasn't me," declared Professor Arturo. "I have only studied dinosaurs in archaeological theory, I have never been blind nor have I had a terminal illness that I'm aware of, and I would certainly never dress up as a fictitious jolly fatman from the North Pole!"
"So you don't remember the talking fire flame . . . or the giant scarab beetle . . . or delivering my baby?!" Rembrandt interrogated him.
"Mr. Brown, I - - ," the Professor stopped short and blinked, perplexed. "What do you mean ‘delivering your baby'?!"
Rembrandt burst out laughing. "Are you sure you want to know, Professor?"
Arturo bit his lip, both humbled and amused. "Probably not, Mr. Brown. Probably not."
"We also met up with robots, twisters, green moldy people, little girls with angel wings, and on one world you were brainwashed into role-playing the part of Reginald Doyle, a detective kind of like Sherlock Holmes," narrated Wade for Professor Arturo.
"Dear God, this sounds like something straight out of a comic book!" Arturo exclaimed of their unique descriptions. "It may as well have been a Saturday morning cartoon! Whatever happened to the concept of historical divergence regarding alternate histories?"
"There are some pretty strange worlds out there," agreed Diana. "They do have alternate histories, just not necessarily in direct relevance to those of our own homeworlds."
"So what have you been doing on this world since they left you behind?" Malcolm asked the Professor. "How've you been passing the time?"
"The first thing I did after you left me behind was panic." The Professor chuckled. "Once I slapped some sense into myself, I began carefully documenting accounts of our interdimensional journeys into writing," explained Arturo. "I wished not to lose the precious memories I possess of our travels together."
"Aw, that's sweet," blushed Wade.
"It wasn't very difficult to do, Miss Wells," clarified Arturo. "I simply used your serialized diary entries as a guide. Once I'd finished that dictation, over the past four years I've attempted to emulate Mr. Mallory's original design for a sliding machine...I figured my only chance to reunite with you three was to come searching for you myself. Alas, I haven't been unable to reconstruct Mr. Mallory's invention, no matter how hard I try to duplicate his formulas."
"You don't have to worry about that anymore, Professor," smiled Wade. "You're back with us now. Say, have you seen our new timer yet?"
"A new timer?!" The Professor blinked once again. "What happened to Mr. Mallory's homemade apparatus?"
"About a year after you were left behind, we landed on an Egyptian world," Rembrandt told him, handing the new timer to Professor Arturo so he could examine it. "We all thought Q-Ball was dead, so the three of us chose to miss the sliding window. Luckily, the Egyptians had invented sliding technology, and we were able to swipe one of their timers."
"That timer eventually got destroyed," Maggie picked up. "Rem obtained THIS timer from one of Quinn's doubles who was being tortured by the Kromaggs."
"As you can see," Diana showed the Professor, "this timer has many capabilities which your Quinn's timer probably didn't have. It's similar to our previous Egyptian timer in that it can track wormholes, store coordinates, and travel within a 400-mile radius."
"Pretty cool, huh?" winked Janine.
"Yes, Miss Chen," consented Arturo, "I would have to agree. The Quinn who built this timing device was obviously a technological supergenius. Even moreso than the Quinn whom I knew."
"It's still amazing to me how we slid with the Wrong Arturo, thinking it really was you for so long," Wade admitted to the Professor. "Now that I think back on it, there was some evidence that it wasn't you . . ."* * *
Quinn returned to the sliders' rented room in the luxurious Dominion Hotel, carrying a bucket of chilly ice.
"Man, there's nothing good on TV on this world!" complained Rembrandt, who was madly flipping through the TV Guide. "All that's on is some wacko psychobabble, freakin' Dr. Ruth discussions about sexual disfunctions . . ."
"Please, Mr. Brown," Wrong Arturo interrupted Remmy's rant, "spare me the gory details." The two of them were lounging atop a king-sized double bed covered with silk linens.
Wade was sitting at a round Formica table, busily writing a new entry in her diary. Quinn set down the bucket of ice and sneaked up behind Wade.
"May I take a peek?" he teased her, playfully leaning over Wade's shoulder. Wade laughed and covered up the diary pages with her hands as Quinn jokingly tried to see Wade's writing.
"You know the rule! For my eyes only," Wade scolded Quinn with a giggle.
Rembrandt came over to Quinn and amiably slapped his friend on the shoulder. "What do you say we go downstairs and hit the arcades, Q-Ball?"
Quinn flashed Remmy a friendly yet competitive grin. "You're on, Cryin' Man!"
"This, I gotta see." Wade had just completed her latest diary entry and set her ink pen down on the table. "Anyone wanna take bets?"
"Coming, Professor?" solicited Rembrandt, as he edged toward their hotel room door with Quinn and Wade.
"No, Mr. Brown, I believe I will sit this one out," Wrong Arturo politely declined. "I am rather exhausted from the last slide, and I feel like taking a decent nap to regain my strength." He sprawled out his hefty body across one of the double beds.
Rembrandt shrugged as he, Wade, and Quinn exited the room.
As soon as Wrong Arturo was positive that the other sliders were gone, he sat up from atop the bed, locked the hotel room door, and made a beeline for Wade's diary which was still lying on the Formica tabletop. Over the next couple of hours, Wrong Arturo intensely browsed through Wade's many diary entries. He eagerly absorbed every bit of information he could find regarding the past adventures of his newfound traveling companions and his own double whom he'd conveniently replaced with himself.
"They will be none the wiser," he cackled with sinister pride, under his breath.* * *
"I should have known!" Wade shamefully scolded herself. "I made the mistake of leaving my diary out in the open . . . THAT'S how the Wrong Arturo learned so much about us in such a short amount of time!"
The real Professor Arturo patted Wade on the arm, attempting to console her. "Don't be so hard on yourself, Miss Wells. It was an honest mistake. For the record, I would like to reassure you that I would never have intruded upon your private thoughts by reading your personal diary entries." He pointedly emphasized the word "I", indicating himself.
Wade turned the corners of her mouth upward slightly. "Thanks, Professor. I'm glad to know that . . . it means a lot to me."
Rembrandt had a dreamy look in his eyes.
"You okay, Remmy?" Malcolm asked his friend.
"I was just thinking of all the parallel universes the four of us explored before we . . . ‘lost' you," he said, turning to the Professor. "Then when Rickman killed the Wrong Arturo, and Maggie joined us, everything changed."
"Yes, Mr. Brown," agreed Arturo, "we have seen and experienced more than most people have the chance to during their entire lifetimes."
"Remember that world full of cannibals?" Rembrandt snickered. "We thought they were gonna eat us for breakfast!"
"I do recall that dimension, Mr. Brown," verified the Professor. "I believe while we were on that world you referred to me as a . . . ‘quarter-pounder'."
"Not to mention the world where everything ran backwards," Wade added.
Arturo nodded. "I remember that one, as well. It only proved Stephen Hawkins' theorem stating that time's arrow may point backwards in certain alternate realities. Or at least, what we would consider ‘backward'."
"Sounds like you had some pretty wild times," Mallory commented.
"We did indeed, Mr. Mallory." Rubbing his pudgy hands together, the Professor had acquired an indulgent gleam of hunger upon his face. "All of this reminiscing is fueling my appetite." Professor Arturo made his way over to a nearby vendor; Wade, Remmy, Malcolm, and Mallory followed Arturo. "Pardon me, my good fellow, but I believe I will have myself a nice, salty, sourdough pretzel," he hungrily ordered from the vender.
"Hey there!!" Rembrandt suddenly recognized the vender. It was Elston Diggs, a familiar face whom the sliders had repeatedly encountered on many past worlds.
Alternate Diggs took a glimpse at Arturo's noticeably rotund stomach. "You sure you don't wanna reconsider? Seems like you could stand to lose a few pounds, pops?!"
The Professor glared at Alternate Diggs. "Young man, I did not come to your concession stand to be insulted by an impudent yahoo such as yourself! Now if you cannot keep such snide commentary to yourself, I shall take my business elsewhere!"
"Hey, hey, easy now." Alternate Diggs held up his hands. "Was just making an observation."
Wade, Remmy, Mallory, and Malcolm had to hold in their laughter at Professor Arturo's typical outburst.
Meanwhile, Maggie, Janine, and Diana were hanging out around the park bench which had been previously occupied by the Professor.
"Well ladies, I don't know about the rest of you," Janine said, spreading her body out atop the park bench, "but I'm gonna take a snooze. Wake me up as soon as the next window opens." She rolled over and drifted off into dreamland.
Maggie sighed depressively, a forlorn and bleak expression having formed across her face.
"What's wrong, Maggie?" asked Diana, indicating for Maggie to take a stroll with her.
"Diana, I'm worried about our friendship," Maggie admitted, walking alongside the physicist. "I'm worried that you're beginning to like Wade better than me."
Diana's eyes widened in surprise. "Maggie, that's ridiculous. Yes, I've found a good friend in Wade - - but that will never change the friendship which you and I share."
Captain Beckett heaved another sigh of hopelessness. "I feel so alone. When Quinn was still with us . . . well, Quinn was my life. He saved my homeworld, and I wouldn't be here today if it hadn't been for him. Now I've lost him . . . and I feel like I'm losing Remmy too!"
Seeing how Maggie was nearly in tears, Diana sensitively put her arm around Maggie. "How are you losing Remmy? If anything, you and Rembrandt have been the glue that's held us all together this entire time."
"But he's got so much on his plate," sniffed Maggie, her eyes watering up. "He's been reunited with Malcolm, and I'm happy for him. But then we found Wade again and she rejoined us . . . I feel like I'm competing with her for Remmy's favor. And now that they've found the real Professor . . ." Maggie trailed off, choked up with emotion.
"Maggie, Remmy doesn't care any less about you than he does for Wade, Malcolm, or Arturo," reasoned Diana, level-headedly. "He loves all of us - - he's the anchor of our team. Remmy will never abandon you . . . he won't abandon any of us. That just isn't his nature." Diana gave Maggie an affectionate squeeze. "And as for Quinn, there's still hope. Mallory can feel your Quinn inside of him. Regardless of what Dr. Geiger's scientific opinion was, I have faith that we'll be able to separate them successfully."
Brushing the tears from her eyes, Maggie mustered up a small smile for Diana. "I hope so, Diana. I hope so."
Diana warmly smiled back. "We're all in this together, Maggie. You guys taught me that a long time ago. We have a pretty big mission ahead of us to complete - - separating our two Quinns, finding Colin, helping Malcolm to rescue Gretchen, relocating Earth Prime and me and Mallory's homeworld to liberate them from the Kromaggs, helping Janine get back to her homeworld . . . but if there's one thing you've all shown me over this past year and a half, it's that it's possible to do the impossible."
Rejuvenated by Diana's optimism, Maggie gave her friend a relieved hug of renewed hope.
Back at Alternate Diggs' mobile vendor stand on wheels, Arturo munched contentfully on his crispy, salty sourdough pretzel. "Mmmm, I am in heaven!" he exclaimed.
Rembrandt hallowed another one of his famous laughs. "You and the Wrong Arturo sure had the same appetite. He just took on your identity so convincingly . . ."* * *
The trolley bell clanged merrily as the bright blue trolley car carried a hoard of people - - including the four sliders - - down the sloping streets of San Francisco.
"Now this is what I call cruisin'!" whooped Quinn.
"I'll say!" Wade agreed. "I can't wait to hit the flea markets!"
Rembrandt was staring at Wrong Arturo, still struggling with whether or not to believe this was really his longtime sliding companion.
"Mr. Brown, what is the matter?" Wrong Arturo noticed how Remmy was looking strangely at him. "Are you feeling okay?"
"No Professor . . . no I'm not!" Rembrandt made direct eye contact with Wrong Arturo. "To tell you the truth, I'm not convinced that you're really you!"
Wrong Arturo crossed his eyes, trying to appear offended. "Mr. Brown, words cannot begin to describe my immense disappointment regarding your lack of trust in me. That you would honestly believe that idiosyncric bovine of a double of mine could actually possess the brains to assume my identity . . . !"
"Okay," Rembrandt challenged, "if you're really our Professor then you'll remember the different worlds we've been to together in the past!"
"Fine," Wrong Arturo huffed. "On one world, you were as revered as Elvis Presley for your musical abilities. On another Earth, Miss Wells won a lottery in which lottery game winners were expected to sacrifice their lives - - we escaped just in the nick of time. And then there was the instance when that witch doctor wanted to confiscate Mr. Mallory's brain, and Quinn met an alternate version of himself who was a slider pretending to be a sorcerer. On a world dominated by psychics, Miss Wells fell in love with the clairvoyant Derek Bond, who was up for the position of Prime Oracle. In an alternate San Francisco which served as a maximum security prison, you and I were linked together by ‘buddy bracelets'. We subsequently parted from a young lady named Michele who was traveling with us, dropping her off on an Earth with excellent health care, after bringing her through the vortex twice to protect Michele from her abusive boyfriend Sid. We've also been on worlds with Kromaggs, cannibals, a giant tidal wave . . . and need I remind you of the world where clothes were outlawed, Mr. Brown?! Or have you forgotten what I look like wearing only my birthday suit?!" Wrong Arturo's voice shook and quivered with aggravation as he recited several of the accounts he'd read from Wade's diary.
Remmy was left speechless. "Okay, so maybe you ARE ‘our' Arturo . . ."
"He sounds like it to me," Quinn spoke up. "I believe him."
"Yeah, me too," echoed Wade, sounding more sure than she actually was.
Rembrandt still wasn't completely convinced. When they had returned to their hotel room at the Dominion, Remmy pulled out a phone book and began flipping through the yellow pages. His finger stopped on the phone number for "Gatehaven Psychiatric Counseling Services."
"I gotta talk to a shrink about this," he sighed, dialing the phone to schedule an appointment.* * *
"Oh dear," Arturo said, chortling with jolly laughter. "Mr. Brown, I deeply apologize for your having to seek professional help due to this unfortunate mix-up."
Rembrandt made a funny face. "It wasn't very funny at the time." But Remmy couldn't help but allow his lips to curve slightly upward at the thought of it.
"So, Professor," asked Malcolm, "are you coming with us?"
"I would be most delighted to rejoin the group, Mr. Eastman," nodded Professor Arturo, "if you will have me."
Wade rolled her eyes and grinned. "Of course we want you back, Professor!"
"Our team was never the same after you left us," added Remmy.
Maggie held up her finger. "Wait a minute," she interjected. "Can the vortex support the extra mass?" Maggie stared pointedly at the Professor.
Arturo bristled in annoyance. "Miss Beckett, was that a crack about my size?!"
"He's coming with us, Maggie!" insisted Wade, assertively. "We already lost the Professor once . . . we're not going to lose him again."
"All I'm saying is that we're taking a BIG risk - - no pun intended - - by bringing an eighth person through the wormhole," stated Maggie, defensively.
Janine opened her eyes, emerging from her nap. "What's all the commotion about?" she inquired, irritably sitting up on the bench and rubbing her eyes.
"We're trying to decide if we should bring the Professor along on the next slide or not," Mallory explained.
"There's no question about it," Rembrandt decided. "The Professor is our friend. We're not leaving him behind!"
Arturo turned his head toward Diana. "Perhaps we should solicit a scientific opinion from Dr. Davis? She obviously knows more about this particular timer than any of the rest of us."
All eyes were now on Diana, who nervously stared back at the seven of them. "Well . . . I'm not sure what would happen. Maggie is correct . . . we would be taking an unknown risk by adding another body to the vortex . . . but we've taken that same kind of risk when we've added Janine, Malcolm, and Wade to our party."
"So what is your suggestion, Diana?" asked Janine.
Rembrandt had turned the timer over to Diana, who was carefully studying it.
"I think our odds will be much better if we turn the power up on the timer," Diana estimated. "That should increase the size of the vortex, and it should also strengthen the wormhole's capacity for mass. Of course, this is all in theory . . ."
"Well if you're gonna do it, you'd better do it quick!" Rembrandt pointed to the timer which was counting down to its final seconds.
"Okay, here it goes," sighed Diana, maximizing the power sequence of the timer. As she turned the knob, the last 10 seconds began to tick down.
Rembrandt, Maggie, Wade, Mallory, Janine, Malcolm, and Professor Arturo all gathered around Diana, who'd begun counting down aloud.
"Three . . . two . . . one . . ."
Suddenly, as the timer hit zero, a colossal vortex - - nearly twice the size of their regular vortex - - opened up above the sliders as Diana activated the wormhole. In a flash, the glimmering pink blob forcefully sucked up all eight of the sliders off of the ground, swallowing the group aloft headfirst into its shapeshifting, distorted inner tunnel.* * *
The pink monstrosity of a portal opened face-down in mid-air, and all eight sliders spilled out onto a freshly mowed green lawn.
"Yikes!" exclaimed Wade, when the vortex had vanished from sight. "I sure didn't expect that to happen!"
"Is the timer still functional?" Janine asked Diana.
Diana checked the decreasing digits. "It appears to be normal. We have 6 days, 9 hours, and 24 minutes on this Earth."
"Mr. Brown, get off of me!" they heard Arturo bellow. Rembrandt had fallen down smack on top of the Professor.
Rembrandt let out an infectious laugh. "I always could count on you for a soft landing, Professor."
The other sliders laughed - - even Arturo, who laughed in spite of himself.
"Where are we?" asked Mallory.
"It looks like some kind of golf course," Maggie observed, scanning the widespread lawn. In the distance, she spied several people playing golf, driving golf carts, and being assisted by caddies.
"FORE!!" came a loud shout.
All of a sudden, Professor Arturo felt a painful twinge against his forehead. He'd just been bopped on the head by a flying golf ball.
The Professor rubbed his forehead, trying to massage the pain. "You blistering idiot!" he reprimanded the golfer.
Wade and Remmy looked at each other and laughed.
"Same old Professor!" they agreed in unison.
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