|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.* * *
“Head for higher ground!” yelled Quinn, leading his nine friends toward an upward slope that would take them to the summit of a grassy, weathered hilltop.
A menacing gush of mud, rocks, loose grass, and broken branches whooshed behind the sliders, chasing them across the flat San Fernando valley. On the horizon, a blazing brush fire could be seen vindictively torching the nearby forest in a bright conflagration of evil orange.
“That was a close one!” Rembrandt agreed, surveying the landscape from atop the hill.
“Yeah, downtown Glendale nearly became a sewer,” said Wade, sweat trickling down the nape of her neck due to the immense heat.
“This Earth has an excess of ubiquitous mudslides,” Diana assessed the situation, watching as the river of mud knocked over several trees and swept up other rocks and debris in its path. “The unusually high temperatures on this world must cause mass brush fires, making land erosion the norm.”
“Let's just get out of here,” Maggie pleaded, ready to faint from the suffocating humidity.
Janine's fingers were wrapped around the timer. “Keep your pants on, Maggie. We still have 12 minutes before our window opens.”
The group gathered on the hilltop, helplessly viewing the wrath of nature unfold before them. Flowing muddy water plunged down the inclined slopes, dominating the landscape as it tore away at trees and vegetation across the valley.
“Mother Nature must not like this world very much,” quipped Mallory, taking a swig from his canteen.
“Who's Mother Nature?” blinked Colin, blankly.
“Someone who you don't wanna mess with!” Malcolm affirmed, watching the eroded land with dismay.
“Miss Chen, is it about time already?!” Professor Arturo impatiently bellowed, leaning over Janine's shoulder to stare at the timer.
“Hey, this device operates on its own. I have no control over the time,” Janine reminded Arturo, needlessly. She pointed the timer downward and clicked its activation button as the apparatus hit zero.
One by one, the sliders descended toward the wormhole, their bodies submerging into quantum space-time.* * *
The mouth of the luminous pink vortex burst open, swirling around with radiant luster. Each of the ten sliders shot out of the tunnel, splashing down into a floor filled with filthy water.
“Ugh!” grimaced Maggie, holding her nose as the vortex closed up above them. “This is disgusting!”
Holding their noses to repress the putrid odor, the adventurers waded through the water until they reached a plateau of dry gravel.
“This must be some kind of sewer system,” Quinn guessed, staring up at the ceiling opening not far above them.
“So we're underground?” Mallory asked.
“Looks like it,” said Wade. She pointed straight upward. “Sounds like there's civilization just above us.”
“So what are we waiting for?” Janine tapped her foot, shivering from the chilly sewage that drenched her clothes.
“Mr. Mallory, come here for a moment,” the Professor summoned his favorite student. Quinn joined Arturo, as did Colin. The academian was studying a wall of the underground sewer, made of stone and etched with archaic symbols. “I believe this is Latin,” he observed, pointing to the linguistic markings. “And see these? . . . these are undoubtedly Roman Numerals.”
“What are Roman Numerals?” asked Colin, confused.
Arturo chortled. “You still have a lot to learn, my boy,” he told Colin with a fatherly smile, patting Quinn's naïve brother on the shoulder.
The others were already climbing up a metallic ladder that led above ground from below the underground conduit. “Come on, Professor, Q-Ball, Farm Boy!” Rembrandt called out to Arturo, Quinn, and Colin. Remmy was the last one of the seven proceeding up the ladder, helping to give Malcolm a boost up in front of him.
Quinn, Colin, and Professor Arturo followed their seven friends. When they'd emerged from below, they found themselves standing on a busy cobblestone street. Everywhere the sliders looked, everyone else could be seen wearing ivory white togas, brightly hued tunics, and light-colored sandals on their feet. The buildings and structures were made of stone; chariots pulled by horses sped past them, being cautious for pedestrians on foot. Several meters away, they could see a colorful marketplace down the street ahead of them, vendors selling fruits, vegetables, breads, grains, smokes meats, cheeses, and live animals.
“Wow, we must have slid into Ancient Rome!” exclaimed Malcolm, taking in the spectacular grandeur of this new dimension.
“Or a world where the Romans rule North America,” Diana speculated, unable to take her eyes off the ornately gilded chariots which rode by.
“Wherever we are, we're only here for 2 days,” said Janine. She shoved the timer underneath her cotton blouse, in between the bosom of her chest where no one could reach it.
“Hey! It's Bennish!” Quinn spotted his former college classmate strolling toward them. Sure enough, there was another alternate version of Conrad Bennish Jr., adorned in a loosened, sleek white toga.
“Salvete, dudes!” Alternate Bennish greeted the sliders with a crooked wave of his hand as he casually walked past them, even though he had no idea who they were. Alternate Bennish stumbled a bit as he wobbled away; his face had looked completely stoned.
Wade sniffed the scent that Alternate Bennish had emitted as he passed by. “I think someone's been drinking,” she laughed, taking a whiff of fine wine that puffed from Alternate Bennish's intoxicated breath.
“You know, I think we'd better get ourselves some dry clothes,” suggested Maggie, looking down at her soaked body. “Besides, we're probably going to want to blend in with the locals.”
“Good idea,” Rembrandt agreed, and they all made a beeline for the nearest dress shop.* * *
Am I Roman or what?” Mallory spread his arms outward and did a few circular turns, adorned in his handsome white toga, as though he was a glamorous male model.
Janine adjusted the sash on her light pink tunica as she followed Mallory out of the boutique. “Yeah, Mallory. You're the man of my dreams,” she dead-panned, sarcastically.
“I'm surprised that the people of this Earth speak English,” Quinn said, emerging from the dress shop's glass doors with the others, all wearing togas, tunics, or tunicae. “Especially since this city isn't called Los Angeles, but Urbis Angeli.”
“One thing's for certain,” maintained Diana. “The Roman empire must have conquered North America on this world. That would explain all the ancient architecture . . . and why we slid into a Roman aqueduct!”
Strolling down the crowded street, the sliders blended right in with the countless other residents of Urbis Angeli. They walked toward one of the familiar hotels which had become such a reliable staple during their interdimensional travels.
“That's the Chandler!” Wade noticed it first. “Except it has a different name. Same building . . . but different title.”
“The Hospitium Chandlerus,” read the Professor, translating the language. “In Latin that literally means ‘the Chandler Hotel'. Just like Urbis Angeli translates to ‘the City of Angels'.”
After checking in, the group headed down to the Caupona Chandlerus, a Roman incarnation of the Chandler Bar. Malcolm, Rembrandt, and Mallory sat down at some stools by the bar, where an alternate of Elston Diggs was bartending behind the counter.
“What can I get ya folks?” grinned Alternate Diggs, in perfect English. He wore a tie-dyed tunic.
“Two beers,” Rembrandt ordered from the friendly bartender. He glanced at Malcolm. “And a club soda.”
“Aw, Remmy,” complained Malcolm. “Why can't I ever have any REAL drinks?”
“We says you can't, buddy?” Alternate Diggs smiled at Malcolm. “After all, it's not like there's a specific drinking age.”
“Remmy?” Malcolm looked at Rembrandt with hopeful puppy eyes.
“No, Malcolm.” Rembrandt shook his head.
“Aw, come on! . . .”
“Give the boy a goblet of chardonnay,” Mallory instructed Alternate Diggs, shooting a brotherly grin at Malcolm.
“Mallory . . .” Rembrandt interjected, in a warning tone.
“Oh, lighten up, Rem. The boy's gotta live a little.” Mallory winked at Malcolm. Rembrandt didn't feel up to protesting - his energy was too drained from the previous slide.
“Look at this.” Wade had unfolded a scroll-like brochure written in both Latin and English, and approached the male sliders at the barstools. “This information from the tourist center advertises the marble baths they have in the city. They're supposed to be some of the world's most relaxing spas, baths, and saunas.”
“We're gonna check them out,” Janine said, as she and Diana joined Wade's side.
“All right! Save a spot in the Jacuzzi for me with all the naked chicks!” Mallory smirked impishly, elbowing Rembrandt.
Diana laughed and shook her head. “Sorry, Mallory. They don't allow the opposite sexes to bathe together. Separate bathing hours for each gender.”
Mallory's face fell.
“The women's shift still lasts for another couple of hours,” Wade determined. “Maggie doesn't want to come with, because she said she's hanging out with the guys today.” Wade gestured at a table in the bar where Maggie sat with Quinn, Colin, and Arturo. “So it's just us three girls today.” She smiled at Diana and Janine.
“Yeah, I think I'm gonna ask Maggie if she wants to go shopping a little later on,” Remmy said. “It's been awhile since just the two of us have spent any quality time together, and Maggie seems to miss it. I know I do.”
Mallory nudged Malcolm. “So what do you say us boys go hit the spa after the ladies are done? After all that running we did on the last world, my bones sure could use some relaxation.”
Malcolm returned Mallory's smile anxiously in consent.
Meanwhile, Quinn, Arturo, Maggie, and Colin were seated around another table.
“My, this ‘cross-cultural cuisine' is certainly . . . interesting.” Professor Arturo popped a muffin-like pastry into his mouth. “Crumpets filled with lamb, olives, and goat cheese. I suppose this would be the result if you put Queen Victoria's and Julius Caesar's servants in the kitchen together?”
Maggie giggled. “Gotta love that cross-cultural cuisine.” Nudging Colin, she reminisced, “Remember that Mexican/Asian restaurant on Thatcher World? . . . what was it called? . . . Miguel San.”
Colin nodded. “They made one tasty Tokyo roll.”
“Well, it was inevitable that British and Roman cuisine would intermingle on this Earth,” Quinn said, sipping from his golden goblet of ambrosia. “Rome took so many slaves from Britain, their cooks were bound to integrate their recipes into the Romans'.”
“Bah! I can't believe jolly ole England was overtaken by these idol-worshipping fanatics!” huffed the Professor, shoving another lamb/olive/goat cheese crumpet into his mouth.
Maggie gave Arturo a slap on the arm. “Keep your voice down, Professor,” she hissed.
Arturo growled. “I will say whatever I desire, Miss Beckett . . .”
“So what are we doing today?” Colin interrupted.
Quinn winked. “I thought you'd never ask. With 2 days of free time, I thought we could get to work on relocating our homeworld's coordinates. You still have your microdot, right?”
Colin pulled it out of his toga pocket. “I never leave home without it.”
Arturo squinted at Colin's microchip. “Where'd you get that from, my boy?”
Colin looked at Quinn. “Our parents left one of these with each of us,” he told Arturo. “Quinn's microdot was lost when he merged with Mallory, but mine stayed with me for the entire time I was unstuck.”
“Unfortunately, the data we were using to pinpoint our homeworld coordinates was stored in the Egyptian timer,” Quinn explained.
“Which was destroyed by Claire on Seer World,” added in Colin.
Quinn continued, “Since I no longer have my own microdot, we're gonna be completely dependent on Colin's microdot to somehow calibrate our homeworld coordinates. Unfortunately, that leaves us with only half of the correct information to work from.”
“Then I shall aid you as best I can,” Arturo promised the Mallory brothers.
“Well, I'm going to ask Rem if he wants to go out, just the two of us,” Maggie said. “It's been quite awhile since we've spent any time alone together.” She stared across the room at Rembrandt, who returned her gaze.
The two close friends locked eyes knowingly.* * *
“Oh, that feels so good!” Wade inhaled and exhaled deeply, allowing the warm, steamy water from the Roman hot tub to gently caress her bare skin.
Diana belted out a laugh. “You said it, girlfriend!” she echoed Wade's sentiments, the bubbly water swishing against their nude bodies.
Wade, Diana, and Janine were sitting inside a communal whirlpool with a dozen other young women, the sultry water having risen up to their necks, bubbling merrily as it teased their naked flesh.
“This doesn't make you two uncomfortable, does it?” Janine asked Wade and Diana, her eyes shut as she leaned her head back and allowed the hot tub to massage her body with its warmth. “You know, me getting to see you both al natural?”
“Of course not, Janine,” snorted Wade, wiggling her toes from beneath the surface of their hot tub. “After having to bare it all in front of Quinn, Remmy, and the Professor on Nude World, it's nice to get to just hang out with the girls for a change.”
“Besides, we're family now, Janine. You're a part of us whether you like it or not.” Diana grinned a toothy smile and enjoyed the soothing feel of the spa. “It's like taking a bath with my sister . . . if I'd ever had a sister on my homeworld, that is.”
“I never had a sister either,” Janine told Diana. She looked over at Wade. “How about you, Wade?”
“Yeah, her name's Kelly,” Wade recalled the memory of her biological sister back on Earth Prime. “I miss her quite often.”
They sat in silence for the next few minutes, Janine provocatively scanning the view from her position inside the spa. The public baths of Urbis Angeli were enclosed within a monstrous marble coliseum. At least a dozen hot tubs were built into the public enclosure, a communal amphitheater that stretching out for many acres. In the center of the coliseum was a multitude of fountains, overhead showers, and sprays protruding upward from the tiled floor, spewing warm and cool water in all directions. All of this was housed within the perimeter of the ceilingless coliseum, al fresco. However, there were indoor saunas and steam rooms which could be accessed from the amphitheater's entranceway. Once you entered the coliseum, you were asked to discard all of your clothing before proceeding into the bathing areas. There was an abundant row of individual cubbies where men and women, depending on who was bathing at the time, could store their togas, tunics, tunicae, or stolas. Every three hours, each gender would alternately be allotted its bathing time exclusively with the other citizens of the same sex on a rotational basis.
“Too bad the public baths aren't co-ed,” Wade remarked, taking a moment to examine the beautiful Roman architecture contained in this public facility.
“No way,” countered Janine, naughtily admiring all the nude female ladies who were sashaying around freely. “The ‘no boys allowed' policy works just fine for me in this scenario.”
Diana laughed out loud. She was unusually having a good time, despite all the repressed thoughts of her and Mallory's invaded homeworld which lingered in the back of her mind. Diana knew deep down that there was a probable chance she and Mallory may never again return to their Earth. That their world may end up eternally occupied by the Kromaggs, never to be liberated from the Dynasty's tyranny.
The warning bell chimed overhead from a bell tower at the summit of one corner of the coliseum. Its carefree clanging signaled that it was time for the women to dry off and get dressed, as the men's bathing hours would soon commence.
Diana, Janine, and Wade reluctantly emerged from their haven, crawling out of the hot tub and strolling toward the entranceway's indoor foyer to retrieve their tunicae from the storage cubbies.
As Diana pulled her bright purple cotton stola over her head and slipped her slender brown arms through its sleeves, she suddenly noticed a familiar face staring back at her.
It was her mirror image.
The physicist's mouth dropped open. Diana still became fascinated every time she encountered one of her doubles.
Alternate Diana appeared understandably even more surprised to meet Diana. But not surprised by her face. Rather, Alternate Diana was studying her double's garment. “Vesta?” she asked. “I thought you had been wearing a maroon tunica?”
“I am,” piped up another voice.
There stood a third version of Diana, dressed in a lovely maroon tunica, just as Alternate Diana had remembered.
“Vesta?” The second Diana turned to look at the third Diana. “If you're there, then who's that?” Alternate Diana, adorned in a light blue tunica, pointed to Diana, inquisitively.
“I don't know,” answered Vesta, scratching her head at the sight of Diana. “I thought she was you, but then I remembered that you had worn a blue tunica today, rather than a violet one.
Wade and Janine gaped at the sight of the three Dianas. “What's going on here?” Wade demanded.
“Maybe she's Diana's alternate's alternate from another world?” proposed Janine.
Diana felt light-headed. “I think I'm seeing double,” she moaned, taken aback.
Alternate Diana stared at Diana. “She looks exactly like you and I, Vesta.”
“Vesta?” Janine squinted at the third Diana who wore the maroon tunica.
“yes,” giggled Vesta, glancing at her two look-alikes. “My name is Vesta Davis, and this is my sister, Diana.” She gestured at her duplicate self who wore the light blue tunica.
“You mean you're . . . identical twins?” gasped Wade, peering in disbelief at Vesta and Alternate Diana.
“That is correct,” responded Alternate Diana. She and her sister exchanged more giggles. “But who are YOU?” she addressed Diana, this mysterious new clone of both herself and Vesta. “You could pass for OUR sister, IF we had another one.”
A chill swept over Diana. How was she going to explain this one? Fumbling around in her stola pocket, the scientist realized that Janine had left their timer back at the Chandlerus where Quinn, Colin, and Arturo were preparing to work on relocating the coordinates to Kromagg Prime.
“Come home with us?” squealed Alternate Diana, eagerly taking one of Diana's hands. Vesta took Diana's other hand and excitedly pulled their new friend toward them as well. Diana bit her lip; her doubles were a bit air-headed, she observed.
“Okay . . .” Diana hesitantly agreed. She all of a sudden had an urge, felt the resounding need to see her parents again . . . the parents whom she'd left behind in Brentwood, to unknowingly fall into Kromagg clutches.
Alternate Diana and Vesta jumped up and down. “Yayy!!” they both joyfully chorused amid jovial squeals of delight.
“I'll come with,” Wade offered. She didn't feel comfortable letting Diana go alone with a couple of virtual strangers, no matter how much they physically resembled Diana.
“Thanks.” Diana lightly touched Wade's shoulder. “Can my friend Wade come with too?” she asked her doubles.
“Of course!” Vesta and Alternate Diana enthusiastically answered in unison.
“I think I'll head back to the Chandlerus,” decided Janine. “I skipped lunch, and I could use some food right now.”
“We shall split a chariot with you,” Alternate Diana said.
Vesta flagged down the nearest chariot, which happened to be driven at its reins by a toga-wearing alternate of Pavel Kurlienko.
“Quo volebatis ire? Where you want to go?!” demanded a bilingual Alternate Pavel, as Wade, Janine, Diana, Alternate Diana, and Vesta piled into the roofless chariot.
“The Hospitium Chandlerus,” Janine instructed. “And make it snappy!”
Their Russian charioteer snapped the reins and his stallions pulled the glittery golden chariot forward through the streets.* * *
A slippery chunk of squid sloshed and squished against Maggie's teeth as she proceeded to bite down on and chew the cooked echinoderm.
“Girl, if I only had a mirror,” chuckled Rembrandt, hooting at Maggie's flabbergasted facial expression as she swallow the unique sea creature. “You should see the look on your face!”
Maggie dabbed at her mouth with a cloth napkin and started to break into her shelled lobster with a knife and fork. “I think I'll stick with the stuff I know is safe,” she laughed, her mouth watering in anticipation of savoring the tender lobster meat.
“Hey, you've got to expect the bizarre when Urbis Angeli is a bicultural metropolis,” Remmy pointed out. He gazed attentively at the shiny, gilded statues depicting Roman gods and goddesses situated around the fancy triclinium of The Latin Sizzler, Urbis Angeli's premier restaurant. Floral gardens and miniature trickling waterfalls highlighted the restaurant's interior décor.
Maggie popped a chocolate truffle scone into her mouth, smacking her lips delectably. “British and Roman cuisine under one roof.” She leaned over to get a closer look at the sea urchin Rembrandt was sticking his fork into. “I gotta hand it to these Roman cooks . . . they may practice a crazy religion and worship lifeless statues, but they fry up some damn good seafood. The Professor would be in seventh heaven here.”
“Careful, Maggie. You're beginning to sound like Mallory.” Rembrandt awkwardly bit into a forkful of sea urchin, and grimaced slightly. “This is what we get for ordering the Mediterranean Platter.”
Amid laughs and giggles shared by Remmy and Maggie, some lively Italian music began to be harmonized from the instruments of a live band. Pairs of men and women, of all gender combinations, began dancing around, shaking their bodies to the flamboyant music. Orchestrating some rather raunchy dance moves, the toga- and stola-clad patrons had practically turned the dining floor of The Latin Sizzler into an episode of American Bandstand.
“Funny . . . they're doing the Latin Sizzle,” snorted Maggie, speaking of the naughty, forbidden dance. “Before Steven's accident, he and I used to enter these types of dance marathons all the time.”
“You?! The tough marine?!” Rembrandt teased her in disbelief.
“We still knew how to have fun on our vacations.” Maggie unfolded a scroll-like tourist pamphlet. “So what should we do next, Rem? We've raided the tabernae and bought out all their jewelry and knick-knacks . . .”
“Well, as much as we could for the decem sesterii in coins that we swiped from the city well,” Rembrandt clarified with a chuckle. “Man, those things weigh a ton!”
“How about an afternoon at the downtown amphitheater?” Maggie suggested, her eyes scanning the English print on the scroll. “Or a jaunt at the coliseum to watch the gladiator fights?”
Rembrandt took a bite of his Caesar salad. “Do you realize that this has been the first time in a long while when you and I have gotten to share each other's company . . . just the two of us?”
“Yeah. It's nice.” Maggie's attention kind of drifted off, staring toward the hormone-induced dancers who were jigging around the triclinium of The Latin Sizzler.
“What's wrong, Maggie?” Rembrandt knew his friend wasn't herself.
“I was just thinking . . . of Steven.” Maggie's previously light and fluffy mood was now broken. “His death was so senseless, Rem. Rickman deserves to die for what he did to my husband!” Her face had turned deep red. “And the ironic part is that now Rickman is the one chasing after US!”
Rembrandt placed his hand atop of Maggie's, their fingers interlocking. “We just have to stick together, Maggie. Look out for each other. One way or another, we're gonna get Rickman. We're gonna get him.”
Maggie nodded. “I want to believe that, Remmy. I really do.” She took a raspy breath of air. “I just miss Steven so much!”
Silently, Rembrandt took Maggie in his arms. She needed him, and he intended to be there for her.* * *
“Welcome to our villa!” chirped Vesta, practically yanking Diana across a cobblestone pathway which led up to the front door of the Alternate Davises' rustic country house.
Alternate Diana and Vesta had brought Diana and Wade to their spacious, enormous villa, located in suburban Urbis Angeli and situated on residential street, surrounded by other neighborhood villas.
“Hey, cool house!” Wade complimented the Davis twins.
“Thank you,” Alternate Diana replied, purposely speaking in English for Diana and Wade's benefit. She turned to address a female slave of Arabic nationality who was obediently sweeping the cobblestone pathway with a broom. “Flavia, please let mater know we have returned from the baths with guests.”
Flavia gave an odd, startled, and confused squint upon noticing the third Diana in their party, but nodded without question at Alternate Diana and then scurried into the house.
As they approached the Alternate Davises' villa, Diana studied the intricate exterior brickwork. Lush vegetation had sprouted from the ground, rooted deep beneath the soil, spread across the fertile green front lawn. Birdbaths surrounding a large, centered outdoor fountain were built in-between the blooming gardens, with flower patches trimmed around the outer edges of the structures in circular formations. Apple trees swayed slightly in the late-afternoon breeze, as several slaves plucked apples from the thick tree branches and dropped them into gigantic wicker baskets which were draped around their shoulders.
“This is our orchard,” Vesta told them, motioning with her hands to survey their family orchard. “We grow delicious apples. And these are mater's flower gardens.”
“They're beautiful!” exclaimed Wade, being led with Diana by the twins up to the front steps of the villa.
Vesta and Alternate Diana escorted Wade and Diana through the tablinum, an elegant foyer tiled with freshly scrubbed marble and eye-catching artwork on its walls.
“Oh my!” Diana gasped, as they walked from the tablinum into a roofless courtyard which was built as a separate “room” of the villa. Fragrant flora and fauna grew virtually everywhere, fertilized in geometrical patterns which were arranged encircling a monstrous impluvium. The marvelous fountain, centered in the middle of the hortus and made of ceramic, gushed out massive sprays of fresh, clear water upward, which then showered back down into the fountain's inner pool. In various corners of the hortus, the family's slaves watered growing fruits and vegetables that sprouted up from soil-filled troughs. Rays from the afternoon sun beamed down upon the ceilingless room, shooting emblazoned streaks of solar light onto the cultivated vegetation.
“This is our peristyle,” indicated Alternate Diana, of the room. “We also call it the hortus.”
“Our servants maintain the hortus, keep it healthy,” Vesta added, as a group of slaves passed by carrying baskets above their heads filled with an abundance of grapes, nuts, cherries, and dates. “We sell some of these fruits at the market on Sundays.”
“How come you speak English so well?” queried Wade.
The Davis twins giggled. “Are you sure you're from around here?” snickered Alternate Diana. “We are fluent in Latin and English to uphold the honor of our founding maiores.”
Diana wasn't quite sure she understood what her double meant, but nodded her head anyway.
Vesta and Alternate Diana led their guests through another narrow corridor, into a large living room decorated with furniture made of lovely, sleek Persian fabric.
“This is our atrium,” said Vesta. “Most of our furniture was passed down to pater from his maiores, who obtained it during the Empire's raid of Persia.”
Diana was staring at a crocheted frame hanging on the wall of the atrium. Sewn into the colorfully stitched material were the words Nos domus est tuum domum.
“Our home is your home,” Diana translated aloud.
“Why, of course,” giggled Alternate Diana, draping her arm around the newcomer, her interdimensional alternate.
“Puellae!” called out a soft voice of familiarity.
A beautiful ebony-skinned woman had stepped out into the atrium. She wore a deep turquoise stola with glitzy jewelry hanging around her arms, wrists, fingers, and neck. Her frizzy black hair was up in a diadem or “bird's nest” style, held in place by a small, silvery, butterfly-shaped antique hairpiece. The woman wore sturdy buskins as stockings around her legs and feet.
“Mater! Mater!” chorused Alternate Diana and Vesta in unison, squealing as they bounced over to embrace their mother.
But Mrs. Davis had her eyes focused on the third Diana. “Praise Jupiter! Who is she?!”
Diana stepped forward, gazing fondly at her mother's alternate. A tear escaped from beneath one of Diana's eye ducts. “I'm your daughter.”* * *
“Ready to hit the baths, Malcolm?” Mallory led the way as he and Malcolm strolled into the lobby of the Hospitium Chandlerus.
“Yeah . . .” stammered Malcolm, purposely trailing behind his friend. He couldn't help but stare at Mallory's moderately muscular physique covered only by his loose toga.
As the two of them headed through the glass doors leading out of the lobby, they bumped into Janine who was returning from the bathing coliseum.
“Hey, where are you two going in such a hurry?” Janine asked them.
Mallory winked at her. “The public baths. We're having a guys' afternoon out.” He slapped Malcolm on the shoulder. “Man, my bones are aching. I could really use a nice cool dip.”
Janine bit her lip, trying to repress an amused smirk. She giggled silently at Mallory's innocent ignorance. Other than Rembrandt, Janine was the only other slider whom Malcolm had confided in about his sexuality so far, most likely because Janine was a lesbian herself. “Well, have fun, boys. You get to walk abound in your bare skin . . . like Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn on their private island.” She shot a naughty grin at Malcolm, who blushed.
Mallory didn't notice. His lips were too busy forming a disappointed pout. “Aw, I still wish we could intermix with some naked babes.” He elbowed Malcolm, who was becoming more tense.
“Sorry, Mallory. You don't get to drool at any nude women.” Janine gave Mallory a wicked grin of privileged bragging rights. “Although I got to!”
“Are we going?” Malcolm asked, both eager for and dreadful of the afternoon which awaited him and Mallory.
“Take my chariot.” Janine pointed out the window. “Pavel's still out there.” As she walked away into the lobby, Janine commented, loud enough to insure that Mallory would hear her, “Damn, Wade has a great body!”
“Hey, where are Wade and Diana, anyway?” Mallory asked.
Janine stopped in her tracks and swiveled around to face Mallory and Malcolm. “You'll never believe this . . . Diana met her doubles - plural!”
“Doubles?” Malcolm emphasized the plural “s”, giving Janine a baffled expression.
“Yeah . . . they're identical twins.”
“Wow.” Mallory looked at Janine, astonished. “We've never seen anything like that before in our alternates. The closest thing would be me and Quinn - and we don't even look alike!”
“Don't be surprised if Diana and Wade spend the remainder of our time on this world with Diana's doubles at their villa,” Janine stated, turning once again to depart. “They know how much time we have before the next window, but Diana is getting a once in a lifetime experience . . . or should I say, TWICE in a lifetime?” Janine winked.
Minutes later, Mallory and Malcolm were riding along the streets of Urbis Angeli in their chariot, driven by their Russian immigrant charioteer, Alternate Pavel.
“We here! Get out!” Alternate Pavel ordered to his English-speaking passengers. Mallory handed over quattor dupondius to Alternate Pavel as their fee and tip. The abrupt Russian charioteer steered his vehicle's horses away.
Malcolm and Mallory entered the coliseum, proceeding into the undressing area where many Roman men were in the process of stripping off their togas and tunics.
Mallory slapped Malcolm on the back. “Well, let's get naked, bud!”
Bashfully yet indulgently, Malcolm felt himself becoming aroused as he watched Mallory remove his toga. Malcolm then began to discard his own toga.
“So what do you wanna do first?” Mallory inquired.
Blushing furiously, Malcolm intentionally led the way out into the open coliseum, so that his bare backside would face Mallory. “Let's take a dip in the whirlpool,” he called over his shoulder.
Mallory nodded amiably. “Sounds good. But we oughtta shower off first . . . like when you go swimming, it helps condition your body so you get used to the water.”
Malcolm saw that Mallory was already heading toward the communal outdoor showers, so he reluctantly followed suit. They stood under a couple of the grouped faucets, allowing the overhead spouts to spew out soothing sprays of warm water. While Mallory enjoyed the warmth and relaxation of the shower water, Malcolm, who stood next to him, nervously snuck indulgent glances at Mallory's well-toned body.
“Salvete, homo,” piped up a young voice. Another male adolescent had tapped Malcolm on the shoulder, startling the young teen. Malcolm was unnerved by the young man's reference to him, even though grammatically homo was a dative form of homus - meaning “man” - used when one is verbally addressing another person in Latin.
The guy extended a plastic container of olive oil to Malcolm. “Want some?” he offered, affably. Malcolm calmed down, breathing a sigh of relief. He remembered from his middle school social studies classes that olive oil was used as a body gel in Ancient Rome, and this guy was simply offering some to Malcolm to be nice.
But then Malcolm took a good look at the dude. He was tan, blond, blue-eyed, and very gorgeous! He looked great in the nude, too. Distracted, Malcolm accidentally dropped the container of olive oil, and it bounced to the floor, rolling over toward Mallory's feet. Malcolm quickly bent down to pick it up, the blood rushing hotly through his body and causing him to go even more stiff.
Mallory had now definitely noticed Malcolm's intrinsic, rather horny reaction. “Malcolm? . . .”
The teen knew he couldn't hide it any longer. “I gotta talk to you,” he told Mallory, ushering his friend aside. The two of them approached a wooden bench by the wall of the coliseum and sat down. Malcolm didn't even bother to hide his body from Mallory anymore. His secret was pretty much revealed.
“Mallory . . . I'm gay.” Malcolm stated it very hastily and bluntly. “I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier . . . I just didn't know how to approach the subject. I didn't want to act like I was ‘flaunting it' or anything.”
For what seemed like an eon, Malcolm's eyes had self-consciously dropped to the floor; his head was bowed almost as though in shame. Mallory couldn't help but feel an immense amount of sympathy for this adolescent whom, over time, he had begun to regard as sort of a younger brother.
Slowly, Mallory put his arm around Malcolm, patting his friend to reassure him of their symbolic fraternity. “It's cool,” Mallory told Malcolm, feeling a twinge of guilt in his stomach, having previously harbored some probably-inaccurate stereotypes of gay males. “I don't have a problem with it. We'll always be buds, and nothing's gonna change that.”
Malcolm smiled at Mallory, greatly relieved.
“When you think about it, we're really not that different from each other,” Mallory said to Malcolm. “We both have experienced losses in our lives, and we both like to have fun when the opportunity presents itself.” He adopted a playful, impish grin. “The only difference is that you get hard around guys, and I get hard around girls.”
Malcolm laughed out loud, feeling much better than he had when they'd arrived at the coliseum. “I'm glad it doesn't bother you, man. Because if you don't mind my saying so, I think you're a real hottie.”
Now it was Mallory's turn to laugh heartily, while blushing a bit. “Don't worry, I take that as a compliment, buddy,” he assured Malcolm.
Just then, a naked Alternate Bennish skidded past them, rambunctiously sloshing around in the foot-deep pool of water. “Umidus et ferus, dude!” he whooped, shouting out to no one in particular.
“So . . . do you like looking at Bennish too?” Mallory teased, grinning widely at Malcolm and lightly punching him in the shoulder. Malcolm blushed even redder. “Come on, Malcolm,” Mallory continued. “Let's go back in the water before it gets too cold.”
They headed for one of the wading pools. As the two sliders proceeded into the public bath, Mallory reached over and jokingly pinched Malcolm's rear end in an obviously non-sexual manner. He began to poke fun at Malcolm in a sing-song voice. “Malcolm's got a boner! . . . Malcolm's got a boner! . . .”
In light-hearted retaliation, Malcolm pushed Mallory face-down into the water. Snickering uncontrollably, Mallory pulled Malcolm down with him, and the two of them began flinging armfuls of water at each other, laughing as they rowdily wrestled and splashed around in the pool.* * *
“Where . . . where did you come from?” Mrs. Davis asked her daughters' double, caressing Diana's face in wonderment.
Diana traded glances with Wade. “I'm going to tell u guys where I'm from. What I'm about to explain to you may be a little difficult to conceive of . . .”
“Wait!” Vesta held up her hand. “Stay for dinner so pater can hear your story too!”
Before Diana could get any further commentary out of her mouth, another familiar figure from her past marched into the room. Tall and lean, wearing a combination of a white tunica and a purple toga rimmed with gold embroidery, Diana recognized the ghostly face of her father.
“Dad?” she whispered.
“Pater!” Alternate Diana and Vesta giddily shrieked, throwing their arms around their father. But Mr. Davis was focused on his daughters' duplicate, a third wheel inside his family's atrium.
“Who in Mercury's name are you?!” he gasped, wide-eyed at this carbon copy of his twin daughters.
Mrs. Davis took her husband's arm and gently steered him toward the dining room. “Come on, Horatio. She's going to explain it to us over our evening meal.”
Horatio Davis winced critically, extremely baffled, but allowed himself to be led from the room. “Puellae, go and pray before we commence with cena.”
“Yes, pater,” Vesta and Alternate Diana answered in unison. They each grabbed one of Diana's hands. “Come on, we must give thanks to the Gods and Goddesses before we reap their bounty.”
Vesta and Alternate Diana brought Diana and Wade into their lararium, a small temple inside their family's villa. An altar was set up where incense lightly burned within a hearth, giving off a pleasingly smoky scent. Positioned around the altar was an array of bronze statuettes, each one resembling a Roman god or goddess. Both Alternate Diana and Vesta kneeled in front of the hearth and folded their hands in prayer formation. They began to recite a holy chant aloud in Latin.
“This is Vesta, Goddess of the Hearth & Home,” Vesta Davis told them, once she and her sister had completed their prayer. Vesta pointed to a statue of a young woman. “I was named in her honor.”
“Hey! That's Hestia, the Greek Goddess of the Hearth & Home!” Wade identified the sculpture of Vesta as also being that of Hestia, Vesta's Greek equivalent.
“The Greeks have their own ways,” stated Alternate Diana. “Vesta and I were each named after two of the three virgin Goddesses.” She indicated another statuette who held a bow and arrow. “This is Diana, the Goddess of the Hunt, whom I was named after.”
“That's Artemis,” Wade supplied. “Not only is she the Greek huntress goddess, but Artemis is also the protector of young women and forest animals. She's one of my favorites . . . Artemis kicks ass!”
Diana stared at the sculpture of Artemis. She couldn't help but wonder if this Goddess, whom HER name also came from, truly did exist in reality?
Minutes later, they were seated in the Alternate Davis family's triclinium, an elegant dining room composed of a marble platform table and couch-like benches they were to recline upon while dining. The family slaves were setting the table with dishes of fresh food. Wade and Diana joined Diana's doubles and the twins' parents around the table, where they each lounged their body across any of the benches.
“The second course is on its way, Signor,” one of the slaves politely informed his master, bowing respectfully.
“Thank you, Cornelius,” Signor Davis responded. He crudely waved Cornelius away with his hand, and turned his attention to Diana and Wade. “So tell us . . . where do you hail from . . . what are your names?” He hungrily sunk his teeth into a meaty roasted chicken leg.
“I'm Wade Welles,” Wade introduced herself, spooning some Celery-Olive Savini Salad onto her ceramic dinner plate.
“And I'm . . .” Diana took a deep breath, and chose to plunge ahead with the truth. “. . . my name's Diana Davis.”
Alternate Diana giggled daintily. “That is silly. I am Diana Davis.”
“I know.” Diana's fingers trembled as she helped herself to some polenta with the Roman dinner utensils.
Vesta tilted her head, using her spoon to add some garum to her dish of smoked salmon. “Why do you look so much like us?” she asked Diana.
Diana took a deep breath. “I'm NOT lying to you, I promise,” she made eye contact alternately with Vesta and Alternate Diana. “I'm your alternate from a parallel universe.”
The whole table became quiet.
“You mean . . . you came to us from another world?” gasped Signora Davis, nearly gagging on her artichoke.
“Yes . . . in a manner of speaking,” Diana explained. “I'm a different version of you guys.” She spoke to Alternate Diana and Vesta. “On my world, my mother gave birth to me singularly. However, on your world the egg fertilized in your mother's womb must have been monozygotic, meaning that it split into two and contained both of you whom she gave birth to.”
Alternate Diana and Vesta were speechless, their mouths wide open in awe.
“How did you arrive on our world?” Signor Davis asked his daughter's alternate.
“Is it not obvious, Horatio?” spoke up Signora Davis. The alternate of Diana's mother gazed lovingly at Diana. “The Gods and Goddesses must have delivered her to us, to join our family!”
“Eugepae! Eugepae!” cheered both Vesta and Alternate Diana, jumping up from their seats and smothering Diana with hugs. “We have a new sister!”
“So . . . your parents on the world you come from? . . .” Signora Davis began to inquire.
“They're identical to you,” Diana confirmed. “The only difference is that on your world there are two of me.” She gestured to Alternate Diana and Vesta, who were still hugging her tightly.
“Puellae,” Signora Davis spoke to her daughters, “please give our new child some room.”
Diana gave her mother's double a sadly heartened smile. “Actually, we're only in town until tomorrow.”
The faces of the Alternate Davis family immediately fell.
“Well,” said Vesta, after a pause of awkward silence, “we will be happy to have you here for however long you stay.”
“Tell us . . . what is it like on the world from which you come?” Signor Davis asked in wonderment.
“It's very dissimilar to your world. On my Earth, the Roman empire fell when Germanic tribes invaded Italy from the north,” Diana revealed.
“Not here,” protested Alternate Diana. “Emperor Diocletian cleansed those savage clans from north of Mother Rome . . . fed them to the lions.”
Wade grimaced, thinking of the slaughter. “So Diocletian stayed in power and kept the empire united? There must have been no Dark Ages on your world.”
The Alternate Davises were confused as to what Wade meant.
“In your alternate reality, Constantine was never able to convert the Roman empire to Christianity or divide the empire by centering its heart in Turkey,” Diana concluded. “So on this Earth, Roman Pagans ended up oppressing Christians, rather than vice versa which occurred on my homeworld.”
“Who is Constantine?” Vesta asked, puzzled.
“And what are the Dark Ages?” Alternate Diana blinked.
“It's a whole other historical timeline that occurred on both of our Earths.” Wade indicated herself and Diana. “Those events never happened on your world.”
“We are just glad to have you with us now.” Signora Davis smiled sweetly at this new Diana, still amazed at the physical resemblance to her twin daughters.
Celebratorily, Signor Davis raised his goblet of red wine. “I propose a toast. To Signorina Welles and our new blessed Diana . . . for however long they remain here to allow us to show them our hospitality!”
“Here, here!” echoed Signora Davis, Alternate Diana, and Vesta, clacking their wine goblets together.* * *
Diana, you're having trouble getting to sleep, aren't you?” Wade's inquiry was unnecessary, as it was obvious from Diana's constant tossing and turning in their bed that she couldn't fall asleep.
“Is it that obvious?” Diana gave a hint of laughter, using the tip of her tongue. “I guess I drank too much wine tonight.”
The evening's meal had been topped off by a jubilant night of wine-drinking and dancing. The family's slaves accompanied the household with instrumental music, while the Alternate Davis family and their guests gleefully shook their bodies to the beat of the Latin Sizzle. Exhausted from dinner and dancing, Wade and Diana retired to the cubiculum where they slept in a wooden bed covered with satin sheets.
“Let's go for a stroll,” suggested Wade. She and Diana crawled out of their beds, exited the guest bedroom, and leisurely headed back to the peristyle to take an enjoyable walk among the horticultural gardens.
“I just can't believe it.” Diana sat on the edge of the impluvium, and Wade plopped down next to her. “They're m y parents . . . but they're not my parents. I mean, they don't know me at all! They've raised two twin daughters who are my exact doubles, barring personality since neither of them acts ANYTHING like me . . .”
Wade laughed. “They are rather simple, aren't they?”
“Now I know how Malcolm must have felt a few worlds back, when he met his parents' alternates.” Diana buried her head in her hands, clearly frustrated. “It's like, everything I want to say to my parents will mean nothing to these people, because they don't know ME. They don't know what I went through with my family back home. These people actually have a GOOD, functional relationship with their daughters.”
As Diana cried softly, Wade sat with her, holding Diana supportively in a soft hug. They sat there together while Diana wept, the vivid botanical scents wafting into their nostrils.* * *
“Did you slumber well?” Signora Davis asked Diana and Wade, as the two women took their seats at the table for the morning prandium, commonly known as breakfast.
“Uh . . . yeah,” Diana murmured, fibbing, still a bit inebriated from the night before. “We really appreciate your hospitality.”
Signora Davis beamed. Vesta and Alternate Diana entered the triclinium, giggling incessantly. They both greeted Diana, Wade, and their mother with cuddly hugs.
“Thanks,” laughed Wade, as the twins took their seats. Moments later, Signor Davis entered the room, dressed down in a more conservative, simplistic toga.
“Pater! Pater!” Alternate Diana and Vesta jumped up and ran over to their father, smothering him with huge, affectionate squeezes. The servants, or servi as Signora Davis called them, began to serve up bountiful platters of breakfast food.
“Well, I sent word to the Forum today, that I will be absent from session. My fellow magistrates will have to figure out how to deal with the plebians on their own.” The Roman magistrate laughed at his own subtle joke, shifting his gaze from his twin daughters over to Diana. “What would you like to do today?”
Diana picked up a fig and shoved it in her mouth. She shrugged half-heartedly.
“Ooooo! Let's go see the javelin throws at the coliseum! Pleeeeeaaaassse!!!” squeaked Vesta, clapping her hands together excitedly.
“Oysters, Wade?” Alternate Diana offered a plate of shelled seafood to the redheaded slider.
“No thanks,” Wade politely declined. “I'm a vegetarian.” Pointedly, she spooned a load of fruit salad into her mouth, a finely chopped combination of apples, grapes, cherries, plums, pears, and oranges. Wade's eyes shifted to the wall opposite her, which was covered with a brightly painted mosaic depicting a bustling Roman marketplace. “Who created this?” she asked, pointing at the wall mosaic.
Signora Davis blushed. “I did.”
“Why, thank you. I enjoy the agora so much every morning that a vision of its busy marketplace seems to be permanently etched into my brain. It's nothing, really.”
“Now do not be modest, Livia,” Horatio Davis complimented his wife. “You are a magnificently talented artisan, my dear. After all, you painted this entire portrait all from memory.”
“I dabble with art in my spare time.” Livia Davis blushed again.
Diana poked at her hard-boiled egg, staring laxly at her parents' alternates. “My mother loved to paint too.” She switched her focus to Horatio. “And my father was considering running for the California Senate.”
Livia reached out and placed her hand over Diana's. “You may stay with us for as long as you wish.”
Diana met Wade's gaze; a tear slipped from the physicist's eye.
What was she going to do?* * *
It had been almost two days since Quinn, Colin, and Professor Arturo began assessing their options regarding the Mallory brothers' quest for Kromagg Prime. Holed up in their suite at the Chandlerus, the three scientists had taken apart their timer and then put it back together - several times; there didn't seem to be any function which would help pinpoint coordinates from the encryption algorithm encoded within Colin's microdot. At least they'd been able to use Diana's PDL to more expediently weed out half of Kromagg Prime's coordinates from Colin's microchip.
“Okay, we know the last six digits of our homeworld's coordinates are ‘101-118'. So we have the second half of the equation unveiled.” Quinn frowned at the screen of the PDL. “The only problem is, the first six digits of those coordinates were decoded in MY microdot . . .”
“. . . which we no longer have,” Colin needlessly pointed out.
Arturo scratched his head. “If this Mr. Isaac Clarke whom you mentioned changed your initial equation of coordinates when he and his daughter joined you, Mr. Brown, and Miss Beckett on that slide to his homeworld - which you at first assumed was Kromagg Prime - then why didn't you input that original equation of coordinates after you departed that world?”
“We were going to,” Quinn replied, “once we landed on the next world. But the next Earth we arrived on presented us with some unforeseen complications.”
“Yeah,” Colin recalled that particular slide. “That was Starving Artist World, where we got stuck for another month. I remember because Maggie dyed her hair a lighter shade of brown while we were there. Our next window of opportunity didn't open until 4 weeks later.”
Arturo shook his head. “Another extended stay, eh?”
“To add to our troubles, Colin misplaced the timer in the Bakersfield SoHo.” Quinn ribbed his brother, accusingly but without hostility. “By the time we finally tracked it down, it was almost time to leave. There wasn't much time on the following world either, because that's where I got shot in the casino and was in the hospital while my gunshot wound healed for most of our slide.”
“So we figured we'd input those coordinates on the next Earth,” picked up Colin. “But that was Gunfight World, and before we could get to work on it we ended up in a crossfire with some bandits who wanted to pawn our timer on the Brown Market.”
“Don't you mean on the ‘Black Market', Mr. Mallory?” inquired the Professor.
“Not on that world,” Colin negated.
“Our next slide took us to Diana and Mallory's homeworld - Combine World,” explained Quinn. “Obviously, that's where Colin became unstuck and I was melded with Mallory. Needless to say, finding Kromagg Prime was the last thing on Rem and Maggie's minds after that.”
“Even if Rembrandt and Maggie had tried to locate our homeworld on their own, Quinn was the only one who knew how to figure out the equation needed to bypass the Slidecage,” Colin expanded.
Quinn sulked. “And I can't remember what that equation was, after all Mallory and I have been through while we were sharing the same body.”
Shaking his head, Professor Arturo lamented, “It sounds as though I missed quite a bit of excitement during my involuntary layover on Azure Gate World.”
“Okay,” stated Colin, taking the timer from Quinn, “so we at least have the last six digits of the coordinates to our homeworld. So how do we identify the first six digits if we no longer have Quinn's microdot?”
:Well, young Colin, I see only one remaining option which might give us any glimmer of hope.” Arturo dropped the pencil he'd been using, and it clattered against the tabletop. “From now on, with each succeeding slide we make, we shall enter the first six digits of the next world's coordinates at random, while always plugging in the latter six digits as ‘101-118' based on the data from Colin's microchip. Since the first six digits may vary in any numerical combination ranging from ‘000-000' to ‘999-999', we'll have a one out of a million probability of randomly sliding onto Kromagg Prime.”
Colin's face fell. “We could be sliding forever, Professor!”
“Do you have a better idea?!” huffed the Professor.
Both Colin and Quinn answered with silence.
“Very well, then.” Arturo obtained a pompous facial expression of academic superiority. “With each successive slide, the odds of reaching Kromagg Prime will gradually increase in our favor, as one more potential set of coordinates will have been eliminated every time.”
“In the meantime,” said Quinn, nodding his head in consent at Arturo's plan, “we'll work on restructuring the ‘bookend' equation necessary to bypass the Slidecage, using the encrypted data from Colin's microdot as a base.”
“So if we slide onto our homeworld at random using the Professor's method, then how will we know if we've found it?” Colin asked, skeptically. “Some of our slides last only a few minutes - or a few seconds. Not nearly enough time to explore every single world we come across.”
“But if we randomly punch in the correct coordinates to Kromagg Prime during our attempt to slide there, it should automatically bounce us back to the world we just came from,” Quinn reminded Colin. “Because of the Slidecage, we wouldn't be able to access a gateway into our homeworld anyway, if we used the pure, non-modified twelve-digit coordinates to our Earth. That's why when we finally do locate Kromagg Prime's core coordinates, we'll need to either have synthesized or find a way to synthesize the equation for bypassing the Slidecage.”
“IF we locate Kromagg Prime,” countered Colin, still skeptical. “One million worlds is a lot to go through.”
“At least there's still hope,” Arturo proclaimed. “Who knows? . . . we may even find Kromagg Prime upon our very next slide off of this world!”
“My head is beginning to hurt.” Colin winced. “I wish my room service order would get here.”
By sheer coincidence, there was a brisk knock at their door.
“Room service!” called out a voice.
Colin opened the door and a hotel maid wheeled in a case of food.
“What in God's name is THAT?!” Arturo exclaimed, pointing at the squishy cooked echinoderm atop Colin's silver platter, a creature with wiry tentacles galore.
“Octopus,” answered Colin, using his knife and fork to dig in. “They consider it a delicacy.”
Quinn's face turned a queasy shade of pale white. “You're strange, bro,” he told his brother.
“You certainly are quite an oddity, Mr. Mallory,” Professor Arturo told Colin, grimacing as Quinn's older brother stuffed a forkful of octopus into his mouth.
“I think I'll stick with the safe stuff.” With that, Quinn grabbed a fork and jammed a heap of garden salad into his mouth. A hodgepodge of radishes, carrots, onions, spinach, and lentils crunched around in Quinn Mallory's mouth.
Arturo picked up and unfolded a scroll which existed as a room service menu. “Look at this preposterous cuisine!” he voiced in disgust, reading the a list of entrées from his menu. “Roasted goose, broasted pigeon, fried gazelle, batterfried goat, seasoned hare, sautéed mutton . . . these people practically eat like cannibals!”
“Oh, there's plenty of edible stuff here,” Quinn disregarded Arturo's stuffy negativity. “Try the trout or mackerel, Professor.” The young physics genius grabbed a roll of panis from the complimentary bread basket as he perused the menu some more. “And check out this dessert special . . . it's called sebada. A Roman pastry filled with ricotta cheese, lemon, and honey.”
As Quinn recited the list of more appealing side dishes, Professor Arturo began to lick his lips in anticipation. “Well, well, well. Bring on that mackerel!” he chortled. Arturo hungrily snatched up a twisty, soft dough breadstick from the bread basket in the center of the table. “Gentlemen, let us break panis!”* * *
“Thanks for letting us use your PDL, Di.” Quinn handed the paddle-like Portable Dimensional Laboratory back to its owner as Diana and Wade stepped off the chariot.
“How did you ladies enjoy your stay?” Rembrandt asked them.
Wade grinned. “It was great! The Davises have a fabulous villa!”
Horatio, Livia, Vesta, and Alternate Diana had tagged along to see Diana and Wade off. They hopped out of their horse-drawn chariot and pounced on Diana with farewell hugs.
“We will miss you!” Vesta cried out.
“Indeed we shall!” Alternate Diana agreed with her twin sister.
“So Dr. Davis, these are your monozygotic alternates?” Professor Arturo studied Vesta and Alternate Diana with intense curiosity. “Amazing. That the simple fission of a fetal egg can cause such a genetically similar set of duplicates.”
Diana nodded in agreement with the Professor. “Everyone, these are my doubles, Diana and Vesta . . .” she introduced her friends to her alternates.
“Sorry to cut you off, Diana,” Maggie interrupted, as Vesta and Alternate Diana superfluously waved to the sliders, “but it's almost time to slide.”
Livia stepped forward. “You take care!” She wrapped her arms around Diana.
“Are you sure you cannot stay longer?” Horatio probed, hugging Diana with fatherly zeal.
Diana gave them a half-smile. “You've all been great. But . . . I have other commitments.”
“May Juno empower you with courage and good fortune,” Livia wished Diana well.
“Well, here's our first test,” Quinn announced, pointing the timer outward.
Brother, you do realize that the odds of locating our homeworld on our first sliding trial are astronomical?” Colin pointed out.
Quinn shrugged off Colin's skepticism. “It's Kromagg Prime or bust!”
“Get ready!” Malcolm called out, as the pink vortex opened up. He then jumped through the rift with Remmy and Janine. Mallory leaped in right behind them, whooping loudly, and Arturo followed them as well.
“See you on the other end.” Maggie lightly tapped Diana on the shoulder and squeezed her hand gently. Then Maggie linked arms with Quinn, whose other arm was interlocked with Colin's. The three of them plunged forth into the translucent gateway.
Wade took Diana's hand in support, and tears escaped from Dr. Davis's eyes as she waved goodbye to her alternate family. Diana and Wade jumped into the wormhole together, propelling behind the others across the Einstein-Rosen-Pudalski Bridge which snaked vehemently with all sorts of bumpy twists and turns.
On the other end of the portal, the explorers found themselves in a wide open field where flowery dried leaves were growing for acres and acres.
“Okay, you were right,” Quinn admitted, giving Colin a lopsided smirk. “This obviously ISN'T Kromagg Prime.”
“What are these?” asked Colin, naively plucking a leaflet of cannabis from the soil.
Mallory laughed. “This is marijuana, dude. I smoked plenty of this stuff in high school.”
“Hey, dudes!” called out a familiar voice. There was another alternate of Conrad Bennish Jr. busily hoeing in the fields. “Like, you peeps just dropped outta the sky! Rockin'!”
The Professor squinched up his face. “Bah! I should have known that this would be YOUR field of cannabis, Mr. Bennish!” he scoffed. Arturo scanned the miles of hemp plants growing for as far as the eye could see. “I assume it's safe to conclude that this Earth raises cannabis as a principal crop for economic profit.”
“Nah, I just like to snuff it!” answered Alternate Bennish, flashing a peace sign at the sliders.
“So you've never seen marijuana before, Colin?” laughed Wade. She received no response. “Colin? Colin?!”
“Oh, good grief!” Quinn rolled his eyes as he spotted his brother laying in a leafy patch of hemp, snoozing soundly.
“Is he intoxicated?” Malcolm pondered.
Colin rolled over and moaned as though in pleasure.
Janine snickered. “I guess Colin doesn't know how to hold his cannabis very well.”
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