|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 Sliders fanfiction 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.* * *
An immense wave of nausea rippled through Rembrandt's body as the Dublian spaceship closed in on him and his nine companions.
"Okay, think, Remmy, think!" Rembrandt silently persuaded himself, his eyes closed as he took several deep breaths. "Come on, Cryin' Man . . . we've faced Dublians before . . . yeah, about twice before, and the second time we got away before they captured us . . . aw, man! How are we gonna get outta this one?! . . . son of a bitch, man, get ahold of yourself!! . . . we've escaped Kromaggs lord-knows-how-many times in the past . . . but Kromaggs aren't the same as Dublians . . . different weapons, different technology . . ." Rembrandt was becoming mentally flustered, as many voices - Alternate Rembrandts - whispered to him and overlapped each other inside of Remmy's brain.
After all they'd been through, he just couldn't let his friends die at the scaly hands of the Dublians . . . he just couldn't.
"Remmy!!" Malcolm's sharp, frantic voice woke Rembrandt, snapping him out of his trance. Malcolm was tugging Rembrandt's arm, doing his best to yank Remmy away. "We've gotta get outta here!"
In no time flat, Rembrandt jumped back to reality. Hand in hand with Malcolm, the two of them sprinted behind their friends. The others - Quinn, Wade, Arturo, Maggie, Colin, Mallory, Diana, and Janine - had already began running. Now recovered from his temporary panic attack, Rembrandt dashed after the rest of the team; they were running across the wide open parking lot that they'd slid into.
"How long until the next window?!" Quinn hollered over to Diana.
"Only 3 minutes!" Diana called back.
The Dublian ship menacingly hovered above them. It was closing in rapidly.
"Scatter!" Maggie commanded. "If we spread out, they can't zero in on all of us and beam us up the way they did last time!"
Dispersing in all directions, the ten interdimensional explorers scattered apart from one another. In response, the spacecraft adjusted its altitude, elevating itself higher into the sky at record speed. After another few seconds, the Dublian ship expelled a massive "tent" of energy downward onto the ground. The energy covered a macroscopic diameter, entrapping all of the sliders in a force field despite each of them being several meters away from the others on the ground.
"What in the devil . . . ?!" Professor Arturo could feel the electromagnetic energy pulsating around his body. "What's going on?!" Arturo shouted to everyone else, his voice echoing within the force field that had just domed them.
The ten friends had all stopped running, once they realized what had happened. They backtracked toward one another once again, gazing all around at the translucent "dome" that had enveloped them.
"They've put us in some type of ‘cage'!" Wade surmised. "How do we get out?"
"Can we slide out from in here?" Colin asked.
"I don't know, bro," frowned Quinn. He turned to Rembrandt. "Is this what happened to you guys the last time you ran across the Dublians, Rem?"
"No, Q-Ball," Rembrandt answered. "The last time we encountered Dublians, we escaped before they could catch us . . . we'd slid into the future. Remember, we told you about the Professor's evil double who invented time travel?"
"But the first time the Dublians nabbed us, they beamed us all up to their flying saucer," Mallory jumped into the conversation. "We'd been knocked unconscious by the energy beam from their ship, so when we woke up we were already trapped inside their spaceship."
"We'll find out in a couple of minutes," Diana had the timer cradled in her hands, "whether or not this force field will interfere with the vortex's pathway."
All of a sudden, a wobbly reddish vortex appeared within the "domed" force field, only a few feet away from the sliders.
"I guess it won't," Janine wryly observed.
With an abrupt leap forward, Colonel Angus Rickman emerged from the glossiness of his vortex, stumbling a little.
"Rickman!" Maggie flared, with pure hatred burning in her eyes. She had not seen this man for months.
"Ah, Maggie, my lovely . . ." Rickman's whimsically creepy voice stopped short as he noticed the Dublian force field he'd wandered into. "What is this?!" Rickman roared. "Some kind of trap you set for me?!"
"They're called Dublians, Rickman," Quinn explained, with bitterness in his voice. "Scaly green bug-eyed aliens with advanced technology that puts even sliding to shame."
"Why didn't you tell me about them before?!" Rickman seethed.
"Well gee, Rickman, that was kinda difficult . . . you know, with you trying to kill us and all," Janine shot back, sarcastically.
"Speaking of which," Rickman pulled a syringe out of his pocket, "time for a snack. Mr. Mallory #2 left me hungry back on that last world, the one full of witches." He flashed them a psychotic grin.
"I don't think so, bastard." Maggie swiftly advanced toward Rickman and kicked her leg out, knocking the syringe out of his grip. Taken by surprise, Rickman failed to anticipate the second kick from Maggie's foot, which nailed him right in the gut.
Maggie was startled, however, by the vibrations from a third wormhole, which appeared where Rickman's had. This portal was a color similar to that of Rickman's vortex, with splashes of orange and yellow swirling against its redness. Logan St. Clair popped out of her vortex, armed with a gun.
"Logan?!" Quinn gasped at his female double.
"Hi, Mallory!" Logan spat out, aiming her gun at Quinn. "So we meet again."
"Logan AND Rickman?!" Rembrandt groaned. "Damn! Who's gonna show up next?! Geiger?! Kolitar?! The Volsangs?! The Foggins?! Archibald Chandler?!"
"Logan must have still been following us, and she accidentally tracked Rickman's wormhole," Colin concluded.
"Oooooh, ingenuous reasoning, Aristotle!" Logan spat out at Colin, her voice drenched with sarcasm. "And who the hell's Rickman?!"
"That would be me," piped up Rickman. "Colonel Angus Rickman . . ." he began to introduce himself.
"Who cares?!" Logan sharply interrupted Rickman's speech. "I've got one minute on my timer, Mallory! Let's get this over with!" Logan cocked her gun. "I've been waiting almost five years for this, Quinn Mallory, tracking your photon trail, and now that I've finally latched onto you, I'm not letting you go . . .!"
"Shut up, Logan!" Wade snapped at her.
"WHAT did you say to me, Wade?!"
"You heard me! We're in danger here, all of us!! . . . including you!" Wade gestured to the transparent walls of the Dublian force field that entrapped them. The spaceship had descended onto the ground outside of their domed prison, and a bunch of uniformed alien beings were emerging from inside the ship.
"They're coming to get us!" Malcolm predicted.
"Sorry Logan, we'd love to stay and chat, but," Diana extended her arm and opened the sliders' pink vortex inside the force field, "we've got a ride out of here."
"You're not going anywhere, sliders!" Logan St. Clair screamed, even as each of the ten sliders jumped into their interdimensional tunnel one by one. Logan fired bullets after them, but by that time the dectet had disappeared into their ERP Bridge.
Rickman slyly slinked over to Logan. "Never fear, my sweet, we shall catch them." He winked, reaching out to pervertedly caress Logan's face.
Creeped out, Logan slapped Rickman squarely across his face. "I work alone, you hairy freak!" she sneered at him. Glancing down at her timer, Logan noticed the final seconds ticking away until her window would open. "I'm going after them," she informed Rickman, "and no, you cannot come with me."
Activating her timer, Logan initiated the tracking device to latch onto her enemies' photon trail again. Logan disappeared into her vortex, and then she was gone.
"Ah, we shall see about that, my dear," cackled Rickman. His own window was about ready to open. "Oh, how I love a challenge," he smirked, tracking Logan's photon trail, and leaving the Dublians behind.* * *
In a hasty clump, the ten sliders tumbled out of their vortex. They all crashed onto the grass in a large dogpile. "Hey, look at the wormhole," Mallory pointed at their interdimensional gateway, which was still open, gyrating in midair. "It's turned purple!"
Indeed, the vortex had shifted from its previous rosy pink tint, now a lovely shade of light violet splashed with specks of blue.
"The energy from the Dublian force field must have altered the texture of our wormhole," surmised Quinn. "Unless it was just a random energy fluctuation between dimensions . . . wouldn't be the first time that happened."
Rembrandt stood up, brushing off his pants. The Cryin' Man gave a loud whistle. "Logan and Rickman . . . together! Could this nightmare get any worse?"
A low rumble began to hum as Remmy finished his sentence, followed by vibrations beneath the travelers' feet.
"Earthquake!!" hollered Maggie, stumbling as the ground underneath them shook vigorously. "Take cover!"
By good fortune, they had slid into a Los Angeles neighborhood that was familiar to them. Right down the street was the Royal Chancellor Hotel, toward which the dectet headed, running, tripping as the ground violently shook. Along the way, they banged on doors of shops along the street, jiggling the locked doorknobs and then frantically moving on. A panicked crowd surrounded the sliders; every other pedestrian was desperately seeking shelter as well. Most of the L.A. citizens were casually adorned in loose-fitting, wild-patterned bellbottoms, and many of the women wore miniskirts. In addition, virtually every person from this dimension wore some kind of New Age jewelry - mood rings, beaded necklaces, tie-dyed headbands, unique earrings or body piercings, and wristbands marked with political or spiritual emblems.
After about a minute, the earthquake subsided. By now, the sliders had taken shelter behind the front glass doors inside the entranceway of the Royal Chancellor.
As the final tremors faded, Colin meekly whispered, "Is it over?"
"For now, at least," Arturo answered, still gripping onto a vending machine. "Or so it would seem, anyway. Good heavens, that's the first earthquake I can recall sliding into during."
Malcolm frowned. "We'd better get a room to take cover in . . . there's no telling how long before another of those ‘quakes comes along."
"Good idea, partner," agreed Rembrandt. He turned to face Diana. "How much time have a got?"
"A total of 18 hours, 53 minutes, 34 seconds, and counting." Diana handed off the timer to Janine. "I'm going to take some PDL readings and see what I can detect from this dimension's matrix."
Wade had her nose pressed up against the glass as she stared out the window. "This must be another Hippie World - everyone seems to be wearing clothes from the 70's era." She faced Quinn, Remmy, and Arturo. "Remember one of the first worlds we ever explored? . . . the one where the vortex split in half and we got separated on that world where the Summer of Love had never ended."
"How could I forget?" grunted the Professor, rubbing his temples as he winced. "After Mr. Mallory here bonked me on the head with that blasted rock . . . !"
Quinn laughed. "Oh come on, Professor . . . you still haven't forgiven me for that after all these years?"
"Mr. Mallory, I will forgive you once my noggin quits throbbing . . ."
"Hey, look!" Mallory was standing next to Wade with his own nose pressed up against the glass. "Another vortex!"
The sliders all gathered around Mallory and Wade, watching as they spotted Logan's orangish-red vortex materializing in the distance, all the way down the street. With a cranky expression on her petite face, Logan St. Clair got to her feet after falling out of the wormhole.
"Logan's window must have opened right after ours did," Quinn concluded. "Damn, I was hoping we'd lost her." Beads of sweat had surfaced from Quinn Mallory's perspiring pores, dampening his tousled brown hair.
"What's her problem, anyway?" Janine stared at Logan with scrutiny. "Why is Logan so hell-bent on killing you all? I've never understood that about her." At this point, they could see Logan pacing around, examining her surroundings, probably looking for the sliders.
"It's basically the four of us she's mad at." Wade indicated herself, Rembrandt, Quinn, and Arturo. "She wants revenge because Quinn sent her timer on a random sliding course after she tried to kill me."
Mallory looked concerned. "Why did Logan want to kill you?" He put his hand on Wade's shoulder, tenderly.
Wade looked up at Mallory and tried to muster a smile for him. "She knew how much Quinn cared about me, so she used me for collateral. Logan's ultimate plan was to perfect sliding and use the technology to slide from dimension to dimension, stealing natural resources . . . her homeworld had limited resources of its own, and she intended to exploit the people of her dimension by hoarding the stolen essentials for profit. Logan blames us for thwarting her plan and stranding her in the multiverse."
"It's her own fault," Maggie said, flatly and unsympathetically. "Logan's basically a crook, and you did the right thing by stopping her."
"Except now she's tracked our wormhole again, and we can't seem to shake her," Rembrandt bristled. "She's gone insane with rage, and I believe she'll do everything she can to get back at us."
"And I didn't even know the bloody little wench," Arturo huffed. "It was my conniving alternate who originally encountered Miss St. Clair with the rest of you."
Mallory cringed. "More company," he stated, as another vortex appeared several feet away from Logan. The wind of the sinister red wormhole blew against Logan's face, causing her strawberry-brunette hair to flail all over the place. Logan squealed as Rickman came flying out of his wormhole, crashing into her and knocking her to the ground with him.
"Ugh! Get off of me, you monster!" Logan screamed, scratching Rickman across his hairy face.
"You have sharp nails, my dear." He rubbed his bloody face in discomfort.
Logan now had her gun aimed straight at Rickman. "Give me one reason why I shouldn't blow your ass to bits right this moment?!"
Even as he stared down the barrel of Logan's pistol, Rickman coyly smirked. "Because, my dear, I can help you catch the sliders."
"I'm not your ‘dear'!" Logan snapped. She then stopped short and contemplated Rickman's words. "I'm listening . . ."
Although they couldn't hear what Logan and Rickman were saying to each other, the interdimensional travelers were disturbed by this sudden interaction between two of their enemies.
"I don't like this," Rembrandt frowned. "Facing either Logan or Rickman alone is bad enough . . . but BOTH of them TOGETHER . . . oh man! . . ."
Maggie snorted with contempt. "I hope they kill each other," she declared without any remorse. "In fact, it's about time I finish off Rickman myself . . . !" Maggie started toward the door, but Quinn blocked her path, holding Maggie back.
"Maggie, no! You can't just go charging out there unarmed," Quinn reasoned, trying to get through to the woman he deeply cared for. "Logan's got a gun, and she'll shoot you for sure . . . she'd shoot any of us in a heartbeat!"
Maggie nodded, then sighed, knowing Quinn was right. Then she seethed. "Dammit, Quinn! . . . I want to GET that bastard! He's never gonna give up unless he's dead! Besides, he DESERVES to die!"
Colin stepped forward to assist his brother. "Maggie, Quinn's right. You're in no condition to make that kind of a decision. Let's just get a room so you can lie down and rest."
Quinn and Colin had to practically drag a protesting Maggie away from the glass entranceway, into the hotel lobby. The other sliders followed, eager to check in quickly and lay low for the remainder of the slide.
Meanwhile, Logan and Rickman were still outside, sizing each other up.
Rickman flashed a grin at Quinn's female double. "Listen, my sweet . . . Logan, is it? . . . you obviously have a personal vendetta against our Wonder Boy, Mr. Mallory - as do I. So it only makes sense for you and I to pool our resources."
Logan sneered, her hot cheeks flaring. "What makes you think I'd want to team up with YOU?" she challenged Rickman. "Why should I even trust you . . . for all I know, you're just some shaggy beast who wandered out of the wilderness." Repositioning her gun, Logan kept her weapon angled at the colonel. "So WHY should I join forces with you?"
Gritting his teeth, then forcing another smile, Rickman explained, "Because we need each other." He gestured to his ungroomed facial features. "How my body reached this condition is a long, complicated story . . . but I assure you, I am fully human. And, like you, I want to see boy genius Quinn Mallory dead. He is responsible for making me this way. Plus, I have a personal connection with Mallory's blond girlfriend, Maggie Beckett . . . on my world, Maggie was my military subordinate, my right-hand woman . . . and also my lover. Mallory is sweet on Captain Beckett, and I know how to push Maggie's buttons. Maggie wants me dead . . . and I want to savor her luscious body one last time before I proceed to rip her body limb from limb - along with Mallory's. That way, I can finally die with satisfaction . . . I'm already dying, and I'd like to go out with a bang, a happy man. So you see, Logan, if we work together, you and I can both have our revenge on Quinn Mallory!"
"You know, Rickman, you've got a sick mind." Logan cocked her head, thoughtfully. "But I like the way you think. I believe we could make this work for us . . ."* * *
"Mmmm, this water is so refreshing . . . and clean!" Malcolm swigged down a cup of pure, cool drinking water from the plastic bubbler in their hotel suite. He plopped down next to Wade atop one of the double beds.
Wade cradled a blue and purple glass lava lamp in her hands, which she'd removed from a nightstand. "That's because of the dedication from environmentalists, Malcolm," said Wade, shaking the lava lamp and watching the colors swirl and intermingle inside its glass. "See what can happen from the hard work of activists?"
"Activism my foot, Miss Welles!" scoffed Arturo, adjusting his reading spectacles as he continued to read from an encyclopedia on his lap. "This Earth has prospered due to the success of geothermal energy policies administered by President Jimmy Carter and others who followed him. It's a direct result of scientific application based on man's innovation."
Rembrandt chuckled. "So Carter was actually a good president on this world?"
"Quite right, Mr. Brown." The Professor held up the book he was reading entitled The Encyclopedia of American Presidents. "The divergence of this dimension from Earth Prime's history begins with President Carter's election in 1976. On this Earth, Richard Nixon chose not to resign in the midst of the Watergate scandal, and he was both impeached and convicted. Gerald Ford was a very ineffective president since the American public didn't trust the ‘Watergate Administration', and Carter won by a landslide in '76. His administration on this world was highly successful - President Carter spearheaded an international alliance to effectively eliminate nuclear weapons, and he piloted a compromise in which Panama and the United States would share joint ownership of the Panama Canal."
"Yeah, on Earth Prime he just managed to piss everyone off," Rembrandt remarked. "Carter was a good man, and he tried his best, but he wasn't God . . ."
"Ah, but he came close on this Earth, Mr. Brown. To compensate for the shutdown of nuclear power plants, Carter's cabinet worked with top scientists to explore and implement commercial utilization of geothermal energy. Because of this, there was no energy crisis, and Carter took credit for a large economic boom. Since the rest of the world began also using geothermal energy, oil production became less of an issue, and consequently, there was never an Iranian hostage crisis. Needless to say, Carter defeated Reagen by a landslide in 1980 for a second term in office."
"So what happened next?" Diana asked.
"Prosperity of the Carter/Mondale Administration continued, and in 1984, Vice-President Mondale and his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, handily defeated presidential opponent Dan Quayle and Quayle's vice-presidential running mate, Alan Keyes. Unfortunately, President Mondale died of an unexpected heart attack in 1985. Geraldine Ferraro became the first female U.S. president on this world. She appointed Jesse Jackson as her new vice-president."
Mallory shuddered. "You mean that radical reverend?"
Rembrandt let out a low whistle of disapproval. "He is one messed up brother."
"Anyway," Professor Arturo expanded, "President Ferraro won the next two elections by large margins. Americans were quite pleased with her extrapolation of Carter's environmental policies, including the development of vehicles that run on clean-burning coal and increased preservation of farmland for greater consumption and exportation of crops."
"And people say a woman isn't up to the job!" Wade exclaimed, smiling proudly.
"However, the next presidential election, in 1996, was when things really got interesting." Professor Arturo coughed as he turned the encyclopedia page. "Vice-President Jesse Jackson, who was now running for president accompanied by his own running mate, Governor Hillary Clinton of Arkansas, was caught laundering illegal campaign contributions from Communist China into the Democratic Party. Jackson fervently denied the allegations and attempted to weasel out of the ‘Chinagate' scandal, to no avail. He and Governor Clinton lost the '96 election, drawing only 5% of the popular vote."
"So the Republican candidates won?" Diana asked.
"Not quite," Arturo corrected her. "The GOP candidates, presidential hopeful Governor Gary Bauer of South Carolina and vice-presidential hopeful Senator Ezola Foster of California, were too socially conservative for most Americans to handle, especially on issues of abortion, religion, and gay rights. They won less than 10% of eligible voters' support."
"So who became president?" Malcolm inquired, cuddling an orange and red striped pillow fringed with yellow tassels.
"An independent third-party emerged, Mr. Eastman. They were called the Modernists, and they were led by national radio talk show host Abbie Hoffman."
"He was a hell-raiser in the 1960's and 70's," Diana explained to Colin.
"Quite correct, Dr. Davis. President Hoffman's vice-president was Amy Carter, the former First Daughter of Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter. Together, Hoffman and Carter won by the largest electoral landslide in history . . . at least, on this world. For the most part, they've immobilized the Republicans and Democrats, for now, anyway." Arturo shifted in his seat. "President Hoffman ushered in a new era of agricultural and ecological advancement; herbal growth hormones to produce fresher crops, and atmospheric filtration devices to remove toxins from the ozone layer. His cabinet of innovators also collaborated with scientists to extend geothermal technology so that automobiles would be powered by engines running on geothermal energy. They have also invented vehicles fueled by hydrogen, vehicles that can travel through levitation. Not surprisingly, Hoffman was recently elected to his second term in office. In fact, President Hoffman's Secretary of State happens to be one of my former students, Mr. Conrad Bennish Jr." The Professor's eyes glazed over as he murmured, "I'm shocked that we haven't slid into The Twilight Zone! Conrad Bennish as U.S. Secretary of State . . . who would have ever fathomed it?!"
"Well, this place sounds like a near-Utopia," Mallory spoke, fingering the polka dotted pattern of the bedspread he sat atop of.
The Professor slowly shook his head. "Far from it. That earthquake we experienced upon our arrival was just the tip of the iceberg. Apparently, this dimension has been plagued by a series of destructive worldwide earthquakes ever since mid-1998. No one can figure out why this trend has suddenly occurred, although the EPA is currently investigating it."
"Well," Diana looked up from her PDL, "my paddle is definitely detecting some erratic ripples in this dimension's matrix . . . probably due to the excess of earthquakes apparently rampant on this world. But we should be okay, if we stay out of trouble until the window opens."
"Knock on wood, Diana," Mallory reminded her, grimly.
Janine looked at the timer's display panel. "We slide in the morning. What could go wrong before then?"
"Are you new to the group, dear?" Arturo asked her, rhetorically. "Or shall we reminisce about the past seven years of interdimensional bliss?" A hint of sarcasm tainted his British accent.
Folding her arms, Janine sulked. "Well, pardon me, Papa Bear!"
The bathroom door then opened. Quinn and Colin were escorting a pale-faced Maggie from the latrine. Captain Beckett's skin was weathered, and she was exhausted from vomiting due to her nausea.
"Are you all right, Maggie?" asked Malcolm, sensitively concerned.
Maggie responded with a muffled noise that sounded like a cross between a sob and a hiccup. The light blondness of her hair highlights were fading, as Maggie's anterior roots began to show.
"She's upset about Rickman," Colin explained to them. He and Quinn had been helping Maggie in the bathroom. "The longer he stays alive, the more of a threat he poses to all of us. Maggie just wants to see him dead and gone."
Still unable to speak, Maggie nodded her head vigorously to confirm Colin's words.
"Maybe him and Logan will both get gobbled up by one of the earthquakes," Wade muttered, sighing heavily.
Suddenly, a gunshot blasted loudly. Synonymous with that abrupt noise, the doorknob to the sliders' hotel suite blew right out of its socket. As the brass doorknob clattered to the floor, the door burst open and Logan St. Clair stood side-by-side with Colonel Angus Rickman in the doorway. Logan had her gun aimed at Quinn, while Rickman held a syringe in his evil, hairy claws.
"Time's up, Mallory," Logan hissed loudly at Quinn.
A demonic twinkle glistened in Rickman's eye as he eyed his former lover. "Hello, Maggie, my beautiful."
Logan gave the entire group a demented smirk. "Game over."* * *
"How did you find us?!" Wade demanded.
Logan nodded her head at Janine. "While I was tracking your photon trail, I visited a world where your friend Janine here was the mayor of San Francisco. I recognized her immediately from our previous encounters. Since you all registered with the front desk at this hotel under the name ‘Janine Chen', Rickman and I put two and two together and it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that you were trying to throw us off your trail."
"Naughty, naughty, sliders," Rickman scolded them, mockingly.
A preoccupied glimmer of intrigue momentarily lit up in Janine's eyes. "I was mayor of San Francisco?"
Rembrandt bristled at Logan and Rickman. "So you two are in cohoots now?"
"Actually, the two of us just met. We have formed a convenient and mutually beneficial entente." Rickman's snaky eyes flickered as he repositioned his syringe.
"Logan, stop and think." Quinn Mallory spoke to his female double steadily and rationally. "We outnumber you, ten to two. Are you going to shoot all ten of us?"
"If I have to," Logan seethed. She was overcome with vengeance at the sight of Quinn. "Quit trying to distract me, Mallory! Let's get this over with . . . starting with YOU!"
"Do not dispose of them all at once, Logan," piped up Rickman, waving his syringe in the air. "I need all the brain fluid I can store - especially from my delectable Captain Maggie!"
Peeved, Logan swiveled her head toward Rickman, with her weapon still aimed directly at Quinn. "Who's giving the orders here?! You're not gonna tell me what to do, Rickman!"
Maggie took that opportunity to startle Rickman, lunging at him to make an offensive grab for his syringe.
"Maggie, no!!" Quinn shouted, when it was already too late.
Logan had shot Maggie in the arm, causing the marine to collapse to the floor in agony. Maggie wailed in pain, and Quinn made a dive to push Maggie out of further harm's way. But while Logan's attention was diverted for a mere split second, Rembrandt jumped forward and tackled Logan from behind. Mallory charged forth and head-butted a distracted Rickman in the stomach, knocking the insane colonel on his back.
"Get off of me, Rembrandt!!" Logan screamed at the top of her lungs, as she tousled around on the floor with the Cryin' Man.
Rickman kicked his leg out at Mallory in retaliation, nailing the young man in the stomach. With a grunt, Mallory hurtled backward onto the floor.
Both Arturo and Diana moved forward to help Rembrandt in restraining Logan. But in the next instant, the floor - as well as the whole building - began to shake tumultuously. Everyone toppled over in conflict with the building's unsteady foundation, and Remmy lost his grip on Logan. Her gun knocked out of her hand and slid across the floor due to the violent tremor, Logan took that opportunity to flee - now unarmed, much to her own dismay.
"I'll get you yet, Quinn!" they heard Logan yell over her shoulder, even as she scrambled away down the corridor.
By now, the earthquake had subsided. Rembrandt, Mallory, Janine, Diana, Malcolm, Arturo, and Colin were able to crawl to their feet, having been thrown to the floor by the shock wave. Unfortunately, Rickman had been the first person to regain his balance as the earthquake simmered, and had nimbly grabbed the slider nearest to him - Wade, who'd previously scurried to Mallory's side after he'd been nailed by Rickman.
Rickman held Wade in a firm headlock, grinning maniacally; he positioned his syringe directly against Wade's scalp. Wade wore a mortified gaze of sheer terror, her eyes as round as saucers as she felt the syringe's metal bush against her skin.
"Don't do it, Rickman!" Mallory warned the colonel. He'd scooped up Logan's gun off the floor and aimed it at Colonel Rickman. "Don't you dare hurt her, you bastard!" Mallory had a combination of enraged fury and tortured terror upon his face.
Rickman laughed gaily. "You wouldn't want to do anything foolish, Mr. Mallory #2," he cautioned. "You so much as graze me with a bullet and your dear Miss Welles gets a needle jammed into her brain."
"Leave her out of this, Angus," Maggie pleaded with Rickman, through gritted teeth. "This is between you and me." Maggie still lay injured on the floor, Quinn by her side.
"Ah, but that is where you are mistaken, my sweet naïve Maggie. As a group you have tried to cross me, so any of you may be fair game to suffer the appropriate ramifications." Rickman tightened his grasp around Wade's neck. "Wade shall be my insurance for safe passage, until we meet again." He defiantly stared straight at the gun in Mallory's hand. "I die, she dies." He squeezed Wade even harder.
The room was at a standstill. No one dared to move, out of concern for Wade's safety. Tears were flowing down Wade's flushed cheeks. "Mallory . . . help," she squeaked in an audible whisper, to the man she loved.
Rickman began to back away, Wade in tow. "This is MY game now, my rules . . . !" He carefully stepped backward out of the room, dragging Wade with him as she quivered in fear. Reaching forward, Rickman pulled the sliders' hotel room door shut, Wade still helplessly entrapped within his other arm. Then, Rickman slinked away, yanking Wade with him.
Mallory strengthened his grip on Logan's pistol. After a few minutes of haunting silence, he declared, "I'm going after them!" He kicked open the door and charged out. Diana called after him, but Mallory had tuned everything out. His mission now had been made clear: rescue Wade.
Maggie was still on the floor, bleeding and grunting in agony. "I'll kill him," she was muttering under her breath, obviously referring to Rickman, inhaling and exhaling at an aerobic rate. Maggie's blood spilled from her flesh onto the carpet, tarnishing the fabric with an expansive red stain.
"We've got to get you to the hospital," Quinn told Maggie, wrapping Maggie's arm in a bedsheet that Malcolm had hastily pulled off of one of the double beds. Quinn applied pressure to the impromptu bandage around Maggie's arm, hoping to slow the bleeding until doctors could tend to Maggie's bullet wound. "Someone call an ambulance!"
"Way ahead of you," Janine relayed to Quinn. She had the phone receiver adjacent to her ear. "Room 276, Royal Chancellor Hotel . . ." she was instructing the person on the other end of the telephone.
"My God, that man is insane!" Professor Arturo blurted out, speaking of Rickman.
"Yeah, we kind of already knew that, Professor," Janine rhetorically informed Arturo, hanging up the phone as she finished speaking to the hospital switchboard. She approached the Professor with the timer in hand. "We need to prepare for the next slide, meaning a new set of coordinates."
Malcolm looked shell-shocked at Janine's pragmatism. "Janine, haven't you been paying attention?! Rickman just abducted Wade!"
"We can't ALL go charging after Rickman," Rembrandt reminded Malcolm. "But I am. Mallory needs some backup."
"I'm going too," Colin said, joining Remmy as they headed out the door.
"Do you guys even know what you're doing?" Quinn called after them, still at Maggie's side.
"Yeah," declared Rembrandt, as he and Colin strode down the hall. "Whatever it takes."* * *
"Rickman, please let me go," Wade whimpered, as Rickman lugged her, still in a headlock, down another hallway.
"I'm sorry, Wade, but I can't do that just yet," the colonel whispered into Wade's ear, his rancid, hot breath stinging her cheek and infesting her nostrils.
"Rickman, let her go!" Mallory's angry voice could be heard. Then Mallory appeared at the end of the hallway, gun in hand. During the millisecond when Mallory had momentarily captured Rickman's attention, Wade kicked Rickman's shin with all her might and shoved him backwards. The demented beast painfully howled and lost his balance as Wade escaped his clutches.
In no time at all, Rickman was back up on his feet, scurrying after Wade, armed with his syringe. Wade dashed as fast as her legs would carry her to the end of the hallway, where a laundry shoot was built into the wall. With a blind leap, Wade plunged her wiry self down the laundry shoot, her body shooting downward atop a metallic slide.
"You BITCH!!!" Rickman wailed, as Wade slipped out of his grasp. Knowing there was no way he could squeeze his body down the tiny laundry shoot to follow Wade, Rickman turned the corner and sprinted down the next hallway. Mallory chased after him, still firing bullets.
At the end of the next hallway, one of the two elevator doors was closing shut. Rickman managed to slip into the elevator right before the doors closed.
"Dammit!!" Mallory banged his fists against the elevator door in defeat. At that point, Rembrandt and Colin had caught up to him.
"Where are Wade and Rickman?" Rembrandt queried.
"Wade got away and went down a laundry shoot. Rickman is heading to the main floor," Mallory answered, pointing to the display panel that indicated what floors the elevator stopped at. It was currently plummeting straight for the lobby.
Colin pressed the adjacent elevator button and its adjacent elevator door opened with another empty ride. "We'll follow him."
Mallory gave Logan's gun to Rembrandt and then he made a beeline for the stairs. "I'm gonna find Wade!" he stated, leaving no room for argument.* * *
Too scared to even move, Wade huddled under a pile of freshly washed towels and linens in the Royal Chancellor's basement laundry room. Before long, a hotel maid came along and whisked the laundry cart away, with Wade still hiding inside of it, shivering.
The maid pushed the laundry cart into the elevator. Wade peeked out from under the cart, seeing the legs of the maid and a few hotel guests. As the elevator ascended several stories, the song "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor blared from the elevator's speaker system, serenading the elevator passengers.
Once again, the elevator doors slid open and the maid wheeled the laundry cart into another hallway. Wade remained underneath the neatly folded pile of clean towels, holding her breath as the maid stepped in front of a door.
"Mr. Bennish," called the maid, in a soft, angelic voice as she knocked on the door of his hotel room. "Housekeeping. You requested some clean towels?"
"Like, absolutely, babe," came the unmistakable Californian accented voice of an Alternate Conrad Bennish, who'd just opened his door for the maid. Rolling the cart into Alternate Bennish's suite, the maid headed straight for the bathroom to drop off some fresh towels.
Wade knew this was her chance. While the maid's back was turned as she occupied herself with draping some white towels over the metal racks, Wade climbed out of the bottom opening of the laundry cart and crawled into the empty shower stall. After anal-retentively arranging the towels on their racks to ridiculous perfection, the maid finally exited the bathroom, pushing the laundry cart with her as she continued about her rounds.
Alone in the bathroom, Wade could overhear the conversation going on in the bedroom. Alternate Bennish had about two or three male guests whom Wade could hear him speaking with. Since the maid had left the bathroom door slightly ajar, it was quite easy for Wade to eavesdrop.
"Winona is counting on you, Connie," Wade heard one of the men say to Alternate Bennish. "She may be on Amy's short-list for vice-president in 2004. It will be groundbreaking, monumental history: the first presidential election ever with two women running together on the same ticket. And the beauty of it is, we'll actually win, too!"
"Like, I totally dig that, Ron. But I've got bigger problems, dude." Alternate Bennish sounded incredibly irritated, despite his easygoing surfer's twang. "This whole earthquake thing is, like, totally bringing down everyone's karma. The EPA just won't c'est la vie, ya know what I'm spewin'?"
"You mean, you're afraid they might figure things out and eventually trace it back to you?"
"Like, duh, man!"
"Nah, we've covered our tracks too well. They'll never discover that our mining program is what's causing the seismic waves."
"Like, isn't science rad? I mean, all of this happened because we dug out some rocks and pumped in some chems. Gnarly, dudes!"
"No, it isn't ‘gnarly', dude," the one named Ron replied in a sarcastic, crisp voice. "Our asses are all on the line here, Bennish - especially yours!"
"Hey now, don't be checkin' out my ass, dude. I don't swing that way, you know?"
"Honestly, Ron! Do you really think Monica would turn us in? . . . she's got as much riding on this as we do." Wade could hear the second man who'd spoken challenging Ron's pessimism.
"She's the freakin' Attorney General, Dave!" exploded Ron, to his colleague. "You bet Lewinsky would let us fry if it meant saving her own fat hide!"
Wade could not believe her ears. She was apparently eavesdropping on a discussion amongst the conspirators of what may be a national scandal. And it sounded as though it was somehow related to the earthquakes on this dimension.
"Well bros," Wade heard Alternate Bennish addressing his advisors, "you don't need me if you're just gonna spew the spit back and forth. I'm gonna take a shower, man."
Uh, oh. Wade bit her fingernails as Alternate Bennish strolled into the bathroom, casually leaving the bathroom door wide open. Cramming herself into a corner of the tiled wall in the empty shower, Wade listened from behind the curtain, her eyes squeezed shut, her heart pounding; she detected the sound of Alternate Bennish's rustling clothes as he stripped off his garments. Pulling back the shower curtain, Alternate Bennish yelped at the sight of Wade huddling in the corner with her eyes covered.
"Yikes! A chick!" Alternate Bennish exclaimed, hiding the lower half of his body with a towel.
Leaping out of the shower stall, Wade hurled a bar of soap in Alternate Bennish's face and dashed out the open bathroom door. Before she could reach the exit, however, Wade was snatched up by Alternate Bennish's entourage.
"Let me go!" demanded Wade, grunting and struggling against the collective grip of Ron and Dave.
"Who the hell are you, lady? What are you doing hiding in Mr. Bennish's bathroom?!"
"Spying on us, are you? Who are you working for?!"
"I'm not working for anyone!" Wade insisted to both of them. "I ended up here by accident!"
"Yeah, sure . . ." Dave condescended her, skeptically.
Alternate Bennish had now emerged from the bathroom, wearing only his paisley boxers. "Who is she? Get rid of her!"
Ron held his hand up. "Stay cool, Connie. We need to find out what she knows. Obviously, this woman is a political spy."
"I'm not a spy!" protested Wade. She wiggled her body as Ron and Dave held her tightly in place. "I don't know what any of what you said even meant!"
"Aha! So you WERE listening in on us?" Dave accused.
"So, like, she knows that these earthquakes are our fault?" Alternate Bennish blabbed, without really thinking before he spoke.
"Bennish!" they hissed at him, pointedly.
Wade stared around at the three men. "So you're responsible for the nonstop earthquakes? How can that be?"
"How were we supposed to know it would happen? We were trying to do a good thing!" Dave sounded very defensive. "How else were we supposed to get rid of those CFC's that were ripping holes in the ozone layer?"
"CFC's?" Wade asked, confused.
"Chlorofluorocarbons," Ron provided. The middle-aged man glared at her. "Us folks in the Hoffman Administration have removed those toxins from the stratosphere with our satellite air filters. Unfortunately, the CFC's had to go somewhere, so we pumped them into the ground. How were we supposed to know it would cause a chemical reaction?"
Wade looked flabbergasted. "How irresponsible and stupid could you be?! Does President Hoffman know about this?"
"No, and we intend to keep it that way. Hoffman would be way too ethical to support our expedient cost-saving provisions if he knew what was really going on. If you ask me, ethics is overrated. Besides, it's partly his fault too - and Carter's, and Mondale's, and Ferraro's! Their geothermal mining programs may be a godsend for the economy, but displacing all those rocks around the earth's epicenter is bound to cause P waves."
"Seismic waves that travel from the earth's core to the surface. Our society has become so dependent on geothermal energy that all the underground mining has resulted in rock ruptures in the earth's mantle. Seismic activity is the end product, creating fault movements all over the planet."
"Why didn't you tell the EPA about this problem in the first place?" Wade demanded. "Shifting the earth's techtonic plates like that will eventually cost millions of lives."
"Because, the EPA is in on it. They're one of us, lady."
"Your tax dollars at work, lady. You think we don't know what's going to happen to the earth's crust?! But we've been doing this without executive approval, and if they find out that this elastic strain was started by us, it will be our asses in a sling!"
"Especially mine, dudette," Alternate Bennish told Wade. "Since, like, I get most of the credit for the popularity of mining below the earth's surface . . . like, I practically baby-sit the EPA. Rockin', huh?!"
Wade narrowed her eyes. "So you're willing to risk the lives of everyone on this planet just to make money and to save your measly reputations?! How selfish can you be?!"
Alternate Bennish glanced at Dave and Ron, then gestured toward Wade. "Waste her."* * *
Mallory crept around in the Royal Chancellor's basement laundry room, calling out in whispers, "Wade? Wade, are you down here?"
His eyes then fell upon a single red hair, inside one of the laundry carts, that stood out against the cotton fabric of the pure white towels. The single strand of hair was starkly red, very similar to Wade's hair color. Mallory carefully picked up the hair and held it between his thumb and index finger.
"Wade was here. I just know it." Mallory swiveled around as the hotel maid on duty sauntered into the utility room, pushing another cart full of linens. "Miss, can you tell me if a woman was in here earlier, about 5'3", thin, short red hair, wearing jeans and a pink silk blouse?"
The maid shook her head. "Haven't seen anyone else in here today."
Mallory's eyes wandered upon the laundry cart that he'd found Wade's hair in. The cart appeared as though a person with Wade's trim body could stow away inside of it . . .
"Where was the last place you delivered towels to?" Mallory interrogated the maid.
She blinked, thinking back. "Um . . . the penthouse, I think . . ."
Mallory was out of there in a flash.* * *
"There he goes," Colin muttered, as he and Rembrandt watched Rickman take off in a taxi aircraft. The "flying car" folded up its wheels from underneath as it ascended into the sky, Rickman riding inside of it as a passenger.
Rembrandt whistled, impressed. "Must be one of those hovercrafts that runs on hydrogen. Probably designed as a taxicab." He stuck out his arm, hailing another cab.
Another hovercraft/taxicab hybrid stopped in front of Rembrandt and Colin. They piled in, and were greeted by their hovercraft driver, Pavel Kurlienko.
"Where you want to go?!" the Alternate Pavel asked them, in his curt, Russian accent. "Come on, slowpokes! Me no have all day!"
Colin pointed forward to the hovercraft Rickman had taken off in. "Follow that cab!" Colin told Alternate Pavel.
Alternate Pavel put the pedal to the metal, so to speak, launching his hovercraft/taxi into the air and aerially tailing Rickman's hovercraft/taxi. As they zoomed through the air, Alternate Pavel switched on his radio, which was playing "We Are Family" by Sister Sledge.
"We are family . . . I got all my sisters with me . . ." Alternate Pavel sang along with Sister Sledge's vocals. Unfortunately for Rembrandt and Colin, Alternate Pavel was a pretty bad singer.
Finally, they descended back down to the ground, landing in the parking lot of a nightclub. A flashing neon sign that read Groovers decorated the upper front of the glitzy building. Rickman hurried out of his cab and ducked into the club. After paying and tipping Alternate Pavel, Remmy and Colin rushed inside after Rickman.
The interior of Groovers was dark with luminous blue and green strobe lights penetrating down upon the room. A gigantic, globular, glittery, silver disco ball hung spinning from the ceiling while a combination of hippies and yuppies danced underneath it. Donna Summer's "Dim All The Lights" was blasting from the stereo speaker system. Colin and Rembrandt scanned the crowded room for any sign of Rickman.
"Malcolm was telling me about the music on this world," Rembrandt explained to Colin. "He found out a little info from hanging out at the hotel's disco bar. On this Earth, the disco craze never ended - it actually kept gaining momentum as the good times continued to roll. Many of the popular vocalists and bands from the 70's disco era are still successful today . . . The Bee Gees, Kool & the Gang, Wayne Newton, Tom Jones, Aretha Franklin, Fleetwood Mac, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Kiss, Jimi Hendrix . . ."
"Okay, okay, so you know everything about music, Rembrandt," Colin cut in.
"You said it, Farm Boy," laughed Remmy. Then, once again, the Cryin' Man became serious. "Damn, man, how could Rickman so easily blend in among this group?! The guy looks like one of the Three Billy Goats Gruff!"
Suddenly, a woman from the crowd of dancers jumped out and threw her arms around Rembrandt, screaming. "Look, everyone! It's the Cryin' Man!!"
The crowd of hippies and yuppies all flocked around Rembrandt, shouting and screeching in recognition, trying to get Remmy's autograph or touch him. Rembrandt cringed as the woman with her arms around him screamed again in his ear.
"Hey, lady, you're gonna bust out my eardrums!" Rembrandt lambasted her.
Everyone called out to Rembrandt, in hope of being heard.
"Cryin' Man, will you marry me?!"
"I love you, Rembrandt!"
"You sexy thing!"
"Cryin' Man, when are you going to have your sing-off against Little Richard?!"
"Remmy, take me, I'm yours!"
"Spread me with jelly and eat me!"
Rembrandt covered his ears, trying to block out all the noise. But he then caught sight of Colin, motioning to him and trying to be heard over the noise.
"I can't hear you, Farm Boy!"
"Rembrandt, it's Rickman!" Colin pointed up at a platform for dancing, which Colonel Rickman had climbed to the top of.
Suddenly, the DJ began playing "YMCA".
"Oh no, not The Village People!" Remmy groaned.
All the nightclub-goers temporarily forgot about the Cryin' Man, and started to excitedly do the "YMCA" along with the music and its lyrics. Standing atop his pedestal, Rickman took that opportunity to activate his vortex, opening the demonically-tinted red wormhole. His sliding window had opened at just the right time for him. As the bright portal appeared in the room, all the clubhoppers stopped dancing and applauded, as though they thought it was some kind of special effects. Waving goodbye to Rembrandt and Colin in a deriding manner, Rickman vanished into his wormhole.
"Double damn!" Rembrandt slapped his hand against his forehead as Colin pushed through the crowd to rejoin Rembrandt.
"Well, at least Rickman will have to backtrack through several worlds before he can catch up with us again," Colin estimated. "That buys us some time."
"Yeah, but how much?" countered Rembrandt.
At that moment, another earthquake hit. All the nightclub patrons collapsed onto the dance floor, shrieking, as the tremor shook the ground under them.
"Not another one!" lamented Colin. But after less than a minute, the shock wave had settled.
"Come on, Farm Boy," beckoned Remmy, grabbing Colin's wrist. "Let's split before they turn the music back on and start doing the ‘Disco Duck'."
"What is the ‘Disco Duck'?"
"You don't wanna know . . ."* * *
"Please don't hurt me!" Wade begged Dave and Ron. "I won't tell anyone!"
"Too late! You already know too much!"
Before Ron could pull the trigger, the Royal Chancellor Hotel began to shake. Wade, Ron, Dave, and Alternate Bennish crashed onto the floor, along with lava lamps, nightstands, and clothes bureaus. Wade log-rolled her body across the carpeting, managing to elude her captors. As the earth shook all around them, Wade released a spontaneous burst of anger; the psychic energy she unexpectedly emitted from her nervous system knocked Dave backwards and sent him flying across the room.
"Whoa!" gasped Alternate Bennish. The tremor had now ceased. He turned to Wade. "Cool stuff! How'd you do that?"
Ron got back up onto his feet to fire his gun at Wade. But Wade was already two steps ahead of him. She channeled her telekinetic powers, causing the gun to fly right out of Ron's grip and slide across the floor. Then, taking another deep breath, Wade directed all of her rage at Ron. Her telekinesis sent Ron soaring backwards through the air, and he crashed right through a nearby window. Glass shattered and Ron screamed as he hurtled to his death from at least eight stories high.
Dave desperately dove for Ron's gun, but Wade intervened before he could grab it. She projected another burst of energy at Dave, compelling Dave's body to flip over, making his body do an involuntary somersault and slamming him down hard flat on his back.
Alternate Bennish was astounded, his mouth shaped in a wide oval formation. "Like, you should join the circus, dudette," he complimented Wade, breathtaken in awe.
Wade just glared at him. "I'm warning you, stay away from me, Bennish . . . or I'll kick your ass too!"
Dave was moaning from where he laid paralyzed on the floor, babbling. "We should have learned from the Jesse Jackson fiasco," he whimpered, his voice filled with regret. "The Modernists deserved to rule . . . we crushed the Republicans, crushed the Democrats, crushed the Communists after the Angela Davis incident . . ."
"Sorry, bub. There's a little thing we Americans like to call democracy." Wade turned and marched toward the door. "I'm outta here."
"Hold it!" A handful of Secret Service agents busted into the hotel suite. They'd been stationed in the room next door. "Freeze, ma'am!" They pointed their guns at Wade.
But Wade couldn't stop now. Her rage was manifesting itself in full force. She bristled at the agents and psychically sent them pummeling out of her pathway. Exiting the penthouse suite, Wade ran down the hallway. She then caught sight of a familiar face at the end of the hall.
Mallory and Wade hurried toward each other, meeting halfway. They embraced, relieved and overjoyed.
"Ahem." The ice cold voice of Logan St. Clair interrupted their reunion. "Sorry to break up the hugfest . . ." Logan stood right behind Mallory, her metallic gun barrel pressed into his back.
"How'd you find us?" Mallory hesitantly asked Logan, his body frozen. He didn't dare to test Logan's instability. "And how'd you get another gun so quickly?"
"Idiot. I hid in the lobby, and followed you up here when you came up from the basement." She edged her gun harder into Mallory's spine. "And luckily for me, this world has lousy gun control. They'll sell a Saturday Night Special to anyone with a credit card - even if it's from another dimension, like mine is." Logan shot a murderous gaze at Wade. "You're going to do exactly what I tell you, Wade. Or else he gets it."
"I don't think so, Logan." Wade flared at the rogue slider, her telekinesis plucking the Saturday Night Special right out of Logan's hand and flinging the weapon onto the floor.
Logan actually looked frightened. "How . . . how . . . what was that?!"
Wade glared again, sending Logan crashing back into a wall. Logan flushed; her face looked like that of a deer trapped in headlights.
"Miss, please! We won't hurt you!" A couple of the Secret Service agents had emerged from the hotel suite, crawling on their hands and knees, plainly unarmed as a deliberate sign of good faith for Wade. "We just want to talk with you."
The agent had diverted Wade's attention long enough to distract her from Logan. Scared beyond comprehension, Logan had taken that moment to activate her wormhole and escape through her own ERP Bridge. Since Logan's final seconds on Disco World had been ticking down, she'd planned on at least killing Mallory and Wade before she had to leave that dimension. The revelation of Wade's telekinetic ability, naturally, had thwarted Logan's plot . . . for now.
Wade knew she needed to disclose the details to the Secret Service regarding the crimes committed by Alternate Bennish and his cronies. But for the moment, she embraced Mallory a second time, sobbing with her head buried against his chest.
It was finally over.* * *
The early morning sunrise shown through the window of Maggie Beckett's hospital room. Quinn Mallory had been sitting by Maggie's bedside all night, watching over the woman he loved. Maggie's arm was in a sling, its flesh wrapped in a cast; her arm was being held up in the air by a hanging brace hooked to an IV. The usually-tough marine had been sleeping soundly like a baby for hours.
Quinn sighed, standing up to scratch his legs. He had vowed to put an end to both Logan's and Rickman's shenanigans once and for all. Whenever they might cross paths in the future, Quinn would do whatever it took to stop Logan or Rickman - for they had endangered Maggie's life, and virtually nothing could possibly have hurt Quinn more. A tear dropped from beneath the young physics genius's eyeball, sliding down his face. Quinn leaned over and kissed Maggie softly on her cheek.
The rest of the sliders were assembled in one of the waiting rooms at Van Nuys Hospital, chattering about the past 18 hours. A lot had certainly happened since their departure from Witch World less than a day earlier. As the octet gabbed away regarding the previous day's events, Quinn strolled out to address them.
"How's Maggie holding up, Q-Ball?" asked Rembrandt, as the conversation died down upon Quinn's arrival.
Quinn gave his friends a heartening smile. Even after all these years, he still felt responsible for them being there. "She's going to be fine," Quinn assured them, hoping to restore the team's faith in him. "Maggie had a pretty bad wound in her arm, but they removed the bullet. She's recuperating now . . . sleeping like a baby, just letting her shoulder heal."
"Thank God!" Diana sighed in relief.
"Yes, Mr. Mallory, we were all quite concerned for Miss Beckett's well-being, and praying for her safe recovery," admitted Arturo. He was nibbling on a Snickers bar from one of the vending machines.
Quinn plopped down on an armchair in the waiting room. "So what happened while I was MIA?"
"Well, Rickman escaped," Colin informed his brother, glumly.
"So did Logan," added Wade. "She followed Mallory when he came after me."
Quinn moved over to Wade and sat down next to her on the sofa. "How did you manage to elude Rickman?" he asked her, placing his hand softly on Wade's wrist.
Wade glanced over at Mallory and beamed. "Mallory came after us to try to get me away from Rickman . . . he risked his life for me." Her eyes were glued to Mallory, affectionately. "Mallory distracted Rickman long enough for me to escape down the laundry shoot, where I hid in a towel cart. The maid brought me up to Bennish's room . . . he and his advisors were in town stumping for Governor LaDuke's reelection campaign."
"Who?" queried Malcolm, not recognizing the name.
"Winona LaDuke," explained Wade. "She's the governor of California on this world; on Earth Prime she was an environmental activist. In college, I studied Ms. LaDuke for my Environmentalists in History course. On this Earth, Winona LaDuke will probably be Amy Carter's vice-presidential running mate in the next election, in 2004. Anyway, I found out that Bennish, as Secretary of State, has been abusing his power by giving approval to illegal mining behind President Hoffman's back. He's responsible for the excessive earthquakes on his world."
"Bennish was causing all the earthquakes?!" Janine squinted, confused. "How is that even possible? I thought earthquakes were a part of nature?"
"Usually they are," Wade confirmed. "But as part of Bennish's secret environmental policy, he was stuffing pollutants beneath the earth's crust. That caused irregular and frequent techtonic plate movements."
Arturo nodded. "That would make sense. Extracting hydrothermal resources from the lithosphere and replacing them with toxins and elements, like arsenic and boron, would eventually result in a chemical combustion. Such convection within the lithosphere would then release energy, turning the rocks brittle. Thus, the dislocation of large rock masses along fault lines - in laymen's terms, earthquakes."
"So that's what makes the ground shake?" Malcolm thought he was understanding.
"That's right, Malcolm. It's basic geology," Quinn elucidated. "The emission of those liquids and gases in the earth's crust transfers heat and transmits P waves that ripple to the surface. Then you have different degrees of elastic strain, measured on the Richter scale."
"What is that, brother?" Colin ventured.
"A system of seismic measurement developed by Charles F. Richter in 1935. The release of gravitational seismic energy is measured by a machine called a seismograph. Seismographs record a zig zag trace of an earthquake's amplitude and make predictions of where an earthquake might hit in the future. Anyway, the logarithm of a seismic wave's amplitude determines an earthquake's magnitude. Different magnitudes are assigned numerical values on the Richter scale. A magnitude of 5.3 is considered moderate, whereas 6.3 is thought to be strong. Tremors of less than 2.0 on the Richter scale are classified as microearthquakes."
"I'd estimate that the earthquakes we've seen on this world measure at least a 7.0," the Professor guessed. "Wouldn't you agree, Dr. Davis?"
"Yes, that sounds about right," Diana consented. "When the strength of the rock is exceeded, the frequency, or number of wave cycles per second, is tabulated. They use hertz to represent each wave cycle. Seismologists do this through seismometers to take a visual record of the unstable interior. My PDL has detected some pretty high frequencies while surveying the matrical structure of this dimension."
Janine stuck her tongue out in amusement. "Don't you eggheads ever get sick of talking in technobabble?"
"At any rate," Quinn said, "this world is going to be much better off now that Bennish is no longer polluting the lithosphere. People will be able to use hydrothermal resources for heating, air-conditioning, and water without worrying about P waves."
"How do they use geothermal energy?" Malcolm inquired. "I mean, to make water and heat and stuff?"
"The mining of lithospheric rock and magma can be heated to produce steam and energy," Professor Arturo supplied, munching on his Snickers. "Geothermal water is fed into a heat exchanger, to be purified. It's actually a very clean, abundant, and resourceful form of alternative energy."
Wade nodded her agreement with the Professor. "The Secret Service and FBI had to take my statement after I used my telekinesis on Bennish's minions. They assured me that Attorney General Lewinsky will be investigating."
"You guys should have seen Wade!" Mallory proudly raved to his friends about the woman whom he deeply cared about. He put his arm around Wade and held her close to him. "The way she knocked Logan's gun right out of the bitch's hand when Logan was about to kill me . . . you should have seen the look on Logan's face! Priceless! Too bad she escaped through her wormhole before Wade could give Logan a real ass-kicking!"
Wade blushed, sheepishly gazing at the floor. "Aw, it was nothing . . ."
"So Miss Welles," inquired Arturo, finishing off his candy bar, "does this mean you can exert your telekinetic powers at will?"
Wade shook her head. "I don't think it works that way, Professor. Felice only taught me how to use telekinesis when I concentrate heavily, which requires a lot of mental strain. It seems as though my ability only works when I'm angry or frustrated . . . at one point I was paralyzed with fear, and didn't even consider using it. But when it does come back to me, using those powers is just like riding a bike . . . I learned it once, so it returns to me in a snap."
Diana smiled at Wade, knowingly. "I know what you mean, Wade. My ability to tap into paradimensional consciousness only comes about in unpredictable spurts, and only sporadically. I have no control over it, probably because I didn't spend enough time as part of the universal collective. But I'm still intricately familiar with the ability itself, since it's become a part of me."
Wade returned Diana's smile, reclining her head back against Mallory's warm body.
"Well gang," Quinn addressed his fellow sliders, "visiting hours should be starting soon. Why don't we go in to see Maggie? We need to wake her up anyway, so she can make the slide with us."
Soon, the nine of them were gathered around Maggie's hospital bed. Captain Beckett still snoozed like Sleeping Beauty, unaware of her friends' presence.
"Maggie," Quinn whispered to her, shaking the marine gently.
Slowly, Maggie opened her eyes. "Quinn?" she murmured, groggily. Rolling over as she awoke, Maggie turned to see her friends assembled in her room. "Oh, I feel like hell," she moaned, squeezing her eyes shut. "If I ever see Logan again, I'm gonna wring her neck."
Quinn beamed at Maggie. He felt grateful that she was alive, even if she was feeling sickly at that moment. He loved Maggie Beckett, and that was all that mattered.
Wade stepped forward to approach Maggie's bedside. "I hope you'll feel better soon, Maggie," she began to tell Maggie, a genuine expression of concern on Wade's face. "I know you must be in pain . . ."
"What do you care, Wade?!" snapped Maggie, abruptly narrowing her eyes. "You didn't have a bullet lodged in your arm! How can you possibly know what it's like to be me right now?!" Maggie's nostrils flared, and she looked about ready to cry. "Just leave me alone! I don't need you feeling sorry for me!"
"Maggie . . ."
"Leave me alone!" Maggie repeated, glaring at Wade. Maggie's pride was obviously wounded by her humility.
Smarting like she'd been slapped, Wade turned around and slunk away from Maggie's bed. Diana followed Wade out of the hospital room. "She didn't mean anything by it . . . Maggie just needs some more painkillers," Diana tried to convince Wade, sensitively. Mallory had also left the hospital room and joined them.
"Yeah, whatever . . ." Wade slouched, plunking herself down on a chair in the outside waiting room. She just wanted to leave all memories of this world behind.
Maggie buzzed her intercom for the nurse, who promptly entered the room toting a tray with pills and a cup of water. As Maggie swallowed her pain medicine, the nurses' station buzzed her via the intercom.
"Ms. Beckett," a voice called to Maggie over the intercom, "you have a phone call on our switchboard."
"Are you up to it, Ms. Beckett?" the nurse asked her.
Maggie groaned, resting her eyes again. "Who is it?" she murmured, irritably.
"Vice-President Amy Carter," responded the second nurse, who was speaking on the other end of the intercom. "And it's not a prank . . . we've received federal confirmation of her identity."
Her eyes popping open, Maggie looked a bit intrigued. "Uh, sure . . . put her on."
Maggie's attending nurse left to go back to the nurses' station and shortly returned carrying a cell phone. She handed the cell phone to Maggie. Placing the phone to her ear, Maggie spoke into it, "Vice-President Carter?"
The remaining sliders watched with interest as Maggie had a rather pleasant private phone conversation with Vice-President Amy Carter. From what they could decipher based on hearing Maggie's end of the conversation, the vice-president seemed to be delivering good news to Maggie.
"Well, what did she have to say, girl?" Rembrandt asked, breaking the silence after Maggie hung up the phone and handed it back to the nurse, who then exited.
An awed, breathtaken expression was plastered upon Maggie's face. "She called me to apologize for this mess, Rem. The vice-president actually called ME to offer her personal apologies that I was injured!" Maggie sounded rather excited. "She updated me on what's going to happen now, since she felt I had the right to know. President Hoffman placed a temporary sanction on all geothermal mining until he appoints a new Secretary of State . . . he's asked for Bennish's resignation. It turns out that the Secretary of the Interior, Linda Tripp, found out about Bennish's schemes a few weeks ago. He'd been covering his tracks pretty well, but since natural resources are Secretary Tripp's department, she eventually caught wind of what was going on from a snitch in Bennish's camp. She's been gathering up all the evidence against Bennish, basically biding her time until she could present her case against him to the president, which she will now do immediately."
"But if Tripp is Secretary of the Interior, then how did Bennish get away with this for so long without her knowing?" Quinn asked.
"Well," replied Maggie, "as Secretary of State, Bennish routinely works with other world leaders on international affairs - including geothermal energy consumption. It turns out there's a whole list of suspected heads of State around the world who've been collaborating with Bennish in illegal mining. Needless to say, Linda Tripp was more than a little furious when she first discovered what's been going on."
"She thought all the economic mining had been legitimate and legal?" Malcolm finished.
"That's right," affirmed Maggie. "Attorney General Lewinsky will be launching a full-scale investigation. Amy said that the public needs to be assured that President Hoffman will get rid of a criminal like Bennish from his cabinet."
"Amy? So now you're on a first-name basis with the vice-president?" teased Rembrandt.
Maggie made a face at him, amused. "She seems like a genuinely nice person who cares what happens to our planet. To think, I just spoke with a woman who will most likely be the next President of the United States on this Earth." Maggie giggled, lightly. "Amy also mentioned to me that she and her husband, James Wentzel, the Second Gentleman, are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary next month. She actually invited me to attend, but of course, I had to tell Amy I'd be out of town, so to speak." She winked at them.
Arturo clapped his hands together, proudly. "Well, ladies and gentlemen, it seems as though our work here is done. Another dimension, another good deed."
"And it's almost time to slide," added Janine, watching as one minute remained digitally counting down on the timer. "Come on, people, the train's leaving!"
Quinn and Colin began to help Maggie unhook her bandaged arm from the hanging brace.
"You know, you really owe Wade an apology for the way you yelled at her," Colin told Maggie. "I do not understand why the two of you are so mean to each other. She was just trying to be compassionate."
Maggie, pretty much ignoring Colin, draped her arm around Quinn for mobile support. "How much time, Janine?" she called out.
"Less than 30 seconds," responded Janine. She veered her head and instructed Mallory, who was outside in the hallway with Wade and Diana, "Hey Mallory, make yourself useful and corral Diana and your girlfriend! Tell them it's time to leave!"
Mallory retrieved Diana and Wade from the waiting area. Janine stood in the middle of the room, the timer outstretched in her hand. Clicking the activation button, Janine opened their new purple wormhole.
"Wow, it's so beautiful," Malcolm commented, getting another good look at their altered vortex. He plunged in, as did Janine, Arturo, and Rembrandt. Diana, Mallory, and Wade followed, trailed by Quinn and Colin who were holding onto Maggie so she'd have a relatively painless landing.* * *
Hand in hand with Quinn, Maggie swept her feet across the beaches of Santa Cruz with her man, resting her head back against his chest. It was approaching dusk, yet a mixture of families, surfers, and college students still roamed the sandy beach, playing volleyball, frisbee, picnicking, or just lounging and taking it easy on the cool, leisurely beachfront.
"I'm glad we're here for a whole week," Maggie spoke, dreamily. "It'll give us a chance to rest." She tossed back her long, waist-length hair, which she had recently dyed bright red, for a change of style.
Quinn looked down at his sweetheart. "It's strange how it sometimes takes a tragedy to put things in perspective of what really matters in life. I can't believe I could have lost you forever, if Logan's aim had been a little more accurate." He sighed. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Maggie."
Maggie gave Quinn's waist a squeeze. "As long as we have each other . . . we'll put a stop to them. Rickman and Logan may have left through separate wormholes, but I doubt they'll give up pursuing us. We'll just have to be doubly prepared for them next time." Her eyes twinkled. "Hey, if worse comes to worse, the ten of us can dogpile either or both of them, and beat the stuffing out of them."
Quinn's heart thudded with intense emotion. "Beckett, did I ever tell you how much I love you?"
"Yeah, but don't let that stop you from saying it again, Mallory."
Maggie and Quinn laughed, strolling arm-in-arm toward the sunset.
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