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.
Special thanks to Zerlina for her help with the English-to-Japanese translations in this story.
* * *
Maggie Beckett leaned against the railing, overlooking a pit where a pair of spotted leopards were approaching and circling one another. The beasts' lustful movements indicated that they had initiated the beginning stages of what appeared to be a mating ritual.
Averting her gaze away from them, Maggie rolled her eyes. "Even the zoo animals are getting more than me," she bitterly muttered, under her breath.
She was, of course, thinking of Quinn.
Rembrandt and Diana came up behind Maggie.
Diana softly laid her fingers on Maggie's shoulder. "There you are," she said. "We were getting worried about you, Maggie."
"We thought you'd maybe taken a wrong turn back over by the gazelle pen," Rembrandt tried to crack a joke.
Maggie snorted, momentarily amused. She recalled the frisky gazelles.
"How much longer until we slide?" Maggie asked them, wearily.
Diana looked down at her watch. "20 minutes and change."
"Great. Let's go." Maggie spoke her words with absolutely no enthusiasm, and tromped on ahead of them.
Diana glanced at Remmy, helplessly. "She's been like this for weeks, Rem. What are we going to do?"
Rembrandt sighed. "There's not much we can do. Except be there for her."
Ever since Quinn and Colin had separated from the group, Maggie had fallen into a lifeless slump. The two brothers had embarked on a journey to spread the anti-Kromagg virus to countless other worlds through self-teleportation, via the body slidules they had been implanted with on their birthworld. That was six weeks ago. Since then, Maggie's mood had not improved one bit.
Rembrandt and Diana proceeded to follow Maggie across the sidewalk, through a menagerie of additional sections containing the prolific array of wildlife living at San Luis Obispo Savannah Land. The city zoo - a haven for uniquely African creatures - had been the sliders' final pleasure stop at the end of a four-week stay that alternated between working menial jobs during the week to pay for their hotel rooms and sightseeing on the weekends to blow off some steam.
Maggie, Rembrandt, and Diana had arrived in front of the elephant pit where the enormous mammals inhaled water from a pond through their prehensile trunks. However, rather than being coated with the typical grayish skin of elephants on most parallel worlds, these elephants were covered with a remarkably bright veil of pink flesh.
"Great," muttered Maggie, gesturing to the beasts in an embittered huff. "Now even the elephants are reminding me how lonely I'm going to be on Valentine's Day from now on!"
One of the elephants blew a loud, honking noise through its trunk at the zoogoers who were watching it. The other pink elephants continued to patiently inhale pond water from within their arid enclave.
"Well, it is strange," Diana admitted, watching the oddly pigmented mammals. "I mean - pink elephants?" She chuckled, and poked Maggie in the ribs. "Although I guess it's no more weird than pork soda."
"And then there was that one Earth with the purple sky," Rembrandt recalled, thinking back. "Although Q-Ball and I ended up being androids on that world, too . . ."
Muffling a cough from her throat, Diana elbowed Remmy at his mention of Quinn. One of the elephants trumpeted another hoarse grunt through its pink proboscis.
Maggie just walked away, her shoulders sagging.
"Man! Stupid, stupid Cryin' Man . . . !" Rembrandt pounded his forehead repeatedly with his fist. He couldn't stand seeing Maggie like this. His heart ached for her.
Fifteen minutes later, the rest of the group had gathered underneath a shady willow tree in a small park just outside the zoo.
"How's she doing?" Mallory asked Rembrandt, who had just opened the wormhole. He was referring to Maggie, who had taken a pouty seat at a wooden picnic table.
Remmy shook his head. "Don't ask."
As everyone else jumped through the vortex, Rembrandt headed over to retrieve Maggie from her solitude.
* * *
"This world looks normal enough," observed Malcolm, as the vortex closed behind him and his friends.
"Knock on wood, Malcolm," quipped Janine, brushing grass blades off her jeans.
The sliders were back in Golden Gate Park - still a familiar landmark and favorite dimensional entry point after all these years.
"There's Honest Abe," Wade pointed out, as they spotted the quintessential park statue of President Abraham Lincoln. "But I'm not going to pretend that I think it means we're home."
"No, Honest Abe is probably well-scorched on Earth Prime by now, Miss Wells," the Professor sadly lamented, as he put his arm around Wade with fatherly console.
"At least it looks safe . . ." Mallory started to say, but then he felt a hand clamp over his mouth.
"Don't even think of saying it, Mr. Mallory!" Arturo reprimanded Quinn's fraternal double. "Every time someone says that, something bad happens."
Maggie half-tripped, and she reached out to clutch the upper trunk of a tree for leverage as she regained her balance.
"Are you okay?" Rembrandt came up behind her, placing his hands on Maggie's shoulder and spine to steady her.
"Yeah, Rem . . . I think I'm just a little bit disoriented from the slide," answered Maggie, unconvincingly. She bumped into the hanging branch of the same tree, and did a double take when she saw its leaves.
Hanging from the leafy arms of the tree were strawberries, sprouting from vines that wrapped themselves around its branches.
"Oh, don't tell me strawberries grow on trees here . . ." Maggie groaned, stumbling again as she became dizzier. Her skin felt cold and incomplete, as though she was somehow melting into the air around her.
"Maggie!" yelled out Diana, watching as Maggie collapsed underneath the strawberry tree.
Remmy, Diana, and Mallory all ran toward Maggie in unison, but they were forced to stop in their tracks as an abrupt flash of reddish light enveloped Maggie Beckett.
The mysterious luminescence morphed from red to purple, and it gradually became blue before dissipating entirely. Once the light had vanished, so had Maggie.
Sitting in her place was another woman. As she removed the helmet from her head, the sliders could see this woman had short, cropped red hair and long legs covered with belted, dull brown, polyester pants. On her upper body she wore a brown leather windbreaker, with a quilted watch cap on her head. Large aviator goggles covered her eyes.
The woman proceeded to remove her goggles, and her impish face could clearly be seen peppered with frustrated confusion. Her legs, which had previously been sprawled out in front of her, nervously receded back as she brought them closer to her body in a semi-fetal position.
"What happened?!" she called out, looking around her. Trembling, the woman caught sight of the sliders gathered around her. "Where am I? Where's Fred?!"
"Fred?" Janine gave her a squinty look of puzzlement.
Rembrandt took charge, and kneeled beside the shaken woman. "Calm down," he told her, gently. "Tell us who you are."
The woman looked up at Rembrandt's sensitive mocha face. "I . . . I'm Amelia Earhart," she squeaked out.
Rembrandt slowly gazed around at his friends, absolutely speechless.
* * *
The last thing Maggie saw as she fell backwards were the odd tree branches that bore strawberry vines hanging down from above her. She could feel her body phasing out of this reality, and her back and shoulders didn't even hit the ground.
Instead, Maggie felt herself in a sitting position, materializing upon some upholstered fabric of a chair. As her vision cleared, Maggie surveyed dark gray clouds and a dim blue sky stretched out before her.
She then realized that she was viewing the sky through a glass window . . .
. . . the front windscreen of an airplane.
Maggie was seated in the cockpit of an airplane, steering the magnificent flying machine through the late-morning skies.
"Who are you?! How did you get here?!" demanded a shocked and shaken voice to Maggie's right.
Her hands still gripping the steering wheel, Maggie turned and looked over her shoulder to see a dark-haired man sitting to her side, clutching a compass in one hand and a map in the other. The man had a chiseled, serious-looking face and a ruddy complexion, appearing to be in his early- to mid-forties. He was staring at Maggie as though she was an extraterrestrial creature, his mouth hanging wide open. For some reason, Maggie noticed a protrusion on this man's forehead, over his right eye.
"I don't know . . . I mean, I don't know how I got here!" Maggie struggled for words. She took a quick glance at the plane's fuel gauge and could see it was running low - nearly empty, in fact. "It's almost out of fuel!" she cried, desperately jerking the wobble pump back and forth.
"Tell me something new!" the man responded, in a panicked roar.
In the distance, Maggie could see some tiny islands dotting the vast ocean below their position in the sky.
"Can you land the plane?!" the navigator hollered at her, over the rumble of their airplane's motor.
"Yes, I know what I'm doing!" Maggie shouted back, as she gripped the elevator controls and began the plane's descent toward the small specks of land beneath them. She looked to the directional gyro for help in a moment of confusion, but then realized it didn't really matter - in one direction or another, they were going down.
Maggie's heart pounded against her chest as she struggled to lower the aircraft's altitude, aiming for the closest island she could target the shore of. But it wasn't easy; this was vintage airplane equipment - much more primitive and less aerodynamic than what Maggie was accustomed to flying. The overhead panel didn't have quite as many switches as the fighter jets on Pulsar Prime, and she couldn't even begin to imagine how this clunker's radial engine must look. Every so often, she would glance at the speed indicator, trying to control their impending descent as best as she could. "I'm gonna try to target shallow waters, so we can land safely before we run out of juice!" Maggie Beckett told her mysterious new companion.
Maggie did her best to aim for the shoreline, racing against the clock to land the airplane before fuel ran out completely. The bank indicator looked ready to burst. She held her breath and braced herself as they approached one of the islands and went kerplunk! into the ocean.
* * *
"You're Amelia Earhart?" Mallory scoffed, with disbelief in his voice.
"Yes!" she insisted.
"But . . . according to history, Amelia Earhart crash-landed in the Pacific right before World War II," Wade stated.
"That's your world's history, Wade," Diana quietly reminded her. She indicated herself and Mallory before revealing, "On our Earth, Amelia Earhart completed a month-long flight around the world in the late-1930s. But three years later, she was shot down by Nazi bombers over waters off the coast of Iceland."
"Who's Amelia Earhart?" Janine asked them, rather impatiently. This was the first she'd ever heard of that name.
"I'm Amelia Earhart!" insisted the flustered, redheaded pilot, utterly baffled by these strangers' verbal exchanges. "And what's this about a World War II? I completed a flight?! I was in the process of making what was to be my last great flight . . ." She stopped in the midst of her sweaty, aimless confusion. "What . . . what year is this?"
Rembrandt looked at the others before telling her, "It's 2002."
That wasn't the answer she'd been anticipating. Slumping against the tree trunk in further shock, Amelia Earhart sunk to the ground.
Malcolm leaned in, addressing Rembrandt, Wade, and Arturo. "So this lady thinks she's Amelia Earhart?"
"Quite possibly, Mr. Eastman . . ." The Professor hesitated. "Or . . . there is something bigger going on here."
"Like what, Professor?" Wade asked him.
"And what does it have to do with Maggie disappearing?" Rembrandt hissed, still terrified for Maggie's safety.
Meanwhile, Diana, Mallory, and Janine were attempting to comfort this woman who claimed to be Amelia Earhart.
"I don't understand . . . !" The woman identifying herself as Amelia Earhart tried her best to remain calm, but her eyes were rolling back from fatigue. "I saw this bright light . . . and then I felt myself falling backwards . . . but backwards through where? - I don't know! It was as though I began floating through outer space - but that would be scientifically impossible . . . would it not?"
Janine smirked, and slapped her hand on Amelia's shoulder, non-chalantly. "Nothing is scientifically impossible anymore, hon."
Amelia looked confused, so Diana kneeled down in front of her. "Maybe it would help if you tell us what you can remember? What were you doing before all of this happened?"
"Fred and I had embarked on the final leg of our flight. We were crossing the Pacific . . ."
"Fred?" Mallory interrupted her. He raised his eyebrows, trying to refrain from rolling his eyes. "You don't, by any chance, mean Fred Noonan, do you?"
"Yes! Fred Noonan is my navigator! The last thing I remember, he was sitting in my Electra right beside me." Amelia Earhart looked at Mallory with hope-filled eyes. "But how could you possibly know Fred?!" she asked, eagerly.
Mallory bit his lip, and looked at Diana. "I think she's been sucking on the bottle a little too much."
Now Diana rolled her eyes, and ignored Mallory's insensitive remark. She turned her full attention toward this woman claiming to be Amelia Earhart. "Um, Ms. Earhart . . . ?"
"Please, call me Amelia," she responded. "Or 'AE' . . . whichever you prefer." Getting to her feet, Amelia was still shaking as Diana and Janine helped to steady her. "Where are we?" She surveyed Golden Gate Park around her.
"This is Golden Gate Park . . . in San Francisco," Diana revealed.
Amelia Earhart cocked her head at the sliders. "Are you sure it's . . . how can it possibly be the year - 2002, you said?"
Malcolm and Wade nodded their heads.
"And what year was it from the time you can last remember?" Professor Arturo asked her.
Amelia Earhart paused, making sure she remembered correctly. "1937," she said. "July 2, 1937."
Wade's eyes widened, and her gaze shot over to the Professor. "Today is July 2."
"Yes, I'm quite aware of the calendar date, Miss Wells," harrumphed Arturo, in a rather blustery tone. He was preoccupied with helping Amelia to somehow figure out exactly how she'd gotten there. "Now, madam, you said you remember feeling as though your body was floating?"
"Yes . . ." Amelia tentatively admitted, as Professor Arturo clasped her shoulder and gently ushered her toward him and Wade.
"Did you see any type of . . . 'tunnel' around you, Miss Earhart? Did you feel like you were hurtling forward at an accelerated speed?" Arturo was wondering if maybe she had traveled through some form of a vortex. "Did you see any bright colors . . . perhaps blues or purples?"
"No . . ." Amelia Earhart blinked and closed her eyes. Thinking back, she recalled, "It wasn't a 'tunnel,' really . . . it was hard to describe. No, it was pretty dim. Lots of darkness. And I was not moving at the fast rate you described. It was more of a peaceful glide."
"Oh, so now she's hang-gliding through hyperspace . . ." Mallory rolled his eyes again.
"Mallory!" Diana reprimanded her friend, swatting him. It was obvious that the two of them had different opinions of Amelia's authenticity.
"You have to admit, Diana," said Janine, coming to Mallory's defense, "it's a pretty crazy description. And she doesn't seem to even know what it was that she saw."
"I'm telling you the way it was, I tell ya!" Amelia barked at them, defensively. A twinge of pain pierced her forehead, causing Amelia Earhart to cringe.
"Okay, we've got to get her to a hospital," Malcolm said, with urgency in his voice.
"I don't think that's going to be much of a problem," Janine uttered, her gaze focused on the nearby sidewalk.
Most of the sliders hadn't noticed until then, but a group of vans and two ambulances had pulled up beside them. A hoard of uniformed paramedics spilled out of the ambulances, while some security forces with weapons emerged from the vans.
"Why does it seem like everywhere we go, someone is always pointing guns at us?" Malcolm grumbled, with a pout.
"Are you folks okay?" called out one of the paramedics, concerned. "Is anyone hurt?"
The security team and medics parted like the Red Sea, as a woman in a long white labcoat passed through the crowd of uniformed men. She ran up to Amelia and the sliders.
"Ms. Earhart?" asked the woman in the labcoat, tentatively. She seemed to have anticipatory hope in her voice.
Amelia Earhart stared back at her. "Who are you?"
The woman had her light-brunette hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her face was crinkled up as she stoically observed the newcomers. "I'm Dr. Jenny Winslow," she introduced herself. "I do research at Richardson Laboratories in Sausalito."
"Wait a second . . ." Rembrandt frowned at Dr. Jenny Winslow, suspiciously. "How did you know who she was?" Remmy couldn't take his eyes off of Dr. Winslow, who was still staring intently yet unsurprised at Amelia.
"Anyone could recognize Ms. Earhart from the history books," scoffed Jenny Winslow, defensively. "Besides . . . it was an educated conjecture." She looked around at the sliders. "I'll be happy to tell you more over at our labs. Now it's your turn. Who are you people, and what are you doing here?"
Mallory pressed his lips together and smirked at her. "We were just out for an afternoon stroll."
Dr. Winslow folded her arms. "Nice try. But our hyperspatial satellites detected exotic matter entering this dimension." She studied their faces, intricately. "I see you're not very surprised that I mentioned hyperspace," she observed, taking note of their unperturbed reactions.
"What can we say? We're science buffs," Mallory quipped, as a facetious retort.
Jenny returned Mallory's smirk. "So I take it that Ms. Earhart existed in your quantum reality, as well?"
Wade shook her head, trying to keep from visibly chuckling at the situation. "She's good," Wade commented to her friends, referring to the astute observation of Dr. Jenny Winslow. Mentally, Wade couldn't stop thinking about how similar this felt to when she and her friends had first arrived on Logan St. Clair's homeworld, and Logan had proceeded to stun and impress them with her theoretical knowledge of interdimensional travel.
Jenny mustered what she hoped the sliders would interpret as a congenial smile. "I'm sure we can have a nice long chat about all of this good stuff over at my laboratory. If you'll follow me . . ."
Amelia Earhart was still in an aimless state of confusion over the events unfolding around her. "Can someone please tell me what's going on here?"
"We're being taken prisoner," Janine wryly stated, as Jenny Winslow's security team began escorting all of them toward the vans.
Wade put her arm around Amelia as they moved forward. "Trust me, you'll get used to it. We have."
* * *
As soon as the Lockheed Electra hit the shallow waters, Maggie scooted out of her seat and shimmied back into the cabin of the plane. Fumbling around, she was able to locate two pairs of rubber waders relatively quickly.
"Here! Put these on!" Maggie tossed a pair of the elongated rubber boots in Fred's direction. "This hull is going to be filling with water any minute now!" She struggled to untie her own sneakers and threw them aside.
Fred Noonan followed Maggie's lead, as the slider hurried back to the pilot's seat. Sure enough, water had already begun oozing into the fuselage through the cabin floorboards. Maggie stood up on the wooden bench seat and pressed her hands against the metal of the triangular cockpit door.
The cockpit door burst open. More water from the Pacific Ocean spilled into the cockpit, while Maggie and Fred spilled out of it.
Soon they were trudging through waters with decreasing shallowness, toward the sandy shores of a beach. Endless clusters of palm trees graced the picturesque coast.
Maggie plopped down on the beach so she could remove her waders. Fred rest against a palm tree, trying to catch his breath.
"What happened?" he demanded, once he'd begun breathing regularly. "I turned to look, and the next thing I knew, Meely was gone, and . . . and . . . YOU were there!" He stared at Maggie, suspiciously. "Who are you?!"
"My name is Maggie Beckett," she volunteered, looking over at Fred, cautiously. "Now tell me who you are?"
"Fred Noonan. Aviator." He turned one of his waders upside-down to drain out the excess seawater. "Now it's your turn again. What was that bright light? How did you get in our plane? And what did you do to Meely?!"
"Fred Noonan . . ." Maggie had tuned out most of his questions. She was gaping at Fred in utter disbelief. "Meely . . . ?" she repeated. "You don't mean . . . you mean you're . . . you're Amelia Earhart's navigator?"
"That's right!" he responded, through gritted teeth. "Now explain to me, Maggie Beckett, what you did to AE, and where you came from!"
Maggie didn't know what to say. She just stared out at the vast blue ocean. Her eyes were fixated on the sandy atolls in the distance, little amoebas speckling the Pacific Ocean.
"Well, answer me, woman!" Fred prodded, impatiently.
"Listen, I don't know what happened to Amelia . . ." Maggie admitted, feeling the barren emptiness in her own stomach. "And I don't know how I got here. The last thing I can remember is being in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco with my friends."
"Who are they?" he asked, still very suspicious.
"We're . . ." Maggie couldn't decide what to say. "Wait . . . if you're Fred Noonan . . ." She tilted her head, as her eyeballs enlarged with realization. "What year is this?"
"1937." Fred bristled expectantly. "Quit stalling by playing dumb. Tell me where these 'friends' of yours sent you from?"
Maggie couldn't figure out anything to tell him other than the truth. "I guess you could say we're sort of . . . from a different part of history."
For a full minute, Fred Noonan didn't respond. Maggie just continued to stare out at the same nearby coral reefs.
"Are you telling me . . . ?" Fred finally found his voice again. "Are you claiming to be some sort of time traveler?"
"No. We don't time travel," Maggie hastily corrected him, but then realized she needed to backtrack. "My friends and I . . . it's a long, long story . . . but basically, we travel between parallel universes."
"Parallel universes?" Fred repeated the phrase, not quite understanding what Maggie meant by it.
"Yeah. Alternate realities. Different versions of what Earth would be like if different events in history had taken place." Maggie was now paying attention to Fred's bewildered face, and wondered if it has been the wisest idea to tell him the truth about herself.
"You are mad!" Fred finally spat out at Maggie, believing her to be a lunatic. "You are a crazy brood!"
"I swear to you, it's the truth!" Maggie ground her teeth together, ignoring Fred's sexist remark. "I don't know how . . . but somehow . . . I must have switched places with Amelia Earhart in your plane."
"You are mad, woman!" he castigated her, again.
"Oh, God . . ." Maggie stopped cold, as the significance of her surroundings registered in her brain. "This was what happened when the Lockheed Electra crashed. You guys crash-landed on an island in the Pacific!"
Fred's eyebrows shot upward. "How did you know it was going to crash?!" he demanded, angrily. "Did you rig our plane?"
"No!" Maggie protested. She was shaking her head to deny Fred's accusation.
"Then how come you're talking about it like it happened ages ago?"
"Because . . . in addition to being from a parallel universe . . . I'm also . . . sort of . . . from the future," Maggie awkwardly explained.
Fred Noonan rolled his eyes. "You lying whore!"
"Hey! Just because you're a famous historical figure doesn't mean you can talk to me that way!" Maggie flared at him, abruptly shedding her cautious hesitance.
"What do you mean I'm 'famous'?" rumbled Fred, still suspicious of Maggie's claims.
She sighed. "You say it's 1937 in this time, right? Where I come from in the future . . . history shows that you and Amelia Earhart crashed in the Pacific Ocean while making your flight around the world, and you were never found by naval search parties. Not even the remains of your airplane."
Despite his skepticism, a wave of disappointed anxiety crossed Fred's face. He kept listening.
"There were many theories as to how you both disappeared. I don't remember half of them." Maggie's shoulders sagged. "I guess I took it for granted and assumed that you just sank to the bottom of the ocean."
Fred shook his head wildly. "I can't believe I'm listening to you! This is crazy talk!"
"Then how do you explain the bright light you saw?" Maggie challenged him. "How else do you think I possibly could have appeared in the exact spot where Amelia had been sitting only a moment earlier?"
Speechless, Fred clammed up. He kicked away a coconut that had been lying on the sand near his feet.
"What, no more witty comebacks for me?" sneered Maggie.
"So where's Meely?" Fred finally asked, quietly. "Where'd she disappear to?"
"I don't know," answered Maggie, solemnly.
"And how the hell are we gonna get off this island?!"
"I don't know!"
Maggie and Fred's exchange was cut short by a faint humming sound above them. As it grew louder, Maggie could recognize it as the undeniable roar of an airplane engine.
"A plane!" yelled out Fred. "We're gonna be rescued!" He leapt to his feet on the beach and began madly waving his arms, trying to get the airplane's attention.
But as Maggie stood beside him, staring up at the sky, her blood turned cold.
On the side of the airplane, which was gliding toward them overhead from further in the island, she caught sight of the wing of the gray aircraft, which had been painted with a rectangle that depicted an unmistakable white flag bearing a sinister red sun.
Fred ceased his physical movements as he spotted it too.
"It's the Japanese!" cried Maggie, who began to sweat with horror. She swerved around to face Fred.
Fred didn't waste any time. "RUN!!!" he commanded to Maggie, as both of them began to sprint toward the jungle.
* * *
Janine groaned, as the sliders' armed escorts forced her, Rembrandt, Malcolm, Diana, and the Professor into a guarded laboratory. She looked over at Diana. "How is it that on every world we visit, we always find a way to get ourselves captured?"
"We've got bigger problems," Diana whispered, leaning over to address all of her friends. "Guys, how are these people going to react if we tell them that Maggie disappeared into thin air and Amelia Earhart reappeared in her place?"
"We may become tabloid sensations," uttered the Professor, grimly, "or they may fit us for some cozy straight jackets."
One of the armed guards had reached for the timer, but Rembrandt firmly clasped it in his hands.
"I need to confiscate that from you, sir," the guard stated to Rembrandt.
"No way," Rembrandt answered, refusing to back down. "Not until someone tells us why you've brought us here."
"It's okay, Lauter," a female voice told the security guard. Jenny Winslow had just come through one of the adjoining laboratory doors, holding a gizmo in her hands. She was flanked by a similarly-labcoated man with soft Oriental features. "They're our guests, after all."
Wade and Mallory had entered the laboratory behind their six friends, with Wade supportively wrapping an arm around Amelia Earhart's shoulder. Amelia appeared tired and very confused about what was happening. More security personnel brought up the rear.
"Lauter, I don't think we need so many men in here," Jenny told her Chief-of-Security.
"How do we know what these people are capable of?" Lauter contradicted her, with a warning side-glance at the sliders.
"Yeah, because we're all soooooo scary and threatening," Janine mocked Lauter, rolling her eyes.
Malcolm ribbed Janine with his elbow as a soft reprimand.
"If they give us trouble, your team will be the first to know," Jenny told him. She motioned at the excess security guards, who were a part of Captain Lauter's security team. "Out!" she commended them, rather annoyed.
As most of the guards retreated from the lab, Lauter positioned himself by the door. "I'm not taking my eyes off of them," he grunted.
Diana rolled her eyes and turned away from Lauter, directing her gaze toward Jenny. "Dr. Winslow, why are we being held here against our will?"
"You're not here as prisoners," Jenny answered Diana. "Like I told Lauter, you should consider yourselves our guests. After all, you DO want us to help you get your friend back, right?"
"What did you do to Maggie?!" Rembrandt demanded, tensing up as he glared at Jenny.
Jenny pointed to the timer, still in Remmy's protective hands. "Is that the device you use to travel interdimensionally?" she asked, not answering his question.
"Uh-uh! I don't think so!" Rembrandt snapped at her, unwilling to give her the information she wanted to know. "We're not telling you anything about us until you explain what happened to Maggie!"
"And how I got here," added Amelia, wearily.
Sighing, Jenny pursed her lips together. "I suppose I owe you that much." She began to circulate amongst the group, talking as she strolled in-between the sliders. "Myself and Huang," she indicated her quiet lab assistant of Asian descent, "have been leading a research team responsible for the development of quantum acceleration."
"Time travel," Diana filled in, for the benefit of anyone in the room who might not have caught on.
"By using an experimental chronoscope to accelerate the speed of light, we have been able to successfully send objects back in time," Jenny Winslow raised her eyebrows at them. "We have also found ways to extract objects from past time periods, so they can be carbon-dated for proof of authenticity."
Professor Arturo gave her a stern glare. "Madame, if what you're claiming is true . . ."
"It is." Jenny gave Arturo a deadly serious grin of pride.
"Then do you realize the fire you are playing with?" the Professor ominously lectured her. "By disrupting the past in such a reckless manner, you could be unwittingly altering the course of human events that will affect your world's present - and its future."
"The future is what we mold it into." Dr. Jenny Winslow smirked. "And besides, we haven't removed anything significant from the past. All of our extractions have been inconsequential."
"Everything is significant, in one way or another," Arturo emphasized. "You could be setting in motion major changes to your present, and you wouldn't even know it!" He threw up his hands, exasperated. "My child, as a fellow scientist, I am disheartened that you would even think of embarking upon such an undertaking so irresponsibly!"
Mallory placed his hand on Arturo's arm, trying to calm down the ranting professor, who was practically red in the face by now. "Dr. Winslow, what does any of this have to do with Amelia Earhart or Maggie?"
"Yeah, that's what I'd like to know!" Amelia Earhart folded her arms, glaring at Jenny.
Jenny exhaled superlatively. "I can see that you are intellectually incapable of grasping the importance of our research." She smirked at the Professor. "Let me guess. A tenured academian who believed his educational prowess and 'brilliance' was being wasted on a bunch of inferior college slackers? Whose marginal service to his scholarly institution is well beneath his time, energy, or capabilities? You're no different than the dozens of geezers who mentored me, Professor Arturo. Whether you're physicists, chemists, biologists, geneticists, whatever - you whine about how us youngsters can never truly appreciate your toil, yet, at the end of the day you'll continue to collect your paychecks while whining and sticking up your noses up at us in front of the lecture hall."
Jenny's words penetrated Arturo's chest like shards of glass. His angry face had only gotten redder, and the insulted, enraged professor looked as though he was about to pop a blood vessel.
Diana stepped between them to quickly intervene. "You're correct that not all of my friends are scientists, Dr. Winslow. But I earned a PhD in Quantum Physics - so perhaps I'm intellectual enough to have the privilege of discussing your theories with you?" Diana intoned her words condescendingly but passively, flashing Jenny a conciliatory smile as she emphasized the word "privilege" with a mocking tone.
Jenny returned Diana's calculated facial expression. "Glad to have your attention, Dr. Davis." She launched into a continuation of her earlier recount. "We decided to elevate our project to the next level. That involved utilizing the chronoscope to transport a human being across the space-time continuum. Obviously, as your professor here so eloquently pointed out, we couldn't just send a chunk of matter backward in time without compensating for it in the present. That would create a quantum imbalance."
"That's cute," Janine quipped, sarcastically, "how you refer to people as 'chunks of matter.' Very scientific phrasing, there."
Dr. Jenny Winslow gave Janine another fake smile. "We did that from the very beginning. For example, when we extracted a soil sample from the year 1776, we replaced it with one from our own time. And as far as I can tell, the Declaration of Independence is still intact."
"But there's the rub," Diana contradicted. "How can you be sure you DIDN'T alter history? Let's say that your intervention into the past ended up altering only five words of the Declaration of Independence. How would you even be aware of that difference, since it would suddenly have become a part of your world's history?"
Shaking her head, Jenny signaled to Huang. "Get us some refreshments, Rupert. I can see this is going to take longer than I expected to explain to our new friends." She turned back to Diana. "You're missing the point. If that happened, then someone somewhere would notice it. That 'somebody' would have studied that document intricately enough to notice the difference."
"Not if the words had changed in 1776, and the alteration had become a part of that person's memories," Diana objected. "Dr. Winslow . . ."
"Please, call me Jenny."
"Jenny. I have been through this personally. I was once responsible for altering the entire history of an alternate dimension, because I got involved with an experiment that I didn't know enough about. My friend and I have encountered people with time travel technology before. We've been over the consequences that can arise if you play around with the fabric of time."
"Anyway," continued Jenny, completely ignoring Diana's warning, "we programmed geographic radiator to hone in on Ms. Earhart's precise location on July 2, 1937 - taking into account time zone differences, of course. However, for us to achieve equilibrium in our exchange of matter, we had to replace Ms. Earhart's mass with one of similar attributes from our own time. Otherwise, our equipment wouldn't have executed the transfer properly."
"So you switched Amelia Earhart with Maggie?" clarified Malcolm.
"Not on purpose." Jenny smiled, innocently. "We solicited your friend's mass completely at random. She just happened to be nearby when the chronoscope chose a unit of adjacent matter to swap."
"Maggie is NOT a 'unit' of anything!" Rembrandt yelled, offended that Jenny was referring to Maggie in such a sterile, impersonal manner.
"Unfortunately, we didn't detect the entrance of your group's wormhole until it was too late. By that point, the temporal exchange had already been made." Jenny shrugged, matter-of-factly. "Believe me, we never intended to involve a human test subject from any dimension other than our own. Your friend was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, depending on how you look at it, the right place at the right time - for us, anyway." She chuckled, airily.
Rembrandt couldn't believe what he was hearing. The Cryin' Man was appalled at Jenny's unapologetic lack of remorse. Having Maggie's best interests in mind, he tried to remain calm. "So you're not just planning to leave Maggie back there, are you?"
"Of course not." Jenny watched as her assistant, Rupert Huang, reentered the laboratory carrying a tray that contained eleven ice-filled glasses of what looked like cola. She removed one from the tray, and took a gigantic sip. "We can get your friend back . . . I just don't know how."
"Listen, lady, you'd better figure out how!" Rembrandt aggressively told her. He had had enough. "Maggie isn't your lab rat! In fact, neither is Amelia!"
Amelia was still staring at Jenny in disbelief. "How could you do this to me?!"
"Relax," Jenny waved off their concerns. She took a glass off of Huang's tray and handed it to Amelia. "Have some peppermint rootbeer. It's refreshing . . . and it'll make your teeth white."
"Peppermint rootbeer?" Amelia brought the glass of rootbeer to her nose, and sniffed it curiously.
"Why did you pick Amelia?" Wade asked Jenny. "You obviously knew who you were targeting."
"Yeah, I imagine you estimated the approximate geographic radius where you predicted Amelia's plane would crash on July 2, 1937, and then programmed your chronometer to attract the nearest matter that resembled the average body mass of a female human being?" Diana summed up her hypothesis of how Jenny and her scientists had located Amelia Earhart.
Upon hearing Diana's theory, the sliders gaped at her in awe - except for the Professor, who comprehended every word of it.
Diana shrugged, modestly. "It's just a theory," she beamed, meekly.
"Very astute, Dr. Davis," Jenny complimented Diana. "For someone unfamiliar with our technology, you pretty much summarized it as well as I could have." She took another swig from her glass of peppermint rootbeer. "But we put Ms. Earhart's historical circumstances into context when we targeted her for quantum extraction. After all, by removing Ms. Earhart from her native time period, we were all but saving her from certain death."
"Shouldn't that be my choice?" Amelia challenged Jenny, bitterly. "By the way, this 'peppermint rootbeer' is really yummy. But that still doesn't change the fact that you had no right to do what you did to me."
"Unfortunately, we had no way to ask for your consent," Jenny said. "And would you seriously prefer to rot, Ms. Earhart, tucked away as a prisoner-of-war in some decrepit, unsanitary Japanese prison?"
Amelia nearly choked on the peppermint rootbeer she had been sipping. "What are you talking about?!"
Jenny's eyes non-chalantly glossed over the sliders. "I don't know how history unfolded in the dimension you people come from, but on this Earth, Amelia Earhart's decayed remains were found on the Japanese island of Saipan in 1967."
Astonishment overtook the sliders' faces, but Amelia's face was particularly shocked.
"That's right, Ms. Earhart. You were a prisoner of the Axis Japanese," gloated Jenny. "Witnesses have attested that you were executed in the jungles of Saipan - along with your navigator, Fred Newman - for espionage. Face it: you may disagree with what we did, but we saved your life."
Amelia set down her glass of peppermint rootbeer. "I can't believe . . ." she uttered, in a horrified trance. "I just can't believe it . . ."
Wade immediately came to Amelia's side. "It's going to be okay," Wade reassured her, giving the female aviator a small hug. "You're safe now."
But Amelia just shook her head. "I always said I'd rather go down in my plane than die some slow, torturous death." A tear trickled down her cheek.
"Well, you were tortured, all right," affirmed Jenny, unfazed at delivering this bleak news. "Several eyewitnesses who'd lived on Saipan at the time stepped forward to disclose the abusive treatment you and your navigator suffered at the hands of the Japanese. This didn't become public until the years following World War II, but as soon as our government found out, we made Japan pay. They wouldn't issue an apology, so we slapped Japan with a trade embargo. Their country was pretty much relegated to third-world status overnight."
"So they're not exporting cars and electronics?" Malcolm surmised.
Jenny snorted. "They can barely get anyone to buy their sushi."
Rembrandt was still flaring at Jenny. "I'm still waiting for you to tell us how we're going to rescue Maggie." He approached her, standing over Jenny while shadowing her in an imposing manner.
Lauter positioned his gun forward, but Jenny held up her hand to stop him. "I've got it under control, Lauter." She looked up at Remmy, and flashed him another innocent smile. "Trust me, Mr. Brown - I'm the only one who can bring Maggie back. And I will. But you're going to have to give me some time, so my team and I can figure out what to do. You do want her back in one piece, right?" She tilted her head, finishing her new sentence with another smile. "If you hurt me, Mr. Brown, then Maggie will be chained up in some hellhole on 1937 Saipan for the rest of her life."
Rembrandt backed down - as much as he hated to. "Fine . . . but you'd better let Diana and the Professor assist you."
"Of course," smiled Jenny, agreeably. She gave him and the other sliders a reassuring smile. "Now sit down and enjoy your peppermint rootbeers while I get working on this." She moved over to a set of computer terminals at the other end of the lab, with Huang loyally tailing her.
Mallory raised his glass. "Well, she may not have any ethics, but they make a damn good rootbeer." He toasted his glass in the air and took a swig. Even as it went down his throat, Mallory couldn't help but feel his stomach churn as he silently wondered if he would ever see Maggie again.
They were all wondering it.
* * *
Maggie Beckett and Fred Newman had been racing through the island jungle for a good ten minutes. They were trying to get as far away as possible out of sight from the Japanese warplane.
"St - stop . . ." Fred was gasping for breath, and he clutched the trunk of a coconut tree, wrapping his fingers around it. "Can't . . . run . . . anymore . . ."
"Fred, if we stop, they're going to find us!" Maggie emphasized, as Fred crouched behind some underbrush by the tree.
He took big gulps of air. "Save yourself, Maggie . . . please . . . don't risk your life . . . because of me."
"I'm not leaving you out here all alone," insisted Maggie, her military instincts kicking in. Despite her training in limited casualties, Maggie couldn't write Fred Noonan off as an acceptable loss. She knew there could be possible repercussions in the future if Fred was captured. "Besides, we're probably in a territory occupied by the Japanese right now."
That supposition seemed to knock all of the wind out of Fred's sails. "We don't know that," he protested. "Before you appeared . . . Meely and I, we were trying to aim for the Gilbert Islands when we couldn't locate Howland. I estimated we would probably run out of fuel by the time we were in the vicinity of the Gilberts."
Maggie thought back for a moment. "The Gilbert Islands were - are controlled by the British?" she suggested, remembering the history from her own homeworld.
"Yes. With any luck, we should be picked up by a British cutter," said Fred, hopefully. "Maybe if we stick near the shore and build an S.O.S., we could be shipbound for the West Coast in a matter of weeks."
"But that plane we saw . . ."
"It could have been a Japanese spy plane," Fred told her. "Trust me, we've gotta be in the Gilberts. We must!"
Maggie took some moments to contemplate this. After silent reflection, she said, "Okay, Fred. Let's hope you're right. But I say we should lay low and stake out the terrain, just until we're sure that the Japanese plane is no longer circling this island."
"Fair enough," Fred agreed.
Together, they began crawling on their hands and knees through the underbrush. The two refugees made their way through the island rainforests, past thick vegetation and colorful, chirping birds.
Eventually, they reached a clearing, which looked out onto a rice paddy. In the distance, the lost wanderers could see some human figures - obviously rural farmers - gathering rice from the marshy grass.
The farmers had Oriental eyes.
"Dammit!" Maggie swore, realizing where they must have ended up. "We're in the enemy's backyard . . ."
She was cut off by a muffled grunt from Fred. As Maggie turned around, she was greeted by the sight of a soddy, mean-looking, wiry Japanese man in rumpled, ragged clothing. The Japanese peasant fiercely held a knife to Fred's throat.
"Dareda kisamara?!" the knife-wielding peasant harshly yelled, seeming to expect an answer. But Maggie couldn't answer him. She couldn't give a coherent response to words in a language she didn't speak.
Maggie then found herself gagging and gasping, as another strong hand clamped over her mouth from behind, and twisted Maggie's arm behind her.
"Damare, omna!" came an acidic whisper. A sturdy arm was clasped around Maggie's chest, dragging the former marine back into the jungle. Maggie tried to kick him, but he was pulling her in a direction that was such where she couldn't get the appropriate leverage to move her legs defensively.
Within minutes, they were deep in the jungle once again.
Feeling guilty, Fred rammed his elbow into his captor's gut, and twirled around to give the Japanese abductor a swift kick.
Unfortunately, it didn't quite work that way. While Fred's move was gutsy, it was also rash and misguided. Fred's captor, grunting from being winded, still managed to nimbly roll out of the way across the ground. He then sprung upward and tackled Fred from behind.
Fred's skull hit the edge of a jagged stone. As Fred's body rolled over and scraped against the base of this large rock, the granite ground against Fred, tearing the skin of his forehead.
"Ta-te!" commanded Fred's assailant, furiously, as Fred howled from where he kneeled on the ground. He gave Fred a harsh kick from behind with his foot, in order to get Fred back up on his feet.
Maggie began to have second thoughts about making any sudden heroic moves of her own on either of these men. Her heartbeat raced, and she ground her teeth in sympathy from Fred's bloody wound. All the while, the two Americans were dragged relentlessly across the island.
It was only a matter of time before the sandy panorama of another beach came into view. More baby blue ocean waves lapped against its shores. This time, a bustling fishing village could be seen in the distance. Maggie and Fred both felt a growing sense of dread as they treaded over the coral limestone beneath their feet. A Japanese cargo ship slowly sailed into view.
Maggie choked on the dryness of her own throat as she and her fellow prisoner were pulled toward the frigate.
* * *
At least an hour had passed, but Amelia Earhart and the sliders were unable to obtain any new information on Maggie's status. After finishing their peppermint rootbeers, Dr. Winslow's "guests" had been corralled into a spacious, sterile, empty room. They were locked in, having no conceivable way to communicate with their hosts.
Rembrandt pounded on the door of the unusually spooky white room. "Hey! Why are you keeping us in here?! I thought you were going to help us get Maggie back?!"
"It's no use, Rem." Wade pouted, sitting on the clean floor with her arms folded. "They're not going to open that door for us until they're good and ready."
Minutes later, the door to the holding room was unlocked, and Jenny Winslow appeared in the doorway.
"Well, it's about freakin' time!" shouted Rembrandt, as the scientist stepped inside to speak with them.
"I'm sorry about that. We had to keep you temporarily quarantined for security purposes." As Jenny acknowledged them cordially, additional members of her security team appeared by her side.
"Well, let's get to it," Malcolm said, eyeing the guards, suspiciously. "You ARE still going to help us find Maggie, right?"
"Yes. And we'll make sure that each of you has a role to play in that process." Jenny turned to Amelia. "Um, we're going to have to run some tests on you, Ms. Earhart . . . just to see how you've adjusted to this quantum extraction."
Amelia looked nervously at the security officers, who had stepped forward toward her. "Wh - what are you going to do to me?" she stressed.
"Trust us. It's for your own good." Jenny's face remained firm and matter-of-fact.
But Amelia didn't trust these strangers one bit. "No thank you," she said, half-sneering. "I don't want anything to do with your 'tests,' doctor."
"Restrain her," Jenny coldly instructed the guards.
The guards made their move, flanking Amelia Earhart from all sides as they forcibly grabbed onto her.
"Hey, take it easy!" Mallory yelled, stepping forward to come to Amelia's defense. But the guards glared Mallory down, stopping him cold.
"Let go of me!" Amelia struggled against the grip of Jenny's security team. The guards had begun to yank her out of the holding room, back into the laboratory. "This is a blatant violation of my constitutional rights!"
"Citizens have rights. Technically, you're no longer a citizen," Jenny told Amelia. "Your death certificate was officially signed in 1955. Under the Deceased Persons Act of 2001, you cannot be considered a full American citizen until your identity is scientifically proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. We have to abide by these guidelines that Congress has set."
Amelia was flabbergasted. "What kind of insane law is that?! Your politicians actually voted for this bill?!"
"Signed last year by President Elizabeth Dole herself," responded Jenny.
Hearing that, Amelia's ire and train-of-thought were momentarily distracted. "Wait . . . you elected a woman as president?" She asked it with a mixture of shock and pride.
"Sure did," Jenny replied.
Processing this, Amelia shook her head. "I just can't believe that a woman president would agree to something as unjust as that. I refuse to believe it!"
"You can refuse to believe whatever you want," Jenny replied, dismissively. She motioned for her security team to haul away Amelia, who was still ranting and protesting while resisting them with futility.
Diana stared at Dr. Jenny Winslow, horrified. "What are you going to do to her?"
"Just take some blood samples, perform a DNA graft . . . we just have to cover our butts if the NSA demands proof of her identity." The explanation rolled off Jenny's tongue like it was no big deal. "Come on," she beckoned to the sliders, indicating for them to follow her back into the main laboratory. "Each of you can play a part in helping us to locate Maggie."
"What exactly do you want us to do?" Diana asked. Everything was happening so fast that she didn't want to risk falling victim to another detainment. So Diana silently resolved to relate to Jenny as a fellow scientist, in order to keep her talking.
"Ms. Earhart seems to be upset . . ." Jenny began.
"Ya think?" Janine blurted out, sarcastically.
" . . . so I need a couple of you to keep her company," Jenny continued, ignoring Janine's remark. "You know, make sure to keep her calm. She's a lot more likely to be comfortable around you guys than us."
Wade raised her hand. "I'll do it," she volunteered.
"I'll help too," Malcolm offered.
"Good." Jenny signaled to Lauter. "These two are going to stay with Earhart, after the tests are complete. Make sure they are taken to her."
Lauter proceeded to lead Wade and Malcolm from the room.
"Wade . . ." Rembrandt called out to his friend. Everything was happening too quickly for him.
"We'll be okay, Rem," Wade reassured him, over her shoulder. "She needs us."
Remmy released a huge sigh. He didn't like any of this, but turned back to Diana, who seemed to have some tidbit of influence over Jenny.
"How did you construct your . . . quantum acceleration machine?" Diana was asking Jenny, resisting the urge to refer to refer to it as a "time machine."
"It's an interesting story." Dr. Jenny Winslow looked back and forth between Arturo and Diana, figuring that both of them would have an interest in her world's alternate history. "In 1952, an extraterrestrial spacecraft landed near Yuma, Arizona. Yes, folks, it turned out that we were visited by creatures from beyond the stars."
Diana traded glances, pointedly, with Rembrandt. She suspected some past familiarity upon hearing Jenny's allusion to a visiting alien race.
"Most of the aliens were killed upon impact," Jenny reasoned. "But two of the specimens survived, and we were able to communicate with them before they succumbed to internal bleeding. It turns out that their species, the Reticulans, manipulated photons to successfully create a long-distance wormhole that brought them to Earth from their homeworld. They were on a mission to study intelligent life on other planets."
Rembrandt, despite his interest being captured by this reference to the Reticulan species, tried to stay focused on helping Maggie. "What does this have to do with time travel? They didn't travel through time to cross the galaxy."
"No, they didn't," acknowledged Jenny. "Not in the conventional sense, at least. But after the Reticulan visitors had all died, our government confiscated the technology aboard their ship. Since the Reticulans created wormholes in order to travel light-years in short amounts of time, their blueprints proved to be very useful in aiding us with generating wormholes of our own."
"But you never mastered the technology of sliding?" Arturo clarified.
"No, Professor Arturo. Unfortunately, we never cracked the formula for transdimensional travel - although we've come very close," Jenny confirmed. "We did, however, generate wormholes that could teleport people across our own planet in real-time."
"Intradimensional travel!" Diana identified the phenomenon.
"Yes. Our government was utilizing this technology by the late-1980s . . . although it has only been utilized for classified purposes. It's never been available to the public for general use."
"You're missing out on a lot of profit," snorted Janine, taking pleasure in feeling some superiority over Jenny. "On my homeworld, sliding was a form of recreational travel. In fact, I worked for a company retailer that sold and promoted sliding equipment."
Jenny, for the first time, paid serious attention to Janine's words. "Really?"
"She's telling the truth," nodded Rembrandt.
"So not all of you are from the same alternate dimension?" Jenny asked them.
"No, we aren't. But we don't have time to get into that right now." Diana wanted to stay focused on the matter at hand. "Jenny, are you suggesting that your scientists modified the Reticulan wormhole by making it into a quantum accelerator?"
"Not just any of 'our scientists.' Me. I led the team that engineered our first wormhole, which we were able to send back in time." Jenny grinned, her ego still knowing no limits.
"She's a genius," piped up Huang, with a flitty side-glance at Jenny. It was clear that he was intentionally groveling in front of his boss.
"Once we gained control over both ends of the wormhole, we were able to send an object through it while simultaneously ejecting an object of similar mass from the target time period," Jenny casually explained, as though what she described was an everyday occurrence. "Once we have located Maggie's approximate position in the past, I believe we can reverse the process . . . the only problem is how to compensate for Maggie's mass, which we would be extracting from the year 1937."
"But Maggie wasn't even supposed to have been there in the first place," Mallory argued.
"It doesn't matter," Jenny told him. "Our wormhole is only designed to run correctly if two chunks of equivalent mass are present, one at each end of the bridge."
"I wish you'd quit referring to our friend as a 'chunk of mass'!" Rembrandt huffed, still in disbelief that any of this was happening.
Diana had still been listening carefully to Jenny's description of how the modified Reticulan technology worked. "So when you're making the switch, both . . . parties from each end of the wormhole must be moving toward one another in sync!"
"And even as they become parallel to each other at the bisector of the wormhole's tunnel, they remain in constant balance since they're at an equal distance away from each respective vertex of the oval?"
Jenny nodded again. "Diana, you've got real potential. You're the first scientist I've met who's caught on to this concept so quickly, and actually seems to understand why it works the way it does."
"That's because my friends and I have a lot of experience with wormholes," said Diana. She knew that the Professor also fully understood what Jenny had been explaining to them, but Arturo was merely holding back and biting his tongue out of disdain for Jenny and reluctance over their clashing personalities.
"Come on," Jenny waved them forward. "I want to show you the mainframe that controls our energy dispersal unit." Without waiting for a response, she and Huang headed across the laboratory toward a wall of computers and electronic switches.
"Well, what have we got to lose?" Rembrandt shrugged, as he and Mallory began to follow their hosts.
Professor Arturo frowned, as he was left standing their with Diana and Janine. "I don't like this one bit. Something feels dreadfully wrong about this situation."
"Professor, how else can we fix this?" Diana challenged him. "Yes, she's unscrupulous - but Jenny is our best shot at getting Maggie back safely."
"I don't trust her," Janine declared, crinkling her nose. "The way she keeps smirking at us is unsettling. And her face makes her look constipated."
"I must agree with Miss Chen's instincts," Arturo echoed. "Dr. Winslow's body language indicates that she's up to something. But more significantly, Miss Beckett's presence in the past could already be altering the worldline of this dimension. Those changes in historical events could even begin adversely affecting us!"
"All the more reason to get Maggie back here sooner," Diana explained.
"For someone who's so smart, you don't seem to understand," Janine countered, still in agreement with the Professor. "Based on what 'Dr. Jenny' told us, in order to bring Maggie back we're going to have to send someone to take her place. Who do you think that 'someone' will be, Diana?"
Diana's breath got caught in her throat. She slowly gulped, as it dawned on her what Janine meant.
They were going to have to sacrifice Amelia Earhart by sending her back to the time from which she came.
* * *
Maggie's tailbone thudded against the hard, cold frigate floor as she was thrown to the ground by a Japanese naval officer.
Fred did not end up as lucky. He was shoved inside the small holding room only minutes after Maggie was, a bloodied white bandage now wrapped around and adhered to Fred's forehead where his skin had been cut open. Fred, despite his stinging injury, stood his ground, facing the ship's guards defiantly.
One of the lower-level officers got in his face. "Dareda toh kiitoru? Wahrewahre-no ryoh-chi ni doh-yatte haitta?" he demanded, sticking his nose only inches away from Fred's nose. Despite the contempt in the Japanese officer's eyes, he remained extraordinarily composed in his vocal tone.
Fred wasn't about to acquiesce willingly. The American navigator flinched, glared back at his interrogator with rebellious hatred, and spat directly in the face of his captor.
In the next moment, Fred felt himself hurtle backward, as the Japanese officer retaliated by harshly smacking Fred clear across the chin with his bare hand. As Fred landed on the ground, a merciless boot kicked him in the gut.
"Stop it!" Maggie shouted at them. But the rest of the officers reflexively drew their pistols, warningly aiming them at her.
"Merri-ken no tay-satsu-tai dana?" another of them demanded an answer from her, keeping his eyes astringently trained on the female slider, with unflinching discipline.
Maggie was perspiring like crazy. She wanted to run to Fred's side, but she knew better than to test the patience of armed soldiers. "I can't understand you . . ." she tried to explain.
"Mi-bun o aka-se toh itte-roon-da?" the first officer interrogated Maggie, stepping toward her threateningly.
"We don't speak Japanese!!!" squawked Maggie, trying to get through to them. She knew it was a bad strategy to yell at them, but she had no idea what else she could possibly do. Maggie didn't even have any military identification of her own - name, rank, serial number - in her possession to show them. Her hope was that maybe her act of belligerent gusto might prove to them that she wasn't an average American woman of that time period.
Maggie's risk seemed to pay off, however unconventionally. The Japanese naval officers whispered to one another, and then one of them exited the room. The others stayed behind, keeping their guns trained on Maggie and Fred.
More than half an hour later, a much older Japanese man with a pruny complexion entered. The officers allowed him to pass, and he came over to address Maggie.
"I am Yukio Tanaka. I work as a military interpreter for the empire of Japan," he enunciated, with a thick accent, yet, in perfect English. "Your custodians wish to know who you are, and where you come from?"
Although she was still clammy all over, Maggie now felt somewhat relieved. At least she finally had someone whom she could communicate with. "I'm Maggie Beckett of the United States of America." She pointed down at poor Fred, still sprawled out in pain on the floor. "This is Fred Noonan; he was navigating my airplane's flight. We ran out of fuel, and crashed near an island." She paused, allowing Yukio to digest her sentences. "Where are we?"
"I will ask the questions," Yukio responded, icily. But he nevertheless chose to entertain Maggie's inquiry. "You are in the territory of the 'Marshall Islands,' as you Americans call them. You were captured on the island of Jaluit. It is territory of Japan. Therefore, you are trespassers."
"The Marshalls!" From where he laid on the floor, Fred moaned, realizing how far north off-course he and Amelia had strayed.
Maggie kept her eyes trained on Yukio. "Where are you taking us?"
"Inochi ga oshee nara hamuka-una toh ee-eh," spoke the commanding naval officer, ordering Yukio Tanaka to translate.
"You will find out soon enough," Yukio replied to Maggie. Relaying the message from his superiors, he continued, "If the two of you wish to stay alive, you would be wise to do what you are told."
The non-English speakers in the room motioned for Yukio to follow them out the door. Without so much as acknowledging Maggie or Fred any further, Yukio trailed his superiors as they left the room and bolted the door behind them.
Maggie and Fred were alone now. The female slider kneeled beside Fred on the floor. "How's your wound feeling?"
"I've felt better." Fred got into a sitting position, so he could make eye contact with Maggie. "What do you suppose they're going to do to us?"
"Probably torture and execute us." Maggie thought of her friends, and began to fear that not even they could find a way to help her this time.
"So this future that you say you come from . . ." Fred posed another question to Maggie, "You claim that Meely and I were never rescued?"
"Your disappearance over the Pacific remained a mystery well beyond the second World War . . . which we won, by the way." Maggie shook her head, thinking about how surreal this all was. "At the time I left my homeworld in 1998, airplane technology had advanced to the point where commercial airplanes were the norm. Not only did the military use larger, faster airplanes, but ordinary people used them for everyday travel across oceans or continents."
"I knew it!" In spite of their situation, Fred beamed. He fondly gazed at Maggie. "Miss Beckett, I am still stunned how you got us out of the sky . . . landing Meely's Electra the way you did. Not many dames can do that. You handled that baby like a professional! Do you fly?"
"Yeah," said Maggie. "I was a fighter pilot on my world. I saw my share of combat in the sky."
"Unbelievable!" Fred shook his head.
"I don't get it . . ." Maggie scraped her knuckles against the wooden floorboards. "If this is 1937, what would the Japanese military be doing all the way out here? The Pacific battles wouldn't have started yet. Unless . . . history could be different on this world. Maybe America and Japan went to war before Pearl Harbor could even happen?" By now, she was pretty much talking out loud to herself, trying to reason things out - especially given that the wartime events may have transpired differently in this dimension than they did on Maggie's own homeworld.
Fred laid down on his back, exhaling some more. "They could be some bigwigs who work for the emperor. Could be he's using government resources to haul goodies back from the South Pacific."
"What kinds of 'goodies'?" asked Maggie.
"Oh, the Kingdom of Tonga struck gold . . . black gold. Acres of coal and oil deposits discovered on that tiny island." Fred yawned, since what he was describing was already public knowledge for most Americans whom he knew. "That Queen Tupou made a deal with the world . . . considering this war's going on, Tonga sells its natural resources to the highest bidder. Damn Japanese must have outbidded everyone else. These guys could be on their way home from collecting their bounty. They must not trust their cargo haulers to do the job by themselves . . . they had to send military escorts." The navigator sounded, quite frankly, very disinterested in what their captors were doing there. Instead, he peered over at Maggie, still awestruck by this mysterious woman who was insisting she came from another time. "So . . . in the future . . . women can be soldiers too?"
"Absolutely," nodded Maggie. "Amelia Earhart went down in history as one of the greatest female aviators ever, proving that women are just as capable of chasing their dreams as men are. She paved the way for countless women pilots . . . and women who want to fight for their country."
"Yes, Meely is one of a kind." Fred was almost in tears. "I wish she could be with us to hear what you've said. But I'll probably never see her again . . ."
"Don't talk like that!" Maggie scolded him. "Fred, if there's one thing I've learned during this journey through dimensions, it's that you can't give up - even when things are at their worst."
Her words seemed to go over his head. "I wanted to start a navigation school," Fred thought back, in the past tense, "once we completed our flight. And Meely - well, she would have become a national hero. That's never gonna happen now, is it?"
Maggie looked down at the floor.
She wished she could tell him it would.
* * *
Huang reentered Jenny's laboratory, carrying a glass vial filled with blood. He delicately handed it to Jenny.
"Was she any trouble?" Jenny asked him, referring to Amelia Earhart.
Huang bashfully shook his head. "Not after she was sedated," he answered, softly.
Jenny turned back to the sliders, vial in hand. "Now that we have Ms. Earhart's blood, we can cross-check it with the medical records of the Amelia Earhart from the past. Just to make sure she's one and the same."
As another lab assistant took the vial of blood from Jenny, Rembrandt confronted the ambitious scientist. "Look, we've given you a couple of hours. Tell us you've at least made progress with finding Maggie."
"Actually, we have." Jenny walked back over to her main computer terminal, and pressed some keys.
An identical picture to that on Jenny's computer monitor also appeared enhanced on a large plasma screen that was suspended from the ceiling. Remmy, Diana, Mallory, Janine, and Arturo could see a three-dimensional diagram of a curved, funnel-like object.
"This image represents the wormhole that we sent back to 1937." Jenny spoke as she punched in more keys. "On the left is its point-of-entry, at the coordinates of '11.85 degrees North Latitude and 162.13 degrees East Longitude' on July 2, 1937. Apparently, some of Maggie's DNA was absorbed by our wormhole when she was sent back in time. That DNA sample enables us to backtrack her exact divergence from her original point-of-entry - relative to the amount of time that has passed for us since it happened. We've used this coordinate set to create a radius over the Pacific Ocean, within which we tracked her DNA signature." Jenny moved the computer mouse and clicked on it, zooming in on a digital map of the Marshall Islands over the Pacific Ocean. A tiny red dot was slowly inching across the screen. "This vector is where we've detected Maggie's current location. As you can see, records from the past few hours show that she appears to be moving in a northwestern direction."
"So she's still alive!" Rembrandt nearly jumped for joy.
"But she's moving," Mallory said. "So what does that mean?"
"It means she's most likely been captured," Jenny hypothesized, biting her lip. "And judging from the direction she's moving in, I would venture to say she's being transported by sea to Japanese territory."
Rembrandt swiveled his head toward Jenny. "So what are you waiting for?! Send another wormhole back there to pick her up!"
"It isn't that simple, Mr. Brown," countered Jenny. "As I told you earlier, there must be an exact balance of mass on both ends of the wormhole in order for the quantum exchange to be successful. Otherwise, our entire system would probably crash."
"Do you have proof of that?" Arturo challenged her.
"No. But I'd rather not take the risk," Jenny resolutely answered him.
"Well we can't just leave her there," Janine stated. "She'll be dead for sure, if we let them take her to Japan. She'll probably end up being sliced to pieces with Ginshu knives."
"There's another reason why we can't go back for Maggie right away," Diana piped up. Her eyes swept over Jenny for verification of her theory. "If she's a prisoner of the Japanese, how will it look if she dematerializes right in front of them?"
"Who cares?!" Janine scoffed.
"If they witness Maggie disappearing into thin air, we have to consider the ramifications that would have on the worldline that leads to the present," Diana explained.
"You've lost me again, Diana," groaned Mallory, scratching his head.
"What Dr. Davis means is that Miss Beckett's presence in the past may have already changed the history of this world," the Professor clarified. "She was never meant to be there, in that place at that time. Sending Miss Earhart back in her place would likely cause this world's history to diverge even further. It might even begin to affect us."
"So we might not even be here anymore?" Mallory concluded, inquisitively.
"Maybe not. But the longer Maggie stays back there, then the present is guaranteed to change even more," Rembrandt pointed out. He gave Jenny an urgent look. "That's why you need to get her back while we still can."
"Is anyone even thinking about how this will affect Amelia?" came an irate voice from the doorway.
They all turned to see Wade standing there, listening.
"You're talking about sending one of the most important women in history to her death!" Wade angrily ranted, her face almost matching the color of her hair. "Can you live with yourselves for doing that?"
"Wade," spoke Rembrandt, quietly and seriously, "maybe Amelia was meant to die?"
Wade's jaw dropped. She couldn't believe what she was hearing from Rembrandt.
"Hear me out," he said, placing his hand on her shoulder. Even when Wade squirmed away from him, Rembrandt continued, "Amelia is obviously out-of-place in this time. Perhaps God's will was for her to remain a mystery, and to be remembered by people for her bravery? Maybe when people found out what the Japanese did to her, it forced Japan to be held accountable and repent for its sins on this Earth?"
Not hesitating, Wade shook her head in protest. "No! You can't do this. I won't let you."
"It's not your decision to make," Jenny informed Wade, coldly.
"No. It's Amelia's," stated Diana, as all heads turned to look at her. "Jenny, you brought her here. She should have a stay in whether or not she goes back."
"It doesn't work that way . . ." Jenny tried to resist the pressure they were putting on her.
Rembrandt fiercely grabbed Jenny's wrists. "Okay, I'm sick of playing games here, lady! You're gonna fix this mess!"
The guards had pulled out their guns and aimed them at Rembrandt once again.
"Let go of me, Mr. Brown," Jenny said, with her jaw clenched. "If you hurt me, there's no way you'll ever see Maggie again."
Rembrandt let go of Jenny's wrists and dropped his hands, spreading them out by his sides in a non-threatening manner. "All we want is our friend back."
"I understand that." Jenny winced, trying to figure out the next step. "But if I try to bring Maggie back using a destabilized wormhole, her entire molecular structure could be crushed before she even arrives back here."
Remmy's eyes welled up. "I just wanna know she's okay."
Wade came over to give Rembrandt a sympathetic hug.
Now Jenny's face was constrained with pity for Rembrandt's helplessness. "Okay . . . listen, maybe there is something we can do. It won't bring Maggie back, but it will give us a better idea of what's happening to her."
"Keep talking . . ." Rembrandt brushed the tears from beneath his eye ducts.
"Sixteen years ago, Romanian scientist Iannis Xenakis invented a visual projection device," Jenny told them. "It's referred to as a 'remote viewing capsule.' Essentially, it serves as a 'pod' from which an observer can view events from afar in real-time. This chamber was constructed from remnants of the Reticulans' technology that had gone unused in previous endeavors. By bending light to pave a path through space and time, the viewer can watch the environment of a targeted destination anyplace on the planet."
Diana raised her eyebrows. "That was sort of like Quinn's power of telecognition - where he received psychic images of things happening outside of his peripheral vision."
"When we combined the Xenakis remote viewing chamber with components of my quantum accelerator, we were able to use this invention to view events as they happen in the past," Jenny summarized.
This description took Arturo's breath away. "A 'living time capsule.' A truly authentic 'museum' of illustrated, moving history," he said, putting the phenomenon into his own words.
"So . . . this machine will let us watch Maggie and whatever's happening to her right now?" asked Rembrandt, incredulously.
"Yes." Jenny winked at Remmy. "I take it you'd like to volunteer to utilize this technology yourself, Mr. Brown?"
"Damn straight!" Rembrandt looked around, eagerly. "Let's go! Where is it?"
"Hold on, Rem." Diana cautiously held up her hand. "Jenny, what's the risk here? Is there a chance that the past could be altered?"
"None," Jenny confidently said. "It's all viewed from behind the safety of a screen. Technically, you never leave our time." She moved closer to Rembrandt, gesturing as she spoke. "However, you will be able to see and hear the entirety of your surroundings, as though you were actually there. It's sort of similar to a virtual reality program - except you have no control over what happens in this past reality. You're strictly there as a passive observer."
"I understand," Rembrandt confirmed, with a nod.
"Are you sure you want to do this, Remmy?" asked Diana, having her doubts about the emotional toll it might take on him, seeing Maggie imprisoned with no means of helping her.
Rembrandt never took his eyes off of Jenny. "Let's do it," he said.
"I'll make the arrangements." Jenny walked away with Huang still devotedly tagging along behind her.
"Are you sure you're sure about this, Remmy?" asked Mallory, repeating his friends' concern.
"Guys, I know you're only trying to help. But I have to see her." Rembrandt tilted his head upward. "If there is a God in heaven, please let Maggie be alive."
By the time Jenny and Huang had returned, a third person was with them. Like Huang, this woman was also of Oriental descent, but she wore an odd-looking, heavy, thick gray bib over her chest - almost like a flak jacket in style. Her long black hair was pulled back into a ponytail.
"Mr. Brown, this is Naomi Fong," Jenny introduced her associate. "Naomi works as a translator for the NSA. Japanese is one of several Asian languages she's proficient in. If we run across any of your friend's captors who might exclusively speak Japanese, it will be to our benefit to know what they're saying."
"Pleased to meet you," Naomi cordially greeted Rembrandt, shaking his hand.
"Yeah, likewise." Rembrandt kept his stare focused on Jenny. "Look, when are we getting started with this?"
Jenny had another apron-like gray "bib" - identical to the one Naomi wore - draped over her arm. "You need to put this on," she instructed Rembrandt.
"What is it?"
"It's a protective vest. Not exactly high-fashion, but it will prevent all those gamma rays from frying your flesh while you're in the chamber." Jenny kept talking as Huang helped Rembrandt into the bulky vestige. "Now remember, Mr. Brown, this isn't a two-way communication device. Maggie and whoever she's with won't be able to hear or see you."
"Dr. Winslow," Arturo asked, stepping forward, "How can you be certain that you will be able to pinpoint Miss Beckett's exact location in time?"
The scientist gave him a smirk of superiority. "I appreciate your interest, Professor Arturo. When Maggie was absorbed by the quantum acceleration, it took a graft of her DNA. Using that sample, we've sent a temporal probe back to 1937, where it will scan the entire planet on the 1st and 2nd of July - working outward from the Marshall Islands - until it detects a DNA match. That means it will have honed in on Maggie's presence there, relative to the amount of time that has elapsed since she initially got sent back."
"Okay, can we get on with this?" Remmy impatiently grumbled. He still couldn't get the image out of his mind of Maggie possibly being tortured.
Naomi gestured at the remote viewing capsule, which, from the outside, resembled a magician's box. "After you, Mr. Brown."
Rembrandt cautiously stepped through the narrow door, and found himself inside a spacious chamber. All around him, a wall-to-wall screen was bathed in a soothing translucent blue. It looked glossy and was surrounding him entirely, as though it was the extended window of a futuristic spacecraft.
In another moment, Naomi was by his side. "Overwhelming, isn't it?" she grinned, cheerfully. "Now remember, we'll have limited mobility inside of here. You can move around freely, but only within the parameters of this chamber. The probe will be programmed to follow Maggie, wherever she is taken . . . so we will only be able to move a maximum of fifty feet away from her in any direction.
Rembrandt was still in awe over the internal span of the seemingly tiny remote viewing capsule. "Um, Naomi - from the inside, this room looks so cramped. How did you squeeze all of this extra space in here?"
Naomi shrugged. "I wasn't involved with the engineering process. But from what I understand, it has to do with compressing dimensional space-time. You'd have to ask Jenny more about it - it's all technobabble to me." She smiled, sheepishly.
Jenny's voice came on over an intercom. "Are you ready?" she asked Rembrandt and Naomi.
Naomi studied Rembrandt's face for validation, before answering, "We're ready whenever you are, Dr. Winslow."
"Okay, then. Be prepared to glimpse 65 years back into the past . . ." Jenny Winslow's voice faded as the entire chamber lit up with blinding luminosity.
Rembrandt squeezed his eyes shut, but fortunately, the light hadn't blinded him and Naomi. The brightness was a temporary shock to their corneas, but nowhere near the magnitude of actually blinding a person with permanent eye damage.
As the chamber roared around them, Rembrandt ventured his eyelids open a smidge. The translucent blueness of the wall-to-wall screen had been replaced by a whizzing blanket of red luminescence. The two of them just stood there for about five minutes, watching silently as cloudy redness seeped in all around them, enveloping the travelers and obscuring their view of the remote viewing capsule's walls.
Suddenly, the reddish brightness dissipated, and Remmy and Naomi found themselves standing in what ex-navy cook Rembrandt definitively recognized as the cargo hold of a ship.
Then Rembrandt saw her: Maggie Beckett was sitting forlornly on a dark green cot. Another man was also in the room, with a homemade bandage adhered to his forehead.
"Maggie!" Instinctively, Rembrandt jetted across the room toward Maggie.
She didn't acknowledge him, or even look in his direction.
Rembrandt reached out for Maggie, but his hand went right through her. It was like she was a ghost . . . or he was. Maggie didn't even feel his attempted touch. She just kept staring down at the floor.
Naomi had come up behind Remmy. "She can't see you, Mr. Brown," the translator reminded him.
Remmy stuffed his hands in his pockets. He wanted nothing more than to let Maggie know he was there, watching over her.
"So he must be Fred Noonan," concluded Naomi, pointing toward Fred. "At least the Japanese have kept the two of them together, so neither of them has to be completely alone."
The door to the cargo hold abruptly opened. A shady-looking Japanese man in an apron entered, carrying a big crock-pot. Two soldiers accompanied him, and one of them grumbled to his colleagues, while gesturing at Maggie and Fred, "Kuwa-serro tono may-ray-da."
"What did he say?" Rembrandt asked Naomi.
"He's going to give them supper," Naomi answered, staring at the crock pot.
"Good." Rembrandt was relieved that at least the Japanese weren't letting them starve to death.
One of the Japanese soldiers approached the two American prisoners. "Koo-nda," he instructed them, "kuttara jinmon-no tsuzuki dazo."
"We can't understand you," Maggie responded, in an impudent and frustrated tone. "Why don't you bring back that guy who spoke English?"
The soldier jutted out his arm, slapping Maggie squarely across the face. She slumped over on the cot.
"Hey, don't touch her, you bastard!" Rembrandt balled up his fists, only to see his transparent self go right through the soldier when Remmy tried to hit him. "Damn, I keep forgetting - I'm a hologram now!"
"We're not holograms," Naomi corrected him. "We're merely existing on a different plane of space-time than they are."
"Right. I get it, lady," Remmy grumbled. He wiped the sweat from his brow. "Okay, what did they say to her?"
"They're giving Maggie and Fred dinner first . . . and then they're going to interrogate them," Naomi relayed for Rembrandt. "From what your friend just said, I would assume these soldiers have their own translator somewhere on the ship who can speak at least some English."
Fred had taken the pot of sustenance and brought it over to Maggie's cot. He eyed the Japanese angrily, and they eyed him right back. Then they left the room, locking the door and leaving Maggie and Fred alone together again.
"Are you okay?" Fred asked Maggie.
A nod of her head confirmed it, but Maggie was too choked up to respond verbally.
"Don't talk back to them, okay? That's only gonna make things worse," Fred advised her. "Wait until they bring in someone who can speak our language, and then we'll tell them whatever they want to know." He lifted the lid of the crock-pot, which was lukewarm to the touch. "In the meantime, let's eat."
"Are you sure they aren't trying to poison us?" Maggie sneered, her face still stinging from the officer's slap.
"Well, if they do that, they won't be getting any information from us, will they?" Fred chuckled, half-heartedly. He peered inside the pot.
"What is it?" Maggie's stomach churned, but not in a hungry way.
"It looks like some kind of stew," said Fred. He sniffed the pot. "Smells like it has some fish in it. They didn't give us any bowls, but there is a spoon in here." He removed a rusty ladle from the thick broth that contained seafood. "Ladies first," he offered, handing Maggie the ladle.
Maggie brought the stew-filled ladle to her lips. Surprisingly, it tasted pretty good. It was thick, creamy, and resembled chicken broth in its flavor, and Maggie could taste chunks of crab, scallops, and shrimp slide between her lips. "It's actually edible," she said. "So if they did travel all this way to trade supplies, when would they have time to fish? These frigates don't exactly travel fast enough to allow for much leisure time."
"They probably traded some artifacts for the fish," speculated Fred Noonan, dipping his finger in the crockpot to take a taste of the stew. "I'm sure the Tongan fisherman would have swapped octopi and squid in exchange for a few ceramic geisha dolls or painted porcelain eggs."
Maggie took another sip from the ladle of salty broth. "At least they spared no expense," she wryly mumbled, gnashing a piece of shrimp between her molars. "It beats the hell out of the C-rations they gave us in the marines."
"So . . ." Fred was now curious, but still in shock. "They let women in the military, in the time you come from?"
"Yeah," Maggie answered. She reminded herself that it wasn't even the 1940s yet, so Fred would naturally be unfamiliar with late-Twentieth Century culture. "If a woman is qualified, she can serve. Even in combat."
"Wow. Surreal." Fred shook his head.
"Oh, it's real, all right. If it wasn't, I wouldn't be here right now." Maggie gulped another mouthful of the weird seafood stew, before turning to look at Fred. "So you believe me?"
"I'm beginning to. Don't ask me why, though." Fred scraped his foot against the floor. "You know . . . Maggie. Once we get back on dry land, we're going to have to try to escape. I doubt they'll ever let us go."
"Probably not," Maggie agreed. She handed him the ladle.
"So we must do whatever we have to, in order to stay alive . . . at all costs," continued Fred. "Otherwise, we're dead anyway."
An echo rippled through the chamber, as Rembrandt and Naomi watched their surroundings blur. Maggie, Fred, and the cargo hold practically melted from sight all around them. A blue light filled the chamber, penetrating their vision.
"What's happening?!" Rembrandt hollered, over the whirring of the capsule.
"I think they're bringing us back!" Naomi shouted her reply.
In another few minutes, as the blueness morphed to redness, the remote viewing chamber had regressed to its dormant state.
Jenny opened the door. "Welcome back," she said.
Rembrandt and Naomi slunk out of the remote viewing capsule, where all of the sliders and laboratory scientists were waiting for them. Amelia was even there, with bandages wrapped around one of her arms.
"Why did you bring us back?!" Rembrandt howled at Jenny. "We weren't ready to leave! They need us!"
"They didn't even know you were there," Jenny reminded him. "We could see everything you saw through the capsule's monitors, but we couldn't hear anything outside of the capsule . . . our audio isn't sophisticated enough. What was said by the Japanese?"
"They're planning to interrogate Maggie and Fred," reported Naomi. "As you probably saw, they decided to give them something to eat first."
"How's Fred?" Amelia asked them, eagerly.
Rembrandt sighed. "A little beat up. But they're both holding their own." He paused, and said, not only for Amelia's benefit but also so his friends would know, "Maggie and Fred are willing to do whatever it takes to survive once they dock on land. Even if it means risking their own lives."
An unsettling beat lingered among the silent group.
Wade then confronted Jenny. "So how are you coming with getting them out of there?"
"We're still working on it," Jenny replied. "We're trying to devise a way to safely extract them from that time period without having to send Ms. Earhart back in their place."
A nervous expression covered Amelia Earhart's face. "Because you want to study me, don't you?" she demanded, in an accusatory tone. "It's either that or send me back to be their prisoner, right?!"
"Miss Earhart . . ." the Professor spoke up, uncomfortably. "I'm afraid it may be the only logical way to restore balance to your world. The longer Maggie remains in the past, the more likely it is that the present will be altered beyond repair. Miss Beckett doesn't belong in that place at that time, and as long as she remains there, her existence and her actions will have a ripple effect on the people and natural elements around her."
"Sorry, Professor Arturo," negated Jenny, "but we simply have no proof to support your theory. We've sent objects back from our time before, and they appeared to have no effect on the timeline of our world."
"But how can you know that, Jenny?" argued Diana, exasperated. "And even if that's true, you're talking about inanimate objects that you sent back in time, previously. Of course they're going to have minimal effects on a given worldline . . . they aren't sentient life." She frowned, distressed. "But Maggie is. She's a live human being. And as she proceeds to interact with people and events that instigated your world's current timeline - well, the exponential damage that could end up doing to this reality is immeasurable!"
Jenny slowly shook her head some more. "Sorry, Dr. Davis, I just can't buy into your theory."
Diana exhaled again.
"But I do promise that we are doing everything humanly possible to calculate an algorithm that can be interfaced with our technology - to bring Maggie back," Dr. Winslow emphasized. "Now if you'll excuse me . . ."
She hastily exited the laboratory, leaving everyone behind to steam in their helplessness.
* * *
Wade and Malcolm had walked Amelia back into the staff lounge, which had become her temporary sanctuary at Richardson Laboratories. As Malcolm took a seat in the corner by himself near the coffeemaker, Wade sat down with Amelia on a silky purple sofa.
"How are you doing?" Wade sensitively asked the 1930s aviator.
"I can't believe it," she muttered, whisking her hand through her wavy red hair. "I'm actually . . . in the future."
"Yeah." Wade gave her a reassuring smile. "But at least you're not back there."
"I was actually watching Fred . . . he's still back in the time I came from!" Amelia was trying to catch her breath. "I have to help him. I know I should go back . . . not only because you need to save your friend, but because that's where I belong. I know that. But . . ." Amelia paused, with shame covering her face. ". . . I don't want to go back. I'm scared." Now she couldn't even make eye contact with Wade.
Wade stared at Amelia, processing Amelia's words. She then wrapped her arms around the aviator, consolingly. "You don't need to feel ashamed, Amelia. Even the bravest women of the world - any world - experience fear. What you did . . . even though you didn't complete your last flight, you've inspired millions of young girls to believe they can reach for the stars and chase after their dreams. You showed them that they can share in the greatest adventures life has to offer."
Amelia looked reinvigorated. "Really?"
"But Wade . . . what will happen to Fred? And if I go back there, I'll be walking to my own death." Amelia pulled a handkerchief out of a pocket from her aviator pants, and dabbed her moist eyes with it.
Wade thought about it for a moment. "We're not sending you back," she proclaimed, despite the plans that Jenny and her friends might be devising. "That might only make things worse here in the present. But you have to pretend to cooperate with them, Amelia. We need to get Maggie back too, before we leave this world. You just have to trust me, and I promise I won't let them strand you back there. Will you trust me?"
Amelia nodded, unequivocally. "I'd rather put my life in your hands, than be in Japanese custody." She didn't know why, but somehow, she could sense that Wade's motives were pure and genuine. She somehow knew that putting her faith in Wade would be the only way for her to avoid a gruesome death.
Mallory peered into the staff lounge. "How's it going?" he asked Wade. He turned to look at Amelia. "Are you feeling any better, Ms. Earhart?" Mallory asked her, awkwardly.
"I'm fine, thanks." She tried to give Mallory a convincing smile. "And please, call me 'AE.' All of my friends do."
Kneeling down beside them, Mallory asked Wade, in a low voice, "How's Malcolm doing?" He glanced over his shoulder at the sullen teenager, who looked totally miserable.
"I don't think he's been able to talk with anyone about what happened between him and Jules. But he needs to." Wade craned her neck sympathetically toward where Malcolm was sulking. "I feel bad about it too, because I've meant to talk with him, and ask him if there's anything we can do for him. But the rest of us were just so busy working nonstop during the past month . . ."
"I'm not gay, obviously . . ." Mallory gave Wade a knowing half-chuckle and a wink, ". . . but I still think he could benefit from a male perspective here. I should really have a 'guy talk' with Malcolm . . . let him know he's not alone when it comes to this."
Wade nodded, in silent understanding. She realized that Mallory needed to be alone with Malcolm, so Malcolm could privately confide in someone he would relate to more closely. "Why don't 'AE' and I go take a walk?"
"Where are we going?" Amelia asked Wade, as the two of them got up and headed out the door.
"Just to take a stroll, and kill some time." Wade draped her arm around Amelia Earhart as they disappeared into the hallway. "Are you hungry?"
"Starving," Amelia answered, heartily.
"Say, have you ever tasted any sugary snacks from a vending machine . . . ?"
Mallory lingered next to Malcolm. "Hey. You look miserable, man."
"Thanks a lot, Mallory," mumbled Malcolm, sarcastically. The adolescent folded his arms and pouted.
Mallory took Malcolm's arm and gently prodded him to stand up. "Come on, buddy. Let's go talk, okay?" As Malcolm arose reluctantly, slumping while he stood in place, Mallory continued, "We're still bros, remember? You can tell me anything, and I'm not going to think any less of you."
They settled onto the sofa where Wade and Amelia had previously been sitting. After several moments of silence, Malcolm broke down in tears.
"Hey, everything's gonna be all right," Mallory softly comforted Malcolm, giving him a fraternal hug.
"Me and Jules . . ." whimpered Malcolm, holding onto Mallory as though he were dangling over the edge of a skyscraper. ". . . before we left Kromagg Prime, he and I . . . we were . . . together." He released Mallory and searched his friend's face for a reaction.
Mallory had an idea of what Malcolm meant, but he wanted to be sure.
"I stayed the night with him . . . and some more nights," Malcolm elaborated, trying to make it clearer for Mallory.
Mallory raised his eyebrows, almost certain that he understood what Malcolm was getting at.
"We went down on each other," Malcolm spelled it out, hastily.
"Gotcha." Mallory patted Malcolm on the shoulder, letting him know he didn't need to feel awkward any longer about making sure Mallory understood what he was saying. "I've been there, man . . . well, at least, as a recipient." He tried to move the conversation forward, in case Malcolm felt uncomfortable. "Are you regretting it?" Mallory probed.
"No." Malcolm shook his head. "Not at all. I miss Jules . . . and I know he feels the same way about me. I wish I could have stayed behind with him."
"But you couldn't . . ." Mallory now understood Malcolm's conflicting emotions. "Because of Gretchen."
"I'm just afraid I'm never going to see him again."
"You will, Malcolm."
"Really?" Malcolm studied his friend's face.
Mallory gave Malcolm a confident gaze. "If I have to hijack the timer and bring you back there myself. Hey, I know all about second chances, bro. I can't count the number of times I woke up in the bed alone the next morning. Some of them didn't even bother to leave a note." He backed away from reflecting on his own past. "It sounds like it's something you need to go after. And whenever you decide you want to return there to see Jules . . . we'll make it happen for ya, bud."
"Thanks!" Malcolm felt as though an enormous weight had been lifted off his chest. He gave Mallory another affectionate hug of brotherhood.
Mallory leaned back, casually draping his arm around Malcolm. "So . . . how was it?" he mischievously asked, giving Malcolm a devilish grin.
Malcolm's cheeks turned red, and he laughed bashfully. "It was awesome!" he admitted. Then, in a softer, more serious tone, Malcolm added, "I think I love him."
"Jules is one lucky dude," Mallory said, patting Malcolm on the shoulder.
"I can't explain how . . . but on some level, I connected with Jules, even when I didn't really know him." Malcolm reflected on his first moments meeting Jules. "There were sparks . . . we just needed that opportunity to make them crackle."
Mallory looked longingly at the empty doorway that Wade had passed through just minutes earlier. "Yeah, I know the feeling. Most definitely."
* * *
"So what's up?" Rembrandt asked his friends, reentering the lab. He had been called back by Huang while taking a coffee break in one of the courtesy rooms.
Diana looked over at Remmy, from where she had been standing and consulting with Jenny. "Dr. Winslow wants you to go back in the capsule, Remmy."
"I believe we should keep a close watch over Maggie," Jenny told the sliders. "If it looks like something's about to happen to her . . ."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Rembrandt demanded, suspiciously.
Jenny just looked at him, slightly annoyed, as though Rembrandt was a pest. "We may need to intervene."
"Fine. But this time, let us know before you bring us out of there," Remmy irritably requested. "I don't like being unexpectedly separated from my friends . . . especially when they're in lethal danger."
Rembrandt followed Naomi into the chamber, feeling as though he was wandering into a fun house room.
"Huang, get me another thermos of peppermint rootbeer," Jenny instructed her assistant. "I want to make sure I stay awake for this. I need the caffeine."
Rupert Huang rolled his exasperated eyes. "Reminds me why I never got married . . ." he grumbled, heading for the kitchenette to fetch Jenny's beverage.
Rembrandt and Naomi had taken their spots inside the remote viewing capsule. They faced the spacious blue screen, imagining what activity they would be able to see through it in a matter of moments.
"Jenny, stay with us on VoiceCom," Naomi requested, brushing a strand of her black hair away from her ear.
"No problem," answered Jenny's voice, coming on over an intercom. Her slightly nasal twang echoed in Rembrandt's and Naomi's ears.
Soon enough, the two of them were enveloped by another flash of light, literally feeling the temporal winds zip past them. The surface of the screen all around them was replaced by the familiar innards of a frigate.
At the very moment these two "remote viewers" from the future surfaced in 1937, the door to Maggie and Fred's holding room bust open. A squirrelly Japanese officer in uniform briskly made his way inside. As Maggie stood up to acknowledge him, the officer harshly shoved Maggie backwards, sending her tumbling to the ground. His parabola-shaped mustache twitched contemptuously as Maggie hit the floor, hard.
"Hey!" Rembrandt instinctively moved forward, before remembering that he couldn't make corporeal contact with any of them. "Leave her alone!" He knew that the Japanese tyrant couldn't hear him, but that didn't stop Remmy from verbally lashing out.
"Na-o na-noreh? the antagonistic officer demanded, snarling at Fred.
Fred remained defiantly silent.
"Kota-ero!" Balling one hand into a fist, he clocked Fred clear across the cheekbone.
"Stop it!" Maggie shouted at him.
"Onna wa damatte-ro!" snapped the decorated officer. He gave Fred Noonan a rough kick in the gut with his sturdy shoe, even though Fred was already slumped in a helpless heap on the floor.
"Nihongo ga wakaranu yoh-des," one of the subordinate officers piped up.
"Wakattoru. Tachiba o omoi-shirasette yattoru-nda," he responded, through gritted teeth. He had clearly been yawping at his prisoners in Japanese solely to unnerve and confuse them. Turning back to Fred, the commanding officer said, in almost proficient English, "Listen to me, American. I am Commander Sakamoto. You and your woman are captives of the empire Nippon. Your cooperation will determine if you remain alive."
Fred merely groaned in response. He had heard every word, but was crumpled up in a pile on the floor and in too much pain to acknowledge Commander Sakamoto with a voice of his own.
"Don't you get it? You knocked all the air right out of him!" Maggie railed against them, her flesh shivering as she tried to imagine the pain Fred must be feeling. "You're not going to get anything out of him in his current condition." She stared directly at Commander Sakamoto, with a sudden fearless zeal. "So if you want to interrogate someone, talk to me."
Glaring at Maggie, Commander Sakamoto approached her, accepting this gutsy woman's challenge. He thrust his strong arms out, grabbing Maggie's shoulders and slamming her up against a wall. "Do you have a death wish, woman?!"
Maggie visually confronted his beady, piercing eyes.
Commander Sakamoto slapped Maggie's cheekbone with the palm of his bare head, stinging her flesh. Maggie winced, but forced her eyes to stay open so she could face down Sakamoto and his minions.
The other officers jeered out loud in Japanese, and several of them spat on Maggie.
Rembrandt turned to Naomi, clutching her arm in a frantic appeal. "We have to do something! Maggie won't last very long with these snakes!"
Naomi thought fast. "Dr. Winslow!" she called out to Jenny, frenetically. "Can you put me and Mr. Brown on VisionCom?"
"Can do!" replied Jenny Winslow's voice, amplified by the acoustics of the now-invisible remote viewing capsule.
Rembrandt gave Naomi a baffled stare. "What's 'VisionCom'?" he asked, his voice mixed with strain and interest.
"Dr. Winslow is going to magnify our images through he chronoscope," Naomi explained, "while projecting our vocal resonation. It should allow us to communicate with your friend."
"You mean . . . they'll be able to see us?" Remmy asked, incredulously.
"Well, projected images of us, yes."
"But won't the Japanese be able to see us too?"
Before Naomi could respond to Rembrandt, both of the observers felt their flesh begin to vibrate. A flurry of light outlined both of their bodies, causing them to feel as though they were airborne.
In the next moment, Maggie was staring at both of them, her mouth wide open.
"Rembrandt . . . ?" she gasped, her eyes trained on the Cryin' Man.
"Maggie? You can see me?" Rembrandt moved toward her.
"Rembrandt . . ." Naomi fruitlessly extended her arm after him, intending to pull Remmy back.
"Remmy, is it really you? How did you get here?" Maggie reached out to touch Rembrandt . . . but her fingers phased right through his arm, as though Rembrandt was a mere apparition.
"Kso! Koitsura dokokara haitte kita?" exclaimed Sakamoto, in confusion.
"You let them go, man!" Rembrandt took a swing at the Japanese commander, but his fist passed right through the officer, who'd flinched and reared back in anticipation of Rembrandt's bodily impact.
Addressing the images of Rembrandt and Naomi, Sakamoto demanded from them, "Dareda kisamara?" Sakamoto was trying to keep his voice from shaking. Embedded within the toughness of his eyes were some faint glimmers of fear.
"Warrewarre-wa America no kodo cho-ho-kikan no mono des," Naomi told the Japanese-speaking soldiers, spitting out an explanation promptly and extemporaneously. "Minasan no katzdoh wo sheera-beni keema-shita. Kore ee-joh wagakunino mononi kigai wo kuwa-eruto, sentoh-koh-ee toh minash-te hoh-fuku wo okonai-mas."
In defiant response, the head commander unholstered a pistol from his belt and fired it straight at Rembrandt. Maggie screamed in terror as the bullet flew right through Remmy's holographic body and pierced the wall behind him.
In shock, the commander dropped his weapon, his hand shaking.
"Tadachee-ni futarri wo shak-ho shi," Naomi continued to give the officers orders in Japanese. "America ryodoni hikkiwatashinasai."
"Darega suruka!" seethed Commander Sakamoto, immediately suspicious of Naomi's motives.
By now, Fred had regained consciousness. He was gaping at Rembrandt and Naomi, deliriously. "Are you . . . angels?"
"Oh man," Rembrandt groaned, shaking his head as he smacked his own forehead, "I feel like I'm co-starring in a really bad episode of Quantum Leap!"
"Remmy, you have to get me out of here!" Maggie frantically shouted to her friend.
"We're working on it, Maggie," Rembrandt told her. "We just wanted to send you a message that we're keeping our eyes on you and Fred."
"You know about Fred?" asked Maggie.
"How do you know me? I never met you folks before!" Fred shouted, shaking his fist in a disoriented haze.
Rembrandt leaned in to speak to Maggie, as close as he could get to her. "Is he drunk?" Remmy tilted his head toward Fred Noonan.
"I think it's more like he's going through withdrawal," Maggie muttered, under her breath.
All of a sudden, Rembrandt's vision became hazy and his entire surroundings seemed to begin shaking. "Naomi?!" he cried out, tentatively, to his holographic companion.
"I feel it too, Mr. Brown!" Naomi called back to Rembrandt, dizzily.
"Remmy, what's happening?!" Maggie watched helplessly as the images of Rembrandt Brown and Naomi Fong quivered in front of her, blinking out and then blinking back in again. It appeared as though static was rippling within the outlines of their bodies, interfering with the reception of their holographic selves being transmitted.
"I think we're being pulled back to 2002 . . . !" speculated Naomi, hollering over the windy roar that now seemed to penetrate her and Rembrandt's ears.
"We'll be back . . . I promise!" Rembrandt's voice echoed away from Maggie, as his and Naomi's projected images gradually faded.
"Remmy!!!" yelled Maggie, desperately falling to her knees.
But no trace of neither Rembrandt nor Naomi remained visible.
One of the Japanese soldiers roughly grabbed Maggie by the collar. "Imano wa ittai nanno gijutsuda?!" he growled at her.
Aside from not understanding a word of Japanese, Maggie was too distraught to answer him. Her last link to her own time had been unexplainably wrested away from her - and now she was left to fend for herself once again. For all intents and purposes, she was completely alone.
The combined stress and despair was too much for Maggie to bear any longer. In a daze, she plunged backwards, hitting the floorboard with an unconscious thud.
* * *
Except for Amelia Earhart, who was fast asleep in the next room, everyone had gathered outside of the remote viewing capsule to witness Rembrandt and Naomi's return from the past.
"Why did you bring us back?!" Rembrandt angrily shouted at Dr. Jenny Winslow, as he and Naomi emerged from the chamber. He lunged toward the scientist.
Jenny signaled to her security personnel, who immediately jumped into action and restrained Rembrandt. "Your friends made me do it, Mr. Brown." She shot a side-glare at Diana and Arturo.
Diana glanced suspiciously at the outside of the remote viewing capsule. "What happened, Jenny? You said this was only a one-way viewing pod. But we clearly heard Rembrandt and Naomi engaging in a two-way conversation when they were inside of there . . . but that can't be . . ." She raised her eyebrows, ". . . can it?"
"I never said that," Jenny denied Diana's accusation. "Our viewing capsule has always been designed as a two-way communication device. This is just the first time we've actually tested that component of it - with much success, I might add." She folded her arms and smirked.
"Don't you see what's going on here, Dr. Davis?" the Professor gruffly said, folding his own arms. He stared Jenny down with scrutiny. "Dr. Winslow has been lying to us about her technology all along! She manipulated us so we'd let her use Mr. Brown as a guinea pig!"
"That's not true!" Jenny stubbornly protested. "I've been upfront with you about everything we're doing from the very beginning."
"Dr. Winslow, if you want us to trust you, you're going to have to be honest with us first," Wade responded to Jenny's denial. "I think we'd have remembered you telling us something that big."
"I think you people are mistaken," Jenny scoffed. She was utterly confused as to why the sliders were claiming ignorance, when, as far as she was concerned, she'd been through all of this with them before.
"Naomi," said Rembrandt, addressing the NSA translator, "what were you saying when you spoke to those Japanese soldiers? Why did they get so upset?"
"I told them we were American military intelligence," Naomi answered him. She looked a slight bit nervous. "I informed them that they could start a war with the United States if they didn't return Maggie and Fred to U.S. soil immediately."
"You WHAT?!" Rembrandt's eyes bugged out in fear. "Lady, what were you thinking?! They're not going to take kindly to threats!"
"They'd already seen us," explained Naomi, defensively. "Think about it: our technology is something that most people in the late-1930s couldn't even conceive of. No, it wasn't diplomatic, but it scared the hell out of them. Remember, our goal is to keep Maggie and Fred alive longer. The Japanese will think twice about killing your friends if they believe America has some technologically-superior 'sleeping giant' watching over them that its enemies can't control."
"She's got a point, Rem," acknowledged Diana, reluctantly. "I seriously doubt the Japanese military is familiar with holographic imaging. By now, after seeing the projected images of you and Naomi, they're probably afraid that our weapons systems have undergone incredible advancements as well . . . and if they fear they're under constant U.S. surveillance from afar . . . well, they're probably not going to want to take the risk of executing their American prisoners."
"Or, maybe they'll just say 'screw it' and kill Maggie to send us a message!" Rembrandt argued, fearing the worst. "There's no way of telling how the enemy will react when they're sent into a panic."
Jenny could sense Remmy's blood pressure rising again, and attempted to defuse the situation. "Let's all take a moment to calm down and have a beverage break." She turned to Huang. "Rupert, go get us some peppermint lemonade."
"Did you run out of peppermint rootbeer?" Malcolm sneered at her.
Jenny squinched up her face, still puzzled. "We don't allow caffeine in this facility," she stated. "And even if we did, there's no such thing as 'peppermint rootbeer'."
The sliders all looked at one another, constrained by bafflement.
Jenny had turned back to Huang. "And make sure to pour it in clear, see-though glasses this time. I like to look at what I'm drinking before I actually ingest it. Oh, and will you be a dear and chop some orange slices into my class? According to Dr. Ruskin, I'm not getting enough citrus in my diet. Oh, and make sure you clean up the orange peels, Rupert . . . I can't stand it when you leave your messes lying around in the kitchen."
Huang rolled his eyes at Jenny's demands, as he headed for the laboratory's adjoining kitchenette. "As if I didn't already have a woman at home to take orders from," he told the sliders, tongue-in-cheek, before departing. "That's why I don't wear my wedding ring to work . . . so I don't have to be reminded what I'm going home to." Huang made a vexed face, before disappearing into the kitchen.
"Now," said Jenny, turning back to the sliders, "can we all be friends again?"
Rembrandt puckered his lips together, shaking off Jenny's lapdogs. "You just find a way to get Maggie back!" he threateningly instructed her, sticking out his index finger.
"Of course. It's my first priority. Now if you'll excuse me . . ." Jenny abruptly exited the lab, leaving her guards behind to watch over the sliders.
"Why do I get the impression we're not exactly at the top of her 'to-do' list?" Mallory skeptically quipped, staring after the scientist.
"How can we let that woman deceive us so openly?" Arturo questioned the group, obviously disgruntled over Jenny's defiant behavior.
"I'm not so sure Jenny thinks she is deceiving us," Diana countered. Glancing around at the alert security guards, Diana motioned for her friends to follow her over to an isolated corner.
"What are you talking about, Diana?" Janine critically asked.
"I think history is already changing . . . and it's affecting the people on this world," theorized Diana. "Sending Maggie into the past must have altered some event, which, in turn, has altered the present reality that we're witnessing now."
"How can that be?" Malcolm was confused.
"If Amelia Earhart was suddenly plucked from the fabric of time, that means the Japanese never tortured her to death prior to World War II," explained Professor Arturo. "That in itself would alter the worldline of this dimension in ways we can't even begin to conceive of. But with Miss Beckett reinserted into the past, in Miss Earhart's place . . ."
"Things are getting really messed up," Diana spouted out an abridged explanation for the rest of them.
"Okay . . ." Rembrandt was trying to follow this. "So how does that explain the peppermint lemonade?"
"That's only one of the minor fluctuations caused by Miss Beckett's interference in the previously existing timeline," reasoned Arturo. "Surely you've noticed other changes, Mr. Brown . . ."
"Well . . . Jenny is acting like we knew that the remote viewing capsule was for two-way communication," Rembrandt identified another visibly divergent factor.
"That's because, from her point-of-view, we did know." When Rembrandt, Malcolm, Wade, Janine, and Mallory reacted with baffled looks, Professor Arturo clarified, "Dr. Winslow's memories are changing, as are the memories of everyone else telling us about the two-way device - although from our perspectives, it didn't occur previously."
Wade grabbed her forehead in constraint. "So are you saying Maggie changed something in the past that caused Jenny to improve her invention?"
"Probably not directly," Diana answered. "But if you change one thing in the past, even the smallest change can cause many ripple effects across a worldline. Maggie's presence in the past would have influenced Factor A, which influenced Factor B, which influenced Factor C, and so on. By the time you get to Factor Z, an entire reality could be altered exponentially. So, along the way, some change - within the thought processes or knowledge base of Jenny and her team - must have occurred that caused them to modify VoiceCom into VisonCom in this new temporal reality."
"Even individuals' personalities," Arturo added. He addressed the group as a whole. "Take Mr. Huang, for example. When we first arrived here, he was Dr. Winslow's meek and quiet assistant. He willingly took orders from her, and his personality was introverted. But now, he seems noticeably more outspoken. And he mentioned being married. Didn't he state that he was single before? Perhaps a fluctuation in events may have even altered his professional status at this facility in addition to his personal life, if only slightly."
"So why aren't we being affected by it?" Mallory inquired. "Wouldn't we remember the same things they do? Shouldn't our memories be changing too?"
"Not necessarily," said Diana. "Not if our actions were responsible for creating the quantum ripple. By virtue of sliding in here, we brought Maggie to this world - even though none of us could have ever predicted this would happen. If switching Maggie with Amelia was the catalyst for these changes, and our past is independent from that initial catalyst, of course we'd retain those original memories. It just makes sense."
"Not to me!" whined Janine.
"Our pasts are independent of this dimension, Miss Chen," Arturo patiently explained. "The births of these scientists, the invention of peppermint rootbeer . . . those events predate our arrival here. Our quantum signatures are inherently different from those of anyone who was born on this Earth . . . so naturally, all of our past experiences will have occurred outside the reach of the ripple caused by Miss Beckett's involvement in this world's timeline. In other words, our very dimensional makeup precluded us from being altered in the same way as any person native to this dimension."
"Okay, bottom line . . ." Rembrandt took an unequivocally serious tone. "How do we get Maggie back?"
"Jenny doesn't remember all of the same things we do, right?" Wade asked, looking to Arturo and Diana for confirmation. "So maybe we can use that to our advantage, and outsmart her?"
"But how do we undo this time-changing mess?" Mallory posed to his friends. "What right do we have to let the lives these people never knew remain destroyed? How can we fix this?"
Diana exchanged solemn academic stares with the Professor. She uttered her reply solemnly.
"I don't think we can."
* * *
Maggie's eyes fluttered open. She found herself flat against a wall, metallic bracelets fastened around her wrists. Jiggling her arms, Maggie could see that her arms were chained to the wall behind her, as were her feet. As she peered over at the body next to her, Maggie spotted Fred Noonan bound in the same position.
"Fred . . . ?" hissed Maggie, rattling the chains with her arms. "Fred . . . ?" . . . pssst! Are you awake?"
Fred stirred, and let out a groggy groan. "What's this?" he grunted, examining his chained wrists and ankles.
"I don't think they want us going anywhere." Maggie visually scanned the small room. They had been moved to a much more cramped storage area with piles of crates stacked against the wall.
But nothing that would help them escape.
"Did you see those two people, Fred?" Maggie whispered. "The ones who just appeared. One was a black guy . . . he was my friend, Rembrandt. And there was some Asian woman with him - I don't know who she was, but she must be helping Remmy."
"Oh." Fred slumped back his head. "I thought I was hallucinating."
"Don't you see, Fred?" Restlessly, Maggie shook her chains against the wall. "My friends must have found some way to transmit holographic signals back in time. They were able to make contact with us!"
"That's ridiculous," snorted Fred. He closed his eyes. "Just let me rest, woman."
"I don't care if you don't believe me," muttered Maggie, staring up at the ceiling. "I know it's true. You haven't seen all the scientific inventions that have been developed in the past 65 years. I'll bet you don't even have a dishwasher."
"Of course I do," Fred scoffed. "Her name is Beulah. She washes my clothes, too."
"No, that's not what I . . ." Maggie sighed, and gave up. He was hopeless.
The door to this smaller cargo hold burst open, and more soldiers crowded into the tight space.
"Oh, not again!" Maggie groaned. She lambasted the soldiers, "Don't you people have anything better to do? There's a war going on - can't you go bomb some submarines?"
A coarse hand sharply slapped Maggie's cheek, silencing her.
Yukio stepped forward from the back of the group. "I will be their voice," he stated to Fred and Maggie, referring to his superiors.
"So where were you last time? What's the deal letting them beat up on us when they can't understand what we're saying?" Maggie sneered, under her breath.
Yukio ignored Maggie, directing his comments exclusively at Fred. "Within the next day, we will arrive on our island of Saipan. There, you will be questioned. Your cooperation will determine if you live or die."
"Marvelous," yawned Fred, too anemic from exhaustion to pay much attention.
"I am instructed to discover your purpose," Yukio continued. "Are you American spies, sent to recover information on Japanese military activities?"
"No," replied Fred, half-moaning. "I'm Fred Noonan, the navigator of Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra." The blank expression on the navy translator's face prompted Fred to elaborate. "Amelia Earhart. The world's most accomplished female aviator. You've never heard of her?"
"The woman pilot?" Yukio indicated Maggie. "This is her?"
"Yeah, I'm Amelia Earhart. I'm wearing a wig," Maggie sarcastically shot back, providing a facetious rationale for her long, straightened, red locks of hair, which were obviously a great contrast to the curly, cropped reddish hairdo of Amelia Earhart.
"Who is she?!" the translator demanded from Fred, still gesturing to Maggie. Yukio was clearly refraining from speaking directly to her.
Fred remained defiantly silent.
Yukio responded by nailing Fred in the gut with his fist. Fred would have keeled over if he hadn't been chained to the wall.
"I already told you - I'm Maggie Beckett!" the ex-marine blurted out.
"You will talk!" the translator roared, still ignoring Maggie. "We will make you reveal all!" Yukio turned around and stomped out of the room, followed by his fellow soldiers.
The door slammed shut again, leaving Maggie and Fred to dourly contemplate their predicament.
Maggie's eyes darted around, nervously. "I think we're sushi," she said to Fred, forecasting their seemingly bleak future.
"Why have they even kept us alive this long?" grumbled Fred, who was perspiring like mad. "I'd rather they shoot me than stay a prisoner of theirs until I starve or die of disease!"
Drooping her neck, Maggie muttered, "Thanks to Remmy and the woman he was with, the Japanese think we're valuable to the American government now. Probably spies. So you can bet they'll keep interrogating us until they find out whatever they want to learn. That must be why they didn't kill us right away. How many white women flying airplanes do you think they're accustomed to seeing in this part of the world? Even if they figure out I'm not actually Amelia Earhart - I'm also not exactly a typical woman of your time, baking cookies and tending to her victory garden back on the mainland. Oh, the Japanese are intelligent, all right - they know something's up with us!"
"Victory garden?" Fred squinted, unfamiliar with the term. He shook off the short-lived curiosity, and craned his neck toward Maggie. "Look . . . Maggie? We're casualties of this crazy war between the Japs and Europeans. We didn't ask to be a part of it . . . and we must not betray our country. I'm done cooperating with these people. We don't tell them ANYTHING, you hear? ANYTHING! Even if it means they slit our throats."
Maggie's stomach churned, as morbidity fully set in for her.
She had lost Quinn. She had lost all of her friends. She had even lost her erratic sliding lifestyle, and been removed from her own time.
Maggie seethed. Her hours might be numbered, but she was determined to go down fighting. She had nothing left to lose.
* * *
Diana felt someone's fingers tap her on the shoulder. She turned around to see Jenny Winslow standing behind her.
"Yes, Jenny?" Diana asked, rather restlessly.
"Diana, I thought you might be interested in seeing our tracking technology. I know it must be boring for you, just standing around doing nothing." Jenny tried to sound sympathetic, but she just couldn't pull it off.
"I definitely would be," Diana affirmed, but she felt someone grab her arm before she could even take a step forward.
"Care to let the rest of us in on this?" Rembrandt cut in, irritated that Jenny was leaving the rest of them out of the loop.
Jenny pursed her lips together. "Of course. I just figured most of you would have a hard time understanding it."
"I think we'll muddle through." Rembrandt waved the others over. "Guys! Front and center! Jenny's gonna give us a little show-and-tell." He smirked at Jenny and cocked his head.
As the seven sliders followed Jenny Winslow into a high-tech control room furnished with wall-to-wall computers, Malcolm leaned over and whispered to Wade, "Where's 'AE'?"
"She's still resting," Wade said, glancing over her shoulder. "The poor woman . . . I didn't want her to get freaked out by anymore 'surprises' Dr. Winslow might have in store for us. But Amelia did enjoy the vending machine Butterfingers. She wolfed down four of them!"
Jenny took a seat in front of a gigantic computer monitor. She pointed to a red blip on the screen. "Our tracking paid off. We've got a lock on her."
"You mean . . . that's Maggie?" Rembrandt gasped, with hope.
"We've formed a temporal link to her position in time. But it's essential that we bring her back to this time period," Jenny added, as though she was having an original thought.
"Well, duh! That's what we've been telling you since we got here!" Janine blurted out. Diana gently put her hand on Janine's shoulder to suppress her friend's temper.
"Here's why," Jenny continued, in a brittle voice. "We transported a sample of your friend's DNA to Washington. According to our research, NSA records show that Margaret Alison Beckett was killed in 1981, when the U.S. embassy was bombed near a military base in Eritrea."
"That must be her double," Mallory said.
"Yeah, we kind of figured that already." Huang rolled his eyes, with heavy sarcasm in his voice.
"Wait a minute . . ." Malcolm looked perplexed. "How did you get a sample of Maggie's DNA shipped across the country so quickly?"
"I already told you people, we have continental teleportation capabilities," Jenny reminded them, impatiently.
"Wow, that's a mouthful," quipped Mallory.
"We just sent one of our lab interns to the downtown portal as a courier. He was able to catch the midnight vortex to D.C., and delivered the DNA to them in person," Huang elaborated. "Boy, you 'otherworlders' sure are slow," he finished off, with a sneer.
Janine narrowed her eyes. His shoptalk was sounding awfully familiar to that from her own homeworld. "I thought you said teleportation was off-limits to the public . . . it's only used by your government for national security?"
Huang shook his head. "Get some ginkgo, lady," he talked down to Janine, holding his hands up. "The portals are public transit. We told you that, too."
"Excuse me . . . !" Janine was about to tear into Huang, in retort, when she noticed a gold band around his ring finger. "I thought you said you didn't wear your wedding ring at work?"
"What wedding ring?" Rupert Huang wiggled his ring finger. "This is my engagement ring. I'm getting married in the fall."
Janine looked at her friends again. "Wait, I thought he was already married?" she exclaimed, pointing at Huang. "Remember, he made that crack about taking his ring off before starting work?"
"Oh, we remember, Miss Chen," agreed Professor Arturo. "But he doesn't."
"The timeline must be changing at a more rapid pace," Diana concluded. She turned to Jenny, with great urgency. "We need to get Maggie and Amelia switched back before anything else changes."
"What's changed? Nothing that I can see is changing," Jenny airily shrugged, acting as though Diana was paranoid. "But you are right . . . we should do something while we're still able to maintain this linear conduit to Maggie." She waved at Huang. "Rupert, go get Ms. Earhart. We need to load her into the transport pod."
Wade's heart raced as she watched more of Jenny's and Huang's goons drag Amelia into the laboratory. The aviator's eyes were darting around the room suspiciously, studying Huang's cold stare and Jenny typing away at the keyboard with her back turned to everyone else.
"What's going on?" Amelia assertively asked, with a hint of a quiver in her voice.
"We're just going to run some more tests on you, Ms. Earhart," Jenny non-chalantly told her subject, with her back still turned toward them while her fingers pecked at more keys.
Amelia was immediately enveloped in a cold sweat of distrust. "Oh, no! I ain't taking anymore of your 'tests,' doctor!" She tried to turn and run, but strong hands gripped Amelia Earhart and held her in place.
Wade grabbed one of Jenny's forearms, holding it motionless above the keyboard. "Jenny, there's got to be a better way!"
"Wade . . ." Rembrandt cautioned her.
"Let go of my wrist, Ms. Wells," said Jenny, impatiently.
"Do you have any better ideas?" Huang sneered at Wade, even as some of the security guards approached Wade.
Thinking fast, Wade replied, "Yes. I do, in fact."
The guards continued to advance toward Wade, but Jenny held up her free hand to signal for them to stop. "I'll listen. But you've got one minute to capture my interest."
Extemporaneously, Wade launched right into her explanation. "One of the parallel worlds we visited was ruled by Ancient Egypt. My friends and I were trapped inside a pyramid . . ."
"55 seconds and counting . . ." Jenny rudely interrupted, not taking her eyes off of her wristwatch.
". . . but we managed to break into its computer system," Wade hastily continued. "I used the Egyptians' computer to keep rotating the pyramid in cycles until we could find a hidden passageway. It had an escape hatch . . ."
"What does any of this have to do with quantum acceleration?" blurted out Jenny, impatiently. She was no longer looking at her wristwatch.
"No, I get it." Diana, although she had not been present during that particular slide, found herself on the same wavelength as Wade. "Rather than moving Maggie and Amelia in a 180 degree rotation, we could send them in a full 360 degree rotation . . . and then another, and another, and another - picking up speed the entire time!"
Wade nodded. She wouldn't have been able to explain it as mathematically as Diana had, but that's exactly what she'd been thinking. Turning to the Professor, Wade said, "You were there . . . !" Then, seeing Arturo's intrigued expression, she remembered it had actually been Wrong Arturo who was with them on that slide. "Okay . . . but YOU were." Wade pointed at Remmy.
"Girl, I was too busy trying to fend off that giant scarab beetle!" Rembrandt exclaimed, apologetically unable to offer them any scientific input.
"What Wade is saying," Diana clarified for all of them, "is that if we rotate the path of quantum acceleration fast enough, eventually, Maggie's and Amelia's trajectories should catch up to each other. If we take advantage of that exact moment, we could pull both of them back to this time in tandem."
"Giant scarab beetle . . . ?!" Huang was still hung up on Rembrandt's reference, in disbelief.
"Wait! I didn't agree to this!" Amelia had finally managed to break away from Jenny's thugs, and she made a beeline over to Wade.
"Amelia, you need to trust me," Wade said, looking deep into the aviator's eyes. Wade hoped her non-verbal communication would be convincing enough to maintain Amelia Earhart's faith.
Jenny tipped her head back, staring at the sliders with scrutiny. "That's a really fast velocity you're talking about. How do you know they won't be spontaneously destroyed?"
"Well, we don't," Mallory said. "But if Maggie stays in the past, she could change something major. You don't know our friend . . . she won't go down quietly."
"And if you send Miss Earhart back to take Miss Beckett's place, the timeline could still become altered," Professor Arturo pointed out. "Remember, Miss Earhart now possesses all of this knowledge of the future . . . something she didn't have in the original timeline. Anything she says could potentially cause devastating repercussions to the fabric of your entire future."
"Not to mention how those Japanese soldiers will react to seeing a world-famous pilot suddenly appear before them in a magical cloud of light," Janine added, sardonically.
Huang shook his head. "Then by your reasoning, it's already too late. The Japanese in 1937 already saw Mr. Brown and Naomi when their images were projected in the remote viewing chamber. Won't that have caused these changes you're so worried about?"
"That was a ship in the middle of the ocean, in front of a select few people," Rembrandt retorted. "But they'll be reaching land soon. How will it look if Maggie disappears and Amelia reappears in her place . . . in front of countless random civilians on Saipan?"
Jenny slammed her fist down on the mouse pad. "Rupert, they may have a point, after all. I don't care about what happens to some Japanese lapdogs in private quarters. As long as we're still around to observe the results . . ."
"Then the only way you can guarantee you'll still be around to shepherd your project is to bring back BOTH WOMEN," Diana emphasized to Jenny, appealing to the scientist's ego.
After a moment of contemplation, Jenny exhaled. "Fine," she said, bitterly. "But that means we need to get working on it NOW. Miss Earhart has to be inside the transport pod, so we can eject her the very moment we're ready."
Amelia silently looked to Wade for help.
Wade put her arms on Amelia's shoulders. "One way or the other, they're going to try to send you back," Wade told her. "At least this way, we'll have some control over what they do and how they do it."
Sighing, Amelia frowned intensely. "I'm scared, Wade."
"Join the club." Wade gave Amelia Earhart a reassuring hug. "But I'm going to be right there at the controls with Dr. Winslow. When you're traveling past the speed of light, just remember that my finger is on the button . . . so to speak."
As Wade accompanied Amelia over to the transport pod, Rembrandt showed Diana the timer. "Whatever you and the Professor are gonna do, you have just under two hours to do it."
* * *
Jenny suspiciously watched Wade plunk down next to her, in front of the computer terminal. Diana had also grabbed a wheeled chair, and flanked Jenny on her other side.
"I work alone," stated Jenny, nervously glancing back and forth between Diana and Wade.
"This is part of the deal," Rembrandt told her, matter-of-factly. "Wade, here, is a computer whiz. And Diana needs to be on-hand in case something goes wrong."
"Besides," Mallory said, looking pointedly at Huang, "I thought we'd agreed to watch each other . . . since there's sort of a lack of mutual trust."
Huang gave Mallory a snide glare, in silent retort.
Jenny heaved a cranky sigh, still trapped between Wade and Diana in front of the computer. "I don't like other people touching my equipment."
Janine smirked and opened her mouth, but Malcolm quickly clamped his hand over Janine's lips before Janine could make the sarcastically provocative comment that she obviously wanted to utter at Jenny's expense. The last thing they needed was more discontent being created.
Professor Arturo was examining the large monitor, which contained the red blip that represented Maggie's position in 1937. "Dr. Winslow, the first thing you must do is prepare to seal off the end of the wormhole farthest away from us. Once Miss Beckett and Miss Earhart are both traveling through hyperspace, we will have a small window of opportunity to ensure that neither of them is inadvertently sent back to the past."
"Professor," Jenny cleared her throat, and said, in a condescending voice, "you of all people should know how a vortex works. The flow of energy moves in one direction . . . we only were able to exchange the two masses because its path looped around in a circular motion. If we close off one end of this wormhole, where is the energy supposed to move to?"
"No, I see what the Professor is saying," Diana spoke up. She addressed Wade and Arturo. "Do you remember when Rickman kidnapped me, but his timer was malfunctioning? Well, one end of Rickman's wormhole couldn't stay open . . . so before we reached it, he and I were pushed back in the opposite direction. Its energy curved back on itself, sending us to our original point-of-entry."
Arturo used his index finger to trace a circular line with both red blips as vertices. "As soon as Miss Beckett's and Miss Earhart's respective velocities catch up to one another, we need to destroy the opening of the wormhole that we'll have pulled Miss Beckett in through. Essentially, we'll be creating a parabola, and since our two ladies will be traveling together in the same direction, they should both be compelled toward the vertex that has remained open, which will be the one closest to us."
"That's assuming they aren't moving away from the remaining vertex," Jenny challenged the Professor's theory. "Otherwise, they'll be thrust away from us and straight into oblivion, since there will be no second vertex for them to travel through."
Rupert Huang coughed, so he could speak up freely. "That is, if the two masses don't crush each other's molecules, once their combined velocity becomes too intense."
"Do you have a better idea?" sneered Mallory, raising his eyebrows and mocking Huang in response to Huang's earlier taunt.
Neither Huang nor Dr. Winslow could offer an alternative.
"Then it's settled," Diana declared, giving Jenny a sideways smirk. "Wade, get ready to start rotation . . . once Maggie and Amelia are moving in tandem and have passed the 1937 vertex, collapse it. And then we'll bring them on home."
Jenny quickly jumped in, to make sure the operation controls would be activated properly. She didn't trust Wade to do it correctly on her own.
Wade took that moment to scamper away from the controls, leaving Diana and Jenny to oversee the initiation process. She approached Amelia Earhart, who was resting nervously inside the transport pod, in a standing position. Mallory came up beside Wade, taking his girlfriend's hand.
Mallory examined the ovular, grooved crevice that Amelia was vertically strapped into. It reminded him so much of the Combine's launch pad that Diana and Dr. Geiger had placed him in, right before he and Quinn were merged. Mallory also knew from experience that Amelia must be overcome with the same intense anxiety that had filled him prior to being blasted into hyperspace.
"It's gonna be okay," Mallory told Amelia Earhart.
Seeing that Amelia was far from reassured, Wade whispered to her, "Whatever happens, you're making what will probably be the greatest journey of your lifetime. Dare to live, right?"
Amelia mustered a meek smile. "Hooray for the last grand adventure," she said, softly.
"Activate!" they suddenly heard Jenny's voice command.
From within the transport pod, Amelia Earhart's slim body was bathed in a glossy, watery light - and then vanished completely.
Diana kept her eyes trained on the monitor. "Close both of the vertices! Keep Amelia and Maggie moving in a continuous cycle . . . and then accelerate their speed."
The sliders watched the graphics on the screen, as each of the two blips picked up speed in the same circular direction.
Wade hurried over to join Diana and Jenny. "It has to be the exact moment. Once they're both in sync with one another, maintain the speed."
Each of the red blips, while still accelerating in the same direction, moved closer to one another and ultimately blended with the other.
"Stabilizing . . ." Jenny announced, now that Maggie's and Amelia's bodies were in alignment.
Rembrandt's heart was pounding. "What now?!" he called out.
"We have to get them at the exact right moment . . ." Diana's eyes followed the combined blip, as it approached the 1937 vertex. "Now! Destroy the vertex, Jenny!"
Dr. Jenny Winslow's fingers moved nimbly across the keyboard, and the vertex leading to 1937 disappeared from the screen. The red blip continued moving toward the 2002 vertex, until it passed straight through it . . .
All of this had taken place in a matter of seconds. As the combined blip also disappeared from the screen, so did the 2002 vertex that it had melted into.
And sparks began flying from the control panel.
* * *
Maggie was shoved back against the wall, still chained. Coarse, manly hands held her throat and neck threateningly in place.
"Kuchi o warray," declared a Japanese voice, spoken steadily, yet cemented in determination.
In the next instant, both Maggie and her assailant were surrounded on all sides by beams of red light. The inside of the ship around them visually dissipated, replaced by rays of rich, thick, darkening red light. Their bodies were floating. The Japanese military officer roared in fear and confusion.
Eventually, the red light became purple, and a third person joined them. It was a skinny woman in men's clothing, whose wavy red hair flew around as she also screamed in terror.
Then, in a nanosecond, they had surfaced on solid ground - in a high-tech laboratory with smoke rising from a spark-crackling desktop of controls and switches.
* * *
Still disoriented, Maggie could barely make out Rembrandt relieved and overjoyed voice. The next thing she knew, the Cryin' Man had enveloped Maggie Beckett in a grateful hug.
"My equipment!" wailed Jenny, helplessly standing over the fried circuitry.
The Japanese soldier stood up, his eyes making a hostile sweep of his unfamiliar surroundings. "Koko wa dokoda?!" he howled.
Wade was helping Amelia to her feet. "Are you okay?"
"I think so . . ." Amelia stopped short, staring at the walls around her. "Wh - what's happening . . . ?"
The sliders soon noticed what Amelia was referring to. The walls, which had been a sterile shade of off-white, were aesthetically morphing into a much more noticeable shade of beige. But that wasn't all.
Several of Jenny's security guards also were morphing. Some of the men had become women, while others changed in height or hair color. As these physical modifications abruptly came into being, most of the newly-created security guards dropped their weapons, overcome by sensations of unexplainable dizziness.
And Naomi Fong, the government translator who had been standing in the doorway watching all the commotion, found herself fading away. Naomi felt her sentient essence evaporating into nothingness, and everyone watched her body completely disappear from their sight.
"Where'd Naomi go?!" Malcolm shrieked, scared by the spontaneity erupting around him.
"History is changing again," Professor Arturo observed, his voice quivering. "Only this time, the changes appear to be of colossal proportions. I fear that many of the people and events on this planet simply no longer exist."
Huang was still there, though. "What's happening to our security team?!" he demanded, from no one in particular.
"What does he mean 'our'? Since when did he stop taking orders from Jenny?" blurted out Janine. She sensed another distinct shift in Rupert Huang's personality.
The Japanese officer, now psychologically unhinged, had grabbed a fallen security guard's weapon. The temporally displaced Axis soldier blindly fired the gun . . . which sent a lethal bullet into Huang's chest.
Huang collapsed to the floor, and Mallory dove into action. Quinn's fraternal double pummeled the Japanese militant in the skull with his fist, knocking him out cold.
Arturo got on his knees, breathlessly holding Huang's arm as the dying scientist took his last breaths.
"Tell . . . my ex-wife . . . she's a money-sucking leech . . ." Huang hissed his final words, before his pulse ceased any movement.
"Dear God!" uttered the Professor, as Huang's arm went limp.
* * *
In a matter of minutes, the sliders realized that most of the security personnel at Richardson Laboratories were trying to recover from the radical shift that had occurred in their dimension's temporal fabric. A majority of them were disoriented and confused - having literally just become entirely new people.
This chaos enabled the interdimensional visitors to, for all intents and purposes, "take over" the lab during the remaining time until their next window was due to open.
Rembrandt had pulled Maggie into one of the laboratory's adjoining kitchenettes, so she could recuperate away from the excitement. Wade had brought Amelia into the "break room" as well, to join them.
"I still can't believe it . . ." Maggie was reflecting on all she'd been through. "Remmy, you saw what they would have done to me . . . if you hadn't gotten me out of there when you did . . ."
"Ssssh." Rembrandt put his fingers on Maggie's lips. "I don't wanna think about it. You're safe now."
Maggie turned to address Amelia. "And I can't believe I'm actually sitting at the same table as Amelia Earhart!" She eyed the aviator in awe. "Ms. Earhart, you were a hero of mine ever since I was a kid. I wanted to be you when I was younger . . . well, without the 'crashing-into-the-Pacific' part."
Amelia shook her head, while smiling humbly. "Please, call me Amelia. Or 'AE' . . . that's how all my friends refer to me." She added a half-chuckle to her sentence. "And I'm still struggling with the idea of being in the history books - namely being tortured and executed on the island of Saipan."
"Except on my world, it was never proven to the public," Wade reminded her.
"Not on my world, either," agreed Maggie. She looked at Amelia, apologetically. "Your death was always a mystery to the people on my Earth."
"Parallel worlds . . ." Amelia shook her head at the awesomeness of the concept. "As if time travel wasn't enough of a shock to me . . . now I find out there are millions of other 'me's' out there . . ."
"And all of them probably equally as heroic." Maggie smiled warmly at her childhood hero, who was now sitting in the flesh before her.
"Wade, let's go see how everyone is doing back out in the lab . . ." Rembrandt pointedly signaled at Wade that the two of them should leave the weary time travelers alone together for a little while.
"Yeah, let's . . ." Wade got up, and accompanied Rembrandt out of the room.
Now Maggie was left sitting across the formica coffee table from Amelia. For the longest time, the two women simply stared at each other, speechless. Eventually, Maggie breached the silence.
"I still can't believe it's really you." She closed her eyes and shook her head again. "You were like a childhood idol to me. Ever since I was a little girl, I looked up to you. Hell, like I said, I wanted to be you! You gave me hope that the skies could be mine . . . even when the male cadets in my class sneered at my chances because of my gender. They claimed that any opportunities I received from the military would come because of my father and who he was . . . not who I was."
Amelia listened carefully to Maggie's words. "You served in the armed forces?" she asked, still coming to terms with the incredible possibility.
"Yeah. My pop was a general in the U.S. Marines. I joined because of him."
"The two of you must have been very close," Amelia assumed.
Maggie snorted. "Hardly. My mother died when I was young, and Pop shipped me off to boarding school one week after her funeral. The only times I ever saw him were when I was standing at attention." Reflectively, she sat back, letting the resentment she'd carried through so many previous years subside. "I was in training to go on a mission to Mars. But Pop declined my transfer . . . I think he was scared of losing me to the farthest reaches of space."
Amelia latched on to Maggie's reference of astronaut training. "Your people travel into outer space?" the aviator gaped, in further awe of the developments during the past 65 years.
"Yeah . . . I guess you didn't have space travel back then, did you?" It suddenly registered to Maggie how Amelia had shared so few of the privileges that people in Maggie's own time were able to enjoy. "What was it like . . . back then? I mean, in the time you come from. How do you deal with all those people who keep telling you that you can't achieve your dreams because of your gender?"
"You just can't listen to them," Amelia stated, matter-of-factly. She had a jolly glow of resolute pride in her face. "I always tell - told - the women in my time that we have to ignore the taunts and press on ahead. We're the only ones who are gonna be able to lift ourselves up into the skies."
"And you did." Maggie had so many questions for Amelia, but she had no clue where to begin.
"My motto has always been 'Dare to live.' That's the only way we, as women, can truly come to enjoy the adventures life has to offer." Amelia sat back, reminiscing dreamily. "You know, a few years back, my husband, George, and I were visiting with the Roosevelts at the White House. In the middle of an evening cocktail party, Eleanor and I ducked out and boarded an airplane we'd borrowed from Eastern Airlines. She and I were both still wearing our evening gowns, but I wanted Eleanor to see the beauty of night flying for herself."
Maggie laughed with Amelia. "I never got to hang out with the president. Well, except for the time President Williams had me kidnapped . . ."
Amelia gave Maggie a puzzled gaze, so Maggie just brushed off that recollection.
"But visiting other dimensions . . ." Amelia Earhart whistled. "I can't even begin to imagine . . ."
"It's mind-blowing . . . seeing what your life would have been like if you'd made different choices." Maggie looked at Amelia, longingly. "There were some worlds where you never became a pilot, AE. On some worlds, you weren't even born. Neither was I. But on other worlds, you ended up doing something totally different with your life. On this one Earth, my double was an 'exotic dancer.' On another Earth, I was barefoot, pregnant, and living in a trailer park."
"You mean . . . I could have been a doctor . . . or a lawyer . . . or president?" gaped Amelia, with wide-eyed intrigue.
"Or a circus clown, or a grocery store cashier, or a lobbyist for the NRA," added Maggie, a twinkle in her eyes.
Amelia just continued to shake her head. "I wish I could go with you, Maggie," she said, sadly. "I'd love to meet all the other 'me's' out there."
"Then why don't you?"
"Because . . . I belong here. This is still my world, regardless of how much we've changed it. For better or for worse." Amelia tightened her lips, heartily. "Whatever this future has to throw at me, I'm willing to face it head-on."
Maggie smiled back. "I don't doubt it for a moment."
The two women hugged in mutual sorority.
* * *
Professor Arturo clicked the last piece of the timer back in place. "The good news," he announced to the group, "is that our wayward experiment seems to have had no affect on the timer."
"Thank goodness for small miracles," Diana said, wiping her brow.
"However, we still have just under twenty minutes remain," the Professor continued. "To avoid any further conflict, I suggest we retreat to a secluded area for the duration of that time."
"Why?" asked Malcolm. "The security guards don't seem to remember what we were doing here."
"Why wouldn't they remember that? Their boss would have had their heads if they'd forgotten," said Janine, referring to Dr. Jenny Winslow.
"The time shift appears to have has a 'Swiss cheese effect' on their memories," Arturo theorized. "Because the past has been altered, some of their memories have been lost. But if we stay around any longer, we may risk somehow triggering those forgotten images."
Mallory suppressed a smirk. "I think you're overthinking things, Professor. How would they remember something that, as far as they're concerned, never happened? Lauter is now a woman - do you think he . . . 'she' . . . is really going to remember writing her name . . . 'his' name . . . in the snow?"
Professor Arturo looked annoyed. "We must not tempt fate, Mr. Mallory."
"That's right, honey," Wade said, linking her arm with Mallory's. "We don't want Jenny to suddenly remember that we ruined her plans."
"You mean to destroy the fabric of time?" Mallory bit his lip, cynically.
"If Jenny's memories come back, she might try to recreate her quantum accelerator," Diana supposed.
"What quantum accelerator?" came a confused, nasal voice.
All of the sliders turned around to see Jenny on her knees, straddling the doorway.
"Jenny . . . ?" Diana cleared her throat.
"WHAT quantum accelerator?" Jenny repeated, irritably. She was clearly frustrated, unable to recall the details of her suppressed past.
Diana refrained from answering that question. "Jenny . . . do you know who I am?"
"Yes . . . you're Dr. Diana Davis . . ." Jenny trailed off, her eyes glazing over. "But . . . but . . . what were you doing here, again?"
Diana looked back at her friends. "She can't remember," the physicist mouthed to them.
"What happened to this world?!" came an angry voice, from the doorway.
It was Amelia Earhart, standing next to Maggie. They had just logged off of one of the computers at Richardson Laboratories.
"Who are you?" Jenny asked Amelia looking cluelessly at the aviator.
"What do you mean 'who am I?'!" Amelia shouted, unable to comprehend Jenny's confusion.
Maggie gently put her hand on Amelia's shoulder, to calm down the flustered time traveler. "We were exploring the Internet, trying to find some kind of safehouse for Amelia." She gritted her teeth. "It's not pretty out there. This world is at war. Apparently, Japan ignited some kind of global conflict after accusing the United States of sending holographic images to spy on its military." Maggie looked straight at Rembrandt. "The whole thing has been raging ever since the late-1930s. This is still a country full of bomb shelters and nationalism. People are really paranoid out there. Even the media became worse, if you can believe that - it ignores all regulations, and apparently gets away with it. Much more reckless than even the liberal media on my homeworld."
"Oh, man!" Rembrandt smacked his forehead, realizing what he and Naomi must have done.
"You changed history, Mr. Brown," Arturo informed him, unnecessarily.
"No, Jenny changed history," Wade corrected Arturo, with a side-glare at Dr. Winslow.
"No, WE ALL changed history," Diana clarified, feeling a rush of déjà vu. She was thinking back to the very first slide she'd made, where Dr. Geiger had duped her into altering the history of an entire unsuspecting dimension. "Everything we've done in the present, all the things we did to affect the past, and everything else that happened as a result . . . bringing Amelia into the future . . . transmitting Rembrandt's and Naomi's images into the past . . . sending the Reticulan wormhole back to retrieve Maggie, right in front of the Japanese military . . . the missing Japanese soldier, who was accidentally swept up with Maggie, displaced from his own time into this new reality we created, and his government could find no explanation for what happened to him . . . all of these changed events added up, and now we're seeing the consequences!"
Jenny dropped her hands to her sides, distressed. "I don't know what you people are talking about! What you're describing is pure science-fiction!"
"And like a time machine isn't?" retorted Janine, pointedly snorting.
"So World War II never ended here?" Malcolm asked.
"Oh, it ended, all right," Maggie clarified. "But we nuked Nazi Germany, instead of Japan. The Japanese were so scared, they backed off. But in the following decades, Japan found ways to pit other countries against America. Eventually, Japanese terrorists carried out a presidential assassination in the 1990s, and proudly took credit for it. The Japanese government denied any conspiracy with the terrorist cells, but things have been pretty rocky ever since."
"And this is news to you?" Jenny sneered. A wave of nausea overtook her, and Jenny was crippled by a blank stare of emptiness as everyone watched her in suspense. Dr. Winslow, recovering from her mental rut, refocused and took another look at Maggie and Amelia. "Who are you two, again?"
"You don't remember us?" Maggie joined in the bewilderment.
"No, I don't. And Dr. Davis," she addressed Diana, "can you explain to me why all of my worker bees have taken a snooze?" Clearly irritated, Jenny Winslow gestured around at the employees of Richardson Laboratories who had fallen unconscious throughout the facility.
"They got tired of listening to your God-awful voice," Janine quipped, with a devilish smirk.
"I don't need anymore of your cheap sarcasm, Ms. Chen!" snapped Jenny, losing her temper.
"Oh, THAT she remembers!" Janine rolled her eyes, while heaving a groan.
"Swiss cheese only has so many holes, Miss Chen," explained the Professor, glancing around ominously.
In the next moment, Jenny Winslow had pulled out a gun, after seemingly remembering she actually had one tucked away in her pocket. "I want some answers!"
Professor Arturo, holding up his arms in surrender, cautiously stepped toward Jenny. "Dr. Winslow, please, let us talk about this rationally . . ."
"I don't want to hear another word from you!" barked Jenny, swiveling her handgun so it was aimed specifically toward the Professor, at point blank range.
Within that split second during which Jenny's gaze was averted in Arturo's direction, Diana dove to the floor beneath Jenny's feet, and tackled the scientist by her legs. That spontaneous action caused Jenny to topple off-balance, and her gun went flying and slid across the floor tiles.
As Jenny struggled to push Diana away, Janine ran over to them and balled her hand into a fist. She swiftly clocked Jenny across the jaw, causing the scientific troublemaker to tumble face-down on the linoleum.
"I've wanted to do that ever since I met you," Janine sneered at the semi-conscious Jenny, as the Asian slider massaged her throbbing knuckles.
Wade waved for the other sliders and Amelia to follow her back through the adjoining kitchenette. "We're outta here!" Wade beckoned them.
Amelia and the sliders ran like hell.
* * *
The interdimensional travelers rushed aimlessly through one identical corridor after another. They were trying to flee as far away as possible from the main laboratory.
"Does anyone know which way we're going?" Malcolm called out, as they scurried from one doorway to another.
"Not really!" Mallory called back.
"These damn rooms all look alike!" complained Janine, pressing her nose up against the frosted window of someone's office. "How long do we have to keep this up?"
Huffing and puffing, Arturo pulled the timer out of his formal jacket. "Two . . . minutes . . . twenty . . . seconds . . ." he said, between gasps for air.
Wade stopped to lean back against a display case filed with dexterously crafted models of atomic structures. "I think we're far enough away. Let's just vortex out from here."
Rembrandt had finally caught his breath. "Man, I can't believe Jenny just forgot about all of that time travel drama she put us through."
"Time travel?!" A nasal voice snapped them all to attention.
Jenny had caught up to them. She was madly waving her gun in the air. "You're going to tell me exactly what this 'time travel' business is all about, or I'll . . ."
She dazedly dropped her gun, as a surge of intensity vibrated through Jenny's brain. Malcolm quickly scooped up the weapon, but Jenny didn't seem to notice.
She was too busy howling.
"Oh, SHUT UP, you big baby!" Janine groaned, rolling her eyes contemptuously at Jenny. "You act like you've never had a migraine before."
"No, I think it has something to do with her memories," speculated Diana, watching the scientist closely.
As her mental jolt subsided, Jenny's eyes widened in bloodshot realization. "You!" She pointed accusingly at Diana. "And you!" She turned her glare on Wade. "You both made me crash my quantum accelerator!"
"Yeah, I think she remembers now . . ." Mallory bit his lip, nervously.
Maggie spotted an exit in the corner. "Go!" she desperately shoved Amelia Earhart toward the exit door.
"But . . ." Amelia began to protest, but Maggie covered Amelia's mouth.
"An agent from the ACLU should be meeting you outside," Maggie reminded Amelia. "They'll take you to safety. Now hurry, before this entire building gets locked down!"
Amelia scampered out the exit. Turning to take one last look at the sliders, she mouthed the phrase, "Dare to live." In a way, Maggie felt that Amelia had intended those words specifically for her.
Now Jenny was left bristling at the sliders. "What's happening to me?!" She grabbed both sides of her head again, as another painful deluge shot through her cerebellum. Random images of the sliders danced through Jenny's memory, and she began to see multiple facsimiles of each of them. These shapes and effigies became silhouettes, and they blended with faint adumbrations from Jenny's old and new pasts.
"I think those suppressed and jumbled memories of hers are beginning to unwind," Diana whispered to Rembrandt.
"Well, no time to buy a vowel or solve the puzzle," said Rembrandt, with a sense of finality. "Professor . . ."
"Five . . . four . . . three . . ." Professor Arturo recited the final countdown, before opening the purple wormhole.
Jenny watched breathlessly as they each disappeared into the gob of swirling quantum energy.
"They weren't making it up . . ." she realized, aloud, falling to her knees once the vortex had closed.
Another wave of agony bombarded her skull.
* * *
Diana rammed her pencil into the electric pencil sharpener atop her desk. She then took a moment to finger the detachable eraser at the end of her pencil, containing fluffy feathers that represented all six colors of the rainbow.
The phone rang in Diana's ear, and she flicked the appropriate switch so she could talk to the caller through her headset. "Good afternoon, NBC. This is Diana, how may I help you?"
"Is it true you cancelled Just Shoot Me?!" an angry female voice demanded to know.
"No, ma'am, it's coming back midseason," Diana told the caller, responding that news for what seemed like the billionth person who'd called asking about it that week. "Spring, at the latest. We just didn't have room for it in our fall schedule."
"And what's with that stupid new Tyra Banks sitcom you've replaced it with?" continued the aggravated caller. "Keep this up, and you're going to fall behind UPN!" She angrily hung up the phone.
Ah, the joys of being a temp receptionist.
Diana eagerly looked up at the clock. Her shift ended at 3pm, which meant that she didn't get to leave for a lunch break today.
It was quarter past noon. Only two hours and 45 minutes to go . . .
Soon, Maggie and Rembrandt had walked through the glass doors of NBC Headquarters in Ventura. Remmy was holding a paper sack and a styrofoam carton in his arms.
"Hey, Diana," the Cryin' Man called out. "We brought you some lunch."
"What is it?" Diana asked, suspiciously. Her eyes shifted over to gaze out the window, as a peacock fluttered by while scampering down the city sidewalk outside.
"Don't worry, we got you a double grilled cheese and fries," Maggie assured Diana, with a smirk. "And a rootbeer." She set the styrofoam cup with a lid and a straw down on the reception desk. "No peppermint in it, though."
"Thanks," said Diana, with a laugh. "I'm starving!" She opened the bag and took out the greasy sandwich and fries. "I'll be so glad when this job is over." She glanced up to catch sight of another peacock waddling by, outside the building. "And what's with all of these animal fetishes, lately? On every world, it seems . . . domesticated giraffes, pink elephants, and now, loose peacocks wandering the streets of Burbank. Shouldn't they have an ordinance against that?"
Rembrandt shrugged. "It's fitting that you're working for NBC, girl." He chuckled, pointing to the giant peacock logo on the wall above Diana's head.
"But it's sort of odd that they serve the peacocks as a delicacy, too," Maggie commented, thinking back to all of the menus they'd seen at restaurants on this Earth. "Those birds are supposed to be for show, not protein."
"Yeah, and I warned Malcolm not to eat the peacock soup last night . . ." Remmy chortled, looking at Maggie. "Speaking of which, we'd better get over to the pharmacy . . ."
Diana swallowed a bite of her grilled cheese, and then made sincere eye contact with Maggie. "How are you holding up?"
"Getting my sleep has helped," Maggie admitted, looking back at both of them thankfully. "But . . . I still can't believe it. I can't believe I actually got to meet Amelia Earhart."
Diana smiled. "She was an amazing woman. The things that happen when you go sliding . . ."
"But you don't understand. She was like a childhood idol when I was a kid. I used to have dreams of getting to go flying with Amelia Earhart." Maggie stared off into space, dreamily. "The fact that I experienced what she went through . . . or was supposed to go through . . . or something similar to it, at least . . . that was just amazing. Scary, definitely . . . but amazing, too."
Rembrandt put his arm around Maggie. "We're just glad you're back, girl."
"No, you don't understand, Rem." Maggie gestured energetically with her hands as she spoke. "It's like . . . that whole slide, and meeting Amelia . . . it reaffirmed my entire purpose in the multiverse." She glanced from Rembrandt to Diana and back again. "I still miss Quinn. And Colin. I miss them like hell! But . . . in a way, I kind of understand why they felt they needed to do what they did. Because if I hadn't gotten caught in Dr. Winslow's experiment, Amelia would have died a terrible death on that world. I helped to save her from that, even though I was brought into it against my will. Because of what we did, Amelia now has a fighting chance. She'll be protected by people underground who won't treat her like some lab rat."
"I just feel so bad for her. She was yanked out of her time, thrust 65 years into the future." Diana munched on a French fry. "And we destroyed everything that her Earth used to be."
"Maybe we were meant to?" Rembrandt shrugged. "As I always say: you play with the hand you're dealt. We had to get Maggie back, and it was the only way. Maggie didn't belong in Amelia's shoes, and we had no control over Jenny's experiment."
"But that's just it," Maggie said. "I think I was meant to walk in Amelia's shoes. Everything happens for a reason, right? Maybe I needed that experience to give me perspective on everything we have ahead of us? - on everything Quinn has ahead of him."
"Could be." Rembrandt looked at Diana. "So what do you think happened to Jenny? She seemed pretty messed up when we left."
"Yeah. Why would she remember you and Janine, but not the rest of us?" Maggie asked Diana.
Diana put down her sandwich. "It could be that Jenny's lost memories are still within her reach. I mean, she was the one who devoted her career to engineering a quantum acceleration machine. I just hope she doesn't use that knowledge to keep destroying her world, repeatedly. Our presence in Jenny's dimension was so closely linked to her work . . . maybe when she heard us talking about it, those memories of us were triggered in her somehow?"
"It's as good of an explanation as any," shrugged Rembrandt. "There was nothing scientific about that killer headache she got when we left."
"Speaking of headaches . . ." Maggie gave Remmy a worn look. "I'm tired, Rem. Let's go back to the hotel."
"See you tonight," Diana said, with a wave of her hand, as another phone call rang in her earpiece.
As Maggie and Rembrandt turned to exit, Diana reached out and stopped Maggie by touching her on the arm.
"NBC, please hold." Diana put the most recent caller on hold, and stared sympathetically at Maggie. "Are you going to be all right?"
Maggie mustered a smile. "A month ago, I didn't think I'd be able to go on without Quinn and Colin. But I have to." She paused. "It's what Quinn would want me to do."
Diana patted Maggie's wrist, and returned to the phone line. As Maggie and Remmy headed back out onto the street, Diana proceeded to explain to one very angry viewer why Law & Order: Special Victims Unit had been cancelled.
Back to Episode Guide
Back to the Otherworlds