|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.* * *
A cluster of shiny coins rained from the bottom of the slot machine. Maggie squealed, excitedly scooping the money into her jar.
"Girl, what are you doing?"
Maggie swiveled around to face Rembrandt, who'd been standing behind her, watching, amused. She threw her arms around him. "Three peaches, Rem! I got three peaches in a row!"
"I thought it was supposed to be three lemons to hit the jackpot?" Malcolm walked up next to Rembrandt, gazing at the slot machine.
"Nope, it's three peaches on this world." Maggie had resumed using her fingers to sweep the innumerable coins into her bucket. "Maybe we'll luck out and be able to use this money on the next Earth."
Remmy shook his head, laughing. "I don't know about you, girl," he told Maggie, good-naturedly. "I've never had much luck with the slots . . . Lady Luck just doesn't seem to dig me."
"Too bad the legal gambling age is 18," Malcolm lamented, "or I wouldn't have to just walk around watching other people gamble."
Wade and Mallory joined the trio, having just checked out of the sliders' deluxe Excalibur Hotel suite.
"I can't believe people actually throw their money away on this," Wade criticized, folding her arms as she scanned the bustling casino around her. "It's so wasteful. Plus, gambling can be addictive."
"Kind of like sex," grinned Mallory, flashing a smile at Wade and elbowing her.
Blushing, Wade tightly pulled her lips together, suppressing a smile of her own, and elbowed Mallory back in the stomach.
"You should be one to talk, girl," Rembrandt teased Wade, giving Wade a playful tap on her facial cheek. "If I remember correctly, you did a bit of gambling yourself, on Lottery World. Besides, we're doing this for similar purposes: to pay our way through the multiverse."
"You're just jealous, Wade," piped up Maggie, with a little wiggle of her head as she finished gathering the last of her coins. Maggie stuck her tongue out at Wade, getting another small dig in. "You just don't have the guts to take a chance and try it for yourself. Jealous."
"I am not!" Wade spat back, indignantly putting her hands on her hips.
Just then, Quinn and Colin came bounding down the aisle of slot machines toward their friends. They were snickering to each other, with bright grins on their faces.
"What have you boys been up to?" Maggie asked Colin and Quinn, suspiciously.
Quinn looked around, feigning innocence. "Oh . . . nothing," he replied, not convincingly.
Colin looked at Quinn. "Brother," he asked, "why were those dancing women wearing so many feathers?"
"Dancing women? . . ." Rembrandt then caught on. "You mean showgirls?!" he hooted, realizing where Quinn and Colin had been for the past two hours.
Maggie's face turned beet red. "Quinn!!" she scolded the physics genius.
Quinn gave his older brother a side glance. "Thanks a lot, bro," he chided Colin, sarcastically.
"Don't mention it, brother."
Maggie gave Quinn the Evil Eye. Rembrandt simply continued to chortle his famous, infectious Cryin' Man laugh.
Finally, Arturo, Diana, and Janine came strolling along, completing the interdimensional dectet. Diana and the Professor were walking together, as Professor Arturo explained something to Dr. Davis in scientific jargon. Janine was actually listening in on their conversation, looking surprisingly not bored.
". . . and that is Cornelius Lange's quantum theory of numerical codependency," Professor Arturo could be heard finishing his explanation to Diana. "Basically, similar quantum ripples between the characteristics of two dimensions will also yield similar numerical digits between the coordinates of such similar Earths. If we can somehow lock onto the coordinates of a dimension with traits comparable to those of Kromagg Prime, we may be able to detect the presence of the Slidecage, and thus Kromagg Prime, in its approximate vicinity."
Diana nodded, fully understanding her fellow scientist's words. "I see Lange's reasoning, but did he take into account the possibility that one distinct dimension could conceivably veer off into an infinite number of various historical timelines, generating an equally infinite number of alternate universes?"
"I'm certain the possibility crossed his mind," Arturo answered. "At any rate, this is the best we can do for now, with our timer's limited configuration." He proceeded to enter a new set of semi-random coordinates:
"Were Lange's theories very well-known on Earth Prime?" Diana inquired from her new mentor.
Arturo shook his head. "You have to understand, Dr. Davis, that on Earth Prime sliding is not even a rational possibility. At least, it wasn't before the Kromaggs invaded."
"Same with my world," Diana affirmed, knowingly. "Although it sounds as though Cornelius Lange was certainly open to the possibility."
"Most of the scientific community on my world thought Mr. Lange was out of his mind," recalled the Professor. "But Mr. Lange was a close personal friend and former colleague of mine. He and I - and Mr. Mallory, of course - were among the select few who were open-minded enough the envision breaking through to cross the Einstein-Rosen-Pudalski Bridge."
"So was I . . . and Dr. Geiger," Diana added, "on our homeworld."
Mallory nudged Wade. "I think they're in love," he snickered, gesturing toward Arturo and Diana.
Janine cut in on Dr. Davis and Professor Arturo's exchange. "I don't see what the big deal is," she boasted, with an air of superiority to her demeanor. "On my homeworld, the stuff you're talking about was junior high level material. Basic knowledge."
"Ah, but your world engineered sliding much faster than most Earths, Miss Chen," pointed out Arturo. "In fact, I dare say that most Earths aren't even aware that interdimensional travel exists."
"Yeah, most people who see us arrive or leave through the vortex must think we're aliens from outer space," guffawed Rembrandt, putting his arm around Maggie.
Maggie proudly displayed her jar filled to the brim with jingly coins; their shiny exteriors glimmered, reflecting the colorful rays from all the flashing neon and brightly blinking lights. "Look what I won, guys! We'll be financially set for at least the next few worlds."
"Assuming the money converts," Quinn reminded her. He took a goblet of chardonnay from a cocktail waitress who walked by carrying a tray of complimentary drinks. Quinn reached out and plucked a couple of coins from the top of Maggie's prize jar. He inconspicuously slipped the monetary tip into a hip pocket of the cocktail waitress's tight, skimpy, sequined leotard. The cocktail waitress cutely licked her lips at Quinn as she sauntered away. But Maggie had noticed.
"Quinn Mallory!" Maggie scolded him, narrowing her eyes at him while she placed her hands on her hips.
Quinn laughed, and brought the chardonnay goblet to his lips. But Colin abruptly snatched away the goblet from his younger brother. "What have you always told me?" Colin scolded Quinn. "We never drink and slide."
"Aw, come on, man!" Quinn whined, as Colin emptied the alcohol into a nearby potted plant. "It's Vegas!"
"How again did we end up in an Alternate Las Vegas?" Malcolm asked the scientists in the group. "I thought we always got dropped off in California, not Nevada?"
"Las Vegas is at the edge of our sliding radius," Maggie responded. She shook her money jar, jingling it. "And personally, I'm glad. Always makes for a fun slide."
"Well, my friends, it is that time again," announced Arturo. He extended the timer, preparing to activate the vortex. "And furthermore, I would take it easy on the slot machines if I were you, Miss Beckett. Gambling can become a serious addiction."* * *
Wade and Mallory were the last ones to leap out of the vibrant purple wormhole. Their landing was similar to the landing of the previous eight sliders who'd emerged from the vortex with a loud crash, sending shreds of broken glass everywhere.
"We're sorry! We're so sorry!" Rembrandt called back to the clerk at the cash register, as the group exited the antiques shop. When they were outside, Rembrandt immersed into muffled snickers. "That's the first time I can remember sliding into an antiques shop . . . and busting half of the merchandise to boot!"
Maggie had a giant scowl on her face. She turned her now-empty coin jar upside-down, pointedly. "There go my Vegas winnings! You all had to be so clumsy!"
"Hey, you were the one whose body put a huge dent in that apothecary table," Janine accused Maggie, shaking the dust out of her long black hair.
Malcolm looked up at the nearest street sign to read their location. "Feinstein Avenue and Pelosi Boulevard. So what city are we in?"
"Wherever we are, we have under 10 hours here," Arturo reported, taking a look at the timer."
The group casually strolled down Pelosi Boulevard, taking in the sights of what appeared to be a rather ordinary city street. All of a sudden, a familiar noise could be heard resonating in the background. A swoosh, followed by a whish, came and went abruptly.
"Sounds like a vortex," Diana observed, her eyes curiously darting around in search of some clue as to what was going on.
Almost instantaneously, a large vortex with hues of green and blue swirling inside its circular formation appeared in front of the travelers. A gusty whoosh of air ventilated from the wormhole, smacking the sliders' faces with warmth. Emerging from the portal was a wiry young Latino man who wore a dark blue polo shirt and khaki slacks. Clutched in the young man's grip was a rather complex-looking timer to control sliding. Upon landing on the city sidewalk, the man breathed hard; his eyes darted from left to right anxiously as he inhaled and exhaled.
"He's a slider!" Malcolm said, pointing at the man.
Janine's eyes lit up. "Maybe we're back on my homeworld?" she hoped aloud. Then, after taking a moment to consider it, Janine's face fell. "Except on my world, there would be more vortex activity than this." She gestured around the neighborhood, which was nearly devoid of any wormholes or other signs of sliding.
"Don't give up hope, Janine," Diana tried to reassure her. She called over to the slider in khakis, "Pardon me, but could you tell us what city we're in?"
The male slider stared at Diana as though she was an extraterrestrial. "Oh, no! I'm not going back! NEVER!!" His hands were shaking, and his teeth were chattering.
"What city are we in?" Maggie firmly repeated Diana's original inquiry.
In reply to Maggie, the man just shook his head wildly. "No! No!" he babbled, erratically. "I'm not going back to Hadassah House! I'm NOT!!"
Mallory raised his eyebrows at the others. "I think he's a crackpot."
"My good sir," Arturo tried calling out to the babbling slider, "if you would kindly tell us . . ."
"What's that thing on his leg?" Wade interrupted, pointing at the metallic brace that was clasped around one of the man's limbs, right below his thigh.
"It's a curse! A damn curse!" shrieked the slider. His leg brace all of a sudden began electronically beeping, flashing a vivacious red light that blinked on and off with steady repetition.
In no time flat, a couple of squad cars had pulled up. Piling out of the vehicles, a handful of uniformed officers surrounded the irrational slider and tranquilized him using stun guns.
Quinn flinched. "Yikes. Sliding must be a crime on this world."
"Only if you abuse your privilege," responded one of the cops who'd happened to overhear Quinn's comment. He and his fellow officers were pulling the unconscious human subject to his feet.
"What did he do that was so wrong?" Colin asked him.
"An SWR - Sliding Without Registration. This guy's in rehabilitation and is in violation of his detention." The officer squinted his eyes at the dectet, alert. "Don't you folks have somewhere else to be?"
As the officer turned his back on them to drag the detainee away, the sliders could read what was printed on the back of his jacket: Monterey P.D.
"Okay, so we're in Monterey," Rembrandt stated. He turned to Janine. "We're not too far away from San Francisco. You wanna check it out to see if anything's familiar?"
Janine nodded. "I might as well look up my parents to see if they even exist on this world."
"What do you think that guy meant?" Wade pondered, as they strolled through downtown Monterey. "When he said, 'I'm not going back'? Do you think maybe he was from Gatehaven or someplace like that?"
"He mentioned a place called Hadassah House," recalled Quinn. "Either that's some sort of insane asylum, or he was talking nonsense."
As they crossed Buena Vista Avenue, Janine started walking in step with Arturo. "So Professor, even if this isn't my homeworld, can we use that theory you were talking about earlier to maybe find my world . . . you know, that Cornish Hen theory?"
"Cornelius Lange," Professor Arturo corrected her in a superlative tone of voice. "His name was Cornelius Lange, Miss Chen. And yes, Lange's quantum theory of numerical codependency may apply to your situation as well."
"I'm not familiar with Monterey," admitted Janine, crossing her fingers behind her back. "Maybe there is less portal activity here than in San Francisco? Maybe I am finally back home?"
"God, I hope so," muttered Maggie, under her breathe.
Rembrandt gave Maggie a warning squeeze on her arm. "Easy now, girl," he murmured to her with caution.
"Hey, cool! A portal station!" Malcolm read the sign indicating what appeared to be a large depot station that they'd arrived at. "It says this is free public transportation, as in no charge."
Diana scanned the inside of the depot station as they entered. At a roped off entrance area, citizens were being vortexed out in groups of five. The quintets would step onto a massive circular platform, each person standing on a designated spot. Then the technicians would activate their master portal. With a flash of translucent quantum energy, the former pedestrians would seemingly evaporate into thin air, vortexed off to their respective destinations.
"That's how we're getting to San Francisco," Quinn told his friends, gesturing to the portal system. "Sliding as a form of public transportation - what a breakthrough!"
"But will it affect the timer?" asked Maggie, looking a bit concerned.
"I highly doubt it, Miss Beckett," negated Arturo, glancing down at his wristwatch. "As long as we remain on the same dimension, we should still be able to slide. But to slide anew, the vortex must be accessed from the initial Earth through which we exited it."
Wade shook her head. "We've disproved that theory, Professor," she informed him. "I know you thought that was the case back when we first ran across the Kromaggs, but we discovered otherwise after the Kromaggs programmed me to open space folds."
"Come on, we're wasting time," Janine impatiently interrupted, leading the group toward the public portals. Calling over her shoulder, Janine inquired, "We've only got 10 hours, right Professor?"
"Quite right, Miss Chen."
The sliders stopped in front of the portal platform. "It looks like the portal's capacity is five passengers per slide," Colin observed, studying the intradimensional "loading dock". Portal officials were dividing passengers-in-waiting into groups of five, and ushering the passengers toward the portals.
"So it's going to take two slides to get us all to San Francisco," Diana assessed. She turned to address their team. "Who wants to go first?"
"I do! I do!" Mallory playfully waved his arm in the air and leaped onto the portal platform, under the watchful eye of one of the transportation officers.
"It really doesn't matter what order we go in," Janine said, stepping up onto the platform next to Mallory. "We're all going to the same place."
"Come on, Colin," Maggie summoned her potential brother-in-law, draping her arm around his shoulder to escort Colin toward the portals. "Let's test the waters out for these other flatfeet." She gestured jokingly at their fellow travelers, who had not yet ascended the platform.
Diana faced Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, Arturo, and Malcolm. "You guys can take the next shift," she told them. The physicist then boarded the platform to join Maggie, Janine, Mallory, and Colin, telling the portal operator, "Five to San Francisco, please."
"All of you?" The portal operator looked sleepy and bored, half-heartedly skimming the pages of a book as he sipped coffee from a Styrofoam cup. Hardly paying attention to the sliders as he concentrated to keep from shutting his glazed-over, exhausted eyes, he then inquired, "Which station should I slide you to? Golden Gate?"
Mallory shrugged. "Sure. Why not?"
An infrared ray of light swept across the bodies of Diana, Mallory, Colin, Maggie, and Janine, as they waited to be teleported to San Francisco.
"What is this?" Colin asked, indicating the infrared scan.
"Portal check," answered the teleportation operator, matter-of-factly. After yawning drowsily and punching in a long string of digital coordinates, he pressed a button on the operation panel in front of him. A gigantic beam of yellow-tinted transparent light showered down upon the quintet, sending Colin, Janine, Mallory, Diana, and Maggie off into intradimensional space. In a flash, they had vanished from the platform.
"Next!" yelled out the portal operator, a bit crankily, as Wade, Arturo, Malcolm, Quinn, and Rembrandt boarded the ramp leading to the "portal dock".
"What a way to travel!" Malcolm exclaimed.
Wade nodded. "Not only is it fast, but it reduces pollution."
"Always towing the Green Party line, aren't ya, girl?" snickered Rembrandt, as each slider stepped onto a spot to be launched off.
"I hope for Janine's sake that she's finally found her homeworld again," Quinn spoke, as the infrared scan began to descend around their bodies. "It would be nice if we could finally fulfill at least one of our promises."
"Yes, Mr. Mallory, I agree," affirmed the Professor, as the infrared finished falling beneath his feet.
Suddenly, a piercing alarm sounded off. A stark red cylinder of light rays entrapped Arturo at his position on the portal ramp.
"What is the meaning of this?!" Arturo blasted at the portal operator.
Several armed security guards seemingly appeared out of nowhere, surrounding Arturo and promptly handcuffing his wrists behind his back.
"Hey! What's the deal?!" Quinn shouted at the guards.
"Let go of him! He's with us!" Wade snapped at them.
"Maximilian Arturo," the portal operator announced, snapping to attention and speaking through a wired microphone, "you are hereby detained for violating house arrest. You will be immediately remanded to Hadassah House."
"Hadassah House?!" balked Arturo. "What in the name of Lucifer is this Hadassah House everyone keeps yapping about?!"
He would soon find out.* * *
"Man, we've been waiting here forever!" Rembrandt Brown jumped up from his seat impatiently, stomping his foot on the tiled floor of the plain, sterile, cramped waiting room. "What did they do with the Professor? What are they gonna do to us?!"
Wade slumped back in her chair, folding her arms while pouting. "This has got to be some kind of a civil rights violation . . . somehow!" she ranted, grumpily. "I wish we knew more about this world's Constitution, so we could pinpoint which amendment is being broken."
"This America may not even have a Constitution, Wade," pointed out Quinn. "For all we know, this could be a dictatorship we've slid into. Anything goes." He moved over and sat down next to Wade, placing his arms gently around her shoulder. "We're not letting them get away with this. We'll save the Professor. I'm not letting anything happen to him again . . ." Quinn trailed off. After a few moments, he sprang up from his seat, bolted over to the locked door, and began pounding against it with his fists. "Open the damn door!!" he yelled. "At least tell us what we did wrong!"
"I don't think they're going to listen to us, Quinn," said Malcolm, solemnly. He sat down on the couch next to Wade. "They obviously have some demented reason for locking us in here like wild animals."
Rembrandt reached over and picked up a pamphlet from an adjacent entable. "What is this Hadassah House, anyway?" he grumbled, staring at the front of the brochure. "That one slider who we saw earlier mentioned this place."
Wade, who had been browsing through the pamphlet, spoke up. "It's a treatment center, Remmy," she revealed, still reading through the information. "For slideaholics."
"What?!" Quinn did a double take.
"For individuals who are 'addicted' to sliding," Wade clarified. "It was founded in 1998 by President Al Gore and Vice-President Joe Lieberman. They named it after Lieberman's wife, Hadassah, the Second Lady. Mrs. Lieberman worked in the health care field, and felt strongly that people who abused sliding privileges were a threat to society and needed clinical treatment."
Malcolm had begun reading one of the pamphlets, as well. "According to Hadassah House, they have a 12-step program to 'cure' interdimensional addictions in slideaholics. The program is mandated by the government to anyone determined to be a 'slideaholic', and treatment is administered by government health workers. Freaky stuff." He handed the brochure over to Quinn. "They even have 'Tipper stickers' on intradimensional timers to dissuade parents from allowing their children to slide."
Now Quinn was scanning the literature. "It talks about how President Gore deems interdimensional travel to be 'immoral', except when regulated by the government for purposes of 'national security'. He and his wife, Tipper, successfully implemented legislation allowing the government to regulate television and music according to 'appropriate' standards. The Gores and the Liebermans claim that quantum translocation is against God's will."
"Oh, please!" groaned Wade, rolling her eyes. "I remember Al and Tipper Gore on Earth Prime . . . they were some pretty conservative Democrats, and advocates of government censorship, particularly of rap music and violent television programs."
"Still, how can they justify that?" Rembrandt scratched his head. "Just because someone thinks something is 'immoral' doesn't mean it should necessarily be illegal."
Wade frowned, running a hand through her short, bright red hair. "That's what happens when there are a bunch of theocrats in power."
"Actually, they electronically monitor citizens' sliding patterns," Malcolm clarified, setting down the Hadassah House literature on a coffee table. "When someone exceeds their rationed sliding limit, they get hauled off to Hadassah House for 'treatment'. Sounds too Big Brother, if you ask me."
"Malcolm's paraphrasing," Quinn told Wade and Rembrandt. "Basically, this literature seems to be full of a bunch of smarmy dialogue disguised as 'morality'. The government tells people when, where, and how often they can or cannot slide. And the government only permits intradimensional sliding - teleportation within this dimension, for instance, sliding from one country to another. Interdimensional teleportation - or sliding to parallel universes, the way we do - is illegal."
"Great! Just great!" Rembrandt smacked his head in frustration. "When they took the Professor away, they probably confiscated the timer from him too!"
The waiting room doors abruptly unlocked and swung open, as two staff members in white jackets entered the room, dragging a screaming woman along with them. As the doors they'd arrived through closed and locked behind them, the Hadassah House staff yanked their manic detainee toward the second set of doors across the room.
"Come on, move it!" one of them grunted at his detainee.
"Please! Just one more slide!" begged the woman, flailing her frizzy brunette hair wildly as her captors pulled her past Quinn, Wade, Remmy, and Malcolm.
The other staff member shook his head. "Sorry, Ms. Adamson. No more quantum translocation for you."
"But I need that quantum energy!" Ms. Adamson screeched. "It feels so good against my skin!"
The men in white jackets punched in a security code to open up the second set of doors.
"When are we gonna see our friend again?" Rembrandt demanded from them.
"Once he's cured . . . and after you're all interrogated," one of the Men in White snapped back. They dragged the screaming Ms. Adamson through the doors. "Your friend, Mr. Arturo, should never have fled from detention. He was on his way to being cured. Now we have to start from scratch with him."
The double doors closed, clicked, and locked behind Ms. Adamson and the Men in White.
"So it must have been the Professor's double who was sent here to undergo detox," Quinn surmised. "That makes more sense. They probably consider us accomplices, abetting this world's equivalent of an escaped mental patient."
"One thing's for sure," Wade declared, folding her arms. "We have 9 hours to free Arturo, get back the timer, and reach the others in San Francisco . . . because I do NOT want to be stuck at Hadassah House for the next 29 years!"
"Amen, sister," echoed Rembrandt.* * *
"Okay, it's been over 20 minutes," Janine complained, tapping her foot against the tiled floor. She was sitting around along with Maggie, Diana, Mallory, and Colin atop benches at Golden Gate Portal Station. Nearly a dozen different quintets of passengers had been teleported through the sliding gate following the tutelage of Diana, Mallory, Colin, Maggie, and Janine. Yet, Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, Arturo, and Malcolm were nowhere to be seen.
"I can't imagine what's keeping them." Maggie made a face and bit her lip.
Mallory shrugged. "They could have gotten stuck in the vortex. We've been trapped inside the wormhole before."
"Yeah, but only because the timer was on the fritz," snorted Maggie, shifting uncomfortably and folding her arms.
Diana returned from the teleportation operator's reception desk. "There's still no sign of them. No one with a name or description matching that of Remmy, Wade, Malcolm, Quinn, or the Professor has vortexed in today. And they keep all quantum movement closely monitored. That's what the 'Portal Check' is for - to scan passengers' DNA."
"So we're back to Square One?" Colin's face fell.
"Looks like it," Diana nodded, solemnly. "Should we backtrack to Monterey?"
"No," Janine stated, simply and shortly. Her soft Oriental face was plastered with a determined expression of insistence. "I have to find my parents. I've got to know whether or not this is my homeworld."
Mallory placed his hand on Janine's shoulder. "I can relate, Janine. I never even knew my real parents." After an awkward pause of silence, Mallory continued, "Don't the others know to meet us at the Dominion?" He urgently looked to Colin, Maggie, and Diana, studying their faces for approval.
Diana slowly nodded, locking eyes with Mallory in understanding. "Yes, they do." It was a redundant question and answer.
Looking down at her wristwatch, Maggie reluctantly conceded. "As long as we keep our eyes on the clock . . ."
Exiting the portal station, the fivesome located the nearest phone booth and began flipping through the white pages, trying to find the names of Janine's parents.
"Aha!" Janine's finger landed on a listing in the phone book. "Here they are: Richard and Pearl Chen. Daddy Dearest and Mommy Dearest." Her tone changed from sarcasm to surprise. "And check this out! Their address is at the exact same house I grew up at on my Earth: 1708 Sequoia Drive." Janine turned to her four companions, her eyes bulging out. "Am I home?"
Diana reached out to summon Janine, gently leading her friend out of the phone booth. "There's only one way to find out, Janine. Are you sure you're ready for it?" The physicist knew what it felt like encountering parental ghosts on a world that may not be one's own.
Janine nodded, but said nothing.
Mallory had already hailed a small yellow cab, which pulled up to the curb where they stood. The taxi's window rolled down, revealing yet another alternate version of Pavel Kurlienko.
"Where you want to go?!" Alternate Pavel demanded, in his usual abrupt, impatient Russian accent.
"1708 Sequoia Drive," Colin gave him the directions.
"Get in! We go!" Alternate Pavel commanded to them, as the quintet began piling into his vehicle.
Squished back against the upholstery of the cab's backseat, Janine held her breath while the cab drove through downtown San Francisco. During the ride, Diana kept her hand supportively clasped around Janine's.
"So," Maggie spoke up to Alternate Pavel, "who's the president in this country?"
"Where you from?! Canada?!" Alternate Pavel gruffly snapped, his eyes still glued to the street ahead. "President is bastard Albert Gore . . . Southern good ole boy with bimbo wife. Take away our rights, leave us with nothing." Alternate Pavel spontaneously veered the taxi to make a sharp left turn at an intersection, jolting his passengers sideways. "And stupid Joseph Lieberman his right-hand man . . . he creeps me out . . . reminds me of the dad from ALF! Ah, me loved that furry alien from Melmac . . ."
While Alternate Pavel babbled to himself, Colin asked, "Who was the president on your world, Janine?"
"Paul Psongas," answered Janine, staring out the window in a daze. "And his vice-president was Robert Toricelli. But I suppose that might have changed after I left . . ."
Diana tried to give Janine a hopeful smile. But as Dr. Davis gazed out the window while Alternate Pavel stopped for a red light, she happened to lock eyes with a police officer who sat by the window inside his squad car, which was in the adjacent lane. The cop's eyes popped open instantaneously, as though he recognized Diana. Within the next second, he'd pulled out a gun, aimed it at Diana, and turned on his police car's blaring siren.
"What's going on?" Maggie asked.
Diana looked terrified. "That police officer . . . he's aiming for me!"
The three sliders in the backseat all ducked as a bullet shot toward them and shattered the window of Alternate Pavel's taxi.
"Who broke my window?!" Alternate Pavel roared.
"Come on, let's split!" Mallory quickly opened the taxi door and jumped out. The others followed him. As the five of them fled from the paused intersection, the armed cop leapt out of his squad car and chased them on foot, firing bullets and seeming to aim specifically for Diana.
"You must not be too popular on this world," Colin told Diana, his voice shaking as they sprinted down the street.
Maggie glanced over her shoulder to see the cop gaining on them. "We'd better get as far away as possible from that lunatic . . . we've seen how the cops treat civilians on this world!"
The sounds of bullets pelting and ricocheting behind them trailed the sliders down the street.
"Hey!" Janine suddenly recognized their surroundings. "This is my old neighborhood!" She zeroed in on a street sign up ahead. "Sequoia Drive! This is my street!" As they turned the corner, Janine pointed further down the sidewalk. "There's my house!!"
"Let's lose the fuzz!" Mallory took charge, leading his friends through someone's backyard. They had temporarily eluded the cop.
"This is the Cardenellis' backyard," Janine realized, as they cut through another backyard in that neighborhood. "My family had barbecues with them every summer!" She focused in on the next backyard they were approaching. "There it is! My family's backyard!"
The sliders ascended the wooden patio leading up and connected to the backdoor of the Chens' residential house. Now out of breath from running, Janine weakly rapped on the screen door.
There appeared a short, middle-aged Asian woman, wearing a floral-patterned yet conservative frock. Her hair was pinned up in a bun, its black strands streaked with sporadic gray. The woman's petite face was similar to Janine's, albeit much more wrinkled.
"Janine?!" gasped Pearl Chen, taking in the sight of her daughter.
"Mom . . . ?" Janine was speechless. It was her mother . . . or was it?
Pearl opened the screen door. "Come in, sweetie!" She wrapped her arms around Janine, tears flowing down Pearl's cheeks. Then, Pearl grabbed ahold of both of Janine's shoulders, and gave her daughter a manic shake. "Where the hell have you been, young lady?!"
"Mom, I can explain . . ."
Pearl glanced over at Maggie, Colin, Diana, and Mallory. "Who are these people? Friends of yours?"
"Yeah . . ."
"Janine, we've been worried sick!" Pearl's face turned furiously red. "And don't even get me started on what you've put Nickolas through!"
"Nickolas?" Janine drew a blank. "Mom, who's Nickolas?"
All of a sudden, a small young Asian boy dressed in overalls, who couldn't be much old than five years old, scampered into the room. His eyes lit up once he'd spotted Janine.
"Mommy! Mommy!" the boy excitedly called out, running up to Janine and throwing his arms around her waist.
"Mommy?!" Janine could barely spit out the words.
Colin looked at the young boy. "I guess he's Nickolas?"
Grinning playfully, Mallory nudged Janine, teasing as he elbowed her. "It's a boy!!"* * *
"Wake up, Professor Arturo!"
Arturo awoke to the sound of an aging, scratchy-voiced nurse standing over him. Her face was wrinkled like a prune, her blond hair cut in a blunt, conservative fashion, and the lingering stomach or lunchtime salami wafted from her mouth into the Professor's nostrils. Wearing a clean white uniform, the nurse cleared her throat as she stood there, hovering above Arturo, an important-looking clipboard entrenched with iron-clad firmness in her hands.
Then, Arturo realized that he couldn't move his arms or legs - or any of the rest of his body, for that matter. Strong straps made from some almost metallic fabric bound the Professor completely to the top of a rectangular examining table. Professor Arturo's arms, shoulders, stomach, chest, legs, and feet were all completely reigned in.
"Madam, I demand to be released this instant!" Arturo huffed, struggling vainly against his constraints. "What have you done with my companions? The last I remember, some pencil-faced ninny had jabbed my arm with a syringe, and I conked out completely."
"They had to drag you because you were most likely resisting arrest," the nurse presumed, speaking to him nearly in monotone. She made a "tsk-tsk" sound with her tongue as her eyes surveyed the clipboard she was holding. "You have quite a history of civil disobedience, Professor Arturo. When will you slideaholics ever learn?"
"Slideaholics?!" blurted out the Professor. "I am nothing of the sort!"
"Denial is the most common symptom in a typical addict, like yourself," she replied. "Don't worry, we're going to help you kick the quantum habit permanently." She indicated the nametag attached to a breast pocket of the white blouse she wore, which made up the upper portion of her uniform. "I'm Nurse Edna, and I'll be administering your treatments for today."
"Dr. Lubbock has prescribed immediate Level 5 treatment for you," Nurse Edna went on. "A person with your depressive record needs urgent crisis intervention."
"And who, pretell, is this Dr. Lubbock?"
"Your attending physician."
"I never asked for an attending physician, woman!" Arturo's heart thudded against his insides. "I don't need some quack pumping chemicals into my body!"
"On the contrary, Professor, I believe that's exactly what you need." Nurse Edna turned around as a burly man with a thick beard and mustache entered the room. "Ah, Dr. Lubbock, I'm glad to see you. This patient is acting quite moody and uncooperative."
Dr. Lubbock shook his head, giving Arturo a look of pity as though he regarded the Professor as an invalid. "Too much of that Einstein-Rosen-Pudalski rush, eh? I'm not surprised, Professor . . . you've been on the lam for 17 months now. But don't worry, we're going to fix you right up. You'll never crave another slide ever again, I promise."
Before Arturo could object any further, a thin, metal laser-like device dropped down from the ceiling. The Professor glanced over to notice that Nurse Edna was operating some levers and buttons on a control panel. Almost instantly, the laser proceeded to eject an infrared ray of energy straight at the Professor's anterior. The cosmologist yelled helplessly as the beam of light hit his head, pain pulsating through his brain and seeping down into every bone in his body. The last thing Arturo recalled was every inch of his body vibrating incessantly while he laid bound to the operating table, before he blacked out.
Upon opening his eyes again, Professor Arturo felt as though every living cell in him had been rolled over by a train, smashed, flattened, and spread out like a pancake. As his vision returned and became less blurry, Arturo saw Nurse Edna scribbling down some notes onto her clipboard.
"Rise and shine, sleepyhead." Nurse Edna feigned a big dumb grin for her patient.
Now, the Professor could feel something heavy clamped around his leg. He saw that, while his bodily restraints had been relieved, there was now a metallic leg brace hugging his left leg and foot.
"What is this contraption attached to my leg?" Arturo moaned, sitting up groggily.
Nurse Edna smiled. "It's to monitor you, so you don't attempt to escape again."
"Again? But I've never even been here before!"
"Of course you have. But don't worry - temporary memory loss is a natural side effect of detox." Nurse Edna lent her shoulder to Arturo, helping him up off the bed to his feet. "It's time for group therapy, Professor."
"We thrust recovering addicts into immediate interaction with other addicts. We've found it better accelerates the healing process and nurtures your soul." Gesturing to the door, Nurse Edna guided Arturo out. "This way, Professor."
As Arturo hobbled along with his nurse into the hallway, he spontaneously made a gutsy move of desperation. Harshly shoving Nurse Edna backwards, Arturo advanced toward where he hoped an exit might be, trying to force his legs to run. Unfortunately, his heavy leg brace weighed down his feet; he could only scrape it against the floor as he tried to make a break for it.
All of a sudden, Arturo felt a painful shock resonate through his braced feet, shooting upward like needles ascending through the Professor's flesh and bones. He released a wail of agony, and toppled to the floor.
Nurse Edna held a square-shaped remote controlled device in her palm. Her finger was mercilessly pressed down upon the activation button. "I'm going to have to insist that you behave yourself, Professor. Or I'll be compelled to exert additional electrical shocks into your system. There's plenty more where that came from." She smirked, stating her threat almost whimsically.
"You relentless wench!" groaned Arturo, massaging his throbbing head as he got up from the floor. At least the aching was finally beginning to subside.
"Every time you get an urge to slide, I'll be here to reinforce your new aversion to quantum translocation." The nurse took ahold of Arturo's wrist. "Now, shall we continue on to the meeting?"
Arturo resigned himself to being led down the corridor by Nurse Edna. Eventually, they arrived at a large conference room filled with three dozen people. A meeting was presumably in progress, where all attendants of the meeting sat obediently in chairs and wore leg braces identical to Arturo's around their own legs and feet.
"Ah, I see we have a new member to our little family," smiled a lanky, balding man who stood at the podium. He greeted Arturo, who was escorted into the room by Nurse Edna. "My name is Kenny, and I coordinate our group's daily meetings. Welcome to Sliders Anonymous."
"Sliders Anonymous?!" sputtered the Professor, not sure whether to laugh, grunt, or roll his eyes.
Kenny gave Arturo a cheerful nod of acknowledgment. "What's your name, friend?"
"Sir, I am Maximilian Arturo, Professor of Cosmology and Ontology at . . ." began the Professor.
"Ah, an academian. Everyone, let us welcome Professor Arturo into our bosom." Kenny led the group members as they all chanted in unison, "Welcome, Professor Arturo!"
"I apologize deeply for the inconvenience, ladies and gentlemen," Arturo apologetically addressed the crowd. "But this is all a terrible mistake. You see, I'm not really supposed to be here . . ."
"We all feel as though we don't belong, at first, Max." Kenny flashed another grin Arturo's way. "Do you mind if we call you Max?"
"I suppose not . . ."
"Welcome, Max!" chorused the members of Sliders Anonymous, once again speaking in unison.
"Please, allow some of our senior members to introduce themselves." Kenny gestured to a young woman in the front row. "Tina, would you like to go first?"
Tina stood up from her chair and introduced herself to Professor Arturo. "My name is Tina Weatherly, and I've been vortex-free for the past 19 days!"
The group cheered enthusiastically, while Tina blushed and took a small bow.
Another man arose from his seat. "I'm Jonah Fleischmann, currently approaching my second month of interdimensional sobriety."
As the group applauded wildly for the "sliding addict", a guy in the back row jumped up, cupped his hands around his mouth, and whooped, "Way to go, Jonah!"
"What about you, Max?" asked Kenny, cocking his head. "When are you going to declare your independence from sliding?"
Arturo grunted. "I do not have a dependency on sliding!" he declared, glaring at the assembly of "addicts" before him. "You gullible people are too easily manipulated. Quantum translocation is an applied science. It's certainly nothing to be ashamed of, and it's no addiction."
Kenny gave Arturo another sympathetic smile. "Now Max, admitting you have a problem is always the first step to recovery . . ."
Professor Arturo's face became fervently red. "You blistering idiot, I do NOT have a problem! . . ." he blustered. But in mid-sentence, the Professor fell silent all of a sudden. He cringed as he felt some more sharp projections penetrating his flesh like needles from the interior of his metal leg brace. Arturo took one last moment to shoot a murderous scowl at Nurse Edna, who he caught sight of clicking another button on her handheld control device, right before the Professor toppled backwards. As he fell, Kenny caught the Professor's broad, bulky shoulders. Kenny helped the shaky, inebriated Arturo steady his balance, and then guided the Professor over to the podium where a microphone was positioned.
"Now, is there anything you'd like to tell us?" Kenny gently prodded Arturo.
The Professor's eyes glazed over, and he rotated his head in a drunken stupor. "My name is Maximilian Arturo - and I am a slideaholic."* * *
Janine gazed down wearily at the cute young child whose arms were wrapped lovingly around her waist. She realized that Nickolas, being no older than a Kindergartner, must have no idea that she really wasn't his mother. To Nickolas, when he saw Janine, he saw the woman who'd given birth to him.
"I'm sorry, kid, but . . ." Janine gritted her teeth together, not particularly enjoying the delivery of this news, ". . . I'm not your mother." With that, she unwrapped the little boy's arms from around her waist.
Nickolas burst into tears, Janine's words stinging him like a bumblebee. The child ran over to his grandmother, who enveloped her grandson tenderly. Pearl Chen bristled at the woman she assumed was her daughter. "Janine Chen, how dare you! You selfish, insensitive, spoiled girl . . . !"
"That was always your problem, wasn't it, mom?!" Janine snapped back. "Always one to condemn criticism, but never calling your daughter anything but names! If your offspring don't live up to your ideals, then you just discard us like rotting banana peels, huh?!"
"Janine," Colin piped up, "she is not your mother. Maybe we should just leave?"
"What do you mean she's not my daughter?! Of course this is my daughter!" Pearl stuck her thumb out toward Janine. "Sure, she's totally wasted her life, but I tried my best."
"Uh, huh. Sure," Janine mumbled, bitterly. "You made my life so unbearable that it was hard for me to even set goals for myself!"
Tears streamed down Nickolas's pale, olive-tinted cheekbones. "Please don't fight!" he pleaded to his grandmother and Janine.
A tall, slim Asian man then strode into the room, dressed in a navy blue pinstripe suit accompanied by tan slacks. Richard Chen swiftly brushed his fingers over his square forehead and through thinning strands of graying-black hair. "Janine, what are you doing here?!"
"Nice to see you too, dad." Janine pursed her lips together.
"Where have you been for the past year?!" he demanded.
"Lounging on the beaches of the French Riviera," dead-panned Janine.
"Janine . . . where have you been?!" he repeated.
Janine shrugged. "Seeing the world . . . many of them."
Richard frowned. "You went sliding?" Although it was more of a statement than a question.
"Yes . . . but it wasn't my fault. It was an accident." Janine studied the frowning face of her father's double. "You don't believe me, do you?"
"Oh, I believe you, Janine. That's what scares the hell out of me." Richard raised his voice. "Your mother and I are very disappointed in you, young lady!"
Diana blinked. "I don't understand," she addressed the Chens. "What do you have against sliding?"
Richard Chen frowned, staring down at Diana. "It's immoral to tempt the laws of physics," he stated, matter-of-factly.
"We don't believe in sliding," Pearl echoed her husband's sentiments.
Janine curved her tongue to the edge of her mouth, almost amused. "Are you two sure you're not my parents?"
"Of course we're your parents . . ."
"But that's what I've been trying to tell you. You're not! I'm a double of your daughter!" Janine sighed as Richard and Pearl exchanged glances, somehow not terribly surprised at this news from their daughter's alternate. "On my world, I never had a son."
Nickolas had begun to wipe his tears away, calming down as he listened to what this alternate of his birth mother was saying.
"That does explain your similarity to our daughter . . ." Pearl Chen hesitantly conceded.
"Look, sorry for bothering you." Janine began to back out of the house she grew up in, albeit a carbon copy of it. "I'll just be leaving now."
Richard shook his head, eyes flickering in annoyance. "A pox on that heretical idiot who invented sliding!"
It was now Colin's turn to frown. "Hey, that's my brother you're talking about!"
Pearl squinted, a bit puzzled by Colin's statement. "I thought the inventor of sliding was female?"
Opening the screen door, Mallory called to his four friends. "Come on, guys. We've got better things to do."
"Wow, that was creepy!" Janine exclaimed, as the group wandered out into the Chens' backyard. "Those people were exactly like my own parents. And I can't believe I have another heterosexual double!"
Maggie bit her tongue and suppressed a critical comment she could have made.
"So I wonder what happened to the Janine of this Earth?" Colin wondered aloud, ducking under the hanging branch of a weeping willow.
Janine shrugged, gazing up at the sky. "Who knows? My alternate from this world could have accidentally gotten sucked into someone else's vortex like I did, for all I know. Maybe she even worked at my old job, at Slidetronics? Too bad she left her son behind, if that did happen to her."
Diana nodded at Janine, sympathetically. "I know what it feels like to meet a child whom you never really had." She was thinking of Nadine.
Maggie coughed loudly, to get her friends' attention. "Listen, do you hear that?"
Police sirens wailed in the distance.
"Aw, man! It's probably those psycho cops again!" Mallory whined, smacking his forehead and cringing in dread.
"Let's get outta here!" Colin, quick on his feet, led the group sprinting down the sidewalk as a fleet of police cars turned the corner and came zooming behind them. Once again, guns fired off, spraying bullets at the sliders' heels.
A loud male voice could be heard calling after them through a megaphone. "Dr. Davis, surrender quietly or you and your co-conspirators WILL be killed!"
"What do they want with me?" Diana spat out, huffing and puffing as she ran along with her friends.
Then, out of nowhere, a gigantic royal blue wormhole containing splashes of pink quantum energy suddenly opened up in front of the interdimensional quintet. Before they knew what was happening, Diana, Mallory, Janine, Maggie, and Colin were involuntarily sucked into this mysterious vortex.
"Where did this thing come from?!" Mallory hollered to his friends, as the five of them were tossed and flailed through the glimmering tunnel of blue and pink quantum energy.
"I don't know, Mallory," Janine shouted back to him, "but at least the fuzz can't chase us anymore while we're in here!"
Colin pointed with his finger, as their bodies continued to be thrust forward through space-time inside the ERP Bridge. "Look! Up ahead! An opening!"
"The vortex is about to spit us out in the next dimension," Maggie surmised, her voice echoing off the walls of the gateway.
The sliders fell through the rift at the end of their "savior" tunnel, landing hard on a cement floor. They were surrounded by a room full of people at computers and technicians operating high-tech equipment. Most of the people present, in what appeared to be a secure laboratory, were also armed with weapons.
"Where are we?" Maggie squinted, her eyes adjusting to the bright fluorescent lights as she rose from her knees.
Colin examined their new environment in awe. "Great Marley's ghost! Look at all of this technology!"
A wiry woman with extremely short red hair marched up to the newcomers. This woman, wearing military camouflage, plodded over to Diana and firmly extended her hand. "Welcome to our Earth, Dr. Davis. I'm Colonel Adrienne Tennent. Please accept my sincerest apologies for the inhospitable welcome you previously received."
Diana's mouth was wide open, as she accepted Tennent's handshake. "Uh, thank you, Colonel Tennent . . . but how and why did you bring me and my friends here? And how do you know my name?"
Colonel Tennent laughed. "I can't believe someone as intelligent as you hasn't figured it out already. Dr. Davis, let me just caution you that you are a bit of a ‘celebrity' on our world. Your alternate from our Earth invented sliding."
Diana's eyes lit up. This was a first! Usually, Quinn or Arturo were the inventors on the parallel Earths their team encountered.
"As for how we brought you here, it was via an intradimensional portal," Tennent continued. "Our sensors detected your incoming photon trail when you first arrived on our world, so we did a DNA scan on you and your companions - there were ten of you, I believe."
"Pardon me . . . but what is an intradimensional portal?" Colin asked.
Janine spoke up, "It's a teleportation system that allows you to travel from one point to another within the same dimension. We had them on my homeworld. For instance, an intradimensional vortex could transport you from Berlin to Toronto in a matter of seconds."
Maggie cut in, approaching Colonel Tennent. "Let's cut right to the chase, colonel. Who are you people and why did you bring us here?"
"Maggie!" Mallory hissed at her. "These people SAVED us . . . I don't think it's smart for you to be giving them attitude."
Tennent shook her head, smiling at Maggie respectfully. "No, that's quite all right. Those are fair questions." She faced Diana again. "After you and your four companions here vortexed from Monterey to San Francisco, we continued to trace your movements above ground. Once we intercepted the police's radio transmissions, we realized you were in danger. So we brought you to our base via an intradimensional wormhole, so you'd be safe." She switched her gaze to Maggie. "To answer your questions, we are ‘The War on Gore,' a resistance organization devoted to opposing President Gore's anti-sliding propaganda and similar laws that accompany it. We have about a dozen bases scattered all across the country." Tennent reached out to place her hand on Diana's shoulder. "Your Dr. Davis here is in danger, because the authorities obviously somehow discovered her presence on our world. Probably through an eyewitness report. You see, on our Earth, Dr. Diana Davis marketed sliding as a commercial enterprise after discovering a gateway to access the Einstein-Rosen-Pudalski Bridge. However, there were many fundamentalist and conservative groups who questioned the ‘morality' of interdimensional and intradimensional travel. After the Gores and Liebermans came into power, our world's Dr. Davis ‘mysteriously' vanished. We found out later that she was ‘disposed of' for ‘the public good,' and the Gores proceeded to ban interdimensional travel and heavily regulate intradimensional travel. Picking up from where they'd left off during the Senate's anti-music hearings in 1981, the Al & Tipper Administration continued to determine what types of music were 'appropriate' for the public to have access to . . . along with television, movies, books . . ."
Mallory grimaced. "How could Congress let them get away with that?"
"They had no choice," the colonel replied, biting her lip, bitterly. "After a number of unfortunate sliding accidents, Gore determined that sliding was a threat to public safety and he declared martial law. As commander-in-chief, he basically ordered the military to enforce his and Tipper's agenda."
"Yet, you're in military stripes," Maggie observed, critically.
"Many of us have gone rogue, so to speak," Tennent explained, frowning. "And people thought Clinton's 1994 sex scandal with Monica Lewinsky was bad.!We no longer consider Gore our commander-in-chief. Makes me wish America had elected that Paul Wellstone guy instead. Sure, he was sort of a flake, but at least he was no dictator . . ."
Scratching her head, Diana blinked. "I still don't understand why your police are targeting ME. After all, I'm not ‘your' Diana. And besides that, you said that ‘your' Diana is dead."
"Because of multiversal similarities among alternates, all Alternate Diana Davises who venture to our Earth are considered potential threats," revealed Colonel Tennent. "They are promptly tracked down and eliminated, for fear that an Alternate Diana Davis, such as yourself, might bring a stronger wave of resistance momentum to our Earth." She folded her arms, gruffly murmuring, "Ignorant, but true."
"Similar to how the Kromagg Dynasty fears Quinn and his doubles," Colin comparatively pointed out to his friends.
Diana scoffed. "That's ridiculous! I'm no threat to this Earth!"
"Wanna bet?" Tennent gestured around the room. "Look at all the stares of awe and admiration you're receiving, Dr. Davis . . . from our own people! You're a hero to us all!"
"Wow, way to go, Diana," Mallory praised the group's physicist.
Blushing, Diana's eyes dropped to the floor. "Well, I'm flattered . . ."
"Because of you, around here we call ourselves ‘Di's Guys' . . . crusaders for interdimensional liberation." Tennent slapped Diana on the back. "Like I said, you're a major inspiration to us all."
"Please, Dr. Davis!" shouted out one of the computer lab technicians. "Lead us!"
Janine stared around at all the scientists whom they had the attention of. "Can you help us find our friends?"
"If they've been logged onto any of the portal stations, then we certainly can," another of the technicians assured them.
"Anything for you, Dr. Davis!" yelled out another of Di's Guys.
Looking around the underground lab, both humbled and overwhelmed, Diana couldn't control a smile from spreading over her face as she nodded. "Okay . . . let's rock the boat!"* * *
"Are you sure you can locate our friends?" Maggie asked the technician who sat busily clicking away at the keyboard of a computer terminal. She, Diana, Mallory, Janine, and Colin were curiously crowded around a lanky, sandy-haired guy in his twenties wearing narrow wire-rim glasses and clothing with zany, colorful, mismatched fabric patterns.
"I'll try my best, gorgeous," replied the computer whiz, raising his eyebrows and leering at Maggie provocatively.
Maggie punched him in the shoulder. "Just find them for us, Romeo!" she mandated, more than a little annoyed. "I hope you're able to put your money where your mouth is, Stu."
"No problem, babe - I am the best." Stuart the computer whiz smirked as he hit the "Enter" key. "Okay," he continued aloud, "tracking Quinn Mallory, Wade Welles, Rembrandt Brown, Professor Maximilian Arturo, and/or Malcolm Eastman . . . cross-referencing with DNA scans of possible alternates from our homeworld . . ." Stuart grinned as the computer screen returned the applicable results. "Bingo! The group consisting of these five peeps attempted teleportation from Monterey to San Francisco earlier today . . . except they were detained and remanded to Hadassah House of Monterey."
"Hadassah House?" Mallory blinked. "What is that, some sort of book club?"
"No, Hadassah House is a treatment center for sliding addicts," replied Stu, his eyes still glued to the computer counsel as he typed away.
"Sliding addicts?!" exclaimed Colin. "I did not know sliding was an addiction."
"It is on our world," Colonel Tennent put in, joining them. "Or at least, the Gores and Liebermans think so. They even named their chain of ‘treatment centers' after the Second Lady. How egotistical."
"Eureka!" called out Stu, as a profile of Maximilian Arturo popped up on the screen, complete with a graphical image. "It appears as though your chum Max has been put into treatment for a so-called interdimensional addiction. I crossed his quantum signature with that of ‘our' Arturo, and this guy definitely belongs to you. ‘Our' Maximilian Arturo currently resides at one of our safehouses in Cairo . . . he escaped from Hadassah House several months ago. He is, in fact, one of the government's few existing targets who still is willing to stay on our Earth and help us fight against the Gore Administration, albeit from overseas. They'll go to any lengths to readmit a fugitive slideaholic."
"Wait a minute, I don't understand." Diana crinkled her nose, baffled. "Since ‘our' Professor has his own distinct quantum signature, then why haven't they realized that he isn't ‘their' Professor?"
Stuart sighed. "Our beloved government didn't bother to study interdimensional travel extensively enough to obtain necessary information regarding how quantum signatures vary from world to world. That's another reason why any of your alternates are immediately targeted, Dr. Davis . . . if they simply look like you, they're roadkill. We've actually lost a number of innocent Diana-lookalikes that way." He shrugged. "But that's our government's mindset. We, on the other hand, have done so much interdimensional translocation that we've brought back enough research to decode the quantum signatures of travelers from outside our dimension."
Janine nearly lost her breath. "Does that mean you can track down my homeworld coordinates?"
Stu shook his head, sympathetically. "Unfortunately, we've only scouted out a small cross-section of the infinite parallel universes out there. The worlds we do have logged, in all probability, won't correspond with your specific home dimension. But I could still give it a shot. At best, I could translate your individual quantum signature . . . but that alone probably wouldn't give you your world's interdimensional coordinates. We would had to actually have explored your homeworld and have it logged in our database . . . and the odds of that are slim to none."
Colin's smile went limp. "So I guess you don't have the homeworld of me and my brother in your records, either?"
"Like I said, low probability. Sorry, bro."
"Damn!" Diana stomped her foot. "Too bad we can't use Dr. Geiger . . . he'd know how to decrypt the information."
"Didn't he ever show you how to do it, Diana?" inquired Maggie.
"Yes, but only methodically. The necessary customized equipment we would need is back on my homeworld." Diana folded her arms, pouting.
"How do you know Dr. Geiger?" Tennent asked them.
"I was his student, back on our homeworld," Diana explained. "He used me, Mallory, and my friends in an attempt to merge parallel universes together on a macrodimensional level. You see, Dr. Geiger is ‘unstuck' in space-time . . ."
Tennent didn't let Diana finish. "Pardon me," she said, and hurried off.
"Okay, boys and girls!" Stuart called out, enthusiastically. "It's almost showtime!"
"Can you get them back safely?" Mallory eagerly asked. All he could think about at that moment was Wade and her well-being.
Stu nodded. "Activating sliding machine . . . activating wormhole . . ." he recited out loud, as a giant stationary vortex in the underground headquarters of Di's Guys manifested and began swirling rapidly. "Sending vortex to Hadassah House, coordinates #813-570-101-118-6782-4991-6650-1322-770403A-858900BCH . . ." Stuart rattled off a long, complicated string of specific intradimensional coordinates.
Meanwhile, over at Hadassah House, Professor Arturo stood awkwardly at the podium during his Sliders Anonymous meeting, addressing his fellow "slideaholics."
"It all started off so innocently . . . Mr. Mallory, Miss Welles, and myself merely sought to take a ‘spin around the universe,' as Miss Welles worded it . . . we never thought one little slide would hurt . . . but we just couldn't resist that vortex, when Mr. Mallory turned up the power on it, dear God, I thought I was in heaven! . . . poor Mr. Brown, he didn't ask to be sucked in, the poor boy never had a chance! . . ."
"Take heart, Max," smiled Kenny, speaking soothingly. "It is so easy to give in to peer pressure. We've all experienced what you've been through."
The other slideaholics nodded knowingly and loudly chorused their agreement.
Suddenly, Stuart's monstrous royal blue portal appeared in the room. Arturo yelled a roar of fear as the vortex advanced toward him, sucking the rotund professor into its gyrating epicenter. Stu's blue wormhole continued to sweep across the room, additionally digesting every other person in the conference hall as they all screamed and shrieked in trepidation.* * *
Professor Arturo and the rest of the slideaholics were expectorated from Stuart's massive wormhole, landing one by one in Di's Guys' headquarters. Kenny and Nurse Edna had also been swept up by the enormous vortex, which had glided toward them at full force. All of the residents of Hadassah House staggered to their feet, dazed from the rapid, bumpy slide.
"Well, it's about bloody time!" Arturo boomed at his friends, high-tailing it toward Janine, Colin, Maggie, Diana, and Mallory as he plunged himself into their group's protective embrace. "I could only keep up that deceptive charade for so long! Once the drug they gave me wore off, I knew that playing along with their game to fool them was my only chance for survival."
Mallory raised his eyebrows in surprise. "You mean they didn't actually brainwash you, Professor? Colonel Tennent told us they'd try to."
"Oh, they did indeed try to!" blustered Arturo, his face turning beet red as he wiggled an accusing finger at Kenny and Nurse Edna. "Those two nincompoops took great pleasure in torturing me, because they were convinced I had some preposterous sliding ‘addiction'! . . . Bah!! That, that - smiley-faced weasel and his stooge, that needle-happy old hag!"
"Hey!" Nurse Edna put her hands on her hips, clearly insulted.
Kenny flared at Arturo. "We did it for your own good, Max! Now release us - send us back to Hadassah House!"
"I'm afraid we can't do that," declared Colonel Tennent, who had returned to the room, approaching Kenny and Nurse Edna with her machine gun aimed at them. "You two are traitors, and there's no way in hell we're going to let you back into society. You both will be going on a little trip."
"Trip?!" Nurse Edna glared at Colonel Tennent. "What do you mean by that?!"
"Stu, activate interdimensional displacement!" Tennent called over her shoulder, keeping her weapon aimed at the two hostages.
Kenny and Nurse Edna hollered, ghastly fear entrenched in their eyes as they realized what was happening to them. Simultaneously, Stuart was turning a knob on his control panel, as a wobbly, distorted, yellowish wormhole appeared from behind Nurse Edna and Kenny, swallowing the two of them whole into its abyss.
Maggie's mouth remained hanging open, forming an oval in shock. "What did you do to them?!" she interrogated Tennent.
Tennent smirked. "Stu sent those Hadassah House patsies on a random sliding course to another dimension, permanently relocating them to a miscellaneous parallel Earth where they will hopefully never bother our world again."
"Isn't that a little extreme?" Janine asked.
"Hey, you don't have to reside on our Earth, do you?!" Tennent snapped at Janine. "You have no idea what it's like to live under an oppressive tyranny of self-titled ‘moralists'! Those two traitors only contributed to our oppression, so they deserve to be removed from this society - what's left of it, anyway."
Janine sneered at Tennent. "You don't need to get snippy with me, G.I. Jane! I only meant that I know what it's like being sucked into a vortex against my will."
"What about these other people?!" Colin cut in, gesturing to all the translocated refugees from Hadassah House. "They never asked to be imprisoned by their government. How are you going to cure them? . . . or are you just going to blast them off into hyperspace too?"
"Don't be silly," scoffed Colonel Tennent, addressing Colin. "Although you are partially correct . . . we're gonna give these poor souls a little ‘detox' of our own." As Tennent said that, a bunch of camouflaged freedom fighters armed with guns and handheld timers had begun corralling the Hadassah House refugees, prodding them toward a stationary sliding platform.
Maggie gave Tennent a suspicious glare. "What are you going to do to them?"
"We're simply going to take them on a nice tour of the multiverse," the colonel replied. "A few weeks of sliding, accompanied by some of Di's Guys who are experienced sliders, should cure these invalids of any delusions Hadassah House implanted in them that sliding is an ‘anti-social' behavior."
"What about Mr. Mallory, Mr. Brown, Mr. Eastman, and Miss Welles?" Professor Arturo inquired. "You are going to bring them back too, I assume?"
"Of course we are!" Tennent snapped. She approached Stuart. "Send another wormhole to extract the four interdimensional outsiders from captivity at Hadassah House."
At that moment, the Hadassah House refugees and their dozen or so Di's Guys "chaperones" had vanished from the platform, vortexed out in a flash of tangerine quantum light.
"Can do!" Stuart agreed, entering the coordinates for another wormhole to be selectively sent. Focusing on a monitor that showed four round blips - obviously representing Remmy, Wade, Quinn, and Malcolm - Stu recited, "Closing in on targets . . . sending portal for retrieval."
Diana came up next to Stu, studying the infrared scan depicted on his computer monitor. "How are you able to determine their exact location?"
"Our computer database uses a Foreign Key that links the genetic makeup of your friends to that of their alternates on our world," explained Stu, pushing his glasses up onto his nose. "Because of our advanced studies of quantum translocation, we have an advantage over the government in that we can differentiate the quantum signatures of doubles from different Earths. And since the government records everyone's DNA patterns, I simply hack into the government's databases and cross-reference then decode their data with ours."
"But how is your database so much more sophisticated than the government's?"
"Our sensors above ground can travel intradimensionally and relay the data back to us," Stu said. "Just another one of your double's many handy inventions we use. Unfortunately, our Diana's sensors aren't advanced enough to travel interdimensionally, so their tracking capabilities are limited to our dimension. That means we're unable to keep tabs on our people - or anyone else, for that matter - once they leave our Earth."
"What's that?" Diana diverted Stu's attention to a translucent blob that was expanding across the computer screen, encasing the four red dots.
Stuart smiled. "Your friends will be here within a matter of seconds."
Simultaneously, Rembrandt, Quinn, Malcolm, and Wade had been startled by a sudden explosion of quantum energy surfacing before them inside the sterile waiting room. Another royal blue wormhole had manifested at Hadassah House, this time appearing in the waiting room where Quinn, Remmy, Wade, and Malcolm were being held. It's swirling mouth swooped across the room, engulfing the sliders as its radiant texture resonated a familiar swish.* * *
"What happened?" Wade regained composure from the unexpected slide to find herself embraced in Mallory's strong, warm arms.
"Where are we?" Quinn asked Maggie, as the former marine planted a kiss on his cheek.
Arturo stepped forward. "These fine folks extracted us from Hadassah House . . . they are the organized resistance movement battling President Gore's anti-sliding propaganda. Apparently, Dr. Davis has a double who invented sliding on this world, and was killed by government agents."
"All right, Diana!" Malcolm winked at the physicist, who blushed in return as the rescued sliders' eyes fell upon her.
"The government mistook me for my double on this Earth," Arturo continued, "since they don't have access to our quantum signatures."
Quinn shook his head. "All they need to do is analyze the dimensional frequency by measuring their Earth's quantum matrix . . ."
Remmy clasped his hand over Quinn's mouth. "Don't give them any ideas, Q-Ball," he cautioned.
"No, it's okay, Rem," Diana reassured him. "They already know how to do that . . . it's how they figured out that I'm ‘their' Diana's double. Besides, these people are doing good work here."
"As did your interdimensional counterpart, Diana," came a raspy, hauntingly familiar voice.
Diana swiveled around to confront a heavyset, gray curly-haired, spectacled figure. "Dr. Geiger?!" she gasped.
Alternate Geiger nodded. "I am not the Geiger you knew on your world, Diana . . . but I worked with another ‘you' who was most likely very much like yourself, based on what Colonel Tennent has told me."
Folding her arms, Diana bitterly looked away. "The Dr. Geiger I knew was a lying, manipulative bastard. He's dead to me now."
"I am sorry to hear that," apologized Alternate Geiger, sympathetically. He extended his arm to place his hand supportively on Diana's shoulder, but she just shrugged him away.
"Dr. Davis, your double and ‘our' Dr. Geiger created this resistance movement together," Colonel Tennent informed Diana. "If it hadn't been for the two of them, none of us would be here right now."
Alternate Geiger nodded again. "Please know, ‘my' Diana left her sliding machines, sensors, and various other contraptions behind after her brutal homicide. I've vowed to avenge her death by liberating our world . . . because of President Gore's so-called ‘leadership,' sliding is outlawed in most countries, and heavily regulated in America." Diana ventured a hesitant glimpse back toward Alternate Geiger as he continued, "We'd assembled the largest underground pool of brilliant scientists to form our ‘War on Gore.' I insisted we call ourselves ‘Di's Guys,' in memory and in honor of my former student. Diana was ingenious, and made me proud to be an educator. She will be greatly missed."
Diana couldn't help but scrounge up genuine compassion for this alternate of the man whom she'd come to hate so vehemently.
"But still, there's only so much we can do," lamented Colonel Tennent, regretfully. "Many people above ground don't have the stamina to fight . . . some even find ways to contact us, asking us to help provide them with interdimensional travel so they can escape from this Earth. And then, in typical hypocrisy, the very government that condemns sliding sends bounty hunters after citizens presumed to have fled from our Earth. Of course, the government will occasionally utilize sliding whenever it benefits THEM. Gotta love that, ‘Do as I say, not as I do' approach." Tennent had a frosty glare of ice cold hostility flickering in her eyes.
Colin scratched his head. "Something still doesn't make sense to me. If ‘your' Diana is wanted by the authorities on your world, and they track citizens' sliding patterns and genetic DNA structures, then how did ‘our' Diana avoid being detected when our group first arrived on your Earth?"
"You have us to thank for that," Stuart chimed in, winking seductively at them. "When we intercepted the incoming matrix of ‘your' Dr. Davis, we also shielded her DNA from the government's detection system. In other words, we ‘cloaked' your Diana's DNA with an invisible jacket and gave her a new phony DNA pattern with scrambled binary streams. We didn't really know who any of the rest of you were at first, so none of the rest of you were ‘cloaked' by us. That's why they were unable to detect her when you guys teleported from Monterey to San Francisco."
"Yes, after Diana's death, we created a program that would supersede the government's anti-interdimensional block," Alternate Geiger picked up. "They're able to monitor the sliding of everyone except for us."
"What sucks is that I still haven't found a way to hack into the White House's secure database," complained Stuart, "which happens to be the motherlode of all the government's databases. They have too many layers for me to crack."
Wade walked over to Stu's computer terminal. "Hey, maybe I could take a crack at that? I knew a thing or two about hacking back on my homeworld, and I've learned quite a few more tricks from my years of sliding. Hell, for five months I even WAS a computer!"
Stuart flashed Wade a baffled expression of blankness, but nonetheless moved over to let her at his keyboard.
"Professor, they didn't torture you too badly, did they?" Malcolm slapped Arturo on the arm.
"Ugh! Badly enough, Mr. Eastman," grumbled the Professor. "I can hardly wait to get this damned leg brace removed from my leg! They have this asinine 12-step program for ‘sliding addicts' called Sliders Anonymous. A bunch of brainwashing and corporal punishment, if you ask me!"
"Sliders Anonymous?!" Maggie repeated, rolling her eyes. "You have got to be kidding!"
"I'm afraid not, Miss Beckett. Those who refuse to cooperate by abandoning their sliding lifestyle are subjected to a series of electrical shocks and group therapy."
"Sliders Anonymous was actually Joe Lieberman's idea," Colonel Tennent told them. "He and the Gores devised all kinds of ways to censor television, music, public literature, and feature films. They shut down Napster, regulated and taxed private citizens' Internet access, and banned many genres of music from being sold. All TV shows and films must pass the review of a committee hand-picked by the First Family, to filter out any sex, violence, nudity, obscenities, or any other content they deem may be ‘harmful' to the public. As for sliding, the Gores and Liebermans use the excuse that sliding is an ‘unhealthy' lifestyle choice. So they regulate all citizens' intradimensional travel privileges, and banned interdimensional travel completely, except for their own use. They claim that interdimensional translocation is ‘against God's will.' That's bull, and everyone knows it!"
"You should have seen some of the things they've used the military to do," Stuart added, his eyes still watching the every move of Wade's nimble fingers on his keyboard. "Senator Barbara Boxer, activist Susan Sarandon, and their followers went down in a blaze of glory and bullets when they staged a coup in California to overthrow state sanctions on censorship. Gore used federal troops to pulverize the protesters, and then publicly demonized Boxer and Sarandon as ‘terrorists' . . . we called it the Palm Springs Massacre."
"Yeah, most of the progressive senators and congresspeople have been eliminated," Tennent elaborated. "The only ones left are the conservative ‘Blue Dog' Democrats and the conservative Republicans who all act as yespeople for the Gore/Lieberman Administration . . . mostly out of fear."
"We have a whole network of former entertainment moguls and performers involved in the resistance," Stu said. "Eminem, Marylin Manson, Queen Latifah, Alanis Morissette, Jello Biafra, Aaron Spelling, Whoopi Goldberg, David E. Kelley, Bea Arthur . . . basically everyone who used to be someone in Hollywood wants a new president. Sad thing is, most of them voted for Gore back in 1996 . . . well, not all of them - Susan Sarandon and Bea Arthur both supported Ralph Nader. Anyway, there's a lot of illegal pirating because of all the censorship. One of the Gores' biggest battles now is the distribution of Jerri Manthey exercise workout videos over the Black Market. I'm all for it . . . she has a such great bod!"
"This is all very fascinating," Janine sarcastically commented, "but has anyone realized that we still need to get our timer back?"
Alternate Geiger tapped Diana on the shoulder. "Is this it?" He held out the sliders' timer.
"Yes!" Diana excitedly snatched it away from him, grinning broadly. "How did you get it back?!"
"We sent some smaller vortices to Hadassah House, to confiscate odds and ends from their private offices - basically to piss them off." Alternate Geiger grinned. "We found your timer being kept there, after rummaging around intradimensionally for a little while."
"Excellent!" Malcolm pumped his fist in the air.
"Man, what can we do to repay you?" Remmy asked Alternate Geiger, gratefully.
"Well . . . there is one thing." Alternate Geiger turned to Diana. "I know I have no right to ask this of you, after the way ‘your' Oberon Geiger treated you . . . but I truly believe the appearance of another Diana Davis on our world might motivate more Americans to stand up and fight for their civil liberty."
Diana held up her hand. "Say no more, Oberon. You're not the same man who I knew on my world . . . and that's a good thing. I'd be more than happy to help, in the time we have left here. What can I do?" She handed the timer to Quinn.
Quinn read from the timer's display panel. "Whatever it is, you have just under 5 minutes to do it."
As Diana and Alternate Geiger began plotting, Wade had finished entering some computer codes. "Done!"
"Whoa! Wade, you are amazing!" exclaimed Stuart, his face glowing in awe of Wade's handiwork. "I've never been able to hack through the White House's files . . . they've always been like virtual plaster!"
Wade shrugged, modestly. "Kids' stuff. You just haven't learned all the tricks of the trade, yet. Your world's White House sure has a lot of loose wires in its system's infrastructure. And Tipper Gore could have at least picked a less obvious password. K-A-R-E-N-N-A." Wade spelled out the password as she typed it in again.
"So what do we do next?"
"Well, I've already deleted most of the files from Al and Tipper Gore's desktops. These are the files that contain personal information, such as Americans' DNA structures, profiles, and statistics regarding who is authorized to slide and who isn't. It's gonna take Al and Tipper a long time to get their computers up and running again, if at all."
"But obviously other government agencies have the same information," Mallory pointed out. "How are we gonna stop them too?"
Stuart suavely lifted his eyebrows again. "It's a little something I dub a ‘computer virus.' The first of its kind on this Earth . . . at least, that I know of. I've spent years working on it, feeding it into expendable computers and successfully disabling their hard drives. But this is the first time I've gotten to actually test it out against any of our political enemies."
"So I uploaded Stu's computer virus into the Gores' inboxes," Wade giggled. "When they open in up, the virus will duplicate and forward itself to everyone else whose email address is in the Gores' inbox. That should wipe out most, if not all of those Big Brother agencies."
Rembrandt released another of his trademark laughs. "Girl, you are evil," he complimented Wade.
Meanwhile, Diana had taken her seat atop a stool in front of a video camera operated by one of Di's Guys. The video camera was hooked up to a TV screen, where the upper half of Diana's body appeared on the television monitor.
"Once we give you the signal, you'll be on live, Diana," Alternate Geiger coached her. "Just remain calm and composed. We'll be interrupting the broadcast signals of all the major television networks, so this video stream of you will be fed live to millions of Americans. Just be honest about who you are and what you know about our situation. America will recognize you and listen to you . . . they'll recognize the woman you resemble and they'll hopefully realize the bleak state of our nation."
"Okay . . . I can do this." Diana took a deep breath. Before Dr. Davis knew what was happening, the spotlight clicked on, shining upon her; the camera operator gave her the hand signal, indicating that she was on live. "My fellow Americans, you may recognize me as Dr. Diana Davis, the California quantum physicist who invented sliding. You may also be wondering how I, Diana Davis, can be sitting here before you on live television if I was killed for ‘treason' several years ago. Well the answer to that is simple. I am an interdimensional alternate of the Diana Davis who existed on your world. Yes, I come from a parallel universe. You all know that alternate realities exist, since your government officially forbids interdimensional travel by law. But my friends and I recently slid onto your world, and we're dismayed to witness the totalitarian society you live in. America, you have got to stand up for your freedom. Do you really want some central authority telling you what music you're allowed to listen to, what TV shows you can and cannot watch, what movies you're able to see? Why should they be able to restrict you from utilizing science, to explore the realms of intradimensional and interdimensional travel? Don't you want the opportunity to see what's out there, beyond the scope of your imagination? Soon the government will be telling you what foods to eat, what clothes to wear, how to spend your money, where to sleep . . . I've even visited a few parallel Earths where this type of society existed. Trust me, it is not pretty. Gore's presidency is a farce, and the only way for you to take back your country is to rise up against the Gores and the Liebermans, and demand new heads-of-state who will actually serve you, rather than control you. Be assured, the anti-censorship movement is alive and well, and there are many good people underground who want to liberate you. How do you think this live video stream of me has infiltrated your state-controlled television airwaves? Simple - we have experienced techies down here who have found ways to outsmart the government's technological infrastructure. So to remain true to my words, your nation's freedom fighters, also known as Di's Guys, have broke into the State's computerized mainframe and deleted all of your personal information from its system. They've also deleted your government's block on interdimensional travel, so any of you will have the ability to explore other dimensions beyond your own. From now on, you will be able to activate the Einstein-Rosen-Pudalski Bridge from anyplace on your Earth. My friends and I must leave your world now, but we leave you in capable hands. Remember, don't let some Southern good ole boy and his bimbo wife tell you what to do, just because they happen to live in the White House and think they own you! Embrace your freedom, and never let it go!" Out of breath, Diana arose from her chair.
All of Di's Guys, who had been entranced by Diana's powerful words, also rose to their feet and applauded and cheered wildly for Diana.
"She really IS Dr. Diana Davis!" exclaimed Colonel Tennent, tears forming in her eyes as she clapped for the double of the woman who'd inspired her to action.
"5 seconds!" Quinn announced. He strategically aimed the timer toward where Diana had been siting, activating the sliders' vortex in front of the camera on live national television.
Since Diana had been positioned closest to the cameras, the wormhole's sudden appearance automatically sucked her into its gyrating abyss like a vacuum. Then Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, Arturo, Maggie, Colin, Mallory, Janine, and Malcolm each jumped through the gateway after Diana, disappearing into its swirl of quantum space-time. The vortex then vanished, completing this scene for all of America to have viewed.* * *
"This was sure nice of the Feldsteins to invite us to the Bar Mitzvah of their son Solomon," remarked Colin, shoving a forkful of Noodle Kugel into his mouth.
"Well it's not like we had a choice," Mallory grumbled, using a fork to play around with the Potato Latke on his plate. "We're the Feldsteins' employees, at least temporarily. It would be rude if we told them where to put their invitation."
The ten sliders sat around a circular table at Uncle Morty's Buffet, the Fresno restaurant which was their temporary place of employment. They were chowing down on the very Jewish dinner served to them at Solomon Feldstein's wild Bar Mitzvah party.
"Hey, it was either work here or work on a kibbutz," laughed Wade, feeding a forkful of Cabbage Borsht to Mallory.
"Eck! These Matzoh Balls are giving me indigestion!" groaned Maggie, sticking out her tongue. "I think I'll stick with the Couscous." She proceeded to wolf down a nice helping of the meat/vegetable medley mix.
"Here, try some of Nanna Feldstein's homemade chicken soup," Quinn offered to Maggie, feeding her a spoonful. "We oughtta take some of this with us to the next world. I hear it fights off a common cold before the virus even enters your body."
"Pass the Challah, Malcolm," Janine solicited from her fellow slider, pointing to a basket of the Jewish bread. Taking a bite of her Potato Knish, Janine looked at Arturo. "So Professor, do you think Lange's theory will apply to finding my homeworld?"
"It is certainly worth pursuing, Miss Chen," conceded Professor Arturo, reluctantly spreading some lox over his salmon pancake. "Although this world turned out to be a dead end. The only similarity to the last world is a dimwitted President Lieberman running this America!"
"But there's a chance that a world with similar coordinates may turn out to be my own?" Janine pressed.
"Well . . . yes. We simply have to keep our eyes peeled for an Earth where Psongas and Toricelli run the country." Arturo grimaced, as he tasted his concoction of salmon pancake and lox. "Good grief! Can't these blasted Hebrews cook any normal entrees?!"
Malcolm snickered. "Have some more Mondel Bread, Professor."
Diana was working away on her PDL. "Okay, Earth coordinates #813-759-101-118 have been logged . . . let's call this dimension Jewish World, what do you say, gang?"
"So how are we going to approach choosing our coordinates from now on?" Janine asked. "At least we have my quantum signature that Stu scanned for us."
"Well, I figured we'd alternate between randomly selecting a set of coordinates close to the last world's, and randomly entering coordinates with the last six digits of Kromagg Prime's, as we'd originally planned to." Diana kept clicking on the miniature keypad of her PDL. "It's a good thing my PDL fell back into our possession. I've been able to compose a computerized log containing each set of coordinates we visit, accompanied by a nickname and summary of each world corresponding to those coordinates. Ever since Bamboo World, I've been able to log the over two dozen Earths we've been to from that point up through the present."
"So that way, we can avoid revisiting worlds we've already explored." Wade understood.
"But that's still a lot of worlds to sift through," lamented Quinn.
"Shalom!" an elderly rabbi wearing a Kippah atop his head greeted them as he approached their table. "How are you enjoying the celebration?"
"Very Kosher." Mallory gave the rabbi a thumps-up.
"It is quite nice, Rabbi Goldberg," Colin complimented the clergyman. "I especially enjoyed the entertainment. That stand-up comedy routine by Fran Drescher was particularly amusing."
"Feel free to savor our desserts, my children," Rabbi Goldberg encouraged them, nodding at a dessert cart that was being wheeled toward their table. "The Feldsteins want everyone to have a good time."
Remmy licked his lips at the sight of the dessert cart, crammed full of goodies. "Oh man, I want some of that White Chocolate Rugelach."
The triple-decker dessert cart held a vast assortment of rugelach, strudel, blintzes, tortes, pumpkin soup, sponge cakes, honey cakes, coffee cakes, rice cakes, and fruit salads.
"Okay," spoke up Mallory, taking a dish of Chocolate Matze Torte from the cart. "But I think it's only fair that the Professor goes last. Otherwise, there'll be nothing left except for rice cakes."
The whole table burst out laughing, as Arturo, scowling and softly growling with irritation, shoved a corn chip dipped in humus into his mouth.
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