|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.|
I would like to credit Chris Black who wrote the Season 5 Sliders episode “Heavy Metal.” Dialogue from Black's script is used in this episode via flashback sequences.
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.* * *
Taking another sip of her strawberry smoothie, Wade Welles continued to scribble thoughts with her pen onto the opened page of her diary.
Diana is still recovering from shock, after having been taken by Rickman a couple of worlds back. I can't say I blame her. I know what it's like being at the mercy of that bastard. Fortunately, Diana's becoming less shaken with each new day. Quinn and I have been there for her whenever she feels like venting about the Kromaggs or just needs one of our shoulders to cry on. Out of everyone in the group, the two of us are the ones who Diana has remained closest to. I hope this doesn't raise any “issues” of jealousy with Maggie, who knew Diana way before I ever did.
Speaking of Maggie, things seem to have gotten a lot better between us ever since leaving Pagan World. Maybe almost losing Diana to Rickman and almost losing Colin to Aphrodite caused Maggie to reexamine her priorities? We hardly ever fight anymore, and she's been pretty civil to me. Of course, it's barely been a week, and with Maggie you never know what she's going to do or say next. But we've stayed fairly polite to each other. Then again, Maggie's spent most of her time with Quinn. Not “my” Quinn, but Quinn who I've been with from the beginning. I guess maybe I ought to call him Original Quinn or something, from now on. To avoid the confusion.
Wade put down her ballpoint pen as two strong hands began to massage her shoulders. Mallory leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. The tall, dark brunette young man plopped down next to Wade.
“I missed you,” he whispered.
Feeling light-headed, Wade smiled as her body tingled pleasantly. “I missed you too . . . Quinn.” She gave him a half-chuckle. “Gosh, it still feels strange calling you by your first name. I called you ‘Mallory' for so long, I'm still used to thinking like that.”
“Yeah, it's weird for me too. But a good weird.” He rested his elbows on the bar counter. “I'm so used to hearing everyone call me by my last name. But I have to say, it's also pretty sweet to be called ‘Quinn' for a change. Weird, but sweet.”
Wade signaled to an alternate of Elston Diggs, who was the bartender. She ordered a coconut frappachino for her boyfriend.
Mallory grinned. “You remembered how much I dig coconut.”
“Of course I did, sexy.”
Sucking in more strawberry juices through her straw, Wade passed Mallory a dish of mixed nuts, which he eagerly took from. “So how was the beach?”
“Oh, awesome!” Mallory said, through a mouthful of cashews. “I taught Malcolm how to water-ski, and we kept splashing these huge tidal waves onto everyone we passed by. Ah, the pissed off glares they gave us . . . oh, and then Colin convinced us to go skinny-dipping in the ocean. Right there in the Pacific. Felt refreshing, actually. He said they used to do it all the time at the El Segundo waterhole; at least, when their pilgrim parents weren't around to crack the whip.”
Wade giggled. “I think Colin's parents were Amish,” she corrected him, amused.
“Then we all met up with Rem, Maggie, and Quinn - our ‘other' Quinn - for lunch on the boardwalk. Rem and Maggie dared me to actually eat a whole cooked octopus. Man, it was nasty! I earned twenty bucks, though.”
Tilting her head, Wade asked, “How's Diana?”
“All things considered, she seemed much better. I saw her having breakfast with Janine right before I left for the beach with Malcolm and Colin.” Mallory threw a peanut up in the air and caught it with his tongue. “I think Janine took Diana shopping, to show her the fine art of ‘whittle-down' negotiating - getting the retailer to sell you something for less than it's priced at. Diana has never been too comfortable around salesclerks.”
“Yeah, I remember Janine mentioning how she used to practice doing that during all those years she slid alone working for Slidetronics, before she met us.” Wade finished her thought just as Alternate Diggs arrived with Mallory's beverage.
“Here you go, dude,” Alternate Diggs said, amiably setting down the glass of coconut schnapps in front of Mallory. “Fresh out of the blender!”
“Thanks, man.” Mallory occupied himself with chugging down the thick, foamy drink, so Wade commenced with writing in her diary.
I think Maggie's mood has improved because she's less stressed, since we don't have as much to deal with. Since Rickman is out of the picture, we can focus more on our homeworlds. Remmy is hoping the anti-Kromagg virus that he and Janine have been carrying in their bloodstreams will be strong enough to kill all the Kromaggs on Earth Prime and on Quinn and Diana's homeworld. Quinn and I have talked about where we should settle down once the Kromaggs are wiped out - his world or mine? We still haven't decided. We're hoping our families and friends are still alive, still survived the invasions somehow. Maybe we'll just bounce back and forth between Earth Prime and Geiger Prime, splitting out time between the two?
Malcolm has been slowly coming out to each of us individually. Apparently, Rembrandt was the first one Malcolm confided in, and Rem and Janine have both known for months. That's not too surprising, since Malcolm feels closest to Remmy, and Janine is the only other person in our group who knows what it's like to be gay. Then Malcolm told Quinn (“my” Quinn) because the two of them are good buddies. Shortly afterward, he confided in me. I was supportive of Malcolm, of course. And I was really proud of (“my”) Quinn for being so cool with it and being such a good sport when he and Malcolm hang out together. He doesn't treat Malcolm any differently than he did before he knew about Malcolm's sexuality. That's the way it should be. This past week, Malcolm came out to Diana and Colin. Probably a good thing, since the guys went swimming together au naturel. But I don't think Colin has a problem with it either; he pretty much accepts everyone the way they are. Diana definitely supports Malcolm - she told me once that one of her cousins back on their homeworld was gay. But I don't think Malcolm has come out to Maggie, Quinn (our original Quinn), or the Professor yet. Although I think Maggie would certainly be more accepting of Malcolm than she initially was of Janine.
The Professor's diet sure didn't last very long. As soon as the Professor got a whiff of the ham-and-bacon quiche they served last night, he surrendered and there was no turning back. There's been some good food on the last couple of worlds we've visited. Here in Santa Barbara, the resort where we're currently staying at is owned by Wolfgang Puck, who operates a hotel and casino dynasty on this Earth. He made millions from starring in his own TV sitcom that ran for nine seasons, and used the money to open a hotel/restaurant/casino chain with locations all over the world.
“Come on, you two!” Wade's diary entry was cut short by Janine, who called out to Mallory and Wade with her hands cupped around her lips like a bullhorn. “We want to get going before Arturo eats Puck Plaza out of business.”
Wade closed her diary and stood up. “I'm so glad I bought this new diary to record our adventures in,” she commented to Mallory, as they trailed hand-in-hand behind Janine while exiting the juice bar. “My last one was left behind on Earth Prime. It got lost during the invasion.”
They walked out onto the Santa Monica pier, where everyone else was gathered watching dolphins flip and swim around in the bay.
“It's really neat how Santa Monica Bay has been designated as an aquatic preserve on this world,” Wade commented, observing the cheerful creatures play in the water. “No coastal port shipping into that city, but lots of tourism.”
“Professor!” Diana was scolding Arturo as the plump scientist stood at the edge of the pier, dropping large crumbs from his pretzel into the water. “We're not supposed to feed the dolphins. Especially not fattening food like that.”
Professor Arturo turned to face Diana as the docile yet personable dolphins eagerly caught Arturo's breadcrumb chunks in their mouths. “Dr. Davis, I'll have you know this is a whole wheat pretzel . . .”
“Yeah, slathered with salt.” Maggie patted the Professor against his ribcage. “There's already enough of that in the ocean.”
Wade grimaced. “Honestly, you're gonna clog up your arteries so fast . . .” she lectured Arturo.
The Professor clamped his hands over his ears. “Ladies, I really do not want to hear it. I deprived my body of any sodium or starches for three straight days. I believe I should be allowed to splurge a little, without you hens giving me the third degree!”
“Professor,” Janine told Arturo with a straight face, “I completely support your efforts to eat yourself into an early grave.” The rest of the sliders snickered, while Arturo simply grumbled.
Rembrandt and Malcolm came over to Quinn, who, along with Colin, was setting the new coordinates for their next slide. “So where we headed to next, Q-Ball?”
“We're taking another crack at reaching Kromagg Prime,” replied Quinn, as he finished punching in the final numerical digit. “World #639-745-101-118 awaits us. If we get bounced back to this Earth, then there's a good chance we've found our homeworld.”
“So what do we do then?” Malcolm asked.
“We're still working on predicting the correct encryption algorithm from the half of it stored on my microdot,” said Colin. “If we accurately extrapolate its probable product, the wormhole will be able to penetrate itself through to our world.”
Scratching his head, Mallory looked at Quinn. “What did your brother just say?”
“He's saying there's a formula that should let us pass through the Slidecage to enter Kromagg Prime,” explained Diana. “Michael Mallory would have had to have programmed a fail-safe into the microdots, so Quinn and Colin could return to their birthplace.”
Quinn nodded. “That's the theory, anyway. We came close in the past, but it backfired thanks to Isaac Clarke. We've been through this already, anyway.”
Taking the timer from his brother, Colin counted down the last few seconds aloud, as he extended his arm outward. “Five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . .” Activating the device, Colin triggered the vortex, which released its burst of light and wind onto the pier. “Go, everyone!”* * *
One moment, Mallory was soaring headfirst through the purple quantum tunnel, his friends sailing behind him. In the next moment, he plunged nosefirst onto a hard surface smack in front of a pair of sturdy boots. He peered upward to see a uniformed officer towering over him, aiming a rifle.
“Hi,” Mallory sheepishly greeted the armed official, as the slider crawled to his knees. “Please don't kill me.”
The swirling vortex remained stationary, but the ship's deck continued to sail forward as the rest of the interdimensional explorers spilled out of it. This at least ensured that the sliders didn't all land in a dogpile as they were each spat out onto the moving frigate's deck.
“Okay now, easy does it,” Rembrandt cautioned everyone, as he and his friends became aware of their surroundings. An entire crew of sailors had angled their rifles and guns at the perceived intruders.
A stocky, middle-aged man adorned in a decorated blue navy uniform marched forward onto the deck. “Who are you?!” he barked.
Maggie recognized his face immediately. “Redfield!” she blurted out.
“How do ya know my name?”
Sucking in a breath of air through her gums, Maggie realized she'd made a blunder. Fortunately, Diana stepped in to bail her out.
“Why, everyone knows who you are back on the coast,” she answered for Maggie.
“From the coast, are ya?” Alternate Redfield gruffly sized up the group. “What in tarnation was that shiny blob you fell outta?!”
“Me thinks they's spies, sir,” came another voice. A second familiar face, also dressed in a navy blue jacket and slacks, sauntered through the crowd of crewmen. She shook her shoulder-length brown hair and saluted to Alternate Redfield.
“Well, we'll see, won't we? Lock ‘em away, Lieutenant Brice! We'll deal with ‘em later.”
“Aye, aye, Captain Redfield.” Alternate Brice once again saluted her superior. “Move it, you skuzzy scalawags!” she commanded, as the sliders were herded up some stairs, closely guarded by the rifle-bearing navy crew.
Wade gave Arturo an odd look. “Skuzzy scalawags?” she whispered, in disbelief.
“Military jargon, Miss Welles,” the Professor whispered back.
The ten of them were corralled into a cramped storage room, filled with dozens of stacked crates containing fresh oranges. Only a small circular window framed with glass was carved into the wall.
“Well, this is cozy,” Malcolm sarcastically complained, sitting down on a crate of oranges.
“At least we won't go hungry,” pointed out Colin, cheerfully mustering a small smile.
“Yeah, and it could smell a lot worse,” agreed Mallory, taking an orange from one of the open crates. “We could be stuck in a room with crates full of rotting liver.”
Janine scratched her head. “Folks, something is terribly wrong with this picture. We landed on a ship in the middle of the ocean! All I saw out there surrounding us is water. Miles and miles of oceany goodness. No land.” She glanced at Quinn, Rembrandt, and Diana. “Didn't one of you say one time that we only can slide onto dry land?”
“Usually,” nodded Remmy. “Or at least nearby.”
“Well, the densitrometer could be acting up,” surmised Quinn. “Let me see the timer, bro.” He took the apparatus from Colin, who had stuffed it in his back pocket upon their arrival. “Our last timer, the Egyptian one, had a spatial differential fail-safe to make sure we'd lock onto a body of terrestrial mass when exiting the wormhole. So did my original timer. In fact, the densitometry infrastructure is part of the universal sliding equation, so I don't know why this timer wouldn't have one. But the design could be slightly different.” Quinn looked at Rembrandt. “Tell me again what my double said when he gave you this timer, Rem?”
Rembrandt shook his head. “You - I mean, he - didn't say much about it, Q-Ball. There was barely enough time for him to tell me it could track wormholes. The Kromaggots knocked him out before he was able to explain anything else.”
Diana spoke up. “Quinn, from examining it, and based on our past slides with it, this densitrometer has behaved almost identically to that of the Egyptian timer. I can't imagine why the fail-safe would work any differently.”
Quinn and Colin continued to open up the timer to examine its insides, and Professor Arturo came over to join them.
“What I can't get over is this funny feeling of déjà vu,” Maggie said. “This reminds me of when we were on Pirate World. Same faces, too - Redfield, Brice . . .”
“She had the hots for me,” Mallory nudged Wade teasingly when Maggie mentioned Brice's name.
“And we landed in the ocean, near an ocean freighter,” Maggie continued to recollect. “Except back then, our timer was on the fritz, remember?” She looked at Mallory, Rembrandt, and Diana.
Remmy nodded. “Oh, I remember!”
Diana tilted her head. “But wasn't that ship's captain named Thompson? I thought Redfield was a member of the Coast Guard on Pirate World?”
“A coastie!” Mallory light-heartedly snarled, in an exaggerated pirate voice.
“Yeah, and if I recall correctly, Captain Thompson was a bit friendlier to us than Captain Redfield has been,” grumbled Maggie. “And more hospitable, too. Didn't lock us up in a fruit cellar.”
Rembrandt shook his head, laughing. “That was the time we slid in underwater. I'll never forget that one! Boy, do I remember . . .”* * *
Rembrandt, Maggie, Diana, and Mallory ascended to the ocean surface, as their greenish-blue wormhole gyrated below them, face up beneath the water's depths.
“Son of a . . . !” Rembrandt gasped, inhaling large gulps of air as he struggled to keep his drenched head above the ocean's surface.
“C – c – cold . . . !” shivered Mallory, his teeth chattering while he lent his shoulder to Rembrandt for support.
Maggie choked out a mouthful of seawater. “Something . . . is definitely . . . screwed up here!” She squeezed the water out of her slicked back brown hair, which clung against her neck.
“Up ahead!” Diana pointed off in the distance. “I think it's a boat . . . a ship!”
“Great, maybe they have a hot sauna onboard,” Remmy joked, dogpaddling his legs as they swam toward it. “Man, am I glad I finally learned how to swim.” Rembrandt still balanced himself against Mallory; he wasn't quite fully accustomed to the skill of swimming yet.
Soon the anchor dropped, and Thompson's crew helped the four sliders onboard. Diana, Maggie, Mallory, and Rembrandt trudged up the stairway onto the ship, sopping wet. Diana was the first one to completely board the vessel. She was greeted by Brice, who handed Diana a towel.
“Ma'am, right this way,” Brice directed Diana, as the physicist accepted the warm blanket.
“Thank you,” Diana replied, almost bitterly, plodding forward as she took the blanket. Diana rolled her eyes slightly. How had they ended up in the Pacific Ocean?
Maggie was next. “Thank you,” she whispered with a frigid gasp, her shaky, shivering hand accepting the blanket from Brice.
“Here you go, sir.” Brice gave another gray blanket to Mallory. He took it, and followed Maggie. Rembrandt was the last one up the steps; he graciously received Brice's token of warmth.
As the sliders, wrapped in their towels and blankets, strode onto the main deck, Captain Thompson descended some stairs from a higher platform. “Keep an eye on ‘em, boys,” he instructed his crew. Thompson approached the sliders, sizing them up with a serious expression on his face. He stared at them expectantly, and said with a straight face, “Tickets, please?”
Diana exchanged puzzled glances with Rembrandt, as did Maggie with Mallory. For a moment, Maggie and Diana looked as though they were slightly frightened, as if to say, “How are we going to pay for this?”
Captain Thompson suddenly broke into laughter. “Just kidding,” he chortled. The captain kept snickering as he boasted to his subordinates, “I said ‘Tickets, please.' I've been waiting years to say that.” During this entire time, Brice kept staring straight ahead, frowning seriously. As Maggie gave Captain Thompson a nervous smile, and Diana looked at Rembrandt again obviously baffled by the captain's intended humor, Thompson addressed the sliders with recomposed sincerity. “Welcome aboard. I am Captain Thompson.”
“Captain Thompson, listen we're very grateful,” Rembrandt thanked him.
“Very lucky is more like it,” Thompson retorted. “How did you get out there?”
Mallory rushed to conjure up an excuse, as Maggie glanced expectantly at him to think of something. “We were out fishing. Sprung a leak.”
“A . . . big one,” Maggie awkwardly elaborated.
“Captain, where are we bound for?” asked Diana, inquisitively.
“Bound for trouble if we sit dead in these waters much longer,” Captain Thompson vaguely said, foreshadowing the imminent conflict. He called over to his deckhands, “Prepare to get underway!” Turning back to the quartet of newcomers, Thompson offered, “Now if you have any needs, please ask any member of my crew. You're more than welcome to make yourselves at home in my galley. If you'll excuse me . . .” Walking away with Brice, Captain Thompson snickered at his own joke again, under his breath, “Tickets, please . . .”
Diana chuckled nervously in return, and then made a face while bulging out her eyes, clearly showing how she thought Thompson was nuts.* * *
“Yeah, that Captain Thompson sounds like a real ham,” Janine dryly remarked.
“Well, he thought he was funny . . . but at least Thompson treated us more humanely than Redfield has.” Diana jiggled the doorknob, which was locked and bolted from the other side. “Not caged us up like wild animals.”
“I guess we can't blame him too much,” Malcolm reconsidered. “After all, we just jumped out of a big funnel that appeared in the sky. For all he knows, we could be spies who used some new, experimental technology.” He took a slight inhalation of breath, and exhaled sort of uncomfortably.
Maggie stared up at the ceiling, thinking in retrospect. “If I remember correctly, we've met at least two other doubles of Redfield. The one who was a ‘coastie,' and then that sheriff back on Wild West World who made me work as a songbird at the local saloon.”
“Hey, maybe you can entertain this Redfield's crew by singing ‘Tight Pants' for them after the anchor drops tonight,” grinned Quinn, teasingly.
“Very funny,” Maggie sarcastically retorted with a sneer in her voice, wiggling her head at Quinn, who just laughed.
“So what's going on with the timer?” Wade asked Quinn and Colin. “Is it the same thing that happened to the four of them on Pirate World?”
Colin snapped the timer's display panel shut, closing the interior of the device. “I am at a loss for answers.”
“Here, let the Professor take a crack at it,” Arturo referred to himself in third person, taking the timer from Colin. As he examined it, Professor Arturo asked, “Dr. Davis, did you ever figure out what was wrong with the Egyptian timer? Why it caused you to exit the wormhole beneath the ocean?”
“It was running out of power,” Diana said. “Eventually I determined that it had difficulty locking onto a quantum vibrational rate because its scarab beetle crystals became defective. I replaced it with one of the living gems of Chapere that vibrated a 9 on the Hertz scale, jewels which we obtained a couple of worlds later. That stabilized our timer's ability to measure frequency rates of parallel universes. But while we were stranded on Thompson's ship, at that point I didn't have the slightest idea how to fix our problem.”* * *
Mallory finished warming his wet hands with the archaic blow-dryer that was attached to the galley wall of Thompson's ship. “Man, am I pruny,” he joked, studying the soft wrinkles on his hands. He joined Maggie, Diana, and Rembrandt, who were gathered around an old wooden dining table inside the galley.
“What the hell happened?” grumbled Maggie, as she sat down at the table while clutching a steamy mug of hot cocoa. “We never slid in underwater before. Next thing you know we'll be popping out of the wormhole underground or a thousand feet in the air.”
“Something like this really shakes my confidence in the whole process,” Mallory agreed, leaning over to wrap a shawl around Diana.
“Thanks,” Diana said to Mallory, softly and graciously.
Rembrandt thought for a moment. “Q-Ball mentioned something about a spatial differential fail-safe that would only let us slide onto dry land.”
Diana had been fiddling around with the sliding contraption, trying to find the problem with its internal system. “You guys, something is wrong with the timer.”
“Duh!” sneered Maggie, irritably raising her eyebrows as she brought the mug to her lips.
“No, I mean, it's having trouble locking onto a stable set of slide coordinates,” Diana clarified, ignoring Maggie's sarcasm.
“Getting it wet probably didn't help,” lamented Mallory, pensively.
“No, it's weatherproof. I mean, the seawater shouldn't have bothered it.” Diana held up the timer and asked Rembrandt, “Have you ever changed the batteries in this?”
Remmy stood up, shaking his head as he walked over to the kitchen counter. “Look, this is no time for jokes, girl.”
“No joke. A loss of power might explain why we weren't able to lock onto a stable landing site.” Diana looked at them and asked with exasperation, “Did you think this thing would just run forever?”
Rembrandt poured himself another cup of cocoa. “I suppose a trip to Radio Shack for batteries would do the trick.”
Diana sighed loudly and shook her head, clearly frustrated. “Um, I can probably give it a jump-start with my PDL, but . . . we could be in for some pretty rough slides.” Mallory glanced over at Maggie. Maggie looked to Rembrandt for comfort. Rembrandt wore a worried expression. “If we slide at all,” Dr. Davis added, tentatively.
“Oh man . . .” Rembrandt quietly groaned.* * *
Someone vigorously rapped on the door, interrupting their flashback. The door-tapping repeated a second time, and then the entrance became unlatched and unlocked. Alternate Brice poked her head into the room, still nursing a gun in one hand.
“Refreshments, ladies,” she deridingly announced to them. With her free arm, Alternate Brice tossed three canteens into the fruit cellar. “Should last ya ‘til supper.”
Rembrandt stood to confront Alternate Brice, but he took a cautious step backward as she cocked her weapon at him. “When can we talk to the captain?”
“And why would Captain Redfield wanna chomp the lard with a pack of spies?” she snorted.
“We're not spies!” Wade snapped, irritated.
Arturo stepped forward, diplomatically. “Madam, I can assure you, there is a perfectly logical explanation for our sudden appearance.”
“Oh yeah?” Alternate Brice chewed on her bottom lip, thinking. “I'm sure the admiral would love to hear it, then. And if you're lyin' . . . well, you know what they did to Marie Antoinette - we'll do that to every inch of your mangy bodies!” She snorted again. “We'll be arrivin' in Waikiki in a couple of days, so maybe we'll sacrifice ya to the natives? Yeah, sure, ya wanna try to talk yourselves out of your pickle, eh? I'll have to clear it with Captain Redfield first, dontcha know. You can plead your case to him, and if he don't buy it, you get to pay a visit to Admiral Paxton. And then, well, may God have mercy on your gonads!” She abruptly slammed the door, and it mechanically locked and bolted shut again.
“Well, isn't she Little Miss Sunshine,” quipped Janine, sardonically.
“She might as well be a pirate,” Mallory mumbled. “The Brice I know at least bothered to brush her teeth.” He crinkled up his nose, pointedly.
Maggie stopped in realization. “Wait, did she say Admiral PAXTON?”
“Is this the same Paxton I remember from Pirate World?” Rembrandt hesitantly asked.
“I wouldn't be surprised, Rem,” admitted Diana. “In fact, I'd wager that we're probably in the multiversal vicinity of Pirate World. Numerically, that is.”
“Ah, the Lange theorem,” Colin realized, with clarity.
“Huh?” Malcolm gave them all a blank stare.
“We could be right next door, so to speak, to this aforevisited ‘Pirate World' of theirs, Mr. Eastman,” spoke Professor Arturo, eloquently shedding some light on the subject. “Or at least, a few dimensions over, give or take.”
“In other words,” picked up Quinn, “we're in the neighborhood of Pirate World, as far as dimensional coordinates are numbered and layered throughout the multiverse. So this Earth probably has some point of divergence relative to the world where Thompson's ship was raided by Paxton's pirates. Sounds like Lange's reasoning to me.”
“Why else would we be encountering so many of the same people in such a similar situation?” Diana rhetorically inquired. “Now if we could only figure out what went wrong with our sliding radius.”
Maggie began passing around the canteens of cold water. “Well, let's think back to what happened last time . . .”* * *
The ship's bell chimed to mark the hour, as Rembrandt, Maggie, and Diana strolled across the main deck's platform.
“We have three days until our next slide window. I can probably have the timer recharged enough by then to open the wormhole.” As Diana ascended up some stairs to a higher deck with Remmy and Maggie, she threw up her hands helplessly. “After that, I don't know.”
As they continued walking, Rembrandt surveyed Thompson's crew, some members of whom were positioned at one of the watchtower stations. The shiphands and sentrymen peered across the empty ocean through their binoculars and telescopes. They were on the lookout for pirates, as the sliders would later discover. “I wonder what they're looking for?” Rembrandt pondered, gesturing at the crew. “It's about time we ask the captain where we're headed.”
“Maybe there be sea monsters?” Diana quipped, with monotonous sardonic humor.
“Don't even joke,” Maggie sportively reprimanded her, pointing at Diana.
Mallory came jogging over to join his friends, having chatted with a couple of the deckhands. “Ready for some good news?”
“Always,” said Rembrandt.
Grinning cheerfully, Mallory informed them, “We dock in Hawaii in two days. Aloha, wahines.”
“Hawaii?” Maggie repeated, both confused and disappointed. She had been anticipating an eastward sea course straight to California for the ship. “We're not heading back to the mainland?”
“What's the big deal?” asked Mallory, a big smile remaining on his face. He was still excited at the prospect of a Hawaiian vacation. “I thought you guys would be itching for a change of locale?”
“Haven't you ever wondered why we always end up in Southern California?” Rembrandt challenged Mallory. He, Diana, and Maggie began climbing up some more stairs to an even higher deck, as Mallory lagged behind. The ocean liner was beginning to feel like a layered cake to them. “We never slide into New York or Paris?”
“It's our sliding radius,” explained Maggie. The four of them passed the boat dock that bordered a narrow aisle they were following, where crew members were loading smaller boats.
Mallory was confused. “Sliding radius?”
“We have about a 400-mile radius from the point of our original slide,” Rembrandt filled in the blanks, as the quartet's veteran member. “So we have to be inside of that zone when the timer reaches zero.”
“Or . . . ?” pressed Mallory.
They stopped walking. “I don't know,” answered Maggie. “We've never tried sliding outside our zone before.”
“So maybe nothing happens? Maybe you just move your sliding zone and start over?” Mallory speculated, with raised eyebrows.
“Maybe you're right,” Maggie conceded. “But if the timer's on the fritz I don't want to start sliding from some island in the middle of the Pacific. We could end up in the water again.”
“Or the vortex might not open up at all,” Diana pointed out for Mallory's benefit. “Or we could slide in and not slide out. Or . . .”
Mallory relented. “I get the picture.”
“Well,” stated Rembrandt, earnestly, “we gotta get back to that mainland.”* * *
“Okay, so there's obviously something wrong with the timer,” Mallory said. “How do we fix it?”
Diana shook her head as she shut down her PDL, which she'd been using to run a scan on the timer. “I can't find any mechanical irregularities. I don't know why we exited the wormhole several miles off the Californian coast. The spatial differential fail-safe created by Quinn and his alternates should have prevented that.”
“Unless . . .” A thought suddenly struck Quinn. “I programmed the fail-safe to lock onto a mass of dry land. But what if this timer's fail-safe interpreted Redfield's ship as ‘dry land.' This ship could have been at the very edge of our sliding radius just as we slid into this dimension. So what if the vortex dropped us onto the ship deck, which is technically a solid surface? After all, upon our arrival we would have been surrounded by nothing else but water, so the ocean liner would have been the only logical place for us to land since it was probably nearest to our initial point of entry on this Earth.”
Arturo bit his lip. “That seems to be the only explanation that makes sense, Mr. Mallory.”
“Professor, since when did anything we do ever make sense?” Rembrandt asked.
“So that means the timer isn't malfunctioning?” Wade requested a clarification.
“It doesn't appear to be, Wade,” Diana reassured her. “If Quinn's theory holds true - which I suspect it does - then we could have entered this world as far as 400 miles southwest of San Francisco and still remained within our radius. That would still have put us in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but since this ship would have been the first solid surface of mass that our vortex detected, then this was where it plunked us down.”
“So if this ship hadn't been around when we first slid in, what would have happened?” inquired Malcolm.
Colin exchanged knowing looks with his brother. “We would have been diverted back to the closest point along the West Coast, Malcolm.”
Nodding in agreement, Quinn affirmed, “In other words, we had some bad luck. That's why I originally programmed in the fail-safe. I didn't want to end up sliding into San Francisco Bay. Or in case I'd slid onto a world where pure ocean existed in place of a terrestrial continent . . .”
“You think of everything,” Maggie gently teased Quinn, clasping his arm.
“Okay then,” Janine reasoned, “so all we need to do is get them to turn this boat around and take us back to California.”
“Except Redfield might not be so willing to cooperate,” pointed out Mallory. “Captain Thompson sure wasn't. Not even when I was about to pass a kidney stone.”
“Huh?!” Janine looked at Mallory like he was insane.* * *
“You want us to turn around?” Captain Thompson stared, puzzled, at the sliders. They surrounded him as he checked over some equipment inside the captain's compartment.
“It's very important,” stressed Rembrandt.
“Sorry folks,” Thompson blew off their request. “But I have cargo that needs to be in Honolulu day after tomorrow. Now you can hop the next ship back once we get there. Should put you back in L.A. by the next week.”
“Well, that's too late,” Diana matter-of-factly protested, gesturing with her hand.
Thompson picked up a data log used for navigation. “Too late for what?”
“Medical emergency,” improvised Maggie, hesitantly.
“Well, what's the problem?” asked Captain Thompson.
Making an impromptu excuse, Maggie lied, “Mallory has kidney stones, and, uh,” she glanced back at Mallory, “he can't pass them. It's very painful.”
“What?” Mallory looked at Maggie, confused.
Maggie abruptly jabbed Mallory in his gut with her elbow, and Mallory grunted in pain. “See?” Maggie emphasized to Captain Thompson.
The captain looked up from his data log, sympathetically. “Well, I'll have the ship's doctor take a look but that's the best I can do.”
Diana then suggested, “What about a medevac?”
“A what?” Thompson squinted in confusion.
“A chopper. A . . . helicopter,” explained Rembrandt, motioning with his hands as he spoke. “Something that will fly us back to L.A.”
“I don't know what an ‘helicopter' is,” said Captain Thompson, “but you're not going to find an aeroplane that can fly this far out to sea. Even if you could afford it. Sorry.” He exited the cabin, leaving them behind, helpless.* * *
“So maybe they do have airplanes on THIS world?” Janine said. “We can just grab a flight back to California once we arrive in Hawaii.”
“Not with our luck,” muttered Maggie.
“First we have to figure out how many miles away from the coast we are,” Quinn pointed out. “We'll need enough time to fly back to the West Coast across the Pacific. And we have less than two days before the window opens.”
“Then there's the whole matter of actually booking a flight on such short notice, not to mention paying for it,” Rembrandt added. “And this world might not have ATM machines that we can raid.”
Wade looked around at everyone. “Great!” she pouted. “So what are our options?”
“I say we abandon ship right now,” Maggie declared. She kicked a stray orange across the floor using the tip of her shoe. “These people obviously are not going to let us go.”
“Good idea. Except,” Malcolm gazed out of the tiny porthole window, staring at the wide open sea, “how do we get out of here? And how do we jump ship without drowning or getting killed? We don't even know how far out we'd have to swim to reach dry land.” He paused to brush a layer of sweat away from his forehead.
Diana sighed. “Malcolm's right. We're outnumbered. There may be ten of us, but there must be at least five times as many of them. Probably more. Our best bet is probably diplomacy.”
“So let's talk to Captain Redfield,” suggested Colin.
Mallory balled up his hands into fists and began loudly pounding them against the sturdy cellar door. “Yo, shipmates! Can we talk to Redfield yet?!” he hollered.
“Yeah, very diplomatic, Fog Boy,” mumbled Remmy, rolling his eyes with sarcasm.
Alternate Brice yanked open the door, shooting a venomous glare at Mallory. He backed away, giving her a nervous wave with his shaky hand. Alternate Brice cleared her throat, as some armed deckhands flanked her. “Captain Redfield will give ya his ear. But only one of you can go.”
“No way!” Maggie protested. “We all stay together.”
“Sorry, but that ain't gonna wash,” said Alternate Brice, authoritatively. “We gotta keep you separate for security purposes.”
Arturo raised his hand. “Madam, may I suggest you let half of our party speak with the captain? The other half of us would remain here as . . . collateral, so to speak.”
Biting her lip again, Alternate Brice pondered Arturo's proposal. “Two of ya can come,” she bargained.
“Four,” Maggie stated, not flinching.
“Maggie,” hissed Mallory, pointedly.
“Three. Take it or leave it.” Alternate Brice folded her arms.
Maggie opened her mouth again, but Quinn quickly slapped his hand over it. “We'll take it,” he eagerly accepted.
“We'll give ya a sec to decide who's it gonna be,” Alternate Brice told them. “I'll be right outside, you hear?” She backed out of the room and slammed the door shut.
Malcolm faced the group. “So, who's it gonna be?” He took another deep breath.
“I nominate Remmy.” Wade raised her hand.
“I second that, Cryin' Man.” Quinn winked and slapped his friend of seven years on the back.
“Aw, I'm touched.” Rembrandt blushed slightly, but everyone seemed to be in agreement.
“I say we send along Diana, too,” added Janine. “She can do all the egghead math when it comes to figuring out how far away from the coast we are.” She gave Diana a superlative smile.
“Gee, thanks, Janine,” Diana said, half-sarcastic, half-flattered. “But you're right - Remmy and I have both been through this game before.”
“So who's our third?” Quinn asked.
Maggie's hand was raised in an instant. “Me, of course. I know how to deal with military men . . . and military women.”
Her declaration was followed by an awkward pause.
Maggie elbowed Quinn in the ribcage. “Well, nominate me, Quinn. What are you waiting for?” she conspicuously whispered to her significant other.
“Um, Maggie . . .” Wade was trying to choose her words carefully.
“You're not exactly the most tactful slider,” Janine bluntly spoke what Wade and everyone else was thinking.
“I am so tactful!” Maggie snapped at Janine, flaring. She lowered her voice. “When I need to be.”
“Well you need to be, girl,” Rembrandt told her. “This is a do-or-die situation for us, in case you haven't noticed.”
“Besides, Maggie,” pointed out Malcolm, “Remmy already has Navy experience.”
“Yeah, as a fry cook! No offense, Rem.” Maggie blushed sheepishly as she realized she wasn't selling herself too well.
“How about we send the Professor with Diana and Rembrandt?” proposed Colin, tossing an orange up in the air. “He speaks quite eloquently.”
“Why Mr. Mallory, I'm flattered . . .” Arturo blushed, taken with mild surprise at his nomination.
“I'm not!” Maggie spat out. “You accuse me of having a hot temper, and then nominate HIM of all people to go argue on our behalf?!” She stuck her finger pointedly in Professor Arturo's direction.
“I beg your pardon, Miss Beckett?!” solicited the Professor, tersely. “I am one of the most reasonable individuals here, not to mention the wisest, by far! I was composing hypotheses for theoretical physics while you were still bawling and drooling in your playpen!” Despite his endorsement from Colin, Professor Arturo's temper had risen from Maggie's criticism.
“Oh yeah? Then how come Quinn was the one who invented sliding?” Maggie smirked at Arturo.
The Professor glared at her. “I would have cracked the sliding equation had Mr. Mallory's double not paid him an interdimensional visit and given him a quantum cheat sheet!” he practically roared.
“Stop fighting! And keep your voices down,” Malcolm hissed at them, “or they might not let ANY of us go to see the captain.” The adolescent grimaced, and stuck his fingers on his temples to try to compose himself.
“So who do YOU think should be the third person, Malcolm?” Maggie challenged him, putting her hands on her hips.
Malcolm looked Maggie straight in the eye. “Wade,” he firmly said. “I think Wade would be our best choice.”
Mallory patted Malcolm on the shoulder, fraternally. “I nominate Wade to go with Rem and Diana, too.”
Rolling her eyes, Maggie scoffed, “Well of course YOU'D say that, Mallory. You're banging her every night!”
“Hey!” Wade glared at Maggie, about ready to get into it with her.
“Maggie, think about it,” Janine reasoned. “Wade won't seem nearly as intimidating to them as you would. Plus she knows witchcraft, and can use it against them if necessary.”
Blushing, Wade pressed her lips together. “Thanks, Janine. But it's not like I'm a sorceress or anything. I can't just use my powers at will. And even if I could, that certainly wouldn't make me less intimidating to them.”
“But if they make you angry enough, you can at least release a telekinetic blast,” Colin reminded her. “That would allow for a fast getaway.”
“You ladies don't have all day!” Alternate Brice's voice echoed from behind the cabin floor. “Just pick threes of ya and be done with it! You ain't shoppin' for shoes!”
So it was decided. Wade, Diana, and Rembrandt were escorted out of the storage cellar at gunpoint, and led up and down several corridors until they reached the outside deck.
“Wow, check out that sunset,” Rembrandt remarked, observing the reddish sphere, emitting subtle rays of misty residue signaling dusk, fade below the horizon.
“Must be almost supper,” estimated Diana, as she and her two companions were ushered along the outer deck.
“The captain is enjoyin' a nice, fat, juicy steak right now,” Alternate Brice informed them. “He'll see ya once he finishes lickin' the last of the grease from his plate.”
“Gee, he sounds charming already,” Wade muttered.
Rembrandt stopped in his tracks. “Wade . . . Diana . . . do you see what I see?”
On the prow of the ship, a carved wooden figurehead was prominently raised; the intricate woodcarving was painted appropriate colors. The figurehead depicted a busty female body, albeit one clothed in a respectable Navy uniform. But this figurehead resembled someone awfully familiar . . .
“The U.S.S. Maggie Beckett?” Diana read from the embossed lettering printed upon a silver-plated plaque beneath the figurehead statue.
Alternate Brice paused to salute Alternate Maggie's magnificent figurehead likeness. “Yes, ma'am. Admiral Beckett was one of the greatest Navy women to sail the waters of the Pacific. Sadly, she and her crew were swallowed whole by a cyclone off the coast of Eastern Samoa right before the turn-of-the-century. A pitiful waste of womanpower, dontcha know.” Bristling, Alternate Brice gave the three sliders a shove forwarded with her musket. “Get going, now! Captain Redfield don't have all night!”
Wade, Rembrandt, and Diana were corralled into a fairly large cabin, decorated with wall-to-wall royal blue velvety fabric. Several plush sofas and armchairs were arranged in a semicircle around a coffee table. The walls of the room were garnished with a number of hanging, painted wooden ornaments resembling sea creatures: dolphins, sharks, whales, and octopi. Alternate Redfield lounged back on a silk recliner; the captain rested a plate of sirloin on his lap as he stuffed his face with forkfuls of the tender meat.
“Welcome to my quarters,” he greeted them, in a voice lacking any warmth or sincerity. “I'd offer you a bite to eat, but this bovine is just too damn tasty to share.”
Three uniformed officers from his crew piled into the room, armed with muskets. They stood strategically around the room; one of the officers slammed the door shut.
“Thanks, but no thanks.” Rembrandt cleared his throat. “Captain, we really would appreciate it if we could get back to the mainland as soon as possible.”
“Oh, you would, eh? And why is that?” Alternate Redfield tilted his head, suspiciously.
“Yes!” insisted Wade. “It's an emergency!”
“What kind of emergency?”
The three of them stayed silent.
“Ah, I see. So it's important, but not important enough for you to share with a U.S. Naval Officer?” The captain shrugged. “Then I guess you'll just have to remain with us until we dock in Waikiki. We'll turn you over to the Feds, and perhaps they can motivate you to talk.”
“Okay, okay, you caught us.” Diana threw up her hands. “We are quantum physicists working on a top-secret government experiment . . . well, not so secret anymore, thanks to you. That space fold your crew saw us exit is actually an experimental form of quantum teleportation. Our head physicist back at the lab programmed it to land us at the coordinates of your ship, because it's a classified project that only military personnel can be allowed to know about at this point.”
Remmy and Wade gaped at Diana improvisation, looking quite impressed at her quick thinking.
Alternate Redfield looked skeptical. “So if the U.S.S. Maggie Beckett was the target destination in your experiment, then why did neither myself nor Admiral Paxton have any prior knowledge of this?”
Diana bit her lip, nervously. “I'm sure Admiral Paxton did,” she bluffed. “He obviously kept it from you for reasons of his own.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Alternate Redfield pursed his lips together. “And why would they test these so-called ‘space folds' with ten of you guinea pigs? I believe I counted ten in your party.”
“We were testing to see how much weight our vortex could support . . .” Rembrandt began.
“Nice try, civilians,” interrupted Alternate Redfield. “But your story has more holes in it than Swiss cheese in a rat's nest.” He coughed loudly, and guzzled down a large swig from his glass mug of foamy beer.
“Please, we have to get back to California,” Wade pleaded with him. “Can't you turn this ship around?”
“I could, but I won't. I've got a shipment I gotta get delivered.”
“A shipment of what?” Diana demanded.
“Oh, as if you don't already know!” Alternate Redfield shook his head, and stabbed another forkful of beef from his plate.
Rembrandt exhaled. “Okay then, can we at least radio for help, to get an helicopter out here to pick us up? Or at least so we can book the first flight back home once we reach Hawaii?”
Alternate Redfield shook his head again. “I'm afraid that won't be possible.”
“Surely you must have a radio?” pressed Diana.
“Oh, we do. But there's no way I'm lettin' you people use it. You see, I can't take the risk that you folks might be engagin' in espionage . . . if I let you use a radio, you may attempt to transmit some sort of coded message to your employers.” The captain snorted. “And as for an airplane or helicopter, keep dreamin'. The Wright Brothers couldn't make it work; I don't see how you'd be able to.”
“Fine then.” Rembrandt took a deep breath. “Can you give us a dingy and a compass, and we'll find our own way back? Let us fend for ourselves.”
Laughing uproariously, Alternate Redfield pounded his fist on the table. “Don't you understand?” he chuckled, as his face became red with amusement. “You're not goin' anywhere. Once we arrive in Waikiki, you will be interrogated and turned over to the appropriate government officials. You don't seriously think I actually buy your ridiculous claim about ‘teleportation experiments,' do ya?! I know exactly what your agenda is - you people are after my cargo!”
“We don't even know what cargo you're carrying! We're telling you the truth!” Wade exploded at him.
Alternate Redfield yawned. “Take them away,” he casually ordered to his subordinate officers. “I wish to finish my dinner in peace.”
Rembrandt, Diana, and Wade flinched as the armed naval guards advanced toward them, weapons in hand.
Wade's body temperature rose, as her pulse began racing, heart began pounding, and skin began sweating. “Gela!” she spontaneously shouted, throwing her hands outward as an instinctive defense reaction.
The guards were suddenly rendered immobile.
“Oh . . . my . . . Wade?” Diana's voice shook as her eyes became round as saucers.
“Girl, what did you just do?” Rembrandt stared around the room at their captors. The three officers were each frozen solid in mid-stride. Alternate Redfield, meanwhile, sat motionless against his recliner, his mouth suspended while open, and his fork positioned frozen toward his mouth with a big chunk of meat stuck through the fork's prongs.
“I don't know . . . it just . . . happened!” Wade was more shocked than either of her friends. “I felt the same kind of twinge as when I use telekinesis . . . except these people just froze.”
Diana scratched her head. “It could be an extension of your telekinesis,” she theorized to Wade. “That would be ‘cryokinesis,' the ability to suspend matter in a state of temporal stasis. Although I don't understand why it didn't freeze Rembrandt and myself too? . . .”
“Well, I don't know how long they'll stay this way,” said Wade. She looked totally baffled. “I wasn't even trying to do anything to them. The mental energy I released just suddenly . . . popped out!”
Rembrandt touched Diana's shoulders. “You better check the timer, while they're still in limbo. We probably don't want them to see it while they're conscious.”
Diana nodded, pulling the timer out of her pocket. “40 hours and 16 minutes,” she reported, eyeing the display panel. “That gives us a little over a day and a half to get back to the mainland. Or at least, to get within our sliding radius. Even if we're still out on the ocean, as long as we're back in the 400-mile zone our next slide should plunk us back down on the continent.” She slid her timer back in her vest pocket, just as Alternate Redfield and his bodyguards were unfreezing.
Alternate Redfield blinked. “Gela? Gela-what?!” he demanded from Wade.
“Um . . .” Wade was hesitant to explain to him what her Latin incantation had meant.
“Gela . . . tin. Gelatin,” Rembrandt improvised, somewhat uncertain of himself. “Wade needs gelatin - or something else with sugar in it. She's a diabetic, and she forgot her insulin back in California.”
Wade looked at Rembrandt like he'd gone insane. “Yeah,” she played along, hesitantly. “I need my insulin, or I'll just go crazy!” She said these last words while pointedly staring at Remmy.
“Captain, how far out to sea are we, exactly?” Diana inquired.
“Must be at least 1,000 miles off the coast by now, due southwest,” estimated Alternate Redfield, gruffly. “Now are you fools gonna tell me who you really are? Or do I send ya back to rot with your friends?”
Neither Rembrandt nor Diana nor Wade knew how to respond.
“So be it!” he growled. “I guess you'll be payin' a visit to Admiral Paxton, then. I'd say a prayer for ya, but I'm lookin' forward to watchin' the sharks eat ya for lunch . . .”* * *
“So what happened?” Mallory asked eagerly, as Wade, Remmy, and Diana were shoved back inside the crowded fruit cellar to rejoin their friends.
Diana folded her arms and sighed. “We couldn't convince Redfield. He was more unreasonable than Captain Thompson.”
Shaking her head, Maggie stomped her foot. “I knew it! I knew I should have gone with. He would have listened to me!”
“Maggie, he wouldn't have listened to Jesus Christ himself,” Rembrandt said, shaking his head. “Redfield won't let us radio out or even lend us a lifeboat.”
“Why not?” Colin inquired, somewhat naively.
“He doesn't trust us,” stated Diana, rolling her eyes. She sounded equally as exasperated as Rembrandt. “He thinks we're covert spies trying to steal his cargo.”
“What kind of cargo is Redfield hauling?” Janine asked.
“He won't tell us,” scoffed Wade. “Captain Redfield seems convinced we know what's on this ship, but I guess he's not taking any chances. He told us we'll have to convince Admiral Paxton of our innocence.”
“Or . . . ?” Quinn waited to hear the consequences.
“Or we will probably all be forced to walk the plank, Mr. Mallory. So to speak,” articulated the Professor.
“Been there, done that,” Mallory mumbled.
“Oh, but get this,” Rembrandt spoke up, recalling their confrontation with the captain. “When Redfield's thugs came at us, Wade tried to use her telekinesis on them - and she froze them instead!”
Everyone gaped at Wade.
“Trippin'!” exclaimed an astounded Mallory, grinning proudly at his girlfriend.
Wade shrugged, perplexed. “It was by mistake. I just emotionally exploded, and suddenly the whole room was frozen.”
“Except for us.” Diana indicated herself and Rembrandt.
“Weird.” Janine squinted. “How do you think that happened?”
Wade shrugged again. “Rem and Diana weren't the ones I was fed up with. I suppose that made them immune to my anger.”
Malcolm touched Wade's arm supportively. “How do you feel about it? I mean, you said you didn't do it on purpose . . .” He stopped to cough raucously, pausing to take a deep breath of discomfort.
Nodding, Wade admitted, “That's just it, Malcolm. It wasn't a conscious act on my part at all. It was as though I didn't even have control of my own body.”
“Well, Redfield and his crew didn't seem to notice anything.” Rembrandt sighed. “I guess we oughtta just count our blessings.”
“In the meantime,” asserted Diana, “we need to figure out a way back to the coast. And I think air travel is out of the question . . . Redfield implied that airplanes never became a form of mainstream transportation on this world.”
Quinn groaned. “So much for booking a last-minute flight once we arrive on Oahu.”
Diana shook her head, in concession. “Redfield said we're at least 1,000 miles southwest of California. That means we've gone outside our sliding radius.”
“So then we need to turn this ship around,” Maggie declared.
“But how do we do it?” Rembrandt challenged. “Redfield isn't about to let us anywhere near his steering wheel.”
Maggie thought for a moment. “You guys said that they're letting us make a plea to Paxton. What if I tried to convince him that we're telling the truth?”
“Er, Miss Beckett . . .” Arturo began to interject.
“No!” Maggie cut him off, sticking out her finger. “You guys had your chance. Now it's my turn to come up with the plan. I knew how to relate to Paxton's double on Pirate World, so I can make this Paxton understand that we're telling the truth.”
Wade shook her head. “Maggie, that's not a good idea . . .”
Maggie scoffed. “Wade, you can't stand the thought that I might actually be right, can you?!”
“No, Maggie, it's REALLY not a good idea.” Rembrandt held Maggie's shoulders firmly, and made direct eye contact with her. “Your double on this world was a navy admiral who died at sea. If someone on Redfield's crew recognizes you, we'll be in even more hot water. They'll think you're trying to impersonate your double. And we've been through that song-and-dance before, remember?”
Maggie Beckett looked dumbfounded. “If I'm so famous on this Earth, why has no one recognized me so far?”
“Probably because the Admiral Beckett of this world had darker hair than you, almost jet black,” Diana informed Maggie. “Yours is bright red, so it's probably been enough to distract the crew away from your facial features . . . for now. But if you don't lay low, it'll only be a matter of time before someone makes the connection. Admiral Paxton would certainly realize who you are, since he was probably acquainted with your alternate self.”
Throwing up her hands, Maggie remained in disbelief. “I can't believe this! How can I be an admiral? I would never join the Navy! No offense, Rem . . .” She rotated her strained gaze. “Maybe it was just someone who looked like me?”
“Maggie, it was you!” Rembrandt insisted to her. “We saw your likeness carved as this ship's figurehead. The only difference was your - er, her - hair color, just like Diana told you.”
“So maybe it was another dark brunette who just looked a lot like me?” Maggie desperately rationalized.
“Maggie, this ship is called the U.S.S. Maggie Beckett!” Wade told her. “What other proof do you need?”
Janine chortled. “Gee Maggie, you're a ‘tough bitch' on every world we visit.”
Quinn softly placed his hand on Maggie's shoulder. “Maggie, we know you just want to help us all get out of here. But the best thing you can do for us is to just lay low and stay out of the fray.”
Maggie sighed, in resignation. She went over to one of the wooden boxes and took a seat, sulking.
“Okay, kids. We still need a plan,” Mallory reminded them. “If we're 1,000 miles off the coast, we only need to go back the way we came by 600 miles to land back in our zone.”
“So the only way I can see us backtracking is if we somehow steal a lifeboat or a dingy,” Diana said. “And even then, we'll need to find one that can hold the ten of us, and we'll have to elude Redfield. He's not letting us off voluntarily, and I don't see how we can take over the ship's controls.”
“Well, I'm clueless,” Janine sighed. “Anyone got any ideas? Rembrandt? Diana? Quinn?” The three of them each shook their heads as Janine addressed them in turn. “Colin? Professor? Wade? No, huh? Malcolm, what do you think?”
Malcolm opened his mouth to talk, but nothing came out except for a hoarse gasp. The adolescent collapsed onto the floor in a heap, coughing and sputtering for breath.”
“Malcolm!” shouted out Rembrandt. He dropped to his knees and kneeled at the teenager's side. Remmy called over his shoulder, “Someone get Brice! Tell her we need a doctor!”
Mallory pounded his fists against the steel door. “Yo! We need a doctor! We've got a sick boy in here!” he yelled.
“Go to hell!” they heard a miscellaneous voice snarl back in response.
Diana kneeled next to Rembrandt and placed her hand over Malcolm's forehead to feel his temperature. “He's burning up, Remmy,” the physicist reported. “High fever, probably been building up for hours. It may even be some sort of tropical disease he's contracted. We're probably far south enough.”
Arturo popped open the last remaining canteen that had water in it. “We must cool the boy off.” He gently poured some water over Malcolm's face and forehead. “The only way we'll break his fever is if we get young Malcolm out of the heat.”
Quinn joined Mallory by the door, hollering at the crew outside. “Are you listening?! Our friend is sick! He needs to see the ship's doctor!”
“Something tells me they're not going to come,” Janine predicted, ominously. “They probably think we're looking for an excuse to ambush them.”
Wade suddenly had a thought. “Maggie, you know the basic layout of a ship, right . . . ?”
“Yeah. I've been through them a couple of times . . .”
“Isn't there someplace on the ship near the surface of the water where it would be colder? Down in a cargo hold, maybe?” Wade pressed.
“It depends what they're hauling. But yeah, if this really is a cargo ship then there should be something like that somewhere below us.” Maggie gestured downward.
“Good.” Wade got down on the floor next to Diana and Rembrandt, and then ushered the two of them aside.
“Wade, what are you doing?” Diana asked.
“I'm going to try to displace Malcolm to another part of the ship,” Wade announced. “Maybe if we can send him down below, the temperature down there might stabilize his body?”
“Whoa, wait a minute! You're gonna, like, teleport Malcolm to someplace else on this boat?” Janine squinted in bewilderment.
The Professor peered down at Wade. “Miss Welles, are you sure you can do that?”
“No, I'm not, Professor!” Wade snapped, hastily. Then, in a calmer voice, she continued, “But I have to try. Now everyone move aside.”
“Wade, wait.” Quinn hustled over to where she was positioned, kneeling over the suffering Malcolm. “You should try to send someone with him, in case any crew members are at wherever you relocate him to. Malcolm won't be able to speak for himself to explain how he got there. I'll go with him,” Quinn volunteered.
“I will go too,” Colin offered, coming over to join his brother.
“Hold up, now,” broke in Rembrandt. “I should be the one to stay by Malcolm's side. I'm responsible for him being here.”
“No, Rem.” Quinn shook his head. “I am. I'm the one who's responsible for it all.”
Before anyone could say another word, Wade wailed out suddenly; her body convulsed as though she was having a seizure, and an almost translucent wave of energy appeared to cascade vertically across her body.
“Wade!” Mallory ran over to his girlfriend, almost afraid to touch her.
“Arcesse!” screeched Wade, sending an electromagnetic wave pulsating toward where Malcolm laid on the floor. “Loco movere et transferre!”
The bodies of Malcolm, Quinn, and Colin began to slowly dissolve from sight, until the three of them had vanished completely. Heaving out a hoarse gasp of air, Wade fainted, collapsing onto the floor.
“NO!!!” Mallory threw himself on top of Wade, who was now sprawled out unconscious.
The door was unbolted and abruptly slammed open. “What's goin' on in here?!” demanded Alternate Brice, amid a gallery of muskets that were poking through the open doorway.
Rembrandt, who'd kneeled next to Wade along with the others, looked up at Alternate Brice with pleading desperation in his eyes. “Please, help her,” was all he could say.* * *
Colin's, Malcolm's, and Quinn's bodies materialized in a damp space that resembled a boiler room. The main difference was that this room felt extremely chilly, as though they were surrounded by coldness even beyond the ship's walls.
“Where are we?” Colin asked, looking around. He and Quinn were still standing, while Malcolm remained laying vertically on the floor in front of them.
Quinn took a quick glance around. “It's some kind of cargo hold - just like Maggie and Wade predicted . . . and no one appears to be home. At least, not for now.” He turned his attention back to Malcolm, knelt down, and felt the boy's forehead. “He's still burning up, Colin. The temperature will hopefully cool him down now, but maybe not fast enough.”
“What do we do, Quinn?”
Quinn looked down at the perspiration being shed from Malcolm's skin. “Get his clothes off. Maybe we can find some source of cold water to bathe him in?”
Colin unbuttoned Malcolm's jeans and yanked them off of the adolescent, while Quinn pulled Malcolm's shirt off over Malcolm's head and arms. The teenager remained in only his boxers, still showing no sign of consciousness though breathing slightly more steadily now.
Quinn peered over his shoulder, visually searching for any sign of water. “Do you see a sink or something down here, Colin? A spigot anywhere?”
“Not that I can see, Quinn.”
Someone cleared her throat with a soft rasp. “There is a shower back here, gentlemen.” An old woman dressed in a simple cloak hobbled out of the shadows. She had been listening in on them the entire time.
“Who are you?” Quinn demanded.
The old lady, her snaggly gray hair falling down past her shoulders, continued to step toward them almost in rhythm. Her wild green eyes stared straight ahead, as she did not make eye contact with any of them. “It is what I use to cleanse myself.”
“You live down here?” Colin asked her, dumbfounded.
“Yes. I am a . . . ‘special' member of this vessel's crew. My name is Hyacinth.”
Quinn extended his hand to her, but Hyacinth did not shake it in return. “Um, I'm Quinn, this is my brother Colin. . . .”
“Your names are not important to me.” Hyacinth held up her hand. “I cannot exactly see you, so it makes no sense to engage either of you in direct conversation by name.”
“You can't see?” Colin looked at her, sympathetically.
“Yes, I am blind,” she confirmed. “I have been ever since my days as a little girl.” Hyacinth continued to hobble, this time veering away from them. “But we will have more time for idle chit-chat later. Do the two of you not have another companion with you who needs to be bathed? I may not have eyesight, but that handicap only optimizes my hearing. As I said, please make use of the shower within my humble abode.”
Colin and Quinn, still astounded by the sudden appearance of the mysterious old lady, stood Malcolm up on his feet and walked him over to the darker corner of the cargo hold. There, they spotted a small shower staff enclosed by a curtain. A rusty latrine was next to it.
“Colin, get Malcolm under the shower - see if we can cool down his body heat,” Quinn instructed his brother. “I'm gonna find out from the old woman exactly what's going on down here.”
As Colin guided Malcolm into the shower, Quinn approached the elderly lady. “Um, nice place you've got down here,” he complimented her, trying to make small talk.
“You are undergoing a long and dangerous journey, are you not?” Hyacinth clearly was being straightforward and avoiding anymore frivolous conversation. “I can sense the fear within your friend.”
“Who? Malcolm?” Quinn didn't understand.
“No. The female,” Hyacinth clarified.
Frowning suspiciously, Quinn asked her, “What do you know about my friends?”
“Only that one of them possesses great powers.” Hyacinth kept her back turned away from Quinn. “And that is a very dangerous thing for a stranger to have aboard this vessel. That is why I was compelled to tap into her abilities and help her to protect the rest of you.”
Quinn knew that Hyacinth could only be referring to Wade. “Are you saying . . . you're a . . . witch?”
Chuckling, Hyacinth began to casually pace around the cargo hold. “Such an antiquated term. I prefer the phrase . . . ‘extrasensory consultant.' Sounds so much more professional, don't you think?”
Things were beginning to make sense for Quinn. “So . . . you have some psychic connection with Wade? You helped her to freeze those goons in Redfield's cabin?”
“It would more accurately be described as a spiritual bond,” Hyacinth prudently corrected him. “And yes, I ‘lent' my cryokinetic energy to your friend Wade through the extrasensory nexus created between the two of us.”
“What are you even doing down here?” Quinn was intensely curious. “And what's in these tubes?” He pointed at the large, elongated, cylinder canisters that were stacked and positioned around the cargo hold. “Why is Redfield so secretive about them? What could possibly be inside that's so valuable?”
“It's liquid hydrogen, dearie,” answered Hyacinth, chuckling again. “And some liquid helium, as well. It's like manna for the manufacturers on the Islands.”
“Hawaii?” Quinn asked, as Hyacinth nodded. “Why does this world ship liquid hydrogen and liquid helium across the ocean?”
“So my intuition was correct? You are from another realm?” Quinn realized that he'd slipped up as Hyacinth concluded that he and his friends were indeed otherworldly visitors. “How fascinating it must be! I'm certain you have many intriguing tales of your experiences with the manipulation of space-time?”
“Hyacinth, we need your help.” Quinn rushed ahead, figuring it was useless to try to lie to the old witch. “There are ten of us in all, and we've got to get off of this ship. We need to go back to California, too. Otherwise, we might be unable to travel to any more . . . realms.”
Pressing her lips together in a moment of thoughtfulness, Hyacinth said, “I suppose the quickest way to send you back to the mainland would be on a blimp. Of course, actually summoning one is another matter in itself.”
“I thought air travel was non-existent on this Earth?” asked Quinn. “Didn't the Wright Brothers fail at it?”
“Yes. Their aircraft model never became commonplace. However,” she cocked her head, “the flying balloon vessels are widely used. What do you think the liquefied hydrogen and helium is being shipped to Oahu for?”
Everything mentally clicked together for Quinn. “They're going to convert the liquid elements into a gaseous form! To power the blimps!”
“It's standard procedure,” she explained. “That tiny island is the last place where any saboteurs would suspect our blimps to be manufactured. After our success in The World War, we must be cautious of our enemies.”
Quinn paused, hesitantly. “So then why are you telling me all of this? If you work for the government . . . ?”
“Because, my child, you are an otherworldly explorer,” Hyacinth acknowledged. “Not a foreign spy. And the great things you must see in your journeys! Only someone like myself could truly appreciate that.”
“Wait.” Quinn held up his finger. “First, I need to know exactly what's going on in this dimension . . .”* * *
“Well, it's almost morning.” Janine gazed out of the ship's porthole at the rising dawn sun. She was gathered with Arturo, Rembrandt, Maggie, Diana, and Mallory in the ship's galley. Wade laid atop a cot, sleeping soundly, with Mallory and Remmy hovering by her bedside. The ship's doctor had treated Wade with antibiotics and told the sliders Wade needed to get a lot of rest and water. The seven of them had been moved to the confines of the galley, to accommodate Wade's weakened situation. “I wonder where Quinn, Colin, and Malcolm ended up?”
“God only knows, Miss Chen,” proclaimed the Professor, shaking his head. “God only knows.”
“I know one thing. This world may not have airplanes, but,” Diana gestured to the porthole, “we have seen some blimps pass overhead during the past hour. Makes me wonder what this Earth's history is like.”
“If I remember correctly, the last version of this place had no aluminum,” Rembrandt recalled. “That was a big part of why Paxton's pirates were trying to prevent air travel from being developed.”
“It also made things a real pain in the ass for us when trying to escape,” added Maggie.* * *
Several months earlier, Maggie sat down at a table inside a very similar galley, shaking a packet of sweetener to add to her coffee. “Come to think of it, I haven't seen a contrail since we slid in.”
“Why not? Look at this ship. They must have the know-how to build planes,” pointed out Mallory.
“It's not the know-how . . .” Diana came over to the table, dropping a copy of her library research onto its flat surface. “It's the raw materials.”
This peaked Remmy's curiosity. “So what have you got?”
“Well, I checked out the ship's library to help us fix the timer.” Diana took a seat.
Mallory smirked. “Find that Popular Mechanics issue on sliding?” he sarcastically asked, almost playfully.
“No,” Diana good-naturedly bantered back, “but I did stumble across a copy of this world's periodic table of the elements.”
“And . . .?” Maggie inquired, as Diana ran her fingers through her hair and adjusted her bangs.
“And it goes straight from Atomic Number 12 to 14.” Diana gestured with her hand while verbalizing the shift in numbers.
Maggie licked her fingers, glancing at Rembrandt for insight. Rembrandt, confused, glanced at Mallory to see if he knew what Diana meant. Mallory cluelessly shook his head.
“Straight from magnesium - bam - right to silicon,” elaborated Diana, moving her hands in a lively fashion.
Again, Maggie glanced at Rembrandt for help. Rembrandt, still confused, looked to Diana.
“There's no aluminum,” Diana directly spelled it out for them, in an obvious tone of voice.
“No aluminum?” repeated Rembrandt. “How is that possible?”
“Well, either the geology of his world doesn't contain the element,” Diana theorized, as Maggie sipped her coffee, “or the people of this world never mastered the electrolytic process of separating aluminum from bauxite.”
“So this is the ‘really heavy stuff' world?” Mallory cracked a slight joke.
“Well, there is some aircraft technology, mostly 1930's vintage,” Diana answered, as she got up to pour herself a cup of coffee from the counter. “But nothing like the modern airline industry.”
“This world's economy must run on the maritime trade?” speculated Remmy.
“So how do we get off this bucket and back onto our sliding radius?” Maggie asked the group.
“I suppose we could mutiny,” quipped Mallory, with a cute, mischievous smile.
The blast of a cannon could be heard coming from outside of the galley.
Mallory looked around and up at the ceiling. “Joke! That was a joke!” he frantically apologized to no one in particular.* * *
“And that's when the pirates attacked,” finished off Rembrandt.
The Professor grimaced in disbelief. “Pirates?! Really, Mr. Brown, you must be exaggerating . . .”
“Nope, that's what happened, Professor,” confirmed Diana. “I was there. They had swords, and eyepatches . . .”
“Made Mallory walk the plank,” Maggie recalled, half-giggling at the memory.
“And one of them groped my . . . my . . . well, he groped me!” Diana huffed, remembering their jaunt in Paxton's village hideaway.
Janine shook her head, clicking her tongue against the back of her teeth. “You shouldn't have put up with that, Diana. If that old coot had grabbed my ass, he would have ended up with TWO peg legs instead of one.”
Arturo noticed something rematerializing in the room. “Good heavens!” he exclaimed, gasping as body particles began to come together.
Everyone turned their attention to the human image as it became less transparent and more visible. Before they knew it, Quinn Mallory was standing right there in front of them.
“Quinn!” Maggie ran over to hug him. “Where were you?” She released her embrace on Quinn, in order to glance around. “Where are Colin and Malcolm?”
“They're safe,” Quinn assured his friends. He staggered a bit from dizziness, and took a chair to sit down. “Wade's spell worked! . . . Oh my god, is she okay?!” He suddenly noticed Wade lying on her cot, with Mallory hovering by his girlfriend's bedside.
“She's a little disoriented, Q-Ball. But the doctor said she'll be fine.” Rembrandt sat down across from Quinn, placing his hand on Quinn's shoulder. “Tell us what happened, man. Where were you transported to?” “Exactly where Wade intended for us to end up - in a cargo hold down in the ship's basement. It's freezing cold down there, but that's the perfect temperature given Malcolm's condition.” Quinn rubbed his chilly hands together, trying to warm them up. “There's an old witch who lives down there. Her name is Hyacinth, and she's blind.”
“Wait a minute!” Janine abruptly cut in. “A witch?! Are you serious?!” “Yes, Janine!” insisted Quinn. “She knows everything about Wade. Well, not EVERYTHING, but she was able to form some sort of psychokinetic nexus with Wade, to tap into Wade's emotions. That's how Hyacinth was able to use Wade's body to freeze Redfield and his men.”
“So it was this . . . witch, and not Wade, who was responsible for saving us?” Diana asked.
“Well, technically it was both of them,” said Quinn. “Hyacinth has perfected her cryokinetic abilities - the power to suspend molecules. She's able to do this because she lives down in the cargo hold, where she's surrounded by liquid hydrogen and helium on a regular basis.”
“Ah. And because liquid hydrogen is cold enough to freeze air,” reasoned Arturo, “this elderly woman is able to channel that element in order to suspend atomic motion at will?”
“Exactly. Hyacinth could substitute her specialized powers through Wade's body because both she and Wade are able to exert forms of kinetic energy. At least, that's how Hyacinth explained it.” Quinn scratched his head, still awed by the whole situation.
Diana held up her finger. “Back up a moment, Quinn. So the secret cargo that Redfield has been so hush-hush about is a liquefied supply of hydrogen and helium? I assume it's a fuel that will be reconverted to power the blimps?”
“Yeah, we saw some of them flying when we looked out the window,” Maggie updated Quinn. “Why would Redfield be so protective of his hydrogen and helium supplies? If blimps are the only viable form of air travel on this world, then what's the big secret?”
“Hyacinth explained it all to me. You have to understand: there was only one World War on this Earth,” Quinn filled them in. “You all remember the Hindenberg, right?”
“Of course,” replied the Professor.
“Terrible disaster,” Maggie commented, knowingly.
“Yeah . . . it blew up in the year 1937,” Diana recalled.
“What's the Hindenberg?” Janine asked, confused.
“On the rest of our worlds, the Hindenberg was a commercial blimp that blew up in the sky above Lakehurst, New York, back in 1937,” Quinn explained to Janine. “But on this Earth, the Hindenberg exploded in 1940. And guess who was aboard it? None other than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was campaigning for reelection at the time. Roosevelt was returning from an overseas diplomatic mission in Germany when he and all the other passengers died in the 1940 Hindenberg explosion.”
“So then John N. Garner became president,” Professor Arturo concluded, after taking a moment to recall his American history. “He was FDR's vice-president during Roosevelt's first two terms, but they were often at odds over the New Deal. That's why, on our world, FDR chose Henry A. Wallace as his new running mate when he ran for a third term.”
“But on this Earth, Wallace took over for Roosevelt as the party's presidential nominee on the ticket,” Quinn clarified. “Garner only served out the remainder of Roosevelt's term, which was only four months. Henry Wallace requested that Eleanor Roosevelt accompany him as vice-president on her deceased husband's ticket. Although it was completely unheard of to consider running a woman as vice-president back in those days, Eleanor Roosevelt was still beloved by many Americans, and the public didn't dare to deny a grieving widow the chance to carry on her late-husband's legacy. They were elected in a landslide.”
Rembrandt paused to ponder that. “So then World War II began?”
“Not quite,” said Quinn. “It was discovered that the Germans had sabotaged the Hindenberg by sending an operative to plant explosives on it. When the American government found out about that, they sent a fleet of warblimps to Europe and attacked the Nazi empire. You see, engineers had found a way to store enough gas inside blimps and make the aircrafts durable enough to function as attack vessels. Within a matter of months, Germany became a third-world country. Essentially, there was no World War II.”
Maggie bit her lip to keep from laughing at the thought of it. “Sounds like President Wallace became a hero before his first term even ended.”
Nodding, Quinn elaborated, “Wallace retired with a successful legacy after two terms, and Eleanor Roosevelt became the 35th president.”
“The first woman president on this world,” Maggie realized.
“In fact,” added Quinn, “W.E.B. DuBois remained in America, rather than moving to Ghana, because of Mrs. Roosevelt's leadership. When she ran as a presidential candidate in her own right in 1948, DuBois even lobbied and influenced Mrs. Roosevelt to select, as her vice-presidential running mate, an up-and-coming young lawyer named Thurgood Marshall.”
The Professor contemplated this, thoughtfully. “I can only imagine the extraordinary things Eleanor Roosevelt must have achieved as president,” he said. “Care to share with us, Mr. Mallory?”
Maggie did a double take. “You're kidding!”
“I'm not. Hyacinth apparently was able to tap into the thoughts and emotions of other world leaders, and accompanied Mrs. Roosevelt when she traveled abroad.” Quinn's face was flushed from excitement just relaying the information.
“Q-Ball, how do you know she ain't just pulling your leg?” Rembrandt skeptically countered.
“She has no reason to lie to us, Remmy,” said Quinn. “Hyacinth may work for the military, but she does it on her own terms. She also was never afraid to tell Eleanor Roosevelt what the right thing to do was. As president, Mrs. Roosevelt convinced Congress to relinquish control of the Panama Canal over to Panama, and provided military aid to the Philippines so their country could attain democracy. While Henry Wallace was in office, he had secretly had Fulgencio Batista of Cuba assassinated, and then helped the Cuban people develop a democratic government. So there had been a precedent.”
Arturo cleared his throat. “The United Nations was Eleanor Roosevelt's idea. So I assume she had a hand in establishing it, correct Mr. Mallory?”
“Actually, she kept the League of Nations from being disbanded, and helped to expand it,” Quinn told Arturo. “Also, she helped acquire statehood for both Puerto Rico and the Bahamas during the 1950s. And in 1961, President Marshall signed off on statehood for Guam.”
“So there are actually 53 states?” Diana tilted her head.
“No, there are 55 in all, including Bermuda and the District of Columbia,” Quinn revealed. “So with all of these relatively new island states, blimp travel has become more crucial than ever. It takes much longer to transfer and export products by sea, especially when shipping cargo to Hawaii and Guam. Plus, as Mrs. Roosevelt pointed out, blimps are more environmentally sound.”
“Of course,” agreed Diana. “In particular, the ones powered by hydrogen would be clean-burning, since they'd expel water into the air, rather than releasing exhaust fumes.”
Arturo nodded, knowingly. “Quite right, Dr. Davis. Hydrogen dissipates rapidly, whereas gasoline doesn't. Gasoline is also more likely than hydrogen to cause an explosion. True, hydrogen and helium require a large storage area in their liquefied forms, but they burn more efficiently than gasoline.”
“The liquefied form is also cheaper to transport,” Quinn said. “Hawaii is a major underground refueling center for blimps running on hydrogen or helium. Most major fuel providers end up transporting the gaseous form in heavy steel cylinders and shipping it in and out of Waikiki. But to most people, it would just seem like a regular fuel station. Only the government is aware of the conversion from liquid to gas that takes place in secret on the Hawaiian Islands.”
Holding up her hand, Maggie spoke out, “I still don't understand why blimps are used. They're terribly inefficient for transportation.”
“The people of this world have no better alternative,” answered Quinn. “No one has ever tried to recreate the Wright Brothers' failed experiment. Besides,” he went over to the sink to pour himself a glass of water, “the military invested so much money in blimp production because they thought it would be the weapon of the future. They can't cut any losses without taking a huge financial hit.”
“Isn't it expensive to convert the gas to a liquid, Q-Ball?” asked Remmy.
“Not really,” said Quinn. “All they do is use electrolysis for splitting water to obtain hydrogen. In turn, hydrogen burns in the air while emitting water. It's the most abundant element in the universe, Rem. The government stores thousands of cylinders filled with these gases, stored in cellars underground to be converted. After the World War, the president wanted to take every precaution so there would be fleets of warblimps ready to go. That federal policy has been maintained to this very day.”
Janine coughed, disrupting Quinn's oration. “Um, Quinn, while your history lesson is very captivating, that still doesn't help us out of our jam.”
Quinn joined Mallory, kneeling down next to Wade's cot. “Hyacinth told me she needs Wade's help to get us out of here. She's not powerful enough to do it herself, but their combined energy could work.”
Wade stirred and Mallory leaned in close. As she opened her eyes, Wade awoke to gaze at her boyfriend. “Quinn . . .” She switched her gaze over to Quinn. “. . . and Quinn. You're both here. What happened? The last I remember, I was trying to displace Malcolm . . .” Her eyes scanned the room. “Where is he? How did we get in here?”
“Sssssh.” Mallory placed his fingers on Wade's lips. “Save your strength. Hyacinth needs your powers.”
“Hyacinth?” Wade repeated the name in confusion. In the very next moment, Wade heard a ringing in her ears, followed by the echoes of a brittle voice
“Wade . . . can you hear me, dear?”
“Who are you?” Wade mentally responded to the voice.
“I am the guardian of your two friends,” the voice answered. “The young, sick one, and the brother of the one I sent back to you.”
“What do you mean?” Wade communicated back.
“Wade,” interjected Diana, “the person who's talking to you . . . her name is Hyacinth. She lives below us on this ship, and she's the one whom you sent Quinn, Colin, and Malcolm to.”
“You can hear her too?” Wade asked Diana, in reference to Hyacinth.
“I have ESP, remember?” Diana gave Wade a bashful smile. “Hyacinth is a witch too, Wade.”
“You're like me?” Wade projected her thoughts to Hyacinth.
“Yes I am, Wade. Your friends are safe with me. Mr. Mallory told me about your sliding radius. We can divert this ship's path, but I shall need your help.”
“Tell me what to do, Hyacinth.”
“Wade, you and I must use our combined kinetic energies to turn this ship around and return it to the West Coast. This will take much concentration on your part, since you have had less time than I to practice. Are you willing to try this?”
“I am, Hyacinth. I'll do anything for my friends.”
“Then please inform them of our plan.”
Wade temporarily broke her link from Hyacinth. She looked up at Diana. “Did you process all of that?”
Nodding, Diana softly said, “I did. But Wade, that sounds like it could be dangerous. Are you sure there isn't a better way?”
Wade shook her head. “It's the only way.”
“What is?!” Mallory demanded. He looked deep into Wade's glassy eyes. “What do you have to do?”
Taking Mallory's hand, Wade told her friends, “Hyacinth believes the only way we can reverse this ship's ocean course is by telekinetically taking control of the ship on a grand scale.”
Rembrandt shook his head. “Girl, you're in no condition . . .”
“Then what do you suggest, Remmy?” Wade countered.
Rembrandt remained silent.
“That's what I thought.” Wade turned to Arturo. “Professor, any idea on how long it will take?”
The Professor thought about it for a minute, plugging some numbers into his head. “Miss Welles, assuming you and Hyacinth can keep the ship sustained on a linear northeast ocean course, you will need to move us at a rate of approximately 40 miles per hour for the next 24 hours. If uninterrupted, that should bring us far enough back to reenter our sliding radius.”
“Then we have to do it,” Wade adamantly declared.
“Wade, no! It's not worth it!” Mallory grabbed her wrists.
“Concentrate, and merge your energy with mine,” Hyacinth's voice whispered into Wade's ears, as the telekinetic slider went into a deep meditative trance.
Diana shook her head. “It's too late, Mallory. They've already begun.”
After a few minutes of silence, the sliders could feel the ship come to a halt in the middle of the ocean. Soon, they could feel it rotating around in an arched traverse.
“It's happening!” Janine realized. “Wade and Hyacinth are actually turning us around.”
Angry, virile shouts of confusion could be heard from outside the galley.
“Sounds like the crew is in an uproar,” observed Rembrandt, with a little chuckle.
Then, the ship stopped, as though an anchor had been dropped. Wade's strained face became whiter and paler as she directed all of her strength into maneuvering the vessel. All of a sudden, the ship began to reverse its turnaround.
No! No! Wrong way!” Janine shouted out at the ship, as though she was attempting to verbally convince it to move back the way it had been going.
With an exasperated grunt, Wade collapsed flat against the bed, practically gasping for breath.
“WADE!!!” hollered Mallory, falling again to Wade's bedside. Tears were welling up in his eyes as he shook his lover's body, desperately trying to wake her.
Stirring, Wade turned her head atop its pillow, facing Mallory. “Quinn . . .” she whispered to him, in-between swallowing erratic mouthfuls of air.
Another female body materialized in the room, its energy particles filling themselves in with a gentle swish. There stood the visually impaired elderly witch in her ratty old cloak, facing the direction of Wade's bed.
“Hyacinth!” Quinn quickly appealed to the professional enchantress. “Wade needs your help!”
“I know, dearie.” Hyacinth, hobbling, made her way over to Wade's bedside. Looking straight ahead at the wall, she placed her pruny hands on Wade's clothed abdomen.
“SHE'S Hyacinth?!” Janine exclaimed, in disbelief. Studying the old lady, Janine critically commented, “She looks like a homeless street beggar who hasn't been under the sun long enough.”
“I prefer the moonlight, my child,” replied Hyacinth, pleasantly. All the while, she pushed down on Wade's stomach, sending a wave of electromagnetic sparks coursing through Wade's body.
“What are you doing?!” Mallory shouted at Hyacinth. “What's happening to her?!” His eyes locked onto Wade's frail body.
“It was too much weight for a novice like Wade to telekinetically manipulate,” the elderly witch explained, pressing down on Wade's chest as she continued to feed the slider's body with pulses of electricity. “I must restore the energy that was drained from Wade, with my own. But she will still be weak, and I can only sustain my presence here for a short period of time. Otherwise, I risk repercussions from those who employ me.”
Hyacinth used her hands to direct another translucent pulse of energy into Wade's abdomen. With a gasp, Wade awoke, her eyes abruptly popping open. Mallory threw his arms around Wade, smothering her with his embrace.
“What happened?” moaned Wade, pressing her lips close to Mallory's cheekbones. She gazed at her friends, and then caught sight of her mentor. “Hyacinth? What are you doing here?”
Giving Wade a regretful half-smile, the witch explained, “We tried. Our plan failed. The two of us were not strong enough to reverse this ship's course. You are still a novice, Wade. Too much of your energy was depleted during the attempt. I compensated your loss by replacing your drained energy with some of my own.”
“So you can't turn us around?” Diana asked Hyacinth.
Hyacinth shook her head. “I fear not. Wade and I do not have enough strength remaining between the two of us to transport this vessel.”
“Well then cast a spell on it or something!” Janine tactlessly commanded.
“Janine, it doesn't work that way,” Wade meekly replied.
“I must go. I will watch over your friends,” Hyacinth promised, referring to Colin and Malcolm. Her body began to fade away as she teleported out of the galley.
Tears began to spill from Wade's eyes. “I'm sorry,” she apologized to her friends. “I failed us all.”
Mallory stroked his girlfriend's scalp. “You did what you could,” he gently consoled her.
Janine's shoulders slumped. “Well, that does it. We're screwed,” she sighed, in a matter-of-fact tone.
“No we aren't!” Maggie declared. Without waiting for anyone to speak, Maggie marched over to the locked galley door and began rapping on it with her fists. “Hey, assholes! I have something to show you!”
“Miss Beckett, what are you doing?!” demanded the Professor.
Maggie's eyes blazed in determination. “I'm gonna pay ole Admiral Paxton a little visit.”
Quinn hurried over to his girlfriend. “Maggie, are you crazy?!” He grabbed her arm.
The door was flung open, and Alternate Brice stood there with her arms folded. “What is it?!” she barked at Maggie.
“Look at me!” Maggie shook herself loose from Quinn's grip and placed her face inches away from Alternate Brice's. “Don't you recognize me?! Who do I look like?! Ignore my hair. Look at my FACE!”
Alternate Brice blinked several times, until recognition finally registered. “Admiral Beckett . . . ?”
Maggie's eyes flickered with superiority. “In the flesh,” she said, giving Alternate Brice a curt nod.
Alternate Brice's eyebrows narrowed. “Admiral Beckett is dead,” she insisted.
“Then I must be a ghost, huh?” smirked Maggie.
“Maggie . . . !” Rembrandt hissed.
The ex-marine waved Remmy away with her hand. “I demand to see Paxton,” Maggie requested. “He and I have got a lot to talk about.”
“You do indeed, imposter!” growled Alternate Brice, as a couple of her riflemen grabbed ahold of Maggie and escorted her from the galley.* * *
Maggie stood in front of the doorway to Alternate Paxton's private cabin, as Alternate Redfield knocked on the wooden door. “Admiral, your visitor is here.”
“Bring her in!” called back a masculine voice - that was quite familiar to Maggie - from inside the cabin.
The cabin door creaked open, revealing a spacious room carpeted with red velvet. Maritime steering wheels, stuffed sharks, and figureheads of big-busted women lined the walls. Reclining back in a plush, pillowy rocking chair sat a tall, slim, uniformed man; his close-cut black stubble covered his chin, lips, and cheekbones while his long, dark hair was tied back in a pragmatic ponytail. His stern face bore holes into Maggie as she entered the room.
“Leave us,” Alternate Paxton commanded to his subordinates. Once they had exited the cabin, the admiral approached Maggie, staring her up and down, sizing her up. “Admiral Beckett, back from the grave, I see?”
Maggie winked at him. “What can I say? I was getting claustrophobic in my coffin.”
Alternate Paxton didn't crack a smile. “Is that supposed to be funny?!” he roared at Maggie. “How dare you masquerade as the great Admiral Beckett! Do you even know who I am?!”
“You're Alistair Paxton, lover extraordinaire,” stated Maggie, knowingly. “I'd wager we had a fling or two before I died, didn't we, Alistair?”
Alternate Paxton was speechless. “How . . . HOW did you know that?! And you called me ‘Alistair.' Only Margaret ever called me that . . .”
“I knew it!” Maggie was proud that her hunch had been right. “So we WERE lovers.”
“My lover, my dear Margaret, was killed at sea,” Alternate Paxton bitterly scowled. “YOU were never my lover. You couldn't have been.”
Cocking her head, Maggie's eyes dropped down to the admiral's waist. “You have a crescent-shaped birthmark on your left thigh.”
Alternate Paxton could barely choke out a response. “HOW did you . . . ?!”
“Now that I have your attention,” said Maggie, who could hardly keep from grinning, “I need your help.” Her face turned serious. “My friends and I need to get back to California.”
“Your friends? Ah, the spies.” Alternate Paxton frowned.
“We're not spies. We're explorers from a parallel universe,” Maggie said. “We have to be back on the mainland in order to access our transdimensional vortex.”
Rolling his eyes, Alternate Paxton shook his head. “Malarkey! You spies ain't goin' nowhere!”
“You have to believe me!” Maggie heart began racing as she became more frazzled. “How else would I know all about you?”
“I dunno. Margaret could have had a twin sister she never told me about, maybe? She could have told ya about our trysts.” Alternate Paxton's nostrils flared. “At any rate, I don't have time for this crud, dontcha know. I was at Margaret's funeral. I watched them cover her with dirt n' bugs. She's dead, I tell ya. Dead!” He spat out the word, his own face practically inches away from Maggie's.
Maggie wildly shook her head in protest. “No. You have to listen to me. Please! My friends and I are from a parallel dimension. I'm a genetic double of ‘your' Margaret Alison Beckett.”
A beat passed. Then, Alternate Paxton burst out laughing. “Uh-huh. Sure. And I'm Long John Silver,” he snorted.
“Listen to me!” Maggie grabbed his shoulders. “We need an emergency blimp to get back to California! So radio one in for us - now!!”
“You're a crazy wench, dontcha know.”
“I'm telling you the truth!” Maggie shrieked. She was losing it. As Maggie's eyelids became heavy from distress, she began to feel dizzy and nauseous.
Suddenly, instead of staring at an alternate of Paxton, Maggie found herself face-to-face with a blurry likeness of General Kromanus, a Kromagg commander whom she'd encountered three years earlier. The Kromagg reached out and slapped her across the face.
Horrified at the image, Maggie screamed. She felt herself falling to the ground, her face stinging from the pain of the slap, and caught a glimpse of the ceiling before she blacked out.* * *
Maggie's eyes opened to find a ray of sunlight beaming down upon her face. She was lying on a cot, with Quinn hovering over her.
“Quinn?” Maggie blinked and groaned – - her head ached painfully. “What happened?”
“Apparently, you confronted Paxton and fainted in the middle of a rant.” Quinn reached down to softly touch her cheek. “Maggie, why did you do that? What were you thinking?”
Sitting up, she leaned over to wrap her arms around Quinn. “I couldn't just give up,” Maggie told him, through tears. “I had to do something. I thought I could convince him. But this wasn't the same Paxton who I had a bond with. He was another person, on a different world . . .” She then remembered that it was morning. “Oh no! What time is it?!”
Quinn checked his watch. “Almost 7:00 a.m.”
“Are we . . . ?”
Solemnly, Quinn nodded. “We should be docking in Waikiki within a couple of hours.”
Shaking her head, Maggie sighed in resignation. “What are we gonna do now?”
Quinn mustered a weak smile. “Pig roast?”
After a pause, Maggie began laughing uncontrollably. Tears continued to flow down her cheeks, but her torso jiggled with senseless, inane amusement. “Oh Quinn . . . I just can't be depressed anymore.”
He held her tighter.
Janine, Diana, Arturo, Mallory, and Rembrandt were huddled on the other side of the galley, gathered around Wade's cot. While Wade slept soundly, the rest of them were discretely observing Quinn and Maggie's interaction.
“She's losing it,” stated Janine, shaking her head, in reference to the suddenly-giddy Maggie.
“Maggie has been through a lot,” explained Diana. “She's trying to reconcile her love for Quinn with the memories she has of her time with Paxton.”
Rembrandt glanced around the room, agitated. “We still haven't heard from Malcolm and Colin. Do you think they're still down below with Hyacinth?”
“I would imagine so, Mr. Brown. She assured us she would protect them,” Professor Arturo said. He began to pace across the floor. “What is of greater concern to me would be our transportation predicament. Once we arrive on Oahu, do we dare to open the vortex, given the fact that we are more than 1,000 miles away from our sliding radius?”
“We have to, Professor,” insisted Rembrandt. “We gotta try. Otherwise, we're guaranteed to be stuck on this world for 29 years. And from the looks of it, Paxton's men are ready to court marshal us.”
“But remember, we might not be able to access the vortex at all,” pointed out Diana. “Or it might open up, but we could get trapped inside. We've never attempted to slide outside our radius before. We could be putting ourselves in greater danger.”
“Dr. Davis makes a valid argument. But there is an even more immediate issue at hand,” added Arturo. “How do we get off this ship? Redfield's crew isn't about to let us loose on the beach.”
“Why can't Wade just freeze them all again, when she wakes up?” Janine asked, gesturing at the sleeping slider.
Mallory, who had been caressing Wade, got up off of his knees. “Wade is drained. She's lucky to still be alive. We've gotta fight on her behalf. We owe it to her for what she's done . . . and for what she tried to do for us.”
“Besides, Wade obtained her cryokinesis from Hyacinth, and it doesn't look like Hyacinth is available at the moment,” Diana commented.
“Well, I know one thing: if we're going down, it won't be without a fight,” asserted Rembrandt. “We're so close to getting home again, and I'll be damned if I let a bunch of sea rats separate me from my family - you guys.” He surveyed the room, looking at his interdimensional companions. “They can't just push us around like this. It's time to rock the boat . . . literally!”* * *
A deep horn resonated through the air as the U.S.S. Maggie Beckett steered into Waikiki Harbor.
The galley door slammed open, and Alternate Brice hollered into the room, “We've arrived! Get movin'!”
The sliders were escorted by Alternate Redfield's crew out onto the deck. Mallory and Diana each lent their bodily support to Wade, who was still too exhausted to walk all by herself; Quinn and Rembrandt did the same for Maggie. Janine and Arturo brought up the rear, flanked by more armed deckhands. As they walked out onto the deck, the sliders visually absorbed the breathtaking view before them.
Waikiki Harbor was lined with sandy white beached, luscious palm trees that swayed in the wind, and buildings made from stone or bricks. Ships were lined all along the coast of the island, and fishermen carried nets of seafood back and forth from their boats to the piers.
“Good heavens! It's . . . remarkable!” exclaimed Arturo, taking in the sight of the Hawaiian harbor.
Alternate Redfield had joined the sliders and his crew on the main deck. As an anchor was dropped into the harbor, the captain took an inventory of his prisoners. “I thought there were ten of ‘em? I'm only countin' eight!” His head swiveled toward Alternate Brice. “WHERE are the other two, Lieutenant Brice?!”
“I dunno, sir,” Alternate Brice stoically answered. “Where are your comrades?!” she yelled at the sliders.
Janine took that moment to abruptly judo-chop Alternate Brice from behind. With a gasp, Alternate Brice keeled forward, and Professor Arturo grabbed her rifle. The rest of the crew cocked their weapons, but Arturo had quickly positioned the rifle against Alternate Redfield's ribcage.
“Gentlemen, harm me, and your Captain Redfield is as good as dead!” warned the Professor, as Alternate Redfield gritted his teeth.
“You'll never get off this ship alive!” snarled Alternate Redfield. “Especially not with some lascivious wench impersonatin' the great Admiral Beckett!” He flared at Maggie.
Maggie glared at Alternate Redfield through her bloodshot eyes. “Go to hell,” she sneered, her throat clogged with exhaustion.
Looking around, Rembrandt sized up the situation. “Guys, we may have the captain at our mercy . . . but how do WE get outta here without becoming Swiss cheese?”
Suddenly, a familiar figure turned the corner, hobbling onto the main deck. Hyacinth, using her cane and fingers as a guide, had made her way from below deck. Colin was right behind her, ushering along a weary Malcolm - who was fully dressed again, but still appeared to be faint.
“Malcolm! Farm Boy!” shouted out Rembrandt, joyously.
“Hyacinth?!” a shocked Alternate Redfield spat out. “What are you doin' up here, old lady?!”
With a zealous inhalation, Hyacinth proceeded to exhale through her throat as she screeched, “Gelate praeter viatoris regnorum!”
In the next second, everyone on the ship - except for Hyacinth and the ten sliders - froze as though they were mannequins.
“What the . . . ?” Quinn blinked in confusion.
“Hyacinth.” Wade beamed at her fellow witch. “You suspended their molecules.”
“You were too weak to assist me, dear,” Hyacinth gasped, her body shaking. “It took virtually every ounce of my remaining energy.” The witch motioned with her hand for the sliders to get off the ship. “Go, my children! Go! The temporal stasis will only last ten minutes, at most. And even before it wears off, the locals may become suspicious. Go forth into the city of Waikiki - keep fleeing, and stop only to access your gateway when it is absolutely necessary. Paxton will immediately dispatch operatives to capture you once the crew becomes reanimated.” Grunting and coughing, Hyacinth fell to her knees.
Wade broke away from Diana and Mallory, and ran to Hyacinth's side. “What about you? We can't leave you behind. They'll kill you for helping us escape!”
Hyacinth shook her head, insistently. “They will not harm me. I am too valuable to them. It will take me a week to recover, but the government would rather use me against their overseas foes than simply dispose of me. And I will cooperate . . . it is how I stay alive.”
Squeezing Hyacinth's hand, Wade noticed, “You're way too weak right now. I can sense it, because it's exactly how I feel. How will you regain your powers?”
Reaching out to steady Wade's face, Hyacinth replied, “The liquid hydrogen, my dear. I absorbed enough of it to place these men in cryostasis . . . it is why I live down there.” Hyacinth shook Wade's arm. “Please, go, Wade! I should not be your concern. They won't kill me. Now go!”
“Come on! What are we waiting for?!” Janine led the way, sprinting across the platform that connected the ship's deck to Waikiki's deck. The other nine sliders followed her lead. As fast as their legs could carry them, the dectet hurried across the platform connecting the U.S.S. Maggie Beckett to Waikiki Beach.
“Which way now?” Diana asked, as the sliders were confronted with a crossroads of “streets” lined with stone-based cafés, stores, trading centers, and houses.
Arturo checked the timer. “35 minutes until the next window,” he said. “I suggest we get as far away from here as humanly possible. It won't be long before Redfield's men emerge from cryostasis and come after us.”
During the next half hour, the ten interdimensional travelers scurried through Waikiki, past crowds of locals selling souvenirs and tourists photographing the majestic landscape. It wasn't long before they reached the outskirts of the city, where a vast spread of fertile valleys and lush, exotic vegetation spread out for miles. The ten of them ventured even further into the countryside, with Wade, Maggie, and Malcolm beginning to lag along due to their leftover fatigue.
“I have to sit . . .” panted Malcolm, as Colin helped him down onto a tree stump.
“Well, only a few minutes until the slide,” Arturo announced. He glanced mainly at Quinn and Diana. “Do we dare to open the wormhole?”
Quinn shrugged. “We have no choice. If we don't at least try, we'll be stranded on this world.”
“So what's gonna happen to us?” Maggie asked, with panic in her eyes.
“It's anybody's guess,” admitted Diana. “We could slide successfully . . . or our atoms could get squashed like French grapes. For all we know, our bodies could end up becoming unstuck if we slide from here.”
“We must try,” asserted Colin. “We have never gotten anywhere by simply giving up.”
Janine raised her hand. “Um, why can't Wade just ‘displace' us back to California? She did it for Colin and Malcolm.”
Still looking flushed, Wade explained, “I can only displace energy for short distances. I can't send us all the way across the ocean - it requires too much mental stamina. When such huge amounts of energy are purged from my body, the displacements take their toll on me. I need more time to recuperate before I can even think about doing it again. Plus it takes a lot more strength to displace and transport molecules than it does to just suspend them or move them a few feet.”
The Professor coughed. “Friends, we have 27 seconds.” He angled the timer diagonally upward.
Rembrandt exhaled. “Well, here goes nothing.”
“Eleven . . . ten . . .nine . . . eight . . . seven . . . six . . . five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . one!” Arturo activated the timer, and the vortex spread wide open like the mouth of a Venus flytrap. Mallory stared up at it. “Well, it looks normal.”
Colin stepped forward. “Let's go!” He guided Malcolm, who was still somewhat disoriented, toward the gyrating kaleidoscope of purples and blues. In a flash, Colin and Malcolm disappeared into its abyss.
“Come on, Maggie.” Quinn tightened his grip around Maggie's waist, as he and Remmy hoisted their friend through the transdimensional gateway.
“I hope we're doing the right thing!” Diana projected her voice over the roar of the vortex. She and Mallory supported Wade's body as the three of them jumped through their portal.
Timer in hand, Arturo motioned for Janine to precede him into the wormhole. “After you, Miss Chen. The unknown awaits us.”* * *
The bright violet vortex resurfaced in the next dimension, coughing Colin, Malcolm, Quinn, Maggie, Rembrandt, Wade, Mallory, Diana, Janine, and Professor Arturo, one by one, out onto a new parallel Earth. They landed in a grassy patch of vines and other miscellaneous leaves and plants.
Remmy got to his feet, standing in an entanglement of flora growing on vines. “Everyone okay?” he asked, aloud.
“It didn't feel any different,” Maggie commented, watching as the vortex faded from view up in the sky. “The inside of the bridge looked normal.”
“Yeah,” agreed Diana, whipping out her PDL. “There didn't appear to be any anomalies in the vortex, neither internally nor externally.” She slid open one of her PDL's many layered screens, and began to punch a sequence of keys using the gadget's miniature rolltop control pad.
Mallory looked around. “So the slide went off without a hitch? What about the timer?”
The Professor removed the timer from a pocket inside of his formal jacket. “It seems to be operational, Mr. Mallory. No unusual misconfigurations are visible. It's counting down normally from 3 days, 18 hours, and 52 minutes.”
“So did it divert us back to California?” inquired Janine.
Diana was shaking her head, clearly frustrated. “According to my PDL's geographic spectrum locator,” she held up the screen of her PDL, which displayed a digital map, “we are in the same approximate area that we departed from on the last world . . . the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Island chain.” Sure enough, the digital map on Diana's PDL illustrated a diagram of the Hawaiian Islands, with an illuminated radius emanating from Oahu.
As the motors of his brain puttered along, Quinn theorized, “When we slid from Hawaii, we must have created a new sliding radius for ourselves, centered around Waikiki.”
“So . . . now we'll actually be sliding into alternate versions of Hawaii?” Malcolm asked.
Colin nodded. “Looks like it.”
Mallory grinned. “Aloha, wahines!” He put his arm around Wade, grinning from ear to ear. That's when Mallory noticed that Wade's eyes were practically bugged out. “Wade? . . . what's wrong? Aren't you relieved that our atoms didn't get spliced? Besides, now we get an early honeymoon.” Mallory chuckled, light-heartedly.
Rotating her head toward him, Wade said, “I don't feel so weak and tired anymore. I think . . . I think something happened to me in the vortex.”
“What, you orgasmed?” Janine dryly quipped at Wade.
“No . . .” Wade cautiously walked over to a nearby bush comprised of taro leaves. Dozens upon dozens of leaves grew together in spirals, connecting together in a cohesive hedge. The individual green leaves were shaped like butterfly wings, with patterned splits in the leaves. Wade stood in front of one of the taro “bushes.”
Janine made a face. “What is that hideous thing?”
Maggie eyed the plant. “Those are taro leaves, also known as kalo. They're indigenous to the island.” She glanced at everyone, due to the questioning looks they were giving her. “On my homeworld, I was stationed in Hawaii for a few months, back in '95.”
Examining the taro bush, Quinn said, “Don't they use taro leaves to make poi? And this bush is almost like a ‘spider plant.' Maybe it's some evolved form of a kalo plant that grows in bunches? There could have been some botanical mutation on this world that causes taro to grow in linked colonies.”
Wade was staring intensely at the taro bush, as she had been doing for the past minute or so. Suddenly, one of the taro leaves spontaneously combusted, its leafy green exterior exploding as the sticky, creamy white inner filling showered outward in all directions.
“Miss Welles . . . ?” gasped Arturo.
Proudly, Wade wiggled her head. “I've always hated poi.”
Mallory gently brushed his hand against Wade's shoulder. “I thought your strength was gone?”
“It was.” Wade thought for a moment. “The energy from the vortex must have given me a slight power boost. I guess I just needed some time to regenerate more of my energy. I would have combusted that entire ‘spider plant' if I'd been able to.”
Remmy bit his lips, suppressing laughter. “Now that isn't very environmentally-friendly of you, girl.”
“Have you ever tasted poi, Remmy?” Wade asked Rembrandt, who shook his head. “It's disgusting. Try it sometime, and then we'll talk.”
Diana spoke up. “I think we should try to find civilization - if there even is one around here.”
The group began walking along a dusty path that had been blazed through the jungle. Chirping birds serenaded them as they strolled across the pathway. Brightly multicolored macaws could be seen perched in the branches of deciduous trees, which were interspersed with traditional Hawaiian palm trees and kalo bushes throughout the jungle.
“You know, Wade, you shouldn't be so down on poi,” Quinn pointed out. “It's one of the healthiest foods for the human body.”
“Yeah, but that doesn't really matter when a person ends up regurgitating it,” Wade responded, skeptically. “Sorry, but it has no flavor and it tastes like Kindergarten paste.”
Rembrandt abruptly slapped his own neck, as a reflex to an insect bite he'd just received. “Freakin' mosquitoes!”
“Here, Rem,” offered Maggie, plucking a taro leaf from the kalo “spider plant” and tearing the leaf open. She applied it to Rembrandt's neck, in the spot on his flesh where the mosquito bite was beginning to puff up. “I learned this in our survival training while I was on the Big Island. The poi from a kalo leaf is supposed to treat mosquito bites.” She squeezed the taro's thick white internal liquid from its torn leaf, and gently rubbed it against Rembrandt's neck where he'd been bitten by the mosquito.
Malcolm soon noticed something in the sky. “Look at that,” he said, pointing to a bleak gray cloud of smoke that was ascending upward through the air. “There must be people up ahead.”
The explorers ventured forth, following the smoky uprising as an aerial guide. After a little more than five minutes, they reached what appeared to be a small village, quaintly composed of elaborate huts and estates made from bamboo. Natives were working outside of their homes, gathering baskets of bamboo, fruits, flowers, and vegetables. Off in the distance, the ocean served as a backdrop to this tiny, peaceful community.
Then, a group of uniformed officers turned the corner. They were tall, lean men adorned in elegant colonial-style apparel. Each officer had his hair tied back in a fancy queue, and they all seemed to march in step with one another as they approached the sliders.
“Who are you?” one of the soldiers asked the sliders, visually sizing up the sliders' outfits. He had a noticeable British accent.
Quinn and Colin exchanged glances. “They're British,” Quinn whispered.
Mallory reached out and shoved Professor Arturo forward. “Talk to them for us, Professor,” he whispered. “You're one of them.”
Arturo gave Mallory a side-glare, annoyed. He then cleared his throat and addressed the officer who'd spoken to them. “My good sir, we are tourists, and we appear to have gotten ourselves a bit lost. Could you kindly tell us where we are?”
“This is Waikiki Village, on the island of Oahu,” the soldier briskly replied. “You gits must be from Honolulu, eh?”
“Uh, yes. We are. We just sailed in there as of yesterday morning.” Arturo paused to think. “Ah, so we are still in the Hawaiian Island chain?”
The officer looked baffled. “Hawaiian Islands? No one ever uses that term anymore, mate. These are the Sandwich Islands.”
“Sandwich Islands?” repeated Arturo, thinking deeply. “So they were colonized by Captain James Cook?”
“Aye. Colonized and annexed by the 39 Colonies. Where have you been, mate?” The soldier seemed stunned.
“We've been abroad for too long. That will teach us to go out camping so soon after our return.” The Professor gave a nervous laugh. “Basic history must have slipped my mind, momentarily. Bah, that's the last time I spend six months in China!” Arturo shared a hearty laugh with the soldiers, who continued on their way. The Professor hurriedly ushered his fellow sliders away, further into the village. “Redcoats, for certain. Britain must control North America and most of the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii, on this Earth.”
“At least it looks as though they let the natives retain their culture,” Diana said, observing the Polynesian attire worn by most of the villagers, as the dectet proceeded through Waikiki Village.
They stopped in front of a sculpted silver statue, that was mounted on an identically silver platform. The plaque at the front of the platform read, in embossed lettering: Captain James Cook, 1728-1811, Father of the Sandwich Islands.
Arturo studied the plaque. “Apparently, on this world, Captain Cook was never killed by Hawaiian islanders. He probably was able to subdue any native rebellions and unite Hawaii with the Colonies, which now presumably is thirty-nine strong in number, rather than only thirteen.”
“Well, we have four days here,” Rembrandt said, staring out at the ocean. “Any way we can return to the mainland before then?”
“Possibly by ship, or maybe airplane?” Colin suggested.
“No planes,” insisted a heavyset Hawaiian woman, who wore a brightly floral moo-moo. She spoke English, but her accent was definitely Hawaiian. “No air travel in or out of islands. None allowed since raid from Tuvalu. For our protection. Not safe for other colonies.” Her words were spoken in incomplete phrases, albeit somewhat understandable ones.
“She's obviously referring to some form of a national security dilemma,” Arturo speculated. “It's doubtful that the 39 colonies are permitting air travel to and from the Hawaiian - er, Sandwich - islands. Except maybe for the military.”
“So we're pretty much stuck here until the next slide,” concluded Malcolm.
Janine threw back her head and laughed. “And even then, we'll still be sliding into an Alternate Hawaii. Oh yeah, this is just great!” she sarcastically sputtered. “You people couldn't have just found a timer with intradimensional translocation capabilities, could you?!”
“Relax, Janine,” said Diana, putting her arm around the Oriental slider. “Eventually, we'll have to arrive on a world where Hawaii has an active airport. And then we can just book a flight and be back to California in a matter of hours, right?”
“Don't get your hopes up, Diana,” lamented Maggie, pessimistically. Her voice wavered, fearfully. “We seem to have a new problem coming our way. Literally.” She pointed to a gigantic swarm of insects that was swarming en masse toward the village. The swarm buzzed loudly and fiercely, as it began its descent.
Villagers could be heard screaming. One passer-by shouted, as he ran past the sliders, “Killer frihakis!”
“Killer frihakis?” gulped Quinn.
“What the hell is a frihaki?” Janine grumbled.
“I don't wanna find out!” yelled Mallory, as they all made a dash for an adjacent bamboo shelter. “Everybody run for the nearest hut!”
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