Disclaimer: The Sliders television series' characters and storylines are property of Universal and St. Clare Entertainment, series creator Tracy Tormé and Fox Broadcasting Network and The Sci-Fi Channel. No copyright infringement is intended and no monetary profit is being made off of this work. All other characters who are not found on the Sliders television series were created by me, and should only be used with my prior permission. Posting to archives is encouraged as long as my name and title stay with the story.|
Author's Note: Beware of spoilers. This story is part of my Sliders fanfiction series, picking up where the episode "The Seer" leaves off. You should be familiar with most, if not all, of the original Sliders series, as well as the preceding episodes of my fanfiction, before reading this story.
* * *
Wade ducked out of the way as a shower of stones tumbled from above her. “Some place we chose to camp out!” she lamented in a huff, as Mallory linked elbows with her.
The inner cavern walls shook around the sliders and rumbled beneath their feet. Rembrandt led the group through the meandering cave tunnels until they reached the cavern entrance, an opening that overlooked the rest of the valley. “Why can't we ever have a nice, peaceful slide?” he shouted, over the pre-eruption thundering. Rembrandt's voice echoed off the cavern's acoustic boundaries.
Maggie activated the timer, opening a rift against the cavernous ground. “Hurry, before the place collapses!” she yelled to everyone. Holding her nose, she jumped downward, plunging into the interdimensional hole.
“Bah!” Arturo coughed amid all the fumes that were accumulating near the cave's entrance. “This is like a horrid recreation of Raiders of the Lost Ark!” He descended down through the Einstein-Rosen-Pudalski bridge after his friends.
“I guess we're in the Alternate Hawaii where Mauna Loa is never-ending,” Diana said, figuratively. She eyed the miles and miles of active volcanoes protruding from the valley before her. Lava whooshed from the volcanoes' exploding peaks, and Diana held her breath to curtail any inhalation of toxic air as she preceded Colin and Quinn into the vortex.* * *
Quinn Mallory watched the end of the tunnel approach as he was catapulted forward through interdimensional space. He saw the body of Diana Davis being flung through the interdimensional exitway. His own body and that of his brother followed a similar path, as the sparkly purple quantum energy subsided to make room for a patch of green grass. Quinn grunted, his body hitting the ground and his lips kissing a mouthful of grass.
“It was probably a bad idea to seek refuge in a national park that contained nothing but volcanoes,” Quinn quipped, spitting out grass blades..
The sound of bells chiming could be heard in the distance. As everyone studied their surroundings, they viewed a nicely-groomed assembly of naupaka shrubs with white five-petalled half-flowers and berries, bright orange tubular kou flowers, and tall multi-branched banyan trees.
Malcolm pointed at a lone figure who was making his way toward them. “Who's that guy?”
The man who approached their group wore a simple brown cloak, with a chained crucifix hanging around his neck. His arms were non-threateningly positioned at his sides. He smiled and nodded at them, and several of the sliders saw the familiarity in his face - graying hair and a matching beard, with facial wrinkles showing sings of his age.
“Oh my God! It's The Seer!” blurted out Mallory.
Maggie, Rembrandt, Diana, and the two Quinns did a double take. They now noticed an elegant cathedral, which this man had presumably emerged from.
“He can't be The Seer,” protested Maggie. “The Seer wasn't a priest.”
Colin tilted his head, studying the elderly priest. “He sort of resembles Archibald Chandler.”
“Now that you mention it . . .” Rembrandt looked at Maggie, and they shared gazes. “. . . he could pass for either of them.”
The priest spread out his arms, benignly. “Welcome,” he greeted the sliders. “I am Father Archibald LeBeau. I have been expecting you.”
“Well we weren't expecting you, that's for sure!” Mallory exclaimed.
“Archibald LeBeau . . .” Rembrandt muttered under his breath. “Could it be possible . . . ?”
Diana interrupted. “He's got the same last name, Rem. He could still be The Seer's double.”
Janine flinched. “What do you mean you've been ‘expecting' us?” she asked Father LeBeau. “Are you some kind of psychic?”
Father LeBeau shook his head. “Please, come, my friends. I shall answer all of your questions in good time. But right now, you must sit and rest. You are very tired from your long and dangerous journey, are you not?”
Mallory yawned. “Now that you mention it, I could use a little nap . . .”
Wade lovingly swatted Mallory in the stomach, biting her lip.
“Well, we might as well,” Malcolm addressed the rest of the team. “It's not like a man of God is gonna hurt us.”
Professor Arturo frowned. “I would not be so quick to trust this stranger, Mr. Eastman. He may only be posing as a clergyman.”
“Then how do you explain why he was waiting for us here?” Diana whispered back. “I wouldn't be surprised if he intercepted some sort of divine message. Professor, he's a double of The Seer.”
“That does not mean he is the same seer whom you met, Dr. Davis,” contradicted Arturo. “Surely you must realize by now that our alternates may have vastly different personalities . . . and lives.”
“Well, you can stay here and wander around if you want to,” Janine told the Professor. “But I'm hungry.” She followed Father LeBeau as he began to lead them toward his sanctuary. “Hey, nice church you got here, padre. Okay now, feed me.”
“Is this a good idea?” Maggie leaned over and whispered to Rembrandt, even as the group proceeded to slowly trail Father LeBeau.
Rembrandt shook his head. “I don't know, girl. But first things first. We know the drill by now.” He removed a Swiss army knife from his pocket. “It's my turn again, this slide.” He carefully pressed one of its less sharp blades against his flesh, drawing an inch-long laceration of blood from his arm. “Another world, soon to be safe from the 'Maggs . . .”
Father LeBeau led them up the sleek marble steps, past statues of gargoyles, cherubs, and biblical characters. They entered a dank hallway, passing several nuns during their walk down the long corridor. The nuns kept their heads lowered, hardly acknowledging the visitors. One of them opened a sturdy, almost-camouflaged door that squeaked as she pulled at the knob.
“Thank you, Mother Superior,” the priest warmly thanked his colleague. Father LeBeau stepped aside, motioning for his guests to enter the room. “Please, make yourselves at home.”
The dectet walked into a quaint living area. Polynesian-patterned velvet couches were positioned around several coffee tables and antique endtables. Potted palm trees decorated various corners of this study, which included a desk, a small kitchenette, and even a television set near the furniture.
“Boy, you're a pretty high-class priest,” said Mallory, whistling as he took in the not-too-shabby living space.
Father LeBeau chuckled. “Demonstrating piety does not require one to live in squalor. I don't hoard luxurious fineries, but I do believe in living comfortably.” He gestured for them all to sit. “May I offer you something to drink? Chamomile tea, perhaps?”
Another nun carried in a tray with a silver teapot and eleven dainty cups on it. From underneath the short, stout woman's habit, some curly locks of her gray hair were sticking out.
“Thank you, Sister Martha,” said Father LeBeau, nodding cordially at her. He turned to his guests again. “Please. Do sit. Drink. Let us talk. I'm sure there is much that you wish to know.”
“Yeah, like where's the food?” Janine piped up, plunking down next to Mallory and Wade on one of the sofas.
“Father LeBeau, I'm sorry if I'm being a pain in the butt here,” Rembrandt explained, as some of the others began to enjoy their refreshments, “but the last time I drank someone's chamomile tea, we almost got burned alive.”
“Ah, yes,” Father LeBeau shook his head, regretfully. “That backstabbing Lady Mary was quite a rascal, wasn't she?”
Rembrandt looked at Quinn, and then at Wade. The three of them shared similar facial expressions.
“Where's the food?” Janine repeated.
“Sir . . . Father, forgive my skepticism,” Professor Arturo interjected, “but you cannot possibly know us . . .”
“Perhaps I should tell you my full name?” the priest suggested. “Father Archibald Marcus LeBeau.”
“Marcus . . .” Diana muttered pointedly, under her breath. Her eyes darted from Rembrandt to Maggie to Mallory.
“Sir, how does that prove anything?” Arturo remained insistent in his dissent.
Maggie looked at Arturo. “The Seer's name was Marc LeBeau.”
“Yes, I was shocked to see my alternate self forecast your apparent deaths,” Father LeBeau continued. “While his sincerity was unquestionable, his foresight was premature - as you very well know, don't you, Mr. Brown?”
Rembrandt boggled his eyes. “Okay, this is . . .”
“. . . freaky?” Father LeBeau finished Rembrandt's sentence for him. “Yes, but Mr. Brown, it makes sense. His daughter kept your group from sliding, thus altering the timeline. Your heroic act only ensured the safety of your friends whom you were willing to leave behind.”
Remmy merely made stuttering noises with his throat.
“I share a similar gift with your ‘Seer' . . . I also have been given the gift of remote viewing.”
“I do not understand,” Colin said, in confusion.
“It's also known as ‘telecognition' . . .” Diana sipped her tea, keeping her eyes trained on Father LeBeau. “. . . the ability to receive visual images of events from afar. Remember when we told you how The Seer had that same ability, which is why he knew so much about us? It's sort of like peeking into someone else's house from where you're sitting all the way across town.”
“Or from across the planet,” Quinn added.
“Or across dimensions,” contributed Father LeBeau.
Colin nodded, slowly comprehending the notion.
“This is utter insanity,” Arturo dismissed the priest. “Sir . . .”
“I know, you are a ‘man of science.' I don't expect you to be easily persuaded, Professor.” Setting down his cup of tea, Archibald LeBeau rubbed his neck. “But I can assure you and your companions, I mean you no harm, nor do I wish to frighten any of you. Your journey brought you here for a reason. And I foresaw it.”
“This is a trick!” scoffed the Professor, stubbornly.
“He knows about the Kromaggs,” Rembrandt emphasized to Arturo, “and the virus.”
“The Kromaggs could have invaded this world,” Arturo reached for an explanation. “They put a bounty on your head, Rembrandt. I'm sure the Dynasty has circulated tales of our encounters.”
“Then how did he know about Lady Mary?” Wade challenged the Professor.
“Perhaps she was captured, and brought to this Earth to work in a refugee camp? How should I know, Miss Wells?!” Arturo was getting flustered. He hated being wrong. “For all we know, he could be a Kromagg plant. This seemingly benevolent man-of-the-cloth might even be going into our heads at this very moment, accessing our memories as we speak.”
Father LeBeau chuckled, shaking his head in amusement. “Careful, Maximilian. You're beginning to sound like your evil double.”
Arturo relented, sighing in resignation.
“This is so cool,” Wade said, obviously in awe of the priest's knowledge. “It's like he's known us throughout this whole ordeal.” She looked at Father LeBeau. “So . . . you saw what the Kromaggs did to me?”
“Yes, Ms. Wells. I did. But it was part of your journey, and you will be a stronger person because of it.” He switched focus. “Malcolm, you have lost someone very close to you.”
“Gretchen!” Malcolm was all ears now.
“She is still alive. I can feel her presence in the multiverse. Where, I cannot be sure. That vision is foggy.” He addressed two of the other sliders. “And Diana, Mallory, you both have suffered so much after witnessing the destruction of your homeworld. You will have lost so much.” Archibald LeBeau pressed his lips together, sadly.
Diana grabbed Mallory's hand, squeezing it.
“Ms. Beckett, you still have inner demons to confront - and I don't mean just the Colonel.” Father LeBeau stared at the Mallory brothers. “Quinn, Colin, you must get to your homeworld as soon as possible. They need help. And Rembrandt . . .” He smiled warmly. “. . . the glue that holds you all together . . .”
“Wait.” Maggie held up her hand. “Father, how do you know all this? What ‘inner demons'? I thought you have only followed our travels through remote viewing?”
Mallory could not stop staring at the priest. “You can see the future, can't you?”
“Sometimes.” Archibald LeBeau surveyed the eager faces of his guests. “But I cannot see everything. Some events I have only seen quick flashes of, rather than the full picture. Maggie, I have felt your pain and future turmoil. I don't know the details, but I know what you've felt - and what you will feel.”
A dire look invaded Maggie's face.
“And Quinn, Colin,” he continued, addressing the Mallory brothers, “I have only seen flashes of your birthworld . . . images of your parents. I do not know that exact situation there, but I can sense vibes of panic imminent on that Earth.”
“What about me?” Malcolm asked.
“I sense . . .” Father LeBeau reached out to touch Malcolm's forehead, the priest's eyes closed. “. . . death.”
Malcolm's eyes fluttered as panic overtook him.
“Okay, that's enough!” Rembrandt had his arm around Malcolm as he held his young friend close. “Father, with all due respect, you cannot just give us these cryptic messages and then leave us hanging. Now if you really do see the future, you'll tell us what's in store for us.”
Professor Arturo sipped his tea, scowling. “Parlor tricks, Mr. Brown. Notice the vague platitudes this man is spouting. No vivid description. No solid predictions. Precognition my foot!” He rolled his eyes at the priest. “You . . .”
“. . . blistering idiot.” Archibald LeBeau calmly finished Arturo's insult for him. “I know what you think of me, Professor. But I have no control over what I see.”
“Sir, perhaps you do have some ability - albeit limited - to clairvoyantly tap into transdimensional visions. Perhaps, like the previous Mr. LeBeau whom my friends speak of, you have a faint connection with our group.” Arturo slammed his teacup down on the coffee table. “But you, sir, are no Nostradamus! I will not sit here silently while you deceive my friends.”
Father LeBeau paused for several moments, so he could give Arturo time to irately exhale. Finally, he spoke again. “Come with me. I have something I wish to show all of you. I realize now that I shared this information with you too hastily. You need to get a better perspective on who exactly I am before I can expect you to trust my judgment.” He arose from his leather armchair.
“And who exactly are you?” the Professor challenged, folding his arms.
“Let me show you.”
One by one, each of the sliders gradually got up to follow Archibald LeBeau toward a doorway right next to his patio exit.
“Oh, and Dr. Davis,” he stopped to address Diana, before they entered his den, “you probably want to check your PDL by now. You will see that we are near the city of Kailua on the eastern shores of Oahu.” A twinkle gleamed in his eye.
Diana opened the cover of her Portable Dimensional Laboratory, curiously.* * *
The sliders followed Archibald LeBeau into a brightly furnished room. Burgundy wallpaper provided a backdrop for small tables and chests, which lined the walls of the room. These wooden pieces of furniture contained numerous photo albums, framed pictures, antique mementos, and knick-knacks. One table held a number of ancient-looking Hawaiian artifacts, including miniature totem poles, seashells, tribal idols, sand dollars, and woodcarvings. In the middle of the room, more sofas and loveseats were positioned in a circular formation as an intended sitting area.
“I thought I would tell you a little about my life, before I show you the interesting stuff.” Father LeBeau winked at them. He then picked up a framed black-and-white photograph of a young boy with his two parents. “My father, Louis LeBeau, was a skilled architect. He had operations based in Los Angeles, New York, Paris, and London. Many of his creations have included London's Buckingham Plaza in the Piccadilly Circus, the Dessus du Monde in Paris, the Sourou Kaiju Emporium in Tokyo, and Philadelphia's Liberty Tower. I don't know if any of those edifices exist on your homeworlds . . .”
“Buckingham Palace, yes. Buckingham Plaza, no,” Arturo answered him.
Father LeBeau nodded. “My mother was Gladys Chandler, a famous lounge singer. Again, I'm uncertain how popular she was on any of your worlds, if any, but her success has been similar on several of the parallel Earths I've viewed. Her side of the family found much profit in a self-named hotel chain that I'm sure you're all familiar with.” A little twinkle shone in his eyes.
Wade picked up another framed photo. This one, also black-and-white, featured a smiling little girl with ear-length dark hair. “Who's that?”
“She is my daughter, Claire. My wife, Hildagarde, gave birth to her in 1958.” His face beamed with fatherly pride, which slowly faded into sadness. “Claire died in a car accident when she was only six years of age. Her death sent Hildagarde into a post-traumatic state of depression.”
“I'm terribly sorry,” Rembrandt said, sympathetically touching the priest's arm. “I know what it's like to lose your family.” Their eyes met and connected.
Quinn and Colin were studying a familiar-looking circular device. Its spiral formation was layered, and wires stuck out of the back of it.
“Quinn, is this what I think it is?” Colin asked, eyeing the design.
Quinn Mallory turned his head toward the priest. “Father . . .”
“Yes, that is a sliding machine, as I'm certain you've surmised from its structure,” confirmed Father LeBeau. “Or at least, what's left of it.” He and Arturo led the other sliders over to where Quinn and Colin were standing. “Although it is much less advanced than the one you invented, Mr. Mallory.”
Maggie's mouth hung open in breathtaken curiosity. “Father LeBeau, did you . . . did you invent sliding on this world?”
Father LeBeau laughed, smiling back at Maggie. “Me? Oh, goodness, no. Most of the people on my Earth know nothing about sliding. No, this contraption was left behind by an otherworldly visitor who appeared in our Agora Hills apartment a few years after Claire had passed away.”
“Otherworldly visitor?” Mallory chuckled, skeptically. “I don't suppose you mean six eyeballs, antennae, and a sharp probe?”
“Hardly.” Archibald LeBeau made eye contact with Quinn and Colin. “He introduced himself to me as Michael Mallory.”
Colin's jaw dropped. “Quinn . . .” He turned to his brother.
But Quinn had taken that opportunity to clasp his fingers around one edge of the archaic sliding machine. His vision transferred to a view of a middle-aged man - with familiar eyes and cheekbones - emerging from a wobbly vortex. The interdimensional traveler toted a much cleaner, more intact, earlier version of that sliding machine through the tentative wormhole, which briskly closed up behind him. A stunned, younger, middle-aged Archibald LeBeau, dressed in civilian clothes, stood in the living room of his apartment with a shocked expression. Quinn's flashback ended as he released his grip from the sliding machine.
“Quinn?” Maggie rushed over to his side.
“Mr. Mallory? Did you have another flashback?” The Professor put his arm on Quinn's shoulder for comfort.
Rembrandt addressed Father LeBeau. “Q-Ball's been having some creepy flashbacks lately. Whenever he touches something . . .”
“I know. I could tell by the expression on his face.” Father LeBeau moved closer to Quinn. “You saw it, didn't you, my son? You saw a vision of your grandfather and myself?”
Quinn exhaled, and swung his head over toward Father LeBeau. “I recognized him, from the family photos my mom used to show me. He's my grandpa . . . or at least, my grandpa from Kromagg Prime. My grandfather on Earth Prime died before I could ever get to know him. But you called him ‘Michael Mallory.' They named my father after him. How do you know he was MY biological grandfather - not just another double?”
“I could sense it the first time my consciousness connected with your group,” Archibald LeBeau explained, “much the way I'm sure you felt it just now when you saw him in your vision. I could tell that your own aura descended from that of the man who visited me decades ago.”
“I don't get it.” Malcolm grabbed his own forehead in confusion. “Why would Michael Mallory - Senior - bring his sliding machine through his own wormhole with him, and then leave it behind?”
“He mentioned something about ‘alternate allies' whom he was seeking,” Father LeBeau recalled, not knowing a complete answer to Malcolm's question. “It seemed as though he had come to my residence in error. He did, however, explain interdimensional physics in summary to me. Michael Mallory spoke of an ape-like warrior species that was dominating his planet, and he was searching for a way to destroy them. Suddenly, he seemed to generate another vortex almost out of his own body. Another wormhole appeared, and he was gone.” The priest rested his hands on the remnants of the sliding machine. “In his haste, Michael Mallory dropped the mobile sliding machine, inadvertently leaving it behind. I believe he had meant to take it with him, back to wherever he came from.”
“So what did you do with it? Did you take it apart?” Colin asked, directing his inquisitive gaze at the once-operable sliding machine.
Father LeBeau traced the mechanical dexterity of the apparatus with his fingers. “Naturally. I wanted to see how it worked. So I enlisted the aid of one of my father's engineers, Leon Ambleur, who devised a way to rewire the machine. But when we tried to activate it, that is when it happened. The path of my life was altered forever.”
The sliders paused, waiting for Father LeBeau to continue. Instead, the priest had appeared to take a vocal rest, as he shut his eyes in silent contemplation.
“Well, spit it out!” Janine impatiently snapped, after less than one half-minute of silence. “How did your life change forever?”
“One month before Leon was able to create a new vortex from the sliding machine, Hildagarde passed away. I was devastated.” He bowed his head. “Both of my parents as well as my only daughter were deceased, and suddenly I had lost my wife too. At that point, I was willing to risk everything - including my life - to find a way to be with them again . . . even if it was with an alternate version of my family. Once Leon had generated a temporary wormhole from what was left of the sliding machine, I jumped into the portal before he could stop me.” All eyes were trained on the priest, by now. “I could feel myself sailing through space and time, swimming across a sea of majestic greens and blues. But while I was in the tunnel, the machine shorted out, and I could feel the vortex collapsing all around me.” He inhaled deeply, envisioning his memory. “I must have been sent in a quantum loop, because when I awoke I was right back in my apartment, crouched and quivering on the floor by Leon's feet. Ever since that experience, I have been able to engage in remote viewing.”
No one said anything at first. They were all digesting what this seer had recounted for them. Finally, Colin asked, “How extensive are your abilities?”
“It all depends on where my consciousness is directed, my son. Sometimes I can see into the next room, and sometimes I can observe events all the way across the planet.” Father LeBeau headed for the second door, which apparently led to another room. “For the next year, I practiced my newfound ability. I would sit alone in my study for hours, telecognitively observing daily activities of Los Angeles life - businessmen discussing stocks and bonds, actors filming movies or television shows, prostitutes serving the needs of their clients . . .”
“A regular Peeping Tom, weren't ya?” Janine quipped, crinkling her nose.
“I only lingered in one place when I believed the information could be valuable for later use. Be advised, I felt shameful witnessing some of those acts.” Archibald LeBeau cringed. “Soon, my consciousness was able to travel across oceans and continents. I also began having . . . er, small premonitions. The phone would ring several seconds after my ears perceived it to be ringing. A specific television image could appear in my vision minutes before it was actually broadcasted on the screen. I saw it raining in my backyard days before the rain arrived. Little did I know, that was only the beginning . . .” He turned the doorknob. “Come, I wish to show you my gallery.”
Quinn, Colin, Rembrandt, and Wade had already followed him through the next door. Professor Arturo hung back, yielding Diana with his hands before they proceeded. “Dr. Davis, what do you make of this? His story seems a bit far-fetched, don't you think?”
“I'm willing to keep an open mind, Professor. I'll reserve judgment for now.” Before passing through the doorway, Diana showed her PDL screen to Arturo. “Oh, by the way, Father LeBeau was right. According to my geographic spectrum locator, we're near Kailua on the southeast bay of Oahu.”
Indeed, a magnified digital map of the island of Oahu confirmed their location for Arturo's eyes.
“The bigger question, I believe, is how did he know I had a PDL with me?” Diana left Arturo to contemplate that as she disappeared through the door.* * *
“Whoa!” Rembrandt stopped in his tracks as he entered the priest's gallery. Displayed and situated atop a number of coffee tables, counters, and shelves were dozens upon dozens of statues. Some were made of marble or were bronzed, while others had been composed of simple hardened plaster. More couches and armchairs had been positioned strategically around the room for convenient sitting.
“Awesome!” exclaimed Malcolm, as he fingered a marble statue of a feminine angel leaning over the bedside of a little girl as though she was whispering to the child. “You're a sculptor?! How did you sculpt this with such detail? It's like I can actually see what's happening.”
“With your artistic talent, Malcolm, I am honored to receive such a compliment.” Father LeBeau patted Malcolm on the shoulder. “I simply use my hands and fingers to mold images that come to me. I spend hours sustaining a vision in my memory, so I can be as accurate as possible toward preventing its eventuality.”
“Wait . . . you sculpt your psychic visions?” Maggie spat out, taken aback.
Quinn couldn't take his eyes off of this seer. “When did you start having premonitions?” he asked.
Taking a seat in a soft blue recliner, Father LeBeau began recounting his first precognitive experience. “The year was 1968. I was letting my consciousness wander throughout Los Angeles when I came across the residence of a young college student. He was of Arabic descent, and I saw him sitting in his home, repeatedly scribbling the phrase ‘RFK must die' over and over again in a notebook. Naturally, I became quite disturbed and concerned, and an eerie sense of dread overtook me. I continued my remote viewing around his house, and I soon identified his postal address from an envelope lying on his kitchen table. The young man's name was Sirhan Sirhan.”
Remmy and Arturo exchanged glances, and Arturo raised his eyebrows with interest.
“There was suddenly a knock at my door, and I snapped out of my trance,” the priest continued, staring straight ahead as he narrated. “When I answered it, I was greeted by a young lady who was volunteering for Senator Robert F. Kennedy's presidential campaign. She handed me a campaign flier, and as I took it from her, a bright light nearly blinded me. I felt myself being thrust into a crowded room, where I witnessed Senator Kennedy getting shot in the chest. Pulling the trigger was none other than the young man - Sirhan Sirhan - whom I had been observing from afar for the past hour.” He cleared his throat, catching his breath. “Once my premonition ended, I was driven by some powerful force into my studio, where I had been practicing pottery for the previous eight years. For hours upon hours, my fingers shaped every intricate detail I had received of this glimpse into the future. I could not explain it, but somehow I could feel that Robert F. Kennedy's death was eminent.”
“Yeah, that's how I feel when . . .” Quinn bit his tongue, realizing that he'd interrupted Father LeBeau.
Archibald LeBeau simply nodded back at Quinn. “I know, I know. It's beyond words, is it not?” He and Quinn shared a meaningful gaze, before Father LeBeau gestured to a sculpture that was situated on the oak table behind where Diana stood. “That is my first sculpted work, a depiction of the first premonition I ever received.”
The sculpture included a broad platform - obviously intended to be a floor - which the formally-dressed body of Robert F. Kennedy was sprawled atop while clutching his chest. A distinct, thick flow of what could only be blood trickled from a bullet wound on the sculpted presidential candidate's chest. About six different people were crouched on the floor around the senator, in the process of ducking for cover. Each person's clothing and facial expression remained dexterously crafted with deliberate lines, bumps, and texturing. Off to the side of this montage stood a sculpted image of an Arabic man holding a gun. The assassin had curly yet close-cropped hair, and his face bore a glassy stare, almost as though he was sleepwalking.
“So what did you do?” Rembrandt asked him.
“I did the only thing I could . . . I went to the police and told them of my vision. They didn't believe me, of course - they thought I was some delusional fellow. Fortunately, a friend of mine was a detective at the station, and he convinced them to place extra security at the Ambassador Hotel that evening. Based on my description, they were able to prevent Sirhan Sirhan from assassinating our future president. I thanked God that I had been given this wonderful gift to prevent such tragedies from occurring. From that day forward, I devoted my life to the lord, vowing to help people in need whenever God called upon me to do so.”
Janine squinted. “And you became a priest? Why didn't you cash in on your ability? That's what I would have done.”
“I no longer cared about material possessions. I had lost those who were closest to me, and I decided it was more important to prevent others from losing their own loved ones.” He reclined further back in his chair. “Through the priesthood, I was able to reach out to the surrounding community, interacting with the homeless and with troubled youth. My premonitions kept many misguided individuals out of gangs or from ending up in prison. In many cases, I was able to change the futures of those headed down dangerous paths, often preventing their deaths or the deaths of their loved ones. I am proud to say that I have helped to alter what would have been an otherwise bleak existence for many.”
“Wow, so all these statues are of the kids you helped?” Mallory whistled. “Or what their lives would have been like?”
“Not all of them.” Father LeBeau slowly got out of his chair. “President Kennedy was so grateful to me for saving his life that he insisted the FBI solicit my assistance with solving crimes. I used my powers of perception to help the authorities solve kidnappings and locate wanted criminals. Approximately 95% of the time, I was able to do this before the guilty parties could elude capture.”
One particular sculpture caught Rembrandt's eyes. He noticed it situated on a bureau behind his elbow, as it depicted a prominent figure in pop culture. “Isn't that Tina Turner?” he inquired, recognizing the singer's wild hairstyle and slim figure.
“Ah, yes.” Archibald LeBeau made his way over to the sculpture of Tina Turner. The rock diva's likeness was depicted in hardened clay, falling backward as a fist struck her. That hand belonged to a second connected statue, which portrayed the intimidating, beefy physique of Ike Turner. “Ms. Turner became extremely thankful when I encouraged her to end her abusive marriage, saving her years of assault and unhappiness. She generously provided me with the financial means to start a community shelter for battered spouses and runaway adolescents.”
“What is this one?” Colin curiously inquired, indicating a three-dimensional sculpture capturing a bird's-eye-view looking down upon what appeared to be sections of a power plant exploding from fiery infernos and gaseous flames. This miniaturized recreation was sealed within a glass case.
Arturo stared at the catastrophic image, immediately recognizing it. “Chernobyl!” he gasped, identifying the 1986 nuclear disaster.
“Ah, so it occurred on your world as well, I take it?” Father Archibald LeBeau solemnly concluded. “Unfortunately, this was one event I could not avert. The Russians simply wouldn't listen.” He sadly strolled over to another exhibit on display in his repository. “This one, which would have happened that same year, I was able to prevent, thank God,” he told them, gesturing to a sculpture of a NASA shuttle in mid-explosion. The sculpture was encased behind a clear pane of glass on a shelf.
Rembrandt thought back. “The Challenger explosion?” he guessed. “I remember that day all too well. That morning, they'd released my new single, Still Toppless. But the shuttle's explosion was all over the news that day. Poor people.” He shook his head. “Plus my album flopped.”
The seer nodded. “I am thankful I foresaw the specific problem being a faulty rocket booster. That way, I was able to give the people at NASA a solid suspicion to investigate. Those astronauts went on to accomplish many great things in their lives - especially Christa McAuliffe, who would have been the ‘first teacher in space.' She eventually became a U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, being elected to take over for Warren Rudman in 1992. In fact, I believe one of her education bills was passed by Congress last week . . .”
Wade was standing over a semi-isolated glass case in the middle of the room. Her face tensed up as she recognized the sculpted historical figure. “Oh, no! That's not . . . is that . . . Princess Diana?!” Wade gestured to a miniature statue of the Princess of Wales being pulled out of a toppled limousine by miscellaneous paramedics. “Did she get killed?” Wade tearfully looked down, at the modest smirk plastered upon the delicate face of the People's Princess, whose elegantly styled hair was tousled and her neck was slanted at an irregular angle. “She looks so . . . at peace.”
Professor Arturo joined Wade in front of the chilling exhibit, gaping horrifically at the sight of this dead, mysterious British princess, who symbolized his own nationality and heritage. “Good heavens! I began following her life even after I moved to the States, as we had always been taught to respect our royalty. She lived an almost magical fairy-tale life that suddenly turned into a bad soap opera. But I never dreamed her life could end like this!”
“The poor princes!” As she grieved for Princess Di's young sons, Wade's tears were on the verge of beginning to flood from her eyes. Mallory quickly came over to comfort and hold her.
“Ms. Wells, Professor Arturo, do not worry,” the elder LeBeau assured them. “Her neck snapped upon impact, and she did not feel a thing . . . in my premonition, that is. I know, because I could feel everything that she would have felt.” He ventured over to Wade, touching her shoulders with sympathy. “Princess Diana is still very much alive on this world. My father was a business associate of Mohammed Fayed, whose son, Dodi, began dating Diana many years after her divorce from Prince Charles. Dodi and Diana were romantically involved and engaged to be married when our paths crossed at a reception. My late-father's company had designed a new chain of department stores as part of the Fayed empire in London, and as the last surviving child of Louis LeBeau, I was expected to attend. When I reached to kiss Diana Spencer's hand, an icy chill spread throughout my entire body as I saw the limo accident. In addition, I had yet a second, paradoxical premonition - of Dodi and Diana's son being born.”
“You mean . . . she was . . .?” Wade could hardly believe it.
“With child,” acknowledged Father LeBeau, with a nod of his head. “The child she was destined to have if the vehicular collision could be avoided.”
Janine balked at him, skeptically. “How could have you a premonition of Princess Di in labor if you had seen her die in your vision right before that?”
“He saw conflicting futures,” Wade explained, before Archibald LeBeau could tell Janine precisely that. “Alternate outcomes of what might happen depending on his actions. Don't you see? He was meant to save Princess Diana and her baby from being killed.”
“Oh, much more than that, Miss Wells.” The priest expanded on this experience. “I immediately sat Diana and Dodi down in private to explain to them what my premonitions had entailed. They trusted my judgment, as my reputation preceded me, and they wanted to know if the limousine crash would be premeditated. Through telecognition, my consciousness drifted freely throughout London, and I was able to track down and identify a group of Egyptian terrorists who, right at that moment, were making preliminary plans for the assassination. A notorious Giza crime family had learned of Diana and Dodi's courtship, and they hoped to prevent Diana and her unborn child from someday inheriting the Fayed fortune empire. That scenario could potentially give the Windsor family economic control of the Middle East. After all, if, after they were married, something tragic were to happen to Dodi, and then if the lives of both Diana and their future son were threatened . . .”
“The princes could end up being heirs to it all!” Wade finished.
“But fortunately, we located the would-be assassins before they could go through with it. Diana went on to give birth to a healthy baby boy - the Princess of Wales also helped to spearhead the new World Court of Justice. In fact, it was Diana who personally convinced President Snowe to get the U.S. on board with joining the World Court. In 1999, the American-led WCJ successfully apprehended Al Queda leader Osama bin Laden.” Father LeBeau was beaming proudly, obviously reflecting on his part in contributing to historical achievements.
“Father,” Rembrandt cleared his throat, “when did you first begin to have your . . . visions of us?”
“Since September of 1994, when the four of you first slid.” He indicated Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, and the Professor, pointing at each of them in turn. “Mr. Brown, your duplicate self on this world is somewhat of a celebrity. He is a very spiritual person, and he came to me asking for a prognosis of his future. But remember, and as I've explained to the Rembrandt Brown from my world, I cannot receive a premonition at will. I can only foresee an event if I'm meant to. I was unable to see his future . . . but through your double, Rembrandt, I have been able to follow the journeys of you and your friends wherever your soul leads them.”
“Please don't tell us they made a TV show about our lives, too?” Mallory groaned, comically.
“No, no, no.” He chuckled. “I am nothing like the ‘slideologists.' I've kept your travels private, contained in a separate gallery dedicated solely to your group.”
Quinn looked amazed. “Really? Can we see?”
“In good time, Quinn,” Archibald LeBeau answered him. “Right now, you all must be famished, am I correct?”
“Wow, you must be psychic,” Janine quipped, with a little smirk.
“Our cooks are preparing dinner for all of us at this very moment.” Father LeBeau began to stroll back the way they'd come. “I took the liberty of requesting certain special dishes on the menu. In the mood for some Beef Wellington, Professor?” He gave Arturo a sly wink before showing them the way to the dining quarters.
Everyone turned their attention to the Professor, looking for a reaction.
“Well now,” Professor Arturo stammered, smiling awkwardly in spite of himself, “we can't be too harsh until we first taste the man's meal now, can we?” He precipitously marched forward, as he avoided having to abase himself in front of his friends.
“I knew we'd break him,” boasted Mallory, as he collected a monetary wager of five dollars from Maggie.* * *
Colin passed a dish of buttered peas to Quinn. “Brother, I still do not understand why nuns wear such strange clothing,” he whispered, innocently.
“Colin!” Quinn hissed at his older brother. The physicist hurriedly spooned some more peas onto his plate. “It's a religion thing. Don't question it,” he answered Colin, still speaking in a barely audible whisper.
Across the table from Quinn and Colin, Sister Martha had finished pouring some tea into Wade's cup. “Can I get anyone else some more beverages?” she cordially asked, looking around the rectangular table.
“Got any Fanta?” Mallory cutely inquired, stuffing a forkful of pork sausage into his mouth.
Wade coughed and bit her lip, pointedly elbowing her boyfriend in the ribs.
“We'll call you if we need more.” Father LeBeau nodded at his subordinate, excusing her from the room. “Thank you, Sister Martha.”
The nun nimbly shuffled out of the dining quarters.
“So, Father . . .” Diana's inquisitive round eyes focused in on the priest. “You never told us why you chose to settle in Hawaii? Um, it sounded as though you were helping a lot of people in Los Angeles. What caused you to relocate?”
Archibald LeBeau swallowed the last gulp of mineral water from his goblet. “I had a vision.”
“Gee, who would have guessed?” Janine rolled her eyes, not sounding all that surprised.
He continued. “While on a missionary visit to the tiny village of Honolulu, I foresaw my future self amongst the Hawaiian people, advising those in search of the truth. I could feel the lord calling me to share his message with the inhabitants of these islands.” Father LeBeau picked up a small bell next to his plate and softly jingled it. “He wanted me to introduce the Hawaiian people to its inevitable connection with the Western world.” Mother Superior entered the dining room, and Father LeBeau motioned for her to fill his cup with more mineral water from the pitcher she held. “Hawaii was already one of our states, but we had much to learn about its native culture. God asked me to come to Oahu so I could help Hawaiian and Western cultures better understand one another. I simply answered God's call.”
“Oh, gimme a break,” muttered Janine, scoffing skeptically. She raised her empty glass and called out to Mother Superior, “Yo, Sister! Fill me up again. I don't wanna have to break into the chapel and chug down your entire supply of holy water.”
“I beg your pardon?” Mother Superior responded to Janine in a measured, clipped voice with a somewhat disapproving tone.
“Janine!” hissed Rembrandt, kicking the leg of Janine's chair underneath the table with his foot. “You're being rude.”
“What? I'm thirsty!” Janine tossed her head, attempting to sound innocent. Mother Superior stepped forward to refill Janine's glass.
Father LeBeau glanced around the table at his guests. “I will admit, it has been several weeks since I last viewed one of your ‘Alternate Hawaiian' adventures. I've had other matters to attend to, recently. The last I had seen, you were all huddled down inside a hut while a swarm of frihakis descended upon the village you were visiting. Of course, I foresaw that the swarm would eventually pass over the hut where you were sheltered. Sometimes, when I project my mind intensely enough, I can . . . ‘jump' through time and view what your fate will be. I've seen some horrifying events befall upon your interdimensional family.” His face turned somber for several moments before returning to normal. “So tell me about some of your latest journeys.”
“We were nearly killed on this one world where Hawaii was trying to become an independent kingdom again,” Malcolm recounted for him. “Liliuokalani VI was governing from an underground hideout somewhere on the Big Island. Her troops came after us with these high-tech energy weapons shaped like scepters. We couldn't get back to the West Coast, because the military had blocked all flights leaving the islands. We guessed that this Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement became so strong because their president never offered a formal apology for the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom.”
Arturo cleared his throat, having swallowed his last chunk of Beef Wellington. “Mr. Eastman, if this man is truly clairvoyant, shouldn't he already have seen that? There should be no need to go into such great detail for him.”
“On the contrary, Professor,” Father LeBeau said to Arturo, “I do not follow every slide your group makes. I have my own way of getting in touch with you, when I feel the necessity to do so. But I must use my gift proactively, rather than as a mere spectator. I receive visions related to other people when I am meant to, which remains a priority in my life.”
Another robed priest appeared in the entranceway that led into the dining room, and he lightly tapped against the wall. “Father LeBeau, I apologize for disturbing you and your guests, but the vice-president has called for you.” The bald, middle-aged man extended a cell phone to Father LeBeau. “He says it is urgent.”
“Thank you, Father Janski,” Archibald LeBeau graciously replied, taking the cellular phone from his fellow priest. Bringing the receiver to his ear, Father LeBeau greeted his caller, “Hello, Vice-President Leach. How have you been? Are you well? Mmm-hmm, I see . . .”
“Vice-President Leach?” Maggie snorted, hardly able to hold in her giggles.
“Maggie!” Quinn shook his head at his girlfriend, unable to contain his own lips from curving upward.
Diana muffled her own laughter as she gave Maggie's leg a coquettish kick under the table.
The sliders continued to listen in on Father LeBeau's end of the phone conversation. “Well, Mr. Vice-President,” he spoke into the receiver, “I haven't received any premonitions specifically pertaining to you lately . . .” The priest's body suddenly tensed up, and he inhaled with a horrific gasp. He had shut his eyes and seemed oblivious to all of his surroundings.
“Father?” Rembrandt leaned over to address his new friend, concerned. When he received no response, Remmy swiveled his head toward Mother Superior. “What's wrong with him?”
“It is happening!” Mother Superior shouted, nearly dropping the pitcher of mineral water that she held.
“He's having a premonition!” realized Father Janski, gluing his eyes to the sight of Archibald LeBeau sitting tensely in his chair as the priest glimpsed into the future.
They all watched Father LeBeau in silence for about ten minutes. Every so often, he would grunt and gasp. Finally, Archibald LeBeau opened his eyes, indicating that his premonition had ended.
“I apologize, but I have seen something very significant. I must document my vision.” Father LeBeau hastily excused himself as he stood up, and abruptly shuffled out of the room.
“Have fun!” Mallory called after him with uncertainty, trying to sound enthusiastic.
“Document his vision?!” Maggie flinched, confused. “How do you ‘document' a vision?”
“He's going to sculpt his premonition, just like he told us earlier” explained Malcolm.
Father Janski stepped further into the room. “Father LeBeau had asked me to speak to you on his behalf, in the event that he was . . . ‘called away,' as he was just now,” the other priest told the sliders. “Please enjoy the rest of your meal, and of course you are invited to stay for the duration of your time here.”
After Father Janski and Mother Superior had left the dining chambers, Rembrandt leaned in to talk with his sliding companions around the table. “I think this guy is the real deal. He doesn't seem to want to keep us here against our will. I say we chill here for the next two days.”
Quinn seemed to be staring off into space; he had hardly touched his food.
“Quinn?” Maggie could sense something wasn't right with him. “What's wrong?”
“I was just thinking . . .” Quinn absent-mindedly picked up a miniature “baby corn-on-the-cob” from his plate and nibbled on it. “Maybe Archibald LeBeau could help me understand all these . . . ‘changes' I'm going through? I mean, he has visions just like I do . . . except mine are of the past. But still, he gained his abilities after experiencing a quantum mishap, just like I did. There's gotta be some connection. Plus he knew my grandfather . . . !”
“Q-Ball, I don't wanna rain on your parade, but . . .” Remmy sighed. “Father LeBeau didn't even seem to understand what happened that made him psychic in the first place. Besides, he's hard at work right now, and he'll be tired afterward. We've only got two days here, and I've gotta talk to him before we leave . . .”
“Oh, I get it.” Quinn slammed his fist down on the table as he stood up, speaking coldly. “I get it, Rem. You just want him all to yourself because you're holding out hope that he might be able to give you the coordinates to Earth Prime. To hell with me and Colin ever being reunited with our parents, huh?!”
“Quinn . . .” Colin tried to interject.
“Q-Ball, you know it's not like that.” Rembrandt suddenly switched from sincere to hostile. “But at least your homeworld is protected from the 'Maggs. What about all of the people who get killed everyday by the 'Maggots on Earth Prime? Every minute that passes, more humans die on our world!”
“It's not ‘my' world anymore!” Quinn shouted, defensively. He then bit his lip, realizing how heartless that sounded.
“Quinn, my boy . . .” The Professor tried to calm him, in a rational yet flabbergasted tone of voice.
Wade pushed her chair back, getting to her feet irately. “It is ‘your' world too, Quinn. Or are you forgetting everyone we left behind? . . . my family, Rembrandt's family, Bennish, Wing, the rest of your classmates, all our coworkers, even ‘the prick' Michael Hurley. Do we really mean that little to you?”
Quinn shook his head. “Wade, you don't understand . . .”
“What I do understand, Quinn, is that you already know that your foster mother is safe and sound on Marc LeBeau's homeworld,” Rembrandt bitterly reminded him. “I don't even know what happened to my family. Wade doesn't know what happened to hers. The Professor doesn't know what's become of his only son. For all we know, they could all be dead! So excuse me, Quinn, if we hold out hope for some morsel of the same freakin' happy reunion that you do!”
“What about our homeworld and all the people on it?!” Diana spoke up on behalf of herself and Mallory. “They've been under Kromagg control for almost two years now. Don't the people on our world deserve to be liberated?!” She had become quite furious in a matter of a few short minutes.
Janine had an absolutely disgusted scowl on her face. “You know, all I ever hear about is ‘Earth Prime'-this and ‘Kromagg Prime'-that or ‘Geiger Prime'-over there . . . But what about MY people?! What about ‘Janine Prime'?! No one ever talks about getting me home anymore . . . did you ever stop to think that maybe the people on my world might appreciate being warned about the Kromaggs too? - that is, assuming they haven't already been invaded by the horny apes!”
Janine began to stomp out of the dining area, with the intent of retreating to her guest room. Then she stopped, twirled around, and stomped back over to the dining room table. Janine reached over and scooped up the large tray of Cornish game hens garnished with roasted vegetables, which had remained on the table. Turning away from her companions, Janine flounced out the doorway, purposely stomping even louder as she exited the dining quarters.
“Fine!” Quinn wadded up his cloth napkin and threw it onto the table. “You all want me gone, I can take a hint! Colin and I will just fix up LeBeau's sliding machine and find Kromagg Prime ourselves!” He sprinted from the room, not looking back.
“Quinn!” Colin jumped out of his seat, and proceeded to chase after his brother. He turned and addressed the room, “Why must you act like such children?”
After Colin had left, everyone glanced around the room, trying to read each other's expressions.
Professor Arturo looked around the table, like a teacher scrutinizing his pupils. “We simply cannot leave things like this.” His eyes happened to wander upon Maggie, who met the Professor's gaze.
Maggie simply chewed the biscuit she was eating, as her ballooning cheeks full of food bulged in and out rhythmically. “Don't look at me,” she said, through a mouthful of biscuit. “My world is space dust.”* * *
Maggie rapped on the wooden door to Quinn and Colin's room. “Quinn, I know you're not sleeping. Open the door.”
After receiving no response, Maggie knocked again.
“Colin, if you're in there too, let me in. I need to talk with your brother.”
“I am not in there, Maggie.”
Maggie shrieked, as she swiveled around and found Colin standing innocently behind her. “Colin,” she groaned, obviously startled by him, “what are you doing out here?”
“Getting a snack . . .” He held up the bowl of crackers and cheese he'd swiped from the kitchen. “And giving Quinn some time alone. Why didn't you say anything during supper tonight?”
“I didn't want to add to the friction.” Maggie sighed. “I just wish we could bypass all of this constant fighting and just slide straight to our home - all of them.”
Rembrandt slogged down the dim corridor toward Maggie and Colin, his eyes half-open. “How's Q-Ball?”
“Not good, Rembrandt.” Colin looked at his friend. “I believe he still blames himself for everything that has happened.”
“Rem, we'll sort this out in the morning. Why don't you go back to bed?” Maggie yawned, and then she headed back to her and Diana's room.* * *
Archibald LeBeau heard a knock on the door to his private studio.
“Come in!” he called out, his fingers gently stroking the hardened clay that had just finished solidifying in a kiln.
The studio door creaked open, and Rembrandt poked his head inside cautiously.
“Ah, Mr. Brown. Good afternoon. Please come in.” Father LeBeau motioned for Remmy to come forward.
“Father LeBeau, I'm sorry to bother you . . .”
“No, no, Rembrandt. I'm the one who must apologize for my rather abrupt exit last night.” He strolled over to a nearby set of loveseats, which were separated by a small coffee table. “Please, do have a seat. I was just admiring my most recent finished product. I finished it shortly after dawn this morning, and I've been sleeping ever since then.”
As Rembrandt sat, the priest removed a fairly large sculpted figurine from his workbench. It was big enough so that Rembrandt could see it resembled two human beings from across the room, but small enough that Father LeBeau could carry it in his hands.
“What have we here?” Rembrandt took an interest in Archibald LeBeau's latest creations as the elderly sculptor joined Remmy in the living area.
“This is the climax of the premonition I received last night during dinner.” He positioned the statue of the two humans in his lap. “The man being attacked in this scene is future President Jim Leach, our current vice-president. Sometime in the year 2008, he will lose his leg when accosted by a political enemy within the walls of the Oval Office. President Leach's assailant will be a trusted confident who works within the walls of the White House, in fact.”
“Wow.” Rembrandt rubbed his fingers against the statue's smooth surface. “How do you know what year it will happen in?”
Archibald LeBeau set the small sculpture down on the coffee table. “Over the years, I have gained control of the ability to . . . ‘float' my consciousness at will. Whether I'm viewing the present or the future, I can travel throughout that dimension to gather whatever information I need, if I remain there long enough. In this case, I merely took a peek at the calendar atop the president's Oval Office desk. Now Vice-President Leach can use this sculpture to identify whichever of his ‘friends' will be responsible for this future attack.” He took a moment to readjust his posture. “But you are here for a different reason. Am I correct?”
Rembrandt nodded. “How did you know?”
“Some would just call it instinct or a lucky guess. But actually, I foresaw us having this very conversation not long ago.” He chuckled, and Rembrandt joined in.
“For real?” Rembrandt shook his head in amazement as the priest's eyes twinkled. “So then you must already know what I'm going to ask you?”
“You want to know the fate of your family . . . of your homeworld,” Father LeBeau correctly replied. “You hope I can find your Earth's coordinates.”
“I am not certain,” he answered Rembrandt, honestly. “This was as far as our conversation progressed in my premonition.” They both shared another laugh, as Father LeBeau added, “But I shall try my best.”
“So why is it that you've been able to follow me and my friends through space and time for so long?” Rembrandt raised his eyebrows. “Is it your connection to Q-Ball's grandfather?”
“Not entirely.” Archibald LeBeau arose from his chair. “Please come with me, Rembrandt. I want to show you something.” He led Rembrandt over to a cabinet, opened its doors, and removed a gold chain that was hanging from a hook. Attached to the end of the chain dangled an elegant golden pendant. “Rembrandt, your alternate self on my world is a renowned musician. Many years ago, he came to me and wanted me to read his future. As I explained to that Rembrandt Brown, my premonitions don't come at will. They often come to me at the most unexpected times. I have only learned how to sustain my presence in future realities through years of practice.”
Rembrandt was more than intrigued. “Did you see anything when my double came to you? Could you see his future?”
“Your duplicate is a skilled violinist in the San Francisco Orchestra,” the psychic sculptor explained. “His wife, Alesha, had just given birth to twin sons, and our world's Rembrandt wanted to see what path his family's lives were headed down.” He sighed, reminiscing. “I vividly remember the day he first came to me. It was September 27, 1994. Your alternate asked me if his sons would grow up healthy. I tried to see, but instead, I became paradimensionally connected to an Alternate Rembrandt Brown who was swallowed by a gigantic wormhole while driving his red Cadillac DeVille.” The seer affectionately smiled straight at Rembrandt.
“Me!” Remmy realized, remembering that day more than seven years earlier when their sliding journey had first begun.
“You,” confirmed Father LeBeau, with a nod of his head. “Your group landed on a parallel world stuck in the Ice Ages. I drifted in and out of consciousness for the next hour, and was able to follow you as the vortex took you to that world controlled by the Russians. Needless to say, your double on my world was more than disappointed. He had no real way to grasp the concept of sliding, and furthermore, was mostly concerned with his own life. However, he did leave his gold chain with me, in the hopes that it would trigger a premonition from me that was relevant to HIM. Yet, every time I've tried to learn something about him, his chain seems to divert my consciousness back to you and your companions, Rembrandt.”
“Kind of like watching a continuing miniseries,” Remmy concluded, still completely impressed. The Cryin' Man thought for a moment. “So now that I'm actually here . . . can you use me to see what's happening on Earth Prime right now? What's become of everyone?”
“Patience, Rembrandt.” Archibald LeBeau motioned for Remmy to follow him back into the living room; he clutched Alternate Rembrandt's gold chain in one of his fists. As they sat on the furniture again, Father LeBeau explained to Rembrandt, “Hopefully, your physical connection to your homeworld will allow me to glimpse through its dimensional walls. I must focus . . . and concentrate.” He took Rembrandt's chocolaty-brown hand in his own, and gave it a tender squeeze.
Rembrandt watched the elderly psychic closely. He desperately wanted to know what had become of Earth Prime, and wished that he could see the same things Archibald LeBeau was able to see.
For his part, Father LeBeau kept his eyes closed while taking deep, steady breaths. As part of his consciousness began to drift from his body, the priest could see light-years worth of black starry space spread out in front of him. Then, without warning, the inside of a hazy, light-blue wormhole came into his view. Father LeBeau felt his body hurtling forward through the blurry vortex, and he gasped as the quantum energy swirled and gyrated all around him.
“Father?” called out Rembrandt, still clutching this seer's shaky head. “Are you okay? What do you see?”
Archibald LeBeau scanned a street lined with scorched, dilapidated buildings, many of which had practically been reduced to rubble. Decaying palm trees laid strewn across the streets of what remained of Los Angeles. His ears detected an ominous roar, and he spotted a manta ship flying overhead.
“It's Los Angeles . . . YOUR Los Angeles,” Father LeBeau confirmed for Rembrandt, speaking while still in his trance-like state. “I do not see any people. Most of the edifices have been destroyed. A Kromagg manta ship flies overhead. I shall proceed forward.”
With that, Father LeBeau began the process of spiritually teleporting his consciousness to another part of Earth Prime.
Rembrandt waited patiently.
“More Kromaggs,” Archibald LeBeau picked up, after his consciousness wandered into a Kromagg Reeducation Center. “A buxom, fair-haired young woman is strapped to an operating table . . . they're saying something about her being with the Resistance - she was just brought in this morning . . . oh my, they seem to be removing her hospital gown . . . they're pressing a mechanical contraption against her body, below her waist . . .”
“Okay, moving on!” Rembrandt quickly cut him off. He had a pretty good idea of which specific device the Kromaggs were using on that poor woman. “Father, you're probably still somewhere in Southern California. Try San Francisco. Can you travel to San Francisco? That's where the four of us were from.”
Rembrandt stayed by Archibald LeBeau for another half hour, just letting the priest concentrate on moving through that dimension as efficiently as possible. After what seemed like an eternity, again, Father LeBeau began describing what he saw.
“I'm approaching the Golden Gate Bridge - or at least, what's left of it . . .” He honed in on the famous red suspended bridge, much of which had been knocked over and was practically buried in San Francisco Bay. “There are only bits and pieces of the bridge still erect,” he reported. After a minute-long pause, he added, “Chinatown is in shambles . . . I see citizens occasionally daring to scamper from their hiding places, scrounging for food, or sneaking into apartments and lofts that once belonged to others, probably to those who've been imprisoned . . . a little girl of Asian descent is huddled in a corner, holding close to her chest a ragged teddy bear covered with soot . . .” He watched as the scared girl's mother came over to comfort her daughter.
The priest's oral account brought tears to Rembrandt's eyes. “How about Wade's family?”
“I do not know. My connection is with you, not Wade. I'm traveling at random in the city that you considered your home.”
Rembrandt sniffed, in order to suppress his runny nose. “I was born in Detroit. Most of my family still lives there - at least, they did.”
With a slight nod of his head, Father LeBeau willed his consciousness to ascend from the wreckage of San Francisco, and yet again, transported himself through Earth Prime. He eventually found himself gliding above the still waters of Lake Erie, nearing an urban skyline. Many of the skyscrapers were burnt to a crisp on their sides, or their top halves had been completely demolished. Once in the city, he simply sensed the aura of Rembrandt Brown, and drifted accordingly. The seer had no logical reason for following the particular direction in which he felt compelled to travel.
“I can feel your presence . . .” Archibald LeBeau told Rembrandt, as the elderly priest descended into an impoverished ghetto. “It is that of your past self.” He felt himself being drawn into one of the working-class houses in a blue-collar neighborhood. Father LeBeau's consciousness floated through a broken window, down some stairs, into a dim basement where a cluster of people were huddled in hiding.
“What do you mean, ‘my past self'? Are you in Detroit?” Rembrandt held on to every word, every grunt, every facial expression Father LeBeau made. “Father, talk to me!”
“It is an older woman . . . in her late-sixties, average height . . . dark brown skin, curly black hair, raggedy clothing . . .” He moved closer to the woman, examining her. “. . . she has what appears to be a small, horseshoe-shaped birthmark at the base of her neck, below her left ear . . .”
Rembrandt knew immediately - he didn't even need to hear any further description. “Mama?!” he called out.
A sad expression spread across Father LeBeau's face. He watched Mrs. Brown glumly nibble from a torn loaf of bread, as she huddled next to a female neighbor for support. “Yes, she is alive, Rembrandt. Your mother is safe . . . but I can sense that she misses her family very much. And she is scared.”
Tears had surfaced in Rembrandt's eyes. “What about Cezanne? Where's my brother?! Is he still alive?!”
Archibald LeBeau focused on the energy that he derived from Rembrandt's touch in his actual reality. He teleported across the city of Detroit, soon finding himself in a Reeducation Center. “I am in another of those Kromagg compounds . . .”
“NO!!” hollered Rembrandt, nearly jumping out of his skin in a mad panic. “Don't tell me they've got Cezanne too?!?! Those filthy Kromaggots!!!” He grabbed onto both of the priest's shoulders, hanging on tight as though he couldn't bear losing the thought of even this faintest verbal connection to his family.
Archibald LeBeau hoarsely gasped, as though the air in his lungs had been blocked. He foresaw a vivid explosion of orange and yellow, and in a vision witnessed both himself and Rembrandt flying headfirst into a gassy inferno.
“Father LeBeau? What happened? Are you all right?!” Rembrandt shook the psychic sculptor from paradimensional space.
“I saw it. I saw your death, Mr. Brown,” Father LeBeau choked out. “I saw both of our deaths . . . slightly more than one day from now. I can feel its imminence. We both emerge from your vortex, you and I . . . and plunge to our deaths. Fire . . . fire exploding . . . an explosion . . .”
Those were Father LeBeau's last words before he fainted, collapsing onto the Persian rug beneath his feet.* * *
"How is he?” Wade brought a hot, steaming cup of Kona coffee to Rembrandt.
Remmy was sitting by Father LeBeau's bedside, watching the old man sleep. “I can't forget what he said to me,” the Cryin' Man said, accepting the cup of java from Wade. “He had a premonition of both him and me dying. He said it would happen during our next slide. That's what Marc LeBeau - the first Seer - told us too. But this time it was so real . . . I could feel him feeling it.” Rembrandt's serious gaze met Wade's. “He wasn't playing, girl. This guy saw it for sure.”
Wade rubbed Remmy's shoulder, supportively. “Why don't you get something to eat? I'll stay with Father LeBeau.”
Rembrandt nodded, gratefully. He took a hearty gulp of tea, and then left the seer's bedroom, blowing Wade a kiss as he went out the door.
Taking a seat next to the psychic, Wade watched as Archibald LeBeau began to stir, gradually lifting his eyes open.
“Father LeBeau?” she softly spoke to him. “How are you feeling?”
Archibald LeBeau released a spirited chuckle. “Oh, not too bad, Ms. Wells. It takes more than a heart-pounding premonition to bring this old man down.”
Wade shared a laugh with him. “Rembrandt's really worried about you. We all are.”
“Where are the rest of your companions, Ms. Wells?”
“Some of them went into town for clothes. But everyone should be back soon.” Wade smiled at him, compassionately. “Are you sure you're okay?”
“I'm fine, Ms. Wells,” he insisted. “I am actually more concerned about you, my dear.”
“Me?” Wade didn't understand. “Did you see something bad in my future?”
“No, not exactly.” He shifted his head against his pillow. “Remember, Wade, I have telecognitively followed you and your friends from world to world over a number of years. I have seen what you've been through. And periodically, I have been able to see your future selves, in another time and place.” He smiled at her, sympathetically.
“I still don't understand.”
“Come with me, Ms. Wells.” The seer proceeded to roll over so he could crawl out of bed.
“Oh . . . um, are you sure this is a good idea?” Nonetheless, even as Wade questioned him, she found herself helping Archibald LeBeau out of his bed.
Soon, Father LeBeau had escorted Wade back into his studio of sculptures. As he guided her across the room, he clutched Wade's hand. “I can sense the immense pain you're enduring, Ms. Wells. And not just because of those whom you left behind on your homeworld. Something tragic has happened in your life recently, has it not?”
Wade solemnly stared back at him. “I'd rather not talk about it.”
“Brushing your emotions aside will not make them go away, Wade. Eventually, you will have to deal with your sadness . . . with your guilt.” When Wade failed to make eye contact, he continued, “Okay then. So be it. I have not been with your group during the past month or so. Therefore, I have no way of knowing what transpired in your life over the past few weeks. But I have seen the obstacles you've faced before, Wade. You have overcome great adversity.”
Wade knew what he was referring to. “So how much did you see?” she asked, quietly.
“My primary connection has always been with Rembrandt. But I did receive a premonition of your . . . abduction, years ago. It was months before you were actually captured by them, around the time Maggie had first joined your group. I saw many possible outcomes for you, but somehow I knew they were just potential scenarios that would never come to pass. Right before you were separated from your friends, as you watched Quinn and Maggie kiss by the cliffs, as you took Rembrandt into your arms, as Quinn pushed the two of you into that wormhole, I saw you reunited with them in the distant future. I knew you would persevere.”
Wade gulped. “I didn't,” she said, flatly. “I can't tell you the rage I felt that Quinn and Remmy had been taken away from me. Deep down, I knew that neither of them was to blame. But that didn't stop me from wanting to kill myself and those around me. That didn't stop me from wanting to die.”
Wade's body was now trembling, and Archibald LeBeau delicately steadied her shoulders. “Right before the invasion, while you and Rembrandt were working at the Chandler Hotel, I foresaw you in that breeder camp. I saw what was about to happen to you, and I had absolutely no way to prevent it from occurring.”
Wade was shedding a stream of tears, remembering. “I had lost the will to live. For days, I just shut down. Kromaggs came and undressed me, and fondled me, but I just sat there and took it. I was so scared.” She stared straight ahead, spilling out all the experiences she'd kept inside of her for so long. “Finally, I couldn't take it anymore. I released all my rage, and the Kromaggs were the natural ones for me to inflict it on. I knew what was coming, that eventually I would have been impregnated - and I was suddenly determined to avoid it at all costs . . . whether I had to kick, or scream, or claw . . . or kill. And I don't even think I realized what I was doing to them. Hell, I don't think they even realized what I was doing to them. They'd never seen anything like it before. I even managed to fight through some of their strongest sedatives.” She let out a little snicker. “I'll always remember Kesh's curious mantra as she watched me elude her fellow Kromaggs . . . she would usually comment what a ‘feisty little human' I was. I suddenly remembered that just now. For some reason, she was immune to me. But I don't know why. I don't even remember half of the things I did in there.”
“And you haven't yet released your pain.” Father LeBeau gave her a sad, understanding half-smile.
“I'd thought I was over it,” Wade continued her rant. “When I was a cyberiad, I tried to expunge all of my anger by destroying that manta base. I knew I had to do it to save Rembrandt, and I figured that there might be a slight chance to save myself too. So I created a wormhole for myself . . . but it took me someplace else, someplace I'd never intended to go . . . the multiverse became my wasteland, and every time I reached out for Remmy, I felt something blocking me. Until . . .”
“Until your aura managed to find his again,” finished off Father LeBeau. “The two of you reconnected.”
Wade nodded through sniffles. “After that, I tried to convince myself that everything was all right. But then, a couple of weeks ago, I killed two people. It wasn't intentional. Yes, I realize that. I did it to save Janine's life.” She sighed. “But I guess I've never really gotten over all that rage from what the Kromaggs did to me. And I don't know if I ever will. I'm afraid that my worst fear is coming true. I'm scared that the Kromaggs have turned me into a killing machine. Look what I'm capable of, Father! Look what I did to those innocent Kokokoa bystanders!”
Father LeBeau took Wade into his arms as she cried for a long time. As Wade's sobbing gradually died down, he spoke to her gently. “Wade, I want to show you something. Several things, actually.” He took Wade's hand and guided her toward a miniaturized three-dimensional sculpture of the Eiffel Tower - except that its top half was tilting diagonally, as though it was in the process of catapulting outward. “This was a premonition I received in 1981. A militant group of radicals had planted plastic explosives on the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Their act of terrorism would have killed hundreds of people and destroyed a national monument. Now take a look at this one.” He ushered Wade - who was still shocked from seeing the decapitated Eiffel Tower - toward another sculpture. This one depicted a human likeness, an upper breast-to-head shot of a sinister, bearded, mustached Iraqi military leader.
“Saddam Hussein!” It wasn't even a question. Wade unequivocally identified the sculpted dictator who had been notorious on Earth Prime. This likeness of Saddam Hussein had one hand poised above what appeared to be some kind of detonator.
“That was in 1994. Mr. Hussein would have triggered a nuclear holocaust . . . if I hadn't pinpointed his location and relayed it to the U.N. Secretary-General in time. Otherwise, our planet would have become a barren rock.”
“What are you trying to say?” Wade brushed some of her bangs aside, sniffing.
“These are the true cold-blooded killers, Ms. Wells. Those who would create senseless violence and tragedies of apocalyptic proportions in order to satisfy their own egos. They don't deserve to be a part of our world, let alone the multiverse. You do.” He put his arm around Wade, shepherding her toward another door. “And do you want to know how I can be so confident of that, Wade?”
Wade's swollen eyeballs stared as him. “Tell me.”
He opened the door and beckoned her through it. Before them was a room filled with dozens upon dozens of additional statues. Wades, Rembrandts, Quinns, Arturos - along with several Maggies, Dianas, Mallorys, Colins, Malcolms, and Janines, many of them from adventures that Wade had never been a part of. As she strolled through the gallery, awestruck, Wade saw even more familiar faces from the past, and memories came flooding back to her. She immediately noticed some of the most significant individuals who'd had an impact on her life - Ryan Simms, Derek Bond, and Gillian Mitchell, among them. But there were many others whom Wade recognized and now remembered: Prince Harold III, Debra Carbol, Jenny Michener, Diana Isley, Judge John Nassau and his daughter Natalie, Priscilla Hardaway and her son Jamie, Devin the Water Priestess, Rembrandt the Duke of Hemmingshire and Duchess Danielle, George Stellos, and even Skid and Seeker from Hippie World. Wade also saw a sculpture of Michele, the woman whom she and her friends had helped to rescue from an abusive relationship, and even a horizontal sculpture representing the dead body of Nicky Kent.
“I'd forgotten about so many of these people!” Wade exclaimed, walking among the seemingly endless rows of statues. She turned toward Father LeBeau. “You saw us helping everyone here?”
He nodded. “I even foresaw some of their futures before you left them behind in their dimensions - although I've viewed nothing pertaining to them since then.” The priest pointed to the sculpture of Rembrandt's royal alternate and Duchess Danielle holding their infant son, an heir to the throne on their world. “Let's see . . . the Duke and Duchess raise their son to be a great leader . . . he will be coronated and crowned king in the year 2015, after their world recovers from a great tragedy.” He gestured to another sculpture - this one portrayed John and Natalie Nassau, hugging in a tearful father/daughter reunion. “Judge Nassau was exonerated, and was later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.” Archibald LeBeau moved on to the statue of Sid beating Michele. “And I am pleased to report that Michele now has a loving husband on her new Earth, and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl in 1998.”
Wade's face now appeared much more optimistic. “What about Ryan? And Derek?”
“To the extent I saw, nothing monumental had happened in their lives yet - other than Derek beginning his term as Prime Oracle, and Ryan hiring himself out as a local handyman. But the paths of their lives could always take unexpected routes. Unfortunately, I will not be able to see that . . .” He trailed off, and then picked up his verbalization. “The point, Ms. Wells, is that you have done much more good than harm in the lives of others. None of these futures would have transpired, had it not been for your intervention. You must never lose sight of that.”
Wade gave him a humble nod, and continued to marvel at Father LeBeau's extensive gallery of sculpted occurrences from the sliders' past journeys.* * *
The sun's rays streamed onto Rembrandt's face as Sister Martha dutifully opened the door to Archibald LeBeau's living quarters, leading Remmy inside.
“Father LeBeau says he will see you now,” the nun quietly told Rembrandt. As the priest emerged from his bedroom, slightly limping, Sister Martha inconspicuously slinked back out the door.
“Good morning, Mr. Brown.” Father LeBeau yawned, and then greeted Rembrandt with a cordial handshake. “I apologize for falling out of commission yesterday.”
“Look, I'm just glad you're okay,” Rembrandt said. “You are feeling better . . . right? Wade told me she had a nice conversation with you last night. Did you get enough rest?”
Archibald LeBeau chuckled. “Yes, but I'm accustomed to late-nights . . . it is a consequence of impromptu sculpting. Yes, I slept well both yesterday morning and last night.” He paused, eying Rembrandt knowingly. “But that is not why you are here, is it, Rembrandt? You wish to know more than merely the condition of my health.”
“Um . . .” Remmy didn't want to be rude, but he was dying to know.
Father LeBeau laughed again. “Do not worry,” he reassured Rembrandt. “I completely understand your need to take full advantage of this opportunity. Do not feel guilty . . . just tell me what you want me to do.”
Hesitantly, Rembrandt proceeded. “Well . . . yesterday you were able to see what was happening on Earth Prime through your remote viewing. You were able to hone in on the smallest details. So I was just thinking . . .” He paused, but Father LeBeau encouraged Rembrandt to continue, with a nod of his elderly head. “Okay, if you can see inside a Kromagg command center, is there some way you could find out what coordinates lead to my Earth? I mean, I would think the 'Maggs would have its coordinates stored somewhere.”
The priest nodded again, as Rembrandt's request was along the lines of what he'd been expecting. “I certainly will try, Mr. Brown. But I will need your help once again.” He motioned for them both to sit on the furniture in his living room. “Take my hand.”
Rembrandt did as the seer asked.
“Now clear your mind, Rembrandt. Think of nothing but your connection to Earth Prime. Recall the vast memories you have of your world, be they good or bad. Try to feel your connection to your homeworld.”
Breathing deeply, Rembrandt rewound his memories, and was soon reminiscing about his childhood, his days in the Navy, singing with the Spinning Topps . . . and even his time held as a prisoner at the Kromagg Reeducation Center. Every thought he had contained a remnant of the Earth Prime he once knew . . . whether he was dribbling a basketball on the blacktop in Detroit, passionately kissing Danielle or Alesha, or playing the piano at the Chandler Hotel in Los Angeles.
Archibald LeBeau felt himself plunge through another vortex-like mist. He found himself lurking through the dark corridors of a Kromagg compound, watching armed, stern-faced Kromagg soldiers march down the hallways on both his left and right. Father LeBeau could sense his spirit being drawn into a room filled with Kromagg technicians at computer terminals - obviously a command center. As he floated across the room - invisible to the Kromagg technicians who were none the wiser - his eyes locked onto a skinny, frail-looking female Kromagg technician who sat in front of a keyboard. She punched away at the keys, and a three-dimensional image appeared on the monitor in front of her.
“One of the Kromagg computer experts . . .” Archibald LeBeau reported to Rembrandt. “. . . she is tracking the movements of vortices.”
“They must still be sliding people offworld to breeder camps and slave garrisons,” speculated Rembrandt. “What do you see on her computer screen?”
“It looks . . . it appears to be focusing on the tail-end of each vortex,” he described for Rembrandt.
“Photon trails!” The explanation just popped out of Rembrandt's mouth - Quinn, Arturo, and Diana talked frequently about photons that a vortex leaves behind. “They must be tracking all photon trails that exit Earth Prime's atmosphere, to make sure their prisoners are sliding to the right worlds.” He thought for a moment. “Okay, Father. It's all you now. Can you see any strings of numbers? They would be twelve digits long, in sets of three, divided by hyphens.”
Father LeBeau propelled his vision closer to the computer, practically entering the machine - but not quite. “Yes . . . there are many sets of numbers moving horizontally across the screen . . . back and forth, left to right, right to left . . .”
“Okay, that doesn't help.” He slapped his own forehead. “Aw, man!” Rembrandt thought to himself. “If only Q-Ball could do remote viewing too!” He whispered to Father LeBeau, “Do you see any coordinate sets that keep showing up again - more than once? Located in different places?”
Father LeBeau kept his eyes trained on the computer screen. He noticed that every other set of coordinates seemed to be identical. “Yes . . . there is one that keeps repeating . . . but it is moving so fast . . .”
“Focus in on it, man!” Rembrandt squeezed the priest's hand. “What are its digits? Come on, there are only twelve of them.”
Archibald LeBeau magnified his vision, zooming in for a clearer glimpse at the screen. “Three . . .” he exhaled, reading the first number. “The sequence is three . . . two . . . three . . .”
He began to gag, as though his throat was closing up.
“Father?! What's happening?!” Rembrandt shrieked at him, clutching his hand even tighter. “Come on, you've got the first three digits! Keep going!”
“Nine . . .” Father LeBeau suddenly heard a spooky sound, and Rembrandt could hear it too. The sinister noise echoed through both of their ears - Remmy recognized the haunting, whistle-like echoes from his days in Kromagg captivity.
“General Kannex, our sensors are detecting a security breach!” Father LeBeau could hear one of the Kromagg officers shout.
“That's impossible!” Kannex's authoritative voice boomed in response. “No unauthorized individuals have been seen entering the compound.”
“It isn't a body of mass, sir,” the Kromagg officer reported from his computer terminal. “It appears to be some other . . . force of energy.”
The female Kromagg who sat at her computer - the same one that Father LeBeau was reading from - crinkled her face and yelped. “General, I can feel the intruder. It has somehow entered this lab, and is reading my data.”
Gasping, Father LeBeau told Rembrandt, “They know that I'm there!”
“They know?! How can they possibly know?!” Rembrandt shuddered in disbelief.
“Kinjan, block its signal! Terminate power on your computer - now!” General Kannex ordered to the technician.
Her eyes shut, Kinjan made psychic contact with Father LeBeau's essence, digging her own mind into the priest's consciousness.
“Auggggh!!” yelped Father LeBeau, keeling over as he felt a reciprocal mind probe from Kinjan. His forehead was exploding with fiery pain.
“Father!!!” shouted Rembrandt, frantically, as Archibald LeBeau fell off his chair and tumbled to the floor.
Father LeBeau was now hyperventilating. “323-93 . . .” he spat out the first five digits of the coordinate set, just as Kinjan shut down her computer.
“3-2-3-9-3-what?!” Rembrandt desperately called out for additional digits, before realizing that the psychic priest had slipped back into unconsciousness.* * *
In the central, airy sitting room of the LeBeau sanctuary, Rembrandt laid back on a red silk sofa. His head was throbbing as he lounged there, stricken with guilt. “Way to go, Cryin' Man,” he lectured himself. “You had to go and be selfish, now you nearly got the Father killed!”
Malcolm quietly entered the room, and came over to sit adjacent to Rembrandt. It had been quite awhile since him and his friend had gotten to spend much time together. “Remmy, what happened in there? One of the nuns said that Father LeBeau fainted again.”
“It's all my fault,” Rembrandt blamed himself, aloud. “He was getting those coordinates for me, and I just had to keep pushing him. The 'Maggots . . . they did something to the Father, tried to mess up his mind. He's lucky he got out of there in time. But he never would have been there in the first place if it hadn't been for me.”
“How can we even be sure that was your homeworld, Remmy?”
“Oh, he knew where he was, Malcolm.” Rembrandt buried his head in his arms. “I'm the one who brought him there.”
Malcolm hugged Rembrandt, who just sat stewing in his own self-disgust.
A few rooms over, Quinn was seated across from Archibald LeBeau. The priest had been propped up against soft pillows in an armchair, and the nuns had set up a card table. Quinn and Father LeBeau now sat intently engaged in a game of chess, its pieces assembled on the game board in front of them.
“Are you sure you're up for this, Father? Shouldn't you be getting some rest?” Quinn tentatively asked, while studying the positions of their rooks on the chessboard.
“Nonsense,” Archibald LeBeau dismissed Quinn's concern, brushing the thought away with his hand. “I need the mental stimulation, as I still have much to do before this day is over.” He hopped his knight over one of Quinn's pawns. “You wish to ask me something, don't you, Quinn?”
“Well . . .”
Quinn dropped his attention away from the chessboard, refocusing on the man sitting across from him. “What's happening to me? Why am I having these . . . visions?”
“You have been given a gift, Mr. Mallory. Your postcognitive abilities are extremely valuable, and you must use them to help others. Embrace them, as I have mine.”
“But I have no control over them!”
“Nor are you meant to. You receive your psychic flashes for a reason, at whatever time they come to you. If you question their timeliness, it will simply detract your focus from what you are supposed to be seeing.” The priest moved his pawn diagonally, castling one of Quinn's chess pieces.
Quinn laughed, nervously. “I used to be so good at this game.”
“Your focus is elsewhere today, as it should be. We can continue our game later, if you would like.”
Quinn exhaled, frustrated. “We have to slide in a few hours.”
“As I told Rembrandt, it is not safe for you to slide. I saw us die.”
“Us?” Giving the priest a bewildered look, Quinn asked, “What were you doing in our vortex?”
“I am only telling you what I saw,” was his answer. “Unless we take steps to prevent it, my premonition will come to pass, as it always has when preventive measures are not taken.” He proceeded to capture one of Quinn's knights with his queen, totally blindsiding the young scientist. “You did indeed used to be much better at this game,” Father LeBeau chuckled to his chess rival.
Quinn buried his forehead in his hands. “I'm totally off my game, today,” he groaned, and slammed his hands down on the chessboard, knocking two rooks and a bishop out of place.
Another stream of light hit Quinn in the eyes. He saw a side-view of a younger Archibald LeBeau sitting across that very same table from man in his late-thirties. The two of them were heavily preoccupied with an intense game of chess. Quinn studied the middle-aged man's eyes and facial features carefully. The man hopped his king over several of the priest's pawns with a calculated motion of his hand.
“You played chess with Bobby Fischer!” Quinn realized, as his flashback concluded.
“Yes. But you did not need to prove anything to me, Quinn.” Archibald LeBeau smiled warmly at him. “I have never doubted your psychic ability.”
Quinn moved his lips in a lopsided direction. That was the first time anyone had ever referred to him as “psychic,” in such a direct manner. “I can't control them, Father. They just slam into my brain whenever I touch something . . . even if it's the stupidest object.”
Father LeBeau gave him a sympathetic gaze. “How have you been coping with it?”
“I haven't. It's making me crazy . . . and frustrated!” He lowered his head down onto the table, burying his face in his arms. “I've been snapping at my friends and treating them horribly. I hate the person who I'm becoming!”
The priest arose from his chair, and took Quinn's hand. “I believe it is time for you to see my gallery.”
“But you already showed it to us . . .”
“No. My other gallery. The one YOU have not seen yet.” He and Quinn headed for the mysterious studio door.* * *
Janine sat on one side of the beach of an octagon shaped picnic table. She was sitting in the monastery's beer garden, surrounded by lush plumeria trees. Janine plucked an ivory, five-petalled flower from one of the trees, spinning the flower around in her fingers so that its yellow stamen blurred like a moving windmill. Leaning back against the wooden platform, Janine stared up at the fluffy clouds surrounded by cornflower blue sky, as she took slow, focused breaths.
Mallory, Diana, and Malcolm were approaching Janine from behind on the lanai.
“Isn't it ironic that you'd find a ‘beer garden' in a monastery of all places?” Janine casually quipped, not even turning her head to confirm their presence. As the three sliders stopped in their tracks, Janine continued to speak to them while staring straight ahead, “I can hear you folks tiptoeing, so you might want to pad your shoes the next time you attempt to be sneaky. Nice try, though.”
“Oh, Janine.” Diana took a seat next to her friend on the picnic bench. “We've been concerned about you.”
“Well, don't be. It's done.” Janine grabbed a melastoma vine from a nearby potted plant, and began tearing one of the melastoma leaves into thin strips.
“Janine, it's okay to feel sad about what happened. No one blames you for it.” Mallory kneeled down next to her and Diana. “You shouldn't be putting yourself through this guilt.”
“I don't feel guilty for killing Mackay.” Janine's voice rose irritably, and she tore the strips of melastoma leaf into smaller and smaller pieces at an increasing rate. “The bastard deserved it. I feel disgusted by the way I did it.” She tossed the tiny melastoma flakes up in the air like confetti, with an exasperated sigh. “I must have looked like a psychotic butcher to those natives. Not that I usually care what other people think of me . . . but how do I know they're not onto something?”
Malcolm sat on Janine's other side atop the bench. “He would have killed all of us if you hadn't stopped him.”
Inhaling and exhaling, she recounted, “When I opened my eyes, all I saw was his blood and skin flying everywhere. I had never done anything like that to anyone in my entire life . . . not even to my parents. And trust me, that's self-restraint.” Janine made a face. “There's a big difference between a tiny slice-and-dice to oneself,” she pushed down her sock, revealing the dried self-laceration from one week ago that she'd inflicted on herself to release the virus from her bloodstream, “as opposed to becoming a human meat-grinder.”
Malcolm, Diana, and Mallory looked around at one another. They were at a loss for words.
“How dare he do this to me!!!” Janine suddenly cried out, loudly projecting her voice while choking down a sob. “Why did he have to make me kill him?! Couldn't he have just stayed home until we slid off of that damn island?!?!” She jutted out her fist, knocking a collection of potted plants off the ledge of the lanai.
“Janine . . .” Mallory moved toward her, trying to take the Oriental slider in his arms.
But Janine expediently broke away from the three of them, fleeing from the confines of the beer garden. She awkwardly ran toward the beach, half-jogging and half-stumbling.
“Janine! Come back here!” Diana called out to her, helplessly.
But Janine just kept running.* * *
Archibald LeBeau once again pushed open the door to his private gallery, which he had shown to Wade Wells just one day earlier. This time, he led Quinn Mallory through the studio doorway, whereupon Quinn was able to behold hundreds of the priest's statues depicting the past seven years of the sliders' adventures.
Quinn wandered around the room, captivated by the miniaturized likenesses of himself, his friends, and so many of the people whom they'd encountered during their journeys. “So . . . you've seen all of our slides. You can see into the past - like me?”
“Goodness, no.” Father LeBeau smiled sympathetically at Quinn. “Your gift of postcognition is extremely unique. I can only see the present and the future. No, those images I sculpted were either events I saw through remote viewing while psychically linked to your group, or else premonitions resulting from the effects of various slides you made. And Quinn, had it not been for your personal intervention, so many lives would never have been changed for the better.” He stepped over to a statue he'd sculpted of a brunette woman who was very special to Quinn. “Remember this young lady? You have quite a soft spot for her, as I recall.”
Quinn identified the woman immediately. “Daelin?!” he exclaimed, staring at the sculpture of Daelin Richardson being struck in the face by Dennis McMillan, who'd been her abusive husband on one parallel world.
“Because you reunited her with ‘her' Quinn Mallory on their Earth, six years ago, Daelin went back to school to major in Social Work, and she became a grief counselor. Today, Daelin Mallory - as she now goes by - oversees several shelters for battered women in Seattle.” The seer circulated over to another sculpture, this one of a young man in his early-twenties, dressed in cowboy attire and flipping a gun in each hand. “This young man is one Jamie Hardaway, who, in the year 2007, will save his mother's company from a vengeful computer pirate named Elijah Bullock - I believe you'll remember your past encounter with Elijah's father, Jack.”
“They go after Priscilla again?!” Quinn panicked, his mind flashing back to his deadly run-ins with Jack Bullock and Billy “The Kid” Gates.
“Have no fear. Young Jamie survives, and he takes over his mother's empire upon her retirement.” Father LeBeau gestured to another image, this one of an illuminated Quinn speaking to a young woman from the astral plane. “Then there is Gillian Mitchell, whom you taught to appreciate her own valuable psychic gift. After you left Gillian behind, she embraced her ability, and was soonafter visited by a ghost named Beatrice Plunkett from Gillian's own world. Beatrice helped Gillian to spy on the Bureau of Anti-Technology, and together they brought down the agency. A similar social justice was carried out by Dr. Helena Malone.” He gestured to a sculpture of the middle-aged doctor from Drug World. “She and her husband Tom, also a physician, helped to regulate the Drug Empowerment Agency on their world. That would not have happened, had you not appealed to her Hippocratic compassion, Quinn.”
Quinn was still making his way across the studio, overlooking all of the faces whom he didn't recognize while trying to hone in on the ones he remembered. “I know her . . .” he said, pointing at one sculpted individual. “. . . it's Taryn . . . she had me booked on The Judgment Game.”
“Yes, and you taught her a meaningful lesson about ethics,” Father LeBeau explained. “I saw Taryn's future, as well - she goes on to become a network executive, and because of her public revelation of their scandalous ‘courtroom/entertainment' industry, she helps to get programs such as The Judgment Game and Justice Tonight canceled. Not only that, but their society's entire ‘criminal justice' system gets revamped. Unfortunately, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs sees his career take a nosedive.”
Staring at an empty spot on one of the walls, Quinn had to pause in order to digest all of this information. “What about my doubles? Did I make any of their lives worse?”
“Nothing you could have prevented,” revealed Archibald LeBeau. “In fact, in some cases, you gave many of your alternate selves a better reason for living.” He picked up a mobile statue of an Alternate Quinn with glasses and long, tied-back hair. “Do you remember Sorcerer Quinn, who helped you find your way back to Earth Prime? His encounter with you motivated him to abandon his corporation and relocate to a new parallel Earth. It's a primitive dimension where he now teaches quantum physics to children.”
“Wait . . . that wasn't Earth Prime he sent us to. O.J. Simpson was acquitted of a double murder . . . I remember the evidence was so strong against him - how could that have happened? And besides, the front gate to my house didn't squeak. It's always squeaked!”
Father LeBeau tilted his head, knowingly. “If the glove don't fit, you must acquit,” he recited, cryptically. “And the gate to your house didn't squeak because Fred Gale, your family's new gardener, had just oiled it prior to your return. A year or so later, it would retain its . . . squeakiness from excessive use.”
Shaking his head wildly, Quinn tried coming to grips with what he was hearing. He had actually gotten Wade, Rembrandt, and the Professor home only a little more than a year after their original slide . . . yet, they had ignored it and continued sliding - all because of a newspaper headline and a gate that didn't squeak!
“But think of all of those whom you saved, by continuing on your journey,” Archibald LeBeau pointed out, sensing Quinn's immense disappointment. “Think of Alternate Quinn who invented the Slidewave device.” The priest indicated a sculpture of the long-haired, raggedy-clothed Alternate Quinn tinkering with his Slidewave gizmo. “You and your friends convinced him to return all of those people whom he'd displaced back to their homeworld. Then, even after you, Rembrandt, and Maggie left him behind, your alternate learned from his earlier mistakes. He disciplined himself to be more cautious, more thorough with his experimentation, and he found a way to reengineer the Slidewave to selectively translocate individuals from their birthworld to that second world, which his Slidewave had originally relocated everyone to. Eventually, he helped to reunite many families from those two worlds who'd been separated due to that second mass dislocation by the Slidewave.”
Quinn Mallory picked up another statue, which showed himself as a twelve-year-old boy. He remembered his younger alternate self from the parallel Earth that had been one decade behind Earth Prime in history. While clasping his fingers around the statue, his brain rewound in a flash to that timeless scene of Brady Oaks confronting and bullying Younger Quinn on the playground.
“What happened to Little Quinn?!” he demanded, wanting to know the fate of his younger alternate.
By looking at the sculpture Quinn clutched, Father LeBeau knew exactly which of Quinn's doubles Quinn was referring to. “Thanks to you, Ms. Heather Hanley helped to place Little Quinn into a special academy for gifted children. Before he graduates, Little Quinn, as an adolescent, invents a global force field that ultimately prevents the Kromaggs from invading his Earth. That world will be protected from Kromagg occupation, due to your guidance of your younger alternate self. As an adult, Little Quinn will succeed in inventing that anti-gravity device that you had always intended to create . . .” The wise soothsayer concentrated and thought back for a moment. “. . . he completes it on February 18, 2011, as I recall from my premonition.”
Quinn pondered Father LeBeau's report. “Kromaggs . . .” he repeated, after hearing they had tried to invade his younger double's homeworld. “With all the photon trails we've left behind during our slides, how many of these worlds were destroyed by the Kromagg empire?”
Pausing, Archibald LeBeau chose his response very carefully. “Even those whom you've aided have overcome that tragedy. For example, Rick Montana and his mother Shirley . . .” He gestured to the relevant sculpture. “Your group convinced his Internet lover, Joanne Capshaw, to embrace their passion, despite the digital divide that separated them socially. As a result, Rick and Shirley escaped to the Onliner realm with Joanne - just in time to avoid the Kromagg invasion of their world by taking refuge in a virtual reality safe haven. Even as the Offliners suffer degradation at the hands of the Kromaggs, the Montanas and the Capshaws are surviving behind the protection of an impenetrable global firewall. And I'm sure you remember Dr. Deera Mubaric . . .” He indicated a lively statue depicting the voluptuous Egyptian scientist. “Quinn, you inspired Dr. Mubaric to study ‘past life therapy,' where she explored the past lives of her patients and of herself. That field of study quickly evolved to ‘future life therapy,' enabling them to spiritually leap into future lives of unborn individuals. When experiencing one of her future lives under anesthesia, Dr. Mubaric foresaw the Kromagg occupation of her Earth, and took steps to prevent it. The Egyptian sliders were able to intercept the pathways of incoming vortices and disrupt them with quantum weapons of mass destruction. Dr. Mubaric got them this information just weeks before the Kromaggs attempted to invade her homeworld, and she consequently changed the future of her Earth.” Father LeBeau grinned at Quinn's wondrous expression. “I also thought you might like to know that, had your friends slid on without you, you would have remained behind with Dr. Mubaric and the two of you would have become lovers.”
Quinn didn't respond for several seconds. When he finally did open his mouth, Quinn realized, “I never would have met Maggie. But it never happened that way - how could you possibly know that?”
“As your friends were making the decision about whether or not to continue sliding without you, I saw conflicting futures . . . a phenomena that Ms. Wells comprehended the other day. One of those potential futures would have included you and Dr. Deera Mubaric falling in love and defeating the Kromagg Dynasty.”
“The exact details are unclear . . .”
“So by not remaining on Egyptian World, I've endangered the lives of everyone we've met since then?!” Quinn flared at the elderly psychic. “Why are you telling me this?!”
“Because, Quinn, you need to realize that with every choice comes a consequence. Until you fully grasp this concept, you will not possess the wisdom to make the right decisions - the tough decisions - that will result in an optimal outcome. Remember, I have seen your future - all of them.”
“So tell me about what will happen. Tell me so I know what actions to avoid!”
Shaking, Father LeBeau took a seat on a nearby sofa, hoping to calm his own nerves. “It doesn't work that way, Mr. Mallory. If I reveal too much information or tell you every possible future of yours that I've seen, you will most likely make the wrong choices. I don't wish to mislead you with hypothetical eventualities that may never come to pass, because you might misinterpret my words and follow a path that was not meant for you.”
Quinn stood over the priest, in an intimidating manner. “Then why are you even telling me any of this?!?! Are you trying to make me feel guilty that the residual energy from my invention destroyed so many lives?! Why . . .” Quinn, in a sweaty state of fury, grabbed Archibald LeBeau by the front collar, yanking him forward in blind rage.
A trickle of perspiration cascaded from one of Quinn's facial pores. As Father LeBeau used his hand to fend off Quinn, the droplet of sweat from Quinn's face made contact with the priest's wrist, plinking down onto his flesh with a cool sensation. Father LeBeau's eyesight was then corrupted, as his visual perspective hyperaccelerated forward through another blurry, wormhole-like mist. Before he knew it, Archibald LeBeau found himself back in the same Kromagg compound on Earth Prime where he had been lurking earlier that morning.
“Dear God!” the priest gasped.
“What?!” Quinn demanded, still holding onto Father LeBeau's robe.
Archibald LeBeau could see a bunch of Kromagg officers gathered around another computer. They were staring at a holographic image of Quinn Mallory - with a skeletal X-ray of Quinn's nervous system superimposed upon the 3D computer image of Quinn's body. Dotted blips moved up and down throughout Quinn's bones and veins on the digital readout.
Father LeBeau's consciousness moved closer to the Kromagg X-ray. “They implanted you with . . . nanobots!” he exclaimed.
“Nanobots?!” Quinn could feel the psychic energy pulsating through Father LeBeau's body. As he gripped the priest's chest tighter, Quinn felt his own body traveling backward in time. He closed his eyes and then reopened them, discovering himself in a dark medical laboratory. He received a bird's-eye-view of himself strapped down to an operating table, almost six years younger, surrounded by a bunch of Kromaggs in hospital scrubs. But these Kromaggs looked noticeably different from the ones he'd encountered on most worlds. They had darker, more wrinkly skin, were slimmer in build, and some even had locks of scraggly hair growing from parts of their heads. Their eyes looked different, too . . . narrower and somehow more sinister.
Quinn identified these Kromaggs, as he helplessly watched them sedate his past self: they were the first breed of Kromaggs whom he and his friends had ever encountered, way back when the Professor had swiped an alien tracking device from the inside of a crashed manta ship, which Arturo and Quinn had insisted on exploring.
Cringing in pain, as though he could almost feel the sharp needle that was protruding into his skull, Quinn watched his past self being implanted by a mechanical appendage that had been lowered from the ceiling.
At the same time, in the present, Father LeBeau drifted right up to the computer screen, trying to make sense out of the X-ray of Quinn's body. On an adjacent monitor, additional wormhole pathways were being displayed.
A blaring alarm echoed across the Kromagg compound.
“Security breach!” came a distorted male Kromagg voice.
“Offworld intruder!” called out the shrill voice of Kinjan, the Kromagg technician. “Tracing interdimensional frequency . . .”
Archibald LeBeau broke off the connection, abruptly returning to his own body. Quinn released his grip on the priest, and tumbled out of his chair onto the floor.
“Oh dear!” was all Father LeBeau could utter, his heart pounding.
Quinn balanced himself against the arm of a sofa, trying to regain his composure. “I saw it . . . they were . . . operating on me . . . it was the first time they captured us . . . years ago . . . but I don't know what they did . . .”
“I do.” Father LeBeau looked at Quinn with a serious expression. “My worst fear has been confirmed. Mr. Mallory, I saw the Kromaggs implant you - back in 1996, when they originally apprehended you, Mr. Brown, Ms. Wells, and Professor Arturo. At the time, I did not know what exactly it was. But based on my subsequent premonitions while on some of the later worlds you visited, I began to have my suspicions.” He took a deep breath before telling Quinn. “I fear the Kromaggs embedded some sort of locator device in your body, to track the movements of your group across the multiverse. Probably through nanobot technology.”
“No . . .” Quinn's pulse began racing.
“I saw them tracking your wormhole on their computer network,” Father LeBeau continued, apologetically. “It appeared as though they have compiled a log containing hundreds of coordinate sets . . . most likely all of the parallel Earths that you and your friends have visited since your initial abduction by the Dynasty.”
Jumping to his feet, Quinn railed against Father LeBeau, “Why didn't you do something?! You could have at least tried to crash their computer system, couldn't you?!”
Father LeBeau slowly shook his head. “I couldn't. I was too weak . . . too overpowered . . .”
“Yes . . . it was almost as though one of those monsters had entered my brain, was reading my thoughts, trying to establish a connection with me . . .”
Quinn didn't need to hear anymore. He raced across the room and out the door.
“Mr. Mallory . . .” whimpered Archibald LeBeau, meekly and desperately, dropping to his knees. He shuddered each time a door slammed behind Quinn.* * *
Rembrandt Brown strolled around the edges of a small pond outside the cathedral. The pool's water was confined by a cobblestone wall. Water lilies, algae, and water hyacinths floated on the surface of the pond. In the center of the pond, a small fountain spigot shot sprinkles of water upward and back down into the pool. All around this “wishing well” were Koa trees sprouting pale, yellow-clustered flowers, birds chirping musically on their branches.
Mallory entered the garden, quietly approaching his friend. Remmy hummed a rhythmic little tune as he sang out loud to himself:
“Quit playing my heart, like a game of chess!
Cuz baby, baby, I am sti-ill Toppless!”
Mallory cleared his throat, nervously. “Uh, gee, I can see why your album flopped, Rem,” he joked, snickering light-heartedly.
“Aw, Fog Boy . . . !” Rembrandt punched Mallory in the arm a couple of times, feigning anger, upon discovering that his friend had been eavesdropping.
After a few mutual exchanges of light horseplay, Rembrandt and Mallory both sat down on the cobblestone ledge by the garden pool.
“So how are you feeling, really?” Mallory asked Rembrandt, in a serious tone.
Rembrandt sighed. “Can't say I'm jumping for joy. I almost killed a priest . . . my friendship with Q-Ball is still on the rocks . . . but hey, at least now we have the first five digits of Earth Prime's coordinates.” He rolled his eyes.
“That's five more digits than Diana and I have for our homeworld,” Mallory pointed out, speaking with a level voice.
“True, true . . .” Rembrandt gave Mallory a sympathetic nod. “Yeah, I don't' know, Fog Boy . . . when I think of everything we still have to accomplish - it's a pretty long list. Finding our Earths, getting everybody home . . .”
“And we've still got to find you a woman,” added Mallory, mischievously elbowing Remmy in the ribs.
Rembrandt and Mallory laughed together, but then their attention was diverted by the sound of footsteps approaching.
“Gentlemen, good afternoon,” Professor Arturo humbly acknowledged them, nodding at Rembrandt and Mallory, in turn.
“Hey, Professor.” Rembrandt got up from the fountainside ledge. “Look, sorry we've all been so distant these past few days . . .”
“No, Mr. Brown, I am the one who needs to do the apologizing.” The Professor paced forward multiple steps, his hands modestly interlocked behind his back. “I was wrong. I know . . . the Old Man should have learned by now . . .” He chuckled, his eyes dropping to the ground. “You see, all this constant talk of psychic abilities and witchcraft and supernatural deities has always been extremely bromidic, in my eyes. Frankly, it is beyond my comprehension - and that is most likely why it terrifies me so profusely. I was educated to uniformly place my trust in science. So when something cannot be explained, I'm inclined to rationalize a secular theory for its apparent presence in our reality.” Professor Arturo brought his fist to his lips, clearing his throat. “But this layover has given me the chance to reflect - truly reflect. After realizing that what we've seen from Miss Wells and Dr. Davis and Archibald LeBeau and the people on so many of these other Earths could not possibly be mere imaginative coincidence, I have come to accept that I must eat my share of humble pie.” He exhaled, finishing his platitude. “The Professor was wrong. I've assumed that anything not supported by conventional wisdom is inherently fraudulent, and that logic and reason should account for whatever may be seemingly unexplainable. That is why I've been so reluctant to admit any validity to paranormal theories. But I must now acknowledge that there is a realm of scientific thought that human minds have not yet even begun to scratch the surface of.”
“Well, Professor,” nodded Rembrandt, appreciative of Arturo's sincerity, “it takes a real man to admit that he might not always be right.”
“You know, the person you really should be telling this to is Wade,” spoke Mallory, quietly. “After all, she's the one who you tend to butt heads with most often when it comes to these issues.”
“Oh, I have.” Arturo gazed up at the cathedral. “Miss Wells and I have spent many hours recently having a nice chat about this very topic. I believe she understands the source behind my . . . obstinate nature. And although she only felt comfortable disclosing limited details, after hearing from Wade about some of the horrors she endured in the Kromagg breeder camps - well, I never realized how truly gruesome it must have been for her, and only now do I fully appreciate what a high-spirited person such as herself it takes to withstand that caliber of pain.”
A noise swishing from the far-off horizon caught their attention.
“Um, speaking of Kromaggs . . .” Mallory shakily voiced.
They saw a customary red Kromagg wormhole opened in the sky, and two large manta ships cascaded from its mouth.
“Let's get the hell outta here!” Rembrandt commanded, as he, Mallory, and Arturo dashed inside the sanctuary.
“Mr. Brown, Mr. Mallory - look!” Professor Arturo pointed up at the sky once they were safely behind the glass doors of the nearest patio.
Off in the distance, both manta ships could be seen plummeting in a downward spiral toward the ground. In a matter of seconds, both manta ships exploded in an inferno of flames and smoke as they collided with the earth.
“Whoa!” Mallory breathed out, as his heartbeat began returning to normal.
Rembrandt was similarly taken aback. “Damn, that virus must get to them pretty quickly.” He turned to his friends. “We've gotta get to the others!”
When Rembrandt, Mallory, and Arturo entered the main common room, they were greeted by a flurry of terrified nuns and apprentices scampering around in every imaginable direction. Malcolm suddenly emerged from one of the corridors, his face showing great relief when he saw his three fellow sliders.
“Did you hear?! The Kromaggs have invaded twenty major cities on the planet! They sent a whole bunch of manta ships into Kailua . . . and they're crashing all over the place!” Malcolm could hardly contain his fright, while holding a small portable radio in one of his hands.
“That's because the anti-Kromagg virus has probably spread to every inch of this Earth by now,” Arturo theorized.
“But that's not all!” Malcolm turned up the volume on the radio. “People have reported seeing Kromaggs parachuting out of the manta ships before they hit the ground.”
“I don't get it. Why would they pick a spot like Kailua to invade?” Mallory scratched his head.
“Well, it is the largest city on this Alternate Hawaiian Island chain. But that is beside the point.” Arturo addressed Malcolm. “Mr. Eastman, have you seen any of the others?”
“No, I haven't . . .” Malcolm's whole body was shaking.
Rembrandt wrapped his arms around Malcolm, protectively. “Okay, we don't split up, and we scour the grounds completely until we find everyone. We probably have at least another hour before the timer reaches zero.” He then called out to all of the panicking nuns and other residents of the monastery. “People, listen up! You've all heard that the Kromaggs are invading, but my friends and I have released a virus onto your world that should eradicate them in a matter of hours. Until then, if you see any ape-like creatures wandering around, kill them! Now is not the time to be pacifists. Trust me, ‘your' God didn't create these monsters!”
“God bless you!” one of the nuns shouted out to Rembrandt, gratefully, as she passed by him in a frenzy.
Everyone who'd been previously panicking began to regroup and reorganize themselves.
“Come on!” Mallory led Arturo, Rembrandt, and Malcolm down a corridor into one of the common living lounges. The first person whom he spotted was Wade.
“Quinn!” Wade leapt into Mallory's arms, embracing him with great relief.
Diana, Janine, and Colin were also assembled in the lounge area, holding each other's hands.
“Did you hear?” Diana asked the recent arrivals.
“We heard,” Rembrandt confirmed for her. “We even saw.” He looked around. “Where are Q-Ball and Maggie?”
“Right here!” Maggie spoke up, as she and Quinn ran toward the rest of their team with their arms linked.
Colin, who had possession of the timer, read off their remaining time. “Less than half an hour left.”
“Where in the devil were you guys?!” Rembrandt draped his arms around Quinn, grateful to see him alive. “Oh man, I was afraid the 'Maggs had gotten to you. I thought . . . Q-Ball, I'm so sorry for what I said . . . if it had been the last thing I'd ever . . .”
“No, Rem,” Quinn interrupted him. “I'm the one who owes YOU an apology. I've been so selfish . . .”
“Um, can't we give out awards for ‘Most Selfish' and ‘Most Sorry' a little later? Like, on the next world?” Janine cut in, impatiently.
Maggie took the lead. “Janine's right - we've gotta get out of here. As long as there are Kromaggs potentially on the loose - even if they're only half-alive - we could still be in danger.” She led them out the front exit of the sanctuary. “We've been running around, basically filling in the head nuns and priests around what precautions they should take if any surviving Kromaggs go renegade.”
They were crossing a green lawn and heading toward a rainforest. Looking back, the sliders could see smoke arising from the city of Kailua on the horizon. They heard explosions and echoes of commotion coming from downtown Kailua.
“Wait!” cried out a voice from behind them.
It was Archibald LeBeau, hobbling after the fleeing sliders, clutching his chest.
“Father LeBeau!” Rembrandt motioned with his hand for the others to halt. The Cryin' Man ran back toward the priest, calling to him, “Father, what are you doing out here? You should be inside, taking cover!”
Father LeBeau started to say something in response, but a loud pop cut him off as an explosion of orange sparks hit his arm.
Several feet away, partially covered by a palm tree, stood a uniformed Kromagg soldier, extending an energy weapon outward. The Kromagg wore what resembled an oxygen mask, muffling his face.
“He's protected from the virus!” Maggie realized.
Rembrandt and the others hurried over to Father LeBeau, intending to get him out of harm's way. The Kromagg aimed his energy weapon at the sliders, but Mallory leapt forward, tackling the Kromagg and bringing him to the ground. Half of the group broke away from Rembrandt and Archibald LeBeau in order to aid Mallory. As Mallory and the Kromagg wrestled each other in a tangle of legs and fists, Janine reached down and whisked the oxygen mask off of the Kromagg soldier's face.
“I think you could use a breath of fresh air!” Janine said to the Kromagg , who hollered, gagging and choking as he inhaled the lethal air.
Maggie picked up the gun that the Kromagg had dropped, aiming it at him. But Quinn placed his hand in front of Maggie, indicating for her not to shoot.
“No,” he told Maggie, glaring at the dying Kromagg. “I want him to suffer.”
The Kromagg's face was turning red, as he struggled to maintain his inhalation. He looked up at Quinn, Maggie, Janine, and Mallory, who were standing over him. “There . . . are . . . others!” the Kromagg hissed at them, defiantly forcing eye contact with them as he lingered closer to his death.
Within a matter of minutes, the Kromagg soldier was a lifeless heap sprawled out on the grass.
Rembrandt, Colin, and Malcolm were lending their arms and shoulders to Father LeBeau, guiding him along the edge of the rainforest.
“Man, why did you risk your life like that?” Remmy asked the priest, in a gentle yet bewildered voice. “You were safe inside your sanctuary.”
“I did it . . . for the greater good,” whispered Father LeBeau, giving Rembrandt a timid smile.
“Well, we've gotta take him with us,” Wade declared. “He'll die out here.”
“No!” Rembrandt protested. “He saw himself traveling through the wormhole with us, and we all died on the other end in his premonition!”
“Mr. Brown,” the Professor tried to reason with him, “this man needs immediate medical attention. Note the severity of his injury.” Arturo gestured to the priest's scorched arm, where Father LeBeau's sleeve had been burnt right through. The priest's skin was bloody, with parts of it scabbing up in multi-colored layers.
“You . . . you can leave me,” Father LeBeau weakly assured them, agreeing with Rembrandt. “I . . . I must speak with Quinn before you leave, though.” He winced as extreme agony shot through his entire arm.
Another blast was heard, as a second Kromagg soldier jumped out from behind some bushes. He also wore a gas mask, and fired a portable energy weapon at the humans. Diana squealed as the energy blast narrowly missed her, instead severing the trunk of a nearby palm tree.
Maggie fired back shots from the energy weapon she'd scavenged earlier, but this second Kromagg was ready for her. He ducked away from Maggie's range of fire, and then crouched to eject his own weapon at a 45 degree angle, knocking the gun out of Maggie's hand. Maggie shrieked as she pulled her hand away in time, narrowly avoiding her own fingers being burnt to a crisp.
“It's time,” Colin informed them, once they had reached a small lagoon that included a gashing waterfall. He activated the timer, and their translucent purple vortex appeared, swooshing and spinning as usual.
“Come on!” Rembrandt, who had set the injured Father LeBeau down on the ground, tried to drag him to his feet.
“No,” Father LeBeau sharply resisted. “We cannot go through together.” He used his free hand to reach upward, slamming his first against Remmy's chest. Although Archibald LeBeau's punch was not very strong or forceful, he was able to knock Rembrandt off-balance enough so that Rembrandt went falling backwards into the wormhole. “Go! Please!” he instructed to the others, waving Wade, Mallory, Diana, and Malcolm toward the vortex. The four of them, forced to make a split second decision, jumped through it.
Professor Arturo got ready to follow suit. “Thank you, sir - for making me believe!” he shouted in Father LeBeau's ear, before diving into the transparent tunnel.
“Come on!” Colin motioned for everyone else to hurry, knowing that the vortex could close at any moment.
Janine kneeled next to Father LeBeau. “Tell me my future!” she commanded to him.
“I beg your pardon?” Archibald LeBeau choked out.
“I need to know my future, dammit! Will I ever get back to my homeworld?” Janine grabbed Father LeBeau's uninjured hand, placing it on her chest over her heart.
“Janine, we don't have time for this!” Maggie pulled at Janine's shoulder.
Janine resisted and shook away Maggie's grip. “What do you see?!” she repeated, pressing Father LeBeau's wrist against her ribcage.
Father LeBeau weakly described the flash that intruded upon his eyesight. “I see . . . a man . . . aging . . . corpulent face . . . wicked smile . . . blue fluorescent light everywhere . . .”
“Janine! Let's go!” Colin interrupted Father LeBeau's oral description, yanking Janine away from the priest and through the vortex with him.
“Quinn?” Maggie lingered at the entrance of the ERP Bridge, waiting for her lover.
“I'm coming, Maggie.” Quinn was pulling Archibald LeBeau off the ground, forcing him to his feet. “Go ahead, we'll be right behind you.”
As Maggie disappeared into the interdimensional abyss, Quinn used all of his strength to drag Archibald LeBeau toward it.
“Quinn . . . death is imminent . . .” Father LeBeau spoke in calculated monotone.
“Not if I can help it!” Quinn, feeling the quantum wind lapping at his back and neck, heard a faint rustling noise over the wormhole's roar.
The Kromagg soldier who'd been in pursuit of the sliders came crashing out of the brush, blasting radioactive ammunition at them from his gun.
“NO!!!” Quinn wailed, pulling himself and Father LeBeau through the Einstein-Rosen-Pudalski Bridge as another lethal blast of energy pummeled Archibald LeBeau in his spine.
As he entered the wormhole, shielding Father LeBeau's body from any additional incoming energy, Quinn felt their two bodies explode.
In the next second, all he could see were beams of light overlapping each other and dancing in front of him.* * *
Rembrandt hit the pavement hard, skinning his forearm in the process.
“Ow!!!” he verbalized, gripping his wound and opening his eyes just to see a fiery explosion combust right in front of his face.
Wade and Mallory each dropped from the wormhole, and were greeted by the sight of a little Hawaiian boy innocently holding an unlit firecracker in his hand.
“Way cool!” the boy gasped, as Diana and Malcolm plunged out of the vortex behind Wade and Mallory. The little boy stood over Rembrandt, who laid flat on the pavement, groaning. “Sorry, mister. I was just lighting some firecrackers.” He pointed to the garbage can, a few feet away from Rembrandt, where his most recent firecracker had landed and exploded.
“Ohhhhhh!” Remmy moaned, wincing uncomfortably. “Just be more careful, okay partner?”
Professor Arturo crashed onto the pavement next, and it wasn't long before Colin and Janine emerged, predictably landing on top of the Professor. The young Hawaiian child still watched, his eyes as wide as saucers.
“Where did you come from?” he asked, in wonderment.
“Okay, little boy, I think you ought to run on home now . . .” Mallory steered the Hawaiian boy away from the sliders.
Maggie dropped from the sky next, landing with a thud. “Quinn and the Father are right behind me.”
The nine of them stared up at the vortex, waiting expectantly.
After about one minute, the body of Quinn Mallory - embracing the body of Father Archibald LeBeau - hurtled out of the glimmering portal, which evaporated from sight behind him.
Everyone ran over to the twosome, crouching down around them as Quinn stirred. He sat up, and then looked over at Father LeBeau, who was lying face-down on the blacktop. The radiation from the Kromagg weapon had clearly shot a hole into the priest's back, straight through his body.
“NO!!!” Quinn screeched, throwing his own body atop the corpse of Archibald LeBeau.
Maggie took the priest's pulse, as a sheer formality. “Quinn, he's gone . . .”
Professor Arturo kneeled next to his student, putting his arms around Quinn in a fatherly manner. “Mr. Mallory, there was nothing you could have done . . .”
Rembrandt cringed, his face in fears. “Why didn't he listen to us?! Why didn't he just stay in the church?! He was the one who said that we would die if we slid! Why didn't he take his own advice?!”
“But the rest of us are still alive,” Diana quietly pointed out. “Remmy, Father said he saw HIMSELF and YOU traveling through the vortex together and then dying. So maybe that's why he made you go through the vortex alone . . . to change the future?”
“And if you'd landed any closer to that kid's firecracker, you could have died,” speculated Mallory.
“So why didn't he just stay on the last world?” Quinn blubbered, still clutching the priest's body.
“He would have been shot either way,” Colin reasoned.
“Not if I had pushed him through the wormhole earlier! We could have gotten him to a hospital to treat his arm!” Quinn squeezed his own arms around Archibald LeBeau's corpse, almost like a boa constrictor. “I should have saved him! It was my responsibility . . . I'm the one who brought the Kromaggs to his world . . .”
Quinn felt his mind ascending, as though it had somehow phased out of his body. All he could see was a purple blur, resembling a distorted view of the inside of the sliders' wormhole. He could feel himself floating downward, descending back into the dimension they had just departed from. Image after image followed in sequence, of one Kromagg after another having his gas mask torn off by a human hand, being hit over the head with a wooden plank, being kneed in the groin by a human leg, or simply perishing by some means not entirely apparent.
As he snapped out of his trance, Quinn climbed off of Archibald LeBeau's back and sat up. Facing his companions, Quinn said, blankly, “It makes sense now.”
But never more than at that moment had Quinn's facial expression ever resembled a lost adventurer, wandering in confusion.* * *
Maggie placed her hand on top of Quinn's, where he rested it atop the armrest between their two flight seats. The hum of the airplane softly buzzed in their ears. Maggie gently caressed her own fingers all over Quinn's.
“Well, in a couple of hours we'll finally be back in San Francisco,” she reminded him, trying to sound cheerful.
“Yeah. Super.” Quinn glumly stared out the airplane window to his left.
“So . . . you're sure it was . . . remote viewing? Not just another flashback?” Maggie referred to the vision Quinn had received right after he'd exited the vortex with Archibald LeBeau.
Quinn nodded, insistently. “I'm positive, Maggie. I could . . . feel it all happening as I saw it.”
Rembrandt, who had the flight seat directly in front of Quinn's, veered his head around to look at Quinn. “Q-Ball, tell us again what you saw? The Kromaggots from the last world are all dead?”
“I think so.” Quinn thought back to his vision from earlier that day. “I saw Kromaggs having their oxygen masks ripped off by human resistors. The humans on that world could actually fight back. They physically assaulted the Kromaggs, and cut off their air supplies. The virus you released into the atmosphere must have imperiled the Kromaggs' ability to fight, Rem.”
“But how did the 'Maggs know they needed to take the precaution of wearing gas masks?” Rembrandt asked.
Diana, who sat next to Rembrandt, contributed her thoughts to the conversation. “The Kromagg Dynasty must be onto what we're doing. When manta ships began invading infected worlds and didn't report back to the Dynasty, that must have tipped off their leadership.”
Quinn agreed with Diana. “I also saw some of the Kromaggs parachuting out of the manta ships as they entered the earth's atmosphere. They must have realized that their warships wouldn't be able to last very long, given the free-flowing nature of the virus.”
“Pardon me, miss.” Their kimono-clad stewardess tapped Maggie on the shoulder. “Would you like another fortune cookie?” She spoke with a heavy Japanese accent, and offered a plate of plastic-wrapped fortune cookies to her passenger.
“Uh, no thanks,” Maggie politely declined. She whispered to her friends, “But they sure beat the hell out of airline peanuts, don't they?”
Diana held up her finger, signaling the stewardess. “Oh, but I'll have another saki, please.”
“Right away, miss.” The Japanese stewardess sauntered back down the airplane aisle, her dragon-patterned kimono sashaying from side-to-side.
“So Q-Ball,” piped up Rembrandt, hesitantly, “now that you can see the present along with the past . . . does that also mean . . . ?”
“I wouldn't be surprised, Cryin' Man,” admitted Quinn, sullenly. “If his intent was to pass his ‘gift' on to me . . .” Quinn abruptly excused himself. “Sorry, but I have to go use the bathroom.” He began to rise from his seat, balancing himself against the wall of the plane. In doing so, his hand brushed against an airplane intercom.
A flash of light smothered Quinn's eyesight, but when it subsided he found himself standing in the exact same spot. The intercom then buzzed in his ear, and Maggie's voice could be heard blaring over the speaker system.
“Good morning, passengers of Beijing/Tokyo Trans-Pacific. This is your captain speaking. We hope you have enjoyed your flight. We will be landing in San Francisco within the next hour.”
As another bolt of light zoomed in and out of Quinn's line-of-vision, Maggie, Diana, and Rembrandt stared at him questioningly.
“Good morning, passengers of Beijing/Tokyo Trans-Pacific. This is your captain speaking.” Quinn slowly repeated what he'd heard in his premonition. “We hope you have enjoyed your flight. We will be landing in San Francisco within the next hour.”
Rembrandt exchanged glances with Diana, and they both looked at Maggie.
In another second, the Alternate Maggie's voice came over the intercom for real. “Good morning, passengers of Beijing/Tokyo Trans-Pacific. This is your captain speaking,” the pilot announced over a slight crackle of static on the intercom. “We hope you have enjoyed your flight. We will be landing in San Francisco within the next hour.”
Quinn Mallory had already seen another set of bright lights penetrate his vision. Clutching one of the plastic-wrapped fortune cookies, he watched as a blond stewardess came barreling down the airplane aisle, tripping and falling forward.
“Excuse me, sir!” the sliders overheard a female voice calling to someone.
As Quinn emerged from his vision, he saw that same blond stewardess - wearing an ugly polka-dotted kimono - speedwalking down the aisle toward the passenger whom she was addressing. Sure enough, the stewardess lost her balance, falling flat on her rear end.
The airplane erupted into laughter.
“Yep,” Quinn said to Rembrandt, Diana, and Maggie, who were still staring at him, dumbfounded. “Just call me Nostradamus.”
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