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.
I would like to credit Tony Blake and Paul Jackson who wrote the script dialogue from the Sliders episode “Double Cross” in Season 3 of the series. Actual character dialogue from Blake and Jackson's script is used during this episode.
Special thanks to Blinker for his creation of the namesake of the character “Barbara Arturo,” and to Temporal Flux for his theories on quantum mechanics, which contributed greatly to this story. For more information, visit his website at www.dimensionofcontinuity.com
* * *
Maggie Beckett navigated her way across acres upon acres of meadows and grasslands. She scrambled over the landscape as quickly as possible, but was preoccupied with making sure she didn't accidentally step on any of the objects around her feet.
Tiny trees, which were clustered as entire forests. Small edifices that were the size of dollhouses compared to the interdimensional explorers. And people.
Bodies of frantic people, not more than a few inches tall, screeching as they scurried to avoid being crushed by the ten sliders' gigantic shoes. Some of these microscopic human beings were running in fear. Others of them, however, were dreading the sliders' impending departure, as they regarded the explorers as deities.
“Okay, maybe this isn't as bad as a world of giants,” Maggie yelled back to her friends, “but it's close!”
The other nine sliders were also having a hard time treading their way over the terrain, which existed as only a fraction of the size it would be on most worlds.
Professor Arturo grunted, his voice echoing across the miniature dimension. Several dozen tiny humans were clinging to his shoe, chorusing their adoration for him.
“Don't go, Professor! Please, don't leave us!” their teeny voices squeaked as they shouted at the tops of their lungs.
“Bah! How many times must I tell you?!” the Professor's magnified voice boomed in their little ears. “I am not God! I am a scientist!”
Diana had shuffled next to Arturo, inadvertently sweeping a bunch of haystacks out of the way with her shoe heel. “We're just about outta here. Better untie your shoe, Professor.”
Grumbling, Professor Arturo bent down and undid his shoelaces, slipping out of the shoe that his pint-sized entourage clung to. As Diana opened the vortex, Arturo was the first one to jump upward, albeit half-barefoot.
“Watch your step!” Quinn called out to all of his friends, whose bodies whooshed through the wormhole, in turn. All the while, a gust of wind from the vortex swept and dispersed the wee folks across the landscape of their dimension like a leaf-blower scattering autumn foliage.* * *
“Logan! Come here!” Adrian Fayne's brittle voice ordered.
Dressed in a nicely-ironed purple power suit, Logan St. Clair sauntered across the control room, joining her former boss in front of the data stream. “What is it, Adrian?” Logan asked, brushing a strand of reddish-brunette hair out of her eye.
Adrian pointed at the screen, where a digital funnel-like graphic was curving through a 3D image of Earth.
A different Earth.
“Our sensors have detected an unidentified vortex entering Earth 116.” Adrian pointed at the digital projection.
“Mmm-hmm . . .” Logan visually scrutinized the funnel, which had ceased its movement on the screen. She plopped down into a desk chair, and began tapping away at the computer's keyboard.
“What are you doing?” Adrian demanded from her.
“Shopping on eBay, Adrian,” replied Logan, sarcastically. She sighed heavily, giving him an impatient scowl. “What do you think I'm doing? I'm analyzing the data!”
After a few minutes, Adrian had gotten restless again. “Well . . . ?” he solicited from her.
“Don't get your testicles in a knot,” spat out Logan, clicking the mouse to activate an output sequence. A bunch of programming symbols appeared on the monitor. “Well, well, well. Ten separate masses of exotic matter have intruded upon Earth 116. Looks like it's our lucky day, Fayne. Or mine, at least.”
“Who could it be?”
“Who do you think?!” Inhaling venomously, Logan seethed, “Quinn Mallory and his motley crew. The sliders.” After a pause for thought, she continued. “Yeah, ten seems about the right number, if I remember correctly.” She turned to stare expectantly at Adrian. “This might be our only chance.”
“Frankly, I'm more concerned about them jeopardizing the project - not your revenge, Logan,” said Adrian, with a dismissive sneer. “But hey, if you get to take out your male twin in the process, more power to you.” He picked up his cell phone. “I'll send a reconnessance team to Earth 116 right away.”
“Good.” Logan smiled sadistically, and rubbed her hands together. “I can't wait to see Quinn's face when he finds out what I'm doing now . . .”* * *
Rembrandt caught Colin, who was the last one to tumble out of the vortex.
“Thanks, Remmy,” Colin said, stepping onto the grassland beneath his feet.
“Okay, wherever we are, we've got just under 10 hours here,” Diana announced, pocketing the timer.
Maggie surveyed their surroundings. “And we're not alone,” she observed.
Off in the distance, tan-skinned natives wearing simple, scanty pieces of clothing could be seen carrying baskets of nuts and acorns. They were congregating outside of what appeared to be a small village, near conical huts made from bark and grass.
“Everyone back!” Maggie hissed, shooing her friends in a retreat back into the shade. “This is Indian territory.”
“It's ‘Native American,' Maggie,” Wade corrected her occasional nemesis. “And don't jump to the conclusion that they're going to hurt us.”
Malcolm cautiously peeked out from behind the brush. “They look peaceful enough.”
“Knock on wood, Mr. Eastman,” the Professor said, ominously. He gently pulled Malcolm's collar back behind their hiding place. “Lest we forget our recent tussle with the Kokokoa.”
“Quinn,” Wade spoke up, her memory churning, “do you remember that one Anthropology class we took when we were at North Shore together? ANTH 296 - Native Peoples of California.”
“Yeah. Kind of.”
“Well, I did my term paper on the Miwok tribe of the San Francisco area. They lived in cone-shaped houses made from bark and grass on poles, wore deerskin loincloths, and survived through hunting and agriculture. I remember that from the diorama I submitted to Professor Taylor. They were basketmakers who gathered maize and acorns.”
Quinn peered through the bushes, observing the countryside. “Well, they do appear to be a farming society.” He indicated fields of maize that spanned seemingly endless square miles adjacent to where the village began.
“I hope they don't mind dinner guests.” Mallory gulped. “As long as we're not the dinner.”
“Wait a minute . . . something's happening.” Janine squinted, her stare directed at the crop acreage.
It started off almost unnoticeable - a translucent veil wafting through a cornfield. However, the near-invisible waves eventually morphed into bright orange blobs, flowing over and around the cornfields. Familiar swooshing sounds accompanied the anomaly, which gradually enveloped and digested the hundreds of square feet of corn.
“What the . . . ?” Rembrandt had to do a double take to make sure he wasn't hallucinating. But after minutes of silently watching the spectacle, he looked at his friends' faces for confirmation. Indeed, they had all witnessed the same thing.
Those fields of maize were now bare ground. It was as though the ears of corn had just been plucked from existence.
“Okay, that was just plain weird,” Janine said, shaking her head vigorously back and forth.
“Maybe it's a new way of farming?” Colin suggested, shrugging light-heartedly.
“Advanced technology to save farmers the trouble of picking crops by hand?” Diana put forth. “Could be, but those . . . things almost looked like . . .”
“. . . vortices,” Quinn finished Diana's sentence. “Or one massive vortex.”
“And these people don't look like they'd be very technologically advanced,” Maggie added.
“I smell something foul afoot here,” muttered the Professor. “And it is not the corn.”
“Okay, maybe we should just take cover somewhere?” Rembrandt suggested. “The natives might think we're responsible for it, somehow . . .”
Rembrandt's words were overshadowed by a gargantuan gust of wind that had suddenly surfaced. Another magnificent orange wormhole opened right in front of the sliders' hiding place. At least two-dozen human figures - clad in black uniforms and helmets covering their faces - emerged from interdimensional space. Some of them immediately spotted the faces of the sliders only partially covered at the front of the forest. Raising their weapons, the new arrivals charged toward the sliders.
Even as he took off into the woods, Rembrandt Brown could feel his legs giving out from underneath him. A sharp projection had jabbed the skin above his calf, sending Rembrandt falling back into a leafy, scraggly bush.
“Remmy!” Maggie had immediately backtracked, after seeing Rembrandt attacked by the soldier's crossbow. She propelled her body forward, jutting one of her legs upward to give the masked soldier a harsh kick in the spine. But in the next second, Maggie had also blacked out. The last thing she felt was a heavy metallic object being rammed against the side of her head.
As Quinn leaped behind an oak tree, he peeked out and saw Wade being accosted by two of the soldiers. They had covered Wade's entire upper body with a black duffel bag, and had restrained the flailing female slider.
“Wade!” Hollering, Quinn's protective instincts took over. Without thinking, he jetted out into the open, heading straight toward Wade and her abductors. A barrage of darts penetrated Quinn's skin, causing his muscles and nerves to go numb.
Diana and Mallory had taken cover behind a large log in the forest. They peered over it, cautiously, observing the onslaught. Mallory began to move forward as he saw Wade being captured, but Diana held him back.
Dr. Davis shook her head. She silently pointed down at the timer in her pocket, and gave Mallory a serious gaze, pleading for him to rein himself in.
Meanwhile, Malcolm tried to elude one of the soldiers who was stalking the teenager from behind a row of trees. The soldier kept crossing over in-between the trees in an attempt to catch Malcolm in a vulnerable position, but the adolescent slider kept zigzagging and weaving his way through the sequoias. Just as Malcolm's pursuer began to catch up to Malcolm, Colin Mallory sprung out from hiding - seemingly out of nowhere - and thrust his own body against the soldier's. As the two of them wrestled on the grass, Malcolm stopped trying to outrun his pursuer and grabbed the heaviest branch he could find on the ground. Backtracking, Malcolm plunged the sharp bark deep into the flesh of Colin's attacker, until the soldier lost consciousness.
Helping Colin up off the ground, Malcolm's voice shook. “What do we do?!”
Mallory turned toward where Malcolm was staring. He saw the Professor cornered by four different gunmen. Arturo had raised his arms, submissively surrendering to them. “Gentlemen, I am no threat to you,” he spoke to them, firmly and assertively, even while staring down the barrel of a gun.
Colin grabbed Malcolm's wrist and rushed him behind a sequoia. “We can't let ourselves get caught,” he stressed to Malcolm. “Otherwise, we will not be able to help them.”
Another handful of these abductors-in-black were assembled beneath a leafy awning. Their guns were aimed upward.
“Forget about her! We have the ones we need! We leave in a few seconds!” a commanding officer ordered to his troops, through a bullhorn. The operatives whom he was addressing - who were visually scanning the thick maple leaves, had their weapons filled with actual bullets instead of tranquilizers.
Their commander extended his arm, pointing a timer at an area of spacious meadow on the forest's outskirts. Opening a luminous orange wormhole, the commander and his soldiers began to be sucked, one-by-one, into the gusty abyss of the vortex. The soldiers who had apprehended Rembrandt, Quinn, Maggie, Wade, and the Professor dragged these five sliders along with them into interdimensional space.
After one minute, the forceful foreign wormhole had disappeared from sight.
Janine began shimmying back down the trunk of the tree, which she had originally climbed up as a hiding place. Colin, Malcolm, Diana, and Mallory also emerged from the space where they had taken cover.
“Okay,” Janine sputtered, picking some leaves out of her long, black hair, “this is a MAJOR problem.”* * *
Rembrandt opened his eyes and moaned.
His blurry vision gradually morphed into a clear view of the room he was in. It was small and plain, with simple light blue walls, a table, and chairs. Nothing special, and nothing that appeared as though it could be used as a weapon for self-defense. Not that it would have mattered . . . his dark brown arms were tied behind the back of his chair.
Turning his head, Rembrandt saw Quinn, Maggie, and Professor Arturo tied and bound to chairs of their own, beside him.
“Psssst. Guys!” Remmy hissed, trying to wake the others up.
Maggie groggily opened her eyes. “Where are we?” she murmured, weakly.
Quinn and Arturo had also awoken.
“Mr. Brown,” whispered the Professor, noticing Wade's absence, “what happened to Miss Welles?”
“I dunno. She was already gone when I came to.”
“They must be holding her somewhere else.” Quinn gulped, refusing to believe anything worse had happened to Wade. “Whoever ‘they' are.”
Maggie struggled against her restraints. “Where are the others?”
The door to the room abruptly slammed open. A group of unmasked men in black suits - the ones who had accosted the sliders earlier - stormed inside. A rather homely black-suited man with a scraggily, graying goatee, thinning hair, and beady eyes marched right up to Quinn and grabbed the young physicist by the collar. “You'd better be cooperative, Mallory! If you know what's good for you! Otherwise, your dear little Wade is getting a bullet in her head!”
Quinn snarled back at the man, unable to shake him off due to Quinn's own limited mobility. Only able to move his head, Quinn cringed and rammed his head into that of his accoster, hoping to knock the ugly man off-balance.
A tingly sensation overtook Quinn's body. Every nerve of his body was on edge, as Quinn felt the energy cascade in and out of him all at the same time. It was a familiar feeling, one he had grown to accept and anticipate.
Quinn Mallory was about to get another glimpse into the past.
In no time at all, Quinn found himself in a spacious laboratory. Glass windows revealed a sunny day outside, with colorful fauna and plant-life on the other side of the window, accentuated by the clear blue sky. Focusing away from the enormous multi-paned windows, Quinn saw members of the black-suited reconnaissance team who had abducted the sliders earlier, lined up in an obedient military formation. He nearly choked on his shock as he caught sight of the intimidating, well-dressed, strawberry-brunette woman who paced authoritatively in front of the soldiers.
Logan St. Clair.
“Once you land on Earth 116,” Logan was saying to her men, in a commanding, no-nonsense tone, “you will only have two minutes to get in there, capture your targets, and get out again.”
Logan gestured to a data stream on the wall. A digital photo - obviously captured from a security camera - displayed the face of Quinn . . . looking five-and-a-half years younger. The image had most likely been captured the first time Quinn had been on Logan's homeworld.
“Quinn Mallory is your prime target,” she said, referring to the image of Quinn. “If manipulated properly, he can be of great use to our project.” Logan used a handheld remote to click on the next image. “Wade Welles, pictured here, is also a key component to this mission. She can be used as leverage to make Quinn cooperate. However, she is very dangerous. During my last encounter with her, she was able to use some sort of . . . telekinetic ability against me, offensively. Therefore, it is imperative that you somehow block Wade's line of vision when apprehending her. Do not make eye contact or allow her to look at you. Attack Wade from behind, or else you may be killed. Does everyone understand this?”
The soldiers nodded, still standing attentively.
“Next up is Professor Maximilian Arturo. He is an interdimensional double of the Professor from our world.” She clicked the remote control, switching to a headshot of Wrong Arturo. “If possible, capture him. Resistance from Max should be minimal, so expect an easy catch, although negligible compared to Quinn and Wade. He can also be used to manipulate Mallory.”
Logan moved on to the next slide. This one was a security camera shot of a mustachioed Rembrandt Brown, taken inside the Royal Chancellor Hotel.
“Also high on the priority list is Rembrandt Brown. Mid- to late-forties . . . may or may not still have a mustache. He is an alternate version of the R&B star Rembrandt Brown of our world.” Logan shut off the data stream. “Another woman, who goes by the name of ‘Captain Maggie Beckett,' is also a trump card who could be used against Quinn. She has long, blond hair, although it was obviously a dye-job, so she may have switched to another color. Beckett is fierce, possibly with a military background. Take her out early, if you can.”
One of the soldiers tentatively raised his hand.
“What?!” Logan snapped at him, irritably.
“I thought you said there were ten people in their party?”
“There are. I was getting to that, if you could have held your water for a second,” Logan sneered at the soldier, who blushed in embarrassment. “There are five additional sliders in this group. However, your focus should be on the five whom I've specified. The others are expendable. If you are able to capture any of the other five, I will be extra pleased. But if you are running out of time, don't waste your energy trying to subdue them. I want the five who I named - especially Quinn. Anyone who I haven't mentioned by name, feel free to kill on sight. But I want Quinn and the other four alive!”
Adrian joined Logan at her side. “These transdimensional travelers are a threat to our national security. It is imperative that we stop them while we still can.”
“This is your one shot,” Logan warned them. “Otherwise, they will be ready for us the next time. If you fail, you'll have to deal with me . . .”
Quinn snapped back to reality as he heard one of the superior officers ordering to Quinn's assailant, “Back off, Chambers! The prisoners will be interrogated shortly.”
Rembrandt was steaming. “Who are you people?”
“They work for Logan,” Quinn piped up.
“What?!” Rembrandt, Maggie, and Arturo chorused, in unison.
“How did you know that?!” growled Chambers, glaring down at Quinn.
“Because we're smart,” quipped a female voice from right outside the room.
Logan St. Clair sauntered into the cramped room, followed by Adrian Fayne. She had a proud smirk on her face, directed straight at Quinn. “Welcome back to San Angeles.”
Quinn just glared at her. “What game are you playing here, Logan?”
“Nice to see you too again, Quinn. You must be wondering what I'm doing here.”
“Not really. I'm too busy envisioning myself strangling you.”
Logan bit her lip, admiring Quinn's retort. “Never underestimate our resourcefulness, Mallory. We're one and the same.”
“I'm nothing like you,” Quinn spat out, in monotone.
“Well, we'll see, won't we?” Logan St. Clair circulated over to Rembrandt. “Well, well, Cryin' Man. How the tables have turned.”
Rembrandt didn't make eye contact. He couldn't stand to watch her gloat. “Where's Wade?” he demanded.
“In a safe place,” replied Logan, airily, evading his question. She then turned to the female slider in the room. “And Maggie . . .”
“I swear to you, Logan . . . once I'm free, you're one dead bitch!” Maggie flared, struggling pointlessly.
“Love that sense of humor, Maggie.” Logan kneeled in front of Professor Arturo. “So tell me, how is it that you fit into all of this, Max? According to your friends, the version of you who I met earlier is now dead.”
“Miss St. Clair, I refuse to entertain your curiosity . . .” Arturo bit his lip. He was trying to sound as gentlemanly as possible under the circumstances.
Quinn cleared his throat. “So how did you find your way back here, Logan? Out of all the random worlds out there, how is it that you ended up back home?”
“Ah, so you are interested? Nice to see your curious mind hasn't changed, Quinn.” As she paced back and forth in front of the row of tied-up sliders, Logan tilted back her head. “I was tracking your photon trail, but I accidentally latched on to the pathway of another wormhole. It turned out to be none other than a vortex from my alma mater, Prototronics.”
Adrian stepped forward, addressing the sliders. “That last world you were on . . . the one we captured you from . . . Logan had inadvertently followed one of our photon trails onto that Earth, straight into where we were working.”
“What were you doing there?” Maggie cocked her head.
Smiling proudly, Logan said, “They were in the process of raiding fish from San Francisco Bay.”
Everything mentally clicked for Quinn. “You found a way to steal natural resources from other worlds!”
“Actually,” Adrian raised his hand, “I led the effort at Prototronics to perfect sliding, during Logan's unfortunate absence. But we did use the blueprints that she had left behind.”
“Constructed by myself and Max,” added Logan.
“So . . . now you just slide into any ole dimension and take their water without asking?” Rembrandt bristled, disapprovingly.
“Water, crops, oil, gasoline . . . whatever we can get our hands on.” Adrian smirked at the four prisoners.
“After I followed the photon trail back to my world, I was generously rewarded for my years of toil,” bragged Logan. She flashed an insincere smile at Quinn. “President Rohrabacher appointed me as the new U.S. Secretary of Homeland Technology. For the past five months, my department staff and I have overseen all of our raids of parallel dimensions. Prototronics has opened up additional labs all across the country.”
Rembrandt's face remained in an intense glare. “Logan, you've had to have run into the Kromaggs by now.”
“The interdimensional apes? Of course.” Another smirk spread across Logan's lips. “But I've always managed to avoid them until my next window opened. That's the one advantage of sliding alone.”
“I'm just wondering if you're concerned that the 'Maggs will invade your world?” Rembrandt challenged Logan and Adrian. “They've been tracking us through every world we visit. The Kromaggs should have invaded your dimension by now.”
“Not something for us to worry about,” Adrian said, waving away the thought with his hand.
“Well you should be,” Maggie countered.
Logan stuck her nose in the air, triumphantly. “Our Earth is protected by blockage from a hyperspatial force field generator. We only allow incoming vortices into our dimension when they belong to Prototronics. Otherwise, a wormhole's pathway is blocked by the global force field. We can detect the internal mass of a vortex by analyzing its quantum signature, as it approaches us through hyperspace. There's no way a manta ship could make it through. Quite clever, don't you think?”
Rembrandt exchanged glances with Quinn. That certainly explained why Logan's world hadn't been invaded by the Kromagg Dynasty.
“So what do you want from us, Logan?” demanded Maggie.
“Simple,” said Logan. “I want revenge. I could have died out there, sliding all alone.”
“Yeah, what a shame that would have been,” Remmy sarcastically commented.
“I'm going to make you suffer, Mallory.” Logan glared at Quinn through narrow eyes. “I'm going to eliminate each of your loved ones, one-by-one. And then I'm going to eliminate you.”
Quinn imagined each of his friends - Maggie, Rembrandt, the Professor, Wade - each one being turned into a lifeless corpse. He didn't even envision his own death, because even if he was the only one to survive, Quinn couldn't conceive of his life without those who he cared for the most.
“Logan, don't bring them into this,” Quinn said, his voice under enormous strain. “Do what you want with me, but let them go.”
A solitary flash of terror overcame Maggie's face. Now she was the one trying to imagine her life without Quinn.
“Sorry. No dice, Mallory,” Logan stated, matter-of-factly. “They made themselves a part of this. Now you all get to die.” A sadistic glint sparkled in her eyes. “Slowly. And painfully.”
Before the sliders knew what was happening, Logan was sauntering out of the interrogation room, her lackeys following closely behind her.
As the metallic door unsympathetically slammed shut, Quinn's gaze dropped to the mint green tiled floor beneath his feet.
He couldn't bear to made eye contact with his fellow travelers.* * *
In frustration, Diana slapped the group's timer from one hand to the other.
She glanced down at the readout. Nope. The numbers weren't slowing down any. It was still decreasing systematically from 5 hours, 18 minutes, and 42 seconds.
Diana felt a soft brush against her shoulder. She turned her head to see Mallory standing behind her. His eyes were horribly swollen, a rim of red splattered on the skin around his sockets.
Leaning in, Diana allowed Mallory to embrace her.
“What are we going to do?” she choked out.
“We wait until the timer hits zero,” Mallory whispered, resisting the urge to gag. “And then we track their photon trail.” He couldn't get the image of Wade - being dragged away underneath a muffled sack - out of his memory.
Colin came over to them, carrying several clusters of wild berries in his hands. “We found some sustenance.” He gestured over his shoulder to indicate Malcolm, who was coming up behind Colin with an armful of roots.
“They're good for you. Trust me,” Malcolm said, responding to the grimaces from Diana and Mallory as they skeptically eyed the roots he was carrying. “So what's our game plan?”
“Well, Janine is going to try to negotiate with the natives . . . maybe get us some weapons,” Diana explained. “We have no idea what we'll be sliding into, so we shouldn't go in empty-handed.”
Malcolm shook his head. “I don't get it. Those soldiers seemed to know exactly what to do. Almost like they were following specific orders. They immediately went after the most experienced members of our team . . . they even blindsided Wade so she couldn't use her powers against them. How did they know?”
“I think the bigger question is: why did they show up in the first place?” Mallory exhaled, perplexed. “Where did they come from? Who do they work for?”
A piercing whistle came from beyond the thicket. Before they knew it, Janine had appeared from behind a section of oak trees. The Asian slider was no longer wearing her regular clothes - instead she wore a skin-tight garment made from animal skins. Janine carried an armful of wooden tubes.
"Why Janine,” Mallory grinned, unable to resist the opportunity to quip, “you look . . .”
“Shut up, Mallory.” Janine dropped the pile of tubular objects by Colin's feet. “Lucky for you all, I'm not too dark or too light. Once I swiped this little deerskin bikini, I was able to blend in.”
Diana reached down to pick up any of the tubes. “So what are these, and how did you get them?”
Janine brought one of the tubes to her mouth and blew into it. A sharp protrusion shot out of the tiny weapon, flying smack into the bark of a tree trunk. “It's some type of blow-gun. I swiped a bunch of them from one of the huts. Fortunately, the other natives were so captivated by my beauty that I was able to sneak away undetected.”
“Very resourceful,” commented Colin, curiously picking up a blow-gun.
“So are we doing this altogether?” Malcolm asked, looking around at Diana, Mallory, Colin, and Janine. “If any of you want to back out, I wouldn't blame you.”
“Not a chance,” stated Mallory. “I'm not abandoning Wade.”
“I'm not abandoning any of them,” Diana agreed with Mallory, insistently.
Colin echoed Diana and Mallory's sentiments. “I'm in, too. They're counting on us.”
“What the hell,” Janine uttered, joining the other four in their pledge to rescue their friends.
Mallory, Colin, Janine, Malcolm, and Diana placed their hands, one on top of the others, in the center of a circle they'd made with their bodies.
“Well,” said Mallory, with a shrug, “let's get some practice in. Five more hours, and we're going to need to have perfect aim.”* * *
“Status?” Logan St. Clair approached one of her technicians, whose eyes were glued to a computer terminal.
The pudgy, middle-aged redhead read data from the screen without looking back at Logan. “We just completed another transfer, Ms. St. Clair. Approximately 200 tons of coal from Earth 116, Santa Clarita Valley, Sector 79. Transfer was successful.”
“Excellent.” Logan clapped her hands together, and crossed the room to where Adrian Fayne was stationed. “Well Adrian, the Santa Clarita Mines on Earth 116 now contain 2% less coal than they did half an hour ago.”
“Gee, I wonder how that happened?” Adrian shared a knowing smirk with his former subordinate.
“A little interdimensional magic.” Logan snapped her fingers at another lab employee. “Kimball, make sure Vortex 3 is being prepped for the salt mine transfer. I'd like to be able to enjoy some fast food again within the next year.”
John Kimball began speaking into an intercom, giving instructions to the technicians in the appropriate laboratory.
“Just think, Adrian,” Logan said, her eyes dreamily glazing over, “our world will finally have beef, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables - people will pay a pretty penny . . .”
“Ms. St. Clair . . .” The female technician spoke up, her voice shaking.
Logan and Adrian turned their heads toward her. “What is it, Squires?!” Logan demanded, in an aggravated tone.
Squires stammered. “We have an . . . unauthorized vortex . . .”
“WHAT?!” Adrian roared.
Logan rushed over to the computer terminal. “How the hell did that happen?!” she shrieked, standing over Squires.
“I . . . I . . . forgot to put up the barrier,” Squires meekly admitted, almost in a whisper.
“SQUIRES!!” Logan smacked her own forehead in fury. Regrouping, she glanced at the computer screen. “Okay, it's heading straight into Laboratory 2. Adrian, get your men down there, NOW!!!”
Adrian quickly grabbed up the intercom and barked some orders into it. Logan, meanwhile, had already stormed out of the control room.
Down in Laboratory 2 of Prototronics, a team of uniformed soldiers had hurried into the lab from all entrances. They positioned their weapons, and watched as a medium-sized emerald green wormhole began to materialize in the room. As the mouth of the portal formed, spinning wildly and generating hyperspatial winds, a person's body flew out of the vortex. The slim young male figure logrolled across the floor, stopping near the feet of two gloved Prototronics workers who'd been sorting through the payload of stolen coal.
Immediately, the adolescent struggled to stand, still dazed from the slide. He found himself encircled by a posse of intimidating soldiers with strange-looking guns. The boy flinched in terror, his spiky red hair making him look almost like a raccoon trapped in the shadow of a predator.
Logan briskly entered Laboratory 2, wielding a pistol. She stomped directly over to the teenage slider, enraged, and pressed her pistol's barrel against his chest. “Who are you?!”
“Tr - Trevor. Trevor Brock,” the young man stuttered, the rest of his body suspended in fear.
“And how did you get here, Trevor Brock?” asked Logan, rhetorically. She had spotted the timer that Trevor clutched, and yanked it out of his grip.
“It's . . . it's my jumper-slider machine . . . I came through my mousehole,” Trevor scrambled to describe his invention.
“I know what it is!” yelled Logan, rolling her eyes. She looked at the display panel on Trevor's timer. It was counting down from I hour, 58 minutes, and 23 seconds. “Where did you get it from?!”
“I found it . . .” Trevor tried to fib. “I just began using it . . .”
“You don't fool me, kid!” Logan pocketed Trevor's timer, and harshly grabbed his shoulder. “Get moving!” She practically dragged Trevor out of the laboratory, and they were flanked by the security team as Logan pulled him up some stairs.
Squires practically squealed when Logan slammed the control room doors open and reentered the room. The technician's hands were shaking. “Ms. St. Clair . . .”
“You NEVER leave the force field down, Squires!!” boomed Logan, not even bothering to listen to her subordinate. “What if it had been a manta ship, huh, Squires?! Our asses all would have been fried, because of YOUR carelessness!!”
Still clutching Trevor's arm, Logan released him while throwing the adolescent slider against the wall.
“Watch and learn, kid!”
Turning her back on Trevor, Logan swiftly fired her pistol, shooting a solitary bullet into the chest of Darlene Squires. With a grunt, the middle-aged lab worker collapsed to the ground.
“That's what happens when you don't follow directions,” Logan said, in an almost whimsical voice. She farcically blew the tip of her gun with her lips. “Got it?!”
Trevor nodded, his face turning white with shock. He began to feel nauseous, watching a red pool of blood seep out from underneath the dead body of Squires.
“Don't worry. I'll make sure she gets a proper funeral. We'll even invite her husband and kids.” Logan turned her back on Trevor, again, this time facing Adrian. “Go get Quinn! I want to show him I mean business!”
“Quinn Mallory?” Trevor spoke up, in his throaty voice.
Logan's eyes widened with immediacy when she heard the teen spout Quinn's name. “How do you know Mallory?!”
“He . . . uh . . . he visited my world 51 months ago,” spat out Trevor, characteristically accurate with his approximation. “With his friends. The sliders.”
“Yeah, and you just ‘happened' to slide from the exact same dimension Quinn was just on, by sheer coincidence?” Logan sneered, not even trying to hide her sarcasm. “Sorry, I don't buy it. There's gotta be something else going on here . . . and I WILL find out what it is!”
“I haven't seen Quinn or his friends in the last four years!” Trevor insisted, shakily. “I swear!” He was flustered with confusion.
“I think he might be telling the truth,” piped up one of the uniformed soldiers, speaking out in fear that Logan might recklessly hurt the teenager.
“Did I ask you for your opinion?!” barked Logan, shooting a glare at the soldier. “Besides, if this boy band-wannabe,” she indicated Trevor, “really does know Quinn, the kid will be more valuable to us alive, anyway.”
At that moment, Quinn was shoved into the room by a few of Adrian's thugs. The young physicist gaped, recognizing Trevor despite his older appearance.
“Trevor?!” Quinn's protective instincts kicked in. “Where did you find him, Logan?!” he interrogated his nemesis.
“Actually, he found us.” Logan cleared her throat. “It seems that your pubescent protégée here has taken after you, Mallory. Well, it would only be polite for me to allow the two of you to get reacquainted,” she said with a sneer, grabbing Trevor by the shoulders and shoving him toward Quinn. Logan still wasn't entirely confident that Trevor and Quinn really hadn't seen each other for the long period of time that Trevor claimed. “Take them back to the holding room. I want Quinn to ‘bond' with his young friend before I take either of their lives.”
“You're insane, Logan!” Quinn hollered at Logan, sickened by the sadistic gleam of pleasure in Logan's eyes. He wrapped his arms around Trevor as the guards took them away again.* * *
“I'm glad you're all right, son,” Rembrandt said to Trevor, relieved. He would have spread his arms to hug Trevor, except they were still tied to Remmy's chair.
“Yeah, for now . . .” mumbled Trevor, his eyes pessimistically dropping to the floor.
They were back in the interrogation room, where Maggie, the Professor, and Rembrandt were still bound and captive.
“I promise you, Trevor . . . I won't let Logan hurt you,” Quinn vowed to his young friend.
Trevor's eyes shifted around the room, suspiciously. “Are they listening in on us?”
“Probably,” muttered Maggie, irate at how she had been, for the most part, immobilized by Logan.
Whether Logan and her goons were eavesdropping or not, Quinn's inquisitive mind demanded that he learn what had become of Trevor in the time since they last saw him. “So Trevor, tell me how you started sliding?”
“Mr. Mallory,” said Professor Arturo, sharing Trevor's concern that the room might be bugged, “I don't really think it's wise . . .”
“No, Professor.” Quinn held up his hand. Trevor wouldn't say anything that Logan could use against him - and if Trevor was indeed the genius Quinn remembered him to be, Trevor would know what he should or shouldn't reveal.
“It's okay,” Trevor told Arturo. “I knew the risks.” He refocused his attention on Quinn. “About a month after you guys left, I started to build my ‘jumping' - er, ‘sliding' machine. It still took about three months for me to crack the equation.”
“THREE MONTHS?!” Quinn squawked, recalling how he'd spent years trying to comprehend everything contained in ERP theory. He calmed himself down and encouraged Trevor, “Go on . . .”
“Once I figured out how to use it, I began sending random objects through the vortex,” Trevor recounted. “I kept my home coordinates, just like you told me to, Quinn. But I was too afraid to jump through the wormhole myself. Until . . .” He stopped, choking on his words. “. . . the Kromaggs invaded. It was eight months after I first opened the vortex. I've always wondered if they came because of me. Did opening a rift in hyperspace alert them to the existence of my world?” Tears were beginning to form in his eyes.
“No,” Quinn emphatically stated. “Absolutely not, Trevor. In fact . . .” He bowed his head shamefully. “. . . the Kromaggs invaded your Earth because of me.”
“Because of you?” Trevor looked up at Quinn, confused.
“Before I met you, the Kromaggs captured me and my friends. They implanted a tracking device somewhere in my body.” Quinn shifted eye contact away from Trevor. “The Dynasty had been tracking our movements across the multiverse.”
Trevor remained silent, pondering this piece of information.
“Please don't hate me.”
“I could never hate you, Quinn,” Trevor reassured him, with great sincerity in his voice. “You saved my life.”
Now Quinn was the one who felt tears surfacing from beneath his eyes.
“So you've been sliding alone for the past three years?” Arturo confirmed from Trevor, breaking the awkward silence.
“Yes, Mr. Doyle . . . I mean, Professor,” Trevor answered, sheepishly correcting himself. “Dr. Bolivar's arrest distracted attention away from me. They didn't consider me a ‘Fracture' anymore. So I did my research in secret . . . late at night in my bedroom closet, or whenever I took a Sick Day from shelving books at the Repository. Whenever I had class, I stole spare parts from my school's Electronics lab, and brought them home at night.”
“And you built your own timer!” Rembrandt shook his head, impressed.
Trevor nodded, proudly. “I brought it with me when I went for ‘Play' at Never Never Land . . . I got to play a Lost Boy. The ‘thought police' scanned a white-collar embezzler, and they brainwashed the guy into thinking he was Captain Hook, so he'd see how he was hurting other people. That's where I was on the night the Kromaggs invaded. All the other kids in the park thought the manta ships were just a part of the show - except for me. I got back my timer, activated the mousehole, and never looked back.”
Maggie was sulking in sympathy for Trevor, listening to his account. “That must have been hard, having to leave your family and friends behind.”
“What friends?” Trevor scoffed. “The rest of the kids thought I was some freak! And my parents probably would have turned me in to the ‘thought police' anyway!”
“Why?” Rembrandt was confused.
“On the day of the invasion, the girl who was playing Wendy broke into the boys' dorm and rifled through our stuff,” Trevor explained, bitterly. “She found my timer, and when I returned from dinner, she was there waiting for me. She threatened to turn me in, unless I took her through the mousehole with me. I wouldn't do it, so she went straight to the park director . . . told him that I'd reached ‘stress thresh' and needed to be scanned. Those bozos thought I was a Fracture, and were gonna screw with my hypothalamus. If the Kromaggs hadn't overrun us when they did, I might never have had the chance to escape.”
“Trevor,” Quinn looked at the emotionally-conflicted young man, concerned, “I can't believe that your parents would have sold you out like that.”
“Believe it.” Trevor was pouting, not even shedding any tears. “As soon as I hit 14, I was never good enough for them anymore. Whenever I wasn't getting perfect grades or working my ass off in the Repository, they were telling me what a slacker I was . . . how I had to ‘act my age' and quit ‘goofing off' . . . in a way, losing them was one of the best things that ever happened to me.” Trevor pressed his quivering lips together, and the sliders exchanged appalled glances with one another.
“So . . . you've been sliding all by yourself this entire time?” Professor Arturo clarified.
“Yeah.” Trevor ran his fingers through his now-spiky red hair. “I knew I needed to find you guys . . . to find you, Quinn.” He stared longingly at his role model. “You're the only one who ever understood me. I should have gone with you the first time.”
Quinn shook his head, fervently. “No you shouldn't have, Trevor. Trust me, be glad that you didn't. My friends and I have had a rocky road together. Things haven't exactly been a walk-in-hyperspace for us.”
“How do you think I've felt?!” Trevor rebutted, with a hint of hostility. “Sleeping in alleys, digging around in dumpsters, avoiding questions about where my family is . . . at least you guys have each other. I've had no one!”
Trevor looked like he was about to burst into tears.
Instinctively, Quinn came over to Trevor and wrapped his arms around the teen prodigy.
“Aw, how sweet!”
The door had slammed open again, as Logan's patronizing voice flowed into the room. She stood in the doorway, her arms folded, surrounded by bodyguards.
Logan and one of her gunmen stepped over to Professor Arturo. Removing a pair of handcuffs from her pocket, Logan snapped them around the Professor's wrists as a member of her security team loosened Arturo's restraints. “You're coming with me, Max. Time to see if you measure up to your alternate from my Earth.”
“Where are you taking him?!” Quinn shouted after Logan, as she and her security team exited the room with Arturo in tow.
“Don't worry, Mallory. I won't forget about you.” Logan's voice faded from earshot as Trevor and the three remaining sliders were once again left behind in the holding cell.* * *
Professor Arturo grunted as two burly, uniformed men shoved him down into a chair. They trained their guns on the Professor, almost daring him to try to escape.
The click-clack of Logan St. Clair's power pumps rapped against the linoleum floor. Clomping from Adrian Fayne's hush puppies trailed Logan's footsteps.
“So, Max,” said Logan, folding her arms and staring down at Arturo, “explain to me how you suddenly came back from the dead. I've been dying to hear about this for months now.”
Professor Arturo glanced down at the handcuffs binding his wrists together. Wiggling his fists and realizing the futility of those movements, Arturo decided it was in his best interest to keep this woman talking for as long as possible. He visually scrutinized Logan: her self-confidence, her suppressed smirk, and her overall commanding posture that conveyed how she knew she was in control - and that she loved every minute of it.
“Miss St. Clair, I can see I have no choice but to entertain your curiosity.” Professor Arturo tried to sound as humble as he could force himself to. “Several months before they first met you, my friends and I landed on a parallel Earth very similar to our homeworld. To make a long story short, I was captured and held hostage by my duplicitous double, who proceeded to take credit for Quinn's invention. He switched places with me, and managed to assume my identity for the next two years. It was him - not me - whom you initially encountered back in 1996.”
Logan rolled her eyes. “Do you honestly expect me to believe that ridiculous whopper of a story, Max?”
When she received no response from him, Logan looked closer at the Professor's face, studying his eyes and facial movements.
“What's wrong, Logan?”
“Shut up, Fayne!” Logan hushed Adrian, holding up a finger to silence her colleague without even looking at him. She was concentrating on Arturo. “Something tells me he might not be making it up.”
“How can you be so sure?” scoffed Adrian.
“Call it a former lover's intuition. At any rate,” Logan turned away from them both, “truth or not, his tale is very amusing. Tell me, Max - if you were left behind on that carbon-copied Earth, and your double convinced the others that he was really you, how did you get reunited with your friends?”
“I spent the next five years transcribing memories of my travels, while attempting to replicate Quinn's prototype so I could create a sliding machine of my own,” the Professor explained. “That is, when I wasn't living my double's life . . . I assumed his position at the University of California, and tried my best to reverse the lies and conceit he'd publicly basked in. And trust me, that was no simple task . . .”
“This is absurd,” muttered Adrian. “Like his pals wouldn't have noticed that they'd taken the wrong guy. Either they were very, very stupid . . . or this Arturo thinks that we are!”
“Adrian, what part of ‘shut up' don't you understand?!” Logan said, through gritted teeth.
“Then, one day, shortly after returning to that world, Mr. Brown and Miss Welles spotted me in Golden Gate Park,” continued Arturo. “It was quite a lucky break, given that your model for sliding contained a radius of 400 miles.”
“Ah, yes. That was the brainchild of Max - your double. The one from my world,” Logan confirmed. “His whispering gallery design gave us greater flexibility over where in the state we could land, when moving from one world to the next. I'll admit, I probably would never have been able to test my theories in eight-dimensional echoing without him. Of course, after Max's untimely death, I told everyone that I was the one who designed the whispering gallery. The problem, of course, was that we didn't have the correct reentry coordinates. Not that it would have mattered - when Max found out my plan, he was going to blow the whistle on the entire thing. I had to get rid of him.” She smiled at her own words, almost proud.
Professor Arturo glared at her. “Yes, my friends told me about what you did. Honestly, you have no shame!”
“You're damn right I don't. What we're doing is for the greater good.” Logan harshly grabbed Arturo by the collar, yanking him out of his seat. “Do you even realize what my world has been through?! I'm trying to help them improve their lives!”
“Yes . . . at the expense of other parallel societies,” retorted the Professor, through gritted teeth of his own. “And all the while, you'll be reaping the rewards, won't you?”
“That's the beauty of capitalism. Get moving!” Logan shoved Arturo forward, leading him toward the exit.
“Where are you taking me?” demanded Professor Arturo, as they were escorted by Logan's guards down a corridor.
Logan, who was briskly walking in front of them, whipped her head around to answer him. “I'm going to show you exactly why this entire project is necessary.”
Eventually, they arrived in front of a set of doors controlled by a security system with blinking lights. Punching in a code number, Logan accessed the doors and slid them open. A spacious laboratory - easily the size of four auditoriums - was revealed. In the center of the lab was a colossal, empty aquarium that could easily hold tens of thousands of sea creatures.
Logan nodded at one of her security guards, who then spoke into his walkie-talkie. “Activate,” he instructed to the person on the other end.
As minutes passed, a blobby orange vortex opened inside of the huge, empty tank. All of a sudden, gallons of water came cascading out of the strange, anomalous vortices. Each second that went by saw the gigantic aquarium gradually filled up with waves of clear water, rising inch-by-inch.
“Where is that coming from?” gasped Professor Arturo, although he was confident he already knew the answer.
Beaming, Logan replied, “From a freshwater lake in another dimension.”
“How did you manage to find a purified lake in the Bay Area?”
“Professor, you can't seriously think we've been using Quinn's laser gyroscope for our raids. That only gets you so far.” Quinn's female double continued talking down to Arturo. “No, we switched back to my whispering gallery. Although I must give Quinn due credit for creating such a narrow radius in his design. When I was sliding alone, dependent on Quinn's two-mile radius, it was interesting to have some consistency. No matter where I accessed that gateway from, it always diverted me back to Los Angeles on the next world. Hell, I probably could have slid from Abu Dhabi and still landed within two miles of L.A. on the next world.”
“That was indeed how Mr. Mallory designed his invention,” Arturo agreed, quite familiar with Quinn's sliding blueprint. “Originally, Quinn engineered his machine to cover a set circumference, which a traveler would always land within every time he crossed the Bridge.”
“But that also gives you limited mobility.” Logan shook her head, superlatively. “The whole point of my whispering gallery was to allow a transdimensional traveler to shift the radius where she slides from to a new point outside of its circumference. Quinn didn't think that far ahead, so I altered his model during the time I was sliding out there all by my lonesome. Soon I was able to move my radius up and down the coast.” She gave him a wink, and then smirked tightly.
“The Egyptians might have developed a similar concept in their model . . .” The Professor mumbled to himself out loud.
Logan looked baffled. “Egyptians? Max, you must be growing senile. The Egyptians on my world don't have sliding technology. Hell, they can barely even irrigate the Nile Valley.”
Arturo's eyes were increasingly widening as he watched more water spill from one dimension into Logan's tank. “Um, er - Miss St. Clair, please satisfy an old man's curiosity, if you will. What happens when you need a resource that's only found outside of California, even on other Earths?”
“That's why Prototronics has labs all over the country.” Rolling her eyes, Logan sneered, “Gee, Max. With all your brains, I'd think you would have at least figured that one out.”
The Professor bit his lip, trying to show humility. “I suppose that's why you're the head honcho, even nationwide?”
“Of course I am. They made me Secretary of Homeland Technology.” She loved spouting that official title.
“So how do you find the time to supervise all of these labs?”
“Each lab across the country rotates when they will be shipping our payloads in,” Logan explained, thoroughly enjoying this dialogue about the accomplishment she was an integral part of. “That also reduces security risks. It takes a lot of work to complete every transfer. In fact, I'm flying out to Orlando Beach next week to oversee a special project. We're going to rejuvenate the Atlantic Coast with orange groves and seashells from other worlds.” Logan had started walking over to a sink and refrigerator against one of the laboratory walls. Opening the refrigerator, she reached in and pulled out a container of a gloppy orange substance. Logan brought it back to Arturo, sticking the plastic tray of goop right under his nose. “Want some?”
One whiff of the rancid foodstuff caused the Professor to grimace in revulsion. “What on Earth is that?!”
“Cheese-flavored geomash. One of the newest varieties. The cheese is artificially added.” Logan gave him a fake smile.
“Ugh! What is it made of?!” Arturo spat out, his stomach churning.
“Trust me, you don't want to know what's in it.” Logan shoved the plate of geomash into the hands of one of her henchmen. “Relax, Professor. I'm not going to make you eat it. What I have in store for you is MUCH more painful.” She raised her eyebrows, glancing pointedly back at the geomash. “The reason I showed you that crud was to prove a point. This is the kind of misery that my people have had to put up with for years. But all that is about to change, thanks to sliding. No more horse-kebabs for this world!”
Arturo looked back at the massive aquarium. The blobby vortex was still open and swooshing, as fresh water continued to flow out of the gateway.
“Come on, I have a surprise for you.” Logan grabbed the chain connecting both of Arturo's wrist cuffs, and pulled him toward the laboratory exit.* * *
Wade awoke, having lapsed out of consciousness for the third or fourth time that day. To her dismay, she was still bound and trapped beneath a thick hood of fabric. Wade could see nothing but darkness, with the exception of a faint crack of light creeping in from where a slit had been cut in the material so she could breathe.
Her breath was slow and constant. The stuffiness still caused Wade to be light-headed . . . no, wait, it was more than just her limited breathing room. She felt groggy and disoriented - she must have been drugged.
Wade struggled to move her hands, but they were tightly cuffed behind her back with metallic restraints, and additionally bound with coarse rope to the back of a chair. Helplessly, she cried out:
“Is anyone there?!”
Bowing her head underneath the dark veil, Wade began to weep. She had no idea where she was or who had taken her. There was no indication that any of her friends were nearby. And without visual assistance, she would be unable to use her telekinesis. One sensory detail stood out for her, though. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but something seemed eerily familiar about her current location. Of course, with such impaired vision it was pointless for Wade to speculate.
Eventually, Wade could do nothing but lapse back into another state of sleep.* * *
Arturo had been guided by Logan's cronies down another corridor over to another set of laboratory doors. Logan manually entered the security code, and the doors slid open.
“Go get Barb,” Logan ordered to one of her guards, once they were inside the spacious lab.
This laboratory was almost identical to the previous one, although it contained no aquarium. There were many Prototronics workers sorting through hundreds of piles of coal.
“More bounty?” Professor Arturo snidely inquired, eying the charcoal-black fuel in its rawest form.
Logan simply pressed her lips together in a smile.
“So what are you going to do with me?”
“Oh, I've got a real treat in store for you, Max. Come to think of it, this will be one for the family photo album.” She emphasized the word “family.”
“What are you talking about, Logan?”
Logan gestured to the entrance of the lab. Her men were escorting in a frail-looking woman with short, auburn hair, and a forlorn scowl. Arturo did not recognize the woman at all.
However, this woman definitely recognized him. Her sad expression morphed into one of initial shock, and then disappointment. “Max?! No! No, it can't be . . .” She shook her head wildly in denial.
Logan's face, meanwhile, was all lit up with amusement. “Professor Maximilian Arturo, meet your new wife. Or I guess I should say, your wife who never was.”
The Professor was blinking in confusion. Who was this mysterious woman? Unless . . .
“She was married to my double!” he realized, out loud.
“Oh, Max!” Tears streamed from Mrs. Arturo's eyes as she forced herself to stare at this alternate version of her late husband.
“This is Barbara Arturo,” Logan introduced the Professor to his double's wife. “She used to be a chemist here at Prototronics - that is, until she tried to expose our project.”
“Fortunately, the Attorney General turned our dear Mrs. Arturo over to my custody,” Adrian picked up, grinning. “They couldn't allow her big mouth to threaten our nation's economic prospects, now, could they?”
Barbara Arturo spat at Adrian in contempt, glaring.
“So you've kept her caged here like a wild animal?” Professor Arturo was appalled.
Logan grabbed the pistol that had been fastened to her belt, and pointed it straight at Arturo. “Kiss her,” she commanded.
“I beg your pardon?!”
“You heard me, Professor. Show your wife some lovin'!” Logan St. Clair vindictively pressed her pistol against Arturo's spine.
Mrs. Arturo flinched. “He's not my husband!”
“Show her how much passion you feel for her. Do it!” Logan had signaled to the other guards, who shoved Barbara Arturo closer to the Professor. Their weapons were now trained on her.
His entire body shaking, Professor Arturo lowered his head, making contact with her lips. He reluctantly connected his mouth to hers in a contrived kiss. Mrs. Arturo did not reciprocate the Professor's forced actions. In fact, through their facial contact, she merely continued to blubber even harder.
“Oh, now that isn't very romantic!” Logan lamented with exaggerated disappointment. She could clearly see how frustrated Arturo was and what emotional pain the experience was causing Barbara Arturo.
And Logan savored the very sight of it.
“Ah, but all good thing must come to an end,” she continued, manually pulling their two bodies apart. “You see, I believe your story, Max. When you and your friends first arrived here, I measured your dimensional imprints with a biothermal energy scanner. Your quantum signature matches those belonging to both Wade and Rembrandt. So I believe you're who you say you are. Now, I have no idea why Quinn's quantum signature is different from you three, but I'm sure I'll learn the fascinating story behind that later on. Unfortunately,” she made her way over to a terminal in the middle of the laboratory, and began inputting data on a keyboard, “I have no further use for you.”
Another orange vortex manifested in the lab, swirling in place with a massive amount of energy. The Prototronics security team pushed Arturo toward it. He tried to resist, but too many of them were manhandling him.
“I'm sending you back to Earth 116. We'll let the natives deal with you!” Logan called after him, as the Professor was thrown into the ominous Prototronics wormhole.
As soon as the wormhole disappeared from sight, Adrian turned to look at Logan. The entire lab was completely quiet, except for the heavy sobbing of Mrs. Arturo, who had just witnessed a recreation of her own late husband's demise.
“You can't kill him, can you, Logan?” Adrian asked, as more of an observation than a question. His arrogant voice taunted her.
“We're doing this my way, Fayne!” Logan snapped, defensively. “Rest assured, given the recent developments on Earth 116, he won't receive a very hospitable welcome from the indigenous population of the sector I sent him to. What they'll do to him is much more brutal than anything I could dream up.”
“Spoken like a true mistress,” Adrian Fayne pointedly swerved his head back-and-forth between Logan and Mrs. Arturo. By now, Barbara Arturo had become privy to the details surrounding her late husband's extramarital affair with Logan.
Glaring at Adrian, Logan responded, “Just bring me that Maggie-woman. She's next.”
Barbara Arturo's sobs became heavier.* * *
Less than two minutes remained on the sliders' timer.
Diana had torn a piece of fabric from her shirt sleeve just below her shoulder. She tore the strip of cloth into quarters, and handed one piece to each of her friends.
“What's with this?” Janine asked, blankly. She held up the quarter of fabric Diana had given her.
“Pocket it,” Diana replied. “We may need it if we get separated.”
At that moment, the timer's readout had 10 seconds remaining. Everyone stared at Diana in confusion as she grabbed a couple of blow-guns.
“I don't get it!” Mallory called out to Diana, over the roar of the vortex, which she had just opened.
Slipping the strip of Diana's shirt into his back jeans pocket, Colin plunged into the wormhole first. He was followed by Diana, who still hadn't answered Mallory or Janine.
Malcolm went next, watching as the scenery in front of him morphed into a shimmering purple kaleidoscope of swirls. The sixteen-year-old flailed forward through the quantum tunnel, glancing over his shoulder and seeing Janine's slim figure enter the ERP bridge about twenty feet behind him.
Colin, who was propelling closer to the opening of the wormhole, rotated his body around. He viewed his four friends, all gyrating forward off in the distance. The closest slider to Colin - Diana - was still at least fifty yards behind him.
Before he knew what was happening, Colin felt his face smacking against a hard floor. The blow-gun fell out of his hand upon impact. Colin could feel his body being lifted up by several strong hands, and then saw he was surrounded by Logan's guards.
“Who the hell are you?!” barked one of the guards. He looked up at the pair of feet hurtling down toward them from the vortex overhead. “What the . . . ?!”
Diana collided into Colin as well as Logan's security team, knocking all of the men over like bowling pins. Rebounding to his feet, Colin used his fist to punch the lights out of anyone who made a move toward him.
Malcolm hollered as he dropped from the wormhole. One of the security guards lunged for the teenager, but Diana brought her blow-gun to her lips and shot a dart from it. The miniature arrowhead penetrated the guard's shoulder, causing him to tumble to the floor. This allowed Malcolm to scramble across the laboratory, away from his would-be pursuers.
Janine emerged from the vortex, landing in a crouched position. She took out her blow-gun and shot a projection at the first man in uniform she saw. Another of the guards made a move toward Janine, but he was hit and knocked out by Mallory's body as it flew out of the closing wormhole.
“Mallory, watch out!” called Maggie Beckett, from across the room. Maggie had just been ushered into Laboratory 2 by Logan and the Prototronics security team, and she watched helplessly as Quinn's fraternal double was accosted on all sides by more soldiers.
Shooting a successive stream of darts from his blow-gun. Mallory was clobbered across his neck and rendered unconscious. He fell at the same time as the handful of guards whom he'd shot at.
“How much time?!” Colin shouted to Diana, while reloading his shooter.
Diana looked down at the timer. “15 seconds!”
They had lucked out. Sort of.
“Freeze!” An armed guard pressed the barrel of his gun flat against Colin's back.
“Colin!!” Malcolm dropped his blow-gun, distracted by fear for his friend's safety. He then dove to the floor in hopes of retrieving it. At the same time, another security guard had made a grab for Malcolm's stray weapon. The two of them proceeded to wrestle for control of the small weapon.
As soon as she saw the number zero appear, Diana activated the vortex, opening a new purple wormhole. “Hurry!” she screamed out to her friends, while blowing more projections at the men who were trying to capture her.
Janine had just jabbed her blow-gun straight into the eye socket of a Prototronics guard whom she'd been tussling with. Only a few feet away from where the vortex had been opened, Janine jumped upward back into the abyss.
Before Diana had been able to get to her feet, Adrian Fayne's imposing figure blocked her path.
“Don't make a move, lady!” Fayne growled.
Thinking fast, Diana thrust her lips forward and spat into her loaded blow-gun. A poisoned dart shot from the skinny tube, flying straight into Adrian Fayne's chest.
“Don't let them get away!” screamed Logan, reaching for her own pistol.
Even as Diana leapt through the Einstein-Rosen-Pudalski Bridge, she looked back at the scene that was shriveling behind her.
Colin had a machine gun aimed at his spine.
Malcolm had been pinned to the floor by one of Logan's soldiers.
Mallory had been knocked completely unconscious by, sprawled out on the ground.
And there wasn't a damn thing Diana could do to help any of them, as the wormhole sucked her in.
As the sliders' wormhole closed, Logan ordered into her walkie-talkie, “Abort the water transfer in Laboratory 3!!! Secure the hyperspatial force field, you nitwits!!!” Groaning in exasperation, she stomped over to Adrian, reached down, and felt his pulse.
It was faintly thumping.
“Fayne is going to need medical attention!” Logan announced to her guards in the lab. “The black woman nailed him in his chest.” She then circulated over to Colin and Malcolm, who were being restrained by her cronies.
Colin glared at Logan. “Where's my brother?”
“He's safe,” said Logan. She raised her eyebrows at Colin. “I can't say the same for you, though.”
“Don't hurt them!” Maggie yelled at Logan, her heart rapidly beating.
Logan spun around, and waltzed up to Maggie. “I'm sorry, did someone give you the impression that you're in control here?” Logan sneered. She shook her head, chuckling. “Silly sliders . . . always getting yourselves into more and more trouble. Well then, now the real fun begins . . .”* * *
Diana's body collided with Janine's, as they both landed in the grass. Both women stared up at the forested landscape surrounding them.
“The guys . . . they didn't make it,” Diana recalled, trying to catch her breath.
Janine's face went pale as she realized that she and Diana were on their own now. “When does the next window open?”
Looking at the timer, Diana reported, “3 hours, 20 minutes, 47 seconds.”
Janine stood up, brushing herself off. “Is this the same world we had come from?”
Diana nodded. “I set the timer to retrace our photon trail. It should have sent us back to the approximate area we'd slid from.” She eyed the landscape. “But this isn't the same area. We're in a different part of California, Janine. I can tell because there are no sequoias around here.”
“Are you sure it's the same world?”
Diana double-checked the coordinates. “Yes. I programmed it to track the nearest trail of photons, and the coordinates we'd just come from are repeated here in the data log.”
Both women heard footsteps approaching, and they dove into the shady forest to take cover. Peeking out from behind the thick bark trunks, Diana and Janine saw two men with golden brown complexions who were wearing deerskin garments and moccasins. The two men were looking around, and then split up in two different directions. They had disappeared from sight.
“Do you think they'd heard us?” Diana whispered to Janine.
Before Janine could answer, Diana felt her body being tackled to the ground. A sharp blade was pressed against Diana's throat as one of the deerskin-clad men held her down.
“Hembras bobas!” he hissed, using his other hand to squeeze Diana's wrist as she struggled and withered in pain.
In the next moment, he gagged and his hold on Diana went limp. Diana's assailant collapsed to the ground and rolled over. There stood Janine, her blow-gun poised at her lips and aimed toward where the man's back had been vertically slanted.
“Janine . . .” Exhaling gratefully, Diana smiled in relief. Her eyes suddenly widened. “Watch out!” Diana had no time to react as the second deerskin-clad Spaniard lunged at Janine from behind a tree, knocking Janine's blow-gun out of her grip.
Janine and her assailant were rolling around in the grass. However, even as the Asian slider was pinned down by the Spaniard man, she reached up, her hand shaking, and pressed her fingers against a specific spot on his neck.
“Joda!” sputtered the man, who vainly attempted to make a grab for Janine's chest even as he lost consciousness.
Diana had crawled over to Janine on her knees. “Where did you learn to do that?”
“You know those self-defense classes? . . . the ones where you get to kick the guy in the padded suit?” Janine smirked. “It turns out they teach you useful stuff in it, too.”
Moving quickly, Diana and Janine dragged the snoozing bodies of their assailants into a shadier corner of the woods. They each confiscated a knife from each man's body armor, and angled the weapons at their newly-acquired hostages.
“Now it's time to get some answers,” Diana said, as she began slapping the cheeks and chin of the Spaniard she sat atop of.
“Que? . . . Quien es ustedes?!” he demanded, coming to, and discovering Diana on his chest and stomach.
“Hi. We're going to slit your throats if you don't tell us what we want to know,” Janine called over to him, from where she sat atop the abdomen of his colleague.
“I don't think they speak English.” Diana turned her attention to the man underneath her torso. “Nosotras no lo dañaremos, si ustedes cooperan. Diga nosostras donde estamos.”
“You speak Español?” Diana's hostage realized, his Spanish accent still evident.
“So do you!” Janine shot back, defensively.
“Sí. Somos viajeras. Nosotras no somos de esta región.” Switching to English, Diana cautioned him, “Trust us. We have killed before, and it is not fun . . . but we will do it again if we must.”
Sighing, the Spaniard said, “We are subjects of King Charles VII.”
“Okay, first things first,” Janine interrupted him. “Introductions. I'm Janine, and this is Diana. And we're Amazon women with special powers, so we'll know if you are lying. Now what would your name be?”
“I do not understand how you speak English,” he repeated, still astounded. Then, answering Janine's question, he replied, “My name is Manuel Hermosa. I am a continental scout for the Crown.”
“Manuel,” Diana addressed him, “why did you attack us?”
“We could see you do not belong here,” explained Manuel. “What is your purpose?”
“That's for us to know, and for you to find out,” scoffed Janine, brusquely. She held her grip firm on Manuel's companion. “What do you do for the king?”
“We are to survey the land . . . immerse ourselves into their culture, to learn more about them.” He looked up at Diana, and then over at Janine. “You speak my language, but you do not resemble a commoner of Britain. Where do you reside?”
“Oh . . . everywhere,” Diana vaguely answered.
The other Spaniard began to stir. His eyes fluttered open, and Janine's scowling face covered a majority of his line-of-vision.
“¿¿Qué sucedió?” he choked out.
“Your friend already blabbed. We know you guys work for the king,” Janine told him.
“How long have you been spying on them?” Diana pressed Manuel.
“¡¡¡No los diga algo, Manuel!!!” shouted the Spaniard, whom Janine was straddling.
“Ellas ya saben, Rodrigo. Actúe listo.” Manuel stand up at Diana. “If you do not release us, our companions will seek us out.”
“Just a few more questions.” Diana wasn't about to back down. “How long have you been here?”
“Two years . . .”
“That's not what she means!” Janine snapped. She looked down at Rodrigo, who was underneath her. “When did Great Britain first begin to explore this continent?”
Rodrigo closed his eyes, trying to think back. “The year would have been One-Thousand Nine-Hundred and Forty-Seven . . .”
Diana muffled a gasp. “That was only 55 years ago,” she emphasized to Janine.
“Thanks, Diana. I almost forgot how to subtract, there, for a moment,” Janine stated, sarcastically. She refocused her attention on Rodrigo. “So how did you two become involved?”
“King Cristóbal demanded the occupation to be secret. He did not desire our European neighbors to conquer the indigenous people of this continent. Such an outcome would hinder his trade with them.” Rodrigo sucked in a gasp of air, fuming with contempt apparent in his voice. “But his exploits became too gluttonous, and the people of Spain have seen few of the rewards promised to us by him. We had to betray the motherland to truly serve justice and be loyal to our people.”
The wheels in her brain churning, Diana nodded in comprehension. “So you switched sides, and agreed to work for the competition.”
“The British men sought to infiltrate,” explained Manuel. “We seek to remove our Crown from power. It is an unholy alliance.”
“For 110 years, our men watched the conquistadors of Cristóbal hoard the natives' gold. His conquistadores keep the rewards for themselves, while they pretend to be friends of the native people.” Rodrigo's voice croaked out the words in an acidic, Spanish-accented whisper.
Diana exchanged glances with Janine, as they processed this information. Mentally, Diana was trying to piece together some mental blueprint of historical chronology for this world.
“Is there a village nearby?” Janine asked, unsure where they were, geographically.
“Yes,” answered Rodrigo. “But you do not dare enter it while you wear that clothing.”
“Thanks for the advice,” Janine insincerely shut him out. With that, she used her fingers to squeeze down on the sensitive nerve against Rodrigo's neck. Amid a flurry of frantic sputtering, the Spaniard was unable to resist, and he succumbed to unconsciousness.
Manuel balked, gasping sidelong at his fallen comrade from a lateral position on the ground. “¡Mierda santa! ¿Qué hizo usted a él?”
“Stay on top of him, Diana.” Janine shuffled across the ground on her knees, leaning in to immobilize Manuel. Within a little more than a minute, Janine had repeated the process on him.
Diana stared back at Janine with her round, confused brown eyes.
“If we're going to rescue the others, we'll need weapons,” she explained. “These goons wouldn't have let us get within three feet of any projectile.”
“But they could have showed us the way to that village.”
“They would have jumped us the first chance they got, Diana. Trust me, we can move quicker and we'll be much safer without them. Besides,” she removed another musket that had already been belted around Manuel's waist underneath his deerskin shirt, “even if they wake up, it's not like they can come after us armed and dangerous.”
Her hands trembling, Diana crawled over to Rodrigo. She confiscated his pistol, and also slid a second sharp, skinny blade out of his pocket. “Okay, then. Let's go.”
Janine and Diana made their way out of the woods, around a rocky gorge that towered above a descending, hilly valley. Looking down below, they could see a sea of huts made from grass and leaves on poled frames. Little human figures were walking around on the valley floor; the simply-clothed native population seemed like tiny porcelain figurines come alive, from the two sliders' vantage point.
“They look peaceful.” Diana turned to Janine. “You don't think they take prisoners, do you?”
At that very moment, the two of them heard a blusterous shout echoing across the valley from down below. The agonized vocals had an unmistakably familiar British accent to them.
“Unhand me, you blistering idiots!”
Janine's and Diana's eyes popped open simultaneously. “Professor?!” they said, in unison.
“But how . . . ?” Janine squinted.
“Whoever captured them must have sent the Professor back here,” Diana speculated. “And I have a frightening idea as to why.” She cocked Rodrigo's pistol. “We've gotta get down there - before they turn him into London Broil.”* * *
“Really? How sad.” Logan was speaking into a cell phone, monotonously. “That's very unfortunate.” She hung up the phone. Her voice had been totally devoid of any emotion.
Gregory Chambers folded his arms, trying to read Logan's face. “What happened, Secretary St. Clair?”
“Fayne is toast,” muttered Logan, biting her lower lip, thoughtfully. “Get moving, Chambers. It's time for us to show our ‘guests' some authentic Prototronics hospitality.”
Minutes later, Logan and Chambers burst through the door of one of the facility's holding cells. Inside, Mallory, Colin, and Malcolm were tied to chairs, their wrists handcuffed behind their backs.
“Enjoying your accommodations?” Logan asked them, with a smirk.
“What do you want from us, Logan?” sneered Mallory, wriggling around in his seat with great futility.
“Not much. You gentlemen are just going to help me screw over Quinn.”
“You won't get away with this. My brother will find a way . . .” began Colin.
“The only thing your brother is going to find will be heartache.” She slowly circulated around her triad of prisoners. “You see, after everything Quinn took away from me, it's only fair that I return the favor. So every hour on the hour, I will be executing a compatriot of Quinn's.” Logan harshly grabbed Malcolm's shirt collar, yanking the teenager out of his seat. “First up is you, kid!”
“No!!!” Malcolm struggled against Logan's grip, flailing his body erratically from one side to the other. He could not use his hands or feet as a defense, since they were bound behind his back and strapped to his chair. Three of the security guards moved forward to help Logan subdue Malcolm.
“Logan, stop! Don't hurt him!” Colin stood up, the legs of his chair scraping the floor in accordance with the movement of Colin's chained legs. “Take me instead.”
Malcolm turned to stare at Colin, in utter shock. His heart had jumped up into his throat at the thought of Colin's self-sacrifice.
“Oh, how noble,” Logan condescendingly said, an amused smirk spreading across her face. “Quinn's brother offers himself to save the life of some random teen. But you see, I need you alive more than I need the boy. You'll give me better leverage with Quinn,” she told Colin, starkly.
“Then take me.” Mallory stood up, determined at all costs to save Malcolm from death.
“Mallory, Colin, no! You can't!” At that moment, Malcolm was more concerned for the safety of two of his closest friends than he was for himself.
Logan inhaled, with exaggerated animation. She flashed the three sliders a fake smile. “You know what? I've had a change of heart. Since I've caught you gentlemen, why not show you off?” Logan turned her head to address the Prototronics guards. “Get them to their feet. I want to reunite these guys with Mallory & Company.”
Mallory, Colin, and Malcolm were all unfastened from their chairs and prodded forward at gunpoint, as Logan led them out of the room. She high-tailed it down several corridors, directing her three new prisoners to another holding cell. Logan nodded at the guard standing outside the cell, and the guard opened the metallic door.
“Colin!” Quinn instinctively jumped up from his chair at the sight of his brother.
“Remmy!” Malcolm shouted out, seeing Rembrandt also in the room with Quinn.
“Malcolm! Logan, if you hurt one hair on his head . . . !” Rembrandt flared at Logan St. Clair.
“Save it, Cryin' Man. You're in no position to make threats.” Logan stuck her nose up in the air, grinning smugly. “Besides, I've decided to make things a bit more interesting than simply blowing your heads off.”
Maggie stared at the three new arrivals with great relief. “Are you guys okay?”
Mallory surveyed the room. “Where's Wade? Or the Professor?” He saw Trevor, whom he didn't recognize, but none of the others.
“Wade is locked away elsewhere in the building,” said Logan.
“And the Professor?” Quinn demanded.
“Maximilian Arturo is gone.”
Quinn's face went pale at Logan's words. “You bitch . . . !”
“Calm down, Quinn. I said ‘gone,' not ‘dead.' Although it's not like you'll ever see him again.”
“Quit playing games, Logan!”
“Gee, Mallory - you must not want to keep your brother alive!” Logan furiously reached to grab Colin's shoulders and thrust Colin's body at Quinn, causing the two Mallory brothers to collide.
Colin, whose body had been rammed against Quinn's chest, reached into his back pocket from where his wrists were bound behind his arms. His fingers grabbed ahold of the strip of fabric that Diana had given him earlier from her shirt, and Colin discretely slipped the piece of Diana's shirt into Quinn's palm.
Quinn's eyesight suddenly went foggy, and new imagery surfaced before him. He could see Diana and Janine, creeping quietly against the grassy exterior of a conical hut. Both women gripped knives in their hands, and they - along with Quinn - could hear the recognizable yelps of Professor Maximilian Arturo.
As Diana and Janine peeked out from behind the hut's poles, they - along with Quinn - could see the Professor's rotund body tightly wrapped around a wooden totem with heavy rope.
This imagery evaporated, replaced by the current scene inside the Prototronics holding cell, as Quinn stuffed the piece of cloth into his own pocket.
“Quinn, are you listening to me?!” Logan was yelling at him. “I will torture each and every one of your friends, no matter how long it takes! The question is, how long will you be able to endure watching them suffer?!”
Quinn stared back at Logan, through dilated eyeballs. “Why can't you just leave them alone, Logan?” he asked, incredulously. “Colin, Malcolm, Trevor . . . they've never tried to hurt you.”
“Is that so?” Placing a hand on one of her hips, Logan tossed her head back. “One of my best personnel, Adrian Fayne, just died 15 minutes ago at San Angeles North Hospital. Adrian died of a heart rupture, thanks to one of your friends who blew an arrowhead into Fayne's aorta.” Logan narrowed her eyes. “So don't give me some sob story about these friends of yours being blameless. They'll pay with their lives . . . just ask your beloved Professor Arturo.”
Rembrandt's nostrils flared. “What did you do to the Professor, Logan?”
“She sent him back to the world we were just on, Rem,” answered Quinn, matching Logan's smirk with one of his own.
Logan looked dumbfounded. “How did you . . . ?”
“How did I know?” Quinn wore his smirk proudly. “Did you forget already, Logan? We're in perfect sync.”
In response to Quinn's retort, Logan fiercely smacked Quinn Mallory across the face with her fist. Even as his cheek throbbed, Quinn smiled in satisfaction.
“Miss St. Clair, please give me back my timer,” spoke up Trevor, giving her a pathetic gaze of sadness. “I'll probably miss my window if I don't slide soon.”
Rembrandt exchanged glances with Quinn. They both could detect the exaggeration in Trevor's voice, but were mystified as to why Trevor would purposely risk infuriating someone as unstable as Logan.
Logan rotated her head toward Trevor, with an unsympathetic simper. “Oh, poor baby!” she derided him. Pulling Trevor's timer out of her pocket, Logan waved the apparatus in front of Trevor's face. “Well, lookie here - it seems you have less than 30 seconds until your window. In another minute, your gateway will be closed for the next 29 years. Life sucks in hyperspace, doesn't it?”
“Please, Miss St. Clair . . .”
“Shut up, kid!” Logan flung her head around to face Quinn. “How does it feel, Mallory, knowing you're responsible for destroying young Trevor's future? How do you feel being responsible for the deaths of your friends?”
“This isn't over yet, Logan.”
“No. But it almost is.”
Logan's gloating was interrupted by a mechanical, repetitive beeping noise. She peered at Trevor's timer, which had hit zero.
“Agghh!!!” Logan squealed, dropping Trevor's timer as a stream of green quantum energy automatically shot from its nose.
The verdant photons blossomed into a rotating sphere. Trevor's body was magnetically swept up by an emerald green glow of ions and entropy. As the quantum force scooped up Trevor, he threw his arms around Rembrandt, dragging the Cryin' Man into the vortex with him. Trevor's timer was also lifted off the floor by the wormhole's pull, following Trevor and Remmy into the abyss.
Logan's eyes remained bugged out, even after the vortex had closed.
“Smart kid, huh?” Quinn said, giving Logan a satisfied smirk.
“Quinn, how did . . . ?” Maggie was about to inquire as to the logic behind the spectacle they had just witnessed.
However, Maggie's arms and shoulders were grabbed by several of Logan's underlings, as Logan pointed at Maggie and ordered, “Bring her with! We're sequestering Ms. Beckett.” She had turned and abruptly flounced toward the exit.
“Don't hurt her!” Quinn helplessly yelled, watching Logan's men drag a protesting Maggie out of the cell.
A click and bolt could be heard, as Quinn, Malcolm, Colin, and Mallory were left behind in the cell.* * *
Rembrandt Brown awoke to the sound of birds chirping, with a slight breeze brushing against his face. He was lying flat on his back, staring up at the treetops and clouds surrounded by blue skies. Rolling over, he saw Trevor laying next to him. Trevor stirred, and slowly sat up.
“Trevor . . . what happened?” Remmy closed his eyes, as his forehead throbbed.
Crawling over to help steady Rembrandt, Trevor explained, “I rigged the timer to automatically open after every two hours. It sucks anything containing the quantum signature of my world into the mousehole.”
“And you brought me along for the ride.” Rembrandt gave Trevor a little smile. “So where are we, partner?”
“This is the Earth that I tracked your photon trail from,” said Trevor. “It's really primitive, and seems to be inhabited by Indian tribes.”
Rembrandt got to his knees. “So in two hours, it will take us back to Logan's world?”
“Not if I reprogram the coordinates. We don't want to go back empty-handed.” Trevor wisped a hand through the spikes of his hair. “As I was being pulled back into the mousehole, I grabbed you because . . . well, I don't really know. I couldn't leave you behind, Rembrandt - I didn't want to leave any of you there to be killed. You were the closest one I could reach.”
Rembrandt embraced Trevor in a hug. The teen prodigy had a mixture of guilt and grief in his eyes. They were both thinking of their friends still imprisoned back at Prototronics.
The two of them began walking together in silence. They followed the outer edge of a forest, guided by occasional footprints embedded in the grass. Eventually, Rembrandt and Trevor came across the unconscious bodies of two Spaniards. Trevor moved forward to help them, but Rembrandt held him back.
“Hold on, little buddy. We don't know anything about these guys.”
“But Rembrandt, they're hurt . . .”
Manuel stirred, opening one eye and then opening both as he caught sight of Rembrandt and Trevor. “¡Más extranjeros!” he said, his vocal chords wobbling. “Un africano y un europeo.”
Rembrandt shook his head. “I don't speak Spanish.”
Trevor spoke up. “¿Quién lo hizo ve más temprano?” he asked Manuel.
“Dos mujeres,” Manuel replied. He pointed at Rembrandt. “Una era su sombra. Y la otra tuvo ojos curvilíneos . . . ella era asiática. Ellas nos desarmaron y nos rindieron inconsciente.”
“Two women came through here - one was black and the other was Asian,” Trevor translated for Rembrandt. “They knocked out these men and took their weapons.”
“Diana and Janine,” speculated Rembrandt, with no hesitation. “That description has ‘Janine' written all over it. They must have slid back here after escaping from the lab.”
Rodrigo now began to stir. From where he laid on the ground, Manuel waved at Remmy and Trevor, motioning for them to go away. “Vaya. Vaya. Sus amigas fueron a la aldea en el valle abajo. Cuándo mi camarada se despierta, el lo atacará con una venganza.”
Rembrandt looked at Trevor for help.
“Let's go!” Trevor hastily ushered Remmy away from the wounded Spaniards. He led Rembrandt along a ridge of foliage, and they spotted some faint tracks in the dirt.
“Trevor, what did that guy say about Janine and Diana?”
“Apparently, your friends put up a bit of a fight against these men. Probably because the men could tell that they were foreigners. They probably tried to subdue your friends.”
“Not a smart idea,” muttered Rembrandt, imagining the resistance they'd likely met from Diana and Janine.
“Look. Down there.” Trevor pointed down the valley gorge, to where the native village was sprawled out. Smoke signals wafted from the edifices in puffs above the village. “Do you think they would risk going down there?”
Another familiar bellow echoed through the valley. The familiar British vocal chords sounded agonized enough to tear through metal.
Remmy and Trevor looked at one another.
“Professor?!?!” they both realized, at the same time.* * *
Diana and Janine peeked out from behind a stack of firewood. They had descended into the center of the village, where an abominable sight was unfolding before them. Professor Maximilian Arturo had been tied to a crucifix, with the exception of his ankles. The tribal villagers had removed Arturo's footwear, and were cauterizing the bottoms of his feet with hot coals attached to a long rod.
“Augggggh!!!! You blistering idiiiiiiooootttttttssss . . . !!!” hollered the Professor, kicking at the tribesmen. They held his legs firmly in place, to keep his feet steadied.
Janine looked at Diana, and then cocked her musket. “I think it's high time for some firepower.” Aiming the rifle, Janine fired at the tribe member who was holding the torture stick under Arturo's bare feet. The tribesman keeled over from the bullet wound in his ribcage.
A roar of commotion and squawking arose from within the village. Janine ran out into the open, amid the fluster of villagers scrambling around in a discombobulated mess. She whipped out Rodrigo's knife and used it to slice the ropes that had bound Professor Arturo's limbs. At the same time, Diana brought up Janine's rear, aiming her pistol straight in front of her chest as a warning to everyone.
“Tutemechah!” the tribal chief called out from at least ten yards behind the fleeing, stampeding, panicked crowd. He signaled for his warriors to attack.
“Let's go! Get up, Professor!” Janine commanded, as she and Diana tried to get the freed Professor on his feet.
“ARGHHH!!! Miss Chen, these little piggies have practically been flambéed!” he protested, his feet still burning.
“You're going to have to tough it out, Professor!” Diana stressed to him. She and Janine were pushing Arturo toward the forest, trying to get a head start and disappear before the chief and his warriors came after him.
Diana, Janine, and Professor Arturo spent the next five minutes fleeing through the thickly forested terrain. All of a sudden, out of nowhere they nearly collided with two figures.
One of them was instantly recognizable.
“Rembrandt?!” shouted Diana, shocked and relieved to see her friend.
“Mr. Brown, how on Earth . . . did you get to this Earth?!” Arturo reached out and took Remmy's hand, stunned.
Rembrandt had placed his hand on Trevor's shoulder. “We escaped - thanks to Trevor, here.”
Far off cries could be heard, approaching their general vicinity.
“Great. We can hear all about it, later,” Janine pointedly said, her eyes darting from side to side. “But right now, we're kinda busy trying to stay alive.”
And the five of them took off, delving deeper into the California woods.* * *
Quinn stared around the cell at his remaining friends.
Colin sat, staring at the floor. Malcolm was scraping his feet against the floor, nervously. Mallory laid flat on his back atop the floor, caressing his fingers over his buzzcut.
Abruptly, Quinn stood up. He couldn't take it anymore. “Guys, come on. I know you're all pissed at me. So just let me have it already, okay? You'll feel a lot better, and so will I.”
Colin turned to Quinn with a blank, confused stare. “Brother, why would you think we are angry with you?”
“Because I'm the one who started this whole mess with Logan. She wouldn't be doing this to any of you if it hadn't been for me.”
Malcolm shook his head. “It's not that simple. We've made one another a part of each other's lives. Voluntarily.”
“It's still all my fault . . .”
“Quinn, if you want to feel sorry for yourself, do it on your own time!” Mallory harshly interrupted his fraternal double. “But right now, we've got to find a way out of this. So why don't you try to figure out how to put that brain of yours to good use. With all your new psychic powers, you should be able to think up something.”
Quinn flinched, taken aback by Mallory's sharp language. Then he considered Mallory's words, and it hit him. “You're right, Mallory!” He pulled the strip of fabric that Colin had given him, torn from Diana's sleeve, out of his pocket.
After a standard flash of paracognitive light, Quinn found himself surrounded by a forest. He could see Diana, Janine, Rembrandt, Trevor, and Professor Arturo scurrying in-between tree trunks and hanging, leafy branches. As a group, the quintet hurried forward, looking over their shoulders.
“They're alive,” Quinn whispered, dropping the fabric strip.
Mallory, Colin, and Malcolm turned to look at him.
“Remmy, the Professor, Trevor, Diana, Janine . . . they're all together. Somehow, they ended up on the same world.”
“Are you sure, Quinn?” asked Colin, tentatively.
“Absolutely, bro. I could see them from across the multiverse.” Quinn had never been surer of any of his prior visions.
The door to the holding cell opened again. Logan confidently stepped through it, surrounded by her entourage of guards. “Come on, Quinn. Your presence is requested.”
“Somehow I don't think you're actually making a ‘request,' Logan,” muttered Quinn, rhetorically.
“Smart boy. Get moving, or I'll shoot one of your buddies in the knee!”
Quinn knew Logan wasn't making an empty threat. He didn't hesitate to obey her command, and rushed over to Logan's security personnel without looking back at his friends. The guards escorted Quinn out.
Logan glared at the three remaining sliders. “No funny stuff. I'm under enough stress at the moment, as it is. If you try to cross me right now, you'll regret it!” After barking her warning at them, Logan slammed the door shut.
“What do you want, Logan?” mumbled Quinn, as he was led down a hallway by Logan's entourage.
“Just to have a nice little chat. See if we can't work some things out.”
“I thought you'd already decided to kill me?”
“Oh, that?” Logan stopped in the middle of the hallway, waving her hand away. The rest of the guards stopped walking right after Logan did. “But simply killing you would be way too simple and not very creative. No, I want to get some sort of benefit out of your being here. Something that might make me look better to the Prototronics suits who are closely watching our raids. You might actually have some useful ideas to help us improve our technology.”
Narrowing his eyes, Quinn said, “You know I'll never help you do that.”
“Not even if it means saving your friends' lives?” Logan gave him a sinister smile. “How about Maggie's life? What would you do to save her?”
Quinn's eyes widened with a combination of fear and rage.
“That's right. I've seen the way you look at her, Quinn. You really care about that tramp, don't you?”
Quinn gritted his teeth. He wanted nothing more than to slam his fist into Logan's jaw.
“Ms. St. Clair . . .” A scrawny, balding man wearing thick, tortoise-shell glasses and a suit had come running down the hall, out of breath. He'd dashed right up to Logan.
“Evanson, what do you want?” grumbled Logan, obviously irritated that one of her subordinates had interrupted.
“Ms. St. Clair, I'm sorry to interrupt, but . . .” Evanson's nasal voice was shaking, “Mr. Drexler has demanded a conference call. Immediately.”
Logan heaved an audible sigh and rolled her eyes. “Great. Just what I need!” She reared her head back over to Quinn. “Just take some time to ponder the consequences of being uncooperative, Mallory. I have to go deal with ‘Drex,' but when I come back, we'll see what kind of an arrangement we can make, hmm?”
Quinn pursed his lips together and shot Logan a glare of pure hatred. In response, Logan grinned, cherishing the magnitude of unease she had thrust into Quinn's soul. She turned on her heels and tailed Evanson down the corridor. Logan had left Quinn behind in the custody of her guards.
Logan and Evanson entered a conference room, where several scientists wearing labcoats were already gathered. A number of Logan's top security personnel also stood against the walls of the room. Centered against the back wall was a 10' x 6' plasma screen, which transmitted a live video feed from across the country. Various cameras alongside the rectangular monitor captured the occupants of the Prototronics conference room from all angles. On the screen appeared a husky man in his fifties, with thinning, salt-and-pepper colored hair hanging from his lumpy head. Dressed in a conservative blue business suit with a squiggly-patterned necktie, the rotund CEO of Prototronics addressed Logan.
“Ms. St. Clair.”
“Hiya, Drex. So what brings your ugly mug onto my TV screen?” She folded her arms, unapologetically defiant.
“Cut the crap, Logan. I ordered this to be a facility-wide feed.” Jonah Drexler gave her a tight smirk. “All of your employees currently watching this can hear every wisecrack you make. So I'd be careful what I say, if I were you.”
“No need. They know how things work around here.” Quinn's female double yawned pointedly at her advertiser. “You're boring me, Jonah. What's this all about?”
“I think you know. What's this I've heard about your prisoners?”
“Wow, news travels fast. Yes, we have Mallory and five of his cohorts in our custody.”
“Quinn Mallory?!” roared Jonah Drexler, flinching at the name. “Why has he not been executed?!”
Logan tilted her head. “Mallory and his friends have been giving us some headaches.”
“We've got it under control,” she assured him, lightly.
“I wish I could believe you, Logan.”
“Drex, are you familiar with the term ‘leverage'?” Logan asked her colleague, condescendingly. “I'm slowly wearing Quinn down. We've already sent ‘his' Maximilian Arturo back to Earth 116, to suffer at the hands of the Pomo. Quinn's bound to crack before we get through all of his remaining pals.” Her eyes twinkled, sadistically.
Jonah Drexler shook his head, casting verbal doubt on Logan's claims. “I thought you'd said there were ten sliders? Where are the rest of them?”
Pausing, Logan pulled her lips together tightly and admitted, “Regrettably, a few of them escaped offworld before we could apprehend them.”
“So they're unaccounted for?”
“Relax, Jonah. They'll never get past the force field.” She gave him an insincere smile. “You should learn to put more trust in me.”
“I wish I could. I really do.” Drexler coughed, raucously. “I've been told there was a little mishap with your renowned force field, earlier.”
“That's been taken care of, too.”
“The employee responsible for the security breach is no longer working here.”
“You terminated her employment?”
“In a manner of speaking . . .” Logan slyly trailed off.
Jonah Drexler grunted, wringing his fingers together. “It never should have happened in the first place. You need to keep a better eye on your people, Logan.”
“I'm not a babysitter, Jonah! I'm not going to hold every worker's hand. They're aware of the consequences if they screw up.”
“Are they?” Jonah gave Logan St. Clair a tight frown. “I'm not confident you're doing your job competently, Logan. That's why I included all of your employees in this conference call. This is an evaluation.”
“No, this is a set-up. Admit it, Drex - you just want me out of the way so you can attempt to get a puppet appointed as the next Secretary of Homeland Technology. You want a lackey in this position, someone whom you can control.”
“This is insubordination. If you and your people don't get your act together,” Drexler threatened, “I'll file a report showing that your incompetence led to such a gross security breach.”
“You do that!” Logan shot back, in a condescending voice, practically daring him. “It will be your word against mine. Gee, I wonder who the president will believe?” She made her point with a facetious, rhetorical statement.
“Don't get cocky, Logan,” snorted Jonah. “I'll send an edited version of this live feed to the president. After he sees this tape, you won't be able to turn enough tricks to save your hide from the chopping block. And if good ole POTUS doesn't have the brains to can you, I'll make sure the whole country finds out about your little fling with our Leader of the Free World, Madame Secretary.” He ended the sentence on a note that was a cross between sarcasm and revulsion.
“Yeah, I'm sure Rhonda will appreciate you making her into a public joke,” sneered Logan, referring to the hypothetical media humiliation of the First Lady. “Insubordination my ass! I don't answer to you. You're just an overpaid corporate hack whose greatest skill is filing divorce papers.”
Snickers murmured through the conference room.
Jonah Drexler gritted his teeth, and his cheeks turned pink. “It's been leaked that something is up with Prototronics. What am I supposed to tell our stockholders?”
“Tell them to swallow their photons and get over it. We've got more important matters to worry about.”
“Your irresponsibility is outrageous, Logan!” Drexler addressed the Prototronics staff and security personnel. “As CEO of Prototronics, I am ordering you to detain Secretary St. Clair. I'm bringing her before the Board of Trustees for an executive evaluation to be sent straight to the president.”
A couple of the guards hesitantly moved forward. However, Logan flashed them an intimidating glare that pretty much bolted their feet to the ground.
“That is an order!” repeated Drexler, fuming. “Do you nitwits hear me?! Apprehend her!”
“Who can make your lives more miserable, boys?” Logan asked the guards, with a cocky grin. “Him or me? ‘Drex' or Secretary St. Clair?”
A moment of silence followed. The Prototronics staff remained in their fixed positions around the conference room.
“That's what I thought.” Logan swiveled back around to address Drexler. “If you want your wallet to end up as fat as your ego, you'll sit back and let us go to work on Mallory. This conference call is over. Now let me get back to saving our world.”
Jonah opened his mouth to protest, but Logan had already grabbed a remote control and clicked it straight at the plasma screen. With one zap, the screen went black as the video link was severed.
Turning around to face her staff, Logan's face contained a hard, stone-cold expression. “None of the things you heard here today leave this room,” she matter-of-factly stated.
Not waiting for any response, Logan promptly flounced out of the conference room back into the hallway.
“What was that all about?” Quinn asked, once Logan had returned to him.
“Nothing for you to concern yourself with,” Logan answered him, briskly. “Where did we leave off? Oh yes, we were talking about keeping Maggie alive.”
Quinn heaved a resigned sigh. “What's it going to take?” he muttered.
“That's more like it,” smiled Logan. She gestured down the hallway, so her guards would know which direction to escort Quinn. “Let's take a walk and get ourselves a nice snack, shall we . . . ?”* * *
“Do you think . . . we lost them?” Trevor asked, between gasps for air. He and the four sliders had stopped at the base of a rocky gorge. The cries of the pursuing Pomo had died down.
“For the time being . . .” Rembrandt paused to take a huge gulp of oxygen. “But we don't wanna hang around here for too long to see if we're right. Gotta keep moving.”
Diana had pulled out the timer; about five minutes remained on its readout. “There are only a few minutes until the next window.” She looked at her friends for consultation. “Where to?”
Janine cocked her musket. “We've got guns. I say we go back in. How else are we going to get them back?”
Remmy shook his head, smiling through his facial doubt. “You sure love to live dangerously, Mountain Girl.”
“So who's behind this?” Diana asked Rembrandt, Arturo, and Trevor. They'd been so preoccupied with fleeing that Janine and Diana were still uninformed; the two of them hadn't really noticed Quinn's female double amid all the chaos in Laboratory 2.
“Logan.” Rembrandt spat out the name as though it was a piece of spoiled tuna.
Janine gave him a baffled stare. “I thought she was lost in the multiverse like the rest of us?”
“No, Miss St. Clair made it back home since we last saw her,” explained Arturo. “She is now heading up a sliding empire on her homeworld. Apparently, this is one of the worlds they've been raiding. Their technology detected us when we initially arrived on this Earth.”
“And she's still out for revenge,” inferred Diana, ominously.
“Logan has a global force field that safeguards her home dimension from transdimensional intrusion,” the Professor articulated. “If we try to slide there, we may not make it through.”
“We'd probably get bounced back to this Earth,” Diana concurred, staring down at the timer.
“Exactly what I was thinking, Dr. Davis,” agreed Arturo.
“So what's our decision?” Rembrandt looked around at everyone for a consensus.
“I say we go for it,” Trevor piped up.
The adult sliders all looked at him, suddenly.
“My timer has 7 minutes left,” Trevor offered, holding up his gizmo for them to see. “I can program it to take some of us back to Logan's world right after the rest of you guys slide there, if you make it through. We'll be your reinforcements.”
“Yeah, except if our photon trail gets blocked, we'll be shunted back here to deal with Manuel, Rodrigo, and their cronies,” Janine pointed out. She was having second thoughts.
“Can your timer track photons?” Diana asked Trevor.
“Perfect. Let's synchronize our coordinates.” Diana popped open their timer's readout, while Trevor called up the coordinates on his own timer. Both sets were soon programmed to:
Janine handed her musket to Rembrandt. “I've got a knife. If I get in a tight spot, I'll try to take them down.” She slipped the cutlery into her jeans pocket. “But if I can't, we'll need you to get trigger-happy.”
“So we're going to risk it, even if the vortex returns us here?” Rembrandt tried to get a group confirmation.
“Diana can speak Spanish, if we get into a jam,” said Janine.
“So can I.” Trevor raised his hand. “I've been studying three different languages since I was nine. Spanish, French, and Chinese.”
“Yes, this world appears to be the result of primarily Spanish colonialism,” Professor Arturo hypothesized. “While they were holding me prisoner in the village, I witnessed many Spaniards conversing with the local tribesmen. That village appeared to be a port for the fur trade, based on the abundance of mink and raccoon-skin in their ‘town square.' I would suppose that these native people defeated the Russian fur trade in 1812 . . . but rather than warring with the Spanish colonists in the 1830s, they befriended them. The Spaniards undoubtedly wanted to get their hands on the Californian gold. If my memory of history served me correctly, their expeditions for gold on Earth Prime began around 1892.”
“They've been hoarding the Penutians' gold long before that, on this world,” Diana said, recalling what the two Spaniards had told her. “From the way Rodrigo and Manuel were talking, it sounds as though the Penutians in this region have been tricked by the Spanish into believing that colonists from other European countries are evil. That's why Britain has to send Spanish-born males to infiltrate their ranks.”
“A bloody lot of good my nationality did me!” exclaimed Arturo, with a scoff. His imprisonment by the Pomo made a whole lot more sense now.
Diana gave her pistol to Janine. “Give your knife to the Professor,” she told Janine, her hands slightly shaking. “You're the best shot out of the three of us.”
Professor Arturo was pocketing Diana's knife when Rembrandt's face suddenly became squirmy.
“Do you guys hear that?” Remmy asked them.
Off in the distance, a flood of Pomo warriors on horseback stampeded toward the sliders.
“They must have followed our tracks.” Janine pointed at the cliffs. “Go! Run! Hide! We'll fend them off!”
“I'm not going to let you do that, Janine!” protested Rembrandt.
“Remmy, get Trevor out of here! Now!” Diana showed him the timer's glowing display panel. “We have less than a minute left! But you guys have more time to kill!”
Opening his mouth to argue, Rembrandt noticed that Trevor had disappeared. The adolescent genius was already climbing the cliffs.
“Dammit, Trevor!” In frustration, Rembrandt also pounced on the rocks.
Aiming the pistol outward, Janine said, her voice shaking, “They're closing in! How's the timer looking, Di?”
“27 seconds!” replied Diana.
The Pomo were about seventy yards away from where Diana, Janine, and Arturo stood. Raising their bows, the warriors prompted their horses to gallop faster.
Diana pointed the timer directly downward, before pressing the activation button. As six consecutive zeros showed up on the readout, Diana opened the vortex. The lustrous green wormhole appeared beneath the three sliders' feet, instantly pulling them down into its interdimensional chasm.
Once the Pomo reached the vortex, the sliders were gone. Having seen them descend into the ERP Bridge, a number of the native warriors dismounted their horses and leapt in after them. A handful of the warriors, who had been unable to reign in their horses ahead of time, ended up falling into hyperspace as well - horses and all.* * *
Quinn and Logan strolled out into an outdoor garden. Several of the Prototronics botanical domes were nearby, and an array of colorful flowers bloomed all across the neatly-mowed lawn of the landscape surrounding them.
“Scat!” Logan ordered to her guards, shooing them away with her hands. “I want some time alone with Mallory.”
Chambers stepped forward. “Not a good idea. We won't leave you unprotected - especially not with him!” The homely man stuck his thumb out at Quinn.
“He won't run,” Logan answered, assuredly. “Besides, if Quinn lays one hand on me, you have my permission to put a bullet through Maggie Beckett's chest.” She shooed them away again. “You can observe us from a reasonable distance.”
Flinching, Quinn looked at Logan with pure disgust.
“Come walk with me, Quinn.” Logan was already moving forward through the gardens. Quinn forced himself to trudge behind her. “I have to say, I've fantasized about so many different ways to take your life - keeping you alive never seemed like an option. But then,” she turned and raised her eyebrows at him, “that was before this wonderful new career of mine just fell into my lap.”
“Career?!” Quinn balked at her wording. “More like a crime!”
“Crime is subjective,” Logan responded. She was headed over to a carnival-style cart along the walkway. “Care for some rice cream?” She offered the bland frozen treat to Quinn with a hint of a giggle in her voice.
Quinn's scowl never left his face. “So you haven't been able to steal any decent popsicles from another Earth?” he quipped, extreme contempt in his tone.
Logan laughed. “In good time.” She held up two fingers for the vendor. “Two strawberry. It's our favorite.” She looked back at Quinn, grinning knowingly.
As Logan handed Quinn's rice cream treat to him, he let go of it. The frozen fruit pop splattered to the ground.
“Aw, and it's artificially-flavored, too,” Logan spoke, with fake disappointment. She wrapped her lips around the popsicle-like dessert-on-a-stick.
“I see that five years of sliding helplessly by yourself didn't change you much as a person,” muttered Quinn.
“On the contrary,” countered Logan, “it made me a lot quicker on my feet. Literally.” She swallowed another bite of her rice cream. “But of course, you're the one who made that possible. So in a way, I partially owe my success to you, Quinn. And to think, you probably figured I'd burn up on reentry when you set me on a random sliding course.”
“I was hoping. But somehow, you'd gotten ahold of the reentry coordinates, if I remember correctly,” Quinn recalled. “They were already in your timer, and since you had us at gunpoint, I had to act quickly. There wasn't enough time for me to erase the reentry coordinates from your timer, so in my haste, I simply jumbled the sequence.” He inched his head closer to her. “So how did you get the reentry coordinates to begin with?”
“One of the technicians back at the lab had already inputted them into my timer prototype that I ended up using. She'd been monitoring the search you were conducting on our mainframe, and she saved the reentry coordinates before you took down our computers with your little virus.” Logan lifted her gaze into the sky above Quinn's head. “I hadn't realized it until after you'd sent me on that random sliding course. I was in such a rush to come after you, I hadn't had time to examine the prototype. Had I slowed down and looked at it carefully, I would have seen that I had those downloaded reentry coordinates right at my fingertips. Prototronics could have started raiding parallel dimensions much earlier.”
“Pity.” Quinn spoke in monotone and turned away from her. “So at least I managed to delay your marauding for half a decade.”
“True.” Logan smacked her lips loudly, savoring the artificial strawberry flavor. “Although they probably would have found a way to do it even if I'd never returned to my world. It simply would have taken them longer to figure out the solution, without my help. But I've become a stronger, wiser woman because of it. I didn't come to appreciate it until Dana invited me to join his cabinet and I saw firsthand how this world is on its way to recovery.”
“And the dollar bills between your fingers are just the icing on the cake?”
“The icing, the baked yeast, and the frosted flowers on top of the cake - you know, the ones made purely of sugar and food coloring. Damn, those are good!”
“But you were stuck with my laser gyroscope in your spectrum stabilizer,” Quinn remembered. “We got your whispering gallery, which increased our sliding radius. So when our radius grew, yours must have shrunk.”
“It did,” Logan confirmed. “Initially. But after awhile, I could only put up with so many alternate Los Angeleses. Your dinky gyroscope only allowed me to slide into L.A. Not even catching rides with hobos or hitchhiking helped me get back to San Francisco. Somehow, the adjustments you'd made to my timer must have altered the radius central coordinate, which is why I kept landing in the City of Angels. So eventually, I reconstructed the spectrum stabilizer to increase my radius. About a year later, I met up with your friends in an Alternate Malibu.”
“So that's why it took you three-and-a-half years to latch onto our vortex again?” Quinn realized. “Even when you tracked our photon trail, the gyroscope would still divert you back to a two-mile radius on your succeeding slides. Especially if we were already several worlds ahead of you.” He pondered the thought some more. “Plus, we switched timers at least twice . . .”
“Unfortunately, after you slid me off of Reggae World, I had to activate the timer early on the next world, due to an unfortunate run-in with some crimelords. My interferometer always picked up a faint photon trail from your vortex,” she said, “but it never seemed to be strong enough for me to fully track you. Once I'd restored a larger radius to my spectrum stabilizer, I was able to follow your photon emissions a lot more easily.”
Before Quinn could respond, their eardrums were filled with a roar. The signature bullet train of San Angeles - zooming at 200-miles-per-hour - rumbled and shot across the brightly-lit Golden Gate Railroad. They had another perfect view of this breathtaking sight from the Prototronics botanical yard.
“Gotta love the B-Train,” murmured Logan, once it had completely passed by them. She absent-mindedly relaxed her elbow on Quinn's shoulder.
A flood of light was zapped into Quinn's eyesight. He viewed a flashback of Logan - dressed in a bright yellow blouse covered by a clashing red vest - scrambling around the Prototronics lab.
“Dennison, where's my timer?!” Logan screamed at one of her technicians, in a frenzy.
“Right here.” Dennison quickly handed it off to Logan. “Ms. St. Clair, I have to tell you something . . .”
“Move it!” Logan was already rushing to the exit with a hoard of uniformed guards.
The flashback abruptly ended as Logan squirmed away from Quinn. “Sorry, Mallory, but you had your chance with me, and blew it.”
Visually examining her, Quinn noticed for the first time that day that Logan's power suit was a hideous fuchsia color.
“I see your fashion sense hasn't improved after five years.”
“Ha, ha. Let's get down to business.” Logan became serious. “For whatever reason, you invented sliding before I did.”
“It runs in the family.”
“What are you talking about?!”
Quinn sighed. At this point, he saw no reason NOT to tell Logan about his true quest. “When I was little, my real parents left me another dimension while they battled the Kromaggs on my birthworld. That was the Earth I grew up on and came to know as my homeworld. And it really is home for Wade, Remmy, and the Professor.” He continued, hesitantly. “I discovered this when we got back to Earth Prime. My foster mother was in Kromagg captivity, and she gave me this microdot . . .”
“Quinn, Quinn, Quinn . . .” Logan sighed. “Don't insult my intelligence.” She then stopped, catching a glimpse of the seriousness on Quinn's face. Pondering that, she motioned for him to commence with his recount. “Alright, go on. But no embellishing.”
“To make a long story short, they defeated the Kromaggs on my birthworld. My parents returned to the dimensions where they'd left Colin and me in the temporary care of their alternate selves . . . but Colin's foster parents had died and left him with another family. My foster parents hid me and told my birth parents that I'd died. So my birth parents slid back to Kromagg Prime without me or my brother.” He shrugged, hoping these facts might reach out and touch some ounce of humanity left inside Logan.
Digesting this information, Logan St. Clair analyzed Quinn's eyes with her own. “That certainly would explain why your quantum signature is so different.” She stared at Quinn for another minute. “You're telling the truth,” Logan concluded. “And what a truth it is. So we possess the knowledge to defeat the Kromaggs?”
“My biological grandfather invented sliding long before my own father perfected it,” Quinn explained to her. “But life didn't necessarily evolve in that same way for all of our doubles. Logan, without the constant influence of your biological father during your earliest years, you probably had less scientific conditioning than many of our other alternates.”
“Makes sense.” Logan gave him a curt nod. “Therefore, it stands to reason that your brain might be able to dream up some more innovations when it comes to quantum physics.”
“Your point being . . . ?”
“When I returned to my homeworld and began working with Prototronics again, I increased their spectrum stabilizer to slide larger payloads through the wormhole. But we're still having trouble locking on to what objects we want to displace. Ultimately, we get what we need, but not in the most efficient manner.”
“And you want me to help you ‘extract' these payloads from other worlds with minimal frustration?” Quinn concluded, folding his arms.
“If you would be so kind.” Logan batted her eyelashes at him, making an innocent face.
“Even if I did help you, you could still just go ahead and kill my friends after you get what you want from me,” Quinn asserted, staring her down.
“Aw, Quinn.” Logan pretended to sound hurt. “Would I ever do something like that?”
“You know you would.”
Releasing a sigh, Logan held back her amusement from surfacing to her lips. “So, what do you suggest?”
“Let my friends go.”
“I'm sorry, but I can't. They'll keep trying to come back and rescue you.”
“Not if they have no way to slide.” Quinn forced the proposition out of his mouth. “Strand them on a miscellaneous world, with no way of returning through the interdimension. They'll be out of your hair, but will still be able to live out their lives - Colin, Malcolm, Wade, Mallory . . .”
“And Maggie?” Logan finished, smirking.
“I'd rather see her alive without me than dead because of me.”
After a few moments of silence, Logan had pondered this suggestion. “Okay, Mallory. That might be doable. But what about your other friends? Rembrandt, Max, ‘the Wonder Chicks,' and that redheaded kid? They're still out there - how do I know they won't try to come back to my Earth and interfere?”
“Your force field should prevent that.”
“Hmm.” Logan tipped her head back, sticking her fingers in her mouth. “It's an interesting proposition. I certainly would love to be able to increase my quantities of interdimensional loot. Even as we speak, an oil rig supply is being vortexed in from offworld. Imagine if we could slide in some big, juicy hamburgers from that Earth. No more ‘Yam Burgers' or ‘Happy Spud Sticks' at McTato. No more rickshaws, bikes, trams, or skateboards. No more power brownouts. No more reservations for the Laundromat.” She gazed into Quinn's eyes, with a rare expression of sincerity. “I know it might not seem like it to you right now, Quinn, but what we'll be doing is for the greater good. Think of all the children we'll be feeding . . . all the families who will receive proper nutrition, for a change, and will be able to manage their incomes in this horrible economy of ours. Gasoline on my world once reached a high of more than $600 per gallon, but because of Prototronics, the price has now dropped to $98 per gallon . . . of course, we get it for nothing.” She gave him a wink.
As Logan finished her commentary, Quinn Mallory stared at her with emotionless scrutiny. With each passing second, he realized an ugly truth.
“You actually believe you're doing a moral thing for your world!” he cringed, appalled at Logan's genuine sense of ethical satisfaction regarding the Prototronics project. “Well, no matter how you rationalize it or justify it to yourself, you're still no better than a common thief!”
“Yet, you'll still do what I say. Because you have no other choice.” Logan's perpetual smirk morphed into an indignant frown. “You're not seeing the bigger picture, Quinn. What about the children on my homeworld who are starving?”
“What about the children on other worlds who you're taking food away from?” countered Quinn, argumentatively. “Yes, I'll help you because I have to. But I will never praise you for what you're doing. You may have convinced yourself that you're some humanitarian savior. But those children you keep mentioning will only grow up in a world where gluttony and Machiavellian policies are idealized.”
“So you don't think I'm looking out for their best interest?”
“You're not the motherly type, Logan,” murmured Quinn. “Although you may have convinced yourself otherwise, deep down, you're only looking out for yourself.”
She uttered a condescending retort. “If it makes you feel any better to believe that, Mallory, then you go right ahead. But I am doing what is right. While I was out there traveling through the multiverse, getting to see all of those parallel dimensions helped me to dream of the many possibilities that my own world could achieve.” However, Logan's grin of pride abruptly folded upside-down as a sudden noise blared into their eardrums.
An alarm had been set off inside the Prototronics facility.
Logan rushed for the entrance. “Secure him!” she shouted to the guards over her shoulder, referring to Quinn.
Quinn couldn't help but smile to himself as he watched the caution lights blink off and on rapidly around the exterior of the building.
He had the feeling that, somehow, it was the handiwork of one or more of his fellow travelers.* * *
The sliders' green vortex opened in mid-air inside of Laboratory 2, where a number of lowly lab workers were sorting through the raided stash of coal. Arturo, Janine, and Diana plummeted downward from the wormhole, almost simultaneously. Thudding to the ground, the three of them immediately moved into action. The cluster of lab workers looked up to see Janine pointing her pistol at them.
“Hands where I can see them!” Janine shrieked at the coal-collectors. They obeyed, accordingly.
Diana had high-tailed it over to the computer terminal centered in Laboratory 2. One of the technicians had already logged on, so Diana was able to access the system. Professor Arturo stayed close behind her, protectively.
About five armed guards burst through the lab entrance. “Freeze!” one of them called out to the sliders.
The wormhole, still open in the middle of Laboratory 2, spat out at least two dozen Pomo warriors who'd entered the vortex from the last world. Approximately half of these natives fell from the sky, still on horseback.
Taken aback, the guards swerved their weapons at the massive group of Pomo tribesmen, and began firing. The natives scattered across the lab, armed with their own weapons - more blow-guns containing obsidian arrowheads.
Janine dove behind an energy generator, taking cover so she could check her ammunition - not to mention escape the line of fire. The unarmed lab workers had already began rushing for the exits at the sight of the Pomo intruders.
“Dr. Davis, hurry!” Arturo was trying to prod Diana to leave the computer terminal to take refuge from the flying bullets and arrowhead-shaped darts.
“I can't!” Diana hollered back, over the screeching, shouting, and weapon-blasting. “We have to keep the vortex pathway unblocked so Rem and Trevor can get through!”
“Dr. Davis, I seriously don't believe they would appreciate sliding into this chaos . . . !” the Professor pointed out, ducking to dodge a stray bullet that had propelled his way.
Diana's heart was pounding vigorously. Sweating, she glanced back and saw one Prototronics guard pointing his gun at her.
“Back away from the terminal, lady!”
Professor Arturo skidded over to Diana, using his entire body to shield Diana from the guard's line of fire. As the Professor's strength inadvertently pushed Diana off-balance, Diana's upper body slammed against the keyboard. Her elbows pushed down on multiple random keys at once, disrupting the numerical sequences she'd been calling up and modifying on the screen.
The guard who was aiming for Diana and Arturo found his attention diverted away from the two sliders by several vortices appearing in the laboratory. Some were yellow in color, others were various shades of red, and a couple were blue and orange.
Each portal's quantum energy began to eject mass from the other end of these vortices, into the frenzy of this Prototronics lab.* * *
Wade had snapped to attention as soon as the alarms went off. She mentally strained, determined to escape her restraints no matter what it took.
Once her blindfold had vanished from around her eyes and upper scalp, Wade could now concentrate well enough to work on the rope that bound her arms and legs to the chair.
Finally free, she took all of the dormant rage that had built up inside of her and directed it at the locked door. As the hinges came flying off and Wade slipped through the doorway, she felt an enormous sense of déjà vu. She passed by the door - now laying against the wall in the corridor - taking a quick note of the number “267” embossed on what used to be its front exterior.
But such things were ultimately irrelevant to Wade as she resiliently made her way down the hall, alarm bells piercing her ears.* * *
Trevor and Rembrandt stood at the edge of a cliff, above an angry gallery of Pomo warriors. Amid hisses and screeches, the natives aimed their blow guns and bows-and-arrows upward at the two unwelcome interdimensional visitors.
But before the ammunition could reach Remmy or Trevor, Trevor's “mousehole” opened like an umbrella. It deflected the arrows and darts, sucking Trevor and Rembrandt - who were holding hands - off of the cliffs and back through the ERP Bridge.* * *
“What the hell is going on in here?!” barked Logan, storming through the entrance of Laboratory 2.
Her lungs nearly collapsed at the sight before her. Logan's guards were firing weapons and, in some cases, fighting hand-to-hand, with simply-dressed Pomo warriors from Earth 116.
If that wasn't disruptive enough, about a dozen strange vortices with different colors were opening at random spots all over Laboratory 2. An offbeat array of objects from various dimensions spilled into the lab. A flock of crows flew out of one vortex, while some people wearing togas emerged from another. One wormhole opened near the floor, and some marsh water sloshed out of it along with a few lightly treading pelicans. A confused mother pushed her child in a baby carriage out of a fourth vortex, while a pterodactyl careened from another portal twenty feet above ground.
Rembrandt and Trevor also propelled from Trevor's sturdy wormhole, absolutely flabbergasted at the action going on around them.
An armed Kromagg soldier had been sent flying from a wobbly red vortex, and some cows came walking through another. A small blue wormhole deposited some pumpkins onto the laboratory floor. A soccer ball was kicked through another small vortex. A weird, jelly-like blobby creature wiggled out of an orange vortex, and the trunk of a drooping apple tree fell through an additional wormhole. There was even a tiny vortex that opened a few feet in the air, and a burst of sepals and combusted flower petals was ejected into the room.
“Dr. Davis, what in God's name did you do?!” Professor Arturo hollered over the commotion. He and Diana had taken refuge behind a stack of crates.
“I have no idea!” Hot and flustered, Diana clung to Arturo's strong arm for protection. “I was trying to get into their system, to make sure the force field was disabled . . . I wanted to pull up the coordinates of all the Earths they've raided . . . but I hit the wrong keys and the numbers got jumbled . . . and all these wormholes appeared . . .” She was approaching the point of hyperventilation, as her skin sweated and voice cracked.
“Calm down,” the Professor whispered to her. “It was an accident. We need to focus.”
They could see that Logan had now ducked down into a small cranny near the entranceway, watching as her staff got massacred right before her eyes. She gazed up at the different colored vortices and all the objects and organisms coming out of them.
Seeing that the area around the main computer terminal was clear, Diana made a sudden dash for the control panel, having pulled her knife out of her pocket.
“Dr. Davis! No! Come back!” Arturo, risking his own safety, began to run after her.
But Diana had already reached the terminal. Another of the security guards was also quickly approaching her. The guard, disarmed during a minor scuffle, put his police academy training to good use and made a preemptive grab for Diana's wrists, hoping to wrestle the knife away from her. She struggled against his grip, and the guard inadvertently brought her arm down hard. Diana was partially squeezing her eyes shut as Logan's lackey jerked Diana's upper body at a downward angle, which caused Diana to smash the knife into the hard drive.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Forgetting completely about the Pomo, Logan had raced over to the terminal, but jumped back as sparks flew from the impact of Diana's knife.
The computer's mainframe and entire hard drive had been shorted out. The multiple vortices in Laboratory 2 all closed, stranding the creatures whom had been transplanted to Logan's homeworld.
Diana suddenly managed to veer her arm in an upward motion, and her knife made contact with the security guard's chest. He howled, blood spurting from his ribcage as he fell back and collapsed to the floor. In reaction to the grotesque sight, Diana screamed.
Shrieking, Logan lunged at Diana, but Arturo blocked her path. “Miss St. Clair, get a grip!”
“HOW DARE YOU!!!” Logan wailed.
More of Logan's guards ran into the laboratory with their weapons, maniacally shooting every Pomo warrior in sight. Rembrandt and Trevor had moved away from the pandemonium, crouching down with Janine in one corner of the lab.
Quinn, now unguarded, ran in after his nemesis. “Get away from my friends, Logan!”
She turned around. Her face was beet red, mouth seething. Logan catapulted her body forward, tackling Quinn to the ground.
Upon impact with Logan, Quinn felt a mental rush as he was tossed backward, temporally, to November of 1996. One of Logan's motorcyclists heaved a fire extinguisher through the heavy glass doors of the lab that Wrong Arturo had locked them inside of. Resolute and enraged, Logan stepped through the broken glass.
“Logan . . .” came Adrian Fayne's voice.
She stopped and turned to entertain his command.
“If you fail, don't come back.” Fayne gave her a look of dead-seriousness.
Logan bitterly returned Adrian's gaze. “I won't fail.” Resuming her march toward the exit, Logan called out to her motorcycle guards, “They're headed to the Dominion Hotel! Let's step on it!” She and her guards prepared to pursue Quinn, Wade, and Wrong Arturo, who had already hijacked two Prototronics jeeps and taken off.
Quinn returned to his own time. Rolling around on the ground with Logan, he held her firm. But Quinn cringed and wailed as she kneed him directly in the groin.
Suddenly, Logan went flying backwards across the room.
Wade Welles had burst through the laboratory entrance.
By now, all of the Pomo in the room were dead. Logan's security team members were turning their attention back to the sliders. However, they looked down at their hands and saw their own weapons inexplicably flying out of their clutches.
Shots rang out. Rembrandt had fired several bullets at the legs of the few guards who were still armed, taking them down.
The three large stun guns that had been telekinetically whisked out of the guards' hands were now in the possession of Diana, Arturo, and Trevor. There were enough armed sliders to surround the fallen security guards.
Wade felt light-headed. The room was slowly becoming dizzy around her. However, Wade gasped and shook herself back to reality as she watched Logan climbing on top of Quinn, Logan's hands menacingly wrapped around his neck.
She was trying to choke Quinn to death.
Emitting a burst of anger, Wade threw Logan's body backward for the second time that day.
“I WILL SHRED YOU TO PIECES, WADE . . . !!!” From where she was crumpled on the floor, Logan had begun to get back up, determined to exact her revenge.
Glancing quickly, Wade saw a lone timer prototype laying on the counter. She mentally summoned it off of the countertop and onto the floor, where it clattered. Its illuminated readout was numerically scrambled, and an orange stream shot straight out of the timer's nose, creating a vortex.
Wade and Logan shared one lingering moment of mutual hatred, their eyes locking on one another.
And then Logan felt her body hurtling backward again - this time straight into the newly-formed orange vortex. Its corresponding timer floated through the wormhole after Logan, as well, just as the portal closed.
Wade collapsed, and her vision blackened.* * *
Malcolm Eastman wandered through the laboratory, gazing at the activity around him.
Rembrandt and Maggie were consoling the bewildered and terrified humans who'd been pulled into Logan's world from other dimensions. The Romans in togas chattered amongst themselves, while the mother had removed her crying baby from its carriage and was trying to comfort it. Janine had been corralling the pelicans and cows into one corner of the room. Colin, on the other hand, was still having a ridiculously hard time capturing the strange amoeba-like blob as it bounced across the floor. The pterodactyl and crows had already flown out an open window, escaping the confines of Laboratory 2. The Kromagg solider laid dead on the ground, having been killed by the virus within a couple minutes of its arrival on Logan's homeworld.
“Professor, are we going to be able to get these people home?” Malcolm asked, joining Arturo at the badly-damaged computer terminal.
“I'm afraid not, Mr. Eastman.” Professor Arturo looked forlorn and hopeless. “This sliding machine is damaged beyond repair. Whatever information was in its hard drive has most likely been lost.”
“What about the sliding machines from the other laboratories?”
“We checked them already. Each machine and its corresponding terminal contains different coordinate sets. They act independently from one another, and this lab's machine was destroyed before these people's home coordinates could be uploaded into the facility-wide mainframe.” He stared at the panicking humans from other dimensions. “The only way they could be returned to their Earths of origin would be if their biothermal heat imprints correspond to any of the dimensional coordinates that Prototronics already has on file. But those odds are slim to none.”
Mallory was kneeled at Wade's side, with Trevor squatted down next to him. Longingly staring at his girlfriend, Mallory gently shook her. “Wade! Please, wake up, Wade!” Tears were forming in his eyes. “She's been unconscious for at least half an hour.”
“Miss Welles!” Trevor cupped his fingers around her chin. “She's still breathing, just unconscious.”
“It must really have taken a lot out of her,” said Mallory, referring to Wade's telekinetic tour-de-force. “Wade, come on, I know you're in there! I know you can hear me!”
“Here, let me try.” Janine had joined Mallory and Trevor, carrying a plastic container as she knelt down beside them. Janine lifted the container lid and positioned the gunk inside of it underneath Wade's nose.
Her eyes flittered open. “Oh, yuck! What the . . . ?!” Wade was snapped back into consciousness, grimacing at the putrid smell. “Aw, Janine - geomash! Couldn't you have just left me in a coma?”
Everyone laughed, and Mallory pulled Wade into his embrace. “Don't joke. I actually was afraid you might be in a coma.”
Over Mallory's shoulder, Wade spotted Trevor. “Hey!” she said, recognizing him. “Trevor? What are you doing here?”
“Hi, Miss Welles,” Trevor greeted her, sheepishly. “We saw what you did to those guys. That was amazing! Can you teach me?”
Wade snorted, still trying to shake off her weakness as she gave Trevor a friendly little hug.
Quinn had been acting as a sentry at the laboratory entrance, a stun gun in hand. Noticing Wade's awakening, he quickly ran over to her. Dropping his gun, he wrapped his arms around her. “I'm so glad you're okay.”
“Thanks, Quinn,” Wade blushed.
“Hey, save some of that love for me, Q-Ball,” Rembrandt said, swooping in from Wade's other side to hug her.
Laughing, Wade said, “Okay, you're smothering me!”
“How did you escape?” was Rembrandt's burning question.
“When the security alarm went off, I knew something major had happened.” Wade linked hands with Mallory as he helped her up. “So I just concentrated, and I . . . ‘displaced' my blindfold off of my head. I don't know where I sent it to, but it was no longer covering my eyes. So then it was just a matter of undoing my ropes and forcing the door open.” She smiled, modestly. “I used my mind.”
“So how are we going to deal with this mess?” Mallory asked the group.
“Well, with Logan gone, and a bulk of her security team dead, the facility is in disarray,” reported Quinn, drawing on his observations from around the building during the past half-hour. “Still, we need to get out while we can. It appears as though most of the government on this Earth supported Logan's project. They're not going to listen to any whistles being blown.”
“Corrupt governments,” sneered Wade, shaking her head in disapproval. “Some things never change from world to world.” She took Mallory's hand. “So how long until we slide?”
“Diana has the timer,” Rembrandt said, and they all glanced over to where Dr. Davis was sitting.
Seated on a folding chair, Diana quietly sipped some water from a plastic cup. She was frowning, in deep thought, and didn't even hear Professor Arturo approach her from behind.
The Professor placed his hand on Diana's shoulder. “You can't blame yourself, Dr. Davis,” he tried to console her. “You were looking out for the well-being of our friends.”
She turned her head and looked up at him. “How can you say that with a straight face, Professor? I just never seem to learn! When I merged those unsuspecting worlds together . . . all the times I trusted Dr. Geiger . . .” Diana trailed off, as tears overtook her eyes. “And now my irresponsibility has ruined more human lives!”
Arturo sat down next to her. “Diana,” he addressed her, gently, “sometimes these things happen for a reason. It may not seem logical at first, but think of all the consequences that arise from our actions, even when they're tragedies or mistakes. Had Mr. Brown not been sucked into the vortex with us, he might have fallen victim to a subsequent Kromagg invasion. And if Miss Beckett's husband hadn't had been killed, as brash and heartless as it sounds for me to say, she never would have fallen in love with Mr. Mallory. We can even look at your ‘Mallory,' Diana,” he told Dr. Davis. “Obviously, it was a terrible thing that Dr. Geiger did to him and Quinn. But had it not happened, ‘your' Mallory would never have met Miss Welles. Even Wade herself has been able to unlock the incredible abilities within her brain, all due to the horrible suffering she endured at the hands of the Kromaggs.”
“Where's the benefit in what I've done?” pouted Diana, not one bit reassured by Arturo's words. “I plucked those people right out of their daily lives, against their will. I'm no better than Dr. Geiger!”
Arturo rubbed Diana's back as she wept, her face buried in his chest. Once her sobs became farther apart, Professor Arturo told her, “I can't help you to change what happened. But you will heal, Dr. Davis. When science is involved, accidents are bound to happen. Miss Welles is still struggling over the death of Christina's son, as well as the Kokokoa casualties from when she saved Janine's life. Miss Chen herself has had to come to terms with her role in the demise of Admiral Mackay. And think of Quinn: everyday, Mr. Mallory must contend with his self-hatred for initiating this entire journey.”
Sniffing, Diana shook her head in disagreement. “But it's not the same! Rembrandt has told me he's glad it happened to him, and the rest of us all slid by choice - except for Janine. And Wade didn't know she'd run into Christina again, or that those bullets would hit any of the villagers. And Janine did us a favor by killing Mackay - he would have killed us!” Some fluid got caught in Diana's throat, and she gagged on it. “What good have I done by bringing these people here?!”
“We probably won't learn the answer to that, Diana,” admitted the Professor, holding her close to him.
“Diana,” spoke Quinn's voice, a few minutes later, “we . . . uh, need to see how much time is left.” He could tell he was interrupting a sensitive moment been Dr. Davis and Professor Arturo.
She gulped in sadness, and handed the timer to Quinn. “About 20 minutes.”
Rembrandt, Maggie, Wade, and Mallory had gathered around Quinn.
“We're not coming back here, are we?” Maggie knowingly asked him.
“Not if we want a real shot at shaking Logan for good.” Quinn gestured around the destroyed lab, pointedly. “There's no way she's going to stay on this Earth. Someone will make her the scapegoat for this disaster. No, she's probably going to be coming after us.” He glanced over at the exit. “Besides that, they're probably going to bring in reinforcements, once word of what happened in here gets out.” Quinn stared ominously at the heaps of dead bodies on the floor, belonging to Prototronics security guards and Pomo warriors. “I don't think we wanna be around for the fallout.”
Colin had entered the laboratory, holding the arm of Barbara Arturo. “There's someone else who needs our help.”
“Oh, Mrs. Arturo!” Quinn slapped his head in frustration, having forgotten all about her. “We can't leave her behind to deal with this unscrupulous government.”
“No, it's okay.” Barbara Arturo tried to smile. “I need to find a way to clear Max's name. Otherwise, someday they'll dishonor his memory by portraying him as ‘the man who slid recklessly.' I can't allow that.”
“But they'll probably kill you,” Maggie emphasized to Mrs. Arturo, concerned.
“No they won't,” Trevor broke in, joining the group. “I'll bring her with me, through my mousehole.”
Quinn shook his head, adamantly. “Trevor, you can't . . .”
“The way my timer works, there is no way I'll miss my slide,” explained Trevor. “All Mrs. Arturo and I need to do is stay together. We'll use handcuffs, if we have to. But I have the means to help her, and I'm going to do it.” He looked at Quinn, insistently. “I'll miss you guys . . . but I can't go back to my world. It's time I do something more meaningful than sliding from one dumpster to the next.”
Quinn enveloped Trevor in a brotherly hug. “Stay strong.”
Trevor met Quinn's gaze, a tear forming in his own eye. “Stay stronger.”* * *
On the next Earth, Quinn and Rembrandt sat together, sipping ale from golden mugs. They were enjoying the panoramic view in front of them.
Across a wide valley with fresh green grass underfoot and majestic mountains in the background, small sprites frolicked around a bonfire. Dusk was approaching, and several members belonging to the local family of leprechauns ascended from an underground wine cellar, toting corked bottles. Others were emerging from a colonial-style farmhouse, trailed by a few dogs that had been properly trained to herd sheep into the adjacent barn.
Most of these cluricauns wore various outfits of green, along with feathered red caps, leather aprons, and buckled shoes. None of them stood higher than three feet tall. In the shadows of the setting sun, these impish creatures danced and whooped it up in the impending moonlight, obviously inebriated. In fact, a few of their mortal houseguests - Mallory, Colin, and Janine - had joined them for drinks and merriment. Colin and Mallory were even linking arms and doing an impromptu little “riverdance” together.
Quinn chugged the remainder of his booze, keeping a straight face as he savored this small reprieve of satisfaction. “It was sure nice of the Muldowney clan to let us stay with them for the week.”
“Yeah, I don't even mind the sheep-shearing,” Rembrandt said, referring to the menial labor he and some of the others did in exchange for the leprechauns' hospitality. He chortled, continuing, “Although I bet the Professor never imagined himself making shoes for fairies and elves. Good thing he has those cobbler skills from when he was a boy in England.”
Quinn just took his final gulps of ale in silence.
“So Q-Ball,” Rembrandt began, “when you were with Logan . . . um, when she was attacking you . . . did you - er, get anything off of her?”
Giving Rembrandt a shocked stare, Quinn cleared his throat, unable to believe he was hearing what he thought he had. “What?!”
“Aw! - no, no, no, no!” Rembrandt awkwardly corrected himself, realizing how that might have sounded. “I meant premonitions. Did you see any future visions of her?”
“Oh!” That made much more sense to Quinn, as he comprehended what Remmy had been trying to say. “No, I didn't. Every vision I picked up from Logan was of her previous experiences. I have this theory that the mental energy of whoever I touch directly relates to that they're thinking about at that moment, which affects whether I get a premonition or a flashback. Logan's thoughts - at least the ones I picked up on - seemed to be mostly flashbacks. That tells me that she must really be holding onto the past.”
“Yeah, and holding it against us.” Rembrandt recalled Logan's demented antics from the last dimension. “We're going to have to be ready for her, Q-Ball. If she comes after us . . .”
“I know.” Quinn didn't even want to think about it anymore. At least, not right then. “Think of it this way, Rem,” he said, changing the subject. “We have a way to liberate Trevor's homeworld from the Kromaggs.”
“Yeah. The poor kid.” Rembrandt paused, thinking about how Trevor had matured so much since the last time they'd seen him. “After all he's been through and what he did for us . . . we owe it to him. But he gave us his home coordinates, and we've gotta release that virus on his Earth. Maybe the society on his world will finally take a long hard look at itself, after having endured Kromagg hell.”
“I don't blame Trevor for not wanting to return to his homeworld,” Quinn stated, thinking of his own angst caused by the Kromagg Dynasty. “He needs to move on. Hopefully, he and Mrs. Arturo can find a way to bring down Prototronics. They'll most likely need some help from another parallel world, though.”
“So what now, Q-Ball?”
“We keep moving forward, Cryin' Man. Other worlds out there need us. Including ours.” Quinn was, for the first time since learning about his adoption, referring to Earth Prime in the possessive.
Rembrandt picked up on that, too. He grinned at Quinn, finally feeling as though he had gotten his friend back. His friend whom he'd started this entire journey with. His friend who once again had loyalty to Earth Prime - the place where Quinn, Rembrandt, Wade, and the Professor had all been raised.
The two of them clinked together their mugs of ale.
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