"Death is hardly my province. Have you talked to your aunt about this?" Destruction inquired.|
"Death?" Orpheus asked inanely.
"What can SHE do for me?"
"She can do whatEVER she wants to, boy." Destruction replied. "But there will be conditions, but then, there always are."
"I... don't know HOW to see her. I mean, she just turns up when she wants to. Where do I FIND her? What do I DO?" Orpheus pleaded.
Destruction raised a hand. "Hmm. Well, you have a few alternatives. For example, you could DIE. You'd see her then. Of course, you won't get much chance to talk, but you'll see her. You could be born, ... but you people never remember that particular conversation. I don't know why NOT, but you just don't." Destruction paused wryly. "Or you could go to her house."
- Neil Gaiman
"Now the sun's gone to hell,
and the moon's riding high,
let me bid you farewell,
every man has to die..."
- Dire Straits
"Well why me? Why now? Well, okay."
- Sam Kinison (his last words, according to his brother, who pulled him from the car)
• • •
Quinn was awake the next time Remmy stopped by, overseeing the departure of the first colonization team. Two squads of heavily armed soldiers leaped into the vortex as the Cryin' Man approached. Two more squads and several dozen civilians waited nearby, clutching their belongings.
"Hey. They found the perfect world." Quinn remarked to Remmy. "Humans never evolved there, and apparently neither did any higher life forms. Nothing that walks on two legs that the patrols could see. Of course they could only scout a small portion even with the one man helicopters they brought with them, but it looks good."
"I was wondering why they didn't ask us to help search?" Remmy inquired. "After all, we have all the experience Sliding."
Quinn chuckled. "It would be a cold day in hell before they'd let civilians they barely know head, or even participate in, a reconnaissance operation."
"So the world looks good, eh? Doesn't look like they're taking any chances though." Remmy commented, looking uneasily at the heavily armed second team.
"No reason for them to. The first team will set up a perimeter. This second group of civilians and soldiers will start setting up tents for the first nights until more permanent residences can be constructed. They intend to keep sending people and supplies through until Destruction overtakes this base. As long as they don't overtax the generators they will be able to do it."
Remmy shivered. "How many do you think they're be able to get through?"
Quinn shook his head. "Who knows when Destruction will get here. Couple thousand maybe, if they don't get greedy and open the vortexes too close together, and as long as people keep getting the word to come here."
"So when do WE get out of here?"
Quinn glanced at Wade, then returned his gaze to his long time friend. "We can leave now. I was able to repair to the timer. We can Slide where ever we like again, just as it was in the very beginning. We'll stay on worlds long enough to discover if it is ours, and get some rest and whatever, and then move on. No more waiting for the window, no more playing 'beat the clock.' The people on this world also discovered a way to measure individual quantum signatures and compare them to other people. So we can test people in the worlds we go to and compare them to ourselves and that will let us know how close we are. It will let us know where we are in the multiverse. Once I figure out how to control the 'direction' of our Slides, knowing where we are will allow us to head the right way. This takes us a step closer!"
"You know I didn't follow most of that. More mumbo jumbo from you! Just how closer does it bring us to getting home?" Remmy demanded.
"It brings us a lot closer! Imagine the multiverse is a straight line. All the possible worlds are lined up next to each other. The closer the worlds are to our own, the more like our own they are. So we'll know when we're close to our world! And when we Slide I'll be able to direct us TOWARDS our Earth instead of randomly Sliding either towards it or away from it. Doing this every Slide, we'll eventually hit our Earth. It is inevitable."
"So you've finished the modifications?"
"It's done. These people have helped me all they can, and I've helped them as much as they needed me to. We don't have to wait for the Slide window. We can leave any time."
Remmy's demeanor softened for the first time. "Great! Then let's go!"
Quinn looked at Wade again. "We can't leave without the Professor, Remmy."
Remmy turned away and started pacing. "I just heard a report that people in the city are coming down with Destruction!"
"We have to give him more time to escape and reach us." Wade soothed.
"I know." Remmy admitted.
"What is your problem?" Quinn inquired.
"What is my problem? What is my problem! I'll tell you what my problem is! I am SICK and TIRED of Sliding! I'm tired of always being near death or in danger or even uncomfortable! The Professor might be dead right now and its all your fault! It's YOUR FAULT! YOU got us into this mess and you have more mumbo jumbo about how to get us out of it! 'Once I figure out how to control the direction of the Slides.'" He mocked Quinn's voice with eerie accuracy. "This is all your fault in the first place!"
"I know that." Quinn replied tightly. "You've never let me forget that. Not for a day."
Remmy advanced on Quinn. "The professor could be DEAD and you STILL haven't found a way to get us home! I don't want to hear anymore about your theories! Or your big words! Nothing you've tried has worked! You're NEVER going to get us home, are you? Just admit it and we can all settle down on some world and put an END to this maddness!"
"You want to quit, you go right ahead." Quinn replied through his teeth. "I'm getting us home, if it's the last thing I do."
"I've HEARD all that before!"
"How can you hear anything will all the bitching you do? Maybe if you would shut the hell up for one single day I could concentrate enough to GET us home!"
Remmy looked ready to swing on Quinn but a vise like hand suddenly grabbed his arm. "I thought I asked all of you to depart?"
It was Major Chalker. "Instead I find you coming to blows with each other. People are DYING out there by the thousands and you have nothing better to do they fight each other?"
Remmy ripped his grip from the officer's hand and left hotly.
Chalker shook his head. "There seems to be some letup on the spread, though. We think that whoever was spreading it in this country has stopped doing so. If that's true, now all we have to worry about is the corpses and the infected water. It can't travel far through the air."
"That's great news." Quinn remarked. "I guess it is pointless to ask if you have any word on our companion."
"I'm sorry. Even if he is alive it's hard to imagine how he could make it here without succumbing to Destruction. As I told Miss Welles earlier, the General has asked that you leave the base."
"I don't understand his urgency." Quinn complained. "I just saved you weeks of work and you toss me out in the street as thanks?"
Chalker looked uncomfortable. "It was a fair trade. You are much closer to getting home thanks to OUR help. So you thank us for that by refusing our wish that you leave?" It was obvious that didn't convince Quinn, because the officer leaned close and whispered. "To be perfectly honest, I don't understand it either. But General Rickman was quite specific that you three leave the base ASAP. I don't know why but he was serious, so I advise you to do so."
• • •
"Hi again!" Anthony chirped.
Remmy, still fuming, wheeled on the boy before relaxing when he saw who it was. "Oh, hi! How are you?"
The boy raised a knapsack. "About to get out of here, it looks like." He seemed happier. Less filled with false bravado. "But you look mad as a cat on the Titanic."
"I'm- ... I'm not ..." He sighed. "I've lost someone special. And the man responsible for it just doesn't GET IT. He won't take responsibility for it."
Anthony kicked a rock and watched it fall down the stairs into the courtyard. "Bad people don't care who they kill. The Spanish don't care that they killed my parents."
"No, you don't understand, he's not a bad person."
"But he killed your par- I mean your close friend."
Remmy fought the urge to hug the boy. "Quinn got us into this mess, and he can't get us out but he won't admit that much. So we keep Sliding. And because we kept Sliding Arturo was shot down on this world and probably died."
"Was Quinn close to Arturo too?" The boy wanted to know.
"Of course. Closer than any of the rest of us!"
"But he doesn't care that Arturo died? I don't understand, Mr. Brown."
Remmy shook his head. He didn't say anything for a long time. "I know you don't. But I think that I finally do. Come on, I'll take you to the room where they're Sliding and then I have to talk to someone."
Anthony shrugged. "I still don't understand. Hey, want half my sandwich?" He added as they walked.
• • •
There was no cure in the base.
Arturo had checked every lab, every office. They were not even close to developing a cure. Which made their intentional infection of this world total lunacy. He'd had enough. It was time to get out of here and find his friends before he was left behind. He had done all he could for this world.
He was still being followed. The follower had gotten more cautious, and he could only hear evidence far more occasionally. But he was there. Arturo could sense whoever it was. Smell them.
He didn't notice the increasingly large numb patches on his body until they began to hurt. He was making his way down to the vehicle pool when the pain started. Upon inspection, he realized that he had no surface sensation on the patches but that below the skin, the nerves were beginning to burn.
"So Destruction is going to kill me after all." He commented coldly. "It is just that I am different enough that it is going to take its sweet time doing it."
He collapsed on the stairs. What was the use? He had nothing to bring back to help this world, and all he would succeed in doing if he left the base was be a carrier of Death to this world's people. Better to die here, now, than die causing more pain and suffering.
The follower didn't seem content to wait him out. Boldly now, the follower started down the steps.
• • •
The main lab was locked and appeared empty. Why were they taking time off from Sliding? What could be that important? "We need to find out what is going on." Remmy confided.
No one was in the hallways. He led the boy down the stairs and was about to go down the south wing to where they had been sleeping when he heard something in the rear courtyard. It sounded like someone talking into a microphone.
When they reached the back entry they discovered the remaining base population mingling with several hundred refugees. A bunch of people were arranged on a stage in the middle of the courtyard, and the speaker, General Rickman, was talking about something. But Remmy paid little attention after not finding his friends on the stage. He scanned the crowd furiously. He finally spotted Quinn and Wade lurking in the back and joined them.
Quinn met Remmy's gaze.
"You know, Q-ball-."
"I have to tell you Remmy-."
They both stopped, looking at each other for a long minute. Suddenly grinning, they hugged each other. Then they turned their attention to the stage. "And women say men don't communicate." Remmy quipped.
Wade rolled her eyes and held back what she lusted to say.
General Rickman was describing how he'd been in intense negotiations with the Aztec prisoners over the past week. With a shock, Remmy realized that what seemed like the entire Aztec prisoner contingent was on the stage, devoid of any restraints. In fact, unbelievably, they were wearing full ceremonial dress. Which included ceremonial daggers!
"I'd like to announce now that I have bargained a peace treaty with the Aztec Empire. These men will contact their people and arrange for a cessation of hostilities. In addition, they will help us stop the use of Destruction by the Spanish forces. This negotiation will go down as the most important for both our peoples! It is not too late to preserve humanity!"
The Aztec soldiers glanced at each other. Several of them could barely contain grins.
"I have a bad feeling about this." Wade announced.
"No doubt." Remmy added.
Quinn nudged them both. "Let's get the hell out of here."
Behind them, the Aztecs began popping open their ceremonial necklaces, the secret compartments of which contained red vials.
"Through long, intense conversations with these noble people, I've been able to forge an understanding. I've built a bridge of comprehension between us and them." Rickman was saying.
The Sliders were near the door. Remmy grabbed Anthony.
"I've found a way to achieve peace for our time. Before it is too late."
They were not ten feet down the hallway when the screaming began.
At first, the screaming was only because the Aztec leader had plunged his dagger into General Rickman's back.
But that was only the first reason.
• • •
The follower stopped on the landing above Arturo. He was too weary to turn and look. "Just do it and be done with it." He sighed. "I've had it. Whatever debt I owed for the way I've lived my life up until last year, I believe I've repaid in full. Do as you will."
The person didn't reply. Arturo could hear him breathing and found it hideously annoying. "All right, just tell me what in the bloody hell you want!"
"I just want to know one thing. Are you a ghost or did you rise from the dead?" Maggie demanded.