"Hello Tim, hello E," Death greeted pleasantly. "No, I'm not here for either of you. I took both of you long ago. But it's nice to see you again. I'm here for the universe, and for YOU, brother Destiny."|
"So, my day is done." Destiny replied. "How strange. We called ourselves the Endless; but only two of us are left, here at the end of everything."
"To conquer Death, you only have to die,
You only have to die."
-Jesus Christ, Superstar
"The long, mysterious Exodus of Death."
-Longfellow, The Jewish Cemetery of Death
• • •
Arturo came to as Maggie was hauling him up the stairs. She'd gotten a rope from somewhere and tied it under his arms and around his body. Using the rope over her shoulder she was pulling him up with brute strength. Strong as she was, being a military officer, it was slow going because she had a woman's frame.
He remembered that he had started talking to her when he passed out. "I'm awake." He gasped.
"Welcome back." She grunted.
"Where are you taking me? It's no use. I have Destruction."
"I'm immune." She remarked.
"That's only half my point. You need to get me in a biological suit, so that I don't spread the disease. And help me to my feet, I think I can walk with support. It will be easier than dragging me."
She helped him up. "I still can't believe you're alive."
"I feel the same way about you. I checked your body. You looked dead to me."
She just shook her head, needing to conserve her breath.
An hour and two rest stops later, they reached the hangar. They had not talked much. Arturo was exhausted and in pain, and Maggie was simply exhausted. But during one rest stop she explained that they would take a helicopter and use it to get back to the base. She was qualified to fly one.
Maggie kicked open the doors to the hangar. "Finally!" She gasped. She set him down and made a beeline for the closest attack copter. "I'll have to set some charges to open the blast doors so we can fly out-." She froze.
Arturo raised his head wearily. "What's wrong?"
She finally found her voice. "Um, well. I see my dead body lying over there, for starters."
• • •
An Aztec warrior leapt from the second floor balcony and crashed into Quinn. The timer skittered across the tile floor and rebounded from a far wall. Wade ran for the timer, Remmy tackled the soldier. Quinn, though dazed, seized the soldier's hand before he could impale Remmy with a dagger. The two of them smashed the soldier's head into the floor until he was still. Quinn recovered the warrior's pistol. "I guess we'll need this."
Wade handed Quinn the timer, then turned her attention to Anthony. "Where did you see them?"
"This way!" The boy ran off. The Sliders followed him.
He finally led them to a door with a "BD" nameplate on it. Quinn tried to shoot the lock off, but it was a hardened door.
"Now what?" Remmy sighed.
Quinn suggested searching the rooms nearby. Wade found a dead guard in an adjoining room, one who possessed a key card which opened the reluctant door.
Inside were biological suits in all sizes. They all quickly donned one which fit them, including Anthony. It wasn't until the last helmet was sealed that Quinn finally started feeling better. Destruction was loose in this base, but they should be okay now.
They stood facing each other indecisively. What would they do now? They could Slide, but Arturo would be lost to them. Sure, they could Slide back here, but it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Once Arturo came here and saw they were gone, he would depart and they would never find him again. If he was alive and free and came here, they would only get that one chance to find him.
"Let's check for survivors. I don't hear anymore shots or screaming. In anyone managed to survive we can take them with us when we take Anthony to where his people are going to settle." Quinn suggested. It was a stalling tactic and they all knew it. The safest course of action was to Slide now. But no one pointed that out.
They brought along several biological suits. Soon they ran across a medic hiding in an office and gave her a suit to put on. A wounded soldier was also given a suit. Major Chalker and a handful of men were reminded where the suits were, and were last seen heading that direction.
The courtyard was a carnage house. Most of the American audience lay dead of Destruction. Several dozen Aztecs were dead of gunshot wounds or Destruction. Remmy tossed aside the last suit, since it was no doubt contaminated with the biological weapon, which was still hanging over the courtyard like a haze.
Quinn led them all through the decontamination showers and then outside the base. Chalker soon joined them. "At least five escaped, all with vials of Destruction. They will spread it as far as they can. But that is not the worst news. I was just in the command center and I heard that both China and the Soviet Union have launched on both the Spanish and Aztec empires, blaming them for the spread of Destruction. Those empires are retaliating on everyone, including us. Within a day, most of the world will be irradiated. IF they don't split the Earth to the core." He sighed heavily. "One of the Aztecs destroyed our Sliding equipment before we could kill him. Can you get us to our colony?"
Quinn nodded. "And then we have to go. We can't wait any longer guys." The last was said painfully. "I'll take you three at a time to avoid straining the timer."
• • •
Remmy and Wade sat on the hood of a Jeep with Anthony and the female medic. Night was falling, and it had been hours since any of them had said anything. Quinn had been gone with this past group for almost a half hour, but they were too exhausted to be worried yet.
To the south they had heard what they believed to be nuclear explosions. It must be common knowledge that San Francisco was ravaged by Destruction, because no one had bothered to nuke it yet. The exhausted group was too exhausted to worry about this possibility either.
"You wait for death."
It took a moment for the words, and the fact of their existence, to sink in. Remmy jerked to his feet.
An Aztec warrior stood nearby. A long curved knife, gleaming with blood, was clutched in his left hand. His grimace revealed bloodstained teeth.
"Surely to God you can't want any more violence. Any more death." Wade moaned.
"You dare speak of God to me? You unclean heretics who violate the very face of God?" He angrily advanced on them. "I saw your friend world jump. You are the very people who forced judgment on this world!"
Remmy gritted his teeth. "Come on! Kill me or whatever, but shut the fuck up! I'm too tired to hear any more bullshit from you butchers!"
The warrior charged.
• • •
"Thanks. I really have to get back now." Quinn told the doctor working on him. Coming through the vortex the last time, he'd wrenched his knee. Before allowing him to Slide again, one of the colony's doctors had insisted on looking at it and giving him a shot. He took the opportunity to eat something as well. But he had to go now, time was in the essence. There was no telling how much longer anyone could survive on that world.
He stumbled from the vortex, of course landing on his hurt knee, and fought back the pain. It took him a moment, then, to see that Remmy was locked in battle with someone. The medic had been tossed against the Jeep and was holding her head. Wade was attached on one of the enemy's arms, and Anthony was kicking the Aztec in the face, and Remmy was pummeling the soldier with one hand and fighting off the dagger with the other.
Quinn set the timer carefully on the ground and joined the fray.
The soldier landed a kick on Wade and knocked her away. Then he kneed Remmy and managed to cut the distracted Slider. That allowed him to break free and pounce on Quinn. The Slider was fighting on a bum knee, but he was still able to land a few body blows. More importantly he hammered the blade from the Aztec's hand. Remmy came running in and tackled the soldier. And then Wade and Anthony were there to kick him some more. Even the medic made it over for a couple kicks. When he was beaten to a pulp, Quinn called it off. "We have to get out of here."
Remmy cussed the enemy out, gave him one last kick, and agreed.
They walked a little ways from the soldier and prepared to Slide.
The Aztec was not ready to give up. A fallen machine pistol was within reach, and he snatched it up and pointed it at the group.
"Watch out!" The medic called, sensing the movement out of the corner of her eye.
"Haven't you had enough death?" Quinn beseeched. "Your world is DEAD. Isn't that enough, you bloodthirsty bastard?"
The Aztec warrior grinned and put his finger on the trigger...
... and disappeared.
For a second, none of them knew what happened. Then they heard the explosion. And then they realized that they'd been hearing helicopter rotors for the last minute.
• • •
The Sliders embraced Arturo. Wade was the first to notice how sick he was.
"I have Destruction." He gasped painfully.
They helped him get comfortable on the ground. Quinn thanked Maggie for saving them with the chopper's front cannon. "I have to take these two to their colony. I assume you want to join them? It's the least I can do to thank you for bringing him back to us and then for saving us."
"I'm not from this world." Maggie replied. "So the people in that colony are not my people. Professor Arturo explained what must have happened while we traveled here. See, I was in the Mexican jungle, hurt and sick. Four kind people ran across from me, and I remember something about flying around a weird tunnel, but I was very sick and delusional. So I didn't make much of the memory. The next thing I knew, these people who thought they were Aztecs, which was crazy because they don't exist anymore, were holding us. Professor Arturo was my cellmate and we grew close. Then I watched them give him Destruction and I watched him die in front of me. They gave it to me as well, but it had no effect. So I was tested on endlessly, and I was moved around a lot. Then, finally, everyone in the base I was being held at were dead and I managed to get out of my cell. And suddenly, there was Arturo. I'm a trained soldier, but seeing him alive freaked me out so I followed him for a while. But when I realized he had to be human and that he was getting sick, I got over my fear and came down to help him. It explained to me all about Sliding, so now I understand what must have happened. Your doubles took me with them because they couldn't leave me there to die. I owe their memory for that, so that's why I helped your Arturo."
Quinn nodded. "Okay. I'll be right back."
Remmy hugged Anthony goodbye. "Take care of yourself. I'll visit when I can. If I can."
"Goodbye Mr. Brown."
While Quinn was gone with them, Maggie knelt beside Arturo. "It's going to be okay. You're going to make it."
Wade was a little jealous of the closeness those two obviously shared. But far more so, she was worried about her friend.
Quinn was back quickly.
"What do we do now?" Wade asked desperately. "He has Destruction! He's DYING."
All eyes turned to Quinn. Professor Arturo was lying on the ground, chest heaving with pain. Maggie was still kneeling beside him, holding him with two straining arms. Wade and Remmy stood above their close friend, faces pained.
Quinn closed his eyes. What the hell did they expect him to do? He had nothing. Nothing in his experience had prepared him for this situation. And these four people were looking at him like he could say or do something to save the Professor.
But most of all, Quinn expected it of himself.
He opened his eyes. "We SLIDE. That's what we do. That's what we've always done, and that's what we're going to do now. We Slide until we can't walk anymore. We Slide until the last breath leaves our bodies. We Slide until we reach a world where there is a cure for Destruction." He hefted the timer in his right hand and bent down to grab the Professor with his left. "Help me with him."
"Did you fix the random location problem?" Arturo gasped. "Otherwise this is senseless."
"I fixed it." Quinn replied grimly. "We'll appear in the same geographical location every time."
Maggie helped Remmy and Quinn bring him up. Quinn eyed her again. "You can stay at any world we reach, if you like. He's with his friends now. Your obligation is over. But you won't have much time to think about it, we're going to be moving quickly."
Her gaze did not waver. "I watched one Professor Arturo die. I'm not about to walk away when another one needs my help."
That settled that, and he opened a vortex.
They appeared in a courtyard just like the one they had left. But in this case it was still populated. As they stumbled from the vortex, falling together in a pile, several guards approached. "Have you heard of the biological weapon CH-46B? Also known as Destruction? It kills quickly and painfully! It's crimson colored!"
It wasn't very likely the soldiers would reveal knowledge of something so sensitive, but Quinn was counting on them appearing from a vortex as his hole card. And he was hoping for a world that had survived the kind of disaster the world they had just left was not going to be able to survive. Survived it because it discovered a cure for Destruction.
In this case, it was obvious that the soldiers had no clue was he was talking about. He jumped to his feet, helped the others lift Arturo, and hefted the timer again.
The next world lacked the military base. In its place was a cornfield.
The next world it was a distillery.
On the next world the soldiers had no clue what he was talking about.
"We can't push the timer like this!" Remmy screamed at him at one point.
"We can't afford to waste any time! He's dying in our arms, Remmy! If it burns up again then we're no worse off than before!"
An abandoned base. A bombed out base, lost in World War VII. A Disney Theme park. Another corn field. The guards had no clue what he was talking about.
The base was there but filled with decaying bodies. Quinn broke from the group, spying movement, and ran up the steps to the front entrance.
It was an officer wearing a biological suit like theirs. He gaped weakly up at Quinn. He was obviously near death from starvation.
"Do you know of a cure for Destruction?!" Quinn shouted.
"A - ... a cure? For Destruction?" He cackled feebly. "Foolish boy! Don't you know? There is no cure for Destruction? Not as long as humans walk the Earth. Never has been, never will be." He collapsed into weak laughter and coughing.
The timer grew hotter and hotter in his hand. He gripped it tightly, despite the fact that it was searing his palm.
A world where there was only desert and a world where the base was a Sea World and a world where the base soldiers wore Nazi uniforms and a world where the soldiers had no idea what he was talking about and a world where the guards were all female but still didn't know what he was talking about the Professor was getting so heavy Quinn I don't think he's going to last much longer world where there was nothing but thick woods the soldiers don't know what I'm talking about Quinn! it feels like the wormhole is pulling us apart now is it possible to lose your cohesion from too many Slides in a row? Quinn! Your hand is burning Quinn! the Professor is so heavy a world where some kind of reptiles are wearing the soldier uniforms no base on this world so harder to get up each time the vortex emits us this world is freezing can't keep going have to keep going I can just lay here for a minute, the concrete is so soft no have to get up everyone come on! get up The Professor needs us how many Slides in a row now? 20? 30? I can't feel the burning in my hand anymore world where the base is abandoned and the timer
Quinn fell to his knees, sobbing with frustration, and tried to pull the timer from his right hand. Maggie was there suddenly, and they managed to separate timer from hand, though he lost quite a bit of skin.
He crawled to the professor. "I'm sorry! God, I'm sorry! For failing you! For getting you in this in the first place!" He touched a gloved hand to Arturo's faceplate.
Arturo seized the hand with surprising strength. "No, my boy. Look!" He whispered urgently.
Quinn looked around. It was dawn. The horrible night was finally over. Dawn was breaking.
"It's- ... it's..."
Quinn leaned closer, placing his helmet on the faceplate. This was obviously important.
Arturo strained with every cell rising and falling from the effort. The other Sliders were gathered around him now, all straining just as hard, to hear him. "It's- ... g-g-g-g-... going to-."
His arm dropped.
His chest fell for the last time.
The three Sliders and Maggie were left wondering what he had been trying to say.
Quinn ripped off his helmet. "This world doesn't look like it's had Destruction. No bodies." It was a specious argument, but no one challenged him. They wouldn't be Sliding again until Quinn modified the timer, and the Professor was safely enclosed in his biological suit. There was little danger. They all removed their suits.
Wade found Quinn then and collapsed into his arms. Remmy joined them. None of them were dry eyed. Maggie stood to one side, fighting tears of her own. Quinn met her eyes, and she joined them as well, releasing her own grief.
The four Sliders stood that way, leaning against a wall, for a long time.Epilogue
On another world ...
The startled man dropped his calculator on the desk with a loud rattle. "You blistering idiot! Never barge into my office screaming out my name! I was in the middle of a complicated analysis!"
The abashed graduate student started to back out of the office.
"Oh, it's too late now! What IS IT?"
The student found his voice. "You asked me to remind you when it was 7am, since you were planning on working all night."
Arturo snorted. "Fine, fine." He sighed. "And thanks."
• • •
And another world...
His alarm clock woke him promptly at seven in the morning.
His steward had placed black coffee and an unbuttered croissant next to his bed. Excellent.
Arturo rolled out of bed and headed for the shower.
• • •
And another world...
Wade and Quinn glared at Arturo suspiciously. "What are YOU so happy about?" Wade finally demanded.
He stopped his whistling to chuckle at them. The light changed and they all started across the street. "Look at that dawn sky! It's going to be a beautiful day!"
The other three Sliders stared at him.
Arturo chuckled. "Sometimes you just have to be happy you're alive! That is reason enough to be happy, Miss Welles. That, and-." He paused to give them all a cheerful smile.
"It is going to be a beautiful day!"