It is an unusual world. A world full of paradoxes. The buildings are made from derivatives of unusual algae; Crouw and Teintean are the two end products. Crouw, a concrete-like substance of unusual strength and durability; Teintean is similar to steel on other earths. Most of the buildings top off at five stories with rounded corners. San Francisco sits nestled among hills, spilling over from one valley to the next along a large bay. Across the water runs a long, golden suspension bridge. Cars can be seen crossing it day and night, the light reflecting off of the solar panel roofs—
She gasped, realizing how badly she'd been used.
As idyllic as this world may sound, it has its problems. I'm one of its problems. A huge one. At five-four, I may not seem to be much of a threat, what with my light build. It isn't about brawn, baby. It's all about brains. See, one of the paradoxes is how these people know about sliding. They knew I was a slider the moment I landed. Of course, they never did track me down—
The diary dropped to the ground with a thud. "That bitch."
We exist as caretakers for
all forms of life below us.
Several hundred people voiced their agreement as the sign was unveiled. "I don't get it," one lone voice rose above the murmuring noise; the man pushed up the nose of his wire-rimmed glasses absently while edging towards the spotlight trellis—a perfect vantage point.
The cheers were deafening as Lady Silver stepped to the podium. "Ladies and gentlemen. Our city, our country, our world has just been through one of its worst tragedies thanks to the Namhaid Virus. We who pride ourselves on giving to others, on protecting the less fortunate, on keeping the world in all its majesty for our children's children's children have seen the genesis of a terrible tragedy. With one click of a keyboard our world's greatest enemies have succeeded in terrorizing us all. For the Namhaid Virus is spreading, it's changing." Silence reigned as Lady Silver paused. "We are working with Mallory Industries. Their scientists are working day and night to figure the Namhaid Virus out."
From his perch Michael Hurley started the chant, "Life is sacred. Life is sacred." The crowd quickly picked it up and took great pleasure in the Lords and Ladies' smiles and grins.
Lady Silver nodded in Hurley's direction, "Yes, life is sacred. And our buildings are as alive in their own way as we are. However, we are also broadcasting live, so I'll move on to safety issues."
"At the moment we are recommending people double or triple up in buildings made of Teintean. We are working as fast as possible to install sensors in Crouw structures. Of course, government agencies and buildings will be outfitted first." Before Lady Silver could go any further, an aide grabbed her and pulled her to the ground, covering her body with his own.
A small pop preceded the opening of a large circle that tore a hole in the fabric of the universe. It grew until it was slightly larger than man-sized. A large man came hurtling out with a crash onto the platform a mere foot from the podium. A black man landed on top of him. The two rolled apart just as two more people flew out—a young man and a young woman. The aide jumped to his feet. He flung a hand to Lady Silver and kept her behind him, protected from these strangers. Everyone gasped and pointed to the platform. "It's her. It's Wade Welles!" yelled Hurley.
A chant rose up from the gathered. "Get Wade. Get Wade."
What if you could slide into a thousand different worlds?
Where it's the same year...and you're the same person...but everything else is different?
And what if you can't find your way home?
Wade Welles sat quietly in a stark interrogation chamber. She tried not to fidget as the fan in the vent kicked in again, whirring in the outside air. Soon after they'd landed she'd been taken into custody. A few minutes ago she'd woken in another strange, bare room. Then she'd been brought here and left alone.
"Did I stutter?"
"This could be a problem," he said as he left quickly.
Wade took the opportunity and grabbed the file. The picture showed her with long blond hair. "What was she thinking?" Wade muttered to herself as she continued to flip. "Genetic scan," she read aloud, "scan on original subject (09/28/97) showed radiation abnormalities. Scan on current subject (10/22/97) has no radiation, but several minor genetic anomalies not found elsewhere on our world." She shut the file and flipped it onto the table. "When did they scan me?"
The three male sliders awoke sprawled on three couches in a large conference room. Quinn Mallory's Doc Martens hovered above the floor, his knees bent over one arm of the plush purple couch. His eyes popped open. As he sat up he ran a finger through his brown hair, propping one foot on the floor. "Professor? Remmy?" His voice sounded as scratchy as his throat felt.
"Erhm," Professor Maximillian Arturo grumped. "What? Where are we? Miss Welles? Mr. Brown? Quinn, m'boy."
"I feel like I've been drugged," Quinn replied, wiping at his now watering eyes.
"Know what you mean, Q-ball," Rembrandt Brown wiped his eyes on a sleeve. "Where are we and where's Wade?"
"Look at your arm," Quinn ordered his companions. All three sported bandages on their inner elbow, right at the exact spot the Red Cross likes to take donations. With some trepidation Quinn lifted the tape holding gauze onto his vein. Nothing. He had to look closely for the fading pinprick where a needle must've gone.
"I don't like this," Rembrandt whined. "We've either been asleep for days or they have some strange needles."
"Obviously we haven't been asleep for days, Mr. Brown," Arturo almost bellowed.
"How is it obvious, Professor?"
"Easy guys. Fighting isn't going to find Wade." Quinn rolled his eyes and went to the door. He pulled on the handles, but it wouldn't give. "Looks like someone likes us where we are."
"I don't get it," Rembrandt paced. "Whoever that someone is has to know we're awake."
"They are probably watching us," Arturo observed from the window. "They probably are listening too." He looked back to his companions.
Quinn patted his pockets. "Professor, you have the timer?"
Arturo reached for his overcoat, but it was absent. "Not anymore."
"They've got Wade and the timer," Rembrandt sighed.
"Not to mention us," Quinn added.
"I'm sorry about my colleague, Ms. Welles," a startlingly tall man ducked into the interrogation room after what seemed like hours.
"How long have I been on your world?" Wade crossed her arms and then crossed her legs.
"Two and a half days," he folded himself into the chair opposite Wade.
Wade was silent.
"So, where did you leave off?" He picked up the file and flipped through it.
"He asked me who I was traveling with," her eyes were beginning to show her irritation.
"Ah," he flipped to the back. "You will be rejoining your companions shortly. First we have a few more questions." He looked at her expectantly, but she remained silent. "All right. Where was your first job?"
"My cousin's garage. I ran the technical side of his LAN parties and got paid."
"After that," he asked as he jotted down her answer.
"I worked for Doppler Computers."
"In what capacity?"
"On the floor."
"Selling computers?" She nodded in answer to his question. "You know quite a bit about computers?"
"Yeah," she tapped her fingers on her arm.
"Could you build a computer?" He had stopped taking notes.
"It wouldn't be too hard to pick it up. Mostly I crack software. Look for problems and," she paused.
"Exploit them?" His voice was softer.
"Notify the appropriate people about the problem," she finished over the top of him.
"Within your group do you utilize those talents much?"
In answer, she gave a mirthless laugh. Then, "My turn for a question," Wade locked eyes with her interrogator.
"Yes," he drawled out the word uncomfortably.
"If you know I'm not the person you want, why keep me here?"
He shoved a hand through his hair, "He left the file in here and you peeked."
"Yup," Wade let the word drawl in a faint mockery of the man sitting across from her.
"We need to be able to tell our people that we took every precaution with you. We need to be able to tell them truthfully that you aren't the same person."
"You have the genetic test results."
"We need to know that your personality is significantly different from your double."
Wade smiled grimly, "I'd like to know your name."
"I'm Alex Binderson."
"Nice to meet you, Alex."
The sound of a latch release drew the three sliders' attention to the doors. "Gentlemen, I'm sorry to have kept you waiting," Molly Silver walked into the room, rose streaks highlighting her brown hair. "I'm Lady Silver, Minister of Safety for this region."
"You've got to be kidding," Rembrandt said, stunned.
"You look lovely, Miss Silver," Arturo tried a different approach.
She looked at each of the men in turn. "Am I to take it you've met doubles of mine?"
"All too many," Arturo added with a smile.
Quinn finished, "Which makes me wonder how you know about sliding."
"Sliding was invented fifteen years ago by Michael Mallory," Molly began. "He, his wife Amanda, and three others slid to several worlds. Their ways, their worlds—they were different. The group quickly realized that our world could be in danger. We had husbanded our resources much more carefully. If they discovered us, we'd be toast. So we put passive sensors around our world to notify the authorities of any sliders..."
Wade walked out of the changing area and towards Alex. "You look very nice," he commented as he took her arm and led her to a waiting car.
"Thanks," she replied, "but I'm not really sure how great jeans and a blouse can look." She allowed him to help her into the car. "So where are we going?"
"Mo's House of Chowder. It's on a pier," he glanced over at her as he drove. "It's the ultimate West Coast Chowder experience. They have places up and down the coast, all the way to Long Beach, Washington."
"Is West Coast Chowder much different from New England Clam Chowder?"
He laughed, it was a nice laugh. "A world of difference," he warmed to his topic because it required less thought that what she really wanted to know. "New England Chowder is much more watery with fewer pieces of potato and clam. West Coast Chowder is thick. You can stand a cracker up in it and it'll stay for several minutes. It'd just flip over in New England Chowder."
"You sound like quite the connoisseur," she couldn't keep the humor from her voice.
"I love my soups and stews," he turned to smile at her.
"Electric car?" Wade asked, taking note of the Chevrolet logo embossed into the dashboard.
"Is there any other kind?" he asked. Wade gave him a sidelong glance. For a society that was aware of sliders, they didn't seem all that open to the possibilities of other existences. Maybe it was just Alex, she thought.
"Not to go back in time or anything, but why do I get the feeling you knew I wasn't the same Wade before the scan?"
Alex paused for a moment. "You didn't have the same traveling partner."
Logan St. Clair ground her teeth in frustration before she picked up the fallen book. The times she'd wanted to throw it away, burn it, anything to destroy it. She hated being played and could do without the reminder. But the contents were too valuable to toss away.
Dropping the small book into her pack, she made her way up the rounded steps to Library West. As she walked, a small part of her hoped the building was made of Teintean and safe from the effects of the Namhaid Virus.
For a moment she looked around. Oak bookshelves lined the room, cherry and pine tables alternated throughout the room—some holding computers, some stacks of magazines. "I think I should be surprised at the use of trees," she said, "but I guess they are renewable. Huh. Imagine a world where Arbor Day is just as important as Labor and Memorial Days."
She flipped back to the front portion of the diary. I've found it. I will wreak vengeance for my people. I am Nemesis reborn. An avatar created by an evil greater than anything that should walk the worlds. We didn't ask for much, only to be left alone. Then they came.
Jill Norman typed quietly on a wireless keyboard. Periodically her eyes would flick to the myriad screens covering the wall in front of her. There were six in all. A long wide screen covered the top third of the wall, about an inch from the ceiling. Below that, three screens shared a level equitably and below them were two more screens. Each screen held different information either on the Namhaid Virus or its effects. The phone, a few feet away, began to ring incessantly.
"I'm not sure about this, Mr. Mallory. Should we really be helping these people?" Arturo pulled on a fresh shirt.
Quinn, one towel wrapped around his waist, towel dried his hair, "I don't think we have any choice, Professor. They have Wade, they have the timer."
"Basically they have us right where they want us," Arturo finished. "They may call this house protection, but I call it prison."
"Agreed." Quinn was blocked by the partially closed bathroom door, "I just wish we knew something about this situation. From what Molly—"
"—ahem, Lady Silver," Arturo interjected.
"Right," Quinn came into the bedroom with his new jeans on, "from what Lady Silver said, it's some sort of a virus. And I don't think your little penicillin trick is gonna work this time."
"Do you believe their story about sliding?" the Professor asked. "Do you think they truly abandoned the technology shortly after they discovered it?"
"Sometimes I wish we had," Quinn said inaudibly.
"Hey guys," Rembrandt tapped on the door before entering.
"One usually waits for an answer before entering, Mr. Brown." Arturo said.
"Aw, Professor, I know you love me," Rembrandt grinned at Quinn.
"What time is it?" Quinn looked around in vain for a clock.
Rembrandt flashed his latest watch, "Almost three, Q-ball."
"What time did Molly," catching Arturo's mock-glare, Quinn altered his statement, "Lady Silver say Wade was supposed to show up?"
"Actually she didn't," Rembrandt sat on the other bed. "Why do I feel like we are going to get played, no matter what we do?"
Arturo faced both men. "I'm not comfortable with our position. We are between the proverbial rock and a hard place."
Before the discussion could continue a soft knock on the door had Quinn and Rembrandt out of their seats and opening the door. "Hey guys," Wade grinned as she was enveloped first in Rembrandt's arms and then in Quinn's. "What? No hug, Professor?" she grinned at Arturo.
"I'm thrilled to see you, my dear girl," Arturo joined the others and gave Wade a sincere, if slightly uncomfortable hug. "I don't suppose you have the timer," he said ruining the effect.
"You guys don't have it?" Wade looked quickly from one man to the next. A new look sparked in her eyes. "How are we getting it back?"
"They want the Professor and I to help them solve their virus problem." Quinn was glad he'd never seen that glint directed at him.
"They want to put me in a safe house. Apparently, the evil deeds of my double could have the locals after my blood. According to Protector Binderson, I created the Namhaid," she let it hang in the air while all the men absorbed the idea of any version of Wade doing such a thing.
"I don't believe that," Quinn said confidently.
The four sliders looked at each other. The silence deepened as they considered how they were supposed to get the timer back and stay together. Wade ran a hand through her hair, tucking it behind her ears. Quinn found his memories going back to the current cycle of self-loathing, guilt, and frustration. Rembrandt, again sitting on the bed, wondered how he was supposed to help with all this scientific mess—he was a simple man, after all. Finally Arturo broke the silence, "Isn't it about time for someone to arrive and either answer all our questions or separate us?"
"What do you think this is, Professor," Rembrandt laughed. "Someone's story?"
Just then, Alex knocked on the suite's door. "Excuse me," he interrupted to the amusement of all four sliders.
Logan found herself at Golden Gate Park. Huge trees kept company in a scattering of groves across the several acres of parkland. Benches and manmade grottos peppered the area. Perched on a large, flat rock, Logan bided her time. "Just several hours left," she noted.
Again the diary opened. Dad died this morning. I just buried my sister, now it's my dad's turn. I don't know how much more of this I can take. Everywhere I turn people I love die. How did this happen? So many graves have sprouted up over the last month. I'm just a kid. I shouldn't have to deal with this. I shouldn't have to deal with death until the games. Only, I don't think we'll ever have games again.
I had to cut this out of my old diary. I have to remember.
Logan closed the diary, "I guess that could make anyone obsessive."
Wade's jaw dropped as the slime from a half-rotted tomato slid down her torso. "Oh. My. God." She spat.
Michael Hurley, warmed by the victory of throwing one for the people, tossed another decaying vegetable at the hell-spawn. "Killer," he screeched.
"Are you a complete freak?" Wade yelled back, hoping some rescuer would make an appearance soon.
"Killer," Hurley spat again as he threw another tomato.
This time Wade caught enough of it to do some damage, "Psycho," she threw the half fruit back in his face.
Appalled and shocked, Hurley spit and wiped tomato blood off his face and glasses. Before he could retaliate two men joined the murderess. The tall one wore the badge of the Protectors and spoke quietly into a walkie-talkie. Before Hurley could sneak away he felt a hand grab his arm in a vice-like grip. "I don't think so, son." The anonymous agent nodded at Alex, Wade, and Rembrandt before hauling Hurley away.
"What did I do to deserve that?" Wade almost whined.
Rembrandt made his way to her side, a towel in hand. "It's what they think your double did," he said handing her the towel.
Wiping away the slime, Wade gave Alex a considering look, "You call this protection? What if he'd had a gun?"
"You were the one who wandered off. I told you to stay close to my side. You're not a popular girl here," Alex kept his voice even.
"When do we get our timer back?" Wade crossed her arms.
"I'm afraid that's out of my hands," Alex glanced around. "Your friends will get the timer when Lady Silver feels they've done the job."
"What if our window opens before then?" Wade cocked her head.
Alex shrugged. "Please come with me."
The two sliders exchanged looks. They'd play along for now, but as soon as they could they'd get out of the safe house and find Lady Silver.
"Want to use your powers for good?" Jill threw Justus a sidelong glance.
"As if high and mighty Lady Mallory would let me anywhere near her precious Labs," Justus snarked. He kept his long dark hair confined by a simple beaded headband, had honed his scientific skills and applied them to the causes of grayness. His name regularly adorned the "watch list" kept by the police and secret service agencies across the globe.
"She's over the cameras in her house by now," Jill paused, "after all, it's not like you are the one who planted them."
Justus barely choked back his initial reaction, "No, that definitely wasn't me."
"Besides, I got the approval. I need your help. Justus, I don't even know where to begin fixing this," Jill admitted.
"Jilly," Justus put an arm around her shoulders, "you have untapped genius. You just need to learn to harness it."
"You always sound so sure," she whispered.
"Takes a genius to see a genius," he whispered back before chastely kissing her cheek. He loved her like the sister she practically was and he hated to see her hurting—especially over a job.
They entered the lab arm in arm to find Professor Arturo and Quinn Mallory. Arturo took the lead, "Ah, hello. I'm Maximillian Arturo, Regent's Professor of Cosmology and Ontology at the University of California."
"Jill Norman," she stared at Arturo for more than a moment before shaking her head and continuing on, "but, feel free to call me Jill."
"Thank you, Miss Norman. This boy is my protégé, Quinn," Arturo gestured to the young man beside him.
"Hey," Quinn nodded briefly.
Lacking an introduction, Arturo turned to the fourth person and asked, "And you, sir, would be?"
"I'm Justus," Justus growled. "Justus Arturo."
The Professor eyed the unkempt young man who shared his surname. His hair was long, much longer than Quinn's had ever been, and it was tied back behind his head with a regular elastic band. Justus's dress was most charitably described as comfortable, a far cry from the suits Arturo preferred. He looked more the part of a musician than a biologist.
Alex left Rembrandt and Wade alone inside the safe house. Wade peeked out the window, then all hell broke loose. "Did you feel that?" Wade shouted at Rembrandt.
"Hell yeah, girl," Rembrandt answered as they dived under the dining room table at the same time. As they huddled together, Rembrandt whispered, "What is going on?"
"Earthquake?" Wade asked.
The floor below them shifted. The ceiling above them hit the table in chunks. "This can't be good," Rembrandt muttered.
"Ya think?" Wade snarked.
"Don't bark at me girl," Rembrandt threw a comforting arm around Wade as they huddled closer and pulled their shirts over their mouths and noses. And then the house came down.
"Three fifty." The hot dog vendor handed over an Alcatraz Island dog.
"Thanks," Logan tossed him a fiver and made off with her food. As she ate her mind continued on its current bent. She meandered through picnicking families, dog owners, and vendors. They had to know she was a slider when they scanned her as part of the interview process at Mallory Industries. I looked at that application process in the Library. This doesn't make sense!
Logan tossed her wrapper and napkins into a recycling bin and looked around for a drink vendor. Spying a fresh lemonade sign, she meandered that direction. "A tall lemonade, please," she asked the woman behind the cart.
"That's going to be two-fifty," the woman smiled at Logan. "Sugar or Splenda?"
"Um," Logan raised an eyebrow, "sugar?"
"Beautiful," the vendor stirred in the sweetener. "There you go."
"Thanks," Logan shot before meandering away. Why would she let them scan her? she wondered, sipping the drink. All thoughts fled from her mind as she saw a familiar profile fifty feet away. "He's not supposed to exist here," she whispered to herself. With more speed than she'd shown all week, Logan quickly headed for one of the gates.
He moved away from the vendor, eyes scanning as much of the park as he could see. "C'mon baby, I know you're around here," Quinn murmured. He found himself drifting a familiar direction, toward home. "She wouldn't, would she?"
Justus glared at the man who was the spitting image of his father. Check that, nearly identical. This Arturo was in better shape and his hair wilder, but the mannerisms were similar. The way he sat at his terminal, back straight, almost leaning in towards the computer. The same random utterances of "yes" whenever he hit upon something he might think was important. And of course, the natural air of authority and condescension he had become very accustomed to in his limited contact with the man.
"May I help you, sir?" Arturo said to Justus. He hadn't realized he'd been staring so long.
"Find anything?" Justus said, acting casually.
"Have I found anything? Yes, indeed. Have I found anything useful? That, I'm afraid, is still undetermined," Arturo answered, his back still to his alternate son.
"You don't have to be a prick about it," Justus said.
Arturo turned and faced him. "Look, clearly you and my double have a strained relationship. You have made that abundantly clear. But I am not your father, nor you my son."
"Am I your son on your world?"
"My boy, this is the first time I have laid eyes on you," Arturo said.
"That doesn't put you too far behind my father then," Justus remarked before turning back to his work. Arturo sighed and went to Justus.
"My double, he was not always there for you?" He cautiously inquired.
"He was never there. The Royal Astronomer has his public," Justus bitterly spat.
"Royal Astronomer, you say?" Arturo proudly repeated. "Well, that...that's no excuse, I'm sure. Justus, I'm not in the position to make apologies for myself. Lord knows not every version of me has come out quite how I would have liked. Not even this one.
"But I've done the best I can even when I have been in way over my head. Much like I am now," Arturo said.
"I hope you're a better scientist than you are a father," Justus replied.
As do I, Arturo thought wistfully.
"How long have we been down here?" Wade wheezed to Rembrandt several hours later.
Rembrandt pressed a button on his watch, a neon green glow filled the closed in space surrounding the two downed, dusty sliders, "Three hours, girl."
"How can it take them three hours to free us? Do they even know we're here?" Wade began to sound panicked.
Rembrandt shifted so he could hold Wade more closely, "It's okay, sweety. It's ok. I'm right here with you. They know we're here. They'll find us."
"Promise, Remmy," Wade snuggled into his arms seeking any comfort she could find.
"I promise," Rembrandt whispered into Wade's ear.
"I'm scared, Remmy," Wade felt the tears running down her face.
"I know, baby, I know," Rembrandt held her close, "I love you. We all love you. Keep that close."
"You might love me, but sometimes I have doubts about Quinn and the Professor," Wade's attempted laugh was weak.
"Naw, the Professor may be gruff and pompous and insulting and demeaning, but he loves you," Rembrandt tried to inject humor into his voice.
"Yeah," Wade sighed.
"And Quinn," Rembrandt held in a sigh, "well, he just doesn't know how to show you his love. He does love you. More than either of you realize."
"Why can't he tell me that?" Wade rested her head against Rembrandt's chest. "You don't have trouble."
"Maybe it's age. Maybe it's that we're the normal ones," Rembrandt smiled into the dark.
"Remmy, something's happening," Wade sounded panicked.
"This can't be good," Rembrandt tried to keep his voice calm. The building materials around and below the two sliders were starting to shift forms. It was changing from a rocklike solid to a gelatinous mass. "Man, I still don't know how to swim."
The floor was no longer stable. The table had sunk a good inch. So had Wade and Rembrandt. "We're going to die here, aren't we?" Wade asked feeling her feet sink a little deeper.
"This isn't working," Jill snarled, throwing her wireless keyboard across the room. It hit the wall and pieces of black plastic sprayed that section of the room. The keys skittered across the floor.
"Feel better?" Arturo mocked.
"Hey baby," a bare headed double of Justus waltzed into the lab with pizza and beer. "Watch that aim."
"Hi," Jill looked as frazzled as she felt.
"I see he's here," Xavier nodded towards Arturo.
"Leave it," Justus warned. "He's not dad. He just seems exactly like him," he muttered to Xavier before saying more loudly, "How is it mutating?"
"We've been trying to figure this out for weeks," Jill griped. "This is just beyond our knowledge of biological organisms."
Xavier opened the pizza box, and exchanged an evil smile with his brother. The two young men laughed. In the game of sticking in to their father, they'd gone radically different directions. "This has to be a kick in the butt," Xavier started.
"Worse," Justus muttered, grabbing some pizza.
Suddenly, a potential solution struck Arturo. He turned to the others. "Where is your vortex detection equipment?"
"Across the complex." Jill sat up in her swivel chair.
"We can access it in here," Justus said, moving to his keyboard. "Why?"
"The people who unleashed it were sliders, correct?" Arturo demanded.
"Yes," Jill let the word drag out.
"Why?" Arturo threw the question back at Justus and Jill.
The two scientists exchanged looks. Worried looks. Jill closed her eyes. Finally, Justus answered Arturo, "I don't know."
"Really?" Arturo let his suspicion drip from his voice. "Why did your people really stop sliding?"
Quinn waited for her. He knew she'd end up here. This dive was where they always ended up when things got bad. Things got scary. Things got lost. He wasn't going to think about that though. As usual it'd been easy to sneak in. Although the thought of anyone turning the house into a museum had been pretty funny.
The window popped open and she slithered in. "Hey darlin'," Quinn grinned.
"Dammit," Logan growled. "What are you doing here?"
"What do you want?" Logan snarled, her back against the wall.
"Why Logan," Quinn sauntered over to her, pinning her to the wall between his arms, "don't you know what I want?"
"Bite me," Logan spat, crossing her arms.
"You sure?" Quinn leered at her. He twirled a lock of her black hair, "Nice color."
"I could say the same," she said, noting Quinn's brown dye job. "Isn't this totally out of character for you?"
"Baby, we all change. You wouldn't believe what I've been through," Quinn leaned in as he spoke.
This was too much for Logan, she uncrossed her arms and tried to push him away. Instead Quinn caught her by the wrists and twisted her around. Then he whispered in her ear, "You don't know me any more, sweetheart. Scared yet?"
"You are just bluffing," Logan's voice quavered slightly.
"You wish," Quinn's grip tightened. "You remember that dark part of our soul you grew up in? The place that scares you? The place you are only safe from when you are here?"
Quinn could feel Logan tremble, "You aren't safe any more. Help me, and I'll forgive you."
"How can your forgiveness matter?" Logan demanded as Quinn heard the tears in her voice.
"Because I'm you," Quinn's voice softened.
"What do you want from me?" The back of Logan's head rested on Quinn's chest.
"People are dying because of what you did. You need to make that right," Quinn's voice was still soft.
"How am I supposed to make this right?" Logan closed her eyes to the dark basement, to her life, to her sins.
"How do we fix this?" Quinn asked.
"Why don't you ask Wade?" Logan squirmed.
"You know she wasn't my Wade," Quinn kept her in check.
"Does it matter? She found me, she used me, she ditched me," Logan snarled.
"More lies, Logan. It's not becoming," Quinn's breath tickled her ear.
"You don't get it, Quinn," Logan tried to avoid him.
"Explain it to me," he breathed.
"Stop it," Logan shook.
"I can't stop until you give me what I need," Quinn moved his mouth next to her other ear.
"Fine, Wade unleashed the Namhaid Virus as revenge," Logan snarled. She stepped down hard on his insole; taking advantage of his surprise she elbowed him in the gut. Logan then twisted away from Quinn and pulled out a diary. "See for yourself."
She opened the book and retrieved a letter from the inner lining. She tossed it out of Quinn's reach. As he bent down to retrieve it, a gust of wind blew it away from him. He looked up to see the orange-red glow of Logan's vortex.
"Logan!" he shouted, but she was already gone. After the vortex closed, Quinn retrieved the piece of paper.
"Logan," it read. "I'm leaving you my diary so that you can understand. Someone needs to understand why I unleashed Namhaid. This populace is not as innocent as they'd like to seem. By now you realize, I'm not as normal as I try to appear. Fifteen years ago five strangers landed on my home world. We offered them guest rights.
"At this point there are less than fifty of us. I want to die with my people."
"Wade's responsible?" he said to himself walking up the basement stairs.
"I should answer that," Lady Molly Silver said to Arturo's question as she stepped into the lab. Xavier faded into the background.
"Fifteen years ago, when we discovered sliding, we were very anxious to try it out. New worlds were suddenly open to us and the urge to explore was overwhelming. We didn't fully realize its potential consequences," she said. Arturo nodded his head, knowing all too well about the consequences of sliding.
"Back then, we'd send a team of five—anthropologist, botanist...specialists to get a lay of the land. They landed on a world of primitives, well, primitive to you or I, more akin to the barbarian Spartan and Athenian tribes of a millenium ago. But soon after their arrival, a plague struck the natives. Our people tried in vain to help them, even breaking our own code of introducing foreign medicines and technology, but it was to no avail. The disease ripped through them, killing at an alarming rate." Molly hung her head. "It was so bad there weren't enough healthy natives to bury the dead."
"Oh my God," Arturo breathed.
"It was only afterwards that we discerned the cause of the plague," Molly said. "Us."
"Much like the Europeans who first visited North America, they carried with them viruses the indigenous people had never encountered. While the explorers had long since become inoculated to things such as small pox, the natives had no protection," Justus added. "We came from a different world. Their immune systems were completely unprepared."
"After that disaster, it was decided the sliding technology could never be used again," Molly declared. "The risk of contamination was too great for both other worlds and our own. That is why we installed the detectors. All sliders must be immediately quarantined for fear of what they might bring, innocently or not."
"And Logan broke through your detectors," Arturo concluded.
"Not Logan," Molly said. "No one had thought to check Wade Welles' quantum signature until she left."
The pixie-ish Wade Welles filled her lungs to their capacity in the dying pocket of air she and her companion, Rembrandt Brown, shared. He too filled his lungs. As she moved through the gelatinous material surrounding them he grabbed her leg and began to kick for the both of them. She kept her eyes closed as her arms moved sluggishly. They had both figured steady movement up and to the side would bring them out of the mess.
Besides, Wade had successfully argued minutes before, "Sure there's a chance of dying either way. I'd rather go out trying something."
What could Rembrandt do but agree? They continued to barely move through the sludgy liquid. It reminded Rembrandt of being caught in a pool of pudding. Not that he ever had been.
Outside, Alex Binderson watched helplessly as the building his charges were in continued to deteriorate. Inwardly he fumed that the assigned safe house had been made of Crouw, but in retrospect, he shouldn't have expected much better considering who was being housed there. Emergency Services had been on site for the past three hours, but apparently to no avail. They couldn't even locate Welles and Brown, let alone rescue them. Alex rubbed at the headache between his eyes as he wondered how he was going to break the news to his boss, Lady Silver.
As he massaged, Alex walked to the edge of the building. "Holy crap," he shouted as a hand broke through the muck. Quickly he grabbed it and pulled. Several emergency workers came running at his shout and, forming a human chain, helped Alex pull Wade and Rembrandt the last bit.
The two sliders looked like drowned rats. A dark gray muck clung to their clothing, hair, and skin. Emergency personnel swarmed over them; first to hose them off, then to offer them blankets. "We made it?" Rembrandt looked around.
"We made it!" Wade grinned at Rembrandt.
In their olive green blankets, the two sopping sliders hugged and whooped much to the relief and amusement of everyone else standing around.
"Here's the idea," Arturo began. "Check the virus with your vortex detection technology. The reason you can't figure it out is because the virus isn't a biological agent. It's a chemical one. You have told me that the algae doesn't simply die, it transforms into a less stable form."
"That we can attest to." Wade and Rembrandt had entered the room.
"What happened to the two of you?" Arturo asked taking in the gunk, the blankets, and the generally drowned rat appearance of his two friends.
"Safe house," Rembrandt smiled grimly. "It wasn't that safe."
"Are you saying this thing is some bug from a vortex?" Justus brought up the detection read outs on the wall screens.
"Not a bug, a viral compound," Arturo stopped as the read outs came up.
"Well, color me purple," Jill said. "Look at this thing! It's in a constant state of quantum flux."
Justus gave Arturo a considering look. "You've given us a chance to study it. We can find a neutralizing agent now."
"Looks like the old man still has a few tricks up his sleeve, hm?" Arturo smiled. He turned to Lady Silver, the smile instantly dissolving. "Well, Miss Silver, I believe we've held up our end of the bargain. If you please, I'd like our timer now."
"A minute thirty!" Arturo raged as he examined the readout. "You ignorant woman! Why didn't you say how little time was left before? If we don't find Quinn in less than ninety seconds, we're going to miss our window..."
"Professor! I was wrong. It was never Logan..." Quinn charged into the lab. Seeing Wade and Rembrandt, he asked, "Did I miss the big Jell-O fight?"
Logan strained to raise her arm as the waiter passed by. It was taking enough effort to keep her head up. The gravitational pull of this planet was unusually high, owing to a higher density of mass. But where there was mass, there were probably resources.
She gave a quick pat to the book in her pocket. She'd find her way home some day. And now she'd have her ticket back to the big time.
"So it was Wade's double all along," Quinn explained to the others, now resting quietly by the shoreline. "It was her world's last gasp of vengeance."
"That's so awful," Wade said. "We've been sliding for over three years. What if we've been taking these plagues with us all this time?"
"I wouldn't worry too much about it, Miss Welles," Arturo answered. "The vast majority of the worlds we visit all have a common history of colonialism. If it's not the Spanish, then the English or the French or in that rare case, the Lithuanians. The damage has already been done and those worlds carry the same immunities as we do. The real threat is when we encounter completely foreign worlds, ones with no discernable divergence point with our own history."
"And we ran across a lot of those last year," chimed in Rembrandt.
"In any event, it seems we should redouble our efforts toward getting home as quickly as possible. The risks we run seem to be growing greater the longer we're out here," said Arturo.
"Agreed," Quinn and Wade said simultaneously.
"I can dig that. It's too bad we didn't have more time and see what they had for sliding stuff. Maybe we could have found something," Rembrandt mused.
"I doubt it, Remmy. It had been sitting on the shelf for years. It would have been like putting a
"Yeah, I guess so," Rembrandt said. "I'm just glad they let us leave, considering how they feel about contaminating other worlds and all."
Arturo furrowed his brow. "Yes, that is an interesting point. In fact, Molly seemed all too happy to be rid of us..."
The two scientists exchanged thoughtful looks with Lady Silver. "Did we get everything we needed?" Jill asked.
"And more," Molly's eyes glinted and her smile was slightly wicked.
Justus grinned, "Do we neutralize it now? Or should we continue to hold off?"
"No, it was perfect," Molly took a seat. "With the quantum readings from them our research is complete. Next time, there won't be human survivors."
Special thanks to TemporalFlux for reading it along the way and Mike Truman for being so darn patient. Finally, I am awed by Blinker's graphics on this one. As a writer, I often forget what the descriptions will mean when it comes to putting it up on the site.