Part Two of the Loose Ends Trilogy,
by Darran Jordan [eclectica]
The Extinction Agenda
After the explosion it was as though she were looking at the world from deep, deep underwater. Sometimes it felt like the last few years had been like that, years of violence and torture, memories which seemed to trickle away like water the more she thought about them. They were little more than shadows, hazy memories more like dreams than reality. But there were other memories which were bright and vibrant in her mind, memories of friends, of adventure, of a family forged through circumstance and misfortune, a family bonded across the byways and pathways of an infinite multiverse through ties of love so strong that nothing could ever sever them. She knew that they would be together again one day, the four Sliders of old, she knew it in her heart of hearts more truthful than any truth could be. Hadn't she said that to Remmy, after the explosion... 'I'll always be with you'. Had she said that? It was so difficult to remember now. Everything seemed so distant... so strange... like watching the world from deep, deep underwater.
She remembered the explosion of course, a force radiating out around her, her rage harnessed in fire, burning everything in its path. It had destroyed everything... everything... but she had been at the centre of the blast, and had remained largely unhurt. The other cyberiads had been destroyed instantly, and the rest of Kromagg Outpost 88 had soon followed. The living computer she had been a part of was destroyed, and she could no more live without it than a fish could live out of water... water... deep, deep water...
Wade Welles tried to focus on the remains of the Manta base around her, but her body was no good anymore, her senses could not be trusted. Everything was burning, everything was on fire. Had she really done that? Had she finally hurt those who had tortured her for so long, those who taken her life, her world, her friends... but it was so hard to concentrate, so hard to see or think or feel anymore... she saw Remmy's face in her mind and thought, 'wherever he goes, I'll always be with him'. There was no pain anymore, only regret, that final regret that her friends were not with her, that Quinn and the Professor and Remmy, especially Remmy, weren't with her now... but she knew they would be together again. One day, one day they would all be together again. Wade felt her eyes drifting closed, like water closing over the head of the drowner, but it was so peaceful... so very, very peaceful...
"Wade... Wade stay awake, you must stay awake..." The words were insistent, urgent, but the melody of the voice was still calming, a soothing tone calling her attention back to the world around her. Wade tried to focus on her surroundings once more. The Kromagg Manta Base, Outpost 88, burning in the aftermath of the explosion she had initiated, the remains of the sentient computer she had been a part of destroyed, and herself, lying in the wreckage, slowly dying. But there was something new here now, a man, standing amidst the fire. He seemed insubstantial somehow, ghostly, as though he wasn't quite there. Wade tried to focus on his features.
"Quinn..." she whispered faintly, but no, now that she looked closer she could see that it wasn't Quinn, but he looked a lot like Quinn. Maybe a double of his, some Slider from another world. It was hard to concentrate, hard to keep awake anymore.
"No," the man smiled easily, "no, I'm not Quinn. My name is Colin, Colin Mallory. I'm Quinn's brother."
Wade tried to focus on him but he was shifting in and out of focus, a ghostly image disappearing and reappearing again.
"I'm sorry I can't help you," he said simply, "but I'm afraid I'm unstuck between dimensions, like a ghost - I can travel anywhere, to any dimension, but I'm like a shadow, I can't be seen or interact with anyone."
"I can see you," Wade whispered, but the effort even to say that much cost her dearly, she felt her strength ebbing away.
"The energy from the explosion you caused seeped out into the vortex between dimensions, I've managed to harness it, it allows me to be seen for a limited time. Listen, I've got a plan, I think I know a way to save you, you and me and my brother and everyone. I've seen things, while I've been unstuck, I've learnt a lot, and I think I know some people who can help you. I'm going to get them now, they'll be here soon, but you have to hang on Wade, you have to stay awake until they get here. Do you understand? Wade?" She did not reply. "Wade? Wade can you hear me?"
"I... understand..." Her voice was barely a whisper, but it brought a smile to the man's face.
"I've heard so much about you," he said, "it is good to finally meet. If everything goes according to plan we'll get a chance to know each other better later. Hold on Wade, help will be here soon."
And then he was gone, flickering out of existence, vanishing into the folds between dimensions. Or had he really been there at all? It was so hard to concentrate, so hard to think. Wade tried to keep her eyes open, but it was so hard, like trying to hold back the ocean... like watching the world from deep, deep underwater... Wade Welles closed her eyes and drank deep of silence and peace, while around her the world continued to burn.
Logan St. Claire found herself cursing for the fourteenth time that day.
"Damn it!!" she screamed. "This damn thing is never going to work!!"
Quinn Mallory merely looked at her, as he always did, with empty eyes and a blank expression. It had been a long time since she had first met him, but still he wore the white tribal face paint that he had borne the first time she had seen him. It was as though he needed to block out his own features, or as though his own features no longer seemed real to him, that he now perceived himself as the mask, blank and empty. He certainly acted that way, stoic and unspeaking at the best of times, but he was as much a genius as herself, and if they ever hoped to have success she needed all the help she could get. It was at that moment that the other member of her mismatched team entered the room.
"My dear Logan, you really must find some way to curb that temper of yours."
Logan rounded on Professor Maximillian Arturo, but found her anger dissipating as she saw the smile on his face and the gleam in his eye.
"Ha," she countered, "you're the first one to explode whenever one of your experiments goes wrong."
Logan found herself remembering how they had all met, drawn together from disparate alternate universes by a common enemy, a race of interdimensional conquerors known as the Kromaggs. Both she and Quinn had lost their worlds to them. Professor Arturo had been a slider for a while but was left behind accidentally when his travelling companions Wade Welles, Rembrandt Brown and another Quinn Mallory unintentionally took his double with them instead of him when they slid out of the world they were visiting. When Logan had collected her companions together they had sought to protect the Professor's homeworld, Earth Prime, from invasion. But they had failed. To make matters worse the Professor had seen two of his friends and ex travelling companions, Wade Welles and Rembrandt Brown, taken prisoner by the invaders. Ever since the three of them had been experimenting, trying to find new ways of utilising Sliding technology as a weapon against the Kromaggs, but the task was proving to be more difficult, and time consuming, than she had ever thought possible.
"Oh, my own temper is legendary," Arturo responded, "which is why I am in the perfect position to comment on yours. Have you tried integrating the liquid technology we found on that last alternate Earth?" The last comment he made while examining the equipment Logan had been working on.
"We started to," Quinn answered in a deadpan voice, "but it wasn't compatible with the rest of the technology we were using so we had to go back to the polymer circuitry."
"Which, as you can see, keeps burning out," Logan chipped in, her voice once more carrying with it the anger and frustration of before. "Honestly Max, I despair of ever succeeding."
"But we must succeed," Arturo answered quietly. "We must." He was quiet for a moment, as though his mind were elsewhere, then he began adjusting the machine before him. "It's the nature of it all that's the problem. We are trying to integrate technologies from dozens of dimensions, technologies which are completely incompatible with each other. Is it any wonder we're having trouble getting anywhere?"
"But it's so frustrating," Logan muttered. "Honestly, sometimes I wish the answer to our problems would just materialise in front of us out of thin air."
"I'm sure we all wish for that," Arturo smiled, "but I hardly think..."
Whatever Arturo was going to say he never got the chance to finish, for at that moment there was a flash of blue light, and the ghostly outline of a man appeared in the centre of the room. Neither Logan nor the Professor had ever seen him before, but both immediately recognised the physical similarity between him and Quinn. The figure looked tired, as though he were worn out and about to collapse, but he stared around the room with an intensity that nailed them all to the spot.
"Listen to me, all of you," he said, speaking quickly but very clearly and distinctly, "my name is Colin Mallory. You don't know me, but I have observed each of you in the past and am aware of your actions. I am unstuck between dimensions and have witnessed much since the accident that did this to me. I know the answer to your problem, I know how to save everyone, but I don't have much time to tell you. I am using a limited source of energy to stabilise myself enough to talk to you all, when the energy is used up I will be fully unstuck again and unable to materialise. You have to accept who I am and do exactly as I say or all is lost, do you understand?"
Both Arturo and Logan opened their mouths to speak, to question him further or object to his intrusion, but both were silenced by Quinn Mallory as he strode forward and stared straight into Colin's eyes.
"I understand," he said simply.
"Good," Colin replied with a grin, "this is what you have to do..."
It was like lying on the bottom of the ocean and hearing a voice shouted from the waves far, far above.
"Miss Welles? Miss Welles... can you hear me?"
She could hear him, but he was so distant... so very, very distant. Surely it was better to stay down here, in the deep quiet dark, to sleep peacefully in the cool waters of forgetfulness... surely it was better...
"Miss Welles, come on, wake up!!"
But then the voice became louder and she recognised the speaker, realised who it was, and immediately she was swimming up to the surface of that ocean, clawing her way back to consciousness, back to that voice. Her senses were dull and distant, but things were becoming clearer. She was lying in a bed, starch sheets against her skin, and there was someone holding her hand, holding it very tight.
"Miss Welles, please..."
"Pro... Pro..." her mouth was so dry she could barely speak, her voice sounding as a faint and croaky whisper. "Professor?" Then she opened her eyes and bright lights burst in upon her, illuminating the smiling face of her old friend, beaming as he squeezed her hand tight to his chest.
"Thank goodness you're alright," he said. A female voice from somewhere behind him spoke up.
"The procedure works, it really works."
"Yes," the Professor answered the unseen speaker. "It works. It saved her life."
"Then we have our answer," the speaker replied, "we have our weapon. There is no time to lose."
There were the sounds of footsteps moving away, then the Professor turned his attention fully back upon Wade again.
"How do you feel," he asked quietly.
"Tired," she answered, then feeling her throat hurt as she spoke she added, "and thirsty."
"How unthinking of me, here, have some water," the Professor responded, immediately pressing a glass to her lips. The liquid was both cool and soothing, breathing life back into her once more. After drinking it Wade managed to sit up and look about herself, taking in for the first time the sight of her own body. She was normal again, healed, cured. She looked down the lengths of her arms with wonder. The scars from numerous tortures by the Kromaggs, they had all miraculously vanished. She looked at the rest of her body, and found the same. Her conversion to a cyberiad had somehow been reversed. She looked as she had back before she had been captured, before interrogation and experimentation, before the scarring which had brought her to the very brink of death. As if sensing her thoughts the Professor handed her a small mirror and she held it to her face. Unscarred and perfect - it was like looking back in time, back before Sliding had turned into a nightmare, when she had been a beautiful young woman partaking in the adventure of her life.
"How.." she stammered, "how did you..." But it was all she could manage to say. The Professor beamed at her, his own eyes twinkling with the same strength and hope she felt inside.
"After you were captured during the invasion of Earth Prime I escaped with Logan and one of our Quinn's doubles. Since then we've been trying to find a way to fight back against the Kromaggs, and I've been trying to find out what happened to you and Mr Brown - not to mention where our Quinn ended up. Last night we had a visitor from a man named Colin who claimed to be our Quinn's brother. He was unstuck between dimensions, but said he knew a way to readjust himself once more, just as he claimed that he knew a way to defeat the Kromaggs. He cited the work of one Oberon Geiger, the very man who had unstuck Colin, saying that in his notes were the details of how to use sliding technology to merge people from different dimensions. Apparently this Geiger character has merged our Quinn with one of his doubles, but Colin claims that we can adapt the technology to another effect, he claims we can use it to merge all the Kromaggs from every dimension, every single Kromagg from every single possible world, merge them all into one being. Then the Kromagg menace could be fought, one Kromagg creature that could be brought to justice for the sins it has incurred across the multiverse. The energy from such an act could also be harnessed for Colin, to restick him, as it were, to anchor him in the one dimension once again."
"Is he here now?" Wade asked.
"No," the Professor answered, "we were only able to see him for a very short time. But while we could see him he told us how we might both test Geiger's technique and save an old friend - yourself, Miss Welles."
"I saw him," Wade whispered softly, "I thought I was dreaming... I thought I was dying... he said he was going to get help."
"And indeed he did," the Professor smiled. "Your body was almost totally destroyed, separated from the computer that the Kromaggs had made you part of you only had a limited time to live. Fortunately however we managed to get to you in time, while your mind was still alive. And Colin, in his travels, had seen another world, where one of your doubles had been in an accident. That Wade Welles had drowned, and although her body had been revived, it had not been in time, she was left completely brain dead. Colin gave us the coordinates for that earth and we retrieved her body, then used Geiger's procedure to merge the two of you, your active mind but dying body was merged with your double's undamaged body, but dead mind. The result is that we managed to save your life, and you are as you can see... for lack of a better word, reborn."
Wade could not think of anything to say, her mouth open wide at the wonder of it all. After all the horror, all the chaos and darkness since the conquest of Earth Prime, since the Kromaggs had taken her life away, after all of that it really seemed, for the first time in forever, as though there was hope. No, not hope so much, hope was something she had always had. For the first time in an eternity it really seemed like they actually would get to live happily ever after.
"You rest now," smiled Professor Maximillian Arturo, "I'll come and see you again later."
So Wade closed her eyes and drifted immediately in a sleep of quiet and calm, curled happily between her starched sheets, dreaming of happy days lost, and happy days come again.
"Are you ready?" Logan asked, her face flickering in the light of the flashing lights on the console.
"Everything is prepared," came the answering voice of Quinn Mallory. He had said little since the brief appearance of Colin, but had worked unceasingly since then on the sliding equipment housed in their lab, hurriedly cobbling together the necessary items to use the Geiger technique on Wade Welles, to save her life. Since then he had worked ceaselessly, recalibrating, adjusting, making the necessary calculations, perfecting everything to put Colin's plan into action - to merge all of the Kromaggs across the entire multiverse into one being. It was no small task, and it had been a taxing undertaking, both Logan and Professor Arturo were exhausted from their own input, but none had been so tireless as Quinn in making everything ready. He had not stopped for rest or food, and Logan thought she could well guess why.
"This is it for you, isn't it Quinn," she said softly, soft enough that Max, working on the other side of the lab, didn't hear and that Wade, still asleep in the other room, did not wake. "This is your retribution - when you finally settle the score with the Kromaggs, make amends for your imagined sins."
"I will never make amends for giving the Kromaggs sliding technology. Even if what you told me is true, that those I gave the technology to were but one group, while other alternatives were already conquering worlds... it makes no difference. I will always have the blood of my world upon my hands. But here at least there will be an end, a resolution. It feels as though I am being given a second chance, and I do not intend to waste it."
"You've been acting odd since that Colin character materialised," Logan continued. "Is there something else you're not telling me Quinn, because if my chance at revenge gets messed up because of you..."
"Nothing will go wrong," Quinn stated matter of factly, brushing his long hair back and turning to stare at her with eyes framed by a face painted in white tribal paint. "It is difficult in some ways for me... on my world I had a brother, Colin, he looked just like the man who appeared to us. He was killed. And my wife... I never told you how I felt back on Earth Prime, when we held the Professor back as his friends were taken by the Kromaggs... you see, on my world I was married to Wade Welles. The woman we just saved is not my wife, and the man who we will save through this procedure is not my brother, they are merely doubles from other dimensions, I know that. But it feels as though my past is being brought back, as though I really am being given a second chance. It is difficult for me to not feel hopeful, that is all. I do not deserve hope, yet I feel it. Especially since we stand on the brink of ridding the multiverse of the Kromaggs forever."
"I've been thinking about that," said the Professor, walking up to them and catching the tail end of their conversation. "I wonder, by doing this are we making ourselves worse than the Kromaggs? Genocide on a scale of multiple earths... to play with the extinction of a race on such a scale... have we that right? We were so eager to have found a way to defeat humankind's greatest enemy, we never stopped to think whether or not we should." Logan turned on the Professor, her eyes wide with disbelief.
"I can not believe I am hearing this," she cried aloud. "Should we or should we not put a stop to death, torture and destruction across the multiverse? Should we not free our worlds and revenge ourselves of the horrors perpetrated to us and our friends? Of course we should Max, of course we damn well should!! How can you even pose such a question?"
"I pose the question," Arturo answered shortly, "because in fighting the enemy I do not wish to become it."
"We do not," Quinn answered them both. "We are not enacting some extinction agenda, we aren't killing all the Kromaggs, merely limiting them. By merging them into one being we keep them alive in that creature, but put a stop to their conquest."
"And what of that creature," Arturo continued, "this one Kromagg creature that we will create as a result of our experiment, what kind of creature will it be, and what happens to it after it is created? What do you plan to do with the beast then?"
Logan found her mind immediately leaping to torture, to enacting all the violence and horror on the beast that the Kromagg race had done to her and her friends. And as she thought that, she suddenly understood what Max meant. There was a fine line between justice and revenge, but she had never made a secret of the fact that her prime motivation in this fight was revenge and revenge alone.
"We will imprison it," Quinn answered, "but we will not kill it. Professor, whatever your philosophical objections you must admit that there really is no other way, no better way. Any other plan we might come up with would, at some stage or another, involve bloodshed. At least this way no more people get hurt. It is the best resolution we could hope for. We must end this Professor, the horror has gone on long enough."
Professor Maximillian Arturo nodded slowly in response to Quinn's words.
"In that case my checks are complete, I believe we are ready to proceed."
"Then let's do it," Logan smiled. They all took their places about the machinery around them and began to activate the equipment.
"Power building," Quinn announced, "countdown activated. Multiple slide wave process will begin in one minute..."
"Readings are all positive," Logan answered as a whine of power grew around them and the countdown clock started ticking down, "this is going to work."
Professor Maximillian Arturo remained quiet, his eyes focussed on the centre of the room, the focal point where all their energies would be unleashed, already the familiar swirl of the sliding portal was spinning into view, but this portal was different, slightly lopsided as it swirled into different shapes, coalescing, breaking apart, reforming again, slowly taking on the rough outline of a humanoid figure.
"Final countdown," Quinn whispered, "Multiple slide wave release in ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two... one..."
As Quinn began to mouth the word 'zero' the glowing shape of the sliding portal in the centre of the room exploded with light and the three of them turned from it, momentarily dazzled. When they were able to turn back they were faced with a sight they had never imagined possible even in their wildest dreams.
It was like a giant wave, a curving blue wash of energy flowing fluidly from one dimension to the next, catching its unsuspecting prey in the endless current of its waters, drowning them in the depths of its endless ocean. A great wave of sliding energy flowing outward and onward, moving through entire dimensions in fractions of seconds, scooping its victims up into its flow, washing them away in a tidal motion which was flooding across every level of the multiverse itself.
On Earth 19970 a scarred and bloodied human soldier looked up at the face of his oppressor, preparing himself for death as the Kromagg raised the gun, pointing it at him, preparing to fire. Then there was a sudden burst of blue energy, and the Kromagg was gone.
On the prison world of Earth 666B the Kromagg warden was conducting his regular inspection of the torture chamber, nodding approvingly at the screaming inhabitants, humans from a thousand worlds and a thousand wars, kept in perpetual agony, so better to teach them their inferiority to the Kromaggs. He leant forward to one of the torturers to instruct him in his ministrations when there was a sudden flash of blue light and the guard vanished. Then another. And another. But the warden had scarcely a moment to consider this fact when there was another flash of light, and he too was swept away.
On Earth 174 a populace still holding out against the invading Manta ships was amazed when their last ditch attack plan worked. It worked far better than they had ever dared hope; all the Manta ships seemed out of control, as though no one was flying them, and those few fighter jets left to Earth's forces were able to pick them off easily. It was only later, when they examined the wreckage, that they were shocked to find that the Manta ships really were empty. The Kromaggs had gone, all of them, vanished into thin air.
And on Earth Prime it was the same. A flash of light, and then silence. The invaders who had conquered so much, enslaved so many so quickly, so easily, the unbeatable force from an endless collection of parallel worlds, were quite simply suddenly no longer there. So it was, across countless worlds, through endless dimensions, the force that had conquered and enslaved for so long was suddenly and efficiently scooped out of reality, torn loose from the fabric of existence and thrown headlong through the vortex, back to the source of the great wave of slide energy that had trapped them all like insects to sticky paper. Across the endless earths it was not so much a sudden victory, but rather the quiet and uncertain whisper of some altogether different event. No one knew what had happened, no one knew whether it was permanent or merely temporary. Across the multiverse it was as though everyone was suddenly holding their breath, waiting anxiously to see what would happen next.
In the lab Logan St. Claire, Quinn Mallory and Professor Maximillian Arturo all held their breaths, waiting anxiously to see what would happen next. In the centre of the room before them the shapeless shifting figure of a Kromagg blurred in the burning blue light of the vortex. An endless succession of faces flashed across the figure, not just faces but whole bodies, as though every Kromagg who had ever lived was flashed before them for a fraction of a second, an endless procession of all the Kromaggs from all across the multiverse, which is exactly what was happening. The slide wave they had set in motion was sweeping across the endless dimensions, picking up all the Kromaggs it encountered and sending them here, where Oberon Geiger's procedure was put into effect, where the endless forces of the Kromagg race were merged into one being. The faces which flashed past before them were all different, but each had one thing in common, they were all screaming.
"The computers are in danger of overloading," the Professor shouted over the din caused by the crackling discharge around them.
"It'll hold," Logan replied. She turned to face the Professor and added: "It has to hold."
Quinn merely watched, his white painted face lit a ghostly blue as he stared at the flickering faces of the screaming Kromagg horde. But as they all watched another figure started to appear before them, a figure they had all seen before, albeit briefly.
"It's Colin," Quinn said suddenly. "His plan is working, not only is it amalgamating the Kromaggs, its anchoring him, bringing him permanently back to the one dimension."
They all watched with baited breath as the figure of Colin Mallory shimmered in and out of existence alongside the shifting Kromagg shape. Both were suffused in the blue light of the vortex, and both seemed to be in great pain.
"Come on Colin," Quinn urged, "come on, you can do it."
The room was literally crackling with energy, and a number of the equipment panels sparked as the heat from the circuits continued to grow, but by now they had all taken up Quinn's words, whispering them like a litany as they looked on in hope and anticipation. 'Come on', they all whispered, 'come on, come on, come on...' And then, quite suddenly, it was over. There was a flash of light, an arc of blue energy, and a suddenly solid Colin Mallory collapsed to his knees, panting. Behind him a large misshapen figure loomed, twisted features leering down at Colin's fallen body. The misshapen figure, the result of countless different bodies forced into one shape, was almost too horrible to look at, disproportionate, unnatural, it looked about the room with red eyes filled with bloodlust and anger, a strange primeval quality to it as it shuffled forward toward the kneeling Colin, the whole strange ceremony taking place lit from the swirling shape of the vortex which had materialised behind them both when they had finally been brought forth. Colin looked up into the eyes of the creature and met its fierce gaze with one of his own.
"I... am... Kromagg..." the creature roared. "I... kill..."
"Not anymore," Colin replied evenly, "and never again." The Kromagg creature roared as it loomed over him, but Colin barely flinched, waiting until the monster tried to grab at him before he quickly darted sideways, out of its reach. Unbalanced, the Kromagg stumbled uncertainly, but it never got the chance to regain its balance. Colin delivered a punch to its head, followed by a kick to its stomach, raining blow upon blow on the beast, steadily driving it back. Roaring all the while, the Kromagg found itself falling, and with a final push from Colin it tumbled backwards, arms flailing uselessly as it tumbled straight into the heart of the vortex behind them. There was a final roar from the creature, a flash of blue energy, and the vortex spiralled closed. Then there was only silence.
"It's over," Logan whispered quietly.
"Finally," Quinn echoed, "finally, it's all over."
But the man before them only smiled.
"It's not over until I find Remmy and Maggie, and get my brother back," Colin muttered, but then a smile broke out across his face. "But well done everyone. Well done indeed."
And the four of them came together in a circle, friendships forged and battles won as across countless worlds a sudden peace broke out. Bells were rung, songs were sung and there was rejoicing on every street, for the reign of the Kromaggs was over, and the multiverse was free of their curse forever.
But somewhere, in the endless blue of the vortex, as it fell through the twisting tunnels of the wormhole, a single creature raged as it tried to come to terms with what it was, its head filled with a billion billion voices all screaming in rage and pain and violence.
"I... am... Kromagg..." it roared, and fell on through the endless blue of the chaos between worlds.
Rembrandt, Maggie, Mallory and Diana. Their deaths were prophesied, but they never thought they would face them at the hands of Kromagg, their most hated enemy distilled into one being of ultimate evil...