Have you ever wondered what the sliders do when there are no dinosaurs around? No massive Kromagg conspiracy to thwart? No social institution turned on its ear?
At any rate, I have. There are a collection of worlds, strung together by theme, where nothing of great interest happened to our sliders. These worlds are best shown under the heading of...
The first edition I like to call "Breakfast's Redemption." I hope you find it...adequate.
"This is ridiculous," Quinn said angrily to the man behind the counter. "We know you have food back there."
"We won't take much," Wade added meekly. "We swear."
"Look, you seem like nice enough kids," the man, who was likely wearing the cleanest outfit he owned, but that wasn't saying much, responded heartily. "But rules aren't made to be broken. If I'm caught breaking the Great Fast, I could lose my license. They'd shut me down in a heartbeat."
"Perfect," Wade muttered as the two of them walked away empty-stomached. "This was the last place in the area we hadn't tried. What do we do now?"
"Wait until the timer cools off enough for us to open the next window," Quinn remarked softly in response. He held the door for Wade as they walked out of the cafeteria.
"And when will that be?" Wade demanded petulantly.
Quinn tried to come up with an honest answer that could give her a reasonable amount of hope. "Minutes, hours, maybe even days." Wade looked at Quinn sadly. "I'm sorry. But we slid four times in the space of an hour yesterday. We can't open another window unless it's an emergency." The two of them walked down the streets of San Francisco, barely noticing that they were virtually empty. "The Professor and I really need to work the bugs out of this thing." They both caught sight of Rembrandt and the Professor at the same time. "But I don't think he's in any shape to do that just now."
Professor Maximilian Arturo was fast asleep on a park bench. Seemingly standing guard over him was Rembrandt Brown, accidental tourist on this interdimensional roller coaster ride. In actuality, however, Rembrandt would have likely traded the slumbering Arturo for a box of Saltines. "Any luck?" he asked. Although the looks on their faces said it all, Quinn still shook his head no. The Crying Man got an indignant look on his face. "I don't want to tell you what to do with your doohickey, you bein' a boy genius and all, but if that thing can take us to a world where there's some food, maybe you should make another one of those holes in the air right now." The demanding tone of that statement undermined the politeness of the words.
"This world has food," Wade complained and corrected at the same time. "They just won't give any to us."
Rembrandt was unimpressed. "Same difference." He looked around as if a hot dog vendor or pizza parlor might appear by magic. "Oh man, I'd kill for a hamburger right now."
"All of us would," Quinn pointed out unhappily. "But we're just going to have to be patient. I think the timer should be alright by tomorrow."
Wade and Rembrandt took that information in with glum acceptance. "If we have to stay here another day, you have to bunk with the Professor, Q-Ball. Not eating does not agree with the man. It's like rooming with a ravenous grizzly bear."
"It's his own fault for not eating on the last world we spent any amount of time on," Wade stated authoritatively. "He could've dined on salad with the rest of us, but oh no. 'I'll wait and eat a real meal on the next world'. Ha!"
"Quiet down, girl," Rembrandt insisted vehemently. "You'll wake up..."
But it was too late. After a large yawn and a small stretch, Professor Maximilian Arturo stirred from his sleep in his characteristically boisterous fashion. "Mr. Mallory!" he exclaimed loudly. "Did you and Miss Welles locate anyone sensible enough to part with something edible?"
"Afraid not, Professor," Quinn explained in exasperation. "Everybody's adhering pretty strictly to this Great Fast thing."
"Intolerable," Arturo groused. "This world's obsession with ending the fast food craze has turned the people in charge of it into joyless fascisti, who have no idea how to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. I cannot believe that the population hasn't risen up in rebellion against this government-mandated policy of starvation."
"It's only one week a year, Professor," Wade retorted, defending this world's policies for some reason she had yet to figure out. "If we did this on our world, we'd have a good shot at ending world hunger."
"Ending it?" Professor Arturo repeated snidely as he rose from his impromptu bed. The four of them started walking back to the dingy flophouse they were staying at on this world. "My dear Miss Welles, when any man works hard to bring food to his table and yet goes hungry, there has been a greater injustice done than that you speak of."
"I don't get it," Wade said, shaking her head in frustration. "What does that even mean?"
"Mr. Mallory," Professor Arturo inquired as he conveniently ignored Wade's question, "how long must we continue to endure this unfathomable world?"
Quinn looked at the timer as if it might have gotten better over the last few minutes. "We really put the timer to the test yesterday. We should give it some time to recharge. Maybe by tomorrow morning we can..."
"Nonsense," Arturo insisted as he grabbed the timer from Quinn's hands. "There's nothing here that a couple of brilliant physicists such as ourselves cannot repair, given that we first partake of a large breakfast on the next world. I fancy steak and eggs myself. Now who's with me?"
None of the sliders had the energy to argue. Even Quinn's conscience fell silent at the prospect of a world where they could actually get a decent meal. He stood and watched as Professor Arturo opened and hopped through the vortex. Rembrandt and Wade followed rapidly behind. Quinn was the last to make it into the wormhole, hoping against hope that they'd be able to spend a few days on the next world without further complications.
Wade watched warily as the man at the next table slurpingly devoured one ham hock after another. And he had some of the better table manners around here. Except of course for her, her two friends from home, and the latest, somewhat unwelcome as far as she was concerned, member of their group.
A waiter raced towards them and practically slammed their plates on the table. His clawed, hairy arm barely held the tray steady as he gave them their drinks. Wade started to take a sip of her water, but then made a face and returned it to the table. "Eww! This has hair in it."
"Lighten up, Wade," Maggie told her sternly as she began downing her breakfast in record time. "Everything on this world has hair in it. I thought you and that dead guy were always telling everybody else to appreciate a world for its differences."
Wade looked around her with her nose scrunched up in disgust. "Yeah, but this world is just so...weird." The four sliders were surrounded by people eating and drinking, going about their jobs and daily lives as if everything was normal. But they were all werewolves.
Rembrandt was picking at his food, carefully eating what looked like it hadn't been covered in hair while it was cooked. Not surprisingly, he ate very little. "Wade's right. I mean, they could stop playing 'Werewolves of London' once and a while. Or at least play something else of Warren Zevon's, like 'Poor, Poor Pitiful Me' or 'Hasten Down the Wind'." The others looked at Rembrandt as though he had just swallowed a cat. "What? They're great songs to cover."
"You two should go with the flow more," Maggie suggested after licking her lips clean of hairy egg yolk. "Like me and Quinn. Maybe you'd like having a little bit of animal in you."
Wade barely restrained herself from gagging. She still couldn't believe that Quinn and Maggie had decided to follow this world's custom of people injecting themselves with lupine DNA. They had been told it wouldn't be enough to actually make them undergo the full transformation in the few days they had on this world. Still, it was said there would be changes in them that would allow them to more fully appreciate the werewolf lifestyle. Wade really didn't want to know any more about it than that.
As if Quinn had read her mind and was following the topic being mulled over therein, (although how likely was that considering his actions of late?), he decided to say something about the wolf shots. "You've got to figure Rickman's going to fit right in here, what with people injecting themselves with internal bodily fluids all the time. And he's been here longer than us. If he's already completely undergone the change, he could be able to blend in completely."
Wade considered how off kilter a world would have to be for an insane face-changing British colonel who depended on other people's brain fluid to live to be able to blend in when Maggie suddenly got excited. "That's right," Maggie said, surprise and alertness evident in her voice. "We can't just wait for a lucky break here. We need to start looking for clues."
"Maybe we should go to the police," Rembrandt suggested. "See if there's been any marked increase in the population of the comatose over the last few days."
"Or some of the local hospitals," Wade threw in.
Maggie would have none of it. "No way! I know Rickman better than anybody. And I have heightened senses now. He won't escape me here." Without another word, she stood and started sniffing. After a few deep inhalations, she turned her attention back to her erstwhile companions. "He's been here. Recently."
"Really?" Wade questioned with an amused look on her face. "How can you tell?"
She began to point to another table, but ended up shrieking at another waiter. "Don't touch that bowl!" Maggie rushed over and took it from his hand. "That's evidence!"
The other three sliders made their way over to where Maggie stood in a brief snarling contest with the waiter. The latest slider seemingly won the match, as the more lycanthropic of the two made his way back to the kitchen. "So..." Rembrandt started, "you can tell that Rickman's been here...from a cereal bowl?"
"Not cereal," Maggie corrected. "Oatmeal. It was always the Colonel's favorite meal."
"Not to knock your deduction skills," Quinn stated, as he was possibly the only member of the group who could have said that with a straight face at this point, "but lots of people eat oatmeal for breakfast. I don't see why this points to Rickman."
Maggie sneered and smiled at the same time, a feat few were capable of. "How many people eat their oatmeal with wild almonds in it?"
Wade felt some sort of logic should be introduced into the situation at this point. "Well, none, since wild almonds have cyanide in them."
"Exactly," Maggie stated in a smug and overly excited tone. "Colonel Rickman's been putting wild almonds in his oatmeal for years, trying to build up an immunity to cyanide. It never worked, but he came to like the taste." At that point, the werewolf waiter re-emerged from the kitchen and started talking to Maggie. Their conversation was too filled with growls for Wade to discern what they were saying, but luckily the former Marine pilot translated. "He says Rickman slid from here about twenty minutes ago."
Rembrandt frowned. "Shouldn't the tracking device on the timer have picked that up, Q-Ball?"
"Uh, of course it did," Quinn said, glancing quickly at the timer. "Yep, he slid twenty minutes ago alright." He paused to let the other three sliders glare at him. "I knew there was something I forgot to tell you guys."
"Out of my way, hu-man," a Humagg male of medium build and sloping forehead said as he shoved Colin out of line and took his place. Quinn Mallory's long lost brother didn't see the point of fighting for a place in this line; the food they were dishing out looked decidedly less than appealing. Still, it was all any of them had. The four of them took what they could and sat down without making a fuss. It seemed the most proper and logical thing to do.
Colin was the last to sit at the table next to his three fellow interdimensional travelers. After setting his tray down, he immediately bowed his head in prayer. It was a tradition he was not about to break, and one that his brother and his friends only vaguely understood (although Rembrandt joined him from time to time). After he finished saying grace, he turned his attention fully on what Quinn, Maggie and Rembrandt were talking about.
"If I buy you enough time with a distraction, do you think you could hack into the mainframe and disrupt the system?" Maggie asked Quinn. "That ought to cause enough confusion for us to be able to escape."
"It's risky, but it may be do-able," Quinn answered her. "But I still say our main focus should be on getting the timer back. Without it, we'll never reach our homeworld." He said the last sentence as if he were telling his fellow sliders something they didn't already know. It also happened to be an oversimplification; Maggie didn't have a home to go back to.
"Forget about all that," Rembrandt said, whispered excitement evident in his voice. "There are Kromagg and Humagg prisoners here, not just humans. If we keep our ears to the ground, this could be a golden opportunity for us!" Maggie and Quinn looked at Remmy strangely. "Don't you see? If the Kromaggs are turning against each other, we could use that to our advantage! Hell, maybe the Maggots are blasting each other to pieces on Earth Prime as we speak!"
"I don't know, Rem," Maggie countered, her military mind already firing on all cylinders. "The longer we stay here, the harder it's going to be for us to escape."
"How so?" Colin questioned, speaking up for the first time.
Quinn took over from here as Maggie rolled her eyes. "It's obvious, bro. The longer time spent imprisoned, the harder it is to get out. That's like Military Tactics 101."
Colin made the blank look on his face vanish simply by force of will. "Oh."
"Besides," Maggie continued, eyeing Colin with playful hostility after the last interruption, "I'm going to need you to go after the timer while I put my distraction in place. Then you'll rendezvous with us at the venting ducts."
"I'm not going to be able to do any of that on an empty stomach," Rembrandt told her with a chuckle.
Maggie pushed her tray away from her in disgust. "Blech! Be my guest." Maggie and Rembrandt then struck up a separate conversation, (something about electrical guitars, he reckoned) so Colin decided to talk to Quinn.
"Brother, I've been thinking. Since we are on another earth dominated by the Kromaggs, should we not perhaps be looking for your lost friend, Wade?"
Quinn looked down at his own tray of food. "Nah. The Maggs wouldn't have her here. She'd be in one of the breeder camps."
"Perhaps after we escape then, we could see if there are any such camps in the area..." Quinn had stopped listening to him and started talking about someone Colin had never heard of named Jiminy Hendrick. "Or perhaps I presume to ask too much."
Colin watched the three people who had, in their own way, become his family. His brother was clearly a good man with many pleasing qualities, and they had bonded somewhat in their short time together. The other two, however, were another matter entirely.
It wasn't just that Colin came from another world; that barrier was in place in his relationship with Quinn as well. But Maggie and Rembrandt were different in other ways. Both of them had led lives that would have made Colin's seem dull by comparison, although he surmised that he would have been equally bored had he been forced to live a day in their old lives and livelihoods. Also, Colin had left his own world, or the world he had known for most of his life anyway, voluntarily. Neither of them, tragically, could make the same claim.
Still, Colin hadn't become the 'Bob Franklin' of his world by giving up. Adjusting to this new lifestyle, as well as fitting in with his brother's friends, would take time, but it would not be an impossible task. Colin resolved then and there to simply and quietly observe, learning as much as he could about how people behaved where Quinn, Maggie and Rembrandt came from.
However, there were still things that he could only learn by asking questions. "So he wanted to be pardoned for kissing another man? How sad."
Rembrandt Brown, Maggie Beckett and Diana Davis watched helplessly as an enormous amount of food was rolled out into the dining hall. The morning sun trickled through the windows, casting an even more lustrous glow on the dishes that lined the large oak table. Sitting at the head of the table was Mallory, wearing a bib, chained to the chair he was sitting in and eyeing each entrée with pure, unadulterated admiration.
"Have they fed him anything since they threw him in?" Maggie whispered through gritted teeth to Diana. All Diana did was shrug, but she highly doubted it.
It was now Rembrandt's turn to ask the questions. "So how does this test work again?" he whispered to the group's resident scientist.
Diana sighed. "If Mallory can eat all the food on the table then he is proven to be a witch with a bottomless stomach and will be burned alive. If he shows proper respect for God and the King of Chimaxania and doesn't eat the food, he is proven to not be a witch. But, naturally, he'll starve to death."
"What about if he just eats some of the food?" Maggie asked.
Diana tilted her head towards Maggie. "Then he'll prove himself an ingracious guest and have his hands cut off. That would probably be the best case scenario, although considering the state of this world's medicine, he'd probably bleed to death or die of infection without immediate treatment elsewhere."
Rembrandt and Maggie then turned to each other. "So what's the plan?" the last original slider asked the military veteran.
"He stays alive the longest by not chowing down," Maggie pointed out. "Maybe we could distract them by opening the vortex and then we can get him out of there."
"Assuming we're not killed as witches on the spot," Diana interjected.
"We don't slide until tomorrow morning," Remmy reminded them. "Do you really think Mallory's going to be able to hold out that long?" The three of them simultaneously looked at Mallory. His eyes definitely looked bigger than his stomach.
Cornicens blew and all attention was suddenly riveted on a white-haired man standing next to the table. "Subjects of King Garalei, Lord on High and Master of all the people of Chimaxania, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to yet another royal witch testing. This particular subject has demonstrated the clearly witch-like behavior of telling anecdotes for the purpose of humor which are, in all actuality, by no means humorous. Therefore, we are performing the classic 'banquet' witch test, which is also good for removing tapeworms." He looked at Mallory. "Do you have anything to say before you endure this test?"
"Yeah," he quipped. "Do you medieval peons have any Alka Seltzer?"
"Your witch-like behavior disgusts me, sir," the man replied, his nose wrinkled as if to bear out that fact. "Very well, if there is nothing..."
"Wait," Diana called out. "I for one would like to wish him luck before he endures this grueling, yet fair and just, trial." She walked up to Mallory and whispered something in his ear. She then returned to her place next to Rembrandt and Maggie.
"Begin!" the man in bright red and yellow exclaimed. The public drew its breath in anticipation of what was to happen next. But nothing happened. Mallory sat there, painfully keeping his mouth closed and not eating any of the sumptuous food sitting before him.
"What did you say to him?" Rembrandt asked Diana.
"I just reminded him that this civilization doesn't know anything about germs, and that he may well get all sorts of food poisoning from eating any of this stuff," Diana stated confidently. After another moment, she amended her statement. "And I might have lied about what's in some of these dishes. But Mallory will be thanking me when he's alive tomorrow."
The next day, Mallory let out a satisfied belch as the four of them walked out of the restaurant. "'Banned for life?'" Rembrandt complained as he walked out. "'Thanks a lot, Mallory."
"That was the only all-you-can-eat breakfast bar in San Francisco," Maggie exclaimed. "And we're here for two weeks! You know these all-you-can-eat restaurants are just about the only place we can afford to eat big meals."
"Don't worry," Mallory assured them. "I'll get our breakfast from now on on this world."
"Why the sudden generosity?" Diana asked with one eyebrow arched.
"Sitting in front of all that sumptuous food and not being able to eat it, I learned an important lesson. Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day." In spite of the wishes of the other three sliders, an eighteen wheeler did not flatten him like one of the fifteen pancakes he ate just after he said that line.
A stirring tale of how one meal can change people's lives? Or just a few filler scenes gussied up and presented to the public like so many week-old hot dogs at a 7-11? You be the judge...and be somewhat sure to tune into the next edition of...
Mundane Slides, and other Tales of Interdimensional Tedium!