"Slide and Slide Again"
Wade glanced at her watch for what seemed like the millionth time that morning. Not yet. Not yet. She risked another look in the direction of the Kromagg technician, sure that he would be able to hear her pounding heartbeat, but he was engrossed in his work. Again she checked her watch. Fifteen minutes left. Fifteen minutes until she left this place - or died in the attempt.
Wade cast her mind back over the previous six months. She remembered how her joy at finally returning home had been turned to horror when she and Rembrandt had discovered that the Kromaggs had got there first. Rembrandt. How often since she'd been brought here had her thoughts turned to her friend. Where was he? Was he dead or alive? And Quinn? Why hadn't he and Maggie followed them through the vortex? She forced the thoughts from her mind. It was too painful and she needed her head to be clear for what was to come.
Was the resistance still operating? she wondered. She and Rembrandt had hooked up with the local unit. Their previous experience with the Kromaggs and their knowledge of sliding had provided had provided valuable information to the resistance leaders. The resistance had been working on the assumption that the Kromaggs were extra-terrestrials but the information that Wade and Rembrandt were able to give them had prompted a change in tactics. The objective now was to find a way of disrupting the Kromaggs' ability to slide from world to world. How Wade had wished that Quinn or the Professor had been there. She and Rembrandt had been able to give only a rudimentary explanation of how sliding worked. So they had led a team to Quinn's house, hoping that the machine would still be there, and that by examining it, the few physicists who had managed to avoid capture by the Kromaggs would be able to understand the process - and how to block it.
But the Kromaggs had been waiting for them. In the gunfight that followed Wade had been wounded and captured. She had no idea what had happened to Remmy and the rest of the team. After her capture she had been brought here - wherever here was. Whether the Earth it was on was "hers," the Kromaggs', or some other, she didn't know. But, although she didn't know where here was, she knew what here was. It was a breeding centre. Human women were brought here to be inseminated with Kromagg sperm and to give birth to half- human/half-Kromagg offspring. The offspring would then be taken away and raised as workers or soldiers.
Wade mentally gave thanks again for whatever it was in her genetic make-up that had made her incompatible with Kromagg genes. The Kromaggs were going to kill her out of hand - if she couldn't breed then she was of no use to them. But, though an interpreter, she had managed to get the senior Kromagg technician to divulge that incompatibility was a common problem. Perhaps it was because he was a scientist rather than a soldier but he was, for a Kromagg, remarkably open to reason. Wade had managed to persuade him that she could be some help to him and he had given her a job sorting and cross-referencing gene samples. Wade looked at her watch. Five minutes left. It hadn't taken her long to formulate an escape plan. But it had taken her four months to get to the stage where it could be carried out. The hard part had been creating the virus. The Kromaggs' computer systems were unlike anything she had seen before and it had taken her a while to understand them. Fortunately there where no safeguards against viruses at all. Not a single one. The entire system was wide-open. Obviously Kromagg society didn't produce people with the hacker mentality - or maybe the price for being caught was too high. Whatever, her simple virus would do its job.
Time. She hit the key that would start the virus program running, rose from her chair and walked to the door. Her heart felt like it was trying to burst out of her chest. Every second she expected the technician to challenge her, to call her back. But over the months the Kromaggs had got used to her and she was now able to pretty much come and go as she pleased. After all they reasoned, all the doors to important areas were security encoded, they required an authorised thumbprint, so she couldn't go anywhere where she could do harm. Of course the doors were controlled by computer, and the computer, poor thing, had just caught a nasty virus.
As she had hoped, Wade didn't encounter any Kromaggs on the way to her destination. The scientific staff in the camp was small and the guards didn't generally frequent the lab areas unless they had business there - usually escorting prisoners. So it was that Wade was able to approach the door to the room where the sliding machine was kept, unhindered.
In spite of her nerves Wade allowed herself a smile as she remembered her last visit to this room. She had known that all her cleverness in creating a virus would be for nothing if she didn't know where the means of escape was and had wondered long and hard about how to get the information. Then she had remembered James Bond. It was always the same, the megalomaniac villain would explain to Bond where the doomsday weapon was and how it worked. So when the senior technician was in a talkative mood (she was picking up the Kromagg language fast), she had put on her best dumb female act, exclaimed how clever the Kromaggs must be to travel from world to world, and asked him if she might possibly be allowed to see the machine. It had worked a like a charm. He had taken her to a room not very far from the lab she worked in and showed her the machine. He had even explained what some of the various controls did. To most people the "tour" would have been useless, but to Wade, with her previous experience of sliding and her knowledge of Kromagg symbols, it gave her just enough information to put her plan into action.
Now she stood in front of the door again. She looked at her watch and counted down the last ten seconds before the virus took effect. As the last second ticked over she said a silent prayer and hit the control panel on the door. The door opened and Wade sprinted inside the room. As she did so sirens began to wail. She hadn't had the time to construct a virus that would only affect the doors - its effect was system wide. Systems all over the camp would be going down right now and some alert guard had obviously triggered the manual alarm.
Wade cursed. She had counted on there being a period of confusion before the alert was sounded. Now she would have to work fast. She grappled with the unfamiliar controls trying to call up the co-ordinates for home. Then she heard shouts and the running of feet in the corridor outside. She was out of time. Without setting any coordinates she hit the button that would open the vortex. As the familiar sight appeared before her eyes Kromagg guards entered the room. One raised his weapon and fired. Wade ducked below the console and the shot passed over her head. Then she ran for the vortex. Further shots flew just inches from her as she leapt into the vortex. Wade Welles was a Slider again.
Behind her the Kromagg guards ceased firing. One of them headed for the console while the other sprinted for the still open vortex. He entered just as the vortex closed and pursued Wade to her destination. The other Kromagg began work on the controls to call-up the co-ordinates of the world Wade had slid to and re-open the vortex. But Wade still had a trick up her sleeve. She had constructed her virus so that it would leave the sliding machine unaffected - but only for a time. As the Kromagg attempted to locate her destination, the console died beneath his fingers. With a shout of rage he smashed his fist into the lifeless console.
An old friend?
As the vortex opened Wade found herself twenty feet above the ground and falling fast. She landed with a thump beside a river, rolling with the impact. She lay for a few moments trying to get her breath back - feeling elated at her escape. Then she heard a thud and her heart sank. She knew what it was before even before she looked. She turned her head and saw the Kromagg guard - already getting up on his knees. Wade got to her feet and started to run but she could hear the rapidly closing footsteps of the Kromagg. She had barely run thirty metres before he caught her and hurled her to the ground. He bore down on her and clamped his hands around her throat - he clearly had no intention of trying to take her back alive. Wade lashed out with her fists but her blows just bounced off the muscular Kromagg. She tried in vain to wrest his hands from her throat. Her vision started to darken and her lungs screamed as her body was starved of oxygen.
Suddenly the grip around her throat was gone and she was able to gulp down precious air. She was dimly aware of the sounds of a struggle somewhere nearby but her vision hadn't yet returned. Slowly her sight cleared and she saw the Kromagg fighting with a man, obviously her rescuer. Between them was the Kromagg's weapon and they were struggling with each other for possession of it. Wade saw with dismay that the Kromagg seemed to be winning, forcing the man back towards the edge of the river. Suddenly the man dropped backwards still holding the weapon and pulling the Kromagg forwards. He put his foot up into the Kromagg's midriff and catapulted him over his head into the river.
Expecting a renewed attack, the man got to his feet again and turned to face the Kromagg. . But the Kromagg was in no fit state to attack anybody. He couldn't swim. The man and Wade watched as the Kromagg struggled to stay afloat. After a moment the man removed his shoes and made to enter the river.
The man turned to look at Wade. "He.. it's drowning," he said.
"Go near him and he'll take you with him," she said simply.
The man looked at her for a moment then back at the river. Only ripples remained where the Kromagg had been. "What was that thing?" he asked.
"I'll explain later. Right now just tell me where I am."
"Where? Erm.. Cambridge."
Wade had never slid outside the USA before. Still she thought, I shouldn't be surprised, with a completely random slide, I could have ended up anywhere. I was lucky, I could have found myself a thousand feet in the air, or in the middle of an ocean.
"So what was it?" the man asked again.
"Consider yourself lucky you don't know."
"But where did it come from?"
Wade took a deep breath. How was she going to explain all this? But she had to try. She would have to warn this world about the Kromaggs and she would need help to get back home. She would have to find this world's Quinn. Maybe he had developed sliding too.
"This is going to sound a little weird but both he and I are from another dimension. Not the same one I hasten to add."
"Yes." Wade waited for the inevitable expression of disbelief but it didn't come. Instead the man said "I think you had better come up to the house and meet my father."
It wasn't the response she had been expecting but she reasoned that maybe this man's father was a local bigshot. Certainly they appeared to be in some kind of estate and she could see an impressive looking house about 100 metres away. "Ok," she said, and they began to walk.
"By the way, thanks," said Wade.
"For what," he said.
"Oh just the small matter of saving my life"
"Oh, yes. Well, you're welcome."
Wade laughed "You're welcome?"
The man smiled. "Well I've never saved anyone's life before and I've misplaced my knight in shining armour handbook. What am I supposed to say?"
Wade smiled back. "Well you could introduce yourself good Sir Knight."
"Sorry. My name's Isaac."
"Well Wade, I bet you have an interesting story to tell."
"Interesting or insane depending on your point of view. How do you think your father will take it?"
"Oh he'll definitely find it interesting. He's very open-minded."
Wade felt that there was something she wasn't being told but decided it could wait. She felt in no danger and it was nice to be able to trust someone for a change. In fact, she felt strangely drawn to the man as if she had known him a long time. Had she met an alternate Isaac while Sliding? Not that she could recall.
"My father will be in his study," said Isaac as they entered the house. When they reached the study Isaac opened the door and entered first. Wade could see a figure sitting in a wheelchair with his back to them.
"Father," said Isaac, "I've brought someone to meet you." The figure turned and a chill went down Wade's spine. "Professor!" she cried and ran forward throwing her arms around the man and hugging him. The startled man returned her hug lightly. "My dear," he said, "please understand that I'm not complaining but do you usually greet people this way?" Wade released him and pulled back, tears were streaming down her face. She had known of course that this wasn't her Professor Arturo, but the shock of seeing him had prompted her actions. "I'm sorry," she said, "it's just that you reminded me of someone I knew and for a moment I thought..." she trailed off.
"Wade says she's from another dimension," said Isaac.
The older man looked at his son. "I haven't told her" Isaac added.
Wade, recovering, noted the interplay between the two men. Neither of whom seemed surprised at the idea of sliding between dimensions. A suspicion was growing in her mind.
"Tell me... Wade was it? Tell me Wade, was the someone that I remind you of called Professor Maximillian Arturo?"
"So you know an alternate me."
"Yes. And you know about sliding."
"Sliding? Is that what you call it? I never got around to giving it a name but, yes, I know about sliding."
"Do you know a Quinn Mallory?"
"Quinn Mallory? I don't believe so. Look, perhaps it's best if you start form the beginning. If Isaac would be good enough to arrange some refreshments you can tell us your story over tea."
So Wade told her story. She told them about Quinn, the other Arturo and Rembrandt. She told them about some of the worlds they had visited. She began to cry again when she told them of the Professor's death.
"Now I understand your reaction when you saw me," said Arturo. "It must have been quite a shock."
Wade nodded. "He was almost like a father to me," she said. "He saved my life, all our lives."
Wade continued her story right up to her escape from the Kromaggs. Then it was the Professor's turn.
"I was offered a job in San Francisco, and I was all set to take it. It was an excellent job, far better than the one I had at the time. But I had just met Catherine, Isaac's mother, and I decided to stay in Britain with her. It all seemed to work out for the best. We got married, had Isaac, and I got a good job at Cambridge University." He paused before continuing in a bitter sounding voice.
"Then about ten years ago Catherine and I invented the inter-dimensional machine. We'd been working on it for years and when the answer finally came it was more luck than judgment. But we'd done it. The feeling of elation was greater than anything we had ever felt. But we were wary of what the powers that be would do with such a machine, and of the possible risks from other dimensions. So we both agreed that we had to do extensive research before revealing our discovery.
"So we began to travel, to slide if you like, to other Earths. It was exciting and uplifting. Every world we visited seemed to be more at peace with itself than our own. But that made us careless, lulled us into a false sense of security. Then we travelled to a world that was like hell on Earth. There was no order, no society. Just the rule of the gun. We were set upon by a gang of bandits and Catherine was killed. I escaped but my injuries confined me to this wheelchair."
He seemed lost in thought for a moment. Then he shook himself out of it. "Well there you have it. That was eight years ago."
"And you've never slid since?"
"No. I decided it was much to dangerous. And hearing of these Kromaggs of yours makes me think I was right. Tell me Wade, do you think they could follow you here?"
"No. I made sure of that."
"Good. At least we don't have to worry about that."
"Not yet maybe. But one day they'll come. You have to warn people about them."
"Yes of course. The problem will be convincing people."
"Drag the river," said Isaac. "A dead Kromagg will help convince the sceptics."
"Yes, and that weapon of his. I think I'll start with the scientific community - most of my contacts are there. Then we can get to work on the politicians."
"While you're doing that," said Wade, "I'd like to try and get back home."
"Home?" said Arturo. "But I thought the Kromaggs had taken over your world?"
"All the more reason for me to go back."
"But the danger."
"I have friends there. I have to go back."
"I understand," said the Professor. "You must do what you must do."
"But Father," said Isaac, "how will she get back? You destroyed the machine."
Wade turned to the Professor. "You destroyed it?"
The Professor sighed. "No," he said. "I didn't destroy it." In response to his son's questioning look he said "I told you I had destroyed it so that you wouldn't be tempted to use it. I wanted to destroy it but when it came to it I couldn't. Catherine and I had put so much work into it, it would be like killing a part of her." He looked at his son again "It's at your grandfather's old house."
They found the machine in the basement of the old house wrapped in plastic sheeting. The controls were fairly simple and with the Professors instructions Wade was able to turn it on and set the co-ordinates for home, including the necessary adjustments to ensure that she arrived back in San Francisco, not England.
"You don't have to do this, you know, Doctor," she said to Isaac. She had taken to calling him Doctor when he had told her what he did. In spite of his parents' best efforts, including naming him after Isaac Newton, he had avoided physics and studied history, anthropology and sociology. He was now Dr Isaac Arturo, social anthropologist. "I'm coming," he said firmly. "Father would kill me if let you go off on your own." He smiled. "Besides, I wouldn't be much of a Knight if I let a damsel walk into distress on her own."
"Ok, here we go."
Wade hit the button and the vortex opened. She checked that the timer was secure in its pouch attached to her belt and she and Isaac walked into the vortex.
The landscape that met their eyes when they emerged from the vortex was much the same as when Wade had last been there although there were a few less buildings standing, and fewer people to be seen. They headed first for the resistance camp but found it deserted. There were signs of a fierce battle and a number of bodies lay around. Wade was desperate to find out if Rembrandt was among them but the bodies were too badly decomposed for her to tell.
"Where to now?" asked Isaac.
"The Dominion Hotel," replied Wade, "assuming it's still standing."
As they walked through the streets they attracted strange looks from the few people they saw. They tried to speak to some of them but the people would scurry away as they approached. Maybe they just looked a little too well fed and well dressed (before they slid, Wade had taken a few hours to do some shopping to replace her old outfit which had been through a lot and showed it). But they saw no Kromaggs and nobody tried to hinder their progress.
The hotel was still there but nobody was taking any bookings. Isaac hit the bell at the reception desk and the high-pitched "ding" sounded eerie as it broke the unnatural quiet.
"They seem to be out of business," he said. Wade appeared to be lost in her own thoughts and didn't respond. "What were you hoping to find?" he asked in a louder voice.
"I don't know really. Just... something. This was sort of our usual rendezvous point whichever world we were on. If we got separated, we would come here."
"Wade, you know the chances of your friends being here were pretty slim."
"Yes, I know that. But I thought they might have left a message, or a sign."
"Well lets look around. Did you have a regular room?"
"Not really, we..." she stopped.
"What is it?"
Wade moved behind the receptionist's desk. She reached into one of the pigeon holes that were used for guests' messages and drew out a small envelope. It was blank save for two letters, "WW." With trembling fingers she tore open the envelope and pulled out the piece of paper inside.
"What does it say?" asked Isaac.
"'Go and see George Orwell.'"
Then they looked at each other and smiled. "Room 101," they chorused.
"1984 was one of my favourite books," said Wade.
"Your friends weren't taking any chances were they?" said Isaac. "I doubt that the Kromaggs would understand that message."
"Well what are we waiting for?" said Wade, grabbing the key to room 101 and almost sprinting up the stairs with Isaac in hot pursuit.
Wade opened the door to room 101 and stepped inside. The room was empty except for the usual hotel furniture. She ran to the en-suite bathroom but that too was empty. She sat on the bed and put her head in her hands.
"I'm so stupid!" she exclaimed. "As if they were going to be sitting here waiting for me. That message could have been there for months." The anticipation and sudden disappointment played havoc with her emotions and tears began to flow.
Isaac sat beside her and put his arm gently around her. "Hey come on," he said. "They wouldn't have gone to the trouble of leaving that note just to lead you to a dead end. There'll be another clue in here somewhere."
"You're right," said Wade wiping away the tears and getting to her feet. "Let's find it."
It was Isaac that found it. Inside the cover of Gideon's Bible was a date inscribed in Roman numerals. The date was one week after Wade had been captured by the Kromaggs. After the date was a series of five bar gates. When they counted them they added up to the exact number of days that had passed since then - less one. "Whoever made these marks must have been back here every day," said Isaac.
"Except today," said Wade.
"So I suppose we just wait."
"I guess so."
Several hours passed and darkness came. Isaac was sat in a chair keeping watch while Wade slept on the bed. He heard a noise. A footstep. Then another. Whoever it was was obviously trying to keep quiet but in the deathly silence that now pervaded nighttime San Francisco, every sound was magnified. Slowly Isaac drew out the gun that his father had insisted he bring and tiptoed to the door. He froze as he saw the handle slowly start to turn. Then he tensed himself, grabbed the handle and flung the door open, pointing the gun at whoever, or whatever was outside. Isaac found himself facing the barrel of another gun held by another man. "Who are you?" came the simultaneous challenge.
"Remmy!" Wade had woken and in the moonlight had recognised her friend.
"Wade!" Rembrandt's voice was equally ecstatic.
Isaac stood back as the two rushed into each other's arms. Wade was lifted off the floor as Rembrandt swung her round. "I thought you were dead!" they both said.
A while later they were sat on the bed bringing each other up to speed. Wade told Rembrandt, briefly, of her time in the Kromagg camp and of her escape. She delighted in observing her friend's reaction when she introduced Isaac.
"Arturo?" he had said. "As in Max Arturo? Man, you two meeting up is one freaky coincidence."
Rembrandt told Wade what had happened after the battle at Quinn's house. Several of the team had been killed and he himself had been wounded in the leg. The wound had not been too serious but it had caused him to fall and he had knocked himself unconscious when he hit the ground. When he awoke the next morning he had made his way back to the camp only to find it in ruins. "I guess some of the team made it back there and were followed by the Kromaggs," he said. After a few days he had met up with some survivors from the attack who were trying to start regroup. "I've been with them ever since," he said.
"We do what we can but we don't have the firepower to give the Kromaggs any serious trouble."
"What about Quinn?" asked Wade. "Did he ever make it back?"
"Yeah he made it back, so did Maggie. There was this one time when I got captured by the Kromaggs. Quinn and Maggie helped to get me out."
"Where is he now? At the resistance camp?"
"I'm sorry Wade but Quinn's gone. After rescuing me, he and Maggie slid away again. They asked me to go with them, but... well, I hadn't given up on you yet."
"Oh, I see."
"Look Wade, I know you had feelings for Q-ball and I'm sure he would have stayed if there seemed to be any hope of finding you."
"You stayed," observed Isaac.
"Yeah, well. Quinn was the logical one. He thought with his head. I always trusted my heart more. Besides, he found out he had a brother somewhere that he never knew about. He went looking for him."
Wade mentally shook herself. "Hey," she said, "less of the melancholy, this is supposed to be a happy occasion."
The two men smiled. "Did you bring the champagne?" Isaac asked Rembrandt.
"I thought you guys were bringing it," he replied.
Vive la résistance
Wade and Isaac sat in the resistance camp eating some kind of stew. When Isaac had asked what was in it Rembrandt told him it was better not to know. Rembrandt had led them on a, mostly underground, journey to the camp and they were waiting to meet the groups leader, Simon, who had not yet appeared. There were about fifty people in the camp, although Rembrandt told them the whole group numbered about three hundred, and Wade recognised one or two faces from the time she had spent with them before. While they ate Rembrandt told them more about the Kromagg activity.
"They've gathered up most of the able-bodied men and taken them to a labour camp about ten miles outside the city. They put them to work making some kind of alloy and also some chemicals. Basically they work them till they drop dead. As for the women... Well I guess you know what happens to them."
"Surely they can't have taken everybody in the city?" asked Isaac.
"Not everybody. They killed thousands, even millions, in the first assaults. Then they started taking prisoners. All that's left is the old, the weak, and the few that have managed to avoid capture."
"What about the rest of the world?"
"Hard to say for sure. Long range communication is just about impossible. We get intermittent radio contact with other groups but, as far as we can tell, the whole world is in pretty much the same position as us."
Just as they were finishing their meal there was a commotion at one of the entrances. The leader had returned. Wade and Isaac were surprised when they saw him. Both had been expecting some kind of Che Guevara figure but Simon turned out to be short, portly, middle-aged man of Japanese origin. He clearly had some news as he asked his lieutenants to assemble everybody for an announcement. Then he caught sight of the newcomers and cast a questioning look at Rembrandt.
"So you're the famous Wade," he said when the introductions were made. "Mr Brown here never stops speaking about you."
"All good I hope."
"Naturally. It is very good to have you with us, and you too Dr Arturo. In fact, you could not have come at a more opportune time."
"Why is that?" asked Isaac.
Simon explained. "I've have just come from a meeting with one of our members who has infiltrated the labour camp and who is able to make the occasional foray outside. He has obtained information from one of the camp's human interpreters that may give us our first glimmer of hope in this war. The interpreter overheard a conversation between two senior Kromaggs discussing a recent scouting mission to find new worlds to conquer. Apparently the scouts found something that has got the Kromagg leaders running scared. We don't know what it is but it is definitely a threat to the Kromaggs."
"So your plan is to find out what this threat is and use it against them?" said Rembrandt.
"And presumably you want to us to use our sliding machine to find it," said Isaac.
"That was my hope yes. Will you help us?
"Of course we'll help," said Wade. "But we'll need the co-ordinates."
"That will be difficult, but not impossible," said Simon. "Now I must inform the others." "It is clear what our course of action must be," said Simon when he had finished his explanation. "We must locate the source of this threat to the Kromaggs and, if possible, use it against them."
Some voices were raised in protest.
"But we have no idea what it is?"
"How are we going to bring it here?"
"As to what it is," said Simon, "your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps it is a virus of some kind that is deadly to the Kromaggs." He paused for a moment to let the idea sink in.
"And as for how to get it here. Our two new friends brought to us by Mr Brown have access to the same dimension travelling equipment as the Kromaggs use. All we need to do is get the co-ordinates of the world on which the threat is located."
Wade passed the binoculars to Isaac. "The security down there is tight," she said to Simon.
"Can we really get in there?"
"Getting into the camp isn't the problem. Getting to the sliding machine is. They've really tightened up security recently. Any unattended human within 50 metres of that place is shot on sight."
"We can probably blame Wade for that," said Isaac. "I bet heads rolled after her escape."
"Oh it's all my fault as usual," said Wade. She turned as she heard the sound of someone approaching behind her. "You've looked better," she said.
"Don't I know it," said Rembrandt.
"Wow. Gruesome," said Isaac.
"Thanks a lot. But is it convincing?"
"Well it would convince me but my experience with Kromaggs has been fleeting. Wade, you've probably seen more of them than anyone else living. What do you think?" Wade considered the make-up job done on Rembrandt by Melody, a resistance member who had worked for a TV studio doing special effects make-up. Rembrandt and two others were going to pose as Kromagg guards to get Wade to the sliding machine. Wade was the only one with the knowledge to be able to interpret the Kromagg symbols and operate the machine. "It's pretty good," she said. "In the dark it should fool even a Kromagg."
"Just as long as they don't try to start up a conversation," said Rembrandt. Wade had taught him a few Kromagg words but his accent wasn't going to fool anybody. "Ok," said Simon. "If everybody's ready, lets go."
An hour later Wade, Isaac, Rembrandt, and the two other fake Kromaggs Leroy and Joseph, were inside the camp perimeter courtesy of a well-hidden tunnel. There they waited until they heard an explosion. The explosion signalled the start of the decoy attack led by Simon on the far side of the camp.
They set off in the direction of the sliding machine following a map that he'd been smuggled out of the camp. As they had hoped, the attack had caught the Kromaggs' attention, and the few Kromaggs they saw scurrying around took no notice of the three guards and their prisoners. Rembrandt shoved Wade a little too hard as one Kromagg looked in their direction. "Hey, don't lose yourself in the part," she hissed.
As they approached the room that housed the sliding machine they saw that it was guarded. The two guards saw their approach and immediately raised their weapons. One of them said something which only Wade understood. Realising the game was up, Rembrandt, Leroy and Joseph opened fire and the two guards fell to the floor.
"Come on," said Rembrandt. "We don't have much time. That noise will have alerted others."
"Pick him up," said Wade indicating what appeared to be the senior of the two guards. As Isaac and Rembrandt did so she grabbed the Kromagg's hand and pressed his thumb to the panel. To her relief, the door opened.
She and Isaac rushed inside as Rembrandt and the others stood guard by the door. The configuration of the machine was the same as the one in the camp where she had been held. After a few false starts she managed to call up the machine's memory store which displayed a log of the co-ordinates of previous slides. Outside more Kromaggs were approaching. Seeing Rembrandt and the others the leader snarled a question at them. Not understanding a word Rembrandt replied using one of the stock phrases Wade had given to him. Whether it was the response, the accent or the make-up, the Kromagg didn't like it and signalled his men to attack. The resistance fighters returned fire. "Hurry up, Wade!" shouted Rembrandt.
Back inside, Wade had copied down the co-ordinates of the last five worlds visited. Their intelligence had said that the machine had not been used since the Kromaggs had discovered their mysterious threat, but she took note of the others just in case. While she had been working Isaac had been planting charges around the machine. Hopefully the Kromaggs would conclude that destroying the machine had been their objective all along.
"Are you ready?" she said.
Isaac nodded. "I've set the timer for five minutes."
At that point the firing outside stopped. Rembrandt stepped into the room. "Come on guys, let's go!"
They left the room and began to retrace their steps.
"Where's Joseph?" asked Wade.
"He didn't make it," replied Leroy.
As they emerged from the building into the open air once more it was clear that the sounds they could here from the area of the attack were Kromagg weapons, not human ones. The attack had obviously been beaten off and they hoped that the resistance losses hadn't been too heavy. Abandoning their pretense of being prisoners and guards they ran towards their escape route trying to keep to the shadows as much as possible. On route they heard the explosion as the charges Isaac had set went off. "Scratch one sliding machine," said Rembrandt.
Half-way to their destination they came under attack. All four fell to the ground and began firing. As she felled one, Wade wondered at the relish with which she killed Kromaggs when a short time ago the thought of killing anything would have horrified her. The short battle was won but Leroy had been severely wounded in the leg. Isaac and Rembrandt supported him but progress was slowed. They came under attack again close to the tunnel entrance.
Again they returned fire but more and more Kromaggs were coming up all the time. "Go!" said Leroy. "I'll hold them." As he said this he wrenched the mask from his face, choosing to die as a man, not a Kromagg.
"We're not leaving you," said Wade, but Rembrandt and Isaac exchanged a glance and, by silent agreement, pulled Wade to her feet and dragged her in the direction of the tunnel. They began to run as, behind them, Leroy filled the air with bullets. The sound of his firing continued until they were entering the tunnel, then it abruptly ceased.
They crawled through the tunnel but could soon hear the sound of the entrance being opened. Rembrandt, bringing up the rear produced a hand grenade and tossed it back towards the entrance. "Heads down!" he shouted to the others. The grenade exploded bringing down the roof of the tunnel at the far end. The Sliders were showered with dirt but the roof above them stayed up. "Let's get out of here," said Wade.
When they returned to the resistance camp Simon was waiting.
"Thank god," he said. "Did you get it?"
"We got it," said Rembrandt. "But Joseph and Leroy were killed."
"They're not the only ones. I think we lost about a hundred people tonight."
"Oh my God," said Wade.
"I hope it was worth it," said Isaac.
"That's up to you," said Simon. "Find whatever it is the Kromaggs are afraid of and bring it back. That is what they gave their lives for."
Isaac nodded. "When do we go?"
"As soon as possible." He turned to Wade. "When will you be ready?"
"I've just got to translate the Kromagg symbols and program the timer. Give me two minutes."
As she got to work Simon turned to Rembrandt. "Well, Mr Brown. I would tell you to go with them but I suspect that is not necessary."
"No it's not. I go where Wade goes."
Simon shook hands with Rembrandt and then Isaac. "Goodbye Dr Arturo," he said. "Thank you for your help. I am sorry our acquaintance was so short."
"We'll meet again," said Isaac, "when we come back."
"Of course," said Simon.
"Ok, ready," said Wade.
Simon shook her hand too. "Goodbye, Miss Welles. You carry all our hopes with you."
With that the resistance leader walked away and began talking to his troops.
Wade held out the timer. "Ready Remmy?"
"You bet. It's been a long time."
"As I'll ever be."
Wade pressed the button and the vortex opened. At the same time there was a series of explosions and the now familiar sound of gunfire. The sliders turned. Behind them the resistance fighters were running towards their final battle. Simon stood alone looking at them. "Succeed," he said, and followed his comrades. The sliders looked at each other and without another word, they leapt into the vortex.
A new hope?
"See anything?" They had emerged just outside San Francisco and Isaac was addressing Rembrandt who was observing the city through binoculars.
"Well it's definitely San Francisco and the people in it are definitely human."
"Anything unusual?" asked Wade.
"Not much. The buildings look a little different. There seems to be more park space. There's a lot of modern looking trams. And the cars are weird."
"How do you mean weird?" said Isaac.
"Not many of them for one thing. And they look like concept cars, the kind of thing you see at motor shows."
"Well it seems safe enough," said Wade. "Let's go check it out."
As they entered the city the differences started to show up more.
"Where are all the stores?" asked Wade. "Doesn't anybody buy anything on this world?"
"Maybe it's considered vulgar to make a show of possessions," suggested Isaac. "Shopping could be a shameful activity."
"I see you're starting to get the hang of sliding," laughed Wade. "That's exactly the sort of thing you need to look out for. Although maybe they just do all their shopping online. They do seem a little ahead of us technology-wise"
"See what I mean about the cars?" asked Rembrandt.
"Yes," said Isaac, "They all appear to be electric."
"And taxis," added Wade. "How do you like that Remmy? A world with no personal transport."
"It's a crying shame. You can't have a world without Cadill... what's going on?"
The people, who up till now had been paying the Sliders no special attention apart from the occasional amused look at their clothing, were starting to move away from them quickly. Suddenly the sunlight was blocked out and they were engulfed in shadow. They looked up and saw that some kind of craft, with no discernable means of propulsion, had silently hovered into position above them.
"Kromaggs?" asked Isaac.
"No," said Wade, "it's not one of theirs."
"Kromagg or not, we don't have time to start answering questions," said Rembrandt. "I say we run for it."
"Ok," said Wade, "go!"
They got about ten feet before finding themselves swathed in a strange light that rendered them unable to move. The craft casually lowered itself to the ground and three, official looking but mercifully human, men got out. The Sliders stopped struggling as the men approached.
"Which one of you is in charge?" one of them asked.
Rembrandt and Isaac looked at Wade. "Apparently I am," she said. "Thanks guys," she added under her breath.
"What do you want here?" asked the man.
"Well, I suppose I want you to erm... Take me to your leader."
They were in the strange craft being carried somewhere although their taciturn captors were not saying where.
"Take me to your leader?" said Isaac.
"Well I've always wanted to say that."
"I wonder if that's where they're taking us," said Rembrandt.
"Hopefully," said Isaac.
"Because I think I've worked out what the threat to the Kromaggs is and we will need to speak to someone in authority if we're going to make use of it."
"Well don't keep us in suspense," said Wade. "What is it?"
"It's them," he said nodding towards the guards. "And this," indicating the craft around them. "This whole society."
"Of course," said Wade. "Even I can see that the technology in this craft is way ahead of anything the Kromaggs have got. And this is just a sort of police car. Imagine what their military have got."
"And they must be aware of sliding, or at least be able to detect it. How else could they have picked us up so quickly? They must have somehow detected our arrival."
"How come they're so far ahead of us?" asked Rembrandt.
"I don't know. It's possible that one of the civilisations that collapsed on our Earths, say the Roman or the Egyptian, continued here and the level of technology was able to grow uninterrupted."
"You sound just like the Professor. So do you think they'll help us?"
"Why not," replied Wade. "The Kromaggs regard them as a threat. That means they'll be devoting all their efforts to destroy them. It make sense for them to help us and I'm sure that we can convince them of that."
Two weeks later Wade, Isaac and Rembrandt sat along one end of a table. A woman, flanked by two men sat opposite.
"And who are we speaking to this time?" asked Wade. She had spent the last fortnight weeks arguing with a variety of bureaucrats and officials trying to convince them of the urgency and seriousness of the situation and demanding to speak to someone in authority. Now she had another bunch to deal with.
The woman spoke. "I am the President of the World Council. The gentleman on my left is Chief Science Minister and the gentleman on my right is Chief of the Armed Forces."
"Oh, right. Good." said Wade.
The President continued. "We understand that you have a story to tell. Please go ahead, we are listening."
Wade took a deep breath and began.