Originally posted at the Sliders BBoard
“This place is paradise.” Remmy said. He was relaxing in a hot tub, a tall glass filled with a bubbly pink liquid within reach of his limp right hand. His eyes were closed. The room was filled with soft, light music.
The woman sitting in the hot tub with him, massaging his legs and feet, seemed amused. “You have no idea how wrong you are.” She cooed. Before he could panic or get paranoid, she added, “this is but a weak, pale reflection of the true paradise.”
Remmy had been on this world for a week now and had seen no evidence of anger, violence, hatred, even unease among any of the inhabitants. Though they were obviously very advanced, there was no sign of law enforcement nor even a sign that it was necessary. The people he had encountered seemed to be the more peaceful and happy than he had ever imagined human beings could be. It seemed to have little to do with physical comfort, such as he was experiencing now and such as most of them enjoyed some form of on a daily basis, and everything to do with mental and emotional state.
There was no pollution on this world. No crime or hate. No one seemed to be afraid. Remmy could barely get his mind around the concept of a world where fear was nonexistent.
“I find it hard to believe that any place could be closer to paradise than this.”
His companion, a woman named Lydia, made a weird noise that Remmy had come to learn was a gentle chuckle among these people. “Remmy, imagine a rock sitting on a thick forest floor. Now imagine a solitary sunbeam breaking through a gap in the tree cover and shooting down to a rock wall. Some fraction of that sunbeam reflects off the rock wall and scatters to the floor of the forest. A small fraction of THAT reflection hits the rock on the forest floor and warms it the tiniest bit. Compare that amount of energy to the output of the entire sun. That is the difference between where you are now here with us and where you are going next.”
Remmy opened his eyes and sat up. “I’m going somewhere?”
Lydia smiled and rose. “Change out of your swim trunks and into the clothes I put in dressing room. After that the first place you shall go is to meet our Goddess. She is finally ready to see you.”
“At last!” Remmy jumped from the water. Since the first day he arrived and realized how powerful this woman must be, he had sought an audience with her to ask her help in reaching his home world and fighting the Kromaggs who had taken it over. He dried and dressed quickly into the ornate gold threaded robe that had been left for him. Then he followed Lydia to a hovercar which took him to the immense palace that dominated this world’s capital city.
The hovercar did not take him to the base of the monolithic structure. Instead, it flew him up. Up to the very top of the highest spire, so far in the air that he dared not look out the windows. Lydia squeezed his hand in reassurance when she sensed his nervousness. The hovercar slid soundlessly into a docking bay and the doors closed behind it before the passengers disembarked. Lydia led him to two comparatively small white gold doors and indicated that he should pass through alone.
Without hesitation, Remmy opened the doors and walked into the pitch black room. For some reason, the light from the hallway stopped at the door. It was as if some kind of barrier allowed Remmy through but not the light. Looking back he could see Lydia, which implied that light HAD to be passing through the barrier or he would have seen nothing. Nevertheless, nothing was illuminated past the door’s edge.
Then Lydia closed the doors and it was a moot point. He was standing two paces inside a completely black room ... presumably sharing the room with this world’s all powerful Goddess.
“Remmy, come closer. Nothing will trip you.” The kind female voice beckoned.
The carpet was soft and deep and somehow reassuring. Sure enough, nothing impeded his progress as he walked farther in the room.
“One more step ahead of you is a deep, comfortable chair to sit in.” From Her it sounded not like the order it was but a gift.
Remmy followed orders. When he was settled, She spoke again.
“I can see all the ways you are, Remmy. And throughout almost every way you are there is one overlying fact that shines through the meaningless variations. You are a good man. Admittedly, my definition of ‘good’ is a little different than yours might be, but this is a True Statement.”
Remmy didn’t know what to say so he kept his peace.
“Unfortunately, in many of the ways you are, including the way you are before me now, there is another True Statement. You have suffered greatly.” Her voice was so full of compassion that Remmy actually had to fight back tears.
“You deserve what I am about to give you.” She concluded.
Remmy found his voice. “What are you going to give me?”
Her answer was a single word. Her voice was gentle, her tone compassionate. The undertone was one of finality, however. That layer scared him. This was the first fear he had experienced since arriving to this world. That was when Remmy realized that fear COULD exist on this world. This was not exactly a world where fear didn’t exist, merely one where local people had little to fear. He wondered if this next place was a world where fear could not exist for anyone there.
“Perfection.” The Goddess had said.
Part One (Multipartite) [posted: 10/16/01]
On the last day this version of Maggie expected to exist, she didn’t look like someone meticulously planning to end her life. She was calm, sweet, even amusing to the people she encountered that final day. Her eyes were not tear streaked for she had cried herself out weeks ago. She didn’t display the all consuming rage at life in general and fate in particular because she knew that if she let even a smidgen of that out it would all come out in a ravenous flood and consume her.
She found that once she had decided to embrace the fate of her fallen friends, her rage and sorrow were easier to control. If she kept herself focused on finalizing the details of her life she didn’t have as much a problem resisting the urge to smash everything within reach.
The solution came to Maggie quite clearly one morning several weeks ago while she lay in bed too depressed to move and thinking about all the people she had lost. Her husband and all her friends from her home world. She had not been particularly close to any of the few refugees they had evacuated right before the physics defying pulsars destroyed her world. Then there was Quinn, Colin, and Remmy. All gone. Three months ago Remmy had Slid by himself from the Kromagg warehouse and never returned. He was likely as dead as The Seer.
She suddenly realized as she lay there that Mallory and Diana notwithstanding, had lost everyone. Those two clouded the issue because she hadn’t spent as much time with them and didn’t love them as she had the first three. She didn’t even have the love/hate relationship she had enjoyed with Wade. That had been fueled by her jealously of Wade and though she would never admit this to anyone out loud, she had loved Wade more than she hated her.
There was nothing left for Maggie.
It was time for her to go.
On her final day, Maggie rose, showered, dressed in her most dynamite outfit, and went to the store to buy some cleaning supplies. This was when she encountered the people she was sweet and nice to. When she returned home she cleaned every floor and surface of her huge house.
All three remaining Sliders were rich. The courts had imprisoned Claire and given the Sliders each a third of The Seer’s holdings. The Seer and Claire had been near bankruptcy but it didn’t take many public appearances or the sale of many of The Seer’s now finite number of paintings to make the three of them comfortable. So Maggie’s house was a secluded three story mansion. She had thought the space and grandeur of it would soothe her but it only served to remind her every second of how alone and isolated she was. And it meant she had a lot to clean.
Fortunately, every room was now bare. She had never completed decorating or furnishing this grand house, and over the past week she had packed everything into boxes stacked in the garage where whoever was in charge of her effects would have little trouble loading them. Each box had a comprehensive content list taped to the side.
She worked without breaks except for a quick tasteless lunch and several bathroom trips so by 4pm she had finally finished scrubbing the last room. Maggie took another shower (thoughts of the condition they found Marilyn Monroe in made her inwardly shudder) and put her clothes in a trashbag. She put on a plush robe, the only other article of clothing not washed and in one of the boxes, and carried the trash bag which also contained the rest of the cleaning materials, to the trashbin on the side of the house.
Then, barefoot, wearing only her robe, Maggie returned inside her house for what she hoped was the last time. She sent the email to Mallory and turned off the computer. She didn’t know how quickly he might get it so she couldn’t take the time to break down the computer and box it up. She regretted that someone would have to go through the trouble of doing this for her, but that was outweighed by her desire to still be in good shape when she was found. Hence her email.
Maggie carried a glass of water, the only glass not cleaned up and packed away in one of the boxes, and her single black pill to the foyer. She didn’t want them looking all over the house for her. She would take the pill and lay down on the bare floor in the foyer, head resting on a single pillow and body modestly wrapped in the robe.
Maggie set the pill and glass on the floor next to her pillow.
It was time for her to go.
“You’re really going to go through with this, aren’t you?”
Maggie squealed and looked behind her, where the male voice had originated. A handsome looking blonde man wearing a crisp, expensive suit and soft leather dress shoes was standing six feet away from her. He smiled, exposing perfect white teeth. The only departure from his immaculate grooming was his full, unkempt blond beard. It was thick and wild.
Maggie was a little disconcerted when she realized that she couldn’t tell what color his eyes were. “Who are you and how did you get in here?”
“You can call me Ammut. As for how I got in here, I am a very powerful man. We’ve met before, actually, but I was disoriented at the time and I looked nothing like this. Wade spent far more time with me than you.”
“What do you want?” She sighed.
He smiled, revealing again his perfect white teeth. “I can see all the ways you are, Maggie. I think you are worth helping.”
Maggie rose slowly, instinctively taking a defensive posture. “You sound like a very troubled man.”
Ammut seemed amused at that. But beneath that she glimpsed for a second an all consuming hatred for her. Then it was gone and she wondered if she had imagined it. “I prevented that email from reaching its destination. No one knows your little secret except for me. But I suggest that you dress more appropriately and go see your friends. They’re about to receive a visitor you will be most interested in.”
Maggie forgot her fear of this man and exclaimed hopefully, “Remmy? Is Remmy back?”
“Sadly, Remmy is beyond all of us. Left me before he could suffer enough. No, this is someone else. He brings Good News.”
Maggie had a strange urge to hug this man who had, after all, saved her life just when things might be turning around. The fact that he could be full of shit didn’t stop her from actually hugging him. Instead it was the clear mental image of her hugging him and him not being able to stop himself from biting her with those perfect teeth. His eyes glittering insanely with rage as he drove those teeth deep into her flesh, his nostrils flaring as they drank in the pungent scent of her blood. If she made any kind of contact with him he would not be able to stop himself from acting on the hatred he felt for her.
Maggie backed up a step. “I don’t trust you. You have no desire to help me.”
“I’ve changed, Maggie. Now all I want is sweetness and light. Cookies and cream. Good hearts and glad smiles.” He smiled, revealing those teeth again and she shuddered. “You had better get dressed. He’ll be arriving at Mallory’s house in twenty minutes.” Ammut backed up to allow her to pass by without getting too close to him. He followed her into the garage and watched as she opened a box and quickly dressed. As she opened the garage door, he smiled knowingly at her. “Care to have a good luck hug before you go?”
Maggie shuddered violently as she backed away. “No thanks. Maybe next time.”
“Ooooo.” He cooed sweetly, revealing once again teeth shining through his wild beard. “I can’t wait.”
“Has he arrived yet?” Maggie called, slamming her car door closed and running towards Mallory’s porch. He and Diana were drinking iced tea on the porch and enjoying the sunset.
“Who?” Diana answered, pulling her feet down from the guard rail and sitting up.
At that moment a vortex opened and one figure emerged. It took Maggie several moments to realize who it was. “Professor Arturo!”
The Slider straightened and brushed off his suit, which was far more casual than Ammut’s. He looked at each of them in turn, focusing the longest on Mallory. He looked younger than Maggie remembered and his eyes were bright and filled with ... something she couldn’t identify. Arturo finally took his eyes from Mallory and searched the sky before smiling them. “Isn’t that a gorgeous sunset?”
Mallory invited them into the living room, which was filled with easy chairs instead of even a single couch or loveseat. Mallory liked his personal space. When they had settled into comfortable chairs, Maggie said, “maybe you should tell us who you are. The Professor Arturo who traveled with my friends died on my world.”
“Yes and no.” He replied softly. “I started my travels with your friends who are also my friends. I was left behind and one of my doubles took my place. It’s a long story but suffice it to say that I was just as close to them as you were.”
“Quinn told me about that while we traveled on our own.” Maggie replied. “He believed that he’d left you behind and that a double took your place. Despite what he did to you on his world, the double was not a bad man and he died saving Quinn’s life.”
Arturo smiled brightly. “You’re the second person who has told me that Quinn said that. It pleases me that he served my friends well in my stead.”
“Who else told you?” Maggie wanted to know.
“You’ve seen Colin?”
Arturo smiled more brightly. “So can you. I wanted to prepare you a little bit, and then you can talk to him yourself. It requires the expenditure of a great deal of energy for Colin to appear and communicate with normal people, so he wanted me to cover the basics so that he can tell you what he needs to tell you without answering a bunch of questions.” He paused to ensure that he hadn’t left any of them behind, giving Maggie to wonder if Professor Arturo would speak like that, but she forgot about it as he continued. “About six months ago Colin first appeared to me. I never met him before he got Unstuck, of course. He told me about you, Quinn, and Rembrandt arriving on his world and all the adventures you experienced thereafter. He described the accident in the wormhole that caused his present condition. And he told me what he has observed has happened to you since his accident. From time to time he is able to follow people he focuses on, listen to their conversations and see what happens to them. He followed you a great deal the past year or so, until you became trapped on this world.”
“I wouldn’t call what happened to Colin an accident.” Diana commented.
“Well, that is how Colin has perceived it. Perhaps as we travel you can fill he and I in on the details.” Arturo replied. “At Colin’s urging and with his help I constructed a timer. I had given up last year and settled back into a life of teaching and writing until he visited me. I finished it earlier today and Colin somehow guided my wormhole to this particular world and this location on this world. Now, before I summon Colin, perhaps there are some questions I can address. Colin will answer any questions about why he wanted me to visit you and what we do next, but if there is anything else?”
Maggie rose. “I just have one question.”
She moved to him and embraced him. “Boy am I glad to see you!”
He returned her embrace. When she released him, he said, “thanks. That wasn’t a question, though.”
Maggie smiled and looked at the other two. “Anything to ask him?”
Mallory shrugged and tried his best not to look lost.
Diana said, “we came into this pretty late. It’s your show, Maggie.”
Arturo stood and waved his arms back and forth. “He wanted to save his energy for talking to us, so he only got close enough to see broad movements until I signaled him. He knew what I was going to say so he didn’t waste the energy listening.”
And then Colin appeared.
He was a pale shadow. They could make out his shape but it was like looking someone standing underwater. He flickered and faded in and out like a poorly received TV station. Interestingly enough, his voice came out strong and clear. “Maggie, it’s good to see you again.”
“I’m so glad to see you again, Colin.” She gushed, more emotionally than she thought she would.
“I don’t have a lot of time. I’ve brought the Professor to you because he can help you find Remmy. Remmy has done it, Maggie! He has found the world that begot all worlds! The Holy Grail of Sliding. The original world from which all others originated. The Professor can fill you in all the details, but this is a world beyond all others. All other worlds are a pale reflection of it. Nature’s endlessly futile attempts to duplicate perfection. Remmy reached it, the first outsider ever to Slide there. I felt the surge of beautiful energy for the seconds that the wormhole was open. I was countless worlds away at the time and yet I still felt it. It was unspeakably beautiful. Pure ecstasy.”
“You make it sound like heaven.” Diana said dubiously.
“It is. It is the genesis of all religion, all purity, all joy. Perhaps the seat of God. Almost all religions believe in a central being, what if these deities from various religions are different reflections of the same being? Different perceptions of the same ideal?”
“You can generalize all you want to, I don’t believe Heaven is a place you can Slide to.” Mallory countered.
“Belief has its place,” Colin countered. “What I am talking about is fact. I FELT it when Remmy opened the vortex to this world. I felt it and I felt who had done it, our Remmy. The Remmy we traveled with. He did it yesterday at 3:06 am. I felt it keenly, and I rushed the timetable and got the Professor to come now before the trail got cold. You have to follow his footsteps and discover how he found the way. And then follow him. But it’s a fact that what I felt was no ordinary world. I felt pure joy, pure ecstasy. I felt Perfection. There is no unhappiness, no pain, no death on this world. Most of all, there is no fear. It cannot exist there.”
Maggie glanced at Mallory and Diana. Both of them looked doubtful, for different reasons. Mallory probably on faith and Diana probably for scientific reasons.
“My reasons are selfish of course.” Colin admitted. “I know in my heart that this is a place where I can finally be whole again. But I only need one person to accomplish this, the Professor, and he has already agreed to help me. I need to be closer to the next person who opens a vortex to this place. I was too far away last time and could not pinpoint it’s location. If I am closer this time I believe I can pinpoint the location and go there myself. And, as I said, I only need one person for this.”
“This world sounds intriguing on so many levels.” Arturo explained.
“So we are only here to give you a chance to be reunited with Remmy in this beautiful place. To finally give a meaning to all that has happened to you and those you love.” Colin finished. “Will you join us in our quest?”
“I have two questions. Real ones this time.” Maggie added. “First, you first contacted Arturo six months ago. That was long before Remmy found this place. In fact, that was three months before we got trapped on this world and obviously while Remmy was still with us three.” She indicated her two friends.
“That’s true. I originally contacted him to find out if he was interested in rejoining Remmy and you three. He was easier to visit because he was stationary on one world and you guys were moving too much for me to get a lock. I can listen in on you or watch you but to manifest as I am now I need you to be stationary on one world for months. I can’t explain why, I am still exploring my abilities and these are just the limitations I have discovered. My time is growing short, ask your other question.”
“Do you know a man or entity named Ammut?”
The Professor frowned in confusion. Colin’s expression was impossible to read accurately, but he said, “no. Why?”
“He visited me today. He scared the crap out of me. Not the least reason was which he appeared in my locked house apparently out of thin air. I suppose he could have Slid there but I didn’t hear a wormhole. He told me that Arturo was going to be here at this house in twenty minutes. It took me about that long to get here and that was right when he did appear.”
“I have no knowledge of this person. I don’t know how he knew the Professor was coming. I will look into it. Are you coming?”
“How could I not?” Maggie replied. That meant even more than they knew. What else did she have to live for at this point? She would do it just for the chance to be reunited with Remmy, forget any mumbo jumbo about perfect worlds.
The Colin apparition turned to Diana and Mallory. “How about you two?”
The two looked at each other. Diana spoke first. “I’m happy on this world. I have a fantastic house and more money than I ever dreamed of or that I could earn on my old world. I have a well equipped research lab. This is your quest, Maggie. I don’t know Mr. Arturo and I love Remmy but apparently he is okay so that is enough for me. This is not my quest.”
Mallory seemed torn. “I’m inclined to agree with Diana. I have money and property well beyond anything I had at home. I am happy here as well. However, I can still feel Quinn inside me. He is still trapped there. What Colin might have sensed is a well advanced technological culture that could finally separate us. I owe it to him to try. And you might need help if you follow Remmy through some tough worlds. I owe it to you as well.”
“Very well, I’ll be watching you as you travel.” Colin said. “But as I said before, I can’t visit you unless you’re someplace for an extended period of time. Since you have an undamaged timer that shouldn’t be necessary. But I will be following you and hopefully we can speak when we reach the Origin World. Goodbye my friends.” Colin phased out.
Maggie turned to Arturo. “When do we leave?”
“I’d like to wait some time between Slides to protect the timer against those occasions we’ll need to make a hasty exit from a world. Perhaps I can stay the night at one of your houses and we can Slide in the morning. That will give you time to button up your dwellings to protect against an extended absence.”
“My home has already been prepared for that.” Maggie said dryly.
“What should I bring along? How long will this trip last?” Maggie asked Arturo after dinner.
“One backpack should suffice. Some basic foodstuffs that don’t require elaborate preparation or refrigeration like granola or energy bars or a jar of peanut butter, stuff like that. Some bottled water. A couple changes of clothes. We won’t want to waste a lot of time procuring clothes or food if we can help it.”
Arturo frowned. “I can’t imagine we’ll need weapons. If we enter a violent world or situation we can simply Slide again immediately. If we need time to pick up Remmy’s trail we’ll keep an absolute low profile. We can’t afford to get sidetracked because his trail is three months old. Before much longer the ‘wormhole vapors’ for lack of a better phrase, will have dissipated and we’ll lose his trail forever.”
Maggie shrugged and resolved to sneak a pistol in her backpack anyway.
The next morning they had breakfast with Diana, strapped on their backpacks, and said their goodbyes. “Good luck. I hope you find what you’re looking for.” Diana told Maggie. She gave Mallory a warm hug. “And YOU take care of yourself and her. I hope that you find this world and that they can help you with Quinn.” She finished by shaking Arturo’s hand. “Good luck and god speed.”
They returned her well wishes, telling her again that they respected and understood her decision. Diana offered the use of her PDL again. She had gotten it from her safe but Arturo had insisted that his equipment was adequate. He reinterated that again and then activated his timer and the Sliders leaped into the vortex.
Feeling depressingly lonely for the first time in years, Diana retreated inside her house. She set the unwanted PDL on her coffee table and set about cleaning the kitchen. Several minutes later she heard a vortex open in the yard. She raced to the door, “what did you clowns forget?” She called out playfully.
Three strangers stood on her front lawn, the apparent leader of them looked agitated. “Diana Davis. You must tell me, who just Slid out of here?”
“This fire is months old.” Mallory told them, kneeling beside a ring of blackened stones. “It looks like it was used for several weeks, but that was a while back.”
“That makes sense, given that this is where he arrived after he left us three months ago.” Maggie added.
Professor Arturo was studying his timer. They had noticed before that it was a cross between the timers they were used to and Diana’s PDL. It had a readout screen and a tiny keypad. He was using a gold toothpick to press the keys. “It says that he Slid out of here. But it is picking up only one incoming wormhole and that is the one he originally arrived in.”
“But Remmy didn’t have a timer, he used a Kromagg Sliding machine to activate a wormhole. So how did he leave? And is this his original Earth?” Maggie asked.
“I don’t know and I don’t think so. Remmy’s Earth Prime is or was Kromagg occupied. There would be wormhole traces everywhere as they traveled to and from this world. There is no sign of Sliding activity other than Remmy’s two trips.” Arturo said distractedly. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
“Can you follow him?” Mallory wanted to know.
“Yes, Mr. Mallory. I have a lock on his wormhole. Let’s wait a while in case the next world is dangerous and we have to escape quickly. No reason to tax the timer until we have to...” His voice trailed off as if he were listening to something. “I’m getting a really bad feeling. Colin can’t communicate with us per se but he has been able to signal me from time to time. I think that something is on our trail. On second thought, we had better keep moving.”
Maggie felt a chill. “Ammut?”
Arturo looked grim. “It very well could be.” He pocketed his toothpick and activated the timer.
“I’m not telling you anything until you identify yourselves.” Diana insisted.
The leader sighed. He was a tall, handsome, completely bald man with thick glasses. He held something Diana had never seen before. It was a short, fat, green thing with one burning end. He carried it like a cigarette but the odor was sweet and no smoke emerged from the burnt end. The stranger puffed it like a cigarette and then answered her. “My name is Gabriel. These are my associates Doctor Wu and Colonel Rickman. Both titles are honorary at this point but it amuses me to continue to use them.”
Perhaps foolishly, Diana instinctively trusted this man. “You seem familiar to me somehow. Have we met before? Or perhaps I’ve encountered one of your alternates.”
Gabriel frowned. “Alternates? Oh, you mean doubles. That’s what I’ve always called them.”
Diana inspected Wu and Rickman. Both men were pale and damp with perspiration. They looked back at her with tortured eyes. She instinctively trusted Gabriel but his companions gave her the creeps. Then she remembered something. “Wait a minute, my friends told me about a Colonel Rickman. He killed one of their friends and they thought they had killed him.”
Gabriel took another deep drag from his green cigarette. “Apparently not. But you’ve changed, right Ricky?”
Rickman swallowed painfully, as if he had been holding sawdust in his mouth. His voice was brittle. “I’m not like that anymore, Miss Davis. I am making amends for my past sins.”
“As is Doctor Wu here. Now, on to more important matters, who just Slid away from here?”
Diana answered him honestly, not sure why she was doing so. She described Arturo’s arrival and the meeting with Colin. Gabriel listened silently, puffing away on his green thing. The other two stood without moving, not even blinking as far as Diana could see. Their gaze seemed distant.
When she had finished Gabriel nodded and thanked her. “I appreciate your honesty. Time is short.” A vortex formed behind the men without anyone activating a timer.
“Wait a minute! I want some answers!” Diana insisted. “I helped you, now help me! What is going on?”
The two associates walked numbly into the vortex and vanished. Gabriel grinned at her. “Come along. I’ll tell you on the way! There’s no time to lose!”
“They’re in danger, Diana. They need your help.” When she still didn’t move he shrugged and tossed down the green thing. It immediately went out and then vanished a second later. “The wormhole will remain open another 30 seconds after I go in. You have that long to make up your mind.” With that he stepped in.
Diana cursed to herself as she ran into the house. The PDL was still on the coffee table. Fortunately she had not put it away again before otherwise she would never have time to get it and make it through the vortex. As it was she reached it and leaped in just before her 30 seconds were up.
“This world is cold!” Maggie complained good-naturedly. But in an odd way, perhaps because she thought that she would be dead from her own hand by now, it felt good to feel. It felt good to be alive. Any sensation confirmed her humanity and aliveness and thus held some pleasure.
Arturo was looking at her with a slightly amused expression. For a second she wondered if he could read her mind, but that paranoia dissipated when he said, “you’ve been on colder worlds. Remember the time you were chasing the Man who could Slide without needing a timer? He led you to a really cold world.”
“How do you know about that?” Maggie asked curiously.
“As I’ve said, Colin has been observing you for some time.”
“But that happened while Wade was still with us, long before we lost her and then Colin joined us and at least two years before he became unstuck.”
Arturo shrugged. “I have no idea what the sequence of events was after I was left behind other than what Colin has told me. He told me about that adventure so somehow he must have known since you’re confirming it happened.”
“Yes, it happened.” Maggie mumbled thoughtfully.
Mallory returned from a scouting job around the area. “Again, like the last world, no sign of life. I don’t think Remmy spent much time here, there is no sign of a camp. Maybe he walked quite a ways checking things out before he camped but there is nothing within a mile radius of the spot he arrived at.
Arturo and Maggie had been sitting at the spot, talking while he played with his toothpick and hybrid timer. Now, the Professor said, “you are correct, sir. He stayed here only a matter of minutes before Sliding again. The odd thing is that someone later returned to this very spot, only a week ago. It seems like the same wormhole matrix. You see, each timer or other wormhole creating device leaves a distinctive ‘scent,’ for lack of a better word, within the wormhole trail. It appears that whatever device carried Remmy here the first time brought him back very recently.”
“So the question is, do we follow his first path or his second one?” Maggie said.
“This is about more than just following Remmy’s footsteps, we need to follow Remmy’s PATH. Somehow he discovered a way to the Origin World and I think it might have had more to do with what he experienced along the way than the last place he was at before he opened that final wormhole.” Arturo replied thoughtfully.
“This was as much an inward trip as an outward trip, in other words.” Mallory added.
“Exactly.” The Professor seemed pleased. “But this is just my opinion. Speed is also important to us. Another week and I don’t think I could have traced the first wormhole path. The more Sliding activity since he left a world, including our own arrival, the harder it will be. So let’s vote.”
All three voted to follow Remmy’s first path. The Professor and Mallory sat to wait for the timer to cool off but Maggie was restless. She circled their landing spot, head bent as if she was looking for something. This prompted Mallory to finally ask her what she was doing.
“Remmy was here, he left, and then he came back. Why?”
The Professor’s interest was peaked. “You think he left something here and when he realized that he was going to be going somewhere he would not be returning from, he came back here to get whatever it was.”
Maggie grunted agreement while continuing her arcs around Remmy’s arrival point. Ten minutes later she found what she was looking for next to a spruce. Freshly dug earth. She bent and scooped out only what came easily, not attempting to dislodge what had not been already disturbed and not with any urgency. “I don’t expect to find whatever it was,” she explained as the other two rose and joined her, “because he wouldn’t have come back unless it was to take whatever he left behind. I just want to see how big the hole was to try and guess what it was-.” She stopped as her fingers came into contact with something. Now she dug with more urgency and in no time had freed a small tin box from its burial place.
“I don’t understand.” Arturo said thoughtfully. “What we know so far about his movements suggest that he left something on this world and came back to pick it up because he knew he was going somewhere he wouldn’t be coming back from. Colin made it clear that once you enter Perfection there is no coming back. So if Remmy came back for this why didn’t he take it? On the other hand, if he came back to bury this then that raises more questions than it answers.”
Fingers shaking with trepidation she couldn’t explain to herself, Maggie opened the tin box. Inside was a small book. Maggie opened the cover and gasped when she saw the name written on the first page. “This belonged to Wade! It’s her diary!”
“Beautiful song.” Gabriel said as Remmy stepped out from the cave.
“What do you want now?” Remmy sighed.
“It sounded like you were singing goodbye to her.” Gabriel was puffing on a green cigarette. He didn’t quite look at Remmy as he spoke.
“Where are your two zombie henchmen?” Remmy changed the subject, not wanting to talk about Wade with this creepy man.
“They’re home cooking me dinner.” Gabriel quipped. “Look, where is Wade sending you this time? I have to know.”
Remmy inspected Gabriel, whose pants were muddy. “Did you fall in the river again?”
Gabriel grinned. “Almost. I keep forgetting about it.”
“It serves you right.”
“Don’t try to distract me. Where is Wade sending you?”
“One last place, she said. She told me to seek out the Goddess of that world and that She would be able to help me greatly. I’m hoping that means help in defeating the Kromaggs on my world but she couldn’t be more specific than ‘help me.’” Remmy was actually relating his first conversation with Wade. He saw no reason to be more forthcoming.
Gabriel took another long drag from his green cigarette. “Remmy, I’m going to tell you something that is true. It is unmitigated fact. You can either believe me or not, but it is the truth. The world that you think of as your home world, the world that was overrun by Kromaggs, the world that you spent time on being tortured and held by those same Kromaggs ... was NOT your home world. You were lead there by an entity who hates you, Maggie, Quinn, and Wade in an all consuming, unquenchable way. You were lead there so that Quinn would believe that his parents had abandoned him as a baby and that he had a brother. Those things were true for the Quinn who grew up on THAT world, but it was not true of the Quinn YOU traveled with. The Kromaggs have never arrived at YOUR world. Your world is safe and lives on in peace as you’ve always known it.”
“This is more crap. You also told me that I shouldn’t go to Wade. More lies.”
“I was not lying, Remmy. You shouldn’t have gone to Wade. And nor should you go to this next place she is sending you. The results will be disastrous.”
Remmy turned away and started down the trail to the river several miles below. Wade had told him to get far enough away from the cave so she could open a vortex.
Gabriel didn’t sound any more intense or upset as he followed. “Remmy, do you remember the world you arrived at which was devoid of all people? You had arrived inside the Devil’s Prison. Do you remember that? Do you remember the entity you encountered within?”
Remmy stopped. A memory coursed through him (“Don’t you EVER turn your back on me!!”) and caused him to turn and face Gabriel suspiciously.
Gabriel spared him a tense smile. “No, I am not that entity. But he escaped his prison far in the future when that world’s civilization had moved to the stars and left Earth behind. He now calls himself Ammut. He found a way to return to this time, actually a time a couple years ago shortly after you left him in his prison, and he has been plaguing you and your friends ever since.”
“Why didn’t he just kill us?”
“That is too good for you. You must suffer for escaping him in the way you did. For abandoning him to his prison. He was enraged beyond belief when he discovered what had been done to him and he remembered your visit. He’d rather punish you four than the people who actually imprisoned him.”
“I don’t understand why.” Remmy admitted. Gabriel had his attention again.
“I don’t either. He is insane, of course. The point is, he doesn’t have most of the abilities he had on his home world. Whatever method he used to travel back in time cost him dearly. Apparently all he is capable of now is illusion and manipulating wormholes. He also seems to know things. He told me that he doesn't know how but he just 'knows' things he should have no way of knowing. I could be wrong but that is all the powers he admitted to me when he tried to convince me to join forces with him. So he was able to guide your wormholes to the worst worlds he could find, using his knowledge abilities to keep sending you to nasty ones. Zombie worlds, vampire worlds, the world were Professor Arturo died. It amused him greatly when Rickman killed Arturo and you had to chase him from world to world. He could guide Rickman’s wormholes as easily as he did yours, and he knew you would follow. When you found and entered your home coordinates, Ammut diverted your wormhole to a similar but Kromagg occupied world so you would think that was Earth Prime. That resulted in Wade’s capture and maiming, and eventually to what happened to Quinn.”
“All because of Ammut.” Remmy steamed.
Gabriel pulled another green cigarette from his jacket pocket. Fire sprang to life from the end of it. “Ammut and fate. Fate always plays a part in everything. What this means, Remmy, is that saving that world is not your destiny. Another Remmy is charged with that task and is doing everything he can to make it happen. Your home world is fine, and ready for your return. You should go home. That is all that is left for you.”
“Why are you always trying to talk me out of my next step? What are you so afraid of?”
“Remmy, if you proceed Ammut is going to be aware of where you finally end up. That will attract him like a moth to a flame. Your final destination is a place that is uncorrupted. Perfection. Ammut is diametrically opposed to beauty and perfection and will long to destroy it. You will in effect be making one of the most inherently evil and powerful entities in the multiverse aware of the center of peace and light and inviting him in to destroy it. That is not worth the personal bliss you will experience there.”
<Remmy, you're far enough away. Now you have to hurry and decide if I am to send you. There are only brief periods in time when I can send someone to the Outside Paradise.> Wade’s voice came into his mind.
“I’m ready to go.” Remmy said out loud, knowing his long time friend could hear him. He regarded Gabriel fondly. “Look man, I don’t understand half of what you’re saying. What I do understand is that I’m tired of fighting, running, anger, and vengeance. I could make punishing Ammut or foiling his aims my next obsession to pay him back for what he’s done to us. But that’s not me anymore. No more violence, in thought or action. I’m ready for peace.” He offered his hand.
Gabriel switched cigarette hands and shook.
“You look good man,” Remmy said with finality. “I’m happy for you. At least one thing came out okay.”
Wade’s vortex opened behind him and Remmy stepped through. Lydia was on the other side, waiting for him. The Goddess always knew when someone was going to arrive.
Rickman and Wu came out of the shadows and took their places on either side of Gabriel. “Huh-huh-huh-huh.” Wu chuckled. “He thinks things came out okay for you. Huh-huh-huh.”
“Shut up.” Gabriel snapped. “Or I’ll show you the night again.”
“So how much of Wade was left, do you think?” Arturo wanted to know. It was deep into the night and none of them had been able to sleep much. When Maggie woke from a fitful sleep she realized Mallory and Arturo were both sitting up and gave up trying to go back to sleep. A conversation about the predominant subject on their mind had not been far behind.
“Well, I only knew her for a couple months. I didn’t know her like you did.” Maggie replied. “But from Remmy told me later she possessed some of her memories, especially the ones from right before the operation. She clearly remembered the last time she saw Remmy. But he didn’t get the sense that she remembered things clearly all the way back to her childhood.”
“They had her drugged, too. So it’s hard to tell.” Mallory added. He had not contributed much, seeming uncharacteristically withdrawn or at least reflective.
“Yeah, that’s true. I’ve wondered what effect what they did to her would have to her mind. She is Wade, but would she still be sane? Especially in the months she’s been on her own. I doubted she’d even still be alive, but now it seems she is.”
Arturo agreed. “Her ability to project wormholes is the only reasonable explanation for Remmy being able to travel as he has. Him encountering another Slider immediately after leaving you is too big of a coincidence to consider. Wade must have sensed his frantic state of mind and reached out to him. The only mystery is why he ventured on rather than return to you when he realized that he hadn’t reached his home world.”
Maggie’s thoughts had trailed the conversation. “I’ve wondered the same thing about Colin. I mean, we are out here trusting what he told us. But what effect does being unstuck have on a human mind? That is obviously not a state of being we are supposed to exist in. Would it drive him insane? Is it safe to trust him? He might have the best of intentions but an unstable mind could result in anything from this being a wild goose chase to him sending us to the opposite of Perfection out of some misguided reasoning.”
Arturo seemed at a loss for words. After reflection, he said, “there is no way to know for sure, is there? He seemed stable to me in the times I’ve talked to him, but who really knows? We can only trust the facts, and the facts tell us where Remmy went. At worst, if Colin is deranged and there was no wormhole to Perfection opened yesterday, we’ll catch up with Remmy sooner or later. Not a bad consolation prize.”
“Not a bad one at all.” Maggie agreed.
Mallory was holding the diary in his lap. Looking down at it, he said, “obviously Wade wasn’t carrying this around in her present condition. And Remmy didn’t have it the last time we saw him. So where did he get this? Him having this doesn’t necessarily mean he’s been in contact with Wade.”
“True.” Arturo said. “But she IS the best explanation for his movements.” He glanced around. “Speaking of his movements, dawn is breaking. Let’s prepare ourselves for the day and then follow Remmy to his next stop. Shall we?”
“More friends of Wade, I presume?” The man was small and thin. His unkempt hair and disheveled dress indicated that he hadn’t expected visitors. He had apparently been sleeping in a hammock when they arrived from the vortex. As Maggie was the second to arrive, she saw him already standing and looking annoyed.
“That’s funny,” Mallory sounded excited. “We were just thinking about her. Are you saying she is here?”
“She’s had enough visitors this week. That haunted looking man and that creepy man with the two dead guys. That’s a full week for anyone, especially someone in Wade’s condition.” The man’s voice was as thin as his voice and whiny to boot.
“So Wade is here?” Maggie insisted.
“Of course she’s here! And because of her, my front yard is becoming a thoroughfare!”
Arturo seemed to be growing impatient. “Just tell us where she is and we’ll be out of your way, you blistering idiot!”
The man sighed. “She’s up in that cave. Just follow the trail. And don’t fall in the river. They’re always falling in the river. Damn visitors.” He turned away and headed for his hammock.
The Sliders trudged up the trail. “I guess it’d be pressing our luck to ask to use his bathroom.” Mallory quipped.
Maggie glared at him. “Didn’t we make a no-joke rule a while back?”
“That was before I started taking joke lessons.” He replied.
“And THAT was another joke.” Maggie was about to add a threat to kick his butt when she lost her footing, fell to the ground beside the trail, and started sliding down the hill. The mud was slick and oddly enough there were no roots or branches to grab on to, so before she knew it she had slid all the way to the river and plunged into it.
“Are you okay?” Arturo called out.
Maggie stood, muddy and soaked. “Yeah, it’s only about four feet deep.”
“You’re not the first person to slide down there, all the roots have been pulled out.” He indicated her path and she could see other butt tracks and the pulled out roots.
“I guess the friendly old man was right,” Mallory noted, “people are falling into the river on a regular basis.”
“Sliding out of control.” Maggie muttered. “Story of my life.”
Mallory found a rockier and thus safer path down and helped her back up to the trail.
“What the hell did I trip over?” Maggie wondered out loud. She inspected where she’d tripped and couldn’t see anything her feet could have hit. It was a smooth stretch of path. Shrugging, she stepped forward through the area again. Her foot hit something and she tipped over the side of the trail again and started sliding down. This time Mallory was closer and grabbed her arm before she could slide all the way down to the river.
“Thanks. What the HELL did I trip over? There’s nothing there!”
When Maggie was safely on the trail again Arturo bent over and ran his hand over the path. They watched his fingers come into contact with something. They could see his flesh flatten as it pressed against something on the ground but they still couldn’t see what it was. “It feels metallic.” Arturo informed them. “And, despite the laws of physics, it’s invisible.”
“Fine. Let’s move on, and try not to trip over it on the way back down.” Maggie said.
Her companions followed her, both trying to contain their amusement.
Another vortex appeared just as the man was drifting back to sleep.
“Hello again, Simon.”
“You lot again? When am I going to see the end of you? More importantly, when am I going to get some fonging sleep?”
Gabriel fired up a green cigarette. “Simon, a couple drinks and you’d be okay. Is Jeremy with Wade?”
Simon peered at Gabriel’s companions. “Say, who’s the bird?”
“Her name is Diana Davis. You’ve met my other two friends.”
“Yeah, I’ve meet Skull Face and Rotter.” Simon spat on the ground in their general direction.
“Is Jeremy with Wade? And have the others come looking for her yet?”
“I’ll tell you if you stop smoking those nasty cigarettes. You just do it because you imagine it makes you look cool.” Simon observed.
Gabriel grinned. “Oh no! You’ve found me out!" His expression sobered. "So tell me that you don’t have that fake English accent for the same reason? You’re from Georgia, which on this world is as southern as most Earths.” He puffed luxuriously on his cigarette and blew the smoke in Simon’s face.
“Yes, and yes.” Simon answered abruptly. “They’re all up there. Falling into the river as usual.”
“Thanks.” Gabriel turned and led his companions up the trail.
“You don’t seem to be in a hurry. You seem to be shadowing them rather than trying to catch up with them.” Diana commented.
“You’re very observant.” Gabriel replied. He had told her about Ammut and about the entity’s plans to corrupt the Origin World by enticing Maggie and Mallory to discover how Remmy opened the wormhole to it.
Diana noticed the slide path down to the river and peered at the trail. She couldn’t see anything that people could be tripping over but copied Gabriel’s path of hugging the opposite side of the trail nevertheless.
“VERY observant.” Gabriel added proudly. “And to answer your question, it doesn’t help to catch up to them until we force Ammut to tip his hand.”
“And then we rip that hand off. Huh-huh-huh-huh.” Rickman giggled.
Wade’s cave was a 30 minute hike past the invisible tripper. It was unmistakable because the trail ended there. Arturo produced a flashlight and led the way in. Several dozen feet inside, they found their way blocked by a metal door. The three of them looked at each other.
“There’s no handle or button anywhere on the wall that I can see.” Arturo stated the obvious. He scanned the rock walls on either side but saw nothing useful.
“What do we do now?” Maggie asked rhetorically.
“How about knock?” Mallory said and stepped forward to do just that.
A minute later the door slid open. A younger version of the man they’d met below stood in the doorway. His wire frame glasses were filthy but he didn’t seem to notice. Maggie, who went crazy if there was a single speck on her sunglasses, couldn’t believe he could wear the things like that.
The man just stood there, looking at each of them in turn.
“Um, can we see Wade?” Maggie finally asked.
“No.” He reached to his left, presumably to close the door.
Arturo darted forward, crowding the much smaller man. “I’m afraid we must insist. This is a matter of some gravity.”
“Whatever.” The man turned away. Maggie, Arturo, and Mallory followed him. The room beyond the door looked like medical lab. Computers, monitors, and other hardware crowded almost every surface. One small desk, the only furniture not crowded with hardware, was instead buried under a mountain of paperwork and printouts. A glowing sign above this desk read, “Jeremy’s Place.”
“Are you Jeremy?” Mallory asked.
Jeremy glanced at the sign as he sat at his desk. “You must be the genius leader of your pack.” He glared at Maggie. “Are all of Wade’s friends prone to rolling in the mud before coming to see her? What a filthy bunch you are.”
Arturo hovered over one of the computers. “Ooooo. Since you won’t tell us where Wade is, I guess I’ll play with this. Can this thing run Donkey Kong?”
Jeremy seemed more annoyed than threatened. “She’s through that door. You might notice that it is the only other door in this room besides the door you just passed through, so I didn’t imagine you’d need my assistance in locating her. Try not to upset her like the last bastards did, okay? I’m trying to build a biomechanical body for her and I’d like her to live long enough to enjoy its use.”
Maggie realized something as he said that. His gruff manner was a cover. This man was deeply in love with Wade. He was wallowing in the hell of loving a woman neither physically, mentally, nor emotionally capable of returning that feeling. He was dealing with the one problem he apparently could do something about, her body, but Maggie suspected the other two problems were even more impossible. No wonder he was bitter. “I’m her friend. We all are. We won’t upset her.” Maggie told him gently.
He waved dismissively towards the door. Then, as they headed for it, Jeremy shot Maggie a glance. “For God’s sake, look in the bin by the door for a towel. I’m the one who has to clean up around here.”
Wade was as Maggie and Mallory had last seen her, residing in a life support tube. They entered the dimly lit room and approached her. Maggie looked in the first bin and grabbed a clean towel.
<Quinn.> She said in their minds. She was to the point, not even acknowledging the others. It was as if communicating with them was very draining.
Surprising all of them, Quinn answered from the back of Mallory’s mind. <I’m here, Wade.>
<I have a gift for you, Quinn. I want to send you to a place where you can be whole again.>
<I want that.> Quinn replied earnestly. <More than anything. Come with us.>
Though her “voice” was telepathic, Wade’s sadness was evident. <I can’t, Quinn. I have been told by the Goddess that I cannot go. But some of you here can. I will send you to the Goddess now, and she will grant some of you the greatest gift possible. Perfection. Some of you deserve it.>
<I’m not going if you can’t go, Wade.> Quinn insisted stubbornly. <I will stay here with you.>
<Quinn, you have to think in terms of all the ways things are. In many ways we are, we are long married, have children, and will live a long time in bliss together. In other ways we never met but both are alive and happy. In some places we died as children, were never born, or only one of us is alive. Some ways I am are worse off than what you see before you, believe it or not. But in most ways I am, I’m much better off and very happy. That is enough. The only thing that can make me happier is if you accept the gift and become whole again. If you stay here with me it would be futile and heartbreaking.>
After a long moment, Arturo, Mallory, and Maggie heard Quinn agree to go.
<Okay, you have to go back outside. I can’t open a vortex so close to Jeremy’s equipment. Walk down the trail a ways. It was nice seeing you again, Maggie. You too, Mallory. And Quinn, I love you.>
<I love you too, Wade.>
Maggie tossed her now muddy towel into the second bin. She noticed that three other towels lay inside, all soiled with mud.
After they departed, Jeremy entered the room and caressed the viewing window in front of Wade’s face.
<Yes.> Wade sniffed. Then her mental voice brightened. <But only because they are going to a much better place.> Jeremy smiled sweetly at her. “Rest now, darling.” As he turned to go, he trailed his fingers in the air in front of her. His longing to be able to touch her was palpable. Wade sent a mental kiss his way and focused on forming the vortex. “That was a very abrupt meeting.” Maggie sounded a little hurt. Perhaps because she had been barely acknowledged. “I can’t believe she is still holding a grudge after all this time and all that has happened.” Mallory spoke, but Quinn was very evident in his manner. “Maggie, not everything is about YOU. She obviously had only a certain amount of energy to converse.” She bit back a sharp reply, mentally counted to ten, and then said, “you’re right. I was trying to make it about me. Still, she seemed very cold. And have you noticed how everyone who seems capable of answering all our questions is limited in how long they can talk? Very convenient.” “Conveniently annoying.” Mallory agreed. “Besides, you got to towel off, what more do you want?” “I fear that Wade is dying. She doesn’t have much time left. And each wormhole she opens reduces her already short life expectancy.” Arturo told them. “She arrived here right after you saw her last. The people who found her sent for Jeremy, a rich genius inventor whom they knew was the only person who could help her. He saved her life and devoted himself to helping her. She hasn’t had the heart to tell him that she is dying and nothing he can do will save her.” Mallory was going to ask how Arturo knew all this, but Maggie spoke first. “She’ll die here, but she’ll live on in all the other ways she is.” Arturo stopped walking and considered her, a faint smile on his face. “Yes my dear, that is exactly right.” Mallory suddenly cocked his head, as if listening. “Wade just told me that she’s ready.” He didn’t add that she had asked him to do one thing before she sent him along to the others. A vortex opened in front of them and they stepped through without hesitation. When they were gone, Gabriel led his group out from the trees where they had been shadowing. Gabriel tossed down his cigarette and grinned. “At last. I have the coordinates for the Gateway World to Perfection. Let’s go!” Mallory appeared by himself in a forest. He could see the hole where Maggie had just hours ago removed the diary from the hole. He knelt at the hole, replaced the book gently, then refilled the dirt. He then looked around until he save a particularly heavy looking fallen branch. Straining and grunting, he managed to drag the branch to cover the hole. “There!” He muttered in satisfaction. “No more nosy bastards will be digging this up.” <Thank you, Mallory and Quinn.> Wade said as a vortex appeared. Mallory stepped through to join his friends where she had sent them.
<Yes.> Wade sniffed. Then her mental voice brightened.
<But only because they are going to a much better place.>
Jeremy smiled sweetly at her. “Rest now, darling.” As he turned to go, he trailed his fingers in the air in front of her. His longing to be able to touch her was palpable.
Wade sent a mental kiss his way and focused on forming the vortex.
“That was a very abrupt meeting.” Maggie sounded a little hurt. Perhaps because she had been barely acknowledged. “I can’t believe she is still holding a grudge after all this time and all that has happened.”
Mallory spoke, but Quinn was very evident in his manner. “Maggie, not everything is about YOU. She obviously had only a certain amount of energy to converse.”
She bit back a sharp reply, mentally counted to ten, and then said, “you’re right. I was trying to make it about me. Still, she seemed very cold. And have you noticed how everyone who seems capable of answering all our questions is limited in how long they can talk? Very convenient.”
“Conveniently annoying.” Mallory agreed. “Besides, you got to towel off, what more do you want?”
“I fear that Wade is dying. She doesn’t have much time left. And each wormhole she opens reduces her already short life expectancy.” Arturo told them. “She arrived here right after you saw her last. The people who found her sent for Jeremy, a rich genius inventor whom they knew was the only person who could help her. He saved her life and devoted himself to helping her. She hasn’t had the heart to tell him that she is dying and nothing he can do will save her.”
Mallory was going to ask how Arturo knew all this, but Maggie spoke first.
“She’ll die here, but she’ll live on in all the other ways she is.”
Arturo stopped walking and considered her, a faint smile on his face. “Yes my dear, that is exactly right.”
Mallory suddenly cocked his head, as if listening. “Wade just told me that she’s ready.” He didn’t add that she had asked him to do one thing before she sent him along to the others.
A vortex opened in front of them and they stepped through without hesitation.
When they were gone, Gabriel led his group out from the trees where they had been shadowing. Gabriel tossed down his cigarette and grinned. “At last. I have the coordinates for the Gateway World to Perfection. Let’s go!”
Mallory appeared by himself in a forest. He could see the hole where Maggie had just hours ago removed the diary from the hole. He knelt at the hole, replaced the book gently, then refilled the dirt. He then looked around until he save a particularly heavy looking fallen branch. Straining and grunting, he managed to drag the branch to cover the hole. “There!” He muttered in satisfaction. “No more nosy bastards will be digging this up.”
<Thank you, Mallory and Quinn.> Wade said as a vortex appeared.
Mallory stepped through to join his friends where she had sent them.
“I’m sorry Wade! I tried to get him to clean up before bothering you, but he just barged past me again!”
<Remmy! It’s okay, Jeremy. I told you before, Remmy is one of my dearest friends. And he’s muddy again because he forgot.>
“Oh. Well, I’ll be in there working.” With one last look at Remmy’s muddy clothes
Remmy grabbed another towel from the bin in the corner, cleaned himself off, including wiping down his clothes, and then tossed the towel in another bin. Two more towels, stiff with dried mud, were already in the bin.
<Did you bury it, Remmy?>
“Yes, in just the kind of place you wanted. Under a large oak.”
<Thank you, Remmy. Can I ask one more favor before I send you to your destiny?>
“Anything.” He said honestly.
<Will you sing for me? One last time?>
Remmy smiled sadly. “Of course.” He began to sing.
“And you know the sun's settin' fast
and just like they say nothing good ever lasts
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye but hold on to your love
'cause your heart's bound to die
Go on now and say goodbye to our time, to our time
Can't you see the sun's settin' down on our time, on our time
I was driving my car when Quinn’s vortex came in sight,
life changed forever on that hot turned cold summer night
God only knows that meeting you three
Brought the best friends ever to me.
But you know the sun's settin' fast
and just like they say nothing good ever lasts
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye but hold on to your love
'cause your heart's bound to die
Go on now and say goodbye to our time, to our time
Can't you see the sun's settin' down on our time, on our time
I’ve lost each of you one by one
Now it’s my time, so my pain is done.
But my love for you three is brighter than the pain
And all the good memories in my heart will remain
And I can see the sun settin' fast
and just like they say nothing good ever lasts
Well, go on now and kiss it goodbye but hold on to your love
'cause your heart's bound to die
Go on now and say goodbye to our time, to our time
Can't you see the sun's settin' down on our time, on our time
He finished, the tears on his face one last time.
<That was beautiful, Remmy.>
He smiled sadly.
<Where you are going is a place that exists outside of loss and pain. That is all in your past now. Your future is one of endless bliss.>
“I wish I could believe you.”
<Go now.> Wade urged him. <Get far enough away for me to send you on to the next step. Goodbye. I love you.>
<I love you too.> He thought to her. Remmy left without sparing Jeremy a glance.
Outside the cave, Gabriel said, “Beautiful song.”
“Welcome to Ganges, Capital city of our world. My name is Lydia. The Goddess has been expecting you.” She was dressed in a thick, very comfortable looking robe. Her hair was light and very gentle looking. There was something odd about her that Maggie couldn’t place.
“My name is Professor Max-.” Arturo stopped and glanced around suddenly. “Where is Mallory?”
Panicked, Maggie looked around as well. “He was right behind us! How could he have not made it?”
“He will join you shortly, he had a favor to complete first.” Lydia informed in her soft tones.
A vortex formed, as if on cue. But Lydia’s smug expression turned into one of shock when four people stepped out. “Wha - ... who are you? No one ever comes here without the Goddess knowing about it ahead of time! It’s not possible!”
Gabriel fired up a green cigarette. “My name is Gabriel. This is Dr. Diana Davis, Dr. Wu, and Colonel Rickman.”
“RICKMAN!” Maggie reacted, enraged. Then the possibility that this was a double entered her mind and she swallowed her urge to charge the man.
“Hello Maggie. I am so sorry for the pain I have caused you. Mr. Gabriel has been showing me the error of my ways.”
Lydia could barely breath. “Those two men are ... not alive. This is an abomination.”
Gabriel breathed smoke in her direction, then nodded towards Arturo. “Not as much as our fat friend here. Why don’t you take the mask off, Ammut?”
Arturo shuddered, then seemed to shrivel, and suddenly a tall blond man with a lush beard and perfect white teeth was standing in his place. “I really do hate you, you know.” He told Gabriel calmly.
“What do you care, you’re here now. The Goddess can’t throw you out. She must allow us to stay as long as we wish. You have what you want.”
Lydia had been cocking her head to one side, as if listening to something none of the others could hear. Now she straightened. “You speak the truth. By tradition, even those who enter a home illegally can not be turned away. Our entire world is an extension of that concept. I have been asked to make all of you comfortable until an audience with the Goddess becomes available.”
“You double crossing lying piece of shit.” Maggie spat to Ammut. “You impersonated Arturo from the beginning! All to get me to come with you to this world. Well, I’ll tell you right now, whatever it is you hoped to accomplish is by the wayside now. I will do everything in my power to frustrate whatever scheme you have been hatching.” Something else occurred to her. “That means you impersonated Colin too! You are twice the stack of shit!”
Ammut grinned. “Yes, indeed, I impersonated both of them. I had you roped in like a fat hog. You fell for it like a fresh fawn on her first walk.”
“You can take your animal analogies and stick them up your-.”
“Please,” Lydia interrupted. “No verbal violence. No hateful words that invoke ugly mental images. There is no need for that here. Whatever grievances you have will be settled by the Goddess.”
Ammut ignored her as if she were a gnat. “I’m sorry, Maggie, but your anger is misplaced. We both know where you’d be right now if I hadn’t intervened. You owe me your very LIFE.”
“I shall not warn you again.” Lydia sighed. “If She must, the Goddess is prepared to punish those of you who do not follow my guidance. There will be no violence involved, but once is all anyone has ever risked Her punishment.”
Ammut finally turned his attention on her. “That won’t be necessary, of course.” He bowed slightly.
“I knew you’d get in trouble with mommy first.” Gabriel quipped.
Ammut shot him a baleful look and whispered. “If I was related to you I’d have killed you long ago.”
“It was something I like to call a ‘joke.’ Look that word up some time.”
A vortex formed and Mallory stepped out. “Did I miss anything?”
Lydia led them to a series of small buildings lined up in a row. “These are guest living quarters. They are fully furnished, stocked, and comfortable. Each hut has room for up to three people. Do you each wish your own or do any of you wish to share?”
Gabriel spoke first. “Me and my two pals will share a hut.”
Lydia looked repulsed. “Will they ... um, do they have any special needs or requirements?”
“Is the fridge stocked with goat entrails?” When Lydia blanched and no one laughed, Gabriel waved off the question. “Never mind. Nothing for them, thanks.”
“I want a hut right next to his.” Ammut demanded, eyeing the green cigarette smoking man.
“Very well,” she conceded, “just know that no violence will be tolerated.”
“I just want to keep an eye on him.”
Lydia turned to the three Sliders. Maggie seemed uncertain whether to trust Diana, after the way Arturo/Ammut had tricked them. But she said, “we three will share a hut, right guys?”
The other two nodded and it was settled.
“So Ammut is the entity we encountered on the Empty World.” A memory coursed through her, how dark the stairwell had been, the way he had toyed with him, his chilling voice (“Ahhhh. I remember you. You were ... good. You fought me, I like that.”), and how much she had hated him as she replied that she would kill him. And now this new outrage, fooling them into believing that he was Arturo, leading them out here for some bizarre purpose. “Why would Ammut want us here?”
“Gabriel said that he knows there is no way the Goddess would send him to the place Remmy went. But apparently he has the ability to track wormholes and follow them, so if any of us go there then he can follow. He brought you here hoping you would get sent there and then he could follow and corrupt that place or whatever it is he wants to do.” Diana said.
“The last time I encountered him, Ammut had this ability to make the people around him give in to their violent impulses and unleash their angers and hatreds. We were with him for 24 hours and I didn’t feel any differently.” Maggie observed.
“Maybe he lost that ability somehow. That is what made him so dangerous.” Mallory theorized.
“Or maybe he is saving it all up to unleash on the place Remmy went to. A sudden introduction of all that negative energy into that place might be disastrous. Especially if what Gabriel told you was correct and that world is the Origin of everything.”
“We can speculate all night.” Diana sighed tiredly.
“You’re right, I’m going to go find out.” Maggie got up. Mallory got up to join her but Maggie stopped him. “I’ll be okay. I guess the Goddess, whoever she is, is watching us. No violence is allowed on this world.”
Ammut answered his door on the first knock. “Come in.”
Maggie complied, her anger so overwhelming her fear that she actually brushed rudely against his arm an on her way by.
“On any other world, I would rip open your throat for that disrespect.” He frothed.
“Oh, give it a rest. You might fancy yourself the old Egyptian god with the mane of a lion and the teeth of a crocodile who would consume the souls of the condemned, but we both know you are not. You are just a genetic freak of nature. Do you realize how sad it is for you to take the name of some forgotten god and try to play that role? It’s not even an original idea, most worlds have a show called SG-1 where characters do that all the time!”
Ammut eyes burned with venomous hatred. It was with remarkable self control that he said, “what do you want?”
“I want some answers. What did you hope to achieve by all this? More importantly, why punish the four of us, who barely interacted with you, and not do anything about the ones who actually imprisoned you for so long?”
“What makes you think I did nothing to them?” He grinned as he circled her, forcing her to spin around to keep facing him. As he slowly walked around her he trailed on hand behind as if he was ready to strike her with it if she didn’t turn with him fast enough. “Maybe I created hells for them even more immense and painful that I’ve done for your friends.”
“I meant what I said to you the first time I met you.” Maggie told him quietly. “I’m going to kill you.”
“I saved your life.” He reminded her, amused.
Maggie matched his smile. “Did it ever occur to you, little man, that the place I would have gone to is the very place you want so desperately to reach?”
Ammut was thrown off balance. “You’re not making sense.”
“What if you stopping me just delayed the inevitable, and I’ll still be going to same place I would have when the Goddess sends me?”
“You think the Origin World is the seat of the afterlife? You’re deluded.”
Maggie intentionally turned her back on him and headed for the door. “Maybe so, but you’ll never find out because there is no way in hell the Goddess will let you get there. It’s conceivable you might have tricked her with your Arturo suit, but now there is no way she’s letting you get there. Good night.”
Ammut stared holes into her back until she’d passed through the door and closed it behind her.
“Hello Maggie, come in.” Gabriel said. He put out his green cigarette and stood aside to let her in.
Rickman was clearing the dinner table that had been set for one. Wu was cleaning the kitchen. Neither of them looked at her or spoke.
“What does Ammut hope to gain now? Is his cause lost or does he still hope to reach the Origin World?”
Gabriel sat on one of the comfortable club chairs and reached for a wine glass that had not been on the table beside him a second earlier. “He would have passed for Arturo had I not shown up and exposed him. It would have served no purpose to unmask him before we reached this world because he would have disappeared and popped up later as someone else. Here, once unmasked, he was trapped. He could leave, but doing so would forfeit his guest status and forbid his return. The customs and code of this world are fair but very rigid.”
“So that’s it. He’s failed. What happens now?”
“Maggie, I’ve had a pretty good handle on what has been going on since this started, but at this point I am as in the dark as you are. This world and the next have always been closed to me. This is my first visit to this world, and I’ve never visited the next one either. So I have no idea. Which also makes me cautious in declaring Ammut’s failure.”
She didn’t know whether to believe him or not but decided to take him on his word for now. “So that brings me to my next question. Who are you and what is your stake in all this? And what’s with the Grim Twins?”
Gabriel met her eyes. His eyes seemed earnest, open, but something was not quite right about them. She couldn’t put her finger on it but it was very disturbing. He finally said, “it would only confuse the issue to go into all that right now. It’s not important who I am. Get some rest. I get the feeling that you’re going to need it.”
“I’m getting really sick of you all-knowing magical powers having bastards not giving me answers.” She snapped as she turned away from him.
Gabriel created a green cigarette out of thin air. “This is not magic. I am drawing the things I consume from other worlds. I pluck these cigarettes from store shelves, the wine I steal from someone’s dinner table, etc. I just have the ability to Slide without technology. Anyone who is unique in the multiverse can do these things. They can be anywhere they want. If only Geiger had known the power that was at his fingertips he would have never attempted to go back to being normal. Considering his mind and amoral character, however, I’m kind of glad he never imagined what he was capable of if he applied himself.”
Maggie stared at him, her mouth agape. “Colin? Is that you, Colin? The real one?”
Gabriel shivered, and then Colin was sitting in his place, smiling broadly. “And now I am unmasked.”
She leaped forward and hugged him warmly. After he returned her embrace, she asked him, “why did you hide your identity?”
He sipped again from his glass. “Two reasons. First of all, I’ve changed. I am not the man you knew. What I’ve been through has ... changed me. So I no longer felt it was appropriate to go by that old name. The second and more important reason was that Ammut has been going around using an illusion of me on various people. He actually did appear as me to the Arturo you left behind many times, just as he described to you. What happened in reality was that Arturo became suspicious eventually refused to talk or continue to build a timer. Ammut has tried using an illusion of me with some groups of doubles. I knew that if I appeared to you, Diana, or anyone else as myself that would only confuse the issue and cast more suspicion than would already be the case on me. I could avoid all that by just using a different name and appearance.”
Maggie opened her mouth to ask the next of a million questions but Colin stopped her. “Look, as I said, I am not in the mood for 20 questions. How I gradually discovered my abilities to make myself concrete, to travel to any world I wish when I wish, to pluck things from other worlds, is a long a boring tale. It also doesn’t matter, what matters is mentally preparing yourself for whatever is coming next.” Colin finished.
Maggie nodded. “Okay, but you have to answer one question, and then I swear I’ll go. What about the Ungrateful Dead there? What is up with THAT?”
“I needed a couple henchmen to take care of the small stuff, and I needed to punish some of the people who have made my friends lives miserable at one point or another. Wu was killed about the same time as Rickman while trying to collect someone’s brain. That person resisted more violently than Quinn did and here he is. These two dying on almost the same day fit my needs very nicely.”
Maggie was searching his eyes as he said this. His eyes combined with his words connected and she finally realized what had shaken her about this man. There was a quality in Colin’s eyes that was the same as what she’d seen in Rickman’s eyes at the end, and in Dr. Geiger’s eyes. She had no doubt that Colin was a good person at heart and that this didn’t necessarily mean he was a danger to her or anyone else. She also had no doubt that it had been caused by his condition.
But most of all, Maggie had no doubt that Colin Mallory was insane.
She slept fitfully and the morning knock on the door came way too early for her. Mallory padded to the door on bare feet.
It was Lydia. “The Goddess will see all of you for Judgment in one hour.”
“It’s really great seeing you again, Colin.” Remmy said. It was morning. They had spent all night talking and feeding the fire. Colin had appeared just after Remmy built it and prepared for sleep. He had explained gaining gradual control of his condition and how it had freed him to travel and enjoy life as he pleased. He had explained the presence of Rickman and Wu. And Remmy had talked about all that had happened to him. Colin had observed most of it, but allowed Remmy to speak uninterrupted.
Colin fired up a green cigarette. “So you’re going to see Wade on the next world you travel to.”
“Yes, she’s ready to see me. Apparently she lives with someone and it took time to convince him to allow it.” He eyed his friend. “What’s with the cigarettes? What ARE they?”
Colin looked at what he was smoking in surprise, as if he was so used to smoking them that he never game them a thought. “There is a world where this hybrid plant grows. The locals call it Pridium. These cigarettes are made from the treated leaves of this plant. It is a very strong, insanely addictive drug. Smoke a couple of these and you’d kill your mother for another one. Unfortunately, this world was one of the first places I arrived after I gained enough control that I could physically move about a world. Drunk with excitement and feeling invincible, I tried one of these cigarettes. I was immediately hooked and have been ever since. The funny thing is that controlling my unstuck condition has become a lot easier since I started smoking these things. It helps me in some way. And I can pluck as many as I want, whenever I want, so it is a relatively harmless addiction.”
“What if you lose your ability to ‘pluck’ things?” Remmy wanted to know.
Colin winced. “Well, then I either go back to that world or I die. This stuff is too addictive for any other choice.”
They sat in silence for a minute. Remmy finally said, “why did you seek me out now, Colin? You obviously could have before now.”
“Wade is not well, Remmy. I mean mentally. I don’t think you should trust her. And I especially don’t think you should go see her in person. I know I never met her and that you know her well and love her so this is hard to hear, but I’m telling you the very best thing you can do at this point is cease talking to her and cease traveling through her wormholes.”
Remmy met this with stony silence.
“I’m telling you, man, she’s mentally unstable. Her intentions could be the best she could still get you killed or worse.”
Remmy finally spoke, his voice cold. “And how would you know, one way or the other?”
“I’ve been observing her for a while, as I have all of you. No mind could handle being in her condition for this long without cracking.” Colin said.
“The exact same could be said for you.”
Colin raised his eyebrows in surprise, then nodded. “I suppose that’s true. I never considered that and of course I’m perfectly sane but how could you be sure of that?”
Remmy got to his feet. “The bottom line is this. I have the choice of siding with a drug addict who never met her over a best friend that I owe everything to. I choose my best friend.”
“You’re a fool if you continue to do her biding.” Colin warned. “You could be putting a lot of people in grave danger. If my hunch is right, perhaps everyone.”
Angry, Remmy ignored him and spoke internally to Wade. <I’m ready to come see you.>
A vortex opened and Remmy stepped through.
“Put out the fire.” Colin ordered Rickman. “No, don’t use dirt, use your bare hands.” A faint smile appeared on his face as he watched.
“So you’re the man Wade keeps talking about.” Jeremy scowled. “You’re all muddy.”
“You should clear the trail up here. I tripped over something.” Remmy replied.
“Why would I want to make it easier for people to come here?”
Remmy smiled. “I see that you take after your old man. He is almost as warm and hospitable as you are.”
“We don’t get along.” Jeremy informed him.
Remmy put a mock shocked look on his face. He waited, then finally said, “as much as I’d like to stand out here all night waiting for you to invite me in, it would be rude to keep Wade waiting.” He emphasized the word ‘rude.’
Jeremy’s scowl deepened but he stepped aside. “There are towels just inside the door. I work out in there sometimes.” He explained lamely. “If you use one I might not have too much of a mess to clean up.”
“Thank you for caring for her. I mean that in both senses of the word.” Remmy said honestly. Then he went in to see Wade.
It was a shock seeing her again. One never got used to it, especially with a person you cared deeply for. “Wade...” he breathed.
<Remmy! You look well.>
“I wish I could say the same.” Remmy said and then regretted it. He located a towel and cleaned himself off as best as he could. He tossed the soiled towel in the empty bin next to the one containing fresh ones.
<No regrets, Remmy. It is the truth. But I have good news. I’ve brought you here because I have finally found a world that can help you! I’ve been searching ever since we last met, and recently I discovered a world ruled by a Goddess who has the ability to help you!>
“That is great news! She can help me defeat the Kromaggs?”
<I’ll let her elaborate, but She said that she is not opposed to helping you, to giving you what you really need.>
Remmy smiled, the weight on him reducing a little.
<So you will go to her world and talk to her?>
“Are you kidding? Let’s do it right now!”
<I need a couple favors first, if that is okay. It is very important to me.>
<I need to send you someplace to find my diary. Once you have located it, I need you to go somewhere else and bury it for me.>
“Sure, Wade. I’ll do that.” He sensed she didn’t want a lot of questions so he swallowed them.
<Thank you Remmy.>
As he walked down the trail to get far enough away from Jeremy’s equipment, Remmy spotted someone standing in the river below. It looked like the spot he had fallen to an hour before. The two corpses making their way down the hillside identified who the victim must be. “You should watch where you’re going!” He called out.
“Very funny! You tripped too!” Colin called back.
“I’d love to stay and chat but I’m foolishly going to do a favor for a good friend!” Wade opened a vortex and Remmy stepped through before Colin could retort.
Colin made his way back to the trail, glared at the invisible object, and started for the cave.
“Now what?” Jeremy snapped. “And if you think you’re going to smoke anywhere near Wade you’re crazy.”
Colin/Gabriel drew in a massive drag of the cigarette. He expelled the large cloud of green smoke as he spoke. “Rickman, Wu, handle my light work.”
The two undead men stepped forward and seized Jeremy. They picked up him, each grabbing him under an arm, carried him to his seat, and slammed him into it.
“Make sure he stays there until I’m done.” Gabriel entered Wade’s room. He grabbed a towel, cleaned up, and tossed it into the dirty bin. Then he closed in on her window. “Hello Wade.”
<Abusing that kind man is NOT the way to garner any cooperation from me.> She thought to him.
“Kind?” Gabriel laughed merrily. “Perhaps he is kind to you, but to everyone else he is more abrasive than hospital toilet paper!”
<You’re not right, Colin. Being unstuck has hurt you. Your mind, your personality.>
“Call me Gabriel. It is how I think of myself anyway. All telling Remmy my previous identity did for me was raise the point that I never personally knew you.”
<What do you want?>
Gabriel tossed down his cigarette. Now that he was no longer holding it to this world, its home world pulled it back, and thus it disappeared. He caressed the window with his fingers. “Wade, do you have any idea how much danger you’ll put your friends in if you do what I think you’re going to do with Remmy?”
<Who are you fooling? You want Perfection as badly as anyone else.>
“Actually, no. I’ve already achieved my perfection. I can go anywhere I want, summon objects from any world I wish, torment any person who has hurt my friends ... it doesn’t get any better than this.”
Gabriel caressed the window again. “It is also the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
<Get out. NOW.>
“Whatever your feelings for me, just know that this course you are planning for Remmy is disastrous.”
<I guess we’ll have to take our chances, won’t we? Goodbye.>
Gabriel left with a parting tap on the window. “Release him.” He ordered his henchmen.
Outside, Wu said, “did it work?”
“Are you kidding? No one listens to reason anymore.”
It took Remmy over a week of rummaging through a city block of Kromagg warehouses before he finally located Wade’s diary. She had sent him to one of their abandoned worlds where they had stored millions of tons of material captured from prisoners. They apparently never threw anything way. For all he knew they planned to come back here and reclaim as this crap even now. But Wade had only been able to tell him the building she sensed her diary was in, it was up to him to bust open every crate until he found it.
Oddly enough, Wade had also asked him to grab a Kromagg timer if he ran across one. He did and he brought it along as well.
When he finally discovered it, he contacted her. She sent him to another world, still without explanation, and asked him to bury it near any large, old tree that looked good.
When that task was completed, Wade brought him back to her world. Soon he was barging past Jeremy, tossing the Kromagg timer on Jeremy’s desk, and forcing his way in to see her, despite the human watchdog’s protestations.
“You have been summoned for Judgment.” Lydia told them all. They were in a holding room high in the tower. “The Goddess has asked that you go in together. No one is to speak out of turn, and no one is to interfere with the Judgment of someone else. Is that clear?”
Maggie, Mallory, Diana, Ammut, and Gabriel nodded. Rickman and Wu looked on impassively.
“Okay. Let’s go.”
When they arrived at the final door, Lydia opened it and indicted they should enter. It was pitch black, and even Ammut and Gabriel seemed hesitant to enter. But they all did and marveled as Remmy had before them at the way the light stopped at the door. Then Lydia closed the door.
“Come in. All of you. You will find seven comfortable chairs in front of you. Locate them and please be seated. There is nothing for you to trip over.”
“That’s a switch.” Ammut snapped.
Gabriel chuckled knowingly. “Are you still mad about your trip into the river?”
While talking they had found their chairs and felt a little better safely seated. They fell into silence.
“Rickman and Wu.” The Goddess said from the silence. “I Judge you together because your situation is the same. You are Abominations who tug at the other ways you are, disrupting their flow towards Perfection. All the ways you are feel the effects of your outrageous existence. Before I return you to your rightful state, I would hear what you have to say.”
Wu spoke first. “You’re freeing us? Our punishment is finally over? Thank God!”
“You speak of conclusions prematurely. The way you are is at an end. But the many other ways you are still succeed and fail, live and die, on a daily basis. Nothing has been decided yet. But yes, I am removing you from the control of another.”
Rickman giggled. “I can see you though the darkness. There is so much of you.”
“It is true, I must shield the sight of myself from living aspects. That is not necessary to dead aspects such as you two. I now send you off to await the rest of you. Goodbye.”
With two breaths of air caressing the cheeks of those remaining, the two dead men were gone.
“Diana Davis, what do you have to say?”
Diana was startled. “Um, well, I have no idea what you want. I came along with Gabriel, who Maggie said is really Colin, to help because Gabriel believed that Maggie and Mallory were in danger. Considering who it turned out they were traveling with, I’d say he was right. But once they are safe I’m ready to return home. I’m happy there and feel like there’s a lot I can contribute.”
“Then say goodbye to them. They are safe, you can return with peace of mind.”
“But, what’s going to happen to them?” Diana demanded. “I can’t have peace of mind without knowing what’s going to happen.”
“Say goodbye.” The Goddess insisted.
Diana did so, quickly, expressing her affection for Maggie and Mallory and receiving their affection in return. And then she was gone in a puff of air.
“It didn’t seem like there was much point in her coming along at all.” Maggie snapped in Gabriel’s direction.
“As it turned out, there wasn’t. But at the time I didn’t know if Ammut would kill you two in a fit of rage. I needed a backup plan.”
“That’s comforting.” Maggie replied. They fell into silence again.
“Ammut.” The Goddess said from the silence. “I would hear you speak.”
“You have no power over me, bitch.” He began, startling the others. Mallory, who was seated next to Ammut, scooted his chair as far away as possible. “I am your guest, unlike Mister Colin here. You can do nothing to me. Diana chose to leave or you wouldn’t have been able to do anything with her either. I’m going to sit here on this world, corrupting as many of your subjects as possible, until one of two things happen. You tire of the growing disease of hatred I shall spread and send me to the Origin World, which is my ONLY choice for departure, or you send someone else there. Perhaps one of these vermin sitting with me. As soon as ANYONE goes to the Origin World, then I’ll have the coordinates and I too will go on my own. You have no choice but to give me what I want, one way or the other.” He laughed, a deep and nasty noise. “For your dignity, it would have been better had been aware of what Wade was doing with Remmy before he got you to send him There. Gabriel knew, but I was distracted trying to convince Arturo to do my bidding and didn’t know anything of it until you opened the wormhole to Perfection. I was too far away to track the wormhole path. And for some reason, unlike any other wormhole, the wormhole leaves no trace of itself after it has been closed. So my only choice to convince one of these morons to follow Remmy and get you to send them. But this is even better because I can say to your face that I hate you and all you stand for ... knowing full well that sooner or later you must do my bidding like the good female dog you are. Have I convinced you or do I have to go out to the hallway and rip open Lydia’s throat and bathe in her blood?” He paused, then said, “’judgment.” He laughed again, even more unpleasantly.
Without hesitation, the Goddess said, “there is no need for threats or violence. You may travel to the Origin World right now if you wish.”
Ammut was thrown off guard. “You’re lying. You’d never allow me to go there and corrupt that Perfection.”
A perfect wormhole formed in front of their eyes. Unlike any wormhole Maggie had ever seen, this one was perfectly colorless, a radiant white. It was also a stable, mathematically perfect looking circle. It hovered motionless, a bright white circle without a single imperfection. No sound accompanied its appearance. Not the slightest roar. Where other wormholes were gaping wounds ripped from the air with the sound of thunder, this vortex was like a surgical incision that had been delicately sliced from a willing patient.
With a start, Maggie realized that there was another difference. She could see the other side! She could SEE the world this vortex led to! It seemed so close, and she could see red backgrounds and white shapes close to that side of the wormhole. As she stared, one of the shapes waved at her.
Ammut laughed uproariously as he rose, shouted some final obscenities to Maggie and Gabriel, and leaped into the vortex. Inside, he was straightened and Slid smoothly to the other side of the wormhole. When he reached the Origin World he stepped out as if coming out of an escalator.
Maggie could still see Ammut crystal clearly, which meant that it was the rest of the world itself that was slightly out of focus, not the wormhole creating that visual effect.
Ammut jerked his head back and forth. Then he screamed, a cry of painful elation that brought tears to Maggie’s eyes. He dropped to his knees, seized his head, and screamed words this time. “IT’S ... IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL!!”
A shape behind Ammut waved again, Maggie was more sure than ever it was waving directly at her. Then the vortex closed smoothly and quietly on Ammut’s continued but softening screeching.
“My God.” Gabriel breathed. “He actually thought he could corrupt the incorruptible. He had ME convinced! But he never had a chance, did he?”
“No, he didn’t.” The Goddess sighed. “He’ll be completely consumed by now. It is for his own good, he could never be happy. But now he will be. He is Perfect now.”
“He didn’t deserve happiness.” Maggie retorted. “He is responsible for untold suffering and death. He is pure evil.”
“No human is beyond redemption, Maggie. And that is all he was. A human being with mutant abilities he chose to use for evil. But he was not pure evil.”
“I will never forgive him for what he put my friends through.”
The Goddess accepted that as She had everything else said in this room. With silence and a refusal to rebut that did but indicate agreement ... merely a desire to remain above petty arguments. “Colin. I would hear what you have to say.”
He sighed. “I have to admit, I’m scared spitless now. If I went there would that happen to me? I haven’t exactly been a choir boy since I started mastering my condition. What I did to Rickman and Wu was wrong, I know that. I just couldn’t help myself. I’m afraid that something might be wrong with me, and that the longer I run around unchecked the more likely I’ll turn out like our buddy there. It’s not a far stretch to go from tormenting bad people to punishing people who bump into you and don’t say ‘excuse me.’ All I’ve talked about is a fear of what Ammut could do if he got there, but I have to say that half of me has tagged along on this adventure because I wanted to go to the Origin World. Some fraction of THAT part wanted to see how much I could get away with there, I admit it. Now I don’t want to go there. But I’m afraid of what I might become if I remain as I am. On the other hand, I don’t want to die either.” He fell silent. Then he added, in a small voice, “I need a green cigarette BAD.”
The perfect White Wormhole appeared again. “Step inside and you’ll be divided once again into all the ways you are. Perfection was never intended to exist outside its creation. Outside of Perfection, you are intended to be divided into all aspects of yourself. Your state of being is as much an abomination as your companions were.”
“Perhaps that is why they gave me such comfort.” He muttered. “Goodbye, Maggie. Take care of yourself.”
“Goodbye Colin.” She told him soulfully.
Colin stepped into the vortex. He Slid halfway between this world and the Origin World ... and then suddenly split into millions of copies of himself. It happened in the blink of an eye. One second he was one Colin, and then he was dividing and splitting into all his doubles. When the vortex closed he was still splitting off copies of himself.
“He will be okay now.” The Goddess informed Maggie and Mallory.
“I want some answers.” Maggie demanded. “You just implied that Perfection is being unstuck. Having just you and no other doubles existing. Is that true? Did Remmy kill off all his doubles by traveling to the Origin World?”
“You seem to believe that all the ways you are can be parsed and separated. All the ways are you are is just that, Maggie. It is all the ways you are.”
“I don’t undertand! I am me and my doubles are who they are. None of my doubles have anything to do with me except for some jumping off point we have in common. Perhaps a double and I made all the same decisions until she took tank training where I took flight training. Other than the same genetic code and those years in common, we are not the same people.”
The Goddess spoke patiently. “Imagine a jewel with many facets. Each facet is very similar to all the others, but there are differences. Some minute, some noticeable with the naked eye. Your reasoning is akin to holding such a jewel and arguing that the facets are separate entities. That because they are turned slightly from each other and have small differences they are separate from each other. All the while you argue this, you ignore the fact that the facets are not the jewel, each is a different aspect of the jewel but all are connected to each other and only by viewing the whole jewel can you accurately assess its value.”
Maggie absorbed this. “You’re saying that all of my doubles are connected to me? That we can’t really be singled out?”
“I think she is saying more than that,” Mallory said, sounding like Quinn. “She is saying that our doubles and ourselves are one and same. Each double, or way we are, is a different aspect of the same entity.”
“Yes.” The Goddess answered. “So when someone becomes unstuck all the ways they are collapse into one form. No human can survive outside of Perfection in that condition for very long.”
They fell into silence. Out of that silence, the Goddess said, “I would hear what you have to say, Mallory and Quinn.”
“We’re ready to be separated.” He replied. “Apparently you can do that without sending us to the Origin World, but we’d like to go all the way. We’re ready, that is the adventure of a lifetime. It will be nice to see Remmy again.” That last was said with Quinn’s voice.
For a third time, the White Wormhole appeared. Mallory felt for Maggie. When his fingers found her, he pulled her close and hugged her warmly. “I thought I was coming to help you, but all along you were helping me get to where I need to be.”
“Are you sure about this?” Maggie asked, sad and elated at the same time.
“It’s going to be a blast.” He said. “I’ll kick back and wait for the rest of me to show up.”
She kissed him goodbye and released him. Mallory stood and entered the vortex. As the others had before, he Slid smoothly. Ahead of him there were too shapes now waving at Maggie. This time she waved back. Mallory reached the other side and stepped out.
She watched him embrace the two shapes who’d waved at her. And then the shape that was Mallory split in two. One of the new shapes turned to face her. When it spoke, it was Quinn’s voice and it was filled with a bliss she’d never heard from a human throat before.
“Maggie! Remmy and Wade are here!”
Now four shapes were waving to her when the vortex closed silently.
“Will you be joining them?” The Goddess inquired politely.
Maggie couldn’t contain her joy or her radiant grin. She was still riding high from what she had just witnessed. “Can I take you up on that offer in 60 years? I have a lot of living to do and lot of worlds to see before I’m ready to cash it in!”
“All the ways you are will always be welcome here, Maggie. So you no longer feel the need to end your aspect?”
Maggie could barely believe that she was the same person who less than 48 hours ago had been ready to take her own life. “I’ve never felt more alive than I do at this moment. I only wish I had a timer. I’m ready to go exploring and sharing.”
“Lydia can show you where we keep what guests leave behind. We often get Sliders who love it here so much they stay for the remainder of their lives. You will have your pick of timers.”
Maggie sat there, at a loss for words, and then one final question rose above the hundreds crowding her mind. “What is your role here? What or who are you?”
“This world is the First Reflection of Perfection. It is the first aspect spun off from the creation of the state of being your friends traveled to. As such, it is as close to that place as it is possible for one aspect to be. I am here to see that it remains so. I am a citizen of Perfection. You can think of me as someone who is unstuck ... fully realized. If your friend Colin had guidance and a place between worlds to reside for a while, he might have eventually evolved into a being like me.”
Maggie’s head was hurting and she was eager to be on the move. She felt more energized and happy than she could ever remember being. “Thank you.” She said as she got up.
Outside, she asked Lydia for the room the Goddess had described.
“Going somewhere?” Lydia asked with a smile.
“I’m going everywhere!”
Jeremy tossed a last shovel full of dirt onto the mound covering Wade’s small casket. He leaned against the large oak tree and rubbed his tear streaked face with one shaking hand. “There you are, sweetie.” He said aloud, his voice a little scary sounding to him. He wondered if she had told Remmy that the world he buried the diary on was his and Wade’s original home world. That she wanted her thoughts and her body to be buried on the world that had spawned her.
Probably not. That would have gotten in the way of getting Remmy where he belonged, the Perfect World.
He knew that Wade’s death freed him as much as it wounded him. And in time the freedom would overwhelm the sorrow and he would be happier long term this way. He also knew that Wade had known that as well. She had resisted his feelings even as she returned him just as strongly. And because she loved him, she kept trying to banish him from helping her an endless number of times until she finally accepted that nothing could drive him away from her. From the first time she had shared thoughts with him, touched his mind with her gentle, loving, kind hearted, endlessly warm mind Jeremy had been a helpless fish on hook.
Hopelessly in love with her.
Jeremy fingered the Kromagg timer that Remmy had recovered for him, activating a wormhole. Wade had made him promise to use it to find an unmarried Wade on another world and give it a try. It would be a long time before he’d even consider THAT. But maybe some
Jeremy stepped into the vortex and was gone from this world.
In the ground, below what remained of Wade, the last entry in her diary was short.
“We’re hiding underground, in a cave outside of San Francisco. We’re probably going to get captured soon, the Kromaggs seem to be sweeping ever wider from the city. But if we try to run we’ll be caught even sooner so we just have to hope they miss this cave. That’s fine with me, I love caves. When I was a kid I used to dream of living in a cave.
“I’ve been thinking about mortality a lot lately, not unusual given our circumstances. If I am to die tonight or tomorrow my only regret would be that I was never completely loved by a man. I believe that Quinn loves me ... but not enough in the way I mean. If only I could be completely, unconditionally adored by a man, even if it lasted only one day, I could die a happy woman. But the older I get the more I realize that this dream is even more foolish than fantasies of living in a cave! Ha. Ha. The curse of being in good shape and looking pretty good (I sound so full of myself!) is that you never know if a man is with you as much for sex as for your mind or personality. I suppose I'll wonder that all my life, whoever I'm with.”
Alternate Earth 117