Written by Slider Sarah
Four people rounded a corner, trying to shake off their pursuers. All were breathing heavily as a result of the chase. Their pursuers were faring about the same.
As she ran with the others, Laurie Price managed to get out a few words. "I think…I've…just learned an…other of those lessons you…were teaching…me. At the expense of…Connor again."
Without looking at her, Mike replied, "What's that…then?"
She didn't answer him until they had all swerved into a building, hopefully somewhere the pursuers would pass and leave them alone so they could slide after catching their breath.
"Never order any food without seeing what's on the menu first!" As she spoke the sentence, she smiled a wicked grin in Connor Matthews' direction.
He looked back at her. "How was I meant to know that ordering any kind of meat on this world was a crime?"
Laurie, Mike and the other member of 6-Beta, Stephen, all laughed at him.
"I think there's another lesson as well," Mike paused and waited for encouraging looks from the others. "If you can't talk your way out of situation immediately, don't wait for someone to start chasing you before you run!" They laughed again. It did sound funny, but it was also good advice.
They were startled by the sound of loud voices outside, and that was quickly followed by a crash as the door was forced open even though it hadn't been locked.
"Uh-oh." Connor's low mutter voiced the current feelings of the other three as well as his own.
"We're in luck," mumbled back Stephen as he showed them the timer reading of 20 seconds.
Even that wasn't soon enough. Their pursuers entered the room they had chosen as their sanctuary and pointed their weapons at the sliders.
"I retract my last statement," said Connor, still in a low voice. "Now is the time to say 'Uh-oh.'"
The guns were still pointed at Stephen when he opened the vortex to another world, but the gun-owners were so amazed at the sight before them that they forgot to shoot at his movement.
Connor leaped first. He was the one the authorities wanted most since he was the one who had ordered the forbidden meat and he did not want to stay and face the consequences here. He was followed by Stephen and Laurie. Before he leaped into the swirling blue gateway, Mike whispered to himself, "Damn! I hate it when they see us slide!" as he saw the looks on the pursuers faces. He waited no longer and threw himself into the next world. The wormhole stayed open for about 30 seconds after he had gone through. The remaining occupants of the room didn't even think about following the sliders and by the time one of them had come up with the notion, the gateway had already closed.
* * *
The other end of the tunnel which crossed dimensions opened in a moderate sized street. Luckily, there was no-one around to see the sight and watch as four yelling people exploded into a new world. It had happened before and the consequences hadn't been good.
The vortex had just begun to close as a middle-aged man turned into the road on foot. He saw a blue circle in front of him, gradually shrinking, but it disappeared and since he had no idea what else it could have been, he decided that it must have been a trick of the sun which was shining in his eyes and he moved onwards. He passed the sliders, never even considering that they could have just flown out of the blue circle.
"That was a bit close, wasn't it?" said Connor once the man had gone. The others agreed.
As Laurie stood up and took in her latest surroundings, she was faced with something she didn't quite understand. "Hey guys, what are 'Pulmol Hustenbonbons'?" she asked, pointing at an advertisement on the side of a building.
"Eh?" Connor stood up and spun around, an action mirrored almost immediately by Mike and Steven.
Laurie pointed again. "That advertisement says, 'Neu, Zuckerfrei, fruchtig-frisch Pulmol Hustenbonbons mit vitamin C.'"
"Yeah, yeah. We can read."
"So what does it mean?"
Steven, on the other hand, did know. "It…er…it's not English. It's German."
"It's what?" Mike knew exactly what Steven had said, but he was more than a little surprised.
Laurie still didn't understand. She never studied German in school. "So what does it mean?" she repeated.
For a few moments no-one answered. They were still taking in what this would mean. Finally Steven took pity on her and translated. "New, sugar-free, fruity fresh Pulmol cough sweets with vitamin C. That's all."
"Thank you!" said Laurie with relief. She waited for someone to say something, but none of them did. They just stood there staring at the sign. Laurie hadn't quite cottoned onto what this could mean for their group.
Mike shook his head. "Oh dear," he said quietly.
Laurie felt like she wanted to hit someone if they didn't tell her what was going on, but she didn't think that would go down to well. Then it dawned on her; they had landed on a world where everything was in German.
"This could be very bad," muttered Mike. Then he asked, "Who speaks German?" Steven answered with an affirmative. Connor put his hand out in front of him and wiggled it, indicating a shaky knowledge of the language. Laurie shook her head and looked at the floor. She was a little embarrassed by the fact that she hadn’t really been much help to her team yet. So far most of what she did was tag along and learn.
"What about you," asked Steven of Mike.
The leader of 6-Beta let out a loud laugh. "Me? I wasn't exactly the best of students in any of my subjects."
In reality, Laurie wasn't too surprised at that, but she said nothing.
"And how long to we have on this German world?" queried Connor.
As usual, Stephen had the timer. He announced, "32 hours, 17 minutes. Almost a day and a half."
Mike whistled. "You two are gonna have to do most of the talking then!"
"Great, just great," mumbled Connor.
Stephen smiled at him. "Thought you'd be good at that by now! You talk half the time anyway!"
Connor said nothing. He couldn't think up a single worthy retort to that bout of teasing.
"We're gonna need a place to stay overnight, you guys," said Mike, directing the statement at the two German speakers. "Can you manage that much to start with?"
Both nodded and Stephen added, "Yeah, it was one of the things we got taught first. How to ask to ask for a double room, half board with a shower but not a bath."
"What was the point of teaching that to a…what were you? 12? 14? …year old? What good would it do them? Wouldn't conversation about music and the like be more useful to someone of that age?" Mike obviously hadn't listen in any language lesson.
Relatively quietly, for him anyway, Connor came out with, "Maybe they knew some of us would Slide onto a world where we needed to know that." The others looked at him strangely. "Hey! It’s possible… kind of."
Laurie laughed, "Does it matter anyway? It doesn’t matter how we know it, just that we do."
Tilting his head, Connor shot her one of his cheeky smiles. "The lady has a point. Are we off?"
"Yeah, yeah," replied Mike, the nominal leader of 6-Beta. "Just make sure we didn’t drop anything important… like the timer." With the last he looked directly at Stephen who put on an innocent face. Although she knew nothing of any incident they were referring to, Laurie assumed it was an old joke, one of the apparently many 6-Alpha had shared.
They gave a cursory look round, just to make sure, before deciding they had everything and heading off in the direction they hoped would take them in the direction of a more major street.
Before they'd got very far, two guys walked slowly right by them, taking care to walk very close and one said to Laurie, "Don't let people hear you talk English! It's not safe. And get of the streets." It was all said quite quickly so that it wouldn't look too suspicious.
The guys noticed what happened and questioned her confused glance. "What did he say?"
"He said we shouldn't let ourselves be heard talking English… that it wasn't safe."
Mike reacted instantly. "In that case it might be an idea to heed his words. We can't know the possible repercussions without research."
"And he said we should get off the streets too."
"That's an idea I don't have a problem with," quipped Connor. "I think we should be making tracks to a hotel."
They weren't lucky straight away. It appeared to be just more houses. And there still weren't many people around. The few they did see seemed very tense and worried, and they walked far quicker than people normally did, casting strange hurried glances in the direction of the Sliders' more casual pace.
"Think there's a curfew?" mused Stephen.
Laurie exclaimed, "But it's still light!"
"Doesn't stop some worlds."
It wasn't long before his theory was implied by the presence of armed men appearing on the street. The sliders were quickly spotted and approached by a group of four.
"Was machen Sie?" asked the evident leader ominously as he glared at them.
The two non-German speakers tried to move backwards slightly, leaving those who could in a better position to answer. But the question was directed at them as well and it seemed the German expected them to reply.
Thrown in at the deep end, Connor floundered badly. He couldn't even string together a sentence in the necessary language. All he could come out with was, "Er… wir…"
After a few moments thought, however, Stephen worked out enough German to pass muster. "Wir sind Besucher nach dieser Stadt, Herr… er…," He noticed a badge on the man's uniform, "Herr Politzist. Wir suchen ein Hotel, aber wir verloren sind. Vielleicht Sie können uns helfen?"
Neither Laurie nor Mike could understand any of that. If it hadn't been for the word 'hotel,' which was similar, they wouldn't have even been able to work out that he was probably saying they were lost and looking for a hotel.
The heavily armed policemen looked at them suspiciously, the two who had shirked in particular. "Warum haben Sie nicht gesprochen?" he said speaking to Connor and Stephen who had exuded the impression of understanding, gesturing towards Mike and Laurie, who hadn't even made any attempt. "Sie haben für Sie alle gesprochen."
The German speech having jump-started his brain, Connor rapidly ran the words through his mind and translated, 'Why have they not spoken? You have spoken for all of you.' Once in the knowledge of what had past, he gave the first excuse that came into his head. "Sie sind nicht sehr selbstsicher." It sounded rather funny once out his mouth. Mike really did not look the type to have little self-confidence, though Laurie might be able to get away with it. She was certainly doing a good job here. The problem with Mike was he'd had to learn to always look confident, even when he didn't have a clue. Sometimes their lives were such a contradiction.
The leading policeman then stared straight at Mike, his piercing blue eyes going right through the Slider. "Ist das richtig?"
Still Mike had no clue. He stood there looking stupid until Connor discreetly kicked him, after which he stammered out a pathetic sounding, "Ja."
The armed policemen seemed partially convinced. "Wir werden Sie ein Hotel in die Nähe von hier finden."
Stephen nodded in gratitude at the offer of a quick and easy route to a hotel. "Danke, Herr Politzist."
Gruffly, the 'Herr Politzist' answered, "Bitte. Gehen wir."
Even the inexperienced could guess that the last was an instruction to follow him and the other policemen who appeared to be patrolling, so that was what they did. In the company of the armed men, they were approached by no others who were scouring the streets. There were civilians, though, who were hurriedly trying to avoid the said law enforcers, who were also stopped and while some were allowed to run into nearby houses, others were taken into custody.
The Sliders were escorted to the nearest hotel, one bearing the name, 'Das goldenen Einhorn.' It was adorned with a suitable picture of a rearing unicorn with a gold tint to its body. In addition, the sign was outlined in a fake gold, probably even wood covered with gold paint. However, despite the impression the name conveyed, the hotel did not look the best of places, certainly nothing like 6-Beta's favourite, The Chandler.
The 'policemen' took them all the way into the foyer and abandoned them there to fend for themselves. The receptionist, a pretty blonde haired, blue-eyed woman who was probably no-where near as dumb as she looked, seemed surprised at the intrusion, but quickly composed herself. This shift, due to its after curfew end, was rarely one where new guest registering took place. However, she was used to serving during the day anyway. "Herren, gnädige Frau, könnte ich Sie helfen bitte?"
Mike looked directly at Stephen, encouraging him to speak in response, which he did. "Ja. Wir möchten ein…" then having forgotten the word for a suite, was forced to just ask for a room, "… Zimmer."
"Ein Zimmer?" repeated the receptionist, eyeing him like he was mad. "Nicht eine Zimmerflucht?"
Stephen back-pedalled quickly. "Ja, ja, eine Zimmerflucht. Ich bedeutete das." Laurie and Mike just exchanged confused glances, as discreetly as they could manage. Connor understood the conversation as expected.
When Stephen was finished talking with the receptionist about their suite, he looked at Connor. "Hast du Geld für die Einzahlung?"
Connor shook his head. "Nicht genug. Mike? Du hast Geld, ja?" he said, emphasised his 'leader's' name and the word 'du', hoping that Mike understand to some extent.
"Huh?" replied Mike, not quite catching on. Connor repeated the question in German a second time and Mike thought he understood. "Oh! Ja." He reached into his bag and pulled out a wallet. He rifled through the notes until he reached the Deutsch Marks. He hoped that the German currency from other worlds would still be valid here. It was the only viable option they had. He raised his eyes to Stephen and Connor as a question of 'How much?'
"Wieviel?" queried Connor of the blonde girl. She answered, but Mike didn't understand the number, so he handed it to Connor to put with his, who in turn handed it to Stephen to put with what he had and the scientist was the one who handed over the correct amount of money.
The receptionist, Anna Kleinert according to her name tag, re-counted and checked the money, then gave them a nod of acceptance. All four visitors heaved an internal sigh of relief. She picked up a key, and handed it to them, then pointed them in the direction of their suite. They thanked her and moved on.
The suite wasn't large, but it was just about comfortable enough for them to stay in for the one night. Any longer might have been a hassle. With long stayed they tended to spread out and in small spaces that had been the cause of arguments.
Connor was the last through the door. He shut it immediately behind him and leaned against it for added precaution. "Phew," he expelled. "Nazi world does not look like it's going to be fun."
"I'd hold up on the 'Nazi World' tag for the moment," interjected Stephen. "This world obviously has a different philosophy from the Nazis."
Curious, Mike asked, "How? Just because there's no symbols around, doesn't mean the philosophy isn't the same."
"Aside from the fact that German doesn't necessarily indicate Nazism, in fact many Germans disagree with it, I've had no problems."
Laurie actually knew this one. She'd been studying it when her education was regrettable cut short. "Hitler hated black people, just like he hated the Jews. At the 1940 Olympic games, which were held in Berlin, he refused to award the medals earned to a black American man named… Jesse something or other…"
"Owens," corrected Stephen. "The American was Jesse Owens."
"That's the one, and he got very pissed off and stomped out of the stadium in a huff." She was very proud of herself for remembering all this. She thought she'd forgotten a lot. Maybe she still had access to it when it was needed. "And there was also a female receptionist," she added, "and in Hitler's Nazi Germany they were encouraged to bear children and leave the jobs to the men."
Mike laughed. "Now I understand. Perhaps I should have listened occasionally. But I found far more interesting things to do."
"Yeah, and I don't think it would be a good idea to share them while there's a young girl in the room," warned Connor from his point against the door.
Offended, Laurie objected. "Hey!" Immediately she was shushed, and she continued in a marginally quieter voice. "I'm not that young! I'm 19, not 12! And don't let me spoil your fun!" She lay back in her chair, arms crossed, expecting Mike to give an idea of the kind of thing.
Sure enough, Mike opened his mouth to speak, and outlined a few of his exploits with the girls in his classes.
"Alright, alright! I think that's plenty of detail. Next time there's a warning attached, I might listen!"
The other three just laughed at her.
"How did we get onto this anyway?" queried Connor. "Why does everything lead to something completely different? Oh, and for the record, I wasn't being serious when I mentioned Nazi Germany! I do know some things about that time!"
Turning to Laurie, Mike gave another 'rule of Sliding.' "If you're going to joke, make sure it's one someone will get or you'll end up hearing about something that wouldn't normally be shared!"
Laurie went off into peals of laughter at this, and didn't stop until she was brought a glass of water. It was a little difficult to drink and laugh at the same time.
Once the lone female of 6-Beta had finished choking on her drink, Mike outlined what they were to do tomorrow. "Stephen, you and Connor need to hit the libraries. Find out what was different here, and what's taboo and what's allowed. We may need to know that stuff, even tough we only have a day and a half. We've been lucky so far. And stop by a shop and see if you can buy some food and drink or something. Perhaps even a newspaper. We know the German money we carry is valid here. Laurie and I can give some of what we have to you, just in case, since we'll be staying here and keeping our heads low unless you can find a 'learn German in an hour' course."
"Is that such a good idea?" Stephen wondered. "What happens if someone comes? Might it not be better to split into pair with one speaker in each?"
Already Mike had thought through this. "If you're going out in this world without being perfect speakers, you're gonna forget something, and there's less chance of you getting into trouble about it. We can't do anything about it now, in the morning we can."
"Hey, are we eating down in the bar tonight?" Connor was hungry… as usual. He never seemed to stop eating, but he never put any weight on either.
After a brief discussion, it was decided that they should eat there since between them they were running a little low on food and water they carried with them for emergencies. Mike and Laurie just wouldn't be allowed to talk, and the other two would have to make enough noise for all four. It would be difficult, but at least they'd get to eat.
* * *
Without having a huge amount of time, Stephen and Connor thought that considering some things were apparently taboo in this culture, it might be an idea to start on the libraries and shopping fairly early since there may be a lot to get through. Especially if they had to translate everything. Without the aid of a dictionary.
They left just after 9, already having lost over 15 hours on this world due to the previous day's events. The other two were left with only a small amount of money, since it was highly unlikely they would need anything substantial, and it wasn't the most common currency among the parallel worlds they'd visited so they didn't have all that much on them anyway.
Mike and Laurie were dragged out of bed before the German-speakers of their group left, amid many protests. Connor wasn't about to let them have anymore sleep than he'd had and he managed this by pulling the blankets right off their beds. It was amazing that no one from the hotel had complained yet because the screams Laurie had put out when she was awoken from her nice dream by the chilly air and the sudden realisation she had no blanket and that a man was standing in the shadows by the bed would have been enough to wake the dead had there been any in the building.
Flopping onto the sofa after having closed the door behind Connor and Stephen, Mike picked up the remote and flicked on the television. It seemed like the usual daytime fare, with the added incomprehensibility bonus that it was all in German. He left it on a channel known as RTL, not really caring what the show was, as long as it was something. The words were alien, but the pictures were not.
"Du bist die einzige Mädchen für mich."
"Du sagst falsch. Ich sah du mit einem anderen Mädchen."
Captivated by the screen, Laurie let out an, "Ooooh."
"What's going on? Have you seen this before?"
"Nope, no idea what they're saying, but I can tell she's not happy."
Mike began to pay a little attention to the screen. "Maybe he told her he wanted a divorce."
Laurie shook her head. "No. Look, no wedding ring, no papers or anything. I think he cheated on her."
"You do?" returned her companion. "Why do you think that?"
She pointed at the screen. "She, she's shying away from him, and she's crying."
"Maybe they just had a fight over something petty. Things like that happen." And they'd always happened to him. His relationships were never to stable for a long time. That was why he'd never married.
"No, no." It's more than that. He's trying to persuade her of something, but he has a guilty expression on his face. And anyway, it's a soap opera." The crying woman on the screen pulled out a bra which she dangled in front of him, followed by a photo of the man with another woman. "Ah, look, here come the proof! Thing about daytime soap-style programmes is that they're always so predictable!"
Mike just laughed at her. She knew her TV. "So what happens next?"
"If they stay true to the typical plotlines that are used again and again, he'll go back to this other girl, and find she's been playing for a fool all along and that she no longer has any desire to be with him"
Sure enough, Laurie's predictions played out, with the addition that the girl he'd been cheating on his girlfriend got into a fight with the idiot's former girlfriend and it involved the two girls hitting each other over the head with very fake looking plant pots until one of them, the cheater, was left unconscious. It was hysterically funny because is was so bad, much worse than usual and they couldn't stop laughing.
They were laughing so hard that they didn't notice the cleaning lady at the door at first and they continued to laugh and talk. Finally her knocking had become so feverish that when they realised, instinctively they called out simultaneously. "Yes? Come in."
As soon as the words were out of their mouths, they looked at each other, knowing what they'd done.
"Was passiert?" called the lady through the door. "Ich habe Handtücher für die Badezimmer gebracht. Warum sprichen Sie nicht Deutsch?" The woman was clearly worried. " Dieses ist nicht komisch."
The two Sliders were cornered. They'd got themselves into it. They were meant to just shout 'ja' and let her get on with it and hope she wasn't a conversationalist. They may have blown their cover with just a few words. They couldn't understand her words, let alone answer what could only be questions.
"Sie bleiben, wo Sie sind." There was a funny sound around the door and then there were footsteps running off.
Laurie turned back from the door to her leader with terrified eyes. "Shit! Now whadda we do?"
His answer needed no though. "We run."
Their first port of call was the door, but it wouldn't open. The cleaning lady must have jammed it from the outside. Mike shook and pulled at it, but to no avail.
"Now where?" Laurie's tone held an element of fear.
Mike sounded more annoyed than anything else. Why couldn't the 'bad' guys be stupid like they were in TV! "Try the window!"
They ran there instead, through it open and stuck there heads right out. It was a sheer drop to the floor. "Where's a damn fire escape when you need it?" cried Mike, not caring what language he spoke now, they were already busted. There was one a few windows across. "Laurie, can you make it over to there."
She looked at him as though he had grown an extra head. "Are you mad? I'm not an Olympic gymnast! There's not even anything to hold onto!"
An exasperated sigh escaped Mike's lips. "Then we are completely and totally buggered. All we can possible do is wait until they come for us."
* * *
At a table in one corner of the public library sat two men surrounded by a wide selection of history books. All were 20th Century history and only a couple were in depth studies of events since 1900. The men had been laconic to any who spoke to them and their grammar was at time erratic. Strange people to find in a library.
"Was hast du gefunden?" whispered Connor less than discreetly. As long as the words were German, they didn't have to be too careful, in English and they had to be overly cautious. At this time, there were a couple of people within possible hearing distance so Connor had stuck to his version of German. He'd spent time working out how to ask what his friend had found.
Stephen sighed, "Leider nicht so viel." It was unfortunate that he had not found much. But then he was only skimming and chronologically he had to start from the beginning and he had only so far got up to July 1933. Or should he say 'Juli Neunzehnhundertdreiunddreissig.' That was a long word. He didn't want to even think about trying to write that. He peered over to Connor's open book, a different one. He'd only reached January 1931. They couldn't skip ahead in case they missed something. And it was taking a long time because of the translating. It was awfully hard, even with a knowledge. He sighed again, hoped that the other two of their team were doing okay and looked back to plough through his research.
"Ich hab' es!" Connor grabbed his book and turned it found to face Stephen, pointing at a section on 1939 as he did so. "Da!" Elementary German such as 'I have it' and 'there!' were beginning to come naturally to him. They weren't really that different.
The librarian hushed him quickly. Such noise wouldn't do.
The article he pointed at was part of a timeline of events. No war started in 1939. Not anywhere. At least, nothing as momentous as the second world war had been in their world. In fact, over the next 5 years there were no references to a second world war.
Both the guys knew this was the divergence they had been looking for. It had to be. They had one in-depth book on that time period, so Stephen as the better at the language of the pair took that and started to flick through it. Connor continued with the timeline thing and traced just how far history had diverged.
The thing about reading in a foreign language, is that half the time you can never be sure exactly how much you have understood correctly. This was exactly the problem that Stephen and Connor ran into. Especially with no dictionary to look words or phrases up in. And without being able to discuss it in English, they were unable to correlate what they had gathered. They had to get out of the library before they could talk any English. However, they were unable to take any books away with them, so it all had to be done from memory. It did make things difficult.
They left the 'Neu Köln Zentrum Bibliothek' around lunch time, over 3 hours since they had first entered. By silent agreement they headed to a nearby alley. It was usually the place with least people in it. They were incredibly useful for Sliding from when they had no hotel room, but they could also be helpful when they needed to discuss things, in this case namely the history of this world in English.
When he thought they were alone, Connor was less than cautious with the volume of his voice and Stephen was forced to immediately hush the guy, much to his regret. They just couldn't risk being heard. It was difficult as it was. Even with their knowledge they couldn't bluff their way out of something like an arrest for speaking English on the amount they knew.
At a quieter level, Connor continued what he had been saying. "Did I get this right because I didn't understand everything: World War Two never happened because the Allies were too chicken to stand up to Hitler and they appeased him out of fear and then he continued taking and taking until '46 when they said 'no you can't have that' but by then he was too powerful."
"That's pretty much it," Stephen confirmed.
"And then after that things progressed so that Germany and her allies, primarily Italy and Japan dominated the world. Then there was some kind of power struggle between the three. They all wanted total domination. Italy dropped out first, eventually submitting to Germany - they held out a long time considering their nearness to Germany - and then it was an out and out fight between Germany and Japan. Evidently Germany one. America was taken from the Japanese and their base fell. Hitler's son instigated new laws about speaking only German and things. He ran a totalitarian state in the image his father would have wanted. And it still is one."
"Ah, now that was the bit that I couldn't understand."
Stephen just laughed at Connor. It wasn't the fact that he didn't understand it that was funny, it was how he said it, the tone of his voice. It rarely failed to make someone laugh. "But we're not living in a world totally based on Hitler's beliefs."
"That much is obvious. You're still alive for starters."
"Very much so. And I'm not the only black person around. I'm not sure why things aren't the same."
"Different worlds, different ideas. It doesn't have to be an exact model. We can't pick up EVERY little difference."
Nodding, Stephen replied, "I know. But I would like to know. It would be fascinating."
"Wouldn't we all. Hitler was a…"
Their discussion was cut short as someone, presumably some kind of tramp for she were searching through the bins, came into the alleyway, saw the pair and giving a short yelp, ran off again."
"Did she think…?" asked Connor.
Stephen agreed, "I think she did."
"Damn! Maybe we should tell her we're not?"
"Would you rather she thought that or if she heard us speaking English? I'd like to hear you try and explain."
"I could try! I know some of the words!"
"Somehow that doesn't surprise me! Go on!"
Connor didn't move. He didn't intend on running after the woman in the slightest, but it made for slightly lighter conversations. Then a serious thought struck him. "Unless they're persecuted on this world as well. It's highly possible."
Eyes widening, Stephen could see his mate's point. "I think we'd better make a move in case she comes back then. If we get arrested, Mike and Laurie will be way past their heads."
* * *
In an ominously dark interrogation cell, Mike and Laurie were sat opposite four natives, one very dark in his colouring, the other three the 'superior' blonde haired, blue eyed Aryan. One was a woman, obviously invalidating the possibility that woman would be expected to breed and nothing more. On the other hand, maybe not so much for she was noticeably pregnant, but not enough to impair her work just yet.
"Warum sprechen Sie nicht auf Deutsch? Warum die verboten English?" asked one of the blonde guys, who's gun was visibly in it's holster.
Laurie leaned towards Mike but did not turn to face him, instead keeping her eyes on their captors. Mumbling and attempting not to move her mouth, she asked her leader, "Do you have any idea what they just asked?"
"None at all," he replied mimicking her stance. "And I don't think they like it that we don't have a clue."
The German-speaking Americans spouted what to the Sliders was just gabble at each other, and then the leading blonde policeman guy leant on the table and spoke to the two, firmly and insistently. He seemed to want answers and he wanted them now.
Unfortunately, unless they knew the questions, which they didn't, Mike and Laurie were at a loss for words. This could be some kind of threat for all they knew. They just looked at each other, then the natives, blankly and shrugged their shoulders in incomprehension.
Detective Klaus Steinbach was annoyed. This wasn't usually his forte. Practical jokers pretending not to understand a word said to them were not overly common, but there were not so few that they were rare. This case was more unusual though; most practical jokers were those in their teens or early twenties. The girl fitted that profile fine, but the man was well outside that range.
There was something very strange about the pair that he couldn't quite put his finger on. Something odd. If they were playing a practical joke, then they were good at it. Almost too good. He shook his head and wiped his brow; it was most strange.
The two Sliders, their captors having given up for now, were taken to a cold, damp cell and left. They each had a bed to lie on, but it was only a concrete slab with a blanket so was more appropriate as a table than anything else. There was a small, very high up, too high to see out of, window with glass and bars, and it let a small patch of natural light settle on the wall opposite their cell. However, they did receive plenty of artificial light from the room from which their cell opened. It was a huge room, with a few desks and chairs and the like, even though it did not appear to be the central core of the system, but it was surrounded by cells like theirs. One police officer was seated with his feet up on his desk. It appeared that these were only temporary cells, although with their addition they were now all full, and that the one man was left to watch them.
Satisfied that their watcher was paying little or no attention to them, the members of 6-Beta were able to talk, albeit quietly.
Both sat on Mike's 'bunk.' It was marginally further away from their watcher than Laurie's. Unfortunately, all cells in this area were designed to be completely visible.
Quietly, Laurie asked, "Does our situation constitute a 'problem'?"
"I think it just about might!" Sarcasm was evident in Mike's voice as he nodded his head. "Let's see, we're separated from the rest of our team, we're sitting in a police holding cell and we can't speak the language. It just might be."
Laurie found his tone almost condescending, but she also found it funny and had to laugh. Their watcher looked up. Seeing nothing really wrong, he just glared at them and went back to his newspaper. "What do you think we should do?"
Mike spread his hands out in front of him. "What can we do?"
"You mean other than sit here and wait to be rescued?"
"I mean other than sit here and wait to be rescued."
"I was hoping you'd know some secret trick to get out of here."
"Oh come on, Laurie. This isn't some film. You can't just break out of a jail anytime it suits you. It doesn't work like that in the real world. It's never that easy."
"Oh." She was quiet for a moment before her curiosity to overtake her. "So what are we going to do then?"
"Sit here and wait for Stephen and Connor to find us."
"You think they will?"
Mike crossed the fingers of his right hand. "Here's for hoping. I suggest you cross your fingers too. We'll need all the luck we can get."
Conversation waned somewhat after that. There was nothing to say. They couldn't really escape that easily. In addition, Mike thought Laurie was a naïve little girl who's heart was in the right place but who needed to learn about reality, and Laurie thought Mike was overly strained and taking it out on her. Both were right really, but it wasn't exactly a conversation starter.
There was about a 15 minute silence in their cell. None of the other cells were empty, but most of the occupants appeared to be sleeping or idly fiddling. Not a lot of chatter. It was broken by marching boots making their way into the room. Four men with guns appeared, nodded at the watcher and proceeded towards Mike and Laurie's cell. The key rattled in the rusty lock and the two Sliders futilely squashed themselves to the back wall.
It was no use. The men with guns were here for a purpose and that purpose turned out to be Laurie. She tried to struggle as two of them men held her, but it did her no good, except to get a clout about the head. Mike also tried to intervene, but he was hit even harder with a gun and he fell back to the 'bunk' defeated.
Laurie was marched off reluctantly. They were further separated.
* * *
Inside a convenience store, Stephen flicked through a newspaper while Connor idly looked around. They still needed more information, but it was hard to find any, so they were trying to cover every angle.
They hadn’t yet returned to the hotel. Both of them figured that learning what they were up against was more important than socialising with each other, even though they still didn’t really know Laurie all that well. They didn’t have long to hold out, but it was long enough to worry.
Connor got out a couple of German notes from his bag and bought a few little items. Chocolate bars, canned drinks, just general items plus a keyring. He’d decided a few worls back to start up a little collection to remind him.
As he handed the money over to the store clerk, he did a double take. If he remembered rightly, this was one of the guys who had spoken to Laurie, warning them, something which may have already saved their lives. He made eye-contact with the guy and was sure he was the same one. The clerk went wide-eyed and then stopped quickly, as if scared.
He spent a little longer than necessary with Connor’s receipt. "Da," he said allowed. "Ihr Empfang, Herr."
Instinctively, Connor knew what he had done, but he did not yet act on it. He and Stephen were out of the shop and round the corner before he allowed himself to read what the guy had discreetly written on his receipt. There, is a scraggly, rushed handwriting were the words: Com too the wearhaus on Königstrasse at Too pm. Despite the unusual spellings, the two Sliders knew what he meant.
* * *
On her own, Laurie knew even less than when she’d been with Mike. She was too scared to say anything in any language, and had spent the ‘interview’ so far sat on her wooden chair with her knees pulled up in front of her face, looking confused.
"Wer Sind Sie?" was the question they kept repeating, over and over again. "Wer sind Sie? Wo kommt Sie aus? Warum sprechen Sie kein deutsch?"
Finally she snapped and to the officer opposite her she shouted. "I’m Laurie Price. I’m a Slider and I came here from a parallel Earth where, surprisingly enough, we don’t speak German!!!" She sat back down and murmered, "Stupid language anyway."
The officers took note of her outburst, but made no other real move, other than to repeat questions in German.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door and a skinny man entered. He wasn’t very tall, but he had a great presence. He was evidently a scholar, and it seemed they were held in high-esteem. He might even be a government representative, but Laurie couldn’t be sure.
He put he case down on the table and lifted the top. "Good morning, madam," he said as he did so.
Laurie was visibly startled by his use of English, however fractured and with whatever accent, but she merely stared, afraid to say anything back.
With piercing eyes, he stared at her. "Possibly we should start with you name." When she gave no answer, he raised his eyebrows. "We know English is your language. Answer the question."
Reluctantly, she did so. With that out of the way he asked her further questions in his halting English, but the only other fact she would give up, despite his persistence, was that she spoke no German and nor did her friend. Everything else she point blank refused to answer.
Her interrogator was less than happy. "Alright," he snapped, "but you will break and you will tell us about your little revolution, but possibly you need time to consider your options. If you do not co-operate, I can guarantee things will not be pleasant."
She was then dragged back to her cell where she was interrogated once more by her team leader.
* * *
Connor and Stephen rounded the corner by their hotel feeling very pleased with themselves. They had found out what they needed in a different language in not much time at all, had bought a few provisions and had made a potential ally on this world.
They were about to walk up the stairs to their suite, when the receptionist called out to them, "Entschuldigen?"
They both turned to look at her, and spotted two policemen behind her. They beckoned the two Sliders over to them, and Connor and Stephen had no choice but to concede.
One of the policemen pulled out surveillance pictures and showed them to Connor and Stephen. "Wo sind ihre Freunden?"
Stephen shrugged. "Ich weiss nicht."
"Ich ,auch," added Connor, faux-helpfully.
The pair guessed what had happened. Laurie and Mike had been busted somehow and now the police had them and wanted to know why they spoke no German.
"Komm mit mir," said the bigger of the two policement. "Wir gehen zur Polizei."
Neither Connor nor Stephen waited any longer, they both legged it out the hotel and were away before the police could get started. They couldn’t afford to lose everything. All their stuff, including the timer, was strewn around their room. If the police decided they would raid their things, they could be stuck here. But it seemed they were more interested in the people. Not that that helped the Sliders at all. They still had to get their timer back from the room, and they couldn’t go back their themselves again. Their only hope was to make that meeting.
* * *
The interrogator, who was better know as renowned intellect Friedrich Robertson, considered his recent sessions. He’d spoken to the two English-speakers twice each now. At first the girl had been more receptive, but the man must have said something to her, for after her initial outburst she had not let out anything knew. Perhaps he had some kind of hold over her, byt Friedrich couldn’t be sure.
He’d had a preliminary listen to the tapes of their conversations in the cell. Law enforcement had found that placing prisoners together made them more likely to let something slip to the other, or at least in most cases, for some had been specially trained not to.
The live feed was playing in the background in his office. Friedrich turned the volume up a few notches and listened for a few minutes. They were unsual. they really did know no language but English and while he could follow most of their conversations, there were words he did not understand. Or he understood the meanings and not the context. What was this ‘Slide window’? He could translate the words, but it made no sense.
This pair were a risk. If they didn’t yield soon, The Party might be forced to take action to nullify that risk.
* * *
"This looks like the place?" said Connor quietly, not entirely sure he could manage the sentence in correct German. "Richtige Adresse."
Stephen nodded, but just before he knocked on the door, it opened and the pair were grabbed and pulled inside. "Careful! This is very dangerous!"
Once inside, they were confronted with quite a few people. "Welcome," said the foremost, the man who had not only warned them but also gave them the address. "We are the LRF – Liberal Resistance Fighters."
"Uh, hi," said Conner with a wave of his hand.
They were a real mixed bunch in here. Male, female, all ages. There were even a few children. One of the women moved behind then and reset the security systems.
"Sorry about this," the guy added. "It’s a dangerous actioms for us." He extended his hand. "I am called Markus," he said. "I find you might need our help."
Connor laughed. "You got that one right. My name is Connor, by the way. This is my pal, Stephen."
Markus appeared perplexed. "Your names are not Germanic of origin, and you speak English fluently. Were you born into an early LRF movement?"
This time Stephen interjected. "No, our story is much more complicated than that. It may take some time."
Their host spread his arms in invitation. "Then explain us you history."
He led them to a room off to one side where there was a a round table with several chairs. It was not a comfortable area, but it looked to be their main conference room, judging by the documents lining the walls.
The two Sliders sat down. In order to explain their predicament, they had to begin at the beginning. Connor did most of the talking, but Stephen added important details here and there when Connor ran out of steam or missed something out.
"So you see, we have a problem. We need to get our friends out of jail, and we need to get all our things back from the hotel," finished Stephen. "And we could really use you help."
Markus nodded. "Also we have a few of our people imprisoned. There we can kill two birds with one stone, like the phrase. And your belongings would not be a problem."
He stood up and made his way to the door, from which he called over one of his associates, a tall, very blonde woman of probable Scandanavian ancestry who didn’t look like she should be messed with. Connor’s eyes brightened considerable when he got a glimpse of her figure through the door frame. Had circumstances been different, he would probably have made a play of her, even if it was on a short term basis. However, there were more important things at stake here.
"What items you need?" she queried, with a thick German accent.
Connor blinked before answering. "Anything you can find that doesn’t belong to the hotel," he replied, adding a flirtation into his tone. Stephen realised this and rolled his eyes. The woman also seemed to notice, but she seemed more gracious.
"I will try hard."
The door was left open, but Markus returned to his seat to continue the earlier discussion. His actions seemed to suggest that he did indeed believe the Sliders, but even the two guys themselves knew it was highly unlikely that there were no seeds of doubt in his mind. It was only natural; Sliding was an unknown concept to the general populace of most worlds.
Curious, Stephen asked Markus to tell them a little about his little movement. Markus was quite happy to indulge them in the basic details. Anything too important would be kept strictly confidential, but the generics were general knowledge anyway. Even the supporters of the regime knew a little.
"We are the outcasts. The liberals, the homosexuals, the ‘not-perfect.’ Most of us can live ordinary life, but we must hide our beliefs or orientation." Markus struggled over the last word, but Stephen and Connor know what he meant. "The gays and lesbians are forced to be part of us or they cannot be. The Liberals are the left parts of the old system and the true believers. We stand against the system, but it is heavy. We try to help the ones we can, but it is a losing battle."
Connor was intrigued. "Is there nothing you can do politically?"
"No. It is a one party system with strict set up. Our reseach had found different systems existing befor the war that changed everything, but as yet it is no help. Maybe one day."
The two Sliders could think of no easy fix solution. The underground group would just have to persevere until one day the system cracked. There was no obvious shortcut."
"We help you because we oppose the system, but also have we people in the prison too. Two were caught in a ‘public display’ in their own homes, and three were taken under suspicion of vandal acts. One also held pending transportation elsewhere for producing degenerate art. We need your help to get them out at the same time."
"What help can we offer?" Connor asked, unsure.
"A distraction. You say you have other means out." Stephen nodded in response and Markus continued. "Then as we escape you will occupy them. Is that acceptable?"
"It is," answered Connor. "But it must be at a specific time or we will not be able to escape."
Connor sighed. "We won’t know exactly until our belongings are retrived, but approximately 2am."
Stuggling with some of his words, Markus tried to translate in his own head. Finally, he worked it out. "Greta will leave soon."
* * *
"What did they say to you this time?"
Laurie sat on the stone floor, head on her knees, not wanting to show her team leader what they had done to her. She knew she had a huge bruise emerging on her right cheek and several small cuts and bruises. "They said if we did not co-operate tonight, we would be transported to somewhere a lot worse in the morning," she said, muffled.
Mike let out a cynical laugh. "Well, if we’re still here by then, it won’t really matter. Our Slide will be around 2am."
Forgetting she was embarassed, Laurie looked up folornly, only to be greeted by and exclaimation of, "Jesus Christ, Laurie! What did they do!"
It was a rhetorical question, but Laurie found she had no reason to be embarassed. They had been taken at the same time, and apparently Mike had had the same treatment. He too had bruises and cuts. "I could say the same to you!"
"Yeah, well, it doesn’t matter about me." It was one thing to hurt him, a big man who could protect himself if necessary, but it was quite a different thing when they began beating a young woman, especially a member of his team. Suddenly he grew concerned. "They didn’t do anything else did they? I mean…"
She knew what he meant. "No, they didn’t rape me. But they may do worse than this if we do keep resisting."
He sighed. She was right, they probably would. Their breif interrogations were getting continuously rougher. But they didn’t have that long. "This is what we’ll do. If we’re still here tomorrow morning, we tell them everything. About Sliding, everything. Everything except Connor and Stephen who will either be gone…"
That gave Laurie a start. She knew it would be a possibility, but it wasn’t one she liked to think about it. It had happened to other teams before, when they needed back up. The official was if you can’t do it on you own, get out and get help. It had worked, but it was a horrible idea.
… "Or they will also be stuck here, in which case until we know we can’t mess it up for them. It’s not like we can tell them anything about the actual technology anyway. Only Stephen could manage it in enough detail to replicate it, and he’s thankfully not here. It’s the best course of action under the circumstances."
Mutely, Laurie nodded. There was nothing they could do except hold out untill then and hope for the best.
* * *
Greta made it back to the base just before 10pm. "I have you things." She held out the four bags. "I put it all in them."
Connor didn’t even look at her before he pounced on the bags. "You picked up everything?"
As he searched the bags, he even found a few things that were not theirs, like the free soap and mints and the like, but that was unimportant. There was only one thing that was really that important and that he finally found in the side pocket of Stephen’s rucksack. He handed it straight to the scientist and then looked directly at Greta, at which point his eyes nearly popped out of his head. "So… er… how did you get in?" he asked.
"I pretend I am prostitute," she announced proudly. "Very often in city. Very useful ability."
"Er… well done," he said, still eyeing her. She was certainly dressed for the part. But it was less slutty than the prostitutes he had seen on other worlds, including his own. "You must be very good at it."
"I am bestest. I even play prostitute to kill British Chancellor Arturo when he visit. I am successful. They know me not well still." Again she seemed proud. Evidently prostitution was acceptable here.Such totalitarian regimes often did that kind of thing when it came to their own pleasures.
Markus drew him away and back to the tactical group that had been assembled. "She is one of our usefulest weapons against the Regime. She finds much data for us. We hope to recruit more like her."
The timer was lying on the table. It read 4 hours and 31 minutes. "You will provide distraction for five minutes so we can escape," Markus said stiffly. "This will start from the moment we we release all the captives."
"How do we get in?" asked Connor.
Markus nodded and proceeded to detail the plan to all those involved.
* * *
The prison was well guarded, but not well enough. There was a distinct lack of security alarms, since they had been taken out earlier, so the party had only to take out the two guards at the entrance and use their clothing. It was not too difficult.
Stephen carried the timer in the inside pocket of his jacket for safety. It would not do for them to lose it so close to the deadline. In his hand he held a gun, but he would rather not use it. He was trained in its use, but he still found it hard to use the thing. On his back he carried his bag, as did Connor. The other bags were at present in the hands of two of the LRF members, ready to be passed on when possible.
The LRF had a schematic of the building. There were no convieniently large ventilation shafts, so they had to go the ordinary route and that could mean taking people out. It also meant they could split up, for the prisoner were not all in the same area.
Connor and Stephen were with Markus and five others. All but one of their people were still in the same holding area as Mike and Laurie. The artist was in a solitary cell aside from the rest for she had been formally charged, unlike the others and therefore was considered more dangerous. Three had gone for her, but they would get out on their own.
The eight were nearly at their destination. So far they had only encountered one of the Polizei, and he had been knocked out swiftly by the butt of Markus’ gun without an alarm being raised.
Now they had to act again. There were six deployed on this corridor. Less than their number, but it could still be risky. The only thing they had on their side was surprise.
It all happened very quickly. Shots rang out, but it was too fast to know who was hit. One aimed at Connor and only missed him as Stephen flew into him, having been shoved by another guard.
In a few moments, there were only seven people standing. The guards had been overpowered, but one of the LRF had been killed. They were dead already, there was no saving them. Connor thought his ribs might be broken or at least bruised, but there was no time for that. As he looked at the others, he noiced all of them had wounds of some kind, some worse than others. The only woman in they group had a gunshot wound to the shoulder, but she was determined and seemed to still be running on adrenaline. It wasn’t safe for her to give up now.
A siren rung out. the alarm had been sounded, but they were near enough their goal. they burst into the holding room which was staffed by four of the Polizei.Markus took a hit before any of them had even fired, but the already wounded woman responded instantly and fired, shooting him dead. One other had to be dealt with before the remaining two realised they were easily overpowered.
Markus pulled himself to standing and reached for the keys. He hobbled around and let out his people. He could not risk the others for the Polizei had been known to place decoys in cells. He people took up weapons, greatly increasing their numbers and he handed the keys to Connor. "Get your people."
Connor looked around. He’d been so concerned about not getting hit, he hadn’t even seen them. They were in a cell behind him. Laurie was sprawled on the floor and Mike was staggering to his feet. Their last interrogation had been far harsher than before and Mike, who found it hard to stand, was far better off than Laurie, who could barely move herself.
As he fiddled the key in the lock, backup for the Polizei arrived. Their were more shots behind him and he dived to the floor. When he felt it was safe for two seconds, he leaped up again and twisted the key. The door opened. Behind him the shootout continued. He handed his gun to Mike, "You take this and cover me, I’ll get Laurie." He picked up Laurie in his arms and ran with her to behind a desk, which was their defense at this time. The LRF had gone, it was up to them to hold out. He hoped they’d made it out okay, otherwise the whole expedition would be worthless for them. Laurie could be no help in her condition, he could tell that just by looking at her. He lay her down behind the desk so he could reach out for a gun.
Mike had made it to the other side of the room and was holding them off from there. Stephen was in-between the two, using a fallen filing cabinet as his shield against their bullets. It was down to three against four, and Mike made short work of one of them by catching him in the leg. It was not fatal, but he would not be able to oppose them now.
In a break of their barrage, Stephen skidded the timer across the floor to Connor. "Take this!"
Connor grabbed it before it could be damaged. It happened to skid into Laurie’s bag, which was convenient because he’d forgotton no one had passed it to her. He grabbed that near too. The timer read 2 minutes, 43 seconds. He just hoped they could hold out that long, because if more backup arrived, they would be finished.
Shots continued to ring out as the numbers counted down. Finally, they were within five seconds of the Slide window. "Get ready everyone!" Connor yelled over the din.
In the second that Connor pressed the button in the timer, more Polizei appeared. But the vortex with its swirling colours startled then and they were stopped long enough for Mike and Stephen to leap through without hindrance.
Connor was not so lucky. He had Laurie to carry and that took longer. As he prepared to make a dash one of the Polizei grew bold and shot in his direction. The bullet grazed Connor’s arm, but as the Polizei was about to shoot again, Connor screamed, "You bastard!" and hurled himself and Laurie into the wormhole.
* * *
The Slide was not unusually rough, but their injuries accentuated the instability. They landed, for once, on the grass, but Stephen was the only one who emerged standing.
Connor protected Laurie as they fell from the sky. As he looked down on her bruised face, he realised her eyes were open, and probablt had been for a while. "Thank you," she whispered.
He stroked her hair protectively. "We couldn’t just leave you there," he replied with a smile. "You’ll be fine now." Turning to Mike, he said, "I think we’d better get her some help. You and I could probably do with some too. I can’t do anything without equipment to help."
Mike attempted to stand to prove he was okay, but he was visibly swaying and did not care to kill himself trying. "That’s probably the best course of action. we’re in a city again, so they probably have some form of medicine." As he said the word ‘medicine,’ the siren of an ambulance rang out in the distance. "I would say they definitely do," he amended. It wasn’t absolutely certain, but most likely.
"How long do we have?" asked Stephen.
Connor picked up the timer and focused his eyes on the red digits. Approximately four days." After passing the timer to Stephen, he picked up Laurie, staggering only a little and made his way off the grass. "Let’s hope it’s not far to the nearest hosptital."
Alternate Earth 117
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