Leadership Qualities

By Slider Sarah

"Where the Hell are they?" roared Mike to the only other occupant of the room, team scientist, Stephen Henley.

Stephen visibly winced at the sound of his leader’s voice which was easily audible over the festivites outside and shrugged. He knew exactly where they had gone, but did not think it was a good idea to share that information with Mike. He would erupt, quite possibly literally.

There was suddenly a ruckus outside their suite, which sounded like furniture was being systematically lobbed at walls, accompanied by vast amount of giggling and laughter.

Rolling his eyes, Mike ignored the noise and moved to the window where he scanned the crowds. They had nicknamed this world ‘Party World’ because that’s all they seemd to do here. They’d had the good luck, or misfortune, depending on who you asked, to arrive in the middle of a big festival that lasted about two weeks. Drug and alochol use was rife and even though they had been seen Sliding in, none of those who had seen them really found anything strange about what they were doing at all.

The scientist of the group blinked his eyes and took a swig of his coffee to try and ward off sleep. He and Mike had got very little sleep in the three days they had been there, with constant festivities not reaching a peak until 3am and then starting again at around 5:30am. Personally, Stephen doubted that the two absent members had much, if any, sleep either. They had both decided to join in for their last evening (and day) on Party World and probably took full advantage of the lifestyles.

It had been Laurie who had come up with the idea. The poor girl was nineteen, but had never had the chance to enjoy the teenage years. She had had no prom, little time for casual dating, and it aged her more than she knew. Mike had not been present when she suggested it, probably to Laurie’s small amount of good sense. Stephen had declined straight away, he was too old for it, but as he suspected, Connor did not. Apparently Connor had once been known for his partying endurance, and he was always wanting to impress the ladies, any lady. Also, Stephen thought he may have wanted to protect Laurie. She was young and inexperienced after all.

There was the sound of a key trying to be forced into the lock. Immediately Mike stood on guard. Having no weapon, he just readied himself for any attempt at an onslaught.

However, his combat readiness was not needed at all. when those outside had finally managed to open the door, it turned out to be Laurie and Connor. But not merely Laurie and Connor.

Stephen could hardly believe his eyes. He worked very hard to stifle a laugh, but it was unsuccessful, Although he did manage to turn it into quite a good redition of choking on his coffee. Mike apparently was also speechless, something which made Stephen laugh even more.

"What is that?" Finally Mike managed to get the words out.

"What’s what?" giggled Laurie, obviously intoxicated to some degree.

The team leader gestured manically. "Your hair!"

She put her hands up to her head and felt it. "It’s a few braids. You like it?" The top layer of her hair had been plaited in even spacing around her head.

"Not that, the colour!"

"Cool, huh?" Laurie’s was a cool blue colour, Connor’s was a weird shade of green.

Again, Mike was left speechless and this time Stephen really did choke on his coffee. The last time Stephen had seen anything like this was when his son and a young friend had found some pots of paint in the shed and had covered themselves in it before running into the house and trying to scare his wife. He smiled a little at the memory, even though it held great sadness for him as well. It was just the way things were. That had been in the good old days, before the ‘Magg invasion, the times of freedom.

"But… but don’t you think it’s kinda noticable? If we run into trouble you’ll stand out a mile!" As usual, Mike was already thinking in terms of trouble, which was fair, considering the amount that found them. They didn’t have to go looking, with Connor around it was like having a trouble magnet.

Laurie dismissed him with a flippant wave of her hand and used a tone she would never have done without the lack of inhibitions caused by alcohol. "Oh relax," she said. "It’ll wash out."

Although Laurie had some kind of ability to talk, her movement was erratic at best, not helped by her still wobbley ankle, a remenant from Nazi World a while back. Connor was managing to hold her up, practically carrying her, but although he could do that, his speech faculties seemed to have completely gone. Both had obviously had a lot to drink.

"How long do we have?" Mike turned back to Stephen, realising he was unlikely to get anything sane out of the drunk pair.

Holding up the timer to display the flashing red digits, Stephen said, "About ten minutes."

"Shit. So not long enough to sober them up at all?" He received a negative shake of a head for his trouble. He sighed. "Then we’d better let them go through first."

Accompanied by a nod, Stephen responded, "Agreed. I don’t want to be in the way when they get there either."

The ten minutes whiled away slowly. It was still light outside, but Mike drew the curtains. The windows across the street could see directly into their suite and he didn’t want to take the chance that the one sober person in San Fransisco might be watching.

Connor and Laurie managed to amuse themselves by falling over and giggling a lot when they teased each other, in the way only people who have consumed vast amounts of alcohol seem to find acceptable. If either of them had been anything aprroaching sober, they would not have allowed that kind of intimacy to happen at all, least of all in front of their companions. The two sober adults tried to avert their eyes, but it wasn’t especially successful.

With one minute to go, Stephen held up the timer and said. "Okay, everyone get ready to Slide!" Thoughtfully, he then picked up Connor’s bag as well as his own. Mike swiftly followed suit with Laurie’s.

After the swirling blue vortex had been opened, Mike and Stephen quickly ushered the other two closer to the vortex, before persuading them to jump into it. It took surprisingly little to get them to go through, then again, neither of the other two knew exctly what they had done over the previous 24 hours and were not prepared to rule drugs out completely, although Mike would have hoped they had more sense. Drunk Sliders were bad enough to deal with, high ones were likely to be even worse.

The moment she exited the wormhole between dimensions, Laurie puked up on the grass. Connor, who had slid at exactly the same time, managed to stagger as far as the nearest bin before repeating the unpleasant proceedure.

The team leader and team scientist followed soon after and both managed to skillfully land on their feets, whilst also avoiding Laurie.

"Come on," said Mike as he lifted Laurie up from the grass, only for her to be sick again in the same bin Connor had already used. "Let’s get you two sobered up a little. And get that stuff out of your hair as well. We’ve got eight days here."

Stephen went to assist Connor, but his friend refused all offers of help, so he settled instead for just carrying his bag. He still followed alongside the former doctor, just in case.

* * *

"Your Highness, I think there’s something you should see," the frail voice quivered in front of his Empress.

"What is it?" she snapped angrily at the messanger. "Can’t you see I’m busy?"

She might have been an opulent lady, but the Empress was not lazy because of it. Her predecessor had been, and she was still working through his leftovers two years after his death. Damn fool he was for it too. The amount of money that had been wasted by defunct projects still receiving funds or greedy underlings conning them out of things that were obvious was ridiculous.

Currently she was going through the paperwork on a project that had fallen by the wayside in recent years. The theory of traversing to parallel dimensions was, as far as she knew, a sound one, but so far, all the team working on it had come up with was a more efficient power cell which had proved useful for mobile phones, but nothing else. There was no proof that parallel universes even existed, let alone whether or not it was possible to travel to them. The Empress had been considering whether to close down the project or not for several weeks and she was about to reach a decision. This was not the time to be interrupted.

"I… I know, but General Davids insisted that I should bring you to the conference room. He says… he says that he has something important to show you." The poor boy shied away from her as if he expected her to throw something at him.

The Empress smiled. He did not seemed old enough to remember her tantrums as a spoilt child, but he had obviously heard tell of it. Deciding to play along with his idea of her for the moment, she said angrily. "Does he not understand how important all this is?" She threw a pen across the room for effect. "I have mountains of work to do and all he wants to do is chat!"

The kid jumped at her ferocity and practically ran backwards. "Should I tell him you are indisposed?" he queried, ready to make a bolt for it at the first opportunity.

"No… tell him I’ll be there on my own time. And that means my own time, no more messangers."

"Yes, your Highness." The boy gave a quick bow and then ran out, closing the door behind him.

As soon as he was gone, the Empress burst out into peals of laughter and stood up. It was fun to taunt them like that. He’d get over his fear in due course, of course, but hopefully some of that awe would stick. That was the trouble with the people around her. They disagreed with her far too much. None of those that mattered had enough respect for her position. Nevermind. She’d humour the old General for a while. Then maybe he’d let her do something.

* * *

The Empress walked into the Conference room in her San Fransisco home to be greeted by bows from every member of the room. That still impressed her. They were even better at it here than in Washington or New York. That was one of the reasons San Fransisco was her favourite. This was where she had grown up here as well. Only since her foster-father had died had she had free reign over all the homes. This had always been hers and would stay hers.

"Your Highness, I am pleased to have graced us with your presence so quickly," he gushed, although she knew as well as everyone else there that he was only doing it for show.

She stood with her hands on her hips by one side of the circular table. "Cut the crap, Davids. What’s so damn important that I absolutely had to be here." The General wasn’t a frivolous man. She knew anyway that if he had had the tenacity to call her here, interrupting her work, it probably was pretty important

"Watch this, your Highness." General Davids pressed a button on the control and a screen popped up in the middle of the table, facing her alloted chair at the head. The Empress made her way around swiflty, cloak flowing and took her seat. "We had several reports from concerned citizens about this group."

The screen showed a group of four people entering a café, then after a time delay, it showed them leaving and the camera followed them down the street. The camera changed several times, but it was obviously the same people who headed into a hotel.

Shocked, the Empress leaned back in her chair, confused. "And you have checked this with the relevant authorities?"

"Yes, your Highness. Neither of them are even currently in the city. We had direct confirmation of this."

"Then how? How could they get that close? " She knew there was no point waiting for an answer. If they knew, they would not have bothered bringing her here. Standing up, she said, "Pick them up. I want to speak to them. Soon. I am a very busy person."

* * *

All attempts at sobering Connor and Laurie had so far failed. First they had tried coffee, but then left when their loudness in the café appeared to disturb the other patrons of the establishment. The four Sliders had then proceeded to the hotel where Mike and Connor had plied them with vast amounts of water, vainly trying to pretend that it was alcohol. It didn’t seem to have worked.

"How much did you drink?!" cried out Mike in exhasperation.

He hadn’t really expected an answer, but he got one from both involved parties. "Lots and lots and lots and lots," said Laurie almost proudly before, yet again, she launched into a fit of giggles.

Connor on the other hand, who had recovered the power of some speech, counted them off on his fingers with greatly exaggerated movements. "Beer, wine, vodka, bacardi, tequila, absinth, baileys…"

"Alright, alright, I get the idea." Mike turned back to Stephen. "If they drank all that, and probably more, it’s no wonder they’re still drunk.."

"But what can we do?" replied the scientist. "With that much in their system, the best we can hope for is that they’ll fall asleep."

Apparently Laurie took offence to that. "Nope! No sleep. Not now. No time for sleep." She got and made an attempt to tidy the room, even though it was pretty much exactly as they had found it not long ago. Mike and Stephen dragged her back by the arms and made her, looking like a sullen child, sit back in the chair.

Shaking his head, Mike said, "She’s bouncing off the walls. I don’t think they’re gonna get to sleep anytime soon."

There was a slight pause before he got his response. "Fresh air?" Stephen suggested finally. "If we take them somewhere open, maybe they’ll wear themselves out?"

"And we won’t get stuck with any spot fines for defiling the carpet. That sounds like the best idea. You get their water bottles and I’ll try and get them standing.

* * *

"Ooh, aren’t they pretty," smiled Laurie as she spun around with her head facing towards the sky. As she spun faster and faster, she lost her balance and landed on the grass with a bump, yet still managing to look skyward.

Neither of the two sober Sliders could see exactly what she was looking at. The city lights were too bright for the stars to really be visible, just like it was with all big cities. There were a few aeroplanes flying around with lights on, but other than that, it was just an orange tinged darkness. Seemed to keep Laurie amused though.

Connor had found himself a nice tree to investigate. Having tried to climb it and failed dismally, he contented himself with sitting behind it, thinking the others could not see him. Mike and Stephen knew he was there, but they let him enjoy his little drunken game.

"Excuse me?" came the voice from behind Mike’s left shoulder.

What greeted him was a hard punch that knocked him to the floor. When Mike looked up he saw a squad of about eight tall people, both men and women, dressed in some kind of official uniform like none he’d ever seen before, four of which were carrying weapons.

"You will all come with us," the man at the front announced officially. "The Empress has need of you."

That sent whispers through the small crowd that had gathered around. The Empress? It must be tremedously important then.

Mike could see no way out of it. There were two guns pointed directly at him, and one each at Stephen and Laurie. Even Laurie, in her inebriated state, recognised what was going on and managed to shut up and seem almost sober.

By the time they were inside the black van with the insignia on and the Sliders realised that Connor was not with them it was too late.

Connor himself had ignored the whole incident from his hiding place behind the tree. When everything had quietened down and he emerged from the tree to find no-one around, he simply curled up at the bottom of the tree and fell asleep.

* * *

Sticking out both of her arms in a stretch, Laurie Price groaned and attempted to open her eyes. God, her head hurt! What had she been drinking yesterday? The light hurt, but she blinked a few times to try and get used to it.

It was only then she realised she was lying on silk sheets. Silk? How could they afford something like that? Immediately she sat bolt upright and forced her blue eyes open, ignoring the pain that coursed through them.

"Huh?" she said alone, to no one but herself. There was no way in Hell they could have afforded something like this. It was… gorgeous. Gorgeous and very expensive. Not only were there silk sheets, but the bed was even a four poster! Laurie had never seen one outside a museum before and now she was sleeping on one? Something strange was going on here.

She threw off the cover and stood on the luscious carpet. Looking down she realised she was not in any of her clothes, but instead someone had dressed her in a rather elegant nightgown. Silk, again, it seemed.

The action of standing up gave her a rush of blood to the head and made it throb even more. It also served to make her feel a little ill. Idly she wondered if anyone had thought to leave her a glass of water. As she glanced around the room, she spotted a jug of water on the the dresser under the window. Laurie picked it up and delicately poured herself a glass, even though she was so thirsty she felt like drinking from the jug. Amazed, she discovered that there was still fresh ice in the jug. Someone had obviously brought it along this morning while she was asleep.

Slightly refreshed, though still with an awful hangover, Laurie decided to investigate the room further. Tucked away in one corner, she spotted a door that was partly open. Fearful of being watched, Laurie crept over to it and pushed it open gently. All it revealed was a bathroom.

There was a bigger door on the other side of the room. Again, Laurie pushed it open quietly. This time it opened onto a corridor. The young Slider stuck her head around the door, gave a yelp and quickly pulled it back in again. There were armed guards out there! Sure, they looked more ceremonial than anything, but there were still armed men outside the room!

Laurie sat back on the bed with a thump. What had happened yesterday. She remembered the Slide, or at least she thought she did. Before that it was kinda hazy, but that wasn’t important right now anyway. After the Slide she couldn’t remember anything either. Wait, she seemed to remember being dragged out of a coffee bar, but was that a dream or real? Her mind was so fuzzy gnereally that it was hard to tell.

She reached over to the jug of water and took several long gulps sraight from it before forcing her mind to concentrate. She must be able to remember something! A van, a black van. And some people. She couldn’t remember what any of them looked like, but there had definitely been people. In uniform. And they’d taken her somewhere. But where? And what about the others, were they here? If she thought really hard, she could remember Stephen being around, but nothing else.

Realising she wasn’t going to get much more out of her memory, Laurie stood up and went to the pile of clothes on the chair. As she picked them up, she exclaimed, "But these aren’t mine!" knowing that it was likely that whoever gave her this room had also given her the clothes which turned out to be a long flowing skirt and top. Looking at herself in the mirror, she smiled in spite of herself. They were a perfect fit and actually suited her quite well! Someone must have an exceptional eye. The same mystery person who appeared to have done everything else for her.

Taking one last gulp of ice cold water, Laurie bit the bullet and made her way back to the main door. Now was time to see what she could do.

* * *

"But what if I don’t want to go this way? What if I want to go the other way?" Laurie’s voice echoed down the corridor, reaching Mike and Stephen who were sat in what seemed to be a conference suite.

A few moments later, Laurie arrived, walking backwards as she tried to persuade the guards that they weren’t necessary. It wasn’t working. The guards barely even seemed to notice she was there at all.

Having tripped over the slight step into the room, Laurie decided to turn around again, to be greeted by the two guys.

"Nice outfit," Mike commented. "Bit impractical though, aren’t they?"

Laurie shrugged. "Not my choice. I found them on a chair." She paused for a second. "Hang on… where’s Connor?"

She was greeted by several hand gestures and eye movements that thankfully, the guards were not paying attention to. The youngest Slider took a seat close to the pair and the three gathere their heads close together. "What’s going on here!"

"We’re not sure, right now," Mike replied. "Just don’t metion anything about you-know-who. They didn’t get him."

"Oh." Laurie sat back and raised her voice a little. "So what did happen? I’m afraid I don’t really remember much. There was a van… and people… that’s about it. Who took us? did they get the timer?"

Her commander shrugged. "Yeah, they took it. Other than that, you know as much as we do. Well, they said something about an Empress, but that’s it. How’s the head?"

Laurie groaned and put one hand to her forehead. "Better than it was, but not good."

While the two had been talking, Stephen had been taking in their surroundings propery. It really was an ornate room, like the rooms of nineteenth century European monarchs, but with a certain touch of modernity to it. Strange. And the table itself on which they were seated at one end was made of some hardwood and carved. Oak, maybe, but Stephen was no expert.

He made a move to stand and walk towards one of the statues along the wall, but a rough hand reached out to his shoulder and pushed Stephen back down before he even had a chance. "You sit and wait," a gruff voice said roughly. "Empress Lorelle will be here."

"Lorelle?" whispered Laurie to her companions. "What sort of a name is that?"

The group sat in silence for the remainder of the wait. Every so often, they caught each others’ glances, but the presence of the guards began to intimidate them. Finally, they could hear movement down the corridor, some form of marching if ears were to be believed.

Two guards entered, followed immediately by another pair. They looked even more regal than the others, with dark red cloth intermixed with their showy armour. These were obviously the personal guards of the woman following them, a veil covering her face, but probably the Empress Lorelle. She was again followed by four more guards.

The room was getting a little crowded with all these guards. The Empress waited at the head of the table until all eight of her guards were even spaced around the room, before making a gesture with one hand to the others. They slipped out quietly, although the three Sliders assumed they were no further than outside the door.

Empress Lorelle settled herself opposite them and lifted the veil. What they saw surprised them all, but one person in particular.

"You’re name’s not Lorelle," exclaimed Laurie, standing up in emphasis of her remark. "No way."

They were faced with a double of Laurie.

The Empress gave a short laugh, but seemed unfazed by Laurie’s outburst. "Well, that lends itself to that theory," but even under their confused stares she did not explain further. Instead she turned her attention to Laurie’s statement. "You are correct, my dear. My name was not Lorelle originally, but Laurie is hardly a fitting name for an Empress."

There was silence for a moment. Mike tried tugging on Laurie’s arm to make her sit down again, but that made her even more defiant. "How did you get to be ‘Empress’ anyway?"

"Leave it, Laurie," Mike muttered to her. "We can find out later."

Again, Laurie ignored him. "Well?"

Her near exact duplicate sighed and motioned towards her. "Sit down and we’ll talk. Before I tell you anything, there’s a few things I need from you first."

"Like what?" Mike asked her. "You’ve already been through everything we own."

"Information," she replied simple. "We’ve already proved you are not cosmetic alternations, but although your DNA is the same, Mr. Chambers, you are not clones either."

"How did you know my name," he asked. None of them had given them anything up to this point. She must know his double.

She brushed him aside easily. "All in good time. We need to know what you are. We have a theory, but we don’t know enough about it to be sure. So you may as well just cut to the chase and tell us the truth straight off."

There seemed to be no way out of it. All three knew the would have to tell her. Part of that was the armed guards behind them, but part of it was that she already seemed to know something, it wouldn’t be possible to evade her question now. they looked at each other and Stephen nodded in indication that he’d handle it this time. He had the scientific background, and she wanted details.

As he finished telling the story, Lorelle said, "Thank you Stephen, I should have known to ask you first." He couldn’t be sure, but Stephen thought he saw her winking at him. That confused him more than a little, but he kept quiet.

Lorelle continued. "I will take you at face value on this." The three sliders breathed a silent sigh of relief. "It concurrs with our own favoured theory. Some of our scientists have been working on a project such as this, I will have to get them to liase with you.

Stephen opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again almost immediately.

"You still haven’t told me how you of all people came to be Empress," Laurie interrupted.

The Empress rolled her eye. "Gimme a chance," she said, mildly annoyed, "I can’t do everything at once!" For the first time she sounded like the young woman she really was, rather than the proud controlled individual she had first seemed. "Did you, on your world, know a man named Peter Arnold?"

Shrugging, Laurie replied, "Don’t think so. Oh wait, Dad’s best friend? Uncle Pete?"

"Oh you do then, that makes it easier. He was like fifth in line to the throne, but all the others met rather grisley ends."

"Woah, woah hold up there. What throne and what kind of ends." Mike knew bad information could be just as problematic as no information.

Recovering her cool once more, Empress Lorelle backtracked. "Well, since you seen to know nothing about this place. You are in the American Empire, it takes up all of the North Americas. Not very big in comparison to some, I believe the Russian Empire is biggest at the moment, although until recntly it was easily the British." Noticing she’d deviated from the point, she neglected to explain that further. "Uncle Pete, as you called him, was fifth in line to be Emporer. Only about thirty years ago, the rebels started kicking up around the world. They’ve been why the British Empire declined, and the French Empire fell apart. He ended up being Emporer when the others were killed, only they got to his kids. My… our… parents were killed as well, Uncle Pete adopted the three of us and designated us his new heirs."

"Wait… the three of you?" Now Laurie was confused.

"Yes, the three of us. Me, my older brother Damon, and my younger brother Jason. Don’t you have any brothers?"

"I have a brother, but just one. It was just me and Damon."

The Empress mused that over for a moment. "Even more interesting. I had no idea it worked like that. Damon was killed four years ago by the rebels, and Jason six months later." She paused, caught up with it all. "I was protected, maybe because they didn’t want to kill a woman. But uncle Pete died last year. I’m trying to reform this system, but I can’t do it when they keep stopping me!" In a fit of frustration she banged her fist on the table, making everyone jump.

"Sorry," she apologised. "I think we’ve talked enough for now."

Mike asked tentatively, "Are you letting us go?"

"Oh no, I’m sorry but I can’t let you out there. Especially, not you," she pointed at Laurie. "None of you are safe out there. You, Mr. Chambers, are a copy of an advisor of mine and Stephen, you work on one of my projects. If the rebels saw you, they would likely kill you."

None of team 6-Beta were especially happy with the idea of house arrest, but the Empress Lorelle had a point. But all of them knew that somehow they would have to get out there and find Connor. He wouldn’t know where they were, they would have to go to him.

* * *

Something landed on Connor’s leg, causing him to finally open his eyes. He didn’t want to, his head was throbbing that much, but there was so much noise around him. Couldn’t they just turn it down?

He tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but found something big and wooden in the way. Connor opened his eyes again to find a tree. A tree? Yes, they were big and wooden, but a tree? This time he made the effort to stay awake. Something was very wrong here.

Blinking ferociously, he wass more than a little surprised at what he saw. He was sleeping beneath a tree, on the grass, and there was a puddle of coins and notes by his feet. As he sat an considered this, another passer-by dropped a few coins into his lap. This was very weird.

Where was everyone else? Connor cast his mind back to the events of yesterday, which were hazy at best. He remembered going out at that festival and getting drunk with Laurie. Had they slid? He checked his watch, yes they much have done. Come to think of it, he through he remembered that anyway. Well, that was a start. At least he could assume they were all here too.

The coins looked different from any he’d seen before. Somewhere in his head, Connor seemed to remember a hotel here, it was a good thing Mike wouldn’t have tried to pay cash. Things were getting even more weird. One of the people on a few of the coins and notes looked a bit like Laurie. Strange. It was probably just his hangover though. That hadn’t gone away yet. Unfortunately.

"Do I remember anything else?" he muttered to himself, having gathered up the money and started wandering around. "There has to be something."

Vague picture began to come back to him. Some café, which Mike dragged him out of, had he been shouting at another patron? Whoops. And a park. This park. At night? The others had been here, he knew that now. But all he could remember was some people in uniform coming and talking to them. But was that even real? He couldn’t be sure, not yet.

An investigation of his pockets revealed a hotel key that looked familiar. The Chandler, he thought. Well, that was as good a place as any to start. After he’d found a shop that sold water. And a toilet.

* * *

Once again, Laurie was alone, but this time, not in the elegant room she had woken up in. Not that this room was any less elegant, in fact it was more so. She was sat in one of the seemingly many drawing rooms, curled up on a plush sofa chair, watching television. It felt odd to Laurie, having a television in a place like this, they just didn’t match. But then again, this place might look old, but it was littered with gadgets here and there. Like a cross between the gorgeous beauty of the eighteenth century European Empires and some futuristic society.

Mike and Stephen had decided to go explore a little. One of the guards had mentioned a sports area that was part of the complex, and both pairs of eyes had lit up at the prospect. Especially the heated pool. Laurie had declined on the basis of her still lethal hangover. The assistants that seemed to run around after them had offered her a multitude of cures, but Laurie had stayed safe and kept to asprin and water, with a little toast to settle her stomach.

Laurie wasn’t really watching the television, it was just there. She was still a little spaced out by everything and needed time to think. Really, she wanted to write in her diary, that would ease the confusion, but she hadn’t been able to find her backpack, and when she’s asked one of the assistants they had informed her they didn’t have it. It must have been left at the hotel. Laurie just hoped they didn’t damage anything. That bag contained a picture of her family, and she did not want to lose it.

She was so engrossed in her own thoughts that she never even noticed when company arrived.

"That rubbish isn’t worth watching," hwe own voice came from her left. "Here, try this one." Empress Lorelle, still dressed in one of her gowns, picked up the remote, and changing it to something else.

"Oh, I wasn’t really watching it," Laurie protested feebly.

The Empress Lorelle made a gesture to her guards. All but one left the room immediately, and the one that stayed moved as far away as was possible. She evidently wanted to talk to Laurie privately. "Tell me, Laurie," she began excitedly, "what’s it like to have a normal childhood?"

Laurie shrugged indifferently. She wasn’t really in the mood to talk. "I dunno. I only had the one. Nothing to compare it to."

"Oh I know, but can’t you tell me about it? Things like, oh parties, boys and proms, that kind of thing."

This time Laurie made a rude noise. "What makes you think I know anything about that kind of thing?"

Lorelle had completely dropped the façade she used in public now. She knew, as much as it was possible to understand, that Laurie was her parallel from another world and therefore, they should be able to be friendly. "But you must have done! You didn’t grow up like I did, protected and mollycoddled all your life in case someone tried to kill you!"

Now Laurie really did not want to talk. She swung her legs round so she was directly facing the Empress. "I never had that either," she spat. "No, I haven’t been protected and hidden from real life, but I’ve had to face it! For the past four years I’ve been living under Kromagg occupation… not really the best environment for parties, boys and proms! While I should have been going on dates, I was running round with machine guns trying to take out my enslavers! Hardly a normal life by any standards."

She’d got to Lorelle on that one. What Laurie didn’t know what that no one had spoken to Lorelle like that in years. It had been so long, Lorelle had forgotton what it felt like. She said nothing for a while, but after a moment of silent thought, tentatively offered, "So how did Damon turn out? I know you didn’t know Jason, but it might be nice for me to know."

"Yeah, well, I’d like to know too. I haven’t seen him since the invasion and it doesn’t look like I will soon."

"I’m… I’m sorry," stammered Lorelle, almost in shock. "I didn’t realise…"

Laurie lost no time in pressing the issue. "Well, you don’t do you. You’ve had sycophants round you so long you don’t understand people anymore! I don’t want to talk about it!"

"I… I can see that." Lorelle stood up awkwardly and rearranged her skirts. "I’ll leave you alone then." She left without another word, her armed guard following behind her.

"Uuurrrggghh!" Laurie groaned unexpectedly. She chose NOW to come and talk to her? Now she was gone Laurie felt guilty about the way she’d spoken to her, but there was no changing that now. Perhaps it might even help this powerful double of hers. It was her own fault anyway, coming to chat when she knew Laurie had a hangover. Or did she?

Empress Lorelle swept past the guards outside and pointedly ignored them. How dare she talk to her like that? She was Empress, not this ‘double’, what did she know? She had no training, no experience of this sort of thing. Then again, she might have a point about the sycophants. She made a mental note to look into it.

* * *

The hotel suite felt empty without everyone else. Empty and quiet. They’d taken their usual cuite, which was helpful for Connor to find, and it looked just like usual, items he knew belonged to them strewn all over the room.

When he’d arrived back at the Chandler, the clerk had asked him if his friends were coming back. Connor hadn’t known what to say, so had just muttered something along the lines of, "Yeah, they’ll be back later," even though he didn’t know. Discovering they weren’t waiting for him in their suite just made him more pessimistic.

He ordered food to be brought up to him. A full breakfast. He couldn’t leave the room, he might miss them if he did. It would be Sod’s Law for them to arrive just as he was eating. Connor was wary even of taking a shower, but a quick sniff proved to him that to skip it might not be such a good idea. The clothes might not be so good, but he did have a spare t-shirt lying around somewhere.

In an attempt to block out everything, and to create some background noise for the place, Connor had stuck the television on. Nothing overly interesting, just some standard news programme, but at least he could pretend he wasn’t alone.

As he tucked into his bacon and eggs, wide orange juice, something on the screen caught Connor’s eye. That woman from the money, the one that looked like Laurie, she was on there. He put the plate to one side, took a swig of orange juice and moved closer. Hang on, that WAS Laurie. Not being able to find the remote, he turned it up using the knobs on the television.

"And in other news today, the Empress…"

Connor didn’t need to hear anymore. It was evident that one on the screen, this ‘Empress’ must be Laurie’s double. They had to be with her.

The news report began to talk about her palace and the complex, but the accompanying pictures worried Connor more. There was no way he was getting in there. Not on his own. And he didn’t even know they were in there, it was just a guess.

But somehow, Connor knew that this was the most likely place. There was motie and ability. As far as he could tell. But he couldn’t do anything, not without more information. Forgetting his half-eaten breakfast, he grabbed the change he’d been donated, and flew out the door. Some things were more important that food, and he didn’t even remember how long until the slide.

* * *

"I’m so pleased you decided to come with me on this tour."

Having recovered from her earlier encounter with Laurie Price, Empress Lorelle had found a new playmate, one without a hangover, if still a reluctant one.

Off her arm was hanging a decidedly uncomfortable looking Stephen. She’d accosted him when he wasn’t paying attention, and she was a little hard to refuse. "No problem. Can I see our timer device?"

"Oh, we’ll go past that part later. Y’know your double is one of my top scientists," she giggled, childlike.

"Er… yeah, I think you said," he replied politely, even as he tried to loosen her grip on his arm. "Is he here?" At least if he was here, she could pay attention to him instead. Unless that was the problem in the first place.

She shook her head in the exact same way Laurie did, for a moment confusing the scientist. "Oh no," she said, "he’s working at our base in New York." She leaned closer to him. "He’s very intelligent. Shame he’s married really."

Stephen managed to wrench himself a little more free, but Lorelle wasn’t letting go, although seeing his discomfort she did relax a little on her grip. "Does he work on sliding?"

"No, that’s done here. I’ll show you if you like?" She showed him the beaming smile that Laurie only ever turned on for Connor as he was the only one that fell for it.

However, in this instance Stephen figured it a good idea to respond. After all, that had to be where they had the timer. "Sure, why not."

They proceeded along a corridor which had windows on either side, allowing viewing into several labs that seemed to be housed here. There were several people in the first two, but Stephen was too far away to see exactly what they were working on.

In the third chamber, however, it was different. There was a single lone woman, working with the timer to one side. Instantly Stephen moved out of view. "What’s she doing here?" His voice was low and hoarse.

"Dr. Davis? She’s working on parallel dimensions… what you called sliding. Normally Dr. Mallory is here as well, but I believe he took the day off. What’s the problem?"

Stephen’s breathing became slightly irregular. "She’s a physicist? On my world, she was a teacher. An English teacher. We were married."

"I didn’t realise you were married." Lorelle backed off, looking a little disappointed.

"Widowed," he replied shortly.

When he said that, the Empress began to take an interest again. "Oh I am sorry, I didn’t realise. Come on, we’ll come back when she’s not here." She paused. "If it helps, you’re not married to her here. You can’t stand each other. We have to keep you on opposite coasts to stop you fighting."

It didn’t help in the slightest.

* * *

While Laurie was lost in thought, and Stephen of on a guided tour of the labs, Mike found himself on his own. Except for the guard who kept following him around, but he was no fun. Every time Mike tried to lose him, he was always right behind. Mike had given up running from him. There was nothing left to do but tolerate him. Still, Mike named him, ‘Stare’ in his own head, because that was all he seemed to do.

Right now, Stare was by standing by the doorway, giving Mike free reign over the room. Mike wasn’t even sure what this room was. He’d already seen several like it, but in addition to the library section, it appeared to have a pool table and a private bar. Mike made a move to pour himself a whisky and Stare didn’t even flinch. Evidently that was permitted.

Mike knocked back his whisky and thought for a while. They had to at least get a message to Connor. He had free movement in the city, they didn’t, and they not only needed to find him, they needed to get the timer back as well, otherwise it would all be pointless.

Idly, he cast a glance around the room. Ah, a telephone. Maybe he could ring the Chandler and let him know. Casually, he sauntered across to the phone and picked up the receiver. There was no reaction from Stare. Maybe this wasn’t forbidden either. Mike dialled the number, still watching Stare for warning signs.

"Please dial the number of the extension you require. If you require an outside line, please press 2, followed by you PIN," came the tinny female voice from the telephone.

Drat. He slammed the receiver down in frustration.

For the first time, Stare spoke without provocation, almost scaring Mike out of his wits. "Is there a problem?"

"Er… yes," Mike saw a small opening here. "We left our belongings in our hotel. I’d like to go and get them."

Still Stare looked straight ahead, like the guards Mike had seen pictures of at Buckingham Palace in London, the ones with the big hats. "You will have to petition the Empress."

"How do I do that?" Mike asked, wishing his only current companion would show some kind of emotion. Perhaps if he hit him?

"Follow me."

* * *

Empress Lorelle was skeptical, Mike could tell.

"There is no reason why any of you should have to go. One of the assistants should be quite capable of doing what you ask," she said, almost annoyed, as much at the guard to had persuaded her to receive Mike Chambers, as well as at the man himself.

Mike nodded intently. "But they don’t know what items belong to us. They might take something that belonged to the hotel, or leave something behind." He made an attempt to play on her sympathy. "Some of those things are all we have left of out loved ones. If anything were to happen to them…" he made a strange choking sound.

"Oh alright," the Empress caved in. "But only you. And you’ll take three guards with you. The girl most certainly does not go, and nor does Stephen. Just you. Deal?"

Well, it was better than the nothing he had to start with. "Deal," Mike replied. "Can we go now?"

"Tomorrow," she promised. "I’ll let you know when they’re ready."

Thanking her, Mike left the room. It never hurt to try and do things with the concession of their captor.

"You’re not seriously letting him go?" General Davids moved from the dark shadowy corners of the room into full view. "What makes you think he won’t give you the slip? I would certainly advise against any outing such as this."

Lorelle contended him instantly. "We still have his friends. And their device. He won’t leave his friends to ‘suffer’ as he sees it." She made the funny hand signal indicating inverted commas in the air. "I think we can be sure he won’t go anywhere."

General Davids accepted her theory. "May I suggest additional guards assinged to the two left here?"

"Agreed. I’ll see to it before the morning."

She turned to go back to her paperwork on policy implementation, but General Davids wasn’t done yet. He coughed a few times to attract her attention. "Uh, do you intend to keep them here indefinitely?"

"What choice do I have?" she sighed. "The girl, me, she would be more than useful. If there’s two of me, it makes me that much harder to assiassinate, and then I can get throughthese changes."

"Are you sure these changes are really necessary, your highness? The world has worked just as well without them."

Lorelle smiled. "You’re one of the old school, you wouldn’t understand, would you? Yes, these have to be done or the whole system will implode. It’s that simple."

He still didn’t quite agree with her. "Don’t you think the system will implode when you do implement these changes? Won’t it fall apart?"

Shrugging, she responded non-commitedly. "Perhaps. But I’m gonna do it anyway, so there’s no point debating the point."

"Then may I take my leave?"

"You may."

"And remember…"

"I know, I know," Lorelle said, without actually looking at him. "Don’t forget to arrange the extra supervision." When he had closed the door behind him, she rolled her eyes and banged her head on the table in exhasperation.

* * *

Across the table from Connor sat a scary looking man. And Connor was scared. He HAD to get this job as a guard at the palace. It was the only logical place his friends could be. And this was the only way in. Unless you were authorised you hadn’t got a hope in hell of getting inside the palace complex, espcially this one.

The newspaper had yielded a few nuggets of information here and there, but nothing that would help him find the rest of his team. Other than that Laurie’s double who did not appear to share her name was ‘the Empress’… how did that happen?… and that Mike’s double apparently worked for her in advisory capacity, there was little that was useful until he had found the classifieds. Tucked away at the bottom of one corner, probably to disparage the casual reader, he had found the advertisement. If he hadn’t been so bored he would never even have found it.

And now, less than a day later, he was already being interrogated in an interview. He shuffled uncomfortable in his seat. The process was obviously designed to keep out those who didn’t really care. But Connor cared. He had to care.

The scary man finished checking his computer. "Well," he announced, sounding half-please, "You have no record of any action against the Empress or anything related, which is a start."

Connor breathed a sigh of relief. That had been a worry niggling in the back of his mind. If his double, if there was such a person here, was a rebel, the plan would have failed before it had got anywhere.

"I should warn you," the man continued, "That you will not guard the Empress Lorelle herself, or any of her highest level guests until you have achieved at least one year in the service." Connor accepted this quickly. Hopefully that wouldn’t cause too many problems. "And there will be a two week trial period, after which, if you are not suitable, you will be let go without compensation. Agreed?"

The Slider practically snatched at the pen he was so eager to sign on the dotted line. The scary man seemed surprised at his enthusiasm, but ignored it. He informed Connor that he would begin work at 9am tomorrow sharp, and for the first three days he would shadow one of the older members of the service.

As he left the interview, Connor’s only hope was that the Slide window hadn’t already passed. Then he might actual need this job in the long-term.

* * *

"Come on, hurry it up a bit here."

"Yeah, yeah, I’m going as quick as I can." Truth was, Mike was deliberately being exceptionally slow. The longer he was here, the more chance he had of at least seeing Connor. The guards accompanying him on the little excursion didn’t seem to impressed by his efforts.

Mike surried around a little more, trying to look busy. At least he was helped by the fact that they generally threw their belongings around the room like they owned the place. But to them it WAS home half the time.

He thought he was just about finished and began to head towards the door. Mike had purposely left something by the telephone, so he could go back and slip the pre-prepared not he’d made somewhere Connor would see it. It was their last resort.

"Isn’t this yours?" one of the guards asked.

Crap. Mike was hoping he’d manage to leave Connor his things. Well, at least he’d left some clothes in the bedroom for him. Connor would just have to cope until they met up. "Er, yeah," he responded quickly. "Nearly missed that."

All except one of the four accompanying guards were outside the door before Mike put the plan into action. "Wait, I forgot something!"

The guard still inside stayed where he was, as Mike had expected him to do. When he got to the phone, Mike slipped the note next to the phone, carefully hidden from the view of the guards by a large green houseplant. He picked up Laurie’s diary and waved it at them. "Can’t forget this! Laurie would kill us!"

There was no reaction, just like with Stare, although Stare wasn’t one of them. It must be the training.

There was nothing to do but wait. Connor would have to make it here eventually, even if he had been completely inebriated that night. If Mike hadn’t heard from him in a few days, then they’d have to try something else, but for now, this was their best chance at reforming.

* * *

Connor was barely through the door of their suite before he began running around trying to find his friends. But he knew deep down it was all in vain. They weren’t going to be here right now and he knew it.

But he couldn’t just lose all hope. No hope led to despair and people in despair never got anything done. Connor couldn’t afford that right now.

Flopping down on the sofa, he idly flicked on the television. As usual, there was nothing on at this time of day. There never seemd to be any worlds with good daytime television. Perhaps it was an oxymoron or something.

Perhaps he needed something to take his mind off things. They were already pretty far off making any sense anyway. He should probably catch up on his official journal or there’d be Hell to pay when they got back to base, which couldn’t be too far off now. Fingers crossed that they got back at all.

Yet as he began to take in his surroundings, he noticed things were different. Laurie’s bag had been on the floor by the chair, that was gone. His own bag was gone as well. He checked the bedrooms. A couple of pieces of his own clothes were there, but nothing else. This was weird. Someone had been here!

His first impulse was to run around again, looking for them, but that wasn’t going to do any good. Connor already knew there was no one here. But someone had been. And they hadn’t taken everything either. It had to be one of his team. His heart began to beat a little faster in anticipation.

They must have left something here for him. A note or something. But where would they have left it? He had checked on the table, and in the bedrooms before he thought of by the telephone. Which if he thought about it, made the most sense anyway.

The note was written in a scrappy bit of paper Connor would have missed if he hadn’t know to look for it. He gave a small laugh. The scrappy scrawl definitely belonged to Mike, he was the only person Connor knew who wrote worse than he did, and he was a doctor. Most of it told him things he had already worked out for himself.

All safe. Laurie’s double is Empress. Has us held at palace complex, under house arrest. Not likely to let us go. Also have timer, Stephen knows where. Try and get to us, we can’t get to you.

And underneath was a time.

Tuesday 20:17

He assumed that was the time of the Slide. Thank goodness Mike had thought to include that. It set his mind at ease, but the note threw up other worries. However, he was on the right track already. Six days until the Slide. Well, if all went to plan, he wouldn’t have to be following any of his colleagues around by then.

* * *

Laurie glared at her double across the room. "Did you want something?"

"Not really."

"Then why are you here?"

The Empress smiled sweetly. "Don’t you think we should be friends, not enemies?" she queried gently. "So much more would be acomplished that way."

Still Laurie felt nothing towards her, apart from a little symapthy for the woman, She was just too haughty, too arrogant. Came with the territory, she supposed. But that didn’t mean she had to like it. "I don’t know many people who are friends with themselves." It sounded more philosophical than even she meant it.

"There’s no reason why you shouldn’t stay here."

Laurie found it a great effort not to laugh out loud and she didn’t manage it very well. "Hah! Why would I want to stay here? I’d be stuck inside this building so people couldn’t kill me!"

"It’s not that bad, once you get used to it," Lorelle persisted. "Remember, I was here through all of the latter part of my childhood. Until Uncle Pete died, in fact. You could have more freedom than this, more than I did."

Something wasn’t right here. Why was she trying to get her to stay? It had been clear from their few encounters that the pair of them clashed. Laurie thought her double too far removed from her people, and the Empress probably felt Laurie was too naïve or something. "Why would I want to stay here? I have a world I need to free, and a family I have to find out what happened to! But then, you wouldn’t understand that, would you."

Lorelle’s eyes narrowed swiftly. "Why do you say that? I carry pain, just as you do."

"But you know. That’s the difference. You got something out of their deaths, you are all-powerful. I’m not. All I got was years of occupation. YOU try living under the Kromaggs."

This time the Empress stood up. "I see. Well, if you can’t see how generous my offer is, I shall have to withdraw it. You could have been like me, Laurie."

"Why would I want to be like you?" she didn’t mean to say it, it just slipped out.

Lorelle shrugged. "Evidently you can’t see the bigger picture."

She left the room before Laurie could ask her what she meant. What bigger picture? Surely she could see the bigger picture if she wanted to rescue her world? It made no sense to her. But she didn’t care anyway. Empress Lorelle was a strange creature. Maybe it was all those years of near perpetual isolation she kept going on about.

"Has she gone now?" Stephen crept out from behind one of the big solid chairs.

Smiling, Laurie replied, "Yeah, and good riddance to someone who talks such rubbish."

"Didn’t you understand what she meant?" he asked her.

"No, should I?"

He sighed. "She’s not gonna let us go. Especially you and me, I think."

Laurie laughed outright this time. "Us? I can see why it would be useful to have me around, but you? No offence Stephen, but you do seem a bit nervous around her. Don’t you think you’re a bit paranoid?"

"Have you seen the way she looks at me?" Laurie shook her head violently. "There’s passion in her eyes when she’s around me. No, don’t scoff!" he protested. "I swear to you, she was flirting outrageously with me on that ‘tour’ she gave, and it’s got worse since she found out I was widowed!"

This time Laurie just stared at him. "Ew!" she pronounced, before realising how offensive that sounded. "Sorry, Stephen, but ew."

"Don’t worry, I feel exactly the same. That’s why I’ve been avoiding her, and why we absolutely have to get off this world. I think she’s too used to getting her own way in the end."

Laurie wasn’t sure whether to be pleased or offended.

* * *

"Now remember this time, don’t show them any emotion."

Connor rubbed the back of his head with a hand. "Yeah, right, I’ll try and remember."

"And don’t do that with your hand. It doesn’t look good."

Dropping his hand to one side, Connor mumbled an apology, before receiving a friendly clout on one shoulder. "Hey, it’s okay. We were all like this once upon a time."

That didn’t really help Connor very much. He couldn’t afford to stuff this up in many ways. He had to become the model guard and fast. Most of yesterday had been spent shadowing one of the guards, which in effect meant guarding some minor functionary from who knows where. Apparently Connor had acted with ‘too much emotion’ and had already been warned about it.

"You have a different assignment today," the guard continued. "I have been assigned to guard the Empress herself this morning, where of course you cannot follow yet. Therefore, you will be shadowing Fletcher here."

A different guard nodded in Connor’s direction. "Uh… right," the Slider managed. "Will it be very different?"

Fletcher took over the teaching lesson. "Unlikely. Twelve hour shift?" Connor nodded. "Then probably the same. We have a potential problem person to guard, but he’s not much cop really. A little strange though. Certainly keep me amused!" He guffawed loudly, then stopped suddenly. "Oh but make sure you barely acknowledge him. It’s a little game I’m playing. I swear it’s driving him nuts already."

Connor smiled weakly.

"Right! Let’s get going. If we’re not there by switchover someone will have our necks!"

Stiffly, Connor followed him out the room. He really was going to try very hard today. Perhaps he’d be able to find out if his friends were okay.

There didn’t seem to be many people in the long corridors, but those they did see seemed completely disinterested in the pair of guards. Except of course for other guards who would laugh and joke with them as long as there was no one else around. Connor still felt out of place. How on Earth was he going to find anyone in a place of this size? He should probably have thought it through a little better than this.

Then Connor saw her in the distance, travelling in the opposite direction to him and Fletcher. Laurie. But was it really her? Her double was around of course as well, and there might not be a way to tell who was who without getting close. This one only had one guard, but did that mean anything?

As they neared Connor, he could tell that whichever she was, something had irked her greatly, it was written all over her face. Connor tried to catch her eyes, get her to notice him. It was only as they were practically alongside that he actually managed it and both turned their heads as they went past.

Laurie widened her eyes and glared intensely in recognistion. Not because she was angry, but because she needed to make a point.

Thankfully Connor got the message that it was his Laurie, but unfortunately Fletcher caught his look towards her. He laughed again. "Eye-catching, eh?"

Struggling to recover from his being less than subtle, Connor finally came up with, "Is that really the Empress?"

"No, just some woman who looks very much like here. Honoured guest here. Gorgeous isn’t she, just like the real thing."

"Yeah, beautiful." Honoured guest his ass. Connor was pretty sure Fletcher had to know she was under house arrest. Connor obviously wasn’t allowed to be privy to such ‘sensitive’ information.

At least they would now know that he was here. Laurie had seen him, that meant that hopefully she would be able to tell the others. Then, when Connor got past the next two days of training he might be assigned to one of them.

But he didn’t really know his luck.

"Well, hello Stare," came the voice form inside the room. "I should have known you’d be back."

Connor knew that voice. Knew it very well. Steeling himself, he stepped inside behind Fletcher.

For a second, he could have sworn he saw an element of shock on Mike’s face, but he recovered much better than Connor had when he had seen Laurie. "Looks like you have a friend today."

"Training," Fletcher responded laconically, and then proceeded to stand practically motionless.

"Ah," Mike replied almost knowingly. He walked right up to Connor until he was looking directly up at him, since Connor was several inches taller, and winked at him before backing off. "I guess I’ll have to name you Shadow then."

Perhaps Fletcher was right. Maybe Mike was beginning to go a little mad.

* * *

Mike paced the second library, agitated. She should have been here by now. Why did that girl never listen? He made a derogatory sound and began pacing quicker, giving only a cursory glance to the lone Stare standing by the door. Connor wasn’t on with him this morning.

Despite his earlier lack of success with the telephone, Mike had found that it was actually useable for internal calls. Well, within reason. He had found that at any given point he could ask for one of his companions and be directed to whatever room they were in at the time. Meaning they were always being monitered, but it was useful. Especially since Stephen kept hiding.

It was another fifteen minutes before Laurie appeared, followed by her usual two guards. She was classified higher, the only privacy from them she was permitted was in her chamber. And even then it probably wasn’t especially private.

"Where have you been!" he exclaimed, taking on an expression of anger mixed with relief. "I was so worried!"

Laurie grimaced. "I had another pep-talk from Lorelle." She paused. "Are you okay? You seem a little… odd."

"I’m fine, I’m fine," he said quickly. He took Laurie lightly by the arm and pulled her across to the luxury chairs. As soon as he sat down, Mike began to tap a pen on the table.

After about thirty seconds, Laurie reached out and flattened it. "Do you mind? That’s really annoying."

He glared at her, than moved his eye in the direction of the three guards and started tapping again.

It was a moment before Laurie caught on, but still she had to restrain herself form flattening his hand for a second time.

Mike handed Laurie a plastic carrier bag. "Here. For you."

"Er… thanks." There was a book inside, but even Laurie could realise that it was the bag that was important. "I’ll read it later." She took the book out and laid it carefully on the table before she began to crinkle the bag.

She wasn’t paying attention when Mike began to talk and as a result missed it entirely. "What?"

"Hand," he replied briefly and indicated his own that was partially covering his own mouth.


His hand didn’t move. "Monitering. Cover you mouth when you talk," Mike said simply, but it came out as more of a mumble because of the measures he was taking to disguise his words.

"You got an idea?"

"Yes. Listen carefully. I can’t go through it again." Quickly he outlined his idea. "Workable?"

Laurie shrugged. "Can’t hurt to try. If it doesn’t work we’ll still be here. Have you spoken to the others yet?"

Shaking his head, Mike replied. "Not yet. But inside the book is a note. I’ll deal with Stephen, you get that to Connor."

She nearly forgot to keep her mouth covered. "What? How am I supposed to do that!"

"You’ll have to find a way. It’s easier for you, you’re a young woman. You have three days to let him know. Well, maybe give him a little time to prepare if you can. All sorted?" He stood up meaningfully.

"I… er… yeah." Mike really was getting stranger by the minute. House arrest obviously didn’t agree with him. Honestly, Laurie wasn’t sure it agreed with her either, but at least she had found things to amuse herself with, even if that did constitute mostly reading political histories and arguing with her double. Mike seemed to spend time using the gym and pool, but nothing else. Company would have been helpful, but outside contacts weren’t allowed, and Lorelle and her associates seemed to devise ever better ways to keep them apart for at least some of the time.

"Well then, I’d better be off to the gym before we’re forcibly separated again. Ta ra!"

When Mike had left the room, Laurie approached one of her guards. "Can’t you get someone to see to him? I think he needs some help."

"Sorry," the one on the left replied. "That’s not part of our job description. You’ll have to petition the Empress Lorrelle."

Laurie sighed and sat back down. Somehow she’d known that would probably be the answer. That was their answer to everything. The only thing was, Laurie wanted to interact with her double as little as possible. However, Mike’s sanity was more important than her own annoyance. She’d petition the Empress, but it was unlikely that anything could be done before the Slide. If they missed it then it would be necessary, if they got out of here, well, fingers crossed everything would sort itself out when they left.

* * *

Two days later, Laurie had what she wanted. She’d managed to glance at a copy of the shift changes. Given that she now knew where and when Connor was on, she could connive a meeting.

She missed his company. With Mike becoming more than a little odd, and Stephen quite understandably wanting to avoid her for the moment, she’d really missed the young doctor and his carefree ways. This place needed a little bit of fun, they were all far too serious around here.

The bottle of wine was half-empty already. It was good stuff. The more she got through before she set off the better. Laurie was already wearing one of the more revealing outfits available. They might be serious around here, but Lorelle certainly knew how to show off her assets. Perhaps that was why she had all the attention.

Well, whatever the reason, Laurie was determined to use it to her advantage. Already the guards seemed almost as smitten as they were with Lorelle. Although that could be because of her relationship with the Empress as much as her code of dress.

Laurie poured herself another glass and downed it before picking up the remainder of the bottle and swaying towards the door. The more drunk she appeared the easier it would be.

Both guards made a move to assist her in her travels, but Laurie waved both of them away. "I’m fine," she giggled. "I don’t need no help."

Glancing at her watch, Laurie realised she was a little early. No matter, she’d simply sway and stagger a little more, that should do it.

She took a wandering route down the corridors. To any observer, it probably didn’t look like she was headed anywhere in particular, but Laurie did have a plan. And if it didn’t work she had less than a day to get word to Connor.

There it was. The corridor on which the guard’s room was located. As she turned the corner, she could see the door to it. It was nearly time. Laurie checked her watch again. He’d better show up soon! There was only so much swaying she could do without making it seem obvious she was faking.

Laurie was about five meters from the door when a collection of guards spilled out, all preparing to head to their assignments. She breathed a silent sigh of relief when she saw Connor was among them.

Now was the time for her ploy. She took a quick swig of the wine and then staggered forward, collapsing pretty much in Connor’s arms. "Oh my! I am so sorry," she smiled, playing the drunken role. "I missed have trupped."

Connor helped her stand back up again. "No worry ma’am, no harm done."

She smiled at him and gave a little giggle. "You’re quite handsome really, aren’t you," Laurie replied. With one hand she reached up to ruffle his hair, while the other went round his waist, being careful to go via his pocket. "Care to join me for a drink and some… fun?" She winked seductively. Oh, how he’d kill her for this later.

Carefully he pushed her away. "Maybe later, Ma’am. I’m on duty." He was accompanied by encouragement from the other guards, but stayed firm. "Perhaps we shall meet again another time."

Laurie looked dejected, but let him go and carried on to her chamber, the cheers and humourous banter of the guards still ringing in her ears. Only when she was there did she allow herself a small smile for the way things had gone. He had the note. Now all that remained was to wait.

* * *

It was time.

Taking a deep breath, Connor moved out of the cloakroom. Technically, it was a little before time, but he needed to get to Mike before the switchover. Too late and whoever was supposed to be guarding Mike would get there first and it would be more difficult, though not impossible.

They hadn’t had the luck that would have assigned Connor to guard Mike anyway, but he was fortunate enough not to be on duty at this time. If he never turned up for that alarms bells would ring pretty quickly.

As it was, they only had about twenty minutes to get the timer and get to Laurie. It would be tight, but the constant surveillance made anything longer even more of a risk.

First stop was Mike. Connor knew the guy guarding him right now. It shouldn’t be too hard to pull this part off. He just hoped he knew what he was doing.

As arranged Mike was sat some way away from the guard by the door, and barely acknowledged Connor’s entrance.

"I’m here to take over," Connor muttered to his colleague.

The guard looked at him strangely. "I thought Hall was on after me?"

Connor shook his head lightly. "We swapped. He had things he needed to do now."

"You’re still early. Ah well, your own fault. See you later, mate!"

Yes. This bit was going as planned. When Mike saw that his guard had left and Connor was now in his place, he started moving. First part had gone as well as could be expected, as long as Hall didn’t turn up before they had moved on to part two. Part two was Stephen and the timer.

Neither Mike nor Connor acknowledged each other during the short trek to the science area. The close proximity had, of course, been considered beforehand. They made it into the viewing section, but could get no closer. That part had to be done by Stephen himself.

The pair found Stephen working in the interdimensional travel laboratory. Since their appearance, activity there had increased ten-fold, sometimes with Stephen and sometimes without, but right now it was out of hours and it seemed Stephen and his guard were the only two there.

Stephen saw them through the glass. He made a strange eye signal to them, but neither of the two guys realised what it meant. Eventually, Stephen gave up and proceeded with the plan. Perhaps it wouldn’t change things anyway and there was nothing Connor and Mike could do about it.

There was a wooden slab next to his work area. He’d spent the last two hours carefully clearing it of the small pieces of electronic parts entirely for this purpose. It wasn’t attached so that delicate pieces could be moved from one area to another, and Stephen took advantage of this.

He picked it up carefully, walked over to his guard, and without warning hit him round the head with it. Not hard enough to kill him, of course, but enough to send him to the ground sprawling, where Stephen was able to put him out cold.

There would be no onus on the guard for letting him escape, the surveillance would do that for him and they had probably already logged the incident. On a whim, he then proceeded to one of the cameras and broke it. Someone would certainly notice that in due time and get the man help.

Stephen had just picked up the timer and was about to make his way out to the viewing corridor when another person entered the room. The one Stephen had tried to warn his friends about. Only now did they notice her come in from one of the side offices.

"What the Hell do you think you’re doing!" Dr. Davis exclaimed.

Mike swore under his breath. He should have guessed she might be here. Dr. Mallory wasn’t given much to working late, but Davis was different, sometimes she preferred to work without the distractions.

Not seeing any point in making up an excuse, Stephen decided it was best to be honest. He forced himself to look at her face, even though he really didn’t want to look. "Escaping," he said simply.

"But… but you can’t do that!"

"You think we should stay captive here, subservient to that woman’s insane wants and desires?"

She faltered, "Well, no, but I can’t let you go now… they’ll have my head for it! I just can’t!"

"It’s not a choice. You have to understand, we NEED to get out of here. Our world is held captive, we need to try and help it! It takes too long as it is, we don’t know what to look for, but we have to stay dedicated. We can’t help them from here. Please."

The physics doctorate looked even more uneasy. "I don’t know… I just…"

Stephen decided to take the plunge. Perhaps that might help. Anything was worth a try. There wasn’t much time left. "Look, on my world you weren’t a physicist, you were a teacher. An English teacher. And we were married." He could see she looked shocked. "We had two little boys, twins." He took a deep breath. He didn’t want to carry on with this next bit and destroy the smile that had just appeared on her face. "But the three of you were all killed by the invaders." Stephen continued talking in as dead a tone as he could manage. Getting upset wouldn’t help now. "Please let us go. To avenge them. And you."

Diana Davis sat back in her chair and ran her hand through her hair. "Go," she said quietly. "Now, before I have time to change my mind."

The Slider didn’t need telling twice. He joined his friends and they began on their way to Laurie. She wasn’t far away, but they might encounter some resistance from this point.

"That was some fancy talking there, Stephen," Mike commented as they sneaked along the corridors towards Laurie’s ‘base’.

"I don’t want to talk about it," he replied quietly.

Connor had been about to say something and shut his mouth again quickly. Now probably wasn’t the time, not when they all needed to get out in one piece. Instead he asked, "How long?"

"Seven minutes, ten seconds."

Well, is Mike was correct, it would only take them three or four minutes to get to Laurie. Could they hold off what would probably be a good proportion of the palace guard?

By the time they reached the door to the room which Laurie should be in, the guards hadn’t yet caught up with them, although they couldn’t be that far behind. They weren’t inept, it was just that there was a bit of a delay with the monitering systems. Or at least, that was how Conor thought, having been one of them and all.

The three of them stormed into the room, and Laurie jumped to attention. She was quite thankful for their arrival; she’d been beginning to wonder where they’d got to. It wouldn’t do to miss the Slide now.

As soon as they were threw, the three guys lept at the two guards, and somehow managed to bundle them towards the door. Connor nearly had a bit of an incident with a blunted ceremonial staff, but other than that, it seemed to go quite well. Surprisingly well in fact.

There was no time to stand around congratulating themselves on a job well done. It wasn’t over yet. If they stayed true to form, the palace guards would be turning up any moment now to top them Sliding. Mike slammed the door behind the guards and held it shut, while Connor, Stephen and Laurie tried to drag the sofa to place across the door. It took them a little while, but eventually it was there. On top of that they managed to add a chest of drawers and several chair.

It looked like a sturdy little pile, but Mike was pretty sure it would hold them long. Not with all the bodies that they could no hear on the other side. It seemed they’d got here just in time. "Come on, guys. We’d better take up defensive positions." He looked at the other three. "Where’s the weapons?"

"What weapons?"

"The ones from the guards!"

Stephen rolled his eyes. "You never told us to do that."

"Yes I did! Well, we’ll sort it out afterwards. In there, hurry!" He pointed to a little study off to one side of the room."

Laurie peered round the corner. "We can’t get out of there. Bars on the window and it leads to…" At that moment palace guards burst through into the little study. Laurie gave a little yelp and retreated back into the room. "Er… now we have a problem. "How long?"

"Two minutes."

Those coming in the main entrance were not far behind their colleagues. Connor recognised quite afew of the faces of those pointing guns directly at them, but that wasn’t going to do him any good. In fact, it might be worse, because he’d betrayed them already.

Behind them stalked the Empress Lorelle. "So. You think you could escape me?"

There was no answer from the Sliders. Out of the corner of his eye, Stephen checked the time.

The Empress signalled to the guards to lower their weapons. All obeyed immediately, though not without surprise. "Don’t you understand?" she directed the question at Laurie. "We could have been so good here. You wouldn’t have wanted for anything!"

"Except my freedom," Laurie muttered.

Lorelle chose to ignore the little comment. "And you, Stephen. We could have been so good together." She moved closer and ran a hand down his cheek. He simply flinched. Lorelle turned away from the rebuff and returned to her previous position. "Guards…"

"Wait!" Stephen exclaimed. "Maybe you’re right. Maybe we could have been good together."

"Stephen!" Laurie shouted in spite of herself.

But even as she spoke, Laurie knew he was just playing for time. As Empress Lorelle paused to consider Stephen’s surprising words, Stephen depressed the button on the timer and a vortex appeared against one wall.

The Empress ordered her guards to aprehend the Sliders, but even she knew it was worthless. Most of them were too shocked at the emergence of a blue swirling vortex to even move, and thosewho did make an attempt could not reach them in time. The four Sliders disappeared into the wormhole.

One guard looked to Lorelle for instructions on whether to follow them in to the vortex or not and she waved him to stand down before turning on her heel and storming off in a huff. They were gone now. She wasn’t going to risk losing anyone else, especially those loyal to her. She should have seen the ploy. It was obvious. But she had allowed herself to become distracted, and that angered her as well as disappoint. Someone would pay for this, and it wasn’t going to be her. The wormhole closed, oblivious to the anger it inspired.

Alternate Earth 117
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