By Slider Sarah
As the siren rose to a wail, Laurie groaned and rolled out of bed. She hated being on duty. Everyone did. No one ever seemed to get any proper sleep off duty, let alone on! You never got to sleep in your own bed either. The damn Kromaggs always seemed to know how to pick their times for maximum annoyance.
Moving swiftly, she jumped into her shoes and grabbed a coat. There wasnít time to get dressed, but she did have to be decent. Some people did sleep in their clothes while on duty, but Laurie had found she couldnít do it that way. It was just too awkward.
Under the bed was a larger weapon. That was only for times like this. With that in hand, as well as a handgun, Laurie began to run to the stairs. One flight up and she was on the roof.
Unsurprisingly, she wasnít the first one there. There were always two on patrol at any one time. Others appeared at about the same time as Laurie, including Connor. He seemed to have gone the same route as she had, and was looking just as amusing as her. They nodded in passing, but there was no time for pleasantries.
Each person had an assigned point on the roof. Laurieís happened to be facing the actual headquarters. She was currently based on one of the outlying buildings, as cover. Over by the main buildings, she watched as some of her colleagues ran around, waiting for the attack that was obviously imminent.
And it was. A couple of mantra ships exited wormholes, but were swiftly brought down by a combination of machine gun fire and disruption. One, however, seemed to escape the shots and stayed out of the disruption field and started taking potshots at those on the roofs around the headquarters. One man on Laurieís roof was taken out. There wasnít even time to see who. Laurie and several others all then rushed to concentrate on that one ship, and quickly brought it down, crashing into a thankfully unoccupied building.
Then came the Maggs on the ground. They rarely changed their strategy, the Kromaggs. The Resistance had always figured it was simply because they didnít have enough mantra ships to go all out. There was rarely any suggestion that they were stupid. And the Resistance had that great machine that could down them pretty quickly. They were always working to expand itís range, but that was still going slowly.
It seemed to be only a half-hearted attack by the Kromaggs really, part of the war of attrition. Earth 117 had a much better organised Resistance than most worlds and it was beginning to take its toll. Every little victory for the Resistance raised their hopes that little bit more. Perhaps one day they might achieve freedom.
Finally, it was over. Laurie could still feel the adrenaline pumping through her tired body. When that wore off, she knew sheíd want to go right back to bed. But there was still the question of the injured man on her roof.
Throwing her weapon to one side, Laurie joined the rest of them crowded around the man on the floor. It wasnít Connor. In fact, it wasnít even someone Laurie knew particularly well. But he was dead, and they would have to carry him back to headquarters in the relative calm after the attack.
"Nice outfit," said Connor grimly from beside her, though with a hint of jovility to his tone.
Laurie made a point of looking him up and down before responding. "Love the pyjamas."
He made a face at her. "Fancy a coffe when weíre done with all this?" Connor motioned around them. Less devastation than usual, but it was always best to repair and damage immediately.
"Hell no! Iím going back to bed!"
Connor smiled. "Oh go on, you know you want to. No one ever makes it back after all this."
She knew he was right. There was just so much to do that by the time you had it all done, you were too awake to go back to bed. It was just the thought of bed right now was so appealing. "Alright then. Were Mike and Stephen out today as well?"
"I think Mike was at HQ. Donít know about Stephen. Iím sure heíll be around though."
"Probably," she agreed. "That warning sirenís like a banshee." Suddenly, Laurie looked down and realised what she was wearing. "Iím only coming if I can change first."
Smiling, he replied, "Aw, I was hoping youíd keep on showing a bit of leg."
Playfully, she nudged him. "Hey!"
"What?" he laughed.
Laurie grimaced. "You know damn well what. Meet you in the mess when weíre done?"
"Sure. If I can find you."
* * *
The canteen area was incredibly small for serving so many people. A few people had made it down already. That was one of the problems of the dawn raids, along with disrupted sleep: Everyone emerged at the same time.
Having grabbed his own rations and a cup of coffee, Connor finally found Laurie and Stephen huddled in a corner, where they had managed to nab a table and three chairs. A miraculous feat on a morning like this, considering there werenít many anyway.
"Hey guys," he said loudly, trying to squeeze onto the chair beside the wall. "Any news?"
Stephen shrugged. "Not really. Mikeís gone off somewhereÖ he wonít be joining us. You know Jack and Lara?"
Connor nodded slowly. "Well, I vaguely know Lara."
"Theyíre both in hospital wing. Oh, and Sophie Patterson managed to go into labour right when the sirens went. How was it from where you were?"
"Oh, so-so," Connor replied, distracted. Watching Laurie carefully, he realised she was actually asleep. "How longís she been like that?"
"About five minutes?"
Poking her hard in the ribs, Connor whispered in her ear. "Wake up Sleeping Beauty."
Laurie jumped into a response, quite literally. "Arrghh! Donít DO that!" she mouned, rubbing her hand where the still warm coffee had joined in the motion. "What is this? Pick on Laurie day?"
Stephen glanced quizically at Connor, but he just shook his head. Laurie was too engrossed in her coffee to notice.
"I think Iím out of the habit," she mused.
"Which one in particular?"
"The one where I can cope on practically no sleep. Itís been a while."
Drifting towards sleep himself, Connor actually had to agree. And as soon as his eyelids went down, he got a sharp poke in the ribs in return. "Hey!"
She pouted. "Well, now you know how it feels like!"
Connor pointedly ignored her and started playing with his cereal with the small amount of milk. Cornflakes again today, if he wasnít mistaken. Well, it was better than nothing.
They were the only team Ďhomeí at the moment. There had been one other when they had arrived back on Earth 117, but team 3-Beta had left two days ago, with their new team member. None of them had been in good shape. The loss of a team member always made things rough, and the members of team 3 when it had been in its Alpha stage had been together as a group as long as any of them.
The second parts of the names referred to the incarnation of the group. Most were Beta these days, much like their own, but 2 was still an Alpha, and 4 had made it all the way to Zeta, with only one remaining member from the original team. Four had the reputation of being the unlucky one, yet for the past eight months they hadnít had any problems.
Laurie knew the man who had joined 3-Beta, but neither Connor nor Stephen had even heard of the guy. She assured them heíd probably fit in pretty well, but they didnít agree. Team 3 had some decidedly odd personalities within and it was amazing theyíd meshed at all.
"Any news on when we leave again?" Connor asked. "I forgot how hectic this place can be."
Nodding, Stephen chided him. "It could be a lot worse. But as it is, youíre in luck. We leave tomorrow."
Spurting her coffee back into the cup, Laurie stuttered, "Tomorrow? Thatís a bit short notice isnít it?"
"Not really," shrugged Connor nonchalently. "Weíve had much shorter notice before. You worked here, didnít you ever notice itís always short notice?"
Now it was Laurieís turn to shrug. "Not really. I had other things on my mind. I wasnít responsible for letting you guys know. I did tracking."
"Well, yeah, that too."
Stephen stood up and made a move to leave. "Well, if you two donít mind, I have to get back to the lab. Havenít you two got anything to do?"
Laurie sighed. "Probably. Iíll head down to the control room I guess, see if they need me. Chances are they will. They usually do."
* * *
It was quiet in the control room when Laurie got there, although rarely was it particularly noisy anyway. It was here Laurie had endeavered for the good of her world, and she still felt at home in here. Idly, she sat down at the computer that had previously been herís and checked up on what was going on. None of the three people already at work batted an eyelid.
"Thatís my computer youíre using."
Laurie stood up to see David, the young lad whoíd replaced her. "Oh hiya, I was just checking out what was going on."
"Checking up on me, huh?" David sounded the typical moody teen.
"UhÖ no, actually, just having a look around."
He pushed past her and into his chair. "Well, Iím here now. And I have work to do."
Figuring even if he needed help, he would ask for it, Laurie left him alone and went round to talk to Rhoda who had just entered the room. "You been reassigned Rhoda? Never used to see you around here." Laurie greeted the woman with a quick hug.
Rhoda returned the hug exuberantly. "No, Iím just filling in," she replied as she sat down.
Glancing at her strangely, Laurie blinked a few times. "Filling in for who? Bobby? I thought he was off today?"
"Oh he is, itís not himÖ Iím filling in for." Rhoda began to trail off half way through, realising what sheíd just done.
Laurie crossed her arms and pulled herself up. "I seeeeee," she drawled slowly. "So whatís wrong with Jonathan this time?"
Even though Rhoda was a number of years older than Laurie, and higher up in the hierarchy than Laurie had been in her time at Headquarters, she crumbled in the face of the youngsterís black look. "OhÖ erÖ Iím not sure."
"Right. I assume heís not in the hospital wing?"
She didnít look into Laurieís eyes, instead preferring stare at the floor, but still Rhona nodded slowly.
"His office room?"
Again, Rhoda nodded.
Pausing for a moment, Laurie pursed her lips slightly without really noticing. "Iíll be back soon," she mused, slightly distracted. "And donít even think of warning him."
* * *
The door swung violently open under Laurieís force. Behind it, in the grey functional room that served as both office and sleeping area for Jonathan, leader of the Resistance of Earth 117, she could see a man sat upon on the tatty old futon in the corner. He looked up, startled, as she entered.
"Now how did I guess youíd be in here," she announced as if addressing a small child.
Jonathan let go of the bandage he was fultilely trying to tie around his right arm. "Laurie." He sounded resigned to her appearance. "The same way I should have known youíd come and find me." Again, he tried to tie a knot with his left hand and his teeth.
"Give it here," Laurie said as she sat on the futon beside him, taking the bandage from him and starting the dressing over. Once unravelled, she could see the searing wound where a Kromagg weapon had obviously hit. "I hope youíve seen someone for this."
The silence was deafening.
She started to pull the bandage tighter. Jonathan didnít even wince. "Iíll take that as a no, then. You really should. It might get infected."
"I do know, Laurie. Iím not that much an idiot. Iíll get round to it at some point."
"Yeah, Iíll believe that when I see it." Laurie tied the knot carefully. It wasnít perfect, but it would do for the time being.
He protested, "I will! JustÖ not right now. I have too much to do."
Laurie watched him carefully as he got up and started to start on his normal business. The wound didnít seem to be bothering him that much, except when he tried to write, but there was something else. He had these spats sometimes. And it was always bad for him. "Why not?"
He carried on filing papers. "I just donít want them to see me like this."
"For Godís Sake Jonathan, itís only a wound!" Laurie spluttered. "And itíd be better if they could see youíre human like the rest of us!"
"Just having a bandage wonít prove to most of them that Iím human," he replied somberly.
As happened occassionally, Jonathan was becoming isolated from everyone on the base. On previous occassions, Laurie and a few of the others had worked very hard to stop it happening. But nowÖ. two were dead, killed in raids. Another one was missing in action. Laurie herself, and one other, were now part of the recon teams, and so were not around most of the time to either nip it in the bud or end the isolation. That had left Rhoda. And it seemed sheíd pretty much given up facing him down.
Rolling her eyes, Laurie said, "Right," and took Jonathan by the arm. "Youíre coming with me."
Jonathan tried to pull his arm free, but gave up under her icey stare. "Where?"
"The hospital wing," she replied bluntly. "Maybe Connor will be there; heíll sort you out."
"Do I have to?"
"Yes. Itíll do you some good and you might actually have to talk to people." Laurie paused as she considered how to put the next part. "We need you to stay in communication with all levels. It hurts the whole cause when you isolate yourself like this."
"Iím not doing it myself." Jonathan held his head high as the walked down the quiet corridors. "They do it to me."
She sighed. "It doesnít really matter. But Iím not gonna let it happen this time."
There was no answer to that.
* * *
While she waited in the control room for the rest of team 6-Beta to arrive, Laurie stood in stoney silence, with her arms crossed, glaring at Jonathan. She might have been able to force him to go to the hopsital wing and to at least appear human, but she couldnít do that once she was on another world. However, making him feel guilty for a couple of weeks might help. Jonathan, of course, was taking the trouble not to look directly at her. He knew very well what she was doing.
It wasnít the first time sheíd forced him out of isolation and he doubted it would be the last. Laurie seemed to think he was like everyone else, but he wasnít. She just didnít understand him. Why should she? No one else did.
Jonathan was thankful when other people began to arrive for the show. Connor was first, an unusual fact in itself, thereby providing a topic of conversation that did not revolve around him, however much Laurie glared.
Everyone was gathered with plenty of time to spare. It was a routine departure, so there was no need for any fanfare or special consideration, just a small group of observers. Team 6-Beta, Jonathan, a couple of technicians and a friend of Connorís from way back. Normally more friends of the travellers would be present, but there had been another raid and most were more concerned with fixing the damage from that. Connorís friend had only escaped duty through injury.
Stephen counted down the seconds as Connor said goodbye. "FiveÖ fourÖ. threeÖ twoÖ one." The blue interdimensional gateway opened in the middle of the room, giving all the by-standers a wide berth. He lept into it, after a brief wave goodbye.
Connor was next through, not really want to get into a long dragged out farewell. But Laurie just stood glaring at Jonathan, with Mike waiting patiently to one side.
"Just go, Laurie! I promise Iíll be good!"
She uncrossed her arms. "Hmph," she decided. "Youíd better be." With that scolding, she followed her friends into the vortex, trying to drift to one side, so as not to be landed on by Mike, who was significantly broader than she was.
For once, the wormhole had opened pretty close to the ground. Very close in fact. As Laurie exploded out of the vortex, she found herself rolling across a gritty pavement and into a dustbin. Mike followed just behind her, but exited at a different angle and so avoided hitting anything, something Connor found hilarious as he brushed the dust off his own clothes.
"Well, this place looks interesting," he announced, his voice dripping with irony.
The place was, quite honestly a hole. A complete dump. There was no other word to describe it other than Ďslumí. Everything seemed dark, even though the sun was shining. Half the windows were smashed, and the others so grimey you could barely see through. Nothing had been painted in years, that was obvious. Even the clothes hanging over rope were stained and tatty.
Mike shrugged. "Maybe itís just a bad part of town."
Picking out bits of rubbish from her hair, Laurie wasnít too convinced. "You hope," she said. "If itís all like this, something tells me we wonít be finding somewhere nice to stay. How long are we here for anyway?"
"Just two days," replied Stephen, somewhat relieved. "So it could be worse."
Connor offerred Laurie a hand. "Wonít do you any good to any good to stay down there. Urgh!" He looked down to find his hand now covered with muck.
"Sorry," shrugged Laurie. "You offered."
He just made a face.
"So!" Stephen interjected lightly. "Which way are we headed?"
"Well, I say head this way."
"Are you sure, Mike? It doesnít look too populated that way." Laurie screwed her nose up as she finally noticed the smell of the rubbish.
Peering round the corner, Mike suddenly changed his mind. "UhÖ maybe not. Any other suggestions?"
"Hey, thereís voices this way, how about there!" Connor was already halfway there by the time heíd finished his sentence. But no one had any objections.
They came upon another set of streets, looking just as run down as before, if not more so. This wasnít the kind of thing they were used to seeing when Sliding. Differences, yes, sometimes even extreme differences, but nothing quite like this.
The voices were coming from a couple huddled to one side. One of them, a woman, was carrying a bundle of blankets that looked to be a very small child. They didnít notice the Sliders. Both of them were far to involved with the child, as if they didnít get to spend time with it, or each other, that often.
Mike was just about to go and ask them for directions when a ruckus erupted from their left, headed towards the couple and the child. And not in a good way. The family scattered, mother and child going one way, the man in the opposite direction, as it happened towards the Sliders.
The small mob did not just pass through, however. They went straight for the two running. They reached the man first and started to beat him.
"Hey!" yelled Connor, but the gang of people did not stop. That wasnít going to be the end of it for Connor. He ran full pelt towards the mob and began to rip the attackers off the young man. For a one man army, he did a pretty good job of holding them back.
But he wasnít alone for long. Given that Connor had already involved them in this situation, the other three decided to join in. Justice as well as damage limitation.
It was only after a few minutes of kicking and dragging that Laurie remembered the woman. Ducking a swift punch, she rolled out of the way and ran after the woman and child. She was too late. Two men had got to the woman first and one held the child, while the other held a knife at the womanís throat. When she saw the glint of the metal, Laurie stopped dead.
"Donít come near us or weíll slit her throat!"
Laurie held her arms out in a gesture of having no ill will. "There must be away to sort this?" she asked tentatively. The man holding the baby was also holding a gun. Laurie assumed it was loaded.
"This is sorted."
The men backed away slowly, but Laurie could not get closer. If she had been able to, perhaps she could have rescued her, but she couldnít risk it. Especially when she saw the fear flooding the womanís eyes.
"Laurie!" Connor puffed up behind her. "What happened? Are you okay?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "Iím fine. Donít know about her though." Laurie pointed away into the distance, at a group of figures getting ever smaller.
"Eva!" The man they had rescued let out a pitiful wail and tried to follow them. Connor ran after him, but Laurie knew neither would make it. She walked slowly behind them, joined by both Mike and Stephen and waited until he gave up.
When she reached the pair, Connor was standing over a man collapsed on his knees, weeping. Connor was trying to comfort him, but it didnít seem to be going to well. It pretty much consisted of a few pats on the back, telling him, "Itíll be okay."
The crumpled man didnít appear to be takign any comfort form Connorís attempts in the least. He kept trying to swat Connor away like a fly, succeeding no more than Connor was. "Just leave me alone," he cried. "I know you want to."
"Why would we want to do that?" Laurie asked gently, crouching next to him so she could see his tear-stained face.
"You must know who I am now. You probably think I deserve it."
Connor crouched as well. "No one deserves that sort of treatment," he offered. "No one."
The Sliders hauled him up to a standing position. "Donít be ridiculous," chimed in Stephen for the first time since the fight. "Now why donít you explain the situation and weíll see what we can do to help." the words were out of his mouth before he even realised. Connor looked gratefully at him, but Mike just rolled his eyes. Laurie didnít even notice.
The man looked incredulous. "You mean you donít recognise me?"
He sighed. "My name is John Lathem." There was a silence from team 6-Beta. "You havenít heard of me?"
Stephen shook his head. "íFraid not. Weíre not really from around here."
"Evidently, if you havenít heard of my name. Well, I may as well start with the worst of it. My great-grandfather was one of Kennedyís advisors."
Still there was no reaction from the travellers from another world. All four of them knew that was supposed to mean something to the inhabitants of this world, but at this point, all were drawing a blank.
"Come on, everyone knows about the Cuban Missile Crisis."
The four Sliders visibly relaxed. There was something they could all reference, though barely in Laurieís case. But they would still need a fair amount of explaining to understand it in the context of this world.
Mike placed a hand on Johnís shoulder. "We have a rather interesting story to tell, but itís best if we could do so in private. Do you have somewhere to go?"
Nodding slowly, John said, "Yeah. Well, itís not much, but at least itís private. Iíll take you there now."
* * *
"Wow, thatís some tale youíve got," said John. "Iím not sure I believe you, but at a little different from what I usually get!"
He had taken them some distance from their entry point, to something that had possibly once been an industrial estate. Now it was falling apart and only the poorest seemed to reside there. John had led them into one of the more dilapidated buildings and into a large room on the second floor that had had all of its windows broken bar one. There was nothing in the room except for a mug and some oddments of cutlery and the place looked as if it hadnít been lived in for years. Everything else John owned he seemed to carry in his pockets.
"Itís the truth," Mike assured him. "Every word of it. Itís not a pretty story, but there it is."
"Oh Hell, its not like it matters anyway." John brushed away the comment with a wave of his hand. "Youíve all shown me more kindness than I ever expect these days. I spend my time hiding out, for the most part."
Laurie decided to take this moment to chime in with a query of her own. "Why is that anyway? I still donít understand at all!" It was beginning to get chilly and she hugged her knees closer to compensate.
Stifling a laugh, John replied, "You really must be from another world if you canít work that one out!" Noticing the blank looks from all four of the Sliders, he continued. "I already told you that my great-grandfather was one of Kennedyís advisors during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Well, that went wrong and everyone blamed the advisors. Those of us unlucky enough to be related to them are rather less than popular people.
There was a brief silence before Mike finally asked, "What exactly went wrong during the Crisis? It was obviously bad, but weíre still a little hazy on the details."
"I canít believe I have to explain this," John muttered, before raising his voice to explain briefly. "Well, Khrushchev started building nuclear missiles in Cuba, so Kennedy had to do something. He tried talking and the Damn Russians were having none of it, so heÖ erÖ sent a nuke over."
The reaction was near simultaneous from all four visitors. "He did WHAT??"
John started looking at various parts of the ceiling in an attempt to avoid their avid gazes. "He nuked St. Petersburg as a show of strength. But it kinda backfired and the rest of the world got real pissed at us. Now weíre a fallen nation and poverty is rife." He brought his head down sharply and glared at each of them in turn. "I suppose now that you know what happened, youíll hate me as much as the rest of them. Go on, do your worst! They already have Eva and the baby, nothing else can hurt me now!"
"Hey, hey, calm down there!" Connor reached out and placed a hand on Johnís shoulder. "What happened back then has nothing to do with you Ė you werenít even born, so how could it possibly be your fault?"
With that declaration, Johnís shoulders relaxed and he seemed less agitated. "Do you really mean that? I mean, the only other person who thought like that was EvaÖ. and now they have her." His head drooped.
"Of course we mean it," Mike responded, his voice equalling Connorís for sincerity. Stephen and Laurie added their agreement with furious nodding.
It was left to Connor to take things one step further. "And weíll try and help you get Eva and the baby back as well. We canít just leave them to those bastards!" While that had not been foremost in his companionsí thoughts, truth be told, Connor words had now bound them to that promise. Mike in particular shot Connor a rather annoyed glance.
However, John appeared not to notice it. "Thanks," he murmured. "I appreciate it."
It was nearing dusk by that time, so by general consensus nothing could be done tonight. Though they discussed how to carry out the rescue, John was lacklustre and gave nothing more than one syllable answers, meaning the Sliders did not have enough information to really decide on anything concrete that evening. Besides, the failing light left them all feeling rather tired, and after a couple of hours, all four, plus John, bedded down as far as was possible.
* * *
Inside the building that was masquerading as a dwelling, five people slept. Or rather, three people slept. One other had not yet dropped off, and the final member had dipped in and out of sleep, never really settling.
There was a small scuffle as the one who had stayed awake let out a small sigh and turned over, in an attempt to find a warmer position.
"Connor?" Laurie whispered, still shivering, "is that you?"
Since the Sliders and their new acquaintance had settled to sleep, the temperature had dropped rapidly. It was a clear night outside, and most of the windows of this building had been smashed. While it was not quite cold enough for there to be a frost, it was quite cold enough to have little in the way of blankets and nothing to keep the heat in.
"Yes, itís me," he replied in a low tone. "And a whisper carries further Ė just talk quietly."
Laurie shuffled in his direction, trying as hard as she could not to make any noise. When she was no more than a few inches away from him, she spoke again, this time quietly, rather than whispering. "I canít sleep properly at all! Itís far too cold. Everytime I fall asleep, it just wakes me up again. I swear Iíve not got more than about half an hour all told." This was pure guesswork on Laurieís part, since she had no idea what time it actually was.
"Tell me about it," Connor said through gritted teeth. "I havenít even got to sleep yet!"
Briefly turning to look at the other three, all of whom were lying against walls on the far side of the room, Laurie added, "I donít know how they do it."
Connor attempted to shrug, but found it didnít really work on the concrete floor. "No idea, but I wish theyíd share. Mike always was able to sleep in extreme weather. Bastard." There was a pause before Connor was seized by an idea. "Hey, if we lie next to each other, we should be able to share body warmth. And blankets," he added as an afterthought.
She giggled and gave him a wink. "Oh, it that the only reason?"
Her opponent looked mock-offended. "Donít you trust me?"
"Of course I do!" Laurie said easily. "Here, move you arm a bit and I can lie alongside."
It was more difficult than expected, as both had been using rolled up clothes as a pillow, and it was hard to rearrange themselves in the dark without making much noise. Eventually though, they settled and the two blankets were put together and drawn over the two of them.
"Ah, thatís much better!" Laurie sighed, as she snuggled further into Connorís arms.
To Connor, it felt so natural lying like that. His arms were around her and as he revelled in the new warmth their bodies offered, he idly began to stroke the hair that had fallen over her face, before lightly kissing her on the top of her head.
Only then did he remember that it was Laurie he was holding. "LaurieÖ I didnít meanÖ Iím so sorry!"
But there was no response from Laurie. Her breathing continued without interruption and there was no sign that she was anything except asleep.
Conor relaxed a little when he realised this. He did like the girl, he knew that much, but he also knew that it was not something he should pursue. It wasnít permitted and besides, it would only complicate the situation. Near silently he whispered, "I lied, Laurie. I did mean it," before he settled himself down and closed his eyes, finally able to sleep.
He never noticed that Laurieís eyes had flickered back open.
* * *
By the time that Connor woke up the next morning, it was already well past dawn. And he was sleeping alone again.
After rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Connor refocused and glanced around the room. There he spotted his three companions and their new friend sat in a semi-circle in the middle of the room, warming their hands over a small portable gas stove.
"Wakey, wakey, sleepy head!" Mike teased. "You evidently didnít get much sleep last night!"
Connor shot a quick look at Laurie. "What do you mean?" he asked Mike carefully.
"Just that you slept late," Mike shrugged nonchalantly. "Why?" he added suspiciously. "What did you think I meant?"
"Oh, nothing, nothing," Connor replied quickly. "Nothing at all."
"Hmmm." Mike didnít appear particularly convinced, but thought no more of it, especially as he was more interested in the water being heated up over the little stove ready for coffee.
As Connor tried to catch Laurieís eye, she kept ducking away from his gaze. Finally, when the other three were busy with other things, she had a few words for him. "I was up early and didnít want to disturb you," she said simply, though her mind was still reeling. "By the time they got up I was already dressed. It didnít seem worth mentioning anything to them."
"RightÖ. okay. I suppose not."
The pair of them left it at that, though both of them wanted to discuss things further. However, there was even less privacy here than on most worlds, and it was not something either wished to mention in front of everyone else.
Laurie made a point of spending a long time getting the knots out of hair following their exchange, and Connor eventually disappeared off to attend to his own needs. Laurie sighed as she watched him go. Should she have mentioned that she heard what he said last night? No, Laurie decided, that would only precipitate a prolonged discussion and now was really not the time. Perhaps when they were back home, or at least alone somewhere on a far more comfortable world that this.
Unknown to Laurie, Connor was entertaining remarkably similar thoughts on the sitution. Things had come to a head on the world where the two of them had been confined to their hotel suite, but since that Ďincidentí, both had shied away from the issue.
He had kissed her that day, and she didnít seem to mind, but Connor had stopped it after only a few seconds. It wasnít practical, and it certainly wasnít allowed. However, as last night had shown, it appeared to be what he wanted. And he couldnít tell her that, at least not when she was awake.
* * *
The four Sliders and John convened a war council once breakfast was over and done with. If you could call it breakfast, as it had consisted mostly of two packets of crisps and a tin of baked beans between the five of them. Except for Laurie, who had had an apple instead of the beans.
As the eldest of the group, Mike took control. "So," he began, "We know we need to get Eva and the baby away from those people. John has been telling me this morning about the things she can expect if we donít free her, and letís just say, we need to get her out. Itís likely that Eva will be, quite simply, used and abused. They wonít kill the kid, but she wonít have a life worth living either." He sent a pointed look in Connorís direction, and the he wilted somewhat under the gaze. "Weíre in this now, and we have to see it through."
"So, whatís the plan?" Laurie asked logically. "Itís not like we can just walk in and take her away with us."
Mike nodded curtly. "Exactly. John has been able to give me a rough idea where they would have taken her, but obviously he has never been inside. Weíll have to do some recon."
"We donít have long though," Stephen offered. "A little over a day left. Broad daylight Slide, which means it might be more than just Sliding out of their base."
"Exactly," Mike agreed. "Hence the recon."
Throughout the ensuing conversation, Connor kept his head well down. It was his fault, really, that they had to do this, though he did not regret his actions. If he had ignored the situation, all three of them could be dead, and certainly there would be no chance of rescue.
Every so often, Mike would glance at him out of the corner of his eye. Connor knew exactly why he was doing that; he was letting the younger Slider know that he wasnít happy about the way he was dragged into this. It had happened before, and most likely it would happen again. Connor was not ashamed of the way he tried to help people, but Mikeís glare was enough to make anyone feel a little guilty.
* * *
"Oh, this is so dull!" moaned Laurie as she tried for the fifth time in ten minutes to get comfortable. "Do we have to do it like this? Weíve been sitting here for hours! Five in fact!"
"Yes," was the short response from three of the four men. Only Connor abstained, secretly in agreement with the young woman.
They had established quickly that the building they were watching was indeed the base of these men. Team 6-Beta had seen at least two of the perpetrators of the attack go inside, and there was the sound of a baby crying that was definitely coming from inside somewhere. Added to that, they seemed to be part of an organised gang, and as a result the building seemed in better condition than most. A lazy, though well-dressed, guard sat just inside the front entrance.
Laurie still wasnít convinced. "What exactly are we looking for?"
"A way to get inside."
"From a second floor window of the building across the street?"
Mike shrugged. "Why not? Have you any better ideas?"
There was a slight pause. "Actually, yes."
* * *
Laurie skitted from building to building along the side of the road until she was able to cross it out of sight of their target. If she was to scout the edges of it for entrances, there was no way she could allow them to see her.
It had taken some pretty fancy talking on her part to get them to allow her to take on this action. Mike had said it was too dangerous to attempt, and Stephen had agreed. Connor, on the other hand, had thought it was a fantastic idea, but that he should go instead, as Laurie was only a girl. John had insisted that as it was his problem and therefore he should be the one to go.
But Laurie had eventually won out. A few sharp remarks to Connor proved beyond doubt that she had more experience of this kind of thing, having regularly participated in raids on the Kromaggs while they were already gallivanting around the multiverse. John was finished off quickly as Mike pointed out that if things went wrong and they captured him, he would almost certainly be killed, though John still did not acquiesce willingly. Mike and Stephen had to be argued into it.
So now Laurie crouched in a doorway, checking that there was no one around. When the coast was clear, she moved a little closer and hid again. She had to repeat this process several times before she was around the back of the building.
Once out of the line of site of the others, Laurie was completely on her own. In a way she rather liked that, but in the even of trouble, it left her without backup. Sure they would work it out eventually, but it would take a while.
There was no one at all round the back, which wasnít entirely surprising since it seemed to double as a rubbish dump. There was a door inside, but it was very soundly locked. The two windows on the left both led into empty rooms which would have been perfect, except that they were bolted and Laurie had no intentions of breaking any windows just yet.
After checking all the other ground floor windows, Laurie was about to give up the idea of finding anything useful this side when she heard a noise.
* * *
Not long after Laurie had left their temporary residence, Connor spotted a figure in the distance. "Hey, thereís someone coming on a rickety old bicycle."
Despite the fact that it might have nothing to do with the target, all four men bustled to get to the window. It was the first sign of life in the past hour.
John strained his eyes to make it out. "I think itís just a pizza delivery boy. Yes, it is," he decided. "I can see the badge on the front of the basket."
"Iím just gonna try something!" Connor was out of the door and down the stairs before anyone even had the chance to respond, though Mike did manage to get out a few curses before they saw Connor dodging in and out of view towards the lad on the bike.
There was nothing they could do but watch as Connor stopped the pizza delivery boy and spoke to him. After a short exchange, and apparently a little cash, the pair disappeared from view. The boy was not wearing a uniform except for a cap and badge, which Connor wore when he emerged from the shadows.
Connor then parked the bike outside and walked calmly up to the guard, carrying the box.
* * *
The sound Laurie heard was the that of a baby crying.
She looked up and saw the brief flash of a face at one of the windows on the second floor. The one on the far right hand side.
Laurie looked around to see if she could get closer to it. If she pushed some of the crates up against the fence and held onto the pipe, she might be able to get there.
It was a bit of a scramble, but she did make it, and hanging onto the drainage pipe, Laurie leaned over and tried to peer through the window, which was open a crack. Inside was a woman cluching a baby Ė Eva. "Hi!" she called quietly through the gap. "You must be Eva. My name is Laurie."
"IÖ I know you," the woman said slowly. "You tried to stop them taking me."
"Thatís right," Laurie agreed. "Weíre with John and weíre gonna get you out of here, okay? Donít worry, Iíll be back soon."
She made a move to climb back down again, but Eva cried out, "No! Donít leave me here! Please, donít leave me!" As Eva moved out of the shadows, Laurie could see a long dark bruise over one side of her face. "Please." Her voice dimmed to little more than a whisper.
Her face was full of such pleading that Laurie did not have the heart to go back to get help; she needed to act now. After a momentís thought, Laurie made her decision. "Okay, Iíll help get you out now, but weíll have to do it quickly and quietly, okay?" Eva nodded. "Can we get this window open?"
The two girls tugged and pushed at it, but something was jammed. No matter how hard they tried, it simply would not budge. "Wait right there," Laurie said eventually, though it was clear that Eva was going nowhere. "I want to try something."
Climbing down was a lot harder than getting up. For a moment, Laurie thought someone may have heard her slide down, but no one came to see what all the noise was about, so she assumed the coast was clear. Once back on solid ground, she hunted for something she could use to force the catch on the window. It took her a good few minutes, but eventually she found a metal bar that might do and made her way back up to the window.
With a good bit of effort, the window did finally pop open, but that wasnít the last of the problems. The window might be open, but it was certainly not easy to get out of it.
"I canít do it!" Eva wailed eventually. "Iíll fall!"
It was up to Laurie to try and talk some sense into her. "Listen to yourself! Not very long ago, you were begging me not to leave you, now youíre telling me you canít manage a little drop? Weíre not doing this for you, weíre doing it for your daughter. Do you want her to stay here with these so-called people?"
Her words evidently had the desired effect, for Eva took a large gulp and edged closer to the window. She swung one leg out, and then the other, sitting on the window sill, still holding the baby. Laurie noticed her difficulty and held out on arm. "Give the baby to me. Thatíll make it easier." It certainly would, but passing over a baby whilst holding on precariously was not an easy task.
Yet eventually Laurie did have the baby in hand, and used her other arm to balance as she skidded back down, though she did tear manage to her jacket on the fence. Laurie had had little personal experience of babies, and was a little worried about holding one, if she was completely honest, let alone carrying one down a precarious pile of crates! Her only brother had been older, and the Kromagg invasion had left the young population rather decimated. And Laurie had never really felt the need to involve herself with the babies that had arrived since. Now, however, she was rather wishing she had.
When they were both safely on the ground, Laurie handed her thankfully back to her mother. "Now come on!" she said, taking hold of Evaís arm. "We need to get outta here!"
They could not return directly to Laurieís start point and spent a good ten minutes going round the houses, just to approach it from another direction. Personally, Laurie would rather have not gone back at all, but if they did not, the others woud begin to worry and mount an unnecessary rescue mission.
Eva ran straight to John when she saw him, and the couple embraced tightly. Laurieís welcome was slightly less pleasant.
"You werenít supposed to rescue her yet." Mike spoke grimly through gritted teeth. "It was only recon, remember."
"Change of plan," Laurie said quickly. "But weíd better not stick around, things could get mÖ." She stopped mid-sentence. "Whereís Connor?"
"We had a change of plan too. We werenít expecting you to act now."
"But we canít stay here now!" Laurie protested. "When they find out Evaís escaped, theyíll start combing the area!"
Mike was not fazed. "I know," he replied carefully. "You, Eva, the baby and Stephen go now. John and I will wait for Connor." The older Slider turned to face John and Eva, who had finally let each other go. "Do you two know of somewhere? Preferably some way from here."
John turned to Eva and smiled. "I think we can manage that."
"Good. Now letís all get going. As Laurie was saying, things may get messy here soon."
* * *
It was a long wait, sitting in a hidden alcove in the park. It was surrounded by thick bushes, with only a natural tunnel leading to it. Laurie was not worried about that, for it had taken two hours for them to walk there anyway, though Stephen stood guard just in case.
When the other three did finally arrive, following nearly two further hours of tense silence, there was much jubilation. Not only simply between John and Eva, but also the Sliders, especially Connor and Laurie.
"I was beginning to wonder if you were coming back!" she whispered in his ear as they hugged. "Why did you do that anyway? I was managing fine!"
"Yeah, but I didnít know that!" He smiled down at her. "You didnít think Iíd let them catch me, did you?"
Once the celebrations calmed down a little, Mike took control again. "You two need to get out of here." He directed his words at John and Eva. "Now they know, you wonít be safe. Take my advice and get as far away as you can, start a new life."
John nodded, his arm around Evaís shoulders. "Thank youÖ. all of youÖ for what youíve done for us. Few would have been that nice once they knew about my past."
"Donít worry about it," Connor offered with a flick of his hand. "We were happy to help." He ignored Mikeís look that indicated that his words werenít entirely truthful.
"Well, thanks anyway. Itís much appreciated."
The two natives of this world turned to go, but Connor stopped them. "Wait! One more thing before you go." He through his rucksack onto the ground and crouched to rummage through it. Out of it he pulled his wallet and started emptying the contents onto the ground. Selecting several cards, he thrust them at John. "Here, take these. Make a new name, start afresh. No one need never know."
Stunned, John did not move for several seconds. The he pulled Connor into a hug. "Thank you!" he said, a few tears dripping down his cheeks. "You donít know what this will mean for all of us!"
A little embarrassed, Connor released him and clapped him heartily on the back. "Youíll make better use of them than I will. Make it a good one!"
With those parting words ringing in their ears, John and Eva left quietly, intending to hitch a ride out of the city, it didnít matter where. Team 6-Beta still had a while to go until the Slide, but that passed uneventfully in the alcove. When the time came, Stephen pressed the button and the wormhole opened unseen by anyone else. On this world anyway.
* * *
A vortex suddenly opened against a background of grey clouds without warning and spewed four people out into a busy market place. To say there were stares would be an understatement.
The four Sliders picked themselves up slowly and moved closer together. Laurie replaced the bunch of bananas that had fallen on her back onto the stall, while Mike had to remove his hand from a pile of now squished tomatoes. There was deadly silence apart from their own motions.
"UhÖ guys," said Stephen rather quietly out of the side of his mouth. "We have less than two minutes." He waved the timer around as if to make his point.
At this point, the open-mouths began closing and murmurs began to vibrate through the crowd, getting gradually louder and more restless.
Mike started stepping slowly backwards, motioning for the others to follow him. "I think we had better RUN!"
The crowd had suddenly lept into action, only anticipated by Mike by a couple of seconds. The four visitors from a parallel world were now running for what could be their lives, as they had no idea of the intentions of these people.
They fled through the streets not even caring about the run-down scenery they were passing. It just wasnít important right now; they all had much bigger things on their minds. While very long Slides were unusual, so were Slides as short as this, though for once, perhaps a short Slide was better than a long one, since they had a whole mob to escape.
Laurie began to slip behind a little. There couldnít be much longer to go? She wasnít in any worse shape than the others, and she was running as fast as she possibly could manage, but the fact remained that she was shorter than any of the guys. Connor especially was amost six inches taller than she was, and as a result had a much longer stride. Laurie wasnít short for a woman, but she just could not keep up.
Several metres in front of her, Stephen opened the vortex and fled through, Mike not far behind. But Laurie was never to make it. Before she was there, her foot landed in a pothole and she stumbled, not able to carry on the momentum. And there was the problem. Stalled, she was soon engulfed by the crowd and she fell to the floor, subject to the movements of many arms and legs. Ahead she could still see the vortex.
She watched, unable to gather herself, as Connor flailed an arm behind him, looking for her, but groping only thin air. Laurie saw the shock on his face as he realised her absence, falling through despite hisself.
The dimensional gateway shrunk to a pinprick dot soon after, and faded into nothingness. Quite simply, Laurie could not believe her eyes. She was alone in a world she knew absolutely nothing about.
Alternate Earth 117
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