By Ivan Turner
They marched him toward the small box like room. His hands were cuffed and there were shackles on his feet, the condemned. It had been a long time since they'd convicted him. Almost a year already, but he was still defiant. If they wanted to kill him, then let them. He would spit in their faces as the gas filled the chamber. He would curse them to the very end. And his "friends", the people who had betrayed him, they would die right behind him because they, too, had been convicted of the same crimes. The only shame of it was that this was their last adventure. They had already missed the slide so even if, by some miracle, he was spared this final indignity, it wouldn't matter even in the least. They would have to spend twenty-eight more years on this world waiting for the opportunity to finally leave it and its people behind.
He remembered that last day. It was the day they were arrested, the police having stormed into the Dominion Hotel only minutes before the slide. The lieutenant had rushed him, pushing the others out of the way, and relieved him of the timer. He had tried in vain to recover it, but gunfire had shattered his knee leaving him with a permanent limp. He remembered the pain, laying in a pool of his own blood, the agony of the pulverized bone the only thing keeping him from slipping into delerious unconsciousness. The lieutenant had crouched behind him the timer in his hand and as it began to chime, the warning that the gateway to the next world was finally available, and the last second became twenty nine years, he had smiled down and said, "Guess you're mine now, Mallory."
And that had been that.
Now it was time to face the consequences. Dozens of worlds, dozens of adventures, dozens of triumphs, and dozens of last minute escapes. They had had it all. And now, as he thought about it, maybe they could have succeeded if they had just stuck together as a team. If that one key element had been available to them when they had needed it the most. He found, underneath his anger, that he was sad.
The others were there, too. The warden had thought it necessary to bring them, have them watch the execution. Federal law had been suspended for the sliders. They were considered a pox on this world, a pox from another world. The laws of this Earth could not protect them, would not protect them. Nobody cared. Everyone hated them.
And they hated each other.
"Don't laugh to loud, Rembrandt," he said as he passed the other. "You're next."
"As long as I get to watch you die," Rembrandt replied. "I'll never forget who dragged me into this mess in the first place."
"I loved you, Quinn," Wade said as he walked by her. "How could you do this to us?"
"You don't love anyone," he told her. "You never have."
She turned her head away but would not cry.
"Mr. Mallory," the Professor said to him. "I don't know what to say."
He smiled at the older man, his teacher, his mentor. "At least I lived to hear that," he said and the Professor scowled at him.
The lieutenant was there also and he came up to Quinn with the timer in his hand. "This was all I needed," he said. "Have a nice trip."
"Go to hell. I'm not dead yet."
The lieutenant laughed and watched as they sent the prisoner into the chamber. They did not bother to sit him down or remove his bindings. They simply locked him and started the gas flow. He was an alien and not even granted the solace of religious guidance. They just wanted him dead.
He stood in the middle of the chamber, holding his breath as the room filled with the deadly gas. He said nothing as he stared in angst at his captors and his former companions. Then he took three deep breaths, inhaled the poison, and crumpled to the floor.
At long last, Quinn Mallory was dead.
Somebody had heard them slide in. That's what really started the whole mess. Even though the cortex had mercifully opened up in a back alley, the noise created by the gust of wind and their exhilarated cries as they were tossed to the ground reached the street and its passersby with ease. By the time they had collected themselves, a crowd of onlookers stood by with open mouths.
"Uh oh" said Rembrandt. "I don't like the looks of this."
"Now, Mr. Brown," the Professor said quietly. "Let's not be a hasty judge."
"They're sliders!" somebody called out.
"There," the Professor said. "They are familiar with sliding technology."
Wade brightened up immediately. "Maybe someone here can even help us get home."
Quinn smiled his half smile, the one that said he wasn't quite sure about all of this but he was willing to play along. Raising one hand in a tentative greeting, he said, "Hello?"
There was a brief pause, more brief than almost a camera could follow. In that time, the sliders' faces fell. Quinn's smile drooped, his teeth just barely showing beneath his lips, his hand suspended half up and half down as if it weren't sure which way was which.
The Professor was trying to assess the reaction in his head, but ultimately decided in favor of caution. "Run!"
Turning their backs to the maddening crowd, the four took off at breakneck speed towards the back of the alley. In a moment, a thunderous stampeded of footsteps began behind them.
"How to make friends and influence people," Rembrandt said as he ran. "The slider's way."
Quinn, the fastest of the four of them, led them around a corner, his arms pumping, the timer clutched firmly in his left hand. They came up unexpectedly onto a dead end, but there were several doors leading into the buildings surrounding them and the first that they tried was unlocked.
An old wooden staircase led them down into the dark, the only illumination coming from the rectangle of sunlight from the doorway and the red numbers on the timer. The Professor, last, slammed the door shut behind them, bathing them in the darkness. Rembrandt stumbled and swore.
"I can't see a damned thing."
"Hold on," Quinn said. "Follow my voice."
"How long before we slide?" the Professor asked.
"Three days?" said Wade. "How are we going to survive for three days?"
"We'll work it out," said Quinn. "Here. I found a door."
Just as he reached for the knob, a light shined from above, casting a dim glow about the room. It was the original entry they had used. The mob had found them.
Beyond the door was a small stoop which led up to another door. It, too, was unlocked and spilled them out onto the street. Quinn urged them on as he charged up the stairs and into the sun. He took off down this next alley and came out onto a busy avenue.
"Quinn, put that timer away!" the Professor admonished and Quinn hastily shoved it inside of his jacket.
"We've got to keep moving."
They hurried down the street and turned the first corner before the leaders of their pursuers could come out of the alley. Somehow they didn't think the chase was over that quickly, so they continued on, turning corners wherever possible in an attempt to throw anyone who was persistent off the trail. After a short while, they were finally convinced that the pursuit had ended. No one on the street gave them a second glance and they walked for almost thirty minutes without anyone so much as keeping pace with them. When Wade was finally tired of walking and tired of worrying, she suggested that they head for the Dominion and try to get a room.
This world was much like their own, they discovered. There were some notable differences, including the obvious public knowledge of sliding, which told them for certain that they were not, in fact, back on their Earth. But the laws seemed the same and the cash was exact so the history must have been close. They were able to book a room at the hotel from the same clerk they had seen on world after world gone by. On this world, he was shifty eyed and maybe a little heavier. But he took their money and gave them a key and that was all that they cared about.
Once up in their room, the settled in to calm down.
"We have three days here," the Professor began. "As much as I feel that exploring these worlds is one aspect of our situation that makes it worthwhile, I think we should be cautious and spend all three days in this hotel room."
Wade laughed. "The four of us cooped up here for three days? Professor, can you imagine what we'll do to each other?"
"Miss Wells, we should be very thankful that it is only three days and not three weeks."
"No one's gonna know we're sliders, Professor," Rembrandt said. "The only reason we got chased is because they saw us slide in."
"There were several dozen people in that mob. Even even one of those people recognizes us in the next three days, it could incite a riot that could very well end out sliding expeditions."
"What are the odds of that happening in a city this size?" Rembrandt asked. "You're just being paranoid."
"Caution is the better part of valor, Mr. Brown. I would not like to spend twenty nine years on a world that regards sliding and, particularly, sliders with such disdain."
"Based on what just happened, I don't think we'd last twenty nine years," Wade said.
"The Professor's right," Quinn finally interjected. "We'll have to order in room service and put up with each other for a few days. It won't be that bad."
While they didn't necessarily share that sentiment, they agreed out of necessity. At least they had television, which was usually their primary source of information. Late into the evening, there was a report about sliders. The details were sketchy and the press was obviously avoiding the topic of why it was that sliders were so despised on this world. But there was news of a new group of sliders that had arrived in San Francisco and eluded a mob of "justice seekers" that very day. Then they posted very accurate police sketches of Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, and the Professor. It became quickly apparent that they weren't going to be able to hold up in the Dominion for three days. The newpeople posted a reward for their capture.
Dead or alive.
"Let's get out of here." Quinn grabbed his coat and patted the pocket to make sure the timer was secure. It was dark out already and now they figured they had their best shot at sneaking out of the city without notice. The real question was how they thought they were going to travel. Under ordinary circumstances, they would just grab a taxi and ride out in anonimity. This situation, however, would require less grace and more cunning. They'd have to steal a car.
Stepping out of the room, they made their way down the hall to the staircase. The Professor advised them against using the elevator just in case they were stuck inside with a passenger who recognized them. They moved cautiously down the stairs until they reached the lobby. It was deserted except for the clerk, who was busy scribbling in a notebook.
"We'll have to pay for the room," Wade said.
"What if he recognizes us?" Rembrandt said. "We're better off making a break for it."
"We have to take the chance. If he comes after us, it'll be harder to hotwire a car," Quinn told them. "I'll go. If there's trouble, you guys make a break for it."
Without waiting for further debate, he left the stairwell and headed for the front desk. The clerk looked up with a smile that faded as soon as he saw Quinn. Quinn stopped up short.
"Something...ah...something I can do for you, Mr. Mallory?"
Quinn tried to look pleasant as he completed the final steps to the front desk. "Some unexpected business. We need to check out."
It was difficult not to see the look in his eyes, but it was difficult to identify it. It was something with which Quinn Mallory was unfamiliar. Never had he inspired such terror in an individual before. What was it about sliding that these people could possibly fear so much?
"We?" the clerk asked, swallowing heavily.
"My friends'll be along," Quinn said. "How much do we owe you?"
Behind him, he heard the staircase door open and the shuffle of feet as his friends exited. One glance over his shoulder told him that they weren't alone. There were police behind them. There were police everywhere. Through the front door came a swarm of cops, all with guns drawn. Instinctively, Quinn raised his arms to show that he had no weapon. Leading the police entry was an older man with a long grey coat and a fedora. He looked like something out of an old movie but he did not wear that expression of fear that was shared by the cops and clerk. Instead, Quinn would feel the wave of hate that came from him. Even as his mouth widened into a triumphant grin, Quinn could see that there was no tranquility in it.
"You're like a bad penny, Mr. Mallory," he said without humor.
"Who're you?" Quinn asked.
"Lieutenant Page. Maybe you've encountered me on another world. No? I guess I was already dead there. Everywhere."
"Look," Quinn said. "I don't know who you are. I've never met any Lieutenant Page on any of the worlds we've been to."
"Leftenant," the Professor said. "There's obviously been some sort of misunderstanding."
"Of course, Professor," the lieutenant said with great flourish. "There's always a misunderstanding where the intractable Professor Arturo is concerned."
The Professor huffed angrily.
"We haven't done anything," Wade finally cried. "We just got here."
"An ounce of prevention," Page told them. Going up to Quinn, Page reached inside of his coat and pulled out the timer. He looked at the display. "More than two days," he said, the looked up at each and all of them. Then he focused on Quinn, looked deep into his eyes. "Don't worry, Mr. Mallory. You'll be leaving this world long before then."
In a police van, the sliders were driven through San Francisco. There was an escort of seven police cars, all with sirens blaring, as well as Lietuenant Page's unmarked vehicle. The sliders were shackled at the wrists and ankles and locked in the back of the van with six armed guards. Whatever it was that had made this world afraid of sliders, it must have been devastating because the police took no chances. There was no opportunity for escape, and no one tried to even explain why it was they'd even been arrested.
Lieutenant Page took the timer.
Inside the van, the Professor attempted to discuss the situation with Quinn, but was violently silenced by one of the guards. These had obviously been handpicked because they did not have that look of fear that the other police had. Instead, they shared Page's hatred.
The van brought them to San Quentin. Out the little window in the back, Quinn and the others could see the road receding and the gate closing behind them. They stopped momentarily while the driver conferred with the gatemaster and then they drove on for another five minutes. Finally, they came to an abrupt halt and the back of the van was opened up. It was dark out, except for the searchlights that panned over the courtyard. Quinn exited the van first, hopping down awkwardly and looking around. Further down the row, Page was exiting his car.
"Lieutenant!" Quinn called, but was restrained by two guards.
The lieutenant ignored him and disappeared inside one of the buildings. The sliders were led in a different direction, an escort of two dozen guards to see them safely on their way. Once inside, the shackles were removed and all four of them were shoved into a small room and told to put on the prison fatigues inside. Anyone who did not comply within five minutes would be shot.
They were able to talk briefly as they dressed but there were no conclusions to be made. Any number of possibilities existed and, though they themselves couldn't be responsible for whatever mishap had taken place, they were obviously being held accountable. The prison fatigues were matched up to their sizes exactly. They were loose fitting grey shirts and pants, each with a number stencilled on the chest or the wasteband.
They silenced themselves immediately as soon as the door was opened and stood together in their new clothing. They were ushered out of the room at gunpoint and new cuffs were placed on their wrists and ankles. Quinn tried once more to have them brought to Lieutenant Page but it was plain that his next attempt would cost him.
Led down a long row of cells, the sliders felt their spirits weaken. This was it. Though they had escaped from numerous close calls, a prison break didn't seem possible at this level. Wade was just thinking that, sinking into despair, when an alarm klaxon rang out and everyone stopped where they were.
One guard reached up to his ear where there was a small tranceiver that they had not previously noticed and said, "It's the other sliders. Two of them are out." He suddenly started giving orders and their escort dispersed, moving deeper into the prison. They were left with only two guards.
Quinn looked at Rembrandt.
Rembrandt looked at the Professor.
The Professor looked at Quinn.
Wade kicked out and caught one of the two guards between the legs. With a low moan, he slumped forward. They other one brought his gun around quickly, but Rembrandt was already ducking underneath and threw off his aim with his shoulder. He knocked the guard back into the Professor who slung his arms over and around his neck, choking him until he passed out.
"Here," Quinn tossed Rembrandt a set of keys from the first guard and started searching the second. He found an identicle set and freed himself of the leg irons.
"Hurry up, Q-Ball. It won't take them long to find us."
Keeping the keys, Quinn pulled up one of the guards' rifles as Rembrandt picked up the other one. "We've got to find Page and get the timer back." So much for not overstating the obvious.
They followed the cellblock back the way they had come and entered a series of corridors that held small rooms and offices. Around them the alarms continued to sound, their shrill warning piercing their ears and damaging their concentration. Like Rembrandt said, they were discovered shortly. At a T-junction, they were split up by gunfire coming from the stem hallway. Quinn and the Professor were able to move on while Rembrandt and Wade were forced back. Both pairs would go for the timer. Both pairs knew to try and meet back at the Dominion.
Quinn and the Professor found themselves at a staircase leading up. Though it was not their direction of choice, there was no other way to go and pursuit was close behind. They moved quickly, the Professor in the lead and Quinn covering their backs with his rifle. As they reached the top, Quinn saw the Professor thrown back away from the stairs by an unseen assailant.
"Professor!" Quinn cried, charging up the remaining stairs.
"No, Quinn!" Arturo called back. "Run!"
As Quinn reached the top, he was struck in the head with the butt of a rifle. He teetered precariously on one step for a moment, his head swimming. The guard came for him again, but this time he brought his gun up, grippnig the barrel with one hand and the stock with the other. The two struggled for a moment and then Quinn felt the world spin around him and his foot slipped off the step. Still holding onto his rifle, he tumbled backwards down the stairs, trying to contain his flailing limbs in an effort not to break anything. Above, he could he the Professor's protests as he was taken back into custody.
At the bottom of the stairs, Quinn landed on his back. On his right, a guard approached. Swinging his rifle, Quinn hit him in the shin and sent him to ground. On his left, another was coming. This time he brought his gun up and fired. The bullet took the guard in the shoulder, knocking him back and forcing his weapon from his hand. Shaky but unhurt, Quinn found his feet and started back the way he had come. First he would get the timer. Then he would get the Professor.
He couldn't make heads or tails of the layout of this place. All around him, he could hear guards giving orders and sending signals. The alarm kept ringing and ringing. He took every corner like it was his last, ready to shoot if need be. But he couldn't seem to find his way out. When he hear Rembrandt's voice, he froze, listening and trying to track it.
They'd been captured. He could hear both Rembrandt and Wade as their guards tried to capture and restrain them. Moving slowly, he crept up to the corner and stuck his head up and around the bend. There were only three guards. Two of them were covering Rembrandt and Wade as the other was just starting to put the leg irons on. Swinging around, Quinn took aim and fired, hitting the guard covering Wade in the shoulder. The one with the shackles in hand fell backward as the wounded man tripped and fell over him. The third guard turned on Quinn, but Rembrandt grabbed him by head and twisted it around. There was an audible crack as his neck broke.
"Rembrandt," Wade scolded as she relieved the wounded guard of his gun and then of his consciousness.
"What?!" Rembrandt shouted. "It's kill or be killed, girl. You figure it out."
"Are you guys all right?" Quinn asked as he came up to them.
"I am now," Wade said and grabbed him in a big hug.
"We've got to get out of here," Rembrandt said. "This way."
"Wait." Quinn grabbed him by the shoulder and didn't like the look he received in return. "They've got the Professor. And the timer."
Wade looked at him. "The timer?"
"Page took it."
"Well we've got to get that back," Rembrandt said. "How do we have?"
"About two days," Quinn said without thinking.
Wells took him by the arm and started leading him away. Rembrandt followed. "Did you see where Page went?"
"I think so."
"I'm gonna kill him."
Quinn stopped. "No you're not. You better put a reign on that anger, Rembrandt. All I want to do is get the timer and the Professor and get out of here with as little trouble as possible." Without another word he took the lead. Wade hesitated a moment and looked at Rembrandt. He looked back at her, shrugged, and then followed after.
"It's gonna be Captain Page after this," the prison guard was saying as Page finished filling out the report.
"Not interested," he answered. "If I could find a way to stop these sliders from coming in, that would be all the thanks I needed. Right now, I'll have to settle for executing the ones we get."
"That's the spirit. Fight the good fight."
"I'll give you the good fight," Rembrandt said as the sliders burst in. He took aim and fired but Quinn intervened, knocking his rifle up and sending the shot into the ceiling.
"That's enough of that!" he shouted as he brought his own gun to bear on Page's head. "If you go for your gun, I'll shoot you myself."
Page seemed undisturbed. He stood with his back to the guard's desk, the completed report laying thereon. The guard's hands were out of sight but he quickly brought them up under Quinn's direction.
"Where's the timer," Quinn said.
"It's not here," the lieutenant said.
"Don't play with me."
"Mallory, I'm not afraid of you."
"Wade, go search the desk."
There was nothing in the desk and he next instructed her to search Page. She turned him roughly around and hit him in the back of the head to make him lean over. She searched him without consideration or restraint and eventually pulled the timer out of an inside pocket. The display read that they had just under two days left on that world. She showed it to the two of them with a huge grin. Rembrandt began to laugh with relief.
"All right," Quinn said. "Now the Professor."
"Forget it, Mallory. They'll let you shoot me before they let him go. My orders."
"No, man, he's right," Rembrandt said. "It's too hot around here. There are guards everywhere. We should wait until it cools down and some of these guys go home."
Quinn turned on him. "We're not going anywhere without the Professor."
"Quinn, be sensible," said Wade. "We've still got a couple of days so let's not do anything too rash. We can hide out until tomorrow and come back for the Professor when things cool down."
Hesitating, Quinn looked from Wade to Rembrandt and back to Page. He did not like the idea of abandoning the Professor like this. In his opinion, it only gave them the opportunity to get him under better guard in a fortified area. Once they left, they'd never get back in without help. Then again, if they kept Page as a hostage, they could use him to come back in shortly before the slide and then just slide off this world instead of having to escape.
"All right," Quinn said. "But he comes with us."
"Now that idea, I like." Rembrandt came forward and shoved Page toward the door. "You guys go ahead. I'll gag this guy so he can't cause us any trouble until we're long gone."
Quinn hesitated, then told the guard. "You tell them that if anything happens to Arturo, we'll kill Page. We'll contact them about a trade later."
He followed Wade outside, leaving Rembrandt to tie up the guard. They went to Page's car and, with Quinn driving, pulled back around to pick up their friend. Since he didn't think the lieutenant would play along with a ploy, even at gunpoint, Quinn drove Page's car up to the gate, threatened the gatemaster with Page's death, and forced him to open up. Frightened, not knowing what to do, the gatemaster saw no alternative but to let them go. Quinn sped off of the prison guards and away from the city at eighty miles per hour wondering if he had made the right choice in leaving the Professor behind. He hoped Rembrandt and Wade were right because if they weren't he knew he'd be weighed down with that guilt for the rest of his life.
They spent the next day in a secluded cabin on an abandoned camp ground. Wade seemed to know about it beforehand and led them there with no trouble. There was no food but there was a stream nearby so they managed with just water and empty stomachs. Page was silent the whole day, choosing to sit where they told him, tied to a chair. Quinn went to see him once, but couldn't get the lieutenant to say anything. His hatred of Quinn transcended any form of curiosity his may have had. Either that or all of his questions had previously been answered. Under no circumstances, could Quinn convince him that whatever had happened on this world, it had nothing to do with him and his friends. After a few hours, he just got tired of trying.
On the morning before the slide, he got up, washed his face in a basin, and went outside to get some air. He was not happy. In his hand the timer ticked off the hours without consideration as always. It would count down until it was done and it didn't care whether they slid or not. And tonight they would cut it close. It was part of the plan.
Wade and Rembrandt got up a short time later. Rembrandt went to see Page, but just spent the time staring at him staring back. Wade came out to see Quinn. She had been curiously affectionate over the past day and, though it would normally have pleased him, under the present circumstances, Quinn found her feelings for him disconcerting.
"We should start getting ready," he told her. "I don't want to leave anything to chance."
She took his arm and started him walking. "Quinn?"
She said nothing else and he didn't ask her what was on her mind. He was thinking about the Professor, rotting frightened in a prison cell for a day and a half. How could they have just left him there?
"Do you love me?"
He looked down at her. "What?"
"Do you love me?"
It wasn't registering in his head, what she was asking. Why she was asking. Was this the time for it? The place? "Wade, what are you talking about?"
"Well..." She trailed off. Quinn had always been a complex person. Even his doubles were complex. It always took just the right questions to get the desired answers. "If I were in that prison, instead of Arturo, would you be as worried about me?"
"Wade, I don't know what this is about, but can't it wait until we slide?"
"That's what it's about," she said. "It's about the slide."
"What about it?"
"What if something goes wrong?"
"I can't worry about that now?"
"You have to."
"Wade, that's a risk we've always faced. We just have to stick together."
"I'm afraid, Quinn."
"So am I," he said softening. "But we can't just leave him there." She didn't answer, but he didn't sense her agreement. "Wade? That's not what you're suggesting, is it? Wade?"
Again, she let the question hang without an answer. Eventually, she took her arm away from his and turned back to the house, leaving him alone and perplexed.
Two hours before the slide, Quinn announced that it was time to go. Grabbing up a rifle, he cut Lieutenant Page loose and led him out to the car. Wade and Rembrandt were waiting there for him with peculiar expressions on their faces. Quinn could tell right away that he was in for an argument.
"There's no time," he said, preemptively. "Get in the car."
"You better make the time," Rembrandt said as Quinn opened the passeneger door and shoved Page, hands still bound, inside. "Did it ever occurr to you that they may already have killed him. This might just be a big waste of time."
"And it might not, Rembrandt."
"And what happens when we slide into a different San Quentin on a different world?"
But Quinn was determined to dodge the subject. "We're not having this conversation."
"Wade and I aren't going."
"Rembrandt, we may not make it out in time to slide. Then what happens to you?"
Rembrandt shook his head. "Give me the timer."
Now Quinn's face scrunched into a scowl. He approached Rembrandt directly and looked down into his eyes. "You owe him your life a dozen times over. We all do."
"I'm not throwing my life away. No more close calls on account of you."
Quinn turned to Wade. "Did you put him up to this? What's the matter with the both of you."
"Quinn," Wade pleaded. "Be practical."
"I don't believe this," he said to himself. Then he reached into his pocket, took out the timer, and slapped it into Rembrandt's hand. "Don't move from this spot."
"We'll wait for you, Quinn," Wade promised. "We'll wait right here."
"Until we slide," Rembrandt finished.
Quinn opened the door and got into the car. "I won't forget this, Rembrandt." And as he slammed it, Page made a comment about slider loyalty to which Quinn promptly replied, "Shut up!"
Quinn was armed with the rifle he'd gotten from one of the prison guards as well as the sidearm normally carried by Lieutenant Page. It was the sidearm he held to the lieutenant's head as he pulled up to the gate and ordered them open. As before, despite Page's warnings, his underlings were far too frightened for his safety and their own to risk defying Quinn's demands. The gate was opened and they were granted access. The reputation that sliders had on this world went a long way toward getting him into the belly of the whale. His empty threats carried a lot more wait when backed by the ruthlessness of sliders past.
Page refused to lead Quinn to the cellblock where the Professor was being held but other guards were far more pliable. There was less of a crew on staff that day, since all of the guards that had been the sliders' escort were long since gone. Once they found the cell block, Page was good enough to point out the right cell. Quinn went to it immediately and looked through the bars.
The Professor that sat in that cell was not like the Professor he remembered. He sat on a bench and was hunched over, shackled to the floor by his wrists and his ankles. He appeared older and thinner; there was grey in his beard. He looked up when they approached and his face went from surprise to sadness.
"Mr. Mallory," he said and his voice wheezed. "I should have known. And the inimitable Leftenant Page. Held at gunpoint no less."
"I thought you two would like to meet," Page said.
"Meet?" Quinn looked at him. "What are you talking about?"
"My boy, what he's trying to tell you is that you've been duped. Based on what I've heard, I can only assume that the second set of sliders captured yesterday is identical to the first set of sliders which is my own."
Quinn turned to page and hit him in the chest with his forearm. The lieutenant went sprawlind and Quinn turned his gun on him. By the look in his eye, Page could tell that this time he was serious. "Where's the Professor?! Where's my Professor?!"
Page recovered almost instantaneously from his shock and fell back into his usual mode of indifference. "Go to hell."
"Quinn!" the Professor's double shouted from inside the cell. "Don't be stupid. Don't feed his self-righteous flame by killing him. That's what prompted the execution of our Quinn."
"Correct. Our Quinn was a cold blooded monster. He used sliding to perpetrate the most heinous of crimes and slip away without retribution."
Quinn didn't care. He didn't care about any of it. He was running out of time and he was running out of patience.
"Mr. Mallory, if you'll pay attention for just a moment, I may be able to help. I can't speak highly of my companions, in fact I can't very well defend my actions since all this sliding began. You'd be better off without me, but you need me now. So I offer to bargain my life for his. I will help you find him and get him to the slide. I ask for no promises on the next world. I'm simply trying to avoid my own execution."
Quinn considered it for a moment. This Professor sounded so much like his own, but then again so did they all. The only difference between this one and all of the other underhanded ones was that this one admitted his sins. Besides, what choice did Quinn have but to accept his aid. Using the keys he had stolen from the guard the night before, he opened up Arturo's cell, shoved Page into a corner where he could keep an eye on him, and freed the Professor.
"Let's go," he said, aware now that he had one hostage and one questionable companion to watch.
The Professor's double led them through a short series of hallways until they reached another cellblock. He explained that this was where he and his sliders had been held when they had first been captured.
"Mr. Mallory," he said as they inspected the cells. "You must give me your word that, should we come across either my Mr Brown or my Miss Wells, we shall leave them where they are. Neither would be very trustworthy and, in fact, Mr. Brown is a dangerous killer."
Quinn listened but said nothing. He would cross that bridge when they came to it. His first obligation was to the Professor. His Professor.
Cell after cell revealed nothing. Finally, after a frustrated and frantic search, Quinn could no longer contain himself. "Professor!" he called out over and over again, his voice reverberating off of the walls and the bars.
"Mr. Mallory," came the faint reply.
Quinn stopped, listening, then called out again, just once. The Professor's answering call was more distinct this time, easier to home in on. "This way," Quinn said, taking off and expecting the Professor's double to follow, dragging PAge in tow.
As he ran, the cries from the Professor became louder and closer. He was able to zero in on their position and finally led his hostage and his new companion to the exact cell where his companion's double was being held. But when he looked inside, he was given a start.
The Professor was chained up just as his double had been, sitting on a bench at the back of the cell. But on the right wall, chained up in much the same way, was Wade. Opposite her was Rembrandt.
"Uh, oh," Quinn said.
"Get us outta this, Q-Ball," Rembrandt said. We've got no time before the slide."
He was right. They had maybe thirty minutes before the timer would begin to chime and their window of opportunity would arrive.
Going to the Professor first, Quinn began to undo the shackles. He kept looking up at Wade and Rembrandt, trying to figure out whether or not to free them. The other Arturo had advised him against it. But could he just leave them there to die.
"What's the matter with you?" Rembrandt asked. "Why are you lookin' at us that way?"
"I'll free you," he said.
"Mr. Mallory, no!" the other Professor cried as he stepped into view.
But Quinn shot him a warning glance. "Watch Page," he ordered, then turned back to Rembrandt. "I'll free you, but you can't come with us."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
The Professor stood up, rubbing his wrists. "Mr. Mallory, what's come over you?"
"He's a double," Wade said.
"No, Professor. My double was killed. They're the doubles." He was already loosening the chains on Rembrandt's feet. "Wade and Rembrandt are safe and waiting for us."
"Mr. Mallory, I have spent the last twenty four hours chained to a bench beside these two people and I can assure you that they are in fact the same Wade Wells and Rembrandt Brown with whom we began this adventure."
"But, then..." Quinn looked up at the Professor, over at Rembrandt. At Wade. "Oh, no."
"Quinn, where's the timer?"
The double Professor Arturo grabbed him by the shoulders and spun him around. "You gave the timer to them?! ARe you out of your mind, boy?!"
Everything suddenly made sense. Rembrandt's anger and their attitude toward the Professor. He hadn't thought of it at the time. He'd had no reason to suspect. And now he had put his timer into their hands. "Where's your timer?" he asked the double.
"My timer is in the Leftenant's office quietly ticking off the next twenty eight years!"
"Time to go," Rembrandt said. "We've still got a half hour to catch them."
The Professor's double went over all the options in his head. Based on what he knew of Wade and Rembrandt, they would save themselves before anything. However, given the opportunity to ave Quinn back, especially this naive and trusting Quinn, they would probably wait and hope he would arrive, preferrably with only the Professor. The other Professor. That would give them the technical knowledge to fix the timer in case something went wrong, along with the power to control the group during each slide.
"He's right. Let's go," he said after only a moment's pause. This time, as he led them through the halls, there was no hesitation. He ran directly to the exit where Page's car was waiting for them. There were armed guards there, but only a few and they backed off when they saw Quinn's gun pressed up against Page's head. Despite the lieutenant's orders, the refused to open fire on the sliders and, though none of them would later admit it, the sight of two Professors rattled them more than they cared to realize.
Quinn drove and Page rode shotgun with Wade in the middle. Rembrandt and the two Professors squeezed uncomfortably into the back seat. As they approached the gate, Rembrandt leaned out the passenger side rear window and cried out for them to open up. With Page's pistol, he fired two shots into the air, yelled, "Sliders coming through!" and got the response he was going for. With two police cars on their back, Quinn peeled out of San Quentin and onto the road.
"If they've left, we're cooked," Quinn said. "As it is, we're just going to make the slide."
"Mr. Brown is far more cunning than I would have given him credit for," the Professor's double mused. "I would not have thought him capable of pulling off a ruse such as this without our Quinn's aid."
"Are you sure, they'll wait for him," Rembrandt asked.
"I think it likely. Aside from the technical benefit of Having either Quinn or myself, Miss Wells, our Miss Wells, is incurably in love with him." Wade blushed. "After all this time, I think I can say with fair certainty that she would give herself to anyone so long as he bore the name Quinn Mallory." And Quinn blushed.
As they approached the road leading to the cabin, Wade asked, "How long?"
"A minute or two," Quinn answered.
Through the trees they could see glow of the portal as it lit up the night sky. Around it, the shrubs and trees blew this way and that in the interdimensional gale. Quinn floored it, the car rumbling up the dirt road. Behind them, the two police cars gave chase, now more interested in catching rather than just following.
"Page, jump!" Quinn shouted over the roard of the engine.
"What?" Page said.
"Open your door and get out!"
"Quinn, what are you doing?" Wade watched as Quinn struggled with the steering as he pulled up onto the soil of the drive. To their right, the portal shimmered alone. The Rembrandt and Wade doubles had already gone through.
Then, unexpectedly, Page reached across the front seat, right over Wade, and grabbed the wheel, twisting the car away from the vortex. Quinn cried out as he fought for control of the wheel. They had barely seconds and he had to come around again. From behind, Rembrandt grabbed Page around the neck and hauled him up against the back seat. Quinn cut the wheel and spun out as he hit the break. Switching his foot to the gas, he fired the car forward and into the vortex just as it started to close. In his rearview mirror, he noticed both police cars skidding to a halt.
They came through the portal at breakneck speed, the car bouncing over the dirt terrain and smashing a barbecue pit with its front bumper. The sliders inside were thrown from one side to the other, slamming against each other painfully. Quinn turned the wheel hard to avoid a small girl and the car leaned heavily, threatening to tip itself over. Hitting the breaks, he made the car jerk to the right and the back end tore through a tent. Fortunately, no one was inside. Finally, he was able to bring them to a rough stop. If sliding was bad, sliding in a car was a hell like no other.
"Everyone all right?" Quinn asked but nobody answered. They were too busy breathing. But he had no time for breathing. They had to find the doubles of Rembrandt and Wade, and they had to find them fast. They were lucky to have gotten into the vortex, but they had no idea how long it would be before the next window would be available.
Opening the door, Quinn stumbled out of the car and looked around. A bullet pinged off of the hood, making him duck down and scream out a warning to his friends in the car. Across the road, he could just make out the other Rembrandt ducking behind a camper with his rifle.
On this world, this place was not deserted. A panicking woman ran from the cabin and grabbed up the little girl that Quinn had almost hit, carrying her to safety. Wade, with Page close behind, slid out the driver's side of the car. Rembrandt and the Professors came out the back.
"How are we gonna get the timer back?" Rembrandt complained.
Trading his rifle for Rembrandt's gun, Quinn said, "Cover me. I'm going around the back of the cabin. I'll try and take him by surprise."
"Be careful, Mr. Mallory," the Professor's double cautioned. "He is a very dangerous man."
"Wade won't let him shoot me."
"Don't count on that."
But Quinn was already gone, trying to move behind the cabin as Rembrandt fired three shots from Page's pistol. Just before Quinn ducked out of sight the firing stopped. He halted looking up and noticed Rembrandt playing with the timer.
He was activating the portal.
Doubling around, Quinn took off at a sprint. He saw Rembrandt jump into the vortex and Wade follow with barely a glance back a the charging Quinn. His friends came up behind him and he pulled up short so that they could get ahead of him and he could make sure they all made it. Rembrandt and Wade passed him first, followed by the Professors.
Looking back at Page, who had started to run and then stopped, Quinn said with a smile, "You're one of us now, Page. You're a slider."
"I'm gonna kill you, Mallory."
Quinn laughed. "Then you'll have to do it on the next world." He wasn't sure if Page would follow, but he didn't stop to look. To be honest, he didn't care. He felt somewhat responsible for the lieutenant's being there in the first place, but then again he hadn't made that choice. Page's obligation had ended the minute the portal had opened. So when he reached the vortex, wondering if it could handle the mass of all of these people yet again (at least they didn't have the car this time), he didn't spare a moment's thought for the erstwhile lieutenant, and slid on through.
Quinn never thought he'd welcome that gut wrenching, muscle twisting, bone splitting feeling of sliding. But it was better than the claustrophobic touch of believing that he'd never be able to leave a world that was not his own. He was even comforted by the rush of air that surrounded him on all sides and the slap of the concrete against his body as he hit the ground. But the pounding on the back of his head... That was something he didn't need.
Rembrandt's double had been waiting for him. He'd been waiting for all of them. As Quinn tried to get back to his feet, Rembrandt hit him again, but not so hard. Behind them, the portal shimmered.
"Make up your mind, Quinn," the second Rembrandt said. "Us or them."
He looked up. The other Wade was holding the rifle on his own Wade and Rembrandt and both Professors.
"Give me back the timer," Quinn choked.
The killer Rembrandt laughed. "You want the timer? You got it. But, first, I'm gonna kill these four because I don't like doubles and the Professor's been gettin' on my nerves for the last year."
"No," said Quinn.
At that moment, another body came through the gateway. It was Page and he shot himself out of the tunnel like a cannonball, gaining some height and flying right over the other sliders. Wade turned her gun on him, but he came up firing first, as if he'd done this before. He was holding a small, snub-nosed pistol. Maybe it had been in the car. Maybe he'd had it all along. He hit her in the hand and she dropped the rifle. Quinn came up qickly, his elbow colliding with the evil Rembrandt's chin. Rembrandt fell back and his double grabbed him in a hammer lock.
"What made you change your mind?" Quinn asked Page.
The liuetenant shifted his aim. "I never changed my mind, Mallory. I was stuck on that world for ten years and I was ready to wait twenty eight more until you came along."
"You're a slider?" Wade asked.
"I'm the slider," Page told her. "I've been sliding since 1986, the year Haley's Comet hit my Earth and wreaked havoc with the atmosphere. But I missed a slide ten years ago when my corrupt double tried to kill me. So I took his place as a cop and waited, resigned to my fate."
"And then we came along," the second Professor said.
"I did that world a favor," Page argued. "I'd encountered a Mallory or two in the last couple of years. You're all the same."
Quinn looked at the doubles. "You mean, you didn't even commit a crime on that world? He just targeted you?"
Wade's double looked astonished. "We thought Quinn had done something. He always did."
Page waved her off. "I'll take that timer now."
"No" Quinn said and took it away from the second Rembrandt.
Page raised his gun, but the second Professor intervened. He jumped in the way of the shot and took the bullet himself, even though that was not his intention. Rembrandt, taking advantage of the opportunity, charged with the other Professor and restrained Page, disarming him.
A crowd was beginning to form. Though the street was not busy, it was also not the campground from previous two worlds. On this world, there was a small city here and they could hear sirens in the distance.
"How long do we have, Mr. Mallory?" the Professor said as Quinn knealt beside his double.
Quinn just handed him the timer, lifting the other Professor's head in his hands. They had just over a day.
"Mr. Mallory," the double wheezed as blood dribbled from the corner of his mouth. "If I had ever envisioned the perfect student, the perfect Mr. Mallory, then you would be him." And then he died.
"Let's get out of here, guys," Wade said as the sound of the sirens grew in volume.
Quinn looked up, not wanting to leave this Professor behind, but definitely not in the mood for more trouble. Getting up, he joined his friends.
Rembrandt tossed Page to the ground. "Don't follow us. That goes for all of you. You're on your own now."
And the sliders disappeared into the crowd just as the police arrived.
Page looked over at Rembrandt and up at Wade who was holding her injured hand. Then he looked at the Professor, laying still in the street, and thought, At least I managed to get two of you.
As the policemen got out of their cars and began to clear the crowd, Wade ran up to the first one she saw and cried, "Officer, officer! I saw the whole thing!"
A detective with greying hair wearing a smart suit leaned over the Professor and looked down at the lieutenant. "Is that you, Page?"
Page looked up, didn't recognize the man. At least he had an identity here. He could clean up the mess later. "Yeah," he said. "It's me."
"How about that?" the detective said to him. "You probably shouldn't have come back."
They marched him toward the small box like room. His hands were cuffed and there were shackles on his feet, the condemned. It had been a long time since they'd convicted him. Almost a year already, but he was still defiant. If they wanted to kill him, then let them. He would spit in their faces as the gas filled the chamber. He would curse them to the very end. And the sliders, the people who had testified against him, they would burn the day they joined him in the next world. He would see to it.
Now it was time to face the consequences. Dozens of worlds, dozens of adventures, dozens of triumphs, and dozens of last minute escapes. He had had it all.
The others were there, too. The warden had allowed it. And he hated him for it. He hated them.
And they hated him
"Don't laugh to loud, Rembrandt," he said as he passed the other. "You're not going anywhere."
"As long as I get to watch you die," Rembrandt replied. "I may be stuck here but forever is a long time."
"I hate you, Page," Wade said as he walked by her. "You should never have crossed us."
The detective was there also and he came up to Page with a look of triumph on his face and Page's snub-nosed pistol in his hand. "This was all I needed to convict you," he said. "Missing cop killers should stay missing."
"Go to hell. I'm not dead yet."
The detective laughed and watched as they sent the prisoner into the chamber. They did not bother to sit him down or remove his bindings. They simply locked him in and started the gas flow. A priest said a blessing.
He stood in the middle of the chamber, holding his breath as the room filled with the deadly gas. He said nothing as he stared in angst at his captors and his former adversaries. Then he took three deep breaths, inhaled the poison, and crumpled to the floor.
At long last, Jeremy Page was dead.
Alternate Earth 117