Solitaire

By Slider Sarah

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.

* * *

"Ay oop, Missee," came a voice from above her. "Ye cainít stay down there!" A strong, though not at all youthful, arm reached through the throngs of people and lifted her up to a standing. "Thaytíll be a nasty one there, lassie," he cooed, gesturing to a mark around her eye. "Ayre ye badly Ďurt?"

Laurie shook her head numbly. Truth be told, she didnít have the faintest idea, but she didnít really know what else to say.

"Ah well, be grateful far wee mercies then," the man continued, totally oblivious to the fact that Laurie had been one of the few running from the crowd. "Eh, at leasí ye got tí see thaat spectacle! Ainít many folks whoíll be able tí say thaat! But not so few theyíll caall us all crackpots, eh?"

"UhÖ no, I guess not," she said quietly, not even looking her rescuer in the eye.

He clapped her on the back and then faded back into the crowd that was beginning to dissipate. Only a few stayed at the place of what seemed to them to be a miracle, Laurie among them. She found a skanky looking orange crate, turned it upside-down and used it as a stool. A rather uncomfortable stool, but that was one of the many things Laurie still did not notice. She pulled the rucksack off her back and placed it on her knees, hugging it as she stared at the floor, waiting.

Eventually, as the hours passed, the other lingerers also disappeared, now convinced that it really wasnít going to happen again. Only Laurie remained, the one person on this world who knew that it should happen at least one more time.

She glanced at her watch. It had been three hours now, three long hours. How had this even happened? It was one of the golden rules of Sliding: Never miss your Slide. How had she been so stupid? If only she could have stretched that bit more, or pushed herself that much harder, she would have made it.

Laurie had learned the supposed rules governing this kind of situation by rote a long time ago now, but never imagined that she would ever need them. She had even been there on that one occasion over a year ago now when Jonathan had reamed out one of the other reconnaissance teams for disregarding them completely. She was supposed to leave some kind of sign and go find somewhere to sleep for the night. Thereafter she should return once a day to the same spot if possible, or nearby if not.

Not much fun for her, but it was worse for those who were ahead. They were forbidden, supposedly, from activating the timer early for that would cause problems with the timer itself, and they had to sit and wait it out, basically impotent to act. That was certainly not going to sit well with them, especially Connor who did like to act if at all possible, and it was all her fault!

Slowly she stood up and looked around to a place to hide the indicator. The crate she had been seated upon would have been good, but someone might take it. A little way to her right though, she spotted half a brick. No one could possible want that! Underneath it she placed one of the more bizarre notes of currency she carried around with her. It was red with green writing and sheíd picked up a few some time ago as a curiosity and had just forgotton to remove it from her bag. Chances of it being legal tender on another world, even one she knew as little about as this one, were minimal and the guys would know it was from her.

She made her way from the spot gradually, stopping every few moments to turn back and check. No luck. Soon, Laurie was out of sight of the place, and she made her way forward with a heavy heart.

* * *

"Hi! Iíd like a room please," said Laurie confidently to the hotel clerk.

First of all sheíd passed the Chandler Hotel, her own personal favourite, but it had seemed much too expensive and posh for her tastes on this world. The next two on her list didnít seem to exist at all on this world, or at least not where they usually were, so she had made her way to the Motel 12. From the outside at least, it looked far more affordable. Very much so, in fact.

The receptionist looked Laurie up and down, taking in her dusty and grazed appearance and replied snobbily, "Do you have your papers?"

"ErÖ papers?"

"Yes, your papers." The woman kept her haughty air and pointed to a sign above the front desk. "We donít rent to illegit." She then turned back to her computer, leaving Laurie to her own conclusions.

Sure enough, the sign did say something along those lines. "We are sorry to annouce that we cannot rent rooms to anyone not in possession of their legitimacy papers." This did not sound good at all. Even if on this world Laurie was legitimate, she had no such papers. How much was that going to affect her time here?

The woman turned back to her abruptly. "If you donít leave of your own accord pretty damned fast, I shall have to call security."

"Donít worry," Laurie spat at her bitterly. "Iím leaving." She turned to go, but stopped in her tracks. "Wait!" She turned around, but continued walking away from the desk, just in case. "Do you know of anywhere I could find a room?"

"Nowhere round here caters for people like you." Her words were filled with more venom than Laurie thought possible, and as a result she hurried outside, well away from that womanís threat of security guards. This world was going to be interesting. And not in a good way it seemed.

* * *

The lone Slider, stranded on the strange world, walked for some time, completely aimlessly. Every other hotel she had passed had the same signs above the desk. Laurie no longer even bothered asking. All sheíd got were more threats of security.

Was she to live as a scavenger as she had once before? It wasnít an attractive prospect to Laurie; she was now used to a much more social kind of living. She had only scavenged for that short period of time after the Kromaggs, before she had hooked up with the fledgeling Resistance. It was not the best of her memories, to be honest, and even then she had spent more of her time hiding from the enemy. Could she manage in this world where undoubtably there would be many others in the same boat? What if they never came back for her?

Laurie shut that thought out of her head immediately. It hadnít even been a day yet, there was still plenty of time. It wouldnít do her any good to fly into some wild panic. No, first priority was somewhere to sleep. It was nearly dusk already. And while it was still warm, the temperature would drop soon enough and the clouds were looking heavy. She had to scout out sheltered areas where she would be protected from the worst of the potential rain.

The problem was, all those places were already taken. It seemed there was a sizable amount of people here with nowhere to stay; Laurie was just another one of the many. And sure enough, it started to spit with rain. Not much, not enough to wash the dust from Laurie, but enough to warn her that she had no shelter.

She kicked a stone along the pavement, ambling along without aim. She was half tempted to go back to the place of the disaster despite itís openness in vain hope. If there really was nowhere else, then perhaps that would be best. Laurie tried to force her mind to think of a happy reunion, when the other three would emerge and give her one big hug, but something told her that wasnít going to happen. Her face dropped.

"íEre! You canít go round looking like that! That looks really bad."

Laurie hadnít noticed three people, about her own age, lounging around on the steps of a dingy looking apartment building. "Huh? Oh this." She raised a hand to her face. "Itís nothing, really."

"Are you kidding?" The girl jumped to her feet in indignation. "Have you SEEN what you look like?"

Shaking her head, Laurie looked nowhere but at the floor. It probably didnít look too good. The rest of her was covered in dust from the scuffle, so why not her head? And then there was the pain round her eye, and the graze she had just run her hand along.

Grabbing her arm, the girl dragged her towards the building, motion for her two friends to follow. "Come on. Weíre going to clean you up."

Laurie didnít protest.

* * *

Inside was as run-down looking as the outside. The girl led Laurie into what she presumed was a kitchen, though by most standards it barely constituted even that. In the centre was a rather rickety long table, with a hotch-potch collection of equally rickety chairs around it. In one corner was a sink, and along from that a small and very old oven. There were cupboards, but more than one had a missing door.

"Rob," the girl directed her gaze to one of her companions. "Hereís my keyÖ thereís a clean cloth in a green box in the corner. Can you bring it to me?"

He nodded and fled the scene, returning a few minutes later having obviously run to her room and back, taking in a fair amount of stairs on the way. Rob handed her the cloth and then stood, hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath.

The girl ran the cloth under the tap, which to Laurieís intense relief did produce at least clean looking water, then returned to their seats at the table and began to pad the huge graze down the right hand side of Laurieís face. "So, whatís your name then?"

"Laurie." Inadvertantly she winced as she felt the cloth move over the wound.

"Did that hurt? Sorry," said the girl gently, noticably easing her pressure. "Laurie? Thatís a pretty name. Iím Clare. Lazybones over there is Chris, and this oneís Rob." She flung out a foot to tap him jokily on the leg. She gestured to the graze. "That should heal okay, but that eye is going to be nasty for a while." Clare leaned back and tried to look Laurie in the eye. "What happened to you, sweetie? Did someone hurt you? You can tell us, yíknow!"

Laurie knew. She got that sense from them. "No, no one hurt me. Or at least not intentionally."

"You expect us to believe that you fell down some stairs?" Rob was skeptical, and judging by the look on Clareís face, she was as well.

She shook her head. "Oh no, no, nothing like that." Seeing their looks Laurie knew she had to continue with the full story. Well, almost. "No, I was caught up in a scuffle at the marketplace. I got rather trampled on."

For the first time since heíd sat down, Chris suddenly seemed animated. "You were in the marketplace today? DuringÖ whatever it was that happened? Thatís the talk of the city!"

The interest on their faces was amazing. Laurie had never really thought about the effect they had on people who saw them beforeÖ some of them must think they were going mad! "WellÖ erÖ. I was on the ground, so I couldnít see muchÖ."

"But you did see it?" Chris was like a persistent child with his eyes wide and glistening, waiting on her response.

"YÖes," Laurie finally conceeded, "Yes, I saw it."

"What was it like?"

There was no getting out of it now. But perhaps these people could help her. It would be silly to alienate them. And she didnít have to tell them her story; there was just no real need. "It wasÖ. it was strange. It was all these light blue colours, and it just appeared in the airÖ it was so easy to get lost in the beautiful swirlsÖ. so easy." That was all true, no lies there. "Itís so hard to describe."

"Yeah, thatís what everyone else said too," replied Chris, looking a little dejected, but impressed and in awe at the same time. "I just wish Iídíve been there!"

"Me tooÖ then you could have my black eye!" Laurie smiled at her three new friends. Connor, Stephen and Mike they were not, not yet anyway, but they seemed nice, and friends would make her stay on this world far more bearable. Having got used to living in close confines with numerous other people, Laurie knew she would have found it difficult being totally alone.

Clare noticed the slight lull in conversation. "So, where you staying?"

Eyes down, Laurie replied simply, "Nowhere apparently. They wouldnít let me." It was all she could do to hold the tears back. Not just because sheíd been relegated to less than second-class citizenship, but the events of the day were just beginning to catch up with her properly.

Reaching out an arm to Laurieís shoulder, Clare said, "Weíve all been there Laurie. Itís hard for illegits like us. But itís okay, if you donít mind the floor, you can stay with me tonight, and the three of us will help you out. Things will be okay, donít worry."

Raising her head again, Laurie smiled weakly. She couldnít believe her luck. But still in the back of her mind lay the fact that if she hadnít missed the Slide she wouldnít be needing such unfounded generosity.

* * *

When Laurie arrived in from work, the first thing she did was collapse on to the bed. If you could call it a bed, anyway. It was little more than a frame with the thinnest mattress in existence draped over the top. It was hardly comfortable, but Laurie no longer cared. And in a way, today was her day off.

Since Clare had taken her in on the night of that fateful missed Slide, seven days had passed. Seven long, hard and tiring days. As someone without papers to prove her illegitimacy, Laurie had no choice but to support herself immediately. It was that, or scrounge off Clare and her friends for as long as she was here, which could be two days or two months. Unsurprisingly, Laurie had chosen the former.

The job in the shop had come first. It was the same place Clare worked, and when Mr. Johnson had decided he needed another staff member, Clare had shoehorned Laurie right in there. That had allowed her to take a room in the same appartment block as Chris, which was round the corner from Clareís. Unfortunately, wages were low and rent relatively high. Laurie had been forced to take on a second job, just as the others had, and worked some evenings as well as days. She had little time to call her own.

Laurie rolled off the bed and onto the floor, the bed frame jabbing into her back. With her left hand, she reached under the bed and pulled out the dusty box that contained all her belongings. All she had left of a previous life. Slowly she reached in and pulled some of them out. A bunch of photos of her family and friends. Two small plastic horses, one lilac, one a white unicorn. Laurie had always considered herself silly for taking them on the journey, but now that was all she had of her childhood. And if she were doomed to being stranded here, any children of hers would have few toys; these would be special.

Finally she pulled out a piece of jewelry, a silver locket on a chain. The gift Connor had given her at Christmas. Laurie did not open it, but just held it in her fiercely clenched hand. Why werenít they here yet! How could they leave her like this! A few tears of anger rolled down Laurieís face.

She was managing to survive on this world, but Laurie knew she did not really want to be stuck here. There was just so little for her here. She would never be able to advance into a career, and if she fell in love and settled down, any child she had would be subject to the same restrictions as she was. The government tried to pretend the illegitimates did not exist, or at least not in the same numbers, and just left them to be used and abused. That happened rather a lot from what Laurie could gather. Even she herself was being used as practically slave labour.

"Hey, Laurie, you there?" Clareís voice floated up the stairs and across the hall.

Swiftly, Laurie brushed away the tears and sniffed. "Yeah, Iím here."

Clare stood in the doorway and looked at Laurie sitting there on the floor. "Are you okay?"

"Iím fine, really. Iíll be there in a minute."

Seeming to realise she wanted a few more moments alone, Clare left silently. Slowly, Laurie pushed her items back onto the box. All except the locket, which she fixed around her neck. It hid itself behind her top, but Laurie knew it was there and there it would stay.

There was nothing to tidy in the room. Apart from the bed, all she had were one change of clothes, a few bits of food and her shoebox of possessions. Even her space in Resistence Headquarters looked more lived in than this.

After stopping by the bathroom, Laurie pelted her way down the three flights of steps and found Clare, Rob and Chris all seated on the steps outside. Prime position that was, especially on an evening like this. Laurie slotted easily into the group. They had all been so good to her, but they wanted nothing in return. It made Laurie feel warm to know she had already found such good friends. "So, whatís happening?"

"Not much," shrugged Clare. "Chris is just complaining that he canít afford any books because he has to eat."

Chris smiled wickedly at her. "But Iím working on that!"

This entire conversation confused Laurie. "Why not just go to the library?"

All three of them collapsed in fits of giggles, and Chris clapped her heavily on the back. "Good one, Laurie! An illegit in the library! As if!"

"I suppose it is rather a strange thought." Damn. Why were things so different here! "But I donít see why being legitimate is such a big deal anyway. We are all people after all, and it shouldnít really make that much of a difference!"

Again she was greeted by the sounds of mirth. "You come out with such fantastical concepts sometimes, Laurie!" Chris was as intrigued as he was amused. "So idealistic!"

"Aw, leave her alone, Chris," Rob protested. "Sheís quite entitled to be idealisitc if she wants. Itís quite refreshing actually."

Laurie grinned at him. "Cheers. Not that itíll make much difference anyway. I donít see the legits ever letting us illegits ever have anything they do."

"Oh, that reminds me!" Clare exclaimed out of the blue. "I heard on the grapevine yesterday that thereís a big party down the industrial estate at the on Thursday. You lot up for going?"

"The industrial estate? Isnít that a little risky?" asked Laurie. Enjoyment was another of those things illegits were not supposed to have.

Clare shrugged. "No more so than anywhere else."

"Iíve been before," Chris added. "As long as youíre careful, itís a real blast. We didnít get run out until 2am last time. Impressive. Definitely worth the risk. Iím in, Clare."

Rob gave a tentative yes, and Laurie was eventually persuaded by Clare and Chris, who were both quite excited about the whole thing. It could be fun, certainly. The only thing holding back was she did not want to be in trouble when the others returned for her. If they returned to her. Imperceptibly Laurie shivered. She had to believe they would, yet build a new life at the same time. She felt drawn in two directions and it was hard to decide which way to go.

* * *

Thursday came all to quickly for Laurieís liking. In no time at all she was preparing which outfit to wear, and making sure she had enough sleep in case she was out really late. It was work at the shop on Friday morning and Laurie and Clare both had to be there by 7.30am. The boys had it marginally easier, as they were not starting at the factory until 8, but it was little different for them.

Still the rest of the team had not returned for her. Every day since she had missed the Slide, Laurie had made a detour to the same spot and marked on the note she had left there. It was nearly two weeks now. That still was not very long for a Slide, but the days just crept up on Laurie and she was beginning to worry more than a little.

Today, however, she was putting that completely out of her mind. At least for a few hours. Laurie had borrowed a skirt from one of the girls in her block, and a top from Clare. In turn, certain items of her own meagre wardrobe had also been loaned. It made for a little variety at least.

Laurie made her way down to the bathroom, where she stood in front of the dirty mirror to admire herself. The black skirt was short, yet flowy, and she rather liked the feel of it. It matched particularly well with her own boots as well. The top was dark purple, and rather of a style to make Connorís eyes pop out. They always did when ever she wore something even marginally revealing.

That brought a sigh to her lips. Even on a day like this, Laurie could not turn her thoughts totally away from her companions. She was fairly sure that whenever Connor turned all goggle-eyed on her he had no idea he was, nor that he looked so silly doing so. Stephen had noticed it as well and seemed to enjoy the amusement as much as Laurie did. As for MikeÖ well, heíd probably berate her and tell her she was dressing like a cheap tart. Again. But there was nothing wrong with this; she was hardly working street corners.

Satisfied with her appearance, Laurie made her way back to her room, where she found Clare standing nervously outside her room. "Wondered where youíd got to!" Clare teased lightly. "Thought youíd left without me!"

"Not likely!" Laurie exclaimed in return. "Just let me grab my jacket and we can head off, if you like."

"You wonít want a jacket. Not inside at any rate. And they have a rather annoying tendancy to go missing if you leave it somewhere. Nope, all you need is youself and your money!"

"Just give me a second then." Laurie shoved her money into her left boot, and after locking the door of her room, stuck that into her right. Part of the lining had come away and gave her a handy little pocket.

The two girls left the building and collected Chris and Rob on the way down. As they made their way towards the warehouse where it was to take place, they saw pockets of others moving in the same direction. Since such a gathering was technically illegal, the illegits could not move en mass. Yet still they were out in force.

* * *

Dusk had already settled by the time the foursome reached the industrial estate and the party seemed to already have taken off. From a distance, you could hear the baseline, but it wasnít until you were practically at the front door that you realised what exactly it was. The surrounding buildings were deserted.

There was even a queue to get in, with several very large men standing by the entrance. Each time they allowed someone in, a shaft of light appeared, then disappeared just as quickly. It was cold out, but Laurie could almost feel the heat of the place already. Clare had been right.

As Laurie approached the front of the queue, one of the burly blokes approached her. "Got yer papers missy?" he said sternly.

"WellÖ. erÖ. no," Laurie stammered. What was going on? This was an illegitís gathering!

His face broke into a broad grin, rather unexpectedly. "Then in yer go!" He held the door open and Laurie sped through, Clare and the guys only just behind her.

The place was heaving. People were crammed into the warehouse; more illegits than Laurie knew existed in the city. It must be quite an event.

Pushing their way through the hordes, Laurie and Clare finally reached the bar, though somewhere on the way they had lost both Chris and Rob. But they ordered drinks anyway, before making their way to the dance floor. Or what passed as one, since it seemed that the majority of the people there were dancing anyway.

The music was varied and there were only a few songs that Laurie even recognised. However, that made no difference to her, and she was soon enjoying herself to the beats. Though on the surface this might correlate to the bar she had attended with Mike a good few worlds back, in reality, it was far more intense. And despite that, she drank less as well. Though admittedly, she could afford to drink only a little. Even the water was relatively expensive here.

For several hours, Laurie immersed herself in the underground culture of her new home. She drifted between groups of people. It didnít matter who she was here; everyone was accepting for once. Laurie lost sight of Clare after a while, but it did not bother her unduly. She was around here somewhere, that was enough for Laurie, now that she felt a part of this place. And Chris was still chatting up a girl by the bar, without much success.

After a while, the heat got a little much for Laurie, so she parted with her money for a cup of water and moved to lean on one of the walls, as close to a door as she could physically get. It wasnít that close, but every so often she caught the tail end of a draft. This place might be fun, but it sure was exhausting!

It was during this slight pause in her enjoyment, that the alarms began to sound. And as soon as they did, it turned into utter chaos.

Within seconds, Laurie was completely lost. She was being pushed in about ten directions at once, and even though she had been close to start with, Laurie no longer had even an inkling where the door had gone to.

Amidst the expected yells and screams, Laurie felt a solid hand on her shoulder pull her backwards and out of the door. The cold air hit her like an ice storm after the heat inside the building. She was pulled clear of the exit before Laurie discovered what was happening. "Hey!" she yelled as she turned around to face her rescuer, though if it was heard above the rest of the noise it would be a miracle.

"Come on! We canít stop here!" Rob grabbed her arm and dragged her in a random direction.

"Why not? Weíre not inside anymore!"

He didnít even stop pulling her along. "The police will be out in force. Theyíll comb the area, and anyone they find goes to the lock-up. So unless you plan on spending the night on a concrete floor with a whole load of other people, we have to get away NOW!"

Laurie had no argument to that. It was probably as well that Rob had spotted her, if that was what was going to happen.

The two of them fled down dark streets and alleyways that Laurie didnít even no existed. She really hoped Rob knew where they were, as there were no landmarks at all that she recognised. As they ran, the numbers of people around them diminished, simply because everyone was spreading out.

Finally, Rob stopped. "That looks good. Weíll hide in there." He gave her no chance to protest and they sat huddled behind a skip.

It was dark, damp and cold, but at least they were out of the direct line of site of anyone chasing the illegits from the party.

"WhereÖ." Laurie whispered before Rob cut her off. He shook his head slowly and pointed to the road. Laurie took the hint and did not open her mouth again, however much she wanted to ask what had happened to Clare and Chris.

Inadvertantly, Laurie began to shiver. Her outfit, which had been perfect for a nightís hard partying, was now seeming rather flimsy, and offered little protection against the wind. Added to the fact that the drizzle in the air had made her slightly wet and Laurie was finding it less than suitable for this part of the eveningís excusion.

Silently, Rob took off his own jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders, accompanying it with his arm. Laurie was of half a mind to take the jacket but reject the arm, but it was that cold that both of them needed the extra body heat.

It rather reminded Laurie of an incident on the last world she had been on, with Connor. They had been reduced to sleeping in a decrepit building with broken windows. Stephen and Mike seemed to have slept without many problems, but both Laurie and Connor had slept fitfully, until they had snuggled closer together to share warmth. She had dropped off almost immediately after that, though not before Connor had said his piece.

She almost jerked away from Rob when that thought hit her mind. Laurie had been practically half asleep at the time, but regardless of what Connor thought, she had heard the words he whispered in her ear. It was just that so much had happened since that night only the here and now had counted. But how could she have forgotton something like that!

But once again it was pushed out of Laurieís mind as Rob clapped a hand to her mouth to stop her teeth chattering, and the sound of sirens suddenly increased dramatically. Beams of light skirted the edges of their hideout and for a few moments everything took on a blue hue.

Laurie did not breath for the entire time they were nearby, or at least it felt like it. Her entire body froze and she could feel Rob had done the same. If the police were to catch them now, the whole escape would have been useless.

For once, though, fate seemed to be smiling on Laurie, for they moved on rapidly. Evidently they had a lot of ground to cover and the longer they waited, more illegits could get away. Even once they had passed, Rob made Laurie stay down for a good while longer, just in case.

After about fifteen minutes, Rob stood up and looked around. "Should be safe now," he decided firmly. "Come on, lets get home." He hauled Laurie up, but shook his head when she offered him his jacket back. "No, you need it more than I do. Youíll freeze to death in that outfit."

"Well, thanks I guess," she replied, knowing he was most likely right.

Laurie did not arrive back at her appartment until nearly four in the morning. And Rob had walked her all the way home, so goodness knows what time he had got back! Laurie peered at Chrisís door as she went past, but there was very little she could draw from a closed door.

As soon as she entered her room, Laurie dropped on the bed and fell asleep there and then. For once she didnít even notice the springs poking through the mattress.

* * *

There was an alarm going off, right in Laurieís ear. Annoyed, she reached out and absently flicked it off, before dropping right back off to sleep again.

Half an hour later, she sat bolt upright, suddenly completely awake. Laurie glanced at the small clock and realised in horror that she was now running significantly late and had to be at work in fifteen minutes!

Laurie scrabbled her things together and, having grabbed a couple of slices of bread to eat on the way, ran pell-mell down the stairs and into the street. As she pelted to work, there was no time to consider the happenings of last night; if she was late, Mr. Johnson would dock some of her wages, and Laurie really could not afford that this week.

She made it into the shop about thirty seconds before Mr. Johnson unlocked the doors to the shop. As Laurie stood, emanating faux-brightness, Clare muttered, "Cutting it a bit fine arenít you? You werenít locked up were you?"

Any of those that had been captured by the police on one of their excursions were held in cells overnight, but released early in the morning, as they were too important to the local economy. Later, they were to find out that Chris had been taken, as he managed to saunter into the shop before heading to work. "Iíll tell you later," Laurie said quietly in return.

At this point Mr. Johnson saw fit to glare at the both of them and the girls hurried to work. He wasnít a bad employer in the grand scheme of things, but he did tend to be irritable at this time in the morning.

It was not for several hours that Laurie and Clare had the chance to talk properly. There had been a steady stream of customers all morning, and several had required some detailed explanations. However, they were able to have a chat around half eleven, on the pretext of fixing a display that some kid had ruined.

"Sooo," Clare teased, "what happened then?"

Laurie refused to rise. "Nothing Ďhappenedí as you so succintly put it!" She giggled. "Or at least, not in the way you mean!"

"I know you left with Rob."

"Yes, I did, but it was purely escape!" Laurie protested. "If it wasnít for him I probably would have spent the night in jail. It took us long enough to evade Them as it was. Didnít get in until four."

Clare eyed her carefully. "Really, nothing happened? That was all?"

"Really, thatís exactly what happened. Why would you think otherwise?"

"He likes you, you know. I mean really likes you."

That brought Laurie up sharp and it was hard for her not to freeze. Though she had thought he might, Laurie had dismissed it from her mind as imagining things. "Donít be silly. Of course he doesnít!"

Clareís eyes turned grave. "Iím not being silly. Heís interested in you. Didnít he say anything? I felt sure he would, last night."

There was no answer to that, and Laurie knew it. Rob had been attentive last night, especially when they were curled up hiding from the police.

"Question isÖ," Clare continued, "Öhow do you feel about him?"

"Iím not looking for a relationship right now," Laurie replied quickly. At Clareís raised eyebrows, Laurie continued. "Itís just not the right time for me. Iíve barely been here a few weeks, Iíd rather get settled in my own life right now, before I add anyone else to it." Plus, she was still hoping to get off this world, even though the guys were sure taking their time over getting back here! Once again, he mind drifted to the possibility that something had happened, but Laurie cut it off before it could form properly. Now was not the time.

Carefully balancing one box on top of another, Clare nodded curtly. "Understandable. But donít you go leading him on." She waggled a finger at Laurie."

"I know," Laurie sighed. "But now really isnít the right time. And I donít feel that way about him."

And if Laurie was completely honest, she wanted no permanent ties here, other than those of friendship. For if the rest of her team came back, she would go, and Laurie could not be sure anyone would wish to go with her.

"So, anyway," Laurie changed tack completely. "What happened to you? Who was that guy you spend the night dancing with?"

Blush quickly rose to Clareís face and she began to babble about her new boyfriend.

* * *

Crockery and cutlery clattered loudly as Laurie scraped the plate clear of food, before throwing the cutlery in a basket and sticking the plate in a nice pile, ready to be put through the dishwasher. This was her secondary job, and most of the time, she did not like it much, hence the noise. The only good thing about the job was that Chris worked there as well.

Today Laurie had been set to clearing the plates and loading the machine, along with Chris. It didnít happen often that they were put together, so both intended to make the most of the opportunity.

Laurie turned around to reach foe the next set of plates, but found there were none. "Hey!" she exclaimed over the noise of the machine, "Where are all the plates? We canít have caught up already!"

"Unlikely," Chris agreed. "Iíll go check." Very discreetly, he disappeared into another room, where he poked half his head round a doorway. "Definitely not," he said when he had returned to his post. "Those frigginí Legits are lazing about as always."

Though the backroom staff were made up entirely of illegitimates like Laurie and Chris, the large restaurant could not show that side of their industry, so legitimate workers were hired to work the floor. They would serve and clear, and then bring all the dirties to a different room, where Laurie, Chris and their cohorts would finish up. The split in the workplace was quite distinct.

"Right," Laurie decided, slamming a glass down so hard it was a wonder it didnít smash, "Iím sick of this. Those Legits need a damn kick up the arse."

Chris reached out to stop her as she stalked towards the area where the Legits would gather, but he was too slow. "Just leave it, Laurie, itís not worth the hassle."

Even from the kitchen, he could hear the raised voices as Laurie challenged their idleness. He winced at the sound of movement, for the Legits never took kindly to being told what to do by someone they regarded as scum. In all honesty, Laurie would be very lucky to get away with a yelling.

Finally, Laurie returned to the realm of the illegitimate, sporting a red mark on one cheek. Before she had even stepped inside, Chris had grabbed onto her and pulled her out of sight of the boss, hiding in a niche between the dish washing machine loading area and the trolley the ditries would be stacked on. "You idiot! What did you go and do that for? Look what happened?" He pointed to the side of her face

Grinning, Laurie brushed away his concern. "This? Oh, thatís nothing. Itíll fade quickly. And anyway, I got what I wanted!"

"You did?"

"Yep! They gave me a mouthful over it, and one of the girls slapped me, but they still did it! Listen, you can hear them now!" Laurie sounded extremely pleased with herself.

Sure enough, already there was the sound of people clearing the tables, and before long, Laurie and Chris were faced with another pile to sort. However, as both worked on the principle that the quicker they worked, the sooner they could leave, it wasnít a problem.

Once the Legits had disappeared again, Laurie restarted the conversation. "Did you realise that those wasters are getting three times what we are? Three! I overheard them chatting about it."

Chris shrugged. "I didnít know how much, but I knew it was more. What else did you expect? They have papers, we donít! Itís a fact of life, Laurie."

"I know, but it simply isnít fair! Why should we work far harder than they do for a pittance, while they get their fancy houses and education! Thereís no equality in that!" Laurie began to get agitated at the thought of the discrepancies on this world.

"Equality?" exclaimed Chris, rather surprised. "Who said anything about equality?"

Taking a short break from the work, Laurie leaned on the loading shelf, ignoring the fact that she was now covered in ketchup, as she already had food all over her hands and apron anyway. "You mean you donít think itís unfair, that they get everything and we get nothing, simply for lack of a piece of paper? How many of us die every year, simply for lack of basic medical care?" Well, she thought to herself, the America of her world wasnít a great deal better on that score. "How much is denied to us, through no fault of our own?"

"Come on, Laurie," Chris laughed. "All that may be true, but itís not that bad! Sure, itís not perfect, but what place is these days? No where else on this planet is any different!"

Laurie resisted the urge to mention parallel universes. "Wouldnít you like to, just once, go into a library and take out as many books as you want? If you hadnít been born to illegitimate parents, I have no doubt that you would be a librarian!"

"I admit, I would love the use of a library," Chris conceded, "but other than that, Iím not really interested in the life of a Legit." Laurie opened her mouth to protest, but he hushed her quickly. "No, let me explain. The Legits are all about stress and status. All they do is work, work, work, just to maintain their lifestyle. And then thereís the paperwork! Tons of it! And donít even get me started on their responsibilities! Hell, they even have to be careful who they fall in love with, in case itís an illegitimate! No, I much prefer our way. Cash in hand, no worries. We can let loose in a way the Legits never can. Education, healthcare, servicesÖ these things are all great, but are they worth what comes with it? Besides, itís not like things are ever going to change"

Personally, Laurie wanted to shout out exactly how worthwhile all these things could be, but she restrained herself this time. "Well, I still donít think itís right," she grumbled instead.

Chris chuckled at her determination. "Youíre a true radical, Laurie. One in a million. There arenít many like you out there!"

"Oh, I wouldnít be so sure about that." Again, Laurie was reminded of the other worlds out there, were it was almost certain there would be other Lauries who thought in exactly the same way. But before she could stupidly either commit herself to a revolution or spill about Sliding, she was jarred from her thoughts.

"Hey, whatís going on down there?" Chris yelled towards the other end of the machine, for someone had stopped it in order to finish clearing the last tray. "Get a move on, will you? Some of us would like to get home today!"

Complaints were shot in his direction, but he ignored them completely, revelling in the brief respite, despite his annoyance.

Laurie took the opportunity to duck out of the conversation at this point, disappearing to find a drink of water. When she returned, she was grateful to find that the topics had changed. This world needed serious reforming, but a one-woman crusade was foolish, especially when she knew little of the history.

"Ugh!" Laurie held the plate out as far away from her face as possible. "I think someoneís emptied an entire shaker of pepper onto this one. ATCHOO!!"

With tentative fingertips, Chris took it from her hand. "Looks like it! Those idiots have no consideration. And look here at this oneÖ. water on the plate and food in the cups Ė lovely! They really need to grow up!" For good measure he just emptied everything into the bin, water and all.

There was no response this time from Laurie, with the exception of a steady stream of violent sneezes.

* * *

The following day was the one evening of the week where none of the four worked. As all of them worked two separate jobs, this was hardly surprising, but as it was a rare occurrence, they always gathered on that one night.

Unfortunately, on this particular occasion, another group of people had nabbed their favourite hangout of the steps of Clareís building, and Laurie and the others had had to find an alternate provision. This had been provided in the form of the back entrance of the shop where Laurie and Clare worked during the day. As it was a relatively warm night, there was no sense in staying inside as they had had to do the previous week.

After a lull in the conversation, Chris decided to bring up the previous dayís discussion. "You guys should have heard Laurie yesterday," he put forward. "She was an absolute radical! Talking about equality, and free healthcare and education and the like!"

There were howls of laughter from the other two. "Free education!" Rob exclaimed. "Canít see anyone ever agreeing to that! As as for healthcareÖ. pffft!"

"Oh, Iíd love to see the face of the Legits if that ever happened," Clare agreed quickly. "Can you imagine us demanding that they treat our ills? The world will end before that will ever happen!"

Though Laurie tried to smile, it came out as more of a grimace. Spotting this, Clare put her arm around the Slider and hugged her tight. "Hey now, you know we donít mean it! Itís just so unusual to imagine things like that. It would require such a turnaround, that I donít think itís even possible!" She sighed wistfully. "Wish it would happen though."

"Maybe it will, one day," Laurie offered tentatively. "Things do change, yíknow."

Clare simply smiled sympathetically and moved on to a discussion about a friendís impending motherhood.

Later that night, when she was lying in bed, Laurie mulled over the entire discussion. Was it really that strange here? On a world with as rigid a structure as this one, there were always radicals, an underground movement of sorts. Yet she had come across no mention of anything like that here. Occassional crackpots there were, but nothing concrete unless it was kept very quiet.

It really was beginning to seem as though Laurie was stuck on this world for the rest of her life. It had been nearly a month and a half nowÖ. six weeks. Her hand went to her locket in an involuntary motion. They had become her new family. Could she make it without them? Mike always yelled at her, but he was kindly enough on occasion and treated her as he would a daughter of his own. Stephen was a dark horse, but was always the one to defuse the arguments when they got too bad. And Connor wasÖ Connor. He was fun and friendly, if sometimes too much for his own good, and she missed him the most, in ways she never thought possible.

This world was okay as a temporary measure, but Laurie still wasnít sure how she felt about it in the long term. She had absolutely zero in the way of prospects here, especially if there was not even a revolutionary group. Nothing was ever going to change greatly from they way she lived now, and that depressed her greatly. No matter how good she was, or how hard she worked, the best she could hope for was a succession of menial jobs, each as low paying as the last, simply for the lack of papers. Even books were expensive here, and for her, music was generally limited to the illegal raves. There certainly wasnít access to anything like television or cinema!

Obviously there was Rob, Chris and Clare, but they could never know or understand her properly. To do that she would have to tell them everything, and quite simply, Laurie could not risk it. But it did mean that as close as she got to anyone, she was still alone on this world.

Alone. Perhaps for the rest of her life.

It was not an attractive prospect for Laurie, but what else could she do? Short of fighting her way into a laboratory somewhere in the hope they might have some Sliding equipment, not a lot.

Just thinking about the whole situation depressed her even further. She might be able to eek out a living, but she missed the pace of her former life, and despised the monotony that came with this new one. Things had never been dull for her before. She had moved to America at a young age, but growing up had always been varied. Then had come the invasion and while that had been traumatic, no one could ever call it boring!

Laurie missed her homeworld fevently. She even found herself longing for a Kromagg to shoot at, though previously she would have given anything to never see one again. Her mind flitted back to the Resistance, and Jonathan in particular, wondering how they fared? Would she even know if they succeeded in her quest? Would they ever find out what had become of her? That was worse than never being able to return.

Knowing that everything was entirely out of her hands, Laurie cried herself to sleep, fearing the worst on all fronts.

* * *

Tuesday was Laurieís only full day off from the shop, and she took full advantage of it. She worked longer at the restaurant to compensate for it, but that wasnít until 3pm. Still it allowed her to sleep in, and eventually Laurie crawled out of bed around 10am, whishing she could stay in longer, but knowing she should really get up.

Glancing at her reflection in the mirror, Laurie noticed the tear streaks on her face. Water washed them away quickly, but mentally she could still feel them. She supposed they would never go away completely, at least not as long as she was here.

Returning to her room, Laurie picked up one of her weird squidgey fruit things and sucked at it. It was pretty much all she had left; really she needed to go shopping today. The market where she had first arrived in this place was her main port of call. All her fresh stuff came from there, and some of the packaged as well. Anything else came from Mr. Johnsonís shop, where she got a small discount. She had heard there were supermarkets here as well, but of course she was never allowed near them, simply for being illegitimate.

Laurie reflected briefly on the system here. It really was rather ridiculous. The illegitimate population could only increase, but the Legits only acknowledged them as cheap labour. They truly believed that the absence of papers meant that they had nothing to contribute to society. And the weird thing was, the Illegits seemed to accept it. Had she been born here, Laurie was sure she would as well.

After finishing the fruit thing and brushing her hair, Laurie made her brief trip to the market and came back with a couple of days worth of items. The stuff from the shop could wait until tomorrow Ė she was there that often that she could pick things up as and when she needed them really. Mr. Johnson wasnít too fussy about when she bought them.

By the time Laurie left for the restaurant, she was running a little bit late. Grabbing an apple to eat on the way to stave off her hunger through the shift, Laurie ran out of the houseand down the road.

Laurie was nearly there when she heard an eerily familiar sound. There was a loud rumbling noise coming from her right. She turned in the direction of the sound just in time to see a red vortex open in the sky. Even as she stood and stared at it, a mantra ship she recognised as of Kromagg origin emerged. Laurie followed her insticts; she ran.

 


Alternate Earth 117
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