|More or less everyone
|violence, m/m sex mentioned
|Some friends from another dimension show up. They appear friendly, but turn out to have ulterior motives. In the end Maggie and Wade go on a rescue operation, to get Quinn and Rembrandt back before it’s too late.
This time it happened again. The slid from a dark, bitterly cold world, where they’d been forced to endure close to four days, huddled together closely in their misery, to a far too brightly hot world, where global warming had been doing its relentless work for years. Now the warm clothes they had put on to stay alive merely looked ridiculous. Fortunately, no one was about on the lonely stretch of shoreline where they’d landed, not two yards from the swelling surf.
Maggie pushed away Colin, who had been holding on to her, possessively, to shed her excess garments, roll up her jeans legs and began wading in the not only lukewarm, but positively hot water. It felt great, after the deep chill they had just come from. Colin, Quinn and the others followed within less than a minute. It was a long time before they even started thinking about the effects the sunshine would have on their unprotected skin. Wade was the first one to react.
“Hey, guys. I’m getting out of here, and into the shade of those trees over there. You do not want to see me when I’m peeling.”
Quinn stared appreciately at his scantily dressed lover, but acknowledged that she had a point. Why hadn’t he thought of that sooner? Burnt, peeling skin was painful as well as unattractive, and dying of skin cancer was even less appealing. It had happened to a friend’s grandfather and he hoped he never had to see someone he knew succumb to such a condition.
“Ok, I hear you. How about it guys? Colin? Maggie? Mallory? Wade’s right. Let’s go. Remmy and Diana, maybe you guys should watch it too.”
All the men were wearing their shorts and nothing else, so when they reached the partial shade of the trees, they felt somewhat at a disadvantage, on discovering that they had company. That big man looked familiar, but it couldn’t be –
“Professor Arturro? But you’re -“
“How very perceptive of you, Qui – Mr Mallory. A pleasure to see you again.”
“Yes. My god, our professor Arturro -“
“Yes, yes, perhaps we should discuss this further in a little bungalow over there? This heat isn’t healthy for a man my age. And there is someone else to see you in there. Shall we?”
The entire Sliders gang felt dizzy and disoriented, and that was only to some extent due to the extreme heat. Meeting one of their lost friends, though, naturally, this wasn’t their professor Arturro, was strangely confusing. Why that should be they didn’t know. After all, they had encountered various doubles of themselves countless times, but only very rarely had they run into the physics professor.
Quinn could hardly admit even to himself, how much he missed his surrogate father figure, and mentor. The way he had died, taking a bullet meant for Quinn himself had left Quinn feeling bereft. There was something missing in his life, and until now he hadn’t realized how much that lack had haunted him. Perhaps now – but why should this professor be interested in his feelings of survivor’s guilt or anything else he thought and felt?
When they arrived in front of the house Arturro had mentioned, they were startled to discover that it was far from a beach house. What they were staring at was simply a normal suburban bungalow, complete with a slightly run wild garden, a picket fence and a mailbox. The paint was peeling away here and there, and the house didn’t have a lived in look to it, but still, this was an ordinary suburban home, not some expensive beachfront property.
How was that possible? Nearby were the remains of other such houses. They were in fact standing in a street. A street two minutes’ walk from an idyllic subtropical beach? Global warming seemed to have moved fast in this world, that was the only conclusion they could arrive at. And now it was too late to analyze the climatic conditions.
“Here we are. After you, ladies and gentlemen.”
Inside the house, they were met by a familiar face. Familiar, yet not familiar, perhaps it was fair to say. This was Maggie, but a totally different Maggie. She had long hair, dramatically fastened in a style unknown to each of the Sliders women. Her outfit was – Not that Maggie, their Maggie, dressed like a nun, but this was startling to say the least.
Mallory and Colin, not to mention Rembrandt were ogling her cleavage for a full 30 seconds, before Diana and Maggie physically dragged their lovers into the room. After a few moments of consideration, Rembrandt reluctantly joined the others.
Wade studied the apparation critically. Then she nodded to herself. Yes, this woman was deliberately fishing for the men’s reaction. How fortunate she was to have a man like Quinn. His mind wasn’t preoccupied with half-naked sluts parading themselves around.
Come to think of it, what was his mind preoccupied with? She squeezed his hand appreciatively, but received no response. So maybe she had been too hasty in her assessment of her lover. But at least he hadn’t made a spectacle of himself drooling all over that bitch. Wade had taken an instant dislike to the other Maggie.
Their Maggie too, felt a strange coldness towards her twin. That woman who wore her face, was she anything like her really? Or was it just a chance resemblance and a case of their respective developments going in diametrically opposite directions?
She was willing to bet that was the case. This woman was no soldier, that’s for sure. And Maggie couldn’t help imagining her double as a call girl or an air hostess, or maybe a model. If this person had ever done any honest work in her life, Maggie was sorely mistaken.
“Oh, good. You’re here. I’ve been waiting for hours. Artie said he’d -“
But Arturro shot her a cautioning glance and she fell silent. Fine, let old fatso talk. As long as they got their point across. She contented herself with letting her gaze linger on all the men of the group.
Ah, who was that young pretty guy they had picked up along the way? Who was doing him? Could it be that her own double had struck gold? It very much looked that way, from the possessive manner of her touch on his arm.
And the other guy, he seemed to have potential too. Too bad he was in the possession of that wimpy-looking black girl. Under different management –
But now her eyes settled on Quinn. Such a very fine-looking specimen. She had to be wrong about it, but he looked a bit taller and more virile than their own Quinn.
Now for Remmy – At this point in her musings, Maggie allowed herself to merely lick her lips in anticipation. This was going to be fun.
“My friends, I have come to ask your help. Rita and I -“
Noticing the blank stares of his audience, Arturro turned to his companion.
“Yes, I prefer to go with Marguerita. Rita to my friends.”
The last statement was accompanied with a pout and an new pose.
“Rita and I need your help with a matter of life and death. I am assuming you have two timers? So do we, but the original timer is degrading and on the world where we are stuck for the time being there are no adequate components and I must admit, the technology somewhat baffles me. Mr Mallory, I throw myself at your mercy. May I impose upon you?”
“What exactly is the problem?”
Quinn was more than happy to do anything his old professor and mentor asked him to. Wade, Colin and Diana also politely offered their assistance. Soon the scientists of the group were discussing timers and the components needed to make them, and when they were through with that, they went on to cover the dynamics of wormhole travel and different parameters for synchronizing target worlds and more along those lines.
It was seriously boring the two Maggies, Rembrandt and Mallory half out of their wits. To relieve some of the tension he sensed from his own Maggie, Rembrandt took it upon himself to entertain Rita. It was no difficult decision. She seemed to be extremely pleased to meet him.
Their conversation ran along the lines of music, sunbathing, shopping and other light-hearted topics. Mallory stared enviously at Rembrandt. What a hot babe this Rita was. Only once did he glance apologetically in the direction of Diana. She was a hot babe too, naturally, but this Rita really knew how to get a guy going.
After a while Rembrandt called for pizza, and the discussion continued into the small hours. By then, even Mallory had stopped gazing longingly at Rita, and Maggie had long since gone to bed, followed by Colin. Diana soon joined Mallory in bed, but Wade had to retire on her own. Nothing could tear Quinn away from his beloved professor. The nature of his assistance was still to be revealed, but it was more than enough for Quinn to finally once again be able to see and talk to the man who had given his life for him.
When dawn was coloring the sky a brilliant pink, Quinn’s yawns came more and more frequently and reluctantly he had to call it a night. The professor still appeared fresh in his mind, but agreed that the young man ought to get some sleep. Their discussion would keep until the morning.
When Quinn woke up, he had a funny feeling there was something he ought to remember. He turned around and looked at Wade, who seemed to have woken up some time ago. She looked back at him with the same incredulously happy look she’d had ever since they found each other again against all odds, in a place outside of time.
“Good morning, sleepy head. Had any nice dreams?”
“I don’t know. What time is it? When do we slide?”
“It’s about 10.30 and we don’t slide for another couple of days, don’t you remember? So we have plenty of time. Unless you’re going back to the professor -“
“The professor? Oh, now I remember. I’m so sleepy still, I’d almost forgotten. Of course. I have to go. See you later, darling.”
“Go on. Play with your friends. Maggie and Diana and I were talking about going shopping for clothes later today. We’ve got absolutely nothing to wear. I’m going to have to bring a larger -“
“Yes, do that, honey, I’ll just -“
Wade smiled indulgently at her lover. Quinn could be such a baby at times, but she loved that trait, just as she loved everything else about him. As she remembered the professor’s companion, her happy face turned into a frown. That girl – there was something about her that didn’t seem at all reliable.
But she couldn’t let jealousy run away with her. She knew that their Maggie once had a crush on Quinn, but she also knew that was past history. Maggie and Colin were as happy together as she and Quinn. So she wasted no more time worrying, and turned her thoughts to shopping, and other pleasant matters.
In the meantime, Mallory and Colin had decided to leave Quinn with the professor and Rembrandt with Rita. It was obvious that no one could break into those conversations anyway. They would go into the city and maybe catch a movie and possibly, if Mallory had his way, they would watch some drag-racing. He would enjoy introducing Colin to the modern world, as long as this world still had all that Mallory treasured. At least they could find out.
Quinn hardly noticed his friends leaving. He was too wrapped up in the wonder of finally being able to meet his mentor again. There was so much he needed to say, and now at last he would have a chance to say those things. He was hoping Arturro would understand.
He gulped down a glass of orange juice on the way to the room occupied by his old professor. Though Quinn was vaguely aware that of course this wasn’t his professor Arturro, he tried hard to ignore that fact. This was his chance to make things well again.
Barely taking time to knock on the door, he waited outside, hoping Arturro would have time for him right away. It was a long time before the door was opened, to reveal Arturro with dripping wet hair and some shaving cream still on his face. He smiled warmly at the young man and asked him to come in.
“Ah, there you are, my boy. I was hoping we could continue our conversation from last night. Please. Sit. I shan’t be a minute.”
Quinn waited patiently, and the professor really didn’t take too long to finish what he was doing. Soon they were seated at a rickety table near the window. This was very nice, but Quinn was beginning to wonder when Arturro would get to the problem. What did he need his assistance with?
“Ah, yes, I’m glad you brought it up. You see, my primary timer is degrading, and I’m very much afraid that sliding with it once again, might produce some unwanted results. However, I am unable to repair it, using the inferior components available on the world I come from most recently. That’s where the rest of our group is still waiting.”
“And they are?”
“Rembrandt, of course. Wade, I’m afraid, was lost few years ago. Well, that completes the list. Our group has sadly dwindled in the past years.”
“I see. Well, I’m only too happy to help. My Wade will lend me her timer and I can return with you and Ma- I mean Rita. Why didn’t Rembrandt come with you, if I may ask?”
Was it Quinn’s imagination, or did the professor look decidedly wary, on hearing that last question? But he wasn’t sure, and again, a smile spread over the older man’s jovial features.
“This small prototype can only convey two people. So Rita came along, while Rembrandt is waiting for us back there. I hate to impose on you, my dear boy, but would you come back with me and sort things out for me?”
“Of course. When would you like us to leave?”
“There’s no time like the present, wouldn’t you say?”
“Ok. I’ll just go talk to Wade and we can get going right away.”
Quinn was right to some extent. Wade was willing, after some gentle persuasion, to lend him the timer. But she didn’t like the idea of him going off on his own. He was far too eager to please his old mentor to really pay attention, however.
In the end, Wade gave in. She could tell that Quinn’s mind was made up, and since there was no good way of winning this discussion, she decided to let him go. Perhaps that Rita person wasn’t to be trusted, but Wade too remembered their own professor fondly and thought his word counted for more.
In the meantime, Rembrandt was faced with a decision much the same as Quinn’s. Since he was the only one left out, no one had missed him last night, when he failed to return to his room. Instead, he had been invited to share the lovely Rita’s room, and, to tell the truth, her bed.
When morning came, Rembrandt was more or less on cloud nine, far beyond anything as petty as actually thinking. And when Rita made the request to join him on the world she came from, he really didn’t need to think. Under the influence of this rush, he didn’t think his own friends would miss him.
“But what about you? Don’t you have anyone waiting for you back there?”
Rita’s pink tongue shot out and she licked her lips, seemingly unaware of what she was doing. Then she gave him a look that almost sent the question right out of his mind. For a while he was distracted by the skillful play of her hands on his skin.
“Mm. You were saying -?”
“Your Rembrandt, are you and he -?”
“Who? Oh, him. What do you think?”
And this time, her expertise made him entirely forget his questions. Much later, Rita brought up the suggestion that he join her and the professor, and this time, he didn’t hesitate to say yes. He should have known his friends would be reluctant to let him go.
Especially Wade was desolate. Not only would her lover go off to another dimension, and though he intended to return, she knew only too well how uncertain such promises were, when your life depended on precise calculations and other delicately adjusted parameters, but also her old friend Rembrandt.
“I can’t believe you’re even considering going off with that Rita person.”
For the moment, Rembrandt chose to ignore his friend’s tone when she referred to his lover. He even felt quite pleased that Wade would react with what could almost be termed jealousy.
“Come on, girl. You know you can manage on your own. You’re a big girl now.”
“That’s not the point. We’re family, Remmy. Are you just going to turn your back on all of us, over a pretty face?”
She sounded so desolate, Rembrandt almost relented. But he remembered how shut out he felt, and how many times he’d wished there could be someone for him. Now there was, and though it hurt to say goodbye, he knew that a chance like this didn’t come along all that often. This time, he would do something for himself for a change.
“I’m sorry, Wade. You know how lonely I’ve been in the last couple of months. Colin and Maggie, you and Quinn, Diana and Mallory. All of you have someone. That just leaves me. Can’t you see that I need someone too?”
“I know, and I’m really sorry you’re feeling that way. But can’t you stay?”
She took a deep breath and made her suggestion, ignoring her own misgivings concerning Rita.
“Why don’t you ask Rita to join us instead? In fact, I know Quinn would be happy to have Arturro join us too. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t all slide together from now on. That would mean you can give this relationship a chance but you won’t need to turn your back on us, your family.”
“Are you sure, sweetheart? Ok. I’ll talk to Rita and get back to you. You know I’d much rather stay, if only -“
“Yes. I understand.”
But Rita wouldn’t hear of anything of the kind, and Rembrandt knew he would have to disappoint Wade and the others. He had been on his own for so long. Friends only go so far. At this time in his life, he really needed a lover. Rita was so much like Maggie, yet in many ways so different. Now his lover was beginning to show signs of impatience. Her face lost its normal seductive look and assumed one of dismay.
“If you care so much about this girl, why don’t you stay? I thought it was me you wanted.”
“It is, baby, of course it is. I’ll just go and say goodbye to Wade.”
“Make it quick. Artie and I need to get going. There’s no time to lose if we want to get off that tiresome world in time for our scheduled slide.”
“Don’t worry about it. I won’t be a minute.”
“You’d better not, or Artie and I’ll slide anyway.”
“Don’t go away, honey. I’ll be right back.”
Rita shook her luscious hair looking as if she might not be willing to wait, after all. The sense of urgency made Rembrandt cut short his goodbyes and he had to force down his sense of guilt when he saw Wade’s face. Her eyes filled with tears, and for a second he even doubted his decision. But it was too late to change his mind. Arturro, Quinn and Rita were waiting for him outside.
Wade kissed Quinn goodbye, and now the tears were flowing freely down her face.
“Promise you’ll be back soon. I can’t go on without you, you know that.”
“Of course I’ll be back soon. The professor said this won’t take long. I’ll be back in time for the slide. Cheer up, darling. It won’t seem so long.”
But Wade had her own ideas about how long Quinn’s absence would feel, so she wasn’t in any way consoled by his reassurances. She reluctantly let her lover go off with the people who should have been familiar but now seemed increasingly alien to her.
Maggie and Diana patted her shoulders encouragingly. When the vortex closed behind their friends and loved ones, Maggie did her best to cheer Wade up.
“Come on, girlfriend. Let’s go shopping. In this world there has to be some stores worth checking out.”
“And you can get some sun block. Maggie’s right. Shopping always cheers me up.”
Wade didn’t agree, but she appreciated what her friends were trying to do.
“Alright. I know I’m being a baby. You’re right. I could use a change of clothes. These old things are getting really worn.”
“If there are any kind of stores, we could do a real makeover. That is, if you like to.”
“I’m not sure about that. This earthy look has worked for me ever since I was 14.”
“Ok. The last thing I want is to interfere. Quinn -“
At that Maggie broke off, angry with herself. She had been trying to distract Wade and now she’d managed to remind her of her lover instead. But Wade was determined to put on a brave face. After all she’d been through, this was nothing. Quinn would be back soon. Of course he would.
That was what she kept telling herself for the next 24 hours. By then Quinn should have been back. It wasn’t too late for him to make the slide, but why wasn’t he back as he had promised? Could anything be wrong? Wade couldn’t stop herself from imagining the worst. If her lover had ended up a cloud of dust in the vacuum between dimensions, she wouldn’t be able to go on.
It was all Quinn’s doing, getting her back on her feet after her time in Kromagg captivity, and the years of running. Scared, hungry, always in danger, always being chased by aliens and creatures human only in name. Without him an abyss of chaos opened up ready to swallow her again. In the end she decided to discuss the matter with Maggie and Colin.
“What do you guys think? Could anything be wrong?”
To her surprise, it seemed Maggie was just as concerned as she was, and like her, Colin was close to panic.
“You’re right. Something is up, I can feel it. I never liked that Rita person.”
“Rita? What was wrong with her? I thought she was really nice.”
Both women stared unsympathetically at the young man.
“What? Nice? If you were thinking with the big head, you’d -“
Colin blushed vividly. It was obvious that his lover had judged his reaction correctly. He didn’t mention Rita again. Even so, he would still have his say.
“I’d say that old professor is the one who’s most suspicious.”
“Arturro? What did you have against him?”
“Just the way he was monopolising Quinn all the time. My teachers back home were never that eager to spend time with their students. I’m surprised you don’t feel the same, Wade.”
“Maybe you’re right. It’s just that I remember our professor and he was a good friend. He was my professor too, if only for a few lectures, and he was a great person. Though, who knows if this Arturro is as nice as the one we used to know.”
“Exactly. Colin’s right about one thing. The professor was awfully keen on getting Quinn to agree to come along. I’m no expert on your gadgets but did any of you guys, or Diana ever find out what was wrong with the professor’s own timer?”
Colin and Wade exchanged looks. Why hadn’t they thought to ask? Not that they were in any way as expert on the timer as Quinn or even Diana was, but surely they would have been able to grasp what was missing? Could it be the professor had deliberately kept that information from them?
“No. He never said. That’s odd. I’m beginning to think we shouldn’t have trusted them. Just because they look like our friends, doesn’t mean they are the same inside.”
“Exactly. I don’t like this at all. What do you say we go over and check things out for ourselves?”
“But we can’t all go. Who’s going to stay here?”
“I was thinking you and me would be going, Wade. Ok, maybe Diana would be more useful when it comes to any timer problems, but I’d feel safer if I had you watching my back.”
“What about me? I know something about the timer and I’ll be happy to watch your back. Besides, Quinn’s my brother.”
“I know, baby. But I’m the commander, I say who goes.”
“Colin. You know this is my area. Trust me.”
Colin didn’t seem convinced but he let Maggie have her way. After all, he knew they were right about one thing. He’d never be able to see through any deceit on the part of the irresistible Rita.
Perhaps the women had a point. In his life, he’d hardly ever run into any really bad people. And he knew what Wade was capable of. That petite woman had a core of steel as he’d seen for himself at times. Both he and Quinn owed their lives to her.
“Ok. You win. But you’d better come back. Without you -“
“Chin up, baby. I’ll be back before you know it. Now all we need to do is fill Diana and Mallory in on developments.”
As Maggie had expected, both Diana and Mallory wanted to come along, but she wouldn’t listen to their protests. She was the only military mind in this group, with the exception of Rembrandt, and he wasn’t good officer material.
Despite that, she wished she had her old friend at her side. A good foot soldier had a role to play in any campaign. If Rembrandt had still been with them, she knew she would have picked him to back her up, not Wade. But the girl could really pack a mean punch when she had to, so she wouldn’t make a bad partner.
Now that the decision had been made, they didn’t waste time on prolonged goodbyes. Nothing would keep them from returning and completing the slide together, all of them. Maggie would find a way of persuading Rembrandt to come back with her. This time she wouldn’t accept any excuses.
Maggie still had the gun she had purchased a few worlds back for the rescue of the guys. She knew Wade had never let go of her own handgun, so whatever they ran into they would be prepared. Knowing that Wade knew how to handle herself in any type of situation, Maggie didn’t bother giving any orders, the way she would have with any of the men, or Diana.
When they landed, rather hard on the dirty concrete of a busy street, no one seemed to care or even notice that two women showed up from out of nowhere. Either sliding was quite the vogue on this world, or people were too busy to pay much attention to their surroundings. Now what? Finding two missing people in this crowd would take some doing.
She decided to fall back on their old motto – when in doubt retreat to the Chandler. That is if this was San Francisco, and that they could find out soon enough. Wade walked over to a newspaper stand and bought today’s paper. Yes, good old San Franscisco. The location and the date was really all she was concerned with, until two photos on the front page caught her eye. That couldn’t be, but it was –
“Maggie, look at this.”
“What is it? Is the president making a fool of himself again? Blonde or brunette?”
“I’m not kidding. Look.”
Now Maggie realized from her friend’s tone that this was something very serious indeed. She stared at the headline. What? After scanning the column for the gist of the text, she felt a cold hand grip her heart. This couldn’t be happening.
Apparently, Rita and Arturro were far more deceitful than they could have guessed. They were a famous bank robber gang, along with their companions Quinn Mallory and Rembrandt Brown. During their last heist, a security guard had been killed and two police officers had been severely injured. Police were offering a rewards for any information that could lead to their capture. The state of California were already clamoring for the death penalty before the suspects had even been tried and sentenced. So that was what they had been hiding?
Wade tried hard not to let her imagination run away with her, but whatever Arturro and Rita were after, she had a shrewd suspicion that it wouldn’t be anything pleasant for their loved ones.
“Ok. I’ve seen enough. Let’s go. What do you say we check back at the Chandler? It may be too easy, but wouldn’t that be where they might be hanging out?”
“I agree. Let’s go.”
The grim look on Wade’s face told Maggie her friend was equally committed to settling the score once and for all. No one carried off their friends and lovers without paying for it. Maggie was already looking forward to teaching that Rita person a lesson. She would rearrange that doll face and that slut wouldn’t be able to stop her.
The day before when Quinn and Rembrandt had arrived in this world, their hosts thoughtfully called a cab for them. Soon they were comfortably settled in their usual suite at the Chandler. Rita called room service making sure a bottle of champagne and some suitable nourishment were on their way up. That taken care of, she dragged Rembrandt by the hand into her room.
“I might as well take a look at that timer right away. After all, I’m sort of on a deadline as you know.”
“Yes, you are. The timer. Right. This way. It’s in here.”
Quinn followed the professor into the room he had indicated. He stopped in his tracks, dumbstruck. What he found in there wasn’t anything like what he expected. On the bed was a paler, thinner version of himself.
“But you said -“
“Stay here, mr Mallory. Don’t try anything, or I’ll be forced to use this.”
To Quinn’s astonishment, Arturro was suddenly holding a gun in his hand, and that gun was aiming right at him.
“Sit down over there, by the window. That’s right. Stay there and nothing will happen. Just a minute. I’ll take that.”
The professor took Quinn’s timer away and put it into a desk drawer on the other side of the bed, locking the drawer, and putting the key in his pocket.
The man was a completely changed. Quinn couldn’t believe he had ever thought this man was anything like his own professor. His voice held a cold, hard edge that chilled Quinn. How could he have been such a fool? But as the older man bent over Quinn’s double on the bed, his whole demeanor changed. Once again he was the jovial, friendly man Quinn had so admired.
“Hello, darling. Didn’t I tell you I’d take care of everything? You’ll be fine now. Once we’re off this primitive world, I’ll take you to the best doctor money can buy.”
And to Quinn’s revulsion, the professor kissed the young man on the bed in a way that left no doubt about the nature of their relationship.
“Now, don’t worry about a thing. I’ll just go and take care of some business. Your – uh – double will see to you while I’m gone. Listen, mr Mallory. If Quinn needs anything, a glass of water, some of his medication, or anything else, you give it to him, is that clear? I’ll ask him about it when I return, and if you don’t take good care of him, you’ll be sorry. Is that clear?”
All Quinn wanted was for this stranger wearing an old friend’s face to leave. He had a horrible suspicion he had just made one of his worst mistakes ever. All he could do was wait for whatever was coming.
Arturro locked the door on his way out. That was it. Now he was stuck in here with a double he didn’t want to face. Quinn looked out the window, so he wouldn’t have to look at the guy on the bed. This was so –
A sound from the bed made him turn. His double was having a bad fit of coughing. No matter what was going on, he couldn’t let the guy choke. Quinn looked around for a pitcher and found it on the bedside table. He poured some water into the glass. That appeared to help the other Quinn a little.
Now that he had been forced to make contact, Quinn couldn’t help taking a closer look. His double seemed to be in a bad way. Skinny, very white-faced and weak.
“What’s wrong with you?”
“Oh, you mean the coughing?”
Suddenly it dawned on Quinn that his double was just as embarrassed as he was.
“Don’t worry. It’s not contagious. You thought it was AIDS or something?”
“No. I just -“
“I just spent a long time in a very damp place and I caught a chill that turned into pneumonia. It will pass. Don’t look at me like that.”
“Like I’m some kind of bug or something. Whether you like it or not, I’m you.”
“You’re nothing like me. I’m not -“
“What? Gay? You think I am?”
“Well, you have to admit it looked a bit like -“
The other Quinn seemed to shrink back down onto the pillows and Quinn was worried that he was tiring his double out too much.
“Maybe I should just let you sleep. You look -“
“Awful. I know. I’ve been having trouble sleeping. This cough keeps me awake at night. But I don’t want to sleep now. We might as well talk. I was into women before. He was just so lonely. It isn’t easy for a man his age to meet someone.”
“Yes, but -“
“Have you never felt attracted to another guy?”
Quinn felt his face heat up. His double noticed.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. Forget it. You couldn’t understand. He was such a great man. A terrific teacher and a fantastic friend. He needed me.”
“Ok. It’s none of my business anyway. I’m sorry I made you feel uncomfortable.”
“It’s ok. You’re not the only one. I’m constantly having doubts about this, but like I said, he needs me and there’s no one else.”
Quinn thought to himself that his professor would never have taken advantage of any of his students. In fact, he always thought of his old mentor as an old-fashioned kind of bachelor, content with his work, and not looking for anything else in his life. Though he knew his professor Arturro had once been married a long time ago.
“You shouldn’t have come here. He’s going to throw you to the wolves.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He’s doing this for me, but I can’t let him do it.”
It took the other Quinn a long time to tell his tale. He was constantly interrupted by bouts of coughing. Quinn had to give him more water and once he had to help him out into the bathroom. His double was really in a bad way, but he was beginning to see why Arturro hadn’t been able to take his young lover to see a doctor.
The very damp place the other Quinn had mentioned earlier turned out to be a federal prison. In fact, both Quinn and Rembrandt were on the run from that place. Arturro and Rita had never been caught, but their lovers had, and last week there had been a breakout. At considerable risk and at an even higher cost, the former professor and his seductive companion had managed to get their lovers out. Now they were hiding out at the Chandler.
What Quinn couldn’t understand at first was what Arturro wanted with him, until his double explained that Arturro intended to turn Quinn over to the authorities to keep them off until the next slide. Rita would use Rembrandt to divert attention away from her own lover, her Rembrandt.
“Why are you telling me all this?”
“Isn’t that obvious? I’m betraying him.”
“That’s just it. Why? If you love him -“
“You don’t understand. Sure I love him, but you’re me. My twin. How could I let him do that to you?”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t say anything. I don’t expect you to thank me. Just don’t die.”
“Of course I don’t want to die, but what about you? Will you be ok?”
His double looked so tired and indifferent it occurred to Quinn that maybe he was beyond caring about himself. Could he himself have ended up that way? If his professor had – No. Never. Even if Arturro had wanted him, Quinn didn’t think he would have offered.
This was so wrong. On the other hand, he knew how childishly filled with admiration he had been when he was still at university. Maybe he shouldn’t be so quick to judge his twin. Especially after what he had done not so long ago.
“Never mind me. We don’t have much time. He’ll be back soon. Before then -“
“But what can we do? He locked the door. When he comes back he’ll be armed just like before, right?”
The sorrow in the other Quinn’s eyes took Quinn by surprise. What was this pain for? Over betraying his lover?
“I’ll – uh – distract him for a while. You’ll have to knock him out with something. I know I used to be much stronger. You can do it.”
“Are you sure about this? I could try yelling for Rembrandt. He might be able to open the door and let me out.”
“Rita won’t let him walk around free. She and her Rembrandt will just hold him until Artie comes back. And she’ll be armed, make no mistake about that. Both of them.”
“Shit. How could I have been such a fool?”
“Oh, well. I guess we all make mistakes.”
The bitterness in his double’s tone, made Quinn look up. The other Quinn’s sacrifice was admirable. Despite his original reaction, Quinn felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. This guy was him after all. They might both have been confused, and made mistakes, but his double was no criminal, no monster.
“I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”
“Don’t bother. Just get yourself out alive. That’s all I ask. Live for me, and don’t make the same mistakes I have.”
“Everyone makes mistakes. You have no idea what I have done.”
Quinn didn’t really want to go into that. Not even with himself. The less said about his worst mistake the better.
While Quinn was coming to terms with his double’s situation, Rembrandt had a rude awakening inside Rita’s room. He’d known that the other Rembrandt was a member of Rita’s group, but it didn’t take him long to realize just how close they really were.
His double was just waking up, and he was lying on the bed, apparently naked, only partially covered by a sheet. Rita walked right up to him and slapped his chest in a very intimate way. The other Rembrandt reached up and pulled Rita down on top of him. For a second Rembrandt thought they would start making love in his presence.
He was about to leave. If he found Quinn, they could make arrangements for returning to their friends. Rembrandt couldn’t believe he’d been such a fool. Rita didn’t love him. So why had she pretended to? There was something badly wrong, something that didn’t have anything to do with the deep disappointment he felt. He was alone again, but something far worse was going on.
“Not so fast, Remmy. You’re not thinking about leaving us so soon?”
“You don’t seem to need me.”
“Don’t sound like that. I never made any promises. If you chose to believe that, don’t blame me. Besides, there’s room for you over here. The more the merrier. Right, Rem?”
“Couldn’t have said it better myself. How about it, twin? You know it will be great.”
Rembrandt couldn’t believe he was hearing this. What an idiot he had been. Now he was beginning to worry about Quinn. If Rita was completely different from what he had first imagined her to be, what would Arturro really be like?
As if they’d read his mind, Rita and his double giggled intimately from the tangle of the sheet.
“Don’t worry about your little playmate. Artie’s probably keeping both his guys busy. They wouldn’t appreciate your company right now.”
Rembrandt didn’t like the sound of that. Quinn was going to be devastated when he found that his beloved professor wasn’t all he expected him to be.
For the next hour he was forced to listen to the sounds of Rita and her lover making love. Under different circumstances he might even have felt inclined to join them, but the betrayal had crushed him. His gloomy thoughts helped him tune out the unwelcome noises. Finally, Rita decided she had had enough and rolled off Rembrandt.
“Right. Let’s hope Artie can set up this deal. I think I’ll go send for some dinner. You’ll join me when it’s here, won’t you, Rem? As for you, Rembrandt, I think you’ll manage without dinner. If you’re really hungry, you can always pick over the leftovers from our little snack.”
When the door closed behind Rita, Rembrandt turned angrily to his double for some kind of explanation.
“Ok. What’s this all about? Why did she go to all the trouble of talking me into coming along? With you here, she doesn’t seem to need me.”
“All in good time. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll hit the shower. You could use a shave yourself, but like Rita said, you’ll have to manage.”
“Wait a minute. Don’t walk away from me. You owe me an explanation.”
His double seemed very reluctant to face him. Rembrandt’s temper was up, so he stepped in front of the other guy, without contemplating the consequences.
“Are you picking a fight with me, twin?”
“If I have to. Tell me what’s going on.”
“Get out of my way. I don’t want to have to hit you, but I will if you force me.”
“Go ahead. Give it your best shot, twin.”
“No. We shouldn’t be fighting. Ok. I told Ritie I’d take my chances. No need to involve outsiders, no offense.”
“What are you talking about, man?”
“Ok, here’s the deal. We’re kind of wanted by the cops.”
“For a crime?”
The other Rembrandt laughed.
“You could say that, bro. A felony even. The less you know about that the better. Anyway, me and Quinn were doing time in a very unpleasant place. Makes Alcatraz look like a cosy health resort. Then Ritie and Artie managed to break us out. And here we are. Ritie, the little sweetheart, thought if they gave you and Quinn’s double, to the cops they’ll lay off the chase for a while. I told her that it’s really her and Artie they’re after. Me and Artie’s boy, we’re just along for the ride.”
“Let me get this straight. You are all wanted for a cr- felony? And you were in jail?”
“Sharp as a doornail. Anyone can see you’re my bro.”
“And Rita intends to turn me and Quinn over to the authorities?”
“You got it. But don’t worry about it. I’ll make sure you get away. Like I told Ritie, I don’t want anyone taking the rap for me. Rembrandt Brown is man enough to deal with this by himself. I’m sure I can make Ritie see sense.”
“I have to go and see that Quinn’s ok.”
“Sorry. Can’t let you do that. Even if I let you go out there, Ritie wouldn’t like it. There’s one thing you got to learn right now, man, and that is never cross Ritie. You don’t want to make her angry. Not a pretty sight. I’ve seen her put people in the hospital. Once there was this cute little chick, who had her eye on me, and Ritie didn’t like that. So Ritie backed her car over the chick’s feet. Man, that was some -“
It dawned on the other Rembrandt that his double wasn’t amused so he left the sentence unfinished.
“I’ll go get some dinner. If you’re hungry, I’ll send something in for you later. When Ritie’s discussing things with Artie.”
As soon as the door closed behind his double, Rembrandt began making plans. But for the moment, he felt stumped. He would never have imagined their own friends’ doubles were capable of such duplicity.
The two Quinns had a nerve-tingling wait ahead of them. Their minds were busy brooding over past and present mistakes. While they waited, they also had to steel themselves for the coming confrontation. Would Quinn really have the guts to physically attack someone?
He had fought the Kromaggs in the past, but knocking out a fellow human being, even if that person was threatening his life, was a different matter. And this particular person was professor Arturro. He had to keep reminding himself that the man looking like his professor was a cold-blooded criminal, who wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice another human being.
Finally, they heard a noise from outside. That had to be the professor returning. He must have stopped for a few minutes of conversation with Rita, but soon he unlocked the door to the room where the two Quinns were waiting. Quinn got over to the window and sat down, ostensibly staring outside.
In reality, he kept a close watch over the professor and his movements. When his opportunity came he had to be ready. He had already decided to use a lamp from the table where he was sitting. It wasn’t too heavy, but heavy enough. The last thing he wanted was to have to kill someone.
Arturro walked over to the young man on the bed.
“How are you feeling, my love?”
“I’m doing ok. Don’t worry about me. Do you have time to stay for a while?”
“Of course. I always have time for you.”
The other Quinn reached up and touched his lover’s face. Arturro took the thin hand and pressed it to his lips. Quinn winced. This was so sickening. What he was forced to watch was a parody of love.
Even worse, it was all a lie. His double was faking it, to give him his chance. Was the professor sufficiently distracted? He wasn’t sure. It was ironic that a bullet had parted them in the past. Would another bullet put a stop to him now?
“Hold me. I’m cold.”
“My poor darling. Soon we’ll go to some warmer place. I’ll get you back on your feet.”
He enfolded his young lover in a tight embrace. This was Quinn’s cue. If he waited any longer he’d be forced to watch far more than he was prepared to see. Silently, he got to his feet, bringing the lamp along.
At the last moment, he hesitated. This was much harder than he’d ever imagined, but his life was at stake, so he forced himself to smash the lamp down over Arturro’s head. At first, he didn’t think the professor was going to go down. Then finally, the man began to slide to the floor.
“What are you waiting for? Go. Take his gun. Rita won’t dare to shoot if you’re armed too. Hurry, before he comes to.”
“What about you? Will you be ok? If he suspects -“
“What do you care? It doesn’t matter. Besides, he’ll forgive me. He always does. Just go.”
But Quinn was still hesitating.
Outside in the sitting room, Rita and Rembrandt were having dinner, when the door to the suite opened and two very grim-looking women burst into the room. Both of them had their weapons drawn, and it only took one look from Rita to see that it would be no use drawing her own gun. She opened her mouth then closed it again. Something told her that neither of these two would be as easily taken in as a man would be.
“Hand it over, sister.”
“What, Maggie? The champagne? Help yourself, sister.”
“Keep the champagne. I want your gun. Slowly. And you – don’t make any sudden moves.”
“You got it, girl.”
“Where’s Quinn and Rembrandt? Are they ok?”
“Go see for yourself.”
Maggie released the safety and raised the gun. This was going to feel so good. Let that bitch make one false move –
“Ok, ok. They’re fine. At least Rembrandt is. We haven’t seen Quinn since he arrived.”
“Where is he?”
Wade wasn’t going to let anything happen to her lover. And if something had – she had killed before, and she would do it again of she had to. If anyone had hurt Quinn he would pay for it.
Rita’s eyes shot daggers at the other women. Everything was going great and now those two goody-two-shoes had to show up.
Wade left Maggie to cover the enemy. Nothing would keep her from Quinn.
Behind that door, Quinn was facing the most difficult struggle of his life. His hesitation had made him use far less strength than he should have. Arturro was coming to and getting off the floor. Now he was coming at Quinn, none the worse for wear. Quinn was holding the gun, but was he capable of firing it? He didn’t think so, and it was clear that Arturro didn’t think so either.
“Stop. Don’t come any closer.”
“You won’t shoot me, Quinn. I know you, better than you think. Give me the gun. If you do, I might let you go.”
“I can’t do that. Shoot me if you have to. There’s more at stake here than my own safety. My Quinn needs to see a doctor and he can’t do that as long as he’s got the police chasing him.”
Quinn knew he only had two choices. Give up and drop the gun, or pull the trigger. It was all wrong. The real Arturro had given his life so Quinn could live. Was he going to have to take this other Arturro’s life just so he could go on living?
As if seeking help from his double, Quinn looked beyond the older man towards the bed. He could tell that the other Quinn was leaving the decision up to him. There was no help there, and his moment of distraction almost settled the matter. Arturro was now so close, Quinn could smell his aftershave. Soon there would be no decision to make. Then the door was thrown open. Wade was standing there, her gun at the ready.
“Back off. Get away from Quinn or I’ll -“
Arturro and Quinn spoke at the same time.
“I mean it. Back off.”
“I can’t do that, miss Wells. It’s a necessary sacrifice.”
“Don’t make me do this.”
But there was no pleading in Wade’s voice. It was as steady as ever. Quinn thought that Arturro must take her for the old Wade. In any case, the professor didn’t stop. He still tried to reach Quinn.
The sound of the shot ringing through the air, stopped everyone in their steps. Suddenly, a silence fell over the room. Slowly, a red stain began to spread across Arturro’s chest. He didn’t make a sound, just folded up and hit the floor.
Quinn turned his back on the distressing scene. He reached for Wade and pulled her into his arms. She dropped the gun to the floor and held on to her lover.
Outside in the sitting room, Rita had taken advantage of Maggie’s momentary break in concentration, and sprung at her double. Now the women were on the floor struggling to get their hands on the gun. When Rita had handed over her gun, Maggie had made sure she’d pocketed it, so that the other Rembrandt wouldn’t get his hands on it.
She had been right. Rita had no combat training, but one thing Maggie hadn’t bargained on was the fierce ruthlessness of her double. In Rita’s case there were no rules. She tried to get her sharp finger nails into Maggie’s eyes. Whenever she got a chance, she pulled at Maggie’s hair. There was a string of colorful curses when Rita raked her bloodred nails across Maggie’s face, leaving a trail of deeper red in their wake.
The other Rembrandt walked over to the fascinating scene. He had never seen a sexier catfight in his life. It was almost a shame to break it up, but it was time to go. There would be other times, other cities, other hotels. This was not worth getting killed over.
“Hey, girl. Let’s get out of here. Ritie, break it up.”
“As soon as I’ve clawed this bitch’s eyes out.”
“Don’t bet on it. I’m going to knock your head off.”
“Ladies, please. Ritie and I’ll just get out of here. No need for all these hostilities. Besides, after that shot in there, the cops will be here soon.”
That finally got to Rita. She managed to get a knee up and knocked the wind out of Maggie.
“Another time, bitch.”
“What’s the matter? Scared you’re losing?”
“Ritie. Let’s go.”
Maggie struggled back to her feet and hurried to the room from which that shot had echoed only minutes before. She didn’t even dare to think.
Rembrandt was only a few steps behind her. The locked door had delayed him, but he had managed to kick it open, and he had just been about to tackle his double, if it would have been necessary. Somehow, he felt reluctant to meddle in the catfight. He had been raised never to raise a hand against a lady. Not that Rita could be called that, but even so.
Maggie pushed the door open, and saw –
The dead man on the floor, the couple a few steps from her, and finally the pale young man on the bed. Quinn – no, the one in Wade’s arms had to be their Quinn.
When they heard the others come in, Quinn and Wade broke apart. Wade ran to Rembrandt and hugged him.
“Are you ok, Quinn?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Did you – I mean, were you the one who -“
“No, Wade did that. I was too slow. Too much of a coward.”
“Don’t worry about that, Quinn. You’ll do fine. There’s a world of difference between killing a human and a Maggot.”
“Yes, I see that. Excuse me.”
Quinn walked around the body on the floor, trying not to look too closely. He didn’t forget to retrieve his own timer. The drawer wasn’t all that sturdy, and when he pulled desperately, it gave way. Then he looked down on his stricken double.
“You don’t have anything to apologize for. It’s just that he did it all for me. The robberies, everything. He wanted to have something to give me, and I betrayed him.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
Tentatively, Quinn reached out a hand and squeezed his double’s shoulder. Maggie coughed delicately to call everyone’s attention.
“Ok, I hate to be insensitive, but the cops are on their way. We need to slide right away. Quinn?”
Both guys stared at her inquiringly.
“Not you. You. Do you have a timer? Arturro said there was something wrong with it.”
“No. It’s fine. Here.”
The other Quinn pointed towards the bedside table drawer. Quinn brought it out and took a look.
“It isn’t time yet. What about yours, Maggie?”
“Thirty seconds and counting. Lucky we managed to resolve this so soon. What about yours, Quinn?”
“The same. Quinn, I think you should come with us. We’ll get you to a doctor. I’ll bring your timer, so you won’t be stranded.”
“Are you sure you want me to come along?”
“Positive. You guys slide. I’ll bring Quinn.”
Wade stared at the strange sight of her lover lifting an exact replica of himself off the bed. But she didn’t have time to stop and stare. She opened the vortex, and soon she, Rembrandt and Maggie jumped through it. Seconds later, the two Quinns were gone from the room too.
When the police burst onto the scene of crime, all they found was a gun, which had been fired recently, and a dead man.
In the world plagued by global warming, all they did was pick up their anxiously waiting friends. It was time to slide again to the next world. Fortunately, the one they arrived in didn’t seem to be extreme in any way. They landed in San Franscisco and were able to get to the Chandler hotel without too much trouble.
A doctor was called for the other Quinn, and he was given a prescription for antibiotics which were supposed to clear up his condition. The doctor suggested that the patient be moved to a hospital, but Maggie opposed this view. She promised she would take good care of her brother right in his room. The doctor agreed that as long as the young man took his medication, he would be alright. Before he left, he gave Quinn a shot of the same antibiotics to give him a head start.
As soon as the doctor left, Quinn entered the room. He felt he had to do something, or say something, to make things well again. Not that he could. Nothing could bring this Arturro back, any more than the other. It seemed Wade had the same intention. They met in the door, and entered together.
The other Quinn’s face lit up when he saw Wade. That was far better than she deserved, she felt. She had killed his professor Arturro, and her Quinn had managed to fill her in on the true nature of this other Quinn’s relationship with Arturro, so she knew she had cost him more than just a friend. And here he was, looking pleased to see her. Her Quinn noticed, and decided it was time to let Wade take over.
“I just stopped by to see how you were doing. You should try to get some rest.”
But he seemed to be looking expectantly at Wade, and she too, felt they needed to talk.
“If you’re not too tired -“
“No. I’m ok. Please stay for a while. I never thought I’d see you again.”
Quinn quietly left the room. He remembered how much it had meant to him, to finally see Wade again. Maybe she could do something for his poor double.
“I wanted to apologize to you for what I had to do.”
“You didn’t have any choice.”
“Quinn told me about -“
The other Quinn’s white face took on a semblance of color. So she knew about that. For some reason this felt even worse than his double’s finding out.
He wanted to explain, to make her see that it wasn’t like she thought it was. Except of course it was. Whatever his original intentions, that was what he’d done. No alternative way of looking at the matter would change that simple fact. At least there was no judgment in her eyes, no disgust, no reproach.
“When you were lost to me – I mean your double – It was as if my life was over. I may not have been able to tell you that, but that’s the way it was. And I cursed myself for not speaking up sooner. I don’t know how it was between you and this Quinn, but -“
“We only became lovers after I came back from the Kromaggs.”
“You did? You think it’s possible my Wade could have escaped too?
His face had come alive when that thought occurred to him. She didn’t want to disillusion him. He needed that dream to stay alive. But she knew far too well how slim the chances of survival were. On the other hand, if she had managed, why not his Wade?
“Yes, if I could do it, so could she. It’s possible.”
“I wish -“
“Yes, I wish that too, Quinn. But now you have to get well again. We’ll be here for a few more days and after that, we’ll make sure you get more rest, and if necessary more medication.”
“Yes, ok. Please don’t go just yet. I want to look at you a little while longer.”
“Ok. I’ve got nowhere I have to be.”
Wade felt a sudden flare of affection for this poor young man who could so easily have been her own Quinn. She raised her hand and pushed back a stray strand of hair from his face. The other Quinn looked at her shyly. How could he look at her with such love, when she’d just killed his lover? Suddenly, she wanted to hold him, share some of her warmth with him. Not sure if she could, she merely fondled his cheek.
Again, there was a trace more of color on the otherwise so pallid features. Encouraged by that, Wade moved closer and bent over him. If he didn’t pull back, she would – and he didn’t. Instead he raised his face expectantly towards her. Before she knew what she was doing, she placed a kiss on his lips.
Now she could feel his arms move up to embrace her, and she pulled him closer. He was shivering, but she could tell how much the closeness meant to him. For a while longer, she remained standing hunched over like that. Then she had to straighten up or her back would suffer.
“If you like, I’ll sit here with you, until you’ve fallen asleep.”
“I’d love that. Please do.”
“Ok. But you have to promise me to try and get some sleep.”
Obediently, Quinn’s double closed his eyes and lay back. It didn’t take him long to doze off. Gently, Wade disentangled her hand from his and got up, tiptoeing out to her waiting lover. She found Quinn in the room outside, staring at the door to the room where he had left her.
“Is he ok?”
“Yes. He’s asleep. Oh, Quinn it was awful. I kept thinking it could have been you.”
When she saw Quinn’s reaction, she hurriedly amended her statement.
“I mean, so sick and in such distress.”
“I know. That’s what’s getting to me. I couldn’t leave him, even though I felt really embarrassed about the whole thing.”
“You did the right thing. We couldn’t have left him on his own. But you look exhausted. Let’s go to bed. Thank goodness I got you back.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see anyone. No, that’s not quite true. When I saw you in that place, for the first time, I was -“
“Not happy. You tried to kill yourself, remember?”
“I meant, later when we’d worked things out, and when I realized that you really were my Wade.”
“I’m really glad I found you. Both times. Come on, let’s go to bed.”
They retired to their own bedroom, but sleep was still far from Quinn’s mind.
“About what you did -“
“When I killed Arturro?”
“Thank you. For taking that decision from me. It would have been so hard -“
“It wasn’t exactly easy for me either. It never is. You just do what you have to do.”
“I understand that. And if you’d been in danger, I’d like to think that I could do the same thing for you.”
“I’m sure you would. And if you were in a different situation, I think you’d be able to defend yourself. The first time I killed a man -“
“A man, not a Kromagg?”
“I never told you this, but I killed a man, while I was on the run. He was trying to rape me, and I freaked out. Maybe I didn’t need to kill him, but I just went on hitting him for longer than I might have had to.”
“Under the circumstances, I might have done the same thing.”
“I hope so, Quinn. It’s you or them. That’s not pleasant to contemplate, but it’s true.”
“I guess so.”
“Now you have to get some sleep too, Quinn. You’re beginning to look like him. Really worn out.”
“Whatever you say.”
The next morning, Quinn couldn’t help being drawn towards his double’s room. He felt they still had things to sort out before the next slide. His double was sitting up in bed, finishing the breakfast Wade had brought him. The other Quinn seemed pleased to see Quinn, and that encouraged him.
“Hey. How are you doing?”
“Ok, I guess. Better than for a long time.”
“If you’re tired I could come back later.”
“No, that’s ok. I wanted to thank you for asking me to come along. It hasn’t had time to sink in yet, but I’m all alone now. Rita and Rem are off on their own somewhere, and Artie -“
“Don’t be. I told Wade the same thing. He forced you to defend yourselves. I’m the one who’s at fault. He loved me, and I betrayed him. Worse, I never loved him as he loved me. You’re right. I’m a terrible person.”
“Hold on. I never said that.”
“You didn’t have to. I could see it in your eyes, that first time we met. When Artie -“
“Yes, I remember. Quinn, don’t feel bad about it. You have no idea what I’m guilty of.”
“Are you going to tell me?”
“I’d rather not, but if I tell you, you might feel better about yourself. Did you see the three people we picked up on the last world?”
“Yes. A really cute black girl and two guys. Why?”
“The girl’s name is Diana, and one of the guys is sort of our double, but sort of not. I can’t explain it.”
“The other guy – is my brother Colin.”
“We – you have a brother?”
“Yes. He was left on another world by our real parents. Do you know about them?”
“Yes, but I didn’t know about this brother. I see. Go on.”
Quinn felt he’d said as much as he could. For a while the two guys remained quiet, deep in thought. Finally, Quinn pulled himself together. He owed it to this other Quinn to be honest about his own faults. Who was he to judge his double after all?
“You asked me before if I’d never felt attracted to another guy. I didn’t reply then, but the answer is yes.”
It still didn’t seem to get through to the other Quinn, what he was trying to say. Would he have to elaborate? That didn’t bear thinking about. This was more than enough. Finally, his meaning seemed to sink in. Quinn could tell by the way his eyes widened in astonishment.
“You mean -?”
Quinn wouldn’t look into his double’s eyes.
“I see. Well, since I don’t have a brother, I don’t really know what to think. All I know is, there’s a lot of pressure on us. Sliding from world to world. Trying to avoid the Kromaggs. Hoping to find our parents. What happened?”
“What you might expect, very briefly. Then when it was too late, I came to my senses and almost didn’t get back on my feet again. If I hadn’t met Wade when I did – in fact, she saved my life, after I’d tried to kill myself.”
“Oh. Quinn, I want you to know something. I don’t judge you. Whatever you did, you must have had a reason. And your brother -“
“Colin seems to be handling it ok too.”
“Maggie was there for him.”
“Thanks for telling me. When you walked in and looked at me like that, I felt cheap. Dirty. Disgusting. Now I’m beginning to see that it’s human to be confused. It might not be right, but it’s not so bad either. As long as we’re clear on what’s right or wrong.”
“What you did wasn’t wrong, Quinn. I was just taken by surprise, and I felt embarrassed. You were me, after all. And I had always had this ridiculous hero worship for the professor. Suddenly, it was like that had turned into something shameful, but it hadn’t. And my professor is dead. He died to save my life.”
“I didn’t know that. He must have been very different from – Your memory of him must be something you treasure.”
“Yes, I do. It’s just that I had wanted to talk to him, thank him. Tell him how much I -“
“I can understand that. But he knew what he was doing. And he had to know how you felt. So you really don’t need to tell him anything. I wish I could retain my good opinion about my – about the Arturro I knew, but I can’t. Part of me always felt he was being selfish. He knew far too well how I felt about Wade.”
“No, don’t be. I’ll try to remember what your Arturro did for you. If things had been different -“
“Would you like to stay with us? Continue sliding with us instead?”
“You’d really want me around?”
“Sure. There’s room for one more. Especially you.”
“In that case, I’d love to. I can’t believe you’d want me around.”
“Why not? You’re my twin. Of course I want you to stay with us. Now hurry up and get well again. You and me, bro, we might be able to find our way back home again, or at least back to the world where I grew up.”
“That would be good enough for me. I’d love to help. Why don’t we start making a few calculations right away?”
“Absolutely not. You have to get better first.”
“Ok, I suppose you’re right. Is your Wade as good with the timer as mine was?”
“Yes, I think so. Colin and Diana are better though. Almost as good as we are.”
The other Quinn grinned happily. It felt so good to belong somewhere. They continued discussing the timer and physics in general. This would be fun. And who knew? Together they might be able to find Quinn’s home. Sliding was fascinating, but there was no place like home. Even if it wasn’t your own home. And family counted even more.
At least he had found a new family to replace the one he had lost. And this gang weren’t criminals. They were decent people and he knew he would be safe with them. For the first time since his Wade had been lost to him, Quinn’s double felt almost happy. The future didn’t look so bleak anymore. He allowed himself to relax and enjoy the discussion with his new twin.