|Description:||The Sliders gang meet someone they’ve missed for a long time, or at least his double. On the next slide they end up on Earth Prime. But will Maggie be able to breathe? The solution is easier than they think.|
“Ouch. Was I the only one to land in that bush?”
“I think so, Remmy. Me and Colin are ok anyway. What about the rest of you?”
“I’ll be fine too, if these Mallory twins would only move off me right now.”
“Oh, sorry, Wade. Didn’t mean to squash you like that.”
“I sure hope so. There. No serious injuries.”
Maggie stared enviously at Wade. To be sandwiched between two such hot guys as Quinn and – Quinn – must be – No. Colin was all she had ever dreamed of, so she had no complaints. Still – A girl could dream, couldn’t she? It wasn’t too long ago Colin had been all wide-eyed and stunned over her own double, that Rita person. Of course, that was ancient history.
What sort of world had they ended up in this time? It looked sort of familiar, but wasn’t it a bit – Maggie couldn’t quite make out what the difference was. Wherever they were, they seemed to have landed early in the morning. Most likely a Sunday morning, to judge from the stillness. She hoped that the quiet wasn’t the result of a Kromagg attack or some other disaster. The air smelled fresh and she couldn’t see or hear anything alarming.
Rembrandt had managed to disentangle himself from the thorny bush he’d landed in, with Mallory’s help, and was now looking around suspiciously, while at the same time trying to assess the damage to his clothes. There was no sign of any danger. They seemed to be in a park, which seemed unusually clean and tidy. Even if all was calm and quiet, they needed to move on before the locals got curious.
Since everyone was ok, they moved out, Maggie taking the lead, with Rembrandt bringing up the rear. Probably there was no need for all this caution, but better safe than sorry. That was what all these years of sliding had taught them.
They entered a likewise sleepy street of residential houses that looked awfully cute, all pinks and other pastels. The gardens were well tended and most yards were enclosed by well-painted white picket fences. All in all a very pretty picture of suburban America 1950’s style. Actually, the cars in some of the driveways seemed to confirm that date.
A wide grin on his face, Rembrandt walked around studying those vintage cars. Though come to think of it, they all looked brand new. Shiny, newly washed, all the chrome polished to a high gloss.
By now, the lights were on in most of the windows, and some sleepy-looking residents began to file out their front doors to pick up their morning papers. Just like they suspected, it was early in the morning. Apparently, the day was about to begin.
Now the question about how they would get into the city center arose. Maybe they would be able to call a cab. There didn’t seem to be anywhere they could get a room out here.
Nearly an hour later, they were still walking and were rapidly getting fed up.
“If I don’t see a cab in two minutes, I’ll ask someone where I can find a phone.”
They were still in the same seemingly unending suburban streets. For a while, Quinn was beginning to suspect that they had been walking in circles. Everything was eerily similar wherever they looked.
People were now cramming into their cars, apparently to go to church. They were beginning to fear they would never find a cab on a Sunday morning. Suddenly they were interrupted in their musings by the sound of several teenage girls screeching. It took them another few seconds to realize that they were screaming some familiar names.
“It’s Wade and Colin. Look. What are they doing here?”
“I don’t know, but I’m getting their autographs.”
Before they had time to react, the Sliders gang were surrounded by about half a dozen girls, ages ranging from maybe 13 to a possible 17. All of them were pawing at Colin’s clothes or trying to make Wade sign her autograph. Wade stared into Quinn’s eyes, her gaze full of confusion. Colin didn’t know what to make of all this attention focused on him. After all, he had never seen a rock concert or a movie premiere attended by celebrities. Even the others didn’t feel that much more clear on the reason for all this uproar.
Rather than causing more of a stir, Wade shamefacedly signed her name on whatever scraps of paper the girls presented her with. If only she knew what she was famous for. Still, judging by the Sunday school propriety of her fans, it couldn’t be anything too scandalous, she tried to tell herself. Smiling weakly, she avoided answering any of the enthusiastic questions they asked.
It turned out that Colin’s autograph was also sought after, but most of the girls also wanted their pictures taken, with Colin’s arms around their shoulders. Sheepishly grinning, he submitted to the overfamiliar intimacy. All the while, his eyes kept seeking out Maggie’s in a plea for reassurance. This was totally insane, and he was hoping his lover could explain the situation to him.
Finally, after the girls’ parents were able to shoo them off into their cars, not without longing stares of their own at their idols, there was finally peace and quiet. At least until a slightly less proper looking young man showed up, offering them a lift. Or rather, he offered to give Wade a lift and after some consideration, he extended the offer to include Maggie and Diana.
“Are you ladies movie stars as well?”
A stunned silence reigned for a second or two, before Maggie found her voice.
“Actually, I do Wade’s make-up, and this is her maid, Diana.”
The young man dismissed both of them from his mind and once again fixed his attention on the divine miss Wells.
When they realized that this was their only chance of getting into the city center this side of Wednesday, Wade tried to coax the young man into driving all of them.
“Well, I’d like to help you out, miss Wells, but my car only has room for three or four of you.”
Wade felt her cheeks go all red, but she did her best to flirt with the man in the car. And it seemed it worked.
“Oh, ok. Just wait a minute and I’ll get my cousin to drive the rest of you. Mr Mallory?”
After a very long pause, in which Quinn furiously tried to make his brother understand he was the mr Mallory their driver was referring to, Colin timidly replied.
“Would you like to ride with me as well?”
“Uh. Yes, please. Won’t you take my -“
Again, Quinn pinched his arm. Perhaps it wouldn’t do to call attention to their relationship, in case this world’s Colin didn’t have a brother, let alone two.
“We’re mr Mallory’s body guards. And mr Brown is in the music business.”
“Nice to meet you, mr Mallory. I’m Pete Fisher. Here’s my card. If you ever need insurance, I’ll help you out. Just hang on a sec and I’ll bring my cousin Moe. He’ll drive your people, but I hope you’ll do me the honor of riding in my car.”
“Uh, sure. Why not?”
“Excuse me, mr Mallory doesn’t go anywhere without at least one of us. So me and my associate here -“
Quinn indicated the other Quinn.
“We’ll have to go with you.”
“Oh, ok. Don’t go anywhere, any of you. We’ll be right back.”
Not much later, they were en route to the city center. Maggie was very happy with her ruse, of directing their driver to another hotel, within walking distance of the Chandler. After all, the less attention they attracted the better. Soon, they were safely settled into their old suite.
“Whoa. That was some weird circus. I like your thinking, Cueball. At least you came up with the music business for me, rather than something like a chauffeur.”
“Like a maid. Thanks, Maggie.”
“Well, what did you expect me to say? That you’re Wade’s science tutor? Personally, I’d have loved to be Wade’s stand in, but since the resemblance isn’t all that striking -“
“Can anyone explain to me what that was all about? Why did all those girls love me and wanted to have their picture taken with me?”
“That, sweetie, was the way people react to movie stars. You’ve seen television, right? Tv stars and movie stars are actors, just a lot more famous and popular.”
“Forget the fans. Can someone just explain to me how this world ended up like this? Quinn? Or Quinn?”
Rembrandt stared inquiringly at the two scientists.
Quinn’s double seemed to be pleased to be included in the conversation. He smiled shyly and prepared to contribute his two cents’ worth.
“I think maybe this will be the same year it would have been. It’s just the culture that’s been arrested back in the 50’s. What do you say, twin?”
“I agree. Of course it is possible that time somehow moves slower here, or that we actually travelled backwards in time. Only not to our own world, at least not mine, because I never heard of any famous actors called Colin and Wade. Btw, twin, why don’t we finally settle on a new name for one of us? To sort of dispel the confusion a bit. Normally, twins would have their own names, I’m assuming.”
“Ok. I have been thinking about it for some time. You’ve been travelling with your friends for so long, it’s only fair if you get to keep your name. So I’ve been thinking about another name for me.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Well, my second name is Gregory, so I guess Greg’s a possibility? My third name’s Noah. I kind of like that.”
“Or that we go with Cueball for Quinn.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think so, Remmy.”
Wade smiled encouragingly at her Quinn’s double.
“Noah’s a nice name. Why don’t you use that?”
Quinn really liked Wade. She was among the few people who really made him feel welcome, apart from his twin. Yes, if she liked his third name, he would love to use that.
“Ok, Noah it is.”
“I wonder what made our parents decide on all those names for you? Quinn’s my only name.”
“If it makes you feel any better, you can take Gregory. I always felt it was a bit oldfashioned and formal.”
“No, thanks. I’ve been Quinn for all my life, so I think I’ll stick to that. Noah. Yeah, I agree with Wade. It’s a nice name. Colin, Maggie, all of you?”
There were murmurs of assent all around. And maybe this name change would make the addition of an exact double to their group a little less weird. It might help Noah feel included.
When they’d checked in, it turned out that the Chandler was more than capable of rising to the occasion of accommodating two famous movie stars. There were hardly any raised eyebrows. Maggie only wished there was some way of asking around discreetly to find out a bit more about Colin’s and Wade’s doubles. To her surprise, Diana thought of a solution to the problem.
“Why don’t I go outside and pick up a few movie magazines? That way we can find out all about Wade and Colin.”
“Good idea. I’ll go with you.”
“No offense, Mallory, but I think in this world it would look bad for Diana to be escorted by you.”
“Because in the 1950’s in my world, an African-American girl in the company of a white man would be treated with disrespect.”
“Oh. Of course. Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
“Actually, I’m sure I’ll be ok on my own. I’ll be right back.”
“How about it Remmy, will she be ok by herself?”
“Yes. I think so. This is a good part of town.”
Half an hour later, Diana returned, with a pack of magazines under her arm.
Soon the ladies were immersed in the study of the absorbing topic of the movies. Rembrandt and Mallory retired to take a nap. The Mallory brothers, all three of them, hung about, studying their timers. It turned out that this time they had five days, so nothing really troublesome should have time to develop. Even if Colin and Wade were this world’s version of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, or something like that.
“Hey, guys. Look at this. It turns out Colin and Wade in this world are a couple.”
Colin and Wade exchanged looks. That was an unfortunately complication, even Colin could see that. Across the room, Maggie and Quinn stared at each other, as if to gauge the level of antagonism. So far, the whole situation could be laughed off as a minor inconvenience, a fun anecdote to joke about later.
“They’re considered the great lovers of the screen.”
Wade paused to consider this. Then she laughed.
“Oh, well. Who would have thought my double would be a movie star? It might be fun. I mean, acting. Not the great lovers part.”
She hurriedly amended her statement, when she caught sight of Quinn’s hurt look. Fortunately, she didn’t notice Maggie’s rather dark look in her direction.
But their luck in staying out of sight of the public eye was too good to be true. On the second day, they had a visitor. Reception called up and announced that a certain Graham Fletcher wanted to see them. The tone of voice conveyed awe. Since the man didn’t introduce himself further, there was a good chance they were supposed to know him. Bearing that in mind, it was agreed that they would lie low and let the visitor do the talking.
“What do you mean by not letting me know you’re back from Europe?”
Since the remark was obviously directed at them, Wade and Colin exchanged looks. Knowing her lover’s brother, Wade realized it was up to her to improvise.
“Oh. Well -“
But she wasn’t allowed to go on.
“And what’s with the hiding out in this dump? Come to think of it, who are these people?”
“Just some friends we met – in Europe.”
“Whatever. Maybe it’s for the best. We start shooting “Khartoum” in September. That leaves us time for some promotional photos. Can you be ready tomorrow at 8? I know, baby doll, you need your beauty sleep, but this is important.”
“Oh. Ok. I’ll be there.”
“I hope you’ll be there too, Colin. That’s kind of the idea. The two star crossed young lovers together.”
“Yes. I’ll be there too.”
Colin was wondering where ‘there’ was, but he didn’t think his double would be in any doubt, so he wisely kept his mouth shut. Besides, he needn’t have worried. Mr Fletcher solved the problem for them right away.
“Excellent. The limousine will be around tomorrow morning. See you then, kids.”
This brought on an outbreak of panic, especially on Colin’s part. He had no idea what to do or what to expect. On his world, the taking of photographs was a much different process. Wade didn’t feel much better, but realized that it was better to just play along. The time for their slide would be around soon enough. She was only hoping they wouldn’t be found out before then. And she wondered where their doubles really were. In Europe most likely.
The following morning, Maggie and Quinn wouldn’t hear of any excuses. They lied and bullied their way into the limousine with their lovers, while pretending to be a married couple themselves. A few years ago, Quinn would have quite like that deception. As it was, they were all a bit tense. Not primarily over jealousy, as much as the fear of being found out and exposed as frauds.
Unfortunately, though there didn’t seem to be any signs of suspicion on the part of the photo crew, the actual shoot proved to be extremely taxing. Just like Diana had unraveled, Colin and Wade were expected to be the sort of lovers that only come around once in a generation. They were encouraged to show off that love on the set. Naturally, that was embarrassing enough for both of them, but knowing their lovers were present and watching every move they made, caused increased tension.
Quinn and Maggie were led to a secluded corner and left there, after having been reminded about the importance of not disturbing the photo shoot. That became increasingly difficult as the posing continued before their avidly watching eyes.
“Would you look at that.”
“If Wade doesn’t get her hands of his ass right now, I’m going to – have to have a serious talk with that girl.”
“What about Colin? Look at that. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Me? What are you talking about?”
“Where do you think Colin learned to smooch like that?”
“Look who’s talking. Take a look at Wade’s handiwork.”
“Oh. Well, whoever taught her that, wasn’t me. She already knew that when we – Hey, don’t try to change the subject.”
“I’ll bet the real Colin and Wade is like one of those couples in show business, where it’s all a fake. He’s really gay and – Oh, sorry Quinn, I didn’t mean to -“
“Maybe the real Colin in this world is. Our Colin doesn’t know how to play this. He’s only following instructions, and so is Wade. It’s ridiculous for us to quarrel over this. This is just Hollywood magic.”
Maggie took a deep breath and acknowledged the wisdom of Quinn’s words. Of course, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, any of this. For all they knew, they might have ended up in a world where she and Wade or she and Diana were lovers, and she knew that would be far worse. So she forced herself to smile.
“You’re right. We’re above this petty bickering. Friends?”
“Friends. But if this shoot goes on for much longer, I think I need to go outside.”
Many hours later, they finally got back to their suite at the Chandler. For some reason, mr Fletcher hadn’t given their secret away, so the hotel was still a calm haven in the midst of all the movie madness.
By the end of the next day all the Sliders were beginning to hope they’d managed to escape any serious complications connected with their brush with fame. That was when the invitation for the party arrived. Some of them would have given anything for such an invitation before their Sliding days. Now it was just another obstacle to overcome. On top of that, they were given not so subtle hints that refusing wasn’t an option. At least they were all invited.
The event was taking place in a mansion in Beverly Hills. Despite the 1950’s level of technology the house and grounds were a dream in full color, although a bit garish for most of the Sliders’ taste. In the back yard, there was an enormous pool, where already several young people in swimsuits were showing off their pre-skincancerawareness tans.
Well-dressed, polite waiters glided around the grounds, with champagne glasses on trays. Soon mr Fletcher appeared, greeting them all, but paying special attention to Wade, not surprisingly. For the rest of the evening, he monopolized the star shamelessly.
Colin got his share of attention, mainly from young hopeful movie star wannabes. The girls seemed impossibly young and eager, but Colin didn’t appreciate the situation at all. Fortunately, his friend Rembrandt took over. Apparently, the mention of his musical talents made the young white girls fascinated. As soon as Colin had managed to free himself from the starlets, two shifty-looking men approached him.
“Mr Mallory. We have that delivery for you.”
“Oh, thank you.”
Colin stared blankly at them, trying to guess what it was he was supposed to have ordered. As he was expected to come along immediately, he tried to stall, until Quinn showed up. Finally, they both followed the two men into a room at the back of the house.
After much glancing in every direction and a show of making sure the door was securely closed, one of the men at last produced the delivery he had mentioned. It consisted of a white powder, which had Colin totally confused. Powder? Flour? What was he supposed to do with it? His brother, surprisingly, seemed to have a good idea of what it was.
“Ok. Good. He’ll sample it later.”
Apparently that response was acceptable and the two dealers slinked off. That was a relief to Quinn, who had been afraid they’d be demanding payment on the spot. This world’s Colin’s credit seemed to be good.
“What is that stuff?”
Colin put out his hand to touch it, and was astonished when his brother grabbed his arm and shoved him away from the table.
“Something you’d better stay away from.”
“But what is it?”
“Oh. I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s a derivate of the coca plant. Never mind. It’s a drug, Colin. You sniff it. Then you get high, that is intoxicated. I don’t know exactly. It’s not as if I’ve ever tried it myself. I’ve just seen it on tv. Let’s go. We’ll just pour this stuff down the toilet. I’ll get it. You just watch out so no one sees us. No. Get back to the others. I’ll join you as soon as I’ve seen to this.”
In the meantime, Wade had her own challenges to sort out. Fletcher, who appeared to be a member of the production team, wouldn’t leave her side. Noah tried to remain nearby, but Fletcher evidenced excellent skills at evading pursuit. Soon Wade found herself isolated from her friends and worse still, from the other guests.
“I must show you these lovely gardens, Wade. Have you ever seen anything like these flowers? It’s hard to imagine there is desert land not far from here. A veritable oasis.”
“Yes, very nice.”
Wade couldn’t help thinking that though the gardens really were lovely, there had to be a hidden reason for all this talk. And she was right. As soon as Fletcher was sure they were alone, his hands began to move from her elbow which he had taken hold of, seemingly by accident, to her shoulder, and from there began a very intimate exploration of her skin.
The borrowed dress left Wade feeling far too exposed, and she couldn’t accept this groping any longer. She pulled back, wondering if outrage was permissible. Fletcher’s demeanor was hard to read, but he didn’t say anything, instead allowing her to continue her stroll around the garden. After a few moments, he approached again, this time trying to kiss her, but when she again withdrew from his touch, he didn’t insist.
“What’s wrong, sugar?”
“Sugar”? What was this? Some Like It Hot?
“Sure there is. You’re not usually this standoffish. Oh, I get it. It’s one of those hot bodyguard twins. Or is it both of them? If that’s what takes your fancy, maybe I can make this easier on you. Why don’t we get together all four of us? I don’t mind telling you those two really interest me too. So, how about it?”
Yeah, Wade, how about it? How would you like a little foursome with your lover, his twin and this old sicko? But she forced down her initial reaction and thought of a more devious solution.
“You know how it is, Graham. I’m not feeling very well right now, but later in the week, I’m sure we can get together in some nice place. How about Saturday?”
“Saturday’s no good, as you well know. My wife’s arranging a big do at our Malibu place. What about Friday? We could drive down the coast to this quaint little place I found last year. Will you talk to your guys or shall I?”
Wade thought about it for a while, at least she let the old goat think she was thinking the matter over. Since they would slide the night between Wednesday and Thursday, she didn’t think there would be any harm in agreeing. So she pouted a little, licked her lips in imitation of Maggie at her most flirtatious and nodded.
“Ok. It’s a date. As for the boys – leave that to me. I know how to handle them.”
“Great. Looking forward to it, sweetheart.”
Again, he tried to kiss her, but Wade evaded him and began to walk away.
“Sorry. I need the little girls room. Be right back.”
Yeah, right. Try 30 years from now, creep, if ever.
When she found the other guests, she went looking for her friends. Diana was sitting at a poolside table, a very colorful drink in front of her. Mallory was nearby, but keeping Rembrandt’s advice in mind, he didn’t try to approach his lover too closely. Rembrandt was busy chasing starlets around the pool, but at least he too was within visual range.
Maggie showed up a few minutes later and now Wade could see Noah, at least she thought it was Noah, dancing with a pretty girl on the patio. But where were Quinn and Colin? It was another ten minutes or so before the Mallory brothers returned from inside the house. Colin immediately sought out his lover’s company, regardless of what rumors might be sparked. Wade caught Quinn’s attention and he began to move in her direction.
“Hey, I want the full treatment, not just “ok”.”
Quinn smiled fondly at his lover.
“Forgive me, ms Wells. May I have the pleasure of this dance?”
Quinn escorted her to the dance table, or rather the patio, in a fairly good imitation of some screen legend. Glenn Ford, maybe. Wade rather liked that movie, Gilda. Not that she looked anything like Rita Hayworth. Possibly Audrey Hepburn.
“What were you doing going off with that Fletcher guy?”
“I wasn’t going off with him, he was dragging me away with him.”
“Oh. He didn’t -“
“Well, he wanted to. No, wait. I don’t want you getting into any fight. It’s ok, I managed to evade him. For now. I had to promise we’d see him on Friday.”
“Oh. Wait. What do you mean by we?”
“You, me and Noah. Apparently he thinks we’ll look cute together.”
Quinn’s look of revulsion amused Wade a little, but her conscience struck her. It wasn’t fair to laugh at Quinn’s devotion to her, or his close resemblance to his twin.
“Don’t worry about it, darling. Have you forgotten that we slide before Friday?”
“No, but that’s not the point. Apparently, show business isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Are you sure he didn’t -“
“Positive. You know, me. I don’t take nonsense from anyone.”
She was right, of course. Quinn knew that. There really was no reason to worry.
Noah disappeared into the rest room. Graham Fletcher walked in right behind him, and began staring at him in an unsettling way. He took his time about it, and Noah felt a bit unnerved to say the least. Apparently satisfied with his observations, Fletcher put an arm around Noah and smiled.
“Just like I thought. Really good face, good body, everything. I might be able to get you a part in “Khartoum”. One of the young officers. What do you say about that?”
Noah didn’t know what to say, so he murmured something non-committal and tried to move away from the overly familiar stare. His unease made no impression on the producer.
“How’s your British accent?”
Again, Noah felt at a loss. He didn’t know what to say, but it seemed his input wasn’t necessary.
“Never mind. We’ll get a tutor to work on you. And speaking of tutoring – see you Friday.”
The last statement was accompanied by a squeeze of Noah’s thigh. This time, he couldn’t keep himself from pulling away abruptly, casting Fletcher a cold stare. What was this about?
“Oh, sorry. I guess Wade didn’t have time to speak to you.”
At last the producer retreated outside, leaving Noah to conclude his errand in the men’s room. Outside, he found Wade and Quinn and decided to ask Wade what the producer had been hinting at. If she knew.
“What was that all about?”
“That producer guy, Fletcher walked into the bathroom with me and started staring at me in a funny way. Then he said he liked my looks and that he might get me a part in the next movie. After that, he began touching me up.”
“Oh. Sorry about that. He was all over me too, and when I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic, he concluded that I was into those hot bodyguard twins – his words. So he said we could all get together. I said how about Friday, since as you both know we’ll be gone by then, but I didn’t realize he’d target you next, Noah. I’m really sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. I put a stop to it early on. No harm done. What a creep though. You’d better stay here with Quinn and me so he doesn’t find you again.”
“Don’t worry. I will. And Quinn, I’m sorry for your sake too.”
“Never mind. Anyway, he hasn’t been anywhere near me.”
After a few more dances, the Sliders gang could finally return to the Chandler. No more unforeseen circumstances caused embarrassment and late Wednesday night they slided to the next world.
Quinn and Wade were the last ones to land. The light was going, so it seemed to be late afternoon or early evening. But the time of day wasn’t what struck them as most significant.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
“Yeah, but it’s probably not “our” Alma Mater. Since Maggie still seems to be breathing ok.”
“What are you guys talking about?”
“It’s wonderful, Remmy. This is our old university. Did you go here too, Noah?”
Noah didn’t look half as happy as they did. It occurred to Wade that maybe he was being uncomfortably reminded of his days as a student. Or rather his days with his professor. But there was no reason to suspect that this world’s Arturro would be similarly inclined, or even if he was still around.
However, it soon became obvious that there was a professor Arturro here, and moreover he was heading straight in their direction. But this was a totally different Arturro. Here was a broken man, with almost completely grey hair, and a bowed, hunched over stature. It didn’t take his former students long to realize that he was also a little bit drunk. Not happily, celebratorily drunk. Just an old man who seemed to be turning to the bottle for comfort in a world gone wrong.
And this world seemed to have gone wrong not so long ago. Now they all noticed that the campus area looked like a war zone. Kromaggs. That thought was on everyone’s mind. But the few people they could see, apparently on their way back to their dorms, seemed to be walking at a leisurely pace. Nothing much seemed to be wrong at the moment.
Rembrandt walked over to a black young man and asked him about the invasion. The man stared back at Rembrandt inquiringly, but answered readily enough.
“Where have you been the past year or so, man? We beat those Maggots and threw their asses off world about then.”
“I’ve been abroad.”
“Oh. I see. One of those exchange professors? Well, things are getting back to normal here. I’ve been back for about six months. What subject do you teach?”
“What? Oh, if I get the job, music.”
“Cool. See you around.”
The others hadn’t even noticed Rembrandt’s absence. They were too busy watching Arturro’s painful progress. In the end, Quinn couldn’t take it anymore, and approached him, to offer some assistance. If this professor lived in the same building he used to, they could always walk him home.
But the old man’s reaction wasn’t one that Quinn could have anticipated. He seemed startled, or even frightened.
“I’m sorry to startle you, sir. Could I help you with something?”
“Yes, that’s my name, but I’m not -“
“Quinn. It’s impossible. I saw you die. You’re dead.”
“Not me. Your Quinn. I’m from another Earth. Didn’t you discover Sliding here?”
“Oh. Yes. I see. Another Quinn. Yes, thank you, my boy. You and your friends could walk me back to my place.”
As he caught sight of Wade, the professor started again.
“Ms Wells? Forgive me. Ms Clayton. I didn’t know you’d be back so soon. And how is -“
“I’m Wade Wells, but I don’t know anything about a Wade Clayton. Is she my double?”
“Of course, silly of me.”
The thought of another Wade made Noah speak up. It seemed the professor hadn’t previously noticed him. Again, there was a reaction of surprise.
“Excuse me, sir. You were referring to another Wade? Is she still here?”
“No, she moved up north. Some small town on the coast. She felt it was safest to lie low. In case anyone came looking for her. But the Kromaggs have all left. There’s nothing to fear anymore. Not that we have much left.”
Quinn and Noah exchanged a glance. Apparently, there was much this Arturro could tell them. Walking him home was a good idea for many reasons.
As the old man was fumbling with his key, the door burst open to reveal a woman.
“Dad? I was getting worried.”
She caught sight of her father’s companions and faltered. They were quite a crowd.
“Is anything wrong?”
“Nothing at all.”
For some reason, Rembrandt felt impelled to take charge. After all, he was the oldest member of their group, and anyway, there was something about this woman that immediately attracted him. She had referred to Arturro as dad, so obviously she was his daughter.
“We just thought we would escort your father home. Some of us are sort of former students of his.”
At the mention of her father’s students, the woman’s face lit up. Apparently, she was very fond of her father and maybe being reminded of former students would cheer him up.
“Please, come in. I’m Paula Arturro. Can I get you anything?”
“We wouldn’t want to impose. Do you know of any hotels or someplace we can stay around here?”
Paula’s face screwed up as she considered their request.
“No. I’m sorry. Of course there are empty dorms everywhere, but they’re unsafe most of them. No one’s had time to repair them yet. And the ones that are still more or less intact don’t have running water. I’ll make a few calls though. In the meantime, I could get you some tea and sandwiches.”
While they waited for their hostess to return with the promised meal, Colin and Diana took a discreet look at their timers. Only two days give or take a few hours. That might be best, considering the state of this world. And there should still be plenty of time for information exchange. Rembrandt disappeared into the kitchen, ostensibly to lend a hand, but his perceptive friend Wade knew he was more interested in Paula than in tea and sandwiches.
Now the professor returned, apparently having made a bit of a recovery. Could it be that the chance encounter with his late, lamented student, albeit in an alternative version, had had a positive effect on the old man? Quinn hoped so. He couldn’t help feeling reassured by once again finding himself in his beloved professor’s company. There didn’t seem to be any signs of the more intimate attachment between him and his former student. Noah seemed to be slightly wary of this Arturro, but his eagerness to get information about another Wade overcame his awkwardness.
“Sir? May I ask about this other ms Wells – Clayton?”
“Oh, yes. Certainly. You must be another Quinn?”
“Yes, but I’ve decided to use my third name, Noah, instead, to minimize the confusion.”
“I see. Well, shortly after the Kromaggs had been defeated and expelled, this young lady showed up. Naturally, I recognized her right away. Our own Wade, alas, was lost a few years ago. She was eager to stay out of sight, so she decided to make a home for herself in this small town further north. If only I could remember – Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. I have her phone number somewhere, and Paula has her email address.”
“What had happened to her? I mean since she was on the run from something?”
Arturro fixed Noah with a somber look. Noah felt his breath catch in his throat. What could she have been through? He knew that she most likely wasn’t his own Wade, but seeing this girl again, would still feel wonderful. On the other hand, why should she wish to see him? In her world she and her Quinn might not have been lovers at all. For all he knew, she might have been involved with Rembrandt or someone completely different.
“She didn’t elaborate. However, I believe it was something to do with the Kromaggs.”
Of course. Who had been left unscathed by the alien invaders? Noah didn’t continue that line of questioning.
“I can see that you are anxious to see this ms Wells.”
“Yes, I’d really love to meet her again, even if she isn’t “my” Wade.”
“Very well. I shall phone her tonight. How long do you have before you Slide?”
“About two days, sir.”
“I see. You realize of course that ms Clayton might not wish to come on such short notice?”
“Yes, but I appreciate your help in any case.”
“Very well. Now, I’m sure my daughter will be right here with refreshments.”
The professor now turned his attention towards the two Quinns and Wade primarily, while in no way treating his other guests impolitely. As soon as he realized that Diana and to some extent Colin were fellow scientists, he included them in the conversation. Maggie and Mallory understood how much this kind of thing meant to their lovers and didn’t resent the fact that most of the conversation moved on a level somewhat removed from their own horizons.
Rembrandt knocked on the kitchen door, but receiving no reply, he walked in. To his astonishment, he found his hostess seated at the table, crying desolately, her face buried in her hands.
Startled she whirled around.
“Oh, it’s you. What did you say your name was?”
“Rembrandt. You must forgive me for this display. I’ll be right out with the tea.”
“No, no. There’s no rush. They’re all talking. Please, I don’t mean to pry, but is there anything I can do?”
Paula blinked away a few tears and hurriedly wiped her face with a tissue. For some reason it felt the most natural thing in the world, confiding in this kind man.
“I don’t think so, but I appreciate your offer.”
“Would you like to talk about it?”
She hesitated, but decided that it could do no harm, sharing her worries with this man she felt strangely comfortable with after such a short time.
“You’ve seen the state of this city. The university won’t be back to normal for years. But that isn’t really our problem. My father – Well, this has all been really hard on him. He lost ms Wells. Mr Mallory was killed before his eyes. And he was so fond of his students, especially those two. That’s why it means so much to us that he’s finally able to see them again, in a way.”
“I see. Well, we’re only passing through, but I can tell you it means a lot to our Wade and Quinn too. And Noah. That’s the other Quinn. Long story. But that isn’t all, is it? Something else must be worrying you. Please, you can tell me anything.”
“Alright. You must have noticed that my father was -“
“Yes, I did see that. It’s understandable.”
Rembrandt tactfully avoided mentioning the word “drunk”.
“Maybe to you. The dean doesn’t take the same lenient view. As of the end of this semester, my father is out of a job, and we’ll both be evicted from this place. We’ve lived here for more than ten years. And we’re broke. The war cost us everything.”
“No. We lost her when I was a teenager. I have no idea what we’re to do.”
“This might not be what you have in mind, but you and your father are welcome to join us. I take it he has a timer of his own?”
“Yes. I was really lucky he finally managed to find his way home to me. Even if he’d lost everyone else.”
“Well, it’s not the most restful of existences, but there’s never a dull moment.”
“I appreciate your offer, Rembrandt. If it were only up to me, I wouldn’t hesitate to accept, but I should discuss this with my father before I make any decision. You do understand?”
“Of course. I’ll talk to the others, but I know they’ll say the same thing. There. You’re feeling better, aren’t you? Yes, I know you are.”
Despite herself, Paula felt a smile spread across her features. Impulsively, she reached out and pulled Rembrandt into a warm embrace. An embrace that unexpectedly turned into something far more passionate than a friendly hug. The tea and sandwiches she had promised her guests vanished from her mind, and when she and Rembrandt finally pulled apart, she went to speak to her father.
Later that night, Paula walked her guests to the least damaged dorm. Like she had forewarned, there was no running water or other facilities, but she assured them that they were welcome to use the bathrooms over at the Arturro place.
Next morning they all returned to the Arturros, where Noah was greeted by the news that the other Wade had agreed to come and see the Sliders. She arrived late in the afternoon.
To their surprise, she was not alone. When Noah caught sight of the little boy, he at first feared that the child would be a Kromagg hybrid, but his features betrayed no trace of alien DNA. He was in fact the image of his mother.
Knowing how important this meeting was to Noah, his friends let him meet Wade alone. Only the professor was present to greet the visitor.
“My dear ms Clayton. How nice to see you again.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now let me introduce you to one of my other guests, mr Mallory.”
Wade stared at him as if she had never seen him before in her life. She drew in breath but it was a while before she found her voice.
Noah, too, was lost for words. He hardly noticed how the professor took the little boy by the hand and led him inside, promising some enticing dessert.
“Quinn? Actually, I decided to call myself Isabella. Long story.”
“Oh. I’m using Noah now.”
“I never thought I’d see you again.”
“Me neither. Of course, I realize that the odds against us being from the same Earth must be astronomical.”
“Yes, I understand that, but this is so -“
To Noah’s astonishment, she now reached out and pulled him into her arms, holding him hard for so long, he realized the meeting must mean just as much to her as it did to him.
He wanted to ask her about the child, but felt reluctant to bring up the topic. Sooner or later, he was sure Wade – no Isabella – would tell him that story, so he said nothing.
“How long will you be staying?”
“Only until tomorrow.”
The disappointment in her voice was tangible. Maybe he should consider staying behind so he could be with her? He knew Quinn and Wade considered him a good friend, but did he really have a place in the Sliders group?
“I guess we should go inside.”
Isabella wanted to meet the others, and was especially curious to make the acquaintance of Colin, Diana and Mallory. She had never run into them or their doubles before.
Rembrandt had become Paula’s constant companion, but he tore himself away long enough to meet Wade’s double.
And she ran to embrace him too. Apparently, this Wade had been as close to her Rembrandt as their own Wade was.
“Hey, girl. You’re looking good. “
“You too, Remmy. I’ll never get used to this. My Rembrandt and the others were killed by the Maggots.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Our Wade was lost to us for years. We thought she was dead, but it was just a Kromagg trick.”
“Are you saying there’s a chance I might meet my friends again?”
“There’s always a chance.”
“I’ve missed you, Remmy. I mean -“
“I know what you mean, girl. It’s really good to see you too.”
Quinn looked at his twin and the way he was staring at Wade, and suddenly remembered that time when he and Colin had been stuck in the middle of nowhere. His Wade had shown up and – What if another miracle could happen?
He didn’t want to raise Noah’s hopes unnecessarily, but it wouldn’t do any harm to check. So he asked Colin for the timer, and waited for a moment when no one was paying attention.
First he aimed the timer at Noah. The readings only confirmed what he already knew: He and his twin didn’t come from the same Earth. Not that it mattered. They had become almost as close as he and Colin in the short time they’d known each other.
Before he turned the timer onto Isabella, he closed his eyes and said a quick prayer. If only Isabella could be the same girl Noah had fallen in love with.
It was no use putting it off any longer, so he aimed the timer at the girl who looked so eerily like his own lover, and pressed the key that would give him the answer. At first he couldn’t believe his eyes.
The miracle that had led to being reunited with his own Wade had been far more than he’d ever dared to hope for. Could this really be true? Wasn’t this just wishful thinking? But the readings confirmed his first impression. The timer signature was the same. This really was Noah’s girl, not just her double.
“Come and take a look at this.”
Thinking that it was merely a slight malfunction that worried his twin, Noah calmly excused himself and walked over to Quinn.
“Nothing’s wrong. Just look.”
“Are you saying -“
“Yes. The readings don’t lie. I’m really happy for you, bro. Aren’t you going to give her the good news?
“Isabella? Come and look at the timer, please.”
“Oh, ok. Right. What am I looking at?”
Noah took the timer from his twin and aimed it at himself. Then handed it over to Isabella.
“Ok.The readings match. What does that mean? You’re not saying -“
“Yes. I am your Quinn. Honestly. Quinn says the timer can’t be wrong. We have the same signatures.”
Isabella didn’t seem to have heard him, then she burst into tears. Noah didn’t know what to say, so he pulled her into his arms instead, letting his body do what his words couldn’t.
“Hey, take it easy. It’s good news, isn’t it?”
She tried to brush away her tears, and after a while she was successful.
“Yes. I know. Sorry to make such a fuss. Noah, can we go somewhere and talk?”
Taking the timer out of her hands, Noah handed it back to his twin and nodded towards the other room.
Quinn understood far too well what an emotional moment this was.
“I can’t believe it really is you. Noah -“
“There’s something I have to tell you.”
A hard knot formed at the pit of Noah’s stomach. Suddenly he had a premonition. She was going to tell him that she was married or anyway that she had fallen in love with someone else. He wished he had had the courage to speak up before they were separated.
“You must have wondered about – about my son.”
“Yes. Isabella, it’s ok. If you’ve met someone else, I understand. You were all alone.”
“Someone else? What are you talking about? There’s never been anyone else. I mean not seriously.”
Certainly not since she’d lost her companions.
“Oh. Go on.”
“Remember that night?”
There could be a million different things Isabella was referring to, but for some reason there was no doubt in Noah’s mind about which night they were thinking about.
“How could I forget? That’s about the only thing that’s kept me alive since I lost you.”
“I suppose you can guess where I’m going with this.”
Tthat was the truth. He was hoping she still loved him, but whatever else she was hinting at, he had no idea.
“Noah. You have no idea what I’m talking about? Ok. I guess a guy isn’t all that good at figuring these things out. And I know he takes after me, mostly. He’s your son.”
What? She couldn’t be serious. How long ago was it they were separated? He couldn’t figure it out. Quinn and he might be able to calculate a slide to the exact decimal, but this was totally beyond him at the moment.
“You really mean that?”
“Of course I do. I named him Gregory after you. Maybe I should have gone with Noah.”
“No. Gregory’s fine. It suits him. He looks so solemn. Isabella?”
“Has he had a good life so far?”
“I hope so. No. I know so.”
“That’s a relief. So, how did you get away from the Maggots?”
“They took me away to a breeding camp, but the truck had a little accident. Probably the resistance. Anyway, I jumped off and ran for it. As you can see, I got away, but I sprained my ankle. Ended up spending nearly a week in the woods, living off wild berries.”
“So you never ran into them again?”
“No. I had to develop eyes in my back and sleep with one ear open, but I was able to stay out of sight.”
“How did you manage to slide away from that world?”
“I’d already found a timer and when it counted down I left for the next world.”
“But how did you get away? I – I saw you die.”
“You did? How? Another Kromagg trick?”
“It must have been. I just didn’t know at the time. And to think that you’ve been out there ever since. Noah, I’m so happy to finally have you back.”
“So – Would you like me to stay here? With you and Gregory?”
“I don’t know. You have your friends. That other Quinn. If you like, I’d love to join you. I’ve had enough of being alone.”
“You don’t know how happy that makes me.”
“I think I can guess.”
Her smile was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. She was still alive, she’d come back to him and – even more of a miracle – she still loved him.
“Maybe we should go back inside. Talk to the others.”
“Yeah, ok. And I want you to meet your son.”
“I’d really like that.”
Now that Noah knew who the boy’s father was, he thought he could detect some subtle similarities. Around the eyes, something about the way he held his head when he was studying some toy. Not the coloring, not the shape of the face. That was all from his mother. Noah wondered if Isabella had ever told the boy who his father was, but there would be time enough for questions later.
He told Quinn and Wade about the new developments, and he was surprised to discover that they had news for him as well. Professor Arturro and his daughter were coming with them. Their sliding had turned into a mass movement, but sliding was a lonely pursuit and Noah had no complaints. Though he was wary of this world’s Arturro, there was no denying he missed his old professor, the way he had been before circumstances changed their relationship forever.
By now, it didn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Rembrandt’s and Paula’s connection was deepening by the hour. It seemed there would be no regrets over leaving this world behind. They could only hope the next one would be a better place.
Isabella brought Gregory to the dorm where Noah was staying, so she could spend the night with her lover. The boy didn’t seem to have any problem with Noah’s presence.
In the late afternoon of the following day, Paula and her father had done whatever packing they needed to do. Isabella had brought all that she and the boy would need, in the desperate hope that she would against all odds meet her Quinn again. She hadn’t known if she was going to slide again, but if her wish came true, she had intended to stay with her lover whether or not he would remain on this world.
When the time for their slide approached, they all gathered in the campus yard. Hopefully, by the time any stray students had noticed what was going on, they’d all be on their way.
It was amazing how well the sliding could be synchronized, considering how many timers were involved, but apparently, the first timer set the coordinates for the others. In a way, all the others were subordinated to the first one. Whatever the reason, they had slided like this for so long, they didn’t anticipate any problems. They didn’t expect any surprises either.
The world they slided into was unusually grey and rainy for sunny California. Also, there were signs of Kromagg activity, but they seemed to lie further back in time than on the last world. A great deal of re-building seemed to have gone on, and there was a modestly prosperous look to this San Francisco.
At first, they put Maggie’s coughing down to the weather. It was a strained, tiring coughing, but nothing more than what you’d experience during a bad cold or flu. And it didn’t get worse. What was a bit discouraging was that she had to be confined to her bed at the Chandler. The timer was set for a date more than 3 weeks ahead.
While the rest of the Sliders went about their business around the city, Colin stayed with Maggie in their room. Colin hated to see his lover this weakened, and he also knew Maggie hated being seen in such a state. Her bouts of nausea were put down to the same flu, and Colin didn’t draw any conclusions from them. The same for her temper tantrums. No one could be a more patient and loving caregiver than Colin. Even Maggie thought twice about tearing into him, like she would a raw recruit or anyone else for that matter.
Since they had this long, they each had to find different ways of passing the time, not to mention earning a living. Rembrandt decided he had had enough of minimum wage jobs, and surprised Paula by claiming he’d get a music gig. In the short time they’d known each other, he had only managed to cover a few details of his past life.
But the joke seemed to be on Rembrandt himself, when the guy just gave him an odd look, and wouldn’t give him the job. On his way out, he heard whispers that finally told him why he had been turned down. Obviously, the club owner had thought he was trying to pull some stunt on him.
“This is big, girl. Really big. I have to get back to the others. It can’t be -“
“Well, it seems they recognized me as The Crying Man.”
“You mean you really were a celebrity?”
“In a way. Had a few albums out, went on tour and so on. Yes, you could say that.”
“Does this mean that this is your own world? The one you came from all those years ago?”
“We call it Earth Prime. I don’t know. That might be too much to hope for, but I really need to tell Cueball and the others. Just in case.”
Back at the Chandler, Rembrandt’s story was treated with disbelief.
“You know that you’ve run into doubles who had very similar experiences. It doesn’t mean we’re back on Earth Prime.”
“Isn’t it at least worth checking out?”
“Ok. How do you suggest we do that?”
“To begin with, what I don’t think we should do, is just go by little hints like whether or not a gate creaks.”
“Yeah, point taken. But we were kind of in a rush back then. Anyway, remember Maggie’s breathing problem?”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Quinn stared at Wade, and Wade stared back at him. Then they both stared at Rembrandt. Maggie having problems breathing. No. The last time, she’d been unable to survive without medical assistance. This was just like an ordinary cold.
“Let’s go. We should be able to find out somehow. And this world is extremely similar to Earth Prime.”
Rembrandt, Quinn and Wade decided to go out and do some research. After all, if anyone could recognize the world where they had grown up, it would be them. Paula decided to join Rembrandt. It was actually kind of sweet. They were acting just like teenagers in love for the first time. The only person who seemed unaware of the affair was Paula’s father, the professor. He had taken to spending time in the bar. Not that he drank more than he had back on his own world. The opposite in fact. But out of a job, and evicted from his home, he felt at a loss.
Colin, as usual, wouldn’t leave Maggie’s side. Mallory and Diana had found a job where they could work together so no one saw much of them for the time being. Noah and Isabella had not been as lucky. Most days they were found in the suite at the Chandler poring over job listings. When the rest of the Sliders left to do their research, Isabella caught Noah’s eye.
“Darling, would you watch Gregory while I go and have a talk with Maggie?”
“Sure. We’re getting along great.”
“I won’t be long.”
Outside Colin’s and Maggie’s room, Isabella remained standing by the door, seemingly deep in thought. Finally, she raised her hand and knocked. Colin’s invitation to come in told her Maggie had to be awake.
“Hi. How are you feeling?”
“What do you think?”
“Colin, you look tired. Why don’t you go outside to Noah and Gregory? You could call for a snack or something.”
“Ok. You will call if you need anything, Maggie?”
“Yes, ok. Go on. I can’t stand all that fussing anyway.”
Her face didn’t imply much more enthusiasm at Isabella’s visit, but she didn’t tell the girl to get out.
“I was wondering something.”
“The others are out trying to find out if this is Earth Prime -“
“Yeah, well, it can’t be, can it? I’m still breathing. Not good, but ok.”
“That’s what I was wondering about. You are having trouble breathing, right?”
“Yeah, but it’s nothing like the last time I was here. Didn’t someone tell you what happened?”
“Yes, but I was thinking, maybe it’s because of the baby.”
“You know how sometimes when someone has a blood type that is negative has a baby that – Well, I don’t know too much about it, but what if the baby’s antibodies get into your blood stream and give you some kind of immunity? Colin’s breathing ok, and I am assuming he’s the father.”
“Back up a bit. How the – uh – how did you know I was pregnant? I haven’t told a soul, not even Colin, who by the way, definitely is the father, so how could you know?”
“I guess it’s because I had a baby too, not so many years ago. Don’t ask me in what way it shows, because I couldn’t tell you. I just thought there was a definite possibility you were pregnant.”
“Well, ok. I am. But it’s only been like six weeks or so. You think that I’m getting those antibodies and that’s why I can breathe more or less ok?”
“Yes, and if I’m right, then you’ll get better all the time. When the baby’s born you shouldn’t have any problem at all.”
“What if it’s the other way around? Once the kid’s born I can’t breathe at all?”
“I don’t think so, but I’m no expert. All I’m saying is that if they do find proof this is Earth Prime, then you could go and see a doctor and find out for sure.”
“If you’re wrong, Quinn and Remmy and Wade have found their way home, but I’ll have to leave.”
“It won’t come to that.”
“Oh, yeah? How do you know?”
“I don’t know. It’s just a guess, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. Provided this is Earth Prime.”
“I hope you’re right. How could I ask Colin to leave his brother?”
“I’ll go get Colin now, if you like.”
“No. Just go. Tell him I’d like to get some sleep.”
“Ok. I’m sorry if this has upset you -“
“Yeah, yeah. Never mind. It’s not your fault. See you.”
Late that night, Quinn and the others returned. By then, Diana and Mallory were back too, and Noah and Isabella had filled them in on the new developments. Now everyone was waiting expectantly for whatever news Rembrandt, Wade and Quinn might have uncovered.
“Well, so far everything checks out. I – Tomorrow, I’m thinking I should go by the house and check on things.”
Everyone, with the possible exception of Paula and the professor, knew what this might mean to Quinn. If Maggie was forced to leave, it was a safe bet that her lover Colin would go with her. That meant Colin would be forced to choose between his brother and his lover. Or that Quinn had to choose between his brother and his home world. At least the world he had known as a home all his life until he had discovered sliding.
What a heartbreaking dilemma. Wade, especially, knew what he was going through. Personally, she knew she would choose Quinn over this world, if she had to make a choice, but how would everyone else react? Would it be fair to ask Rembrandt to give up his home? He had found love at last, and it was obvious that Paula and her father would have a much better life here, on this world, that was in far better shape than their own had been.
That night, there were many of the Sliders who didn’t get much sleep. Especially Maggie, Colin, Quinn and Wade. Thoughts about their situation kept going round and round in their minds. Leave or stay? Was it Earth Prime, or was it all just another cruel joke? But like any seemingly endless night, it finally came to an end.
Quinn got up, trying to prepare himself for the moment of truth. Wade was the only person he would allow with him when he took a cab out to his old house. He wasn’t entirely sure it would still be standing, even if this was his own world, but he knew that was the place where he would get the answer to his burning question. It was so early, he didn’t want to disturb Maggie and Colin and besides, they still had time. Their next slide wouldn’t be for another two weeks.
The cab ride seemed to take forever, but when they arrived in the street Quinn had directed the driver to, he knew he wasn’t ready to face the truth. Wade paid off the driver, and guided Quinn down the street. From what they could see, not only was the house still standing, but it seemed to be in quite good repair. Someone appeared to be living there. Maybe the house had been put up for sale, when – Quinn was filled with sudden misgivings.
What if the new owner had cleared out the basement? Would he ever know if this had been his home for so many years? But they had come too far to turn back. He knew he had to know one way or another. After one last look at Wade, for encouragement, he took a deep breath and pushed on. It was good to know he had his lover by his side. Whatever happened, they would never be apart again.
They walked up the driveway to the front door and without any more hesitation, Quinn rang the doorbell. When the door opened, Quinn felt all color drain from his face and he involuntarily took a step back. This was impossible. Another cruel Kromagg trick? The woman who faced them appeared to be as deeply touched.
All questions died unsaid on Quinn’s lips as he was pulled into the woman’s arms. It was a long time before anyone could think of anything to say. Finally, the woman let Quinn go. She was painfully changed since the last time he’d seen her. Emaciated, scarred, eyes haunted. But it was her. For some reason Quinn never doubted that this was his adoptive mother.
“I thought you were dead.”
“Dead? No. But there were times I wished I were. And you – I thought I’d lost you forever, Quinn. This is Wade, I suppose?”
“Yes, ma’am. Nice to finally meet you again.”
“I’m forgetting my manners. Please, come in. I can’t believe you’re finally back.”
Quinn didn’t have the heart to tell this woman who had lost everything, that he really didn’t have any evidence this was his own world and that he really was her adopted son.
“Thanks. Do you mind if I go into the basement for just a moment?”
“Oh. Sure. I’ll get you something to eat. Have you had breakfast?”
“No. Thanks. That would be great. We won’t be long.”
“I never touched any of that weird equipment you left down there, so it should all be there. In fact, I didn’t even clean up.”
“That’s ok. I’ll just take a look around. We’ll be right up.”
The door to the basement appeared to be a little stuck. Quinn’s mother hadn’t been kidding. This place didn’t seem to have been visited since that day so many years ago when Quinn had slided out of there never to return.
Everything was the way he’d left it. All the equipment, all his notes. He couldn’t believe it. So many times he had thought he was close, and now suddenly he was back, as if nothing had happened. All the people who had suffered and died seemed very distant. His mother still alive, the house intact.
“Could it really be true? Are we finally home?”
“Yes, I really think so. You were the one who told me we would eventually find our way home. It seems we did. Didn’t you mean what you said? Were you only trying to make us feel better?”
“What? No, of course not. Sooner or later we were going to get back. I guess I just didn’t believe it myself, not deep down. But it is mom, isn’t it? No more Kromagg tricks?”
“No, Quinn. No more tricks. That is your mother. I don’t know how we could have been so lucky, but we really are home this time. Let’s go upstairs and have breakfast. Then we’ll call the others. Or maybe we’ll just go back and get them.”
“Yes, you’re right. We’ll have to go get them. This place is big enough to put all of us up for a while. I still haven’t gotten my head around this, but we’ll have to make plans.”
“There’s time enough for that later. Let’s go talk to your mom.”
The talk with Quinn’s mom turned out to last well into the afternoon. Knowing how desperate their friends were for answers, Wade excused herself after a while and called the Chandler. Everyone was in, eagerly anticipating some word from Quinn and Wade, except Diana, Mallory and the professor.
Rembrandt was the one who picked up the phone.
“It’s me. Wade. You’re not going to believe this, Remmy, but it’s true. We’re finally back home.”
“Right, girl. Then we’ll all be over right away. We’ll get a cab and -“
“What about Maggie? Is she ok?”
“Oh. I wasn’t thinking. Hold on a sec. Would one of you please check on Maggie?”
The wait dragged on for so long, Wade was beginning to worry. Finally, she heard what sounded eerily like her own voice saying that Maggie was fine.
“That was Isabella. I guess you recognized her voice. She says Maggie’s getting better. So she could easily handle the cab ride. We’ll be right over.”
“Ok. Quinn says there’s room for all of us, so you can bring your stuff. Just leave a message for Mallory and Diana. And try to find the professor, ok?”
“No problem, girl. See you soon.”
They must have found a ride almost immediately, because when the door bell rang, Wade felt as if she’d only just put the phone down.
“Mrs Mallory? That will be our friends.”
“Oh. That’s nice. Excuse me. I’ll go let them in.”
Quinn and Wade trailed after mrs Mallory, slightly concerned about what the reaction would be, facing all that crowd. And there would still be two people missing until the entire Sliders group was reunited once again.
Mrs Mallory seemed to have seen it all in the past couple of years. Faced with such an onslaught of visitors, she didn’t seem too perturbed, but when she caught sight of Rembrandt, she gasped slightly.
“Oh, my god, is that the Crying Man? You certainly made some interesting friends, Quinn.”
“Yes, ma’am. That’s me. Pleased to meet you.”
“Come on in. Lunch?”
“We wouldn’t want to put you out.”
“Nonsense. Any friend of Quinn’s is very welcome here.”
Now she caught sight of Noah and Isabella, and stared in astonishment.
“You look just like – both of you -“
“Yes, I know. In a way, I’m Quinn too. Quinn’s double from another Earth. And this is Isabella, Wade’s double from my world.”
“Oh. This takes some getting used to. I suppose this means in a way, you’re my son too.”
“Thank you, ma’am. You’re very generous.”
“Mom? This is Colin. He’s my brother. My biological brother.”
“There was another child?”
“Yes. He was left on another planet, but I found him.”
“Quinn’s brother. Oh, you’d better all come in.”
“I guess I’d better mention that we’re still waiting for two of our friends to join us.”
“The more the merrier. I’ll get to work on lunch.”
“Before you go, mom. Everyone, this is my mother. Mom, this is professor Arturro.”
“Of course. Quinn thinks very highly of you, sir.”
“My dear lady, you are far too gracious.”
To everyone’s surprise, mrs Mallory included, the professor grabbed her hand and raised it to his lips. Apparently, Quinn’s mother had made a deep impression on Arturro. Noah concluded with some relief, that this professor seemed to be interested in women.
Quinn took over as host, and herded his friends into the living room. They were all grateful for a chance to sit down. Professor Arturro trailed after mrs Mallory into the kitchen.
“Don’t you think Maggie needs to see a doctor? About her breathing problems, I mean.”
“Of course. The phone is over there. Here. If we can get a doctor to come here, it would be best, don’t you think?”
“I guess so, but we’ll wait until after lunch. I’m feeling a lot better, actually.”
Quinn stared at Maggie in confusion. This was his home, yet Maggie’s lungs seemed to be adapting ok. What had changed since their last visit?
“Yes, but I have an idea about that. I’ll tell you all later.”
“Ok. If you’ll all excuse me, I’ll go into the kitchen and help mom.”
“I’ll go with you.”
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to come too.”
“Sure, Noah. I don’t know if mom needs all this much help, but I’m sure she’d love to get to know you.”
Isabella decided that she needed to watch Gregory so he didn’t break anything.
“I’d really like to get to know your mom too, but I think I need to stay here with Maggie.”
“Don’t worry about me, Colin. Go on. I don’t need all this fussing. And I’ll be just fine. Maybe I’ll have a little chat with Isabella.”
“If you’re sure.”
Perhaps mrs Mallory didn’t need that many helpers, but she appreciated the presence of her son, his girlfriend and his brothers all the same. From time to time, she looked up from what she was doing to drink in the sight of her son. Now and then her gaze wandered over to the other two young men. This would take some getting used to, but she felt she already liked the two newcomers. A twin, and a younger brother. And to think she had always wanted more than one child.
Towards evening another cab bringing Diana and Mallory pulled up outside the house. Finally, the entire Sliders group were reunited. If only Maggie’s condition would make it possible to remain together. Everyone was aware of the implications, but no one wanted to bring up the topic.
In the end, Maggie herself decided to discuss Isabella’s theories with them. First though, she asked to speak with Colin alone. The conversation took place upstairs in the guest room. Though Maggie was feeling much better, she had given in to Colin’s fussing.
“I want to go back downstairs in a minute, but first there’s something I want to discuss with you.”
“Ok. But you’re absolutely sure you’re ok?”
“Yes, yes. I’m feeling a lot better. This is to do with that, actually.”
“Ok. This is quite new to me too, so I haven’t had time to really think it through, but here goes. Colin, how would you feel about settling down and starting a family?”
“You know I’d love that, and now it seems we might get a chance to do that. If you’re really feeling a lot better.”
“Stop fussing, Colin. You heard me the first time I told you how I felt. Actually, we seem to have started a family already.”
His vacant stare told her she would have to elaborate. Maybe he was thinking about his brother, when she mentioned family, or even Quinn’s twin.
“What I mean is that we’re going to have a baby. You and me.”
“Well, it will be another eight months or so, but yeah.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, Colin. How do you feel about that?”
His boyishly delighted grin told her the answer to that one, if the bear hug he enveloped her in didn’t.
“Never mind, I can guess. Now, let’s go downstairs. I’ll have to talk to the others about this.”
“I can’t wait to tell Quinn and Wade and Noah and Rembrandt and -“
“Yes, yes. We’ll tell them all.”
“Great. Now we’ll beat them to it, won’t we, Maggie?”
“I guess so, but I didn’t realize it was a race.”
“No, of course not, darling. But this is so wonderful.”
“Yes. Ok. Come on.”
When they arrived downstairs, in the living room, most of the others were still there. Quinn, Noah and Diana had disappeared into the basement, but Colin was able to bring them back without too much delay. Rembrandt and Paula guiltily broke apart when Colin and Maggie passed them in the hallway.
“You guys are going to have to break it up before you get arrested.”
“Um. Yes. Right.”
The professor was still with mrs Mallory. That seemed to be a perfect match, Quinn had realized that early on. He was hardly even embarrassed. His mother really deserved to meet someone after all these years as a widow. And Arturro too, was a widower.
They decided not to call the older generation, so Maggie just demanded her friends’ attention.
“Listen, guys. I have something to tell you. Last time we were here, I was feeling a little peaky. As you’ve all noticed I’m feeling a lot better this time. Isabella told me it might be something to do with – Ok. You don’t know this yet. So I’d better get to that now. Colin and I are having a baby.”
“Isn’t this great, Quinn? Maggie and I are starting a family. We’ll have to have the wedding before -“
“Hold it right there, sweetie. Who said anything about a wedding?”
“But I thought -“
“We’ll discuss that later. In private. As I was saying, Isabella thinks that the baby is giving me antibodies or something. All that scientific stuff is just like Greek to me, but maybe she has a point. Anyway, what I’m trying to tell you I think it’s ok for me to stay with the rest of you.”
“Are you sure this is safe?”
“No, I’m not sure, but it does seem that way. What do you think, all of you?”
Her friends crowded around her, hugging her, offering advice, though Isabella was the only one to know the first thing about child care.
“Don’t you think now would be a good time to call a doctor?”
“Tomorrow, darling. But if I keep making this much progress, I know I’m going to be ok. Well, it’s late. If you guys don’t have any more questions, I think Colin and I need to go upstairs. Talk to you guys tomorrow.”
When the happy expectant parents disappeared upstairs, they left an excitedly chatting crowd. But Maggie had been right about the time being late. Now they would need to make arrangements for the night. Since everyone was more or less paired up, that took care of some of the problems.
Quinn noted that his mother had given professor Arturro his dad’s old room. He and Wade were in his old room, and the others had to make do with what was left. Rembrandt and Paula were given the last remaining guest room, Isabella, Noah and Gregory got mrs Mallory’s own room. Their hostess brought out a few extra beds. One for herself, which she placed in her own study, and the rest for her other guests, who had to make do with the remaining downstairs rooms.
The cramped state of the house really brought home to all of them, the necessity of making plans for the future. It had been so long since any of them had had to worry about things like careers and homes. Now was the time to consider their options.
Rembrandt naturally had a career to go back to, if only he could think of a reason why he had remained out of the public eye for so many years. That led him to remember his family. There would be hell to pay for not getting in touch with his mother for so long, but Rembrandt felt sure she would forgive him, now that he brought a potential daughter-in-law. He had lost count of all the times his mother had told him to settle down and get married. For the first time, that seemed like a very attractive option.
Quinn suddenly recalled that he had never finished his degree, and to his knowledge, Wade hadn’t either.
“Have you thought about what you want to do?”
“You mean now that we’re back home?”
“Yes. Are you going back to school?”
“I hadn’t thought about it, but I guess I’d want to. If I can finance it. What about you?”
“Well, there hasn’t been much point worrying over this before. After all we’ve been through, I wonder how it will feel to be just a student again. But why shouldn’t I have a degree? Maybe the professor can get a job here. In a way it would be like getting his old job back. There’s no need to spell it out that he’s the double of this world’s Arturro.”
“No, why complicate things unnecessarily? I’ll have to call my family. And speaking of family – I’m so happy for Colin and Maggie. Do you think -“
“That we’ll have a family soon? I sure hope so. Mom would never forgive us if we didn’t. But maybe we should wait until we have our degrees.”
“That might be best.”
In the next room, Noah and Isabella were having much the same conversation.
“Now that we’re going to stay in one place, have you made any plans?”
“Yes. No. It depends. If it hadn’t been for Gregory, I’d have loved to get back to school and finish my degree.”
“Me too. But why shouldn’t we? There has to be something we can do. Between us, I’m sure we’ll be able to find a solution.”
“Do you really mean that?”
“Of course I do. Now that we’re finally safe, we’re going to have to make up for lost time. I want you to have everything you’ve had to do without. We’ll get a place of our own and -“
In Maggie’s and Colin’s room, not surprisingly, the same topics were being covered.
“Now that you’re here, you must take the chance of going to university.”
“I’d love that. Do you think it’s going to be possible?”
“I don’t see why not. You do have some high school or whatever it was you had on your world.”
“Not much, but I studied on my own.”
“You’ll have to ask Quinn and Noah. And Diana. But I’m sure you can.”
“What about you? Have you thought about what you want to do?”
“Yes. As soon as junior’s here, I’m going to get back to my old profession. I’ve really missed my uniform and my service weapon.”
Mallory and Diana too, were considering their options. In Diana’s case there wasn’t much question about what she was going to do. Her qualifications made it inevitable that she’d be much in demand.
“I’ll look for a job, and we’ll get a house of our own. And you?”
“Well, of course I’ll look for a job too. Maybe as a lab assistant wherever you’ll be working.”
“That would be wonderful, Mallory.”
“Yeah, I think so too. But in the past I always saw myself doing something with a bit more action.”
Despite the late hour, mrs Mallory and professor Arturro were sitting at the kitchen table, enjoying one last cup of tea. They seemed to find many topics of interest to cover. But what mrs Mallory couldn’t help dwelling on was how lucky she was to have her son back.
Like she had told Quinn there had been countless times when she had wished herself dead and beyond suffering, in fact, sometimes, she had even considered suicide. But after all that pain and heartbreak, she was back in her own home, with her son and his friends around her.
Especially this charming gentleman had taken her fancy. For the first time in years, she allowed herself to look on the future with peace of mind, and even expectation.
If she wasn’t mistaken, Quinn and Wade were very much in love. Grandchildren might not be too far in the future. And if she counted Noah’s son, and it dawned on her that she very much liked to do so, she already had a grandson. Yes, she really had much to be grateful about.
“Now, what were you saying about Quinn’s first exam?”
“Ah, yes. I don’t mind saying that I have never had such a brilliant student before or since. Those calculations were nothing short of a stroke of genius.”
What mother could resist such praise of her son? What a precious, lucky day this had been. She would remember it and treasure it forever. And she would never allow her son to vanish again. If she had to, she would destroy his odd contraption down in the basement. Quinn’s sliding days were over. All his friends’ sliding days were over.