Three college students entered the Science Hall of California University. After months of preparation, they were finally going to start their work.
They walked through a guarded room to the chamber they had never entered. Their orders had always come from a secret source, and their training had been led by different people. Any way you looked at it, they were subordinates. But whatever they were doing, it was clearly important.
And they were finally going to meet the man in charge. One pressed the code they received on the keypad, and the door opened.
"Come in, come in," said the bedridden man. "It is time for your journey to begin."
The man pressed a button, and a table rose from a hole in the ground. On the table, in a box, was a remote control with flashing red numbers.
"You have your instructions," the man continued. "You know your equipment. Now, all that is left is for you to complete the assignment. Go and fetch them for me."
Underneath the timer were four photographs. Pictures of the four sliders.
Rembrandt, Quinn, and Arturo were having a good laugh, as Wade and Diana were washing themselves in a creek in the forest.
"You don't understand!" Wade screamed to the men from the river. "Women need modern technology to survive!"
The women looked horrible. Their hair was dirty and tattered, and they were not put together at all.
"Hey!" Quinn replied, laughing throughout. "It's not my fault that we've landed on four straight worlds without human civilization."
"Yeah," Rembrandt said, laughing also. "Think of it as reconnecting with nature. Getting back to your roots."
Quinn gave Rembrandt a "high five" and the men continued to laugh.
"That better not have been a joke about my hair!" Wade screamed, checking herself in the reflection from the river. Diana, who looked the better of the two, tried to calm her down to no avail.
"Well," Arturo said, trying to calm himself down. "If you girls are almost done down there, it's almost time to go."
Minutes later, the girls came walking up the embankment. Their shoes were covered in mud, and their clothes were drenched. Their faces looked cleaner, but their hair was still a mess.
The men didn't look much better, but they carried themselves more appropriately.
"As God as my witness, Quinn Mallory," Wade said in Quinn's face. "If the next world doesn't have a hot shower and great shopping opportunities, you are going to be sorry."
Rembrandt couldn't help but crack up again.
"What are you laughing about?" Wade said, still with an angry tone. "The same goes for you if your double isn't loaded. We're just about broke, and I promise you I'm not working again."
The men continued to laugh, as Arturo activated the vortex. Even Diana couldn't help but chuckle at Wade's rant.
The five sliders jumped inside, hoping that their journey would soon be over.
The vortex opened in an alley, beside a crowded commercial street. The five sliders tumbled out, and Wade saw the stores. Immediately, she ran over, knowing that she was in Heaven.
The rest of the group was still laughing, and they smiled at Wade's behavior.
Seconds later, she returned.
"You guys won't believe this!" Wade said. "This is like 'shoe world!' Every store has a sale, and all the prices are insanely low. Rembrandt, we have to get you to an ATM!"
Wade started to drag Rembrandt, when Quinn exploded laughing again. Wade looked over, and she saw Arturo pointing the timer towards him.
"Mr. Brown," Arturo said, with a huge smile on his face. "You might want to see this."
"Oh no," Diana said, realizing what had happened. Rembrandt caught the timer and tried to keep himself from laughing. He was unsuccessful, though, and started laughing uncontrollably.
"Don't say it," Wade said coldly. "Don't say it! Don't even think it! If this is what I think it is, sliding has turned completely against me!"
"I'm afraid so," Rembrandt said, trying not to laugh unsuccessfully. "I'm really, really sorry, girl, but we only have twenty more seconds on this world."
"No!" Wade screamed. "This cannot be happening! Look at me! I'm covered in mud, drenched in water, and dirty as a rat! And we finally reach paradise and we have twenty seconds here!"
Wade fell to her knees and put her head between her legs. Quinn walked over and put his hands on her shoulders. He gave her a small back rub, and then helped her up.
"And the Oscar goes to..." Quinn said, laughing by the end of it. "Wade 'Dirty Girl' Welles!"
"This is your fault!" Wade said, steaming. "You're going to regret this, Mallory!"
Quinn laughed, and the group jumped inside the newly opened vortex.
On the next world, the vortex opened in the middle of a wooded area. On first sight of the world, Wade screamed again. She looked to Rembrandt, who still held the timer.
"A week," he said, now feeling completely sorry for her.
"No!" Wade said. "What is this universe coming to? Twenty seconds on the only world I've liked in a month, and another week on... Animal Planet."
Quinn was still laughing, so much that his throat was starting to hurt.
"You're going to die, Quinn!" Wade said, charging at him. Quinn tripped over a log and fell on the ground. Wade jumped on top of him and started to punch him on his arm.
"You're taking me back!" she screamed. "I don't know how you're going to do it! No, I don't care how you're going to do it! But you're going to take me to that world we were just on! Okay?"
"Whatever," Quinn said, his arm and throat hurting too much to laugh now. "I can get you there in a week."
"That's not good enough!" Wade continued, angrily. "You're going to take me back, right now! Right now!"
Suddenly, the sliders heard activity. Expecting to see a wild animal, they were surprised to see three nice-looking college students standing in front of them.
"I'm afraid that's not possible," the girl of the group said, taking Quinn and Wade off guard. "If you went back, we'd have to follow you."
"Yeah," one of the young men said. "And it was hard enough getting Molly here away from there one time around."
"Plus," the third member said. "We have orders to get back a-sap. So, you're coming with us."
The sliders stared blankly back at the college students. They couldn't believe what they were seeing or hearing.
The students explained their story. An eccentric old man had spent thousands of dollars at California University to create a device that could send people to parallel universes.
Then, he had trained three people to embark on a "secret mission." They explained that they had been sent to catch four sliders, and they were surprised when they found an additional one.
The sliders explained that they had recently picked up a friend, and they were intrigued by who would want to see them. They didn't say anything, but they were worried. They had made a lot of enemies, but they all believed they were due some good luck.
They all agreed that it would be better if they gave it a shot, but they only agreed if they could be in control of the new timer at all times. They knew that they might have to escape quickly, not knowing the circumstances, and they would have a week to get back to this world if things got out of their control.
No matter what, the coordinates in their own timer were the best chance they had to get back to Earth Prime. Hidden or not.
Arturo was surprised when the vortex was so colorful. He expected a novice performance, but the spectrum-shaded vortex showed that a lot of work had been put into making this timer work.
They jumped inside, and they found that the ride was much smoother than usual. Whoever created this timer knew what they were doing.
The vortex opened up in the same large room the students had left from. The old man, still sitting on his bed, saw the vortex with great delight. He had spent so much time looking for the sliders. It wasn't really a long time, but his face had grown so old that it seemed like decades.
The sliders looked at the old man who had summoned him. None of them recognized him immediately, but he looked as if he wasn't going to tell them right away.
Quinn looked at him, and he was stumped. His face was vaguely familiar, but he was sure that it wasn't his own double, it wasn't Logan St. Claire, and he didn't think it was Oberon Geiger. He hoped that maybe the three students would slip his name, but it didn't appear that even they knew who this man was.
Wade looked at him closely. She was embarrassed at her appearance, but the thought of getting "home" had blocked that out of her mind. The man was very familiar, and after waiting a few minutes, she was sure who it was.
"Laze," she whispered. She had had the most encounters with this crazed doctor. She was there when he first met her group of sliders, and she was there every time he showed up since.
"I'm a little hard of hearing now, young lady, but I'm certainly not deaf," the old man said. "I'll explain all of that in due time. But you're right."
Sitting in front of the five sliders, after more than a year away, was Dr. David Laze.
Hours had passed. Dr. Laze explained how he had survived the apparent fatal shot from a Kromagg weapon. He slid away after providing an escape for the sliders.
He had little time to peruse the database passed by the human resistance, but he found the world with the highest rating for medical capabilities that he saw.
"Unfortunately," Laze said. "I probably could've found a hundred better worlds, but this is the one I chose. Their medical treatments have a slight side effect."
"Advanced aging," Arturo interrupted, and he suddenly looked a little embarrassed.
"Of course," Laze said with the hint of a smile. "They could completely heal my wound, but it would rapidly age me. My body now works as if it is in its mid-seventies."
Laze smiled and tried to pull himself up on the bed.
"But," Laze continued. "They say that with age comes wisdom. If that's the case, then I choose to live the rest of my life with my newfound wisdom."
Quinn was reluctant to smile throughout the whole conversation. The last time he saw Laze, he was sent to his death. Also, he had been working with Logan. He had never seen any trace of Laze's heroism, and the man made him very nervous.
"And you brought us here to tell us that you're okay?" Quinn asked. "You spent millions of taxpayer dollars to build an obviously advanced timer to summon us for a good old fashioned campfire tale."
"No," Laze said, still a little angry at Quinn Mallory. Even though this wasn't the same Quinn Mallory that banished him to exile, he still felt a slight hatred for the man. But he was also mad that Quinn's face reminded him of all the doubles of Quinn that he had murdered.
"I want to try and even my karma," Laze continued.
"You're going to need a lot of it," Wade exclaimed, but it was the same thing that Rembrandt and Arturo wanted to say.
"I know," Laze answered. "I've done more hideous things than any fifteen men should have on their consciences. But I hope that I can contribute enough to humanity's cause and your own to try and make things a little better."
"Again," Quinn said, annoyed. "What does this have to do with us?"
"It has everything to do with you, my good boy," Laze said, with a hint of sarcasm in his voice. "I'm going to help send you home."
"That's impossible," Quinn said. "The Kromaggs have messed with us and our home world enough that randomly sliding is just about the only way to get there."
"And that's just the problem," Laze countered, confusing Quinn. "Just about. There are a few ways that you haven't thought of, but I have the best one."
"And just what is that?" Quinn said, skeptical.
"All in due time," Laze said smiling. "I may not look it, but I will live at least a week. And my new associates tell me that is precisely the amount of time you will be staying with us."
In the meantime, they were sent to a luxury hotel in downtown San Francisco. All expenses paid, but they missed their home at the Dominion. But compared to the camping they had done the last few days, this was Heaven.
While Wade showered for what seemed like hours, the others had a discussion about Laze.
"You're the ones who know him," Diana said. "I won't pretend to know what he's like, but he obviously knows a lot about sliding. If there's a way to get you all home, he might actually have it."
"I doubt it," Quinn said. "He's just trying to get some kind of attention. I don't know what he's up to, but it can't possibly be good. If he has the ability to send us home, why not do it immediately? Why make us stay?"
"Who says it isn't both?" Rembrandt said, trying to be the voice of reason among the geniuses. "Maybe he is lonely? I doubt he has anything malicious planned, considering how much he helped us last time we saw him, but maybe he wants to spend time with some people he knows before he dies."
"You make him sound like a cheery old grandfather," Quinn said. "Let me remind you that he killed hundreds of my doubles just because one of them stranded him. And then he double crossed us with Logan! No, he has something else planned, and we have to be ready for it."
"I won't lie," Arturo said, finally entering the conversation. "Dr. Laze has switched alliances so many times that I do not know what to expect from him. Despite all that has happened, he seems to take pleasure in keeping as much from us as he can. But his unique understanding of sliding, the time he has had to think about it, and his involvement with the human resistance might just help us reach home."
"Come on, Professor," Quinn said. "He sent himself to a world where he would have to build his own timer. He doesn't exactly get points for any of that."
"No," Arturo said. "But he said he looked in the database for the world with the best medical technology. And since all logged worlds are slide-capable, that was a risk he had to take."
"Okay," Quinn said. "I can see that I'm outnumbered. But I didn't witness his epiphany, so I'm sure you can see my perspective on things."
The next day, the sliders returned to Laze's hidden room ready to go home.
"Dr. Laze," Arturo said. "I know that you would probably like to spend some more time with us. Particularly since you went through so much trouble to summon us here. But you must realize our situation. We have been on this journey for several years, and if you have a way for us to easily get there, we need to do that as quickly as possible."
"All in due time, Professor," Laze said. "You have plenty of time here. I would love to see your opinion of my notes and my work. It gave me such a thrill when you mentioned how you liked my timer."
"We just want some insurance," Quinn said. "We don't doubt that you think you can get us home, but we need to be able to get back to the world we were just on just in case it doesn't work."
Laze looked saddened. "I suppose you're right," he said in a low tone of voice.
"Maybe you could come with us," Wade said in a refreshing voice, starting to feel sorry for the old man. "I know you feel old, but what's the difference which world you live on. This world is apparently very close to Quinn's world."
"Oh no," Laze said. "I have serious problems with my legs, and I wouldn't be able to get very far. No, I will probably never get out of this bed. But as much as I want to spend some time with you, I want to ease my soul by sending you home.
"Besides," Laze continued, with a smile on his face. "I have three new compatriots with which to spend the rest of my days with. And those two things will make me a very happy man."
Quinn was relieved because he didn't trust Laze. Maybe it was genetic, but he didn't trust him from the day he saw him.
"If you look at the timer, there will be four sets of stored coordinates," Laze said. "Two for the worlds you were just on, one for this world, and the fourth."
Suddenly, a screen on the timer turned on. It was much like a computer screen but obviously much smaller. Quinn pulled up the coordinates, and he loaded them into the timer.
"Impressive," Quinn said, truly impressed with the added luxuries of the timer. "Suburban sliding at its finest."
"You ain't seen nothing yet," Laze said mysteriously. "Now you had better get going. You've got people to see, and if I'm not mistaken, places to go."
Laze smiled and turned his head to go to sleep. It was a moment that the sliders were unsure of how to handle, but they turned to Quinn, who was pointing the timer in the air. Obviously Laze hadn't changed his opinion of him.
Again, the slide was remarkably smooth, and the sliders were all incredibly excited. Something in the old man had made them think that it was possible that they would soon be on Earth Prime.
The vortex opened on the new world, and they slowly floated to their feet.
"Is this your home world?" Wade said, hopeful, and the sliders looked to the San Francisco skyline.
"I don't think so," Quinn said, sounding truly disappointed. "Unless we've somehow slid into the future of it."
Looking out, there were vehicles flying over the Bay and the skyline itself seemed futuristic.
The sliders were so surprised that they didn't see the monitor on the timer start up again.
"Surprised?" the voice said. It was Dr. Laze.
"Yes," Quinn said, ignoring the fact that Laze had somehow arranged a way to communicate to different dimensions. "I thought you were sending us home."
"Oh no," Laze said. "You misunderstood me. You were right about the Kromaggs; they messed with your home world so much that I couldn't possibly get you home."
"Of course," Quinn thought. "So you've sent us on a wild goose chase."
"I know what you're thinking Mr. Mallory," Laze said. "By now, I can read you like a book. No, you're not on a goose chase; I've done the next best thing to getting you home."
Laze smiled into his camera. "I've sent you to the one place in the multiverse that can get you there."
"And where do we go to do that?" Quinn asked, still sounding as skeptical as ever.
"Mr. Mallory," Laze said laughing. "I'm just a guide. I cannot be expected to do all the work for you. Of course, I know. But I like to see my pupils do the work on their own.
The sliders hailed a cab. They weren't sure where they were going to go, but downtown seemed like their best option.
The five entered the taxi, and they saw a familiar face. Again, Pavel was driving. He immediately saw his fare, and he started to drive without instructions.
"Hey," Wade said. "Don't you want to know where we're going?"
Suddenly, the car drove off the road, and a device was activated. The car was flying as it sailed towards Alcatraz island.
"This isn't good," Diana said.
"I agree," Quinn said. "Where are you taking us?"
"Same place you always go," Pavel said. "You go to headquarters, no? You sliders always go to headquarters, no?"
So, Pavel knew of sliding. That meant that sliding was open enough for everyone to know about it. That eased everyone's minds for the time being.
The cab sailed over the bay, and landed on a strip on Alcatraz island. The prison that existed on Earth Prime was not there. Instead, a massive building sat on the island, with vehicles coming and going.
"Where do you think they get the money to pay for all this if they don't have those Alcatraz tours?" Diana said with a smile.
"The same way every world pays for such things," Arturo said. "Taxes."
The cab landed on the island, and Pavel turned around. "What kind of money do you have?" he said in his Russian accent.
"Dollars," Quinn said, confused.
"No," Pavel said, believing that Quinn might not have understood his English. "What kind of dollars?"
The sliders were still confused, until Pavel asked what world the money was from. The sliders were surprised, since they usually paid for things with parallel money without people knowing. They handed what they had over for inspection.
"Not in database," Pavel said. "You lucky, though. The exchange rate for foreign money is real good."
Pavel took a few bills from the stack, and he gave the rest back. Unsure what just happened, the sliders left the cab mystified.
The group approached the front entrance, and they were met by a woman who appeared to be in guest relations.
"Welcome to the Sliding Institute," the woman said. "Right here, the representatives from over three hundred parallel Earths meet and do business. How may I help you today?"
"We were actually wondering that ourselves," Quinn said. "You see, we were sent by a friend who instructed us that we could be helped here."
"We would love to help," the woman said. "We have technicians who are here to help you with whatever problem you have."
Suddenly, the woman's beeper went off. She looked at it, and she took a piece off to put in her ear. It appeared that she was talking into some sort of receiver, but her voice was muted to them.
"That's a Hell of an idea," Rembrandt said. "It sure takes away from the annoyance of hearing other peoples' cell phone conversations."
"There's been a change of plans," the woman said. "I've been asked to bring you straight to the laboratory. Are you all celebrities or something? This almost never happens."
"Not that we know of," Arturo said. "But thank you very much, young lady."
The sliders walked through the institute, and they were amazed at what they saw. All kinds of people were inside doing business, trading things from parallel worlds.
"How many worlds did you say meet here?" Quinn asked the woman.
"It changes all the time," the woman said. "The last time I checked it was 374. We've made contact with over five thousand, but they haven't all opted for membership in the Interdimensional Council yet."
"Why not?" Arturo asked.
"Well," the woman said. "The Council is relatively young. Just about a year old. The rest of the multiverse seems to want to wait to see if there are any true benefits. But as you can see, the interaction here is utterly amazing."
The sliders couldn't deny that. But their attention was faced on the laboratory they entered. Vortices were opening all over the place, and all kinds of inventions were being tested.
"Here we are," the woman said. "Sir?"
The man turned around, and Quinn knew who it was immediately. They had been brought to Michael Mallory.
"Oh my God," he said. "We finally found you!"
Michael Mallory explained everything that had happened in the last few years. Everything from the expulsion of the Kromaggs to the mix-up with Earth Prime.
"We were in constant battle with the Kromaggs," Michael said. "Fortunately, we came up with the Voraton device. But I'm sure you know what it did to our Earth. Eventually, we were forced to abandon it as well."
"Then why leave the Slidecage up?" Quinn asked.
"Why not?" his "father" answered. "Let the 'maggs try and break into it for as long as they wanted. They'd waste years trying to break into a world that's completely worthless to them. It would keep them from attacking other Earths while we planned our next attack"
"That's not all," Quinn said. "You forgot about the part that involves me."
"Oh yes," Michael said. "The second part to our plan. We were confident that the Kromaggs would want to pursue our home world, but we wanted to be sure. That second phase was a theory we planted inside the Dynasty that we had placed our son on a 'foster Earth' to be safe. Of course, that wasn't true, but it made the Kromaggs interested. To make sure that he stayed safe, we 'leaked' a photograph of him to a Kromagg spy. But we had a photograph made of a son I might have had with Amanda, a girl from my high school, to fool them. I never thought that there would be a world where we would have become married. It wasn't until later that I found that Amanda and I were married on other worlds more often than not."
"That mistake didn't turn out too well for me," Quinn said, obviously upset and angry.
"We apologize," Michael said. "We never meant for anyone to be hurt by this. We just wanted to delay the Kromaggs until we could come up with an appropriate weapon to rid them from the multiverse. As soon as we found out that they had 'found our son,' we sent party after party to find you. But the Kromaggs had done so many experiments on you and your signature that we could never locate you."
"It was only by pure luck that we survived this long," Quinn said.
"I apologize again," Michael said. "But at least you're safe now. I want you to meet someone. Quinn!"
A man approached. It was a Quinn double who looked like Mallory.
"So you're the famous double," the double said. "We're glad to know that you're okay."
"Thanks again," Quinn said with a hint of sarcasm. "Now, after all that you've done for us, I can't possibly expect a favor, but I'm going to ask anyway."
"Anything," Michael and Quinn's double said together.
"We need to get home," Quinn said.
Michael and Quinn looked at each other and laughed. "Is that all?" Quinn's double said. "We know the 'Maggs messed around with you all a lot, but now that you're here, it should be a piece of cake."
Rembrandt and Wade heard that and jumped up and down. After seven years of sliding, Rembrandt and the rest of the group were finally going to go home. Even though it wouldn't really be her birth home, Wade was happy with the rest of them.
The technicians hooked Quinn up to a machine, and Michael Mallory started entering some sort of code.
"What's this machine do?" Quinn asked.
"It's complicated, but it basically extracts your true quantum signature," Michael said. "I know what the Kromaggs did to you, and I know that someone tried to fix it. Unfortunately, it didn't work. But your signature is in there somewhere. We just have to know where to look."
"How long is this supposed to take?" Quinn asked.
"Well," Michael said. "Normally, it takes about ten seconds. As a matter of fact, the part that involves you is already done. But these aren't normal circumstances. It could take 24 hours for the computer to isolate the correct signature."
Quinn looked worried. A lot could happen in twenty-four hours, and knowing his luck, something definitely would.
"Don't worry," Michael said. "You're as good as home."
While they waited for Quinn to get the signature, Arturo and Wade familiarized themselves with the world they were on.
"This world was established a few weeks after the Voraton device was activated," Quinn's double said. "We realized what we had done to our own world, so we sought out a new base of operations. This world had a strange viral infection that killed off the entire population. Our doctors found that the virus had died off, and the world was completely safe."
"We started renovations on the world immediately, adding our own futuristic touch to it," the double continued. "And when we saw that Alcatraz island hadn't been touched, we decided it was perfect for this facility."
"After we settled, we immediately began work on a weapon," the double continued. "The Voraton had worked, but it wasn't successful by any means. We wanted to preserve the worlds we saved. Ironically, around the same time, our doctors had found traces of the virus from this world. That gave us the idea for our own virus. Other resistance sects we had found had developed their own viruses, but we set out to make the best and most effective one."
"Using the dead virus from our new Earth," the double continued. "We developed an airborne virus that only killed Kromaggs. Not only that, but humans would be carriers of the virus, and we would seek out the Kromaggs and eradicate them."
"Why not just immunize the human populations?" Wade asked. "Wouldn't that spare the 'innocent Kromaggs'?"
"We thought about that," Quinn's double said. "But we've been able to hack into the Kromaggs' central database, and we've only sent the virus to worlds the Dynasty has attacked or worlds they hold."
"It still seems barbaric," Wade said.
"Well," the double said. "If you had grown up on my world, I'm sure you would've seen it differently."
"They attacked my world," Wade said coldly. "And I still don't see it your way."
Arturo knew that the two were about to get into an ethical argument. One that he didn't think would turn out well. He decided to try and change the subject, but he could only think of one thing.
"How has the resistance done?" Arturo said, realizing he hadn't done much good altering the subject.
"Very well, actually," Quinn's double said. "This is the resistance's base of operations, but we have enlisted thousands of subordinate worlds that are currently spreading the virus with sliding expeditions. But a few months ago, we found a carrier of the virus that was unstuck. I'm not sure if you know what that is."
Arturo nodded, showing that he understood the concept of being unstuck.
"Well," the double said. "We thought it was a genius idea. So, we started sending unstuck carriers to the various Kromagg worlds, and they would continue spreading the weapon."
"But I understand that being unstuck causes all kinds of physical problems," Arturo said.
"That's true," Quinn's double said. "But we have developed a more controlled, safer way of doing it. They won't be able to do it for more than a month at a time, but its much faster than sliding."
"Woohoo," Wade said sarcastically. "You can speed up your genocide."
Quinn's double ignored her.
"We've estimated that 98% of the Dynasty has been destroyed," he continued. "The rest is hiding, and it isn't any threat to any human civilization."
"Last time we heard," Arturo said. "The Kromaggs were making small, desperate attempts to lock up worlds."
"No longer the case," the double answered. "Those attacks were never successful, and as soon as the 'Slide Trap' idea was scrapped, they decided to hide. Even on worlds they hold freely, they're living underground. But we're confident that we'll completely eradicate the Dynasty within the end of the calendar year."
Rembrandt and Diana sat in their own section of the facility. The sight of Mallory made Diana a little upset, and there was nothing else she could do. Rembrandt decided to keep her company.
"I was thinking," Diana said. "I'm really glad that you're going home, and I'm glad that Wade had made the decision to stay with you."
Rembrandt didn't like the sound of this.
"But I've been thinking of those doubles we met," Diana said. "I don't think there's anything scientific behind it, but I think there might be some sort of problem with staying on a world that isn't your true dimension. Maybe it's psychological, but I don't want that to happen to me."
"What are you saying?" Rembrandt said. "That you want to go back to your own world? The world that blamed you for all the Geiger stuff and made you their scapegoat? You're a fugitive there!"
"I know," Diana said softly. "But let's say that my double exists on your world? How can I start a life if I already exist?"
"I don't know," Rembrandt said. "I know it's easier with Wade, but I'm not going to let you go back to that place, where they'll put you on death row. That's crazy!"
"I know," Diana said. "But I don't think there's anything else that I can do. Just seeing you would remind me that I'm not supposed to be where I am."
Rembrandt racked his brain. He wasn't going to let Diana back to her home world, and she obviously wanted to restart her life away from Earth Prime. That made him sad, but he wasn't going to stop her.
"I still love you, Remmy," Diana said. "I'm going to miss you like crazy, but I need to get away."
"What if you worked here?" Rembrandt said. "They have all kinds of doubles working here, and they could give you a new start."
"I don't know," Diana said. "That's a good idea, but its still far too different here."
"What about one of those other Earths?" Rembrandt said. "We'll find one that is close enough to your world so that you can forget. And maybe they can give you a good job that won't let you think about anything else."
"I'd love to get back to my research," Diana said. "I haven't been able to do much work since you and Maggie showed up. I doubt I'll go back to working on the Combine, but I could do a lot of good if they give me a good job."
"I'm sure they'd love to have you on any Earth," Rembrandt said with a big smile.
The two embraced as a sign that Diana had accepted his idea. He hated to see her go, but this was perfect.
That night, the group said goodbye to Diana. Michael had found a world that was a "99% match" to her home world, where she would be leading a new sliding laboratory. She seemed perfectly content, although she saved her home coordinates, just in case she thought she felt she would start going crazy.
It was an odd moment, since they all felt so close to her. But then again, she was a relatively new member to the group. She had tried her hardest to become a part of the group, but it was too much.
Arturo probably took it the worst, after Rembrandt. He had become the closest to her over the time they had spent together, and the two had really worked well together.
Maybe it was because they were so similar. While he and Quinn worked well together because they were so different, he and Diana worked perfectly because they were the same. Quinn often joked that Diana was Arturo's slim, black female double.
Arturo laughed at that, but he wouldn't have been surprised if it were somehow true.
The rest of the night, the sliders rested. The next night, they would all be finally going home.
Quinn felt the urge to stay up and watch the progress of the signature machine. But he trusted the technicians, and he knew that they would get the work done correctly.
Just before he went to sleep, he thought of the timer. It was basically useless on this Earth as a gateway to a parallel universe, but it had the coordinates to Earth Prime locked away somewhere. It might help the process if they hooked the timer up to the machine.
But he decided against it. He was already half-asleep, and his worries started to fade.
What could possibly go wrong while they slept?
Halfway across the multiverse, the capital world of the humans was being targeted. Ever since the development of the human virus, the Kromaggs had learned that Kromagg Prime was essentially a wasteland.
This made the Kromaggs angry, but they could do very little about it. The Dynasty had been ravaged, and the survivors were hiding in fear.
Little did they know, however, that one group of Kromaggs was naturally resistant to the virus. Something about their physiology would not allow them to be killed by the deadly disease.
Using a secure channel of the Dynasty's interdimensional central database, the resistant Kromaggs rallied on a single world. When their numbers were counted, almost a billion soldiers had been collected on the single world.
Among the billion, there were members of every Kromagg race. Even though they usually stayed out of contact with each other, the different Kromaggs were forced to stay together. However, the more ape-like, deceptive race was hit very hard by the virus, and they were forced to take a back seat to the Teutonic Kromaggs.
Although they had been defeated, their technology was still incredibly powerful. The group secured millions of Manta Ships and marauder weapons for their final strike.
The sliders awoke the next morning with complete hope. They had never been as optimistic about getting home as they were now. Every time they had "found the way home" before, there had been a hint of pessimism.
Now, no one believed that this plan could go wrong. This time, no one was going to stand in their way.
Quinn, timer in hand, walked to the central laboratory to speak with his "father."
"Hey," Michael said, looking as if he had already been up and working for hours. "What do you have for me?"
Quinn handed over the timer. "This is my timer," he said. "It'll be practically worthless in a few days, but we're pretty sure the coordinates to our home Earth are locked among several other coordinates in here."
"Oh," Michael said. "I wish you had said this yesterday."
Michael put his hand to his head to try and think.
"No," Michael said. "There's no way that this is going to work now."
Quinn was instantly worried. What did he mean? But Michael saw his face and eased his worries.
"Oh no," Michael said. "The machine will still find your coordinates, but this timer won't help anything. If you had told us this yesterday, we probably could've found it in a few minutes."
"Couldn't we just restart the whole thing?" Quinn said.
"No," Michael said. "This machine was actually designed so that it can't be turned off. We knew that very important work would be going on in here, and we didn't want a power outage to screw it all up."
"It can't be turned off?" Quinn repeated.
"Well," Michael said. "If you cut the wire in the right place, it might stop working, but no, there's no deliberate provision for shutting it down."
"Must be a pain in the butt come electrical bill time," Quinn said with a smile.
"Oh," Michael said, mirroring the same smile. "You have no idea."
"Attention," said a Kromagg in front of a crowd of several thousand soldiers in what appeared to be a large amphitheater. The speech was televised all over their new world to millions of battle-hungry Krommags, ready for war.
"For centuries, our people have been condemned and attacked by the human race. We coexisted with them long enough, and then they attacked our homes. We were forced to flee the treetops of our world because of their dreams of 'manifest destiny.'"
"We have learned the condition of our home world that we loved so much," the Kromagg continued with a sense of power in his voice. "It is a wasteland. The humans attacked, murdered, massacred, and destroyed our civilization to claim that world, only to abandon it due to their foolishness."
"But no more!" the Kromagg exclaimed to large applause. "The humans have deceitfully engineered a virus that has ravaged our once powerful Dynasty. We have been forced to come together, the two races of Kromaggs, to stand and fight. But eventually, we had to admit defeat to their treachery."
This comment caused boos and hisses to chant among the masses, but they soon quieted as the soldier put his hands up in the air to quiet themselves.
"Correction," the Kromagg said with a smile. "Our compatriots admitted defeat to their treachery. But not us!"
Again, the crowd cheered with a deafening scream. Many of the Kromaggs, however, were not pleased by the propaganda. Of course, they weren't excited about the idea of a frontal assault on a heavily fortified Earth, either, but they were now in the minority. The leaders in favor of a slower and more deceptive strategy had all died off, and the new regime wanted to do it this way.
And with nowhere else to go, they were forced to go along with the crowd.
"We have been chosen by our Creator," the Kromagg continued. "We have been chosen to take the fight back to the humans. We are not affected by their virus! It will not affect our superior bodies. Yes, superior! We are intellectually superior to the humans! Physically superior to the humans! Technologically superior to the humans!"
The crowd started cheering insanely now. The lead Kromagg didn't think he was even being heard anymore, but he needed his troops to be prepared to go into battle with as much adrenaline as possible.
"In every way," the Kromagg continued. "We are superior to the human civilization. And yet, we are defeated."
The Kromaggs quieted, and again, several negative sounds erupted from the crowd.
"But we have one battle left to fight!" the Kromagg screamed, and the crowd erupted in cheering again. "The humans have become lazy, and our scouts have determined the location of their capital world. We have the power, the determination, and the technology for one more invasion. One into the center of the human soul.
"And after we have taken their capital," the Kromagg continued. "We will leave it in ruins with the same device they destroyed our world."
With that, a Voraton device was unveiled. The crowd recognized, and a near-riot of cheering started.
"We will bring the battle to them," the leader continued. "We will use the same weapon that banished us from our world to bring them to our knees! Then, we will retake our home world!"
The crowd seemed a little confused. Wasn't Kromagg Prime in ruins?
"Don't worry," the Kromagg leader said. "Our scientists will work tirelessly to restore the planet to perfection. For as we all know, Kromagg scientists are superior!"
The crowd still was confused, but that explanation seemed to work for the time being.
"And now," the Kromagg said. "The key to victory for our cause. We have recovered one of the Dynasty's greatest leaders. Although he was not resistant to the virus, a miracle kept him alive. He is Commander Koliton."
The Kromagg who Quinn thought he had seen die emerged from behind the curtain. He looked extremely weak, but he stood as tall as he could before standing in front of the podium.
"I am proud to be here," Koliton said, glad that his voice was assisted by a microphone. "Today will bring in a new era for a new Kromagg Dynasty. I was preserved from the virus by some supernatural force so that I could lead you into battle today. We are tired of running. We are tired of hiding. We are Kromaggs! We were created to battle the weak, foolish humans and our duty is to rid them from the universe!"
The crowd cheered even louder. Many of them began to fight each other just to get out some of their aggression.
"I know that our mission will be successful," Koliton continued. "Not only because Kromaggs are superior. But because we have help from the human side. A mole inside the human rebellion. She will ensure that we come out today victorious! Let me introduce you to her before we prepare for battle!"
Koliton pointed behind the curtain, and a woman emerged. One that had chosen to back the small, struggling Kromagg rebellion over her own kind. All because of their conflict with a single man. Her double.
As she approached the podium, Logan St. Claire started to speak. Although her purpose there was not to pep the crowd any further, she accomplished that perfectly.
She was ready to get her revenge.
With hours left until the slide, the sliders decided to go for a day on the town. Michael Mallory decided that he owed the sliders enough to be their personal tour guide for the "capital of the multiverse."
They had lunch at a very expensive, luxurious restaurant, and they had a nice tour of the city. They even went to a place where they could take a virtual reality tour of other cities on the planet.
But the Marketplace was the most amazing. There were hundreds of stores, full of interdimensional souvenirs. Artifacts from almost every catalogued world were for sale.
Even worlds the sliders had been to were for show. They found Mighty Morphin' Texas Ranger action figures for sale, a poster of Barry Lipschitz, and even a Lottery White Card that sent shivers up Quinn's spine.
But the sliders were more surprised to see their own impact on the multiverse. Quinn found a video, marking the greatest "MindGame" season ever, following the 1995 UCAL campaign. Rembrandt also found the issue of "Variety", describing the greatest Rembrandt/impersonator duo in history.
Arturo found himself drawn to a small bookstore. Inside, there was a catalogue of newspapers from various worlds. He instantly started running through every world.
"What are you looking for?" Quinn asked, a little surprised to see the him working so feverishly.
"You remember the world where we re-invented the atom bomb?" Arturo said.
"Of course," Quinn said, glancing over at Wade.
"I fear that I might have opened up Pandora's Box on that world," Arturo responded. "I'd like to see if that's true."
"Hey!" Rembrandt said, calling over Quinn and Wade. He was leafing through copies of important documents from parallel worlds. "Look what I found."
Quinn looked at the piece of paper.
"Whoa!" Quinn said. "This is the Constitution we created on that world where the US was ruled by the British monarchy."
"Yeah," Rembrandt said. "The one where there actually were Oakland Raiders. But look at the bottom. They vetoed my 'James Brown' line."
Quinn couldn't help but laugh.
"I never did like that world too much," Rembrandt said.
"Remmy," Quinn said. "You don't like any of the worlds we visit too much."
"You're lucky I like you," Rembrandt said with a smile.
A few minutes later, the sliders left the bookstore.
"You find it?" Wade asked, even though she wasn't sure what Arturo was looking for.
"No I didn't, Ms. Welles," Arturo said. "And honestly, I'm relieved. I'd hate to have to make another stop before we go home, but my gut reaction tells me that I've done something horribly wrong."
The sliders met up with Michael and started back to the lab.
"You've come a little too soon," Michael told them about the establishment. "We've been planning to build an area here where you can explore other parallel Earths in a type of virtual reality. It will be an amazing learning tool for people, and we're hoping it will revitalize the explorer occupation."
That was strange to hear. This world had already experienced all that they had done. They had already mastered the art of sliding, and all they could do is look forward to a perfect future.
But as the car started its flight back to Alcatraz, the sky filled with a red color, as vortices started to open all over the place. Wade looked out and smiled, thinking that it might be some kind of air show.
"That's funny," Michael said. "I haven't seen activity like this since...no."
Just as he finished his sentence, Manta Ships started to come out of the vortex.
The invasion had begun.
To be continued . . .