"Come on, Rembrandt!" Quinn-1 screamed from the living room.
Rembrandt was sitting in his hotel bedroom, taking everything in. This would probably be the last time that he'd ever be in this room. Of course, he would be happy to be back home, but for the last few years, these hotels had been his home.
Would he miss sliding? Would he miss the excitement he felt when the vortex activated? Would he miss the camaraderie he felt with his friends? Would he miss seeing the different paths humanity might've taken?
Probably. But it was time to go home.
"Remmy!" Quinn-1 said, opening the door. "Haven't you waited long enough to go home?"
"Yes," Rembrandt said, standing up from the bed. "We all have."
He entered the living room, and everyone was smiling. With the exception of Maggie, they were all going home. And Maggie would be going to her new home on Earth Prime.
Even Quinn was going to stay on Earth Prime for the time being. Rembrandt and the Professor were convinced that he was really from there, but Quinn wanted to be sure. He would wait a few months, but eventually he'd get back out to find out the truth.
The group was happy, and they tried to ignore the fact that they would soon be separated.
The vortex opened, and the sliders began to jump inside. After everyone had slid, Rembrandt was left by himself. He looked around the room, admiring the setting.
"One down," he thought. "One more to go, and I'll finally be home."
With that, Rembrandt jumped inside, and the vortex closed behind him.
The vortex opened in the middle of an alleyway, and the six sliders tumbled out.
Wade was excited to be home, and Rembrandt, Quinn, and Maggie were excited to be going home. But Quinn-1 and Arturo looked around, and they were both instantly worried.
"This is wrong," Quinn-1 said, checking the surroundings. "We should have landed inside the lab."
"Are you sure you put in the right coordinates?" Arturo said.
"I'm positive," Quinn-1 said. "And I'm sure that they haven't been altered in any way."
"Maybe it has to do with the sliding radius," Arturo said. "We still don't know how the timer is affected by that."
Quinn didn't think that was the case. The vortex always opens in the same place the last vortex was opened on each world. And, as far as he knew, all vortices were opened in his lab.
But he quickly realized they were only a couple blocks away. So, maybe someone made an unauthorized slide from outside the lab. But even if that was the case, then that probably meant trouble.
However, any optimism quickly faded when he saw a military caravan coming towards him.
"That can't be good," Quinn said. "Are they friends of yours?"
"Not mine," Quinn-1 said.
An officer left the jeep and approached the group.
"You'll will have to stay back," the officer said. "Its not safe for civilians."
"I'm Quinn Mallory," Quinn-1 said. "And this is Professor Arturo. We work at the sliding institute down the street."
"Where have you been?" the officer said. "The sliding institute was attacked a few weeks back. But I'm sure you know that. Go ahead and take a look, but be careful."
"No," Quinn-1 thought. "There must be some mistake."
"This has to be the wrong world," he said, looking at Arturo. "I can't explain it, but this has to be the wrong world."
"Is that what you want?" Arturo asked. "Because if this is not your world, then we're lost."
"But if it is," Quinn-1 said. "Then you are."
Arturo was taken aback. He hadn't thought about that. The coordinates for Earth Prime were inside the computer at the lab. If they were gone, then the rest of the group would be back to square one.
And neither Quinn-1 nor the Professor wanted to have to tell Rembrandt what had happened. He would be crushed.
Quinn-1 ran towards the institute, and the other sliders followed closely behind him.
"Wait!" Rembrandt said. "Can anyone explain why we're running? Is something wrong?"
"We won't know for sure until we reach the institute," Arturo said, trying to keep hope alive. "But I think it's safe to say that we all need to cross our fingers!"
But when they turned the corner, they found Quinn-1 kneeling on the ground.
"No!" he said, with his head hanging towards the ground.
The sliding institute looked like it had been through a war. A large hole had been created in the front of the building as if some sort of explosive had gone off. And while the building looked in terrible shape, the surrounding buildings looked relatively untouched.
There was something wrong about that.
Quinn-1 made his way to the building, and he found a secure way inside. He knew the building well enough to find his way to the laboratory through the wreckage and debris.
But he knew what he would find when he got there. He assumed that the invaders had been the Kromaggs, but even if they were human, they would've arrived in the laboratory. And he knew that room wouldn't be in very good condition.
And when he finally arrived, the room was in better shape than he would've imagined. But the room was still in ruins, and the central computer was obviously destroyed.
The rest of the group followed closely behind him, and Rembrandt looked terrible when he realized what had happened.
"Does that mean what I think it does?" Rembrandt asked, already knowing the answer.
"I'm afraid so," Quinn-1 said. "The coordinates for your home world were in that computer."
"Did you back it up anywhere?" Quinn asked.
"We never thought to back them up," Quinn-1 said. "We didn't think anything would happen in the time we were gone."
Quinn-1 was convinced that the whole experience had been a nightmare. Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong. And now his world had been attacked, and the Professor and his friends were stranded.
"Wait," Maggie said. "We're assuming that Kromaggs did this, right?"
"Yeah," Quinn-1 said. "I mean, I don't know that for a fact, but that's the most logical assumption."
"But if Kromaggs did it," Maggie said. "Where did they go?"
"I guess they left," Quinn-1 said.
"Left?" Maggie said. "After only attacking one building? And I'm pretty sure that your lab's security system was anywhere near strong enough to repel a Kromagg invasion force."
"Maggie's right," Rembrandt said. "That's not the Kromagg style."
"Maybe it was just a scouting party," Arturo suggested. "But that would mean the real invasion force is coming."
"No," Rembrandt said. "I know the Kromaggs. If they're going to scout a world, they'll do it silently. But when they actually start to attack, they do it in full force."
"I don't know then," Quinn-1 said. "But I'm going to find out."
Quinn-1 looked around the facility, and he couldn't help but feel strange. He had worked in this place for years, and now it had been mostly reduced to rubble.
Half of the institute was intact, and Quinn-1 moved to that area to try and get some answers. When he got there, he overheard someone interrogating Conrad Bennish.
"They just came out of a vortex and began firing at the equipment," Bennish said. "It didn't seem like they were all that interested in killing us. It just seemed like they wanted to destroy all of our equipment."
"How would you describe them?" the investigator asked.
"It was like they came out of that new Planet of the Apes movie, man," Bennish said, enthusiastically. "But they were way more futuristic and technological."
"That sounds like the Kromaggs," Quinn thought. "But that just raises all of the questions Maggie brought up."
"How did you escape?" the investigator said, trying to ignore Bennish's last comment.
"I know this place in and out, man," Bennish said. "I hid in a secret room until they left."
Quinn-1 didn't know much about the Kromaggs, but he knew they weren't the types to just leave during an invasion.
Arturo looked around the lab, trying to find any equipment to salvage. It seemed like the military had razed whatever the Kromaggs had left, and it was clear that the coordinates to Earth Prime had been lost.
"All is not lost," Arturo said to a forlorn Rembrandt. "We still have a functioning timer, and we have reunited. We shall get home; it will just take a little longer than we thought."
"I thought this was going to be it," Rembrandt responded. "I thought the winds were finally going to blow us back home."
"They will," Arturo said. "We just have to wait for the right conditions."
Arturo felt awful for Rembrandt. After years of sliding, it seemed like Fate was finally starting to have pity on him. But now things had taken another turn for the worse.
Quinn-1 walked over to the military road block to get some answers.
"Excuse me," Quinn-1 said, walking up to a young soldier. "Where did the Kromaggs go?"
"Kromaggs?" the soldier nervously asked, searching for his commanding officer.
"The creatures that attacked," Quinn-1 answered.
"Oh," the soldier said timidly. "Is that what they call them? Well, they came in through the institute, and they started to tear the place up. Before they could spread to any other buildings, the police showed up. They were able to hold them off until we could come in, and before either side took a shot, they had retreated."
"The police were able to hold off a Kromagg invasion force?" Quinn-1 asked, amazed.
"Yes sir," the soldier responded. "They reported that the invaders, the Kromaggs, didn't really seem up for a fight."
That couldn't be right. From what he had heard, even a single manta ship gave most worlds trouble. But, here, a Kromagg invasion was stopped by the local police?
Something was very wrong.
But before Quinn-1 could find anything, an FBI agent grabbed his arm. Quinn-1 knew who he was before he turned around, and he knew the next few minutes would be interesting.
"Mr. Mallory," Agent Frank Parker said, as smug as ever. "It seems you've come back, and this time you've brought back some friends."
"Well," Quinn-1 said sarcastically. "We had to pick up my friend Quinn and his friends."
"I'm not talking about them, Mallory," Parker said. "I'm talking about your other friends."
Parker pointed to the destroyed institute.
"You think this is my fault?" Quinn-1 asked, completely surprised. "You think I'm the one that sent in an invasion force to destroy my own building and everything I've built up for the last two years?"
"You're the only one familiar with this technology," Parker said. "And the Kromaggs came from the same sort of vortex that you created. You may not be directly responsible, but you're sure as Hell going to answer all of my questions."
"Whatever," Quinn-1 said.
"We've already picked up all of your friends," Parker said, pointing to an approaching van. "Join us, will you?"
An FBI van pulled up beside the two, and the side door slid open. Quinn-1 and Agent Parker stepped inside, and it rushed away.
The van drove several miles away to an FBI facility in Northern California. There, the group was separated into two groups. Quinn-1 was taken to an interrogation room, while the other sliders were taken to a larger room on the other side of the building.
Inside the room, Wade saw a familiar face.
"Remmy!" she screamed, running to hug her old friend.
"Girl," Rembrandt's double said. "What did you'll do this time?"
"We didn't do anything!" Wade said. "We're just as surprised to see what happened as you probably were!"
Arturo held his hand out to Rembrandt's double.
"Good to see you again, Mr. Brown," Arturo said, shaking his hand.
"I was recording a new song, and a bunch of FBI freaks came along and grabbed me," Rembrandt's double said. "Can someone explain what this is all about?"
"It has to do with the attack on the sliding institute," Arturo said. "I suppose they are bringing in everyone who has ever been connected with sliding."
"I am happily as far away as I can from sliding as I can possibly be," Rembrandt's double said. "But it's good to see you both."
The double hugged Arturo and Wade, as he nervously looked at Quinn, Maggie, and Rembrandt.
In the interrogation room, Agent Parker was questioning Quinn-1.
"Mr. Mallory," Parker said, trying to intimidate Quinn-1. "Tell me everything you know about these 'Kromaggs.'"
"I don't really know much about them," Quinn-1 said, trying his best to cooperate. "I know they are a race of invaders from another dimension. I've only seen a couple of them up close, and they're not pretty."
"What do they want?" Parker asked.
"What does anyone want?" Quinn-1 asked. "Power."
"Tell me about your encounter with them," Parker said.
"They attacked a building we were staying at," Quinn-1 said.
"And you don't think that they could have tracked you here?" Parker asked.
"I don't think so," Quinn-1 said, but he wasn't very confident.
"Well I do," Parker said. "I know you're responsible for this, and you're not going to get away with it."
In the large room, the others were discussing the oddity of the Kromagg attack.
"What I don't understand is why the Kromaggs wouldn't just send a huge invasion force," Maggie said. "They always send hundreds of Manta Ships to attack areas all over the world. They don't just send a small force of six or seven."
"There were eight," Bennish said, sitting quietly in the corner of the room. "They came in firing their lasers, but I don't think they were an invasion force. It just seemed like they were focusing on taking out our equipment."
"Did they bring anything with them?" Rembrandt asked.
"They brought in a huge cannon-like thing, and a little rover," Bennish said. "You know, like one of those cool dune buggy things. It had a big cannon thing also, but when the police came, they freaked and returned to the lab to slide out."
"That doesn't sound like the Kromaggs at all," Maggie said.
"It sure doesn't," Rembrandt added.
"The same thing happened at Dr. Laze's lab," Arturo said. "Only a small party of Kromaggs came in just to take over the lab."
"Not a very big army for a piece of equipment that important," Rembrandt said.
"Maybe this is a new brand of Kromaggs," Maggie said.
"I don't know about that, lady," Bennish said. "But they were terrible creatures that scared the Hell out of me. I don't care if they retreated at the first sign of combat, I'm going to do anything to make sure I never have to face them again!"
Bennish was very agitated, but the rest of the group was trying to figure out what the Kromaggs were up to.
A few minutes later, a very tired Quinn-1 and Agent Parker entered the sliders' room.
"Professor Arturo," Parker said, glaring at the Professor. "You're next."
Arturo left the room, and Quinn-1 approached the rest of the sliders.
"What happened, Q-Ball?" Rembrandt asked.
"Not much," Quinn-1 said, laying down on the floor. "Just a bunch of questions from the scum of the Bureau."
"I hate that guy," Wade said.
"Yeah," Rembrandt's double said. "He's like a freak of nature."
"Mr. Arturo," Parker said, trying to intimidate the Professor as well, but Arturo took offense.
"Professor Arturo," Arturo corrected, noticeably angry.
"Whatever," Parker said, responding with his own attitude. "Now, let me tell you what's going to happen. Your friend Quinn told me a very interesting story."
Parker moved to sit right across from Arturo.
"Now, you are going to tell me the exact same story," Parker said, smiling. "Or you all are going to be in a lot of trouble."
Wade sat in the room with her arms crossed. She was noticeably worried, even though she was with all of her friends.
Why couldn't they have a normal homecoming? This time had been much worse then their first homecoming, but the first one wasn't a picnic either. They returned to a skeptical and angry public, ironically because of what Rembrandt and his group had done.
But this was definitely much worse. The Kromagg attack could've been much worse on a global scale, but it had destroyed everything Quinn-1 loved. And that made the whole situation heartbreaking.
The rest of the group was worried about what would happen. This had been their biggest chance to return home in a while, and it had blown up in their faces.
They all had to wonder. Would they ever get home?
Agent Parker put the Professor through a rigorous interrogation, even worse than the one he gave Quinn-1. But he was desperately seeking a discrepancy between the two stories.
Arturo didn't want to answer Parker's questions, but he knew it didn't serve the group if he was disobedient. So, he tried to stay calm and answer the questions honestly.
"That's when we encountered the Kromaggs," he said. "We were only on the same Earth for a few minutes before we escaped. We did not come into contact with any Kromagg devices, and we were certainly not captured by them. It is my expert opinion that they could not have tracked us during that encounter."
"You're story is the same as Mallory's," Parker said. "But that doesn't mean you're innocent. You might not think that you were involved, but it only makes sense that you were. You leave, they come, and you come back. That's no coincidence."
During his interrogation, Arturo thought of something. When he was released to the room, he quickly rushed to Quinn-1.
"I have an idea," Arturo said.
"What is it?" Quinn-1 responded.
"When we surveyed our Earth, we used this timer," Arturo said.
"That's right," Quinn-1 said. "But you know that we didn't store the coordinates in there because of the equipment at the lab."
"I know," Arturo said. "But the coordinates should be in the memory system."
"Yeah," Quinn-1 said. "Along with twenty or thirty unmarked sets of coordinates."
"Narrowing it down to twenty or thirty is better than an infinite amount," Arturo said.
"That's true," Quinn-1 responded.
Quinn-1 had already come to terms with the fact that he was going to lose the Professor, but he hadn't thought that he was going to lose the timer as well.
But that wasn't that big of a deal, he thought. It was a shell of its former self, and losing it would give him the inspiration to build a newer, greater, more superior timer.
Rembrandt overheard the good news, and he spoke up.
"So we're going home?" Rembrandt asked, hoping to hear good news.
"It will take a few slides," Arturo said, smiling. "But yes, Mr. Brown, we're going home."
Quinn was surveying the timer, hoping to learn more about it. After they left Quinn-1 and this world behind, the timer would be partially his responsibility, and he would have to know its every function to be a helpful member of the group.
It was impressive; he had to admit that. But he knew that if he had been able to have a couple years to work instead of running from Kromaggs, then he would've been able to build something similar.
But this timer was a work of art in itself. It had been through Hell, and it was still in decent working order. If the same had happened to his original timer, it would've crumbled to pieces.
It would've been nice to see it when it was brand-new, though. It would've been amazing to see it in action.
Arturo came over to Quinn, amazed to see the timer.
"They let you keep that?" Arturo asked.
"Yeah," Quinn said. "I tried to hide it in my jacket, hoping I could keep it from them. "But they didn't even ask about it. And they didn't search me when I got here."
"Amazing," Arturo said, taking the timer. "I would've never expected that from Agent Parker's men."
Arturo checked the timer. They would be able to leave soon.
After questioning Wade and Rembrandt, the FBI were prepared to let the sliders go.
As they were re-entering the FBI van, Parker approached Quinn-1
"If you leave, you better not come back!" Parker said.
Quinn-1 nodded. He knew Parker was serious. But where would he go? He wasn't going to go with the Professor, and all of his equipment had been destroyed. But he knew Parker would make his life a living Hell for the near future even if he stayed.
As the van left, Parker called over another agent.
"Don't let them leave," Parker said, handing him a weapon.
The agent smiled as a car pulled up.
"Yes sir," the agent said, stepping into the sedan.
In the van, Rembrandt referenced Parker's comments.
"Don't worry about him," Rembrandt said. "He's just mad because he can't connect us to the Kromagg attack. We'll take you with us and you can come back when everything's cooled off."
"I'm not coming with you," he responded.
"What?" Rembrandt said.
"Go on without me," Quinn-1 repeated. "You heard what Parker said. If I leave, I can't come back, and this time he won't cool off. We dodged a major bullet here, Remmy, and someone has to stay here and make us look like the good guys."
"Are you sure?" Rembrandt asked. "We'd be happy to take you with us."
"I know," Quinn-1 responded, smiling. "But someone needs to stay here. If nothing more than to just clean up the lab."
"Okay, Q-Ball," Rembrandt said. "But we're going to miss the Hell out of you and Wade."
"That's not all, Remmy," Quinn-1 said. "I want you to take Wade with you. Parker didn't say anything to her, and I don't want her anywhere near him until this mess clears up."
Before anyone could say anything, the van's door flew open.
"What the Hell?" Quinn screamed, as Bennish jumped out of the van.
Quinn checked his pockets, and the timer was gone.
"He took the timer!" Quinn yelled, diving out of the van after Bennish.
"Here we go again," Quinn-1 said as the van screeched to a halt. "Have all of his doubles gone crazy?"
Quinn was in heavy pursuit of Bennish, who was running into a dark, wooded area.
"Bennish, don't!" Quinn screamed. "You'll reset the timer! And it won't do you any good if that happens!"
"I'm not staying here!" Bennish responded. "That agent said that those guys are probably going to come back, and I'm sure as Hell not going to be here when they do!"
Cutting through the woods, the agent caught up to Bennish and Quinn. He nervously moved for his weapon.
"Freeze!" the agent said, aiming his gun.
But the agent simply scared Bennish even more, and he nervously activated the timer.
"No!" Quinn screamed.
The agent, confused on what was happening, fired his weapon at Bennish, hitting him in the leg.
Quickly, Quinn-1 emerged from the darkness, tackling the agent.
"Go!" Quinn-1 screamed, wrestling with the agent on the ground.
"Quinn!" Wade screamed, and Quinn grabbed her.
"He's right behind us," Quinn said, dragging her towards the vortex.
The group jumped inside, leaving Arturo as the last one in front of the gateway.
"Quinn!" Arturo screamed. "Come on!"
"Go," Quinn-1 said, still wrestling with the agent. "You'll find your way home!"
Arturo hesitated, but he knew Quinn-1 wouldn't make it even if he wanted to. He jumped inside the vortex, and it closed right behind him.
With his friends safe, Quinn-1 let his body go limp, and the agent pinned him to the ground. Minutes later, he and a wounded Bennish were being taken into custody.
The group exited the vortex, and Arturo was the last to come out before it closed.
"Quinn?" Wade said, looking into the empty space where the vortex had been.
"He's going to be all right," Rembrandt said. "This is what he wanted. He wanted to protect you."
Arturo and Maggie rushed to Quinn's side.
"Yep," Quinn said, forlorn. "It's reset."
"Is there anything left in the memory?" Arturo asked, hoping that area was somehow saved.
"Nothing," Quinn said.
Arturo was disappointed. It looked like their journey just got a lot longer.
"How long do we have here?" Rembrandt asked, deflated.
"Three days, twelve hours, four minutes, and eight seconds," Quinn said slowly.
Quinn was angry that Bennish for destroying their timer, but there was something comforting about being back to sliding on the terms he was used to.
But he felt awful for Rembrandt. Everyone in the group had a break from sliding except for Rembrandt. He had been sliding nonstop for six years, and it looked like the end of the road wasn't very close.
"We'll get you home!" Quinn said. "I promise."
"I know," Rembrandt said softly.
The group slowly walked back to the hotel, again hit with a disaster. But this had been the worst yet.
They were lost. Again.