by Nigel G. Mitchell
© October 1996
This document (in whole or in part) can be freely distributed with the condition that it is not modified or sold in any way. Some characters and elements of this story are the property of St. Clare Entertainment, used without authorization. The author receives no compensation from the distribution of this work.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: The following story is part of the Fifth Slider serial, a Sliders fanfiction series created by David Pesqueira (email@example.com) that introduces a fifth slider to the group. The events described take place a little before and immediately after the end of the first FS story, "Silent Voices." If you haven't read that story, I'd recommend that you do before reading this one.
There's also a major spoiler of "Double Cross" in this story, so if you haven't seen that episode, be warned.
As usual, Maximillian Arturo was struggling with a bout of nausea as he sailed through the Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky Bridge that connected alternate dimensions. The walls of the wormhole twisted and bounced him through the endless void. Colors, the like of which no rainbow had ever shown, flowed around him in a river of light.
The scientist in him was always thrilled by sliding - the wonder of discovery, the rush of knowing that he was doing something only a handful of people had ever done. But the human in him sang with terror at the prospect of what lay at the end of their journey.
Just as he was getting into a rhythm, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Literally. It rushed towards him at incredible speed until he was violently thrust back into the real world.
Arturo exploded out of the roaring blue mouth of the tunnel. He only had time to register that Rembrandt was standing in front of him before the two of them collided and went down in a heap on the grass.
Arturo sat up, groaning, as the wormhole spat out two more travelers; Quinn and Wade. He dove out of their way to allow them to land on soft soil. Then Arturo looked up to watch the wormhole explode once again with a crackling puff. This time, it launched a sixteen-year-old boy out of its depths.
Arturo felt a twinge of regret at the sight of the boy. They had taken others with them before, but never on a permanent basis, only by accident or emergency. In their next world, they had always ensured that their new passenger (or passengers in some cases) was all right, then slide off again as four.
But now they had a new member of their group, one who planned to slide with them until they reached home. Arturo wondered if it was a good idea to agree to it after all. Then he checked himself. In this case, David Mallory was definitely better off with them.
Arturo stepped forward as Rembrandt helped the boy up. They were all laughing as David dusted leaves and dirt off his T-shirt. Wade smiled as she held up her hands in front of David to gesture in sign language. Arturo wasn't sure what she was saying, but he assumed she was asking what he thought of the slide.
David responded by nodding vigorously, his eyes wide and shining with enthusiasm. His hands flew over his face and body to respond in kind. Once again, Arturo heaved a silent sigh of relief that one of them knew sign language. It would have been difficult to communicate with the boy otherwise. Arturo made a mental note to take lessons as soon as possible.
Wade smiled up at the others. "He says he liked it."
Quinn clapped David on the arm, speaking slowly to ensure that he could read his lips. "Glad you liked it, bro."
Arturo couldn't help grinning along with the others. Quinn was completely taken by their new fellow journeyman. He supposed it was because Quinn had always been an only child, and now he had an instant family. Sliding was difficult, even with friends. Surely having a family member along was a comfort to Quinn.
David finished righting himself, then looked around at the trees and grass that now dominated their surroundings. He gestured again, which Wade translated as, "So, what is this world?"
She answered him by signing while speaking aloud so the others could follow her. As she shrugged, Wade said, "We don't know yet. But we'll find out."
David's grin broadened as he signed, "Oh. Let's find out, shall we?"
Wade nodded after she translated. Quinn put his arm around David's shoulder and they headed off across the grass. Arturo followed, walking alongside Rembrandt, who was nursing his shoulder.
"Hey, professor," Rembrandt said, "how many times've I gotta ask you to slide before I do? The Cryin' Man's bones can only take so many o' your crash landings."
"I have braced your fall many times, Mr. Brown," Arturo said. "I could only expect you to return the favor occasionally. How long before the next slide, Mr. Mallory?"
Quinn checked the timer that he drew from his pocket. "A few hours. We'll slide in the morning."
His attention was drawn to David, who was signing quickly at Wade. Arturo spoke up. "I say, what is Mr. Mallory saying?"
Quinn turned his head to smile over his shoulder at Arturo. "Hey, I thought I was Mr. Mallory."
"An excellent point," Arturo said. "I believe I shall have to adopt a new mode of address for the young lad to avoid confusion."
Wade made broad gestures at David, who responded quickly. She finally called out, "He's asking why we ended up in this park instead of outside his house where we slid. Dave thought we'd only move interdimensionally, not in space or time."
"Tell him it's a long story," Quinn said. "Suffice to say, our spatial coordinates got screwed up a few slides ago. Now, we end up landing all over California."
He squinted up at the blue skies above them. "We're just lucky we ended up in Golden Gate Park. We could've ended up in the Pacific Ocean."
Wade was busy translating for David. When she was finished, David nodded, then signed back for Wade, who said, "So our spatial coordinates vary according to world to world. He's asking if we travel in time as well as space."
"Not so far," Quinn said. "But nothing's impossible."
"Man," Rembrandt said. "And I thought I felt stupid before with you two braniacs along. Now we got a kid who's younger than some o' my socks back home, and he knows more about this techno stuff than I do. We're outnumbered, Wade."
Wade grinned, her hands still signing for David to follow the conversation. "Don't worry, Rembrandt. Maybe we'll pick up some normal person and balance things out again."
"Absolutely not," Arturo said. "The young lad managed to increase the power of the sliding machine to accommodate a fifth passenger, but I fear attempting that again. From now on, we must be very careful about bringing aboard extra weight on our slides, even more than usual."
"You're right, professor," Quinn said. "And thanks. Thanks to everybody for letting me do this."
David tapped his own chest, which Arturo didn't need translated to mean "Me, too."
Wade rubbed his back in a maternal gesture. "Just remember to be careful, Dave. Remember, we're not in a deaf world anymore."
"In fact," Arturo said, "I should mention yours is the only one we have seen in all our sliding, meaning that it's highly unlikely that we'll see one again. From now on, my boy, you'll be in the world of the hearing."
David signed again. Wade translated, saying, "He says he's looking forward to it. And wants to know what we do now."
Wade signed as she responded, "Well, usually the first thing we do is look around to see if anything's different from our own world. If so, then we know we're not home. If not, well, we keep looking. We have to be really sure that we're home. We've been burned by that before."
Arturo became aware of a voice yelling in the distance that grew louder as they approached a statue of Abraham Lincoln that the Sliders had grown to know well. The owner of the voice came into view.
He was an old man, standing on a park bench beside the statue, roaring at the top of his lungs. His ragged clothes betrayed him as a street person, and his message betrayed him as mentally unstable. He was all too familiar to Arturo.
"Beware," the man was yelling. "Beware the Powers That Be! They are all around us, corrupting our minds, subverting our will to theirs! Mind control, ladies and gentlemen! I speak of mind control! They have the power to bend us to their will! Beware the Powers That Be!"
As the five visitors walked past, the old man focused his attention on them, much to Arturo's regret. "Beware, you people! They can control the young and the old! The male and the female of the species! Repent of your gluttony or forever shall you fall under their evil spell! They're controlling your minds! Controlling your minds!"
"Uh, yeah," Rembrandt said. "We'll keep that in mind, pops."
They walked away to a safe distance, then burst into laughter. David looked from one person to another, his brow wrinkled in confusion. He began to sign, which Wade translated as "What's going on? Who's that guy?"
Wade replied. "That's Crazy Kenny, a homeless guy on our Earth."
"On my world," Quinn said, "he was a communist, but in a Russian-dominated world, he was a politician. He was nuts on our world, and it looks like he's not much better here. Although the message has changed, so maybe this isn't our world, after all."
Rembrandt braced his shoulders as they approached the street. "Well, let's find out for sure. Here we go, gang. Let's keep our eyes peeled, huh?"
Arturo steeled himself as they walked onto the open streets of San Francisco. The first thing that caught his eye was how clean the streets were. Not even a cigarette butt lay in a gutter. And everyone was smiling. Everyone.
As a young woman passed the group, she gave each of them a cheery grin. "Good afternoon. Nice to see you."
Rembrandt gave her a half-hearted wave. "Uh, yeah. Nice to see you, too."
When the woman had moved on down the sidewalk, a man in a well-tailored suit walked past Quinn. The man stopped and clasped Quinn's hand firmly.
"Afternoon," the man said in a slight British accent. "Very glad to meet you. And you sir, sir, my good sir, young lady. Have a wonderful day."
The man strode off, leaving Quinn staring at his now-empty hand. Just as he was about to speak, a car driving by screeched to a halt in front of them. The driver leaned out of his door.
"Hi," he yelled at the five bystanders. "Great day, isn't it?"
"Uh, yeah," Wade called out. "It's...nice."
"Take it easy," the driver called out, then climbed back into his cab and drove away.
Arturo watched the car go by, then frowned. "Unusual. Highly unusual."
"There somethin' weird about us?" Rembrandt asked. "Why's everybody sayin' hi?"
"It's not just us, Rembrandt," Quinn said. "Look, everybody's doing it."
Arturo watched the other pedestrians, and realized Quinn was right. Men and women passing each other never failed to say hello or shake hands. Some actually hugged each other before moving on. As cars drove down the street, people waved their arms out their windows in greeting.
"Friendly place," Wade said as she began to walk again.
David said "Wade" to get her attention, then began to gesture in sign language. Wade translated his movements as, "Is this normal for a hearing world, guys?"
"No way," Quinn said. "Back in our world, nobody said anything to anybody they didn't know."
"Yeah," Rembrandt said. "Reminds me of some o' the small towns I played in back with the Topps. Everybody knew everybody there. Couldn't walk down the street without somebody sayin' good mornin' to ya."
"It's more than that," Arturo murmured. "Look at their faces. These people are not just friendly. They are happy. Incredibly happy."
The others watched the people they passed on the street. Wade nodded.
"Yeah, you're right, professor," she said. "I've never seen so many big smiles on so many people in my life."
Arturo glanced over at a man in torn jeans walking briskly down the sidewalk. As the man passed an old woman, he suddenly ripped the purse from her hand. The man took off down the street, running at full speed.
David began to point at the man frantically, but the others were already aware of the crime. Quinn burst into a frenzied run after the thief, who ran with the purse clutched tightly under his arm. Quinn tore down the sidewalk, finally putting on a final jolt to tackle the thief. Arturo hurried after the others who were running to the old woman.
"Are you okay?" Wade asked the woman.
The old woman smiled up at her with a curious expression. "Why, of course I am, young lady. Sweet of you to ask. How are you?"
"Uh, I'm fine." She exchanged a look with Arturo that spoke volumes. Something strange was going on here.
Quinn came up to them, dragging the struggling thief by his collar. "Got him. Little punk tried to pull a knife on me, but I got it away from him. Here's your purse, lady."
The old woman took the purse from his hands. "Oh, thank you. Nice meeting you. And how are you, sir?" Her last comment was addressed to the thief.
The man looked as confused as the rest of them, pausing momentarily in his attempts to escape. "Huh? Uh, I'm...fine."
Wade took the old woman's arm. "Uh, ma'am? You...you realize this creep just tried to steal your purse, right?"
The old woman frowned. "Oh, really? I didn't notice. It's such a lovely day, I guess I wasn't paying attention. I'm sorry. You may let him go, young man."
"What?" Quinn blurted. "But he..."
"I said, let him go," the old woman said. "Please."
Quinn glared at the man in his grip, then released him. The man yanked himself out of arms' reach, then glared at the woman.
The old woman shuffled forward and pressed her purse into the thief's hands. "Go, my friend. I hope you fall on better times."
The thief stood gaping at the woman for a moment, then glanced at Quinn, flashed him a sneering grin, and ran off down the sidewalk.
Wade's mouth opened and closed a few times before she managed to say, "Lady...are you nuts? That guy just stole your purse."
"Yes," the old woman sighed. "If he's that desperate for money, then he must need it more than I do. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, my friends. Enjoy this wonderful day."
She hobbled off down the sidewalk, humming to herself.
Rembrandt shook his head. "That was definitely not normal."
"Yeah," Quinn said. "There's something weird about this world."
"Maybe," Wade said. "Our maybe she's senile?"
"Either way," Arturo said, "there does seem to be a general pattern to this world. I think this bears further investigation."
David signed to Wade again, who repeated his comments. "Hey, guys, Dave wants to know if we can stop off somewhere. He'd like to see his family."
"Your family?" Arturo said. "We left them behind, young man."
David signed again. Wade said, "Not his real family. He wants to see his family in this world, an alternate version of them."
"I dunno," Quinn murmured. "We've gotten in trouble with our doubles before. Sometimes, you're better off not knowing how people turn out in other worlds."
"Please," David signed, speaking through Wade. "I've always wondered what my family would be like in another world. I've often fantasized about having loving relatives who cared about me. I've got my brother. If my parents are anything like the rest of these people, then I'd like to see them."
Arturo sighed. "Well...I suppose this is your first slide. We might as well indulge you just this once. But at the first sign of difficulty, we must leave as quickly as possible."
David grinned and crossed a finger over his heart.
Quinn shrugged. "Okay, let's go. Uh, taxi..."
A taxicab screeched up to the curb before Quinn even raised his hand to call him. The driver leapt out to run around and open the backdoor for them.
"Good afternoon, lady, gentlemen," the driver said. "It's my sincere pleasure to be your driver this evening."
Rembrandt chuckled at a high pitch as he climbed into the cab. "Man, one thing I like about this world. Great service."
The driver grinned at him. "Well, I love to drive, sir, and this job lets me do a lot of that. Best job in the world from my viewpoint. For me, life couldn't be better."
Arturo regarded the driver cautiously as he got in after Rembrandt. "Yes, well, we're quite happy for you. 4159 Blue Jay Way, if you please."
"Yes, sir," the driver said, snapping a salute.
When the last of the group had stepped inside, the driver shut the door and circled the cab, whistling a jaunty tune. He got behind the wheel and drove off down the road.
David leaned over to Rembrandt, gesturing carefully. Wade nodded, then translated, "He caught your comment about the Topps. David wants to know who they were."
Rembrandt snapped his fingers. "Hey, yeah, I forgot we never gave you the lowdown on my illustrious career. Well, kid, get ready for the history of my meteoric rise to glory."
Arturo smiled. "Yes, and like all meteors, the inevitable crash to Earth."
He burst out laughing while Rembrandt glared at him.
"Hey, do you mind, professor?" Rembrandt asked. "I'm tryin' to enlighten the kid on the rise o' the Cryin' Man. Now, Dave, the Spinnin' Topps were one o' the all-time great R&B bands. So of course, I was one of 'em..."
Arturo distracted himself from Rembrandt's tiring history lesson to glare at the driver. The man was still humming as he drove, occasionally sticking an arm out the window to wave at a passer-by.
"There is something about this Earth," Arturo whispered, "that sets the little hairs on the back of my neck on edge."
Wade smirked at him. "Oh, come on, professor. It looks like the people of this world are just really nice and happy."
"Miss Welles," Arturo murmured, "there is such a thing as being too happy."
The cab dropped them off in front of Quinn's house, a pleasant building that Arturo had grown quite fond of over the past few years. Heaven knew they'd seen it often enough. He was glad they knew for sure that they weren't home. The squeaky-gate test Quinn had invented had grown tiresome, not to mention annoying.
Arturo walked beside David Mallory up the front walk. David's eyes were wide and his walk unsteady with excitement. It was his first time seeing a double other than Quinn, and Arturo knew from experience that it could be quite nerve-wracking.
They climbed the front steps. David clenched his fists, looking up at the others in turn before reaching out and pushing the doorbell.
After a moment, the door was opened by a woman. It was Quinn's mother. She smiled out at the five people on her porch.
"Oh," she said, "hello. It's wonderful to see you on this lovely day. Do I know you?"
Quinn pointed at himself. "You...don't recognize me?"
Mrs. Mallory shook her head. "Why, no, I don't think I do. I'm sorry if we've met before, I have a terrible head for faces."
David swallowed, then pointed at himself. Wade nodded, saying, "He wants to know...if you know him?"
Mrs. Mallory looked down at him. She blinked. "I'm... I'm sorry. I don't. But I take it you know me."
David nodded, then gestured quickly. Wade translated, "Yes, he's...your son."
Mrs. Mallory blinked. A look of confusion swept across her face that was quickly replaced by a softened smile. She spread her arms. David rushed into them, allowing himself to be wrapped in his surrogate mother's hug. Arturo could see David's eyes were tightly closed, but a tear broke free to trickle down the young man's cheek.
"I don't know what's going on," Mrs. Mallory whispered. "But...you seem to need someone to love. Please, come in. That goes for all of you."
"Thanks, Mrs. Mallory," Wade said. "Oh, and uh, David can't hear you. He's deaf."
"Oh, I'm sorry." Mrs. Mallory gently disengaged David to hold him at arms' length. She spoke clearly so that he could read her lips. "You're welcome in our home, my child. Come in, please."
David sniffled, then signed, "Thanks."
Mrs. Mallory put her arm around him and led him into the house as he wiped his cheeks. Arturo sighed, feeling at last that bringing him into this world wasn't a mistake after all.
The house was decorated differently than usual. Flowery curtains sheathed each window, thin enough to allow sunlight to fall on the ornate furniture. The whole color scheme was of blues and yellows and pinks that gave the house a light, pleasant feel. Muzak was playing somewhere, but Arturo couldn't trace the source.
Mrs. Mallory still held David close as she walked down the hallway, calling out, "Dear? We have guests."
A sturdy man emerged from the basement door, wiping off his hands on a cloth. It was Michael Mallory, David's father. He gave the visitors a wide smile that Arturo was getting used to seeing on people in this world.
"Oh, howdy," Michael said. "Always nice to have company. Do I know you fellows?"
"No," Mrs. Mallory said. "But this sweet young man says he's our son."
Michael tilted his head, his smile still firm. "Really? Well, I'd have thought I'd have remembered having one." He laughed heartily.
"It's kind of complicated," Quinn said. "You see, he's your son...from another dimension. A parallel Earth where everything is the same, except that there, he was your son. So was I, although from a different world, and there...well, you were dead."
"Ah," Michael said. "Well, that explains it. We never had children on this world. I'm afraid my wife and I were unable to have them, but we've managed to fill the void with love. Would you people like something to drink? We weren't expecting visitors, so I'm afraid all we have is lemonade, but it's homemade, ice-cold, and the best you'll ever taste on this or any other Earth."
"Uh, sure," Quinn said. "Sounds great."
Wade and Rembrandt agreed. David nodded cautiously, still focused on his loving parents. Only Arturo declined, who was still struggling with what was happening. Michael Mallory strode off into the kitchen as his wife gave David another squeeze.
"Well," she said, "if you're our sons, then I guess I don't have to tell you to make yourself at home. All of you, please sit down."
They all headed into the living room. As Arturo sat down on the couch, he addressed Mrs. Mallory. "Madam, I don't mean to sound rude, but...I find it hard to believe you accept our story so easily. You truly understand that we are from another reality?"
"Of course," Mrs. Mallory said.
"And you believe it?"
Mrs. Mallory blinked, then shook her head as her smile remained constant. "Why...of course I believe it. Why would you lie?"
Michael Mallory emerged from the kitchen carrying a tray of glasses. "Besides, I've been tinkering with some concepts of alternate realities myself. I've got the basic ideas down, and it doesn't seem too unrealistic."
Everyone took their glasses from him, except for Arturo, who was deep in thought. A moment of silence passed as everyone brought their glasses to their lips. Arturo watched the Mallorys. Their smiles were as solid as everyone else's in this world. Miss Welles was right. These people were deliriously happy for no apparent reason. Or at least no reason Arturo had yet seen.
Mrs. Mallory sat down on the couch with David on one side and Quinn on the other. She wrapped her arms around them and pulled them close to her.
"An instant family," she sighed. "I feel like I know you already. Have you come to stay with us?"
"Uh, no," Quinn said, "actually we're kind of just stopping by on our way to another dimension. David wanted to see you. His parents were really abusive to him on his world, and he wanted to see another side of them."
Mrs. Mallory's jaw dropped, breaking her smile for the first time. "I...I can't imagine that. Me and Michael...cruel to our own children?"
Michael sighed. "I...suppose that they must have had their reasons. Broken homes, difficult childhoods, these things bring out the worst of humanity. But rest assured that we would never treat anyone with anything other than love."
David smiled as he signed to Wade. She translated, saying, "He knows. He's never been held by his mother before. It's like a dream. He'd like to know if he could see the rest of the house?"
"Of course," Michael said. "Come on, son. I'd be interested in seeing how this place was decorated on another Earth, because I always felt the couch should be over there."
Wade caught David's attention and signed while speaking aloud, "Do you want me to come with you to translate?"
David shook his head, then made more gestures across his face and arms.
Wade nodded in understanding. "Okay. You'd like to be alone with your family."
David grinned up at the other Mallorys as he nodded. Michael headed off through the house with his wife and David in tow. Quinn gave the others a thumbs-up, then hurried to follow.
When they were gone, Wade exhaled with a broad smile. "That was so sweet. Did you see Dave's face? It was like he was alive for the first time."
"Yeah," Rembrandt said. "Wouldn't have missed that for the world. Poor little guy. Can you imagine what it's like to live your whole life without being told you were loved or held?"
Arturo stood and clasped his hands behind his back. "Yes. And I for one am glad we were able to give him this second chance. On this instance, I believe our meddling has borne sweet fruit. But I'm also concerned about this world. Why are these people so happy?"
Wade sprawled on the couch. "Still? Come on, professor, it's no biggie."
"Yeah," Rembrandt said. "Maybe they're more religious on this world."
"Or maybe they just never developed the cruelty and selfishness we did on our world. Quite frankly, I prefer it this way. This place is wonderful. Everyone makes you feel right at home."
"Yeah, I get a nice feelin' from this place."
"Well, I do not," Arturo said. "But even so, we have learned by now that no changes occur without a reason. Something has turned these people into virtual hippies, and I am very curious to find out why."
He noticed the TV against the wall and flicked it on. "Ah, ha. Time for the five o'clock news. Perhaps that may shed some light onto this world."
The TV set glowed to life with an anchorman who wore the same persistent smile Arturo had come to recognize.
"Good evening, San Francisco," the anchorman said. "Today was a beautiful day, wasn't it? A brisk wind, clear skies, the kind of day that makes you feel alive. Well, in the news, the president declared war on Kuwait for their refusal to recognize the No-Fly Zone. Protesters created a mob outside the White House that crushed fifteen hundred people. A disgruntled postal worker killed eight people at a shoot-out inside a McDonald's in Seattle. And serial killer Richard Speck was sentenced to death for the murder of fourteen nurses last August. But first, here's Joanie with a report on the baby white tigers born at the San Diego Zoo."
The camera cut to a smiling woman in front of a cage who began to describe the birth of three white tigers that morning.
"Incredible," Arturo said. "Well, at least we know one thing. The persistent joy and hospitality of this world does not extend outside this area. If these reporters are any indication, it seems to be localized to San Francisco. How very odd."
The Mallorys returned from the stairs, laughing over some unheard joke. Michael and his wife had their arms around Quinn and David.
"Guys?" Quinn said with a broad smile. "We've made a decision. Dave wants to stay with these people in this world. And so do I."
Arturo stared at David and Quinn, who smiled back at him. "You...you what?"
"We wanna stay here," Quinn said. "This place is great. These people are so friendly and happy that we just...feel happy, too. David never had loving parents until now. And I never had a father on my world. So what's the point of leaving? We may never have it so good again."
"You can't be serious," Arturo said. "After...after all we've been through and done..."
"Hey, professor," Rembrandt said. "Lay off 'em, man. If they wanna stay, why can't we let 'em stay? As a matter of fact...I wouldn't mind hangin' around here myself."
Arturo turned to face him. "Mr. Brown? Why on Earth would you stay here?"
"Look around you, man. This place is filled with happiness and joy. It's paradise."
"It's abnormal!" Arturo yelled. "There's something terribly wrong here!"
"No, there isn't, professor," Wade said. "There's something wrong with you. Ever since we got here, you've been trying to find a dark side to this place. Well, there isn't. I haven't felt this happy in my whole life. I don't want it to end. I'm staying, too."
Arturo swept the room with his gaze. He looked at the faces of his colleagues and noticed for the first time that they were all smiling. The broad smiles he had seen on everyone since they arrived in this world. The unreasoning joy at simply being alive. Arturo was surprised at how it unnerved him.
Arturo pointed at Quinn. "You...something's happened to all of you. You've been affected by this world, haven't you?"
Michael and his wife looked at each other, allowing a thought to pass unspoken between them. As Quinn took a step forward, Mrs. Mallory let go of David and slipped out into another room.
"Hey," Quinn said, "professor, calm down. There's no conspiracy here."
"Yes, there is," Arturo said. "There is something on this world that is bringing out unreasoning joy in everyone. For some reason, I have yet to be affected, but I think it wise that we find somewhere to protect ourselves from it."
"Forget it, professor," Wade said. "First of all, we haven't been 'affected' by anything. We're just in a loving environment. That brings out happiness in people. Second of all, even if we were being zapped by whatever Happiness Ray you think we are, so what? What's wrong with feeling good?"
"I'll tell you what's wrong," Arturo said. "When it makes you think nothing of giving your purse to the man who robbed you, that's what's wrong. When you decide to abandon your quest for the last two years to stay in a world you barely know for no apparent reason, that's what's wrong. We are all in grave danger, can't you see that?"
Rembrandt was still smiling as he reached out for the professor. "Hey, man, you're just confused. Relax and we'll talk..."
Arturo knocked Rembrandt's hand away, then backed up a few steps to stay out of reach. "Stay away from me. All of you. I don't know what's going on, but I fear it might be contagious."
The front door rang. Mrs. Mallory emerged from another room to unlock it. Two men in police uniforms walked into the house, smiling from ear-to-ear. They entered the living room, belts jangling.
"What seems to be the problem here?" one of the policemen asked.
Mrs. Mallory pointed at Arturo. "I'm afraid this man is being a disturbance. He's trying to upset us and take away our sons."
"Outrageous," Arturo yelled. "These are not your sons!"
Quinn moved to put his arm around her. He remained smiling at Arturo, but his eyes had hardened into a cold, piercing gaze. "We are now. Come on, professor. Go with them. I guarantee after they're done with you, you're gonna feel a lot better."
The two policemen began to walk towards the professor. One of them was pulling out a set of handcuffs. The other held up his hands and made reassuring comments. The front door was blocked by Quinn and his family. Wade and Rembrandt were standing in front of the windows. David was watching him with a solemn expression.
Arturo bolted across the living room. He heard the yells and pounding boots of the policemen coming after him. He plunged through the door into the adjoining kitchen. Arturo almost slipped on the polished tiles, but kept going to the back door.
He collided with it full-force. The lock shattered, sending the door flying open to expose the now-darkening city. Beneath a full moon, Arturo dashed down the back staircase and ran. The policemen were coming up behind him. Arturo heard a clicking sound. Then a bang. A gunshot.
"That was a warning shot, sir!" one of the policemen yelled. "We don't want to shoot you, but we will if we have to!"
Arturo bolted across the grassy backyard. He came to a chainlink fence. He began to climb up it, the metal links rattling as his fingers clasped them. He was starting to get out of breath. He wasn't built for this kind of excitement. He was a theoretical physicist, not Sylvester Stallone. But he had to keep moving for his own sake and the sake of the others.
Arturo reached the top of the fence. He looked back. The policemen were charging across the backyard towards him. Light shone out of the open backdoor, silhouetting Quinn, Mr. and Mrs. Mallory, Wade, and Rembrandt. They just stood there, watching. He couldn't make out their faces, but he knew they were smiling.
One of the police officers aimed at him. There was another bang. The fence pinged as something hit it, giving off sparks. Arturo released the fence. He fell. The ground slammed into him, driving out his breath. But he struggled to his feet again and ran, arms pumping, breath thick in his lungs.
Arturo ran. He ran for blocks before he even got the courage to look back. When he saw there was no one there, Arturo kept going. He didn't know where he was headed, but he knew he'd find out when he got there. Occasionally, he would hear something like footsteps coming after him, but they always disappeared a few seconds later.
Arturo was surprised when he at last came to the edge of Golden Gate Park. He slowed his pace and the exertion caught up with him. Arturo had to stop and just breathe for a few minutes, trying to recover. When he felt he could manage to move again, Arturo began to walk towards the park.
Why was he here? He didn't know. He supposed it was as good a place as any. It was a large, open area in which he could hide and figure things out. It was also where they had first arrived. Maybe there was some clue as to the cause of his friends' affliction.
What was it? Arturo thought hard, trying to think. He didn't seem to be affected by whatever was in these people. Arturo forced a smile to return the greeting thrown at him by a passerby. Somewhere along their journey into this world, the others had been exposed to something or done something that he hadn't.
Arturo sat down on a park bench. He smiled at a man pushing a baby carriage who said "Good evening" to him. It was hard to think. The events of the past few hours were a blur to him now. He had no idea what he was going to do, even if he did figure out what went wrong.
A man walked up to him, wreathed in shadows. His torn jeans flapped on his legs as he walked into a shaft of moonlight. He was smiling.
Arturo's heart leapt at the sight of him. "You...you are the one who stole that woman's purse." At last, the first person in San Francisco the professor had seen who wasn't a candidate for the Mickey Mouse Club.
The thief nodded, still smiling. "That's right. I can't understand why I did that now. It seems so pointless. It didn't make me happy. But I'm happy now, and I want to make amends."
He held out the old woman's purse. "Here. Please give this back to that poor woman if you see her."
Arturo's heart sank. "You...you're like them now. Happy."
The man nodded. He wore that same stupid smile on his face that the others did.
Arturo grabbed the man's shoulder, pulling him closely. "Look, it's very important that I find out what's affecting these people and you. Earlier, you were a normal person."
"You mean unhappy," the man said.
"Yes, unhappy. Now you're not. Why?"
"Easy, man," the thief said. "It's because I was from Los Angeles. A cesspool of misery and decay. But then I got off the bus to San Francisco. Sure, at first I didn't realize what I had. Robbing that old lady was the first thing I did. But then I wandered around for a while, met the people, and realized there's happiness all around us..."
"Yes, yes, whatever," Arturo murmured. "So you were from out of town, just like us. And then you came into the city, like us. And...now you're like them. But why? What have you done since you came here?"
The man opened his mouth to speak. Then Arturo looked over his shoulder. A police car was rolling down the street, a spotlight shining out of the passenger window to play over the outskirts of Golden Gate Park.
Arturo quickly broke his grip on the man. He scurried as quickly as he could into the park. Charging across grass and down cobblestone walkways, Arturo plunged deeper and deeper into the rural surroundings. All the while, he looked back to see if the police were following. They weren't that he could see, but he had to be sure.
Then Arturo heard a voice. The voice of a man screaming at the top of his lungs. And suddenly, Arturo knew why he had come to the park after all.
He followed the path to the Lincoln statue. Crazy Kenny stood on the same bench, shaking his fist in the air as he yelled his message. People and couples walked by him, only pausing to look at him in amusement or toss a coin into a jar on the bench next to him.
"They're controlling your minds!" he roared. "The Powers That Be have you under their spell! Curb your gluttony or be under their control for eternity! Mind control, ladies and gentlemen! Mind control!"
Arturo walked towards him as if in a daze. As he drew near, Crazy Kenny stopped speaking to look down at him.
The old man's face creased into a smile. "Your friends, the ones with you before...they're being controlled now, aren't they?"
"You're not crazy, are you?" Arturo asked. "You're telling the truth. You know what's going on. Please... tell me."
"I'll do more than that." Crazy Kenny stepped down from the bench. "I'll show you."
Crazy Kenny led Arturo through the dark and shadowy park. Occasionally, they passed other visitors to Golden Gate Park who gave them cheerful greetings. Kenny always ignored them and Arturo began to do likewise. The people didn't seem to notice or care, anyway.
Kenny finally led Arturo to a stream running through the park. Kenny crawled underneath the rocky bridge to a large shanty made of planks of wood. Arturo followed him inside.
Arturo's first thought was that it was the home of a madman. The bed was just a grimy blanket folded over and stuffed in a corner. The walls were literally papered with newsclippings about seemingly unrelated topics. One was an article on the rising numbers of the depressed in America. Another was an advertisement for a home water-filtration system. A third was just a big picture of the classic "Have A Nice Day" smiley-face. A large X had been drawn over it.
In a corner, a pot was boiling rapidly on a gas stove. The top of the pot was covered with a metal dome that trapped and collected the steam coming off the water. The steam condensed into water that trickled into cups arranged around the pot.
Kenny crawled over to the pot, grabbed one of the cups, and thrust it at Arturo. "Drink this."
Arturo stared at it. He was beginning to wonder if Kenny held the answer, after all.
The old man's wrinkled face twisted into a grin. "It's okay. This water's pure, cleaned it myself. Built this whole system. Only way to avoid the mind control."
Arturo took the glass. He was thankful that it appeared to be clean. After casting a suspicious glare at Kenny, he took a sip. It was hot, but tasted fine.
"Uh, thank you," Arturo said. "Now I wonder if you could tell me what this has to do with the so-called mind control."
Kenny stabbed a finger at the glass. "That has everything to do with mind control. It's the water. The government, the military, the Powers That Be, they've contaminated our drinking water. Purified water is the only way to avoid it."
Arturo blinked as Kenny turned away to rummage through some newspapers. The professor pointed at him.
"The water," he whispered. "Of course. The water. I was the only one who didn't drink the lemonade the Mallorys gave us. And the lemonade was made with water. That's what I did differently."
Kenny hauled out a large envelope and shoved it into Arturo's hands. "I've been collecting information. Articles, environmental studies, government files released by the Freedom of Information Act. It's all here."
Arturo took the envelope and dragged out some of the papers inside it. It was indeed what Kenny had described. Newspaper clippings, computer printouts, all focused on San Francisco's drinking water.
"I've been trying," Kenny said, "to do a study of my own. Try to figure out what it is in the water that's doing all this. But...I'm not a chemist. And the Powers That Be keep everything related to it under wraps. I've been trying to isolate the contaminant, the final piece of the puzzle I need before I can tell the world the truth."
Arturo found a chemical study on the water and skimmed it. His eyes focused on one chemical in particular. "Wait a moment. This chemical. I've heard of it in my own world. Trioximetasone. Where have I heard...of course."
Arturo looked up at Kenny, who grinned back at him with a wild look in his eyes. "It's an antidepressant. Highly controversial on my world. It was discovered to have narcotic and hallucinogenic effects. It didn't pass the FDA standards and was never released to the public. Why the devil would anyone put that in the drinking water?"
Kenny snapped his fingers. "You've given me the missing piece of the puzzle. We must alert the media."
The door of the shanty was knocked in by a thick green boot. A large man in army fatigues charged in, aiming an Uzi automatic rifle at Kenny. Another man followed to draw a second Uzi on Arturo.
"Come with us, please," one of the men snarled.
Arturo forced a smile as he raised his hands. "Well...I can hardly refuse such a polite request."
Arturo and Kenny had been taken out of the shanty to a black van parked alongside the river. Canvas bags had been dragged over their faces and handcuffs snapped around their wrists. Blind and immobile, Arturo could only be thrown into the back of the van. He endured the ride in bitter silence while Kenny hurled insults at everyone he could think of. Other than an occasional scratching noise at the door, the drive was smooth, so Arturo assumed they were travelling on a paved road.
After what felt like hours, the van stopped. Arturo was hauled out of the back. He was walked down a concrete path, guided by a hand on his arm. Eventually, Arturo felt the surface underneath him change to carpeting. Then he was pushed up against a chair.
"Sit," a deep voice said.
Arturo sat down in the leather-upholstered chair. A rope was tied around his arms, then to the back of the chair. When he was firmly tied down, footsteps left the room. There was the click of a door closing, then silence with only the sigh of air passing through a vent to break it. The inside of the bag was making him dizzy with the smell of canvas.
"Kenny?" Arturo asked.
"Yes," the old man said from beside him. "I'm here with you."
"Are you tied up like I am?"
"Yes. I'm afraid so, my son. The Powers That Be seem to have caught up with us at last. If only my telepathic powers were working, I would be able to free myself, but the Powers have thought of that, and must have lined this room with tin foil. I cannot communicate with my alien friends."
Arturo pondered his statements, then decided that Crazy Kenny really was crazy after all. It just seemed as if Kenny's paranoia was accurate in one respect. Perhaps that's why he had been unaffected. His suspicion of everything led him to avoid and uncover the one conspiracy that actually existed.
"But not to worry," Kenny said. "I have other allies. A friend from above. He's been watching us, following us, and soon he will strike to release us from our prison. Our persecution is coming to an end."
Arturo took a deep breath to launch into a flurry of insults when he heard a whisper coming from somewhere around him. It was low and slightly slurred, but it almost sounded like someone calling his name. Arturo winced, trying to listen, as the sound came again. Where was it coming from...
Then he heard the click of a door opening. Someone was entering the room.
"Oh, for heaven's sakes," a man said. "Remove the bags, will you? This isn't a James Bond movie."
The bag on Arturo's head was pulled off. Arturo was able to see that he was in an office. A tall, thin man was sitting on a desk, grinning down at Arturo and Kenny, who was tied to a chair next to him.
"Good evening," the man said. "You can call me Thomas. I'm currently directing the Saguaro Project for the National Institute of Health. I'm responsible for what you and your little friend here have uncovered."
The man picked up a bowl and held it out to them. "Mint?"
"The NIH?" Arturo asked. "The government contaminated the city's drinking water? For what possible reason?"
Thomas put down the bowl. "Come now, you seem like an intelligent man, unlike your companion. Surely you can see the benefits of the Saguaro Project."
He held up a finger. "Consider this. Depression is the number one mental illness in the country. The numbers of the clinically depressed are growing at an astronomical rate. And with it, an increase in suicides, crime, homicides, drug usage. The nation's productivity suffers as people don't work or perform well at their jobs. No one is happy anymore. An unhappy nation is a self-destructive nation."
"Medication exists," Thomas continued, "to treat depression, but it's hard to get people to take it. First, they have to admit they have a problem. We've tried everything to locate and treat the clinically-depressed, but can't seem to reach everyone the way we reach the traditionally-ill. So the NIH has devised a scheme to solve this. We're adding antidepressants to the water, medicating everyone. This is just a trial run. If things go well in San Francisco, and they have so far, we'll be expanding the program to the rest of America."
"This is abominable," Arturo growled. "You are medicating your own people without their knowledge or consent."
Thomas shrugged. "It's not without precedent. We give American flouride in their water without their consent, either."
"Flouride is a dental hygiene aid. This is a mind-altering chemical. It is *not* the same thing. People should have the choice about whether or not they choice to be controlled this way, and quite frankly, I believe your so-called Saguaro Project is a colossal failure. These people are zombies, not citizens. To imagine your entire nation to reflect this San Francisco is a nightmare too horrifying for me to contemplate."
Thomas looked down at him, his smile flickering at the edges. "I guess I should've known you wouldn't understand. Sure you don't want a mint?"
"Yes," Arturo snarled.
"Pity. It's laced with trioximetasone. I was hoping we could get you to conform the easy way, but I suppose it was too much to hope for."
Thomas popped the mint into his own mouth, then gestured towards Arturo and Kenny. The two men who had arrested them stepped into their range of vision. They were holding large syringes filled with a yellow fluid.
"Time to take your medicine," Thomas said.
Arturo began to breathe faster as the men came towards him with their syringes. One of them yanked down the shoulder of Arturo's coat to expose his arm. Arturo began to struggle, but the cuffs and ropes held him fast. He could only grit his teeth and wait for the inevitable.
"You shall not prevail!" Kenny was screaming. "The young shall topple your empire and rescue us from destruction!"
For the first time, Thomas ever-present smile flickered in confusion. "What is that old man babbling about?"
The air-conditioning vent above him popped open with a loud bang. A slim young man dropped out of it to land next to one of the armed men. He punched the man, sending him reeling. In the brief moment when the thug was off-guard, the young man grabbed the automatic weapon from his hands.
Thomas lunged back as the young man aimed the gun at him. "What is the meaning of this?"
"David?" Arturo gasped.
David Mallory grinned at him, then gestured at Thomas and his men. Even without speaking, the three NIH employees got the message. They backed away from Arturo and Kenny. David inched over to where Arturo was tied up, keeping the muzzle of the gun aimed at Thomas.
As David reached down with a free hand to untie the professor, Arturo gasped, "David, my boy. How the devil did you do this? I thought you were like the others."
David finished untying Arturo and quickly signed with his free hand. Arturo shook his head, unable to understand. David rolled his eyes, then sidled over to the desk. He grabbed a pen and pad, scribbled on the paper, then thrust the page at Arturo.
It read, "I Hate Lemonade."
Arturo looked up at him. "So you never drank it, after all?"
David shook his head.
"But I saw you..."
David made exaggerated coughing and spitting movements.
"Ah, I see," Arturo said. "You spat it out."
David nodded, vigorously.
Arturo sighed. "Of course. I should have noticed that you were the only one in that room who was not hopelessly delirious."
David scribbled on the page again, then held up a note saying, "I Knew Something Weird Was Going On, So I Played Along Until I Got A Chance To Go After You."
"Well, it seems I owe you a debt of thanks, young man. Now, we must free Kenny and retrieve the others. We cannot take the chance of missing our slide."
Arturo hurried over to Kenny and began undoing the knots around him. Crazy Kenny was laughing hysterically.
"I warned you," he yelled. "I warned you that the youth would be your downfall!"
"You mean you knew David was following us the whole time?"
"Sure," Kenny said. "Heck, he was following you back at the park. Then when I heard him hitching a ride by hanging onto the back of our van...well, I knew it was only a matter of time."
Arturo finished his work and stepped back. "Well, I wish you had shared that piece of information with me when it could have done me some good, you blistering idiot."
Kenny stood up, working his wrists in the handcuffs. "I did. I told you I had a friend from above. He was above us in the vent."
"Well, why didn't you just say it in English?" Arturo roared. "Is it physically impossible for you to speak like a human being instead of a prophet of doom..."
David grabbed his sleeve and yanked on it hard. When he had Arturo's attention, David jerked his head towards the door.
"Oh, yes," Arturo said. "Escape. We shall finish our conversation at a more opportune time. Let's go, gentlemen. Thomas, it was wonderful to meet you. I hope you and your Saguaro Project die an excruciating death."
He ran to the door, followed by Kenny and David, who backed out of the room keeping his weapon trained on the NIH.
Kenny apparently was familiar with the NIH, because he was able to lead them through the maze of hallways to the parking lot. He was also apparently skilled at larceny, because he was able to break into and hot-wire an NIH van.
They drove at high speed to the home of the Mallorys. Kenny screeched to a halt outside. Arturo and David charged up the front walk, pushing through the squeaky gate.
Arturo looked down at David, who still cradled the Uzi in his hands. "Do you have any idea how to handle that weapon?"
David shrugged and shook his head.
"Then you had best let me use it," Arturo said. "Not only is it dangerous for you to be wielding it, but I believe I will have slightly more credibility."
Arturo took the Uzi, checked to make sure it was loaded, and hurried up the front steps. At the door, David knocked as hard as he could.
Mrs. Mallory opened the door with her usual smile, which remained constant even when she was looking down the barrel of Arturo's gun.
"Oh, there you are, David," Mrs. Mallory said. "We missed you during our Scrabble game. And professor, nice to see you again. Were the police able to straighten things out with you?"
"Quite," Arturo said, raising his Uzi. "I'm afraid I don't have time to exchange pleasantries with you, Mrs. Mallory. I must retrieve my friends and escape this madhouse in time for the slide."
"Oh. All right." Mrs. Mallory stepped aside to allow Arturo and David to enter the house.
The others were all chatting in the living room. None of them looked surprised or alarmed to see Arturo enter with a gun.
"Hey, professor," Wade said. "How's it going? Michael was just telling us..."
"How much time do we have before the slide?" Arturo asked.
Quinn blinked, then fished around in his jacket until he produced the timer. After flipping it open, he said, "Uh, about four hours."
"Then we haven't missed it," Arturo said. "Thank heavens. Mr. Mallory Senior, it has been wonderful to meet you, but I'm afraid our visit is over."
"Leaving so soon, son?" Michael Mallory asked.
David nodded, firmly, then began to gesture on his face and body. Wade saw it and translated. "He says that he always wanted to meet pleasant, loving versions of his parents, but he wants it to be real love, not artificially-induced. It was nice to meet you both, but he'll keep on looking."
Mrs. Mallory walked in and sat down next to her husband, who put his arm around her.
"Well," she sighed, "it was wonderful to have you here for a while. Take care."
"Yeah," Quinn said. "Hang in there, you guys."
Arturo turned the Uzi on where the other Sliders were sitting. "I'm afraid we are not the only ones leaving, Mr. Mallory. You three are coming with us."
"But we don't want to slide," Wade said. "We wanna stay here."
"You have been drugged, my friends," Arturo said. "You are not thinking clearly. This city's water has been tainted with powerful antidepressants. Now, under ordinary circumstances, I would leave the decision to remain behind in a world up to you, but I fear that your decision-making abilities have been severely weakened. So I must ask that you come with me to the slide or I shall shoot you in the legs and drag you into the wormhole myself."
Rembrandt looked at the others, then shrugged, still cheerful. "Okay, professor. Whatever you say. You've always had the brains in this outfit, so you know what's best for us."
Arturo grinned down at David. "I say, I believe Mr. Brown is more tolerable in this condition. Perhaps I should carry a supply of this water along with us."
Quinn helped Wade put on her jacket, then trooped after her and Rembrandt to the front door. Arturo let them and David walk ahead of him, then nodded to the Mallorys, and ran out of the house.
The others were climbing into the NIH van. When Arturo was inside, Kenny hit the gas. The van roared off into the night.
Arturo took the timer from Quinn to check the readout. "We still have time. Kenny, we must hurry back to Golden Gate Park to retrieve your files, then to the nearest TV station."
"You're thinking what I'm thinking?" Kenny called back over his shoulder. "Spreading the word to the masses?"
"Exactly. We must inform the mass media of this heinous violation of human rights. However, I shall have to accompany you. I'm afraid you do not make a very credible speaker."
"No matter," Kenny said. "My voice only disturbs the evil and the oppressors."
"And the intelligentsia," Arturo murmured.
The van screeched up to the curb alongside Golden Gate Park. Kenny dashed off into the trees and returned carrying a heavy folder off notes and clippings. Arturo had taken his place at the wheel and drove them down to the nearest TV station.
Arturo and Crazy Kenny bolted through the front door and didn't stop yelling until they got someone's attention.
Arturo and David sat side-by-side in their room at the Dominion Hotel, watching the evening news.
The anchorman was speaking in stern tones. "And this just in, an informant has given this station evidence of an incredible government cover-up to contaminate San Francisco's drinking water with the antidepressant drug, trioximetasone. The Justice Department has ordered a complete investigation of the allegations against the NIH, as well as the questioning of all top San Francisco NIH officials. Citizens are advised to drink only bottled or purified water, not tapwater, until the city's water supply can be redirected to the Santa Anita Reservoir."
The anchorman paused and touched the receiver in his ear. "And...I've just been told that the NIH has refused to comply with the court's request for interrogation, resulting in an order for their arrests. We now go live to the National Institute of Health to our own Warren Hull."
The camera cut to the street outside the Institute. A tall handsome man was jogging after a platoon of police officers charging through the front gate. The man yelled into a microphone as his name was superimposed under him.
"This is Warren Hull," the man said. "Only moments ago, the Justice Department ordered the arrest of all top NIH officials. San Francisco police refused to perform the arrests, most likely because of the effects of the trioximetasone, and so the National Guard has been called in."
The camera wavered to show men and women being led out of the Institute in handcuffs. One of them, smiling at the camera, was Thomas.
"So far, the arrests have gone smoothly," Hull said, "but there are those in the city who say they enjoy being medicated and will fight to keep the antidepressants in our drinking water. We'll keep you informed of further developments. Back to you, Jim."
The camera cut back to the anchorman. "Thanks, Warren. This entire incredible story was uncovered by one man, once thought to be an insane drifter living in Golden Gate Park. Known as Crazy Kenny..."
Arturo turned off the TV. "I believe I've seen enough of that man to last me a lifetime."
David gestured in sign language, then looked at Wade.
She smiled, then said, "He wants to know if every slide is going to be like this."
"Oh, no," Arturo said. "Usually it's much worse. At least we did not face rampaging dinosaurs or Kromagg warriors."
David frowned and gestured again, ending in a series of letters spelled out with his hands.
"He's asking, who are the Kromaggs?" Wade said.
Arturo clapped him on the back. "I say, you do have an awful lot of catching up to do, don't you, my boy. Well, we still have over an hour until the slide. Allow me to enlighten you."
Quinn looked down at the ropes that tied him, Rembrandt, and Wade to chairs. "Hey, professor, is this really necessary?"
Arturo looked back at them. "I'm afraid so, my friends. According to the police, the effects of the trioximetasone will not wear off until after we slide, and we cannot take the chance that you three will try to escape before then."
"We wouldn't do that," Rembrandt said. "We love you guys, man."
"And I you, Mr. Brown," Arturo said. "But forewarned is forearmed. Now just relax and feel free to jump in any time."
Arturo steepled his fingers as he faced David again. "Now, let us begin with the Kromaggs. Our first encounter with them began with our journey to what appeared at first glance to be an abandoned amusement park. However, we soon realized something was seriously wrong..."