Dear Kitty

By Aelita
Originally posted at the JOC Fanatics BBoard.

Dear Kitty-cat,

The most amazing thing happened to me today. I swear if someone else would have told me Ö Iíd tell him to go to a shrink. Itís almost morning and Iím really tired, but Iím gonna write it with as much detail as I can remember.

I got stuck at work later than usual and decided to take a shortcut through the park. After a while I felt someone following me. When I turned around I saw Quinn. He was keeping his distance but even from a mile away I could see how terrible he looked. Dark circles, red eyes, and probably a weekís stubble Ė all the symptoms that heís been drinking again. I felt mixed up, one part of me felt sorry for him and wanted to come up and hug him. The smart part kept whispering ĎGet away. You know why heís here and you know whatís gonna happen nextí.

He saw me looking at him and waved. I had no choice now but to wait for him. As soon as he came up it started again. The same argument we had for the last year. Every time he sobered up he came to me asking for my forgiveness. Promising to change, get a job, get an apartment, go back to his research. And then the punchline Ė he just needs a small loan to get started. And every time Iíd give it to him, hoping that this time itíll be different. But this time I wasnít caving in. He was getting really mad, and started calling me names, saying that itíll be my fault if heíll starve to death. That overflowed the cup. I told him that if it werenít for me he would have starved to death by now, since Iíve been supporting him since he got kicked out of his last job, and if he wants to throw away his life on drinking thatís fine but I donít have to stay around and watch. I also told him that his mother wouldnít approve of what heís doing to himself. Before I could finish the sentence I felt a sharp pain on my cheek and realized that I was falling. I looked up and I saw a look of horror on Quinnís face when he looked at me, at his hand and understood what he has done. He slowly backed away from me and we just stared at each other for a few moments and then he took off, as fast as he possibly could. The pain on my face was nothing compared to what was stirring up inside of me. Even though he wasnít the same man I loved a while ago, I still had feelings for him. Weíve been lovers for a long time, and best friends for even longer. He was the only important person left in my life since the pandemic hit. (Except you of course) I felt like my whole world just shuttered Ö I did the only thing I could do at the momentóI dropped my head and started cryingÖ

Iím not sure how much time Iíve just lied there, but it must have been a while, because it got really dark when I heard a weird whooshing sound. At first I didnít look up thinking that my imagination is playing tricks on me, but when the sound stopped I heard people talking and laughing and thought that itíll look strange if someone saw me lying on the grass in the middle of the park. Since I didnít really want to see anybody, I decided to get up and leave. But I guess I took too much time creating that Ďperfectí plan. When I sat up I saw somebody towering over me, offering his hand.

"Are you alright, sweetheart?" he asked. He was a handsome, black man in his thirties, wearing very a very strange long dark red robe.

"No" I sighed quietly "but I will beÖsomeday".

"Wade? Oh my God, Wade it is you!" he turned around and started screaming "Guys, come here quickly, look who I found."

A female voice answered "Weíre coming Remmy, hold your horses".

I looked at him carefully and even though I knew that I never saw him before in my life, I wasnít scared. In the last couple of years a lot of strange people came up to me acting as if I was their best friend. As I was standing up I saw three more people rushing toward us. When the first one stopped into the light, I recognized him right away and my first reaction was to run off, but the man they called Remmy caught my arm.

"Wait, I know all this looks a little strange to you, but please let me explain".

"There is nothing strange about it. Iím glad you know me, but many others do. Let me tell you this: I donít know who you or those other people are, but I know who he is and Iím REALLY not in the mood". I felt anger stirring up inside of me. I couldnít believe that after what Quinn did to me, he could just stand in front of me smiling like nothing happened. I tried to free my arm and my face got into light. Smile disappeared from Quinnís face and he leaned toward me lightly touching my face.

"Who did this to you?"

"Who did this to me? Are you kidding? What the hell is wrong with you? Now you gonna tell me that you were too drunk to remember? " My voice was dripping with sarcasm. I was so angry I felt like hitting him. I could practically see how Iím punching Quinn in the face and heís flying for three feet before he falls on the ground. Considering the difference in size between us, the picture was quite funny. So instead of hitting him I started laughing, hysterically with tears in my eyes. I missed the moment when I stopped laughing and started sobbing again. I felt someone hugging me and heard Remmyís voice soothing me. Strangely enough, it calmed me down. I looked at Quinn and saw confusion in his eyes. But there was something else. Something I couldnít put my finger on at first. I stepped away from Remmy and looked closer. My anger melted away, giving in to fear crippling inside of me. He didnít look like Quinn that hit me a couple of hours ago. He looked more like Quinn before the pandemic, except this one had a scar on his lip that I know MY Quinn didnít have this morning.

And he was wearing the same long robe as Remmy, except his was much tighter and blue.

"You are not Quinn, are you? I mean you look a lot like him, you sound like him but I can see youíre not him. Who are you and why are you impersonating him?"

"Look, Wade, I know it sounds strange but you are right and wrong at the same time. Iíll explain everything later, but for now youíre just gonna have to trust me."

"I want you to explain now. I want you to tell me who you are and what are you doing here." He looked relieved that I wasnít angry with him anymore. He didnít realize how confused and scared I was.

"Well as hard it is to believe, I really am a Quinn Mallory, just not the one from this world."

"Not the one from this world? " I think he noticed the sarcasm in my voice, but he just nodded and pointed at an attractive brunette in jeans and white shirt standing next to him,

"This is Maggie", he then turned to a young man in a green robe who looked a lot like him, "this is Colin, and the man next to you is Remmy. Listen, why donít we go somewhere where we can sit down, get some food and Iíll explain the rest then? We havenít had anything to eat in over 30 hours."

I looked at him like he was crazy.

"You have to be from another world. There hasnít been any good Ďsit down and get some foodí places since the pandemic."

"Pandemic?" now it was his turn to be confused. I turned to Remmy, but he seemed to be even more confused. My skepticism started to evaporate.

"S.I.P.2? Spanish influenza pandemic?" I could see that it didnít ring a bell. "OK, you have to be crazy or dead not to know of the sickness that took away two thirds of the world population. And you donít look dead."

"Well I donít know about Q-ball here, but Iím certainly not crazy" Remmy said grinning. Maggie chuckled and replied.

"I wouldnít bet on it, Remmy, I mean look at what youíre wearing. If I were her I certainly wouldnít believe you."

"It was fashionable on the last world, girl. Women loved the way Cryiní man looked in that thing."

I couldnít help but smile. Quinn interrupted their light bickering.

"Guys, can we get serious for a moment here? I remember reading about Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918. It came during WWI and killed millions of people within a year and then it died out on its own. "

I shook my head "I wasnít talking about 1918 pandemic, I was talking about 1995 pandemic" I hesitated for a second and said "why donít we go to my house and Iíll tell you more about it".

"Sounds greaÖ" but before Quinn could finish, Remmy interrupted him:

"Do you have any food in your house, girl, Ďcause Iím so hungry I could eat an elephant."

I laughed lightly "I donít have an elephant, but Iím sure I can whip up something. Weíll just have to stop by the grocery on the way to buy some foodÖ and may be something to wear for you guys, Ďcause those things are hideous".

Maggie playfully punched Remmyís arm "See?"

On the way to the grocery, Quinn asked me if I ever heard about parallel worlds. I donít think Iíll ever forget his shocked face when I replied with a question.

"Are you talking about Hugh Everettís splitting worlds theory or Stephen Hawkingís baby universes?"

"Youíre familiar with those theories?"

"Astrophysics has been kind of a hobby of mine back in college, so Iíve read about different parallel world theories before. But I have to admit I donít remember much anymore, my memory is mostly filled with viruses" I admitted sheepishly.

He grinned and asked, "Well, how much do you remember?"

"Basically Everettís theory said that every time a quantum transaction takes place, the world splits in two versions. His many-worlds theory says that every possible version of the world that can existódoes. Hawkinís theory agrees with the second part, but it says that there were infinite number of universes to begin with. And, unlike Everettís theory, it states that those universes coexist with each other. There is much more to it but I just canít remember anything else. Except that those universes connect with each other through a wormhole."

Quinn nodded and continued for me.

"Youíre right. And my friends and I came through one of those wormholes. Actually we traveled through quiet many of them finding a different world at the end of each one."

"Wait a sec. I thought, that creating a wormhole requires an amount of energy so great that itís impossible to get with our present technology?"

"Thatís what believed, but itís not true. To be honest, when it happened I didnít even know myself how I created it. One minute I was working on antigravity machine and the next I opened a wormhole. I used the superstring theory to solve the equation that allowed me toÖ" he continued explaining to me aspects of antigravity and creating the wormhole. In less than a minute he lost me. As I was trying to listen I realized that the uneasiness that we had in the beginning disappeared. I also noticed another difference with my Quinn. My Quinn loved physics, but I never heard him talk with such passion about it. As a matter of fact, I donít think I ever heard him speak with such passion, unless we were fighting. I tried to concentrate on what Quinn was saying, but my mind kept wondering off. He told me how he created a timer, which allowed him and his friends travel to different dimensions. And I was thinking if I was in my right mind to trust him. His story sounded too astonishing to be a lie. He also told me that they canít control where they go and how long they stay there. I wondered what that would be like. Just to go with the flow. Have no control over where you were going and not knowing whatís gonna happen next. He mentioned that he and his friends have five days on my world. At that moment I realized that Iíll be sorry to see them go. I knew it was just as crazy as Quinnís story, considering that I donít really know any of them but for some strange reason I really liked them. I asked him to tell me about some of the worlds they visited. He laughed and told me about a world where everyone was obsessed with a TV talk show and he had to go on that show to find his friends.

Even though I enjoyed our conversation, something else kept bugging me. But it didnít hit me until we got to the store and I saw Colin helping some woman with her groceries.

"Wait a sec, if there was not SIP2 on your world, that means you arenít vaccinated?" I was afraid of the answer. Quinn looked in the direction I was looking, back at me and I saw fear in his eyes when he realized what I meant. "No we arenít. Exactly how dangerous is this illness?"

"Weíve been successful in treating the infection lately, of course if we catch it on time. But we still have to get to the hospital right away. You being from different world can mean different DNA structure or different immune system. If either one of you catches it, there is no sure way to say how itíll affect you".

We kept quiet on our way to the hospital. I warned them not to touch anything and not to talk to anybody.

I took them to the isolated lab where I worked. That way I had to run all the tests myself, but at least no one will know about them. In less than an hour I had my answer.

I entered the waiting room next to the lab where Remmy, Maggie and Quinn were sitting. They all turned and looked at me. Even before I said anything, they already knew it.

"I have a bad news and a good news."

"Colin is sick, right?" it seemed only Maggie had courage to say it. I nodded. "So, whatís the good news?"

"Your DNA structure seems to be the same, which means weíll be able to treat him. He is young, healthy and has no allergic reactions to the medicine. He has a 95% chance of surviving. The problem is that SIP2 lasts from 3 to 5 weeks. He will need to stay in bed the whole time. Otherwise complications may occur."

"What kind of complications?"

"Anything from pneumonia to death".

Quinn slowly rubbed his eyes and asked, "Can we see him?"

"I gave him medicine and heís sleeping right now. Itís too early for any symptoms to show, but I have a nurse sitting in the room just in case. Sheíll let me know if he wakes up or if there are any changes in his condition. Anyway I canít allow you to see him until youíre vaccinated."

Remmy asked a question that was on everybodyís mind.

"Will he be able to slide with us in five days?"

"Before I answer that let me tell you a little bit about SIP2." I could sense that they didnít like that, but after slight hesitation Quinn nodded. I sat down and continued, "Spanish Influenza 2 was world-wide pandemic of a type A influenza. At first everybody thought that it was the same as Spanish Influenza pandemic that hit the world in 1918. Later tests revealed that it wasnít, but the name stack. Both pandemics were very similar. They hit out of nowhere and traveled all over the world killing millions of people. However, SIP2 was deadlier. The first pandemic killed 125 million people. SIP2 killed over 150 million in USA alone. " I let it sink in before I continued. "The symptoms of SIP2 were very typical but severe: fever, cough, sore throat, fatigue, muscle pain, and headaches. The stronger the person was the harder it hit. SIP2 weakened personís immune system. Even if person survived the SIP2 itself, pneumonia would finish him off.

In the morning of November 5, 1991 the first case of SIP2 was reported in New York, by the end of the day over a thousand people were admitted to the hospitals. By the end of the week, this fast, air borne disease was in every state. People started dying. Country-wide quarantine was declared, but it was too late. Board of Health closed all churches, schools, lodges, theaters, bars, and clubs. On December 18, first person in San Francisco died. By the 25th the whole city was in the grips of the influenza. Every time you opened obituaries, you KNEW youíd see a familiar name. Entire families lay prostrate with fever and fear. Neighbors were helping neighbors, everybody was visiting their families and friends to see if they were OK and to offer help, unknowingly spreading disease even more. It seemed as if nothing could stop the pandemic now. " I paused for a second.

"My parents were one of the first ones to go. I was living separately and that probably saved meÖ" my voice was shaking and I took a minute to compose myself. " To keep myself from going insane I volunteered to work in the hospital. Quinn volunteered with me. Since I was microbiology major, I was appointed to research with Dr. Arturo."

Quinn interrupted me, "Maximillan Arturo?"

"No, Maxine Arturo. She was my biology professor in college, and was heading SF research department after pandemic hit."

Quinn raised his brow and looked at Rembrand who shrugged in return.

"Can it be?" then he shook his head "No, thatíd be to weird." He turned to me, "Iím sorry, continue please".

I decided not to ask and continued.

"After a while we were able to work out a medicine amantadine, that helped curing the patients, if the infection was caught in the first couple of days. People were still getting sick, but the death rate dropped dramatically. But it was still too highÖ We lost Dr. Arturo right when she was on the edge of a major breakthrough. Since I was mostly familiar with her research, I was assigned as a head of department.

Based on Dr. Arturoís notes and with help of Dr. Jones, who was transferred here from LA, I was able to work out a vaccine. It was only 85% effective, but even if it didnít prevent the influenza for some people, it greatly reduced chances of complications. In two weeks everyone in USA was vaccinated, it took a little longer in other countries but pandemic was finally stopped. However, every time I think about how many lives it tookÖ" I closed my eyes, holding back the tears. I felt someone squeezing my shoulder. I opened my eyes and saw Maggie looking sympathetically at me. I smiled and continued on lighter note. "Considering that we didnít have much time to test the vaccine, Iíd say that we actually were very lucky. I fear to think what might have happened if it had some terrible side effects.

Itís been almost two years and basically the world returned to normal. The infection is still going around but most of population is protected. However, it had some devastating economical and moral effects. Not many businesses can survive nowadays. People are still afraid to go to crowded public places, like theaters, movies and unfortunately restaurants. But the worst is over and itís getting better every day."

I stopped and looked at the three people in front of me. I could see that they were shocked by my story. I got up and walked to the door. "Iím gonna go to the other room and get vaccine for you three, and while Iím gone I want you to think about what Iíll tell you next. Physically Colin might be able to go. And I can give you the medicine to help him through the illness. But what if the next world you slide into never heard of SIP2 and has no idea how to treat it? Colin will probably be OK, but what about people of that world?" I knew that my exit was probably a little melodramatic, but I wanted to get my point across. I could press security button at any minute and they wouldnít have been able to go anywhere, but for some reason I had a feeling that theyíd make the right choice.

I prepared the vaccine and called Maggie in first. The vaccine was actually quite painful, but she didnít even flinch. After I finished, she buttoned her shirt, looked at me and said, "I know how you must feel. I lost everything and everyone not so long ago." She slightly smiled and added "Quinn was able to save some of people from my world by sliding them into a different one. You canít blame yourself for those who died. You just have to remind yourself of those you saved."

I squeezed her hand, "Thank you, and Iím sorry about your world. Want to tell me what happened?"

"Itís a long story and you have two boys to take care ofÖ" she stumbled, " I mean to give vaccineÖ"

I chuckled and cut her off "I know what you meant and youíre right. Why donít you go on and call Remmy in. But if you want to talk, Iíd be glad to listen."

She smiled and nodded, "Iíd really like that."

As soon as Remmy entered the lab he threw in the first question "When are we gonna eat?"

I grinned, "I already ordered us pizza, Iím not a big fan, but it was the only place open that late".

"Is it pepperoni?"

I nodded, "And I also ordered one with vegies."

"My pleasure is beyond boundaries"

"Your pleasure is beyond boundaries?" I couldnít help laughing.

He laughed lightly "Sorry, I guess I spend a little bit too long on Robe World. Everyone there kept talking like this. ĎPlease, forgive my foolishness, oh beautiful flower and may I never render any deed that will aggravate someone as dazzling as you. May your gorgeous eyes know no tears and no worries.í"

We both burst in laughter.

"Itís so good to hear your laugh, girl"

"I never asked you how you know me. Was there a double of me on your world, just like Quinn?"

He stopped laughing, "Yes, there was. She was a very dear friend of mine," he sighed and smiled lightly, "and you are so much like her. I look in your eyes and see the same combination of passion, kindness and strength, " he looked at me intensely and touched my cheek. "You have the same smile, same laugh, even your pain when you told the story, reminded me of her. Weíve seen other Wadeís doubles, but no one reminded me of her like you do."

I hesitated for a second and asked softly "What happened to her?"

I never saw anyone change so quickly. His eyes were almost as icy as his voice "She was killed by those Ďmaggots. " His hand tightened into a fist. He turned his gaze back to me. His expression softened. "Iím sorry, I didnít mean to scare you, sweetheart".

The idea of another me out there was weird, though I imagined it quite few times, but knowing that my double was killed gave me a sickening feeling in my stomach. I wanted to know how she died but I could see that I already stroke a nerve and decided not to push it. So I shook my head, "You didnít. Letís just say that you didnít keep your promise." I looked at his confused face and smiled, and said pompously "now Ďmy gorgeous eyes know worry and tearsí".

He grinned, "You could always make me smile, girlÖ I meanÖnot youÖ"

"Itís OK, Remmy, I got it. Now roll up your sleeve and get ready, here comes the big needle. Donít worry itís not gonna hurt" I smiled wickedly and closed in to give him the shot. He looked at me suspiciously.

"Why donít I belieÖ Ouch, that hurt like hell, what is that -- acid?" I was already putting bandate on his arm.

"No, actually we grow virus in eggs, kill it and give it to you in a shot."

He made a disgusted face, "THAT I didnít want to know. Didnít you ever heard of rhetorical questions?"

I smiled and said, "I knew that, but you should have seen your face when I told you. By the way, I forgot to warn you about side effects. It may give you a slight fever, weakness or muscle pain. Try to get some sleep right after you eat. And tell Maggie too"

"No problemo, you want me to call Quinn in?" I nodded and started preparing the last shot. When Quinn came in I looked into his eyes.

He must have saw the question coming and said,

"Remember when I told you that we canít control where we slide?" he waited for me to nod and continued. "Thatís only partially true. We can go to a specific dimension if we know its coordinates and our timer has an ability to store those coordinates." He sighed, " We usually try not to get separated, especially to different worlds. This happened once and it didnít end well. But this time it seems we donít have much of a choice. Maggie and Remmy will slide when the window opens and come back approximately in two weeks." I felt like a giant rock just fell off my shoulders.

"Why didnít you tell me about that feature before?"

He shrugged, "I didnít think it was important in the beginning. And later, I couldnít make decision without consulting others".

"You said Maggie and Remmy. What about you?"

He glared at me. "I canít leave my brother alone and sick on a strange world. Maggie and Remmy will do fine."

"You donít sound convinced."

He frowned.

"Iím not. As a matter of fact I donít like this idea at all. Iím gonna try to send them to one of the worlds weíve visited recently. We didnít have much time there, but it looked pretty safe. And Iíll explain them both how to set the timer back here. But there are just a million and one things that can go wrong. They might have only one hour on the world Iím sending them to, and only God knows where theyíll end up next. The memory that stores coordinates might get messed up and they wonít be able to find this world. The timer might just fry. And I wonít be there to fix it." He sighed heavily, rubbed his face and muttered, "I really really donít like this idea".

"Why donít you go with them?"

"I told you I canít leave Colin alone here"

I put the syringe down and came up to him. I could see how tormented he was and I got a strong urge to hug him. But I decided against it and just put my hand on his shoulder.

"Colin will be fine. I promise."

He looked at me intensely. Suddenly he thrown his hands around me and hugged me so hard I could hardly breathe. I hugged him back. It felt surprisingly good. It made me feel warm, protected and Ö feminine.

I felt myself unexpectedly drawn to him and it scared me a little.

He suddenly let me go, stepped back and said apologetically, "I shouldnít have done that."

I exhaled and replied smiling, "Itís alright. Everybody needs a good hug once in a while," thinking that I probably needed it more than him. Seeing how uncomfortable we both were I decided to move to a safer ground. I turned to the table where I left the syringe and said lightly, trying to hide how shaky I was, "Itís time for your shot. Roll up your sleeve and get ready. Remmy said that it hurt like hell."

I heard him grumbling in the back.

"Uh, Wade? Do you may be have scissors or a knife here?"

"Iím not sure. Why?" as I turned around I realized why. Quinnís robe was much tighter and he couldnít get his sleeve up, no matter how hard he tried. I could hardly restrain myself from giggling. Instead I made a serious face and said, "I canít find any. I guess we will have to do it the other way". He stopped struggling with his robe and looked up. I wasnít as good of an actress as I wanted to be at the moment, because he saw something in my face that made him ask me cautiously, "What other way?"

"When I volunteered to work in the hospital, we were all made to take a quick nurse course. And we were taught that there are two best places for a shot. An arm andÖ" I stopped talking and started laughing. The look on his face, when he realized what I was getting to, was priceless. "Donít worry, think of me as a doctor," and added in a sweetest voice possible, "and itís not like Iíve never seen Quinn Malloryís, hmm.. lets say behind, before." He groaned and dropped his head into his hands. I was certainly enjoying myself when he dropped the bomb.

He looked at me with a devilish smile, "Then weíre at equal". I almost choked. Now it was his turn to laugh. Aware that I was blushing, I started laughing again. The tension disappeared completely. After a few minutes we were finally able to stop.

"Why donít you just pull the top of the robe down?" He accepted my suggestion with a nod, unzipped the robe half way down and pulled the top to his waist. Luckily for me he didnít look up. I couldnít get my eyes away from him. I felt all those emotions Iíve been pushing deep down, suddenly waking up and racing through me. Oh, Kitty if you only knew how much I miss Quinn. Not my Quinn the way he is now Ė cold, hateful and drunk. But Quinn before pandemic. How much I miss his compassion, love, humor, and even the way he used to space out on me when he had an idea. The way his blue eyes light up when he saw me, his sexy smile just before he kissed me, the caress of his tender hands, the feeling of his body next to mine. I looked at the man in front of me. I knew he wasnít who I used to love, and yet he was so much like him, I couldnít help stopping myself from asking what if? I had to remind myself that heís leaving in a few days and I better stop dreaming. Otherwise Iím gonna get hurt. Think itís too late?

"So, are you and my double a couple?" he asked looking cautiously at syringe. It took a lot of willpower for me to snap out of it and concentrate on his arm.

"WERE a couple and relax. The tenser you are the more itís gonna hurt" I waited for him to relax his muscles a little and gave him the vaccine.

He sharply breathed in. I smiled and said, "Thatís it. Now you can see your brother when he wakes up."

"Are you sure heíll be OK?"

I smiled reassuringly, "I never give promises I donít keep. Heíll be under my personal supervision. And I guarantee you that in two weeks heíll be better than ever. But Iíll be honest with you, these two weeks will be hell for him, me and you."

At that moment I heard Remmy calling me, saying that someone is at the door. I remembered about delivery. "Itís probably pizza. We should go eat."

Quinn nodded. Just as we were about to go to the other room he caught my arm and said, "He is an idiot".

In confusion I asked "Who?"

He lightly brushed the bruise on my cheek with his thumb and replied quietly "My double", he turned away and continued almost whispering "and so was I".

I had to ask "Where you and my double a couple?"

"No." he answered without looking at me.

"Why?"

He sighed "I told you I was an idiot". He quickly went into the next room before I had a chance to ask more questions. And believe me I had many. I decided that Iíll get my chance later and followed him.

After we ate I gave Remmy my keys. "You all are probably very tired. My house is only ten minutes away. You know where corner of Jay and Blue street is?" Quinn nodded. "Good. My house is the only one with a terrace. "

We went to check on Colin, but he was still sleeping. I promised to give them a call when he wakes up and they left. I released the nurse and stayed in Colinís room.

To occupy myself, I decided to write you this letter. I know that the format is a little unusual, more like a story than a letter. I guess I miss writing more than I realized. I just hope I didnít bore you to death. Anyway, I really should go -- itís almost time for Colinís shot. Iíll let you know what happened in my next letter.

 

Love Wade.

 

PS. Howís everything working out with Jackís new job? Howís my favorite goddaughter? Canít wait until Christmas when I can finally see her again. She probably has grown so much.

I miss you all.

Dear Kitty-cat,

Oh god, how I need you now! Remember how one of teachers used to say, "Iím so CONFUUUUSED!"? I want to climb Empire State building and scream that. I donít know where this whole thing going and how itís gonna end, but I know that either way Iím gonna end up hurt. Let me tell you what happened after my last letter. Iím gonna try and write it in a story format, since you liked it so much.

S.I.P hit Colin much harder than I anticipated. Iím not going to tell you how hard it was taking care of him. You know what S.I.P. is just as well as I do. He was out most of the time. The problem was that he was talking. Talking about vortexes, parallel worlds, timers, Kromaggs(donít ask, you REALLY donít want to know) and his home world. I couldnít afford stuff of the hospital have any suspicions. There were already too many questions about seeing Quinn coming to see me and Ďmystery patientí, since most people know about our history together. I practically had to move into the hospital for the last five days to take care of him personally. Quinn and the others couldnít even visit much, because Colin was considered critical patient and you know hospitalís rules are very strict in S.I.P. cases.

At first, I thought of sliding as an adventure of a lifetime. But listening to Colinís rants changed it for me.

I felt awkward listening to an unconscious man pouring his heart out, but I really couldnít do anything about it. I felt my heart breaking when he talked about his home world and how much he missed it. It seems he came from an ĎAmishí world (whatever that means). People of this world refused to accept simple things like electricity or any kinds of technology. Sounds horrible to me, but for him it was home. He missed working in his garden, doing his little experiments, horseback riding in the forest and some beautiful maiden he was in love with. My heart melted when he kept going on about her mother keeping them apart. He is happy he found a brother and new friends, and he likes visiting new worlds and seeing different things. But after visiting lots of horrible worlds with wars or overrun by Kromaggs, sometimes he wishes for things to be simple again. Canít really blame him, can you? I wish there was something I could do for him. At first I wanted to tell Quinn, but I have a feeling he blames himself enough for whatís happening. And I would feel like I was betraying Colin.

Yesterday evening I had to leave Colin with a nurse and headed home since I knew that Remmy and Maggie are supposed to slide. We had a quiet dinner first and I could see how nervous all of them were. A day before Maggie told me that the last time they got separated, was the time when they lost their Wade. She told me that Remmy and Wade slid, and Quinn and her had to stay behind. By the time they caught up with them three months later, they had to break Remmy out of Kromagg prison, and Wade was taken somewhere else and killed for disobedience.

Remmy tried to cheer up everybody by telling some story about his Florida tour in í79, but it wasnít working. I probably had less than 10 hours of sleep in the last week and was running mostly on caffeine and adrenaline. Laughing took way too much energy. And I donít think Quinn was listening at all. He wasnít eating much either.

"Are you sure you remember how to program the timer?", he interrupted Remmy in the middle of the story.

"Yeah, Qball. I told you Ė you have nothing to worry about. If anyone tries to give us any trouble, Maggie will just kick their butts."

Maggie raised her brows and grumbled "Or you can sing to them. That will certainly set them running."

"Hey, I heard that. You know, you better be nice to me, girl, otherwise Iíll ask Qball here to sing one for you before we leave."

Maggie chuckled, but Quinn only raised his eyes from the plate and said seriously,

"Now remember, as long as you donít tell anyone on Hawaii world that Maggie is a virgin, you should be fine." Even before his words sunk into my tired brain, I saw a bunch of french fries flying his way. He retreated from them with a grace of someone whoís done it many times before. And I finally saw him smiling again. Without skipping a bit, he continued, "I set the timer to take you there. Now, if you donít have enough time on that world set the timer for that world where this Lipshitz guy was running a TV show. You both have the coordinates. Without Colin, you should be safe there. No matter how much time will be left, come back here. I want to take a look at the timer and make sure itís alright in case you have to slide more."

"I know, I know, weíve been through this about hundred times already. Donít worry. Weíll have a ride as smooth as Cryiní Manís compliments."

"Oh boy, then we are really in trouble." Now it was Maggieís turn to hide from the french fries. In less than a minute we had a full food fight going. I groaned inside when I thought of cleaning this mess, but I knew that we all needed to release the tension. And this was as good way as any.

After a few minutes of fun and laughter Quinn checked the timer and screamed, "The war is over, come on you guys, you only have fifteen minutes left"

By the time we cleaned up and got to the back yard, the timer started beeping and Quinn activated it. I have to tell you that vortex is probably the most beautiful thing Iíve ever seen. Describing it wonít do it any justice. Just try to imagine all the shades of blue whirling around in a circle as if it was alive.

Quinn hugged Maggie and after she waved goodbye to me and jumped in, he gave Remmy the timer.

"Please be careful, and if there is any trouble, slide back here as soon as possible."

Remmy nodded and hugged him, "Donít worry man, weíll be alright", he turned to me and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, "Take care sweetheart, and look out after them. I have a feeling that in a way this one might need you even more than Farm Boy." And then he jumped in. The vortex closed a few seconds later.

I turned to look at Quinn. He was still staring at the place where the vortex just closed.

"Quinn?"

He lowered his eyes to meet mine and smiled weakly.

"Letís go back to the house. Iíll help you clean up."

I shook my head, "Why donít we just sit here for a while? Iím in no hurry to pick up food from all over the place."

He chuckled, "Sorry, sometimes Maggie canít control herself."

"Maggie?" sarcasm in my voice was highly noticeable.

"Well she started it."

"Hmm, if you say so. Come on, letís go sit on the swings for a few minutes."

He nodded and followed me to the swinging chair. He sat next to me, casually draping his hand around my shoulders. We were quiet at first, both lost in thoughts and fears for the future.

He broke the silence first.

"I want to thank you again for everything youíve done for us."

I shrugged, "Donít. Iím sorry I couldnít do more."

"Are you kidding? You found us in the park, complete strangers. You invited us into your home. Gave us food and shelter without asking anything in return. And you saved my brotherís life. If you think, probably all of our lives. Not many people would do even half."

I smiled, "Quinn, hold on, as much as Iíd like to be praised and take credit, I donít deserve it. Granted, not many people wouldíve taken you into their home, but you werenít exactly a stranger. As for saving you livesÖ" I shrugged, "the second Colin got sick, you wouldíve taken him to the hospital and heíd be in the same position as he is now."

"May be, but chances are, he wouldnít be the only one sick and none of us would have slid out of here. Weíd be stuck here for 29 years."

I took his hand, "Quinn, I know you worried about them. I wish there was something I could do...not only for them, but for you."

"Iíll be fine. At least I donít have to worry about Colin as much, knowing that he has an angel to watch over him." He squeezed my hand and lightly kissed me on the top of my head.

"Liar. Youíre worried sick about him."

He sighed and whispered, "Iíll never forgive myself if something happens to him."

"Donít say that," I hesitated, but decided itíll be best if he knows. "Remember I told you that my Quinn volunteered to work in the hospital with me? He wasnít as lucky as I. He got sick after a few weeks of working. His mom refused to take him to the hospital and stayed home taking care of him. " I stopped, looked at Quinn, but decided to tell the truth. " He survivedÖ she didnít... At first he tried to coop by throwing himself into work. But being around patients all the time, only made it worse. I was trying to spend as much time with him as possible, but it wasnít enoughÖ" I sighed, "Quinn never forgave himself. He thought that it was his fault she got sick in the first place. And he blamed himself for not taking as good care of her as she did of him. I knew it wasnít his fault. He was stronger and healthier than she was. Thatís why he survived and she didnít. I tried to tell him that, but he didnít listen...he was getting worse. He broke up with me, quit his job at the lab and disappeared for a while. I donít even know when he started drinking. Every once in a while he comes back, makes me feel guilty and miserable and disappears againÖ" I held back the tears. I put my hand on his cheek and practically forced him to look at me. "I can feel your pain. I know you feel personally responsible for each one of your friends. And thatís a good thing. But donít go overboard. Youíre a good guy, Quinn Mallory. Donít let same thing happen to you. You canít blame yourself for something you have no control over. ĎCause once you start itís hard to stop. Even when you realize that it wasnít your fault, youíll still blame yourself. And it will keep eating you up inside peace by peace until you start hating yourself and everyone around you."

He looked intensely into my eyes and smiled an unhappy smile, "When did you come to be so smart?"

"Not only Iíve seen it happen to someone I loved, Iíve gone through that. My friend Kitty, practically saved me from meÖBefore Quinn disappeared we had a fight. He blamed me for not coming up with antivirus soon enough to save his mother, he blamed me for not being there for him when he needed, he even threw in a number of people I couldíve saved if only I worked faster. Iíve been having guilt trips way before he brought it up, but hearing that from HIM hurt more than I could bearÖ Kitty helped me realize that it wasnít my fault. She practically hit me over the head until it cleared and I saw how unreasonable those accusations were. And if you think I wonít start hitting youÖ" I gave him a light tap on the back of the head, which made us both chuckle. "Listen Quinn, I understand your wish to clam up. And I can see why you wonít burden your friends with your pain. They have enough to deal with on their own. But you really need to talk to someone. Let me be that someone. Please."

At first he was quiet for a few minutes. But just when I was about to give up, he started talking.

"When we started sliding there were four of us: me, your double, my physics professor and mentor Maximilian Arturo and Remmy. In three years weíve become more than a family. We were each otherís world. Weíve been through hell togetherÖ On one of the worlds professor got shot protecting me. He was more than a mentor, he was like a father not only to me but to my Wade also. I realize that jumping in front of me and taking that bullet was his choice and Iíll be forever graceful to him. But it didnít lessen the pain or guilt. I couldíve prevented it. A few hours before that happened we all had a chance to slide home, but I practically forced everyone to hold off. I tried to do what I thought was right by asking my friends to wait until I help the others. But by doing that I practically killed him." If you could only hear the hurt in his voice when he was talking. I wanted to hug him and hold until the pain goes away.

He continued quietly, "If you think I didnít do the same mistake as my double here, youíre wrong. While I was wallowing in my own misery, I almost eliminated one of most important people in my life. The thought that Wade might hate me for practically killing professor and not getting her home when I had the chance was driving me insane. I started pushing her away, thinking it wonít hurt as much if she isnít as close. Be careful what you wish for. When Maggie and I slid to the wrong world and I realized that there is high chance Iíll never see her againÖI swore to myself to find her and let her know how sorry I am. And how much I love her. I was able to find the right coordinates in less than three months, but it was too late. Finding Remmy brought all the guilt back. If I slid with them I might have been able to get them off that world before they got caught. That would have saved Remmy from three months of hell, and Wadeís life. Iíd done anything to stop the pain, I even thought of drinking. I guess doubles do think alike. But I had Remmy, Maggie and later Colin depending on me. I had to push the pain deep inside of me and go on. It was working too. And then we had to slide here. And see you." He paused and looked at me. With one hand still wrapped around my shoulders, and other one lightly stroking my face, he continued in barely a whisper, "you are so much like her and yet so different." he pulled me so close I could feel his breath on my lips, "I donít know what or rather who I want anymoreÖ". I closed my eyes and felt his lips lightly touching mineÖagainÖ and againÖjust a little harder and longer each time... at this moment I stopped caring whether weíre doing the right thing or not. He pulled back a little and caressed my mouth with his thumb. Without opening my eyes I parted my lips and sucked on it. I heard him groan quietly and felt his mouth on my neck sending shivers up my back. He slowly moved up to my earlobe. Now it was my turn to moan. My lower stomach was on fire, transmitting this amazing warmth to the rest of my body. I felt his hand move down to my waist and under my top. He stated lightly rubbing my lower back slowly moving to the front and up, with his mouth not leaving mine for a second more. I held my breath urging his hand to go just a little bit higher. I was on the verge of ripping our clothes off. Nothing could ruin this moment.

Nothing, except this annoying little ringing that froze me in my tracks. My stomach went from fire to a knot in a flash. Even before Quinn realized what was going on, I was on my way to the house with only one thought in my head, "NO ONE calls this late with a good news".

When I picked up the phone my hands were shaking. What I heard was something Iíve been fearing but deep down expecting.

"Wade, itís me Jack. Heís crashing. You better get here quickly."

Fear was slowly paralyzing every part of my body. "You said he was stable. You canít let him die Jack. Please."

"Iím doing all I can. Just get here." With that he hang up.

I felt Quinnís presence in the room. I could almost taste his fright. I stood there not knowing whether I should tell him the truth. I puled myself together and turned around.

"Colin is fine." I saw relief in his eyes. He practically fell into the nearby chair. "but I have to get to the hospital right away."

He looked up questionably at me.

"We had another patient delivered today. His doctor called right now and said that he is loosing him. I have to go."

"Is it SIP?"

"No. Car accident."

"Then why do you have to go. Youíre not a doctor."

"No, Iím a friend."

He got up, walked toward me and hugged me tightly, whispering, "Iím sorry. Do you want me to go with you?"

I almost shouted, "No, you canít." he looked at me with surprise. "I meanÖthey wonít let you in. You know how the rules are. And I wonít have time to be with you."

He nodded, "I understand, but if you need anything let me know, OK? Iíve snuck into much more guarded places than you hospital."

I smiled weakly and left.

When I got to the hospital it was too late. I donít remember much of what happened afterwards. Everything was like through a cloud. I couldnít cry, talk or even think. I remember Jack taking me home. I couldnít let him in so I told him I was fine and walked in alone. I got to the couch, lay down and passed out.

Iím not sure how long I was asleep. When I woke up my first thought was Ďcoffeeí. I started to get up and noticed a blanket around me. I smiled at Quinnís consideration and then it hit me. What happened last night. I wondered why I donít feel anything. There should be pain, or at least sorrow and regret. I just felt empty. I knew I should tell Quinn. I called his name. It was nice to hear his voice. "Iím coming".

He came in balancing two cups of coffee two plates. "Youíve been asleep so long I got scared. Was just about to go find out if you have Tsetse fly here." He set the plates to coffee table and offered one of the cups to me. I accepted it with a nod and a smile. "You OK?" I nodded again. "Wanna talk about it?"

I shook my head, "Later, OK?"

"Sure" We savored coffee and breakfast quietly.

I finished my eggs and set the plate aside. "Not bad. For a guy I mean."

"Gee, thanks" he smiled and leaned toward me for a kiss. I stopped him halfway. "Quinn, we need to talk."

"Let me guess. You think that last night was a mistake and you like for us to stay friends. How close am I?" the hurt and anger in his voice was evident. But it only irritated me.

"A little conceited, arenít we? A friend of mine died tonight, Quinn. Pardon me for not spending the whole night thinking about you." I felt sorry for my outburst the moment I looked at him.

"Oh, God Wade, Iím so sorry. I just thoughtÖ I figured since you donít want me to kiss youÖ not an excuse. Sorry. Anything I can do?"

"Actually there is something you gonna have to do. From this moment you gonna have to stay low. You canít go outside and you definitely canít go to the hospital to visit Colin. Itíll be best if you donít call me there and wonít pick up the phone here." Realization began to sink in. He looked a little shocked but concerned.

"Iím sorry Wade, I didnít realize. Are you alright?"

"Yeah, Iím either in complete shock or extreme denial." I smiled, " and to be honest, Iím in no hurry to get out of it, whatever it is."

"And I guess having me here doesnít help much." He got up and moved toward a window.

"Quinn" I waited until he turned and looked at me, "Having you here helps me a lot." I slowly walked up and hugged him. "I know that my Quinn is dead, but I feel a connection between you two. You and many others are gonna keep going on. And in a way so as my Quinn." I smiled "Plus seeing you makes it easier to stay in that state of denial."

I felt his hands close around me making me feel protected. It was like while he was hugging me nothing bad can happen.

"I better go to the hospital to check on Colin" I regretfully pulled away. "Iíll call you when I get there."

He kissed me on the top of my head before letting go. "I'll be here I guessÖWade, one question."

I turned and looked at him waiting. He looked a little uncomfortable, but asked anyway, "Was he drunk?"

I was half-expecting the question, but I had no idea it would enrage me so much. "Don't you dare judge him."

"I wasn't judging. I think it's a simple question. Was he or wasn't he? If he was drunk and he was driving a car then he's even dumber than I thought."

Harshness in his voice made it impossible for me to answer. I ran out of the house and decided to walk through the park. Walking calmed me down a little. Deep down I knew he was right. Quinn was drunk.

He was so drunk he never saw the red light that he ran. And he never saw the 28-foot truck that put him into the wall of a building, either. He was still alive when they brought him in. I'm no doctor, but even I knew that there is no way he could survive this. By some miracle Jack was able to stabilize him, but he warned me that chances are very slim. So I lied to myself. I said that everything will be alrightÖI just couldnít accept the possibilityÖ

Before the pandemic I used to think that everything happens for a reason. Whatever happens, happens for the best, right? Watching people die killed something inside of me. I became harder, colder. But I still believed. Only now, for the first time in my life, I felt my faith fading. I couldn't understand why did this have to happen? What's the point? He survived the most dangerous sickness of the century to die from a stupid thing like that. No matter what the circumstances were, his death was unfair and useless. Even if it was his own fault.

My mind wondered to the other Quinn. May be he did have a right to judge him. He's been through as much pain as my Quinn and he survived. I don't mean so much physically as mentally. He admitted last night that he was close to slipping, but he didn't. But does it make him a better man? Or just stronger? And another big question Ė Why was he here? Is it just a random incident or was someone giving both of us a second chance in love? I recalled last night. The passion between us was immense. But it was so much more. I felt as if his presence filled my soulÖcould I be in love with him? Should I be in love with him? He said yesterday that he's not sure whom he really wants. Do I? I thought I stopped loving my Quinn long time ago. Then why does it hurt so badly?

My head was spinning. I sat on the bench and tried to organize my thoughts. Slowly I found myself drifting in the past. I remembered our first date with my Quinn, our first kissÖas my memories flowed closer to the present, I went through our 'bad' times. Our breakup. Our fights. I concluded that I really did stop loving him long before this Quinn came into the picture. This insight didn't make his death any less absurd or hurtful, but it made it easier to realize my true feelings for this Quinn. I knew him for less than a week and yet it already scared me to imagine living without him. Only problem -- did he return those feelings?

I shrugged and continued for the hospital, trying to avoid thinking about what's going to happen.

Good news waited for me in the hospital. Colin finally pulled through. The fever broke and he woke up. I got there just before the nurse was about to call me. He still has a way to go until heís completely healthy, but the crisis is over. I called Quinn and let him know.

When I came into his room, I felt a little uneasy. After all, I probably knew more about him than his brother and he had no idea how much he revealed to me. I wasnít sure whether I should tell him or not.

He smiled when he saw me. I have to tell you, he has the sweetest smile. He looks so much like Quinn and yet so different. Quinn is a weirdest combination of rationality and passion. He jumps from one extremity to another in a blink. Colin is all calm and sweet. He might look a little naïve, and he probably is, but he is certainly not stupid. In some ways he is smarter that his genius brother.

I smiled back and sat on the edge of the bed. "How are you feeling?"

He shrugged, "Weak. I tried to get up and would have fallen if it werenít for the nurse. But otherwise not bad."

"Your fever is still a little high, but youíre getting better quick. You should be able to get out of here and move into my house in a couple of days. But first I need to tell you a couple of things." and I went on to explain situation with Quinn. He caught on quickly. We decided that Iíll try to sign him out of the hospital day after tomorrow. That should give enough time to make sure there are no complications. After we talked he fell asleep again and I went to arrange a few days off. Considering everything what happened and that I havenít taken a vacation in ages, it wasnít a problem. I came to the lab to arrange my papers and write this letter to you.

I donít know what to do. I feel so drown to Quinn and I feel so guilty for it. Is it wrong to be attracted to him? Am I betraying my Quinnís memory by that? Tell me what should I do? Push him away and may be it wonít hurt as much when he leaves. Or go with it and at least I wonít have to wonder what might have happened and how great it could have been. At least weíll always have a great memory. Tell me what to do. Please.

 

Love, Wade.

 

Dear Kitty-cat,

Gee, thanks for your help. Telling me to go with what I think is best sure helped. NOT. Now that Iím through being sarcastic, thank you. I know what you meant. No one can make that choice for me. How come I have this song in my head Ďevery time I fall in love, itís crash-boom-bangí?

First thing first. My Quinnís cremation was very simple and private. Only me and couple of his old buddies from college. I felt nothing. No sorrow, no pain, just empty. Frozen. Like it wasnít real. I know itís not normal and it will catch up on me. But for now itís probably for the best. I just pushed the thoughts deep inside and kept myself busy.

Colin kept getting better quickly. I was able to bring him home on the day we agreed. I mostly stayed home with him and Quinn. For some reason, Quinn and me were both avoiding the issue of us. It was driving me crazy, but since I wasnít sure which way I wanted to go, I just waited. Iím not sure for what. A sign may be. Iím not sure what he was waiting for, Iím guessing he was giving me space.

I never told Colin about his rants in the hospital. We became good friends and I was afraid revealing this to him would ruin it.

We all were sitting on a patio three days after Colinís return from the hospital. I made us some tea and cookies (yes, I still remember how to bake you little vixen you). Quinn was teaching Colin some quantum physics stuff, much over my head. I was just enjoying the company and laughing with Colin at Quinnís impatience.

"You know, youíll never be a good teacher." I was giggling.

He snapped at me, "And why is that?"

"If you were, youíd know why."

He rolled his eyes, "Do you know why I started learning quantum physics?"

"Why?" Colin and me asked simultaneously.

"When I was a kid, I heard one great man say "I do not understand women. Would the study of quantum mechanics help?" I decided to find an answer to that question. You wanna know it? Itís no. Study of quantum mechanics doesnít help understanding women. Study of womenís psychology wonít help understanding women. Nothing can help a man to understand women. "

I was laughing so hard I couldnít answer. He couldíve been an actor if he wanted. If I didnít know him better Iíd thought that his exasperation with us was real. But his eyes gave him away. I could see laughter and amusement in them. Tell me, why did I have to go there? Now I couldnít look away. I saw the expression in his eyes change. I saw the same passion and need I felt for him. I stopped laughing and just stared, feeling that frail imitation of control I had over myself shattering.

Colinís delicate coughing brought us out of it.

"Iím kind of tired. May be I should go to bed. Can we continue the lesson tomorrow, brother?"

Quinn broke the contact with my eyes and nodded. "Yeah, sure. I shouldnít have pushed that hard yet. I keep forgetting that youíre not up to your full strength."

I almost shouted, "Canít you stay just a little longer? If Quinn promises not to bug you with physics mambo-jumbo? Please?" I wanted to be alone with Quinn and I was afraid of it.

He must have felt my confusion and got up. "It is getting kinda late. I feel a little tired too. I think Iím gonna go read a little and go to sleep. You gonna stay out here?" I shrugged and followed them into the house. I kept pondering what should I do. By pushing Quinn away I wasnít only hurting myself, but him too. But by accepting him I did the same thing. It was almost morning when I fell asleep.

Did I mention that I hate phones? No one calls me for good reasons anymore. The phone call that woke me in the afternoon was no different. I picked up the receiver still half asleep, but the familiarity of the voice woke me up instantly.

"Hi sweetheart."

"Remmy, youíre back. This is great. Weíve been worried sick."

"Not as great as you think. Can you pick me up? Iím next to 391 Leavenworth Street." He sounded tired and like he was in pain.

"Iíll be right there." I jumped up wondering what happened and why he said ĎIí not Ďweí.

[AUTHORíS NOTE: Now before I continue, when you are reading this remember Iím describing an IMAGINARY parallel **world.]

When Quinn and I saw Remmy, we were shocked. He was bit up pretty badly. And he was indeed alone.

"Remmy, are you all right?" we asked almost in unison. He just nodded tiredly and got into the car. Quinn drove like a maniac. We got to my house in half the time. Remmy told us what happened while I was fixing him up as well as I could.

"We spend five days on Hawaii world without getting into any trouble. When it was time to slide we programmed timer to that TV world. Unfortunately we only had 10 seconds there and I didnít have time to reprogram the timer. We had to slide randomly. We had couple of hours there so we decided to lay low. Didnít work out. It turned out to be some kind of weird world. Women have to rights whatsoever. And they had to wear some kind of fabric bag over their heads, so no one could see their faces."

"Parandja" I interrupted him quietly.

"What?"

"Those arenít bags. Theyíre called parandja or hijaab. But continue please."

"You know girl, it scares me you know that. Anyway, of course Maggie stood out like a sore thumb. Before we even figured out whatís going on, we were attacked. They kicked the crap out of me and took Maggie. All I know that she was taken to some sultanís harem, Ďcause their leader mentioned that this sultan dude likes foreign women. I figured I canít do much alone and decided to slide back here for some reinforcement."

Quinn squeezed his shoulder, "You did the right thing, Remmy. How much time left?" Remmy gave the timer to him. "I have 14 hours. Great. Iíll slide there during night. Should make things easier."

"Wait a second, Qball. What do you mean YOUíll slide there? Weíre both going."

"No, Remmy. Both you and Colin in no shape to go. I will have to go alone."

"Remmy is right. You canít do this alone. And since neither one of them can go with you, I will". I couldnít believe I actually said this. Both men turned and looked at me like I was crazy.

"You are not going anywhere. This is way too dangerous. I am not involving you into this." Quinn was towering over me and shouting, but it didnít intimidate me.

"Donít yell at me." the tone of my voice made him back off and look at me with surprise and just a hint of fear. "In case you havenít noticed Iím already involved. And out of all three of you, I might be the only person able to help Maggie. Do you even know what harem is? Itís a place MADE to prevent men from entering. Do you know what they do to men who try to enter? Ever heard of castration? Would you like one?" the expression on their faces was beyond describing. They wouldnít hesitate to give their life for each other. But this was something totally different. "Iím the only one here whoíll be able to get in there." Quinn tried to say something, but I cut him off. "No, Quinn. Iím going. Wanna try and stop me?"

He shook his head, "I know better than to try and stop Wade in that mood. But I want you to know that Iím totally against it."

Remmy cut in, "So am I. You donít realize what youíre getting yourself into. What makes you think you can help Maggie? Chances are, youíll be caught and taken to the harem yourself."

I smiled, "Thatís the plan, Remmy. The difference is, if I go willingly, instead of fighting, Iíll have a freedom of getting out anytime I want. And if I convince them that I befriended Maggie, I might be able to take her with me."

Quinn frowned, "How can you be sure that itíll work. This is a different world. It might have different laws and beliefs. "

"I canít. But it does sound like some of Mideastern countries used to be. And even if this plan wonít work, Iím the only one with enough knowledge of ancient eastern culture to come up with a different plan."

"I donít like it. I also have no choice but to accept your help. Weíll slide in at night, letís hope itíll give us enough time to come up with a more detailed plan."

I gave a few phone calls and decided to write you this letter. In case I donít come back, just remember I love you. Give hugs and kisses to Jack and Brie. And give them my love. And try not to worry. Just because Iím missing in action, doesnít mean Iím dead. Quinn has been missing for five years on his world, and yet he is fine. One more thing, take care of Remmy and Colin for me? They both need lots of love.

Take care,

Love Wade.

 

Kitty-cat,

 

Iím baaack! Wow, this was amazing. If you think my previous letters were weird, you better hold on to your sit now. This letter is long but it will blow your brain off. And no, Iím not writing it from psychiatric hospital.

Sliding is the most amazing thing. Itís almost better than sex! (almost) Landing is another thing. I was thrown out of vortex right on top of Quinn, thinking Ďthank god, I slid after himí. His hands involuntary went around me, holding me tightly. Quietly he asked, "You OK?"

I felt the heat rising from our bodies being so close. An image of what I can be doing on top of him flashed in my head, brining blush to my cheeks. My voice shook a little, "Iím fine. You can let me go now."

I think he noticed the effect he had on me Ďcause he had this devilish grin when he answered mockingly, "Sure madam, if thatís what you really want that is." I was blushing mercilessly. He slowly rolled to his side and put me on the grass next to him. I wasnít the only one affected by our closeness. Only in his case it was even more obvious. And yet I was the one who started turning even more red. He just chuckled and sat up. After looking at the timer for a few seconds, he said, "We have little over two days here. By the way, I didnít know people can reach this rich shade of red. Sure no tomatoes in your family?" He was good. Not that many men are able to jump up fast enough to evade my wrath. Fortunately for him I never could stay mad at a laughing Quinn. When he leaned and offered his hand I was already chuckling.

I took the parandja out of the bag. I borrowed some stuff from a friend who worked in drama department in SFU. Remmy said it looked close enough to what people here were wearing and we put it on before sliding. I just refused to wear parandja before I had to. Menís clothing wasnít that different. Women however had to wear long dresses in dark colors.

We decide to wait until down before we go into the city. Iím not sure what Quinn was thinking, but I was praying for my plan to work. I acted tough and know-it-all in front of the guys, but I was more than afraid. I really didnít want to spend the rest of my life in harem. And I couldnít bear thinking what might happen to Quinn if we didnít succeed. I knew how good those people could be with torture.

We spend the first day just walking around the city and trying to find some information without much success. The city itself was called Kara-kent. I think it meant a black stone or a black city. It was so different to San Francisco we know. Blue and white Minaretes (thatís what they called their temples) with round roofs covered with gold. No buildings, a few expensive-looking restaurants, but mostly private houses. Mansions not houses. The architecture was different -- lots of soft, round shapes in bright colors. Each mansion had a beautiful garden around it. And practically no one on the streets.

Thatís what we saw in the beginning. But as we moved away from rich neighborhood, the scene changed. Mansions disappeared, replaced by small, gray from dirt houses, practically on top of each other. Many little stores with salespeople sitting outside, shouting about their products to lure in customers. Literally, thousands of people outside, mostly men but more women than I expected.

We were able to find a not too crowded tearoom. Quinn tried to get some info from the owner while I looked around. I noticed a few people staring at us. Iím guessing the reason was that I was the only woman in the place, but Quinn refused to leave me outside alone. I was hoping that none of them was from sultanís palace. That could have ruined everything. Quinn came back with two glasses of water.

"OK, I found out something. The whole America isnít like this. Only California at our world. U.S. exists here and Iím guessing itís mostly like home. This is a separate country, New Granada. Iíll have to do more research on how this happened later."

I interrupted, "Wait a sec, did you say New Granada? On our world Kingdom of Granada was a part of Muslim Spain, before it was conquested by Christians in 1492, same year Columbus was send for America. Some of Muslims emigrated to North Africa, but most stayed in Spain, scattered through the country. But then, in the period of the Inquisition, all the rights of the Muslims were withdrawn, their lives became difficult, and more began to emigrate. Finally, in the early seventeenth century, most of the survivors were forcibly expelled. This is just a guess, but itís possible that population of Granada on this world immigrated to America when they lost the war and formed this as a separate country."

He nodded and continued, "Itís quiet possible. That would explain similarities to Islamic culture. Now, about sultan. It seems he runs everything around here. Everyone is pretty much afraid of him. Heís been away for the last two weeks and isnít coming back until next month. However he has a grand vizir, itís like a prime-minister or advisor. One of the duties of this guy is to find new women for sultanís harem. And sultan has weakness for foreign women. He likes their independence. Why? ĎCause he likes to Ďbreakí them. So his visir kidnaps women that fit the description from the street. Of course U.S. canít prove it, Ďcause no one has ever seen or heard anything."

"Why did he tell you?" I asked doubtfully. Something just didnít seem right.

He shrugged, "You asking me? I guess Ďmoney talkí works everywhere."

My suspicion only increased, "Letís hope so. Did you find out where the palace is?"

He nodded. "Yep, itís back at the rich part of town. Next to that big Minarete we saw earlier." He looked at his watch. "Itís getting late. Why donít we stay here for the night? The guy has a room available. Weíll have to share though, Iím not letting you out of my sight." Without waiting for my answer he got up and walked back to the bar to arrange our room. OUR room. I was tired from walking all day and worried about Maggie like crazy, but spending a night in the same room as Quinn Mallory would require a lot of self control. And I didnít have much left. Every minute we spend alone made another hole in my defenses. It was harder and harder to stay away and he didnít even do anything. Except smiling and looking at me like I was the only one.

My thoughts were interrupted by womanís voice whispering right in my ear, "You shouldnít be here. Donít you realize how dangerous it is?"

I almost jumped on my sit and turned to look at her, "You startled me." For a few moments we just looked at each other, not that there was much to see. We were both mostly covered up.

"Youíre not from around here. Youíre from the other side, arenít you?" her perception surprised me.

Before I figured out what to answer she continued, "Donít answer, I know. Follow me." With that she got up and waited for me. Intrigued, I decided to do it but not without warning Quinn. I started getting up and pretended accidentally to drop a glass. A few men, including Quinn turned and looked at me. I picked up the glass and followed the woman outside. From the corner of my eye I saw Quinn frown and walk after us.

On the street woman chuckled, "Youíre a quick thinker. I like it. My store is right across the street. Tell you husband to wait here and come inside."

I nodded and stopped to wait for Quinn. He caught up quickly, "Wade, whatís going on?"

"Iím going inside that store over there. I donít have time to explain, just wait for me in the tearoom." He grabbed my shoulder and was about to say something but I intercepted, "Please, Iíll explain later."

He reluctantly released me, crossed his arms and leaned on the wall. "Iíll wait for you here." His voice was cold showing his disapproval.

The store was small and a little too dark. Before by eyes adjusted and I could actually figure out what was sold there a door behind register opened and I heard the woman calling me in. I walked into a very cozy little room. There was a very soft carpet on the floor, a few giant pillows and a short table with some fruit and drinks in the middle.

"Take of that ugly thing and have a sit. Iím Suliko by the way." She showed me an example by taking off her parandja and sitting down on one of the pillows. After a slight hesitation I did the same thing while introducing myself. We examined each other for a few moments. She turned out to be around 50ís, thin with dark hair and laughing eyes. Something about her screamed Ďtrust meí.

She broke the silence first. "You are very pretty. I can see why your husband is very protective of you. He did a good thing putting parandja on you."

I shook my head, "First of all he is not my husband and he didnít put anything on me. I put it on myself. Secondly, how did you know weíre not from here? And why did you call me here?"

She chuckled, "Your not-husband is very good looking. He attracts womenís attention. But whatís interesting is he doesnít let you out of his sight for a second. I saw you out of my window and wondered what kind of woman can have undivided love of such a man. After examining you I figured you canít be from here. Your clothing can fool others, but not me. Those fabrics werenít made here. We donít put synthetics into parandja. It has to be made from horsehairs."

Impressed I smiled, "You are very observant. But you didnít answer my other question. What do you want with me?"

She looked at me seriously. "When I saw your companion arranging for a room, I had to interfere. You canít stay here itís too dangerous."

"Why?"

"You know about US women disappearing?" I nodded and she continued. "Unless you want to join them, get out of this damn city as soon as possible. And under no circumstances stay in Pharhatís place. Heíll sell you to the visir the moment he sees you."

So my suspicions about tearoom owner were right. But I needed to know more. "Will I be taken to sultanís palace?"

She was surprised by my question. "Yes. So you know?"

I nodded, "I need to get in there, but I want to make sure they wonít hurt my companion."

Her surprise increased, "Why do you want to get there? I realize that being in sultanís harem might be prestigious for girls raised here, but it canít be the same for you. Donít you know he likes to torture his women? I sell cosmetics to his harem. Iíve seen what he does to them." she shivered and muttered, "No woman should be treated like that. It goes against every law and religion."

I didnít know if I had the right to trust her, but I decided to risk it. "Did you hear about a US woman kidnapped yesterday?" her eyes lit up in understanding. "Sheís my friend and I have to get her out of there and I have two days to do it."

"Getting into the harem wonít be a problem for you, dear. But getting out of there is impossible. Believe me many have tried and failed. You will be crazy to even try."

"I have no choice. I have to at least try."

She shook her head in disapproval but seeing how determined I was she sighed, "I will try to help you."

"As much as I could use your help, I donít want to put you in danger. All I want is a little bit more information and Iíll do anything you ask in return."

We talked for a while longer while a plan was forming in my head. Do I have to tell you that I knew that Quinn wonít like it?

I was standing next to a window wearing Quinnís shirt since I refused to sleep in the dress. I heard him coming out of the bathroom and walking up to me. He hugged me from behind for a few moments before picking me up and carrying to bed. He gently put me down and lay down next to me. For some reason I couldnít say anything, not that I wanted to. I wanted this to happen so badly. He kissed me long and hard. I felt the heat rising and put my hands around his neck, pulling him closer. His hand moved down and started unbuttoning the shirt. As soon as he finished, he pulled away from me and opened itÖexposing me. He started touching me lightly, moving his hands from my neck down right between my breastsÖslowlyÖ in round motionsÖteasing. When his hand reached my lower abdomen it stopped moving, just resting there. And his lips started working. His mouth traced every place his hands just visited and more. I closed my eyes and moaned. I felt his lips circle my breastÖand lock around my nipple...sucking slightly. I arched my backÖwhen this incredibly loud noise woke me up. I jumped up on the bed and stared at at least ten armed men in my room. Fear cooled me down faster than any cold shower could. They parted letting in someone who I guessed was the visir. We looked at each other. I didnít like what I saw. Not that he wasnít handsome. He was. Very. And yet something about him made me shiver. I saw him undressing me with his eyes and was glad I decided to sleep fully clothed.

"Where is the man?" his voice was harsh. I couldnít talk afraid that the shakiness of my voice would give my fear away. "Doesnít matter. He is very fortunate he decided to stay out. It saved his life." His lips curved into a smile, but his eyes remained cold. He stared at me for a while, "Pharhat didnít lie. You are quite beautiful. Sultan will be pleased." He came closer and whispered "May be I should test the merchandise."

I turned my head away and said just as quiet, "Are you sure the sultan will approve of you touching his woman?"

"What makes you think heíll find out? Itíll be your word against mine. Who do you think heíll believe?"

I looked straight into his eyes and said a little louder making sure my voice showed all the resentment I felt, "Me. Because if you think youíll have me without beating the bloody hell out of me first, youíre crazy."

He laughed and cupped my face with his hand, "Very good. Fire. I like that in the woman. And sultan likes it even more." He leaned closer and lowered his voice again, "Iím gonna enjoy whipping it out of you."

If his goal was to scare me, he certainly succeeded. I was frozen with fright. He picked up my parandja and threw it at me. "Put it on woman. Youíre going with us."

No one said a word during the ride. When we got to the palace, visir took me to a small room with nothing but a bed inside and locked me in, saying that someone will attend to me in the morning.

I crawled into a ball in the farthest corner from the door. I couldnít believe what I got myself into. It all sounded fine and dandy when I was trying to convince Quinn, but reality was completely different. Getting in was the easiest part of the plan and I already was horrified. At least I was able to persuade Quinn to spend the night at Sulikoís store. Knowing that he was safe for now and knew where I was comforted me a little. After torturing myself for a while, I decided that Iíll need a lot of strength in the morning and I should try to get some sleep.

The first thing my eyes caught when I woke up was a beautiful girl with long dark hair, may be a couple years younger than me. She was wearing a long strapless light-blue dress tied on the waist with a white shawl and a lot of jewelry. Similar shawl, but a little bigger and see-through was covering her head and shoulders, leaving her face open. She was sitting on the bed staring at me with interest. When she noticed me looking at her, she smiled and murmured.

"Iím sorry, I didnít mean to be rude. My name is Zeinab. I was appointed by grand visir to welcome you to our harem. And I brought you some clothes." She handled me a cream-colored sleeveless corset and a skirt, which consisted of a few long see-through layers in delicate peach color. I also received two peach shawls. She bowed her head and left the room, giving me a privacy to change and take a quick shower in adjoined bathroom.

I looked in the mirror and almost didnít recognize myself. I looked like a princess from a fairy tale. Corset showed off my thin waist and raised my bust, while the skirt gave an illusion of being transparent and yet not really revealing anything. I felt very seductive and deep down wished that Quinn could see me now. I wrapped the shawl in a similar way to Zeinabís and stepped outside.

The room I walked into wasnít huge but it was very beautiful. A fountain in the middle and a lot of plants gave a feeling of being in a winter garden. Very unusual music was playing quietly. After looking around I saw a couple of girls playing on something like synthesizer. There were totally around twenty girls in the room. All very young and beautiful in clothing resembling what Zeinab and I were wearing.

Zeinab was talking to a petite blond girl when she noticed me and motioned to come closer.

She waited until I was close enough to hear, "Iím glad the garments I provided fit. This is Anna. Sheís been with us for almost two weeks. And I still donít know you name."

"Iím Wade. Itís nice to meet you Anna. There arenít as many women here as I expected."

Zeinab frowned for a split second, and then smiled again. "Not all women are allowed here. Most girls, here are new, except the welcomers like me. After sultan sees you and if he approves, youíll be moved to the real harem. Now why donít I introduce you to the rest of girls."

Introductions took probably half an hour, but I was paying more attention to trying to find Maggie. Zeinab noticed me looking for something and asked a little suspiciously, "What are you looking for?"

For some reason I didnít really trust her, so I told her the first thing that came to my mind. "I heard that sultan has a beautiful garden. I was wondering if weíre allowed to go outside."

She shook her head, "Iím afraid not yet. Only sultan can give you permission to go outside."

I smiled, thinking ĎWell, here goes plan Aí. Our first plan was for Quinn to get into the garden right before the slide and me and Maggie would be waiting for him there. If we calculated the time right, we might have been able to slide before anyone noticed. However, I wasnít really upset. I thought that plan was way too risky. What was really bothering me was that Maggie was nowhere in sight. Knowing Maggie, she couldíve gotten herself into a lot of trouble by now, especially since she knew that she missed the slide window. The only other place I could check was her room. Iíve excused myself, saying I need to go to the bathroom. Zeinab offered to take me to my room, but I politely declined. Along the walls of this garden where a number of doors, which I figured lead to the girlís rooms. Most of them were open, easing my job.

First couple of rooms I knocked in were empty, but on the third one I hit gold. Very familiar and very irritated voice screamed "Leave me alone. I donít wanna go outside, and I donít wanna play your stupid god damned games!"

I opened the door and said barely containing my relief, "What if Iíll let you win?"

Before I could even finish the sentence, she was hugging me. "Oh my god, Wade! I canít believe this. You are the last person I expected to see." She let me go and we both sat on her bed. "I knew I missed the sliding window, but I wasnít sure if Remmy made it. They went on him pretty hard."

"He made it. But he was in bad shape, so Quinn and I slid here to try to get you out. We have until tomorrow."

She quickly moved down to business, "So, how do we get out of here?" I just cringed. She looked at me with fear, "Please tell me you have a plan. Iíve tried to get out of here on my own. It seems impossible. Itís like this place has no way outside. All the doors lead to little rooms like this, except one but it has an army guarding it."

I nodded, "Yeah, I figured that much. They canít risk you running away. We have a plan, letís just pray it works. Why donít we go to the other room before they start looking for me? I donít want to raise any suspicions."

We sat in the corner and I described Maggie our plan. Just when I was finishing up we heard some commotion. I got up and saw all the girls crowding around someone. I heard Suliko offering her stuff to the girls and smiled.

"Come on, letís check it out." Maggie followed me.

Suliko noticed us and shouted "Oh, I see a couple new girls here. Well come on, come on, donít be shy. I have everything a girl might need. I have lipstick, I have blush, and eye shadow. I have creams thatíll make your face stay this young and beautiful forever. Just look at mine. I have perfumes to make any man want you even more."

Maggie looked at me and mouthed "she is your plan?" in mock horror. I just laughed and turned my attention back to Suliko. "Show me your perfumes, please."

She winked, "Well of course my dear. A girl like you should smell fresh and sweet, like flowers. Here is something thatíll be perfect. I only have one bottle, so get it before itís too late."

I looked at Zeinab and she nodded approving the purchase, "Take it if you like it. Youíll need more that just perfume though. Just choose what you want. And Maggie, you should take something too."

I took the perfume and carefully hid it before it got mixed up with other staff. We spend the next hour playing around with Sulikoís products. After she left, Maggie and I went to my room and closed the door. I unwrapped the note from Quinn that was in the bottle along with tree small pills and read it out loud.

"íIím ready. Thanks to Suliko the whole city knows Iím here. Be careful.í Good. Now we just have to hold on. And most important thing for you will be not to panic when everything starts. Iíll panic enough for both of us."

Maggie chuckled, "Iím a soldier. Itís against my nature to panic. Unless I see rats." She shrugged and said with disgust, "I hate rats." As much as she was trying to keep her cool, I could see she was nervous and so was I.

We spend the rest of this day and most of the next morning in the garden, pretty much doing nothing except talking. It turned out Maggie and my double didnít get along very well. She never said why, but I think it had something to do with Quinn. After she found out about my doubleís fate, she felt guilty for all the bad stuff she put her through. She gave herself a promise to start treating people nicer. So far the promise was successful, at least in my opinion. Iíll put what we talked about in my next letter, since this one is long enough already.

Around noon I decided to stretch my Ďmusical talent musclesí. I was trying to figure out how to play one of synthesizers when I hear a couple of women screaming and gathering around something. I ran closer and saw Maggie laying on the floor. Her face was flushed and she appeared to be unconscious. I fell on my knees and slapped her face lightly a couple of times. There was no response.

I looked up at Zeinab. "What happened here?"

For the first time I saw real emotion on her face. "Iím not sureÖshe was complaining that is was cold here and that all the noise is giving her a headache. Then she started coughing like crazy and grasping for airÖI thought it was just a fluke or somethingÖ but then she collapsed."

I let my fear show, "Oh my god. Everyone stay away! Do not come any closer. There was an epidemic like this where I come from. She needs a doctor right now."

No one moved. I yelled, "Canít you hear me? Zeinab, if you wonít get a doctor here in three hours, sheíll die and since this thing is airborne, so will the rest of you." She looked at me with horror and ran to the door. I talked one of the girls into helping me carry Maggie to her room. She ran out of the room afterwards like a scared deer. I tried to make Maggie as comfortable as I could. This was not supposed to happen. I made the pills before I was taken from plant oils I found in Sulikoís store. They were supposed to cause fever and fatigue. A simple allergic reaction. I never thought it would hit her that hard.

Zeinabís rapid explanations made me look at the doorframe and meet the eyes of grand visir himself. I could not afford to be afraid of him and yet I was. He didnít look happy.

"What is going on here, woman? I donít understand what this stupid witch is telling me." Zeinab obviously hurt, stepped out of the room leaving us alone.

"She has a very dangerous virus. There was an epidemic where I came from. If we donít get her some help, sheíll die. As simple as that." My voice was steady and yet Iím sure he felt both my fear and exasperation.

"So sheíll die. Sheís a good possession, but there are many others where she came from."

I was ready for that. "This virus is very contagious. I can vouch that at least half of the women inside this place are already sick. By tomorrow all of them will be. And since you entered without proper protectionÖ" finally for the first time I saw fear in his eyes. Somehow it gave me confidence I so desperately needed.

But he didnít give up this easily. "How come you know so much about it woman?"

"I was a nurse. I know what should be done. But I donít have proper medicine and even if I did, only a doctor can prescribe the proper amount."

"Why I no one heard about this virus?"

I was tired and angry. I didnít care about him hurting me anymore. Iím sure no woman has ever spoke to him so rudely and sarcastically. "Tell me, oh great grand visir, why no one ever heard of women being kidnapped on the streets? May be I missed it. I surely donít remember any ĎI was kidnapped and spend the rest of my life being bit up in a haremí interviews."

He glared at me, "I will deal with you later woman. I will send our harem doctor right away." He turned to leave but my remark made him stop.

"Thatís great, but before you do, ask him what he knows about Spanish Influenza. ĎCause if he knows nothing of it, I highly doubt heíll be any help." He hesitated but resumed walking without turning around.

Next two hours were probably the longest in my life. What if he saw through my bluff and will send the harem doctor? Anyone with even a little medical background will figure out that this is allergic reaction and not a deadly virus.

"This is the doctor grand visir send." Zeinabís voice startled me a little. I turned away from Maggie and glanced at the young man standing in front of me. Two soldiers were guarding the door. "Visir said that this doctor claims to know about sickness you said."

I moved to let the doctor examine Maggie. My heart was pounding like crazy. Before he even started I quickly stated the symptoms saying why I think itís the virus.

He smiled at me and said, "Donít worry, your friend will be alright. You sound like your familiar with the virus. Iím gonna need your help." He asked Zeinab to bring some sterilized water and when she left turned his attention back to Maggie.

After a quick examination he frowned, "Sheís in worse condition than I expected."

My heart skipped a bit and I interrupted, "Sheíll need a shot." I caught myself and rephrased, "I mean she probably needs a shot, right doctor?"

He mumbled quietly, "Youíre the expert." And continued loud enough for others to hear. "Yes. I canít be sure without blood tests, but it looks like a virus. I have medication in my bag, can you prepare everything? Iíd like tooÖuhÖtake notes."

I just rolled my eyes and thanked our good fortune that visir werenít here. No one with IQ over ten would believe that heís a real doctor. Quinn saw my exasperation and smiled. My anger melted away but I was still tense. He mouthed "we have forty minutes."

I prepared some antiallergenic medication in advance and he was supposed to bring it over. I quickly found the bottle and syringe and gave Maggie the shot. Now we had to wait. Quinn pretended to write something in his notebook. Once in a while he looked up at me and smiled.

I was a nervous wreck. Up until now everything went smoothly and according to plan. We all realized that Quinn and I had no chance of sneaking in harem, getting Maggie and sneaking out without being noticed. Our only chance was to try to get in and slide out from harem. When we were trying to come up with a plan I remembered that the only male allowed in, except a guard, is a doctor. We needed something their doctor couldnít fix. Quinn gave an idea of using SIP, since none of other worlds theyíve encountered ever heard of it. I couldíve faked, but it was too risky. I recalled that some plants give similar in symptoms with a virus allergic reaction. Suliko found the plants that I needed to create the pills and antiallergenic medication. She was also able to spread a rumor about a visiting doctor from the other side. Him being Quinn of course. Once Quinn got in we were supposed to pretend working on Maggie until itís time to slide. The plan required a great amount of luck. And even though up until now we were fine, I was afraid we were running out. Remmy once told me that sliding Murphyís law is -- everything that can go wrong will go wrong in the last ten minutes before the slide. He was right.

I was counting every second, nervously glancing at the two soldiers who were looking suspiciously at us in return. Quinn appeared to be completely calm even when one of the soldiers left. I started pacing neurotically, realizing that Iím only making things worse, but unable to help it.

"Get him!" visirís roar almost made me physically sick. He stood in between me and Quinn and pointed at him. Before soldiers restrained him, Quinn was able to show me that we only have five minutes left. We needed to stall.

"You think Iím a fool? I know you two are planning something. I donít know why you implanted that virus into harem, but you will pay for this. I will personally make sure that you will die slowly and painfully, whoever you are."

Quinn tried to reason with him, "You know we are not from here and we donít belong here. Why donít you let us go, and weíll tell you all you need to know about this virus."

On visirís signal, one of the soldiers punched Quinn in the stomach, making him bend over in pain.

My scream, "Let him go." Only enraged visir.

He turned around and slapped my face. "You overstepped all the boundaries woman. You will have to be punished. Take her to the torture chamber as well." I didnít feel the pain, just anger and fear for Quinnís and Maggieís lives. I gathered all the strength those feelings gave me and kicked him where it hurt the most. From the corner of my eye I saw Quinn throwing of the guards and punching one out. I heard him scream "Wade, look out!" I donít know what happened next. I felt sharp pain on the back of my head and blacked out.

My head was killing me. I felt someone caressing my face and calling my name. It took me a minute to realize that the person saying it was Quinn. I heard another voice saying, "Sheíll be alright, Quinn." A name Maggie popped into my head. Great. If weíre at the torture chamber at least weíre together. I slowly opened my eyes and closed them back. Sunlight did not help my headache.

"Wade, are you awake?" he noticed me flinching my eyes, because there was relief in his voice.

I whispered, "Iíd nod, but it would probably kill me." I heard Maggie chuckle and realized that they donít really make torture chambers that let through sunshine. This time I succeeded at keeping my eyes open. I looked around. I was lying on the bench in front of a building. Quinn was standing on his knees next to me, one of his hands holding my head up a little. And he was stroking my face with the other. Maggie was standing right behind him. She was a little pale and looked really out of place in her harem gown in front of PNC Bank. With Quinnís help I was able to sit up. As soon as I did, I hated myself for it. The whole world started spinning in front of me and my lunch tried to come up to check the fun out. Maggie offered me a bottle of water, which I accepted gratefully. Quinn sat next to me, hugging and supporting me lightly. Maggie sat on the bench across. After a few more minutes I felt better and was finally able to ask what happened.

Quinn was the one to answer, "Well, to make a long story short, we got lucky. I was trying to get rid of the soldiers when a couple of others came from the door. One of them knocked you out. Iíd never have a chance against four of them, if Maggie havenít woken up."

Maggie interrupted chuckling, "I was lying there, sleeping peacefully, when I heard someoneís ass being kicked. I opened my eyes and saw that it was Quinnís. Of course, I had to watch and enjoy for a few minutes, but when I asked for popcorn he had to ruin the fun screaming that I better get my butt up and help him since we only have two minutes left."

Quinn pretended to glare at her angrily, but we could see that he was amused. He raised his brows and continued sarcastically, "Yeah, yeah, whatever. If it werenít for your ability to find trouble everywhere you go, none of this would have happened." Maggie growled at him, but he just made a face at her and proceeded. "Anyway, she helped me get the soldiers out of the room and block the door with the bed. You were still out when the vortex opened, so I just picked you up and slid with you. End of story. Now, tell me howíre you doing?"

I was actually feeling better, but couldnít strain myself from complaining a little. "Like I just rode the most dangerous and sickening ride for at least an hour and got hit on the head in the end."

I felt Quinnís hands tighten around me and he whispered, "Youíll be alright. No one is gonna hurt you anymore." he kissed me on the top of my head.

Maggie rolled her eyes, "As sorry as I am to interrupt this little love fest, we should really get of off the streets. People are staring and itís kind of cold."

Quinn agreed, "Yeah, youíre right. Iím gonna go get us a cab." He got up, but before leaving he had to comment, "By the way, nice outfits girls. Very, how to put it delicately, hmmÖsexy. How about a little dancing? Iím thinking by the time I come back with a cab youíll be a few bucks richer."

Maggie got it before I had a chance to comment, "One more joke like that Hormone boy and youíll be able to get a job at a harem. And keep your eyes to yourself."

He flinched and laughed, "You wouldnít do that to me, Meg. You love me too much."

"Just try me Mallory."

"Quinn." He turned to me, still smiling. "how much time do you have left?"

The answer ruined our happy hour completely, "Twenty hours. We have to leave tomorrow at noon."

Do I have to tell you how happy Remmy and Colin were when we showed up? They both looked much better and were to back to their happy selves. Both Maggie and I still felt a little weak, so we went to get some rest, leaving Quinn to explain what happened. When I woke up I sensed someoneís presence in the room. I opened my eyes and saw Quinn sitting next to me. He looked like he was deep in thought.

"Quinn?" I had to repeat his name a few times, before he snapped out of it.

"Hey, youíre awake. Uh, we need to talk." I sat up and prepared to listen.

"You know we have to leave tomorrow. I...uhÖI thought about may be staying. But I canít. I also canít ask you to come with me." I felt a little hurt and disappointed. I knew that I couldnít come with them. But I was hoping for at least an offer. I tried to tell him, but he intercepted. "Wait, let me finish. I want you to come with us more than anything. You canít even imagine how much Iím gonna miss you. I canít let you do it for two reasons. First, while I was sitting in Sulikoís place there was only one thought in my head. God, please donít let anything happen to her. I think I went through one million and one ways for you to get hurt or worse. Any one of them could have occurred. And chances are if you go, it will. I canít let this happen."

"Quinn, in case you havenít noticed, Iím a big girl. I can handle myself. Iím not asking you to take me with you. I can understand why you donít want another burden on you. Iím just saying that if I did decided to go, nothing that could have happened would have been your fault. Itís my choice."

He smiled sadly, "You didnít let me finish. You are not a burden. And you proved that you are able to take care not only of yourself, but others too. No matter what the risks were, Iíd taken you with me if that wouldíve made you happy. Thatís the other reason. I know it wouldnít."

I shook my head, "You canít know that. Even I donít know that. I just think, Iíd be happier withÖ" I caught myself before saying Ďyouí. I felt all my confusion coming back. As strange as it sounds, I knew that I was totally and completely in love with him. Iíd go to the edge of this or any other world for him. I also understood that it would make things worse for him. At that moment I realized why he canít ask me to come. For the same reason I couldnít agree to come. We had to make a sacrifice of separating not for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of each other. I turned away to hide my tears.

"Wade, I canít leave without telling you how much you mean to me." his voice was shaking. I took a couple of deep breaths to compose myself and looked at him. "I know that we havenít known each other for long. But IÖuhÖfeelÖuhÖ" he suddenly smiled, "Iím not really good at this. I wanna tell you how much I love you, how much Iím gonna miss you and I canít find the words."

Stopping the tears wasnít an option for me anymore, I managed a weak smile, "I guess human feelings are more complicated that quantum physics, Mr. Genius."

He thumbed away my tears and nodded, "But not for you. Iím gonna do what us scientist call using research - plagiarize." He took a deep breath and looked into my eyes. What he said next had me weeping uncontrollably even before he finished.

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.

I love thee to the level of everydayís

Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhoodís faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints,- I love thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life!- and, if God choose,

I shall but love thee better after death."

I buried my face in his chest and just let it all out. As he was talking, each word tuned into a glass splinter working its way into my heart. It hurt. Physically. Spiritually. I had one question in my mind. Why? Why me? Why him? Neither one deserves to be hurt and yet weíre sitting here, crying. Why? Is it worth it? Love. Is it worth the pain? I felt his arms tighten around me. I looked up and gazed deep into his eyes. They were so intimate, so strong, so passionate, and yet...so vulnerable and tender. Yes. Itís worth all the pain in the world. His lips touched mine. Even if I never see him again, itís still worth it. I buried my fingers in his hair, pushing his mouth harder against mine. I didnít care what will happen tomorrow. This night was ours. Nothing will ever take the memory away from us. I wanted to make love to him.

More passionate kissing, an encouraging and fiery encounter of tongues. He lowered me on the bed, lying on top of me but barely touching. His lips released mine only for a second needed to take of my T-shirt. He smiled mischievously when he saw I was naked underneath. I unbuttoned his shirt feverishly. He ripped the rest of his clothing of and send it flying to the floor. I pulled him closer, lingering in the heat emitting from him, savoring the nakedness of his body touching mine. His hectic kisses were burning me up. His mouth separated from mine and moved lower to my neck, kissing every little bit, turning me into purring cat. I turned my head, giving him complete access to my neck and throat. I felt his tong proceed to my breast, circling my nipple, arousing me to an unbelievable level. I felt flame traveling from my breasts to my belly and lower. He sucked lightly and I moaned loudly. I didnít care if others could hear me anymore, and neither did he. My head was spinning and breathing was forgotten. His hands were exploring the rest of my body, teasing me mercilessly, finding every erogenous zone I had and tormenting me by caressing each one until I was roaring. I lost it completely. I never knew that making love can be so passionate and intense. I traced my hand down his body, caressing him in return. He shuddered and caught my arm. He whispered, "oh, no you donít." and pinned my hands above my head. "believe me, I donít need more encouragement." His lips returned on mine. With one hand still fastening both of mine, his other moved lower, until it found just the right place. I screamed and arched under him, when his fingers caressed the most tender and intimate spot. He hushed my screams by catching my tong and sucking on it. I felt the fire surging through me. Just as I was about to give in, I felt him entering me. We both finally let go of control and let the waves of pleasure engulf us.

It took us a few minutes to catch our breaths. He sat up and leaned on the pillows. He pulled me closer and I cuddled up, almost lying on top of him. We didnít talk, there was no need to. We could almost feel what each other was thinking. I just wanted to dissolve into him, into his strength, into his passion, into his love. He was holding me so tightly that I felt like he wanted the same thing. I looked up and kissed him on the lips delicately. He responded with the same affection. This time our love-making was much slower, more tender and so deliciously longer.

By 10 in the morning, when a knock on the door woke us up, we probably had only a couple of hours sleep. I was scooped up in Quinnís arms, feeling too warm and protected. So I just grumbled refusing to wake up. Quinn chuckled, kissed me on the tip of the nose and got up. He grabbed a towel that was left on the chair after out shower earlier in the morning, and wrapped it around his waist. *sorry couldnít resist lol* He opened the door just a notch to see who it was and started a quiet conversation.

I opened my eyes and just watched him. He was so handsome. When I thought of him leaving, my stomach did that knot thing again. I had to remind myself over and over again why we were doing this. It wasnít helping much. Last night only proved how right we were for each other. I heard Remmy saying that they have to leave soon and remembered something I wanted to do. I quickly got up and ran to the bathroom.

When I got out there was no one in the room. I figured that itís for the better. I opened the box and rummaged through it, trying to find exactly what I needed.

I came down about half an hour later. Everyone, except Quinn was at the kitchen having coffee and breakfast. They all greeted me differently. Maggie grumbled and refused to look up from newspaper. I realized that what we did must have hurt her tremendously, but no matter how she felt for Quinn, I knew he didnít love her. Heíll never be with her the way he was with me. And this was something sheíll have to figure out eventually.

Colin gave me one of his sweetest smiles. Like he knew how important last night was and gave us his blessing.

And Remmy was barely sustaining his laughter. "So sweetheart, did you have a good sleep last night?"

I slapped him on the shoulder and went to pour myself coffee. That didnít discourage him. "Ya know, there was a complaint from Las Vegas about some screaming going on. With your voice Iíd consider getting soundproof walls."

I almost choked and blushed. He and Colin just started laughing. I refused to give them satisfaction and tried to change the subject, "Where is Quinn anyway? Donít you have to slide in an hour?"

"Q-ball will be back on time. Donít worry. He just probably needed to get something to gain his strength back. Now this is what I call stamina. Where you two going for a record or what?"

I threw a napkin at him and asked trying to look innocent, "Whatís in it to you? Jealous?"

He chuckled, "Ah, youth. When are you young people will start to understand that quality goes before quantity. Of course if we go back to your screaming, quality couldnít Ďve been that bad."

"So Iím guessing you never heard woman scream like that? Says something for your quality."

Even Maggie giggled to that, "She got you good, Crying man."

I heard a doorbell and went to answer it. Quinn came in wincing and muttering, "Me and my Ďsmartí ideas."

I laughed, "What did you do this time, Mr. Genius?"

"Come upstairs with me and Iíll show you." Intrigued I followed him.

[AUTHORíS NOTE: ***I know this is a little out of character for Quinn, but Iím a hopeless romantic at heart, okay?]

He closed the door and sat next to me on the bed. "When we leave todayÖI will come back for you Wade. I donít want you to wait for me. Who knows whatíll happen. But if we ever find my homeworld, I just want you to know that Iíll come back." He took out a small box. "I remember my Wade liking sapphires. I didnít have much time, but I wanted to leave you something to remember me by." He opened it and took out a ring with one half-carat sapphire rounded by a few diamonds. My hand was shaking when he was putting it on. "I know this isnít muchÖ" I interrupted him with a kiss. He murmured, "Iím guessing you liked it."

I smiled, "You didnít have to you know. I donít think Iíd be able to forget you even with amnesia."

"There is something else. This is not as much for you. Uh, remember I told you that we couldnít get home, ícause timerís memory fried and we didnít know the coordinates? I know coordinates to your world by heart. But just in caseÖ" He raised the sleeve of the T-shirt and took off the giant bandate. I saw a bunch of numbers tattooed on his arm. They were kind of hard to make out, since his arm was red and puffy, but he didnít have to explain to me what they were.

I had tears in my eyes. He hugged me and we just sat there until Remmy called out that they have only 10 minutes left. I took a little package I prepared in advance and came down to the back yard.

We all were a little uncomfortable. I started the conversation first. "I want to thank you guys. I know this sounds a little cheesy, but Iíve had an adventure of a lifetime. Before you go Iíd like you all to have something. It isnít much." I smiled at Quinn, "itís actually more of good luck thing. Before my life turned upside down, I was a little into theosophy and wiccan religion. One of wiccan traits is good luck charms from semiprecious stones. I tried to choose the best stone for each one." I took the first one out and turned to Colin. "This is green adamite. It brings gifts of heart and mind together for balance and gives inner strength. It also possesses healing qualities." He smiled and thanked me.

I turned to Maggie. "Youíre probably familiar with this one. This is jade. It is a symbol of courage, wisdom, emotional balance and love. Everything you have." She hugged me and took the charm.

"Remmy, this small smoky stone is called Apache Tears. It represents tears of grief shed by Native American women after their loved oneís death. It eases and releases pain, sadness and anger to help heal and go on with life."

"Jesus girl, thank you." He hugged me and whispered quietly. "You really understand donít you sweetheart? Thank you for everything. And thank you for Quinn. Heís sad heís leaving you, but I havenít seen him so at peace with himself in a long time. Iím actually starting to think heís gaining some of his sanity back."

I chuckled through tears and turned to Quinn, who was waiting patiently for his turn. I took out a soft blue stone. "I chose it not only it matches your eyes sweety. This is one of the powerful stones. It brings tranquility of sea and air to heart and mind. It soothes and uplifts hurt, fear, depression and pain of life. It restores self-expression, patience while teaching younger brothers, acceptance and creativity. Larimar also brings hope, relief, gentleness and self-forgiveness."

He leaned a little so that I could put the charm on him. I saw tears in his eyes and for some reason it gave me strength to hide my own. I smiled and whispered, "I know weíll see each other again. Just be careful. And remember Iíll always love you." We hugged and just held each other until the timer started beeping. Letting him go was the hardest thing Iíve ever done. A few seconds later they were gone.

Iíve never felt so alone in my life. Somehow, I know that Iíll never"

As the petite redhead was finishing her letter, a song on the radio caught her attention. She put down the pen and increased the volume. Something in the song caused her to dig her face into the blue teddy bear she was holding and to start crying softly. Her sobs were so desperate they could melt even a Kromaggís heart, and yet so quiet one could hardly hear them over the songÖ

Iím thinking of you

In my sleepless solitude tonight

If itís wrong to love you

Then my heart just wonít let me be right

ĎCause Iíve drowned in you

And I wonít pull through

Without you by my side

 

Iíd give my all to have

Just one more night with you

Iíd risk my life to feel

Your body next to mine

ĎCause I canít go on

Living in the memory of our song

Iíd give my all for your love tonight

 

Baby can you feel me

Imagining Iím looking in your eyes

I can see you clearly

Vividly emblazoned in my mind

And yet youíre so far

Like a distant star

Iím wishing on tonight

 

Iíd give my all to have

Just one more night with you

Iíd risk my life to feel

Your body next to mine

ĎCause I canít go on

Living in the memory of our song

Iíd give my all for your love tonightÖ

***********************************

The EndÖorÖ

 

Three months laterÖ

A vortex opened in the Golden Gate Park, throwing out four travelers. Or as they called themselves sliders. As one of them got up he noticed a newspaper lying on the grass. The heading on the front page caught his attention.

"DEADLY VIRUS TAKES OVER HUNDRED LIVES"

A tall young man picked up the paper and shouted, "Hey guys, listen to this. ĎBy now everyone knows of the deadly outbreak that is swiping the world. Last night over hundred lives have been taken by Spanish Influenza II in San Francisco alone. The microbiology department of San Francisco has been working non-stop trying to find a cure, but unfortunately there are no results so far.í" he stopped reading and looked up at his friends.

"Jesus Q-ball, do you think weíll be able to help?" his best friend and oldest companion asked.

Q-ball shook his head as he looked at a strange device in his hand. "We only have twenty minutes hereÖ Even if we had more, there is nothing we can do to help. But I know a person who can. I say we go get her and come back." He looked at each one of his friends looking for their approval, unconsciously rubbing his left armÖ

**************************************************************************************

For those who care, the poem ĎHow do I love theeí is by Elizabeth Browning, and the song can be found on Mariah Careyís CD ĎButterflyí. Itís called ĎMy Allí.

 


Alternate Earth 117
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