Written by Sarah Amos, from a story by Joseph Vázquez
"Y'know, it really might be a good idea to take cover right about know." Rembrandt Brown struggled to make himself heard over the noise of explosions and gunfire.
The four Sliders ran around the corner of a partially demolished building and paused, breathless, in the deserted alley.
Quinn put his hand on Rembrandt's shoulder as they both caught their breath. "Where ... would you suggest? This place is in the middle of a civil war and there aren't exactly many safe havens."
"What about here? It seems safe enough." Colin looked inquisitively towards Quinn.
"Not for long, bro'," replied Quinn, "The fighting factions were moving in this general direction last we saw."
Maggie asked "How about the Chandler? It's got a cellar, well, on most worlds anyway." She was right. If they could get to the Chandler without running into a war zone, they would be able to lie low for the night.
Quinn peered round the corner of the alley into the street. He beckoned to the others to follow him and they all sped across the street. They could see fighting taking place further down the road and they carefully avoided the stray fire, which occasionally flew in their way.
It took them about 10 minutes to reach the Chandler. The top floor of the Hotel had been blown off, but the lobby and entrance looked intact enough to be safe. Most of the buildings in the Hotel's immediate vicinity were either destroyed or damaged and bits of rubble and furniture were strewn all over what remained of the road. Another fighting area was not far away and it seemed as though it had only just migrated from the place the Sliders now occupied.
The scene made a great impact on Colin. Until he had left the world on which he grew up, he had never seen a full-scale war. No matter how many worlds they visited where fighting was commonplace, he couldn't understand why humans fought other humans. Humans and Kromaggs fighting, he could understand a little more since Kromaggs suppressed Humans, but he couldn't quite get his head round why the Kromaggs suppressed Humans in the first place. Quinn, Rembrandt and Maggie all seemed to understand. After all, Quinn and Rembrandt, who had grown up on the same world, had learnt about great and horrific wars in school and Maggie herself had been a pilot in the marines on her world, a group which would fight against other humans. On Maggie's world there had been three "World Wars" but Colin's world hadn't even had the two that Quinn and Rembrandt's had, and there had never ever been any of the almost-genocide that seemed to characterise the technologically advanced wars. Guns, there were, but they were only used for hunting and they were not of the same destructive capability of the machine guns of other worlds. His brother and the others had often tried to explain to him why wars happened, but in the end Colin had told them he understood just to shut them up. They were all great friends and Quinn was everything he had hoped for in a brother, but they could be terribly confusing at times. He'd begun to accept the fact that he'd never understand human vs. human wars, among other things, however many times he had to live through them.
"Maggie, come back!" Quinn's loud plea to the marine captain startled Colin back out of his thoughts.
Quinn shouted again. "Maggie, there's no time! We're too near the fighting to go about playing hero. He's dead anyway." That girl never did as she was asked, even if it involved her own life.
Maggie didn't even pause to consider Quinn's words. She had to try to help the injured soldier she had seen in the rubble. She'd left so many good men behind at some point or another and the more she could save the more she felt she'd redeemed herself.
"Maggie!" he cried again, then shrugged his shoulders and followed her. Rembrandt and Colin started to follow him, but he called to them to get inside the building. They paused and then decided to disobey.
Quinn was closing the distance between them rapidly. He could have been quicker, but the rubble piled on the street made it difficult to run. He was probably only 10 metres from Maggie when an explosion leapt up and blasted him back. He felt the impact of debris against his body before he landed and blacked out.
* * *
"Quinn? Quinn? Are you alright?" Colin's voice was thick with worry for his brother.
Quinn groaned and tried to sit up. He was aching all over. It felt like he'd just been in an explosion, yet he couldn't remember what happened. There was a gigantic bruise on his head and other smaller bruises on various parts of his body. He also seemed to be covered in little bits of rubble and dust. He tried to sit up further, but Rembrandt's voice telling him to stay somewhere between lying and sitting was forceful and Quinn felt in now way able to contend the command. He barely managed to groan a question. "What...hap...happened?"
It was Rembrandt who answered him. Colin seemed too shocked to be able to contribute very much. Although Rembrandt was obviously just as upset as Colin was, he seemed to have far more control over his emotions and there was a kind of forced calmness about him. Rembrandt's time under Kromagg rule had made him learn how to act appropriately in the worst of situations and how to hide certain feelings and information. It had been that ability which had ultimately stopped him from giving into the Kromaggs. Rembrandt's voice was gentle and tinged with sadness. "There was a stray explosion, Quinn. It came from up the street and it exploded near you."
Rembrandt's brief explanation brought the memory flooding back to Quinn. The explosion, flying through the air, the impact of his body on the street, blacking out. Suddenly, his eyes widened and he sat up quickly, ignoring the pain that shot through his body as he did so. "Maggie!" he cried.
Rembrandt and Colin glanced at each other and hung their heads. "She was much closer to the explosion," said Rembrandt quietly, "We tried to help her, but there was nothing anyone could do. She, and the soldier she went to help, were both already..." his voice trailed off, but Quinn knew what he meant.
"Are you sure?" Quinn wanted to grasp hold of the last piece of hope left. The other remaining Sliders both nodded regretfully. Quinn sighed. Another one of them was gone. Each time he lost one of his companions it left a bigger hole in his heart. First the professor had died, and even though there was still the chance that it wasn't their Arturo, the Arturo who had died had been a companion anyway, whichever one he was. Then he'd lost both Remmy and Wade when they returned to Earth Prime and were taken over by the Kromaggs. He'd managed to get Rembrandt back, but Wade was taken to a breeding camp. That was what laid on him heaviest. At least in death, Arturo and Maggie could find peace and be reunited with loved ones, but in a Kromagg breeding camp, Wade would be subjected to torture as the Kromagg officers raped her. The one thing that kept Quinn going was the possibility she had escaped.
"Help me up," he said to Colin and Rembrandt. They looked at him. "Help me up," he repeated, "I want to see her."
* * *
"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now I'm found,
Was blind but now I see."
Rembrandt's perfectly pitched voice rang through the garden where they had dug a grave for Maggie. They had carried Maggie's body through the streets until they came to a garden suitable for her burial. It was some distance from the fighting now, but they all knew that it might not stay that way. They had carefully lain Maggie in the hole they dug and then covered her completely. They had even found a stone that could be used as a headstone, and they had taken the time to engrave it. They had felt it necessary to do everything they could to honour her memory.
All three were on the verge of tears as they each said a few words. By the end of the 'service' they all had tears streaming down their faces however much they tried to stop or hide it. None of them wanted to leave the small garden which now housed Maggie's body, but they all knew that if they stayed they would never leave and it would depress the all even more. They had to move on. It was the only way.
Quinn, Colin and Rembrandt walked out of the garden side by side. All were understandably distracted. It was Colin who spoke first, raising his sorrow-filled voice to barely more than a whisper. "How long until we Slide?"
Quinn reached into his pocket and pulled out the timer. "52 hours," he replied, also in a sorrow-filled voice, before he quickly put it back in his pocket. There was no point taking unnecessary chances with the timer. If it was irreparably damaged, they'd be stuck in this Hellhole of a world for the rest of their lives. Anything that could help them build another one would be destroyed, if it hadn't been already.
"Where are we going?" asked Colin.
Rembrandt sighed, "Well, not to the Chandler."
"There's sure to be another building round here with a cellar." Quinn looked at Remmy and Colin, "Isn't there?"
* * *
When they started looking for building with cellars, they found that most of the buildings had them. In the end, the Sliders chose the one that looked as though it was least likely to collapse on them as their sleeping quarters for the night.
It was a difficult time for the Sliders, so they made sure they had little time to brood by searching the abandoned hotel for mattresses, food and anything else that might be useful. Between them, the dragged it all down to the basement and set up camp there. There was no electricity, but Rembrandt found a couple of torches in one of the rooms. The last occupants of the room had probably left them when the fighting broke out in the area, but they did still work.
Everything they had gathered was piled up in the middle of the floor. There was quite an assortment. Colin had raided the kitchen and storage cabinets and had collected several tins and packets that they could eat. However, there was no fresh food since at that had been left had gone mouldy and stank the whole place out. Colin felt compelled to hold his nose when he entered the kitchen. He'd also brought down several bottles of alcohol. Everyone knew what that was for. There was no need to explain it to anyone.
Quinn and Rembrandt had raided all the hotel rooms for their contributions. They'd brought 3 mattresses down together that were the least damaged and Quinn had brought blankets and pillows down for all of them. As well as the torches, Rembrandt had found a small table and some glasses and plates.
Amazingly, the gathering of items for their sleeping quarters took them several hours and during that time, they said very little to each other. All of them were still in mourning for their lost friend and none of them felt comfortable enough to talk about it yet. In fact, they all tried as hard as they could to avoid each other. When they did happen to meet, as was inevitable, it brought back the memory of what happened to Maggie each time as it was still so fresh in their minds.
The Sliders gathered in silence to eat what they had. They hadn't eaten properly for the entire day and they were all incredibly hungry. Except for Quinn. He just sat there and stared at the food, unable to eat anything. All of them felt that they should say something to the others, but were all at a loss for words, even Quinn who could usually find something to say. When they finished eating, with a silent agreement, they all settled down to sleep for the night.
Quinn was having trouble sleeping. He tossed and turned trying to find a position in which none of his bruises would hurt him. He kept telling himself that his physical pain was stopping him sleeping, but he was kidding himself. It was more his mental anguish that was stopping him sleeping and deep down he knew it, even if he wouldn't admit it, even to himself. Maggie's death had hit Quinn very hard. Since the loss of Wade, Quinn had become increasingly close to her. Not 'in love' kind of close, at least not on his side, but their three months together before returning to Earth Prime had established a special kind bond he didn't share with any of the others. During those three months they had been everything to each other. He hadn't known if he'd ever see any of the others again, and the presence of Maggie had helped him accept the fact. Now that he came to think about it, when Maggie first joined them after the Professor died, he had been all she had. She'd lost her husband and her world and Wade and Remmy weren't exactly inviting to start with. That thought didn't make him feel any better, in fact, it made him feel far worse.
He turned over and pulled the bedclothes tighter around him. How he hated sleeping in day clothes, but that's what you get for sliding. Most of the time you don't have money to spare for non-essentials like night-clothes. Except when Remmy had successfully taken money out of an ATM machine with his card. In fact, quite often, they didn't even have enough for food or water. It was Maggie who usually got them out of those tight spots. There were some things which she would not to, but she had, on occasion, sweet talked store owners into giving them credit and then before they had to pay it, they'd Slide out of the world. Quinn smiled at the memory. They'd had some good times together.
A tear rolled down Quinn's cheek and landed on the pillow. He took a deep breath and tried to get comfortable again.
* * *
Rembrandt was having trouble sleeping. Everything he thought of brought him immense mental pain. He'd already lost two companions; he couldn't bear the thought of the loss of another. First Arturo, then Wade. Wade. He wondered how she was. Remmy had been closer to Wade then he was to any of the others, probably because they often shared the same outlook. Quinn, Arturo and Colin all had the minds of scientists and Maggie the mind of a soldier. In a sense, it alienated Rembrandt from them for his mind was that of an ordinary person, someone who would see the human effects of something, rather than the scientific aspect. Wade was the only other Slider he knew that saw it the same way and she was gone now. Rembrandt felt that he carried the blame for that on his shoulders. They should have stuck together. That way she might still be here. Yet, the blame he felt for friend's condition right now was just as intense. The blame for Wade was the past, even if it still hurt and forced him to continue looking, but this was in the here and now. The present.
He looked over at the two bodies in the same room. They were having as hard a time as he was, but there was nothing anyone could do to ease the their pain, anymore than there was to ease his. He'd just have to wait it out and hope for the best.
* * *
Quinn opened his eyes mid-morning to see Rembrandt sitting on the steps. Quinn slowly got off his mattress and went to join him. Colin was still asleep.
"Hey." Rembrandt's voice was quiet, but not out of a wish not to wake Colin. "I…er…got some breakfast," and he held out a tin of fruit, "Sorry, every thing else was well out of date."
Quinn knew his oldest Sliding companion still with him was hurting just as much as he was. "No thanks," he said simply as he waved away the tin from Rembrandt's hand. "How are you doing, Remmy?"
Rembrandt twiddled his fingers, a sure sign that he was unhappy. "Not that great." He turned his head up to look Quinn in the eye. "’Bout the same as you."
A slight smile found it's way into Quinn's melancholy expression. Rembrandt had always been very perceptive and Quinn really needed someone to talk to. "I just…I don't know how to cope with her loss anymore than I did the Professor's…and Wade for that matter." He gave a cynical laugh.
"Yeah, I know. I guess it gets easier after a while, but it never goes away completely. It's probably better like that; it makes us appreciate what we've got."
The two friends smiled at each other. Quinn knew he could always count on Remmy in times like this. He was that kind of true friend.
Rembrandt looked at his watch. "I guess we should get Colin up." A smile appeared on both Rembrandt and Quinn's faces. Waking Colin up could be a lot of fun and it gave them something else to think about.
* * *
The three of them walked down a deserted road, kicking a vaguely spherical piece of rubble as they went. They weren't saying much because there wasn't very much to say. They'd just been to visit Maggie's grave to pay their respects. They'd even collected a few flowers to put on the grave. Quinn had found it difficult visiting the grave, but he knew that after they left his world, they wouldn't be able to return often. They could at the moment because of the co-ordinates stored in the timer, but if anything happened to wipe those as had been done before, they'd never be able to return. That was enough incentive to make him visit it, even though it practically reduced him to tears.
Finally, Quinn kicked the spherical piece of rubble a little to hard and it went flying off into a big collection of other pieces. Rembrandt and Colin stopped and looked at him.
"Oops." He couldn't think of anything else to say. Remmy and Colin rolled their eyes and they carried on walking, just without the stone. They weren't really going anywhere in particular, but with silent agreement they avoided the place of the accident.
Their pointless meandering brought them into an area of fighting in the early afternoon. The weather was a little hot and they had been walking into the sun, so they hadn't realised until it was too late. Quinn had thought that the noise was coming from the right of them.
No sooner were they in the midst of the fighting than Quinn knew they had to get out again. He suspected the others had the same compulsion. He didn't want a repeat of yesterday and being in the middle of fighting increased the chances of a recurrence significantly.
"Can anyone see a way out of here?" he yelled at his companions.
Rembrandt shook his head. "No. It looks like it closed in around us," he replied at the same volume, "Wait, we might be able to get out over there." He pointed to a gap behind the barricades of one side's army.
Quinn nodded in agreement. "We should be able to get there and if we can get there we can get out. It'll be a risk though."
"I don't think we get a choice," shouted Colin, as there was an explosion not far in front of them. Instinctively, they all ducked and covered their heads even though it was too far out to hurt them.
They ran across the battlefield towards one of the big pieces of rubble and hid behind it. There was only just room, but you can't have everything. Miraculously, nothing hit them during the frantic run, not even a piece of rubble. They stopped before running behind the barricade. Quinn's bruises hurt when he ran. "Oh, well," he thought, "At least I CAN still run." He kept telling himself that as they waited.
There was a slight decrease in firing, and when they noticed it, the Sliders took their chance. Quinn could see their target easily as he strove to reach it without being hit. Colin reached it first. That wasn't surprising since Colin had longer legs than his brother. Rembrandt was just behind Quinn.
As he went down, Rembrandt yelled. Quinn heard and turned instantly. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his brother doing the same. Quinn's heart skipped a beat when he saw he friend lying there, clutching at the wound in his chest, vainly trying to stop the bleeding. Remmy had been hit by a bullet. The shooter had gone almost as instantly as they appeared. There was something familiar about them, but the brief glance Quinn had caught was not enough to identify.
"Oh my God!" Quinn's cry was barely perceptible over the continuing gunfire. The only people who had any kind of reaction to Rembrandt's injury were Quinn and Colin. "Remmy!"
Quinn's hands shook as he tried to help Rembrandt to safety. Colin's were shaking as well as he assisted. Between them, the brothers managed to pull Rembrandt behind the barricade. All three were covered with the red taint of blood by the time they reached it.
"Leave me here," croaked Remmy, "You're never gonna get me out alive. You might as well just leave me."
"You know Damn well I'm not gonna leave you to die. I care about you too much to do that," Quinn returned fiercely.
"Just do one thing for me..."
"He said we're not leaving you." Colin took Quinn's side and tried to help him move Rembrandt to safety.
"Kill those Kromaggots for me." Rembrandt's voice was getting weaker.
"You'll be doing that yourself if we have anything to say about it." Colin rarely asserted himself, but when someone's life hung in the balance, especially if it was one of his friends, he would do so.
Quinn looked around for someone who could help them. His eyes fell upon a nearby soldier who was defending the barricade. "Excuse me, our friend needs some help," he called, "Excuse me." When that didn't work, he tried a different approach. "Hey you over there, get over here and help us!"
As the soldier reluctantly turned around, Quinn realised that it was a woman, and not only that, but she looked like Maggie as well, even though there were subtle differences which set them apart. It wasn't just that she looked like Maggie, her mannerisms and her defiant way of acting were just like Maggie's had been when they had first met her all that time ago on the world about to be destroyed by pulsars. Her death still caused a pain inside him as he thought of her.
"Well?" The Maggie look-a-like was standing with her hands on her hips, looking straight at him with piercing eyes.
Since Quinn seemed to be distracted by the memory of Maggie, Colin, who seemed not to notice the resemblance, spoke up. "Our friend's been hit. He needs help."
"What do you expect me to do? This is a war in case you hadn't noticed. People get hurt and sometimes they die. It's the way things are these days." Her hardened expression was evidently there to cover the fact that she had lost many friends.
Quinn's mind suddenly snapped back into focus, shocked at the coldness that the soldier had just exhibited. "Don't you care about anything other than winning this war?" he shouted at her, "Don't you ever think about the lives that are destroyed by this petty fighting? Not even the civilians who have no part in it, but just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?"
"The war was something that had to be started. We couldn't carry on like we were. It wasn't right."
"Maybe you couldn't, but killing innocent people is not what was necessary. You're probably destroying more innocents than you are helping others. We haven't been here long, but we've already lost one of our friends due to this war and unless you help us now, we'll lose another. I may not know much about this war, but I do know one thing; you have to care for the civilians who aren't involved otherwise…" Quinn stopped mid sentence as he realised other people were now staring at him.
The soldier looked at Quinn, Colin and then Rembrandt sitting against a wall, still holding his wound before giving in under their stony glares. "You say you're civilians?" as Quinn nodded, she continued, "There's a make-shift hospital down that way," she gestured away from the fighting with her arm, "for civilians only and their care isn't great, but it's the best there is." As soon as she had finished her sentence, she turned her back to them and continued shooting at her enemy, seemingly without further thought of them.
"Thank you." Quinn didn't feel she deserved it for taking so long, but it was only polite.
Quinn and Colin helped Rembrandt to his feet and between them, they managed to assist him with walking in the direction the soldier had pointed.
* * *
Maggie looked up as a doctor entered the room, never even considering letting go of Quinn's hand. "Is he gonna be okay?" she asked the doctor eagerly.
The expression on her face betrayed the fact that Maggie cared about her friend more than she would usually admit, although it had become more obvious of late. To be honest, she looked a bit of a mess. Her hair had not been brushed and her clothes were crumpled from being slept in, if you could call her tossing and turning sleep.
Her eyes followed the doctor as he moved across the room and picked up Quinn's chart. It all seemed to be going in slow motion for her. With Quinn lying in a hospital, it was almost like she was reliving her husband's death. There were differences of course. She wasn't there for her Steven's last moments, something she had always regretted and probably always would. She was trying to compensate for that by being there for Quinn now. He wasn't necessarily dying, but Maggie's mind automatically assumed the worst. Not out of want, but out of fear.
She didn't think she could stand losing Quinn. He had been such a good friend to her, even when she wasn't very friendly. He'd saved her life more times than she could remember, but it was more than that. It had been him, along with the other Sliders Rembrandt, Colin and in a way, Wade, who had taught her how to be a real captain as opposed to a marine captain. When she had first met them on her home world, she had hidden her real feelings behind the character of a marine captain. Steven Jensen, her husband had been the only one who had seen the true her, and when he died she no longer had anyone she could express herself to. The arguments with Wade had partly been as a result of her inability to express her true self. There was a personality clash which had helped cause the bickering, but had she been able to express herself properly, they might have been able to work around it. Quinn had taught her a lot in those three months when they were searching for Earth Prime. If Wade could see her now, she'd probably find her completely different person.
Maggie felt it was her fault he had been injured. If only she hadn't gone after that already-dead soldier, Quinn wouldn't have had any reason to be near the explosion. She had come out of it unharmed, but Quinn hadn't woken up since the explosion. It was a hard way to learn to listen to him from time to time.
The doctor took out his pen and scribbled a couple more notes on the chart. "He should be fine. He took quite a knock, but I don't think there'll be any permanent damage. We administered a painkiller when he came in, so that should sort him out."
"Is that what's keeping him unconscious?" Rembrandt asked from a chair on the opposite side of the bed from Maggie. All his past guilty feelings had been resurfacing to haunt him, added to several new ones, so he'd been keeping very much to himself, so he could try to come to terms with the feelings. His strongest feeling of guilt was that he didn't stop Quinn running after Maggie or even reach Quinn before the explosion. He kept going over and over the accident in his mind trying to find a reason for it, but not succeeding.
"Yes, it renders the patient unconscious in order to work properly." The doctor was surprised; most people knew that was how the most effective painkillers worked.
"So when will he wake up?" Colin was seated next to Rembrandt, watching the machines monitoring his brother with a kind of fearful awe.
"It's hard to tell. He's been exhibiting some unusual side effects…"
"You mean the talking while unconscious?" asked Rembrandt, interrupting the doctor mid-sentence.
The doctor nodded the affirmative, "…but it shouldn't be too long now. Will you all be okay in here? I have to go and see another patient, but I can send a nurse in if you want."
"No, we'll be fine." Colin didn't feel comfortable with the doctor or any of the other hospital staff in the room. It made him nervous.
* * *
Quinn and Colin were seated in a busy room at the hospital. There were many people around them, but Quinn didn't notice any of them. He was too concerned for Rembrandt. Of all his current travelling companions, he'd known Rembrandt the longest. Rembrandt had been there on the first Slide as an accident on the part of Quinn. He'd set the power too high and Rembrandt had been pulled into the vortex. There was nothing he could do to change that and the only thing that helped him a little was that he knew that Remmy had forgiven him a long time ago.
Quinn was so deep in his thoughts that he didn't even notice the doctor approaching. He only realised the doctor was standing in front of him and Colin when Colin spoke.
"How is he? Is he gonna be okay?" Quinn looked up as his brother asked the question and both of them looked at the doctors, hoping for the best.
"I'm very sorry. We did everything we could, but Rembrandt Brown died from his injury a few moments ago."
"Are you sure?" asked Colin in disbelief.
"I'm sorry, he was too severely injured. We just didn't have the equipment to save him."
Quinn couldn't take in what he'd just heard. "No, this can't be right; Remmy was a fighter. He wouldn't just give up."
"It wasn't a case of giving up."
"He spent months in a prison to be rescued to this? It's not right," cried Quinn, "It shouldn't have happened. Not to Remmy." Quinn was fighting within himself to keep the tears back, but he wasn't doing very well. He could see that Colin was in much the same position.
"I have other patients to attend to," and with that, the doctor walked off, leaving the brothers to their grief.
Colin ventured, "What are we gonna do now?"
"Keep Sliding, I guess," replied Quinn, "And find a way to defeat the 'Maggs. For Remmy. And Maggie, Wade and Arturo. And for all the other friends we've lost along the way."
Colin nodded in agreement. "We have to."
Quinn placed his head in his hands and stared blankly at the wall in front of him. This wasn't meant to happen. None of it was. How could it have come to pass? Out loud, he tried to force a few of his thoughts into words. "Why Remmy? Why him? Why not me?"
"We have no control over things that happen in this life," soothed Colin. "They happen for a reason, whatever it may be."
Quinn turned to face Colin, even though he was staring through him. "This life. Sliding. We have no control over that at least. I only I'd waited until I knew how to control it before deciding to set off on an adventure. Or curse."
"I was actually referring to the Earthly life. Do you not believe in an afterlife, brother?"
Quinn screwed up his face. "I don't know. I want to, oh how I really want to, but there's this fear in me that it doesn't. I mean, what if there is nothing after death? What if they just… end?"
Colin placed his hand on his sibling's shoulder in comfort. "You don't need to worry about that, brother. I believe it exists. As did Rembrandt. He'd want you to believe that you would meet again someday. All you need is a little faith."
"But even if it does, why did Rembrandt have to go? What purpose does it serve?" Quinn was still struggling with the event.
"I don't believe we're meant to understand that," replied Colin. "If we knew what the purpose was, the effect would be lost. We just have to deal with the pain."
"Thanks, but it doesn't help much."
Colin understood. Quinn knew that their upbringings had been radically different. That was why they dealt with death in different ways. Colin was hurting just as much as he, but he took comfort in his personal beliefs. Quinn wasn't ready to do that yet.
Rembrandt had been Quinn's oldest friend, the two of them thrown together when Quinn accidentally set the power to high. They'd stayed friends during the time since that first Slide. Rembrandt had been the most loyal friend Quinn had ever had. That made him even more special in Quinn's eyes. He may have been sneaky at times, when necessary, but he had always stayed loyal to his companion Sliders.
Quinn decide to say some of his thoughts aloud. "Rembrandt had such a kind heart, more so than most. I can think of so many times when he was there for me, Wade, or anyone who needed help." Quinn smiled though the pain at the memories. "It got us into trouble sometimes, through no fault of his own. Oh he had his faults, but the good far outweighed the bad."
"I didn't know him long, but he was always there for me," added Colin.
The brothers sat reminiscing for some time. Mostly it was Quinn relating little anecdotes from the early Sliding years, but Colin had a few to contribute. Quinn took particular joy in sharing the events prior to Remmy's death, but even the happiest of those memories brought pain to him.
The were not disturbed at that hospital in this time. Everyone was far too busy or upset or worried to bother with another two people sitting and not causing any hassle. Eventually, Quinn drifted off into an uneasy sleep, in which dreams of his friends' deaths were prominent.
He awoke properly several hours later to a shaking from Colin.
"I'm gonna get a drink. Do you want one? I think I saw a machine down the corridor," queried Colin.
"I'm not thirsty."
Colin gave his brother an uncharacteristically stern look. "You really should drink something. You haven't eaten either. Wasting away won't do any good and you'd never be fit to defeat the 'Maggs."
"I suppose," Quinn sighed. "Get me a coffee, if they have it. Have you got enough change?"
Colin reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. "I think so."
Quinn put his hand comfortingly on Colin's shoulder for a second and they shared a forced smile. Colin stood up slowly and walked out of Quinn's view.
Quinn was still sitting in the uncomfortable hospital chair immersed in his memories of Rembrandt when the sound of a fight not far away reached him. Curious, he stood up and walked in the direction of the noise. He was in no way prepared for the sight in front of him.
Colin was in the midst of the fight. Quinn ran towards him, but was stopped by another man.
"I wouldn't interfere if I were you. That tall guy there did so and look where it got him," he said as Quinn continued to try to get past.
"He's my brother. I've go to help him." Quinn pushed harder and broke through the man's barrier. In the moment Quinn did that, one of the people Colin had been trying to separate pulled a knife and stabbed Colin.
"Colin! NOOOOOO!" Quinn raced towards his brother and knelt beside him, covering the wound with his hand. He didn't even notice the attacker running away. He wouldn't even be able to pick him out of a line-up. All he saw was a jacket swirling round and escaping.
"Quinn, I'm sorry." Colin's voice was filled with pain. "I was only trying to stop them fighting. I didn't mean for it to go this far."
"Ssshhh. It's gonna be okay. You're gonna make it and we'll get out of this world to find our parents even if I have to build a new timer." Quinn knew his effort to comfort Colin wasn't working. They both knew that if they missed the Slide, they might not ever be able to get back home.
Quinn grasped his brother's hand, great tears rolling down his cheeks. He'd given up any attempt not to cry in public. Colin was all he had left now. All his other companions were gone, the world he'd grown up on was overrun by the Kromaggs and he had no idea how to get to his parents. As the doctors and nurses crowded around the injured Colin, Quinn refused to let go. Colin's breathing was laboured and the pulse was so faint it was practically non-existent. Gradually, Colin's eyes closed and his grip weakened and disappeared. "Colin!" cried Quinn.
He held Colin's hand all the way to one of the rooms where he was forced to stay outside while they tried to help Colin inside. He sat down on the plastic chair by the door and held his head in his hands. A middle-aged man approached him.
"I saw what happened over there. Your brother's practically a hero, y'know."
"I'd rather he was alive than a hero."
"Maybe, but at least if he dies he'll die a hero."
"I don't want him to die. He's all I have left."
"I know how ya feel. My brother's all I have left. We're the last of six. He gave me a shock when he was hurt, but he's healing now. I hope your brother pulls through. He deserves to."
"I hope so to."
The middle-aged man stood up and went back to the crowded waiting room. Quinn wasn't sorry he'd gone. He didn't feel up to saying much to anyone.
It seemed like an age before the hospital came back out again, but Quinn knew it couldn't have been more than twenty minutes. He said nothing as they approached him, fearful of what the answer could be.
"I'm very sorry...," one of them said.
Quinn stopped listening after those brief words. He knew what would come next and he couldn't bear to hear it. Colin had been all he had left. He may not have known him long, but he was still his brother and losing him as well was too much for Quinn to take. He broke down again and cried in the middle of the corridor.
"No, no! Colin can't be dead. He was all I had. No! Colin!"
Most of the hospital staff left him, but one of the nurses stayed, probably just in case Quinn turned suicidal. He didn't, but he didn't stop sobbing either.
* * *
"Are you trying to say that this has never happened before?" Rembrandt paced across the small hospital room in agitation, "And you have no idea how to deal with it?"
"That is correct. We searched our databases all over the country and we didn't find a single incident similar to this," replied the doctor calmly.
"None?" asked Maggie incredulously, "wasn't there even any indication when the drug was being tested?"
"No. It seems that your friend is unique."
The Sliders chose not to make any mention of just how different Quinn could be.
"So what's happening to him? Is he gonna be okay?" inquired Colin. Quinn was his brother and he desperately wanted him to recover. Quinn had opened his eyes to the wonders of sliding and other technology and he couldn't even conceive the idea of going on without him.
"Well, we can't be absolutely certain, since this is the first case of its kind, but it seems that as usually safe healing drug has produced a reaction inside him."
"That doesn't sound too good," commented Colin.
"We don't really know. It does seem to be healing his injuries, but it also seems to be distressing him."
At that point a cry cam from Quinn who was motionless of the bed. "No, no! Colin can't be dead. He was all I had. No! Colin!"
"You can say that again," mumbled Maggie under her breath.
"So what are you gonna do to help him?" Rembrandt looked straight at the doctor as he asked the question.
"Well, we thought we’d give him something to counter-act the drug we originally gave him. It will probably slow the healing, but it might reduce the side effects a little."
"Couldn’t that also make the side effects worse?" Colin knew little about the medicine of this world, but he felt that it was a valid observation.
"It could, but considering the lack of information on his reaction, we don’t know what else to try." The doctor was uncomfortable telling the Sliders that. He had hoped they wouldn’t ask that question.
"Doesn’t that make him a guinea-pig?" Rembrandt was shocked. Quinn was his friend. He couldn’t let him be experimented on.
"Well, yes, but…"
"Then we refuse," said Maggie firmly, "And you need our consent to try this."
"Actually, under the new administration, we don’t." The doctor announced this with flair. It was the last card he could play, and effectively, he had won. "Due to the lack of cases like this, we are free to experiment on all we come across even if there are objections. It just happens that your friend is the only case we have. There is nothing you can do to stop me. If you try, I can call security and have you removed."
The Sliders said nothing, but they all gave the doctor a sullen, defeated look.
"Who’s the next of kin?"
"I thought you didn’t need permission to do this?" Before anyone could answer the doctor’s question, Maggie had jumped in, defensive as usual.
"We don’t. The patient just gets better care in the case of anything going wrong if we do."
"In that case…" Maggie and Rembrandt pointed towards Colin as Colin himself raised a hand.
"Sign here please." The doctor showed no sign of sympathy, only an impression of gloating.
Colin reached for a pen and scrawled his name at the bottom of the page. "Be sure you give him the best care you can," he said quietly, as he gave back the clipboard and pen. The doctor nodded and then proceeded to administer the counter-drug.
"So what now," sighed Colin as the doctor left the room, having done all he needed to for the moment.
"I guess it’s just wait and see," replied Maggie.
"And hope and pray for the best." Rembrandt was probably the most religious of the group, although the scientifically minded Colin probably ran a close second due to his upbringing.
None of the conscious Sliders were happy with the situation, but under the circumstances, there was nothing they could do.
* * *
Quinn sat, still with his head in his hands and tears still streaming down his face. The nurse had left, realising he was unlikely to turn suicidal, so Quinn was wallowing in his grief on his own. He hadn't even glanced at the timer. He no longer wanted to Slide. All that he had had left had died on this world and he couldn't face the thought of sliding alone. He'd seen what that had done to one of his doubles and he did not want to turn out like him. At least if he stayed on this world, he could visit the graves of his friends and brother. And he wouldn't have to face his parents and tell them that Colin had died whilst with him.
"Quinn?" Quinn knew that voice. It was Wade! The second he realised that, he also realised that it couldn't be his Wade, but he looked up anyway.
"It's me. I know what you're thinking, but I am you Wade."
"But how can it be?"
"I just am. I have something to tell you Quinn."
"When you pushed me into that wormhole, you sent be back to a world about to be taken over by the Kromaggs. They captured me and sent me to a breeding camp, but it wasn't really them, it was you. If you hadn't done that, I'd still be with you and I wouldn't be in a breeding camp."
"No, I didn't know, I couldn't know." Quinn didn't know quite what to say. Those things had happened to his Wade, but he hadn't expected her to say that.
"You should have done. You knew that you might not find me again and you didn't. I'm still out there, but you haven't found me yet. I go through torture everyday because of what you did."
"No, no. Wade! I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"There's something else though, isn't there. You didn't want to leave Maggie behind did you? And the both of you had to have your revenge. You couldn't have come with us. No, you had to wait for HER. You lusted after her from the first time you met her. You may regret it now, but there's no denying that you did. You couldn't help yourself, could you? You knew there could have been something between us, but you never acted on it did you? That's what you regret, isn't it?"
"Yes, yes, I do regret it, but at the moment I can't help it.
"But then, Maggie wanted something as well, didn't she? She was married, but that didn't matter. She lusted after you as much as you lusted after her."
"But I knew there could never be anything between me and her. You have to forgive me Wade!" Quinn was practically on his knees pleading with her. The hospital around him no longer held any meaning for him. He noticed none of. His attention was focused on the figure in front of him.
"You didn't know that at the time though, did you?" Another voice spoke and a second female figure joined Wade. It was Maggie. "You still had to try."
"It wasn't just me. You did the same."
"That's not the point though is it. I’m not the one who feels guilty about it. And anyway, I have some rather special feelings for you, feelings that you don’t return. You don’t care about me in the same way."
"I do care for you, Maggie. Maybe not in the way you want me to, but I do care for you."
"More than you care for me?" Wade’s voice was angry, possibly even hurt."
"I don’t know! I care for you both the same!"
"Oh, you must have a favourite."
"No, you’re both my companions. I care about you both equally."
"I don't believe you." Maggie turned towards Wade and asked, "Do you?"
"Nah," she said, "He must have a preference. He just doesn't know which at the moment. He hasn't seen us together for some time. He's confused."
"Wade! It's always been you Wade! I just never knew how to say it!"
"Oh yeah, I just remembered, there's something else you feel guilty about isn't there?" Maggie strutted towards Quinn and circled him. "You know that if you had never come to my world, Steven and I would have been able to die happy, together. Instead, you came in and he was shot when I wasn't there and then you brought me here and I died who knows how far from my husband."
"It saved people's lives though! If I hadn't come, no-one from your world would have survived."
"But what about the natives of the world YOU sent them to. They would have lived, perhaps for many centuries, but they died as a result of sliding my world. Is the survival of one world worth the death of another?"
"No, but I didn't know, I couldn't know! All I saw was a chance to save people."
"But it backfired. Like many of your ideas. Tell, me Quinn, how many people have died since you started sliding?"
"I don't know," he sobbed. He turned his head back and forth, but no matter where he looked, he could not avoid the glares of both Maggie and Wade.
"Too many." Wade's voice had a curious coldness to it. "And Arturo was one of them. If you hadn't developed sliding, he'd still be alive."
"But what about the people we have saved?" Quinn's voice sounded pathetic, even to himself.
"Face it Quinn, they could probably have survived on their own, but many of those now dead could have gone on to do great things."
"Who knows what we could have accomplished had we not gone sliding, Mr. Mallory." Quinn looked in the direction of the new voice. He hadn't seen Arturo for so long that he'd thought he couldn't remember what he looked like. He was wrong.
"Yes, my boy, I am the Professor, but you don't know which one do you?" Arturo leaned towards Quinn like he had when disciplining a pupil. "You never found that out, did you? I could be your original one, or I could be the one from the Azure Gate Bridge World. And you're never going to find out are you? Now I'm dead, you'll never know the truth."
"Not very hard. You never even mentioned it to whichever of us you took with you."
"I watched. Carefully." Quinn said that slightly more confidently.
"I didn't help though did it?" Arturo's voice thundered in Quinn's ears as he moved closer. "You still failed."
Quinn shrank away from him. "I did the best I could."
"It wasn't good enough though, was it, Boy?"
Quinn didn't answer.
"You killed us, Quinn, you let us die." Two new voices joined those around him. They were those of Rembrandt and Colin. "If you hadn't developed sliding, we would both be alive." They separated and circled Quinn, Rembrandt pacing clockwise and Colin anti-clockwise.
"I was just driving when you pulled me into the vortex. I could have had years of happiness with my family before the Kromaggs came if you hadn't dragged me along on your little trip."
"You pulled me into the vortex before I understood what was going on. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. You didn't give me a chance to understand properly before I was dragged on a journey through worlds completely different from my own."
Another man approached. At first Quinn didn't recognise him in the shadows, but as he entered the light Quinn realised who it was. It was the man who had shot Remmy and stabbed Colin. But there was more to it than that. The man in front of him was his own double. His own double had killed his companions. He had killed his companions.
Rembrandt and Colin joined together in speech again, but continued to pace in opposite directions, crossing over every so often. "That sliding led us to our deaths. We couldn't stop them, but you might have been able to. You and your sliding led us to our deaths."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean any harm. It just went wrong, it all went wrong."
"Then you regret finding me, your brother?" Colin walked around until he was directly in front of Quinn and he stared him right in the eye.
"No. You’re my brother, and I love you as one."
"Was that worth destroying my life for. It may not have been the best on offer and it may not have been as technologically advanced as yours, but I would have survived there. I had done up until the time when you arrived. The way you're going we may never find our parents. They could be dead, and what if you're not really my brother and that chip was meant for someone else?"
"I had no time to explain. I wanted you to be with me; you ARE my brother, I'm sure of that."
"Then you regret ever meeting us?" Maggie and Rembrandt spoke together and they came round to stand, one on either side of Colin.
"No. I mean, you'd all be alive if it wasn't for me and even if you weren't you'd have died with loved ones. I don't regret meeting you, just what I did to you."
"And what about us?" Wade and Arturo moved round and stood one either side of Rembrandt and Maggie. "You knew us before."
"I don't know anymore," he cried, "I just don't know." He stepped back and slid down the wall into a sitting position, his hands covering his face so he could no longer see the people in front of him.
He stayed scrunched up like that against the wall until children's cries startled him. Cautiously, he rose his head and removed his hand, afraid of what he might see. His five companions were still in a row, but something had changed. They had changed. He looked at each of them, one at a time.
Wade was the first one he looked at. She was surrounded by three Hu-Magg children, all fighting with each other, and a fourth was in her arms, wrapped in blankets. Quinn winced and moved on to Maggie. She wasn't even all there. Her arm was missing, but there were no blood save a puddle on the floor. On her left hand, the one remaining, her wedding ring was obvious, even though she usually wore it on a chain around her neck these days. Colin had a slash across his stomach, with blood running out and collecting around his feet. Rembrandt and Arturo both had bullet wounds and blood, but in addition, Arturo had a huge needle sticking out of his neck. Behind Wade was a sneering Kromagg and past
Remmy and Colin stood himself, the one who had killed them. Quinn turned away, not wanting to see his companions like that.
"You did this to us," they all said in unison, with exactly the same tone colouring each voice, "YOU, Quinn."
"I'm sorry, I really am. Please, you have to forgive me. I tried, I really did."
They set up a whispering chant between them, "Quinn, Quinn, Quinn, Quinn."
They continued to repeat his name as he protested again and again. "I know I messed up. I failed. But I'm trying to rectify that. I really am trying to help. I'm sorry, I'm sorry."
They didn't stop. They just went on and on. Quinn's counter protests did nothing to make them falter. Gradually other faces joined them and he recognised them as other people they'd met.
"Please stop!" Quinn put his hands to ears and screwed up his face. "Stop it please." He could feel them all blaming him for their fates. Quinn blamed himself too, but that just made him feel worse. It was true though; it was all his fault. He knew it and there was nothing he could do about it. It was all in the past. The best he could hope for now was forgiveness and an acceptance of his sincere apologies. As he contemplated this, the characters in front of him lost focus and he descended into a blurred view.
"Quinn, Quinn, Quinn!" As the images returned to focus, everything changed. Quinn could only see three people now, the companions he'd had at the beginning of the Slide. The ones who had died. They had no visible injuries and Maggie was shaking him hard as Rembrandt and Colin watched anxiously.
"Leave me alone!" Quinn was convinced he was still seeing hallucinations. "I know what I did you and I know it's all my fault. Please, just go away and let me grieve in peace."
The three Sliders surrounding him gave each other confused glances. They weren't quite sure what he was talking about.
"Quinn, it's us, you're okay now."
"I saw you all die."
"Q-Ball, we never died. We've been right here for you."
"But it was all so real. One by one you died and it was my fault." Quinn didn't understand. How could they be alive? He'd seen them all die.
"Brother, we were never hurt. The explosion knocked you unconscious and we brought you here. They put you on some healing drugs and they gave you hallucinations."
"No, that can't be right. Maggie died in the explosion. I wasn't badly hurt," said Quinn adamantly.
"Quinn," Maggie spoke softly to him, "I was well away from the explosion. You were the only one hurt."
"But I saw your body; you were dead! Are you telling me that none of it was real."
His three companions nodded slowly.
"I'm sorry Quinn, I really am. I should never have gone to the soldier. It's all my fault." At the end of her apology, Maggie broke down and wept.
Quinn was surprised by her reaction. He had thought she was usually very careful with her emotions. If anything, this helped Quinn to believe what they were telling him. He would never have imagined Maggie doing anything like that.
"I see you've decided to join us then, Mr Mallory." The doctor came into Quinn's view with a smug smile on his face.
"Who are you? What did you do to me?"
"I'm your doctor, Mr. Mallory. We didn't actually do anything serious to you; you did it to yourself."
Quinn just lay there and looked confused.
"Well, when you came in here, we gave your one of our best healing drugs, but unfortunately, you seemed to have a strange reaction to it, something that had never been seen before. It gave you hallucinations, so to stop it, we gave you a counter-drug and I'm very pleased to say that it worked."
Quinn glared at the doctor who was obviously basking in the glory of what had happened. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see his friends doing the same. They all knew that after the counter-drug had been administered, Quinn's hallucinations had become more terrifying. Quinn didn't know when the drug had been given, but he was fairly sure he could guess. The other Sliders were only able to guess the intensity of the hallucinations by how often Quinn had cried out, but they had all heard him cry out far more times since the counter-drug was given.
"We'll have to keep you in for a few more days to run some more tests into your reactions."
"You can't do that without my consent."
"What is it with you people?" sighed the doctor, "As I explained to your friends earlier, under the new administration we don't need your consent to perform tests on you in the name of science when there is a lack of suitable subjects, and in this case, there is."
The doctor turned towards Colin. "We'll need you to stay in as well. You are his brother, so we need to find out if you have the same reactions to the drug."
Colin could only stare at the doctor as he walked confidently out of the room.
* * *
"We've got to hurry! He's coming!" Maggie skidded into Quinn's hospital room and slammed the door behind her. "How long 'til the Slide?"
Rembrandt fished into his pocket and brought out the timer. It was upside-down so he reversed if before speaking. "Uh, two minutes thirty."
"Is that going to be long enough?" asked Colin as he tried to detach Quinn from the monitoring machines.
Maggie peered out of the window in the door and shook her head. "Doubt it. He's nearly here."
"I don't know what you worried about," said Quinn as he tried to untangle himself from the mess Colin had made of the wires. "He's not going to inject you or Remmy with drugs which give you side-effects like horrific hallucinations!"
"That's true," conceded Maggie, "Wait, he's stopped to talk to someone. We might make it." She took one last glance out the window and then joined Rembrandt and the timer.
"Are you gonna be okay to Slide, Q-Ball?" Rembrandt looked away from the timer for a second to ask the question.
"I don't get much choice, do I? If we don't Slide now, we'll be stuck here for twenty-nine years with a maniac who wants to experiment on me. I think I'll take my chances."
There was a pause before Rembrandt said, "Everyone ready?"
Quinn ripped off the last few wires and he and Colin joined Rembrandt and Maggie.
"Here goes!" Rembrandt pressed a button on the timer and the vortex opened in front of them. None of them wanted to stay on this world, so they all jumped in together just after the vortex opened.
A few moments before they jumped, the door opened and the doctor walked in. "Oh my God!" were the only words he said before collapsing on the floor in a faint.
The vortex closed behind the Sliders before anyone else saw it. The Sliders travelled through the interdimensional gateway into another world, never wanting to return to that world.
Alternate Earth 117/Sarah's Sliders Episode Guide