By Slider Sarah
Originally posted at the Sliders BBoard
A blue swirling interdimensional gateway began to form above a path alongside a grassy verge. The vortex expanded further and further from its original minute size until it was large enough for grown people to emerge from it.
First out was a young woman, yelling. Despite her delicate build, she managed to land on two feet and keep her balance. Barely.
Not so for the next of the travellers to exit the gateway. “Wade! Look out!” he cried, arms and legs flailing.
Instinctively, Wade turned around to the sound of his voice, only to be greeted by her friend flying straight at her. She screamed as they collided and went crashing to the ground. Somehow, during the fall, the pair managed to twist around so that he, by far the heavier, was underneath at impact so as not to crush her and they also managed to land on the grass instead of the path. It was a little trick the more agile Sliders had acquired during their time Sliding.
“Quinn,” said Wade reproachfully as she scrambled back to her feet, “can you never remember to jump *normally*?”
Quinn gave her a sheepish grin in return.
Before they could further any conversation, another of their companions, professor Maximilian Arturo, entered this new world with his usual shout of, “INCOMING!” The large man staggered forward and might have been able to steady himself had the final member of their group, one Rembrandt Brown, not exploded out of the vortex practically on top of him.
“Mr. Brown!” spat Arturo. “Would you mind watching where you Slide next time!”
Rembrandt was wearing a broad smile as he hurriedly stood up. “I was watching, professor. I landed exactly where I intended. You provide a softer landing.”
“One of these days, Mr. Brown, I will squash you like a pancake!” Arturo roared as he himself rose to a standing position.
“That’s exactly why I never Slide before you!” Rembrandt retorted, still with a smile on his face.
Quinn and Wade, as usual, laughed outright at the sparring. It was almost like a ritual; it happened nearly every Slide.
Quinn Mallory, the tall, handsome, but somewhat of an outcast creator of the timer that allowed them to travel through parallel universes, took in their surroundings. “Straight off it doesn’t *look* too different from home,” he observed. “That tree isn’t there on our world, but no statues of Lenin or anything obviously significant like that.”
“Just another quiet day in San Francisco,” Wade added. “It’s a good thing there rarely seem to be any people around when we Slide it!” She reached out towards the tree that didn’t exist there on her world and grazed the bark with the tips of her fingers. “Touch wood.”
Arturo sent her an almost disapproving look. “Tell me, Miss Welles, if you will, exactly how contact with a living material which can be used as a source of fuel will prevent the natives viewing our passage here. Will it turn all heads away from the vortex at precisely the right time? Or perhaps erase all memories of the event bar our own?”
The recipient of his rant shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s a tradition.”
“Then there is no real purpose to your action, my dear lady.”
“It may have a purpose, only we don’t remember what it is! Science alone cannot explain everything!”
The professor rolled his eyes in exasperation. He and Wade always seemed to get into the same argument: Science versus everything else. And neither ever gave in because neither could understand the other’s viewpoint. Arturo believed implicitly in science. With his decision to become a professor in aspects of science and to teach university physics, science had become his life. His mind was tailored to believe only what was allowed by the laws of science. Wade, on the other hand, had no such boundaries. She was a romantic person by nature and that left her mind open to more possibilities. She made full use of that in their discussions. Those topics were perhaps the only things about which she knew more about that the professor.
“So,” intervened Remmy before Wade and the professor moved on to other topics with a similar theme, “how long do we have?”
Glancing at the timer, Quinn felt stupid for not having already done so. There had been occasions where the next window had been barely minutes after their Slide in and a delay might have caused them to miss it. This time, however, it made no difference. “We’re here for a while guys. “3 weeks, 5 days and 18 hours.”
“Urgh! That almost certainly means jobs again already!” Wade pretty much echoed the sentiments of the others with her comment. On the longer stay worlds where they couldn’t just use an ATM and hop dimensions, they had to take temporary jobs which were usually menial pay and none of them liked it one bit.
The four of them checked into the Dominion Hotel straight away and they even managed to get their usual suite, a significant feat considering the previous occupants had only departed that morning.
Their favourite suite at the Dominion was practically home to them these days. Ever since that first fateful advancement of the timer, the Sliders had been denied their homeworld. Seemingly doomed to wander the infinite dimensions, they became each other’s all, and they took any comfort they could in consistency of surroundings.
Automatically, the three male Sliders collapsed I front of the television. Unless Wade was very quick off the mark or was prepared to fight, it would be very difficult for her to gain possession of the remote control. She wasn’t interested in their current choice of programming, some sports game that she didn’t understand and doubted they did either. “Hey guys!” she announced. “I’m going down to the bar. Anyone else coming?” She waited for an answer, even though she knew it was futile.
All three murmured their decline for the moment without taking their eyes off the screen. It was weird how they could be mesmerised by it, especially the professor, but Wade wasn’t worried; it happened enough times. Eventually, when she didn’t leave, Quinn turned his head slightly to face her. “You got enough change?”
“I think so,” replied Wade as she dug her hand into her pocket and dragged out a fistful of assorted change.
“Okay, I’ll join you in about half an hour for a few drinks?” It was more of a question than a statement. Quinn disliked imposing.
“Sure.” It was more than Wade had expected, even from Quinn. Once something on the TV enthralled her friends it was usually a long time before the spell was broken. Wade sighed. It was difficult being the only female sometimes. But although it did have many cons, the upside was that she got all of the attention and the male members of the group put a lot of her eccentricities down to being a woman. They didn’t have a clue!
Her thought trail petered out. She glanced one final time at her friends to assure herself they would be alright and then abruptly turned and made her way out the door and down to hotel bar.
The bar was not restricted to hotel visitors. On this particular world it was open to any members of the public in addition to those in residence and it seemed to be a fairly popular one.
Wade sat at the bar by herself. She ordered a drink and kept it close to her, avoiding looking at any of the other people in the bar. That would be like inviting company in and she wasn’t sure she wanted any. Besides, Quinn had said he’d join her later.
She looked at her watch discreetly. He was late.
But despite Wade’s attempts at anti-social behaviour, she was approached. There was something about Wade that suggested friendliness, however hard she tried to hide it. Some people, Wade included, would call it aura. Others, who had no use for that which could not be scientifically explained, would put it down to some kind of pheromone. Whatever the reason, the result was the same: Wade had no lack of admirers.
She was startled by a male voice that was not Quinn’s behind her as she neared the end of her drink. “May I buy you another?”
Wade looked up to behold the speaker. He matched his rich voice. He was tall, probably even slightly taller than Quinn, and incredibly striking. “I… er…”
He smiled an enticing smile. “I assure you, I won’t hurt you.”
Quickly, Wade explained herself with a little laugh. “It’s not that. I’m just waiting for someone.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth she internally chided herself. What was she doing? Here was a man of approximately her own age with a smile that could make her melt and she was as good as telling him to go away? Was she mad?
Deep down, she knew what was holding her back. Quinn. Wade knew she loved Quinn, but she wasn’t sure how he felt. Sometimes she thought she did, and then something happened to change her mind. She couldn’t wait for him forever.
“A woman like you should never be kept waiting.”
Luckily for Wade, the guy at the bar didn’t give up so easily. As she ran things over in her mind, she gave him a beautiful, if slightly embarrassed, smile. She and the other sliders were here for going on four weeks. That was long enough to have a good time, but not so long she couldn’t avoid it turning into something more permanent. That was the problem with some Slides; she never got to have any fun.
She studied him in detail. He was indeed very handsome. Not quite like Quinn’s shy, sexy looks, but handsome all the same. Why did she have to keep comparing him to Quinn? His physique was similar to Quinn’s, but his hair and eyes were darker. And in his eyes she could see an intensity, a passion for life. As she reminded herself she wasn’t here long, she began to fall into those eyes. Not in the love sense, but in another, indescribable way.
“Rob,” he revealed. “Rob Carter.”
“An extraordinary name… fitting for an extraordinary woman.”
Rob was throwing out corny lines all over the place, but all Wade could do was express a bubbly little bashful chuckle.
“So… same again?”
This time Wade didn’t hold back. “Please,” she agreed.
Rob gestured for service from the bartender and ordered for them both.
Wade accepted hers nervously, but as they began to talk she relaxed substantially. As usual, she semi-created a story about travelling with a group of friends and he had no reason not to believe her. It wasn’t an outright lie. She just didn’t explain the nature of their travelling. He in turn told her a little about himself.
Quinn pelted down the hotel stairs, which were, thankfully empty. He was 40 minutes later than planned for meeting with Wade in the bar. She hadn’t returned to the suite so he assumed she was still there, waiting for him to arrive. As he raced, streams of apologies began forming in his mind.
When he reached the room, he scanned it for Wade. Eventually he laid eyes on her sitting at the bar. He started towards her, about to call her by name, when he realised she was not alone. She was with the man next to her. He stopped dead still, feeling almost betrayed, before heading out of the hotel.
Wade never noticed him enter; she was too engrossed in her new companion.
Quinn left the hotel bar far behind. He wandered aimlessly, not knowing or caring where he ended up.
Wade dominated his thoughts; nothing could displace her from his mind at that point in time. There was nothing solid, nothing definite, between them, yet he harboured strong feelings for the lone female Slider and he had always assumed that she returned them, at least in a partial way. But when he saw her at the bar, laughing and joking, probably flirting a little too, everything collapsed around him.
The subject of himself and Wade had entered Quinn’s head many a time since they began Sliding and thought he had finally figured out what was keeping them apart. Sliding: That was the problem. It had helped them realise what they felt, but it also conspired to keep them apart. However, understanding it didn’t make Quinn feel any better.
When you Slid randomly as they did, never knowing when or if you would reach home, it brought you closer to your fellow Sliders. You became each other’s lives due to the fact that you were the only constants available. You knew each other inside out and, as far as Quinn could tell, became the best of friends. That was what he had with Wade, Rembrandt and the professor. They were his everything, Wade especially. But he knew that if he and Wade got romantically involved, it had the potential to make tidal waves within the group. While if the relationship was always completely happy plain sailing, which even the idealistic Quinn doubted could exist, the only problem would be putting each other above the other members of the group, if there was a disagreement or argument of some kind, however minor, it would threaten to rip apart the close-knit friends. It was a paradox that the force that had thrown Quinn and Wade together also kept them apart, but that was the way it was. A relationship in the way of life they led would be hazardous to say the least.
Quinn sighed an unhappy sigh. If he hadn’t had to advance the timer that time, he and Wade could have been happy back on Earth Prime once he got up the nerve to actually ask her out. It was hard to look back and see what could have happened, even though that was essentially the essence of Sliding and he saw it in varying amounts every day.
Quinn knew his mind was repeating itself; he felt it bore repeating. He loved Wade, but until they were home or stayed somewhere for a very long time he couldn’t have her. This was all why he got jealous when any other man paid her attention that she reciprocated in any small way.
So engrossing were his thoughts that he didn’t notice as he paced too close to a bench where a woman was seated with a pushchair. He fell headlong over the pushchair, spilling its contents which luckily at that time did not include a small child.
“Oh!” was the surprised remark from the young mother.
Clambering to his feet, Quinn mustered together hasty, but sincere, apologies. Only as he picked up the pushchair and placed it upright once more did he look at the face of the woman.
He was surprised to say the least; it was Wade’s double.
It was a couple of hours later and a promise of meeting later that evening when Wade finally returned to their suite.
“Hey Quinn!” she called. “Where have you been? That was a long half hour!”
At the same time, as he heard the door open, Rembrandt also spoke from his point still in front of the TV. “That was a looong few drinks, you two!”
Both stopped as they realised Quinn was not there. Arturo broke the stunned silence by asking a question. “Miss Welles, you didn’t by any chance leave Mr. Mallory in the bar, did you?”
“No!” exclaimed Wade in surprise. “He never showed!”
“Well, he certainly left this room with the intention of meeting you!” Arturo paced the room, arms clasped behind his back.
Rembrandt added, “He did leave later than planned though.”
Slowly it dawned on Wade what must have happened. “Ooh,” she started.
“He was late so I thought he wasn’t gonna come and this guy started talking at the bar. Quinn must have seen us chatting and not wanted to intrude.” Wade preferred to think the best of Quinn whenever possible.
“And the boy couldn’t return here when he saw you were otherwise occupied? Oh, when will Mr. Mallory learn some sense! It was solve so many of our problems! He could be anywhere by now!” Arturo’s concern for his protégé was not lost on Wade and Remmy. They were all worried. Anything could happen on an unknown world.
“So do we go look for him?” queried Remmy.
Arturo paused in his acing for a moment as he pondered the question before resuming once he decided. “No, he could literally be almost anywhere. We have time for now. If he doesn’t return tonight, *then* we should start searching.”
The other two accepted his proposal, realising the sense behind it. With nothing else to do considering the reluctance to go anywhere, the three ordered up lunch and relaxed as best they could.
Quinn hid his astonishment relatively well considering the co-incidence that had steered him towards a Wade double. “I’m ever so sorry,” he said as he picked up her shopping bags and placed them back on the shelf under the pushchair. “I should have been paying attention.”
“No, no,” she insisted, “The blame is mine. I shouldn’t have left it out in the middle of the sidewalk while I sat down.”
It was evident to Quinn that she was still very startled, as anyone who be if that which usually contained a child had gone flying under a grown man. He gave her a sincerely apologetic smile. “But still, that wouldn’t have mattered if I had paid attention to where I was walking. No, I’m at fault here. Perhaps I could treat you to coffee to say sorry?” What was he saying? He had enough trouble controlling his feelings for his own Wade! Two could make things very confusing. And this was so out of character for him. But he didn’t want to rescind his offer. He felt a desperate need to get into her good books.
“Oh I couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair since it was my fault. And I don’t think my husband would be too happy.”
Quinn could have given up there and then had she not seemed so pained when she spoke of her husband. He decided to go ahead; perhaps he could help in some small way. He placed his hands on his hips playfully. “I thought we’d been through this and decided it was my fault!” He spoke sternly, but it was obvious he was teasing.
She giggled at his antics. The same laugh Quinn’s Wade used. “Well…”
“Oh come on,” he pressed. “It would make me feel better.”
After several more protests, which were only half-hearted anyway, she gave in and allowed him to take her and her two-year-old daughter to a gorgeous little café just off the main street.
As he carefully carried two steaming cups of coffee back to the table where Wade was already seated with her child still in the pushchair placed carefully out of the way of any aisle, he realised he hadn’t yet asked her name and if it slipped out that he already knew it he could be in very hot water indeed. Literally if she threw her coffee at him. “So,” he began as he placed her cup in front of her and took his own seat, “let’s start with names, shall we?” Initially he had been hesitant about telling her his real name, however there had been no recognition obvious during their first accidental meeting, so Quinn relented. “I’m Quinn Mallory.”
Turner. The name rang no bells in Quinn’s head which most likely meant that her husband wasn’t someone who’s double Quinn knew. Or he just hadn’t been paying attention. Again. Not knowing the guy made him feel better somehow. He wasn’t quite sure why though.
“Mmmm,” she expressed lightly. “This coffee smells delicious!” She took a dainty sip. “Tastes great too!”
“Sure does!” It did on most worlds, that was why Quinn picked this café out of all the ones nearby. He had a liking for the coffee here.
Wade temporarily returned her cup to its saucer nervously. Socially, she hadn’t been around men without her husband since her wedding day. And those she had been around occasionally were business associates of her husband, Gary. He was a possessive man and most of the time treated her like a possession. Since he preferred her to be in female company so he had no competition that was what she had to settle for. He wasn’t a nice man. She didn’t like it, but had to lump it; he didn’t give her a choice and in addition to being not a nice man was a powerful one at that. There was one occasion where she had tried to get away, but it backfired. She just had to hope he wouldn’t find out about today.
“Do you work?” inquired Quinn.
She picked up her cup again, but held it delicately in both hands, not drinking it yet. “Uh-huh. The big hypermarket up the road. I leave Sophie in the daycare they provide while I work. Do you know the place?”
Regretfully, Quinn shook his head. “Sorry; I’m kinda new around here. I’m sure I’ll come across it sooner or later.”
“How about you?”
Again, he shook his head. “Like I said, I’m new around here. I’m just travelling though with a few friends. But we are here for a few weeks, so I have to start looking for something non-permanent.”
“You could always try at the hypermarket,” Wade offered. Quinn raised an eyebrow and she continued with an explanation. “We have vacancies right now and because there’s no-one to fill them they overwork the rest of us to compensate. Any help, even if it’s only temporary would be appreciated.” Wade wasn’t just trying to be nice. There was something about this man that made her want to be around him more, and if they were work colleagues it would be easier for her to manage. To tell the truth, Gary didn’t even like her working there because he didn’t find it ‘fitting’. She had pushed and pushed and he finally conceded under the condition that she didn’t mention it to anyone who knew people he worked with. He was very into appearances. It would still be traceable back to him, but he would claim no knowledge and that she had gone behind his back. Wade was unsure why he had all these preconceptions; he wouldn’t say and the more she asked, the stricter he became. She didn’t like working at the hypermarket that much, but it gave her an excuse to get away from him.
Quinn gulped his enormous, hot mouthful so he could reply. “I’ll come by tomorrow and find out more.”
Wade was unable to stay much longer after the coffee cups were drained, therefore she and Quinn had little time for idle chatter. Even in that short time spent with her, Quinn deduced that she was essentially his Wade, only one who’s choices were very different. If his feelings crossed over to this Wade it would get very complicated.
Quinn returned to the hotel by early evening, greeted by cries of “Where’ve you been?”
Before answering the question, he looked around for a certain person. “Where’s Wade?”
“I believe she is on what is termed as a date, Mr. Mallory.”
Quinn said nothing, only he looked a little dejected.
The professor noticed this, but continued anyway. “You, my boy, have been gone so long that one might wonder the same thing about you.” Had he added a Yoda, “Hmm?” on the end, the effect would be complete.
“I just went for a walk,” said Quinn. Even though he tried to pass it off lightly, somehow Rembrandt knew there was more to it than that. In the end, Quinn was forced to relent and pour out the entire story, explaining about Wade’s married double, although keeping the feelings that appeared to have manifested themselves to himself.
Remmy whistled. “You’re playing a dangerous game, Q-ball, very dangerous. You gotta be careful.”
“I know, I know,” Quinn sighed, “but I can’t help it. It just happens.”
Rembrandt offered a little further advice. “If I were you, I wouldn’t get involved in the first place. I’ve been in my fair share of complicated romances, and believe me, they’re not always worth it. And if you do pursue this, I really suggest that, for now anyway, you hide it better around our Wade than you have been with us!”
Quinn nodded silently. To be honest, he thought he HAD done pretty well with the hiding thing until Remmy commented on it. He would have to do better. If Wade found out now, she probably wouldn’t speak to him for some time. If ever again.
It was late when Wade made her cheerful entrance. The stars had appeared sometime previously in the cloudless sky and the streets were emptying as people dissipated to their own homes to sleep, or not as the case may be.
“Hey guys!” she announced.
“Ah! The wanderer returns!” teased Quinn, the only occupant of the room. He hoped that by joking with her he could hide his jealousy which was still prevalent despite her double.
Even if he had been bluntly obvious with it, Wade probably wouldn’t have noticed; she was still pretty distracted by her recent excursion with Rob. She barely remembered Quinn had been missing when she left. She just laughed happily.
“Did you have fun?” he added, even though he could have a good guess at her answer already.
“Oh yes, it was wonderful!” she exclaimed. In her distraction and a little alcohol, she didn’t think to curb her enjoyment at all in the presence of Quinn. “He’s handsome and sweet and considerate and intelligent and kind.” She did manage to stop herself before the almost inevitable, “like you really.”
She then changed the subject as she flopped onto the couch. “Where are Remmy and the professor? They were here when I left.”
“The professor turned in about an hour ago and Remmy followed ten minutes back complaining that he must be getting old if he was tired already.” Quinn tried very hard not to look Wade in the face, however much he wanted to. He feared dropping himself in it already, not a good idea.
“Oh well, I’ll catch them in the morning. How come you’re still up then?”
He gestured with the remote at the black box showing projecting pictures and sound. “Watching a bit of TV.”
He shook his head. “Nah, mostly late-night talk shows. A couple of vaguely interesting things, but nothing special.”
Wade watched with him for a little while, then grew board of the unusually dull televised offerings of this world. She yawned, “I’m off to bed to,” and made her way to the bathroom. Quinn stayed up much longer, not really watching the TV, but thinking. Contemplating his position with Wade and her double and not finding any coherent answers.
Wade Turner lay alone that night. Her husband was out, apparently at some business do she wasn’t invited to, and Sophie, for now, was asleep in the room opposite. She was grateful for some peace and quiet; she suspected it wouldn’t last long. Either Sophie would wake and Wade would have to sit with her until she dropped off again, or Gary would come crashing into the house, drunk or angry but probably both and then any number of things could happen, none of which were pleasant.
Gradually, her thoughts turned away from such things and towards the new friend she had made. Quinn Mallory.
He was different than any man she had ever met. Very different. He had hair she was aching to run her hands through. Piercing blue eyes that signified an intense intelligence she couldn’t hope to fully appreciate. He exuded the impression of confidence, however she suspected that he was really quite shy and prone to holding back. And his body was perfectly proportioned and in pretty good shape at that! Wade wasn’t one to be attracted to someone purely on the basis of looks, but it Quinn’s case he had such a warm, friendly, genuine personality that appearances were a bonus. She finally admitted to herself that even though she was a married woman, albeit an unhappy one, and that she had only known him a short while, she was attracted to him and she couldn’t help it.
Her husband disliked her making friends he had not approved, still Wade was persistent enough to make and keep a few others in spite of and also because of his efforts. She was someone who refused to be completely controlled. He couldn’t accept that and tried very hard to mould her to his vision. She proved to be more resilient than he had ever expected. The more he tried to mould her, the more Wade was prepared to rebel.
So now what did she do?
“Well, professor Arturo, you seem to be overly qualified for the position; I see no reason not to hire you. I would, however, be interested to learn what motivated to apply for this position.”
Arturo was seated in a rather cheap and uncomfortable chair in a small room which was supposed to be a principal’s office. It certainly left much to be desired in the comfort stakes and piles of paper and folders and the like were strewn all over it. Arturo marvelled that anything ever got done in such a place; he preferred an orderly work area. The principal himself was a middle-aged man who possessed a stern expression, but who’s stature did not command the same obedience Arturo’s did, even though his authority here far exceeded that of the professor.
The professor eyed his new employer carefully. His face betrayed no more than genuine curiosity. Arturo could see no harm in giving him a partial version of the truth. “A few friends and I have been travelling for some time now, and our stay here will be more extended than originally anticipates. Therefore, we need a way to keep our finances up.”
“I see.” The principal’s outward air didn’t change, but inside his impression of Arturo radically altered. No longer was he the intellect of fine standing, instead a *traveller*, a person who didn’t stay for long anywhere and used up the benefits that could have been used to assist those who were prepared to make a go of things. Traveller in that sense was a dirty word to the principal. He had never bothered to really talk to any of them and they fell into his category of ‘good-for-nothings’ in his head, so his preconceptions were unlikely to change. He was a narrow-minded person. Arturo recognised this change immediately, but could not correct the man on the nature of their travelling. It irked him greatly, even more than usual because he was forced to simmer internally for the time being.
Had Arturo not been facing his new employer, he would have poured out a wide range of suitable negative descriptions, in several different languages. As it was he had to wait.
There was a few moments pause while the principal judged and Arturo seethed before the principal politely extended an invitation. “We’re holding a legal guardian-teacher gathering the evening of the day after tomorrow. As a substitute teacher you are welcome to join us.”
“Why, thank you,” accepted the professor, equally politely. “I would be glad to.”
The principal continued after a small sigh. “We had been planning for musical entertainment, however the singer was forced to pull out and as of yet we haven’t been able to obtain a replacement. We have a backing band lined up, but no singer and no music has been decided upon.” Another sigh. “Most of the ones in this area appeal more to my students’ age group than their parents.”
Arturo didn’t even need to think for an answer to that. He proceeded to inform the man about Rembrandt and how he was sure his friend would be able and willing. There was no harm in helping Mr. Brown out after his own success at securing a job.
The principal was delighted at the suggestion, even if it did mean the entertainment would be a ‘traveller’. He had not been looking forward to explaining the lack come the time.
The hypermarket was bustling with people. Most were shopping, pushing trolleys containing food and household items and grabbing what they needed of the shelves. Barely any of them had the time to really relax into their shopping and look carefully for what they may want; they had too much to do. Several were dragging toddlers around with them, those that hadn’t shoved their offspring into the trolley seats provided. Only a select few were working, and they had no time to stop either; too much work and not enough people.
As he worked his way through the crowds to the customer service desk on the other side of the shop, Quinn took in the sights of those around him. He wasn’t sure that he exactly wanted to work here, but her knew that he had to get a job somewhere and if his working here would help this world’s Wade out, it made it two-fold.
He spotted Wade, sitting at one of the tills, working her poor arms off. She did get to sit down, but the queues were so long she had to move very fast to keep them at a manageable level. She did not look happy. Strained was more the word he would use.
She glanced up as he passed by and noticed him. He smiled at her and she attempted one in return, but there was no time for her to stop. He would have loved to talk, but she had other things to do. Actually, she would have loved to chat as well.
Quinn finally made it to the customer service desk. Most of the ten or so people surrounding it had complaints about products. Only one other was after a job and she couldn’t have been more than seventeen. That was another thing Quinn had noticed about the hypermarket; it was mostly staffed by those in their teens and early twenties. The one man trying to fend off the people at the customer service desk was one of the exceptions. When they finally reached the front, Quinn and the girl, Jenny, were welcomed with open arms and sent off to an office out the back where they filled out a set of forms and were hired on the spot. Both would start work tomorrow and Quinn suspected that they may be allotted a lot of overtime in addition to their normal shift hours.
The two older Sliders arrived at the Legal Guardian-Teacher gathering a couple of hours early in order for Remmy to do a quick check with the band. He’d had several practices with the band over the past few days and had discovered them to be perfectly competent and perhaps even talented. Research on his part revealed that no double of his, nor even the Spinning Tops, had been the possessor of any kind of musical career he could find a reference to. That known, he managed to persuade the band to learn some of the songs written by he himself. It made him feel more comfortable. They’d seemed quite excited about the new material by a different songwriter and had thrown themselves into learning it with zeal. Rembrandt was impressed; he hadn’t seen such enthusiasm for his music in a long while.
They were welcomed at the entrance by Arturo’s principal, who was wearing an exact duplicate of the suit he wore to work everyday, the only discernible difference being that this one was neatly ironed. “Ah, professor Arturo! Just the person I was looking for!” And this must be Rembrandt Brown!” “Thank you for stepping in at almost the last moment.” He extended his hand graciously, but the relief tingeing his strained voice betrayed that he had not been expecting Remmy to turn up.
Rembrandt noticed this and glancing at Arturo realised that he caught on also, but after only a seconds hesitation, he accepted the greeting in his usual firm shake. “It’s a pleasure to be here, principal.”
“Oh no, no, call me by my first name. You’re not a student.”
“Sorry,” replied Rembrandt, smiling, “old habits die hard.”
After a few more pleasantries, the Cryin’ Man was ushered off to where his backing group for the evening were setting up on the small stage.
As Arturo made a motion to follow his friend, the principal placed one hand on his arm, effectively stopping him from following. “Would you mind helping us complete the decoration of the hall? We don’t appear to have allowed enough time.”
Excuses began to pour half-formed from Arturo’s lips, but that was as far as he got. The principal was more persuasive than he looked and the professor could find no way out of it that wouldn’t result in the termination of his temporary position as substitute teacher at the high school. He wasn’t going to be around for a long time, but long enough to need that job.
“We’re very grateful,” the principal offered after Arturo gave in. He led the professor into one of the rooms off the side of the hall where there was a hive of activity, though it was not many people creating the activity. “We almost have the food and drink prepared, but this area of the gathering has been somewhat neglected.” With that he left quickly, presumably to ensnare some other poor person to assist.
Facing Arturo on about six tables were a good proportion of the decorations for the hall. Only three people were around them, but of the three, two left soon with a pile of decorations and blu-tack in hand and headed out to the hall. The one remaining gave the reluctant professor a brief round-up of what he was expected to do and then followed her predecessors out into the hall.
Now alone, Arturo seriously considered making a run for it but one, he couldn’t run all that fast and would probably not make it very far and two, his sense of honour compelled him to help now he had agreed. Letting out a huge sigh, he gathered the primarily paper and cardboard decorations in his arms being careful not to damage then and went to do his duty.
The gathering of the Legal Guardian-Teacher Community was a great success. Five more people had been enlisted to help with the decorating of the hall before the time and they had all finished with time to spare. Arturo was immensely proud of the result achieved, even though all he had done was put some of it up. It had been quite extensive and really did add to the enjoyable mood of the evening.
Arturo had also been particularly enamoured with the fine wines and food provided by those responsible for organising. They had wanted to impress the parents of the students and had won the approval of the substitute teacher as a bonus. Remmy had refused to drink anything until after his final performance, claiming that alcohol would diminish his musical ability.
Rembrandt himself had gone down a storm. There had been calls upon calls for an encore and though Remmy and the band had obliged several times, it was not practical to go on much longer than they had. Rembrandt had even performed on his own, playing the music and the beautiful old piano. It was late as it was and there was still the clearing up to do since school was in the next day.
In addition to arriving early, Arturo stayed behind so that he and Remmy could return together. He’d phoned Wade and Quinn, well, tried to phone, but both were out somewhere unknown to the hotel, so a message that they may be a while had to suffice. He made his way immediately back to Remmy and the band, knowing full well that if he was intercepted by the principal he would most likely end uip taking down the things adorning the walls.
“Mr. Brown!” he announced as he approached. “Now, mind that I have never said anything bad about your music, but today you were most certainly on spectacular form!”
Rembrandt’s face was locked in a permanent grin. “I know! The tips were HUGE, man! And we’ve already had offers for several other gigs during the time we’re gonna be here! It could be big!”
“Unfortunately, we won’t be here that long.”
“Long enough for me to make a lasting impression! And some decent money!” Remmy’s musical ego was in overdrive, although in this case, it was quite acceptable.
The Sliders slipped off before the hall was finished, but not so much that Arturo would get an earful from his boss the next day. However, as they attempted to find the way out without asking for directions, they found themselves inexplicably lost down dark corridors and far from where they intended. Both tried to blame it on the other, but that helped little since neither knew which way to go. Retaining some sense, they headed towards the lone light they could see, hoping that that would lead them back to a place they recognised.
As they approached, they could hear a voice, just one voice, talking. Once closer, they realised that the woman was talking into a phone. They stopped, not wanting to intrude, but the conversation was just about audible.
“… Look, I can’t do this anymore. They’re beginning to catch on. They’re getting too suspicious. If I carry on I’ll get cau… well, I’ll have to find another way to pay off the debt. NO! Please no! Don’t do that!! Please!! He’s innocent in all this! It won’t make any difference!” At this point, the woman was in sobs of tears. Remmy and Arturo were torn between their desires to help and not to intrude. For the moment they stayed put, not knowing what could happen if the person on the other end of the phone knew there were listeners. “Okay, okay, I’ll do what I can, just leave him alone, please,” she begged.
She put down the phone quietly, the other end having already disconnected. She paused for a few minutes, attempting to control the sobs. The tears still streamed down her face, but they were no longer accompanied by crying. What a mess she was in! She turned the corner, only to be faced with two strange men. She let out a startled gasp.
“Oh my!” she exclaimed, surprised by impromptu visitors. For a fleeting moment, she thought they could be there for her, but taking in their appearances realised it was unlikely. The older of the two men was in no fit shape to be one of them, though he did have the authoritative impression, and the other had such a kind and gentle expression that there was no way she could see him being part of any of it.
“Excuse me, madam,” spoke the first, the larger. “I am Professor Maximilian Arturo, one of the substitute teachers here. My friend and I appear to have lost our way; could you possibly point us in the direction of the main entrance?”
Relief washed over her like a tidal wave so forcefully that all that came out of her mouth at first were stutters. Thankfully her tears had dried quickly, but her pale eyes were still a little puffy. She hoped it wasn’t too obvious she had been crying. She sniffed. “If you go back down the corridor you were just in, take the first right until you reach a T-junction by a window looking out onto the quadrant ‘garden’. Follow the corridor on your left and you should arrive at your destination. “ For some unknown reason she felt compelled to use more flowery language than usual around these guys.
“Thank you, my dear. We are most grateful,” the professor thanked. He also gave her a small bow in indication on his appreciation for her assistance.
There was a silence as none of the group knew what to say. The young lady felt it would be rude for her to return to her own business before the newcomers left and the two Sliders thought that it would be rude to leave without saying anything further.
Finally, Arturo decided the awkwardness had continued quite long enough and ended it with a barely passable excusing. “We really must be moving along. Our friends will most likely be waiting for us. So sorry to disturb you, and thank you again for your help. We’ll leave you in peace now.” Actually, the part about friends waiting was completely untrue for that evening Quinn was working (again) and Wade was out with Rob (again). The only thing waiting for Arturo and Remmy was a taxi that hadn’t even been called yet.
“Don’t worry about it,” was the woman’s response, even though it was far from what she was feeling. She was thankful that, to her knowledge, the person on the other end of the phone didn’t have an inkling that soon after the disconnection she had received visitors. It would make things worse for her if they did. Well, how could they know? It wasn’t possible. However, even that logic failed to suppress her paranoia and the fear that things could get worse than they already were.
Before he and Arturo left the miniature office and classroom, Remmy lightly caught the young woman’s arm. He looked directly at her, having noticed the tell-tale signs of upset in addition to the overheard conversation. “Are you sure everything’s okay?” he asked quietly. Remmy felt a desperate need to help.
“Yes, everything’s fine.” She quickly pulled her arm away as if scared, an action in itself indicating she was hiding the truth. “I just… have a lot of paperwork to catch up on.”
Realising that at this point in time there was nothing more he could do, Rembrandt retreated and followed Arturo as the traced the directions given.
The woman stood rooted to the spot until she was absolutely certain that the sounds of footsteps had disappeared. Then, completely alone, she collapsed onto one of the horribly-shaped, incredibly uncomfortable school issue chairs usually reserved for students, held her head in her hands and cried her eyes out.
Rob had picked Wade up just after seven. Wade herself had spent considerable time and effort getting ready, for which Arturo and Remmy had chided and teased her, and then she had fretted when Rob was a couple of minutes late. The more time she spent with Rob, the longer her preparation time got. Their finances weren’t up to buying her a new outfit every time she went out, so Wade was doing a lot of borrowing from the other girls in the café where she had secured a job as a waitress. Luckily for her, two of the girls were approximately the same size as her and were quite willing to lend her suitable clothing in exchange for any gossip about her dates. It also meant that they could help her decide what to wear which meant Wade’s male companion Sliders wouldn’t have to complain she was boring them to death.
Today they were only headed to the cinema so Wade had gone for something relatively simple that still managed to convey her sophistication in some measure. She had only really needed to dress up twice so far, both for dinner, and she had received a lot of admiring looks from men other than Rob because of the style with which she was dressed. Wade didn’t need to try hard; she was already beautiful and she knew what suited her and what looked awful. However, it was unlikely there would be many more occasions for her to dress up as time went on since Rob was also on limited funds. He had made the decision to go back to university and though it was cheaper than on Wade’s world, it still ate up a significant amount of his money, even though his sister was helping him out.
The film was relatively average, as far as they could tell from what they’d seen of it which wasn’t really that much. It was quite an early showing, so once it had finished, Rob offered to take her to a fast food restaurant since neither had eaten since lunch time.
“Where is this place then?” Wade asked, eyeing the cold night outside the cinema.
Rob helped her with her jacket. “It’s not far,” he replied. “It wouldn’t be worth taking the car, there’s nowhere to park anyway. Is that okay with you?”
Wade thought for a minute. She wasn’t too bothered about the walking part, she was quite able to manage it, but she wasn’t sure about the darkness. She’d heard a few bad things on various worlds about happenings at night. Then again, Rob would be there and that wouldn’t make it as scary. It wasn’t like she’d be alone or with a stranger. Having convinced herself that nothing at all bad could happen, she quite happily agreed.
How wrong she could be….
“She likes you Quinn,” a colleague whispered in his ear.
It was safe for him to use his real name. He’d checked in the phone book, but none of the same were listed. Then, on a whim he’s flicked further through to the ‘S’ section where he found a number for a ‘St. Clair, Logan.’ The address was that of Quinn’s old house on Earth Prime so it was pretty much safe to assume that he didn’t exist as him on this world.
“Who?” Quinn was fairly sure he knew who Jenny meant, but he asked anyway.
She punched him playfully on the arm for his trouble. “You know damn well who I mean!” she gestured towards the till where Wade worked, causing the subject of their conversation herself to jerk her attention back to something else. “And you like her too.” It wasn’t a question; it was more of a statement.
“It’s that obvious?”
“It couldn’t GET anymore obvious! Everyone’s commented on it. And everyone wants to know why you don’t do something about it!”
“Other than that she’s married.”
“Other than that, of course. Everyone knows she’s not happy with him.
Laughing, he asked, “Does everyone know everything about everything?”
“Pretty much,” she replied.
Quinn smiled. All the workers here did talk a lot, the men as well as the women despite popular assumption. He was guilty of it himself. But there was still a lot about him that remained a mystery to the others and he planned to keep it that way. “It’s more complicated than that.”
“MORE complicated than a prior marriage of one of the people?” Jenny’s eyes visibly widened. “You’re not married as well are you?” It was all she could do to keep the exclamation a whisper.
He hushed her quickly, not wanting any customers, let alone one of their colleagues, to overhear. “No I am not!” he returned indignantly at only a slightly lesser volume.
That confused his younger companion who was vainly trying to stack tins on a shelf while her attention was on the Quinn-Wade situation. “No? What then?” she said as she hit the shelf with the tin instead of placing it on there, denting it a little, a fact which she masked by immediately shoving it right to the back.
“It would take too long to explain,” he sighed. He didn’t like having to continually side-step questions he was presented with.
Jenny glanced at her watch. “’S’ok, there’s three hours ‘til the end of our shifts.”
Trying to change the subject, Quinn groaned, “That long? They’re trying to kill us!”
“No evading!” She glared at him.
Quinn turned away from her to avoid the expecting stare. She was persistent, he gave her that. But in this case, persistent did not bode well for him. “You wouldn’t believe it... and I’m not sure I can tell you.”
She laughed at him. “What, you’re an alien from another world?”
“That’s kinda half-true.” He drew the sentence out, not sure he should say it.
“What?” She’d just expected him to laugh and then she dropped a set of tins on her foot. “Ow, ow, ow!”
He instantly assisted her in picking them up before their supervisors arrived and went mad. “You okay?”
“Yeah, sure, sure. It’ll be okay,” she insisted. Barely pausing she added, “Explain.”
Reluctantly Quinn complied. He couldn’t escape it now and perhaps she could help him with the situation. An impartial viewer might see things in a different way.
Obviously he only gave her the basic situation, plus a few examples of events, but it was enough for her to get the gist.”
All she said when he reached the present was, “Wow.”
“That pretty much describes it.”
“It sounds so incredible... yet I believe you.”
“That’s because it’s true.”
“Actually it’s because my sister was into all that kind of stuff and she decided to explain it to me one time. Logan was always good at stuff like that.”
There was a sadness to her voice that jarred Quinn as much as the name had. “Logan?”
Jenny took a deep breath before answering. “Yeah, that was her name. We weren’t close as young kids, but after our father died it kinda brought us closer. She taught me loads about this sort of stuff. She helped me out a lot. And then…” she took another deep breath and looked at the floor, “…and then she disappeared. Her and her boyfriend, Conrad Bennish. It was all over the local news. Everyone reckons they eloped, but I don’t agree.” She lifted her head and stared right into Quinn’s piercing blue eyes. “I believe they Slid. She was always talking about it. And I’ve seen her video diaries. I showed it to the investigators and even to some scientists, but they all thought it was one big joke.” Quinn could see tears welling up in the sides of her eyes as she whispered, “They wouldn’t help me find my sister.”
Jenny’s reaction to the loss of her sister reminded Quinn of his own mother. He had no sibling, and his father was gone and he’d just left his mother there, alone. How could he be irresponsible? The want to return home received a fresh surge.
She continued, noting his quietness. “They called me naïve, stupid for believing ‘what could only be a practical joke,’” She mimicked the tones of people she knew. “They even tried sending me to a shrink, but I refused. They say I’m on the way to going insane… and sometimes I wonder if they might be right. I went on the first test with her, but I sometimes wonder if it was all real.” It was the first time she’d found anyone who she felt she could talk to about this. No one else would even listen this far. If she tried they’d just send her straight back to the shrink. Perhaps Quinn was as mad as she, but at least he would listen.
“Logan St. Clair?” She nodded silently. “There’s something you should know. On another world, I met a woman named Logan St. Clair. I won’t go into the whole story. She wasn’t your sister from this world, but… she… she was my double.”
“Double? As is… parallel alternate? When I went with Logan, we encountered parallels to people we knew… but I would never have guessed. Wait, your surname isn’t St. Clair though! I don’t remember what it was, but it wasn’t St. Clair.”
Quinn’s lips broke into his usual grin. “Mallory. My mother never remarried.”
“So many alternatives, you must have seen so many.”
“Some are the same, some are very different. Like Wade. This Wade is so similar to mine it’s uncanny. But there’s something I can have with this Wade, that Sliding prevents me from having with my Wade.” He sighed again. He was making a habit of that these days. “What can I do about her?”
She pulled herself to full height, but she was still far shorter than he. “I’ll tell you what you should do,” she announced firmly. “As soon as your shifts finish, you’re gonna march your ass, which is very cute by the way, over to her and ask her out for a drink or something!”
Quinn protested throughout the rest of the time, as well as blushing at her compliment, but he knew that was what he was gonna do. It felt right. He built up his courage as he worked.
By the end of work, Quinn was tired, and he suspected that Wade would be as well, but it had to be now. Once he’d gathered his courage once, he didn’t have to do it again. And now would be the perfect time. They could catch a coffee or a drink round about somewhere before they all closed.
He took several deep breaths as he watched her across the room. She was chatting to some of the other girls about her daughter. The love she held for her was evident and it pleased Quinn to just stand and watch her. But he couldn’t do that all day. As she prepared to leave he caught up to her and blurted out the words, “Do you wanna go for a drink,” before his mind realised what it was saying.
Wade froze in surprise, then looked straight at him without moving the rest of her body. For a moment, she wasn’t sure if what she was seeing was real. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking combined with stress and tiredness. She blinked a few times, just to make sure, but he was still there when she stopped. It wasn’t her imagination then. Oh, how stupid she must look just standing there! So why wasn’t she doing anything? Why wasn’t she saying ‘YES!’? She was completely stationary and completely silent! How could she get rid of this vicious circle in her mind? Argh!
Finally, with everyone staring at her still paused in mid-motion, Wade said, “Yeah, sure.” She was still too surprised to muster up much enthusiasm.
Quinn’s eyes flitted briefly around the room to the gaping statues before swiftly returning to the recipient of his question. “Yeah? You don’t sound too sure.”
“Of course I’m sure,” she enthused. “Why wouldn’t I be? Just let me pick up Sophie and we can go.”
The moment they left the room, everyone else broke out in chatter, the main topic obviously being what would happen with the pair, especially in the eyes of her marriage. The ideas thrown around managed to reach ridiculous proportions before their colleagues gave up and went home or to where ever they were headed now today’s shifts were over.
Once they were alone, Quinn asked Wade, “Where d’you wanna go?”
Wade barely needed to think about her answer. “How about the café we went to before? That’ll still be open, won’t it?”
“Don’t see why not.”
The care centre wasn’t far so the chatters had receded somewhat significantly by the time they reached it. There were only a few kids still there and all but two, one of which was Sophie, were asleep. Sophie and a boy who was probably around a year older than her were sat playing in a corner with a few toy cars and a scenery mat.
The café itself was only about half-full and still very much open when they got there and they were able to get a table by the wall so Sophie’s pushchair wouldn’t stick out in the gangway.
The two of them just sat there talking for some while. It was beginning to get late so Sophie was soon asleep still in her pushchair. This gave Quinn and Wade a chance to talk more properly. And they did. For a relatively long time.
About an hour after Sophie had dropped off, Quinn reached forward and took Wade’s hands from around her cup and placed them in his own, her’s looking like those of an elf compared to his. He caressed them gently. They were smooth and delicate to the touch. He then removed his gaze from the fragile hands and worked its way up to her face where the two locked eyes. Her deep, beautiful eyes attracted him like a magnet and once he was looking directly into them he could no longer remove them. Not that he wanted to anyway. There was a strength in them and no sign of any trace of any reluctance on her part. It seemed she was totally given over to her feelings despite her status just as he himself was.
“So,” he started, but fate never let him finish. Unconsciously, both had moved substantially closer to the other so they met in approximately the middle of the table and it seemed perfectly natural to them both as complete that meeting as a natural progression of the movement. So that’s what they did.
Wade could feel herself melting into Quinn’s pressure in a way she’d never done before. She used to think that it had been good with Gary when she was first with him, but this was far beyond good. The passion was so great that had she been standing she would have needed his arms to hold her up. Usually she was more reserved in public places but today none of that mattered. Her perception of their surroundings disappeared and her entire thoughts were focused on Quinn and that kiss. It was even more intense than the dreams she’d been having recently, and they’d been pretty involving.
A couple of times Quinn had kissed the Wade of his own world, however even that wasn’t quite like this. It was the same yet subtly different, but it made no difference to him. His feelings for this Wade were as strong as those for his own and he could no, and did not want to, resist the emotion that overtook this encounter. Perhaps this would have been what it would be like with his own Wade on that asteroid world had Arturo not walked in on them.
Suddenly, Wade broke away almost as though a jolt of electricity had shocked her. “We shouldn’t be doing this!” she whispered loudly.
“Don’t you want to?” If he was honest, that hurt him more than a little.
Wade hurriedly explained herself. “No, no, it’s not that… That was the most wonderful kiss I’ve ever experienced… but I’m *married*. I shouldn’t be doing this. It’s not right.” She stood up and started to put on her coat, still muttering how it wasn’t right and avoiding looking at Quinn in anyway.
“Wade, Wade.” She finally looked at him. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have.”
“No,” she reassured him, “you should have. It was wonderful. But if Gary finds out he’ll go mad. We have to be careful.”
Relief swept through Quinn. “You mean you don’t mean this to be the end?”
“Oh no, I couldn’t manage. But we have to be far more careful. I don’t want anything to happen to you should Gary find out.” She put her coat on and pulled the pushchair out into the gangway.
“At least let me walk you home. It’s not safe for you on your own out here.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Gary might be there…”
Quinn cut her off there. “And there’s nothing wrong with making sure a colleague gets home safely.” He smiled at her.
Oh, how she wanted to kiss him again! It was just so… wow! “Sure,” she agreed, “just don’t let him catch on just yet.”
As he raced back into the hotel, returning from walking Wade home where he had narrowly avoided detection by Gary, he was stopped by the hotel clerk who must have recognised him.
“Excuse me, Mr. Mallory!” he called.
Quinn stopped his headlong run to the stairs and turned back towards the desk. “Yes?”
“Your friend’s left a message. It seems one of your party has had to make an unexpected trip to the hospital.”
A taxi delivered Quinn to the city hospital; there was no way he could have found it otherwise. Hospitals changed position on almost every world they went to and this was no exception.
It took him a while to find the emergency department since the signs weren’t too obvious and in his worry he tended to pay only erratic attention. Having worked his way round almost all the outside of the building, Quinn finally found the entrance and he hurried inside.
Usually when a hospital was seen on television, it was portrayed as a bustling, busy place, but this one contradicted the usual stereotype. It looked practically dead and there was an electronic sign above the desk informing those waiting, of which there were many, that the waiting time was currently an hour an a half except in emergency cases. Most of those waiting did not look as though they fell in to this category.
Quinn was about to approach the desk in search of his friends when Arturo called out to him. “Mr. Mallory! We’re over here!”
Arturo was there, so was Remmy, so it must be Wade who was hurt. ‘Oh God,’ he thought. Out loud he asked, “What happened? Where is she? Is she okay? Can we see her?”
There were no chairs available, so the three were leaning against the wall by a vending machine. “Calm down a little Quinn,” said Remmy. “It won’t do her any good if any of us go running off like a headless chicken.”
“What happened?” Quinn persisted. “Where is she?”
This was where Arturo took up the story. “Apparently she and Rob were headed to a fast food restaurant after the film and they were attacked on the way there.”
“Attacked???” Quinn cried loudly. “Why? By who?”
“Both said that didn’t recognise them.”
Quinn began muttering, “Oh god, oh God, oh God, oh God,” and then, “How is she? Can we see her? How many times of asking would it take before they would answer him?
“We saw her for a few minutes a while back and she seems to be more or less okay, but she was hit on the head so they want to keep her in overnight,” Remmy sighed. “Someone should be letting us no where she is sometime soon.”
Wade was alone in her cubical. They’d insisted that she stay in overnight for observation, but funds were such that she couldn’t have a room of her own so she was stuck with a bed, a small table and a curtain around it should she want any privacy. Right now, that was exactly what she wanted. There were other people on the ward, most of whom were making some kind of noise, and she and no wish to socialise at that point. She hugged her knees closer to her body and tried to pull the sheets around her more; the flimsy gowns provided by the hospital gave little warmth and she felt cold.
No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t divert her thoughts from the events of the evening. It had started off fine, quite nice in fact. She and Rob had had a lovely time at the cinema. He kissed well, almost as good as Quinn had that passion-filled night on Asteroid World all that time ago. She was thinking about Quinn less and less in relation to Rob these days, but he still popped up occasionally. She really was beginning to wish that they’d decided to do something else instead of going to the fast-food place.
She replayed the moments after that decision in detail she knew she’d need to remember them anyway for when the police eventually questioned her as she assumed they would. Her recollection was a little hazy, but all the important bits were there.
They’d walked down a dark alley. She didn’t think that it was usually as dark as that because she had noticed street-lamps, but the few there were seemed to have blown their bulbs. It was probably a street that didn’t service many people and therefore the replacements were slower. However, there was still some light, enough to see relatively well by. It was a cold evening. She’d shivered and complained about it a little so Rob had kindly thrown his coat over her shoulders and put his arm around her and drew her closer to him so the body heat would be shared. That and that he wanted to be near her. He’d told her so. And she didn’t mind one bit. It was kinda nice. And he was a very warm person who didn’t seem to feel the cold.
He’d kissed her briefly part way down, away from any other people who might be up and about still. But they’d been interrupted as a group of people who entered the alley. She hadn’t wanted to stop particularly, but it was quite cold and she felt self-conscious. It appeared Rob felt the latter as well. The pair of them had held hands, not minding if people saw that and didn’t take much more notice of the group. They passed by and she and Rob had just carried on walking for a little while before resuming once they knew they were gone. In a way it warmed Wade inside. It was then the attack came. There had been no warning. They were thrown apart by some big bloke and Wade had gone crashing into a collection of dustbins where she made a horrible racket. She’d picked herself up only to see three men setting on Rob. She’d tried to get up and help, but she was thrown back again by another, previously unseen attacker. As they continued to beat him she tried to call out for help and again tried to go to help him, but once more she was thrown back, only this time it was harder and further and her head hit something, causing her to pass out.
Apparently the group they had passed earlier heard the ruckus as turned around to help them. There had been no need for them to fight for the attackers had fled once they realised help for the victims was at hand. An ambulance had been called and both Wade and Rob, who was lying moaning on the ground when they found him. Wade had come round in the ambulance and she had been terrified, not only for herself, but also for Rob. It had been a while before she had any news of him, but it seemed he also was going to be okay and no serious damage had been done. He had a few broken ribs and a multitude of bruises and small cuts, but in the long run he would be fine.
A wave of dizziness overtook her for a moment and she took to studying the bumps her feet made under the sheets. She was startled by the opening of her cubical curtain as visitors arrived.
Quinn rushed into join her before she even had time to contemplate who the visitors were. He threw his arms around her and there was a muffled cry of “Wade!”
She didn’t want to throw him off her since he was nice and warm, but there was only so much pain she could take. “Ow! Quinn, be careful! I’ve got loads of bruises!”
Immediately, Quinn dropped her like she’d been burned. “I’m sorry, Wade. You just had me so worried.”
There was something in his voice and expression that Wade couldn’t place. She’d never seen it before, even when she’d been hust before, but it was definitely strange and she didn’t know what it meant. She didn’t think he’d tell her either.
“Miss Welles, are you okay?” asked the professor who had moved inside the cubicle with Remmy, having followed on somewhat more slowly than the worried Quinn. It didn’t, however, mean that they were any less concerned.
Wade looked intently into the eyes of each of her companions to show she was telling the truth. “I think so.” She laughed. “I’m a mess of bruises though.” Quinn, who was now sitting on the end of her bed, gave her a guilty, apologetic look. “They just want to keep me in to be sure.”
Picking up her hand and holding it in his own, Remmy said, “And what about mentally? How you coping?”
She smiled at him. “I’m still a bit shocked and a little scared, but I’ll be okay.” Remmy raised his eyebrows at her. “Really! It’ll be fine.” Remmy seemed to accept that, but she had a feeling he wanted to keep asking her.
“Do you want us to stay with you?” queried Quinn. “I don’t have to be at work until nine.”
She gave him one of her reproachful looks and cocked her head a little to one side. “You may not and Remmy may not, but the professor does.”
“We could still stay with you.”
“And I don’t think I could cope with you pampering me,” she announced almost harshly. Wade was an independent soul and didn’t want anyone to look after her. “I know you guys; you feel guilty for letting me out in the first place and now you want to coddle me to make you feel better.” She wasn’t usually this assertive, but she didn’t know what else to do. She didn’t want them to try and stop her seeing Rob, which was a possible course of action from them. They might try and keep her at home and not even let her work. She’s get bored to death!
“And I’ll be here for her.” Rob pulled aside the curtain to reveal himself having just arrived, a purpling black eye readily visible. The three other guys looked kind of dubious at his statement. Rob could see why, but it offended his masculinity. “Look, last time I tried, but there were more of them. And plus we were outside, there’s more people around in the hospital.”
“Maybe, but how many of them would be able to help you?” Quinn’s voice held a bitter and angry tone, perhaps with even a little jealously mixed in. He was all three really, and he felt guilty as well. While he was out enjoying himself with the other Wade, this Wade had been attacked and it angered him. Yet still he wanted to be with his Wade, the other one, as well. It was terribly confusing, even in his own mind.
Rob didn’t understand this Quinn at all. This was actually his first experience with him, but it wasn’t at all how he expected him to be. Whenever Wade spoke of him she’d given the impression of a nice young man who was a good friend to her. But his first impression of this Quinn was not at all like that. He couldn’t equate the two, even taking account Wade in the hospital bed. Something else was going on, and he surmised that Wade didn’t know about whatever it was. Perhaps he should mention it to her when they were alone. “Enough,” was his laconic answer.
Rembrandt and the professor appeared to have no problem with Rob staying with Wade, especially since he was requested to stay as well, having assured themselves on prior brief meetings that he was an okay guy, and one who was good to Wade at that. Quinn on the other hand wasn’t comfortable around him and didn’t say much for the rest of the time he was there.
They didn’t stay that long, Wade threw them out before too long saying that she was sure they had stuff to do and she was tired and wanted to sleep. She made a convincing enough argument to make them leave, albeit reluctantly. Quinn still wanted to stay, but she pushed him off the bed a couple of times until he got the idea.
When they’d gone, Rob took Quinn’s place at the foot of the bed and looked at Wade with concern in his face. “Wade, that didn't seem like the Quinn you described to me. I think something may have been bothering him.”
“Oh, he was probably just scared. The four of us have been together quite some time now.” She dismissed it out of hand, but she doubted it was as simple as that and she didn't really want to think about it.
His expression was worried, not for Quinn but for Wade. He cared about her and what she though, even after only a short amount of time. She was easy to love. Her entire being attracted him and he didn't want her to be hurt in anyway, but he had to tell her this. “Wade, I think he was feeling guilty.”
“Guilty? Why would he be feeling guilty?” Even though she knew something was going on, Wade hadn’t quite expected that.
Rob took a deep breath. “I may be way off here, it’s just a guess, but I think he may have been with a woman while we were attacked.”
She scoffed at him. “Oh don’t be stupid! Quinn would never…” she trailed off when she saw his face. “You’re serious aren’t you?”
He nodded gravely. “And I think he feels guilty for that.”
Wade was irked. “I know what this is. You’re jealous of our friendship, aren’t you?”
“No, it’s not tha-”
“It is, isn’t it? Just because you study psychology doesn’t mean you know everything!” Wade’s voice had risen in volume. “If you can’t handle my friendship with the guys then maybe we shouldn’t continue!”
Rob was in shock. He knew it wasn’t going to be well received, but he hadn’t expected it to be this bad. He’d tried to help her, but he’d obviously misjudged something badly. Why did this always happen to him? Things always started wonderful and then went completely off the rails. It must be something he did. “Wade, please?”
She glared at him. He’d never seen her in a mood before. Never. But he didn’t think he wanted to stay too close when she was like this. He knew it would only cause pain. “I’ll be nearby if you need me.”
Wade said nothing. She was sulking, something she hadn’t done in a long time. She didn’t like to do it. Once Rob had gone, she lay down in the bed and sobbed quietly. She didn’t mean any of what she’d said to Rob, but when he’d voiced that thought, she’d seen exactly what he meant and she didn’t like it. She liked to think of Quinn as being hers even though they weren’t together and she didn’t like to think of him with another woman. She hoped Rob wasn’t close enough to hear her crying. She’d try and talk to him in the morning… if he still wanted to talk to her.
Arturo glared at the class seated quietly at their tables in front of him. He may only be a substitute teacher, but he commanded more respect than some of the permanent teachers. He didn’t, however, always make them sit in silence. Quite often, if he was familiar with the subject, he would spend a proportion of the lesson lecturing them about it, and they seem to enjoy it. He would make it mildly amusing in an intellectual kind of way. He was a born teacher and he loved it. Plus he was just a little in love with the sound of his own voice.
They were answering a set of maths questions. Arturo personally thought they were too simple for those of this age group, but this was what had been left for them and they worked steadily. Whenever a hand went up with a question, Arturo would stop the class for the moment and talk them all through it. Apparently it was effective for none asked the same question twice.
Because of his evident aptitude in the area of the sciences, he was usually assigned to cover those lessons. With the exception of two English lessons, that was all he had been needed for. There were two physics teachers and one chemistry off with extended illnesses, and two maths to boot. There was something infectious going round and it was decimating the school department by department. Now it had begun to spread to Modern Foreign Languages for next lesson he was to sit in a Spanish class. This irked him somewhat for he knew little Spanish and hated the thought of the students knowing more than he, a professor of Cosmology and Oncology. He didn’t even know where the Languages block was!
When the time to change came, he left the comfort of the science rooms and stepped out into the central courtyard-type area. Surrounded by small people, running, was not his idea of fun. He knew that the block was somewhere on the other school from his usual haunt, but as he looked he could see several more buildings and he had no idea which it was. At the beginning of his stint here, he had been given a map, but it had gone missing two days into his work here.
“Excuse me.” He grabbed one of the lesser rowdy looking pupils by the arm and asked him, “Would you be so kind as to instruct me on where to find the Modern Foreign Languages block?”
The poor child was terrified by his authoritative stature and booming voice, and merely pointed in a vague direction, shook himself free and ran off.
The professor called after him, “Thank you for your assistance,” but the boy had already gone.
The bell for end of break rang before the professor had waded through the floods of children and got caught up in the mass exodus as they moved around. After they had all disappeared, he discovered a sign above the door depicting the words ‘Languages, Modern Foreign,’ and entered the building.
Then he was lost again.
Arturo looked at his assignment sheet. ‘Room 14, MFL.’ It meant nothing to him. He could see rooms 1 through 6 and a room 9, but they were all jumbled around and there were unlabeled corridors leading to who knows where.
He heard footsteps above the shouts of the kids and hurried in their direction. As he turned the corner, he ran smack bang in a female teacher, who was also hurrying. The force of their impact threw all her marked papers on the tiled floor.
“I am ever so sorry, Miss… er… Miss… Let me help you with those.”
Between them, they managed to retrieve her hard work. “Thank you, sir,” she replied. “And please, you’re a colleague not a student. Call me Kelleigh. I don’t mind.”
“Well, if you’re sure. I am professor Arturo. I would allow you to call me by my first name, only I despise it with a deep hatred! And nobody I know these days seems to use it, I probably wouldn’t recognise it!” They both laughed. Arturo recognised the girl. She was the one who had helped them find their way that evening at the LGTC gathering. She had been upset then, and by all appearances she still was. Her eyes were a little red and puffy, although tear marks had been washed away. “Miss… Kelleigh, are you alright? Is everything okay?”
As soon as the questions were out of his mouth, she shied away. Something was scaring her. “Yes, thank you, professor. Everything’s fine. Please, may I get to my lesson?” As she walked away, her eyes were on the floor.
Arturo sighed. He hadn’t even asked where room 14 was.
Over the previous three days, Quinn and Wade had spent more time together. They couldn't keep away. Wade had been shy at first, knowing that she was committing adultery and feeling guilty for it, but feelings had overtaken them both and they began to steal time together whenever they could managed it.
Quinn sat with his arm around Wade Turner, on the sofa in her husband’s luxurious home. It was strange; he’d never been with a married woman in this way before. It wasn’t usually his style. But Wade was… Wade was different. She was special. He didn’t want to not be with her. He was in love with this Wade as much as with his own. They were practically identical. His Wade he couldn’t be with, this Wade he could, even if it did mean they had to be secretive and avoid her husband.
So far, he hadn’t even met the guy, Gary, but he already knew that he didn’t like him. Wade obviously wasn’t comfortable with him and that therefore transferred to him. It was just the way it was.
Twice he’d been with Wade and had barely escaped capture by her husband. She’d not spoken about what happened after Quinn had left and that worried him.
However, they did have a little plan. When Quinn went round to Wade’s, Jenny would come as well and she’d bring some work and sit in the kitchen doing it. They hadn’t asked her to, she’d offered. She’d decided that it made no difference where she did the work as long as she got it done.
“Jenny!” Wade called from her position circled in Quinn’s strong arms, “there’s juice in the fridge if you want some.”
“Thanks, but I’m okay right now,” was Jenny’s distracted answer.
Wade paused, the added, “Okay, but can you get us some? Please?”
Muttering complaints Jenny complied. However when she brought them in she was smiling. “Too lazy to get them yourself?”
“Nope, just too comfortable.” She snuggled further into Quinn’s arms to illustrate her point. “I really don’t wanna move.”
“And I can’t move!” Quinn interjected, earning himself a semi-offended look from the one in his arms.
Once Jenny had left the room to go back to her studies which were spread out on the kitchen table, Quinn began to twine his fingers around those of Wade. He still couldn't get over how small and dainty hers were, and he made sure he was extra gentle and soothing just so that he didn't break them.
When the advert break in the drama show they were half watching arrived, Wade asked, "So how's your friend doing? The one that was in hospital."
Her question gave Quinn a start. Then he remembered he'd told her a friend of his had been hurt a few days ago without mentioning any names. "Yeah, she's doing fine now. Went back to work yesterday."
"Oh that's good."
"So…" started Quinn, "when's Gary due home?"
"He said he was working late tonight, that he'd be back real late." She turned her head up to look directly into his eyes, those adorable deep eyes she loved so much. Gary's were a washy, pale version of Quinn's, not as nice at all?"
"Oh yeah?" Quinn's eyes twinkled at this prospect making them even more piercing. He relished the opportunity to be this close to Wade.
She smiled enticingly back up at him. "Yeah." She knew it was technically wrong for her to want him so bad, but he was so much nicer, kinder, gentler and generally better than Gary. She'd never really liked Gary from the start, but it hadn't been something she'd had a choice in. Gary had seen her and wanted her as his pretty little wife. Her father had made the deal and profited greatly by it. Wade hadn't. In Quinn she saw something genuine, something more.
"That's the best news I've had all day." He moved his head forward so his lips met hers. Within them still burned the fire that had overtaken that evening in coffee shop. If possible, it had even intensified. Their movements were as one, and neither wanted to break away. Their minds swam with thoughts of each other, barely conscious of the fact that Jenny was nearby and Sophie upstairs, let alone that one of the pair was married.
A slam of the front door awakened them from their own little world and they separated immediately. As the newcomer jeered, "Hi, honey, I'm home!" Quinn practically threw Wade off him on to the seat next to them, understandably roughly considering the speed with which it was necessary.
Gary entered the living room to see his wife seated on the sofa, next to a man he didn't know, and a handsome man at that. Wade held the remote in her hand, but he still leapt to conclusions. His mind began to seethe with anger. "What the Hell's going on here!!!!"
Outside a rather middle of the road restaurant, three doors down from the hotel, Wade Welles stood, nervously rubbing her hands together. Where was he?
She hadn't see Rob for a couple of days, not since that argument in the hospital. Not properly anyway. He'd seen her signed out and home okay, but then no contact. She'd tried to call him once the next day, but he'd not been home. His sister had told her he was working. After that nothing. Until this morning when, completely out of the blue, he'd stopped by the café she worked in and asked if she wanted to go for a meal that evening. His sister had only passed the message on scant hours before that.
So here she was, waiting for Rob, who was a little late. She seemed to spend all her time waiting for guys these days. Usually Rob would pick her up before a date, but someone had run into the back of his car and it would have to sit at the garage for a little while before it got fixed.
Wade scanned the streets regularly. He couldn't stand her up; she really needed to talk to him.
Finally she saw him pelting it towards her, dodging people and stationary objects alike. He arrived in front of her puffing and panting. "Sorry I'm late, Wade; I got held up at work."
He unintentionally cut her off before she got started. "Shall we go inside?" Rob put his arm around Wade's shoulders and directed her into the restaurant. It was cold outside and he could see she was already shivering. He should have run faster.
They had reservations, and so didn't have to wait for a free table. Anyway, it was fairly early evening and there wasn't a huge amount of people waiting.
The table was situated nicely to one side, in the corner by the mock fire place. Almost a private rooms really. It was a quaint little restaurant: nothing overly special or expensive, but some way above a fast food outlet. The meals were easily good enough and more varied to be above that.
Menus were brought and the pair began to select what they wished. Only Wade couldn't concentrate on food when she needed to talk to Rob.
Putting her menu to one side for the moment, she started, "Rob, I need to apologise for the other day." She couldn't look him in the eye, only at her hands.
Knowing she was deadly serious and that this meant a lot to her, Rob also put down his and to get her to look at him, picked up her hands. "Wade… it's okay. Emotions were flying that evening. It doesn't matter. I should never have said what I did. You're right; I was jealous. I should be the one apologising for that."
"Yes… yes it does matter and yes you should have said what you did. I shouldn't have snapped."
Rob could see Wade was stressing over this and he didn't want her to. She had no reason to. He'd handled things badly at the time and then all this work had come up, preventing him from setting things straight before this. His calls had gone unanswered, probably because no one was in. Damitall, it was more his fault that hers! And his sister hadn't even informed him of her phone call until this morning. But she was tremendously busy and appeared to have an awful lot to deal with on her own. "Wade, it's okay. You don't have to apologise for anything. It honestly doesn't matter that you snapped. I should have had more tact."
Wade looked down again. "It does matter because… because I think you were right." She looked back almost like she was about to cry, but holding back just enough.
"I was what?" Rob was a little taken aback and he blinked his eyes in amazement.
"You were mot likely correct. I think I knew that back then, I just… didn't want to see it. The four of us have been so close for we over two years, I didn't want to think that was his reason." She paused. "But these past few days I've become more sure. He's distant around me, doesn't talk much with me. And I'm sure he's out far more than he's working. We rarely see him now." She broke off. Rob's face portrayed deepest sympathy. "Something's affecting my friendship with him and not for the better. I don't want to lose him."
Rob barely knew what to say. Wade was feeling pain and he didn't know how to stop it like he wanted. Slowly, he reached out and brushed her cheek with the back of his hand. "I'm sure he'll remember what an amazing woman you are soon. No one could forget for long. It's a physical impossibility."
Wade just smiled.
Remmy exploded through the door of their suite at the Dominion. "I got another gig!"
The room was silent.
There was no one in the lounge area at all. He peered into the bedrooms and the bathroom. No one there either.
"Hmmm." Where was everyone?
With nothing else to do, Remmy sat on the sofa with his feet up and picked up a magazine, his whole being entrance gone to waste.
Some time later, the professor entered and after closing it, leant on it and lolled his head back. "Ugh."
"You're late, professor," said Remmy, still sitting on the sofa with no sign of Quinn or Wade, though Remmy had progressed to watching TV instead of reading. "Have to stay late with the kiddies?"
"THAT is why I worked in a university instead of a high school. Remind me of that next time would you, Mr Brown?"
Wade's jaw began to shake a little, her voice trembling noticeably with shock and fear. She tried hiding it, but her discomfort was perceptible. "You're… you're early!" She surveyed the scene. There was no possible pleasant outcome.
"I wish I could say I was surprised, Wade,” Gary said. His voice was like the calm before the storm, ready to erupt in a fury but harmless on the outside. “Let me guess. This is a ‘friend’ from that pathetic little job of yours?”
"There's nothing going on!" Quinn sputtered before he had a chance to stop himself. If there’s nothing going on, why mention that? It was almost as bad as an outright admission of guilt. Quinn grimaced before the sentence even registered with the others.
“And your name would be?” Gary said with cool indifference. The information meant nothing to him, and it showed.”
“Well, Mr. Mallory, seeing as this is my home, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t speak out of turn. I’d certainly do the same for you.” Gary turned to Wade. The rage was beginning to brew behind his eyes. “What’s he doing here? Did anyone see him come here? Damn it, Wade! Think of my rep!”
“I just invited a couple of friends from work over to chat and share some drinks, Gary,” Wade replied meekly.
"A couple?!" her husband screamed. The storm had broken. "I see only ONE here! Now what would that suggest to you?!"
"Je… Jenny's in the kitchen. She's getting us a drink."
Gary looked at her suspiciously and then back at Quinn. He didn't like Quinn being here at all. He knew what guys could be like and he didn't want any hanging around his pretty little wife unless it was absolutely necessary, and this wasn't one of those times. She was enough trouble as it was.
He grabbed Wade by the arm and dragged her with him to the kitchen. The guilt-ridden pair managed to sneak a worried glance quickly without him seeing. Gary threw the kitchen door open so hard that it slammed into the wall behind it with a colossal crash.
The glass Jenny was holding fell from her hand and smashed on the floor. She'd heard the exchange in the adjoining room and poured a drink to prove she was out there and not studying. But she'd been startled by Gary and there was now a puddle of orange juice with chunks of glass at her feet. "Oh God! I'm so sorry! I didn't mean it!"
Gary ignored her. Instead he pulled Wade back into the lounge, roughly so that she staggered. "She's studying," he said, sounding almost disgusted.
Wade shook her arm free. "*Was* studying. We were helping her."
Even though that was a logical explanation and it fit with the pattern, Gary still wasn't happy. Whatever the meaning behind Quinn's presence, he didn't want him there. "I want you out, Mr Mallory." He shook his fist at Quinn. "And I don't EVER want to see you again. Or for my wife to see you. Get it?"
Quinn nodded, almost dismissively, but made no move.
"That's an indication for you to GO!"
Still Quinn didn't move. "Only on the condition that you don't hurt your wife."
Gary was seething and needed no further tempting. His arm shot out and the punch hit its mark exactly, sending Quinn reeling. Wade ran to help Quinn, but Gary grabbed him first, pulling him by the neck of his shirt and shoved him so hard in the direction of the door that Quinn stumbled. "I said, GET OUT! If you stay, I promise you I will not be responsible for what happens, that I can guarantee." Gary was slightly shorter than Quinn, but he had far more skill in brawling and Quinn knew it. Gary was a man who always physically dominated others, while Quinn was too good a person for that. Yet Quinn didn't seem to be moving yet.
From behind Gary, Wade urged Quinn to go. She didn't want him hurt and she knew Gary would if he stayed. He'd once hospitalised a drunk man for coming on to her. He was a vicious fighter. She also knew Gary wouldn't be prosecuted for anything he did. He had far too much power. Quinn's best hope was to leave now before Gary had proof and to leave quickly. He'd proved he wouldn't abandon her and he persisted in that. "Go!" she mouthed. "I can handle it!" Quinn raised his eyebrows as if he didn't believe her hollow words, but Gary was advancing. Just before Quinn scrambled away and ran out the house, Wade blew him a kiss. Gary didn't see, but Quinn did, and once he was out of the danger zone he smiled.
"And I want *her* gone too." He pointed to Jenny who was standing in the doorway to the kitchen, terrified and not sure what to do. He turned up his nose. "Clean up the mess, then as her to please go. I want to talk to you after. Alone."
As Wade shut the door behind a reluctant Jenny after a long hug, she burst into tears. It was just too much for her. She wanted to rise up, to rebel against his authority, but it never worked. He was too powerful and every time she failed it wore her down that much more. It made her want to fight back more, but her spirit was fading. She didn't know how much longer she could stand him. There was no way out for her.
Slowly, she trudged up the stairs and walked across the landing to the bedroom. She knew he would be waiting there. Theirs was a lavish home and quite large, so at least their daughter's room was relatively far away from hers. But Wade wasn't one to be bothered by riches. She was quite content with simpler things. Gary did own a couple of servant as well, but they were only at the main residence in the mornings. Wade was expected to do the rest. To Gary she was little more than a glorified servant.
She shut the bedroom door behind her and leaned against it, head bowed. She had to get through this. For both Quinn and Sophie.
"You slut," came the low voice form the bed.
"Gary… please… no… nothing happened," she begged, knowing that if he thought otherwise Quinn would end up dead sometime very soon. She hated to lie and rarely did, but here was a matter of life and death. She had to.
"You're a dirty whore, Wade! Have you any idea what this does to my rep? I can't even keep my own wife docile and satisfied!"
Wade ran forward towards him, but he turned his head, feeling betrayed not because he suspected she'd cheated on him, but because whether she had or she hadn't it had the potential to ruin his reputation. That meant more to him than her faithfulness. "Gary, honestly I've never slept with anyone but you! I was the virgin bride remember? And there's been no one else since! I promise you!" That at least was true. She and Quinn had not yet taken that step.
Gary raised his eyebrow in question. Virgin brides gave one a high reputation in his circles, even more so if she was pretty like Wade was. And then to keep them true to you was a necessity. It was like protecting his territory. He'd had more than one partner, many more in fact, but that raised his prestige further. This kind of distinction was why few women made it in his profession. In his circle there was only one, and she just reversed the roles to her pleasure. "I don't want you to see him again. Or even speak to him. Ever."
This was the point where Wade was completely overwhelmed. She threw herself at him, begging for mercy. "No, please," she pleaded. "He's a friend… just a friend, nothing more! Don't make me cut him out of my life!"
"Yes, Wade. You will do as I instruct."
"But I can't do it!"
"You *will* do it!"
"No?" Wade was less sure of herself as it went on.
Her legal husband took her in his firm grasp, holding her shoulders so she couldn't move. "Listen up. You are my wife by law. I gave your father a fine dowry for you. I could have had anyone I wanted, and I wanted you. So I got you. You are a damn sight luckier than you know! Without me you wouldn't have gone anywhere! Your father would have been forced to accept a pathetic dowry from some low-flyer and you would be a nothing! I have a f-ing amazing reputation and I *will* not have you ruining it! I will not have a wife who will not obey me. Understand?
Wade burst in to tears again. "I won't do it!" she blubbed again. "And you can't make me!"
"Oh I can." He stroked her cheek, wiping away the tears. "Have you any idea how easy it would be for me to have him killed?" He saw the horror in her eyes and taunted her further. "Of course you do, we've been married long enough. And I know you know they wouldn't prosecute." The tears streamed right down her face and over his fingers. "For that matter, I could have you killed and take another virgin wife."
"Please! I don't want to!"
Throwing her onto the bed, Gary looked down at her. "This isn't about what you f-ing want. This is about what *I* f-ing want and ONLY what I f-ing want. Understand?"
Wade said nothing. She didn't even move.
"UNDERSTAND?" he shouted at her, moving closer to actively threaten her as well as dwarf her.
Still she said nothing, but she nodded her head meekly. Wade knew what was coming next. She had failed yet again.
Quinn stood, idly stacking the shelves without watching, staring at Wade. As a result, the boxes were being showing in with little pattern or format. What was bothering him was that she was avoiding his glances, seemingly on purpose. Every time she even nearly caught his eye, her head jerked well away from him. It could almost be considered rude. Normally they had sweet exchanges, but not today. Today she wouldn't even look at him.
He vainly tried to exchange a glance for the next thirty minutes, then realised it was no good. Something was up and he didn't know what. He needed some help. Jenny.
Jenny was stacking one aisle over. Not wanting to wait, Quinn decided to break regulations and wander over to talk to her. This was far more important. Anyway, they were so short on staff that they would be unlikely to fire him for such a minor offence as this.
"Jenny!" he whispered.
She jumped and nearly threw her packets everywhere. "Quinn!" exclaimed. "What are you doing! You scared me!"
"Look, I need to talk to you," he continued.
Nodding, she replied. "I knew you would eventually."
"Huh?" Jenny waved her hand to encourage him to forget it for now. "Anyway, something's wrong with Wade. She won't even look at me." Emotions began to pour. "I can't stand it! Have I don't something wrong?"
Sighing, Jenny placed a friendly arm on Quinn's shoulder. "It's not you. It's Gary. You know he's not a nice person. She told me… she told me that she wasn't allowed to see you anymore and that she didn't dare disobey for your sake or hers! He's not only a not nice person, he's a dangerous one too and not one to make idle threats. She's scared Quinn. Really scared."
"I know that! But surely she could just sneak a look to let me know she's okay!"
"Quinn, you don't get it!"
"No! I don't! What power does he have over her?"
Jenny answered him in a mumble. "Too damn much." Then she turned back to Quinn. She twisted him around and pointed him in the direction of the cafeteria section. "Look over there. See that man in the black? He's been sitting there since Wade started her shift. And you know why?" Jenny's voice was getting a little irate. Quinn was being rather dense when it came to Gary, although that was perhaps understandable considering he was not of this world. "Gary has sent him to keep tabs on Wade. He doesn't trust her. He wants his reputation to be spotless and this is one way to do it."
Quinn stared at the man before Jenny pulled him away. "But that… isn't that an infringement of rights? Stalking or something?"
Laughing, Jenny scoffed him. "I don't know what your world was like, but that doesn't hold any water here. Yeah, those laws exist, but they don't apply to Gary."
The renegade shelf-stacker cocked his head. "Why not?"
She sighed. "Our world is plain corrupt. Things don't work like they should. Pretty f**ked up if you ask me. Gary's one of 'them.' The so-called law has no hold over him. And anyway, the guy he's sent is probably a professional tail. Too many of them around if you ask me." Jenny was ultimately an idealist. Perhaps it was her age, but at this time, she hated how the world worked. She could see how it could be made better, but without drastic changes in the way people thought, nothing was ever going to happen.
Jenny refused to elaborate further. She'd been out drinking the night before and had an awful hangover. And it was more irritating than you'd think to have someone from another world asking questions. Then she saw the dejected expression on Quinn's face. She's been ripped from him forcibly and he was definitely feeling it. "Okay, she's still allowed to see me, perhaps we can work something out here."
Quinn definitely brightened a little.
Inside a poorly lit bar, Remmy and his make-shift back up band began to set up their equipment. There was a lack of light, but this was no downtrodden, little known place. In fact, it seemed quite the opposite. Security had been tight around the entrance, which itself had not been close to the main building. It seemed more secret than anything else.
Rembrandt straightened the microphone stand and stood next to it, surveying the patrons of the bar along with the surroundings. The band would be playing on a slightly raised stage and it gave him a mildly better view.
What confused him greatly was the gaming tables. This place was more of a casino than a bar in his opinion. Earlier in the day, each of he and his band members had been relentlessly questioned about gambling. How they felt about it in relation to their profession. Since all the band were professional performers, it apparently didn't matter, whatever that meant, but the 'bar' owner had informed them he was merely trying to cover his back. Remmy had nodded sagely, but he didn't really understand the need.
He had feared he would be overdressed, but had been assured that his classy evening wear would be perfect and now he saw why. This was a high-class joint, it wouldn't do for the entertainment to be shabby. In fact, if anything Remmy felt underdressed, but there was nothing he could do about that. Not now anyway.
Tapping on the microphone, he tested it and left the focal point of the stage to go and assist the others. He wouldn't really call them close friends; he hadn't known them long enough for that. However, the time they had spent with each other was mounting up and he got on easily well enough to share a couple of rowdy drinks at the bar before the performance.
Just before he was due to go on, Remmy spotted Arturo entering. He'd invited Wade and Quinn as well, but both were working late and couldn't change their shifts. They'd declined regretfully, but Remmy got the impression that after their shifts they already had plans anyway. Arturo, on the other hand, had jumped at the chance to get out of the suite and away from the marking he appeared to have acquired despite being only a substitute teacher.
As he stepped up on to the stage, Arturo settled himself at a small table. He purposefully did not sit at one of the gaming tables; it was something he would do occasionally, but they sliders were trying to save some money this world, not lose it recklessly. You never knew what you might encounter. He did not even buy himself an alcoholic drink, having discovered that prices here were particularly high. The professor nodded and raised his glass to Rembrandt as his friend opened his mouth to say a few words before the first number.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for joining us here tonight!" he announced to the glamorous listeners.
The set went down a storm, again. There were a few who didn't appear to appreciate the music much, but they were very much in the minority. Once again, the professor found himself really enjoying his friend's music. The Crying Man was a born performer and it showed.
It was drawing to a close when Rembrandt recognised one of the women playing on one of the tables. She wasn't dressed quite as elaborately as the other ladies playing, but it wasn't so obvious that it stood out greatly. She was wearing a pale blue evening dress with a silk shawl over her shoulders. Every so often, she would look around, as if she was scared of something that never came. Remmy tried not to stare, but he could not quite place the recollection and he was curious. It was possible that she was the double of someone he'd seen before, but that just made him even more curious.
He closed with the words, "Goodnight ladies and gentlemen!" The band took a bow and there was a round of applause. There were a few calls for an encore, but Remmy cried off, feigning a dry throat.
He checked the band were okay to clear up, then Rembrandt rushed towards Arturo, fearful something would scare the girl off before he could find out who she actually was. He pointed her out to the professor. "See that girl in the blue at the table on the left? I recognise her but I'm not sure why."
Arturo turned his head and looked directly at her. He nodded. "That is Miss Kelleigh. She was the teacher who assisted us with directions that night at the school. I believe she teaches modern foreign languages."
"Ah," replied Rembrandt, curiosity still piqued. "Why do you suppose she's so nervous?"
The professor did not have a simple answer for this. "I am unsure on that myself, Mr Brown. She seemed unnecessarily jumpy even at the school."
At that moment the woman known as Kelleigh looked directly at them and her eyes widened in shock. Obviously she had seen Rembrandt perform but may not have recognised him until she also saw the professor. Hands shaking, she leaned over to the 'bar' employee and whispered too him. Not long after that she hastily gathered up her small amount of winnings and hurried off, looking back at the pair every 10 or so steps. It seemed they had scared her.
Neither of them said anything as they observed her exit. Finally, the professor broke the silence. "Well, that was most unusual."
Wade Turner stood patiently outside the detached old house as she waited for Jenny to answer the doorbell. A quick glance over her right shoulder proved the tail her husband had sent to keep watch on her was still there. She sighed and walked into the house as Jenny held the door open for her.
“Still there?” the younger girl asked. Wade nodded somberly. “Think they’ve caught on yet?”
Wade made a face. “I don’t think so. I probably would have heard about it if they had. You know what Gary’s like.”
“Yeah.” Jenny tried to look at her feet. Then she snapped her head back quickly as she remembered the purpose of the visit. “Come on; Quinn’ll be waiting.”
Obligingly following her friend, Wade made her wait out to the back of the garden, where Jenny gave her a foot up and over the fence for the fourth time in five days. As she went over the top, Wade snagged her top on the twig of a nearby apple tree. The two girls had to stop halfway before the top ripped. Should it tear, it could be a hint to Wade’s tail.
“Is it free yet,” Wade whispered as she balanced precariously in the middle.
Jenny shook her head. “Not yet. It appears to have got… twisted.” As she said the last word, the material pinged off and Wade fell completely off the fence and onto the gravel path which ran behind the house with an almighty crash, although she managed not to cry out.
“Wade, Wade are you okay?” panicked Jenny in a low voice as she stood on tiptoes to peer over the fence and see for herself.
She was greeted by a view of Wade collapsed in a heap, but not seeming badly injured. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be fine,” Wade replied, stifling a small giggle. “Quick! Get back in the house before they suss anything!”
“Oh, like they’d notice! You’re the one making all the noise anyway!” retorted an amused Jenny. “Go on, be off with you!”
Wade did as she was told and hurried off down the path, trying to draw as little attention to herself as possible. As long as she made a wide enough circle around the house, she should avoid the tail and his associates. Either they weren’t as good as they claimed, which she doubted, or Gary was too trusting of her. The latter was most likely. He probably didn’t think that she had enough brains to be this deceptive.
She’d caught a glimpse of the one of the tail’s faces once. He was a hard looking man, not one you’d cross on purpose. Quinn was quite a buff looking guy, and could maybe hold his own against a lot of guys, but he wouldn’t have lasted a second against this hired bully. That was the one thing that could hold her back from this relationship; she knew what Gary was capable of should he find out, rather than just suspect. He, like all the others with his kind of power, was obsessed with image. No matter how far away Quinn got, he would not be allowed to live.
That was always there in the back of her mind, whenever she was with Quinn. Her nightmares consisted of Gary bursting in on her and Quinn and blasting her lover in the head with a sawn-off shotgun. She’d mentioned it to quick, tried to let him no what kind of risk he was taking. He might not be around here, but he sure didn’t seem worried about being followed by Gary. He didn’t seem to understand what it was like.
Quinn welcomed her with open arms, literally, when she finally made it to the hotel. Thankfully the public transport here was good. It was crowded, but that left her even less likely to be followed.
The pair of them sat on the sofa, just talking and laughing at the television, snuggled up like a true couple. Quinn stroked her hair lightly as one of the daytime soaps from Australia, ‘Neighbours,’ came on. Wade was in the process of explaining the plot to him and already he was almost as addicted as her.
“So, what’s up with ‘Flick’?”
She laughed at his ineptitude to follow the story. “Don’t you remember, silly? I already explained that! She’s in love with her sister Steph’s fiancé and he likes her too, but he won’t stop the wedding.”
“Oh yeah! I was getting her confused with the other sister, what’s her name. Michelle.” His voice held real enthusiasm for it, which made Wade laugh even more. Quinn looked at her. “That’s the way of it, is it?” He raised his eyebrows in a playful manner and then began to tickle her relentlessly.
Wade squealed, not quite with delight, but something that happy in a playful manner. “No, no, stop! It tickles!” She tried futilely to defend herself. “Right, that’s it!” she announced and launched into an attack of her own, pinning Quinn down by sitting on him.
The tables were turned. Quinn proved to be just as ticklish, if not more so that Wade was. “Please! I can’t cope!! Stop! Stop!” he laughed.
“Yes, please stop,” came a cold voice from the doorway.
The room went silent.
The pair on the couch stopped playing and sat up to look at the figure standing, still holding the door open. They were no longer interested in the television and completely missed Steph being jilted at the altar.
“W… Wade,” stuttered Quinn.
His companion on the sofa moved away from him as the two Wades locked eyes. They stared at each other for about a minute before both of them turned to stare at Quinn, who looked from one to another in turn.
The Wade by the door was the first to respond. “How could you!” she spat at her long time Sliding companion and she ran back out the door, leaving it wide open.
Wade Turner stared at Quinn for a while longer. He reached for her, but she backed away. “What… what is going on here,” she whispered through the shock. Quinn started to answer, but she cut him off. “Y’know, I don’t care. She had the right idea,” and with that, she grabbed her coat and followed her lookalike out the door.
“Do you think we should follow her?” Remmy enquired of the professor. “I mean, she looks upset.”
The professor nodded. “She does,” he agreed. “Perhaps she needs some help.
The two Sliders followed her through the ornate bar door and looked around to see if they could see where she had gone. It was dark and raining, but the street was well lit with lamps every few metres or so. This part of the town was popular during the evenings and so lights had been placed to increase business.
“There!” Remmy pointed to a slight figure in blue trying to move between the crowds. “Come on!” And with that Remmy ran off at a sprint, leaving professor Arturo standing. The big man didn’t even bother trying to keep up. He knew he wasn’t built for running and would only slow his friend down.
As he ran towards the woman, she let out a shriek as she saw him and began to run through the people who all ignored the entire incident. He caught up with her fairly easily as she was impeded by her long, wet skirts.
Remmy reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her to a stop. She struggled a little, but not enough to evade him; she knew when she was beaten. “There’s no need to be afraid,” he soothed. “We only want to help you.”
Kelligh looked at the floor. “Please! Please don’t tell anyone!” she pleaded, and pushed her dripping hair from her face.
“Tell anyone what?” Remmy was completely confused. He didn’t have anything to tell!
Puffing a little, the professor caught them up. As he gave the other Slider a glance, Remmy shook his head indicating no progress. “Miss Kelleigh,” he said, “Why are you so afraid of us? We haven’t done anything to you.”
“But you could!” she cried. “You’re okay, you didn’t take part! But me? I can lose everything! Please, just tell me what you want in return for silence!”
Now the professor was just as confused as Rembrandt. “Miss Kelleigh, I’m afraid we don’t understand. Our silence for what?”
She began to struggle more, and nearly slipped through Remmy’s grasp but for his swiftness. “Don’t make me say it! You know what I’m talking about!”
“I assure you, we do not know was you mean!” The professor held great faith in his own persuasive powers. “We’re from… England.” It made the most sense. He, after all, was from there.
Kelleigh looked surprised. “What? Both of you?”
“I… er… yeah.” Remmy felt it best to go along with it. “I come from… Liverpool.”
Professor Arturo glared at him. “What my friend means is that he is from the North and I and from the South. That’s why we have different accents.”
“Oh. I didn’t know they had more than one accent.”
“Hmph. Most people don’t seem to.” Not even Mr. Brown, he thought to himself. That man couldn’t tell a Scouse accent from a Scotsman, let alone the less distinct ones. Americans!
She wiped her eyes and only now looked straight at them. “You really don’t know?”
Both shook their heads. The rain was really beginning to pour down now, and most people were finding shelter, but not the two Sliders and the teacher. All three were soaked to the bone, so it no longer really mattered.
“I have a gambling problem,” she sighed. “I needed the money and it was the only way to get it, but I’m a teacher…” she trailed off and began to sniff. “You managed to stay away without even knowing! Why couldn’t I!!”
“I’m sorry, Miss Kelleigh,” said the professor gently. “Why should being a teacher cause problems?”
She looked a little surprised. “It’s not the same where you come from?”
“Not that I’m aware of.” The professor hoped she didn’t suddenly remember that it was the same in England.
“I always wanted to be a teacher. It was my calling. But here, teachers have to be completely free of sin. There are so many background checks when you sign up for training. You can’t drink, take drugs, gamble, have sex before marriage or commit any kind of crime. At any point in your life. I kept away from it throughout my youth, but as I got older it got harder. And when I got desparate for money I gambled for it.”
“Couldn’t you have taken a loan?” asked Remmy.
Kelleigh shook her head. “Loan? What’s that? Gambling was the only way.”
The professor thought for a moment. “I don’t believe they made background checks on me. Why not, if it is as you say?”
She shrugged. “They were desperate I suppose.” She paused before continuing her tale. “Someone found out I was a gambler and a teacher. Powerful man. His nephew was at the school and not doing to well. In exchange for his company’s silence, I would up his marks. You can’t do anything if you don’t do well enough at school and they wanted him to be part of the family business.”
“What nothing at all?”
“Very little, Kelleigh replied. “Nothing that would keep up their prestige. But I can’t do it any more, it’s wrong.”
Remmy started thinking practically. “Can’t you just tell them it’s over? I know you’d lose your job, but you could sort yourself out properly.”
“You don’t understand!” she wailed, “I can’t get out of it now! It’s not just me involved! And I’ll lose everything! Really everything! I don’t know what to do!” Kelleigh now grabbed hold of Remmy and lay sobbing on his chest. He stroked her hair as though she was a scared small child.”
“Come on,” he said, “We’ll get you back to the hotel to dry off. Then we’ll see if we can help.”
Wade Welles had buried herself in Rob’s arms without explanation as soon as he opened the door. She had run all the way from the hotel where she had seen Quinn, HER Quinn, with her double and had not paused until she reached Rob’s flat that he shared with his sister. The rain hadn’t deterred her, and nor had the distance. She just couldn’t think of anything else to do.
He held her close out of instinct, even though the water from her clothes was seeping through into his own. She still hadn’t said anything; all he could hear was her muffled sobs.
Finally, her crying subsided enough for her to splutter out some words. “How could he!”
“Who? Quinn?” Rob pulled her away from the door and led her into the kitchen where he made her sit down on one of the wooden chairs next to the table.
She sniffed and nodded. “He… he…” Wade burst out crying again.
Rob put the kettle on to boil and pulled a chair up next to her so he could give her a hug. “What did he do? Did he hit you?”
Wade head shook passionately. “No… no, he would never do that to me. But…”
A thought suddenly occurred to Rob and his face hardened a little. “You caught him with another woman, didn’t you.” His heart dropped. He’d always suspected Wade held more in her heart for Quinn than she admitted, but he’d never realised it was quite this much. There was no hope for him, however much he wanted her.
“Yes… and… no.”
The kettle began to come to the boil. “How can it be yes and no?” Rob asked her, confused. “Either you did or you didn’t!”
“It… it’s not that simple.” The kettle clicked itself off and Wade paused. Should she tell him? There was no way around it now. She’s already reached the point of no return through Quinn’s male hormone stupidity! “I haven’t told you everything about me.”
He didn’t even get up to make the coffee. “You mean… like you and Quinn used to be together… ARE together??”
“No, no, no,” She reached out for his hands and looked straight into his sad hazel eyes. “It’s nothing like that, believe me!”
“What is it then?”
The Slider took a deep breath. “You have to promise to keep an open mind, but I swear, what I’m gonna tell you may sound like I’m a lunatic, but it’s the truth.”
Rob wasn’t sure, but he responded anyway. “I’ll try my best.”
“Well, I’m not actually from this world.”
“What? You expect me to believe you’re an alien? Credit me with some sense Wade!” He drew away from her in annoyance.
She clarified herself. “No, I don’t mean that. It’s a bit bizarre really. Y’see, Quinn’s this kind of weird scientific genius… and I mean genius. And he created this machine that can transport you to a parallel world.”
“I’m sorry, you’ve lost me,” said Rob, shaking his head. “Parallel worlds have never been proven.”
“There are some worlds where they have.”
Wade got up herself and poured the coffee. She opened the sugar pot and put a spoonful in each before stirring and throwing the spoons at the sink. She picked up both mugs by the handles and placed one in front of Rob before taking her seat again. “This isn’t the first world we’ve travelled to – we call it ‘Sliding’. Each world is different, some are downright horrible! I don’t understand it particularly, I’m not a scientist, but somewhere along the timeline, the histories diverge and a parallel world happens. My world isn’t like this one, but I haven’t been there for so long, it’s probably changed beyond recognition.”
He hugged her, knowing that at least she thought she was telling the truth. “How long’s it been since you were home?”
“About two years,” she sniffed. “I haven’t seen my family in that long. Yeah, I’ve seen their doubles, but it’s not the same.”
“Doubles? What are they?”
“Many of the people are the same on each world. Not always, but sometimes. That’s what I saw… Quinn was with…” she started to cry again. “He was with my double!”
There was a heavy banging on Jenny’s backdoor. “Jenny! Jenny! Let me in! I need to speak to you now!”
“Ssssh! The guys out the front will hear you! Come in and tell me what’s wrong!”
The two of them sat on the old sofas and Wade Turner began to babble. “Something really weird is happening!” she stuttered. “I really don’t understand!” She began to shake.
“Come on, calm down. Maybe I can help. You want a drink?” Wade nodded an affirmative and Jenny poured her a glass of strong wine from her parents’ alcohol cabinet. “Now, what’s wrong.”
“I was with Quinn at his hotel, and things were fine until… until someone else walked in.”
Jenny shrugged. “So you got caught. It was probably only one of his friends.”
“No, it was… strange. Jenny, she looked just like me and Quinn even called her Wade!! I feel like I’m going mad!” Her voice got higher and higher as she began to panic.
The younger girl reached over and gave her friend a big hug. “I know it’s not my place to tell you this, but you need to know. It’s gonna sound very fantastical, but I know it’s true because my sister is the same. You see…”
When he heard the door to the hotel suite slam, Quinn quickly jumped up from the foetal position he had crawled into. “Wade?” he called desperately. “Wade, is that you?” It didn’t matter which of them it was. He owed both an explanation.
“Sorry Q-ball, not this time!” replied Rembrandt. “It’s just me, the professor and a friend of ours.”
Quinn half-expected the friend to be Wade, well, one of them, but when he saw her, he was to be disappointed. “Have you seen Wade?” he begged.
“Not since she left for work, Mr. Mallory.” It was only then he noticed the distressed panicky look on his student’s face. “Good Lord, Mr. Mallory! What happened?”
There was no immediate answer. Quinn got up and started pacing the room. “I… I really messed up.” He sat down again and held his head in his hands.
“She caught you, didn’t she?” said Rembrandt quietly. Quinn nodded silently. “Oh, Q-ball. I warned you this was dangerous. Where is she? Either of them.”
“I don’t know. Both of them ran off. I guess our Wade went to dear old Rob’s and the other one probably went to Jenny. I can’t see her going home just yet. Gary would hit the roof.”
The stranger interrupted him. “You mean Wade Welles? If she’s with Rob, she’ll be at my flat.”
“Your flat?” exclaimed the professor. “You know Miss Welles?”
“Well, yeah. Rob’s my brother.”
The whole room was completely silent for the second time in a couple of hours. Then something clicked in Rembrandt’s mind. “Does that mean that the attack on her in the alley was purely to hurt you through your brother? You caused her to get hurt?”
She shirked away from him, looking even smaller than she was. “I pleaded with them not to! I didn’t want it to happen.”
Remmy thought better of his attack on her. “I’m sorry. We just want to protect her.”
“You couldn’t protect her from me though, could you,” mused Quinn. He intended for it to be to himself, but in his pain he spoke just loud enough for them all to hear.
After a time, Rembrandt announced, “I’m going to find Wade, if that’s okay with you,” he gestured to Kelleigh who agreed quickly. “I want to make sure she’s okay.”
“I’m coming too.”
Quinn got up and started to reach for his coat, but the professor stopped him. “No, Mr. Mallory. She won’t want to see you.” Quinn tried to protest, but the professor was firm. “No. It won’t do any good. Let Mr. Brown talk to her first.”
Reluctantly, Quinn had to accept the judgment. The professor was right, but that didn’t mean he liked it.
“Professor, he’s been gone ages! Let me go and speak to her! I need to explain!”
“No, Mr. Mallory. Miss Welles will come to you in her own time. If you rush her, you’ll just push her further away. You may not go.”
“You can’t keep me here against my will. You wouldn’t.”
“You are incorrect, Mr. Mallory. Physically, I could not. But I am under no obligation to reveal the whereabouts of Miss Welles, and until I deem that is necessary, my boy, you will have to suffer here!”
Wade Welles stood outside the door and listened to her friends talking on the other side. She took a sharp deep breath. Was she ready to face him yet? After what he’d done to her? The hurt was still painfully fresh in her mind. But Remmy was right, it needed to be dealt with as soon as possible. If left, it would fester and become even worse to sort out. And there was only a few days until the Slide. They couldn’t know what the next world held in store; they didn’t need additional problems to take with them.
She took another deep breath of the cool, air-conditioned air, and took out her key. She stood with it hovering over the keyhole for a few moments, before finally gathering the courage to enter. Her hands were shaking so much that she couldn’t get the key in at first. Wade tried steadying her hand and the key went in.
As she heard the click of the unlocking door, silence fell across the suite. Evidently they had heard it too. She pushed the door open slowly, unsure what she would find.
Quinn had leapt to his feet immediately. He still looked distressed, as he should do, she thought to herself, and it looked like he’d been crying, even though he tried to hide it. The professor had stopped mid-pace and looked more than a little distressed himself.
“Ah, Miss Welles,” he said. “I’ll… er… I’ll…”
“Remmy told me to tell you he’s down in the bar,” Wade replied in a cold, unemotional voice. “I think he’s wanted some company.” The poor professor didn’t deserve such a tone, but Wade was afraid that if she dropped her guard even for a moment, she wouldn’t be able to get it back again. It had taken her a long few hours to get even to this point.”
“Yes, well, I think I go and join Mr. Brown in the bar, if you two don’t mind.” The professor was speaking more out of courtesy than anything else. He couldn’t wait to get out of there. “I shall leave you two in peace.”
The professor gathered his things and made his way out of the room as quickly as possible. He left behind a stoney faced Wade still standing by the door way and Quinn in front of the sofa he had been sitting on prior to Wade’s entrance.
Quinn made a movement towards her, but she stuck out her hand. “Don’t come near me Quinn. Not yet.” He tried to persuade her otherwise, but she held firm. “NO Quinn. If you come any closer I’ll turn around and be straight back out that door.” Wade was amazed by her own strength. She never thought she’d make it even this far without breaking down.
“Wade, please! I only want to explain. I need to make things right again.” Had Quinn been begging on his knees, it would not have seemed out of place. He was desperate, but managed to hold that minimal amout of dignity.
The female Slider looked away from his swollen eyes. “You can explain just as well from there. And I don’t see there’s much to explain anyway. You were with my double of all people! You couldn’t have picked anyone else to hurt me more!”
He shook his head and looked at the floor. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. It just sorta… happened.”
“Quinn! You VIOLATED me AND our friendship! You might as well have just gone ahead and raped me and be done with it!” Wade could feel her barriers dissolving. Any moment she knew she could collapse back into a flood of tears. “How could you do it!”
“I… it wasn’t supposed to be like that. I couldn’t do that to you, you know that.”
The walls broke down and Wade burst out crying. “I DON’T know that, Quinn! Not anymore!I can’t trust you!”
“Wade, please.” Quinn held out his hands and looked straight at her with imploring eyes. “It wasn’t like that. She’s not like you, she’s different. She’s married, has a child…”
Wade’s eyes snapped at him angrily. “Oh so now you’re an adulterer as well? It makes no difference that she’s different from me! I would NEVER go with a double of yours! It’s not right; it’s not fair!”
“I know, Wade, I know,” Quinn protested. “But until you’re in the same position as I was, you cant understand! I knew it was wrong, but she was so unhappy, and you were off with this Rob guy…”
“You are NOT pinning the blame for this on me! No way. YOU made your bed and now YOU are gonna have to lie in it.”
Quinn’s eyes dropped to the floor again. “I know,” he whispered, barely audible. “I’ve hurt both of you and I didn’t want to. I tried so hard not to. But, it all just fell apart.” He began to sniffle again and he wiped his eyes with his sleeve, trying very hard not to look like a wuss.
Watching him like that made Wade’s heart melt. She was still angry at him, but she knew she was going to have to forgive him. Not forget, never forget, but forgive and try to work through it. If they wanted to get home, they had to be able to trust each other. She just hoped the next few worlds were peaceful enough that the trust wouldn’t have to be tested. “Quinn, look, it’s okay,” she said gently. “Well, it’s not okay really, but we’ll get through it. I just need time… and space.”
“I don’t think they have spaceships or time travel on this world,” he sniffed with a small smile.
She laughed. I tiny laugh, but a laugh all the same. “You know what I mean. “Just… just let me get over it in my own time, okay?”
“Friends. But nothing more for now… and no contact with doubles.”
It had been two days since Quinn had seen the Wade of this world. He’s spoken to Jenny yesterday and she’d arranged for the two former lovebirds to meet at her house. It involved a series of complicated maneuvers around the house to avoid the tail, but it was manageable.
Quinn sat opposite Wade Turner. Jenny was playing with Sophie in the kitchen. “Look, Wade, there’s a lot of things I need to explain to you…”
She cut him sort. “I already know about the Sliding, Quinn. Jenny told me. Why couldn’t you tell me yourself?”
Fiddling with his hands, Quinn replied, “It’s just not something we try to do. Mostly people don’t believe us. And when they do we quite often get… thrown into prison or something.”
“You told Jenny.”
He grimaced. “I know. I shouldn’t have done that either. She knew about it already, anyway, she just didn’t know I was a Slider. I’ve done so much on this world that I shouldn’t have.”
“I know.” Her eyes wandered around the room before finally settling on his. “I don’t think we should see each other anymore. Now I know… what you’ve done, I don’t think I can be with you, knowing that. And I doubt she wants you to see me either. I don’t want to be the one to break up your group.”
Quinn opened his mouth to refute that, but realised the sense of what she was saying. He reached for her hands and nodded. “I know. Please remember though, I never wanted to hurt you.”
She pulled her hands away. “I know.”
A small figure trudged along the sidewalk, pushing on front of her a fancy buggy carrying a small child. She sighed and slowed down even further as she was forced to negotiate an obstacle by the curb.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Turner!” came a voice from behind her.
Wade Turner turned around and was faced with a teenage girl. Not one she recognised, so it was probably the daughter of one of Gary’s associates. She swallowed and whispered, “Yes?”
The girl held out a small cuddly kangaroo with bells on its ears. “This fell out of the buggy. I thought you might want it.”
“Thanks.” Wade tried her hardest to smile, but she just couldn’t manage it. Instead her voice sounded flat. She gave the toy back to Sophie who made up for her mother’s lack of enthusiasm with a huge grin as she started to shake the kangaroo violently.
“Are you okay? You seem… upset.”
For a split second, Wade considered answering, “No.” But if this was indeed the daughter of one of Gary’s associates, that would not be at all clever. Things like that had a habit of travelling quickly towards the relevant people, and she didn’t need Gary being his usual self at the moment. “Yeah,” she replied, “I’m fine. Just tired, that’s all.”
Her interrogator seemed to accept the answer, and Wade watched her as she bounded back to her friends who were standing outside a newsagents, sharing a magazine. Life was so much simpler back then! It was all, ‘which prominent bachelors are available’ and ‘who’s interested in who.’ no one ever thought what married life was going to be life for them. No one told them that the men who were rich and powerful were usually complete bastards as well.
When Wade’s father had told her about Gary’s interest, at first she and her girlfriends were excited. Everyone knew he was rich and very powerful and most of the girls her age wanted to marry him. They didn’t know anything. During the courtship, which was just for show considering he’d already forced her father to agree to the marriage, Wade had begun to realise why her father hadn’t wanted this for her. Gary was cruel, which had got even worse since their marriage, was only concerned with appearance and had a roaming eye to top it off. It was never going to be a good life, but she had to do it. She knew what would happen if she didn’t.
Yes, she knew all to well what would have happened if she hadn’t. One of Gary’s associates had taken a liking to her sister Kelly and acquired her for marriage. Kelly had seen what the marriage had been like for Wade and decided she wasn’t going to stand for it. Kelly had run away, just before the wedding. Gary and his associates had had her father killed for his daughter’s impertinence and when Kelly was eventually located, she was forced to marry the man anyway. Three weeks later, Kelly had taken her own life. Their mother died soon after, not being able to cope with the loss of her husband and youngest daughter. Yes, Wade knew what these people were capable of.
Life would have been so much easier if she’d been born a man!
Sophie had fallen asleep during the walk, so Wade left her sleeping in the buggy on the back doorstep, lest she wake her by bumping the chair. The back door to her house wasn’t shut properly, so she just pushed it open silently. That meant Gary was home. She looked across the kitchen. Yep, there were his muddy footprints all over the floor.
She heard a loud voice coming from the lounge. Gary had probably already put his feet up and got himself a drink. From the way he was talking, it sounded like he was on the phone. Wade considered telling him to keep it down a little so he didn’t wake Sophie, but he’d just shout and her that she was merely a woman and to keep her mouth shut.
“You’re certain that’s what was going on?” he growled at the poor person at the other end. “Absolutely certain.” He had his back facing the door, so he didn’t see Wade standing there, listening. “Well, I want answers now! What exactly was she doing?”
That jarred Wade completely. She? She’d thought he was complaining about one of his employees again. But she? The only employees he that that were female were his mistresses. That meant… that meant he might be talking about her. Did he know?
“I told her what would happen if she carried on seeing this guy. It’s not permitted!” He was getting angrier and angrier the more detail he was getting.
Wade didn’t stop to hear anything else. She knew he meant her. Damnit! And she wasn’t even with Quinn anymore. She didn’t intend to see him ever again, not after what she’d seen the other day. She hid behind the door and took some deep breaths. Then she pelted up the stairs as quickly as she could.
Her breathing ws so loud she was sure Gary could hear it downstairs. Panicking still, Wade grabbed two bags from a cupboard and filled one of them with everything of hers she thought she might want. A few clothes and shoes, things from her family. She left the first bag by the door as she ran into Sophie’s room and did the same with her daughter’s things. There was no way she was leaving Sophie to grow up with a monster like Gary. No way. Even if he killed her, she was determined to get Sophie to safety. She prayed silently that Sophie wouldn’t wake up.
There wasn’t enough room for all Sophie’s things, so Wade grabbed a few of them and stuffed them in with her own stuff. Then she picked up both and crept down the stairs. Gary was still shouting into the phone, so that obstacle was taken care of.
Sophie was oblivious to the timebomb that was about to explode between her parents. Her mother stuffed one of the bags on the shelf under the seat and slung the other over one of the handles. It made it incredibly difficult to steer, but there was no other way to do it; there was only space for one underneath.
No more calm than before, Wade started towards the front gate, before realising that wasn’t a good idea. There were too many people that way. Too many of Gary’s people. There were probably some by the path that led out the back too, in case she went that way. She stopped in the middle of the garden in plain view. How could she get out? All exits were covered.
Or were they? She cast her mind back to her last walk. She’d noticed one of the fences was down. Was it still? That was out in the middle of the trees to the left. She moved as quickly as was possible with the weighted down buggy. It snagged a tree root and jolted the buggy. Wade stopped immediately, worried Sophie would wake and give the game away, but when she saw her daughter still peaceful she relaxed a little. Not much, but a little.
She moved along more slowly now, not wanting to risk a repeat. She could see the fence now. It was still down! There wasn’t enough space for the buggy to fit through; Wade had to kick at it a few times before there was space enough for freedom.
Freedom, she thought to herself. But where did she go? Going by what happened to Kelly, no where on this planet was safe. Planet! If she could get to Quinn, he could take her away with him. Quinn. Her heart dropped. She didn’t want to go back to him, but if it meant safety for Sophie, it had to be done.
Once outside the perimeter, feeling like an escaped convict, she took a quick glance around, to check for tails. She couldn’t see any; Wade had unintentionally crossed into the local park. Satisfied no one was following her, she set off for Jenny’s. She couldn’t go to Quinn without Jenny there as well. She just wouldn’t be able to cope. Would she anyway?
“Miss Carter, I know we have severe teaching problems, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to let you go.” The principal, her boss, did not even look at her as he told her. To her it seemed he was purposely averting his eyes by looking at one of the many strewn pieces of paper on the desk.
Kelleigh wasn’t sure what to say, but piped up anyway. “But.. don’t you need me?”
The prinicpal sighed. “Yes, Miss Carter, we do need you. But you cannot stay.”
“Why? What have I done?”
Finally he turned away from the completely uninteresting notes on the quality of the outside of the school building and began to stare at the young teacher. “I think you know. I have received word and evidence that you have been involved in gambling.” He looked away again. “You can therefore no longer teach here.”
Who’d turned her in? She thought for a moment, then the fear dawned on her. It had to be him. She’d been so worried she’d forgotten to up his nephew’s grades. Oh God, what had she down? Originally Kelleigh had ignored it in a spat of defiance. Then with everything else, shad hadn’t gone back. Oh God, he was gonna go mad!
She reached out and grabbed his wrist. “Please, please let me stay! I need this job!” she pleaded desperately. “Is there nothing you can do? I’ll stop straight away.”
He wrenched his arm away, still without looking directly at her. “You know it doesn’t work like that. My hands are tied; you have to go.”
Kelleigh let her arm drop and she just stood there staring at him as he busied himself with paperwork. After a few minutes he began to glare at her and she was forced to leave the room. Once she was outside, on the dusty corridor that led to the other administrative offices, her tears began to flow.
What had she done? This would be on her record for life; she would never teach again! She pulled at her hair in frustration. How could she be so stupid! Kelleigh knew many teachers who were not pure anymore, and they managed to keep it quiet enough! Why not her?
It was the fault of those travellers. That professor and his friend the singer! If they hadn’t started interfering, she’d have been fine! She would just have gone on changing the result and none would be the wiser! But their meddling ways had ruined her life. Forever. Did they understand nothing? So they were English, did that mean they shouldn’t know how the system of he country they were living in worked!
The bell rang for recess and rowdy kids poured into the corridors round the school, including the one in which Kelleigh stood. The spiteful glares indicated that the children also knew. Probably that damned nephew of his had been ordered to spread the rumour. That way, even if she could have retained her position, the students would have hounded her out themselves. She wiped her eyes and ignored the taunts as she made her way out of the school and towards home.
The building was empty as Kelleigh Carter made her way up the long flight of stairs to her apartment. She and her brother lived up on the twelfth floor. There was an elevator in the building, but, as usual, something had broken and it was utterly unusable. The place was rather dingy and repairs were infrequent. Still, walking up all the stairs kept her in shape.
When Kelleigh reached the top of the stairs, puffing, despite the frequency of her trips, she stopped dead still.
Outside her door lay her brother. Her brother, covered in blood.
She ran to him quickly. “Rob! What happened?”
Rob groaned and tried to move before pulling back in pain. “They jumped me. Again.”
Kelleigh did not need to even ask who he meant. She knew. And it was all because of her failure. “Come on, lets get you inside.”
She bent down and wrapped his arm around her shoulders to give him support. Staggering, she attempted to pull him to his feet, but it was no use. He just collapsed again. With Rob seemingly unable to help himself, Kelleigh began to drag him through the doorway. Rob groaned continuously and stubbornly tried to resist her, which only made it more difficult for the already exhausted Kelleigh.
Thankfully, she only intended to drag him as far as the kitchen which was directly to the left of the main entrance. As Kelleigh propped him up against the fridge, she asked, “Where does it hurt?”
“All over,” he moaned.
Blood was beginning to drip onto the tiled floor from the wounds on his body and his head. Kelleigh stood up and wet a cloth which she then proceeded to wipe over the wound on the side of his head. “Does that hurt?” He nodded. Most of the blood had dried there, but there was a huge bruise as well.
“Kel, they gave me a message.”
She stood up and walked back to the sink where she ran the blood out of the cloth. “I figured as much.”
“They told me to warn you! To warn you that they’re coming after you, Kel! I know who they are, but why do they want you?” Rob had always been oblivious to his sister’s antics and now that was coming back to haunt him.
After a short pause, she replied in an unemotional voice, “I needed some money, so I gambled. They found out I was a teacher and blackmailed me. I defied them and now they want me to pay.” She leaned over the sink and threw up into it.
Rob pulled himself to standing using his one good arm and one of the surfaces. “Kelleigh, it’s okay. We’ll get away, somewhere they’ll never find us. Then it’ll all be fine.”
“No it won’t! They’ll track us down wherever we go! I heard a story of a girl who got to Brazil before they found her and they made her pay for that! It’s all my fault!” She began to get hysterical.
Staggering over towards her, Rob put his arm around her shoulders, as much to support himself as to comfort her. “I know somewhere we can go where they can never find us.” Kelleigh began to protest that there was no such place, so he interrupted her. “It’s true there is. Honestly. But we need to get somewhere first. To Wade.” Inwardly, he wasn’t certain that she’d take them with her, but if what Kelleigh said was true, it was their only hope.
“Wade? And her friends? What can they do? No, we can’t go there! They helped make this mess!”
He gripped her round the shoulders more firmly. “Then they can help unmake it,” he said grimly. “You’ll just have to trust me for the moment. But first get me some clean clothes. I can’t go out looking like this.”
Having made her way safely across town without spotting a tail, Wade Turner and her daughter Sophie had hidden out at Jenny’s for a few hours. The younger girl had been astonished to see her, and even more surprised to find there was no one following. Immediately, she had agreed to accompany her friend, even though she hadn’t seen the need to.
Sophie’s mother began to bang noisily on the door of the Sliders’ suite. “Wade, calm down!” shouted Jenny, laughing. “They can hear you!”
Wade was still shaking from earlier. “Jenny,” she stuttered. “You don’t understand what they can do! I need help now.”
Jenny shrugged. “I do know what they can do, I just don’t think worrying is gonna help you much.”
The door opened and Wade was faced with Quinn, the man she’d sworn to herself she’d never see again. She didn’t say anything, but tried to turn and leave straight away, although Jenny thwarted her attempt.
Quinn seemed just as surprised to see her. “Uh, I don’t think you should really be here.” He glanced back over his shoulder and looked a little worried.
Realising Wade wasn’t going to say anything, Jenny pushed the young mother and her child past Quinn and into the room. “Quinn, they need your help. Big time.”
Inside the room, the newcomers saw the other Wade, the Sliding one, rising from the sofa. “What’s she doing here,” she spat, viscously. Turning to Quinn, she added, “You said you weren’t going to continue this.”
The poor Wade of this world burst into tears and once again tried to flee the room. “Oh no you don’t,” said Jenny and grabbed her by the arm. Wade just stood there sniffling and Jenny realised this was why Wade had needed her here in the first place. “Look, Gary found out.”
Immediately Quinn rushed towards his former girlfriend. “Oh my God! Are you okay? He didn’t hit you, did he?”
She shook her head, but also reeled away from his contact. Quinn let his arms drop, stung by her reaction. “He.. he hasn’t seen me yet. I… I overheard him talking and ran away.” Wade looked only at the floor, avoiding the gaze of anyone, especially Quinn and the other Wade.
“Well, at least we have some time then, ma’am.” The professor joined in the conversation. “Do you have money to go anywhere?”
“That won’t help me,” Wade whispered, resigned. “Maybe if I go back and say I’m sorry he’ll forgive me. Yes, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll…”
Again Jenny took over. “Wade knows as well as I do, that that’ll do no good. Gary won’t tolerate it. The reason she came here was because she needs you to take her and her daughter away from this world. It’s the only place she’ll be safe!”
“Are you sure? Is there nothing else that can be done?” Quinn would rather he didn’t have to take her with them. They didn’t know what the next world would be like, and with both the Wade’s there, it could become incredibly difficult.
Jenny turned to Wade. “Tell them.” She shirked away again. “Tell them about your sister!”
“My sister… she ran away from her wedding. Got to Brazil before they found her. Furthest of anyone, or so it’s said. But for her impudence, they… they killed my father. And my sister took her own life.” Wade began to cry again.
For the first time since the dramatic entrance, Remmy spoke. “Ah professor, we can’t leave her here to that kinda thing. She’d be in a living Hell.”
Quinn began to agree. “And it was my fault.”
“Miss Welles?” The professor turned to the final member of the group. “We should have a unanimous vote.”
Wade looked away. “I guess so,” she said flatly. “It is his fault after all.”
There was another rap on the door. Quinn, being the nearest, went to open it again. Two more people fell into the room without invitation.
“Rob!” Wade Welles leapt across the room to help his sister supporting him. “What happened to you?”
The journey had wearied the already weak Rob. “Wade,” he whispered. “Wade, we need your help.”
“What is it? Anything!”
Remmy and the professor both gave his sister Kelleigh a sideways glance. Based on what they had seen and heard yesterday, they could guess her problem. She looked away from them, knowing that they knew.
“We need to Slide with you.”
There was a silence in the room. Wade turned to the professor, who always seemed to be the nominal leader with decisions of this magnitude. “Please! We have to help them! We can’t leave them here.”
The professor turned to look directly at Kelleigh. “Miss Carter, are you in immediate danger?” She nodded, still not looking up from the floor. “In that case I believe we have no choice. We have already set a precedent and we cannot ignore other such please.”
It was only then that Kelleigh noticed the two people that looked exactly alike. Not like twin sisters, but absolutely identical. “What the…”
“We shall explain later.” The professor dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “You will just have to trust us for now, Miss Carter.”
She shrugged and left it. There was too much going on for her to press the matter.
“Will the vortex hold up?” Quinn asked the professor, concerned. “I was never sure how much power it needed and it might be risky.”
Before the professor could contemplate his answer, Remmy butted in. “We’ve slid with a lot of stuff before. You managed to get me and my caddy through! And we don’t have much choice.”
The professor agreed with his friend. “You did increase the power quite substantially on that day. As Mr. Brown points out, it was enough to take him and his car and who knows what else. I believe it should be manageable.”
“How long until we slide?” Sliding Wade asked.
Quinn took the timer out of his pocket and read the lit digits on the front. “Still 22 hours.”
“22 hours?” exclaimed the Wade of this world. “I can’t wait 22 hours! Gary will realise I’m gone very soon and this is one of the first places he’ll look!”
Kelleigh stopped still. “Gary? Gary Turner?”
Wade nodded sombrely. “I’m his wife. This is our daughter.”
“He’s after me too. I owe him money and stood up to him.”
“Just great,” Quinn said sarcastically. “He’s coming here twice. We’re gonna have to split up?”
“Don’t you think a group this big will be kinda noticeable? We need to split up… and some of us probably shouldn’t wander around together.”
The professor took over the leadership role again. “Hmmm. Mr. Mallory… you probably shouldn’t be seen with either of the Wades. I think it might be best if you go with Miss Carter, since she may need some protection and she should keep away from myself, Mr. Brown and her brother. The less attention we draw to ourselves the better.” He paused for a moment. “Mrs. Turner. I know you want to be with your daughter, but that is also noticeable. I suggest she go with someone else… someone who is not Mr. Mallory or Miss Welles.” Gary Turner’s wife nodded glumly; she could see the sense in what the old English man was saying.
“I’ll take her,” said Rob quietly. When the professor asked him if he was sure, he replied, “Yeah, I’ll be fine. I don’t know Mrs. Turner at all and they may not connect the two. They’re also not after me specifically. I may be able to keep the child safe.
Bowing his head, the professor agreed. Wade knew how to pick a good man. “Right, then Mr. Brown, you go with Mrs. Turner and I’ll stick with Miss Welles. If we all meet round the back of the Red Dragon theatre on Bond Street in time for the Slide tomorrow. Make sure everyone is there for we may not be able to wait.”
“Wait, what about Jenny,” asked Quinn. “What if she wants to come?”
Everyone looked at the young girl. “Me?” She took Quinn by the shoulders. “Look, Quinn, it’s really nice of you to offer, but I’m staying here. If I don’t, there’s even less chance of me seeing Logan again. She’s my sister, I have to wait for her.” If Jenny noticed the surprised looks on the Sliders’ faces she ignored them. “But you may need me. I’ll go with Rob. Sophie knows me.”
The professor nodded curtly. “Anyone have a problem?” No-one moved at all. “Good luck everyone. We may need it.”
Quinn and Kelleigh sat on two wooden boxes outside the back door of the Red Dragon theatre. Both knew they were early, but there just didn’t seem anything else to do. They’d been there forty minutes already, although the rest of the crowd should be appearing soon.
The night had been completely uneventful. After leaving the hotel early yesterday evening, they had checked into a small, dingy hotel on the other side of town using the assumed names of Mr. and Mrs. Timothy and Charlotte Wheeler. The desk clerk paid little attention and the two felt safe there. Quinn had generously offered to sleep on the couch, an action he regretted in the morning.
The pair had talked a little, but neither were in the mood to get to know each other properly. Kelleigh was too frightened and Quinn too concerned with his ongoing personal matters. Quinn had explained to Kelleigh about Sliding. She remained sceptical, but accepted they were her only hope of getting anywhere alive.
Inwardly, Quinn had thanked the professor for keeping him away from the Wades and Rob. It wasn’t fair to impose himself on the two people he had hurt, and he got the impression that Rob might have swung him a punch if he got the opportunity.
“Mr. Mallory, I do believe you’re early.” A voice came from round the side of the building.
“Professor!” Quinn jumped up and greeted his friend. “We didn’t have anything else to do.”
Wade Welles followed the professor silently. She nodded at both Quinn and Kelleigh but abstained from any conversation. She still hadn’t reached that point with Quinn yet.
After a while, Quinn sighed, “Where ARE they? We don’t have long till the Slide.” He checked his watch. Ten minutes.
The professor was standing watch by one of the sides of the building. “They are cutting it somewhat fine,” he agreed. “It’s a shame cell phones can’t be used on more than one world.”
“I don’t think you’ll need to be worrying about anything like that.”
The four intended Sliders who were already present all turned simultaneously in the direction of the deep voice behind them. Only Quinn and Kelleigh recognised the foremost man as Gary Turner, although the other two made an educated guess. However, they all recognised the poor frightened girl who was standing in front of Gary with a knife to her throat.
Quinn made a move towards her, but stopped as Gary jerked, indicating the knife. “I wouldn’t if I were you,” he sneered. “You wouldn’t want my pretty little wife to get hurt now, would you?” Quinn dropped back, suspecting that Gary would indeed use the weapon.
Behind the pair stood Rembrandt, with his hands tied behind his back, watched over by another man. “I sorry man,” he said, looking at Quinn. “They jumped us. There was nothing I could do.”
“So,” Gary took over the conversation again. “I can guess you were intending flight. You should know by now, that there is no escape from me. Isn’t that right, Kelleigh?” He shot a glance at the former teacher who immediately cowered behind Quinn. “By aiding and abetting, I believe you are all on my wanted list now. Which means you won’t be going very far in the near future. Maybe I should let you go and see if you can get further than my wife’s sister. Would be good practice for my boys as well.”
There was no answer from the Sliders. They knew very well that they could get away, but with Remmy tied up and a knife at someone’s throat, they were going to have difficulty finding the opportunity. Gary didn’t seem to have noticed that Wade and his wife were exactly alike, but that wasn’t going to make any difference.
“But first, I want to know where my daughter is.” He brought the knife even closer to his wife’s throat. “And I want to know now.”
Quinn took a quick glance at his watch again. Five minutes. Five minutes for Rob, Jenny and the child to get here and then to create enough of a diversion to get Wade and Remmy away. That didn’t seem very likely. And if they did arrive, that would give Gary exactly what he wanted.
Suddenly, Jenny’s voice came from behind a pile of crates. “She’s right here.” He stood up and pushed the buggy out into view. Gary relaxed a little.
The Sliders watched as Rob crept out behind Gary and his henchmen. He was holding a pistol and did not hesitate in shooting Gary in the back with it.
Gary’s arm dropped, swiftly followed by his body. The knife scattered across the concrete floor, and his wife made a lunge for it. His henchmen swung round to point a gun at Rob, but Remmy took advantage of the opportunity and kicked him, which made him stagger and left Rob able to shoot him as well. The shot got him in the chest and it didn’t seem likely that he would survive.
“That was a little extreme, wasn’t it?” asked Remmy, both awed and disgusted by the spectacle. “He was only the hired help.”
Rob shrugged. “He was just as evil or he wouldn’t do it.”
Wade Turner had picked up her husband’s knife and ran back over to his body. The frenzy showed on her face as she freed herself of tyranny by stabbing him repeatedly. After a few moments, Quinn pulled her away. “I think he’s dead now.” She responded by burying herself in his chest and sobbing.
“How long?” The professor asked, feeling somewhat superfluous.
Quinn quickly pulled it out and stared at the counter. “Only a minute!” he exclaimed.
Jenny gave Wade Turner one last hug. “I’ll miss you, y’know.”
Wade wiped her eye and returned the hug. “You’ve risked so much for me,” she whispered. “If only I could do something to repay you.”
Her friend just smiled. “If you see Logan, just tell her I’m waiting for her, okay?”
“Five… four… three… two… one!” Quinn pushed the button and a blue steam of energy shot out and formed a vortex against the wall. It swirled hypnotic colours and the newcomers to the art watched in wonder.
The professor was first through to the next world, quickly followed by Rembrandt. As they were jumping, Rob snapped himself out of the glazed look and picked Sophie out of her buggy. He handed her to her mother. “You carry her… I’ll take the buggy.” With that, he leapt into the vortex fearlessly, without a look back. Wade Welles followed him almost immediately.
“Go on, it’s okay,” Quinn gestured to Wade Turner and Kelleigh who were still standing there, with rational fear. “It’ won’t hurt you, just try to land on your feet. We don’t have long.”
The two girls still seemed scared, but eventually Kelleigh bit the bullet and followed her brother into the unknown. Once Kelleigh was through, Wade followed and it was only Quinn left standing on this side of the vortex.
“You sure you won’t come?” he asked Jenny over the roar of the wind being sucked through.
She nodded and smiled. “Nah. I’ll stick with my world for the moment.”
Quinn was about to jump when he saw people coming round the corner. “Jenny! Go! They can’t see you near the bodies!”
Jenny sped away with merely a quick wave to say goodbye to Quinn. The men stopped when they saw the dead bodies of Gary and his underling and immediately pointed several guns at Quinn, and several at the blue swirly thing as well. Knowing it would not be a good idea to stop here, Quinn jumped and caught them off-guard enough that their bullets went through where he had been amd not where he was.
The wormhole stayed open for only a couple more seconds before it shrunk into a miniscule point and disappeared entirely.
On the other side, the Sliders picked themselves up from a particularly rough ride and headed off to find out what kind of world they were on, and to try and set up a life for the refugees from that disastrous Slide.
Alternate Earth 117