Written by SL4ever
Originally posted at the Sliders BBoard
"Oh my stars! Look at this poor thing!" The young woman exclaimed. There was a note to her voice swimming just under the surface.
"Bless her heart, she is just skin and bones." The middle aged woman added in a voice that could be mistaken for sweet by one naive.
"And skin sunburned so badly it looks a parchment." The old woman cackled in an obviously affected drawl.
"So why do you think she lays there pretending to be unconscious?" The young woman said, the note in her voice having broken the surface now. It was a note of anger.
"As if three poor fragile women could be a threat to anyone." The middle aged woman's voice had lost any mock sweetness now.
"Mayhap she thinks she's clev-are." The old woman's voice was nasty now.
"I find it annoying when people think they can pull the wool over our eyes." The young woman's was swimming with barely repressed rage.
The young, middle aged, and old women were standing at the top of a sand dune, looking down upon a dried up, severely burned woman. This woman finally allowed her eyes to open. She weakly brought her gun out from beneath her and tossed it aside.
The sweetness was back. "What's your name, my dear?"
"Logan." The woman croaked.
"Why do you seek us, clev-are girl?"
Logan raised herself on one arm. She accepted the offered canteen from the young woman, drank greedily, choked on it, then drank some more. Still clutching the canteen, her eyes danced from one of them to the next. When they reached the eldest woman, her mouth stretched into a painful grin. Rivulets of blood gushed from her devastated lips. "You're the Furies? I've found you?"
The young woman's eyes flashed and she kicked Logan. A hard vicious kick that cracked a rib.
Logan cried out sickly.
"That name is so unbecoming of three proper ladies such as us, do you not agree?"
The old woman smiled a toothless grin. "Why don't you call us 'The Kindly Ones?'"
"Yesss," Logan hissed in agreement, her breath coming in hissing gasps.
The young woman, thin and gorgeous except for her current vulture grin, said, "we like that name so much better."
"Of all the names, we like that one best." The middle aged, plain and matronly woman, agreed.
"Come dearie," the old woman said and suddenly the four of them were in a massive greeting room. Logan was seated on a plush daybed before a roaring fire. At her fingertips was a platter filled with plump fruit that was practically bursting with moisture. Among the fruit were several decanters of the clearest, most gorgeous looking water Logan had ever laid eyes on.
The pain of her rib, indeed, all of her pains, were gone. She licked her lips and found them to be whole again. Her skin was no longer permanently burned.
She took a pear and bit into it, almost moaning with pleasure.
"She eats before she answers my question." The young woman said disapprovingly.
The pear bit her tongue. Nasty, razor sharp teeth ripped and tore. Logan screamed and tossed it away. When it landed next to a 10 foot tall bookcase bursting with books ... it was just a pear again.
Logan spoke with an intact tongue. "It was the old one who asked my purpose ..." Her voice faded away. The three women were just one now. Young for a second, middle aged for a second, and then old.
"Let's throw her back. She's a puny one." The middle aged woman said balefully.
Now they were three separate women again.
Logan had known they were powerful but this exceeded her wildest expectations. "I've heard that you take up the cause of vengeance. That someone else's vengeance becomes your own. I seek you to take up my cause of vengeance against a man named Quinn Mallory."
"We do more than exact vengeance, my cunningness. We strip away everything a person has. Rip their lives to shreds. Boil them up until the only thing remaining to them on any world is the sweet, sweet release of death which will be denied them until," she held up a glimmering silver string in one hand and a transparent crystal pair of scissors in the other, "finally we allow this transgressor the pleasure of taking their own life." She caressed the string with one blade of the scissors.
The pain was so immense that Logan's lungs locked up and she was unable to scream. She realized with horror that the pain was coming from the blade's interaction with the string. Could that string really be ...?
"There is only one catch, Miss O So Vengefull." The young woman spat furiously. "The only crime within our power is the crime of bloody murder. Fleshly executions."
The middle aged woman grinned. "Has this Quinn Mallory ever killed one of his own flesh and blood?"
"Someone related to him?" Logan pondered that. "I doubt it."
She screamed as the blade caressed her string again.
The old woman sighed with almost sexual pleasure before finally pulling the scissors away. "Do you know how annoyed we get with trollops who waste our time?"
This round of pain had cleared Logan's mind and made her purpose crystal clear again. "What if he kills me? What if I make him kill me? Am I not his flesh and blood?"
The young woman's smile became sweet and innocent. Almost flirting. "We never thought of that! Isn't that such a fantastic idea?"
"Don't be silly! She'd never sacrifice her life just to get a little revenge!"
Logan grinned openly. "Frankly, you've convinced me that giving my life to sic you three undistilled, stone cold bitches on Quinn is a very small price to pay!"
The elder woman waved a hand over the platter. "Have a pear, my dearie. Let us chatter like old friends and then we'll send you to him. We are rather Kindly once you get to know us, you'll see."
An explosion of laughter greeted this. Even Logan joined in.
On the floor, the discarded pear weeped Logan's blood onto the plush carpet.
Remmy fell to the hard packed ground and rolled once. The ground and air were HOT. For the second time in the last three months he'd arrived in a desert. Of course, this time he was alone. He didn't think he'd find an archeology expedition this time.
But he was alive. He had not been instantaneously murdered or arrived in the vacuum of space among the debris of his home Earth. He'd survived immediate death. By now The Seer would be telling his comrades the good news.
"It's only one person, Pa!"
"I reckon my eyes still work, you danged fool!" There was a spitting sound.
Remmy turned slowly, dread creeping into his heart. There were six people standing about a dozen feet behind him. They wore faded and ripped overalls, greasy ballcaps, and all but one of them was barefooted. All six of them aimed double arrowed crossbows at him. Oddly, considering their attire and accents, all six looked to be of Asian descent.
"Only one, not fer." The eldest and most toothless man said before spitting again.
It took Remmy a second to realize the last word had been "four." He swallowed, the oppressive heat already making him thirsty. Behind the gang he could see a covered wagon hitched up with four horses. 'I didn't know they had rednecks back in the covered wagon days,' he mused to himself. "Howdy fellows." He said easily.
"Now hold on just a stitch." Gumby said. "Lemme go see if we're supposed ta kill yew." He shambled to the wagon. The other five, 3 adult men and 2 teenagers, continued to glare at Remmy.
Remmy waited impassively. At another time, if he had not been emotionally drained from the sacrifice he'd been prepared to make for his friends and his home world, he might have said something clever. But he was mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Gumby drew a crystal globe out from the back of the wagon and spoke into it. A harsh feminine voice answered him. He spoke again after spitting. The globe had gone dark however, and no answer came. Cursing, Gumby replaced the globe and returned.
"Go to that mountain down yonder. You'll be met at the base."
Remmy stared at the huge mountain which lay across an oppressive looking desert. MILES across the desert. Uh-uh. Not this kid. But he'd pretend to go along until he got away from Cletus and his Slack Jawed Yokels Gang. "Okay. See you at the next barbecue." Which would be him if he were actually foolish enough to try making it to that mountain.
Gumby herded his clan aboard the wagon and they quickly departed in the other direction without looking back.
It only took Remmy an hour to discover that his vortex had dispatched him to the middle of a vast baking wasteland. He'd thought there would be a settlement behind the rocks to the left of his landing point, or down the small hill. But the only sign of life in any direction was wagon tracks leading south and made by Fun Bunch with the crossbows. No way he was following them.
That left the mountain after all.
After a long, pragmatic sigh, he found a sharp rock and spent the next two hours carving a deep message into a nearby rock face for his friends in case they followed him.
And then he headed towards the mountain.
It took Diana three days to repair the Kromagg transporter. Fully repaired and operational, it could now create a stable enough wormhole for all three of them.
The delay gave them the time to attend The Seer's funeral and testify in Claire's first hearing. The horrified city's mayor extended the Sliders every courtesy and made sure they had full access to the Kromagg warehouse. The national government and especially the military was very interested in this secret stash but they also had no problem with the Sliders fiddling with the Transporter since Diana and Remmy were invaluable in describing what everything else was and how it all worked.
So it was that the three remaining Sliders, armed with Kromagg pulse rifles and outfitted with equipment and rations, stepped into a wormhole programmed to follow the path Remmy had taken three days prior.
They arrived on a small hill bordered on one side by a high rock face. They were in the middle of a very inhospitable looking desert.
Mallory buckled and fell to his knees.
"Mallory!" Diana called, putting down her rifle and kneeling beside him.
His eyes cleared and he said, "I'm okay. I just had a very sharp pain in my head for a second. But I'm cool now." He paused dramatically and added with his trademark grin, "well, cool for being in the middle of Death Valley."
Maggie rolled her eyes. She returned to her scan of the area and spotted Remmy's message quickly.
'Arrived safely. Met and threatened by 6 people with crossbows. Heading for mountain where they said I might find help. Remmy.'
A great burden lifted off her chest. "He's alive!" She squealed. She hadn't known how scared she'd been until just now.
Mallory got to his feet, still rubbing his temple. Just a headache. That was all it had been. A three second headache.
Quinn Mallory opened his eyes. It was a sensation he had not experienced in what seemed like forever. It had probably only been 6 months to a year, but it felt like an eternity.
He was sitting at an elegant dining table. An embroidered silk table cloth hung over the sides almost to his knees. Ming Dynasty China was arranged in front of him. Across the four foot square table another place mirrored his. This was an intimate arrangement then.
The only food or drink in evidence so far was a crystal decanter filled with red wine and sitting between his place and the other place setting. A matching crystal wineglass sat to the right of each plate. Quinn wracked his brain but couldn't remember if that was where it was supposed to be in a formal arrangement. The answer seemed important to him for some reason.
He looked around him, expecting to see an expensive restaurant filled with people and the smells of gourmet food. To his shock he saw that reality seemed to end three feet in each direction from the table. He was sitting on a plush red carpet which ended at that point, and he could see nothing but blank whiteness beyond in every direction.
Quinn rose quickly to his feet, noting as he did that he was wearing a very expensive looking and feeling tuxedo. Even with his nose right at the point where reality ended he could see nothing further. He could see dust motes in the air under the light coming from above but when any reached the termination line they simply vanished. The light brought to question what was above him so he looked up. The ceiling was 12 feet above the floor and seemed like any other fine restaurant ceiling with off white tiles and one dangling crystal chandelier. He imagined that if he could see the rest of this place he would see one of these electrically lighted chandeliers above each table.
He reached back to the table and grabbed the wineglass. Holding it by the stem, he plunged it into the termination point. The wineglass vanished inch by inch as he stabbed it further into the white nothingness. He stopped the motion an inch from his fingertips and then withdrew the glass. The stem was severed at the furthest point he'd stuck it in, nothing more came out.
But as he held it up and looked at it, the outer lines of the glass appeared again as red lines, then filled in until the glass was whole again. Quinn ran his fingers along the reconstituted glass. It felt no different than the part that had not been vaporized and reinvented.
Quinn returned the glass to the table. He wasn't desperate enough yet to try this experiment with his living flesh. Yet.
He had a dark thought and examined himself. Or was this living flesh? Hadn't he been ...
"You look at yourself as if you're starting to wonder if that exquisite body is real." A female voice said from behind him.
Quinn recognized the voice and refused to turn around. Instead he said, "where am I? Is any of this, in fact, real?"
"I'm afraid you're still riding the mind of a moron, Quinn. Still trapped inside of an insipid wanna be comedian. I can think of no worse punishment to one as brilliant as you."
Quinn turned at that, not surprised to see Logan St. Clair sitting before the other table setting. "So that means none of this is real."
She smiled gently and leaned forward to pour both of them a glass of wine. "Oh, I assure you this is very real." She replaced the decanter picked up her glass with two fingers and a thumb from her left hand. "And I'm here to speak to you of a matter of life and death." She took a lingering sip from her glass. "Your friends' lives, and your death."
"Thanks for the lift!" Remmy yelled as he hopped off the driver's bench and faced the foothills of the foreboding mountain. He had been riding shotgun on a stagecoach the last two days. By the time they had encountered him he was literally dying of thirst and his skin was peeling off in long bitter strings. He hadn't given himself another six hours of breathing the oven like air.
The driver had welcomed him aboard without question and provided water. When they stopped at night the driver and two passengers (grim men wearing light red tunics and mustacheless beards) made potato stew and shared generously.
They had saved his life, no question about that. So he felt like his parting comment was a little flippant. He turned back to say something more meaningful, like he would write a song about them or would find a way to repay them later.
The stagecoach was gone. It had not driven off, the land all around was flat as a pancake except the way he had been facing towards the mountain. Not even a car could have gotten away this quickly. More to the point, the tracks on the inch thick sand (below that the ground was baked harder than a diamond) stopped right here before him. The one set of tracks led towards him, then next to him, and then they simply stopped.
"What the >:-#?" Remmy muttered.
"Isn't it ironic, and I don't mean that in the Alanis Morrisette sense but the real meaning of the world, that a World Walker would be startled by something as passé as a disappearing stagecoach?"
He wheeled, and found himself facing three women. One young, one middle aged, and one elderly. The youngest had apparently spoken, judging from the youth of the voice.
"I'm surprised that a world this backward looking would lend stardom to Alanis." He replied, bemused.
"THIS world hasn't." The middle aged woman replied.
The elderly woman was suddenly holding a scythe. "Mr. Rembrandt Brown. Won't you join us? We were about to have tea and pears."
"If I'm to remain inside of Mallory," Quinn replied, "my death is of little consequence."
Logan snapped the fingers of her right hand. A pale man, so thin he made Calista Flockhart look like Marlon Brando, emerged from the white nothingness. The man was weeping uncontrollably. He made not a sound but a steady stream of tears gushed from his eyes, down his face and neck, and soaked the front of his white dress shirt with balloon sleeves.
"Bring us the appetizer." She ordered.
Their apparent waiter nodded mutely and returned to the void.
"The world your friends are in right now is an interesting one." Logan told him conversationally as Quinn finally sat across from her. "The Chinese naval expansion was not halted in the mid 1400's and their 400 foot long Dragon Ships, five times the size of Columbus' ships, reached North America decades before Columbus. With this head start the Chinese Empire would rule most of what we think of as North and South America by the 1700s and every European attempt to settle here ended in object failure. With no room to expand beyond Africa, European nations devolved into endless squabbling with each other. Meaningless wars, rather than colonization, was the only solution for the population explosion. By the 1900s China ruled over half the world. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam together accounted for less than 30% of the world's religions."
She refilled her glass and lifted it to eye level so she could peer at him over the rim. If this was designed to irritate Quinn, and he imagined it was, it was succeeding. "Can you guess what those three religions have in common, Quinn?"
He shrugged. "Any other time I'd love a discussion in alternate histories but let's get back to your comment-."
"Guess." Logan insisted.
"All three are monotheistic." He replied in as bored a voice he could manage.
"Absolutely correct! I knew you were a genius! On most worlds the combined monotheistic religions range from 50 to 70% of all beliefs. That kind of dominance pushes out any other point of view. But on a world like this, where over half the world is wide open in their beliefs, ready to accept almost anything ..." She drained her glass again. "Well, it doesn't take a genius to see that on such a world a lot more is possible. Point of view, perception, reality itself ... it's all a numbers game, Quinn. If you have the numbers on your side, then what you say goes. If you don't, you're yesterday's mythology."
The weeping waiter was back with a golden platter. A female companion, even thinner if possible, followed with a decanter filled with a soft orange liquid. Rather than crying, the woman's face was locked in a grimace of terror. Her lips were frozen in a soundless scream and her eyes danced with horror.
The appetizer was escargot swimming in a plum sauce. Quinn glanced at it and then returned his attention to their servers. The woman gave him a quick shake of the head and followed the waiter back to the nothingness.
"You might as well eat Quinn, it has been so long since you've experienced the pleasure of eating. You might never do so again."
She was right. What would it hurt to eat while he endured this freakshow? He sampled the food and found it to be extraordinary. After taking a few more forkfulls, he said, "so are you ever going to get to the point?"
Logan sighed with pleasure as she finished the last bite on her plate. Reluctantly she set aside her fork and reached for the glass of orange liquid. "I've suffered three years of hell to reach this point, Quinn. Whether you like it or not, I plan to enjoy every second. In any case, my point is that you're, in spirit anyway, on a world where entities such as The Kindly Ones were never forced out of existence. They exist and thrive on this world."
"The Kindly Ones." Quinn echoed in a puzzled voice.
"You probably know them better as The Fates or the Furies, though I strongly suggest you never call them those names."
Quinn said nothing.
"Whether you believe in them or not, enough people on this world do. Or, at least, enough people are open minded to the possibility, and that is all that is needed." She refilled her glass eagerly. The liquor appeared to be having no effect on her. She seemed as sober as when he had first seen her. "And I found them Quinn. I found them and sicced them on you."
"Enjoy your revenge if you must," he said with a grim smile, "but really, Logan. What more could you do to me at this point?"
Logan giggled lightly. "I might have to revise my estimate of your genius. Think back, smartypants. What haven't I done to you in the past three years?" She laughed harder.
Quinn went cold as he considered her words. An awesome string of bad luck had hit him and his friends since their run in with Logan. Unbelievably horrible fates for Arturo, Wade, and Colin. Months of horrid torture for Remmy and his mother. Or stepmother or whatever she was. That discovery had in some ways been the worst. His childhood had been a lie and his mother was not even his mother. That had been agony to contemplate. And then this merger, this IMPRISONMENT behind the mind of a man barely intelligent enough to get the correct shoes on each foot.
His life had been utter hell the past three years.
"Yes, you see, don't you?" Logan gloated. "And now Remmy's next. And after that, Maggie. You never really knew Diana so she's irrelevant. Then, after Maggie maybe I'll have them punish your mother some more. After that, maybe Bennish and Stephanie and anyone else you've ever cared about. Then maybe I'll have them start in on all of Wade's doubles. Meanwhile you'll remain trapped within Mallory's feral mind, knowing only the fresh horrors the loved one of the moment is experiencing."
The escargot felt like cinder blocks in his stomach. The wine remaining on his tongue felt ashen now.
Quinn Mallory felt true, pure, despair enter his heart for the first time in his life.
"You seem sad, my dear." The oldest woman told Remmy.
"It's been a really long year." He sighed. The feast they'd prepared for him had been nothing short of spectacular but he couldn't help but wonder how his friends were doing and if they had repaired the Maggot machine and followed him yet. Even more depressing was the thought that the antimaggot virus he'd injected had most likely been destroyed by his immune system by now. There would be no reproducing it from his blood by now. Especially not in this primitive world. "And just when I thought my journey might actually be coming to an end, I got thrown a big curveball."
"You just need some sleep." The youngest woman said sweetly. "Come, I'll lead you."
"You all have been very kind." He replied. Not surprisingly, the mere mention of sleep had summoned the massive exhaustion he'd been suppressing. He rose to his feet and followed the woman into the hallway.
"Yes," the middle aged woman said absently, "take him up to his ... his cage."
The eldest woman got slowly to her feet and went to a purple wardrobe which was sitting innocently in one corner. "It's so nice to have visitors again, isn't it?"
"Indeed. It'd be nice if this one lives more than a couple hours this time. Miss O' So Young and Pretty didn't even live long enough to time a pie baking." She giggled harshly.
The elder woman had unlocked the wardrobe. She withdrew something and turned around. "You're not going to get your wish, Dearie." She tossed the thing onto the dining room table. It hit with a meaty and wet sounding thud. "We won't be able to time an egg before this one's demise."
Night had fallen on the first day of their time on this desert world. Maggie made a fire and they shared a can of beef stew.
Mallory was unusually silent, as he had been all day while they trekked toward the oppressive looking mountain. He hadn't even made an attempt at humor since soon after their arrival. Not that there had been many opportunities as they crossed mile upon mile of bland desert wasteland, but a lack of opportunities had never kept Mallory from cracking wise before.
As they made pillows out of rolled up pants and bedding out of stretched out shirts, Diana finally asked him if something was wrong.
"Nothing. I'm just tired." He replied shortly as he lay down.
One look into Maggie's haunted eyes had convinced him that she needed more bad news to flavor her worry for Remmy like she needed a hole in the head.
What was troubling him was indeed bad news for her. For the first time since the merger, Mallory could feel nothing of Quinn in the back of his mind. The always haunting, lingering presence, like a constant low grade headache, had disappeared immediately after they'd arrive here. Sometimes the presence receded a little, sometimes it receded a lot, but this time it was completely gone and had stayed gone for four times as long as it ever had before.
Quinn Mallory had quite suddenly vanished.
Quinn was at a blackjack table. His clothes were the same, but his surroundings had changed dramatically. He was seated at a table so small there was room for only him on one side and the dealer, a Kromagg who seemed so in pain his eyes bulged out and his mouth opened and closed rhythmically with silent but obviously agonized gasps. Quinn had five chips on his side. Each betting chip had a photo of a person's face burned on it. Arturo's chip was in play at the moment, Wade, Colin, Remmy, and Maggie were waiting their turn.
Before the Kromagg could deal the first hand, Logan was there in a cutely professional dealer's uniform. She tapped him on the shoulder. The Kromagg turned, spotted her, and waved his hands over the blackjack table palms down. Then he backed up and departed into the nothingness barrier. Logan stepped into his place and waved her hands over the table palms up.
She smiled brightly at him as she removed the first card from the deck machine and placed it in a used box. "I love those guys." She commented, glancing behind her for a second to where the Kromagg had gone. "They were the perfect pawns to use against you. After they had been ... adjusted to meet our needs. Didn't you ever wonder about how much they had changed between the first meeting and the subsequent ones? The difference is, of course, the first time you met them was before we both had the infinite misfortune of meeting each other."
"We always assumed they were parallel Kromaggs, not the precise ones we met the first time." He replied reluctantly.
"Well, whatever floats your boat I guess. But no, they were the same ones, just adjusted to meet our needs."
Quinn was dumbfounded. "The Kindly Ones have the power to modify an entire world full of people? Moreover, they would do so to strike back at one person? I think you're full of >:-#."
Logan's eyes widened in mock horror at his profanity. "As long as the rules of involvement are met, as long as the person they seek have spilled family blood, they can do anything and everything they wish. There are no limits to their power and no one to stand in their way. They can put effect before cause, bend time, alter space, and yes, even modify an entire race of people."
Quinn said nothing. He was losing his battle against despair.
She briskly returned her attention to the table and card machine. "Blackjack is the perfect game for gambling. Absolutely perfect. Do you know why?"
"I don't have a clue." Quinn sighed tiredly.
Logan dealt him a ten of diamonds and herself a face down card. "Because," she started in her most patronizing tone, "it is the closest approximation of real life you'll find in the gambling world."
He didn't reply as she dealt him a five of hearts and herself a four of spades. She paused with her hand hovering over the card machine and looked askance of him.
"I'm not playing, Logan. I'm finished with you. You've apparently sold your soul to whatever devil and you have all the cards and you're enacting whatever vengeance you're capable of. I can't do anything about that but what I can do is refuse to allow you to gloat with me. Go or stay, I don't care, but I'm finished with you."
She took this in silently. Then she said, "but there is a course of action remaining to you. There is a way to stop this madness and save your friends. ALL of your friends." She gestured at his chips.
"This game is not going to save anyone." He rebutted coldly.
"No, but the keys to understanding which I will give your during the course of playing it will." She shrugged lightly. "Assuming you comprehend them, that is. It's up to you. If I'm lying then whatever you do doesn't matter. But if I'm telling the truth then shutting me out guarantees your friends' demise. Or, since we're both geniuses, I can put it in programming terms. There are two gates. Your gate is play along with me or shut me out. My gate is telling the truth about there being a chance to save your friends or lying. If you pick shutting me out, then your friends die whether or not I'm telling the truth. If you play along then they still die if I'm lying but might not if I'm telling the truth. Therefore, there is only one logical thing for you to do."
"That logical thing has the added benefit of ending this tedious turn the conversation has taken." He said sarcastically. Then he returned his attention to the cards. "Hit me."
Logan nodded and dropped her hand to her card machine. "Back to the conversation about life, sometimes it pays in life to be aggressive." She flipped over the card and tossed it next to his ten and five. The third card was an eight of spades. "And sometimes that aggressiveness is your undoing." She snatched up Arturo's chip with one hand and his three cards with the other. "Such as your high risk high reward decision to cooperate with Rickman's people. A decision that cost your beloved professor his life."
"I'm not going to let you twist things around. I know how it really happened."
Logan rolled her eyes. "Oh yes, magic pulsars. You'd get locked up as mad for talking about those enchanted pulsars even quicker than you would for telling them about Sliding or, for that matter, about the Kindly Ones."
"What are you getting out now?" Quinn asked in a darkly irritated tone.
"How much plainer could we have been that a bigger game was afoot? Pulsars behaving beyond all logical and known physics? Pulsars traveling in wolfpacks? We did everything a genius would need to figure out that the very fabric of reality was being manipulated except write 'Quinn Mallory is a moron' with stars in the heavens. Of course, even then you would have dismissed it with 'Oh, it's just a parallel world! Things are different here!' You idiot, parallelity does not change the laws of physics. Gravity will attract no matter how many different worlds split off. It was so much fun giving you these clues and seeing you miss each one! As I said, you were so aggressive about getting home that you ignored the obvious that was right in front of you!"
Quinn thought he had her now. "But if what you say about physics is true, then how do you explain the Fates? How is it possible for them to do what they do, including creating magic pulsars?"
Logan didn't even hesitate. "The old axiom, any being sufficiently technologically advanced will appear to be magicians to the primitive, is very true. The Kindly Ones follow the set in stone laws of the universe. In fact, they obey laws we haven't even conceived of yet. Including the most important ones of all, 'perception IS reality' and 'belief is being.'"
Quinn pondered this silently.
She went on after a minute. "As far as blackjack goes, you always assume the dealer's hole card is a ten or face card and play accordingly. In this case, I'm assumed to have 14. You had 15, which obviously is higher. So the thing to do is to pass and make me risk busting. If my show card had been six or higher then you should have hit." She turned over her hole card, revealing a king of spades. "I would have had the eight and busted if you'd passed." She scooped away her cards and dealt him an ace of diamonds and a 6 of diamonds while giving herself a nine of spades show card.
"7 or 17." Logan announced, eyeing him with her everpresent grin.
"Hit me." He said grimly, realizing suddenly that Wade's chip had made it to the betting circle without him touching it.
"Still aggressive." She cooed. She dealt him a five of hearts. "12."
Logan dealt him a four of diamonds. "16."
Quinn waved a hand over his cards, signaling he was passing.
Logan revealed her hole card to be a two of spades. "And sometimes in life being cautious, ultra conservative, can bring you great rewards." She said conversationally as she dealt herself a five of spades. Logan regarded her cards and said, "16. The house hits on 16 or below and stays on 17 or above. But sometimes being conservative can bring you great sorrow. For instance, had you hit again you would have gotten this five and virtually locked your victory. Much as you were almost certain to save Wade once but meekly decided to save your own ASS instead. So many other times in that situation you risked being stranded or even death for one of your friends, but this particular time you passed on the risk." She dealt herself another five of spades and giggled at him. "21. You lose again." She scooped up Wade's chip. "I don't think I need to mention that the first five would have been yours to give YOU the 21. And this," she raised the next card in life, revealing it to be a nine of clubs, "would have been my card after my five so I would have busted. If only you had been aggressive when you were instead passive."
"This is pointless." Quinn snapped, getting to his feet. "This is not a game but a simulation. The results are inescapable, proven by the fact that the cards follow your dialogue, making your point even as you say the words."
"I showed you the next cards. If you had decided differently then you would have won both hands."
Quinn gave her a dry chuckle. "This 'reality' is in my mind. Or in yours. We're standing in a box of substance surrounded by a white void. We changed from a dining room setup to a casino setup at the blink of an eye. Are you really trying to tell me that you can't manipulate what card comes next?"
Logan smiled ruefully. "It is true, of course. I can if I wanted to. But I don't have to. Your first three friends have already been played with and lost." She dramatically snatched up Colin's chip without them playing out the next hand. "You lost Colin because you were gullible. You bought the story about your mother and father being your foster parents and about having him as your brother. You bought that tripe like it was on sale!" She laughed merrily. "I never thought it would work, but the Kindly Ones convinced me you were that gullible."
"The evidence was pretty convincing. And Colin and I hit it off right away so it was easy to put aside my doubts. And the bottom line was, if the message was really intended for one of my doubles, then the two parents in the message were still from a world that had defeated the Kromaggs, who had overrun my world. So they were worth seeking out no matter what the truth of my origins were."
"Uh huh. That's not taking into account the fact that if you were not truly the Quinn they were talking about, that means YOUR world was not overrun with Kromaggs, therefore it was not your fight."
Quinn dismissed that. "The coordinates don't lie. That double of my mother with the message could have been transported to any world without her knowledge if she'd been drugged or knocked out at the time. No, regardless of whether or not she was the woman I grew up with, regardless of whether or not the woman I grew up with was indeed my mother ... my home world was overrun by Kromaggs."
"It's imperative you believe this," Logan added, "because otherwise Colin died for nothing. As will Remmy and Maggie. So you can't even consider the possibility that we toyed with your timer and its precious, absolutely perfect coordinate system."
"Colin didn't die!" Quinn protested. "I've been aware of everything that was said and done since the merger, up until you hijacked me anyway. I know that he became Unstuck."
Logan rolled her eyes. "Whatever gets you through the night, babes. In any case, Remmy is now in play."
Quinn looked down sharply and saw that Remmy's chip had been moved to the betting mark.
"And this time it's not simulation. We've caught up to real life, Quinn. This time you're really playing with your friend's life."
"I refuse." He said, starting to rise again.
"Moist excellent." Logan replied quickly, reaching for Remmy's chip.
Had she really said 'moist' excellent? Her immature antics were really starting to grate on his nerves. Quinn sat back down. "In other words, he surely dies if I don't play." He mimicked her tone of voice perfectly, right down to the sarcastic edge.
Logan's smile finally disappeared completely for the first time since this nightmare had started. She dealt grimly, her eyes as eager to see the cards as his.
Flip flip. Quinn had a 2 of hearts. Logan's card went face down.
Logan made an "O" with her mouth. "That's a bad opening card, Quinn." When he said nothing she dealt again. Flip flip. He got another deuce, this time of diamonds. She got an ace of spades. "Normally I would ask you if you wanted insurance, but you're playing for the highest stakes so you get no opportunity for that."
She moved her face down card over a little hole near the edge of her side of the table. A quick hopeful glance down, and then she met his eyes again. "This is a little mirror that shows me if the hole card is a ten. Unfortunately, it is not. You're still in play."
"Hit me." He ordered bluntly.
Logan whisked a card out the machine and flipped it over. An eight of hearts. "You have 12. Now, obviously my hole card cannot be assumed to be a face card this time or I would have revealed my blackjack. But it could still be a nine." Her tone was mock helpful. "However, the primary principle in blackjack is to remain in play as long as you can. Take as few risks as necessary to improve your position while not being a total wuss, and above all else REMAIN IN PLAY and make the house take all the risks. If you bust I don't even have to turn over my hole card, to say nothing of taking cards. Are you starting to see how much this game resembles life? Isn't the first goal of life to remain in play and let your enemies take all the risks?"
"Hit me." He replied.
Logan reached for the card machine again. She whipped out the next card and placed it firmly on top of the rest. It was a ten of spades.
Before Quinn's eyes, Remmy's face on the chip came alive and a look of absolute horror broke out on his face. Right before Logan's hand came down to claim the chip, Remmy's eyes rolled up into his head and his face turned an ashen gray color that reminded Quinn of nothing if not the remains of a campfire.
Gripping the chip tightly, Logan grinned a shark's grin. "Oh dear. It appears you've busted."
"Here's your room then, Dearie." The oldest woman said.
Mallory was amazed. He hadn't been expecting much past rocks and threadbare blankets after walking through a cave entrance. But these three chicks had a virtual mansion stuck inside this mountain. If the lengthy, elaborately decorated hallways had not convinced him, this bedroom certainly did.
Mallory, Diana, and Maggie had been picked up by three Chinese men in a covered wagon. None of the men spoke English, or any other language any of the three of them understood, but they smiled a lot and didn't seem to be making fun of the Sliders in their native tongue. When people around him spoke a language he didn't understand (which was every language except English) Mallory was always paranoid that they were making fun of him. It didn't seem to be the case this time and the men had given them a ride all the way to the mountain before continuing on the path which led around and beyond the landmark.
As soon as the wagon was out of sight, three women had appeared and invited them up the hill by invoking Remmy's name.
"We'll show you to your rooms and then you can join your friend for dinner with us." The youngest had said after they reached the foyer. Each woman had led one of the Sliders to a room.
His guide was the eldest woman. She swept past him and turned down his comforter. "This is an Emperor sized bed. The four pillows are stuffed with pure cockleberries, the softest thing found in nature." When she smiled at him her one remaining tooth gleamed unnaturally.
'Why don't I feel suspicious of all this?' Malloy wondered idly to himself. They are greeted by three creepy women who live in a freaking mountain mansion like a James Bond villain. The women mention Remmy to them to lure them inside but say he can't join them before dinner. What interest do these rich, eccentric women have in the Sliders? How did they know just when the Sliders would show up?
Most importantly, why was Mallory, Maggie, and Diana acting like moronic drug addicts trusting anyone with a friendly word?
Why, even now, could Mallory form these thoughts but not feel any emotion about them? Even as he wondered about his lack of paranoia, he was following this woman into a gilded cage like a docile sheep. It was like he could control his mind intellectually but someone else had control of his emotions and will.
"And this is the bathroom." She told him with a glint in her eye.
Where the bedroom was opulent with its enormous bed, gold trimmed chests and tables, and rich silk royal purple drapes; the bathroom was ominous. The size of his first apartment, it was filled with all manners of odd devices and instruments.
There were straps on the floor in front of the toilet, apparently in case the sitter wanted to tie down his feet. A gleaming bone saw hung on the wall within reach of someone sitting on the potty. In the reading material basket, where paperback copies of Peanuts and current magazines were usually kept, was a battery powered drill with 16 different length drill bits.
Near the six feet square crystal walled walk-in shower was a battery powered sander and a stack of differently textured sandpaper sheets on a porcelain sink. Attached to the sink was a suction hose.
The main sink was on the wall across from the door. A ten foot long porcelain counter contained three oval sinks. Mounted on the wall in front of this counter was a crystal mirror framed with gold trim. The counter was loaded with stuff. Bottles of sulfuric acid and vinegar sat with bottles of liquid soap and shampoo. In front of the center sink was a pair of stainless steel metal brackets. The brackets looked to be big enough to fit a grown man's arm through. Unlocked padlocks hung from the eyes of each bracket. Lying next to the brackets was another bone saw, this one twice the size of the one next to the toilet.
Against the other wall, right next to the door, was a circular, pedal powered, sharpening stone. A glistening battleax with a yard long handle rested head down on the floor with the handle leaning against the sharpening stone.
Mallory surveyed the rest of the hooks, knives, scouring pads, sawed off pitchforks, and straight razors on the long counter. Shouldn't his emotions be screaming right now? Shouldn't he be afraid? When he spoke his voice was calm and unconcerned. "Whatever it is that most people use this bathroom for," Mallory drawled, "count me out!"
The old woman had already turned away and seemed ready to leave him. She giggled merrily at his comment and patted his shoulder. "Don't worry, my boy." She finally said when she could speak again. "It won't be YOU using these things."
That should be the final straw, shouldn't it? That should be what made him pick up that ax and take her hostage, shouldn't it? Instead, he said, "you should switch careers to fear counseling. You're so good at reassurance."
She winked at him and left the room without another word. From the other side of the door came the unmistakable sound of a lock being engaged.
Mallory walked calmly to the door and tried it. It was locked. He was trapped in a chamber of horrors. Fortunately he was the only one in here, so he should be safe until he heard the lock being moved again.
Calm, cool, collected, Mallory walked over to the bed, sat on it, and waited for whatever was going to happen next.
The middle aged woman came and got Maggie about a half hour after she had been shown to her room and then locked within.
"What the hell did you lock me in for?" She asked hotly.
The middle aged woman didn't return the heat. Her voice was calm. "There are certain things which roam these halls which would love to have a go at you. You were secured for your own protection."
Oooooookay. They would be leaving as soon as they linked up with Remmy, Maggie decided. She didn't understand why she hadn't seen sooner that these women were three Norma Bates. It was as almost if her normally high strung paranoia had been turned off.
Diana and the young woman were waiting at the double door entry to the dining hall. Diana's expression was so different from any she'd ever used before that it took a moment for Maggie to identify it. It was a look of abject fear.
The young woman pushed open the double doors.
What was left of Remmy was arranged in a pile on his chair. Next to him was an empty fishbowl in a chair, and on the next chair seat to that one was an empty syringe and an expended bullet sitting together. In the chair directly across the hard oak dining table from Remmy's was a shattered mirror resting in the chair seat.
The old woman was already in the room, sitting at the head of the massive table. "Come on in, my Dearies, we're about to start."
Their fears and all other emotions melting away, the two remaining Sliders walked into the dining room. Maggie sat next to the mirror and Diana next to her.
Maggie noticed another corpse, this one was sitting on a throne against the wall next to the door they had come through. The person had been blond but it was hard to discern anything beyond that because he or she was badly decomposed. The corpse had been decaying here for 2 or 3 years, by the look of it.
Then her attention shifted to the doors themselves. As she watched, they closed with a final sounding thud.
"What do you want?" Quinn almost begged. "I'll do anything, just stop punishing my friends for my actions!"
"There is only one way to stop the Kindly Ones," Logan replied grimly.
He realized there had been another environment change. They were now both in a shower room. Perhaps a gym shower room. Logan was standing under one shower head, rinsing blood off her skin. She was completely nude, as was he, Quinn realized belatedly.
He looked down at himself. He was clean other than his hands, which were coated with a thick film of blood all the way up to his elbows. He was standing under his own shower head but the water had no effect on the mess.
Quinn raised his hands angrily. "This is a little on the nose, don't you think? What's the matter, running out of subtle ways to rub it in my face?"
"Maggie is running short of time," Logan replied pertly as she grabbed a pink soap puff and lathered up vigorously. "She doesn't have time for me to be subtle any longer."
"What is the one way to stop the Kindly Ones?" He asked in a defeated sounding voice.
"You have to kill yourself. With you dead by your own hand, the Blood Curse will be lifted and the Kindly Ones will no longer have … permission to harm your friends. They can only use their near infinite powers exacting vengeance upon those who have spilled family blood. And that can only be countered by you spilling your own blood."
She paused as she ducked her head under the water stream. Quinn waited impatiently while she took her time soaking her hair. Finally she lifted her head again and eyed him with an amused expression. "If you do the right thing, Quinn, your friends will have never died. Maggie's world will never be threatened with destruction and therefore your friends never meet her and Professor Arturo will not die. With the good professor still alive, he is able to get himself and your friends home ten worlds later when you reach a very technologically advanced world. That world's resources and his expertise enable him to fix the timer and take himself, Remmy, and Wade home."
"You can reverse their deaths? Rewind back to that point?"
"The Kindly Ones can. You won't be around to see it, however. For all your friends will know, you were lost in the first wormhole you ever took to the Ice World. You never traveled with them. They were able to keep a much lower profile without you, by the way. But they would all three be alive again, without suffering any of the indignities you caused them. Maggie would also live a long life as a decorated hero for uncovering Rickman's murder spree and shooting him down like a dog in midact."
Quinn took this in silently.
Logan used one hand to direct some of her shower spray into his eyes. He jerked back, irritated. "Quinn! Didn't you hear me? You can restore all four of your closest friends with one simple act. One finally selfless act. The great and powerful Quinn, boy genius, breaks from his self absorbed, self indulgent guilt trip to commit a heroic selfless act to save those he loves."
Quinn's eyes were starting to glaze over. He seemed far away, lost in thought.
Logan's expression changed from playfulness to a vampirish intensity. She dropped the act of showering and stepped close to him, taking his arms in her hands. She spoke in quick bursts, not stumbling on a single word, not hesitating, using none of the verbal pauses that were abundant in normal conversation. She didn't even seem to be breathing as she spoke on and on and on. "I haven't mentioned your mother yet. Her endless indignities. Countless rapes, both physical and mental. The shattered husk your friends and the imbecile you ride within encountered on that last world is an improvement over the wreckage the Kromaggs transported to The Seer's world. Intense therapy and enough drugs to float Canada for six months have brought her back enough that she can pass for normal for short periods of time. But it will take years and kegs more of drugs to blur the horrid nightmares that drive her to rip at her throat in her sleep, Quinn. The Seer and his daughter never told you that they have to tie your mother's hands at night to keep her from ending her life while within the grip of nightmares a sane person cannot even imagine. Little does she know that she is pantomiming the act that, if you do it, will finally rip her forever from the Stephen King circus act her life has become. Quinn! You can save her, Quinn! You can spare her all of that, and all of your friends everything they have endured. The Kindly Ones have power over time and space, effect and cause, pain and pleasure. You can change everything, if only you for once in your wretched, worthless life do the right thing, the thoughtful thing, the heroic thing, and end your pathetic life with your own hand, your own free will!"
With that last word she shook him violently. His eyes unglazed a little and he looked at her sharply. "What's in it for you?"
Logan's eyes shifted. For the first time he had asked her something she didn't seem prepared for. "What?"
"What is in it for you, Logan? Why do you want me to win? If I do this, I'd be saving everyone I love and be the hero, in your words. Why would you help me do the one thing that defeats your plans?"
"Oh, THAT." Her smile was back in place. "You have the wrong idea, Quinn. The Kindly Ones don't stop until you kill yourself. They never kill you, they drive you mad and make you do it yourself. And this is how they do it, they force you to choose it for yourself. So if you kill yourself, I win BIG TIME, Quinn. They will reward me beyond your wildest imagination. Not only do I get my revenge, I get anything I want for the rest of my life. I will rule on this world like a Goddess. I don't give a fig about your friends. Even if time is rewound I'll have the memories of what they went through. That's good enough. And I'll have the knowledge that I made you kill yourself."
She winked slowly, slyly at him. "But none of this changes the grim reality that if you do not do this, Maggie will suffer the worst death and then They'll start in on your mother. Then maybe we'll start working on doubles. Maybe we'll twist and bend Mallory until he is our murder vehicle so you can have a front row seat to the proceedings."
"Okay." Quinn said in a dead voice. "I'll do it."
Logan nodded in a businesslike fashion and took his hand. "No time like the present." She led him out of the shower.
They were in a massive bedroom. Quinn was suddenly sitting on a bed. He had his body back! This felt real in a way that none of the rest had. He was finally, after an eternity, back in his body.
Quinn looked down at his right hand. He curled it into a fist and felt a fierce joy as he watched his muscles respond.
"Come on, you can play later," Logan said, rolling her eyes. "We have business in the bathroom."
He was a little surprised she was still here, since he was back in a physical body. But when he looked up he saw that she was insubstantial. She was a pale red shadow. Her face was more distinct than the rest of her, but even it was only as clear as a black and white movie viewed on a 30 year old TV.
Quinn rose and followed her into the bathroom. He spied two brackets and without hesitation imprisoned his left arm inside of them. He tightened them so there would be no play. A bone saw was within reach. He saw that the blood would drain directly into the sink and be carried away. All he'd have to do is saw his left arm in half and bleed to death. It would be quick. Extremely painful, but quick.
As Quinn reached for the bone saw his eyes hit the mirror. He wasn't surprised in the least to see Mallory's face looking back at him. There was a mad light to his eyes, but otherwise it was the face his intellect had been imprisoned behind for almost a year.
Mentally shrugging, Quinn reached for the bone saw with Mallory's right hand.
Quinn picked up the bone saw. The bathroom was filled with red shimmering ghosts now. Arturo, Remmy, Wade, his mother, Bennish, Wing, Colin, Diana, and Logan. All of their eyes burning with hatred, all of them screaming "DO IT" in a rhythmic chant that was driving him madder. It would be worth dying just to shut them up.
Quinn placed the bone saw on Mallory's left arm, a couple inches above the wrist. This would be grim work. He clenched his teeth tightly.
A thought nagged him. It had been there for a while, right behind the thought of why Logan was helping him. The thought had been screaming for his attention but Logan's constant talking and his guilt had drowned out all other thoughts. But now that the end was near the thought screamed with the shrillness of a banshee, demanding to be heard through the verbal quicksand Logan had filled his mind with.
Quinn pressed the saw tighter against the skin of Mallory's left arm. Four droplets of blood appeared beneath the razor sharp teeth. The screaming of the red ghosts was reaching a deafening crescendo.
The thought broke the surface of Quinn's mind and screamed loudly.
Effect before cause.
The Kindly Ones could do the impossible, they could create effect BEFORE cause.
Quinn's gaze returned to the mirror. Mallory's face stared back at him. Quinn looked down, seeing several more droplets of blood popping out from the pressure of the hungry bone saw's teeth.
He threw aside the bone saw, released the brackets, and spun viciously on Logan. "Who did I kill, Logan?"
Suddenly her ghost was the only one left. "What?" She said in a teeny voice.
"Who. Did. I. Kill?" Quinn punctuated each word with a finger stab through her ghost.
"You're supposed to be killing yourself!" She shot back. "Your friends will suffer for this."
Quinn wagged the stabbing finger in front of her face. "You said that the Kindly Ones can only take over a vengeful crusade if a person spills family blood! I haven't killed a family member! Nor have I ever killed a double of mine." The finger now stabbed at the mirror. "Unless ... unless I kill Mallory, right? Oh, you painted it as me killing myself, but I'm still riding Mallory's body! I have control right now but I'M STILL INSIDE MALLORY'S BODY! If I kill myself then I kill him! Which would be spilling family blood! A half double counts, right? Of course it does. And the Kindly Ones are masters of effect BEFORE cause, so all the effects of my action have already taken place in anticipation of me committing this double murder. Of myself, which is allowed, and of Mallory, which justifies everything that has happened to my loved ones. That was your plan all along, talk me into doing it and suddenly, finally, everything is wrapped in a neat bow. My suicide would not, as you lied, rewind things and restore my friends, it would justify their deaths and tortures! Only by NOT killing Mallory could I rewind things because if I don't do it, the Kindly Ones have no power over me so none of it happened!"
Logan didn't reply. She was becoming more indistinct.
Quinn sighed exhaustedly. "Go then. I hope you find peace, Logan."
She was gone.
Feeling limp, Quinn dragged himself (Mallory's self, he thought in passing) to the bed and sat down heavily. It was only as he turned and sat down that he realized Mallory was still standing where Quinn had left him. Maggie and Diana where there in the hellish bathroom as well. The three advanced on him warily.
They looked and moved as wobbly as he felt.
"Quinn?" Maggie gasped softly.
He lifted a hand that felt as if it weighed a thousand pounds. "We don't have much time." He wished that he had time to enjoy being back inside his own body.
Maggie sat next to him and embraced him. Mallory sat on the other side and Diana next to him. None of them felt strong enough to ever stand again.
"I never thought I'd see you again. Touch you again." Maggie whispered, relief mixing with utter fatigue.
"When things reset ... we'll never meet at all." He breathed. "We'll never even know the other exists."
With a supreme effort, Quinn turned his head the other way and met Mallory's gaze. "I cursed you a thousand times a day." He confided.
"And I ... you." He replied with a wan smile. Mallory's hand found Quinn's. "Thanks for not killing me. I only now understand how horrifying it is to be able to watch from inside a body but to have no control whatsoever."
The effort to get this all out drained Mallory and he let his upper body fall back to the bed. Quinn released the handshake but fell back as well. The two women followed suit.
"I think on some level Logan wanted me to perservere. She kept mentioning 'effect before cause' in quick sly ways. So either she was priming me to figure it out or the bizarre rules of this thing required her to give me everything I needed." Quinn was speaking barely above a whisper.
Now it was an effort just to keep their eyes open. Quinn was the last to succumb. Maggie had fallen against his left arm and he felt her body melt away as he struggled mightily to keep his eyelids from completely closing.
Was it her melting away or him, Quinn wondered idly as he finally lost the struggle and his lids, heavier than two elephants, closed for the last time. It would feel the same either way, wouldn't it? Most likely it was bo-.
"Oh my stars! Look at this poor thing!" The young woman exclaimed. The note in her voice this time was all consuming rage.
"Bless her heart, she is just skin and bones." The middle aged woman added with a frigid giggle.
"And skin has decomposed so badly it looks a parchment." The old woman cackled in her affected drawl.
"So why do you think she lays there pretending to be DEAD?" The young woman said, the rage in her voice would freeze a living human's heart in a second.
"As if a complete failure such as this could escape us by dying." The middle aged woman's scowl split her face almost in half.
"Mayhap she thinks she's clev-are." The old woman's voice was nasty again. "Re'ch in there and grab her slimly soul. Before we finish with her she'll wish she believed in GOD!"
The youngest woman reached into the decaying body sitting on the throne and pulled her hand back out. In her grasp was a screaming red ghost.
"You should have done it MY way!" Logan's ghost screeched. "I would have forced him to kill me and it would have been all good!"
The youngest woman squeezed the ghost, producing inhuman howls.
"Your pitiful body gave out on you that very night!" The middle aged woman explained as she rifled through her bag. She exclaimed with joy as she discovered and withdrew a crow. The crow's red glittering eyes focused unwaveringly on Logan.
"You could have revived me, you can do anything!" Logan pleaded. "You still can! We can try my way this time!"
The eldest woman had found her two golden forks. She rose to her feet. "Sure, we could bring you back to life. But he wouldn't be the first to kill you, would he? This was the only way and you failed. Now for wasting our time we'll be taking our wooden nickel from you!"
Without another word, The Kindly Ones fell on her.
Quinn got shakily to his feet. The others looked half exhilarated, half worried.
"Is it possible?" Arturo asked softly.
Remmy leaned over and picked up a sports page from the ground.
Quinn glanced down at the timer and winced. "Here's the bad news. We have 53 seconds to the next window. If this isn't home... if we guess wrong... we're stuck here."
"I don't know guys," Remmy said doubtfully. "According to this, the Raiders play in Oakland, O.J. Simpson was tried for double murder, and the Cleveland Indians made the World Series."
"A lot could have happened since we left." Wade said hopefully.
Quinn wasn't paying attention to them. He was watching a young woman and a middle aged woman help an elder woman into a cab down the street. As he watched all three of them glanced at him in unison. Their gazes were as cold as grave dirt.
"Pay attention, dear boy!" Arturo exploded. "How much time is left on the timer?"
Feeling outside himself, Quinn tossed it to the ground. "It doesn't matter. We're home."
Wade glanced down the street where her closest friend had been staring. Three woman were in a cab that was just pulling away. "How can you be so sure? What is it about those three?"
"I've never seen them before in my life." He said, though that felt like a lie. Oddly, it also felt like the truth.
Arturo had picked up the timer. "Ten seconds! What are we gonna do?!"
"I'm staying home." Quinn said, sitting Indian style on the road with finality. "It's going to be a long time before I Slide again."
His confidence finally swayed his companions. Arturo counted down the seconds grudgingly but did not activate the timer when it reached zero. Instead he pocketed it.
Quinn was staring after the three women, his friends were staring down at him. None of them heard the door of the house they were in front of open.
"Thanks for the iced tea, Mrs. Mallory. I pruned the hedges and watered the lawn, and-." The male voice was cut off by a sudden feminine scream as Quinn's mother spied him sitting in the road.
Alternate Earth 117
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