|Primary Characters:||Quinn, Colin, and the rest of the Sliders gang.|
|Warning:||some violence, some strong language|
|Description:||The guys are abducted by a man who wants the timer. It’s up to the girls to save them.|
“Time to go, Wade. Let that lamb go back to his mother. Can’t you see her bleating worriedly over there?”
“Oh. But he’s so cute, I want to bring him.”
“I know. I think so too. But you know this isn’t a good life for a pet.”
“Ok, I’m coming. Where’s Remmy?”
“Maggie and Colin are rounding him up about now. Mallory and Diana are just over there.”
Together, Wade and Quinn walked hurriedly in the direction Quinn had indicated. Time to slide. On the way they caught up with Diana and Mallory who were walking hand in hand, with a dreamy look on their faces. Wade wasn’t sure, but she guessed that was the way she and Quinn looked right now too. She couldn’t believe she had finally found him again. And Remmy and the others.
Behind a haystack they found Remmy trying to disentangle himself from a blonde girl, wearing a sack-like garment. The lack of style the dress had been made with couldn’t hide the perfect form of the body underneath. There was a time when Wade would have hated that girl out of sheer envy. But not anymore.
What she had, that girl couldn’t even come close to, Wade would make sure of that. No one laid a hand on Quinn while she was still alive and breathing. Remmy seemed to feel almost the same way about the girl he was still holding on to. Surely he wasn’t contemplating staying behind in this world, lovely as it was? Wade frowned worriedly.
“I’m sorry, Helena, I have to go. You wouldn’t by any chance…? How about it, Cueball? Couldn’t Helena – ?”
“No. Absolutely not. You know we’re already too many to slide safely. Even with Wade’s device. One more could strand us permanently in the middle of nowhere.”
“But it’s not fair. All of you have -“
“I know, Remmy, I know. But this isn’t the time -“
“Oh, I have to go too. Mama and Papa will be so upset with me if I’m late for the milking. It’s my turn to help out tonight. Marina and Veronica are going over to visit our cousins in the next village. It was really nice meeting you, Rem-Brant.”
“Nice meeting you, too, Helena.”
“If you ever come back, I hope we meet again. Bye.”
“Me too. Bye. Well, that’s that, then. Ok, guys, I’m coming.”
About 30 seconds later the vortex opened in the still blue sky of the idyllic world they would be leaving behind. Maggie sighed regretfully.
“I hope the next world is as nice as this one.”
“You liked this world, Maggie?”
Diana and Wade spoke more or less at once. Maggie, who loved shopping, and partying till dawn, had she actually said she liked this rural world, of sheep, goats and shepherds?
“I loved it. Just think about it – No pollution, no crime, no wars. And all those cute lambs and goat kids, not to mention the shepherds.”
“Don’t forget the shepherdesses.”
“I know you won’t, Remmy. But somehow they seem to be slipping my mind, kind of easily.”
“I hope the shepherds will, too.”
“Of course they will, Colin. Consider them forgotten already. But guys, look at this place, what a dump.”
Mallory and Diana who slided last, because Diana held the timer, the original timer, landed with two thuds on the dirty concrete. “This place” didn’t merely look like a dump, it seemed to be one. It appeared to be a back alley, filled with overflowing garbage cans, rusty car parts, remains of just as rusty bicycles, and alarmingly, things like used syringes, shrapnel and even damaged hand guns. What sort of place had they ended up in? It was quite quiet, but in the distance they could hear gunfire, and even what might be explosions.
“I guess this isn’t going to be a nice world after all.”
Diana sounded more than disappointed. There was a slight edge to her voice that told them just how concerned the scientist was. Maggie decided to forestall any panic that might spread through the group. She had to remind herself that they were all civilians. Not normally cut out to face this kind of situation.
“Ok, we don’t know much so far, and I think we should change that fast. I’ll be scouting around the corner. The rest of you stay here under cover.”
“No. I won’t be left behind.”
Everyone seemed to feel the same way, but Maggie didn’t want this rag tag entourage trailing after her if there really was danger nearby.
“Remmy? Please. You come with me and watch my back. Wade, Quinn, stay here.”
To Maggie’s relief, the others seemed to accept her orders without further argument. She knew Mallory was brave enough, but he was hopeless at obeying orders, and of course Quinn and Wade were real troupers in a crisis, but the only one except herself who had any kind of experience from pressure under fire, was Rembrandt. That got her thinking about the Kromaggs. What if this world was under attack from the aliens? As if reading her mind, Rembrandt spoke close to her ear.
“What do you think? Maggots?”
“I don’t know. Could be. It’s too damned quiet here. Something’s about to go down. Can you feel it?”
“Yeah. Something’s up, alright. But I recognize this neighborhood. The Chandler is only five minute’s walk from here, with this kind of traffic. We could get the others over there before the bullets start to fly.”
“I hope so. It’s quiet for now, and I can’t see anything alarming, can you?”
“No. Seems calm enough for now. Do you think we could risk moving the others?”
“We’ll have to. That alley doesn’t strike me as a safe place to wait out something like this. Ok, we’ll try.”
Within seconds they were back with the others. Maggie issued her orders tensely, hoping that everyone would see the seriousness of the situation and wouldn’t argue with her over everything.
“And keep your heads low, ok? No talking. Just keep your eyes and ears open and walk as quietly as you can. Close to the walls.”
At first it seemed they had made the right decision. Nothing happened while they stealthily made their way over to the hotel. But when they could see the battered front of the building, noting that the sign that said Chandler Hotel was badly damaged, all hell broke loose. As if someone had been lying in ambush only waiting for them to show up, bullets started flying far too close for comfort.
Behind the burnt out shell of a car, the Sliders gang crouched miserably, not knowing what to do. It was a while before Maggie realized that they didn’t seem to be the target of all this shooting. When she heard answering fire from somewhere behind them and to the left, she realized that they had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It didn’t seem to make much difference. Even if the bullets were intended for someone else they could still kill them.
But finally the gang behind them were moving out, and Maggie could tell that the ones who had opened fire first were going to follow them, or fall back. That should give them their chance. But if they moved too soon they could get caught in the last sporadic sprays of bullets. So she waited anxiously, before finally giving her group the sign to go ahead. Rembrandt took the lead, trailing Diana and Mallory behind him, closely followed by the Mallory brothers and Wade.
But they had moved too soon after all. Someone was still up ahead, somewhere near the Chandler. They had run with their heads down, without seeing where they were going. When they had reached the front stairs, Diana was nearly hit by a bullet grazing her upper arm and she dropped the timer onto the concrete. Maggie hurried her group along, scooping up the timer on her way inside.
In the foyer, the Sliders took stock of the situation. No one seemed to be injured and that was something to be grateful for. The hotel appeared to be slightly less beat up on the inside, and over by the reception desk, two employees were studying the new arrivals with a great deal of interest. The Sliders walked over to register.
“How did you mangage to get here? Ladies usually don’t – I mean, the rape gangs – Did they let you pass unaccosted just like that?”
“We’re from out of town. Just arrived. Are there any rooms available?”
Maggie didn’t intend to answer any questions. Now they needed to discuss the situation in private. And the man behind the desk was professional enough not to go on questioning the guests to the point of rudeness.
“Certainly. How many rooms will you be requiring?”
Half an hour later, they were all assembled in the salon of the suite they usually occupied. Everyone was more or less in a state of shock. Of course they had ended up under fire before, but it was always as unsettling.
Wade couldn’t forget what she had just heard downstairs. Rape gangs? This reminded her unpleasantly of the time she had spent on the run, as a homeless, hunted refugee.
“It sure is. Rape gangs. Gunfire. At least it doesn’t seem to be caused by the Kromaggs. That’s something to be grateful for.”
“How long do we have, Diana? Not long I hope.”
The scientist didn’t reply, and Quinn was the first to pick up on her shocked silence.
“The timer – it doesn’t seem to be working. Take a look.”
Quinn bent over the device, a worried frown on his face. If the timer malfunctioned, they might be stranded in this world forever. Or close enough. The display was flickering uncertainly on and off, and it didn’t seem to be counting down at all. When he had tried everything he could think of, he dejectedly shook the timer.
“What is it, Quinn?”
Wade’s and Colin’s heads hovered anxiously over the device.
“It’s broken. I need to take it apart and check all the components. This could take a while.”
“In that case we should get something to eat and maybe some sleep.”
“Can I help?”
“No, thanks, Colin. Not you either, Wade. I’ll manage. Get something to eat.”
“Ok, I’ll bring you something, darling.”
Quinn didn’t even look up. Wade and maybe one or two others might be able to use the timer she had stolen from the Kromaggs, but without the real, “original” timer, they were stranded on this hostile world. That couldn’t be allowed to happen. When Wade returned upstairs about an hour later, bringing some takeout for Quinn, he was still working on the device, but he didn’t look hopeful.
“Have you found out what’s wrong with it?”
“I hope not. But if it’s what I’m afraid of, we’ll need to buy a new circuit.”
“Is that going to be a problem?”
“Not normally. But you’ve seen this world, at least the San Francisco part of it. I’m not sure I can find a store that carries anything like it.”
“There’s a phone book over here. But it’s seems to be seven years old. No good, I’m afraid. I’ll go downstairs and ask one of the staff. They’ll know.”
“Ok, thanks, darling. I’ll see if I can rig something up. But I really need to put in something new. If it gives up while we’re in transit anything can happen.”
“I know. We’ll make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Coming down the stairs, Wade spotted Maggie waiting for her outside the bar.
“Yes. Quinn thinks we’ll have to buy a new circuit. If there’s one available in this city.”
“Oh, great. How will we know?”
“I’m just about to ask one of the staff.”
Together they walked over to the reception desk. Another employee was standing at attention waiting to hear their request.
“Are there any stores selling computer equipment nearby?”
“Are you kidding? In this combat zone? Downtown, yes. There’s still some semblance of control down there. But out here, you can’t tell from one day to another which gang is going to be in charge.”
“What kind of gangs? Rape gangs?”
“No. They aren’t in control. It’s just punks with more hormones than brains. The gangs and the corporations fight for control. Where are you guys from anyway?”
“And it’s not like this up there? You should have stayed at home.”
“I guess we should have. So how do we get downtown?”
“Are you out of your minds? Pardon, ladies. You wouldn’t get more than a couple of yards before someone got to you. They sometimes leave men alone, if they aren’t clashing right then, and I have to say it’s been calm ever since this afternoon. Or if they aren’t out looking for spies. But a lady? Never.”
“So if our friends wanted to go downtown you think those gangs would let them pass?”
“Sure. If they’re lucky. Civilian men can get by. It depends on what they’re in the mood for of course. Young, good looking guys, well, that’s almost as bad as with women.”
“But we have to have those components.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just telling you the situation.”
“Let’s go back to the bar and discuss this with the guys.”
As they entered the bar, Rembrandt and Mallory looked up and saw them. Colin was hunched over his drink. Quinn didn’t want to speak to him, and though his relationship with Maggie was making him happier than he ever thought possible since his adoptive parents died, he wanted his brother back the way he was.
But the way things were, he didn’t know if he would ever be able to talk to Quinn without remembering the things both of them wished they could forget. Colin never used to drink anything stronger than root beer and coca cola, but now he was a regular in every bar their slides took them to. Maggie was concerned, but didn’t know what to do about the problem. And now they had something more urgent to discuss.
“Yes. Wade will fill you in on the details, but we have to get a replacement for the broken component.”
“I’m really sorry I dropped the timer. But with all the bullets flying, I kind of panicked.”
“Don’t worry about it, Diana. That sort of thing can happen to anyone.”
“So what’s the catch? Tell me the rest of it, girl.”
“Ok, Remmy. The catch is that the only way we can get that component is to go downtown.”
“Then what are we waiting for?”
“Sit down, Remmy. You all saw what it was like out there this afternoon. And there’s worse. Didn’t you hear that guy mention rape gangs? Apparently, it’s downright impossible for women to go outside. We wouldn’t get past them.”
“Ok. Then I’ll go.”
“And I’ll go with you, man. No problem.”
“Wait, Mallory. It’s not exactly safe for men either.”
“What about if we all go? I mean all us guys. Don’t you think that should be safe enough? There’s safety in numbers.”
“We don’t exactly have any choice, do we? But I hate to send you guys out there, when I can’t go with you. “
“Don’t worry about us. We’ll be safe enough.”
“I hope so.”
“Is Quinn about done upstairs?
“I’ll go check. Anyway, Diana, why don’t you and I take over, in case there’s anything else that needs doing?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I’ll come too. No, wait. I think I’ll stay and have another drink. This place is depressing me.”
“Ok. We’ll send Quinn down in a couple of minutes, guys. And be careful.”
First they allowed themselves a couple of minutes of hugging and kissing, before Diana and Wade could tear themselves away from their friends, and Diana’s lover. Maggie didn’t want to let Colin go, not after hearing that hotel employee saying that “young, good looking guys” were in as much trouble as women. Colin certainly fit that description. But she knew he wouldn’t want to be singled out for special treatment. If only she had had some weapons. Then she would have taught those rape gangs the lesson of their lifetimes.
Wade was worrying about Quinn too. Would he be as prepared to defend himself as she had been? But it was no use dwelling on the past. They had to get out of this dismal world. If they were stuck here, they would all die, she knew that. Upstairs, Quinn had pushed the timer aside, and was picking at his food. He didn’t seem to have any more appetite than the rest of them.
As the women walked in, Quinn looked up, a sudden glint of hope in his eyes that hurt Wade. She would have to disappoint him, but at least there was still a chance, slim as it might seem. They couldn’t give up.
“There are still some computer stores downtown, but it’s not safe to go there. Especially not for women. So we’ve decided that the rest of you will go, all of you.”
“I’m afraid so. The others are waiting downstairs at the bar. Maggie will join us up here soon. She just wanted another drink. Please, be careful. You heard about those rape gangs, didn’t you?”
“Yes. I’m glad you’ll be safe in here.”
“I know. Just be careful. And Quinn – ?”
“Don’t let them get you.”
“I won’t. I promise.”
“I mean it. If you have to, kill them.”
“Ok, I’ll try. But surely they wouldn’t bother a group of four people?”
“I don’t know. Let’s hope not.”
And Wade too, spent the next minute or so holding her guy really hard. Nothing could happen to him. Nothing. If anything did, she didn’t know how she could carry on. The sound of the door shutting behind Quinn was final in a way that scared her. What if she never saw him again? Still, Wade forced herself to put on a brave face. No use scaring Diana even more. That girl didn’t seem to have seen much violence close up.
“What do you think? About the timer, I mean? Will we be able to put it back together again?”
“Yes. If only we can get that circuit, it won’t be a problem.”
“Good. Do you think you could get some sleep now?”
“Alright. But at least we can try.”
“Yes. Sure. And don’t worry about the guys. They’re tough. You know that.”
“I know. At least Rembrandt is, and Mallory seems to be as well. But what about Quinn and Colin? They’re no fighters.”
“They’ll keep each other safe, you’ll see.”
“Yes, of course they will. And look at me. Do I look tough?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, you do. I know I don’t. But looks aren’t what matters. If I could stay safe until I found Quinn and the rest of you again, then maybe they can too.”
“Wade, I’ll pray for them.”
Wade looked startled. It was the first time she’d heard prayer mentioned since she was a child. But she knew Diana meant well, and at this point any help they could get would be needed.
Downstairs at the bar, Maggie was getting acquainted with an elderly man. He offered her a drink, and since the gentleman didn’t seem to be looking for pickups, Maggie didn’t think it could do any harm.
“I must confess, I’m curious. What’s a lady like you doing in this part of town? If you don’t mind my asking.”
“Oh, just passing through. Can I ask you something, sir?”
“Please, call me Leonides.”
“Alright, Leonides it is. You may call me Maggie.”
The well groomed elderly man bowed his head politely, repeating her name.
“What brings you here? If I may ask.”
“By all means. I’m a trader.”
“Oh, whatever might be useful around here.”
“Weapons. Medicines. Other supplies. Now may I ask you why this interests you so much, Maggie?”
“You sure can, Leonides. As it happens, I’m in the market for some weapons, myself. And you would give me a good price, wouldn’t you, Leonides?”
Just in case, Maggie pouted just a little, careful not to overdo it. This man was nobody’s fool, and though he might appreciate a little female companionship, if she wasn’t very much mistaken he would always let business come first. That was the way he came across, and Maggie had seen men like him before, so she had a fair idea of what she was dealing with.
“You amaze me. Weapons?”
“Yes, why not?”
“As you say, why not? Alright. What kind of weapons are we talking about, and in what amounts? I take it you will be needing ammunition as well?”
“Absolutely, and I’m looking for some automatic guns, maybe some Uzis, something like that. The make isn’t important. Kalashnikovs if you have them.”
“I might, or something along those lines. How many?”
Maggie paused to consider. This would have to be done quickly, if it needed doing at all. And on a world like this, Maggie felt all the more helpless without a weapon in her hands. Something told her they would need considerable firepower before the night was out.
“Only two, but with plenty of ammo. And if you could throw in a few hand grenades I’d be most grateful. Wait, a hand gun or two could come in handy. Do you supply the holsters too? And I’ll need three vests.”
Maggie somehow couldn’t imagine Diana handling any kind of weapon, and even Wade might balk at the use of any type of knife. Personally, Maggie preferred guns any day. Explosives too, naturally, but knifes were just too messy, even if they made for a more silent approach.
If the trader found her request at all odd, he no longer commented on it. Maggie could almost see the shrewd brain behind the elegantly styled white hair calculating the price of her purchases.
Fortunately on the worlds immediately preceding the idyllic, pastoral one before this one, they had been in luck in more ways than one. Rembrandt had had a lucky streak at the gaming tables that proliferated all over that world’s Los Angeles, and in the other one, all of them had been able to find lucrative jobs. So money should be no problem.
“Naturally. And I will give you a special price. Normally I deal in larger quantities, but for you Maggie, I will make an exception.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it.”
Within less than an hour, the deal was settled, and Leonides retired to his suite to make the arrangements. He promised Maggie that she would receive the shipment before morning.
In the meantime, the Sliders guys were progressing steadily towards the city center. It was an eerie experience. They didn’t see anyone, but at times they felt as if someone was watching them from inside the bulletscarred buildings along the way. Perhaps it was for the best. They couldn’t imagine that anyone they might meet would be someone they would care to get acquainted with.
Before dawn they arrived near the computer store Quinn and Wade had used to work in, in another lifetime, on another world. Amazingly it was still in business, and even more surprisingly, it was already open. Customers, predominantly men, in suits, carrying briefcases entered and left. No one appeared to find the Mallory brothers, Rembrandt and Mallory out of place, however.
Not that they were dressed as vagrants, but the business suits were conspicuously missing from their getups. It didn’t take Quinn long to find the component he needed, make the transaction and return out into the street. The only thing that might be termed unusual about them was the fact that they had arrived on foot.
Now that Colin had had time to take stock of the situation, he realized that every one else was driving some kind of armored car. All of them were elegant limousines and similar types, but all of them sported dark windows, and reinforced fronts. So that was how people travelled about in this stricken city. No doubt both Mallory and Rembrandt would know more than Colin about cars, but somehow he didn’t feel like asking them about it.
Without many words, they set off for the Chandler. Now that the sun was up, more people seemed to be about in the streets. Soon their appearance changed radically. No more suits and briefcases. Now the style ran more to worn denim, black leather and studs. Not to mention chains, switchblades and combat boots.
Everyone stared sideways at the Sliders but for a while it seemed as if they would make their way back to the hotel unmolested. Just a block away their luck ran out. They were about to turn onto the street where some 15 minutes or so later they would be outside the Chandler, when they noticed that their way ahead was blocked by a group of young men, mainly latinos, with a sprinkling of african-americans.
Rembrandt who was walking first might have been allowed to pass, but knowing he had three white guys with him, he backed up and was about to herd the younger men back towards the city center. Too late. On turning they discovered that they had walked into a trap.
Behind them, approaching menacingly were a group of as many youths, wearing the same type of outfits. Possibly that indicated that they belonged to the same gang. It wasn’t a subject with which either one of them was very familiar. Not even Mallory or Rembrandt. So they began looking around to see if there was any way out of this trap. There didn’t seem to be. Now the group in front of them began closing in.
One of them, a tall, muscular guy in his early 20’s, distinguished from the ones immediately to his left or right, by a prominent scar running down his left cheek appeared to be their leader. His biceps glittered in the morning sun. Quinn and Colin were beginning to regret ever coming on this excursion.
But how could they have known what they would run into? Now the guy with the scar spoke up. His voice was deep and resonant, and Rembrandt remembered thinking that this guy would have a beautiful singing voice if that had been his choice of occupation. But singing seemed to be the furthest thing from his mind.
“Look at this, guys. Isn’t this our lucky day?”
Quinn was surprised to notice that the guy had a cultured accent, almost as if he had gone to college, which for all Quinn knew he might have. Rembrandt searched his mind for anything to say. Would this guy be amenable to a subtle reminder that they were in fact brothers? He didn’t think so. This guy seemed to regard any stranger as an outsider, or even an enemy. As if the guy had read his mind, he addressed Rembrandt.
“Yo, pops. I say you don’t need all three boys. Let me have two of them and I might let you pass.”
“We don’t want any trouble -“
“He doesn’t want any trouble, how about that? You seem to be out of luck, pops. Elvin, Luis, Pepe, Chaco, get those two baby faces. We’ll have some fun with them.”
Colin’s throat went dry. There was no doubt as to which two that guy was referring to. Him and Quinn. The big black guy had pointed them out. And though Colin had led a sheltered life, he had no doubts whatsoever as to what that fun would be.
Desperately, they began looking around for a way out, but they seemed to be out of options. They were facing a gang of about 20 people. 20 against 4. Those odds were impossible, even if they had been used to this kind of confrontation. To make matters worse, the gang surrounding them were armed. Telltale bulges here and there hinted as much, even if several of them hadn’t been brandishing switchblades, no doubt to intimidate their victims.
The four gang members who had been ordered to bring Quinn and Colin stopped just inches from the Sliders when the sound of brakes squeeling on the asphalt brought their attention to the fact that several dark cars were sliding to a stop not far from the crowd blocking the street.
The big leader assessed the situation, and when darksuited men, holding Uzis were swarming out of the cars, he called to his gang to back off. Apparently these men were familiar to him, and he didn’t seem to want to pick a fight.
“A slight misunderstanding, brother. No hard feelings, right? You hang on to those whiteys. Now we have our business to take care of. See ya.”
In less than thirty seconds, the gang had cleared the street. Facing the Sliders were a group of well dressed men with impassive faces. The relief was almost tangible. Who were these men? The police? Somehow they didn’t strike them that way. Now one last car arrived, and coming out of it was a man wearing more laid back clothes. All of them expensive, but far less formal. He didn’t seem to be armed, and his shoulder length hair was held back in a pony tail.
“I guess we arrived just in time, gentlemen. Get in. This isn’t a healthy neighborhood to be standing around in. We’ll take you to wherever it is your going.”
“Thank you – ?”
“Jon. Call me Jon.”
“Ok. Thanks, Jon.”
In their immense relief to have escaped that gang, neither one of the Sliders was thinking coherently. Normally, they would have hesitated to accept the offer of a lift from a total stranger. They knew nothing about this Jon. And when the cars kept driving past the Chandler, even though they had made it clear that was their destination, Rembrandt felt a shiver go down his spine.
“Listen, Jon. You can drop us off anywhere. We’ll walk back to the hotel.”
“You’re not going to the hotel. You’re going to my place.”
“No, we’re not. Let us out. Now.”
The quick command took them by surprise. Two big bodyguards, of which one apparently was called Fred, brought out some sort of sharp smelling liquid and poured it onto pieces of white cloth. Though both Rembrandt and Quinn struggled, they were helpless to stop the men from clamping down those pieces of cloth over their mouths and noses. They had no doubt Colin and Mallory in the other car were being subjected to the same treatment. In seconds everything went black.
It was late in the afternoon. The men should have been back by now. Maggie, Wade and Diana were pacing around the foyer downstairs worriedly. Something had gone wrong, they could feel it. It shouldn’t have taken them this long to get back, even if they were on foot. Wade’s face was very white, and Diana seemed to be so tense she would have jumped a foot, if anyone had touched her.
Maggie felt helpless. Now that she had the guns, how would she ever find the guys? She could hardly just saunter out into the streets waiting for any number of rape gangs to descend on her. Why hadn’t she thought to ask about an armoured car? But that sort of money was beyond their means. Way beyond. Even if Leonides would have let them rent the vehicle, it would still be too expensive.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a man entering the hotel. He walked up to the reception desk and delivered a note, then walked out again without a word. The man behind the desk caught Maggie’s eye. Was that note for them?
“What is it?”
“Are you Maggie -“
“Yes, yes, that’s me.”
“Here you are.”
Perusing the message in seconds, Maggie almost gasped. This wasn’t what she had expected. Diana and Wade were crowding her, and at any other time, she would have snapped at them to keep their distance. Not today.
The note simply said that if they turned over the timer to a man named Jon Saragoza, their friends would be returned to them unharmed. Incredibly, the note was written on a paper with some kind of corporate letterhead.
Saragoza Electronics Inc. What was that? And how had they known about the timer? Maggie had an unwelcome vision of Colin being tortured to obtain information from Quinn. Surely a business man wouldn’t resort to violence? In this world, maybe. They couldn’t afford to take any chances.
This changed everything. A large corporation would be that much harder to raid. Maggie had expected, possibly, a bunch of unorganized young men. She would have to make new plans. And fast. The note gave them until midnight. At least the letterhead provided them with the address.
This settled it. She would have to renegotiate the deal with Leonides. The address was somewhere north of San Franscisco, in an affluent suburb. There was no way they could get there on foot, and somehow Maggie couldn’t imagine calling for a cab, or getting on a bus.
“Let’s go upstairs and discuss this in private.”
Wade and Diana had no objections, and soon they were seated in the sofa in the salon.
“You can handle a gun, right, Wade?”
“Yes, but I’ve never tried one of those automatics.”
“Ok. I’ll show you how to use it. It’s easy. Take this first.”
Maggie tossed the hand gun over to Wade. Without panicking, Wade caught it and opened it. Next Maggie threw her the ammo. While she watched Wade calmly loading it, some of Maggie’s fears were laid to rest. They didn’t have time for target shooting, but Wade was no novice around a gun. Maggie would just have to count on her being able to hit a target, even a human one.
Maggie knew some of what Wade had experienced while on the run from the Kromaggs, so that part shouldn’t give her any trouble. When Quinn was in danger, Wade would come through, there was no doubt about it.
“What about me? I’ve never used a gun in my life.”
“No. I didn’t think you had, so I didn’t get one for you. Here. Take this vest and put it on. When we go in, stay behind me and Wade and keep your head low. That’s all you need to do.”
“Ok. I can do that.”
Diana’s fixed smile told the same story as her tense voice. This wouldn’t be easy on her, but Maggie had to know she could count on both her troops, otherwise there was no telling how this would end.
“There’s one for you too, Wade. I’ll show you how to use the automatic in a minute.”
Soon they were all wearing the bulky vests and Maggie hurriedly loaded the hand gun herself. Now came the tricky part, showing Wade how to load and then shoot the automatics. At least Wade’s attitude to the whole thing put most of Maggie’s fears to rest. Wade wouldn’t be a problem.
If anyone would be it would be Diana, but they couldn’t leave her behind. When they got the guys back, they would have to slide soon. Maggie didn’t allow herself to doubt even for a second that the guys hadn’t been able to get the missing component. Somehow they would get off this world.
Unexpectedly, Leonides proved willing enough to loan Maggie a car and a driver. The tall muscular guy behind the wheel hardly paid the women any attention at all. When they were packed into the backseat he drove off, without a word. Maggie had hinted that they would make their own way from their destination. Poring over a map, Maggie found a suitable place to leave the car and continue on foot. She told the driver to wait until the morning before returning to Leonides at the hotel.
Waiting under the cover of a row of hedges, Maggie whispered instructions to Wade and Diana. Circling around the back, they finally found an approach to the large sprawling building that seemed slightly less guarded. By now it was pitch dark, and that helped a little, though the parking lots and the driveway were brightly lit. Feeling more than a little handicapped by the lack of blueprints over the building, Maggie was forced to play the entire rescue by ear.
“There, see that ventilation shaft over there? That’s where we’ll go in. I can’t see any other possibility, do you?”
“No, not me.”
“Ok. Do you feel comfortable with that Uzi, Wade?”
“Not really. But I’ll manage. Don’t worry about it. I’ll just prefer to use the hand gun if it’s possible.”
“Funny though, with this kind of fire power we could probably have walked all this way, if we’d had the time. Oh, well. Even those dumb macho guys would know better than to mess with us now. Diana?”
“Remember what I told you. Stay behind us, keep your head low, and when we find the guys, try to assemble the timer as fast as you can.”
“Ok. No problem. I’m ok.”
“Wade, do you have enough ammo?”
“Yes. I’m cool.”
“I suppose we should syncronize our watches now, Maggie?”
“That’s what they say on tv, right?”
“Yes, I guess they do, but we’re moving out now. We won’t need to look at our watches. Let’s go through the check list though. Can’t do any harm. While we do, we’ll give this place time to settle. Ok. Wade? Uzi?”
“Good. I have the hand grenades, just in case.”
“Aren’t those dangerous?”
“I sure hope so, Diana. This place will go up in flames if anything’s happened to our guys.”
“I know. But I meant, what if they go off before they’re supposed to?”
“Oh. They won’t. Just leave that stuff to me. We’ll get through this. Promise.”
“Ok. Aren’t you going to ask me too?”
“What? Oh, sure. Diana. Vest?”
“Great. Just follow me, and do what we agreed. Anyone tries to stop us, shoot him.”
“Shoot to kill?”
“That’s up to you, Wade. Use your judgment. If you don’t have to, just incapacitate him.”
“Will do. I’m ready.”
“Terrific. You guys are the best. Now let’s rock n roll.”
When the two cars that came all the way to their destination pulled up outside the large sprawling building, the Sliders were still unconscious. They didn’t see or hear anything of their entry. How much time had passed when they came to, they didn’t know. Judging by their watches not long, but they couldn’t be sure.
Rembrandt and Mallory were dumped in a downstairs room without windows. The only entry or exit was through the door they assumed they had come in through. Apart from slight headaches, they felt fine. Why had they been taken like this? What did their captors want?
It would be some time before Rembrandt or Mallory had the answers to their questions. What was worst, even more so than not knowing when or even if they would slide, was worrying about Quinn and Colin. But worrying didn’t get them anywhere. All they could do was try and make themselves as comfortable as possible in the bare cupboardlike room.
Quinn came to, slowly. His head was still spinning, and it was a while until the dizziness and pain receded enough for him to take stock of his surroundings. He was in a fairly large room, bare of any furniture or anything else. Where the overhead light came from wasn’t immediately clear. Struggling to get to his feet, he walked over to the windows. He seemed to be several floors up.
Not until then did it dawn on him that he was alone. Where were the others? Colin, Remmy and Mallory. What was going on? Remembering the reason they had set out from the Chandler, Quinn began looking for the circuit he had bought. To his relief it was still in his pocket. Nothing seemed to be wrong with it. But what was all this about?
A sound from the door had him whirling around faster than was wise, after being unconscious. Two big, dark suited men deposited Colin on the floor. He appeared to be unharmed, but the look on his face told Quinn that whatever had been going on wasn’t harmless at all.
“Are you ok?”
“Yes. Don’t worry about me.”
The two suits approached Quinn with an intent. There didn’t seem to be much point in trying to fight them. Whatever they wanted, he was no match for them even on a good day. Now maybe he would find out why they had brought them here. To wherever “here” was.
“What do you want? Where are you taking me?”
No reply. In fact, the faces of the two men appeared completely unmoved by his questions. Were they deaf? Didn’t they speak English? Or were they under orders not to discuss anything with the prisoner?
Where did that thought come from? Prisoner. But it was obvious they weren’t going to be allowed to walk out of here until their captors had what they wanted from them.
Whatever that was, Quinn was sure it would be different from what the other group who had confronted them had wanted. That was close. Perhaps whatever these guys were after would be less unpleasant to give to them.
His time of wondering was over much sooner than he would have liked. The two suits pushed open a door into something that could only be a lab of some kind. They let go of him and backed off, remaining in the background. So it would be no use trying to get away. The guy with the ponytail was sitting in a chair facing him. Apparently he was the leader.
“Welcome, mr Mallory. I’ve been waiting a long time for you.”
‘Mr Mallory’? So they knew his name. Had they encountered his doubles earlier? But whatever the reason, it wasn’t important now.
“Really? And why have you had me brought here?”
“Ok, we can go straight to the point, if you prefer. It’s very simple. You have a device that enables you to travel between the dimensions. I want that device. You give it to me, and any advice you can think of to teach me to use it. After that, my men have orders to let you go.”
“But we need that device, to slide out of here.”
“Slide, yes, that’s the word. Thank you. That’s unfortunate, but you see, I want it, and you are going to give it to me, and explain how it works.”
“Uh oh. That was the wrong answer, mr Mallory. You’re in no position to refuse. Let’s make this easier on all of us. Just hand it over. Or rather, since I know you don’t have it with you, tell me where it is, and you can get out of here. In fact, my men will drive you anywhere you choose to go. Any safe locations far away from those primitive rape gangs.”
Reading Quinn’s look at the mention of those gangs, Jon, as he had introduced himself, laughed.
“Not pleasant to contemplate, is it? But nothing happened. So I guess you owe me. Why not show a little gratitude?”
“Ok. You can come with us when we slide. It’s going to be close, but it will work. Just let us find the rest of our group and we’ll be out of here.”
“That’s better. But I’m afraid it’s not good enough. You see, there’s not just me. I’ll need a few companions of my own, not to mention some stuff I want to bring with me. So you see there’s not going to be any room for you or your group. You’ve seen this world. And in case you don’t know, the rest of it is even worse. Mostly. So I need a new place to work. We’re wasting time. I’ll ask you one last time, nicely. Give me that device.”
“I can’t. We need it -“
“Alright, I’ve tried nice. It didn’t work. Now you’ll just have to take the consequences. Jake. Bill. See if you can persuade mr Mallory to do the right thing.”
The two suits, who when Quinn took a closer look, seemed to be major users of steroids, approched. One of them, impossible to tell whether it was Jake or Bill, grabbed Quinn’s arms and pulled them back. It hurt, but Quinn had a feeling that there was more to come.
Bracing himself, he tried to think of a way to stall, to dream up a ruse, anything that would let him keep the timer, and get out of the beating he knew was coming. But his mind was a blank. He might not fear these guys as much as the rape gangs, but close enough. But it was impossible to let Jon have the timer. They couldn’t be stranded on this world. They just couldn’t.
Quinn had no idea they could go on beating you for such a long time. They seemed to know exactly how much he could take without passing out, and what caused the most pain. By the time they let him drop down to the floor, he was ready to give them anything, but the timer. At that point, all he could do was whimper softly. If he didn’t lose any teeth he would need all of his luck.
“I’m afraid you leave me no other option, mr Mallory. The other mr Mallory, your brother means a lot to you, doesn’t he? I know my brother would, if I had one. So I’m going to give you one more chance to tell me where the timer is. Just one more chance. I’ve been very patient with you, but that patience is beginning to wear thin.”
No. Not Colin. They couldn’t. But if he told them where to find the timer, what would happen to Wade and the others? If the worst came to the worst, he was fairly sure the women could use Wade’s device and slide without them. It wasn’t fair to expect them to stay on a world that had rape gangs and ruthless corporations, not to mention “ordinary” gangs fighting it out in the streets.
He must have blacked out, but when he came to, he was in that same room where he had woken up before. This time Colin was here, but the other three men too. It seemed they had waited for him to come to, because Colin still appeared to be in good shape.
“There you are, mr Mallory. We were just about to begin. Anything you’d like to say before we get started?”
“Leave my brother alone. If you want the timer, you deal with me.”
“I just tried to, remember? And you weren’t in any mood to deal, it seemed. Ok, Bill, Jake. Get to work.”
Quinn was forced to helplessly watch those two goons beating his own brother, his beloved little brother. No. He wouldn’t let them. It was almost impossible to get back on his feet, but he tried anyway. Once he was standing, he swayed back and forth a bit, before he was able to steady himself. He didn’t have far to go, and once there, he flung himself on top of Colin and held on to him.
“Ok, stop it. I’ll do whatever it is you want. Just don’t hurt him anymore.”
“You heard the man. Ok, I’m listening. Where is it?”
“It’s at the Chandler hotel. In our suite.”
“That’s all I wanted to know. Why couldn’t you have told me right away? Let’s go.”
What had he done? What would those madmen do to Wade and the others? Not Wade too. He was such a coward. But they would have gone on hitting Colin until he died, Quinn knew that, just as he knew that Maggie would never give up the timer without a fight.
With a dull pain deep down, Quinn realized that not only had he given up their only chance of getting out of this world, he had most likely gotten all three women killed. Maybe not Diana. Maybe they would leave her for the rape gangs, but Wade and Maggie would fight until the end. And it was all his fault.
The door slammed shut. He was alone with Colin. The only sounds he could hear was his brother’s rasping breaths. Colin looked even more badly hurt than he himself felt. So he had been right. He was the one they knew held the knowledge of how the timer worked. Colin was the one who was expendable.
If his brother died tonight, he would never be able to tell him how much he loved him, despite the madness that had overtaken them before. Whatever they had done, they had done it together.
It wasn’t Colin’s fault, but he had let him believe he blamed him. How could he have taken Quinn’s silence any other way? He had shut his brother out of his life, burying himself in the happiness of the relationship with Wade. The fact that Colin had been able to find the same bliss in Maggie’s arms didn’t change the fact that they were brothers, and these last couple of months he had turned his back on Colin. As if he didn’t love him anymore.
When there was no reply, Quinn felt as if a giant hand had squeezed the breath out of him. His heart fluttered, and he knew that if Colin died tonight, he didn’t want to live either.
Tears burned behind Quinn’s eyelids. He wasn’t dead yet. Somehow he would make sure Colin survived, or at least he would have time to tell him how he felt.
“Let me take a look at you. Where does it hurt the most?”
“Ribs. Can’t breathe so well.”
“Head’s ok. Arm, not so good.”
Quinn’s gentle probing of the arm in question produced a cry of pain that frightened him. But it was only a broken arm. That could be fixed. He would find a doctor, even in this miserable world, and they would get Colin back together again. The ribs proved to be in about the same state as the arm. Colin’s color was still good, and Quinn finally allowed himself to hope. If there were no internal injuries. If. He was assuming a lot, but he had to hope. The alternative was too scary to even contemplate.
“What about you?”
“What? Oh, don’t worry about me. It hurts, but I’ll be fine.”
“For everything. Getting them off me. For talking to me again.”
“Please, can you forgive me? I didn’t do it on purpose. But you’re right, I have been avoiding you. It’s just been too mortifying. Just being around you reminds me of -“
“I know. Me too. But I need you. I want you back the way you were before – Before we screwed everything up.”
“I’m back. I swear.”
“I thought you hated me.”
“I never hated you, Colin. Never. I still love you as much as ever.”
“I love you too. I think I’m going to sleep now, or something. Can’t stay awake.”
“Yes. You have to. Keep talking to me. Don’t leave me. Colin.”
“I’ll try. Maggie might find us, right? She’s never going to give up.”
“No. She’ll never give up. And she’ll think of something. Any time now. And Wade too.”
“Great girl. Wade. Almost as terrific as Maggie. I’m so happy for you, Quinn.”
“Yes, I’m happy for you too. Maggie’s a great girl too. Colin? Stay with me.”
But his brother was losing his struggle to stay conscious. For a panicked moment, Quinn thought there was no pulse.
Had he known how close their rescuers actually were, he might have felt a little better. They had found Rembrandt and Mallory in the storage room downstairs, and together they were making their way up the stairs. At that time of night, there didn’t seem to be too many guards around.
Even so, they would have been found out right away, if Wade hadn’t spotted the electronic alarm. She had been able to re-route it so that they could get past the dangerous spots. They were running out of time. The entire building was filled with other security and it was only a matter of time before one of the cameras picked them up.
Luck was with them, however, and without being caught, they were able to find the room where Quinn and Colin were huddled miserably on the floor. At least Quinn was miserable. Colin was beyond worrying about anything.
With a cry, Maggie dropped to her knees beside Colin. Wade wasn’t far behind her, and though Colin’s unconscious state was alarming, Quinn didn’t look much better. Diana, who had already been able to make sure Mallory was ok, hadn’t forgotten about the timer, however.
“The circuit. Do you have it?”
For a second it was as if Quinn’s mind wasn’t working. What circuit? He had forgotten everything except his brother’s unmoving body on the floor.
“Quinn, darling. Diana is asking about the circuit. Were you able to get it?”
Though everyone was worried sick about Colin and Quinn, Diana began to re-assemble the timer. Now the display began to flicker uncertainly. What Diana could see alarmed her. Could it be correct? The timer still wasn’t working properly, but the timer said less than a minute left until the slide.
If she couldn’t stabilize it, they would be stuck here for years, and if she panicked now, she might damage the timer permanently. As if that wasn’t the worst of their problems, some kind of alarm must have been triggered. The sound of footsteps in the hallway alerted them to the fact that they wouldn’t be alone for more than a few seconds.
Maggie’s soldier’s reflexes kicked in. She might be worried out of her mind about Colin, but if she didn’t do anything to stop the enemy, they wouldn’t get out of this world alive. Wade too, drew herself up. Rembrandt and Mallory were close behind them. Taking one look at Rembrandt, Wade handed over the Uzi to him. Maggie gave Mallory her hand gun.
The door was kicked in and they were faced with about half a dozen grim faced guards. All of them armed with Uzis or Kalasjnikovs. This was going to be tough. Maggie could see that. She also knew that once the timer had been activated, most people unprepared for the spectacle of an interdimensional vortex, would be unable to do anything but stand and stare.
“Diana? Is the timer ready?”
“Just a second.”
Quinn dragged himself closer to Diana and took a look. Now all they had was seconds.
“Wade, get your timer out now.”
She was surprised and pleased at how normal Quinn sounded despite the horrific beating he had taken. One gun more or less wouldn’t make any difference. She shoved the gun back into her pocket and grabbed the timer instead. Yes, it was counting down too. Only 20 seconds to go now.
Desperately, Quinn reached out and pressed the correct key, and the display stopped flickering. The steady light from it was reassuring. Only 10 seconds to go now.
“Ok, I’m opening the vortex.”
Just as Maggie had counted on, all the guards were dumbstruck by the whirling vortex. Their guns were pointing to the floor, and it seemed they would have time to get out. Dropping her Uzi, Maggie turned to Colin.
With Rembrandt’s help she was able to get him off the floor. Supporting Quinn, Wade jumped into the vortex created by her timer. Diana and Mallory followed the others through the main vortex. Seconds later there was nothing to see in the room where Quinn and Colin had been held.