Here I am releasing yet another one of my old fanfics into the wild. I wrote this one in the late 1990’s and, again, it’s a Sliders composition and is probably my favorite.
In this story, we follow the stories of those left behind when Quinn, Wade, Rembrandt, and Professor Arturo accidentally found themselves lost in the multiverse. The protagonist is Conrad Bennish Jr, a young scientist and background character who is mounting an effort to locate the Sliders and bring them home.
by Jason Gaston
beta-read by Jayelle Carey
“And are you absolutely sure about this, Agent Yenn?”
It was probably the fourth time that the man had asked the same question. Yenn rubbed his eyes as he walked a few steps behind the well-decorated general down the dimly-lit, concrete hallway lined with water pipes and cobwebs. “Sir, this man is the leading expert in the field of quantum physics, ontology, and cosmology. He’s been on the project for over five years, ever since those people went missing, and despite his demeanor and appearance, the professor does get the job done.”
The general harrumphed. “Well, in my day, we wouldn’t have tolerated this type of behavior from the science community. This reminds me about that experiment we funded in the seventies. Did I ever tell you about that?”
“Yes sir, actually…”
“Rebuilding people with bionic parts…”
“Yes sir, I know.”
“We can rebuild them… we have the technology. Feh! A blasted waste of money that was and THIS is! We should have confiscated this material and put our own men on it.”
“Sir,” Yenn said. “I respect your decision, but this was all decided in court. The research belongs to Quinn Mallory’s family, not the government. It poses no ecological threat, no threat against life, no threat whatsoever… Well, not until recently, but that’s still being debated. I’m not exactly a fan of this arrangement either, but we must abide by the law.”
The general didn’t look thrilled. “As long as Uncle Sam is funding this project, Agent – and that may not be much longer – I expect it to be done by the book… I don’t care if the technology is privately owned.”
“Believe me, General, I understand,” Yenn said, opening the door to the main lab. “The professor is a little unorthodox, but he will play by our rules.”
“If things go the way I suspect, Agent,” the general noted, “the professor won’t be playing by anything in a few weeks.”
They went through a pair of double doors and left the primitive industrial hallway behind them. They were now in a large, white room full of state of the art computers manned by half a dozen young scientists. In the middle of the room was a bare, circular platform raised about two feet off the ground and surrounded by a railing.
At one of the many consoles in the room, an Asian man made an announcement over the loudspeaker. “Attention,” he said, “arrival in fifteen seconds. Clear the perimeter, please.”
A few young people in white lab coats quickly vacated the circular platform and manned their respective stations.
“Neutrino flux at 30 percent and rising, temperature rising by four degrees. Aperture is forming. Stand by for retrieval.”
As if on cue, a large circular whirlpool appeared in the middle of the platform, bathing the half dozen scientists in a bright yellow light. The gateway was an impressive sight no matter how many times the agent watched it.
“Extraordinary,” the general admitted. His expression hardened as he went back to business. “How do you think he’ll take the news?”
“Well, I’m sure he’ll be disappointed but subdued,” Agent Yenn replied. “He is a professional, after all.”
With that, there was a bright flash from the wormhole and a man leapt out, landing on his chest. He rose to his feet and dusted himself off. Agent Yenn was the first to say something to him.
“GOOD GOD, PROFESSOR BENNISH, WHERE ARE YOUR CLOTHES!?”
Professor Conrad Bennish, jr. stood on the platform as naked as the day he was born, wearing nothing but the sunglasses he was never seen without. He looked at the agent and then back down at himself. “Oh yeah,” he laughed. “You’d be surprised how you forget you’re not wearing them.”
“Son,” the general said gruffly, “would you mind terribly telling me what in the seven levels of hell is going on here?”
“Well,” Bennish began, leaning against a rail and taking no effort to hide himself or cover his nudity, “it was the most awesomest world I’ve gone to yet. You see, brah, on this world, the stigma against being naked never developed, so the people there never bothered dressing themselves. It was the ultimate ho-slap in authority’s face.”
“Are you telling me that you just got back from a world of nudists?” the general asked, a small thin smile appearing on his lips.
“Exactly,” Bennish said, clicking his fingers at him. “Come rain or shine, snow or ice, it’s a world were it ALL hangs out if you catch my drift. Naked World. I’ll have to save the addy to that one.”
Bennish strolled over to the console where the Asian man was stationed. “Wing, my man, what did the results look like on that last trip?”
“Bennish,” Wing replied, taking a few side steps away from his friend and looking a bit uncomfortable, “don’t you think you should put some clothes on?”
Bennish looked down again. “Oh yeah,” he laughed. “Borrow your lab coat, man?”
Wing quickly took the long, white coat off and handed it to his comrade. “By all means.”
Bennish put the coat on and leaned over the computer, looking at the readouts. “Dude, check this out,” he said, pointing to a grouping of seemingly random numbers. “The photonic readings are unmistakable.”
“Looks like they went through there with their original timer. That’s not a good sign,” Wing noted.
“Not a good sign if they stopped using the first timer and we don’t know if they did,” Bennish replied.
“Any indication they were there the same time you were?”
“Nuh-uh,” Bennish said, “just a counterpart of the professor in Oakland, and I wasn’t in a big hurry to see him in that world’s setting if you catch my drift.”
“Professor Bennish,” the general said, clearing his throat behind him.
Bennish raised a finger. “Just a sec, dude,” he said. “We’re on to something here.” He turned his attention back to Wing. “Have you tracked down the rate of decay yet?”
“Yeah, it’s,” Wing looked at the monitor and slumped, “0.012.”
“Dammit,” Bennish said, slamming his hand down on the desk. He walked past the agent and the general and started talking to them. “The farther that the photonic rate of decay is from the constant, the more time has passed between their insertion and egress from that dimensional plane.”
The general looked at Yenn and then back at Bennish. “And in English that means what?”
“Well, a point-zero-one-two means that they landed on naked world on the order of three to four years ago,” he explained. When Bennish talked science, he seemed to mature somewhat. “If it was a… say… point-eight-four-one, it would have meant they were there less than a month ago. A one-point-zero is what we’re shooting for. That means a fresh photon trail, and that means that they are on that world right then and right there.” Bennish put his hands on his hips and glanced at the two men. “Dude,” he said, “Agent Yenn from the FBI… Haven’t seen you in a while.
“Right,” Bennish said, shaking his hand, “you were one of the suits who came and got me for help after Quinn and the professor pulled their disappearing act.” He looked at the general and his expression grew sour. “Who’s the spook?”
Yenn quickly spoke to keep the impact of Bennish’s insult to a minimum. “Professor Bennish, this is General Thomas Beckett from the Pentagon. He’s come to take a look at what you’re doing here.”
“I don’t like spooks,” Bennish told him. “I told the Pentagon no interference. The Lassie Project is my baby.”
“What did you say?” General Beckett demanded.
“I said this is my baby.”
“No, not that!” Beckett said, getting annoyed. “Did you call it the… The Lassie Project?”
“You know, sir,” Yenn chimed in. “Lassie come home?”
Beckett slowly turned his head and glared at Yenn as if to say, ‘How dare you say something, you stupid, stupid person!”
Yenn nervously looked down at his shoes.
“Let’s talk, boy,” the general commanded.
Bennish’s office looked more like a garbage dump than an actual office. The walls were covered with rock posters, pictures of the Budweiser girls, and various other things. The floor was equally covered with litter, crème soda cans, old paperwork, and other oddities. The room smelled terrible and one would almost expect raccoons to come crawling out of the mess.
“God, it’s like the den of a bear,” the general mumbled.
Bennish laughed as he pushed past them into the office. “Sorry dudes, it’s the cleaning lady’s year off.”
“Professor, whatever inane name you call this operation, I know the government promised no interference – a promise I would have personally never made,” General Beckett said, trying to reason with the young professor. “You don’t want us nosing around and getting in your way as you explore your parallel worlds, even though we ARE funding your expensive project. May I quote you, Professor?”
Bennish blinked. “Dude, we just met. Couldn’t you buy me flowers or something first?”
The general ignored him, reached into his briefcase, and pulled out a slip of paper. “According to your own reports published in OMNI and Popular Science, you describe a world of giants, is that true?”
“True, dude. Giants with an affinity for sports of the golfing variety.”
“Golfing giants…” The general smiled and nodded in a condescending manner. “And in your interview, you went on to describe a world where California was part of Texas and that there were actually gunfighters roaming the streets. You also spoke of worlds where people grew wings and flew around like birds, where dinosaurs roamed city streets, where the internet was a way of life for everyone on earth and no one left their homes, and now you get back from a naked world… Bennish, this doesn’t seem like the sort of project we should…”
It was then when something hit the general in the groin. The elder man, who had been carrying himself with such dignity and authority, doubled over and sank to his knees. When he finally managed to open his eyes, a small, chicken-sized lizard stood in front of him on its two hind legs and seemed to purr playfully. It cocked its thin head as its tongue darted in and out of its mouth.
Professor Bennish could hardly contain his laughter.
“What… is that!?” the general asked, coughing.
Yenn helped the general to his feet as Bennish called the strange animal over with a kissing sound. “Sorry about that, man,” Bennish said as the small creature hopped up on his desk and clicked its tiny claws on the wooden surface, knocking a few papers onto the already filthy floor. “Godzilla was going after your belt. Compys are attracted to shiny things.”
“It’s a dinosaur from that dino-earth you were rolling your eyes at a while ago.” Bennish took a half eaten doughnut off a shelf and tossed it to the reptile. The tiny reptile began pecking at the food like a bird, chirping happily as it ate. “He’s handy to have around, you know. A one-lizard trash patrol.” He looked down at the floor. “Too bad he doesn’t eat paper,” he added, rustling a few sheets with his foot.
The general managed to compose himself a little more. The indignity of the whole visit had almost enraged the man, but he had decided to remain civil. Instead of calling the young whelp every swear word he’d learned from basic training through Vietnam, he decided to cut to the chase. “Professor, the public is questioning our funding of a project to bring back four people from a parallel universe when there isn’t an iota of evidence that the passageway didn’t kill them all in the first place… as it did all of the test animals in year one of your project.”
“We’ve been finding the signature from the original sliding accelerator all over the multiverse! It’s them! Quinn was and is a genius,” Bennish said. “He would have never gone through without knowing that it was safe. Besides, he was spotted by his own mother a couple of years back, alive and well.”
“If it was really him.”
“I was there,” Bennish said. “His mother called me, I went to the hospital where they took the Jane Doe dish he arrived with, and I talked to him for a few seconds. Trust me, it was him and even if it wasn’t, it’s proof that at least one Quinn Mallory in the multiverse slid successfully.”
“Then it’s one and only one and not necessarily the one you’re looking for. Washington has a bill, Mr. Bennish,” General Beckett said, making no small effort to ignore his rightful title of professor. “It’s a bill to stop funding to your project.”
Bennish looked at Yenn in shock and then back at Beckett. “They’re cutting us off? Denied!” His tone caused the small compy to reel back in alarm and squawk a warning before proceeding to peck away at his dinner.
“They might,” Yenn said, stepping in. “Unless some progress is made.”
“Progress!?” Bennish said, his shout bringing forth another cautionary hiss from Godzilla who was apparently tired of having his meal interrupted. “What the hell do you call the stuff in the museum, dude? What the HELL do you call the parallel worlds we’ve been going to for the last five years!? What the HELL do you call THIS!” He picked up the small lizard by the skin on its back and held it up. “If that’s not progress, then screw me sideways… I don’t know what the hell is!”
Godzilla squealed and ran out the half-opened office door.
“I call your work fascinating, young man,” Beckett replied, nervously eyeing the door that the tiny dinosaur escaped through, “but it doesn’t prove that Quinn Mallory, Wade Wells, Maximillian Arturo, or Rembrandt Brown are still alive.”
“They are,” Bennish said emphatically. “I can feel it.”
Beckett’s expression softened when he saw the look of determination on the young man’s face. He put a hand on his shoulder. “Son, I know you do, and I know you’re prepared to do anything to see those people home, but feelings aren’t enough to convince the bureaucrats holding the purse strings.”
“How long do we have?” Bennish asked.
“A week,” the general replied. “And it doesn’t look good. That world you visited a month or so back has got them all scared.”
Bennish knew it did… it scared the hell out of him too. An entire world had been literally stripped of all minerals, leaving the air tainted, the waters poisoned, and the land ripped bare. In the ruins of San Francisco, he discovered graffiti and tattered old newspapers detailing an invasion by a marauding species called the Kromaggs. When his report hit Washington, he was bombarded with questions about the Kromaggs, questions he couldn’t very well answer since he had never seen a Kromagg or even knew if they really existed or were the bogeymen of a dying parallel civilization, but one thing was for sure… the photonic readings were off the scale, so whatever hit that world came from a parallel reality and there was a whole lot of that ‘whatever’… a ghastly amount of that ‘whatever.’ Dozens of other governments were putting pressure on the U.S. government to abandon the rescue mission lest the Kromaggs find their way to Earth, and the news of Washington’s decision to cut funding should have come as no surprise.
“But I’ve only seen evidence of these Kromaggs on one world,” Bennish told him. “They’re probably just movie monsters or something! You know, a few people let their imaginations run away with them… Hell, you were around during War of the Worlds, weren’t you?”
Beckett let the insult slide – no pun intended. “There was a hell of a lot of evidence,” he said, trying to reason. “An entire world stripped bare, everyone dead… Quite an impact, young man. Look, I’ll be in touch. I just thought that news like this should be handed to you personally.”
“Yeah,” Bennish snorted. “Thank YOU very much.”
All of the warmth in General Beckett’s face almost eroded at the undue sarcasm. “I personally think that this is a fascinating project, Professor, but it’s not my call. You’ve got one week to get some results to the boys and girls in Washington or you will be snatched from the governmental teat.”
Bennish grimaced. “Uck,” he said, “thanks for the imagery.”
“I’m being serious, son, and I’m trying to help you. Despite the fact that this is a private sector project, there’s lot’s of potential here.”
Bennish smirked in disgust. “For the military?”
Beckett nodded. Of course, Bennish HAD to be a pacifist. “Yes, I will readily admit that the possibly for military advancement is there, but there are also the means to combat dwindling natural resources, overpopulation, deforestation…”
“And Quinn Mallory? Professor Arturo? Wade Wells? Rembrandt Brown?” Bennish asked. “I guess they’d get bumped down on the ‘to do’ list, huh?”
“More than likely,” the general admitted, “but at least the search would still be going.”
Bennish shook his head. “If Thomas Edison got sucked into a light bulb or something, everybody would’ve dropped everything to bring him back. Quinn Mallory is the father of interdimensional travel, and bringing him home should be our number one goal. Not the exploitation of his work!”
The general thought about that. “If you want to address Congress yourself, I’ll help get you sponsored. The senator from Nebraska owes me a favor.”
Bennish looked up. “Do what? Me? In front of Congress? General, I’m impressed!”
“You in front of Congress?” The general replied with a grin, “I’m frightened.”
“It’s folks like you who give spooks a bad name,” Bennish said, returning the grin.
“And it’s folks like you that make me glad I never had children, Mr. Bennish,” Beckett shot back. “Good luck. I’ll be in touch.”
The general motioned for Yenn to follow, and the two of them marched out the door.
Wing stuck his head in through the office door after the two men left. He was holding Godzilla in his arms and the tiny lizard growled a warning at Bennish. “Dude,” Wing said, “did I hear something about cuts in funding?”
“Did I hear something about you being nosy?” Bennish replied. “Is it always this cold in here?” he said, wrapping the lab coat tightly around himself.
“Well, you are practically naked,” Wing told him, setting the small animal on the floor. Godzilla purred happily, leapt onto the desk, and began madly pecking away at the doughnut. Apparently, all was forgiven. “Now, what about those cuts?” Wing continued, stepping away from the barrage of crumbs flying from the feast. “How much are we talking about THIS time?”
“It was the climate on the last world,” Bennish said, brushing mangled pieces of doughnut out of his stringy hair. “It was about ten degrees warmer there and the weather was more constant year-round. You’d be surprised how soon you forget you don’t have a thread on.”
“Bennish, come on, man! Don’t jerk me around!” he demanded, shutting the door behind him to avoid any fellow eavesdroppers from listening in.
Bennish took the time to turn up the heat on the thermostat and then looked at Wing. “Total.”
“Total?” Wing repeated, his face going pale. “They want to cut ALL our funding?”
Bennish nodded and sat down. “Those Kromagg things we found out about last month have got all those Senators, Representatives, and pencil-pushers abso-freakin’-lutley pissing themselves. Even big bad George Dubya. This is all because of that damn Jay Leno making jokes about us.”
“And just like that, they’re going to cut us off? But, you told them how close we’re getting, didn’t you?”
“In my last report,” Bennish replied, tossing a copy of it across the littered desk. “They know we only missed them by a week, but unless we get proof, they’re not going to listen. Getting funding was always easier with the Democrats in charge, but now it’s all going to that stupid tax cut.”
Wing tossed the report to the side and stood. He put a hand on his hip and ran his fingers through his hair. “What do they want? For us to drag Quinn through the wormhole kicking and screaming?”
“Maybe if we made the concessions they wanted during the beginning?” Wing suggested, grabbing at straws.
Bennish scoffed. “Military escorts on slides? Government approved scientists in the lab? Thanks, but no thanks. They’ll just slow us down.”
“But if it keeps us going…”
“It won’t keep us going, Wing! It’ll keep THEM going!” Bennish shot back. “As soon as we let the spooks and the ‘crats in here, we’re out of it! Forget looking for Quinn and Max, our priorities will be on the back burner and it’ll be the military looking for bigger and better weapons, the environmentalists looking for more spotted owls, and things like that! ”
“They’re not going to push us out,” Wing tried to reason with him. “We’re the only two on the planet aside from maybe Stephen Hawking who know how the sliding equipment works.”
“And if we let them in here, they’d learn real quick,” Bennish argued. “No, we go with the original agreement… we share this with no one! It’s just us. We fought long and hard and all the way to the Supreme Court for ownership of the project. By the by, you talk to Steve while I was gone?”
“Yeah, he left a message for you. Said thanks for the brownies.” Wing leaned up against the wall. “I hope your ego doesn’t end up screwing us, Professor,” he said, putting a sarcastic emphasis on the word, ‘professor.’
“You don’t think I’m mental right now, do ya?”
“You’ve always been mental, Conrad,” Wing sighed. “I just think you’re making the wrong choice.”
Bennish stood and blew air from his mouth. “Wingman,” he began. From his tone, Wing could tell that he was putting actual thought into his words. “When Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer watched the first nuclear explosion back in the forties, what do you think was going through their noggins?”
“Ow, my eyes!?”
“What if it scared the hell out of them? What if they both thought, ‘that bomb is my baby and now they’re going to take it and kill thousands of people with it’? Well, you’re going to think I’m being paranoid or something, but I kinda think that every time one of them spooks comes in here talking about funding and the country and all.”
Wing shifted his position against the wall. “I see.”
“Sliding is my creation… alright, my Recreation,” Bennish continued. “I mean, I know that the Quinn man was the first to come up with it, but we spent a long time trying to redo what he did, and when we did, well… I think of sliding as my baby every bit as much as it is Quinn’s. Hell, with all of the improvements we’ve made to the whole process, I’m sure Quinn will agree when we finally nab his ass and bring him home.”
“Actual contemplation on consequences from Conrad,” Wing smirked. “You impress me.”
“It happens,” Bennish answered. “C’mon, brah. In five years have I ever led us astray?”
“Plenty of times.”
“Like that world with the dragons and knights and stuff.”
“Was it MY fault your alternate was a court jester?”
“No, but you weren’t in any big hurry to tell them that I wasn’t him!”
“Look on the bright side,” Bennish laughed, “you killed at the palace.”
“You mean, I was almost KILLED at the palace.”
Bennish shrugged. “That’s what you get for falling back on the ‘old man from Nantucket’ joke, my man. It’s dated.”
“One of these days, we’re going to run into an evil Bennish alternate and then YOU’LL see what it’s like,” Wing replied.
“I can see it now,” Wing said, imagining the whole thing. “He’ll be a nerd… He’ll be into Dungeons and Dragons… He’ll be a short-haired Republican who likes milk.”
Bennish snorted and soon was laughing along with his friend. “Look,” Wing said, “if we want the Lassie Project to keep going, we’re going to have to work with the government and not against them.”
Bennish became silent. He knew his friend was right. “Tell the gang to go home and thank ‘em for hanging with us all day.”
Wing nodded and, after a second or two, asked the question. “Are you going to tell her?”
“Yeah, have to,” Bennish replied. “She needs to know. Wanna come with?”
“Will you put some damn clothes on?”
Bennish looked down again. His lab coat had come loose and hung open. “Oh yeah. You’d be amazed how soon you forget.”
Wing shook his head. “You’d be surprised how difficult it is for the rest of us not to notice.”
Godzilla seemed to chitter in agreement.
Professor Bennish, now fully clothed, strolled down the industrial, dimly-lit hallway. ‘Sure,’ he thought to himself for what was probably the fifteenth time that day, ‘the government will spend a hundred bucks for a toilet paper roller on an aircraft carrier, but they put us up in an old concrete factory.’
It was still a nice arrangement, but he could never get used to the foreboding structure… The only place he ever felt comfortable was in the lab, his dwelling on the grounds, and his little museum of interdimensional goodies he had set up over the years.
Truthfully, Bennish had the sneaking notion that the old factory was haunted. Every now and then, when he was alone on the grounds, he would hear strange, unexplainable noises, and objects would disappear for days before turning up in the same spot. Bennish was certain it was the ghosts of cement workers burned to death in the cement kilm a few dozen years ago, but Wing kept insisting that it was Bennish’s overactive imagination and tendency to light up after hours.
One of the scientists hired on by Bennish, a cute redhead named Marie who was on duty during his grand entrance a few minutes before, walked by him with a gigantic smile growing on her face. As Bennish returned the smile, she began singing. “Oh yeah, they call him the streak. Boogidy Boogidy!”
“You’re just sorry you didn’t bring any singles for tips,” Bennish quipped back at her.
Marie shrugged. “Singles? Professor, that was a fiver if I ever saw one.”
Marie continued down the hall. Professor Bennish threw her a lop-sided grin.
Bennish unlocked the door to the museum and stepped inside. The museum wasn’t really a museum by any means, instead it was more of a storage shed housing the many artifacts he, Wing, and a few others who had braved the torrents of the multiverse had brought back with them over the last five years of searching.
He opened a box and placed a postcard from Naked World inside. Since he didn’t have the luxury of pockets during the last slide, it was the only object he’d managed to bring back with him.
The postcard was of the Statue of Liberty, shorn of all clothing and standing proudly in front of the New York City backdrop. Bennish snickered at it and then took a moment to gaze at his other treasures.
Stored in a jar of formaldehyde was an insect the size of your average cocker spaniel called a spider-wasp, taken from a world where they had ravaged the entire country and killed thousands until being wiped out by a fierce blizzard the following winter… The inhabitants of that world quickly learned a valuable lesson: it’s not wise to fool with mother nature.
On the wall was a collection of movie posters for movies that didn’t and could never exist on Earth Prime: Back to the Future V, a version of The Wizard of Oz with Shirley Temple as Dorothy and Buddy Hackett as the Scarecrow, and Axle Foley, a movie based on a Chris Farley character from Saturday Night Live.
The funniest was an alternate version of Titanic where the movie was envisioned by director Joel Shumacer as a musical comedy starring David Hasselhoff and Jenny McCarthy. When Bennish brought the movie poster back during year three of the project, the other scientists clamored about it so much that he returned to that world during year four and picked it up on video only to discover that the video standard of that world was Betamax and not VHS. Unperturbed, the scientists fanned out to all of the thrift shops in San Francisco one weekend, and after a grueling search, finally found an old betamax player. When the time came to watch the movie, they all found out at once that the wormhole’s magnetic fields erased the tape. Bennish promised that next time he visited that world, he’d grab the movie on the new home video technology that was emerging there, Divx. Now, it looked like they might never get to see the movie that Roger Ebert reportedly gave a middle finger straight up.
Most curious of all was the poster advertising a television show called Sliders which starred alternates of Quinn, Wade, Brown, and the professor from a world where reality had become fiction. Apparently, alternates of Bennish and Wing had been regulars on the show when it first came on, but mysteriously disappeared by the second season.
Glaring at him from a corner was a cardboard cut-out of Quinn dressed in athletic gear with the words “Just Think It” scrawled across the bottom. In another corner was another cut-out, one Bennish frequently teased Wing about that advertised a metal band called ‘Kittens in a Blender’ in which an alternate of Wing and Quinn and an unidentified man and woman were members.
Bennish ran his hands across the smooth blade of a titanium Indian arrowhead he’d recovered on a world were Europe was colonized by Native Americans and, instead of countries, tribes laid claim to lands around the globe.
There were Pizza boxes that bore names like PizzaHut.com, Papa Joe’s, and Pizza Bell… a strange little restaurant where Taco Bell and Pizza Hut became one entity and made Mexican food flavored pizzas like Taco Supreme, Macho-Nacho, and – Bennish’s favorite – Sergeant Pepper.
There was a snapshot of Bennish, Wing, and several of their old classmates from California U. on a tropical paradise world where California was a broken up by quakes into a thousand islands populated by dark women who found light skin quite alluring. They had gone there to celebrate when Bennish finally got his PhD.
The last object he came to was the most troubling… it was a weapon he’d brought back with him from the wasteland. Obviously, it was Kromagg and its destructive capability was horrific.
The weapon was beautiful in design, it was light and seemed to reshape itself to the hand to give its user the most comfort and ease in movement.
When he found it lying under some rubble in the wasteland, he test fired it and literally reduced a concrete column to a fine powder. He told no one of the weapon… not even Wing. If the government discovered definitive proof that these Kromaggs were half as destructive as they thought they were, the funding would’ve been cut in a second.
He could have kept the Kromaggs a secret all together, but that was a lie he was not prepared to tell. If the Kromaggs were out there and raiding parallel universes, the world needed to know. But it hadn’t been a problem… not so far.
He placed the weapon into its crate and locked it up tight. Someday, if he was fortunate, maybe he’d finally see a Kromagg. If the fates were insanely kind, perhaps the Kromaggs would not be an enemy, but an ally to his home world.
He slid the box under a table and placed various magazines and newspapers on top of it to conceal it. Bennish stood and took a breath, looking proudly at his museum. “I am the man,” he said to himself.
Professor Bennish and Wing parked their vehicle, a green Ford Mustang convertible, and walked across the street to the unassuming white home. A sign now hung in the front yard with the words “THE MALLORY MANOR BED AND BREAKFAST.”
Wing motioned in the direction of an RV parked down the street as they walked into the front yard. “Looks like she’s got some guests,” he mentioned.
Bennish pushed on the front gate which made a high-pitched squeal. “Damn, man,” Bennish said, rubbing his finger in his ear. “You’d think she’d fix that.”
They rang the doorbell and, after a few seconds, they were greeted by the tired but kind face of Linda Mallory, Quinn’s mother. “Hello boys, what brings you to this neck of the woods?”
“Hi, Mrs. M,” they both said, smiling.
“Well,” Mrs. Mallory said, wiping her hands on a dishcloth, “I think I can guess why you’re here.”
Bennish fidgeted, dreading having to break the news. “You can?”
“You haven’t eaten anything, have you?”
Bennish and Wing looked at each other. “I am kinda hungry,” Wing said.
“Dude,” Bennish said, trying to remind him of the reason they came in the first place.
“Well, that settles it,” Mrs. Mallory said, rolling up the dishcloth and snapping it across their behinds, “get inside, that’s an order!”
“Mrs. M,” Bennish said, “I need to – OW!”
Mrs. Mallory laughed. “Sorry, I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“Probably left a whelt, ma’am,” he replied, rubbing his butt. “Mrs. Mallory…”
Passing in front of the den, she stopped them and motioned inside. “Oh, have you met the Hollanders yet?”
Wing blinked. “Who?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Hollander?” she said, calling into the den. “You’re going to love these two. They’re staying here celebrating their sixtieth anniversary.”
On the couch was a small, frail old woman and an equally small, frail old man connected to an oxygen can. “Mr. and Mrs. Hollander,” Mrs. Mallory continued, “these are the young men I told you about, Professor Conrad Bennish and Doctor Trevor Wing.”
The telephone rang and Mrs. Mallory looked at them apologetically. “Oh, damn,” she said. “I’m sorry, will you excuse me for a second. Why don’t you get to know each other?” With that, she ran to the kitchen to answer the phone.
Mrs. Hollander smiled. “You’re the men we’ve been seeing on the television,” she said with an open mouth. “Walter, look! It’s the young men that Jay Leno was talking about last night.”
Walter looked up with sleepy eyes, his oxygen canister hissing like Darth Vader, and nodded at them.
“Pleased to meet you,” Wing said, waving nervously.
Bennish leaned over to him and whispered. “You are?”
Wing kicked him and Bennish finally waved to them. “‘Sup?”
Mrs. Hollander was all atwitter. “You’re the one who goes to all those… oh, what are they called?”
“Parallel universes?” Bennish asked.
Mrs. Hollander frowned. “No, no… that’s not it. Something like, alternative somethings.”
“Alternate dimensions,” Wing explained. “It’s basically the same thing.” He got tired of standing, so he sat in a chair across from the Hollanders.
“No, no… that’s not it.” Mrs. Hollander drew her lips tight and shook her head. “Such a shame what happened to that poor woman’s son,” she whispered.
“Yes ma’am, it was, but we’re doing everything we can to bring him home.”
“And to have lost her husband as well. Oh, I couldn’t even imagine life without my Walter. Ever since he had the dialysis, he hasn’t been as energetic as he was and I have to watch him at night to make sure he isn’t sleeping on his stomach due to his bad lungs, you know. But I still can’t imagine life without him.”
Wing nodded. “Uh-huh.”
“And I have to turn him every three hours also, lest he gets those bed sores. Have to rub him down with ointment if that happens.”
Wing looked for Bennish in the hallway for help, but found only an empty hall and the light sound of laughter mocking him.
“Well, I usually feed him around five… no solid foods, of course, and then I have to clean out his colon and that’s always hard for me.”
“Well,” Wing nervously said, “you’re just so lucky to have him.”
Mrs. Hollander stared at him and blinked. “If it wasn’t for Viagra…”
“Wing, get in here!” Bennish called out.
A little too quickly, Wing shot to his feet. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he said, walking briskly out of the room.
“What a nice man,” Mrs. Hollander commented to her unresponsive husband.
Wing found Bennish and Mrs. Mallory in the kitchen. Mrs. Mallory was holding the phone against her breast and chewing on her thumb nervously. “That was, uh… the Chronicle,” she said, hanging up the phone. “They wanted to get a quote from me about the possible cutting of funds to the Lassie Project.”
“Mrs. M,” Bennish began.
“Is it true?” she asked him. “Are they giving up?”
Bennish and Wing were silent for a minute and then nodded. “There’s a good chance they could pull the plug in a week,” Bennish explained.
Mrs. Mallory sat down. “But all that stuff you brought back,” she whispered. “They’ve got to be out there! Dammit, I saw him! YOU saw him!”
“I know,” Bennish said, taking her hand.
“He said he was coming back,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye. “He PROMISED me he was going to come back!” She wasn’t crying, but just sat there as if she didn’t have the emotional energy for an outright display of grief.
“They haven’t cut our funding yet, ma’am,” Wing said, trying to comfort her. “Bennish is going to Washington and he’s going to convince them to keep the money coming!”
Mrs. Mallory looked at Bennish. “What do we do if you don’t?
“I’ll think of something,” Bennish said. “I swear to God, I’m not giving up.”
Bennish stormed across the street, taking one last drink of Mrs. Mallory’s famous coffee before tossing the paper cup to the side. “Man, I swore to God!” Bennish said, shaking his head. “I’m screwed!”
“Dude, you’re littering,” Wing said. “Mrs. Mallory paid a lot for those cups. They have THE MALLORY MANOR printed across them and everything.”
“And they’re completely biodegradable,” Bennish said. “Get off my ass, would ya?”
He got to the car and stopped. “Look, man, I’m sorry,” he said. “I just…”
“You don’t have to explain anything,” Wing told him. “It’s like you just got the weight of the world – several worlds – heaved on you.”
“I feel like I’m gonna heave,” Bennish replied. “I’M going to testify in front of Congress. Me!”
“The thought is staggering,” Wing agreed.
“I always thought that if I was going to testify to Congress about anything, it was going to be to get it legalized.”
Bennish looked at him as if he was stupid.
“Oh,” Wing said, sitting down inside the car. “Of course.”
Bennish was more than a little nervous on the floor of the House of Representatives and under the watchful eyes of the leaders of most of the free world. It wouldn’t be so bad if they all weren’t there to discredit him and make it look like he was draining the money of taxpayers.
To his own credit, Bennish had cleaned himself up dramatically. Gone were his signature sunglasses he always wore. In fact, back at the factory in California, Wing noted to the other scientists watching the proceedings on CNN that it was the first time he’d ever seen Bennish’s eyes.
The professor’s hair was tied neatly back and, most amazingly, he wore a suit and tie. Granted, the tie had pictures of KISS on it, but it was still a tie.
The only familiar faces to him, aside from the faces he’d only seen on television, were General Thomas Beckett who watched the proceedings with bemused interest, Yenn and his lady partner who were showing a bit more interest than the General was, and those other two agents he’d met a few years earlier during the first days of the Lassie Project… the red-head and the spooky, tall, lanky man.
The young professor did his best to answer the questions succinctly and in laymen’s terms, but he still found himself having to repeat his answers. He began to wonder if he was going to have to resort to flash cards and sock puppets.
One of the senators on the committee eyed him through his coke bottle glasses. He had to at least be pushing 90 and Bennish could well imagine that the tiny, aged man was probably sitting on two phone books just to see over his desk. “Pro-fessah Bennish,” he began. The Senator had a thick Southern accent that really irritated him. “Am ah to understand that these missing people are traveling through these so-called ‘parallel universes’ on their own vo-lition?”
“Well, sir,” Bennish began, “they’re traveling through parallel universes looking for a way home.”
“But are they doing of their own vol-ition, sah? I don’t undah-stand whah you can’t give me a yes or no ansah!”
Yep, this guy was up for re-election. “Senator, it’s not that simple…”
“Yes or no,” the Senator asked again.
“Yes, but it…”
“Then whah are we spendin’ millions of dollahs oh yo’ project if they can simply come home anytime they want?”
Oh, yeah… this guy was definitely up for re-election.
“That’s not what I said,” Bennish immediately said.
“You said that they were traveling on their own vol-ition.”
“You’re twisting my words,” Bennish pathetically shot back. It was no use, though… he was fighting what appeared to be decades upon decades of experience in political backtalk. “Yes, they are traveling on their own volition, but it’s not-”
“Thank you, pro-fessah, you may step down.”
Bennish’s jaw dropped. “I’m not finished.”
The Senator squinted through his half-inch thick glasses. “Yes, Pro-fessah… you are.”
“No, I am not,” Bennish growled back. “I am not going to step down until I state my case fairly!”
“Professor Bennish,” another member of the committee said, leaning forward. Hillary… it HAD to be Hillary. “You DO know who you’re talking to, don’t you?”
Bennish stood there for a moment under the glare of lights and cameras. “I’m talking to a bunch of small-minded lawyers who care more about getting elected next term than saving the lives of four American citizens.”
The joint session erupted. Angry shouts directed at Bennish filled the room from the hundreds of duly elected men and women. “Mr. Bennish, you will respect this body or we will have you removed!”
Bennish was ‘pulling an Arturo’ as he had come to call it. Having to deal with top brass and politicians over the years had given him a rather hot temper. “Remove me? What do I care? It was a waste of my time even coming here. Trying to explain astral physics to Oldey Olsen up there is a friggin’ waste of my time! Why don’t you remove your heads from your own asses!?”
The ancient Senator got to his feet, though it still looked like he was sitting. “Pro-fessah Bennish, in all mah years in public service ah have nevah been so appalled!”
Bennish snorted as he gathered up his papers. “Oh, come on… I bet freeing the slaves was a real blow to you.” He stuffed his papers into his briefcase and snapped it shut.
As he walked down the aisle and towards the door, he listened to the shouts of anger from the congressmen in the hall, so it was quite a surprise to him when the angry shouts quickly turned into muffled screams and shouts of alarm. Behind him, he heard the sound of a body hit the ground.
Bennish stopped and looked up at General Beckett who was rubbing the bridge of his nose and shaking his head. The FBI agents were gone, racing to the center podium. He finally got the courage to turn around and saw that the ancient Senator had fallen behind the desk, a small group of guards and fellow Senators had flocked to him and, unseen to him, they were in the process of performing CPR.
Bennish bit his lip, took a couple of small steps backwards, and made a discrete exit.
Wing was sitting in the lab a few days later when Bennish returned. Most of the equipment was shut down except for the photon trackers, which monitored about two/tenths of a percent of interdimensional travel across the multiverse with the hope it might luck out and lock onto one of the timers the sliders were using. “So,” Wing asked innocently, “how’d it go?”
Bennish glared at him. “How the hell do you think it went? Typical election year crap trying to make me look like a tax leech. I couldn’t stand it, so…”
“So, you killed the chair of the Interdimensional Exploration Subcommittee?”
“I didn’t kill him!”
Wing stood. “He dropped dead right after you insulted him.”
“HE WAS NINTY-EIGHT YEARS OLD!!!” Bennish shouted back. “For God’s sake, Wing! There are oak trees younger than that!”
“But you can insult an oak tree all you want and it won’t drop dead of a coronary,” the familiar voice of General Beckett reminded him.
“Oak trees aren’t trying to screw us.” Bennish turned around and sighed. “What are you doing here? Hasn’t my day been shitty enough?”
The general dusted off his cap that was covered in spider webbing. Obviously, he’d walked into the web which sometimes appeared in the main hallway. The lab personnel had affectionately named the annoying arachnid, Charlotte. “Professor, it’s over,” the General answered tonelessly.
“What do you mean it’s over?” Wing asked.
“The Interdimensional Exploration Subcommittee is going to reconvene in three days when, it is widely believed, that your funding will be cut and all governmental assistance will be discontinued.”
Bennish slumped. “Three days?”
The general nodded. “Yes. For what it’s worth, son… I’m sorry.”
Bennish never looked up. “Thanks, General Beckett.”
Beckett nodded and, with a somber look on his face, turned and left.
“So it’s over,” Wing said. “Just like that. You kill just once and it’s over.”
Bennish snorted a laugh. “It ain’t over ‘til the fat professor sings when we haul him home, brah.”
The young professor rushed to the lab and began turning on the sleeping equipment.
Wing smirked as he followed him into the awakening lab. “Did I miss something? How are…?”
“We’ve got three days, let’s use them!” Bennish insisted, flipping switches as fast as he could.
Wing’s jaw dropped. “Oh, of course! Hell, we haven’t found them in five years of searching… how silly of me to think we wouldn’t luck into them in three days!”
“Fine,” Bennish said, crossing his arms. “Then you’ve got the duty.”
Wing was confused. “Did you just say I have to doody?”
“No… duty,” Bennish replied. “As in the duty of going to Mrs. M and telling her that all the years we’ve been telling her that her son is coming home has been a great big ball of crap wrapped in bullshit. You tell her, brah, ‘cause I don’t think I can do that without knowing that we tried until the last minute and then stole a few seconds after that. You do it, Wingman, ‘cause I can’t.”
Wing flinched and then flipped the main power switch for the accelerator. “You’re a bastard, you know that?”
“It’s an art,” Bennish replied with a grin. “I want to do alternating slides for the next 72 hours. Get on the horn and wake everyone up and tell them it’s down to the gritty and nitty and we’re going on field trips.”
“Everyone,” Bennish confirmed. “I want people in alternate universes constantly over the next three days. Ten minute slides each… that should be enough time to make accurate readings of the photon fields.”
“Make it twenty,” Wing said, booting the tracking computer.
“Ten,” Bennish disagreed. “We’ll do twice as many Earths.”
“Yeah,” Wing said, giving him a steely glare, “and we won’t have accurate enough readings either. We could end up missing them all together. You wanna do this fast or do you wanna do it right?”
Bennish picked up a timer. “I really hate it when you’re right.”
“It happens,” Wing shot back.
With that, he pointed the timer at the center platform and created the circular, spinning, yellow doorway to another reality. As usual, wind rushed from the passage and Bennish had to speak up to bark more orders to his colleague. “I want to see butts in those seats when I get back!”
“You’ll have those butts and the bodies to go along with ‘em!” Wing replied. “Good luck, Professor!”
Bennish ran to the gateway and leapt out of existence.
Bennish landed on the lab floor with a SHLOP sound. He rose to his feet and pulled a disgusting string of muck-covered roots out of his hair. “Eeeeeeewwww!” he said.
“Damn, he’s not showing the full monty today,” Marie’s voice replied from her station. “I brought singles, camcorders, and everything.”
Bennish spit some of the disgusting vegetation out of his mouth. “Sorry to disappoint you. Maybe a private show later?” He tossed the timer to Wing who tossed him a new one. “Feel like taking a trip?” Bennish asked Marie.
Marie stripped off her lab coat and caught the timer gracefully. “A maybe to question number one and a definitely to question number two.”
She was already in another dimension before Bennish figured out what she meant.
“Photon decay at .0221,” Wing reported. “Missed them by a few years.”
“Well, wouldn’t blame ‘em for not wanting to stay on that charming rainy hunk of mud,” Bennish said, wiping gunk off of his glasses and casting a glance at another scientist entering the lab. Poor guy looked like he was fighting the sour end of a hangover. “Give me a second to wash off and I’ll be good to go after Marie gets back. You wanna come with now that the third watch has arrived.”
Wing looked at the new arrival and shook his head. “I think I’ll wait until he’s had a few aspirin and a blood test.”
One quick shower, six arrivals, four aspirin, and ten slides later, Bennish and his team had made no progress. They’d tracked photon trails that had been decaying less than a year, but there was still no evidence of Quinn Mallory, Wade Wells, Rembrandt Brown, or Maximillian Arturo on any of the scouting slides.
Bennish and Wing stood by as they awaited the arrival of one of their fellow scientists, a man named Bobby Newson who’d gone through to give the others a break. “Clear the perimeter,” Wing announced on the loudspeaker. “Arrival in ten seconds.”
Marie signaled an affirmative with a thumbs up from her station. She’d been on two of the ten slides and took the madness of the evening in stride.
Ten seconds went by, and then ten more.
Bennish turned to Wing. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know, but Bob’s definitely missed the slide,” Wing replied.
Bennish scooped up one of the timers and inputted Bobby’s coordinates, setting the time limit to five minutes. “We don’t have time for this crap,” he mumbled. “Oughta make him wait the 29 years.”
Wing walked onto the platform with him. “Two pairs of eyes are better than one, right?
“Read my mind, brah,” Bennish said to him as he activated the vortex. He looked back at Marie and winked. “If we’re not back in five minutes send a pizza!”
Bennish and Wing landed in the middle of a full blown battle. Old style biplanes buzzed overhead and dropped crude-looking bombs on an enemy that seemed to be on the other side of a nearby hill.
Bennish and Wing ducked for cover into a nearby foxhole and immediately found themselves staring down the barrels off at least twenty rifles held by several black and white soldiers dressed in blue.
“Sorry, dudes,” Bennish said with his hands raised in the air. “We didn’t know that there weren’t any vacancies!”
Just then, there was an explosion less than ten feet away from them, giving Bennish and Wing ample opportunity to escape and run down the battlefield away from the massacre that seemed to be happening a few hundred yards away.
Wing grabbed Bennish by the back of his shirt and pointed to a nearby cluster of tents. “Bobby’s timer is over in those tents,” he said, pointing out the blip on his indicator.
“That’s just great,” Bennish replied. “And how do we know that there’s not a bunch of guys over there with guns ready to drill us?”
“We’ve got two minutes to find out,” Wing told him, running towards the tents.
After a short sprint, they discovered that the tents were a mobile hospital treating victims of the war… whatever war it was. “One minute,” Wing said, huffing from their run and pushing his way through the crowd of injured. “Bobby’s less than ten feet away,” he said, pointing to a closed tent.
Bennish walked over and lifted the tent flap up. Bobby was lying on a table with a bloody leg. “Bobby?” Bennish called out.
Bobby looked up. “Professor Bennish,” he said. “Am I glad to see you!”
“Are you with this man?” the as-of-then-unseen attendant asked.
“Yeah, we’re… uh… in his… army,” Wing weakly replied, a little startled by the attendant’s presence.
A small, shaggy, brown dog entered the tent and began barking at them. “Down, boy,” the attendant commanded. The small dog whimpered and obediently laid down.
“Uh, Wing… I told him where we come from,” Bobby replied.
“Then I guess he’ll know where we’re going,” Wing said, holding up the timer. “We’re down to five seconds.”
He pointed the device away from them and activated the vortex which promptly blew the tent away leaving them all out in the open attracting the stares of several confused soldiers.
“Oh my god, it’s true!” the attendant exclaimed as Bennish and Wing hoisted Bobby to his feet and chucked him through the wormhole. They both looked at the stunned young man, shrugged, and leapt into the vortex.
Bobby hit the lab floor and howled in pain, holding his injured leg. Bennish and Wing landed on their feet and helped him to a nearby chair. All of the staff was assembled at last and every station was manned.
“Oh my God,” Marie said.
“I’m fine,” Bobby said, waving her off. “I just took a little shrapnel in the leg.”
“Not you!” Marie answered in annoyance, tugging on Wing’s sleeve and pointing to the platform. “You were followed!”
There in the middle of the lab was the attendant that had been treating Bobby. He looked around the lab in amazement and placed an easing hand on his dog who had also followed him through.
“He followed us back!” Wing reacted. “That’s never happened before!”
“God, it IS true!” the attendant said.
“Yeah, it’s true…,” Bennish said, resetting the timer. “Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re busy, dude, and we ain’t got time for ya. Time for yo’ happy ass to go home.”
“No!” the attendant said. “Don’t send me back!”
“Look, this ain’t no stray dog thing,” Bennish said, putting an arm around the man’s shoulder. “You follow us home, we don’t keep you.”
“I was a slider,” the man replied. “Just like you guys.”
Bennish’s face drooped. “Say what?”
“I was a slider,” the man said sternly. “I slid from my homeworld to the world I followed you from.”
“Who are you?” Marie asked.
“My name’s Ryan.”
Another team had been dispatched to the realms of the multiverse, Bobby was stitched up, and Bennish and Wing decided to get to know their little stowaway.
Ryan sat in Bennish’s office holding a hot cup of coffee. “You’d be surprised how much I’ve missed this,” he said. “Drinking something this hot without having to spend an hour or two making a fire.”
The small dog wagged his tail happily as he dined on some bologna from the refrigerator. Godzilla growled fiercely from behind a wastebasket, obviously waiting for the opportunity to swoop in and make off with the interloper’s meal.
“Good to be out of there, huh, Henry?”
The dog licked his chops and raised a paw into the air at the mention of his name.
“Man, what was the deal with your world?” Wing asked. “Looked like that movie, The Patriot.”
“I’ll have to take your word on that,” Ryan said with a cocked eyebrow. “But the deal was that the Civil War on that world had been going on for about a hundred and forty years.”
“You’re telling me that people still kept black slaves there?” Wing said in amazement.
“Actually, black masters kept white slaves… too bad I didn’t know that when I first got there, but live and learn I suppose. Got to be pretty good at picking cotton.”
“You were a slider?” a skeptical Bennish asked.
“Yeah, for about a day,” Ryan answered, taking a quick sip. “I won the lottery on my world and was about to be put to death…”
“Hold up,” Wing said, trying to get a handle on the situation. “You… won the lottery AND were about to be put to death?”
“Population control,” Ryan explained. “Lottery winners are given everything they want for 48 hours before they die as a reward for their sacrifice.”
“And you won?” Wing asked again.
“Doesn’t sound very shibby to me,” Bennish replied.
Ryan shrugged. “It did at the time.”
“How did you slide?” Wing asked.
“I met up with a group of sliders who were passing through,” he explained. “One of them won the lottery too, but didn’t understand that you were supposed to be killed after the lottery banquet.” He smiled. “Man, she was something.”
Bennish and Wing gave each other a look and Bennish pulled a black and white picture out of folder that had been buried under a mountain of papers and trash on his desk and handed it to Ryan. “That her?” Bennish asked.
Ryan stared at the picture. “Wade…” he said.
Ryan told them about how he’d spent the last five years. Once he arrived on that Earth, he’d had his heart broken by Wade and had decided to strike out on his own, taking the little dog with him. After a week, he’d been picked up by a slaver and put to work on a plantation for a few months before the war ignited again and he fell in with the Union who delighted in gaining a desperately needed medic even if he was a former slave and white doctors were unheard of.
Wing was ever the skeptic. “Bennish, there’s no evidence that he met up with our sliders. It could have been an alternate group.”
“But there’s no evidence he didn’t, brah,” Bennish beamed. “Like it or not… he’s the best lead we’ve had in months.”
The two were in the lab waiting for another team to come back. After the near-disaster with Bobby, it was determined that from now on, two were to go at a time instead of one. Still, Bobby was out due to his injury and time was running low… only twenty-four hours to go until the plug was pulled.
“I’m beat,” Wing remarked. “Fifty-five worlds in forty-eight hours…”
“Running on bad coffee and five hours sleep,” Bennish replied. “Wouldn’t be so bad if we had a few other people to go with us…”
“Someone with experience in sliding?” Wing asked.
Bennish looked at him and then back to his office where Ryan was watching the entire proceedings through the glass with interest.
“I’m two steps ahead of you, bro,” Bennish said, prancing to the office. He flew open the door and Henry growled at him. “Down, Cujo,” Bennish said. “Ryan, my man, feel like making a contribution?”
Ryan looked at him in confusion. “What do you mean?”
“We’re a man down and running out of time fast,” the young professor explained. “We could use another scout if you catch my drift.”
“You want me to go sliding again?”
“No… just scouting,” Bennish explained. “You go to another world for twenty minutes, look around, take pictures, come back, and we take readings to see if Quinn, Wade, and the others had gone through there.”
“You said Wade meant something to you, man,” Bennish said, sitting next to him. “Well, she’s still out there lost and alone… think of how totally grateful she’ll be when she finds out that you brought her home.”
Ryan thought about that and slid on the very next slide with Wing.
The two men were unceremoniously spat out on the ground as the yellow wormhole closed behind them. “Almost forgot what a rush that was. Better than skiing down McKinley.”
Wing looked at him. “I don’t know about that, but I thought it was better than Space Mountain, at least.”
“Where are we?”
Off in the distance, there was a light chittering noise.
“Sounds like your pet dinosaur,” Ryan said, walking towards the noise. “You think we’re on another dinosaur earth? Think we’ll see any?”
“Don’t get too excited, it’s not the first time I’ve seen one,” Wing said, no longer paying any attention to the call of the small reptile. “Couple of years back, me and Bennish were hold up in a tree for three hours by an ill-tempered triceratops.”
Just then, the annoying squeaks of the compy were sliced by a piercing shriek. Several of the chicken-sized dinos raced from the bushes and ran squealing into a meadow.
“What the hell was that all about?” Ryan asked.
“Uh… run,” Wing said, pocketing the timer and taking off at full speed.
Ryan turned around to see a sleek ostrich-sized dinosaur peering at them from the bushes. He felt no need to comment on the creature as he took off after Wing towards whatever safety he was running for.
Ryan watched in horrific amazement as the small herd of compys outran him and soon began to overtake Wing. Then, the small dinos seemed to disappear before his eyes.
“WING!” Ryan yelled as he came upon a small crack in the rock surface that led to a cavern that seemed to look like the perfect hiding place. The small dinosaurs chirped happily from the bottom of the hole as if they were inviting them inside.
Wing turned around, but didn’t stop running. A hundred yards away, the velociraptor had given chase and was quickly bearing down on them. Ryan was frantically motioning for Wing to come to him, a notion that seemed suicidal until Ryan disappeared into the unseen cave. Wing broke towards the cave, which meant he had to run head to head towards the carnivore. He could literally see the lizards pink teeth flash as he dove towards the opening and landed headfirst on the cool dirt floor.
Wing blacked out for a second as Ryan frantically checked him for broken bones or other injuries.
“You alright?” Ryan asked him, looking up at the frustrated and angry raptor that shrieked above them, clawing and chewing at the small entrance.
“I think he got my foot!” Wing cried.
Ryan looked. “No, he got your shoe.”
About that time, a single shoe dropped through the entrance. It’d been chewed and mangled beyond all recognition. Wing reached over and retrieved it. “These are a hundred and fifty dollar Nikes!” He looked up at the dinosaur. “Thank you, ass!”
The raptor shrieked a reply and continued to dig at them.
“Think this’ll hold him out?” Ryan asked.
“Yeah, I think so. At least he won’t get in here before we slide,” Wing replied.
“Does…” Ryan began, trying to catch his breath, “Does this sort of stuff happen to you very often?”
Wing sat up against the earthen wall. “Naw,” he said, “sometime it’s downright life threatening.”
When Wing and Ryan were spat out by the vortex into the lab, they didn’t even have time to rest before Bennish grabbed Wing by the arm and led him to the tracking station.
“Dude,” Bennish began, “I just had an epiphany.”
“Maybe we can get Ryan to look at it before it gets infected,” Wing said, entering the data into the computer.
“That’s not what it means,” Bennish replied.
“I know,” Wing said, “I was being a smart ass. What’s your idea?”
Bennish watched two more of his scientists jump through a wormhole and disappear. “I was thinking about how we’ve been approaching the problem. You remember what the professor said about the way that Watley went about solving Fermat’s last theorem?”
“Yeah, he said that he didn’t look at the ultimate solution, but looked at the basics of the problem.” The computer beeped. “Photon decay at .0122.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Bennish said, waving off the data. “Well, I was thinking that we take the same approach.”
“What approach?” Ryan asked.
Bennish was unaware that he was listening in, but was thankful for at least one receptive ear. “Not looking for the ultimate answer, but looking for where the problem begins!”
Wing and Ryan looked at him quizzically. “I’m saying that, instead of finding Quinn, the professor, and the rest, we find the first world they slid to and investigate there!”
Wing squinted. “Why? The photon decay after five years would be too advanced to track them.”
“Two reasons,” Bennish explained. “One, it would prove once and for all that they survived their first slide and it would knock the major leg that the conservative republicans have been standing on since year one, and two…” he took off his glasses and looked at them, something that Bennish was never known for doing, “…I’ve been avoiding earth one for a reason.”
Wing sank back in his chair. “Why?”
“I’ve been avoiding it because… well, hell… look at this! If we went to Earth One and found that they were dead, then there wouldn’t be a reason for any of this.”
Wing looked at him. “I see.”
“That, and I was scared.”
“Of what?” Ryan asked.
Bennish looked down. “I was scared that I really would find them there. That the last five years of my life would turn out to be a load of bunk.”
“And if we go to earth one,” Wing said, continuing his line of thought, “then at least we’d know for sure.”
“It all comes down to this,” Bennish said, putting his shades back on. “We find that they’re dead then the ‘crats can cut our funding and pack up all of our equipment. No harm, no foul. Hey, we tried. But, if they DID make it…”
“Then you’ve got a case to continue,” Ryan said. “Good idea, Professor.”
Wing swung around in his chair. “Hopefully, I’ll have the coordinates in less than an hour,” he said. “With five years of data, finding the origin earth should be easy.”
“Get on it,” Bennish said, slapping him on the back. He checked his watch and walked out into the industrial hallway. Through one of the windows, the morning sun was peeking through the city skyline.
It was dawn of the final day.
Wing had been a bit overconfident when it came to his calculations and, despite the help of Bennish and the other half dozen intelligent people associated with The Lassie Project, the coordinates of Earth One took over five hours to obtain.
No sooner had the last equation been checked that the string of numbers and letters indicating the exact quantum location of the parallel universe was entered into the main tracking computer. A lock was made and it was confirmed that Earth One possessed a breathable atmosphere, but the condition of that atmosphere was questionable to say the least. It was turbulent and, without a doubt, cold.
Bennish set the timer to thirty minutes and made sure that he, Wing, and Ryan were protected from the freezing temperatures. When they made their way into the lab, stifled giggles were bandied about at the sight of three men bundled up in heavy pink coats.
Bennish looked at Marie. “Are you sure these were all they had?” he asked.
“If you want, you can go au naturel again,” she teased. “Personally, I think pink is a very manly color.”
“Really?” Ryan asked.
Marie shook her head. “No.”
Bennish activated the timer, and soon the wormhole to Earth One was swirling in front of them.
“This is it,” Bennish said to the others. “It’s do or die time.”
And with that, they jumped towards the vortex only to have it snap shut in front of them as the lab plunged into darkness.
“What the hell happened!?” Wing demanded to the scientists.
“Blackout,” Bobby answered.
Marie entered from the hallway. “Lights are still on outside and there’s a government truck out there.”
It wasn’t hard to guess what had just happened. The electricity had been cut off and, it would seem, that the project had been too. Bennish was right, it was do or die time…
And the best hope for them all just did the latter.
Ryan followed Wing down the hallway, brushing by the small army of military goons who had been boxing up equipment from the lab for the past two days. Apparently, once Congress reconvened after the period of mourning, the matter of the Interdimensional Exploration Subcommittee was immediately placed first on the docket and had almost immediately recommended that funding to The Lassie Project be swiftly cut.
To the government’s credit, there were plenty of arguments to keep the project going, but the vote had been mainly down party lines. It wasn’t a matter of what was right or what was wrong; it was a matter of bipartisan politics.
Now the government had arrived and was packing up the expensive Lassie Project equipment. It was all over but the crying.
“Quinn and the others slid without all of that stuff you had!” Ryan said, dancing past two workmen carrying a large piece of the dismantled central accelerator down the hallway. “Why can’t we!?”
“We could,” Wing said, “but we wouldn’t be able to track the trip, control where we go, or the duration of the slide. Quinn and the others are sliding randomly… We’re sliding under controlled conditions and, believe me, it’s a lot harder than you think it is.”
“So, that’s it? We’re giving up?” Ryan protested. “I mean, I haven’t even seen the professor since yesterday!”
“I’m going to talk to him now,” Wing said.
Ryan strode up next to him avoiding more movers. “I’ll go with you.”
“No,” Wing said, placing a finger to Ryan’s chest. “No offense, man. I think you’re cool and everything, but Bennish and me have been working the Lassie Project for five years. You showed up a couple of days ago.”
Ryan didn’t like being pushed to the sidelines, but he had to agree. “Alright, talk to him.”
Wing knocked on the door and was a little surprised when it came open. “Bennish? You in here?”
He heard what sounded like Bennish moaning in the back room. ‘This must be killing him,’ Wing thought as he made his way through the cluttered apartment. He stopped in front of the door, noting that it was locked. He could hear Bennish sniffling inside.
“Conrad, man,” Wing said, sitting down next to the door and leaning up against the wall. “Dude, I don’t know what I can say to you.” He thought about it for a second. “Maybe we can find a private investor or something… I mean, I know it’s going to be hard to find someone to give us a ten grand a day grant, but…” he stopped. “Alright, I know that this isn’t helping, but I’m trying to tell you that this isn’t the end! We’ve got the coordinates to Earth One! We can find them if we can make a new accelerator… I know that’s going to take a couple of grand easy, but…” He lightly hit himself on the head. “Listen to me! God, Bennish, I know I’m not helping…”
He sat there for a moment and then took a breath. “Conrad,” he began, “I’ve known you a long time. I mean, when I first met you in college, I thought you were some doped-up loser who’d end up frying his brain before his senior year. You proved me wrong back then… and, Conrad… I’ve been privileged to know you these last few years. I’ve seen and done things that I would’ve never been able to do and…” He stopped. “I love you for that, man. I mean it.”
The room was silent. “Bennish, you proved to me that you weren’t a burnout and now we can prove it to the world. We can do it together.”
The room remained silent.
Dead silence. Horrible visions of the distraught professor downing sleeping pills or slitting his wrists ran into Wing’s mind. “Bennish, I’m coming in!”
Wing had already slammed into the door about the time he heard a female voice scream out, “NO, DON’T!” The door easily came off the hinges and Wing soon found himself stumbling into an awkward position. Bennish and Marie were in bed together, hiding themselves with a blanket.
“Oh, DAMN!” Wing said, averting his eyes and turning away. “Oh man… Oh SHIT! I’m SO sorry, man!” He picked up the door from the floor and backed out mumbling more apologies as he placed the door up against the frame leaving Bennish and Marie to their privacy.
“Wingman,” Bennish called out from the bedroom. “Don’t go yet.”
Wing froze on his way out of the apartment and waited. Soon, Marie emerged from the bedroom, pushing the broken door out of the way. She had a broad smile on her face as she shuffled past him and out the door.
“Come on in, brah,” Bennish called back to him.
Wing wiped his forehead and huffed. “Bennish, I’m sorry about…” He stopped in the doorway. Bennish was still lying in the bed covered with the sheet.
“Dude, I was listening to what you said and I…”
Wing threw his hands in the air. “Bennish, for God’s sake, don’t you have any modesty?”
“Who’s got time for it?” Bennish asked. “Besides, you’re one to talk, Mr. ‘Barge in on Bennish’s Love Life!’”
“In my defense, I didn’t know you had one,” Wing shot back.
“Marie and me’ve been seeing each other for a couple of weeks,” Bennish admitted, sitting himself up on some pillows. “I think I’m ready to go for a total commitment with her.”
Wing seemed shocked. “You? Conrad Bennish jr. in a monogamous relationship? The man who referrers to ‘pork’ as a verb?”
“The day is full of surprises, ain’t it? Look, I was listening to what you said, right?” Bennish said, sitting up a bit. “It meant a lot to me.”
Wing stood there uncomfortably for a moment and then nodded. “I meant every word of it.”
“Brah, you’ve been my lifeline,” Bennish confessed. “Not in a weird way, though. I mean, you’ve been the one that’s kept me grounded in reality, you know? I mean, I do tend to get a little spacey.”
Wing sat on the bed and pasted on his most sarcastic expression. “No!”
“It’s true,” Bennish said, not catching Wing’s jab. “These government goons would’ve shut me down years ago if it hadn’t been for you.” He held out his hand. “Partners?”
Wing took his hand and shook it. “Partners.”
“Aw, c’mere!” Bennish roared, pulling Wing forward and giving him a hug. “I love you, man!”
Wing tried to push himself away. “Alright, alright, I love you too, now do you mind?”
Ryan cleared his throat from the doorway. “Am I interrupting something?” he asked.
Wing quickly stood and put some distance between himself and Bennish. “Not a damn thing.”
“Then why are…?” Ryan asked, motioning to Bennish lying in the bed covered only with a sheet.
Wing didn’t like Ryan’s insinuation, no matter if it was in good humor. “For your information, Bennish and Marie were… uh…”
Bennish laughed. “Come on, man,” he said. “It’s not like we were posting it on the internet or anything!” He laughed some more and then stopped. “All… RIGHT! That’s it!?”
Wing was afraid to ask, but he did. “What?”
Bennish gathered the sheets around him and marched out the door to his room and into the hallway, attracting odd stares from the government movers. Ryan and Wing followed him out. “BENNISH!” Wing cried out after him. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?”
Bennish marched to the museum, opened the door, and went inside. When Wing and Ryan finally caught up to him, Bennish was going through boxes of stuff.
“Conrad,” Wing said exasperated, “what are you doing!?”
“What is this place?” Ryan asked.
“This,” Bennish explained, not bothering to look up, “is where we store artifacts from other dimensions.” He gathered up an arrowhead from Indian Earth, a Richard Nixon dollar, and several other oddities in his arms.
“Isn’t that you?” Ryan said to Wing, motioning to the Kittens in a Blender standup.
“Shut up,” Wing cautioned.
Before they knew it, Bennish rushed past them and back into the hallway. They gave chase, but didn’t catch up to him until he’d reached his apartment where he dumped all of his treasures on the couch. He quickly ran back to his room and retrieved a digital camera and started taking pictures of them individually.
“BENNISH!” Wing screamed in an attempt to get attention.
“By all rights, these are all ours, right?” Bennish said, motioning to the objects and snapping a picture of a “Fat Elvis” book of stamps.
“Yeah,” Wing said, “according to the Supreme Court.”
“Then we can do whatever we want to with them, right?”
“Of course, but…”
Ryan pointed at Bennish and grinned. “I think see where he’s going and he IS a genius!”
Bennish finished snapping the pictures and made his way to the computer. Thankfully, his apartment was still powered and his ISDN connection was still on. He entered a web address and waited the few seconds it took for the page to load.
“Gentlemen,” Bennish said, clicking on the “SELL” icon. “Let’s see if we can get a nibble.”
Within a day, the bids were coming in from all over the world. Already they had been offered five thousand for the titanium arrowhead, a grand for the naked Statue of Liberty postcard, and even five hundred dollars for the erased betamax tape of Titanic. By the end of the on-line auctions, Bennish and his friends were the talk of the talk show circuit and Washington once again.
“All we want to do is bring them home,” they would tell news cameras over and over again. “We’re not in this for the money or nothing. We’re doing this to get funding for the project. That’s it.”
Bennish and the others had to move the operation to The Mallory Manor when the government refused to allow them to remain in the factory. So, packing all of their things, they bid goodbye to the ghostly workers, Charlotte the spider, and the lab they’d spent so many years in and moved to what Bennish believed to be the most appropriate place. The basement of the Mallory home… the place where it all began.
Linda Mallory closed the house to visitors and welcomed the few remaining young scientists with open arms, although she was a little apprehensive of Godzilla, especially after the pint-sized dinosaur got into her cupboards and ate three boxes of cereal. Still, a little insanity was a small price to pay if it would bring Quinn home.
Through the auctions and a few more weeks, the Lassie Project brought in over two hundred thousand dollars which was more than sufficient to purchase new sliding equipment, safety measures, trackers, and to keep the Mallory Manor from going bankrupt during its downtime. It also helped that the two others who’d remained with the project, Bobby and Marie, were still drawing a paycheck.
The government whined quite a bit, but there was nothing that they could do to stop them. Sure, bills were all but on the floor, but the liberal minority that lost the last fight dug in their heels and refused to allow the conservatives to get away with stopping the Lassie Project again.
Still, the reality was that when the government wanted to stop something badly enough, it was stopped, and that included things as noble as the Lassie Project.
Time was a luxury that Bennish and his teammates just didn’t have. Even though the specter of funding cuts wasn’t an issue anymore, government interference still was.
In the basement of the Mallory home, the smaller, more compact, and more efficient equipment hummed to life. The coordinates for Earth One were punched into the main computer and the raw data began to scroll across the screens from the dimensional probes.
“No changes in the atmosphere of Earth One,” Marie reported. “Thick with clouds and colder than hell.”
Bennish, Wing, and Ryan anticipated this and were bundled up in more appropriate black coats. “Get the timer ready and let’s rock and roll,” Bennish said. “Nothing’s gonna stop us now.”
Just then, the doorbell rang. Linda Mallory, who had been watching from the staircase, looked up towards the basement door and then back at the scientists in worry as if she could sense something was wrong. Upstairs, Henry was barking at the intruders.
“Something tells me that’s the ‘nothing’ that’s going to stop us,” Marie quipped.
When Mrs. Mallory finally went upstairs, Bennish gave a determined look to Marie. “Hurry,” he said.
General Thomas Beckett waited at the door with Agent Yenn and his partner and two uniformed policemen. “Linda Mallory?” he asked.
“I’m General Thomas Beckett from the Pentagon,” he general said, politely removing his hat. “We understand that a Professor Conrad Bennish, jr. is staying here.”
“That’s right,” she answered.
“May we come inside?”
Mrs. Mallory rested her arm against the doorframe, giving the outright impression that they were not welcome. “Why don’t you tell me what exactly you want with the professor and I’ll think about it.”
“We have an order from the president, ma’am,” he explained. “It places an injunction on the use of interdimensional travel technology until an investigation can be done on its effects on the environment.”
“Is that right?” Linda Mallory said coldly. Figures… they couldn’t shut it down through appropriate means, so they got sneaky. “Well, I’m afraid that he’s not here,” she lied, crossing her arms and daring them to present her with a search warrant.
“That is his car parked in you drive,” Agent Yenn pointed out.
She began to shut the door. “I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” she said.
Thomas Beckett’s hand stopped her from shutting them out. The two stared at each other.
“They’re going to bring my son home,” she said with a fire in her eyes.
“I’m sorry, ma’am,” the general apologized, “presidential orders.”
Linda Mallory cleared her throat, looked down, took in a deep breath, and then looked back up at him. “And I’m sorry for this, General.” She looked back into the den and a thin smile crossed her lips. “Henry,” she said sweetly, “kill them.”
A brown, shaggy blur darted for the door and, in a whirlwind of teeth and claws, barked and growled fiercely, not allowing any of the intruders into his territory. This was Henry’s home now, and when Mrs. M said to kill, it was time to kill.
As Henry kept the general and agents at bay as long as a small dog could, Linda raced to the basement door and yelled out a warning. “Conrad, they’re here to shut you down! Shake a leg, sport!” She then flipped the lock and slammed it shut, hoping that would buy them a few more minutes as she scampered down the stairs to check on their progress.
Meanwhile, the generals and the others managed to get by Henry and make it into the house. Linda had gone into hiding and the officials fanned out, searching the house for her.
“We should shut down Bennish,” Yenn suggested.
Beckett shook his head. “No, first we find Mrs. Mallory and make sure she isn’t a threat.”
“A threat, sir?”
“THEN,” the general proceeded, “we go down to the basement and shut them down. The thing we don’t need now is some jarhead cutting the power to the house while Bennish is in a wormhole or something… Could you see the headlines on THAT fiasco? Uncle Sam Atomizes Brilliant Scientist. The president would never live it down. He’d be a one-termer like his old man.”
They were now in the kitchen when Yenn saw the pantry door move slightly. “Got her,” he whispered as he reached for the handle.
Instead of a helpless, middle-aged woman, the pantry held a more surprising occupant… a small chicken-sized lizard covered in Fruit Loops and squawking at the top of its little lungs. He leapt over the surprised agent and ran chittering up the stairs. “Godzilla!” Yenn scolded the dino as if it was a naughty pet. “I swear that thing doesn’t like me.”
Thomas Beckett was chuckling.
“Sir,” Yenn said, “I hope you don’t find this rude, but if I didn’t know better, I’d swear you were putting off going into that basement until the last possible minute… almost as if you’re buying Bennish a little time.”
“Seems that way, doesn’t it?” the general replied with a smirk.
It was then that the female agent entered the room. “All rooms negative. The dog’s been locked in the bathroom and one of the men upstairs said something about seeing a… chicken lizard…” She shook her head in disgust. “Mallory is in the basement, General, with Bennish and the others. It’s time to do what we came here to do.”
The general reluctantly nodded. ‘Kid,’ he thought to himself, ‘I bought you a little time… I hope you made the most of it.’
“Timer programmed,” Marie said, pulling the connection wire out of the small device.
Bennish planted a kiss on her. “That’s why I love ya,” he said. Looking at Ryan and Wing, he zipped up his coat and put on his goggles. “Ready to go?” he said.
Wing and Ryan nodded, and Bennish activated the wormhole. The bright yellow maelstrom of light formed perfectly, a testament to the new equipment.
They gave the gateway a little time to grow when Mrs. Mallory shouted in alarm as the wooden door to the basement flew off its hinges and slid down the stairs. Beckett, Yenn, and the other agents entered and looked at the wormhole.
The agents drew their guns.
“Professor Bennish,” General Beckett said, strolling down the stairs until he stood between them and the roaring gateway. “I’m here on presidential orders. You’re to cease any and all interdimensional travel immediately pending an investigation on the environmental impact this technology has.”
Bennish removed his goggles. “Environmental im…!? Don’t DO this to us, man,” he pleaded. “We’re so close.”
“I’m sorry, son,” Beckett replied. “But we all have to know when to say when. I’m a general… I follow the orders of my commanding officer whether I like them or not, and you, son… well, you’re just a civilian.”
Tears were welling up in Bennish’s eyes. He was so close. “Please…” he whispered.
The general held up a hand to silence him. “Let… me… FINISH!”
Bennish clammed up and let the general continue.
“Yenn up there… he’s in law enforcement. He knows his place and it is to use lethal force against civilians if lives are in danger.” The general’s eyes made contact with Bennish’s. “…And only if lives are in danger.”
The general’s eyebrows hit the top of his brow as if to say, ‘Get it?’ Bennish’s jaw dropped as if to say, ‘Got it.’
Bennish took Wing by the arm and smirked. “Trust me,” he whispered.
“General, do you have a copy of that order I could look at?” he asked politely.
“Hmm, well as a matter of fact I do,” Beckett replied, fetching the document. He handed it to Bennish who fumbled the paper and dropped it to the floor.
“Oh,” Bennish exclaimed, “how clumsy of me.” With that he bent over to retrieve the paper. When he stood, he “stumbled” with an exaggerated “OOPS!” and pushed Wing into the hungry maw of the wormhole.
Beckett watched the wormhole devour the young man and fought to contain the grin. “You CLUMSY idiot! Look what you did!”
Ryan didn’t know what to make of the situation and wisely decided to keep his mouth shut.
“Oh, NO!” Bennish dramatically said. “Wing fell into the wormhole!”
“He fell in because you’re a stupid klutz!” Beckett growled. “Well, no choice now… I guess you’ll have to go in there and get him.”
“SIR!” the female agent protested. “He clearly intended for this to happen!”
“Quite an accusation,” the general replied. “It looked like a bumbling case of bad luck, and probably narcotics, to me. Besides, we can’t just leave that poor young man alone in an alternate dimension. Professor Bennish… since you’re the leading expert in the field of multidimensionality in this room, I’m ordering you to find that man NOW!”
The smile seemed to extend to both Bennish’s ears. “Yes SIR!” he said with a mock salute before taking Ryan by the arm and leaping into the vortex for what would probably be the last time.
When Bennish and Ryan made contact with the ground, they both discovered that it was covered in solid ice. Their footing gave way underneath them and they both slid into the wall of the Mallory basement, sending a small avalanche of ice, snow, and brittle and frozen sheetrock down on them. A few feet away, Wing was breathing on his hands, trying to keep warm.
Ryan’s lungs burned from the cold. “Bennish, get your knee out of my back, please.”
“Sorry,” Bennish apologized, trying to get to his feet. He slipped again and landed on his butt. “The probes were right. This place is like the North Pole.”
Wing was still crouched in the corner, glaring at them. “You pushed me,” he said.
“That was BRILLANT!” he replied, his face erupting in a large grin.
Through no small effort, the three of them made it up the ice encased stairway and into the house. The surreal scene was a creepy one to be sure. Furniture that they had seen back on Earth Prime only minutes before stood in the same place, but it was covered in ice and snow. Ryan picked up an envelope sticking out of a bookshelf and was amazed when it shattered in his hand. “What could have caused this?” he asked.
“Nuclear winter,” Wing suggested. “Massive volcanic activity, shifting of the Earth’s poles, asteroid impact.”
“Maybe the universe forgot to pay the gas bill,” Bennish suggested.
Wing scoffed. “And maybe this happened when you got your PhD. Professor Arturo always said that hell would freeze over if you got one.”
Bennish paused at the front door. “This door’s broken.”
“So?” Ryan asked though chattering teeth.
“It’s been broken outwards like someone was trapped in here.”
Wing saw what Bennish was talking about. “And I doubt someone would just stay in here while the house froze around them.”
“Someone, like us, made touchdown in the basement and came up through here,” Bennish said, snapping his chilled fingers. “I’ll give you three guesses who, but you’ll only need one.”
“Wade and the others,” Ryan spoke up, following Bennish and Wing out the front door. “She told me about an ice world once, maybe this is it.”
“No bodies in the basement,” Bennish added. “This was the first world they slid to and they lived through it. SCREW YOU, WASHINGTON! I WAS RIGHT!”
The word “right” echoed through the frozen landscape.
“If nothing else comes from the project, we proved they’re still alive and they’re still out there,” Bennish continued.
He sat down on the front step and checked his timer. There was still twelve minutes left.
Wing sat next to him. “Too bad no one’s going to believe us.” He exhaled and watched the thick white cloud that emanated from his mouth dissipate in the frosty stillness. In the distance, the golden gate bridge shimmered in the scant sunlight that penetrated the clouds and a low fog covered the frozen mass of the San Francisco bay. “I never realized until now how much I’m going to miss doing this.”
“Yeah,” Bennish replied. “They’re probably going to arrest us when we get back, you know.”
Wing nodded. “Cool. I’ll finally have a record and be a BAD boy!”
Bennish looked at him and Wing gave him a lopsided smirk.
Ryan was wandering around in the front yard, listening to the grass shatter under his feet like glass. “It’s so quiet here,” he said to his companions. “Peaceful.”
Bennish nodded. “Yeah.”
“If there was just SOMETHING,” Wing said, rising to his feet. There was a ripping sound as he stood, the lining of his pants separating from the ice. “Some evidence or something.”
“Like what?” Bennish asked. “They went through here five years ago, man… whatever they might have left is long gone.”
“GUYS!” Ryan yelled out.
Bennish shot to his feet and then landed on his back when those feet slipped out from under him. Wing helped him up.
Ryan continued to yell. “Guys, you’ve gotta see this! It’s amazing!”
Wing and Bennish shuffled towards him, desperately trying not to slip again. “Whatcha got, dude?” Bennish asked.
Ryan pointed to a nearby snow bank. There was something pointing out of it… something metallic.
Bennish walked over and cleared some of the snow and ice off with his hand. As he did so, his eyes widened and his heart began to beat faster. He desperately called Wing over.
Wing looked. “Is that what I think it is?”
Bennish checked the timer. “Nine minutes left,” he reported. “I think we can do it.”
“Do what?” Ryan asked.
Bennish took a flare out of his pack and lit it up. His face became bathed in a reddish yellow light. “Bring back some evidence.”
In the Mallory basement, the wormhole appeared right on schedule. The government officers drew their weapons and waited for the three men to emerge.
The maverick scientists would not slip through again.
Seconds passed like minutes. Linda Mallory watched from the stairway in hopeful apprehension. General Thomas Beckett placed a hand on her shoulder for reassurance.
Marie and Bobby monitored the wormhole. “What the hell?” Marie whispered.
“What? What is it?” Yenn demanded.
Marie checked the readings again. “They’re definitely en route, but… there’s something with them.”
“What kind of something?” Beckett asked.
And it was then when the wormhole flashed and the travelers arrived. Bobby and Marie had only a couple of seconds to leap out of the way before a red 1970 Cadillac DeVoe slammed through their stations and screeched to a stop in the arrival runway.
In the driver’s seat, Professor Conrad Bennish, jr. breathed a sigh of relief and rubbed his frozen hands together. He jumped out of the car since the door was frozen shut, and shook a layer of ice and snow off of himself.
Bobby and Marie picked themselves off the floor.
“Sorry,” Bennish said, holding his hands under his armpits for warmth, “We would’ve honked, but the horn wouldn’t work.”
Agent Yenn walked around the vehicle, noting every detail as Wing and Ryan got out of it. The car was weather worn… paint had been chipped away after years of high winds and ice storms. The front end was crushed after a long-ago impact with a glacier, and the canvas hood of the convertible was missing. The leather seats were cracked and the inner linings were exposed. Ice still covered most of the car except for the wheels where it looked like it had been melted away.
General Beckett and Linda Mallory walked over and looked at the car in amazement. “How the hell?” Beckett asked.
“Wasn’t easy,” Bennish said, stripping off his coat and other protective gear. “We used flares to melt the ice around the tires and stuff, put it neutral, and pushed it into the wormhole. Almost didn’t make it.” He rested an arm on the general’s shoulder. “You ever jump into a convertible as it’s barreling through an interdimensional causeway?”
The general shook his head, still reeling from the shock.
“It’s freakin’ shibby, man,” Bennish continued. “They should have it on the X Games or something, ‘cause it rocks, man!”
“Professor Bennish?” Beckett whispered.
“There’s a car in the basement.”
“Indeedy there is, dude,” Bennish said, looking back at the vehicle and grinning at his accomplishment.
“WHY is there a car in the basement?” Beckett snapped.
Agent Yenn made his way to the front of the car and started beating on it with a small wood board.
“I think the good agent’s about to fill us all in,” Wing answered.
Ice and snow fell to the concrete floor, forming large puddles as they melted. Suddenly, a large chunk fell free and the agent picked it up. With no small effort, he pulled the license plate free of its icy tomb.
The thin metal slab flew out of his hands, bounced across the floor, twirled on a corner, and landed face up. The general, agents, officers, scientists, and Mrs. Mallory gathered around it. Bennish looked at the general and smiled a toothy smile. “You wanted evidence?”
“You got it,” Ryan finished.
On the floor, the California license plate faced upwards and displayed proudly the long forgotten Devoe’s identification number.
Tests were performed on the car. Small chunks were cut out of the seats, the frame, and engine parts. The gelatinized gas was removed and tested. What little ice the scientists managed to get to the freezer before it melted was tested. Vehicle identification stickers were removed. The disintegrating contents of the glove compartment were carefully catalogued.
The proof was there. All identification exactly matched police records of Rembrandt Brown’s missing prized vehicle, last seen five years ago barreling into Quinn Mallory’s out of control interdimensional tunnel. Metal, fabric, and plastic were traced to companies on Earth Prime, and even the quantum signatures of samples taken from the car exactly matched with the signatures of everything on Earth Prime with the exception, of course, of the ice which had been building layer upon layer for at least five years… one year before Professor Bennish made his first breakthrough recreating Quinn Mallory’s invention, and thus disproving the suggestion that the vehicle had been planted.
The tests dragged on for a long six months. It was a Tuesday when the Interdimensional Exploration Subcommittee finally and reluctantly released findings from the EPA that stated that sliding produced no negative influences on the environment and a Wednesday – two weeks after that – that the president gave the go ahead for Professor Bennish and the members of The Lassie Project to continue their work, but this time, without governmental assistance.
That, of course, was no problem since, in the six months it took the president, the subcommittee, and the Congress to actually do something, Bennish had netted over two million dollars by auctioning the junk from other dimensions he’d collected over the years. Even the cardboard cut out of ‘Kittens in a Blender’ that Wing hated so much had been sold for four thousand to a collector in Las Vegas by the name of Donner.
No, the fact that Uncle Sam didn’t want to fork over any more cash was no problem for Bennish. The Lassie Project was independent… alone… and answerable to no one.
It was just the way Bennish liked it.
Bennish and Ryan grunted as they hauled a large portion of the frame of Rembrandt Brown’s 1970 Devoe out of the Mallory Manor. Since the only door into the basement was two feet wide, the problem of getting an automobile out of the lab proved to be no small problem. The only solution was to disassemble the automobile piece by piece and then reconstruct the Devoe in the garage. It was a Sunday project… Monday through Friday, they looked for the car’s owner.
“How much longer is this going to take?” Ryan asked through clenched teeth as they got the part through the front door.
Bennish almost stumbled on a step, but kept his grip on it. “Another couple of weeks. Sorry, man, we’ve got to get this thing out of there so we’ll have room for the new trackers Wing developed.”
They dropped the piece in the garage where the others, Wing, Bobby, and Marie, were resting in the disembodied seats of the Devoe. Linda Mallory gave them cold glasses of lemonade as Godzilla and Henry happily played together on the front lawn, drawing strange stares from passerbys.
“Well, I’ll say this for you guys,” she said, giving glasses to Bennish and Ryan, “ever since you guys moved The Lassie Project to the basement, the Mallory Manor’s been booked solid. I guess everyone’s a little curious.”
“Glad to be of help,” Ryan smiled.
“Oh, Ryan, are you sure you’re not going to stick around?” Mrs. Mallory said sadly. “You’ve been so much help!”
Ryan took a sip of his drink. “Aw, I’d like to, and I know this is going to sound cheesy, but there’s a whole new world out there for me to explore. Did you know that the Everest of this world is almost a thousand feet taller than the Everest on my world?”
“I did not know that,” Bobby admitted.
“I did,” Mrs. Mallory said. “George Mallory was one of the first to reach the summit.” The smile disappeared from her face. “Too bad he never made it back down…”
“Yeah,” Ryan sighed, trying to change the subject, “I’m just not up to all this science stuff. I mean, I’m sure Wade’s long over me and… well… I just can’t stay in any one place for a long time. These last six months have killed me!”
“You bungee jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge almost killed you,” Mrs. Mallory interjected. “You’re just lucky Bennish covered your bail. I actually think you’ll be safer running with the bulls or climbing K-2. Still, I’m going to miss you, boy.”
She gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“K-2? That’s one I haven’t climbed yet,” Ryan said, scratching his chin. “Well, don’t you worry about me disappearing for long. After all… when it comes to adventure, nothing beats sliding.”
“So,” Marie said, changing the subject and jumping into Bennish’s lap. “How much do you think we’re going to get for this baby?” she said, running her hand down the dashboard that lay disassembled in front of them. “Maybe a million or so?”
“Nah,” Bennish replied, “I’m not selling this one.”
“Why not?” Wing asked. “I mean, it’s a hunk of junk.”
“Well, imagine the look on Rembrandt Brown’s face when we bring him home and this baby’s waiting for him out in the driveway put back together with a new paintjob and everything,” Bennish answered.
“Excellent PR,” Wing replied.
“Maybe,” Bennish shrugged. “But in the meantime… after we get it put back together and running… you don’t think he’ll mind if we take it out cruising, do you? It’s gonna be a sweet set of wheels.”
“You bring Rembrandt Brown and my Quinn home,” Mrs. Mallory said, smiling, “I don’t think they’ll give a damn.”
Wing and Bennish walked down the chilly streets of San Francisco on LP Catalogued Earth #998. As soon as the regular passerby caught sight of Wing, they immediately dropped what they were doing and bowed their faces to the ground. They’d chosen to scout the world for five hours, and it only took them one to discover that Wing’s counterpart was a member of a planetary ruling power in China and everyone on Earth were servants to the Wing Dynasty.
In fact, the world was so subjugated under Wing rule, that citizens didn’t even have names until one was given to them by a member of the Wing family. As a result, billions of people roamed the world nameless until bestowed one by the royal family, one of the greatest honors that a man or woman could attain.
“How much longer?” Wing asked.
“’Bout two minutes,” Bennish replied flipping the timer open.
“Good, the sooner we get off this Earth, the better. I can’t–” He accidentally tripped over someone bowing to him on the sidewalk. “Watch it, Mac!” he shouted.
“Oh, THANK YOU!” the man replied, kissing Wing’s feet. “You do me great honor, high one! From this day on, I shall be known as Mac!”
The man bowed again and ran down the street, no doubt to tell his family the news that High Prince Wing had honored him with a name.
“I hate this world. I hate it when I have a high name counterpart!”
Bennish laughed. “Dude, I think it’s shibby.”
“You would,” Wing moaned. “I’ve named almost fifty people since we’ve been here from ‘ScuseMe’ to ‘Heyou’ and ‘Dumbass.’”
“And my favorite… ‘Dick,’” Bennish said.
“How much longer are we going to have to do this?” Wing asked. “I mean, how much longer do you think it’s going to be until we find them?”
Bennish thought about that. “Well, believe it or not, we’re getting closer to them on every slide, and that freaky little red-headed sliding kid we ran into a few days ago gave me a whole lot of ideas for new trackers and sliding algorithms. I’d say…” He thought for a moment. “Well, it won’t be another five years, I can tell you that.”
The timer beeped and Bennish activated the vortex back to Earth Prime. “Well, at least with us doing the sliding thing out of Mrs. M’s house, we’re going to be well stocked with provisions and caffeine.” He indicated the thermos they’d brought with them. “Bringing this along was a stroke of genius, by the way.”
“It was, wasn’t it?” Bennish swallowed what little coffee he had left and tossed the MALLORY MANOR cup off to the side. “Don’t worry about it, man,” Bennish said, slapping his friend on the shoulder. “One of these days, we’re going to track them down and slide right into Quinn’s lap or… hell, we may get lucky and just up and run into them.”
“Nobody’s that lucky,” Wing scoffed.
They leapt into the wormhole in two white flashes of light and then the vortex collapsed on itself, leaving the alleyway quiet except for the rushing of wind from a coming thunderstorm.
The paper cup carrying the MALLORY MANOR label rolled out of the alley onto the sidewalk and bumped into a light pole, changing its direction and sending it rolling and bouncing into someone’s foot.
Wade Wells looked down at the cup and picked it up.
“Come on, girl,” Rembrandt Brown said. “You can’t pick up after every litterbug in the city!”
Wade ran her fingers across the lettering on the cup. “Mallory Manor,” she said to him. “Quinn told me that his mom wanted to open up a bed and breakfast called ‘The Mallory Manor’ once.”
“Well, maybe she did on this world,” Remmy said. “I mean, there are more than one Mrs. Mallory just like there’s more than one Wade Wells or Rembrandt Brown.”
Wade looked at the cup, crumbled it in her hand, and tossed it into a wastebasket. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. Still, it was a nice thought while it lasted.”
“Come on,” Remmy said. “It’s starting to rain and the others are probably waiting. Just five minutes until the slide, you know.”
And as the rain began to pour down, the two ran off into the city to seek shelter and eventually continue their journey and find a way home.
That is, of course, unless someone else found them first.
Like, THE END, dude.