Chapter 7The terminal screen blurred in front of Quinn's eyes and he rubbed at them yet again, cursing the hours he'd spent reading his book instead of sleeping the night before the slide. He'd been awake for almost 36 hours now, and his body was emphatically telling him it wanted to shut down.
It didn't help that he'd been scrolling through page after page of unfamiliar programmers code. Gooshie was right, he was able to recognize a good bit of what he was reading, and his respect for Sam Beckett was growing by leaps and bounds -- he winced at the phrase. But programming was far from his first love; he'd only learned what he needed to know to make sliding work. And the Dvorak keyboard, with its alphabetical key arrangement, didn't help.
He stretched and sprawled back in his chair, keeping his mind studiously blank; his head rolled back and he closed his eyes to rest them for just a second. Behind him, he could hear Gooshie consulting with the other techs who were bustling around Ziggy, checking code and circuits, and talking to people all over the complex. For all the man's strange appearance and stranger way of speaking, he could sure get things done.
"You look like you could use this." Quinn opened his eyes and looked up, then almost fell off the chair. His tired mind wasn't quite up to coping with the sight of himself holding out a steaming mug.
"Sorry," the other Quinn Mallory apologized quickly, stepping back to avoid spilling the contents of the cup. "I didn't meant to scare you."
"That's -- that's all right," Quinn stuttered, reaching for the coffee cup and downing half of it in one gulp. It was exactly the way he liked it, black and strong with a couple of sugars, what Wade referred to as Jolt Coffee. The caffeine hit his system in a rush, and he tried to remember the last time he'd eaten. "Thanks, I did need that."
His double grinned, snagging a chair from the next workstation over and sitting down. "I figured. Just like Dr. Beckett -- when you get working, you forget about everything else."
"And you don't?" Quinn shot back automatically, knowing his own habits.
His double grinned again. "You got me." He was slightly older than Quinn -- well, they were two years in the future, that was to be expected -- and his hair was shorter, and currently rumpled from sleep, but everything else looked about the same; no surprises there. "I'm Quinn Mallory, by the way. Gooshie said you might need some help checking the codes, so I figured I'd help out."
"Please," Quinn said gratefully. "I'm terrified I'm going to miss something here."
The other Quinn pulled his chair closer to the workstation and brought up the next screen. "Gooshie wouldn't have trusted you to do it if he thought you'd mess up. He may be kinda weird, but no one knows this system better, except Dr. Beckett."
Quinn leaned his elbows on the desk and took another swallow of coffee, studying the code with half his mind. The other half thought up creative ways of getting back at Al for not mentioning his double's presence (talk about leaving out important information!), as the other Quinn commented, "It was strange walking in here and seeing Dr. Beckett; felt just like old times for a minute."
"I'm not--" Quinn started to explain automatically.
His double waved him off. "I know, you're the Visitor. What's your real name anyway?" Quinn groped for an answer that wouldn't freak his double out, but the other Quinn took the pause differently. "I know, we're not supposed to even talk to you, but you're the first Visitor I've ever seen. Still, if you don't want to tell me, that's okay."
Quinn felt a stab of sympathy for his double; in the other Quinn's shoes, he would have been dying of curiosity. But the same instincts that had made him keep sliding back from Al told him to keep his mouth shut here, as well. "Sorry," he mumbled, finishing the coffee. "But I think enough rules have been broken around here."
His double shrugged again, pretending he didn't care, and leaned forward to watch the screen more closely. "Well, you've already made it halfway through the power regulation command files. Seen anything yet?"
"Not yet," Quinn put his empty mug down and pulled his mind off worrying about his friends and back to the job at hand. "Dr. Beckett's coding is a little odd, but I haven't seen anything that could cause the kind of power fluctuations we've seen, much less have taken those surge suppressers off-line."
He tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the desk. "Maybe we should concentrate on the surge suppressers -- it seems like they must have gone off-line first, or that power surge wouldn't have done so much damage."
The other Quinn shook his head. "No way. The regulator codes are my pet project; they're the first thing Gooshie had me check after we got Ziggy back up. I reinstalled that code clean and I've read it five times since. There's nothing wrong there, and the engineering techs say the hardware is fine, too."
Someone shouted with excitement behind them. "They found two burnt-out sections in power relay grid 3, and four more in the main power grid. They're patching them now!"
"We've almost finished Ziggy's internal reroutes," someone else called.
A ragged cheer went up, but no one stopped working. "There, you see," Quinn turned to his alternate. "The wires got burned out in the power surge -- the problem *has* to be there."
"They might have just overloaded," the other Quinn protested mildly. "It's been almost four years; Dr. Beckett might not have anticipated what a power hog Ziggy is. The system might just not be able to handle it anymore. But if you want to take one more look, let's give it a shot." He paged down rapidly through the coding; Quinn rubbed his eyes again and started scanning.
Wade and Rembrandt wandered among the high-tech toys that seemed to be a staple of Radio Shacks everywhere, as Sam poked around the shelves of electronic components and consulted enthusiastically with two of the salesmen.
Rembrandt had found a small toy piano that sounded more like a concert grand when he touched the keys; pretty soon, he was singing 'Tears in My 'Fro' under his breath. Wade carefully stayed out of earshot, since she had a tendency to start laughing every time she heard the lyrics to Rembrandt's big hit. She didn't feel much like laughing right now.
Instead, she leaned against a pile of remote control cars and tried to pay attention to CNN, playing on one of the wallscreens that were probably cheap no-name brands on this world, but would have been the most modern possible on hers. Some things never changed, though -- the news was full of peace talks and broken cease-fires and fighting. Violence and death.
She tried to shake her dark thoughts -- she wasn't generally this morbid -- but couldn't make herself forget that the Wade Welles of this world had already been a victim of that death and violence. A car crash, Sam had said. A stupid car crash. "It's not fair."
"What's not fair?" She jumped as Sam came up behind her, looking at her quizzically. He was carrying a plastic bag that didn't look big enough to be carrying anything important, much less the key to letting them slide again.
Rembrandt was only a step behind him, tucking away his wallet. "Man, when we slide again, we have *got* to find a cheaper world," he complained. His eyes narrowed as he looked at Wade. "What's wrong, sweetheart?"
She forced a smile to her face, not wanting to upset her friend. "Nothing," she lied. "Did you find what we need?"
"I hope so." Sam opened the bag and looked inside, as if to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything. "Some of this has got to work."
"I sure hope you're right," Rembrandt said, holding the door for Wade as they left the store and turned back towards the Dominion. "Wonder what Q-Ball's up to?"
"Oh, he and Al are probably fixing Ziggy right now," Sam said breezily. "I'll bet they show up any minute, wanting to know why we haven't fixed the timer yet. Why do you call him Q-Ball, anyway?"
Wade listened to Rembrandt spin out his weird logic behind the nickname with only one ear; the other part of her mind was still dwelling on her double. She wasn't even aware when she made the decision, she simply stepped to the curb and hailed a cab.
"Wade?" Rembrandt asked behind her. "We can get back to the hotel without a cab, girl. It's not that long a walk."
Wade didn't look at him, just opened the door of the cab that stopped in front of her. "I want to go to the cemetery," she told him. "I want to see my double."
"Oh, no." Rembrandt's arm came across the door before she could get in. "I don't think that's a very good idea, sweetheart."
"Remmy!" She caught his arm, tried to shove it away. "I have to do this! She can't have been very old; she's never going to get to see her own world, much less other worlds. I just... something of her should get to go, too, even if it's just a memory. "
Wade stopped and tried to get her voice back under control, looking up at him and begging for understanding of something she didn't quite understand herself. "I have to do this. There might not be anyone else *to* do it, on this world."
Rembrandt took a deep breath, then let his arm drop.
"Looks like we're going to the cemetery," he told Sam. Wade took his hand and smiled up at him, grateful for his support, however reluctantly it came.
He helped her into the cab, then slid in beside her; to her surprise, Sam joined them after only a moment. "I, ah, don't remember how to get back to the hotel," he said with a sheepish smile.
Quinn couldn't tell a lie to save his life; she was oddly pleased to find that Sam in Quinn's body couldn't do it either. "Fort Point Cemetery," she told the driver, giving Sam a small smile. It got bigger when she saw the driver's face.
"Fort Point, da," Pavel Kurlienko agreed, pulling out into traffic.
Rembrandt started chuckling. "Some things, you can always count on, I guess."
"How did you get involved in the project, anyway?" Quinn asked his double idly, his eyes moving rhythmically from one line of code to the next.
His double was doing the same. "I wrote a paper my freshman year of college on the Einstein-Rosen-Podowsky mathematics of hyperspace; my theory was that those equations could be used to build a way to sort of slide between Einstein space and hyperspace, to travel to other timestrings, parallel to ours. I was hoping to get a government grant to pay some of the bills so I could work on making the theory practical; instead, they offered me the chance to work with Dr. Beckett here at Project Quantum Leap." The other Quinn lifted one shoulder, then let it drop. "Guess they didn't have enough funding for two wildly theoretical hyperspatial travel projects."
"Must've been a disappointment," Quinn offered, trying to think what his reaction would have been. Even after the trouble it had caused him, he still couldn't even imagine life without sliding. "Couldn't you have built a prototype, oh, in your basement or something?"
The other Quinn didn't even look away from the terminal. "I'd been trying, but there was no money. I'd been in a car crash with my folks and my girlfriend a couple of months before, and the insurance company wouldn't pay up. I was the only one who walked away, and Wade's mother just didn't have much left by then. Paying the hospital and the funeral home pretty much wiped me out, so...." He shrugged again, the shadows in his half-hidden eyes deepening.
Quinn shuddered. "I'm sorry."
"Guess I was just meant to do something, is all." His double looked over finally, grinning crookedly. "Hey, my fault. I don't normally dump my life story on strangers, you know?"
"Maybe I'm not as strange as you think," Quinn muttered. Then something on the screen caught his eyes. "Quinn, check this out."
"What?" The other leaned forward to see what Quinn was pointing at.
"Well, this coding is pretty specialized, but isn't that some kind of goto command?"
"Yeah." *And?* his voice clearly implied.
"Well, instead of going forward, it seems to repeat back to the beginning of this section, like a Moebius strip. Wouldn't that be enough to knock the power regulators out of the loop?"
The other Quinn studied the code, then his jaw slowly dropped. "You're right. The coding is corrupted -- it lost the object. One stupid little data glitch caused all this! Man, you're a genius!"
Quinn shrugged uncomfortably as his double's voice kept rising. "Just giving it a pair of fresh eyes," he mumbled, secretly pleased. Now they were finally getting somewhere.
"What did you find?" Gooshie came bustling over.
"The solution to all our problems," the other Quinn said, shoving Quinn out of the way so he could reach the keyboard. "I'll have Ziggy baby up and running in five minutes."
The rest of the techs started cheering and Quinn got out of the way, backing across the chamber until he ran into Ziggy. He stopped there, watching the bustle of activity around him, and waited for the Imaging Chamber door to open again. Maybe now he could go home.
As soon as Gooshie's call came down to the main power room, Al was out the door. He made it back to the main chamber in minutes, and almost got run over by three techs who were trying to replace panels on Ziggy's side. "Talk to me, Gooshie!" he yelled over the chaos.
"We've located the software glitch that caused everything, and Louie reports that all patches should be applied within five minutes, which should bring Ziggy back on-line." Gooshie smiled widely, nearly vibrating in place with enthusiasm. "Then we'll finally be able to start working on, um, Dr. Beckett's Leap."
"Outstanding!" Al shouted. "Who found it?"
"Our, um, Visitor and one of the techs." Gooshie gestured towards a terminal on the other side of the room, and Al blinked when he saw the body Sam was currently inhabiting bent over a keyboard. He was tired enough that it took a second to realize it was Quinn's double.
"Thanks for warning me."
Al winced. "Sorry, kid," he told Quinn, who had come up behind him. "It slipped my mind."
"Great." Quinn rolled his eyes to the ceiling, but there was the trace of humor on his face.
Al realized he was being hassled and swung a mock punch at Quinn. "Good job, kid. We'll get you out of here yet."
The smile faded from Quinn's face and he looked grimly towards the Imaging Chamber. "I just hope it's in time," he sighed almost inaudibly.
Somehow, Al had the feeling the kid wasn't talking about the Leap. "What do you mean?"
Quinn rubbed the back of his neck, and tried to check his pockets in the habitual gesture Al had already noticed; probably looking for the timer. "Remember when I asked Dr. Beckett if he thought he could Leap sideways?"
"Yeah. Pretty strange question." But Al had a sinking feeling he knew what Quinn was going to say.
"Not really." Quinn rubbed tiredly at his eyes. "See, we don't think Dr. Beckett *can* Leap sideways, only back and forth. Which means, if he doesn't Leap out of my body in time, we'll have two choices. He can slide with the others, and almost certainly be trapped in my body more or less forever, leaving me stuck here, or he can stay behind and finish whatever he was supposed to make right, then Leap out--"
"Leaving you and your crew trapped on our world in 1997," Al finished hollowly. "Oh, those are not good choices."
"Not really, no."
"But waitaminute," Al burst out, "can't you just wait to slide until after the Leap?"
Quinn shook his head. "It doesn't work that way. See, on our first slide, we landed on an ice planet, too cold for anyone to survive on, even if ice tornadoes didn't keep popping out. We had to leave early, before the timer was set to return us to our world, and by sliding early, we corrupted the data in the timer -- including the coordinates for home. Now, we're stuck sliding at random, and the timer isn't much more than a countdown device to the window for the next slide. If we miss a slide, we're trapped on whatever world we've landed on for 29 years before we can open the wormhole again."
"So you're lost, too," Al said thoughtfully. "Just like Sam."
Quinn nodded, staring down at the floor. His eyes suddenly seemed to suit Sam's body; they were older at that moment than the eyes of any 23-year-old kid should be. "Yeah. We wanted to explore other worlds -- well, Wade, the Professor and I did. Now, all we want is to go home."
"Just like Sam." Al was quiet for a long moment. Even the bustle of the room seemed to have faded into a buzz in the background. "You feel responsible, don't you?"
Quinn's jaw tightened, and Al knew he'd guessed right. "It was my fault. I invented the machine, I took Wade and the Professor through with me, without making sure of how anything *worked*. And poor Rembrandt just got sucked in by accident, driving by at the wrong time. Because of me, they're stuck sliding, almost getting killed on every other world. Yeah, I feel responsible."
Al chose his next words carefully, all too aware that he was going to have to tread very softly to keep Quinn from losing it then and there. "You know, Sam did pretty much the same thing -- jumped into the accelerator before we really knew what it would do. He wants to come home, too, but he's doing a lot of good out there until he can. He's changed a lot of things, brought some bad guys to justice, saved some lives, made things better for a lot of people." He laid a hand on Quinn's shoulder. "Can you tell me that *nothing* good has come out of sliding?"
Quinn thought for a long second, then his lips twitched slightly. "There was a world with a plague and the professor gave them penicillin. It cured everyone."
"What else?" Al pressed.
"We've caught a couple of murderers -- Wade's double once, after she killed my double -- and I guess we've made a couple of worlds better." His smile got a little wider. "Rembrandt kept an unborn baby prince alive, and we saved a whole world from an asteroid strike. Brought down a couple of pretty lousy governments along the way."
"Not a bad track record," Al said consideringly, staring deliberately down at his unlit cigar. "Sounds like you're up there with Sam for putting things right, and he's a tough act to follow."
"Sure," Quinn said bleakly. "If you don't count the four or five times Wade's almost died, or how many times Remmy and the Professor have been put in danger. At least Dr. Beckett didn't drag other people along with him."
Al tightened his grip on Quinn's shoulder, forcing the kid to look at him. "Do you think they'd change it?"
"It doesn't matter..." Quinn started.
"Yes, it does," Al said firmly. "Now, I've had some pretty rough times since Sam Leaped that first time, trying to keep things together back here, losing sleep every damn time he lands in the middle of trouble. A couple of times, I was sure we were gonna lose him and let me tell you, I still have some pretty vivid nightmares." He very deliberately blocked out the memory of the mental institution. "But there's no way I would have missed this; if Sam had to Leap, I'm glad I was around to help.
"I've seen your friends together, heard them talking to you and about you. Every one of them thinks you're about the greatest thing since... mozzarella cheese on pizza. Heck, they were ready to take Sam on to get you back! Do you honestly think they'd change any of this?"
"They... say they wouldn't," Quinn admitted reluctantly. "But--"
"There you go." Al interrupted ruthlessly, letting go of Quinn's shoulder so he could spread his arms in triumph. "I rest my case. Now stop beating yourself up and get ready to go back to your buddies, okay?"
He settled his cigar back in his mouth, relieved to see Quinn smile slightly, his eyes lightening. "So who died and made you Dear Abby, anyway?"
Al polished his handlink on the sleeve of his jacket. "It's a god-given gift," he said smugly. "And let me tell you, it's not easy, always being right."
That startled an honest-to-god laugh out of the kid, and Al patted himself on proudly on the back. At the same time, Ziggy's lights flickered and began to glow, and the Imaging Chamber lit up.
"Admiral," Ziggy said calmly, "I appear to functioning at full capability again. Would you like to return to Dr. Beckett?"
"You betcha!" Al whooped. He and Quinn raced each other for the door as the techs exploded into cheers and whistles of success.
Chapter 8Wade crouched silently beside the small headstone, tracing the letters with one hand.
"Looks like someone must have loved you an awful lot," she said to her double, as if the other woman could hear her. "Did your Quinn put this up, or your mom? I wonder what she's like on this world."
She sighed softly, barely more than a breath. "I wish I knew more about you, that I'd been able to meet you. I bet you'd love sliding, just like me. You wouldn't believe some of the things we've seen...."
Sam listened silently, standing a few feet behind Wade. He hadn't known her for long, but he was already beginning to understand how deeply she felt, for everyone. Even a woman she'd never met, who just happened to bear her name and her face. He couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't be an intrusion into her very real grief.
Rembrandt just behind her, hands tucked in his pockets and his head bent. He'd knelt beside Wade for a long moment when they'd first found the grave, placing a small bouquet of roses on the grass before the headstone. They'd joined another of bright daffodils, and several older bouquets; someone had been taking very good care of the other Wade's grave.
Sam hadn't had any words, but he had seen the deep regret in the other man's eyes before Rembrandt had stood to allow Wade some privacy. Still, he hovered close, offering comfort just by his presence, and Sam felt more like an intruder than ever.
He wandered away, down another row of headstones, fighting a sudden surge of loneliness. How long had it been since he'd been able to visit his dad's grave? He wondered if anyone had, lately.
It was a nice cemetery, at least, quiet and well-kept, set off the edge of what had been the Presidio, before budget cuts had shut it down around the time of Sam's first Leap. He chuckled ruefully at the random bits of trivia his swiss-cheesed memory chose to retain. The ocean crashed just beyond the treeline, and the Golden Gate stretched across the bay behind them, almost close enough to touch. It seemed like a small stretch of paradise, hidden from the city. But what a use for paradise.
He read the names on headstones as he walked slowly past them, wondering who cried for them, who had brought the flowers that dotted the grass with bright spots of color. Albrecht, Steele, Lewis, Gawne, Vera, Mallory.... He stopped as the last name registered, backing up to look at the headstones. Michael Mallory, 1/27/95, and another Mallory beside him. Quinn's parents? The date of death was the same as that of the other Wade, which was a bigger coincidence than he was willing to accept.
"They died two years ago today," he murmured to himself, kneeling to respectfully straighten the small bunches of daffodils laid in front of each marker. Just like the ones at the other Wade's.
"Kinda spooky, huh?" Sam looked up to see Rembrandt standing next to him, looking down at the stones. He hadn't heard the other man walk up. "Quinn's dad just never had all that much time on the world. Almost makes a man believe in fate."
"These are his parents, then?" Sam straightened, brushing his hands off on his pants absently.
Rembrandt nodded, his hands still shoved deep into the pockets of the black windbreaker he'd bought to cover up his Day-Glo shirt. "Yeah. Yeah, those were his parents, on this world anyway. It's a damn shame. I wonder how the Quinn on this world took it, losing both Wade and his parents on the same day?"
Sam didn't have an answer for that, so he didn't say anything, just bowed his head in the same silent respect Rembrandt showed to his friend's parents.
"Sam!" Sam jumped at the shout, a rude intrusion in the silence of the cemetery, and turned around, ready to yell at whoever had disturbed the peace. The words caught in his throat as he saw Al standing just a few feet away.
"Al!" He barely kept himself from shouting the name, forced his voice down with an effort. Rembrandt looked up and scanned the air around them, looking for the hologram. "Where have you been? How's Ziggy?"
"Ziggy's fine," Al said, grinning widely. "Up and running, thanks to the boy genius here." He gestured to his side; Quinn was apparently along for the ride again. Without conscious thought, Sam took a sideways step that put him directly in front of Michael Mallory's headstone; Rembrandt did the same in front of the other marker and Sam nodded in grim agreement. Quinn didn't need to see these graves.
"He spotted some stupid little glitch in the codes that took the surge suppressers off-line," Al continued, oblivious to his surroundings. "We fixed those, patched the wiring that blew, and bingo-bango-bongo, here we are."
"That's great, Al," Sam said on a huge sigh of relief, feeling muscles loosen up and down his back. "Has Ziggy found out yet why I'm here?"
He wondered if he imagined Al's wince. "No, not yet, but she's working on it, honest."
"Well, I guess we can't get everything at once," Sam said reassuringly, trying to cover his disappointment. At least Al was back; he wasn't stuck here all alone any more.
"Hey, I hate to interrupt the reunion," Rembrandt interrupted, "but is Q-Ball back with your friend?"
Sam blinked. He kept forgetting none of the others could see Al, they'd all been spending so much time talking back and forth to each other. "Yes, they're both here. Ziggy is fixed and she's working on finding out about this Leap."
"Well, that's great to hear and all, but if we've got Quinn, we probably should be getting back to the hotel," Rembrandt pointed out. "If we don't get that timer fixed before the slide...."
"Good point." Sam turned to Al. "We've got to get Wade, then we'll go back to the hotel. I think I may have what we need to get the timer working."
"Hey, that's great news." Al's smile faded slightly as he finally took in their surroundings. "Oh, Sam. A cemetery? You're hanging around in a cemetery?"
Sam raised his eyes to the heavens. "Don't get all superstitious on me now, Al. Wade wanted to visit her double's grave."
Al shuddered. "Man, that's just spooky. Ah, Quinn wants to know what you two are trying to hide from him."
Sam blinked again, then tried to look innocent. "Hide?"
"Yeah, hide. Quinn, you might not want to...." Al sighed and put his hand over his eyes. "Too late. He just went and looked. Are those graves what I think they are?"
"Yeah, they are." Sam looked over at Rembrandt ruefully. "You can move now, Quinn just saw."
Rembrandt shook his head sadly, but didn't budge. "How's he taking it?"
"Well, he's kind of...." Al stopped to listen, then said, "Quinn says to say you can talk directly to him, Rembrandt. He also says he's fine, he just wants to, ah, 'get Wade and get the hell out of here.'" The last part was obviously a direct quote.
"Sounds like a plan to me, Q-Ball," Rembrandt said, already turning away from the graves. "The sooner we're away from this whole world, the happier I'll be."
"Quinn agrees with that," Al relayed, trailing along behind Sam. "And so do I."
He muttered the last part, and Sam decided not to hear him. He was right, anyway.
Wade was kneeling in front of a small headstone a few rows away, fussing with the flowers in front of it and talking too quietly for Quinn to make out the words. As he walked up to her, he realized she was softly crying.
The one thing in the universes he'd never been able to stand was a woman's tears; Wade's, in particular, brought him down every time. "Oh, Wade, why do you do this to yourself?" he groaned, kneeling next to her and looking at the name on the marker. "Who told her about her double?"
"I only told Sam," Al said defensively. "But, ah, he might have accidentally told her."
"I slipped," Sam admitted, following the one-sided conversation pretty accurately. "They overheard me talking to Al about one of your doubles being, well, gone and she got the rest of it out of me."
"Not his fault, Quinn," Rembrandt inserted, apparently also following the conversation; they were getting too good at this, Quinn reflected. "You know Wade; she decided she had to know what was going on..."
"...And she didn't give up until she did," Quinn finished more or less along with Rembrandt. "Why'd you let her come here?"
Rembrandt looked surprised when Sam relayed the question. "Stop Wade? From doing anything? Man, you *have* been stuck out there too long."
Quinn couldn't bring himself to smile at the long-standing joke. Wade didn't seem to have noticed anyone, yet; she was still staring at the headstone, still murmuring under her breath. Instinctively, Quinn reached out to her, trying to brush her tears away, but his hand went right through her cheek. He swore and slammed his useless fist into the ground.
"Take it easy, kid." Al reached out to put a restraining hand on his shoulder, but stopped before they could touch. Power drains, right. "Beating up on Sam's body isn't going to help anyone."
Rembrandt had also moved closer, and was kneeling on Wade's other side. "Wade?" he said softly. "Quinn's back, sweetheart. They fixed the computer; we might be able to figure a way to slide out of here now."
Wade looked up at him, hastily scrubbing at her eyes with the heel of her hand and leaving a smudge of dirt across her cheek. "He's back? Really?" The sadness in her voice was lightened by an odd kind of relief. "Where is he?"
"I'm right here, Wade," Quinn said. He had to clear his throat before he could get the words out. It was easier not to deal with how much Wade cared about him, even though he knew.
"He's right beside you, Wade," Sam repeated, not quite looking at them.
Wade smiled shakily, and looked one more time at the headstone, trailing her fingers along her name. "It's not fair, Quinn. She died two years ago. When I was just beginning to slide, just beginning to live, she was dying."
"I know, Wade." Quinn flinched away from the inscription; something about the date bothered him, but, already shaken by seeing his parents' graves, he refused to think about it. "Come on, we have go. Let her rest; let them all rest."
Sam repeated Quinn's words quietly and she finally nodded, letting Rembrandt help her to her feet. "I'm okay, guys," she reassured all of them, although she didn't let go of Rembrandt's arm. "And I'm glad you're back, Quinn. I, um, guess we should head back to the hotel, huh?"
"Yeah." Rembrandt started to lead her away. "The Professor's going to be worried about us."
Wade followed after one last look back over her shoulder, whispering "Good-bye," under her breath. Quinn took his own last look, sending a silent prayer to whoever watched over this world for his parents and this Wade. Then he raced to catch up with Wade and Rembrandt, who were already halfway to the gates.
A half-familiar voice caught his attention before he made it to them. "Quinn?"
He turned automatically, and saw a dark-haired woman walking, not to him, but to Sam in his body. His blood froze as he realized what was about to happen.
"Remmy, grab her!" Quinn yelled, forgetting Rembrandt couldn't hear him, just as Wade turned and saw the woman. Her breath sucked in with a painful gasp.
"Mom?" she whispered, her eyes wide. "Mom, is that you?"
"Rembrandt!" Quinn yelled again in frustration. Fortunately, while Rembrandt might have been deaf to Quinn, he was fast enough on his own. His hand closed around Wade's arm before she could take more than a step towards her mother, and he swung her against him, walking her quickly through the gate and muffling her protests against his chest.
Quinn breathed a sigh of relief and ran back to help the other two.
"That's Wade's mother, Mrs. Welles!" he shouted to Al, who spoke urgently to Sam, passing the information on. By the time Quinn panted up, Mrs. Welles was already speaking to Sam.
"...thought you were at your project, out in the desert," she was saying, with a wan smile. "I'm so glad you were able to come home for...."
Her voice trailed off as her eyes filled with tears, and Quinn's eyes narrowed as he took in the changes this world's Mrs. Welles had seen. The woman he remembered from a few casual meetings was as pretty as Wade, with an easy smile and a self-confidence that almost glowed from her.
This Mrs. Welles looked like hell. Her clothing didn't fit quite right, as if she'd lost weight, and her eyes had circles under them and wrinkles around them, the kind that came from weeks and months of frowns. There was an aura around her of soul-deep sadness and loneliness.
Sam apparently saw it, too; his hands came up to encase hers in a firm grip. "I had to come," he said carefully. "I got some time away from the project so I could."
Well, Quinn thought, it wasn't exactly a lie. Actually, it might not be a lie at all; he wondered if it had been this world's Quinn who had left the daffodils.
Mrs. Welles had taken Sam's hands gratefully; she shook her head slowly, obviously doing her best not to cry on him. "She'd like knowing you'd come." Her smile was shaky. "It's been two years, but I still...."
"You still expect to see her," Sam completed gently. "Expect to be able to call her and talk to her. I know. Believe me, I do know."
"Of course you do, Quinn." Mrs. Welles extracted one of her hands from his so she could pat his shoulder. "And I know how hard this day is for you. Your parents were my friends, but... You lost all three of them in one day. But you can't blame yourself, honey," she rushed forward, obviously expecting an interruption. "No matter what that insurance company said, it wasn't your fault; that drunk would have hit you no matter who was driving. It wasn't your fault."
Quinn's stomach lurched as he realized the implication of her words. His double had been driving the car that killed his parents and his Wade. "Oh, Christ."
He wasn't aware he'd said it out loud until Al swung around to look at him. "Calm down, Quinn," he said quickly, trying not to disturb Sam, who was saying calm, soothing things to Mrs. Welles. "It wasn't you. None of this was you."
Quinn nodded at Al's words, swallowing hard. He had to get out of there; for the first time, he was grateful someone else was in his body. He wouldn't have been able to deal with Mrs. Welles's grief on top of his own confused emotions.
Fortunately, Sam was already gently turning down an invitation to accompany Mrs. Welles home, telling another half-lie about not being able to miss travel plans.
Mrs. Welles accepted his words at face value. "I know they keep you awfully busy," she said with an overly-bright smile. "I'm so glad you were able to come, that I could see you again, Quinn honey. I don't seem to see anyone anymore; with Wade gone, there's really no one to see.... You'll take care of yourself, Quinn? Promise me?"
"I will," Sam promised gently, leaning forward to brush a kiss over Mrs. Welles' cheek. "And you take care of yourself."
"Oh... don't worry about me," she told him, her smile wavering. "I'm just going to talk to my Wade for a little while. Just for a little while longer."
Sam nodded and kissed her again before releasing her hands and walking away. Quinn and Al followed silently, Quinn looking over his shoulder at Mrs. Welles until his eyes were too blurred to focus.
He was aware of Al studying him with worry and a little too much perceptiveness. "You okay, Quinn?"
Quinn scrubbed impatiently at the wet film covering his eyes. "No."
Al accepted the blunt answer with only a nod, and Sam didn't say anything at all until they left the cemetery and met Rembrandt and Wade, who were sitting a bench next to the cab. Once again, Quinn knelt in front of Wade; she was leaning forward, her elbows on her knees and her head bowed. Next to her, Rembrandt was rubbing her back, his face tangled with sympathy and helplessness.
"Wade?" Sam said softly.
She looked up at him, her face tear-stained but under control. "Guess this was a pretty bad idea, huh?" Sam shrugged slightly, and she looked back down. "That *was* my mother, wasn't it?"
Sam groped helplessly for something to say; Quinn supplied it. "She's not your mother, Wade," he said, hearing Al and Sam repeat him word for word and tone for tone. He stared at her, trying to get her to feel his sympathy and his concern through sheer willpower. "She's this Wade's mother, and you can't help her. Seeing you couldn't do anything but hurt her more, and you know that."
He shoved a hand through his hair, praying he was saying the right things. "I know it's hard, Wade, but you have to let this go."
"She was crying, wasn't she?" Wade's voice was matter-of-fact; Quinn didn't want to know how much that cost her. "She's hurting."
"Yes, she is," he answered quietly. "But there's nothing we can do."
Wade stared at him for a long moment, as if she could actually see him, then abruptly stood, dragging her hand across her eyes again. "Let's just go," she said in a muffled voice, opening the door to the cab and stepping in without a backwards glance. "Let's just get out of here."
The four men exchanged helpless looks, then obeyed. As he entered the cab, Quinn couldn't resist one more look backwards. He could just see Mrs. Welles standing over Wade's grave, her head and shoulders bent as if under the weight of the world. A chill touched his spine, and he tried to convince himself he'd just imagined the desperation in Mrs. Welles's eyes as the cab started moving away.
Chapter 9Fitting them all into the cab might have been entertaining under other circumstances. As it was, Al had no trouble resisting his usual comments about sitting on a subdued Wade's lap. He and Quinn wound up sharing the front seat, sitting in it more than on it. The ride to the Dominion was silent, and seemed to take forever. He could have just had Ziggy center them back on the Dominion, but something in Quinn's eyes suggested he wasn't going to leave Wade.
"There you are!" Arturo looked up at them in irritation as they trooped through the door to the room. His shirt sleeves were rolled up and towels and a bottle of alcohol were scattered over the table in front of him. "I finished cleaning the damn timer an hour ago, where the devil have you been?"
"Visiting cemeteries," Rembrandt answered with a significant look at Wade. She still hadn't spoken a word, just sat down on the couch and huddled into herself. Quinn sat next to her, trying once again to touch her; Al winced in sympathy at the look on Quinn's face when he failed again.
Arturo looked from Rembrandt to Wade and back, and sighed, taking his glasses off and wiping them absently. "Perhaps not the best of notions."
"You have no idea," Quinn mumbled from the couch. Al didn't feel the need to relay it.
Sam upended his shopping bag, spilling the contents onto the table. "Al and Quinn fixed Ziggy, so they're back," he said calmly, but Al knew his friend well enough to see the troubled expression in his eyes. This wasn't turning out to be an easy Leap for anyone. "Let's see what we can do about the timer."
"They're back? Oh, well done." Arturo's voice perked up at the news. "Have they discovered anything more about why you might have Leaped here?"
"Not yet," Sam admitted. "But they're working on it."
"Then we also need to start 'working on it'," Arturo said firmly. "Let's get down to business, shall we?" After another searching look at Wade, he bent over the disassembled timer. "Now, the power relay must be able to carry at least 5,000 volts...."
Wade seemed to force herself back to reality and got off the couch, walking around it and sitting at the table next to Arturo, watching him tinker with sad but focused eyes. Quinn followed her, although he was distracted enough to walk straight through the couch, and Al resignedly prepared himself for relay duty again.
No one but Sam would have thought of using the replacement engine for a remote control car as a power relay, Al thought almost an hour later, as Sam and Arturo finished wiring the small part in place.
"Tell them to make sure it's secure." Quinn hovered over the two, passing back and forth between (and through) them anxiously. "If it falls out in the middle of the wormhole, we might not be able to replace it on the next world. And make sure the grounding wire is in place so it doesn't short out again."
"Yes, yes," Arturo said irritably before Al was halfway through the relay. "We have accounted for the stress of the wormhole passage, Mr. Mallory. Don't attempt to teach a physicist about Einstein."
Quinn gave Arturo a look which Al was very glad he didn't have to pass on and went back to pacing around the perimeter of the table.
The air had gotten more and more tense as they'd tried and discarded part after part, the conversations more terse and biting. This miniature engine was, judging from Sam's carefully not-worried expression, the last thing left in his bag of tricks. If it didn't work....
Al pulled the handlink out and checked with Ziggy again, just to have something to do. According to Gooshie, Ziggy had found several possibilities for what Sam needed to fix, but none of them had a probability higher than 23.7 percent. Without any hint of who they were there to help, it was like trying to find a needle in a decades-long haystack.
On a hunch, he told Ziggy to check the backgrounds of the sliders' doubles, just in case, concentrating on Quinn Mallory and Maximillian Arturo, the two based in San Francisco. He got back a snide assurance that Ziggy was already investigating all four of them.
Resisting the temptation to throw the handlink against a wall, Al strode back to the table just as Arturo finished with the soldering iron. "And there we have it," he said, setting the iron down very deliberately. "The battery pack please, Dr. Beckett."
"Here you go." Sam handed the small pack over and Arturo slipped it into place, then closed the back of the timer. Taking a deep breath, he looked at the other men, then turned the timer over.
Nothing. The readout was completely blank.
Sam slumped back in his chair as Arturo sighed and leaned forward, his elbows resting heavily on the table. Rembrandt stared at the timer with incredulous eyes, then abruptly turned away, leaning his forearm against the window and staring blindly out over the city.
Quinn's eyes were frantic, his head shaking as he tried to deny what he was seeing. "Come on, this can't be happening," he groaned, trying to pick the timer up. As Al expected, his hands went straight through it and the table. "Come on, guys, you can't give up, we'll figure something out!"
Al elected to only relay the second part, adding, "He's right, Sam, you've got to keep trying."
"I know, I know," Sam said tiredly. "Just give me a minute to think."
"We may not *have* a minute," Quinn said through gritted teeth. "We may have already missed the slide! There's got to be something we've missed, something we haven't tried."
"Then think of it quickly, Mr. Mallory!" Arturo exploded out of his chair before Sam finished passing the words on. "Because I've run out of ideas!"
Quinn opened his mouth to respond in kind, but Al cut him off quickly. "Yelling at him's not going to help, kid." *When did I get put in charge of calming people down?* he asked himself irritably. *If I'm stopping him from yelling, *I* can't yell!*
Quinn clamped his jaw shut and took two deep breaths, then said, very carefully, "Ask him if he's sure all the carbonization was off the contacts. If there's any left, it could be impeding the power flow to the timer."
"Of course, I'm sure," Arturo snapped, just as Al could have predicted. "I had plenty of time to be damned sure when you were all gallivanting around cemeteries and upsetting Miss Welles!"
"Where is Wade, anyway?" Rembrandt asked, without turning from the window. There was a joint pause as everyone forgot about fighting long enough to look around.
"She's not here," Quinn realized. "Where did she go?"
Sam was already on his feet. "Al, I've got a bad feeling about this. Tell Ziggy to locate Wade, now!"
"Right, Sam. Gooshie, locate Wade Welles!" Al shouted at the loudspeaker in the Imaging Chamber, not trusting the handlink to work fast enough.
"I already know where she went." Rembrandt was halfway across the room before he finished his sentence; Quinn beat him by the door only by going through the furniture. "Her mother," they concluded in unison.
"Damn the girl!" Arturo snarled, with more worry than anger if Al was any judge. "We don't have *time* for her to go on one of her idealistic crusades."
"Well, we're stuck with it now, Professor," Rembrandt said as he opened the door. "All we can do is catch up with her before she does something we'll all regret. Quinn, where does Wade's mom live?"
Quinn reeled off an address, but Al was too busy staring in shock at the handlink to relay it. "Sam! Ziggy says Wade is on her way to her mother's but she's not going to get there in time."
"What?" Sam grabbed Rembrandt's arm before the other man could leave the room. "Get there in time for what? Where is she?"
Al looked up at his friend, knowing he sounded as miserable as he felt. "Ziggy just managed to track down the records for Wade's family. According to police records, Mrs. Welles will be found in her house in two days. She died from a self-administered overdose sometime this afternoon. Ziggy says there's a 91 percent chance Wade won't get there in time to stop her. Sam, you have to hurry!"
Wade caught a cab from the Dominion to her old neighborhood with the last of her cash, and found herself in a suburb which had probably once been fairly prosperous, but was now starting to look run-down. She didn't take any time for sightseeing, but walked up the driveway to her front door, driven by a growing worry she didn't quite understand. She hadn't even been able to see her mother's face, Rembrandt had pulled her away from the cemetery so quickly. But she'd seen how disturbed Sam had looked after he'd talked to her.
The guys were going to be mad at her, she knew, but, just like she'd had to visit the cemetery, she *had* to check on her mother.
*I'll just look in the window, just to see how she's doing,* Wade promised herself. *Just to make sure she's all right.*
The paint on the porch was cracking and just starting to peel; the flower beds, which on her world had been drowned in color, had gone to seed with winter and not been cleared. Wade frowned at the small signs of neglect as she walked carefully to the front window, but the mailbox said 'Welles'.
Shielding the glass from the sun with her hand, she peered into the window, seeing her own darkened living room through the lace curtains. Dimly, she could make out pictures over the mantle, including what looked like her own high school graduation portrait, and a shape gently rocking in the chair in the far corner, almost out of sight.
"Hi, Mom," she said softly, pressing her cheek to the glass for a moment before she backed away. Quinn was right, she knew; introducing herself to this world's version of her mother would just make things worse. But it had been so long.... She just wanted to get one good glimpse of her mother. Then she'd go back and rejoin the guys.
She left the porch and worked her way off the porch to the thin side yard and around to the back. The kitchen and living room shared a hallway; she should be able to look through the back windows straight to her mother's chair, if she was careful.
The back lawn showed the same careless upkeep as the porch and the flower beds; Wade moved through the grass carefully, the niggling worry growing as she noticed the storm windows leaning against the walls, as if someone had lost interest in putting them up halfway through the job. The first signs of rust were starting to show on them. *This place almost looks abandoned. Guess we're divorced on this world, too, or worse. But where's my sister? Isn't she helping out? Does she exist here?*
She cleared a space in the dust on the back window and looked in. The sunlight steaming though the window was the only light in the house, but it was enough to illuminate her mother's face from this angle. She sat slumped in her chair, sound asleep. In the middle of the day.
Wade's breath caught in her throat as her vague fears suddenly crystallized. On the table next to her mother sat a prescription pill bottle, laying empty on its side.
"Mom!" The scream hurt as it burst from her throat, but she didn't feel it, or her fists beating against the window as she tugged frantically at it, then at the back door. They were all locked.
"Mom! No, Mom! Someone help!" It was the middle of the day, and no one heard. Her mother never stirred.
Wade ran blindly back to the front of the house, praying that some Welles traditions would be the same, and thrust her hand frantically under the mailbox. When she found the magnetic keyholder, she almost cried from relief, fumbling the key free and opening the screen door. It took her three tries to get the key in the lock, then the door flew open and she was inside, kneeling beside her mother's chair.
She grabbed her mother's shoulders, shaking her limp body frantically. A picture frame tumbled from her mother's fingers, thumping to the carpet. Wade's own face smiled up at her from the floor, pushing her over the edge into flat panic. "Mom! Mom, wake up! What did you do? Mom! Oh, God, no, please!"
From somewhere in the back of her panic-soaked mind, she remembered watching Rembrandt and Arturo with the victims they'd found before, on other worlds. Her hand groped her mother's neck, and her own heart almost stopped when she found the weak, thready pulse.
"Mom! It'll be all right, Mom, I'm going to get help, you're going to be all right, I promise!" She left her mother just long enough to find the phone, ten long feet away on the oak desk her mother had used to do paperwork at home. As she fumbled with the receiver, searching for 911, some sane part of her mind noticed the pictures, all of Wade herself. None of her sister or her father. Just Wade and her mom, and one of Wade with Quinn, both of them smiling.
"Oh, God, Mom, what did you do? Why?"
911 seemed to be the universal emergency number; she surprised herself with her own coherence as she gasped the story to the woman on the other end of the line. She let the phone drop without taking even an extra second to hang it up, rushing back to her mother's side and cradling her in her arms while she groped for the pulse again.
It fluttered a few times beneath her fingertips, then stopped.
The men heard Wade's scream from the sidewalk. Rembrandt shoved past Sam to bolt up the front walk at a dead run. Sam was close behind, as Al, who had been centered on Wade, appeared in the doorway, shouting, "Sam, get in here, now!"
Sam and Rembrandt burst through the open front door as one, banging the door backwards into the wall. "Over here!" Al shouted.
Sam recovered first and made it around the corner into a small, pretty living room. Wade knelt next to the rocking chair nearest the door, alternately cradling Mrs. Welles's body and shaking it. Whatever she was saying was made incoherent by her racking sobs.
The doctor in Sam took over instantly, removing all of his fear and confusion and shoving them to a back corner of his mind, to be dealt with later. Dimly, he heard Al yelling at Quinn, heard Arturo make his only slightly less noisy entrance; all of his attention was focused on what he had to do.
Kneeling beside the chair, he gently but firmly pried Wade's arms away from her mother; then Arturo was next to them, pulling Wade to her feet. Sam checked Mrs. Welles's pulse, and his heart sank as he realized they might already be too late.
*No, I'm not going to let this happen,* he nearly snarled to himself. A quick glance over his shoulder showed Arturo thoroughly occupied with the distraught Wade. "Rembrandt, help me get her to the floor."
Rembrandt was there in a moment, helping him lower Mrs. Welles from the chair with practiced hands, shoving aside a fallen picture with distracted force. Sam cleared her mouth and started the rhythmic pushes of CPR. As he paused for artificial respiration, Rembrandt beat him to it, tipping Mrs. Welles's head back and giving her two full breaths. Sam didn't have time to wonder where the other man had picked up CPR, he just returned to the job at hand. They fell quickly into the much-too-familiar rhythm.
"Al," he puffed in the short break for AR, "what did she take?"
"Coroner records showed it was some kind of prescription tranquilizer," Al said after a second.
"Ask Wade... what her mom's condition was.... when she got here." The words came out on harsh exhales, as he put all of his weight into the CPR. Sweat soaked his back but he refused to acknowledge it; Rembrandt's face a few feet away was grim and determined.
There was the bass rumble of Arturo's voice, then Wade's choked, but clear, answer. "She was alive! I called the ambulance and came back and then.... Remmy, please don't let her die!"
*In time,* Sam thought vaguely, in time to the movements of his arms. *We might be in time. Please, God, let us be in time.*