Professor Maximilian Arturo was looking at the buildings, taking in the sight. "I think..." he answered quietly, "I think that's a bit of an understatement."
Quinn Mallory and Wade Wells stood up last, having landed extremely hard. "C'mon," Quinn said reasonably. "It can't be any stranger than the world populated by bananas." He looked up. He gasped, and grabbed Wade's arm. She looked up as well, and was so shocked she staggered backwards.
Her face was on a wall four storeys high.
It was her face, and yet, it wasn't. The hair was longer, for one thing, but her double's face was crueller, somehow; more evil. The eyes were completely cold. The Nazi-esque symbols surrounding the huge portrait didn't help any.
"How much longer until we slide?" asked Rembrandt.
"8 hours," Arturo replied.
"Maybe we should go look for somewhere to stay," Rembrandt continued. He started to pull Wade away, but she stayed rooted to the spot. "Come on, Wade." He pulled on her arm again, and she finally started moving.
They made their way downtown. It was night out, and the darkness would keep anyone from noticing Wade.
"Notice anything weird?" Arturo asked.
"Like what?" Quinn rolled his eyes.
"There are no street lights--no neon lights, or anything. And no lights in the windows." Arturo continued: "And hardly anyone out. Those who are seem extremely wary."
"Maybe there's a curfew," Quinn rationed.
"Maybe that means we should get in a hotel as soon as possible," Rembrandt again. "This place gives me the creeps."
Sudden yells pierced the still night air. The four came upon the scene of the screams, to find five men beating up a middle-aged man in front of a lit-up store.
"I'm sorry I wasn't closed earlier--I had trouble--" the man cried between blows.
"Are you saying you're getting weak?" asked one of the men, obviously in charge. The four were close enough to make out the men: they were all wearing uniforms emblazoned with the symbol on Wade's double's poster.
"Stay here," Quinn said, holding Wade back. He ran up, and charged one of the men. "Leave him alone!"
The guards were stunned that someone was defying them. The man took his chance, and rushed inside, locking the door.
"You--" the leader was furious. He raised his truncheon, when he got a glimpse of Quinn's face. He instantly went pale, and dropped the stick.
"I didn't realise--sir--what are you doing out so late?" the leader stuttered, white as a ghost.
"Leave that man alone," Quinn said, stiffening.
"Yes, sir, of course sir." the man snapped off a quick salute, followed soon after by his men.
He looked over to Quinn's companions. "Who are you travelling with, sir?"
"I--" Quinn paused. Wade, Rembrandt and Arturo stepped forward into the waning light cast by the store's lit window.
"Mastrex!" the men half-cried. They all bowed their heads. Wade looked to Quinn in confusion, but he shrugged.
"Allow us to escort you back to the complex," the leader said. He was shaking quite badly. "I apologise for the near-attack--I was surprised--please, don't condemn me--"
"I--" Wade tried to think of an appropriate response. "Of course not--"
The man stopped shaking immediately and stiffened in wariness. He nearly looked up, stopping just short of eye contact. Wade could tell he was confused.
"If you escort me, then I will not, uh, condemn you." she said, putting on her best haughty voice.
The man relaxed somewhat, and bowed. "This way, Mastrex."
"I know that," she snapped. She caught the Professor's eye and shrugged slightly.
"When in Rome.." he muttered.
"I trust the Professor can find his way to his own compound?" the leader said slowly.
"Of course I can, fool!" boomed the Professor. All the guards leapt back. "The Mastrex and I have business to talk about."
"Yes. So leave us immediately," Wade added. She flashed a grin at Quinn, but he wasn't smiling.
The guards all saluted smartly, then marched down the hall. Wade looked around the hall. It was austerely furnished, but obviously the luxurious quarters of someone rich. The guards had lead them straight here, and neither them nor anyone else made eye-contact with Wade, so no one noticed the hair discrepancy.
"Obviously we can't go in there," Quinn said, gesturing at the door.
"Obviously?" Rembrandt queried.
"The real Mastrex is probably in there, and I don't think she approve of your impersonating her, Wade." he replied.
"Excuse me," she drawled. "What was I supposed to do?"
"Let's not argue, let's just find somewhere to hide out," Arturo said calmly.
They went down the halls until they found a door marked "Gest Kworters".
"I think that might be `Guest Quarters'." Arturo said slowly. "And we might be able to find an empty one."
Quinn pushed the door open, revealing an entire wing. It had seen better days, judging from the dust covering everything.
"Perfect." Rembrandt said, rubbing his hands together. "This is perfect."
"Let's go into this one," Quinn said, opening a door on his right. He flung it open, and a corpse fell out, landing on him. He recoiled in horror, and shoved the decaying body away from him. Rembrandt opened another door, and met with the same result. They went through all the room in the entire wing, and all except the last were full with dead people. All the bodies wore some sort of uniform, and they all either looked angry or pained, but there was no blood.
"Gassed, most likely." Arturo said. "Or poisoned."
"Lovely thought," Wade said. They piled into the last room, and Rembrandt flopped onto the bed. "I guess that's why the wing isn't used."
"Look at this!" Quinn said excitedly. He had found a computer system. "These people are obviously advanced. I can't wait to see what the computer can tell us."
He booted it up, and it flashed on almost instantly. The computer spoke: "Voice identification."
"Um, hello?" Quinn said after a moment.
"Identification confirmed. Logging on."
The words "Kwin Malori" appeared on the screen, then faded, revealing a menu screen. One of the options was: "Personal Informayshun" and another was "Publik Informashun."
"Either these people can't spell, or they're extremely phonetic," Arturo chuckled. The computer spoke again.
"Profesor Maximilian Arturo," it said, flashing the words.
"They didn't get mine that wrong, at least." the Professor chuckled.
"The menu's changing! It must be voice sensitive!" Quinn exclaimed.
"Kwin Malory" repeated the computer. Again the menu shifted. Quinn held up a finger to his lips this time. The Professor nodded, and joined Wade and Rembrandt for a little sleep, while Quinn looked up all he could on the machine.
The morning broke in the usual way: the sun climbed higher in the sky, letting in more and more light through the windows. Wade yawned, and sat up. Quinn and the Professor were whispering by the computer. She tip-toed over to join them, skirting Rembrandt on the floor, snoring away.
"I did some research," Quinn said in a low whisper. "I just started telling the Professor." Wade nodded, but didn't say anything. Quinn continued.
"I found a number of informative files--this world is highly technological, and all of the sensitive computers are equipped with the `glorious world history'. Just to remind the natives, I guess." He smiled again for a moment, then the smile faded.
"Apparently, this world is called `Erth'. It was conquered completely by the current `Mastrex', or Waid Whells. The spellings aren't always phonetic--but most of the time. Anyway, Whells conquered everybody and everything. She rules with an iron fist and has started a Darwinian system of society. Those who are judged to be `weak' are killed, or in the local vernacular, `condemned'."
Wade nodded. It explained the behaviour of the guard last night.
"The world has adapted to her rule--no one dares oppose her. She wiped out all the major world leaders--"
"The corpses!" exclaimed Arturo.
"Right. She gassed them almost five years ago, securing her rule. After then, the first `purge' began, and a third of this world's population was destroyed."
"A third!" both Arturo and Wade gasped. "But that's like two billion--"
"Try five. This world was way over-populated."
"Was?" Arturo didn't even want to ask.
"There have been five Purges." Quinn took a deep breath as he paused. "Waid Whells has the blood of twelve billion people on her hands."
Wade gasped. She shut her eyes in grief--twelve billion people. Arturo put a hand on her shoulder.
"She has left a minority of three billion people, who are her most fanatic followers. She's breeding loyalty, and weeding out the dissidents. But enough about that. I looked up my double's personal file, and apparently Kwin Malori is married to Whells.
"But that's all it says about me. Arturo, you're the Mastrex's right-hand goon. You preform tests on those condemned, but it didn't say what, and your files are in medicalese...which is hard enough to read when its spelled properly."
"I'm sure I don't want to know," Arturo muttered. "In the mean time, what should we do? We have a few hours to wait for the slide."
"Then we wait in here. We can't risk Wade and Waid meeting up." Quinn said. The two others nodded.
"What about Rembrandt? You never mentioned him." Arturo said curiously. Quinn shook his head.
"Couldn't find anything on him." Quinn answered ruefully.
About two hours passed when there was a sudden banging on the door. "Mastrex!" a voice yelled. There was a sudden flurry of activity as Quinn, Arturo and Rembrandt all dived for cover. Rembrandt was under the bed, Quinn in a closet, and Arturo ducked into the on-suite bathroom.
"What is it?" Wade tried to sound authoritative.
"I am sorry to disturb you while you are contemplating, Mastrex, but your husband wishes to speak with you, he says it's urgent."
Wade gulped. She had to take the chance. "Coming," she yelled back, searching for something to disguise her hair. Her eyes fell on a beret that had been left on a chair seat. She snatched it up, and made it look as if her hair was hidden underneath it.
She opened the door. The two guards immediately lowered their gaze to the floor. She allowed them to lead her down the passageways, to a room at the far end of the complex. The door swung open to reveal a laboratory, full of computers and walls lined with blackboards.
The guards quickly left her presence, and shut the door behind her. She was trapped. Another door opened, and Kwin Malori stepped out.
"Waid," he said. Wade could hardly keep from staring, but this Kwin looked exactly like her Quinn. The hair was the same length, there was even the same look in his eyes. The two were identical.
"I like your hair like that," he said, turning towards the blackboards. Wade's hand went towards his head for a moment, and then she gathered the courage to say:
"What did you want me for?"
"I finished the calculations for the greenhouse project." he said. "I thought you might like to look at them. It's quite promising. Thanks to recycling of already mined materials, the mining emissions are down 99% percent. We might have an easier time repairing the holes in the 'zone."
Wade nodded, picking up the file folder and looking through it.
"Waid..." Kwin suddenly said.
She looked at him, and made eye-contact for a moment before he looked away. "I just might have thought, with you out doing your monthly meditation and contemplation--"
"Yes?" she said hesitatingly.
"I thought, you might have--"
"Regretted anything." he stared at the blackboard, waiting for her response. It probably wasn't what he expected: what Wade felt like was crying. Her double had married Quinn's double, but his double was exactly like her own Quinn, and hated what his wife had done and continued to do. Wade could feel it. She felt her throat choking up, and turned and left the room without another word.
Arturo walked down the corridor hesitatingly, looking for Wade. Had they found her out? Not likely, since they hadn't come looking for the others. He crept around the corner, when one of the uniformed guards spotted him.
"Professor," he said, running over. Arturo nearly panicked. Unlike with Wade, they didn't avoid eye-contact with him. So any differences were there for anyone to see. It appears that he didn't have anything to worry about. This guard noticed nothing out of the ordinary.
"Can I escort you to your lab?" he said, almost hopefully.
"I suppose so," Arturo said, acting as if he was granting the guard a huge favour. He let the guard lead him down the hall, and past the original door they came in. Finally they came to a hall with almost no doors, except one at the very end. However, the guard stopped long before then, and refused to budge, so Arturo dismissed him.
Arturo nodded, and walked down the hall, sighing mentally. He opened the door, and nearly screamed.
Bodies were suspended in floor-to-ceiling tanks. Bits were in separate jars on shelves. Blood was all over a large metal table, surrounded by various nasty looking implements of different sizes. He choked but bile at the sight of the dismembered humans, and realised that this is what Quinn meant by "testing". The final straw to Arturo's composure came when he met up face to face with one of the inhabitants of the glass jars: the half-skinned head of Rembrandt Brown.
Arturo turned, and fled from the room.
Wade stumbled out of the room, when the door opened suddenly behind her, and Kwin sped out.
"Waid? What's the matter? Why are you acting so strangely?" he asked, genuinely concerned.
"I have done some thinking--" Wade said, slowly. She didn't want to say anything that her counterpart wouldn't say, but she so much wanted to comfort this Kwin and make his life a little more bearable. "And I think, maybe I do, uh, regret some stuff."
"You do?" Kwin said, a smile forming on his face. "That's fantastic--I mean, that's--"
"I know what you mean," she said with a shaky laugh. Wade leaned her head against the wall, when by accident, the beret slid off.
"What happened to your hair?" he exclaimed, as he saw her "new" look.
"I, I--" she stuttered, at a loss for words.
"You're not the real Wade!" Kwin gasped.
"I, I--" she stopped stuttering, and instead proclaimed: "I am the real Waid Whells!"
To her surprise, Kwin suddenly bent down and kissed her. Just as quickly, he bent back up. "You aren't her. The real Waid hasn't let me kiss her in two years."
Wade sighed. She leaned against the wall, and threw the betraying beret to the ground.
"I'm from a parallel dimension," she said finally. "Me and my friends are travelling from world to world--my Quinn invented the mechanism."
"Incredible," Kwin whispered. "This is amazing! A genetic copy of our beloved leader." the last was said with scorn. He took Wade by the shoulders. "Do you know what this means? We can use you to take control of the empire."
"What?" she cried, backing away.
"Waid's evil--she has to be stopped. This is the only way how--you can impersonate her! That way, we won't be overthrown, her followers will think you're her!"
Wade had nothing to say.
"I don't know--" she said slowly.
"You may not, but I do," said a voice behind them.
They both whirled around to face the one, the only, Waid Whells. She held her drawn gun a little higher, and smiled a cold, victorious smirk.
Arturo slammed the door behind him so hard it shook the walls. Rembrandt and Quinn peeked their heads around the corner from the bathroom.
"Professor?" Quinn said, a bit confused. Arturo was leaning against the door, panting heavily.
"We have to get out of here," he said. "Now. We'll find Wade, and hide-out somewhere else."
"Professor, what's wrong?" Rembrandt asked. Arturo winced when he noticed Rembrandt, and quickly flung open the door and fled out.
"What the hell--?" Quinn shook his head. Suddenly a thought occurred to him, and he fished the timer out of his pocket. It read: 00-15-59.
"We've got fifteen minutes until the slide!" Quinn yelled. "I was so busy with the computer I never even bothered to check! We've got to get the Professor and Wade!"
"Waid Whells," Wade Wells said slowly. Her counterpart smiled, and held the gun a little higher.
"The one and only--or so I thought." Whells replied. "This theory of parallel worlds sounds very interesting, I'd like you to explain it to me."
"I don't know the mechanics of it," Wade replied.
"So who does?"
"Uh...I don't know, I fell in by accident." Wade said quickly.
"You're lying." Whells stated. "But I don't mind. I see it more as a chance to see how I would stand up under torture."
Wade gasped. Kwin stepped in front of her, glaring at his wife. "I won't let you do this," he said. "You're always going too far, and I'm always standing by and letting you."
"How will you try to stop me? I overheard your little plan, by the way. I never realised your hatred of me was this deep, that you'd try to kill me." Whells said scoffingly.
"I don't hate you!" Kwin exclaimed. "I hate what you do--but I've always loved you."
"And I love you too," said Whells slowly. "Even when you were a pathetic weakling."
She fired the gun. Wade screamed as Kwin jerked backwards, a pained expression on his face, and fell to the floor. Wade crawled over to him, and checked the wounds on his chest. He was bleeding profusely, and the blood was everywhere. "I thought you said you loved me," he gasped up at Whells.
"I do, Kwin--but I love power more." She fired again, and Wade shrieked as Kwin's blood flew up, splattering all over her. She held her hands to her face and tried not to pass out.
"I suppose the people of your world are as weak and useless as you are," Whells snarled, hauling up Wade by the arm to her feet. "But that only makes it easier to conquer."
At that moment Arturo, Rembrandt and Quinn bounded down the hall.
"Wade!" Quinn yelled.
"Back off!" shouted Whells, grabbing Wade, and holding the gun to her head. The three stopped in their tracks.
"Who the devil is that?" Arturo murmured, noticing the body on the floor.
"It looks like me..." Quinn trailed off, looking at Whells in horror.
"I presume you are the one who created the device that opens the portal." Whells said in a loud authoritative voice. "You will give it to me, or she will end up worse than him." She nodded towards the bloody corpse.
"No! Quinn! Don't do it! She'll kill us anyway! She wants the timer to conquer the other worlds--" Wade gasped as Whells' arm choked her quiet.
"If you do not give me the timer, I will kill her," she snarled, shoving the gun against Wade's head.
Quinn gulped, the colour gone from his face. On the one hand, he didn't want Wade to die, but he couldn't let Whells get the timer and be let loose to subjugate the other worlds.
Suddenly he hit upon an idea.
"Let Wade go," he said, "And I'll go with you."
"What?" Wade shrieked.
"I have the blueprints for the timer in my memory," Quinn continued. "Let my friends go on the slide, and I'll make another one for you."
"Fine," Whells said, shoving Wade towards her companions.
"Q-Ball, you know what you're doing?" Rembrandt asked with concern. Quinn nodded, took the timer out, and gave it to the Professor. He walked over to Whells, holding his hands out to show that they were empty, when she grabbed him by the arm and jammed the gun in his ribs.
"Tell the others to leave." she hissed.
"Guys, go on. Get out of here. You only have a few minutes to the slide anyway." Quinn ordered them.
Wade refused to budge. A sorrowful Arturo and Rembrandt had to drag her, protesting and screaming back down to their room.
"We have to do something--she'll kill him! We can't go without him!" she sobbed.
"Miss Wells," Arturo said gently, "It was his own idea, and I'm sure Quinn has another one up his sleave."
"You don't understand, she'll kill him faster than he could blink. She's ruthless. We have to help him!"
"You heard the man!" Rembrandt said angrily. "She's armed, she's got a whole legion of guards at her instant command--there is nothing we can do."
"I'm leaving. I'll help Quinn, or die trying." Wade retorted, and dashed down the corridor.
"Wade!" the two others yelled, and chased after her.
Quinn groaned as Whells shoved the gun into his ribs again. "Can you stop that? It really hurts."
"Shut up. Get in the lab." she replied.
"an you at least poke me in a different spot? That rib's getting really tender."
Her response was to jab it in his ribs again even harder. She kicked the door open, and forced him through it. She dragged him to the blackboard.
"Write down the formula and blueprints." she ordered. Quinn hesitantly picked up a piece of chalk when the door flew open, and slammed shut.
They both whirled around to see Wade, backed up against the door.
"It's you." Whells said simply. "I thought you'd gone. Oh well, it doesn't effect my plans in the slightest."
Quinn saw his opportunity, Whells being distracted by Wade's appearance, and he tried to grab her gun. Whells, however was much faster than him, and she shoved him forcibly into the blackboard. He hit it, and collapsed, stunned.
"Quinn!" Wade yelled.
"You have a certain affinity for him, don't you think?" smirked Whells, still in possession of her gun. "I did for my Kwin, until he turned into a nearly useless wimp. I despised him towards the end. He was so cowardly. I gave him ample opportunities to overthrow me, but he never took them. It was only when he met you that he developed a backbone. Shame that I had to kill him."
"You don't care at all!" retorted Wade. "You can't just kill people like that and still say you loved them!"
"I did," Whells smirked started to falter. "You have no right to judge what I feel. I did love him, but", the smile returned, "I loved my empire more."
Wade and Waid stared at each for a moment. Waid suddenly threw her gun to the floor.
"Why don't we solve this physically?" she said, holding up a fist. "Mano e mano, so to speak. See which one of us," her eyes twinkled maliciously "is the fitter one to survive."
Wade and Waid circled each other. Wade was slightly hesitant, she knew her fighting skills weren't at the same level as Waid's. Wade noticed out of the corner of her a beaker half filled with a greenish liquid on the counter. Manoeuvring around, she stared at Waid, looking her in the eyes, while her hands reached behind her to grab the vial. Waid didn't notice her until Wade threw it at her head. It hit Whells, and shattered glass over her. She shrieked, and Wade used the moment to leap across the room to tackle her counterpart. They both tumbled to the ground, and Wade managed to grab the gun that Waid had dropped. She vaulted to her feet, and pointed the gun at Waid.
Whells stared at her. "Can you really do that, Wade? Kill me in cold blood?"
Wade hesitated for a moment. Could she?
"You see, I don't think you can. Granted that you beat me in combat, I suppose that you are the better one here than me," Whells said smoothly, in a calm voice.
I am better than her. Wade thought to herself.
"I suppose the people in your dimension are stronger than I first thought, if you are any sort of representative." Whells continued. Wade was becoming more reasonable as she listened to her counterpart, until she noticed that Whells was inching out of her pocket another gun.
Rembrandt and Arturo were searching frantically in the rooms down the hall when they heard a gun go off. They ran quickly to the room at the end of the corridor when Wade staggered out, trying to support a groggy Quinn. Rembrandt offered his own shoulder, when something started beeping in Arturo's pocket.
He pulled out the timer, and started it, opening the slide. He didn't ask any questions, and Wade didn't offer any answers.