Cleatus Brown's Residence 10:05 a.m.
Cleatus had picked his nephew and friends up in his twenty-year- old station wagon of which he had taken exceptional care. The color had faded over the years and the upholstery had a number of patches, but it still made for a comfortable ride. As he drove, the spry, sixty-eight-year-old widower chatted constantly, keeping it fairly light, discussing the weather, traffic and how faithful his automobile had been to him over the years.
His modest two-story home sat on a half acre of land and was surrounded by objects collected during his long career as a sanitation worker. A multitude of mostly worthless but well organized junk lined his property, acting as decoration. He was proud to show off his collection of lawn garden figures ranging from clay squirrels to plastic deer. After a tour of his home, he sat down with his guests in his crowded but organized living room to give them a chance to talk.
For Rembrant, it had been a good nine years since the two had last seen each other, so the fact that their recollection of family members and events sometimes failed to match was simply chalked up to the passage of time and aging gray matter.
"So how long y'all in town for?" Cleatus asked.
"We'll be leaving in the morning," Wade offered the information. "We're just passing through and Rembrant wanted to see you again."
"So where are y'all staying?"
The four took turns passing the question on silently to each other. Before anyone could decide on making a response, Cleatus spoke up.
"Y'all ain't got to answer. Ain't no decent motels around here no way. So y'all just gonna have to stay here. I got two guest bedrooms upstairs with bunk beds in 'em for when the grandkids come by, and this sofa here lets out into a bed."
"Well, really we don't want to impose," said Arturo.
"Impose? Who's imposing? I ain't seen this boy in nearly ten years. He can impose on me all he wants."
After that, it was easy to take the man up on his offer. Their most recent slides had been horrendous. The last one involved dream masters, brainy geeks with too much time on their hands. Poor Wade had almost lost her mind from the dream invaders, and she and Quinn had come thisclose to losing their lives as they slept.
Earlier slides had landed them in the path of constant tornadoes, prehistoric dinosaurs, raging infernos and viral epidemics. So far, this world held no such dangers. It seemed as though they would finally get a chance to take it easy.
Highway 1941 Butts County 2:23 p.m.
Mulder pointed out his driver's side window at the mass of large, leafy green foliage growing wild, engulfing row after row of tall oak and pine trees that lined both sides of the highway.
"Kudzu. You can barely see the trees for the kudzu. Shows what happens when a non-indigenous life form is introduced into an unsuspecting ecosystem. Not unlike when the white man first came to this country and overpowered the natives. Of course, nothing was as bad as when the Tantonese were expelled into L.A. from the mother of all vortexes. And with no way to return to their own dimension, they ended up creating a whole new sub-culture of sour milk drinkers with spotted, ball heads and really dumb names."
"What?" Scully blinked her eyes and brought her unfocused attention back to the here and now.
"Good. I knew you were paying attention. Although, not to me."
"I'm sorry, Mulder," said Scully, shaking the cobwebs from her brain. "My mind was somewhere else. What were you saying?"
"You feel like talking about it now?"
"Talking about what?"
"Whatever's bothering you that you didn't want to talk about at the office."
Scully glared out of the car window for a moment trying to decide if she was ready to confess her secrets.
"Of course, if it's one of those personal, girlie things that I'd be absolutely no help with anyway --"
"It's my dad," said Scully softly.
The playful attitude Mulder had displayed earlier was instantly put aside. "What's wrong with him?"
"He uh... he's just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The doctors give him less than a year to live."
"Scully... I'm sorry." Mulder's eyes strayed momentarily from the road to look upon his partner with sympathy. "Why did you let me drag you all the way down here when you should be home with your family?"
"Because that's where I was last night. He and mom invited me and my sister over to dinner to give us the bad news. Apparently, he's known for a few weeks now, but he didn't want to upset any of us. He insists that he doesn't want to be fussed over or pitied. He wants us to simply carry on with our lives and not to worry about him. Today, he's leaving town to go visit both my brothers to tell them personally. He's handling it so well, but...." Her voice trailed off and she shook her head woefully.
Mulder finished her statement for her. "You're having problems with it all and you figured a little trip to Butts County, Georgia just might be what you need to keep your mind off things, huh?"
"It's a scary thing, Mulder. My life has been in peril more times than I can remember, but it doesn't compare to the fear that develops when it's a family member whose life is in jeopardy."
Mulder spoke in retrospect. "I know that feeling."
Scully noted the sadness in his voice. "I'm sorry," she apologized needlessly. "I didn't mean to bring you down."
"No, I'm fine. I'm sorry about your father, Scully. I know how much you care about him. And if there's anything I can do to help...."
"Thanks.... Mind if we discuss the case now?"
Her partner gave an understanding nod. "What do you want to know?"
"I didn't ask before, but how did you manage to get clearance on it? Or did you?"
"You'll be happy to know that I went by the book, sort of. I'm treating it as a kidnapping."
"A kidnapping? Mulder, from what I read in those reports, they were only considered missing, not kidnapped. There was never any ransom demands or even evidence of foul play. They could have just disappeared on their own."
"They disappeared in San Francisco, and now they reappear in Georgia. They've obviously crossed a few state lines. And although evidence doesn't point to a kidnapping, it was never officially ruled out."
Scully shook her head in disbelief. "Mulder, you're basing this whole case on nothing more than a NASA report from a man with too many beers in his system."
"The man may have had a few to drink, but it's obvious that he has a high tolerance level for alcohol. His description of those four people --"
"Could have been imagined or hallucinated. Mulder, NASA gets at least a dozen calls a day by people claiming to have seen vortexes, and none of them have ever proven to be authentic. What makes you think that this is any different?"
Mulder was quiet for a moment, thinking of the right response. It occurred to him at that moment that he had no response. Not a logical one at any rate, one that would stand up to the Scully scrutiny test. He looked at her with a lost expression on his face and shrugged his shoulders in ignorance. She took pity on him.
"Just when I'm ready for a good argument, you fizzle out on me. I'm disappointed, Mulder."
"I have a confession to make, Scully... I didn't come by that NASA report through my usual channels. Someone presented it to me. A man -- wouldn't tell me his name -- approached me when I was out jogging this morning. He told me that he had been watching me for a long time, watching my work. He gave me that report and told me that it would be a mistake if I didn't check it out."
"How do you know you can trust him?"
"I don't know, and I don't trust him. But my gut feelings tell me that there's something to be found in Butts County. I think those people are there, and I think we need to find them first." He grinned bashfully. "I know, not much of an argument, my gut instincts, right?"
Scully shrugged and smiled lightly. "I've put myself on the line before with a lot less to go on."
Day & Night Diner 3:17 p.m.
After interviewing Earl Ray and checking out the nearby motels for newly registered guests, the two agents headed for the local diner which just happened to be the local truck stop. It wasn't very busy at this time of day. A couple of truckers and a family of four were the only other customers. Mulder and Scully approached the counter and a gum-chewing waitress with the name Daphne embroidered on the pocket of her uniform. She appeared to be barely eighteen, fairly attractive and bosomy with an extra friendly disposition.
Scully took the initiative and flashed her badge at the waitress, making Mulder's need to identify himself as law enforcement redundant, so he didn't bother.
"We're with the FBI. I'm Agent Dana Scully. This is my partner, Agent Mulder. We'd like to ask you a few questions about some missing persons."
Daphne ignored Scully's presence and zeroed in on Mulder instead. "FBI, huh?" she said, her eyes drinking in his handsome face and tall, well built frame.
Mulder only nodded and smiled, waiting for Scully to take over again. His partner took the photographs out of the envelope she carried them in and attempted to display them to the waitress.
"We're looking for these four people. Have you seen them?"
At the moment, she only had eyes for Mulder. He was forced to take the photos from Scully and hand them to Daphne himself. "Daphne, if you wouldn't mind taking a look at these, please," he spoke in his most charming voice.
She gladly did as he requested, nodding her head as she looked at each picture. "Sure, I seen 'em. They were in here this morning for breakfast. Why, what did they do? Rob a bank?"
"Are you positive it was them?" Scully asked.
Daphne made her reply to Mulder. "Of course, I'm sure. I always remember the interesting ones. The tall, good looking one that was with them... I won't likely be forgetting him anytime soon. Just like I won't be forgetting you. I find you very interesting." She gave a minor nod towards Scully. "I'll even remember little miss red there simply because she came in with you."
"Did you notice if they left on foot or if they caught a ride with someone?" Scully asked. When Daphne didn't answer her, Scully looked to Mulder. "Would you care to translate for me?"
"Daphne, did you notice if they left on foot or if they caught a ride with someone?" Mulder asked.
"The black guy made a phone call and sometime later I recall seeing them all piling into an old green-colored station-wagon. You know, for the life of me I can't figure out what color your eyes are."
Scully had just had enough. Before she was made to vomit, she walked away to check out the pay phone, leaving Mulder and his groupie a little privacy.
"That's not your wife or girlfriend, is it?" Daphne asked.
"No, she's more like my keeper. She has to make sure I behave myself and stick to business while I'm out on assignment."
"Oh, so I guess you need to hurry up and take care of business so you can relax and maybe get into other things." She spoke very seductively, heaving her chest out a little more in his direction."
"Yeah, I would like to wrap this up quickly and get on with other things," he responded just as seductively. He knew he was looking at trouble with a capital "T" and that Scully would undoubtedly crucify him for just having naughty thoughts about this possible jailbait, but he saw no harm in a little playful flirtation.
"So, what are they wanted for?"
"No, they're not wanted for anything illegal. We're just following up on a missing person's report."
Daphne nodded. "I don't think I got to see your badge, did I?"
Mulder bashfully pulled it out and showed it to her. She took hold of it and inspected it carefully. "Fox? Boy, your mama sure had you pegged right, didn't she?"
"Daphne, would you do me a favor?"
"For you sweet cheeks, anything."
Mulder took out one of his business cards, and handing it out to her, exchanged it for his ID that she was still holding onto. "If you should happen to see those people again or the vehicle you last saw them in, I'd like very much for you to give me a call. Also, if anyone else shows up asking about them --"
"Way ahead of you, Detective Fox," Daphne winked. "So, can I get you anything? Got some nice, hot cheery pie."
Scully returned to Mulder's side. "Mulder, I had the phone records checked. I think I may have a lead. If you're finished with your..." her eyes rolled in Daphne's direction, "interview, I suggest we get a move on."
"Daphne, thank you. You've been very helpful."
"Anytime, Detective Fox."
"So what did you find out?" Mulder asked after they had climbed back into the car."
"A call was placed this morning a little before eight to a Cleatus Brown with a local address."
"Brown. That's the same last name as Rembrant. Could be a relative."
Scully pulled the map from the glove compartment and began looking up the street name that went with the telephone number. The movement of Mulder waving his hand distracted her. She glanced back at the diner, seeing Daphne waving and smiling.
"Mulder, you're old enough to be her father," Scully remarked dryly.
"You overestimate the sexual prowess of my teen years. Aren't you suppose to be reading the map?"
"It's that way," she said pointing in a southerly direction.
Mulder started the engine and headed the car southbound. "It's not like you've never flirted with anyone to help a case along," said Mulder as they drove down the highway.
"I never have," stated Scully assertively while attempting to pinpoint their final destination on the map.
"What do you call what you do to Agent Pendrell?"
"I don't do anything to Agent Pendrell."
"Well, he certainly doesn't give anyone else at the bureau the same expedient service he gives you. And I can't get anything from him without using the magic words, 'Agent Scully says.' That time I went to pick up the results on a fabric sample without you by my side, he nearly bit my head off."
"Well, regardless, I don't flirt. Pendrell takes his job seriously and he does it quite well."
"Sure, all it takes is one whiff of your perfume and those baby blues staring up at him. It's a good thing I'm immune to you."
"Same here, Detective Fox."
Cleatus Brown's Residence 3:35 p.m.
The Sliders found themselves relaxing on the old-fashioned front porch with Rembrant and Wade swaying back and forth on a wooden suspension swing, the professor settled in a cane-back rocker and Quinn sitting sideways on the top step. They had spent the first few hours chatting with Cleatus in front of the TV, finding out from him and the tube what his world had to offer. For the most part it seemed just like their own; some very good, wholesome qualities peppered with an acceptable amount of lunacy and violence.
The most noticeable difference stemmed from this world's complete lack of space exploration. There was no such thing as a space program, no trips to the moon, no satellite dishes and no Star Trek-like movies or TV shows. However, what took the place of astronomy was the science of cosmology and a strong, yet unrealized belief in the ability to travel through time and to other dimensions. Whereas, back home, a UFO and extraterrestrials were a topic of controversy; here, vortex sightings and the existence of Sliders were hotly debated. There was even a twenty- four-hour, toll-free hotline for reporting any such phenomenon to an organization referred to only as NASA.
"You don't suppose that guy would actually report us, do you?" Wade brought up the subject.
"Even if he does," said Rembrant, "so what? It's just like back home when people call in and report seeing UFO's. Nothing's ever done about it. Besides, we won't be here that long."
"You're looking rather pensive, Mr. Mallory," said the professor. "What are you thinking?"
"I was wondering.... According to what we've read, there's a lot of testing going on in this country and in others. It's sort of like a space race going on. Everyone's trying to develop the technology to travel inter-dimensionally. According to all the sightings -- though not substantiated -- I'm pretty sure that we're not the first to slide into this world. These people have seen it happen and they want to be able to do it themselves. I was thinking that maybe we could help them out."
"You think that's such a good idea?" asked Wade.
"Well, it's probably just a matter of time before they stumble onto it themselves. I really don't see what harm it could do. Do you, Professor?"
"If it's meant for them to come up with the technology, they will in time. I don't think it's up to us to interfere."
"We've interfered on other worlds."
"Yes, but, always with the intentions to help save lives and fight injustice. Helping scientists to create such a powerful device which may or may not be used sensibly... that's another story."
"I think the professor's right, Cueball," said Rembrant. "It's best to let them move at their own pace on this. I think we're better off just sitting back and relaxing while we have the chance."
Quinn nodded in agreement. "I guess you're right. It has been pretty hectic for us lately. For once, our lives aren't in danger, we're not on the run from anyone, we don't have to rescue anyone.... And it's a beautiful fall day."
"Yeah, look at all those leaves," said Wade. "You know guys, we could make ourselves useful around here and pick up a rake."
Since they hadn't done much of anything else all day, they found a little physical activity appealing. But it wasn't long before work became play and several piles of leaves became the battleground for a leaf fight. The mock battle came to an abrupt end when a dark gray sedan pulled up into the driveway.