The others were silent, staring at Quinn. He could see the same thought turning in all their minds. Rembrandt was the only one who could bring himself to say it.
"Okay," Rembrandt said, trying to sound cheerful, "so, who's it gonna be?"
Quinn tapped his notebook with a finger, his eyes roaming the others. "That's the question, gang. Which one of us goes home?"
Wade looked from one person to the next. Their silence seemed to anger her. "Oh, come on. It's obvious, isn't it?"
"Yes," Arturo said quickly. "It does seem that way, doesn't it?"
Wade turned to glare at him. "I meant Quinn. You thought I was gonna say you, didn't you?"
"Certainly not," Arturo said. "Of course, Quinn is the most obvious choice. When he returns, he can repair the sliding machine, and bring us home."
Rembrandt pointed at Quinn, a smile spreading across his face. "Hey, yeah, yeah, that's a great idea. You just slide home, then come get us, right? Then we all go home."
Quinn shoved his hands into his pockets. "It's, uh...it's not that simple, guys. What if I can't fix the sliding machine?"
Rembrandt's grin faded. "Well..I guess we just keep slidin' by ourselves, huh? Bound to get home sometime."
"Perhaps," Arturo said. "But I'm beginning to see Mr. Mallory's point. It's been proven time and again that I do not have the technical expertise to run the timing device on my own. If it was damaged, as it has been before, then I would be unable to repair it. We would never be able to get home."
"The professor's right," Quinn said. "It can't be me. I have to be able to help whoever stays behind."
Wade folded her arms, hunching her shoulders slightly with unease. "Then...I guess it's between us three, huh, guys?"
Rembrandt looked at Wade. Then he looked at Arturo. Arturo shifted his eyes to Rembrandt, then down to Wade.
Rembrandt pointed at Arturo. "You knew it all along, didn't you, professor?"
"What?" Arturo asked.
"Wade was right," Rembrandt said. "You think you're the obvious choice."
Arturo's face darkened. "Mr. Brown, I..."
"And you're right," Rembrandt said. "Quinn's gotta stay behind to take care of us. But you're the only other one who has a chance o' fixin' the slidin' machine back home. So it's gotta be you who goes."
Wade closed her eyes. "He's...he's right. You go, professor. I'm... I'm sorry I got mad at you. I guess I wasn't thinking straight."
Arturo blinked, then lowered his eyes to the floor. "I'm...I'm honored, my friends, that you would...give me this chance. But I'm afraid I...can't go, either. As I said, I do not have the technical skill to repair the timer. I certainly do not have the ability to repair the sliding machine. Sending me home would be futile."
Arturo smiled and wrapped an arm around Quinn's neck. "Besides, I serve as a backup mind for Mr. Mallory. Many's the time I have aided you in your work, eh, my boy?"
Quinn grinned. "Sure did, professor. I couldn't have built the sliding machine without your theories, and we couldn't have gotten this far without you."
Arturo laughed and clapped him on the back.
Wade and Rembrandt looked at each other. Rembrandt held out his hands towards her.
"I guess it's between you and me, sweetheart," Rembrandt said.
Wade dropped her eyes. "No, it's not, Remmy. You go. It's like you've always said. We chose to get into this mess. You didn't. If anybody deserves to go home, it should be you."
"She's right," Arturo said, his smile becoming rigid. "You truly are the innocent in this affair. Go, my friend. Go home, rebuild your career, and live a long, healthy life."
"Yeah," Quinn said, "and tell somebody about us, huh? Maybe you can get something going back home, bring some minds in on rescuing us."
Rembrandt held up his hands. "Now, wait a minute, wait a minute, guys. I...I know I talk big about wantin' to go home, but this...this slidin' stuff's been a blast. I mean, what've I got back home? I got no career. I been gone for over two years. All my bookings've probably been cancelled. I'd be surprised if my manager even speaks to me again."
"Oh, come on," Wade said. "It worked last time we thought we got home. Your career was bigger than ever."
"Yeah, because I was a slider. But without you guys, I got no proof o' where I been. What I've been doin'. I start tellin' people I was on another planet, they'll lock me up in the nuthouse."
Rembrandt shoved his hands in his pockets. "Nah, man. I'd... rather stick with you guys. Who knows? Maybe we'll run into another world where I'm a superstar or find a new paradise. Or maybe we'll get home. There's...nothin' home for me without you."
Rembrandt looked down at Wade. A roll of thunder swept through the skies over the hotel.
"But you," he said. "You got everythin' back home. A job, a family, friends. And you can tell people about us, send in the cavalry. Wade, you go."
Quinn watched her, feeling a tightness in his chest. He had been dreading the thought of any of them leaving the group, but Wade had been his most feared. He might never see her again. But if there was a chance of getting her out of this nightmare, Quinn couldn't be selfish enough to deny it to her.
Quinn looked down at the timer. He had reset it for the new window of opportunity. It was counting down from ten seconds.
"Here we go, guys," he said, trying to sound cheerful. "Get ready, Wade."
Wade looked up at Rembrandt. Her eyes glistened, then a tear rolled down her cheek. Her face screwed up in a grimace until she threw herself into Rembrandt's arms.
"I can't go home," she sobbed. "I don't wanna leave you guys. I may never see you again. I'll miss you so much..."
Rembrandt wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close. "I...I'd miss you, too."
"As would I." Arturo strode forward to join the group hug.
Quinn felt a rush of emotion, a mixture of sadness and relief. He moved into the hug, wrapping his arms around Wade and Arturo. They all savored the closeness of each other, bonded together physically and emotionally, as they had been since their sliding began.
Quinn's timer beeped. He broke the embrace to press the button. The transparent beam of energy lanced out to pierce the wall of the hotel room.
It expanded into a glowing blue vortex. All of them watched as it was suspended in the air for a brief, glorious moment. Quinn thought he could hear voices, the voices of his mother, his home, his life. He knew it was his imagination, but it seemed so real. From the looks on everyone's face, he knew they heard their own voices, too.
Quinn felt the urge to run. To jump into the wormhole. To go home, regardless of all they had discussed. But then he looked at the others. And knew that he couldn't leave them behind.
The wormhole's roar faded. The vortex collapsed into a point of light that faded away.
"So that's that," Rembrandt sighed.
"Maybe," Quinn said. "Another window could open again."
Arturo grinned, still holding the others. "And what then, eh? Another discussion ending in a ridiculous burst of emotions?"
He laughed, and the others laughed with him, grateful for the relief of tension. Wade stepped away from the others, wiping off her face with her palms.
Arturo sighed, then said, "No. I...I think we've learned something here."
"Yeah." Wade smiled up into the faces of the others, one by one. "If we're gonna go home, we're gonna go home together."
"And if we ain't goin' home," Rembrandt said, "then we're gonna slide together."
Arturo held out a hand, palm down. "To the Four Musketeers."
Quinn clapped his hand over the professor's, grinning. "One for all."
Wade slapped hers firmly down on his. "And all for one."
Rembrandt shook his head, still laughing, and rested his hand on Wade's. "Man, I never thought somethin' so corny would be so true."
They stood there for a moment, their hands together, smiling at each other. Then Arturo broke the bond, drawing his hand away.
He went back to his chair and picked up his book again. "Well, that was an interesting little adventure, wasn't it?"
Rembrandt sighed and looked down at the toothbrush still in his hand. "Yeah, makes you think. We ain't got it so bad, after all. At least we got each other."
Arturo peered down at his book as he murmured, "Yes, but you still owe me a new toothbrush, Mr. Brown."
Wade pointed at Rembrandt. "Yeah, and I'm still watching 'Baywatch.'"
Then she grinned. "Later. Watch your show, Remmy. I'd like to see it, too. I don't know that much about your career."
Wade sat down on the couch, scooting over to give Rembrandt room. He sat down next to her, leaned back, and changed the channel. They began to watch a grainy black-and- white film of the Spinning Topps dancing on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Quinn sat down at his table. He looked down at his notebook with all its recordings of the tachyon emission levels. The levels might rise to a suitable point again. It was their key to one of them getting home.
Quinn picked up the notebook, felt the coarse, grainy texture of the cardboard cover, then tossed the book into a garbage can.