3: Twenty One Years Later (part 2)

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3.2 Beyond the Fields We Know

Hampstead Heath, London: 14 April 2128

Rick untied the rucksack, removed the gloves and balaclava, and unbuttoned the jacket. Around him, weeds and sparse bushes grew on the flattened remains of what had once been part of suburban Hampstead. Only the occasional shattered foundation protruding through the earth gave any hint of the houses that had previously occupied this area. Some of it reminded him of the nightmares he'd had as a child; of broken, bent buildings that, in his head, had seemed all too real.

Much of the masonry here had been robbed out to make the Wall. As a barrier to escape it had been effective up until three years previously.

Rick sighed, wondering what had happened to Matty, the first escapee.

It had been Matty's idea to drill holes and use the rods. He'd also been the first to venture over, returning the following night crossing back a few miles to the east of the escape point. There, a mound of earth piled two-thirds of the way up its outside face in conjunction with a ladder discovered in some ruins, had given easy access to the Wall's apex.

Matty and one of the other original hole-drillers, Long, had explored further a week later, returning the same way. Rick and Holls, Matty's partner, accompanied them on the third expedition. However, upon their return, Holls had been spotted and captured by an AI robot that had been lurking near the Wall. The robot dragged Holls inside an AI-controlled hospital building and locked the door behind itself. Then more robots arrived. Rick and Long managed to evade them, shouting a warning to Matty still outside the Wall. They'd attempted to find out what had happened to Holls but, with the area swarming with AI's robotic eyes, they had no chance other than to run.

Half a mile further north the landscape grew even wilder. Pockets of woodland had taken the opportunity to spread outwards in an effort to escape man- and machine-made boundaries. Left to themselves, they would join to make the beginnings of a new forest.

Rick walked under budding branches and broke twigs underfoot. The scent of the natural growth was a pleasure compared to the stench of London. From the information he and others had scraped from AI's databases it appeared that many of Britain's remaining cities fared no better. As for those in the rest of the world, information was not forthcoming.

Not for the first time he puzzled over what life had been like before the Disaster, before men had been reduced from thinking, living beings into 'Ghosts'. Before AI had taken over.

As he walked his mind drifted back to the consequences of the night they'd lost Matty. Holls, presumed dead after being absent for weeks, was suddenly returned to them. Thin and wild eyed, she eventually revealed she'd been held, drugged, and questioned intermittently by AI about the escapes. She confessed that the only thing that had prevented her from attempting to end her life during her imprisonment was the hope of seeing Matty again.

Learning his fate had almost shattered her.

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