3: Twenty One Years Later (part 4)

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3.4 Numbers And Old Junk

Hampstead Heath: 14-15 April 2128

After ten minutes Long came out of the tent shaking his head and scratching his beard. Damn, he missed shampoo. He suspected that some insects had taken up residence in his hair, something his upbringing had hitherto failed to mention. He looked at Rick and marvelled at how clean and sharp he appeared. Ellie, having been outside the Wall for the past two days, was beginning to take on a similar appearance to himself though, thankfully, lacking a beard and its miniature inhabitants.

He cursed AI and his own bad luck. If only that damned camera buggy hadn't turned up ten seconds early last September. It had got a full shot of his face. Immediately after, his ID access had been rescinded and he'd had to rely on everyone else for food and commodities. Several times the statically mounted cameras in the city centre swing in his direction as he passed. Then AI started to make clumsy attempts at actual physical retrieval using nurse and maintenance bots.

With AI's current crumbling state Long hadn't wanted to stay around to find out what it had in mind for him. Remembering Holls' detention, he feared he could be locked away and forgotten about.

Despite its apparent aloofness and non-interfering attitude, there had been unexplained disappearances in the past. In 2126 two others had speculated on where some of AI's local central processing units were located. They had not been seen since leaving a message saying they had found them and would be back with more news. Long and others had attempted to probe AI itself about their whereabouts but the few answers it gave were ambiguous and inconclusive.

So, he'd decided to leave permanently.

"Made any more sense out of him?" Ellie asked, interrupting his thoughts.

"Nothing I understand," he said with a sigh. "From what I can make out, he's trying to tell us to watch out for radiation on 'three'."

"Radiation? That's a new one," she said. "Weren't all the nuclear bombs and power stations dismantled ages before the disaster?"

Long shrugged his ignorance, noting that Rick did likewise.

"Who knows what AI kept from us?" Rick added, a fleeting grimace passing across his face.

Long couldn't help but agree. He leant his back against a tree while the other two joined him, putting some distance between themselves and the stink. A breeze played amongst the upper branches and he could make out the call of an owl in the distance. A few months ago he hadn't even realised owls hooted. He had learned more in the past few months than in the first twenty years of his life.

Rick sat on a log and Ellie joined him. Long watched Rick put his arm around her and tried to suppress a flash of jealousy as she responded by pressing herself closer to Rick. Ellie had been here for two days and Long hadn't touched her. There had been something new, something distant about her that had made him hesitant about any such approach. She and Long had been lovers several times in the past, as had she and Rick. Whether it was his enforced exile or whether something else had been growing between her and Rick, he couldn't tell. A few of London's self-named NewGen had paired off to the exclusion of all others, but it was quite rare. Maybe this was something to do with the 'growing up' that AI had often mentioned but, like many subjects, failed to elaborate upon despite their questions.

If he hadn't been exiled then could it have been himself and Ellie forming a much deeper bond? Of course, it may have been as much to do with his reduced personal hygiene. He mentally sighed and forced himself back onto the subject at hand.

"It might not be nuclear radiation anyway," he said. "There are other types."

"Well, yes," Ellie agreed, snuggling closer to Rick. "We can probably dismiss light and heat but he could be referring to X-rays, gamma, electromagnetic, ultraviolet... Plenty to choose from."

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