6: Alternatives (part 1)

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6.1 Home Sweet Home

Long's shack, Hampstead Heath: 15 April 2128

"It's not bloody well sinking," Rick snarled, poking the body with a stick.

Long's idea of disposing of the dead man in the stagnant waters of a weed-entangled pond wasn't going to plan. He'd vetoed the idea of burial because of the tree roots that threaded thickly underground. They couldn't inter him in open ground, either, due to the inevitable scrutiny of AI's airborne eyes.

However, the body refused to drop below the water's surface. With the sun beginning to rise they resorted to using broken branches to manoeuvre it underneath a bush that overhung the water's edge.

"Won't things in the water like otters and frogs eat it?" Ellie suggested. Rick wasn't convinced and Long laughed at the idea, which, Rick noticed, annoyed her.

With the arrival of daylight, they were forced to spend the day at Long's thrown-together dwelling. The ramshackle affair was constructed from a hotchpotch of panels, bricks, logs and paraphernalia, held together with second-hand nails, baling wire and anything else he had scavenged from the bulldozed remains of northern London. The outside walls were multiple layers of panelling that kept out the worst of the cold during the winter. Long intended locating something to use as proper insulation before the onset of the autumn. The house was around fifty yards inside the cover of the growing woodland and, so far, had remained undetected despite it also being home to about a dozen chickens Long had liberated from a factory some miles to the north.

Long pointed out trip-wires stretched across all the obvious pathways. Almost invisible, they were mechanically connected to bells inside the house and were an early warning of sorts against unwelcome visitations. The wires were tensioned to respond only to larger human or mechanical disturbances.

"Deer sometimes trigger them," he told them. "Not exactly fun in the middle of the night."

The interior was divided up into three sections that were used for sleeping, cooking and storage. Since Ellie's arrival Long had slept in the storage area on one of the mattresses whose use alternated between seating, bedding and insulation.

"Rick, I'll make up a new bed – the storage room can just about take it."

"Don't be silly, Long," Ellie said. "There's already hardly enough room for you in there. Rick can share with me."

"Oh, er, all right, I suppose."

Rick frowned. There seemed to be some tension between the two. Ellie grabbed his arm and led him to the sleeping area. The bed, constructed of two old double mattresses, one on top of the other, with a bundle of sheets and covers over the top, looked far from comfortable but Rick was becoming too tired to care. He and Ellie kicked off their shoes, and undressed down to their undergarments.

"Brr," she said, "it's definitely colder out here than in London."

"Yeah, I've noticed that before."

"Well, we can keep each other warm," she grinned and they slid under the covers together.

Rick awoke to Long's voice. Daylight filtered into the shack from the partially opened door and Ellie was lightly breathing beside him, apparently still asleep.

"Sorry," Long said. "Did I wake you?"


"I said I'm going back to the machine." Long waved a book in the air. Rick saw it was the one he had brought with him. 'An introduction to Modern Electronics' had been published in the nineteen-sixties and predated the microelectronic revolution that had erupted in the following decade.

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