6: Alternatives (part 3)

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6.3 Shopping List

London: 15-17 April 2128

"You reckon this stuff will replace those broken coils?" Long asked when they returned. By the light of a wind up torch he was sitting outside the shack unwinding insulated copper wiring from a large transformer. Several more transformers lay about him, some completely bare of their copper. A chicken was snuggled up between two of the latter. Ellie took another torch and went inside the shack to get ready for their return over the Wall.

"Better double check the insulation," Rick said, inspecting the wire. "You don't want things shorting out passing the sort of current those batteries are likely to deliver."

"Good point. I'm going to need solder and a hefty replacement soldering iron. Insulating tape, too."

"Yeah, yeah. Make me a list."

Long grinned. "Already done," he said, pulling scrap of paper from a pocket. Rick looked it over; apart from those already mentioned it listed self-tapping screws and a screwdriver.

"Couple of days or so, I reckon. I'll pack 'em solid and throw them over at Bel-Oak three nights from now unless you want me to come out again."

"Thanks," Long said. Bel-Oak was their name for a point nearly a mile along the Wall from Prime. "No, you'd better not risk it too often. See if you can get some sort of battery-powered soldering iron so I can use it in the machine itself. That's if I can get those batteries charged up."

Two days later Rick slipped into a building in Bloomsbury via a rarely used side door. He had watched the entrance whilst obtaining some sandwiches from a nearby automated food kiosk, one of several dozen AI had scattered for their benefit throughout the city years before.

He passed through a couple of inhabited wards where robotic nurses trundled about attending to the limited needs of their charges. In a second ward he noticed two immobile nurses slumped against the wall, presumably broken down. He entered a third ward to be hit by a pungent smell. Several of the beds held decaying corpses. Flies filled the air and maggots crawled on the bodies. A nurse attended to another corpse but showed no inclination to remove it. He exited as soon as possible, a queasy pit opening in his stomach.

"Hell," he muttered, resisting the urge to gag. "I hope the bloody things really are here."

Earlier on, Holls had helped him search through an AI database that revealed that this building, once a hospital, stored Geiger counters. Now it just held several hundred decaying Ghosts. A Geiger counter had seemed like a good idea given what the dead traveller had intimated.

He followed the hand-drawn map Holls had made, passing along corridors that were mainly deserted, apart from the occasional meandering Ghost. They paid little attention to him or anything else. One woman, hardly much older than himself, a beaming smile plastered across her face, walked into him as he turned a corner. He disentangled himself from her and watched as she staggered down the corridor. The back of her hospital smock hung open, and her rear and legs were stained with her own filth. He shuddered knowing that, had he been conceived just five months earlier, it could have been him staggering down a corridor in a similar state.

He located a Geiger counter in a storeroom that was packed with machines, many having no medical connection. For some reason AI had scoured the suburbs before destroying them and rescued items it considered of interest. Rick was thankful that AI had been so organised that it catalogued these finds even though its storage methods and locations seemed far from logical.

After checking that the machine worked, which required locating and then charging up some batteries, he added it to his rucksack alongside the soldering iron found earlier.

With a shudder he left the stench of hospital behind.

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