9.2 Unfamiliar Familiarity
Alternate Five: 24 April 2128
Rick suggested that they shouldn't stray far from the machine but Long, more experienced in reading the countryside, was determined to find out more about where they were and headed off in a random direction. Rick sighed, rubbed his temples and followed reluctantly.
Sparse woodland gave way to meadow primarily consisting of the same distorted grass they had previously encountered. It was dotted with the occasional dead tree and areas of grey soil where nothing, not even weeds, grew. However, this became insignificant as they noticed that the horizon was rimmed with constructions that looked distinctly like buildings. By silent mutual agreement, they headed in that direction.
Half way to the buildings Long halted and pointed at the ground. Rick saw the snake that made its unhurried way across their path.
"Grass snake, isn't it?" Rick said.
Long agreed. "Pretty sure, yes. It's harmless. Poisonous snakes have got a jagged pattern."
"Yes, but take a proper look at it."
Rick edged closer and then realised that this was no ordinary snake. Its slow gait was due to the way its body had not formed correctly; on one side, about two-thirds down the body, there was an additional piece of flesh that resembled a badly formed leg. The creature was doing its best to utilise it in its forward motion.
"And here's something else," Rick said, pointing a few feet away. They watched as a large centipede, with an extra set of useless legs attached to its back, scuttled away from them.
A few feet further on a freshly dead mole with an extra eye was being consumed by maggots.
"Yetch," Rick exclaimed, making a wide circle of the slowly disintegrating mole. "Is nothing normal around here?"
Closer to the buildings they could see the architecture appeared comparable to what they were used to seeing in London. Close by was a house of a style that Long recalled as being from the Victorian era. He stepped over a wooden construction but Rick, curious, lifted it up to find words, dull with age but still readable, painted on the wood – they said "Hampstead Heath."
A look of total incomprehension passed between them.
"This is getting scary," Rick muttered as they made their way along a road that exhibited little invasive growth which, in itself, was strange given the state of the buildings.
"Look at that place, Rick."
Rick followed Long's pointing finger, and felt his head swim.
"No," he whispered. A large brick structure gave the impression that it had melted. The bricks were distorted, as if they had been made of soft plastic and had run under the effects of some extreme and unnatural temperature, with gravity dragging them ground-ward before they had re-solidified.
"What is it?" Long asked.
"I've seen something like this before," Rick said, his voice quivering. "You remember when we were kids? Those nightmares I had before AI found something to stop them?"
Long slowly nodded. It had been a long time ago, and he barely recalled Rick's childhood affliction.
"One I kept having was full of buildings and people that were all bent out of shape."
"Can't be the same place."
Long pressed on quickly and Rick ran to catch up.
They came across other buildings exhibiting more strange effects. A church spire in the distance appeared twisted and leaned at an angle. The pavement at one point had buckled and lurched towards the middle of the road carrying a garden wall with it. One lamppost had attained a distinct curl and another was split along three-quarters of its length, the separated sections curving away from each other as if magnetically repelled.
Of signs of any recent human occupation, there were none.
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