9: A Case Of Fluidity (part 3)

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9.3 Multiverse Proved

Alternate Five – London: 24 April 2128

They pressed on southward until they came to the entrance to Belsize Park Underground station.

"I thought I recognised some of this," Rick said. He looked back the way they had just come. "But where's the Wall? It should have cut right through just over there."

"This isn't our London. It must be some sort of alternative where AI didn't build the Wall. I don't think AI even exists here."

"Alternate worlds? You mean the old multiverse theories that AI tried to teach us? It always sounded completely dango to me."

"I think we're looking at proof that AI was right all along."

"We could be the first ones to see this," Rick said.

"Maybe not. The dead guy must have seen this or, at least, some others. And the people who built the machine must have realised that such alternatives had to exist in the first place. Though how they figured out what they needed to do to build a working machine to hop between them is beyond me."

"Yeah, but if this is an alternate world – where's all the people?"

"Hmm. And another thing. Why only five alternates? Why not fifty or fifty thousand?"

"Maybe they thought that five would be enough to start with."

"Could be – what's the matter?" Long asked, noticing Rick scratching at his left hand.

"That damned burn is really itching."

Long took a look and frowned, "Definitely looks a bit worse. Better let Ellie take a proper look when we get back."

Not far from the station entrance they came across a hypermarket whose frontage had been distorted out of all recognition. Something resembling a human skeleton could be made out inside. They stepped into the gloom of the shop through the open entrance.

Rick stared around, hand over his mouth.

"Okay, so maybe this is the place you dreamed about," Long said.

More skeletons dotted the interior. Many looked normal but a few, those that hadn't decayed by quite so much, which suggested that they had died more recently, showed some unusual additions. There was a skull that bulged prominently on one side; another had leg bones that warped strangely, similar in some respects to the lamppost they had encountered earlier. A child's remains, identified by the smaller skull, were elongated along the torso.

"You okay, Rick?"

"No, I feel sick. I've got to get out of here, right now."

Back in the eerie silence of the street they leaned against a wall, one that had avoided the distortions that had afflicted so many others.

Away from the skeletons Rick felt more in control. He squinted at the sun. "You think this whole universe is like this?"

"I'd guess that it isn't," Long replied.

"How do you figure that?"

"If you take away all the weirdness from this place then what you'd be left with is London as it was before the disaster, before the asteroid that didn't hit, before AI built the walls. That's when all of the distortions must have started. On our world people went dumb, on this one the whole of nature must've gone crazy."

"Yeah, but why–"

"Hell!" Long shouted. "He said 'that's where it hit' – the dead guy. He said three was where it hit!"


"The asteroid!"

Rick stared at Long's expression of revelation and nodded slowly.

"Yeah, but that still doesn't explain why there are five or possibly even more alternative Earths, and why the people who built the machine needed to visit them."

"This is so amazing. We've got to find out all we can."

"Well, amazing or not. This place isn't agreeing with me. It's too much like that nightmare. I just wish this damn headache would go away."

"Um, mine has started to come back as well. Okay, let's head back."

They started heading back the way they had come but, after a few minutes, Rick suddenly clutched at his head.

"Hell," he groaned, "everything's spinning."

"There's something really screwy about all this."

"I feel kind of wonky all over. My hand's really tingling again." Then Rick gasped, "Dango! Look at my fingers!"

"Shit!" Long shouted, staring at Rick's hand. "I think what happened to the people and the buildings here is starting to happen to us."

"We got to get out, now!"

It took them half an hour to return to edge of the heath and the pounding in Rick's head intensified as they passed the last of the buildings. His hand ached horribly. By the time they were half way across the heath Long was supporting Rick as he had started stumbling. Long, too, was beginning to feel the effects of this world upon him as his hearing started to fade in and out strangely.

"I didn't expect this to happen," Long gasped. "Feels like my head is being turned inside out."

"Oh," Rick groaned. "Stop shouting. You're making the air turn red and green. Oh no, I'm doing it, too."

"What are you talking about?"

"Can't you see it?"

"No. See what?"

"Every time we speak, colours appear in front of us. You don't see that?"

"Pardon? I can't hear properly. My ears keep closing up or something."

"Colours. Oh... I think I'm going to be sick."

Rick started to collapse in Long's arms but the latter managed to guide them both back into the sparse woods that held the machine.

Long located the device by following the track of crushed grass from their outward journey. Rick's legs gave up and he fell unconscious. Long wanted to collapse beside him but knew he had to get them away. Hauling Rick to his feet he struggled back to the machine as the strange effects of this world impinged further on his own senses. His ears heard only a constant hiss and his eyesight was beginning to fuzz.

He dumped Rick's inert form onto the floor of the machine and closed the door, shutting out the alternate strangeness, if not the effects. He switched the lever back to registering '4' and slammed the activating switch on.

He felt, rather than heard, the build up of the vibrations. As before, the whole structure started to shake and, as the soundless noise started to seep through his entire frame, he sank to the floor to lie beside Rick.

The last thing he noticed before completely passing out was that the fingers on Rick's left hand looked as if they were beginning to flow like melted plastic. He shut his eyes, not knowing whether what he had seen had been real or just a figment of his deteriorating eyesight. He gave in and retreated into a welcome blackness where pain subsided into nothing.

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