12: Escape (part 1)

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12.1 Colours

Near Hyde Park: 2 May 2128

The blurred outline of a silhouetted head greeted his eyes.

"I think he's coming round," Rick heard a familiar voice say. But the words hitting his eardrums caused his vision to break into a swirl of myriad colours, as if looking down a kaleidoscope.

The face resolved.

"Phil," Rick croaked. As the sound left his mouth, a green blob obscured his vision. He let out an involuntary squeak which caused the green to be punctured by a spike of yellow.

"Here buddy," Phil replied quietly, lacing the air with a pink hue. Rick felt the bed he was lying on shift as Phil sat on one side. "How're you feeling?"

"What happened to me? Everything's so weird," he groaned, closing his eyes as he spoke in an effort to exclude the colour changes that accompanied every sound. But the flashes and sparks continued to decorate the insides of his eyelids.

"We were hoping you'd tell us. Last we heard you had been hauled off out of the machine by some AI drones."

"The machine – where is it?"

"AI's got it," Phil shrugged.

"Hell! How did...?"

Three more faces appeared. Rick instantly recognised Ellie with her shorn hair and Holls, whose wispy curls always seemed beyond control. However, his vision couldn't immediately determine if the third was Jasmine or Jade. Ellie leaned over and kissed him gently on his forehead, causing a red hue to fog everything.

"Oh Rick, I thought I'd lost you," she said. Her eyes looked red, as if she'd been crying, though Rick wasn't sure if that was real or due to the colours overlaying his vision.

"Ellie, it was mad. Where we went. Like my nightmares. I don't remember anything after Long dragged me back to the machine."

"Tell him what happened to you, Ellie," said Holls.

"Okay, yes. Well, they were waiting for you when you returned," Ellie said, sitting on the bed and holding his good hand. "I was hiding up a tree after the damned robots turned up. Spent the rest of the night up the bloody thing trying to keep quiet. Anyway, they broke the door open and carried you out. Oh hell, Rick, it was terrible. I thought you were dead. Long as well."

Rick felt her shudder before she could continue. "They took you both away before I could get close enough to check. Then a large crane robot smashed its way into the wood and left with the machine dangling from a hook. It headed north-ish. Shouldn't be hard to find as it left damn great tracks. But that was seven days ago so they might have covered them up by now. I just got the hell out of there before anything came back."

"Seven days? Hell! Where's Long?"

Phil's face fell. "They only delivered you back. This morning an ambulance sought me out while I was at a food kiosk and just dumped you on me. I tried to see if it contained Long and even asked it, but it ignored me. Anyway, seeing as you were completely out cold I thought I'd better call Ellie to figure out what was wrong with you. She and Holls got a bike and managed to get you back here."

The coloured flashing had begun to diminish slightly, though Rick was wondering if he was learning to mentally filter out the effect.

"But seven days?"

"Yes," Ellie confirmed. "What happened? Where did you go? I was so worried."

Although still exhausted Rick slowly told them of what he could remember about the trip; about the alternate London they had discovered, the strange creatures, the lack of a Wall and how he had fallen ill. He described the strange visual effects he was still experiencing and also about the pains in his hand where he'd handled that rock. He raised the hand to inspect it.

"Scrott! Look at it."

The third and fourth fingers were partially fused together. A line that extended almost to the finger tips suggested that they had been fully attached to each other only recently. His middle finger, too, seemed mildly distorted. He dropped it back onto the bed.

"We noticed it, too," Phil said. "Ellie examined it as soon as we got you back."

"Holls and I spent several hours today searching the medical databases but nothing like that is mentioned anywhere, as far as I can see. I'm so sorry, Rick, but you may have to live with it like that," Ellie said, rubbing her nose and wiping a tear away.

He lifted it again. "Well, at least it's not hurting quite as much as it did on that other world. Maybe we were lucky to get away before anything worse happened."

He then told them about the skeletons they had discovered.

Phil frowned. "You think it was happening to you as well?"

"I suppose we could have ended up like that if we'd stayed," Rick said. He rubbed his eyes and squinted at his surroundings. It was almost as if the room was overlaid with another similar one. From the corner of his eye it appeared that the wallpaper on one wall had come away and hung in strips. But when he looked directly at it, the paper was whole.

"What can you see?" Holls asked.

"Weird," he said. "It's like I can see that other world as well as this one. It's as if, I don't know... like it's getting closer."

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