12: Escape (part 5)

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12.5 Play Time

Around Ladbroke Grove: 12 May 2128

Five days later Rick stood on one the challenge ramps. The area held seven of them, six of which had been used for previous races. They had been dragged in by trike from Buckingham Palace where last autumn's challenge had been held. Each one was a ramshackle construction of wood and scaffolding struts mounted on a wheeled chassis. Each ramp had a different inclination and some were deliberately far from straight – all part of the challenge.

Rick, though, ignored them and stared at the Wall. In the light morning breeze, only the rare chirrup of a bird disturbed the colours he experienced. The edifice, standing about one hundred and fifty feet away, wavered in and out of focus and, occasionally, disappeared – it wasn't the only thing that changed.

Without a doubt he was somehow seeing brief snatches from that alternate London with its random distortions. However, lacking the Wall, it sometimes revealed other interesting facts. The railway track, when viewed in that other world, was several feet lower than ground level here. He suspected the old track bed had been used as a construction road here. That may have explained why the Wall appeared lower in this location.

From behind him the noise of voices getting closer sent sparks of luminescence across his vision. The games were due to start soon and London's NewGen were beginning to arrive either to participate in or watch the event. Many of them also knew the real reason for this year's location.

Rick walked down the curve of the ramp. Phil had designed and organised the building of this one in four days especially for this event. The width of the wooden incline was broader and far more sturdier than any of the others. While the other ramps were prevented from tipping over by having long poles anchored against their sides, this one had the poles and extra stabiliser wheels permanently attached to the body. Additionally, there were special connectors near the base of the ramp.

It had been constructed with a second purpose in mind. He hoped it would be adequate.

An hour later the place was crowded as far as Rick was concerned – more than forty of the NewGen had assembled, many on their own electric trikes. The cacophony of vehicles and voices was more than he and his distorted vision could bear.

"I've got to get out of here," he whispered to Phil and Ellie. She looked at him closely, noting the way his eyes seemed unable to focus on her.

"Go," she said, gently squeezing his hand. "We'll take care of things."

He gave her a quick kiss.

"Don't go too far, though," she whispered.

He retired to the relative calm of a side street from where he had originally intended to watch the races. Instead, though, he continued walking. The day was growing warm and he found himself in the shelter of a building adorned at one corner by a brick spire. His eyes saw two versions – on one the spire had slumped to a precariously impossible angle; the real spire was still vertical. He shuddered at the thought of losing the ability to determine which of the two was actually real. A sign on the building indicated that this had once been a church. Years ago AI had tried to explain religion to them – like many of the NewGen, he hadn't seen the point.

A nearby food kiosk – working now after the recent breakdown – provided a lunchtime snack. In the distance he could hear a cheer or a collective gasp from the games.

By mid afternoon the day's competitions had been completed and Rick made his way back but remained hidden until most of the crowd had left. He asked how it had gone. Apparently, there had been speed races, progressively higher jumps using the various ramps, relays with groups of riders and several others where arguments had broken out over the exact rules. Both Ellie and Jasmine had won a race each, while Phil had tumbled off his trike during a marathon event consisting of a circle of various height ramps. Only his pride had been hurt. But one other rider was nursing a cracked femur and had to be hauled off by a nurse robot for treatment, despite his protest that it was only a scratch.

Rick helped to plan the challenges for the next day. Several times he was chided by those who had not been informed of recent events for refusing to enter any of the games himself. Ellie explained that he had been ill, which was far from untrue.

Once only Rick, Ellie and Phil were left, were the real plans discussed.

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