12: Escape (part 8)

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12.8 Cambridge

Cambridge: 16-17 May 2128

In the early morning light they investigated the wall from a safe distance, looking for suitable access points. Like the one that surrounded London it had probably been constructed from the robbed out buildings that had once occupied the land where it now stood.

But this was like London in miniature – at best it was merely a mile and a half in diameter. It made up for this by being far higher than London's equivalent. Its construction was even more haphazard with chunks of brick or stone jutting out of its face. Such adequate foot and hand-holds would make getting in easy though they had no idea if the inside was as badly constructed.

The mounted cameras that circled on their monorail went in the opposite direction to those that guarded London. Rick, after watching them for a while, noticed that the dual cameras were only notable by their absence.

There were just two gates. The southernmost, connected to the road that brought them here, was quite small and wouldn't have provided adequate passage to the crane. Phil noticed that tracks had left the road about three hundred yards from the gate to pass east of the wall, presumably to enter the city at the larger eastern gate.

The tracks certainly resembled those they had been following so, that afternoon, they made camp in a small copse about half a mile from the eastern gate. Keeping the gate under surveillance with binoculars, the observed traffic during the rest of the day consisted merely of three small repair robots.

Their food supplies were beginning to run low so they knew they had to gain access within the next day or so. The question was whether they should climb the wall, thereby abandoning their trikes, or somehow storm the gate still mounted on their vehicles.

They organised a guard roster of two hour stints and it was on Ellie's watch at just around three in the morning that a possible opportunity presented itself. She awoke the others and they edged towards the perimeter of the copse to observe. Through the night-vision binoculars they could see that a large farming device had somehow wedged itself in the gate. Occasionally, a small robot would appear and fuss around the stalled behemoth but was unable to coerce it into moving. It appeared to have approached the gate at the wrong angle and jammed its frame solidly where the curve of the gate tunnel lowered to meet a side wall.

"Shall we go for it?" Rick asked.

"Might as well as long as there's room to get the trikes past it," Phil agreed. "If we approach it from along the wall to the left. With that thing stuck there we should hopefully be covered from observation."

In silence they pushed the trikes by hand until they were behind the jammed vehicle. Ellie crept up and peered underneath it and into the city. As far as she could determine, nothing moved. With greater confidence she moved to the other side to see if it had left enough room for their unimpeded entry.

There was – just.

"Okay," she reported, "it's now or never."

Together, they switched on the trikes, illuminated their front headlights and swung around the stalled vehicle and into the gate. As they passed under the archway there were no robots to be seen and nothing impeded their progress.

Inside the city, the glow of their headlights picked out old deserted buildings that, after a few yards, became industrial factory blocks. Phil suggested they move off the main thoroughfare. They headed northwards into the maze of units where, with no street lamps to guide their path, they were soon completely lost.

"Here," Ellie said having spied a large open doorway in the side of one of the buildings. They headed for it and parked the trikes inside its emptiness.

Apart from a large storage bay, with three metal crates stacked against the far wall, there were three smaller rooms near the rear.

"This looks defensible," Phil said, picking the larger of the three. "Enough room to spread the sleeping bags out on the floor."

Rick, shattered from the journey, fell on top of his bag and was asleep within seconds.

The following morning Phil and Ellie rose early to scout around, leaving Rick half awake. Phil discovered a building a couple of blocks away that had a ladder fixed to its side that led right up to the roof. He reported back to the others and, once Rick had managed to coax himself awake, all three went to investigate.

"This building isn't really here," Rick said, his hand resting on the metal of its wall. Ellie could see that his eyes appeared to focus on something hidden far inside.

"You stay here," she said. "We'll climb up and take a look."

Rick nodded, feeling useless, but glad he could remain at ground level. His vision couldn't be trusted – just how much of what he was seeing was real?

Phil and Ellie headed up to get a better idea of where they were. Once at the top they could see that the whole area was populated with these boxy buildings. To the north, the Wall rose above the squat units while, to the south and south west, the monotone architecture broke up into ancient spires and towers. A tall tower of a more modern design dominated the view directly to their west. Their binoculars, scanning the skyline, revealed nothing of real significance to them for a while until Phil's eyes were drawn to something flashing in the pale morning sunlight a few hundred yards to the south east. Atop a building similar to the one he was crouching upon he could see something sparkling or moving. He adjusted the lens to get a closer view and could make out someone waving something metallic.

He heard Ellie's sharp intake of breath beside him and adjusted the magnification to its fullest.

And he gasped, too, as he focussed on Long's grinning face.

Aha! Were you expecting that? The next chapter diverts us back to see what happened to the characters introduced in Chapter 8 (Little Acorns) and starts to provide information on how the Rick and Long's world has got itself into its current state. Thank you for reading Splinters. Do please vote and/or leave a comment to tell me what you think.

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