14.1 New Old Faces
Cambridge: 10 May 2128
Long became aware that something had changed. He was no longer strapped to an inclined plate but lay horizontally on something soft. He opened his eyes. Instead of the plain, metal wall of a cell the new surroundings resembled a small bedroom. Bright sunlight entering the window painted the room in a warm cream and yellow.
While there was no nurse in sight, one must have been around for the drip that stood beside the bed was attached to his left arm via a tube. He squinted at the label on the bag that fed liquid into his body – Saline. That was good, wasn't it?
He had no recollection of anything since passing out from lack of water and food. How long ago had that been? No idea. But his throat was still parched. He struggled up to a sitting position. Beside the bed, on a cabinet, sat a jug of water along with a glass. With shaking hands he half filled the glass and drunk deeply. The water, fresh and cool, tasted wonderful.
He looked down at himself. As before he was naked, apart from a thin cream-coloured sheet that covered him from the waist down. He examined the visible parts of his body, now noticeably far leaner, and marked with bruises and chafed skin where the straps had previously imprisoned him. Although he still ached all over, head included, his current level of discomfort was much reduced in comparison to the earlier torture.
He tensed, hearing a noise outside the room. It was followed by the door opening. Expecting one of AI's robotic nurses to enter, he squeaked in surprise as the face of a total stranger peered around the frame at him. Apart from the man from the machine this was the first new face, apart from Ghosts, Long had encountered since he had been a toddler. Lying there, weak and partly naked, he felt extremely vulnerable and highly apprehensive.
"Oh," said the girl. "You're awake." She raised her eyebrows, as if surprised to find him conscious and then her mouth formed a wide grin that did much to alleviate his fear.
She was slightly broad of face, her nose displaying a light dusting of freckles. She stepped fully into view and Long could see she had a lithe figure, her bare arms displaying more muscle than fat, suggesting a penchant for exercise.
She poked her head back outside the door, and shouted, "Hey. He's finally woken up."
A few seconds later Long could hear footsteps ascending carpeted stairs.
"Long," came an oddly familiar voice. "Well, it's about time you rejoined us!"
The girl stepped to one side to allow entry to the voice's owner and Long gasped as an instantly recognisable face appeared in front of him. Was he hallucinating? Could he still be strapped to that metal plate dreaming these events?
"Oops. Didn't mean to shock you. Yes, Long, it is really me!"
Looking only slightly older, though no longer the skinny youth of three years ago, there was no doubt about the identity of the man who stood before him.
"Matty," Long gasped. "No. This is just a dream, isn't it?"
Matty smiled. "It's not, I assure you. Though you've definitely been doing a lot of that over the past few days."
"So, where are we? Am I back in London? Or is this Cromer again? What happened? How did I get away from AI?"
"Whoa! One question at a time," Matty grinned. "Here is where I've been for a few years now. No, not Cromer, wherever that is. This is Cambridge, what's left of it."
"About sixty miles north of London."
"Ah, the name is familiar, I think. Why am I here?"
"No idea. Things have been getting strange recently what with the failures and everything. AI broke down almost completely four days ago. Nothing worked, apart from a few of the robots guarding the Wall, of course. We – that's me, Jenny here and a few others you'll meet soon – managed to get inside some of the old labs. Actually, it wasn't difficult – many of the doors were wide open. We explored a little way that first day and went inside a bit further the next and found you strapped to a board. Thought you were dead at first but Jack noticed you were still breathing. Not long after we got you out AI came back to life. It sent out search parties but they didn't seem to be hunting that hard. So, here you are back with us. How do you feel?"
"Better for seeing you. Um, anything to eat?"
"Hah, yeah! Bet you're famished."
"Jack!" Jenny shouted down the stairs, "can you mash up something light for Long?"
Long, hearing a voice confirming that Jack was on the job, found his mouth watering at the thought of food. When was the last time he'd eaten anything solid?
"You say the breakdown was four days ago?"
"Yes, found you the day after. There was a bit of activity at the end of last month. A heliplane went in and out a few times."
"Dango! I was brought here by a plane of some sort but they blindfolded me."
"Wow, so it really was you up in that thing, then?"
"I wasn't exactly enjoying the experience."
"Must've been really weird. Anyway, round about the time that happened, something made them open up the large east gate. They tried to keep us away but we saw a crane dragging in something large. A big box with coils of wire wrapped around it. We think we know where they took it."
"The machine! It must have been the machine."
Jack arrived with a bowl of soup and some buttered rolls. In between small mouthfuls, Long told the story.
"Well," Matty said, after Long finished. "That may be one way out of here."
Thank you for reading Splinters. Do please vote and/or leave a comment to tell me what you think.
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