14: New NewGen (part 5)

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14.5 Hello Goodbye

Cambridge: 17 May 2128

It took about half an hour of mad sprints from unit to unit trying to avoid the robots that were becoming more numerous but finally Phil, Ellie and Rick found themselves clasped warmly in Long's arms. Both Long and Rick were amazed to find the other still alive and Ellie's eyes almost popped out of her head when she saw Matty.

"How'd you get here and how did you find us?" she asked.

"Saw you last night when we noticed the trouble at the gate. You really came all the way from London on those old trikes?"

"Yes, my bum's still hurting from four days on the damn things. Couldn't bring them this morning as the place was crawling with robots. Never seen so many of the bloody things."

"Probably looking for us," Phil concluded.

"Maybe or they could be after me instead," Long said. "Last night we found where they'd taken the machine – it's in a unit just around the corner. That's where most of the robots seem to be congregating."

"The machine's what we were following," Rick said. Long looked at him – he seemed to have aged since he had last seen him at that hospital. His face was drawn and his eyes darted around as if he had trouble keeping focus on one thing at a time.

"How's the hand?" Long asked.

"Weird," Rick shrugged but he stared past Long. "There are houses here."

"Wouldn't call them houses," Matty laughed.

"No, not these buildings," Rick said, "the ones that are nearly here."

Ellie pulled Long to one side and, in a low voice, said, "Something's affected what he sees. He sees colours when he hears noises and sometimes he sees things that aren't there."

"Oh hell, I'm so sorry, Rick," Long said. "I wish I'd never taken you to that place."

"So, how come you're here at all?" Phil asked, attempting to break into the awkwardness.

"I'll tell you all once we've somewhere safe. Also, we brought some food as I'd figured you'd be hungry."

"Great!" Ellie grinned. "We've been living off canned stuff but that's all gone now."

Jenny and Matty led them all back to their temporary hideout where they shared the food. Ellie and Phil devoured the sandwiches and cakes, but Rick hardly touched anything, claiming not to be hungry.

Over the makeshift breakfast they exchanged stories while Jack kept watch. Long was surprised that Rick hadn't been subjected to the same bout of questioning he had been made to suffer. But Rick had trouble remembering anything between collapsing in the alternate London and waking up in Phil's house.

"What are we going to do about the machine, then?" Phil asked.

"Matty wants to use it to escape from here."

"No, not back to where we went," Rick said, aghast at the thought.

"The number one setting seems to be the best option," Long said.

"We're not going to do it with all those robots running around out there," Ellie said.

"Agreed. It's probably time to head back to the city centre," Jenny suggested.

"Not at the moment," Jack said, pointing out the window.

"Oh hell," said Matty looking at the line of robots that were accumulating along the road. "There's a few of the nasty nurse types out there. Those damned things are not that fast but there's enough of them. We'll have to wait until they've gone."

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