18: Ghosts (part 1)

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18.1 Alternate One

Cambridge: 17 May 2128

Rick, lying on the floor, cried out, "Oh, no, no, no. Get it out. Get it out of my head." Then he passed out. Next to him sparks escaped from the vents in the side of the circuit box.

Long gasped, switching the power off. "Shit, that really hurt, even though I was ready for it this time." He stood up, forced a grin, but had to lean on the control desk as his balance battled him for a moment.

"You both okay?" Long asked Ellie and Jenny, as he bent down to attend to Rick.

"Still alive," Jenny said. To which Ellie added, "Just!"

With Ellie's assistance, Long helped get Rick up and into the chair. Ellie examined him, opening his eyes and peering into them for signs of consciousness. After a few seconds she was rewarded as he focused on her.

"What's all the noise?" he gasped, he made swimming motions with has hands. "We in a river?"

"What noise, Rick?" she replied.

He gave her a look as if he thought she was stupid. "Can't you hear it?"

Ellie's eyes sought Long's but he shook his head. It was obvious no one could else hear Rick's noises.

"Where are we?" Long asked.

"No idea," Jenny said. "But it ain't home."

Long peered out at the greenery and then cautiously released the door handle to sniff the air. "Wow, that smells good, really alive. Give it a try, Rick, maybe it'll clear your head."

Jenny ventured her head outside and took a deep breath.

"Phew! So many scents," she said but frowned when coming back inside. "What the hell's that other smell? It's not out there, it's in here!"

"Long, that box?" Ellie shouted, pointing under the desk. Smoke was starting to drift from the box of circuit boards.

"Oh, hell," Long said, diving underneath the desk to investigate. "The power's off now so it must have happened during the journey."

He opened the box of electronics and was engulfed in a small cloud of pungent smoke. After wafting the fumes away he released a couple of boards and examined them, and then pulled out the rest.

"Bloody hell, some bits are totally fried. Look at this one."

Ellie took the proffered board. One of the large transistors was very hot to the touch and was surrounded by a charred patch of printed circuit board. The board Long held was in an even worse state.

"Is it broken? Does that mean we're stuck here?" Panic tainted her voice.

"No, but I'd say we've lost several of the boards. Don't worry – we've got more in the drawer."

"With AI on the warpath back home, I think I'd rather take my chances in this place. It looks just so amazingly green and vibrant," Jenny said. She swung the door fully open and stepped out.

"Yes," Long agreed peering out at her. "Mind you, another trip like the last one will just about wipe out all the spares so we'd better think hard before starting it up again."

Rick was shaking his head, as if the movement would clear whatever he was experiencing. "That didn't happen when we went to 'five'," he said before letting his head fall back, eyes closed.

Ellie sat down beside him and held his hand.

Long examined the damaged circuit boards, one after the other.

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