18: Ghosts (part 3)

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18.3 The Tower

Alternate Cambridge: 17 May 2128

Locating the tower was not easy. The westward route had quickly become impassable so Jenny and Long skirted northwards far earlier than anticipated.

Then, disoriented amongst tall trees, they found it hard to pinpoint the tower's direction. Cutting across what had once been open grass, but was now a forest of young but vigorous trees, they located what she hoped was Victoria Avenue.

"I used to play around here as a kid" she explained. "Then AI demolished the houses and built all those storage places. I used to think it did it just to annoy me."

She chuckled and Long grinned. As they dodged their way between the trees they swapped stories about their childhood. Long was glad to be away from Ellie. He could understand her concern for Rick, but she was becoming impossible to be around. He questioned his earlier feelings for her, especially in comparison with Jenny, whose attractiveness went far deeper than just her physical appearance.

They pushed on northwards until a small break in the tree line to their left revealed their target, still several hundred yards away.

Finally, nearly an hour after they had departed, they stood at the base of the building.

Jenny whispered, "It's the same, but different. So overgrown. Look there, that door is almost off its hinges."

Following the invading vines they entered a hallway reeking of damp and decay. Ivy clad walls were festooned with spider webs and slug trails. Gloomy light, filtering in through holes in broken, dirty windows, pervaded the structure.

They followed the ivy up to the first floor. Only on the second floor could they detect signs of the original decor.

"There's ten floors," Jenny explained as they reached the sixth. Here the stairs were covered in a strange whitish deposit, reeking pungently. Long peered up the staircase.

"Bats," he said, pointing to one of the more gloomier recesses where they could only just make out the rapid movement of small creatures. "I saw lots flying around in Hampstead. Never figured out where they came from."

All around them the structure showed signs of decay. Probably constructed no more than fifty years previously, the building did not have the permanence of the older university colleges built several hundred years ago. It was crumbling away at a rate that, on this world at least, would see its inevitable collapse within fifteen to twenty years. On the top floor Long found many doors either locked or immovable through warping. Jenny ignored them and indicated that they should head to the southern end of the corridor.

"The observation room's this way," she said, marching ahead. "It's fantastic. A carpet you could drown in and big chairs and sofas. Huge, massive table in the middle. The windows are amazing. Floor to ceiling and all tinted."

She pushed the door open. "Oh..."

Long looked in at the wreckage. The wall of windows was mostly missing, replaced by a great maw out of which Long felt he could too easily drop. Much of the roof had collapsed leaving the room open to the elements. The remains of the table and chairs were now barely recognisable in the debris and the carpet had long gone. What had once been a comfortable point from which to observe the city was now layered thick with growing things, in some cases almost waist high.

Jenny picked her way across the detritus to stand far too close to an open edge for Long's comfort. "I don't get it," she said.

"What?" Long replied when Jenny didn't elaborate. He stepped closer to where she stood and, feeling momentarily queasy with a sudden rush of vertigo, forced his eyes to focus on the floor. Thick weed infested the rubble around his feet and insects scuttled for cover. Somewhere behind them in a section of roof that remained intact they could hear birds raising their noisy young.

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