19: Trees and Tempests (part 3)

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19.3 Powerless

Hampstead Heath, London: 5 April 2128

Morton Fisk sighed mentally and stepped onto the wooden platform. Five others watched from afar but only Alin Yan remained close by. Three of the five were the primary engineers who had assembled this monstrosity, the DTM or Dimension Travelling Machine. He nodded to Deshi and Liang, who stood there stony faced, as if they were afraid that wishing him luck would jinx the exercise. Deshi's wife, Xiu Mei, the driving force behind the technical aspects of the DTM and one of the most brilliant engineers he had ever encountered, smiled and bowed to him. The final two were Alec Garter and Charles Moore who would effectively be running the entire planet along with Krista until he returned.

If I return, he thought silently.

Alin Yan said, "Even at this late stage I cannot persuade you otherwise?"

"No," Morton Fisk replied. "I dare not risk anyone else. It is well known that, of all of us, my own abilities, in the main, still exceed those of most others and, where they don't, they still cover a broader area."

"Are there still no adepts at the Tree up to the task?"

Fisk shook his head. "They are young. Far too young in many cases. Their life experience is limited. In many cases they were born after the disaster and have no real inkling of what exists on the alternate worlds or what will be required there. Only Mila, the brightest of them all, might possibly succeed but there could never be a guarantee. My own survival of the disaster suggests that, in a crisis, I can respond in a positive manner no matter what is thrown at me."

Yan acknowledged this with a tilt of his head.

"Regretfully," Fisk continued, "logic therefore indicates that it has to be me."

Fisk was indeed correct, Yan thought. There was no one else left who had both the pre-splintering experience and who could still command the abilities he exhibited. However, he was now far from being the young man who had reassembled himself alone and then taken on the ruins of the original pyramid and used it to pull so many lost souls back together. Was he still up to such tasks?

"I didn't set out to be a hero," Fisk murmured, unconsciously echoing Yan's thoughts. "I don't want to be one, even now. There just isn't anyone else, is there?"

Yan placed a hand upon Fisk's arm.

"No, not to replace you. But, as you know, I and others have suggested companions. There are plenty willing to accompany you and the DTM could hold more."

"There is only one seat."

"Indeed," Yan said, his head tilting to one side. "Comfort was not the primary concern of the build."

It was a blustery April day and the trees of Hampstead Heath were being whipped in all directions. Grey clouds slipped over each other as if in a race towards some hidden goal in the north-west. As far as they could determine, this spot was one of the few detected where the level of the land in world Three was close to that of this world, being no more than two or three metres higher. It had taken a tiered pyramid of over ten thousand minds projected at the other worlds to the point that they could just about be probed as to their suitability to receive what they had constructed. All the alternates except for Three still exhibited roughly the same land formation. However, the surface of Three had been distorted greatly. In some places the land was hundreds of metres higher than any of the others.

It been conjectured that the absence of the atmosphere and oceans had released the pressure leading to the uplift. What this meant for recombination was impossible to conjecture.

So, this spot had been decided upon, even though it had meant moving much of the already assembled electronics laboriously from Asia to England. The craft itself had been constructed locally over the past couple of months and moved into place three weeks previously.

"No," Fisk replied after a while. "I cannot risk the life of anyone else."

"We are all at risk when the worlds recombine," Yan said.

Morton nodded slowly. "But no again. We are wasting time."

Fisk rested his hand against the DTM.

"It should have a proper name," Yan said. Names were important to him. Calling it the Dimension Travelling Machine had been clumsy.

"Another waste of time," Fisk said.

They had less than a month to go before the earliest estimated date upon which recombination was likely to begin. He needed to traverse all the worlds, and that included Three, and absorb enough of their characteristics in order to provide the required guidance that would mesh all five back together again. He tried not to show his uncertainty, the fear that he would fall far short of that requirement. If only they'd had more time...

Mentally, Fisk ranged out and sought a connection to the centre of London. His mind roved around the rooms and living corridors of the Tree and touched on all those residing there. In turn, they acknowledged that contact and strengthened the connection.

"We are ready to absorb all you learn, as you learn it," came the message from the collective minds, though one shone brighter as Mila transmitted a burst of encouragement.

"I will return, soon," he promised, hoping it wouldn't be proved a lie.

Shrinking back to the confines of his own body, he gazed for a final time on the six assembled before him. Alin Yan made an opened palm gesture with this right hand. Fisk returned the gesture and allowed his face to form a smile. Then he turned and pulled the door shut, enclosing himself within the machine. As he checked the door interlock he was only vaguely aware of Yan retreating to a safe distance with the others.

Morton Fisk sat at the desk and confirmed that the lever was set to Two. His hand shook slightly as it caressed the controls. He tried but failed to dispel the fear.

At least, he told himself, he was safe in the knowledge that the craft could move safely between the worlds. Well, at least between One and Two. There had been two successful unpiloted tests, both using clockwork controlled devices to activate the switch and lever in a predetermined sequence. The second test had also included a rabbit in a cage. The DTM had returned as expected on both tests, the second time with its live cargo somewhat extremely startled but apparently no worse for wear. The same couldn't be said for the electronics – in both cases, the return from world Two had burnt out a couple of the transistors.

His hand rested against the on-off switch, exhibiting a jitter he couldn't fully control. He clamped his teeth together and then, with a grunt, he flicked it on.

The sound was incredible. He had been present at both of the tests but, here, inside the DTM, the effects were magnified many-fold. No wonder that rabbit had been frantic upon its return. The electronic oscillators beating against each other and driving their harmonic waveforms through the wiring screamed through the entire framework, the wood, the chair and, far worse, his head. He gritted his teeth, fearing they would shatter if the vibrations persisted for much longer. The circuits were tuning in to world Two. Then he felt the shift as the DTM was sucked from a world with which it was no longer compatible, to the one to which it had become aligned. He slammed the switch to the off position and the screeching subsided.

He had done it. He had successfully moved between the worlds. Standing, his legs now shaking in accompaniment with his hands, he peered out of the porthole at Two. His breath came quickly as, for the first time in more than twenty years, he directly observed a world upon which the plant life was not perpetually crazy.

But that wasn't the only sensation. He tried to reach out all the way back to One with his mind, back to those in the Tree waiting for him. It was hoped that contact would still be possible between the worlds with powerful minds on both sides. But there was nothing.

Instead, he became desperately aware that his abilities had shrunk down to a mere fraction of their previous level. The abilities he had depended upon for decades, and now needed to help guide the recombination, were absent.

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